Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Still Tired...and Still Thinking...

We had a busy weekend.  Two parties in two days, actually, which pretty much meant I didn't get a lot of recovery time from a crazy week.  The parties were great--one for the end of Jacob's baseball season and the other a big surprise party for our daycare's former director--but lots of sun and heat and food didn't really help my cause.  But at least we had fun! 

I'm still thinking back on the week I had last week.  I feel so lucky to have been able to go on that trip, and I'm grateful for the people I met and the experiences I had.  Going back to the college life after 15 years away was pretty crazy, even if it wasn't exactly college life.  But I do think that my comparisons to my college orientation were fair, and I could add summer camp to that, as well.  Over the course of the week it definitely began to remind me of the week I spent at camp when I was 13.  The only difference there, really, was that I had a couple friends going in so I wasn't completely on my own.  But the week of a certain schedule, wise leaders, fun activities, and a handful of inside jokes was definitely reminiscent of that time.  And the sadness upon departure when you know you won't see these new friends anymore was very similar, even in this age of social media.  I mean, I am Facebook friends with a couple of the people I met, but the rest I just connected with on Linkedin.  I don't really spend a lot of time there, nor do I expect that I will have much contact with them there since our jobs are very different.  But it was fun while it lasted.

Another recurring comparison to my previous life experience was going to retreats in college.  We'd go off to a camp for a weekend, spend two days immersed in the Bible and our faith, and come back to school bursting at the seams with joy and excitement about all we learned.  The challenge, of course, was channeling that passion into changing our daily lives once we were back to the grind.  It was hard, no doubt.  Similarly, I'm coming back to work with a newfound understanding and appreciation of this industry, as well as some ideas for ways to improve our programs.  Some of the suggestions are far bigger than my position or even my immediate department, but some are small tweaks we can consider making to our work that might make a difference, too.  The tough part is communicating it without sounding like a) the naive newbie; or b) the over-eager change-pusher who doesn't know what she's talking about and makes everyone else's job harder in the process.  I've put together a simple powerpoint of the points that stood out to me, and hopefully I'll get a chance to share it.  Everyone's been too busy since I got back to sit down and chat, unfortunately.  Talk about a buzz kill.

I definitely had a couple moments at the conference of "Here we go again," when I found out I was in a different set of dorms than the majority of the attendees.  It was like my orientation without a roommate all over again.  I was concerned about getting back to my dorm alone after night activities, because even though the town seemed very safe, you just never know.  It's just easier to coordinate activities--dinner, paddleboarding, etc.--when everyone is in the same place.  Ultimately, I did discover a few friends in my dorm, which made things a lot easier.  The main difference from orientation, though, was the complete sense of relief I felt during alone time.  Well, not complete.  I did worry that I was supposed to be there networking and meeting people, and I worried about what I might be missing if I was alone.  And I wondered if something was wrong with me because I was alone, but then I looked around and realized that not everyone was grouped up.  But by the end of the second day I found myself craving alone time because the learning and social aspects of the conference were intense.  I took detours to sessions so I could walk alone on campus and snap pictures, and I reveled in the hour or so alone in my room at night.  On the last full day I even decided to eat lunch alone.  There were people I could have joined, but I was worried about joining up with the same people repeatedly. so I sat in a corner and ate with my iPod Touch in hand.  About 10 minutes in I was joined by one of my group buddies (the 60+ data guy) and that was just fine, too! 

Still, it really struck me how I live in a little bubble right now.  Even though I just started a job a little over three months ago, I feel like my circle of friends and acquaintances has remained fairly steady, and it's hard to remember that there are wonderful, amazing people out there and we should pursue the chance to learn so much from them.  I don't get out much, I admit, partly by design and partly because I just can't, and I think sometimes that limits me more than I'd like.

I had a conversation on day 3 with the group I bonded with most about the most adventurous things we've ever done.  I didn't really have an answer.  Does spending a week traveling to amusement parks and riding a ton of roller coasters count?  They considered going through childbirth twice a valid entry, but it really did make me wonder where I went wrong.  I mean, I value my life (particularly as a parent) so things like skydiving and mountain climbing seem a little out of my wheelhouse, but I just haven't really had the opportunity to do crazy stuff.  I really enjoyed the stand-up paddleboarding, and it was a good reminder that I need to take a chance and seize opportunities like that, even if they scare me a little.  I'm noticing hesitance on Jacob's part lately to do things like that, too.  He didn't want to get in the pool at his baseball picnic until most kids were out, and he was making excuses for not wanting to go on his spray park field trip this week or on an amusement park trip we're planning for later this week (don't worry, Grandma, he'll deal!).  I am trying to get to the root of his hesitance, if he's nervous about something or truly thinks he won't enjoy it, but I hate to see those qualities showing up in my seven-year-old who has yet to really live.  And on the flip side, how do you cultivate that willingness without it swinging the other way and making him a little too eager to try whatever new (potentially stupid) thing comes his way?

One of the unfortunate consequences of the trip was that I gained four pounds!  I do think some of that was water weight, because I drank a TON of water when I was there.  The water bottle they provided was at least 20 oz., probably more, and I'm pretty sure I refilled mine half a dozen times a day (though it probably wasn't always completely empty).  But it was a lot of water.  Still, I know some of it was eating...a lot.  We were eating at an all-you-care-to-eat dining hall, which was new for me, and on top of that we had big dinners and lots of snacks between sessions.  We usually had two morning snacks and two afternoon snacks, ranging from sweet breads and pastries to cookies, brownies, make-your-own trail mix, soft pretzels, and cotton candy!  There was always fruit, too.  I didn't always take something, but it was always tempting.  My meals in the dining halls weren't as bad as they could have been, but I had some form of eggs most mornings (in a sandwich, with bacon, with yogurt) and my lunches ranged from pizza to a vegan taco to a panini, sometimes with salad on the side.  But I pretty much always got a warm cookie!  We had two very nice dinners put on by the conference, and then my two dinners on my own both happened to be giant burgers.  It was not on purpose, but just worked out that way.  I think that put me over the top!  I can't even imagine how much worse it would have been if I drank more than one night of the four!  A couple pounds came off pretty quickly, but my urgency to hit the gym is definitely up!

Back at home, the boys did fine.  I did have to reload the dishwasher and do some extra picking up, but for the most part the house remained intact and the boys seemed happy.  I could tell Carter was happy to see me, but he's definitely been a Daddy's boy since I got back.  In fact, Craig can barely get a moment alone between the two of them!  I definitely missed them but appreciated my time away.  I FaceTimed once and called a couple other times, and when the kids were around it was chaos on the other end!  I thought it was cool that Jacob wanted me to show them my room when we FaceTimed.  I know it was hard for Craig, particularly dinner time, but it was hard for me to feel too bad since he'll be gone for 10 days in another couple months!

I mostly just love going on trips like that to remember that there are so many places to see and so many hidden jewels.  When else would I have the chance to drive through ski country and stay at a historic Ivy League campus?  It doesn't have to be fancy or exotic to be cool.  It's looking like this year's family vacation is going to be about as exciting as last year's, as we're continuing on the cheap, close, and yet unexplored track we were on last year.  Stay tuned.  But we will have fun, I'm sure, and at this point the kids don't really care where we go as long as we do something new.  I guess I'm up for another adventure...as soon as I get a little more sleep!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Awesomely Exhausted

The title of this post is the most concise way that I can describe the events of this week.  I totally meant to hop online and post nightly updates on my trip, but the level of busyness and mental energy at the conference was off the charts and I was lucky if I managed to check my email before I dropped into bed! 

I don't even really know where to begin.  It was such a great week, but overwhelming in so many ways.  Good ways, mostly, but as I figured, information overload was an issue.  What I didn't bank on, though, was how the schedule itself and the constant presence of other people (even great ones) was exhausting.  So exhausting, in fact, that I'm still recovering two days later.  Yesterday I was in a fog all day at work.  Last night I was exhausted by 8pm and sort-of-accidentally went to bed before 9:30.  I woke up briefly after midnight to brush my teeth and take off jewelry, and then stayed in bed until 8am.  After that I took a few more turns in bed dozing until finally showering sometime before noon.  We had Jacob's baseball end-of-season party today and we have another picnic tomorrow, so there isn't much rest for the weary...but I'm getting there.

I left things off last week as I was coming down with a cold.  Luckily, it appears that the zinc and vitamin C I took did their job, and by the time I left on Sunday morning, I was feeling pretty good.  I frantically packed on Saturday so I'd be ready to leave first thing in the morning, but in the end I had a hard time waking up and just got out the door before 7am.  The drive was actually pretty pleasant.  I got a little antsy by the time I actually got there, but for the most part it was fine.  The first half was pretty easy as it was all the Thruway, and the second half was a bit slower but more scenic as I went through the Green Mountains and a bunch of little ski towns.  If I could have stopped at every one I would have!  My first stop was at a little store just before the NY-VT border.  It was called the Big Moose Deli and Country Store, so how could I not stop?
They had a bunch of overpriced stuffed moose and lots of Vermont specialties, but the main attraction for me was a bathroom (in the form of a port-a-potty, unfortunately!)...but it was a nice diversion.
I had another planned stop a little ways into Vermont in a town called Bennington.  There was a super weird statue of Abraham Lincoln that I found via this Roadside America site, and I couldn't resist stopping since it was right on my route.  And indeed, very strange...
It's called "The American Spirit", and apparently stands for "Faith, Charity, and Hope", in that order, I assume.  The girl and boy are both naked, and the placement is so awkward.
I continued on and finally got to Dartmouth!  I happened to arrive a couple minutes after the shuttle buses from Boston, so I had to wait in a line, but finally got my registration materials and parking pass before catching the shuttle to my dorm.  I ended up in a different set of dorms than the majority of the attendees, which initially upset me.  After all, part of my anxiety about this trip was a throwback to my college orientation, where I felt so isolated because I had no roommate.  I knew going in this time that I wouldn't have one (which was much appreciated), but being in a different set of dorms made me worry that I'd be away from so many other people.  I shouldn't have worried, though, because my dorm turned out to be central to everything and therefore much more convenient.

We started our first session in the afternoon and had a nice easy start--one group session and then a session with our smaller group, composed of people from similar institutions.  A handful of folks from that group turned out to be my best friends at the conference, not surprisingly.  After that we had a campus tour, and then we had our first fun event, a clambake!  One of my new experiences while there was eating this guy...
Hello, Mr. Lobster!  I don't often eat food with eyes, but he was worth it!  The head went away quickly, though!  There is also a roll, some chicken, a salad, and corn on that plate.  Yum.
We had a thunderstorm while in the tent, but as a whole it was a fun dinner and a good first chance to get to know people.  On the way back, I took this shot of the library...one of my favorite pictures of the week...

Here's a picture of my dorm, McLane.  I wasn't sure if this was an older building that had been completely redone, since it matched the campus style so well (right down to the clips holding the shutters back), but it turns out it opened in 2006.  It was connected to another building, as well.
My room was on the top floor, possibly 3rd or 4th from the left.

This is one end of my room...bed, dresser, desk, and nightstand/bookshelf.  The other direction just had a closet and the door.  It was small but well lit and just fine for the little bit of time I spent there.
The architecture was so classic and certainly befitting an Ivy League school.  Almost everything looked the same, but it was so pretty. 
We never went in the Collis Center, but the front porch on it was so lovely.

A daytime view of the library...and that tower was the easiest way to know which way to go on campus!

The Hopkins Center for the Arts is across the street from the campus, and next to the Hanover Inn, where we had some sessions.  I guess it was designed by the same guy who did the Lincoln Center in NYC.

The Tuck School of Business was in the same part of campus where we spent our group sessions.  Love the columns.

This is the view walking from the large group sessions back toward the center of campus.  My dorm is to the left and the library is up ahead (though this is from a different side than my previous shots).

Carpenter Hall was adjacent to the library and built in 1929, according to the date above the doors.  This was on the way to where my small group sessions were.

Dr. Seuss was a famous alum, and the School of Medicine is named with his real last name.  Funny.

The pretty church on campus.  There was a very old but more modern looking chapel right down the road, too.

Dartmouth Hall is the oldest building on campus, though it has burned down twice.  The foundation is intact, so I guess that counts.  Very stately, though!
So...back to the conference itself.  It was really amazing.  The speakers were outstanding, the sessions all very interesting, and the people I met were great.  The days were long, however.  Breakfast was at 7am, the first session started by 7:45 or 8am, and we usually went until at least 5pm and usually later.  We generally had an hour and a half for lunch, and usually about four 15 or 30 minute breaks, but most of that time was spent walking between buildings and getting a snack.  It was a lot of information and with very little true down time, that is what made it so exhausting in the end.  I found it funny that by the end of the third day, you could see a shift in people's mood.  "Decompress" became a major buzzword as people craved alone time and needed a break from constantly talking to people.  But the information was great, and the faculty inspiring.  It really gave me a better sense of how this industry works and more insight into how to improve our programs.  Most likely none of the ideas will fly long-term, but it was nice to get a good storyline going in my head about how things should work.  And with any luck, maybe some of my thoughts will inspire something somewhere along the line.  Seeing so many passionate people in one place was inspiring.  A good chunk of us were new, too, so it was good to be in the same boat as a lot of people.

After the clambake the first night, there was a barbeque across from my dorm the second night.  They also had a major dance party (and I swear 75% of the people there were on the dance floor!), and that was the only time I drank, despite alcohol being accessible every night.  I felt fine at the time, but I woke up the next morning feeling rather dehydrated and tired, so I swore to myself to stick to water for the rest of the time.  I only drank that night to make myself be social, as I was afraid of falling back on my introverted tendencies, and it was important to mingle and make connections.  The next night there was a (very wet) reception put on by Dartmouth, and then I went to dinner in town with a few people I'd made friends with the previous couple days.  It was such a fun evening, but I had to head back early to get some sleep.  One nice guy in the group walked me back to the dorm, and then he walked back to make his karaoke slot! 

The final night we got out pretty early, and my little group was going down to the boathouse along the Connecticut River.  The guys rented kayaks and each of us girls got a stand-up paddleboard.  It's basically like standing on a large surfboard and using a long paddle to move through the water.  I'd never done it before and was a little worried about totally sucking at it, but in the end it was really fun!  We went quite a ways down the river and then had to paddle back against the current.  It wasn't easy, but I really liked it!  I can't imagine doing it anywhere with waves, but I would certainly do it again!
Looking down the river...very pretty!
After that we cleaned up and went to another bar in town for dinner.  Again I left a bit early (but not too early), but I was sad to leave some of the fun behind since that was our last "fun" event. 

As a whole, I really enjoyed the people I met.  They were so all so different but equally fun and interesting.  Heck, three of the people I chatted with a lot were over 60!  One was a data guy, so we had that in common.  The other two were older ladies, one of whom I met on the way to breakfast the first morning, as she wasn't sure where the dining hall was.  We met up with her friend there, and I ended up eating breakfast with them each morning.  They were very interesting and so nice!  I ended up making a couple Facebook-worthy friends (including a mom of a six-month-old who left a little early because her baby was having a tough time), and a handful of LinkedIn-level connections.  I really appreciated the chance to get to know some wonderful people in the same industry.

Let's see....what else...well, here's a picture of the view from my room...
Hard to see, but to the right of that building is a cemetery.  A little strange, but clearly it's very old.
...and the view from the porch outside the building where I had my smaller group sessions...
It was the most modern looking building on campus, and this area was very pleasant to spend a break in.  The church is to the left and the back (also modern-looking) end of the library complex is to the right.
It was a little hectic after the last session, having to run and get lunch and then move out of the dorms.  I wanted to take a few minutes to walk around the town and find the kids a little souvenir (no luck, though I did get myself a cheap Dartmouth magnet), so I drove my rental car there and found a cheap parking garage.  After that walk I hopped in the car and started my longer path home.  I wanted to break up the ride with a couple stops since I knew the drive would be tough, but after a late start and running into a ton of slow traffic through the small towns on the back roads, I found myself a bit short on time.  Still, I stopped at this fun piece of art in Rutland, VT...
On the right is a parking meter, and on the left is a dog struggling against an invisible leash.  Cute.
I tried to find another odd piece of art nearby, but didn't have any luck on that one.  I did another stop in Saratoga Springs, but not for as long as I wanted since I was so behind schedule.  I did get the kids a couple treats from a candy store there, though.  At long last I made it to Syracuse, where I met my college roommate Mary (appropriate after the week I had, huh?) for a late dinner.  I could have chatted with her all night, but I was exhausted and had to head home.  I finally made it home just before midnight.  I was so tired but so thankful for the amazing week I had.

I will do another post soon about a few other random thoughts and the state things at home.  This is enough for one post, I think.  My bed is calling me...again.

Friday, July 17, 2015

News & Notes, Too Much to Do Edition

This week has been crazy, and it's about to get crazier.  Maybe the craziness hasn't been as much a physical thing as a mental thing.  My brain has been a whirlwind of information all week.  Work has been busy--lots of stuff that needs to be done in a short period of time, and both of my closest co-workers are on vacation--my boss all week and my data partner yesterday and today--so I've been focused on getting that work done and keeping my sanity amidst the very tedious process I have to go through.  On the home front, much of my mental energy has been used to prepare for next week's conference trip.  I'm so used to Craig being gone for a few days and life not being too disrupted, that the amount of prep I need to do for this trip to keep things running smoothly (or at least smoothly at a level I'd like them to maintain) is a challenge. 

I don't want to sound like a crazy, obsessive mom.  I know that Craig can take care of the kids just fine.  He's a good, loving father and his biggest goal in life is to make them happy.  While I certainly want them to be happy, too, I also strive to maintain a reasonably functional household.  That's why, when we were outside the other night, Craig was playing with the kids and I was trying to clean up the yard so it wasn't a jungle by the time I get back.  I know where my priorities should lie, but the reality is that stuff has to get done at some point.  And it just so happens that a lot of the things I have to do are essential to making us look like functional, considerate human beings.  Yard work, dishes, cooking, and house cleaning are all on that list, and if they don't get done, eventually we have a problem.  My concern, I guess, is that Craig is used to being alone with the kids for an evening, or maybe a weekend.  This is a full five days.  While you can let the chores slide for a weekend, you really can't for a five-day span.  If they forget their vitamins for one day, no biggie...but five becomes a concern.  It's OK to bend the rules once in a while, and for a weekend it seems harmless, but if you make exceptions all week you end up with kids that think that's the norm, and that's where things get hairy.  It's not that I think Craig will let them run amok, but I know as well as anyone that it's a challenge to corral two little boys alone, and I think his relative inexperience with being alone with them for this long could throw them a little off-kilter.  In the end I know things will be fine, but I just don't want to have a lot of clean-up work to do when I get home (literally or figuratively).

I've been making lists all week--packing lists, to do lists, and an instruction list for Craig that covers topics like Carter's medicines, Jacob's lunches, and things to eat for dinner.  I feel better with that stuff down on paper, but we're getting down to the end and I actually have to act upon a lot of it soon.  I need to demonstrate a couple techniques for Craig and brown up some ground beef that they can reheat for tacos next week.  I need to actually start making packing decisions, decide what laundry needs to be done, and put things into the suitcase that's been sitting in my room most of the week.  I finally did some grocery shopping for snacks to take along, but I still need to gather everything out of my car (which is spending the week getting a body defect fixed) and prepare a bin of stuff that will be coming with me in the rental car.  The car pick up-drop off on Saturday is going to be hectic because we have baseball in the morning and naptime after lunch.  Part of me doesn't want to touch any of the packing until Saturday because it's easier by then for me to know what is OK to pack.  But if I end up tired that day or all of the other stuff takes up more time than anticipated, I'm screwed.  I need to be up and out at the crack of dawn Sunday, so that means I really shouldn't stay up late either!  Yeah, so lots of stuff to think about.

Oh, and if that isn't enough, yesterday I started getting a cold.  I thought my sniffles and sneezes were allergies from the previous night's yard work, but usually it would get better over the course of a day and it didn't.  I was also extra tired.  So, on my way to Jacob's baseball game I picked up some zinc tablets that shorten the duration of a cold.  I also took some extra vitamin C last night and this morning.  I was pleasantly surprised when I woke up because usually day two of a cold is awful and I felt decent.  I had a bit of a headache that Tylenol took care of, I'm still a little sniffly but nothing like yesterday, and I'm still just tired with a bit of a fuzzy head.  Functional, but definitely craving rest.  I just want to make sure it doesn't get any worse than this because of my trip!  Luckily, I finished the one urgent work thing I had before lunch and I'm going to finish up one more project after lunch and then leave.  Since everyone else is off and I don't have anything else going on, there's no sense being here when I can go home, rest, and pack.  I'll be "working" half the weekend anyway!  And yes, my boss said it was fine.

In other news, we had a little bit of a scare this week.  On Sunday on our way out of church, Craig noticed a rather large bump on Carter's head.  It didn't really strike us as a goose egg, though we really didn't have any other possible explanations.  It was pretty hard, and maybe a little smaller in circumference than the tip of my pinky.  It didn't really seem to bother him, but it was concerning.  It did not help my state of mind that earlier in the week I'd read a couple solicitation letters at work fundraising for a children's cancer center.  They both detailed the moments the parents found their kids' tumors.  Ugh.  We monitored it closely all week, and it does appear to be considerably smaller now.  Our guess is that it was a nasty mosquito bite.  We'll keep an eye on it, though.

I can't remember if I mentioned this or not, but Craig and Jacob were actually in Canada from Sunday night to Tuesday afternoon for a lacrosse camp.  Jacob did a couple days of camp and Craig did some work for his upcoming stint as the social media guy for the Canadian national team at the World Indoor Lacrosse Championships.  It's the same tournament he went to Prague for four years ago.  Which, if you recall, left me at home alone with Jacob for 10 days.  So, before you start feeling pity on him for next week's solo parenting, also keep in mind that he will be in Syracuse (woohoo) for 10 days in September.  He clearly owes me this one, no? ;-)  Jacob enjoyed camp because it was a box lacrosse camp (as opposed to the field ones down here), and I guess he held his own with the Canadian kids, some of whom have been playing organized lacrosse far longer than him.  They even got to stay at a Knighthawk's house, so that was exciting, too.  Carter and I kept ourselves busy while they were gone, but he asked about them all the time!

Jacob's last baseball game is Saturday, and his picnic is next Saturday.  It's so hard to believe our third year of baseball is done.  He's still undecided about next year.  I'd love to see him continue to play, but it's clear that his passion is with lacrosse right now.  He's still good at baseball and is making progress with fielding, but the fact that he's too busy playing lacrosse to ask Craig to take him to the diamond has slowed the rapid progress we're used to seeing.  If nothing else, we might only have one summer off before Carter hits the first t-ball age group!  Not sure I want him starting at four, but if he's decent at it it may not be a bad idea.  He loves baseball best right now, though he's not nearly as obsessed as Jacob was at this age.  And that is not a bad thing.  Anyway, we had a pretty good team this year--some good kids and some solid improvement over the course of the year.  If we don't play next year, the biggest bummer might be losing our coach for the last three years.  He's been great, and his wife has become a good friend of mine, despite being quite a bit older than me.

But really, everything this week is really revolving around my trip.  It's one of those situations where it breaks my heart to leave my family behind, but I know it's important--both for my career and for my own personal sanity.  I can definitely use a break from the routine and the disciplining and the screaming, but when so much of your identity is rooted in your kids' existence, it's very strange to be apart from them for so long.  I'm excited for the adventure and a little throwback to my college days, but it's still going to be a little surreal.  Of course, if I can survive this, surely a three-day romantic getaway is doable, right? :)

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Savoring Summer

We always get to this point in the summer where I panic a little bit about whether or not we're really going to make the most of summer.  Things get busy, the schedule fills up, and suddenly our summer rules us.  We don't get to do the fun things we want to, and suddenly it's over.  This year the weather has been challenging.  It hasn't stayed warm and sunny for long enough to get the pool warm, and outside events have always been hit or miss.  So now that we've gotten a few nice days, we've been doing what we can!

We've been able to get in the pool a lot since last weekend, which has been nice.  I've only been in a few times, but the boys have been loving it!  We blew up a boat we bought for Jacob when we first got our pool, and let Carter try it out.  He's weird about baths so we were worried about the pool, but he's been great!  He likes to race his brother and kick his legs in his boat.  Jacob's specialty is squirting people with the various squirt gun-type devices around the pool.  He still wears a floaty, but hopefully we'll figure out ways to get him closer to swimming on his own. 
Happy boys in the pool!
We had a big plan all week to take the boys to the drive-in to see Minions, and luckily, the weather cooperated.  We headed out around dinner time and made a pit stop at Jacob's favorite gluten-free restaurant for pizza and some cookies to go.  It's always so nice going there and not worrying about cross-contamination or finding something he likes on the menu.  We continued on south to the Silver Lake Twin Drive-In, down in Perry, which is beyond my beloved Geneseo.  It's our favorite drive-in, but it's nearly an hour from home and isn't always the most convenient.  We hadn't been there in years, mostly because drive-ins equal late nights and late nights equal crazy kids.  We hadn't attempted it since Jacob was maybe three or four, but we figured this movie was a good opportunity to try again.  We've been watching a lot of Despicable Me (on the DVR) and Despicable Me 2 (rented a couple times), so this was a perfect fit.

We opted to go all the way to Perry because I was nervous it might sell out at the closer drive-in and I didn't want to have to get there super early and then have to kill time with two kids.  Silver Lake was preferable because they have lots of ways to kill time--mini golf, arcade, bounce houses, and food!  Nowadays the food isn't really as much of an option, though I think we could still make the ice cream work!  Mini golf was jammed, but we tried it out anyway!
Ready to play!
The course is fun and western themed.  The golf was a little on the difficult side.  Carter was all over the place, the waiting at each hole was challenging, and just corralling two kids amidst all the people was challenging.  We still managed to have some fun, though!
Hard to see, but there's water flowing out of the tower into the barrel.  Cute stuff :)

I managed to catch Carter not moving for a couple seconds!

They had the stocks on the course, and what kind of parent would I be if I didn't take a picture of my child in it?

We used one of our periods of waiting for the group ahead of us to finish to take a picture on a bridge...with mixed success!

It's such a pretty course!  At least I spared you my pictures of flowers along the way!
When we were done, we started making our way back to the car.  Along the way Carter stopped by to visit this horse statue that he liked...

Back at the car, we settled in for the movie.  Carter got changed into his PJs and the snacks came out.  Jacob took over the back seat and Carter decided to stay up front with us. 
Gorgeous night!

Everyone is settled in!
Carter wanted to sit on Daddy's lap, which was interesting since he managed to honk the horn and turn on some lights before the movie even started, but he did settle in...

Eventually he switched to my lap since he was making Craig warm, and we all enjoyed the movie.  It was interesting, for sure, since the minions don't speak English, exactly, and the whole movie was about them, but it was cute and tied back into the other movies at the end.  It was a fun night, for sure, but a late one!  We left a little before 11pm, and while Jacob fell asleep pretty quickly, it took Carter a little longer.  We got home just before midnight and the boys went right down.  I took a little longer...which wouldn't have mattered if Jacob wasn't up at 6:30am with a stomachache.  I sat up with him for a half hour, and he seemed to be doing better after that.  I never did go back to sleep, but I did go back to bed!  We had a slow morning before getting ourselves off to Jacob's baseball game at noon, particularly since Jacob seemed to have a recurrence of his nausea from earlier in the morning right before we left. 

Carter was a little loopy while we were there, but the weather was gorgeous again and Jacob got a game ball :)
Love that smile!

He's getting to be such a big boy!
We came home for Carter's nap (he got a head start on the way home) and the rest of us had some lunch and some pool time.  It was glorious to lay in the sun on a raft and rest a little.  Of course, right after that I got out and cleared out some branches from our way-back yard, neatened up that area with the weed whacker, trimmed some more branches, and hacked a bush all the way down to a stump with a couple spots of new growth.  I'm hoping it will make a comeback in a more controlled form, but if not, I will gladly replace it next year.  It just needed to go because it had overgrown its spot, and because it was so low to the ground, it had lots of grass and other weeds growing under it that I could never clear out.  The stump isn't ideal, but it's a starting point for a better bush.  We had a quiet night with a little more yard work for me and some sports for the boys.  Not a bad couple days! 

Tomorrow Craig and Jacob are heading up to Canada for a couple days for some lacrosse stuff.  Next week at this time I'll be packing up my final items for my work conference trip.  The weekend after that is full of parties, and before you know it, July will be over!  Yikes!  Well, at least we got one more good summer weekend in, right?

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Countdown is on...

In just about 10 days, I will be hopping in a rental car and driving over six hours away for a five-day work conference.  It's a really important conference for me to learn more about my new industry and my employer is making a considerable investment in my career by sending me there.  It's a very expensive conference, and they'll be paying for my transportation and some meals, too.  It's a pretty big deal, but by all accounts this is THE conference to attend for people in this industry, and I've heard enough stories from other people to know it's worth the trip.  It sounds great, though possibly a little overwhelming.  It's basically five full days of lectures and seminars, with early mornings and minimal breaks.  This isn't quite summer camp, after all.  It'll definitely be information overload, but as a whole I'm looking forward to it.

It's been on my mind a lot over the past week or so, because things at work have been very slow (books close Friday and we can't do much until Monday--and then all hell breaks loose, of course).  I've been killing time doing every little bit of research I can for the trip.  I printed out powerpoints, a campus map (it's at an Ivy League school!), the schedule, and my packing list.  I mapped out my route and searched for roadside oddities to see along the way.  I've looked into off-campus food options for my dinners.  And, like the true introvert I am, I've considered the odds of not making friends with anyone.  On one hand, I won't mind the alone time.  But on the other, I really should be networking and hopefully finding a group to hang with. 

I suppose I keep flashing back to one of the saddest nights of my life (and this shows you I am one blessed chica), a lonely night in a dark dorm room at Geneseo during my orientation.  My roommate never came to stay in the room (I know she was there because I met her later), and I had a hard time finding any ready-made friends for the two-day event.  I did hang out with a couple girls earlier that night, but there was little that seemed more isolating than going back to my dorm room solo.  Undecorated dorm rooms are so sad, and that night I panicked a little bit (OK, a lot) about going away to school.  I have never had an easy time making friends (my eventual college roommate being the major exception--that was instant and awesome), so even back then I worried about finding good friends, making a connection, and fitting in.  I'm less worried about it this time around, but the similarities of this trip--summer, college dorm, lots of new people in a new place--definitely takes me back.  Like I said, I won't mind the solo time if it happens, but it seems like the experience will be a heck of a lot more fun if I meet fun people.

I am well aware that I am a very different person now than I was then.  I am 19 years older, a married woman with two kids, a very good job, and a house.  I'm clearly more comfortable with myself and I assume this experience will be far less high schoolish than an orientation that took place a week after my actual high school graduation.  Still, that feeling of loneliness is still very vivid in my mind, and it will sting a bit if everyone else groups up and I find myself on the outside.

Social fears aside, it's exciting to think about venturing off for five days on my own.  This is a rare opportunity for me, and I'm looking forward to seeing new things and being free of the usual challenges of daily life.  No worrying about gluten, no screaming at kids, no grocery shopping or daycare drama, no cooking dinner or washing dishes.  I almost never get a break from that stuff, so this is a bit of a treat.  Of course, five days away from Craig and the kids is a little intimidating.  I'm used to Craig not being around because he travels so much for work, but being away from the kids is going to be hard.  I can tell I need a break, because everything gets on my nerves lately and I'm so tired of yelling.  But I will miss them, no doubt.  Carter's hugs and Jacob's smiles are irreplaceable.  I worry about how Carter will do without me around, especially at bedtime, and I wonder if he will be a serious Daddy's boy by the time I get back.  I wonder how cooking-impaired Craig will keep the kids nourished, particularly since eating out is so limited by Jacob's Celiac disease.  I wonder what the house might look like upon my return, or how many things might slip through the cracks while I'm gone.  Keeping this house running isn't easy, and doing it alone is even harder.

I need to do this, and I really want to, but the fear of letting go is intense.  I'm really excited to learn new things and venture out into the world, but my heart will still be here.  I haven't had much practice at that setup, and I suppose it's time.  After all, I dream about Craig and I traveling together without the kids, but we still haven't had the guts to do it for more than a night.  This will be a good baby step, since being gone is new for me and I still have the comfort of one parent still being here.  It's exciting and overwhelming at the same time, and I'm not sure how it will go...but there's no time like the present, right?   

Monday, July 6, 2015

Fabulous Fourth!

What a lovely weekend we had.  Of course it wasn't without its moments, which happens with two active boys, but the big stuff went well and it was a very good 3+ day weekend.  Which means that going back to work today was pretty stinkin' hard.  Sigh.  I don't know if I just got spoiled when I was off work for almost three months, or if it's just hard because my job still isn't super busy (and this week will be exceptionally slow), but weekends have been extra sweet and Mondays extra tough ever since I have been back to work.  I think I'm just exceptionally tired and work weeks signify more tiredness.  Maybe someday I'll learn to go to bed earlier.

Anyway, having a full three-day weekend to look forward to after our half day off Thursday for the daycare tours was really nice.  I was determined to check a few summer bucket list things off this weekend, and Friday morning I somehow motivated myself to get the kids and myself ready to go to the playground while Craig worked on Friday morning.  Jacob rode his bike (still not going outstandingly well, but I can't tell if his bike is crappy, or the training wheels are making it hard, or if he's just not destined to be a bike rider), and Carter rode in the stroller.  I was tempted to do the wagon, but as much as Carter likes it, he seems to tire of it quickly sometimes and I knew the stroller would probably be more comfortable for both of us.  We took the 15 minute walk/ride around the corner, and Carter went right to the playground while Jacob played some basketball. 

Carter had a lot of fun on the playground, climbing and walking around by himself on the equipment and sliding down the slide a few times.  He even climbed the "rock" stairs by himself once I got him started, and I helped him across a very challenging obstacle that you'll see in a different picture below.  But how cute is he after climbing a ladder all by himself?

Eventually Jacob joined us and I helped him up to the zip line...
Jacob liked this a lot, but it's getting hard to lift a 52-pound kid up there!  Also...you can see in the background of this picture the "rocks" Carter climbed.

Jacob also climbed his way across the obstacle I helped Carter on...and he posed for good measure...
Hard to see, but they were u-shaped bars, and I held one of Carter's hands while he stepped on them one by one.  He did great.  Jacob did pretty well, too, on his own.
 Carter wanted to climb this one, too...but I drew the line!

We moved on to a set of swings, where I tried to teach Jacob how to swing properly.  He's not quite there yet, though...so I guess that is in the same category as bike riding!  Carter enjoyed a swing ride himself, and then we moved on to the bigger basketball court, where both boys attempted to play together.  It didn't go particularly well, but it was getting close to lunch time anyway so we headed home when things got too crazy.  Still, it was a fun little diversion for our morning. 

Craig came home mid-afternoon, and after dinner we headed out for ice cream!  We have to pick places with soft serve out of a machine, since scooped ice cream probably has traces of gluten from scoops touching cones and scooping other gluten-containing ice creams.  I'll take the small risk of letting Jacob spice his up with sprinkles, just to let him feel normal.  Both boys enjoyed their ice cream, with Carter enjoying the cone part of his more than the ice cream itself!


Saturday was a very low key morning.  Both boys were up early and yet Craig and I managed to hang out (mostly) dozing in bed until mid-morning.  I'm not sure anyone got dressed until at least 11am.  Sometimes you need mornings like that!  I think we were simply saving our energy for a busy end of the day!  Carter napped on schedule and I tried to nap, too, which didn't go particularly well because I woke up feeling crappier than I did before.  That's what I get for taking the lazy route, I guess.  Jacob and Craig played some lacrosse outside, and once Carter woke up, it was all systems go! 

First we went to McDonald's for dinner.  I know that seems like a depressing dinner on the 4th of July, but we found out they have talking Minions in Happy Meals right now and the boys LOVE them.  After dinner we drove just down the road to our local mini golf place.  We had some passes left over from another visit and Carter was free, so we had a nice free round of golf, Carter's first!  We took Jacob around the same age so I knew pretty much what to expect!
Carter checking out the alligator and Jacob looking ready to go!
Carter did a lot of the same stuff Jacob did--picking up the ball and putting it right by the hole.  He'll get it eventually!  Jacob still makes up his own rules sometimes (lots of "practice shots"!), but he actually did pretty well!  He did really well with his putts a couple feet out from the hole.  I was impressed, and he only finished a few shots behind us!  Craig and I battled back and forth the whole match, and I only had two holes where I had problems...but in the end they cost me the game!  I lost by one stroke!  Oh, well.  We had fun!  Here are a few shots...
I think this was on the first hole and Carter was figuring out where his ball went!

Jacob lining up a putt while Carter waited near the hole

Carter is pointing to the giraffe on the course, which we pass by in the car all the time!
After golf, we headed into the arcade.  We had some tokens to use that I think came from a birthday party Jacob went to a couple years ago.  We had fun and managed to rack up over 90 tickets, which was enough to get Carter a toy truck and Jacob a mini squirt gun, plus a couple pieces of candy.  Not too shabby! 

Among the leftover tokens was a larger one that we figured was for the batting cage, so Jacob got his first taste of "real" pitching!  He seemed to get a bonus on his 30 pitches (60?  They just kept coming!) and he only made contact with about three of them.  The bat was a little heavy and he's used to easy pitches from his coaches, so it was a challenge.  Even when he faces pitches from a pitcher they'll probably be considerably slower than the "slow" machine here.  He was a trooper, though, and didn't get down on himself at all, which was good to see!

After that, we sat in the car and debated whether we were going to go home or tack one more activity on to the evening.  If you look back in this blog (as I just did), you will see a major lack of proper 4th of July activities over the years.  We've hosted a couple parties and gone to a couple more, and I was surprised to see that we did the mini golf thing on the 4th when Jacob was three (click here for cute pictures!).  However, the refrain in each of those posts is that we hadn't done real fireworks on the 4th since the year before Jacob was born!  And every year it bugged me, since I have great memories of going to them as a kid, battling sandflies by the river, begging for a glowing necklace, and hiding from the booms in the car!  I know, sounds great, right?  But really, I loved the family picnics in the afternoon and spending the evening staking out our viewing spot, laying out on a blanket, eating cherries and candy and drinking pop, and waiting for the show to start.  It simply *was* the 4th of July for me.  And we hadn't done it as a family since we had a family of our own.  It's too much of a hassle to go downtown, and for a few years our town didn't do a display.

I was determined that this year was going to be different.  Carter really seemed to like the fireworks at the baseball game a few weeks ago, the town was doing a display, and we decided to stick close to home and have a nice, quiet weekend with no travel.  Without other activities to spice up the weekend, I really wanted to try.  Still, right up to when we got in the car after golf I got a little hesitation from the boys, but I insisted that we try it this year since it was a nice night.  If it was terrible, we didn't have to do it again, but I wanted to try once.  So off we went.

The event was on the grounds of the town hall, library, and courthouse.  It's a pretty big complex with a playground, brand new spray park, pickle ball courts, a large event pavilion, and lots of parking and green space.  We were encouraged to park at the high school and shuttle over. Some people parked at the Wegmans a little bit down the road and walked, but the shuttle seemed fine so we took that.  Carter loves buses so of course he was excited about the bus ride!  In fact, I think that may have beat out the fireworks for him!  The ride was quick and once we got there we wandered around a bit.  It was busy but not overwhelming.  The lines for the handful of food trucks and vendors were long, so we just walked a bit and ended up running into Jacob's baseball coach and his family.  We chatted with them, and eventually we all picked a spot in front of the library where the kids played while we waited for the 9:45 start time.  It was a nice night, though slightly cool by the time we settled in, but really pleasant.  Carter filled up on a few snacks, and we watched someone's rather impressive backyard fireworks display over the trees toward the lake.  Shortly before our show started we started noticing little lights in the sky, and we realized they were those floating lanterns.  It was so pretty!

Finally the fireworks started, and now I know where our tax dollars go!  What a great display it was!  Here are a few of my favorites (and have I mentioned how much I love my camera?)...



I was still a little worried about the shuttle ride back, but we got on a bus right away.  We did have to stand as we were some of the last on, which is a little harrowing with two kids to hang on to, but it was only a short trip and we did pretty well.  The kids fell asleep on the 10 minute ride home and went down easily when we got there.  What a great night!

Yesterday was a pretty low-key recovery day.  After the late night and Carter sleeping until 9am, we opted to stay home from church (sometimes the battle offsets the good) and I spent my morning in the kitchen.  I trimmed up a big pack of chicken, portioned out five pounds of beef, made a batch of meatballs, and made banana oat chocolate treats with a couple overripe bananas.  After a late lunch, I put Carter down for a nap a little after 2pm and quickly headed out to BJs to buy much-needed diapers and a few other things.  I needed to stop at Walmart after that for a couple other things and made it home a little before 4 to the news that Carter had only fallen asleep about 15 minutes earlier.  I guess sleeping in left him too well-rested to nap! 

I ran out to the yard and did some trimming to work up a sweat before attempting to go into the pool.  Despite having it open earlier than usual, we haven't been able to go in it.  We've had pretty cool weather in general, so the pool was having a very hard time warming up.  It got warm a few days before Jacob's party, and Craig got to go in once then, but then it was very cool and rainy for a few days so it got cold again.  But after a few days of sunny, warmish weather over the weekend, I really wanted to get in one pool day!  Fortunately it was warm enough (a few cool spots, but fine once it got churned up) and the three of us enjoyed our time.  Eventually we went in to wake up Carter (guess his pool time will have to wait--maybe an evening this week!) and get dinner ready.  We grilled some burgers and then settled in for the Women's World Cup final match...and the U.S. Women won!  All of us in Rochester are extra proud since team star Abby Wambach is a hometown girl!  In fact, someone Craig and I worked with is her cousin, and she and her family even drove up to Montreal last week to see the semi-final game!  It was nice to see Abby finally get a World Cup after years of trying, and we couldn't help but smile watching everyone celebrate!  It was a great way to end a fun holiday weekend! 

Now it's back to the grind.  I have a quite boring week ahead of me because we're waiting for the books to close before we can start any real work.  I'm doing some planning for my conference in a couple weeks, and that's about all I have right now.  I booked a lunch for Thursday and I'm leaving early on Friday, hopefully to give us a head start on a trip to the drive-in (Carter's first and Jacob's first in memory) to see Minions!  We're planning on stopping at our favorite gluten-free pizza place on the way there, and depending on which drive-in we end up going to (waiting on schedules and all that), there might be more mini-golf or other fun on the horizon!  It's nice to have something to look forward to, but this past weekend might keep me smiling for a while.  For the first time in eight years, my fireworks quest was a success!!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Day Care Disaster, Part 2

The daycare situation hasn't really gotten considerably worse, but I suppose it's not really much better either.  So far a total of six staff are gone, and I know many of the others are looking elsewhere.  The boys' rooms are still pretty stable and the new director started this week (much needed fresh start, but jury is still out), so I guess we're okay for the moment.  But I still don't like knowing what the owner is capable of, nor do I like giving him my money.  I know he's not going to have our back if something else goes wrong, and I worry about what happens if too many other teachers or kids leave.  It seems like about half the kids have left so far, though a few new ones have started to offset that.  But luckily the boys have been fine.  Even still, my concerns with the ownership prompted me to take the afternoon off today so we could go on a full-family tour of a couple other centers.  Even if I don't feel the need to switch now, it's good to have the chance to see what's out there.

Visiting daycares is one of my least favorite things in the world.  It's overwhelming.  I mean, there are plenty of obvious things to think about--their hours, their policies, their location--and so many other intangibles to take into consideration.  You need to think about how you think your kids would fit in, if the teachers seem friendly and trustworthy, and even whether the other kids seem like friends you want your kid to have.  It's so much to take into consideration, and it's such a short period of time to absorb it all before making a monumental decision that could impact your kid's safety, happiness, education, and general well-being. 

This was our third time through this process.  We looked at a handful when I was pregnant with Jacob, and a few more (some for the second time) when Jacob's daycare closed when he was 18 months old.  The first time around we didn't even have a baby yet, so we had absolutely no clue what we were looking for or what questions to ask.  The second time around we knew Jacob and had to consider how his personality would work in each place, but at least we were better equipped to understand how things worked and what we needed to look out for.  This time around we have the added challenge of trying to find a good fit for two very different kids.  The amazing thing, though?  That in the end, each time, it all comes down to a gut instinct.  While we need to consider the logistical stuff, ultimately the biggest deciding factor is still how we're left feeling about the place.

Today's first tour was at Doodle Bugs, a chain that seems to get good reviews and is sort of the daycare equivalent of a mega church.  You know, it's got all the flashy bells and whistles, and is all shiny and new.  It might lack some of the warm fuzzy closeness of the smaller version, but you can't argue with its success in drawing people in.  I had myself all ready to hate the big, commercial feeling of it all, but....well...in the end I couldn't.  The place was pretty amazing.  We were first in Doodleville, a central space with a two story city-themed play area with Little Tikes cars, a slide, and room to run.  It was immaculate, and Carter loved it!  We went on a tour to the rooms, and Carter seemed intrigued but nervous in the room that would be his.  We went outside and both boys fell in love with the one outside space.  There was a basketball hoop and a mini soccer field that Jacob loved, and a tricycle track that Carter desperately wanted to explore.  We also checked out the toddler playground, which Carter loved as well, and then headed into the school age area, where Jacob saw two kids from our current daycare who had just started there.  There has been a constant stream of kids moving over there, so both kids would probably have a few friends right away.  It seemed to put Jacob at ease a bit more to see his friends (though the basketball hoop did a great job, too!), after being very reserved when we got there.  Everything about the place was first class, though.  The staff was very welcoming and the feel was good.  The play spaces were awesome and the assistant director is even gluten-free! The one thing that wasn't awesome?  The price.  It would be $30 more per week per kid.  On top of already feeling like we pay too much.  UGH.  It's more than our mortgage (with taxes) for just Carter.  Yuck.

We moved along to the other option, a smaller center just around the corner from our house.  We'd heard good things from a friend of ours, and some of the daycare families seemed to like it there, too, when they toured.  In addition to a couple families from our current daycare who picked there, one of the teachers that left is actually starting there Monday in the three-year-old room.  So it was nice to know that there were a few people around that the kids would know.  I'd also heard that it cost less and diapers and wipes were included.  However, I knew they possibly didn't have a spot for Jacob, and that was indeed the case.  Still, we walked through.  Worst case scenario we could have them at separate places for the summer or find Jacob a camp each week, so I figured we needed to give it a shot.  But in the end, it just didn't do it for any of us, kids included.  I suppose almost anywhere wouldn't look great compared to stop #1, but we just didn't get the warm fuzzies from it.  It just didn't seem as well organized, and while the staff was nice, they just didn't have that extra level of "polish" or something.  Their playground wasn't great, and there were a couple other little things that bugged me.  Picky as it sounds, I really like having direct withdrawal of tuition, and they didn't have that. 

I came home feeling defeated (and very tired!).  I guess for now we just need to stay where we are.  There are a couple other possibilities out there that I may look into, but for now perhaps fate is telling us to stay where we are.  There are a lot of reasons that bugs me, but it's not like we have a lot of options unless Craig gets a big bump in pay (because, clearly, I think I'm maxed out for a bit--and yes, I am making more than I was before, but no, I'm not willing to give up that big of a chunk of that extra security blanket just yet.).  So we will soldier on and see how it goes.  We can always reevaluate in the fall when Jacob goes back to school.  This probably isn't over, but I guess we're taking a time out for a bit.  Sigh.