Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Vacation Exercise

Our plan all along for this vacation was to "do" as little as possible. Beach, pool, reading/napping at the beachhouse, repeat. This was all fine and good, except Eleanor and I both have incredibly fair skin. By the middle of the week, even with constant, if somewhat haphazard, sunscreen application, we were both getting a bit crispy. So we decided to spend a day away from the water, out of direct sun.

We went to the Currituck Beach Lighthouse, which was just a short drive from where we were staying. I think the Currituck lighthouse is one of the smaller ones in the Outer Banks, but it's still nothing to sneeze at: 214 curving metal steps, up about 150 feet.

Added to that, Eleanor wore me out before we even set foot in the lighthouse. There was a short, slow-moving line waiting for the privilege to climb all those steps. While the rest of our group waited in line, Eleanor felt the need to run. She and I ran back and forth across a grassy patch, racing from one tree back to Grandpa's legs (and one unsuspecting guy whom Eleanor mistook for Grandpa) back to another tree, back to Daddy's legs .... she couldn't get enough. Clearly, from the above picture taken before the climb, I could get enough.

Finally our group was at the front of the line. This is the point where we explained to Eleanor that Mommy can only carry one child up 200+ steps, and that was the child in my belly. Eleanor would be sticking with Daddy for this adventure.

And of course, when I'm off the hook, she doesn't even get carried! She told us that she was going to climb the steps by herself, and that's exactly what she did. Every. Single. One.
Yet, when we finally reach the top, I'm actually not a big fan of heights. The lighthouse didn't seem that intimidating from the group, but the view from the top was still dizzying to me. Especially knowing that my 2-year-old was wandering around, sticking her head between the bars. Luckily, Eleanor actually felt the same way about being up there, so she and I headed down together while Keith hung out and took some pictures.

And of course, when I was in charge of Eleanor on the way down, suddenly she was tired and wanted to be carried. I tried carrying her down one flight of the stairs, but they were an open metal staircase and between my inherent pregnant off-balance and carrying Eleanor, I was convinced I was going to trip and throw her over the railing to her death. By the bottom of one small flight, I was practically hyperventilating.

Keith came to the rescue and carried her down the rest of the stairs. Between the running and the climbing and the panicking, I think it was the most exercise I got the whole week. I enjoyed a bit of sightseeing, but I was also happy to go back to the beach/nap/pool routine, too.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Vacation Kids' Clothes

When packing for vacation, we bought several sets of matching shorts and t-shirts for Eleanor. Most of her clothes are hand-me-downs, purchased second-hand, or bought by doting grandparents. T-shirts and shorts must suffer significant wear and tear at the hands (and knees) of toddlers, because for the past two years, when I get out the latest crop of used clothing, there's a dearth of these items in the pile. Add that to the fact that most of the grandparent-given clothes are adorable dresses, and you can understand why we had almost no shorts/t-shirts on hand.

What I failed to appreciate during this shopping spree is Eleanor's total disdain for shorts. This girl adores dresses and absolutely refuses to wear shorts. I thought she might be swayed while on vacation—everyone dressed down on vacation, right?—but that was not the case. Even her bathing suit had to resemble a ballerina's tutu instead of simply a bathing suit.

Here's just a few pictures of the dresses she wore throughout the week. By the end of the week, it was very clear what her main souvenir must be: a brand new beach dress. She loves it.

Since returning from vacation, we have convinced her (with much cajoling) to wear shorts on a few occasions, when we were hiking and camping. It's the opposite of my adult life, when I need a really good reason to bother with wearing a dress.

Why does it matter to me so much that she be willing to wear shorts? I don't really know. Most of the time, I don't care. Last week she wore her entire ballet outfit (tutu, tights, and ballet slippers) to music class with my blessing. Coincidentally, that's also the outfit she wore to meet Grandma Helen and Grandpa Chuck at an Art Museum outing a few months ago. She wears her two fancy Easter dresses to go to the playground or to the store.

I can't speak for Keith, but I think I pushed for shorts so much while on vacation because I want Eleanor to be better than I am at going with the flow. I am awful at wanting/needing to stick to my original plans or else. Many of you may already have noticed this tendency. I embrace Eleanor's love of dresses, and I hope she holds onto this preference; she really does look adorable in all of them. But I also would like her to realize that shorts are not the enemy, and if her five favorite dresses are all dirty at the same time (which is more likely than someone who is not the parent of a toddler might think, due to the various viscous substances of our days such as spilled milk, pee, mud, paint, and more), I want her to be able to throw on a pair of shorts without it ruining her whole day. And then she can go back to the dresses tomorrow ... as long as doing a load of laundry was part of Mommy's plan for the day.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Vacation Maternity Clothes

I knew that, going on a week-long beach vacation at 5 months pregnant, I would have to break down and buy a maternity bathing suit. With Eleanor, I just avoided it. We don't do much swimming and I wasn't feeling more motivated to swim when I was super pregnant, so I just didn't.

That wasn't an option this time around. Even so, I put off buying one as long as I could. And then, of course, it was a disaster. Target carries maternity bathing suits, in theory, but in reality it was already almost mid-June and the stock was seriously depleted. There were a few where I liked the tankini top, but the bottoms just didn't exist. I don't understand. Where are all these women who bought bathing suit bottoms and not tops?!? And at the Target near my house, the maternity clothes are all mixed in with the plus sizes, which pisses me off. I'm gaining this weight for a specific reason, in a very specific part of my body. I'm pregnant, not fat! So I'd find a suit that I thought might work, but then it was plus-sized instead of maternity, and I'd put it back because I knew it wouldn't fit.

After that, I went to two other stores (Old Navy with a Maternity section—very hard to find— and Kohl's) neither of which sold maternity suits. It was Saturday afternoon, and we'd be leaving the following Friday. So I just bought a roomy tankini from Kohl's, a few sizes too big, and called it a day.

You notice that the posted picture is NOT of me in the maternity suit? It didn't work out that well. I had to put sunblock on my belly because the top kept riding up and exposing my belly button.

All of the other maternity clothes I got for the trip were cute. I especially like the flowy, navy blue-and-white striped sundress that is comfortable yet attractive. I've been wearing the rest of the clothes all the time since we got back. But the maternity bathing suit has been pushed into the back of a drawer, only to come out on very rare occasions.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Vacation Destructor

We've been back from vacation for just over a week now, but I guess my brain has a hard time catching up, because I'm just now blogging about it. And somehow, that short time lag is enough for me to get very nostalgic. Wasn't it great, that time we rented a beach house in the Outer Banks with Keith's extended family?!? That was probably the best vacation we've ever had! It was all sunshine and laughter, and nothing ever went wrong! Eleanor cooperated by always eating what we served, going to the beach or pool without a fight, cheerfully napping on schedule, and she definitely did NOT puke in the car on the way home.

That's not to say the vacation was the complete opposite of perfection. It really was one of the best vacations we've had. BUT we all still had our trying moments, because this is real life, and I find it fascinating how my memory refuses to remember those parts of vacation. Even only a week in the past, the minor irritations and disagreements are like footprints in the sand, being washed away by the tide ....

So anyway, that's not even the main point of my post. Or I guess the main point could fit under the general vacation theme of: Didn't See That Coming. We took a ton of beach toys, and were very excited to build elaborate sand castles with Eleanor. I mean, I understand she's only 2.9 years old, so these weren't going to be works of art. But I thought it would be fun to spend a lot of beach time digging in the sand and using our imagination, instead of always being in the water or sleeping/reading on a beach towel and not paying much attention to the beach itself. We didn't do many beachy vacations when I was a kid, so I didn't have much of a sand castle building phase. I was looking forward to reliving the youth I didn't have.

If any of you have thoughts like these about your toddler, be forewarned: They don't care about the castles. Only about destruction. To Eleanor, the very best thing about sand castles—sand anything—was destroying it. She didn't like the big waves, and she had no interest in building the castles and decorating them with seashells. But the minute I had put together a decent group of building, BAM!, Destructor arrived. With a gleeful grin, she would push, kick, and render obsolete anything we had built.

The mother in me was very happy to see her having such a good time. But the 7-year-old child in me pouted a little bit. After the first morning, I quickly set aside any dreams of careful building and focused on quantity over quality. Then I didn't mind so much when she effectively razed the ephemeral structures mere moments after their erection. She wasn't a good builder, but was an amazingly efficient Destructor, our little cherub!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Heading Back from Vacation

Continuing on with the email theme this week, we're currently driving back 12 hours from our beach vacation. We spent last week in the Outer Banks, sharing a beach house with Keith's extended family. You can expect lots of pictures and stories next week. I've been kind of paranoid about talking about it while it's been going on, because I read somewhere that it's a bad idea to go on Facebook and say, "I'm going to be away from home for two weeks! Someone could break in and steal all my stuff and I'd have no idea!" So instead, somehow this week I've been focused on email, and I'll relive our vacation next week. In the meantime, enjoy Keith's Shutterboo Weekly Photo Challenge entry for this week's topic of "shadow." You'll notice a theme with his sister's photo:
Week 24 - Shadow

And our sister-in-law's as well.

Speaking of email, this is the first time I've ever been so "connected" while on vacation. Usually, I'm a big fan of leaving the phone, computer, etc. at home and really getting a break from everything. This time, however, since I'm teaching an online class, that wasn't really an option. Instead, from day one, I've set up my desk away from home in this little kitchen nook and have been checking my email and keeping up with my class every day. I've gone from being anti-technology on vacation to being on the fence. I really like that I've been cleaning out my inbox and replying to messages throughout the week. This means that we won't get home at the end of a long drive, only to collapse on the couch and be confronted with an avalanche of emails&mash;ones I care about and many I don't—that I'll have to sort through. That's a nice feeling.

Add that to the fact that our beach house has a washer and dryer, and we're going to wash as many clothes as possible before the trip back so that's not a massive task when we arrive at home. I'm sure our return will be totally stress-free and the vacation will continue, right? Right?!?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Mistaken Email Identity

Speaking of email, there's another post I've been meaning to write about email. Keith's email address is a Google account, and it's just his first initial and last name. He's had it since we got married almost 7 years ago.

In the past couple years, however, he's started getting emails meant for other people. Two different women with the same first initial and last name. The first woman kept incorrectly putting in her own email address. So Keith got her airline ticket reservations confirmation email, for example, and some other communications that she might want to see. He tracked her down and forwarded the emails and gently suggested she learn how to type, and I don't think he's gotten anything else from her in a while.

Now there's a new woman on the scene. And we've learned that she is the grown daughter of a very prominent, national political figure. How do we know his? Because, of course, Keith has been getting all sorts of emails meant for her. Emails about planning fundraisers and other events, asking direct questions that need answers. My understanding is that it's not so much the woman's fault as that her cohorts can't be bothered to doublecheck the email address. The first few times it happened, Keith responded to the offender and told them, "I'm not her," but this time, it hasn't gone away. He just keeps getting more emails, including a couple from the prominent political figure himself. There's a tentative fundraising event on his Google calendar, from a mistaken email.

This is so weird for many reasons. First, why are so many people getting her email address wrong? I've never gotten any misdirected, personal emails like this. Now it happens to Keith twice?!?

Plus, if this woman is working as a full-time fundraiser for her father, why is she using her Gmail for all of this official email, anyway? Why are they sending anything to her Gmail in the first place? I'm pretty sure that she's the Director of some nonprofit related to her father's career .... so why is she using Gmail? There's a lot I like about Gmail for my personal account, but I still use my work account for work-related emails.

And finally, why do these people not notice that she's never replying to them? Or sometimes, her real email is on the CC list, as well as Keith's. So now that he's been included on a certain number of emails, are people thinking he needs to be kept in the loop and are intentionally emailing him directly?!?

If you see him mentioned by pundits as a major player in the upcoming Presidential campaign, you'll know why!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Do You Believe in Inbox Zero?

Why is it that there seems to be two distinct email personalities? And how much does the way a person deals with the email inbox translate to the rest of her life?

I myself am always striving for (but falling short of) Inbox Zero, as described in Getting Things Done. If an email is in my inbox, that means I need to do something about it. Therefore, whenever there's more than 10 emails in my inbox (a totally arbitrary number), it stresses me out. And once it gets upward of 20, the weight of the unreplied-to emails, and the related tasks they entail, hangs heavy on my shoulders. For example even though there's a million things to do to get ready for a trip, I still prioritize emptying my email inbox so I don't waste my vacation time worrying about it. I also archive my old emails very specifically. My Gmail has over 60 labels. When using Outlook, I have folders and subfolders. There's a place for everything, and everything in its place. As soon as possible!

So that's me. On the flipside, there's the inbox red giant contingent. They allow emails to accumulate in their inboxes until it expands to 250 times its normal size. Read emails, unread emails, important emails, junk .. it's all there, sitting in the inbox. They don't use folders or labels to move their emails out of their inboxes or keep track of them in any way. Or, if forced, they might have one or two folders called "2011" or "old emails" and throw everything into there.

Why do we have such disparate views on email maintenance? And can it be translated into other facets of our lives? One might assume a direct correlation between email chaos and chaos at home or at work, but I don't think that's really so clear cut. Many of the closet owners of a red giant inbox have very neat and tidy homes and offices. So why does technological clutter bother some of us, but not others? Is there partly a sense that it's not real because it's just on the screen, so it can be ignored more easily?

As you might see from the blurry image, most of what's cluttering up my inbox at the moment are blog comments that I need to reply to. Excuse me while I take care of that, before they number more than 10! The horror!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Clean Closets ... Messy Kitchen

I hate how, anytime we try to do "Spring Cleaning," the process never gets completed. A couple months ago, when Keith's parents were visiting we took the opportunity to clean out our closet. (I know! Our lives are so exciting!)

This was when I was first switching over to maternity clothes, and there definitely was NOT room in the closet for all of the regular clothes that don't fit me or I never wear for whatever reason, plus the clothes that usually do fit me, plus the influx of maternity clothes. So all of the too-small, too-old clothes had to go.

It was great! I love cleaning out closets and getting rid of things. And then, actually being able to find clothes that find in the new, much sparser collection! These are all the things I like about a cleaning project.

The problem is, we never actually get around to taking the cast-offs to Goodwill. Is it really that hard? I'm sure it's not, and we're just making it out to be much harder than it should be. So for months, we've had garbage bags of clothes. First they were in the guest bedroom. Then they moved to the kitchen. Two of the 4 bags even made it to the trunk of the car ... and now they're in the garage, because that trunk space was needed.

PLUS, I used Keith's car the other week and stopped by the grocery store. I popped open the trunk to load in the groceries ..... and found that it was stuffed full of crap I had completely forgotten about. From the LAST time we'd cleaned out some items to take to Goodwill. I can't even tell you how long ago that was. I'm pretty sure it was pre-Eleanor, so at least 3 years ago.

This is now on the top of my to-do list for the summer. Clean out rooms ... and actually get rid of the stuff, instead of just sticking it somewhere else!

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Kids Change You

Lately, in the back of my mind as I have "conversations" with Eleanor, I keep thinking, "Before having a child, I never in a million years would have thought these words would be coming out of my mouth."

Gems like:
  • "How many times have I told you?!? Stop licking the window!"
  • "Eleanor, stop. That is private, and Strawberry does not belong in a private place." (As Eleanor shoves her little Strawberry Shortcake doll down my shirt and into my bra.)
And many, many more....

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

After Hours

As a parent, I made a grave tactical error the other night.

Eleanor has been sleeping in the big girl bed (crib converted to toddler bed) since Christmas time. In the past few months, she's also convinced us to leave the door open at night so she can get out of bed and go to the bathroom. To be fair, overall the ratio of bathroom trips to unnecessary, putting-off-bed trips has so far been in favor of actual bathroom usage.

However, lately the unnecessary trips have been increasing, and we've spent more times going upstairs and sternly sending her back to bed. I've spent a lot of time trying to convince her that we are really, really, really boring after she goes to bed. We don't talk about anything exciting, or watch Sesame Street, or eat ice cream and popsicles. (Those last two do happen, but don't tell her.) "Honestly," I say, "most of the time we just fall asleep on the couch. You're not missing out on anything!" Yet she remains a skeptic.

This Friday, we're leaving for a week-long beach vacation with Keith's extended family in the Outer Banks. The plan is to leave late on Friday and drive through the night. I'm confident that part 1 of the plan (leaving and driving) will happen. I'm not so confident that part 2—Eleanor sleeps most of the way—will. That's the hope, but of course we're preparing an entertainment extravaganza, should it be needed. Lots of books and toys, and particularly books with accompanying audio CDs. She's been big into those lately, which has been fantastic because I can't read in the car for more than 5 words before I get carsick. Eleanor thinks this is a lame excuse, and complains about my ineptitude quite often on any car trip longer than 15 minutes when I'm not driving. Because if I'm not driving, my job is to entertain her. And if I can't read in the car? FAIL.

So, I've also decided to take some of her favorite books and record myself reading the stories, and load the recordings onto the iPod. Brilliant! So I can "read" during the trip, while simultaneously sleeping and avoiding car sickness. A good idea, poorly executed. I decided to try this out the other night, mere minutes after I put her to bed. The inevitable result? She pitter patters to the top of the stairs, and hears me reading fairy tales out loud after she's already in bed. She always KNEW we did fun things after she was in bed, and now she had proof!

I heard Eleanor gasp from the top of the stairs, and could picture her flapping her hands (Eleanor's preferred body language for Excited!) and then she thundered down the stairs. I stopped recording long enough to get her settled on the couch next to me and tell her to be quiet and she was going right to bed after this story. To top it off, my computer froze in the middle of the recording so I lost everything I had done AND I still had to finish the story and send her back up to bed. I tried to explain that I don't really read her stories every night after she goes to bed, but there's no way that she believed me.

And then hours later, when I was absolutely certain she (and Keith) were asleep, I opened to the first page of The Cat in the Hat and whispered to myself,
"The sun did not shine.
It was too wet to play.
So we sat in the house
All that cold, cold wet day..."

Monday, June 06, 2011

Hunkered down in the virtual classroom

Okay, so I've made it through my first week of online teaching. I was feeling pretty good on Thursday morning. Tired, from many late nights on the computer, but good. I was through with the initial launching of the class phase, and should be into the regular maintenance phase. The workload would become so much more reasonable!

By Thursday night, my feelings of well-being had worn off. We're going on vacation this Friday to the Outer Banks for a week. This will be wonderful, and I'm really looking forward to it ... except last Thursday night, I sat down and took a look at all of the assignments, lectures, quizzes, etc. that I'll have to prepare before we leave. It's even worse than my original To Do list. It was so depressing.

I feel like I'm getting a glimpse of why online classes, particularly during the summer, can be a very bad idea for students. They like the idea of fitting in class on their schedule, around all of their other activities. But do they (or I!) realize how much work it entails when we're unwilling to spend time in the classroom. When we insist on fitting in class around everything else that we'd rather be doing, or need to be doing, it will most likely necessitate late nights and long, working weekends.

I'm going to be fine. I'll complain a lot about how tough my life is, and how much work I have to do, but I will get it done. I'm sure that some of my students will, too. And I'm just as certain that some of them won't. I already have 4 students who have never signed in to the class (keeping in mind that we've already completed 3 assignments, and 1 of 10 weeks in the class). Two others have signed in once, but not actually completed any work. I'm sure there's a few others who may be involved now, but will drop off as the reading and writing piles up and there's so many other activities going on.

Or maybe the students will be like me, and keep fooling themselves into thinking that it's going to get easier any minute. I told myself it would get easier after the class started, and that didn't quite come to pass. But now I'm convinced that, once this week is over and we're on vacation, it will get better. By the end of this week I'll have 5 of the 10 weeks completely finished. And, of the remaining 5 weeks, 3 will be focused on a novel that I've taught in the past and have a lot of material for. So it will all be a breeze for the second half of the semester, right? Right. Let's stick with that, for now!