Saturday, July 24, 2021

Portraits of 2021

It's been a while, again, but we're here! And we're good! Life is just very very full.
Work, life, kids, activities, summer camps, stitches, yoga any time I can manage it... it's just back to being a lot. There is downtime, glorious wonderful downtime, but I find I want (need) to just sit on the couch with my people and soak that in. We've been watching The Mysterious Benedict Society on Disney Plus as a family when new episodes come out on Fridays and it's just so fun to have a traditional, serial show to look forward to watching together, and I don't want my laptop out when we do that. Then the kids go to bed and I hang out with James and read or talk or watch the next episode of For All Mankind (or Ted Lasso!!! finally back in my life after re-watching Season 1 any time I was feeling down. #DiamondDogsForever) and then we have to go to bed because the days are long and start early.

Maybe it's the new perspective after 18 months of working from home and the swings between what sometimes felt like too much family time contrasted to the small but normal amount we're back to getting now, but I find I just want to soak it in. To marinate in the togetherness of our family of five. These years are so precious and so short and it is a genuine comfort to me to read old blog posts and know that we have tried our best to squeeze all the joy out of them at every step along the way.
As I mentioned in the last post, we took our family pictures a couple weeks ago. It was a mini session I almost canceled a dozen times - work was so busy, I didn't have time to buy any coordinating clothes, I had stitches poking out of my head that made me feel self-conscious and sad. It was hot, humid, sticky, AND windy. They were scheduled for a Saturday night after a CRAZY week and long day at a swim meet and then a soccer game. But we did it. I pulled clothes out of everyone's closets, talked to our sweet photographer about photoshopping my forehead, and put on makeup for the first time in 10 days.
We got to the location at 8 p.m., started our shoot at 8:15, and were on our way home at 8:30, thankful we'd pulled ourselves together and captured a bit of us right now. The kids LOVED the mini session and I'll never convince anyone else in my family to do an hour long session again. And I just love the pictures. The colors are rich and vibrant, the location was so pretty, and we all look like ourselves. I'm so glad we made those 15 minutes happen.
Landon turned 14 on the 15th. Thirteen was a delightful age- funny, sweet, enthusiastic, chatty, and full of questions and commentary on his increasingly broader world. I look forward to fourteen while feeling heavy with the knowledge we only have five years left with him at home. He's the leader of our sibling pack - the generous, inclusive, creative non-Alpha who sets the tone for the rest of our crew. His sisters think he is hilarious and sometimes encourage his particular brand of teenage humor a bit too much. They've had sibling sleepovers together in the girls' room every night since summer started - he's on the trundle with his blanket and a cat while his much larger and nicer bed is a room away and everyone seems very happy with this arrangement. He loves swimming, running, reading, pancakes, Crumbl cookies without icing, singing to the cats, talking nearly non-stop about absolutely nothing, and climbing on everything. He spends much of his day laying on my bed narrating the inner thoughts of our cats and asking unanswerable questions while I work.

Conversation the week of his birthday:

Me: Landon what do you want for your birthday dinner on Thursday?
Landon: Well, I’ve been thinking about it mom and I’d really like to go out to a restaurant this year but it might be a little expensive.
Mom: Hmm, okay, we could probably do that. Where?
Landon: IHOP! It’s the INTERNATIONAL house of pancakes mom!

And that's exactly what we did and he said it was everything he hoped it would be.
Our little Clairebear starts middle school next month and I find that just as hard to believe. I'll only have one elementary schooler to bring to Meet the Teacher night at our sweet elementary school. This seems impossible. Claire remains enthusiastic about all things, listens to music every second she can, and writes original songs in a collection of journals she leaves all around the house. She likes things to be organized but doesn't mind letting it all slide for a few weeks before tidying up again. She loves to run, swim, hit volleyballs, play school, and do gymnastics on our blue mat in the playroom for hours at a time. She loves her friends and always wants one around. She is deeply gullible and knows it, wants to be as funny as her brother, and still hugs you until it's awkward and you have to unhook her from your person. She is deeply thoughtful and passes me notes taped to my cups of water whenenver I'm working late.
Cora will be going into 2nd grade and that is the only thing keeping me from being overwhelmed by the thought of how old my kids have become. She is somehow both easily distracted and sharply focused. She is fiercely competitive, confident, and strong. She is also easily wounded and takes slights very seriously. She will sit and play out complex stories with her horses for hours, but she also can't find her shoes on her feet. She loves to read, draw, color, and do worksheets. She runs very fast and gets out the door very slow. Her whole face still lights up when James or I walk in the door and she still wants to pet every dog she sees. She loves card games (ALL games) and I have beat her at Memory exactly once out of 100 times. She is more like Landon than Claire and the two of them can play for hours together despite their 6.5 year difference in age.
These three... As the kids have gotten older we've talked a lot about the family we want to be and the siblings they (should) want to be to each other. They've always gotten along well, but I also step in pretty fast when they don't. As I'm often saying, this house is a place where we all get to be safe and to let our guards down. It is a refuge, and it is not a place where you come in from the world only to find criticism or insults within its walls. You can be kind or you can be neutral and if you can't do those things, you can also be quiet. James and I try to hold ourselves to the same standards, and for the most part, we all do.

We had the Regional summer league swim meet last weekend and every kid swam in a different session. Claire swam first, on Saturday morning, and we all woke up at the crack of dawn to drive to Decatur, Texas to cheer her on. Landon's best buds were there from another team and I told him he could hang out with them as long as he didn't miss any of Claire's races. And he didn't. Without any prompting from me, we found him in the stands before every one of her events, sitting with his friends, telling them about her upcoming race, cheering her on, and comparing her splits to her competitors. It was the best. And it continued into Cora's session on Saturday afternoon and then both girls were screaming for their brother on Sunday.
I had two cases approved by the Commission last week, which is a pretty huge deal and caps off what has been a crazy few quarters of work for me. James remains super busy with the swim school and we are all happy that he will be back at his old pool starting August 23rd. I can actually spend a few months working from home in a quiet house with kids at school and a husband at a pool and I AM SO EXCITED. Also, exciting: our upcoming vacation! Twelve days driving through the National Parks of Utah and Arizona and we can't wait. So much hiking, so much togetherness, so much trail mix, and no working. I have a very detailed list of recommended hikes, new rainbow colored hiking shoes, and an even more detailed packing list. I also treated myself to a new camera in celebration of my cases and surviving over a year at home and I can't wait to use it for some old school travel blogging.
I also have a new hat and a lot of sunscreen and SPF clothing. Magical memories, here we come! Landon is totally going to try to pack one of the cats.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Sunday in Stitches

Happy Sunday morning! I'm happy to report that after 5 days of steroid pills, 6 of DayQuil and NyQuil, constant water drinking, hot baths with hot water compresses across my face, and early bedtimes, my sinuses are almost totally cleared!
Which is good because on Tuesday I got some skin cancer cut out of my forehead and my stitches and I can only handle so much.
I remain extremely allergic to adhesive and could only leave the paper tape on for about 30 minutes. Since then my stitches and I have just been flying free, with an occasional piece of gauze attached to my head with the Polysporin whenever I got tired of accidentally sticking a finger in the ointment. It's very field medic chic.
My forehead felt pulled so tight the first few days, I truly cannot imagine getting a facelift or anything similar. It did not feel good and I remain mildly demoralized by the future scar on my forehead. I'm also not allowed to workout and that was a blow. Going to yoga was the only reason I left my house most days and I had quickly become physically and mentally dependent on those outings. The stitches come out on Thursday and I need it to get here faster.
While I worked and moped, the girls were at golf camp and seemed to have an excellent time.
The pets kept me company as always. As my only coworkers I've spent an undue amount of time observing them (and talking to them, but that's totally normal right?). I've noticed that while Moose and Milo are crazy chasing wrestling best brother friends, and Moose has ceded his favorite cat tree spot to Milo without complaint, Moose has staked a firm claim on the bulldog and he is NOT sharing.
Everyday Moose wraps himself around Maggie, rubbing his head under her chin and carefully marking her with his scent. I don't think he's sure what type of animal Maggie is, or what she offers besides long naps and loud snores, but she's his and the new cat can't have her.
They crack me up.
On Saturday I took my stitches on a field trip to the kids' swim meet in Granbury!
Everyone did great.
And it's so nice to see them back in the pool after a summer away from it all.
Also on Saturday, we took our family pictures! Poor timing given my Franken-forehead situation, but our photographer assured me she could photoshop them out. I shopped for our outfits in our closets and was pretty pleased with the results!
And the act of putting on real clothes and makeup did make me feel 125% more human than I had the past several days, so that was a boost.
Today is Landon's 14th birthday party. For the first time in 10 years, he isn't having a pool party and in the interest of requiring minimal effort on my part, I agreed, so off to a trampoline park we will go. On Thursday I will have a 14, 11, and 7 year old and it's so hard to believe. One of the hardest things about working from home for the last 16 months has been having the opportunity to spend so much more time with the kids and having the reality of so much of that time be me telling them to go away or stop talking to me. It's been really tough. I know I've gotten lots of small moments I otherwise would't have gotten and I'm so grateful for them. Hopefully that's what they'll remember too.
The big kids are riding their bikes to the Dollar Store to pick out birthday napkins for Landon's party (minimal effort ftw) and I'm about to slice up a watermelon and make his ice cream sandwich cake. It's a lazy easy Sunday morning with a celebration up ahead, so not too bad, even with the stitches along for the fun.

Monday, July 5, 2021

This post brought to you by DayQuil and a Federal Holiday

It's been a week of highs and lows, sometimes at the exact same time, and I'm not sure how to sum it up, though I think this picture of Maggie captures my inner being pretty well.
It was a big week. There were some big work deadlines made and triumphs felt.

Along the way I was also stressed, exhausted, isolated, and not my best self with the highly tolerant people I live with.
I didn't work on Saturday, which was lovely.
The big kids were in our local neighborhood parade and Cora watched from the sidelines and collected candy with neighbor friends.
Maggie also got to hang out with her very best doggie friends and had the very best time. Everyone who rode by on floats complimented her dress and everyone who walked by asked to give her a pet. The 4th might be her favorite day.
Also on Saturday, the first day in months that I didn't wake up and immediately check email, I immediately started feeling sick. It was just sinus congestion from my non-allergy allergies, but there was far more of it than normal and the bones inside my face hurt. It's like my body hangs on just long enough for me to get a break and then falls apart.

I stayed in denial, even heading out on an impromptu date night with James - leveraging our big kids in all ways, sending Landon and Claire to the local grocery store on their bikes to pick up frozen pizzas for the minors and then heading out to new a local spot for food and drinks while Landon babysat. There was live music and fresh air and a brisket grilled cheese to die for.
The company was pretty great too. On busy weeks (or months/a year) I am often reminded that he is so much kinder and more patient than I am and he loves me so much even when I am borderline (and sometimes over the line) unlovable.

We got back from our date and I felt worse. So I crawled into bed and immediately fell asleep while James watched Tomorrow War with the teenager, the perfect ending to any romantic night.

On Sunday I took Sudafed and thought I was doing better, so we kept our long-planned bowling and brunch date.
And it was so very fun.
In our 20 years together James and I had never bowled. The big kids had gone with friends, but it was a first for Cora and a first for us as a family.
It will definitely not be the last.
Landon talked a big game about his bowling prowess, even asking me if I needed bumpers, so it's important that I beat him in two of our games (WITHOUT bumpers). James got an annoying number of strikes, despite never bowling, and we've all decided we need more bowling in our lives.
We also ate brunch and it was just lovely. My Grandma Jo and Grandpa Jim had gifted us with a surprise Christmas gift this year and I'd told her we'd use it for some special experiences with the kids. This was one of them. My Grandma Jo was an amazing bowler and I wish I could have told her about our day.
When we got back I completely crashed- went to our bedroom and fell half-asleep while re-read Throne of Glass Book 8 for the third time. James made dinner, I moved to the couch, and then James took the kids to watch the fireworks while I had weird half-dreams on the couch about someone drilling a hole in my sinuses. I was sad to wake up and realize no one had.

Today is my federal holiday, the first one on which I haven't had to work in quite some time and I kicked it off with an urgent care appointment. I do not have a sinus infection, the flu, or anything else with a more impressive name. I just have really stuffed up sinuses and a body that is very angry with my work, stress, and sleep schedule. Sigh.

I spent the rest of the day setting alarms for my Mucinex and Sudafed pills and watching the kids live their lives around me. We've banned electronics, which turned out rather poorly timed, but there's been a lot of Lego building and game playing, which is nice. I spent a lot of the day hiding in my room and pretending I couldn't hear them yell for me to referee something.
Tomorrow is my skin cancer excision surgery on my forehead, and I can't even pretend I'm not just completely bummed about it. It's fine, I'll be fine, but ugh. I don't want layers of stitches in my head and I'm SO allergic to adhesives at this point that I can't even have steri-strips so it's just ointment and linen strips like it's the olden days. Except I'll be at my desk answering emails and the lack of email was perhaps one of the few good things about the olden days...

In closing, because I'm on a lot of cold meds and am not at all sure where I'm going with this, here is my favorite picture and snippet from the kids' swim meet last week. It involves Cora, our hyper-focused, very driven, and also completely spacey third child.

James, yelling to Cora on the blocks: Cora! Don't forget to do your no-breather!
Cora: Got it dad!!
[Swims her 25 free; takes 2 breaths]
James: Cora! 2 breaths!
Cora, shocked face: Oh! I forgot!
I love them both so much!

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Fun, Frenzy, and Forehead Cancer

Y'all there is too much to catch up on for one post. I'm going to try but this may be a two-parter. We have been SO busy and then I have worked every minute not actively doing something else (and sometimes also while doing that) and still squeezing out my one hour of yoga because without it I think I might just fall apart.

Maggie gets it

And while I don't really have time to write this post, my motivations are strong, namely; (1) the aforementioned near-falling-apart and need to see/hear my blog community; (2) James and I both love reading back on these posts years later; (3) Landon keeps bugging me about it ("Mom, do your readers get mad at you when you don't post? Because it's been WAY too long."); and (4) I need my menu posted so I can easily re-find each recipe I picked out while watching the Big Shot finale with the kids last Friday. So hello friends, I hope you are further back on the overwhelmed spectrum than I am.

medicinal mid-week secret Sonic ice cream stop

So 8 days/several lifetimes ago, the kids had their last day of school. Landon is now in 8th grade, one year shy of high school, and James is in pre-mourning for his eventual high school graduation.
Cora is now a 2nd grader and will never be in the same school as a sibling again, which I find sad and Cora finds totally fine because she's got this.
Claire graduated 5th grade and became a middle schooler.
We went shopping to pick out her dress as part of her birthday present the week before and she felt very grown-up about the whole thing.
I can't believe she's done with elementary school or that I now have TWO middle schoolers but I am so extraordinarily thankful for our sweet public school that has so lovingly guided her through her early education. She has such an enthusiasm for learning and is so blessed with her memories and experiences from the last six years.
Sweet girl on her first day of Kinder, which feels like maybe only 2-3 years ago.
Since this year's crop of 5th graders didn't get to do a lot of the traditional 5th grade things (like the field trip to Austin I chaperoned for Landon), our little friend group decided to throw a graduation party for our four graduating girls. We decorated with posters and pictures of the four of them through the years, had a nacho bar, and ranch water table (tequila, Topo Chico, fresh lime, ice - the best), beer cooler, and giant cake from Costco and it was perfect.
I was SO HAPPY to have people at my house again.
And the kids seemed to have a great time.
I think we all missed hanging out because James didn't even play "Closing Time" on the speakers until 10 p.m. and nearly everyone was still here.
We cleaned up, packed up, crashed hard, and then woke up at 6 a.m. so I could drive the kids to Houston for my sister-in-law's babies shower AND to drop the kids off at Papa and Gigi camp!!

And so we drove and drove to my parents' house, changed into party clothes and dropped Landon off for a fishing adventure with his Uncle Eric, and checked in on my dad who had developed an infected tooth the day before which was now making him look like a chipmunk and putting PapaGigi Camp in grave doubt. I wore a dress I bought in February before Covid that still had the tags on.
The girls and I headed to Kingwood, another hour+ away, with my mom for Aunt Tamires's baby (babies!) shower.
It was just beautiful and so fun to see family friends I hadn't seen in years. I still can't believe our family is being blessed with twins, but they'll be here in just a few more weeks and have many books, diapers, and baby entertainment devices waiting for them!!
Doesn't she look amazing? We're all so excited.
As we drove back from the shower it became clear my dad needed an emergency root canal and was in no place to entertain grandchildren, so my very disappointed, but very sweet children who tried so hard not to show it, piled back in the car with me to drive all the way back to Fort Worth.

I must confess, I was just as disappointed - I knew I had SO much work to do and was really looking forward to doing it guilt-free while grabbing late dinners with James (such an exciting life; what are you plans for your child-free week? Oh, just working ALL THE TIME, and also eating food I didn't make) and I didn't handle it nearly as well as the kids.

The next day was Father's Day, so James was very excited to have the kids around for that even if I was still in mourning. But James always loves having our ducklings all together at home. Anytime a kid spends the night, the first thing he says to me the next morning is, "when are we picking up X? can we text the parents now?" And I throw my pillow at him because it's like 7 a.m. and no.
We ate brunch AND dinner (and dessert!) out because screw it and then James planned the rest of the week's meals because I didn't want to cook.
And then began a week of James being slammed with his new summer session lessons (still at our house, omg), me being slammed with work, and the kids also present without a camp or parental supervision. Cue flashbacks to sumer 2020.
But they kept busy, I almost mostly didn't break down, and James had the life drained out of him from being in the sun all day Mon-Fri supervising his enterprise. Oh, I also had two doctor's appointments - allergy food testing (cow's milk, corn, and tomatoes were flagged, which is basically a nacho platter which is my favorite food, but the doctor thinks my eczema can be controlled with a better ointment we're going to try first). I also got a biopsy at the dermatologist for a spot on my forehead that's been stubborn and bleeding any time I pick at it.
One biopsy and a few days waiting later and it's confirmed as skin cancer, a-fucking-gain and I was so sad. It's a basal cell carcinoma again, which is for sure the least scary kind of cancer, but I just hate - I HATE - that it's in the middle of my forehead, I'll have another damn scar, and my skin is just betraying me. The surgery is scheduled for July 6. In related news, I wear visors now. Ugh.
James and I did sneak out for a date night at a new restaurant on Wednesday night, just so we could have a face-to-face conversation, something we'd both been too busy to do the previous four nights when we passed out in bed after closing our computers sometime around 11.
It was lovely and delicious and then hot tea was my dessert so I could turn comments in a documents while he attempted to sleep behind me. I'm sure the clicking of my keys was very soothing and romantic.
I worked a lot more, snuck in yoga, mourned my forehead, and didn't sleep very much. Hopefully the week ahead will be better. And to get us there, here is a Maggie story from sometime mid-week.
Scene: Maggie head-butts her way through a door a human child failed to close properly and settles in to the flaming hot grass.
Me: Maggie! You have to come back inside, it's too hot.
Maggie: I would prefer to be roasted whole at 105 degrees.
Me: No, you're scar is getting burned. Come inside.
Maggie, turns head: I can't see you.
Me: You're hot to the touch.
Maggie: I love it.
Me: [Points to the house with authority]
Maggie: [Closes her eyes to better soak up the flames of the sun]
Me: Fine! Roast Yourself!
Also Me: [Picks up the bulldog and carries her inside while telling her she's perfect.]
I love her so much. Now, food!

Fri: Chicken Picatta, whole wheat spaghetti, side salad (delish!)
Sat: Beet and Goat Cheese Salad (this was great! I added some apple cider vinegar to the dressing because vinegar is my favorite).
Sun: Pulled Pork Sandwiches, Potato Salad, Watermelon, Corn on the Cob
Mon: Pulled Pork Enchiladas (with the leftovers), Mexican Rice, Black Beans
Tues: Pizza Melts, whatever sides I can pull from the fridge at that point - raw veg, fruit, and chips?
Wed: Ang's Creamy Tortellini Soup
Thurs: Gyros, Greek Salad, Naan, Tzatziki
Fri: Cashew Crunch Salad with Sesame Dressing
Sat: Shrimp Tacos, cilantro lime rice, black beans. (Once a year I try to like shrimp; I really think this recipe might do it).
Sun: Takeout BBQ for the 4th, some sort of dessert- maybe magic bars with thematic m&m's?
Mon: Honey Mustard Chopped Chicken Salad
Tues: Pineapple Pork with Coconut Rice
Wed: Pesto Pasta Salad (whole wheat penne, cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, diced grilled chicken, kalamata olives, tossed with Costco's pesto because it's amazing)
Thurs: Strawberry Crunch Salad
Fri Roasted Tomato Pasta Puttanesca with Chicken Meatballs