Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Thinking, Playing, Reading

That August and September are beautiful months, my favorites, but are the months of mothering sentimentality and nostalgia.  Something about the way the air feels, the crunchy leaves, the chillier mornings, the beginning of change, and the bright bright sun just breed a little bit of something that always makes me feel contented and uneasy at the same time.

This big soccer net was begged for at the beginning of summer with the promise it would be used daily and I have to say it was worth it and they really keep their promise.

The sweetest little sticker books ever-on a certain little girl's birthday list.  I spotted a cute group of girls with these at a swim meet this summer and had to write down the title and brand.  (So fun buying for a little girl because I just really want it for myself.)

At our bedsides:

I loved this book-it's one of those books that I will remember forever.  Andie has a clear, easy to read writing style, and just a loving, tender, truthful voice.  Such honesty and self-examination and no way can you walk away from this book without loving her and loving her story.  

(10 year old boy's favorite-he sports figures being the most read.) 

And my fourteen year old's bed time fun? (Didn't get it from me.)

Thursday, August 9, 2018

What I Know Now

I think I should have a regularly scheduled post of things I discovered after 25 years of parenting that I wished I had been enlightened with long ago, or had been more self-assured and passionate about doing, or had learned from friends and thought "that's genius, why am I not doing this".  Things I wish I had done better right from the start.

Here is one of them:  If your children are capable of doing something themselves than they should be doing it themselves.

Maybe not ALL the time but most of the time.  Enough to be efficient and successful at it.  Enough that we parents are not work horses and maids, but instead get to talk after dinner, relax, enjoy a meal made for us or cleaned up after us, a moderately clean and organized house, and not run on empty all the time or constantly hire things out.  Enough that we should be asking every time we are doing something, who else here is capable of this?

Imagine all the chores and duties that would be off our plates if we implemented this.  It's really an art, this delegation and very very young children can be taught to do many many things.  All one has to do is read a history book to know that children were watching siblings, cooking meals, baking, walking long distances to fetch water or food, hunting, working in factories, running errands, washing clothes, and on and on and on.

I get that sometimes it is easier to do things ourselves.  And I don't think children will be crippled if they can't be completely self-sufficient at a certain age.

But why not enjoy this contribution to our household, so, well, parenting is more enjoyable?  And how awesome that it benefits both them AND us, and the benefits are probably far greater for them than us.  Self-esteem is built, not by words, but by accomplishments and feeling self-sufficient and capable.  Life skills!

I know there are many many way too complicated chore systems, but it does NOT have to be complicated.  It can be a list on the fridge, a daily and weekly checklist, in addition to just asking at the moment.  There are tons of options but the system doesn't matter as much as the fact that they are doing things.

How to do it:

1. Write down everything that needs to be done daily, weekly or monthly in the home, and then try to delegate as much as possible to the children.  They can keep a whole house clean-they live in it for free, why not?  They can learn to take care of their things, their bodies, their clothes, their food as soon as they are capable, and us mothers have a huge tendency to underestimate their capabilities.

2. Teach them at a young age HOW to do everything.  Whether it's making their beds, cleaning a toilet, making cookies, or a quick breakfast, packing their lunches, vacuuming and mopping, cutting the lawn, picking weeds, stripping their beds down and remaking, putting clothes away, etc.  We need to spend time upfront to teach and practice.  The time and patience this takes will pay off incredibly in saved time for us.

3. Be consistent and firm.  Don't feel guilty.  I promise you once they get older you will be thanking your lucky stars you did this, even if it's met with some resistance.

4. Be positive and encouraging and complementary even if there needs to be correction or do-overs.

5. Create habits-which does have everything to do with consistency and when they are young a picture chart might come in handy.  Make the bed, empty the dishwasher, load the dishwasher after dinner, always bring your plate to the sink, wipe off the sink, put shoes away.  Habits are hard to break and easier to enforce and the younger they begin to learn habits the smoother the household runs.

Also, busyness is not an excuse.  As my kids got older their extra-curricular and outside job schedule in addition to studying gave them very little time at home, and although I think it's okay to slack off a little, if a teen has time to spend on their phone, or go out, they have time to keep their rooms cleaned and wipe down a bathroom and care for their things.  That's called learning to "adult"-time management skills and priorities are essential to life.  And really, being clean takes minutes, not hours, if a system is in place.

Some practical tips:

Initial organization done by us makes it easier for kids to know where things are kept and where they are put away.  It does not have to be Pinteresty it just has to be obvious. (A basket where the toys go, and drawers with labels or pictures, etc.) . Making everything easy to reach, and obvious and time-saving is the key.

-Clorox wipes (the extra strong ones work well to wipe down showers and tubs), Windex wipes, Pledge wipes, and Swiffers, make everything easier and less complicated to clean.  I keep the wipes in every bathroom.  Here is my laundry system that I use.

-This cookbook is fantastic-my mom gave this to Andrew as a gift and he loved it and he really is one of our best cooks.

-This panini maker has been a genius find for me because the kids can make hot sandwiches and quesadilla's for themselves with very little clean up (and it somehow seems much safer than a pan and a stove top.)

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Gains and Losses

(this little guy is off to college)

I am gearing up emotionally for a couple weeks of big transitions and that dreaded word: change.  School is starting soon and for the first time in decades I will have no little ones home during the day (there was a brief time for four months when I was pregnant with Patrick, and Andrew was in preschool that I was home alone for a couple hours-I went out and bought a puppy go figure!)

We will also only have three children home as my third goes off to college.  I helped moved my oldest to his own apartment in Washington DC-no roommates finally and he is thrilled to be on his own, working hard at a job he loves and meeting new people in a big city.  Our nest gets smaller.  I don't dare take out a leaf in the kitchen table-it just seems like I bought that big long table anyways, so we could all fit, with room for a high chair.  Now, like a boat listing, we will weigh heavy on one end.

This is when I am told, I start thinking about all the things that are just for me.  Maybe a part-time job, volunteering, hobbies, exercise classes, time to cook in peace, to get the worn house in shape and to heal from a health crisis-what makes my soul sing?  That is a wonderful question to be able to ask. What an opportunity to have this time and so many choices.  We worked hard for it, having the gift of being home full-time all those years, giving 24/7, but now the days stretch before me, no little ones to tend to-that has always been by soul's favorite familiar song.  I anticipate a too-quiet house, toys put away, no little voices and pitter-patters.

I am so anxious about the first day of everyone back to school, tears fill my eyes thinking about it. I know that transitions are difficult until the new normal settles.  If I don't gloss the past with sentimentality (something I have a tendency to do), some of those years I couldn't wait for the routine of school to start, for a little more structure to our days, and a little more calmness-some days stretched me to my breaking points, some made me wish for just a moment alone in the bathroom for God's sake.  But I gave them my all, and I wouldn't trade a thing for that blessed opportunity to share my days no matter what they ended up like.  Now the season of little ones home are gone-they seem to have flown by, just like all those old ladies said they would.

Embracing change is the key to enjoying life, especially at my age.  I am going to try hard to look at all the gains I will be experiencing and not the losses, because there are so many gains.  I am going to focus on how grateful I was to experience decades of at-home mothering of littles.  I attended a beautiful funeral this summer and one of the gentleman's famous words were "How lucky we are to feel this way."  Think of how many of life's moments this applies to-loss, and sorrow, grief and exhaustion and of course all the good moments too.

How lucky am I to feel a loss because that means I truly appreciated and adored a long season of life.  How lucky I am to feel grief because that means I truly loved my time with my children with every part of myself.  How lucky I am to feel discontentment because that means I once felt very content. And, more so than ever, how lucky I am to be alive, to celebrate a new beginning.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Encouragement For The Week

Wherever God has put you, 
that is your vocation.
It is not what we do,
but how much love we put into it.

Mother Theresa

Friday, July 20, 2018

Ordinary Days

We bought this swing for our big tree in the back and it has been a huge hit.

A family trip to the mountains-these two love each other (that does not mean they don't drive each other crazy sometimes).  When Patrick left for camp Janey didn't know what to do.

"Matchies" cousins.  (I found the best deal on bows-lots of them-Janey will only wear pony tails now so they work out perfectly.)

I know NO ONE wants to see school supplies out in July but I couldn't resist a few for myself because look at these prints!  They scream summer all year long so I bought a whole bunch of them to last me through till next year. 

Abbey and I shot a wedding together-we were both so nervous but it ended up being so much fun and we worked well together-we really had a blast.  It was a 10 hour day for me (which is still very tiring darnit) and a 12 hour day for her but it was really cool for me to feel "alive" again artistically.   I wish I could post more pictures but the bride must see them first. :) . The cathedral photos are amazing. And I have to say the couple was so sweet and their families couldn't have been nicer.

Expert lightning bug catcher.  

Summer days are the best.  I wish they could last forever.  I've been reading up a storm and have more books to post soon.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Toddler Tips: The Question Game

This isn't just for older toddlers, but bored, or whiny, waiting-in-line, or car riding children of all ages (and I mean all-I've asked these of teenagers.)  It does two things-distracts, and also shows them that we are so interested in what they think and like and how their minds work.

It's so simple it's silly but I was reminded of this game on vacation when it was used with a whiny to-be-kindergartener that couldn't walk another step on a long hike back up a mountain.  We also play this at night when I don't feel like reading a book-they beg for it!

It's just a long bunch of quick simple questions-as long as you need it to be.

It started out being called "the liking game" and then another version was called "would you rather", and another version "guess who". 

What would you rather have - a chocolate bar or Skittles?
Would you rather have -spaghetti and meatballs or a hamburger?
What do you like better-orange or blue?
What do you like better-chocolate or vanilla?
What do you like better-Halloween or Christmas?
Would you rather live in a big city or the country when you grow up?
Do you like the beach or the mountains?
Would you rather be stuck on a boat or an elevator?
Would you rather hold a cock roach or a snake?

The "guess who game" is one little hint at a time about family members and close friends until they guess who it is.  We also do this with fairy tales, stories, and princesses that the younger kids are familiar with.  It cracks us up how quickly they get these.  Shows you how much they really do pay attention!

The possibilities are endless and kids LOVE this really-and can play for hours.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Another Good Book

I couldn't put this book down-I love memoirs in the first place but this one reminds me a whole bunch of Glass Castle -it's that good.  (It also reminds me of North of Normal and The Distance Between Us.)  

On another note, I hope you all were able to take advantage of strawberry season because we sure did.  We ate about 12 quarts of those babies.  We are now consuming sweet cherries at the same rate.

"All in all, it was a never to be forgotten summer — one of those summers which come seldom into any life, but leave a rich heritage of beautiful memories in their going — one of those summers which, in a fortunate combination of delightful weather, delightful friends and delightful doing, come as near to perfection as anything can come in this world."
L.M. Montgomery

Saturday, June 9, 2018

A Little Update and Some Books

(tortured with patio furniture shopping)

It's summer!  After the longest winter of my life I feel like my body can't repair itself fast enough  with good fresh fruit and vegetables, and sunshine and warmth and love.

I am on the mend but much more importantly cancer-free and looking forward to the gains I am making in getting my ordinary days back-a "new normal"-sort of like after we have babies and we know nothing will really be the same again but soon enough the discomfort of getting used to change feels ordinary.  I've realized that I am not very good at "doing change"-whether it's what cancer does to a person, or children leaving the nest.  I am hoping to get better at embracing it all, knowing the constant is the family that we have created and the home that we all love, but as you all know, a mother's life requires that we embrace the ebbs and flows.

I hope and pray and am so eager to leave the nightmare of cancer behind me.  It really feels like a new world and I don't know if I am ready to talk about it all yet or ever.  I just want to hold my family close and soak up the sunshine and lazy days of summer with my husband and children next to me.

Thank you so so much for all your lovely comments, emails and prayers, they mean so much to me.

I've read a few good books I wanted to share-these are light summer reads (it is hard for me to concentrate on anything more-I have to grow some new brain cells!) that have happy endings.  That's what suits me right now, and if you have any suggestions I would love to hear them.

I went on a Meg Mitchell Moore kick-I love how she weaves normal family life and circumstances into her writing.

Grown children come home unexpectedly, some with children in tow, and the parents find their empty nest full once more-I love this because parenting never really ends-and home is a place for refuge.
(I've read this a couple or more years ago but re-read it again.)

A high school girl succumbs to the pressure and competition of being admitted to an Ivy League college, and her family life unravels.

When her father is injured in a boating accident, his daughter returns to a life she left long ago, replaced by busy motherhood and "country club" existence.

This is one of those very very original books, where you think the author has to be a creative genius.
It's about a very odd woman, who figures out 'life' while eventually dealing with horrors of her past.
It's sad but funny and warm and uplifting and I couldn't put it down.  

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Ordinary Days I Miss You

Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are.
Let me learn from you, love you, treasure you, before you depart.
Let me not pass you by in quest for some rare and perfect tomorrow.
-Mary Jean Iron-

I just wanted to give an update-I didn't ever intend to abruptly stop blogging but I felt in my heart it was time.  I don't know that I have anything else to say, and I feel like God might be calling me in other directions but now is not the time to make that decision.  Thank you so much for all your kind emails and comments over the years and I have loved the friendships that have developed (kindred spirits!) through this avenue.

But also why I've been absent-in October I found a lump in my breast quite accidentally.  I never did self-breast exams because I thought since I had no risk factors to speak of, that was one cross I wouldn't have to bear in my life.  But I found a lump one day-and found out soon afterwards that it was cancer.  A rare kind of aggressive breast cancer (triple negative) that spreads and grows quickly.  I had a "good" mammogram in January but the lump was large enough to be obvious by October.  I just finished 16 rounds of hard core chemo and will follow up with a couple surgeries and hope to avoid radiation but that will be determined later.  And then I will continue to do a lot of praying and deep breaths and crying and doctor appointments and pray pray pray that it doesn't come back.  Because I really love life.

I meant to write this post several times but just couldn't.  I still don't know if I am doing the right thing by sharing it since it seems like a very very personal private journey.  After a cancer diagnosis like this, you feel like cancer takes over your entire life.  And it does really.  And I can't tell you how many times I have said, "I want my life back.  I don't even remember who I am and what my routine was like."  Many times I just don't want to talk about it.  The mirror reminds me every day.  (Never complain about your hair!  Hair is wonderful and keeps you warm. :)

Here are a few things I have learned and would like to share:

1. My breast surgeon told me that the week I was diagnosed she had two other women around my age (48) in the office with  same "rare" diagnosis as me-NO risk factors to speak of, healthy fit women who "did everything right". No one gets a free pass from breast cancer. Check your breasts every month.  Go to THE BEST hospital with the best equipment every time you need a mammogram.

2. If you feel off in any way with your health do not neglect finding out why.  I had been exhausted for close to a year or more and should have taken more time to find out why.  Maybe it had nothing to do with cancer, but maybe it did.  Don't give up on getting answers even if it is hard to find the time to do so.

3. Treasure your days.  You never know how life will change.  Slow down.  REALLY slow down. Although I have talked endlessly about doing that on this blog, I was a hypocrite in ways, because I was a bundle of energy and stress trying to do too much sometimes even if just for my own family.  I have realized I process stress terribly.  I hold it all inside and have worried way way too much about things.  Don't do that.  Don't be strong all the time.  It is ok and good to cry.  It is ok to say "I am struggling with life" to your husband, your friends, or a therapist, and take time for yourself and to pray and journal and be calm.  If you struggle with anxiety, get help.  Take care of yourself. Totally reject the culture of perfectionism, competitiveness, and comparison and illusion that is so easy to find everywhere today. Get enough sleep.  Take walks.  Say no.  Or if whatever it is helps calm and center you say yes.  Grow closer to God.  Build your faith.  Take time to pray every day.   

4. Work hard to find gifts in struggles.  God Almighty, this is so difficult when you are in the middle of crap.  Really it is and some days I just couldn't (and can't).   Sometimes I would set a timer to force myself out of bed.  I have been lower than I ever have experienced in my life.  I have seen and experienced a whole other level of suffering and hope and pain and strength in that damn chemo room.  Often I have heard how strong I am-this is what you say to people facing cancer.  But I have always been uncomfortable with that, although I know it is a form of encouragement and I would say the same thing.  Let me tell you,  I have seen strength through this experience from my fellow companions in the journey through cancer.  But what does not being strong look like?  It's ok to cry your heart out, and say you can't do it (with whatever you are facing) and don't want to and be mad and angry and sometimes hopeless and desperate.

I  couldn't go to church because of low immunity and instead found a few priest's homilies on podcasts and one quote I keep on my phone from Father Ricardo (or maybe it was Father Hudgins) is, "Find meaning in suffering.  Do you see what the Lord is up to?  The greater the suffering we endure the more beautiful plan He is unfolding before us.  See it, know it, believe it."  I have read that 1000 times.  When I look back on other struggles in my life, incredible growth comes through suffering, even though it was always always hard to believe that in the thick of it.  I also think as silly as this is, of Dori from Nemo-"Just keep swimming, just keep swimming."  It reminds me to just keep walking through the pain and suffering, keep praying for strength through the journey.  I have changed and grown so so much in the last six months, even though I sometimes fought against it and wished it away (and still do!) I know I have learned too many things to even list.

5. What is the most important thing in life?  Your relationships with people around you.  First with God, and then with your family and your friends.  I can't even tell you how grateful I am for the undying love and dedication I have experienced through this journey from my husband, my children, my friends and extended family and even strangers.  It has been an incredible experience that way-I have felt like I have moved up to a whole other plane of love-a perfect example of growth through struggles.