Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A Loss

Yesterday we lost my Uncle Cliff.  He had been battling health issues, but this was sudden and probably only somewhat related to the original issue.  It's heartbreaking, and while to some degree we all had to prepare ourselves for an uncertain future, this was certainly not the way anyone expected things to go.

This is obviously hardest on my Aunt Lynne, who has spent pretty much all of her adult life with him, and my cousin Lori, who adored him.  And while they may not show it as much, I'm sure my cousins Todd and Chris are dealing with this in their own way.  Like their dad, they can both be a bit on the stoic side.  Suffice it to say that Lori seemed to get the vast majority of the "open expression" genes in that bunch.  But in an extended family as close-knit as ours, a loss like this is so hard to take.  Everyone has their piece of the puzzle, and when one is missing, things just aren't the same.

Like I alluded to, he was a pretty stoic guy much of the time, a man of few words.  But rest assured, he could certainly get going, and his laugh in particular sticks in my mind.  He had a very interesting position in my life, as he was not only my uncle, but also my principal when I was in grade school.  Being the principal's niece is sort of a weird thing, as people assume you get special treatment.  It also didn't help that one aunt was the music teacher, another was the librarian and the first-choice substitute teacher, and yet another was the secretary in later years.  But the fact of the matter was that I was a good student and rarely got in trouble anyway.  In fact, I think I may have only ended up in his office once for a behavior-related issue--not that I can even remember what it might have been--but clearly it wasn't a big deal even then.  Maybe it wasn't even directly related to something I did.  But what people didn't understand was that when you have a direct link (or many) to your parents wandering the halls, it's a good motivator to behave!  I admit that for a good chunk of my early life, I probably had a hard time separating the roles.  At school I always felt a little funny calling him Uncle Cliff, and out of school I never entirely lost that hint of fear/respect he commanded at school.  It was OK, really.  I had it easy, after all--I still can't quite imagine how his sons (or my brother) felt about having him as a teacher, too!

He was an imposing figure--sturdy is the word that comes to mind--but he was really a very good-hearted, thoughtful guy who dedicated his entire career to God's work.  He probably could have made a lot more money working in public schools, but he focused on Lutheran schools--including one here in Rochester after he parted ways with my old school.  He was a great church servant as well, even into retirement.  He had a great public speaking ability, though if I had to guess I'm not sure it was a role he relished.  But it was usually part of his position and he did it well.  When he spoke, everyone listened.  As such, he was also the designated pray-er in our family.  If he was around, he was the one doing the pre-meal prayer, and man, he did it well.  The last one he did was on Christmas, and it was particularly meaningful given the state of his health.  He even got choked up.  I will miss his prayers terribly at every family gathering from now on, and his voice will forever remain etched in my memory.  I miss it already.

Christmas definitely had some added meaning this year, with not knowing what the future held for him.  Ironically, despite his recent illness and the treatments he'd been receiving, you'd never have known that day that he was sick.  Whether it was the miracle of modern medicine or another testament to his toughness, I don't really know, but it makes it all the more shocking that he's no longer with us just a few short weeks later.  I feel blessed to have been the last recipient of a family exchange gift from him.  He gave me two books I'd had on my list, both with what he termed "interesting" titles.  One is "Slow Down" by Nichole Nordeman, and the other is "Present Over Perfect" by Shauna Niequist.  Both are about finding joy and peace in the less-than-perfect moments of life and parenting.  I regret that I'll never be able to tell him what I learned from those books, as he seemed intrigued by my choices.  He was also proud of a garage sale find that ended up being part of my dad's gift, a giant martini glass.  He was a great garage saler, often finding things he could fix up and resell or integrate into his woodworking projects.  He also enjoyed sports.  He was an avid golfer, and he had a stint as a basketball coach back in my school days.  He passed those loves down to his sons and grandson in particular, and it's a shame he won't be around to see just how far his very talented grandson will go.  Watching him as a grandfather over the past 15+ years showed a different side of him, one I even saw come out a bit when he was around my kids.  The night he and Aunt Lynne babysat Carter last year when I went to a concert with Mary, I remember seeing that fun, grandfatherly gleam in his eye when Carter was shooting Matchbox cars down a giant track in their living room.

A year and a day before he died, we were celebrating his and my aunt's joint 70th birthday party, a surprise to both of them.  Her 71st birthday is today.  It's beyond comprehension that she'll be celebrating it without him.  I still adore this picture that I took last year that captures them to a tee.

I'm not sure what life will be like for her without him.  She's getting older and by her own admission a bit more scatterbrained.  Only Lori lives here in town, and the boys each live about an hour or two away in either direction.  I wonder if caring for their house and epic garden will be something she'll want to take on herself.  Most of the rest of the family is back in Buffalo, and while they made a lot of connections here in the dozen or so years since they moved, I wonder if she will find more comfort elsewhere.  It's hard to picture my aunt without my uncle, so it's hard to fathom where this new path will take her.

As I think about the days ahead where we will celebrate his memory and say our goodbyes, it's still hard to believe we're here.  When you're a kid and your family is this constant in your life, it's hard to imagine a time where the older generation won't be presiding over the family.  First it's the loss of your grandparents, and then slowly your parents' generation starts to pass away.  I know we have a lot of these moments ahead, and the increasing frequency of stuff like this is one of those cues that we're at a new stage of adulthood.

My last time seeing Uncle Cliff was as he was leaving on Christmas night.  We had a nice goodbye.  I never would have thought it would be the final goodbye, and it breaks my heart that it had to be.  I miss him already.  I'm so thankful that he's in heaven, finally healed and pain-free, hopefully getting reacquainted with loved ones and enjoying all his eternal home has to offer.  But he will be so, so missed here on earth.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Soccer! The Sequel

Tuesday was Carter's first night of soccer.  We opted to sign him up for the same program Jacob did at his age.  It's only six weeks of 45-minute sessions, so it's pretty low-risk.  When we did it with Jacob, we knew he was ready for some sort of sports, though we weren't sure how he'd do with structure after four years of playing whatever he wanted, however he wanted around our house.  For Carter, he's much less sports-minded, though he did seem up for this so we figured it was worth a try.  It was mostly a coincidence that he ended up in the same timeframe (early January to mid-February) as Jacob had, but the reason for that was mostly because it's at the same time and place as Jacob's lacrosse practice.  It made me smile the day after Carter's first session when Jacob's first day of soccer picture showed up in my Facebook memories, and Carter will finish the day before Valentine's Day--one day before Jacob's original end date, which was one day before Carter's arrival!

In case you've forgotten the series of events, I slept horribly the night of February 13, and woke up on the 14th feeling like garbage.  I struggled through the day, exhausted and fed up with the pressure, sciatica, and (ugh) mucus plug issues that plagued me for the previous month.  I made it through the work day, only to know we had soccer and a very non-romantic post-soccer dinner at Friendly's to go before I could go to bed.  I could barely sit, let alone eat, and got a little hint when I visited the bathroom that something might be happening.  I half-expected to be woken up with labor pains, but I slept through the night and felt good enough to go into work on the morning of the 15th.  It was the Friday before a long weekend and I was determined to finish my work that day, just in case.  I was 95% of the way there when my water randomly broke as I shifted at my desk, and so began the craziness of getting to the hospital and bringing this little guy into the world.

Five years later it's his first attempt at organized sports, and he was ready!

Of course, when we went to find Jacob's shin guards, we were down a sleeve.  Even the one pair of soccer socks he still had in his drawer was down to only a single!  Grrrrr.  Thankfully Craig had a coupon for Dick's (and of course we had to get Under Armour) so we could get Carter his set.  I also knew Jacob had a pair of tiny cleats we got cheap before he started, and those were MIA, too!  Craig found them Tuesday morning buried in an old sports bag (with a cool pair of lacrosse shorts we had forgotten about).  They were a little big but Carter insisted on wearing them! 

There ended up being six kids, and when they started, Carter was probably one of three who weren't in tears or acting very hesitant to go out on the field.  He happily ran right out.  Before things really got going, the coach (I swear it's the same guy that did Jacob's) had the kids kick the soccer balls into one of the little nets.  It was so fun watching Carter do it, because he seemed beyond excited to just be able to run around!  It's hard when it's winter (particularly a cold one) and outside is off limits most of the time.

They did a bunch of ball handling drills, then played a game called Sharks and Minnows where the shark in the middle has to chase down minnows, then the caught minnows have to be sharks, too.  I noticed Carter talking to the coach after one round and he sat out the rest of that game.  I found out later that he didn't want to be a shark, but I never really was able to determine why.  He shed a lot of tears over it on Tuesday night, and I think he's just upset that he's not as fast as other kids and thought he wouldn't be able to catch them.  He seems willing now to play it again, so we'll see.  The second time they played he was the last minnow to be caught, so I guess that avoided the problem.

The last part of the session was a 3-on-3 scrimmage.  His team had a bit of a rough go--one kid scoring in his own net, one kid that liked to lay down in front of their goal and just stay there, and Carter being a little too nice or tentative out there.  I told him he needs to put some power behind the ball and not be so generous when going in one-on-one with someone, but he insisted he wasn't, so we'll see.  Here's a clip from the scrimmage.  Carter has the blue shorts with stripes down the side and high white socks.

Here's his team before the second half of the scrimmage.

He was a little discouraged that they lost, but he still seemed to have a blast and has been asking when it will be Tuesday again ever since.  It's like an exact repeat of Jacob!  It was funny watching him, because he was so joyful out there for most of it.  Jacob always took this stuff so seriously, and I recall being really nervous watching him out there because I wasn't sure if he was going to try to impose his rules on everyone else, or take it all too seriously.  With Carter my only fear was that he might get upset if they lost because he's really sensitive about that stuff.  Even though he was a little sad in a couple cases, he did so well out there.  He listened pretty well, and seemed to really enjoy the chance to get out there.  It made my heart so happy to see!

Five more weeks to go, which also means five more weeks until my sweet baby boy officially moves into true little boy status.  How is he almost five?!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Three Years

Three years ago today, everything changed.  I woke up and it was a day like any other.  I did see some bad news about my friend's cancer-stricken daughter that morning, but otherwise, it was an average day.  I got into work, I ate my breakfast, and just as I finished, my big boss from our Toronto office poked his head around the corner.  He asked me to come with him, and about 10 seconds later I figured out this wasn't good and something was about to go horribly wrong.

Less than two hours (and a few tears) later, I found myself sitting alone on my couch with absolutely nothing to do and nowhere to go.  Everything I had worked for for nine years was gone, and I'd wake up the next morning with the sole purpose of getting my kids up and out...and I guess starting the process of getting myself a new job.  Losing my job, particularly in the sudden way that I did, was truly horrible.  Even now the thought of that day sends shivers up my spine and makes me feel a little sick.  It was shocking and scary, and I felt such a sense of loss in regard to the friends I'd miss seeing every day and the many projects that I knew would die without me.  It changed my entire perspective on work.  Not that you shouldn't put in an effort, but just to remember where your loyalties need to lie when it's a close call.  Your job could drop you tomorrow, but family is forever.

Three years since, a few other things stick with me.  I still look back so fondly on my time off.  It was a revelation to focus solely on my family for a change.  I didn't have to panic when a kid got sick, I had time to think about ways to improve our household, and I discovered I don't really hate cleaning--I just hate doing it when I'm in a rush and prefer to use that time for something better.  I even had time for myself--a stop at the gym on days when Carter went to daycare and a little time to frugally acquire a business wardrobe after a couple years of casual attire and post-maternity weight gain.  I had time to play with Carter and get my housework done.  I could go to Wegmans during the day when it wasn't busy, which meant I didn't have to fill my evenings with errands.  It rearranged my entire life, and most of the time, I loved it.  I decided I could absolutely work part time and love it, but of course that wasn't in the cards.

I still know I'm very lucky to have found a job, and a good one, at that.  I got a nice pay raise, ended up with some good benefits, and found a job that combined most of my best skills.  It was a great place to land, and I still feel grateful.  It's been a bit of rough go over the last year or so--first with some unrest on campus when President Trump won the election last year, and this year with a controversial sexual harassment issue on campus.  It's made getting donors a bit more challenging, and then a complete staffing shakeup in our department last summer made things even harder.  As a result, my boss is extra stressed and a lot more work has trickled down to me.  I don't mind, but the way things have happened has been a little chaotic so some days haven't been the best.  I still feel fortunate, though.

It just boggles my mind a little bit how one thing so quickly changed our present and future, and it all started three years ago today.

Monday, January 8, 2018

News and Notes, Sloppy Slushy Edition

Today is the first day above freezing since Christmas.  It's been a brutal couple weeks that have taken me back to that February three years ago that was so cold for the entire month that it literally left me a bit traumatized.  There's little worse than completely dreading going outside your house, because it just makes average daily life that much more difficult to face.  I have enough hermit qualities without adding fear of the bitter cold to the list of things keeping me indoors.  Between the constant cold and the near-constant snow, we have at least a foot of snow on the ground, which seems low considering how it did seem to snow for days on end.  But we had enough wind to blow it around that some areas are extra deep and some are extra shallow.  Jacob and I were chiseling up two-inch-thick slabs of ice from our driveway yesterday that have built up for the last three weeks or so.  It was still bitterly cold yesterday, but for some reason that stuff was coming right up.  Today it's finally in the mid-30s (it felt like the mid-40s when I was out this morning--the only upside of consistently cold weather) and you could already tell that the remaining snow was condensing and whatever was disturbed was turning into total slush.  Lovely.  The plow came through and cleared out our road, but now we have a heavy load of crap at the bottom of the driveway...but since it's going to be warmer in two days, there's no sense shoveling it now.  Ironically, it was still snowing this morning in the midst of all the melting, but by later in the week it will almost hit 50, so who knows what kind of mess we'll be dealing with then.

The Bills lost their playoff game yesterday, which was a bummer but not entirely unexpected.  It was a defensive showdown and the Bills' no-show offense was helped along by a couple bad calls by the referees.  It was sad, but I'm still glad we had a little moment, and hopefully next year they'll come back stronger.  Or, if nothing else, we're no longer the team with the longest playoff drought.  During the game I managed to take down the Christmas tree, which was on the heels of de-Christmasing the rest of the house on Saturday.  Part of me felt like it was a little early (usually I aim for the 10th, but with the weekend falling as it did, next weekend felt too late), but part of me was just ready to get back to normal.  Between different seating arrangements, toy storage, and the daunting task of putting everything away, I just felt like it had to happen ASAP.  Normally the house feels empty afterward, but since I started saving most of my snowmen for January decorating, it's not so bad.  And I love the little $4 string of icicle lights I bought from Aldi last month.  They look really cute on the fireplace mantel.  They strangely help.  I have a few final things to get back to normal or finish putting away, but I'm thankful I got so much done.

Tomorrow night is Carter's first night of soccer.  We signed him up for the same program that Jacob did when he was four, ironically in the same time period Jacob did it.  His was on Thursdays and Carter's is on Tuesdays (at the same time as Jacob's lacrosse practice--score!), but the last day is February 13...just one day away from five years to the day of Jacob's last session on Valentine's Day...less than 24 hours before I was in the hospital in labor!  Funny little full circle moment.  We're interested to see how he does.  He's generally better socially than Jacob was, I think--at least as far as sports go, since Jacob was rather particular about that and most kids didn't really understand that--but he also tends to want to quit things when he's not doing well, so we'll see.  Of course, when we went to find Jacob's shin guards, we're one sleeve short and his tiny little cleats are nowhere to be found.  Sneakers will be fine for Carter, I think, but we did have to shell out a few bucks for some new shin guards.  Darn it.  Fingers crossed this is the thing that gets him into sports so he and Jacob can bond a little more over that.

On Wednesday we go for Jacob's quarterly med check-in.  We should be officially getting him set up for a little bonus dose of medicine in the evenings, which we've been testing out (with the doctor's OK) with leftover medicine since our last big blow-up in early December.  It's worked pretty well, and when he missed a few doses because we needed to stretch out what we had left, I could definitely tell the difference.  I don't like being reliant on the medicine, but I honestly just hope it's just something to get us through until true maturity helps him manage this stuff better on his own.  That might be wishful thinking, but I have to keep that hope for now.  We still have a lot to work through, but I'm happy he's managing well at school and things have been a bit more tolerable at home.  We still have our moments, but most of the time we get through.

Carter is a loving handful as usual and we're currently fighting a major screen time battle with him.  He has taken to electronics like Jacob took to sports, so it's a constant fight to limit his time and still keep him happily occupied.  I think sometimes he forgets he has real toys, so we often have to redirect him to those, and when we do, he plays just fine.  But eventually he wants to come back to a screen.  On one hand I get it--I spend a lot of time in front of screens because it's how I decompress.  But he's a kid and should be maximizing his creative time while he's still a kid.  It doesn't help that Craig loves watching TV and the screens are one thing that keep the kids away from each other.  So, we're still working through enforceable limits.  But in less than six weeks he will turn five and my baby won't be my baby anymore!  I'm trying to ignore the winter weather by planning his birthday--picking presents, setting a party date, and trying to find a cake that suits him.  How are we here already?!

I had a little moment of sadness when I noticed that my annual blog posts fell under 100 for the first time ever in 2017.  I've been on a bit of a decline for the past few years, and I suppose that's just a natural evolution.  That I've kept this going this long is actually pretty amazing, as most of the bloggers I've followed since I started this one have come and gone since.  The kids are getting older, so there are fewer adorable baby pictures and more second thoughts about sharing every little detail.  I can only rehash our issues with the kids so many times before this gets more boring than it usually is, and most of the big stuff has already been covered at least once, if not twice.  Most of what I do now is either to vent, work through some thoughts, or to document stuff so I remember it down the road.  Parenthood is such a blur sometimes and I feel like I'd be lost without this blog and my thousands of photos to refresh and trigger memories.  So...I keep going.

Right now I'm living for my day off next Monday with Jacob and another day I'll take with Carter hopefully the following week.  Work has cooled down a bit from the end of the year, but a very stressful period is coming up and without having had an extended break in ages, I think I'm getting a little burned out.  This time of year always gets me a bit as two out of three years I had some time off (first for maternity leave, then when I lost my job), and while I don't need to relive either of those scenarios, sometimes I get a little wistful for quiet days in the house snuggled on the couch.  Hopefully we can make the most of those days off, and hopefully I can sneak in a few solid vacation days for myself before I have to start taking time off for lacrosse tournaments.  Seems a lifetime away right now, but I have a feeling it'll be here before we know it.

All right, time for bed.  More soon...

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Back When I Liked New Year's...

There was once a time when the dawn of a new year did not fill me with anxiety about what might happen in the next 12 months that might cause my functional reality to come crashing down.  I really think some of my anxiety still stems from the beginning of 2015, when I felt like we didn't really have anything interesting on the horizon--no more kids, no huge kid milestones, no new houses or cars or jobs in the works--and then less than two weeks later I lost my job and everything was crazy for a few months.  So, I guess anytime I find myself feeling a little too settled or comfortable--even though daily life is sort of exhausting--I get a little concerned that the universe has something up its sleeve.  Who might we lose this year?  What might go wrong?  What will this year ultimately be known for in our family history?  That stuff bugs me.  It shouldn't, and I should probably talk to someone about anxiety like that, but that tends to be how I feel about the new year, pretty much every year.  That probably also means we need more positive things in our lives to look forward to, like a big trip, but alas...not yet.

But once upon a time the new year was sort of exciting, and in fact January 3rd was one of my favorite days of the year for years.  I know that sounds crazy, but let's just say it had a good run for a while.

January 3, 1989 - It was my first day back at school after Christmas break.  I was in fifth grade and had a long-standing crush on a boy in my class (as in, since Kindergarten).  During lunch that day, using my good friend as a mediator, the boy and I each shared our mutual affection for each other, and poof!  That day I got my first "boyfriend".  Back then, of course, that meant that we sat together at lunch and maybe tried to graze hands if we ended up next to each other during chapel every Wednesday, so it wasn't much of a thing.  I think it lasted into sixth grade, though, in some form, before he dumped me for a new girl in our class (and later came crawling back).  We were friends well into high school after the puppy love stage passed us by, but I always remembered the first day it became more.

January 3, 1992 - I was in eighth grade.  The previous October I had begun my hockey obsession, courtesy of a good friend of mine, who was already a big fan.  I had a good foundation, of course, since my parents had been huge hockey fans for years and it had always sort of "been around" as I was growing up.  But my friend loved hockey and in particular, one Sabres player, Pierre Turgeon.  Of course, two days after the obsession was official (thanks to a Sabres exhibition game against the US Olympic team that my mom took me to with her boss' tickets), Turgeon was traded and I was crushed.  Fast-forward a few months, and his new team, the New York Islanders, were coming to Buffalo to play the Sabres.  As fate would have it, that game ended up being discounted somehow--I'm pretty sure it was through some sort of church or school group--and my friend and I got to go!  I have zero recollection about whose parents went with us or anything like that, but I do remember seeing Turgeon play--and promptly get hurt.  But it was fun while it lasted and I think he might have even gotten interviewed during the intermission (and since we were up in the seats under the balcony, we had TVs to see it), so overall it was a good day.

January 3, 1993 - This one's been getting a lot of pub today because of the Bills' big playoff win on Sunday, but this was the day of the Bills' historic playoff comeback victory over the Houston Oilers.  I still remember this one pretty vividly as we had traveled to the east side of Rochester to my parents' friends' house to watch the game.  It was blacked out in Buffalo as it wasn't sold out, and the friends could get Syracuse TV stations, which were out of the blackout radius.  Of course, the first half of the game we wondered why we even bothered, but the second half was unbelievable.  They were down 28-3 at halftime, then 35-3, and that's when the magic began.  With their backup quarterback at the helm and a number of key players sidelined due to injury, the Bills started to claw their way back.  By the 4th quarter, they took the lead, though Houston tied it up late.  The Bills won it on a field goal in OT, and the rest was history.  It was incredible and made the trip (and watching that awful first half) worth it.  And of course, the Bills were off to another Super Bowl after that...and yes, they lost...again.  But that comeback was amazing nonetheless.

January 3, 1997 - By this point I was in college, home for my first real winter break.  Earlier that fall, my still-favorite player, Pierre Turgeon, had been traded from the Montreal Canadiens to the St. Louis Blues.  It was actually a pretty big bummer because I loved him being in Montreal, one of my favorite cities.  One of my favorite things to do was to listen to their games in French on the radio (or watch them on my tiny B&W TV when the fuzzy French RDS station on the Ontario-Quebec border happened to have a game).  It was good practice for my French speaking, and they're such an iconic team that it didn't feel too weird cheering for them.  It was harder to catch his games once he went to St. Louis, and coverage in general was rare (remember, the internet was still in its infancy).  Anyway, my mom had originally bought me tickets for a Buffalo-Montreal game that season (maybe for Christmas?  I'm guessing I still would have been on break for it), but somehow managed to exchange them once he was traded for a very luckily placed St. Louis game on January 3.  I found it pretty ironic that we were seeing Turgeon in for the first time with his new team five years to the day of the first time I did it, but I was so excited to go!  I had grown pretty accustomed to going to a lot of games the previous couple years (thanks to my Uncle Bink getting free tickets all the time and giving them to his daughter (and my partner in crime), Kim.  But being away at college had cramped that style a bit, and despite going to one last-minute the night I came home for break (randomly, with my brother, and we came out into a snowstorm!), I was more than ready for another game!  If I recall correctly, we were in either the last or second-to-last row, so binoculars got a lot of use!  It ended up in a tie.

Ok, so those are only four years out of a span of nine, but those odds aren't too bad, right?  I think I had good reason to be a fan back then.  I can't say that this date has been much of a good luck charm in the years since, but for some reason it still sticks in my memory as a great date.  Oh, to be young again and innocently wonder what fabulous things the year will bring...

Monday, January 1, 2018

The Study

Last Thursday, Jacob and I spent the day at the University of Rochester.  No, I wasn't at work.  We were over on the medical campus, just across the way from where Jacob goes to summer camp.  Surprisingly, our visit to the Center for Brain Imaging had absolutely nothing to do with the various behavioral challenges we've spent the last 4+ years tackling.  Instead, we were there voluntarily so Jacob could participate in the ABCD Study.  It stands for Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development, and it's a nationwide 10-year study of kids around Jacob's age.  I think they're targeting around 12,000 kids, and will probably have several hundred at the Rochester site.  The ultimate goal is to gather a ton of data to see how brains change through adolescence, and to better understand how environmental factors contribute to changes.  It seems like a ridiculous amount of data to sort through, but it's still pretty cool.  It could contribute to interventions in the future that can ensure better outcomes for kids in certain challenging circumstances.

I found out about it a while back through work, and mentioned it to Jacob to see if he'd be interested.  While the pursuit of better science is a nice motivator, in theory, clearly the real driver to participate is the monetary compensation!  I mean, when you're nine and you're offered up a significant chunk of money, why not?  It involved a full day, from 9 to 5, and I'd say he definitely earned his pay, but he said he'd be fine doing it again, so it couldn't have been that bad!

We arrived at 9am, and once another participant and her mom arrived, we got a quick briefing in the conference room before we all split off.  The kids went off to do their stuff, and the moms were ushered off to separate spaces to do our part.  I ended up spending a couple hours answering survey questions about a little of everything, from medical history, behavioral history, current living situation, moods, etc.  Meanwhile, Jacob was answering similar questions and playing games that were part of the study tasks or practice for things he'd be doing later.  Many tasks had opportunities to earn "prizes", in the form of plastic jewels and coins that would convert to money later.  There was a set amount he was supposed to receive, but it was possible to earn more through these tasks.  I think the main purpose is just to keep the kids motivated through a very long day.

We met back up for lunch, and they ordered in for us.  Interestingly, the other study subject also had Celiac, which was an odd coincidence!  Jacob and I tried some Chinese, though he ended up mostly just enjoying his white rice.  After lunch, my part was done.  He went back down for the most important part of his day, the brain scan in the MRI.  While in there, he was able to watch a movie and play games, which all plays into the study in some way.  In the meantime, I had visions of blogging, surfing the internet, and just relaxing, but instead it turned into a full afternoon of work.  My boss had texted me in the morning to let me know about an additional task that needed to be done the following day when I was back at work, and in addition to laying the groundwork for that, I ended up spending hours going through emails and preparing for the next day.  It was the last crush for the end of the year on top of a crazy day the day before when I completed data for six separate emails.  I guess the good news was that it made it more manageable the next day when I was fully expecting to get out early (as we always do before a holiday), but due to certain circumstances we didn't, and but I still really needed to leave a bit early to get to my parents' house for the visit with my brother and his kids.  I felt no guilt ducking out (even though we were told on the down-low it was OK) after working a full half day on my vacation day!

Just before 5pm, Jacob came back up from the MRI and we got our payments (yes, I get one too) in the form of a Visa gift card-type setup.  I still need to figure out the best way to cash them out (as Jacob wants to spend some of his and I'd rather save our portion than spend it).  Jacob did really well and his final payment was above average thanks to what he earned.  I won't tell you the exact amount, but it's in the low three-figures, which is a pretty good haul for a kid.  He got a t-shirt and one other interesting souvenir:
A picture of his brain!
We already had pictures of his intestines, and now we have one of his brain!  It's crazy to see, isn't it?  And yes, they will have doctors looking at these images, just in case.  The girl who was there has a brother with a brain cyst, so her mom was very interested in that fact. 

All in all, it was a pretty interesting day and we'll be doing some form of this for years to come.  Phone interviews six months after the annual check-in, and then each annual check-in varies.  No brain scan next year, but it'll be back the year after.  My compensation goes down over the 10 years, and Jacob's goes up, which he's very excited about!  Not a bad day's work, regardless! 

Sunday, December 31, 2017

News and Notes, Going out a Winner Edition

So, we ended the year pretty well, all things considered. 

As I mentioned, we spent some time with my brother and his kids, and although we didn't get any formal pictures, I did take this one of Carter and Max sitting with Grandpa!

When the kids and I got back home on Saturday, we had to go out and shovel the old snow from earlier in the week, in order to make room for the new snow that fell last night.  They actually got along pretty well while we shoveled, and Jacob even asked Carter to bury him!

I took this picture because the design on the snow was so pretty, but little did I know that I'd be using it later to measure our snowfall!

By the time I went to bed last night, you couldn't see any light escaping.  It was right up to the black top.  And this morning it was buried.  We probably got around 6-8 inches.  The boys and I went out mid-morning in the freezing cold to shovel the snow from half of the driveway so Craig could get in when he got back from his roadtrip sometime after noon.

While we were waiting for him to get back, I put together dough for peanut butter blossom cookies, and then after Craig came home and we had lunch, I made them.  It mostly went fine, although my new cookie sheet oddly burned the bottoms of part of the batch, even though a different size of the same type of sheet didn't.  Oh, well...I'll eat those since I don't have to worry about tasting the burnt part!

The boys went back out into the snow to finish the driveway and have a snowball fight, and then we just had a quiet afternoon with the boys collaborating somewhat successfully on a full setup of a lacrosse game in Carter's room, complete with a ticket table!  As a whole this weekend they did pretty well playing together.  Still a lot of "incidents", but we're getting there.

Then it was time for the Bills' game, the first time since 2004 that the Bills had a chance at the playoffs on the last week of the season.  The odds were small, but with a Bills win and either a Baltimore loss or two specific road teams winning their games, the Bills would be in.  The Bills had a good lead, then the game got close as we ate our dinner.  I did a "candlelight" dinner in the dining room and Jacob drank out of a fancy wine glass.  The boys had leftovers from our meal at UNO the other night, and Craig and I got Chinese.  Yum!  I tried to get everyone to share their best memory of the year, but only Jacob (Christmas) and I (Baltimore) seemed to get a memory out. 

Luckily, after a little bit of stress, the Bills won, but then we had to sit through a nail biter as we watched the end of the Baltimore game.  Cincinnati had been winning the entire game, and then in the last eight minutes, Baltimore took the lead.  Here we go again...that familiar sick feeling of lost chances.  It's random stuff like that that made the Bills have 17 years without the playoffs in the first place.  As the time wound down, Cincinnati had the ball but ended up at 4th down and 12.  They had to go for it, and sure enough, their quarterback threw an amazing pass and the receiver ran it in for the touchdown!  Of course, every Bills fan pretty much lost it at this point, and watching Facebook and Twitter was amazing!  They still had to hold the Ravens for the last couple minutes, and when they did--well, holy cow!  The Bills are going to the playoffs for the first time since 1999!  I realized I was still in college then, and it's crazy to think about all that's happened in that span of time.  It has been such a joy tonight watching all of the coverage--video of the Bills' locker room, fan reactions--and knowing that next week we actually get to go to the party.  It may not last long or go particularly well, but the drought is over!  What a great way to end the year!

We finished off the night watching Twitter's reaction to Mariah Carey's NYE redo (after her total flop last year), and counting down with Jacob until midnight.  And now...onward to another year.  Here's to hoping it's a good one!