Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Case of the Christmas Giggles

Dreaming of a White Christmas
Remember mix tapes?  I used to make them all the time when I was a kid.  When I created a new masterpiece, I took a ball point pen and poked out the little plastic tab on the side of the tape to make my creation permanent. 

One Christmas when I was little, my grandparents gave our family the gift of a tape player and a tape of Christmas songs.  It was, apparently, recorded at home in some lady's basement.  We could tell.  Along with the novice production, the singing was not much better.  The lady had a warbly and at times screechy voice.  

Hoping for the perfect gift

At first my brother and I were disappointed.  The tape probably would have been cast aside except for one thing:  Bobby and I discovered the little plastic tab still intact on the side of the tape.  This was a perfectly good cassette!  We could dub over the entire thing!

We hit the play button and listened to the piano plinking and plunking as the lady sang with dramatic flourish...

"And the angels..."  she crooned.  Quickly we hit record and updated the lyrics with our own childlike melody...

"Laughed so hard they wet their pants!" 

And then we laughed so hard, we almost wet our own pants.  We spent hours with our new gift that afternoon.  Lying on our stomachs on the living room carpet, we rewrote the words to every song and inserted our new, improved version onto the tape.

I hope you had a Merry Christmas! By now the gifts are unwrapped and maybe, just maybe some of them weren't perfect.  In our house, the basketball socks we ordered for Jack were too small.  Aunt Julie's hot chocolate mix exploded in the package during shipping, covering everything in a film of cocoa.   I watched the kids open their gifts--beautiful handknit hats--and couldn't help but laugh that they smelled delicious too. 
 Merry Christmas!  I wish for all of you memories with family and friends, filled with unexpected laughter.  I think the angels would approve.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Perfect Christmas

There's a big black hole in the middle of my Christmas tree.  Now, I'm not too bad when it comes to lights--I always check the bulbs before I string them and I rarely make that rookie mistake of winding them the wrong way ending up with nothing to plug into the outlet.  This year's light stringing went without a hitch and the tree looked great...until Thursday.

"What happened to the tree?" Katherine asks.  What happened indeed.  Apparently one string went out.  Of course, it was the string right in the middle of the tree.  Have you ever tried to unwind a light string from an already decorated tree?  Neither have I.  And I'm not about to start now. 

As long as I'm pointing out imperfections, the stockings are not hung by my chimney with care.  I affixed them with push pins.  I did a really lousy job hiding Paul's Christmas gift and he found it immediately.  I hid it under a blanket on our bed.  Then I forgot and asked him to make the beds.  Whoops.

We're having company in about two hours and I haven't started cooking dinner yet.  The floor won't be mopped and I scratched the idea of homemade dessert long ago in favor of store-bought pie.  So, it won't be perfect, but that's OK.  I think about Mary's plan for the birth of Jesus.  I'm pretty sure her Lamaze coach, the mid-wife and the doula would not have recommended the cramped, smelly, unsanitary manger as their top choice for the big event.   Yet, even in less than ideal circumstances, Mary gave birth to a perfect baby. 

I recently read an article from the NY Times called The Island Where People Forget to Die.  On Ikaria, people get lots of fresh air and exercise.  They eat healthy diets.  They take naps.  All healthy habits that are a part of a healthy lifestyle, yet the researchers speculate these habits are not as important as we might think.  "Yet in Ikaria and the other places like it, diet only partly explained higher life expectancy. Exercise — at least the way we think of it, as willful, dutiful, physical activity — played a small role at best."

So if not diet and exercise, what?  The social culture of the island.  Friends.  Family.  Community.  A place where people don't strive for perfection, they strive for passion.  Tonight our tree may have some dark spots but our home will be full of the light and laughter of good friends.   And that sounds just perfect to me.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Advent Traditions

Something old, something new.  Something borrowed, something blue.  No, noone's getting married.  Today is the first Sunday of Advent and it is time for our Advent traditions.

Something Old: Grandpa Clark's dowel rod Christmas tree reminds me of spending Christmas in Pennsylvania.

After dinner my brother and I would sit in Grandpa's cozy shop next to his wood burning furnace.  Grandpa would smoke his pipe and let us hammer nails into wood scraps.  Then we'd head back inside for Grandma's famous chocolate cake with her amazing seven minute frosting.  I still can't make that frosting--mine always droops, but I have the dowel rod tree in my home now and it reminds me of my grandparents. 

Something New: Four tall taper candles
resting in a wreath of fresh evergreens

Each Sunday during Advent we light a new candle on our wreath symbolizing hope, peace, joy and love.  A few years ago, we began inviting a family to join us for dinner to share the tradition with us.  For me, it is a great reminder to slow down and appreciate the season of Christmas.
Something Borrowed: Advent Book Calendar

I love hearing about other people's traditions and ideas.  This one I borrowed from "Dana Made It".  Dana is an amazingly creative and crafty mother of three from Texas.  I love reading her blog and seeing pictures of her ideas (add talented photographer to her list of talents). She's sorta like Martha Stewart only way more down to earth and, to my knowledge, has never done jail time.   Up until now I've just admired her ideas but this time I thought, "Hey, I can do this!"  We unwrapped the first book last night and snuggled beneath the blanket to read together. Even the teenage boy stuck around for the story. 

Something Blue: Wreath of Bluebirds

Zip-a-dee-doo-dah.  I don't know why, but lately I've been loving bluebirds so my mom sent me a box full of them.  I hung them all on the wreath above our mantle--perfect with the blue walls in our living room.  I already feel plenty of sunshine coming my way...

I wish you all a wonderful season of Advent full of fond memories, new traditions, friends, family and sunshine. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Nap Time

It's that time.  Paul dragged the Christmas boxes down from the attic today while I organized our "to do" list into categories.  Shopping, decorating, entertaining,'s Sunday and I have the whole afternoon to be productive but I can't decide what to tackle first.

So I take a nap. 

I just want to savor the relaxed pace of this Thanksgiving weekend a little longer.   Thursday morning's Turkey Trot seems so long ago now.  Any calories we burned were replaced (and more) by four days of feasting with friends.  Lots of laughing.  Too much pie.  No, I take that back.  Never too much pie.  And, well, I'll just throw this in there, The Redskins beat Dallas.

The "to do" list will all get done eventually.  But today I'm thankful for my family and friends, a warm house, good food and a break from doing anything at all.  Today I'm thankful for naps.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Cure for the Common Birthday

There is still no cure for the common birthday.  ~John Glenn

November 18th--today's Mom's birthday.  In my mind I'm thinking she's about 42 right now, but then I realize that can't be right because I'm almost 42.  How did that happen?

The key to successful aging is to pay as little attention to it as possible.  ~Judith Regan

I usually don't think of myself as "old."  40 is the new 30, right?  And 60 is the new 40?  My mom certainly doesn't act "old."  She's clever, fashionable and active.  She's still learning new concepts--now she knows how to download pictures from her iPhone.  I don't even have an iPhone.  OK, so maybe her Bridge Club gives her away a little...I don't know why, but "young" people rarely meet weekly to play cards.  That's how I figure she's at least 40.

Old age is fifteen years older than I am.  ~Oliver Wendell Holmes

I still think of myself as 28.  At work several of my co-workers are in their 20's and sometimes I pretend in my head that we're all the same age.  Occasionally I'm reminded that this isn't true.  Like when Abby tells me her new boyfriend was born the same year I graduated from high school.   Or when the girls invite me on a spontaneous shopping trip after work and I decline because I am heading home to job # 2: Mom.

Growing old is mandatory; growing up is optional.  ~Chili Davis

Which reminds me...I blinked and my babies became teenagers.  The other day I was looking for a missing belt.  "I've got to clean out this closet--I can't find anything," I'm thinking to myself.  Then I realize Katherine is wearing it.  And so it begins.  Apparently this growing up thing applies to kids too.

In youth the days are short and the years are long;
in old age the years are short and the days long.  ~Nikita Ivanovich Panin

I saw the Skyfall at the theater this weekend.  Age--getting older--was a theme throughout the new James Bond movie.  I checked and Daniel Craig is 44.  And when you see him jump and climb onto a moving train, he doesn't look too shabby.  I think that's why I don't think about calendar age too much--it's more about your mental state of mind.  

You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt;
as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear;
as young as your hope, as old as your despair.  ~Douglas MacArthur

Happy Birthday Mom--and many, many more! I wish you another year of faith, self-confidence and hope,  as well as lots of love and laughter.  Oh, and some good wine.  And a few strokes off your golf game. 

Grow old with me!  The best is yet to be.  ~Robert Browning

Three generations of ageless beauty

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Party Fit for a Dog

Katherine takes after me in so many ways but in this specific way: She's a planner.  Only while I'm spending my time planning the most efficient way to tackle household chores and projects, Katherine likes to plan parties. 

Katherine has enjoyed planning parties for as long as I can remember.  This year she planned a Valentine's Cookie exchange in February and her own Tropical Themed birthday party in April.   

It doesn't have to be a major holiday.  Once I remember having to dress up as my favorite profession for a Labor Day party.  This year, we celebrated Bastille Day.  Napoleon even made an appearance.

What a great sport...just one more reason I love this man!

French flags, a French meal, French music...

So, when Katherine approached me with another idea for a party, I was not surprised.  "Mom, do you know we've never celebrated Tatum's birthday?" she asks.  Well, yes.  I'm aware of that. 

Tatum is a dog. 

Tatum's canine qualities don't deter Katherine, however.  She has decided that we need to celebrate his birthday.  She pencils a date on the calendar and starts making a list of invitees.  I notice that the weekend she picks is the same weekend I'll be preparing for 29 parent teacher conferences and completing all my report cards.  Several thoughts float through my mind.  Luckily, I have enough parenting experience that I don't say any of them out loud. 

"I'm sure Tatum will really appreciate a party, Katherine," I tell her.  And so, last weekend, we had a party fit for a dog.
It was a brunch so Tatum requested eggs.

The guests began to arrive
and soon the table was laden with gifts.  
Tatum couldn't decide what do do first--eat or open his presents.

One for you and one for me!

Mmmm, that was delish!
As usual, Katherine's party was a great success.  The dogs and humans all had a wonderful time.  Who knows what Katherine will plan next.  It just so happens that this Thursday, November 15 is Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day.  Think I can get her to celebrate that?

Saturday, November 3, 2012

October Scrapbook

For every story I post, I feel like there are a million stories I don't post.  When I think back on October, I have so many memories...

Like the day we left school early to go to the Nationals play off game.  I told the kids I hope I didn't end up on the Jumbotron like Ferris Bueller did when he skipped school.  It was a beautiful day for
 rally caps,

 cheering for the home team, 
 and waving our red towels!

Here we are celebrating the win after Werth's walk-off home run.

Also in October Katherine performed in her last Haycock theatrical production.  She was fabulous as Helena in Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream!  (Quite the switch from last year when she was The Best Kitchen Maid Ever )

 "Oh, I am out of breath in this fond chase."

Helena and Hermia

My adventure to St. Michael's with the girls was another highlight.  Yes, we were driving towards the coast when everyone else was heading away from Hurricane Sandy.  We beat the storm and had a much needed and much deserved day off.
Enjoying the scenery

Being silly

Hurricane Sandy did blow through the end of October leaving us without power or school for two days.  The lights returned on Halloween night as Katherine (aka Katniss, the Girl on Fire) and Jack (aka The Leaf Blower) were Trick Or Treating.
Trick Or Treat!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

It's Time to Blitz

Pop!  I both hear and feel the sound.  I am sitting at my desk at work and I look down to see that the button on my jeans just popped off and rolled onto the floor.

Now, I could bore you with excuses--they are old jeans, worn out.  Button was probably loose.  Ironically, though, as I look at the button resting on the tile, I am holding a handful of Peanut M & Ms. 

People warned me.  "When you go back to work full time, you just have to let some things go."  Oh, I've let things go all right.  Like a regular exercise routine.  And healthy eating habits.  I thought that if I was too busy to cook maybe I'd lose weight but that is not the case.  Instead I grab fast, convenient choices.  I'm embarrassed to say how many times this week alone I resorted to eating a school lunch from the red styrofoam tray.  Then, instead of exercise, I rely on my favorite easy stress relievers--candy and wine.

So I've gained 6 pounds since school started.  Now, I don't like telling people that because then they say, "Oh, you are not fat!  You look fine.  I can't even tell."  But here's the thing:  I can tell.  And it's not about the weight.  It's about the way I feel.  My clothes are tight.  I feel lethargic.  I just feel gross. 

Luckily, November is just around the corner.  It's time for the November Fitness Blitz!  I invented the Blitz after Jack was born and I've been doing it every year since.  In past years I've invited friends and family to join the fun.  Here's how it works:

Start date: November 1.  Yes, that's right.  It's the day after Halloween.  There's leftover candy everywhere.  Could there be a better day to start a fitness program? 

End date: November 21.  Twenty one days later...just in time to start the holiday season off right.  Originally I picked this date because research showed that it takes 21 days to form a new habit.  Unfortunately, more current research now suggests that it may take longer.  But, whatever.  21 days is a start, right? 

During the 21 days, you get one point for every day that you exercise and one point for every day that you eat healthy.  What constitutes exercise and healthy eating differs from person to person.  One year I gave up dessert.  Another year I made sure I ate 5 servings of vegetables daily.  It's up to you.

I collect $5 from everyone and divide the participants into 4 teams.  Each team has a charity.  Everyone keeps track of their own points (honor system) and the weekend after Thanksgiving we have a big party.  There are fun prizes for top scores, gag gifts for low scores and all the money collected goes to the charity of the team with the most points.  Along the way, I send out weekly emails with bonus point opportunities.

The Blitz has taken different forms over the years.  This year I'm not organizing the big social event and I even considered not doing the Blitz myself.  How will I have time to fit exercise into by already too busy day?  How will I stay motivated to come home and prepare a healthy dinner when I'm so tired? And that's exactly why I need the Blitz. 

I've got a clear mason jar this year and I'll put a dollar in it for every point I earn.  Every day I feel too tired to exercise or tempted to eat some guilty pleasure, I'll ask myself, "Is this cookie worth the dollar that won't go in the jar?"  On November 21st I'll donate the contents of the jar to the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation.  

If your health is in need of a jump start before the holiday season, I invite you to join me--on your own with a jar, or together with friends and family.  November 1 is Thursday.  It's time to Blitz.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Don't Let My Principal Read This!

Earlier this month Paul planned a presentation for a conference.  He needed a Powerpoint, handouts, an activity and a speech.  Over the course of a few weeks, he spent several hours making sure everything was perfect for that hour-long event.

A few weeks.  What luxury!  Speaking for my fellow teachers, we're giving hour long presentations all day long.  We need lesson plans, materials, background knowledge and back-up plans...every hour of every day. We are expected to be at our peak in our carefully-orchestrated cooperative-learning bliss. 

Except the days when we're not.  Like Monday for example.  When I scheduled a parent-teacher conference first thing.  (Mental note: no parent-teacher conferences on Mondays.  When will I learn?)

Did I mention it was Monday?  Now, I was productive last weekend.  I registered all my kids for their online math text book.  I graded a stack of papers bigger than the stack of pancakes I ate Saturday morning.  In addition I (blah, blah, blah...insert a lot more important stuff related to school here.)  So, as you can see, I was not slacking off or doing anything crazy like, oh, enjoying my weekend. 

I get to school on Monday and I know that in math we're reviewing for a test, only I haven't quite thought through HOW we're doing that.  That's why the cooperative review activity is so appealing.  It's straight from the book and it's already done.  The answers are already there. I don't even have to read it before I quickly run off copies. (If this was a Halloween horror movie, there would be some scary foreboding music right here so the audience would know trouble is coming.)

Math begins and the activity starts off just fine.  Until Cody says, "I think number 3 is wrong."  I take a look.  Hmmm. Number 3 is wrong.  Another student isn't far behind.  "Number 16 doesn't make sense to us," he says.  Number 16 is wrong too!  And so is number 12!!

What a train wreck.  I'm flustered.  Maybe I copied the stuff wrong.  Maybe I should have read the directions more closely (OK, I didn't read them at all.) 

"STOP!" I call to the class.  "I'm sorry," I tell them.  "This isn't going the way I planned."  They are good kids.  They laugh.  Then we talk about it. 

"I'm so proud of you."  I tell them.  "Lots of kids would look on the back for the right answer and not realize there is a mistake there.  You are confident enough in your math ability to realize when an answer doesn't make sense.  That's really what math is all about.  You are using your heads to think about whether or not an answer is reasonable."

I don't know why that book had 3 errors in this particular exercise.  I know I learned my lesson to proofread very carefully if I ever use any of those activities again.  After reflecting though, I realize the day wasn't quite the train wreck I thought it was.  My students were on task.  They were solving problems.  Even those I didn't initially realize existed. 

Disclaimer:  Sometimes my principal actually reads my blog.  I think she'll click right on it when she sees the title of this one.  So when we meet for my evaluation cycle I want you to know, Kelly, that this is off the record :).

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Making Plans-Check.

Have you ever asked someone for their opinion and then realized you didn't actually want it?

I do this to Paul sometimes when we're making plans.

me: "Where should we go out to eat tonight?"
paul: "Wherever you want, hon."
me: "I don't care.  You decide."
paul: "OK, how 'bout Chinese?"
me: "hmmm, we had Chinese the last time.  Maybe we should try something different?"
paul: "We could go get some seafood on Maine Avenue."
me: "I don't know, with traffic at this time of night, it will take us forever to get there.  How 'bout that little Indian place around the corner?"
paul:  "OK, Indian it is."

I'm good at making plans.  Schedules, goals, charts, checklists:  these are the fibers of my being.  Those who know me well know my motto, "I can be spontaneous with 24 hours notice."  Sometimes, though, I want to give other people in my family an opportunity to make plans.  Occasionally I want a break from being the master scheduler.  I also want to make sure everyone has a chance to share ideas for our outings.  With one teenager and one teenager-in-training in the house, family outings don't hold the appeal they once did.  I figure if I let them choose where we should go, they might not complain (as much) about spending the day with their (ugh) parents.

So I broach the subject at the dinner table where they are trapped into being my captive audience.  "I'd like each of you to think of one activity that we can do together this month," I tell them.  I already have a list of potential suggestions in mind (bike rides, family tennis, a movie, apple picking...) but I wait for my family members to brainstorm these ideas without my help.

"I want to dance to a polka band," Paul says.
"I want to go to a baseball playoff game," Jack says.
"I want to see Zoe," Katherine says.

OK, clearly they need my help.  A polka band?  Did I not mention the teenagers in the house?  Can you think of anything more embarrassing for a teenage boy than going polka dancing with his father?  A playoff game?  Do you have any idea how expensive those tickets will be?  Plus, the game is on a school night.  And Zoe lives two hours away.  Coordinating a visit with her means coordinating the weekend schedules of nine people in two different families trying to find an activity-free window of availability.

But, I asked.  If I shoot down all their ideas and convince them to go on a family bike ride, what's the point of asking? 

So, first, the polka band.  Yesterday we found an Oktoberfest Fall Festival-- a beer garden for the adults, brats and funnel cakes for the kids.  And, a live German band playing, you guessed it, the polka.  Jack was so distracted by the grown men wandering around in lederhosen, he didn't even notice his dad tapping his foot and swaying, yes, even dancing, to the music. 

Polka band, check.

Next up, tickets to this week's Nationals game.  I got some!  Tickets for the first home game of the playoff series are out of the question unless I win the lottery by Wednesday.  But if --BIG IF--they need to play the fourth game, I have secured tickets.  Yes, I can think all the reasons why we shouldn't go--I spent more on four tickets than I did on a week's worth of groceries; we'll be out late on a school night; we can't even make plans because the game might not happen. Instead I'm thinking of all the reasons we should go--The Nationals haven't been in the playoffs since 1981 when they were the Montreal Expos.  More important, going to the game is important to Jack.  After all, I asked him what he wanted to do.  I didn't give him any parameters about making an affordable, easy, predictable choice.  So, in his honor, I'm being spontaneous, slightly irresponsible and taking a risk--it's so unlike me.  Now I'm crossing my fingers that on Thursday night I can say,

Nationals tickets, check.

Katherine's request was the most difficult.  As expected, trying to coordinate the busy weekend schedules of everyone proved very tricky indeed.  The good news: we've got a visit on the calendar.  The bad news: we couldn't squeeze it into October's schedule.  Katherine will get her visit with Zoe, but in the meantime she chose a different idea. We are looking forward to visiting our favorite pumpkin patch soon.

Visiting Zoe: rain-check.
Pumpkin Patch: soon-to-be-check.

As for me, I don't know if we'll squeeze in a family bike ride, a tennis match or a movie this month.  That's OK.  I can still look at my list of things to do and say:

Make my family happy: check.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Barf and Poop and Other Cool Stuff

"So you actually have owl poop?" Katie asks.

"Owl pellets," Anne corrects.  "It comes out of the owl's mouth.  Kinda like a cat's hairball."

"Well, how often do the owls have these pellets?" Donna wants to know.

We want to know more about owl pellets.  Like, do they have their morning coffee and then--bam--owl pellet?  It is Friday afternoon and we are planning some science lessons with Anne.  Anne is the amazingly wonderful, incredibly talented, knowledgeable science specialist at our school.  Her job is to help the classroom teachers with their science curriculum.  Next month we'll be studying food chains, animal adaptations and predator-prey relationships.  That's where the owl pellet comes in.  Owl=predator.  Pellet=prey.

You see, an owl swallows its prey--most often a rodent--whole.  Then some cool chemistry science stuff happens in the owl's stomach and all the useful parts of the owl's meal are taken away leaving only the bones and hair of the rodent.  So the owl ejects the unwanted parts back out of its mouth. 

Anne lays an owl pellet on the table.  It's about the size of an egg.  She shows us how to carefully pull it apart with tweezers and separate out the skeleton of the rodent.  There's the skull!  There's the thigh bone! Here are some rodent ribs!  They look like tiny fish bones.  She has a template of a rodent skeleton so when we find a bone we can match it up and add it to the picture.  Remember the old game Operation where you had to get all the bones out of the picture?  This is the reverse.  We have to find all the bones and put them back.

We are intrigued.  We want to know more! How often does this happen?  (Several times a day, Anne says.)  Do owls also go to the bathroom? (Yes.)  Have you ever seen an owl eject a pellet? (No.)

"I bet we can find it on YouTube," Jenn says.  And so, a moment later, we are gathered around her laptop watching a baby owl.  Even though we are expecting it, we still all scream when the pellet is ejected--so loud, in fact, that some other teachers rush into the room to see what is happening.  They find us doubled over in tears with laughter. 

Anne has a way of getting teachers excited about science.  Anne loves science.  We love Anne.  Now we love science too.  And owl pellets.  Check it out for yourself: Baby Owl Ejects Pellet

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Are You There God? It's Me, Allison

Dear God,

First of all, thanks a bunch for the torrential downpour on Monday night. 

I know someone, somewhere thought an 8:00 p.m. baseball game in Herndon on a school night was a peachy idea.  I, on the other hand, was busy trying to coordinate the completion of Algebra homework, (Jack) dance class, (Katherine) and identification profile assessment for grad class (me).

Meanwhile it dawns on me that I have not yet A: walked the dog (And has he eaten dinner?  Wait, did anyone even feed him breakfast??) B: Cooked dinner (Beanies and Weenies again, dear family?) or C: done the laundry since Jack's last baseball how much do you want to bet his uniform is in a sweaty crumpled pile at the bottom of the hamper?

And then, just as I was on the verge of losing any and all remaining sanity, the precipitation began.  And I knew it was you, God, sending a storm.   A storm outside to cancel the game.  An extra gift of time to help calm the storm inside.    Thank you.

Second, I am really sorry I've been so bad about talking to you lately.  You know these last few weeks have been pretty crazy busy with me going back to work full-time and taking this grad class.  I really don't know what I was thinking with the grad class, by the way.  September is always busy in the classroom and switching grade levels adds another level of stuff to do.  Plus the new report cards, err, excuse me, Progress Report Standards.  And the training for the new teacher evaluation standards.  And helping Jack and Katherine with homework. 
And Girl Scouts. 
And baseball. 
And guitar...sometimes I wake up at 4am and can't fall back to sleep thinking about everything and hoping I won't forget anything.  (I told Paul I felt like I needed to cover my whole body with Post-It note reminders.  Paul said he'd love to see my body covered with nothing but Post-It notes.  Not sure he got my point.) 

Friends keep asking, "How's it going?" The truth is that it's going fine.  Better than fine, actually.  I love my class and my team.  My days fly by in a sleep-deprived, adrenaline-buzzing frenzy.  I feel challenged, needed and appreciated.  Every day someone makes me laugh.  Every day someone makes my heart swell with warmth.  My class, bucket-load of work that it is, is stimulating and thought-provoking. Life's far from perfect--I haven't figured out how to fit in exercise, cooking or cleaning.  But I'm setting my sights on October... (October, It's the New January!) when we get settled a bit more. 

Meanwhile, God, I just wanted to touch base.  Every day I am thankful for so many things and, even though I haven't lately stopped to tell you, I really appreciate all of them.  Especially the rain.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Remarkable Friendship

The first week of school I chose to read Owen & Mzee: The True Story of A Remarkable Friendship to my class. The book tells of an orphaned baby hippo who befriends Mzee, a 130 year old tortoise. It's a heartwarming story and I thought the theme of the unusual friendship was appropriate for my new third graders.

I put a lot of emphasis on friendships during September. The first few days of school can be difficult as students learn new routines and rules surrounded by unfamiliar faces. So we spend a lot of time learning names and building a sense of community. We share objects that are special to us and begin to learn a little about everyone in the class.  I love getting to know each individual student--learning who loves his rock collection and who wants to be a marine biologist when she grows up. I know who is left handed and who is tri-lingual.  I know who loves math and who hates writing... (Not for long, I hope!) I know who, despite his head-to-toe Redskins gear, is actually a Dallas fan. We play games to see what we all have in common.  We practice shaking hands with eye contact and listening to one another. I hope these activities help to foster new friendships that will grow stronger throughout our year together.

After reading the story, we talk about it together.  My mind is so focused on the theme of friendship that the first question takes me by surprise. 

"How long do giant tortoises usually live?"

Then there were more--

"How long do hippos usually stay with their mother?"
"What do hippos eat?"
"Is Mzee still alive today?"

It is the first week of school and I'm already in love with my entire class. I love their inquisitive spirit.  I love their thoughtful hypotheses.  I love their true caring nature and concern for Owen.  I love that they remind me to look at a book from a different perspective.  I quickly switch gears and together we create a list of facts we've learned and questions we have. 

We begin as 29 people with different backgrounds, interests and strengths. We'll share our stories and knowledge, ask questions and sometimes make mistakes. Together we will grow into a community of learners and friends.  I think this is the beginning of a remarkable year.

Giant tortoises can live over 200 years and Mzee is still alive today. Hippos are herbivores and their diet consists mainly of grass and some water plants.  Baby hippos usually stay with their mothers until they're around five months old.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Here We Go!

Tuesday is first day of school.  Eighth grade for Jack.  Sixth grade for Katherine.  And Third grade for me. For the first time in 13 years, I have a full-time job. Not that motherhood isn't a full-time job, of course, but you know what I mean. I'm really excited.  

Being in part-time in kindergarten the last five years has been a blast. I think that's where the expressions "never a dull moment" and "just like herding cats" were originally invented. That said, I'm ready for a change and a new challenge. In third grade, the kids are old enough to already know the basics of school but young enough that they don't roll their eyes at me too often. 

Besides excited, I'm nervous too. At first I wrote down everything I wanted to do and I only need about 27 more hours in every day to make it work. So I had to make some realistic adjustments. The bad news: the house won't be as clean.  The good news: I won't be home to look at it! We created a family schedule for cleaning, homework and meals and activities.  It all looks good on paper. That will be the mantra I keep repeating over and over when it all falls apart by Wednesday. 

Really, I know it won't be perfect. It will never go according to plan. This new chapter in our lives will never look like the rough draft I've drawn out. But I also know it will never completely fall apart. I have the help of my loving family, supportive friends and my awesome teammates. And usually, its the unexpected events that make the best stories later. See? It all looks good on paper.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Just back from our summer vacation where Sissa and Big Pa spoiled us.  Not too much writing today because, as Big Pa says, "If you can't take a good picture in Colorado, you must not have a camera!"

Elk visitors in the back yard
Big Pa is ready to ride

We opted for safety helmets over cowboy hats.

Big Pa is teaching me how to shoot a pellet gun.  Mom says, "What happens with Big Pa stays with Big Pa."

Showing off his aim.

visiting Great Grandma

On our way to Gem Lake

We made it!

See the rock that looks like a boot?  The story is that this cowboy shot himself in the foot.
 I hope he wasn't playing with Big Pa's pellet gun.
Stylish hiker.
Visiting the Baldpate Inn's famous key collection
Katherine donates a key to the collection.
Thanks for a wonderful Colorado vacation.  We love you!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Jack Kneads A Cookie

Screen time is a sticky topic in our house. The 13 year old boy in my home does not like to have limits imposed on his screen time.  And he has a variety of screens to tempt him.  The TV, of course, and the computer and his Nintendo DS and his Wii and his phone and his iTouch...

Of course, he thinks I'm mean because we do not have an XBox 360 Slim and he can't have friends over without it because they will all be bored and have absolutely nothing to do.  If you are not lucky enough to have a teenager in the house you probably think I am making this up or exaggerating but sadly, it is true.

The other day his friends came over and they were all sitting around playing with their phones and not even looking at each other.  "That's enough." I told them.  "Turn those screens off.  You are all smart kids.  Surely you can find something else to do." 

And then, after my little pep talk (or fun-crushing lecture, depending on your perspective) I did something very dumb.  I left the house.  When I returned, the boys were very excited.  They were packing up pitchers of lemonade and plates full of cookies and brownies onto a wagon and heading up the street for their very own Lemonade stand. What entrepreneurs!

Then I went into the house and saw my kitchen. Wow.  Maybe sitting around texting each other wasn't so bad after all.  Dirty bowls, measuring spoons, cookie sheets and brownie pans sit on every counter.  There is a thin layer of sticky lemonade powder everywhere and my feet are sticking to the floor as I walk. 

Mess aside, I was proud of them for thinking of an idea and following through with it.  I head down to the corner to patronize their business and buy a cookie.  "Mom, I had a little trouble with the cookies," Jack tells me.  "I just put all the ingredients in the bowl and then I realized there were steps.  I couldn't figure out how to mix everything up so I ended up using my hands like I was making bread."

Kneading cookie dough--that's one way to solve the problem.  All told, the boys made about $12.00 each and they did come back to clean up the kitchen, sort of.  I think they've cleaned me out of flour and chocolate chips but they had fun and they learned a lot about working together and the importance of following a recipe.   If I'm lucky, years from now they'll remember our house as one where they could be creative, play games and have adventures, instead of the boring old house where there were limits on screen time.   If so, it was worth all the lemonade dust on the floor.

Disclaimer: Credit for the witty pun goes to my friend Dave who said he often "kneads" a cookie.  One reason Dave is so droll and intelligent is that he limits his screen time and reads a lot of books. 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Too Short Summer

Way back in June when summer seemed like a beautifully long stretch of time, I created a few summer goals for myself.  I really wanted to clean out our basement, weed the garden and paint Jack's room.  Well, let's be clear.  Jack wanted me to paint Jack's room.  He's wanted it painted ever since last summer when he and Sissa cleaned it out.  The only problem--no, the first problem--is that we could not agree on a color.  He kept insisting that it was his room and that he could paint every wall a different color.  I kept suggesting that we should compromise on a plan that involved fewer colors and less effort. 

Where was I?  Oh, yes, my summer goals.  I thought I should have plenty of time to relax, read, cook, swim, run and still fit in a few productive projects.  And then I blinked and it is the middle of August.  I feel like Rip Van Winkle waking up and looking at the calendar.  Where did all the time go?  Yes, I read a few books and watched plenty of Olympic gymnastics but shouldn't I have somehow done more?

I did work on the basement.  And I made a little progress on one of the garden beds.  But in Jack's room, we only got as far as removing the outlet covers from all the plugs.  I have one last week at home before we're off to vacation and then I go back to work.  If we are going to paint Jack's room, I can no longer wait for the ideal time.  The time is now.

We finally agreed on a color palette (mostly white with one blue wall and a red desk) and got started.  Have you ever painted a room with a 13 year old boy before?  I highly recommend it as an exercise in patience.  Not for him, for me.  As you might imagine, I had a very organized plan of how to approach the project.  First spackle.  Then sand.  Then tape.  Last paint.  Jack has a different view.  Just start painting.  I think starting at the top and working his way down makes sense.  He really likes sideways.  Ultimately, I have to rethink my goal of the project.  Is it to have a well painted wall or to enjoy a mother-son project together?

He'll have to move that paint can eventually, right?
Can we keep the graffiti?
I've never painted a room from start to finish before.  It's a big project and we're slowly making progress.  We've got one week to finish the job while maintaining my sanity.  Wish us luck!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Grill, Chill and a Pill

Sometimes I am not a very nice person.  Like when Paul came home from church and said he volunteered our house to host a gathering, I was less than amused.

"Grill, Chill and Devote" gives people a chance to share a meal and a devotion together.  Sure, I love the idea of different families hosting dinners throughout the summer.  It's a more casual atmosphere and a chance to meet or get to know people better.  Great idea. Just not at my house!

'Cause let's get real, people.  As casual and low-key as we try to make it, hosting dinner is a lot of work.  Invitations, cleaning, shopping, organizing.  Who do you think will end up doing all of this prep?  And we happen to have a dog who gets anxious around company.  How will he react to 20 strange people descending upon his domain? 

But I grinned through my clenched jaw and said, "Sounds lovely, honey." 

(OK, I didn't say that.  I don't remember what I said.  I probably said something along the lines of, "You did what?" and pouted for a while.   But the clenched jaw part is totally true.  Some teeth gritting as well.  I can be quite the pill.)

There is a verse in The Bible that says, "Who is wise and understanding among you?  Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom."  (James 3:13)  Humility.  Not bitterness.  Not selfishness.   Big sigh.  Deep breath.  Silent prayer.  "God, apparently I am not perfect yet.  Sorry about that and thanks for continuing to love me anyways." 
You know we love the comfort and familiarity of our "Friday Friends"--the kind of friends who don't care if your house is a mess--but our new guests would be "Sunday friends."  I looked around the house and yard with fresh eyes.  The floor could use a mopping.  Weeding and mulching the garden has been on our list for too long.  We got to work.

On Sunday our guests arrived and soon the rooms were filled with conversation and laughter.  I learned that people will talk about topics in your living room on Sunday evenings that don't generally come up in the sanctuary on Sunday mornings. I learned more about some members of our church in one night than I have in the twenty years I've been attending. 
Among other things I learned...
who has a few magic tricks up his sleeve...
who will paint your long as you don't mind midnight hours...
who has a new puppy in the house...
who is sending her youngest son to UVA this fall...
who once served cat food "pate" to guests
lots of stories to tell
 The evening wasn't perfect.  I never did mop the floors and Tatum was being his usual self--the best worst dog ever.  But noone seemed to care or notice.  I had fun and maybe, by God's grace, I even got a little wiser.  Added bonus--my garden looks great.  If I had known our Sunday guests would be so motivating, I would have invited our Pastor over for dinner months ago!

Friday, July 27, 2012

"It's A Major Award"

And the award for Best Post Sports Team Season Award Banquet goes to...

The end of another sports season means attending another team awards banquet.  Have you, like me, ever sat through one of these seemingly endless boring events?  The coaches are well-meaning and oh, so heartfelt in their attempts to recognize everyone's achievements but the results can take H-O-U-R-S.  First we sit through the Age Bracket Awards, then the Most Improved, Best Rookie, Most Records Broken, Most Valuable, Special Events, Parent Volunteers, Coaches Choice, Spirit Awards, and don't forget the special recognitions for those Graduating from the lineup.   Meanwhile I sit through the tedious program wishing I had stocked up at the bar before I sat down at one of the banquet tables. 

In his brief amateur sports career, Jack has been quite the prolific trophy earner, racking up 18 trophies so far, not to mention a box full of medals and ribbons.  That's more than most London Olympic athletes will ever see.  I don't know where to put them's an episode of "Storage Wars" waiting to happen.

the latest addition to the collection
That's why I'm presenting my own award to WGCC for Jack's Tennis Awards Banquet:

WGCC, you win a gold star.  Thank you for bucking the trend and providing us with an Award Ceremony that was fun and social.  Instead of sitting in a stuffy banquet room, we loved mingling and playing games like Beat the Pro and Bump.  Even the unskilled tennis playing family members felt welcome and had lots of laughs.  The burgers were scrupt-diddly-uptious too.  Best of all, Jerry has a future career as an auctioneer if he ever retires from his position as Head Pro.  He announced the winners of all those trophies with the skill and speed that would make Sotheby's proud.

I didn't take home any trophies myself.  There weren't any awards for "Best Chauffeur Ever" or "Most Likely To Find A Clean Tennis Shirt In The Laundry Room On Short Notice" but that's OK by me.  I don't need a Major Award.  A couple of hugs from these two will do just fine.