October 26, 2014

This weekend we were gifted with an unseasonably warm and sunny Saturday so we headed straight outdoors for the largest nature preserve we could find. (Originally, Saturday was to be a stay-at-home-day after our busy, stressful and sleep-deprived week but how can you pass up 70 sunny degrees in late October?)

What's so special about this trail sign? Amid complaining that his feet hurt and he was too tired to keep going uphill, Liam stopped and looked at this sign.  I was about ten feet away but I could hear him, very seriously saying "bb....ah...gg, bahhgg, bahg!"

"Mom, the bog is this way.  What's a bog?"

I was so EXCITED!  Liam sounded out a word all by himself for no reason other than he wanted to know what it said.  This is reading.  Not phonics homework, not a school readiness inventory, not a sight word reader that counts toward a free pizza coupon.  Reading.  For the sake of knowledge.  So EXCITING.  (If I do say so myself!)



We kept walking and saw many creatures but not the red-tailed hawk we were looking for.  Nor did we have a bald eagle sighting.  Most of the fauna were crawling, hopping and slithering at our feet.  We had to be careful where we stepped.  In fact, we were still in the parking lot when we came across three caterpillars and a tiny snake.

                                          Woolly Bear caterpillar  (Pyrrharctia isabella, in case you're wondering)

baby snake in the parking lot
There was so much to see I could have stayed for hours, but the wind picked up and the boys were beginning to tire.  We finished our outing with a story and puzzle inside the large nature center.   I bet you can guess which Dr. Seuss book they have on their shelves!



Henry and I enjoyed the huge observation deck.  As for Liam, aside from the bathrooms, he was attracted to a large screen on the wall.  "What channels do they have, Mom?"  He was clearly disappointed when I said that it only showed a loop of still photographs taken at the preserve.  You can take the child out of the suburbs, but you can't take the suburbs out of the child. 


We returned home exhausted but also in a much better mood than we had been in all week.  Despite Liam's longing for cable tv, there's nothing like a day spent together under a big blue sky.

October 16, 2014

More Ups and Downs than a Hayride in October

It's still the busy, stressful season at work.  I've always said that once I get through Thanksgiving the rest of the school year is a breeze.  These first fifteen weeks are brutal so I try to make the most of our weekends.  That means spending as much time as possible outdoors.  I find myself craving nature--even on the chilliest fall day, I want to be outside in open spaces, preferable with a view.  It's the fastest way I've found to disconnect from Monday-Friday stress.

I'm not sure how much outdoor activity there will be this weekend though.  We are all battling colds and Liam has an earache.  The poor guy has been enduring fevers for days and hasn't been eating.  We just got back from the pediatrician who diagnosed a raging ear infection.  Hopefully, the antibiotic prescription will mean we can both return to school tomorrow.  I know I have 3 days of work piled on my desk as well as 160 students and their parents worried about end-of-quarter grades.  Okay, not 160.  There are a handful of kids who don't really care what they get in seventh grade Geography.  (Good thing too, because I am no where near ready to upload grades.)

I'm glad I was able to be home with Liam while he was ill.  Glad to share some quality time and try my best to comfort him.  Yet, there's always that nagging worry though about my dwindling sick days.  I mean, it's only October and I've got two children in school--exposed on a daily basis to heaven-knows-what.  Some of my colleagues have 50 or even 100 accrued sick days at their disposal but my balance is in the single digits.  The difference?  Traditional family structure.  There I said it.  Two sets of grandparents, often ready and willing to watch a sick child while mom and dad go to work make a big difference when it comes to holding on to your paid time off.

Well there's nothing to be done for it.  I just keep keeping on, never taking a full day when a half day will suffice.  Almost never taking any pto for myself.  Last year, I went eight miserable weeks before seeing my doctor with what she called "the worst sinus infection I've seen in this practice".  (I filled the prescription and was behind my desk in time for the lunch bell.)

I seem to have gotten off topic.  Here are a few more October activities.  After Henry fed this docile cow, we changed our lunch plans.  Culver's was literally off the table that day.


anyone home?



preparing to make caramel apples


Henry has lost three teeth since starting second grade.  His beloved rhino shirt is getting too small (don't tell him that!) and he's doing math at the fifth grade level so I just love the way this last photo captures his little boy-ness.  I am not in a hurry for this guy to grow up.

Last but not least, I came across this great article with much advice that rings true.  I'm not exactly "new" at this since my oldest is seven, but sometimes I do feel a bit lost on a path everyone else traveled ages ago.  Posts like this help me feel less alone.  I thought I'd share 9-tips-on-how-to-prepare-for-new-older-motherhood

Speaking of older mothers....I think I'll go back outside and spend some quality time with one.


October 8, 2014

The days are getting shorter but the weeks are getting longer...

Not another post about how exhausted I am from working full time, caring solo for two young, rambunctious boys and driving to all their extracurriculars.  No!  I can't take any more whining.  Who am I kidding?  I'm too tired to complain.

Instead I'm posting two checklists that help move us through our busy days.  Time is at a premium.  In fact, the only thing more rare, more valuable than time is kindness.  These charts help conserve precious amounts of both.  Oh, don't get me wrong-- our system isn't perfect.  There are daily meltdowns and episodes of complete chaos.  Fortunately, the boys are very patient and forgiving.
Our Get Ready (and Get Out) Chart

after school expectations




October 1, 2014

It's really not about the apples...

2009
2014
Here are some photos from our recent visit to the apple orchard.  As you can see, we've been going to this particular farm since Henry was about two and half years old.  It is wonderful to have this family tradition.  I did not do stuff like this as a child and there are few, if any traditions I can remember sharing year after year.  I'm not really sure how to create lasting memories for my children but this annual outing seems like a step in the right direction.


The weather was absolutely perfect--we stayed for six hours.  (It's quite easy to stay that long because the owners have added about fifty percent more activities in the past three or four years.)  We enjoyed the tractor ride to the orchard and filled our bags quickly.  The bees were plentiful and when I mentioned something to one of the employees she looked at me like I had grown three heads.  It took me a few minutes to realize why.  No bees, no apples on the trees!


We are lucky to live in an area where we have our pick of farms/orchards but we'll always visit this one.  Admission price is about the same as all the others (expensive!) but once you are in, you can do everything there is to do.  Six hours?  I'd say that we got our money's worth.  And another year of great memories.



Henry climbed the tractor but Liam preferred these!

Trying to find their way out of the corn maze

A new activity this year--super simple construction, hours of fun!

September 24, 2014

Finding Our Way


Our family of three went away this weekend--leaving behind the stress of school, commuting and a (seemingly) crumbling-all-around-us house.  We stayed at a hotel with a pool and brought lots of snacks to enjoy while watching television from well-jumped-on beds.  I made sure we spent lots of time outdoors and I purposely did not pack my tablet or the boys' iPad.

All this was in effort to "reset" our family life.  The daily frustration and petty annoyances have been building since mid-August.  I don't think anyone who observed us would describe us as a happy family.  In fact, I'm pretty sure they'd call Supernanny.  The stress and anger were spiraling out of control--it was something we three passed back and forth, back and forth until I became scared and desperate.  Something had to be done and I was pretty sure we all needed to get away from our physical surroundings in order to regroup.

The book Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids has been a tremendous help.  I started reading it last month but was able to concentrate more fully on the chapters while away this weekend.  I first came across this title on Chasing Rainbows, a blog by another choice mom.  I am very grateful to Shannon for sharing this resource that is changing our lives for the better.

There's also a companion website (or is the book the companion to the website?)  Either way Dr. Laura Markham's Aha Parenting has been a lifesaver.  I can't say I've perfected her strategies/techniques but I am constantly trying to apply them throughout the hours of our long, exhausting days.  Parenting is hard work.  Don't be fooled--it doesn't get easier when they are out of diapers.

When my vocal chords have completely recovered (I'm on day 9 of a full blown, textbook case of laryngitis) I plan on having a family meeting to introduce implementation of one of Dr. Markham's tips--fifteen minutes of special time, alone with each child, each day.  Even more difficult than scheduling this into our crazy busy schedule, will be getting the other child to understand he's on his own for fifteen minutes.  Henry may be able to handle it--with Liam it's going to be touch and go.  But it's worth a try...once I can fully explain it to them.

One piece of advice I didn't wait to implement was more hugs.  Dr. Markham recommends 12 per day.  Apparently humans need 4 hugs/day to survive, 8 for maintenance and 12 for growth.  I don't actually keep count, but I'd say I've increased the amount of hugs I give by about 200%.  I have stopped using the car line at their school; I park instead and get out with the boys.  That way I can sneak in another hug before we start our demanding days.  It is helping.  Sometimes they are "side hugs" and sometimes it's a kiss on the top of the head--I've yet to find a wrong way.  I think Liam has been caught off guard at the hugs he's received when his behavior is less than desirable.  He'll start whining about what I packed for lunch and say that I'm the meanest mom ever.  Before he can finish his complaint, I hug and kiss him.  He doesn't know what hit him.  At the very least, he loses his train of thought.

I'll finish up with a few photos from our outdoor adventures during this healing weekend.  I can only hope to keep the positive momentum going now that we are back to our suburban work/school routine.  I'm certainly going to try.






The boys spent hours swimming while I sat and read.  Talk about win/win!