Monday, August 30, 2010

Soccer Mom

Today kicked-off the Fall Crazy Schedule.  Up super-early, kids to Casey's, went to teach all morning, picked up the kids, Trader Joe's run, Farmer's Market, new passport pictures, and then soccer for Andrew.

Soccer.  Oh...my...goodness.  Soccer is freakin' cute.  And Andrew playing soccer?  Adorable beyond words.

Somehow, in the blur of motherhood, I've become a soccer mom.  Who drives around in my Sienna all day.  Putting baby carrots into ziploc bags and dropping off library books.  Getting okra and zucchini, and answering backseat questions about how goo turns into baby chickens.

I am *such* a mom.

I don't feel even the slightest bit different from the Me of 10 years ago, but there's not much in common.  I used to daydream about an apartment in Paris or Peace Corps stint in Yugoslavia.  And here I am, Soccer Mom.  I love it.  No regrets.  But there are moments of wonder about how I ended up here, shuttling three Littles in my minivan.

Simone was asleep in the car when it was time for practice, so I parked right next to the field and just watched Andrew play.  Running.  Laughing.  He loved it.  He's been counting down the days until he could play.  Anything that involves kicking things and running fast, he's on board. I suspect he'll be pretty good at it. He's got that athlete-essence about him.

I was so proud of him.  Not about anything he was doing...but just, who he was.  How he was soaking up the moment.  Loving life.  I adore seeing that in my kids.

I used to wonder what I'd do if I birthed athletic children.  In marrying Steve, the odds were I'd breed some jocky children.  I wondered how I'd bond with kids over team sports.  I can talk about Ralph Waldo Emerson or Warren Buffet or even hours of discussion about immunology and gut flora.  But....

I don't even understand the basics of football, and I'm not exaggerating. At any given moment, I have NO idea what they're doing down there.  Why they're blowing whistles, why people are cheering.  I imagine that's how toddlers feel in most adult situations.  What the HECK is goin' on?

But I'm seeing that you don't have to bond with the specific knowledge of kids' interests.  I might not love (er...like) soccer.  Or team sports.  Or anything involving much physical straining over long periods of time.   But I love my kiddos.  And I loooooove seeing them smile.  Whether it's at a science fair, a soccer game, or putting on pretty dresses to go to the grocery store, it doesn't much matter. 

I'm excited to see what things they choose along the way. And hopefully, at least one of them will care about gut flora. ;)

Zucchini-cupcake salad?

Andrew loved the zucchini salad from the party yesterday (asked for seconds), so I made it again for dinner tonight. 

"Guess what, Andrew!  We're having the zucchini salad you liked yesterday."

Andrew: "What's it called?"

Me (with dramatic flair): "It's the Amazing...Andrew's...Zucchini Salad!"

"Does it have cupcakes in it?"

Um.  No.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

First Day of School

I have been teaching for 10 years.  10 years!  And at the start of *every* new semester in the classroom, I have butterflies in my stomach.  It's ridiculous.  It's not even a nervousness.  I have the "first day" routine down to a science of sorts.  We play campy icebreaker games and do a writing diagnostic and I introduce myself.  Talk about the syllabus.  No big deal.

But still, there are butterflies. A physiological anticipation.  I'm back in the classroom tomorrow morning.

I wonder who my students might be.  There's a different chemistry with each new class.  Mostly good.  I have had only one class in all of these years where I couldn't wait to get rid of a class. 

But each one is different.  New faces.  New names.  I'm terrible with names.  New stories about why they're there in that seat, coming back to get their education. 

I usually tear-up at the start of each new class.  I can usually hide it. ;)  I remember being so dumbfounded by a student's story that I couldn't speak for a very long moment.  I'm so moved by the stories.  The determination that brought them there. 

Most times there are long, complicated paths.  You can see the worry in their face.  Can I do this?  But also, the excitement.  They are ready.  Notebooks open.  Pen ready. 

I love teaching adults.

Tomorrow is my first time doing a morning class with all three of my kiddos.  They've always been at night.  So tonight, I had to pack lunches for each of them.  Lay out all of our clothes.  I'm not good in the  mornings.  I have to prepare in advance.

Jack can't wait to start co-op.  Andrew asks daily about school, too.  They loved picking out their folders, the notebooks, new lunch boxes.  I love that part too.  The newness of it all. 

I'm ready for our fall routine.  Busy, busy.  Adventure and routine.  Packing lunches.  Outings.  Co-op days.  Soccer practice. 

I'm ready.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The house that Simone built

Simone asked for some paper, then spent a few minutes ripping sections out of it.  It ended up looking like this:



She showed it to me and said: "I made a house!" And then pointed to the upper-section and said, "Santa comes in here."

Steve asked her, "What do you want Santa to bring you?"

Rubbing her fingers together: "Money for me." 

I...LOVE...this little girl.  Stinkin' love her.  She's such a character...so  much personality and life...in this wee little 2-year-old body.

She turned 2 this month, and I can officially say there are NO babies in my house.  I keep thinking she's a baby still, and then she does something like this. 

And then she asked me to cut some ears out of cardboard for her.  I don't know what to say to that one. 

But I cut her some ears out of cardboard.  I try to embrace the process.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Ode to (rather basic) technology

I am in love with technology.  Yes, I know...I've just started texting in the last month.  And I have a full-blown laptop and no iPhone.  But even at the basic levels of technology, it's mind-blowing.

We have been stuck in almost-standstill traffic in Fredericksburg, on our way to DC.  11:00 at night, I should add...not because it's relevant, but because it's noteworthy.  Who are all these folks on the road with us?  Where are *they* going at almost midnight on Tuesday?

I digress.  You might notice I do that a lot.

Anyway, I was able to post my status update on Facebook about the traffic (ha!).  Write back to all my emails in my inbox.  Write back to Prilla about meeting up on Thurs.   Check directions on Mapquest since our GPS is on the fritz.  Answer my first-week student questions from my PPCC students wondering about textbooks.  And...[drumroll, please]....GRADE FINAL ECON PAPERS!!!   I'm ecstatic.   What better time than sitting in a passenger seat, stuck in traffic, with three sleeping children in back?

This situation would not have happened 10 years ago.  For that matter, even 2 years ago...back in the olden-days, when I had to hunt around for wireless at hotels...instead of my fancy-schmancy wireless card that warms my heart daily.

I freakin' LOVE technology. 

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Travel Notes: Virginia Beach

I'm needing a wee break from curriculum-writing (semester starts tomorrow!), so I'm going to make my notes for Jodi's friend about Virginia Beach.  I love when I can cross fun things off my To-Do list. :)

I'm writing it here, as I do with other things, so I have a ready-link to send in the future.

If you're vacationing in Virginia Beach, here are my suggestions - in order of priority, so you can tailor to how long you're here:

- See the ocean.  I know...duh, right?  But how many times have our parents come here and they left without seeing the ocean?  Nonsense.  Don't let that happen to you.   Those with young kiddos often prefer the bay beaches (no waves), but we like the hard-core tourism boardwalk area, with all the chaotic waves.  :)  Bring comfortable walking shoes, because it's fun to walk the boardwalk.  You can also rent bikes.  We like the boardwalk even when it's not swimming weather; we just wear sweatshirts and walk the boardwalk. 

- Norfolk Botanical Gardens.  We love this place.  Take the train around the park, and it will let you off at the children's area.  I like how it's all fenced off with one entrance, so it's easier to watch multiple kids.  Until October 15th, they have the sprinkler area in the World of Wonder children's area.  Make sure your kids wear clothes that can get wet, and they are strict that all kids *must* wear shoes (even the babies).

- Virginia Beach Aquarium.  This has recently been re-done, and we like all the updates.  A great place if the weather is a bit rough, as there's a lot indoors.  But on nice days, you can walk the trail between the two buildings.  If parking is bad, park at the Marsh Pavilion, which is about 1/2 mile from the main building.  There's never crowded parking there, and you can easily walk the trail over to the main portion.

- Virginia Air and Space Center:  This one depends a lot on the visiting exhibit.  When they're between temporary exhibits, we can usually only last about an hour or so.  But there are a lot of hands-on planes and space things that my boys enjoy.  It's in downtown Hampton, which is scenic and right on the water.  There's a carousel right next door, as well as an Imax to see movies.  Note that it's across the bridge-tunnel from Virginia Beach, so time your visit so the tunnel passage isn't rush hour.  It gets backed up quickly!


This is just the highlights list, if you're only here a few days.  But truthfully, there are sooooo many things to do here. Many things are temporary festivals or events, and they are often the highlights.  Some aren't unique to us, like water parks and go-kart places and such, so I didn't include them here - but they're still fun.  

There's also a zoo in Norfolk, but I wouldn't suggest it for a short trip.  There are better zoos out there; we like it for the chance to walk around outside, more than being a "must see."

I also didn't include anything about Williamsburg, which is 45min away. That city deserves a post of its own.


Free Things To Do (besides the ocean)

- Mount Trashmore.  It's a landfill turned into a park.  Weird, I know.  But it's the best place for kite-flying, and they have an amazing play structure.  It's big and difficult to track your children, so it's best if you have a co-parent with you. Or only one child. :)

- Animal Jungle.  It's "just" a pet store, but it's an interesting place to pop in and see some exotic (and not so exotic) animals.  Quite a variety!  Fairly close to Mount Trashmore, off Independence.


I know I'm missing some obvious ones, so feel free to include your thoughts in the Comments.  When your friends visit you in Virginia Beach, where do you take them?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

One person's recyclable is another one's clock

I was picking up the kitchen, and found an old water bottle filled with water and some dirt.  I've learned not to presume "trash" unless I double-check, so I asked Jack:

"Is this an important thing or can I throw it away?"

"I use that to tell time."

"Tell time?"

"I just shake it up and then see how long it all takes to settle to the bottom.  Then when I do it again, I know how long that means."

I see. 

Thursday, August 19, 2010

May the literary-force be with us

Andrew has little-to-no interest in the alphabet.  I mean, he knows the actual alphabet...but the actual letter sounds, very little interest.

If you ask him if he sees any letters he knows in a word, he counts how many letters there are.  If you ask him what "A" says (even though he knows it), he'll still announce that there are 8 As on the page.  He's done this as long as I can remember about him.

I suspect we might have a "numbers" kid on our hands. 

While I don't really care if he cares about letters, especially at age 3, I've sensed about Andrew that he will not be a conventional path of academics.

He spoke a word or two early, then stopped talking much for awhile. Lots of gesturing and communication, though.  I always knew what he needed, even if he wasn't saying the word. Then at 18 months old, he broke out into these strangely long sentences for a child who'd barely spoken just months before.

Knowing Andrew, I predict most of his learning will be similar. "Andrew-style"... no one else's trajectory. If he suddenly starts reading entire chapter books overnight someday, I'm not sure I'd blink.

Andrew always been a more abstract thinker than I'd expect at his age.  He'd rather talk philosophy or Star Wars (or the philosophy of Star Wars) than talk about colors. 

The other day, I asked him what color the library couch was, just to test my theory about him (my poor children with their analytical mother...).  He shrugged.  And then said: "Why do you think they made couches?  Who makes them?  Do they like making couches?" 

Last night, Jack and I went to Borders to buy him a book.  And while waiting for him to pick one out, I saw they had a board-book of Star Wars Alphabet.  "J" for Jedi, "O" for Obi-Wan. 

I was stunned that such a thing even existed, and grateful to the Book Publishers of America for publishing specifically for my goofy little guy.  And of course, I bought it. 

When Andrew becomes literate, it will not be through BOB books.  Andrew is writing his own curriculum, and I imagine it will be from de-coding comic books and books about cowboys and superheroes and Star Wars. 

Because let me tell you, that Star Wars Alphabet book was the biggest hit I can remember in awhile.  We read it over and over.  He talked about "G" being for General Grievous or "P" for Padawan. 

And then he slept curled up with the book.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Motherhood: The Human Experience

When two mothers talk for more than a few minutes, very often the conversation turns to childbirth.  It just does.  Before I had children, I would have thought that was the silliest thing I'd ever heard.  But now, I get it.  Childbirth touches a place in our human experience that can never really be matched by anything else. Being with another mother, there's a shared sense of that human experience.  The details might all be completely different - they usually are.  But there's still that bond there.

Today, I was sitting in the living room of a new friend. A Sudanese refugee. We'd met once before at a birthday party, but only briefly.  Our children were all playing in her backyard.  We were eating Chinese food.  And yes...we were talking about childbirth.  I marveled at how she had twins vaginally, and she marveled at the humor of Andrew's birth in an inflatable fish-decorated swimming pool in our living room. 

Motherhood is a human experience, I keep learning (and re-learning), and it crosses over every external boundary.  Class.  Culture.  Even if parenting methods differ, we know what it's like to fall madly and completely in love with this little person who needs us.

At the Gaylord Palms Hotel in Orlando, it came up in conversation with my waitress that it was my first time traveling away from my children.  I was here with a group of mothers.  And she opened up her notepad to show me a picture of her two gorgeous little children.  She hated being away from them all day, but she had to work. From her accent, it sounded as though she was a recent immigrant.  But the way her eyes lit up as she looked at the picture, it made no difference that she was a waitress and I was the one at the table.  She loved her little ones the way I love mine, and I felt so connected with her humanity. 

Once we were both "mothers," there was no class difference between us. And I felt that way with Apojek with our huge cultural canyon between us. 

My conversations with my new friend today did meander through a lot of differences.  She talked about how they dug deep holes in the ground at the refugee camps, so the 85,000 refugees would have a place to use the toilet.  That there were long lines for water, and you could only use the pump during certain times of the day.  While she was living that childhood, I was attending summer camp and taking ice skating lessons. 

But she didn't seem to care. No judgement. And with each new friendship with a Sudanese Lost Boy or Girl, this is the part that keeps leaving me in wonder.  Not even once have they made me feel unwelcome on the path of their extreme life story.  There is so much love, so much warmth that transfers within that community - and they welcomed me in with open arms.  Sharing children's birthdays and the most fabulous hugs when we meet again.

Apojek had her experiences in the past, and I'd had mine.  And while we can never really comprehend the other's path, there was this deep respect between us.  There were so many things to say!

I learned a lot of things today.  Small things: Like ordering Chinese at lunch to get it half-price, even if you save it for dinner.  But also the Big Stuff, as she articulately described the uprisings in Kenya and Sudan and how that affected the families back home. 

The calm sanctuary of her home seemed like such a strange backdrop to the stories I heard - stories of machetes in the streets and hiding in the dark so rebels wouldn't find you.  I wonder what it must be like for her, sitting in this home, so many miles away from her childhood - literally and figuratively.

And in the words of Jack, as he tumbled into the car with rosy cheeks and hair damp from so much jumping and playing with her three children: "That...was an awesome playdate."  I completely agree.

Monday, August 16, 2010

We are so weird

Steve (from behind his laptop): "So I guess the online registration isn't open yet.  I want to invite a NASA scientist to visit my classroom."

Me (eyes wide): "Really?  Can I come?"

Steve (completely serious): "You're not a NASA scientist."

Me: "I mean, can I come see them speak."

"Oh.  Sure."

Moment in time

Today, Simone dressed herself down to her shoes.  Even opened the drawer and picked out her dress.  Slipped it over her head.  Put on her sandals and strapped them.  Then hoisted her pink purse over her shoulder. "I'm ready, Mom." Her sweet little ponytail and pink purse.  It hurt to love her in that moment, a sharp stabbing emotion.

She says these long convoluted sentences to me.  Sometimes I can make out all the words, other times I just smile gently and nod.  She is getting...so...big.  She tells me that all the time: "I'm a big girl, Mommy."  And often points out anything for a baby, saying: "I'm too big for that now."  Such precious pride.

I find it so delicious to watch my children grow, but then sometimes there's this catch in my soul.  I look over at Jack, carefully and methodically stapling together his paper to make homemade comic books.  Or how they all wake up and go right to the fridge in the morning.  If I've thought to put breakfast-food at their level, they might even play while I stay in bed a few minutes more.

What if it goes too fast?  And then again...what if it keeps getting better and better...the way it seems to keep growing in magic and wonder?

Tonight, we had a Date Night to see "Inception."  And not even once did I have to worry if one of my children at Casey's needed me.  That amazes me.  I knew they were playing with friends and  enjoying their independence, just as we were enjoying ours.  We're figuring out, as a parent-child unit, how to move in our own circle of life. 

Even if the vast majority of our lives intersect, those times of separation feel like we're on the right path.  My children now trust 100% that we'll be back.  And they seem to carry us in their core more, so they don't need our physical presence.  This, more than almost anything else in our lives, lets me know things are going well.  They are feeling loved in a portable way.  In a way, I hope, that continues to grow - so when they go out into the world later on, they have they same confident sense of self. 

Andrew brought an engagement ring for Audrey today.  Wore his "gentleman shirt" (his favorite polo).  "If I wear this, she'll say yes, Mommy." He was so sweet and nervous and excited.  I just want to wrap up his sweet little being and hug him forever, I love him that much. 

Everything about him amazes me.  His intense, passionate Feeling (the positive and the negative), his insatiable curiosity, how he runs so instinctively that you have to remind him to "walk!" every 4 steps at the pool.  He is larger than life, that kid.  And watching him smooth down his shirt and smile shyly as he knocked on Audrey's door...

Priceless.

Someday, it will be a real ring and a real girlfriend...but it will be that same little Andrew-spirit smoothing down his best shirt with a shy, excited smile. 

I can't wait to see all of the layers of my children across their years.

Friday, August 13, 2010

To-Do List...and Not-Do List

I'm making some goals for our frenetic fall that is about to happen.  We'll see how long it lasts, but if I document it here then they *might* have a fighting chance:

- I will watch one documentary a week.  We just re-enrolled in Netflix, so I'm going to use it.  Starting with "God Grew Tired Of Us," which has been beckoning me like a siren on a rock.  I don't care if I don't think I have time...we always have time, if it's important to us.

- I will write more.  I am at my best when I write the most.  If I have nothing new to scrawl in my notebook, I'll just write memories - like the Pakistani escapade or our convoluted dating stories that still make us laugh until we can hardly breathe.

- Menu planning.  For real this time.  I liked our nightly themes last year (Monday, beef... Tuesday, fish...).  It was easy to follow and easy to buy food for an entire week.  Back to the rhythm again.

- More music in the car.  Beatles, Air Supply, Alabama, Simon & Garfunkel.  I love my NPR, and find myself sitting in parking lots waiting for fascinating segments to finish.  But our life needs more music.

- I'm going to register for the Wicked 10K.  If you've known me more than 5 minutes, you're likely laughing right now.  I don't run.  But I'm a believer in personal honesty, so I'm setting the bar low.  I just want to finish it, even if I walk or crawl my way in.  And knowing me, that's a possibility. I always assumed I married an Ironman athlete so that he'd fulfill our shared quota of physical activity.  But what if I could like it too?

- I am finding us a couples' bowling league.  We are going out on dates every 2 weeks.  Because damn it, we like each other.  And it's getting easier and easier to find those times together.  Our kids are needing us less, and laughing-until-we-can't-breathe with my soulmate is about the best way I could spend my evening. 

- I moved our family to an annual budget.  I'm paid on the most sporadic, almost-random pay schedule imaginable.  I never know when I'll get paid or how much. Between 3 colleges on 3 different contract structures, it's a mess.  But, we know about how much I make a year and Steve gets a steady stream.  So now we'll toss the notion of a monthly Excel sheet.  Why-oh-why didn't I do this years ago?

- More fun lunches.  I'm going to be Creative Lunch Mom, and make cool food for their lunch.  This might only last through September (if I'm lucky), but I have some big plans.  I want to be like this mom.

- We just bought Russian Rosetta Stone.  If we don't learn it, I don't see Jack keeping it around in his life.  And I can see how it's doing something positive for his soul.  Plus, I want to show my kids that you're never too old to learn a new thing.  Although, I'm feeling a little old to learn that new thing.  We'll see. 

So there I go.  I always did love fresh starts.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The end of a toy-kitchen era

As we've been muddling through our minimalist journey, there have been a number of surprises.  Things I thought I could never relinquish, like the wooden play-kitchen I loved so much, are starting to seem completely irrelevant.

No, not really irrelevant.  Distracting.  Distracting from this place we're moving towards becoming.  If I could get my mom back for even a moment, it would be to say: "You are remembered.  And your death made life make so much sense. I get it now.  I don't need the toy kitchen."  And neither do my children, apparently, as I was the only one who ever cared about it. ;) Am I the only mother who buys certain toys for myself?

The more I remove the things from our life, the more clarity seems to abound. 

I'm seeing so much goodness and so much "lovely" in my relationships.  Seeing old friends who've grown better with time.  New relationships with late night chatting or talking over sushi.  We've been here 3 years, and there were growing pains as we developed our new circle. I wondered how I'd find a mama-village that had that wondrous vibe of the one in Lake County.  But slowly, it happened.  Like finding Mr. Right, I figured out along the way what I needed, what I brought to friendships and what I needed back, and I like our groove.  I'm loving our village.

I'm finding such a faith in our family.  I'm beginning to really settle into this idea that motherhood might be going well.  Not on a daily basis.  Just ask the landlord who came into our place and found 3 naked, just-bathed children in the middle of the afternoon...AS I was simultaneously burning the plastic sleeve of the soba when I turned on the wrong burner. Oh my.

But in the long-view...which I convince myself (usually daily) is the only view that matters.  Andrew says things like: "When I grow up, I just want to be a Daddy and love people."  How can I get so frustrated sometimes with a tiny little soul who says things like that?

I'm finding faith in how simple my life really can be.  Perhaps not logistically.  If I stop "doing," I might shrivel up and die.  But in how few peripheral comforts we need.  I regularly ask Steve if we can give away everything we own and drive around in an RV.  And Steve always says: "We can give away everything we own.  But no way am I driving the RV."  Sadly, I think he's serious.  But he'll spend 2 months on the road, driving the minivan from hotel to hotel.  So I give the guy mad-amounts of kudos. 

Today, I packed up 3 more boxes to give away. I was surprised that was even still possible.  I found a new home for our armoire, I've got pictures for the wall to give away (anyone, anyone?), and I'm saying good-bye to the toy kitchen that I planned to save for the grandchildren.  I then turned around and bought a freezer on Amazon (free shipping!), because we're about to pick up 100 pounds of beef from Polyface and I was pretty sure there was no place to put it. 

Simplicity is a complex equation, I'm finding.  And in the end, it's really about what *our* life needs, not something that can be prescribed to us.  We'll own a freezer and a chocolate fountain, but the entire family's clothes fit into one dresser. 

We're figuring it out as we go.  But I'm loving the journey.  Testing personal boundaries always seems to bring me to a new layer of self-understanding...which is one of my favorite parts of the journey anyway. :)

For friends who've asked, my two favorite sources for simplicity and minimalism are:

http://www.becomingminimalist.com/.  I love how he actually *has* children, so his living room isn't just a couch and a lamp.

http://www.missminimalist.com/.  Her living room actually is a couch and a lamp, but I love her anyway.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Fill Your Family With Philanthropy

I'm compiling a list of service projects for MOPS, and thought I'd post here so I could link friends to it in the future.  There are so many ideas, I'm sure this will keep growing.  But here's my rough draft (meant for local folks, but edit as you see fit).

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Have your children decorate a container and then collect:

                  • Aluminum pop-tabs for Ronald McDonald House

                  • Coins for a cause that reflect something they care about

                  • Boxtops for underprivileged schools

Donate clean/unused stuffed animals to the fire station, to be given to children in accidents or fires

Meals on Wheels: See http://meals-on-wheels.com/family for tips on doing this with children

Empower a woman with a microloan through www.worldvisionmicro.org/mops

“Add One Thing”: At every grocery visit, find an extra item to donate to a food shelter

Have children go through toys and clothes to donate to a local homeless shelter, like the Samaritan House

Collect hotel toiletries on vacation and donate them to a local shelter.  Virginia Beach families can donate them to Seton Youth Shelters, who use them for The Crow's Nest program for homeless youth ages 9-18.

Donate unused backpacks and suitcases to the local foster care system (or Seton Youth Shelters in VB), to be used for teens in transit

Gently used shoes can be given to Soles4Souls. We’ll host a MOPS drive, but locations can also be found at http://www.soles4souls.org/

Make sandwiches for a local homeless shelter

Have your children write letters or email to soldiers. For more information, visit http://www.amillionthanks.org/

“Secret Service”: Find someone to secretly help. Have your children do the brainstorming, and you just help with resources to carry it out.

Choose a long-term project that fits your family. Cook at a homeless shelter or visit your local nursing home. Visit http://www.volunteermatch.org/ for brainstorming ideas, and ask your children for ideas!

Have older children “read” to animals at the Humane Society

Make greeting cards to deliver to ill children. Find out more on these websites (http://www.makeachildsmile.org/; http://www.hugsandhope.org/),which provide information & photos about children who could use some joyful mail

Make Breakfast Bags for the Norfolk Ronald McDonald House. Buy granola bars, fruit cups, juices, etc in bulk and put into individual paper bags. Families can use these as a quick meal on the way out the hospital. Many of these families are in dire financial situations, and every bit of help makes a difference. Children can decorate the bags.

Go to http://www.cheerfulgivers.org/ for more information on creating Birthday Bags for needy children at shelters. These are bags filled with about 10 items (such as bubbles, slinkies, crayons, stickers, books, etc). A local shelter for donation is the Samaritan House: http://samaritanhouseva.org/

Get involved with The Box Project (http://www.boxproject.org/). It matches sponsors with needy rural families, who receive a box per month with food, clothing and other items – as well as offering encouragement, friendship, and support.

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Many ideas (including some from above) can be found at http://www.doinggoodtogether.org/ (thanks, Kari, for suggesting it!)

Another excellent resource is http://www.charityguide.org/

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Please feel free to add your own kid-friendly charity idea to the comments area, and I'll add it to my list!  Sharing ideas is one of my favorite parts of life. :)

Add-ons from friends' suggestions (this part will expand as I go):

Amy says: "Along the lines of picking up extra food for the food bank, buy dog or cat food, cat litter or toys for the animal shelter."

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Secret Life of Bees

I fell in love with beekeeping this morning and think I might decide to become obsessed with bees.  Just a short-term obsession, like when I read three JFK Jr. biographies in a week. 

Although knowing me, I might end up moving to the country and taking up beekeeping.  I'm a firecracker like that.

So I guess bees are ridiculously well choreographed, each of them having a highly specific role.  I suppose I knew that on some level (worker bees and Queen), but never cared enough to think much about it. 

Margaret was talking this morning about the little water-gathering bees, who suck up water and bring it back to the hive to vomit in a little puddle.  

Other bees stand over the puddle and flap their wings to create a cooling element, or stand away and flap to generate heat for the hive.  A hive, whether in Alaska or Africa, will maintain a nearly constant temperature of 93 degrees Fahrenheit.

Blow...my...mind.

Honey will only happen when each individual bee is doing its correct job in the correct way.  Too many bees covering one job-pattern, and everything falls apart.

I was thinking about how this plays out in any community, at its best.  We are all wired in these highly unique ways.  Meant for different purposes.  And designed to do particular jobs that someone else couldn't create.

Steve and I talk often about how you can take any interest...no matter how obscure...and turn it into a profession.  He used to think careers were more black-and-white...you became a teacher, or a doctor, or a lawyer.  There were a handful of broad ideas of careers.  Now, he sees you can take any childhood interest and that's who you can become if you lay a foundation of education and experience under it.

His love for baseball cards was nearly all about statistics.  He'd also stand in the outfield during games and calculate his current batting average based on the last inning.  And if he wasn't so interested in the work-life balance a teaching profession brought our lives, he'd be the most passionate data analyst who ever lived.

If you love science and diving and history, you can become an underwater archeologist, digging up pirate treasure.  A professional pirate lover.  I love that.

The other day on the Discovery Channel was a man with a PhD in marine biology, specializing in sharks.  A PhD in sharks!  What you love, you can become.  The options are limitless, which runs tingles up my spine.

All of the sides of ourselves can mix in ways we don't really hear about.  I always stumble over telling someone I teach college economics and English, because it sounds goofy when simplified.  But if I bored someone long enough, I could go into great depths about how much they parallel each other. And how closely they both align with key areas of my personality, interests, and values.

Donald Miller is an incredible writer and a polished public speaker, but talks in his book about how he's awkward and uncomfortable when he first meets someone new.  It was the first time I've seen someone create the connection in my experience - in that I'd rather speak to a group of 1000 than have a one-on-one conversation with a brand-new person.  I stammer and stop thoughts mid-sentence and am pretty sure I have a Minnie Mouse voice. 

I'd rather write a letter to a new person, hand it to them, and walk away.  It's why I just melt with pleasure when I meet an extrovert who has that gift of new-person-chattiness.  If they can steer things through those first stammering moments or conversations, I'm a whole new person.

For whatever reason, I wasn't made to be the instant-extrovert. It's a struggle for me.  But others are. Perhaps they, however, would appreciate that I'll do other "work" in our relationship along the way.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Motherhood as an expression of True Self

I used to think that successful motherhood was about what I did for the kids.  The orchestration of our day and all those little things that create the mothering experience: feeding, diapering, wiping unidentified substances off the car floor. 

And then I started wondering if successful motherhood wasn't about what I did, but about who I was. 

What if we really only mother from our core self?   The person we are when no one is around...who we are when we're at home in our pajamas and idealistic notions go out the window?

What if all that surface stuff and philosophies and step-by-steps really mean nothing, and it's just our True Self in the driver's seat of parenting, shaping our children?  And in the end, they'll become who we REALLY are...not the person we wish we were?

I am a klutzy housekeeper who hates folding laundry and wishes daily I was better at the administrative tasks of the home.  I want to bake cookies, not wash dishes.  I was sure I could fake that side of me long enough to teach my children how to be the Better Version of me.  THEY would be wonderful at keeping house.

But you know...probably not.  Maybe instead I should teach them who I am.  How to streamline tasks at home...write shorter to-do lists.  Outsource or give things away so you don't have to dust them. ;)  And show them, through my life, how to make who I *really* am work for me.  Accept that side of me and embrace it.

Seeing Motherhood as an expression of True Self sent me down a completely different path, where the martyrdom of motherhood was gone.  I wasn't just going to bear through the complex exhaustion that young children could bring, I was going to make sure we were having fun doing it.  Maybe not on a moment-to-moment basis, but as a general path. 

Let's shake up life a bit.

And in making life more adventurous and intriguing and novel for me, I started seeing how much trickle-down effect there is.  WHO I am is what mothers my children.

I can say all sorts of pithy mantras throughout the day: "What's more important, having the green cup or the relationship with your brother?"  But...

What mothers them is what I show them.  What's more important to me:  Living in the house that made us feel tied down and overwhelmed with stuff, or shedding our Stuff to turn the spotlight on family?  Cutting back on work to spend more time at the beach...going on freakishly long road trips...all of it.

It seemed too crazy to make sense and then this summer happened.  What everyone (perhaps me included) thought was madness - taking 3 young children for 7 weeks on the road - became a time when our family felt SO right.

It wasn't because we were spending our days in museums and zoos.  I've done that in the Not Settled Sarahbeth times, and it can totally suck.  Crabby, overtired kids and hungry mama and I just want to leave the freakin' zoo and get a Starbucks. 

But when there was a skip in my step, there was in my children's too.  And Steve was loving our life too.  We spent hours in the front seat, talking about what this might mean for our family.We set a new equation for what this adventure of life was supposed to be like, and we're going to follow this river where it goes.

I am now in Orlando with 13 women...no children.  Eating sushi, looking out at palm trees, staying up until 2AM talking.  Seeing Donald Miller speak (a WHOLE 'nother post...or 2 or 10).  And instead of running away from motherhood, I see myself becoming even more the mother I'm supposed to be.

I will come home and love my children from a full tank. I will be ready for the next adventure.  And in filling my soul...nourishing my spirit...I'm more equipped to teach them how to do that in their own lives. 

This weekend, they didn't need me home being the one to make their dinner.  They needed me adding on another layer to who I am...who I'm supposed to be...assessing what I value and how to bring it home to the persons whom I love more than I ever imagined I could love.

Who I am shapes them.  Because they are watching me.  What happens in my life has to work for me, because that's what they'll learn.  How to lead the life that fulfills them.

I'm intoxicated about what this might mean...where life could head if we ask, like Donald Miller said: "What if...?" 

Which "What if?" will I bring home this weekend?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

We are home

We're home.  Deciding not to stop through Polyface meant getting home an evening earlier...so now I have 36 hours before leaving to Orlando...and not 12. :)

Strange to be home. And strange to have the realization that, in fact, this trip went beautifully.  We kept waiting, the entire 7 weeks, for when it would turn into a road trip disaster.  It wasn't possible to have it go that well with 3 small children.  Right?

And yet, it did.

I think in part it's because they aren't really all that small anymore.  I forget that.  No one is crying to nurse every 2 hours in the back. There's a bit of warning for potty stops (not always as much as I'd like).  Everyone can feed themselves in the car.  They have a concept of what "one more hour" means and can be bribed fairly effectively.

It's been a truly awesome adventure.

And now we're home. 

The kids have been running all over the place, picking up their toys and saying: "Aw, remember this one?  And this one?"  Simone showed me where she sleeps...the cup she uses...her toy bear she got for her birthday from a friend.  They're all three amazed by their belongings.  That they're still here.  As though they've been gone forever. 

In some ways, it seems that way.  So much has happened. 

But all of our things are sitting here like a museum commemorating 2 months ago.  Cups in the sink.  Laundry unfolded on the recliner.  Life waited for us, it appears.

It's nice to be back. But I'm ready for the next adventure.  Orlando for convention with awesome women, Mexico in December, Las Vegas at Christmas.  Last night I couldn't sleep, and I was researching hotels for the Yellowstone trip next summer.  Finding places for the boys to do fossil digs in Utah.

Steve said in the car: "I want to teach the kids that life can be an adventure."  I love it.

And I'm feeling inspired to make sure those adventures happen.  This momentum...it's only going to get better and easier and more fun.  I'm only okay with shutting the door on this adventure if I know there's another door to open.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Travel Notes: Indianapolis

I lived in Indianapolis for nearly 2 years after college, but it was such a different experience visiting with kids.  I had no idea what to expect in terms of child-friendly places, as my time pre-dated family activities.   I was very impressed.

WHERE TO STAY

We chose the Candlewood Suites, which ended up being a remarkable option.  It was the size of an apartment and had a full kitchen (sans oven, but included dishwasher and full fridge/freezer).  Only $103 a night, which seemed like a steal.  Free laundry too, which was a highlight for me.  :)  It's intended for longer-term stays (we met a few persons who'd had housefires or staying near the hospital).  No breakfast, but you do have the kitchen and they have a 24-hour pantry downstairs with quite a variety of food.

I later learned about a theme-suite hotel about 15 minutes south of Indianapolis.  We're doing a Pirate Suite in Cincinnati tonight, or I might have considered this one.

WHAT TO DO

INDIANAPOLIS CHILDREN'S MUSEUM

Our favorite thing, hands-down, was the Children's Museum.  Their Egypt exhibit was top-notch.  You board an Egyptair plane, and then enter a large area set up like a village.  A rural home, city home, clothing store, restaurant, grocery store.  I'm sure I'm forgetting a lot.  I would love to see more exhibits like this, of countries around the world.  Wouldn't that make a great museum of its own?

It was also hosting the Star Wars exhibit, which made my children's day (perhaps Andrew's entire life).  But even non-Star Wars fans will love it the museum.

RHYTHM DISCOVERY CENTER

I'm not impressed by their website, but the actual museum is excellent.  When you enter the museum, the kids have 3 different styles of giant gongs to try.  They also had a large drum circle with about 12 drums.  But the best part was the hands-on area, which was a large space with all types of instruments for the kids.  Steve also liked the sound rooms with the real drums to play, so he could pretend to be a rock star. :)  I liked how much the kids could just touch and play with that entire area. 


CANAL WALK

I wish we'd gone down to the Canal Walk more when I lived there, when Steve and I were dating.  On this trip, we rented paddleboats with the kids ($30 for an hour, although we only did 30 minutes due to Littles).  Such a great urban area. 






This is a western and Native American art museum, but it was so much more than I expected.  I was stunned by the quality of artifacts they had there.  They have AAA discounts of $2 of the price (regularly $8 for adults, $5 for children). 

We loved the upstairs area with the outfits, tools, and hundreds of other items on display.  But they also have a downstairs area that is hands-on for children, including a great stagecoach.  Both levels of the museum were excellent, just a different style.




The two things we skipped but will do next time are:

CONNER PRAIRIE:  An interactive historical park.  We were planning to go Monday, and then learned they were closed Mondays.  But I'd love to try the hot air balloon.

INDIANAPOLIS ZOO:   Supposedly has one of the biggest shark touch tanks, and also a submerged dolphin tank so you can watch them swim up close.  It was *freakin'* hot the day we considered going, and a zoo would have been a disaster.  So...next time. :)