Thursday, May 31, 2012

A month of firsts

This past Friday marked one month since our little Max passed away.  I can no longer count his time with us as being “x” number of days ago; from now on he has been gone “x” number of months.

It’s been a hard month of firsts for our family.

First full day without him.

First walk with just Marshall.

First week.  First full weekend.

First solo dog bath, somehow using the same number of towels (no surprise to those of you who know our Marshall).

First day that I felt physically normal again.  This is what I never knew when there is an unexpected death – that your physicality changes.  You don’t feel like yourself; not just internally (emotionally), but externally.  Your skin, your hair, your muscles, your entire body.  You want nothing except to feel like your old self again.  And then one day you realize you do—and then that feels strange; a loss all over again.

First time since we walked into the emergency vet as two and came out as one that I could take Max’s leash out of my purse.  As silly as it sounds, I felt closer to him having his old leash with me when I left the house.

First time I could talk about him without crying.  I still choke up, but at least I’m not a blubbering mess.

First day I accidentally poured two bowls of dog food for dinnertime, instead of just one.  Without thinking; the old routine had never left my subconscious.

First time the UPS man delivered a package and left just one milk bone on the front steps.

First Memorial Day weekend without endlessly throwing a certain red ball on the fresh cut lawn with the smell of hamburgers grilling on the patio.

It’s been a tough month and we’re in for a rough year of firsts—first summer, first family birthday celebrations, first Thanksgiving and Christmas—they will all feel a little emptier without our gentle giant perched behind us on the sofa.  But I’m going to relish each of these sad firsts because I know the real sadness, the true heartache, will be when I can no longer say “this is the first time without Max.” 

When the months have passed and the year is over and we start another one dog short—and I still feel like it all happened yesterday.  He will always be my first in one way though.  He was the first dog I’ve ever lost.

I ordered these note cards just weeks before Max passed.
The "dog" icon looks nothing like a Bichon, but I couldn't resist  - they were so stinkin' cute.
I think every time I use one, I'll smile a little bigger.

Happy Thursday, everyone!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Our Memorial Day

I hope everyone enjoyed their holiday.  I’ve always thought there was something innately special about Memorial Day weekend.  I try to remember that it’s not just a three-day event to kick off the summer (although the fact that the neighborhood pool is now opened is nothing short of epic in this household), but that it’s a national holiday for a reason and an important one at that.  Both of my grandfathers served in combat; neither of them talked much about their experiences, but I grew up swollen with pride over their accomplishments (and lest we forget the incredible women they left behind to keep the home fires burning.  Can you imagine?).

We had a much-needed relaxing weekend, which included (no surprise) two pool outings, playground romps, a hike through the University of Richmond campus (yes, I said hike; I think all of the hills in the metro area are concentrated on those grounds), and plenty of backyard time.

The only flat part of the University of Richmond campus - the pond.

I couldn't resist these pictures of my sweaty boy sporting his red, white and blue.

Will worked yesterday so it ended up feeling like more of a typical Monday than a holiday, except that wherever Frances, George and I went everyone around us radiated relaxation.  Surrounded by a sea of American flags, I watched entire families play in the pool and on the playground and it made me smile.  I would have rather Will had been with us all day, but I was very thankful to be able to venture out and enjoy the holiday with the kids.  As corny as it sounds, days like yesterday I find myself asking, “How did I get so lucky?”

Reality set in hard this morning when Frances and George were on their second respective temper tantrums and Will blew a kiss to me in the air as he lunged towards his car – “see you tonight!”

Days like today I find myself asking, “How did Will get so lucky?”  Kidding, of course.  Sort of.

Happy Tuesday, everyone!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Memorial Day

A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.
-Joseph Campbell

Happy Memorial Day to all of our heroes, including some of mine.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Here and there

Frances, George and I made the trek to Maymont this week.

We lucked out and saw nearly every single animal on display (except for the nocturnal bobcat.  In my 30+ years of Maymont visits, I have yet to see that one).  The bears were especially active, playing right in front of us.

Maymont is an incredible place.  The park houses animals that would otherwise perish in the wild (orphaned bear cubs, injured bald eagles, blind barred owls just to name a few).  The ‘animals should run FREE’ girl in me always feels a bit better going there than the average zoo.  I know in my heart of hearts, zoos do great things for animals – but I can’t help but walk away a little sadder after watching the white tiger pace his 20th lap around his “extra large” cage.  Something just doesn’t sit right with me about that.  Please feel free to convince me otherwise though; I would love to take the kids to the zoo with a good conscience, particularly since we have a great one here in Richmond.


My latest obsession?

George with his shirt tucked in.  How has it taken me this long to figure out how much I love this look?


Frances’s latest obsession?

Her yellow, heart-shaped diamond ring from the haircut place.  After successful haircuts, the stylists let each child pick out one ‘treasure’ from their chest of toys.  Predictably, George grabs a bug or dinosaur figurine; the Princess looks for the most sparkly object in the box and even I have to admit she lucked out this time.  When she asked if I wanted to try it on, I may have said, “YES!” before she had completed her sentence.  What can I say, I like sparkles, too.


Speaking of Frances, she recently finished up her 20-day round of antibiotics for Lyme disease:

The same weekend Max passed away Frances discovered a tick buried in her scalp under her ponytail.  As a precautionary measure, the doctor treated her for Lyme, strep and staph (all of which can be transmitted by a tick – who knew?).  And for my peace of mind, I purchased some tick repellant from Avon.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it works or it’s going to be a LOOOONG summer.


It was at about this point that I thought, “I wonder if that recipe yielded how many people it served?”

Two large Dutch ovens (and 4 ½ pounds of Italian sausage) later, I realized that when you make a dish from your church’s cookbook, you run the risk of making enough to feed the entire congregation.  On the plus side, the spaghetti sauce was delicious.  Several of you may be receiving a quart or more in the coming days.


We lucked out in getting another shot of the four of us (thank you, Heather!).

This was taken on our last day at the Outer Banks, which inevitably required that I wear a shirt over my bathing suit to cover my sunburn from the previous day.  Of course, all I can think of when I look at this picture is George announcing to the entire Sanderling beachfront, “Mommy, I see your underwear!”  When one is already towing the line between normalcy and nerd-dom, you can never quite recover from that comment.

Happy Friday, everyone!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A gift to the inept DIY-ers

Oh, Command picture hanging strips ...

... what did I ever do without you?

Come to think of it, I have yet to hang any actual pictures with these aptly named 'picture hanging strips,' but I’m sure that’s only a matter of time.  Honestly, I wouldn’t mind shaking the hand of the person who came up with these little strips of gold because they really are a gift to those of us who are 1) home 99% of the time; 2) see a million and one things that need to be done immediately; and 3) have no drilling and very limited nail-hanging skills.

They also allegedly come off of all surfaces without any ‘gunk’ (for lack of a better word) left behind.  But in this house, these typically temporary place-holders are all still doing their job and I plan to keep it that way as long as possible.

For those of you who haven’t used these tools (in the loosest sense of the word), the strips function like two pieces of very strong Velcro – one sticks to the wall or surface, the other sticks to whatever object you would like to hang up.  No ugly nail marks in the wall and the ability to continually readjust how straight the wall hanging is placed?  Sign me up!

I first used them on our master bedroom full-length mirror:

Well, full-length for all 5’3” of me.  It’s more of a ‘how’s my lower half looking’ mirror for Will.

For several years (I kid you not), this $10 Target mirror sat propped up against the wall next to my side of the bed.  I knew I wanted to hang it near the closet, but I didn’t want to impale our nice, white door with huge nail holes that would also very likely fracture the (let’s admit it) cheapo mirror in the process.  So, beside the bed it sat … and sat … until I heard about these little Velcro strips.  Genius, I tell you.

A mediocre view of the Velcro strip and a great view of the hole already in our door.

Fast forward a year or so when I purchased a shoe organizer to house our ever-growing collection of cords (sometimes paired up with the correct electronic device; sometimes not).  The organizer advertised itself as ‘easy to install and guaranteed to fit over any door,’ which in this household usually means ‘any door except the one that you intend it to fit.’

A shot of the metal hanger holes that just weren't meant to be.

Velcro strips to the rescue.

Finally, just yesterday I was able to better affix Frances’s height chart in her room, which for years had been held up by thumb tacks (very child-friendly, I know, particularly when one of them would dislodge from the wall on what seemed like a weekly basis and bury itself into the matching white carpet.  Tetanus, anyone?).

The scene of the crime - the thumb tack hole.

As George likes to say, “ta-da!”

And speaking of George and Frances, this post is brought to you (in part) by our next door neighbors who are paving their driveway today.

There is nothing like a crew of 10 men, several bulldozers and one very large dump truck to keep two preschoolers occupied long enough for one harried mother to use her picture hanging strips.

Happy Wednesday, everyone!  

Monday, May 21, 2012

My baby fix

Baby Maggie and her parents (my brother, Henry, and his wife, Kerrin) came in to town this Sunday.

She is 14-months-old and already bracing to take over the world.

The visit was much too short (as always!), but it was just enough time to allow me to get in my “I really, really want a third baby now” fix.

Princess Ariel was a big hit

As was Marshall

Now is probably as good a time as any to tell you that George's pronunciation of Uncle Henry's name comes out more as "Uncle Weenie."  Seriously, I laugh hysterically every time he says it.
Of all of the uncles in the family, Henry is not the one you want to call weenie.

That adorable face should last me at least a week.  Maybe.

I just want to take a bite of those ruddy cheeks.

Happy Monday, everyone!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

This and that

Frances had her first dentist appointment this week.

I completely blanked on taking my camera with us when we went, but this is a picture from that same morning.  She wanted to look her best, so she went with her current favorite outfit—the shiny purple fish tank top and matching skirt from her (Fairy) Godmother, Aunt Katherine.

Needless to say, she was the hit of the dentist’s office.  And she was good; really, really good.  I’m not sure why I am still surprised at how well my girl does with instructions and authority figures—I guess a part of me still thinks of her as the wiggly one-year-old who cried hysterically during her first haircut.


George’s current obsession?

Where’s Waldo and puzzles.  Thank goodness these are primarily solo projects because my eyes can hardly take looking at many more Waldo pictures.  Tiny, tiny drawings made for tiny, young eyes.


My husband, the comedian.

I think the middle pictures says it all, particularly with my black purse at his feet.


Frances, George and I have been spending many of these beautiful days at the botanical gardens.

The princess finally found her castle (made entirely of plant material).

The roses are spectacular now.


Frances has started dressing her stuffed animals in her dolls’ clothes.

The cat on the far right (with the two hair bows on her ears) cracks me up.

I’m not sure which is more surprising—that her little mind came up with this idea or that the clothes actually fit her 'friends' pretty well.


Our daily celebration:

Daddy’s arrival home from work.  What can I say, these kids adore their father.  Of course, who wouldn’t want Will for a dad—kind, gentle, patient and with a 90” wingspan to lift you higher than you ever thought possible into the air.

Hold on tight!

Happy Saturday, everyone!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Meal planning

It took a good nine months from my first day as a full-time mother, but I finally have a system in place for our family’s meal plan.  Translation: I am finally able to cook on a regular schedule without pulling my hair out from frustration in an attempt to keep yet another ball in the air.

I’ve noticed a lot of articles, blog posts, magazines and even entire books dedicated to the subject of ‘family meal planning’ (which, in all honestly, makes me feel a little less insane; you mean a lot of people out there struggle with this?).  So, I thought I’d share with all of you lucky readers what I do on a weekly basis for our meals.  None of what I do is rocket science (or probably that unusual), but I am surprised at just how much enjoyment I get out of these little domestic puzzles—maybe it’s because I like having the ability to restore some order to our day, to have a routine, to feed my family (and watch them enjoy) food that I’ve made; or maybe it’s just a sign that I need to get out more.

I have to make a rather obvious caveat that my meal plan works for our unique family at this point in our lives—one where the kids eat at least two hours earlier than the adults because one such adult cannot seem to pry himself away from his desk before dark.  I can only imagine this plan will evolve as the kids age and everyone’s daily schedule changes, but right now it is working well.  Whew!

The Plan

Sometime over the weekend (usually Friday night or Saturday), I pick out three recipes to make that next week.  If we are low on food in the house or if it looks like the recipes will make a smaller portion, I’ll choose four; if Will and/or the rest of us will be venturing away from home that next week (and thus eating less), I’ll choose two.  But usually three fits the bill (with leftovers on the ‘off’ nights).  Exciting stuff, I tell ya.

With those recipes in hand, I write my grocery list.  I don’t purchase a lot in bulk mainly because we are short on storage in this house and because I hate clutter and it drives me crazy not knowing what’s at the far depths of my pantry, so I usually just buy what the recipes call for that week, plus our other staples (milk, yogurt, cheese – does anyone else sometimes wonder if it would be more productive to just get the dairy cow?).

I also have about 5 or 6 vegetables sides and 3 or 4 breads that are quick and easy.  Depending on the recipes, I’ll usually do 2 or 3 veggies and 1 or 2 bread sides for each week.

The Prep

As much as possible, I grocery shop on Sundays during naptime or any other day I can do it alone.  The kids are great on quick trips for forgotten items, but I like being able to really focus on what I’m buying, particularly if it’s for a new recipe (has anyone ever bought buttermilk instead of heavy cream because by the time they got to the dairy aisle the kids were on a mission to kill each other?  If not, I can assure you that while they may look the same, they taste very different).

And have you met my husband, Mr. Martha Stewart?  He created these fantastic grocery list templates that match our closest Kroger’s layout.  It is a huge timesaver for me.

After I return from the store and put everything away in its designated spot (another thing I love to do.  Seriously, I may need professional help soon), I layout when I will make each recipe:

I didn't take the picture very well to show this (what we may or may not need at Sam's this week takes precedent, no?), but I put the meal I am making that day at the top of the calendar day.

Once I know when I’ll be making each dish, usually every-other day, I can figure out when I can start the prep work—chopping the veggies, defrosting the chicken stock, preparing a part of the recipe ahead of time.  I find that once I do that tedious stuff, the cooking part isn’t nearly as arduous and I enjoy it much more.

The Fixing

So, when do I cook?

In all honestly, it still varies from day-to-day.  Some days, I cook during naptime to be reheated later.  Other days, I start around 5pm when Gram-E comes over to play with the kids.  Still other days, I wait until closer to 6pm, after the kids have eaten and had their bath and are (gasp!) watching Curious George or something else that won’t damage too many brain cells.  Yes, we limit screen time in this house, but one exception is when I need to cook.  I would love for one of my kids to cook with me … one day.  But they are too small and that stove/oven is just too hot for two wiggly little bodies and four little hands to ‘help’ at this point.  And I'm not quite up to juggling that ball at this stage.

I have been known to start the prep work in the mornings (chopped onion for breakfast, anyone?) for the recipes I’ll be making that evening, but sometimes I can’t get to that until midday or even shortly before cooking.  The better I can layout my week, the better I am at determining when (which I think is the hardest part of meal planning, but maybe I’m alone?).

Okay, and I’ll stop talking nonsense at this point.  My type-A personality has officially bled into the domestic field of meal planning and I won’t subject you lovely readers to any more of my structured schedule.  I will say that I have found my need for mental organization (calendars, to-do lists, etc.) has been a huge asset in meal planning—because for me that’s really what it is all about.  Organizing my time as well as possible.

Happy Thursday, everyone!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Mother's Day weekend

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaand, we’re back.

We just returned from another weekend away – Will had a law conference in the Outer Banks, NC (roughing it again, I know) and we stayed an extra day to celebrate Mother’s Day in style.  But if it sounds like every Tuesday I write a post about ‘our weekend away’ you are absolutely correct.  It feels like we’ve been gone every weekend since the first of March and I am so excited to spend the next foreseeable weekends at HOME (and yes, I’m sure I’ll start getting wanderlust in two weeks’ time, but I’m willing to chance it at this point).

We certainly went out with a bang though.  The conference was at The Sanderling Inn in Duck, North Carolina, a beautiful resort town we were lucky enough to catch just as it was waking up from its winter hibernation and spreading its summertime wings. 

The weather was perfect – some sun, some clouds, temperatures in the 70s.  I even managed to get too much sun on my shoulders after spending all Saturday terrified that F&G were going to get sunburned.  They walked away unscathed.

And speaking of Frances and George, they were in heaven.

Slathered with sunscreen and ready for the beach.

Frances, the fearless water bug, somehow convinced her father to take her in the ocean so they could go “up and over the waves,” her all-time favorite beach activity.  I think it lasted all of five minutes (not even enough time for a picture) before she realized just how frigid the Atlantic Ocean is in mid-May.

Isn't this gorgeous?  We toured the Currituck Beach Lighthouse (above) and the Wright Brother's memorial (below picture).  Both were breathtaking.  I love the weeping willow in this picture though - it doesn't get more classically Southern than that.

And as for me – once Will’s meetings ended on Saturday, he let me have oodles of alone time.  I was able to take a long run, finish my book and start a new one (my version of heaven), and take in the sights and sounds of an ocean view.

This was our one family beach vacation this year, so it was hard to pack-up and say goodbye.  But now we are all officially refreshed and worn out at the same time—Will is back to working too much, the kids are happy to be sleeping in their own beds again, and I’m ready to stay rooted here as long as possible.

Home Sweet Home

Happy Tuesday, everyone!