Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Tuesday Photo Fun

I realized I never shared a couple pics from two weekends ago, and Sunday's post didn't really lend itself to pictures, so I figured I'd do a round-up here.

I mentioned a couple posts ago that two weekends ago I went to spend a little time with my parents.  They're currently traveling and my mom is having surgery next week, so I figured I'd come for a day before all of that got going.  My mom had set aside my graduation gown from high school for me to take home (hello, Halloween box), but I knew I had more there so I also brought home my college graduation gown, my prom dress, and my bridesmaid gown from my brother's wedding.  When I got home I decided I needed to try the latter two on, just to see if they even fit.  The bridesmaid dress was very snug and I had to be careful zipping it.  It's really just my upper body, oddly, so either my chest is that much bigger, or I put on a disproportionate amount of weight in my back and shoulders, or I'm just that much stronger from years of lifting children and doing housework.  Take your pick.  The dress wasn't as flattering anymore, but at least it fit!  That was 18 years ago, after all.  As for the prom dress, I caught a break because the dress is a halter and the zipper only went about halfway up my back, just to the point where I normally have trouble zipping.  It, too, was tight, but if I wore some Spanx I'd probably be fine!  I couldn't help but snap a pic just to prove that a dress I wore at 17 still fits my 40-year-old body...

I can't say I plan to wear either anytime soon, but it was fun anyway!

We had one nice day that weekend where I was able to go out and finally break down my garden.  Between the cold, the rain, and the early darkness over the past month, I just hadn't been able to do it.  As I pulled out the fencing and worked my way through a mile of cucumber vines, I found the only two viable cukes those vines produced this year, along with a bounty of additional grape tomatoes!  Somehow they all survived the cold!  The cukes were little, only about three inches long, but they were perfect for a couple salads!  The tomatoes are still ripening.

I also managed to get my pumpkin seeds roasted that weekend.  I had a ton from our two pumpkins and ended up trying them four ways:

1) Cinnamon sugar (top) - cinnamon, sugar, salt, and butter
2) Montreal (left) - I had some Montreal Chicken seasoning and figured it was made up of flavors I'd use anyway, so I just used that with some olive oil
3) Salt (right) - Primarily seasoned salt and olive oil, with some coarse sea salt
4) Savory (bottom) - This was a Pinterest recipe with some regular seasonings and Worcestershire sauce

They're all good, actually.  Jacob says the salt ones are his favorite, and I think Carter liked the savory ones.  I probably prefer the savory ones for my palette among the non-sweet ones, but the cinnamon sugar ones are addictive!  The glaze ended up perfect and the salt gives them just the right balance.  So good!  I have one small batch of squash seeds and am currently weighing my options.  I need to do it fast before they mold!

This past Saturday the weather was pretty miserable.  It was cold and windy.  So, when Sunday actually featured slightly more moderate temps and a tiny bit of sun, we had to get outside!  Carter had played in leaves at school last week and really wanted a leaf pile to jump in.  So, rather than letting Craig just mow over the leaves, I raked a giant pile for him.  That is love, folks.

I actually raked up another one in case the boys wanted to play when they were off on Monday, and I managed to clean out our flower bed, too.  It's amazing how leaves will pack in there with 40+ mile-per-hour winds!  We also played some family football, at Jacob's request.  It's always a bit challenging as Carter takes offense to everything and Craig is at least a head taller than everyone and I'm not the most athletic and Jacob has some very specific ideas of how things should go.  Oh, and we'd like to escape without injury, too.  We played for a half hour or so, with many touchdowns scored between us.  Jacob and I trailed by a touchdown during the last drive of the game, and in the end Jacob insisted he got the ball across the plane of the end zone, but without instant replay it's tough to know for sure.  He suggested a Go Pro camera for next time.  Yup.

While we played ball, this lovely thing was cooling off inside...

Ahhhh, my mom's crustless crumb-top apple pie recipe.  I can't seem to perfect the recipe just yet as I think I used a little too much liquid, but it still tastes wonderful, even gluten-free!

So, now we're in the home stretch to Thanksgiving.  We can't wait, for a lot of reasons--most of which involve being off of work/school.  We have a lot of lacrosse going on in the meantime, with Jacob playing games for his winter club team on Friday and his new box league team on Monday, then practicing for the club team on Tuesday.  It's a bit of a challenge keeping him interested since he'd rather be playing basketball, but we're managing.  His club team had a really rough first game last Friday, which was a little surprising until we found out their goalie doesn't want to play goal anymore!  His box team lost last night, but he had a lot of fun and really likes his teammates.  He even got to take a penalty shot!  He didn't score, but it was fun to watch.  We just need for him to get his confidence back after a rough eight months or so, and I think the love of the game will come back with it. 

And Carter...well, he's developing quite the interesting personality.  Sometimes he makes us crazy, but I'm so thankful for that snuggly, sweet, silly boy!

Thanksgiving, indeed...

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Small Victories

We didn't do much this weekend.  We went to Jacob's lacrosse game on Friday night, and church on Sunday morning, but in between seemed to be a whole lot of down time.  That can always be problematic around our house, since the boys tend to argue about the TV, Craig's phone, their toys, and whatever sport they may attempt to play.  When we're home, there's a lot of that.  But the weather was cold and particularly yucky on Saturday, so it wasn't like there was much we could do outside.  I also had to take my car in for an inspection and oil change on Sunday, so that was limiting too.

We can get to the end of a weekend like this and feel like we didn't do anything, but when that happens, I need to remind myself of the stuff I/we did do.  So...
  1. We went to Jacob's lacrosse game.
  2. I read newspapers/mail.
  3. I figured out that Carter's snow pants fit but Jacob's don't.  I proved Jacob also needs new boots, which I already knew, but he insisted was false.
  4. I found a pair of boots online that he likes, though I did not order them (yet--he always reserves the right to change his mind).
  5. I went to Walmart and bought two medicines we needed, snow pants for Jacob, and light bulbs to replace one in our kitchen ceiling fan. (I was not, however, able to buy one for our front entry light, as I realized I wasn't sure which type it was.)  I also found promising new underwear there since Target hasn't had my beloved clearance undies lately.
  6. I exchanged Carter's sneakers that fell apart after a month.
  7. I went to Kohl's and found two pairs of knit capri leggings for 78 cents each, and a long sleeved shirt I can dress up or down for less than $5.  I also picked out a winter coat, though I realized that I had a coupon for $10 more off that started Sunday, so I opted to wait on that one.
  8. The boys set up a floor hockey rink in the basement.
  9. We all had a dinner of our choice (courtesy of one of our pick-your-own-drive-thru nights).
  10. We dropped off my car at the mechanic before church.
  11. We still got to church on time.  Bonus points that the sermon was a great Veterans' Day one.
  12. I vacuumed the kitchen, entry, and part of the living room, and Wet Swiffered the kitchen.
  13. I baked an apple pie.
  14. Craig secured the pool cover and mowed part of the lawn (he didn't do the whole thing because of #15).
  15. I raked a bunch of leaves in the front yard so Carter could jump in them.
  16. I cleaned the leaves and some dead stuff out of our front flower bed.
  17. I cut a few more branches off our front tree in an ongoing effort to make its canopy higher.  It previously was too low to mow under.
  18. I jumped in the leaves with Carter.
  19. I ordered the Kohl's winter coat online (saved $50), and for an extra $5ish for three pairs of earrings (including a rose gold pair to finally match a necklace I have), I got an extra $10 of Kohl's Cash, for a total of $15 for next week. I'll pick the order up at the store in the next few days.
  20. Jacob constructed a giant football stadium complex using mostly Lego, Oyo, Lincoln Logs, and magnetic tiles.  The living room is a mess but I'll count not losing my sh** about it as a win.
  21. We all played family football in the front yard, per Jacob's request.  Jacob and I lost by a touchdown, but if you ask him, we tied.  We needed instant replay to know for sure.
  22. The boys dropped me off to my car.  Bonus points for getting the mechanic to put on my registration sticker.  I hate that job in cold weather.
  23. I ran back to Walmart to return the snow pants that Jacob didn't like, check that the bulbs I got were the best option (and buy more so they'll all match, if they were the right ones--which they were), and get the right ones for our front entry.
  24. I remembered to put out the garbage and the recycling.
  25. I changed two lightbulbs.
  26. I cleaned the front entry light fixture, which I'm pretty sure I haven't done in the eight-plus years we've lived here.  Oops.
  27. I did a whole sinkful of dishes.
  28. I made a yummy dinner, one from Pinterest that was a previous winner.  Well, Carter doesn't like it, but he loved his sandwich.
  29. I moved more warmer weather clothes out of my closet to make room for heavier winter stuff, since the cold weather is imminent. 
  30. I did Carter's laundry (and added a pair of my pants I bought last week that didn't wash well, in an effort to see if that was a fluke.  I'm hopeful, but at least I'm one step closer to knowing if I need to return them).
  31. I looked through Carter's backpack before the end of the weekend.
  32. I did 30 minutes on the elliptical and finished off with some weights and abs.
  33. I put Carter to bed.  He not only told me that if I need him to help with cleaning (ideally in the kitchen as he likes using the hand broom), to just ask.  Then he prayed for my smell to come back, ideally as my Christmas gift.  Sweet kid.
  34. I thoroughly enjoyed my apple pie.
  35. I wrote a blog post.
So...35 little victories.  Not too shabby.  So many of them seem like mundane little things, but each one is one less thing I need to do later.  The bad news is that there's a really long list still waiting, but one thing at a time.  Next up--survive Monday!

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

News and Notes, November Blahs Edition

Well, it's November.  The weather has felt like November for weeks, it seems.  Cold, rainy, and generally crappy.  When we get a sunny day it feels miraculous.  We lucked out with a warm-ish evening on Halloween, and it was pleasant on Saturday.  It's actually warm-ish again today, but windy.  But it's rained a lot, at least some almost every day, and it's getting old.  Not that I want snow, either, but this is already getting depressing, and the leaves aren't even off the trees yet.  They're rapidly starting to fall, though.  I'm just bummed we never got out to see the leaves this year!

Last weekend I got to spend Saturday with my parents.  I think I was craving some old school time with my mom by going to the bazaar at the church she grew up in.  I have fond memories of going there with her and my grandma, so it's always nice to go back.  I also needed the dish scrubbies that I know they always sell, so that was a nice bonus!  We did lunch with my dad and then my mom and I went back out to a large indoor garage sale and then down the street to a shop that's owned by my dad's cousin and his wife that's essentially a massive garage sale itself.  I think it gets a lot of estate sale leftovers, but there was literally a little bit of everything!  The place had so much stuff that it actually made me a little anxious.  I've become very sensitive to "stuff" lately.  I mean, you'd never know it if you looked around my house, but clutter is really bothering me these days.  Of course, wastefulness does too, so I'm not one of those people who gets a dumpster and clears out the house, but I crave efficiency and organization so when the house is a mess, it's unsettling for me.  When the house was clean for the party last week, it felt so good and I felt so content.  Things are now back to a bit of chaos (there are hundreds of Legos on the floor, for example), but I just need to keep up with things as much as I can and slowly but surely work through the bigger problems.  We need to go through all of the toys and books sometime before Christmas so we can make room for new toys we're sure to get.  There are some younger toys and things that don't get played with much, so it's a matter of packing away the stuff we don't need and moving things around if there are things we'd like to get more use.  It was good to see the creativity come out when we had a clean, clear floor, and I think we just need to find ways to let that continue.  Anyway, it was sort of validating to walk through that store with everything and not feel compelled to buy anything because we have enough!

Speaking of Christmas, I can't even begin to think about how I'll be putting up a tree in less than three weeks!  I'm trying to get organized with my gift list, and if I'm lucky I'll actually start buying stuff one of these days!  It's going to be a bit of an abnormal holiday season.  My mom is having shoulder surgery in a couple weeks, right before Thanksgiving, so that's going to impact that holiday (and yes, I offered to cook, but my mom figures she'll still be miserable and declined), and she probably won't be able to do all of her usual Christmas decorating either!  After that we're hopefully taking a little trip to Toronto, which will be great but will impact my usual decorating schedule, which always throws me off.  We also have a potential weekend of fun coming up in December courtesy of Craig's work (but at the moment I'll believe it when I see it) and an early Christmas celebration with my brother and his kids.  It'll be a very busy time, but the kids are already getting excited and to some degree, I am too!

I was only able to blog today because I'm home sick.  I woke up congested yesterday and it only got worse as the day went on with a headache and post-nasal drip, and by the evening it was clear it wasn't just a fluke and my usual zinc regimen wasn't enough.  I had an important work thing tonight so I opted to stay home today so I could rest up and be fresh and ready for that later tonight.  And yes, I voted along the way!  Hopefully this will be short-lived, though--mama ain't got time for this!  A quiet day home alone isn't the worst thing in the world, honestly, but this was definitely not how I preferred to do it!  Especially because I'm already working around all of the days off the kids have been in the midst of lately!  They had a half day and full day a week apart for parent-teacher conferences, then Veterans' Day on Monday and three days around Thanksgiving.  We're still figuring out who's with them when, but it's nice to know we have a little break, too.  I still have a lot of vacation days to schedule, but too much work to do, so we'll see what I can cram in!  I do feel much better tonight than I did this morning, so either the zinc or a full day of rest did a good job.

Tonight we're just watching the election results and seeing how the next two years might shake out.  I've pretty much settled as an Independent (if you could have seen my ballot tonight...), but no one really seems to full represent me so it's still a tough decision.  But really, I just need to go to bed.  Sorry this wasn't really a riveting update--guess no news is good news?--but I like to check in once a week anyway and this is what came out.  Hang in there, everyone...

Friday, November 2, 2018

A Happy Halloween!

Halloween always seems to be a bit of a crapshoot around our house.  Between costume drama, sugar, classroom activities, weather, and whatever else, someone is always bound to be in a mood.  It's a busy day for everyone, and inevitably it goes awry somewhere along the way.  But you know, this one actually turned out pretty good!

We got the kids' costumes handled in a busy couple days the prior week, but I was panicking leading up to Wednesday because I didn't have a costume for work (and this year I really wanted to since I didn't last year).  We also got the pumpkins last minute over the weekend, which left minimal time for carving considering Jacob had lacrosse practice two nights in a row and I had many errands to run.  But finally, later Tuesday night, we had these! 

Note that the big one has ears!

Carter actually took some interest in carving for a change.  He helped me sort seeds a bit and gave me artistic direction for the little one.  Jacob almost seemed interested in the big guy, but aside from saying he wanted a classic face (though apparently this wasn't classic enough), he skipped out.  Sigh.  But they got done and I now have hundreds of seeds to roast.  Time to experiment, I guess!

My costume also came down to the wire.  I dragged Carter all over the place on Monday trying to figure out an easy costume to go with the "garden" theme at work (as we work in the "Garden Suite", a.k.a. the ground floor).  I entertained thoughts of a bee or a butterfly, or maybe a flower or flower pot.  But with our busy weekend and so much other stuff going on, nothing of substance was going to happen.  I ran out at lunch on Tuesday for a last-ditch effort at Target and found a pair of flowy monarch butterfly wings for $10.  SOLD.

That night I sat down with an old headband and dug through my bounty of random craft supplies.  Many are leftovers from my own projects, but a bunch is stuff that I pulled off of Jacob's and Carter's daycare craft projects after photographing them and prior to tossing them.  I kept anything salvageable--buttons, plastic shapes, foam shapes, pipe cleaners, beads, googly eyes--just in case we needed random stuff for a project.  I dug out an orange pipe cleaner that I cut in half, and instead of the pom poms I expected to use, I found two black foam circles, almost like mini hockey pucks, that I had salvaged off of one of Jacob's projects.  I was able to just stick the pipe cleaners in to them, no glue needed, and voila, antennae!

I simply dressed in all black, and the end result was this:

And here was my little addition to the garden d├ęcor...
The trellis came from a Mother's Day gift basket from Craig's team owners, and my little Rocky fits the garden theme, too.  I couldn't resist sticking the pumpkin on his arm!
We had a fun day at work, from morning donuts to touring all of the different departments' themes, then enjoying a creepy dessert buffet and the kids' trick-or-treating parade in the afternoon.  Too much food, but it was a lot of fun.  I came home in the rain, picked up pizza for dinner, and then got the pumpkins out and the kids fed and ready for trick-or-treating.  It was pouring by then, but we had to get ready!  But first...pictures!

Both of these cracked me up so much that I had to include both...
This is my favorite, though!

I had to catch a picture of Carter's inflatable pack that was almost as big as him!

It stopped raining just as we headed out, and it turned into a fabulous evening.  It was actually about 10 degrees warmer than most nights (or even days) lately, in the mid 50s.  We worked our way around the neighborhood, heading to the next street over, toward a couple fun houses we went to last year and another one I heard about via a thread on Facebook.  The kids made out like bandits at the first few houses, I think because there weren't many kids around then and people were having them take handfuls!  I was amused by the things people said to the kids, and we had a blast just walking together...probably because the boys were getting along!  We finally got to the first cool house that was a favorite last year.  It was equally awesome this year.

The man who answered the door is older, and it amazed us to think he did all of this!

As we walked down the street, we saw the coolest thing I have ever seen during trick or treating.  There was a golf cart, all lit up with lights.  It had four older women on board, maybe in their 60s.  They were all wearing glow stick glasses and other accessories.  I'm pretty sure a couple were partaking of a beverage, and one was holding a bucket of candy.  Instead of having the kids come to them at home, they brought the candy to the kids!  It was hilarious and they looked like they were having such a blast!  Definitely on my old lady bucket list now!

The Facebook one that was further down the street had all the bells and whistles, but it also had a "For Sale" sign in the front yard!  Boo, indeed.  As we walked toward our street, we noticed another good house just past our turn, so we headed there.  By this point Carter was getting tired and his pumpkin was almost full, so we knew we were winding down.  But this house looked too cool to skip.  And sure enough, it was impressive.  The whole front yard was decorated, but more impressive was the entire garage full of stuff!

There was an elderly woman standing inside the front door of this house pointing at the bucket next to the door with candy.  I noticed it was sitting on what appeared to be a dummy, but of course when Carter went to get candy it became clear it was not a dummy!  It moved, and he was totally thrown off by it and was eager to leave.  As he pushed into me to leave, I bumped into someone standing directly behind me.  Creepily, it was a guy in the scariest mask--a guy we had seen wandering alone on the sidewalk down the street earlier.  The kids wondered then why he was there, seemingly watching us, and that only intensified once he was standing right behind me.  They asked why he was following us!  I'll admit it even creeped me out, but then I noticed there were a few other random masked wanderers in the driveway and I think it was all a part of a very elaborate (if misguided) act.  Even still, we didn't waste much time getting back on the walk home.  By then Carter really had to pee, so we managed that (thanks to a bush), had one more odd encounter with a talkative teenager, and both boys hit up a few more houses (Jacob more than Carter) before heading home for the night.  We had a really great time!  Craig, on the other hand, had very little action at home--only 12 kids!  Our street is terrible now!

When we got home and settled, the boys were eager to survey their loot!

Before the night was over, I had to snap a picture of my full costume, mostly because I knew my mom wanted to see it and I figured my previous picture wasn't sufficient.  And I really like those wings!

All in all, it was a great holiday.  Last year was a bust as work was stressful and it was the day after my cousin's young son passed away in a terrible accident.  It was not a good day, as I was in shock and definitely not feeling festive, so it was nice to get back to a good time this year (even if I was remaining prayerful for my cousin's family in the process).  Next year I need to get working on Halloween sooner, mostly because Jacob has hit his limit on what the Halloween store offers.  Everything is either too young, too weird, or too creepy, so we need to find a good Pinterest project to get him costumed for next year.  Good thing we have 360+ days to figure it out!

Now it's November and it's on to the next big thing.  Jacob's lacrosse season is getting started, Craig's season will be starting soon, we have a trip to Toronto in the works, and Thanksgiving is less than three weeks away.  And we all know what comes after that!  Here we go...

Monday, October 29, 2018

10-1/3 (and so much more)

It seems that Jacob is getting to an age where a lot of stuff needs to revolve around him.  He's getting older and has a lot of stuff going on, be it school or sports.  We had a busy weekend, and most of it was focused on him!

Everything started Thursday, which was thankfully my Friday.  The boys had a half day on Friday, so I took the whole day off--partly because their half day ends before noon (so it's pointless to work) and partly because I had a million things to do and needed that time desperately.  Thursday night was Jacob's long awaited placement night for basketball.  He'll be playing on a team starting in January, and it's pretty much his focus all the time, whether he's talking about his sneakers, wanting to get out and play, or its role in his inevitable rise to the NBA (sigh).  Practices and games don't start until after the new year, so any glimpse of it was huge for him and placement night had been on the calendar for a while.  It turned out to be a bit of a non-event as the action only lasted about five minutes, but it was good to see him out there.
Dribbling - you should have seen him do it backward!



He seemed to do pretty well.  His shooting was a little weak on the one side, but overall he did fine.  It wasn't a tryout, so it's not like he's at risk of not making a team, but just an opportunity to properly place him on a team that needs him.  Of course, he was eyeing up the talent around him and ended up hoping he wasn't so good that he wouldn't be on the same team with a really good player he saw across the way.  Leave it to him!

I'd been spending parts of my evenings over the course of the week trying to clean up the house.  It had gotten to a bit of a critical point where it desperately needed multiple levels of cleaning - decluttering, dusting, vacuuming, and carpet cleaning.  It was gross and needed cleaning no matter what, but it was extra necessary because we had secret plans for some company over the weekend.  On Thursday night I stayed up extra late just to work through a number of projects - baking, photographing (and ditching) Carter's artwork, and general decluttering.  It was a long, productive evening that had to happen so I could set myself up for success in the morning!  See, our plan was to have a surprise super-belated birthday party for Jacob.  If you'll recall, he turned 10 back in June, but due to our schedule, other family's schedules, and lots of big family events this summer, there just wasn't a time to have a party.  And it dragged on without finding a suitable date (and giving up for a while, I suppose), but it popped into my head a few weeks back that we should surprise him.  And just last week he grumbled a bit again about never getting his cake, so I hoped we could pull it off!  Part of the late night was having to wait until he went to bed to bake the cake!

On Friday morning I worked my butt off to start cleaning the carpets.  I first tried some Resolve, which worked reasonably well but then a little too well in some spots, leaving some areas lighter than others.  I decided that after I picked up the kids and went to their parent-teacher conferences, my afternoon would be spent with the carpet shampooer.  I hate that thing.  But in the end, it did the trick...even if having fans all over the living room for the rest of the day was a bit of a pain.  I guess I can wait a little longer to get it done professionally!

The parent-teacher conferences were about what I would expect.  Both teachers are very happy with the kids.  Jacob is a bit of a talker at the wrong times and may not be challenged quite enough, and Carter needs a little work on appropriate interactions when classmates frustrate him and a little more strength in his fine motor skills (primarily writing--which I already knew).  But overall they're both age-appropriate, good kids.  Whew.

Friday night I had to decorate the cake.  I knew the next morning would be busy, so I had no choice but to stay up (late once again, since Jacob takes forever to fall asleep) and get it done!  I knew he wanted a Raptors' cake, and knew which logo to use, but beyond that I hadn't thought about it too deeply.  I just had to jump in and do it!  Well, after stashing the cake in the basement for 24 hours (wrapped and in my cake keeper), I almost destroyed it when I put the second layer on and realized I'd be better off flipping it over to deal with the dome.  I generally don't cut off the domes because it's a waste of cake, and I quickly realized the dome would be better on top than in the middle, but it was so stuck on the frosting in between layers that it cracked in half when I tried to lift it off!  Luckily I was able to reposition it and quickly frost it, and in the end the crack wasn't too visible!

My plan to incorporate the logo worked reasonably well.  I was thankful I had bought a backup pouch of black, because the one I had from Carter's birthday gave me all sorts of trouble (it wouldn't flow and eventually it broke open in one spot!), but once I started using the new one, things flowed a lot better (literally).  And I think the end result was pretty good!

I wanted to incorporate some red, but I liked the top as is and didn't have much faith in the tube of red I had left, so I opted to just do his name on the front...

...and his age on the back!
Yup, he's officially 1/3 of the way through.  No time like the present to party then, huh?
The sides looked a little empty so I did stars.  They're not great and could almost have passed for maple leaves, which would have been appropriate for the Raptors, too, so I left them.  Luckily we had a small audience for this one, so I wasn't stressing out!

It was a late night and I could only sleep in a little because we'd had a long ago scheduled Saturday morning appointment with Jacob's therapist.  I wouldn't have even gone, but it was our last appointment before she goes on a two-month medical leave, so it really was important and that was the only day we could fit it in.  Upon returning to the house, Craig and Jacob went out to Dick's for a winter coat and to Wegmans for a couple little things, and that provided the perfect opportunity to get things ready!

I had started pork in the crock pot first thing in the morning, and then I got going on the rest of the food--a casserole, roasted potatoes, green salad, and Buffalo chicken dip.  It was all very smooth and was well underway once my parents arrived.  I also hung up three basketball lanterns I got at Party City while Halloween shopping--two by the fireplace and one over the dining room table.  Fun, no?

As for the boy, he was pleasantly surprised when he came home to discover a mini party in his honor!  Of course, mini it was.  Craig's parents were supposed to come but a work meeting ran over so they ended up not being able to make it.  The only other attendee was my cousin Lori, his godmother, but you know, it was a really pleasant, low-key time together.  I didn't have to slave in the kitchen, everyone enjoyed the food, and I felt at peace in my clean house, so I'll take it.

Jacob loved the cake and was excited to finally blow out the candles...four months late!

Small crowd or not, I'm glad we finally got Jacob his day.  Once my parents left, we had a very nice, low-key evening.  Even Jacob mentioned today how nice it was.  I didn't even do dinner.  Everyone snacked or had cake for dinner, we watched movies, and the boys even used the clear living room floor to play!  Jacob made a Lego football field, and Carter got creative with his Hot Wheels tracks, taking a cue from the instruction book to use a paper towel tube and cups.

Sunday was a busy day.  We started out with church, came home for a quick lunch, then headed out to the open house at Aquinas, the other school Jacob is considering.  Originally he really wanted to go there, but changed his mind somewhere along the way, possibly when I told him that khakis were part of the middle school uniform.  My prediction for this open house was pretty spot-on.  I knew the facilities would be better, but I wasn't sure the student experience would have the same impact as Bishop Kearney's "houses".  Aquinas has a beautiful, brand new cafeteria.  They had a classroom with 3-D printers.  Their gym was newer and their fieldhouse was immaculate--better than many colleges.  The classrooms were older, much like BK, but it seemed like more care had been taken to update the furniture and fixtures.  They offered up some fun science demonstrations, also like BK, and took it to the next level with a pig dissection!  The students seemed equally eager to talk up their school.  The classes are probably double or triple the size of BK, though, and no mention of programs to help new students adjust.  Those seemed to be two big minuses for Jacob, who almost seemed a bit swayed by the time we got to the fieldhouse.  But at the end of the day, he was still on Team BK.  I can't call it much besides a gut instinct, which is interesting to see from your child.  I said that there seemed to be more of a "warmth" at BK, and he agreed and said he just felt at home there.  I guess you can't really argue with that.  Even still, we may have him take both entrance exams just in case scholarships at Aquinas provide an opportunity we can't pass up.  Worth a try, anyway.

Our last stop of the day was at the Garden Factory, our usual rainy day, last ditch pumpkin place.  And sure enough, it was a cold, rainy day, and Jacob asked why it's always bad weather when we go there.  The answer, of course, is that it's a perfect spot to go when the weather is crappy since it's all indoors.  I didn't know, however, that it was clearance price weekend, so we made it out extra cheap!  But not before a little fun...

Carter was banned from the really fun activities thanks to some not-great behavior when we picked him up from Sunday School, but we did allow for some cotton candy!

And yes, even when he's frustrating as heck, I'll always take a hug from my boy.

When it came time to pick a pumpkin, Carter was picking up every little pumpkin that caught his eye, and eventually he was double fisting and looking like he was starting a new pumpkin workout...

Total goof ball, that kid.  We ended up with one big pumpkin and one little one (a total of 20 pounds), a couple pounds of Autumn Crisp apples (they were cheap and sounded good), and a 99 cent annual that I just couldn't pass up:
I love these flowers, and for a buck?  Yes, please!

All of that was less than $6 total!  Not a bad trade-off for not having a huge selection of pumpkins!  

Of course, whether or not we will actually get them carved remains to be seen.  We have busy evenings to start the week, and it looks like either carving or my work costume (guess which one) will lose out.  I guess we can't have it all--birthday party, clean house, picture-perfect Halloween--something's gotta give!  It was a full weekend, but a good one.  And now the next one can't get here soon enough...but first, Halloween!

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

How are we here already?

The private school thing has been a discussion in our house pretty much since Jacob was born.  I went to private school from Kindergarten through 8th grade, but public high school.  Craig was nearly opposite--he had a stint or two as a kid, but high school marked his sustained private school experience.  As such, we've had different perspectives on it all along.  I got through public high school just fine and still got into a good college, I argued.  Craig countered with how important his experience was for getting his academics on track after some challenging public school experiences.  We could go back and forth on pros and cons forever.

Our district isn't great.  It's fine, particularly for the ages the kids are at now, but admittedly the middle and high school options aren't ideal.  Could a typical student get through just fine?  Sure, and we've known many who have.  It's not like it's a city district, but it does border it, and due to the lower cost of living on our side of town, it tends to be a first stop for those looking to escape the city.  As a result, it's a large, diverse, and sometimes challenging district with relatively low ratings.  But, so far it's been fine for us.  So, for the last many years, we've left our discussion at, "Well, when he gets to that age, we'll see what kind of student he is and make a decision then."  Little did we know a few years ago that private high schools here start with middle school programs at sixth grade.  So, if he's going to change schools and be in a high school building anyway, then maybe he should only have to make that transition once.  So, here we are.  The time to decide has come.

It turns out that private school does seem like a better fit for Jacob.  He's done fine in public school thus far, but as he gets older and the work gets more demanding, I think he'll do better with a smaller setting, closer relationships with teachers, and a good moral compass.  He needs challenging academics and strong sports.  Ultimately, I just think he needs to be "seen", and the odds of that are greater in private school.

Initially Jacob wanted to go to Aquinas, which has a fantastic sports program in addition to great academics.  They have gorgeous football/lacrosse field, too.  But it appeared something as simple as khaki pants (gasp) as part of the uniform were enough to make him leery, and since his lacrosse obsession has given way to basketball, he shifted to Bishop Kearney, a smaller school.  Neither school is particularly convenient to where we live, but people clearly make it work across the county, and busing is available (although it will likely make for an early morning).  I don't particularly savor the thought of those early mornings, or buying uniforms, or paying tuition, but deep down it feels like this is something we need to do for him.  And if all else fails, we give it time and change to something else.

When I was in college, if you wanted to live off campus you had to start securing your housing the prior fall.  Thinking that far ahead (or dealing with all that extra craziness in general) never appealed to me, hence why we lived in dorms for four years (also, dining halls and bathroom cleaners).  Similarly, private school involves a heck of a lot more advance preparation than public, but avoidance and procrastination are not an option this time around, so already we're making plans.  Fortunately I happened to see an ad on Facebook last week for an open house at Bishop Kearney on Sunday, so I immediately added that to our calendar.  I then figured I should also check on Aquinas, and sure enough, theirs is set for this coming Sunday, so once again, our Sunday will be spent touring since we need a means of comparison.

The Bishop Kearney open house was interesting.  Craig has a couple connections at the school from things he's done there through work, so it's comforting to have some eyes on the "inside" as we enter the middle school era.  The school is older--a typical mid-century high school building with select, minimal updates.  Not in a bad way, mind you, just very simple and unflashy.  Jacob still liked the gym despite its age, which was a big win.  We met some teachers during the course of the tour who all seemed really nice.  The entire sixth grade is smaller than the number of kids in Jacob's classroom (one of four or five in the grade) right now, which was a pleasant surprise.  They all stick pretty close together that first year, then have the opportunity in 7th grade to branch out to advanced classes if needed, which Jacob was happy to hear because he gets bored easily right now.  His standardized test scores in math came in better than 90% of the state, so I'd have to think he'd be a candidate for moving up.  Remember when his low math grade in 3rd grade was the thing that moved us to start medication?  Yeah, that's why. 

What was especially intriguing to all of us was that each student is assigned to one of four "houses" within the school, to give them a smaller "family" to help get them accustomed to the school.  They stick with that house through graduation.  Everyone seemed very proud of their house and somehow it doesn't seem competitive or negative in any way, so that was cool.  Jacob really liked the sound of that a lot to help get settled.  We saw some classrooms, the chapel, the cafeteria, the band room, and a few other things--including a science teacher doing some really fun experiments!  We also got a tour of their dorms, which are on the top floor and exclusively for the very competitive girls' hockey team that draws players from across the continent.  The space was beautiful, with rooms twice the size of my college dorm rooms.  They had a workout facility, dining room (with chef), and coaches' offices right down the hall.  It was really awesome.  Jacob wants to make friends with them someday, but I warned him that there is probably no chance that boys are ever allowed up there!

While the school doesn't seem to have lots of bells and whistles (well, aside from a program that gives everyone a laptop in 8th grade that's theirs to keep upon graduation), we really liked it a lot.  It seemed very warm and the students seem happy.  I think it would build great character in Jacob with the community service and other programs they have.  The jury's still out on where sports would fit in for him, but hopefully that would be an opportunity for him, too.  And just in case basketball doesn't work out, we found out that they're hopefully starting a boys' lacrosse team soon, which would take care of one of our initial concerns when he first wanted to go there.

So, I think if we committed tomorrow, he'd be thrilled.  It really is his top choice.  We have the entrance exam on December 1, so that's coming quickly.  But coming sooner is the open house at Aquinas, choice #2.  My prediction is that the facilities will be much nicer (which will be tough for Jacob to say no to), but that the social situation won't be as enticing as BK.  That's just a guess, and maybe they will surprise us.  AQ is a really good school and they've had some good philanthropic support, but I've never gotten the warm fuzzy vibe, so we'll see.  He'd honestly be lucky to go to either, so it's really just about finding the best fit.  And who knows, maybe it's laying the groundwork for Carter's future, too!

It'll be an interesting journey, to say the least. 

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Giraffes and Zebras and Naked Mole Rats, Oh My!

In a quest to maximize the decent weekend weather days we have left, we headed to the Seneca Park Zoo this morning.  The less time we have at home for the boys to fight about something random, the better.  We'll have enough of those weekends over the winter when it's too cold but not snowy enough to go outside, so we might as well do what we can now.  Mind you, the kids were less enthused about going that I'd have hoped.  Not entirely unhappy, mind you, just sort of neutral.  Oh, well...but in case you're wondering why they're not in any of the pictures, it's because they were losing interest after about 30 seconds at an exhibit and I was left taking pictures without them.  Sigh.  Oh, and I forgot it was a Zoo Boo day, so almost everyone else was there in costume and getting candy.  Yet the kids didn't care, so I guess that was good.  We still don't have costumes anyway.  It's on the list.

The zoo is in an interesting transitional phase.  A new section just opened but the old main building is in the midst of getting torn down to be replaced by a whole new building that's much more welcoming, modern, and up to animal care standards.  I love zoos and cannot wait for that to be completed so we can get our orangutans back and even get gorillas!  But in the meantime we can be excited for our new additions: giraffes, red pandas, zebras, ostriches, and naked mole rats!

All of the animals from the main building have either been sent to other zoos or have been moved elsewhere around the zoo.  I love the poison dart frogs, and this one happened to want to cozy up to the glass for a picture!
The color is just so amazing.  The yellow ones were gorgeous, too.  So striking every time I see them.
The snow leopards and new red pandas have brand new, modern enclosures.  The snow leopard was pacing in one tiny section, but now has a hill and a pond and lots of toys.  So much better than the fenced in concrete area before.  

The red pandas are so stinkin' cute.  They were both resting, but at least this one was awake.  So fluffy!

And this one took a snooze in the hammock...

We laughed at the raccoons (did they just pull them out of someone's yard?), but then we heard the docent say that these two came from some show at Disney World.  Fancy!  They were snuggled up pretty cute, though.

Both of the polar bears we'd had for years had passed away over the last couple years, but recently a new bear arrived, Anoki, who was born at the zoo back in 1996.  She's very pretty, and it was nice to see a bear in the exhibit again!  Fingers crossed she gets a mate someday soon!

The lions were having a lazy morning, but how handsome is this guy while he sleeps?

The fall colors around the zoo were pretty, and it was nice to see the upper level of the observation bus back open, since it had been closed for a long time.
Note the lioness snoozing in a favorite nap spot on the front of the bus!
 The baboons are always interesting, and today was no exception.  One was playing with a shoe (apparently one of their favorite enrichment items), and a few seconds after I took this picture, this one stood up and jumped, reaching all the way to the top of the windows.  It was pretty nuts and didn't seem to have a purpose.

Next it was on to the new African Savanna section!  Bill the rhino has a lovely new bachelor pad!

Inside the building, there's inside viewing space for the rhinos, giraffes, zebras, and ostriches, along with some small spaces that I assume will someday house insects or reptiles.  There were a couple bird enclosures.  This buffalo weaver bird was pretty cool.

There were some ducks and other birds to the right, and the tree ahead has the small display cases that aren't yet filled.  The inside giraffe viewing is to the left.
 They had some cool fish, too, and I was particularly taken with this colorful one...

This picture doesn't do the shiny golden color justice on this one...

Outside was another large area for the giraffes, zebras, and ostriches.  The giraffes and zebras were all busy eating.
My favorite!  They're so pretty...those eyes!

That neck!

There's something cool about zebra butts, how all the stripes converge.

Such a big, beautiful space for them to roam together!  There's also a store over there.
 One of the cooler aspects of the new section is that it goes right into Seneca Park and you can see parts of the park that weren't visible before.  It actually makes for a much prettier walk, especially this time of year.

It was drizzling a bit by this point after being picture-perfect lovely (though cool) when we arrived.  I wandered back through the buildings since the animals had moved back inside.  By this point you could see the new naked mole rats moving around a bit.  They're almost impossible to get a picture of, but here's one.

They are incredibly ugly but I have a soft spot for them because our "mascot" at work is a naked mole rat!  See, the University did some naked mole rat-based research a few years back and there were some stuffed animal versions floating around.  During one of our office clean out "garage sales" (i.e., everything is free to whoever can use it), a couple of them were hanging out.  A co-worker just had to adopt one, and when she left our department, she left Harriet in our care.  She gets dressed up for holidays (currently sporting dorky glasses and a fake nose for Halloween, along with her tiara) and is a fun little conversation piece.   

Thanks to the rain, the giraffes had moved their eating inside.  Such a big, beautiful area.

I caught another view of Anoki on the walk toward the front, and Carter was convinced she was rubbing her butt on the rock.  I don't actually think she was close enough :)

We stopped in to get an underwater view of the very active sea lions.

Someone had pulled out their keys because the sea lions like shiny things.  This one was very interested!
By the time we walked out, the sun was back out and we grabbed a quick lunch/snack before heading out.  I wish the kids would have been more into it, but I'm glad we went.