First Day, ALL Three

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So all 3 of my kids started school today. Bella is in 4th, Natalie, 2nd and Ethan Kindergarten. What’s a mom to do?

We had so much fun taking pictures with our apples that we left almost 10 minutes later than I planned and because of the first day “crazy” that always happens with EVERYONE driving their kids…we were almost late to school. I got Ethan to class just as the final bell rang. Phew! (Not that they would have counted us tardy…there was still probably 30 minutes worth of cars coming through the car line. It was nuts.)

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Mother’s Day Video

 

A Facebook friend posted a video with this song on it. As soon as I heard the first lines of the song my heart was beating fast, and my emotions were taking over. It rings so true for me and after this crazy week of being Mom – and all the craziness that can come with that – I needed this song. I needed this reminder.

I couldn’t help myself, instead of doing the thousand things I ought to have been doing I stopped and walked down memory lane as I made this video.

Happy Mother’s Day.

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Showcase of Citrus

One of my favorite things about living in Florida is it seems adventure isn’t hard to find. You don’t have to look very hard to find a fun afternoon or a new experience. I happened upon a Groupon a month or so ago for an Eco-tour monster truck ride at the Showcase of  Citrus. I have always wanted to take the kids to pick oranges and it was something we hadn’t done, and I knew Ethan would be thrilled with a monster truck ride so I decided it was the perfect adventure for Nana’s upcoming visit. I was right.

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It was about a half-mile walk to where the oranges were ready for picking. We started off with the kids in a wagon, but we ended up ditching that at the side of the trail. It was more work than help. 

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Once we got to the part of the grove where we could pick Bella found the state flower – the Orange Blossom. It smelled just like you might think it would. :) We stopped and googled how to know which oranges were the best for picking and then we got to it.

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We picked 2 bags before we were done.

They are actually a bit difficult to pull off the vine, but we learned that twisting first did the trick.

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Then it was time for the monster truck, or bus.

And seriously, this thing was huge (and bumpy).

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The ride was really fun, and lasted over an hour.

Ethan and Natalie even got to drive a little bit. I think it is a highlight of Ethan’s life – to date.

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Near the end of the ride we drove up to a bunch of cattle and the driver had a box of fruit to feed them. Who knew they ate oranges? As soon as the bus pulled up they gathered around and they chowed down. When they would bite into the oranges juice would gush everywhere.

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This is definitely a place I would return again. If you live here, the groupon is still out there. It cost us $35 to ride the monster truck, and a regular adult ticket is $20. (I think the groupon is good until the end of May.)

If you’re not local and want to come visit us – maybe we’ll take you there too.

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Finally

After months of saying I needed to get pictures of my own kids….I finally did it.

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More pictures HERE

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Gatorland

I happened to see that there was a Florida Resident deal going on at Gatorland so we decided to make it part of our spring break.

We had a really great time. We learned some about gators, saw some huge ones (Chester the dog eating gator!), creepy ones and plenty of other animals as well.

When we bought our tickets they offered for us to buy the opportunity to sit on a real gator and have a picture taken. We didn’t think the kids would want to do it so we passed up the offer then. However, when we got to the gator wrestling show Ethan wanted to do it. We decided if he was going to be that brave then we should let him do it. He was so excited.

 

To our surprise the girls wanted to do it too!

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One of the favorite things we found there was a “bird room.” Basically a room where birds roamed free, you could feed them and they just landed on you – wherever.

As we were walking down to another exhibit we happened to notice a few peacocks in a corner. We stopped to watch and waited for one to turn around so we could see its colors.

We had lots of fun at Gatorland!

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Nine

Today Bella turns 9. Instead of going on and on about how I can’t believe it has been 9 years since she was first born (b/c that is totally true) I decided I would share 9 things about my 9 year old.

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1. Bella loves school, unless you ask her. If you ask her she’ll say she hates it, however, when you observe her you can tell she really likes it. She has learned though that it is not cool to love school.

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2. Bella likes most any food….except stir-fry. I think its odd because individually she likes every ingredient in it. And she likes Asian food and flavors, but when you put them all together she just doesn’t like it. She’ll eat the chicken and the onions out of it, but hates when I force her to eat a few of the veggies.

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3. Bella’s dream is to go to New York. She’s had a shirt that says I <3 NY since she was 3 and her dad visited there for a school competition, but about a year ago she started to talk about how much she wanted to go there. It isn’t Broadway aspirations or anything – its the shopping. I am not even sure how she knew about the shopping, but she knows and she’s dying to go.

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4. Bella is academically competitive. Bella is NOT competitive athletically. We tried soccer, she enjoyed being on a team to meet friends but she never really cared about winning. BUT, assign goals/points/levels to something at school and she’s all over it. She will push herself to get more points. There is a specific reading program that their her (and many around the country) does and she is well over 40 points ahead of the majority of her class and was invited just last week to lunch with the principal because leads her class in points. And, despite her “lead” she is still totally motivated to earn as many points as she can. She’s not ever really satisfied. I totally like this about her.

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5. Bella is a reader. This goes along with her being academically competitive, but one reason she is competitive is because she found something she is really good at. She’s a good reader. She wasn’t immediately a good reader but once she caught on she really caught on. Her favorite store is Barnes and Noble and when I asked her what she wanted for her birthday she had no real idea of what we could get her. So she told me, “there is always clothes and books. You can never go wrong with those things.”

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6. Bella’s favorite color is blue, and her favorite pattern is zebra print. For her birthday she received zebra print shoes, a zebra print coat, a shirt with a zebra on it, a zebra print apron and a zebra print body pillow cover. I think we now have that obsession covered.

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7. Bella loves to cook. I need to be better at letting her into the kitchen to do it, but she really does love to cook. Her favorite TV shows are Cake Boss and DC Cupcakes. She also likes to watch cooking competition shows when she can.

8. Bella loves movies. This also goes with her reading – she loves books that have movies too. I typically try to make sure she reads the books before seeing the movies when I can. But, even without a book she loves to see movies at home or in the theater, a movie night is one of her favorite ways to spend the evening.

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9. Bella is an excellent big sister. I think Anthony and I were so blessed not only to be her parents, but, to have her be our first child. She is such a great big sister. She’s very patient (most of the time) with her siblings, she is an excellent example to them of both hard work and obedience. She also takes a big interest in what they like and she tries to do those things with them. My favorite example of this is when she tried to write a song for Natalie to play on the piano. Bella knows nothing about music. The staff paper she made wasn’t even correct (far too many lines) and the notes she wrote made no sense (covering multiple lines) and she so sweetly gave it to Natalie and asked that she play it. Natalie didn’t want to hurt Bella’s feelings so she brought it to me to “help.” I had to talk to Bella about how music is something that you have to know a little something about in order to write a song, and that she could learn and then do it, but for now Natalie couldn’t play what she had written. I also told her how sweet it was for her to want to be apart of Natalie’s piano playing but we could find other ways for her to support her sister’s talent.

Happy Birthday to my sweet Bella!!!

(P.S. Note about the pictures. These are not her official 9 year portraits. I owe Natalie a 7 year portrait session so I told them both we’d do those over Christmas break. But, I wanted to get some on her birthday. We were under a tornado watch while I did these and the sky was very dark. But I hurried and did a few and then came inside and used my flash a bit. I also, had been wanting to try to duplicate a picture I saw on pinterest that used a fan to blow hair on a white background. I think I want to work on that a bit more when I have more time to devote to it, but we had fun trying.)

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Marathon: Done.

Months ago I posted THIS blog. In it I openly shared my goal to run a marathon. Soon after I posted it I wished I hadn’t. If I hadn’t then I wouldn’t have felt obligated not to give up. So thankfully I did post it. Although, it wasn’t the only reason I kept going, if it had been I certainly would never have finished. And yes, one week ago today I did finish. I completed a full marathon and have now spent past week recovering and thinking over my experience. It dawned on me today that I hadn’t blogged about it, and that I should, so I am.

In my opinion the accomplishment of a marathon is much more than the day of the event. It is not just the 26.2 miles you set out to conquer but the accomplishment is found in the training you complete which brings you to the start line. It is in the miles and miles you spend your weeks running. It is in the dedication you put in to give up your lazy Saturday mornings in exchange for 3 hours of endless running. It is learning that your mind is stronger than your muscles. It is the realization of who is there to help you, to encourage you, to teach you, to believe in you, to run with you, to cheer you on, to love you and to rub your sore feet or legs when they ache. All of this will cross your mind as you run the race. All of it matters. Without any part of it the 26.2 miles would be unattainable, but when all the elements combine the impossible becomes possible.

On the morning of the race I was nervously excited. But, I felt like I had put in the time for training and I kept repeating in my mind, “I’ve got this.” The first 11 or 12 miles of the race I would call “fun.” I was running with a pacing group and easily keeping up. There were conversations, laughter, even singing. Around mile 12 I felt the pacing group slipping further and further ahead of me, even though I didn’t feel as though I was slowing down. But, obviously I was. But, I was still feeling good so I was in good spirits and I would just keep moving.

Around mile 14 I received a text from Anthony saying they were at the first part of the second turn around point. (we ran about 6.5 miles north along the St. John’s river and back,another  approx. 6.5 to the start line – which became the halfway point, then 6.5 miles south along the river and back, the same 6.5, to the finish line. I figured I would see them somewhere in mile 18 or 19. Just 4 more miles. Around mile 17 those miles started seemingly really long and I started to feel pains I had never felt in my training. But, I kept pushing because I wanted to see my kids and I wanted them to see me running, to see me doing it – confidently accomplishing my goal.

After I saw them they boosted my spirits for about a mile. But mile 20 I was hurting so badly and it was really getting to me. I was now run/walking. I would choose a point of reference on the course and say okay I am going to walk to that point and then run twice that distance just to give my legs some relief, but I was always moving. At mile 22 I saw a friend who has run marathons. As soon as she saw me she walked onto the course towards me and said, “What is hurting?” I told her my thighs were in so much pain and she insisted I come to the side and she would help stretch me out. It was the most painful thing ever, but she and another sweet lady rubbed down my legs and then I could run again.

Then, there was mile 23. As the miles went on I SWEAR they became longer and longer. At this point 1 mile might as well have been 5. I received a text at that moment. It was from my sister. “You looked good at mile 19 (Anthony took a picture and posted it to FB), you must just have a few left. Keep going! You can do it!” I literally burst into tears. Yes, a few miles left, but it felt so far. It felt impossible. I honestly felt like I could die right there, and like maybe I’d rather do that than keep on moving. But as quickly as the tears came so did the resolve to suck it up and finish. After all, it was just a 5k in front of me and “I’ve got this.”

Coming into the final turns that were lined with friends and families cheering on their runner was a complete relief to me. And making the final turn and seeing Anthony and the kids cheering and giving me high fives was a sweet reward for a long and hard race. All along in my training I imagined me crying at the finish. But, in the end I didn’t. I left my tears at mile 23. The finish line was for smiles, hugs and relief. I had done it. I didn’t have to do it again.

So, in the past week when I have been asked, “How was your race?” I have answered truthfully, “It was horrible.” Because, it was! Those specific 26.2 miles took me through almost every emotion imaginable and, in the later miles was one of the most painful experiences of my life. However, in many years when I look back at this experience I will remember it as the entire journey. The friendships that were made and bettered as I trained, the way my body amazed me at its physical strength, the realization and understanding of my inner thoughts and how they affect my outward abilities, the consistent love and support from my husband who I think might be the only person who never doubted I could do it (I certainly doubted myself), and that horrible mile 23 – I will think of that anytime I am faced with some future trial in my life and remember, “I’ve got this.”

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Finding Home

I intended to post this last week, however, time got away from me so I am just now getting to it.

3 years and one week ago today (Halloween 2009) around noon we drive into Orlando for the first time. We had been on the road from Oklahoma City for 3 days. Me and the kids in the van and Anthony driving the moving truck with his car in tow. I was so glad to be done with the drive, but very apprehensive about the “adventure” we were about to embark on.

Everything was strange. We moved into a house I had never seen (although not the first time we’d done that…actually the 3rd), to a place I had only been once (and even then only on Disney property for 2 or 3 days in high school), a place where I didn’t know a soul, into a neighborhood that was “in the boonies”, my husband now traveled for work on a regular basis, and even the weather, trees, bugs and wild life were different from what I had known. For the first time in my life I was living more than a 4 hour drive from any family. It had been a whirl wind decision to move, and many mornings I remember waking up and thinking….”holy cow, we live in Florida.”

I had expected to come to this place and be in awe of its beauty…instead? Truthfully much of it I found ugly. I spent the first 6 months of our living here wondering why we had come here and reminding myself that we only intended to stay for 18 months to 2 years. I could do that.

Then, I turned 30. The day before my 30th birthday I was completely depressed. Anthony was having to travel and would be gone for 2 days – leaving the morning of my birthday. I felt as if I didn’t have any friends who would know it was my birthday and would fill in for my absent husband…and I certainly didn’t want to post a pity party about it on Facebook to get attention. So while complaining to Anthony about it he said…”then come with me!” I hesitated for a few minutes because it would cause Bella to miss 2 days of school, but soon decided she was in Kindergarten. What could it hurt?  By the evening of my 30th birthday I found myself on Fort Myers beach watching the sunset into the Gulf.

By the next afternoon when we were on our way home I had begun to see Florida in an entirely different light.

A few weeks later summer vacation began and we spent that summer exploring various areas of Florida while we traveled with Anthony. His work took us from the capitol city to Key West. We explored. We found places we liked and places we loved. By the end of that summer I had fallen completely in love with Florida.

I love that it seemed we spent so much more time as a family here because it seemed as if there was more here for us that we all enjoyed doing together. I love that we can drive an hour or two in any direction and find a new adventure – or a mini vacation. I fell in love with the ocean and its calming waves. I found I am happiest with sand in my toes and sea breeze in my hair. And as I began to fall in love with my surroundings I opened myself up to the people I had met and began to make truly good friends who now even though I am still sad at the distance between us and family have become a second family to us.

Before moving here all the places we have lived as a married couple have always been temporary, with the exception of Oklahoma City (where we moved right after Law School), we knew they would be temporary. When Anthony graduated from law school and we moved to Oklahoma City I expected to feel settled. I expected to make a home. It never felt like home. I never felt settled. When we moved here I expected this to be temporary. I never intended for this to be home – but it is. When we moved here I found home. It took a few months but Florida is where my heart is. Florida is my home.

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Good Citizen (Times TWO!)

At our Elementary school they have a Guidance program where  one character a month is taught to the students. Then at the end of each month there is a celebration which honors the students who best exemplify that character trait in each class as nominated by their teacher.

A few weeks ago Bella told us that her teacher lets her class recommend to her who they think ought to be sent to the celebration, although her teacher gets final say. She said that her classmates recommended her to her teacher so she thought she might be picked. I was proud of her, especially that her classmates thought she ought to get to go.

Then a few days later Bella and Natalie came off the bus giggling about something. When I asked what they were giggling about they both handed me letters from the Guidance teacher telling me that they had been selected by their teachers to attend the character celebration for September for being good citizens!  Both girls have attended a celebration before, but never the same one!

It was fun to get to go and sit with both of them and hear both their names be called. Even better, Daddy surprised them that morning. He had been scheduled for a hearing that morning, but it canceled so he was able to come!

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Natalie receiving her award, and then below all the 1st graders who received the award.

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Bella receiving her award, then below all the 3rd graders who received the award as well.

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This last picture is the girl’s and their principal, Mrs. Finkelstein.

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Picture Day

Today was picture day at school.

Today was also Natalie’s 7th birthday, and in its own way it was picture day at our house…b/c, well, I took A LOT of pictures to chronicle her birthday. And you will see the majority of them in this post. (Because the post is picture heavy, I will try to keep my words brief.)

After school (and all the homework was done) I told Natalie I wanted to take some pictures of her and her birthday present. She received it almost a month and a half early, and I’ve been meaning to do so, and since I haven’t I figured today was a great day to do it.

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Natalie began taking piano lessons just over a year ago. (On the first day of Kindergarten to be exact.) She took right too it. I think the best way to describe it is – she fell in love with it.

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Many parents talk about the struggle to get their child to practice. We don’t know this struggle (knock on wood). She often reminds us that she needs to practice, and many times she plays just so she can play. She had been learning on a small keyboard. We didn’t want to buy a full piano until we knew that she really liked it and wanted to continue. She did and she does. It was time for a full piano, probably even past time.

She was SO excited when we found the piano and brought it home. I think for her it was like Christmas….maybe even better.

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And because she has fallen in love with it and loves to practice she has done very well with it. We are constantly impressed with what she has been able to accomplish and how quickly she has progressed. She is determined to learn, and hard pieces only fuel that determination.

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I love to listen to her play, even when she struggles because she never gives up – not until its right. It is a great quality about her.

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(See her tongue sticking out? She’s concentrating hard.)

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I really hope she keeps her love and passion for the piano, and I hope to hear her music in our home for many years to come. Right now she says she wants to be a photographer and a piano teacher when she grows up. I think she could do just about anything she wanted to – and she would do it well.

After the piano shots we took a few more for fun.

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Remember I said that she wants to be a photographer? Well, she asked to take my picture, so I let her. She does a pretty good job. She told me how to sit and not to smile and where to look.

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One of Natalie’s birthday requests was to decorate her own cake. That’s easy enough.

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She was nice and let her sister and brother help too.

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We took a few more pictures before heading to dinner at her place of choice, California Pizza Kitchen.

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Then it was home for phone calls, presents and cake.

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Side note about this picture. Bella wanted to get Natalie something. She kept telling me things of hers she was going to give Natalie but for one reason or another I wouldn’t let her give that specific item. Finally she counted out 100 pennies (she was out of cash at the moment) and asked me to take her to the dollar spot at Target. It was a simple gift, some little art project for Natalie to do, but something Natalie would like. I love that Bella just wanted to give something to her sister because she loves her.

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I think it was a good birthday for Natalie, or at least I hope it was. She sure is a special kid, and that is putting it mildly.

We spent a little bit of time today telling her our memories of her as a baby and toddler. It is fun to remember the silly things she used to do and what a sweet baby she was. She has brought nothing but happiness to our family everyday for the past 7 years.

We love you Natalie!

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