Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Birthday Letter to my Sweet Boy.

Dear Alec,

You recently celebrated your fourth birthday, and while it was fun and you were excited, and we ate cake and you got loads of Lego sets, and you have me actually put together the Lego sets, and you sing constantly as you sit next to me while I am building them, so that after about 90 minutes I am begging you- you whom I have guided through two years of speech therapy- to please stop singing the same songs over and over again, while all of that is true, I really have one thing to say to you in this letter as you turn four years old:

Thank you.

Thank you for your sweetness, your warmth, your love for me and your family.
Thank you for growing, even though you eat really poorly (you are still on a protein strike).
Thank you for talking and developing language- we have all worked really hard to get you where you are.
Thank you for teaching me profound patience when you have rules about something and I want to rush you through it.
Thank you for being an incredible mix of perfect rigidity and profound flexibility and teaching all of us that we don't quite have you entirely pegged yet.  Thank you for the multitude of times I was bracing for you to melt down, and instead you shrugged your shoulders and said, "Sure."
Thank you for being handsome and so beautiful to look at.
Thank you for joining choir and blowing us all away with your ability and desire to get up in front of 300 people and sing your little heart out.  With hand motions to boot.
Thank you for loving the app Hay Day as much as I do, and sharing your thrill of "leveling up" with anyone who will listen.
Thank you for loving your sisters as much as you do, but still sometimes favoring one over the other.  It keeps it interesting.
Thank you for playing soccer this fall and spending most of the games waving and winking at me and your grandmother.
Thank you for always willingly giving me "the sweetest kisses in the whole world", as I call them.
Thank you for truly being a lovely person, who is gentle and kind and smart.

Thank you for helping me get through the hardest year of my life.
Thank you for tolerating me being away for days at a time when PopPop was sick and I had to be with him. You were a trooper.
Thank you for feeling sad with me when we visit his grave.
Thank you for your prayers at his graveside.  They are amazing and heartfelt.
Thank you most of all for always saying something beautiful after we leave, something far beyond your years, something that always makes me wistful and sad but oh so happy that you are with me: you always remind me in some way that PopPop is watching us and is with us.

We are only four years in, you and I.  But to say I cannot imagine my life without you is an understatement of the highest degree.
Last year in my letter I said I am madly in love with you- and that is still true a year later.

You are a blessing to us and I pray that this year ahead be filled with every joyful thing you deserve.


Monday, October 28, 2013

First Day of School: Extremely Late Edition.

 The 7th Grader: This is the only picture she'd let me take.  
She had to hustle to get to the bus stop on time.  She rocked the new Vera Bradley bag.

 The 3rd Grader:  Much more willing to pose.  
She's wearing her hair clip from Pirate's League in Disney.

Here's the annual picture with Daddy.

The requisite Getting on the Bus Shot.

The 4 Year Old Preschooler: Pretty excited for his first day back at Preschool.
What you don't see in this picture is all the weaponry he brought.

 Shooting at the photographer with the flintlock pistol.

Here are the others, tucked away into his cubby: two swords, two ninja swords (or whatever they're called), the pistol, and a spyglass.

School Update:  The kids have been in school for about 7 weeks and all is going well.  Seventh grade appears to be more rigorous than 6th, which I am thrilled with, and it keeps Michaela busy.  A busy Michaela is a happy Michaela.  She is (thankfully) completely disgusted with all the boys in her grade and has met some nice girls in her classes.  She tried out for the school musical and made it- we were really proud of her.
Jenna is having an amazing year and we are all in love with her teacher.  Jenna seems to have the perfect amount of homework- enough to challenge her but not too much that she's overwhelmed. She has nice friends in her class and goes to school happy each day.
Alec was excited to return to school and then after about three weeks decided he'd really just rather be home with me each day.  He started crying each morning he had school, would cry through getting dressed, cry through brushing his teeth, cry in the car, cry as we walked in, and then as soon as he said goodbye  to me, he would pull it together and be fine for the rest of the school day.  In the last week he has reduced the crying to a few whimpers when he wakes up.  And I am okay with that.  He loves his teachers, has great boys to hang around with in class, and in general, is doing good.

For now, we are all settled into the fall routine. Amen.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Disney Heals.

Most of you know- but some may not- that in the midst of my father actively dying, we bought a dog from a breeder.  She was a beautiful 9 week old golden retriever, and she was supposed to move the Story of the Summer from "This is the summer my grandpa died" to "This is the summer we got our dog."  We got her on a Sunday and by Tuesday morning she was at the vet, puking, sick, not eating, barely moving.  She had a virus, a bad one that could do long term damage to her vital organs.  Our vet told us this was not a good family dog to have.

So we cried.

On Wednesday Dan took the day off and brought the very sick dog back to the breeder.  We cried some more.

Five days later, my dad died.  We cried even more.  The girls started asking why all of this terrible stuff was happening.  One said she would never pray about anything ever again.

I told Dan this was an emergency and we have to develop a Five-Star Diversion Plan, STAT.

He said those magical words: "Let's go to Disney World."

Because Disney heals.

Two weeks later we were booked for a six day trip that got us home a day before school started.  It was wonderful because it gave us something happy and fun to talk about and plan while we waited the four weeks to go.  We got out books from the library, made spreadsheets, talked about must-do rides, and planned our meals.  I showed Michaela a page from a guidebook of character dining options and asked her, "Which one would you like to do?"  She looked over the page, slid the book back to me and answered: "All of them."

I was a hound dog on the phone and web, hunting down cancelled reservations to Cinderella's Royal Table and Chef Mickey's, Crystal Palace and Ackershus in Epcot.  But I got them.

I fell in love with Dan all over again when I emailed him the package prices comparing two  resorts, one being the Grand Floridian (THE GRAND FLORIDIAN!!!), and he emailed me back the sweetest words a wife can ever read: "Do whatever you want.  I want this to be magical for you, too."

So on September 2nd, we were off to the Grand Floridian.

We absolutely loved it.  It was like living a postcard where every angle of every building, every palm tree, every area of landscaping was a perfect photo shot.  We determined that the only problem with staying there is that it completely spoils you and you never want to stay anywhere else.  Even Jenna said, "When we ride the monorail and they say the next stop is the Grand Floridian, I feel all special inside."  We loved our room, we loved the main building and its grand lobby, we loved the location on the monorail, we loved the places to eat there, we loved the pool, we loved being able to see the castle from our room. Oh, yes... we could SEE THE CASTLE from our balcony. It was outrageous.  OUTRAGEOUS.

Disney heals.

We had a blast at all the parks and, not surprisingly, we spent most of our time at the Magic Kingdom.  Our kids were a perfect age for the rides and attractions.  The park was relatively empty so the lines were blissfully short- the longest we ever waited for anything was 20 minutes.  We were able to go on more rides than we ever have before.  The kids were wonderful and stuck nearby us so we didn't have to be hyper-vigilant like when they were younger.  Alec, the third of our children we brought to Disney at age 3, was unanimously crowned Easiest 3 Year Old to Bring to Disney.  Despite the warm temps, the dizzying over stimulation, the rides, the late nights and early mornings, and the total unpredictability of the whole trip, he held it together beautifully and was amazing.

One day at Magic Kingdom, as we were watching the mid afternoon parade, I glanced to my left and saw a family with a young toddler, her parents and a set of grandparents.  The grandfather was wearing a t-shirt that read, "Have no fear... Grandpa is here!"  And I started crying a bit and horribly, terribly missing my dad and feeling sad... but Disney heals.

We met tons of princesses, saw shows, shrieked on roller coasters, enjoyed a safari, introduced Alec to Its A Small World, waved at Mickey and Minnie, spun on the carousel, oohed and ahhhed at the fireworks, and marveled at having a chance to be all together, in this magical place, and started putting our sadness behind us.

Here are some of my favorite pictures from our trip:

 On the Tomorrowland Raceway... one of Alec and Daddy's favorite rides

 Waiting for the monorail
 The whole park was decorated for Fall/ Harvest!

 In the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse (because Mommy loves that kind of stuff...)
 Walking from the dock at the Grand Floridian back to our building
 Pool time!

 Both girls had their hair and makeup done at the Pirate's League.  Very cute.

 Alec LOVED the Lego store in Downtown Disney!
 One of my favorite places: the lobby at the Grand Floridian...
 in the evenings they had a big band playing Disney songs!
 Heading into Cinderella's Royal Table... a highlight for all of us.

 Jenna was thrilled to finally meet Jasmine.

 Watching the fireworks from the resort. 
They even pipe in the music that they play in the Magic Kingdom!

 Our girls taking advantage of some of the amenities available in the room...
 robes, tea, and chocolate. 
 Jenna rocked all the roller coasters!

 This is where Dan and I are going for dinner the next time we go...
Narcosee's at the Grand Floridian.
We hated to leave...
 but we'll most certainly be back soon!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Summer 2013: We Ate A LOT of Ice Cream.

After talking repeatedly with the girls about this past summer, we decided that it was a summer that really bad things happened, and it was a summer that really good things happened, too.
We also decided that ice cream soothed a lot of broken hearts this summer.
But we did do some other great things over the summer... here's a sampling of pictures.

Alec and I went to a playground program where we played once a week at all of the town parks, culminating in this trip to a nearby creek in South Bethlehem.  Very fun.

We went many times to Jericho Twist.  Many, many times.

Alec and Jenna both took swim lessons every day for two weeks at the town park and really made great strides in their swimming.  Here is Alec with his instructor and volunteer.

We went for frozen yogurt a lot, too.

A couple times we stayed after swim lessons and played.  Alec loves Splash Island.

Alec relaxing at the town park.

We made a trip to the Hudson River and had a picnic lunch.

Back at the town park, Alec threw a classic three year old style fit until he got what he wanted: a brownie.  For breakfast. (Third child always wins)

We started the tradition of taking a picture after the haircut next to the barber's pole.  

We celebrated the 4th of July!!  

We had the Show off Day at the end of swim lessons.  Here's Jenna showing what she's learned.

And here's Alec waiting on the sidelines to go.

We fit in as much swimming at my parents' house as we could, even if it just meant dunking our feet in.  My dad loved watching the kids in the pool and tried to get outside to enjoy the sun and fresh air.

At our house, we tore down a rotting fence.
Dan had "helpers".

We went to FunPlex and rode the rides...

... and bounced on the bungee cords...

... and finished up on the water bumper boats.  Alec was not amused by that.

We even went to the dentist and got mustache prizes.  Love my goofy girls.

In August, my brother and his family came for a week and we had a ball.  There was sewing...

... and of course, LOTS of swimming!!!

We went to the Altamont Fair on a blissfully cool day and saw tons of animals that we usually only see in digital form on our favorite app, Hay Day.  Here's Michaela and Jenna checking out the prize-winning chickens.

Group shot of the grandkids!



Even a giraffe!!

And because no trip home for my brother is complete without a stop at Stewart's, we stopped in... and had ice cream.  Love this look on Alec's face.

We celebrated my mom's birthday with an adults-only dinner at Jack's downtown.  It was amazing.  We talked about my dad and how much he would have loved being there with us.

We went to a BBQ at a friend's house and there you have it: more ice cream.  
What a wonderful night we had, swimming and gabbing and laughing.

No visit to Gammie and PopPop's pool is complete without an End of Visit Water Show, choreographed by Aunt Bethie and Michaela.  Every year they have more participants as the kids get older!!  This year's show was highlighted by the acquisition of lighted sticks that squirted water.  Every year they outdo themselves!!

We bought a new tractor for Dan to mow the lawn.

We enjoyed a few fires this summer and this one was from when Beth and Brian were here. 
 Plenty of s'mores (and counting our blessings) but no ice cream this night. 

We all went to Hoffman's Playland for a wonderful afternoon of fun and rides.

Michaela ingeniously discovered play value in all the leftover latex gloves we had at the house for my dad's illness: fill them with water and make them "babies".

We wrapped up the summer by going to a Valley Cats game. 
Yup, ice cream was consumed.  It was a beautiful night.

And then a few days later, we left for Disney World to finish out the summer.

So when people generically ask, "How was your summer?"  I could tell them it was the summer I said good bye to my dad and tried to help sheppard my little sheep through the process.
But I also can say it was filled to the brim with  family and friends surrounding us with love, holding each other up, laughing, crying, learning and growing.
And eating lots of ice cream.