12 for 12 for Erin’s birthday

Happy 12th Birthday Erin!

For your birthday blog, I’m going to switch things up a little bit this year. Instead of writing on and on and on about what a great kid you are, and how much you’ve accomplished in the last 12 months, I’m keeping it simple. Not because you suddenly turned into an awful tween who dropped out of middle school, (you haven’t) but sometimes it’s nice to try something different, you know, get out of your comfort zone.

So here it goes in no particular order…. drumroll please….. the first (and probably only) top 12 List of things I love about Erin!

Erin’s top 12 List

  1. You’ve got a unique sense of style. This year for Hanukkah, you noticed I bought you a fair amount of clothes, but were not exactly thrilled with what I picked out. Instead you turn to your big sister to help you. I’ve got to admit. I kind of loved it. 
  2. When you’re into something you’re really into it. It doesn’t matter if it’s your favorite sweatshirt, Taylor Swift, or sporting event, when you get obsessed, you get obsessed. It’s actually kind of cute.

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    The favorite sweatshirt, one that gets worn at least 5 times a week.
  3. You take pride of ownership. You’re a kid who works hard at everything you’ve done. Whether school, soccer, or art, you give it 100%! You know I love that about you, but I do sometimes worry that if you don’t get 100%, you take that a little too personally.
  4. While you are a high achiever, you also LOVE your downtime. You’re definitely a kid of extremes. You’re just as happy practicing soccer out in the rain as you are to spend hours vegging out and watching YouTube. In fact, during the week, you set your alarm just to make sure you get in your YouTube time.
  5. You’re a creature of habit– and routine. You don’t love cooking, but you love having an easy go-to breakfast. So what did you do? You decided to make a big batch of breakfast burritos… with rice-o-roni. That stuff is awful, but you love it.

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    A girl and her burritos
  6. You’re big on current events. This kind of goes along with your routine. Without fail, at 7:00 a.m. every morning during the school year, you flip on the TV to watch the Today Show. Then, on our drive to school, we usually talk about what you watched. Other times, we listen to the Sarah & Vinnie Show on Alice radio, and I’m usually forced to have an awkward conversation about something that’s not meant for 11 & 9 year old ears.
  7. Speaking of awkward conversations, you don’t mind talking about all sorts of bodily functions from farts and poops, to periods and other parts of puberty. Oh to be a fly on the wall during some of our dinner conversations. Poor Dad.
  8. You’re willing to get out of your comfort zone. I never figured you for a public speaker. You tend to shy away from the limelight, so imagine my surprise when you submitted a speech to give at your graduation. It was so good, your classmates chose you as one of two speakers. You wouldn’t let me read it in advance, (plus it was all in Spanish) but you killed it! 
  9. You’ve got a silly side to you. You may take your studies seriously, you don’t take yourself too seriously. You’re quick to giggle with that adorable laugh of yours, one that makes you squish your nose and shoulders shake. But you also love making other people laugh, usually by telling them “uncle jokes.”
  10. You’re gritty. No, not in the dirty kind of way, but in the “I’m going to muscle my way to figure it out,” kind of way. You may like to relax, but you very rarely take the easy way out.
  11. You support Dad in HIS obsession with Mizzou sports, even when they have horrible years, which have been many.
  12. You have one big ♥️!

I could continue this list, but 12 is a good number. As with every year, I know you have more surprises in store for me. You and your sisters do a great job of keeping life interesting!

I love you kiddo!

Mom

14 and Fabulous

Happy 14th Birthday, Olivia!

Last year, I skipped out on the annual birthday blog tradition, using my speech to you on your Bat Mitzvah as an excuse. This year, I really have no excuse, except maybe laziness, and that probably won’t cut it.

So… here we are… you are… a year into your teenage years. I’ve got to say, so far, I like what I see. Don’t get me wrong. There are moments, plenty of moments, sometimes hours, when you drive me to the brink of insanity. Usually it has to do with you terrorizing your sisters.

Most of the time, however, the teenager I see before me is kindhearted, generous, and awkwardly quirky in the best possible way.  Last year, I worried about you not feeling comfortable in your own skin. That’s not the case this year. I’ve seen you embrace your goofiness and find your own style, which almost always includes a hoodie and a humongous bun on top of your head.

How you’re able to keep it from falling out, I’ll never know, but it’s a skill that I envy.

Your cooking skills continue to improve, which is good since you always seem to be hungry. If you’re home, there’s a good chance you’re in the kitchen either whipping up a birthday cake, a batch of cookies, concocting something for dinner, or making a big pot of popcorn or pasta for an afternoon snack.

Most kids are content with maybe some chips or fruit, but nope, not you. Why stick with three meals a day when you can have four? I used to dread your culinary creations in the kitchen since your cleaning skills were severely lacking. While I still find some food clinging to pots and pans long after you’ve cleaned them, it’s a vast improvement from your early days of cooking.

As a teenager, you spend lots of time on your phone snap chatting with your friends and it seems like your phone is beeping and chirping dozens of times a minute. It’s a lot, but I do also see you consciously leaving your phone at home. I like to think it’s to give yourself a break from the nonstop online chatter with your friends, but I know better. It’s because you’re afraid of taking it somewhere, only to lose or break it. As you’re prone to falling simply by walking, I’m glad you know yourself well enough to take precautions against a catastrophic destruction to your phone. Or maybe it’s because you’ve already had to pay to repair the phone once and you’d rather spend your money on your volunteer abroad fund instead of screen replacements.

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You’re a typical teenager beyond your phone being attached to your hand for many hours a day as you take random photos to snap to your friends. On any given weekend, there’s a decent chance you’re hanging out with your friends either downtown or taking the train to the mall with them. I’m glad you are always with friends since you  inherited my sense of direction.

I’ve also enjoyed seeing you start to experiment with make-up, not that I think you need it, but I love seeing you continue to find your own look, even though you not so long ago told me you’d never wear make-up. Make-up or no make-up, you’re a beautiful girl inside and out.

It gives me so much joy watching you grow and mature. Bubbie mentioned to me how much older you seem to her. At first, her comment surprised me, but the more I thought about it, the more I agreed with her. You are more mature. You now stand a little taller, hold your head a little higher, and laugh a little louder. Your laugh is infectious by the way. When you laugh, you do so wholeheartedly with a wide open mouth and your head thrown back. How can people not join in with you, especially when you’re often times laughing at yourself.

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You’re a pretty incredible kid and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s in store for you as you approach your next big milestone– high school!

I love you to pieces and wouldn’t want to be with anyone else skiing in a blizzard!

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Mom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring Break in Cambodia Part III

We spent the final two and half days of our trip back in Phnom Penh, but not before a great birthday sendoff in Siem Reap for Carrie. The Shanti Mani once again went above and beyond in its awesome customer service by decorating a swing in balloons for the young birthday girl and giving her a cake.

Birthday cake for breakfast
Birthday cake for breakfast

She was one happy camper!

We then boarded a plane again and headed back to Cambodia’s capital city. Stomach ailments seems to be a recurring theme for this trip, and this day hit me and Olivia, so we stayed back at the hotel while the husband took the other two kids on a culinary adventure. Leading up to this trip, Erin talked a lot about wanting to eat a bug while in Cambodia. Apparently a boy in her class saw a TV show where people in Cambodia ate bugs, which prompted one of her friends to  dare her to eat one. If you know my daughter, you know she’s almost always up for a challenge, especially if it involves food, so a cousin took them to the Central Market in search of bugs.

 

Central Market
Central Market

They saw lots of food at the market, but alas no bugs. This didn’t stop them though. They were on a mission, and they were going to find and eat bugs. Eventually, they found a couple of kids selling all different kinds of deep fried bugs along the river.

Bugs!
Bugs!

Now they had to choose which bugs to consume.

Deep fried crickets
Deep fried crickets seasoned with chili and onions

Erin tells me they chose the crickets because they were the smallest. Knowing they had to document the event, the husband had his cousin videotape it as proof.

Misson accomplished! Erin apparently even asked for seconds.

When that girl likes something she really likes it. Case in point? Her hat that she only took off her head when sleeping.

My girl and her hat
My girl and her hat

After much bargaining and negotiating at one of the many souvenir stands, Grandma Meak bought it for her on our first day in Angkor Wat. She loved that hat, and not only used it as an accessory, but also as a wallet. She kept two Riels (Cambodian currency worth a few cents in American dollars) under it. I’ve got to say, few people can rock a white straw hat like this girl. It works a lot better than using headbands to cover up a botched bang cutting job I did several weeks ago.  She even wore it for her little sister’s birthday party, which her grandparents so generously threw for her.

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Yep, that’s how we roll. Two birthday cakes in one day.

While birthdays are celebrated virtually the same way around the world, other things are vastly different. Take zoos for example. The one we visited in Cambodia was nothing like I have ever seen and neither was our drive. Much of it was a dirt road, or the road was only half paved. It’s amazing to me how rural the country is just a few kilometers outside of Phnom Penh. On the drive to the zoo, my father-in-law explained more of the history and politics as we passed by dozens of garment factories.

The only thing similar to the zoos in the U.S. is that most of animals are caged. Most. Not all.

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Take a good look at that photo. That momma monkey and her baby escaped their cage and no one cared. Part of me thinks they’re not really part of the zoo and set up their home here because they know people will feed them.

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We saw plenty of people feeding the animals through the fences, but there were no signs warning visitors to avoid feeding them snacks. Even when the animals were fenced into enclosures, we got up close and personal.

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No zoom needed get get good shots of the elephant or any other animals at the zoo for that matter.

It also looked like the animals for the most part were in their native elements. There was no sanitizing the zoo. There were animals and that’s it. Well except for the trash. There was lots of trash.

 

But you know what? The animals didn’t seem to care and from the looks of things, neither did the rest of the visitors.

Our final night of vacation ended with a river cruise on the Mekong and Tonle Sap.  I don’t know what it is about being on the water, but it makes everything feel at least a little bit cooler.It also helped that we hopped on the boat at sunset, making for some pretty spectacular photos.


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Even with the illnesses, the long flights, and continuing jet lag three days after we’ve returned, it was all worth it. I’d do this same trip again in a heartbeat. I’m so proud of the kids who embraced their Cambodian culture and hopefully sparked a life long love of international travel.

 

Crab Season

You may have turkey on the brain this time of year, but this weekend we didn’t go shopping for Thanksgiving fixings. Instead, we headed to Half Moon Bay for crab.

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It was a glorious day, complete with a clear blue sky and the temperature hitting nearly 70 degrees. But we weren’t here for the view. With my in-laws leading the charge, we were on a mission to buy fresh crab, right off the boat.

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The mission didn’t take long at all, just a few minutes as we strolled along the docks trying to decide on the best boat. As is custom with my in-laws when it comes to cooking, they buy big. In this case, we left the dock with 15 snapping crabs. 

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For good measure, they also bought clams and oysters. Hey, they live in a land locked state, so they were taking full advantage of the availability of fresh seafood. Plus, we are all big fans of clam chowder, and there was a Thomas Keller recipe for clam chowder that I wanted to try. As with all Thomas Keller recipes, this one was complicated and involved many, many steps, as well as lots of butter, cream, and bacon to go with the clams. 

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And it was divine, probably some of the best clam chowder I’ve ever eaten.

The in-laws were kind enough to take care of cleaning and cooking the crab.

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They cooked it two ways. Steamed and fried. While both were delicious, I’m partial to simple steaming. The girls ate with gusto, but I’m not sure what they liked more, eating it or cracking it.

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We cleaned our plates, used piles and piles of napkins and paper towels, and were over-the-top stuffed from all the good eats. And yes, we still have plenty of leftovers, which will most likely be used for crab cakes tonight. 

 

Election Loss

Losses are tough. It’s part of life, sure, but even now I hate losing. I’d venture to say the only thing I like less than losing, is seeing the heartbreak in one of my kid’s eyes when they lose. That happened this week when Olivia found out she narrowly lost the election for Student Council Vice-President. When I say narrow loss, I’m talking about three votes. It didn’t help that Olivia was among the students who cast a ballot for her opponent.

There was plenty of anticipation about this election. She was excited. She made flyers and crafted what can only be described as a one-of-a-kind poster.

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She gave a speech, although she wouldn’t tell us what she prepared. When I asked, I got the triple-whammy. A look, an eye-roll, followed by, “Mom, No!”  While I didn’t love all the attitude and angst leading up to the election and the outcome, I give the kid major props. This was all her idea and she was really excited. The election was held last week, but in what felt reminiscent of the 2000 election, we had to wait a week for the outcome.  When she found out she lost, she was crushed.

Yes, all kids need to learn about winning and losing. Yes, the husband and I talked to her about learning from this loss, but we also said it’s OK to feel bad. Losing sucks, but promised her that sucky feeling will eventually subside, and this loss will make her next win so much sweeter. Let’s hope she believes us.

Boobie Basics

I’ve got a ‘tween girl living with me and as far as I can tell, she’s not going through puberty. Yet. Yet. If her moodiness is any indication, I’m probably days away. I’ve had “the talk” with her multiple times and it’s just as embarrassing for me as it is for her. Last night we had another “talk,” this time about boobs. At this point, she told me she wished she had an older sister so she wouldn’t have to have an awkward conversation with me. That’s when Erin piped in to save the day. She said she heard me telling Olivia about the important facts about boobs. She then offered to remind her big sister about what she called the boobie basics.  She even put it into a top five list. Here it is:

  1. Boobs need bras. It’s important to know that bras come in cups and numbers.
  2. Never take off your bra, lift your shirt, and show your boobs to boys. Ever.
  3. Don’t get surgery on your boobs.
  4. Don’t poke things with your boobs.
  5. Have fun with your boobs.

Erin was mighty proud of her list. She may have stuck in the last two just to get to five, but I applaud the seven-year-old’s effort, plus she mostly got it right. I also appreciated her helping out both her mom and big sister. Olivia still didn’t want to talk boobs and dubbed the talk the double b. At least now she knows double b is a cup size.

 

Full-Timer

As long as I’ve been a mom, I’ve been a working mom. Its been good for the entire family, not only for the added income, but also so I don’t drive everyone nuts staying home full-time. Even though I’ve worked, for the last 7 1/2 years I worked part-time. That’s almost unheard in the world of television journalism, but thanks to a good company and good bosses I’ve been able to do it. 

I always said once Carrie started kindergarten, I’d be ready to go back to working full-time. Well, Carrie’s now in kindergarten, and as of last week, I’m working full-time again. Returning to the full-time game has everything to do with the above mentioned good company, good bosses, and not-yet mentioned, good husband. Sure, it may take a village to raise a child, but it also takes an amazing partner in crime who also happens to be a good cook. We also have a pretty great babysitter who picks up the girls from school, schleps them to their various after-school activities, helps them get their homework done, and leaves our house way cleaner than we ever could. I call her a babysitter, but she’s much more than that. She’s a great care giver whom my family adores. I just hate calling her nanny because that sounds so pretentious. 

With the first week in the books, we’ve all survived. Olivia wasn’t all that concerned with the change in my schedule, but the younger two were less than thrilled. They said they were going to miss their “Mommy Days,” but I’m not sure they really did. Truth be told, I’m not sure I really did either. I sure didn’t miss making the mad dash from school to home to soccer practice to play practice to swim team practice, back home to make dinner. I know I’m lucky. My kids are not only in more than capable hands when I’m not with them, but I also happen to really like my job. 

There’s been more than enough words written about work/life balance, and after nearly eleven years trying to find it, I’ve realized there really is no balance. At any given time, the scales are tipped. If your kids are sick, your time and attention are focused on them. If you’ve got a big project going on at work, the scale will be leaning heavily on the work side. You just try and do the best you can. At least that’s what I do. Will your kids be upset that you’re working too much? Probably. Will people at work grouse when you’re away from the office for an extended amount of time? Probably. But that’s life. It’s never balanced. That’s also what makes it interesting.

 

Summer Vacation

There’s usually two schools of thought when it comes to summer vacation. It goes eternally slow or it zooms by like Elon Musk’s hypothetical hyperloop. For the first time since my kids started school, I fall into the later camp. Maybe it’s because we’ve had a revolving door of family visiting us for the last six weeks. Maybe it’s because my assignments for work this summer have included the Supreme Court’s decision on Prop 8 and the Asiana Flight 214 crash at SFO. Or maybe I’m like  this mom and in the sweet spot of parenting kids who (mostly) can use the bathroom by themselves. It’s probably a combination of the three, but I’ll take it.

While at times it can be absolutely exhausting entertaining family members who are staying at your house, I do truly love taking my family to see some of most magnificent sights of my adopted home.

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Asking foreign tourists to take your photo in front of the Golden Gate Bridge really never gets old, and neither does traipsing through Muir Woods.

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It helps that the hike is relatively short, flat, and my 3-year-old nephew is like the Energizer bunny, who keeps running, and running, and running.

Taking them to places we’ve been to time and time again really makes me appreciate it even more, like the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, which is about 40 minutes away from our house.

What's that Daddy?
What’s that Daddy?

Sure it’s freezing, and you risk life and limb navigating over wet, slippery rocks, but it’s all worth it when you see something like this

Sea Anemone
Sea Anemone

and your middle child shows no fear sticking her finger into the middle of the anemone.

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Northern California beaches do have some drawbacks, namely having to dress in warm layers and braving what can be gale force winds, which will pelt sand in your face, giving you the most painful exfoliation on the planet.  That may be why Ali and Erin decided to embrace the sand, even though it took days to get all the sand off their bodies.

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As I’ve scrolled through the photos on my phone and computer I now see why this summer has flown by. We’ve done everything from road tripping to Sonoma and Monterey to catching multiple Major League Baseball games in San Francisco and Oakland, not to mention a couple of summer camps, swimming lessons, and swim team in between.

Its been a very good summer vacation so far. Very good indeed. Let’s just hope the last month goes by just as quickly as the first two months.

On the Boardwalk

As the sun sets on the kids’ summer vacation, it seems fitting to go out in style. Santa Cruz Boardwalk style.

Welcome to the Boardwalk

The day couldn’t have been more perfect, well except for one thing. I bravely took all three girls to the Boardwalk on my own, plus Olivia brought one of her friends. Do the math. Four kids. One adult. I did question my sanity as I herded the kids in the car for hour-long drive. While I would have loved to have had adult company, the outing went way above my expectations. First, we didn’t hit any traffic. None. Second, I totally scored rock star street parking right across from the entrance. Third, no meltdowns, by me or the kids. That’s what I call a terrific trifecta.

Allowing Olivia to invite a buddy meant no whining about forced boredom due to riding kiddie rides she outgrew years ago.

Instead, she and her friend giddily went on rides likes this one:

Double Shot!

The Double Shot catapults people 125 feet in the air and drops them back down again…. and again. They hated this ride, so much that they went on this four times. I have to admit, I would have liked to have tried this ride one time. Not four, but one would have been nice. Shockingly, the friend didn’t get sick from this, but did get carsick on the way home.

The other two girls also took to the air, albeit not much that air.

Up and Away!

You can’t see it from this photo, but Erin piloted this puppy.

Next came lunch. I’ve done this trip before, so I’ve learned to pack lunches and eat on the beach. Of course the kids would rather eat corn dogs and other fried delicacies, but to their credit they ate without any complaints. Plus, they got entertainment.

Emperor’s Imperial Circus

Sure, the dragons were kind of cool, but the chick who did acrobatics on about six stacked chairs drew the biggest ooh’s and ahh’s. Best of all, it was free entertainment, which was quite welcome after shelling out big bucks for the rides.

After lunch, I let the older girls loose to return to the rides, and the younger two hit the waves.

BFF’s…. at least for today

It was beyond heartening to see these two get along so well today. It doesn’t happen all that often, but with Olivia off with her friend, Erin stepped into her big sister’s shoes without a second thought. She calmly took her sister’s hand as they played wave runner, and deftly pulled Carrie out of the way when the big waves threatened to drench her.

Watching all the girls today gave me a chance to truly see how much they’ve all grown, literally and figuratively.

Olivia towered over the height requirement charts on all the rides. But it’s not just her size that shows she’s growing up. Although I let her and her friend run off on their own for an hour with strict instructions on where and when to return, I see she’s ready for more independence and freedom. She may be ready, but I’m sure not.

Erin is on the verge of exploring new frontiers. She’s maybe an inch away from riding the big kid rides. Today Sea Serpent. Tomorrow the Giant Dipper.

And Carrie, well what can I say, she’s my baby. She’s raring to go and ready to keep up with her big sisters. I know it won’t be long before she is more than holding her own with them.

It’s days like these when I’m truly grateful for the wonderful life I have. Thanks Santa Cruz Boardwalk for helping me experience one of the true joys of parenthood. Watching your kids just be kids, and loving every minute of it.

Tour de Meak

Sure the cyclists in the Tour de France are unbelievable athletes, able to climb mountains at breakneck speeds for miles and miles, but I’ll be following my own little cyclists, including one who’s sporting her own yellow jersey, Mizzou style.

At the finish line

Having three kids means at any given time one kid is outgrowing something, which will be passed down to the next kid. That happened this weekend with bicycles. It’s hard to believe, but Olivia is now in an adult sized bike. Well, maybe it shouldn’t be all that hard to believe considering she almost wears the same size shoe as me and has crazy long legs anyone would envy. (me included)

With Olivia sporting a new bike, Erin moved into Olivia’s old bike, which was a big jump for both of them. Up until now Erin only used pedal brakes and her bike had one speed. Now she has hand breaks and seven speeds. Given she was navigating a new bike and learning to use hand brakes and gears, you’d think we’d go out for a nice leisurely flat ride. Nope.

We are lucky enough to live in a place where cycling is taken seriously. Very seriously. Virtually every Sunday a beautiful stretch of road is shut down to cars for bicycle Sunday. It’s beautiful, but hilly. Let’s just say Erin was less than confident about using the hand brakes down the hills. On the first two hills either the husband or I walked next to her while she made her way very s l o w l y down said hills. There were tears and protests. I was beginning to think this would be a cycling fail outing.

At this point, I told Olivia she could bike ahead of us. She did. A few minutes later, I decided to catch up to her, which took me way longer than expected. Let’s just say there was not a big learning curve from her previous kid bike. Olivia was a cycling machine, making her way up some pretty big hills and not even breaking a sweat.

By the time we made it back to Erin and the husband, who was pulling Carrie in a chariot, it appeared our middle child had made a breakthrough with the hand brakes. She had dried her tears and although she was not yet smiling, she didn’t exactly look unhappy. We also took a rest stop at a pretty cool location, the Alameda De Las Pulgas Water Temple.

After this pit stop, we met up with my friend and her son, which allowed Olivia to have a biking buddy.

Biking Buddies

They had such a good time they decided to continue on, while the rest of us stopped at around 8 miles. By the end of the ride, Erin was rocking the hills, both uphill and down, and didn’t even really complain until the final uphill, which she said was “exhausting.”

We met up with Olivia and my friend at a local grocery store, where we found my friend patching up Olivia’s left knee and right elbow with a couple of band-aids. It turns out she hit a patch of uneven road and took a spill. Shockingly, Olivia was the picture of calm, no tears, no freak out moment. I guarantee if it happened on my watch, she would have been bawling. So while it may have traumatized my friend, better her than me.

Once back at her house, the husband put on some neosporin and a new band-aid, which didn’t go over too well with Olivia.

Ouch!

I can’t say I really blame her ’cause it is a pretty nasty road rash. To her credit though, she says she’s ready to get back on her saddle and ride again.

Not to be outdone by her sisters, Carrie decided she was ready to ride her own big girl bike. Well, technically it was Olivia’s, then Erin’s, and now the Schwinn Stardust is all hers. It does come with training wheels, but since she’s been gliding on her balance bike for the last six months or so,

we figured we could try it sans training wheels.

No Training Wheels!

And by golly it worked! The 4-year old was riding on her own for a good couple of seconds. She did way better than either of her sisters the first time they tried riding without training wheels. I’d like to credit my bike teaching skills for her impressive ride, but I’m pretty sure the balance bike was key. Had it not been so late in the day, we would have done what we’ve done with the other two kids and taken her to a local school where there’s plenty of space.

Since time was not on our side, we just went up and down our block for as long as our backs would hold out, which was not all that long.

I’m quite confident she’ll be cruising all on her own within days.

Once she’s got her biking legs and balance, we’ll try a longer ride, but we’re not stupid. We won’t be doing the same ride we did today. The next Tour de Meak will be a nice short and simple flat ride.

To say I was proud of the three girls would be an understatement. All of them surpassed my wildest expectations with their cycling accomplishments today. Olivia can more than hold her own with us, and for her to power through her fall and still come away with a positive experience is beyond impressive. Erin, through sheer determination mastered a new and difficult bike. And Carrie, well Carrie holding her own and working as hard as she can to keep up with her big sisters.

It was a great and momentous day I know I won’t soon forget and I hope the girls don’t either.