Saturday, December 31, 2011

Goals for 2012...

I love this time of year.  I love the opportunity to take stock of things and decide what is working in our lives and what is not.  We did a lot of this in 2011, and made some big changes based on what we found (hello working part-time!).  Our lives are better for it, and even if we didn't accomplish every single goal, we are in a better place than when we started.

Yesterday, my amazing friend Stef posted her list of goals for 2012. I was seriously inspired.  So, while the house was relatively calm this morning, I sat down and thought about the changes I was willing to work to make happen in my life. These aren't pie-in-the-sky, wouldn't-it-be-cool-if goals - those are dreams, and have their own important place in my life.  But these are concrete, measurable, and specific - I will easily be able to tell at the end of the year whether or not each goal was met.

So, away we go!

#1. Take a photography class 
  I love taking pictures, and with the volume that I shoot, I occasionally get a good one.  I want to improve my skills and knowledge of photography so I can get more shots that I love.  Fortunately, this goal has been started for me - my parents enrolled me in an online photography class through our local community college, and it starts January 18th!  I am so excited for this one!

#2. Exercise twice a week
   Of course I know that exercising twice a week isn't enough.  And when I am in good habits, I average 4 times a week.  But sometimes what stops me from starting is feeling like it is an all-or-nothing thing.  Twice a week is easy to fit in - no excuses.  And when I do more?  Well, great!  I have other exercise-related ideas for the year, but I'm not quite ready to commit to moving them from the dream to goal category.  Our new motherboard for our treadmill comes this week, and I am also checking out the gym that I have wanted to join so that I can start swimming...

#3. Donate blood at least four times this year
     Medical donation has been on my mind a lot lately.  I have a dear friend of 25 years that is awaiting a double lung transplant as a result of Cystic Fibrosis.   And while I can't donate lungs, I can donate blood.  And rather easily, too.  But I have gotten out of the habit, and made too many excuses (lots of denials for low iron, managing the boys while I donate).  I was able to donate right before Christmas (thanks, kale, broccoli, and a good multi-vitamin), and am scheduled to go again in February as soon as I am eligible. A person is eligible every 8 weeks, so even if I get turned down twice, I can still get my 4 donations in.

#4. Have dinner with friends at least once a month
   By nature, Dan and I are fairly introverted.  Quiet evenings at home are great for us.  But this tendency also limits the amount of time we spend with people who are important to us.  We work a little harder at getting together with family, but realized as Christmas cards rolled in that there are a lot of people in our lives we just don't see as often as we would like. We are going to work to remedy that this year by making the effort to get together with friends at least once a month for a meal.  Don't be surprised if you get a call (or two!).

#5. Enjoy a Girls' Weekend (or two)
  For the last couple of years, some dear mama friends and I have gone to the beach for a weekend of relaxation and rejuvenation.  We eat junk food, giggle, stay up late, and talk about those things that are deep within our hearts.  More than just about anything else I do during the year, this is what my heart and soul crave.  And I hope these girls are up for another go-round!  I also have some wonderful online mama friends that I am desperate to see.  Or a meet-up with my sister, if we can fit it in before baby #3! These times away from home to just be me are so valuable, and I will do what it takes to make it happen.

#6. Finish Luke's First Year Album
   Yeah, neglected second child and all that.  Max's album was done when he was 15 months old.  Luke is 4 YEARS old. I'm about 40% done.  This is the year I finish it.

#7. Weekly crafty time with the boys
  Sometimes I get lazy.  I love crafting with the boys, but some days it feels like too much work.  But once we get started, I NEVER regret it.  I need to remember that there are times for intense, complicated projects, and times for simple "Family Draw Nights" (or 15 minutes, as the case may be). Playdough and writing stories and sewing and block building all qualify.  And to hold myself accountable, I will blog our crafty adventures right here.  Pinterest, here I come!

#8. Go on a date with my husband every month
  For the first time in 4-5 months, Dan and I went on a date on Tuesday.  It was our typical (and very much enjoyed) dinner and a movie.  But it was wonderful - time together, time to do what we love, time to step away from taking care of business and start dreaming and talking and discussing those things we often run out of time for. Just like time with my girlfriends and our family friends matters, I also need to protect and support time for my marriage. Once a month.  We can do it!

#9. Take a hike or bike ride.  At least once a month.  Hopefully more.
  Yeah, another monthly goal. What can I say?  It's a time period that works for me.  Our family is getting to the time when getting out for a hike or bike ride is much easier than it used to be.  We have always had a goal of being an active family, but it isn't automatic for us yet.  The boys NEED to move for their best behavior, never mind their health.  And a weekend of being inside, while cozy and lovely for Dan and I, brings out the worst in our kiddos.  If only once a month we got out for a great hike or bike ride, we'd be doing well.  Using geocaching as a way to get out helps distract the kids from the actual hiking, and we need to remember to invite friends along more often. Heck - we could bring a picnic, and I could check two items of my list at once!

#10. Be intentional with my time
I'll admit - I web-surf FAR more than I like.  Sometimes I find myself just sitting and checking facebook or Pinterest for the 27th time, annoyed that nothing new has been posted.  I'm just wasting time.  Time when I could be doing things that fulfill me.  I could be reading or sewing or knitting or taking a bubble bath or whatever - but just killing time isn't making me any happier, and I don't leave that time feeling satisfied.  That isn't to say I'm going off the grid - it just means that I want to use the computer (or tv or whatever) as a tool - something to help me accomplish a set goal.  Build relationships, enrich my mind, find a new craft to do with the boys.  But not just as a way to keep me from doing things that I would find more satisfying.  By far, this is the toughest of my goals, which probably makes it the most important.

So, there you have it.  I will be adding these in a sidebar to help hold myself accountable, along with my word of the year (stay tuned for more on that). I'd love to hear your goals for the year - leave 'em in the comments!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Some quick cards...

A couple of weeks before Christmas, I was looking for a fun art project.  I had seen lots of tutorials for shaving cream print making, and thought it was a great idea for the boys and I to try.  We had the necessary items - shaving cream, liquid watercolor paints and watercolor paper.  I added a cookie sheet (to contain the shaving cream), a squeegee (to spread the shaving cream), and a metal skewer (to stir the colors), and set everything up on the dining room table.

And the boys weren't interested. 

So, I had a couple of choices.  I could cajole and guilt-trip the boys into some half-hearted effort or I could just play by myself.  This time I decided that if it was a project I wanted to try, then I would try it even without the boys.  I sprayed the whipping cream, added some drops of watercolor, and stirred it with the skewer.  Then I laid the watercolor paper on top, pressed lightly, and lifted it up.  On a second tray I squeegeed the excess shaving cream off and - wow!  What a cool result!

And you know what? Now the boys were hovering.  They wanted in.  So off we went.  We must have made 20 prints.  The boys would get about 2 prints out of each round of shaving cream, then take the cookie sheet to the sink, wash it off, dry it, and start over. By the time Dan got home, the house smelled soapy clean and paintings were all over the kitchen counter (and there was a small lake of water in front of the sink, but that was easily remedied).

Today I looked at that stack of paintings and decided that something needed to be done with them. We also needed to write thank you notes for Christmas gifts.  By cutting the prints into quarters and adhering them to the front of a half sheet of watercolor paper (folded in half to make cards), we had a large stack of cards in just a few minutes. The prints looked great on the white paper, but I'd like to take the rest of the sheets and mount them on black cards (with white paper mounted inside for the note writing space).

Our cards look great, they used materials we already had at home, and the boys felt proud of the art they created.  And no guilt trips were involved!

Interested in trying shaving cream print making yourself?  Here are a couple of tutorials:
How to paint marbled paper
Shaving cream painted leaves
I'd love to see if you try it!  Leave a me a comment with your results.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas itself...

On Christmas Eve, Dan and I sat in front of a cozy fire chatting and enjoying some yummy beverages. The house was quiet and dark.  Cookies and carrots were laid out for Santa and his reindeer. Packages were wrapped and under the tree.  Cinnamon rolls were ready for warming in the morning.  All that needed to be done was done.

It was amazing.  We had been to Christmas Mass at 4:00, and then shared clam chowder with Dan's family before coming home and getting ready for bed. It had gone fairly smoothly, and instead of having hours of rushing left to do, all we had to do was enjoy the time.  I'm not sure that's ever happened before or that it will ever happen again.  But for now I am going to revel in the perfect calm that it was.

Now, that may lead you to believe that Christmas itself was the opposite.  That sitting by the fire was the calm before the storm.  I was afraid of that, myself. Instead, the opposite happened.  It seems that entering Christmas with such calm allowed the calm to just continue and flow through the whole holiday.

We all slept until just after seven, when both boys started to squirm in our bed (they had both joined us at different points in the night) and whispered, "Mama, it's Christmas. Can we get up now?" I had already been lying there awake, so it was easy to respond in the affirmative.  We discussed the plan: 1. Stockings 2. Santa Presents 3. Breakfast.  And off we ran. The boys were so excited that Santa had listened to them so well - they each got exactly what they were hoping for - a baby for Luke and Legos for Max.

Breakfast was protein-filled eggs and sausage, with my favorite cinnamon rolls as a special treat.  We've learned over the years that both Dan and Luke need that to help them get through the excitement of the day, and the time spent eating a solid breakfast is more than worth it for stable blood sugar! After that it was on to opening presents from Aunt Erin and Uncle Alex before we iChatted with them.  It's always tough to be away from my family on Christmas, but it was nice knowing that they were all together and having a chance to talk with them. The boys were also lucky enough to get to open gifts from Grandpa Robert and Grandma Mary.

This year was our year to celebrate with Dan's family, so Aunt Carrie (Dan's sister) joined us mid-morning.  She is such a fabulous person to have around - sweet, funny, helpful and brilliant.  The boys happily showed her their new gifts and started right into playing.  After a light lunch and quiet time (yes, even on Christmas the boys have 1 hour of quiet time), Dan's parents came over.  The laughter and conversation grew right along with the present pile. 

While dinner was cooking, we opened some  presents.  The boys did a great job this year of reading tags and delivering presents to the right people (most of the time!) , allowing the  grown-ups the chance to just sit back and relax.  Around 4:00 we stopped and had our dinner (a marvelous beef tenderloin, mashed potatoes, salad, rolls, and broccoli), before returning to the gifts.

It really was a marvelously laid-back day.  The shorter bursts of present opening worked better for the boys than one long session.  Eating our way through the day wasn't bad either.  And I think we all ended the day feeling very spoiled - both by the gifts and the love.  I really can't say enough abut how nice it all was.  We are all so very fortunate.

Here are a few more shots from the day:

Brown paper packages, tied up with string

Luke sharing stories with Aunt Carrie

Max loving his remote control car

Grandma reading stories

Monday, December 26, 2011

Ah, the Christmas joy....

Waking up the morning after Christmas is always a little strange.  There's the initial let-down from the lack of anticipation, but also great relief at having made it through another Christmas season. And made it we did!  I thought I'd use this post to share some of the joy and fun we had over the last month.  Christmas itself will just have to be another post!

Like last year, we used our Advent Calendar.  And I have to be honest - there were plenty of days we forgot to check the envelope until just before bed, leaving it impossible to enjoy the experience inside.  Often we shifted, moved things around, and doubled up.  But it still helped us to be mindful of the season and do the things that were most important to us.

One of the usual hits was our annual visit to Santa.  Usually it is accompanied by an hour-long line and lots of hard work to keep spirits up.  This year we walked in...and no one was there. The boys went right in and sat next to Santa, and to be honest, I think we were all a little surprised and unprepared!  The boys did remember to ask for the top gift on their list.  Max asked for the Lego Harbor set and Luke asked for a cloth baby doll with legs (his favorite baby is in a bunting and therefore has no legs). Santa was kind and the boys enjoyed their visit, and Dan and I were thrilled with the speed of the whole thing.

Another favorite is the annual trip to Zoolights.  After a week of beautiful, sunny weather, our night to go was the first rainy day.  It absolutely worked in our favor - it was so quiet!  We walked right in, didn't have to wait for the train, and even had dinner there without a wait.  The boys loved the lights, and we reveled in how much easier this holiday event is now that the boys are a little older.And the rain?  Barely a mist.

A new addition to out advent calendar was family game night in front of the fire. Dan started a big fire, each boy chose a game, and we sat down to play.  Max chose Sequence and Luke chose Candyland. The boys worked hard on their sportsmanship, and I got stomped in Candyland!  Game playing is something they are both really enjoying right now, and it's fun to have some that we can all play successfully together.

 We had get-togethers with several friends over the month.  From new friends from the boys' school to our dear playgroup to old college friends and their kiddos, it was a month of laughing and sharing.  We feel so lucky to have these great friends in our lives, and taking the time to get together is always worth it.
We also had the opportunity to go to a winter family celebration at Max's school.  They sang a few songs, did an adorable partner dance, and then had time for playing some games. We got to meet some of his new friends and their families.

 This year the boys wrote their own letters to Santa.  Watching Luke work so hard to write "baby" was awesome - he's really been working on developing  those finger muscles, and was so very proud of himself!

Once again, I had the opportunity to participate in a gift swap with some lovely ladies from an online group I belong to - I received the most amazing, useful, beautiful gifts.  These are the felted bowls I knitted and some little rice handwarmers that I sent to them.

 We've been showered in love and kind wishes from friends and family near and far.  Each day has been a joy to go to the mailbox, and I'm not sure I'm ever taking all these lovely cards down!

There's been lots of enjoying time by the fire, too!  It's where we've read stories, played games, and cuddled on the couch. 

As you can tell, December has been a joyful time in our household.  We didn't get to everything we hoped, but feel very satisfied with the things we did do.  The opportunity to be thoughtful about enjoying the season is just what I love about Advent.  It makes me wonder about a regular (but not daily) set of envelopes with everyday kinds of fun.  Hmmmmm...I may have to get on that...

I hope that your holiday season has been wonderful in the ways that work best for you!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Teacher gifts...

Our family makes gift giving easy - we decided several years ago to create "wish lists" in order to guide each other to the things we needed and wanted. It's streamlined the holiday season, and eliminates a great deal of stress.

But every year I still struggle with how to thank some of the other wonderful people in our lives - neighbors, friends, and our ever-amazing teachers.  What is the right touch of homemade, useful, and fun that will fit into our budget?  This year I was happy to find a balance that really worked for us where teacher gifts are concerned.

Each of our four teachers (two for each boy) received the above gift.   A handmade ornament, two rice-filled handwarmers, and a jar of salted caramel sauce from my favorite chocolate shop.  Simple.  Easy.  Hopefully useful and yummy.

 The house ornaments were created from a pattern at retro-mama, and were so fun and simple to put together.  I was lazy and didn't use the adhesive behind the appliques, but they seemed to be well affixed with the stitching and didn't move around too much.   I had pinned them quite a while back, and this was the perfect use for them.  Now I just need to make one for myself!

A great bonus of this project was the budget-friendly nature.  The ornaments and handwarmers were made from materials I had already in the scrap bin in the sewing room.  I only purchased the caramel sauce - and that is well worth it! Plus it supports a small local business that I adore. A win-win for all. I just hope their teachers enjoyed them.

Sunday, December 4, 2011


(I'm going to slink back in and pretend like I've been here all along)

What a wonderful, busy weekend it was!
Christmas trees, Santa Claus, Arts Fairs and Advent. 
There was great joy and laughter all around. Too much, in fact, to detail here tonight. So, I'm going to stick with a few highlights...

I want to always remember how, amidst the calm and quiet of a frosty Christmas tree farm, my boys ran around pretending to shoot each other with discarded pine boughs.  Last year, it would have made me crazy - this was supposed to be a time of Norman Rockwell style peace and togetherness, right?  But this year, I  am able to step back and laugh.  Because this is my life.  These are the children I have.  They weren't disrupting anyone, they were both enjoying their time, and they were being who they are. Not who I want them to be, but who they are. I'm working hard at remembering that my job is to help them grow to be kind and considerate, without wishing away the energy and enthusiasm that defines them (and confounds me at times). The tree farm was good practice.

Then this morning, my oldest and I went to Mass.   My attendance is erratic at best, but there's nothing like Advent to bring me back.  While it isn't for everyone, I adore the ritual, the routine, the candles, and the prayers.  Today was the  first time in quite a while that I really felt present there - in the recent past, I've been  wrangling two wigglers who would rather be anywhere else.  But today, the oldest one was there, able to sit and listen, and take it all in.  He was a champ, and it renewed my hope that my boys can be BOTH the crazy outlaws shooting each other amidst the Christmas trees one moment, and kneeling, head bowed, in quiet  prayer the next.

Then we ended the weekend with dinner with new friends.  Their kindness and hospitality amazed me.  It wasn't that things were "fancy" - it's that they had taken the time to make things comfortable and beautiful for our evening.  Simple nameplates for the adults and personalized place mats for the boys showed that they looked forward to our arrival.  It was a wonderful reminder that those little touches do matter.  We laughed and refereed and shared stories, and at the end, it was hard to leave. I hope to remember to spend those extra moments to welcome those that come into our home in the same way.

What a beautiful weekend. Filled with reminders, lessons, and loads of holiday joy.

I love his amazing eyes...

This one melts me, too....

Monday, October 24, 2011

My adventure with Captain Underpants...

He pulled the book off the shelf, and a grin spread across his face.

"This one!!  This kid at my school has it.  It is SOOOOO funny!"

Seriously?  Captain Underpants?  In this whole "City of Books", that's the one he finds? 

As an English teacher, I cringed.  I had read The Adventures of Captain Underpants when it first came out, searching for low-level, high-interest books for the boys in my remedial middle school class. And while that book's particular brand of potty humor, negative adults, slightly disrespectful heroes, and minor violence wasn't my thing, it certainly worked for some of my students who had never read a book on their own before. But I thought it would be long-forgotten by the time I had my own children who were ready to read on their own.

I was wrong.  There are now twelve of them.  And my six year old wanted one desperately. So I pulled the old, "You can spend your own money on it, or we can check it out from the library." The little miser went for the library. 

That afternoon we headed to our local branch where he decided to check out not just one, but three Captain Underpants books. The moment we got home, he curled into the couch and began reading.  Now, to this point, he's read a lot of picture books and magazines on his own, and parts of chapter books with us, but never a whole chapter book on his own.  For the next hour, he didn't move.  He'd shout out, "Finished chapter 6!" or laugh gleefully at a silly joke or illustration.  Only going for a family hike tore him away from the book, and he picked it back up the moment we walked in the door.

He read until bedtime, and finished the first book. While in bed, he began the second, and finished it before school began this morning.  The third was wrapped up right before dinner time tonight. Did he correctly read and understand every word?  Nope.  But he understood enough to delight in retelling the stories to us over dinner.  And they had him hooked in a serious way.

I had struggled with whether these books were appropriate for our family.  We're not fans of potty talk, and the way that many of the adults are the enemy sets up an us vs. them mentality that I would prefer to avoid.  They certainly aren't fine literature. But I decided to let it go.  We talked at dinner about role models, and discussed whether the main characters qualified.  We listened as he shared his favorite parts, and asked lots of questions. And most importantly, he was reading.  On his own.  A lot.

And then, tonight, my reluctant writer sat down at the kitchen counter and began to draw his own comic strip, like the characters in the book.  There's no potty talk, no evil grown-ups, no violence. It's about a castle and a super hero. And he's loving it.

So, here's a begrudging thank you, Captain Underpants.  You're welcome back any time.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


*inspired by amanda at the habit of being...

A pretty close-to-perfect weekend.
A sun-shining, fresh-air breathing break at the beach. 
Time with my parents, alone time with each boy. 
Crab-boat rental that brought us dinner, time to talk, and a picture of my dad against the bright blue sky that will forever be in my head.
Watching the boys play hide and seek with their Papa in the beach grass.
Wandering with my mom in our favorite clothing shop. 
A new mug that reminds me of the beach and my sister.
Chowder and familiar blue tables at a restaurant where I never need to see the menu. 
Dinner with great friends.
Four little boys performing a stirring rendition of "Ghostbusters".
At peace.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The pumpkin patch...

We were out for our weekend bike ride yesterday morning when it dawned on me.  The sky was blue.  There was no rain. It was even slightly - dare I say it - warm.  Perfect pumpkin patch weather. We had to go.

A few weeks ago we decided that we would try a new pumpkin patch this year.  We've been going to the same one since before we had children, and it has gotten progressively busier each year.  Hoping to find one that was a little less busy, I did a quick online search and came up with one about 40 minutes away.  We ate lunch and hopped into the car.

When we got there, it was perfect - a quaint, well-oiled machine. A small gauge train took us out to the petting zoo area, where the boys enjoyed petting and feeding the miniature donkey, rabbits and goats, and following the chickens around the barnyard.  Then it was back on the train to go to the pumpkin field and hay bale pyramid.  Instantly both boys ran for the pyramid and the maze inside. I was close behind - and thank goodness, because I'm not sure I've ever seen our little one back-pedal so fast when he saw just how dark it was inside.  Together we felt our way through to the other side, giggling with joy and nerves. And immediately, the bigger child headed right back in.

We played on the pyramid and in the maze for an hour, enjoying the sunshine and fresh farm air.  It was perfect - plenty of kids for the boys to run around with, but no crowds or lines. Dan and I got to sit back and watch them enjoy themselves without having to hover or worry about losing them in the crowd. 

Eventually, we all chose pumpkins and rode the train back to the station. In the main building, there were bundles of dried lavender and fresh fruit and vegetables to purchase and the delightful smell of kettle corn in the air. Pumpkins were purchased and we loaded into the car. Fifteen miles down the road, three of the four of us were asleep. 

It is these kinds of fall afternoons that keep us warm in the dark of winter. I wish we could bottle them up to preserve on the shelf next to the canned tomatoes and raspberry jam. For now, we'll have to be content with the perfect pumpkins sitting next to the door.