Watch Me.

Today I was hard on myself. A project I was doing at work had some technical glitches and didn’t go as smoothly as I hoped (although I got it done. My daughter was a bit upset by an interaction with a teacher in the car line when I picked her up. I had to race out to the orthodontist and stores after work. Dinner was late and I ended up having my son help me with it. I had a bunch of jobs to do like ordering school pictures, trying to gather items for the Closet project. I’m tired. Tired physically and tired of garbage humans who are just shitty people. I looked around at the chaos in my house and felt overwhelmed. I started getting frustrated with myself that I couldn’t get it all done and do more around the house.

Then I took a deep breath. And another. I sat back and watched a mental replay of what I had done all day.

I began to realize that I was too busy giving myself a hard time and wasn’t acknowledging the successes I had today. Some were small, but they were wins as far as I was concerned.

That project? Well, I got it done, and learned a whole new software in the process. I got another big project on my dreaded to do list accomplished as well.

I worked a full day and got a lot done.

I coordinated kids getting home.

I turned my car around in the car line and went to speak to the teacher who had upset my daughter. It was a misunderstanding, and I ended up really liking her and sorting it all out where everyone was happy.

My daughter, who has shed many a tear at the orthodontists, looked at me when I told her “you’re a big girl now and you can communicate what you feel needs correcting and you can rock this” and did just that. She handled it like a boss and walked out proud without a single tear being shed.

I got the items I needed from the store.

I ordered school pictures.

I was able to coordinate getting the shelving units I need for the Closet Project with the help of a friend, for free, donated by her neighbor. This is HUGE because currently everything is in random bags, boxes and bins making it near impossible to find what you need. I also found clothing racks for cheap and purchased a couple. I’m excited to now get it set up.

I coordinated a few more donations of clothing and toiletries.

I took a moment to ponder how grateful I am for the internet and the volume of things I can accomplish by using it.

I scrubbed the tub and toilet quick.

I delegated some jobs to my son, who was a rock star and cooked dinner.

I got a load of laundry done.

I did a load of dishes.

I fed all the pets.

I saw a woman say something vile and called her out as the asshole she was.

I saw a lurker lurking, sighed, and wrote this post anyway.

I did some good deeds.

I made calls I had to make and sent emails I needed to send.

I gave out some compliments. I laid out some truths.

I took out my esthetician’s equipment and helped my son with a breakout.

I gave goodnight hugs and kisses. I sent two happy kids to bed.

In other words, I did a LOT. I did some small things, and I did some big things. I did lots of things and I handled my business. So my house is messy. I work full time, run a major project to help kids, raise two kids, and manage a household often on my own since my husband works different hours. I kicked some ass today! I’m proud of myself and my kids told me they are proud of me too. I often find myself being so hard on me, never taking the time to just stop, breath, and recognize all the things I DID accomplish during the day. Sometimes I need to step outside of myself and watch all the things I have accomplished, and all the things I did get done.

Are you watching me? Because I’m watching me, and I kicked some ass today!

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Take me to the Ranch!

I’ve been (mostly) MIA the past couple of weeks as summer has wound down. Summer, which normally feels lazy and laid back, became crazy busy. Between work, camp for the kids, and my nights spent working on the Closet project, I stayed busy. I was burning the candle at both ends and by last week I was in dire need of time to rest and recharge. We had booked two vacations at the end of the month, one for our annual family reunion at the lake, and the other at a Ranch in upstate New York. The Ranch trip was first.

Now let me preface the rest of this post by saying I’m probably a little high maintenance, but at the same time, I have a soft spot for the country and would love to live in the country at some point. Despite coming from a family who is very into horses (several of my cousins own, breed and show horses. One is a professional rider), I am….not. I grew up far away from them, and never had much opportunity to ride. I spent my childhood on boats and the water, but despite a love of horses, I’ve always been a bit nervous around them.

We booked the trip with some family members that we have vacationed with in the past. They have been going to the ranch since childhood, and they asked us to join. We decided to jump at the opportunity as we know we vacation really well with them. We share a similar vacation mindset. That’s very important when travelling with others. If you don’t kind of have the same vibe when it comes to how you vacation, you may feel either you didn’t fully get the experience, or you may feel like you need a vacation from the vacation. This collective group just worked like a charm, and I knew fun was to be had.

We arrived at Rydin-Hy Ranch on a Saturday. I had had a stressful few weeks leading up to the trip, and unfortunately got a call with some bad news about a family member on the drive there. I arrived stressed, but looking forward to having some down time, as was my husband. My kids were wanting to do all the things. As we pulled in, I saw log cabins, and a gorgeous lake ahead of us. Our cabin looked out towards the lodge in front of us, and the lake to our right. It was simply stunning. We checked in, dropped off our stuff, and headed out to explore. My daughter, who LOVES horses, was eager to ride, so we signed up for a trail ride. The boys headed off to check things out. We wandered over to the barn where there were loads of beautiful horses. The cowboys that work the barn (that’s actually what they are called on the ranch) chose horses they thought would be a good fit for everyone. They helped each of us get on the horse, and we got in a line to go for a slow leisurely trail ride. I was nervous and a bit anxious the first ride. Ok, I was the same on pretty much every ride, but I couldn’t help but have fun.

After the ride, we headed off to the lodge for dinner, which was delicious. The easiest way to explain it is that the food is simple, yet done well. Each family has their own table for the length of their stay, so you simply wander in during meal times and sit at your table. The staff there were extremely accommodating. After a delicious meal, we headed off to the bar for drinks and laughs. We had a fabulous night out at the bar, and a good time was had by all.

Each day in the lodge, they put up a chalk board with the times and locations of all the activities. This is the moment when you start to realize that your kids have likes and know how to do things that you had no idea about. To my surprise my son signed up for a ping pong tournament. I didn’t know he enjoyed ping pong, as he’d never mentioned it, but he said he played at camp all the time. Turns out he’s really good at it! My kids were very eager to try archery. My daughter wanted to do the banana boat, which is a long inflateable yellow banana looking boat that you sit on while a speedboat tows it at a pretty high speed in the water. I went on, as well as her aunt, and the three of us were laughing hysterically as it pulled us through the water. I sat amazed at how fearless my kids are, and how much joy they got from trying new things.

My sister in laws’ cousins were there the first day and were extremely kind enough to leave us their kids’ bikes to borrow while we were there. This gave our kids another layer of freedom. There is an incredibly strong feeling of “home” at the ranch, in the sense your room door is unlocked throughout the day (you get a safe for valuables) and kids are considerably more free range than you see at many vacation destinations. Of course parents have an eye on their kids but you feel safe allowing them to roam a bit if they are older. My son, a teenager now, loved having the freedom to come and go as he pleased, riding the bike throughout the ranch from place to place. He went to the gym to work out, played basketball, and attended activities on the board that piqued his interest. My daughter loved spending time riding around on the bike while the adults were relaxing outside. One of the things I loved was that kids were a bit more free range there, and it all felt super safe and easygoing.

While I was there, I got a call with some more bad news and needed a bit of time to process it. Travelling with the Aunts, Uncles and bonus grandparents made it easy for me to ask for some alone time, as they were happy to oblige and take the kids to different activities. The ranch sits on a beautiful lake, and they have plenty of paddleboards, kayaks, rowboats and paddleboats for the guests to use at any time. I hopped on a kayak and took off across the lake to have some quiet time to process things. It was exactly what I needed, and I found myself feeling really calm and collected when I arrived back to the beach. I ended up kayaking multiple times per day and each time enjoying myself more and more.

The resulting sunburn? Not so much.

OOF. One night my skin felt like it was on fire.

The bed? Well, the bed was way firm. Perhaps it wasn’t super firm, it’s just that my bed at home is so soft it’s just ridiculous. I have a double pillow top with a massive feather bed on top, and a down comforter. It’s like sleeping on a cloud. Heaven. The bed at the ranch was the polar opposite. Not uncomfortable, but firm. I told myself it was the cowboy life for me that week and to suck it up, buttercup. I was so tired from all the activity each day, I slept like a log. The first night, I had multiple dreams I was laying on the floor, so my brain was certainly processing I wasn’t at home and was on a firmer setup than usual.

Each day we found ourselves excited to see what was planned on the board in the lodge. Activities differed from day to day. This was an interesting lesson in learning new things about my kids. I was surprised to find out my son really enjoyed ping pong after playing it at camp, and was also very good at it. He’d never mentioned ping pong to me before, but he was looking forward to entering the Ranch’s ping pond table. I was surprised my daughter was eager to do the banana boat ride after seeing it tip over at a fairly high speed, dumping all the riders into the lake to be picked up by the pontoon boat. She was all in. I was surprised when my son said the horseback ride he took was his favorite part of the day, as while my daughter takes lessons, he’d never shown much interest before. Even my husband really enjoyed riding. The boys went hiking to check out what was around. The girls did some water sports. I tried paddleboarding for the first time (harder than it looks but I enjoyed it). We attended our first rodeo, and my daughter was thrilled to see a girl close to her age doing the barrels. We all tried archery. The adults spend the evenings around the bar laughing and talking. The bartender took a shine to my daughter and let her sit with us, handing her a rootbeer in a bottle. She joined in for late snacks and sat happy to be a part of the group. My son, more of an introvert, rode his bike at night around the loop and did manage to squeak in a few texts to his friends. Considering the wifi in the room was minimal (it was good in the lodge) and there wasn’t a TV in the room, my teenager acclimated well to a minimally electronic vacation. My daughter, the early riser of the four of us found great joy in being able to run up to her Aunt and Uncle’s room to hang out in the mornings, while my son relished in being the last one of out bed. Even my husband and I, neither of us early risers, found ourselves getting up early to see what the day held. By the end of the week, I think we all tried something new, and everyone left the Ranch relaxed and smiling if not a bit bruised. Personally, I felt like weights had been lifted off my shoulders.

I arrived home with bruises on my legs, sore arms, but happy and content. After a busy and chaotic few weeks, to come home feeling peaceful and relaxed was perfect. My mood was great, my body was battered but felt strong, and my family were all smiling.

We enjoyed the ranch so much we booked another trip for next year.

Ridin’ Out of Summer

And I’m back!

It’s been a super busy few weeks, but it feels like summer is officially over now (even though technically it’s not.) Between work, projects, summery events, travel, and some other things, the summer blew past me. I felt like I spent my summer either running around like a mad woman, or melting in the heat. Sometimes it was a combination of both.

So where have I been? What have I been doing? Inquiring minds want to know. I’ll give you a bit of an overview and then will post again with more specifics soon.

The Closet project has been steaming ahead and almost got a bit away from me this summer. I was super fortunate and was able to pick up a lot of clothing donations. The bad news was, we lost our space at the school. For last year, we were able to the old dental room. Originally, the health department had a special room at the school in the nurse’s suite where they would come and do free cleanings etc. Once they privatized it, the new company never bothered to come in. That is, they never bothered to come in until we used the space to create the Closet space. Well, at the VERRRRYY end of the year, the company showed up, rather displeased we had taken over the space they failed to use. Maybe it was a snub of “well, if you’re not going to use it, we will” but they have arranged to start coming back to the school, which is GREAT for our students. The bad news is, we had to move everything, and unfortunately the school is packed. Luckily the principal is amazing and find me a small space. It.s not ideal, but it shows she stands behind the project and I was inherently grateful for it. I was getting calls throughout the summer from parents in need, and at times was out late at night doing dropoffs of items. You know, this project really highlights the best in people. My goal every time I step out to help someone is to refrain from any judgement. It’s the only way the project will work. When I tell people about it, people often say “how could parents not have XYZ for their child?” but it’s important to simply go with purpose and not judge. Hard times can fall on anyone, and in a town where you have a mix of rich and poor, people often forget just how tough times can really be for some of us, or how good people don’t always get a fair shake. Judging others does us no good. A big reminder of this was a late night drop off I did the other night. I asked the dad what his daughter’s name was. As soon as he went to tell me, his whole body language changed. He stood tall, and clearly, happily and lovingly told me his child’s first, middle and last names. You could see the pride. You could see the love. To be honest, that simple moment was everything, and it was the best moment of my day. I loved seeing the pure love for his child on his face. Hard times can never diminish that.

I also made the decision of a mad woman to do our family vacations the last week of summer. Meaning, I left on a Saturday, came home on Wednesday (the day before school started), sent my babies off to school Thursday and Friday, before we headed back out for a family reunion from Saturday to Monday. PHEW! Are you tired yet? I sure am!

Trip one was a trip with some family members to a Ranch in Upstate New York. We had such a good time that the trip deserves it’s own post. For now I will say that each family member found something they loved to do, we ate constantly, we all tried new things, and I came mentally relaxed and physically bruised. Better than the opposite, if you ask me. I had bruises on my legs from horseback riding and riding a bananaboat, and I couldn’t lift my arms up over my head from the soreness of all the kayaking I did.

It was heavenly.

We enjoyed ourselves so much we booked it for next year as well. Again, I’ll write more on that trip later.

The only tough part of the trip was getting a call from my dad on the drive up there that my grandfather wasn’t doing well. It was touch and go for a few days as far as whether my dad would be able to attend the reunion or not. In the end, he called and said he was flying out to go look after my grandfather. I think he felt bad about not seeing us, especially since we haven’t seen my dad hardly all year, but to be honest, I felt glad he was going to look after my grandfather. I told my dad not to worry, and I would see him soon. We still headed up to the lake house to visit the family, and it was a wonderful time. It’s laid back, easy going, and always great to watch the kids all fall right into step with each other. They all come from different states but as soon as they land in the same house they all run off like old friends. I really missed having my dad there but I thoroughly enjoyed myself. We spent a day at the lake, a day at a country fair, and a lazy morning before packing up to head home.

Once I got back home, I decided to treat myself to a guilt free nap.

It’s funny because I feel guilty when I nap. I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s that I always feel like I should be doing something, or running somewhere, or looking after people. So for me to say…”I’m gonna take an hour and have a nap” was a big deal for me. It was awesome. I slept for an hour and woke up feeling lazy and useless, but it was perfect.

And so begins fall. Fall schedules, which are a bit more hardlined. Sports begin again. New projects begin. Existing projects get streamlined. Pro football starts. Food gets more comforting. Pumpkin everything. Coffee. Just, coffee.

My house stays messy…because while I’m an eternal optimist, I’m also a realist.

Sadly, I think that has wound up most of our travel for this year, outside a day trip here or there. Of course, I never rule out more. The past 12 months have been outstanding in so many ways, but most of the best moments were because of travel. I’m excited to plan for next year!

It was Vegas, Baby!

So I’m back! Back from what felt like a whirlwind girls’ weekend to Las Vegas, otherwise known as Sin City. Never fear, not too many sins were cast during our time there. I must say however, I had a grand old time, saw the sights, heard the sounds, saw a show, and had a wild and crazy time after climbing into a white, unmarked van (much of that I will get into in more detail in a later post, as that warrants it’s own post). Some of this may venture into the rated R level, so please be forewarned.

For those not caught up, my bestie is going in for surgery this week. For some reason, despite having many surgeries and hospital experiences throughout her life, this one in particular is bothering her a bit. She’s anxious about it in a way I haven’t seen her anxious before. To alleviate her anxiety, she decided to plan a vacation in Las Vegas, and I was her desired travel partner. We’ve been friends since high school, were housemates once upon a time, and have been through the best and worst of times. We laugh together, we’ve cried together, and most importantly, we’ve been there for each other. When she had a prior surgery, I cooked meals and dropped them off for her and her non-cooking husband. When my ex treated me badly, she scrubbed the toilet with his toothbrush. You get the drill. She’s one of my ride or die friends, the ones that are hard to come by in a world full of selfish people. Anything the other one needs, we’re there for each other. I trust her implicitly and I know she feels the same. I’m so very lucky to have her. We had talked about going on a girls weekend to Vegas since we were in our teens, but marriages, kids, and a world of responsibilities later, we never made it. She asked me to go. I said I couldn’t, because while my kids are cute as hell, they are EXPENSIVE and I just didn’t have the cash to swing it.

She told me to pack my bags, she was taking me on her dime. All I needed was some spending money. My husband said we’d make it work, he’d work short days, and my kids bonus grandma said she’d watch them when my husband was at work. How amazing is that? So with tickets booked, hotel room reserved, and bags packed, we headed to the airport on Saturday night. We flew out Mint on jetblue after 9 pm, arriving at around 11:30 PM Vegas time. Mint is extraordinary, with all the perks and seats that go into full on beds. I slept and awoke just before landing feeling refreshed. Off to the hotel we went.

Arriving at the Bellagio, I walked in feeling a bit underdressed, but excited. I had been to the Bellagio for a wedding years ago, but didn’t know all to much about it. I had stayed next door at the Vdara (which was awesome by the way….it’s a none gambling hotel and it is quiet and smells non smokey, which is a plus. The rooms are modern, calming, and quiet…plus they are well air conditioned, but I digress). Our room was up on the 26th floor, in the building on the left side of the main building as you’re looking up. We checked in, grabbed our bags, and started the LONG walk up to the room. Everything in Vegas is a long walk from everything else. The sheer amount of steps and miles I walked last week was unreal. Anywho, we arrive at the room, and step in. The room is clean, pretty, and has an AMAZING view of the Las Vegas strip, but not only that, we can view the Bellagio fountains going off throughout the day/nights! We had a prime view of Paris, as well as some other hotels. I immediately stepped to the thermostat to turn the AC on, after all, it was Vegas and it was warm in there. I tried lowering the temp, but it wouldn’t go down past 65. Also, the AC cut off. I went all the way back down to the desk, only to find out that the AC is on a motion sensor. This meant that the AC would cut off at night and when we left the room. “Do you understand this is the Bellagio? In 105 degree heat? Why does the AC turn off?” I asked. I know, not my proudest moment, but I HATE being hot at night. The person at the desk shrugged, apologized, and sent a fan to the room. I slept every night with a fan blasting me in the face.

Now, you can tell when long term friends, especially those who lived together, go on vacation together. Concessions are made, and adjustments to keep everyone happy. I am always hot, she is always cold. She said I should sleep near the AC vent, with the fan, and she got an extra blanket. This happened for the whole trip, each of us finding ways to “make it work” which resulted in everyone having a great time.

After checking in, and getting our fan, we wandered down to gamble a bit, and played for a few hours before turning in to sleep. We awoke early Sunday and headed off to see the casinos. She wanted to make sure I saw as many as possible, as well as some free shows or things that made each casino unique. We also found eating a big breakfast and then eating dinner worked best for both of us. We went to Caesar’s Palace, MGM, Mandalay, Mirage and some others. We each had points from playing the free “My Vegas Slots” game, which scored us free passes into the Mandalay Bay Shark Reef. I am a huge water person, always happiest near the water, so this was totally my happy place. They had some other animals and fish there, including a piranha who had had it’s lip bitten off, leaving it with a permanent toothy grin. The woman who worked there informed me he was one of the best eaters of the group despite the deformity. The shark tanks and tunnel were awesome, and I got a pretty great shot of a shark swimming right over my head. Beautiful creatures, but I must say seeing them up close confirmed my nervousness about open water caused by the movie Jaws many years ago. Speaking of Jaws, I am fairly confident that may be a movie that impacted multiple generations of people.While you don’t necessarily think “Jaws” when someone asks which movie has had a huge impact on you, if you spend much time near the water and think about it, I’d be willing to guess you have thought about that movie more than once when on the beach. If you are going to Vegas, play the free slot game…they give you free play money, you earn rewards, and you can earn points towards free food, experiences, and discounted or even free hotel rooms! Another side note, your ticket to the Shark Reef also gives you a free pass to Mandalay Bay’s beach and pool. Score!

Over the next few days, we did some more exploring of the various casinos, checked out people on the strip (Vegas is simply AMAZING for people watching) and hit up Fremont st. Now, speaking of people watching, Fremont street was probably one of my favorite parts of the trip. It’s a bit of a trek to get down there, so we caught an Uber. I had only Ubered once before this trip, so I had to get the hang of it, but I was very impressed. The Uber rides became a challenge for us. For those not familiar, Uber is an app you put on your phone. You select where you want to go, the app figures out where you are, and it offers you a few selections of cars, as well as how much each one will cost. Most of the time it was 8-10 bucks for where we needed to go, but the price can fluctuate a bit depending on time and how busy it is by the looks of it. That being said, all our drivers were prompt, had good AC (a total blessing in 105-110 degree heat) and chatty. My friend initially started chatting with them, and in no time, we had a game going…”which is your weirdest Uber driver experience?” This is a great game to play if you use Uber a few times, especially in a place like Las Vegas. Some of the stores were mundane, such as drunk vomiters who got charged a very hefty fine, but the winner winner chicken dinner of the vacation belongs to a driver in a Nissan minivan. He had a couple in his car, and they were headed to a bar. The boyfriend poked the girlfriend in the side, teasing her, but poked her hard enough that it hurt, making her angry. He told her not to be mad, and said “ok, you can bite my thumb if that makes you feel better”. She grabbed that thumb and bit part of it off. LET ME REPEAT, SHE BIT OFF A SECTION OF HIS THUMB. The Uber driver, mortified, said he didn’t know what to do, so he simply asked if he should divert to the local hospital to have the thumb piece reattached. The couple declined and said they still wanted to head to the bar.

I have so many questions.

Well, it is Las Vegas, so while he was the winner of our contest, I suppose I shouldn’t have been too surprised by severed body parts in an Uber minivan in Vegas.

Now, back to Fremont st. Some folks call it Freakmont st, and 5 minutes in, I could see why. When you arrive at Fremont, it is a flurry of activity. Normally, that’s not really my bag. I like things a bit more quite and low key in my old(er)(ish) age, but this was Vegas, so I was up for it. Fremont street is an assault on your senses, but it also tugs at your sense of humor and your heart as well. It’s a very interesting place, to say the least, and probably not a great place for kids. Although I notice some people are a bit more lackadaisical about what they expose their littles to than I am. At Fremont, you walk and there is almost a canopy overhead, with a lightshow. It’s bright and blingy. Also above you is Slotzilla, a giant zipline that goes very high up. You can zipline seated and Superman style, depending on your choice. Now, I didn’t do the zipline, and unfortunately its my one big regret on this trip. I wish I had done it, because it looked a blast. Now there is the main walkway, but along the sides there are these black circles. I was curious about these, so I looked them up online. Apparently street performers can sign up online to reserve a circle, which they get for 2 hours. They can then do basically whatever they want in the circle. The night we were there, I saw an “older” woman standing holding a sign that simply said “finish on my face”. I’ll leave that one there. There were two women in skimpy outfits offering to whip people. There was a guy in only a thong with KISS makeup, and he stood next to a “Little Person” who looked like Mr. T. One guy had a guy with a sign and a clown nose that advertised you could kick his friend in the nuts. (There were actually two guys who did that schtick. I’m not sure how they did it, but I have video.) Two guys did a “human gumby” routine where you could pose them any way you’d like and they would stay in that pose. Another circle was occupied by a small group who did dance routines, only all were contortionists and did moves that made me cringe. It’s not required to tip the performers, but most people would if they participated. It’s not the same vibe you get in NYC with some guy in a shitty Elmo costumes that curses you out for not tipping if someone takes a picture. It’s all about fun and crazy and freakishness. It’s Vegas on a street level, with fun and fabulous. There were a few vets hoping for tips. One guy used his time to complain about Hilary….which was about the saddest waste of time I could think of. Dude, you’re in VEGAS and she’s not president or impacting you…move on, or have some fun! There were free concerts with great bands, and the whole vibe was bright, flashy and most of all, a fun party atmosphere. The street performers were my very favorite, and most seemed to be enjoying their time. If I wasn’t so tired from the heat and walking from the day, I likely would have stayed well into the night, but I’m a British girl who wasn’t built for heat and sun. Freemont is free to go to, so definitely plan some time to spend there in the evenings. As long as you’re not prudish, you’ll likely have a blast. We topped off the evening with Hash House A Go-Go, where I got a little burger. Their portions are HUGE….like crazy huge, the food is reasonable, yummy, and the server and hostess were sweet. I got home full bellied, tired, and slept well.

Tuesday we had a lazy day at the hotel, starting off with a big Bellagio buffet lunch and a dip in the pool. I was coated in 100 SPF and tried laying out for a few but 106 degrees is a beast. The pool was lovely, albeit small, and there were plenty of chairs, to my surprise. We then went up to get ready to head to a show. My friend scored tickets to the Cirque show KA on her credit card points. We arrived at the theater, grabbed snacks and wandered to our seats. I believe we were about 7th row, not bad at all!! We were unable to take any photography once we walked in. Unaware of this, I took a picture of the side set, and was quickly asked not to take any more. The best way I could attempt to describe the side set is that it looked a bit like the Ewok village. There were people swinging from the set over the audience. The show hadn’t even started and i was already having fun! I’ll be very honest that I am not entirely sure what the plot was, and I left very confused but in awe. The cast was simply amazing, and some of the stunts I witnessed, as a mom, made me cringe with nervousness. These cast members were nothing short of athletes. Climbing, spinning, jumping, and doing feats that seemed impossible. I left the show saying “I have questions” when it came to the plot, but having thoroughly enjoyed myself. If you get the chance, go see it. You won’t regret it.

I’m not exactly sure whether it was Monday or Tuesday, but that was the day my mystery friend left. I was sad to see them go, to be honest. It started out with a hallway table and a simple pad of paper. As I made the long trek to my room each day, I noticed someone had written something on a pad in the hotel hallway. The next day, I wrote something silly back. As I headed back to my room, I laughed when I saw they had responded, so I in turn responded to them. Back and forth it went, until the pad stayed blank. I suppose they must have checked out. I was honestly sad to see them go, and wish I had met my mystery pen pal to see who they were. Such simple things, yet it made me smile.

Wednesday was the day I was most looking forward to. It earned every ounce of anticipation, and to be honest, was so awesome, it deserves its own post. We were able, through my friend’s Chase rewards points, to book an excursion to ride dune buggies in the desert. As soon as I saw it, I knew I wanted in. I’m more of a speed freak than a heights person, and this seemed perfect. I will post separately about the excursion because it was an experience to remember in all the right ways, and I was able to capture not only stunning views, but also met some awesome people who run it. If you are headed out to Vegas or anywhere near, check out OUI Experiences. You won’t regret it. We had a private, full day experience riding UTV’s across the Arizona Mohave desert, topped off with a massive jump into Lake Mohave for a swim in it’s crystal blue, perfect temperature waters. I saw wild donkeys, cattle, and plenty of cacti. The couple that run the tour have exclusive access to certain areas, and you feel like you stepped onto the set of Breaking Bad when they are driving the RV into the desert, except there’s nobody but you and the guides, and an occasional passerby once every few hours. It was without a doubt, my favorite part of the trip. That being said, it was 116 degrees out. Now, I know folks always follow that up with “but it’s a dry heat”. No joke, 116 degrees feels like 116 degrees, especially wearing a full helmet, bandana, and riding a cart that also got a bit hot in spots. Ice water became hot water in no time, so we were constantly chugging cold water to stay hydrated. I think I drank more than a bottle per hour, and topped the whole thing off with an ice cold beer at the very end. It was fanfriggentastic.

We arrived back at the hotel with just enough time to wash the dust of the Mohave desert off of us, pretty ourselves up, and Uber out to the Stratosphere at the end of the trip. We we tired from the heat and hungry as hell. My friend treated me to dinner at the “Top of the World” at the top of the Strat, as they are trying to rebrand the hotel. Now, The Strat as the call it, is at the far end of the strip, and the area has a much different vibe than everywhere else. It starts to look a bit dicey, and there are some drunks roaming. The casino part is alright, but the access to the elevators was through a doorway into a hallway. It left me uneasy, but I can’t really explain why. It’s not a place I’d walk to late by myself comfortably, nor did I feel comfortable in the darkish hallways. Once on the elevator, at the top where the restaurant is, it’s a totally different vibe. The restaurant is busy and the views are unparalleled in Vegas. The floor of the restaurant slowly rotates, which allows you to see everything around it, doing about a 360 degree turn in an hour. This means that during an average dinner, you can see everything surrounding the hotel. 107 floors up. Not for those who are afraid of heights, but I sucked it up and dealt. The meals aren’t cheap, and you can easily run dinner over $300 for 2 people with just a single alcoholic drink or two per person. That being said, the food was delicious and the ambiance was awesome. My bestie treated me. (Sadly, she’ll be treated to my less than stellar cooking for the next week while she recovers from surgery…it hardly seems fair). After dinner, we wandered up a floor or two to the bar. Not only is there a bar up there, but also RIDES. Yes. You heard me, and everything is there with the intent to see if you are a crazy person. I forgot to mention that during dinner, one of the sites we got to see was someone doing a controlled drop off the roof. God knows how they did it without having a heart attack, because I was freaking out just watching them!! They also had multiple rides which dangle you off the side of the building, 108 or more floors up. I got anxious just watching them and had to step inside.

We headed back to our hotel room via Monorail (I definitely recommend getting a pass before you go to Vegas, as there are some great multi day pass deals out there. Mine was loaded to my iphone and popped up on my watch whenever I got close to the monorail, making hopping on and off a breeze). After a quick stop in front of the hotel to video the Bellagio fountain show for my daughter, we headed back to the room to pack and stumble into bed. It was midnight and man, were we wiped. I was sad the trip had come to a close, to be honest. It had been so much fun having time with just my friend, seeing and experiencing so much. Had I had more time, I would have done one of the ziplines. Ah well, another time. 3 hours later,after a nap, we were on our way to the airport. I was so tired I felt it in my bones. We both crashed out on the plane. The Jet Blue flight attendants scored MAJOR brownie points when they made me an Americano when I commented how sad I was to have missed coffee (and how much I needed one!) They handed me one not long before landing, making me promise to keep the lid on for safety. Thank you, Jet Blue!!!!

It took us ages to get back to our area due to rush hour traffic. My kids were with their aunties and uncles at a local sandwich place, grabbing a bite to eat. I saw their location on the tracking app they have on their phones, and showed up to surprise them. My daughter came running to hug me, a smile but also some tears of happiness on her face. My son, the too cool 13 year old, gave me a smile and looked surprised but pleased to have me back. My husband looked so happy to have me back when I got home that I could have cried. Nothing like a girls trip to make you realize how amazing the world is, especially the little world you’ve created in your own home.

Proud Mama

In the midst of all the chaos, us mamas often question our choices. Kids don’t come with an instruction manual, and it’s often tough to determine if we’ve got this whole parent thing down. For all the work my husband and I do, it’s often tough to see if the lessons we are trying to teach are landing.

Yesterday I took the girl child to the orthodontist. The whole process has been incredibly stressful on all of us. While I know kids get braces all the time, she had to have surgery where they cut her gums open to create little “windows”, applied brackets, and gold chains. Those chains then get attached to her braces, and slowly the links are taken off to tighten the chain, thereby pulling down her impacted teeth. It’s scary for an 8 year old, and frankly, it’s scary for me. One side didn’t heal as well as the other, and it’s been a tough process for her. Yesterday I took her in and they did the first tightening. Tears ensued and I had to hold her hand and talk her through the discomfort. She cried, but in all honesty, she handled it pretty well.

Outside, we headed to the car, and she still had big fat tears that were slowly dropping down her cheeks. She didn’t say much other than “mama, that really hurt”. I promised her ice cream and we went to get into the car. A man passed me with a walker. I sensed something was off…maybe a stroke had happened, maybe an impairment, but it was slight. He asked me for bus fare, and I told him honestly I had just given my last $5 away to the school. I felt bad. Suddenly, my daughter pipes up that she has some money in her bag from her change for buying me a mother’s day gift at school, and she offered it to him. He immediately felt bad, and apologized, shuffling away saying “I can’t take her money”. She would hear nothing of it, and handed me her $2.50. I asked how much bus fare was, and he replied “$3.00”. So I scrounged in my car for the remaining fifty cents. I came up with it and handed it to him. He didn’t make eye contact, but thanked me. We hopped in the car and left.

Now, here was my dilemma…I was so proud of her for helping. After all, I have spent many hours trying hard to instill kindness and the spirit of helping into my kids. I’ve often blogged about my successes, but especially my fails, where I tried real hard but it bit me in the ass so to speak. I was so stinking happy to see it stuck, that she saw a way to help, felt able to, and made the effort. That being said, I also had to impart a little bit of realism and explain that bad people don’t look bad, and that she had to be careful of strangers. We discussed stranger danger. An incident this week that my daughter was witness to about a stranger had frightened her, and I had to tread lightly. After all, how do you teach a child to love and trust, when reality is that bad people DO exist, and some strangers ARE bad? I had to explain that when it comes to this type of situation, it’s probably best to let her dad and I make those decisions and do the talking. I did repeat, however, that I was so impressed and proud of her kindness.

She responded that she could tell the guy just wanted to the bus to get home, and he wasn’t walking so well, so the bus was a better choice. She then told me she saw he REALLY needed the bus, so she knew she had done the right thing. I paused, and asked for clarification. It turns out that when I looked away and went to hunt for change, my daughter saw the man pee his pants. A huge puddle had appeared at his feet. She said he probably needed the bus to get home to the bathroom and to clean himself up.

I looked at the sidewalk. Indeed, there was a big puddle, and a set of wet footprints walking away from it. “eh, it happens to the best of us, kiddo” I responded, and she agreed.

Not so long ago, she had wet her pants at school after a substitute wouldn’t let her leave class to use the bathroom. She had been really embarrassed. When I put the pieces of the story together, I was even more proud of her. I have always told her that even kids can make a difference, once step at a time. She saw an adult who was struggling, saw them REALLY struggle, and said not a word about the issue in public, but instead extended her heart, her hand, and her last $2.50 to make his day a bit easier.

If only more people were like her, what a better place this world would be.

I’m so incredibly lucky to be her mama.

And I’m back.

And I’m back! Sorry for being MIA but I’ve been crazy busy and also running some tests in regards to the blog. It’s been a hot minute since I last wrote, so let me catch things up.

My daughter’s teeth have been a process. With two impacted canines sitting almost right below her nose, she stood the risk of losing her 4 front permanent teeth. It’s been pretty nerve wracking, uncomfortable, and at times distressing for her (and her parents and family as well!). It’s never easy to see a little one in pain, so it’s been a ride, to say the least. We started with two teeth being pulled, a palate expander, then braces, She then had to go for an “exposure”, which for those unfamiliar, means that an oral surgeon went in, cut open the gums to expose the impacted teeth, attach brackets, and gold chains which then connected to her braces. OUCH, right? She was scheduled for this almost a month ago, but came down with strep the weekend before, so we had to postpone it. The doctor is only there every other Thursday, and we had a”working vacation” planned the next available day, so we had to wait until this past Thursday.

Strangely, they don’t put you to sleep for this type of surgery. They give gas, or a sedative. We chose the sedative. She was flying high for quite a while there, and has no memory of the surgery. She came out sad, and I sat in the back seat cuddling with her all the way home. She handled it like a rock star. The day after surgery, she woke me up to take her to school. She was supposed to have the day off, but wanted to go in anyway. Since she made the call, I took her to school. Saturday she woke up scared, and it turns out the surgery caused major swelling in her face. Her little eyes were almost swollen shut. Ice packs later, the swelling dropped enough that she headed out to a hockey game with one of her besties.

I was so stinkin’ proud. She’s my warrior girl. When I started this blog, I referred to her as Tiny Diva. That no longer fits her at all. I’m not raising a princess, or a diva. I’m raising a warrior girl, who is fierce and loving and kind. She’s a tough cookie with a soft heart.

Speaking of kindness, our Kindness Closet at school has been going great. It’s turned into a second job for me, but it’s really a fulfilling one. There are kids getting items they need out of the closet every day. Today, I dropped off snacks for the kids who don’t have them, and saw kids coming in to get uniform items out of the closet. I’m putting together some game plans, and even got a pretty big donation to get us started. Using that donation, I was able to purchase a bunch of uniform items in bulk to help stock the closet. I’m a bit nervous on how it can be sustained long term. It’s hard to have to rely on the kindness of others, as I’m not good at asking for help. I’ll have to get better at it I suppose. I’m currently looking at companies who do donations of money or in kind items. If anyone has any ideas to help, please let me know in the comments or on Twitter.

Outside of work, raising kids, the closet, and surgeries, I’m still busy. As much as this was going to be my year of learning to say “no” more often, I find it’s actually a year of jumping in where the need is.

A friend of mind ended up in a tough spot. This person is as tough as nails, never asks for help, but finally cracked and put it out there that they were struggling. Now, let me say, this is a person who people go to their house to party. People like to hang with this person when times are good. The response of offers to step and help when times were tough though? Almost non existent. I threw my hat in the ring, and jumped into the fray to help. I looked around and saw the people I knew would be there to help. It was a small group, but a group I felt happy to be around. These were real friends. These were the people you’d want in your tribe. While I’m not super close with those people, I have HUGE admiration for them, because these are people you know you can count on when the chips are down. Everyone needs those types of people.

It led me to begin thinking about folks in general. As I’ve gotten older, I have a much clearer view of who people are. I wish I had the same skills when I was younger, because it sure would have saved me a lot of time an energy. I tend to be a person who judges more on what I see than on other people’s opinions, but I have now learned whose opinions are legit, and whose mindset matches my own. I lean towards the eternally optimistic when it come to people. I always believe when I first meet people, that they are eternally good. I believe everyone has a story, and everyone means well. I’m learning that some people are just dicks. If I had listened to my husband years ago I would have saved myself a LOT of hassle. If I had listened to my best friend, I would have saved myself a TON of issues. It’s a learning curve.

It’s funny how we learn as we age. Suddenly, things just CLICK and you go…ah, I’ve got it now. Things I struggled with until somewhat recently somewhat fall into place and it feels like second nature. Oh, to be 17 again with the knowledge I have now. How interesting life would be.

Anywho, how to sum up the past few weeks?

My house is messy. I’m rarely home. My kiddo is doing great after surgery. I’m making leaps and bounds with the Kindness Closet, but I come home and cry after hearing what some of the kids are facing. I’ve learned to pick my tribe better. I have no time for false friends. I’m loving work. I’m loving putting myself out there to help people. I will no longer take shit. Like, for real. I have no time nor patience for it. I hate the calendar with all it’s endless appointments, but I am grateful for each day. Not everyone is granted that luxury. I need to do so many jobs around the house but I’m tired. I can’t do it all, and that’s ok. I just need to get my groove and things will fall into place.

I’m working on a blog post I’ve been talking about, but it’s gonna take me a while to assemble it all together and get the images I need. It’ll be forthcoming.

In the meantime, I have another one I’ll put up soon about what a flighty mess I am.

Good to be back!

She’s Got Another Project

Every now and again, something touches my cold, dark little heart and warms it. Or, sometimes it digs in my eyes and makes them leak a little. When this happens, I am often pulled into one of my “projects” as they have come to be known in our house. As cynical, grumpy, and sarcastic as I am, I am almost an eternal optimist. After all, I am a mom. When you’re a parent, if you worth the honor of being called that, since so many deserving people aren’t, you have to have an optimistic view to a certain extent. We have to raise strong, kind, independent children to live in a world that frankly, is pretty messed up. Part of that optimism is living in one’s own bubble probably more than we should. After all, everyone has their own problems, their own responsibilities, and it’s easy to wrap oneself up in that little bubble because let’s be honest, you can only focus on so much at a time. Most of my projects and stepping out of my bubble happen when I probably don’t need it to.

Some of my attempts to help others have backfired horribly. So horribly, in fact, that it became a source of amusement for my family, sort of a shaking one’s head and chuckling at how bad things went. There was the time I stopped to help a blind person navigate a busy parking lot. I almost got hit by a car and ended up in a loud argument with the driver. I tried to feed a homeless woman, and then went to give her my gloves and hat out of my car since she didn’t have any and it was brutally cold. Stupid me locked myself out of my car and had to use the last moment of my cell battery to call someone to come get me. In the meantime, I was stuck in the snow with a homeless woman who turned out to be mentally ill, telling me stories about people getting cut up with an ax. Not my most comforting moment, for sure. Of course, she had my hat and gloves at this point, and I was super cold. That being said, we had a nice chat, despite the ax murder conversation, and I still think of her to this day (I didn’t see her around much after that afternoon). There was the time I helped the woman hospitalized with what turned out to be cancer by feeding her cats and looking after them. She had neglected to tell me she hadn’t changed their litter box in months, and I had to navigate and clean an entire floor of a turd minefield. I came home and wanted to light myself on fire. After getting everything cleaned, I looked after her cats and home, making sure to turn lights on and off, shoveling the snow, and a team of people helped get her furnace fixed and oil put in. When I headed in for surgery last year, the woman who took over was positively mental, and started harassing me. She ended up moving away after the state was called in and she was accused of elder abuse.

Last month, I found out kids at our school didn’t have coats, right before a polar vortex that slammed the country. I dove right in, collected over 150 coats in 4 days, as well as hats, gloves, scarves etc. This spiraled into a bigger project, where our kids in need can get items they need for free from our “kindness closet” which is currently being set up in the school. I am overjoyed by this and am so proud I got to help.

The other day, I got a call from my neighbor, who said her coworker had dropped off some supplies for the kindness closet. I went over and there were bags all over her porch filled with brand new huge boxes of ziplock bags (great for toiletries, and singling out new underwear or pairs of socks for if little kids have an accident), feminine products (some of the kids don’t have these at home, sadly, and the nurse has been buying them out of her own pocket). There were also some coats. Lastly, there were bags and bags of books. It appears the doner has kids and cleared out all their bookshelves, and by the looks of it, the family loves books. I wasn’t sure what to do with those, as they were out of the realm of my project. That being said, I was grateful to have them, as I was sure I could find a home for them.

I loaded up the car with stuff for the closet, including my cart. I have a little collapsible wagon that has been a godsend to me in my endeavors with the coats and closet. I load it up to the brim and head in the school easily (although navigating the multitude of security doors is no joke dragging a heavily filled wagon sometimes). After I dropped the items off, I wandered down to the library and met with the librarian. I asked if she would be at all willing to take used books as a donation. Her face lit up and she said she ABSOLUTELY WOULD. She asked why I was donating them and I explained I was “the coat lady” as a lot of the staff knew about the coats but didn’t know who I was, and that someone had generously donated books that I wanted to find a good home for. She and I had a chat about how exciting the closet was going to be for the students, and I headed home to get the books.

The books were in multiple bags on my neighbor’s porch. I now had to be a porch pirate and go grab them. I got really nervous someone would call the police because there has been so much package theft recently. I half expected to have the cops show up and knew it would be awkward explaining what I was doing. I shuffled back and forth with bags and bags of books, loading up my car. I then went upstairs and emptied my daughter’s bookshelves of all the books she had outgrown. There were a ridiculous amount of books. I’m a huge fan of reading and have always told my kids, “you may not always get a toy, but you may get a book”. I really try to encourage reading. I ended up making two trips to the school to drop off books.

When I showed up, the librarian had me go into a room with a counter. There were kids in the library and they came to help unload the books. They were chatting excitedly. “I can’t WAIT to read this!” “Look how beautiful this one is! Look at the pictures!” “I want to read this one FIRST! One girl was mesmerized by a pop-up book, opening and closing, her lips moving slightly as she read the words. She looked up and told me she loved that book. I was overjoyed. Seriously. These kids were just so happy and grateful. These books made them excited about reading. It was awesome!

The excitement on their faces must have warmed my cold heart again, because now that I’m not the “coat lady” I’m turning into the “book lady” for a while. I was out last night picking up and messaging people about donating books.

Now here’s the thing. Where is the bad part of such a project you ask?

The bad part is getting my bubble burst. When I was in the school, unloading books, the librarian and I got to chatting. She is clearly, like me, a lover of books. She also loves the kids. She confided how super excited she was to get the books, and kept picking up various ones to admire them all. She commented “I can’t believe this! This is so awesome! This book alone is $16 new!”. The reason for her excitement? Her annual budget to buy books with is VERY low. over 500 kids in the school and her budget is about $3k. Now, three grand sounds like a lot of money, but when you think of it, it really doesn’t stretch when you need to buy supplies and books for over 500 kids. She also lost some funds this year despite the BOE moving tons more kids into our school (I’ve talked about our redistricting in prior posts). She has to be so selective, so careful, to get as much as she can for those kids, but while staying in a tight budget. This issue was made more complex by the district moving a whole lower grade into our school, so much of the budget had to go to buying age appropriate books for those kids. I also learned, sadly, that some of the kids in the school, don’t even know their letters. This hurt my heart. Most of the kids came in from other schools, and I can’t fathom how the kids were pushed ahead from Kindergarten and first onward not knowing these basic skills. It’s as if they are being set up to fail.

I am a firm believer in the power of books. I can often tell a frequent reader from a non-reader by looking at how they express themselves. Frequent readers often pick up really good vocabulary skills, spelling and grammar. Now, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t foolproof, as you can see by my blog. I make mistakes all the time! That being said, reading opens up new worlds and opportunities. You can learn to do just about anything by reading and researching it. Reading is a game changer. Seeing kids being passed from grade to grade without those basic skills is heartbreaking. It only gets harder for them, and frankly, the system is failing them. School will become a hardship, and those kids are more likely to struggle and dislike school. This may cause more to drop out early, or not go on to next level.

This has been bothering me to no end. I hope the kids being in our school will get the help they need that they may not have gotten before. I am hoping that some of the books taken in will be helpful to those that need them.

My son and I discussed this later in the evening, when I explained my sadness over the situation, and my frustration that our schools are struggling to get the supplies and books they need. He mulled it over and said he’s going to talk to his guidance counselor about setting up a school to school tutoring program between the middle and elementary school. They do this with another school in town (my son has been a part of the tutors) but he wants to extend it to his sister’s elementary school as well. Both children sorted their bookshelves and packed up bags and bags of books to donate.

I couldn’t be prouder.

At the end of the day, they are learning a valuable lesson here. They are learning they can make a difference. Even kids can make a difference. Small steps make huge changes. I think they are also seeing that while we don’t always have money for everything they want, they have what they need, and they are growing more aware that needs are what is important. They are seeing that others don’t always have what they need, and they are trying to find ways to help those people and make a difference in what ways they can. Sometimes, we don’t have the money or items to help, but others do, and they are willing to donate those items if you are willing to do the work. If you’re willing to coordinate, collect, and drop off, people will HELP you. If you ask the right questions, you will get the answers you need.

As for me, I learned a harsh lesson myself in all of this. Folks often hide that they are struggling. Sometimes you have to ask the right questions to find that out. I didn’t know our school was struggling because frankly, they are doing what they can and didn’t advertise that fact. They are so focused on doing what they can and I don’t think they normally ask parents for help in that way.

Our schools need help. I don’t think it’s just my school. I think MANY schools have needs that most of us don’t even consider. Unless you personally are deeply struggling, it may not even occur to you how deep the need is. I admit, I was blissfully unaware that some of the things I am now learning about were issues. I assumed things were fine. I assumed wrong.