Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Family Meeting Wrap-Up for the Week of Aug 22-28th by Gabrielle

The meeting started with a review of the past week:

Jude
Best: The entire Grafrath family stayed Saturday night at Chanti's and we played Super Smash Brothers. A lot.
Worst: When we had to stop playing "Texas Bingo" during the last family meeting because it was time for bed.

Scout
Best: Staying Saturday night at Chanti's
Worst: When school is over (Hey, she likes school. What can I say?)

Gabrielle
Best: I am really getting excited about planning our trip to FL now that we are ironing all the wrinkles and getting our plans in order
Worst: The new screen door we got replaced is not closing properly (Argh)

Zoë
Best: Staying Saturday night at Chanti's
Worst: Having homework every night because she was spacing out

Briar
Best: Staying at Chanti's hosue
Worst: Same as Scout's - when school was over

Rob
Best: Started college classes and got 100% on both of his assignments he turned in
Worst: The front steps are all caca-coocoo because of this dry weather and they've kind of started to move and pull away from the porch. It's weird and annoying. As soon as you knock one thing off the list, something else pops up

After our week review, we went over ideas for putting our "Family Mission Statement" together. About two hours before the meeting we had Zoë and Jude write out what they thought a good family's values and attributes should consist of and they read them aloud during the meeting. They did a wonderful job and contributed many ideas. Briar and Scout gave some surprising additions for 4 year olds (those girls are astute). Rob and I gave our ideas and expanded on the girls' input. We will be hammering out our mission statement soon and I look forward to posting and also getting it printed/framed and hung in our family room.

We then talked about what is coming up this week:

Monday - Karate
Tuesday - Gymnastics and Rob's college class
Wednesday - Rob does his homework
Thursday - Nothing planned
Friday - Nothing planned
Labor Day Weekend - Skotnik celebration, Rob biking with Joe, a visit from the Smart family (Chanti's sister and her daughter's family)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

First Week of School by Rob

I've been off of blogging the last week, probably because it was my first week of classes at Grayson.  I've submitted my first assignments and got 100% on both.  To celebrate I treated myself to my favorite dessert:  a warm Reese's brownie under a scoop of Reese's ice cream with Reese's hard shell, a spoonful of peanut butter, some whipped cream, Reese's peanut butter chips sprinkled on top, and a glass of Chocovine to wash it down.  DECADENCE!!

We have also been planning out our upcoming road trip, and we have decided against the R.V..  What really cinched the deal was when we started looking at renting a vacation house.  You can get a really nice place with a swimming pool for something like $100/night.  So, we're talking about driving down in our minivan, staying in hotels on the nights when we're traveling, and renting a vacation home on the nights when we're in the Sarasota area.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Family Meeting Wrap-Up for the Week of Aug 15-21st by Gabrielle

Last week, August 15-21st, we celebrated Jude's birthday and went skating.

Here's the wrap-up:

Scout
Best: Eating Jude's chocolate cherry birthday cake that Mommy made
Worst: Fighting with Briar too much. They were also having problems pushing each other

Zoë
Best: Skating! She was free to skate around the rink and did so with ease.
Worst: She had a hard time in school last week. It stemmed from focus issues. She was being a flake.

Gabrielle
Best: Skating was the best because it was the first time we've been able to go out in public and do something as a family, just the six of us, besides going to the park or something. Rob and I could skate and enjoy ourselves, all the while keeping an eye out for the pips and big girls but still letting them have that independence they so desire. We were also able to have special individual moments with each child while skating.
Worst: I had to cut Briar's hair even shorter. Like I said in an earlier wrap-up, she had started twirling her hair again, which means that she starts to pull at it. I ended up just cutting it in the the hopes that she will stop twirling it.

Briar
Best: Skating all by herself around the rink
Worst: Getting her hair cut. She is really disappointed that she has started twirling her hair again and wants to stop so bad. It breaks my heart.

Jude
Best: Her birthday party
Worst: Hitting and being bad

Rob
Best: Special time with the wife
Worst: Scraping his arm on his bike ride

To end the meeting, we played "Texas Bingo" which consists of little bingo cards that have facts about Texas and you use rocks as place markers. We also read from "7 Habits of Happy Kids".

Family Meeting Wrap-Up for the Week of Aug 8-14th by Gabrielle

We got a little behind on these meeting wrap-ups, but here we go despite that fact. I need to mention that this was the weekend of Rob's Century so Claire took the kids for that whole weekend starting Friday (Yes, I know, we are SO lucky to have Claire. She is tremendous). That Saturday was Rob's Century and Sunday we celebrated Rob and Claire's birthdays.

Here is our Family Meeting Wrap-up for the week of August 7-14th:

Zoë
Best: Being with Chanti (going to Toys R Us, swimming, eating at Pei Wei)
Worst: Missed out on brownies because of her bad attitude

Jude
Best: Being with Chanti (going to Toys R Us, swimming, eating at Pei Wei)
Worst: Got punished for getting in front of the camcorder on purpose when Briar Rose was "performing" a song

Scout
Best: Eating cake at dad and Chanti's birthday party
Worst: Not seeing Mommy and Daddy while she was at Chanti's. (Awww, she missed us...)

Briar
Best: The indoor water park Claire took them to so they could go swimming
Worst: She's back to twirling her hair again. This is bad because she has a tendency to pull it out once it gets long enough.

Gabrielle
Best: Watching Rob cross the finish line after his Century
Worst: Burning my hand while I was making our "Big Breakfast". I was making German Apple Pancakes (which are, hmmmm, what's the word...AMAZING). You fry up the apples in an all metal skillet and then pour in the batter. You then put the skillet into the oven at 425 very hot degrees. After you let it bake for 20 minutes, you take out the skillet. Of course when you take out the skillet, you use an oven mitt, but once the skillet has been sitting on your stove for a bit, you forget that its metal handle is still about 400 degrees and you grab it. Let's just say I was glad that Claire had not arrived to our house with the kids at that moment because words flowed freely out of my mouth that I had no idea I was capable of uttering.

Rob
Best: The Century's 80 mile mark. He got new gloves, new socks, and a kiss from a pretty lady (it was me, in case you were curious).
Worst: His worst was my worst, me burning my hand. He ran from our bedroom after hearing me scream a certain word very loud. He immediately gave me ice and I do believe his quick action helped prevent having more blisters on my hand and saved me a lot of pain, though it was still unbelievably painful, especially when I had to take a shower. I ended up having Rob wrap my hand in gauze so I wouldn't use my hand and cause more pain.


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Rock the Roller Rink by Rob

Today we took the kids to the Denison roller skating rink.  Zoë and Jude are already really good skaters so they were whizzing around the whole time.  Briar and Scout, of course, aren't quite as proficient, though they did eventually get enough confidence that they could scoot around without holding our hands.  Sometimes I would hold one of the big girls' hands and pull them around, going nice and fast.  They loved when I would slingshot them around the turn.  Gabrielle and I have a special place in our hearts for roller skating because our first date was at Skate World, in Merriam KS.  It's a perfect excuse to hold hands on your first date when you've got a guy who's really good and a girl who's somewhat unsteady.  We still hold hands when we skate, when we're not dealing with the kids.  I also like to take advantage of my embarrassing/dorky dad role by dancing while I skate, and trying to encourage the kids to do the same.  It's liberating not to care about looking stupid and to have a good time making fun of yourself.  Seriously, though, I rock the roller rink!

BTW - roller skating can be fairly good exercise.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Gym Reboot by Rob

Today started out on the wrong foot.  In the early morning when I was going to wake up and go to the gym I decided that I was a bit sore from my prior day's workout and should sleep longer to let my muscles repair, and I would go to the gym during lunch.  That's fine, but I wish I would have made that decision before I set my alarm clock the prior night so I could have had more uninterrupted sleep.  Oh well, that's fine; minor inconvenience.

It all went downhill as soon as I showed up for work.  I won't bore you with the technical details but one of our servers had an "issue" which caused the first three hours of my day to be wasted on firefighting and clean-up work.  By around 11:00 things were sorted out but I was frustrated and I felt wasted.  So, I decided that before starting on the things that I should have been doing since 8am I would take my lunch break early and go to the gym.  I had a nice leg workout and then stretched in the sauna.  I showered and dressed, went back into the office, had my protein shake, and started my day over from scratch, feeling energized and alert.  The gym rebooted my brain!  I may have wrote off the first half of the day but I think the amount of work I got done in the second half made up for it.

Education:
  • I have been fortunate enough to spend several hours this evening writing code at home for my personal incremental backup program.  It is quite educational because I'm doing and trying new things which I wouldn't normally have an opportunity to play around with at work.
Diet and Exercise:
  • Gym reboot:  45 min
  • Still skipping dessert like I promised

Write It on "The List" by Gabrielle

It's been awhile since I took a bit o' time to sit at the computer with the intention of blogging, so I thought I'd take a whack at it now.

I recently made a list with Rob about things we need to do (individually and together), whether it be projects on the house or personal projects for ourselves or that we're doing for others. It's a to-do list that everyday life just keeps putting off. We think it's okay for them to be forgotten about because they're pretty easy to ignore; they just sit there in the recesses of our minds and only come out to play when something reminds us, but when that happens we're busy doing something else, so they get put off once more.

I just hate the feeling of always having generic "stuff" floating around that I need to to do and not getting any traction. It seems that when too many loose ends are left unraveling, chaos and excuses reign, and the list helps to stop that from happening. It tells me what I need to do and allows me to remember to do it. It shows me that I am achieving my goals and getting somewhere in a positive and constructive manner. It gives me focus. I've marked off several items since we've made it. It's a good feeling to have that sense of accomplishment when scratching something off the list.

I'm finding that I do better and am way more productive when I have tasks listed. There is more of a sense of responsibility to get them done. Even chores that need to be done periodically throughout the week (laundry, vacuuming, cleaning bathrooms, etc.) are done more consistently by me when they are on my agenda for the day.

If you ever feel overwhelmed by life's little projects, just make a list. As you make it, you'll come to realize that you really don't have as much crap to do as you thought. We all like to say how positively busy we are, but in the scheme of things, if we have time for Facebook, watching TV, movies, or "surfing the web", we have time for ANYTHING. I look back and feel a bit foolish about the amount of time I spent Facebooking when I could have been doing something more constructive with my spare time: working on personal writing projects (like the blog), reading books that will help me expand on who I am and what my core beliefs are, miscellaneous items around the house that need to be taken care of, or really cracking down on getting personal photography projects completed.

If you find you're not crossing things off after a few days to a week, then you've probably got your priorities confused. Doing something you've been promising to do for your spouse is more important than reading your favorite websites. Instead of catching up on the latest episodes of "House" that are recorded on your DVR, maybe you should catch-up on some chores around the house. We can always find an excuse to why we can't do it "right now" and then when the perfect time comes, and we've found a little bit of extra time in the schedule, we conveniently forget about all of the things we should be doing because, "Gosh that's a good show, I can't miss it!" or, "Now, it's time to get some 'Me' time!"

Of course you can and should make time for recreation, but first carve out a designated time for at least one project a day. Reward yourself with that extra-curricular stuff only after you've gotten a project or two out of the way. Get moving towards a goal and you'll begin a positive cycle of traction. Don't allow yourself to say, "There's just not enough time..."; there
is enough time to chip away at that list, little by little.



Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Books and Biceps by Rob

How exciting!  The school textbooks that I have ordered for my classes which start next week have started to arrive.  I also got a call from my computer science course teacher, who was concerned that I may not have the necessary prerequisites for the class.  I informed her of my 12 years of programming experience in VB, C#, and Python, plus my C++ programming immersion course.  She's not worried anymore.  Classes start next week.  This is so weird, after 13 years away from school I'm actually going to be going back to college.

What about biceps?  I worked them today, that's what.  I'm happy to see that even without going to the gym quite as religiously as I did last year I am still seeing progress in my muscle growth.

Education
  • Browsed my school books
Diet and Exercise
  • Good workout!  1 hr
  • Ate very sensibly

Monday, August 15, 2011

XBox 360 by Rob

I got an XBox 360 for my birthday.  Pretty sweet present, right?  I got to play online tonight with Joe and J.P..  We played "Castle Crashers" and it was all good...except the parts where my internet connection killed the party.  Argh!  Living in the boonies is not all it's cracked up to be, sometimes.  They tolerated my lag for an hour and then we were done.  I'm going to have to figure something out.  Would a 4G wireless internet connection work better?  No such thing as a free gift, eh?

Education:
  • Finished purchasing my books for class.
  • Wikisurfed a bit, learned that there is much more to the classification of species than I had ever imagined.
 Diet and Exercise:
  • Woke up 6ish, got in a 40-min workout, did some homework push-ups
  • Ate too much candy while playing Castle Crashers.  Oops!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

100 on 33 by Rob

I biked 100 miles on my 33rd birthday.  I could go on and on about the ride but I think instead I'll talk about my contemplations on my age which I mulled over during my hours on the road.

I was thinking about how big and old and "grown up" 33 sounds to me.  What a good, hearty, symmetrical number.  It sure feels like a whole lot of years.  Then I doubled it:  66, a typical retirement age.  That also seems like a whole lot of years, but somehow the first half of 66 seems longer than the second half.  I guess that's because I spent that time maturing from infant to child to teenager to young adult to mature adult.  What happens for the next 33 years?  Adulthood and more adulthood.  That doesn't sound very interesting but it really is a whole heck of a lot of time.  So I spent the first 33 years getting the whole "maturation" thing out of the way, and now I have yet another 33 years to enjoy being an adult, but still growing and learning in new ways.  If I retire at 66 and then go on to live to be 99 that's another 33 years where I can enjoy life without having to go to work all the time.  Sweet!  There's no guarantees, though, so I'll be enjoying it one day at a time as it happens.  In conclusion, it has been a long ride but I still have many miles to go!*

* Do you see what I did there?  I turned my birthday contemplations into a biking metaphor.  Pretty clever, right?!

Here's how I celebrated my birthday:
  1. Woke up at 5am
  2. Biked 100 miles (6:45am-2:00pm, avg speed 16mph)
  3. Protein shake, shower, nap
  4. Ate leftover eggplant parmesan
  5. Finished watching "Grizzly Man"
  6. Made Reese's Brownies, and ate them (oh, so good!!)
  7. Drank some adult beverages
  8. Watched "Men Who Stare at Goats" on Netflix
  9. Watched "OK Go" videos with Gabrielle as I wrote this post.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Go Vikings! by Rob

Yeah, you're looking at one of the newest "Vikings" of Grayson County College!  Woooo!  Let's have a party and skip class!  Or not.  I enrolled in my two Fall classes today:  Composition & Rhetoric II, and Advanced Structured Languages.  I'm all paid up:  $360 or so for two classes ain't bad.  I got my books on Amazon for about $120.  Did I mention that my employer has tuition reimbursement?  Go Vikings!

Also, I'm stoked about my ride.  I tried to go to sleep early but it didn't work.  I just had some cereal and now I'm going to try sleeping again.

Education:
  • Go Vikings!
Diet and Exercise:
  • Rested up for the big ride tomorrow.
  • Gabrielle made a very nice eggplant parmesan dinner for me tonight and it was yum-yum.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Ready to Ride Red River Rally by Rob

I didn't blog last night and don't plan to blog tomorrow.  I need to get to bed as early as possible in order to rest my body and repair my muscles from my workouts earlier this week, in preparation for my century ride on Saturday:  the Red River Bike Rally.  I'm as ready and stoked!  I'm not really worried about whether or not I'll finish, since I was able to ride 75 miles a couple weeks ago without much ado.  The time limit which I must meet is to pass the 80 mile mark by 2 pm.  I'm starting at 6:30 am so that won't be a problem.  I'm mentally prepared to maintain a good speed while pacing myself for the long haul.  I put aero bars on the bike before my last ride in order to relieve the pressure on my hands and give myself another ride position; switching positions regularly helps prevent soreness.  Gabrielle is going to take some pictures of me so you can look forward to that.  She'll meet me somewhere around the 60-70 mile marker to refill my Hammer Gel and switch out my gloves for dry ones.  I suppose she'll also meet me back at Austin College for finish line pics.

Here is the century route.

Education:
  • Podcasted, 45 min
  • Grizzly Man documentary last night:  1 hr (not finished yet!), yes, it was educational.
  • Programming using object-oriented mentality at work
  • Emailed Grayson College to get them to enroll me in 2 classes for Fall, since they don't have my prerequisites entered in their system so I can't enroll myself online.
Diet and Exercise:
  • Yesterday:  pectoral and triceps workout, 45 min
  • Today:  some brief cardio on the elliptical at home, 15 min
  • I've been skipping dessert and watching what I eat since I tipped past my 160 lb target max weight, though tomorrow I'll have a good pasta dinner and then on Saturday it's my birthday, plus I'm doing the ride, so I get to eat whatever I want.  That means one thing:  Reece's Brownies!!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Sunday Morning Breakfasts by Gabrielle

Every Sunday morning for the last few months we've been trying to have a "Big Breakfast". There is something so special and memorable about waking up and working together on a project that everyone can enjoy. Rob and I get started on cooking the breakfast as soon as we wake up, during which our girls come out of their rooms and stream into the kitchen asking if they can help out. Their tired/excited eyes on the mornings of these breakfasts are something to behold.

It seems we are able to pull the breakfasts off every week, but sometimes something comes up and we have to have it on Saturday or not have it at all (it's rare, but has happened). The meal includes all the classic fixin's of breakfast, from the main course to the sides. We try to keep it as healthy as a big, fat, huge breakfast can be. For example, we use turkey bacon, turkey sausage, and Egg Beaters if we're are having scrambled eggs so when we make a meal that requires heavy whipping cream or buttermilk we don't have to feel as guilty.

I thought it would be fun if I blogged via photos of what we made and ate. Last Sunday we did biscuits and sausage gravy, eggs, hash browns, coffee, and orange juice. Click on the photos to view larger versions.







Jude making biscuits. She's my little early bird and always wants to help in the kitchen.












Rob busy cooking up the turkey sausage for our sausage gravy.








My job was
hash browns.









Biscuits almost ready to be put in the oven!














Coffee: ready!





Rob putting the eggs on the griddle.










Biscuits and gravy ready to be served.









We all sit down to eat and have our wonderful breakfast. It really makes you appreciate the little things when the whole family comes together to make and enjoy a meal.

Oh, and this picture on the right is Scout wearing the "Number 1 Eater Crown". The child who eats the most the quickest (preferably with no complaining) gets to wear the crown. I fashioned it from a headband, gift bow, plastic "fancy" silverware, and hot glue.


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

To-Do List by Rob

I've got all these personal to-do's bouncing around in my head all the time.  I thought if I wrote them all down they would be quiet, but it didn't help.  Now I've got all the same things bouncing around plus the to-do's that were already on the list before I started.  Well, there's just one way to make them stop:  alcohol!  Or get them done.  Either way.  Gabrielle also has some to-do's that she wrote down and we have some shared to-do's that either or both of us need to do.  On top of that is our list of jobs that we intend to hire a professional to do, but those are actually easier to deal with because we have to save money to pay for the job before we get it done, so there's nothing gnawing at my conscience.

Education:
  • I picked out the courses I'll be taking in the Fall semester, though I couldn't enroll in them online because the college administrators haven't entered my previous college credits into their system so the system thinks I don't have the necessary prerequisites.
Diet & Exercise:
  • I weighed in at 161 today so I'm going to take a break from desserts until Saturday (my birthday) when I plan on eating my favorite food ever:  Reeces Brownies.
  • I had an intense hour workout.  My outfit was totally soaked with sweat by the time I was done.  I love it when that happens!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Self Evaluation by Rob

I spent a couple of hours tonight filling out my annual self-evaluation for work.  While I would rather not go through the trouble of writing down everything I already know about myself, Lee insisted that I do it.  I would say that he just has me do it so he doesn't have to bother two-finger-typing out all those words himself, but I actually did get a lot out of it, much more than if he had just written it himself and lectured me on what he thinks.  Maybe he's onto something.  Would my employees benefit more from their own self-evaulation than they do from my dictatorial perspective?  Perhaps I'll try it next time.

Anyways, I would like to think that I'm capable of both boasting about my own merits and admitting to my own faults.  This year I have judged my work performance as being much further from where I want it to be than I have been in previous years.  I've been listening to those management and programmer podcasts and thinking about everything I've previously learned about good development techniques, standards, and practices.  Sometimes the more you know, the more you know you don't know, you know?  Seriously, read it again if you don't get it.  Profound stuff.  Quote me if you want.  I need more info!  There is to much to learn about how other people have done what I am trying to do:  running a development department.  So much to learn, so little time!

I'm considering how I'm in the optimal role to facilitate real change:  the fulcrum point between programmers and managers.  I have the visibility to see how things are done and how our methods have succeeded or failed and I have the power and influence to change it all.  I have the respect and support of my employees and my manager.  I have the maturity to admit to myself how truly immature our development strategies and standards are.  I could blame the environment, the business, upper management, previous managers, the programmers, or whatever, but I blame me.  Ouch!  I've had this department under my wing for six years now, even before I was promoted to manager, as I was still in the key influential role as the department's lead developer.  What have I done with the department?  Our practices are still essentially a hodge-podge of shoot-from-the-hip quick-fixes.  As Stephen Covey would say we're spending almost every moment of our time in quadrants 1 and 3.  As Larry the Cable Guy would say, we just "get 'r dun!"  As Richard Hooker would say, we perform "meatball surgery" on our tickets.  Any forward thinking or proactivity almost happens accidentally, after a particular problem has happened a dozen times we finally say "gee wiz we sure should come up with some sort of way to make that stop happening all the freaking time".  If it ain't broke don't fix it, we say.  If it's kind of halfway broke but can limp along then maybe give it a crutch and kick it out the door.  So, what am I going to do about it?  I haven't formulated a concrete plan but I am working on it.  Generally speaking, I shall use the power and intellect of my programmers to pull the team up by its own bootstraps.  I can't do it all myself, that much I've learned over the years.  Hey!  I'm excited about my job again!

Also in the news today:  I got new glasses!  I don't normally wear glasses since I've grown accustomed to contacts but also my old pair's prescription was out of date and they made my head feel weird.  I had plenty of contacts left over from last year since I've been keeping them in for so long, so this year I decided I would use my vision benefits to get some new glasses.  We went with the thick-framed nerdy variety.  Sexy, eh?






Education:
  • I looked in the mirror at myself at work and decided to fix what I didn't like.
Diet and Exercise:
  • Made it to the gym this morning, had a killer leg workout, 45 min total with abs and a bit of cardio and stretching in the sauna.  After today I'm not going to do any more strength training on my legs until after my Century.
  • Diet was fine.  Salad for lunch, small dinner, small dessert, several snacks, typical stuff.

The Songs of Our Lives by Gabrielle

I wanted to share the stories of how each of our girls got 'assigned' a song. The songs I'll be discussing each have extreme significance in our family and bring me to tears when I hear them.

Zoë's Song: When Zoë was a baby, she'd get pretty fussy at night and Rob would rock her/dance with her to get her to go to sleep. Back in those days, we had a CD player (and not these fancy iPod devices) and the CD that was in Zoë's player was the Jackson 5's greatest hits album. He'd play "I'll Be There" to help her go to sleep.

When she was about age 4-5, whenever she heard it, she would quietly cry. At that young age she didn't understand why it made her emotional, but her brain knew that song had a special meaning in her life. Now that she is older, she understands why the song stands out in her mind and why she has a connection to it.

Knowing that this will be the song for the daddy/daughter dance at her wedding, makes me emotional as well. Zoë may not remember that daddy held her in his arms all those many nights, but this song can bring us back to a time in our lives that may have been otherwise forgotten and that is just wonderful.

Jude's Song: Before Rob and I even said the vows at our wedding, we agreed on something that a lot of couples have trouble with: what to name our children. We had both a boy and a girl name picked out and ready to go when needed. Our boy's name was to be Xavier Thomas (which we never got a chance to use) and our precious girl was to be named Zoë Elizabeth.

When I got pregnant after we had Zoë, I was hoping for a boy. I thought "A boy and a girl: the best of both worlds". Another added bonus would be that my sister Jeanna, who already had a daughter 10 months older than Zoë, was pregnant for the second time as well and was one month farther along than I was in my pregnancy. She was having a boy and we thought it'd be terrific to each have little boys practically the same age.

When I found out via sonogram that I was having a girl, I was a little sad. I am ashamed to admit that I shed a tear or two. I had this little fantasy in my head about having a boy named Xavier. Poof! He was gone. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't depressed or anything that I was having a girl, I just had been so darn sure it was a boy and that fact, along with pregnancy hormones, made me emotional for a bit, but it didn't take long to be excited about Zoë having a little sister and us having another beautiful girl.

I was having a girl and along with that came the dilemma of needing to find another girl name. Anyone who truly knows Rob and me, knows that we are planners, and not having a girl name picked out and being pregnant with a girl was a little hiccup in our life paths. One day while discussing girl names, Rob and I were sitting in the car, listening to a Beatles' CD. I bet you can guess what came on: "Hey, Jude". I sat there listening to it and knew instantly that I loved the name "Jude" for a girl, but I didn't say anything for fear that Rob would think it was out of the question. The next thing that came out of Rob's mouth was, "What about Jude?" Yay! I told him I was thinking the same thing. Rob gave me one condition to naming our girl "Jude": we must be able to find the name listed under the girls' names in a name book.

After telling everyone in my family the possible name for our baby girl and stating the condition needed to make it come to fruition, I received a call from my sister Jeanna. She had a couple of name books and found "Jude" under the names for girls. So it was official. Our girl was to be named Jude and she would forever have a song that included her beautiful name in it, not to mention that it is one of the best songs ever written in the entire world. We picked "Anne-Marie" for her middle name, combining my sister Charla's middle name (who is the person you absolutely want to have in the room when you are giving birth. She is truly rock solid!) and my sister Jeanna's middle name (who was pregnant right along with me during the time I was pregnant with Jude and found "Jude" listed under the girls' names in the name book).

We constantly played "Hey, Jude" when Jude was a baby and it would always calm her down. Seriously. Even when we sang it ourselves, despite the fact that we are no Paul McCartneys, she would calm down upon hearing those words. Just like Zoë's song "I'll Be There", Rob will dance with Jude at her wedding to this song. Who could ask for anything more out of life?

Scout's Song: Rob and I always agreed that we would have four children; like I said in Jude's song, we're planners. More than five years ago, back when we lived in Kansas, out of the blue Rob got a fantastic job offer that relocated us to Texas. Within two weeks after Rob officially got the job, we moved down here. Zoë was 2 years old and Jude was about about 11 months. Talk about an unplanned event. We thought we were going to live in our last house at least 20 years. As Jon Bon Jovi says, "Map out your life, but do it in pencil." (Rob, that quote is dedicated to you)

After about a year or so things settled down and we got into the groove of living down in Texas. We started discussing the topic of having another child. Here's the deal, I'm not a good pregnant person. I don't like being pregnant, I had horrible morning sickness, and once you're pregnant, that baby owns your body for nine months (even more if you choose to breastfeed, which I did). I also found being pregnant was mentally stressful. Having lost my first child in miscarriage, the fact that I spotted through each and every one of my subsequent pregnancies caused me constant worry that I was going to lose another baby. Of course I also suffered from all the other miscellaneous natural worries a women has when pregnant. So when I told Rob I wanted this pregnancy to be my last one, it was with a heavy heart. We would only be having three children and not the four we had dreamed of. Rob understood the stress pregnancy put on my body and my brain so we agreed this pregnancy would be our last all the while joking, "Maybe it'll be twins, ha, ha, ha."

I was ten weeks along when we found out we were having twins. So we got our four kids after all! At that point, we had no idea what the sexes of the babies would be, but we knew it was time for "The Name Game". If we had twin boys, we decided the names would be Xavier Thomas (Xavier because we liked it and Thomas for Rob's dad who passed away) and Nova Keith (Nova was my grandpa's first name though he went by his middle name Glen and Keith for my other grandpa). The girls' names were to be Briar Rose and Scout "Hopefully-We'll-Figure-Out-a-Middle-Name-Before-She's-Born". Scout was a name that we had in our back pocket to name our next little girl after we had Jude, but we were having difficulty picking out a middle name for Scout. The spunky little girl from To Kill a Mockingbird is a treasure and it's just too cute to boot.

What middle name would go with Scout? We jokingly said Elizabeth, but that was Zoë's (gosh dang Elizabeth has to be the best middle name in the world, it goes with about anything). I said "Rosanna" which would be a kind of a play on Briar Rose's middle name so their names would sort of match but still be individual enough. Rob nixed that idea saying that it reminded him of Rosanne Barr. Rob then had a fantastic idea. He looked to see what Scout's last name was in the book: Finch. Perfect. I instantly fell in love with "Finch". I love the name "Finch" so much that I actually call her Scout Finch most of the time when I speak to her or of her.

When it came to picking Scout's song, it was an obvious choice: the theme song for the movie To Kill a Mockingbird. When I listen to this song it makes me want to cry because of its innocence and power. Add that to the fact that Scout dances like a ballerina upon hearing it and you're hard pressed to not immediately respond with tears rolling down your cheeks. I can't help but imagine Rob and Scout dancing to this on her wedding day. Please, take time to listen to this song and bask in the glory that man is capable of creating such beauty.

But, maybe it's just me.

Briar's Song: I'd like to start this by stating how it still blows my mind to this day that Scout Finch and Briar Rose were at a point one zygote that then separated into two embryos. What?! I don't think there will be a time in my life where I can fathom that. But, that is what happened. We even had genetic testing done to make sure they were identical; in fact we did it twice because we still couldn't believe it after the first test came back and thought maybe we messed up somehow. I know they looked identical, but so do a lot of fraternal twins. We just wanted to make sure it was true before we told them all their life that they were identical.

These pips were made to order:

-We wanted them to both be girls. I didn't want a boy anymore. By the time I got pregnant with the twins, I was having fun with my girly girls, and I wanted it to stay that way. The thought of having to deal with a new gender on top of having two at once was a bit daunting.

-We wanted them to have blue eyes. Zoë has Aunt Charla's brown eyes. Jude has Uncle Aaron's, Aunt Jeanna's, and my green eyes. We wanted our twins to have Uncle Robert's baby blues.

-I was a redhead as a kid, Rob was a little blondie. We wanted them to have strawberry blond hair.

-We wanted them to be identical. It's just cool.

Let's just say we were shocked when the twins had all these characteristics. It was amazing.

Like I said in Scout's story, we thought Scout was a fantastic name and needed another girl name. One day, I was looking at a "Look-and-Find" book of Disney Princesses with Zoë and Jude. We were on the page for Sleeping Beauty and the little caption read something like, "Briar Rose is dancing with her animal friends in the forest." I didn't remember the princess' name being Briar Rose, I always thought it was Aurora. It had been awhile since I saw the movie. I looked it up and saw that in the Disney movie, to hide her from the wicked fairy, the king and queen had the good fairies live with Aurora in the woods and they called her Briar Rose. In the original Grimm's Fairy Tale, she is actually named Briar Rose as a baby. I knew then and there I loved that name and thought it was so awesome. Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty) and Scout Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird): We thought it was neat that both their names were tied in with classic literature, but they were both uniquely individual.

Briar Rose's song is so perfect for her. It's "Once Upon a Dream" from the Disney movie "Sleeping Beauty". I just love looking at photos of her while this plays, or even better, watching her dance to it. Her eyes just say every word in this song. She literally is my princess and no one can tell me otherwise. Like with Scout's song, I was relieved that there was an awesome song associated with the story that her name was from.

How cool is it that Zoë has a song so close to her heart, and Jude, Briar, and Scout all have songs that directly connect to their names? With Jude, it was meant to be, but with Briar and Scout it was just sheer luck that there were movies that went along with the stories their names came from. It's funny how the song for each girl matches them and their personality. I always sit back when I listen to these songs and can't help but think of our girls on their wedding days. I hope Rob is ready to take some dance lessons because these girls are getting the best "Daddy-Daughter" dances EVER!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Family Meetings by Rob

For the last few weeks, The Grafrath family has been holding meetings on Sunday night to discuss our feelings about the prior week, to plan for what's coming in the next week, and to read a chapter from "The 7 Habits of Happy Kids" together.  I feel like it's the start of a very good tradition.  Some people might think that it sounds cheesy, uncomfortable, or unrealistic.  If you have built a positive family dynamic and good relationships with your kids then it's really a very natural and exciting thing to do.  One of the things on the agenda is for everybody to pick the best and worst parts of their week.  Here they are:

Zoë
Best:  Got an A+ on reading & writing test, so now she's going into the 4th grade
Worst:  When the power went out in the school house it was a little scary.

Jude
Best:  Getting the new bunk beds, they're so cool!
Worst:  Having to stop playing Lego Land, because it had been so much fun and she didn't want to stop.

Scout
Best:  Being back home again after going to Chanti's house (not that she didn't like it at Chanti's house)
Worst:  When she had a crayon up her nose, because mommy was worried (yes, that happened)

Briar
Best:  Taking a bath with Scout and Jude at Chanti's house.
Worst:  Getting a swat for chewing on her shirt collar.

Gabrielle
Best:  The excitement of grading Zoë and Jude's reading and writing tests, and that they had done so well.
Worst:  When Claire's office flooded, because she felt sorry for Clair having to clean it up and lose out on appointments and experience all the stress of the day.

Rob
Best:  Playing Lego Town with the kids.  It was like being a kid again.
Worst:  The week was too busy, between swimming lessons and doubling-up on karate and going to the store and dealing with incidents at work.  It just felt like there was so much time lost and no time to do what I wanted to do, and I was running around all week.

We also do things like act out "what to do" and "what not to do" scenarios.  Today's 7 Habits topic was "think win/win" so the scenarios that the kids made up were things like sharing toys or putting on a puppet show.  I think they get the concept.

Education:
  • Programming, finished writing a stop watch program for Gabrielle to use in school.
  • Gabrielle and I finished reading "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" today.  We could go on for hours discussing the good points and bad points of the book.  Overall it was a good experience and we have grown from the lessons it taught.  Let's just say that habits 1, 2, 3, and 7 were spot-on and habits 4, 5, and 6 had some issues.
Diet and Exercise:
  • I did a home workout for about 45 minutes while Gabrielle read to me.
  • I enjoyed some less-than-healthy food today but I believe I did it in moderation and I have no regrets.

Lego Town by Rob

Today I was productive and also got to spend some good, quality time with the family.  I got up and went on a bike ride, then came home and started programming while Gabrielle cooked up some chocolate chip cookies as Zoë and Jude cooked up a plan to set up a lemonade stand in the front yard.  I convinced them that their plan was half-baked because if they wanted to go outside when it's 106 degrees then they would be slow roasted, basted in our own sweat.  I suggested that we could find an activity that the whole family could enjoy, indoors.



Welcome to Lego Town!  We have a hotel with a flower garden and a pool.  There is a pasture, a tunnel, a rocket car, two blue bunkers, a dog house, and several random shapes that Scout and Briar had names for.  I was quite a Lego-head as a child, so it brought me back, although they lacked the proper pieces to make a decent space fighter drone or a moon base.

After Legos we moved on to Play Dough and then to Trouble (aka "The Pop-o-Matic Bubble Game").

Education:
  • I made up for the last few days by spending a good deal of time programming.  I started writing my own real-time backup program.  Why write my own when I could buy one for $30 or maybe even find some open-source freebie?  It's a good challenge, and I want backup software that I can trust.  If I write it then I know exactly what it does and how it works.  Today I learned a lot about the FileSystemWatcher class.  It's really cool to watch it in action, though I don't have it actually backing up the files yet I do have it displaying the file system changes as they occur.
Diet & Exercise:
  • Biked for about 1 hr 30 min.  I don't want to overdo it since The Big Ride is next week.
  • Gabrielle's cookies broke my resolve.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Flood at the Studio by Gabrielle

I am so lucky to be surrounded by people who inspire me to become a better person. It seems to me to be one of the keys to living a life that is as stress-free as possible. Though there is nothing that will stop life's little annoyances from getting you, it's nice to have that support system to fall back on when you need it most.

One of those people who I am so lucky to know is Claire. She is beyond mere words and has done so much for our family. She has an extra room at her office (she's a massage therapist) that she lets me use for my photography studio. It has been a fantastic and wonderful opportunity for me and it enables me to store my lighting and backdrops there and also meet my clients in a place other than my house.


Thursday around 12 noon I got a call from Claire. Her voice was a bit shaky and I immediately knew something was wrong. She explained that water heater above her office had burst and there was a massive water leak gushing from from the ceiling which then caved-in over the door between her lobby area and my studio room and also in the bathroom. With water pouring, she ran in to save my lighting equipment. The floor of the office filled up to two inches in some areas. It was terrible. Her husband John was out of town, two hours away, but was on his way. Rob went to the office to help her get her stuff out before there was possibly more damage. I later went and picked up my equipment so she wouldn't have to worry about moving it to a temporary office a few doors down.


Thank goodness there doesn't seem to be anything of Claire's that was damaged besides a couple of photos and papers, but nothing that is irreplaceable. She spent a big chunk of yesterday cleaning out the office and moving her stuff back in. Her positive attitude, hard work, and quick thinking were truly a sight to behold. I am in awe of the way she handled it. The manager of the building had the ceiling tiles replace and the water heater fixed. The office now looks cleaner than before, but there is still some work to be done in the closets and a few other places.

For the last few months, Rob has told me to look at getting insurance on my photography equipment, but I haven't done it. Stuff happens and I forget to do it. This episode really hit it home for me. It looks like I pretty much got out of this unscathed thanks to Claire's rapid responses, rational thought process in time of crisis, and kind heart, but I may not be so lucky next time. Time to check out some insurance policies regarding photograph equipment...

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Homeschool Pride by Gabrielle

Zoë, Jude, Scout, and Briar are taking swimming lessons. In their class are two siblings, a brother and sister. After class got out one evening while I was talking to a friend, I overheard Zoë talking to the siblings. They asked her where she went to school, she proudly said, "The Grafrath School for Gifted Girls. I'm homeschooled." I was tickled pink by this statement. She said it with such pride. I continued talking to my friend and I stopped paying attention to what Zoë and the siblings where saying.

Coming home, Zoë told me about the conversation she had with the brother and sister. They had asked her questions about being homeschooled and she told them about our classes and what we do. She said that they told her that they wished they were homeschooled, that they hated their school because of bullies and whatnot, and when they become parents one day they would homeschool their children. I was shocked. I'm always a little worried about how other children might react to hearing my girls are homeschooled since it's "different". It felt really good to hear the conversation went well and I'm so glad that Zoë walked away from it full of school spirit. She handled it with such maturity and fearlessness. Who knows? Maybe Zoë planted that little seed of inspiration for those kids to homeschool their own children when they're adults.

Recipes by Rob

Today I started a new, special blog page for recipes.  You'll find it permanently linked on the right side of the main page.  I'll add more to it in time, but I wrote a couple of them up just to get it started.

Education:
  • Dang it, I didn't have time.  FAIL!
Diet & Exercise:
  • Early morning bike ride, 30 min
  • Confession:  I ate four big chocolate chip cookies sent to my department by a coworker in Omaha.  FAIL!  But damn they were good.  I ate healthy food the rest of the day, but I'm sure the cookies were about 1000 calories each so I'm sure I'll gain about five pounds.  Memo to myself:  weigh in tomorrow.
That's two FAIL's in one day.  I better quit while I'm behind.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

New Bunk Beds by Rob

We bought some cheap bunk beds from WalMart's web site.  They were delivered today and Gabrielle and I put them together tonight.  Let me just say that my wife and I really work together well; our teamwork and synergy are unrivaled.  I have been apprehensive about bunk beds, due to the falling out and landing on your head and snapping your spine and dying risk, but I guess Zoë and Jude are old enough not to do something so foolish.  I guess...

Education:
  • I visited with an academic counselor at GCC in order to work out my transfer credits.  I was able to get down from needing 63 credit hours for an Associates of Science in Computer Science to needing 47.  Better than a stick in the eye.
Diet and Exercise:
  • I got up good and early, worked out for an hour.  Dead lifts really give me a cool exercise high which lasts most of the day.
  • I wish my dang iPod wasn't broken.  I'm tired of this!

Monday, August 1, 2011

I've Been Sick By Gabrielle

I've been sick since Friday. It's really hard to stay energized and focused when you're not feeling well, but I think I've been doing an alright job of it. I did a complete overhaul of Zoë/Jude's and Briar/Scout's rooms and that was about two or three days of reorganizing and cleaning. I had started the project before I got sick, and though I got sick the day after I started, it needed to be finished because there were things all over the house in a disorganized-waiting-to-be-organized mess. It was tough and exhausting and even mind-numbing. But the rooms are done, organized, and brand new spanking clean. We had to make room for Zoë and Jude's bunk beds, so we got rid of their king size bed. They will have so much more space in their room once the bunk arrives and it will truly be wonderful.

Today I started Jude on her 3rd grade math and Zoë on her fourth grade. It is extremely exciting. Zoë's math, though it's Saxon and that's the company I've always used for homeschool math, is different and geared toward more independent learning. It's cool to be taking this next chapter with her in life. We have one more week of reviews in Reading and Writing with a big final test on Friday and then they will be in 3rd in 4th grade in those subjects, too. Of course that all depends on them getting better than a B- on their tests because anything below that and we'll go back and review problem areas and spend the next 3 weeks or so hammering out any issues they had on the test and then do a retake. Since we have the luxury of making sure they really know their stuff before we move on, we take advantage of it, which makes C's and below unacceptable.

COMPASS by Rob

Here's a song for you:

You gotta' uuuuuse the old stuff up!
Use the old stuff up.
Use the old stuff up!
Be-     fore.     You.     Start.     To.     Use.     The.     New....
(Stuff)

I'm currently implanting my catchy tune into the brains of my children.  Mwa, ha ha haaa!!

Education:
  • I took the COMPASS writing skills assessment test as a prerequisite of enrolling in college.  Me scored really good score.  Me write so so so so so good!!!  I have only now for to be seeing of the counselor of the classes their for me being taking so so so soon and am thinking of August 22nd for them to have being started so so soon it makes for exciting!
Diet and Exercise:
  • Somehow I managed to stuff myself to the brim at lunch time using only a ham sandwich and a Greek-style salad.  I felt full all day after that.  I can usually conjure up some munchies by bedtime but I'm just not feeling it.  I guess that's a good thing but also feels unsettling.
  • I found a few minutes to fit a little workout in at home.  I'll go to bed at a decent hour tonight and get a good workout at the gym in the morning.