Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Catching up...and a confession

Let's start with the confession first. A lot of people take a look at our life and assume we've got it all together. Full-time jobs, three kids, mostly clean house (or so it seems in pictures), crafts and activities, volunteering, and the list goes on and on. Well, we don't actually have it all together. With both of us working full-time and still making time for our three kids, well, some things have to slide. So yeah, the laundry is constantly piling up and we often go to bed with toys still strewn about the playroom...and sometimes the living room. And yeah, it DRIVES ME CRAZY, but I think it makes me even more crazy running around trying to do it all. Anyway, I guess what I'm trying to say is, don't judge the life by the picture. Our house may seem put together in pictures, but it's likely I just threw some of the toys and mess over to the side to get a clean pic. Tricky tricky.

On to catching up. Life got crazy busy since Stasa started kindergarten. Tom and I have been trying to volunteer when we can, which only helps fill up our already full calendars. I also somehow found myself not only signing Stasa up for Girl Scouts, but myself as a leader. WHY? Because I'm crazy. But really it's been okay so far - I have two other moms helping and we only meet once a month. It's manageable for now. We'll see how I feel by the end of the school year.

Now that we're thisclose to Thanksgiving and then rolling into Christmas, I thought it made sense to actually share everything else that's happened between the first day of school and now.

Right after school started we took off for a Labor Day camping trip with family at The Cove. I think I may have spent the majority of my time walking back and forth to the bathrooms with both girls. I so love these camp grounds, especially the fact that there's a small lake beach.

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Funny thing about that bathing suit I'm wearing. We packed what felt like our entire house to go on this camping trip with the kids. Every time we try to whittle down the pile, but with five of us there seems to be so many things we need. It wasn't until we drove all the way there, set up camp, and started getting the kids ready for the beach that I realized I forgot our bathing suits. Good grief. Since Tom wanted to chop firewood for later, I packed the kids up and drove 45 minutes into town to the closest Wal-Mart in the hopes of finding something for me and Tom. We hit the jackpot. The girls picked out Tom's new trunks, which featured the Dude from the Big Lebowsky. It was that or trunks with an eagle and flames. The girls couldn't stop laughing at the dude. So the dude it was. My options, however, were pretty slim. I finally found a top and bottom that sort of went together. We grabbed our stuff, paid, and hightailed it back to camp, where we changed into our suits only to find that the top I bought was waaaaaay too busty for me. Good thing I brought a bunch of sports bras. We had a great time with the kids and family and can't wait to go back next year!

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On to...regular days hanging around the house.

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Then between huge work events we had Halloween. I barely got the kids costumes together before the trunk-or-treat at Stasa's school. This was our first trunk-or-treat and Tom was going all out with decorations, which I thought was a bit much for a school thing, but I couldn't have been more wrong. People went waaaaaaaay all out. When the deuce and a half rolled up next to us with a big screen and fog machine I turned to Tom and said "not enough." Next year we'll have to amp it up even more.

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And then again between even more work events we wound up in the hospital with Tommy. It started with what looked to be a bug bite which then got infected and drained, but then got worse. We had started taking him to the doctor on a daily basis for meds and monitoring and then ended up taking him to the ER one night after his fever spiked. And thank goodness we did because the infection was serious. They admitted us and put him on a few different IV antibiotics for four days. We were finally discharged, he finished all of his meds and is just now getting back to a normal routine (and diaper changing schedule). We didn't tell a lot of people that we were in the hospital since news was changing every day and we really couldn't have visitors. Tommy was in pretty good spirits for the majority of our hospital stay as long as no one was touching him or his IV.

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That brings us to this past weekend, where Stasa was the lucky duck of the week and got to bring home the class mascot, Brown Bear. We had already gotten an earful on what everyone else had done with Brown Bear, which included bounce houses, play places, exciting (and expensive) outings. Well, we showed Brown Bear a GOOD TIME. First stop: the spa (aka our washing machine). Then he met a bunch of our bear friends, learned the fine art of mancala (and got his butt kicked), played dress up, went to dance class, the mall, Cracker Barrel and dinner with Grandma. Basically went and did whatever we already had on our schedule. And Brown Bear LOVED all of it. At the end of the weekend Stasa put together a poster about all of the fun she and Brown Bear had together. And since she got Brown Bear she also got to share her poster with the class, be the line leader for the week AND bring up the gifts at school mass.

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And that about catches us up...for the most part...there are still a lot of things missing, but that's life, right?























Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The first week

Last winter Tom and I finally got serious about school for Stasa and did our research and ended up visiting a private Catholic school on the recommendation of another parent. We hadn't even considered private school because we always thought it would be too pricey. We couldn't have been more wrong. We scored the jackpot of all private schools. It's affordable, it's Blue Ribbon certified, and it's Catholic, which for some may not seem all that important, but for us we want our kids to grow up in the church. Plus no CCD. Double score. As the months have flown by we've felt more comfortable with our decision. One night we were watching TV and a commercial came on. It was shot from the point of view of a kindergarten girl and she was getting on the bus for the first time and looking for an open seat. I had SO MUCH anxiety watching that commercial and at the end Tom and I both looked at each other and said "I'm glad Stasa won't be on a bus." Not that there's anything wrong with the school bus. Hell, I rode it most of the time I was in school and I think I turned out fine. It's just...it looked so overwhelming and scary and the first day of school is big enough without adding riding the bus to it. Our school has also been so good about staying in contact with us and hosting several get togethers for the new parents and families.

During our visit over the winter we fell in love with the school, the teachers, the curriculum, and the community. Since then we've begun attending mass there rather than the church we were at and we love it. There are so many more young families at this church and we feel more at home. 

Last Wednesday we took Stasa in for Kindergarten orientation so she could meet her teacher and classmates and see her room. She came running back to us at the end clutching a new teddy bear with an orange ribbon tied around it's neck, for Kindergarten Orange. Such a thoughtful thing for them to do. That evening Tom and I went for parent orientation and got a chance to see her classroom and talk with her teacher and learn more about their curriculum and classroom routine and rules. I love her teacher - she's the perfect mix of sweet and strict, but leans waaaaaaaaay more toward the sweet side, which Stasa responds well to. I mean, the woman sent Stasa (and all of her classmates) a post card telling her how excited she was to meet her and that she can't wait for school to start. Such an incredibly thoughtful gesture.

We learned that in Kindergarten Orange, the teacher has an Oops Book. If students misbehave once they get a warning. Twice and they have to write their name in the Oops Book. Three times and they put a check next to their name and miss half of second recess. FOUR times and they put another check and miss ALL of second recess. We went over the policy with Stasa and she had a lot of questions about the consequences and then declared that she would not have her name put in the Oops Book. Her teacher also has the kids settle their own disputes by using a "I feel, because, I wish" formula. Each gets to have their say - for example if they were fighting over a toy they might say "I feel mad because Michael knocked down my block tower. I wish he wouldn't knock down my building." and "I feel sad because Tommy won't let me play with his block tower. I wish I could play, too." She says it's really effective and we're going to try to use it more often at home, too. Maybe even an Oops Book of our own.

Monday was the Big Day. Kindergartners get to wear play clothes while the rest of school wears a uniform. I made Stasa a new dress for her first day - it fit her personality to a T. The first two days of school are special arrival days and early dismissal. We parked, took the obligatory first day of school pictures and lined up behind the Orange K flag with the rest of Stasa's classmates and parents. As everyone was lining up, Father Mike came out blowing bubbles and talking with all of the kindergartners. Stasa pretended to be shy and wouldn't blow bubbles with him, but happily stood in line with the rest of her classmates. Once everyone was lined up, morning prayers began and Father Mike walked around blessing everyone with holy water. We all got a pretty well covered with holy water as Father Mike is quite generous with the blessing. The kids LOVED getting blessed and were all giggling when it was their turn. After everyone was blessed and prayers were finished the kids started filing in to the school. Stasa happily walked in, looking back only to wave goodbye. No tears from any of us.

Early dismissal days are let out at 11:30 and our school has a rigid car pool pick up routine, so we were a bit nervous to get it right. We stupidly drove Sexy Flexy for pick up on Monday and wound up in the very last van/SUV line. Everyone waits for all of the kids to be in the cars before they allow cars to start leaving and they dismiss the car pool lanes one at a time, beginning with the car lanes and ending with the vans and SUVs. Lesson learned: pick up in the Passat always.

The end of day report was a good one and Stasa told us she had fun, but, and this is a Big But (in her kindergarten mind) the playground has NO SWINGS. THE HORROR. Apparently this was Big News from all of the kids and the first thing everyone told their parents.

Today was another longer drop off, but shorter than the first day. Just a few prayers said, hugs and kisses and the kids walked off to class. Only this morning Stasa was full of anxiety and tears and it didn't help that her BFF from preschool was snubbing her in line. It broke my heart watching her walk off in tears, but another little girl in her class gave her a big hug and I know her teacher was looking out for her.

This morning the school hosted a new parents coffee to allow new families to meet up with their sponsor family and just get to know everyone better. We've been trying to remember everyone's names and I've been making notes on our class roster so I can remember which parents belong to which child. It's been so nice having multiple events and opportunities to meet the other families and get to know the school and community better.

The end of day report was pretty much the same today as it was yesterday - Stasa had another great day and happily reported that she still did not have to put her name in the Oops Book and did was well behaved and didn't get any warnings. She was happy and good tempered for most of the afternoon, but then started falling apart toward 3:00 and finally ended in a full blown meltdown in which I put her in her bed and shut the door. Ten or so minutes later she came out and curled up on my bed and fell asleep for a couple of hours. I didn't realize the emotional toll the first couple of days would have on her and I imagine it's only going to be the same for the rest of the week, especially as we enter full days tomorrow. Here's to a strong finish for the first week!
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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Camping at Izaak Walton

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A couple of weeks ago we spent the weekend camping at our local Izaak Walton campgrounds. It's literally 20ish minutes down the street from home and it's where Tom used to camp as a Boy Scout. It was my first time at the campground and I was surprised at how pretty it was for being so close to home (I mean 66 was RIGHT THERE). We wound up being the only people camping, though there were plenty of people at the range and others who came to fish.

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We were given two campsites to use, which was more than enough space, so we set up the tent at one end, farther away from this huge fire ring and used the other side for cooking, eating, and playing. The campgrounds were also right on a man made pond, which we were allowed to fish in. This was the first time we've taken the girls fishing and Stasa was dying to go out on a boat, but there was no way we'd catch anything with her making noise ON the water. Not that we caught anything anyway. We tried and tried and got a few good nibbles, but wound up only catching lilypads and logs.

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Our first night there we hung out and had a late dinner before putting the kids down for bed. Neither Tom nor I slept very well the first night, which always seems to be the case when I go camping, and everyone was up at the crack of dawn the next morning. Tommy seemed to love being outside all of the time and getting dirty. He happily played with his cars and dinos in the dirt. After breakfast we got dressed and ready for a hike through the grounds, though it wasn't as long as we were planning since some of the paths were cut off by huge felled trees. After coming back from the hike I went to scratch my leg and found two ticks on it. After that we were even more diligent about checking the kids and ourselves for ticks. I ended up finding four ticks on me and then another one after we were home with a total of two actually biting me.
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Side note: I did some research on preventing ticks from biting and found tea tree soap and rose geranium oil, so we'll be trying both of those during our next camping weekend.

Tommy was the only one who napped and the girls were happy to spend the day alternating between fishing and playing and exploring the grounds. At one point we all played hide-n-seek together, which was hilarious because both girls either hid in the place I last hid or they would hide in plain site - like under a picnic table or behind a skinny tree. Tommy even joined in on the fun and hid with me a couple of times, but his giggles gave us away every time.

The other different thing about this campground was the bathroom situation. As in there really wasn't one. The Cove had nice-ish bathrooms with running water and electricity and showers. This place had an outhouse and a hole in the middle of a plywood board. I took one look and saw creepy crawlies dart back in the hole and announced to the girls that they would be learning the careful art of peeing in the woods. No way was I going to pee in the place people went to be murdered. PASS.

Other than the ticks and the murder house the campgrounds were gorgeous and we had a great time. I love that this place is so close and we'll likely book a couple of more weekends through October before it gets too cold for this mama to sleep outside.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

It's a zoo in here! Pun intended.

A few weeks ago I asked Tom what we should do with the day and then rattled off a few options: Gravelly Point, swimming at The Cove, the zoo, the mall by the monuments. He suggested we take the kids to the zoo and then to dad's house for dinner and a movie. We quickly showered, got everyone dressed, packed snacks and lunches, sunscreened everyone up, packed up the car and an hour later were on our way to the Metro. Yes, going from unshowered and in pajamas to fully dressed and packed in an hour is defined as quick for a family of five. LOL

The girls absolutely love the Metro. We brought our double stroller and the umbrella stroller because we knew at some point all three were likely to be exhausted, but at the start of the trip we only had Tommy and a bunch of cooler bags in the strollers and the girls stood on the train holding the pole. After switching lines, we finally arrived to Woodley Park and began our walk to the zoo. Somehow I forgot that the walk from the Metro to the zoo was all uphill. And then the zoo is basically one giant hill. Not a problem until you're tired and hot and ready to leave and you're stuck pushing 60-70 pounds of kid and stroller up a giant hill in the heat and humidity.

Anyway. We got to the entrance and snapped a pic of the family with the zoo sign. Since it took us so long to get ready and then get to the zoo everyone was hungry the minute we walked in. We stopped in the shade and had a quick quick snack and water break and then headed on to see the animals. It was a somewhat hot day and we got there right at lunchtime so most of the animals were either indoors or curled up high in a tree or in the shade.

The girls really got a kick out of seeing the elephants and I'm pretty sure they could have stood there all day watching them drink and eat and walk around. We let them stay for a bit and then moved on to the panda exhibit.

The pandas. My GOD. Honestly I don't get why everyone is OMGOSH SO EXCITED about seeing the pandas, but they are. We walked by the outdoor exhibit and caught the tail end of one of the pandas. I figured that was enough and we started walking on, but then I realized that we were walking straight into the indoor panda exhibit. It was crowded and hot and loud and obnoxious and at one point I caught myself complaining to Tom, "It's a zoo in here!" And then we both laughed at the ridiculousness of that statement. The girls LOVED the pandas, especially the baby panda. As soon as they saw them we hightailed it out and grabbed a spot of shade to have lunch. Of course the moment we moved on away from the bathrooms was the moment Lexi decided she had to go RIGHT NOW. I ran both girls to the bathroom, both girls crying the whole way about how they didn't want to go potty, forced them both to sit and try and sure enough guess who ended up going potty. Mommy is always right.

After the potty break we went over to see the Great Cats, but ended up only seeing a lion and a few tigers. The poor lion was just relaxing in the shade, probably thinking "THIS is supposed to be my kingdom?!" The girls loved the tigers, especially this one who walked by and growled a few times.

We watched the tiger clean itself for awhile and then headed over to see the gorillas and orangutans. One of the gorillas walked right up to the glass to eat, which really thrilled the girls (and the other kids there). Once we finished up at the ape house we decided to call it a day. We were all hot, tired, and getting cranky. Luckily on the way out Stasa spotted the zebras, an animal she really wanted to see, but we didn't have time to go find.

So back to the Metro we went. This time the walk was all downhill, a nice treat after hauling three kids, two strollers and gear uphill. We finally get on the orange line to get back to our car only to have the train stop halfway in a tunnel at Foggy Bottom. We stood in the (unairconditioned) train for about 45 minutes before they finally opened the emergency door. Without any announcements made we just all walked off the train onto the platform and watched as Metro workers ran to and fro flipping seats up. They finally made an announcement that there were technical difficulties and since they were already single tracking due to scheduled maintenance they had no ETA on when it would be fixed. I suggested we just cab it back home and at one point convinced Tom to leave to get a drink, but the minute we walked away the train doors opened and closed, so we went back to the platform to wait. And about 30 minutes later the train finally moved. Empty. Then we watched like six other trains come through, none of which were the train we wanted. When our train came through we got on, only to have standing room only the whole way home.

Thankfully we got back to our car in one piece, with some of our sanity still intact. To reward the kids (and myself) for being somewhat patient during the train incident we stopped at 7-Eleven and got Slurpees.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Summer memories

This summer is flying by already and it feels like it just started. My goal has been to spend as much time as we can outside with the kids and so far we've managed to do just that. We've had a couple of busy weeks with family visits, Tommy's baptism, and the patio being finished. My brother, his wife, and stepson came for a long weekend and we spent a couple of days downtown visiting Arlington, the monuments, and one or two museums. We took the kids with us one day and then put them in daycare for the second so we could get around a bit faster. It was great to see him again and to meet my sister-in-law for the first time. They had been stationed in Hawaii for the past few years and recently were moved to upstate New York - talk about a climate change. I kept joking that I didn't want to be in any pictures with Tracy because she made me look like the whitest ghost. Hopefully now that they're on the east coast we can visit more often. After Ryan's visit, we had the Chicago Merkels come to town for Tommallama's baptism. And in keeping with the Merklet tradition, he was the loudest child during the service. Way to keep the tradition strong, little man.

As our kids have gotten older I've started thinking about my own childhood more and all of the things I loved doing as a kid. My childhood was filled with climbing trees, practicing gymnastics in our side yard, and chugging Kool-Aid. We used to play outside from sun-up until the street lights came on (and even then begged to stay out later). We'd only come in to eat meals and even those were gulped down as fast as possible. I distinctly remember chugging my huge glass of milk at dinner in one gulp just so I could get back outside right away.

There have been so many small things that have happened over the past couple of weeks that have made me smile.

Drinking water straight from the hose or sprinkler.

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Running barefoot in the grass while waiting for fireworks to start.

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Playing catch with cousins.

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Watching backyard fireworks.

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Practicing cartwheels again and again.

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Splashing around in an inflatable pool.

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Riding bikes around the neighborhood until it's dark.

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Here's to a summer full of more memories.

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Friday, June 20, 2014

Our Whole 30 journey so far

I think it was Tom who first brought up the Whole 30 challenge and after reading about it I kind of just forgot about it. But then we started talking about it more and more, especially as we kept ordering take out and eating out at restaurants. Finally, as I was biting in to my pizza slice on Memorial Day, I looked at the greasiness and then at Tom and proclaimed I was starting Whole 30 the next day. Planning be damned! I know he prefers to have advance notice for changes like these and needs time to mentally prepare, so I told him it was okay if he didn't join in, but surprisingly he dove in head first, too. The next day was a bit difficult as we discovered that sugar and soy were in practically everything. And having not prepared, our meals were pretty plain. We downloaded the shopping list and made an inventory of what we had and what we needed to get at the store. Later that week after work we divided and conquered, one going to Costco and the other to the local international grocery. While shopping we were texting and calling each other to compare prices and produce selection. We came home and packed our fridge and counters with fresh produce, fish and meats.

Our first week we kind of just improvised our regular rotation of meals to be Whole 30 compliant. After that I started browsing around for new recipes and meal ideas. Nom Nom Paleo is still one of my favorites - we made her mayo and I think I like it better than store bought mayo.

I'm not going to lie - it hasn't been a breeze. I've battled cravings and bad habits (snacking snacking snacking!) and there have been some nights when I've gotten home late and all I wanted to do was order out, but instead I mustered up the energy to at least chop a quick salad. Including today we have six days left and while a lot of Whole 30 followers wind up extending it to a Whole 60, I'll be excited to be done. I was good and followed the rules, so I haven't weighed in yet, so I don't know if I've lost any weight. I have realized that I don't need nearly as much sugar as I was used to consuming, I'm liking black coffee now, and am enjoying having dried fruits and nuts as a snack instead of my usual cheez-its or goldfish. That said, I do miss feta cheese and milk. Our Whole 30 has been a bit harder, too, since we didn't force the diet on the kids. Making them grilled cheese sandwiches and not taking a little bite was painful. Or when I would make them a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and not be able to lick the PB off my finger. BIG sad face.

We have come up with some delicious meals that have left us satisfied. Here's a snapshot of what we've been eating.

Top row from left: first day of Whole 30: black coffee, hard boiled eggs, fruit, tuna salad lettuce wraps, dates and veggies; meal 2: chopped salad, peas (didn't realize we should have limited these until after eating them. oops), and sliced beets; meal 3: egg salad lettuce wraps with homemade mayo

Middle row from left: meal 1: scrambled eggs with coconut milk (so yum!), fruit and black coffee; meal 2: eating out! grilled salmon, steamed broccoli and salad; meal 3: more scrambled eggs, sweet potato hash, fruit and coffee
Bottom row from left: meal 1: spinach salad with apples, beets, onion, celery and pecans; meal 2: roasted eggplant rounds topped with homemade tomato sauce; meal 3: scrambled eggs topped with sauteed tomatoes and onions and a side of sweet potato hash
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Top row from left: meal 1: spinach salad with mushrooms, strawberries, blueberries, onions, and almonds and a side of spicy cauliflower "rice"; meal 2: imum bayildi made from leftover roasted eggplants and sauteed greens; meal 3: On the grill: cod filet, yellow squash and sweet potato with a side of salad (spinach, romaine, onions, dried cranberries and chopped almonds)
Middle row from left: meal 1: pan fried tilapia with sliced avocado and tomato; meal 2: ried eggs with a side of sautéed mushrooms, onions, peppers and sliced avocado; meal 3: zucchini pasta and homemade sauce SO YUM
Bottom row from left: meal 1: carrot and cabbage salad, beets, hake salad, and sauteed spinach; meal 2: hake lettuce tacos and carrot and cabbage salad; meal 3: fried eggs topped with sautéed mushrooms, onions, peppers, and tomatoes and a side of sweet potato hash browns and chicken skin "bacon" for Tom
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Top row from left: meal 1: pre-made egg cups with broccoli and mushrooms; meal 2: zucchini and eggplant pasta; meal 3: microwave "baked" apples tossed with cinnamon and coconut oil and walnuts
Middle row from left: meal 1: Sweet potato and apple hash browns with fried eggs and sliced avocado and tomato; meal 2: pan fried hake topped with a garlic lemon aioli and roasted cauliflower steaks and fruit salad; meal 3: scrambled eggs topped with salsa, avocado, sweet potato and apple hash browns and a side of fruit
Bottom row from left: meal 1: fried plantain chips; meal 2: albacore tuna salad with homemade mayo in lettuce wraps; meal 3: mashed sardines with homemade mayo, lemon juice, onion, s&p on top of chopped celery, tomatoes and peppers
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Some other favorites have been sweet potato fries and homemade ketchup, Nom Nom Paleo's Curried Cream of Broccoli Soup, the Pioneer Woman's Brussels Sprouts (tweaked to be Whole 30 compliant), and the occasional smoothie.

Next Wednesday we'll be done and we'll start reintroducing dairy, sugar, soy, grains, and legumes, but we'll probably try one or two Whole 30 days each week. I have enjoyed that this challenge has forced me to look at different foods and come up with new recipes and meals. We all get stuck in food ruts and this was a nice way to change things up and try old foods in new ways.

Recital weekend

This year was the first year we had both girls in dance class. Luckily for us their classes were back-to-back every Saturday morning, though it would have been even better had they been at the same time. Two birds, one stone and all. Unfortunately for us their recitals were on separate days, so instead of having a single recital we had a recital weekend: Friday dress rehearsal, Stasa's turn on Saturday, and Lexi's on Sunday.

Now, Lexi wasn't the most patient ballerina during the year and hardly ever paid attention during their recital routine practices. I was fairly sure that she would break down crying when we left her backstage and then either refuse to come out on stage or just stand there. Well, she did neither. During the dress rehearsal on Friday night both girls were amazing. In fact, Lexi was the best in her class and did EVERY move. I was so proud of both girls and took them out to eat for a special dinner that night. The next day was Stasa's recital and she woke up so excited for STAGE DAY! This year I put a bit more makeup on her than I had in the previous years. She sat still the whole time and let me apply a little eyeliner, light eye shadow, mascara, blush and tinted lip gloss.


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And look at that pose! The kid has it DOWN. She did a great job on stage, as always. Tom bought her a bouquet of flowers and gave them to her at the end of the recital.
The next day was Lexi's turn and since her recital was late afternoon we were able to get her to take a nap first. I should have planned better though because for some reason I thought we had to leave the house at 3:00, but really that's when she needed to be backstage. EEP. Thankfully I pulled everything together and was able to grab her and speed off to the school. Tom and the kids came after and got in their seats right before the recital began. And again Lexi made us so proud. She remembered every move (with a little help from her teacher in the stage curtains) and had the biggest smile on her face. Actually both girls had smiles that lit up the stage. After Lexi's recital Tom gave her a big bouquet of flowers, too.
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Check out their routines: