02 January 2020

A Cliff's Notes Summary of 2019

If you don't want to read the full recap of 2019 in the series of posts published to the blog the past few days, here is a very quick summary.

While we didn't get to do any major trips to all-inclusive resorts or across oceans this year, we did fly to New York as a family several times. And, we took a handful of trips to the beach (Myrtle, Virginia, and Carolina) and to the mountains.

Nicolle managed to secure a big grant to bring on another new staff member, and will spend this holiday season writing more grants for 2020. Colin celebrated his first year at PRA Health Sciences by getting to work from home two days per week. A few days before turning 4 in September, Zoe took a spill off her bicycle, which resulted in our family's first trip to the ER and a handful of stitches. Rose turned 5 in February and started kindergarten in July. She loves it and is starting to read.

Here's to 2020 - a year that hopefully brings me more health and brings us all joy, health, love, and peace. My wish for Colin is fulfillment in his work. My wish for Rose is to feel a sense of compassion and empathy for others and to continue her drive for learning and accomplishment. My wish for Zoe is to gain confidence in herself and gain a drive for accomplishment, while preserving the sweet, kind, gentle, caring person that she is. While I don't do resolutions, I do strive for self-improvement in patience and kindness with my family, friends, and strangers. In 2020, I hope we continue our journey to travel as a family, maintain a healthy and balanced life, reduce, reuse, recycle, and strive for the things that support our growth and development.

A recap of 2019 - September through December

The big news in September was that we had our first trip to the emergency room two days before Zoe's 4th birthday. Poor Zoe was riding her balance bike too fast down a hill and fell off. She split her chin open. I'll spare you the photos of the wound. It looked like she had a second mouth. The bigger concern we had was that she had bleeding in her ear. Because of the ear bleeding, Zoe had to take two sets of CT-scans, which kept us in the ER from about 7p until after midnight. It was a long night, Zoe was given some "loopy" meds, but they didn't do anything when the ER doctor finally stitched her up. I held her down with two nurses as she screamed that we were hurting her. It was awful and I hope we don't go through it again.

Zoe's 4th birthday party went off without a hitch. We scheduled it two weeks after her birthday and by then her chin was mostly healed. We rented a shelter at Pullen Park and Colin, in his usual fashion, made A TON of food that we ate for weeks after the party. The kids had a great time hitting pinatas, riding the train together, going on the carousel, and playing in a wooded tree area near the shelter. We also had a very nice day for the party.

I wasn't sure I wanted to sign the girls up for soccer again after the spring season, but decided last minute to do it. I was able to get Zoe in the 4-year-old league and Rose started the kindergarten league. Both girls had a great time and because I didn't have to coach (except to help fill in a game or two), it was more enjoyable for me as well. Zoe had a rock-star player on her team, and her coach incentivized the kids with stickers. Zoe loved the rewards and played really well. Rose's team started working more on positions, defending and attacking. Rose is a smart player, but isn't the type of player to get in the middle of it all. She got to play with some of her friends this season, so that was fun for us. And, the girls had a lot of early games. The season always starts so early (in August), so it was good to play early games while it was still so hot. We even got to spend the final weekend of September in Myrtle Beach when the girls both had 9a soccer games. We ran home after the games, packed up the car and were at the beach mid-afternoon. It was so hot that weekend and was nice to be at the beach.

The other exciting news was that since Colin got to a year at his new(ish) job, he was able to start working from home two days a week. It opened up the possibilities of traveling for us, so we could visit family more and work from those places while the girls could spend time with family.

Sisters watching iPad in the Emergency Room

Zoe the morning after her ER visit and a day before her birthday as we sign up to finally join the YMCA
 Singing Happy Birthday to Zoe at Duck Donuts before school

Zoe's birthday card from school and a trip to daddy's office for hot chocolate

Zoe's 4th Birthday party at Pullen Park in Raleigh, NC

Friends all taking the train ride together for Zoe's birthday

Birthday girl on the carousel
Jessica McDonald from the NC Courage and USA Women's Soccer team comes to preschool to show her World Cup medal
 Zoe playing soccer

Rose playing soccer

Water park at our Myrtle Beach hotel

Girls enjoying the ocean in Myrtle Beach

Beautiful sunrise from the hotel balcony in Myrtle Beach

We ended our day and trip with some galactic mini-golf

In October, the weather finally cooled a bit and we got to enjoy several preschool (5th) birthday parties, some local farms, a family photo shoot, a NC Courage soccer game, the start of a 4-week ballet program, a first dentist visit, the end of the soccer season, and the preschool fall gathering. We also ended the month with Halloween events and the state fair.  Rose and Zoe took a storytelling class at the Cary Arts Center from mid-September to mid-October. I had signed them up for it before we decided to sign up for soccer. Our Thursday evenings for the month were very busy. Rose did a 4-week dance class from 4-5p at school on Thursdays. We'd rush to the Cary Arts Center for the 5:30p storytelling class, and then rush to soccer practice right after that (missing the first half). Unfortunately, everything was packed into Thursdays! The other unfortunate event that occurred was me hurting my back again. I had been playing soccer a few nights a week, doing yoga and pilates, and generally was feeling so strong for the first time since having kids. But the day after I did a 4-mile run in the neighborhood I had shooting pains in my back. I assume I triggered by bulging discs with too much exercise. I started back at physical therapy, hoping I could find the right McKenzie exercises to put the bulge back in place like I did 18 months ago. While I did get rid of the shooting pains up the back and inability to sit, by mid-November I got to a place where I couldn't stand for long or find a comfortable position to sleep (perhaps went too far with the exercises). It's been a difficult holiday season with lots of pain through traveling and what should be fun family events. 

Riding the cow train at Phillips Farm

My parents and brother visited for our trip to Phillips Farm in Cary

Got to see Carli Lloyd play against the NC Courage on a nice October night

Rose's first dentist visit

Zoe's first dentist visit - she was a bit less cooperative

Zoe finishing her soccer season

Rose finishing her soccer season

Zoe showing off her school projects at the fall gathering 
Visiting the goats at Carl Sandburg historic site in Flat Rock, NC

Riding the bee train at Sky Top Orchard in Flat Rock, NC

Rose and Zoe doing a 4-week ballet program between soccer/storytelling class and the holidays

Girls love dressing up for ballet

First set of Halloween outfits for the party at Rose's school

Riding the roller coaster at the NC State Fair

A dreary morning turned into a super hot, muggy afternoon

Rose and Zoe got to milk a cow
 Riding the gondola back to the exit at the NC State Fair

Paw Patrol Skye for Zoe (left), My Little Pony for Rose (right)

School outfits on Halloween - Zoe is ready for her school parade
Enjoying Zoe's Halloween parade at school

Rose is Princess Jasmine but the wig was too hot
Zoe is Princess Anna but didn't want the wig

A lot of candy for Halloween!
Professional photos by Ana Teresa Galizes - we just beat the rain!

Professional photos by Ana Teresa Galizes

Professional photos by Ana Teresa Galizes
Once we get to Halloween, the months of November and December go by in a blur with holiday festivities and candy/desserts! This year, Rose was tracked out (on break) for 4 weeks from November 9 to December 8. Since my parents spent most of the summer in Portugal, we made up for it with almost weekly visits between Cary, NC (our house) and the Greenville, SC area (their house). I spent the first few days of track out in South Carolina with my parents so the girls could spend time with my parents and I could go to work in Asheville. It's about an hour from their house to UNC Asheville (I telecommute for UNCA). We had a lovely staff retreat and I felt so appreciative and proud of the team and work we've grown to support healthy aging in our state. After two days of working in Asheville, I drove everyone home for a day and then we used our companion passes and rewards miles to fly to Albany for 6 days. Since we had done the flight back in April and August, we were pretty skilled at the process. Colin drops me and the girls off at the terminal so we can check bags and get through security while he goes to the park and ride to drop off the car. We had evening flights both ways and the girls did great with eating dinners from their lunchboxes, watching either the Southwest airlines movies/TV or downloaded Netflix shows on the iPad during the flights, and enjoying both the layovers between flights and the snacks/drinks on the flights. In NY, Colin and I used our YMCA memberships to exercise (he swims and I've only been able to walk and stretch because of lingering back pain). We also found a YMCA in the area with a gymnastics studio and open gym times for an hour three days a week. The girls also loved seeing their aunt's school (she is a teacher), playing with their cousin, sledding (yes, they had snow in November!), and celebrating Colin's dad's 73rd birthday. With his Parkinson's and dementia, we aren't quite sure if and when my father-in-law knows what is going on, but he does have some moments of clarity, though it is often difficult to understand what he is trying to say. Colin and I have provided some respite for his mom when we travel, often staying with his dad so his mom can go out. His mom was able to get a home-care agency to provide care-giving services 6 hours per week, which helps. But, being a 24-7 caregiver to a 70-year-old man who is essentially like a young toddler is challenging when you are in your 70's yourself. The experience staying at my in-laws the past few visits have helped me better understand the challenges of my work.

When we came back from NY, we all headed back out to Asheville so we could greet my 25-year-old cousin flying in from California. She's been an au-pair out there and is from Brazil and I'd only met her when she was a baby - when I went to Brazil at 18 years old. Colin and I both worked from my office in Asheville for a day, and then we spent the weekend with my parents and greeted her Sunday morning before making the drive back to our house to prep for Thanksgiving. We hosted my parents and cousin at our house, and I even took my cousin out to the clubs in Raleigh the evening before Thanksgiving. While my back still isn't better, I managed 4 hours of dancing (and about 17,000 steps!). Recovering wasn't any worse as my back continued to be challenged with both standing still and laying down. 

Rose got to spend two days at the YMCA camp leading up to Thanksgiving, where they spent one morning at the pool. She also joined her friend from preschool at the Tumble gym for half a day Wednesday morning while Zoe had her Thanksgiving celebration at school. I was able to get a mani-pedi with a good friend visiting from Texas in the morning and then we all got to go to Colin's office for lunch and hot chocolate in the afternoon. In November, we also got to celebrate the opening of the brand-new Cary Regional Library. It's beautiful and contributes to downtown Cary's amazing renovation.

At the Greenville Zoo in South Carolina

Greenville Zoo - with temps warming up

Eating dinner as we wait for the airplane to arrive so we can fly to Albany
 Rose doing gymnastics at the YMCA open gym time in Wilton, NY

Zoe doing gymnastics at the YMCA open gym time in Wilton, NY

Playing on the motorized cars in the Wilton Mall in NY

Checking out a yoga studio's grand opening in the Albany area
Rose and Zoe sledding before we fly back to NC

Back in Asheville, checking out gingerbread houses at the Grove Park Inn

Panorama view at the Grove Park Inn, Asheville, NC

Our favorite gingerbread houses among the hundred or so that we saw

Catching up with our dear friends visiting from Texas Thanksgiving week
Showing my cousin our favorite museum in Durham, NC

Thanksgiving meal at our house - feeling so thankful for my family

I'm sure everyone can relate to the wild ride between Thanksgiving and Christmas, especially if you have young children. Thanksgiving was late this year, and then Rose had one more week off before returning to school (for just two weeks before the holidays!). I needed to work, especially since I had one month (December) to write one grant and a second grant I was waiting for was released in December with a 2-month window to submit. So Rose did her final week off at the YMCA track out camp. She got to swim in the pool one day, go on a field trip to the planetarium one day, and create lots of crafts and run around. I also decided to quit physical therapy and try acupuncture since my back wasn't getting any better. I can't say I noticed any immediate relief, but I have experienced some slight improvements over the month of December since doing 3 treatments and taking the recommended herbal remedies. I'll likely give it another month before moving on to a orthopedic doctor.

I'm so grateful for my parents, who traveled back and forth between their house and ours (4 hours each way) three weekends in a row (including Thanksgiving). They came to watch the girls so Colin and I could go to his holiday party (which we didn't stay very long because we were both so tired and my back was still hurting). Then they came back to join us for the hard-to-get-tickets Pullen Park holiday express event. We packed a lot of fun into those two weekends including getting and decorating our Christmas tree, decorating gingerbread houses, and the girls got to see Frozen 2 with my parents at the movie theater. As we approached Christmas break, Colin and I took the girls to see the Nutcracker and Rose has been asking daddy to help her fly high like the ballerinas since the show. We celebrated Christmas Eve at our home after a day trip to our favorite museum. We had to say goodbye to the large family of wolves at the museum - they are being moved to Virginia. 

Colin and I were able to preserve the magic of Christmas for the girls. They put out cookies and milk for Santa with a note. Zoe wrote to Rudolph and they put bowls of food out for the reindeer. We let them open gifts from mommy and daddy on Christmas Eve and then we woke them up around 5:45a so they could open the gifts from Santa before we had to fly to Albany for the holiday break. While they didn't get to play with the presents, they did get to bring just one on the trip. Our flight travels (a long 6.5 hour trip through Tampa) went surprisingly well and we were in Albany in time for a Christmas dinner with the family. In NY we also saw Moana at the Palace Theatre in Albany, saw Frozen 2 at the movie theater, visited with Colin's 95-year-old great aunt in Poughkeepsie, and the girls spent a lot of time with their cousin. Colin and I both did some work and got to use the YMCA to do some exercise. We prepared some of our go-to-staple meals like shepherd's pie, sausage-veggie soup from a chicken roaster carcass, quesadillas, and a pork loin roast; indulged in the Italian catering from Christmas dinner and the cookies, cheesecake, and Jesus birthday cake desserts; and provided some care-giving respite. We flew home on December 30, before our Southwest companion fares expired on December 31 and in time to celebrate a noon-day New Year's Even balloon drop at the music school (Notasium), a not-so-exciting UK New Year's Eve countdown at Fortnite Brewery (7p), and driving to holiday light shows in the area. Both girls fell asleep in the car by 8p, but woke up during the transition and had a bed-time snack before going back to bed around 9-9:30p. While it wasn't a raging New Year's celebration, it was what we all needed after several months of travel and excitement.
Millers holiday card 2019 - didn't get Darwin in this one
Making gingerbread houses at the Bond Park community center

Decorating our little tree - girls helped pick it out

Eating smores in the igloo at the Pullen Park Holiday Express
Mailing her letter to ask Santa for a snow globe at Pullen Park
Family photo with Santa

Girls with Mrs. Claus
Family Pullen Park Holiday Express train ride

Family picture in the snow globe at Pullen Park

Inside the snow globe at Pullen Park Holiday Express

Girls sledding at Pullen Park Holiday Express

Making gingerbread houses at Rose's elementary school
Driving to see holiday lights around Cary, NC

Opening Christmas presents from mommy and daddy on Christmas Eve

It's Christmas Eve! Prepping things for Santa
Flying to Albany on Christmas day 
Lots of presents in New York!

Moana at the Palace Theatre with their new fluffy friends from grandma and grandpa
Getting to sit in the cockpit (and touch stuff) on the Southwest airlines plane arriving home in Raleigh
Happy New Year Noon-time balloon drop at Notasium in Cary

Singing karaoke at Notasium on New Year's Eve

Happy New Year!