Ben Turns Fifteen

Ben turned Fifteen Yesterday! I can’t believe I just typed that sentence!

It’s been an incredible year for Ben. He’s really matured and settled life nicely. This year he’s focused on getting good grades, making friend and improving in soccer so he can play on a team in the Spring. It’s so incredibly normal that I can’t believe I just typed that sentence!

This year he’s gained a bit of independence. He can now go running on his own and not get lost. He’s still occasionally drawing and posting on his youtube channel, Benmakesart777.

Yesterday we woke up and did the normal birthday donut and egg sandwich breakfast. Then, because Ben’s school runs 11 months a year, he boarded the bus armed with cupcakes to share with his classmates.

In the afternoon we booked a soccer session. Jack joined Ben even though he already had a 2 and 1/2 hour soccer training session that morning with his high school.

Practicing Headers
Ben Wearing his Messi Jersey Birthday Present

Like the Messi Jersey? Last weekend the twins and Jack went with Adam to get new soccer cleats. They all bought Messi Jerseys for themselves as well. When they got home, they realized they didn’t get one for Ben. Jack felt particularly bad about it. When I asked Jack to sign the birthday card for Ben, he pulled me into his room and said, “Wrap this too.”

Jack handed me his brand new, expensive pink Messi Jersey to give to Ben for his birthday. It was such a thoughtful thing to do! I was so proud of Jack in that moment.

After soccer it was time for our usual birthday dinner.


Normally Adam over orders and we have leftover for days. After all that working out, there was only 5 pieces of sushi left and one serving of Beef Chow Fun. Jack actually said he was still hungry! But we soon fixed that with the birthday pie.

Chocolate Cream Pie from Sweet Mandy Bs

Ben picked a Chocolate Cream Pie from Sweet Mandy Bs. As with everything from that place, it was delicious!

Ben also spent some time on Ebay buying presents for his birthday, coins, pokemon, and comic books.

Happy Birthday Ben!

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Twin’s 12th Bday Party

Overloaded schedules and poor planning worked in the twins favor this year. We ended up booking their birthday party a month after they turned twelve. The benefit of this? It’s now officially summer! And summer opens up a lot more possibilities of places to have your party.

This year we booked the celebration at a floating waterpark in nearby Whiting, IN called WhoaZone.

We had the group meet at our house for pizza and messy revelry in our basement. Once we were all assembled and fed, we marched them into the 15 seater sprinter van we rented for the occasion.

Adam Drives 15 Kids an Hour Each Way!

When we arrived we had some time to splash around at the beach before kitting up in our floating vests.

Fully Equipped and Ready to Go

We booked 2 hours of fun on the floating waterpark and the kids didn’t stop playing the entire time.

Aaron and Jack Bouncing Around
Sam sat on this Bubble and the Lifeguard Body Slammed it, sending Sam Flying
Ben Climbs the Tower

After we tired this crew out, we headed back to our house for cake. Post COVID, we now sing to the cake without candles. No one wants accidental spittle on their slice of cake.

Singing to the Cake

Later the twins opened their presents (I was at the Kite Runner Show with my friend Nicole so no photo for this!).

Happy Birthday Twins!!!

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Summer Road Trip

It all started with an invite to a Bat Mitzvah in Salt Lake City.

From there Adam planned an elaborate 56 hour road trip. Of course he did! It’s Adam!

First we stopped in Boulder for a college tour. We have many friends in Boulder and we were lucky to see them after the tour.

Dinner at West End Tavern with Brian and Virginia
Hanging out on Pearl Street with Andy and Jen

The next day we headed to Salt Lake City.

We took the boys for a hike called Adam’s Canyon Waterfall Trail. It was a considered a hard hike on Alltrails – 3.5miles out and back with an elevation gain of 1,430. There were some parts where we were full on bouldering, not hiking. Also we tried to keep our feet wet but when we finally got to the top we realized not wetting our feet was impossible!

Waterfall at the top of Adam’s Canyon.

That night we went to the Bat Mitzvah. My friend Heather hosted a beautiful ceremony in the backyard, conducted by another dear friend, Jessica. Jessica also married Adam and I.

After the ceremony we were treated to crepes, fancy themed drinks, a DJ and lots of dancing!

The Calisoffs all cleaned up for the event
Adam and I playing “Coke and Pepsi”
Kids Dancing the Hora
Friends For Over 35 Years
Obligatory Pyramid Picture
Brunch the Day after the Bat Mitzvah

After the Bat Mitzvah we headed to Sun Valley for hiking and white water river rafting. Our first hike was Norton Lakes, in Ketchum, ID. It was a 4.6 mile out and back hike with an elevation gain of 1,476 ft.

Hike to Norton Lakes

There were lots of obstacles to climb, including naviating in the snow!

Skipping Rocks

This hike boasted two lakes. When we were walking we past two ponds that we couldn’t figure out if they were lakes or not. In the end we thought the first lake was the final one. Only because the kids were curious about the waterfall did we end up following it up to the second lake, which was even more spectacular than the first!

Adam was worried after this hike that we blew the trip by doing such a fantastic hike on the first day. What more could we show the kids that would be more spectacular than this?

The next day we hiked Adam’s Gulch. It was a 6.1 mile loop trail with an elevation gain of 780 ft. We saw beautiful vistas, overlooking the town of Ketchum as well as seeing the snow capped Pioneer Mountains and the Sun Valley Ski Resort at Bald Mountain.

Top of Adam’s Gulch

The next day we switched it up a bit and did some White Water River Rafting with White Cloud Rafting Adventures.

Geared up for Class II and III Rapids on the Stanley River

Our guide, Sam was very cool. He let the twins sit on the front of the boat and crashed them into waves. He also accommodated Ben’s interest in the wildlife, pointing out Eagle’s nests and other points of interest.

On our final day, we went big, Sawtooth Lake. A 9.6 mile out and back hike with an elevation gain of 1,817 ft. This hike was definitely our most challenging of the trip but the kids were ready! They did an incredible job getting to the top and were rewarded with an even more spectacular lake than Norton Lake. It was massive!

Sawtooth Lake

After a granola bar stop the kids went and explored the rest of the lake. We were so high up that most of the surrounding area was covered in snow! This video shows how the kids handled that….

When Adam first suggested hiking in Idaho I had my doubts, but this area of America has pristine, untouched beauty that was just breathtaking. Who knew the potato state was this pretty?!

Stanley, ID

After Sun Valley, we started our long trek back. But we stopped a lot on the way! First at Devil’s Tower in Wyoming.

Devil’s Tower
Tons of Prairie Dogs at Devil’s Tower

Next we stopped at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.

Mount Rushmore

Finally, we landed in the Badlands, SD. We spent two nights here, hiking one day. We got very lucky on our hiking day. The day before was 94 degrees. That night a wind storm came in, rattling the cabins we rented with 40-65 mile an hour winds. I had never felt anything like it. It made embarrassed that we called ourselves the Windy City when clearly there were much more windy places!

We celebrated Father’s Day in the Badlands. Adam opened his gifts which I lugged around to all the aforementioned stops.

Personalized T-Shirt, One of Adam’s Father’s Day Gifts
Badlands, SD
Wildflowers in Bloom in The Badlands

Our final stop was by Madison WI for one more college tour for Jack. Now we are back in town, ready to enjoy the Chicago summer.

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Mother’s Day 2024

For weeks before mother’s day Adam had been asking me what I wanted to do on my special day. When I finally sat down to look at the calendar, I realized the day was already scheduled. Hebrew, Art Class, and a soccer game filled the day from 8am until 4pm.

Still we made the most of it. I took the day off cooking. Presents were waiting for me when I woke up – a spa day at the Peninsula, gift cards to Nordstroms, as well as a check from my MIL.

I spent the evening on the couch reading, blissfully ignoring my the endless sweeping, wiping, and folding I do every day. I paid for it the next morning when Jack was out of socks and I was frantically rummaging through the laundry to find them, though!

In the evening, we got take away from our new favorite Thai restaurant, Oliang Cafe.

Everytime we go they ask if we are having a big party. No, I always answer back just the six of us.

Overall it was a low key day, which I found successful as I hate trying to strong arm the kids into doing activities I want to do just because Hallmark decided to celebrate mothers for one day.

The truth is I’m the one who is grateful for being a mom to these kids. And not just on Mother’s Day, but every day.

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The Twins Turn Twelve

Unfortunately for the twins, their birthday fell on the Friday night that we were travelling to St. Louis for a Soccer Tournament.

They were super cool about it, though. Didn’t complain at all when, instead of treating them like the little princes they are, we made them drive 5 hours after school to arrive in St. Louis very late at night.

The last time we were at this tournament we ended up with adjoining rooms that were located right behind the check in desk and next to the elevators. We all slept poorly with pillows over our heads. We also lost every game we played. So I went into this year’s tournament with some trepidation.

We changed the hotel we stayed at and got a much better, quieter rooms.

Not so quiet after we arrive!

The twins seemed untraumatized by last year’s events. They went about their weekend in their charming, merry ways.

I’m so pleased they are such good friends

This year, they played a lot bettered and it showed!

Sam plays Defense and is like Roy Kent – He’s Everywhere!
Soccer at the Travel Level gets very Physical
Small but Mighty
Aaron Steals the Ball
Now that they are Older, Headers are Legal
Aaron Trying for a Goal
Will it Go In?
Aaron’s Signature Celebratory Airplane Arms
Team Mate Approval
As Always, Aaron looks for Adam’s Approval as well

We didn’t win enough games to play in the finals, but at least we didn’t lose every game like last year either! The twins wanted to go see the City Museum so with the afternoon now free, we headed over.

Lots of Nooks and Crannys to climb into
Slides in all kinds of weird places
Breaking off in Groups of Two and Riding the Ferris Wheel
Outdoor Area, Aaron was not a fan of the height!
Slushies and Pizza for Lunch

Since we couldn’t celebrate this weekend, we booked a special dinner the next weekend.

Missing Jack who’s friend had a Birthday Party on the Same Night
All Chocolate Cake from Sweet Mandy B’s

And the celebration continues! The twins chose to delay their birthday party by a month so they could have their party at a floating water park. Stay tuned, that blog is coming soon….

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Spring Break 2024

This Spring Break we did college tours! I’ve never been on a college tour so I’m pretty sure I was more excited for this Spring Break than Jack was. In fact, I know he wasn’t that excited about it. Although I’m sure Jack was curious, the thought of putting himself out there, making himself vulnerable in front of a group of strangers, was not appealing to him in anyway.

We delayed our departure by a few days so we could run the Shamrock Shuffle.

Jack’s Ankle is Still Injured from Soccer so He Didn’t Run

We got there early to go over the meet up procedure after the race. All the kids are now faster than us so we need to pick a place to meet after it’s over. At the Turkey Trot Ben got lost and luckily Sam spotting him running the wrong way and we caught him. We didn’t want that to happen again. We walked by the meetup spot and pointed out the sign above it so everyone could get a visual and see how far it was in relation to the finish line. Then we went back and lined up in the starting corral.

In the shuffle of people I lost everyone but Sam pretty quickly. In the end Ben finished first, then Aaron, Adam, Sam and finally me.

At the meetup spot, everyone was waiting for me but Ben. We waited for a while but eventually went to tell a race spotter (people who stand in towers raised above the ground) to look for him. They called the lost and found and verified that he finished about 30 minutes before. We spent a good hour and a half wandering the grounds looking for him, Adam even had the police helping. Finally Aaron spotting him walking by himself by the gear drop off. I ran to him, crying, and folded him into a hug. I was so happy to find him. My mind had been racing about all the bad things that could be happening to him. He, on the other hand, was eating the large bag of gummies they gave out at the race end. When I asked him if he was worried he said, no, he knew we’d find each other eventually. I guess I’m glad he had so much confidence in us? But after getting lost at 2 out of 2 races that we have done as a family, he doesn’t run another one without a phone strapped to his arm!

After that we rushed home, showered and ate, then got on the road for our college tour trip.

Jack is interested in pursuing a degree in Engineering, so Adam built a trip that could maximize as many schools as we could see that had engineering majors. And you know how Adam plans trips, right?

30 Hours of Driving in Six Days

We started at Case Western Reserve, a D3 school with a sprawling campus in downtown Cleveland. Jack was most impressed with their Sears think[box], an open-access innovation center and makerspace. I was impressed when they took us to the hall that had plaques of all the Nobel Prize winners that went to the school!

Case Western Tour

That afternoon we headed over to the University of Pittsburgh. Jack really got to see what it’s like to go to a D1 school. This is more like the experience that Adam and I had. A huge student body large enough to have their own football stadium. I remember University of Florida football games being a big part of the college experience.

Tour of University of Pittsburgh

Pitt lies in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh and had a lively feel to it. It is also surrounded by other colleges, most notably Carnegie Mellon, which we didn’t tour but could see their stately buildings nearby. Adam mentioned to Jack that it was worth considering. The tour was super well organized and I learned a bunch of important facts, like the level of math that is prefered for applicants of the Engineering program. Jack saw the inside of a dorm room for the first time. I think that was a bit of a shock for him.

University of Virgina

Next we drove to University of Virginia. Again a large school with sprawling lawns and stately buildings. This time we did a tour of the Engineer School specifically. It was much more focused on what Jack was interested in and I think he liked that a lot. We were shown into many of the engineering buildings and got to see how they sent little boxes up into space with other launches to conduct research. Also a room full of 3D printers that you can use anytime. I really enjoyed listening to the 2 female students talking about all their work and adventures at the University. Their futures seemed so bright. I wanted that for Jack.

Thomas Jefferson’s Monicello

After the school tour, we booked another tour, not of a college but of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. It was really impressive to see and we learned so much about Thomas Jefferson! How could one man be a US president, the founder of University of Virginia, an inventor, and single handedly helped restock the Library of Congress after a fire. At one point the tour guide asked what other US President died the same day as Jefferson and Ben raised his hand and knew the answer! I guess playing President’s vs. Aliens on his iPad was not a complete waste of time!

Jefferson’s Tombstone looks like the Washington Monument

We also drove out to see Virginia Tech. This was the only school we saw that was not in a big city. It was also the largest school we toured. Based on the name I assumed it would have a large Engineering focus but they didn’t touch too much on it during the presentation. Instead the presenter told us about their former Miss America graduate, their large alumni network that guarantees to hire Virginia Tech students above others, and the fact that they don’t read the essays but instead focus on learning how you have served your community. Virginia Tech’s motto is “Ut Prosim” meaning, “That I May Serve” and both the presenter and the tour guide put a lot of focus on it. They also talked a lot about their military cadet program, which is small part of the student population but has historical significance to the school. It was a beautiful campus, but when I saw the large quad (called the Drillfield) and the massive buildings, I worried about my shy, introverted son feeling lost here.

Virginia Tech

Finally we stopped in Tennessee and took a quick walk around Vanderbilt in downtown Nashville. Again I loved the old buildings with tons of pockets of green space interspersed. It is also a D1 school but is smaller than the other D1 schools was saw. It didn’t feel so big and overwhelming.


By the end of the trip Jack was finally on board. When we got back home, I caught Adam and Jack in front of the computer talking about other colleges he would be interested in visiting. Jack even showed us how we could color code our ‘college tour’ map that we created on google maps to show which school we visited and which ones we did not. Color coding a map? He is definitely MY SON!

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Jack’s 17th Birthday

When Jack turned 16th I thought it would be a milestone year, one which makes us reflect on how far we’ve come. But 17 years old seems to be a year with much more reflection, at least for me.

At 17 we are in the midst of ACT test prep and college tours. It is becoming very apparent that our time living with Jack is coming to an end. I read a depressing statistic that said 80% of the time we spend with our kids will happen by the time they turn 18. My father once told me how sad it was the day he moved out of our house because he realized all the impromptu moments of joy and laughter you get from just hanging out, the chance moments of connection you share due to the the simple proximity of living in the same place, were gone.

I am pleased to see the changes in Jack. How he has grown into himself. There are many moments when I observe him and think – he is going to make it. He rises to the challenges kids face at this age. He is diligently working though another round of ACT test prep in the hopes of getting his scores up. He is watching his grades. If he needs tutoring, he realizes it and makes sure he gets it. He shows up to school and soccer practices on time. He packs his own bag every day and remembers what he needs. He can juggle his various schedules to make sure he has all his homework and test prep done in time. He has picked more rigorous math classes in his senior year knowing it will help him get into a better college. He shows a lot of common sense, something that will get him very far in life. His ability to think critically is very good.

He is going to make it. He is going to grow up and become a contributing, fully functional member of society.

Already I see a marked change of development even in his friends. Two of the kids who came over to help celebrate his birthday drove themselves to our house. (Getting a driving license is one thing Jack is not working towards.)

Jack’s actual birthday landed on a Wednesday. We had the usual birthday donuts, everyone went to school, Jack did an ACT prep class, then afterwards we went to dinner to celebrate. Unfortunately the twins were under the weather and didn’t come.

Birthday Dinner for Jack

Afterwards we celebrated with cake and presents.

Strawberry Whipped Cream Cake
Daily Bugle Lego Set

That weekend we celebrated Jack’s birthday with his friends at K1 Speed. Go carts at K1 can reach speeds up to 45 mph. For the party, you race three different times and the top three winners get metals.

Sleeves you wear under the helmets. I told the boys we were actually robbing a bank for Jack’s birthday…
Getting Ready to Race
Punching Bag Side Competition
Everyone Is A Winner!
Afterwards Back at Our House for Pizza and More Cake Singing
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Winter Break 2024

As soon as school finished for winter break, we packed up and headed down to Florida.

Many of us were still fighting off whatever sickness we seemed to be passing around so the vacation started slowly. The first night we arrived I slept 11 hours.

But slowly we all recovered and started to do fun Florida things.

We ate a lot of good food. Sometimes this consisted of date nights with Adam while my father babysat the kids. Sometimes it was with family. Sometimes it was with friends.

Lunch at Luffs
Happy Hour at Biergarten – 1/2 off Pretzels!
Lunch with my father, aunt, cousins and Adam’s cousin.
Lunch with my father’s buddies. This weekly meet up is affectionately called ‘The Grey Hair Lunch”.
Special Drinks at Havana 1957
Trying his first Cuban Sandwich

One day we went down to Miami. Above are the pictures of the boys enjoying real Cuban food. We also spent some time wandering around.

Wynnwood Walls

While we were in Miami, my friend Laura took the Brightline down from Orlando to see me for the night.

Wynnwood Walls in Miami with Laura

Afterwards, Adam dropped Laura and I off at my friend Gina’s house and we had a girls night. It included dancing. Lots of dancing. On the train back, Laura said she had exercised more in the last 12 hours than she had in weeks.

Evening Dance Off with Just Dance.
Morning Zumba Class with Beto Perez, the Founder of Zumba.

For New Year’s Eve, our friend Tony from high school organized a group of us to go see Mike Vecchione open for Nate Bargatze.

Ex Boca High Bobcat Reunion

And there was more! The boys played lots of basketball and tennis. We also did some running. And walking. Which sometimes turned into running.

Who needs a net when you have a puddle?
The Calisoffs play Tennis 3 to a side. That’s how we roll.
From our house we can run to the Atlantic Ocean
Walking the Arboretum near my father’s house
Walk/Run at Pondhawk Natural Area

One day while Adam took the other kids golfing, Ben and I stayed home and made Rugelach with my father.

Golf at Red Reef
Making Rugelach with Grandpa

It was another wonderful vacation in Florida. I’m missing it already. Until next time!!!

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Bubbie’s 85th Birthday

Bubbie’s birthday this year was a big one – 85 years old! For this milestone birthday, we headed back down (twice in one year!) to Arizona to celebrate.

Bubbie planned a big birthday extravaganza – with 85 of her friends RSVPing to her 85th birthday.

Everyone in the Picture is wearing a Shirt once bought for Jack
Bubbie’s 85th Birthday Speech

We ate, we sang karaoke, and we met many of Bubbie’s wonderful friends. But most importantly, we got to spend time with family.

Dinner at “It’s Greek To Me”

We also got to spend time at Bubbie’s walking her dog Daisy.

Walking Daisy

We stayed a the Hilton El Conquistador in Tucson. It was such a short visit we didn’t have enough time to enjoy the pool. It didn’t help that Adam fell ill with the flu almost the moment we arrived. We did manage to fit in one fantastic hike at a nearby trail, the Linda Vista Trail. The kids really enjoyed investigating the different rocks and cacti, as well as the views. They also insisted we run the entire way back! It was a downward sloping trail for a long part of the run and at one point Ben was behind me and I could tell I was slowing him down. I let him pass and told him I was sorry I wasn’t faster. He turned and said, “You’re doing pretty good, Mom” before sprinting off on his young, nimble legs.

At the Hilton El Conquistador
Linda Vista Trail
Checking out the Inside of a Cactus
Tree Pose
Never Walk When You Can Run! – The Calisoff Motto
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Seventh and Eighth Nights of Hanukah

It’s been over a week since the last two nights of Hanukah. It’s been a busy week, compounded with the fact that most of the Calisoffs have been taking turns having the flu. But finally, with the forced down time of winter holidays, I eventually found some time to catch up with this blog!

But you guys don’t care about that, right? Just show me the Bears, you say? Okay, here they are…

The Seventh Night was an idea I had when Fortnite went OG. This is generational slang for ‘original’ or ‘old school’. Fortnite hit a high a few years ago and all four of the kids were playing it non stop. Later, Fortnite got in a fight with Apple and stopped releasing its iPad version and as a result they lost the twins attention. Then the older boys started to lose interest in the maps. None of the kids played Fortnite for years. So, it was kind of cool to see Fortnite OG back in the house. Everyone was contacting people they played with years ago, some of the kids are at different schools now so it was a reunion of sorts. I was so excited I picked a Fortnite theme for the bears this year. Of course, by the time Hanukah came around, Fortnite OG was gone and everyone had lost interest in the game again!

Seventh Night of Hanukah – Fortnite Theme
Wild Card Skin
Fish Stick Skin
Merry Marauder Skin
Aspen Skin

The kids were completely unimpressed with this set up and Jack told me I picked terrible skins (skins are what Fortnite calls avatars). So, as fun (and labor intensive) as this one was to create, I probably got more enjoyment out of it than the kids.

For the Eighth and final night of Hanukah I made a cardboard airplane for the bears.

The Bears Flying on ArizonaAir.

This was not just any airplane. This was ArizonaAir, with the tag line, “We Will Never Desert You”.

ArizonaAir, “We Will Never Desert You”

This was suppose to be hanging from the ceiling but the ropes broke when I went to hang it up and because we were leaving on a plane to Arizona to celebrate Bubbie’s 85th, I didn’t have time to fix it.

Which leads us nicely into tomorrow’s blog post, stay tuned for ‘Bubbie’s 85th Birthday”…

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