Friday, April 19, 2019

Notre Dame

I need to talk about Notre-Dame. 
There is no way to write this without sounding braggy, 
but #fuckit, here I go anyway. 

I have had the immense privilege
 (I also like the word "luck") 
of visiting Europe many times 
and seeing many wondrous cathedrals. 
Yet Notre-Dame has always been my favorite. 

All of the photos below are my own. 
I know I sometimes steal memes and book cover photos, 
but just in case you wondered, 
yes, these are all mine taken by my camera. 

Notre-Dame has a very special place in my heart. 
And on Monday, she burned in a disastrous accidental fire. 
Her iconic spire fell. 
Her roof, 
called "the forest" because it took a forest of trees to build,
collapsed in.  
It is devastating. 
(Some photos here)

The spire that is no more

It's hard to describe the depth of emotion associated with a building. 
Why do I so love Notre Dame? 
I've been there on 3 different trips, 
once in college with my international business group, 
once with my friend Sarah backpacking Europe, 
and once with Adam. 
Never once did a significant life event happen there. 
No proposals or radical religious moments. 
I just truly loved to visit her. 

Mostly her gargoyles. 
Ohhhh her gargoyles. 

So unique. 

So random. 

My hope is that as most of the facade was saved, 
hopefully that includes these beautiful creatures. 
This article here talks about them 
and gives hope they were saved, 
but we don't know. 

On one hand, the logical part of my brain scoffs at my sadness. 
This was not a fatal fire. 
A firefighter was injured, but no deaths. 

Far worse atrocities are happening everywhere, 
many happening right on our borders. 
In this fire, no children were ripped from their parents. 
In this fire, no people were gunned down for their beliefs. 
In this fire, there was no great injustice 
or act of malice. 
The fire itself was an accident, 
possibly an electrical issue couples with a fire alarm system malfunction 
(more on that here). 

But still. 
I am so so so so sad. 
I am sad at what was lost. 
I am actually crying as I type this. 
That's how ridiculously sad I am. 
About a building

I know they will do everything to rebuild. 
I know it won't be the same. 
They've already said they can't replace her wooden beams 
because they don't have any trees the same size 
as the ones that were used in the 13th century (here)

I am so incredibly lucky to visit her when I did. 
To see her original spire in the sky 
and to see her in all her glory. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Oliver is 3

Today, Oliver is 3. 

He is a child of extremes. 


Oliver can be such a destructive monster. 
It's like he sees something nice and thinks: 
(This is particularly difficult with a brother like Aaron 
who always loves to build and design.) 
Oliver gets into EVERYTHING. 
Sinks, phones, bubble fluid, TV remotes, glue sticks, everything. 
He hates endings: 
screen time, leaving a train exhibit, anything
But on the flip side, 
when he's done with something, 
HE IS DONE and there is no salvaging it. 
He is stubborn as a mule
and solidly in the temper tantrum phase. 

A tantrum over... I have no idea. Something. 


On other extreme, he loves SO DEEPLY
He gives the best hugs in the entire world
I don't care what you think; 
your kid does not hug as well as my kid!*
At least 5 times a day, he wraps his tiny arms around my neck, 
squeezes with all his desperate might, 
and says: "I WUV YOU MOMMY." 
:: heart melting ::
His morning snuggles are so delicious. 
He has the warmest, softest skin 
and first thing in the morning it's like heaven. 
I just snuggle right into him and envelop him. 
I love it. 
He loves it. 
We will snuggle until he's 18, right? 
Don't tell me otherwise. 

(*says every parent ever)

Always right up in my business as I cook


Oliver loves MOMMY more than anything in the world. 
Daddy? Nope. 
His most comment phrase with Adam is: 
"Shoo, daddy, shoo! Leave me alone." 
Last year, he only accepted Grandpa and Pop Pop, 
but now he readily accepts Grandma, Mom Mom, 
friends' parents, babysitters, etc. 
Come to think of it,
 he does not possess any stranger danger at all
He never clings to me when we go somewhere new. 
He has slept overnight [without us] at a friend's house. 
He has no issue being dropped off at IKEA play area, 
a friend house, or really anywhere. 
Yes he's exited to see me when I get him again, 
and he happily tells me : "I had fun at [x]" 
In fact, the only time he loses his cool 
is if I leave him home alone with Adam. 
Then it's : "NO I GO WITH MOMMY." 
I swear Adam doesn't beat him or anything. 
Oliver is just strange like that. 


Oliver is a child of limited tastes.  
He doesn't love much, 
but what he loves, 
he loves with a deep deep passion.  

Current loves:  

Construction Equipment

Celebrity Sighting!
For the past few months, 
we have had dozens of books checked out on diggers, 
cranes, bulldozers, backhoes, etc. 
I am now a construction vehicle expert. 

Water (ocean, pool, etc)

Combining two loves: water & construction vehicles

Sofia the First

When our friend dressed up as Sofia the First,
Oliver was SMITTEN with her
(Little does he know, he is getting a Sofia the First princess dress for his birthday)

I love Oliver now, 
but I also can't wait to see the person he becomes. 

Informal Stats

Currently weighs around 38 lbs 
Wears 4T pants and 3T/4T shirts. 

PS (Alena): I updated Aaron's 6 year post with his official doc stats

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Happiness - Part 2

In Part 1 on Tuesday, 
I outlined the book "The Happiness Project"

but now want to dive into my own little happiness project. 

Taking her categories and applying them to me. 

1. Energy

I already sleep great (usually 8 hours), 
exercise regularly,
 and keep a relatively clean house.  
But there is one major area I am bad at... 

While I know what I should be eating, 
the reality is that I often don't. 
I LOVE carbs and sugar. 
I will reach for M&Ms long before I reach for an apple. 
Aside from this being a problem for my weight loss (or lack thereof), 
it's an equally big problem for my energy levels. 

While my meals are usually healthy,
my snacking is terrible.
Especially in the afternoon,
I'm prone to a spike in sugar levels and then a crash,
both in energy and in mood. 

My energy goal can be summed up as:  

2. Marriage 

One of my favorite quotations from the book: 
"[My husband] Jamie is my fate. 
He's my soul mate. 
He pervades my whole existence. 
So, of course, I often ignore him.

This is me with Adam. 
She had a lot of great little tips in her book, 
and so some of the areas I want to work on are: 
- Spend more time on little acts of love 
- Give more hugs (6 seconds at least!) 
- Appreciate (verbally!) what Adam does do, 
versus focusing on what he doesn't 

3. Work

Well, I don't work.
But the author touched on the importance of "new things."
For her, a new thing was starting a blog.
For me, as a SAHM, new things are finding new places to go with my kids.
When I first became a SAHM,
I was obsessed with finding new places to go.
This past year, I've quit doing that.
Even though I have a hefty list of places to go,
I am not going anywhere new.
And I miss that.

So in short?

This past weekend, I took the boys to a new park,
about 30 minutes from our house.
It was a huge hit.
There was an enormous sandbox filled with trucks for Oliver.
A maze of a castle and playground for Aaron.
The weather was beautiful.
And I was SO HAPPY.

4. Parenthood 

This was an interesting chapter,
filled with lots of little tidbits.
She recommended two books,
once of which is on my original 10 list,
so I think I'll check that one out and go from there.

5. Leisure

When asking "WHAT is fun",
she gave the answer:
"What did you enjoy as a child? 
You'd probably enjoy the same things now."
As a child, I loved to write stories.
I wrote/typed thousands of pages of stories,
many interconnected in a magical world
 like some poor variant of harry potter.
Do I want to write stories now?
Not particularly.
But I do LOVE blogging.

But blogging is a relaxing fun for me.
A challenging [more rewarding] fun for me,
is organizing and purging.
It is a lot of work
but it fills me with such joy,
like a runner's high of happiness.
I want to tackle more of these products during my weekday free time,
before Oliver ends preschool.

Another thing about leisure.
A cautionary warning from the author:
"[I would often think] the most fun would be 
to cross some items off my to-do list. 
I'd feel so much better if I could get something accomplished 
[...] but turning from chore to chore 
just made me feel trapped and drained."

This is me.
I so very often put off doing "fun" things in the name of accomplishment.
Like on my last Mama's Day Off,
I spent a lot of time doing cleaning and normal daily work,
rather than focusing on the projects that I love to do.

I need to be more intentional about my leisure time.
I'm typing this on a Sunday afternoon
while both boys are napping (!!!!).
My to-do list is a mile long,
but this is making me far happier.
I'll tackle my list when they wake up.

6. Friends 

As a 98% Extrovert, I love hanging out with my friends.
I consider friend-time to be my best form of self care.
Unfortunately, as a mom with young kids,
it doesn't happen as often as I'd like.

1st Resolution: Hang out with friends more. 

One interesting thing in this chapter,
was about taking one's talents and apply it to one's friends.
For example, I LOVE organizing and purging.
A few years ago, I would help my sister-in-law clean out her playroom.
I have so many friends who lament about
"oh I need to clean out my [attic, basement, wherever]"
and I always casually say "let me know, I'd love to help."
But I need to push that more.
Seriously, I WANT TO HELP.
It brings me JOY.

2nd Resolution: Use my organizing/purging talents to help my friends.

7. Money 

Adam and I are really good with money.
We save well,
we budget well,
we pay off our credit card 100% every month,
we have no debt except our home mortgage,
and we still get to enjoy things we want.
There is not a whole lot I would do to improve my money happiness.

the author talked about satisficers vs maximizers.
Satisficers see something that will fill their needs/wants, buy it, and be done.
Maximizers want to make sure they get the best possible product,
and thus spend a lot of time researching.
Both Adam and I are maximizers
and we spend a lot of time/effort into procuring exactly what we want.
Maximizers tend to be less happy
because not only do they waste a lot of time trying to find the perfect product,
but they also experience a significant amount of self-doubt over their purchases.

Be a Satisficer, not a Maximizer. 

8. Eternity / Spirituality 

The author is not religious at all,
so her actions for this subject did not hold my interest.
However, it confirmed my 2019 New Year Resolution to
read the Bible in a year.
Prompted by this, I printed out a plan for myself
(sample reading plans here)
I am still wayyyyy behind,
but at least I have a plan.

9. Pursue a Passion

I love to learn.
I have always loved to learn.
I like learning about all sorts of random things.

When I wrote my 100 35 wants,
7 of them were learning new skills,
- take a wine class
- go to culinary school
- learn to bartend
- learn photography
- take golf lessons
- take horseback riding lessons
- take flying lessons

I want to start taking classes now.
While we may not have the money to pursue some of these right now
(horseback riding lessons and flying lessons are crazy expensive)
but I could start pursuing weekend wine classes
or bartending classes.

10. Mindfulness

I want to go therapy. 
I believe that everyone in every walk of life can benefit from therapy.
Self-evaluation is the utmost form of improvement.
And it's time to apply this to myself.
And for an added incentive,
it's super cheap through our current insurance plan.

After scouring our insurance website
and reading provider bios online,
I finally found a therapist I would love to see...
only to find out she's on maternity leave through May!!!

In the meantime, I registered with her counseling center
and when she returns,
they will call me to schedule.
I'm very much looking forward to this.

11. Attitude 

I always feel like I'm a little pissed off at someone.
The someone can change daily or can last for weeks.
My feeling ranges from mild annoyance to seething-red-rage.

It was a lightbulb moment when the author noted
that a mind left unoccupied will drift to angry thoughts.
I see this happening all the time,
most often when I'm cleaning the kitchen
or doing some mundane chore.
That's when I start to stew over the latest injustice
or annoying person
or whatever that has been nagging me.
It sours my attitude
and then I carry that sour attitude on with my day.

Of all the things we have addressed in this list,
from snacking healthy
to taking classes
to making hugs last 6 seconds...
this will be the hardest to tackle.
Because it is so subconscious.

The author had a variety of suggestions,
like keeping a list of happy things to transfer the mind to
or music that changes the mood.
So perhaps that's where I will start.

Find a way to cut my negative thoughts off, 
before they fester and grow. 

(And yes, this is on my list to talk to my future therapist about!)


This is quite the list.
It is longer than my 2019 New Year's Resolutions.
Will I tackle all of these things this year?
Maybe not.
Would I like to incorporate them into next year's resolutions?

I'll end this with a particular poignant quotation from the book
about goals vs resolutions:
"You hit a goal, you keep a resolution.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Happiness - Part 1

I just finished a book called The Happiness Project, 
and loved it so much that I wanted to write a little about it here. 

While this book has been around for a very long time, 
I only recently discovered it through the IG account @enneagramandcoffee
when she posted book recommendations by Type (here). 
I don't know much about enneagram, 
but I do know I'm a Type 1 
and this was the book recommended for Type 1s. 

Additionally, I've been suffering from some terribly cranky moods. 
I don't know if it's the weighted shadow of The Elephant 
or my discomfort at being nearly 20 pounds overweight
or the leftover winter blues 
or all of the above
but I haven't felt my best in a while. 
I've been snappy and discontent. 

All this combined, it was the perfect time to start 
The Happiness Project. 


Upon opening the book, I immediately loved the author. 
I related to her quirks 
and understood her mindset.
It was enjoyable to read someone who thinks like me. 

The author's goal was 12 months of happiness improvement
via specific areas of self-improvements. 
I really loved how she organized by month, 
and identified key areas to work on. 
Part 2 of this post will be me taking these categories, 
and applying them to my situation. 
Essentially creating my own 12 months. 

Here are the categories by month. 
Sometimes I listed her individual action plans 
or just inserted a few quotations I found valuable. 
There were a few "dud" months, 
where I didn't find anything helpful or applicable, 
but that's to be expected. 


1. January : Energy 
- Get more sleep 
- Exercise better 
- Tackle house organization / cleanliness 
- Tackle a nagging task
- Act more energetic 

2. February: Marriage 
"A 30% increase in one spouse's happiness in marriage
 boosts the other spouse's happiness.

She had several action plans in here, 
basic areas like not nagging and learning to "fight right." 
One of my favorite little tidbits: 

"Hug for at least 6 seconds. 
6 seconds is the minimum time
 to promote the flow of oxytocin and serotonin, 
mood-boosting chemicals that promote bonding.

3. March : "Aim Higher" (Work)
"Challenge and novelty are key elements to happiness. 
The brain is stimulated by surprise, 
and successfully dealing with an unexpected surprise 
gives a powerful sense of satisfaction. 
If you do new things [...], 
you're more apt to feel happy 
than people who stick to more familiar activities.

4. April: "Lighten Up" (Parenthood) 
- sing in the morning 
- acknowledge the reality of feelings 
- be a treasure house of memories 
- take time for projects

5. May: "Be Serious About Play" (Leisure) 

What is fun? 
"What did you do enjoy as a child? 
You'd probably enjoy the same things now.

Fun falls into 3 categories: 
1. Challenging Fun - requires the most energy, but is the most rewarding 
2. Accommodating fun - doing something that is fun for someone else 
(e.g. taking children to the playground
3. Relaxing Fun - no skills or action.  Least energy but least rewarding 
(e.g.: watching television/movies)

6. June : "Make Time for Friends"

"One of the best ways to make yourself happy
 is to make other people happy.

"The more you see a person, 
the more intelligent and attractive you find the person."

And a warning about gossip (don't!): 
"Spontaneous Trait Transfer: 
What you say about others gets associated with you"
e.g.: if you comment that someone is obnoxious or greedy, 
the hearer is more likely to see you as obnoxious or greedy. 

7. July : "Buy Some Happiness" (Money) 

I found this chapter especially fascinating, 
as she spent a lot of time evaluating the relationship of money & happiness, 
including the most common phrase 
"money can't buy happiness" 
(which is not necessarily true)

"One important way that people evaluate their circumstance 
is to compare themselves with the people around them 
and with their own precious experiences. [...] 
Research shows that people who live 
in a neighborhood with richer people 
tend to be less happy than those in a neighborhood 
where their neighbors make about as much money as they do.

Additionally, the author was very Marie Kondo about this chapter, 
specifically using what you have and love, 
rather than tucking it away to "save." 

8. August : "Contemplate the Heavens" (Eternity) 

As the author is not religious at all
I found this chapter the least inspiring of them all 
and didn't have any takeaways. 

9. September: "Pursue a Passion" 

For the author, this was her passion for writing/books, 
focusing on key areas such as:
- write a novel 
- make time 
- forget about results 
- master a new technology

10. October: "Pay Attention" (Mindfulness) 

Like her chapter on eternity, 
I felt this chapter was a bit of a dud. 

11. November: "Keep a Contented Heart" (Attitude) 
- laugh out loud 
- use good manners 
-give positive reviews 
"Being critical is easy, being enthusiastic is risky. 
But people feed off enthusiasm and positive.
- find a happy please 
e.g.: When thinking negative thoughts, don't brood on them 
or they become worse. 
Instead find a happy place for your thoughts.
"When people's minds are unoccupied, 
they tend to drift to anxious or angry thoughts [...] 
One reason women are more susceptible to depression than men 
may be their greater tendency to ruminate; 
men are more likely to distract themselves with an activity.

12. December: combine all of the above. 

On Thursday, I'll post about applying these to me. 
Stay tuned! 
(Or, if all this happiness is making you yawn, 
be prepared to skip that post.)

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Oliver Speech Update Apr 2019

April is Oliver's birthday month, 
so it's the perfect time to give another speech update! 

For a little background on his speech, 
you can read my update in August 2018. 
By the time I wrote my September update,
 Oliver had made great progress to 3-word sentences. 

Throughout the rest of the fall and early winter, 
Oliver continued to get better and better. 
And then January came 
and we had decisions to make. 

In Pennsylvania (and other states?), 
Early Intervention stops at the child's 3rd birthday
at which point the child would move to the Intermediate Unit. 
(Ours is the "MCIU" for Montgomery County Intermediate Union)
Of course, the child has to qualify for MCIU, 
which means another evaluation/test

Oliver's MCIU evaluation test was scheduled for Thurs, January 17th. 
This was a key date because it meant Oliver was 33 months old, 
versus 32 months old, 
which is a more advanced criteria for speech. 
(Not by much, but every month has more criteria)

Our current Early Intervention speech therapist had a lot of good advice. 
The first was how to ask for an assessment from his preschool teacher. 
Preschool teachers don't want to say mean things about a child, 
so they try to better the child in the assessment. 
We WANT Oliver to qualify for services. 
I emphasized to his teacher over and over: 
"Do not be kind.  Be brutally honest." 
I don't get to read her assessment, 
but his teacher assured me she was NOT kind in her write-up
(and then confessed she felt really bad writing it too!). 

Overall, our Early Intervention speech therapist 
gave Oliver odds of 20% acceptance into MCIU. 
Not good odds. 

January 17th came and it was a *bad morning* for Oliver. 
He was cranky, miserable, and just all around horrible. 
At one point he even threw a chair at the evaluation! 
I began to feel like we were there for a behavior evaluation, 
rather than a speech evaluation. 

I don't know whether it was the poor behavior, 
the "mean" write-up from his preschool teacher, 
or just a very lenient evaluator, 
but Oliver qualified for MCIU

Starting after his 3rd birthday, 
Oliver will have two 30-minute sessions a week. 
When I told this to our Early Intervention speech therapist, 
she nearly fell over in shock [and happiness]. 
She said she has kids who can't put two words together, 
and they only get ONE 30-minute session! 
Goes to show how subjective the evaluations are!  

Unlike Early Intervention, 
where services take place in the child's home, 
MCIU prefers to conduct services in social setting. 
The ideal place would be the child's preschool. 
However, Oliver's nature school (next year) is not in our county, 
so MCIU won't travel there. 
Instead, we'll find an independent location, 
probably the local library, 
to conduct his speech therapy. 

And just as exciting, 
ever since his evaluation a few months ago, 
Oliver's vocabulary has EXPLODED. 
He is talking in paragraphs, 
mostly understandable (but some need help). 
The biggest jump in language came after our Florida trip, 
which made sense because children often will jump in milestones/abilities 
after a unique experience. 

Overall, we are THRILLED. 
Thrilled he is progressing. 
Thrilled he is going to continue to get help. 
Thrilled with everything. 

The Nitty Gritty Technical

If you like really technical data (Allena! Hannah!), 
here's some from the MCIU Evaluation. 

Oliver's primary qualification for MCIU was by scoring a
 71 on the Arizona-4 Phonology Scale
(Phonology is the way sounds are organized.)

Oliver utilized eight phonological process 
(% used in his speech):

1.  syllable reduction ("efant" for "elephant" - 17%) 
2. cluster simplification ("code" for "cold" - 91%) 
3. final consonant deletion ("cah" for "cat" - 11%) 
4. fronting ("sue" for "shoe" - 46%)
5. stopping ("dis" for "this" - 55%)
6. gliding ("wed" for "red" -  33%)
7. vowelization ("cah" for "car" - 89%)
8. postvocalic devoicing ("cah" for "car" - 18%)

Other assessments performed on Oliver

Arizona-4 Word Articulation Assessment: Score 82

Preschool Language Scale - Fifth Edition (PLS-5) 
PLS-5 Auditory Comprehension: Score 87 
 PLS-5 Expressive Communication: Score 95 
Total PLS-5 Language Score: Score 90

For most evaluations, the child must score in mid-70s or less to qualify. 
So thank goodness for Arizona-4 Phonology, 
because otherwise Oliver would not have qualified!

Going Forward:

Now that Oliver has qualified, 
once he starts services with MCIU, 
they will concentrate on 3 major goals: 

1. Stopping -  reduce stopping errors by accurately producing /f/,/v/, /s/, /z/

2. Cluster Simplification - reduce cluster simplification errors by using the phonemes in his inventory (/h, b, p, m, n, t, d, w, y, sh, ch/) to produce age-appropriate consonant clusters

3. Fronting -  reduce fronting errors by producing /k, g/ phonemes

(As I write this, I'm wondering why they didn't add vowelization, 
since he uses vowelization 89% of the time. 
Perhaps they expect that to correct with the other issues?)

Of course, there's like 18 pages of information I could add from his IEP report, 
but that's the highlights of the nitty gritty.