Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Necessary Labor of May

It's getting crazy around here. I am trying to find and maintain some type of balance, but the reality is... it's nuts!

The end of the year has a pregnancy feel to it sometimes... a feeling that we must get so terribly uncomfortable before we birth this brand new thing. Feels that way today. Mark is staying home today to help with some big projects (the garden, specifically) and offered to take the children to school. They left just moments ago. Mark out first and the chaotic cacophony trailing behind him.

This morning, the kids slept late, overtired from attending last night's soccer game. They wandered sleepily from room to room, getting ready for their day in an unorganized way. It looked like this:

-Benjamin cannot find his over-due library book and, though he is not dressed, is sure that is his highest priority for the day. (It's not.) He has to say the Gettysburg address today so he is practicing in his best Abe Lincoln, unsure about what it all means. Mark is talking to him from the kitchen about the depth of the speech while Benjamin scratches his head and works hard to try to make it matter to him...

-Noah has another after school party. Yesterday he celebrated the end of the play. Tonight, the end of track. He needs a form we have never seen and money of an undetermined amount. I email the teacher and pull muffins from the oven. Mark and I wonder if either of us have any cash to send with him for the party payment.

-Josiah has taken off at least three outfits, leaving the clothes on in the middle of the family room floor. He is now wearing his 13 year-old brother's ill-fitting shorts and searching for his backpack. ( I am searching for the family room floor. )

-Elizabeth, slightly lost in the mix this morning, takes 20 minutes to eat a muffin and attempts to leave for school, hair un-brushed and missing shoes. I can see that she is not really awake just yet and wonder what the day will be like for her.

-My house is trashed, my supper swap meals are not made and the yard... oh, the yard... is as unpresentable as it can be. (And did I mention, I have a house-guest? My mom has been here for a while to witness all our nuttiness.)

Yep, it's getting kinda crazy around here.

This brief season of our life has gotten to the place where it is just plain uncomfortable. We are finding ourselves in a spot where every part of my momma self is screaming for a break. I know my kids are tired. I know they need more sleep. I know it is time to wander at farmer's markets and eat fresh fruit and run in the sprinkler and read good books and do that thing that comes up next.

I remember feeling similarly at the end of each of my pregnancies. I remember thinking it had just gotten so uncomfortable. My body was stretched, my mind distracted and I was ready to get past this part and move on to what came next... and I would go through anything to get there.

My kids love school and I love it with them. I love our teachers and am so grateful for all that they offer my children each day. And saying good-bye to them, to the year, is a sad and difficult thing for us all. But, this week feels like labor to me... a necessary working through of details and actions that will bring us to the next big thing. And I don't want to rush it... don't want to wish it away... but I love that I can focus on that spot on the horizon when life will just slow down. When my kids will just be home. When parties and practices and homework and hurry have all just faded away... and we will have arrived at the place that looks so beautiful from here.

Eight more days. Eight more days. Between here and there, we will say sad good-byes and accomplish a lot of work... but in the end, it gets us where we are going.

It's a labor I don't want to miss.

Blessings on your day.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Simple Woman's Daybook--May 25, 2010

If you blog, you can do this, too. C'mon, you can do it! Join in the fun!

Outside my window... I see hazy, summer skies. We are in the midst of a heat wave here... unusual for May in Chicago. The sky is pale blue and the heat... wow.

I am thinking... the end of school. I am so grateful that my kids attend a school that they deeply love and I deeply trust. They really do an amazing job and the end of the school year always brings mixed feelings. We are ready for the break but the end is sad, as well.

I am thankful for... the holiday weekend upcoming. Baseball games are never played on this weekend and so we have days and days of time together with no where to be. It is a good thing and by the end, our garden will be in, our yard will be ready for summer and we will be thrilled to be outside enjoying it all!

From the kitchen... Last week, I talked about beef stew here... it was a chilly day, then. Not now. I am out of ideas for cool weather food and still don't know what dinner will be. It is just too hot to cook! Ideas?

I am wearing... dark gray capri pants and a pink Old Navy t-shirt with a peace sign on the front. Comfy... not that cool. : ) Did I mention it is HOT?

I am creating... supper swap meals! Can't wait to have new meals to eat in the freezer! Love it! : ) We will swap on Friday...

I am dreaming... about camping... about seeing friends... about plans for summer and what I want my kids to learn. I am dreaming about feeling rested... being purposeful in my writing... accomplishing tasks.

I am going... to get to work on the garden, plan for the summer, get the van in the shop. The next two weeks will be crazy and then it will get peacefully quiet. Looking forward to that...

I am reading... old copies of my Sticks book. I have multiple versions of many chapters... time to reduce that to one good chapter of each and then tweak and improve until I am happy with what is left.

I am hoping... for an amazing summer. Is amazing too much to ask? :)

I am hearing... the air conditioning running, the kids in the sprinkler, the tapping of my fingers on my laptop keys.

Around the house... there is much to be done... and little time with which to attack big projects.

One of my favorite things... quiet days with my family nearby... making the transition from school-year to summer...

A few plans for the rest of the week...get the van in for work (ugh!), straighten the house, cook for supper swap, rototill the garden, prepare for summer lessons, dream about upcoming camping trips!

What about you? : )

Blessings on your day!

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Monday, May 24, 2010

First Teachers and Words of Thanks

Two years ago, I sat in an elementary school library gathering information about Kindergarten for Josiah. The information given to me would be used two years in a row... first for my youngest boy and then for my daughter. It had been four years since I had enrolled a child in Kindergarten and I was overwhelmed with a fierce feeling of over-protectiveness for my babies.

The other parents and I listened to general kindergarten information about the program available for children at our school and then we headed off to the kindergarten classrooms. Once I had settled into the tiny chairs at the tiny tables, I listened to the teachers speak. One of them moved me to tears.

If you have heard me speak, you may have heard me talk about that night. One of those good women talked at length about how, we as parents, were not learning more information about who would be our child's first teacher. That job is ours. We were their first teacher when we taught them words, read them books, counted Cheerios... Have you thought of it that way? You, my dear friend, are your child's first teacher. Right now. Today. All our school choices are important... but none more important than the one to look into the faces of those we love best and teach them colors, talk about the world around us, number the cups on the table and help them discover the wonder of reading.

I love that work. I sometimes wish I had more energy for it... but I do really, really love it. I love watching them discover something new and beautiful and helpful and amazing. I love watching their mouths learn to form words and the words then string into sentences and sentences to conversations. I love it.

That said, I am so grateful... deeply, humbly grateful... for the teachers who have come alongside our babies and taught them, too. I love the school my children are blessed to attend and cannot believe how hard the teachers work. How selfless they are. How well they enfold my babies into an educational community and motivate them to learn.

The end of the year is hard for me... I so love these wonderful teachers that I hate to say good-bye. So, in our house, we turned it into something else... instead of waving and moving on, I write a little thank you. Wonder what I am thankful for? Tonight, here is what makes me smile...

I am thankful for teachers who:

-feel called to the profession of teaching and live that calling out to the best of their ability. Loving children in response to calling is a beautiful gift that is unlike anything else.

-have a vision for the work that they do and use that vision to motivate children to learn. Making learning fun and purposeful takes endless years of education and turns it into a journey full of amazing discoveries.

-understand that some kids need more than a lesson taught out-loud. Some kids need activity, song, colors, to make the pieces come together. When they are given this, the lessons they learn stick in a permanent place and can be called on for years to come.

-look at each child and see the whole of them... strengths and weaknesses... and try to meet them where they are. Connecting with each child and helping them makes all the difference in the world.

-make things fun and real and silly and good. Because it matters that my child laughs. It matters that they are happy. It matters that they WANT to be there. And when you laugh, my baby laughs. And I smile.

-sometimes teach it twice. Because someone wasn't listening or a bird flew by the window... or because it just didn't make any sense. Your persistence helps to be sure that no one is left behind.

-set the bar higher. And tomorrow, move it higher again. Because I do that, too. I want my kids to know there is something better.... better behavior, higher achievement, improved attitude... and that they can reach for that today. I am so grateful when our teachers do not settle for what might be "okay" or even "normal"... because I love when they see that there might be more.

-squat down, face to face with my babies and throw their arms around them and pull them close and hug them tight and love them. Really love them. I am not worried about my child being touched by their teacher, I am worried about them NOT being touched by their teacher. I know how important that relationship is... and I love to see it right before me.

So, teachers... thank you. Thank you. THANK YOU. Thank you for the hours you work that we never see. Thank you for loving, for responding, for being creative in how you do your work. Thank you for making our school a place my children walk away from, on that last day, in tears. Thank you for loving your students and teaching them well and for willingly becoming an honorary member of our little family. Because you did, you know. You have become a part of our story... a name we use with respect and awe... a part of sweet memories that will make us smile for years to come.

It is true, I was their first teacher. But, it's May and the year is almost done and I am feeling a little nostalgic. I have four sweet children who all go to school and spend their days with amazing people who have loved them well. I will miss them soon... but for tonight, I am just thankful.

Where are those note cards? Might be time to write some of this down.

Blessings on your day.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Simple Woman's Daybook--May 18, 2010

If you blog, you can do this, too. C'mon, you can do it! Join in the fun!

Outside my window... I see the sun! After several gray days, finally it looks more like spring than fall.

I am thinking... about summer... about the week ahead... about how getting through this week gets us just a little bit closer to the open schedule of the season ahead. We are all feeling so ready for a break. These thoughts and feelings are balanced out with loss we feel at the end of the school year, though. How we love our school, our teachers... Saying good-bye is never easy.

I am thankful for... a nice zoo field trip with Elizabeth yesterday... thankful for her hard work at gymnastics and the smile on her face when she does something well. :)

From the kitchen... It's sunny today, but chilly. Beef stew might be in order... freshly baked bread and veggies. I made a menu for the week in order to better make use of my freezer and pantry items. Having a plan and knowing I have what I need on hand is so helpful...

I am wearing... jammies. :) I like to get the daybook post up early so it's the first thing I am doing today. Organizing my thoughts this way, once a week, is a nice way to reflect, too.

I am creating... I am getting very serious about writing this Sticks book. I want it done. I want it published. Such a matter of prayer for me...

I am dreaming... about camping... about seeing friends... about plans for summer and what I want my kids to learn. I am dreaming about feeling rested... being purposeful in my writing... accomplishing tasks.

I am going... to see Noah in the play he has been rehearsing for months! His performances are both Thursday and he is getting excited and nervous. I cannot wait! How cool is it to see your kids challenge themselves to do something new and hard and fun. Proud of my boy...

I am reading... old copies of my Sticks book. I have multiple versions of many chapters... time to reduce that to one good chapter of each and then tweak and improve until I am happy with what is left.

I am hoping... for a better morning today than yesterday. Gosh, mornings can be crazy.

I am hearing... Josiah, in the kitchen, getting his snacks for the day. He is alternating between singing Go Fish's version of Little Drummer Boy ("I play my drum, I pray my drum for the One who saves me!") and then talking to me about Leonardo da Vinci and his efforts to learn to fly. :) The boy makes me smile.

Around the house... laundry... some of it clean. : ) It's a never-ending battle. With four kids we are never done, never caught up. Trying not to be over-whelmed...

One of my favorite things... a peaceful, purposeful morning with my children. Can we find this today?

A few plans for the rest of the week... I must get this Sticks book to a better place... My mom is coming into town to see Noah's play... Making weekend plans to get the garden in... Continue planning for the summer months and the kid's lessons for that time.

What about you? : )

Blessings on your day!

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Blog Rewind: An Old Gray Shirt

The following blog was originally posted in May 2008 and still holds powerful memories for me today. Enjoy...


It still surprises me that I cannot predict which days will hold one of those overwhelming "mommy moments" and which will not. After all, I am not a newbie! Having been at this for over 11 years, you would think that I would know when I was going to be faced with something that ties all those years together and sends me adrift on a wave of nostalgia. And, one would certainly never expect an old t-shirt to do that very thing.

Monday, Josiah started the day by reading his preschool calendar to find that it would be paint day. He was thrilled and I was grateful for a reminder to send my two preschoolers out the door dressed in less than their very best. Off we ran to drop them off and I found my head swimming with many responsibilities and expectations for my free two hours.

It went too quickly and maybe I was tired. I didn't see it coming. I picked up Josiah and Elizabeth and began my usual series of questions about their morning away. Did you read any stories? Did you sing songs? Who did you play with today? And then, it came. From behind my seat, Josiah's voice... "Momma, we get to bring home our paint shirts today." Both Josiah and Elizabeth simultaneously flung their well used paint shirts from inside their preschool backpacks.

I glanced in the rear view mirror and saw my two little ones beaming with t-shirts streaming in circles above their little heads. And then, the memories fell on me like rain and not one part of me was not awash in their power.

It was years ago and Noah was only four. I was getting ready to kiss my first-born good-bye as he skipped his yellow jacketed self off to preschool for the very first time. The list had come from the school and I had dutifully collected the expected items, labeled them and sealed them inside zip-lock bags. My baby needed a paint shirt and the teachers had suggested that we use one of mom or dad's old tees. I rifled through my drawers and pulled out an old gray Hanes that I literally never wore. I wrote Noah's name on the inside collar and packed it into a bag for the beginning of his academic career. : )

Fast forward two years. Noah was in first grade and it was time for Benjamin to begin his preschool year. Same list. Same shirt. With a permanent marker, I wrote Benjamin's name in block letters across the hem on the shirt pocket. Tucked in bag, sent to school. A well-used shirt!

Four years later, Josiah started school. I had to think... no, truth be told... I had to SEARCH to find the shirt. When I did it this time, it was from no nostalgic motive but instead from a point of pure economics. I HAD a paint shirt for a preschooler somewhere and did not want to purchase or sacrifice another shirt for this purpose. It took some time... a lot of time... to figure out where an unwearable, paint stained, double labeled shirt might have landed for four long years. Hours into my reconnaissance mission, I found the shirt! With a permanent marker, I covered over Benjamin's name on the pocket (a move I now regret) and wrote Josiah's name, big and bold, diagonally across the belly of the shirt. Off to preschool it went. Josiah found great joy in adding a bit of paint to the shirt each time he used it at preschool.

This year, for the first time ever, I had TWO preschoolers and had to find another seldom used shirt for my daughter to wear. The old gray tee was joined by a pink striped shirt in the ziplock at the school. I have to be honest though and say, the pink shirt looked so... well... ordinary in comparison to the rainbow painted, thoroughly splattered, name emblazoned gray shirt that had been worn for so many preschool projects.

Preschool ends next week. Josiah "graduates" on Wednesday and the school year is wrapping up. A bit at a time, the supplies from the list are making their way back home. So it came to be that my 4 and 5 year old children were spinning shirts above their sweet little heads in the van on Monday afternoon.

When we got home, it all became so clear to me. Josiah is done. You do not need a paint shirt in Kindergarten and there are no boy babies home with me awaiting their turn for a year in our beloved preschool. Yes, Elizabeth will go off to preschool, one more year, but she will take with her the pink shirt she has fully claimed as her own. The gray shirt is done. Done. How can that really be?

We came home and Josiah and Elizabeth went outside to play. I sat in the family room with the shirt in my hands and shook it out to really take it all in. As the shirt unfolded, the characteristic aroma of powdered temperas filled the air around me and I let my hands fall gently across the preschool masterpiece decorating the front. The names were all there... one does not launder a paint shirt often... and I could see Noah's on the collar, Benjamin's on the pocket (though sadly covered over) and Josiah's beneath two years of dried preschool paint. A history of days gone by and a story told in pictures... in markers... in names on a shirt I never wore. I felt it all right then... the days upon days of raising my kids and the overwhelming reality that my boys are all done with preschool. They are growing into students... growing into teens... growing into men.

How can it be that holding a t-shirt in my hands can bring all the little details of a lifetime of parenting into such clear view. Three blonde boys, three shining faces, three yellow jackets, three sets of stories and questions and experiences all held by one discarded gray shirt. How can it be that the past can be so clear and so PRESENT at the same time as the future feels so close?

It still surprises me that I cannot tell when a "mommy moment" will hit me in the deepest part of my very self. I have been at this a long time already... but today I know that I want to be at it for a long, long time to come. I hold this shirt on my lap and get ready to tuck it gently into my cedar chest, knowing fully that these early years have already gone too fast. But the memories we have are GOOD ones and I am grateful to have proof in tempera on an old gray shirt.

Blessings on your day...

Friday, May 14, 2010

Books for Summer!

I love books. I really do. Our house is full of them... full of bookshelves and stacks of books and sorted books and kids books and chapter books and picture books... and it gets a little messy, but I just love it. My kids have been around books since they were born and all four of them came to love them in their own way.

I talk to parents all the time who say that their kids just don't like books at all. They don't like to read, don't like stories, aren't good at it and would rather do anything else. Sometimes that is true but when you find that a child is not connecting with reading at all, you don't have to assume that is a permanent situation. There might be something you can do to help steer them in another direction.

When Noah was born, we read to him all the time. He was the kind of baby that loved to listen and look and soak it all up. He loved the one on one time with a parent that comes with reading and if you even held up a book to show him, he lit up. We kept a little wagon in the family room with bunches of board books in it and, from the time he could sit up independently, he would dump them out and look at the pictures. Honestly, we didn't make him this way... he came this way and we fostered it.

When Benjamin was born 18 months later, he didn't sit still for a second. Showing him books was an exercise in futility because all he wanted to do was explore. He could not focus, didn't want to turn pages, could not listen and we were stumped. Noah spent a lot of time looking at him, completely confused as to why his little brother wouldn't play along.

I could have given up. We thought about it. We tried to wrap our heads around a kid who didn't like books. And then I had an idea! What if I found books he could explore? What if I bought books that made noises and had flaps and were totally hands on? Would he take the bait?

Did he ever! We started with Pat the Bunny and moved on to every book I could possibly find that had textures, buttons, wheels, pop-ups... And in very short order, Benjamin was sold! Books were fun! Books made noise! Books were something you could play with and touch and experience in lots of different ways.

My older boys are 13 and 11 now and both are always wrapped up in a book. Being boys who love to read has been a benefit to them because so much of school is easier for kids who can take the written word and store it up for later use. But, that is just an aside. What they really love is a story that lights up their imaginations and helps them to see something new in God's amazing world.

Summer is the perfect time for reading and for fostering a love of the act itself. If you have a reluctant reader, this is a great time to look at it in a whole new way. How can you make it fun? What is the stumbling block? Is it hard? Is it boring? Is it work? Knowing what keeps your child from opening a good book can help you find a solution that will allow them open up a new joy in their life. Think it through. What do they need? It is totally fine to meet them where they are and make the act of reading a thoroughly enjoyable activity.

When I was a first grade teacher, I used to make space in our week to spend time reading books for pleasure. During this time, I let my students sit or lay anywhere in the classroom that they liked. If you had peeked into our classroom during a free reading time, you would have seen students laying under their desks with their feet on their chairs, sitting on our register while leaning on the windows, curled up under tables, laying on the floor outside their lockers with their feet tucked deep inside... and yes, seated happily at their desks. I loved it. They loved it. And they learned reading could be fun and comfortable and about them.

What should they read? Oh my! I could go on forever on this topic (this is actually one of my speaking topics and in that, I share long lists of wonderful books)... but for today, here are some great choices:

Babies: Pat the Bunny, Goodnight Moon, Freight Train, Babies

Toddlers: Anything with a flap. : ) Books by Eric Carle

Preschool: Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, Green Eggs and Ham, The ABC Book, Good Dog, Carl

Elementary: Charlotte's Web, Guess How Much I Love You, Fancy Nancy

Upper Elementary: The Chronicles of Narnia, Guardians of Ga'Hoole, Island of the Blue Dolphins
Middle School: The Hobbit, Shakespeare's Secret, A Wrinkle in Time

High School: Eragon (the first in a series)
Also, if you need help finding really good books, look up books that have won awards like:
Caldecott Winners: Picture books
Newberry Awards: Story (normally chapter books)
Caudill Award Winners: Illinois Award for Outstanding book (chapter books, usually)
Monarch Award: Illinois K-3 level Outstanding Book (usually storybook)

What about reading out loud to your kids? Oh yes! If you can find a few minutes, sit down and do just that! Don't get wrapped up in feeling guilty if you didn't get around to it today. Start again tomorrow. I just ordered a book that you might find helpful called Classics to Read Aloud to Your Children. This book includes stories to share with your kids, rated by level and offers a time estimate for how long it will take to read that story. ( For instance, The Ugly Duckling is great for younger kids and will take 9 minutes to read. )

In our house, summer is the perfect time for reading. My kids are encouraged to read 30 minutes a day but most of the time, 30 minutes turns into far more. We will make trips to the library and make room in the day for relaxing and enjoying a book.

So, let's share some ideas! What books do your kids love? What has worked well for you? What advice can you share with others who wander into the blog today? What questions do you have about your kids and their approach to reading?

If we work together now to make a plan for raising readers this summer, what an amazing season it can be in your home! So take a second, leave a comment and let's get ready for what's yet to come!

Blessings on your day!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Mommas and Summer: Telling the Truth

I want to love it. I want to jump into it with two feet and soak up every stinking second of the three magnificent months I get to spend with my sweet children. I want to be eager, be driven, be patient, be good. I want to plan and play and persist.

But, the truth is I am tired already.

Summer is coming and here is what I know. For the first time in 13 years, I have had a bit of time to myself. For the first time since I laid my eyes on Noah's beautiful face, I have gone to the bathroom alone, enjoyed moments of quiet and had time to do so many things that just plain needed to be done. I cooked better meals and shopped in smaller quantities and yes, I missed my children. Terribly. But, after I adjusted to their conspicuous absence, I enjoyed some time to myself. It was strange... but it is true.

I am one of those mommas who really loves to be with her kids. I am one of those mommas who likes to make a plan, teach them something, sit with them and read a book. I am that woman. And yet... there is a hesitancy here and I hope I am not alone. (How silly I would look, if I were.) Because as much as I am eager to have them here, waking up late and sporting bed-heads all day long, running through sprinklers and shooting hoops, digging in the garden and biting into beans and tomatoes fresh off the vine... there is a part of me that worries about it, too.

Can we be honest here? Can we own this little, guilty worry so that we can make a plan to face it head on? Summer is long and sometimes living days and days with no time away makes me less than I wish I was. As amazing as the view of sunny, clear days might be from this cloudy place, the reality is that it rains and kids fight and I get crabby and the house gets messed up and planning feels overwhelming and it gets to be, every now and then, just a little bit much. Do you ever feel that way at all?

So, I need to make a plan. My hope is that if I can find a way to buy time... if I can create a little space to regroup... maybe the ugly under-belly of unlimited time off might keep itself hidden and allow me to focus on the view I want to see. Me. My children. And a time of rejuvenation together.

As I tried to figure out what might help, I realized that there were two things that I have really valued this year. Two things I need to find place for this summer.

1. Most mornings, after I take my children to school, I go to the gym and work out. Now, I wish I had more to show for that but I do know for sure that I feel better now than before I did all this. I think so much of that has to do with being active and moving more. How do I work that in with four kids and a busy schedule and no time away?

2. Having quiet time to myself goes a long way in saving my sanity. For the past 9 months, I have had that 5 days a week. How can I find that in a home teeming with children? How can I live peacefully without it?

As I think this through, I have a couple of ideas that might help to make a difference. I am not sure I would call this a plan, just yet. But, I do think it's a start.

1. Two to three mornings a week, I am going to ask my hubby to wake me up in the morning so I can go for a walk before the kids wake up. On the days when I did not walk in the morning, I will try to go to the health club after Mark comes home from work. Normally, this is a challenge for me since I feel badly missing out on family time. But, since it is the summer and I will be ROLLING in family time, I am going to try to make it work for me. Getting exercise helps me to feel better, gives me more energy and will offer me a bit of the life I live while my kids are in school.

2. After lunch each day, I am going to have my kids spend 45 minutes quietly reading or drawing or resting after lunch. It will take some planning, and likely many trips to the library, but I think knowing that we have a little snippet of time in the midst of a loud, full day will go a long way in helping me to maintain some balance. In that time, I can read or sit or rest or regroup for the rest of the day.

These two adjustments might make a difference for me... though the most important adjustment I need to make is internal. I need to remember that some days are hard. Some days are frustrating. Some days are full to the brim with the kind of chaos that pushes me over the edge. And then the day ends. And the sun sets. And in the morning, it rises again bringing new hope, new chances, new perspectives. This, I need to remember.

The bottom line is, I want to love it. I want to look forward to the fullness of summer and embrace it every day. But some days, I won't. Some days will be hard. When I am tired and stressed, those hard days get harder. Now is the time to plan. Now is the time to see it all, good and bad, and be honest about what it will take to make this summer as amazing as I want it to be. For them. And for me.

Blessings on your day.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Time to Talk About Summer! (Part One)

It seems like I have been planning this topic for weeks... just never getting around to sharing it with you. So today, the time has come! Time to talk about summer. And I am excited!

I know full well that all of us here today have lives that are similar and different from one another. This topic applies to all of us. If you have a family, it is a worthwhile thing to think about the upcoming 3+ months and what it can mean to your children. No kids? No problem. What can it mean to you?

When I was a teacher, I spent months each school year helping students to reconnect to things I knew they had learned the year before. And, imagine my discouragement when my first graders turned second graders spent months doing the same thing with their new teachers? I felt, even then, that it was a huge waste of time in the school year to have to reteach information that had already been taught and learned by these sweet students.

When I became a parent, I wanted to raise curious children. I wanted them to live in a home that fostered a love of education that was not so tightly tied to school as to their natural drive to discover. Sometimes, we do a pretty good job of that and sometimes not... but it is a goal for us. So, when I see months and months of free time coming, I want to have a plan. I know that school is ending and their time of formal education is transitioning... and now, (now!) I will have all the time in the world to continue to help them grow and develop as curious, little beings who see the world as a place of wonder and discovery.

So, what do we do? What am I planning? Well, there are many topics there on which to blog but let's just start with some goals I have for my children this summer.

1. I want them to relish listening to a story and am seeking read-alouds that I can share with them... a little at a time... over the months ahead.

2. I love how the Bible talks about God's words and His law being sweet... sweeter than honey! I am toying with ways to tie this to a time of Bible study in a very concrete way... possibly involving Jolly Ranchers!

3. I am always looking for ways to connect my children to each other... I am working on what this can look like this summer but am not fully decided on a direction.

4. I would love for my children to work on writing skills this summer. I am wondering if this might develop into something bloggy. Hmmm....

5. I have this big picture dream about how my children might come to understand the full scope of history. I am toying with ideas about what this might look like for us this summer and am really excited about starting this out.

6. I want my kids to help one another eat in a healthy way. Sometimes, we do a great job of this... sometimes we don't. I am hatching some ideas about what it might look like if I partner with a child to help meet this goal. As always, we will grow a huge garden... all doing our part to keep it growing well. I know this will help us in our effort to eat healthy.

7. Nature exploration is a big deal for my kids. I continue to harbor a dream of getting my kids off to see nature in new and amazing ways. This would likely include some travel for us... and will certainly involve a lot of camping which is high on my list of "to do" this summer.

8. DOWNTIME is so needed... so needed. I can feel how frustrated and tired I am with the craziness of May. I know it is harder on my kids. I am envisioning LOTS of time to play, hang-out with friends, jump through a sprinkler, stare at the sky.

9. Academic growth is easy to continue in small ways throughout the summer. This, we will do for sure. I have looked into some new ways to manage this since we have done workbooks for so long! Elizabeth is just starting to read and I want to encourage that with her and help her learn to just love the act of reading and see it all as fun!

10. I am looking for time WITH my children. I want to be with them and watch them and laugh with them and enjoy them every day. Sometimes, I get overwhelmed with the length of summer and I want to find a way to keep that at bay. Hold it off. I want to remind myself, every day, that Noah is 13 and I only have 5 summers with him left. It goes too fast. And it is so easy to wish it away.

So, there are some goals we are working on for the summer. This list is not complete but it is a pretty good start. For me, knowing there are goals helps me to craft a picture that is working toward something that will be meaningful for my children. What about you? What do you hope for your children this summer? What do you think is important for them to experience during these many months off? I would love to hear some of your ideas so feel free to leave a comment. I love comments more than you might guess! : )

Tomorrow, I will talk about some about ways I hope to maintain my sanity during those summer months. Little changes go a long way for me. I have never really worried about this aspect before but after a year of being home alone, it feels different to me this year. So, I want to be proactive. I want to guess a bit at what I will need and make a plan now while I have some time to think.

I have more ideas to share about summer so if you are working on making your plan, be sure to keep checking back. The goals above will be connected to actual activities that we will add to our summer months. I will let you know what those are and am eager to read your thoughts, too. Together, we can create a wonderful span of time that helps our children to stay connected to what they have already learned and to continue to seek growth in a whole new way.

Blessings on your day!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Simple Woman's Daybook--May 11, 2010

If you blog, you can do this, too. C'mon, you can do it! Join in the fun!

Outside my window... It is cloudy and rainy and dark. Makes me want to snuggle in bed with a good book. If only the house was clean... No time for reading... too much to do.

I am thinking... about our busy night. Noah has a project due for school and we really need to be home to get it done. Sometimes, especially in May, it seems there are just never enough hours in the day.

I am thankful for... Supper Swap. Having fully prepared, frozen meals at my fingertips is a life-saver in the midst of a week like this. I am putting a roast into the crock pot as soon as this blog is posted.

From the kitchen... Savory Pot Roast, boiled red potatoes and cheesy bread for dinner. Also baking zucchini bread and carrot zucchini bread (and muffins) this afternoon.

I am wearing... a gray t-shirt and black yoga pants.

I am creating... Lots of snacks this week.... and lots of dreams about the summer months and what I want my kids to learn and experience during their time off. I will be blogging about all of this soon... just waiting for the pieces to land in place in my head! : )

I am dreaming... about summer... about a lighter schedule... about downtime with my kids... about warmer days and time to play. : )

I am going... to Noah's track meet in a couple hours... I am actually hoping and praying that it gets rained out! : ) We need a break and my house is a mess!

I am reading... a variety of kids books to prepare for the summer. I have to know what I want my kids to read! There used to be a series of early readers that included flash cards in the middle of the book. The flash cards were key words from the story. I used these when the older boys were little.... now I need them again for the little ones. Any ideas?

I am hoping... the rain continues and lots of evening activities get canceled so we can relax at home, help Noah with his project and enjoy a warm meal together.

I am hearing... rain outside... the weather reporter on TV... the fan on my laptop.

Around the house... Oh the mess. Why is it always a mess? Just being near it zaps my energy... I really, really, really dislike a messy house.

One of my favorite things... Naps. I would like one. You know, right now. :)

A few plans for the rest of the week... baseball, soccer, track, play rehearsal and practices... meal preparation and cleaning... Also, I am booking a couple of speaking engagements into next year and need to get the details down pat. I am planning a mailing to advertise speaking stuff and have to take care of that, too. Do you know someone who needs a speaker? Send them my way! (Check out my website: )

What's new with you? :)

Blessings on your day!

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Monday, May 10, 2010

Monday, Monday

Happy Mother's Day, friends. I hope you had a day of pampering and thoughtfulness yesterday. :)

The craziness of May continues and I am up and at 'em this morning. I got the kids off to school, after much scurrying. Josiah has a year-end field trip and Elizabeth is undergoing standardized testing. Mondays are our busiest days and tonight will be full of baseball, track, gymnastics and homework.

In addition to our family schedule, my heart and mind are with the Trinity Christian College students who are beginning their finals today. What a stressful time for all of them! Since we still have connections to the college, I am bringing some snacks to a floor of resident students this morning. My Kitchen-Aide mixer has had a work out already today! As I baked and mixed for this floor of women, I also made extra for us. I would like to share some recipes with you that your family might enjoy, as well!

Last fall, our garden was bursting with zucchini! At the end of the season, I pulled in whatever was left and shredded it. I packed this shredded zuke in the deep freezer in 4 cup increments to be used in recipes throughout the year. This was very handy to me today! In addition to this, we froze bags and bags of freshly picked blueberries last August. All of this got pulled out of my deep freeze this morning. I made 7 loaves of zucchini bread and 7 loaves of blueberry zucchini bread. I also mixed a double batch of Puppy Chow that will be a welcome snack to the students and a tasty treat for our family, too.

Below you will find all these recipes and I hope you enjoy them today. I am off now to deliver these homemade spoils and then pick up meds for the puppy and drop off stuff for school... and then... Even after a day "off", a momma's work is never done!

Blessings on your day!

My Favorite Zucchini Bread


4 eggs
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 (8 ounce) can crushed pineapple, drained
2 cups grated zucchini
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder


1.Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
2.In a large bowl, mix oil, eggs, vanilla, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Blend in pineapple and zucchini. Stir flour mixture into zucchini mixture. Pour batter into two greased and floured 9 x 5 inch loaf pans.
3.Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 1 hour. Cool on wire racks.

Blueberry Zucchini Bread


3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup vegetable oil
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups white sugar
2 cups shredded zucchini
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 pint fresh blueberries


1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease 4 mini-loaf pans.
2.In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, oil, vanilla, and sugar. Fold in the zucchini. Beat in the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon. Gently fold in the blueberries. Transfer to the prepared mini-loaf pans.
3.Bake 50 minutes in the preheated oven, or until a knife inserted in the center of a loaf comes out clean. Cool 20 minutes in pans, then turn out onto wire racks to cool completely.

Puppy Chow


9 cups crispy rice cereal squares (We use Crispix.)
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar


1.In a saucepan over low heat, melt the chocolate; add peanut butter and mix until smooth.
2.Remove from heat, add cereal and stir until coated.
3.Pour powdered sugar into large plastic bag, add coated cereal and shake until well coated. Store in airtight container.

Friday, May 7, 2010

A Letter to My Children-- To Save Their Sanity and Mine

Today, I will take a brief break from blogging to write a helpful letter to my children. :)

Dear Children,

You know I love you all to pieces and think you are each as cute as a bug's ear. That said, I would like to send you a bit of information that might help our life together go a bit more smoothly than it did this morning. Ready? Here we go!

1. When we lovingly tuck you into your beds at night, it is helpful to go to sleep. When you do so, you would be amazed at how awake you feel in the morning. It will be so much easier to get up! You know, unlike today.

2. When a teacher gives you an assignment, months in advance, it is likely because the assignment will take a very, very long time to do. Starting the work is not the same as finishing it. Trying to finish it at 9:00PM will likely not work. Going to bed at 11:30PM with said assignment almost done will not lead to a spunky morning. Remember this morning?

3. When momma calmly wakes you up and tell you to take a quick 5 minute shower before school, please do not lock the door and hang out in there for 20 minutes. You will not be able to get to school on time. Your siblings will not be able to brush their teeth. Like, um... today.

4. When your sister is in your way and you are in a hurry, it is likely a better choice to use your words to get her to move, rather than using your hands. It makes her mad. Really mad. She doesn't think clearly when mad. Like this morning.

5. When your brother "gently" moves you out of the way, it is never a good idea to swing your coat around and whip him on the arm. This gets you in more trouble than it gets him in. If you don't do this, he will be in trouble for moving you. If you do decide to do this, you will be in trouble for bruising your brother. I believe we learned this lesson this morning. Right?

6. When your mother has made dinner for the family all week, baked a special meal for the all the teachers and cooked home-made chicken soup for an appreciation luncheon at school and then asks you what you did with the sandwich she made you for lunch, never, ever tell her you threw it out. This is upsetting to her. Maybe this was unclear... well, maybe it was til this morning.

7. When you momma tells you that the shirt you want to wear is too small. Don't take it from your little brother anyway. It fits him. It doesn't fit you. It will make your morning crazy because you will then have no shirt laid out to wear. You know, like this morning?

8. If school says to dress up like you are Australian, it does not mean that you really have Australian clothes. Because, we don't. No matter what you do, no matter what you wear, you will still likely look like a child from the suburbs... just one dressed in khaki shorts and a cowboy hat. The reason it doesn't look perfect is because, well... it isn't. That's okay. Don't then ask your mom for more safari clothes. I am not sure there really is a safari in Australia anyway. Just grab some binoculars and call it good. We should have gone over this all this morning.

9. When one child is crying because of bruised arm, one child is crying because of a time-out, one child is crying because his homework is undone and one child cannot figure out why everyone else is crying, it is not, under any circumstances, the right time to ask momma a question. She will not like it. She might raise her voice. She will use her angry eyes. Like this morning.

10. When the morning is crazy and everyone cries and some people get hurt and some work is still undone and the milk is left out and the eggs are not quite right and you throw out your sandwich and the house is loud and it all just feels bad, remember this: Momma loves you. I love you when you are good. I love you when you are confusing. I love you when you are naughty and frustrating and stubborn. I love you because you are mine. I love you because God gave you to me and He knows we need each other. I love you because you are you. Even this morning. Especially this morning. I love you.

Forever and Ever,

Your Momma.

Blessings on your day!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Dorm Life and Dinner: Chicken Tarragon Casserole

It was a decision that made all the sense in the world. As residence directors at a small, Christian college, Mark and I chose to open our home to our staff for dinner every Thursday night. College students value a home-cooked meal more than you might guess.

The first year, I did the cooking and Mark did the cleaning and the students just showed up to eat. One Thursday night, they were kind of testy with each other during the meal and I realized they needed to accomplish a task together.

"Tonight, we'd like you all to do the dishes." we announced.

Our well-loved students grumbled and groaned and then headed to the kitchen to clean. Within a few short minutes, laughter echoed, bubbles flew and our staff felt strangely united.

From that night on, for six amazing years, I cooked dinner every Thursday night and our residence assistants cleaned the mess. They each took turns and while they worked, Mark and I sat in the nearby living room listening to the fun they were having. It was a great time for us... two small children at our feet and 200+ freshman and sophomore students living all around. The RAs I cooked for every week came to feel like family and we loved, truly-deeply-loved, the time we spent with them.

I learned a lot as we listened in... and those lessons have impacted my parenting over the years. Watching the wonder that washes forth from a task that is happily shared taught me that there is value in having my children not only do chores, but share them. When Mark and I listen to others working together, the voices we hear now are those of our children at home. They are learning and we are remembering and all of it is good.

I have thought about this a lot this week. When I used to cook for college students, one of their favorite meals was Chicken Tarragon Casserole. This week, I have made 5 of these casseroles and given 4 away to my kid's teachers to help celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week at school. As I stood in the kitchen and made these meals, I was lost in thought and memory. As the casseroles baked and the aroma arose, I was brought back to those days at Trinity when our family was small and our community was huge. This dish was a favorite to us, as well... economical and filling, it was perfect for a crowd!

I would like to share the recipe with you... and encourage you all to hand the dishes job off to somebody else! Listen a while and let the soap fly and store up the memories for another day. Today might be kind of busy... but someday, the voices you store up now will really make you smile.

Blessings on your day!

Chicken Tarragon Casserole


2 cans (10-3/4 ounces each) condensed cream of chicken soup, undiluted
2 cups half-and-half cream
4 teaspoons dried tarragon
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 package (16 ounces) linguine or spaghetti, cooked and drained
6 cups cubed cooked chicken
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Paprika, optional


In a large bowl, combine soup, cream, tarragon and pepper. Stir in the linguine and chicken.

Transfer to an ungreased 4-qt. baking dish. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese and paprika if desired. The cheese will create a crusty topping that is an amazing addition to this dish.

Bake, uncovered, at 350° for 30 minutes or until heated through.

(We sometimes add frozen chopped spinach to this dish and/or mozzarella cheese.)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Is There Any Way to Help?

The beginning of May always brings it back... that difficult season, lived long ago, at this very time of year. Like it was yesterday, I remember it all. It had been a horrible couple weeks and I was depressed and discouraged and completely devoid of hope. It was 14 years ago this week. And it was bad.

We didn't have kids yet but the days were still quite full. I was teaching first grade, volunteering at Trinity Christian College and serving on committees at church. There were so many things going on in my world and the busyness of the days helped to distract from the hard times we were enduring.

From the outside in, we looked okay. Mark and I functioned and accomplished tasks and most people had no idea what has happening inside. But, it was one of those seasons that lasts too long and leaves you broken in its wake.

We were new to email then and a friend of mine and I had exchanged a couple emails about the hard season we were in. There were no details shared... just a prayer request, a hint into our sadness, carefully chosen words that didn't really tell the tale.

On a Monday night, I had to be at a local event that would attract a crowd. I didn't want to go. I didn't have it in me. But, I headed out anyway did what I said I would do. I would help.

As the event began, my email friend arrived, though neither of us knew the other would be there that night. I stood in the back of the auditorium, maintaining physical and emotional distance from the crowd. My friend came and stood beside me, and quietly took her seat.

The event began and I took a breath, checked my watch and settled in for a while. Within two hours, I could be home. Go back to bed. Sit in my sadness alone.

What happened next affected me more than I can explain. The effort was small, the love was great and the impact of it all brings tears to my eyes tonight, even all these many years later. What happened?

Sitting in that crowded hall, my dear friend reached over and took my hand. She gently took my hand.

She knew the day was hard. She knew the season was long. She didn't know the details of all that was happening but she knew I was weary and sad. And she made a decision to enter into it all with me. In reaching out, she lowered the guard she could hold on her own life and allowed the mess of mine to splash freely onto her.

For several minutes, she held my hand and I blinked back my tears. I was not alone. I was not alone. I was not alone.

When she let go, she asked me nothing. She did not fill the space with words. In the midst of a difficult time, words offered would have left wounds behind. There is selfishness present in some asking... an entitlement to own another's story that is far less important than the healing a simple act can offer up.

I learned a lot that night. A lot about how we live with our families and friends. We spend a lot of time protecting ourselves. We wall off the pain of others hoping that the distance will keep our small worlds safe. We talk too much, ask too much, demand too much and in doing so run pell mell over the fragile pieces of someone else's life.

But, my friends, this is a choice. What might it look like if we choose something else instead? Do you know someone who is hurting? Someone discouraged, depressed, disengaged? Do you wonder what you can do?

Fourteen years ago, I stood alone in the midst of a difficult path. But one Monday night, healing began. A simple act of grace and love changed the way I saw my life. A dear friend took my hand. She asked for nothing but offered much. With no words exchanged, I remembered what it felt like to be loved and noticed and embraced and seen. I was offered hope. The hand of a friend, gently in mine, reminded me how God loves His children on earth.

My favorite passage in the Bible says that God's ability and desire to suffer alongside us is new every morning. Every. Single. Morning. He comes in close and puts out His hand and loves us in a way that changes what we see. What an amazing example of love and sacrifice He has given us to follow as we seek to enfold one another.

Do you know someone in pain? Someone who needs, who hurts, who is lost? Do you wonder what you can do? What if the thing that is most needed today is your willingness to enter in? Can we do that? Can we come alongside and ask nothing at all and let ourselves connect to what breaks someone else? The risk is great to our daily lives... but the blessing we offer is nothing less than Divine.

Blessings on your day.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Simple Woman's Daybook--May 4, 2010

If you blog, you can do this, too. C'mon, you can do it! Join in the fun!

Outside my window... it is cloudy and calm. A strange weather day... warm enough to have the windows open but cool enough to want to wear long pants. I am hoping it brightens up a bit.

I am thinking... about blogs for the rest of the week, about our busy schedule of games and practices, about my kids at school--learning and doing away from me. I miss them today.

I am thankful for... the sound of birds singing outside, a few hours of quiet to get ready for the night.

From the kitchen... I am making dinner for the kids teachers this week so I am mentally making a list of what I need to make 4 Chicken Tarragon Casseroles.

I am wearing... a dark gray t-shirt and black yoga pants. I just kicked off my Croc flip flops.

I am creating... Four Chicken Tarragon Casseroles... and a bit of peace for myself after a really hectic morning.

I am dreaming... of summer. Of camping. Of spending time with my family apart from the craziness of the rest of our life. I am ready for some long and peaceful days... just a month to go.

I am going... to take Noah to the orthodontist this morning. I will pick him up from school and run him over there. We will have lunch together and then I will bring him back to school. I am looking forward to a bit of time with my favorite 13 year old.

I am reading... blogs. Have you come across Blog Frog yet? What a great way to find other blogs you might enjoy.

I am hoping... that my house magically cleans itself. :) The mess is driving me nuts.

I am hearing... birds singing, a gentle breeze blowing the leaves, the dog's nails on the kitchen floor, the hum of the fan on my laptop.

Around the house... There is laundry unfolded, socks laying about, the smell of eggs and toast in the air and Oprah on TV. (In Chicago, she comes on at 9AM.)

One of my favorite things... coffee. I have a warm cup next to me now, had an iced coffee yesterday while watching Elizabeth at Gymnastics, a cup from Dunkin' at Noah's last baseball game. I love it... I really do.

A few plans for the rest of the week... cook for the teachers, look up fix and freeze meals for next year's supper swap, do a better job of keeping up with the blog, start planning for the garden.

What about you? :)

Blessings on your day!

Looking for more like this?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Worth It All, Even In May

Has it begun for you? For us, the insanity of May is in full swing, and it's only the third of the month! Before I had school-aged children, I believed that the craziest time of the year was found in dreamy December. I was wrong… horribly, horribly wrong.

While the holidays bring fun and festivities, May manages to fill our days with a wide variety of activities and experiences… all with well-defined deadlines. In the midst of wrapping up the school year, we find ourselves juggling soccer and baseball and yard work and fatigue. With the insanity of these days, uniforms go missing, schedules get mixed up and life gets fuller than we had intended it to be. It's easy to become overwhelmed and end up hating the whole. Something about that doesn't sit well with me…

A couple of years ago, I found myself sitting at a late night baseball game on a lot not far from my house. Mark had the younger kids and I was alone. I remember feeling scattered and tired and distracted. Yet, as Noah played his game, I sat comfortably in my bag chair, facing the sunset. Balls were hit and caught and missed and all of it played out on the backdrop of the spring sky at dusk. I remember taking a deep breath and watching a small flock of birds soar skyward as I sat and watched my boy. It was beautiful… a calm and perfect moment that is as clear in my head today as if it had happened just tonight.

Perspective… that whole night changed because the way I saw it was gently altered by the gift of my surroundings. I could have missed the sunset. I could have missed the birds. I could have overlooked the way Noah looked, small and skinny, in a uniform two sizes bigger than he. But if I had… the wonder of who he is tonight might be missed as well.

May is horribly busy. We have gymnastics and science club and baseball and soccer and a musical and a play and track practices…. And, I am tired just thinking it through. But this month, I want to try to overlook the list in favor of watching the life. I want to enjoy the slow, plodding pace of Josiah and Elizabeth's baseball games. I want to settle into my seat and set down my phone while Noah and Benjamin head on up to bat. I want to realize that eating a hot dog out of a paper wrapper, with those I love best beside me, can make another hum-drum night at the ball field a family event.

Because really, what am I missing? A quiet night at home? Another night of TV? None of that really matters. But, when my sweet little one is handed the game ball and our family erupts in genuine praise, we are building a memory that all of us can share. One of these days, not that long from now, I will have plenty of time to rest. I will sit at home while they begin their lives and then I will call it to mind. It was a cool, spring evening and we were all there… the sun was setting and the air was quiet… there were birds in the sky and family close by and my baby swung the bat! One of these days, not that long from now, when quiet nights are all I have… that memory will fall upon me. And I will smile.

Because it's worth it, after all.

Blessings on your day.