Finally settled in to Rumson NJ

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Tucker Jackson Beagle

Last Monday, I took Tucker in for an ultrasound to follow-up on the sizable mass the vet had discovered when he did an x-ray of Tucker’s abdomen. By this time, I had googled all the possibilities. I knew the chances of good news were slim — but a small part of me held out hope. Tucker had regained much of appetite after the antibiotic shot and pain meds the vet gave him. Maybe it was just an abscess…

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The ultrasound confirmed a cavitated tumor on his spleen and lesions on his liver. Tucker was diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma, a highly malignant cancer with a very poor prognosis. Given his age (Tucker was 12.5), and given that the cancer had already spread, surgery was not an option. The other horrible thing about this cancer is there is a risk of the tumor rupturing, leading to sudden and severe hemorrhaging, and rapid death. My dog was a ticking time bomb.

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Unwilling to let him suffer any longer, and unwilling to risk the tumor rupturing, we decided to have him euthanized. We gave ourselves until the end of the week to get comfortable with the decision, and to say our last good-byes.

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Last Tuesday, JP and I headed out to a nice dinner and a concert — Lyle Lovett was in town. This had all been arranged months prior; we had no idea that we would be trying to have a fun time a mere 24 hours after learning Tucker had a most awful cancer. Of course, to add insult to injury, there was some sort of “dine with your dog” event happening in Red Bank that night. Everywhere we looked were people out and about with their dogs. Happy people. With happy, healthy dogs. The concert was very good. But our hearts remained heavy.

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Last Wednesday, Tucker stumbled a few times. He seemed to have difficulty getting comfortable and his gums looked a little pale. I was filled with dread at the thought that the tumor had ruptured. I called the vet and they urged me to head right in. Dr. Hines met me in the waiting room and checked out Tucker. I was relieved to learn that the dog was fine. “Tucker might have had a small bleed from the tumor, but he’s ok now,” he explained. Those words brought tremendous relief.

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We spent the next couple of days doing everything we could to spoil Tucker. He feasted on meals of chicken broth and cut-up chicken. He was given a treat every time it occurred to us to give him one (which was quite often). We hugged him. We loved him. We refused to leave him alone. Every night we brought him up to bed with us. Every night he snuggled in close to me. Every night I was grateful for the time…however fleeting.

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Last Friday, at 6:45 PM, JP and I brought Tucker into vet. We brought a bag of treats with us, and fed them to him often as we waited. There was another dog in the waiting room who benefited from this as well. We were finally called into the surgery room in the back. Tucker laid down upon a soft green blanket. The vet administered a sedative which stung a bit. I think that was the hardest part…hearing Tucker yelp. Luckily we still had plenty of treats left, and Tucker soon forgot his pain. The sedative worked pretty fast…he was completely relaxed, laying on the floor. He did not flinch at all when the vet injected him with the drug that would take his life. JP and I both cried like babies as we watched him take his final breath.

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My facebook tribute to the best dog I’ve ever known:

Today, with heavy hearts and eyes full of tears, we said good-bye to an amazing dog. Born January 11, 2002, Tucker Jackson Beagle proved right from the start that he was something special.

At 3 months old, Tucker impressed us all by doing his business in a hole by a fence so as to avoid the unpleasantness of anybody stepping in it. He continued to show that same courtesy throughout his life, and when the cancer began to take hold at the very end, Tucker would still manage to seek out the most remote corners of the house whenever he got sick.

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Tucker proved time and again that he was no ordinary beagle. We were told to never let a beagle off leash during walks — that he might catch scent of something and take off — that we might never find him. Well, Tucker was let off leash often, and he never once strayed far from my side.

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We were told that beagles were small dogs (it was one of the selling points for JP when we finally decided to get a dog). Well, Tucker stood over 17 inches tall at the shoulders, and weighed 54 lbs at one point (he was put on a diet shortly thereafter).

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One day, his doggy day care provider sent home this simple note: “Today, Tucker reminded me just how smart a dog could be.” I never did find out what it was he did, but it makes me chuckle to this day.

Tucker was my constant companion on countless walks through the foggy hills of San Francisco, and along the quiet seaside streets of New Jersey. He followed me everywhere — EVERYWHERE — years went by before I finally had some privacy in the bathroom.

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It was hard to be mad at Tucker, though. He had a knack for knowing when you needed extra love. Following my two miscarriages, he made a point to snuggle in extra close, refusing to leave my side. One of the best things about Tucker is that he did this for everyone, not just me. If anyone sat down on our couch, he would crawl into their lap, whether they wanted him to or not.

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Tucker never took “no” for an answer when it came to his job as a lap dog, and in the process, he managed to wiggle his way into everyone’s hearts. Paraphrasing the words of a Frenchman who used to take care of him when we were away: “Tucker is not beagle. Tucker is people.” RIP Tucker. You are missed. Terribly, and forever.

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How I lucked out to have such an amazing dog in my life I’ll never know. Thank you for all the great memories, all the snuggles, and all the laughs. Until we meet again, my friend. Until we meet again. RIP Tucker.

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All about the children

I am now, officially, a mother of a 6-year-old. We celebrated Evan’s actual birthday with a trip to Sesame Place with our good friends from San Francisco, Bill and Jessica, and their two beautiful children, Delia and Will. The kids (and parents) had a blast. It is always fun catching up with old friends, and even more fun when water slides and roller coasters are involved.
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But it was not just Evan’s birthday that we celebrated recently. JP’s mother (known to the grandkids as “Gee”), has a standing tradition of taking her granddaughters on their 4th birthday to NYC to buy their first American Girl doll, and treat the granddaughter (and her new doll) to a special luncheon. Since Gee is not in town in April, Erin got to celebrate her 4th birthday gift in August. Erin impressed us all by picking out her doll, and her special outfit, within the first 15 minutes of being in the store. Unfortunately for us, we had budgeted two hours before the luncheon. Needless to say, we found ourselves wishing we had taken the later ferry and slept in a bit longer. Regardless, we all had a wonderful time. Thanks, Gee!

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As I have mentioned in previous posts, the kids have been staying home with me this summer. One day, I received an email from the mother of one of Erin’s friends from Goddard School. Apparently her son, Brennan, said to her that morning: “Do you remember my friend Erin from the Strawberry classroom? I miss her.” Awww. Erin talks about Brennan all the time, too. So we immediately set up a date to get together for ice cream and a little fun time at the local playground. Erin and Brennan had big fun playing together, and Evan was excited to show us how he can get across the monkey bars now. A good time was had by all.

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My four-footed children have also had an eventful few weeks. I continue to shake my head at what is going on with Madison. She has all of the symptoms of Cushing’s Disease — a disease of the adrenal glands which causes an insatiable appetite, endless thirst, a pot belly, panting, etc. But test after test has been negative. The latest test did show some elevated estrogen levels. We’ll be starting her on lignans to help counteract that (which is a similar treatment for Cushings), so I’m hopeful that we’ll see some improvement.

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Tucker has been struggling, health wise, for a year. He had slowed down considerably (he has arthritis), and had started eating more dirt and other things on our walks. I had tests done on him, and it confirmed a borderline thyroid issue. We did a more extensive test, and it was inconclusive. He had some of the markers of hypothyroidism, but the blood results were not typical. We put him on thyroid medicine anyway…but we never did see any improvement. When the doctor confirmed that the medicine was not improving his thyroid levels, we stopped the medication. Something else was causing the issue…but what?

Then Tucker went through a period where he snapped at my children whenever they came in close for a hug. On a few occasions, he actually made contact and broke the skin. This was completely out of character for him, so we went back to the vet. There was nothing obvious…but given his history of seizures, and given the fact that he had started sleeping down in the basement (which was also out of character), some sort of brain tumor was suspected. The only way to confirm would be an expensive MRI, but we held off on that…mostly because we weren’t sure what we’d do with the info. We decided to take a wait and see approach.

Shortly thereafter, Tucker started to show a lack of interest in treats that he used to salivate over. This was odd, but he was still eating other treats, so I did not get too concerned. A few weeks later, Tucker started to show signs of back pain — he stumbled down the stairs and he collapsed outside when I let him out to go potty. So he went on Prednisone for a few weeks. This seemed to re-stimulate his appetite and he stopped snapping at the children. I was elated. Maybe that was all that was wrong after all…maybe he was just in pain…maybe that was why he had been acting so strange.

Last month, Tucker started losing interest in his dog food. At first, I was able to tempt him by placing a few treats in his bowl…he’d end up eating everything. But eventually that stopped working. Then I turned towards sprinkle cheese. The added flavor worked for a few days, but then it stopped. We went to the vet. He prescribed some medicine to help with an upset stomach, and asked me to come back if that did not help. I gave him the medicine and started adding warm chicken broth to his food. This also worked for awhile. Then he started to refuse the medicine. Hiding it in cheese or peanut butter did not help. At first, he would eat the cheese/peanut butter and then spit out the pill. Then he started to refuse the cheese/peanut butter all together. He also stopped eating his food. No amount of warm chicken broth would coax him to eat in the morning, but I would eventually get him to eat in the evening. Then, one day, he refused his eventing meal as well. So we went back to the vet.

Dr. Hines (aka the best vet I’ve ever had) squeezed me in to an already packed schedule last Thursday. I explained how Tucker just was not eating. How he was sleeping so long that there were some mornings when I would have to go down to the basement and coax him awake. Dr. Hines was concerned. When he took Tucker’s temperature and found he had a fever, he became even more concerned. When he began pressing on Tucker’s abdomen and saw the dog wiggle in pain, he became even MORE concerned. He suspected pancreatitis. I authorized blood tests and x-rays. I wanted to get to the bottom of Tucker’s issue.

When the doctor came out, he said the words I had not expected. “Tucker has a sizable mass in his abdomen. I no longer suspect pancreatitis. I am pretty sure this is the cause of his problems.” :-(

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Summer Swiftly Subsiding

I can’t believe it’s been nearly two months since I’ve updated this blog. I didn’t mean to neglect it…I just had some unexpected business come up that made me unexpectedly busy.

There is a big drought going on in California right now, and the State set up a grant program to help funnel money to water agencies to help address some of their water supply and conservation needs. It was a fast-track grant program, and my former employer found itself in need of additional help, and so I found myself working for most of June and July. I had not planned on working, so I did not have any childcare lined up for the kids, but we managed to make it work. As per usual, when I am busy with work, my writing suffers. C’est la vie.

House Update
After two-and-a-half years, our piano room is finally living up to its name! JP and I always knew we would eventually get a piano (we really want the kids to learn how to play), and so we finally pulled the trigger this summer.

At first, JP really wanted a Lester piano. Back in the early 1900’s, the Lester brand was a really good piano. But after traveling to PA to see a 1913 Lester, he realized how much work (read: money) it would take to get an old piano restored to playing condition. So we did a complete 180 and started looking at brand new pianos. Since a brand new Yamaha, Steinway, etc was not in our budget, JP did a ton of research on “starter” pianos that weren’t complete crap. For a long time, we were convinced we’d be purchasing a new Weber or Young Chang. But then I played one, and my reaction was “meh” at best…so we changed our strategy once more.

We decided to go for a used piano with action/sound that we both liked. We happen to really like the sound of a Yamaha, so JP searched high and low for a used Yamaha in our price range. This was no easy task. We finally found one, but ended up getting outbid. Discouraged, JP started looking at other brands that had a similar sound/quality to the Yamaha. That’s how we discovered the Baldwin. We had to drive all the way to Connecticut for this beauty, but it was well worth the trip. The best part of all is that Evan has really taken to the piano…he’s already reading notes and playing songs, he’s even written his own songs, and we’ve only had the piano for a few weeks!

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Evan Update
My little boy finished Kindergarten. He was sort of nonchalant about it all…we’ll see if he starts to get nervous when we get closer to 1st grade. I’ve been really impressed with how much he’s grown recently, and I don’t mean physically (he’s actually overdue for a growth spurt if you ask me). Evan has always had a bit of trouble mastering things…it’s like two steps forward, and one to three steps back with him when it comes to learning new things (e.g. riding a bike, swimming, etc). But now he’s riding his bike like a champ, he’s swimming better than ever, he’s jumping off diving boards, he’s tackling the ocean waves with a boogie board…he’s doing all these things that would have panicked him to no end just a few short months (weeks) ago. I’m very proud of him.

He turns six on Wednesday, but we celebrated his birthday with family this past Friday. All he wanted for his birthday was to celebrate it at home with his cousins…and he got that :) Well, technically, he also wanted a vanilla cake with vanilla frosting, and he got that too (although I did have to stay up until midnight the night before baking it). We also had the obligatory back-up ice cream cake in the event my cake was a disaster. It wasn’t…but it could be improved.

The pictures below are from his end-of-year school concert (in which he sang MAYBE 10% of the words – hence no video), and his birthday party.
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Erin Update
Erin is my little fish. She is a really strong swimmer (for her age), and there is no place she’d rather be than at the beach club. I can’t count the number of times she’s said, “It’s a nice day out, why aren’t we at the beach?” Good question, Erin. Good question.

Erin also started taking karate with Evan this summer. She was really nervous at first, but she was all smiles by the end of it. Her first day she was already breaking boards with her kicks and punches :) I also enrolled Erin in a summer dance camp. It was a week long camp where they did arts and crafts and danced to a bunch of “Frozen” songs. She seemed to really enjoy it. I’m not sure she’s going to continue dancing, however. There are only so many extra-curricular activities I can handle, and she’s been asking to do gymnastics instead.

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Anyway, I’ll try not to let two months pass before I post another update to the blog.

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May Madness

I don’t remember much of March (yet another sign that I’m getting old) but the month of May was pure madness. I can’t believe it has taken so long for me to post to the blog…but then again, I don’t think I’ve been so non-stop busy for some time.

A quick update on me. I received the results of all my blood tests. Unfortunately (fortunately?) they were all negative. So I cannot blame my weird skin issues on lupus or stomach bacteria or anything else but pure bad (genes) luck. The good news is that I seem to be able to sweat just a tad more now that the winter weather is gone…but it’s still not enough to keep the lobster skin at bay. Oh well. There are definitely worse things in life.

One of the better things that happened this month was that my Grammy came to visit. While she was here, she got to see Evan and Erin swim at the YMCA, she saw Evan do karate, she saw Evan play a little tee-ball, she saw Erin perform in her dance recital, she came with me to many a doctor’s appointment, and she helped me take the dogs for countless walks. It was great having her here. By the end of her stay, my kids were begging to have her take them back with her to Florida for a sleep-over :)
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About Erin’s dance recital — this was not your typical school auditorium recital — this was big time. She danced at the Count Basie Theater, a historic theater in Red Bank that attracts world-famous artists. It was complete chaos leading up to the event, and I had serious doubts about whether or not they would be able to pull it off…but it ended up being great. They had a professional videographer tape the performance and a DVD will be forthcoming later on, but here is JP’s video for the time being. [Of course, people had find their seats in the row right in front of us just as Erin’s performance started :/ ].

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We were especially touched that my Uncle Tommy, Aunt Peggy and cousin Dori drove down from Rhode Island for the performance. Dori has come a long way since I saw her last. She’s stronger, easier to understand when she talks, and getting much better at swallowing. My kids had lots of fun getting wheeled around in her wheelchair :)
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Evan finally outgrew his little red bike (his knees were nearly touching the handlebars) so we spent Mother’s Day looking for a new bike for him. He was excited for his big boy bike (it’s blue), but he was also a bit nervous. After several attempts (and several break downs) he figured out how to get started on his bike. He rode it on the sidewalk and turned around just fine. But then we didn’t ride for nearly two weeks. Big mistake. We started back at square one with Evan being especially nervous when it comes to turning. Heaven forbid there is ANYTHING in a 15 foot radius of him when he wants to make that turn. Apparently the saying “it’s like riding a bike” doesn’t apply to Evan. Sigh.

Speaking of bikes, Erin was “caught” riding her bike WITH a helmet by a policeman the other day on our way to pick up Evan from school. He stopped us and gave her a “ticket” for free ice cream at the Crazees. Pretty cool :)

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This past weekend was another busy one. Evan’s friend Liam had a pool party for his 6th birthday. His pool is HUGE (and heated…I’d hate to get their summer utility bills). Evan has been doing great at the YMCA — he can easily swim from one end of the pool to the other — so I wasn’t worried about party. But I guess trying to swim in a pool with a bunch of other splashing kids is not the same as taking turns swimming during swim lessons, and Evan freaked out. Not once, but twice, I ended up going into the pool to help Evan. I had my bathing suit on, but I also had a long cover-up on, and needless to say I was soaked. They had a lifeguard at the pool — I was just closer. And truth be told, he didn’t really need help. He was doggy-paddling just fine, but he was scared and shouting for help. Anyway, one of the cool things at the party was that everyone was totally excited to see him. “Evan!” they all shouted (kinda like Norm from Cheers). Also, when it was time for us to leave, his other friends decided it was time for them to leave, too. I guess he’s a big hit at parties :)

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Even though his own birthday is two months away, Evan got to celebrate an early “unbirthday” with his classmates this week. Apparently, schools these days want to make sure that everyone gets to celebrate their birthday with their classmates, so kids with summer birthdays get to pick a different day to celebrate theirs. Evan and Erin helped me make brownies for the special event. Evan was reluctant to help at first (he actually wanted to do his homework instead!), but after he got to lick the bowl at the end he changed his tune. Another thing that Evan did recently, on his own accord, was to write and illustrate a book about 3D shapes (they had been learning about 3D shapes in class). His teacher was quite impressed :)

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Our new beach club opened this past weekend as well. IT IS AWESOME! The view when you walk in is breathtaking, and our cabana (aptly named the “hooligan haus”) is perfect. The kids beg to go almost every day, and Erin is turning into a little fish. I see lots of happy memories being formed here over the years.

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Getting Old?

I swear my body started to fall apart when we moved to NJ. Since arriving at the Garden State, I’ve dealt with countless ear infections, broken toes, pinched nerves, shoulder impingement, strained muscles, acid reflux (the silent kind), eye infections, etc etc. I have been to more doctors in these past few years in NJ than I have been to in my entire life. Sigh. Definitely a sign that I am getting old.

It used to be that when I went in for blood tests, it was always with the expectation (hope) that the results would come back normal. For the first time in my life, I am hoping for a positive (abnormal) result from the blood samples I gave today.

After compiling a laundry list of issues I currently have with my skin, I finally made an appointment to see a dermatologist. With the exception of my rough hands and feet (which I’ve always had), I pretty much sailed through my teenage years without any major skin issues. Yes, I would get the occasional pimple, but that was about it. I seem to be paying for that luck now. No, I do not have acne, but I am turning red.

I was diagnosed with Keratosis Pilaris (KP) in San Francisco. To be absolutely correct, it is Keratosis Pilaris Rubra, the skin problem that makes it seem like the back of my arms and thighs are red. I don’t recall it being that bad in SF, but to be fair, the weather in SF did not usually lend itself to wearing short-sleeves, so it may be that I just didn’t notice it as often. Anyway, now that I live in a beach community, the ugly redness of my arms is quite noticeable and quite embarrassing. I’ve had more than one person remark that I should take care because the backs of my arms were getting sunburned. I’ve tried countless over-the-counter products, and nothing has really worked. I did find one product (Glytone) that helped diminish the redness a little, but it also increases my risk for sunburn…so it’s not the best product to use in the summer time.

In addition to the KP, I have recently been afflicted with Rosacea … that oh so fun skin disorder that makes your face/neck/chest flush hot and red. All through the winter months, I’ve either looked like I had a sunburn, or I was blushing, or I had too much alcohol (even if I hadn’t had a drop to drink) at any given time. I tried all sorts of creams, cold compresses, etc … but nothing worked.

In addition to the KP and Rosacea, I have also discovered one other annoying thing about my skin recently — my ability to sweat has greatly diminished. I was never one to sweat very much, but I used to be able to sweat…especially if I was exerting myself in the heat. I work out pretty hard at the gym two times a week and I try to jog 2-3 times a week. Even when I am panting from exertion, 99% of my body remains completely free of sweat. Instead, I turn bright red. As in lobster red. I actually start to overheat and get nauseous/dizzy because of my inability to sweat. While the redness due to my KP and Rosacea are cosmetic and embarrassing, the redness from my inability to sweat enough (the technical term is Anhidrosis) is distressing.

I went to my PCP last month and blood tests taken at the time ruled out a hormonal cause. She recommended that I see a dermatologist to rule out skin issues, and then perhaps see an endocrinologist. The dermatologist was able to rule out an skin conditions. She did, however, come up with a theory that would be absolutely BRILLIANT if it pans out. When she learned that I had also started taking medicine for acid reflux recently, she asked me if I was ever tested for the H. pylori bacteria. Uh, nope. She went on to explain that the H. pylori bacteria is a suspected culprit for acid reflux, and that there have also been tests showing a positive correlation with the bacteria and rosecea. I have since discovered that there is also a correlation between the bacteria and an auto-immune disease known as Sjogren’s Syndrome. One of the common symptoms of Sjogren’s Syndrome is anhidrosis. Could it be that this bacteria is the source of most of my problems???

Although the dermatologist cautioned me that the odds are quite low that I have this bacteria and that it is responsible for my skin/sweating issues, I am still somewhat hopeful that I may be one of those rare cases. If it turns out that all my issues ARE because of this bacteria, then — in theory — if we eliminate this bacteria we can resolve my other problems. Hence, my hope that this particular blood test comes back positive.

If it doesn’t come back positive, I will be heading off to the endocrinologist who will likely run more tests and tell me what every doctor has told me so far: your body changes when you get old. Sigh.

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Spring Break!

This was our first official “spring break” as a parents, and boy was it a busy one! Evan had the week off from school, so JP decided to take the week off from work and we kept Erin out of pre-school as well. These plans were made sort of last minute…so we did not go on a big trip to Jamaica or anywhere else like many of Evan’s schoolmates. Fortunately, being so close to NYC has decided advantages.

Saturday, 4/12:

The weather was absolutely beautiful, so we invited cousin Julia to come over to ride bikes with us that morning. It had been several months since Evan had ridden a two-wheeler and it was obvious his little 12-inch bike was much too small for him now (his knees nearly hit the handle bars as he peddles!). Unfortunately, Evan was not as confident on his little bike as he had been before the cold weather set in, and he needs a bit more practice starting by himself, turning and stopping before we can get a bigger bike for him.

This day was also Evan’s first day of tee-ball! I was a bit nervous because Evan doesn’t exactly have a great track record when it comes to trying new stuff (especially when athletic skill and coordination are involved). Further complicating matters is the fact that Evan has yet to decide which hand he prefers. Half the time he throws a ball with his right hand, the other half of the time he throws with his left. Sometimes he prefers to bat right-handed, other times he prefers to bat left. While this may sound like a coach’s dream, in reality it just means that Evan is especially bad with both hands. Sigh. The good news is that Evan really enjoyed tee-ball. There were no melt-downs like there had been in soccer. JP and I dug out our gloves from the basement and we have both agreed to practice with him whenever we can.

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After a successful game, we took the kids to Crazees for ice cream. I’m pretty sure this was the highlight of their day. We ended the day at Julia’s house, eating spicy Thai food. Much to my amazement, Evan cleaned his plate! This boy is one adventuresome eater!

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Sunday, 4/13:

It was another gorgeous day — a perfect day for a birthday party in the park. Erin’s best friend from school, Brennan, celebrated his 4th birthday at a park in Colts Neck. They chilled out on a picnic blanket for a little bit, but for the most part the kids were busy running around on the playground and blowing bubbles.

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Afterwards, we went to the annual Rumson Easter egg hunt with cousin Julia. In previous years, Evan and Erin hunted for candy in the same field. This year, Evan and Julia had to look for candy in field for 5-7 year olds. We ran into our other cousins Anna and Henry at the same field. Silly me neglected to get a photo of the group, but JP managed to get a few good shots of Erin filling her basket. In each field, there are a few coveted plastic eggs. Finding such an egg guarantees you a special prize. Somehow, Evan ended up with a plastic egg. We think that another kid who may have collected more than one plastic egg might have given it to him. In any case, he came home with a cool chocolate fire truck.

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Monday, 4/14:

This was a big day. We made a rookie mistake of trying to do TOO much, but it worked out in the end. After dropping the dogs off at puppy day care, we boarded the ferry to NYC. The kids loved being on the boat and seeing the statue of liberty.
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We started at the MET first. The kids enjoyed the Egyptian exhibit and looking at various art from around the world, but the visit was admittedly more rushed than I would have liked given their short attention spans. Evan was excited to find some Monet paintings, apparently he’s been doing some “Monet art” of his own at school :)

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When the kids started to run out of steam, we quickly made our way to a restaurant (The Shake Shack) for some much needed nourishment. This is where we discovered Erin’s LOVE for milkshakes (she is definitely related to Geeda). Refreshed, we then headed to The Museum of Natural History. At first the kids excitedly ran from room to room (look at those dinosaur bones!)…but after an hour it became clear that we had taken on too much.

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They needed sunlight and fresh air. It was time to head outside and find a playground. We ended up at a large playground in Central Park. As playgrounds go, it was pretty basic (just some slides and swings) — but it also had something most playgrounds do not — a large boulder formation that they were eager to climb. JP and I scrambled after them on the treacherous rocks, helping them to navigate easier paths. Fortunately, we managed to escape without any injury, and they played happily on the slides for the remainder of the time.

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Tuesday, 4/15 (Erin’s Birthday!):

The fickle spring weather roared its ugly head on Tuesday. Fortunately, we were planning to stay put in Rumson and celebrate Erin’s 4th birthday with her cousins. It was a perfect day to be indoors and have lots of fun at Chuck-E-Cheese. Afterwards, I spent five hours baking a cake for Erin. She had really wanted a Disney Frozen bedding set for her birthday, but we couldn’t find one the right size (or within our budget). As a compromise, I decided to make her a “Frozen” cake. I found an edible decor on Amazon, but it required that I make a white cake. It was a new recipe for me, and it ended up being entirely too sweet. Sigh. At least we had a back-up ice cream cake that was a big hit. The most important thing was that Erin had a great day.

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Wednesday, 4/16:

We woke up to snow (yes snow) on Wednesday morning. We were all pretty exhausted so we took it easy in the morning, but that afternoon we headed back into NYC to see a show. A production of Cinderella was playing on Broadway — and if there is anything Erin loves — it is princesses and shows. It was a win win. Erin was a bit disappointed that this particular theater didn’t have popcorn, but she seemed to enjoy the show. We forgot to take pictures, but a good time was had by all.

Thursday, 4/17:

By this day we were ALL positively exhausted. The puppies had spent two full days in puppy daycare and they pretty much just crashed on the couch. I took Evan for a much-needed haircut and we all headed to the YMCA that afternoon for swim lessons. It was the first time JP had seen them swim since January. The kids definitely impressed him (and me!). Both are getting really good at swimming across the pool all by themselves. Evan is getting better at free style and Erin is awesome at floating on her back. Once again, I neglected to get any good video of their impressive feats…but I will remember one of these days.
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Friday, 4/18:

This was mostly a lazy day spent recuperating from our busy week. Evan went to karate in the afternoon and we frequented a new sushi/hibachi restaurant that evening. Evan was amazed by all the “magic” the chef did in front of us. He loved all the food and can’t wait to go back. Erin, meanwhile, specifically requested that we NOT go back to that restaurant ever again. Heh.

Saturday 4/19:

This was another busy day, starting with Evan’s karate test in the morning. He did awesome and is now a junior orange belt. We are very proud of our little guy :)
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Afterwards, we headed to the ball field for Evan’s second tee-ball practice/game. He has caught the baseball bug (for now) and looks forward to each Saturday. We were all pretty tired though…Erin didn’t even make it home before falling asleep.
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Sunday, 4/20 (Easter!):

The Easter bunny was very good to Evan and Erin this year. They had a very good time going through their Easter baskets and hunting for eggs in our basement. They were even happier to go over to their cousin’s house for a second egg hunt and a little time in the bouncy house. Maybe it was all the chocolate they ate — or perhaps it is the age — but I could not for the life of me get a good shot of them. Oh well.

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It was a long, but good, Spring Break…though I’m looking forward to getting back to our usual routine :)

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April Showers…

We’ve had quite a bit of rain lately, but it’s better than snow. I’m sure 8 months from now I’ll be wishing the rain was snow, but I guess that’s what happens when you live somewhere that actually has all 4 seasons.

Quite a bit has happened since my last post.

My Great Aunt Trudy died. She was 91 and had been in poor health for some time, so it was not unexpected. But she was the last of that generation of Warks, and it was sad nonetheless. She was the reason I became so enamored with genealogy. At some point, Aunt Trudy put together a little document on what she knew about the family and the history of the Warks. That document — along with a family tree of the Homer side that my grandmother created — sparked an insatiable curiosity in me. Researching my family tree, and the family tree of others, is one of my favorite past times. May you rest in peace, Aunt Trudy.

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My dad’s best friend, Brian Snyder, also died recently. He had been battling cancer for years, but he lasted much longer than anyone had expected — a testament to the fighter within. Brian and his family moved from Minnesota to Florida and lived a few doors down from us when my brother and I were still in grade school. He and my father were both bikers (the former of the Harley kind, the latter of the 10-speed kind) and they bonded instantly. My father once recounted that when he learned Brian was a biker, he reprimanded him about bikers hogging the road, saying, “I used to carry rocks for people like you.” Brian quipped back, “I used to carry guns for people like you.” And thus a great friendship was born.

Brian served in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam war. He was a gunner on a medical helicopter and, if memory serves, he was shot down. Twice. I remember him showing me with pride his purple heart. I wish I understood better at the time everything he had gone through to earn that metal. In Vietnam, he was also sprayed down with Agent Orange. I can’t say for certain that was a cause of the multiple cancers that ultimately took his life, but it is suspected. He really did pay the ultimate price.

Another cool thing about Brian was that he was born on October 13 — and we all know that only really special people are born on that day :). To this day, he remains the only other person I’ve ever met who shared my birthday. Sharing his birthday did not entitle me to any special treatment, however. I quickly learned the 11th commandment (“Thou shalt not sit in King Brian’s chair!”).

He was a strong man with bright blue eyes and an infectious laugh, and he will definitely be missed. Rest in peace, Brian.

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The Marshall cousins have finally settled into their new house and we’ve been over a few times to visit with them and their new dog, George. They have a cool basement complete with a stage. Being the creative kids that they are, the cousins all put on a show recently. It’s a long one, and somewhat dark…but I am pretty sure this is the first time that all 8 cousins “played” together.

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Erin’s big-girl bedroom set arrived a bit quicker than expected, so she was treated to an early birthday present this week. A princess bed for my little princess.
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My sequel is FINALLY published

Where does the time go? I can’t believe I haven’t posted in nearly a month. Sigh.

Not much new in the Lester Family these days. I’m tired of the winter. I’m tired of the ice and snow. I’m tired of the bitter cold. Had I known this is what I signed up for moving to NJ, I may have reconsidered. Fortunately, the weatherman is predicting a slight warm up in the coming week; we might actually break 50 degrees! Of course, the weatherman is also talking about a chance of snow later in the week, so whatever hints of spring we feel will be short-lived.

The one good thing about the lousy weather is that I FINALLY published the sequel to my debut novel on Amazon. You can find The Stewards of Reed, Volume 2: The Dungeons of Cetahl here: www.amazon.com/dp/B00IS45QB8
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I used the same cover designer that I used for the first book because she had the original files and was good to work with before. I’m not a big fan of faces on covers, and I had originally intended to just show a hand gripping the cell bars — my cousin Patrick had drawn a really cool looking hand that I hoped she would be able to use — but it proved to be beyond her artistic talents. Oh well. At least the silver eye has some significance to the story…

The ebook version of the first book in the series (The Rise of Fallon) will be free next Friday (3/14) through Sunday (3/16) if you are interested in checking out the series (or know someone who might be). The ebook version of the sequel is $3.99. Unfortunately, I had to raise the price of the paperback to $12.99. Amazon’s publisher (Createspace) has minimum price thresholds that a book must meet in order to be eligible for “expanded distribution” — which gets my books into libraries etc. Since the distribution was free, I couldn’t refuse.

To be honest, I’m not as excited about the publication of this book as I was for the first. I just feel drained. I am also nervous. This book incorporates “dual timelines” — i.e., there is one subplot intertwined through the book that takes place in the past. Ordinarily, authors put time stamps to help orient the reader to where in time the events are taking place, or else they separate the dual timelines into different chapters…but neither of these techniques would work in my book. I tried messing around with different fonts and other subtle indicators for the scenes taking place in the past, but none of them worked to my satisfaction. I will just have to hold my breath and hope that it does not cause confusion for the reader. The majority of characters in that subplot are dead, and the reader is reminded of this in the present-day timelines…so hopefully that will help. I guess only time will tell.

In the meantime, I suppose I should get started on Volume 3. I haven’t finalized the title yet, but I’m leaning towards “The Order of the Ancients.”

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There are no words

I raise my white flag and surrender to the fates that have taken over my crazy life.

Updates on JP and Me:
– I found out that a friend from middle school/high school was killed by her estranged husband a few weeks ago. He was abusive and she had recently filed for divorce. He stabbed her to death in the parking garage at her work. She leaves behind 5 children, including 3 still in elementary school. RIP Casey (Nelson) Wilsey, your beautiful life came to an end far too soon :(
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– So my trusted editor, who did fabulous work for me on the first book, went MIA. Her edits on the sequel were promised “no later than January 20”. I never received anything from her, nor did she respond to any of my emails or voice mails. It is so out of character for her…I can only imagine that something must have happened in her personal life. Anyway, I have found a new (very responsive!) editor…and now The Dungeons of Cetahl is on track to be published by the end of this month (fingers crossed).

– After years of thinking about it, I finally had Lasik done. I doubt I ever would have gone through with the procedure had I not moved to NJ. I never really had any trouble with my contacts until I moved here. I finally had enough of the constant red eyes and infections…and decided to get rid of contacts for good. Everyone I know who had the procedure raved about it. Things I learned: (1) Valium is wasted on me; (2) I am one of the “lucky” people who could actually FEEL the cutting into my cornea (I think the numbing drops hadn’t fully taken effect yet); (3) I am still so happy I finally did it…I CAN SEE! My vision is 20/20 for the first time since I was 13.

– Last Friday night (actually it was Saturday morning at 3:30 AM), I awoke to the sound of beeping. For those of you who have been to our house, you know that it “beeps” three times whenever a door or window is opened. At first I thought I just imagined it, but I noticed Madison perked up in bed, too. I nudged JP…he heard it, too. He hopped out of bed (in his boxers) and went racing down stairs looking for intruders. He ran around, turning on all the lights and grabbed a golf club for protection. He checked every door and window. Nothing. Eventually we determined that it was a smoke detector with a dying battery. Why do they always die in the middle of the night?? And no, we did not really get back to sleep after that. Sigh.

– Yes, I am still in mourning from the Super Bowl. Seattle was the better team. Obviously. Oh well, on to next year.

– For the third time this year, I had to shovel snow out of our driveway. Monday’s snow was a wet, heavy snow, and I did not enjoy it. Fortunately, my kind neighbors stopped by and gave me a hand. Otherwise, I think I would still be out there shoveling. I am SO ready for spring.
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Updates on Evan and Erin:
– Evan passed his karate test and is now in a “junior yellow belt”.
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– Both Evan and Erin swam across the pool (unassisted) for the first time since they started taking swimming lessons at the YMCA. The weekly lessons are starting to pay off.

– Evan was invited to his first play date with a school friend (Jack J) last Friday. He was a bit nervous about it, but he did great! The weekend fun continued with dinner at cousin Julia’s (it was her birthday Feb 1), and celebration of said birthday at Chuck-E-Cheese on Sunday.
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– With all the excitement of the weekend (well, except for the Super Bowl), I must confess I was not too upset when school was cancelled Monday due to the snowstorm that dropped 5-6 inches of wet snow on us. I noticed Evan was mostly just lying around, which is not like him…even after such a busy weekend. Sure enough, he had a fever of 101.5. He perked up after I gave him Tylenol…but the fever came back as soon as the medicine wore off. When he still had a fever the next day, and woke up complaining of a sore throat, I kept him home from school and took him to the doctor. Poor little guy has strep throat :( He’s on antibiotics now and is finally back in school…

Updates on Tucker and Madison:
– I don’t think more than two weeks have gone by in the past few months without me having to go to the vet for one reason or another. Old Man Tucker needed to up his thyroid medicine. Even with supplements, his T4 levels were barely in the normal range. So far, I think it’s helping. Maybe. He hasn’t really perked up from an energy standpoint, but he isn’t growling and snapping at Evan the way he was before we got him on meds.

– The night before my Lasik surgery, Tucker and Madison got into the garbage when I went to get Evan from school. Maybe it was just Madison…it’s hard to say. Unfortunately, we had eaten a rotisserie chicken the night before, and the carcass was in trash. They ate the entire thing…not a bone was left. This is not the first time they ate chicken bones…so I knew that there was nothing much I could do except wait and see what happens. Luckily, they did not choke on the bones (which is the biggest worry). Everything was fine that night and the next morning. We went off to my surgery. When we came home, we could immediately smell it. Diarrhea and vomit was EVERYWHERE. My eyesight still being cloudy, I quickly ended up stepping in it. Poor JP. He had to clean everything up by himself while I went down in the basement and took a much-needed nap. A quick visit to the vet got us the anti-vomiting, anti-diarrhea meds we needed…and all was well after that.

– I have grown accustomed to needing to let Madison out ALL THE TIME, but when the weather is as nasty as it has been this winter – with endless snow and freezing cold temperatures – I couldn’t take getting up to let her out every 15 minutes anymore. She has always been a voracious eater (reference chicken incident above), and I became convinced that she had Cushings (a disease that makes dogs eat and drink a lot). Unfortunately, her test results came back negative…but the vet noted that her urine was extremely dilute…so there was something going on. The next thing to consider was diabetes. Well, after I successfully captured her “first morning pee”, we were able to rule out the two “medical” forms of diabetes. All that was left was something called “Psychogenic Diabetes Insipidus”. It’s either a neurologic thirst-control disorder or a behavioral disorder that causes a dog to over drink. Great. So now Madison is on some “happy pills” in hopes that they correct this problem.

And with that, February is here.

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Years Go By…

Good-bye to 2013:

2013 was a year of transition. Not good. Not bad. Just different. A few things worth mentioning:

– We finally had professional photos taken of the family.
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– Just when I began to think that Erin would NEVER be potty-trained, she impressed us all by becoming day-time potty-trained in a weekend and night-time potty-trained in about a week. We have said good-bye to diapers for good! (And I am saving a bundle on diapers and wipes!)

– We got rid of all of our strollers! Plenty of kids much older than Erin still get pushed around in strollers by their mommies – but Erin proved she was made of hearty stuff when she lasted nearly all day at Disney without a stroller when she was only 2. She wants nothing to do with strollers again…

– After a few rough starts, Evan finally learned to ride a bike without training wheels, and Erin learned to ride a bike with training wheels.

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– JP said good-bye to his big corporate job and Sony and headed back to the start-up would with Adaptly.

– I published my first book and the sequel is now in the hands of my trusted editor.

– Evan graduated pre-school and started Kindergarten. Despite being one of the youngest and smallest in his class (if not his entire grade) – he is doing great!

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– Evan learned to write. Technically speaking, Evan has been writing his name for some time…but now he’s writing complete sentences. If only he could figure out how to write neatly…

– Evan also learned to read. While he still gets frustrated that he doesn’t know how to read EVERY would, Evan now breezes through books that used to frustrate him at the beginning of the year.

– Evan did soccer in the fall (he was tentative at first but ended up doing great once he met some friends…he’d do even better with some kicking practice). He started Karate in November and LOVES it.

– Erin started dance class (tap and ballet) and seems to enjoy it. She continues to display her love for music and signing. Good thing we live so close to Broadway.

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Hello to 2014:

So far the new year is not off to the best start. My grandfather was placed in hospice on New Year’s Day and died last Sunday, January 5, after a long struggle with congestive heart failure and kidney disease. He was a large presence in my life and his passing has left a large hole, but I take comfort in knowing he is no longer in pain. RIP Grandaddy!

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The entire family went down to Florida for the funeral, and despite the sad circumstances, we enjoyed seeing family members and friends that we had not seen in some time. My kids were quite the troopers. They were well-behaved (for the most part) despite long days with no naps. We ended the stay on a high note with a little trip to Disney World (THANK YOU, FRAN!). Evan was finally tall enough to go on Thunder Mountain (he loved it!), and Erin was excited to see some Princesses (though she was too shy to actually pose with them).

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Wishing you all Happy New Year!

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