Sunday, July 31, 2011

Never a lazy day...

Today was "supposed" to be one of those enjoy and soak-it-all-in days...or so I thought.  I finished a culmination of work yesterday: My dance studio's recital and a show I choreographed had it's run of performances.  I find myself saying so often: "When I just get through such and such, then things will calm down and I can have a few lazy days..."  Yesterday was altogether a really wonderful day- just long.  We started the morning at the beach with a group of friends.  It was a day we had been looking forward to, since beach trips have really been a highlight this summer.  My friend who organized the whole event is so creative and so detail-oriented that you could appreciate all of the small touches that she had arranged: from the multi-colored beach adirondack chairs, to the miniature beach bucket favors (filled with an inflatable beach ball, teeny, tiny sand toys and a bag of Swedish Fish -Aqua Life themed- of course.) Little did she know that Swedish Fish are my all-time favorite candy.  Anyone who knows me really well can vouch for this.  I won't wax philosophical about a bag of Swedish Fish, but let's put it this way: Christian's bag will mysteriously go missing.  Back to the beach.  We squeezed the entire family into the mini van, packed with props for the recital, beach towels, beach chairs, sunscreen, snacks for me for a non-stop day, and headed out.  The beach was a break from the extreme heat of the valley- but more so than we expected.  We ended up with an actual cold beach day (sans sweatshirts), but marveled as the preschoolers splashed and soaked in the freezing ocean anyway.  Is their zest for life that much greater than it is as an adult, that they aren't bothered by a little cold weather?  Or is it perhaps something more physiological- like children have no temperature gauge? Whatever it was, as we adults sat huddled in our beach blankets (probably offending our hosts), our children had a blast- just as they always do when you combine sand, sea, and kindred spirits. 

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Photos courtesy of Lori Bell Medlin (oxox)

Next, it was on to the recital... I had what seemed like grand ideas about creating ballets for my girls that give them some appreciation of the history of ballet- specifically in regards to storytelling type of ballets.  I choreographed my youngest group of girls in matched costumes to the next level up, but only the youngsters had their skirts cut very short, and their head garlands contained only ivy, where their older counterparts had blooming flowers as well. My inspiration was the forest scenes in La Sylphide.  While the ballet La Sylphide is quite dark, I focused on the simple idea of forest sylphs living in harmony and growing older in the forest.  I tried to signify the coming of age with a small pine tree during the small sylphs scene, and then a much larger (grown up) tree for the older girls.  I have no idea if anyone got the subtlety of that, but I do know that I have about a dozen scratches on my arms from hauling fake pine trees around all day. (And if I only had a dollar for every time someone asked, "What are the Christmas Trees for?" Oh, ye of little imagination.  These are not Christmas trees, these are magestic pines that only grow in the forests occupied by Sylphs... Right.) Remind me about this when I get these big ideas next year.

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Overall, the recital was a huge success and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing all of the girls' hard work come to life onstage.

Finally, I was off to enjoy the Calabasas Summer theatre's final performance of "A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum." Sadly, I have no pictures of our cast or production, but it was an enjoyable night. Perhaps because I have taken a few years off from choreographing musicals or perhaps because the show was a no-pressure-choreography type of show, I really had a chance to just sit back and enjoy.  I didn't spend time worrying about pointed toes or tight knees. I just enjoyed, and the icing on the cake, is that I got to work with my very talented, director, brother on this one.  I heart my brother, Bill.  (And also my sister and my other brother- don't get me wrong. We are all very close.) But, Bill and I have common interests. We always have. When I think back to all of the years that I made him dress up in some sort of costume get up and perform "a show" with me, I have to smile.  It was a foretelling of what would come. For the last 5 weeks, we've worked together doing what we have always loved: Putting on a show.  We are lucky. We are blessed.

I was eagerly anticipating a balance of busy family time, with some me ( read: yoga) time and some time with girlfriends.  None of it went as planned.  We started the morning at the church where Christian had attended Vacation Bible School (VBS) all week.  He had such a great time, and it made my heart swell.  Some of my fondest memories as a child were at VBS.  Today, was the VBS Sunday, where the kids attended and sang the songs they learned all week for the congregation.  My Mom, Dad, and youngest nephew joined me to support Christian's performance, while Charles was, unfortunately, absent due to a work deadline.  The scene was set: the kids were arranged on the stage, and the video came up to help assist the kids with the words and the associated dance moves. Christian turned his back to the audience, watched the video screen at the back of the stage and sang nothing...danced nothing. Yep. It was only after he returned to his seat in the pews that he finally decided to sing and dance along.  Whatever- he must not have gotten the "performer gene" that Charles and I both possess.  Sigh. The day continued as my chance to go to yoga went out the window with no one to watch the kids, and the dinner with girlfriends turned into a dinner with a frantic day care drop off for Christian, and a hungry baby boy in attendance.  It was not the lazy dinner with friends I had been looking forward to. But as good friends always do, they made me feel welcome and loved and pumped full of compliments.  Thank you friends.

I have another crazy week coming up and I find myself saying, "When this week is done, things should calm down a little and give me some time to be a little lazy..."  Oh, how I hope that is true.  As a Mom of two, I often find that even the things that are supposed to feel lazy and carefree, tend to feel a little like work.  Fulfilling work, but work none-the-less.  I have a "lazy day  few hours" scheduled into this week (babysitter and all) as a coping method. Now, however, I have to get to bed.  Early morning trip to the flower mart for me...

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Hope for the Future

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I think one of the greatest fantasies when you become a parent is dreaming of what your children will become as adults.  As babies, they are a blank canvas on which there are limitless opportunities to paint a future.  Will they be smart?  Maybe even super-smart...or possibly a genius? Will they be someone famous? Will they be a good parent?  Will they be happy? We have all met (and even sometimes been) the parents for whom their children can do no wrong.  Whose children are brilliant and infallible and stunning and talented-  All at once and...oh by the way: sooner than everyone else's kid. Right?  You've met them.  Maybe you've even been them.  But it can't be helped.  We all want our children to have happy, successful lives.  I think you'd have to be really messed up or not have a pulse to not want the best for your children.  To not want them to suffer or struggle or fail.

When Charles and I first received Elijah's diagnosis of Down Syndrome, it was this aspect that I grieved about most.  I feared that the sky was not the limit for my youngest son.  I feared that the best we could hope for for him was a life as a potential grocery bagger, who lived at home with us and had no one to love (romantically).  Now...I don't think that grocery bagger is the worst possible job a person could hold.  I mean, let's face it, there are lots of people who don't even have a job at all, so I'm not saying it as if it is the bottom of the barrel, worst case scenario.  What I am saying is, you don't dream about that as the goal job for your child when they are young.  You dream: Firefighter. Ballerina. Astronaut. (If such a thing will continue to exist..) and Brain Surgeon. To name a few.

My perspective has changed over the last year. I have gotten to know a lot of families who have a child, teenager or adult with Down syndrome.  I have seen many stories and videos online of successful, beat-the-odds individuals who also happen to have an extra chromosome.  There are professional musicians, actors, teachers, mentors, inspirational speakers, models, gold medalists, and many, many more.  The real truth is that we, just like everyone, have no idea what can or will become of our youngest son (or our eldest son either, for that matter).  What is truly most important is whether or not he is happy.  A Mom that I have a great deal of respect for, Gail Williamson, has an adult son with Down syndrome.  What struck me the most, was a quote I read by Gail, paraphrased as: Out of all my kids, Blair (who has Ds) is the most content with his life.  I think of this often.  That is saying a LOT.

I want my son(s) to be happy-that is probably the most important thing a person can be.  But, I also want them both to have Opportunity.  This is the reason that the very first charity (benefiting Down syndrome) that I took part in is the Down syndrome Research and Treatment Foundation (also known as DSRTF).  DSRTF is making scientific breakthroughs in discovering what is impacting the cognition problems in individuals with Down syndrome.  It is thrilling work.  The DSRTF has a campaign called Plus 15.  The plus15 campaign funds research at major research centers, including Johns Hopkins Medical Center, Stanford University, University of California, San Diego, and University of Arizona, into how to improve the memory, learning, and speech of people with Down syndrome.  Research scientists working on these improvements tell us they are within reach.  I have volunteered my time in helping to throw a fundraising event to raise money for these worthy efforts.  Coming up on Saturday, August 27th is our annual fundraising event: Research Rocks! If you are local to the Los Angeles area, please consider buying a ticket to attend the event.  The money is going to benefit a lot of people and the event is a great evening out, with food, drinks, a Q & A with the scientists, and dancing!  Attendance is not possible for many of you reading this (and actually, this year, it will not even be possible for me, as the 27th is the evening I will be celebrating my 40th year of life. Yikes!) However, we are throwing a raffle, which includes prizes like the ipad 2, a digital camera and a Barnes and Noble gift card.  For the price of a cup of coffee and a doughnut, you could buy a raffle ticket to benefit these researchers' work and possibly take home a great prize.  You do not need to be local or present to win-- We ship anywhere!! (And HAVE!!)  Please consider clicking on this link: https://www.dsrtf.org/sslpage.aspx?pid=485 to purchase raffle tickets.  Your donations are greatly appreciated and could help to realize the dream and hope for the future of our children with Down syndrome! (We also hold a wonderful silent auction.  If you, or anyone you know has a business or product they would be willing to donate in order to be raffled off, please contact me via email at: virgojennie@gmail.com.)

I hope my enthusiasm and belief in the work that DSRTF is doing didn't come off as a giant sales pitch.  I have hope for Elijah's future regardless of scientific breakthroughs, but the potential for my child to gain an improvement in his cognition, memory and speech could open up a world filled with even more Opportunity.  As a parent, I can't help but want that.  Like anyone, I want the world for my boys. 

I'll leave you with this recent video of Elijah... (don't forget to turn off the music before you play the video so you can hear Elijah's laughter.)


Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Week Without Wheat

I have done the seemingly impossible. I have removed wheat from my diet. Why, you ask?  Because it is time to get serious about returning my body to it's pre-baby status (or something very similar to it...). And, I needed a plan. The plan is this:

1) Follow a diet plan that can become a lifestyle plan. I'm not yet sure if this could be that, but I am giving it my all. My diet/lifestyle plan is from "Eat Right For Your Type" by Dr. Peter J. D'Adamo.  For my blood type, wheat is supposed to be very, very bad.  Since it is also the bulk of my daily calories and the evil temptress in my life (read: chips, tortillas, bread, crackers and all things carbo-goodness that I crave), it makes perfect sense that cutting it out will probably help me drop the last few baby pounds and get my flat stomach back.  Well, at least I hope it makes perfect sense, because it is step one of my plan.

2) Exercise daily- aiming for only 1 day off. My attendance in yoga class was non-existent for almost 2 months due to a knee injury.  Luckily, my knees seem to be back to normal.  (A new hip muscle pull is making walking and running painful, so I have to hold back on those, but strangely enough yoga isn't aggravating it at all.) So, I am back to yoga, aiming for at least 3 days a week. I'm still teaching ballet 2 days a week, so that just leaves 1 day a week to throw in something fun to change it all up. 

3) The formerly 5-minutes-of-abs-a-day (that I wrote about last week), has been bumped to 8-minutes-of-abs-a-day in addition to whatever other exercise I do. I'm getting stronger, finding some good playlists to put on my ipod and buckling down, because Holly Perkins says spot training can work! (More about Holly in a moment...) My goal is to get strong enough to do 15-minutes-of-abs-a-day.

4) Drink less.  I'll admit, I love a glass of wine with dinner...or two or three, if dinner is with family or friends.  But, the reality is that it is empty calories and on me, they go straight to my belly. So, I'm limiting myself to wine 2x's a week.  For me that's limiting, yet possible. :)

5) Whenever I feel unmotivated or ready to crack, look at the "Before" pictures I took of myself in a bikini this week. Sobering.  Perhaps I'll consider posting them once the "After" photos are so blindingly gorgeous that it won't matter.  Perhaps not. We'll see...

6) Follow my friend, Holly Perkins, on her Facebook page "Holly Perkins Fitness". Holly has a B.S. in Exercise Physiology and Nutrition from Penn State University, is an Exercise TV Celebrity Trainer, and is the official Fitness Ambassador to New Balance. Plus, she has started the "Holly 40 Body Project" in which she takes her already fit body and disciplines herself to get into the best shape of her life by her 40th birthday in December.  Holly has given more useful tips than I can count! She is inspiring and is helping to keep me motivated.  If you're on FB, click "like" to follow her progress and get tips you can use to help motivate yourself.


Now, for those of you who know me and are wondering why I am going to all of the trouble, because you think I look great? I say, Thank you.  (Really- some have asked, Why the trouble?) The answer is: I have goals for myself and I don't like being limited by what I can wear.  I have always had the philosophy that it is easier to try to lose 5 pounds, than 40.  Because before kids I looked great, and I know what it takes and how far I am from that.

My week without wheat was great.  I still had many, many choices among delicious things to eat.  I used Ezekiel bread when I needed a bread fix (since Ezekiel bread is sprouted wheat, the bad part of the wheat is supposedly killed in the sprouting process...) I ate more fresh fruits and vegetables than I have...maybe even in my lifetime. I had salmon and sole and ahi tuna, I made delicious greek salads, spinach salads, and even though I was very limited if we were out to eat, I didn't feel completely restricted either. I'm feeling a change happening, and even though I don't weigh myself, or even own a scale (old ballet neurosis come up), I can feel things changing in my body. 

I also have one additional motivation...my kids. More specifically, Elijah.  Elijah has therapies three times a week to help combat some of the effects of his extra chromosome, largely the low muscle tone that he has.  Elijah will always have to work harder and longer to get what comes naturally, and even easily, to others.  I don't have the kind of limitations he does. That makes me feel like I could be and should be taking full advantage of this strong and capable body I was given.  That it isn't just about being good enough, it's about treating it right and working it hard.  My hope is that because my boys will grow up with an active and fit Mother, that they will always strive for that themselves.  That it will be normal to have exercise be a part of daily life.  That it takes work to get our bodies to do what we want - regardless of our strengths or limitations. 

Now, every time I finish a yoga class- after I have been challenged beyond what I thought was possible- I close my eyes and I thank God for my strength, for my ability, and for the ease with which I am able to move.  I never really thought about that before Elijah.  It was more, That felt great. Glad it is over. How peaceful I feel now. The depth of gratitude I feel for the simple ability to be able to walk into a yoga class and try every pose is humbling. Because now I know, first hand, that it is just not like that for everyone. 

"I choose to be GRATEFUL, not HURTFUL.
I choose to be BETTER, not BITTER.
I choose to be CONTENT, not CRITICAL.
I choose to be ATTENTIVE, not INDIFFERENT.
I choose to live WELL, not just LIVE." ~ Author Unknown
 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Summertime

Nothing and everything has been happening around our house lately.  The last couple of weeks have actually felt something akin to a summer vacation--which is odd, because I am still working and as busy as ever.  However, the ways in which we have been spending our free time seem more luxurious and lazy- taking advantage of all that summer brings with it.  We hit the beach for the first time this year (twice in one week!) with a group of friends- sun, sand, yummy picnic lunches, faces filled with unencumbered joy at the sight of the crashing waves and endless opportunities for sand and rock architecture.

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On our first visit to the beach, we were hosted by friends who were renting a beach house in Malibu.  We over took the small, private beach in front of the property and I was momentarily mortified to see Charles walk down to the beach with a giant garden shovel.  Oh boy... But then, he made his magic...such a big part of why I love him...he got in there with all of the kids and built a giant sand structure.  A true sand Castle.

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One of the greatest joys and opportunities of becoming a parent is the chance to, in a small way, re-live childhood.  The chance to see everything new again from a child's eyes.  The chance to show your children the really, really cool things that they haven't ever experienced and seeing firsthand how that experience lands on their faces and imprints onto their hearts. It is a gift, to be sure.

Elijah enjoyed his first beach experience.  He didn't mind the sand (even when he face-planted into it), and took the feel of the waves on his feet in stride.  After a morning that was already filled with an OT appointment before our beach trip, it was time for his nap. And boy was he ready.  ....Nothing like a 2 hour snooze at the beach (in the comfort of his pack and play and the cool air conditioning of our friends' rental property)!

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Though I was left with a halter tankini sunburn (which Charles insists is kind of sexy...in a 70's-tan-lines kind of way...) it was a refreshing and fantastic way to kick off summer.  The beach temperatures were perfect- 75 and 80 degrees, respectively, and it was a welcomed escape from the searing temperatures in the valley that were tipping toward 100.


Since it was so hot in the Valley, we decided to skip town for the 4th of July weekend...to Palm Springs!! Haha....anyone who knows Palm Springs, knows to avoid it around this time of year, as the temperatures can make the valley seem like a cool breeze on an island shore.  We got lucky, though.  The temperatures were no higher than what we would have experienced at home, and instead of the regular drill of being at home we were spoiled by someone else doing all of the cooking (Thanks to my Foodie/Caterer friend, Larissa!!!), lingering hours in the pool and the chance to read books!  I actually finished an entire book in less than 24 hours.  It was so good--both the book (A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan) and the fact that I had enough time to indulge in reading something cover to cover! Charles, our friend Adam, and Christian took advantage of the golf course and set out in the golf cart for some Chip and Putt. (During which, Christian took his first solo ride in the golf cart, much to Charles and Adam's surprise...)


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We fashioned a little safety situation so Elijah could sit without worry on the tile floors...no bonking the noggin with this get-up...

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Christian was loving the water, and donned every possible floatation device at our disposal!!

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Elijah experienced the pool for the very first time.  Though he looks pensive in these shots, he really seemed to enjoy it.  His eyes were a little sensitive to the sunlight, so he seemed most bothered by the brightness. But he splashed and kicked with our assistance around that pool, enjoying every minute.  He didn't stay in very long, as it seemed to really wear him out...and I have never seen a baby "prune up" faster in my life.  Don't know if it's just his extra sensitive skin or a ramification of an additional chromosome, but he was pruned and done within 10 minutes! :)

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All my boys together....in their little bucket hats...

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We got back home just in time for fireworks, but I was exhausted and it was Elijah's bedtime, so Charles loaded Christian into his truck and took him to the local fireworks up the street.  Christian has loved fireworks every year- talks about how soon it is until we get to see them again.  This year, however, he was terrified.  He wanted to leave five minutes after the show started. As it turned out, he was pretty exhausted too, and I think that didn't help the fireworks experience.  He was out like a light 30 seconds after Charles started the engine to bring him home.

We're back in the groove of life, but have some new goals and continued plans for sucking the life out of summer:
Goal #1: Finish Medi-Cal application! (Elijah was finally approved by our Regional Center for Medi-Cal coverage. Now I just have to fill out the 14 page document and somehow provide financial information from the cumulatively 50+ sources that Charles and I make our livings by...)
Goal #2: Get the pre-baby body back.  Time to get serious about Goal # 2--40 is looming and I am over this baby bulge that has taken up residence on my abdomen!  My strategy?: 5 minutes of non-stop abs a day- at least.  (I used to do this regularly when I was dancing professionally...and sporting a "six-pack".)  I don't need to be back at 6 pack abs, but I want the still-looking-about-4-months-pregnant-belly to be gone.  Adding to my "5 minutes abs", are a few dietary changes that I'm trying out.  I'm taking a few cues from "Eat Right For Your (Blood) Type)", even though I formerly scoffed at the idea of the plan.  I can no longer ignore the number of people (with near perfect bodies) who rave about the results.  So, I am saying a temporary goodbye to chicken and tomatoes, which are two of my favorites, but happen to be on my list of foods that are destructive to my body type.  The good news is that goat cheese happens to be a desirable food for my body type--Woo Hoo! There is some hope...
Goal #3: Continue our garage and home organization efforts.  We have been making progress.  It sometimes seems infinitesimal, but it is happening and so we plug along...
Goal #4: Maintain a positive mental attitude...like the one that allowed me to buy a zebra print tankini online yesterday.  I feel so empowered by this purchase...and yet, the reality is that I have not tried it on yet.  So...if I do, and it's traumatizing, I can always send it back.  There is always the "Miracle Suit", right??!

Our upcoming plans involve water playdates, our 7 year wedding anniversary date, buying a new slip and slide (And I am proud to announce the destruction of one, yellow and blue slip and slide...because one little man and one large man in my family were doin' it the way it should be done!  I'm proud, in a we-are-making-no-excuses-and-using-up-life kind of way!), Girls' getaway to the Spa, more beach trips, Dance Recital, and much, much more!

I'd love to hear what fun your summer has brought you, and what's in store!!
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