Monday, June 30, 2014

In the moment

Summer days are going by fast and I'm doing all I can to live in the moment. Because it is summer, I let her put on three more coats of face stick and wear her fuzzy slippers to swim lessons. Summer is not about the small stuff.

Summer is about late afternoons at the pool and eating dinner on the deck. It's about baseball with family and a first spin in a kayak. Summer is learning to play tennis and getting underdogs on the swings, and bedtimes that get later and later every night. The sun doesn't want to set and neither do we.

Summer is biking to dinner and drinking our morning coffee while the kids play in the yard. Our summer memories will include playing in the sprinkler, our first garage sale, and evening walks through the neighborhood. We'll remember blueberry and mint Popsicles and lemon bars that left us with sticky fingers.

Charlie went to his first summer camp at our church and had a blast. When I asked him what he liked best about camp he told me "no naps and taking my lunch." It was good practice for me to start packing his lunch for kindergarten.

We have things on our summer to do list - a Royals game, movies in the park, a trip to the zoo. But what I want to do most is enjoy the long hours of daylight and say "yes" when the kids ask to go to the pool. I want to look past the toys scattered on the floor and the dishes in the sink in favor of a game of freeze tag and catching lightning bugs at dusk.

This is our last summer before Charlie starts school, before we're booked solid with games and camps. This is the summer of ages 5 and 3, and kids too big for strollers but just right for laps and shoulders. We'll wear out our swimsuits, go through gallons of sunscreen and track dirt all over the house. We will swim, run, jump and climb without a care in the world. Life is good. Summer is here.

Thursday, June 19, 2014


One word pretty much sums up how I've been feeling lately. I'm reviewing grants right now for a meeting at NIH next week and this process always throws my world upside down. I drop everything for two weeks to get the grants read and reviewed (not to mention a three day trip to the east coast and back) and the rest of my life spirals on without me. I'm going to be reviewing grants three times a year for the next three years (!!) so I have to find a way to get through the process with my sanity intact, my family and my lab only slightly neglected, and with the wheels securely on the bus. 

I'm reading the book Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte to find some answers. The descriptions of her overwhelmed days are eerily just like mine. I'm hoping there are some nuggets of wisdom and inspiration in these pages. I'll report back and let you know.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Friday the 13th

I'm not especially superstitious. I've always liked when my birthday falls on a Friday. 13 is my lucky number, no matter the day.

Last year was a big birthday for me. But turning 41 is like turning 22. It doesn't register. It is unremarkable by comparison, by its unlucky order in the birthday queue. But it's fine by me. I like a mellow birthday.

Birthdays are strange once you become a parent. In parenting, everything is about the kids. Days and nights revolve around them. Even my thoughts, constantly invaded by worry or daily needs, are not truly my own any more.  Kids' birthdays are a big deal - and it is your job to make sure they are. It feels strange to shift the focus to your own boring adult birthday. You are a million years old (way older than 12 anyway) and you don't want toys, so what is the point?

I used to dread my birthdays because I didn't want to get older before I checked off my big life list regarding family and career. Now all the major boxes are checked, blissfully so, and I dread my birthday because I don't want to get old before I can enjoy it all. Dread is a strong word. Greet apprehensively, perhaps. I'm in the middle of it, this life of mine, and it's grand. I want to soak it all in and it is moving way too fast. We've moved beyond diapers and are starting kindergarten, and before I know it we'll be learning to drive and filling out college applications. Slow down, life. Birthdays, please stop coming so quickly.

I'm still figuring out what my 40s are going to be about. My 20s were about travel and learning. My 30s were about starting my career and my family. My 40s....? Not sure. But I know I don't want to just maintain the current path and coast through this decade. I want my 40s to be memorable, remarkable, noteworthy. Guess I'd better get busy.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Celebration at the Station - 5

I still have a few more St. Louis pics to post, but I don't want to forget to post pictures from Memorial Day. This is a yearly tradition for us, and both kids have been going since they were just babies. We love it and the weather seems to cooperate while the crowds get bigger each year.

Temperatures were just right - not too hot, not too cool, and the threatening rain held off until after we were safely back home.

Many of our friends and family were out of town this year, but we had some friends of Charlie and Izzy's with us (and their parents, who are also our friends) for something new. There were 7 kids under 5 on our combined blankets. It was chaotic. And so we drank. A lot.

Ryan's parents were with us again and the kids are always glad to have a selection of laps to rotate through during the course of the picnic.

Here is a collection of pictures of the kids from each of their prior Memorial Day celebrations...

Year 1 at Celebration at the Station for Charlie, at about 3 months old. He loved it!

Year 2, the food and drinks kept him entertained.

Year 3, the fireworks were a big hit!

For Izzy's first Celebration at the Station, she was just shy of 2 months old.

Year 4, starting to understand the meaning of the day.

Izzy's second celebration was all about drinks from special cups and cute hats. Amazingly, both Charlie and Izzy could sleep during the noise and chaos as babies. 

I can't say I miss lugging all the baby gear up and down that big hill. This year felt surprisingly simple - no diapers, no strollers, no bottles, no breast pump. I did bring an extra set of clothes for both of them, and I might take that precaution until they are teenagers. I really don't want to repeat the events of Year 3 that ended with Charlie like this...

This photo was from last year - we were living in the loft just across from Union Station and Izzy looks so young!

The kids have never been afraid of the fireworks, even as babies. Now they really look forward to them every year, just like us!

You can find all the previous Celebration at the Station posts here

Monday, June 9, 2014

Moms who coach

This article has me thinking. At this point, I don't know that Izzy will have any interest in sports. But I was a late bloomer myself, preferring dance and gymnastics to all sports prior to junior high. Maybe she just needs time and encouragement. I agree with this author's point that more women are needed on the sidelines -  at all levels. I guess I'd better be ready to coach when the time comes!

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Fault in Our Stars

When I started reading The Fault in Our Stars by John Green a few weeks ago, I immediately regretted the decision for two reasons. The first reason being that it is a book about teen cancer patients falling in love. I should know better. Why read something so assuredly sad? And the second reason being that I knew after a couple chapters that I was going to lose sleep over this book. I wouldn't be able to put it down. 

Throughout most of the book, I waited defensively for the sadness to kick in. But to my surprise, this book about two teens who meet at a cancer support group is not a classic sob story. The book is more teen angst and young love than courageous cancer battle.  The main characters are sarcastic and real, their moods up and down with the highs and lows of teenage strife. There are sad moments to be sure, but they didn't make me regret reading the story. 

"You have a choice in this world, I believe, about how to tell sad stories, and we made the funny choice."

The book has a cult teen following and it is easy to see why. The main characters are smart and funny without being mean, and they don't feel a need to fit in and be cool. It reminds me of the movie The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which I also loved. The teens in Stars and Wallflower are not scary and horrifying to this future parent of teens. These are nice kids that navigate a difficult time in their lives with grace, humor and a sense of self that is rare even in adults. It gives me hope that my kids will somehow, someday, get through their teenage years intact.

"I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once."

I wonder how Gus and Hazel would have fared if not for the cancer, if they'd met in another place and time, under different circumstances. Haven't we all wondered that at one time or another? You meet someone special when you are too young, while going through a life crisis, while still figuring out who you are and what you want out of life. I think relationships happen in our lives for a reason and at just the right time. But it takes years and perspective to see the impact, feel the lasting significance.    

"You don't get to choose if you get hurt in this world...but you do have some say in who hurts you." 

I've always been a sucker for a good romance. First loves may end, but they stay with us forever. 

The movie version of the book comes out today. Will you see it?

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Travel with kids

Our goal for our trip to St. Louis was to have kid-centered fun. Ryan and I love to travel, but we haven't done much traveling with the kids. In fact, until this weekend we had never traveled together as a four-some. In the past we have traveled with each child alone when they were really small (C went to Seattle with us at 3 months old and Izzy went to New Orleans with us also at 3 months old). Other trips to California and Colorado all involved Grandparents - built in help!

To be honest, Ryan and I were a little nervous and afraid we would be worn out and impatient with the kids during the trip. But it went much better than we thought and everyone had a great time. Maybe because we didn't have our own 'adult agenda' of dining in great restaurants, fitting in an exploratory run, or sleeping late. We built our agenda around the kids (for the most part, see below) and it worked. Success!

Outdoor dining played a big part in the success of our trip. We stopped in Columbia on the way to St. Louis to break up the drive and ate in a great brewery thanks to a suggestion from a CoMo friend. Both kids and parents were happy with this choice.

It was raining when we got to St. Louis so we had to scrap our original plan to hit the zoo and instead went to the Magic House (KC friends, this is like a very upscale WonderScope and well worth the trip). We were content to roam around these activity filled rooms while it rained and thundered outside. It was a great way for the kids to release some energy after the long drive (we hit Friday afternoon traffic in St. Louis as a result of Ryan and I both squeezing in some exercise before leaving that morning. A price we were willing to pay).

I promised Charlie we would go to a place known for their root beer and sodas in St. Louis - so we went to Fitz's in University City. Not a place Ryan and I would choose on our own, but it was kid-friendly, service was fast and it was fun to walk around the U City loop - a college town feel in a big city.

And of course we had to hit Ted Drewe's for some ice cream. We sat on a bench in the parking lot and watched all the people stream in. Great entertainment for all.

Our choice of hotel was a compromise - the beautiful Union Station hotel. It was newly renovated, in fact we were the very first to stay in our room post-renovation. It was classy and pretty, reasonably priced. And it had a great outdoor pool (i.e. kid friendly!)

We walked to breakfast Saturday morning and it was hot. Then we had to wait for a table and the kids were tired and hungry. I had a granola bar in my bag that staved them off, and walking around the city sidewalks kept them entertained while we waited. The Rooster was well worth the wait and the french toast sticks were a hit with C and Iz.

Our seats at the game were very kid-friendly, in the last row of the bleachers. No one behind us so the kids could stand up if they wanted. We didn't buy Izzy a ticket at all, 3 and under get in free. Glad we didn't as there was plenty of space around us. Win win!

Our last morning was our best planned. We substituted a swim in the hotel pool for a trip to the zoo on what was shaping up to be a very hot and humid morning (I remembered all of our suits!). We had a quick juice and muffin in the hotel and headed straight for the pool - no waiting for breakfast = happy kids! After we packed up and checked out, we grabbed lunch at the Forest Park Boat House. The kids fed the ducks while Ryan and I sipped iced tea in the shade of an umbrella. The food wasn't great, but the atmosphere was.

I was surprised at how well the trip went for all of us. Charlie was a great traveler - excited to try new things and loved walking everywhere. Izzy needs another couple years to be considered a great traveler, but she did pretty well (minus the incident of not getting to the bathroom in time at the City Museum!). We walked at least 15,000 steps around the city on Saturday and we only carried her a few times - not bad! Am looking forward to our next mini-road trip together.  

Monday, June 2, 2014

The City Museum

The City Museum in St. Louis is like nothing else. I used to visit with friends when I lived in the city and Ryan and I had both explored the slides and numerous climbs together once before. The roof attractions were all new since I'd last been - slides, a Ferris wheel, a school bus teetering on the edge of a 10 story drop. Is it for kids or adults? I think it is decidedly both. Difficult to describe in words, pictures tell this story.

Charlie was nervous about this slide for exactly a half second. He went up and down this slide at least 20 times, until it started getting dark and we had to force him to stop.

Sitting on top of a 10-story building, this Ferris wheel felt really high!

Charlie and Ryan rode together, Iz rode with me. She was nervous for about the first two rotations - it goes pretty fast. She was smiling and chatting soon enough. Me? Not so much.

Charlie tried anything and everything he could - there were a few things he was too small for, like the 10-story slide through the middle of the building. I was really glad we didn't make the height cut on that one. I have no idea how this place is insured.

We left the roof to explore other areas of the museum and by far Charlie's favorite spot was the no-skate park - a boy's dream for running, sliding, and simply moving fast!

Some big boys had fun, too.

Izzy, wisely, wasn't so sure about this big drop.

But she did find a spot that was just the right size to drop in.

He ran and ran, could have gone all night. I wish we had a no-skate park in our backyard!

Every place you looked there was something interesting to observe, to touch, to crawl through and explore. There were so many nooks and crannies to disappear into that on a crowded Saturday night full of people, I started to get a little nervous about my little ones. I had to stop taking pictures to keep up with everyone. (And check out those golden curls on this humid night!)

Charlie could just about do everything in the museum, certainly plenty to keep him entertained. Izzy needs a few more years, but I was impressed with her willingness to try some crazy things. She was adventurous. And considering we had walked 15,000 steps around the city that day and sat through a hot Cardinals game with a rain delay - both kids were full of energy for this museum late at night. City Museum, we'll be back.