Florida for Winter Holiday 21/22

Once again we spent our winter holiday in Florida. This year we stayed in the house my sister and I recently inherited.

We had a very long, very rainy two day drive down, stopping in Atlanta overnight.

It was glorious to be in Florida again. My dry itchy skin instantly went away and the daily dose of sunshine gave everyone a much needed vitamin D boost.

Every day I would drive with the windows down and the sun roof open. The warmth of the sun on my skin, the humidity of the ocean air, the sounds from the same radio station I listened to in high school, and my cut off jean shorts made me feel young again. The trick was to avoid looking at the rear view mirror at your 49 year old yourself, driving a minivan, lest the illusion be broken.

We took full advantage of the weather with daily outdoor exercise.

Every day Ben and Aaron were out in front of this basketball net playing “pig”. Some days Sam and Jack would join as well.
We practiced volleyball with Aunt Lara (not pictured) when she was here, and other days when she was not.
A lot of tennis!
Red Reef
Football catch at Red Reef.

Most of the hot and sweaty exercises were followed by jumps in the pool. Not just ours but everyones!

Lounging in Japo’s pool.
Practicing our headstands in Japo’s pool.
On colder days, swimming in Grandpa’s heated pool was preferable.
Football jump and catch game in Grandpa’s pool.
Gina and Mike’s pool.

As always, my favorite part of the trip was spending time with family and friends.

Christmas Eve dinner with all the fixings.
Lunch with Dad, Auntie Doris, Aunt Maryvonne, Cousin Julian and his lovely girlfriend Alexandria.
Brunch with Aunt Lara, who graciously volunteered to watch the kids for a night so Adam and I could have a staycation at The Ray in Delray Beach. No idea what the kids are doing in the background?
Checking out Gina and Mike’s new house.
New Years Eve with Jessica.
Grandpa treats everyone to Coldstone for my birthday. Aaron’s favorite hand to hold is Grandpa’s.
Aaron’s favorite seat.
Sam’s favorite seat.
How many players for Connect Four?
Luff’s seafood restaurant. Grandpa babysat so Adam and I could eat here. It was so good we took the kids the next day!

After Florida, we took the kids to Universal Studios for two days.

Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure.
Butter Beer.
Interactive Wands.
Ice Cream in Diagon Alley.

So much fun, I was so unhappy for it all to end. Adam closed 7 deals while we were in Florida, so most of the vacation he was stuck in the office missing it all. Which just makes me determined to go back soon…

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My 49th Birthday

Sunday night was the last night of Hanukkah. The next day, Monday December 6th, was my 49th birthday. I told the kids we were going from lighting 8 candles (9 if you count the Shamash candle) one night to lighting 49 candles the next night.

Adam very kindly only lit two candles, and the number he picked to light was an even bigger kindness.

Also on Sunday night Adam mentioned to me that next year I have a big birthday coming up and what did I want to do for it? I gave him a look and said, “I’m not even 49 yet and you are already planning my 50th?”

But secretly I was pleased by the question.

Many people think the big years in life are the years that end in a 0, for example, years you turn 40 or 50. Those years are the dangerous years because you look back at your life and wonder why you haven’t accomplished what you thought you should have by that age, or the realization that you have been stuck in a situation for a long time that doesn’t make you happy. Those years ending in a 0 are like an invisible force applied to the inertia you just realized you had.

But most of my midlife crises happened in the years ending in 9, not 0. When I was 29 years old I looked around and thought, I’m in a dead end job. I don’t want to marry the person I’m dating. I spent the next year figuring out how to fix my life and a month before I turned 30 I moved from Hong Kong to Shanghai, single, and started a new job.

This is why I was so secretly pleased by Adam’s question. I’m the kind of person who plans their midlife crises early. And he’s just as crazy as I am!

My big plan for my birthday was to have no plan. Specifically to NOT do any errands, clean anything, or cook anything. Implementing this rule that was meant to give me a relaxing day. However, this soon backfired as my new rule of not doing any work quickly butted heads with my other house rules, namely never walk from one floor of the house to another without bringing something up or down that is on the wrong level. Before I knew it, I was having another type of crisis, something like a midday crisis. At some point I found myself standing in the basement next to a pile of things that needed to go upstairs, paralyzed at my indecision as my two rules conflicted each other. After a few minutes of anxious indecision I started laughing to myself and my silly first world problems. In the end I scooped up that pile. It’s not like the pile won’t be there tomorrow, right?

Now that I’m 49 I’m pleased to say that I’m in the opposite frame of mind as my 29th birthday. Instead of looking around and realizing everything needs to be changed, I look around and hope everything stays exactly the same. Don’t change my stay-at-home mom job. Don’t change my husband. Don’t let the kids get older. And don’t let my hair go gray, my muscle weaken, or my skin sag and wrinkle!

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Last Two Nights of Hanukkah

For the seventh night of Hanukkah the Bears decided to hide.

The outfits the Bears are wearing are the clues to their hiding spots.

Tuxedo Bear stole the clothing from another teddy bear that belongs to the twins. He is hidden in their stuffed animal bin.
The Captain America shield gets a lot of play in our house, sometimes as a shield and sometimes as a frisbee. We keep it in the ball bin, so the next Bear is hidden in here.
The R2D2 Bear is a twist on the Mandalorian/Groku saga.
Hidden in the mailbox outside is postal worker Bear.

And finally, the eight night of Hanukkah…

The Hanukkah Bears are flying into 9 3/4 platform.
Team of Gryffindor Harry Potter Bears.

On this last night of Hanukkah, the theme of the scene for the bears actually has meaning to it. We are taking the boys to see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios.

Behind the curtain are four tickets, one for each kid.
Inside the envelope.

I filmed them opening the envelopes, hoping for a “We are going to Disney” moment, but I guess the tickets were too subtle because all I got were blank stares. They were Confondo, even after Adam and I spelled out exactly what it meant. No matter, I’m sure they will be excited once they get there!

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More Hanukkah Bears

On the third morning of Hanukkah the boys woke up to bears on swings, well most of them anyway….

🎶 One of these bears is doing their own thing🎶

Fourth morning of Hanukkah….

Darth Vader vs the Hanukkah Alliance

When Sam discovered the bears, he knew right away which side he was on.

Sam is pure “light side”.

Fifth morning of Hanukkah…

Kitkat Jenga and Skillet M&Ms.

The twins are still young enough to be excited to find the bears every morning. Which makes all this nutty creativity worth it!

Guess what’s for dessert tonight?

Sixth night of Hanukkah…

My rendition of the “Stack the States” game.

This was my interpretation of a game the boys have been obsessed with lately, called Stack the States. They also play Presidents vs Aliens from the same company. I love how educational it all is, so I shamelessly promote it any chance I get. Aaron knows the game so well that he told me I got the colors of the states all wrong!

Actual picture of the Stack the States game.

In between all the wacky morning Hanukkah Bear adventures, we have been celebrating Hanukkah by opening lots more of our Legos gifts.

The Hydra Stomper
Alligator or Crocodile? We are all in disagreement as to which one it is.
Harry Potter Chess Set

This was my favorite Lego purchase this year. The instant Ben finished it, everyone started playing chess together.

I also finally manage to get myself together enough for a Hanukkah dinner, which Ben helped me make.

Matzo Ball Soup, Challah, Potato Latkes, Broccoli and Baked Salmon with Tomatoes.

Stay tuned, two more nights of Hanukkah Bears to go….

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Thanksgiving and Hanukkah

With no where to go and no one to entertain I expected a quiet weekend. I was surprised how busy we were!

We had out the usual Thanksgiving dinner followed by a round of Do You Really Know Your Family?

Maybe Aaron is too young to get the sharp knives this year?

Playing games with my family was one of those things I dreamt of when I was pregnant and envisioning how my future family would be together. Laughing and joking while competing in a friendly game which brings us all closer together and gives us fond memories to cherish forever. But as many of us parents now know, the dreams you had when you were pregnant never become your future reality. You think those dreams are a way for you to plan for your future, but they are really a lesson in managing your expectations.

Most times when we do family games it ends with someone quitting in frustration, angry name calling and always the word, “cheating” is thrown around at some point. I’ve even gone as far as buying games from Peaceful Kingdom which sells games where the players have to co-operate instead of compete.

Surprisingly the game didn’t go sideways this time. It wobbled a bit then righted itself. Aaron’s eyes only brimmed with tears but they didn’t fall. Most arguments about who won the card were quickly forgotten. And Ben won, proving that he actually knows himself and the rest of the family better than the rest of us. Which surprised everyone at the table, even Ben.

We also spent the weekend putting together some bits for Sam’s teacher’s bulletin board. All the kids helped which made it so much more enjoyable. Perhaps this is what I should have been envisioning when I was pregnant?

The twins are there for scale. (I’m not actually going to staple them to a bulletin board.)

Saturday we had a soccer session.

Sunday was the start of Hanukkah. So when the boys woke up, they were greeted with this…

The Hanukkah Bears brought LOTS of candy to decorate gingerbread houses with. And chocolate coins to bet with in the dreidel game. We spent the morning building and decorating.

Ben and Aaron ate more than they decorated. Sam and Jack opened their houses up and stuffed extra candy inside for later.

Afterwards, if anyone was still hungry, we got a big Dim Sum lunch.

Yummy Dim Sum from Ming Hin. I miss going to the restaurant, though.

We lit the candles by 4:30pm, the official start of darkness in this northern city we live in. After the candles, we played the dreidel game.

No, Adam is not a doctor, he just plays one at home.

For their present that evening, all the boys chose one of their Lego boxes that they picked out with Adam last weekend.

Aaron and Ben insisted on getting the Darth Vader Meditation Center, even though it was for ages 18+. Which meant Adam had to do both sets with them simultaneously.

Monday morning the Hanukkah Bears were up to their usual mischief….

Tonight after we light the candles, the kids will receive “Calisoff Cash”.

Stay tuned for more Hanukkah Bears coming soon!

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Ultimate Soccer Family

This fall has been an avalanche of soccer. Pre-covid Ben signed up and for the first time we had all four boys playing soccer. But within three games Ben had broken his finger on a goal post. Shortly after that, the pandemic made it so we were unable to finish the season.

Adding Ben to the soccer mix intensified things and now Jack starting high school soccer has kicked it up yet another notch. Unlike the other boys who have a weekly practice and a weekly game, Jack is now practicing four days a week on top of one or two games a week.

Each weekend is like a highly orchestrated labyrinth that Adam and I have to co-ordinate. We have to take the times of the various games into account, then triangulate the locations to see if we can both cover all the games.

Sam and Aaron playing last weekend.

One weekend we figured out an elaborate set up where I dropped the twins and Adam off for their game, then drove Jack and Ben 45 minutes away to Jack’s game, turned around and returned to Adam and the twins, jumped out of the car with Ben for his game while Adam whisked the twins away in the car to see Jack’s game. Then Adam had to drive back another 45 minutes to pick us up.

The next weekend we calculated renting a zip car was half as expensive as the speeding ticket I got the previous weekend, trying to frantically get to all the games in time.

It’s a bit of a shock to the system after the long leisure days of the pandemic. When covid forced us to shut down and slow down I’ll admit it wasn’t all bad. Sure, I missed my free time during the day (and when I say free time I mean going to the grocery store without dragging a kid or two with you). I missed going on runs while listening to podcasts. I watched my New Yorkers pile up uncomfortably, my days constantly being interrupted for someone else’s needs made concentrating on the long, thoughtful articles an impossible task. But I didn’t miss the feeling that I had to keep pushing to be more, do more. Pre-pandemic, sitting around all weekend when it was sunny out was wrong. No matter how tired you were, you had to get out and enjoy it. The pandemic made letting your kids play on screens all day acceptable. You weren’t scrolling Facebook and feeling envious of every exotic vacation your friends were taking. No one was going anywhere! And if they did, you didn’t feel envy but fear for their safety. We got used to waking up naturally without an alarm. I got to know my kids in a way that intimate and real. Our kids became closer than ever. After all the blurry exhaustion of having 4 kids under the age of 5, the payoff was here. They didn’t suffer loneliness or boredom during the pandemic. There was always someone to join a video game with, someone to wrestle with, enough people to have a decent game of hide and seek.

Coach Adam (for the twins) and all the boys in their soccer uniforms for the day, practicing before the twin’s game.

And now we are back to frantic parenting. Again I’ll admit it’s not all bad. I love watching the games. I also love that the kids are out and about doing normal things, not missing their precious and short childhood sitting in the house hiding from Covid-19. The soccer schedule also makes me feel I have checked all the boxes that I’m suppose to do. If parenting had a report card like the ones your kids get at school, I’d be proud to see a big fat A in the physical education section.

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Jack’s 8th Grade Graduation

Today Jack graduated from 8th grade.

They had a beautiful, socially distant outdoor ceremony. He attended a fine arts magnet for the past nine years, so as usual, the performance was excellent.

We let the twins play hooky for the morning so they could come to Jack’s graduation.

When I graduated middle school, most of the students I attended with moved onto the local high school next. This is the way it is in most of America. You start at a small, local elementary school, then next maybe three or four local elementary schools all go to a bigger middle school, then a couple of middle schools combine to go to a larger high school.

You don’t lose people, you just gain more and more.

Chicago is not like that.

Even if you go to your local middle school instead of a magnet, parochial or private school, you still have the issue of high school. In Chicago, it is almost like picking a college. Most of the kids in Jack’s school sat for the selective enrollment test, hoping to get into one of the top high school in the city. The graduation ceremony program listed the different high schools the students will attend. Out of the 31 kids that graduated, there were 19 different high schools listed.

After this, these kids will scatter to all corners of Chicago. Which made this photo so bittersweet.

This school had a single class, which means that every year the kids were in the same classroom. They became quite a tight knit community.

But there is more.

Jack has one friend that he also attended preschool with. They have been in the same class since they were even younger – since they were 3 years old. Eleven of their fourteen years on earth, in the same room most days.

Both boys applied to many schools, but only one of the schools that they applied to was the same.

And guess what?

Jack tested in to the same school as his good friend! And they both accepted!

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#theyearNikkilivedinFlorida

It’s been nine weeks since we drove our kids to Florida over Spring Break. Originally we planned to stay for three weeks to help cover the hospital visits for my mother. My sister had already covered five weeks and I wanted my turn.

If you include our earlier visit last December, we were in Florida so long this year that my friend Jessica started calling this time period “The Year Nikki Lived in Florida.”

When we arrived, my sister had organized an Easter egg hunt. On Passover.

Passover dinner with Grandpa and Auntie Doris

We were able to celebrate the Jews liberation from slavery AND eat candy celebrating the resurrection of Christ!

During our stay, the twins turned nine.

We let them pick their own cake and guess what? They picked the same exact cake.

We spent a lot of time outdoors in the glorious weather.

We played tennis.
We went snorkeling. (Red Reef Park)
We flew kites.
We played basketball.
And we spent a ton of time in the pool.

We also got to spend time with Grandpa and other family members.

Walk with Grandpa.

One day, Uncle David took us apple snail shell hunting.

Three of the four kids were schooled remotely. Adam worked from my mother’s office, although the view could be distracting at times…

One night Adam’s cousin, Jackie and her husband Mark, hosted us on their beautiful Mastercraft pontoon.

Later, on our way home, we saw another cousin (Jackie’s brother, Brett) as well.

In South Carolina

One day we played hookie and got a tour guide to take us fossil hunting.

The Peace River

One week, Adam and I returned to Chicago to get our second Covid shot while my sister and her family watched most of my children.

Battling with their cousin, Clay.
Uncle Brent opens their eyes to a whole new world right outside their front door.

Jack got to see his buddies over Spring Break.

Another weekend Jack’s buddies came to our house. One of Jack’s friend’s mother is my good friend Nicole. She joined us for the weekend.

My father takes the boys on a bike ride.
Cable Park Fun
Snorkeling at Blue Heron Bridge.
Celebrating both Jack’s buddies birthdays during our visit.

The boys weekend coincided with Mother’s Day. Having my friend Nicole there really helped.

Nicole and I taking a walk on Mother’s Day.

The other thing that really helped on Mother’s Day was chatting to my sister, Lara. She asked me what Mom would be chatting to us about if she was still with us. This conversation where Lara honored Mom’s memory was very comforting to me.

Another big support for me during these difficult weeks was my high school girlfriends. I’ve kept in touch with many people from high school but there is a group of six of us that are very close. We vacation together, we text and chat all the time. We show up at each other’s major events. We have formed our own Moai.

In my mother’s backyard.

Three of these girls now live close to my home town. And they were over often offering all kinds of love and support; bringing dinners, offering free medical advice, even hosting the funeral!

After the funeral, my girlfriends and family surrounds me with love and support.

But the biggest support by far was my husband. He worked tirelessly to help put Mom’s estate and house in order before we left. He supported me in ways I didn’t even know I needed. On the day my mother died, he cancelled all his phone calls and took me to lunch. He even let me leave Florida a few weeks later than we had scheduled when I jokingly told him that Mom’s mangoes were ripening and it would “really help my grieving process” to pick some before we left.

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Winnifred Devensky 1938-2021

It is with great sadness that I write that my mother has passed from this life.

We held a short, graveside service Sunday April 18th at 10am at the Boca Municipal Cemetery. My father filmed the service and I have included it below.

*A Celebration of Life Zoom call was scheduled on June 5th, 2021. Below is the video slideshow we presented on that call. (*edited 12/6/21)

Six weeks ago Mom walked into the hospital for open heart surgery and she never left. The surgery did not go well. The surgeon called to let us know he almost lost her on the operating table. Two days later she suffered a heart attack. She was rushed back to the operating room where they put 6 stents in, hoping to stave of the damage from the heart attack. She had a lot of bad luck in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). Pneumonia from the ventilator, kidney failure, necrosis, gall stones and strange blood reading were some of the complications she faced. She fought incredibly hard for her life, coming back three times after coding out, but in the end she lost the battle.

While she was in the hospital she had a lot of pain, but no matter how much pain she had, her sense of humor and patient nature still shown through. We had three separate nurses in the ICU describe her as feisty.

Winnie was born and raised in Jamaica. Up until the age of ten she lived in a small village called Winsor. The town was so small that her father bought a donkey and hired someone to take her to and from school. She jokingly called this donkey her “limousine”. From age 10-15 she lived in Port Antonio and finally she lived in Kingston. She played basketball and netball. But her most remembered quality for all who knew her was her prolific sociability. She had many friends in Jamaica that she still kept in touch with all the way into her 80s.

After leaving Jamaica, she spent a few years in Hong Kong and then New York where she met my father.

Winnie and Walter Devensky

After they married and had their first child, they lived in the Philippines for a year. Eventually they settled in Boca Raton, FL. I was born the year after they moved.

Plot where our childhood home will be built in Boca Raton.

As a mother, Winnie loved to cook. My sister and I still have very distinct memories of crepes for breakfast, egg rolls, and her famous banana bread.

Mom in her kitchen cooking

She also loved to expose us to all kinds of different cuisines, like Dim Sum, Jamaican patties, and all the different kinds of Latin foods you can find in South Florida.

Meeting in Xian in 1996? 1997? – Mom tours China while I study abroad.

She also loved to travel. When were got old enough, Mom went back to work as a travel agent. I still remember how excited she was when Bhutan opened to the public and she could camp her way through the country.

Mom visited Bhutan in 1984, when they first started giving out visitor visas. They didn’t have hotels so they had to camp.

She encountered locals who had never seen a camera before. Each time she would visit a country, she would come back with a doll. Now over 300 dolls sit in a display in her kitchen.

She loved to share her travels with family or friends. When I was 15 and my sister was 18 we traveled to Papeete and Bora Bora, Tahiti.

Tahiti 1988

When she was older and most of her friends had retired, she would organize trips abroad for groups of 20 people annually. They would travel to globe; Prague, Budapest, Croatia, Ethiopia, South Africa, Israel, Cyprus, China, Japan, following the Silk Road, and so many other places!

She had an excellent sense of humor. I can’t count how many times a conversation with her would end in a full on belly laugh, rolling on the floor with our eyes watering.

Her outgoing personality was such that whether she spent a little or a lot of time with you, she left a deep impression. She will be missed.

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Jack’s 14th Birthday

Even if we weren’t in a pandemic, nothing could compare with Jack’s birthday party last year. His Bar Mitzvah was the biggest party we will ever throw for him. From here on out it’s all downhill.

At this point, we feel blessed that he’s still young enough to enjoy a birthday spent with his family. Probably from here on out, that too is downhill for us.

We started the day with the usual donuts and bagel sandwiches.

After a sugary feast, he opened some of the cards and gift he got from us. Each brother made him a card, with no guidance from us. When I read Aaron’s, my heart melted.

Aaron’s nickname these days is, “Chicken Legs”.

Jack found it endearing as well, enough to give him this big hug.

In the morning Jack started building one of his gifts, a Lego motorcycle.

In the afternoon, we went to Mass VR (https://massvr.com/) in Skokie. This was the first year we couldn’t invite his entire class, but we did bring two of his friends from school. Including our family, this made a nice number of 8 people, enough to have a good game.

The virtual reality was stunning. It was so real I almost fell over after virtually zip lining. But the many hours gaming Candy Crush instead of shooter games like the rest of the gang served me poorly. When we left, I was surprised to find out there was a third floor of the game I never found. I was too busy re-spawning, then walking in a small circle only to find someone had shot me and I was back in the lobby again.

Also, the recommended age is 12 but they only require a height of 48″. So we included the twins, who are 8 but meet the height requirements. As a result, Aaron’s avatar looked like he was crouching the entire time.

Sam, who is slightly shorter, was like a ghost. At one point he banged right into me then said, “Mom you ran into me!:

I replied, “Okay, Dobby, I’m not actually walking now.”

Still that little ghost elf managed to get twice as many kills as me!

Finally Jack chose sushi for dinner and ate about 6 California rolls on his own.

For dessert, we had pumpkin pie AND cheesecake.

Happy Birthday Jack. And many moooorrre…
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