Thursday, December 4, 2014

a work in progress

Hello blog (and any loyal readers out there). I've missed you! I haven't written lately because I just plain have not been able to find the time. Kindergarten and two pickup/drop-off locations is a game changer. You know how it feels when you turn the clock ahead for daylight savings and you lose an hour? I feel like that every day now. I am struggling to get everyone out the door in the morning with full tummies and in clean clothes. And then again at night everyone must eat, bathe, sleep. Basic events that have to happen and should be so easy but sometimes feel impossible (someone in our house is 3 years old. Need I say more??) We're all working on sight words and letter sounds. Learning to read is important stuff! And yet where does it fit in the mad dash of the post-work-pre-bed rush? It is a work in progress for sure.

I've written here in the past about the pros and cons of my career. I love the variety of my days that sometimes have me in the research lab or in the classroom, in meetings, on the road, in my office sorting through data or reviewing manuscripts for publication. My job is flexible and there are days when I can work from home, put in a load of laundry, prep for dinner and feel way ahead of my game. It isn't always easy, but I can schedule doctor's appointments and plan to be the mystery reader in Charlie's school. I can even manage the occasional impromptu trip to the park on an unexpectedly warm late Fall afternoon. This flexibility is the reason I keep doing what I'm doing.

The downside to my job is the need to fund my research with external grants. Academic researchers like me typically get funding from the National Institutes of Health or from private agencies like the American Diabetes Association. NIH funding is the ultimate prize and comes with a healthy dose of respect from your peers and your department chair. With NIH funding I am my own boss, call my own shots and no one asks too many questions. I can hire researchers in the lab, take on new graduate students, dream up cool experiments and then carry them out. Life is good with an NIH grant.

For the past 4 1/2 years I've had an NIH grant. My grant will run out in 6 months.

The pressure to get another NIH grant is immense. Without another NIH grant, my research technician could lose his job and my graduate students might not be able to finish their dissertation work. My lab space would sit idle and empty. Success rates for NIH funding are the lowest they've been in 30 years (NPR did an entire series on dire NIH funding this past fall). Twenty years ago every grant submitted to the NIH had a 25-30% chance of being funded. My grant now has a 5% chance. The odds are seemingly impossible.

And yet, I must continue to pursue an NIH grant, or any sort of grant. It is what I was hired to do, it is the expectation of my job. At the same time, I can't let it consume me. I can't lose years of my life and my children's lives to the stress of a 5% payline. I will do my best. I don't want to fail - myself, the people in my lab, the university.  But I also can't fail my family. That is a price I am unwilling to pay.

I've missed writing in this space, documenting my days and cementing my memories in words. I feel like the crazy full days that are my life right now go by even faster when I can't stop to write and reflect upon them. This blog has allowed me to slow down and recognize the little and big things about raising my family that I always want to remember. I hope to make my way back here soon.

At the end of the day, I have this...

and I know it will all be OK.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Remembering Blue October

It is the second week of November and I'm just getting around to our pumpkin patch pictures taken a month ago. October for me was a whirlwind and all my time seemed to disappear in long baseball games and grant reviews. I love experiencing Fall and October with the kids - pumpkins and costumes and falling leaves are a welcome change from hot summer days. But it is also one of the busiest months of the year for me at work with grant reviews and travel that cause all my other daily work to pile up and up and up. The month finished in a frantic blur of our first kindergarten Halloween parade and class party, our last soccer game and end of season pizza party, pumpkin carving, and trick-or-treating. Somehow we fit it all in.  

Since the end of October, I've been enjoying the lull between holidays and pretending another one is not just around the corner. I'm looking back on this sunny day in October when we wore short sleeves, Royals' blue, and boots to the pumpkin patch and trying to make time stand still. I want Fall to stick around just a little bit longer... 

I know Charlie can't read this sign...but Ryan?!

I washed that Royals t-shirt more times than I can remember during October.

We took home all of these pumpkins, including the two biggest ones!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Chocolate & Pumpkin #TBT

While this pumpkin bread is my go to fall recipe, the muffin version is my new favorite. The recipe makes almost 2 dozen muffins - those that don't disappear immediately go in the freezer. They are a great addition to our weekday lunches or for a quick snack on the way to soccer. I really should consider making this recipe a bit healthier (in my spare time) but for now, it is a fave fall treat!

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread 

Fall is one of my favorite seasons. After a long, hot and sticky summer, I look forward to the chill in the air, seeing bursts of colors in the turning leaves, carving pumpkins, and wearing sweaters! And I love the kitchen to be filled with the smell of cinnamon and pumpkin. This pumpkin bread recipe has become a new seasonal favorite in our house. It is easy to make and utilizes simple ingredients. Plus, it combines pumpkin and chocolate, a perfect combination for fall baking. 

I recently made this recipe with Charlie's class at school. They have been talking about pumpkins and using them for different activities in class. Baking with 12 two-year olds is a little different than just baking with Charlie! It was really fun -  I will post some pics of my adventure soon. This recipe isn't real spicy and I think that makes it very kid friendly. Plus, there are lots of chocolate chips! 

4 eggs, room temperature
1 c. vegetable oil
2 c. sugar
3 c. all-purpose flour
1 14 oz. can pure pumpkin puree
2 t. baking soda
2 t. cinnamon
1 t. Kosher Salt
12 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
36 Cupcakes or Two 9×5 Loaves or One Bundt Cake or Lots o’ Mini-Muffins (use mini-chips for these!)
1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease and prepare the pan depending on bundt cake, muffins or loaves.
2. In a mixing bowl combine eggs, oil and sugar. Then, add the pumpkin and mix well. In a separate bowl whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Slowly add this to wet ingredients until totally combined.
3. Mix in the chocolate chips with a wooden spoon and pour batter into prepared pan.
4. Bake according to pan size as follows:
Cupcakes: Bake for 25 minutes Two 9×5 Loaf Pans: Bake for 45-50 minutes Mini-Muffins: Bake for 12-15 minutes Bundt Cake: Bake for 60 – 65 minutes
5. Once baking is complete allow cake to cool for 10 minutes in the pan. Then, remove it on to a wire rack to cool completely. Slice and serve.
*Note: baking time in the loaf pans have been about 10 minutes longer for my oven. Make sure and check that baking is complete. Insert a knife and when it comes out clean, it is done.
Original recipe is from the Naptime Chef.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

These Royals!

Thanks to last minute tickets and grandparents willing to pick up the kids, we got to #BeRoyal for a day!  All I can say about this Royals team is WOW. I love the way they play the game. The World Series is next. GO KC!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Captured on camera

We had a ton of pictures taken this past week. We had a photo session at Modern on Meadow for an upcoming spread in a local KC magazine on the house. It was no easy feat to have the house clean and staged and all four of us picture-ready by 5pm on a very busy Thursday afternoon of a very busy week. Whew! Glad that is over. I am really curious to see the pictures. I hope we like them.

We also took family photos this weekend - everyone was so thrilled to spend an hour trekking around the Nelson in their fall finest. Ok, I was the only one happy to be there and to be getting what I hope are new and fabulous family pictures. The kids are growing up so fast and we haven't had a family picture taken in 2 years, and not a professional one since before Izzy was born. It was time.

Like everyone else in KC, we have baseball mania in our house. As Cardinals and Royals fans, we are in baseball overdrive right now. I'm avoiding thinking about the scenario that everyone in STL and KC is thinking about these days. My loyalties can be evenly split for the time being.

Roxie got a much needed beauty treatment this weekend. You would not believe how much fun these two can have with a pair of hair driers! Wish I had a recording of all the giggles. Roxie was a good sport, as always. (Note: Charlie has on a Cardinals hat in the picture below. We equally represent!)

We've been hanging out in this space quite a bit lately - my new happy place! Ryan and I have had a vision for this space below the deck long before the house was built or finished. I am so happy it is finally coming together. This past Spring Ryan found this really cool fire pit made out of the cap from a large propane tank. Then we knew we wanted these fun chairs by Loll Designs in Duluth, MN the minute we stumbled across them online. We pinned them, saved them to Keep, and otherwise pined for them for the past year while we saved up to buy them. The chairs are made out of 100% recycled plastic and have a hidden bottle opener under one arm. So fun!

Fall, we are so ready for you. Bring on your amazing colors and cooler days and nights. We will bring the S'mores and cozy wool blankets. I am still looking for a signature Fall cocktail - suggestions??

And finally, the best thing I've captured on camera in weeks. Take it away Iz!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Weekend Rewind

These days our Saturdays begin with ballet (notice the excellent plie in the photo above - with boots!) followed by a soccer game. This past Saturday we also took in a KU football game which meant the kids required three sets of clothes to get through the day. I went to Lawrence early Saturday morning for an alumni rowing event and left Ryan to be Super Dad and get the kids to their events. But first, I set out all the necessary outfits...

They all managed to join me for the second quarter at the KU game, in their game gear and with smiles on their faces.

The game wasn't very exciting, but the kids have fun playing on the hill afterwards. 

And here is a short video of me rowing for the first time in almost 20 years! I am the third rower from the front, in the blue t-shirt. I didn't realize how much I missed the sport until I felt the run of the boat underneath me - so fun! 

My friend Allison and I were two peas in a pod while we were on the rowing team. We were roommates, co-captains, and did just about everything together. It was fun to share this reunion with her - and we are both in decent shape after all these years!

The current rowers wanted their picture taken with Allison and I - the 'old ladies' in the picture up on the wall! They were impressed to know we were members of the very first KU rowing team. These women are amazing athletes and year after year have the top grades of all the athletic teams at KU. I'm proud of how the program continues to grow and succeed.

This weekend we are hoping to get to a pumpkin patch, instead of our usual waiting until the last minute and finding all the best pumpkins are long gone. 

Have a wonderful weekend!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Of Sundays and Mondays

I'm not sure which one of us registered more shock when our neighbor, fellow kindergartner, and Monday morning carpool friend, hopped out of her minivan and onto our driveway in full cowgirl attire this morning. Charlie turned to bury his head in my legs, while my brain churned ever so slowly back to an announcement that came home on Friday about Spirit Week. I'm not sure if Charlie was upset about his lack of western attire, or if he was just overwhelmed by the exuberance of an unexpected cowgirl on Monday morning. The cowgirl's mom smiled and muttered something about how she had thought about reminding me. I stood frozen, with Charlie attached to my legs, trying to think. We had nothing he could throw on at the last minute - no vest, no cowboy hat, not even a bandana. It was a major Mom Fail to start the week.

As I drove to work fighting back tears, I marveled at how something so insignificant could completely wreak my morning. Turns out nothing is insignificant when it comes to your child and the chance to make him/her happy. In that instant this morning when faced with the cheery cowgirl, I had let Charlie down. I carried the weight around with me all morning, letting it pull my thoughts into sad distraction.

And then I decided to let it all go. I decided instead to look back and focus on the very recent past. We had an absolutely beautiful Sunday with the kids. We had brunch at a friend's house and then the kids all played together while the adults took in the Plaza Art Fair. It was relaxing, refreshing, playful and just what we needed after several stressful weeks of kindergarten expectations. Our friends have this wonderful swing in their front yard, and it was the perfect day for swinging. Who knew a simple, old-fashioned swing could make them laugh so hard?

I will have a chance to redeem myself with Spirit Week and tomorrow's Crazy Hair Day. But for now, I'm reliving Sunday in all its carefree glory. These are happy, loved kids - western wear be damned!

The Plaza at its finest!

This tipi is part of a new exhibit at the Nelson Atkins Museum on the Plains Indians. It is temporarily in Arno Park on Ward Parkway and we stopped to take a look.

Charlie waited (somewhat) patiently all through Sunday brunch for his chance to play these drums. He has clearly watched someone play the drums before and we were surprised that his approach was so deliberate. But we're still not getting drums anytime soon!


The next time I'm having a bad day, I will listen to this laughter and smile big!


Thursday, September 18, 2014

lower case letters

We are still adjusting to our new Kindergarten schedule in the Maniger household. We are out the door earlier every day and have to stick to a strict bedtime schedule or everyone is tired and cranky these days (kids too!). And because I know kindergarten is so much more tiring for Charlie than what he was used to at daycare, I try to pick him up earlier each day. School is out at 3:10 and then he goes to aftercare at the school where he essentially plays and gets out all his energy after sitting all day. I try to pick him up from aftercare around 4:30. This means we are home just before 5:00 most days and I am loving it. It feels like a huge amount of time, even compared to coming home just one hour later. When we are home at 5:00, we aren't so rushed to make dinner and get to bed and instead can ease out of our day.

This time after school and before evening has become my favorite time of the day. Charlie is usually starving so I make the kids a snack and they sit at the counter while I prep for dinner. Izzy will color and work on her scissor skills and Charlie will work on his letters.

When Charlie started school he didn't know any of his lower case letters - major mom fail! I had no idea we should have been working on lower case letters. But this week he sat down and without asking for any help, he wrote his name in both upper and lower case letters, and at a decent pace. He was clearly proud of the accomplishment, and so was I. This week I helped PhD students understand lung mechanics and respiratory physiology, but helping C make the letter "e" was the highlight of my week!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Growing up

I started this blog 6 years ago when I was still pregnant with Charlie. It has been many things to me over the years, most importantly a place where I can think out loud. Motherhood can be completely overwhelming and I found myself unprepared for the onslaught of new information, skills and knowledge I would need to be a parent. No matter how excited you are to become a parent, no matter how many years you dream of the day it will happen, there is no way to prepare yourself for the role. This blog became my outlet for all that was mysterious, interesting, challenging and rewarding about motherhood.

I've written about the fright we had when Charlie entered this world, making my own baby food, and finding time to exercise. I've posted favorite recipes, shared my working mom struggles, the fun aspects of my work, as well as my views on cooking, nutrition, and exercise. I've posted photos from birthdays, vacations, farm table dinnersweekends around the city, our home remodel, major life milestones and everything in between. Writing about all these things made me feel connected, a part of the bigger parenting universe. Writing down my experiences made them resonate for me, and hopefully for a few others. It makes me happy to know friends (and some strangers) enjoy reading my blog. But in the end, I write for myself and how it makes me feel, reflect and remember.

This isn't a good-bye to the blog. I'm not done with this space, but I do feel like something has shifted. We've entered the world of elementary school and it is a completely different place from where we've been for the past 5 1/2 years. It is all new and a tad overwhelming right now, but it is not entirely foreign. School is something I know! I was in one school or another for more than half of my life, and I am still in a learning environment (remind me to write about how first year medical students are similar to kindergartners!).

(Dare I say it?) I am growing more confident about this whole parenting thing lately. The classroom, the field, learning, standardized tests, setting goals, making friends, teamwork - these topics are not as scary and unfamiliar to me as sleep schedules, breast feeding, and teething. I am starting to believe I have something to offer my children and it doesn't have anything to do with Pinterest-worthy parties or homemade crafts.

I'm not sure what this means for the blog or what the blog will be when it grows up. My kids are growing up too, and I don't want to post things here they wouldn't want the world to see. I might have to experiment with this space for a while and see what feels right. I'm not ready to lose this outlet entirely, it still means too much to me. Stay tuned!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Kindergarten, one week in

The first day of Kindergarten went amazingly well. There were smiles all around, hugs, tears of joy and sadness, but overall, we made it through and felt good about our accomplishment. There is so much excitement about that first day - pictures are taken, parents are welcomed into the classroom and everyone is on cloud 9 about kindergarten. So in some ways, that first day is the easy part.

We are one week in and doing OK. Some days we're up, some days we're down. Charlie was so tired after his second day of kindergarten that he literally collapsed in a heap on the floor of the kitchen and fell asleep the minute he got home. I wanted to do the same. One week in, I have his schedule and snack calendar on the pantry bulletin board for everyone to monitor, and am getting a routine going for making lunches and filing away the myriad of school work and notices that come home each day. Charlie sets his clothes out the night before and gets dressed before breakfast. Our mornings are earlier than they used to be and Charlie has to be pulled out of bed, grumpy and tired. We've been early to school a few days, but haven't been late yet - it isn't easy to time the 10 minute window for dropping him off each day. Everything is an adjustment. Then there's after school care, I'll save my thoughts on that for another day...

Charlie still hesitates to say good bye each morning, and today there were tears. The first day he could bring his lovie - Puppy - but not anymore. Puppy has to stay home and Mom and Dad have to say goodbye at the door. Next week we are supposed to drop him off in the car line, and there is no way any of us are ready for that!

The first day of kindergarten was the easy part, and now finding a routine and getting comfortable with a new place and new people is the real challenge.  It will take time and patience and many hugs. This morning Charlie asked if we could go visit his old school soon and I think he's looking for a hug from his favorite teacher. Some days we all want to go back, even for just a little while.

Friday, August 15, 2014

A letter to Charlie

Dear Charlie,

I am so proud of you! You did it - you are now officially a kindergartner. Your first day could not have gone any better. Daddy thought we would be late, but we were way early. We even had time to play on the playground before going to your class. That was fun. You were a total champ this morning and only got a little nervous as we were leaving and that was probably only because Mommy was crying. I was a complete mess. I told you I would cry and there was nothing I could do about it. But you were brave and that made me brave, too.

I worried about you all day long, though I shouldn't have. You didn't even need to take your family picture out of your backpack because you weren't sad. I wondered who you sat next to in the cafeteria and if you ate all of your lunch. Did you fall asleep at rest time? I thought about you and wondered if you remembered the hand sign that meant you had to go to the bathroom and if you would have gym or music on your first day. Did you make a new friend? From what I could tell the highlights of the day were when the Principal pulled a quarter out of a kid's ear at lunch time, playing at recess, seeing your Berkley friends in the hall, and picking out a prize from the class Treasure Chest. If there was a low point, it was probably at snack time in after care. You couldn't open your string cheese and were too nervous to ask a new friend or teacher for help so you threw it away. That makes my chest hurt to hear, but I know that in no time you will feel confident enough to ask anyone at school for help. If that is the worst thing that happened on your first day of school, I think we can live with that.

We spent the last week together waiting for kindergarten to start. Every day, just you and me. We went to the grocery store, played baseball, went to Mommy's work, rode bikes, and had a blast at World's of Fun. I really enjoyed just hanging out with you and that made it even harder to be away from you today. It felt like the longest. day. ever.

The highlight of my day today was picking you up from school. When you saw me your whole face lit up and you gave me the best, biggest hug. And you were tired, but happy, and I just wanted to wrap you up and hold you so you could sleep for a little while. Tomorrow is only your second day of school and I really want to be the one to pick you up and see your face light up, feel that giant hug. But I can't. Mommy is getting an award at work, a really nice one. You would be proud of me! And here's the thing about working mommies, we're always having to make tough choices. Tomorrow I have to be at work and I can't pick you up, but you will be just fine. You will be excited to have Grammy pick you up and show her your new school. And I will get many, many more chances to pick you up and hear about your day. If this letter still exists in cyberspace someday or on my computer when you are old enough to read it, I just want you to know that I wanted to be there with you. You are my everything.

Ok, time for mommy to go to bed. I'm exhausted and feeling entirely too weepy. Just know that I love you and you make me proud every second of the day.




Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Last day of summer

Charlie and I spent the day walking our legs off at World's of Fun. The weather was perfect and the park was nearly empty. We rode several of his favorite rides three times! There was ample hand holding for me and a day of distraction for both of us. Just what we needed. 

We're both ready for kindergarten! Bring on the Kleenex. 

17,000 steps wore this guy out! 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

His hand in mine

Charlie likes to hold my hand. If we are out walking, especially if it is just the two of us, he will grab my hand and hold it firmly in his. We've established a natural rhythm to our hand holding. I start walking and angle my hand back just slightly and his hand reaches up to meet mine. I don't have to look, I know his hand will just be there. Sometimes he will hold my hand if his sister is around, but most of the time he is distracted or she is demanding my attention and our hand holding is interrupted. But when it is just the two of us, we are content and happy with our joined limbs.

I don't know if Charlie holds Ryan's hand the same way when they are out just the two of them - I hope so. We've always considered Charlie our non-cuddly kid. He will dictate how close you can sit next to him on the couch and where you can place your arm - not on his leg, sometimes around his shoulders. Izzy, our super cuddly child, doesn't like to hold my hand. Most likely because she is always looking for an opportune moment to bolt away from me. But not Charlie. For a child that is always moving and never sits still, hand holding is his way of connecting and showing affection. It warms my heart every time he takes my hand.

We sat in the kindergarten classroom today for a parent-child conference with his new teacher. All the new students and their parents sat at the small rectangular tables and listened to the teacher explain what would happen the first day of kindergarten. Charlie was excited, happy to be there, listening carefully to his teacher. Sitting slightly in front of Ryan and I, he would turn around to smile at us or ask a question about what the teacher was saying now and then. About 20 minutes into the meeting, Charlie casually reached back and took my hand. My eyes welled up as I looked at his small hand in mine. Ryan noticed and smiled, but Charlie's attention stayed on his teacher.

I don't know if he did it for him, or for me. I tried to hide the tears that surfaced in the first five minutes of being in the cheerful, storybook-perfect classroom. The teacher started talking about the morning classroom routine - hang up your backpack on your hook, put your classroom folder in the wire basket, wash your hands...and picturing my little guy doing those things on his own every morning just made the tears flow. I want Charlie to feel nothing but happiness and excitement about his new school and teacher. Only silly moms cry at such wonderful new beginnings. I don't think Charlie saw my tears, but I think he knew we both needed a squeeze.

The first day is going to be hard, so hard. The first day of kindergarten is the day we send him out into the world to learn, grow, play and exist independent of us. He will thrive, he will soar, he will surpass all my expectations. I just hope he'll want to hold my hand for a little while longer.