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Thursday, May 31, 2012

In-FLU-enza

definition: the acute respiratory infection that takes over you body and your home with cough, fever, body aches, sore throat, runny nose, headaches, sore throat, fatigue and makes you forget what sunshine is and why people are happy. for maximum misery, sickness can last 7-10 days or longer if you work hard to stagger the sickness in you house so no two people are sick for more than 2 overlapping days.

Yeah, we've had the flu. 

It started with Ella.  She was sick Wednesday through Monday (Memorial Day).   I held her in my arms, listless from a 104 fever, while she coughed all over me.  Naturally, I was sick by late Saturday.  Maya started Wednesday and is still sick.  Sandi is somehow, miraculously, in the clear which is fortunate because she was back at the hospital Tuesday with very little ability to leave and take care of us.  We are on day 9 and I am feeling stir-crazy to say the least.  I don't feel great but I am well enough to now care that I am doing nothing but making imprints of myself on my couch.

Influenza is super contagious and such a long and enduring virus that, to be a good citizen, you must stay at home to keep your sickness to yourself.  I had Influenza a few years ago (the only one in our house by some miracle- I guess adults just have such better hygiene than kids) and was told by the nurse to dig a hole, take my Tamiflu in with me, and come out 7 days later. 

Tamiflu is an anti-viral you can take if you take it within 24-48 hours of symptoms. It is supposed to shorten the course and lessen the severity of the illness.  I went to walk-in care Sunday morning and the nurse practitioner wanted to give me antibiotics for what she deemed was about to be bronchitis, a steroidal inhaler for the same, a rapid strep test and an RSV test.  I was like, whoa, zebras or horses here lady?   Yes, I'm coughing and have a sore throat but I also have body aches and a headache.  Neither strep nor bronchitis have that.

I opted out of the all the tests and asked just for the flu swab (they weren't even going to treat me for flu) but found out that, with the holiday weekend, the results wouldn't come back until Wednesday. I sighed and asked what the point of that was since it would be too late for the Tamiflu.  Finally the N.P. said, "Do you want me to give you the Tamiful anyway?"

"Yes!" 

Here is what I don't get.  With healthcare battling a tide of rising costs why would a gamut of tests and drugs be prescribed when it seemed evident what I had?  The CDC website lists the symptoms of the flu and I had them all just as Ella had them all.   We get the flu shot because the flu is so contagious and can be threatening to kids and those with weakened immune systems. I know I'm not a medical provider and I appreciate that she was trying to "treat me aggressively because of your chronic illness" as she said, but the whole thing seemed pointless.  I was glad I pushed for what I felt I needed instead of just letting her fill me with pharmaceuticals that likely wouldn't have worked.

And the irony of it is that, while I do think it lessened the length of time I had the flu, the medication itself made me a bit sick.  You take it for 5 days, two doses a day, and each time the last dose would wear off I would perk up, only to be back on the couch, lightheaded and nauseated as soon as I took it. 

The whole thing makes one thought ring loudly in the my head:  those who do not have children (or at least not at home that need to be cared for) should RELISH being sick and only having yourself to care for. I didn't mind sleeping and reading and laying on the couch.  I minded having to care for and manage children while I did it after Sandi went back to work.   To date, this is one of the top three most difficult things about being a mom- being sick and still in charge.  (The other two, in case you are wondering,  are having to pick between which child's needs to fill and having a child in danger/significant pain that I could not fix.)

The Trek Across Maine in two weeks from tomorrow.  I can't imagine walking to the end of my street, let alone biking the 68 miles planned for day one.  I am making incremental progress.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

a perfect family day

Our family had exactly the kind of day we needed after losing a family member.
We had tea and breakfast on the patio, Ella had only one episode of crying and screaming as she fought cleaning her room, some quickie house projects, bike riding, the beach and more bike riding.  There was the love and fun and connecting we all needed - all ingredients for a great day.

At the yard sale I bought this tag along for the girls (for $10!).  Maya was kind of nervous but Ella thought it was awesome.  With Maya in the child seat on Sandi's bike and Ella riding behind me we were able to go for a true bike ride.  Thirty minutes of weaving in and out of neighborhoods and Ella was taken by the feeling of riding so fast.  At one point she yelled from behind, "It smells like lilacs and speed!"

Sandi is our designated family worry wart about all things safety related and she was nervous about the give in the tag along.  She kept calling, "Slow down! Not too fast!" to us.  Then just as she had yelled it for the last time on the downhill toward our driveway, she pulled around and passed us.  And that little imp riding just behind her turned around, slung her arm over the plastic molded seat and stuck her tongue out at us. 

I wouldn't expect anything else.

Since Sandi is going to be spending most of her summer inside an operating room, we decided to hit the beach. 

Can someone please tell me when my babies grew into bonafide girls?
It was only three years ago that Ella was wearing the second of her three "twirly dresses."  She fell so in love with this one sundress from our friends'  Fresh Produce store that we had to get another each summer.  When she was two she wore a yellow one completely out by wearing every day of that summer.



And now look whose wearing it?




































And who is surprised that THIS is what she is doing with it?

The full skirt of the twirly dress doesn't exactly agree with trolling for snails and beach glass so a change of clothes was necessary.




































All it takes to sustain joy at the beach is the ability to dig in the sand. And with some cooperative creativity, a hole is born.
To be faithful architects of a sound beach hole, you must test it.




















We need to blow this picture up to poster size and hang it on the ceiling above the kids' beds so they can remember Mommy this summer and how much fun she is.

Aside from playing with the kids, the beach really only means one thing to Sandi: 
I have learned over the years how to catch and throw (poorly, but passably) and now I even find it fun.  As long as no one is around to point and laugh.

Despite the fact that it is a tad blurry, this is my favorite photograph I've taken to date.   And no, I did not catch the ball.




As the school year wraps up, I am overcome with the sentimentality that attacks me from time to time and weakens me at the knees.  My kids are growing up.  They are moving outside of our family.  Maya only has one more year at home after this.  One more year!  I just got used to this stage, I just got in a groove, why does it have to change?

People always say that "it goes by too fast."  I used to kind of roll my eyes and think, yeah well this part where I have one crying because she has too many skirts to choose from and the other trying to put elastics in my hair while I try to eat breakfast while it is still lukewarm can't seem to pass me quickly enough.

Here is what makes me uniquely crazy: I can both bemoan a stage of my life and lament its passing. I can be unhappy and uncomfortable in one moment but somehow have the ability to reminisce about it at the same time and wish for it back.  

I LOVE that my kids are more independent, that they have more stamina and we can do more with them. I love that they "get the joke" and can think for themselves, express their ideas (sometimes through song, often through screaming) and find stimulation in their own minds. 

I love that I sold their potty seats in my yard sale and that no one is an a 5 point car seat anymore.  I love that when they ask a complicated question, most of the time they can grasp at least some of the complicated answer.  I love that we are teaching them values and they are getting them.  I love that I can mow the lawn and not have to have my eyeballs on them every second.

Yet...

My skin is changing, puckering in places ever so slightly in ways it didn't used to.  Ella can't comfortably fit in my lap anymore and has to work hard to tuck in.  I sometimes have to make her walk when she falls asleep somewhere other than her bed because she is heavy to carry.  Did I mention Maya only has one more year at home and then life as I know it (and sometimes begrudge it) will flip on its head?

I don't want my babies back.  But I do wish my girls would slow it up already.

I always said, three and six, the perfect ages.  Except... now four and seven are the perfect ages.

saying goodbye

On Saturday, while we were having the yard sale, Sandi made that trip to the vet with our dog Mochy that no pet owner ever wants to make.

Mochy, our 10 (and sometimes even 12) pound miniature pincher, was a dog like none I had ever expected to have.  Technically, my step-dog, she was about a year old when Sandi and I got together.  She was small and needed protection, compared to the hiking and swimming dogs I had always had.  She slept under the covers right alongside your body and barked at everything, whether a passing dog or a blowing leaf.

Mochy didn't have an off switch when it came to eating and would tunnel her way into a 50 pound bag of dog food, stopping only when she looked like a football and simply couldn't take one more bite.  The dog food would swell in her stomach juices (have you ever added water to dog food? it puffs like pastry) and she would lie painfully on her side for a day until it passed.  We would spend the next 24 hours cleaning up after her messes. One Christmas Eve she ate 2 boxes of chocolate covered cherries.  During another holiday baking spree she ate a bag of my Wilton melting chocolate.  It was red, of course, and the vomit that covered our living room made it look like it was under CSI investigation.  Mochy marked every holiday season with a binge, one year even eating a partial bag of flour, which pasted onto her skin as she tried to lick it off, making her look like a papier mache project in the making. 

Years ago when our golden retriever, Dobson, was alive, Mochy ate through a bottle of chewable Rimadyl and she had to be urgently treated with activated charcoal.  Once Mochy extracted a bag of chocolate covered espresso beans from Sandi's work bag, ate the 3 dozen, and barked and hallucinated and paced our house for 48 hours.  She ate through trash bags, bags of wrapped paper plates and was known to strew the contents of the bathroom trash all over the house.

You just never knew what kind of trouble Mochy's nose and stomach would get her in.

Mochy turned 13 in April.  Dogs her size can often live to be 16 or 17, but Mo had aged significantly after all the abuse she inflicted on herself.  In the past many months she been battling a skin irritation that we couldn't get on top of.  At the end of winter she had bitten half the fur off her side.  We treated her with topical pads, steriods, checked for mites and fleas.  She got some relief, her hair grew back and then the cycle started again.  Another round of steriods, kava shampoo, soothing sprays and Benadryl and she would still spend hours a day itching.  The itching seemed to create an anxiety so that when she wasn't sleeping she was restless and anxious.  We were feeding her 4 times the amount of food we used to and she was only just over 7 pounds.

In short, her quality of life sucked.

Last year I battled what I have decided was some sort of allergic rash that was characterized by intense itching and only later followed by red dots.  I literally felt like I was going to lose my mind from the itching.  This is what I saw in Mochy when she would bite and scratch and struggle to get her arthritic spine twisted to get that one itch she could never reach.

I would like to say that I handled Mochy's aged decline well.  I didn't.  Her restlessness took me over my stimulation threshold when she would pace around my feet at the end of the night when the house was finally quiet.  Her nighttime movements in the bed made me resentful.  I was cranky and sometimes compassionless and I'm not proud of it.  Honestly, it was the worst possible time for her last year of life with my plate so full of needs to meet (okay, so maybe the girls' infancy years would have been worse) and my constant attempt to stem my state of overwhelm.

As Sandi would say, "It is what it is."  Mochy passed away on Saturday and now I miss her and her scratching and her pacing.  The house has an emptiness that I find disconcerting and I am once again overwhelmed with the permanence of death.   

Emilie said it perfectly to me: "It doesn't matter how much an animal is a pain in the ass.  When they are gone you forget it all."

For anyone who has ever put a pet down, you know how much this sucks.  We hoped she would die peacefully at home.  In my experience, this rarely happens.  Out of the 6 pets we've lost over the years, only 2 died at home.  When we were first together we had 3 dogs and 3 cats.  Now we have a bunny and some fish and, despite the 2 raucous children, the house seems rather empty.

Apparently I have a small window for tolerable stimulation. I'm easily tipped one way or another, either way overstimulated or looking for some excitement.

A rough synopsis of Maya's conversation with Sandi about Mochy's death:

Maya: "But where is Mochy right now?"
Sandi:  "She's part of everything now.  She is happy and not suffering anymore."
Maya: "Is she smiling?"
Sandi:  "Yes."
Maya:  "But where is she smiling?  Where is she?"
Sandi: " She is in your heart and maybe even part of her is in that little fish that was born in our fish tank." 
Maya sits up and looks in the fish tank.  "I don't see Mochy in there."

Now I realize Heaven is a comforting idea to offer children, but I'm only partly okay with this notion.  I don't have conventional spiritual beliefs and I don't believe that there is some storage space in the sky where all souls retire.  I believe the Universe is too efficient to waste the energy of a soul and so, yes, if you want to pin me down, I believe in reincarnation.  But in my heart it feels more like an environmentally slanted reusing and recycling something as wonderous to behold as a unique soul.

By contrast, here is the conversation I had with our sage seven-year-old:

Ella: "So can you look online to see what a picture of a spirit looks like?"

Me: "Well...not really honey.  There aren't pictures of that.  You can't really see a spirit."

Ella:  "Maybe a baby was born today and Mochy is part of that baby."

Me: "Maybe.  Mommy and I believe that Mochy is now part of everything, like bits of her spirit went into other living things- a bird, a rainbow, a tulip.  She went from being a small being in a little body to being big and everywhere .  In this way everything is connected and a part of everything is in you and you are in everything.  That pretty much sums up our belief in what some people call God."

Ella: "I know God isn't a person.  God is everything."

Monday, May 21, 2012

yard sale! and budding entrepreneurs

Yard sale Saturday dawned sunny and hot which was heaven after a seriously excessive amount of May rainfall.  (Each time you would check the extended forecast all you would see is gray, dripping gray.)

I had offered to host our Gold's Gym Trek Across Maine team yard sale.  The idea behind the yard sale was to help team members who hadn't met their fundraising goal get there and for those that had to raise money for the (rather excessive) associated travel expenses. 

For reasons not entirely understood by me, my friends Katie and Alex REALLY love yard sales.   They came Friday afternoon to help me transform my front yard into a shopping paradise with a few plastic tables, some plywood and some saw horses.  Their daughter Mikayla and her friend came over to entertain the girls which was helpful in every way, including keeping Ella out of previewing the merchandise.

(Ella refused to donate even one single item to the yard sale from her room.  I fear she is a hoarder in the making.)

Here is Katie giving me the thumbs up indicating we are good to go:

For the uninitiated, those who "yard sale" (verb) peruse the paper for listed sales and arrive to shop long before the appointed time.  Our sale was to be 8-12 and I had made almost a quarter of my total sales (a completely made up calculation) before 8 a.m. 

Here is Alex, back to, scoping out the items:

Two fellow Trek team members, Rachel and Robert, who look (and are) so seriously buff I am glad to be on the same team as them if for no other reason than they look so fierce. (They also happen to be really great people.  Buff and kind- what could be better?)

I asked the girls if they wanted to run a lemonade stand and my question was met with rousing enthusiasm.   We made a batch of giant pumpkin chocolate chip cookies the morning before the sale (and before school if you can believe it- we're early risers) and they offered both sugar and sugar-free lemonade.  What can I say their mom is a Type I diabetic.

The cookies sold out by 9 a.m. Yes, I am unclear how many were consumed by my children.  The girls also made a ton of money and we cannot determine if this is partially by accident.  I was supervising the girls, naturally, but was busy making money in $.25 increments so I was only watching for their continued presence on the front lawn rather than their compliance with the conventional standards of change disbursement. 

For instance, Sandi saw a man give Ella a dollar bill for a glass of lemonade.  She took it, said thank you and put it in her container.  It was only when Sandi prompted her that she gave him his 3 quarters.   We are unclear how many people may have been scammed on our front lawn on Saturday morning.

All that selling is hard work, though, and sometimes you've got to take a break.

In the end, I made $377 to go to my Trek travel expenses (a little less since someone made a donation that will go directly to the American Lung Association) and the girls made somewhere around $25 selling lemonade and cookies. Not bad for a Saturday morning. But the best part? In preparation for the sale I cleaned out the basement, the eves, the top of the garage and two closets!


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

published?

Hey, guess what?  My article on chocolate milk  reform (strong but catchy, no?) was posted to the Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution website!

I would really love to get paid to write and I've looked into submitting topic specific articles to parenting magazines (NOT the advice columns) but many of them you need to be a "published" writer.  I'm wondering...does online count?

Monday, May 14, 2012

mother's day and other cool stuff

To catch you up on some recent happenings:

Our family can now go on bike rides down the street.


Ella can now read to a captivated Maya. Occasionally she actually does so.


We partook in some seriously needed feet up time at the Manharts: bike riding, tree climbing, grilled supper, chiminea fire and catching up.
And (this one stands alone) grilled nutella berry pizza.  Oh. My. Goodness.  Like a chocolate dough boy.  Need I say more?  I started to size people up to see if I could take them as this beauty disappeared slice by gooey slice.
Well deserved:





















Mother's Day isn't the incredible holiday in our house as it is in some.  The whole two mom thing means there is no other adult to orchestrate the Mother's Day indulgences. The girls each did make us something at school (Maya gave us hers Thursday afternoon as soon as we picked her up) and Ella asked if she could pick out a card for us at the grocery store.  Which meant that she wanted me to choose which I liked and also pay for it. 

Maybe we should consider splitting it and having one of us take Mother's and one take Father's Day?  Just a thought.

Ella's riding teacher also prompted her to serve us breakfast in bed and she asked if she could.  We made banana bread Saturday and she and Maya were very excited.

Ella also celebrated Mother's Day with a temper tantrum of epic proportion which made us all vacate the house while she yelled and screamed.  Hey, at least I got some time in the garden on my special day.

We were lucky enough to have both our moms (and Sandi's dad plus 2of the 3 of the our sisters) over to spend a beautiful afternoon out on the patio and by the fire pit visiting, eating, laughing and telling stories.

And, naturally, the only thing I took a picture of on this lovely afternoon was the truly remarkable amount of flatbreads we made for lunch:
(note: not all flatbreads shown)
We made broccoli alfredo, carmelized onion and pineapple, pesto with sunflower seeds and walnuts, pesto with roasted vegetables and goat cheese and the same with pizza cheese instead of goat, plus a  tomato, baby spinach, garlic and feta flatbread.  And yes, a cheese one for the kids.  Because I don't know about you but my kids aren't down with the goat cheese just yet.

Hope everyone had a great mother's day. Perhaps you were lucky enough to not get an emotional outburst the size of Mt. Saint Helen's.  Maybe you were so fortunate to get a poem.

These poems, written by Ella, sets the scales to even again though.

For Sandi:

Mommy I love you.
You are the best.
Mommy you are kind.
Oh Mommy you are the best.
Mommy you are so nice.


For me:

Momma I love you
You are so sweet.
Momma you are helpful.
Oh Momma you are the best.
Momma you are fun.

(So I guess Sandi really is the best AND she's nice whereas I am helpful, second best, but I am also fun.)

As you can see, no big deal having a kid make two because she has two moms.  And who knows maybe she will get to do something cool like build a rocket ship when they make Father's Day cards?

Ella asked me if I would keep mine forever.  Indeed I will.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

we 'preciate you!

My duties as part of the PTO at Ella's school are to be in charge of the Valentine's Dance and I am co-chair of Teacher Support with another first grade mom, Marilyn.  The Teacher Support team organizes ongoing things for the staff- like "Friday Baking" wherein every Friday of the year the teacher's room is filled with snacks and homemade treats donated by parents.  We also head two "events" a year- a supply drive in the fall to help fill the wishlists of the teachers and Teacher Appreciation Week in May.

At our school we celebrate Staff Appreciation Week (52 total) and we rather spoil the staff rotten for an entire week.  It is a PERFECT post for me and I love it.

This was the week as we had planned it: everyday the staff would get a little treat in their mailbox.  On Monday they were also to have a flower delivered to them.  Tuesday we provided breakfast (parent donated) and I provided chair massage during lunch.  Wednesday was smoothie afternoon.  Thursday we had a staff luncheon.  Friday was decadent dessert day and we raffled off 16 gifts from candles and plants to gift cards.  We also had a goody basket in the teacher's room full of things staff could help themselves to: candles, lotion, candy, granola bars, tea, microwave popcorn, $5 gift cards for coffee, Ibuprofen (my personal favorite), gum, pens, highlighters, and more which were almost all donated by parents.  We had such an outpouring from the parents leading up to and during this week we felt as spoiled as the teachers.  We had a $600 budget for the event and we came in at half that.  My spare room looked liked Santa's Teacher's workshop.
There was a ton of prep work to do at home and Marilyn's grandmother had just passed away so I took on most of it and put my kids to work.  I was really proud of them. They truly got the spirit of what we were doing and never complained but rather offered help at every turn.  Maya spent a lot of time running around the school with me, dropping things here and there, filling baskets, handing out items and going to and from the car.  She kept saying, "Is this for the teachers?" and on she would march.

There was so much I didn't get to photograph and the camera is taking such horrible inside pictures but here is a general sense of the week.
Peeling bananas to freeze ahead for smoothies:




One of the 5 daily tokens to put in staff mailboxes.  "We don't stand a lick of a chance without you."

Every morning the girls helped stuff these bags and stick the labels on.  Yes, I paid them in candy.

Marilyn, my co-chair, on smoothie afternoon. 



Honestly, we had SO much fun doing this.


Jessica, the mom who climbed the giant ladder and nearly climbed through the suspended ceiling to help figure out how to hang the mirror ball for Valentine's Dance.  A Leo and youngest of three girls like me, we are kindred spirits with an appreciation for the need to talk a lot and laugh at everything.  She is the person you want at every event you plan.

The kids loved handing out the smoothies to their teachers and giving them leis.



For the Thursday luncheon we put table clothes and flowers on the tables in the teacher's room and the mom volunteers served the staff from behind the tables.  All of the food was donated by parents.

We had hot food:

Salads and breads:


I mean, look at this beautiful bread basket one mom made:







And of course there was a table dedicated to dessert:

And yes, because I am that kind of crazy, I had to make food for every event.  For Tuesday's breakfast:  chocolate filled buns from Cooking Light.  For the luncheon: homemade crescent rolls and braided bread.  For decadent dessert day: a mocha chocolate tart.


We sent home flowers for the kids to write what they appreciate about their teachers and created this wall display.  It was both really pretty and incredibly sweet.



Above all, this past week has made ME appreciate our school's strong PTO and all that goes with it.  Because we have such active parents, we can plan great events to help fund the PTO which in turn can then fund things for the school, such as Staff Appreciation Week, field trips and even a new floor cleaner for our janitor.  And because we take such good care of our school and our staff, they take incredible care of our kids.  We appreciate them and they appreciate us.  The staff fell all over themselves thanking us for this week. Win. Win.

This week was incredibly fun, totally full filling and entirely exhausting. I am learning that equation well in my life as a mom. I was up before 5 AM every day last week. Plus after being at the school all day Thursday setting up for and cleaning up after the luncheon, I spent the afternoon and early evening volunteering at the Book Fair.  But it is all completely worth it to have a face in the school and be known.  "Oh, you're Ella Carver's mom!"  Know my child.  Treat her well please. 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

first grade concert: a practice in adorabilitly

I'm not positive adorability is a word, but if it isn't it should be.

And Ella's first grade concert would be a good place to coin it.

It is almost heartbreaking to me that the kids only have music and art once a week (30 minutes) and PE twice.  After all, I grew up when there was such a thing as school funding (and I guess lots of children were "left behind") and we had PE nearly every day and I probably had quadruple the art and music time.

Knowing the limited amount of music the kids get, I was all the more pleased with the 25 minute choral concert they put on. Excited, bold and too young to be embarrassed- girls AND boys singing their little first grade hearts out.

Here is the picture I took of Sandi and Maya (the one Tia didn't want to be left out of):
















Reed, showing us his shark tooth necklace- a gift from Emilie's surf camp trip to Mexico. (Can't you hear it? "My mom went on surf safari and all I got was this shark tooth necklace...")

There are over 100 first graders in Ella's school that make up 7 different classes. My time in the cafeteria for kindergarten, and now first grade, lunch means that I know the faces of most and the names of many of these little budding people.  I was overcome with pride for them watching them on their risers.  (Sorry, not great quality photos from far away.)

They did a patriotic number to start.  Can you see Ella?

How about now?  Can you at least see the hair that is hiding her face?


















When Ella gets embarrassed or nervous she hides her face- kind of like how a baby will cover her eyes and think she is hiding. 

But soon, the spirit of the music took over and she began to sing.   And make eye contact.  How can you not when the song involves hand gestures like arm rolling and interval arm raising?

(See Skyler looking super cute in the row behind?)

The best close up we could get from far away:























After the concert, Kaylee and Kendall's parents brought them flowers (how cute!) and, being the sweethearts they are, they shared them with Ella and Maya.




It has been such a joy to watch Ella emerge from her shell over the past couple of years in school.  While there are so many merits to home schooling, I know it was the right decision to send Ella to school. Her confidence and sense of self have blossomed and she thrives in the community her school creates.  I love this protected nook of a K-2 school and am conniving ways to keep her back in second grade.