Love letter to Jacob

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To my son Jacob on his 4th birthday…

I love your beautiful big brown eyes and long eyelashes (thanks to daddy’s genes on those).

I love your smile, even though it does not show up in pictures as much as I would like.  Your smile lights up a room.

I love our snuggle time.  You love to lay your entire body on top of me before bed and cuddle your head right under my chin. I wait for the moment when your breathing slows and your body goes limp in peaceful slumber, to roll you over and kiss your forehead goodnight.  This is always one of my favorite parts of the day.

I love your questions.  Really, I just love anything you say, especially since it took so long to really hear your voice.  Your questions are like a window into your mind, and I love what I see and hear.

I love taking you to the store with me.  You are such a good shopper – patient, curious, and great at helping me remember the items on my list.

I love your natural way with animals.  You have such a gentle way about you.  I think animals can sense that and are comfortable around you.  I never thought I would want to live on a farm until I saw you around horses and cows.  That is almost enough to make me leave the suburbs, but not quite – I love Target too much (and so do you!).

I love your appetite and hunger for healthy foods.  Thank goodness you are a good eater, especially with all of your allergies/food sensitivities.  You are happy with a plate of grilled chicken, broccoli, and sweet potato.  If not for your brother and sister, I would pat myself on the back and think I did something special to raise such a great eater.

I love your need for routine and structure.  You like to know the plan and you check-in to make sure we are on schedule and everyone is accounted for.  You have an amazing sense of direction and question me if I change course or make any unexpected moves.

I love taking you on trips.  Even though you like your typical schedule, you also love an adventure.  The other kids are happy to watch a movie in the car or on the plane, but you would rather look out the window and take it all in.  You say, “weeee” when we exit on an off-ramp, you applaud when the airplane takes off and lands, and you point out all the wondrous things in the world around us.

I love your love of water – baths, pools, oceans – you are a natural in the water.  Swim team in your future?

I love the way you light up when you are around your family.  You love having Grandma and Grandpa, Grammy and Pop, your Aunts, Uncle Scott, and your cousins over.  You love to show off when there is an audience – yelling from the top of the second floor, dancing, forward rolls, or singing.  You are happiest when you are around your loving family.

I love the special relationship you have with your brother.  You and Isabella will grow closer as you get older, but you and Noah are practically twins.  You complete each other and make each other better.  I hope and pray that you remain this close as you grow up.

I love your determination and strength.  You have had to overcome more obstacles than many other four-year-old boys, and you have met those challenges with grace, maturity, and fortitude.  I have seen how milestones like sitting, standing, crawling, walking, jumping, playing, talking, and pedaling a bike come without much difficulty for some children.  You have had to work harder and longer more often than not, but you eventually get there.  I am so proud of you for not giving up, for pushing yourself when it is hard, and for having a good attitude even in the struggle.  This will take you far in life.

I love your laugh.  Your playful giggles bring a smile to my face (except when they mean you are up to mischief).  Your laughter is contagious, frequently sending your brother and sister into a contest of silliness.

I love you as my middle child, my oldest son, and my sweet 4-year-old boy.  I love you Jacob!  Happy 4th birthday!

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Winter Break Fun

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The holidays are officially over and we are back to our regular routines again.  Gone are the days of sleeping in until 8 AM,  figuring out which museum to explore each day, what wonderful friend or family to visit with, and how many yummy treats to indulge in after each meal.  The kids are back to school, I am back at work (full-time at that), chocolates and cookies have been replaced with fruits and veggies, and we are back to the hustle and bustle of our busy life.  The holidays are busy too, don’t get me wrong, but it is a different kind of busy.  There is gift buying and wrapping, a busy social schedule of holiday parties, and long days of no school to fill for three little kids, but that is certainly a fun kind of busy.

In our house, the “holiday season” seems to run from November 15th – January 8th.  During that time we have Isabella’s birthday, Thanksgiving (which we host every year), Hanukkah (what we celebrate in our house and with the Levins and Stevahns), Christmas (which we celebrate at my parents), the New Year, and Les’ birthday.  It is two months of nonstop eating, spending money, socializing, and fun.  It can be a little exhausting and overwhelming, but I love it.  This winter break seemed especially great – for the kids, for us, and for me personally.

As the kids get older, they seem to get more into the holiday spirit and understand more of what is going on.  Isabella really got into Hanukkah this year.  She has always enjoyed getting presents, but she was much more interested in some of the culture and tradition that comes along with the holiday.  By the 5th or 6th night of Hanukkah she could almost say the entire prayer over the menorah, making Les and I very proud.  She loved having her Grammy and Pop as special guests at her school to teach her classmates about Hanukkah.  She lead dreidel games and even tried her first potato latke – a big deal for our very picky eater.  Jacob and Noah both got into the spirit of Hanukkah and Christmas, relishing the unwrapping of the gifts as much, if not more, than the gifts themselves.  We all got a kick out of Jacob’s squeals of delight and laughter as he unwrapped a gift or Noah’s exclamations of “Whoa” or “cool this” each time he opened a new toy or book.  The kids had a blast on Christmas day at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, opening their stockings and presents, and playing with all their new toys.  I love experiencing any holiday through my children’s eyes, especially Hanukkah and Christmas.  There is just something magical about that look in your child’s eyes as they open that special gift they have been wanting all year.  I don’t think there is any gift I could receive that would equal the excitement and joy I get from giving my kids gifts.  I know that the holidays are not all about the gifts, and I want my kids to know that too, but when you are three or five – it kind of is all about the gifts.

This winter break was really great for Les and I because we got to have some pretty awesome dates.  We had an overnight trip to Richmond for a delicious dinner with friends and a day of holiday shopping and time alone in the car and at lunch with just the two of us.  We try to go out on dates regularly, but there is just something different about being away overnight that feels more luxurious and special.  We also got to see our close friends John and Corynne for a dinner date.  These are friends that we don’t see nearly enough of, and it was great to catch up on the exciting things coming up in the new year.  Les and I have also been on three movie dates in the last month – pretty amazing considering that we probably had not made it to three movies in the theater in the past five years total.  Although Les always works a lot around the holidays, I had a lot of time off as I transitioned to my new job.  The overall pace in our house was slower, more relaxed, and less stressful – making for a happier marriage.

I was thrilled to spend quality time with my sister Emily.  We don’t get to see her nearly enough since she is in California, so we try to spend as much time as possible with her when she is in town.  We even got to go out for sushi and a movie date to see Les Mis (a fantastic movie, but glad I spared Les on that one).  I was able to tackle some home organization products (freezer, refrigerator, pantry, and only a small part of the office).  I completed home study for my new job and went away to San Antonio for a week of training for the new job.  I am very happy with the job change and very impressed with the new company so far.  I really enjoyed being home for a few weeks.  Of course, getting paid while being at home probably made the whole experience more relaxing and enjoyable than if I were not employed.  Now if I could only find a way to stay at home for work AND still get paid – that would be the ticket.

We rang in the New Year with our neighbors and friends at a fantastic grown-up party.  We got all fancied up and danced the night away.  I look forward to this party every year and am so appreciative of the Hempecks for throwing such a wonderful bash.  We got together with the Reuter family for a fun play date and gift exchange.  Even though we only live 30 miles from each other, it seems impossible to get our 6 kids and crazy work schedules aligned for more frequent family fun.  We’ll have to do better at this in 2013.   We did our annual trip to the Great Wolf Lodge with our dear friends Zach and Parul and their adorable daughter Madeline.  That place gets better and better as the kids get older and more independent in the water.  This is one of our favorite ways to kick off a new year and celebrate Les’ birthday with some of our best friends.

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All in all – we have had a blast these past couple of months.  As I have been able to sit back and reflect on the past year, I feel so fortunate to have the life that I have.  We feel so blessed to have our health, our amazing family and friends, jobs, and a wonderful life.  I know how quickly life can change and the good times can turn to bad in just the blink of an eye.  In 2013, I am trying to cherish each moment  and be grateful for the many gifts that I have in my life.  Now if only I can remember this resolution during the crazy, stressful times that will inevitably occur in my world of five spinning plates!

Happy Birthday to me and Happy Independence Day to you

Happy Birthday to me.  Happy Independence Day to America.  I just turned 34 and had an awesome birthday celebrating with family and friends in the Outer Banks.  Growing up, I had a love-hate relationship with my 4th of July birthday.  My parents always made sure I had a party, even if it was not on my actual birthday.  I received generous presents and my mom always made sure I had a delicious cake.  I always got to see fireworks on my birthday, and I even believed that the fireworks really were just for me for a long time.  My birthday usually meant a day spent with family at a park, a lake, the beach, or a backyard BBQ – all fun things, but not the number one way that a 12 or 14 year-old wants to spend their birthday.  All my friends were usually doing their own family thing, so my friend party usually needed to be on a different day.  I used to complain about not getting to celebrate my birthday at school (cupcakes brought to class, decorated locker, etc.), a plight shared by many kids with summer birthdays.  My birthday was never just my birthday, it was everyone’s special day – a day off from work and a day to do something other than celebrate my birthday.  I imagine that any kid with a birthday on a holiday has felt this way at one time or another.

The things that used to bum me out about my birthday seem pretty silly and self-centered now, but hey, I was a kid and those feelings are not totally abnormal.  As I got older, I started to appreciate my unique birthday.  I love that everybody is in a festive mood and ready to party on my birthday.  Since meeting Les, he has always made a genuine effort to make my birthday extra special and make sure that it doesn’t get lumped into a generic 4th of July party.  I always feel like the day is both a celebration of America and a celebration of my birthday.  We can always count on our friends and/or our family to be there to help us celebrate.   Last year and this year we enjoyed the holiday week with our neighbors at their beach house in the Outer Banks (thank you again T&K).  This year, my husband’s family came to the Outer Banks to soak up the sun and mark the holiday and my birthday with us.  We had an outstanding 4th of July , complete with a morning run, the beach and pool time, paddle boarding, a BBQ, cake and chocolate covered strawberries, and fireworks with my daughter.  Upon our return, my mom came over with a yummy strawberry cake to celebrate my birthday since she was not with us on the 4th.

Prior to the past two years in the Outer Banks, we had hosted a big 4th of July/birthday party at our house for 5 years in a row.  I liked having the party at our house because we could be around all the people we cared about, but it was a lot of work for me.  Don’t get me wrong, I love to plan a good party, but that got a lot harder with one, two, and now three kids.  The idea of planning and preparing for a big Independence Day bash (aka: my own birthday party) became stressful and overwhelming as I had to also juggle several children.  My last two birthdays in the Outer Banks have been relaxing and fun – the ideal way to spend a birthday.  I definitely miss being able to have all of my family and friends around, but I do not miss the planning and preparation for a party at our house on my birthday.  Rather than cleaning up and worrying about everyone getting to fireworks, I was able to simply take a lovely evening walk down to the beach to watch fireworks with Isabella, my nieces, and some family and friends that were in the Outer Banks with us.  It was pretty perfect, especially listening to Isabella ooh and aah over every firework as it exploded over the serene ocean.

I don’t feel thirty-four.  I probably never will feel as old as I keep turning, at least I hope I don’t.  I still feel young – in mind, body, and spirit – at least on most days.  I have grown-up.  I don’t mind growing up, as life experience and child rearing will do to you, as long as I don’t grow old before my time.  I no longer mind sharing my birthday with America.  I am honored to share such a historic and special date in the history of our great country.  This is going to be another great year, and I look forward to another great birthday and 4th of July next year.  We already have an amazing vacation planned to Turks and Caicos next year over the 4th of July week.  Sounds like a pretty incredible way to celebrate my 35th birthday!

Happy Father’s Day Dad

Happy Father’s Day to all the wonderful dads out there, especially my dad!  I am so incredibly proud of my dad this year because of his remarkable physical transformation. He is a new man. I was worried about my dad for a long time. He has spent much of his adult life battling his weight and other health issues including high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, and diabetes.  He never had the healthiest diet, and I only really remember him exercising when he had to for the military.  About 69% of adults in America are either overweight or obese, so he was not in the minority with his weight or poor lifestyle and health history.  My dad’s weight and medical concerns only increased since retiring from the Navy, until he was forced to make some serious changes or risk loss of his career or even his life.  My dad’s side of the family has a pretty bad track record with a number of deaths from heart attack or stroke, things that probably could have been prevented with lifestyle changes.  I think he probably knew that he would face a similar fate if he did not take control of his weight and health.

My dad also had a lot to lose if he did not make the necessary changes.  He is a husband and a father to four grown daughters.  Perhaps most importantly, he is Grandpa to my three kids and now to my sister’s newborn son.  With a 20+ year career in the military, my dad was gone a lot, too much with young kids at home.  He missed plenty of big and small events in our lives, and I still really don’t know how my mom managed so much on her own while my dad was deployed.  I also know, although he has never said this, that it must have been hard on my dad to miss all those precious moments with us.  I know that this is the fate of so many military families right now while our country is at war, and it breaks my heart because I know firsthand how hard it can be on the members of those families.  Since retiring from the military, I have seen so much more of my dad and been able to get to know him so much better as an adult.  All of my sisters are probably closer to my dad now as grown-ups than we ever were as children.

I have also been able to watch my dad become a Grandpa, perhaps one of my greatest joys over the past few years.  I know my father loves each one of his daughters, but I also know that my parents always wanted a boy.  They had a name picked out and everything.  My dad is naturally the strong and silent type, but having five women in the house (all fighting to get a word in) left him without much to say.  I don’t think he quite knew what to do with Barbies, dolls, make-up, boy trouble, and the hormonal teenage angst that was ever-present in our house for years.  Now there are three grandsons in our family, some sort of poetic justice in my opinion.  My boys, especially Jacob, adore their Grandpa.  Jacob loves all of his grandparents, but there is an amazing connection between Jacob and my dad.  He loves to take Grandpa on walks in the woods, play choo-choos or cars, and go to the park.  My dad enjoys following Jacob around wherever he leads, making him #1 in Jacob’s mind.  Jacob even resembles my side of the family, especially my dad.  Before my dad lost all of the weight, he had a hard time getting down on the ground to play with the kids and struggled to keep up with my active toddlers.  He could not physically be the Grandpa he wanted to be – active, engaged, and playful.  I am so appreciative of my parents and the role they play in my children’s lives.  Yeah, the babysitting is nice, but mostly I just love to see the way my kids get so excited to see them.  My dad needed to get healthy so he could be around a lot longer, especially for Isabella, Jacob, and Noah.

I always admired my dad’s work ethic, tenacity, and pride.  These are traits that I hope I have inherited and learned from him.  He relied on these character traits to totally transform his weight and his health.  My dad underwent gastric bypass surgery a year and a half ago and has lost over 100 pounds since that time.  Some people feel that this is “the easy way out” or somehow not as impressive as losing the weight without surgical assistance.  I understand where some of those people with that opinion are coming from because there are plenty of examples where surgical weight loss does not work as a long-term solution.  I do not feel that my dad will be one of those people.  He committed himself to long-term success.  He is doing it for the right reasons.  He did the mental work to prepare for the lifestyle changes and has followed through on those changes even after the weight loss.  My dad is a runner now – a real runner who belongs to a running group and does 10K and half-marathon races on weekends.  He does not take any medicine to treat health problems anymore.  He actually managed to get off all his blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes medicines before the surgery, as a result of the significant dietary changes leading up to the surgery.  He makes better choices about the foods he eats, liquids he drinks, and portion sizes.  He looks awesome and I know he feels great too.  He has a new lease on life and is making the most of it.  He has always worked hard for his family and for his job, but I am so proud to see my dad working so hard to take care of himself.  I admire my dad for many things, but I am inspired and moved by the complete transformation he has made over the past 18 months.

Congratulations on your remarkable accomplishments Dad!  Thank you for taking charge of your health so that you can be around for many more years.  Keep up the good work with your diet and running.  We are all so proud of you!  Lots of love to you on Father’s Day and every day!

Goodbye Florida

  Goodbye Florida.  It has been fun, but it is time to go back home.  It turns out that 2-3 days is enough time for a vacation without the kids- at least for the first one.  We miss our little ones and our crazy life.  We feel rested, reconnected, refreshed, and ready to tackle a busy, fun-filled summer.  It was so nice to have this little time-out together.  We confirmed what we already knew on some level – we are still Les and Jess.  Sure, we are mom and dad to our three kids, but first and foremost we are individuals, and husband and wife.  We have taken time away individually over the past five years for work trips, vacations with “the guys”, or my recent trip to see my sister in Germany.  I know those trips were very therapeutic and re-energizing for each of us, but those trips also put the burden of parenting and running the house on the other partner.  We have tried to allow and encourage each other to take time away over the past five years.  Parenting can be hard work, and everyone deserves a little break to remember who they are as an individual.  It also reminds the person at home how much they value and rely on the other person.  Parenting is definitely easier and more fun together.  I admire single parents, because I know it can be very challenging and sometimes quite lonely to do that job alone.  Of course marriage and co-parenting has its share of challenges too, but I know Les and I appreciate each other and the role we each play in parenting.

I don’t think either of us doubted that we still had it as a couple, but it was just nice to confirm that we are still crazy about each other after 16 years together, 10 years of marriage, and three kids.  We still have plenty to talk about (other than the kids), we still love each other’s company, and we still have that spark.  This vacation not only made us excited for our next trip away together, but also made us more excited for our next family vacation.  There were so many times on this trip when some of the experiences we had felt a little bit empty without the kids.  We would comment how much the kids would love to see this or play with that.  For instance, “the kids would love all the shells on this beach” or “they would have so much fun playing in this pool.”  We are in a new phase of existence as a couple, one where we can’t necessarily separate the “us” of our marriage, from the “us” of our family.  We love this phase and are immensely grateful for the family we created.  We just have to remember that without the “us” of each other, we would never have the beautiful family that we do.  I guess we’ll just have to get the babysitters on reserve and pick a date in 2013 for our next trip together.  We wouldn’t want to forget what made it all possible, right?

Is Memorial Day Enough? The Case for Shared Sacrifice…

Memorial Day is a day that we are supposed to remember those who have died in our nation’s service.  It is a day to say thank you to those veterans and their families for their service, and ultimate sacrifice, defending our freedom.  It is a day to honor those few brave men and women who have paid the price of these wars – 6,400 U.S. servicemen and women have died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and at least 48,000 more have been wounded.

To most Americans, Memorial Day weekend represents an extended reprieve from work and the daily grind.  It means a chance to get together with family and friends for cookouts, trips to the beach or pool, or maybe even a vacation.  Many of us will spend about two minutes thinking about the meaning of Memorial Day or actually remembering the tremendous sacrifice of the few that have served and perished.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, and I am not writing this to pass any judgement.  I am right there with most Americans that spent this past weekend with my family and friends, spending little time (except for this blog post) really doing anything significant to honor our fallen heroes.  The reason is that I do not personally know anyone who has been injured or killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I know many who have served and currently serve in the military, my father, brother-in-law, and several neighbors to name a few.  Most people in America don’t even personally know anyone currently serving in the military or directly impacted by these wars that our country has been engaged in for the past 10 years.

In my opinion, this is one of the fundamental problems of our nation in the last decade – the lack of shared sacrifice.  We have been at war with HUGE costs to our nation – $1 trillion (recent report from Congressional Research Service), 6,400 lives lost, 48,000 wounded, untold mental health/PTSD damage, lasting impacts to military families of those who have suffered loss of life, limb, or mental well-being – just to name a few.  If you are not serving in the wars, or a family member of someone serving, how have you been affected over the last 10 years?  How have you had to sacrifice?  What cost have you felt from these wars?  I don’t feel like I have felt any cost or had to sacrifice anything significant in the past decade as a result of these wars.  Unlike previous wars that our country has fought, the general population has not seen tax increases (we have actually seen several tax decreases), major non-military spending cuts, or any threat of a draft that might make us feel vulnerable or like we have some skin in the game.

This is not an argument for or against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, this is an argument for shared sacrifice.  How is it that so few in our country bear such a heavy burden for these wars, while the majority go for days, weeks, or years without a single thought or concern about our nation’s battles?  That just does not seem right.  How quickly everyone in America would be paying attention and engaged in debate if the government asked them to sacrifice before deciding to go into war.  If people knew they would pay higher taxes, or the government would need to make major spending cuts, or implement a draft – what would the support for the wars have looked like 10 years ago or today?  I am guessing that we might actually be thinking and talking about the war and whether the sacrifice is worth it, if we all had a little skin in the game.

I am thankful to all those that bravely serve our country.  I am so sorry to all those who have lost someone while defending our freedom – you and your loved ones have made the ultimate sacrifice.  How do you honor Memorial Day?  What do you think about the concept of shared sacrifice in terms of the war and how everyday Americans think about the war?

If you want to read more on this topic, here is is the link to an interesting column by Bruce Bartlett, Economist and Writer:

http://www.forbes.com/2009/11/25/shared-sacrifice-war-taxes-opinions-columnists-bruce-bartlett.html