Monday, December 20, 2010

Teacher Gifts...

As a teacher, I know how hard the job can be.  I also know just how much it matters when a family lets you know that they appreciate the effort you are giving for their child.  And while I try my best, I KNOW my boys' teachers are doing outstanding work day in and day out.  We totally won the teacher lottery, and try and take any opportunity we have to let them know exactly that.

Christmas time is one of the great chances for us to do just that.  Mid-November I started looking for ideas for something homemade that showed our love and was replicable.  As Montessori teachers they all have an appreciation for natural materials and handmade work.  This led me to knitting and the knitted bowl.  I found the pattern here, and started in.  I figured I would just have to see how far I got.

Then a friend posted this tutorial. (Thanks, Dawn!) I fell in love with the little owls, and knew that a little owl ornament would be a good fit in a knitted bowl nest. They were a fun "in front of the TV" project in the evening.

And when it all wrapped up, these are what we had.  One for each teacher, one for each assistant, and one for the early care teacher.  I hope they enjoyed them as much as I enjoyed making them.

Love those days...

At the risk of  two sugary posts in a row, yesterday was one of those days.  The really good ones.  The ones that make you feel like all is right in the world. And it couldn't have come at a better time. What made it so great, you ask?  Well:

1. Divided grocery shopping - Instead of all going together, and then dealing with the boys bickering their way through the store, we now use shopping as time for one-on-one time.  One kid comes with me, the other stays home with Dad.  Each kiddo gets attention, the shopping gets done, and there's no fighting.

2. Lots of "elving" (a term borrowed form Amanda Soule) going on - Lots of sneaking around crafting for others in the home.  I hear tales of a rocket ship being built with Daddy, and I have assisted in the creation of a treasure box.  There are plans for snowglobes and maybe even some hand sewing to be done in the next day or two.

3. Crafting time - I've been doing a little of my own elving.  Pajama pants are in order for everyone, and two pairs were finished yesterday, with the pattern-making and cutting done for the other two pairs. A cute felt gnome was also begun.

4. Baking together - With the help of both boys - and that's ACTUAL help, not "help" - we made sugar cookies, frosting, and chocolate krinkles.  They are getting better at measuring, and love rolling out dough and cutting shapes.  Turns out that the key is having two stools, and different work stations for each.

5. Delicious dinner - enough said.

6. A few snowflakes - just a few.  Not enough to stick - but enough to make the evening feel even more magical.

For a homebody like myself, this was just what I needed.  Christmas music, twinkle lights, and hot beverages. Very few arguments. Lots of laughter. Perfect.

I hope you are finding your own moments of perfection in all the hustle and preparations. I'd love to hear what is right in your world - just leave me a comment!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Zoolights and the Car

It didn't take long for their heads to fall forward, bobbing with each bump in the road. It was past their bedtime, the car was warm, and Christmas music was playing.  I wanted to be asleep, too.  But I wasn't.  As the parent, it was my job to drive them home.  And as the parent, I got to enjoy a few moments of quiet calm.

We had spent the evening at Zoolights.  That's what the advent calendar told us to do, and coincidentally, it lined up with the first night it hadn't rained in 2 weeks. Parking was a nightmare, the crowds were thick. We almost opted out.  But we didn't.  For the first time, we didn't have screaming, crying babies in arms or strollers.  We walked through, looking at the lights.  We held hands.  We talked about the animals.  A middle school choir sang "Frosty the Snowman". And while it wasn't the pastoral image of Christmas celebration, for us city dwellers, it was what we know Christmas to be.

But it was the ride home that felt like real Christmas. The thank you's all around for the effort at making it a positive experience.  The boys munching on gingerbread cookies that their teachers had so lovingly made .  The lights of downtown as we drove home.  And then the quiet.  Two bowed heads - one in a red cowboy hat, the other in a Santa hat. "Silent Night" on the radio and Christmas lights on houses. And that feeling in the deepest part of you that things are right in your world.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Advent update...

We've been so throughly enjoying every moment of this holiday season that I haven't taken the time to write about it.  So far, the envelopes have been great.  A couple of times we have needed to adjust plans - moving big activities around for weather or to make plans with other people.  The boys have enjoyed the activities without missing any of the "stuff" that accompanies so many advent calendars. With that said, tonight's time for a quick update - what's worked, what hasn't.

1. Dance Party - didn't happen.  Sick mama and oldest kid prevented us boogie-ing down.  Since then we have had several impromptu bursts of Christmas music inspired dancing.

2.Letter to Santa

3. Work on Christmas Cards - the oldest one stuffed the envelopes, and they are in the mail!
4. Get the Christmas Tree
We have a great local tree farm that we love getting to support -  they have amazing trees, and provide the chainsaw, cocoa, chili and candy canes.  There was sunshine, a cold breeze, and good memories.

5. Make a decoration for the house
6. Enjoy a Candy Cane - never a problem!  Yum.

7. Paint Ornaments - We haven't gotten to these yet.  It will be a great project for next week when we are on vacation, though.
8. Make a list of 10 things we are thankful for - This was fun.  We made our lists at dinner time, and some of the highlights were candy canes, paper airplanes, family, fire trucks, chocolate, and the boys' school. 
9. Paint an Ornament for someone else - see #7

10. Share a meal with friends - This was a great get-together, and reminder that there is always  time for friends.  We need to make this happen more often in our non-Advent lives.

11. Go See Santa - The wholehearted belief at this age (3 and 5) is beautiful.  Love watching the innocence and excitement.

12. Drive around and look at Christmas Lights - always a fun way to spend 30 minutes before bed on a Sunday night.  

13. Enjoy a mug of Cocoa - again, a great treat.  
14. Make snowflakes - again, the night got away from us.  I'm learning that craft projects on the weeknights need to be planned for evenings when we are eating leftovers.  We're going to try and get to them tomorrow night, but if not, the weekend will give us time.

So, that's where we are.  Even though it hasn't all gone according to plan, we are enjoying the chance to celebrate the season every day.  And there's a lot more fun ahead!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A fun little decoration...

About a year ago, I stumbled up this tutorial from design sponge. Obviously, it was even old then.  But I filed it away, thinking that the simple nature of it would make a great craft to do with the kids, without it screaming "CHILD CRAFT".  So, when our Advent activity of the day stated we were to create a decoration for the house, I offered the boys a choice - the traditional handprint wreath, or paper ornaments.  Both really wanted to try the paper ornaments -especially if it meant they could use my paper cutter.  I was thrilled too - simple, very little clean-up, and no cost (all supplies on hand). Perfect for a Sunday night while dinner was cooking.

The first thing we did was cut the paper in one inch strips.  Using the paper cutter, which has a very protected blade, both boys were able to do this step - the big one on his own, the little one with just a little assistance moving the paper and applying enough pressure to cut. Once the strips were all cut, I marked the lengths we needed - 1 6", 2 7", 9", and 11" - for a total of 7 strips.  Then each boy took turns choosing the order of the strips for each ornament. I gathered the ends, and they did the stapling.  Ta Da!  Done.  With a little tape and curling ribbon, these are now gracing a window frame.

It was one of those projects I know we will do again.  The ease and ability to be successful appealed to the boys as much as the end result and cost (of both time and materials) appealed to me. Give it a shot - it's a fun one!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Our Advent Calendar...

Growing up, we always has an Advent calendar to help us count down the days until Christmas.  They were usually of the cute Hallmark variety, where each day a paper window was opened and a little picture was revealed.  It didn't matter if it were a kitten or candy canes or Baby Jesus in a manger - the delight was in the anticipation and the surprise.  At the end of the season they disappeared, and we looked forward to the next December 1st when a new one would arrive.

Advent calendars have changed a lot since then.  Now Lego, Playmobil, and many other companies make ones with toys or candy revealed each day.  They are adorable, but I'm not sure they fit the message we wanted to send.  In our home, Advent is the time to prepare for Christmas - both the religious and secular aspects of December 25th.  I wanted a calendar where each day we would be guided through the joy of the season without a lot of extra "stuff" - the holiday itself is filled with enough of that, thankyouverymuch.

So last year I decided that I would make my own.  Originally I started with an idea like this, but began too late (December 12th, to be precise), and abandoned efforts.  Honestly, I'm glad I did.  I love that style, but got to thinking about the years when we are away for days leading up to Christmas.  The portability of our old paper calendars was great - I needed something that could move to wherever we celebrated.

Here's what I came up with:

Getting it all put together was easier than I thought.  I found the ends of IKEA curtain panels that we cut off, and used that for the bag material.  The beauty of it was the 1" side hem of the curtain  was the perfect size for the drawstring top - reusing them saved me a lot of time and cost nothing.  After trying to use fabric paint and stamp numbers, I decided that using my Silhouette was going to give me more of the result I wanted - so these are cut out of their iron-on flocked heat-transfer material.  It was quick and easy, and I didn't have to worry about dry time or spilled paint. Then I sewed ribbon (3 alternating kinds for variety) about 3 inches from the bottom.  With two more quick seams from the serger, the bags were done.

Inside each of the little bags is one of these cards:

 Each has an activity to do for the day - planned out first on my calendar, taking into account other obligations and needs for different days. Here's the list of what's included:

Have a “Getting Ready for Christmas”
Dance Party in the kitchen
Build a snowman – even if there’s no snow
Let’s go see what the animals look like at Christmas time – we’re going to Zoolights!
Get our family Christmas Tree and decorate it
Enjoy a warm mug of hot cocoa
Drive around and look at Christmas lights
Watch a Christmas movie while snacking on some yummy popcorn
Paint Ornaments
Paint an Ornament for a friend
Write a letter to Santa
Make a gift for someone
Yummy, yummy! Candy Canes!
Bake Christmas Cookies and deliver them to someone
Go visit Santa
Help get Christmas cards ready to mail
Celebrate the Winter Solstice
Write a letter to someone you love
Help someone celebrate Christmas
Share a meal with friends
Read Christmas stories by the fire
Make a Christmas decoration for the house
Make a birdfeeder so the birds have something to eat on Christmas
Make paper snowflakes and decorate the windows
Make a list of 10 things you are thankful for – and hang it up somewhere where you can see it every day!

 Here's a shot of the bags up close:

Yesterday was our dance party - fairly well received, given that the prime dancer was running a fever of 102-103.  Hopefully today's letter to Santa will be even better! And the great thing?  When we head to my family's house before Christmas, these little bags will untie from the stair banister and come with us. They're flexible, too - each year we can swap out activities for things that are more age appropriate, and get rid of any duds. The ideas we've included are almost entirely free (we do have to buy the tree, but Zoolights comes with our membership and the wooden ornaments for painting were 50 cents each), and have very little "accumulation" with it.  We are able to include both secular and religious activities, and many can be centered around giving to others. I love it - it fits our family.

May the start of your December countdown be merry, in whatever form it takes!

Saying Goodbye...

It's been a tough week around our house.  Last Tuesday evening, my grandmother passed away.

Let's put it this way: goodbyes suck.  Especially when they are the permanent kind. They leave that scratchy feeling in your eyes, the emptiness in the stomach. And while you know that you look normal to the rest of the world, your whole world feels tilted.  The edges of life are sharper, and you want the word "FRAGILE" stamped on your forehead so that people will give you a wider berth.

I miss my Grandma.  I miss her smile and her laugh, the way her eyes lit up when she played with my boys. She spent her whole life taking care of people - first her children, then her mother, then her husband.  The last few years she and my uncle have taken turns taking care of each other through various issues. She never complained.  Never threw the pity party that so many of us in care-giving positions are tempted to throw.   It was her gift, and and she made it look like the most natural thing on earth.

In many ways, my Grandma's life was simple.  Everything she did, she did it the right way, the first time. While the rest of us would speed through dinner, she was always the last one finished, enjoying every bite.  As my cousins and I rapidly colored 2 dozen eggs, she drew the perfect dogwood flower on one egg, taking her time and savoring the experience.  Making lasagna was an all-day undertaking, and it was always fabulous.  And she was a master rose gardener - the type of gardening that requires absolute diligence, care, and patience.

There are so many times in life I rush to get to the next thing on the list or agenda.  That rushing isn't going to give me any more minutes on the planet at the end of my life to kick back and enjoy.   Life still ends.  My grandma was the perfect model of enjoying life by taking each moment as it comes. The beacon of calm amidst a great deal of noise.

I have a lot to learn.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A challenge to the simple life...

I swear - for about a week there, I was finding a rhythm.  One that was working relatively well for all of us - healthy, home-cooked meals, one after school activity that the boys love, parent meetings that are winding down at school, and the laundry was in check.

This was not that week.  While those routines were working well, there still wasn't a whole lot of wiggle room for anything else.  Which is what this week presented a whole lot of - that other stuff of  life that throws every carefully planned day off track. By itself, each individual thing wouldn't have been any big deal - shrug your shoulders and regroup tomorrow, right?

First we had one, then two sick boys.  Then we had parent-teacher conferences - both at the boys' school and at mine (where they continue for the first two days of this week).  Then there was a delightful fall program and potluck - the real fun stuff, but a hitch in the routine. An event every night, too much coughing, and things weren't terrible, but they weren't smooth.

The other big thing that has life a little on it's side right now is the health of my grandma.  At the beginning of October she was diagnosed with 4th stage small cell (lung) cancer.  Two weeks ago we all went to church together - she wasn't feeling great, but things were still manageable. Within the last week and a half she has become much more severely ill, and needs a great deal more care.  My mom, aunt, and uncles have been doing an amazing job of caring for her, and my cousins and I try and step in when we can.  Several have come long distances (Idaho, California, and even Afghanistan) to spend time and share our love with Grandma.  Because she lives only 5 minutes from my school, I try and go by after work or on my planning/lunch period. This weekend I spent several hours there each day.

While my grandma's illness has thrown our balance for a little loop, it has been such a reminder of the importance of priorities.  And while balance and simplicity of schedules is a huge priority for me, there are things that trump even that.  Spending as much time as we have left with those we love is one of the reasons why everything else needs to be simple.  It allows us the space to care for those who care for us. I don't want to be anywhere but in the cozy living room in my grandma's house or in the folding chair at her bedside.

So, if everything else has to get a little more complicated or rushed right now, that's ok.  The calm will come back.  But what I couldn't handle is nursing a regret that I traded time loving someone for a home cooked dinner every night.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A boy and his cat...

We weren't sure how it would go, but these two are tight. 
Most of the time. 
And they are both better for having the other.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The boys are back...

After several days at my parents' house, the boys are home.  While the time apart was a treat, it feels great to have them back.  The house feels whole again.

With the return of the children, though, comes the Sunday night blues.  Anyone know what I'm talking about?  That feeling down in the bottom of your gut where the stress about the week ahead begins to build? The disappointment of all that you didn't fit into the weekend, knowing that it will have to wait a week until you can try again?  The feeling that once again you have to leave your real life to go back to work?

Or am I the only one who feels that way?

The thing is, for a couple of years, I didn't feel like that on Sunday nights. Sunday nights were just another part of the week - the reset button for the week, where we got the house and laundry ready, but didn't feel totally overwhelmed about the days ahead.  Those were the years when I was working half time.  (The year that each of the boys was 1, I worked mornings only.)  Knowing that I had each afternoon to accomplish some of the household management tasks made the week seem so much easier.  I could be prepared for work, without worrying that our home life was on pause until Friday night.  We felt like EVERY day was part of our real life, rather than just the weekend.

Last year I returned to working full time.  While the financial benefits were a small part of the reason I went back, the larger reason was seniority.  In our current economy schools are having  to make major cuts, and when you are working part time, you are among the first to go.  In order to protect my position, I went back to full time so that I could be guaranteed a job. But that choice has had a large impact on the way that our family functions.  Many of the tasks (cleaning, cooking, errand running) that had been accomplished in the afternoons had to move to the weekends.  The relaxing pace of enjoying our time as a family on the weekends grew shorter and more harried.

We know that it doesn't have to be this way.  I could look to return to part-time next year.  I love the flexibility it gives to our schedule, and the slower pace it gives to our life.  But there is a large part of me that feels it is selfish to want that.  Why should it be fair that I get to work part-time, and not my husband?  With our oldest in first grade all day, and the youngest in a school where he is comfortable all day, they won't need me at home (although, if I were home, the youngest would only go half-day).  Our benefits (insurance and retirement) are greatly impacted if I don't work full time.  And it does limit our choices for schools for the oldest - if I work full time, the private Montessori is an option, while me working half time means he's headed to our neighborhood school.

There's a lot to sort through.  We have about 4 months before I would need to make a firm decision. And either choice has it's consequences and benefits. A lot rides on those Sunday moods...

Friday, November 12, 2010

Quick little craft...

With the boys away, the mom will the craft room.

Here's just a quick little banner to remind us of the season.  Just a little scrapbook paper, glue, ribbon and eyelets.  I used my silhouette for the letters, and was done in less than an hour.  Gotta love those quick projects that add a little freshness to the decor.

There are a couple of other projects in progress - a table runner, an advent calendar, some Christmas gifts.  It feels like Santa's workshop around here - I've even been tempted to break out the Christmas music. I'm so thankful to have this time, and will try and squeeze every crafty moment out of it.

Look for more projects in the next few days!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

An odd bit of quiet...

Right now our home is strangely quiet.  In fact, it's just me and the cat.  For the next 4 days, the little boys are at my parents' house, three hours away.  And while they are loud, even their voices don't travel that far!

We are very lucky.  Our boys have wonderful grandparents that adore them.  This week they have a couple of days off school (one of which I still have to work), so my mom and dad asked if they boys could come to their house for a while.  The boys were THRILLED!  Not a bit of fear about leaving mom and dad - just excitement about having Mema and Papa all to themselves.  After I left for work this morning, they headed out.

I'll admit it.  I've been looking forward to this time, too.  The idea of hours on end without someone who needs a bottom wiped or a glass of milk poured sounds amazing.  There are Christmas projects to be worked on, books to read, movies to watch. In fact, I would need three times as much time to get everything I have in mind done! We are also looking forward to having time as a couple - it's been busy, and while we have more time together than many couples, there's still a "taking care of business" mode that we are in far too often.

But another confession?  I'm a little scared.  I already miss the after-school hugs and the laughter filling the house.  The quiet echoes around me, and the tv noise just doesn't fill the void.  While I'm thrilled to not have to do the bedtime routine, the morning without their calls for cuddling will feel empty. And who am I when they aren't around?

It's because of both of those things - the excitement of freedom and the hole-in-the-heart absence - that times like these are necessary for parents.  They help us find our way back to ourselves as adults and as couples.  But they also help us to appreciate just how wonderfully full our "regular" lives truly are. Without them we can get lost in the day-to-day, glorifying those times before we had children and wasted so much time just being by ourselves.  But we also forget why it was we decided to start families in the first place - because there was something missing from those lives.

Trust me - I know I'm lucky to have family who are willing to borrow and spoil our children in the best of ways. This is only our third weekend apart in over 5 years, so it isn't so old hat that we take it for granted.  And truthfully, I hope I make it the full time before driving over the mountain to pick up the most precious pieces of my life.  But I wouldn't be surprised if I didn't.

What I do know is that this odd bit of quiet is important, needed, and appreciated.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Making it work on a busy night...

One of the challenges we are trying to figure out this year deals with entering the world of after-school youth activities. Every day I hear my students talk about their busy schedules - music and dance lessons, drama practice, sports teams that run year-round, not to mention family obligations and homework.  I'm overwhelmed just thinking about the years ahead and wondering how our boys will feel about participating in the million or so opportunities out there.

For now we are just dipping our toes into the water.  In this case, quite literally.  Both boys have swim lessons right now - 30 minutes, twice a week.  No big deal, really.  We decided that this was an activity worth adding to our schedules.  Water safety is crucial to our family, and if they can take lessons at the same time and place, there are fewer schedules to match.

In choosing their schedule, there were a couple of factors that were important to making it work for our family.  One was the ability to still eat a healthy dinner at home together.  The second was to have as few busy/non-routine nights as possible.  For us, that meant doing swimming on Mondays and Wednesdays, after our dinner hour (6:30-7:00).  We searched the three local pools until we found lessons that met our needs, and then signed up.

Another thing that has made adding evening events to the schedule easier is our meal planning.  Each week we plan our dinners so that the nights we are short on meal prep. time we are having leftovers from the night before.  That way we can be assured that we are eating the way we want to be, without the temptation to pick up fast food.

The boys are loving their lessons, and we are happy that they are able to participate without it feeling like the rest of our lives are turned upside down. We know this is just the beginning, but we are determined to let activities fit into our lives, rather than make our lives fit the activities.

Well, for as long as we can, that is...

Sunday, November 7, 2010

One-on-one time...

Sometimes it's divide-and-conquer.  Sometimes we refer to playing "man to man".  Sometimes it's having a special date.  But whatever the reason, or whatever we call it, we are gaining great appreciation for one-on-one time with each child.

At almost-3 and 5, our boys are the best of buddies and each others' biggest annoyance. Like puppies, they wrestle and play, and that often dissolves into pinching and hitting with someone getting physically or emotionally hurt.  We try to walk the line between letting them work it out themselves and stepping in to coach through the challenges.  But they are together a lot.  And some times it is obvious they need a little time apart.

Out of necessity, we have started to split them up for outings more often.  This morning I took the little one to the grocery store while the big one stayed home and did a puzzle with his dad.  When we got home, I took the big one to Mass, and the little one went to the hardware store with Dad. Then almost all afternoon the boys played together, with only minimal intervention.

Besides keeping the peace, this time with one child has great benefits for our relationships with each child.  When I am with one, I can give them all my attention, and tailor our activities and conversations in a way that is developmentally appropriate to each one.  We giggle together and get the chance to talk about whatever they are feeling right then. Each kiddo can request their favorite songs on the ipod. They don't have to play defense, shouting loudly to be heard over the other brother. I am more patient, too. I really listen to what one is saying when I'm not also trying to monitor the other. And when I hear what they are saying, they feel validated and important.

It's amazing how something so simple - spending time alone with each child - brings balance to our lives.  Finding balance doesn't have to be life-changing rocket science.  Sometimes it is the day-to-day little things. Now to find more of those things...

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A loose tooth...

We have our first loose tooth.  I noticed last night that one of our five year old's front teeth was sitting a little crooked.  Today at lunch I checked it again.  Sure enough, there's some serious wiggle to it.  Ack!  I'm not ready!

Of course, being the overly sentimental person that I am, there are emotional reasons I'm not ready.  It's such a sign of getting older - my child couldn't possibly be old enough to lose a tooth!  In the Montessori world it's a symbol of what Maria Montessori recognized as a shift in brain development to the more abstract. It's a world away from being a toddler or preschooler and full on into the whole "school-aged" territory.

But the real (silly) reason I wasn't ready was because I had always planned to have a cute, perfect little tooth fairy pillow all ready to go.  That wiggling tooth was the sign that I needed to get moving - it couldn't fall out without having a pillow to put it in!  When we got home from errand-running this afternoon, The Child of the Loose Tooth and I immediately went upstairs to choose fabrics and plan the pillow.

Sidenote: If I had been doing this project alone, the design would have been very different. Smaller in size, a monogram, that sort of thing. However, working together allowed him to feel ownership in the process, and he's happy with the results. Plus, it was just more fun that way.

So, here's a brief, simple tutorial for a simple tooth fairy pillow:

1. Cut two pieces of fabric for the front and back.  A pillow large enough to sleep on was desired, so our measurements were 13 in. by 13 in..  Then cut two pieces for the pocket - we went with 4 in. by 9 in.

2. Begin with the pocket.  With right sides together, sew 1/4 inch seam starting at the short end, and continuing all the way around.  Leave a 2-3 inch gap for turning fabric right side out.

3. Turn the fabric and press flat.  With the main fabric (the one you want on the outside of the pocket) face up, fold the bottom third up and pin in place.  This will be the bottom of your pocket.  Sew along all three edges.  If you put the open spot where you turned the fabric through, the gap will be sewn closed.

4. Turn pocket right side out and determine where you would like to place your button.  I use the button hole feature on my sewing machine to make the hole on the top flap.  Then attach the button on the bottom front of the pocket. Test it out!  (You don't want to attach it to the pillow panel if it isn't right.)

5. Center the pocket on one of your pillow panels.  Make sure to open your pocket while you attach it to the panel so it doesn't get sewn closed! I used a decorative stitch to hold it down on the bottom and two sides.  Then, with the pocket open, sew a straight seam along the pocket where the top flap folds over so the pocket is attached on all four sides, but still opens.

6. For a little added design, we chose to put a small applique on the front panel.  We just used a small zig zag stitch to attach it to the other large pillow panel.

7. Right sides together (so the pocket and applique are on the inside), sew a 1/4 inch seam around the edges, leaving a small gap for turning and stuffing.  Turn the fabric inside out.  Stuff with batting, and hand sew the opening closed.

8. Wait for the tooth to fall out.  Hug your baby/big boy.

Obviously, this is my first "tutorial" - I'm not even sure it will make sense to anyone who doesn't live inside my head.  But if it gives you any ideas, then great - I'd love to see what you come up with!  After all, I'll have another one of these to make in a couple of years...

Friday, November 5, 2010

Some mornings...

The alarm goes off.  My arm snaps out to shut it off and I roll away from the small knees that are pressed firmly in the small of my back. He stirs, turns over. I creep out of bed and into the dark bathroom.

My jogging clothes are laying next to the tub.  I pull them on and try to bring my brain out of the fog of sleep. Thinking about which show I'd like to watch when I hop on the treadmill, I don't notice the door open. But then he's there.  Eyes not quite open, footie pajamas a little twisted on his slender body.  He's not ready to be up for the day, but if I am, he won't lay back down.

So I shut off the light.  Pick him up in my arms.  Carry him back to our bed, where he curls into my frame. For a moment I regret the run that won't be happening.  Then he kisses my forehead, and sighs.

 I kiss him back. There's nowhere I'd rather be.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A favorite moment...

Our days are busy.  Often it feels like my job is to rush the children from one place to another.  From the moment I rouse them from sleep until their heads return to the pillow, we're moving. That's why the last 5 minutes of our day together are probably my favorite. Nearly every night, the last thing the boys ask is to hear their lullabies.

Let me explain.  I personally am not musical. But I love music - it speaks to that deep inner part of me, and there's nothing like a song to make me cry.  As long as I could remember, my dad and I have had "our song" - "Little Miss Magic" by Jimmy Buffett.  When it would play on our record player at home, my dad would sing along and swing me around the room.  We danced to it at my wedding, and I loved that we always had our song. I wanted the same for my future children.

When my oldest was born, I tried out all the traditional lullabies, but none of them really worked for us. I was bummed - lots of great songs, but they were either WAY out of my vocal range, or they felt like they didn't quite send the message I wanted my amazing firstborn to get from our song.  Then, when he was about 6 months old, the Dixie Chicks came out with the song, "Lullaby" which starts simply:

They didn't have you where I come from
Never knew the best was yet to come
Life began when I saw your face
And I hear your laugh like a serenade

How long do you want to be loved
Is forever enough, is forever enough
How long do you want to be loved
Is forever enough
Cause I'm never, never giving you up

That was it.  It was perfect.  Everything I wanted to say.  And nearly every day for the last 4 and half years, I have sung him his lullaby before kissing him goodnight.

When his little brother was on his way, the perfect song search was on again. I almost settled on the John Denver song, "For Bobbie", which I love. We even tried it out until he was about 3 months old, but every time I sang it, he cried louder.  But the first time I sang John Lennon's "Beautiful Boy", he looked up with his big blue eyes, and I melted.  I will confess that I sub out "daddy" for "mama", and if I'm singing to both boys, the song becomes plural. The line, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans" is the best reminder at the end of the day to slow down and enjoy the moment we're in.

Laying in bed with my boys, sharing just how much I love them.  I can't imagine much better.  That's my heaven.

The dirty dishes and ungraded papers can wait.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Happy Election Day!

All across the United States it is election day. Not that our elections have anything to do with balance or simplifying our lives, but it's just one of those things that is central to who we are as a family.  In Oregon we only have vote by mail, so there aren't polling places to go to, or cute little "I Voted" stickers.  Heck - if you don't procrastinate, all voting takes is dropping an envelope in the mail box.

Sometimes I worry that the low key nature of the voting process isn't communicating to our boys how special and important elections are to our daily lives.  I have strong memories of waiting in line at our neighborhood school for my mom to go in the little curtained booth to make her choices.  There was a quiet reverence in the gym I had only ever experienced in church. I was fascinated, and couldn't wait for my turn to vote.  And even before that, I remember delivering lunch to my grandmother as she worked at a different school checking voters in and out.  It seemed so big and important.  But I never have gone anywhere to vote, and my boys won't have the experiences I had.

So I'm focusing on what we can do to talk about voting.  Today each boy took a ballot (my husband's and mine) and dropped it in the ballot box at the library.  We talked about a couple of the issues on the ballot (a new library bond being one of them), and tomorrow we will talk about the results.

It isn't waiting in a silent gym, or seeing rolls of registration forms and flag stickers.  But it is something. And even if the rituals aren't there, our conversations about the responsibilities we have as citizens will be.

Monday, November 1, 2010

One of our choices...

I love sugar.  Seriously, I crave sugar the way that some people want an alcoholic beverage after a stressful day at work.  And while I won't ever pass up a bag of movie theater popcorn (with butter flavoring), even that is all that much better when paired with Junior mints or Red Vines.

Today is a tough one for me.  It's the day after Halloween - the day when there is candy all over our house, just waiting to be eaten. I always buy way too much for trick-or-treaters because I have a terrible fear of running out early in the evening.  SO that's all sitting there.  Then the boys went out last night and came home with small bucketfuls of the sticky stuff, too. What I want to do is run home after work and inhale the peanut butter cups and Butterfingers and Kit Kats.

But what I am going to do is stay for my after school meeting and try to be content with an apple.

Healthy eating is one of the choices we are trying to make as a family.  For us, that means meals made of lots of vegetables with protein (both animal and other) and a few whole grains.  We aren't strict about any one type of diet, but seek moderation and variety.  We're love the occasional cheeseburger and fries, and for us we define occasional as once a month. There aren't foods we don't eat, but we seek them out in forms as close to their original format as much as possible.  And yes, I'm on the avoid corn syrup, too much soy, and artificial colors bandwagon.

So, Halloween candy presents a challenge.  How do we deal with the influx of all these things we try and avoid?

Last year we tried the rationing approach.  Each boy could choose a piece after dinner if they ate the "required elements".  It worked fairly well - but I didn't love that they felt that a meal wasn't complete without candy.  And it went on for a couple of months.

This year we are going to try something different. Since our goal is that the boys will learn how to make healthy choices for themselves, we are going to give them a little more freedom with their candy stash in two ways:
            1. Tonight I'm buying candy. Ten cents for each piece.  This money can be taken to the store to buy a toy of their choice.
            2. They may eat as much as they want tonight.

Tomorrow the candy goes away.  I haven't yet decided where "away" is - while it's a powerful motivator for my students, I don't really want them eating garbage any more than I want my own kids eating it. More than likely it will be sent with my husband to work. But the most important thing is that it is out of our house.  Our time with it is limited and special, without being forbidden.

Will it work?  I don't know.  But it does match our goals - promoting healthy, balanced eating in a simple manner.  Special occasions are treated as such - we celebrate them, then move back to values of our daily lives.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the "great candy pile"!  Feel free to leave a comment - what do you do?  What works well for your children?  How do find balance with the mountain of sweets?

Or, as always, am I over-thinking it?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Letting things go...

Today is Halloween.  Most years we would have spent the last few weeks assembling costumes, decorating the house, attending parties, making cupcakes and cookies, and all sorts of  various Halloween festivities. This year that wasn't happening.  We had a home full of guests, school work coming out my ears, and the month just slipped right by...

Yesterday I woke up in a panic - I was going to have ruined Halloween for the boys.  My lack of planning was going to leave them with lame costumes and nothing fun to do in them. Ack! So much for celebrating our time together, right? They were going to go to school Monday and hear about all the parties and scavenger hunts and corn mazes that they didn't get to do. And it was all my fault.

So, I did what any mom with a strong love of the internet would do.  I began searching for local activities we could do all weekend.  I found a million ideas - "Howloween" at the zoo, costume parades in neighborhoods across town, face painting at the library, and even cake decorating at the grocery store.  But as I read each idea, the stress began to rise.  My mind filled with visions of crowds of less-than-well behaved grownups, overtired children, confrontations with more sugar than we would allow in a year, and a mom and dad who really didn't want to do any of it.

And it hit me.  We are trying to SIMPLIFY.  I was looking for ways we could keep up with what other families were doing, but at the same time I don't want to be those families. This was the perfect year to stick to our goal and keep our lives balanced.  We were going trick-or-treating.  That was it.  That's all.

You know?  It's enough.  Instead of all the Halloween activites, we were greeted with a beautiful sunny day.  We cleaned out the garden, raked leaves, and danced to the theme from Ghostbusters too many times.  The big one and I planted tulip and narcissus bulbs - an October goal that I had almost given up on for the year. We gathered costumes from the dress up box that boys are excited to wear and cost us nothing.  After nap we will read Halloween stories, then go visit grandparents.  Mummy hot dogs followed by trick or treating in our neighborhood, and we will be home in time for bed.

When I look at it all that way, I'm thrilled with how we are celebrating this holiday.  It reflects our values - not purchasing things that we don't need (especially single use items), eating junk food in extremely limited quantities, spending as much time as possible outside, and sharing special times with people we love. We aren't stressed out fighting crowds, and our boys are able to spend the day being their better selves.

And maybe, just maybe, if I write this all down now, this holiday simplification will carry over into the next few months of Thanksgiving, a birthday, Christmas, and New Years. How can we bring balance to those times as well?  Because tomorrow I won't be thinking about all the things we "missed out on".  I'll be remembering the great time we had.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Baby steps...

My first couple of posts were all about the "why" of this blog.  My family and I are looking to find a better way to live our life "upon the tightrope".  How can we live our busy lives without falling off?  And what steps do we take along our journey to better balance?

Well, today starts a little of the "how" - how we are going about living our daily lives in a way that truly reflects our priorities. And the biggest truth for us is that it takes baby steps.

One such baby step was initiated by my boys this last Thursday.  We'd had our typical busy days at school, and it was raining outside.  What I wanted to do was curl up with my blanket and the computer and zone out for a little while.  The boys, however had other plans.

They wanted to DO ART. Yes, capital letters kind of ART DOING.  And instead of my usual, "We don't have time before dinner/it makes too much mess/I don't want to get things out or clean them up tonight," I simply said, "Yes." (And closed my eyes, hoping for avoidance of total disaster!)

They gathered supplies, filled the table, and went to town!  They new brayer was a big hit, and The little one did surprisingly well with handling the paint all on his own.  The big one painted for a while, then began trying to craft a paper hat with scotch tape and paper. For 45 minutes, they crafted happily in peace.  I got to watch them work together without having to referee,  and was able to put the work day behind me. The idea of messy art being so relaxing was such a foreign concept, but a welcome way to appreciate the moment.

And yes, there was one blue paint footprint on the cream carpet, but that was easily remedied by a five year old with a carpet cleaner. Dinner was still on time, the supplies got cleaned up, and the rest of the evening routine continued as normal.  But that short period of time was exactly what the boys and I needed to connect at the end of the day.  It brought us together, and reminded us that our life can take place within these walls.

Even during the week.