Coughing & hacking

That has been the story lately, but more so me and less of the boys. In fact, I finally got Gabriel and Zeke’s cough-variant asthma under control, although it took many sleepless nights and a few pre-6 a.m. starts of our days.

Conversely, I have been hacking for nearly two weeks with no signs of improving. Admittedly, I had been taking an array of different meds, since I wasn’t sure if my sickness is due to allergies or a cold.

Really, my only symptoms are a constant cough, occasionally feeling achy, and fatigue, yet I’ve remained fever-less and with hardy appetite, so I’m leaning toward allergies. I’m now taking an expectorant to make my cough more productive, along with with some allergy meds, so I hope to knock this thing out asap.

Gabriel, Houston & Kara love swimming in the Albemarle Sound during our family vacation in mid-July.

Interestingly, Houston hasn’t had a cough, so I was also unsure of the root of his recent sickness. His only symptoms had been a sore throat and a major runny nose — which prompted him to quite dramatically act as if the world were coming to an end– that is, until Thursday morning.

Yes, Houston’s aforementioned symptoms has stopped by then, thankfully. But that poor child woke up with such red, puffy skin on his upper face that he could barely open his eyes. He didn’t have any goop or crust in or around his eyes; he was just a swollen mess.

I tackled what was obviously a flair up of Houston’s seasonal allergies with an ice-cold facial compress, antihistamine eye drops and other allergy meds. He’s doing much better now, as are the twins. Hopefully, I will be on the road to recovery soon, as well.

Health beyond allergies 

It’s amazing how brave the kids are during doctor visits. On Monday, the twins had to get two vaccines each. Sure, they cried, but got over in about 20 seconds.

Then on Thursday, the 3 Amigos had a dental appointment. Houston, who used to abhor going to the dentist, politely requested that I not hang out with him during his cleaning. And while Gabe and Zeke still needed me nearby, they didn’t want to be held or coddled. Instead, they just relaxed and did as the dental professionals asked.

Zeke goes Hulk on Cousin David while frolicking @ “the calm beach.”

Speaking of teeth, Houston finally lost his tooth on Thursday, although this monumental occurrence happened during his nighttime brushing and said tooth plopped perfectly in the drain. Despite my best efforts, the tooth moved further down the hole. Fortunately, Stephen was able to disassemble the piping and rescue the incisor the sink abyss. Thanks, Daddy!

A giddy Houston put his first lost tooth in the tooth fairy pillow Granny bought him and awoke this morning to a dollar bill in the pocket. It sure pays a lot more to lose baby teeth in the 21st century than it did when I was a kid.

Last Tuesday, I met with my orthopedic specialist, Nikki. Since my last appointment, my mobility has improved and my pain has decreased. So, she modified my stretching regimen and assigned me strength-training exercises, and I plan on following her directives to a T. Here’s to getting limber, strong and healthy!

Being naked really works

Well, potty training in July ended with lots of poop in pants and even an explosive Gabriel dooky that got all over the couch. (Sigh.) Yet, in the face of such rebellious acts, I opted to give the twins the Thomas spin-brushes I had purchased for them months ago.

Yes, they were often using their pull-ups like diapers, but they were also going solo sometimes. Plus, I thought that the positivity of a reward might do them some good, since I tend to get bummed out when they have accidents caused by indolence and/or indifference.

Then last week, the brilliant Miss Christie told me about naked potty training. She used the method with both her sons, and the thinking is that if a kid has nothing on down south, he will resist soiling himself.

Houston & Kara teach Black Beard a lesson during a shopping outing.

On one hand, I thought, “I’m not sure if Gabe and Zeke would even care if poop or pee were dripping down their legs.” But on the other hand, I considered, “I’ve attempted every other potty-training method known to man, so why not give this one a shot?!”

Granny and Grumps visited last weekend, so we gave the naked thing a whirl starting on Saturday morning. Amazingly, it worked! The only accidents that have occurred since then are when the boys are in pull-ups or undies for sleeping, outdoor play or jaunts away from home.

This has totaled one accident per day per child, with the exception of Zeke’s no-accidents day yesterday. The dudes have been doing such a fantastic job that they have earned back their motorized trains and being able to watch Thomas & Friends on Netflix.

Once we run out of our pull-ups stash, the plan was to use prefold cloth diapers and Thirsties covers, which Christie lent us, for nighttime and around-town use. This would not only save us money, but would also help motivate the boys to stay dry and clean, since prefolds aren’t near as wicking as disposable pull-ups.

However, I may be reconsidering this. First, I tried out the prefolds during our trip to the dentist, and both Gabe and Zeke drenched his (seemingly) without any hesitation or regret. It just didn’t seem the phase either one of them.

Moreover, this morning began with sweet music to my ears: “Mommy, I went doo-doo in the potty,” Zeke joyfully said. And indeed he had done so totally independent of me. Therefore, my concern is that he may not have been able to accomplish this feat if he had been wearing a cloth diaper and cover ’cause he probably wouldn’t have been able to get it all off by himself.

Zeke poses w/ “girlfriend” Lorna, who he admittedly plans to steal from David.

Plus, Zeke awoke with a dry pull-up yesterday, and Gabe’s have been virtually dry for the past two mornings. As of now, I’m unsure if I want to hinder them being able to deal with their first potty of the day solo. Any advice?

It’s not all poop & pee

Even though potty training is a drag, we’ve still managed to have some good times this past week, most notably, a playdate at our house with Beth and Christie and the kids. It was quite wild with three adults and eight kids in our small casa, but it turned out to be great fun for everyone.

On Monday, Houston’s harvester ants (for the ant farm Daddy and I gave him for his birthday) finally arrived. Getting all the ants in their new habitat was pretty hairy, but Miss Jessie and I pulled it off. Houston adores his new critters, tends to them carefully, and takes them to bed with him every night.

Last week, we had another pool date with Christie and her crew. Yet again, the 3 Amigos’ skills improved vastly from our last time in the water. I wouldn’t be surprised if Houston is actually swimming soon. The twins still have a ways to go, but it shouldn’t be too long till they’re right there with big bro.

And then today, the boys attended Maddie’s Tae Kwon Do birthday party. And then Houston took a dip in Alyssa’s new above-ground swimming pool for the first time.

Multimedia entertainment

In late July, Stephen and I decided to give Houston back the privilege of playing video games. He is allowed to play online educational or super-hero games for short sessions throughout the week, but he can only play on the weekends with Daddy and for closely monitored periods of time, as well.

Having to watch the clock like a hawk is a pain, but we don’t want him vegging out in front of a screen for any significant amount of time. (Our rule is no more than two hours max of TV and/or video games a day, with the goal being much less.)

“Go ahead, make my day,” says a gun-toting Gabriel during a fire fight w/ bros.

Some research shows that playing video games activates dopamine, a chemical in the brain that supposedly makes kids want to keep playing games nonstop. I’m usually distrustful of child-centered research and overzealous safety information (’cause it often plays on emotion and not science or logic).

But I must admit that Houston can get a tad bonkers when asked to turn off his games — hence, the original hiatus. However, I think our new very limited and strict approach is working. My proof? “Hey, I’ll let you play Marvel Kids for a little bit after lunch,” I told Houston recently, to which he replied, “That’s okay. I think I’ve played enough lately.” Let’s hear it for self-control!

Wednesday night, the boys and I finally finished The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe. What an incredible read. Since then, we have watched the movie twice, debating whether the book or film is better, and continue to discuss the heavy themes in the classic.

One of my favorite lines, which is quite apropos to critiquing today’s political and cultural climate, is when C.S. Lewis describes how Peter, Edmund, Susan and Lucy reigned in Narnia, after the great Aslan crowned them kings and queens:

“And they made good laws and kept the peace … and generally stopped busybodies and interferers and encouraged ordinary people who wanted to live and let live.”

Click the top photo to see all “Sound Swimming” pics and the above shot to view all “Chilling” photos from vacation. Lots more OBX pics are forthcoming.

Dog days are doggone

The definition of dog days means “a period marked my lethargy, inactivity.” But our late July and August have been anything but.

Vacation Bible School 

The kids attended VBS from 7/23-7/26. Everyday from 9 a.m. to noon, the boys had a blast exploring the VBS theme, Babylon: Daniel’s Courage In Captivity.

While they were busy making new friends, and participating in lessons, games, crafts, songs and dances, I took advantage of the free time to run errands, make necessary phone calls and appointments, start reading a new book, treat myself to robust coffee at Starbucks, and even visit Auntie Merdy and baby Rorie.

We bought a CD of all the celebration music learned during VBS and began listening to it nonstop when we got it later that week. The 3 Amigos were (and still are) really into it, belting out all the lyrics and dancing the moves that accompany each song. Very cute!

Houston’s first fishing experience catching freshwater trout in the mountains w/ cousins Terri & Patrick in late June. (Click to see all June pics.)

That Friday night, our church hosted a Hotdog Family Supper. This was, of course, less about food and more about observing the Biblical instructions learned, and the awesome efforts of the 500+ kids who participated in VBS and all the volunteers who made the successful week possible.

Stephen and I separated and took turns hanging with each boy’s class as they went from activity to activity, moving about our large church at quick pace. This took some maneuvering, considering that Gabriel and Zeke were in different tribes — a great experience for them, but a challenge for the parents of twins plus one.

That Sunday, all the VBS kids performed two of their songs on stage before both sermons. We couldn’t see Houston, who was in the back, but Gabe and Zeke were front row, unabashedly dancing and singing their hearts out in front of a congregation of a few thousand.

My hip & everyone’s hacking

In late July, I had a session with a new orthopedic specialist, Nikki. I had been experiencing more pain than normal since my last physical therapy with my former specialist a couple months ago. My mobility and strength had drastically improved after my first session with him, but then plummeted after the second.

Zeke goes all out Boba Fett during a Moms Club outing in early June.

Nikki did a battery of tests, but didn’t do any major manipulation of my body like the previous specialist had done. Instead, she took a more mathematic and pragmatic approach, measuring my abilities (or lack thereof) during particular stretches.

Well, my diagnosis is the same: stressed my left hip during my first childbirth > exacerbated it over the years > it never had a chance to recover, so my right side overcompensated and my left side became increasingly clenched > it spread from hip to lower back to right thigh and into a debilitating problem.

However, my treatment and recovery is different. Nikki assigned me three new, easy stretches that have to be done in twice-daily sessions. The routine will alleviate the pain, making it more intermittent. Thankfully, this has been the case over the past week.

But she was also confident that I would be CURED of my ailments within six weeks, as long as I stay diligent in my routine. I pray the good therapist is right. So far, so good. Thanks, Nikki!

Houston devours Jessie’s solar system cake & the twins munch ice cream, while grill-master Daddy takes a load off, during Houston’s 5th birthday party.

At their last appointment in the spring, the twins’ asthma specialist had advised that I start them back on their meds in August. The hope is that they’ll need to do the antihistamine pill and puffer for just one more season, which regrettably runs from late summer to late spring for their condition (cough-variant asthma).

Considering that Zeke’s dry, unproductive cough came back with a vengeance even earlier than expected and Gabe’s arrived right on time, I’m not quite as optimistic as the doc that they’ll grow out of CVA as soon as she had thought.

It’s an annoying, restless nighttime cough that has caused some major disruptions to our already fragile sleep cycle. But now that the meds have finally seeped into their little systems, our collective states of slumber — which have been in peril for about a week now — are a bit more gratifying with each passing night.

Unfortunately, I’ve had a yucky cough for a few days, as well, and Houston’s been complaining of a soar throat. I’m pretty sure it’s all seasonal-allergy related, but that still doesn’t make it any more pleasant when dealing with whining kids or even my own phlegm.

Houston & Asher — another version of “double trouble” — take turns jet-spraying guests @ the party. (Click to see all birthday pics.)

Swimming & hiking

On 8/3, Zeke finally got his one-on-one with Daddy from a diamond contest he won months ago. He chose to go swimming at the Y, and both Stephens (Beeler and Ezekiel) reportedly had a wonderful time.

The day before, the boys and I went swimming with Christie and her posse. The kids played well, freeing me up to enjoy some adult chitchat. And the dudes showed great confidence and improvement with their aquatic skills, namely kicking, attempting strokes, submerging themselves, and just being comfortable in the water.

On recent boys-only outings, Daddy took the crew hiking; to the NSC to see a mummy exhibit (although it was an extra fee, so they ended up not seeing the preserved bodies); shopping to spend Houston’s remaining birthday money; and twice to Chick-fil-A.

Homeschool prep

On 8/7, Stephen, Christie and I attended a Classical Conversations orientation at the home of our community director, Jen. It wasn’t anything groundbreaking, just more an opportunity for everyone to get together and for us newbies to hear the encouraging words of a few seasoned homeschoolers.

Jen also mapped out what the weekly community tutorials will entail for students and some of the fun things planned for CC families this fall. Can’t believe summer’s nearly over and school is almost here!

Gabriel, as with most things, is very serious about his gun-fighting skills.

Peeve of the day

Every time I go to a store, I get asked during checkout to make a donation to help local kids buy school supplies. Isn’t that what my property taxes are for … to fund government education?

This altruistic-pushing practice is especially maddening during shopping trips when I’m crunching numbers, budgeting monies and deciding what to buy and what to hold off on for my own kids’ education. I mean, if you want to do it “for the children,” do it.

But putting the onus on consumers as some of us are coupon-cutting and trying to keep our heads above water during this economic malaise is just irritating. I believe in voluntary charity, but this is do-gooderism sleight of hand. Thanks, but no thanks.

And if you really want to help the kids, let the money follow the student, and let parents choose the schools that he or she attends, whether that be public or private. Furthermore, I’ll take a tax deduction for homeschooling expenses while you’re at it.

Our first-every family vacation!

Stephen had been working insane hours at work (12-18 hour days and more days than normal) for weeks leading up to our vacation from July 14-21. It was crunch time on a project he and his team were working on. Plus, the dedicated Daddy wanted to try his best to guarantee that his time off would indeed be honored.

Obviously, it was tough for Stephen and the rest of the family, but Daddy prevailed. So, we hit the road for the Outer Banks, bound for our first whole-family (meaning all five of us) vacation ever!

Day 1: A rough start

Being that the OBX is more than five hours from our house, packing and getting there was, you know, arduous and exhausting. But overall, the boys did surprising well on the trek.

The dudes celebrate Independence Day. (Click to see our patriotic pics.)

The house we rented was quite skanky upon arrival and required some cleaning — never a fun thing to do after a lengthy road trip with kids. Moreover, I had packed the wrong size sheet, so getting some much-deserved sleep in our strange bed proved difficult.

Day 2: Avalon Beach

We left our Kill Devil Hills house early and hit the closest beach, where the swell was intense. The sand was so mushy that I could never get my footing while in the water, the waves were choppy and the undertow strong.

I might be old and overweight, but I am a pretty decent swimmer, yet I could barely handle it alone. Still, we did our best at giving the boys a good beach experience. They ran around in the crashing waves, played in the sand, chased seagulls, etc.

However, at one point while I had Gabriel on my back in the shallow water, I lost my balance due to the soft sand. Luckily, Stephen was nearby and was able to quickly pull Gabe out of the crashing wave. After that, he decided that he hated “the rough beach” and refused to get wet again this day. I’m so sorry, G-man.

That afternoon, we welcomed the rest of our posse: Aunt Dina, cousins Kara and David, and David’s girlfriend, Lorna. We told them about our ocean experience and explained that we wanted to find a beach that was more tranquil and less exhausting.

Day 3: Albemarle Sound

Our good friend, Ashley, who has lived in Nags Head for 10-plus years, told us that she heard reports that a man broke his neck swimming yesterday. Turns out, those were some of the summer’s most powerful swells for Kill Devil Hills. She suggested a fairly unknown beach, located on the Albemarle Sound.

Many of the 4th of July festivities were held in the shadow of Gen. Nathanael Greene’s beautiful monument.

“The calm beach,” as it came to be known, was perfect. Since the Sound is really a shallow lagoon, the water never got above the kids’ tummies, no matter how far we walked out. There were small waves, so the dudes got their I’m-at-the-beach fix, but they were gentle and non-threatening.

Other families were spread out along the small, clean beach, and tons of kids of all ages frolicked about. The boys had a great time playing with Kara in the water and sand, Ashley met us for some hang time, and we all just soaked in the sun and enjoyed this much-needed relaxation. Thanks, Ash!

Day 4: More Sound swimming

We went back to the Sound for more chilling and mellow swimming. David and Lorna joined us this time, and the 3 Amigos enjoyed swimming with the big kids. The dudes had a blast rough-housing with David and loving on Lorna, especially Zeke, who proclaimed that he was her boyfriend, not David.

Day 5: Manteo, Roanoke Island & shopping

We decided to take a beach break, so Stephen and I took Kara and the boys out to eat in Manteo and then visited Roanoke Island Festival Park. Our first destination was the Elizabeth II, a 16th-century replica ship. The in-character sailors were funny but informative, and touring the English merchant vessel and all of its tight quarters was interesting.

However, it was an oppressively humid day (don’t know how the sailors in their long, woolen outfits did it), which is my guess as to why Zeke had a meltdown. Sadly for Daddy, who is a lover of history, he volunteered to take Zeke back to the van to help quell the outburst. Thanks for taking one for the team, Stephen!

This did allow the rest of us to explore more of the park. We visited the American Indian Town, which features replicas of coastal Algonquian culture, and the English Settlement Site, which represents the first English settlement in 1585.

My home-state flag is one of the kids’ faves because the goddess Virtue has uncrowned & crushed the naughty tyrant.

A costumed interpreter of the Roanoke Voyage gave Kara a woodworking lesson, and taught Houston and her how to play an Elizabethan game. Then we perused the settlement tents, checking out the goods and supplies (Gabriel was really into this) and the armor and weaponry (of course, a big hit with all the kiddos).

I dropped Daddy and the twins back off at the house, and took Houston and Kara swag shopping at a couple cheesy beach stores. And then Stephen and I rounded out the evening with a kid-free dinner at a yummy local eatery with Ashley and her hubby, Greg.

Day 6: Swimming down south

Our posse met up with Ashley in south Nags Head. The water at this beach was a lot more swimmer-friendly, so much so that Gabriel even gave the ocean another try.

Until he got his nerve up, Gabe hung out with Ash near the umbrella and played in the fiery-hot sand, eventually made his way down to the wet sand to play in a massive hole that Kara created, and then finally edged his way into the surf a bit.

I actually got to ride a few waves on Lorna’s boogie board, and both Zeke and Houston braved the waves beyond the crash zone with Daddy. It was a great final day of beachin’ it. Thanks again, Ash!

Some 200 years after the Declaration of Independence & I was all ready to rebel in 1976. (Click to see a few awesome old pics from my aunt.)

Day 7: Lighthouse, pier & seafood buffet

Clan Dillingham headed south to the Bodie Island Lighthouse, located just above Oregon Inlet. Unfortunately, the 1870s-era tower was undergoing restoration during our visit and was completely covered in scaffolding. Nonetheless, the 165-foot light station was impressive in its presence alongside the flat freshwater marsh.

From there, we headed back to Nags Head to meet Ashley and Greg at Jennette’s Pier. The OBX institution dates back to 1939, but has been rebuilt time and time again due to the ravages of hurricanes and nor’easters.

The newly constructed pier is spectacular. It is all concrete; an outpost for the NC Aquarium Society; 1,000 feet long; and home to three wind turbines. (I’m not a fan subsidizing wind power, but hey, if private donors want to fund wind energy, let ’em have it).

The boys got a lesson on sea turtles, and giggled and squealed whenever they spotted the huge electric eel swimming around the pristine aquarium. The twins checked out a huge dead shark hanging outside, and all three liked peering through the telescope and watching surfers ride waves.

Although it was intermittently rainy, we began walking down the pier. There were a couple huts along the way, where Greg and Stephen had stopped. But Ashley, the kids and I kept meandering toward the last one when a massive thunderstorm unloaded on us.

Unbeknownst to me, Ash managed to make her way around to the front of the construction, but the dudes and I had to take cover on the side. The only thing that kept them dry was a small roof overhang and a drenched mama bear who huddled around them as a barrier from the pummeling downpour.

Beck-Nut w/ Mom & Dad: Some of my fondest childhood memories are from our summers @ the river; these times were the epitome of freedom!

Being that far above the roaring ocean during a storm was scary enough. But the whirring and howling of the 90-foot windmill we were right beside made it even that much more ominous.

Luckily, Ashley had told all the stranded anglers at the pier’s end about a mother and tree small kids being stuck around the corner. So, a nice fisherman braved the storm to lead us to the front of the hut, where there was a bit more protection from the elements.

“We’ve made better decisions,” chuckled Ashley. (This is saying something, considering that I’ve known Ash since I was 14 and we certainly have done some crazy things together over the years.)

We rounded out our final day by going out to eat for an early-bird dinner at Carolina Seafood. It was three adults and four kids, so the logistics of getting everybody their food and actually eating the delicious fare proved to be a challenge.

Our adventures from earlier, as well as the thunder crashing all around while waiting to be seated, had worn out the boys. Their little bodies and brains were shot, so much so that Zeke even fell asleep while sitting up in his chair in the loud restaurant.

Desperate to have a few fleeting moments to eat in peace, we opted to pay for Dina and Kara’s dinner, so they could entertain the 3 Amigos some place away from the table. Everyone had devoured their food, so we figured it was money well spent for the two of us to enjoy each other’s company and feast on snow crab legs.

Synopsis of behavior 

Gabriel was excellent all week, with the exception of his crying fits about getting in the ocean. Houston was pretty good overall, but had his moments (just as Stephen and I did). Also, hanging out with his older cousin made Houston not want kisses from me — only hugs were allowed — but he has since gotten over that. And Zeke was just ornery when he felt the urge, which was fairly often.

Love her or hate her, you will never forget her: Nanny Quate, who was born in 1899, was always old & always grumpy.

Mistakes made, lessons learned

  • Never again rent a small, one bathroom beach house for nine people. What were we thinking? Bigger is better.
  • Don’t rent from your boss ’cause you can’t really complain when there are problems.
  • Stay near a body of water with more kid-friendly swimming.
  • Rent closer to the body of water, so you can walk back and forth to the house with ease. This minimizes the stress and time of packing up for the day’s beach trip, and decreases time organizing the whole posse, driving and parking.
  • And since I’m homeschooling, we don’t have to go on vacation in the summer. For example, Ashley said that up until October in the OBX, you can swim without a wet suit. Moreover, rental prices are obviously drastically reduced during the off season.
  • Last but not least, have grandparents along for the trip. This increases our chances of being able to sleep in a bit, and thus, enjoy the nightlife a little more.

Sure, vacations for us will probably always be more adventure than relaxation, but we can certainly make a few easy improvements to wherever our next trip takes us.