party like you were born in 1928

My smallest and most talkative travel buddy and I returned very late last night for a quick trip home for Grandma’s 95th birthday.

It seems like two months ago we were celebrating her 90th birthday; now she’s five years from 100. After her horrible summer in and out of the ICU and months in rehab, we didn’t think she’d make it, but she’s still alive and as funny as ever. She can barely hear which makes conversations even funnier, but she loves to chat and piece together what she can hear. All 6 children, most of the grandchildren, and 6 of the 10 great-grandchildren were in town. She was as thrilled as could be with each new person who came through the door. She told Carol she “didn’t want a party but she did want to be celebrated.” She didn’t know we had planned a surprise gathering with her old lady friends (“the young girls” since they’re mostly in their 80s), cousins she seldom sees, and friends from church. Her little brother planned on coming from Maine but sadly had to cancel the day of due to a cold. She didn’t know he was coming so she wasn’t disappointed. She probably would have forgotten anyway as she has the short-term memory of a gnat. She takes naps every two hours or less, but that extrovert and her walker held court for hours with her guests. She was so happy. It made me so happy to see her surrounded by everyone she loves.

Instead of gifts, Grandma asked for donations to the food pantry she volunteers at. My contribution was the healthy and organic snack she and I like to eat when we play cards.

Nick, Molly, and I left the party to pick up soda. Nick drove us and Molly sat in the passenger seat complaining about applying for college. I never feel so old as when the children I used to babysit are doing adult things. I changed those kids’ diapers and carried them around for hours upon hours. For years, my entire life revolved around when I’d get to play with then babysit them and Zack. Now all three are taller than me. I knew I should have put heavier bricks on their heads to stop the growth!

The night we arrived in Massachusetts, AB went to Grammy’s house and I stayed at a hotel for the night. Alone! A hotel all to myself! No one but me! Elizabeth and Erika orchestrated it for my Christmas gift and it was delightful. I ordered room service and ate pasta and pie on the bed. I had brunch at 11:30 like a rich lady without a care in the world. When she saw I was eating alone, the waitress gave me a 14-page double-sided informational printout about the history of the hotel and restaurant. I learned so much. I never learn anything when I eat at Olive Garden. The Kennedys often stayed at that hotel and I ate at the table where they got engaged. I too got engaged at a restaurant so I can only assume the trajectory of my life will be the same. Vote for me as First Lady in the election of 2032!

We had the briefest Aunt Camp in history- a one-night sleepover on Saturday. Annabelle had a tough time in general when we visited Massachusetts in the summer and that Aunt Camp was not the most successful. I was worried about how she’d do on this trip, but thanks to lots of prayers it went so smoothly. The girls disappeared into the basement and wrote a three-scene play we were all forced invited to attend. Oliver is the cutest little boy you’ve ever seen. He’s so precious. He doesn’t talk much, but that doesn’t stop me from repeatedly asking him, “Can you say Auntie Sarah? Do you remember my name? It’s Auntie Sarah! Can you say it? Don’t you want to try? I’m your favorite aunt! Auntie Sarah!” to which he responds with a firetruck noise and points to whatever food is within sight. We’ll keep working on it for summer Aunt Camp.

angels come in all varieties

I currently have both apple butter and pot roast cooking in my kitchen. If ever there is a time I feel like Betty Crocker, it’s when I have pots bubbling on the stove.

Suddenly it’s December 5th. I’m not sure how that happened but here we are. I’ve been getting snail mail and emails saying “Last minute deals for your last-minute gifts!” in a very bold and panicked font. It’s 20 days until Christmas. I don’t consider that last minute. I’m never in a rush to finish shopping by December 1st. I spend all year making notes and gearing up for the gift-giving season. I consider birthday gifts throughout the year to be warm-up for the Iron Man marathon of Christmas time. I live for this time of year. Don’t be telling me I have mere minutes to wrap up my shopping! 

I finished up my Christmas cards last night. I plan out the card in my head for several months and spend many an afternoon perfecting it. This year’s card is not my shining glory. It’s fine but I could have made it better. Christopher and Elizabeth both told me it’s good but my inner perfectionist was screaming it was borderline boring and blah.

The house decorating has been a little rocky. There’s a stack of fake greenery, little village houses and fake berries in the corner of the living room. I’m trying so hard to get everything put together, but I feel a little less Christmasy this year because I was so hoping to buy a stocking for baby Elliot but now I can’t. We put our fake tree up on Sunday and Lucy climbed to the top of it and knock the angel off. Her weight, slim though she is despite all the food she sneaks, is bending and breaking some of the fake limbs. I spent part of the afternoon twisting together pipe cleaners that look like greenery and jerry-rigging the tree back together. 

I do love how the mantle turned out. The lights from the mantle and the lights from the tree make the whole living room glow. 

Speaking of Christmas and winter, while my family up north are shoveling snow off their cars, we FINALLY have enough leaves to jump in. AB insisted upon bringing her wooden chair out and jumping off it into the leaves.

 When you can’t make snow angels you make leaf angels. 

welcome to season 3

Several weeks ago, we watched the movie We Bought A Zoo. Naturally, Annabelle asked us to buy a zoo which we won’t unless Matt Damon shows up to run it like he did in the movie, but we did buy a house. 

It was all recorded on season 3 of our hit show Keep It or Kick It. This season finds us visiting a home while the owners were there packing for vacation. Don’t mind us! We’re going to inspect your master bathroom while you fold bras on your bed. We visit a home with a very large, very aggressive dog that the owners didn’t bother telling us would be on the porch. We visit a home with a “live, laugh, poop” vinyl in the bathroom. 

For those keeping track at home (and who isn’t?), this will be the eighth home in our eight years of marriage. A quick calculation shows that somewhere near 7,000 boxes have been packed and unpacked, 4 miles of packing paper and bubble wrap used, and countless amounts of stress food consumed.

It’s no secret that I moved here with what could be called a less-than-stellar attitude. I DID NOT want to leave New York and move to what has accurately been called “the armpit of the south.” Among the plethora of reasons I didn’t want to leave was I didn’t want to physically pack up and move. It’s so much work and I’m so tired of doing it. When we moved to our current rental home, I assumed we’d be here for several years. After a year, we became increasingly frustrated with the house and it’s poor construction and decided to move before the end of the year. Things fall off the walls. Mold started growing on the ceilings after the hurricane in October and it hasn’t stopped. No wonder I get headaches! The landlords did nothing for the mold other than spray paint over it. I’m no mold remediation specialist, but I know that’s not the proper way to deal with it. If we’re going to live in a location we wouldn’t choose, being in a less stressful home would make it easier. Not to mention that mice have recently decided to become our roommates. They don’t help pay rent, but they eat all our food. The entire pantry had to be cleaned out and now our food is on the built-in shelves in the kitchen for everyone to see. It looks like we’re running a grocery store in here. Need Planters cashews? Shelf 4. Two kinds of cereal? Look no further than shelf 2.

As soon as we decided to buy I went straight to second-guessing the decision. What if we bought a house we ended up hating? Why would we give up a landlord who would use their own money to replace the broken ac system? Why can’t we go back to my favorite house on earth where the Jim’s were landlords sent straight from heaven? We looked at over 15 houses in two weeks. At first, it was fun. I love poking around houses and opening closets! It’s fun to think about how I’d decorate the different rooms. After a while, it got discouraging because nothing was quite right. It’s the first home we’ve bought and I’ve been so worried about buyers remorse. I fell in love with one particular house that needed a good bit of construction. Christopher liked a different one that I thought was blah, but it was cheaper and needed less remodeling. I was so conflicted about what to do I asked our long-suffering realtor to help. She hadn’t given her personal opinion until that point, but she sided with Christopher. That sent us back to square one.

We had pretty much decided to take a break from looking when we found out about a house that wasn’t on the market yet. We had seen pictures online from the last time it sold and several of the rooms had wallpaper and much of it needed updating. I’m not at all against putting in the work to paint and upgrade, but I didn’t want to buy a house with a laundry list of items that we wouldn’t complete for the next 10 years. When we got there, we saw that the current owners had done all the hard work of taking down the wallpaper, fixing the deck and most of the other issues. It’s such a pretty house and the backyard is perfect for playing. It has a real driveway and is in a real neighborhood which is such a positive change from where we are now. We live on a 55mph road with a long rocky dirt driveway. There’s nowhere for AB to ride her bike or play chalk. We haven’t had any issues with our neighbors, but they have people in and out at all hours so I have to keep an eye on AB every time she plays outside because of how our yards are oriented. I’m sure she’s perfectly fine, but it makes me nervous. It will be so fun for her to play in a shaded yard with a fence. Her little friend Sammy lives in the same neighborhood so she already has a playmate. I’m so excited to have a fireplace mantle again and start decorating. Christopher will have a dedicated area for his woodworking tools which means no more sawdust in the house. It does have a frog doorknocker which will obviously be burnt to the ground as soon as we’re handed the keys.

In the meantime, this is the current state of my house. It is the sanctuary of peace and tranquility I always strive to give my family. 

I tried to organize and I made things worse.

Each move has gotten hard when it comes to Sesame. Back in the day, I could power pack while she napped. These days she’s constantly asking if I’ll play pioneer or make crafts with her. I feel bad that I can’t play with her as much as normal but I have to get things done. I have normal daily life to keep up with on top of packing and I can’t do it all. I try to give her jobs she can help with so she can work near me. She packed most of her toys, ripped up old bills and sorted the tupperware containers. It’s important that she be a contributing member of the family, not just someone who eats a lot of snacks and has a fabulous wardrobe.
Speaking of noncontributors, the cats are not pulling their weight around here. All they do is sit in boxes I’m trying to pack.

 Then they have the audacity to take several naps a day after all that nothing.

The man who will be moving the furniture came by to give an estimate. His name is Jazzy which brings me joy every time I think of it. I told him the hutch is my pride and joy, second only to my child and I wasn’t kidding. I have lugged it up and down the east coast and will continue to do so until I die.

I’ve spent less time in the new house than I spend in the checkout line during an average visit to Walmart, but I’m hoping it will be the perfect spot for us. If not, season 4 of Keep It or Kick It might be happening sooner than expected. 

north for the winter

By the 4th of this month, we had 1,212 travel miles under our belt. Annabelle settled back with her snack like she’s done this flight seven times before. 

When we arrived in Massachusetts, Annabelle shivered and said, “Mama, it’s so shakey (chilly) here!” We’ve been in the south too long! As if her reaction to the completely normal winter weather wasn’t proof enough, she used “y’all” in a sentence for the first time today. My attempts at northern indoctrination have not been strong enough. At least she likes snow.

Erika told us about a store “that sells plants and succulents.” What an understatement. It was a lush garden created in an old warehouse. Plants were everywhere. Taxidermy animals were around every corner. There were shells, gemstones, rugs and decor. Everything had a hefty price tag. Annabelle walked in and immediately knocked over a squirrel. I thought we would be kicked out immediately.
“I give the bear kisses!”
AB and Ivy are better friends than ever. Each visit the age gap gets smaller and they play together more and more. We had a mini Aunt Camp and at one point Erika and I were in the living room drinking coffee and the little girls were upstairs playing by themselves. We didn’t have anyone in diapers or on a 3-hour feeding schedule. It was wonderful.
Annabelle was happy to help, aka supervise and take over, as Ivy opened a gift. She confidently told Christopher, “I’m going to babysit Baby Ivy. I babysitted Brennyn so I know how to babysit Ivy.”

I was able to see both Autumn and Ivy on this visit. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to visit at the same time, but they were both willing to drive up to Mom’s new house for short visits. Autumn and I had been planning a trip to Primark for weeks. When we arrived at the mall, Autumn drove around the parking lot repeating, “I don’t know where the parking garage went! It was here last time I was here! How can a parking garage disappear?!” Because we were at the wrong mall, that’s how. We intended to go to the Banks Mall but ended up at the Brooks Mall. I’m glad to report I was not the navigator so I was not the reason we were lost. 

Grandma’s 91st birthday is Tuesday but we celebrated her today. I loved seeing all my relatives. Grandma collects snowglobes so Annabelle made her a plastic one. Naturally, AB helped unwrap it and gave a steady stream of comments about it. She also prepared a birthday song, birthday speech and birthday prayer for Grandma but she didn’t have the time or audience to perform them yet. 
I hope I can be half the woman that Grandma is.

they called it tornado Christopher

Someone is currently banging on our house. Annabelle told me there was a knock at the door but when I checked, no one was there. It’s either someone here to fix the siding loosened in the hurricane two months ago (because our landlords are not on top of things) or someone is using a sledgehammer to break through the brick exterior and come to murder us. I’d like to thank true crime podcasts for putting that last thought into my head.

If I never finish this post it’s because the latter came true. 

Most of Saturday was dark and rainy. We have a yearly tradition of drinking apple cider while we drive around leaf peeping. There are almost no leaves to peep, but we got the cider anyway. I’m not a big Starbucks person but their caramel apple spice is delicious. Who can be a big Starbucks person when you practically have to sell a liver to get a drink there? 

While we were out we went to a Christmas tree lot worthy of the most beloved Hallmark movies. Or maybe we went to our storage unit and dug our fake tree out of the dark recesses of the back. Setting up the first of our trees happened in a very calm and soothing environment.

We only got the lights and angel on that night but I thought it looked so pretty. I think lights can be almost as pretty as a tree full of decorations.

It continued to pour and thunder for the rest of the day and into the night. All night long our phones went off with alarms from the national weather bureau. Flash flood warnings, tornado watch, and finally a tornado warning. I ignored the first message that came through about taking shelter. I didn’t feel like getting out of bed and honestly, I thought it might be overkill to find shelter. Christopher was asleep on the couch and all our phones were in our room so he had no idea what was happening. A few hours later he came to bed and the tornado warning blared again. He made us get up and bunk down in the bathroom. When he brought AB in the bathroom, she looked around at the room and the pile of blankets to sleep on and said, “Well, this is weird.” I agree, sister. It is weird to be laying between your parents on your bathroom floor. Christopher left the room to get pillows and when he came back, he couldn’t open the door fully because of all the blankets on the floor. I was sitting closest to the door and started to move the blankets out of the way. He lost his balance trying to squeeze through and grabbed on to the towel rack about my head to steady himself. The rack ripped out of the wall and he landed ON MY FACE then fell into the tub. My nose started bleeding. I crawled over to the toilet paper while my head tipped back, blood dripping down. Christopher got himself out of the tub. Annabelle sat with her blanket wondering what was going on. In the end, it was Christopher who caused the most damage during the storm. 

my hurricane experience in great detail, weather or not you want to read about it


We’re alive and came out on the other side of the hurricane only slightly worse for the wear.

We knew the storm would hit sometime Wednesday so I spent most of Tuesday preparing and debating whether to evacuate or not. If I didn’t have Annabelle to worry about I would have stayed without much thought, but they were predicting the power would be out for days and that can be miserable with a 4-year-old. Had the powers that be announced we needed to evacuate it would have helped. It was being in the middle and having to decide for myself that I didn’t like. I’m a rule follower and like being pointed in the right direction. You say evacuate and I ask how far. I was worried leaving would make me a wimpy northerner. I was worried staying would make me irresponsible. After several phone calls with my mother in law and more texts with my advisory group, we ended up staying. Immediately after making the decision I second guessed it and yes, it is very exhausting to me in my head.  

I did all the laundry in the house, filled up the tubs, cleared out the closet to use as a tornado shelter and got out every candle we owned. I stocked up on nonperishables and water bottles. Christopher did the same and brought home more food than we eat in three weeks. We still have so many packages of lunch meat and loaves of bread we could feed the county for months. Most important, we had hurricane chips and chocolates to see us through. We were as prepared as we could be.

Watching the storm roll in with a snack in hand.

It started raining around supper time. By the time 8 o’clock rolled around the wind was howling and things were banging around. I HATED that it happened at night. Not only did I want to see what was being damaged, I wanted to fully experience my first hurricane. I could see nothing but darkness. The power kept going in and out so we lit all our scented candles and the house smelled like the little perfume stores at the mall. When the power went out for good we went to bad. At that time Annabelle decided it was too scary in her room so we brought her mattress into our room. She had the beginnings of a cold so she sniffled and snuffled all night. Christopher snored all night. I was as fresh as a drowned mouse the next morning.

We had some siding off and branches in the yard but we didn’t have one bit of real damage. We were so very fortunate. The neighbor’s side yard and our backyard are the same piece of land and they had several trees down as well as a few broken windows. All around us homes and cars are damaged and wires are down. It will take some people months to recover. We prepared to be without power for days but ours came back on within 20 hours. Several friends didn’t get power back until yesterday. I think God went easy on us because we’ve already had a tough year.

Due to our status as one of the only families in our friend group with power, we issued an open invitation for anyone to come to take showers. On Sunday we went to church and helped serve dinner. Not many people showed up but I’m glad we tried to help. 

All in all, we had some siding down, some branches to clean up and a few extra wrinkles and gray hairs from stress.