3rd and 4th nights of Hanukkah

We have managed to get through another 2 days of Hanukkah!

With all the wrapping paper and new toy boxes I’ve been throwing out so much trash and recycle that it’s shameless. So much waste!

And don’t get me started on the new toy clutter. I’m trying to be patient, to wait and see how much we have after these new 32 present join our houseful of toys. In the end then it will be time for another mass toy reorganization. Ugh. Can’t wait.

In the meantime, want to see what the Hanukkah Bears have been up to the past two nights?

Game of Angry Bird.

Night 3. Game of Angry Bird.

The Joker running away with the Hanukkah Gelt and Batman, Hulk and Spiderman chasing him.

Night 4. The Joker runs away with the Hanukkah Gelt. Batman, Hulk and Spiderman chase him.

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First night of Hanukkah

Hanukkah started today! The kids are SO happy!

All the gifts lined up for each kid in order of days they will receive them.

All the gifts lined up for each kid in order of days they will receive them.

And I am SO tired from wrapping 32 gifts!

At our house, with Hanukkah comes the playful Hanukkah bears.  This year they kicked of the festivities by showing up in a repurposed box we got last Hanukkah.DSC_0888

Adam came home early so he could light the candles and help assemble the first night’s gifts.DSC_0892

This year Adam was in charge of buying gifts so he gave the boys their budget and let them pick what they wanted. DSC_0890

Sam picked gigantic gifts. I’m not sure where we are going to fit all the new toys.DSC_0894

After all the boys went to bed, the Hanukkah bears came out again for more mischief…DSC_0895

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My 45th Birthday

Happy birthday to me!

The kids were very happy to see the birthday breakfast this morning!

The kids were very happy to see the birthday breakfast this morning!

As the famous French writer, Victor Hugo, once wrote, “Forty is the old age of youth; fifty is the youth of old age.”

I’m still getting presents from my parents, but during the part of the day that the kids were home, life is centered completely on their needs.

All four kids signed their names themselves for the first time ever.

All four kids signed their names themselves for the first time ever.

For the part of the day that is kid free, I spent the time doing some of the things I love.

I tried a restaurant I’ve wanted to try for a long time, The Chicago Diner.

It’s a meat free restaurant. Yes, I’m back on the vegan kick again. I stupidly started listening to the Rich Roll podcast while out running. He is a recovering lawyer, super athlete and vegan advocate. Now that I’ve heard it, I can’t unhear it. I’m slowly trying to cut out meat, dairy and refined sugars. Right now, I’m about halfway there.

Vegan Reuben with Yucca Chips

Vegan Reuben with Yucca Chips

This afternoon I ran a quick errand at REI for some winter gloves for the kids. I made the mistake of trying on some sales items. Shopping after childbirth is a depressing event. I’ve come to the realization that they only make two kinds of clothing for women: Skinny Hussy or Rolly Polly. Once again, at 45, I’m slam bang in the middle of that. Tight clothes show my imperfect lumps and billowy clothes make me look heavier than I am.

After dinner, as we were cutting up the birthday cake and I was agonizing over breaking my sugar fast for this special event, Adam asked me if I was having a good birthday.DSC_0870

I looked around at my oldest son, halfway through his childhood years. I thought about how many new projects I was trying to start now that the kids were back in school. Halfway through reading 3 books and 2 New Yorker magazines, a dozen or more writing projects half finished, halfway through a long list of de-cluttering projects, halfway through fixing the shower faucet, halfway through my perpetual to-do list, halfway through the life of this messy, complicated nuclear family and with any luck, halfway through my existence here on earth.DSC_0876

I looked on the table, next to the slices of cake to see my children’s glasses of milk, all half full.

I turned and answered Adam with an enthusiastic,  “Yes!”

I wouldn’t trade the childbirth lumps, the never ending to-do slumps, or messy family bumps for anything. There are very few times in your life when you are lucky enough to have both older and younger generations, as well as around 100 or so of your closest Facebook friends thinking of you on your special day.

If I’m halfway there, I can only look back with an immense appreciation of a life lived to it’s fullest, and look forward in optimistic anticipation of what is to come. But mostly importantly, with great joy, I can savor today, enjoying all the love and accomplishments that have lead me to this very moment.

After all, as another famous author, Ralph Waldo Emerson, once wrote, “Life is a journey, not a destination.”

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Thanksgiving 2017

A visit to Timber Ridge Lodge in Lake Geneva has become one of our Thanksgiving traditions. DSC_0809

With no family in town, we are free of the usual holiday constraints of cooking, traveling long distances to visit with extended family and stuffing ourselves silly on thanksgiving turkey and trimmings. Instead we spend the time with our nuclear family swimming, playing at the arcade, doing kid friendly activities and yeah, well, we did stuff ourselves silly on thanksgiving turkey and trimmings too. I guess we had to drive a long distance to get there too so really we just skipped the cooking part!

Adam almost didn’t book the trip this year. Then one night he was talking to someone, I can’t remember who, whose oldest child is two years old than our oldest child. That oldest child was too cool to do anything with the family anymore. Adam ran home and booked the hotel rooms. How many more years will Jack find this trip fun? When will he think it’s not cool enough for him?

I hope not for many more years. This trip is just starting to get easier for us!

The first night we were there, Sam lost his first tooth. IMG_8292

Luckily the tooth fairy makes scavenger hunts at Timber Ridge as well!DSC_0681

For the first time, Ben worked up the courage to try the green slide. Last time we were here every kid, included the twins, did this slide. DSC_0701

Not only did Ben conquer it once, he managed to slide down it 100 times over the course of our entire visit! As Adam can attest to, there are SEVENTY ONE stairs to get to the starting point for the green slide. I think Adam walked these enough in the past four days to work off a pound of fat.

This year the twins got to visit the hot tub for the first time. It is for kids ages 6 and over, but we dutifully taught them to lie about their age before we entered the water park.DSC_0707

Last time we visited the twins couldn’t swim. It makes going to a water park where one parent has to cover at least 2 kids and sometimes 3 a nerve racking event. This year, although we never let them out of our sights, we no longer worried they were going to drown every single moment. We could step back a bit instead and enjoy seeing them splashing around.DSC_0795 DSC_0797

The other key to making our trip much easier was Jack took on the responsibility of 3rd adult while we were in the waterpark. I felt bad asking him to always take a partner with him, but he not only took the duty on without any hint of annoyance, he willing took whichever partner we threw his way. Not one of his many younger siblings was made to feel like they were second best. He was such a great babysitter that the boys all wanted a turn with him!

All the kids did the rope monkey bars, but the twins still needed help from us.DSC_0740

Ben only had one major meltdown during the whole trip. Timber Ridge has many kid friendly activities you can join for free, where they give out prizes. We signed up for a timed scavenger hunt which ended up in the arcade. There were many factors that could have brought on the meltdown, the very stimulating lights in the arcade, the sudden overcrowding, and the rush to change activities before he was ready. However, we suspect it was mostly the timed nature of the event, working under pressure is not something Ben can handle right now. Besides this one moment, it was one of the best trips he has had with us for a while.

Besides hitting the water park every day, we spent a lot of time in the arcade.DSC_0816

The boys won lots of tickets and traded them for more junk to fill our already over stuffed house with.DSC_0767 DSC_0772 DSC_0817

Putting on a rock show with Jack's winnings.

Putting on a rock show with Jack’s winnings.

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Ben brings his winnings to bed with him.

Ben brings his winnings to bed with him.

We also did lots of the family fun activities they had to offer.

We made sand art by filling these plastic butterflies with colored sand.DSC_0755 DSC_0757

We did 2 different scavenger hunts. We decorated cookies.DSC_0810

We played family bingo. I actually won this time!DSC_0778

We did cookies, milk and story time.DSC_0823

Aaron raised his hand and correctly answered the question (after Jack very nicely told him the answer!) and won a puppy. Afterwards we visited with Timber Ridge’s mascot, Bruce the Moose.DSC_0828

A lot of these activities had other prizes you could win like arcade game cards, pretzels with cheese or cookies. The boys won them all. They enjoyed many free pretzels and cookies!DSC_0780

We also did a trolley ride to see the holiday lights.

Waiting for the trolley.

Waiting for the trolley.

We left exhausted and satiated. By the time next year rolls around it will be just long enough for us to forget all the answers on the scavenger hunt, to forget the easiest way to get into the floating tubes for the green slide, and for all the toys we won at the arcade to be broken.

It will be time to go back again.

Until next year Timber Ridge!DSC_0750 DSC_0753

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School Pictures ’17/18

Yesterday at the Kindergarten line up, one of the Kindergarten mom’s asked if we were retaking our school pictures this year.

“Mine were awful, so of course not!” I answered.

She looked at me like I was crazy. She was definitely doing a retake for her one and only kid.

Maybe it’s because I photograph the kids so much, this one picture doesn’t mean as much to me.  Or maybe I am hoping that my kids will have great senses of humor in the future. In which case, keeping a bad photo is funnier than a good one.

Not all of them turned out as bad as I’d hoped. You be the judge…

Jack looks like he is practicing for his mug shot.school photo jack 17:18

Ben’s was definitely the best.school photo ben 17:18

Sam, what deep thoughts are going on behind those brooding eyes?school photo - sam 17:18

Aaron or Alfred E. Newman?school photo aaron 17:18

(He is even missing a tooth under there)

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Thanksgiving Lessons

Recently an article by USA Today popped up on my phone. It was titled, “A Foolish Take: Here’s how much debt the average U.S. household owes“.

Basically it attributed more debt with the cost of living rising, household income not rising as much, and medical expenses as well as food and housing costs rising even more.

With disturbing trends like this I worry for the future of my kids. I’m well aware that, unless things change drastically in this country, the chance of them living the American Dream may soon share the odds of winning the lottery.

In fact, The Guardian wrote about it in their article, “Is the American Dream really Dead?“, “While 90% of the children born in 1940 ended up in higher ranks of the income distribution than their parents, only 40% of those born in 1980 have done so.”

The article goes onto explain that, “Individuals who were optimistic about their futures tended to have better health and employment outcomes.”

Well now. That is something I can work with.

I may not be able to change the bigger picture for my kids, the outside forces that are greater than ourselves, but I can try to change the smaller one. The little images and thoughts that come into their minds at times I’m not privy to. The one that says – it’s too hard, I give up, I’m not good enough.

How does one work to change the inner picture? By changing the inner perception.

Every night at dinner we have a conversation about what we are most grateful for. Then I don’t care what they say, as long as it’s not negative. Many nights the younger ones can only look at their plate and pick their favorite food on it to be grateful for. It’s okay. It’s a start.

Last year we started a ‘good deeds’ board. A magnetic board stuck to the wall with little blank squares of paper. Anytime I caught the boys doing something nice or thoughtful I would write it down on a blank square and hang it on the board for all to see.

I know what you are thinking after reading this. That nice for you, but who has time for that?

I don’t! Every day I feel overtired, overworked, underappreciated. Most days when we are all together as a family at home, we parents are too busy with emails, laundry, dishes, cooking, cleaning, paying bills, changing light bulbs, or online shopping to notice the kids. Their noisy chatter stays in the background like an annoying fly that flew into the house and periodically buzzes around your head, interrupting your thoughts and actions just when you are getting somewhere good.

Only when someone starts crying or yelling are we yanked into action.

But by being caught up in the mundane upkeep of everyday life, we lose sight of the most important job of parenting. Setting your kids up for future success.

Now, I know there are many things that can help kids with future success. Studying hard, having a robust social life, having outside interests like sports or music. But more important than all of those things, I see future success as gratitude.

Only by looking around and seeing that you are enough, that you have enough, will you truly every find success in life.When you get a D, will you think it’s too hard and give up? Will you blame the teacher? Or will you look at that grade with gratitude, a wake up call that your study methods suck and need revamping?

Only with gratitude will you not feel shamed by the facebook barrage of other people’s fancy summer vacations when you can’t afford your own. It’s human nature to covet other people’s things. It takes practice to recognize that basic human emotion, then turn it around. Too look around at your own life and see what you have instead of what you don’t. To see your glass half full, not half empty. It’s a problem as old as the bible, yet most of us still haven’t figured it how to combat it yet.

In my husbands line of work he often meets people who earn well over 7 figures and still sit around complaining that they don’t make enough. I believe them. I also know that they will never make enough. Because money isn’t the freedom they are searching for, money is what’s limiting them. Only by giving up the thought that you need more, that having more means being more, can you be free. Gratitude is freedom.

Am I having any success with my endeavors?

Perhaps I’ll never truly know.

But last week – this little nugget. Jack had a writing essay, with the impending Thanksgiving holidays he was asked to write what he was most grateful for. In the past his Thanksgiving essays included toys, vacations and favorite food treats. This year? Food, clothing, a good school, a house over his head and parents who can afford vacations.

Perhaps we can all take the beautiful lesson Thanksgiving offers us, the lesson of gratitude, and use it all year long. Seems silly to only think about it once a year, doesn’t it?

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Quick Wong Trip

This weekend we had a very quick, one night visit with the Wongs.

As many of you know, Andrew is our matchmaker. Adam and I met at his wedding in Jamaica, summer of 2003.DSC_0645He brought his two boys in town and the testosterone levels grew exponentially.

We beat the house up for a bit in the morning.DSC_0628Then we headed over to the Museum of Science and Industry to see what damage we could do there.DSC_0639 DSC_0646 DSC_0647 DSC_0648

Using the catapult Jack built.

Using the catapult Jack built.

Jack "handcuffs" Sam.

Jack “handcuffs” Sam.

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They spelled out "Sam is a..." Then added a lego pumpkin to the end of the sentence.

They spelled out “Sam is a…” Then added a lego pumpkin to the end of the sentence.

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Ben spells out his name “BEn” on the creation he called, “Ben City”.

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It was a lot of fun for all.

I hate how so many of our friends live so far away.

But I soooo appreciate the ones who make an effort to stay close.

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Last Tooth

It was with a heavy heart last night that I organized Jack’s last tooth fairy hunt.

I tried to make it extra hard, simply putting words on each clue like, “Bed”. He had to run around to every bed until he found the right one.DSC_0621Still it was pretty easy for him.DSC_0623Most days I find having four kids completely overwhelming and unmanageable but at times like this I’m happy we have so many more kids losing so many more teeth.

By the time it’s all done I’ll be so sick of these hunts that, instead of a a heavy heart I’ll be high fiving my husband. It’s a much better way to exit, a happier way to have closure.

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Halloween 2017

Halloween this year was quite a complicated event. With so many kids activities in the mix, I spent most of the day running around frantically.

First the push to get them all off to school, which I barely do on time every morning. Now add the costuming and special give aways for Halloween and it’s almost impossible.

But we managed it.

Everyone got to school on time. And we stayed to watch the twin’s Halloween parade. DSC_0560 DSC_0565

Which meant we had to miss Jack’s Halloween parade. But I didn’t suffer much guilt. This year I’m one of Jack’s room’s mom and that afternoon we organized the pizza and afternoon activity at his school.

We collaborated with his teacher and decided to do an escape room style game. The Teachers Pay Teachers website had a great “Crack the Code – Escape from Zombies” one. Version 2

Then that afternoon we had some of Jack’s friend’s come by for Trick or Treating.DSC_0595

(The twins were wearing different costumes in the evening because the school doesn’t allow masks.)DSC_0600 DSC_0604

Since the twins started trick or treating, we stopped hosting a Halloween party. I can’t be at home hosting and be out with Adam walking the four kids around.

But we still let Jack pick some friends to trick or treat with him.

Aaron take on Harley Quinn!

Aaron take on Harley Quinn!

This year the older boys had a competition to see who could get the most full size candy bars that evening. I’m not sure who won, but I think it’s clear they were all winners!DSC_0607

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Early Trick or Treating

Sunday we celebrated Halloween a little early. DSC_0544

Our neighborhood stores host kids for trick or treating the weekend before the actual event.DSC_0547

It’s nice to have an extra trick or treating session!

Jack complained tirelessly about his costume and I wondered sadly if this was the last year he would participate.

As you can see, Aaron wanted Ben’s costume this year and we obliged. Ben even encouraged it!

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