Sunday, July 15, 2012

Cheers for 40 Years!

On a hot July day in 1972, a young nurse and a guy who had graduated from college a month or so before, met in front of the altar at St. Ann’s Church in Hamilton.  The bridesmaids wore long-sleeved red dresses with white polka dots.  The groom and groomsmen looked handsome, if a little sweaty.  The bride with her long, blond, straight hair was beautiful.  And brave and strong.  Her dad had passed away in April, and her brother gave her away. 
They said “I do” and their journey together continued.
That was forty years ago today.  That couple is my parents. 
Each marriage is its own story, the truth and heart of that story known only by two people.  The highlights of my parents’ story:  four houses, five children, three sons-in-law, two (almost officially) daughters-in-law, nine grandchildren and counting, plenty of communication, compromise, teamwork, forgiveness, laughter, and love.  Good times, bad times, sickness, health, poorer, richer. 
The story of what my parents’ marriage has meant to me and my siblings can be told in one word:  everything.  As a kid, it gives you comfort, security, and confidence to know that your parents are always going to show up, for each other and for you.  Whether we needed a pep talk, a sympathetic ear, a hug, a trip to Kroger for a new poster board, my parents were there.  Still are, though there is less need for poster board these days.  We got to every practice, lesson, game, match, and meet and had our mom and/or dad there cheering for us.  A miracle of teamwork, communication, and transportation if there ever was one, especially considering how often my dad’s job required him to travel. 
My parents have always prioritized family time, whether it was a beach vacation, a quick trip to McDonalds after mass, a drive to Flub’s, a surprise outing to Chuck E. Cheese or Kings Island (almost thirty years later, I can remember the thrill of such surprises), or Thursday night with all of us piled onto the big blue sectional watching some TV or laughing together.  I am so thankful to my parents for giving us so many happy memories and, most of all, for being present.
In a couple of weeks, my husband and I will celebrate nine years of marriage, a drop in the bucket compared to forty, so I’m hesitant to lay claim to too much matrimonial wisdom.  What I will offer is that you know when you say “I do” that it won’t be all sunshine and wedding cake and smiling for photos.  You understand you are on the hook for the bad times, the poorer, the sickness, but you’re hoping you’ll get off easy.  But whatever each moment, day, month, or year brings, you do your best to say “I do.”  I’m here.  I’m with you.  I’ve got your back.  We’re in this together.
I can’t thank my parents enough for saying “I do” over and over in their words and actions.  They’ve said yes to each other and their family in times of small commission checks, failed sump pumps, endless nursing home visits, tuition bills, and cancer.  Together, they’ve said goodbye to four parents.  On the flip side, they’ve shared the joy of games won, graduations, weddings, births, and countless other small and joyful moments. 
Though they have different but complementary personalities, my parents share a sense of compassion, generosity, loyalty, and steadiness.  When friends and family members have struggled with illnesses, losses, and other challenges, my parents have been strong enough to offer love, support, and welcome.  Together they are truly a light for the world.  
Love shared and given away somehow grows and multiplies.
Each marriage is its own story.  Some stories are longer than others, with different lessons, endings, and kinds of love.  I treasure all these stories and feel blessed to have been born three chapters into one of the really good ones.
Many, many years ago, a little girl named Kathy was riding her bike and fell off.  Supposedly, a little boy named Kevin laughed at her.  Who knew that one day they would be high school sweethearts?  Who knew they would get married and stay married for forty years and counting?  Despite scrapes and falls and flat tires, life is funny and surprising and mostly good … especially when you choose the best companion you can and keep saying “I do.”
I do.  See you.  Hear you.  Remember you.  Support you.  Love you.
We do.  Learn from you.  Love you.  Congratulations on 40 years, Mom and Dad! 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Check the freezer.

I was half-drafting this post in my head for the past couple of days, wanting to frame it within a conversation about parenting.  Should I as a parent know exactly what my boys (ages 6 and almost 4) are doing every minute of the day?  Whether I should or should not, I do not.  I do not know exactly what they are doing every minute, but I know they are being kids.  Making messes.  Being curious.  Sneaking snacks.  Having fun.  Figuring things out.

How, specifically, they spent some of their time this past Saturday was not made known until Sunday morning when I was looking for Sweet P's other shoe.  I was only one shoe away from having all three kids ready for church.

I'll let Bub tell you the story.  It was his idea to write about it.

I handwrote the title as dictated by Bub.  I helped with spelling when asked.

As a personal narrative written by a kindergartener, here's a superior piece of writing.  NTB.  Readers can be pretty clear about what happened.  He wrapped his sister's shoe in a wet towel and placed that bundle in the freezer.  Were we to have a writing conference, however, I'd ask some key questions to flesh out the story ...

Why did you wrap your sister's shoe in a wet towel and freeze it?  
According to your story, your mom said "you're kidding," but how did she say it?  Was she laughing at the joke?  Frustrated?  Angry?  Completely surprised that a wet towel had been in her small, overcrowded freezer overnight without her noticing?
How funny did everything seem to you when your mom checked the freezer?
How long did it take for your sister's shoe to thaw?  Was it ruined?  Did she end up having to wear brand new shoes that did not fit her yet to church?
Were you punished or just given a talking to?
What did you learn?

We did not have a writing conference, though I repeated the why question this afternoon.  His answer on Sunday:  "I wanted to see if it would freeze."  His answer today, after finishing his story: "I wanted something to write about."  Someone's trying to play/please his English teacher mom.  Nice spin, Bub.

I was angry and frustrated, but not for long.  Bub started crying and saying, "Kids my age do crazy things, you know."  I do know.  I also know that part of my job as a mom is to give him the freedom to make some decisions and some mistakes.  His dad and I talked to him about thinking through the consequences of his actions.  What if Sweet P's shoe was ruined?  What if it had been her only pair and we did not have the funds to replace them?

What if his mom tried to pry open the folds of the frozen towel and cracked her left thumbnail into the nail bed, ripping skin, causing bleeding, requiring a bandaid, and making it painful even days later to press the home button on her phone or use the car clicker?  

For the record, the shoe was able to be released from the towel in the early afternoon.  It was still damp Monday morning.  It was not ruined.  

My left thumb still hurts a lot.  

All in all, I feel so pleased that he wanted to write the story that I'm over the whole thing.

How would you have reacted?  How much freedom do you give your kids?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Spring in My Step ...

In place of a thoughtful, well-crafted post, I offer a series of photos capturing things that have put some "spring" in our step the past couple of months.  What's given us some pep.  Yep.  

You may know that I'm a real sucker for good-smelling, slightly-overpriced cleaning products available at Target.  All spring I've been enjoying the limited edition Method "lime + sea salt" all-purpose spray and the dish soap.  I've also been enjoying looking at the fabric swatch (hanging on window since October.  See background of photo) for the kitchen curtains I hope to have made someday.

While we're in the kitchen, how about these adorable "dwink" holders?  I use juice pouches or those flavored milk cartons when we are on-the-go for t-ball, eating in the car on the way to swim lessons, or having lunch at a park or play place.  And, okay, fine, I also pass them out at lunch at home some days too.  Never fails that Sweet P will squeeze half her beverage on her outfit.  Found this nifty solution at our local toy store.  Pop in the beverage pouch and your child uses the handles instead of causing a mini explosion with injudicious squeezing.  Seems to work.

At the risk of looking obsessed with beverages, I'll also brag on my new straw holder.  We're phasing out sippy cups around here and rock a lot of cups (often lidded) with straws.  Now, don't get me wrong, it was a lot of fun keeping the straws in a plastic cup in the cupboard and having that cup topple and its contents scatter a couple of times a week.  But this glass canister that I found at Home Goods for $4.99 and filled with colorful straws from IKEA?  It's more fun.  

My kids think root beer is just about the biggest treat ever so I decided to blow their minds with root beer floats a few weeks ago.  I had one myself.  Forgot what a delightful combination root beer and vanilla ice cream is.  

Cousins always make us happy, and we had a great visit from a few cousins over Easter.  It's not often that ALL the cousins are in one spot (hopefully this summer), but whenever two or more are gathered, there is love and fun and chaos.  

Here are two of the "little girl cousins" over Easter weekend.  What I love about this photo is that at ages 3 and 2, they are posing like they are little tweens or something. 

I can't remember now when we first went through the house we are now living in.  Maybe in late April or early May of last year.  Whatever the time frame, we definitely missed the blooming of the trees.  The bloom has come and pretty much gone by now, but what a treat it was to discover that four trees in our yard were just gorgeous.

While we're in our yard, I need to share this photo of Bub.  He hauled a kiddie chair up into the swing set and settled in to relax and read his Oriental Trading catalogue.  I'd love to enjoy a spring breeze and a good book up there myself.

This next smile-maker was more of a winter favorite, but I found the photo on my phone and had to share.  The kids and I found these Duck Tales DVDs at the library, and they were really into them for a while.  Got us through a couple late winter afternoon witching hours.  I defy anyone to pop one of these in and resist singing and dancing along to the theme song.  Definitely a spring-in-your-step kind of song that lends itself to big swoopy, swingy arm movements and some popping jazz hands.  We're fans.

Grandma and Grandpa visited last weekend.  We had a nice dinner cooked on the grill, and I decided to pick up an iced cookie cake from Jewel so we could sing Happy Birthday to our little Sweet P one more time.  The picture is blurry, but I'm sharing it to remind you not to overlook the iced cookie cake from the grocery store.  It's so tasty.  Every person at the table enjoyed it.  An easy and inexpensive item to add some celebratory flair to a meal.

And for anyone tempted to be like, "Oh, MEP, do you know how much HFCS and hydrogenated oils are in the grocery store cookie cakes?" I would also like to share this photo of the beautiful vegetables that were part of our meal.  Not that my kids ate them.  

As I write this, I'm eagerly awaiting the return of spring weather and all the summer fun to come.  Life is good here, and I hope the same is true for you.

What's putting a spring in your step this spring?  Please share in the comments.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Homeward Unbound -- Spring Break 2012

Spring Break 1982: My parents had kids ages 8, 6, 4, and 2. Will have to double-check, but I'm pretty sure that spring break was spent in Fairfield, OH.
Spring Break 1992: One of our many happy spring break trips to Florida with lots of other families. I believe we were in Panama City Beach that year.
Spring Break 2002: Hubby (then-fiance) and I were both in graduate school. We went to Disney World during his spring break, but I'm pretty sure I traveled to Fairfield, OH for mine.
Spring Break 2012: I pack up the kids and drive the van to Fairfield, OH.

You see the trend, right? Fairfield, OH is one of my favorite spring break destinations. Really, it is.
There is no feeling in the world like going home. As an often-harried mom of young kids, it is a wonderful treat to be in a place where I am a mother and a daughter. Where my awesome dad takes donut orders each evening before bed and makes his grandkids laugh by warning them that he'll dump buckets of water on anyone he catches snoring. Where my mom will come out of her bedroom in the six o'clock hour when I am starting my day with Sweet P and Melmo and say, "Go on back to bed, Meg. I can sleep in whenever I want to."
Where I can sit at dinner with some of my oldest and most treasured friends in the world, listening and talking for three hours and thinking, as I drive away, that I could have sat in that seat with my empty wine and water glasses for even hours longer.
Where we hang out with my sister and her girls as much as we can -- dinners, afternoon playtime, playing outside at Grammy and Pop's, a soccer game, a birthday party -- good, easy, fun times, a glimpse of the life we might share if I lived closer.
Cousin dress-up. Classic. Bub and Swiper as, um ...eighties movie tourists?
My little bride and her police officer could not be any sweeter.

Where we get to spend time with beloved Uncle Boo, heading to the backyard to test out all the new t-ball gear.
Bub: "Uncle Boo gave me a really good tip. When you are hitting, you're supposed to stare at the ball."

Where we can go around to all the angel statues (many were my Grandma P's) that live in the garden and give each an acorn hat.
Where the grub is good. Meals from my mom's kitchen as well as Skyline, Frisch's, Graeter's, Dewey's, and Flub's.
My more restrained choice at our second trip to Flub's: small vanilla cone with crunch coating. Okay, fine, it was a medium. Earlier in the week, I enjoyed my annual Cousin Weezie's Reese's Pieces Cyclone.

And speaking of food, I can't forget to mention Bub's culinary masterpiece. He wanted to create a special dessert for pizza night with his cousins. Grammy was able to make his vision a reality.
I present "Brownies José" (Bub 100% responsible for that name) -- brownies, frosting, and gummy worms. Bub's original recipe also called for whipped cream, but we were able to talk him out of that. Why mess with perfection?

We also had some fun field trips -- EnterTRAINment Junction (continuing to add more cool stuff) and the Cincinnati Zoo (zoo zoo you can come too too too). I failed to get a photo that did justice to the beauty of the tulips blooming at the zoo, but trust me, they were gorgeous.
As gorgeous as this beauty who posed for us.
Tulips in even more colors than those of Sweet P's coat. Please note Sweet P's pained expression, evidence that we have moved into a new frustrating stage where she detests being buckled into a stroller yet would prefer to stand in front of the stroller playing with its buckles than to, say, walk on her own.
Little Bit enjoyed the zoo. However, my mom and I made the mistake of taking a teachable moment to talk about extinction and endangered species. Little Bit then kept obsessively asking about why "all the animals are dying" and "why the animals kill each other" (???).
I just have to mention the new (at least to me) Night Hunters exhibit, which was super cool. There is poetry everywhere, setting the mood and describing the specific hunters. Loved it. I probably photographed six poems in there, but am showing restraint and only sharing one.

So it was good to be home in Ohio and then good to come home to Chicago. There are no places (plural) like home(s).
* * * * *

For those of you wondering where the heck I've been (besides Fairfield, OH), I'm trying to jump back into blogging. It's only stuff like laundry, kitchen clean-up, and general exhaustion getting in my way. Here are some teaser topics: our awesome March trip to Florida, complete with pirates; the pantry organization I did that will make women of Pinterest everywhere weep before its beauty, NTB; the story of the ice cream sandwiches I loved and lost and my attempt to replace them; the new cleaning spray that makes my heart sing; all the cool stuff growing in my yard; cardinals everywhere; speculation about why when I parked at the library yesterday, I saw there were grown men sleeping in the cars on both sides of me; and so much more. Stay tuned. Come back. Leave a comment telling me how you spent spring break.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

RWOP: Play Dodo

Seeking supporting data for my Mother of the Year nomination form? Look no further! Presenting this week's Real Women of Pinterest offering ... homemade playdough!

I was totally kidding about MOTY as making your own playdough turns out to be no biggie. It's cheap, easy, and less messy than you might think. A Pinterest pin led me to this site devoted to playdough recipes, including a Kool-Aid one. I chose the Kool-Aid one because it looked easy and I thought it would smell good.
Excitement mounts as I stage the ingredients. First, combine a cup of flour, a half cup of salt, and a packet of Kool-Aid in a medium or large bowl.

Since the kids were "helping" me, I gave them each a bowl staged with the flour and salt. I tried to make them feel involved by letting each choose a Kool-aid packet/playdough color. I asked them to stir what was in their bowl without getting the ingredients on the table.
My daughter Sweet P was unable to follow my directions. Note: this project is not ideal for the stubborn and under two years-old set.

After the dry stuff is combined, add three tablespoons of corn oil (original recipe I saw called for corn oil, but others I found just said "oil." I used corn oil) and a cup of boiling water. I had the kids stand back while I did the pouring of boiling water (had two saucepans going, with one cup of water in each) and the initial stirring. Once it cooled a bit, I let the kids help stir and then kneaded it a bit myself (was still a little warmish, but I am tough).
Here is Sweet P, thinking she is stirring a batch of playdough that is already finished! Though it was not much fun to have her "helping," she was pretty darn happy to be involved!

Scrape together some plastic containers or baggies for storing the playdough and let cool.

We actually had two playdough making sessions over the long weekend because the first time around I only had enough salt for two batches.

Play playdough.
Little Bit and I had some bonus "alone time" the other day and sat down and played together. (Take a peek at the disorganized pantry in the background. That's a top priority Pinterest project -- stay tuned).
This robot was a team effort. NTB. If you closely examine the wax paper "play mat," you might note a little greasiness. One of my batches of playdough did seem a little oily. The recipe called for one cup of flour but noted in parentheses that you can do up to two cups. That's a lot more recipe flexibility than I am comfortable with so I stuck with the one cup. Likely a teeny bit more flour would have cut down the oil factor. I guess we could have floured our hands before playing to add to the festive spirit of it all.
Here's an up close look at the playdough made from one packet of fruit punch and one packet of grape Kool-Aid. I'm not up on all the latest Kool-Aid flavors these days, but I will warn you that the blue packet makes red fruit punch not blue. I didn't see any green packets. The lemonade was not vibrant at all but might have been if we had used two packets (hard to say, really, as that was the batch attempted from Sweet P's remains and not quite enough salt). The photo above makes the playdough look dry, but it's really pretty easy to mold.
Here are some more of our colors. I read that you can add food coloring to enhance the hues of your homemade playdough, but I didn't bother. I didn't want the kids' hands to get stained or anything (did not happen with the Kool-Aid).

I don't know about the shelf-life of Kool-Aid playdough, but rest assured Bub already has plans. He (semi-obsessively) collects marbles and thinks that when we are done playing with the playdough, we can combine colors, roll them into marble-sized balls, and let them harden. Why not?

If Pinterest has inspired you to try something new lately, I'd love to hear about it. Share in the comments. Bloggers, link up your posts below. Friendly readers, send me your pics -- mep AT nottobrag DOT net.

Just keep pinning. Just keep pinning. Just keep pinning.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

RWOP: Pins to the Left, Pins to the Right

Crack open a fresh Diet Coke, ladies and gents. I've got lots of Real Women of Pinterest-ing to share this week.

First, some quickies ...
The popular pin about using a cupcake liner as a drip shield for popsicles proved ingenious. Little Bit easily consumes four popsicles a week. It's his favorite afternoon snack. Year round. Typically, he requests that I swaddle his popsicle stick with a paper towel. The swaddle never stays put, and my checking of Facebook and Pinterest is often interrupted for re-swaddling duty. But looky now -- the cupcake liner does the trick and looks cute to boot. Less waste as well. If only I could find the pin about not wearing one's lunch on one's shirt (pink for Valentine's Day, of course).
The semi-popular pin from a few months back that suggested using large dollar store chip clips as playing card holders = at least one thumb down. Bub and I tested out our chip clip card holders during a game of Sight Word Go Fish with our customized sight word playing cards. I was able to maneuver my cards within the grasp of the chip clip, but finesse was required. When Bub opened his chip clip to add, subtract, or shift a card ... all the cards fell out. Every single time. Maybe when he gets a little older or more dextrous.

In the photo below, Bub is thinking, "Wow. My mom is amazing. Not only did she obtain these dollar store chip clips, but look how easily she organizes and maneuvers her cards. When I grow up, I want to be just like her."
I have my dear friend E... to thank for the idea (one of her first pins) of using toothpicks and marshmallows for construction. Read all about her toothpick architects here. My boys enjoyed eating and building for about fifteen minutes, maybe twelve. I'll take it.
Is that Diet Coke still cold? I'm just getting warmed up. I had every intention of trying that pin where you photograph your child holding his/her hand out and then print the photos and attach a sucker to that hand. My sister LAP apparently nailed it with those, but since she hasn't sent me the proof we'll just have to take her word for it.

Little Bit and Sweet P had store-bought Valentines with a little photo (printed on full-sheet labels) stuck on the back.
Bub's Valentine is self-explanatory, despite the crappy photography. Note to self: start such projects before 6 p.m. on February 13th so that you can take decent photos in natural light instead of overly yellow ones because you don't know how to use your camera.

Printed Bub's photo on sticker paper and attached to pieces of cardstock (four cards per page).
Also photographed his "your friend" and cut it out and affixed it. He then signed his own name on each card. I thought they were cute!
[Side note: I saw a blog post and also several tweets with some snide comments and eye rolling about homemade valentines. I just want to go on record as saying that some people (like myself and my Bub) enjoy doing that kind of stuff. Really.]

Last and BEST of this week's Real Women of Pinterest post, I have a seasonal project from my friend Sue. We lived next door to each other freshman year of college and stayed up late each night, eating pizza nachos and talking about all the craft projects we hoped to accomplish over the weekend while the other girls were out drinking.

A Chicagoland native, Sue spent years in Texas and now lives in New Orleans, where she recently finished taking the Louisiana bar exam. She's ready to join the Mardi Gras festivities now that the exam is over. I've included her explanation (italicized) and some photos of her awesome final product.

Well, here it is. My first (and likely only) completed Pinterest project. OK, not really completed if you look at my front door, as I need two wreaths. But, the second one will have to wait until after we attend our next parade on Friday. I used an absurd amount of beads on this. Glad I can restock for free, and have little helpers to grab up everything I need.
I started at this site.
But of course, every craft store in the New Orleans area is out of that wire wreath ring (I was told many times that they are on a boat from China.). So white styrofoam had to do. You can see the white peek through a little (shows up more in photo than in daylight), but I have low standards when it comes to seasonal crafty things, so I just rolled with it. I still wrapped the foam ring with floral wire, which I only needed to get started. Once I attached one strand for that bottom layer (the green/purple), I could lock the next strand to the previous. That worked better than I thought. The top layer is three strands (gold, purple, green) braided, with one strand attached to the next, for what seemed like eternity. Used a little hot glue for a few places that looked insecure, added the little masks and draped the beads over top. I'm happy with how it turned out, but too bad its a little late (Mardi Gras is less than a week away, and most people have had their doors/mailboxes decorated since mid-January). At least I'm ready for next year!
Thanks for inspiring me to become a Real Woman on Pinterest!

Thank YOU for sharing and for reminding us all of a key to keeping it real and enjoying Pinterest-ing: just roll with it. Also, how about we pause to admire how completely gorgeous Sue's front door is. Even without the Mardi Gras wreath, I'd pin that door.

If you've been inspired by Pinterest, link up your posts below or send me pics of your Pinterest creation -- mep AT nottobrag DOT net.

Also, please pause to admire this button that my friend Christina made for this RWOP endeavor.
Visit this post of hers if you want the code to get your own RWOP button.

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