Friday, January 23, 2015

Zoo with the Nieces

I have been gifted with two amazing nieces (more, actually, but this post is about my sister's kids). They are teens now, which means they could decide at any moment they are just too cool for me. And I would totally understand. But luckily, they have not. They're still willing to let me hop in their Jeep and cruise around, which is an absolute hoot. Almost grown-ups!

They could also easily decide that hanging with Connor and Helen is not something they want to do. But they don't. Instead, my sister finds outings that everyone can enjoy, and we all have a blast in our own way.

Over Christmas break, we went to the KC Zoo, a place we often visit. Top of our list were visits to see the baby penguins and the polar bears - two things we don't (and probably won't ever) have at the National Zoo.

My sister has been a mom for longer than me, so we never leave the house without a little snack in hand and an escape plan. This visit was executed pretty close to flawlessly.

Usually, we also find ourselves at a big indoor swim park, but after struggling through the flu a few days earlier, that sort of outing seemed unwise.


Elaine

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Marathon training - we're all in it together

    Marathon training is in full tilt at this point. And it's becoming increasingly obvious that it involves a lot more than just me. I decided to train for a Spring marathon because our lives are generally quieter in the winter, so being gone for 3 hour stretches on a weekend morning are less intrusive than in other seasons. But what I didn't realize is that my friends would get pulled in at midnight!

    Last Friday, I traded children with a friend of mine. She took Connor, I took a younger child of hers. Normally, she would be getting the better deal of the exchange (we trade off, and I was due to have the littles). On this particular night, she did not get the better deal.

    Around 11:00, Connor woke up puking. From what I can tell, her husband cleaned everything up - which is no small feat since they live in an apartment and their laundry facility is located several floors beneath their living space. The puking continued for well over an hour, and at that point, I received a phone call letting me know what was going on, and that my friend would be driving him home. Connor was in a lot of pain at this point. I know my friend was thinking about muscle-ing through the awful night, but Connor wanted to be home. I am so thankful Connor came home, because it did not get better and being up all night with a child that is not even yours is infinitely worse than being up with your own ill child.

    I offered to come get Connor, but my friend said she would bring him home, and I eventually decided that the fastest way to get Connor home would be for her to bring him. When she arrived, she apologized profusely, commenting "I know you're planning on running 20 miles tomorrow - I'm really sorry to have awakened you".

    And so there it is. Even my friend is helping me get through this training period, which is intense - even though I have intentionally decreased the number of days I run.

    Thank you, friends. As I've told you before, I am really sorry this happened!

    Elaine

    Monday, January 12, 2015

    Two Things I Would Like to Bottle

    There's an expression about bottling up children's energy. And having spent several late-school opening days and two exhausting weekend days with Helen and Connor running on full tilt, I fully embrace the idea of bottling up their energy. I could use it at the end of the day - or during a long run, or really, just about any time!

    Besides bottling up the tornadoes they are, I would also like to bottle up Helen's self-confidence. She has hit a point where she absolutely cruises through her life, solid legs standing on grounded feet. It's hard to make her budge, and coupled with her smile, she's growing into even more of a force than she always has been. The other day, she overhead me tell a neighbor that I wished I could bottle up her confidence today, and hand it back to her in her teen years. And she shot back "I won't need it!".

    You don't know how much I wish that holds, Helen. It would be amazing.


    Elaine

    Tuesday, January 6, 2015

    Digging Out

    A week ago last Friday, Connor came into my bedroom at 4 AM complaining of burning eyes and a sore throat. This would devolve into him falling over in the bathroom the next night saying that he couldn't control his body. Luckily, he realized he was falling and thumped down to the step stool, so was uninjured. But those are words that cause more than a little alarm - particularly when coupled with what had become a very high fever.

    On Sunday morning, Ed tracked down Tamiflu at a pharmacy about a half hour away (the only pharmacy in our County that had the medicine was closed until Monday) and Connor started taking the very gross, but seemingly effective medicine.

    By Monday night, Helen would suffer Connor's fate, coupled with an ear infection. The highlight of her flu must have been stepping out of the car at the pediatrician's office and vomiting. Well timed, Helen. She was barely mobile at this point, so I was carrying her around bundled up in a favorite blanket. We saw a friend's dad at the pediatrician - at least half the class would fall before Tuesday.

    Ed was down, and definitely hit the hardest. The pediatrician took mercy on me and hooked me up with my own prescription of Tamiflu. I would fall Tuesday evening. I was pretty confident I was going down, and I was also pretty confident that as soon as I got off the plane and saw my dad, it would be over for me. It was.

    By now, Helen and Connor were pretty much recovered, which means they had energy, but I was in need of about 24 consecutive hours of sleep. I was incredibly grateful to be at my parents' home, where they took care of the kids completely for the next couple of days.

    Christmas came with everyone feeling pretty good and finally, we are all in good shape.

    I took eight days off from running. This is the longest running break I have taken since I started running seriously last Thanksgiving. If I hadn't already signed up for a marathon in the spring, I'm pretty sure I would've just sat out from running until spring - but instead, I logged 18 miles on Friday, 3 recovery miles on Sunday, and another 4 in the snow this morning. This part of life is back on track.

    My inbox remains a disaster. Most of the emails will be deleted, unread, after a quick scan of subject lines.

    I have decided to put sets of legos together with Connor. Some of his lego sets have been damaged through play (a good thing!), many were taken apart when we had renters (which is why I feel obligated to help Connor put them together - he doesn't even directly benefit from the renters, but he bears most of the cost), and some just get taken apart because pieces are needed elsewhere (also a good thing). As I slog through old sets, Connor has been putting together Christmas lego presents and has big plans for a lego display, once we get everything together. While we lego together, we chat, which has been pretty fun.

    Helen has taken to the workshop Santa gave her with a vengeance, producing a robot and a shelf (to be featured soon on these pages). The workshop is in the basement, near where Connor and I sit putting legos together, so it definitely feels like we're all hunkering down.

    And after the flu, that's exactly what we need to do.

    Elaine


    Monday, January 5, 2015

    The Tree

    Many years ago, I purchase a very sad looking fake tree at Target - and then I decorated it with approximately 3 million lights, and I really do love it.

    As with most years, Connor kicked off the decorating with a garland he made during the several months where I pretended he still needed a nap, but rather than sleeping, he hung out in his room for "quiet time". My mom had gifted him the yarn for his birthday, and by December we had an enormous garland. It's the first of the hand made decorations to hit the tree.


    Helen followed by placing what is my all-time favorite hand made decoration - the tree she and I made a few years ago. It has almost every color of wool I've ever dyed. It's a nice reminder of a craft I once enjoyed, but have retired due to time constraints.


    After we had put on many, but not all, of the ornaments - Ed played the role of family photographer - and it is now that I will point out that the sweater I am wearing was my summer / fall knitting project.


    By the end of the season, we had a last ornament to add - a snowman crafted by my mom, that is the perfect partner to the snow(wo)man Helen and I had crafted earlier. His hat is divine. (Thank you, Mom!)


    Come tomorrow, we'll be packing this and more up for another year.

    Merry Christmas, all.

    Elaine

    Thursday, January 1, 2015

    Stonyfield Healthy Family New Year's Resolutions

    On Thanksgiving, I announced to my family that we would be participating in the 36 days of awesome. We would each run 1 mile every day from Thanksgiving to New Year's. I quickly amended it to half mile on days the kids opted to run on the treadmill. Not only is it ridiculously boring to run on a treadmill, watching someone run on a treadmill to try and help them avoid being tossed from it is even more boring.

    And we were going strong for many, many days.

    Until the flu hit.

    First, Connor was down and out, and the remaining well family members decided that if someone was taking prescription medication, they could be excused from the challenge. Then Helen fell, followed by Ed, and finally I succumbed as well. At that point, we ended the challenge, high fived each other for our rather impressive streak, and spent the next several days trying to get well.

    Even I, who run 4-5 days a week anyway, thought running daily was pretty difficult. It was becoming more of a drain than an inspiration for movement.

    But I like the idea of having a monthly fitness goal, and I think it's important for Connor and Helen to participate since they ought to know that their health is as important as my health.

    And so we sat down today and drew up the Family New Year's resolutions. At the end of each month, we've decided to give ourselves some sort of treat (the not quite 36 days of awesome will be capped off with a trip to Pinkberry - our favorite frozen yogurt store).


    January - Do the New York Times 7 minute work out at least 5 times per week. (One is in the books already!)

    February - Yoga month! Three times per week we'll do yoga together as a family.

    March - We each chose one exercise that we will improve. We will record how many we are able to do at the start of the month and end of the month. We will practice at least 4 times per week. Connor chose sit-ups, I will be planking, Helen and Ed will be doing push-ups. I will also be running my first marathon trying to qualify for Boston!

    April - Running! Connor came up with the following pattern. Day 1 - 0.5 miles; Day 2 - rest; Day 3 - 0.5 miles; Day 4 - 1 mile; Day 5 - Rest; Day 6 - 0.5 miles; Day 7 - 1 mile; Day 8 - 1.5 miles Day 9 - Rest... The hope is that we will be ready for the 5K sponsored by the school in May.

    May - We'll all run the school 5K, plus we will CLIMB this month! We'll head over to the park with the climbing wall as often as we can, we will climb trees, we will end the month by climbing Old Rag!

    June - Jump! We will all jump rope - at least 100 jumps, 4 days per week.

    July - Swim at least 1 lap every time we go to the pool!

    August - PLAY 60! Every day we will play outside at least 1 hour. Admittedly, this will be the one that requires the least change and effort for us, but the kids are likely to be at my parents for a couple of weeks, and this seemed like a good fit. Ed and I will Swim, Bike, and Run a tri-athalon (different activities every day, adding up to an Iron Man).

    September - We will bike 5 days per week (possibly to school every day!). Helen will ride 30 miles; Connor will ride 100 miles; Ed will run 300 miles - and my goal will be set when I know whether or not I'll be running another marathon that month.

    October - Marathon month for all - run 26.2 miles over the course of the month.

    November - The New York Times Advanced Workout - 20 times over the course of the month.

    December - I will run as many miles as Ed, Connor, and Helen run. Helen said "I will exhaust you!".

    So bring it, 2015! And thank you Stonyfield, for the inspiration to get fit as a family!

    Elaine

    We will, as is our tradition, be using Stonyfield yogurt as our recovery food. Thank goodness they have so many varieties,because we're going to need a lot!

    Tuesday, December 23, 2014

    Flu

    I have become a paranoid mess. On Friday night, Connor visited my bedroom and told me his eyes hurt and he was hot. He had a low-grade fever, so he piled into bed with Ed and me. While trying to figure out what was wrong with him, I kept thinking about the many miles I was planning on running Saturday morning, and a full night's sleep would've been pretty nice.

    Saturday morning, I ran 15 miles, and felt pretty decent afterwards. I was sore, but not ridiculously so. By Saturday night, it became obvious that Connor had been felled by something worse than initially thought, as he opted to skip an annual caroling party we attend. Helen and I went to the party leaving Ed and Connor behind. During that time, Connor got worse and by Sunday morning, he spiked a fever up to 107 - which was pretty scary. The nurse I called basically said "hang up, throw him in the tub, call me in 10 minutes and tell the receptionist not to put you on hold". The fever did come down, and I spent the next half hour dialing around the region looking for Tamiflu. There's been a huge run on the stuff, and no major chain still has it in stock. I did manage to secure some for Connor though, which impressed the nurse when I called her back with the location of the medicine.

    All day Sunday, I kept checking myself for signs of flu. Yes, I was achy, but I didn't think I was more achy than I should've been, so I eventually decided I was fine. Luckily, I had the foresight to work into the wee hours of Sunday night, because I sensed that Monday would be full of care-taking responsibilities. Before I made it to bed on Sunday, both Helen and Connor had been up multiple times, Ed was coughing and tossing, and I was really getting nervous.

    Monday, Connor stayed home from school with me, definitely looking a lot better than I would expect. But by 2:00, Helen had been felled by the flu. Ed came home from the office and spiraled downward until he went to bed with Helen at 9:00 - after Helen had finally gagged down antibiotics (for an ear infection) and her first dose of Tamiflu (which tastes like soap, or worse, according to Helen),

    So here I sit - last person standing. Continually checking for any signs of illness. I have a feeling as soon as I get off the plane on Tuesday evening I'll just completely fall apart. I hope not, but I have a bad feeling.

    Hopefully we'll be well by Christmas. I still cannot believe that this is the SECOND major illness for our family this year - after going several years with nothing significant.

    Sigh.

    Elaine

    Monday, December 22, 2014

    First Grade Book Exchange

    Today, Helen's class had a little party to wrap-up school before the break. Part of the party was a gift exchange, where each student drew a name of another child and brought a book. Helen wanted to keep her identity a secret, so she signed the card "from Mrs. Butt". I almost fell over, because I have never heard her use that type of humor.

    I told Helen that there was no way her teacher would go for that, and also explained that it might make the recipient feel badly - having a butt give him a gift.

    She assured me he would think it was funny because he makes a lot of butt jokes, but eventually agreed to change the name. Her suggestion? Mrs. Butthead. How this was was better than the original I cannot fathom but at the time of the suggestion, she seemed confident that she had solved the problem.

    Eventually, she settled on signing the gift "Elsa", which I suppose narrows it down to the dozen girls in the class.

    I told the recipient's mom the story, mostly because she has told me how nice Helen is and what a pleasure it is to see her and have lunch with her. I figured she would appreciate knowing that Helen isn't always perfect.

    She laughed, and then told me that Helen was right - her son did like butt humor, and he probably would've thought it was funny.

    I guess even little girls who wear dresses to school every day are not immune to the occasional butt joke.

    Sigh.

    Elaine

    Wednesday, December 17, 2014

    Assisted Reading with Brainzy!

    A few mornings ago, I spent time in Helen's classroom. She showed me she starts her day by finding any place in the classroom she likes (she prefers the floor by the front door, which gives her access to all the comings and goings of the room, and is more comfortable than her desk chair). She then opens up one of her "just right books" that have been assembled for her in a cardboard box and starts reading.

    She proudly read two of her books to me and was ready to read a third, but by that time, the classroom teacher was ready for me to take on the day's photocopying and pencil sharpening. As I was listening to Helen read, I noticed that she's getting pretty good - though she is nowhere close to being able to read her favorite books yet.

    Enter Brainzy. Brainzy is an online site full of games designed to enhance reading and math skills for children ages 3 - 7. Although Helen is at the top of the age range, there's plenty for her to do on the reading side, since this year is her first introduction to reading. Helen has been testing out the various games for me and gives them a big thumbs up!



    Helen loves the games for two reasons. First, there are sequenced levels that she enjoys playing through. The games are interesting to her, and definitely require her to think about various aspects of reading - initial sounds, rhyming words, and ending sounds. Second, she is very much aware that Connor has iPad time allocated to him each day, and she very much desires some time of her own. Using Brainzy makes me feel a little less guilty about sitting her in front of a screen, since she does need to practice her reading.

    In addition, there are many read along stories which Helen has enjoyed listening to.

    Brainzy is a subscription service that would make a nice holiday gift for young children in your life. With over 300 math and reading activities, there's bound to be something the child in your life will like - plus, it doesn't add to the pile of toys and clutter that live in most homes with children!

    There are subscriptions for both students in teachers. More details can be found here:
    http://www.education.com/games/gift/info/?cid=40.901. Helen uses Brainzy on her iPad, but she's also tested it out on my laptop. Some of the games seems to work a little better on the laptop, just because Helen can move the mouse around a little easier.

    Happy holidays!
    Elaine

    Disclosure: Helen has been testing out a copy of Brainzy that I was gifted. Thank you, education.com!

    Saturday, December 13, 2014

    National Botanic Gardens

    Every year, we visit the National Botanic Gardens several times over the winter holidays. They have an amazing train display, and even though Connor's love of trains is not as strong as it once was, he still digs it.

    I don't know if it was getting out of school early, the sunny day, or just the memory of trips in the past - but our trip this year might have been the best yet. Because it was a weekday afternoon, a few weeks before Christmas, there was almost no crowd when we arrived. Helen and Connor were eager to ham it up for the camera, and insisted on going through the display twice. On our second loop, we ran into several friends from school, which is something that doesn't happen often in our crowded city.


    While in the display, Connor even tried to help Helen view a small piece that was above her head.





    We made a quick pass through the rest of the gardens as well, and as soon as Connor realized Helen had stopped to be photographed in the mist, he put on his goofy smile and stood tall.


    We found the big Christmas tree on the other end of the Gardens, which was next to a train. Such fun.


    Elaine