Friday, July 23, 2010

Unplugged

So much to do, so little time to do it!

Washing, folding, packing, repacking, piling stuff in the car.

National Lampoon's got nothing on us.

The guys and I will be on the road for a much need vacation this week. We are visiting the nation's capital, the national museums and then heading for the mountains for a few days to reconnect with our beloved Aunt Susan and Uncle Billy.

So, I will be unplugged: taking in the marvel of Washington, D.C. and the majesty of the mountains of North Carolina.

I promise to post pictures and commentary about our adventures on the road!

See you all in August!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

!!!- Intentional Happiness for the week of July 23, 2010

Watching how my three sons have come into their own over the course of this summer, I have found that there are times when there is much !!! to be had, if you just take the time to look for it.

In recent weeks, I have found Andrew, my usually quiet, thoughtful, seven year old, come out of his self imposed silence. He is a chatterbox when it comes to describing the Lego Harry Potter Wii game. And slowly, he is becoming more comfortable telling people when they have done something to upset him. !!! for Andrew finding his voice!

Joshua, my three year old, is also becoming more verbal, constantly expressing himself in a variety of ways. He is able to hold somewhat of a conversation with me, telling me what his opinion is on whatever it is that we are talking about. Lately, his new obsession is Buzz Lightyear of Toy Story fame. Nothing makes me smile more than to hear him playing with Buzz, Woody and Rocket from the Little Einsteins. !!! to hear that imagination soar!

Matthew is becoming more affectionate, much like the adorable toddler he once was. On more than one occasion in the past week, I have found that he will snuggle up to me to give me a tight hug, or a peck on the cheek. And lately, he is the one chasing me down to say goodnight. It melts my heart to see the genuine love this kid is allowing himself to enjoy. The !!! is beyond anything to be loved by this young man...

The girls, my nieces Alexandra and Allison, are coming along amazingly. Alexandra at a little over 2 years old is a caricature. She loves to hold hands with her oldest cousin, has deep, often one-sided conversations with Andrew and loves to do whatever it is Joshua is doing. Allison is something else. She often reminds me of Madge from the old Palmolive Dishwashing detergent commercials. She laughs with the same kind of laugh as my sister and I think she and I have finally come to some sort of understanding. !!! all around...

!!! for Netflix and Wii! I had no idea you could stream movies to your Wii if you have a Wi-Fi system at home! It is beyond cool.

And along the same lines, I finally broke down and bought a Kindle. I know, I know, it's not the same. But really, I don't like parting with my favorite books and this thing even reminds you of where you left off. Plus, all the classics are free from Amazon. So, yeah, it's not paper, but man, is it cool!

Successful red velvet cake baking, assembling and eating. Back to back spinning, shadowboxing, spinning classes and I am still upright. Bills paid and filed. Redone rooms still looking neat. Laundry, for the most part, up to date.  Standing in a pool in the pouring rain with my youngest swimming like a little fish. !!!

But the greatest !!! of this week is my husband. He has had a difficult time at work, mostly because of how certain people carry themselves and how they choose to get things accomplished. Regardless, he gets back in the saddle every morning, hopeful but realistic. For a creature of habit that he is, he looking around, searching out opportunities, thinking ahead. And for that, I love him all the more. !!!

What made your list of !!! this week? A little behind on what the !!! is all about? Check out Bad Mommy Moments and Momalom for the scoop on the !!!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Expecting the unexpected...

It seems that the news of a new baby coming to this world is somewhat commonplace within my social circle. Either someone is just ready to deliver, or they have just found out the biggest news of their lives. Sometimes, the reaction is joyful, but for some, in the early days of this confirmed news, their minds cannot accept what their bodies have been telling them for weeks.

It is hard for someone who doesn't have children and desperately wants one to hear of such reaction. I used to be one of those women who seemed to be the most infertile amongst the most fertile. While I was trying to conceive Matthew, everyone around me seemed to be pregnant. Some wailed that it had taken so long (2 months of old fashioned trying) and others bemoaned that it was an accident. In my un-mothered heart, I could not understand how a life was an accident.

I remember the sinking feeling I got at seeing a positive sign on the pregnancy test when I found out I was pregnant with Matthew. I knew my life was changing. I had no idea in how many ways.

I became a mother of one beautiful baby boy. And I understood the challenges of keeping up with my own personal hygiene and appearance, holding down a demanding job, keeping a home functional, of paying bills with a teething infant wailing in the background.

I understood how hard it was.

And then I had two little boys. The second one had a mind of his own and a temperament to match. I now juggled two crying babies, a household, a full time job and other parental responsibilities. No easy task.

But my heart yearned for another little bundle. It made it easier for us that Andrew turned four a couple of days after Joshua was born. But it was still difficult to now juggle a third child in this already busy, full life.

I would imagine that getting the news that you are pregnant when you are not mentally or emotionally ready to welcome a (or another) child into your life is frightening. I understand the anxiety, the fear, and then equally as powerful, the guilt for feeling this way. For how you must seem to others. For how you fear your unborn child will be affected by this powerful, but fleeting bundle of emotions, exponentially compounded by the hormones coursing through your body. Of admitting it to yourself and still be able to look at yourself in the mirror.

Like anything, it takes time and patience. Time to get your mind around this new person, how he or she will affect your life, time to adjust your way of thinking and feeling. Patience to not beat yourself up, to forgive yourself for a totally understandable set of emotions, for the awkwardness within your own heart and body.

To let go of the guilt. Because guilt is useless.

A long time ago, I learned to expect the unexpected (a la Welcome Back, Kotter...). There is no use in worrying about something that may or may not happen. There is no sense in draining whatever happiness you may have at the moment by creating imagined circumstances.

Motherhood awards us with the ability to complete impossible tasks, under dire circumstances, in the midst of every obstacle imaginable. It toughens us, makes us pliable, sentimental, decisive, combative when necessary, lenient, mistaken, right: a paradox of our former selves.

In expecting the unexpected, you understand that there are a lot of things that lie outside our scope of control. Life is a series of unexpected's that happen. We make the best of them.

We laugh in spite of them.

We cry because of them.

But sometimes, those unexpected's bring the most joy.

And for my dear mother in law, who celebrates 68 years on this Earth and makes it look easy, a very Happy Birthday to you!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

!!!-Intentional Happiness for the week of July 16, 2010

After a whirlwind of cleaning up and organizing, I am as done as I can be. Every major closet is organized, months of bill statements have finally been organized, kitchen is in tip top shape, even the garage is cleaned up and organized. That is some serious !!!

But bigger than that is what the organizing and purging has done for my soul. For the last couple of years, my summers have been consumed by the needs of others, leaving little time for my own needs, let alone wants.

Three summers ago, I had a newborn. Although we did some traveling with our newly expanded family of three, caring for three small kids left me drained of any energy to tackle things such as closets and unfiled bills. I was barely surviving.

Two summers ago, my sister had a newborn. And was pregnant. So we tackled everything that needed tackling, together, with four kids.

Last summer, my mother's failing health forced whatever plans I had to the back burner. My sister now had two babies, 13 months apart. Together, with our now five children, we put my mother's affairs in order, and set on unchartered territory: caring for an elderly parent with a degenerative condition.

This summer, I reclaimed my freedom. In the midst of all that cleaning and organizing, I seemed to remember and find my way back to who I used to be and who I am trying to become.

And so this week, the French celebrated Bastille Day, commemorating the beginning of the French Revolution that eventually dismantled the Monarchy.

Twenty one years ago, on Bastille Day, a sixteen year old Cuban girl FINALLY got her driver's license. And with it, she opened a whole new world for herself. Major !!!

And now, twenty one years later, I am learning to fly by the seat of my pants, charter into new territories and relearn how to have fun. Case in point, a day trip to Sanibel Island to see my husband's aunt and uncle from Atlanta and their grown children and young grandchildren. Totally spur of the moment, total !!! to see the next generation of cousins play and have fun! Plus beach time is always worthy of !!!

Continued success with the potty training!!! A clean AC condensation line thanks to my wonderful main man!!! A sisters only movie night to see Eclipse!!! No children with us at the movie theater and swooning over Jacob's abs; double !!!

That being said, sometimes the greatest !!! comes from standing outside our comfort zone, confronting our fears and looking them dead in the eye and realizing that they hold no longer hold power over you.

Sometimes, those lessons take a very long time to be learned and understood. But once they are learned, they are your license to happiness...

Monday, July 12, 2010

Sometimes, you can't make it on your own...

My hubby and I have been on a Thai food kick for the last couple of months. I can't really pinpoint when it came about, but it seems as though we have HAD to have it once a week, every week for a while now.

Of course, this addiction does not come cheaply. It is hard to swallow a $40 meal for just two people. No matter how good the Curry Chicken and Fried Rice are.

So I did what any other person what with a brain and some kitchen skills would do...I bought a cookbook.

I went to my local outlet mall, and perused the cookbook section. Not to be sidetracked by a really interesting New Orleans Cajun cookbook; I found this particular Thai cookbook, paid for my purchase and walked out, dreaming of the fabulous dinners I would be able to create using this new book.

Throughout the week, I read and made my decision to cook Shrimp Curry and Fried Rice. I even decided to make a variation of the Curry using chicken, for the kids and began to prepare my shopping list.

I began to seek out the ingredients I would need, my mouth watering with each prized acquisition added to my little collection.

Sunday night, after a day of degreasing my back patio, washing windows and cleaning out the garage, I began my adventure.

I prepped, I chopped, I read and reread the instructions and made my dinner.

My boys ate their chicken. Matthew was unimpressed with his meal but devoured the plain Jasmine rice. Andrew is much more adventurous and scarfed it down, asking for seconds.

My husband's verdict was that it was good, but I need to experiment.

And the funny thing is, I knew exactly what he meant. It was okay. Not great. Not exceptional. And it was definitely missing something.

Perhaps they add a secret ingredient at the restaurant, like, for instance, crack, to keep you coming back for more.

Maybe it was the $40 price tag and the fact that someone else made it.

Regardless, later on this week, I might attempt to go to the Asian market near the house and try a different brand of red curry paste. I might add red pepper flakes to the mix.

I will experiment.

In the meantime, I now understand that sometimes you just can't make it.

And more importantly, sometimes, $40 is a small price to pay for heaven on a plate.

Friday, July 9, 2010

!!!- Intentional Happiness for the week of July 9, 2010

The mad rush to get things done has continued...with astonishing results. They actually get done!

Gutters installed on the back side of our house, eleven years after the fact !!!

No rain after the gutters are installed !!!!

BULK TRASH PICK UP !!!!

Getting to watch my precious nieces for a few hours this week !!!

My nieces not screaming for their mother !!!


Fixing Andrew's electronic Solitaire game !!!

Matthew loving his new big boy room !!!

Finding Andrew and Joshua's sheets for their new room !!! ON SALE!!!

FINALLY cleaning out my closet !!! Two garbage bags later !!! !!!

FINALLY, a renter (with good credit) for my mother's vacant condo !!!

Andrew getting placed in the Gifted program at school !!!

Straight A report cards for the ENTIRE SCHOOL YEAR !!!

And finding Super Mickey, sitting on the potty, with a smile on his face !!!


Love the !!!? Check out Momalom and Bad Mommy Moments for a brand new community where we celebrate the !!! of the everyday!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

In search of...

Just recently, my sister and her husband decided that their little 2/2 love nest condo is no longer roomy enough for their ever exploring little girls. They just got a pre-approval letter from a mortgage company, so the search is on.

They are not too particular about what features they want in their potential new home. A nice yard, a certain location, at least three bedrooms, two baths, and a two car garage. They assumed that they would be able to purchase a little more home than they could have two years ago, given the flush of foreclosures and short sales in the South Florida area.

What they did not count on is the squalor these homes are in...They don't call them short sales for nothing, people.

Angie and I have spent the last two days with the five kids meeting real estate agents all around town, in joyful hopes of finding "the one." If you have ever tried to do anything with children, then you understand that it is the equivalent of walking underwater with 30 pound deadweights around each leg. Toddlers and other assorted young children should never, ever be taken on such an endeavor...

But I digress.

We have seen a kinds of gems in the last two days. Needs TLC is realtor speak for get ready to unload big bucks to make the Health Department award a certificate of occupancy. We have seen kitchens that would make any of us healthy eaters into anorexics. Bathrooms? Ever feel the urine creep right back into your bladder in a really filthy public restroom? Same feeling. And the carpets? YUCK. I felt like disinfecting my shoes before I walked into my own home after viewing some of the properties. Missing cabinet doors, non functioning central air conditioning units, suspicious water damage in corners, cracked toilet tank tops, shoddy enclosures in garages to augment living space, secret hair salons at home equipment and really questionable decorating choices. I think that the paint job in the master bathroom in the last house we saw today actually made me lose some of my vision. It literally burned my eyes.

The worst is when the owners are on the premises when you are viewing their homes. They either run for the hills (or in this case, the intense Florida heat of their "glorious backyard") or they stick around and help point out the upgraded Benjamin Moore paint that was obviously applied by a five year old, or tell you that they have taken their wonderful front loading washer and dryer to their new home. Thanks.

Even worse is how people fail to make their homes a little easier on the eyes in order to facilitate the sale. Really, do potential buyers need to stumble over your open luggage at the top of very narrow stairs and see that your packing skills match your non-existent housekeeping abilities? Or, how about making the bed if you know the realtor is bringing somebody by? Wash the dishes in the sink? Run a vacuum cleaner, perhaps? I don't think lived in should look trashed. I have seen some mighty messy places in the last 48 hours. My own home with my clutter would make Martha Stewart proud.

We have made realtors very nervous as they see us unload from my sister's van like clowns climbing out of their little car. They smile nervously, clear their throats, and clearly don't know how to proceed. Sometimes they can be very gracious and kind, offering to watch the five children while you have a quick look-see in the master bathroom. Sometimes, they curse under their breath when the security guards in these gated communities won't let them in after 45 minutes of pleading, harassing and threats. Sometimes they act aloof, like they are doing you a favor by showing you places that truly should be condemned by the Health Department. I guess it takes all kinds.

Then they try to educate you on what the procedure is for a short sale. Condensed version:
So, what you're saying is, we are going to make an offer on this heap of concrete blocks with a roof on it. The bank is going to decide if the outrageous amount of money they are asking for is enough for us to take it and gut it to begin again. And they can take months to decide. Great. I think I am ready for my lobotomy without anesthesia. That is one of the many services you provide as well, no?

Angie and I will continue to do the preliminary looking for the next couple of weeks, shrieking or napping toddlers and all.

But, I think that if she finds the "perfect home" within her price range, she owes me a drink.

Or two.

And definitely some disinfectant.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Please, (don't) be my neighbor...

My in-laws are real salt of the Earth people. They are hard working, nice folks who retired to Florida's East Coast about five years ago.

They own a lovely, lakefront house with a relaxing pool. They are living the dream.

But of course, there is but one, teensy fly in the new Chardonnay.

Their neighbors.

At first, when Mom and Dad moved in, I thought their neighbors were in desperate need of hearing aids, since neither Mr. or Mrs. X would reply to our polite, "Good morning's" or "Good afternoon's." When we would ask Mom and Dad, they would simply shrug and wonder if we had been loud enough. Loud, enough? I'm Cuban, for Cripe's sake! Loud and louder is all the volume choices you get with me.

The X's have the most well maintained landscape south of Disney World. I am not kidding. I have never seen a blade of grass that is too long, a branch that has not been clipped properly. It is an absolute vision.

Mr. X, although retired, works part time. Mrs. X has no outside employment. Pretty typical, right?

Regardless, over time, we found that Mrs. X, in particular, was extremely peculiar. For example, several times when we have gone to visit, we have found Mrs. X laying out in a chaise lounge chair. In her front driveway. In spite of the fact that they also have a lovely pool with deck and an equally breathtaking lakefront home. Did I also mention that she sits there, tanning in a two piece bathing suit, with a small floor fan next to her, to cool her from the intense, cancer inspiring Florida sun?

Even more troubling is Mrs. X's deep seeded obsession with her front lawn and shrubbery. On several occasions, we have witnessed her picking each piece of mulch, inspecting it, rinsing it out in a bucket of water, and carefully repositioning it in her flower bed. Some pieces of mulch don't make the grade, and they are replaced with a seemingly EXACT looking piece of mulch.

Whenever we have asked Mom and Dad about the strange behavior of their neighbors, they will add additional information. For instance, Mr. X, upon returning from his part-time job, will often mow his lawn in the afternoon. Only to be followed by Mrs. X, with gardening shears, to cut wherever the lawn mower has missed. Or, upon his completing the lawn, she will VACUUM the flower beds from the lawn cuttings. Seriously.

The weirdest of all these occurrences I witnessed this weekend when we went to spend the Fourth of July holiday with Mom and Dad. When we arrived, Mr. and Mrs. X were in their front yard, near the spot where they had recently had a tree stump removed. Of course, this called for the repositioning of the flower bed border and the garden step stones that are placed there.

Most of us would just eye-ball it, place the step stones and border, and be done with it.

Not Mrs. X.

The woman was sitting on her favorite chaise lounge chair, directing Mr. X as to the placement of the border. Apparently, he was not doing it the right way.

She got up, with a tape measure in hand, and measured the distance from the edge of the border, to the step stone and the distance between the step stones.

John and I stifled a giggle, and walked into the house, where I related the story to my in laws. We all rolled our eyes, and continued with our afternoon.

The next morning, John and I ran out to complete a couple of errands related to the big unveiling for the boys on Monday. You could have knocked me over with a feather.

Mrs. X, with tape measure in hand, in the same spot. Measuring the same exact locations.

Um, weird.

John and I came back a couple of hours later. Mrs. X seemed suspended in some parallel universe, with tape measure in hand.

We left the next morning. Can you guess what Mrs. X was doing?

You gotcha. Same spot, same tape measure.

I got an email from my mother in law this morning, two days later. Mrs. X had moved on from measuring and was now CUTTING the pieces of mulch to fit around the newly (and evenly measured) garden step stones.

I could not stop laughing. Until I thought of how crazy this woman is.

And I wondered what had made her snap into this bikini wearing, sun worshipping, OCD, mulch washing (and cutting) person.

More importantly, I made my point to my dear husband that upon retirement, we should sell our house and move to a condo on the beach.

Where there is no mulch, and no one will look at me funny if I decide to wear a bikini.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Try it, you'll like it

In becoming a mother, you kind of have to put your money where your mouth is. You can't expect your kids to try new stuff if you rarely venture too far from coloring outside the lines.

In the almost ten years I became a mother, I have learned to swim, tried all kinds of food that would have never even been a choice, flown across the country, and lately, have pushed my physical limits. I have slowly, consistently and consciously put myself in situations my children know make me squirm to show them that trying something new is not a bad thing, but something that should be embraced.

Case in point: Zumba.

I know what you are thinking, how could a Cuban girl be fearful of fast paced music and dance moves.

'Cause this Cuban married an American. And because for all the Spanish blood in me, I got no real rhythm.

I can barely carry sheet music in a bag.

But I did it. I was in that class. I tried to keep up, and did okay.

For those not familiar, Zumba is fast paced aerobics class, set to fast Latin music, and were the instructors incorporate Latin dance moves. Key word here is FAST!

My neighbor and I stood in line, waiting for the class. When the doors finally opened, there was barely any room, but we managed to carve out a small piece of floor for ourselves. And the class began.

Of course, as in anything, there were people who really seemed to know what they were doing and were in total sync with the instructor. There were other people who could not keep up, and eventually, walked out of the class.

Somehow, though, I refused to walk out. It is funny, how your mind won't let you back down out of a situation. I did not want to walk out of that room a second before that class ended. And although I had some trouble keeping up, mainly because of the crowded dance floor and the fact that I was towards the back of the room, which is not the best place for a short person, I hung on. And I was glad I did.

But as I notice myself trying all kinds of new things, I am beginning to see my children venture out and try new stuff too.

Like salad. And I use that term loosely, since the actual salad only consists of lettuce and Caesar dressing.

And sticking to commitments that, I am sure, they would rather not think about, but seem to enjoy once they get going, like tennis.

All this to say that change is good.

Adventure is even better.

And doing it surrounded with like-minded people is ALWAYS more enjoyable.

Monday, July 5, 2010

(Somewhat) Finished...for now...and pictures to boot!

After a week of extreme remodeling, I am somewhat done. I have cleaned out three rooms, three respective closets full of the junk of eleven years and three children. I have had painting and a honey-do list completed with the help of a trustworthy handyman, and I have reorganized and decorated.

The only room that is completely finished is Matthew's, my oldest son. It is funny that he is back in the room that he started in almost ten years ago, bunnies not included. He wanted a more sophisticated look, I guess, along with dark green walls. Um, no to green walls, yes to no more bunnies...You be the judge regarding sophistication...

BEFORE:


AFTER:

And on a budget, not counting that I paid for the paint job. Considering what I was covering up, I think it was well worth every penny not to have done it myself.

The younger boys' room is still a work in progress. I am a stickler for keeping things as fair as possible. I had a hard time trying to find something Andrew, middle son, would like, so I kept what they had. Pretty boring, but until I can find something affordable and that we both (actually, all three of us, because Joshua needs to have some kind of say in it, no?) can live with, it will stay this plain. Still, an improvement from having bunk beds which are all kinds of wicked to have to change sheets for a 5' 1" vertically challenged person like me. Don't even get me started on what it's like to clean vomit from the top bunk, using only that little, narrow ladder. Is it pathetic that I am looking forward to changing sheets on these beds?

AFTER:

But the crown jewel is the playroom/boy cave. Andrew, in the negotiations, got to pick what was going in that room since he would still have to share a room with Joshua. There are still some old (as in fifteen year old, they are NEVER going to boot up again) carcasses computers that need to be shucked and miscellaneous slides, old 8mm movies from my childhood (fear not, these have been converted to the 21st century) that need to be stored. Here is what we came up with.

AFTER:


Next up, Mommy and Daddy's closet and the evil fashion disasters that lurk there; disasters that Stacy and Clinton from What Not To Wear would surely crucify me for and the dreaded garage.

But truly, what happiness to see my boys' faces upon their arrival home from their weeklong visit to Grandma and Granddaddy's. To hear their remarks on the items in their rooms, how I had recycled some stuff that we already had, how everything was arranged for them and their enjoyment.

And EXTREME happiness that the bulk trash is coming on Friday, people...and I am going to get my money's worth this month!


Friday, July 2, 2010

!!!-Intentional Happiness for the week of July 2, 2010

Oh people! It has been a hectic week! There has been so much going on in my house this week that I thought I would not survive it. However, this much activity has brought much !!! A sampling:

Three rooms dismantled, wrecked, sorted, reorganized and reassembled...in 6 days, no less!!! (I promise, pictures SOON!)

A week of just me and Joshua, getting introduced and reacquainted. !!!

A week of the older boys at Camp Grandma and Granddaddy; hearing the excitement in their voices as they unfolded the day's events on the telephone, realizing how quickly they are growing up. !!!

A VERY successful week of potty training and I have not (and will not!!!!) be purchasing diapers anymore !!! YIPPEE!

Working on the boy cave and the boys bedrooms to be ready to unveil the surprise when they return home on Monday afternoon!!!!

Having an unending list of crap that needed to be done around the house be finished, estimates taken, HOA approvals pending !!!

All the words of encouragement in this little extreme home makeover experiment!!! Thanks so much to those who did physical labor, those who read and encouraged, those who are so excited to see pictures, and those of you who are patiently waiting for me to get this out of my system and get back to my regular posting schedule. This !!! is for you!!

Love the !!!? Check out Momalom and Bad Mommy Moments for a brand new community where we celebrate the !!! of the everyday!