Friday, August 23, 2013

Pursuit of Happiness

Having a clean house makes me smile.  :)  I managed to get some kid-free time this week to clean my house, thanks to the kids having sleepovers with their grandparents--super exciting, huh?  I thought Dan and I might get a date night out of the deal as well, but he had too much reading to do...bummer.  But I kept smiling, and cleared about 7 trash bags full of toys out of the playroom and Jake's room--and no, I'm not kidding.  My kids have too much stuff!  I'm pretty proud of the clean-out effort--it was my most ambitious to date.  On previous cleans, I've held on to things that had sweet sentimental meaning to me...but weren't necessarily currently-played-with toys.  I had no sentimental qualms this time around--we were busting at the seams.  So now I have 7 trash bags added to the piles of disaster in my garage that I need to go through...but at least they're not in my house anymore!  The added floor space in the rooms is phenomenal.  So I've done fairly well on my Happiness Project (aka, Challenge #3) this week, but I haven't really been it feels a little like cheating.  I have conscientiously put a smile on my face throughout the last few days--there's definitely been effort, but I'm waiting for when things get hard to see how I handle it.  I won't have to wait long with the back-to-school craziness coming soon!

a much-needed reminder

The pursuit of happiness.  Is that wording not totally fascinating (and somewhat telling)?  It is to me.  I have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Happiness itself is not an inalienable right--I can pursue it to my heart's content, but it's not handed to me.  Being happy is not a given--and while that is true for everyone, I have felt it to be especially true for me the last 16 years.  I feel more comfortable when I'm slightly miserable--and I recognize that that's a terrible thing to say.  It almost seems like Challenge #3 is a challenge against my nature!  If you had encountered the 15-year-old me, you would have been accosted by a bubbly, perky cheerleader who was flirtatious, fun, and super energetic.  Most people evolve from their 15-year-old self, and I certainly have.  I had a really great childhood that informed my 15-year-old carefree attitude--it was the tumultuous transition to adulthood that brought me back down to earth.  I developed a biting sarcasm.  I dropped the bubbly cheerleader stereotype, because I've always been smart (and hated the inference that I wasn't just because of my short uniform skirt)...and I've always been a bit rebellious.  My steady state in college was trying not to drown in a competitive environment (that I absolutely loved, mind you).  Although I wasn't quite a kid anymore, I was not adult enough to escape the endless personal drama--I was the definition of an id-driven, world-revolves-around-me college girl.  I worked hard, I made so many mistakes, and my attitude reflected all my experiences.  It still does.  I often remark that I make the choices I do because I insist against my own happiness--when things are going well, I sabotage (as evidenced by my weight-loss issues!).

Now, as a 33-year-old mom-of-three, my attitude is more a reflection of the responsibilities of adult- and parenthood.  I have about 50 things in my head at once, and smiling isn't usually one of those 50 things!  Don't get me wrong--I smile and laugh plenty throughout my days.  My kids are pretty darn hysterical--the stuff that comes out of their mouths is priceless.  If I focused on their musings all day long, I'd be constantly smiling...but I have those 49 other things weighing on my mind.  Being an adult is not really a smile-fest, even when things are great.  I'm constantly thinking ahead to troubleshoot potential issues with the kids and our household, and of course, I'm constantly dealing with repercussions from past decisions (parenting is sometimes a torturous cycle of second-guessing...).  I try not to dwell on the past, or let it mess with my head--but some days, I can't help wondering how my life would be if I had been a better person/daughter/sister/friend/wife/parent at various points in time.  And that gets me wondering about how my life could be if I work on being a better person now.

I might be onto something here...

I have recently been watching "Secret Millionaire" on ABC, and I cry like a dork when the millionaires reveal themselves and give away some of their fortune to worthy causes.  I'm not a millionaire (in case you were wondering), but I really think that a key to happiness is helping others however you can--it's something that Dan and I have discussed many times in relation to the kids.  How can we instill in them the importance of helping others?  They seem really young to do some of the ideas we have come up with (at least all three of them--Abby could probably go to a food bank or soup kitchen at her age), so I'm hoping that the concept will be easier to impress upon them as they get older.  I used to spend a lot of my hours volunteering--something of which I was (and still am!) extremely proud.  I started volunteering when I was maybe 14 or 15 years old, and continued devoting a large portion of my time until I was 24--first I was candy-striping at a local hospital, then I volunteered with the local Office on Youth, and then I worked for a national non-profit (paid when I worked at the national office, but all volunteer for the hundreds of hours I put in on the local and state level).  At that point, I was a little burned out the politics and hours of volunteering, and I was newly married...I felt like a break was in order.  I didn't realize the break would last for almost 10 years now, and I've been thinking a lot lately about how to get back into some volunteer work.  With the boys still at home with me full-time, I can't even manage a day volunteering in Abby's classroom, so most of it is just daydreaming--but when all three kids are in school, I want to find a passion for volunteering again.  What causes will I want to champion--the same ones as my younger self, or new issues?  I'm honestly excited to find out who I am through volunteering again--it's a great way to define what's in your heart, feel connected to a larger purpose, and re-energize.  Until then, I'm going to start keeping an eye out for small, doable opportunities to help others--because that genuinely brings happiness all around, and because I hope to give my kids the same foundation in service that I had growing up.  What are some good, small volunteering ideas for young kids that you guys have discovered?  I may have to google and get going!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Challenge #3

I never thought I was a "grass is greener" kind of girl.  I have a fantastic life, and I've tried hard to not take all my blessings for granted.  When we discovered I was pregnant with Alex in late 2009, though, my grateful, optimistic attitude took a fairly large hit--I was facing down Dan's year-long deployment to Iraq, giving birth by myself in the US, and managing three young kids alone...two of whom were only going to be 17 months apart.  My parents immediately stepped in with their offer to house and help me for the duration of the deployment, which was a true lifesaver, but it didn't do much for my mood or outlook.  I was down in it, anxious about everything (I couldn't shake this question:  what if something goes wrong when I'm in labor, and my children are left with no parent in the US?), and just plain overwhelmed.  I limped through 2010 with a depression I justified with the situation--I just couldn't imagine being really happy with a screaming newborn and a husband facing immense danger in a warzone every day.  I was elated when the clock struck midnight on December 31, 2010--I couldn't wait to get 2011 started, get my husband home, and be together as a family again.  I just knew 2011 would be better for us--Dan would get to bond with Alex, have a job that allowed him to be home a lot more than his previous US assignment, and we were going to live close to our extended families (not in their house, which was a big distinction--my parents' house is lovely, but I was ready to be on my own again, even with all the work that entails!).  The grass was definitely greener in 2011, right?  Dan came home in February that year, but "home" at the time for him was still Texas...even though the kids and I had moved to Virginia, and Dan's new job was in Virginia, he still had to finish out his old job in Texas before moving to be with us.  I spent months fantasizing about our life once Dan and I were in the same state again, under our own roof, enjoying our life as a family of five for the first time.  OneRepublic had a new song on the radio at the time, and every time I heard it, I turned up the volume and sang at the top of my lungs:

This is gonna be a good life--this could really be a good life!  I truly felt in my heart that if my little family could just get itself back together, life would be great--my depression would lift, my anxieties would subside, and we would just magically be happy.  I'm sure you can guess how that worked out!  It was wonderful to finally have my husband by my side again after 15 long months apart.  It was so nice to have both Mommy and Daddy around for the kids.  It was fun to be in our own house again.  Many things were happy, but of course, we were adjusting to a new life together--even if things had stayed exactly the same (same house, same number of kids!) while Dan was deployed, we still would have had a hard adjustment when he came home.  That's just how it is with deployments--no relationship, no matter how strong, can come out of the stress of a deployment unscathed.  Dan and I were on pretty shaky ground with each other leading into the deployment--much of which I contribute to the deployment itself, because you don't just shut off your emotions the day your spouse spend months mentally and emotionally preparing and distancing yourself so that the day your spouse leaves isn't as painful as it would be otherwise.  We also had a surprise pregnancy to contend with in those difficult months leading up to Dan leaving--we were just hanging on for dear life, trying to will the months away.  It was rough.  Coming together again after more than a year apart, in a new house, with a new baby (I should say no longer a baby--Alex turned 1 before Dan joined us physically under one roof again) was a monumental task.

Two and a half years later, and I still feel like we're trying to adjust to our life as a family of five.  I find myself searching desperately for that greener grass--whether it's the perfect relaxing vacation that really bonds us as a family, or a long stretch of good communication with my husband, or time for myself...just something better than the imbalance I feel most days.  I've become attached to another family through their blog, the Ingram Family at Our Sonny Life--also a family of five whose youngest son, Trek, passed away at 14 months old after being diagnosed with a fatal, untreatable disease.  The loss, grief, and adversity they have faced as a family dwarfs any challenge I have in my life, and I have so much respect for the grace and beauty they exhibit through their life lived to honor their son.  They truly embrace life, and I was struck with a passage Chelsea, Trek's mom, posted a few months ago when writing a guest article for

"My husband and I were talking as we were driving our two oldest boys to a park, discussing all we had been through this past year and a half.  What would we say if someone asked what message we had to share after 18 months abroad and the death of our son?  What have we learned?
We just looked at each other, we knew, the answer was nothing.  Not a nothing in a sad way, but a nothing in a freeing way.  We found there is no gold at the end of the rainbow.
Part of the reason we wanted to go abroad was to see if there was some secret out there.  Some secret way to live in total peace, some miracle cure for our son, some people group or place where we could live out our days in pure joy.  We never found it and we never will.  It was so liberating!
All we have is today.  All we have is this moment with our children and those we love.  We can strive for fame and fortune, and it may come, but the sacrifice of time to get there is rarely worth it.  We can live in Italy, or Thailand, or Fiji, but the choice to be happy and content will always fall on us.  There is no happiness pill out there, it is found right where you are."

Chelsea addressed something in me that I didn't even realize was there--I have been searching for the secret to living a happy life, the greener grass just out of my reach.  I have been cranky and miserable at my failure to discover this magic bullet.  I have been taking for granted all the good life surrounding me--such an amazing, good life.  I love my husband.  I love my kids.  I have the luxury of being at home every day to nurture my babies.  We're all healthy.  Even though I'm not yet done with Challenge #2, I'm ready for a new Challenge.  I can't run around for the next year of Dan's unforgiving work schedule/my pseudo-single parenthood with a huge chip on my shoulder, feeling burdened by the inconsequential things that make my days a little bit more difficult--I have to figure out how to balance my mood, a lot better than I have the last few weeks (months?  years????).

So, ladies and gentleman, I present Challenge #3: Happy Housewife.  I'm going to attempt to roll with the punches, not sweat the small stuff, force myself to smile, appreciate all the gifts I have in this life, and not lose least for the coming two weeks.  I've read that it can take anywhere from 28 days to almost 10 weeks to break a habit...but I'm not as patient.  Let's do it in 14 days!  :)  Hopefully the change will stay in effect well after two weeks are over, but I'm going to really focus on the attitude adjustment for the next two weeks.  In order to break my doom-and-gloom, I'm going to plaster a smile on my face and be grateful--because let's face it, my life is pretty wonderful if I could just get out of my own head for long enough to enjoy it.  Here's to the next two weeks!

Monday, August 5, 2013

New Normal

I am struggling--to adjust to the harsh reality of Dan's new job schedule, to make time for myself, to keep up with my job as housewife when we haven't been spending much time at our house...I'm just struggling.  I work well under pressure (always have--huge procrastinator!), but I'm learning that as I'm getting older, I don't handle stress as well.  It really bothers me when the house is a mess--my stress level goes through the roof until I break out the cleaning supplies and scrub everything down.  It really bothers me when I forget to do something crucial to my job (ie, keeping the family running)--it slipped my mind to get Abby her sports physical this summer, so now she can't register for dance class until I can get her in for a late physical at the end of August...when dance class might be full.  It really bothers me when days and days go by, and I haven't had a chance to really talk with my husband.  I feel bombarded with these seemingly little annoyances/issues/troubles/hiccups lately, and this past week especially, I allowed all of it to pile up in my head and make me insufferably, obnoxiously, miserably cranky.

I should have worn this all last week as a warning...

Not only was I totally miserable last week, but I made everyone around me miserable, too--poor Dan didn't know what hit him, and I didn't really know how to explain it to him (especially not in the 2 seconds of conversation we've been able to have each night before he goes to get reading done for work or goes to bed because he's exhausted from his crazy long days).

Let me just say that I'm not adjusting well to our new family schedule, precipitated by Dan's change in jobs.  There have been a lot of changes--the most obvious one being Dan's new hours.  He wakes up a lot earlier than he used to when he had a 5-minute commute to the office--now his commute is anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour (barring major complications), and he has to report to work earlier than in his old job.  That means he is out the door at a ridiculously early hour...and he's not all that quiet in his mad rush to get ready in the mornings.  Why does that matter?  Because our sweet kiddos, who had been enjoying the lazy sleeping-in mornings of summer, are now waking up when Daddy slams the front door closed on his way out.  Not only are Dan's days longer, but now my days are longer, too, with those rude awakenings.  I've been totally off my Good Housewife game when it comes to making dinners this summer (all Dan's time off and our vacation really screwed with my routine, not to mention my motivation), so when I'm frantically running around my kitchen trying to piece together something for the kids to eat and Dan isn't even home at 6:30pm, I'm a little burned out.  I miss the days of Dan walking in the door by 5pm and helping me with dinner or the kids (or both!).  Even when he wasn't particularly helpful, just knowing he would be there somehow calmed my mind--and now, knowing that he probably won't be there makes the evenings more hectic.  We've been doing well with getting the kids to bed by 8pm most nights, but then Dan has a ton of reading to do for his new job, or he's exhausted from his long commute and the steep learning curve at his new I end up spending my evenings alone in front of HGTV again.  I know I've posted in the past that I am lonely, but it deserves mention here again, because I think that is a major contributing factor to my crankiness.  So his new hours are hard for me, because the days are longer, and I'm really lonely at the end of them.

I have a very meaningful relationship with my TV these days

The second change is much more insidious for my mood:  Dan adores his new job.  That is great, right?  Having a job that you love is something everyone strives to find, and he's lucky enough to have it!  I'm just a really bad person, because his absolute love of his new job is making me feel extremely bitter.  The amount of stress this new job has brought me, and what I've given up because of the new job, make his love of said new job feel a little like a slap in the face.  I'm having to work really hard to find time when I can exercise (and many times not succeeding), as opposed to the relative ease of my regular exercise classes the last 6 months, and that creates a weekly (sometimes daily!) large stress for me--I really do need the exercise classes for my sanity, and for my health.  I'm in charge of the money management for our family, and watching our credit card balance balloon due to the expenditures we've had to make for this new job (2 new suits! new dress shirts!  new shoes!  daily cost for parking and gas!) causes me a lot of stress--trying to figure out how to adjust to the new expenses while sticking to our budget takes up a lot of my time and mental energy.  Dan has always been a workaholic, and in fact, he loved the position he held for the past two years, so I'm used to him really enjoying his work--and I'm glad that he does, because the alternative would be so much worse.  This new job just seems to take that enjoyment to a new level, and that's hard for me--not only are we barely seeing each other and never getting time to connect, but when we do get to talk, all I hear about is the job.  I understand, it's what's going on in his life right now, so of course he wants to share it with me--and I feel absolutely terrible that all of this makes me feel bitter and unsupportive.  I promise, I'm not unsupportive--I think Dan is amazing and doing wonderful things with this new position, and I'm so glad he has the opportunity.  I'm extremely proud of him.  I just miss him--I miss having a normal conversation with him that doesn't only revolve around work or the kids.  I miss lazy nights on the couch watching a movie or our favorite shows together.  I miss weekend fun family time.  We haven't found the balance yet--daily life is just not as comfortable as it was, and my adjustment has been painful and slow.

The kids and I are heading off on another adventure later this week (ahem, DisneyWorld), and Dan can't come with us--you guessed it, because of his inability to take leave from his new job.  I'm really hoping that the time away will do both of us some good--I'll have a lot of hopefully fun-filled days with my family (not talking about Dan's new job!), and Dan will have a lot of quiet time to himself to get his work done in the evenings.  I'm hoping to come back refreshed, although just typing that unleashes maniacal, sinister laughter in my head--does anyone come back from a "vacation" to DisneyWorld in August with three kids feeling refreshed??  Okay, maybe I'm just hoping that we all make it back in one piece, and I'll be so happy to be home that I won't mind hearing all about how cool the job was while I was gone.  ;)

I could use a little Happiest Place on Earth right now

I'll let you know how it all goes when I get back in town next week, and I'll be launching a new stayed tuned!  I'll leave you with my Challenge #2 update for this week--I weighed in at 136.4 yesterday, for a loss of 1.6 pounds.  Feels like the old days again with those trusty 1.6 pounds lost!  I'm just happy to have reversed the upward trend of the last few weeks, and hoping not to screw myself all up in Florida...although it'll be yet another temptation on this journey.  Wish me luck!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Pompatus of Love

Dan and I had our 9th wedding anniversary just a few weeks ago!  It's hard to believe that so much time has gone by...and also so little.  9 years, 3 kids, 4.5 moves (I count moving to my parents' house as a half move), 1 deployment--that's a lot of stuff to cram in.  Dan really wanted to celebrate while we were at the beach with my family--our anniversary was the week after our beach trip, but it was mid-week of Dan's first week in his new job, so the options for celebrating were going to be limited.  He talked with my mom to make sure it was okay if we slipped out after the kids were in bed one night for a late dinner, and researched restaurants--he was pretty motivated!  We've been to the same beach in a previous year on my birthday, so we'd done a little get-away once before.  That year, we grabbed lunch and a movie while our kids were napping--we tried to find a nice restaurant that we had read about online, but ended up in some sort of office we wandered until we came upon a hole-in-the-wall sub place called Stu's Surfside.  You know what?  I loved it!  Dan and I had a nice, relaxed lunch and a totally chill atmosphere (there were surfboards on the wall--you can't get any more chill than that).  Dan even got me a t-shirt from the restaurant to commemorate our random fun outing--I still wear it as a sleep and exercise shirt all the time.

Stu's Surfside--I highly recommend!

This year, Dan wanted to go somewhere nice, so he found a restaurant that had good reviews and appeared fancy, and booked the reservation for 8:30pm on our second-to-last night at the beach.  I was excited for our date night, but nervous when he told me the name of the restaurant--Red Fish.  Just so you know, I'm not a seafood girl in any way.  Meaning I don't eat it.  Meaning I usually steer clear of restaurants that specialize in seafood.  Dan assured me that they had more than seafood on the menu, and offered to let me check out the menu online if I wanted to--but I trusted him when he said I could order a burger, and pushed my nervousness down.  I hate nitpicking him when he's trying to do something nice--besides, he knows me better than anyone, so it couldn't be so bad, right?  Just in case, I also researched places to get ice cream afterward...because if I couldn't find anything to eat, I would want some dessert!  I told him that I wanted to make it to The Salty Dog Cafe for their ice cream, but they closed at 10pm, so we would need to keep aware of the time on our fancy date.

We arrived at Red Fish right on time for our reservation, and it really was a beautiful restaurant.  One entire wall in the entry served as a giant wine rack--which is probably super exciting for a lot of people, but since I don't drink, not so exciting for me...but it was pretty to look at.  We opted for an indoor table because the humidity was high outside and I had just the hint of a headache starting--I figured if we enjoyed some air conditioning and I got some good food in me, my head would feel better.  8:30pm is pretty late for dinner for me, so I figured I was just hungry.  We were escorted to our table, and I was immediately aware of the white tablecloths...we don't usually pick places with white tablecloths, because we almost always have the kids with us, and that would be a disaster!  This place was definitely fancy by our standards.  I also noticed that the dining room had a number of empty tables (again, it was a late dinner), but that the hostess placed us at a table directly next to an 8-top in full swing--drinks flowing, loud conversation going.  Not exactly what I had in mind for our romantic anniversary dinner.  Then I saw the menu, and my attempts at being optimistic about the place began to lose footing...  I had been looking forward to a good burger all day, and yes, they did have a burger on their menu just like my dear husband promised--but it was a $28 burger with fois gras, truffles, and a port demi-glace.  Um, I'm not a dumb person, but I wasn't entirely sure what all that stuff was (fancy is not really in my vocabulary), and I wasn't paying $28 to order it plain.  Surely most of the cost was the fancy toppings??  I wanted to make the best of our date, but now my head was really pounding--the cost of the food and those ridiculously loud drunk people at the table next to us were not helping in the slightest.  Not kidding, we learned how many cups of coffee one of their friends drinks every morning (so early, too--how rude to be noisy in the kitchen when everyone is trying to sleep!), and we also got to hear their crude, crass take on the Steubenville rape...they were from Ohio.  One of the guys at the table was either unfortunately named (or horribly nicknamed) FUBAR.  Seriously.  No, I don't know that family personally and have never talked to them directly, but I learned a lot about them from practically sitting in their laps for an hour.  They were cursing, and there were kids in the restaurant--other tables were turning around to stare at them as well, but they were totally oblivious.  No wonder my head was hurting.

We went ahead and ordered calamari for an appetizer (the one seafood item I will eat, oddly), and they brought us the most delicious bread--I'm a huge sucker for restaurant bread baskets, and this one was tremendous.  We had put in our order for our entrees, but I started thinking that perhaps we should just get going--the table next to us showed no signs of stopping (or getting the hint, even when Dan and I loudly interjected our thoughts into their conversation), my head was really hurting, and I didn't feel like eating the $23 chicken entree I ordered instead of my desired burger.  I told Dan I wanted to leave, and I could tell he was pretty crushed--I felt bad, but I was ready to take off.  Dan didn't feel right about cancelling our entree order, so we stayed--I told Dan to go ahead and eat, but I was not up for a heavy meal right then (I was totally full from all that bread).  Dan asked the waiter to just box up our meals (although he did eat some of his chicken--we both ordered the cheapest thing on the menu!), and while trying to subtly explain that the table next to us was making my head hurt, Dan somehow implied that we had to leave because I was massively hungover.  That actually made me laugh--the waiter was like, "Oh, I've so been there--I understand."  Ha!  The manager came by to check on our experience, and said that the offending party would be leaving soon, but we were already prepared to go--nothing could make me stay in my seat longer!  She did offer to move us to a different table, but I was so over the experience--we had wasted an hour at a type of restaurant where I don't think either of us is the most comfortable, with an ambiance (on that particular night) that pretty much sucked, and I wanted to just get out of there and go get ice cream.  The manager gave us two miniature bottles of champagne on our way out, saying that she had planned to order free dessert for us in honor of our anniversary, but couldn't since we were leaving...  Oh well.  I'm sure the place is quite nice any other time--it just wasn't the right place for us that evening.

Dan was apologizing to me all over the place, and I felt guilty--it wasn't his fault at all, but I was so glad to get in the car!  We drove over to the area of the island where The Salty Dog Cafe is, and Dan parked--we had been there once before on a previous beach visit, and in the dark, I wasn't sure we were in the right place...  We walked around all the shops and restaurants, but alas, there was no Salty Dog--we were in the wrong area, with no time to get to the right one before the 10pm closing time.  This was shaping up to be a total Dan-and-Jill comedy of errors.  We were feeling defeated, but I saw some people with ice cream and asked them where they got it--I was determined to salvage this date with ice cream!  We stood in line and paid $14 for two double-scoop cones, and heard a guy playing guitar at a nearby restaurant's outdoor seating area.  He was playing "The Joker" by the Steve Miller Band, and I managed to get my husband to dance with me for the last few lines of the song, while our ice cream cones melted onto our hands.  We played that song at our wedding (I picked the playlist!), so it felt really fitting.  The ice cream was really good (I don't know about $14 good, but it was worth the mood boost for me!), and the guy with the guitar kept playing good song after good song (including some Counting Crows, which is my favorite band--the guy was talented!).  We sat down in these oversized outdoor rocking chairs, ate our ice cream, and held hands while singing along (okay, I was the only one singing!)--it was perfect.  The right vibe for us, definitely--I'm way more of a burger-and-ice-cream girl.  Maybe without me, Dan would be a white tablecloth restaurant kind of guy, but the two of us together have a much better time when the place is more relaxed and we can just have fun.  As a bonus, the guitar player was giving away free cds, so we got a keepsake of the pleasant end of our evening (not quite a Stu's t-shirt, but it will do!).

Dan and me on our 9th anniversary date

We definitely had a memorable evening out, and were laughing about the whole night before we even got back to the house afterward.  I think the best times are the ones that become a good story afterward--even if things don't go as planned.  Oh, and don't think we wasted that super expensive meal from Red Fish--we both ate our chicken for lunch the next day, and it was delicious!  :)  The miniature champagne bottles, however, now reside in our idea when we'll have occasion to drink them, but now it's just kind of a funny reminder.  Bottom line, despite his sometimes-questionable restaurant choices, I'm so glad I married Dan 9 years ago--and I wouldn't have wanted to spend that weird night out with anyone else!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

100th Post!

Over the last few days, I debated all kinds of topics for my next blog post--but when I realized that this was my 100th post, I thought perhaps I should post something profound.  Apparently my brain is too fried for profound, because I'm going to post an update on my Challenge #2 to get myself healthy!  Eh, what's 100 posts anyway?  Maybe I'll become profound by 200.  :)

the extent of my profundity for today

I last gave you the Challenge #2 update way back on June 17th...before the insanity of the rest of the month (and apparently all of July) took over.  I had just survived my first week without the safety net of my three scheduled exercise classes, and weighed in at 133.2 that week.  I came out of that week with a loss because I cobbled together some exercise on my own--my friend's Zumba class at her gym, a new Zumba class sort of near my house, and some laps at the pool.  Over the weeks that followed, I did manage to swim laps at the pool a few times, but I never made it to another structured class again until last week!  I'll give you the quick overview:

When things got ridiculously busy, I stopped tracking my calories and fitness in my WebMD log.  I had been tracking diligently, daily, obsessively since I started this Challenge in January, and figured I could probably do without the log--I kind of know what I'm doing now, right?  Hmmm...

At my lowest weight (right after I got so sick out at my sister's house), I weighed in at 131.4--not a true baseline since the weight loss was brought on by sickness, but I just wanted to throw that out there so you could know where I was at the end of June!

The beach vacation was a temptation, to say the least--my parents graciously stocked the pantry with all kinds of goodies that I try not to keep at my own house (because I lack the self-control to stop myself from binging...).  My willpower has improved over this Challenge, but the beach was too much--I figured I was on vacation, what could some cinnamon buns/Hershey Kisses/<insert super fatty deliciousness here> hurt?  I had worked so hard toward my goal weight, I deserved a week off!  (This is what my brain kept telling me.)  I finally understand the self-sabotage that happens on The Biggest Loser, when they stick those poor folks so desperately dedicated to getting their health back on track in a room full of their weaknesses and tell them that they can win immunity if they overindulge.  I used to be super annoyed at the people who ate during those temptations, but now I totally get it--dangle the forbidden fruit (or, as it were, nothing nearly as healthy as fruit) in front of someone and give them any justification for it (you've worked so hard!  you deserve it!  it's vacation!  you can win a prize!), and you're bound to have at least one person who cracks.  I am that person--I cracked.  Big time.

seriously, no one can pass up s'mores!

I weighed in right after vacation, and I was up to 136 pounds--I gained 4.6 pounds in 2.5 weeks.  Yikes.  Not even swimming a few laps in the pool at our beach house or long walks on the beach collecting shells could save me from all the junk I ate late at night...early in the morning...pretty much all day for seven days straight.

I told myself that I would get back on track after we got home from the beach.  I berated myself for my bad habits--eating at night, eating too much, eating junk.  But I was super exhausted after our week of fun in the sun, and it was easy to grab those treats and just munch on them to keep myself going throughout the day.  And then Dan went out of town for 3 days last week, and I thought if I could just eat all the M&Ms and Hershey Kisses in the house, I could get back on track (oh, my old faulty thinking at work).  I found M&Ms hidden deep in our cabinets--who knew we had so many bags?  No one ever will know how many bags we had, because I ate them all.  I ate so much, I felt sick.  Ugh.

So this week, I weighed in at 138 pounds...and I'm not at all surprised.  The only thing that surprises me is that I don't weigh more at this point.  What am I doing?  Um, I can't even ask that question--I know exactly what I'm doing (or not doing):

  • I stopped tracking my calorie intake and fitness.  Clearly, I wasn't ready to take the training wheels off, even after 6 months.
  • I am not getting good sleep every night--I've had bouts of insomnia (especially while Dan was gone--I never sleep well), and the lack of sleep leads to poor decision-making when it comes to my food throughout the day.  The lack of sleep also hinders my metabolism and weight loss...not to mention, makes me crazy cranky.
  • I've been eating all kinds of junk.  It's time for a cabinet clean-out (and not the fun kind where I eat everything)--I need to eliminate all the temptations from the house until I can get my self-control under control again.
  • I haven't been exercising!  Without those scheduled classes, I'm blowing in the wind, and it's too easy to put off exercise when you're not accountable to a schedule of classes for which you've already paid.  Dan's new schedule has definitely added a new wrinkle to my quest...
  • I have not been blogging my weight updates.  What did I just say about accountability?  I need to be accountable to you, dear readers, to keep me from breaking my scale.  Obviously I lack the motivation to do this on my own in a vacuum--I need people cheering me on, and I need folks to know when I've fallen off the wagon so that I have the push to get back on again.

That's where I am--I'm trying to do much better this week, but maintaining my focus is hard and will be short-lived.  This week is our only "normal" week so far this summer, and the only normal week I have before we take off on yet another temptation-laden adventure next week!  It's hard to get on a good schedule when the schedule keeps changing, so I'm just trying to keep my head up and work with what I've got right now.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

DC Girls' Weekend

My best friend Kerry flew in from Boston the day after Abby's big 7th birthday party...the fun never stops around here (not even for a little break!).  I unpacked from those two days at my parents' house, and immediately repacked my overnight bag for a girls' weekend in DC.  Kerry and I had been trying to plan a time to get together (the last time we saw each other was when she flew out to stay with us last summer), and it worked out that she could squeeze in a trip during the few free days I had between Abby's birthday party and our beach trip.  When she visited last year, we just stayed at my house and tried to catch up as best as we could with three kids running around us constantly--Kerry is such a good sport about my crazy kids, and was an awesome honorary aunt taking them to the playground and entertaining them with me for days...but she and I didn't get a lot of time to really talk with each other.  No matter how much we both love my kids, we just couldn't get to the good stuff with them around!  So this year, I convinced Dan to let me have a few days away from the house with Kerry--he was off work before starting his new job, so we had that flexibility.  I thought Dan would benefit from a few days with the kids (actually, the first time he'd been totally on his own with all three of them for an overnight ever--the only other time I've been gone for more than a day, he took the kids down to stay at his parents' house), and I knew I would benefit from some down time with my BFF!

As soon as Dan gave me the green light, I started planning--we wanted to stay in DC, so we picked the Hotel Monaco, within walking distance of pretty much anything and everything we could want to see.  I've lived in the DC area off and on since 1992, so there's really not much in DC that I haven't already done, and Kerry has been to DC many, many's not like we really needed to be tourists, but we wanted to be in the middle of things.  I picked her up at the airport early on a Sunday morning and we went into Old Town Alexandria, where we got SOAKING wet in a torrential downpour on our way to lunch at one of my favorite places, Bread & Chocolate.  The waitress actually got paper towels for us after we were seated, because we were literally dripping with rain!  That didn't put a damper on our day--I was so excited to see Kerry, have the time to talk with her, and the freedom to go do whatever we wanted for a few days!  The rain did let up by the time we were done eating, so we walked around Old Town for a bit before heading into DC.  We made a quick stop at Arlington National Cemetery to see the Kennedy burial sites, and then we made our way to our hotel.  We were staying directly across from the National Portrait Gallery, so we walked over there after checking into the hotel.  Kerry dubbed our versions of DC-tourist activities as "DC-Lite"--we pretty much skipped through the things in which we didn't have much interest and went straight for things that caught our eye, and we didn't linger too much on anything!  It was perfect--we got in some culture while also talking nonstop about what is going on in our lives.  So much to catch up on!

this weird aluminum foil exhibit won't leave my brain

After the Portrait Gallery, we went back to our hotel room and got changed for dinner--by that point, it was raining again, so we went with the path of least resistance and picked a restaurant directly behind the hotel.  We walked in, and I was a little surprised that it seemed like kind of a dive...but, whatever--if they had a good burger, that would be fine with me.  We ordered chips and salsa, and I was chattering away when Kerry told me she could be good to finish our appetizer and head out.  I figured she was sketched out by the dive-y nature of the place, and I was up for anything, so I agreed to finish the chips and go.  After we got out to the street, Kerry informed me that rushed exit was due to the fact that our waitress was practically naked--she apparently had her jeans unbuttoned and unzipped and was not wearing any underwear!  Seriously??  How did I miss this (and why, why did that situation occur in the first place)?  Good call on not eating the prepared food from that establishment, Kerry--you probably saved us some nasty stomach bug.  We were totally stuffed from the chips and salsa, so we just walked and talked in the rain--DC was pretty quiet that evening, and we walked all the way to the National Mall and then back toward our hotel.  We discovered a Walgreens on our walk, so we stopped in to pick up some treats to take back to our hotel--and were totally floored by the most amazing Walgreens we'd ever seen.  It was three stories tall, had a nail salon and a frozen yogurt bar!  Absolutely crazy--best find ever.

check out the frozen yogurt toppings bar INSIDE Walgreens!

We indulged in some delicious frozen yogurt, bought chocolate to eat later, and headed back to our hotel for the night.  Kerry is a big gym rat at home, so we picked a hotel that had a gym--we got up and worked out together the following morning, which was a great way to start the day!  It was a rainy day again, so we headed out with our complimentary Hotel Monaco umbrellas and walked until we dropped.  We wound through the Sculpture Garden on our way to the National Mall, and then spent a few hours in the National Museum of the American Indian--Kerry is a high school English teacher who teaches a book about American Indians, and she wanted some information and photos to add to her lessons...any kid who has her as a teacher is so lucky!  We then hit Kerry's favorite spot in DC, the Botanical Gardens--absolutely beautiful, and amazing that they create so many different climates and grow so many types of plants and flowers!  We made an obligatory stop on the steps of the Capitol and then walked all the way to the MLK Memorial--that's 2 miles, folks.  Just to get there.  Then we had to walk back--and this was on a super hot day after we had already walked at least another 2 miles!  We finally made it back to civilization, and stopped at the first restaurant we came to (we refused to eat street vendor food since we had been so healthy that day with the gym that morning and all the walking) for a late lunch of sandwiches.  My legs felt like they were still walking after I sat was painful to get back up again!  After we ate, Kerry took me on a tour of some of her favorite clothing stores--I never shop, so this was an intimidating education for me.  H&M was huge, crowded, and crazy.  Forever 21 overwhelmed me.  The Gap wasn't so bad--I've been in there before, so at least I was familiar!  Kerry thinks I need to go on What Not To Wear--as I've said before, I don't disagree.  She tried to update my style, but I'm pretty set in my jeans-and-t-shirt ways--she did manage to get me out of my standard summer footwear of UVa flip flops and into some more-stylish Havaianas black flip flops, so I'd call that a major fashion victory for her!  We managed not to break the bank, and limped our way back to the hotel for a break before dinner.

We decided to go to Old Ebbitt Grill near the White House for dinner--we hadn't yet been by the White House on this visit (we tend to take a picture of ourselves in front of it whenever Kerry is in town!), so we wanted to go by after dinner.  It was a gorgeous night, and we got our picture.  :)

Kerry, me, and the White House

Kerry got up and went to the gym the next morning before we checked out of the hotel, but I couldn't drag myself out of bed to go with her--I was SO tired from our DC adventure the day before!  I did eventually get up, and we drove around DC a bit more before heading back to my real life--we were supposed to meet Dan and the kids at the boys' gymnastics class and then get lunch with them, but Jake threw up that morning, so gymnastics was cancelled!  Poor Dan had to deal with kids throwing up while I was gone...  Kerry and I got lunch together and then headed to my house, where the kids were thrilled to see her and show her everything in the house--they wouldn't leave her alone!  We all went out to dinner that night (Jake was feeling much better, thankfully!), and then I had to take Kerry to the airport the following morning.  Three days go by so fast, but it was a wonderful, restorative visit with the girl who knows me best--I can't wait to plan the next Kerry-and-Jill getaway!

Kerry with my kiddos--they LOVE her!

I have to give a huge shout out to my awesome husband, who not only let me escape the daily grind for a few days while he held down the fort at home with the kids, but he did a tremendous job!  He led the kids in Lego building competitions, read lots of stories, and even took all three kids to the National Air & Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center to see the Discovery space shuttle!  Amazing--that's an outing that this well-versed stay-at-home mom probably wouldn't have attempted by myself, so I was super impressed with Dan's desire and execution--he made some great memories with the kids, and that meant everything to me.  Great job, honey--and thank you for my girls' weekend!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Abby's 7th Birthday!

Abby turned 7 years old at the end of June, and the girl was celebrated many times!  The first of her birthday celebrations was at school before the end of the year--summer birthdays all get clumped together at the end, and Abby came home on a Friday informing me that her teacher said her school birthday would be the coming Monday.  Really?  I searched her backpack for a note alerting me to the plans for her party (should I send cupcakes?  should I plan to attend?  is Abby correct on her dates, or is her celebration a different day??), but found nothing--and as it was a Friday, I couldn't get in touch with her teacher to find out if Abby's intel was correct.  I had already promised my girl some cupcakes for her school party, so that Sunday night, I went ahead and made two dozen to take to her class the following morning--hoping that Abby had her days right!  I was crazy tired that night, and of course, I started my cupcake project very I was finishing up the decorating well after midnight.  I think my tiredness worked in my favor because I got very adventurous with the icing tips--I just pulled tips out at random, and glopped icing on the cupcakes with them!  It was actually pretty fun, although I'm a little bummed because I didn't think to write down which tips I used to make which cupcakes...

my favorites are the dark purple icing

watching DC Cupcakes came in handy a little bit

happy school birthday, Abby!

Phew...I made those cupcakes just a day after Alex's birthday party, so my house was overflowing with cupcakes.  I was a little cupcaked out, but I loved how they looked and was pretty proud of my effort--and Abby was correct on the date for her school party, so I didn't show up in her classroom with cupcakes for no reason!

Abby's next birthday celebration was supposed to be at the playground near our house on her actual birthday--because we were having her big party out at my parents' house (an hour from where we live), I wanted to have a local get-together for her school and neighborhood friends.  I sent out invites in her backpack before school ended, and even though it called for making more cupcakes, I was excited to have a fun outdoor activity with my girl and her friends.

cute invite--and it did include an RSVP and more info on a location!

Abby handed out something like 25 invites, but it seemed like the timing might not be great for the celebration--a lot of our neighbors were going to be out of town or have moved by that day, so I was hoping her school friends would come through.  By the RSVP deadline, only one neighbor had responded that they would be there...hmmm.  I was really worried that Abby would get her hopes up for a big morning of fun with her friends at the playground, only to have very few people show up.  I tried to prep her for a small playdate (although I was hopeful that some folks would just come without RSVPing), and she was excited to see the family who had RSVP'd.  Unfortunately, this celebration had to get cancelled at the last minute when I got terribly sick out at my sister's house--so I have no idea if folks from school wandered around the playground looking for us that morning...  To make up for my ruining her special day, my mom and sister sprang into action and put together a fun morning celebration at my sister's house when Abby woke up on her birthday!

presents for the birthday girl!

Grandma came to the cupcake rescue!

We came back to our own house the afternoon of Abby's birthday, and had one day at home before we went back out to stay at my parents' house...this time, to prep for Abby's big birthday party!  I had chosen a cake design for Abby's Rapunzel party theme by doing a Google search--I looked for a cake that looked simple and fun.  I found one on this blog, and thought it was something I could do!  It was a pretty straightforward design--one large round cake (for the "water"), a smaller round cake (for the "grass"), and a cute tower made out of cupcakes!

the water layer

grass layer on top!

building the cupcake tower

the finished cake!

The cake wasn't too hard (to check out my previous cakes, click here)--I did spend a few hours on it, and my mom helped tremendously (as always!) by making the icing and colors for me, but it wasn't a stressful experience.  Abby loved her cake, too!

the birthday girl with her cake at the party

Happy birthday to my sweet girl!  :)  The party was great fun, and guess who made a surprise appearance??  Rapunzel herself!  :)

Rapunzel with Abby