A Lesson in Ponytails

“I am not a perfect mother and I will never be. You are not a perfect daughter and you will never be. But put us together and we will be the best mother and daughter we would ever be.” – Zoraida Pesante

Lately, I’ve been marveling at my daughter.  It’s not that she’s doing anything special really…it’s just that she’s growing up and I’m trying to take it all in.  I get like this sometimes with my kiddos…making an extra effort to be super present, wondering what they’re thinking and how their brains work…basically just staring at them (sometimes they catch me–that’s a teeny bit awkward!)  The funny thing is, that while she may not actually be getting any taller (she’s doomed to be short like her mother,) I can see all kinds of other changes…in her maturity, her personality, and the way she carries herself.  She’s really becoming her own person and as a consequence separating from me…at least as much as any 11-year-old should be allowed to do.  So when I came across this article titled What Your Ponytail Says About You on the Man Repeller website, it really caught my eye.

You see, Casey and I both LOVE long hair.  I would say about ninety percent of the time we both choose to wear our hair down, but we are not strangers to ponytails.  As soon as Casey’s hair was long enough, I would put it in pig tails or a nice high pony.  I loved fixing her toddler hair and adorning it with those cutesy little girl bows!  Then came Disney Channel and it wasn’t long before she boycotted wearing her hair up and started favoring long locks carefully styled with a head band (a la “Gabriella Montez.”)  No more funny “fountain” ponytails on the top of her head!  low and parted CaseyRecently, however, after years of only wearing ponytails to play sports, she has decided that the pony is in style again…only now it’s on her terms.  This is what made the ponytail article stand out.  No longer would she settle for my favorite style (the high pony,) but rather she preferred the low and parted ponytail–and she could style it all by herself, thank you very much.  The low and parted ponytail, the one the Man Repeller article labeled the “champagne” of ponytails for its elegant and timeless look.  The description basically screamed “Casey.”  It went on to say that this was the look of someone who is “making a knowing decision to look put together.”  Yes, that’s my girl.

The "High Ponytail."So, out of curiosity of course, I had to look up the hidden meaning to my go-to ponytail look–the HIGH pony (a look I’ve been sporting for practically my whole life!)  Turns out it’s the preferred style of those who exercise (what?) and it’s also great for “signaling that you don’t give a what!”  Apparently this is a very versatile look and its meaning depends upon the method in which it is executed (combed and smoothed, tousled and messy…that’s a lot to read in to a ponytail!)  It goes on to say that the “high ponies are the maxi dress of their kind,” suggesting that the look is only for some and definitely NOT for all!  This made me giggle.  Here I am a forty-year old wife and mother, and the high pony has always been my go to updo.  Yes, I like the “fountain” as my daughter so affectionately calls it (did I mention that she’s pretty well versed in sarcasm these days?) The high pony is my all-time favorite!

All fun aside, this was just a cute reminder that while we have so many mother-daughter similarities, my girl is certainly growing up and developing her own thoughts and ideas.  It’s causing both a swelling of pride and quite a bit of anxiety as well.  In a matter of months, we’ll be talking about locker décor and what table she landed at for lunch in the middle school cafeteria.  We’ve already had numerous conversations (or was it disagreements) about clothes and shoes…not to mention what’s in and what’s definitely OUT!  Occasionally, I get to be labeled “cool,” but mostly I “just don’t know anything.”  Still, I’m the first person she comes running to on a bad day, when she doesn’t understand something, or gets herself into a jam.    Which just goes to show that what goes around, comes around.  My own mother probably has loads of stories about my tween/teen years and the occasional ups and downs of our relationship back then.  And I know that when I talk with fellow mothers today, it seems we’re all in some kind of yo-yo territory with our own girls at one time or another…a reality of growing up.

So, I may not be fixing her ponytails anymore…and that’s okay because every girl has to learn to style her own hair.  It’s all just part of the process.  And while I learned through curling iron burns, crazy perms and tons of AquaNet…it’s fun to watch her develop her own sense of style.  (And in some ways I think she’s  got the advantage–we didn’t have YouTube tutorials back in the day!)

May your ponytail be high (or low) and your mother/daughter relationship blessed 🙂

Hair doesn’t make the woman, but it definitely helps!  –Unknown

 

 

 

Christmas Trilogy, Part 3: The Sticky Nativity

The magic of Christmas is not in the presents, but in His presence.  –Unknown

I’m just CRAZY about Christmas!  I always have been.  And somehow, I have managed to let both the secular and the sacred share space in my heart (with the tie going to the sacred, of course!) during this magical time of year.  As a kid, I remember Christmas Eve worship and how I especially loved the nativity at my Mom’s house.  I can recall that it was tucked away each year in its original box, every piece finding its place in the foam packaging.  When my mother set it out…baby Jesus, Joseph, Mary and the gang all hung out in a miniature stable that my grandpa made.  Examining each piece, I can still see the beautiful face of Mary and the baby Jesus…surrounded by hay…looking so heavenly and angelic.  Both a baby and a Savior.  The little set symbolizing an extraordinary and miraculous moment in time.  Joseph looking so noble…the epitome of honor and faithfulness.  There were farm animals, an angel, a shepherd boy, and the three wise men, of course.   It was pretty wonderful.

So, it sort of surprises me that I never had a nativity of my own.  Not when I went away to college, not when I took my first job in Arkansas, not when I moved to California, and not when I got married.  In fact, I didn’t have a nativity until after my son, Sean, was a year old.  It all happened in another magical moment at Hobby Lobby (seems that this store is the scene for many Spencer Family Christmas memories!)

After moving halfway across the country from California to Kansas, my mother-in-law, Sean and I found ourselves in the Hobby Lobby in Salina…for what I remember was a brief and snack-filled trip to do a little Christmas shopping (by the way, Cheez-Its make for great toddler payola…just saying!)  Strolling through a craft warehouse with a 1 year old BOY is no easy task!  So when it looked like Sean was going to leap out of the cart at any moment, Karen suggested that Sean help us pick out a nativity for our home.  This was a genius idea because it gave my toddler a sense of purpose and I was just thrilled with the thought of having a nativity of my own.  In record time, my excitement turned to worry as I remembered that something as fragile as a porcelain nativity probably wouldn’t last but a second in our house.  Sean was just so hands-on about everything!  In the back of my mind I had planned to buy him a Fisher Price Little People nativity set for Christmas.  It was important to me that he understand the Christmas story…and at an age appropriate level.  He already had a few Little People collections…the train set and the airport.  Still, it couldn’t hurt to look at the nativities on display at the store.

FullSizeRender (5)It was pretty amazing…an entire aisle with nativities in every shape and size imaginable.  My thoughts were racing…where would we put such a fragile item?  Karen must have heard the wheels grinding in my head.  After explaining my thoughts, she said, “Sean will pick out the one that he likes best…and we will teach him to care for it and look after it.”  My heart was touched as I watched her talk with Sean about picking out a baby Jesus to take to his house.  She reminded him that he would have to take extra special care of it!  And asked him if he was ready to choose one.  Sean beamed!  From an early age, Sean could tell a story with his eyebrows (a talent he inherited from Grandma Karen.)  One second the eyebrows would be arched high as he caught a glimpse of something intriguing.  The next minute the eyebrows would be furrowed as he inspected his options.  Sometimes just one eyebrow would lift as if he was thinking really hard.  It was a wonderful little dance.  When he finally picked one, all three of us knew this was the nativity for us.  It was perfect.  A chunky little wooden nativity…not too big and not too small.  Sean touched each piece and seemed very delighted with the farm animals in this set.  Since all the nativities were technically “on display” we found a store worker who immediately set out to find us a boxed set from the storage room.  However, when she came back, she wasn’t carrying a box.  Uh-oh.  She explained that they hadn’t ordered many of this set and that they were sold out.  She had also checked to see if getting one before Christmas was a possibility.  It was not.

IMG_3354Karen is always cool as a cucumber in these sorts of situations.  Clearly, THIS was the set that Sean wanted.  She didn’t want to disappoint her grandson so she did what ANY grandmother would do.  She asked if we could buy this very set.  The store worker said that in any other situation she would love to sell it to us, except that this set had been GLUED to the foam board it rested upon.  She pulled off one of the wise men to demonstrate.  Stuck to his base was loads of navy blue paper and foam.  Both Karen and the worker tried to pull it off.  It was no easy task.  Even if we pulled each piece from the board we would then have to pull off loads of paper scraps.  The lady said that the pieces might not even stand correctly given the amount of glue left on the base.  She obviously didn’t know who she was dealing with…Karen said she would work all that out later if we could just buy this nativity set.  And so, it was settled.

Sean held the wise man in his hot little hands as we arranged the foam board and the glued down pieces across the shopping cart basket.  There were quite a few stares, but we managed to check out and make it to the car.  From the moment we got home Karen worked on releasing each character from the foam…carefully pulling off paper and glue.  Her beautifully manicured nails probably got the raw end of the deal that day as she scraped and scraped.  Each time she finished a piece she handed it to Sean.  His eyebrows went to work again…doing their little dance as he checked out each one.  He would show it to me and then go and show his Dad and then show me again.  I think Sean had already had a bath and was tucked into bed before Karen had finished them all.  It was truly a labor of love.

IMG_2682Sean played with the nativity all December long.  Each day he would rearrange them and make sure the animals were “fed.”  Since our set didn’t come in a box, we lovingly packed them away in an oversized shoe box after the holidays, unpacking them with great delight the next year and the year after that.  Sean never seemed to tire of “playing” with the set.  When Casey came along (and was old enough to follow her brother everywhere,) he explained the cast of characters to her.  “This is baby Jesus…His mom’s name is Mary and His dad’s name is Joseph…,” and on down the line.  These are the moments that live in a mother’s heart for eternity.

Today, the nativity makes its home in front of the fireplace each Christmas and it serves as the centerpiece of our Christmas Eve dinner table.  I still love taking it out of the shoe box each and every year…a flood of memories spilling out with each “sticky” piece.

Love came down at Christmas,

Love all lovely, Love Divine,

Love was born at Christmas,

Star and Angels gave the sign.

–Christina Rossetti

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Trilogy, Part 2: Deck the Halls with Christmas Spew, Falalalala Lalalala

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere you go….  –Meredith Willson

You know the Christmas trees you see at the store?  The pretty ones that they put in the windows and on display for everyone to gawk at and fawn over.  The perfect ones that force you to stop in your tracks and make your mind ponder (just for a moment) if perhaps you’re really ready for a “grown-up” tree.  The kind of tree that screams I have style AND taste.  Yeah, I’ve seen those trees, too….

Mom's Christmas tree 2015

My Mom’s Christmas tree display 2015.

Lately, I’ve seen a lot of them.  Not just at the stores, but on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest (the social media list goes on and on) and even in the homes of family members and friends.  It seems to me that everyone has one of these beautifully accessorized trees.  And this sort of thing stands out to me, not because I’m envious or jealous but more from a place of sheer admiration.  You see, I LOVE Christmas trees…all kinds (and especially the Charlie Brown one,) but in my heart of hearts I always imagined that I, too, would have one of these special Christmas trees…a “magazine ready,” picture perfect tree.

My Mom has that kind of Christmas tree.  I can remember the red apple tree, the blue and silver bulb tree, and the crystal snowflake tree, among others.  I always assumed that would be my destiny–like mother, like daughter.  In fact, I tried really hard to have one many moons ago.  When I met my husband he had a Christmas tree in his living room…in May.  Granted it was a mini TV top tree, but he had it on display for Memorial Day, I guess (oh, and a plush Thanksgiving turkey was placed next to it, too, probably to welcome the summer season.)  I took this as a sign that he wasn’t much into decorating and eventually I filed it away as proof that I would be in charge of all holiday décor.  So when we graduated from tiny, dorm apartment living and moved to a home in  Salina, I figured this was my big break.  I was going to do Christmas my way.  I remember telling my Mom that I was going for a blue/white/silver snowman theme.  She purchased ornaments to get me started and I began to gather all the “right” accessories as well.  Our son, Sean, was just over a year old, and after photos with Santa one night, we came home to decorate the tree.  And while I was strategizing and putting a final game plan together, Steve and Sean were already placing ornaments on the tree.  What?

IMG_3328Turns out these ornaments were from Steve’s childhood along with a few others that his mother had passed down to us.  (I’m still not sure where this box came from.)  Sean looked thrilled as several of these ornaments were football related.  And I remember stopping in my tracks and thinking that 49er red really didn’t go with my snowman theme…at all.  Obviously, a “discussion” ensued.  That Christmas the tree was properly adorned with blue/white/silver snowman themed items and EVERY ornament my husband had ever owned in his life.  I figured I had lost the battle, but certainly not the war.  There was always next year, and the year after that, and the one after that.  The odds, however, were not in my favor.

Please don’t feel bad for me.  It really wasn’t a make or break deal.  I love Christmas and pretty much all things Christmas related.  So we moved on and it wasn’t until Sean was in preschool that I finally got on board with the “all-things, everything” kind of Christmas tree.  When that sweet-faced little boy brought me his first homemade ornament from school and proceeded to put it on the tree…well, my heart melted.  He was so proud of himself.  A little man contributing to a holiday that I loved so much.  Sean would tell me in his tiny voice, “I made it for you.”  So naturally every scribbled on, wadded up, half-glued, misshapen ornament made its way onto the tree–as it should.  And when Casey came along, well her “contributions” went up right along side his.

ornamentsAs you can imagine, after more than a decade of “contributions” amassed from school AND church, we now have quite a collection going.  Add to it EVERY ornament we have ever received from relatives, friends, plus our church family, and it amounts to 7 boxes of Christmas knickknack goodies.  Every year the tree is quite full (this may be an important factor when you consider the number of times the tree has fallen over the years,) but I wouldn’t have it any other way.  The Spencer Family Christmas tree is full of as many stories and memories as it is ornaments.  This year the kids asked me if we really had to hang every last trinket from the boxes.  I guess they thought that maybe the “bead ornament” (there really is no other name for it since it resembles absolutely NOTHING ever known to man) and the “paper Jesus candy cane” may have seen better days.  “If there’s room on the tree, then there’s room for it,” was my constant reply.  And while I think the “all-things, everything” kind of Christmas tree has roots in my husband’s Christmas tradition, he is the one who announces every year that “it looks like Christmas threw up in here!”  At least he says it with a smile.

Merry Christmas 2015 wideOur tree is still up (it’s New Year’s Day,) it’s leaning to the side as is its custom during the 12 Days of Christmas, and the ornaments are taking themselves down (with a mini thud!)  The Christmas “spew” extends well beyond the tree to the fireplace mantel, hearth, the piano and into the dining room, and it will…for at least another week.  Yes, it STILL looks like Christmas in here and everywhere we go…even if it’s the regurgitated type.  Falalalala Lalalala!

I get obsessed with decorations and decorating the house.  I keep it tasteful outside, but when you get inside it is a bit like Blackpool illuminations, I go BONKERS!  –Johnny Vegas

Stay tuned for Christmas Trilogy, Part 3:  The Sticky Nativity

Repetition Wins (Mama’s Secret Weapon)

Everybody knows how to raise children, except the people who have them.  P.J. O’Rourke

Repetition WinsI often wonder who’s going to write the next BIG parenting book?   It seems like every generation has its guru.  And with today’s parenting styles running the gamut–authoritative to permissive, supportive to absent, indulgent to neglectful–it’s hard to know who really has it figured out.  Throw in your favorite media platform and practically everyone’s an expert nowadays!  So, allow me to throw my hat in to the ring.  While you won’t find any fancy letters following my name, I do have a theory.  And for simplicity’s sake, I’ve narrowed it down to two words:  REPETITION WINS!  Genius, right…I know.

Basically I’ve been applying this strategy throughout my whole parenting career, I just didn’t know it until last election season.  (Stay with me here.) I just happened to be listening to a political strategist ramble on about the power of the message…more specifically the repetitive factor to a particular campaign slogan.  He pontificated that through a basic media blitz, they had managed to turn the tide in their favor…especially since today’s voters never bother to research the issues.  I equate this concept to the “beloved” brain worm–you know, the little song or ditty that invades your every waking thought!  Once it reaches your ears it then proceeds to swim around in your head for hours and if you’re (un)lucky even days.  Oh yeah, there’s power in the message!

So here’s where it comes full circle….  I have been known to be somewhat of a “rules” Mom, harping on my kids with suggestions about practically everything.  (I honestly prefer the word suggestions over rules, just saying.)  My handy little tidbits like, “Wash first,” “Make good choices,” and “No food in the bedrooms–EVER!” are expressions that I have uttered for years.  These phrases have become practically automatic after more than a decade of parenting, only now I hear my kids mumble them (and several other goodies) before I can even get the words out.  I’ll admit that sometimes they’re mumbled sarcastically, still I don’t mind claiming it as a tiny victory!

message 3I’m employing a similar approach with quirky sayings, inspirational quotes and Bible scripture spread across posters, white boards and post-it notes throughout the house.  I’ve got my fingers crossed that these, too, will make their way inside their heads (and hearts,) and if nothing else that they might gain some wisdom from my efforts.    I know I’m doing something right when I see their friends stop and check out the kitchen whiteboard and ask questions about the “Family Rules” poster on the fridge…and I’m just getting started!  Window markers allow me to write messages to my children on mirrors in their bedrooms and thanks to iPhone technology, I have several great memes saved and ready to send to my kiddos’ devices at a moment’s notice.   In my book, it all counts.  Still the master plan is worth nothing without the one message I utilize several times a day, “I love you.”  Out the door, when they come home, before they go to bed and at random times in between, “I love you.”  It’s the message I hope they remember most.

I tease my husband that we’ll find out soon enough whether the strategies we’ve employed will be labeled a success or a failure.  With a tween girl and a teenage boy, I feel like we’ve jumped out of one fox hole only to find ourselves in a whole new set of trenches.  It’s all good, though…because Mama’s got her secret weapon and she ain’t afraid to use it.  Pay heed, parents–REPETITION WINS (no book required.)

I Can Still Taste the Caramel Apples (aka Why I LOVE Halloween!)

Traditions are the guideposts driven deep in our subconscious minds. —Ellen Goodman

10690117_715990488490123_92735026534026743_nWhen it comes to holidays, I like to go full-out! I love traditions…the habits and rituals that create memories (both good and bad, but especially MEANINGFUL) and serve to connect families and friends to the past, present and the future.  Equally as important, I enjoy sharing where, why and how the traditions came about.  So for the last month, my family has endured all of my favorite stories about Halloweens past.  I share these little gems, not just for myself (okay, maybe just for myself) but also as a way to join together my childhood experiences, a little history, some faith/religion and finally…to secretly instill some expectations and wisdom upon my kiddos.  And you thought I just hung out in my kitchen baking cookies all day 🙂

Seriously, I think one of the most effective tools in parenting (and a number of other categories) is the personal testimony.  That’s why I like telling Sean and Casey all about my Halloween adventures–successes and epic fails (age appropriate, of course.)  Everything from what costumes we donned (not ashamed to admit that I was Bat Girl more than once) to trick or treating in the neighborhood to visiting my great grandmother’s house (for peanuts and apples) to haunted houses and everything in between.  We compare and contrast classroom parties, popular candy (then and now), real (and not so real) ghost stories all while asking questions and googling Halloween history.  Together we’ve learned a lot!  And the payoff comes when the kiddos are just as invested in the traditions as I am 🙂

10616209_716894205066418_4160538980628630829_nI would say that I get my love of Halloween from my Dad.  He was the first adult (outside of teachers) that I can remember dressing up for Halloween on a regular basis.  Dad likes his costumes to be scary, and while that’s not my cup of tea, I have many memories of his gory masks and spooky get-ups.  He would help us carve pumpkins and Mom would work on roasting the pumpkin seeds.  At the time, pumpkin patches weren’t a part of our Halloween experience…but we looked forward to the carving nonetheless.  We didn’t use fancy stencils or patterns and our primitive carving tools could have easily sent one of us to the ER (fortunately it never came to that!)  Today, my family looks forward to our annual trip to “the patch” (which my son tells me doesn’t sound quite right) and choosing our own pumpkins from a giant field of orange and green.  Over the years, I have amassed a great deal of pumpkin carving supplies and we make an event out of the whole thing…complete with spooky music courtesy of Pandora.  This year we added hot dogs and s’mores to the occasion.  It’s one of my favorite days of the year (and someday I will master those pumpkin seeds, too!)

The traditions go way beyond the pumpkin patch and the carving.  We decorate the house, reminisce over old Halloween photos and spend countless hours discussing, shopping and creating Halloween costumes.  The costumes have become one of our best-loved parts of the season.  Fortunately, my kids aren’t into scary and with a little imagination and planning, they’ve managed to come up with some pretty creative costumes over the years.  And while I’ve quietly lobbied for the “family” costume, I am afraid that ship has sailed.  For some years, however, I was able to finagle the kiddos into coordinated costumes, but my luck eventually ran out there, too :(.  Oh well.  There’s plenty of fun in sharing stories about past costumes, who we went trick or treating with (family or friends,) where we were living at the time and surprisingly no one ever seems to mention the candy.

Typically we watch “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” once (sometimes twice) each October and I marvel at the questions the kids come up with.  When they were younger, they needed help with the character’s names and who was related to whom.  Now they ask why Lucy is so mean, how come Charlie Brown can’t get a break, and what Snoopy’s role as the Red Baron is really all about.  This year I had to explain that bobbing for apples was a real thing and we discussed some of the reasons why that tradition didn’t carry on (gross.)  We marvel at Schroeder’s piano playing skills, discuss party invite etiquette and basically feel bad for Linus.

As the children have grown older, Halloween has included a faith dialogue as well.  We talk about the early history of the holiday…a time when pagan superstitions and overall fear fueled the observance.  Picture a people who warily watched the seasons change and anxiously retreated into a time of the year when no crops grew, the weather was particularly harsh and their survival depended upon the work that had been done in the warmer months.  Harvest really was a reason to celebrate as they prepared for months of cold and uncertainty.  Can you imagine how they were compelled to turn to a number of gods for protection and provision?  Warding off evil lent itself to carving scary faces on gourds and trees and displaying these items on their doorsteps.  And what about trick or treating?  A custom that spans ancient beliefs, religious practices and morphed into a “pseudo-war” between the haves and have-nots before becoming the family friendly outing that we now know.

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/the-history-of-trick-or-treating-is-weirder-than-you-thought-79408373/?no-ist

10700574_718765481545957_3257901382160519510_oIt’s November 1st and  costumes lie crumpled up on the floor, candy wrappers dot the tabletops, and tired looking eyes stare up at me.  And while the whole Halloween adventure culminates in one day, I realize that it’s not the holiday itself that means so much to me–it’s actually the whole season.  We’ve been gearing up, preparing for, talking about and making plans for a whole month.  Through it all we’ve carved out special (additional!) time together…outside of mealtimes and the occasional quiet evening.  We’ve cooked and baked together.  We’ve shopped together.  We’ve attended school parties together.  We’ve enjoyed nature together.  And it feels good.  I know these seasons are fleeting.  Before long, their Halloween plans won’t include me.  The kids are growing up so fast and that probably scares me more than any creepy costume on Halloween.  For now I hold onto the imagination and creativity of the season.  I look forward to the cooler temperatures and the rustling of leaves and my mind wanders (unafraid) to the approaching season that seems to draw us closer (even if it only is for warmth 🙂 )  The traditions abound and yes, I can still taste the caramel apples that sweeten this already favored season.

There is a child in every one of us who is still a trick-or-treater looking for a brightly-lit front porch. ~Robert Brault

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Daughter…Marry a Chef (You’ll Thank Me Later)

Eating is a necessity but cooking is an art. —Unknown

When I was a kid, I would tell my mother that I wanted to live in a house without a kitchen.  Actually, if I remember correctly, we had several conversations about it.  I’m fairly certain that I’ve even brought up the subject with a couple of past boyfriends (just to let them know what they were in for—yes, I’m a courteous girl :).)  And my poor husband, he knows all too well how much I LOATHE the kitchen.  Turns out that it’s not really the kitchen that I have a problem with…I mean I always planned to have a microwave and a refrigerator (I’m not stupid.)  What I really hate is the COOKING that takes place in the kitchen!

Kiss the Cook :)

Kiss the Cook 🙂

Maybe my dislike for cooking comes from possessing a very plain and boring palate.  For example…I’m pretty much a beans and rice girl.  When we go out for dinner I typically choose one of three entrees:  cheeseburger, pizza or chicken, and I’m not really into sweets.  There isn’t an adventurous bone in my body when it comes to trying new foods (asparagus anyone?)  And I’m actually very okay with this.  I view eating in the same manner that I see the need for sleep–a mere necessity and nothing more.  I have a hard time relating to a lot of my foodie friends who rave about their latest food find and go on and on about “pairing” this delectable tidbit with that scrumptious delicacy (am I even using those words right?)  I really just don’t get it.

In my own defense, I WANTED to get it.  I wanted to be a so called “expert” in the kitchen.  While I make a mean sandwich, there actually was a time when I secretly aspired to be whiz in the kitchen.  I own a lot of cookbooks, including the elusive Joy of Cooking CD-ROM (lol) and at one point I was absolutely addicted to the Food Network.  Like many stay-at-home moms, Paula Deen, Bobby Flay, Tyler Florence, and Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa) were not only my idols, but also my best friends.  As soon as it was acceptable for me to turn off Nickelodeon (11am or so) I would quickly click the channel to see what my “friends” were whipping up for lunch and dinner.  Never has anyone been more into “homemade” and “from scratch” as yours truly.  I was rolling out dough, making my own stock, and a regular in the fresh herb section at our local supermarket.  I’m not sure if I crossed the line into “cooking obsessed,” but I’m pretty sure I was right on the edge.  When my three year old daughter started to request tuning into Rachael Ray instead of Dora the Explorer I finally woke up.

To be honest, I was spending a lot of time, energy and money on a hobby that I hated.  Not only did I not enjoy cooking, but truth be told, I was NOT very good at it.  In hindsight, I realize that I was fighting a losing battle.  Don’t get me wrong…I have the utmost respect for foodies and chefs alike.  It just turns out that it’s not my thing.  Slowly, I stopped turning in to the Food Network and filling my time with other things.  I began adhering more to the Sandra Lee method of food prep—“Seventy percent store-bought, ready-made plus 30 percent fresh allows you to take 100 percent of the credit.” Her kitchen motto was all that was left of my so called “love of cooking.”

Needless to say, my family didn’t starve to death.  Not once has any one ever said, “Oh, Anna, how I wish you could go back to making (fill in the blank.)”  While there are few remaining recipes that I rely on all these years later, I don’t really sweat it…especially since my children inherited my same plain and boring palate.  We primarily live on the basics:  a variety of chicken dinners, tacos, spaghetti, LOTS of sandwiches and whatever my husband can grill.  It’s not exciting, but it fills a hole.  What used to make me feel like a failure as a wife and mother, now has crossed over into the realm of acceptance.  I no longer want to be a good cook.  If I could, I honestly would quit cooking altogether and live on cereal. Unfortunately, that is not an option.  Sigh.

So here it is…I am over the mom pressure from the foodie crowd (I couldn’t grow or can anything to save my life.) I will be the first one to shout from the rooftops that being a successful wife, mother, & homemaker doesn’t mean that you are required to be a culinary genius, too.  Just because you stay home with your kids does not mean your worth and value is tied up in what’s for dinner.  Serving chicken nuggets does not make you less of a woman.  I wish someone had told me all of this years ago.  Today, the only chef I pay attention to on the Food Network is Guy Fieri…and that’s because I like to drool over the food (mostly cheeseburgers and barbeque) he samples on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”  Mmmmm….

I completely understand that no “knight-in-shining-apron” is going to come to my kitchen rescue anytime soon.  Research shows that even in today’s modern society, woman are responsible for nearly 80% of household food prep.  And while a growing number of men are becoming more and more comfortable in the family kitchen, I realize that meals will continue to fall into the woman/wife/mom category for the foreseeable future.  And that’s okay because I’ve already been coaching my daughter to marry a chef.  Problem solved.  (You’re welcome.)

Today’s menu has two choices:  TAKE IT or LEAVE IT!

A Flood of Thoughts (aka Back to School Panic Attack)

Apply your heart to instruction and your ear to words of knowledge.  Proverbs 23:12

Back to School 2015

Back to School 2015

I have a LOVE/HATE relationship with the whole “back to school” thing. I LOVE that my kids have the opportunity to grow and learn under the guidance of some pretty amazing teachers. I HATE that summer break is over.  I LOVE that my kiddos are social butterflies…it’s good for them to be with their friends in the classroom and it takes the pressure off my role as “entertainment director.”  I HATE that we have to wake up early.  I LOVE having the house to myself for a few hours a day…and I HATE having the house to myself a few hours a day…you get the picture.  So this morning as my daughter was packing up for her first day of 5th grade…something tripped my panic button hard–this wasn’t just the first day of 5th grade…no…, this was the first day of her last year in elementary school!  I HATE the panic button 😦

As luck would have it (I’m saying this sarcastically,) we walked to school this morning…thus giving me plenty of time to think and let the panic button go to work.  Was she prepared?  Was she nervous?  Would this be a good year?  What really makes a school year good?  It wasn’t long before my panic attack became a full blown list of “did I tell her….?”  So for my sanity (because this “back to school” thing is all about me,) I’ve come up with a few thoughts to share with her (after school, of course.)

  1. School is about learning.  Sure you go there to learn the “school” stuff, but you will learn so much more. You’ll learn about yourself.  Each day you’ll grow in discovering who you are, what you stand for, and all that you’re capable of accomplishing.  You’ll find out what you like and what you don’t like (and you just might be surprised how the categories break down!)
  2. No one said you have to know everything…so give yourself a break.  Some things will come easily.  Other things will make you work (hard.)  Both are good.
  3. Relationships are tough, but worthwhile.  Getting to know a new teacher will take time.  Building friendships take time.  Discovering who to avoid…well, that takes time, too.  Not everyone will like you and you probably won’t like everyone.  Either way, be kind.  You never know what someone else is going through. If you want a friend, be a friend.  It is far better to be remembered for being a “good guy” than a total jerk.
  4. Pay attention.  Learning requires focus.  Don’t assume anything.  Ask questions.  It’s okay not to get it the first time.  Practice, preparation and performance are related.  Don’t get behind.  If you need help, say something.
  5. Trust your instincts.  God gives us that little voice for a reason.  Tune your ears and your heart to it.  Remember that peer pressure can be a trap.  Comparing yourself to others is never a good idea.
  6. Think before you speak.  Words can hurt.  Offer grace and understanding at every turn.  Compassion for others goes a long way.  Be a helper.
  7. Even good kids make mistakes.  You’re not perfect, none of us are.  Making mistakes goes beyond the classroom.  You know where I stand on drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, etc.  Likewise, you should realize that lying, cheating, and disrespect will also not be tolerated.  At the same time, I love you and together we can work through anything.
  8. It’s okay to pray at school.  I’m not telling you to get on the loud speaker and lead a revival, but don’t be afraid to ask God to guide you throughout your day.
  9. School is your job right now.  As your mother, I will be on you to do your homework, study for tests and remind you not to take short cuts.  This is important for you now and in the future, but school performance is not the sum of your worth.
  10. Attitude is everything.  You get what you give.  You will have bad days.  Life is unfair.  How you navigate through the good and the bad says a lot about your character.  You can do this.  I believe in you no matter what.

So my LOVE/HATE relationship with this time of year continues.  I LOVE that I have the opportunity to share these thoughts with my daughter.  I HATE that she’s growing up so fast.  I LOVE watching my kiddos move forward on this journey toward adulthood.  I HATE that tomorrow morning my son will have his first day of eighth grade.  I can hear the panic button gearing up now….

Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education. Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

 

 

June Bugs in May (A Horror Story)

Insects are my secret fear. That’s what terrifies me more than anything – insects.  —Michael O’Donoghue

This will probably only make sense to those who know me best: I HATE June bugs!  I don’t remember when my phobia began, but I’m pretty sure that it’s hereditary since I have early childhood memories of my mom, my aunts, my cousins and my sister shrieking in terror when one would come around on a warm spring/summer night.  By the time I was in junior high, the phobia was in full force…as my good friend, Joy, and I would part ways at the street light halfway between our houses.  Under this light it would seem that June bugs gathered by the thousands…just looking for young girls with long hair to attack.  Of course, we played it cool…walking to the street light, quickly saying our goodbyes and running like maniacs back to our houses screaming all the way!  I think it’s their large bodies, hard shells, sticky limbs, drunken flight patterns and the sheer noisiness of the little beasts that send me into a tizzy.  YUCK!

June bug memeTurns out that up until now, my fear of June bugs was strictly theoretical.  You see all that time I spent dodging them and screaming about them and running from them was merely child’s play.  I had never actually had one land on me.  I’ve never had to pull one from my hair.  Mostly, when I saw one I ran the other direction and if I came across one on the ground well, I stepped on it and tried not to throw up (it’s that body crushing sound that makes me want to hurl.)  This system was my response to these scary critters and while it may not sound like a great plan, it had always worked…that is up until last night….

While sitting around a warm campfire, preparing s’mores on an especially beautiful night I met my fear head on (so to speak, ) but let me back up just a bit–I should probably set this up a little.  My kiddos were having friends over and with all the comings and goings I left the outdoor lights on.  I wanted parents and kids arriving at our house to have a little light…especially since the bulb in the lamp-post that lights the sidewalk had burned out.  This meant the flood light that illuminates the patio and basketball goal was on…for HOURS!  It was during this time that a swarm of June bugs made their way to our house.  There were so many that my son and his friend took to trying to exterminate the problem by clubbing them with sticks (probably a boy thing) and stepping on them.  This was all well and good (or so I thought) because 1.  it gave them something to do while they were waiting for every one to arrive and 2. they were killing the June bugs!  By the time we were ready to get started I foolishly believed that the June bugs were no longer and issue and that any remaining little beasts would simply move on to someone else’s yard once we turned out the lights.  But, NO.

The only good June bug--a dead one!

The only good June bug–a dead one!

Throughout the campfire we could HEAR the June bugs lurking.  Much of the noise came from June bugs running into the garage wall where the light had once been.  There was even a loud popping noise when the less brilliant bugs sizzled up in the fire–much to the amusement of the kids.  And finally there was the crackling noise of the June bugs beneath MY feet as I moved about helping the kiddos make their s’mores.  Each crunchy moment made me want to lose my dinner and I wasn’t even sure if I was going to be able to stomach eating a s’more myself.  After about 20 minutes my thoughts drifted away from these horrible bugs and on to the silly ghosts stories that were being told.  But wouldn’t you know it…just when I finally got past the situation enough to put together my own ooey gooey, delicious s’more I felt something.  No it wasn’t in my hair or on my arm…no the sinister little beast was crawling up my pant leg–ON THE INSIDE!

So there I was with my marshmallow stick in one hand and my fixin’s in the other when I could feel something moving up my leg (darn those wide leg, boot cut jeans.)  Okay, I thought, be calm…we have company.  We don’t want to panic the children.  I’ll just crush it up against my leg and then it will fall out, right?  (As I type this I can’t believe those words crossed my mind!)  So I quickly transferred everything to one hand and smacked my knee with the other.  I heard and felt the crunch.  I shook out my pant leg, but nothing fell out.  Surely, I had killed the thing!  I mean, I hit it pretty hard.  I shook my pant leg even more, stepping out of my sandal and using the moonlight to search out the area.  NOTHING.  Alright, maybe it fell out and I just didn’t see it.  Yeah, that sounds good.  I’ll go with that.  Thinking that the issue had resolved itself, I went back to the task at hand and set out to assemble my s’more.  As soon as I bit into that little square of goodness that same feeling returned to my leg.  This time I couldn’t help but react.  I jumped, squirmed and announced, “There’s a bug in my pants!”  You can imagine the giggles and fits of laughter.  Great.  So again I smacked my knee as hard as I could and this time I knew without a doubt that I had succeeded in killing that thing.  You can’t deny BUG JUICE! (Excuse me now while I once again try NOT to throw up!)

What I realized last night is that somewhere along the way, I must have grown up.  While I still wholeheartedly claim AND proclaim my June bug phobia–somehow I got through that moment.  In the past a trauma like this would have completely ruined my night, but not this time.  Instead, I shook out my pant leg (again) and what was left of the bug fell out (of course, I immediately stepped on it for good measure.) Then I moved past it.  We finished up our s’mores and Steve and I enjoyed chatting by the fire until nothing was left but smoldering embers.  It was so peaceful.  Obviously, I didn’t want to discover another bug up my leg, but I wasn’t afraid to let my feet rest on the same slab of concrete where the incident occurred.  Call me crazy, but this is BIG GIRL stuff!  I felt so good and proud of myself (especially after that squishy spot dried on my pant leg.)  Sometimes it truly is the little victories…”sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug”…and sometimes you just get over it and move on as dignified as possible…BUG JUICE and all!

She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.  Proverbs 31:25

 

He’s Not YOU and She’s Not ME (Oh, the Perils of Parenting!)

Don’t try to make children grow up to be like you, or they may do it. –Russell Baker

madhouseThe idea of being in charge of small people always seemed overwhelming to me.  Babies need constant care, toddlers keep you running, then come the tantrums…and all this during a child’s cutest phase!  And please, don’t be fooled by the false hope of the elementary school years…while the child is certainly capable of handling many tasks independently, elementary school is definitely a whirlwind all its own.  If questions and comments your child picked up from preschool friends had you blushing…just wait!  With a better vocabulary and dedicated lunch/recess time to “share,” your child is sure to come home with a couple of doozies!  I am just now treading into the tween and teen years of parenthood and I’m anticipating even more hurdles and embarrassing conversations.  I mean, these are the years they actually WARN us about 😦

In reality parenthood is everything they said it would be…good, bad, frustrating and rewarding.  We love our kiddos and I’m pretty sure the cycle of life isn’t going anywhere!  However, it’s come to my attention lately that dealing with my kids is getting a lot more complicated.  When they were little they exemplified typical “little” people behavior.  The moments of defiance and cuteness along with the awe of learning new things were just part of a normal day.  And newsflash–probably none of our children were truly exceptional at this point.  In fact, I’ve read several studies that suggest that most of our children all level out in kindergarten.  That means despite being the product of a stay-at-home mom, single-parent household, working parents, or daycare (home or otherwise,) all of our kiddos have reached the same milestones at this particular crossroad in life.  The differences become evident after our children enter school and not necessarily because of school itself.  It appears that a child’s personality begins to develop and solidify all within the first few years of elementary school (barring any huge life events, of course.)  I am not a psychologist, but I think the stats hold up.  An even-tempered child at age 6 likely maintains that even temper.  A selfish child at age 7 probably has selfish tendencies throughout life.  A sensitive demeanor at age 8 means the child has a good chance of maintaining that sensitivity well into adulthood.

So here’s where I stand with my now “complicated” kiddos.  As a 10 and 13-year-old, their personalities are well-developed and those same personalities are not afraid to go head to head with mine!  This is a good AND a bad thing.  As nature would have it, my kids and I have some similar personality traits.  For example, my son and I are suckers for comedies and enjoy wasting hours watching funny movies.  We laugh at the same dumb things and for the most part “speak the same language.”  My daughter and I both love organization, we approach problems very analytically, and LOVE to read and learn new things!  All three of us are artistic.  On the other hand, my kids are extremely social while I am an introvert.  Their constant need to be with friends and have friends over just blows me away!  They both enjoy sports while I threw out my hip playing kickball in my grandma’s front yard (no athletic ability here.)  They both love video games and I consider video games to be the ultimate waste of time.  None of this is a deal breaker, but we do spar over homework, practice time, and responsibility.  I wonder about their commitment level, attention to detail and their desire to work hard.  I have a tough time hearing them complain about problems that they can fix themselves, whine about situations that get a little difficult and sulk when things don’t go their way.  It’s in these things that I have to stop and remind myself, “He’s not you, and she’s not me.”

It’s not an easy thing to maneuver.  When I got into this parenting gig I never once contemplated the idea that these little beings could give me any problems or try my nerves.  In a naïve way, I imagined they would be some kind of “mini-me” and thus, they would be perfectly reasonable at all times (feel free to laugh out loud here!)  All any of us really have to go on when we enter parenthood are our own childhood experiences, the experiences of those closest to us, and maybe a couple of baby books.  So basically, we might as well go into this blind…because this is what I remember from my early days:

I’m pretty sure I was not your typical child.  In a lot of ways I was probably always a little bit of a grown up…or perhaps an old soul.  I was thoughtful in ways that most kids never think of…weighing the pros and cons of many decisions that others wouldn’t even consider.  I was very self-concerned and stubborn.  I worked hard.  By the time I was 8 I knew I wanted to go to college and I was driven to get there.  I was shy and serious.  I was afraid of failure.  I WAS BY NO MEANS PERFECT.  I put a lot of pressure on myself.  I hated making mistakes and vowed to learn from them.  I felt very safe and secure with my family.  I was creative.  I didn’t really care what other people thought of me.  I believed in a God who loved me and would never abandon me.  

This is how I “remember” my childhood, but this alone doesn’t garner enough information on how to raise a child…especially a child that in all likelihood would be very different from myself.  Oh, how I wish I had realized all this earlier!

Possessing an awareness that there are and will be differences is key to navigating my parenting responsibilities now and into the future.  This newfound credo of  “he’s not you, and she’s not me,” might be the saving grace that I need to get over this parenting hump.  Stepping back and realizing that we are all separate individuals and that our differences are okay (heck, we might even learn something from one another) could make these next years a growing experience for us all.  I know that the head to head battles will exist (there’s no way I’m going to let them grow up without a sense of accountability and purpose,) but hopefully the battles will also include some level of understanding.  I truly love these kiddos and I want to love them into being the people God called them to be…not a “mini-me” clone and certainly not the “ideal” person that lives in my imagination.  Most of us hope to raise children to be more than ourselves…we seek to give them not only the things that we had growing up but so much more.  We want them to have the benefit of all those who have come before them…us included.  The long-held belief that each generation should be better than the one before drives us in so many ways, but it’s also a belief that can cause us to “run-over” our own children.  A lack of understanding can stop them in their tracks before they’ve even had a chance to start…and we’ve all seen it happen far too many times.

My kids will not have a childhood experience that mirrors mine.  Their friendships and relationships will look different from the ones I knew 30+ years ago.  They will stumble and fall.  They will let me down and they will find a strength that I never knew they could possess.  These same kiddos will test the waters and sometimes they will get hurt.  They will succeed in areas where I’ve failed and they will thrive in places I would have been too afraid to venture into.  And really, the last thing the world needs is a “mini-me,” (because I am certainly not all that easy to deal with!)  In the end, when they finally reach adulthood, I pray that I would have loved them through all of it.  I know it will not be easy because I have high hopes and expectations (I’m still a mom after all!)  But these years–the tweens and teens, the “home-stretch” if you will, are far too valuable to just endure.  These are critical times.  Love your daughter.  Love your son.  And remember, “he’s not you and she’s not me…” it just might make all the difference.

Childhood is a short season.  –Helen Hayes

Small Town Night Owl

I stay up late every night and realize it’s a bad idea every morning.  —unknown

As I near 40, I’m almost ashamed to admit it.  Almost.  But here’s my confession:  When it comes to sleep I am my own worst enemy.  I think I might have jinxed myself as a kid when I muttered that both food and sleep were overrated.  While I still hold these tenets to be true, I have come to discover that sleep is pretty vital (I’m sure food is, too…I just don’t want to admit it or PREPARE it.)

sleepIt’s not that I don’t need sleep.  Trust me, I NEED it!  It’s just that my clock is “off.”  I could try blaming age, but my real trouble with sleep began way before that.  It seems that at bedtime…I’m just not tired.  As a child I remember sharing a room with my little sister and after lights out, we would simply stay up and talk…or sing.  (We had these singing contests where we tried to win the other person over to our song.  Popular catchy songs work well, but if I remember right, annoying brain worm songs like “Mary Had a Little Lamb” worked much better!)  I also loved to tell stories and like an old woman I could spin a yarn that would go on for days.  My poor sister!  On more than one occasion I’d tell a story that would go on so long that she would fall asleep before it ended 🙂  It was slightly embarrassing….  Only slightly.

In junior high and especially high school, I continued my night owl ways.  It wasn’t that I wasn’t tired.  I really, really was!  But afterschool activities, a social life and school work kept me up ’til the wee hours of the morning.  (Before you jump to any conclusions let it be known that I stayed up way later for school work than for anything else! I know–I’m a NERD 🙂 ) For some reason, I always felt like I had more energy at night.  11pm seems to be peak time for me.  To be fair, I have to admit that I am not a morning person.  Not at all.  Maybe that’s part of why I’m a night owl.

During my college years, being a night owl just went with the territory.  We were all night owls…burning the candle at both ends.  It wasn’t that big of a deal–nothing ever is at that age.  Wake up early, stay up late…some nights sleep was more of a good idea than a reality.  I can remember going to a Poe concert the night before a final, closing down the club, going out to breakfast, drinking my weight in coffee, studying for an hour and arriving on campus just in time to take a 7am final–and acing it.  (Good genetics, I can thank my Mom for my test taking abilities!)  This was the way life rolled and I loved it!  Yes, sleep was overrated indeed.  We are so invincible in our 20s….

One might think that motherhood would change everything.  No.  Now I had an excuse to be awake at all hours of the night.  Pregnancy, middle of the night feedings, a colicky baby, illness of one kind or another, bad dreams, etc.  All this and so much more just pushed my night owl tendencies to the next level because a sleeping child meant that I could have a moment to do what I wanted to do.  You know, like watch a sitcom from beginning to end (forget movies…that’s asking for too much time,) have a snack and not have to share, catch up on correspondence, READ, and have a continuous thought (crazy, right?)  Let me be clear, my late night tendencies have never had anything to do with insomnia (which sounds horrible!)  It really is LIGHTS OUT once my head hits the pillow.  It’s just that I can find a million and one things to do before going to sleep.  Did I mention that I drink ALOT of coffee?

I’ve given my night owl tendencies a lot of thought lately.  For the past few weeks I’ve noticed several news articles and studies that cite the need for better sleep habits…specifically MORE sleep and an earlier bedtime.  At first I sort of brushed it off, but I’m starting to think that maybe I should take these things more seriously.  These same studies say that a lack of sleep leads to poor memory, an inability to focus, impaired immunity, sluggish metabolism and WRINKLES.  (Look, I claim not to be vain, but I don’t know a woman on the planet who’s “okay” with wrinkles!)  So, what’s a girl to do? Change seems practically impossible.  And let me just state for the record, this wouldn’t even be an issue if I could find a school district where classes didn’t start until 10am (that’s what I call a reasonable morning hour.)

My best friend recently told me that she has successfully made “the transition,” moving from night owl (she was my social counterpart in my early years) to morning person.  I know–it just doesn’t seem possible!  No longer does she fritter away the late night hours or need to set several alarm clocks to wake up in the morning.  Instead she’s up with the sun and happy about it.  So what’s her secret?  She tells me that through prayer and discipline she has made a change for the better.  Wouldn’t you just know it?  Jesus is the answer (again!) I have to tell you that I’m not optimistic.  It’s not that I don’t have faith…it’s more that I don’t know if I’m ready.  Because you see EVERY part of me LIKES staying up late.  It’s my chance to breathe, to sit without interruption, to find peace, READ and have a continuous thought all my own! (Notice a theme here?)  I like being the only person awake in the quiet of our little home.  Maybe it’s an introvert thing, but nighttime is MY TIME!

Okay, so someday (soon) I plan to grow up and get serious about sleep and taking care of myself.  And when I do, I know (without a doubt) that Jesus will see me through.  That and the threat of WRINKLES….

Night, night.