Monday, October 15, 2012

Apples, Pumpkins, and a Character Check!

It seems Sunday was a test of my integrity. 

We've all seen them -- the stories on the news where somebody finds a large chunk of money on the street, in a store, in a cab, etc., and turns it in to authorities instead of keeping it for themselves. While I believe that people are  mostly good, I also believe that for every one of those feel good stories there is the other side, where somebody finds money and just keeps it.

So which one are you?

I've always believed that I would be one of those people who didn't even think twice about it and automatically turned it in. Today, at the Weston Red Barn Farm, I had a chance to test that theory. Unfortunately, I'm not exactly proud of my reaction.

With just a few weeks before Halloween and a trip to Nebraska planned for next weekend, I wanted to take the kids to Weston's Red Barn Farm while we had the chance. The Patriots played at 3:00, so Kevin opted to stay home since we were getting out of the house pretty late in the afternoon.

When we arrived, we paid for our tractor trip to the pumpkin patch and two pony rides, and headed for our adventure. Our first stop was the pony rides where both kids waited with excitement. About every couple of minutes, Brendan would remind me that he wanted to ride the ponies and I had to tell Emily to settle down and stop messing with the rope just as frequently.

After our pony rides, we headed towards the animals and a walk through one of the apple orchards. Of course, I had to make the kids pose for photos, so after the apple orchard we headed towards a bench in front of a large, gnarly looking tree. On the way there, I spotted a $20 on the ground and without thinking, scooped it up.  I held it in my hand as I positioned the kids and snapped their pictures, and then we moved onto the pumpkins all lined up on the ground. I hadn't checked the money to see exactly how much was there, but I slipped it into my pocket and figured that based on the thickness there were at least two bills. Once we walked around a little more and snapped a few more pictures, we headed to the country store to inquire about their apple picking. While Brendan played with miniature tractors and Emily with books, I decided to pull the money out of my pocket to total up the bills.

To my surprise, there was more than just two bills in there and I was a little taken a back. (It wasn't a LARGE amount, but it was larger than I expected. I have decided not to say exactly how much though.) Suddenly I found myself in that position -- found money, what do you do?  Honestly, had it been only $20, I hate to say it, but I probably would have kept it. There have been several times I've lost a $20 bill, or a $10 bill, so maybe it's just the universe paying me back. Plus I figured, just $20 -- nobody is going to come back or go searching the farm for $20. But it was more than $20 and if I were them I would have at least made the effort to see if anyone had turned it in.

Even though I was pretty sure I knew what I was going to do, I am actually ashamed to admit that I did have second thoughts temporary. So much so, that I actually sent text messages to my mom and a friend to see what they suggested.  It was unanimous between the two of them that I should turn it in, so after we finished picking apples from the orchard behind the barn I was going to find someone to turn it in to.

We headed back into the store to pay for our apples, and yes, I turned in the money. I handed it to a lady who was either an owner or a manager, and when I explained that I had found the money, one of the girls cashiers mentioned that another lady had actually just been in a short time before asking if anyone had turned in any cash. Suddenly, the pride I felt in doing the right thing and turning in the money was diminished a little by the knowledge that I may not have done it quick enough. I was a bit shocked that the lady didn't give them her name and number in case it was found, but I had done my part and I felt good about it.

By that time I had gotten tired of hearing Brendan beg to go on the tractor, so we headed down the hill to wait our turn. When it pulled up, I almost had to stop Brendan from cutting the line to get on. Once we got on and began our trip to the pumpkin patch, he was a happy boy.

 There were hundreds of pumpkins in the patch, but the kids didn't seem too interested in picking them.

Since I wasn't too excited about trying to tote them around by myself, I didn't push it, and we ended up boarding the tractor without a pumpkin. The trip on the tractor was more about the tractor itself, which was evident by the cries of my poor baby boy when he learned we weren't going to be able to ride again. In fact, he ended up crying for most of the remaining time at the farm, even as they both picked a small pie pumpkin to take home. As we were standing at the checkout, I saw the woman I had given the money to earlier and asked if she had found the owner yet. She said she had not and that she had been told that it was the money they had taken out of the ATM to buy pumpkins and stuff for the family. One of the other girls at the register heard our conversation and mentioned that a lady had come by earlier looking for the money, but once again, didn't leave any forwarding information. The woman I gave the money to said that if no one claimed it, they would donate it to a church or another organization, but it would be put to good use. Honestly, the Weston Red Barn Farm is such a neat place that I would be perfectly happy with just contributing it to them.

Our final stop was to purchase a huge bag of kettle corn, specially requested by a finally calm little boy who only wanted popcorn for dinner.

So, what would you do if you found a wad of money in a busy location?  I am kind of ashamed to admit that I even thought about it keeping it, but very happy that I made the decision I did. While we definitely could have used it, I wouldn't be a very good example for my children if I had chosen to keep the money. They didn't know anything about it, so it would have been easy to just take and run, but it was now a learning situation and I did mention it to them in the car ride home.

I always thought I wouldn't even hesitate to turn in found money, but I guess I was wrong. I did hesitate.

What would you have done???

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Unofficial End of Summer - Heit's Point

I don’t know that I have ever looked forward to the end of summer like I am this year! I normally love summer – backyard barbecues, playing in the backyard pool and sprinklers, swimming with friends at The Springs, sunset walks, and hours at the park – but this year it has just been too hot to enjoy any of that. Most of our time has been spent indoors, with the kids going stir crazy and me needing an extra glass of wine after bedtime to recover from it all. We have spent some good times with great friends, but still…I’m ready for fall, cooler temps, sweatshirts, and football!

Emily started school on Wednesday, so I guess summer is unofficially over. This year we ended our summer the same way we did last year and the same way I hope we do for years to come – with a trip to Heit’s Point on the Lake of the Ozarks for a wonderful weekend with great friends.  Kevin isn’t big on the outdoors, so we let him take a pass and stay home this time. However, the kids and I do enjoy spending time outside, so we packed up the car Friday afternoon and headed to Lincoln, Missouri to meet up with our friends.

The weather Friday was PERFECT for a road trip! When we finally arrived at Heit’s Point, we picked up our key and headed to Cabin No. 2, our home for the next 24 hours. We stayed in the same cabin last year, and while it’s tiny, it was perfect for our family of four with a beautiful view of the lake off the wrap around deck.

When we got inside, we surveyed the room before heading back out to grab our stuff. As we looked out the sliding glass doors, through the curtains we saw the silhouette of a wasp, which I assumed was outside but we went out to get the wasp spray and fly swatter that I brought, just in case. When we came back in I discovered the wasp was indeed INSIDE the cabin, so we quickly made our exit.

After a quick phone call and a visit from friends to check out the cabin (the wasp was nowhere to be seen, but I know he was there), we decided to move our party into the Spitz Center. While I was kind of sad that we were going to miss the seclusion of our two room cabin, I knew there was no way I was going to be comfortable sleeping in the cabin – fearing that there may be more. The room we ended up in, with its two pull out couches and AMPLE space for the kids to run, was the perfect accommodation and delivered a very peaceful sleep.

Friday night, after eating dinner, we headed to the Lodge to join our friends for homemade ice cream, chocolate cake, and devotions. It was a great evening and a perfect beginning to our Heit’s Point fun!

Saturday morning, after breakfast, we joined some of our friends for a hike and along our walk, stopped at the mini-farm on the property. 

After walking a little while longer, the kids decided they had had enough, so we headed back towards our rooms for lunch. On our way back, we stopped by the lake where the rest of our group was paddleboating and decided to stop by to say hi. Of course, when we got there the kids all decided they wanted ride too, so we stuck around for awhile while they hopped from one boat to the other.

After paddle boating we returned to our room for our corn dogs and Goldfish crackers. After lunch, we returned to the lake for swimming. Emily was all over the place, playing with her friends, while Brendan wouldn’t leave my side and was constantly latched to me. Even with his life jacket on, and even in water he could stand in, he still wouldn’t let me go. After an hour or so in the water, I was finally able to get Brendan to let go by giving him a noodle wrapped under his arm. Pretty soon not only was he floating by himself, but he was “chasing” me through the water, in water too deep for him to stand, and was having a blast! He was as proud of himself as I was of him. It was a big step for my little boy!

And apparently it’s not a King of Kings trip to Heit’s Point unless one child ends up in the emergency room. Last year it was a cracked chin after a slide on the stairs leading to the top of the water slide, and this year it was another child, smacking her knee on the rocks after going down the slide. After a trip to the hospital, she came back with a sprained knee, bruised hip and crutches.

After swimming, we returned to our room for a little bit of relaxation before dinner, and then it was out to meet the gang for archery and BB guns. Brendan had fallen asleep in the room, so he wasn’t very happy with me when I drug him outside. He spent the first part of the activity sitting his chair looking a bit annoyed.

Meanwhile, Pastor Frank assisted Emily on shooting her first BB Gun! She was having a good time and was doing a pretty decent job.
Then it was time for archery. Emily wasn’t quite as into the archery as she was the BB gun, and while I tried to help her, she just wasn’t feeling it. Brendan did have an interest, so the two of us shot several arrows, sometimes missing the target. Okay, mostly missing the target, but we were having a good time.

As the sun began to set, the kids were getting tired and hungry, so we said our goodbyes and headed to our respective homes for the evening.

We decided to just stay one night, but we wanted to stay late enough to participate in all activities. Since home was about 2 ½ hour away, instead of heading all the way there we spent the night at Kevin’s sister’s house in Sedalia, which is only about 40 minutes from Heit’s Point. I think the packing and loading of all of our junk took about as long as a trip all the way home would have, but after showers and loading, we piled into the car and headed home.

Before actually hitting the highway, we stopped by the Lodge to pick up my ketchup and to get some advice on a funky smell coming from my car. After a thorough examination by a couple friends,and a determination that nothing was wrong, we headed out on the dark highway towards our resting place for the night.

We made it to Sedalia safely and all fell asleep not long after our heads hit the pillows. By the time we woke up around 8:00 packed the car up again, and headed for Kansas City. On our way home, we drove through some welcomed rain showers and cooler temps that allowed for me to leave the AC off for the entire ride home.

After unloading and unpacking, I finally sat down to go through the pictures I took and reflect on the brief, busy weekend. While we missed Kevin, the kids and I had a great time, Emily made a new friend in Lillie – whom she knew but had spent such little time with her that she didn’t REALLY know her, Brendan swam by himself, the kids got new experiences (archery/BB guns), we spent quality time with our wonderful friends, and we unofficially ended the summer of 2012 with what is becoming a family tradition.

Can’t wait of Heit’s Point summer of 2013!

Monday, June 25, 2012

15th Wedding Anniversary and Local Discoveries!

I've been in a happy place a lot lately, and I like it!  It's a much better place than the alternative. Maybe it's because summer is here now and I'm filled with giddy anticipation of all the fun I plan to have. The trips to the pool, grilling with family and friends, camping, and all the fabulousness that summer has to offer. Not to mention the longer days and the abundance of sunshine.

My "Happiness Project," which I began full steam a couple of months ago, kind of fell off track a little and I'm really not sure why. I found myself feeling blah more days than I would have liked, but I guess that's just how it goes. You can't be happy all the time. But recently I've had more happy than blah days.

It really started a couple of weekends ago, when I went back to Nebraska and did the Warrior Dash with one of my best friends from high school. We've talked a lot online, but it had been almost a year since we've actually seen each other, so it was way overdue. After running the Warrior Dash, I spent the evening with her family up at their lake house. Even though we never got into the water, it was definitely what I needed. We sat on the dock and talked, I almost threw my phone into the water (I did lose what I had left of my case), we rode around the lake on their "T-Rex", and then wrapped up the night chatting on the deck, watching the beautiful sun set as it reflected off of the lake. It was the perfect, peaceful ending to a crazy, mud-filled day. It's amazing how a setting like that can remind you what's important.
Beautiful sunset on the lake.

Back home in KC the following weekend, we were joined on a four-day weekend by my mom who spent most of her vacation hanging out with us. Thursday we had lunch and then went to Men In Black III in 3-D and had so much fun, we saw it again on Saturday night in the regular movie theater. Friday we traveled just south of Kansas City to Powell Gardens, which blew away my expectations. The gardens were gorgeous, the scenic views were inspiring, and I enjoyed their fruit and vegetable gardens and vineyard, and being able to show my kids where it all comes from.

The rest of the weekend was shopping, eating, hanging out, and kids water play.

That led to another four day weekend, this time to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary! As of Wednesday night, I had no clue what we were going to do and where we were going to go. All I knew is that I wanted to go somewhere we haven't been before, I wanted to try to support local businesses where possible, and I hoped that whatever crazy ideas I had, Kevin would indulge me. Lucky for me, he did!

At the City Market

We started with a trip to the "Westside", just south and west of downtown, with a stop for lunch at the Blue Bird Bistro. It's the kind of place I might normally shy away from -- old apartments (could have been a house, not sure) converted into a cute little restaurant, serving organic and sustainable food. I say it's the place I normally shy away from, because I sometimes fear the unfamiliar. I'm afraid I'll stick out like a sore thumb from the "locals" or look like I don't belong. But I've learned over the last year or so that stepping out of your comfort zone can lead to wonderful experiences and new favorites (like duck tongue tacos or roasted marrow bone from "Extra Virgin"), so we parked our car on a side street and walked two blocks to the restaurant. I LOVED the colors!

The colors and the blue bird on the post makes me happy!

We walked in and were led up a long flight of stairs to our table. Had I known there were stairs involved, I might have wore different shoes! Once up the stairs we were taken down the hall, through one room into another. The wood floors and pale green walls made for a very welcoming and inviting atmosphere. The waitress poured water into our glasses from a beautiful blue wine bottle (that would be the perfect decor for my new yellow kitchen walls) and we poured over our menu. 

Love the glass blue water bottle

Kevin opted for a bacon egg sandwich, while I chose a bison burger with sauteed mushrooms and garlic and a side of some wonderful dill potato salad. I have to say I was very pleased with my choice and definitely look forward to going back sometime soon.

The burger was a little dwarfed by the homemade bun, but it made for a tasty mushroom, tomato sandwich!

With a list of other snack places to try, we didn't get to stop by Blue Bird Bistro's newest neighbor "Little Freshie," a "soda fountain and espresso bar" that I'm told has amazing snow cones. However, it's definitely on the list. We did drive quickly around some of the neighborhood, with me "oohing" and "ahhing" over the houses. I definitely wouldn't want to be that close to my neighbors, which was like a walkway's distance between each, but the colors, the architecture, the history in those houses...definitely something that is missing from the cookie cutter neighborhoods being built today. I wish I would have taken more pictures as we drove down the street, or had more time to really walk around and see it all, and someday we will as it's also now on "the list."

After leaving the Westside, we headed down to the Crossroads District for my first ever visit to Christopher Elbow Artisanal Chocolates! I've had one of their chocolates once before and have been dying to go try it for myself! The chocolates are expensive at around $1.75 a piece, but their flavors are so creative, the chocolates themselves are so beautiful and soooo tasty, that they are really worth it!

(Top row) Bananas Foster, Chamomile Honey
(Middle row) Fresh Mint, Strawberry Balsmic, Butterscotch Bourbon
(Bottom row) Brown Butter Pecan, Fleur De Sel, Raspberry
The next stop on our tour of locally owned food spots was the City Market and the delicious Bloom Baking Co. We had stopped there once last year and I had the most amazing almond pastry and a delicious focaccia, and I have been wanting that almond pastry again ever since! Unfortunately, they didn't have them in stock, but the owner did an amazing job on selling me on some fresh brioche bread and their homemade bread pudding. Having never had bread pudding before, I split it for breakfast Friday and Saturday and it was good! A little rich, which is why I split it, but definitely worth the hype. We used the brioche along with the Bloom Baking Co.'s recipe that we were given for french toast for dinner with friends on Friday night and everybody -- including the kids -- agreed it was delish!

Bloom baking co. in the City Market - Yum!
With that checked off my list, we headed to the Country Club Plaza looking for fresh macarons at Natasha's Mulberry and Mott. Unfortunately they were out of macarons, but I did buy some homemade marshmallows for me and the kids.

The last stop on my list was Glace Artisan Ice Cream, also owned by Christopher Elbow. Much like his chocolates, his ice cream selection has a lot of interesting and surprising combinations. I would have liked to have try everything, but I decided on a scoop each of french lavender and fresh mint chip. Wow! Awesome flavors! Both were good, but the french lavender was by far my favorite. So much so that I had Kevin run across the street to CVS to purchase a small cooler so that I could purchase a pint of french lavender ice cream to take home. I never would have thought it would have been so yummy!
Glace Artisan Ice Cream on the Plaza's south side
I love that blue
French Lavender and Fresh Mint Chip. Yum!
All day, my husband had been indulging my whims and going with me on my tour of local KC food establishments without complaint, so after ice cream it was time to make his one stop -- Gomers Liquor Store. His day was made by finding the last 6-pack of Newcastle Founder's Brew and a 6-pack of DAB, and I continued my "buy local" mission by buying a 12-pack of Boulevard Wheat.

After picking up the kids and dropping them off at our friends' house, we headed to Zona Rosa for our anniversary dinner at Swagat Restaurant, Fine Italian Cuisine. This was the first time for both of us to eat real Indian food and we've been wanting to try this restaurant for a long time, so with no kids for the night, this was the perfect time. We started with an appetizer of Paneer Pakoras (homemade cheese, deep fried in spicy chick-pea batter) which Kevin really liked, but for me it was just okay. Dinner for Kevin was Chicken Tikka (skewered strips of boneless chicken breast marinated in herbs and spices, grilled in a clay oven) and for me it was Butter Chicken (Boneless chicken cooked with fresh garlic, ginger, touch of tomato in a light creamy sauce and spices). I took some pictures of the food, but it doesn't seem to look as good on camera as it tastes, so I'll skip posting that. But believe me when I say, it was YUM-MY! We will DEFINITELY be going back and I will be trying something different every time.
Swagat at Zona Rosa.
After dinner we walked around Zona Rosa a little, doing a little shopping for the kids at Crazy 8, browsing at Barnes and Noble, and stopping at Topsy for a treat for Kevin. I was saving myself for the creme de menthe brownies that my good friend Michelle had made for me us. So we headed back to pick up the kids and celebrate a little with our friends, who are celebrating their 15th wedding anniversary exactly one week after us. We celebrated by popping the cork on a wine we purchased 15 years ago during our honeymoon at the Biltmore Estate Winery.
American Chenin Blanc purchased during our honeymoon at the Biltmore Estate
And Michelle created a special presentation of brownies just for us.

Michelle's Creme De Menthe bars specially designed for our anniversary
And that was our 15th wedding anniversary celebration! The time spent just the two of us was definitely needed and enjoyed. There wasn't one argument we had to break up, no voices raised at disobedient children, no diaper changes, just us, doing stuff. And I also got to check some things off of my Kansas City list (but I also found more to add to it).

I'm in my happy place, and you know what? I'm happier there! Go figure! It makes it so much easier to love the little things!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

My Kansas City Project: Part 1 - KC Royals!

We have now lived in Kansas City for a little over 16 years, which is a huge chunk of my life.  For roughly the first 10 years or longer, I continued to call Lincoln home even though there wasn’t really any plan to move back. Truth is, while I had a job and we had some family and friends in the area, it never really felt like home. My friends, my family, and my heart were back home. 

Having kids changed all of that.

Nine months after Emily was born, we finally bought a house – 11 ½ years after moving to Kansas City. A few years later we joined our current church, became a complete family of four with the arrival of Brendan, and met the people I know consider some of the greatest people I know. Life has changed in the last few years, and I finally consider Kansas City home!

Recently I’ve come to realize that there is so much about my Kansas City that we are missing out on! So many great restaurants, museums and activities that we haven’t experienced and it’s really rather sad when you think about it.  That’s why a few months ago I began planning what I call “My Kansas City Project.”

Originally, I was going to make a list of everything and every place that I wanted us to try by the end of the summer – both as a family and with my girlfriends – but that list became rather long. With the limited time and finances of summer, I realized it was going to be an impossible list to tackle in a few shorts months, so the goal then changed from a list of want-to-do’s by the end of the summer, to just a list of want-to-do’s.

While the goal isn’t to get it all in by the time school starts, there are a lot of items on the list that are either only possible in the summer, or at least much easier, so those are the ones I am concentrating on first.

I’m happy with the progress so far.

Take the kids to a Royals game = Check!

This was the first item checked off of the list, and it was an easy one thanks to my firm’s “Family Day at the K”. It was a hot one and we didn’t stay for the whole game, but we enjoyed free food, a lot of sun, and a little bit of baseball.

It was very bright and Sunny, and this squishy nosed face is a Brendan classic!

Emily enjoyed her first Royals game.
Last weekend I was able to check two big items from the list, thanks to a four-day weekend and a visit from my mom! She took a few days out of her vacation to come see us and accompany us to both Worlds of Fun and Powell Gardens.  Those activities require detailed explanation and a lot photographs, so I will save those for their own posts later this week!

I'm really exciting about experiencing all that Kansas City offers, so if you have any suggestions for “My Kansas City Project,” I welcome any ideas! Sometime soon I plan to post my current list, and hopefully this week I'll be able to cross some more off that list or discover things that aren't even there yet.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Memorial Weekend In Review

There is nothing like a long weekend with family and friends to make you realize how blessed you are. Last weekend was one of those times! It was a busy, fun filled three days that left me exhausted upon my return to work on Tuesday, and wishing I had taken an extra day. But it was worth it!

Friday’s work day was shortened thanks to the holiday weekend, so after picking up the kids from daycare and running a couple of errands, we headed over to our friends’ house. There we enjoyed some good grilling, good conversation, pink moscato (so good!), and wrapped it up with a game of Clue -- my very first time playing! (I know, how is that possible?). That was the first of three late bedtimes for the kids!

Saturday morning we packed up the car and headed north for a two night stay in Nebraska City and a busy two days in Lincoln. When we arrived in Lincoln, after a stop at the grocery store, Kevin, my mom and the kids headed over to my brother and sister-in-law’s house to play with their cousins and eat dinner, while I headed with my friend Melissa to Omaha for the Rachel Platten concert.

First of all, it was great to be able to spend the evening with Melissa! We’ve been friends since high school, but hardly ever get together since my trips home to Lincoln are few and far between. I was thrilled when I messaged her to see if she’d join me at the concert and she said yes, even though she had absolutely no clue who Rachel Platten even was.

The 60 minute drive was a great time to catch up, and since we arrived at the bar an hour early, we had even more time to chat. I wanted to get there when the doors opened, just in case the place was packed, so that I could get a decent spot for the show. Turns out, an early arrival wasn’t necessary as there were only about 30 people there.Disappointing to see, but made it feel even more intimate.

While I will save my review of the show for another time, I will say that I am so glad I went! From the moment I discovered Rachel Platten last year from my favorite blog, Enjoying the Small Things, I’ve been slightly obsessed. I love her inspiring, get-off-your-butt-and-do-something lyrics, her poppy sound, and her happy, quirky personality! The concert was just as much fun as I imagined, and Rachel was just as sweet and personable and I knew she’d be. As I stood around waiting to meet her and get her autograph, I found myself nervous with my hands literally shaking like a teenage girl meeting her idol. After introducing myself and having her sign the EP and CD I purchased, she gave me a hug and thanked me for coming, and made me an even bigger fan. Please check her out by visiting her YouTube channel here.

Rachel Platten and me. I was giddy?
   With autographed CD’s in hand, we left the club and headed for dinner at Fuddruckers! I LOVE Fuddruckers! After burgers and fries, we made the 60 minute trip back to Lincoln where I picked up my family and made the 50 minute trip back to Nebraska City.

The next morning, after we finally got dressed, packed and out the door, we headed back to Lincoln for a mini-family reunion with my dad's side of the family at Mahoney Park! We seriously never see each other unless it's for a funeral, so this was a big deal.  While not all of our family was able to make it, the party did include the four of us, my dad, step-mom, brother, sister-in-law, two nephews, two nieces, an aunt and her husband, an uncle, two second-cousins, their two friends, and a dog. 
Grandpa and Brendan making a clover necklace.
Emily was SO excited to play with her cousin! She definitely idolizes her.
She is an ornery little thing, but she's just so cute!
My favorite brothers!
The family!
 We didn’t let the 90+ degrees stop us from enjoying lots of food and conversation, or stop the kids from playing soccer or running around the playground. After a few hours of family fun, some members of the party had to run off, and the rest of us decided to cool off with a trip to Dairy Queen for ice cream! After ice cream and a stop at my uncles, then my cousin’s house for dinner, we made another late night drive back to Nebraska City.

The next morning was the excitement of packing, followed by the 2 hour drive back home that included a 20 minute stop at a busy gas station on Memorial Day, waiting in line for the bathroom.

I love going back to Nebraska and love seeing my family, but I really love coming home, relaxing in my own chair and sleeping in my own bed! After unloading the car and unpacking the bags, I had a burst of energy that led me to replace the broken linoleum squares in the kitchen (which led to a nice burn in my arm muscles for the next couple days). Once the work was done, it was time for a diaper run to Target, but first the kids and I headed to Pizza Hut for dinner. After Target we headed for my favorite summer treat – frozen yogurt at Lemon Tree – where Kevin surprised us in the parking lot and joined us.

Upon our return, baths were taken, bedtime hugs and kiss were passed around, and two very tired kids fell fast asleep. As I finally relaxed and reflected on the weekend, I couldn’t help but smile. Time spent with my dad’s side of the family is rare but usually very entertaining, and this gathering was no different. And of course, spending time with my mom and meeting a woman who has been a huge inspiration to me recently was a big plus for the weekend!  I’ve been blessed with an entertaining and loving family and wonderful, supportive friends. Being able to enjoy this weekend helped to me remind me to stop and enjoy the little things moments that make up big weekends!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

First Grade, Facials and Bunny Frenzy!

It's amazing how much can change in a mere nine months. In the short time since Emily started kindergarten in August, she's learned how to read, to add and subtract, she has lost four teeth, and she is now tall enough to ride the Mamba at Worlds of Fun when we go next month. She won't do it because she would totally freak out, but she could if she wanted to!

Yesterday, my "baby" girl official became a first grader! First grade summer school starts in a little over a week, so there isn't much time off until then. While I'd love for her to have a full summer to just hang out and enjoy life, it's a little bit cheaper to send her to summer school for a month instead of a babysitter. Lucky for us all, she really enjoys school and is looking forward it.

With Emily getting an early release from school on her last day, I took half the day off with the intention of doing something fun. Unfortunately, a few weeks ago, during a trip to the dentist, they discovered her first cavity, so we scheduled her filling for after school. Emily loves going to the dentist and actually handled it great! They started with the nitric oxide, and while I was hoping to get a video I could post on YouTube, I was informed that those videos were a bit exaggerated.  Darn it! When it came time to doing all the actual work (the numbing, the shot and the actual procedure) I was a bit worried, knowing her low tolerance for pain, but she was a real trooper!

After her dentist appointment, I surprised her with an at-home facial using avocado, banana and yogurt! (She actually said it tasted good and requested that I save the rest for her to eat. It's in the fridge, but will probably be trashed soon.)

Once applied, we completed the experience with cucumber slices -- because what real face spa treatment would be complete without cucumbers? 

To complete the experience, I turned the radio to some smooth jazz and we settled in for 20 minutes of relaxation!  Shortly after saying "I don't like to really relax," someone (I won't name names, but she's a new first grader) fell asleep!

After our facials, we moved on to a mani/pedi for Emily, complete with a soothing foot rub, glittery bubble gum scented polish (or so said the label, but I disagree) and Hello Kitty nail stickers!  Just as we were finishing our mini spa day, the door opened and in came the boys!

Dinner was soon served (waffles for Brendan, quesadillas for us girls) and following dinner, I decided to water the desert that is our front "lawn" (which is really just crab grass, weeds and dirt). When Emily figured out what I was doing, she opted to abandon her Barbie movie and popcorn in order to join me outside. It was a BEAUTIFUL night, and soon the whole family was enjoying the warm breeze and the setting sun.  Emily was thrilled when our neighbor came outside, and it wasn't long before she shot across the street to play hula hoop and run (in full clothes) through the sprinkler.  

Brendan stayed with us, playing with his bubbles.

But that wasn't the end of the excitement!

The neighbors two houses down have two cats that they apparently don't want in the house. They are constantly terrorizing the birds in and around our yard and are quite annoying. Tonight, one of them found a baby bunny and chased it across the street into our yard. Thankfully for the baby bunny, Kevin took off after the cat to scare it away, and it worked. Unfortunately for us, the bunny decided to take refuge in our garage.

The upside to the whole situation is that Kevin had to move everything to try to find the bunny, which led to the discovery of a box of extra kitchen tiles! This is THRILLING for me because we have a couple of tiles that are tore up and need replaced, and I was about to go buy some non-matching pieces just to get it done. Now I don't have to! But I do need to find the time and figure out how replace them!

All in all, it was another great day. Nothing extraordinary. Nothing worthy of great fanfare. Just one more day to be thankful for all that we have, including replacement tiles, bunny-less (and now a cleaner) garage, and yet another day to remember to love the little things!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Just a Personal Note...

Initially, this post was part of my weekend in review, but I wanted to separate it from the original post for two reasons:
  1. It made the other unbearably long; and
  2. I didn't want any of it (this post or the weekend in review) to get lost. 
Last week I did a pretty big thing -- I posted a link to my blog on my Facebook page! That might seem like a small thing, but really, for me it was a big thing.  

I've posted links to my writing before, but that was usually when I was writing about NASCAR for, or the other auto racing related things I've done.  But that was different.  I've always felt very confident in my ability to write about racing, or to interview drivers and then tell their stories, but a blog is a different thing altogether. 

Blogs, if they are done well, are extremely personal by nature and can leave the blogger very venerable. In other words, it's a very scary thing to put yourself and your life out there in a way that leaves you open for criticism, embarrassment and ridicule. But I believe that you have to take risks and get out of your comfort zone if you really want to achieve anything. 

So that is my goal with this blog. To not be afraid to be myself, say what I feel, laugh if I want to, cry if I want to...and if it's boring to some, or even to all, that's okay. I'm now writing this blog for me. In the past, I think I've always written for the people I hoped would be reading it. Truth is, I now want to write this blog for me, and if someone else finds it interesting and enjoyable to read, I will be ecstatic to share my life's journey with them.  

For me, this is now a way to remember my life, both the big and small moments, because they can be so easily forgotten in all the hustle and bustle of everyday life. I also want to share my thoughts on other things that interest me.  So my new plan for this blog is just to be me. Unapologetic. Uncensored. Always honest.

Just a Typical Weekend in the life... (Weekend In Review)

Since my last post in which I described how my heart fell into my stomach when I heard my daughter's surprised reaction to me saying I'd play with her, I've really tried to make a sincere effort to change the way I spend time with my kids.

On Friday, after work and picking up the kids, we discovered that Emily received her results from the  pre-reading skills assessment she took earlier this year. 27 out 30 right, higher than 98% of all kids in the nation! To celebrate, we let Emily pick the restaurant (Chick-Fil-A) and then made a visit to Dairy Queen. With 2 1/2 days left in her kindergarten career, it just amazes me how much she has learned in just nine months. The girl who pretty much couldn't read more than a few words when school started just read an entire chapter of "The Adventures of Bowser the Hound" to her dad last night before bed. 

Saturday was a relatively lazy day, as I spent the first few hours of the day my favorite way -- lounging around on the back deck, enjoying the morning air before the heat really kicked in.  I sat and watched the gray clouds rolling in the sky, trying to decide if they were going to drench us or not, the kids alternating between playing outside and watching cartoons inside. Eventually the kids and I got moving and made it to the graduation open house of the son of a good friend of mine and hung out for an hour or so, as both kids managed to drop baked ziti all over their clothes; Emily on her white dress. We returned home and the kids watched Cars as I ran errands  When I returned, I made cheese quesadilla's for the kids as they played in the backyard.  After dinner, I finally made homemade popcorn, using a brown paper bag and popcorn kernels we bought over a year ago, but never used. I didn't know until recently that you could actually pop regular kernels in your microwave, and it was a tasty little discovery. So much so that when Emily was going to bed she said, "Thank you for making us popcorn. You're the best mama ever!"  Nothing makes me feel better than hearing her say that to me.

Sunday I ran out of the house before the rest of the family so I could get to church and help set up for the Sunday School picnic. Once set up, I joined the rest of the family for the sermon and the rest of the service, then headed down for fried chicken and fabulous side dishes. It was a small turnout, but the kids had so much fun playing in the playground with their friends, and as always we enjoyed hanging out with our friends. When we returned, I did something I don't think I've done for a long time -- took a nap! It was short, but it was just what I needed to push me through the rest of the day!  

The remainder of the day was filled with fun! I finally followed through on a promise I had made Emily a few weeks ago following her school carnival and painted her face.  A purple butterfly (butterfly's are Em's newest obsession thanks to school) on one cheek and a bright pink cross on the other.

Of course, Brendan wanted in on the action, and after thinking it over for a few minutes, he decided he wanted a tiger on one cheek and a sun on the other. And don't laugh. Tigers are harder than you would think.

After the face painting festivities were complete, dinner was served -- leftover spaghetti for the kids, fried chicken for me --then cotton candy snow cones and a nice walk around the neighborhood.  When we returned, it was time for Emily's bath, but Brendan and I hung around outside a bit longer making chalk drawings.

Brendan had a few special requests for me, including him and Emily, complete with their face paint!

 Once inside, after Brendan's bath and a little relaxing down time, I sat with Brendan on the couch for about 20 minutes before bed, talking to him about the day. He also amazes me with how far he's come in his speaking in just the last six months. I haven't really sat and just talked with him recently, but I think this might be something I do a lot more of.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Comment From My Daughter That Changed Me -- I Hope

The other day, a friend on Facebook linked to a blog that caught my attention. I read the post and a bit of the blog, which was about how we, as parents, can risk missing out on so much of our children's lives -- so many of the little moments -- because we are so engrossed in our own lives, mini-drama's, projects, electronic devices, etc. We spend so much time with our cell phones, computers, tablets, social media, etc., that we don't spend real time with our kids. We don't play with them, or just sit and talk to them as much as we should. Maybe you don't fall into the category, but unfortunately, I do. I'll reluctantly admit it. I'm not as bad as some people I know or have seen, but I am guilty. And the proof hit me smack in the face later that evening.

After picking the kids up from daycare and school, we pulled into our garage. I noticed Emily looked a bit sad and asked her what was wrong. 

"I wish I could go over to Zoie's [our neighbor girl] and play," she replied.

"Well, I was thinking WE could play," I said.

And with surprise in her voice she said something that made my heart sink.

"YOU will PLAY?!?!?!"

And there it was. Proof that I may just be risking missing out on important moments with my kids. Proof that I don't spend the kind of time with my kids as I should.  So that night, after dinner, we went outside and we played.

Hopscotch! Or our version of it, anyway.

Brendan was there too, but he wasn't quite sure how to play.

 And last night, we made time for each other again, this time with a little Frisbee in the backyard (although cheap, $1 "flying discs" from Target don't really work all that well) and an evening wagon ride around the block.

I hope this new "revelation" will stick with me. I realize there are going to be times when the kitchen needs to be cleaned, the laundry needs to be done, things need to be organized, books need to be read, and blogs need to be written -- it can't always be ignored.  But they are only young once, and quoting one of my newest blog/writer obsessions, "The days are long, but the years are short."  There are those times when I need to remember that these are the moments that I don't want to miss. 

Where I need to remember to celebrate and love the little things.