Sunday, September 28, 2008

Oregon wildlife...definitely NOT at its finest

(For the record, I didn't take that picture, as beautiful as it is. But it was taken not far from where we live. Pretty huh?)

The early morning hours in Oregon are without a doubt, absolutely stunning to behold. There is something about the way the sun comes up over the hills, stretching fingers of light down to us mere mortals here on the ground. If you stand outside and wait for it, you feel as if one minute you are staring out into nothingness, barely able to distinguish the rocky textures of the hills from the inky blackness of the sky and then all of a sudden, after what feels like the briefest hesitation, it's morning.

I should know. For almost a month now, I've been one of a dozen bleary-eyed parents who shuffle their kids to the big yellow bus to catch their six-fifteen ride to school every morning.

No, you read right. Six fifteen. As in the number after five, but before seven. Is that hideous or what? But such is the price we pay for wanting to send our kid to the local charter school I suppose. However as usual, I digress...

When Skippy forwarded me his flight itinerary for his next business trip for The Goog, I was surprised to see that he was flying out at 7:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning. I mean, if you know my husband.....(God love him) you know he's less than chipper in the early dawn hours. In fact, he can be a downright ogre. A scary one. But hey, as long as I got to stay snug and cozy in bed until the kids chased me out demanding cereal and orange juice before they staaaaa-rved somewhere around nine a.m., I figured it made no difference whatsoever what time Skippy hit the road for PDX. And after all, everyone should get to experience a gorgeous Oregon sunrise every so often.

That is to say, everyone except the deer who shared the freeway with my husband this morning.


As you can see, our beloved Grand Prix took a hell of a beating in the early morning hours today. One second, my travelin' man was giving me a kiss goodbye that was barely registered through the haze of sleep, and seconds later (or so it seemed) he's standing in the doorway of our bedroom, back lit by the glaring hall light, waking me with a shaking voice and impossibly, telling me that he hit two deer on his way to the airport. And the car...let's just say it looked better when I got my first glimpse of it, before those all too eager rays of morning sunlight showed me the true extent of the damage.

A part of me is deeply angry. Skippy and I have been working very hard to build our life out here with our family. We've struggled a bit here and there, and we have been slowly but surely chipping away at a few old medical debts and Skippy's somewhat intimidating student loans. We've been happy with our progress. After all, it's all just a part of the great financial circle of life (cue African music) where we take a deep breath and remind ourselves that without the loans, Skippy would have no degree and with no degree, he might not have his job at Google and without his job at Google...well who knows where we'd be. But we know that WITH the job at Google, we have started to build an amazing life here raising our totally awesome kids and as far as fate is concerned, that's good enough in my book.

So yeah. We've sacrificed a lot to achieve these baby steps and in the process, we even managed to add a minivan into the fray. Some months we've come out ahead and some months we've gotten caught treading water but month after month, we've made it. Our very last *big* student loan payment is looming on the horizon, the one we have to make before we can get a much much lower plan in place and get some wiggle room back into our lives...

And then Bambi decided to hang out on Interstate 84 this morning, with three of her BFF deerfriends, hidden around a bend in the freeway that had no hope of giving my husband a glance at the danger ahead. And then our car got totalled.

You bet I'm angry. And frustrated. If we're being totally honest, I'm just plain pissed off.


My husband is unhurt. He is a little stiff and sore but otherwise, he is unharmed. Two of the deer...they weren't so lucky and for that I'm sorry, but more than anything I am so incredibly and blessedly THANKFUL that my husband was not hurt this morning.

Life has a funny way of giving you some perspective in the form of a swift kick in the tush. As they say, "Man plans...God laughs." And in my heart of hearts, I know that this is just another bump in the road. It's not the first and it sure as hell won't be the last. And when Skippy gets back from this trip we'll get the car looked at and we'll talk to the insurance company again and we will see where we go from here. Maybe we'll buy something new. Or used. Maybe we'll sit tight for a few months. Or we'll buy a moped. Or a damn skateboard.

Right now, I don't completely know what we'll do. But we'll figure it out together.

Just like we always do.

Thanks for all of the good thoughts. And Skippy, I love you.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The end? Yes! Yes the end!

I know. I know, I know, I KNOW!!!

Y'all have lost complete faith in my haven't you? I have been a complete and utter failure about my blogging for the last oh....three months or so. I mean, since Chicago we have gone to pick blueberries and started school and gotten into soccer and who knows what else and I haven't been able to talk about ANY of it, all because I was too busy in Chi-town to keep my blog updated.

So in the words of my loving husband, "No more multi-part blogs babe. You suck at them."

In all honestly, I've been putting off the last Chicago blog because it has actually been really difficult to put that whole trip into words. We had such a wonderful time and did so many different things, and I really wanted to do it all justice and there never seemed to be adequate time to do that. But after being home for over a month and a half, I steeled myself to the task this morning and realized that I absolutely had to finish this. Plus, who wants to do laundry anyway?

After the BBQ at Bernie and Jeff's house, we really only had two more big events left that we squeezed into our agenda in between all of the visiting and running around and swimming and health-clubbing. They really capped off our trip beautifully.

First, we took the girls to Country Thunder USA to see their favorite band, Sugarland. Then, the kids and I went to the zoo with some of my cousins. It was yet another exhausting weekend, but also some of the most fun I can ever remember having.

Country Thunder is a huge Country Music Festival that takes place every July during the dog days of summer up in Twin Lakes, Wisconsin. Mom and I first went (with Jax) about seven years ago I think. It is an absolute blast - hotter than hell, with cowboys and bikini-top clad country fans EVERYWHERE. You eat a bunch of junk, you drink too much, and you rock it out all day and all night to your favorite acts. And the timing couldn't be better this year, with Sugarland headlining because not only are they one of my favorite groups, but the girls just love them.

So after leaving Chunk in the care of Jax, Sarah, and Jack, we trekked up to Twin Lakes early on Friday morning, checked into our hotel, grabbed some lunch, and then prepared to introduce the girls to the country concert experience, Country Thunder Style. We spent the day wandering around and having all sorts of fun.

We bought water guns.

We tried on hats.

We took a picture of the kids with Waylon Jennings......wait. That's not him. That's cardboard. But it looks creepily LIKE him doesn't it?

And eventually we ate some dinner and then settled back into our lawnchairs to await the headlining act!

Finally, much later that night after a day spent in the sweltering sun with two impatient little girls, Sugarland hit the stage. I'm not sure what Banana and Kbear were really expecting until the lights and the sound cranked up and they both realized that it was REALLY them, right there where they could see them play and sing. By the time it all really started to rock, my girls were t-i-r-e-d but also completely enchanted. We danced and we sang, and Mom and I put them up on our shoulders so that they could see and it was honestly one of the best experiences I've ever had with my girls and my Mom, and I think it's something that all of us will remember for a long time.

Once the show finally wound down (sometime after 11:30 I think!) we made the long trek back to the car and then back to our hotel. The girls were completely exhausted and it didn't take much to slip their dusty little shoes off of their sweaty little feet and put them to bed. It took even less time for me to put myself to bed, where I promptly passed out until breakfast the next morning. After a quick swim in the hotel pool, we said good-bye to Mom (who was heading back for day two!) and made our way back to Oswego, to Mom's house, and to the Chunker, who took very good care of Jack while we were gone.

You would think that would be enough for one weekend - taking the girls to their first country concert and all. You would THINK....until my cousin Erin called and demanded that we make our talk of the zoo a reality. This zoo business was serious stuff. I mean, Erin had called me from the airport when she was waiting to go on her honeymoon to make sure we were still going to find the time to go. That's serious zoo business man. So after a mere 24 hours to recuperate from our Country Thunder extravaganza, complete with dinner at IHOP with Jack and a night spent snug in our beds at Nana's house, we hopped a train (as seen in the picture) into the city for a day at Brookfield with three of my favorite cousins, Erin (and new hubby Jon), Aileen, and Jill.

The kids LOVED taking the train. They sat down on the bottom and they sat up on top and they made new friends and had a snack and all sorts of exciting fun. Chunker enjoyed looking out the window and managed to completely (and foully) fill his diaper while contemplating the scenery, which gave *me* a new experience - changing a wiggly baby's diaper and clothes on a moving train. So it was a new endeavor for us all! After we finally disembarked at the zoo stop and tracked down Erin, Jon, Aileen, and Jill we slathered on the sunscreen and prepared to do battle with Brookfield in the heat.

Brookfield Zoo is spectacular. And it's HUGE. If you ever have a chance to go when you're in the Chicago area, you really should because as far as zoos go it's totally awesome. We played on the playground and had a picnic lunch and saw about a million animals - I couldn't even begin to list everything we did -- and we barely scratched the surface of the zoo grounds! But we walked and walked and WALKED and had the most fantastic time. I pretty much grew up with my Collins cousins and even though I love all of my cousins (there are 18 on my Dad's side plus another handful on my Mom's) the Collins kids were the ones we spent the most time with growing up so I think we are especially close. And since all of us can remember days spent at the zoo as part of big extended family visits, I think it was really special to us to share a day there together with my kids.

The quote of the day from the zoo comes from Kbear. I stayed outside with Chunker while the rest of the gang made the long and humid trip through the Ape House. After Chunk and I had a snack and shared a bottle of water, we decided to go wait for the rest of our group at the exit of the exhibit. As we walked up, everyone else was walking out and when Kbear saw me, she ran over to us, yelling "MOM! WE WENT TO AFRICA!" Cute huh?

The zoo was really just the icing on the cake. It made me realize that no matter how far away I move with Skippy and the kids, I will always have an amazing bond with my family - not just my mom and my brother and sister, but also with my extended family who gives us the most incredible love and support. It brought back a ton of memories from when I was a kid, and it was something special to share with my munchkins. Jill took a million pictures with Erin's awesome new camera, and you can see those here:

After the zoo we were officially in the home stretch. During that last week we went and visited with my grandparents (my Dad's folks) and we swam a bit and hung out with Jacquie a bit, and just kind of tried to savor the last few days of our trip. A pesky toothache hit me mid-week with kind of put a damper on things (I cried to Skippy that it hurt so bad, I'd rather be in labor!) but with the help of some super pharmaceuticals I slogged through it. One of the best things we did was to take my Mom to have her picture taken with my kids. We got everyone decked out in Cubs gear and got some stellar professional shots taken - it was the perfect way to end our vacation - with an awesome picture to add to our memories.

And all of a sudden, just like that it was all over. On that last Saturday we went out to breakfast with Mom, Jack, and Jacquie and started the tough process of saying goodbyes. Mom drove us to Midway where they got even harder but somehow, we managed to finally walk through security with a teary-eyed Nana waving and watching us go. And finally, after a 12 hour travel day, complete with two planes, snacks, playdoh, a movie, tired kids, and a Salt Lake City layover, we landed in Portland late that night. I was so excited to see Skippy that I actually had butterflies! And despite the wonderful, amazing, busy, action packed vacation in Chicago that we spent with some of the people I love more than anything in the world, when Skippy walked up to us in that airport and the girls squealed with delight and the Chunker reached out his chubby arms to Daddy and I finally got my kiss, I realized that I was really and truly back home.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

I'm in trouble.....Mom's going to ground me

Every time I talk to my mother or email my mother or think about my mother, the same question pops into my mind - "Amy...Have you blogged YET?"

*sigh* No. I haven't blogged recently. I have been insanely busy. Exhausting-gonna-drop-any-second-busy. The hubby has been in and out of town. I've been under a mountain of laundry. We have officially wound down our summer vacation and we're knee deep into soccer for both girls and every time I turn my back to try to make something to eat or get some laundry or PEE my son is trying to climb on top of the dining room table. School has started! We're BUSY!

So again, shame on me for not blogging all about Chicago when it was happening. I was busy then too dang it. I'm a busy girl!

Here we go - the second half of my tenth grade essay, "What I Did On Summer Vacation"

After Erin's wedding things settled down a little bit. No much - just enough to let us catch our breath a bit. Erin and Jon's wedding was one of the major highlights of our vacation - after all, it was the reason the trip got planned in the first place! So once it was over, we could kind of slow down and move onto other things. Kind of.

I don't know if I've mentioned the gym yet. Or the pool. *drool* Both were absolutely rockin' and pretty much made our trip complete. One of the best perks of working at the hospital is the free membership that mom gets to the most fantastically awesome health club I've ever been sweaty in, and she was wonderful enough to get me and the kids a temporary membership for the month we were there. Seriously, the place is amazing. It's beautiful first of all. And it has these huge family changing rooms that don't smell like old sweat socks, with big fluffy towels and kid friendly showers stocked with everything you need. And if you don't have your kids with you, you can use the awesome women's locker room, which has everything from a whirlpool to all of your shower essentials to lemon water to these awesome towels that you can wrap all the way around your body. And around your head. And you can take an extra to stand on. And you don't have to feel guilty about any of it!

But the best part of the gym was the kids' club. Every day the girls could go to "Discovery Club" which was run by a few full-time staffers and a handful of really sweet and fun and incredibly energetic college kids. Every day they played games indoors and out, used the rock climbing wall, went swimming, did crafts, and more. And the best part is that it was included in a membership and they could stay for up to three hours every day. And........get this.......I could LEAVE THE BUILDING.

I mean, seriously.....they told me that and I was GONE - down the block GONE. I adore my kids but they had way more fun at Discovery club than they did with me and it gave me some much needed time off.

On days we didn't go the gym (or sometimes after the gym) we would go to the pool (That's Banana in the picture, personally I think she may have a future as a Hawaiian Tropic model). My sister works for the park district now and was able to wrangle pool passes for all four of us. This is the same community pool that I used to take Tom and Sarah to when we were younger and had to ride our bikes all summer long. Back then it was basically a big concrete hole in the ground full of water. But in the past eight million years since I've last been there, they have done some major renovations. Now there is a fantastic kids' section complete with fountains and a sand area and a zero-depth entry on three sides, where they can splash and play and have a blast in like, eight inches of water. They took the diving boards away and put in three water slides and added new seating and a new snack bar and we wasted about a trillion hours just lazing it away in the sun. It was bliss.

And in between all of those visits to the gym and trips to the pool, we did a bunch more stuff.

First of all....we went to the mall. I don't know if I mentioned that before, but we went to the REAL mall. Like, one that is only 20 minutes away that I don't have to drive through a national landmark to get to. So that was cool. We went out to eat with friends and we rented movies, and again people - we went to the MALL. My girlfriends here were all very jealous. I went to Target too. Like, lots and lots and lots of times. And to Super WalMart PAST 10:00 at night. That may be par for the course in good old Illinois but out here in Oregon that's crazy talk. So yeah. Boo-ya.

We did some other stuff too. The day after Erin's wedding, some of our closest friends from college celebrated their little girls' first birthday and it was awesome to be able to attend her party. We miss all of our friends so much sometimes and they have all always been so fantastic to us since we started having babies, so it was wonderful to be able to share their milestone with them. Happy Birthday again Addie!

At that party I had a chance to reconnect with a ton of our other friends from college and thanks to Bernie and Jeff's generosity, we planned a somewhat impromptu BBQ for the following weekend. I knew that Mom and Jack had another wedding to attend so it seemed like a great opportunity to hang out with some of our old friends. There was a ton of food and Guitar Hero (being played by my best friend Seth and godson Jacob in the picture) and there were little kids EVERYWHERE - that's what happens when everyone grows up - they procreate. But once the night got rolling, there was no stopping it - when Banana finally tracked me down (sitting in the dining room talking about who knows what with all my girlfriends) and told me that she was tired and ready for bed, I was shocked to look at my watch and realize it was almost midnight! So we stuffed them all back into Mom's truck and headed home, but it had been a seriously awesome night. A HUGE thanks again to Berns and Jeff for opening up their house, and to everyone who took time out of their weekend to come hang out. It was almost like the "old days."

I woke up the day after Bernie's party in a little bit of a panic. All of a sudden I was experiencing a major shift in my vacation-mindset. Where once I had been thinking "what in the hell am I going to do to keep these kids occupied for five and a half weeks," suddenly I was starting to FREAK OUT that my vacation was slipping away from me far too quickly. Out of nowhere, we were more than halfway through it, and although we were missing Skippy terribly (and the silent house was making him crazy in Oregon), we weren't quite ready to start thinking about saying good-bye just yet either.

Thankfully, we still had one last exciting surprise planned for the girls - COUNTRY THUNDER USA. And I PROMISE (Mom) that I will blog all about it tomorrow! Right now I have to go get ready for bed - Banana has to catch the bus bright and early at six fifteen tomorrow morning!