Friday, April 7, 2017

Thinking, Playing, Reading

I loved this article that Melissa linked to on her site.  I have been thinking a bunch about college and college prep lately now that I have had one graduate, one finishing her second year and one starting the college visit/application/testing process.

I realize that a lot of what we parents worry about and think has to happen before college, and what is going to happen during college isn't really reality.  There are checklists of course of things that the kids need for dorms, and things they must be able to do (laundry) but in the grand scheme of life, these are inconsequential.  For instance, my oldest didn't know how to do laundry when we started college-I'm not sure Abbey did either-but I knew they could figure that out on their own by asking someone, or reading the actual dials.  People make such a big deal out of the things that don't matter, I guess, is my point.  So talking to people, being confident enough and friendly enough to say, "Hey can you help me with this", or just smart enough to figure things out on their own is helpful.  And it is different today than when we were in college, because mom was not a quick text away.  So that is enough learning opportunity-as parents we need to be able to balance ourselves when it comes to promoting independence with back-up support-that's so important.

I will say this for sure-college is about growth, huge growth, when it comes to learning about their peers and living with others.  It's about learning to manage time, and learning how to make good personal decisions.  I've talked a lot with different parents and what they've heard from their college kids.  Things are definitely scarier in terms of bad decision that kids can make.  I can use this is one example-when I went to college I saw people smoking marijuana one time, and the only alcohol that was present was wine coolers, and cheap beer.  Yes, damage could be done with that type of alcohol, but how much damage?  As much damage as straight vodka?  From what I have heard, hard liquor and marijuana and other drugs aren't as scarce as they were back in my time.  I've heard and read many stories about alcohol poisoning, something I never heard about when I was in college. Recently a beautiful girl was found dead at a campus in my state from alcohol poisoning-a freshman with a wonderful future ahead of her.  And the next weekend at her campus dozens of kids were in the ER for alcohol poisoning-I don't think this is rare anymore on weekends across our country.  (This is a whole other subject-when I was in college we were all poor enough to make our $ stretch like crazy just for meals-so if anyone was buying alcohol it was cheap-where are these kids getting the funds to buy all this? Parents.)

These are the things that we parents need to talk about more than anything-'not being an idiot' is what I call this talk.  Knowing how to still have fun and not drink or if you choose to do so (and if you are under 21 you are breaking the law)-well, don't be an idiot. The consequences of lower inhibitions from alcohol etc. is all on topic.  I find the way so far that has worked best is using real life examples, and discussing these-why would someone do this or that, the pain that was caused to others from this choice, the consequences of the action and how that affected that person's life forever, and just treating your own brain and body with respect.

On the chance that I am scaring someone, it does seem to me that one thing that has changed-peer pressure isn't too much of a thing anymore.  That it's not "cool" to pressure peers to do things or make them feel like the odd one out.  This is a good change, isn't it?  Because I definitely felt that in high school and college.  Maybe that also has to do with the friends kids keep.

The personal growth in college can be huge-but it ebbs and flows for sure.  Sometimes I have thought-Alleluia! and other times I have felt like one step up, two steps back in terms of management skills, and independence.  For example, I found that my kids became worse at some things-here they had to be more independent at making their own meals at different times so if they needed a lunch or breakfast and I was busy or driving someone somewhere they fixed their own.  In college, assuming they are living in a dorm, they now visit a cafeteria with a ton of different options all made and waiting (and paid) for them at any time of day.

There is a good argument too, that the concept of college life-this age group of kids living together in dorms etc., is an absolutely crazy invention-or what it has turned into-the culture of college- vs what "college" really was, is crazy.  And I could agree with that also.  These are still kids without full brain development.  And college is really about learning stuff.  That has nothing to do with sports, Greek life, dorms and parties.

These are just my thoughts-I am NO expert, maybe by the time Patrick gets through college I will be more confident in what I know about college prep and maturation during this time.  I think by then I will have hit every college-my oldest's experience at a small private school has been different in ways from my daughter's experience at a huge state university.  And knowing our children, what their strengths and stressors are-and having those good conversations with them-that is most important.

I think if I had read that list that I linked to I would have panicked in some ways-are they ready, do they have this all mastered? I think we have to realize that mastering all these skills continues into the college years.  There is much learned from experience and trial and error and mistakes and confidence is gained from this-just like the way we are still learning about life now.

On to fun things:

Janey is so cute right now with her imagination-I spy often and hear her playing mommy or school or shop lady or waitress.

She loves envelopes and stationary and little pads of paper.  This is so easy to buy cheap at the grocery store.  She has a wallet and a few purses.  (I have to find her a waitress pad!)

She is really really into playing with her borrowed Fisher Price doll house (thank you Aunt Julie!). Everyday she has it all spread out and every girl and boy and mom and dad named and they go on adventures every day.  Hours and hours.

I bought her this book after reading some reviews on a home school site and we love it.  It has a little duck hidden on every page-we have had a few other books like this over the years (this one is geared toward younger kids) and my kids have always just loved finding the hidden item. There are also so many opportunities to count the apples or the chicks etc.  We read it at least once a day.

Patrick and I are still working on Big Red.  That boy and his dogs.

Andrew is reading this book and really liking it.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Ordinary Days-Sunshine and Books on the Beach

We were lucky enough to take off for a sort of last-minute vacation to Hilton Head-we haven't visited in about 9 or 10 years and I missed that place!  We stayed in the condo complex we have stayed in the last few times, Shorewood, because it's on the beach, close to the little shops and the pool is heated. I love Hilton Head because we can ride bikes on the beach when the tide is out and we took some long long long bike rides.  We had gorgeous weather, sunshine every day and it was just perfect.  PLUS we had only four kids in our minivan, leaving the older two behind (work and school) and there was SO much room.  Which resulted in very little complaining, and no one punching each other or left on the side of the road (well, we've never had that, not that I haven't been tempted.)

This is the first vacation in 22 years that I've been able to read books on the beach or at the pool.  I've dreamt of this moment!  And I read five to make up for those two decades.  I brought two, one of which I was halfway finished, and then Andrew let me borrow his Kindle because I was desperate, which I am forever grateful.  I am also forever grateful to Jeff who played with the kids every single minute and went to the grocery store and made every meal.  Janey was a pool girl this vacation and she floated and played for hours upon hours in the pool while I sat by the side and read and the boys played at the beach.  It was SO nice.  As much as I loved seeing all the beautiful pregnant moms and sweet little babies and toddlers, I must say I enjoyed immensely having a little less intense time at the beach.  

Sand burials.

The boys went fishing a few days and saw quite a few alligators and came home with wild tales of stolen fish and scary moments.

Greg Russell, a Hilton Head tradition.  (That is not him up there, he hasn't arrived yet in this pic.) Janey finally got up the nerve to sit on stage and listen to him play his guitar and sing funny songs, and a few songs in she was clapping along and having a great time.

Junk food galore, another tradition.  I'm on a massive detox.  Jeff loves Publix and thankfully there was one a few miles away.  I can't even tell you how many loaves of White Mountain bread we went through but it was more white bread than any family should eat in a single week.  And we've also discovered Publix generic ice cream and I am thankful we do not have a Publix up north here or I'd be in big trouble.

Janey brought down her own romance novel found in the condo and read it to us.  The story sounded a lot like Mary Poppins.

BOOKS!!!  Thank you for all your book recommends last post-I can't wait to start on my list.

This is a short, sweet, uplifting read perfect for the beach.  I ADORED Mrs. Brown, everything about her-her small town ways and regimented life and her unrelenting kindness.  

This was a great, LONG, but great book about a farmer who takes in two wayward girls and whose life is changed forever by it.  The prose is beautiful, Amanda Coplin is one of those gifted writers who conveys emotion in a beautiful way.

I didn't read this, Andrew (13) did and LOVED IT.  He told me this was the first time that he couldn't wait to read a book, instead of find something else to do, (and he is a great reader!) and that he now loves non-fiction-something he didn't think he would like.  (I get frustrated with all the sci-fi and fantasy for boys this age so I was thrilled to hear this.)

I loved this book-it's a WWII love story between a girl and a boy who were raised as siblings, one of them  Jewish, one Catholic.  There was a lot of factual information worked into the book that I didn't know-how many Catholics sheltered Jews in their homes and in convents.  I couldn't put this one down.

This was such a good book.  A Scotland girl finds herself living with a family on a farm during the Dust Bowl, hired as a school teacher-she falls in love and a family is torn apart.

Back to routine, and lunches and soccer practice and an incredibly busy April...and lots of rain. But it was so nice to get away and recharge and remember what sun feels like.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Ordinary Days-March Madness and More Books

Ugh there is something about snow in March that can't be anything but annoying. It's a test of will and patience and endurance is what it is.  But a no-school snow day was a nice little reward at the same time.

Jeff surprised the two boys who could go with a DC trip to the Big Ten tournament. And what a tournament it was!  I am so so happy for my uncle.  I really feel he deserves this just on the basis of what a good person he is, and what a leader he is to those college guys and how darn humble he is and how hard he works too.  I'm so happy also, for Andrew and Patrick who will never forget witnessing in person this win.  They all stayed with Joe my brother and Karen his wife who were perfect hosts.

I don't know how many time I print out these brackets every year, but it feels like a lot. (I don't know what that money on the table has to do with it but there must be some sort of illegal betting going down.)

Jeff took Abbey on a ski trip. This is his mocking selfie pose, just as attractive as it is on everyone.

Janey and I found this little purse at a resale shop, almost brand new and she know has another bag to add to her bag lady collection.  She is such a sweetheart, such a good easy little girl.  I love my days with her.

I've been doing some really really heavy reading lately.   They were difficult reads-not because of the style of writing-I read them within days, but because of the content.  Etched in Sand is about a women who survived a terrible childhood and escaped to leave a successful life-bearing scars of course.  

An invisible thread is about a woman with a successful career in NYC, who one day walked by a boy panhandling, but turned around to connect with him, an action that would change both their lives immensely.  Another story of child abuse and neglect and a light on the other side.

It was interesting to read the last three books together-Hillbilly Elegy and these two.  They are all similar in the sense that they describe difficult childhood situations and a way out.  Children's Services-always feared, even within circumstances of starvation and physical abuse (the one case of sexual abuse was actually a foster situation), drug abuse at the core of all three stories, either just one little action (varying widely in terms of personal investment in all three stories) of a person 'outside' who cared enough making a huge difference in these kid's lives.  It all works up to some sort of luck/fate/education intertwined with a strong spirit at the helm-who survives and who doesn't.  It is all heartbreaking and terribly frustrating and shouldn't ever happen.  Drug addiction does terrible terrible things to families for generations and generations.  It is truly the devil's magic elixir it seems-it destroys a person and then shreds their children apart. 

I really think it's important, as hard as it is, to read and listen to first-person accounts of human experience.  I have been thinking lately (and I'm sure I am guilty of it also) of how today so often one can easily spout off about solutions and causes to social problem but what do we really know if it until we really hear the human experiences.  That's listening more than talking.  That's real life experience more than statistics and theories. It has NOTHING to do with politics thank the Lord, we need no more of that today.

"I do not agree with the big way of doing things.  To us, what matters is an individual. To get to love a person, we must come in close contact with him. If we wait till we get numbers, then we will be lost in the numbers, and we will never be able to show that love and respect for the person. "  Mother Teresa

I welcome any book suggestions!  Have you read anything great lately? 

Saturday, March 11, 2017

A Great Talk

This talk by Meg Meeker is incredibly excellent.  I think I am going to listen to it once a month just for the encouragement and reminders.  (Press the little grey circle thing in front of title when you get to the page.)  If you are not Catholic, I really believe this talk is universal so don't let that sway you. It's about an hour I believe-I listened to it during one long long walk.

Dr. Meeker wrote five books, I've read three of them.  They are excellent also and I would highly recommend them.

(Sounds very interesting as she mentions this is in the speech.)

(I haven't read but it's on order.)

Friday, March 3, 2017

Spring Time Books-Our Favorites, and Some Boy Books

A few Spring books we are loving now:

A little baby bunny can't figure out what "spring" is and looks all over for it, until he discovers it is all around him.
This is a reprint of a vintage book.

This is my favorite childhood book.  Hamilton thinks it's spring only to fall asleep under an apple tree that is losing it's petals, only to awaken to what he believes is snow.  (What a nightmare!:)

The ever favorite-this is the board book, so it's good for little ones.  My kids ALL loved Peter Rabbit.

Janey adores this story of two little ducklings who don't listen to Mama duck and get themselves lost. I love the soft watercolor artwork.

And my favorite Spring Golden Books:

Another childhood favorite of mine. (I loved all Garth Williams illustrations and still do.)

If we read about it, it will come! :)

Andrew (13) is reading The Fellowship of the Ring.  He was having a book crisis last week (meaning no book ideas) and I found a great list, and this was on it. (I can't say enough about this list-even the picture books are great!) Now he has a whole Lord of the Rings series to go, with a great list to reference when he finishes with all of them.

I am reading Patrick (and Janey) Little House in the Big Woods.  I plan to mix it up after that is over with Huck Finn.

Patrick and I went on a dog book adventure this winter and it was great.  It started last year when we read our all time favorite Where The Red Fern Grows.  Then we watched the movie. (The movie is old but great.)  

After that we read Old Yeller-so so good.  We LOVED it almost as much as Red Fern.  We watched the Old Yeller movie-old film but again good.

Next up-Shiloh. Another great one.  The move is newer, which means it's just ok, but we still enjoyed it.

For Christmas Patrick received The Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds.  Jeff and I picked it up as a last minute after thought.  It was a HUGE HIT.  All the kids spent a bunch of time with this book.  Patrick and his BF made a huge list of dogs they wanted in order.  It's a big coffee table book and tells a little about each dog with nice photos.  This is for sure a keeper and will be in our book basket in the living room forever.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Ordinary Days & Things I Have Learned (And Re-learn Sometimes Too) & A Great Book

February is almost over, and we are heading into spring!  We've had a few very warm days and they have been heavenly-a reminder that we won't be stuck in cold dark gray depressing days for long. The little bursts of warmth and sunshine really helped me escape from a February rut.  I have my Lenten resolutions all ready to go and a new cleaning routine (I am doing 30 mins of general house cleaning, and 30 minutes of deep cleaning one room every day for spring and it is working lovely-if I skip days-and I do-I know eventually it will be finished).

We bought a new computer-a Mac-and that has taken some getting used to but I do love it. I was so nervous about it-my oldest kids were laughing at me-but I was just really nervous.  I fear two things-making a mistake and losing all our family pics, and making a mistake and spending four hours talking to someone I can't understand halfway around the world.  The latter has really happened long ago, the first one never (as I type that my heart flutters, knock on wood.)

The change forced me to through my entire photo library which was ridiculously full of meaningless photos.  I more than halved the entire library and it is so nice and organized and I am thrilled.

The change also has me thinking of new ways to scrapbook-I think I might use chatbooks instead of printing photo collages and just stick a little book in the big scrapbook every year or so, along with a few old-fashioned paper pages.  I've been looking for a way to cut down the time AND to stay on top of each event as it happens-adding captions as I remember them in my old mind-not when I am rushing to catch up and forgetting everything, and I think this is my answer for the three youngest kids.  It had been feeling like a duty and now I feel happy about it.



 She found her old carrier that she spent days and days in and it sure brought back memories.
(We also have a new smile for photos as you can see.:)

Abbey visited and we both couldn't get Valentines chocolate hearts off our mind, and so we sat in the car outside of Rite Aid after our purchase and split each chocolate.

Janey was so so happy.  She misses Abbey so much.  
As a side note, I love rides back and forth to college.  It's the best time to talk and we sure do about everything under the sun.  I've said it before but the drop off never ever gets easier. 

On one of the nice warmer days, Patrick was able to go fishing with his BF and this is second only to basketball on things that make Patrick happy.

On one of my "escape from my rut" contemplations I decided that I needed to find some really good books.  My friend loaned me this one and OH BOY did I love it. It is very much like "The Glass Castle".  I highly highly recommend it. Know that there is some language but this is a true story and it is part of the story.  I will never forget it and have been telling everyone I know to run out and buy it.  There is so much to think about-so much to talk about-I really feel like this book just has to bring about some great conversations from politics (not nasty politics, but thoughtful politics), to poverty, to parenting and more.  If you have a Marine in your life, I think they would enjoy this especially.

I also started writing down little things I have learned on this parenting journey.  I am sure I have written about all these things before but as they come to mind I want to jot them down.  Some things come to mind as I hear or read terrible advice given to younger moms (pretty much everything in those parenting magazines), or I relearn a lesson that I've learned several times before, or I talk with friends that I admire so much as mothers.

-If you constantly feel overwhelmed and stressed when you are a mom (unless you just had a baby and even then this can still apply) you need to eliminate things from your life until you feel calmer and life runs more smoothly.  There are things you can't and shouldn't eliminate-kids :), and church, and maybe kid's school (unless it's preschool, which isn't at all necessary.)  Children rebel against crabbiness, and stress and rushing in the home. They also rebel against lack of attention and lack of consistency.  There are things that maybe are hard to let go of, unless you think of it as a temporary letting go for a season of life.  With each child added to the family, things need to become more centered on home life and house running and child raising.  This is BIG work-enough that it deserves most of our attention. This is not mainstream thought by the way.  The underlying mainstream message today is "don't change your life for your family" at the same time mainstream talk is saying "family comes first". Those two trains of thought are completely incompatible.  We only have ONE husband to pay attention to,  we are ONE mother to each of our children, it is enough to be that ONE well, if we are anything at all.  These roles reap the most reward when they are our priority and some of that reward is our deep satisfaction and joy in family life.

-If you are wondering how someone seems to do it all-I'd say, "stop comparing" but also "no way" while still being present to their family.  There are no miracle workers out there and no one who has more hours in the day than anyone else.  I doubt very much anyone has such an arsenal of time management and skill that a life spread with many big things does not magically cause considerable stress on a family of young ones. I think sometimes the culture we live in today is a giant spreader of delusion.  I called it lies, but my daughter corrected me and said that sounds too purposeful and maybe delusion is a better word.  She is right.  I try to teach my kids that what they see online or on the TV or on social media, must be taken with a grain of salt and some real sensibility and discernment.  We moms need to do this also. Usually the behind the scenes perfection takes a big personal toll or the toll often times gets handed off to the kids.  We all know what reality looks like-it's what is right in front of us and has nothing to do with a screen at all.  We need to pay way way more attention to our reality.  Even when it comes to advice or information, if we take the time for thought and connection-real connection with our own families, we will get the answer-the answer is rarely "out there" from some "expert",  but what's in our hearts and our minds when we are calm and connected enough to our families to listen to our heart and mind. (See first paragraph.)

-If there is something running very true and similar among close happy families, it is a culture of family togetherness but at the heart of it all, it is a strong marriage.  A marriage where the husbands builds up the wife and the wife builds up the husband.  A marriage where the wife is pointing out to the children her husband's strengths, and not his weaknesses and vice versa.  The best book I've ever read on this subject is called "The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands". It is excellent.

-If there seems to be not enough time in the day step away from the tech-phones, laptops, etc.  It is a time sucker like no other and little distracting minutes add up so quickly to hours out of a day and the cost is way way too great, not only for us but for our families too.

That's all for February!