July 20, 2014

Summer Reading Ends July 31. What?

Summer Reading Ends July 31.  That's what the sign says at our library.  I am not a fan of the current trend of abbreviating summer and starting school mid-August and I'm certainly not happy with the message this sign is giving readers of all ages.  That being said, I know that June and July is when my own reading behavior is most prolific.  My sons read about the same amount as they do during the school year.  They just have more genre choices and different reasons for picking up a book in the summer.
Let me recommend our favorite audio book of the summer:  Petite Rouge Riding Hood by Mike Artell.  I know this link is for the softcover version, but if you can get the Recorded Books audio cd at your library, run don't walk to check it out!  The narration by Vernel Bagneris will transport your children on a one of a kind Cajun caper.

Speaking capers (this one much more sinister), I am attempting to finish The Map of Lost Memories set in 1925 Cambodia.  The main character is more real than likable but I find myself wanting to continue her journey.  The supporting characters seem a bit more interesting and forgivable than the protagonist but I'm enjoying her a bit more as the plot begins to spiral.  The story is not condescending nor predictable and I appreciate that.

Also from the library, I picked up this brand new book:  The Dolphin Way: A Parents Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy, Motivated Kids.  The author explains how to develop self-motivation and help children follow their inner compass.  The key is CQ; a focus on four traits that foster 21st century skills. The author's point is that if kids don't grow up with CQ, their IQ will only get them so far.  In reality, I believe these four characteristics have been valuable and led to personal success throughout history.  I can't imagine a parent looking at the list in 1901 and saying, I'm not going to focus on nurturing these traits in my child, he'll never get a job.  I'm pretty sure the generation that survived the Great Depression and the generation that lived through WWII  had CQ in spades. 
  • Creativity
  • Critical Thinking
  • Communication
  • Collaboration
The truth is, it wasn't difficult for Dr. Kang to convince me to concentrate on teaching these skills instead of academics.   I don't much care about standardized test scores (unlike Arne Duncan, I already know my children are brilliant).  I want to see growth in skills that will assure that they have the keys to doors they want to open.  I don't want to prepare my sons for a predicted career path, I want them able to select the endeavors and adventures that make their hearts sing and their minds wonder.  If they meet with that particular success, I believe they will make the world a better place no matter what they score on the ACT.

One thing is for sure, we won't stop reading around here no matter what the calendar says!

July 14, 2014

Four More Weeks Until School Starts...

 ....boo, hiss....

This summer is going at warp speed--the season usual goes fast but this is ridiculous!  I think the reason that it's flying by is that we are spending  time doing things we all enjoy.  No more toddler or preschool venues for us.  The boys and I enjoy (mostly) the same things.  Oh, they still have meltdowns and seem to enjoy food courts and gift shops more than the actual attraction but that's not unexpected at five and seven years old.

This weekend we took the commuter train to the city.  It was the boys' first real train ride.  I loved the fact that including parking, it cost $10.25 for the three of us.  Of course, lunch and souvenirs in the city added a bit more to the tab but it certainly made for a fun way to spend a few hours.
Waiting for the 10:08

Snacks for the trip back home
Last week the weather was perfect for Henry's soccer game.  He's having fun for the first time in four years.  Clearly, a developmental league was the way to go--just wish it hadn't take me this long to find one.

All the time we spend away from home means my food budget is completely off target.  We typically leave the house mid morning and stay out for quite a while.  It is really, really difficult not to eat out at least once every day but that's unhealthy in addition to being expensive.  I've tried packing lunches a couple of times but that only works when there is packable food in our refrigerator.  You can't exactly take pizzas to the park...

Maybe I should just relax about the food thing and let it be for the next month.  There's plenty of other stuff to stress out about including the fact that summer is more than half over and we've used our pool pass only once.  You know, the one that breaks even on the 8th visit...  Yeah, I'm not doing that again next year.  (To be fair, we've had an unseasonably cool and wet summer so far--it won't even reach 80 degrees this week.)

Speaking of first world problems, I've wasted so much time searching for, then meeting with, different contractors for home repairs.  Most frustratingly, nothing has been completed.  Nothing.  Well, except for the things I took on myself...one can only play phone tag so long before heading the DIY shelf  at the library and then Lowe's.  Okay, who am I kidding, I don't use how-to books, I use YouTube.

After three weeks of calling, emailing, pleading my case and begging for estimates, the deck/patio project came to a dead end.  The concrete guy said he'd have to charge me $6000 extra because it was such a small job (12x12).  The deck guy (the one who called back, three others didn't bother) gave me an estimate that was almost 60% more than what Angie's List said it should cost.  I don't know how this project could be simpler and that's what is most frustrating.  I just have to let it go and buy some more sod.

The Pinterest picture I fell in love with...alas, it was not to be
This week's projects include waiting around for the insurance adjuster and the exterior repair guy as well as scheduling the carpet measure.  I really resent the time all this takes away from my children; however, I admit that I schedule almost no maintenance/repair work during the school year.  Not surprisingly, it really piles up in the summer.  You could almost say it snowballs but then that would make us think of summer's end and who wants to do that?

July 6, 2014

Celebrating (and Loving) Independence Day

Independence Weekend has been a time of reflection for this American mother. During the summer I spend quite a bit of time signing petitions, supporting (or boycotting), donating, sharing and tweeting issues that concern me as a mom of young boys.   This article explains that teachers don't have the right to free speech, but thank goodness mothers do.  In addition to education and childcare issues, I've also become a supporter of  Moms Demand Action and Parents Against Gun Violence because I believe that until there is more gun sense, all of our children are at risk.

At times I worry for my children's future.   When I read of the latest state laws and federal decisions, I wonder where we, as Americans, are headed.  I try to take comfort in Margaret Mead's words:
"Never underestimate the power of a few committed people to change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." 
and I'm spurred on by Edmund Burke:
"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
I continue to find inspiration and have the utmost admiration for the people who work tirelessly for justice (while I am tiredly folding a third load of laundry).  Just today I listened to this on NPR.  The entire episode was dedicated to the very American history of loyal dissent. Toward the end of the program Dolores Huerta spoke of criticism as being an act of love.

As a parent, I do my best to teach by example and be a responsible citizen.  I hope my children learn to love this country as much as I do.


July 4, 2014

Mid Summer Madness


Summer means so many fun experiences that there's little time to write about them.  It also means spending 100% of my waking hours taking care of, watching over, cleaning up, laughing with, chasing after and driving around two very active boys.  These first few photos are from a wonderful lakefront festival that has been a Wisconsin tradition for decades.  In my opinion, other cities may imitate Summerfest but they never manage to duplicate it.

I thought the boys would be terrified to ride the SkyGlider
 but they thoroughly enjoyed it!  Three times!
We have been doing one big activity (that takes us out of town) each week and then staying closer to home the rest of the days.  Often, the boys will request to stay home. (Like yesterday when I offered to drive to a huge playground on a beautiful 75 degree day.)  They like to swing in the backyard, get snacks and popsicles from the kitchen, jump on the sofa and watch cartoons.  Go figure.  Thankfully we do have a few structured activities scheduled so I don't think we'll turn into couch potatoes anytime soon.

archery lessons

guided hikes at the nature preserve
Soccer game and Liam's first goal!

I continue to struggle with balance this summer--household chores/repairs, me time (or complete lack of it), healthy food, limited screen time and keeping to a reasonable budget.  Less structure (ie, no school days) means this elusive balance is even more difficult to achieve.  I know I need to live in the moment but then who is going to be responsible for keeping this family "ship" on course?  Not to mention, who is going to do the grocery shopping?

Well, I'll worry about that tomorrow--for now, we're off to a 4th of July parade and a day filled with hot dogs and ice cream.  How's that for living in the moment?

June 26, 2014

Long (but not lazy) Days of Summer

I am determined to continue blogging even if I only post once each week.  What I can't understand is how this was easier (I wrote two or three posts each week) when my children were much younger.  How did I have time to think and write when they were 1,2,3,4 years old and yet now at ages five and seven, I can barely find time to switch on my laptop much less compose thoughtful paragraphs.

I am constantly questioning myself this summer.  Are we spending too much time together?  What is the alternative?  Am I too hands-on and involved in their lives to the extent that they can't (won't) entertain themselves outside my presence for longer than five minutes, ten if I'm really, really  fortunate.  They're past the demanding stages,  the ages where they must be watched every moment for safety's sake...so why do I have absolutely no time to myself?

I'm sure with a few minutes of quiet time, I could analyze the facts:  I'm a single mom by choice who is not utilizing childcare (also by choice) this summer.  I'm blessed with a vocation that operates on the same yearly calendar as my children's school schedule.  How many working moms envy that?  I know I'm very fortunate.  But then again, there can be too much of a good thing.

We are in each others' spaces and faces all day long.  Then at night, I send the boys to bed and within 30 minutes, one or both are asking to sleep in my room.  We're not just together every waking hour--we are in the same room 24/7, it seems. And even spending all this time together, I don't accomplish my parenting goals.  (Case in point, today's goal was to read four picture books to Liam who is lagging behind in the library's summer reading challenge.  Thirteen hour day--zero books read.  Fabulous.  Just fabulous.

Don't get me wrong, we get out and do things.  We had a wonderful visit with close friends who came to visit the big city last week.  We spent almost twelve hours with them in Chicago.  I was beside myself to have a grown up to talk to while the boys showed off their best behavior for my friend's daughters.  The next day we traveled 100 miles north to an art festival.  Liam spent at least thirty minutes on one painting.  He had an air of complete concentration as he worked on that canvas.  A few days later, Henry had archery class and a swim lesson.  The following day we joined good friends at the neighborhood pool where Henry and Liam went down a giant slide and played for hours, rarely checking in with me.  (When they did, I sprayed them with more SPF.)  Being at the pool, seeing my children play with kids they know well and having another mom to talk to... well, it was the first time I've really relaxed this summer.

If I could step back and give myself advice, I'd tell myself to notice how relaxed the boys are when I'm relaxed.  I'd tell myself that often, if not always, my mood and reactions set the tone for this family.  I'd remind myself that Henry and Liam are smart, healthy, typical boys.  But they are young--they can only hold it together for so long.  They get tired but they don't want to rest.  Both  are very observant, sensitive at times and often brutally honest.  We converse at a fairly sophisticated level BUT that doesn't mean they are miniature adults.  And they certainly can't read my mind.

Step back, look at the big picture, are they having a happy childhood?  Get in close, notice the details...take a moment to be present.  

Yes, that would be my advice.  Now if only I'd listen instead of questioning and criticizing we'd all be a lot happier this summer.