Friday, December 31, 2021

The Holidays Were/Are Here!

It's been a month and about 84 years since my last blog post. I just double-checked the date and it says I published it on November 21st and I have no idea how that's possible because that would only be 5 weeks ago and it seems like MUCH longer than that. So much has happened and things have been so busy that Maggie is exhausted and flatly refusing to take walks.
I tried pulling a few pictures to tell the tale and quickly had a folder of 87, so I'll do my best to cull that down a bit. On my end I brought two more cases, including one that made front-page news, so that was exciting and rewarding and this post is now brought to you by a minor toe surgery and sick day off work [Author's note, then my computer died, then I had to watch Harry Potter 6 with Cora, and then I had to make cinnamon rolls for New Year's Day, so this post was like a 3 day project. My toe is healing well though!).
When we last spoke we had tried and failed to go to Belize for Thanksgiving.
We did end up making it there! Two days later after re-doing our Covid tests and everything else that goes into leaving the country for five days. Travel went well- even if we were told we didn't have seats on the plane two different times and I stayed impressively calm while explaining we very much did. Once we arrived in Belize City we took a tiny transfer flight to Amerbris Caye island and I was selected to fly as copilot. This scared to shit out of a tired Claire because, as she tried to explain to the crew, "my mom does NOT kmow how to fly a plane."
Luckily we landed safely anyway and made it to our beautiful rental condo at Gran Caribe.
We LOVED the combo of independent apartment (we rented a 2-story, 3-bedroom, 3-bathroom oceanfront STUNNER) with hotel amenities like activity concierge, room service, pool bar, daily housekeeping with laundry, and more. We travel a lot and a big reason we can is because we do it as cheaply as possible - I make my reservations nearly a year in advance, track prices, make our meals, and more. I made every lunch we ate in Utah, slapping together sandwiches in the front seat of the car between hikes, but man was it nice to send the kids to the pool to order pancakes at the swim up bar each morning.
Two highlights of the trip were our all-day snorkel cruise and night snorkel through the Hol Chan marine preserve.
The day cruise was wonderful- so fun, with food and drinks included, and a fabulous staff. The night cruise quite simply blew my mind. If you've never done a snorkel or dive at night, it is quite simply a MUST. I had no idea the ocean comes alive at night in a way it isn't during the day, and seeing the underwater world through the beam of your flashlight like a real-life treasure hunt.
We so SO many huge stingrays gracefully glide by, giant nurse sharks that nearly brushed against Landon, three porcipine puffer fish, two lion fish, three moray eels, a baby octopus chasing a clam, a big sea turtle, and a gigantic Cubera snapper over 4 feet long eating a pretty blue tang we'd just been admiring in front of us. That Cubera followed us all evening to take advantage of the little fish attracted to our light. By the time we climbed back into the boat we were pretty chilly, but the stars in the pitch black sky above us gave us a spectacular show on the ride home. It was a magical night.
James swam everyday and I did my traditional packing, but not using, of the yoga pants. We've reached a phase of life where we usually wake up before the kids, so he'd go to the pool to workout and I'd go sip a daquiri and watch. We all embrace vacation in our own ways.
We rented a golf cart, as you can't rent cars on the island, and loved heading into the bustling town to shop the market and shops.
We played and swam and ate and swam some more. Also, Claire wanted a "jumping" picture and I took this shot on my first try with one hand while holding a lime daquiri in the other.
And with that I reached Peak Vacation Mode.
We took our (negative!) Covid tests and got back home very late on Sunday night, grateful to have spend our bonus two days before the trip decorating the house for Christmas so the sparkles greeted us on our return.
Life has gotten so busy as the kids have gotten older that I had to sit down with James on our return to pencil in the days we would decorate our tree, go to the zoo, decorate cookies, etc. But don't worry, we made our Christmas magic!
One of the reasons things were so busy was because James competed at the U.S. Open in North Carolina in early December!
And he did AMAZING! He finaled in the 100 breast and got 2nd in his heat and the girls got to watch him on TV and it was the best.
Then the kids had a swim meet and then James had another meet and then he went two new lifetime bests and broke three National Masters Records for his age group and we are so proud of him. Landon has reported that at meets James is "even MORE famous now that he's 40. A kid even asked him for his autograph - an OLDER KID mom! Like a cool one. And people ask me questions about him because I'm his son. It's pretty weird... and a little bit cool."

When not at the pool, James joined Cora and me for a trip to see Rudolph at the Casa Manana Theater. I wore a new dress Ann Taylor accidentally shipped me and then said to keep and while I would never have ordered it I LOVE the fabulous bright color. I paired it with the red lipstick I wear approximately twice a year and then wonder why I don't wear it more.
Speaking of wearing things, I've been clicking through the outfits Bonnie made me at my closet consult and it has seriously upped my game. And most importantly, on the rare days that I leave my house, I feel so good about it. Powerful and confident and pretty and like my own clothes are new again.
This was me at Cora's soccer game (her broken arm is fixed and like a phoenix she rises to play again).
One new thing I have gifted myself is the Chi Spin 'n Curl, immediately dubbed the Vagina Curler upon opening the box and you guys it is as magic as my favorite holiday traditions.
I have never used a curling iron and never curled my hair and I don't understand how to do do anything except blow dry and straighten the heck out of it. But this machine- it can CURL MY HAIR. Curl it! Without any effort and accidental burns on my part. It was my single greatest purchase of 2021. I got to curl my hair for various events in December, including the one day I returned to the office to find my March 2020 calendar on the wall, some stale snacks in my drawer, and the realization that I am now far more productive at home.
All the pets got matching sweaters. Moose tolerated it because we put cat food on the ground for him to eat. Milo tolerated because he knew he looked so handsome. Maggie loved it and was so excited she got to match her feline friends/overlords.
Milo got out one night through an accidentally open door and we spent a terrifying two hours looking for him. After knocking on the doors of all the neighbors and calling for him with flashlights and cat food, James triumphantly walked in the door yelling "Look who I found!!". Milo had been tucked under the pool heater, with giant eyes, and a heart full of regret for entering this scary world without kibbles or fluffy blankets.
Thanks to another round of negative Covid tests, we spent Christmas at my parents for our first full family Christmas in their home in a VERY long time- and this year we had three new babies to celebrate with.
Landon was in heaven.
It was full of love and total cousin chaos.
My mom and her girls (and me and my curls #vaginacurler).
It was a wonderful 3 days full of thoughtful gifts, delicious food, cuddly babies, and happy cousins. And surprise tickets to Hamilton in February.
I took off the week between Christmas and New Year's from work.
It's been wonderful.
Cozying up with the people I love most. Watching movies, baking, snuggling pets, making plans for the year ahead.
The kids continue to have sleepovers in the girls' room every night. With every year that passes I'm more and more grateful for this little kidpack we have.
I feel like we're in the golden era of parenting. The first many years, while bright and wonderful and full of chubby toddlers who screamed in pure joy everytime you walked in the room, are so much more physically intensive. These years, while at times heavier emotionally (oy the talks we have had in dinner the last year or so: school shootings, Texas's blow to women's health and rights, hunger, homelessness, and working through so many more "Mom I heard this at school, is it true?"), is just a time of such ease.
It feels like we're reaping the rewards of a decade of discipline and boundaries and lots of love and very little screentime. These interesting, polite, inquisitive little humans are just genuinely fun to be around. We eat dinner together every night - at 7:45 so we can all be there - and we talk and we are TOGETHER and I just love them so damn much.
I wish I could have shown this to the me of 10 years ago with a toddler and a baby and a demanding job and a feeling like there would never be a break. That I loved it all so much, but oh my god I needed a day, a night, a something.
And now, James and I can head out to dinner on a moment's notice and come back to join the teen, tween, and big kid for a movie on the couch when we're done. Every phase is my favorite phase (except the baby Landon ear infection phase), but maybe this is my favoritist of all?
Happiest Holidays everyone, I wish you the very best in the New Year,

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Running on Caffeine and Christmas Pajamas

Y'all it has been a DAY. I'm typing this at 3:39 p.m. and in one minute I will have already been up for exactly 12 hours. I should be on a beach in Belize right now, sipping a cocktail and watching my hot husband and smiling children splashing about the cerulean blue sea (a sea which I had already painted my nails to match).

Instead I'm very much in Fort Worth, wearing my flannel polar bear pajamas at 11 a.m., watching Christmas movies with the girls, drinking a diet coke to stay awake and wondering what meal I should be eating now.
Because we left our house at 4:30 this morning to get to the airport for our much-anticipated un-Belize-able Thanksgiving in Ambergris Caye, Belize. Our first family beach trip since Curacao, we were really looking forward to the ocean views and quality time together with our five pack. We got to the airport in plenty of time, parked the car, sailed through the international check-in with our negative Covid test results all printed out and vaccine cards in our passport holders, watched the kids breeze through security like pros, and waited by our gate for flight 1 of 3 today, expecting to be beachside by mid-afternoon.

Except no. When it was finally it was time to board, everyone lined up... and then nothing happened. And then more nothing. And then they announced they were taking our plane out of service. They found another plane, but it would take two hours to get it in place. That meant we- along with nearly everyone else headed to Miami at 7 a.m.- would miss our connection to somewhere else.
The line for the gate agent was longer than the length of the plane. I jumped on the phone, James got in line, and we tried to figure out what on earth we could do. There were no other flights from Miami to Belize later today or anytime tomorrow. The one time we check bags and they were now trapped on a plan we'd no longer be on. Our shuttle flight to the island was already booked, along with our snorkel tours and family golf cart (you can't rent cars on the island, which is adorable)- it was all a mess.

But with patience for the poor airline employees who caused none of this, and two phones, two hours, and three patient kids now sitting on the airport floor, we made a new plan and will now travel Tuesday - Sunday, waited another hour at the airport to get our bags off the plane, retrieved our car from long term parking, and by 10 a.m., 5 hours after arriving, we were on our way back home.

The kids were such troopers, so much so that James and I couldn't even complain; it seemed like we should really follow their example. I'm now going to put up our Christmas decorations tomorrow (sitting on the couch and watching cheesy movies is all I can handle today), so our Christmas House will be ready on our now late-Sunday night return. Everything is staying packed - we hardly need swimsuits and sundresses here, a new round of Covid tests have been scheduled, and hopefully the next time we drive to DFW we won't drive back for five more days.

As luck would have it, one of my first thoughts on our drive home from the airport was "well I guess I could do a blog post today!" and right about then I got two comments asking how I was doing after weeks without any posts. So here I am! Literally, right here. On my couch. I never intended to take a break from the blog, but life, work, and family got so busy and so full - AND I started and finished (just last night!) our annual photobooks, and I could not spare a moment. Or rather, when I did have a moment, I did not want it to involve a computer. Plus we had a lot of events and travel and November was (still is?) CRAZY.

But we are doing well! Very well in fact and I'm going to do a quick and dirty picture-filled recap because if there's anything my thousand-hour annual photobooking marathon reminds me of, it's how much I treasure writing down our day to day. And if there's anything that comforts me when James and I both talk so fondly of the golden toddler years, it's looking back through my stories and knowing we soaked up every ounce of them that we could. And that we're doing the same now.
So! Jumping back to when we left off, in mid-October when James turned the big 4-0!
He's not really into celebrating his own birthday, but we went out for a fancy dinner with the kids and they got quite a kick out of it. Then we got home to a surprise yard sign (well, surprise to him) and he seemed pretty tickled.
The kids made him a pile of cards, I made him his favorite cake, and I think he had a pretty happy birthday indeed. Not to mention the fact that he broke all his previous lifting records at the gym that same week and continues going best times in the pool (and heads to compete at the U.S. Open again in two weeks!) and I think 40 looks pretty great on him.
The next week I got to see my very first broadway show of my very first Bass Performance Hall Broadway Season Pass! I've wanted season tickets for years, waited until our budget allowed, then waited on the waiting list, then waited through the Covid shutdowns, and just now FINALLY got to bid for seats and I got two GREAT ones in center orchestra with a friend of mine from work and I AM SO EXCITED.
I wore my new shirt and new pants (from this trip), dried my hair for the first time in forever, and nearly danced into the beautiful Bass Performance Hall. We were seeing Come From Away, which I had never even heard of. I had zero expectations and knew whatever it was it would be great. And then, 100 minutes of non-stop magical musical perfection in which I laughed and cried throughout, often both at the same time, I clapped so hard my hands got swollen. It was one of the best plays I've ever seen. I truly cannot recommend it more highly.

Soon after that night we got a brief bit of fall-ish weather and Maggie joyfully returned to hoodies and sweaters for a few days.
We enjoyed a very fun Halloween with friends- Landon was a Hawaiian tourist guy, Claire was an angel, Cora was a puppy, and Maggie was a rainbow.
For the first time ever, Claire didn't trick-or-treat with us and instead spent the evening with new friends a few neighborhoods over. She is LOVING middle school, has massively expanded her social circle, and I'm just thankful she still loves a couch date with mom.
A few days later I headed over to San Antonio to love on my grandparents as my grandpa is just not doing very well. His heart, which has done its best after his heart attack four years ago, is simply starting to fail. These extra years with him have truly been a gift, and while we don't know that this is truly the end, we've had some scary moments and I'm trying to visit all three of them as often as possible. After my Grandma Jo passed earlier this year I know more than ever how precious each moment with my grandparents is to me.
That weekend we got to celebrate James's big birthday with a grown-ups only trip to Monterey, California.
We spent 3 nights at an inn on the ocean outside Carmel and just like when I visit Colorado, any time I go to California I leave wondering why on earth I don't live there too.
It is so spectacularly beautiful. And while James wanted to call the kids 6x a day (I got him down to 2), we both definitely enjoyed our second-ever trip away from them. We hiked, slept, ate, napped, enjoyed the inn's daily afternoon wine and cheese reception, hiked some more, saw sea lions in the wild, visited Bixby bridge, explored the Aquarium, shopped, and ate- and then ate again. It was glorious. After 20 years together, I sure do love this guy.
And as is traditional for your spouse's milestone birthday, I got a diamond necklace.
It was an accidental find, in a charming little jewelry shop in Carmel- but I have been looking for a few years for something small, but nice, that could be worn dressed up at work, but also dressed down on the weekends, that was meaningful, but not cutesy, and mostly, that was not something I was seeing at every other store. And on our way to lunch (or possibly second lunch?), I found this little 5 ring necklace- one ring for each member of my precious family- and I just couldn't stop thinking about it. And so we went back the next day and bought it. James was so pleased with his gift. I wear it everyday.
The week we returned I had an appointment with a wardrobe stylist. I decided this was my year of using experts in areas were I myself lack skill. And one of those areas is outfits and layering and using what I already have to feel fabulous instead of looking for something elusive to get me to feel that way that likely doesn't even exist.
I found Bonnie recommended on our local neighborhood page and oh my gosh she was everything I hoped she'd be. She gave me ideas on styles that look good on me (I haven't moved out of the low rise jeans of the 90's), suggested brands to look for online and in resale shops, and gave me an overall review of my closet- pieces that stood out to her, areas where it might be worth investing in a piece. I then spent a weekend doing a deep clean of my closet and she came back to create an outfit "look book" for me out of clothes, shoes, and accessories I already owned:
My goal with the closet edit was to remove absolutely anything I didn't want to see in an outfit created by her. That perspective helped so much- just because I used to love something doesn't mean I'd be excited about wearing it now. I also switched to velvet hangers, decreased my inventory by nearly half, and genuinely LOVE everything left in there. And then when Bonnie came back she spent 2 hours putting together more creative work and casual outfits for me. In her words, she steered clear of the obvious (I've got that covered), and focused on combining things in new ways. I absolutely love it and have worn top-to-bottom at least half of her looks already.
I think this might be something I do each season until I feel more confident in pulling things together. And I LOVE how it's made me view my clothes- now I see my closet as a hallway of treasures instead of this crowded space where I can't find anything to wear. It was the best $$ I've spent this year.
And two days after that (5 days after returning from California), we drove to San Antonio for my cousin's wedding! Kristian is my second-youngest cousin, born a full 16 years after me, so he's closer in age to all my children than to me. His mother is my godmother, my Aunty Mary, who died four years ago, so we all wanted to be there to support him on this big day.
We rented a giant house on the Guadalupe River with my parents, sister and her 3 girls, brother and his twins, my aunt and uncle from Atlanta, my cousin and her 2 kids, and my other cousin. 25 people and it was a BLAST. We grabbed a quick photo of my parents and all 8 of their grandchildren! Hard to believe we added 3 just this year.
I taught yoga by the river in the morning.
Tiny cousins ran around everywhere and with 4 babies under 9 months old, my kids were in HEAVEN.
Also on the day of the wedding, Cora turned 8!
My sweet tiny, perfect, easy, desperately-made-me-want-a-4th, her-first-year-was-the-happiest-year-of-my-life, third-baby is 8!
We are all a little shaken by this. Except Cora. She's aboslutely got this big kid thing down and she LOVED being an "older" cousin (2nd cousin?) to my cousin's daughter. They were absolute besties all trip and we had to FaceTime yesterday to keep them in touch.
We celebrated with a puppy party in the rental house.
My sorority sister cousin did my hair for me before the wedding. 38 years old and I have still never held a curling iron. That is the next expert task I am going to find someone to teach me. Why am I so inept at simple grown-up things? Anyway, I loved the look, especially with the shorter hair and have vowed to recreate it before I'm 39.
The wedding ceremony was held at my grandparents' church, the same one that my parents and both my mom's sisters (including my godmother) were also married in. My grandparents were able to be there and it was so very special. My grandpa did the same reading he did at my Aunty Mary's wedding and it was so meaningful to all of us.
We loved the reception- it has been a lifetime since our last dance party!
James is a great dancer and I just shuffle around like a mess and love every second.
It was interesting to see the big kids be old enough to be self-conscious about the dancing, whereas Cora just let the music fill her soul and move her from head to toe. I think she danced for two hours straight. She ended up in the middle of the bridesmaids' dance circle and later she told me, "that was the best part of my whole birthday."
Landon refused to dance and instead ate every mini chicken and waffle he could get his hands on.
Claire held babies (this is my sister's youngest) and we all just had so much fun together.
We got back home last weekend, I made a case recommendation to the Commission this past week (work has been SO busy), and then we tried to leave today for Belize. Now it will be Tuesday (fingers crossed!) and we're back Sunday and then we launch into the happy holiday season with its cookies and gifts and sparkles everywhere. I can't wait. But first I hope to sleep and then spend some time on the beach.