Summer Fun Week 4

A month of summer already? And now it’s July? True on both accounts.

Last week, I left you hanging with a teaser about an adventure we were taking on Sunday. So, let me relieve your agony from the anticipation.

wpid-20150628_103831.jpgThe Tall Ships Festival in Philadelphia and Camden, New Jersey, took place last weekend, and we decided to take our family out for the day. (We skipped church because I needed a break, which is probably another blog post I could write, but no one had official duties and that hasn’t happened in months. Family time it was!) One of the ticket options was just for entrance onto the waterfronts on both sides of the Delaware River, but that included access to the ferry. Since we’re newbies to the tall ships world, and we didn’t have an entire day to spend there, we took this option. wpid-20150628_124424.jpg Packed a lunch, paid for parking and wandered around on a beautiful day. (With about a billion other people. Lots of people everywhere. And we spent a lot of time standing in line.)

We didn’t tour any ships this time but it was fun to see the artistry of the boats and learn a little bit about their history. While waiting in line for the ferry the first time, we learned that the U.S. Coast Guard boat that was there was a confiscated German boat from World War II and that the French boat Hermione was an exact replica of Lafayette’s boat.

The closest we ever got to it was on the return trip on the ferry. Still, it was a magnificent boat that sets my writer’s imagination running wild and free. (The costumed people walking around did as well. At times, I felt like I could jump into a story from the past if I wanted to!) Maybe it seems like a bit of a letdown that we couldn’t wander all over the ships or even get close, but for me, this was great. When else do you get to see sights like this? (The next day, friends of ours vacationing in Cape May saw the boats sailing on their way to New York City, which is another sight I’d love to see!)

wpid-20150628_155418.jpgIn-person adventures always make me more interested in the history of those events and places, so I’m adding to my to-read list. (And we have more places to add to our must-visit list.) The Battleship New Jersey “lives” on the Delaware River in Camden, and we’d love to go back sometime and take a tour.

wpid-20150628_124640.jpgOur kids love adventure, and we decided to not tell them where we were going right wpid-20150628_162311.jpgaway. We drove past the church and asked if they wanted any clues. After a few, they wanted to know what we were doing, so we told them.

It was a tiring day of walking and we had a few moments where we might have regretted our decision (standing in line for the ferry for 45 minutes on the return trip was one) but we know the kids had fun when they played ships and Coast Guard for the next two days.

One attraction at the festival was the world’s largest rubber duckie that stands more than six stories tall. But it had some issues over the weekend and never was able to be inflated. We heard a lot of people complaining about that, and though we were a bit disappointed, the ships made up for it. (A couple of women dressed as pirates engaged Izzy in conversation calling her the “dread pirate Izzy.” I think she’s still beaming from this moniker.)

That was our big highlight of the week.

We also managed to make it to two parks this week, despite the threat of rain. wpid-20150630_091938.jpg

We had a super fun playdate on Wednesday in the city. (And because it was so fun, I have no pictures!) And we went to two library programs: one about reptiles and one about insects. Fun times! The kids didn’t get close enough to touch or hold either one, but both programs were informative and fun.

Another part of our week was a rally night at Chick-fil-a for our Kenya team fundraiser. The kids totally stole the show, running the spinning wheel and instructing people on their winnings. As the trip draws closer (almost three weeks now!) our summer plans are dropping off a bit as we try to keep up with housework and packing for our various travels. (The kids to Illinois; the hubs and I to Kenya.)

Not every day or week has to be jam-packed full of fun, but we’re hoping to make a few more memories together in the coming weeks before the school year is upon us again.

How’s your summer going?

 

Summer Fun Week 2

Just to be clear: I am not SUPER MOM. I have a shirt I wear sometimes that says otherwise–Super Mom, Super Wife, Super Tired–but I really only identify with the tired part. This is why I drink coffee. Parenting is tiring! Summer parenting is exhausting!

So, do not read these posts and think, wow, she’s such a great mom and I am not! I NEVER think that about me. I yell at my kids. I cry. I throw tantrums. I question the sanity of having had children at all. These pictures serve as reminders of the good times so I don’t try to convince myself it’s all bad.

You can check out our first week of summer here.

This is what this week looked like for us.

wpid-20150614_202319.jpgOn Sunday night, we headed out to a free concert in the park. A trio of fiddling sisters from Texas was the show, and man, were they good! After picking out some snacks from the food trucks, the kids got into the groove and took up a large stretch of the grass to dance. I love their freedom and was only slightly worried that other people might be annoyed by their antics, but whatever. It was a free concert.

And sitting outside on a blanket listening to music with my loves is the best. Even when one of them makes faces like this. wpid-20150614_200551.jpgSigh. Maybe we’ll have a normal picture sometime. But then again, I didn’t marry him because he’s normal.

Sunday night would set the tone for the week. We spent A LOT of time outside. On Tuesday, we got to head out to a park playdate with some friends from preschool at a park we don’t visit often enough. (For the record: park playdates stress me out on multiple levels, especially if port-a-potties are involved, but we go because it’s good for all of us! Even me, the introvert!)

My kids are becoming fearless in their play, and I think this is a good thing.

wpid-20150616_093143.jpgThis same day we spent 90 minutes in the waiting room of the auto repair shop so our driver’s side window would go up again and we wouldn’t have to duct tape a garbage bag over it when rain threatened.wpid-20150616_163940.jpgwpid-20150616_164530.jpg

Fortunately, Chick-fil-a had its monthly family night later that day, too, so the kids had more outdoor fun.We didn’t have to spend any money on rigged carnival games and they STILL got a prize. And time in the bounce house! And ice cream!

The next day we ventured over to Oregon Dairy for their annual Family Farm Days. A wagon ride through the farm and then a fun-filled day of free activities, with free samples of milk and ice cream and yogurt. It’s a really generous day and the kids always want to stay longer, no matter how long we’ve been there. (It was close to four hours by the time we left!)

Corban is happy as long as he gets to see tractors. Izzy has fun no matter what’s going on.wpid-20150617_121015.jpg

And we always enjoy seeing animal mascots.

In this case, Cylo, the Barnstormer. Corban was afraid he was going to try to take his hat. (Don’t be alarmed. We are not Mets fans. Phil and I scored these hats when we went to see the Cubs play the Mets. And the kids love the hats. But not the Mets. Just to be clear.)

 

wpid-20150617_100245.jpgOur one trip to the library this week was for a Lego program. The kids heard a story and then had to create something having to do with superheroes. They worked together to create a superhero house.

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It has a pool on the roof and a weapon hanging off the side of the roof. It must be a wealthy superhero’s house–someone like Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark.

Creativity is fun!

We ended the week having dinner with friends. Our kids played till almost 10 p.m.!

How’s your summer going so far?

 

 

This is what a mom sees while watching hockey

The Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup this week. I’m no sports fanatic but even I know it was the Blackhawks and not the Bears who won. (Did you see that picture on Facebook from a newspaper? Too funny!)

And I freely admit that I only watch hockey when it’s important. Like when your “hometown” team is playing for the title. My husband let me know early on what our TV viewing would be as the series progressed, so I knew that at least one night this week, hockey would be on TV and I would be reading or cross-stitching or otherwise occupying myself.

Because I don’t really understand what’s going on during a hockey game. Or is it a match? Put me in front of a baseball game and I’m set. Even football is a little more understandable. I grew up watching those two sports regularly. Hockey is a foreign concept for me.

But on the night of the Stanley Cup win, I found myself watching on purpose instead of checking out.

And you know what I saw?

Parenting! You guys, hockey is JUST LIKE parenting.

Seriously. Here are the similarities:

  • There were grown people chasing a small object from one end of the rink to the other for what seemed like a bazillion minutes. Isn’t this what happens in parenting? Sometimes I think chasing this object while trying to stay upright on ice skates would be an easier balancing act than parenting.
  • And there were time outs! The hockey players who commit a no-no have to sit out for a short time. Our parenting days are full of time-outs, and I gotta tell you, the adult hockey players looked just about as pleased as my kids about going to time out.
  • What about all the hitting and being slammed into the glass? I have a boy child who thinks torture is a love language. He will randomly run up behind me and “pat me” on the back because he wants a hug. Sometimes his sister will throw a punch when she’s frustrated. I had no idea I was grooming hockey players! (FYI, they go to time out for hitting–see above!)
  • And the spectators. Parenting is not a spectator sport, but have you ever noticed when you’re out in public that there are plenty of people who are watching you parent? Some of them love you; some of them hate you. I think hockey fans are the same. There’s lots of yelling and cheering and booing.

Okay, so maybe parenting and hockey aren’t EXACTLY the same, but I think it would be totally okay to put on some padding underneath my clothes and carry a stick just to get through the day. Not to hit anyone with but just to bat away the flying objects.

Summer Fun Week 1

We have officially survived our first week of summer. I say “survived” because it can be a rough transition having both kids home after one of them has been in school full time. I have a plan for summer that may or may not be working out so far, but it’s only been a week, so I’m giving myself grace.

Grace. Forgiveness. They are the prime themes of this week, mostly because I was tired and moody for much of the week and we had two 90-degree days. (We haven’t put our window air conditioners in yet because once we do, there’s no going back and it’s only the first week of June.)

And this is not a brag blog to make you feel bad that your summer is not perfect because ours certainly isn’t. Read between the lines of these pictures and highlights and you’ll find screaming and crying and exhaustion and moments when I’m not sure if I like my children. (I do. I do like them.)

But I feel like I might need some reminders of the fun we’re having this summer, even if it’s not perfect (and it won’t be).

wpid-20150606_112326.jpg We love our library programs. I think we’ve been to a branch of the library three times this week. Our daughter is reading books like a pro this summer, so she’s running through them quickly. And they’re both almost finished with the reading logs for the public library program. After that, we have a couple more options: one from a local bookstore and one from Barnes & Noble. We love reading!

We also love parks! I think we hit the park as many times as the library, except for the days it was super hot. Sometimes I have to stop and remind myself of how beautiful our area is, especially when I’m feeling ungrateful or discontented. This is one of my favorite views from our park visits.

wpid-20150610_142721.jpgAnd I’m learning to love meeting other moms at the park and arranging play dates even though it’s hard for me to make conversation and I’m not the kind of mom who immediately jumps in and plays with my kids no matter what they’re doing. I’m more of an observer than participant.wpid-20150609_100148.jpg

But I do enjoy taking pictures of my kids when they’re playing nicely together so I have proof that they can get along. Also, they’re occasionally hilarious.

In between outings, we, of course, had to start some cleaning projects. We weeded the garden and tended the porch plants. We did the ordinary stuff of life like groceries, laundry and dishes. We sprung for donuts one morning because we were out of milk (I know, that totally makes sense) and resurrected our special breakfast mornings. (Phil and I started that tradition on some Saturdays just after we were married. We have not held to any kind of schedule for this, but it’s always fun to do something out of the ordinary.)

wpid-20150611_132629.jpgwpid-20150611_1401430.jpgAnd we took advantage of one of our memberships to a local fun place. It was a good combination of inside-outside time.

Plus it’s so varied the kids are never bored. For more than two hours, they played and played and played. It’s the sort of day we could spend all day at, but a few hours is usually enough. Especially with a membership when we can come back anytime.  We’re so thankful for this gift that gives us options year-round for fun.wpid-20150611_153407.jpg

 

How’s your summer going so far?

 

What kind of mother would do that?

I’d like to think that the longer I’ve been a mother, the more forgiving I am of other mothers. (And of myself, if I’m honest. I’m my own harshest critic.)

Some days, I am. Other days, I’m just as critical as ever. In an effort to justify my own choices in motherhood, my own parenting policies, I judge another mother’s decisions as if there is one right way to do this whole motherhood gig.

News flash: there just isn’t.

I hear the same plea for acceptance from the mom who homeschools as I do from the mom whose kids go to public school, from the mom whose kids are close in age and from the mom whose kids have a bigger age range. Whether we’re swimming in money or struggling to make ends meet, all the moms I know want what’s best for the kids, and I know that no matter what it looks like, love drives those decisions.

Where I struggle to find the same kind of compassion and identification is with moms around the world. (I’m hoping our trip to Kenya this summer will show me how universal motherhood is no matter our place on the planet.) Especially when it comes to stories where kids have been sold into unspeakable situations. Sex trafficking. Slavery. Debt bondage.

How could they do that? I think. What kind of mother would sell her children?

Maybe you read the news or Facebook posts with the same questions hovering in your brain.

I’m so thankful for the folks at The Exodus Road who can take those tough questions and give us a glimpse of an answer. What follows is a partial repost of blog written by Laura Parker of The Exodus Road. In it, she addresses the circumstances that led to the rescue of a 15-year-old girl (Sarah, though not her real name) in 2012. You can read Sarah’s story here.

mother-child

“As mothers in a first world country, we understand that there are resources that can put food on the table, that can protect us when natural disaster strikes, that will help pay the doctor’s bills.

We live in the reality of free public education, a democratic government with laws and a police force that seeks to protect our little ones. We can afford basic vaccinations, and we do not live in fear of a mosquito bite or dirty water or stomach worms that can eat a person from the inside out.

We parents in the West have also been born into a culture where women have incredible value, where females are seen (theoretically) as equals, and where an infant girl is just as celebrated as a newborn baby boy.

But, this, this, is not the reality of most mothers around the world. Many women in developing countries taste the fear and desperation of motherhood on an entirely different playing field than we mothers in the first world do. And while these third world moms are often noble, strong, and brave beyond belief, they still have to look into the eyes of their small ones with the understanding that there are too many mouths and not enough rice.

And extreme poverty forces a parent to make extreme decisions. For good or for bad, people are in large part products of their environments.

And this decision by Sarah’s mother? Well, we don’t know what factors played a part in the unfolding of it. It could have been made out of ignorance or deceit, out of a deeply-seated cultural belief about girls, or even out of a desire to protect the survival of several siblings with the sacrifice of one.

And while I’m not saying that Sarah’s mother was justified, that her decision to sell her 15-year-old’s virginity was acceptable, I am saying that even Sarah’s mother deserves our compassion, too.

Because were she born into a different country, under better circumstances, chances are Sarah wouldn’t have tasted life in a brothel, at the hands of systems that made such a horrific decision feel like the best one.”

–       Laura Parker  |  2012  | The Exodus Road

I thought of this post as we approach Mother’s Day this weekend, and while it’s not your typical Mother’s Day topic, I think it’s an important time to remember the struggles of mothers of all kinds. And that we can give ourselves, the moms we know and the moms we don’t, a lot of grace for the grueling, gratifying work of motherhood.

And maybe thinking about moms whose choices are not simple will move us beyond compassion and lead us to make a difference.

That’s why I blog monthly for The Exodus Road. To remind you that slavery is a real part of the world we live in. To tell stories of rescue and freedom and bravery. To remind myself that my problems are not the only ones that matter. And to encourage us all to do something–tell, share, give–in the support of freedom from modern-day slavery.

The Exodus Road has lots of ways to get involved. You can check them out here.

A book that bares its soul and offers connection: Review of Scary Close by Donald Miller

For all the controversy he generates, I need the reminder that Donald Miller is just a guy trying to make sense of his world and himself through his faith, experiences and relationships.

scary closeOne thing I admire about him as a writer is his willingness to share his failings as well as his strengths, to acknowledge the controversies but not necessarily apologize for his words. It’s been a long time since I read one of his books but his latest, Scary Close, to me, felt like an honest, heartfelt baring of the soul. The Donald Milller I thought I knew from previous work is not the same writer of this book. That’s encouraging.

(Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book through the Booklook Bloggers program in exchange for my review.)

A writer like Miller might be tempted to withdraw and stop telling stories. But Miller opens up, however reluctantly, and talks about how relationships changed him. Healthy ones and unhealthy ones.

He writes much about his relationship with his now-wife Betsy and what he’s learned and is still learning about intimacy. I like to think I’m pretty good at going deep in relationships but Miller’s words challenge me to discover the real me behind the mask I wear.

Scary Close is written memoir-style but the truths Miller shares, what he’s learning about intimacy, are lessons for all of us to consider.

I’m glad my husband read this book before I did so that now we can talk through some of the things we read. Miller’s words make me want to improve my relationships across the board and offer the kind of vulnerability he’s received. (After reading Bob Goff’s generous and gracious foreward, I was so moved by his use of the word “love” that I told a friend I loved her. I don’t usually do this for people who aren’t family.)

Though Miller addresses topics like dating, marriage and parenting, his words apply to relationships as a whole. I love the hope he offers for those of us who have gotten the intimacy thing wrong.

Miller offers grace and encouragement for the journey.

Two things I learned from journalism that help me navigate life

If we haven’t known each other for 8 or more years, you might not know that once upon a time I was a journalist–a newspaper reporter (later a copy editor and page designer) for daily publications in small towns in Illinois. I gave all that up when we moved to Pennsylvania and I became a stay-at-home mom, so sometimes it feels like a different life entirely.

A funny thing happened last week–my name and picture made it into the local paper where I live now. It was a brief mention because I’m co-teaching a workshop at a writers conference with a talented writing friend. I didn’t realize how big of a deal it was until people started telling me they saw my picture in the paper. I guess I haven’t been as vocal about being a writer as I could have been.

A decade ago, in my hometown, it was normal (and sometimes creepy) for random people to say to me, “Aren’t you that girl that writes for the paper?” or something similar. My picture was in the paper weekly. My name, almost daily. I had forgotten what that was like. (Not that I’m looking for a repeat of that experience!)

Journalism was a difficult career for me. I’m an introvert (though I don’t know that I would have known to call it that at the time). I was fresh out of college and not particularly happy about being back in my hometown. I hated conflict and sometimes had to create it because sources or public officials were not cooperating. There were painful times when something I wrote ticked off an entire community and I became their target for hateful words. (One time I couldn’t answer my phone for a whole day because every time it rang, someone was yelling at me.) There was also one embarrassing time when I misidentified a girl as a boy. (It’s a long story but one I’ll never forget.)

Yet when I look back on my somewhat brief career in journalism (Is 8 years brief? I don’t know. It was longer than I expected to stay in the business.) I’m almost nostalgic. (But I could not do the same job today in our social media saturated world. No, thank you.) I can see how beneficial it was for me, not only as a writer but as a person living life.

Alejandro Escamilla | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Alejandro Escamilla | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Two things stand out to me, especially on days when all I see is an overwhelmingly long list of things to do in a variety of life’s arenas. (P.S. Not my real workstation pictured. I would love to return to my Mac ways.)

The first is that there is always work to do, so do something.

I can’t ever remember a time I was bored while working in journalism. Well, maybe once or twice. It was not a large city, after all. But my work was almost never done. There was always another call to make, another story to write, another idea to pursue. I hated Mondays because all I could see was the long list of unfinished work, and by Friday, I might have accomplished most of it but I could always get a jump on the next thing. Breaking news happens fast but follow-ups take longer. Feature articles are always planned ahead of time so the designers can work their magic. “Done” was a dirty word because then an editor would find something else for you to do.

It could have been so overwhelming that I just did nothing until I needed to. But I was constantly switching from one activity to the next. I would write a bit of this story then answer a phone call from a source for another story before leaving my desk to go to an interview with a source for yet a third story. Maybe I’d get back to that first story later, but I might have to take a few hours off before heading to a government meeting later that night.

Yes, I got paid and it was part of the job, but it was still stressful. I couldn’t afford to waste five minutes doing nothing if I could use that five minutes to make a call or send an e-mail.

Now, I’m not saying that being constantly busy is a good thing. It’s not. But too often I think something like this: “Well, I don’t have time to finish the dishes or do all the laundry, so I’ll just do that later.” In truth, I generally have time to start the dishes or laundry, even if I can’t finish it. And then I feel better about taking time for leisure later.

As a stay-at-home mom who also blogs and does freelance writing and serves in leadership at church, there is always work to be done. This week’s to-do list includes housework, grocery shopping, writing, buying supplies for the church kitchen, catching up on book club reading so I can lead the discussion while our pastor’s wife is out of the country and I don’t even know what else! (I recently heard this called a portfolio life. It’s an interesting concept.)

Which brings me to my second lesson from journalism: expect the unexpected.

Oh, how I hate this one! I’m a planner, and I like when things go according to (my) plan. I’m not sure how I survived journalism. Even in a small town, news breaks at the most inconvenient of times.

Like at 5 p.m. on a Friday when a fax comes into the office announcing the closure of the town’s steel mill, the major employer in town, and practically no one is available for comment but you can’t go home because you have to try everyone and the story will run the next day.

Or when you’re just doing your usual police rounds on a Saturday afternoon weekend duty and you discover a news release about a family of four who drowned when their van went into the river and you have to spend the rest of the day talking to people who are grieving.

Or on another Saturday when the president who grew up in your hometown (Ronald Reagan) finally succumbs to Alzheimer’s and the stories you’ve been holding and writing and planning for months finally see the light of day.

Sometimes all my plans got pushed aside for something else that was going on. It was the nature of the business and it’s the nature of life.

I still have a hard time with this. I look at the week ahead and think about how calm and peaceful it will be and then 3 out of 4 us end up sick or there are two snow days and three school delays and everything I thought I would get done gets pushed back another week.

Some weeks will go as planned and some won’t. Sometimes I’ll get through my to-do list and sometimes I won’t. What I’m (slowly) learning is that I can trust the Spirit to lead me through the day. As I’m writing this blog post, I could also be cleaning the house, but at this moment, blogging is helping to clear my head for the rest of the day, which will certainly have its stressful moments. Another day might lead me to tackle the organizing projects I need.

I’m good at procrastinating the work I don’t want to do but I’m learning that if I take small steps or knock off a few smaller items on my list, then I’m less overwhelmed. (I also probably need a few less hats, but I’m working on that, too.)

How do you do it? Are you able to find balance in all the tasks of your life? Have you learned something from a job or a role that was surprising to you?