Thursday, December 1, 2022

Before, During, and After

So once I got home from Binghamton, the goal was to make it through the short week and enjoy Thanksgiving to the fullest.  It was much harder than it should have been!  Three days doesn't seem like much, but I guess my brain was SO ready for a break that the week felt like an eternity!  Luckily we had a couple fun things on Tuesday to spice things up!  

During the afternoon, I was able to log into the live feed of my godson Mason's adoption finalization!  I was on a work meeting at the time so I was doing my best to keep an ear open on the other meeting while turning my camera off so they couldn't see my goofy faces and excessive smiling!  I didn't talk on the finalization one for fear of not hearing the other meeting, but it was so fun to be a part of it.  Mason's uncle was on the meeting as well, and both grandparents were in person.  It was cute to hear Mason talking in the background, and he had his baby dinosaurs (that I gave him!) with him.  I accidentally took a screen shot of the proceedings while I was trying to get my phone set up, and I'm glad I did because it was fun to capture the moment--everyone happened to be smiling at that moment, too!  I won't post it just in case there are privacy issues, but it was so great to finally get legal confirmation of what everyone knew was the right thing for over two years!  He was meant to be a part of that family, and now it's official.  And I am so honored that I was able to attend and especially to be a part of his life.  I'm just so happy for them all.

Tuesday night was Jacob's first varsity basketball scrimmage.  It was a series of five short games, but he ended up doing really well.  He had 13 points and should have had two more because he got called for a travel on a shot he made that definitely was not a travel--we watched the video repeatedly and we think there was just a hesitation (but no foot movement) that tricked the ref's eye.  It was great to see him out there and fit in at the varsity level just fine.

I ended up taking a half day Wednesday.  I was so beat that I headed to the basement couch with the DVD of one of my guilty-pleasure movies, Bed of Roses.  I just laid there, watched it, and relaxed, and it was definitely good for the soul!  Originally we were supposed to go to Buffalo that night for an annual (pre-COVID, at least) gathering to honor Craig's uncle who passed eight years ago, but that ended up not happening so we stayed home that night and went to Thanksgiving Eve church instead.  I spent part of the evening after that making a cookie cake for Craig.  His family wanted to sing to him on Thanksgiving in advance of his impending 50th birthday (since he has games every weekend, it'll be hard to do anything more), and somehow it turned into me making a cookie cake for him.  That was fine with me--luckily it's pretty easy.  I decorated it the next morning before we left.

Not my best work, but lettering never will be!

Thanksgiving was different this year with my parents being on vacation, but we had plenty of food and family to fill the day anyway.  I missed them, of course, but it was certainly the next best thing.  I wish I could say it was easier on the belly to just do one meal, but it was not!  We arrived in time for the Bills game and spent the afternoon snacking on charcuterie, fruit, and fried Buffalo chicken pierogies.  The game was close and very stressful, especially at the end--the Bills won on a last-second field goal--so that was exciting but definitely prompted the wine to come out!  We had a fabulous dinner with quite the crowd--Craig's parents, brother, his wife, their four kids, two significant others, our sister-in-law's parents, and her sister, her husband and their two kids.  Twenty people in total, stretching from the kitchen to the middle of the living room!  

In case you wondered what a table for 20 looks like!

I remarked to Craig's mom as we all settled in, "Remember when we all fit in the dining room?" and she chuckled.  Once upon a time, while it was tight, our core group ate in the dining room for a few years.  Nowadays it's almost always a crowd!  And I think there were three people that bowed out near the end, so it could have been even more.  So much food--two turkeys, two types of stuffing, potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, two types of biscuits, two types of cranberries, roasted veggies, corn, and many pies, plus the cookie cake.  It was insane, but all very good!  We sang "Happy Birthday" to Craig at the end.

Blurry, but you get the idea.

It took a while to digest, and admittedly after all the fun chatter all day, by about 8pm I was ready to simply collapse on the couch with my phone!  But eventually we got moving and arrived home around 10pm.  It was pretty much right to bed for everyone.

On Friday Craig had to go into work, and then to Canada later in the day and overnight.  I tried to work up the energy to undecorate from fall and try to get Christmas started.  It's always so hard because it's such a process.  Take down the fall stuff and pack that away.  Dust certain surfaces.  Move the toys to make a path to move the recliner, to then make room to move the big chair, which finally makes room for the tree.  I generally bring the tree up first, just to have something with lights on that can be festive while I'm working on the rest of the decorations.  Ornaments come later, but that's the beauty of a pre-lit tree!  I did add garland since I finally found (after two years) smaller gold garland that seemed like it would match the three strings I had from my grandma's house, and sure enough, it was almost a perfect match!  I also realized I bought another tree skirt last year for super cheap so we could enjoy the blue lights on our tree without it going all patriotic with the red tree skirt, so I put that down as well.  

I did manage to get up my little themed tree on Friday, too.  That one is pretty simple because I set aside the ornaments as I pack up the big tree the previous year.  All that are going into next year's theme get packed separately so it's pretty easy to just put up the tree (which used to seem like such a task, branch by branch, and seems so easy now), add some lights and garland, then pop the ornaments into place.  I think it's usually about 2-3 dozen.  Next year I finally get back into the theme that started it all--all angels, most of which are from my mom's annual gift to me.  Year 2 was all Peanuts ornaments, and Year 3 was sports.  This year I did all handmade or school-based ornaments.  It does not include fancy crafty handmade ones--admittedly my mom has made or bought a lot of those for me over the years--but rather ones I made as a kid, ones my kids have made over the years, or ones that originated from school (like the adorable gifts I got in Kindergarten and first grade from my teachers that included my school picture--a salt dough bear and a cute painted chalkboard--or the Oriental Trading-esque gingerbread man with Carter's head from 2nd grade).  There's a perler bead star I made, a salt crystal one we made at home as a science experiment a number of years back, some cinnamon applesauce ones from various sources, and even a couple that I think were just sweet homemade ones from a co-worker years ago as a random gift.  One of my sentimental favorites is from when my grandma did a craft day for the cousins and we made ornaments with her supplies.  Mine uses a tiny wooden crate, a little red cup filled with a sprig of fake evergreen and a couple berry picks, accented with some red tinsel ribbon and a lace flower on the outside of the crate.  That day was so much fun and that ornament makes me smile.  The decor is a good mix of me and the kids, and I did this theme--and to some degree all of the themes--because it made it easier to include every single ornament, including ones that might not make the cut on the main tree during normal years.  I love that little tree because I'm convinced it was my Charlie Brown Christmas tree miracle.  You know how the sad tree at the end of Charlie Brown Christmas turns into a beautiful tree?  I got that tree for about $20 in 2000, thinking it would be a scrawny mess compared to the tree I grew up with.  It looked just good enough in the store but I knew it would be a downgrade.  I got it just so I could have a tree in my first apartment.  I added white lights, red bows, and dollar store silver beaded garland, and it was perfect.  It turns out it's of higher quality than trees quadruple its cost nowadays--I've never seen a tree or deal like that since and sometimes wonder if it's cheapness was a Christmas miracle.  It was my tree for seven years after that before getting replaced with our previous pre-lit tree.  The top is maybe a little skinnier than would be ideal, but it has continued to fulfill its destiny as my theme tree!

Saturday was very slow going to get the rest of the decorations up.  I knew I needed to get in a workout that morning, which I did, but that meant I didn't start on decorations until after a late-ish lunch.  I worked through each bin slowly, trying to place the obvious stuff (stockings, ornaments for the ficus tree, lighted wreath and stair garland, our Peanuts and Playmobil setups) and setting the rest on the dining room table to be distributed as I started filling in blanks around the house.  I crapped out somewhere in the middle, feeling uninspired and tired, like nothing worked together.  We grabbed some takeout for dinner and over the course of the evening I started working through the rest.  I changed some things around from my usual setup, and I'm happy with everything except the mantel, but that's probably fine too...though if I see anything while shopping, I'll keep it in mind.  I love my little display of nativity scenes on a dining room shelf, and the glass trees I got last year work well on my buffet. 

L to R - Peanuts nativity ornaments, the ceramic one I painted last year, a Precious Moments one (in the front) that's like a tea set (it used to be my mom's), my grandma's nativity, a plate we received as a wedding gift, and a little Peanuts nativity that plays music.

The two shorter white trees are sparkly glass and used to be my grandma's.  The rest are Target.  But it works so well as a group!

By the end of Saturday, the only thing that wasn't done was the big tree.  That was my task for Sunday, and once again it took a while to get started, but I worked through it over the afternoon and evening before finishing up--hundreds of ornaments later.  I'm relieved to have everything done except my window clings, and now I can enjoy it for a month and a half!

Monday was a rough re-entry after the holiday.  I was extra tired and had a headache most of the day, and it was made worse by having to go into the office.  I felt just off enough that by the end of the day I was almost convinced I had been exposed to COVID because my symptoms seemed so similar to how I felt earlier in the year when I was exposed but never officially caught it.  But I woke up feeling much better on Tuesday.  Working from home probably helped.  It's amazing how much easier those days feel now.

On Tuesday night, Jacob had his first official varsity game.  It was a little emotional seeing him run out there for warmups getting cheered on by classmates and parents--the culmination of a lot of hard work.  It brought back memories of my time watching my cousins and brother play varsity more than 30 years ago.  We spent almost every Tuesday and Friday night at games (at least until I started skipping to watch hockey), and now it's my own kid out there.  I wish I had more perspective on how these games compare to those games, but it's pretty awesome and mind-blowing.  I'm excited for the season and hoping he gets a fair shot.  The first game was quite a back-and-forth affair.  Jacob played for a good portion of the second quarter but unfortunately missed both his shots and never got back in.  The coach didn't really manage his bench very well and never subbed anyone in the second half, which led to a bunch of tired players and a cold bench that wasn't ready to go into such a high tempo game.  It was a bummer, especially because they only lost by three.  It would have been nice to get someone out there that can hit some threes (ahem), but hopefully the trust will come.  Jacob's old coach from the spring, whose son also plays on this team, used to be an assistant coach but wasn't asked back this year.  I think he and Craig might be keeping each other sane, because they can commiserate about what the coach is missing and how Jacob might be helpful to the team.  Back at it Thursday.

Who is that big kid?

And now it's officially December and the real countdown to Christmas begins.  With an early Thanksgiving it feels like we had a bonus week before the "real deal" - starting our Advent Calendars and the rest of the full-on Christmas sprint.  I will regret not doing more during this bonus week, I'm sure.  I should have probably bought more gifts and done more research, but alas, I'm lucky I got done what I got done.  I'm not sure what's filled up the week so much but I know I've felt busy and tired by the end of the night!  As it was yesterday morning I hurriedly changed over my car CDs to my Christmas ones right before I left the house because I kept forgetting to do it in the evenings.  I didn't want to let much more time pass because it's hard enough to get a couple full rounds of my Christmas music in as it is.  

I've realized that two nights of basketball games per week is going to take some adjusting--for the best possible reason, mind you--but that I need to try to be a bit more productive on non-game nights to compensate.  This is not the best time of year for that kind of adjustment, but we'll see how it goes.  I'm trying to stay positive and chip away at my list when I can, but I know that luxury will pass quickly and panic will set in soon enough.  Part of me is excited and part of me is worried that I feel a little numb this year.  Certain things aren't hitting me the same way they usually do and the jury's still out on why.  Maybe it's all part of the same kind of funk I had a couple weeks ago, or maybe the pandemic just wore me down.  I guess we'll see.  Maybe I just need a little snow, a few more Christmas songs, and a little downtime in front of the tree.   Let's hope anyway...

Sunday, November 27, 2022

The Escape

Last weekend was a long-awaited, very overdue trip to Binghamton.  I had been trying to get to Binghamton since...well, pretty much since last year at this time but definitely since the summer.  I think I last saw Heather and my godson Mason on Easter, just for a few minutes, but the summer got weirdly extra busy (more with work than anything--I just realized the other day I only took a handful of vacation days over the summer other than our vacation, just because the work never slowed down) and then fall got nuts with Jacob's basketball and some family things Heather had going on.  It's been harder to see each other since her mom moved from North Tonawanda to Binghamton, since we used to rely on holidays and other random weekends when we could overlap trips back home.  But once we compared fall schedules, we earmarked the weekend before Thanksgiving (and Heather's birthday) as our target.  And miraculously, it worked out!

Since the weather was not going to cooperate for a hike like I did last year on my way there, I opted for my indoor default, the Corning Museum of Glass.  I feel like I go there a lot, and there's always a lot of repeats, but it's always beautiful and there were a couple different displays I wanted to see.  I actually tried to set up a glassmaking experience as well, but none of the available ones were ones I really wanted to do.  I'd rather do a blown glass thing than fusing glass, so no dice on that.  I took a vacation day on Friday but had a mammogram mid-morning and that took about an hour and a half, so I got on the road a little later than would have been ideal, but it was fine.  

I ran into a little snow from Henrietta to just past Geneseo, but that was nothing compared to what was happening in Buffalo--around seven feet in the worst-hit areas, including where Craig's family lives and around the Bills' stadium, necessitating a move of their game to Detroit.  It was eight years to the day when "Snowvember" happened last time, bringing about the same amount of snow and moving the Bills' game that time as well.  It was crazy to see it happen again.  

I saw a crazy amount of stuff as usual but so as not to repeat pictures I tried to only capture new stuff or old things in a new way.  There are always things that stand out differently to me, even if I saw them before, depending on which captions I read or what my mood is.  This mirror was beautiful and ornate but a lot darker in person than it appears here.  It was like a dark steely gray, almost black.

This was in the modern section as well.  It was all sorts of clear glass.  The bottom of the platform had glasses and vases affixed upside-down to the bottom.

This was another new one.  Each of the discs represented a city on the map on the floor, and there was a timeline on the back wall.  I think the depth of the glass had to do with the duration of the city's growth (longer ones were founded a long time ago), and the width represents the size of the population--note that most are significantly wider at the top, representing more recent higher population levels.  It was pretty and different.  And look at that pattern on the one in the foreground.  

I loved this red one.  The glass was only red on the bottom layer of each bar.

I loved the colors on this one.

The detail on this cactus was amazing.

One of the things I wanted to see was an exhibit for season 3 of Blown Away, the glassblowing show on Netflix.  They had a piece from each designer, plus the winning piece.  

I loved this little gumball machine. 

I saw this one and realized I had missed a couple episodes.  I'm not sure how Netflix bypassed them, but I never saw the one with this two-foot-tall pushpin or the circus pieces next to it.  

This was the winning piece, with a discarded stuffed bunny and plants growing up through white tile.  It was interesting, but I visually liked the other designer's piece better.  This just felt a bit underwhelming when I saw the show, and even more so when I saw it in person.  Oh, well.

I always try to wander through each exhibit just in case they change things up, and on this day the trick glassware stood out to me.  I guess it was a thing centuries ago to make funky glassware that was hard to drink from.  The one on the left had a straw that had to be sucked on while holding it above your head.  The straw on the second one is the stag's mouth up top, but a hole must be covered for it to work.  The other three have narrow areas that create vacuums and other awkward rushes of liquid.  I thought it was humorous to imagine people trying to figure these out. 

There was a little scavenger hunt challenge to find these "Harvest Buddies", although I had no idea until someone mentioned it right after I took this picture.  Out of curiosity I asked what it meant, and I found out I could pick out a little prize at the end (I picked a button magnet).

I watched one glass show that was a little underwhelming.  It was short, with clear glass and an unsuccessful finish.  So I watched another one in a different hot shop I'm not sure I'd ever been in.  This one was a little better.  The piece was cool and turned out well.

As a side note, I was a little bummed because my favorite Blown Away artist had been there for an event the prior night and I wished she'd just randomly pop up in the hot shop that day.  No luck.

They did, however, have this adorable Thanksgiving dinner!  Each place setting had a pretty flower on the plate.  Everything including the candle flames was glass, and all the glassware was likely handmade, too.  But the food was awesome.

The olive plate was amazing, then mashed potatoes, gravy made out of frit (the tiny pieces that give glass color), some sort of cranberry jelly ring, plus a wine goblet.

Green beans made out of cane, a shrimp cocktail, and two pumpkins flanking the turkey.

Deviled eggs, pie, a full cornucopia, and rolls in the back.

But the best thing was the tree!  I hadn't seen the tree in years!  I think I saw it on a quick stop to visit the store on one of my trips years ago, so it was exciting to see it again and have a little more time to admire it.  

The balls that make it up are stunning.  All so different!  

Once I had worked my way through the whole museum, I had a little more time to kill so I watched yet another glassmaking session, and in this one they made a large cat-themed stemless wine glass.

This was on the screen, laying on the side still on the blowpipe as they were working on the ear.

I shopped for a while and there were so many good deals, but the stuff I really wanted was too expensive and I wasn't sure who to give the generic stuff with crazy deals to.  So back up to the lobby I went to spend some time with the Chihuly.

After that it was off to Binghamton.  It was only about an hour, a good chunk of which was in the dark.  I arrived around 6pm, just in time for some dinner.  Mason was pretty adorable right away, very sweet and chatty even though it was unlikely he remembered me.  Peter was off to rehearsal for this concert the following night, and Heather and I just hung out, caught up, and played with Mason.  The last time I saw him he was still pretty newly walking--where they just start running but aren't super stable--but now he was a legit little boy, with good coordination and using a lot of words!  He was so smart with his toys and just generally adorable.  When I brought out my phone to take some pictures, he kept trying to take a selfie, but then lunging at the camera when we said "cheese".  I have a lot of blurry pictures, but this one was cute!

Later he put on his Halloween costume for me, and I corralled him for a picture!

Such a cute little Bluey!

Heather and I had some good catch-up time after he went to bed.  It's always nice to pick right up where we left off and get up to date on all the things happening in our lives--although I think she gets a bit of a preview here--haha!  But it's nice to catch up on family stuff and work stuff and just chat, since I don't get a lot of girl time at home!

After a good night's sleep (I swear, I slept way better than I usually do away from home), Mason and I played again in the morning and I gave him his birthday present, a T-rex with five small dinosaurs that zip into its belly.  Heather had suggested it and I thought it was pretty cute.  He really liked it and delighted in putting them in and taking them out.  He was so cute naming off the colors of the dinosaurs, without even being prompted.

His little roar alone was worth every penny!  

Another slightly blurry selfie attempt, with a dinosaur cameo!

Mid-morning Heather and I escaped for a bit to go back to the ceramic painting place we went to last year.  She had another gift card and we had such a lovely time last year!  We both painted nativity scenes that time and decided we should keep it simpler this time.  Spoiler alert: I failed.  Heather painted a "Beach Please" mug, and I opted for a pedestal cup that I plan on using on my dresser.  

I was trying to do a pattern but it ended up taking forever to do the three coats!  It looks really pastel-y in the photo below, but the finished colors will be a deep blue, a grayish blue, a mauve, a teal, and a gray.  I was going for jewel tones, so we'll see how it turns out.  It was definitely imperfect, but hopefully it has character!  There are a ton of things I probably would have done differently, but it's a memory nonetheless!

We had lunch at home and took a rather successful selfie before it was naptime.

We're not entirely sure what happened, but a switch flipped right before nap and he had a hard time going down and wanted nothing to do with me when he woke up.  It was a vivid reminder that he is indeed a two-year-old, and they can be just randomly weird for no apparent reason.  Big kids do it too, I suppose, but they're easier to reason with or at least get an excuse out of!  I have moments where I miss my kids that little, but I think for the most part I'm relieved to be past that stage because I'm not sure I have that kind of energy anymore!  It was a bit of a bummer since we'd had fun up to that point, but I figured he'd come around eventually.  He woke up sort of off in general, like just wanting to be held but seeming randomly miserable or uncomfortable at different moments.  But we couldn't really find anything specific happening, so we just hoped it would fade.  I guess it's like how I feel when I take a nap that goes a bit too long (although his was maybe a bit too short), where I just feel out of it and maybe more tired than I was before when I wake up.  The way he said my name sounded a bit like "Jamie", and pretty much right through Sunday morning I heard a lot of "No, Jamie, no!" when I got near him.  Oh, well.  I kept trying but laid off quickly when it seemed I'd just make it worse.

After dinner we were able to leave him with his grammie (he did fine) and headed out to Peter's concert.  He plays violin in the Binghamton Community Orchestra--and yes, I look forward to Carter playing his viola so they can compare notes!  I worked the ticket table while Heather floated, met some lovely people (including a Geneseo alum), and was very impressed by the performances.  They had an amazing soprano in to sing, and the pieces they did were amazing from what I could hear.  I popped in for a couple minutes to grab video for Carter, but we could hear a lot of the music out in the hallway.  After the show we ended up going out to Friendly's for ice cream, which was extra exciting since our Friendly's all closed and I miss Vienna Mocha Chunk.  We went with Peter's dad, who also played in the orchestra, and Peter's brother (who I had never met prior to this).  We had a nice time, great ice cream, and a few laughs, and then it was back home and pretty quickly to bed.

We had church in the morning, and shortly before I finished getting ready, my phone started doing that obnoxious emergency alarm that it does for Amber Alerts.  It turned out to be a snow squall warning.  I looked out the window and saw nothing, then went downstairs and asked Heather and Peter if they had gotten one, but they had not.  Then we looked out the front window, and boom--totally white outside!  Thankfully it was short lived, maybe 10-15 minutes, but it did drop a solid coating of white on everything, including the roads.  I guess that's what Buffalo was getting, but for hours instead of minutes!

Mason seemed to gradually warm back up to me as we rode together in the car, thankfully.  Church was uneventful, but it brought back good memories of his baptism almost two years ago--my first official post-COVID escape!  After church we headed out to lunch.  I offered to take them out for lunch to celebrate Heather's birthday AND the impending finalization of Mason's adoption, which were both coming up on Tuesday.  The finalization had been a long time coming, with lots of delays, but of course when it finally got scheduled, it was on Heather's birthday of all days!  It was going to be an extra special day!  We ended up going to the Chinese buffet, which was right up my alley.  I love them but hadn't been to one in ages--though I promise I did encourage them to pick a place they like!  One funny moment was that there was a slight moment of panic because they didn't really have kid-friendly silverware, and I pulled out the portable spork I keep in my purse from a freebie giveaway I did through work last year.  I didn't use it for a year, but then Jacob used it for his microwave muffin breakfast in Albany, and then it was the perfect size for Mason!  Success!  I ate my fill and yet figured I'd inevitably end up starving right in the middle of 390 somewhere on my way home, but it was so good!  It reminded me I need to order lunch takeout one of these days--lunch deals are always so good and our local place isn't far away.  Anyway, we headed home to check out the Bills game, and it was a bit up and down so I probably didn't leave as quickly as I planned as I wanted them to have a good lead!  I took a chance and left when they were winning, but was unfortunately too far away from home to get radio reception so I had to check on my phone periodically.  They ended up winning, thank goodness.  

It was a bummer to leave once Mason was finally happy with me again, but I was eager to get home, get some things done, and prepare for a short work week.  I hit some rather significant snow for about 15 minutes on the way home, enough to make the roads a bit suspect, but it was a generally uneventful drive otherwise.  The skies were pretty, though.
This was after the snow, but you could see more swirling straight ahead.

The break from my kids was much needed.  They even cleaned up the house a bit!  I wish I could say I came home so refreshed that I made it through even a couple hours without yelling, but I can't.  They're in an obnoxious pattern right now of constantly battling over something--be it video games or space or whose stuff goes where.  But it was still a bit of a mental reset for me, which was helpful.  I did start feeling a bit cruddy by the end of that night, just a little extra annoying congestion.  It seems I maybe just got a hint of Jacob's recent cold, but at least it just stayed at some extra congestion and maybe a little tiredness and never seemed to fully bloom into anything.  Feels like we can't avoid germs at all right now.  Let's hope our immune systems rebuild themselves quickly after all of the stuff we've had this fall.

It was a pretty simple week and holiday, but I'll give it its own post anyway...

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Filling in the Blanks

Full disclosure: I had a whole other post somewhat similar to this one mostly ready to go over the weekend, but I just couldn't bring myself to finish it.  I was in a totally different mood than when I started it, and it just felt sort of oddly cobbled together and forced.  The original premise was that I had these random thankful moments for all the fun little memories I have crop up this time of year, and while that's still true, the blissful, thankful mood I was in has faded and I'm struggling right now.  

My anxiety is flaring again, for a ton of reasons.  Work. A messy house and no energy to fix it. A weekend alone with the kids where they battled constantly. Jacob had a mystery virus starting last Wednesday that had us worried for a bit. Election stuff and all the resulting bickering. My dissatisfaction with how politics and our society in general function as a whole these days. I passed the 10-year anniversary of the car accident I had while pregnant with Carter and spent the day oddly nervous history would repeat itself. I feel like bad health news is popping up all over the place. My parents are traveling coming up and both have been dealing with health issues. My uncle had a stroke a few weeks ago (after his older brother died of a brain bleed a few years ago) and it makes me worry my mom is next in line. My health has its own challenges and I have a normally-routine appointment coming up, but when you have anxiety, suddenly nothing feels routine. 

I realized that I feel almost like I'm in one of my "trauma trances", which is the only way I can describe the surreal feeling I get after something traumatic happens--where I'm in a fog, almost a dream-like state just floating through the day only half-present, probably because my brain is trying to cushion the blow of whatever is happening.  It happened when Jacob was at his worst, after my car accidents when I'd think of the "what ifs", when my dad was going through his bypass surgery, the early days of COVID, or when any family members passed away, especially suddenly.  It's almost like that feeling when you're in a nightmare and desperately want to wake up, but then realize it's real life.  It's not quite as strong right now as when something has actually happened, but it's like I'm bracing for something that has yet to happen.  I think there's just so much going on that feels overwhelming that my brain is assuming something will have to get worse and is bracing for it now.  It's making me seriously consider getting therapy because I feel like my anxiety has been creeping up stronger and stronger lately, and I find myself increasingly overwhelmed with simple things like cleaning or adding any more "'work" to my agenda.  I've mentioned previously how I've struggled with things like planning party food, and lately I'd had a super hard time working up the energy to bake some fall treats I know we'd all enjoy, like apple pie, apple chips, or homemade donuts.  Usually I get around to one thing or another, but this year it's been hard even to make Jacob's oft-requested Chex Mix, which takes about 20 minutes total.  Major cleaning projects seem overwhelming right now.  Moving forward with even simple tasks that provide any sort of additional complication to my day or week, like trying to get my car in for service or call for an eye exam, has been procrastinated.  It's so frustrating.  I just feel sort of bummed and "broken".  

I'm feeling major empathy for so many people who are struggling--like a childhood friend whose daughter (same age as Carter) got diagnosed with leukemia a couple weeks ago, or a high school friend whose thyroid cancer seems to have returned despite not having a thyroid for five years, or another high school friend who has cancer along with his wife and one of his daughters, or a social media/reality TV person I follow who is on her second type of cancer in her 30s with four young daughters, or my uncle who had the stroke.  I just feel like the bad news keeps piling up--never mind the news and inflation and shootings and other terrible things that seem be happening at alarming rates right now.  It's all too much, I guess.  And here I thought things might get easier coming out of COVID, but perhaps I'm just too damaged from the two-and-a-half-year stress response for that to be possible right now.  It's possible I'll just snap back out of this particular funk one of these days--it has lightened up a little here and there this week as I've written this--but right now as a whole it's dragging me down pretty bad.  The time change and weather have all conspired to make it worse, too.

I've tried to perk myself up with memories of good things from this "in-between" time of year from years past, the fun ways that I have filled in this "blank" time between Halloween and Thanksgiving.  It usually feels like a lot of waiting around for the good stuff, all as the colorful leaves disappear, the weather goes downhill, and the days get darker, so I appreciate when there are things to break it up and keep it interesting.  I hate when my camera goes dark for weeks at a time and this is a prime time for that, so anything to prevent that is huge.  I really do have some great memories from this period, and when I started writing the original version of this post they did make me really happy and grateful.  But now they just make me weirdly nostalgic and a little sad at how fast time is passing.

When I was pregnant with Jacob, which I found out 15 years ago this past Saturday (15 years...what?!?), I struggled for the month and a half that followed.  It was that dark, cold part of fall and I had to suffer in silence through the exhaustion, nausea, fear, and frustration with living this odd double life until we felt comfortable telling anyone.  Even though we were excited, we had to keep it under wraps and it just let all those other feelings take over.  It was all so overwhelming that it affected my mood in mid-November for probably a decade after--that dark, lonely feeling of this time of November kept evoking all those emotions.  The pregnancy was a good thing, of course--I remember that moment of finding out so clearly: the rainy night hitting up two dollar stores to find pregnancy tests, the desperate taking of the test so I could call my doctor and get some help--not just with conceiving but with how exhausted I felt all of a sudden--and the absolute shock with how quickly that test turned positive.  I remember the nervous energy as I bounced all over the house waiting for Craig to come home, and the excitement and sheer terror of finding out I was carrying another life.  But the reality of the following six weeks was a lot to carry around, and the only thing that got me out of it was our Disney trip.  I felt better once we got there and we had a blast.  Then we only had about a week to kill before Christmas when we started telling people, which was a huge relief.  

I can't really think of that time without thinking of the weekend that started it all--the overnight I spent in Pittsburgh over Veterans Day weekend seeing possibly my favorite Chihuly exhibit ever.  You can see posts about it here and here.  I ate too much, had a drink (oops), didn't get enough sleep, and then felt terrible the rest of the weekend, but when it didn't go away after a full day of rest, it was the first sign something was up.  I couldn't look at those Chihuly pictures, gorgeous as they were, for years without feeling a tiny bit ill, just like I did that weekend.  I was grateful for that last hurrah, though, and thinking back, it was such a monumental, memorable few days.  

Another Veterans Day weekend memory is our trip five years ago to Baltimore for Jacob's lacrosse tournament.  That marked the first trip we took where we got along decently as a family through all of the sightseeing.  We had one super fun day in Baltimore on that trip (covered here and here), and thinking back it was quite amazing that we got to see the Orioles stadium, Fort McHenry, Baltimore's Inner Harbor, and the aquarium, all in one day.  It was a really cool experience and I'm so glad we got to do it.  Crazy to think that the kids were nine and four at the time, and now Carter is nine and Jacob is fourTEEN.  

Even last year I had a good memory, when I had a fabulous hiking day near Ithaca before spending the rest of the weekend with Heather and Mason--which I get to do again this coming weekend!  That was such a nice, restorative weekend, and I'm currently debating my plans for the trip down on Friday.  Looks too cold and possibly snowy for a hike this time, so looks like a return trip to Corning!  I need the mental and physical break so badly--this past weekend the kids were on my very last nerve the entire time--so I think the time away will help.  A change of scenery usually does wonders and I'm really hoping it snaps me out of this funk.  

I'm trying very hard to remember how blessed I am and to keep in mind that my mundane existence would be a dream come true for people who are really struggling.  I've had some great life experiences, I'm blessed with a good home and a family to share it with, I have a good job even if it's hard right now, and even our somewhat frustrating existence at home is considerably better than it was a few years ago.  Deep down I know all that, even if my brain is currently downplaying its importance.  That's why I keep trying to remind myself of the good memories and try to appreciate this crazy path of life for all its quirks.  I love that all of these little moments form a life well lived (even if some days it doesn't feel that way), and I now have so many over my 44 years that it's hard to keep track of them all--and it's pretty cool when I get reminded of one I haven't thought of in a while.  Sometimes they feel like little "God winks" that remind me that God's been leading me through all along and all of these little moments have significance--even if it's not clear right away.

Just last week I had a couple random full circle moments that made me smile.  First, our voting place changed and turned out to be a church around the corner that I've passed by hundreds of times on the way to the kids' first elementary school.  But when I pulled in the parking lot, I realized I hadn't been there in about 25 years.  Even crazier, it was the first place I visited in Greece, where I have now lived for 21 years, long before I ever moved here.  When I was in college, a local Christian band that one of my InterVarsity friends had friends in was performing a concert at the church.  A bunch of us hauled ourselves up from Geneseo to see the show.  It was supposed to be outside but the weather did not cooperate.  They did a couple giveaways during the weather delay and at least one person in our group won a gift certificate to the Christian bookstore down the road.  We decided to kill time while they moved the equipment inside by going there so they could spend it.  It turned out it was in the same plaza where our Walmart is, literally 2-3 minutes from our current house.  The bookstore no longer existed by the time I moved back here--it had been replaced by a Hallmark store, which itself is now long gone--but I still remember wandering around the store trying to find something I needed to buy.  It wasn't until I moved to Rochester a couple years later that I saw the familiar outside of our local mini golf place (it used to have fake pipes and painted slime on the outside of the building, plus the giant giraffe on the course), which I remembered passing it that day and realized it was the same area, and then went to the Hallmark store and realized it was the same place.  But pulling into that church parking lot made me marvel that the first place in town I ever went to was now my voting place.

The next morning we had an all-staff gathering at work.  It randomly turned into four former Rochester Sports Group employees sitting in a row.  Jess, my team's digital director (she worked for the organization after I left); Brooke, who was my equivalent on the soccer side and then eventually had my job later (now with Med Center Advancement); me; and then Brenda, who I worked with for five years and was my entry into UR (also now in Med Center Advancement).  It just boggled my mind that we all had this random connection from a fun but endlessly frustrating career and ended up together in a different place years later.  Oh, and Brenda mentioned she ran into another co-worker of ours at an event that was being highlighted that morning because he now manages the venue it was at.  Small world.  

Both of those things were reminders that things we think are unimportant in the grand scheme of life actually turn out to be significant in some way.  It's like that quote from The Office - "I wish there was a way to know when you're in the good old days before you've actually left them."  To be fair, I think a lot of times we do know, but we don't know how soon they will end or we take for granted just how good they are.  Like, whenever I'm on vacation, or when I was in college, or when I was in the last days of my first pregnancy and knew life would never be the same, I tried like heck to savor every second of it.  Even having that awareness, in the end it never feels like enough.  I still want a time machine to go back to those moments and savor them again.  We can't make it last forever, and it's sad when it's over because it was so good.  Truth be told, we shouldn't want something to last forever because it would prevent other good things from coming along, but looking back there's just never enough time.  Different kid stages, friends and family you've lost, amazing vacations or cool life experiences, all of it just screams for more.  And maybe that's partly why I'm in this weird funk.  There's so much good stuff, but I'm in a lull from the really good stuff and I'm simultaneously worried I will someday look back on the normal good stuff and hate myself for not appreciating it while I had it.  Again, I sort of know that's my anxiety talking, but it's true nonetheless.  Every holiday when I'm stressing out with an endless to-do list, I try to remind myself that someday I won't have my parents around and every holiday will have an extra bit of bitterness (if not full-on grief), so I should appreciate the otherwise unbridled joy we get to have now.  When I'm frustrated with elements of kid life, I think about all the stages that have passed that I miss--no matter how hard they were at the time--and how I'll someday look back at this time and feel the same way about it.  It seems like the answer to my problems is to just be grateful and live in the moment, but for whatever reason that is so darn hard right now.

I know that not all of life can be fun and exciting and adventurous, so we need to manage the down times, which I usually do OK if I can get a little dose of beauty or fun.  If it was always exciting I feel like we'd always be chasing the next high and the big moments we had would lose their significance.  Not that we wouldn't still enjoy them, but their specialness would be less impactful overall.  When I see people decorating for Christmas extra early right now, I appreciate their eagerness and that the extra bit of joy and brightness might be needed for whatever they're struggling with, but one of the things that has always made Christmas extra special was that it only lasted so long.  If the tree stayed up all year, would it still feel special in December?  I don't know, but I doubt it would hold the same significance.  So I think it's wise to tolerate the "low" periods, find beauty in the everyday, and focus on the good as much as possible.  My heart still hurts for so many other people and I'm still struggling with some of my own current circumstances, but I know this is all a part of life and hopefully, "this too shall pass," and we'll hopefully be on to better days.

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Fresh Air

Carter got in three days of school this week post-COVID.  He still had to mask through the weekend but with temperatures over 70 degrees in the first week of November and knowing we were missing out on a little adventure in Pennsylvania already, we had to get out and have some fun.  As I mentioned in my last post, I was torn about Carter masking on the playground.  He'd get looks if he did, and I figured that the odds of him passing it to anyone at this stage, outside, while having limited contact were slim.  So off we went, to the playgrounds we were supposed to go to on the day he tested positive.  

The playground time ended up being a bit short-lived.  He really wanted to play tag, but given how busy the playgrounds were, I couldn't do it with him (my rule is only if the playground isn't busy--I don't want to be getting in the way of other kids) and it was a little awkward trying to do it while trying to do it with other kids to keep some distance.  So he did a few things at the first playground, including a couple rides on the "olives"...

...and then we moved on to the next one.  He did a bit more there, but we were probably only there less than a half hour.  

But he did enjoy the big spinner (and the little one)...

...and insisted on a dinosaur photo op before we left.

We went across the street to the pier on the lake.  It was a breezy day so I was wondering what the waves might be like, but the wind direction must have been from the south because there wasn't a wave to be found.  Our last visit here was last October, and we were surprised to see how much lower the water was in the creek on the path toward the lake.  You can view our last visit here, and notice how much the creek is down.  You can't see it as much in this recreation of a picture we took last time, but the next couple make it pretty obvious.

We couldn't get over how little water was in this spot this time.  

Last time the water in this section was up to that line of light gray rocks and a stump on the left, on the bottom half of the picture.  There was just a tiny stream going from Mill Creek to the lake.

This looks beachy but it was a lot of zebra mussel shells gradually turning into sand, with a lot of stones.  The shells were in tiny pieces under the top layer of rocks and sand.  Carter loved digging in the wet stones and zebra mussel shells along the edge and ended up dredging his own tiny canal (twice), and it actually did get water flowing through it.  

He did this first loop and then extended it later.  

For a kid that's never been much of an outdoorsy fan aside from riding his big wheel or randomly running around, he did so good just making his own fun in the water.  It was neat watching the water just flow through once he was done.  

I found a little friend digging through the leaves along the edge.

I spent the time picking up the tiniest pieces of beach glass.  They were everywhere!  I guess maybe since this hasn't been uncovered for very long there was a lot to be discovered and I guess the beach glass seekers just hadn't been here.  Unfortunately, most of them weren't very smooth.  It was a haven for tiny pieces of newish glass.  As many as I picked up, I probably threw as many back into the shallow pools to give them more time to smooth.  I couldn't get over how many there were--almost everywhere I looked there was some color peeking through.  I found a couple bigger pieces after I took this picture, but it was so fascinating to me how they were all so tiny.

I can't emphasize enough how lovely of a day it was.  It was so peaceful there.

After a long time digging in the water, we finally started our walk out to the pier.  I took a similar pic to this last time.  You can definitely see the difference in the distance.

It was such a perfect day out there.  So peaceful and beautiful.  The lake was clearly a bit low too, because the algae was quite visible on the breakwall rocks--so green!

We carefully stepped across rocks to the pole at the end of the pier.  

It was such a lovely afternoon.

Back on land, we walked up this stairway, mostly to get a view from the top.  There was some sort of event going on at the old house event space about 50 yards from the top of the stairs so we didn't linger long up there, but the view down the leaf-covered stairs was really pretty.

We took a little side path back toward the car and added a photo to our series of photos of Carter with fun leaves!

We walked under an overpass back into the park across the street (the same one the last playground was in) and had a nice view.  I can't help but wonder if the creek is a little low due to all those trees at the end (beaver dam?).  We've been short on rain, too, so that's probably the main reason, but who knows.

Because Carter was a little disappointed by the playground experience and because it was still such a gorgeous day, I decided we needed to add one more stop--one of the last playgrounds currently on my list.  With Carter getting older, I really tried to squeeze in as many as we could this year, because who knows how he'll feel about them by next spring.  Sigh.  I saw this interesting-looking playground one day when I was driving through the city, and upon further research I added it to the list.  I knew it was right down the road from the Memorial Art Gallery so I figured one day we'd check out the sculpture park and walk down the road.  Well, this was the day!

We parked at the Memorial Art Gallery near closing time and wandered through part of the sculpture park.  I still remember seeing a horse sculpture on my Dartmouth trip in 2015 and having to research if this was the same artist--it wasn't, but I always think of that one when I see it.

The "Creation Myth" sculptures at the corner are always a favorite, from the massive concrete pieces to the tiny bronze ones.  Carter and I had walked through here a bit when we came to the gallery a couple years ago but the winter cold and snow kept it short, but I will always remember our walk around the sculpture park when he was three.  He was so adorable then, and he still enjoys it now.

We walked through pretty quickly because I wanted to get to the playground and back before it started getting dark.  It's not a bad area, but I can't say the city has been particularly trustworthy lately.  It was a cool walk because it's the Neighborhood of the Arts and there is art everywhere!  This was on the outside of a tile store.

Multiple lampposts in this area had gorgeous mosaics.

This used to be a police station and the entrance was so classic and well-maintained. 

This was a sculpture for the business in the police station building, just outside the playground.

This was right at the playground entrance.

The playground is like no other I've ever seen.  It wasn't huge.  It was basically this apparatus plus a smaller one with similar features for little kids to the right.  But what was there was fun and challenging!

There were very swing-y platforms (in red below) to climb up to the slide, and then there was this chain link cargo net at the top.  I did it a couple times and it was fun and challenging.  There were other ways to climb to the slide as well, one from each side.  Carter loved making his way up and flying down the slide--it was a fast one.  

This looked like a swing, but it actually spun!

I enjoyed the warm breeze and the quaint city neighborhood.  There wasn't a lot to do but Carter enjoyed all the climbing.  We were probably there for about 20 minutes before it was time to walk back to the gallery and keep exploring.  

Back on the gallery grounds, we looked at the other sculptures.  We also passed by a wedding as they took photos around the artwork.  It's always fun to wander there, no matter how many times I've seen the art.

Check out the reflection!

I had to have Carter recreate a few shots.  Most of them you can see in the post linked above from when he was three, but this one didn't make it.  Just a bit of a difference.

He easily ran through the underside before...not anymore!

The gallery grounds were looking lovely with the reds and yellows.

This one wasn't here last time, so we had to add this one to the collection.

The horse had leaves caught in his mane and tail, and Carter was trying to help him out.

I had to tell him the story of how he pretended to be a penguin, and after I showed him, he did a great job recreating it!

We had to avoid this area for a while because of the wedding party, but once most of them were back on the bus (while the brides were taking photos elsewhere), we came back to this spot.  It's one of my favorites.  

We wrapped up with a shot at the Unicorn Family before heading back to the car and heading home for dinner.  

I have no idea how he got so big--I miss that little guy but the big one is pretty fun, too!  It was a lovely sunset on the way home.

We finished up the night with a takeout dinner from one of Carter's favorites (where we hardly ever eat), Texas Roadhouse.  We picked them over Olive Garden because a half dozen breadsticks cost $5 and a half dozen rolls only cost $2.50.  And Texas Roadhouse was more generous with free ones anyway, and cheaper in general.  It was such a good dinner.  We've been eating together at the dining room table at opposite ends, which has been nice after him eating alone in the basement all week.  We may have some screen detox to do in the coming days and weeks after all of this screen time he's had squirreled away down there.  It's been hard with him being sick because we just hadn't been able to spend a lot of time together.  We did start reading together masked at bedtime after a few days, but no snuggling at bedtime, no mealtimes together until this weekend, and very little hanging out of any sort.  Yesterday was helpful for feeling a bit more like normal (other than him masking in the car), but I am looking forward to life getting back to normal this week.  

Sunday was a pretty quiet day at home.  We did church in the morning and then I came home and immediately headed outside to clear out my flower beds.  You don't get 65 degree weather in November too often, so it was nice to get the dead stuff cleared out before winter so we're not stabbing ourselves with spiky coneflower remnants when we're playing in the snow.  I did parts of the backyard and then did the entire front flower bed, all before lunch.  It was around that time that Jacob's team lost (they ended 1-2 for the tournament; he had a couple threes), so the boys would be home later in the evening.  Most of the rest of the day was spent relaxing (and watching a crappy Bills game).  Onward to another week--a short one for the boys.  One more quiet weekend (I hope) before things get rolling...