Saturday, August 31, 2013

The (big fat Zumba) birthday present from

Not to long ago, I wrote about the birthday presents I got from my in-laws from That post can be seen here. For this post, I am excited to write about the birthday presents I got from my both my family and in-law family from Remember those fun gift cards with the dancing Zumba lady on the front? Yeah, those. The things I ordered finally shipped on Wednesday and I've been anxiously awaiting their arrival ever since. Once again, I've had the tracking info up on my computer and I keep refreshing the browser. Bry's been teasing me, "A watched package never moves." It does, it just waits until after you go to bed... So actually I guess he's right because I was sleeping instead of watching.
Zumbawear always ships by FedEx so they'll drop it off right at the door. The last time I was waiting on an order, the delivery guy somehow managed to drive up, leave the package on the porch, and drive away all without me noticing. Believe me, I was watching then just like I'm watching now. FedEx must hire ninjas to drive their trucks. Just for fun, I got a screenshot of the tracking info. As of 7:17am on Friday it was on a truck and out for delivery. I'm so pleased, because with Labor Day coming up, I wasn't sure if it would get here before the holiday weekend.

I happened to see the truck arrive this time and I was out there in the driveway before the guy could even get out of his truck; he was startled to see me standing right there. Out-ninja the ninja baby!

Driver: You must have been waiting for this.
Me: Yeah, I've been watching for you.
Driver: Okay... Well you have a great weekend then...
Me: You too!

I should be glad he didn't reflexively whip out his throwing stars. I hurried inside with the package and here it is.

I cut it open and dumped everything out. Two pairs of cargo capris, one top, and two bracelets. To say I've had a nice little birthday shopping spree, is sort of an understatement at this point. Looking at all of it, I am once again overwhelmed by the generosity of my family and in-laws. Thank you all, and I hope you can see how much I love your gifts.

So like before, I took pictures of it all. In spite of the big summer sale that Zumba has going on right now, the pairs of pants and top I bought weren't on sale. You watch, they'll be on sale two weeks from now... Blarg... Anyways, the pair of cargo capris that I wanted that -were- on sale, were sold out of my size; most of the other sizes too. That really was a shame, they were bright pink with black trim and I really liked them. The ones I wound up buying were the orbit cargo capris. I liked these too, and they were a pink pair... I've decided that when buying capris, I'm not going to buy black. I have three pairs of long black cargoes, I think I'm set for black. The orbit cargoes are interesting because the ribbons on the pockets are -two- colors.
Ooh! These are the ones off to the right. One black ribbon and one pink ribbon on each pocket. The pink is sort of an odd pink... Definitely not the bright neon of the pair I'd originally had my eye on. To be honest, when I got them out of the package, I didn't unwrap them right away like I did everything else. Seeing this strange pink up close and personal, I wasn't sure I was going to keep them. I took them upstairs to my closet and held them up to every tank top. They go well with my one remaining black tank and its grey counterpart... But that was really it. Well, there is the tie-dye one. Now I'm really really glad I bought that, it seems to go with everything. As you can see, I did unwrap them. I decided to keep them. I just wish I'd bought the matching pink/black top, and I may still since I didn't use up all my gift card money. I got a second pair of these capris in another color. Most Zumbawear is produced in sets of two to four of the same thing, just in different colors. This particular style of capris also has a grey pair and blue pair.
The grey is a lot like this pink, a little muted which, when it comes to Zumba clothing, is practically unheard of. But the blue pair... they are the bright sheep in that little family of pants. I was inspired to buy the blue pair along with the pink pair. They are really bright and they were designed to go with a green/blue top that I've been wanting to buy since the first moment I saw it go up for sale. That's it on the right. Something about the color combination of the blue and green really caught my eye. So since none of this stuff was discounted, did I actually shop the sale? 

A little... I bought bracelets. Now, I don't go for jewelry much at all. Expensive jewelry would be wasted on me. I much prefer practical gifts. Lucky for Bry. Remember I said he got me cargo pants last Valentine's? 
He never has to putz around a jewelry store shopping for ruby earrings or...whatever. Actually, I don't even have pierced ears. But I like bracelets. Not fancy diamond tennis bracelets (and who would even wear something so expensive to play tennis?), just cute beaded ones like the kind you find on clearance at Khol's department store. I'm a sucker for cute costume jewelry bracelets. So when I saw these I thought, "Goody! 25% off!". There was a third one that was an odd combination of a purple band and a sky-blue charm. I didn't care for it, and I don't own anything sky-blue. Not for Zumba, not at all. I have more than one tank top that is orange and pink, and I have three pairs of black cargoes, so these two were winners.

That mostly concludes my (big fat Zumba) birthday. Mostly. I got something -really- special from Bry and the boys, I'm just saving that story for the future. It'll be a good one, I promise.

No advice today, though if you want to take it that way, feel free. Fair warning, it's going to sound a bit fortune cookie: The real birthday gift isn't the Zwag (actual word), it's what all of it represents. See what I mean? At least I didn't include some "lucky numbers"... In all seriousness, here's what it all represents to me, the confidence to stand out and walk dance tall. Six months ago, if someone had told me I'd be buying pairs of pink and blue pants, I'd have laughed and thought that was crazy-talk. But here I am, enjoying the best birthday ever.

Friday, August 30, 2013

The food allergies

In our house, Bry and I deal with several food allergies. Not ourselves, our boys. They both have different foods that they can't eat. We're thankful that neither of them have allergies severe enough to require an epi-pen. At least the we know of... We have yet to get the little one in to see an allergist so who knows what we might learn from a visit. our oldest was 21 months old, he had terrible hay-fever; he was so miserable. I took him into see the allergist and they tested for 24 different things. Not just plants, foods and animals too. We learned that he was allergic to eggs and dairy. We had no idea. We're a vegan family. We have been since he was 14 months old so we never fed him those things and thus never saw a reaction. The nurse couldn't have been more shocked at that, "You don't eat eggs? At all?" I'm pretty sure she didn't know what a vegan was.

We don't eat or use anything that comes from an animal, or used to be an animal. Excluding insects.

Finding out what allergies your child has in a doctor's office is not nearly as distressing as finding out by accident. In our house we've dealt with both. Learning that our older son was allergic to eggs and dairy didn't really affect us in any major way - at least not at the time. At home, his allergies don't matter since we never buy either of those foods or any food that contains them as an ingredient. After he turned three, it started to matter quite a bit more because we sent him to preschool a couple afternoons a week.

Dealing with allergies and schools together is never easy. Overall, I found the staff at the preschool to be very open to suggestions and willing to make accommodations. Basically, well-meaning, which is excellent. But our boy came home from school three different times that year with an allergic reaction to a snack that they thought was safe. I tracked it down to popcorn. That was the culprit. A simple and easy snack that feeds a lot of children for a very low cost. Parents will buy a box of microwaveable popcorn and bring one pouch to the school and the whole bag will feed a class of 12. The problem is that it comes in a buttery sauce. Even pre-popped popcorn is almost always either buttery, caramel flavored, or cheesy. I finally told them not to feed him popcorn of any kind just to be safe. The reason it took so long to track down the offending food is because our son's symptoms are all gastrointestinal, meaning they all happen down in the gut causing cramps and diarrhea. The allergic reaction is somewhat delayed because his body digests the food, -then- has the allergic reaction. Most people think of a food allergy as causing an immediate and dramatic reaction. A rash breaks out, or the throat closes up, or the eyes swell shut... Something like that. Believe me when I say they aren't all like that. And, just because they aren't like that, doesn't mean they aren't to be taken seriously. I made a point to supply his 3's preschool teachers with foods that I knew were safe for him that they could use any time they were unsure about the day's snack.

I did the same thing for his 4's teachers and I told them at the start of that school year, "No popcorn!" What I didn't tell them, and probably should have, was, "No fish crackers!" Everyone out there knows Pepperidge Farm Goldfish. They come in other flavors besides cheese, but I have yet to find a variety that doesn't have dairy in it. This means that our son can't eat any kind of fish-shaped cracker. One parent brought pretzel-flavored Goldfish crackers to the class for a snack, but brought them in a zip top bag with no nutritional information attached. The teachers, knowing I had once brought in a (safe!) brand of pretzels thought these pretzel fish were okay for our boy to eat. That happened on a Friday, so it was an...interesting...weekend. I spoke to his teachers the next Monday and they were very apologetic, but really, it wasn't so much their fault as it was the parent who brought crackers that were dumped into a bag. I believe that as a parent bringing snack, there is a responsibility to provide nutritional information.

During that school year, my father-in-law and his wife took a trip to California and while there, shopped at a farmers' market and got lots of goodies that were not in season in Michigan. Among their purchases was a fruit called a Chinese date, also frequently called a jujube (the Wiki page). When Granny offered our boy one to try we said sure, he loves dried fruits like that. A half hour later, he had a terrible itchy rash on his arms and legs. The rash cleared up quickly after we gave him 1 tsp of Benadryl. Learning about a third food allergy in such a way was incredibly disconcerting. One never can tell how bad a reaction will be. I felt extremely relieved that it cleared up so quickly and was fairly mild. Grandpa and Granny felt so bad, but as with the teachers, it wasn't their fault. There was no way to know in advance that the Chinese date would cause an allergic reaction. When I began looking up information about them, I learned that these jujubes are from the buckthorn family of plants (Rhamnaceae) and that as a family they are very widespread throughout North America. It's a fairly large family, but only a few of these actually have any parts suitable for human consumption. Now that I know what I know about our older son's allergies, and I know what I know about the buckthorn plant family, I really wonder if his seasonal allergies are caused by wild-growing varieties. It's a theory, there's no way for me to know for sure, I'm no botanist. Just as an added piece of info, a jujube is different from a regular date because a regular date comes from a tree in the palm family; so botanically it is different.

The start of a new school year is rapidly approaching and our oldest is starting Kindergarten. This is the third year in a row that I've filled out an allergy action plan that's kept in the office with a bottle of Benadryl; better safe than sorry. In that same vein, I always keep a bottle of pediatric pro-biotic supplements on hand in the fridge. Any time our older son has issues in his gut, I give him one tablet a day until he's back to normal.

So what about our younger son? That was a pretty scary discovery actually. When the baby was 9 months old, I fed him kiwi. As it turns out, that was a really bad idea but I didn't know that at the time. That's one of the things that make food allergies so frightening, you just never know until the food is eaten. I had some kiwi with me out on a playdate and as I was feeding it to the baby my friend Tat says, "Kiwi is a high allergy food." Huh? I had no idea... A day later, the little guy has diarrhea and is vomiting nearly non-stop. It took an entire week to get all of the kiwi through his little body because I'd fed it to him seeds and all. I really was worried because a 9 month old can get dehydrated very quickly. I couldn't even give him any medicine (like I do with his brother) because of how little he is. I called the pediatrician's office and explained what was happening and what I believed was the cause. Now, I've always felt like any concerns I've had regarding our sons' health have been taken seriously, and I have been satisfied with the quality of care that my sons have received both before and since that incident. But talking to the nurse that day about my youngest's symptoms, I really felt like I was getting the brush off. I was so shocked. It seemed like the minute I answered her question: "Is he having trouble breathing?" with a "No", she treated me like I was over-reacting to what was probably a cold or flu. I wanted to shake this woman... Lady, you're a nurse, how do you not know that airway issues are not the only sign of an allergic reaction? And even if it wasn't an allergic reaction, isn't the vomiting and diarrhea in 9 month old enough to be concerned about? I kept as calm as I could under the circumstances as I explained that I was pretty sure I knew what I was looking at since I had an older son whose allergy reactions were mostly gastrointestinal. Oh well, those were the magic words I guess. All of a sudden she was willing to believe me; believe that I wasn't some poor, frazzled, stressed-out, first-time mom calling in and making a big deal out of nothing. I knew right then that I was going to have to take the little one to an allergist eventually, they're specialists and they (along with their nursing staff!) take allergies and allergic reactions seriously. When I spoke to the pediatrician at the 9 month visit, I asked him about seeing an allergist right away, but he suggested I wait. Not because he wasn't taking me seriously, he was - he knows my older son and has seen the allergist's reports. He suggested I wait for two reasons: 1) the skin prick tests are a little painful, and 2) a baby still nursing is borrowing his mother's immune system and this would skew any allergy test results. So I'm waiting for a time between 18 and 20 months. Since then, I've avoided kiwi (obviously) and I've also been very careful about introducing, or even re-introducing, other fruits and vegetables. From researching kiwi allergies, I learned there is such a thing as a latex-fruit cross reaction. People allergic to latex are more likely to be allergic to certain foods than those who aren't. People allergic to the cross-reactive foods are more likely to be allergic to latex than those who aren't. This is a big part of why I think allergy testing is necessary, there are too many possibilities and I don't want to discover any more of them by accident.

Having children with food allergies means I've had to find related resources. There are lots and lots out there. We live in an age of food allergies it seems. When I was kid growing up, there was one kid in the whole school allergic to peanuts, and another allergic to bees. That was it. These days, it seems like there are one or two kids per class with food allergies. It's not just peanuts anymore either. I've seen kids allergic to sesame seeds, food dyes, tree nuts, strawberries, and wheat. There are a whole host of others, those are just the ones I've encountered firsthand in the course of teaching.

**Side note: Teaching is what I did before I became the Zumbamommy, and when my youngest is old enough to be in school full time I'll be the Zumbamommy-teacher. I think hyphenating is the way to go, don't you?**

I want to share some of the resources I've found that have quality products or useful information.

Allerbling is a product I bought for our older son. They sell pediatric allergy alert bracelets and have 15 charms available. Unfortunately, none of the charms are for a kiwi allergy so I had to look elsewhere when shopping for our younger son. I found Allermates and they have a huge variety of wristbands and charms, including kiwi. Their customer service is fantastic. I exchanged emails with a live person who was clearly in charge. He was able to work with me as far as payment and shipping since they are based in the UK and charged me £19.49 GBP ($30.34 USD). I've also shopped from, the sell customizable allergy alert stickers as well as bag tags. With our older son starting kindergarten this year, he'll be eating lunch at school. I bought him a bag tag for his lunch bag and stickers for the lunch box and its components.

Useful websites:
Eating with food allergies
Kids with food allergies
Allergy friendly restaurant database

Best advice: As a parent, you have natural instincts, listen to them. If you don't like what some doctors and nurses are saying about your child, get a second opinion, or even a third. Doctors are usually pretty smart people, but they don't know your kid the same way you do.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The lull between sessions

The summer Zumba session I was doing with Rae ended on Monday. Aaw.

The fall Zumba session I'm going to do with Jae, doesn't start for three weeks. Three. Long. Weeks. Boo...

This summer was a blast (thank you Rae) and I'm sorry to see it end. At the same time, I am really looking forward to the start of the fall session. Here's how much... Back in the first week of July, I learned that registration opened and people could begin signing up for the fall session. You don't say? Well I better get on that, September's not too far away! Nobody's going to steal my spot... You think I'm kidding? Totally not kidding. I've been registered since July 2nd for a session that starts September 18th. This Zumba freak is freaky fast. I've got the web receipt printed out and tacked to the cork board in my laundry room so I can look at it every time I walk by. I took this photo for you, my friends, so you can all share in my freakishness. I circled it in orange.
Because orange is nice and bright... Tangent time! Don't you just love the drawing in the bottom left corner of that picture? It's okay if you don't...but I do. Maybe it's just the proud Zumbamommy talking, but I think it's really good. My older son drew that as a present for my birthday. It's a picture of me and I'm wearing an orange and green top with purple bottoms. I guess he's pretty familiar with my wardrobe these days... Heh.

Alright, back on topic. As it turns out, registering early was pretty good move. When the Community Ed. booklet arrived, advertising all the different classes for fall three weeks ago, I saw that they have an "early bird" rate listed that is $10 cheaper if you register one week or more in advance of the start date. I definitely have that covered so...sweet!

What's not so sweet is the waiting period. I've got this week and two more and the time is just sort of looming up at me. September's not too far away? Ugh! That was easy to say in July when I was going out to class every Monday night. September 1st is only days away and yet today it feels like the 18th is never going to get here. I understand that the Community Ed. people have a logical plan. They're waiting to have their classes begin until after Labor Day, until after the school year has started, until after people have their fall schedules in order. Mentally, I get all that and probably for most normal people, waiting until the 18th doesn't matter. Who knows? They may even like that -better-. But I don't fall under the category of "most normal people" now, do I? Not when it comes to my Zumba, and when I think about the next three weeks, I get an itchy feeling under my skin. I think that probably doesn't happen to the non-freaks.

So my plan to get through the next three weeks with my sanity (and that of my patient and supportive family) in tact, is to practice at home. A lot.

Best advice (and this is mostly just for me today folks): Stay calm, things are fine, and class is only 21 days away. Repeat as needed...

I need to make an addendum before I post this live. I wrote the above in the afternoon. Freak that I am, I'm prone to freaking out. You think this was bad? You should have seen me the first day I realized there even was a three week lull! I nearly dropped my laundry basket as I walked by my cork board... That was five weeks ago, so I'm writing this post -after- I've had time to adjust. Anyway, in the evening, I took my boys to an open house at the elementary school where my oldest is going to be starting Kindergarten next week. Who should I run into? One of my classmates from the summer session. Turns out she works there at the school and we almost didn't recognize each other in regular clothes. She asks me, "Will I see you Thursday?" to which I reply, "What's on Thursday?" Duh, Rae's other class! The same one I took my family to? How did I not think of that... Oh well. Yay! Freakout officially over, no more itchy feeling, and all is well. I was just at class on Monday so I'll hold off this week, but next Thursday, I am so there.

No more advice, just a comment: It's funny how interesting coincidences happen at interesting times.

The Everest songs

From time to time I run across a song that's really hard. Or at least I think it's really hard. I call them "Everest songs" because to me, tackling them is like slowly climbing Everest. Hey, I'm afraid of heights, this is the only kind of climbing I'm ever going to do. I could post a list of the songs I've classified this way, but I know most of you out there won't have any context and it wouldn't mean anything. What I will say is that they all tend to have a common element and that's that they have a lot less repetition, although there is always some, and the the different parts tend to be fast and more complex. What I mean by complex is that several parts of your body are moving at the same time but doing very different things. It can feel awkward at first and wrapping your brain around it can be a challenge, or at least it can be for me.

To date, I have encountered four songs I chose to put on my "Everest List". Not too bad in 3.5 year's time, even if I do say so myself. Then again, I might have just jinxed myself... The first two on my list have already been checked off, as in I feel I've got them down very well. The third still knocks me around from time to time but I'd say I'm about three quarters to having it under -control- (right Jae?). The fourth one is brand new and it's a doozy, I think I may be a while with it. It's a song I love and the choreography is fun, but it's also challenging. I don't mind that actually, in fact I rather like the way it exercises my brain along with my body. There are songs I have been doing for the better part of 3.5 years and I can let my mind go almost completely blank and it doesn't affect the actual dance. To me, weird as this is going to sound, those are like a form of meditation. The Everest ones are like working on a level six Sudoku, or a jigsaw with 5000 pieces. Keep at it long enough and eventually the puzzle will be solved.

I'm definitely not one to give it up easily. If a song goes on my Everest list, I'm never going to let it go until I have it to my satisfaction. With something like that, I am a junkyard doberman and it is the bone... Remember Joe? My horse? He was an Everest horse. Remember how I said he was an ornery cuss if he didn't like you? I've written about how much I loved him, but he and I didn't exactly get off to the best of starts. I kept working with him though, and eventually he stopped slamming me into walls while I was aboard and trying to bite me while I brushed him. The very first Everest song I ever encountered was one Rae did in my very first class. To this day, it is -the- one I will invariably ask for if she calls for requests. So yes, Everest songs are difficult and challenging but they've also turned into (or likely will turn into) some of  the ones I like the best, definitely top 20.

What about Let Me Think About It? Surprisingly no. As much trouble as that song gave me, I could actually do all of it but the one part. At least until Jae (in all her awesomeness) fixed me. Songs only make my Everest list when there are several different parts that I find challenging. That's why it takes a while for me to really get them because generally they come to me one piece at a time.

Best advice: Be thankful when something comes along that challenges you, because it means life is still interesting and you haven't learned everything yet.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The ballet raindrop and the horse

I took ballet as a kid. You've seen me write that I started Zumba with no dance background to speak of. This is true for all intents and purposes because in my opinion, being a "raindrop" in a ballet recital at the age of five after eight weeks of classes, does not a dance background make! Ballet was really just a raindrop in the bucket too. Most kids take lessons in something, usually in whatever their interest is. Me, I took lessons in just about everything. I did figure skating, I did art, drama, computers (such as they were back in '88), music, gymnastics, swimming, canoeing -and- kayaking, knitting -and- crocheting, I even twirled a baton! Basically, it was a little of everything but not a lot of anything, with two notable exceptions. One was piano, the other was horseback riding.

If you asked me today to play you something on the piano, I'm sorry but I'd have to laugh in your face. I can't play. So how then did I take lessons for three solid years? Muscle memory. Do the same pieces enough times over and your hands will practically play by themselves. Any kind of musical instrument (and there have been several...) has always been a challenge for me since I don't understand sheet music. It might as well be Sanskrit for all the sense it makes to me. I have enormous respect for people that can play an instrument because I know from my own struggle how hard it is.

Me at 15, Joe at 17
So, on to horseback riding. That was the thing that stuck. It was -the- thing for years. I loved it, I loved horses and I was good at it. For a long time, my life revolved around it. Long before I was a "Zumba freak" I was a "riding freak". That's me in the picture by the way. Whenever I show this to people who didn't know me back then, they almost always go, "Wow!". Those who don't, ask me if it's a picture of my sister, or maybe my cousin. Nope, that's me I tell them, and then they do that comparison of me now to me then. It's always interesting and it makes me smile. I've changed a lot since I was 15. Back then I was a lot... Younger right? That's what everyone's thinking? No, I know I was a heavier teenager (and that haircut totally didn't help). This photo was taken at a riding competition not too long before I went into the ring. You can tell it's before the ring because one, I don't have helmet hair yet, and two, I'm not wearing my high boots. Preparing for the ring can get messy and it won't do to have scuffed boots when the judge is looking at you. That's Joe standing next to me. He was wonderful (to me) and I loved him, but he sure was an ornery cuss if he decided not to like you; people and horses alike. Every time we went into the ring, he had a red ribbon tied to his tail. If you aren't familiar with ring etiquette, the red ribbon indicates that the wearer will kick if approached by another horse, so other riders could consider themselves warned. That was my boy, unsocial to the extreme. We were definitely a good partnership, and I was extremely attached to him. The problem with that though is that riders, as they improve, outgrow their mounts and then they need to find a new and more challenging horse to ride. I think you can see what direction this is heading in? Yeah... Before Joe, it didn't really matter what horse I rode. I'd sit just about any horse and be happy with that. After Joe, that changed, but at best, I would have had another two years with him before I would have learned all I could from him. I couldn't picture myself with a different horse, I really couldn't. As much as I loved riding, I loved riding with Joe more and I didn't think I'd be able to continue without him. I gave up riding all together the summer I turned 17, so a little more than a year after this picture was taken. It was the right time. I never rode seriously again. I've taken hour-long trail rides and the like, but nothing that could be considered "real" riding and never on the same horse twice. I think a small part of me always thought there would come a time in my life when I'd start again but that never happened. My life filled up quickly with university and a husband, then work, then a family and now here I am.
Me at 31
Monday July 29, 2013

This was taken several Monday's ago. Me in my favorite black pants, and what used to be my brightest tank top, pre-tie-dye. I've traded in my blazer and breeches for a tank top and cargoes and I feel great about that. I also feel great about the better looking haircut even though it's hard to see with it braided back for class. I don't want anyone to feel bad on my behalf because I don't feel bad about any of it. I am happy with how things have turned out for me. I am satisfied with what I have and I am grateful for all of it. In all honesty, after the first few Zumba classes when I realized how awesome dancing was, I wondered to myself: "Where has this been all my life?" Turns out, there's more to dance than being a ballet raindrop. How did I not find that out sooner? Ah well, the important thing is, I know it now.

Best advice: Love your life. It's special since it's the only one you have.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The (big fat Zumba) birthday present from

I recently turned 32. Part of why my family was in town to visit, was to celebrate my birthday with me. The best part about a birthday, to my mind, is celebrating it with the special people in your life; family and close friends. The second best part is experiencing the generosity of these wonderful people. I'm not just talking about the gift-givers... I mean the card-senders and the well-wishers and anyone else who took time out of their own busy lives to think of me. Thank you all! In the first week of August, Bry's sister asked me what it was I wanted for my birthday. She was the first to ask and, while I've actually found the answer quite difficult in past years, one thing popped into my head immediately. Any guesses before I continue?

I told her, "Just one thing."
Can you tell what this is? It's a gift card to I can use this to shop their site and boy am I excited. My dad asked me the same question and I gave him the same answer. is not like where you can buy a gift card and have it be sent electronically. With Zumba, you have to order a physical gift card that is delivered to your house which you can then pass on to the intended recipient; or have mailed to the recipient. It comes in this nice little card. Conveniently, Zumba has a summer sale going on right now.
From my sister-in-law, her husband, and their son
I'd been window shopping this sale on and off, and I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted by the time the gift cards arrived. The sale has been going on for over two weeks already so I kept an eye on that shirt I wanted and tried to make sure they still had my size in stock... And that pair of capri pants... The things I ordered haven't shipped yet, but pictures to come...

My father-in-law and his wife got me a gift card to Amazon, as did my brother-in-law and his wife. Now here's the wonderful thing about Amazon, there's not much you -can't- get from there and that includes Zumbawear! I have ordered Zumba brand clothing from Amazon twice in the past and I have been very satisfied so I went to the same place for a third time and got lots of lovely goodies by combining both gift cards. Thanks again to my really wonderful in-laws! Whenever I have Zumba gear on the way, I can't help but do that thing where you keep the tracking info open on your computer and refresh it once an hour just to see if your stuff has moved. What? I'm the only one that does that? Huh...
12.5 X 9.5 inches
When the mail truck arrived, I hurried down to the mail box to get the envelope. The nice thing about Zumba clothing and accessories is that none of it weighs very much (remember, lighter = cooler) nor does it take up tons of room; so everything I ordered fit into a single cardboard mailer. I cracked it open on the way up the driveway actually, and my first instinct was to dump it all out and enjoy the minute I got it in the house, but then I figured it might be fun to take some pictures so you lovely readers can enjoy vicariously. So I stuffed everything back inside and took the picture you see at the left. Want to know what all I ordered? Inside that envelope was a pair of capri pants, two tanks tops, and a set of silicone bracelets. Amazing that it all fit right? In fact, the thing that took up the most room was actually the bracelets because everything else lays flat except for them. Alright, picture taken, event documented...-now- I dump it all out! This package arrived on the best possible day. My father-in-law and his wife were coming over to swim and eat brownies in celebration of my birthday. My sister-in-law also came over with my nephew. I was happy that they were going to get to see the things I'd bought. My brother-in-law and his wife live out in California, but hopefully they'll catch this post and see how much I'm enjoying their gift. After tossing aside the envelope, I ripped open the plastic wrap on all the items and spread them out so I could take some more pictures.

In the post I wrote some time back about my four pairs of cargo pants, I mentioned that I was likely to buy some capri pants eventually. That day has come.
Feelin' It capris in Indigo
Wonderful Zumba makes cargo capri style pants! The best of both worlds baby! Jae swears by capris and says they're great for us short gals. She has a point. I am always tightening the elastic ankle on my full-length cargoes before class or I'll step on the hem when I dance - learned that the hard way... This pair you see over to the right is the pair I ordered from Amazon. It's the capri version of my full-length Feelin' It cargoes which can be seen in my previous post. Before I ordered these, I made sure to talk to Jae since she has this pair in a couple of colors. One, it's nice to have a review based on a firsthand experience, and two) I figured it would be good manners to ask before I bit her style... But she (in all her awesomeness) said I should go for it, so go for it I did! I'm pretty sure she doesn't have this particular color though, so at least I'm not totally unoriginal here.

As for the tops... One of the advantages of shopping for Zumba brand clothing through Amazon is that they are more likely to have items that Zumba's website has sold out of, either entirely or in preferred color and/or size. Amazon is also more likely to have items from a previous fashion line that Zumba has already discontinued. So if you let that really neat top go by and later regret it, chances are that Amazon might have it. Case in point, the pink tank top on the left. This is from Zumba's Party In Pink - the first one. For the one that is happening currently, the new tops are white with a pink ribbon and I tend to stay away clothes that are white. This top rounds out my little collection of cause-related Zumbawear, and now I have one item from all four causes. Until recently, I didn't actually know any breast cancer survivors personally; in my family it's typically heart disease and stroke.
Bry's stepmom is a survivor though, the first one I've known, so this cause is much closer to home for me than it used to be. As with the other clothing items, 30% of the proceeds from the sale of merchandise go towards the cause. The tank top on the right is not nearly as "important". It's just one I saw that I liked because the colors appealed to me. This particular one was actually part of the big sale that Zumba has going on, so the price would have been cheaper to get it from there. If they hadn't been sold out of this top in every single size! Bummer, but I guess that's what happens when tops get marked down to $10.50. Oh, and as a completely off-topic thing, I'm totally annoyed by the top that's on sale there right now for $8.50 that I paid $20 for four weeks earlier... Grr.

Lastly, my new bracelets. Zumba always seems to have a ton of accessories for sale and it feels like a big percentage of those are bracelets. A lot of the bracelets for sale are those silicone kind and I think I've figured out why. I've worn bracelets to class in the past and I've learned that any bracelets with weight and/or that are loose, will slide around once things really get moving.
I actually had a set of pink bangles that I wore once that were perfectly round when I started class. By the end of class, at least half them were bent into ovals. The first one I tried to squeeze back into a circle snapped. I guess that's why Zumba sells so many different kinds of silicone bracelets - they aren't heavy, they don't really slide around on your arm, and they are extremely flexible. I bought a variety 8-pack. They're each a different color, though it's hard to tell in this picture. One of the ones that looks yellow is really a lime kind of green, and one of the ones that looks pink is really a neon kind of red. I liked this particular set because they say "Join The Party" which is just like my new tank top.

I'm really happy with my new birthday things. Thanks again family and in-law family for your thoughtfulness. Tonight is Monday and it's supposed to be a scorcher here. Good thing I my new cargo capris are washed and ready to go. It's also the last Monday night of this summer session that I affectionately dubbed "Summer Camp". A little sad to see it end but at least I'll be giving it a very fashionable send-off.

Best advice: Try to enjoy every birthday no matter how old you are. I do. They seem to get better the older I get, and that's why I don't mind admitting that I'm 32.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The terrible two's

Today's post is more "mommy" and less "Zumba" as you may have guessed from the title, but the past few posts have been about my family and their visit so I thought this might be the right time to discuss my experiences (to date) with the two's. I mentioned in my post about Meijer Gardens that my older son had some difficulty as we were leaving but that we all made it to the van without a tantrum. I also talked about how my family and I weren't so lucky the previous year when leaving the mall. He was four at the time, so tantrums aren't just for two's; they just aren't as common in the older years.

If you're not in a place where this topic applies to you because you don't have kids yet, who knows, maybe this will be of some kind of help down the road. If this doesn't apply to you because your kids are already older than mine, then you can just reminisce and laugh at me as you read along. If you don't have kids at all or aren't planning for any, then you can go on and raise your eyebrows and shake your head, and maybe laugh along with the other group. When our boy turned two, I had been doing Zumba for roughly six months. Terrible two's don't necessarily start the day after the birthday party. It can take some time - so I learned. Our older son's birthday is in early July so when the month ended, and then August came and went, and there were no problems or issues I breathed a sigh of relief. That was perhaps a bit premature... The day after Labor Day of 2010 my older son was 26 months old and that seemed to mark the start of an aptly named terrible phase. As if overnight, my sweet little boy had been replaced by an angry, uncooperative pod child.

If he asked for something, and I gave it to him, he'd scream at me that it wasn't the right thing and he wanted something else. So I'd get him the other thing and he'd change his mind and want the first thing all over again. The entire month of September was like this, and it was awful! And then overnight, as if by magic, that terrible pod child was gone and my sweet boy was back. October 1st, and everything was back to normal like it never even happened. As I sit here and type it, I still don't know how it started or how it went away. I also want to smack that past me and say, "Don't let him run roughshod over you like that!" or how about, "-You- are the parent and -he- is the child." I've learned from that mistake, that's for sure, but all through that September, I was really down. Battling a two year old can really wear on you if it goes on long enough. If you haven't dealt with a young child (in some capacity - parent, teacher, nanny, etc.) on a regular basis, you might be scoffing, but just go with me on this. I felt worn out and tired all the time from the constant struggle. I think that's really the point at which I began looking at Zumba as a stress reliever. No, more like -the- stress reliever.

From the beginning of October to the beginning of February, the terrible two's were actually the terrific two's and then, around 30.5 months, he tried the same kind of behavior again. That little stinker...but I was prepared this time. When he started changing his mind over and over, I'd tell him that I would be happy to help him once he'd made up his mind. But other than saying that, I wouldn't engage with him. I'd just go on about my day and wait him out because if he really wanted something, he'd tell me. That second two's phase lasted for a much much shorter time because Mommy took all the fun out of it! Hah!

Some time back in those first six months of Zumba, I overheard Rae talking to someone about this very thing. She's a mom too, and was explaining how the two's in her house weren't terrible but that no one had warned her about the three's. You know that sound effect in movies, of the record on the turn table screeching to a halt? That's what was going on in my head. Say what now? There's a three's thing? Why isn't that more widely known? I'm glad I was in the right place at the right time or I never would have seen it coming. See what happens when you go to Zumba? You learn more than how to do a ball-change. There actually -is- a three's phase! Turns out, it's called the troublesome three's. We went through that in our house too. I tried to be prepared, but unfortunately, it happened to be while I was pregnant with our second son. If you'll recall, I was really sick for about ten weeks. This was the time when our older son decided to get a wee bit cheeky. He was smart enough to figure out that while his mommy could -say- "Don't do that.", she couldn't physically get up off the couch to actually intervene. And, since his daddy was working, he was otherwise occupied. Smart children are a double edged sword at times, are they not? To a three year old, this set of circumstances was like a blank check and he took at advantage at every opportunity. No Zumba for Mommy to blow off the stress either... It was a sad state of affairs all around.

During this time, we sold our first house, bought a new one and moved. Hrmm? You say that sounds like a lot for a sick pregnant gal? Oh yeah... it was. I spent two days living off an apple pie and some coconut milk vanilla ice cream while I watched the movers pack our house for us; I made sure they didn't pack my spoon. Pregnant women eh? Some cliches are true... But it all worked out, and a big "Thanks!" to the wonderful family members who came to help us unpack and organize. At our new house, we tried out a new strategy with our boy. Instead of putting the three year old in time out, we'd put one of his toys in time out. Onto a shelf where he could see it, but not reach it. That, combined with the fact that Mommy started feeling much better, put the kibosh on his little free-for-all. Were there still struggles and behaviors that needed correcting? Sure. It wasn't an overnight change like with his two's phase (if only I knew how that happened...) but a slow and gradual one. He learned that bad behavior caused his toys to be put in time out, and that good behavior earned his toys back. Eventually, the shelf was completely clear. Now that he's five, the "great loss" is not so much toys but his TV viewing privileges (which I reminded him of in the parking lot of Meijer Gardens...). How times change, and so quickly too.

Our younger son is only 16 months but his time is coming, I can already feel it. At least I've learned a lot from dealing with our older son. I've actually started bracing myself now because the little guy started getting defiant at about 10 months. Now what did I ever do to deserve that... For a baby, he's really opinionated and stubborn. Kind of reminds me of... Well, me actually.

Best advice: Spread the word about the troublesome three's! It's a real thing and so many don't know. In my opinion, it should be on the TV news...

Friday, August 23, 2013

The family visit - USS Silversides

On the third day of their visit, I took my family to a submarine museum, host of the USS Silversides, which is a WWII era submarine and you can actually tour it. My family and I certainly had an interesting time getting there in the first place. I have a phone app that gives me GPS directions and every once and a while it decides to go a little bonkers and mess with me (I swear this must be how SkyNet got started...). The museum is roughly an hour away from our house and right near Lake Michigan. The first part of the journey was fine, until my phone wanted me to make a u-turn through the middle of a highway, as in over the grass. What? So I kept driving because: 1) no way could a I pull a stunt like that in a minivan, and 2) it's illegal! I drove until the highway ended in some podunk and -then- I made a u-turn and got back to the highway but that wasn't good enough for the phone, oh no... The GPS had me take the nearest exit which was a circle up onto another highway, then it had me take the next loop of that clover, -and- the next one... My family is alternately laughing at the situation and suggesting I pull over for directions but I'm determined to stay the course. The GPS indicated that I drive on rather than take the fourth loop of the clover, good thing too or we might have been circling all day รก la National Lampoon's. So we finally make it to the town by the lakeshore that this museum is in, and the GPS says keep left and then gets mad at me when I do and says I should have gone right and now it has to find a new route. What? Winding, winding around... Cute houses... There's the lake, isn't it nice? Oh! A sign for the museum complete with arrow! And there it was, finally. Everyone, baby included, was glad to get out of the van.

The museum itself was very interesting. A lot of information about the submarine and its sister, the Silversides II. A lot of information about WWII in general. I was pleased to see that there were some interactive pieces inside the museum, not just a bunch of "look but don't touch". Nothing is worse for a child than a museum like that.
There were helmsmen seats from the Silversides II and a periscope that went up through the roof of the museum and looked at the cars in the parking lot.
There was also a giant pair of binoculars, a steering wheel, and a compass that looked like they'd been part of a Coast Guard vessel. The museum is also home to the USCG Cutter McClane, which is also a WWII era vessel. In my opinion, a great name for a boat with a giant gun - I'm a big fan of the Die Hard franchise.
The compass is hard to see, it's that thing behind my older son in the bottom right picture that has the red and green balls. One color was for the port side, and the other for the starboard. I forget which one is which even though my dad knew and he told me. If any of you dear readers know, by all means comment away. Overall, it was a very well organized museum, and if you ever come to West Michigan, I highly recommend a visit with a caveat or two which I'll get into soon enough. But I want to include one more thing from the inside of the museum before I move on to the outside. At the left below, is a picture I took and I'm sure most of you out there will recognize the iconic image of Rosie the Riveter. No WWII era museum would be complete without her. She embodied "girl power" long before that British girl band.

We ate some lunch at a picnic table and afterward ventured outside to see the USS Silversides. The museum offers tours of the submarine guided by volunteer staff but they also allow you to explore on your own. In the pamphlet, they printed the following warning: "Many systems onboard the Silversides are operational. Please do not move any knobs, switches, dials, buttons, levers, or wheels." Operational you say? Hrmm, joyride around Lake Michigan anyone? Nah. 1) I don't know how to work a sub, 2) it takes more than one family to work a sub, and 3) it's illegal! We had to settle for walking around inside it. Which actually is more difficult than it sounds. Once again, I had the big double stroller. Kay, if you're reading this, that stroller has had a lot of adventures with me and my family. That morning, as I was driving to the museum, I wished I had traded it out for my tiny umbrella stroller. Turns out, it wouldn't have mattered anyway. No stroller of -any- size would fit down inside that sub.
I rolled our youngest son in the stroller across the gangplank and onto the deck of the Silversides and there was a little man-sized hole in the deck with a ladder going down. Okay, definitely no stroller. So we ladies grabbed our bags and left the stroller up on deck next to what's called the conning tower (that's the top piece of the sub) and headed on down. This was a fairly complex process with small children. My dad went down first, followed by my half-sister and stepmom. They then helped our oldest son down the ladder. I handed down bags, then our youngest son. Bending over a porthole with a 27 lb child is not really that easy. My dad had to climb two thirds of the way back up to grab him. Once inside, things really were tight. You hear about subs being small inside, but that really sinks in once you get down there. The ladder we climbed down took us into the front torpedo room which actually had a couple of torpedoes in it (for display only? who knows?) and a whole lot of little cots hanging from every useable surface with the thinnest mattresses you've ever seen; some were stacked in threes. I don't know about you, but I don't think I'd feel comfortable sleeping over top of a torpedo. From there we walked through a "doorway" and I use that term somewhat loosely. The bottom of the door was nearly two feet off the floor of the sub and the top of the door was only about four feet above that. A very small opening that could be described as a doorway, though I think the proper term is hatch. So my family went first and I followed carrying the baby. Our youngest is not a good enough walker to be able to navigate any of this on his own so I held him the entire time. Getting through the doors involved me getting up on one foot so I could get one leg through and then shifting all the weight, me plus baby, through - while ducking under. Then I could pull the other leg through. The Zumba Mommy was putting her Zumba Mami knees (dame le clave...) to practical use; no clapping though, that would have been weird... Not to mention difficult with a baby in my arms... Oh, and I'm 5'3" and I felt real sorry for my 6'1" dad. We made it through an area dubbed "officer's country" and apparently officers rated actual "rooms" and their own "bathroom/shower"; rooms are tiny and facilities are primitive. The biggest open space on the entire submarine was the kitchen/mess. According to the history of the Silversides, the crew's medic performed an appendectomy on one of those tables while the sub was underwater. The event was later used as a plot point in a movie starring Cary Grant. Apparently submariners ate really well, we're talking steak and lobster. The navy had to have some incentive to get these guys to stay. The kitchen even had an ice cream maker. And here's where I'd like to point out that nothing I read or heard indicated any kind of laundry on board. Ice cream, yes. Clean clothes, no.
Past the kitchen, through the control room, through more crew quarters (translation: more awful cots) and into the engine room. The tour guide told us that for each submarine, Disney designed a custom logo for free. So, back a long time ago, Disney designed what you see at the right. A cartoon sub smoking a cigar and holding a torpedo. Oh, and speaking of smoking, back then the crew as allowed to smoke aboard this vessel. I can't imagine the air quality... We moved through the rest of the sub and there was another ladder going up. I sent my family up ahead and waited until I was the last person to exit and then I very slowly climbed up one step at a a time carrying the baby.

The bridge
What about the USCGC McClane? We wandered through it. No guided tours. It was easier since it was considerably more spacious. Moving through it, my family and I just handed the baby off so we could take turns exploring below deck. The accommodations below deck were a lot nicer too. Well, for the officers and engineers.
The regular old crew slept on...? That's right! Awful cots.
The only difference between the ones on the sub and the ones on the cutter was the color of the mattresses. Navy blue and Coast Guard orange.
The captain and his grandpa

It's hard to see in the picture on the upper left, but that black thing on the deck of the ship is the big gun I mentioned earlier. The gun was big enough that it actually had two seats, so it required two crewmen to operate it.

Was the museum worthwhile? Absolutely. I'm glad we went and it was worth the drive. Even with the wacky GPS! Something brand new that none of us had ever seen. Will I take my family again? Absolutely, but it will definitely be in a few years from now.

Best advice: When visiting a submarine, or really any kind of military vessel, no strollers! And wait until your youngest child is a good walker and climber.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The family visit - John Ball Zoo

The second day of my family's visit, I took them to see the zoo. I've taken my dad and stepmom once before but again, a first for Mel. Plus, the zoo had added some new features since the last time we were there. A zip line, a funicular, various "animal training" shows, a stingray lagoon, and a pen full of pygmy goats to interact with. Of course some of these cost extra beyond the price of admission, after all it is an attraction. After we paid for our tickets, we were greeted by this sign:

We were just in time to see the lion training if we hurried. So hurry we did and made our way into the pavilion where a small crowd had formed. Amongst these were three zoo employees... The trainers? Indeed. Apparently we'd hurried over for nothing because the lions weren't cooperating. According to the workers, the lions knew there was meat to be had but were refusing to come down from their ledge where they were hiding behind some bushes. That's cats for ya! Oh well, at least my boys got to play with the African drums.

We figured we'd move on and come back to the African exhibit later. Outside, there was a little pen that people could go in to pet the pygmy goats. These are very cute goats. Almost enough to make me like goats... A naughtier farm animal I have never met. Obviously these aren't the farm kind of goat, but the little white one tried to nibble the pocket on my pants. I told him (her?) to cut that out. It just looked at me, the naughty little thing. That's goats for ya!
Moving on from there we saw signs advertising a camel to ride. The camel ride has been there awhile and the last time I had my family at the zoo, which was seven years ago, my dad and I rode it together. I was all set to take my oldest son when he said he wanted to go with just Grandpa Harry. Okay, I understand... Mom's around all the time, he only gets Grandpa Harry for a week... Motherhood, so rewarding and yet so thankless all at the same time. Am I right? I'm joking, I'm happy when he's happy and that all there is to it. Me, my stepmom and half-sister took pictures from the fence while we stayed with the baby. I'm pretty sure that camel was trying to Bogart the picture. Near the camel ride was the entrance to a foot path. That's new since the last time we were there, so we followed it...uphill. Now, double strollers are great and all because they can hold a lot (thanks Kay for the loan!). But that benefit can also be a huge downside when you're pushing your five year old and one year old and two purses and a baby's bag...uphill. There was one point where the slope of the trail was a little too much for me and the stroller and it was a close brush with the brush. My stepmom grabbed the font and pulled it back away from the edge and my dad offered to take over from there. By all means Dad, I'm sure not going to argue! The last thing I want is my kids careening down the hillside on a double stroller I don't even own.

We made it to the top of the path and it turns out there is a small banquet hall up there as well as the the funicular station. There was also a staircase down to the zip line. At the top of this staircase was a sign that said "Not stroller friendly". Well darn... So my youngest and I waited at the top of the stairs while everyone else went on down there. My understanding is that you have to be 7+ years to ride so only my dad zipped while my son walked down with his Grandma Natty and Aunt Mel to meet at the bottom. All the while, I'm waiting at the top, hoping they come back for me because according to the map, if I go back down the trail, I'm way far away from the end of the zip line and if I take the funicular down, I'm only slightly less far away from the end of the zip line. So after some time goes by, I decide to call my dad's cell which immediately starts ringing in my stepmom's purse which is on the stroller. Well darn... Waiting a little longer, I finally get a call from Bry to tell me that my family is waiting for me at the food stand. Apparently he'd gotten a call from my stepmom who had borrowed a cell from someone because all three of their cells were on the stroller with me. So I decide the funicular would be the fastest way down and I go over to pay the $3. Oh wait, no... I have to give them $6 because even though the baby is free for everything in the zoo (2 and under), the stroller "counts as a person" because it "takes up a spot". Uh huh... The funicular has three cars that can each hold 10 people. Excuse me while I turn on my sarcasm...okay, here we go: and there was such a large crowd too, what with me and my baby and that one other mom with her three kids. Now, I'm -not- saying that the funicular is a ripoff, I'm saying you can decide for yourself whether or not to take it next time you're at the zoo (assuming you're in the area). If I hadn't been in a hurry to meet my family, I would have taken the trail.

We met up at the food stand and we all got some lunch. I was very pleased to see that I could get my older son an entire kid's meal without worry. He's allergic to eggs and dairy and we're a vegan family anyway, so eating out on the fly can be tricky sometimes; I just got fries and ate the energy bar in my purse. After lunch, we walked around to see all the things we hadn't seen already. On the boardwalk over the reptile house, we heard some loud noises and realized it was the lions roaring. So we hurried ourselves back over to the pavilion only to discover that they were making themselves heard but not seen. Cats... After that, we quickly toured the rest of the African exhibit and then decided it was time to leave since it was getting late in the afternoon. Besides, we had some plans for the evening...

The previous day, as we were leaving Meijer Gardens, I found out my family had to leave Monday morning, not Tuesday morning. My Zumba class this summer has been every Monday night. They were under the impression that it was Saturday morning so there wasn't a problem. No... Saturday mornings were last summer. I'm not sure how that miscommunication happened, but there it was. So what to do? Thankfully Rae teaches more than one class a week so I asked if I could bring my family Thursday instead. She asked on my behalf and the gym where she teaches Zumba was willing to accept my two guest passes if I paid for myself. Done and done! Thanks again Rae! So we drove out to this gym, which is about 25 minutes from my house but well worth the drive. Class was great and my stepmom and half-sister had a rockin' time. Hopefully they'll have luck finding something just as great in their area. Here's where I would put a photo of the three of us if I had one. We were in such a hurry to leave for class that I forgot, and then we left for home before I could think to ask Rae to take a picture. I'm grumpy about it and part of me wants to blame my orange Rhythm Rocker shirt. This is the third time I've tried to get a picture of myself in it and I forget every time. What's up with that?

Best advice: Don't over-weigh your (borrowed) double stroller.
Second best advice: Beware of cursed shirts.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The family visit - Meijer Gardens

My family left earlier this week so I guess it's time to get back to it since I no longer have a good excuse for taking a break from writing. Thanks for putting up with my little hiatus dear readers, spending time with my family is important to me.

Every year that my family has come to visit, and that we've lived in the area, we've made a day of going to Meijer Gardens. If you've never been, or never heard of it because you're not from Michigan, it's a botanical gardens -and- sculpture park. There's something for everyone to enjoy and the place is huge, so it's a nice walk. There is an entire section for children that includes water features to splash in and a tree house to climb on. Like I said, something for everyone. In fact, our oldest son nearly threw a tantrum as were walking back to the car because he wanted to stay longer. He and I had a little discussion where I reminded him of his TV viewing privileges and how poor behavior can cause those to be taken away and we made it to the car without the screaming. Last year, we weren't quite so lucky leaving the mall. Hey, if your four year old is making a scene, pick him up and walk as quickly as possible to the nearest exit. Don't worry about people who might be watching either. If they are a parent, chances are they've dealt with something similar and they understand. If they are giving you the "look of death", they're likely not a parent (or someone who regularly deals with children).

So I took my family to Meijer Gardens and everyone had a really nice time. My dad and stepmom have been before but it was a first visit for my half-sister Mel. Visiting the park in the summer is a good time for it, the weather is nice and the plants are all thriving. Both Mel and I got some nice pictures of the these. I saw a number of varieties of colored leaves and grasses which I liked.
I'm not a huge fan of flowering plants because of the smell. Call it an idiosyncrasy. Most of them give me a headache and/or make my nose itch and my eyes water. The problem though is that I like colored plants so finding a compromise can be a pain. Bry and I need to do some landscaping around our house after having our above-ground pool replaced with an in-ground (if you don't already know the story of the swimming pool, it's a long one, so some other time), so now I feel like I can offer the landscaper some suggestions. Perhaps "suggestions" is too generous a word since I don't remember the actual names of any of them. Instead, I'll use "inspiration". I can offer the landscaper some inspiration.

Our eldest, next to the back right leg
We took some pictures of the sculptures too and of course each other. The sculpture of the horse is one of my favorites because I love horses. It's by Nina Amaku as an homage to the original design by Leonardo DaVinci. This particular horse sculpture (top right) is a smaller version of the first one, which is enormous.You can see the difference in the proportions in the other three photos. Each family member is standing next to a different leg of the horse.
Dad, next to the front right leg.
Mel, next to the front left leg.

I'm amazed I got three good pictures. There is always a huge crowd of people around the giant horse and it's practically impossible to takes pictures without getting random strangers in the background. This sculpture is 24 feet tall, that's 7.3 meters for you metric folks.

And there's my family: our eldest son with his Aunt Mel, and his Grandpa Harry and Grandma Natty. That pond has a ton of koi fish in it and they are pretty friendly so I imagine they get fed by the visitors fairly often.

We all had a lovely day and got some nice exercise walking around the place. Which was a good thing because we all went to Mongolian BBQ for dinner that same night.

My family coming to visit is one of the highlights of my summer every year.

Best advice: Family first.
Second best advice: If you're going to the botanical gardens on a hot day in August, make sure you bring enough water.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The brightest tank top (ever)

Last week Wednesday, I did some back to school shopping for my older son who is starting kindergarten this fall. While I was shopping for clothes, I stumbled across this. Obviously not for my son, but for me. If the picture is unclear, allow me to describe. It's a ribbed tank top, the kind I love to wear for Zumba, and it's tie-dye. Oh and yes, that -is- a silver peace sign on the front...done in in glitter. I stood there contemplating as I held this up on its hanger, trying to decide if I thought this would be really cool or a really huge mistake. I'm still feeling my way a little bit with colors, and breaking old habits can be hard. I had to smack my own hand as it seemed to reach all by itself, (what's that about?) for the black one... My only excuse is that had neon yellow trim... Okay, trim on the inside... No! Bad! Drop it, drop it!

What to do...I know! A second opinion. So I took this picture that you see above with my phone with the intention of texting it. But the store was a dead zone! No service. Anywhere. Resend? Resend... Resend! RESEND! Rats. I was on my own with this one. So back to square one, what to do...

How many votes for: "No way did she buy it, she's not that brave."
And for: "Of course she bought it, no way would she leave it on the rack."

Congrats to those who picked the second option, I bought it. I didn't even try it on first! In for a penny, in for a pound as they say. I thought, there is no brighter, more rainbow-esque tank top out there. There can't possibly be, I can't imagine it. And perhaps this one had been waiting for me to come along and get it. Of course buying it and being brave enough to actually wear it are two different things. Time to try again for that second opinion. Sitting in the car, (finally some reception!) I texted away the picture and I got a very positive response. Sometimes when your confidence isn't as high as you'd like it to be, you need to borrow a little from a friend (thank you...). I decided then and there that it was going to make its class debut come Monday.

Aug. 12, 2013
Me, before class.
I got it home, cut off the tags and washed it. Now it was ready to wear to class. I took it upstairs and tried to hang it with the others. But where? How? I have all my Zumba tops in a color order and within that, lightest to darkest. Yeah yeah... Mock me if you must, but that's how I do my closet and every time I go in there, I'm staring at my own personal little rainbow. And it goes like this... Orange, pink, purple, blue, green, black, grey, and red. So where does this one go since it's every color (but black)? I stuck it in front of the oranges. It's the leader now. I stood back and looked at all of them hanging there together for a moment, then I pulled the tie-dye one back down again. I still hadn't tried it on and I really wanted to. Looking at myself in the mirror, I decided I was glad I'd bought it even though I hadn't been completely sure. Something about this one just makes me smile. I don't think I've ever said that about any of my black or grey ones.

So that's the story of the brightest tank top (ever). The reason this post is coming later in the day than usual is because I figured it just wouldn't be complete without a picture of me actually wearing it (proof!) and I didn't change for class until after 1pm. Yes, I could have just dressed this way when I got out of bed this morning, but we needed groceries and I figured I'd go to Meijer with my boys dressed like a regular person. You can't see it in this picture, but in addition to the sparkly green hair clips, I'm wearing four different colors of hair ties in my pony tail. You know, to match the shirt?

Best advice: Be fearless as much as possible. Easy to say, not as easy to do and I don't claim to be an expert at this, I'm only just figuring out how to do it myself. And when I say "myself", I don't mean -by myself-, I have friends and they're brave and strong and full of encouragement. Second best advice: Find some friends like mine!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The family visit - Part 1

Every August my family that lives in Quebec, Canada comes for a visit. My birthday is in August so it's nice to celebrate with them. Usually, it's just my dad and my stepmom that visit, but this year my half-sister Mel is coming with them. Whenever my family visits, I love to take them on day trips to places around West Michigan.

Here are some of the places we've been during previous visits:
Meijer Gardens
Grand Rapids Public Museum
Air Zoo
John Ball Zoo
Nelis' Dutch Village

We've done Meijer Gardens every year because it's fun for everyone and always a great walk. We've done the Air Zoo twice just because... Hey, planes are cool. Some of the others we haven't done in a long time, and they've since added new features. I think it's time to go to the John Ball Zoo again, and for a change of pace, perhaps the GRAM. I also recently discovered that there is submarine museum only an hour's drive from our house. So we are definitely going to do that! Sorry if this reads like a West Michigan travel guide, but I am excited for family's visit. My half-sister Mel hasn't been to Michigan before, and I want to make sure she has a great time.

Aaaand speaking of great times... Can you guess where I am taking Mel and my stepmom while they're here? Can you say Zumba? I knew that you could. This will be their first class ever and they are both excited to try it. They know what it's all about too since I hardly ever shut up about it. Believe me, I could weasel something about Zumba into every conversation if I wanted to. Rae offered two guest passes to anyone who payed for the whole summer session in advance. Two guest passes? Shoink! I knew I was going to be there every Monday anyway, so there was no reason -not- to pay in advance. It's so perfectly perfect that the first year that Mel is coming with my dad and stepmom is the year I get two guest passes. I am as excited as they are because I get to share something I love with my family. Who knows, maybe they'll find a class when they get back to Quebec.

For the duration of their stay, I know won't have time to write. So fair warning, there will be an eight day hiatus starting Aug. 13.

Best advice: Share what you love with who you love.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The red mood

As you know, I have a red pair of Zumba pants. I love them but not only are they the hardest pants to match a shirt to, I have to be in a "red mood" to want to wear them. Someone once suggested I match a white top with them. I can see why they would have thought that, given all the white trim, but follow my logic for a moment if you please: What happens when you go to Zumba? You sweat. What happens when you sweat? Your top gets wet. What happens if that wet top is white? Yeah... Okay, yes I always have something on underneath, but still. I don't own white cargoes for the same reason! But forget about white, let's talk red. So, I haven't worn the red pair much recently for a couple of reasons. One was that they just didn't fit and two was that by the time they did fit, it was summer and most evenings are far too warm for me to wear long pants. This week we've had a number of cooler days so last Monday, knowing I was looking at a long pants kind of evening, I suddenly found myself in a red kind of mood. Here's me before class that night. You can tell it's before because my top is still dry. It -is- a grey top... One of the two survivors of the purge, and it has the red pants to thank for its continued presence in my closet. The other two shirts that I will pair with these pants are a purple one, and a black one (the other survivor). The black one is just like the grey one below with the word Zumba up the side.
Monday, Aug. 5, 2013
If you were to look in my closet where my regular summer clothes hang, the majority are some shade of blue or green. I love red as a color, I just don't own many clothes that happen to be red (or pink, or orange). Hrmm, now that I read that, I think that should change... To get back on topic, when I first bought these pants, I was actually a little put off by how... What's the right word here...? Bright? Flashy? I know.... Noticeable! I was put off by how noticeable they were. Putting on red pants, I might as well have put a blinking sign over my head that said: "Look here!". I've actually had these for a couple of years, which means I bought them prior to The Great Color Reckoning Of 2013. So why on earth did I buy them if I was trying so hard to be un-noticeable at the time? I have asked myself that too. Back in February of 2011, I wanted a second pair of pants. I had started my second year of Zumba that January and by then I knew I was committed, so I figured investing in a second pair wasn't a big deal. I also thought it might be a good idea to give my favorite black pants with the silver ribbons a break. Remember when I said I'd learned the hard way that metal rings can break in the dryer? Yeah... They needed a break and a repair. You're thinking, okay, that's a reason to get new pants, but why specifically red ones? In short, the cause.

Zumba frequently promotes awareness of causes by holding Zumbathons to raise money, with large portion of ticket sales going to the cause. They also sell special clothes and accessories related to the event (so people can get all dressed up!) and 30% of the proceeds go to the cause. Besides the American Heart Association, Zumba has raised money for breast cancer, Augie's Quest (ALS), and stopping world hunger. I have a grandparent who died of a heart attack, and another who had a severe stroke. It's a cause close to my heart (excuse the pun) and one I have a personal investment in since it obviously runs in my family. I guess I really liked the idea that part of what I was spending on these was going to help stop heart disease. Obviously it's not going to help either one of my grandparents who have both passed on, but maybe it will help -someone's- grandparent. So, for the sake of the cause, I was willing to set aside my reservations and be noticeable. From time to time anyway, and admittedly, it wasn't a particularly long period of time. My intentions really were good, but I was still largely uncomfortable in my own cargoes back then. Looking back on it now, I can't help but think that the red pants were a power play by the inner, more colorful, me. An attempt to wrest control of the wardrobe away from that camouflaged and muted me who was clearly running the show back then; it -almost- worked. When my birthday rolled around that summer, I bought myself another pair of black pants. I was buying a new pair of shoes already so I asked myself: "What goes great with new shoes?" New pants! Happy birthday to me.

So what puts me in a red mood? I can't tell you exactly because even I'm not completely sure. It's just a feeling deep inside that makes me go, "Ooh, I'm wearing the red pair tonight!". That particular Monday was a dragging, dreary day, so maybe the day needed some brightening up. The previous Monday, I'd worn my favorite black pair, so maybe it was wanting something other than black. Getting back into these pants was one of my weight loss goals, so maybe it was pride. I've never met another person who owns this particular pair of pants, so maybe I felt like being unique. Just because Zumba has moved on from Party Hearty to Party In Pink doesn't mean we just forget the cause, so maybe I felt like representing something. It could be any one of those, all of those, or something else entirely. That colorful me finally achieved the hostile takeover and I feel pretty good about that proverbial blinking sign these days, that one that says, "Look here!". As I said, it's just a feeling, but perhaps you know what I'm talking about.

And now for something completely different!

Question: Doesn't just about everyone have at least one piece of clothing in their closet that they put on when they want to feel strong and stand out? Even if it's just something small, like socks, or a scarf, or some piece of jewelry? If not, maybe it's time.