Monday, November 11, 2019

Just a Weekend in November

Hello from my long lost corner of the interwebs! As I note at the beginning of nearly every, increasingly rare post these days, life has been busy. Occasionally overfull, occasionally angsty, but honestly just about as full and wonderful as I ever hoped for this phase of life to be.

This past weekend is a good example.

I got out early from work on Friday in honor of the holiday weekend and spent my two bonus hours making treats for Cora's birthday party on Saturday (unicorn horns from pretzel rods which were more trouble than they were worth and turned into unicorn white chocolate chex mix instead; #ThirdBaby). That night was another round of Cotillion for Landon. 1950's theme, which meant he wore jeans for the first time since preschool. Cotillion: teaching my tween the box step, salsa, and jive, and expanding his wardrobe one themed night at a time.

Our elementary school had their Fall Fest, so the girls were very excited about that. Since nearly everyone had younger siblings attending, we had the middle schoolers meet there for their mandatory pre-Cotillion picture in their old cafeteria and they planned to return after to join the fun as the Big Kids on Campus. Unfortunately Landon opted to be unusually rude and disrespectful for the entirety of that Friday afternoon so he had to be dropped straight back off at home after the dance. He was displeased, and as I worked the ticket booth later that night, freezing my toes off and watching his friends run around, I was sad too. But words and attitude matter, and it's our generally thankless job to teach him that.

The girls had a blast. We basically never saw them as they ran around, spent tickets, and hung out with their friends for three hours. I didn't get a single picture. It was exactly as an elementary fall fest should be.

On Saturday I subbed a group yoga class at 9 a.m., which was absolutely wonderful. The thrill and joy and... power I get from teaching each class remains unmatched by anything else I do. Claire had a volleyball game at 11:30 and then we hosted Cora's unicorn painting birthday party at 2. Landon, eager to restore balance to the universe, helped me prep for the party and later, when a guest arrived with their gift showing through the gift bag, Landon raced it into the house, augmented it with our own tissue paper, and assured me in whispers that the gift was now hidden and would still be a surprise for Cora.

Because yes, my third baby is turning 6 (officially, tomorrow).

Maggie was HERE for a unicorn theme.

"Are you here for my party?"

Cora was SO excited to host a party at her house. She hand-wrote and decorated each invitation and gave them to her teacher in great anticipation (we invited all the girls in her class).

Five girls were able to make it and the painting was approached with all due seriousness. They worked very hard and we finished each off unicorn bank with a spray of silver sparkly glaze.

Cora, our painstaking and independent little artist, never actually finished hers, but luckily she lives here and can complete her masterpiece at her own pace.

Her much anticipated rainbow cake was "chocolate with chocolate inside and chocolate on top." #CostcoCakesForever

It was a great afternoon of cake, painting, unicorn horn headband decorating, snacking, and running around in circles outside and screaming.

We cleaned up and then the big kids helped Cora understand how to play with her new presents, a long-held sibling tradition.

One of the greatest joys of my life is how much they continue to genuinely enjoy each other.

Landon went to hang out with a friend for the evening while we ordered carry-out pizza and snuggled in for a movie with the girls. (Fittingly, The Last Unicorn, which is one of those classics I think you need to see for the first time when you're young, because omg is it terrible. Cora loved it.)

On Sunday I got up around 8 to find the kids in the living room playing with Cora's new horse set (still "helping," obviously). I sat at the table with my tea to plan out the week's meals and make the grocery shopping list. James went to go swim. The big kids went to go ride bikes and try to find friends along the way and I got Cora started on her thank-you's. The thank-you's are an arduous process, not because she doesn't want to write them, but because she wants to write a mid-length, illustrated novel for every single one. After nearly two hours she had completed 3 and we declared it an excellent start. Meanwhile I finished up a photo book for my grandfather's upcoming 90th birthday and created an ornament commemorating Maggie's first Christmas because by spending an extra $3 I could save $35 on shipping. Maggie is going to love it.

I went to go teach my yoga and barre classes and, the big kids having just returned from lunch, James gathered up all his ducklings to to take Landon's bike to a bike shop (apparently his brakes no longer worked? something we only learned when I asked him why the soles of his shoes were worn off), get groceries, and return some library books.

When I pulled up in the driveway 2.5 hours and 2 classes later, the big kids had returned, now with two additional tweenagers in tow and they were all playing tag in the front yard. Then they disappeared again. Cora was back to her thank you notes, but quickly abandoned them to go help James start the weeks-long process of hanging lights in our giant oak tree. The next hour was me going in and out of the house depending on whether James needed someone to hold the ladder, Cora playing "scientist" in the dirt ("my hands are SO dirty mom. That's because I'm A SCIENTIST!"), and Maggie standing guard directly under the giant ladder that would absolutely crush her if it fell.

At 4:45 I got a text from a friend about a mile away letting me know that the kids were at her house "resting" before they headed back home. She noted that it was Claire wanted her to text me so I didn't worry and to ask if here was a time they needed to be home. Because in a gaggle of tween boys, the 9-year-old girl was the only one looking out for the mom. At 5:15 they biked up the driveway, flushed and sweaty and triumphant after their afternoon of gallivanting and my heart burst a little at their afternoon looking a lot like my every weekend afternoon growing up.

We made dinner - a new recipe that was delicious - while Cora "cleaned up" her horses and the big kids helped and chatted. James rolled meatballs, I sliced a million tiny baby bell peppers. The meal was GREAT. Landon started doing the dishes a few months ago (Claire empties the dishwasher, Cora clears the table) so James and I get to sit and chat when the meal is over while our elves clean up dinner. It took 12 years of time and training, but it's pretty great now.

We closed out the evening on the TV room couch, reading Cora her book before bed (she goes down at 8:00-8:15), playing Uno with the big kids (Claire goes to bed at 8:30; Landon goes to his room at 9:00 and then reads until 9:30), and taking selfies. Landon loves that.

And that was the weekend! It was great. Full, fun, flexible, and everyone got to do the things they wanted to do. It just doesn't lend itself to a lot of time for reflection, uploading photos, and/or opening blogger. At 9:30 last night when such a thing was possible, I did actually upload photos, but that was the furthest I got before answering some PTA e-mails and making our ski rental reservations for Christmas. At 10:00 I opted for a very hot bath and a few more chapters of the latest Nalini Singh book, Archangels War. It's fine, but I'm in desperate need of a new smart, fun, action-filled series and/or for a few authors to step up their publishing schedule (Kresley Cole, I'm talking to you! where is the final book of my Arcana Chronicles series? Ilona Andrews, you're on pace, but I would really like an early production of the 2nd Elara/Hugh D'Ambray novel, thank you). Then it was 10:40 and we thought we should be responsible and go to bed. I took Maggie out for her nighttime potty break, tucked her into her fluffiest bed, and then high-fived James because it was before 11 (10:59!) and that's a persistent, rarely met goal of ours.

Today is Veteran's Day and a federal holiday. One of two holidays all year where my children are in school and I am not at work. I am doing many things later- each child has an event or activity tonight (4:15 gymnastics for Cora, 5:00 swimming for Landon, and 6:00 PTA performance for Claire) and a pumpkin vegetarian chili has already been prepared and placed in the crockpot, but until I pick up the girls at 3, I'm sitting on the couch snuggled under a fuzzy blanket while the temperature drops 30 degrees outside. My freshly washed bulldog is snoring nearby, wrapped in a comforter because I thought she looked cold. I could be doing other productive things, but instead I canceled a 10:00 orangetheory class and am probably going to not go to the 12:00 yoga class I planned on because while I love nearly every minute of our crazy, busy, big-kid and community-involved life we're living, I've learned to savor the quiet.

I'm sitting in unnecessary yoga clothes watching a completely terrible Netflix holiday movie, finalizing my 2019 holiday card, and reviewing my Christmas shopping spreadsheet (nearly done!). I ordered all four of our family photo book last week (HUZZAH! Unlimited free pages promotion taking a total of $760 for four, full-color, 105-page books to $85, which is insane and worthy of a champagne toast in and of itself). Things are moving, largely inside my computer, but at this exact second, I am not.

Spirit animal

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The Great Pumpkin (Village) and a Random Mental Health Update

We've been going to the Dallas Arboretum Pumpkin Village since 2013 when I was 8 months pregnant with Cora and looked like I was smuggling a pumpkin out under my shirt. It is one of my absolute favorite things we and I was very worried that we weren't going to be able to make it happen this year. But! On a Saturday where James had to be in Lewisville (north of Dallas) for an International Swim League meet at 2 p.m., Claire had a volleyball game at the downtown YMCA in Fort Worth at 2 p.m., and Landon was supposed to go to a friend's house before Claire's game so they could go to Six Flags Fright Fast, we found a spot in our morning schedule and at 8 a.m. off to Dallas we went! In separate cars with swim meet supplies, sleepover stuff, and volleyball gear stashed in the back of each one.

Girls' car; we arrived first

We were in the parking lot about 8:45 a.m., through the membership line roughly two minutes later, and were immediately greeted with this year's theme: Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin.

And it was GREAT!

The weather was gorgeous- bright blue skies and that magical temperature where no one needs a jacket and no one is sweating.

I got my required "all the kids on the pumpkins" picture, which looks increasingly funny as they get ever bigger and the pumpkins stay the same size.

And then the kids were set free to play- heading as they always do over to the hay maze, turning it in to a raucous game of tag that ends up absorbing at least five other kids around them.

James and I hung back, admiring the decorative gourds and laughing at the fact that our kids are bigger, older, and always moving at 100 mph, but are still very happy to play together for hours on a foot-tall hay bale lined path.

We wandered around the village, catching a glimpse of a kid or two of ours along the way. At one point, Cora tapped me and requested a picture of her "sitting right here on this pumpkin like this."

Nailed it.

Then Claire decided she needed a solo shot.

Landon was annoyed they'd both taken a break from tag.

After deciding we'd seen all the pumpkins we needed to see, and watching many a harried parent try to wrangle their toddlers into a picture (been there! like this year when Cora decided pumpkins were terrifying and not to be touched or trusted. now I can just yell at them to assemble, snap a picture, and let them loose), we meandered on to our other favorite parts of the Arboretum.

Like the frog fountains.

Somewhat tucked back in a corner, these have been beloved by our crew from day one. Of course everyone has to touch the water and everyone has to get a little wet.

Watching, from a safe and dry place, makes me so happy.

Look at Cora's face- pure joy.

We continued on, James and I strolling, the kids racing up and back on the winding paths. We went to the lake, found many ponds, discovered new flowers and corners and paths we hadn't found before (or, more likely, had simply forgotten).

At my personal favorite spot- the tree arched walkway, we witnessed a proposal, complete with professional photographer and all the friends waiting in the wings. The girls thought it was amazing and Landon declared it embarrassing. It was a really beautiful spot and the bride-to-be looked surprised and delighted (and said yes immediately).

We walked some more. I joked to James that it's going to be weird when someday the kids slow down and actually walk with us. Except by then, they probably won't want to go with us at all? It's hard to imagine not traveling everywhere as a fast and laughing (and tagging) pack of five, but then I look at my 12-year-old mantween, and I feel like those years aren't really that far away. And they'll be fun too, but there's something special about traveling as a party pack and I'm committed to finding the time to do more of the little local adventures we used to do so often.

After we had our fill of pumpkins and gorgeous gardens, we went to our favorite Austin restaurant, Taco Deli, which has expanded to Dallas but refuses to come to Fort Worth. We ordered approximately 85 tacos (maybe 15) and devoured them all before James headed north for his meet and I headed west with the kids. As we took Maggie for a quick walk before Claire's volleyball game I did pause to admire our own great tree, which I adore even though we spent a million dollars a year keeping it trimmed and healthy and not crushing our house. But it's gorgeous isn't it? The house was built around it 80 years ago and I feel like we're just the temporary stewards, tasked with keeping it thriving for families to play under it for decades to come.

Apropos of nothing, but this feels like the right time for a mental health update. I was weaned off the anti-depressants in July and had my last therapy appointment in August. Things are good. I hesitated to write about the changes because I didn't want to make it seem that stopping the medication or the therapy were goals of mine or should be goals for anyone else. It's just another step. My therapist's number is still saved in my phone and I have no doubt I'll give her a call for check-ins every now and then. The medication enabled me to forge new pathways of thought and reaction in my brain that were absolutely unattainable for me without it and I am deeply grateful for a therapist and doctor who worked with me to find the right medicine (we tried three brands of the same thing; the first two made gave me vertigo, headaches, and/or heartburn, the third, magically, did not) and the right dose to both get on, maintain, and then slowly wean off. It's what worked for me.

I've always believed in therapy, and after going for over a year I will say that I believe in it even more, but one thing I think people should know, because I didn't, is that therapy is HARD. It is really hard. You go in because something is making you sad or angry or anxious or is otherwise serving as an impediment to your best self and happiness and you want that thing fixed. But your history, memories, behaviors, feelings and the other people who might make you feel those things aren't in therapy. Only you are and you're the only one who can change anything about how you feel or react to those things. And it's so hard. You have to be willing to face truths about yourself, your perceptions, the fallibility and feelings of those around you, and the role you may have played in memories that hurt you and/or truths about what you can change about them. It's not a panacea and it's not a cure-all, but you- the person who walked in the room because you want things to be better- you can get better, stronger, more forgiving, more flexible, more of whatever it is you need to stop having the barriers you're currently facing. But in that room, it begins and ends with you.

And so it's work and it's hard and I was mad at it the first few times I went, but now I'm so deeply grateful. I have a different view on many things and different expectations for others. I have purged past feelings and talked and planned and practiced my words. And the medication is what allowed my brain to pause long enough to put those new plans and practices into action. Rather than spiraling into angry anxiety at triggers I didn't even realize I had, I could pause, and think- what do I want to do/say next? How do I want this to go? Or when I couldn't sleep at night because I was caught up in something I couldn't stop thinking about, I could nudge it aside juuuuust enough to put a new thought there, or to view the (probably very old and very unchangeable) thing that was bothering me in a new light. And then- because the medicine helped me to not be caught in a fight-or-flight response I never realized was happening- I could take a tiny, powerful step in a different mental direction. And then slowly, with time and practice (and medicine!), those tentative steps became natural, and my adrenaline-induced reactions of anger or upset I never realized were based in anxiety began to take a new shape.

And so here I am, flexing my new mental pathways, free (or freer) from past hurts I wanted to get over but simply couldn't, and being a better me in a number of ways I had no idea I very much needed to be.

It's still work and I'm still working, but it's good. It's remarkably good.

And so were the pumpkins.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Catching Up, a String of Stories from Maggie the Bulldog

Hello friends! As usual these days, it's been forever, life is busy, blah blah, but here I am, sitting on the couch after a morning spent in Dallas at the Arboretum and an afternoon spent grocery shopping and attending Claire's volleyball game, before an evening at the ArtsGoggle street festival and feel like I should write something to take advantage of this moment. But Maggie just got herself out of bed and walked all the way over to where I'm sitting, and since nearly all my pictures from the last week are of her, I think I'll let her take it from here.

Hello internet humans! I'm Maggie, the deaf rescue bulldog. Soft and fluffy, sweet and wrinkly, I want you to know that I love you, even if I don't understand where you are and why you can't pet me.

So, on Fridays my mom works from home and it's my very favorite. I help her with her legal work and she helps me hold my head up in the air.

Two "mom is home" Fridays ago, the weather got very cold all of a sudden and it was SO GREAT. My mom was wearing everything fuzzy and put me in a cozy sweater and I took myself to the magical place where a fire appeared the last time it was cold outside.

Except, a fire did not appear. I waited around, just in case. You never know when wonderful things will happen! (I mean literally, I never know. Everything is a surprise when you're a dog and you can't hear anything and you have to sleep a lot and nothing wakes you up.)

But the fire did not come. I guess it wasn't quite that cold. I woke up at some point and my mom was still in her pj's typing away and I was looking oh so stylish in my sweater. I LOVE my clothes and I love when my mom puts them on me. I also love when I just sit and stare at her until she pets me. It never takes very long.

Later that day my family left the house with my big brother all dressed up. Something called Cotillion. It was Latin night and apparently he learned the cha cha. I don't know what that is, but I'm pretty sure you can eat it and if I was capable of being sad, I would be sad they didn't bring me any.

On Saturday, it was still chilly and I was feeling FRISKY. My mom was so excited to put me in my new puffer vest! I'm really feeling my new fall wardrobe. This is my majestic face.

This is the look I give when I want to look insecure to get extra pets. It's very effective.

Saturday was a really special day because my mom put together my new stroller and I got to go inside- with my snazzy vest- and then I got to go on the SUPER long walk that my family does on the weekends that I never get to go on.


I walked 3 whole miles in my stroller! My bigger sister was so proud of me. I'm proud of her too.

Later that afternoon my whole family got fancy and left the house for FOREVER. Or maybe like 4 hours. Whatever. As always, I pushed open the back door to go with them, pretended not to understand when they gestured me back in, and then had to be picked up and carried back into the house.

Then I ran to the back door to watch them go and stare at them like my heart is breaking. But actually I'm okay, I just went and took a nap and when I woke up again, they were already back!

Apparently they went to see a play at the children's theater where I can't go.

It was called Tuck Everlasting and they said it was amazing, even though I wasn't there.

And then they went out to a new fun hot chicken restaurant, that I also can't go to but it's fine really I'm not mad even though I too like hot chicken, and everyone said it was delicious. They were celebrating a round of report cards everyone seemed very happy about. They also ate ice cream cookie sandwiches. No one gave me one.

Later that night I showed I wasn't mad by helping my brother put away the gymnastics mat. I'm a giver.

On Sunday morning, we went on ANOTHER long walk and I loved it so much.

My dad said it was embarrassing but I know he's kidding.

It was so fun to get to explore the park we get to on the end of our long walk- I'd never been to the park! Good thing I'm an intrepid explorer dog now because I walked all the way down to the creek to check out the flora and fauna. But then I didn't want my paws to be dirty so I walked back up with my mom and watched. I'm a lady of leisure now and I don't have to get dirty if I don't want to.

I really love that I have a chariot and get to join in on these long walks now. Being with my humans makes my whole heart happy.

After we got home I had to rest my head for a little while.

And then my whole body.

I have a funny story. It's something my littler big sister said to my mom this week that made her laugh and shake her head a lot later:

Cora: Mom, so Leo in my class has a crush on me.
Mom: Awwww, that’s so sweet. Leo is cute!
Cora: No, mom, I mean, I think it’s just because I’m so pretty every day at school. You know, with my pony tails.
Mom: Right, sure, and maybe also because you’re so smart and funny and kind.
Cora, literally laughs at my mom. Knows it’s about the tiny pony tails. Declines to respond further.

I love my littler sister, and her pony tails.

On Wednesday my mom gave me a new outfit.

I'm a pumpkin spice bulldog and I love it.

Also on Wednesday I went out for a walk with my mom and my sisters and, filled with the vim and vigor of a nice fall evening, I ran and RAN around the front yard, maybe even 4-5 times and everyone was so proud of me. I'm so fit, invisible readers, and I am FEELING IT.

My parents' retired neighbors across the street stopped by just to say how proud they were of me, telling my mom, "when you first got her she didn't know how to play and now look at her! We loving watching her and she always makes us smile. She even barked from behind your gate the other day when we were walking by with our dog. We are so proud of her!"

I'm the happiest bulldog on the block and everyone loves me. Sometimes I still can't believe that's true, but then I see my family or one of my new friends and I know that it is.

On Friday it was my dad's birthday, so my mom let him sleep in and she handled the morning duties. You guys, she's clearly not used to this, but I helped. I sent my sisters off to school with a smile, but I must confess that I find it VERY CONCERNING when they leave the car. Why are the leaving the car? Why can't they stay with me in this contained space? It would very much be my preference.

My family went out to dinner to celebrate and I wasn't invited, but I thought everyone looked very nice before they left.

My humans love my dad an awful lot. He's turning 38, which is basically ancient, but he told my mom that he bench pressed the most he's ever bench pressed in his life earlier that day, so I guess my mom isn't ready to retire him.

After dinner there was a cake. It was funfetti, with half vanilla rainbow chip icing and half chocolate fudge. Nobody gave me a slice.

Not even when I was wearing my party hat.

There was the ceremonial exchanging of the colored cards that I can't read and a blowing out of fire that I found very odd, but everyone else seemed to enjoy.

Alright, now it's late and my mom is tired (or wait, maybe that's me). We wrote this in two parts and now it's way past my bedtime, but I want you all to know that I love you and I love my family and I'm so proud to be a rescue success story. Just a year ago I was still living at the vet clinic, trying to recover from my bedraggled, beat-up state after being dumped by a puppy mill. I had a fresh c-section scar, giant untreated wound on my side, heart worms, infected ears, infected eyes, infected tail, and still so much love in my heart. I'm so glad I have people to share it with and I'm so glad Lonestar Bulldog Club Rescue fixed me up and found them for me. I hope you all have the best week, remember that Maggie loves you.