Friday, January 23, 2015


Belly dance, anyone?

I'm giving you a chance to turn back now. This is one of those "personal realizations about health and body image" blog posts. They can be super tedious to read, so I give you fair warning.

Right after Christmas, I had to go to a health screening for our insurance company. My numbers were not great. Weight, I was expecting to be commented on and with good reason. But my other numbers, which are usually fabulous (seriously, I have sexy blood pressure numbers, people!), were not bad, but also not so good. More like in that warning section. The RNP doing the screening pointed out that it was a rotten thing to make everyone do the blood work during the holidays when people are generally eating, drinking, and being merry perhaps more than they might otherwise be.

That being considered, a few days later when we were sharing our resolutions and goals for the new year with one another as a family, I mentioned that my goal was to be healthier. Every single one of my boys said, "Really? But you're super healthy. Why do you need to do that?"

And for a brief moment I saw myself through their eyes. They have a Mom who takes belly dance, ballet, spinning, runs and does hateful those tabata or boot camp workouts all throughout the week. I ran 5 miles Thanksgiving morning. I trained for and ran 1.5 half marathons last year. I'm taking my kids to hike two whole states worth of the Appalachian trail this spring. They have a Mom who tries to feed them healthy food and tries to encourage good eating habits in them.

Yeah, I need to lose weight. I should eat less sugar. And I'll work on both of those things this year just like I said I would.

But I am so grateful to my children for being a better mirror than the one I look in by myself.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Life Lessons Learned

This was a weekend of learning for Benjabooboo.

Earlier this week he discovered that it was his responsibility to plan the menus, do the shopping, and cook the food for a scout campout his troop was going on this weekend.

Due to his play rehearsal/dance class/school schedule, and my work schedule, the only time he could do it was immediately after school on Friday. And even at that, it would involve me picking him up at school and dropping him off at the grocery store with his backpacking pack and wallet so he could do the shopping and walk home with the purchases. We would then quickly load up and I would drop them off with their scout leaders to leave on the campout. He knew how much money he had in his checking account, and he had a few dollars in his wallet, so he knew what his budget absolutely had to be.

Friday came and I dropped him off at the store, then quickly drove home to teach piano lessons, hoping that the experience would be positive for him. He arrived home about 45 minutes later all the wiser.

Lesson #1 learned: "Good" hot dogs are expensive. He only had enough money to buy 21 hot dogs, and 24 buns.There was a slim chance that there were going to be 13 people, but more likely 8, so he was crossing his fingers that only the lower number would show up.

Lesson #2 learned: Chocolate bars for s'mores are also not cheap when not on sale. So he didn't buy any, and decided they could all just roast marshmallows and snack on graham crackers.

Lesson #3 learned: When you buy pancake mix, it's important to read what other ingredients might be required and purchase them as well. That didn't happen.

Lesson #4 learned: Two bottles of catsup and two bottles of mustard are overkill for only 21 hot dogs.

Lesson #5 learned: When you spend ALL of your money on groceries, you are much more motivated to turn in your receipts for reimbursement. And quickly return all unused items to the store!

I am so glad that he was forced to have this opportunity. I realize it doesn't seem like a big deal, but really, how many 14 year olds are going shopping for their families or an event these days? Probably not enough. I remember being of a similar age when my Mom dropped me off at the Pathmark in Somerville, NJ with a grocery list and money, and met me there later after her other errands or appointments.Shopping with a list and a budget is an important skill, and frankly one that I probably wouldn't have thought to give him yet.

It made me also remember being dropped off at the laundromat around that same time to wash the giant blankets and sleeping bags. That's probably another experience I should give my kids one of these days so there's one less obstacle to grown up life.

In the past, I've given my kids a few dollars to run up to the grocery store for bread and milk, but that was different. It was my money and with only one or two items on the list, it was a bit of a lark for them. Not that that experience didn't help prepare for this experience, but if the issue hadn't been forced, I probably would have kept on in that way for a few more years.

I'm grateful for the not so painful opportunities my children get to learn some basic life skills.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Seven Things Sunday!

1. Lilyanna had her first French lesson this week. It's with a private tutor originally from Haiti and a couple of other preschool age kids. Her first question, "How do you say 'tiger' in French?" Now that she knows 'le tigre' we've been hearing about it a lot! She's really excited for this week's lesson. Hopefully when we spend our 36 hours in Paris this summer before flying home from Europe, I will get our point across to our waiters, etc. and after butchering their lovely language, I will stick my 5 year old in front of me to charmingly discuss tigers, colors, and body parts. It will hopefully diffuse their annoyance at me.

2. I have managed to lose the weight I put on over the holidays. The weight that I was specifically working hard to NOT gain over the holidays. Good grief. Imagine if I hadn't been trying!

3. I have a little girl turning 5 this week. To say she is excited is a drastic understatement. Oh, and we still haven't gotten a party planned for her. She changes her mind about what she wants about every 30 seconds. I'm apparently over party planning. When the boys were little, I was crazy about planning birthday parties. I spent weeks hand designing invitations, gathering ideas around the theme, picking out the perfect cake to decorate. Now, I can barely summon the desire to ask Lilyanna what she wants. So sad. I'll get it all together for her, but I lack the obsessive enthusiasm for the project that I once had. Sometimes it's tough being the youngest.

4. My oven quit working this week. It's been a rough few months for our kitchen. We had to replace the refrigerator. I managed to fix the dishwasher (I'm still preening over the fact that I fixed a major appliance!). Our neighbor got the food waste disposal working again, but it's on borrowed time. The water filtration system is in poor shape and needs a new tank. Todd and our neighbor ended up having to replace the kitchen faucet, and now the oven. It reminds me of a couple of years ago, when it was a bad time to be a pet in the Smith household. (They all died.) Now it's apparently a bad time to be an appliance in the Smith kitchen. The oven, btw, will require professional help. I managed to get it all taken apart and isolate the problem, but fixing the problem is beyond my pay grade.

5. I've joined a scripture reading group with some friends from church. Basically, we just email or text one another when we've finished whatever we're studying that day, sharing a favorite passage, or personal insight. It's been interesting to see their perspectives on different scriptures and I'm enjoying a little extra accountability.

6. A certain husband of mine who shall remain nameless is turning 40 very soon. He doesn't want a big party, my little introvert. And he doesn't want us to spend any money, since all extra dollars this year are going into our travels and apparently repairing every single thing in our kitchen (and my van). This means we've had to be extra sneaky and creative with what we're doing for his birthday. In the off chance he's actually reading this, I will simply say that details are to follow.

7. It is Kindergarten sign up this week! Hard to believe the day has already come in some ways, but in others, she's been ready for school for about 3 years now. ;)

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Seven Things Sunday

1. The kids were supposed to go back to school this week. Just like last year right after winter break, the kids had one day off built in to the calendar and then ended up getting two more off thanks to snow and frigid temperatures. This actually worked out well for us, since we happened to have orthodontist appointments on the first snow day, and annual physicals on the second day off. So, my kids didn't have to miss any school to go to those appointments! They were less pleased with this outcome than I was.

2. Caleb got braces this week! I now have three kids in braces at the same time and I pretty much just look away when I pay my bill at each visit. He's done remarkably well with them, though, and was so in love with having his palate expander out that he pretty much looked like he was french kissing himself because he was so happy to have his tongue reach the roof of his mouth for the first time in forever!

3. Lilyanna signed up to join a French class with other 3-5 year olds here in the neighborhood. We haven't attended the first lesson, but she's excited for it! (We've been listening to French language lesson CDs in the car to and from preschool for the last few weeks, so she told me today that since she's going to be going to French class, she doesn't need to pay attention in the car anymore.)

4. I have discovered how wonderful an electric blanket can be in the winter time. My electric bill may be waaaaaay up from this past week of super coldness.

5. There are so many fun book challenges going around right now. I am a voracious reader, so the challenges that are just a number, don't really stretch me. I'm considering this one, though. There are a couple of tricky ones on it for me. For instance, I read every book in school that I was supposed to read. My cousin's wife's take on that was to just read one that other people read in high school that she never read even though it wasn't assigned.

6. The boys and I played the board game "Ticket To Ride" the other night. Caleb, who doesn't usually play games with us, anniahliated the rest of us. I nearly wet my pants several times throughout the game thanks to supreme silliness on the part of my boys. So much laughing! Much of it because of the audio recording of the book "Mr. And Mrs. Bunny Detectives Extraordinaire". If you haven't listened to it, you should!

7. We took all of Christmas down yesterday finally. I always try to leave it up until Jan. 6th at least, but even with all the snow days, we weren't able to take care of all of it until yesterday finally.  I'm always sad to put it all away. Everything looks very bare and utilitarian without it. It also makes it so I see all the things that need to be fixed or painted that were hidden by the relative splendor of extra decorations up on the walls, etc. Ah, well.

Happy Sunday!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Living the Dream!

Nathaniel has been obsessed with manatees for years. I'm not sure how or why it happened, but it did and we've all adapted to it. 

On each of their birthdays, I give my kids the option of present or adventure. I don't tell them what the adventure will be, just that they will definitely love it. Sadly, they almost always go for the safety of present. I'd actually come up with Nathaniel's adventure years ago and was just waiting for him to get brave enough to ask for it.

Happily, this year he finally did! The adventure was a trip to Chrystal River, FL to swim with the manatees! I found a hotel right on the river that basically was made for Nathaniel. It was all about the manatees. What I did not realize, was that the entire county was all about the manatees as well. He was in heaven and insisted that we stop for LOTS of pictures. 

And here is the photo dump from the fantastic trip!

So early in the morning, but so excited to be on a plane travelling to FL!

At the Tampeco Manatee Viewing Center. This was our first stop after arriving in Tampa before we headed up to our hotel.

When we arrived at our hotel and checked in, Nathaniel was given a bag full of information about manatees, several pictures of them, and a stuffed animal manatee. It was as if he'd met his people. Finally, people who understood the obsession and speak his language!! He was ready to move there post haste! He may still be looking for banking jobs down there for Todd!

We'd woken up really early that morning to catch our plane and went to bed really early that evening because the next day we got up just before 6 to have breakfast in the hotel dining room and then head over to the hotel dive shop for our swim with the manatees!

There are no pics of me in the dive suit. Because I looked like something that could be clubbed on an ice floe...

 I have to extract the underwater images from my other (mostly dead) computer, but let me tell you, it was an amazing experience. The gulf water was murky but the water we swam in at the springs was clearer than a swimming pool! We saw nursing manatee mothers and babies all over. There are VERY strict rules surrounding the swimming and contact with the manatees, but I will say that it was a fantastic experience and that if you are ever able to experience it, you definitely should!
Post dive. So cold!! It was literally freezing back home, but FL water in November is still chilly. Not cold, but chilly.

Our captain was great! Just the right amount of strict and funny. That being said, he's a scalloper from Maine, so he was completely unsympathetic when we complained of the cold water.

After the dive we were exhausted. We'd been out on the water and/or wrestling in and out of wet suits for 3 hours by then, so we went back to our room and collapsed in our beds and watched mindless tv until we felt guilty about not enjoying the sunshine. So, we went out and about and discovered that we really were in Nathaniel's world! Manatee everything was everywhere!

But first I insisted on a little drive to the actual Gulf. It was only a couple miles from our hotel and I needed to dip my toes in it since I never have before. I've never even been on the Gulf side of Florida before, always on the Atlantic, so a new experience was necessary!

And all passed out from the excitement of the day. A boy and his manatee. What could be sweeter than that?

The thing I loved best about this trip was that Nathaniel was so very himself. He wasn't being the annoying little brother, or teasing big brother, or nerdy 8th grader, or surly son who hates to do chores. He was just being him; a clever kid who really, truly loves manatees. I liked spending time one on one with that kid.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Seven Things Sunday!

In the vein of last year's Ten Things Tuesday! I'm trying to get back into blogging on a more regular basis and Tuesdays are way too busy. Since we have morning church again this year (We switch morning and afternoon services every year with the other congregation that meets in the same building.), Sunday is the easiest time to do this. So, here are 7 things going on with me/us lately.

1. This past week we took everyone in our house to get passports. Apparently, the entire rest of the population in our town had the same idea because it was super crowded! So, crowded that we split it up in to two different days thinking that the next day might be better. It was actually worse. So, the kids got a lesson on why you should never let your passport expire.

2. We have loved this break from school/work/dance/piano teaching, etc. I'm aware of how busy our lives are, but not really aware until we actually have winter break. It worked out that the kids had two full weeks off from school, and Todd a week of vacation days plus holidays, so it was nearly 2 weeks. We were all mostly healthy the whole time, so it was simply a delightful gathering of playing games, reading books, getting more video game/movie watching time than usual. The kids getting to hang out more with friends, etc. Just nice.

3. I'm really enjoying the ages of my kids right now. Other than the 12 year old being a little too 12 sometimes, they are all at ages where they can really participate in a lot of family decisions and it's nice to hear their input on things. (Sometimes.)

4. When Lilyanna asked what I wanted for Christmas, I replied, "A clean house." She laughed and laughed like I'd told the funniest joke ever and then said, "Mom! It would take too much wrapping paper to wrap up a house!"

5. I have wanted for many, many years now to hike the Appalachian Trail.  About 5 years ago, I decided that when the kids were old enough, we could do it in 2 week chunks. However, now that the kids are at that magical age, there are no 2 weeks where that's feasible. Also, Lilyanna is coming with, and hiking for 2 weeks with a 5 year old is probably more fun than I'm prepared to have. Anyway, we've decided that for this spring, my 2 Boy Scouts and 1 Cub Scout (almost Boy Scout) AND my 5 year old and I will hike 2 states worth of the trail. The 2 easiest states, but still, it will take a little less than a week and we'll have Maryland and West Virginia crossed off the list. We may try to add NJ this year as well, but we'll see how this first hike goes. Did I mention that we're doing it in the spring? When it will likely be cold and wet? I may be a little bit crazy.

6.  I will do a whole post about this later, but in November, I took Nathaniel down to FL for his birthday/Christmas present to swim with his beloved manatees. To say he was a happy kid on that trip, would be seriously understating the situation. It was a delight to get some one on one time with him, too.

7. Benjamin, Nathaniel, and I sat down this afternoon to talk about college in earnest. We looked at how much things cost and where there were the best programs for the cost of the things they currently think they might want to study, and what other programs are out there. (Nathaniel was disappointed to learn there is no US school that offers a degree in parapsychology. But was enthusiastic that there are some classes offered in that field at the University of Edinburgh. Or was until he saw the price of said classes.) Benjamin is halfway through his Freshman year of high school and plans on serving a mission for our church for 2 years immediately after school. Because Nathaniel skipped so many grades, he'll be able to do a year of school before missionary work (boys have to be 18 before they go). It was sobering for us all to realize that their life outside of this home begins in 3 and 4 short years, respectively. But it got the boys really thinking about the things they are doing now and how it can affect THEN. I don't expect they'll always remember their revelations from this afternoon, but putting some hard data in front of them helped demystify some things.

Happy Sunday, everyone!