Back to School Essentials (7 Must Haves You Won’t Find on Any School Supply List)

Casey First Day of School 2009

Casey First Day of School 2009

It’s that time of year! And the back to school vibe is so pervasive you can practically smell it…(and it ain’t rosy!)  Alarm clocks set, buses running, backpacks on and lunches packed, this is show time!  So whether you’re Best Dressed or Total Mess, Ready Freddie or Nervous Nelly, the school bell’s ringing and there’s no stopping it.   Like most dutiful moms, I’ve done the shopping and the supply gathering, made sure the kiddos have been the recipients of stylish haircuts and good shoes, and we’ve definitely run the gauntlet when it comes to Back to School Night.  Still, there’s a few things that I wish I could bundle up and tuck into the backpacks of my children (and every child for that matter.)  You won’t find them on the shelf at any discount store, but they might just make all the difference.  So load up on these seven BIG back to school necessities….

1.  To Thine Own Self Be True.  Let’s motivate our children to walk into the classroom with a sense of self.  Remind your children WHO they are and WHAT they stand for.  Let’s be authentic and real with one another, forget the game playing.  The mean girls garbage, the bullying and the backbiting.  A good majority of us are capable (even at a young age) of understanding what is acceptable and what isn’t.  Parents be an example.

2.  Be Kind, Rewind.  Remember this saying from the days of video rentals and VCR’s?  Might I suggest that we urge our children to adopt this little mantra as a way of extending grace to one another and ourselves?  One of my favorite exercises in kindness invites us to think BEFORE we speak.  We can effectively offer kindness by pausing to check ourselves, especially when dealing with a difficult person.  PAUSE…and ask, “How does this sound out loud?  Am I treating others the way I want to be treated?”  I often remind my kiddos to be kind to themselves, too.  Sometimes we’re our own worst critic.  Kindness is a wonderful gift.

Sean First Day of School 2005

Sean First Day of School 2005

3.  Mind Your Zzzz’s and Eat Your Peas.  Do your children a favor and help them develop healthy eating and sleeping habits.  Numerous studies show that students learn better and have a more positive school experience when they get enough sleep and eat regular, nutritious meals.  I’m just as guilty as the next Mom.  McDonald’s is soooo easy and convenient and one more episode of their favorite show won’t hurt…or will it?  Remember, grown-ups, we ARE in charge!

4.  Game Plan.  Having a strategy for homework, school projects and extra-curricular activities is vital to maintaining a sane household.  We’ve all had that child come home and have a breakdown because they’ve procrastinated on a project, didn’t pay attention to a lesson in class, or flat out fell behind.  Let’s encourage our children to be proactive, make a schedule and take pride in all that they do.

5.  Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously.  This applies to kiddos AND parents.  There’s nothing like laughter to diffuse a tense situation.  Finding the joy and the fun in life is critical to a person’s overall well-being.  Make time to laugh, giggle and create good times (and good memories) with one another.  Remember, it’s not all rocket science.

6.  Your Loved Ones Have Your Back.  There’s nothing quite so overwhelming and utterly terrifying as feeling alone and like no one understands.  Create an atmosphere in your home and in your relationships where each person knows their value and worth.  Most parents (guardians and caregivers) would go to any length to protect the children they love.  I want my children to succeed and you want your children to succeed, too.  Fostering a safe and loving environment can be the catalyst that moves a child in a positive direction.

7.  You Gotta Have Faith.  We’ve all heard the term separation of church and state, as well as the countless other arguments about keeping religion out of school.  Fine, but that doesn’t mean you have to leave your personal faith in the school parking lot.  Let’s remind our kids that God is present and active in our daily lives, not just at home or at church, but all the time.  It’s okay to carry your Christian values into the school building.  Christ’s example of grace, mercy and love will be a welcome addition to any education environment.  Looking out for one’s neighbor, a spirit of forgiveness, and a desire to treat each other justly and with respect will make any school year one to remember.  I tell my children it’s perfectly acceptable to say a silent prayer before a tough test, for a classmate going through a trying time and especially for our teachers and administrators.  In our home, we pray for our schools, our classmates and teachers before bed each night…why would we stop between the hours of 8am and 3pm during the week?  I want my kiddos to know that there is a 24/7 God who knows each of us, loves us dearly and has a wonderful plan and purpose for our lives.

So as we snap and post those first day of school photos, let’s be intentional about making this THE school year where we put first things first and load up on all the essentials for our best school experience yet (kiddos and parents alike!) 🙂

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

 

 

 

 

Summer’s Last Hurrah! (My Top 10–This Just Got Real)

Vacation Flashback: S'mores with Aunt Tricia

Vacation Flashback: S’mores with Aunt Tricia

Every summer has a story.  –Unknown

Summer never looks so good as it does on the last day of school!  Like a brand new penny, summertime is all shiny, a token of possibilities just waiting to be spent 🙂  Back in May, we anxiously awaited days of unscheduled fun and endless adventure (not to mention the joy of “forgetting” to set the alarm clock!)  In so many ways I was more excited about summer than my kids…the monotony of pick up/drop off and the constant scheduling/rescheduling of  team practices, medical appointments, school projects, etc….  And while it’s not my favorite season of the year, summer was sure sounding pretty good!  In theory, I was willing to overlook the scorching temperatures, bugs and the chaos that is the spontaneity of summer.  I planned (funny, huh?) on enjoying it all and loosening the reins of my control freak lifestyle.  Feel free to laugh at me….

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Oh yeah…THE SNOW CONE!

Now that the end of July has rolled around (and the school supplies have debuted at the local stores,) I realize that this summer has been anything but the relaxing, carefree season I imagined.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m NOT complaining.  I spent the better part of the summer watching my children grow and learn on the baseball/softball diamond.  We’ve squeezed in sleepovers, sports camps, swim lessons, and Vacation Bible School.  My “Camp MOM” program has netted the children a few prizes while propelling (okay, FORCING) them to look at Scripture in a new and exciting (?) way.  We’ve easily eaten our weight in Dairy Queen ice cream and discovered the addiction that is THE SNOW CONE!  We’ve managed to eke out a little pool time (NEVER enough for my kids.)  And we made our way to Grandma and Grandpa’s for a little family visit.  All very good things!  Still, I feel a little incomplete.  The busyness of summer has me feeling like we missed out on the lazy, less hurried parts of the season.  Frankly, we’re running out of days and there’s still more on my list.

So here and now, I’m putting out for all to see MY Summer Wish List…because summer break is all about the parents, right?  Forget about the kids (not really!)  Here goes nothing:

1.  Catch fireflies in a pickle jar.  Might as well be specific 🙂 Don’t worry, catch and RELEASE!

2.  Stargazing.  My opportunity to impress my kiddos with my vast knowledge of constellations.  Yeah, right.

3.  Drive in movie.  This is a tough one because I don’t really like sitting through movies…it’s a huge time investment.  Equally problematic is that I’m REALLY picky about the movies that I watch.  Cross your fingers.

4.  Road trip.  Okay, if you know us…then you’re already aware that we’ve been on the road for baseball tournaments this summer.  Those don’t count.  I want to go see nature…(I can’t believe I uttered those words!)  I’m thinking State Park adventure 🙂

5.  S’mores.  Enough said.  Throw in a couple of campfire songs and we just might call this one EPIC!

6.  Eat outside.  I don’t know why, but I love to picnic.  It goes against my ant phobia, but it’s really true.  I enjoy dining outdoors.

7.  Professional baseball game.  This is already in the works!  Hooray 🙂

8.  Read three GOOD books.  I’m sort of a nonfiction junky…and those are typically long reads.  Managing to get through three would be heavenly.  I’m still on book one.

9.  Visit Lawrence, Kansas.  Stroll down memory lane while reminding my kids that they can choose any college they want (as long as I approve of it.)

10.  Go to the zoo.  Because it’s fun and I like Orangutans (a lot.)

Okay, people.  There it is.  And since time stops for no one, I needed to get started on this list YESTERDAY.  Because while summer technically goes through September, my kiddos start school in mid-August.

Summertime is always the best of what might be. -Charles Bowden

UPDATE 8/2014:  Completed 9 out of the 10.  Not bad 🙂

Summer List Pic

 

They Just Might Revoke My Mom Card for This….

Okay, Mom-friends…here goes.  Truth is…I haven’t seen the movie Frozen and I don’t plan to see it anytime in the near future.  So, when you talk about how adorable it is and how it’s a must see, when you tell me that you rushed to buy the DVD the day it came out and your family knows the movie line by line, and when you share that it’s your go-to drive time music (even if the kids aren’t in the car with you)–I will smile, but I just CANNOT relate.  Sorry 😦

frozen movie

I’m not anti-Disney, too busy, or boycotting any number of supposed agendas, etc…it honestly just doesn’t look that interesting to me.  I know–GASP!  My children (a boy and a girl) have both seen the movie, we own the CD (a birthday present to my daughter from a friend), and I think I’m pretty familiar with the basic story line.  My kiddos (and their friends) sing the songs around the house and in the van (they do seem to be very catchy tunes.)  Once I even played the music during a snowman themed church event to the delight of dozens of girls AND boys–it’s obviously a big crowd pleaser!  I have read countless articles and blog posts about the wonderful and not so wonderful (depends upon the viewpoint of writer) themes in the film.  Plus, I’ve heard numerous raving reviews from young and old alike about the movie.  Still…nothing.  My husband even wants to see Frozen to find out what all the hubbub is about.  To which I have to say, “Watch it with the kids.”  It’s just not my cup of tea.

I should admit that I’m not a huge fan of children’s movies or animated flicks of any kind.  But as a Mom, I’ve had to watch several more than my fair share (we’ve all been there!)  Many times, to my surprise, I find that I actually end up enjoying the movie.  There are even a few…like The Incredibles and Megamind…that I would watch repeatedly.  Most recently we’ve seen The Muppet Movie and Sherman and Mr. Peabody.  Both two thumbs up!  So, I really can’t explain my reluctance to sit down and watch Frozen.  No biggie, right?  Move on.  But just when I thought that most of the hype surrounding this movie had sort of died down (like maybe I was in the clear of being “outed” as the only Mom on the planet who had not seen it), a funny thing happened to me at Wal-Mart….

While in the party section, a desperate woman wandered into the aisle, frantically looking from side to side and up and down.  She left her children near the end cap display (two in the cart and an older child to monitor the group.)  I couldn’t help but feel like I was in the way somehow–clearly she was on a mission.  It was about this time that one of her kiddos said, “Mom!  That looks like Frozen blue!” and pointed to some “icy, blue-toned” colored plates and napkins.  The woman quickly snatched them up.  She moved closer to me and said, “Where can someone find snowflakes in the middle of summer?”  Not sure if she was speaking to me or just to herself (or both)…we started to make small talk.  She was trying to put together a Frozen themed birthday party and wasn’t having much luck.  Apparently this shopping adventure was taking a little more time than she had planned and while Frozen toys were readily available, she was scrambling to find the right table accessories and decorating supplies.  All I could offer were a few measly sympathetic head nods along with a suggestion that maybe she could arrange rhinestone stickers in the shape of a snowflake if she couldn’t find what she was looking for…and then…the record scratch.  You know that moment where time stands still…it usually happens when you can’t believe what someone has just said or done…immediately followed by everyone staring at you.  No, the record scratch moment wasn’t in response to my rhinestone snowflake suggestion (?) –it was a reaction to what I said after that, “I’m sorry if I’m not much help.  I haven’t seen the movie.”

The look of disbelief on her face took me by surprise…suddenly I was stammering to say that I’d heard nothing but good things about the movie and that my kids really liked it…especially my daughter!  In a last-ditch effort I threw out there that she should try a larger Wal-Mart or maybe Party City…I wished her luck and couldn’t get out of the aisle fast enough!  I scrambled past her cartload of kids–who were also wearing shocked expressions and staring at me.  Yikes…what just happened?  Heart beating frantically, I realized that I felt guilty for not having seen the movie! Obviously, this was a big Mom fail on my part to say the least.

As I share this, it all seems pretty silly.  Angst over a movie, I mean.  But I guess that I while I don’t really plan to see it, I do understand the huge impact that it’s had on this generation and their parents and families.  I can see it now…Frozen will be its own category on Jeopardy someday.  It will probably show up as movie trivia during the previews at the theatres for years to come.  Down the road we’ll have a whole army of baby girls named for the movie characters.  Suddenly, Annas and Elsas (and maybe even Olafs for the boys) will fill up classroom name lists and sports team rosters!  We’re not just talking about national impact, either.  Frozen is a major hit and a force to be reckoned with worldwide.  I hear that there are plans for a Broadway musical and maybe even a sequel.  The merchandise is everywhere and there’s probably much more on the way.  And I will have missed out on all of this!

Oh well.  Let it Go….

 

 

 

May Daze? (5 Suggestions for Summertime Sanity)

A lot of parents pack up their troubles and send them off to summer camp.  —Raymond Duncan

In case you were wondering, I just might have an inside track on why this Mother’s Day thing lands in May.  This made-up homage to matriarchs across the country is every Mom’s safety net for surviving this crazy month!  End of school activities, assignments and field trips, music programs, award ceremonies, graduations, and even sport practices and games…managing each of these calendar fillers is no small task.  And, sorry fellas, many times this falls on a Mother’s to do list.  So it makes sense that Moms everywhere get this ONE day…filled with cards and sentiment, meals prepared in our honor, flowers and gifts.  We are conveniently recognized and fussed over just before the ax drops–that’s right…I’m talking about SUMMER break!

Back in the EASY days of summer.  May 2009

Back in the EASY days of summer…when a “doggie” sprinkler could make them happy. (May 2009)

Don’t get me wrong…school’s out!  Thank goodness.  I mean, I know the kids are happy…and I’m pretty excited, too.  No longer will I be a slave to the alarm clock.  I’m done packing lunches for the time being (the occasional picnic aside.)  I don’t have to arrange appointments, pick-ups, drop-offs, meetings, haircuts, etc… according to the school calendar.  We can linger over lunch and enjoy late dinners.  Yes, it’s summer and that’s a good thing…at least it is on most days.  Because in reality, summer is a lot of work .  Hear me out…I love the idea of having the kids home with me.  It’s our chance to hang out together, talk and reconnect, try new things and visit favorite places.  But we’re less than a week in and I’m already starting to notice a few things:

First, I might be in control of this ship but my crew has pretty loud opinions about where I’m leading.

Second, we don’t necessary have the same idea of fun anymore.  It wasn’t long ago when the local library provided a lot of our summer entertainment.  I have one child (who shall remain nameless) who is balking at the notion that reading is fun.  It goes something like this, “DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH READING I HAVE TO DO AT SCHOOL?”  Followed by a look of exasperation and disbelief 😦

Third, hanging out in the backyard with bubbles and sidewalk chalk doesn’t cut it.  Since when?  I’m an adult and I STILL love bubbles and sidewalk chalk!  But no, apparently this isn’t cool anymore.  I’m learning that the only permissible backyard fun includes water balloons and half the neighborhood.

Fourth, boys and girls.  I’m still trying to figure this one out.  Sometimes it’s acceptable for boys and girls to hang out together.  Other times suggesting such an idea will garner a look that turns you into stone.  If somebody has the lowdown on this one…please let me know!

Fifth, here’s a newsflash….  Gone are the days when my children choose each other as their best playmate.  Instead, every activity must involve FRIENDS!  I know my kids are getting older (middle school and upper elementary,) but can’t they at least fake getting along with each other?  And how about throwing this into the mix:  My brother advised me just a few weeks ago that having people over at your own house is the BEST way to keep tabs on your kids and their friends.  This win-win scenario (???) means that we get to be the “fun” house and maintain some kind of control over our kiddos and their activities.  I’ll have to get back to you on that one….

photo (7)In an attempt to make peace in our house, I’ve established a few Summer Rules.  Gentle reminders that (honestly) are always in place, but managed to make their way onto the kitchen whiteboard for emphasis.  Look, I have good kids…but let’s face it, we’re all works in progress.  I heard a radio program the other day that suggested that parents should focus more on raising GOOD PEOPLE rather than SUCCESSFUL BRATS.  Sign me up!  I bought the t-shirt on the proud parent thing…wore it a few times and put it in a drawer. It’s not that I don’t think my kids are the greatest (I do), but these days I’m opting for a more realistic approach to my “momness.” More like a, “Yep, those are my kiddos–good and bad.”  Indeed, we are in this for the long haul.

So here’s my plan for Summertime Sanity.  It’s not rocket science and we all probably know these things, but sometimes putting them out there helps the cause.  So here goes:

1.  Pray, not just often, but more like ALL the time.  I’m not really all that concerned with being the perfect parent, but I do want to honor God in my role as a mother.  I believe He has blessed me with two precious children and I want to do all that I can to show them God’s love and grace through Jesus’ example.

2.  Remember that it’s okay to say NO!  Sometimes it seems easier to give in…especially after a long (long) day.  It’s at this point that I try to remind myself that I ultimately know what’s best for them.  For the most part, they know that asking repeatedly will not change my mind.  When they were very young I would tell them that begging was absolutely unacceptable and it would equate to not only NO right now, but NO in the future as well.

3.  Less is more.  We don’t have to fill up every single second of summer with activities.  Many parenting experts have warned us about the hazards of over-scheduling.  I know for myself that it’s in these unscripted moments where I find my kids singing silly songs, making up games and otherwise just getting along (even if it’s only for five minutes.)

4.  Look for the lessons.  The more time you spend with your kids, the more opportunities you have to be the teacher.  Some of my favorite moments with my kids have occurred in front of the TV, at the movies, or while listening to the radio.  I like to ask them what they think the show/song is trying to say, what they know about the actor/artist, and I encourage them to put on their “God goggles” and find a spiritual message in whatever we’re watching/listening to.  Sure, they sometimes cry “buzz kill,” but other times it sparks some pretty interesting conversation.

5.  Love on them.  Extra time together means extra hugs and kisses.  Extra moments to sit next to or across from each other.  Extra hair ruffling (for my son) and extra hand-holding (for my daughter.)  Time is precious…do not let these moments pass you by.

I fully anticipate an eventful summer…one with both ups and downs.  There will be ballgames, swim lessons, Vacation Bible School, youth group events, and small getaways.  We’ll get along, not get along, all out fight and occasionally enjoy each other’s company.  Sometimes I’ll say no, other times yes and we’ll all move on.  I’m not interested in being a BFF, but instead I’m focusing on being M-O-M…plain and simple.  I will anticipate the best and get over everything else.  I can’t promise complete flexibility, but I will try hard not to be a total control freak.  And when fall rolls around I fully believe that we will be able to  point to shared highlights and lots of good memories.

Here’s to the best summer yet!!!

Don’t Know About You, But I’m Feeling 22

Fav Baby Photo

Everyone is the age of their heart.  ~Guatemalan Proverb

I didn’t do anything as gaudy as send myself a birthday bouquet but I am about to break a few social mores.  That’s right, I’m saying it, “Happy birthday, to ME!” and I’m going to post photos of ME, and I’m writing a blog about ME 🙂  But I hope you’ll give me a pass…mostly because I AM the birthday girl.

Okay, to be clear, I’m not trying to solicit birthday wishes and/or gifts…but I just had to share a few thoughts about turning “the year before THE year.”  What????  Doesn’t make any sense?  Well, check this out:  Most of us know that turning 40 it’s a pretty big deal…as in it’s a pivotal moment (and not necessarily in a good way.)  And while I won’t be 40 until next year (2015), I did have a friend tell me that (NEWSFLASH)  turning “the year before THE year” is actually a pretty big deal, too!  I had no clue.  39 is a BIG thing…really?  Since when?  I guess…since now.

39 has been called the “creepy-creeper” birthday.  This connotation suggests that 39 is both undesirable and sneaky? Maybe even a little scary?  Sort of like you’re walking along…minding your own business…when this dreadful number jumps out from behind the bushes and boldly states, “Warning.  You’re about to cross over into old age!”  Or something like that.  Supposedly, at 39 this is the last year that I can be considered somewhat “young.”  I’ve been told that I’ve now entered the final months where it’s even somewhat socially acceptable to wear my hair long, paint my fingernails any color other than matronly mauve, or wear jet black mascara (among a great big list of other taboo items.)  If there is a distinction in adulthood, apparently 40 is the line for women and so I’m left with this one little year in which to kick up my heels and behave accordingly.  365 measly days left to be young!  I can hardly believe it…it all went so fast!  Actually, I find all this to be pretty funny.  Funny for two reasons:  1) because I think when I was in my 20s that I actually believed these rules and 2) especially funny because in my heart of hearts the first number that pops into my mind whenever someone asks me how old I am has ALWAYS been 22!

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Birthday gathering with friends 🙂

Yes, I know.  It’s been a long, LONG time since I was 22, but you have to hear me out about this.  So when you’re a kid, you can’t wait to be in double digits.  10 is a BIG deal.  The next milestone age is 13, right?  Because now you’re a teenager.  Followed by 16…the year you can get your driver’s license.  The next biggie is 18…no curfew, you can vote, live on your own, etc.  And finally 21.  The BIG ONE.  That’s right…all the sudden you’re able to do all the things you’ve been told REAL grown-ups do. (?)  I know, we all know…most of them are very OVERRATED.  So when 22 rolls around you figure, okay…that’s it.  Nothing to see here people and I guess I just stopped counting after that.  Ridiculous, right?  I know…but that’s the house that I’ve been living in.  Sure it’s a crazy house, but it’s still MY house.

At this point, I’m sure you’re laughing at me and I’m actually laughing at myself, too.  It’s been ages since I’ve been carded, had a night life, or gone on any adventures that don’t involve having my two kids in tow.  I’m not up on the newest trends, nor do I drive a hot car, or keep up with the latest movies or music.  I don’t really do any of the things that would lump myself in a category with anyone who is actually 22, yet that’s still the number that sticks in my head.  I always imagined that someday I’d graduate to a new birthday number, but it just never happened.  So now that I’m turning “the year before THE year,” I thought I’d better do a little research and see what the hubbub surrounding the number 40 is really all about…I mean, since I don’t want to be caught off guard (again) and I’m headed in that direction anyway.

It appears that there really are a lot of resources out there concerning the Big 4-0.  Countless books, websites, blogs and articles about embracing the “new and improved” you.  As I enter “the year before THE year,” it might behoove me to start reading up on some of these expectations and societal norms.  Here’s what I’ve gathered from the headlines so far:  40 is magical.  40 has attitude…it’s called “fortytude.”  There’s also a rumor that 40 can be fabulous (but I caution you, there are a lot of caveats to this one.)  40 is the first year a woman can qualify as a “cougar.”  40 is something that needs to be figured out and faced…it also makes you fierce and a force to be reckoned with (don’t you love all the alliteration that comes with 40!)  You can also be fit and forty at the same time (who knew?)  For those who truly believe in stressing themselves out about the number 40, there are a few websites that offer up 40 things you should accomplish by the time you reach 40.  And, by the way… in case you haven’t heard, forty is the new “F” word.

That’s a lot for one girl to take in.

All of this aside, here’s where I’m at.  It’s MY birthday and all I really want to do is thank God for another day, another year, and another reason to celebrate life (while eating Dairy Queen cake, of course.)  I don’t really get wrapped up in all this aging stuff.  I’m sure the day will come when the wrinkles and the gray hairs will win out, when my body doesn’t cooperate like it used to, when people stop asking me just how old I really am (and just start assuming I’m OLD!)  Until then, I’m just going to keep chugging along…making up nonsensical songs with my daughter, teasing my son by repeating hip phrases that sound anything but hip when I say them, wearing my hair as long as I want to, and sporting nice, bright nail polish as the mood strikes.  I’m not going to worry about figuring out or facing 40 or even reading up on the 40 things to do before you reach this supposed milestone.  While society might find my lack of alarm annoying or unheard of,  I think the psychological term is called “self differentiated.”  That’s right…who says you can’t teach an “old dog” new words.  And by the way, I’m going to stick with the age 22 for the time being (especially since Taylor Swift makes it sound so fun!)  Sure I’m a long way from it (and you really couldn’t pay me to go back,) but mostly just because it’s a nice number and like I said before… I still have a house there.  (Sure it’s a crazy house, but it’s MY house.)

Here’s to 365 days of “the year before THE year!”

I’m not 40, I’m eighteen with 22 years experience.   Author unknown

What I Learned During the First Weekend of March Madness

basketball photo

My first trip to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in 2013. Kansas vs. North Carolina.

KEEP CALM, IT’S MARCH MADNESS.  –unknown

They call it March Madness for a reason. Unpredictable and erratic…causing ordinary and sane individuals to suddenly scribble out brackets, clear their schedules and spend hours plugged into an event that spans several weekends. Crazy, right? In the interest of full disclosure, I should state that I am a Kansas Jayhawk fan–born and raised in Kansas. A KU alum, I have bought, paid for and wear the t-shirt. The 2014 NCAA tournament marks the 25th consecutive season that the Jayhawks have been a part of the madness. So…my madness has been going on a long, long time.

Every year I go into the tournament looking forward to the fun, the excitement, and often times the anguish of college basketball. I’m consistently impressed by the athletic abilities of these amazing young men. Time after time I find myself discovering new teams to root for and more reasons to vilify teams that aren’t on my top ten list. Each year I anticipate the ups and downs and without fail the tournament delivers. You’d think at some point the whole thing would become tiresome and pointless, but I haven’t crossed that line yet. I guess what I’m trying to say is that after all these years I’m still uncovering the lessons deep within the madness. For example, just the other day I learned something new about myself–I yell louder at the TV when watching basketball alone compared to when I watch with others.  Who knew?  And with that spirit of self-awareness, I offer these “noticings” after this first weekend of tourney play:

1. Life is not fair. Okay, we all know that, but sometimes it really hits you over the head.  Like with Harvard and Stanford.  Really? Not only do you have to be a “brainiac” to go there, chances are you’re well on your way to a successful and high paying career (and not necessarily in the NBA.) That’s a score. To top it off the guys on these basketball teams were both good-looking AND athletically gifted. What line were those dudes standing in and how can the rest of us get an invite. Yes, some people have it ALL and then some!

2. “Lebroning” has totally reached the college crowd. It occurs to me that in addition to team practice and free throw repetition, some coaches must be offering some type of drama course. Some of these players produce very convincing facial expressions and practically injure themselves throwing their bodies around while trying to win over a referee. I love how they act like an innocent bystander…even pointing out elbows and hands in order to avoid getting a foul call. Kudos, fellas. The Academy will be calling.

3. Yelling during free throws. Good gravy…I pray that those are college aged fans or maybe members of a team’s respective pep band. Otherwise, let’s grow up a little. Grown men and women (yes, ladies, I HEAR you) have no business screaming or booing a kid at the free throw line.

4. Speaking of pep bands…what is up with the face paint? For heaven’s sake. This year’s face painting has been especially noticeable. Now, I’m not a face painter myself, but I do recognize that there is good face painting and BAD face painting. Showing your pride through team colors—thumbs up. Looking like you’re trying out for some sort of zombie trumpet player role—thumbs down.

5. If you cry at the game…the camera will find you! When the camera zeroes in on some dejected player, my heart just withers. But you don’t have to be a team member to have your “boo hoo” moment broadcast all over the country. Coach’s wives and kids have become fair game as well. At least when we’re watching the game at home, no one can exploit our sadness 😦

6. Never before have I found myself rooting so hard against my own bracket. I play the odds when it comes to my picks and then find myself cheering for the upset. Every.  Time.  Yes, I have money on the line and yet I still can’t help myself. I get tired of the same teams winning it all year after year.

Sean with tickets to the madness.  Yes, it makes you crazy :)

Sean with tickets to the madness. Yes, it makes you crazy 🙂

7. This year, for the first time ever (in my case) the madness has caused lines to be drawn within my inner circle. I found myself second guessing beloved kin and friends (at one point I publicly announced that I was considering disowning my own son for going against my alma mater.) This stuff is for real!

So, bring on the Sweet Sixteen! I love it. It’s the lion and the lamb, the greatest highs and the deepest lows. We see teams rising to the occasion and others falling flat on their faces. Players and coaches getting caught up in the moment and commentators that make us want to pull our hair out or unplug the TV. (Have you noticed what flip-floppers these announcers are? Good thing this is basketball and not politics. Talk about playing to which ever team is ahead.) Yes, indeed this is March Madness! What else could grab die-hard fans and fun-loving onlookers and unify them into one massive sporting experience? My bracket is basically shot at this point, but I don’t care. Wait… I think that’s another symptom of the madness!

I wish I was at work instead of watching basketball.  Said NO ONE ever.  –unknown

February…How Do I LOVE Thee? (Song 14 in the Countdown)

Love Songs to Melt Your Heart and Move Your Soul: Song 14

Love is…having a Valentine by your side every day of the year. –me

Well…it’s finally here—Valentine’s Day! A holiday absolutely loathed by some and totally adored by others (all subject to one’s current relationship status, of course.) It’s also the final day of my love song countdown. While the list includes some romantic music staples, I’ve tried to include a few unlikely additions as well (no Barry White, Celine Dion or Mariah Carey here.) So in conclusion, I offer up this little goody by The Proclaimers 🙂   An absolute brain worm and feel good ditty, this tune is about one of the greatest love qualities that I can think of…song 14WILLINGNESS. It’s not a ballad that promises the world. It’s not a steamy song with lots of suggestive innuendo. And nothing about this song would break your heart or move you to tears. Rather, it’s one person saying to another…”if you’ll let me, I’ll be there in the morning, all throughout the day, I’ll be the one talking your head off, working hard to provide for you, growing old with you, dreaming about you, always coming home to you, and thinking about you whenever we have to be apart. I’m not perfect, but I am WILLING to be all that I can for you.” While this chart topper doesn’t necessarily fit the typical love song mold, I think it’s the perfect “dark horse” candidate to complete my list—unlikely, improbable and least expected…yeah, that sounds a lot like love to me. Happy Valentine’s Day 🙂

***This post is part of an ongoing series. As part of my cup half full approach to loving the month of February, I vow to jump in with both feet and embrace the whole Valentine thing with my own custom list of Love Songs to Melt Your Heart and Move Your Soul. Ambitious? Yes! Bold? Absolutely! Crazy? You betcha! Pointless? On just about every level. Regardless, let’s give it a go—I mean it’s February and how else am I going to get through the coldest, bleakest, cloudiest, shortest (and longest at the same time) month on the calendar. Let the countdown to Valentine’s Day begin! I (gritting teeth) LOVE February, how about YOU?

February…How Do I LOVE Thee? (Song 11 in the Countdown)

Love Songs to Melt Your Heart and Move Your Soul: Song 11

Love is….knowing that I’m with you every step of the way (whether you like it or not.) –me

Love, laughter and loyalty. No, I’m not trying to impress you with some fancy alliteration; I’m simply listing the makings of a solid relationship. If we’re honest, we all know that love really isn’t enough. Sure, they say love can move mountains, it knows no boundaries, and it can conquer all, but there are too many instances out there where love alone is nothing more than a starting place.

song 11Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” addresses a cornerstone of any long lasting relationship—loyalty. Most of us can recall a time when someone’s unfaithfulness has brought us to our knees. Only time can heal those type of wounds. And in order for a relationship to truly have a solid foundation it has to be built on a mutual trust. Music historians say that King’s song was inspired by an old spiritual as well as the words of Psalm 46:2-3. This scripture expresses God’s willingness and His commitment to stand by His people through all things—both the highs and the lows. Loyalty and fidelity…having a confidence in the one who promises to love you everyday and in every way.  This is the best kind of love.

Coming Up: Love Songs to Melt Your Heart and Move Your Soul: Song 12

***This post is part of an ongoing series. As part of my cup half full approach to loving the month of February, I vow to jump in with both feet and embrace the whole Valentine thing with my own custom list of Love Songs to Melt Your Heart and Move Your Soul. Ambitious? Yes! Bold? Absolutely! Crazy? You betcha! Pointless? On just about every level. Regardless, let’s give it a go—I mean it’s February and how else am I going to get through the coldest, bleakest, cloudiest, shortest (and longest at the same time) month on the calendar. Let the countdown to Valentine’s Day begin! I (gritting teeth) LOVE February, how about YOU?

February…How Do I LOVE Thee? (Song 10 in the Countdown)

Love Songs to Melt Your Heart and Move Your Soul: Song 10

Love is….nothing to do and all day to do it (in optimum temperatures of course.) –me

No Valentine love song list would be complete without a little Frank. This classic crooner has so many wonderful songs to his credit that choosing one was difficult. So I went with my all time favorite Sinatra song—The Summer song 10Wind. While not his most well-known ballad, this tale of fleeting summer love seems timeless. Whether your story occurs ocean side, lakeside or poolside… those summer flings somehow manage to leave a lasting impression on us all. On a cold winter day in February, this song transports me to warm summer nights, staying out late stargazing, and (when I finally made it out of the Midwest) walks on the beach. I can practically hear the ocean waves crashing, the birds in the background, and that smell…salty and warm—oh, the summer wind!

Coming Up: Love Songs to Melt Your Heart and Move Your Soul: Song 11

***This post is part of an ongoing series. As part of my cup half full approach to loving the month of February, I vow to jump in with both feet and embrace the whole Valentine thing with my own custom list of Love Songs to Melt Your Heart and Move Your Soul. Ambitious? Yes! Bold? Absolutely! Crazy? You betcha! Pointless? On just about every level. Regardless, let’s give it a go—I mean it’s February and how else am I going to get through the coldest, bleakest, cloudiest, shortest (and longest at the same time) month on the calendar. Let the countdown to Valentine’s Day begin! I (gritting teeth) LOVE February, how about YOU?

February…How Do I LOVE Thee? (Song 9 in the Countdown)

Love Songs to Melt Your Heart and Move Your Soul: Song 9

Love is…unselfishly handing over the last piece of chocolate (and smiling when you do.)

One of the most quoted scriptures in the Bible (1 Corinthians 13:4-7) begins with these words, “Love is patient, love is kind….” Often read aloud at weddings this verse is actually not an ode to romantic love, but rather a call to love one another and to live in a spirit of cooperation and mutuality. In this type of existence, men and women would equally look out for one another without reservation, sharing and giving wholeheartedly. When I think of that kind of love, song 9this song by Jason Mraz comes to mind. In an interview Mraz says that these lyrics speak to “giving yourself or your time to someone else.” As we near Valentine’s Day (and the pressure to find the perfect gift mounts)—I can’t help but wonder if today’s definition of love centers around quantity or quality?  How many of us would happily accept an hour of uninterrupted time with a loved one (romantic or otherwise) over a box of chocolates or a dozen roses? In so many instances giving a gift is the easy thing to do while giving yourself is what really matters most.  In this Valentine season, will you be a giver or a taker?

Coming Up: Love Songs to Melt Your Heart and Move Your Soul: Song 10

***This post is part of an ongoing series. As part of my cup half full approach to loving the month of February, I vow to jump in with both feet and embrace the whole Valentine thing with my own custom list of Love Songs to Melt Your Heart and Move Your Soul. Ambitious? Yes! Bold? Absolutely! Crazy? You betcha! Pointless? On just about every level. Regardless, let’s give it a go—I mean it’s February and how else am I going to get through the coldest, bleakest, cloudiest, shortest (and longest at the same time) month on the calendar. Let the countdown to Valentine’s Day begin! I (gritting teeth) LOVE February, how about YOU?