04 December 2014

deck the screens

For no particular reason other than the fact that I like to share, here are some of our family's favorite holiday youtube clips.  Some are funny, some may well draw a tear to your eye.  At any rate, I hope you enjoy them.

1. The Christmas story as told by precious children from New Zealand in funky costumes.

2. From Slugs & Blugs (which  makes the best music for kids) a song about a shepherd dad and his son on Christmas.

3. A look at modern shepherds in Bethlehem and what they understand of the story of Christmas.

4. Mariah Carey, the Roots, classroom instruments, and children.  And Christmas.  Yes, please.

5. Last but not least: Rend Collective's "You Are My Joy" Christmas video.


One more? Okay, here it is.  Kid Snippets takes kid's voices telling stories, and their adults lip sync to it. This particular one is the kids telling an old family story of a Christmas from when their parents were young.  I love the rambling way kids tell stories.  And the lip sync skills are prodigious.  


So what makes the cut for Christmas screen time, for your family?  We love the classics: the Grinch (animated, duh), Charlie Brown and his friends crooning at the sky, and this year we will introduce the kids to "YOU'LL SHOOT YOUR EYE OUT!" You? Any recommendations?


01 December 2014

instead

Oh, has Elf on the Shelf arrived!  It has crossed the line from "cute idea exploding all over Pinterest" to "controversial idea debated on blogs posts shared on facebook." Or is it just my friends linking to Huffington Post articles about how the Elf is ruining Christmas?

I wrote last year about my conflicting thoughts about the Elf. (<-- Click to read). And I ended up deciding not to do it, a very sound decision for me and my family.  (And a tricky one, I'm finding. More and more of my kids' friends have elves living at their homes this month, and it is a minefield for my kids. I coach them frequently about how not to ruin Santa for others; now I have to add the elf to the lecture.)

In the interest of disclosing holiday traditions, we may not have creepy charming plastic dolls wrecking havoc and taking marshmallow bubble baths, but we do plenty of other memorable activities.  We always get new jammies on Christmas Eve, and play "hot-and-cold find the hidden baby Jesus from the nativity set" at Grandma and Grandpa's. We always make decorated sugar cookies. We have special ornaments with traditions and stories.  We do Advent readings and Advent calendars with daily cheap pieces of chocolate therein. We always have Christmas tree waffles the morning of the 25th.  We always stand in a circle and sing "Joy to the Word" with family at Nana and Papa's house. But my favorite tradition that we are developing as a young family is that of our "shepherd's pouches."

Like all good traditions, this one came from the Bible.  No, just kidding, it came from Pinterest.  The idea is, each kid has a rough burlap pouch with their name on it (seriously rough- I sewed them, and I'm no seamstress). They are meant to hang in the place of their stockings, but as we have no mantel, and no stockings yet, we just place them haphazardly around the house.  Did I mention this is a tradition-in-progress?  Throughout the season of Advent, the kids earn money by doing extra chores- ones above and beyond what is expected of them.  The money they earn goes in their pouches.  Christmas Eve we count up what they made, and use it to order from the World Vision Gift Catalog. That means they are giving a practical, special gift to a person in need around the world- a mosquito net, a chicken, a Bible, or a soccer ball, for example. Then when they wake up in the morning, their shepherd's pouches are gone, replaced by stockings.  Just as they experience the joy of giving, they get the joy or receiving.

Here's the thing: my kids get into this.  My oldest boy remembered doing this last year, and begged me to let him start early- about 2 weeks before Thanksgiving.  He has begged me almost every day for jobs to earn money- money that he knows will not be for him.  We watched the videos online at World Vision's site, where short clips explain the hows and whys and whos of each gift- medicine, fishing gear, educational supplies, seeds.  When we got to the video about clean water, and the effects on children who walk miles to get muddy water from a polluted source, my seven year old buried his head in my shoulder and started shaking with sobs.  Which made me cry too- in part because my heart and head are so numb, so cynical, that I forgot how shattering that truth is, until my boy's tears reminded me.  I had to get his attention and show him the end of the video, with the joyful children frolicking in the clean water of a new well, to remind him of the hope of change- and the fact that he could be part of it.

So all my kids are wiping windows and dusting and taking out the recycling.  And asking, "how much will you pay me for that job?" like some money grubbing Wall Street wannabes. And they take the quarters and dimes and dollars (thanks, Grandma and Nana!) and stuff them into their burlap bags.  Christmas Eve will be amazing, because each one has a chosen goal: a Bible, a mosquito net, and a share of a well, respectively- that they are working hard to meet.  The Bible says that whatever we do for the people who are "the least," we do for Jesus.  So like the shepherds, we will come to his birthday party, ready with His gifts.

Because I am the opposite of super-mom, I cannot do both this, and the Elf. And I know that the long-term lessons about joy, and the power they have to actually change a little of the bitter sadness that is truly in the world- will serve my kids well.

But I still reserve the right to have a random toy dinosaur start some nightly shenanigans, sometime in January.

Find out more about World Vision's gifts by watching this video:


Also, Compassion International does a similar gift catalog.  World Vision just got to us first, and we stuck with them. Both feature domestic and international gifts in many categories, but of course there are countless other charities you know of that would fit the bill just as well.

Here's the blog where I originally found the idea:
http://blog.jamesandjuliepaquette.com/2011/12/02/shepherds-pouches/

PS- I know none of you reasonable people will jump to any crazy conclusions, but in case some person I don't know actually reads this all the wrong way: I HAVE NO PROBLEM WITH OTHER PEOPLE DOING ELF ON THE SHELF. MORE POWER TO YOU. YOU ARE A BETTER PARENT THAN I.  IF I COULD DO IT ALL, AND DO IT ALL WELL, I WOULD TOO. There. (wink).

03 October 2014

call me mawm

I just spent a few minutes sorting through a pile of clutter.  (Cue the parade!) And in the pile I found some papers created by my oldest a couple years ago, wherein he wrote of his love for me in giant tipsy letters, on construction paper, surrounded by crayon flowers.  Of course looking at those papers made my heart swell up and burst into a thousand tiny pieces.  I didn't cry or anything (this time) but it was marvelous to see love, young and wholehearted and innocent, made visible on paper. My boy still loves me, and we have a great relationship.  Today he asked me roughly two dozen times if there was anything he could do for me, that would help me and the family.  Seriously.  But he no longer writes, "LOV YOU MOMY" over and over on decorated papers.  That stage is gone.  I love the stage we're in now, but I'm glad I have a few examples now filed away to remember the way it was.

In the interest of that, I wanted to blog today to capture for posterity what my youngest has been doing.  He's two, and when he wants to say something to me, he launches into a building crescendo of, "Mom! Mom! MOM! MOM!" But he pronounces it more like "MAWM!" Without a hint of annoyance, almost like a bleating sheep.  And even after I answer him, "Yes, honey?" he still throws a few more "Mawms" my way, winding down the refrain. Sometimes his song varies to, "Hey mom. Hey mom. Hey mom." About a dozen times. And if he is in range, he gently grabs my cheeks between his hands and steers my face to look at his.  And if I'm talking, he puts his open hand softly on my lips, to get my attention.    It's too cute to be annoying, and I respect his tenacity as a third child.  He could resort to more violent ways to get me to pay attention, so I appreciate his peaceful ways.

I noticed today that the fall is advancing.  The first trees have transitioned from changing colors to actually dropping their leaves.  And that was just too much for me. I liked the beautiful leaves, but the barren branches were going too far.  Silly, I know, to rage against the turning of the seasons.  Summer was so good, so sweet, it's hard to let go.  I know that in the coming months more than just the trees will change- our family is planning our next phase, our next big growing adventure.  I don't have the luxury of thinking that we can hit "repeat" and do the same summer all over again, next year.  We won't be where, or who, we were.

And I don't want to grieve over the growing of my boys and my girl.  The sweetness of their affection is not going to vanish because they become more sophisticated and self-conscious.  I've worked with older kids, so I know. These little pieces of who they are will still be there- they will just be under the radar, coming out in funny ways that make them just as sweet.  Instead of reams of love notes, I may get the smallest smile and a nod in a room full of his peers.  On a good day. Whatever, I'll take it- because it will be the same love from the same kid. I still have this time, for now, to enjoy the clues adding up, revealing who each of my kids are- the good, bad, and ugly- we are still together for them
to call me, "MAWM!"

*In rereading this post, realize I don't want you to think that we have been in some state of constant harmony over here. We have our fair share of conflict and tantrums, and "You're the worst Mommy ever!", etc. And I know that as they get older, those jabs will get more sophisticated, too.  But hey, it's worth holding the sweet moments in your hand and pondering them a while, isn't it?

31 August 2014

i might be crazy, but... wait. there's no but.

I am laughing at myself again.  I try to have a sense of humor about myself, because then I am always close to a free source of entertainment.  Here's my latest laugh: I am so over my daily tasks.  Laundry, I'm lookin' at you.  Cleaning: always over that one. Even cooking can cease to be a joy and become a chore if I'm in the wrong mindset.

However, one of my automatic places to "relax" is Pinterest.  Where I gaze dreamily at beautiful laundry rooms, unlikely recipes with outlandish ingredients, and "31 tricks for cleaning your house fast."  I just think that's funny- to relax from my "job," I look at pictures of what other people have done at the same job.  It's like a bookkeeper looking at other people's charts and spreadsheets and saying, "Ooooh- nice font on that one! And is that recycled paper?"

Surely if well-lit digital photos related to my tasks makes them more appealing, focusing on the people for which I do them should do that even more.  Or perhaps remembering the grace I'm given to HAVE food to cook, clothes to clean, etc. should stop my grumbling in its tracks.  For a funnier pondering of the gift of our lot in life, read this:
Glennon's give me liberty or give me debt

Anyhoo.  Tomorrow is Labor Day.  Don't get me started on the shock to my system the ending of summer has been to me, this year.  Instead, enjoy pictures of my older two on their first day.  Because although the first day hits me hard, I still like to record it for posterity.  A la Pinterest, of course.




18 July 2014

magical moment

Today G, who is seven, learned something.  He has been practicing riding his bike this summer, and technically he could do it, but he hated it.  He was afraid of crashing (again) and so he avoided getting on the bike at all.  And truth be told, our street is not the best place to practice.  It leads to a lot of sharp turning around, or short rides with frequent stops (crashes) or a serious downhill.

But Craig was persistent, promising G that if he just kept at it, he would grow to enjoy it.  And G was persistent, promising that he could live a fulfilling life NEVER RIDING HIS BIKE. EVER.   Today, G learned that his dad was right.  We went to the school playground, which has a huge paved area, perfect for biking laps around a loop.  It took one, maybe two laps before G decided that he loved it.  Soon into our outing, some friends unexpectedly showed up, and all the boys biked together for the rest of the evening.  By the time we left, G told us his legs were wobbly from biking so much. He explained later in the kitchen as we got bedtime snack ready that it literally felt like he was still biking because his legs were rocking. Like sea legs.

One of my favorite moments of this, my favorite summer, came tonight when G looked at me and said, "Mom, it was like a magic moment. It was like I was dreaming. I felt like I was on a TV show or something." He readily and freely admits that his dad was right, and that the next time Dad says something is worth trying, G plans on trying it over and over.  Craig built up a lot of trust with this one.  Which is very, very cool.  Craig loves a few hobbies: disc golf, biking, camping, hiking.  He is so eager to share those things with our kids, and of course G being our oldest, Craig is inviting him into those things first.  I can already see my husband's mind working, dreaming of the bike trips the two of them can take as G gets older.  My heart is happy, seeing the separate but related smiles on my men-folk's faces.  They are both proud and hopeful.
This was taken two days later.  Off to ride around town.  

In a short time we are going on vacation with Craig's extended family.  Our reality just shifted from the other boy cousins zipping around the campground on bikes together, with our boy sitting it out, stubborn and lonely-- to him being in the mix, making those memories with them. I'm sure tonight was just the first of the "magic moments" he'll make biking.  And learning to trust his dad, and himself, that he can grow up to do difficult things. Okay, I'm going to stop now. But I'm enjoying this moment too. M'kay?



Sometimes in his pictures, it's like I can see a glimpse of the man he is growing to be.
*Cue the swelling orchestra music! Emotional mom moment! 

30 June 2014

whiplash

I'm still here!  June is over.  June is over?!  What the what?!  I cannot keep up with the speed of the summer, and I cannot keep up with the roller coaster of the good and bad things daily life flings at me.  At any rate: whiplash.  I've been decluttering (always), helping edit a thesis paper, taking the three littles to the pool, killing earwigs (eewwwww), attending a great wedding (can you say overnight getaway? without kids!), and generally dog paddling through the daily details.  Doing dishes at midnight, repeatedly.  But, to quote that classic of American cinema, Nacho Libre, "my life is gooooood." Here's some proof.

27 May 2014

no candles here

I feel like this is a week where the phrase, "burning the candle at both ends" doesn't do justice to the level of crazy here.  How about, "throwing the candle into a blazing fire, and now there is no candle?" But it's all good, still.  I've had some of the best, sweetest days of my life this week.  And I think the deadlines and intense schedule and level of destruction wrought upon the house by my delightful toddler are all a super creative plan the Lord has for getting me emotionally through the last day of school.  Because like last year, I find within myself a deep pool of inexplicable grief at the thought of my son reaching the end of this grade.  How can this be?! This month he turns seven.  SEVEN, people. I don't normally look at him and think that he is a freaky giant with a mature, chiseled face.  But when I look at his first and last day of school pics side by side, it will hit me.  Stifling the ugly cry. Barely.

But like I said, things are also beautiful here.  Other than my youngest putting hand sanitizer, melted popsicle,  a hundred small beads, and his own pee (twice) on the floor in the span of a few hours, things are rosy. And when they aren't, I have found strange power to cheer me up, in watching the Jimmy Fallon/ Justin Timberlake History of Rap videos on youtube.  Seriously.  I never listen to rap, but I guess I did in the 90's, and that's all it takes to really appreciate what they're doing in those segments.  Awesome. sauce.  And yes, I dance around like a fool and wave my hands like I'm coordinated and cool and starring in a video being shot in Miami.  My kids are too little to judge yet.

Other things that have given me joy, in addition to 90's rap and my sweet children?  Making crostini (basically fancy buttered toast) with smashed avocado, lime juice, sea salt, and bacon on it.  Yuuuummmmm.  That's a lot of perfection.  In related news, my store was almost out of bacon when I went.  Of all the brands!  I swear it wasn't me.  Or at least, it wasn't all me.  Also, it makes me laugh, realizing I was probably in my mid-twenties before I ever tried avocado.  Poor young me!

Lastly, I'm 38 years old and still learning what makes me tick.  And it turns out that editing photos is one of my happy places. Hours fly by while I'm working on trying to get the best out each photo.  And it's easy when you're working with this adorableness:


What about you?  Are you dealing with the emotions of a season coming to a close?  What do you watch/ listen to when you need a boost?  And what are you eating or doing that is a good fit for who you are now?

13 May 2014

beautiful photos are memories... of tense moms holding cameras?

I can tell I've made it past the one-year mark as a blogger.  (Cue confetti! No? Okay then.)  I think of topics I want to write about, and realize I wrote about them last year.  Today is no exception.  It's early May, and in my little burg that means we just experienced Tulip Time.  To read my thoughts from last year, go here: so-this-last-week-was-tulip-time

The actual Tulip Time festival this year was so great, I felt sentimental about every little detail.  I was just a thin thread of emotional control away from hugging windmills, crying over the taste of poffertjes, and taking pictures of random tourists who were taking pictures.  Wait, I did that last one.  But only once! The only bummer was that my oldest got sick and had to miss out on much of the fun. I told him there's always next year, which I am in no position to guarantee since who knows what our career future (and therefore zip code) holds, but as I said I was already weirdly sentimental and I was offering the hope of next year's festival as much to myself as to him.  Which goes to show how much I love Tulip Time.

However.  My session taking picture of my children in Dutch costumes was not as smooth and painless as I'd hoped.  I know you are rolling your eyes. You mean suiting your children up into strange costumes and traipsing them around in a garden to get semi-formal pictures wasn't the best Friday night for all involved?  Really?! But, dear reader, this is my jam.  Photography.  My children.  Tulips. Weird seasonal traditions.  Just typing the words makes me giddy. And lots of people get a rush from things that nearly kill them.  This is my version of that.  (And you could argue that this time it nearly did kill me.  At one point my son complained that he hated the very sound of my camera going "click." How he- errr, I mean I- survived that comment is a miracle.

Seems I still have a little to learn.  But it wasn't an absolute nightmare, so I'll count that as a win and move on.  Each child contributed to the beautiful celebration of imperfection in their own way.  My daughter refused to brush her hair, or tuck in her shirt.  My littlest actually plucked several tulips from their stems- a huge no-no here.  (If you are from my town and read this, for the love please do not report us.)  Also, his neckerchief was missing.  My oldest son was so kind as to put on his own costume while I dressed the littles.  I was so grateful for his help!  Then we got to the gardens, and I went to tuck in his shirt.  I found he had left on his school pants underneath his costume pants... which were a full two inches shorter.  Ah, well.  That't the beauty of being a recovering perfectionist.  Learning opportunities come at you. every. moment.

Without further ado, my 2014 tulip kid pics:




Love the third child 'tude.  Plus, my oldest's pant situation.  And the soccer socks.  I can't even.
I love this pic so much.  But the pants...
What if they were this happy getting out the door in the morning every day? 

Hugs because big brother gave her the broken stemmed
tulip he'd found.
Those cute grubby fingers were in trouble for picking that tulip!
(But first I took the picture.)

12 May 2014

we could be in trouble

This week my son came home from school and asked if he could go to "Trudy's" house. Trudy is not in his class, and I don't know her last name or her parents.  In fact, I'd never heard of her.  Turns out my boy knows her from recess.  And so my hubby and I told him that it wasn't likely we could take him to Trudy's house to play that day.  He was not deterred.  He pulled out a piece of crumpled, folded paper from his pocket and boldly pronounced, "But I got her number!"

After my husband and I recovered from the fit of shocked laughter that struck us, we studied the piece of paper. Trudy had invited him over, and had written her and my boy's name on one side, and on the other, her street address.  

Anyone ready to walk me through this?  Thought I had a few more years to prepare up in here, before the little ladies started giving my son their numbers to stick in his pocket.  

I thought you were a toddler, like, yesterday.
At least Trudy has great taste in playmates, I'll give her that.

11 May 2014

mom, part two

Last year on Mother's Day, I wrote a blog post letter to my mom.  In it I wrote about little things I remembered from my childhood.  While I wrote it I cried, feeling such big feelings for my mom.  I wanted her to know that I valued her and my memories of her.  It was a sentimental and awkward attempt at a tribute.

Well, I reread that post today, a year later.  And it seems incomplete.  It's still just as true that I appreciate the pot roasts and the permission to make blanket forts, but there is a deeper layer of thanks that I missed.  Or maybe a couple.  And although I'm sure this will be incomplete, too, I want to try to do better. So here it is: more of what I learned from my mom.

My mom was patient with me, but when it came to me experimenting with being snarky, mean, or judgmental of my peers- well, she had no patience with that.  I remember writing a letter to a pen pal at a young age, and mentioning in it something about an annoying geeky girl in my class.  Well, my mom saw it and gave me a piece of her mind.  I would be rewriting that letter, thankyouverymuch.  My mom takes very seriously the axiom, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all." And although she, along with all the female members of my extended family, loves a good bit of gossip- coffee and coffeecake optional- any stories of a person's misfortune were told in somber, sorry tones.  There was grace and suspended judgment even while heads were shaking back and forth, for all but the most heinous crimes.  Her attitude of grace and mercy is an example to me.

So what I'm saying is that Mom would get me to stop crying, and
Dad would walk me through how to best dig the grave. Hypothetically.
One result of that attitude, is that my mom is the safest person I know.  If I killed someone, and needed advice on hiding the body, I would ask my dad.  But first, I would call my mom, and tell her everything, and get her sympathy.  Once I knew she still loved me and understood, then I would tell her to put dad on the phone. When I need a listening ear, she's the person I think of first.   She is for me, in the best way possible.  And when we close our phone conversations, she says, "I love you," four or five times.  It's the best.


My mom is a "get it done" person.  Yardwork.  Housework.  Homework.  She tackled tasks and kicked their butts.  She would touch things in the sink with her bare hands that I wouldn't look at with both eyes.  Digging out dandelions.  Squashing spiders.  Holding garage sales.  Done, done, done.  She is still that way.  Having her physical presence near me is all I need to feel a burst of super-charged energy, and suddenly cleaning out the back of the fridge seems like a winnable battle.  I grew up seeing her get things done.

Along with most kids who grew up having a stay-at-home-parent, I assumed a lot about them.  That it was easy, that it was always what she wanted to do, that being with my exalted presence all hours of the day was enough reward for anyone.  Ahem.  Now I am in the trenches of that same gig- home with the littles, trying to mind the children, the house, the laundry, the shopping.  And I know that my mom must have sacrificed more that I knew- or know- for me and my brother.  She sacrificed the big- career perks of lunch with the girls, money, measurable and attainable goals.  She sacrificed the little- being able to have a couple moments of privacy to go pee, not having kids slurping on your (glass) bottle of Pepsi without asking, reading Ten Apples Up On Top ad naseum when you had a new Stephen King tempting you from the bookshelf.  But the beautiful thing- the amazing miracle of motherhood- is that as a kid I was oblivious to her sacrifice.  She was no martyr, no complainer, no bitter ranter.  Even as I got older, old enough for her to tell me that we couldn't afford whatever random Esprit or Benneton swag I was begging her for, she never breathed a word about her own sacrifices.

My mom loves others well.  All my growing-up years, she always made birthdays and holidays seem like days covered in fairy glitter.  She sends cards, gifts, personal notes.  I remember the lengths she went to, trying to get my grandma- her mother-in-law- the perfect gifts.  She prays for me, without fail.  She prays for my friends.  I've seen the patient brushstrokes that make the masterpiece of a wife's unconditional, unwavering love, by observing my parent's marriage.

I could go on, and perhaps next year- or next week- I will.  But the true letter to my mom about the fruits of her labor- pun intended- are my brother and I.  Our lives are not a nice and neat report card of her success and failure as a parent.  But, to really see how far the reach of her love extends, look at us.  Many of my stumbling efforts at being kind, patient, and giving, are echos back to what I grew up knowing.  So thank you, Mom. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

07 May 2014

risky business

My seasonal tree pollen allergies are kicking my rear end.  I am hunkered down in my sweet little home.  Actually, it isn't very sweet right now.  My two littles are attempting to cover every surface with loose toy parts and broken crayons and cast-off socks. Is there some kid-centered Guinness Book of World Records that I don't know about, fueling this toy and trash tornado?  Do they win some kid award for marking their territory and thereby wresting control of the house from the adults?

Sigh.

On a lighter note, while I had the house to myself yesterday I snuck a bunch of their old toys out to the thrift and consignment stores.  It felt very freeing.  See ya, gigantic Recue Hero firetruck that no one ever played with!  I'll take those inches of floor space back, thankyouverymuch!

So that there is some redeeming value to this post in which I complain about mess and allergies, I'm attaching a video that rocked my world.  This guy is doing a series of documentary interviews of dads, seeking to discover what it takes to be a good dad.  In this installment, he's focusing on the family of one of my favorite bloggers, Flower Patch Farmgirl.  She is rad, her husband is rad, their story is rad.  Whew!  I haven't used the word "rad" that many times in one day since 1992!  I'd better go rest now.

Oh but first- the title of this post.  Makes sense when you see the video.  If you are going to risk much, let it be by risking much on other people.  There is much to be gained, in that kind of risk.

Amen and amen!

29 April 2014

royal hoopla

My girl and I went to the coolest birthday party last weekend.  One with a real live princess. And games and music and sparkly prizes.  It's pretty important when you are the only girl, growing up with two brothers, and a hermit introvert mom, in a town that has polar vortex winters keeping you inside for months... where was I going with this?  Oh yeah, it's important when you're a girl like that, to have some shared girl bonding experiences.  And she got them at this party.  Plenty of pink and purple and ruffles and glitter.  It was awesome. Although, PS- she STILL would not let me "do her hair." It was ugly- both the battle over the hair, and the final result.

Anyway, at the party I tried to take pictures for my friend, and since she was using her point-and-shoot camera (with the flash) I decided to use my camera on manual and NOT use my flash.  I hate how washed-out and one dimensional pictures can be using my big ole' on-camera flash.  And I wanted to take amazing pictures for her, of the sweet and precious party she threw for her little girl.

Did I mention that the party was in a closed garage? With two single lightbulb fixtures with low watt bulbs?  It was a clean, beautifully decorated garage, but the light was so low for my camera.  I cranked up the ISO and dialed the aperture to wide open, but even then the shutter speed was not close to being able to handle the motion of the girls. Most of my pictures were grainy AND blurry.  Bummer.  For a few I finally relented and used the flash.  Anyways, all that to say- there are still two pictures I treasure, in their grainy- or flat- glory. Even as an aspiring photographer, I am learning that a photo can be prized not for its technical perfection or even artistic beauty- but for the memory it captures.

This picture is of my princess, posing with Princess Rapunzel.  I asked my girl later what she was feeling when this picture was taken.  "Sad?" I'd suggested. "Mad? Nervous? Okay?" I tried to give her the right emotional vocabulary to explain to me why, in the party of her dreams, she was so blank faced most of the time.  She can be such a mystery to me!  Her answer to what she was feeling?  "Kinda happy, Mom."  Sheesh.  A mystery she shall remain.

This other picture was taken after the girls had been handed these chocolate princess crown pops.  They were told that the chocolate had been baked with fairy dust in it, and that when baked, fairy dust gives you the power to make one wish. They were instructed to hold it to their heart, close their eyes, and make a wish.  All the girls obediently followed through and made their wishes.  Only my girl has still wishing, five minutes later.  I thought she'd never open her eyes, never stop muttering to herself!  After the party, I asked her what she had been wishing for so forcefully.  She said, "I was wishing that you could have a birthday party too, Mom." Cue me tearing up.  We'd talked a lot recently about the party coming up, and about her own (very) future birthday party plans.  She's been fascinated with the way that kids get elaborate decoration and treat filled parties, and adults typically do not.  So that's what she wished, for me, with her one wish.  That girl is not just a mystery, she is a beautiful one. Despite the hair.



My princess with the birthday girl.  That's a lot of royal bling!

06 April 2014

walmart v. target :: my messy beautiful

It's been a long while now since I've been old enough to understand that Target is cool, and Walmart is not. And I'm not talking about labor practices or international trade balance or other concepts that make me want to pretend to be the air-headed Barbie doll they used to make, the one before the "I like math!" Barbie.  The one that carried pink shopping bags. Ignorance can be so blissful.

No, I'm talking about the fundamental difference in shopping experiences between the two stores.  For so long my shopping beliefs were clear and simple: Target is worthy of praise, and Walmart is a place to shop when you have no other options.  The end.  And my credit card statements bore testimony: Walmart receipts were my grocery bills.  And Target receipts reflected my age.  In college, I couldn't get out of that store for less than $20, ever.  After college, it was $50.  Then I had kids, and a Target run that comes in under $100 is like a Bigfoot sighting.

I tagged along on a sanity shopping run to our closest Target with a friend the other day.  It's a pretty serious need to get out of the house when you haul 4 littles in their car seats, with snacks and sippy cups and diaper bags, to the nearest Target, 45 minutes away.  But we walked in, and it was like a cloud lifted.  Boy those retail people know what they are doing.  It was peaceful and happy and everything was beautiful, despite so many little price tags dangling. When it was time to go, my friend's little girl started crying, wailing "not want to leave the store!" And it was like she was singing the lyrics to the song in my heart. Oh, if only I could stay forever, far from my dishes and laundry, surrounded by color-sorted piles of style!  Although I could have done without my toddler's antics trying to escape the cart- and my presence.  Let's be fair, that was not Target's fault.

However, I recently realized with no small shock this week that I prefer Walmart now.  I KNOW, right?!  How can that be!?  There is nothing about my Pinterest-fueled mind that thinks Walmart is cooler. It has far too little chevron, for starters.  But therein lies the problem.  When I shop at Taget, I don't have the budget to buy All The Things.  At best I can get a small fun thing on a clearance endcap to keep the toilet paper and cereal in the shopping cart company. And those clearance things are never what I really want or need.  So my closets, not my walls, are full of junk from Target- right next to the random things I bought whilst thrifting that I'll get around to covering in chalk paint-someday.

My decorating style is fridge magnets and kids' art. Is that a thing?
On that note, can I just say that all my favorite blogs showcase homes that either seem to be, or literally are, featured on the pages of magazines?  White walls and bursts of color and vintage juxtaposed with modern.  And in the blog post the person modestly gushes, "I buy everything from Target and thrift stores or pick them up roadside! We completely remodeled this home for $174!"

That is the newest item on my "Things I Don't Do" list.  I don't spend my free time working magic to take rubbish and paint and a few cleverly curated pieces from Target to make my home look like... that.  And I may sound like I'm mocking people who do.  BUT I'M NOT.  I'm just new at being okay with myself the way I am, about this.  About my home's uncoolness.  Because I don't think my kids are going to suddenly care.  My husband just wants it clean. So it's my expectations I'm talking about here.  And today my irons are busy in other fires.  Like, ironing.

So I'm sticking with Walmart for a while, mostly*.  When I walk into that store I am not struck with a strong and wistful desire to buy a better identity.  I just grab the milk and meat and get out, easy peasy. And hey, rollback is cool, right?

Right?

The only picture of any part of my house "worthy of Pinterest".  As you can see, it was taken a long time ago.  Outside.
 I did get the chair at a garage sale.  It's kinda broken now.


Y'all know I like to keep it real here at Whistle & Bloom.  You've seen me fill my home with grey smoke from burned broccoli during a dinner party, reveal the depths of my charming cynicism, and turn around to see my one year old on top of the kitchen table, waving a serrated knife.  Well, when it comes to keeping it real, I've learned a lot from Glennon Melton.  Her blog Momastery, and her book Carry On Warrior, have given me a lot to think about.  Need a copy of her book?  Well get your own, sister.  Seriously- it's in paperback now.  No excuse!

  1. This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!





*I do shop at other, local stores.  More often than Walmart, even. Just thought it would help some of y'all's blood pressure to be reassured about that. In case where I shop is important to you.

26 March 2014

reset

When the kids and I get into a relational snarl- you know, the kind of bad spiral where their negative behavior feeds my negative emotional backlash to the point that I fear Child Protective Services should be called, or at least put on speed dial as a precaution- we "hit the reset button".  Either I or the kids can initiate it, and we literally use our fists as a button, and take turns "hitting the button" by pounding fists.  It looks like an elaborate urban greeting, except we are so not that cool.

And we take a collective deep breath and a few steps back up the negative spiral and try to start over with a fresh perspective.  I usually retract whatever dire consequence I was threatening, and they let go of whatever whining, demanding, or otherwise terrible behavior they were engaging in that made me want to throw away all their toys and cancel their birthdays. It feels like waking up, a little- and like getting your first breath after being underwater.  Reset.

I was inspired to write with an old overhead marker (remember those old things?  This particular marker is an ancient leftover from my teacher days)- anyway, to write on our bathroom mirror, "God always lets us hit the reset button."  I liked that the kids had another set of words they could use to relate to God's grace.  Something to negate the "angry policeman in the sky" idea that we seem born with. Or maybe we develop it in Sunday School when we learn about Noah and the ark? All I know is, I need God to let me hit the reset button several times a day, and when my kids are feeling ashamed or stuck, I want them to run TO God in that moment. Hence, the neat red marker letters on our mirror.

Well, a friend of mine was asking recently how other moms handle the stress.  The kind that makes you want to run, or weep, or run whilst weeping, fast and far away from the things you love that make you want to pull your hair out.  And I had to laugh, because other than the Sunday School answer (Jesus!) which she knows, I had no answer to give.  All I had is my memory of earlier in the evening, when my oldest had wanted to hit the reset button, and I had resisted.  We had hit it two times already!  And I was not currently mad, just (energetically) insisting they clean up their mess- so I had no feelings that needed reseting!  STOP ASKING TO HIT THE RESET BUTTON ALREADY! And my boy (who is ready to take his bar exam) tossed out this:

"You said that God always lets us hit the reset button!" Big blue eyes, earnest and accusing.

To which I responded, with all my heart, "Well he's a lot better at that than I am!  That's the point!"

And then I made him pick up his crap.  Errr- toys. And we brushed teeth, read books, and went to bed.  With only a little wailing and gnashing of (sorta clean) teeth.

So there you have it.  I am gonna fail as a mom because I only have so much to give.  And sometimes I forget to ask God to fill me with more.  And sometimes I do ask, like for patience and love and a delightful lilting voice instead of a harsh one- and God seems to say: not this time. But those painful times make me remember something!  God is better than me.  Duh, self!  Me being worthy of my kids' worship was never the goal.  So kids, Mom snapped, but someday there's heaven, and I have high hopes that there will be no cavities and no brushing of teeth. Sweet dreams.

Hello, my precious son, beloved of my heart. Do we perhaps  need to hit the reset button?
For a better post with a beautiful example of a time God did answer our constant mother's prayer for more love and patience, check this out:  How to fall in like with your kids

21 March 2014

class is in session

Okay, March.  Here's what I've learned so far in your icy days:

1. March is not spring.  Not this far north, at least.  We're more than halfway through, and the forecast the next four days has high temps in the 30's.  That is not spring in my book, people!

Ready to hike.
2. When you have two months until your child's birthday party, and some time to browse on Pinterest, anything seems possible.  Themed costumes?  Handmade favors?  Elaborate backdrops, games with prizes and certificates, photobooths with props? Cute clever signs for each little type of (homemade) food?  Yeah, I've got time to manage that, clean the house, and wrap presents, the last week of school.   Already laughing at myself.  Let's see... factor in budget... skills... capacity for time management.  Will count on having store-bought cupcakes, and two or three games that trick the children into running circles around the house to tire them and work off the sugar.  Done and done!

3.  I forgot that when you take a 6, 4, and almost 2 year old on a family hike, you have to use quotes around the word "hike." Also, it is possible for a 4 year old to lose their shoe, stop to pick up "nature," scratch their ankle, and remove "nature" from inside their shoe at a rate of once every three steps taken on said "hike".  But their expressions seeing bald eagles flying overhead?  No quotes necessary around the word, priceless.

4. This year there is enough madness in the house this March. The more traditionally entertaining kind, involving basketball, is passing me by this year largely unnoticed.  Did not even get around to filling out a bracket. Refer to #5.

5. Spring break found me off my game.  Having all three home all day- I was unprepared for the conflict.  Making mental notes to craft a schedule for summer vacation days.  Or, as I am referring to it in my mind, boot camp. BOOT. CAMP.

My youngest, teaching a friend
how to untidy a home.
6. Conducted my own little experiment.  Found that with all the children home all day, the house goes from "company ready" to complete and utter disaster, where every room is pretty well destroyed, in about 16 hours.  16 hours, people.  And they were sleeping for a big chunk of those hours.  I think it will take me 16 hours to clean it all.  So basically if I want to maintain the clean, I have to keep cleaning, full speed ahead, nonstop.  BOOT CAMP. It's real, and it's coming.

7. Okay, so I love having all my children home 97% of the time.  There have been epic moments.  The highlight for me of break was G and F putting on "church," complete with a CORE sign (the name of our church's high school ministry.  They charged money (it was a fund raiser), led worship with instruments, told a Bible story, and preached.  This was all their idea, and they planned and rehearsed before selling us tickets and leading us to our seats.  F told the Bible story, and despite rehearsals when she told it silly-style to get people to laugh, when she really stood on stage (G's bed) she was all serious and explained in a quiet voice how much God loves us.  Then G was excited to, as he called it, preach. He spoke fervently about our sin, God's love, and Jesus' death.  The whole time he was inexplicably holding this little leftover piece of PVC pipe with a string tied around it.  He wrapped up the talk by saying how Jesus' death and resurrection meant that if we trust him, God will remove our sin, like this- and at this point G used scissors to clip the string which fell to the ground.  I got tears in my eyes.  Not only was he preaching, he was using object lesson/ visual aids!  And he was proud to be doing what Craig does.  Seriously, my tired little "I'm so over spring break" heart grew three sizes that day.
Sign welcoming us to church (CORE). On the reverse is an
added sign pleading, "don't take it down!"

8. Now our children want to form a family band, and go door-to-door performing and asking for money.  Some of which will go to charity, of course.  Or as my boy spelled it on the band's poster, "charade".  How to explain that I am not going to our friends houses playing plastic preschool instruments whilst holding out an empty hat- how to explain that, without crushing my boy's sweet earnest dreams?  Can't find that chapter in my parenting books.  All this talk about our band's name, and selling posters, and making money, and how much money should go back to the band- I feel like I'm living in a VH1 "Behind the Music" episode.  I'll let you know how that goes.  In the meantime, I may have to go on a family hike. By myself.




11 March 2014

that time I got social and caused everyone respiratory problems

This late winter/ early spring season, we have been more intentional about being hospitable. And there is a whole lot of backstory packed into that little ol' sentence.  There is a lot of fear and trembling and toddler-like learning in that idea of hospitality, for me.

I pride myself on being friendly. In social situations I think I am an encouraging listener.  I'm a nodder- that much is indisputable.  I am a people pleaser to a sad degree, and when I read Bible verses about what to do about your enemies, I'm always a little stymied.  What enemies?

But. But.  I have learned a little about myself in the last 38 (ahem) years.  I am an introvert.  Hermit-level status.  Also, a people-pleasing perfectionist.  And I am much better at contentment, than I am at having the faith and initiative to change circumstances.  Including when it comes to housekeeping.  So although I personally can live in all kinds of clutter and mess and not bat an eye (or lift a finger), as soon as the doorbell rings, my people pleasing side kicks the panic into high gear.  WHO is at the door!? And how can I keep them from seeing this mess!?

Life is messy. At least, ours is.
And so I make all sorts of New Year's Resolution style plans for getting my house under control, once and for all. And when that magical (organized! clean!) day arrives, I think to myself, I will fling open my doors, and all my friends and acquaintances can come in.  I will have all sorts of over-the-top parties, and that will make up for this long stretch of me being too self-conscious to welcome people in... at all.

I guess I hoped the kind of friendship I wanted- needed- could be found without the mess.  Without letting other people see my mess, I mean.  And it's not like I NEVER had a friend over.  But when you shove clutter into a back bed room and pray they don't open certain disheveled cupboards or see the state of your fridge shelves and generally feel on edge about them seeing ALL OF IT- well, it doesn't lead to a very relaxed, authentic atmosphere.  Although I for years could quote all sorts of wise people about intimacy and living in community, I just could not live it.  And my humble, friendly little self, as hard as it is to admit, hurt some people by sending the message, "Thanks for inviting me into your home and life... but I just can't return the favor." I cringe thinking about it- I was so preoccupied by our dog hair covered carpet (despite daily vacuuming I assure you) that I missed saying to people, "You matter.  To me, personally.  You are important, more important than my pride. Please, come in, shove that pile of Legos aside and sit, and tell me how you are."

Bouncing off- err, climbing on- the walls.
This winter marks a baby step in the right direction.  We have had people over several times- on Monday nights, for dinner, with the kids bouncing off walls and life pretty normal.  And I kinda aimed for "normal". As in, not Martha Stewart clean, hosting a big party clean, but what I like to think of as "clean enough to not be featured on a troubling Oprah episode."  And one of the first times we had people over, it went badly.  So badly.  My meat thermometer went mysteriously missing, and I could not figure out if the meat was done.  Food poisoning, anyone?  Something had spilled on the floor of our oven, and I didn't know.  But I found out when I tried to cook the broccoli at 500 degrees.  Smoke billowed out of the oven and even putting the vent fan on high and opening windows wide didn't help.  Everyone sat at the table, waiting for a late dinner, peering through and breathing a choky gray haze.  

And I wanted to go into my room, shut the door, and let some of my stress trickle out my eyes.  Or at least spend some time sniffling shakily.  Alone. But I didn't!  God does change and redeem.  I bravely made distracted small talk, turned off the oven and declared the broccoli done (after half the cooking time) and served some food.  And it was good.  Not the food, I mean (maybe? it was?  I have no idea.  I was unable to taste much at the time) but I mean the night was good.  It helped that our guests were the kind of people that ooze grace and understanding.  And I figured, if Shauna Niequist* can plan a dinner party and get overwhelmed with her people-pleasing perfectionism and end up messing things up... then I was in good company.

So I am not giving up.   I am a person who struggles.  With my own, and others', expectations about what constitutes "normal," and how I live up to that.  My kids, my house, my hair, my small talk, my marriage, my shoes.  Can I let people see it all?  Observe the flaws and awkward edge?  I've learned that if I don't- when I don't- I get sad and lonely.  And I tried being okay with that for a long season.  But I want better, so I am closing my eyes and jumping off the high dive.  At least I found my meat thermometer.  In the hose attachment to my vacuum cleaner, of course. Take that, normal!

*Please refer to her book Bread and Wine. And then buy it.
Cooking is a family affair. 



03 March 2014

paperwork

I paid the piper, a little, the other day.  I'd done the "dash and dump" cleaning a few too many times when guests were expected, and I had to sort through some piles of papers. Because I am a pretty horrible housekeeper who still craves order and cleanliness, I often ponder the root issues of my slovenly ways.  One of my favorite scapegoats is my children.  When you combine my three children's unending desire to create crafty junk- errr, art- with my sentimental heart, you get an avalanche of what should basically be recycling.  Papers, yes, but also cardboard boxes of every sort, toilet paper tubes, pipe cleaner creatures, and bits of yarn and ribbon tied into... I don't know what.  Junk.

And whatever fount of creativity my children tap into, well, it has no "off" valve.  Their art is legion, and to them it is too precious to be thrown away. Ever. So the other day when I had a substantial chunk of alone time I vowed to go through the paper mountain.  I wish I could chuck it all without another glance, but I know in each paperwork pile I have some gift certificate, birth certificate, or other random piece of paper that would save my life someday.  So I slog through it, all the while aware that a few minutes each day of effort at this would save me from these huge piles.  I hate how smug my hindsight can be.  Grrr. Anyways, I start out very businesslike, with firm resolve not to save anything I don't need.  When it comes to my kids' art, I figure that if I won't weep with happiness to have it in 20 years, then GET IT OUT OF THE HOUSE NOW. The "recycle where the kids won't see" pile grows quickly.

At first.

Then my heart softens. Memories of what it meant when our girl drew that lopsided heart come to mind. It seems certain that this card made by our oldest boy for our youngest is the perfect artifact of their relationship. The recycle pile slows. The "find somewhere to keep this forever" pile starts to pick up steam.  My work slows as I label and date all the treasures that beg to be logged in my personal Smithsonian.  After a while my heart sinks. Crap.  At this rate, the box I have for each child's lifetime of mementos will be crammed full by their graduations. From first grade.

Nothing in high school or college prepared me for this.  Okay, well it was supposed to. It tried. But it didn't.
In the end, I make progress.  And I know that in the future, I will have the willpower to recycle more.  For now, progress is enough.  And someday, when my children move out and have their own lives, I will bless them. With a great big box full of construction paper and printer paper with glitter and tipsy letters and misshapen hearts and memories. Which will probably be promptly set out on the curb. And that's fine by me. Because, Lord willing, they will have their own personal, commissioned artists with an overwhelming output filling up their home with love and color.

13 February 2014

toys


Love is funny sometimes. 
Happy Valentine's Day.




*I got bored playing Barbies.  Don't judge.


12 February 2014

hey, girl!

When we started our family, I was prepared to have all boys.  Even planning on it.  I'd kinda started thinking that way when I used to babysit, and I loved spending time with a family of three boys.  Then I married Craig, a man with two brothers- and no sisters.  Our firstborn was a boy.  When we went through the brief but emotional season of trying for our second child, which took about eight months longer than we'd expected, we were sad thinking that our chance to have two boys close in age, and thus relationship, was slipping by.

When we found out, many pregnancy tests later, that number two was cooking, the ultrasound could not come fast enough.  We held hands waiting to see our son floating on the inky screen.  So it felt like a bit of a shock to hear the technician's voice pronounce that our little one was... a girl.  And not in the "we can't for sure see any man parts, so it's a good chance it's a girl" way; it was more of a "look- she's a girl, all right." And I am a little embarrassed to admit that I mourned a little- I had to say goodbye to the little brother so that I could welcome the little sister.  

Because I never had a sister, I had plenty of experience being a girl, but not much relating to a little girl.  And of course all my parenting at that point had been with my boy. I'd bought into all the worry about boys being easy, and girls being difficult, emotionally speaking.  So this felt like new territory, and in many ways the learning curve was steep.  

My little girl has big feelings.  Like, BIG FEELINGS.  She is so sweet and shy around others, that people who have not been the caretaker of a little girl recently do not believe me that she is capable of crazy tantrums.  I cannot bear to tell you details, lest you, dear reader, go from nodding sympathetically to carefully and quickly clicking away in fear.  Suffice it to say, girl has some lungs and the ability to flail on the floor.

The flip side to all the terrifying drama is, of course, the beautiful side of those feelings and drama.  She is so intuitive and has such a high emotional IQ, she brings a little healing to this too-long-surrounded-by-testosterone heart.  And girl loves to treat life like a musical- breaking out into narrative song at any moment.  It drives her older brother nuts.  The back seat of our minivan is often full of high-pitched, wandering tunes, punctuated with the fierce brotherly refrain, "STOP SINGING!"

This week was a high point for me in mothering my little girl.  We went, just the two of us, to her first movie in the movie theater.  It was Disney's "Frozen," and it was perfection.  I tried to get a picture of her face lit up by the screen as she bobbed her head to the music, but the light was too dim for iphone captures.  Halfway through the movie she climbed onto my lap and we snuggled until it was over.  The next morning we put on the Disney Pandora station and sang along to musical after musical.  I got a vision of she and I going to Wicked together in years to come, and the ballet, and... all the other things my man's man of a husband either won't do, or suffers through, for me.  My love of musical theater- born on a kindergarten age trip to see "Annie" on broadway- can still be not just enjoyed but shared with someone I love.  And isn't that the best enjoyment of something- in the sharing?
So here's to God's plans- He knew I needed a girl when I didn't.  And what a girl I got!  Now excuse me while I pretend to be Cinderella whilst cleaning the house.

29 January 2014

apple pie

Drinking "appa pie jue."
It's no secret to me that our baby is no longer a baby.  I mean, he's just shy of 22 months old- the Big Two birthday is in sight.  He's running and talking up a storm and attempting all kinds of feats of strength.

He does many things his brother and sister did not do at his age.  Eating peanut butter, for instance.  The others had to wait longer for that.  On the other side of the mom score card, he still sits rear facing in his convertible car seat.  His siblings were forward facing within a week of turning one.  I'd like to take credit for that, as if I were all crunchy-granola- high achiever mom, but in truth it's because it lets him face his brother and sister in the van and that makes him incredibly happy.  Or at least, occupied.

And I thought he was turning out differently from his brother and sister in one other way, which I am now second guessing.  It occurred to me the other day that he was past the "dreaded 18 month season." My olders did not suffer from the "terrible twos," rather, their monstrous phases hit at 18 months and three years.  Mostly their twos were cruise-y. (By comparison.  Although wonderful and and beloved, they were no cherubs at any age.) And I was just thinking that maybe Little C was going to buck the trend, and be easy until sometime after his birthday.

Then this week hit.  And although he has not displayed the full-on tantrums and completely maddening illogical tyrannical demands that I remember (and I know will come!) this week has blindsided me.  Maybe. Just a little.  Dumped out garlic salt forming snowy peaks on his plate and the floor.  Pencil and crayon slashed across the cupboards and floor. Yogurt brought onto the carpet and spilled, although he clearly understands the rule that no food comes onto the carpet.  Running away with a screaming giggle when he is told to come.  And opening the fridge twenty times in the span of the morning. That one pushes my buttons pretty efficiently.

Still, he reimburses for those transgressions will all sorts of cute.  He loves to care for F's baby dolls, feeding them and covering them with blankets.  He blows adorable kisses.  When he does something wrong, like hitting, and he comes in for a hug and says "Haw-wee" right away.  (He doesn't make "s" or "f" sounds yet.) And perhaps my favorite of all: he kept babbling about apple pie one week, and I realized after a couple of confusing days that it was his way of saying "pineapple", which was the kind of juice he had just experienced for the first time. He still asks for "apple pie" juice. All the time.

I'm as ready as I can be, mentally at least, for the high energy stage he has entered.  And since he's kid number three, I won't be surprised at his transformations from innocent angel to naughty rugrat and back again within moments, repeated all day. I like this ride, and look forward to seeing the personal twists he puts on it. I just hope the surfaces in our home are as ready.

* Editing this post to add that I was just rereading things I wrote back in June... when I was complaining that C had just entered a "high maintenance phase." Ha! Somethings never change.