Thanksgiving 2024

Three of our four kids had the entire week of Thanksgiving off this year.

Before this long holiday, they were bemoaning the amount of work they had to do and how tedious going to school every day was, how they NEVER HAD ANY FREE TIME. With talk like this I was anticipating their joy at sleeping late, spending many hours lounging on the couch with electronics, and enjoying each other’s company.

By Sunday night, before their week off even began, some kids were complaining about being bored. Others were picking on their siblings until fights erupted. They were already bored and sick of each other and the entire week off loomed before us, dark and foreboding.

In bed that night Adam lamented what we have done wrong as parents. How did we manage to raise such spoiled, ungrateful kids?

Ungrateful kids! Hmph, I told Adam, we should make the crabby ones keep a gratitude journal. If they don’t do it, they go straight to therapy!

After a good nights sleep I woke up realizing I was operating from my own crabby place the night before. The restful morning made me realized forcing gratitude as a punishment was not a great parenting strategy. I also realized the irony of the situation. We were given this extra time off to celebrate our thanks. Instead of a punishment, why couldn’t we sell gratitude to our kids as something we are doing in keeping with the holiday spirit?

That morning I went out and bought 6 journals. Everyone was going to give gratitude, three times a day, during the entire holiday! I labelled each journal with each family member’s name and did my best sales job, selling gratitude to all of us thanksgiving observers.

We were driving to the orthodontist when I told the twins about it, I said they could say something small, something funny, something big, whatever they wanted.

Sam for example was enjoying the New York style bagels we had gone out to get that morning from our favorite bagel place. Earlier he had told me how much he loved warm, fresh bagels with cold cream cheese in the morning. Sam, I said, you have already fulfilled your first gratitude without even trying.

Aaron immediately pushed Sam and said, jokingly, he was grateful for fighting with Sam.

The gratitude journal put everything in a new light. Later that day when Aaron asked if he could buy some Roblux (game money in the gaming platform Roblox) and I said yes. Instead of asking him to thank me and getting a begrudging thanks in return, I said, wow I’m making this gratitude journal so easy for you. He laughed and said, right?!

When Ben came home from school I told him about it. He had a good day at school and was excited to write down the many reasons why. Ben also helped me get my pizza roller out because my hands were too floury. After he got it for me, instead of thanks I told him I was grateful for him. He had a giggle about that.

Jack took the journals and relabeled them all so everyone was confused. Then to make matters crazier he copied what Aaron was grateful for that day. I wasn’t sure my sales job did the trick on him. Still the others in the house dutifully filled out their journals. Some took it quite seriously. Adam woke up each morning and wrote his down before his day even began!

Meanwhile I took the extra days off to get all the things done we NEVER HAD ANY FREE TIME to do (see first paragraph). Orthodontist appointments, dentist cleanings, ACT prep classes and driving lessons peppered each day.

On Thanksgiving morning we ran the Turkey Trot.

Turkey Trot in Lincoln Park

That afternoon, while the rest of the family moaned about cramps, rested with electronics or football, and/or fell asleep all over the couches and rooms of the house, I cooked a feast.

Thanksgiving Dinner

Afterwards, we broke out the gratitude journals and shared them.

Sharing our Gratitude Journals

I’m not sure if the journals kept the kids from fighting or complaining, or if all the fun we had over the holiday made them less whiny, but it was a fun activity for all. I liked getting an insight into what everyone else in the house appreciated.

Sam, who is always so clever that sometimes his thoughts are too high level for me to understand, wrote one day, “Mom did not buy brownies.” Sounds ungrateful, right? But actually, it was grateful. About a week ago we pulled out a cookie cookbook that Japo (Hakka Chinese word for Grandma) bought Ben for his 10th birthday. Sam carefully went through and selected his top three recipes and we spent the next week cooking them together. One of his picks was the Mississippi Mud Brownie.

Making Mississippi Mud Brownies

Jack was grateful for watching his buddies plow each other over and fall all over the place when they went to the Maggie Daley Ice Skating Rink earlier this week. I was equally grateful that day for Jack spending time with friends. Since we practically live in a frat house, Jack doesn’t feel the need to connect with his friends as much as I did when I was that age, so it’s always nice when I see him spend time with his peers.

I was even more grateful that Jack did his first highway driving and parallel parking with a professional driver instead of scaring the bejesus out of me this week.

Ben was most grateful for his Turkey Trot metal. In fact, after the run all the kids were so jazzed by the experience that I immediately signed us all up for the Shamrock Shuffle in March.

Aaron made jokes the entire time we shared our journals but I peeked in his and the one that surprised me most was, “I feel much better after throwing up twice today.” I liked how he could find the silver lining in such a terrible experience. I also was grateful that day for Aaron managing to throw up entirely in the toilet instead of on the floor, at least for the first upchuck.

Adam’s thanks were mostly about his appreciation for his family and being able to spend time with them.❤️

Adam spent most evenings teaching the boys this week gambling, but in typical Adam fashion, there was also a learning opportunity here. He drilled into them how statistically it was a losing game, and proved it each night. They especially learned how stupid it was to play blackjack. Having said all that, I think Aaron and Ben are addicted anyway.

Black Jack

We rounded out the weekend with a trip to the movie theater to see The Marvels. Again I was grateful that all the boys wanted to go see women superheros kicking butt. We have come a long way since I was a kid as far as women role models.

I hope everyone reading this had their own grateful Thanksgiving! If not, may I suggest a gratitude journal?

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End Of School Soccer Season

Soccer Season for all school teams is finally over this month and we are enjoying a small break before life gets hectic again.

All three of the soccer playing boys received awards this year. And all three boys were presented with them by their own father and coach.

Assistant Coach Adam presents Jack with Defensive Player of the Year Award

For this award, Adam let the crowd know that even though he is not the head coach for Jack’s team and therefore didn’t choose the award, he highly agrees with who the head coached picked.

Jack’s team ended the season with an 8-4-1 season. Although they didn’t make it to the playoffs, they still had a great year. Jack grew into the position of Center Defensive Midfielder every single game. It was really fun to watch his progress.

Coach Adam presents Sam with Defensive Player of the Year Award

Along with the incredible goalies and group of defensive players that we had on this team, Sam’s play in Center Defense made it so only 6 goals got in during the regular season.

Coach Adam Presents Aaron with Offensive Player of the Year Award

Aaron scored a total of 8 goals for the team this year. He has really turned a corner and become a great contributor to the team.

The twins team finished the season undefeated and headed to the playoffs in the 1st seed position. They were upset by the 4th team, losing 0-1 in the playoffs. Still it was an incredible season for them, and we couldn’t be more proud.

Are you wondering what is on Aaron’s forehead? Someone had a label maker at the party and went around labelling everyone…

Meet Aaron AKA “Baron the Karen”

The label maker also labeled Adam….

“Best Coach Ever”

Best Coach Ever? I couldn’t agree more!

I’d say that it’s for soccer until next fall but I will not. I have started volunteering for the high school soccer booster program, running their website and sending their emails. The girls season is starting to ramp up so I’m still knee high in soccer stuff. Adam will probably do some coaching for the girls high school season in the spring. And in a few weeks, travel soccer starts for three of the four boys.

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Camp Taft

Two weeks ago the school sent out an email asking for last minute volunteers for the twins overnight trip to Camp Taft.

The twins were sold this trip as a chance to get away from their parents for a few days.

So they were very disappointed to hear that I volunteered at the last minute.

My email back to the school said, “If you can’t find anyone else…”

I figured there was little chance of getting a level 1 volunteer at the last minute. I worried if they don’t have enough chaperone’s maybe the whole trip will be cancelled?

That logic held up and the twins were no longer upset when I ended up crashing their parentless weekend.

Personally I was ecstatic. Three days of no cooking, cleaning or driving people to and from places? I’m in!

Of course, once I was booked, many more things populated the schedule. More on that later.

For now, I was assigned to Sam’s group and had the pleasure of watching him enjoy this wonderful experience that the school organized.

Sam in Survival Class, Building a Shelter
Sam in Orienteering Class

Sweet Sam and his buddy for the entire trip finished the orienteering course first then went back to help all the other kids in the group finish the course.

Each Student was assigned to be a Hopper for one meal.

Every meal they assigned a hopper who arrived early and set the table, ran and got the food for the group meal, and cleaned up afterwards.

This trip they had an app that everyone could dump photos into for all the parents at home to see so I was able to spy on Aaron a bit in his group.

Aaron Participating in a Team Building Activity

Many times the groups were all together….

Singing Camp Songs after Roasting S’mores
Shadow Boxing
Aaron with his Designated Buddy and Another set of Buddies

On the final day they dumped the kids in a wooded area and had them play the game “Predator vs Prey”.

Green Headbands Signify Herbivores. Red Headbands are Carnivores.
After Losing all his Lives, this Herbivore becomes a Zombie

While the boys slept downstairs, I slept upstairs in one of the girls rooms. As I’ve always wanted a girl, I was giddy with happiness by the experience. I got to braid hair, learn new dance moves, and ease drop on all the girly gossip that boys never do.

They were still a chaperone short and as a result, Sam and his room had no adult in it. However, another male chaperone reported back to me that when they checked on Sam’s room to tell them it was lights out, the lights were already out and the kids all in bed!

Meanwhile, back at home, Jack had a bunch of last minute games. One of which Adam coached. Adam has been helping out with the team all year and this was his big moment so I was really sad to miss it. Later I found out that they won the game 9-0. Also that because it was their last game of the season, the boys made sure all the seniors and boys not returning scored a goal.

Honoring the Seniors after the Game

It was an eventful couple of days for all of the Calisoffs!

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A Visit from My Family

My father and sister came up last week to visit us for what I hope will become an annual tradition.

My father turned 82 while he was here. It was so nice to be able to celebrate with him this year!

Birthday Dinner at Earl’s
Dad Requested a Marzipan Cake for this Bday and Chicago’s Lutz Bakery Delivered Deliciously!
Bday Presents Reveal that the Apples Don’t Fall Far From the Tree

They say age is just a number and my father has definitely proved the adage true. He is in better shape both mentally and physically than some people I know who are our age. While he was here he helped fix a broken door, two towel racks, did all the dishes and laundry and also helped babysit the kids to Adam and I could go out. He also worked with Jack helping with Algebra II and Physics. He went to Ben’s art class and met his tutor. And he spent hours and hours watching (and talking about!) soccer.

Soccer Fans at Jack’s Game
Chicago Fire Game
Chicago Fire v New England Revolution

We were so sad to see them both go. I hate that they live so far away! Until next time (which I hope will be soon…)

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AYSO 2023 National Games

Last week the Calisoffs travelled to Irvine California for the AYSO National Games. Sam, Aaron and Jack were all competing with an amalgamated team that tried out from all of AYSO in Chicago.

AYSO hosts the national games every two years and until now it was not on our radar.

Before we left we had heard that Jack’s coach successfully won for with a girls team two years ago. And Jack’s team had a bunch of players from different high schools, all which you must try out for a spot. In other words, they were seasoned soccer players.

The twins team also had a bunch of players from high level soccer teams with a lot of technical skill.

So we came in with high hopes.

Opening Ceremonies – Wearing Chicago Hats

They did a lot of clever things, like having opening ceremonies in the LA Galaxy Stadium. The players marched out and were featured on a Jumbotron as they entered. There were so many teams! It took hours for them to all march out! Mostly from California, but also from Florida, Hawaii, Texas, and more.

On the second day, they attended a soccer fest where all the teams were mixed up so they end up playing with players from every team. I thought this was a good idea, a way to keep it friendly.

Jack Plays Against One of his Teammates at Soccerfest
Sam’s Team was called the Mint Oreos
Aaron is named Captain of the Watermelon Team, and plays Striker

After soccerfest, the real games began…

Jack plays Defense on the U19 Team
the Coach had Sam Play Every Position this Tournament
Aaron played Midfield or Striker

The temperature was in the 90s most days, and between the three kids we had 3 or 4 games a day. Adam and my step count was well over 10,000 a day, but I’m sure the players step count was much higher than that! We came home every night sun burnt and salt crusted from dried sweat.

How did we do? Not well. It was actually quite a beat down. By the end of it I really didn’t want to go to the last day of games, since we knew based on the previous days standings that we were set to lose all of them. Again.

Jack’s team ended with 1 win, 1 tie and 4 loses.

The twins team ended with 1 win, 1 tie, and 5 loses.

We underestimated how good the other teams would be. And we didn’t spend enough time practicing together as a team before leaving Chicago.

The game that the twins won was a bright spot for Aaron though, who scored a hat trick (three goals in one game).

Celebratory Airplane Arms After Scoring

The beat down was made less horrible by all the social events the Chicago group planned.

Soccer Watch Party and Buffet at Dave & Busters for all Chicago Teams
Afternoon of Beach Volleyball and Body Surfing for the U19 Team
Wild Waters Water Park in Irvine meet up for the U12 Team
Fun at the Waterpark for the Adults as well!
Dairy Queen Treat for the Win against El Paso
In Between Soccer Games these Three U12 Players came back to our AirBnb for lunch and to watch Soccer Videos on YouTube (and Ice their Sore Body Parts)

We were also lucky to see Adam’s family twice while we were in Southern California.

Hanging out at The Grove after lunch at The Cheesecake Factory
Adam’s Sister, Niece and Nephew come to Irvine and see one of the Twin’s Games

After the tournament ended I was sure the kids would all say this was an experience they never want to repeat again. As hard as it was to watch all my kids lose over and over again, it must have been even harder to actually be the person on the team losing over and over again, right?

To my surprise, Jack talked about the tournament in terms of how the team would do in two years, the next time they host the national games. He spoke about it as if he was already signed up again in his mind. The twins had a very healthy attitude about it as well, they considered it a good learning experience and said if things were organized a bit differently, they would consider going again.

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Ben Turns 14

Fourteen was a big year for Ben. After 9 years in a single school, he has moved onto high school. His new school, just like his old one, runs 11 months a year, which means Ben has already started and is in the awkward process of adjusting to a new environment.

Despite these major changes, we still kept the birthday rituals the same.

We got the same birthday donuts, the same birthday sushi dinner at the same restaurant, and at the end of the night we sung to the birthday cake.

Birthday Donuts
Chocolate Mousse Birthday Cake

In between all that eating, he had an art lesson and Adam took him to get a new iPad.

Shortly after his birthday, we got a sitter for the other kids and took him to the Mayo Clinic for some testing. Thankfully everything we were worried about was negative. Without the worry and getting his parents full attention all the time, the trip ended up like an extended birthday for him.

In between doctors appointments we did walks and had treats.

Boba Tea Treat
Walking around Rochester, MN

One day we drove over to the Mall of America so Ben could spend some of his birthday money on Legos and Crayola markers. We got to play extreme mini golf. We also got to see the new Misson Impossible Movie. I highly suggest it. In fact, we are binge watching the previous Misson Impossible Movies with the twins now in the hopes that they can see the new one on the big screen before the theaters stop viewing it.

M & M Store
Extreme Mini Golf

Finally Ben asked if he could have a soccer lesson with his brothers.

Soccer Drills
Ben in Goal

Overall I would say it’s a successful birthday. It was also a year of incredible growth for Ben. Not just the transition from middle school to high school, but physically as well. While we were at the Mayo Clinic, they measured his height at 5 ft 7 in!

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An Invitation to the Hamptons

Our friends Greg and Margie bought a house in the Hamptons and graciously invited us to visit.

As usual, Adam and I took the opportunity of a road trip as a chance to squeeze every thing possible we could think of into it.

It started with squeezing Niagara Falls into our drive over.

Adam said the Canadian side was much more picturesque so we packed the passports and headed over the border.

Adam booked us in a hotel right in front of the falls, with fabulous views.

View from the Hotel Restaurant. The Kids order Real Maple Syrup and Canadian Bacon.

Also, this meant that we had a front row seat to the nightly fireworks. We were so high the fireworks were below us!

The next day we headed to the Hamptons. Greg and Margie’s place was amazing! At one point Aaron said, “I’m having so much fun, I haven’t touched my iPad once!”

This is because there was so much fun to be had!

Pool and Jacuzzi
Private Tennis Court
Inflatable Bump Balls
Ping Pong Table and (in the background) Classic Arcade Game with Thousands of Games

Still, we did managed to get out and about for an afternoon, eating pizza in Sag Harbor and going for Ice Cream afterwards.

Ice Cream in Sag Harbor

We were not the only ones staying at Greg and Margie’s. Also our friend Tom came over from Hong Kong.

Greg, Tom and I were like the Three Stooges in Hong Kong. There was a lot of hanging around together and giggling and laughing, perhaps not to the point of slapstick, but many fun filled times.

Tom, Nikki, and Greg at Doreen and Vincent’s Wedding in Taiwan, late 1990s or early 2000s.

Although we have met many times across the globe since the gang broke up, the last time we were all together was in Hawaii for Greg’s 50th birthday, aptly named his “Hawaii 5-0“, six years ago.

Thanks in part to Tom, our gang has expanded. Tom introduced Greg to his friend Margie, who he went to high school with in Hawaii. Later, Tom and Margie cajoled me into talking to Adam at Andrew’s wedding in Jamaica. Tom deemed Adam suitable based on the fact that he had a “hot body”. Ah Tom, always looking out for me.

Tom, Greg, Margie, Nikki and Adam

And still we expanded further….

Tom, Zack (with Maple), Greg, Margie, Nikki, Adam, Jack, Sam and Aaron

After the Hamptons, we drove off to squeeze more fun in. We took the kids to New York, their first time (that they can remember) visiting the city.

There is so much to do in NYC, there is no way to cover it all no matter how long you stay, so the boys decided their top picks were the Statue of Liberty and Central Park.

On Liberty Island
Central Park

We also spent a lot of time eating our way through the city. No trip to NYC would be complete for me without Ray’s Pizza and Katz Deli.

Ray’s Pizza
Katz Deli

We also walked through many parts of NYC, Chinatown, Little Italy, Battery Park, Korea Town, Flatiron, Times Square, and more. At Margie’s suggestion, we stopped off at her favorite Boba Tea place. It was so good, Adam order another tea after he finished his first one!

Boba Tea at TrueDan in Chinatown

After a day filled with over 30,000 steps, we drove on the next day to squeeze in more adventure.

First we visited my friend from high school, Scott Grimes, in his beautiful 17 acre farm in Pennsylvania. They hosted us for a yummy lunch and let the kids play in their pool and on their ATV machines.

The Grimes and the Calisoffs

After that we meandered through winding country roads in Amish country (with a pit stop for Sam to puke because of said winding roads) and squeezed another stop in, this time in Hershey, PA.

Make Your Own Hershey Bar Experience
Hershey Milkshakes

Finally we landed in Pittsburgh to stay the night before our final leg home. When we arrived, we realized we were there the same weekend as Anthrocon, a furry convention. People were all walking down the streets in full-on furry costumes. At one point, while leaving the hotel, Aaron was worried that people might mistake him for a furry because he was carrying the Hershey furry pillow he bought at the last stop.

The next day was another eight hour trek and we are finally home and reunited with Ben, who stayed back in Chicago to attend school. Such a whirlwind trip! I’m already missing all the friends we saw, wishing we had more time together!

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Father’s Day and Birthday

This year, like every year, Adam asked each kid what they would like to do with him for Father’s Day. This year, like every year, ended up being a day chocked full of activities.

The new Spiderman movie, tennis, running, golf lessons, and kicking the soccer ball in the park filled the day. The day was such a whirlwind that I didn’t get around to taking any pictures!

I did buy a custom made picture for Adam’s Father’s Day present, though. I had the photo below framed for this year’s present.

Adam’s Father’s Day Mosaic

As for taking pictures for Adam’s birthday, well we were just lucky to see him! He left the house before 7am for an all day negotiation. In his absence, we got the normal birthday morning treats, donuts! He never even saw them. They were all gone before he came home that night.

Luckily the negotiation didn’t last through dinner and he managed to make it home in time for dinner with the family.

Sushi Birthday Dinner

For dessert, his favorite, key lime pie.

Singing to the Key Lime Pie

The years are going by so fast, that night in bed when he said the new number that is to define him for the next year, both of us could hardly believe it.

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Ben’s 8th Grade Graduation

Gorgeous Graduation Cake – A Gift from Ben’s School

Ben graduated 8th Grade today. He has been attending this school for nine years so it was a bittersweet moment, especially because this school is such a small, tight knit community.

Walking in to “Pomp & Circumstance”

His school went above and beyond to make this day special. They compiled a video of the graduating students, gave the kids loads of thoughtful gifts that were created for each individual student, and even let each graduate stand up and give a speech.

Ben’s Graduation Speech

After much anxiety and threatening to skip graduation all together over the prospect of public speaking, Ben stood up and gave a thoughtful and funny speech.

Even has his hands were shaking with nerves, he joked that he couldn’t believe the school had given him, “talking Ben” a chance to stand up and talk as long as he wanted. His motor mouth is notorious and can be a great sense of frustration for many, so this self deprecating joke really hit the mark. He also thanked many friends and staff members. Finally he ended the speech with some funny tips for the students in the audience who would continue to attend this school in the future.

We were super proud that he overcame his fears and got up and spoke.

We were also super grateful for this special school, which housed him with such patience and grace.

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Twins Turn 11

The Twins turned 11 amidst a whirlwind of activities.

On the day of their birthday they had Hebrew school and soccer practice, so we started the night before with a special birthday dinner celebration.

Sushi Birthday Dinner

The day of their actual birthday we did our traditional donut and egg sandwiches, then they opened presents before heading off to school laden with cupcakes for their classmates.

Birthday Donuts
Birthday Cards from the Family

By the time they finished all the after school activities, we barely had time for a quick dinner and birthday cake.

Sweet Mandy Bs All Chocolate Cake

The whirlwind of activity extended to the weekend before their birthday and after which means we weren’t able to have a birthday party until 10 days after their actual birthday.

For their party, we booked Spin, a table tennis venue.

We got enough tables so the kids could play doubles with each other. In my mind I envisioned them breaking into groups of four and playing doubles. Did the reality match my expectations?

Not at all! The party started with almost no one needing paddles because who needs paddles to have a ping pong ball war? All you need is a baseball pitchers arm!

Eventually everyone settled down and played some actual table tennis. It helped that we hired a pro to organize games for the kids and gave him a tray of candy to use as prizes.

Eric, the Pro, Gives Prizes for Any Kid who can Hit a Ball through the Giant Connect Four
Aaron gets Extra Time with the Pro, Eric

Eventually the cake came out. Everyone says the pandemic is over but that doesn’t mean people want to go back to cake candle blowing. Covid or not, no one wants accidental spittle from another person on top of their cake slice.

Sparklers Replace Candles for the Ping Pong Themed Cake

We still had an hour or more of fun before the time the party was over. And the kids did not waste a minute of it….

Not Sure if Sam Used a Paddle the Entire Time?

Afterwards, we headed home to open all the wonderful presents the twins friends gifted them.

It was another successful birthday. I couldn’t be more proud of these two, and hope they have a wonderful birthday year!

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