Monday, September 1, 2014

There's no place like home.

Coming home from vacation is often the worst part of the trip. You have to say goodbye to a dreamy destination (boo), pack (blah) and travel (ugh). Then it's back to normal life and business-as-usual (wah).

Actually, that last part isn't much of a problem. I'm usually pretty excited to get home and get things rolling again. I miss my home and pets and friends, can't wait to sleep in my own bed and have a strange urgency to unpack, get organized and PURGE (after living out of a suitcase, a whole house full of stuff seems like way too much of everything).

But this homecoming was a little bit different. We came home to a house that felt weird. Our dog had fleas while we were gone and while our house-sitter and bug guy did a bang up job taking care of everything, things were still a bit off. The beds didn't have sheets or blankets, toys and towels and pillows were bagged up all over the house, and everything made us feel itchy.

*not actual size* this is just how it feels...

I spent the first day home vacuuming and washing everything that would fit in the washing machine and dryer. Toward the end of the day, a couple neighbors and their kids stopped by and I was telling them my sob story ending with, "But don't worry - we're finally flea-free!"

My neighbor was petting Penny and right at that moment said, "Oh, look. Here's one!" Then she pulled a tiny black jumping bean off Penny's back and I started to itch all over again. You should have seen Penny's face - total shame spiral.

The next day I started from square one. While Penny was getting washed and combed, I washed and combed everything in the house. By the time Bill got home from work our house finally felt like ours. We all had clean sheets and pillows and things smelled and felt like normal again.

So the next day, we acted like life was normal again. We saw friends and went to the park, did regular laundry and finally went to get groceries. On our way, I suddenly noticed smoke coming from my engine. The temperature gauge was on H-O-T and I was half afraid my van would just stop working or explode. Fortunately we were almost the the grocery store so I just took it easy and coasted into the first parking spot I could find.

I called Bill (kind of my solution to everything...) and he said he'd leave work right away to come help. He also called our friends who lived right around the corner from the grocery store and by the time I got what we needed and came back outside, I had a whole crew of amazing people there to help me.

There really is no place like home.

I thought our awkward homecoming was finally taking a turn for the better. Sure, bad stuff was happening, but bad stuff happens to everyone. Not everyone can step back and marvel at the safety net of awesome people who are there to help when things go awry. I was almost glad my van blew a gasket - it gave me time to step back and count my blessings.

After a wonderful night with more amazing friends, we woke up feeling grateful and beyond happy to be home. And then, we found yet another flea on Penny's back.

And then another.

And another.

I ran to the vet to get the end all flea treatment (Comfortis if reading this is making you itch). When I got home Bill said, "I think I know why all this is happening." He was giving me that 'it's all your fault' look and I knew exactly what he meant.

I had accidentally brought home a piece of lava and a piece of coral from Hawaii and he was convinced we were now suffering from Pele's curse. I know what you're thinking. Accidentally? Sure... (Or maybe you're thinking, Pele's curse? What the what?!) But I promise I had no intention of taking anything from the island.

Bill had all kinds of rocks and crystals on his bedside table from a rock shop he stumbled across in Reno. (He had been reading about energy healing and was eager to try cleansing our chakras. Super cool, by the way.) When we were packing to go home I grabbed the lava and coral we brought home to admire and threw them in the suitcase with the rest of the rocks, not realizing they were meant to go back to the beach.

So now, apparently, we're cursed.

We've had the ongoing hex of fleas; an overheated car that needed a pipe replaced (mine); a flooded, moldy car (Bill's); and headaches all week (we think we got re-addicted to caffeine on our trip because when we came home and had tea in the morning instead of coffee, we got caffeine withdrawal headaches that just went away).


We also had a house-sitter and bug guy who were more than willing to help us out from afar, friends come to our rescue and help fix our car, TWO dinner invitations two nights in a row ("How lucky are we?" mused Liam), a sleepover, a girls' night, a fantastic first day of school for Finn, a new art and music class for both boys that they love (which means TWO WHOLE HOURS EVERY WEEK JUST FOR ME!!!), and a homeschool hangout that made me grateful for our school situation all over again.

If I had to bet, I'd say we're probably not cursed. But still, no reason to square off against a volcano goddess.

You win, Pele. Thanks for everything.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Finn's first day of play school.

Yesterday was Finn's first day of school. Ever. Leading up to the big drop off, I had lots of mixed emotions. I was excited for him to have his very own thing (and excited for me and Liam to have our time, too!), nostalgic about how fast my babies are growing, happy to see friends, unsure about what to pack in his lunch (a first!), and scared of a potential first day flop.

Ok, if I'm honest, I was mostly scared.

We had so many first days with Liam that didn't go well. I dreaded that moment of having to peel a fearful child off my leg and run out the door. Never an experience I've enjoyed (and one I've had with Finn at YMCA childcare several times...). I was afraid he would cry, want me to stay, have a bad day, or worse - not want to go back.

I've been looking forward to this type of a schedule for a while now. Finn in preschool two days a week so I could actually do something resembling homeschool with Liam, a place where Finn would have his own friends and activities where he wasn't just Liam's little brother, and time for the introverts in the house to retreat to our respected corners and recharge our batteries.

If school didn't go well for Finn, then what?

Fortunately, I doesn't look like we'll have to find out.

His first day was flawless. We had to wake him up because our flight had gotten in kind of late the night before and we still had to head out for some dinner and figure out where to sleep (we had a flea issue while we were gone - long story - so all of our bedding, etc was in plastic bags, flea free but needing a wash). By the time we got in bed (with no pillows...) and read stories, the jet lag kicked in. It was one of those nights you just want to end. And when it finally did, we had to haul ass to get Finn to school.

Fortunately from the get-go, his attitude was fantastic. He came down the hall, all dressed and ready to eat breakfast and said, "I'm going to play all day today! And learn some stuff, too." He was all smiles and positivity. Even when he expressed a bit of first day jitters, he didn't get derailed. He seemed to know that was just part of doing something new. What a kid.

When we got to school, we immediately saw friends which always helps. Then we went up to his classroom and he sat right down at the table with his class and started working on a shape gluing project.

"Will you stay with me for a little bit?" he asked quietly.

"Of course, buddy," I said, crossing my fingers. So I stayed nearby and chatted with his teacher, checking in now and then to see how he was doing.

"I'm going to go in a bit, okay?"


"I'll come back after class to get you."


And then, just like that, I gave him a squeeze, said goodbye and left. I went home and spend some quality time with Liam and Finn spent the next five hours playing and learning some stuff.

When Liam and I picked him up, he was so sweet. Excited to see us but mostly just stoked at what a great day he'd had. He made an applesauce cake to bring home (delish), made some new friends (his teacher said he's a bit of a ladies man...), rested quietly during nap time and had an "awesome" day.  

I am so happy for our little guy. And for the rest of us! Bill and I kept looking at each other yesterday afternoon like, "Is this just what it's like for most people?!" Because it was so not like that with Liam (it is now but preschool was a different story). It felt fantastic. Knowing your kids can go forth and have an awesome time without you has to be one of the best feelings in the world. I'm so thankful we all got to experience it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Honeymoon is over.

The first time I ever went to Hawaii was on our honeymoon. We left the morning after our wedding, hungover and exhausted, me with a head full of big hair from my fancy up-do the night before. We woke up too late for showers and had to run to catch our plane. A six am departure after the biggest night of our lives seems like bad planning now, but what did we know? We were just kids, not yet skilled in the fine art of travel and leisure.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

after yoga and meditation under our favorite tree...

Looking back, I feel like I hardly know those two crazy kids who committed their lives to one another. And I can’t help but think that they hardly knew each other! It’s not like we had an arranged marriage or anything - we’d been friends for years and lived together before the wedding - but we still had a lot to figure out.

We still do, of course, but we have a connection now that we didn’t used to have. I guess that’s what fourteen years of marriage gets you…

In honor of our anniversary, we were reminiscing about our wedding and honeymoon the other night. We both admitted how uncomfortable it all was. Not just the cookie cutter wedding (perfect but so not what we’d do today) but even the honeymoon (which is really funny considering that we take the exact same trip any chance we get). It’s not that any of it was bad; it just wasn’t really us.

But I guess we weren’t quite us yet either. Thank goodness we’ve found a way to grow into ourselves without growing apart from each other. Hopefully that will continue as long as we do.

Isn’t it lucky that we get to go forward, not back? Because the more we work to know ourselves and to know each other, the better everything gets. Life, love, marriage, vacation…all of it.

Here’s to fourteen years. May the next fourteen be so great that I look back at us now and think, “You poor saps didn’t know a thing…”


Monday, August 25, 2014

Terms of endearment.

We rented a couple of sea kayaks yesterday to tool around the bay and shake things up a little. We haven't really done a lot on this vacation (beach day every day) which has been relaxing and perfect for all of us but it seems to work best if we throw things in now and then to prevent burnout (and sunburn...).

We had never tried sea kayaking before but took to it like fish to water. Every time we'd pass one another Bill and I would boast about how awesome we were doing.

Not that sea kayaking is necessarily hard but given our lack of upper body strength (alright, my lack of upper body strength - Bill can at least do push-ups), it doesn't take much for me to feel like a stud.

Finny was in my boat. He sat up front and talked while I paddled. As you can imagine with the waves and wind and all of the physical exertion, I could barely make out a word he was saying. He knew I couldn't hear him but it didn't stop him from trying.

He talked, and talked, and talked. About what, I have no idea. Every now and then I'd catch a little something but none of it made much sense.

At one point I asked him to hand me our water. "Thanks, sugar," I said, handing it back to him.

"Why do you call me sugar?" He asked, suspiciously.

"What?" I yelled, straining to hear over the waves.

"Why," he yelled. "Do you call! Me sugar!"

"Oh!" I said, finally understanding him. "It's a term of endearment."


"It's something sweet I like to call you that's not your real name. Like how sometimes I call daddy Babe or Liam sweet pea. It's just a sweet name you call someone that's not their real name."

"Like Ron?"



"Um, sure," I said laughing. "Ron would work. Can you think of anything else?"

"How about... heart? Or Harry Potter!"

I was totally cracked up. "Yeah, buddy, those are good ones!"

"Thanks, Heart."

Sure, sweetest angel.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Aloha from Hawaii, day one.

We're in Hawaii! We arrived yesterday morning and are beyond thrilled to be back home at our home-away-from-home. (For those of you who haven't "travelled here with us" before, we're on the Big Island in Kailua Kona at the Mauna Lani Resort. Bill's parents bought a condo here a million years ago and we're lucky enough to be able to come visit whenever we can make it happen. They rent it out as well so if you're interested in an AMAZING vacation, email me and I'll hook you up.)

Yesterday at the beach, I was watching Liam play in the waves while Bill and Finn walked up to get a drink. This kid is awesome at playing. He gets totally lost in his own little world and it's really fun to watch. He looks like a modern dancer doing an interpretation of something really intense complete with sound effects and big sweeping motions. At one point he was laying on his back on the shore (full mask on, of course), letting the waves gently roll him up and down the beach (not unlike his Mama!).

One of my most favorite pastimes is watching people, trying to figure out their story. Watching Liam on the beach makes me so glad I know him - not just for how awesome he is but also for the fact that there's no way I could figure out his story if I wasn't a part of it.

I was also watching the kids next to him playing Smash Ball in the water. They were about twelve years old, blonde, tan, sinewy and strong without a hint of self consciousness between them. I couldn't tell if they were brother and sister, cousins, friends, or just a couple of young swimsuit models taking a break from their photoshoot.

I guess I should mention that confident twelve year olds are kind of my gurus. I can't relate to them AT ALL but I find them fascinating and impressive. They are big enough to look like perfect, slightly smaller grown ups but they're completely comfortable in their skin like kids. Sometimes at first glance, I think they are really fit adults, like marathon runners or yogis or something. But then they start to play and run around and I realize they're just kids.

It's like this sweet spot in life I don't remember experiencing.

At one point, Liam realized his boogie board was washing out to sea without him so he swam off to get it. As he did, he noticed the Amazonian duo and stopped to watch them play. He set up shop right in between them, rested his arms and head on the boogie board and watched the ball go back and forth, like an LOL cat watching tennis on TV.

It was hilarious.

I was picturing what might be going through his head. Was he as impressed and intimidated by these kids as I was? Did he wish he was that tan? Blonde? Athletic? Did he wonder what it was like to dive for a ball in the water without worrying about your swimsuit going right up your butt? Did he hope he would keep his confidence throughout his tween and teen years?

After a few minutes he grabbed his boogie board and ran over to where I was sitting. He was smiling ear to ear and shaking his head. About half way between me and the kids he yelled, "Did you see that?" I nodded and thought, Yes! I could barely take my eyes off of them! He took a couple more steps and laughing said, "Those guys are HORRIBLE at ping pong!"

Meet my new guru.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Happy 4th birthday, sweet Finny Finn!

Today my baby turns four years old. What a ride! He's taught me so much already and I am beyond grateful that I get to be his mama. Here is a little slideshow I made for him. It's to one of his favorite songs. 
I belong to you, you belong to me, you're my sweetheart... 
Always and forever sweet boy. 

Much love,

Brain Chase > Summer Learning Loss.

Being homeschoolers who don't school at home a whole lot, I am always on the lookout for fun classes or tutorials I can sign the kids up for. We are fortunate to have lots of choices during the school year (physics lab, photography classrock climbingMinecraft homeschool...) but during the summer, we have even more.

I took advantage of it this year and signed Liam up for a few weeks of summer learning. At first he balked - it's SUMMER VACATION! How could I be so insensitive? His friends don't have to go to school in the summer. Why should he?! But then I reminded him what the REST of his year looks like and he stopped complaining. (Seriously. He does a lot of stuff and is learning all the time but it's nothing like the day-to-day grind of real school.)

So for two whole weeks he went to SAVY camp at Vanderbilt from 8:45 to 3:45 every day (a very full schedule for a kid who's used to an a la carte approach to schooling). In the morning, he learned about Awesome Algebra and in the afternoon it was Marvelous Molecules. In between he had lunch and there were some P.E. breaks thrown in for good measure. 

He loved it. Maybe not the algebra and molecules part so much (for an academically gifted kid he's sort of meh about academics), but the making new friends and being silly part was right up his alley. Actually - I have no idea what part he loved. I just know that the part he told me about was all the goofy stuff he did with his buddy at lunch. For all I know he totally geeks out when I'm not looking. 

Anyway. At the same time we were schlepping back and forth to Vandy every day, the other summer learning program I signed him up for started. Fortunately for us it was an online program done at each student's own pace. Also fortunately for us? It's the most awesome program we've ever signed up for!

Brain Chase is a six week summer learning program designed to beat summer slide, or the phenomenon that happens when kids break for summer and forget everything they learned during the school year. I don't worry about that happening with Liam since we school year round (he likes to say he always and never goes to school) and don't ever have to cram within a certain timeline, but I liked the premise so much, I couldn't wait to sign up. 

The big idea is this: there's an academy who's trying to figure out where the Globe of Magellan is buried and they need our help. Each Monday they send a video that details part of their adventure and has secret clues that will help us find the Globe. Not the one the kids in the video are looking for, the REAL Globe of Magellan that is buried somewhere in the world. Seriously! It's a massive global treasure hunt. Each week the student can unlock a second video with more clues but in order to do so they have to complete a certain amount of math (on Khan Academy), reading (through MyOn), writing (they are assigned different prompts each week), and a bonus challenge that has to do with the adventure or the whereabouts of the Globe. 

If you've ever wanted to see a kid excited to do math on summer vacation, entice them with a video that holds clues to a valuable buried treasure. Can you say MOTIVATED?!

Whoever figures out where the treasure is buried first gets to fly there with one other person to dig it up. It can be anywhere in the world! The winner gets to keep the Globe AND gets a $10,000 scholarship. How cool is that?! 

Every so often during the challenge Liam has received a special package from the Academy. He got an awesome decoder ring, a very cool compass and, I'm not even kidding, magic seeds that were supposed to grow a clue (I think ours got over watered so they didn't quite work out but the picture another kid posted online looked amazing). 

He's done all the work without complaint, finishing early in the week so he could get his next video as soon as possible. Liam LOVES the videos. This weekend he and his friend watched every single one of them again and after that I could hear them in his room playing real life Brain Chase. 

He's excited about finding the treasure but the person who's really obsessed with it is ME. It's so hard, you guys! I mean, seriously. I feel like a detective who never went to detective school. So many times I've thought we were finally onto something and then he'll find another clue and suddenly nothing makes any sense. It's really fun. Frustrating and mind bending but really, really fun. Like a crossword puzzle on crack that spans the whole world and comes with a buried treasure. 

How's that for summer school?!

We will definitely be doing it again next summer and I've got my fingers crossed that the creators will come up with something for homeschoolers. Now if I can just figure out where that darn globe is buried...