Working Mom Woes

I used to be a regular blogger and it pains me to see that my last post occurred in 2016. But middle school started and we jumped on the family merry-go-round of schedule insanity.

My day usually starts at 4:00 a.m. and most days don’t wind down until 10:00 p.m. and in between those hours, I’m trying to work full-time, run a household and figure out which kid needs to be where according to our online Google calendar that three of us now actively contribute to.

I get the fact that our kids could be involved in fewer activities or we could limit them only to the activities that occur during their school hours; but we want our kids to live without regrets and experience the great learning that comes outside the classroom in teams and extracurricular events. Some of my greatest memories, as a kid, were with my debate team in high school and I watch my girl process her way through similar life lessons with her Knowledge Bowl Team, Marching Band and Youth Group involvements. These are the really formative years for our kids. The trade-off, however, means, there isn’t a lot of “me” time to focus on blogging.

While my phone and Facebook page is full of pictures and memories of these past few months, I’ll pop on here occasionally to see if I can get caught up in sharing them……but if I struggle, just know that I’m probably trying to get caught up on the sleep that is far too elusive these days. And, someday soon, when my house is empty, I’ll probably blog daily just to remember the madness of today.

Here are some pictures of our visit to the March First Friday where we earned some extra raffle tickets for wearing hats and finding Leprechauns at each of the local community businesses. Our hard work paid off since our girl won one of the raffle prizes.

     

 

Cookies for Santa

Christmas Eve is a very special day in our family. We enjoy waking up and tracking Santa’s travels across the world via the NORAD Santa Tracker app on our phones and iPads. Over the past couple of years, we’ve also been fortunate to talk with live NORAD folks by calling 1-877-HI-NORAD. The kids enjoy speaking with the live operators and finding out when Santa will be coming to our local area.

After our evening celebrations with my family, the kids put together their tray of cookies for Santa and leave special notes with their various questions. And each year, after the kids go to bed, their Daddy & I sneak down and read their letters, too, while sitting by the tree.

This year, the notes were pretty fun. Our little guy left the following note:

Our girl left a multi-page note and a few gifts for Santa this year:

  

And while we await the arrival of the “big guy,” my husband and I also enjoy a few other holiday traditions which include watching the “Yule Log” burn on TV…..

And, watching Midnight Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica. While we aren’t Catholic, I have always enjoyed the pomp and circumstance of watching the ornate service at the Vatican. There is something precious about watching the Pope welcome Christmas at midnight through this special tradition.

  

After Mass, we may have snuck downstairs to see if NORAD had given the kids some accurate reports of Santa’s arrival and we found the following scene which is always magical….

And here are the special letters that were left behind. First, the letter for our boy….

December 25, 2016

Hello, H!

My friends at NORAD tell me that you have been VERY EXCITED for Christmas. I have been busy today, delivering lots of toys to kids all around the world.

You did a great job this year reaching your goal to help kids in Africa. I brought you some coins to help towards next year’s goal. Keep up your good work. With every penny, you are sharing your giving spirit with others. It’s like being Santa all the time.

I know you were hoping for a gummy bear machine this year, but I didn’t want to make your mom have to clean up the sticky mess that those machines make. I think I found something better for you because I heard you like to make movies.

Thank you for the chocolate and yummy cookies. I took a few with me to share with Rudolph.  Be good to your sister, your parents and everyone you see.

Merry Christmas!

Love always,

Santa Claus

And then the letter for our girl:

Dearest C,

Thank you, dear girl, for the first typed letter. Your writing skills continue to improve each and every year.  Visiting your house is always one of my favorite places to stop on Christmas Eve.  

I was so surprised to not only see the fun milk and cookies, but also your thoughtful gifts. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of room on my sleigh to take them home, so can I ask you a favor? Can you give this special mug and globe to someone who needs their spirit lifted? It is important to remember that for some people, Christmas is a hard time of year. So, I hope that you can keep an eye out for your friends who may just need an extra hug or smile.

As for wormholes and technology, I found that “truth about Santa” book to be pretty interesting. Since few people have seen my operation, there is a lot of speculation about how it all takes place. It is really more simple than Mr. Mone explains in this book. But thanks for sharing this with me. My belly shook at some of his theories.

I’m glad the SoniCare toothbrush helped you with your braces. Keep brushing those teeth. Next year, I will bet you will be excited to get those off of your teeth.

You asked about why I don’t give gifts to your parents. This is a great question, but there is a very important reason as to why. You see, I focus on the children because they are still learning about the spirit of Christmas. Just as my friends & I brought gifts to Jesus on that first Christmas night, I bring gifts to kids to teach them the importance of generosity in their lives. As kids grow up into adults, it is my prayer that the adults will be generous to each other whenever they can be. So, instead of needing Santa, your parents have many friends who bless them in lots of little and big ways. As you grow older, you will help bring the spirit of generosity to special people in your life. The nice gifts you left me tonight illustrate that you are well on your way to being such a thoughtful young lady.

Merry Christmas! 

Love always,

Santa Claus

p.s. Your room is still bordering on my “naughty list”…….but I decided I wouldn’t look behind your bed, as your mom instructed.

And, as we woke up on Christmas morning, we learned that our special daughter had gotten up at 4:00 a.m. to fill our stockings and to make breakfast for us all as a family. She made a wonderful meal of eggs, bacon, waffles and even our favorite energy drinks. It was special to see her bless all of us on Christmas morning in her own unique way.

There are often moments in parenting where we feel we are making mistakes and wondering how each decision we make will affect our kids later in their lives. But as we sipped our coffee on this Christmas morning, we were blessed to see our kids living out our family values of love, generosity, service and kindness while giving thanks to Jesus for being the real reason we celebrate Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

Festivus For the Rest of Us

If you have been reading this blog for longer than a year, you may recall past posts about our annual Festivus parties. And, like other years, we hosted the party again this year…..with a better, albeit smaller pole.

Last year, the “feat of strength” included completion of a Virtual 5K race which sent us the Festivus poles as medals. A “virtual race” means that there is no formal race course, but rather people complete the race wherever they are. The medal was pretty great and served as a nice table centerpiece this year…..because our previous 8 foot pole was a bit of a disaster.

This year, we were blessed to see many of our friends. We played the “saran wrap ball game” as the feat of strength which is where we wrapped a ton of small gifts in one huge saran wrap ball. One person tries to unwrap the ball while a 2nd person rolls dice. As soon as doubles are rolled, the ball moves on to the next person. And as gifts are unwrapped, the person who unwrapped them gets to keep the gifts. So, our ball had a number of gift cards and other fun, rather flat prizes.

The kids also hosted their own Festivus party upstairs for the kids which is why there are two balls in these pictures. Their ball had small prizes from the dollar store and was still a ton of fun.

We also had a “white elephant” gift exchange which helps us air our grievances. People write down their grievances during the first hour where we all eat and as numbers are drawn for the gift exchange, the person reads the grievance on the back of their number. Lots of grievances about traffic, politics and cancer this year as we all lost a special friend this year to pancreatic cancer.

This party brings together such a diverse group of friends. We all work in a variety of sectors as education, technology, construction, retail, restaurants, counseling, massage therapy, insurance, project management and delivery/distribution and yet, on this night, everyone laughs, shares the highlights of their year and enjoys each others company.

Here are a few more pictures of our fun:

The “save the date” has already been posted for next year! Happy Festivus.

Holiday Bakers

I’ve always loved baking a variety of treats at the holidays, but none of us needs multiple batches of goodies in the kitchen. So, our holiday tradition has always been to bless our neighbors with a tin full of baked goods.

Before we had kids, I didn’t understand how complicated or messy this task could become. I could whip up multiple batches of cookies easily and without much effort. This year, however, that changed slightly because (a) the kids rarely nap anymore, (b) they are a lot like me when it comes to how they want to order their environments, but (c) neither kid wishes to organize the kitchen in the same way.

I tried to give them different tasks to minimize the friction which popped up from time-to-time, but all in all, the cookies were completed. We did choose to pack the tins on the day after we baked because we were all pretty tired after baking for 6 hours. I also learned that my son is an excellent packer of tins. He handled this task nearly by himself and did a great job setting up the tins.

After the tins were packed, my two elves delivered tins of cookies to our neighbors and spread a little holiday cheer. While it took a little more effort this year, we always enjoy sharing our treats with others.

Here are some pictures of the baking adventures:

A Son’s Testimony

Every day, we are given opportunities to be present in the lives of others. Sometimes, our lives intersect in happy events like school graduations, weddings or the birth of a child. And sometimes, it is in the worst of times.

This story starts in the worst of times.

Three years ago today, I was working in my office, as a local emergency manager. Over the previous few years, my office had learned how to use social media and was using it regularly for outreach, relationship building and to see how our community would comment on issues relating to emergency response.

And as a 911 and Emergency Management agency, we had gotten to “know” our scanner tweeters. In our local area, we had about 5 people who would share what they heard on the public safety scanner onto Twitter and as an emergency manager, we had become accustomed to watching their shares along with those of the media and our public safety partners. It actually helped us to see how events in our local community were being perceived and allowed us to engage in conversation to help educate the general public who was watching both our agency and the comments of our local scanner tweeters.

Truthfully, when you chat with people online in this manner, you feel like you get to know them and eventually, I have found myself with a whole set of friends who all met online first about 5-8 years ago.

And, on this day 3 years ago, we watched the tweets of one of our scanner friends converge with one of our state trooper colleagues about a fatal car accident. That vehicle was driven by the husband of our scanner friend.

I remember how time stopped in my office. We could not confirm the identity of the driver even though our scanner friend had called 911. It was office protocol that death notification had to be given in person and not over the phone. And, as time marched forward, my heart broke into a million little pieces as she scrambled to obtain information while growing anxious that her husband was late and not responding to her calls. As she continued to share online, we all felt helpless as we watched each tweet.

This story quickly gained national recognition and soon, our friend had both local and national news media on her doorstep as she also grieved and aimed to be present for her young boys.

Fast forward to 2 months ago where my friend posted on Facebook that her youngest son was looking for a youth group. Knowing that her son was close in age to my daughter, I shared some information about our church’s youth group. And, another mom from our church also shared about the same group as she also had known my friend from years ago when their kids were babies together and they participated in a Mom’s group.

And today, we were privileged to watch this young man share his testimony and get baptized.

On a day so marked with tragedy and loss, it was very emotional to watch this special son share about how his faith in Jesus has helped him deal with anger and have real hope for his future.

Surrounded by his family, his smile was inspiring.

It was a rare gift to be present and able to witness this baptism on this anniversary of a most difficult loss.

I am confident that God has some amazing adventures in store for this young man. My prayer for this family is that despite their worst losses, they will have peace and know that they are loved by a God who knows exactly what they are going through.

When we think of “lives of faith,” I find that some people are called to a life of preaching, others to worship and some are called to serve in mission fields in far away countries. But sometimes, the most humbling calling we can have is to simply be present in the lives of others, no matter whether it be the best or worst day of someone’s life. Don’t be afraid. Reach out. Listen. Be attentive to the needs of others.

And always keep a few Kleenex in your purse. Because days like today (and 3 years ago) require them.

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Surprise Lights

On the first Friday of each month, one of the towns near us has a community event that encourages people to visit each of the small businesses in their town. Usually, we check in at a local church and obtain the list of challenges. And, as you complete a challenge which may include guessing how many jellybeans are in a jar or doing 10 jumping jacks, you receive a raffle ticket. You can also earn raffle tickets for every $10 spent in the town. At the end of a typical night, you return to the church, put your name on the raffle tickets and drop them in a number of prize buckets.

Last night, we decided we would go in search of the December First Friday event. As we entered the town, it was full of people and cars trying to find parking anywhere and everywhere they could. We had no idea why the town was so crowded. So, we found a parking spot and started making our way blindly through the crowd.

When we could push no further, we realized what was happening. The town was preparing to light its annual Christmas tree. And we were 2 feet from the main stage and about 15 feet from the tree. We could not have had a better view. In fact, here is exactly what we saw:

Not only did the tree light, but Main Street filled with sudsy snow. After the lights, about 200 people got in line to get hot cocoa at the church we would normally check into, but my little guy had to use the bathroom. So, we found a port-a-potty and located right nearby was a Dutch Brothers tent, serving hot chocolate with whip cream on the straw and only a line of 4 people. It was so fortunate and we enjoyed missing the big line.

Here are some other pictures of the evening.

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Halloween 

This Halloween, our kids had some pretty creative ideas. Our son wanted to be an Enderman from Minecraft which is his favorite video game and our girl wanted to be Hermione from Harry Potter.

Every year, we take the kids to a thrift shop with their costumes in mind. This usually is a pretty targeted trip. For the boy’s costume, he only needed a fully black shirt and some black gloves which made shopping really easy.

The girl’s costume required a red scarf and a gray sweater which, while slightly more specific, was found easily at the store for a reasonable price. She also asked if she could dye her hair red, but not bright red…..she wanted a more permanent color. While her dad teased that her hair might end up green, we went with a very subtle light red which worked out perfectly and actually looks pretty nice.

In addition to roaming the neighborhood on October 31st with friends, my son and I also had a weekend evening where we visited a couple of “trunk or treat” events at several local churches while my daughter was at a friend’s birthday party. It was a fun time, enjoying the kids’ creativity for this Halloween.

And, from the turning of heads at the church events, it was clear that our son was the envy of gamers everywhere.

Chapter Books

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This past week, our little guy read his first nine-chapter book from start to finish! And while some may not think that this is a huge accomplishment, it is in our house.

Our son is currently in the second grade and he wants nothing more than to be able to read books with the same ease that his sister does, but this skill has proven a bit elusive for him. In this past year, we have learned that he is more of an auditory learner.

Now, our daughter learned to read very visually. She looked at words, studied them and her eyes rarely left the page. With our son, we have had a totally different experience. He can memorize his theater scripts in less than a day (and not just his role, but everyone’s role in the play), but sit him down with a book and his eyes don’t stay on the page. He guesses at words and seems to lack all focus.

Last spring, his school teachers shared with us his auditory cues. And this fall, we received a letter from the school that admitted him to a special reading program and gave us some clues on how to help him learn to read.  Because he is auditory, he needs to hear language more than see it.  This means that we need to read to him a lot, play words on CD and  quickly correct words he guesses incorrectly because the more he hears the right word, the faster he will associate how it looks.

So, each week, our son sets his reading goal. This week, his goal is 130 minutes which is almost 20 minutes per day and he is doing well with reading to me, his Dad, his Sister and his Grandma.

It isn’t easy being auditory, but it was important to celebrate this first chapter book because we see improvements every day now that we better understand how to help him with these skills.

First Friday

On the first Friday of each month, one of our nearby cities hosts a special event that encourages people to get out and walk around town to visit each of the local businesses. It is hosted by the downtown association that supports small businesses and it’s becoming quite the tradition in our house.

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Each First Friday has a theme and October’s theme had to do with Star Wars and pumpkins. There was a dress-up costume contest and the walking challenge for the evening was to find the 20 carved pumpkins in each of the participating businesses.

For each pumpkin we found, we had to write down the name and when we turned in our sheet with the pumpkin names, we received a raffle ticket for each pumpkin. We also received a raffle ticket for every $10 we spent in town.

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So, we visited the shops, found the pumpkins, had a nice dinner and refilled our olive oil at our favorite local oil shop.

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At the end of the night, the kids won some Star Wars swag in the raffle and we had a nice evening. The boy can’t wait until next month to find out what the challenge will be.

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Lego Table

I have a lot of catching up to do on our summer time stories because life has been busy and time to blog has been missing.

One of the things I was told early on as a parent was that my kids would grow up too fast and that is, indeed, true. And, if the choice is between living life with my kids and documenting it, I will choose the former every single time.

Unfortunately, that means that sometimes my house is a mess and other times, I rediscover a stack of written “thank you” cards that never got sent from Christmas over eight months later. There are days I wish I could clone myself or put more hours in the day…..but it just doesn’t happen.

So, we make it through each day and call it “enough” because it has to be. Of course, I feel guilty all the time because there are things I haven’t done, appreciations I haven’t made or moments I have missed with my family that I wish I could relive.

One such guilt moment is in saying “thank you” to my Dad who built our son an AMAZING Lego Table for our bonus room. We have had a lot of fun this summer, having building contests on our “creative Sundays” where technology is turned off for a day and the kids play creatively with each other and me.

A few months ago, my folks asked what our son might want for his birthday and I suggested a “lego table” but I was thinking of a small table for him to sit and play at. What my Dad created was far beyond what I could have imagined. Two adults can sit at the table and create designs of all kinds. There are drawers for our son’s Lego collection and we were able to separate all of the main colors.

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It has truly been relaxing to sit with my son and chat with him about the issues that are important in his world. Spending quality time with him always results in conversations that are a gift I will always treasure.

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So, THANK YOU, Dad, for your wonderful handiwork and blessing of such a special creative space for our family. We will always appreciate the moments we have spent, sitting at this table.

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