Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Zoo

I thought it’d be fun to take the kids to the zoo one day during their winter break from school. I invited my mom along to share in the day, and she brought my little nephew (7 mos) who she watches once a week. It was a beautiful day, overcast but not chilly, almost ideal for a day spent outdoors.

I think this visit was the best I’ve had as far as animal interaction goes. It’s like we hit some cosmic marvel because most of the animals were not only out in the open where you could see them but they were highly active as well. Sometimes when we visit the zoo half the animals are hidden in some secret part of their area completely non-visible to humans. Other times we go we can see the animals all right, they just refuse to move or wake up. This time however a great majority of them were visible, moving about and giving the viewers lots of entertainment. It was marvelous.

We watched the giraffes glide along with their beautiful gate, we admired the tiger’s powerful yet stealth-like walk, we laughed at the teeny tiny monkeys that leaped and played in the trees around us, we applauded the mighty elephant who did tricks before receiving his meal, we gawked at the lion who showed us much more of himself than necessary and empathized with the lioness who had her back turned to him in what appeared to be nothing less than scorn, we giggled at the bright baboon butts, and we marveled at the very apparent family bonds and interaction amongst the orangutans. We saw much, walked for hours and spent a truly enjoyable morning together.

My 7 month old nephew is very social and observant. He takes in his surroundings with curiosity combined with seriousness. He often displays a face deep in thought, as though contemplating the existence of humankind. As babies do, he can instantaneously transform his features to radiate with extreme joy and happiness, as though bubbling over from within. He spent most of the morning switching back and forth between these two moods.

He also was not about to sit alone in his comfy stroller while all the other kids roamed about freely and at such a greater height than he. I quickly realized the futility of keeping him in the stroller and decided to hold him up high (ok, higher) with freer movement. He remained in my arms for a good two hours. I often say he is the easiest baby in the world to hold. He just rests effortlessly in your arms. But after two hours, even he got heavy. So we stashed him back in the dreaded stroller and quickly popped a teething cookie into his hands. Best move ever! This little cookie (or cracker…? Not exactly sure what it was) kept him thoroughly entertained and occupied for another hour! He chewed on that sucker nonstop, in sheer bliss. At the end of our outing he was covered, literally from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet in mushy, smeared, caked on cookie crumbs. He was quite a sight! All we could identify of his former self were his two little round eyes shining out from behind cookie mush.

My kids were running around the place like chickens with their heads cut off. We could have easily caged them and placed them on exhibit as well with the way they were running to and fro like little wild bambinos. Even my daughter took part in the mayhem. She doesn’t technically run yet, it’s more of an animated, brisk walk accompanied by squeaks and squawks with her arms stretching straight up and out. Now it’s not like we’ve never been to the zoo before, or even out in public for that matter. They are well acquainted with the zoo (and with social norms). They know how to behave. I’ve spent much, much, much, much time educating in this area. But something was in the air this day, something that made them feel it was all right to throw caution to the wind and be free. I don’t know, maybe it was the same something that affected all the zoo animals too. I finally gave up the broken record commands and decided as long as they were safe, in sight, and not harming others, I would let them explore their wildness. We were, after all, at a zoo, surrounded by wild animals. What were three more?

The morning ended with my nephew and my daughter in tears, exhausted beyond comprehension, ready for some real food and some real sleep, whichever happened to come first. My nephew ended up falling asleep in my arms on our way to the car, completely worn out. He didn’t awake until much later when his mother (I’m sure slightly horrified at his appearance) picked him up. My daughter somehow managed to keep her little eyes open till she ate, but we did have to listen to her sad whimpers all the way home. The boys were elated, having enjoyed exotic animals, the petting zoo, and hours of (mostly) unhindered freedom to be wild little boys.

All in all, a fantastic day!

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Monday, December 20, 2010


My posts will hardly ever be like this one. I'm making an exception, taking a break from story telling in order to give a review. I much more enjoy sharing my life stories with you but this particular program has been such a big part of my life for the last 9 weeks I feel I must share about it. Next week I'll be back to normal, sharing regular true stories that make you laugh (hopefully!) or ponder....

I believe that we should all strive to be healthy and care for our bodies. No, I do not advocate succumbing to societal pressures on what a female body should look like. The woman we see on TV and in ads are paid millions of dollars to look like that, many have surgery and almost all adhere to rigorous workout routines and diets with personal trainers and personal chefs to maintain their physique. So, while I do not think all women should look like super models, I do think all women should make their health and physical well being a priority by making wise eating habits and incorporating physical activity into their days.

Having said this (the above being my background for what's to follow) it should be known that I love to eat. I love food, I worship chocolate and I drink red wine often. I do not exclude food from my diet, I just can't do it. Nor do I overindulge (ok, actually yes I do on certain chocolate products). I do take great pains to ensure I eat very healthy as well though, TONS of vegetables, lots of fruit and protein and very little carbs. I also make working out a priority and get myself to the gym 3 times a week.

Over the summer I realized that I was gaining weight. Not drastically but a few pounds, for sure. I am a little person, 5'2" (no, that's not a typo). Yep, I'm shorty-pants over here. A few pounds on a little person is noticeable. I complained about it enough to my husband that he finally up and bought me a work out video I had been eying called Insanity.

I was not overly excited about beginning this program. It looked pretty intense from the commercial I'd seen about it and it requires you to exercise 6 days a week! Ok, 3 was pushing it for me already. How was I going to do 6? But I knew something had to give. The fact was I was gaining weight and it was making me unhappy. I needed to do something about it and did not fancy dieting. Thus began my Insanity journey.

Once I made the decision to do it there was no turning back. I devoted myself to it whole-heartedly. I exercised every scheduled day, following the program to a T, not missing a single day or cutting any workout short. I was committed and sincere. I pushed myself hard (there's really no choice anyway) and tried to do better each day.

At first it seemed impossible. After the warm-up on day one I wanted to be done. I was tired, sweaty and sore, just from the warm-up! The sessions aren't even that long during the entire first 4 weeks, 30-40 min (they increase to 60 min at week 6). Seems easy, right? Nope. It was a struggle. But I persisted. It's very strange but somewhere during the 7th week the workouts actually became easier. I noticed myself pushing through to the end without feeling an intense desire to keel over and die right there in the middle of the floor, buried by my sweat. I would actually finish and feel pretty darn good! Exhausted, yes, but good.

Making the time to exercise every day with three kids (plus everything else in my life: school, soccer, homework, chores, errands, not to mention my writing, etc.) was no piece of cake. It took creativity and determination. My kids had to adjust and quickly learned to expect my workout time. We made the best of it. They would surround themselves with toys and activities and I would pop in my Insanity DVD. In fact, they would even get on the floor and participate (very sporadically) with me! Talk about adorable!!

I'm proud to say I just completed my 9 weeks. Yay! To be honest, I was a little disappointed by the results... that is until I saw my before and after photos (no, I will not be posting them. Trust me, it's for the best). There really is a big difference! The reason I was slightly disappointed was because I really wanted a completely flat stomach. After 3 kids it's pretty flat but I still have this extra, stretchy skin.... How do you get rid of that anyway? I was hoping Insanity would do the trick. It didn't, but I am smaller and firmer all around. My butt and legs especially look much improved (I hear this from my husband constantly! He loves my new butt).

In fact, none of my jeans fit, they are all huge on me so I have to wear a belt. A good problem to have, I guess. When I started I was ever so slightly bulging out the sides of my jeans (the main indicator I needed to lose some weight and the big motivator to actually do so!). I don't have a scale so I don't know how many pounds I lost. But I am very happy with my overall appearance.

So, my review after completion: GREAT workout. It will make you sweat like never before and you will firm and tone. It is challenging so if you don't currently work out it will be super hard (but not impossible, so go for it!!). The only part I was not happy with are my abs... I really want them taut and firm! So, I am continuing with Insanity, however I am returning to 3 days/week instead of 6. I think this should keep me in good shape. I can always do the full program again right before bikini season if need be... And let's not forget, I did carry 3 kids in my tummy and they did an excellent job at stretching it out for me. :) A little stretch is well worth it though.... I love my kids!!!

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Birthday Bonanza

We celebrated my oldest son's 7th birthday last weekend. Wow... I was under the distinct impression that this party would be easy. I had it all planned out, we've done this before, I had everything I needed. For some reason though the party was completely chaotic. Not what I was expecting. I thought each year would get easier, as they kids got older. Why did I think this? Well probably because I didn't know any better. I've since learned from moms with older kids that the exact opposite is in fact true.

So anyway, I was very happy and ready for the party. I love celebrating with my kids. The house was spotless (I spent the entire previous day cleaning), I had the party favors set out, the donuts were on the table (he chose donuts instead of cake), the banners were up, the cameras were charged and set in a easy to get to place, music was playing, and the boys were already playing in the bounce house.

The neighbor kids had seen the bounce house arrive and had been over at our house playing in it for over an hour. At 15 minutes before the party I sent them all home and told them to return when the party started. I needed some time for last minute prep (change the baby's diapers, put decent clothes on the boys, one last comb through everyone's hair, and last but not least, a quick bathroom run).

The plan was to have the kids play in the bounce house intermittently so as to avoid catastrophe. I thought if we broke it up into shorter segments the likelihood of injury would decrease. Again, don't ask my why I thought this, I just did. It made sense in my head, but of course real life doesn't always follow my thought process. Ok, it hardly ever does. Life has a way of unfolding that often seems to overlook and completely bypass my carefully layed out intentions. Today was no exception.

So, the kids begin to arrive and make a beeline for the bounce house. So far, so good. I get stuck close to the door greeting so I can't monitor the bounce house. However, my parents are here and I trust them to regulate. My husband is nowhere to be found. He left earlier to pick up the pizzas but he's late, about 20 minutes late. We were supposed to be eating 5 minutes ago according to my schedule. Deep breath in, slow exhale. It's ok, I tell myself.

At this moment our first big bounce house clash of the day happens. There ended up being so many I lost count. At one point the entire bounce house collapsed over to one side with kids falling to the ground, trapped underneath my husband. What the heck?! He was supposed to be monitoring the kids in there, not causing more problems. Ugh! I should have known better. My husband is great, but he's bound to push the limits more than anyone. He's a big kid at heart and lets it show at every opportunity.

The pizzas finally arrive, evidently the oven broke (when does that ever happen?) so they get here about 25 minutes late. The kids desperately need a bouncy break. They down the pizza and we walk over to the park, two houses down. The idea is to play 2 games here. One I am in charge of. As I practiced it in my mind before the party it seemed so simple and fun. The actual outcome turns out to be very confusing for some of the kids, making it not nearly as fun as I had pictured. Ok, no biggie, I'll just quickly move on to the next game so we don't dwell on the semi-flop.

My husband is in charge of a game of kickball. Mind you, this is his only responsibility of the day (besides picking up the pizzas). He is not prepared, not even close. No ball, no teams, no rules, no organization in the least. Yes, at this point I get irritated. So naturally instead of just letting it go and relaxing, I intervene and take over (I don't relax very well in these situations). I hurriedly make up a version of kickball all the kids understand (some have never played before). After a shaky start it ends up going rather well.

After the games are played I hand out candy to the winners, well it's gum, the rolled up kind. Wouldn't you know it, every single one is as hard as a rock! Impossible to chew (when does that ever happen?). Another flop.

Back to the bounce house. Within minutes there are several more injuries. Really?
What are they doing in there? So we move on to presents, a safe move I think, and yet even this turns out to be chaos. Since when did kids stop understanding the words, "Please sit down."? I sound like a broken record asking them to remain seated so we can all see the happenings. After this we have donuts and then back to the wonderful (dreaded) bounce house. The kids love it even though they keep getting hurt. It turns me into a nervous wreck, hoping to God I won't get yelled at by a parent.

Throughout the entire party I am running around like a crazy woman taking photos, recording video, getting the candle lit, showing people the restroom, all the little behind the scenes stuff that takes place, while simultaneously attempting to maintain an aura of calm and control. Not sure exactly how that came off....

By the end of the party, a mere two hours later (it felt like all day) I am spent. This year seemed so much more work than years previous. Man am I tired. But the kids seemed to have had a truly wonderful time, and in all honestly I did too. Despite the bumps and mishaps it is a fun-filled day, full of memories to cherish. And most importantly, my son is happy.

The neighbor kids are the last to leave, and only because I tell them the party is over and they need to leave. Of course they beg to stay. I cave and tell them to go home and return in one hour (I need a small break).

I finally have a minute to sit down and enjoy my donut (I wisely grabbed and hid a chocolate one for later!). Ahhhh..... it feels so good to sit.

Knock, knock, knock. All the neighbor kids are back. It's been exactly 20 minutes. Oh well, at least I got some chocolate! My son only gets this birthday once, right? Might as well live it up.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Photo with Santa

I've been taking my kids to get their photo taken with Santa every year since my oldest was born. My boys have been awesome every year, compliantly waiting in line, wearing the outfits I dress them in without complaint (or w/o much complaint), and smiling big for the camera. Since we've been doing this for 6 years now I thought it was all under control. Not so much....

This year I knew my daughter might not be as willing to entertain Mama as well as the Man in the Red Suit since she's much more in tune to her surroundings. Last year she was still young enough to basically have no idea what was happening. At 20 months she's well aware. She's also vocal and extremely particular (yes, I'm putting it nicely).

Keeping this in mind I decided to prep her for the occasion. We made a big to-do about her pretty Christmas dress, tights and shoes. She was all dolled up and received many ooh's and ahh's from her parents and siblings prior to leaving the house. We also made a HUGE deal about being lucky enough to see Santa. The boys truly were excited and we turned on the theatrics to maximize the outing.

The entire discussion in the car on the way to see Santa was whether or not we would see the real Santa or one of his helpers, because you know he's so busy this time of year it's impossible for him to be everywhere all at once. So, we may have the real one or we may have a helper, you never know! (This is how we explain the different looking Santa's in our photos.)

Upon arrival I dutifully take up our place in line. The wait is about 1/2 hour. So much for getting there early and beating the rush! Apparently everyone had the same idea..... My husband takes the boys to explore while I wait with our daughter. The place we're at has a whole Winter Wonderland theme going on so there are activities and games to keep the kiddos entertained, and by kiddos I do mean my husband. It's working very well.

I maintain the excitement on my end as much as you can while waiting patiently (or seemingly patiently) in line forever by asking my daughter the same questions over and over. "Are you ready to see Santa?" "Yes!" "Are you excited to sit on his lap?" "Yes!" "Are you going to smile big?" "Yes!" "Let Mama see your pretty smile." She obligingly shows me her pearly whites. After asking her the same series of questions about 5 times during our 1/2 hour wait, and receiving the same enthusiastic responses each time, I pat myself on the back for the job well done. Everyone's accounted for, everyone's happy, everyone knows what to do. Perfect!

It's our turn to see Santa. We make it up there and this time even I think we hit the jack pot and got the real Santa. This guy is fabulous! He's making jokes, he's asking questions, he listens, he even actually understands what my kids are saying and knows what they're referring to (my boys tend to get real shy and quiet, barely above a whisper, when talking to strangers so it can be difficult to hear them). I'm laughing, I'm thrilled at our Santa luck and ready for a killer photo.

This is the precise time my daughter realizes I'm actually letting her go and leaving her to sit on this strange man's lap. Out goes her pleasing personality
(in an instant!)and in comes a torrent of tears. Not only tears, but screams of protest as well. She's not having any of this. Santa, undaunted, tells me to just hold her and she'll be fine. I reply I do not want to be in the kids photo, to which he says "Oh no, it's fine, you're having a lovely hair day!". Ok, I was kinda flattered, but no, this is a kids only affair. I tell Santa he's gonna have to suck it up and hold her despite the kicking and screaming (hopefully she doesn't leave a mark!). I make a mad dash to stand next to the camera man (if you can call the scrawny teenager who's snapping away a "man"). Santa calls out to said camera man, in a booming, very Santa-like voice, "We have a code blue, Johnny!" I hear laughter from bystanders everywhere (it was pretty funny).

Snap! The photo is taken. Santa and the boys look amazing! Great smiles, good posture, no one's blinking. My daughter on the other hand is completely red-faced, tear streaked, snot nosed with both arms out flailing for mama to rescue her.

Yep, this photo will make great memories for years to come.

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