Saturday, January 29, 2011

Right now...

  •  The boys are upstairs playing together - it involves football, jerseys, and trucks.  More than that, I cannot say.  They're getting along, so I'm not interrupting.
  • Dan's on the couch, working on his laptop.  Walter the Cat is curled into his side.
  • A load of towels is finishing in the dryer, and the load of sheets in the washer is ready to take their place.
  • I'm on my laptop next to the fireplace - there's no fire, but I love the light in this room this time of day.
  • Hummingbirds are coming by every few minutes to fill up on the fresh nectar the boys and I made this morning
  • Dishes are finally in the dishwasher - but it took a while today.  We were all avoiding them.
  • I think it may be time to take down the Christmas Card garland - but I have so loved seeing all the beautiful faces of our friends and family on a daily basis.
  • On the holiday note, I've been bookmarking Valentines ideas for the boys - tonight we should decide, and begin them tomorrow.  I've learned the key for us is spreading them out over time - 20 of anything at once is a lot for those under 5.
  • Still don't know what we're having for dinner.  It may be a Costco hotdog so we can get two things done at once...
  • But after eating breakfast out, that's feeling a little overboard.
  • I'm thankful for a quiet afternoon - we spent the morning at the Children's Museum, so this is a nice contrast.
  • Know I should get to sewing the backing for a quilt, but can't get the motivation to cut 10 yards of fabric.
  • Hope to seam up some fingerless mittens I finished knitting last night.
  • We may be a little closer to the school decisions for next year - now we're just waiting for things to fall into place.
  • Love Saturdays. 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Evolution of a superhero...

The dress-up box is one of the most visited areas in our home.  Yesterday it resulted in the slow evolution of a superhero.

First, there was "Scary Man":

An hour later, there was "Water Monster Guy":

And shortly after that?  You guessed it - "Scary Water Monster Man":

Love it.  Love him.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Kids in the Kitchen

Over the last few months, something amazing has happened. We have entered a divine stage in life where helping in the kitchen is something both boys are eager to do. I know!  How lucky could I be?

Well, for a while, I wasn't exactly sure what to do with that desire to be helpful.  Our counters are high, knives are sharp, and it's a lot easier to just get dinner ready by myself.  But then I noticed something.  If at least one of the boys is in the kitchen with me, then I am not having to cook and referee.  Either they are both occupied with helping, or one is playing merrily by themselves while I have some one-on-one time with the other. That alone made it worth it to find jobs that they can help with.

The three year old is the biggest challenge - a short attention span, unpredictable with sharp objects, and wants to do whatever I am working on. Here's a list of ways we have found to have him involved:
  • Setting the table - placemats, napkins, silverware.  If I lay out a sample, he can match it with the others.  If I don't lay out a sample, we take what we get.
  • Washing vegetables - scrubbing potatoes is a favorite. We fill the sink with clean water, hand him the scrubber, and let him go.  He's great at cleaning up the water outside of the sink when he's done.
  • Packing fruits and veggies for lunch - he counts carrots tomatoes, and grapes into the containers.
  • When he insists on being more directly involved, he places his hand on the outside of mine while I stir soup, hands me ingredients, and carries dirty measuring spoons/cups to the sink.

The five year old has become a great helper in the kitchen.  With practice, not only can he do the basic things that his brother does, but some very helpful additions:
  • He has learned how to use a full-on, real knife.  Tonight he chopped the ends off green beans, then chopped them in half for our curry.  As we were transitioning him to use knives, we found choppers like this were a great start. He uses them at school, also, and is very careful and precise.  
  • Measuring ingredients - we talk about quantity, and he is getting better at measuring level dry cup and spoon measurements.  We are beginning to practice liquid measures also - water for now, so we aren't wasting oils or syrups with over-pours.
  • Stirring, pouring, running of the mixer, greasing of baking pans (the little one does these, too, just with lower accuracy...)
  • Looking at a recipe and gathering ingredients from the pantry - including matching spice names from the rack
  • Getting water glasses ready for dinner, and carrying the full glasses to the table.
  • Lots of baking - rolling dough, cutting out cookies, peeling apples for pie, etc.

Both boys constantly surprise me with the things they are interested in trying in the kitchen. I hope that these small steps lead us to some experimental cooking of their own. And by the time they are 8-10, the plan is to have them prepare one meal a week. I want them to leave home feeling comfortable and capable in the kitchen - and if they are anything like their dad, they'll be cooking circles around me!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

It's the little things: the hall closet

Every once in a while I want to highlight something that helps our home to run more smoothly.  So today I'm going to start with our entryway hall closet.

One of the things we love about the Montessori method is the value it places on the child's independence.  During their school days they are given appropriate responsibilities and taught routines to help them maintain their environment.  After watching how successful they have been there, we have started to introduce some of the same ideas at home.

A key element to helping them be successful is creating an environment that supports that.  If I want them to hang up their coats and put their shoes away when they get home, I have to make our regular adult closet more appropriate for them.  So, for the grand total of $10, we got a shoe rack and two hooks. Each boy has a shelf on the shoe rack where they keep two-three pairs of shoes and a pair of slippers. Each boy has a hook at their height to hang their umbrella and their coats. And then we practiced.  A few times the first day, and then every day for a week.  By the end of the week, we didn't find coats on the floor or shoes all over the entry way. When they walk in the house, they take their shoes off, put them on the shelves, and hang up their coats.

Having a simple routine like this is one little thing that makes my life easier.  I don't have to nag, we aren't looking for shoes at the last minute, and the boys feel proud that they know how to treat their things.  It's amazing that something so simple has improved life in our home so much.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A little treasure hunting in the sun...

Here in Portland, we usually have about 5 straight months of grey. From November through March, there's very little variation - light gey, dark grey, misting rain, pouring rain, occasional 12 hour gaps in the rain. Seriously.  It's the main reason why the rest of the country doesn't live here, because otherwise it's perfect. 

The sanity saver in all of this is that we usually get one nice week in February.

Having said all that, you'll  appreciate what a wonderful surprise it was to wake up to blue skies this morning.  We had to get outside.  But we are still trying to build the boys' appreciation of hiking, so our time outside needs to have a focus.  That's where geocaching comes in.  The boys call it treasure hunting, and love taking turns carrying the GPS and searching for the cache.  We love getting outside and watching the boys run around. It's a win-win. 

Today was no exception.  While we never found the first cache, the second two were relatively easy finds.  Not only was it sunny, it was warm enough that the boys soon shed their coats and sweatshirts and had a great time stomping in puddles.  One of those days when it all works out. 

I am so thankful that our weekend was open enough to take advantage of the day that we were given. We all know that the rain will be back soon enough.  But as long as there is sun, we'll be in it.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

To the moon....

So, we all know the stories of the young children who are given all sorts of glorious gifts, only to find greater joy with the box or bag that they came in.  When the boys were younger, we certainly experienced it.  But I thought we'd moved on.  After all, there were glorious Legos and keyboards and such.  But, once again, this year another box has stolen the heart of my boys.

This box, though, is no ordinary box.  Through the hard elving work of one Dad and one oldest child, a magic space rocket was created for the little one.  Crafted on a sick day and a morning of errand running, our two space engineers combined boxes, paint, and aluminum foil to create this wonderful play space.  And while the excitement upon the gifting was wonderful, the play that has followed has been even better.

Some days they are astronauts headed to the moon. But, just as often they have been space cowboys, monsters from another planet, dragons searching for a new home, or police officers after the bad guys. This rocket has gone all around the galaxy and held at least one adventure a day for over a month now.

It's so fun to see what a few household supplies and energy can create. . I'm ready to go round up another box just to see what we can build next.  And this time I want in on the fun!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Time Away...

I love long weekends.  Three days actually feels like enough time to get the laundry, shopping, and schoolwork done, and still have time to completely decompress.  We often use them to get out of town - even if only for part of the weekend. This weekend was no exception - we headed to my parents' cabin out in the mountains for a little time away from the city.

Our boys are children of the suburbs.  For most of the week, their outside time is the school playground. For them, these times away are when they are in their true element.  Sledding while it was still cold enough, and riding bikes in the shed when it was raining, they love to spend as much time outdoors as possible. They can dig big holes and go for walks in the forest.  And while the four-wheeler and tractor are favorites, they are just as happy running in the grass and going to check out the pond.

I am so thankful that this is a part of their lives.  I didn't understand, growing up on a small farm, just how rare that space to explore can be.  And dare I say it?  My boys need it far more than I ever wanted it.  We get out there, and their imaginations come alive, their cheeks glow rosy red, and their eyes sparkle. And so we've made it a priority.  Nearly all of our time away from home comes in places where they can roam, explore, and be outside.

This reminder is especially important right now. When the sky is grey and the puddles are deep, it's hard to get out there.  And yes, we are long overdue for a good puddle walk. But now is also the time to plan summer camping trips and weekends at the beach. To make sure the calendar is filled with time like this weekend.

To take that time away...

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Blankness, not to be confused with blankets...

All week long, I've opened this window to write, then felt completely blank.  Nothing to say.  Nothing worth your time to read.  And today, being honest, feels no different.  Life just hasn't been feeling very inspired.

I keep trying to remind myself that there are some days that are just about living our daily lives. A failed snow day and a Lego obsession have blocked my plans for crafting with the kiddos, and cleaning out the freezer made even meal preparation a little boring. The only pictures I've taken were of the mountain at sunset - but they were with my phone while I was at a stoplight, and you can't see the mountain.  All around, life is feeling a little dry.

It's times like these that I am trying to remember my phrase for the year.  I will practice love.  Even if it means that the mama doesn't have anything to blog about because the boys just want to build the nine-millionth Lego structure of the week.  They are happy, so I am trying to step back and just let them go.  I will use that extra time to send an email to a friend, or take care of an extra chore that's been bugging the husband.  And I'll let myself go to bed early just to read - practicing loving myself, after all.

This weekend we are headed to the cabin.  We'll play in the snow and share meals and love the time with my parents. Pictures will be taken, a more vibrant life lived.  And I am convinced that it will sparkle even more because of the ordinary nature of the last few days. And if we're lucky, that light and energy will follow us right into next week.

After all, I've got a quilt to finish, soup to make, bread to knead, and a sweater on the needles.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Spending time together...

I used to think that a good weekend needed to be full and exciting.  Out and about and on the town - or out of town, for that matter. This was obviously before I had children. 

Now, a weekend is our chance to hunker down, and pull together.  All week long we are off in our separate worlds, living independent lives.  But weekends are our chance to come back to each other.  If we can help it, we try and have at least one day without lots or errands or activities around town. 

Today was one of those days.  We woke up to both boys in our bed, having come in sometime during the night.  Outside it was spitting snow (an unusual event in our mild climate), and we built a fire in the fireplace. We cuddled in a chair and read Owl Moon and The Story of the Snow Children.  A big breakfast of eggs and bacon together at the table was followed by music and dance party while cleaning the kitchen.  Then we settled in.  The oldest child was focused on Legos in a way that only he can.  The youngest child floated for a while, but eventually settled into building train tracks in front of the fire.  Dan set about working on computer "stuff" that he'd wanted to tackle for a while, but hadn't had tome to get into.  And I settled in with a novel and some knitting.  For three hours, we shared the space, some conversation, and the warmth of the fire.

Without anything heavy, without spending a dime, or looking for entertainment, we shared our best time of the week.  It wasn't big or flashy, and when people ask what we did this weekend, there won't be a lot to say.  But that time together was exactly what we needed to reconnect.  Life is better in our world when we get those hours in our weekend.

It's moments like those that will get us through the next 5 days. And I wouldn't trade it for any excitement of those old days.

Friday, January 7, 2011

At school today...

At school today, the oldest decided he wasn't going to do art anymore.  Apparently, it uses too much paper.  And since paper comes from trees, and animals need trees to live, it just wasn't going to work for him.  The delightful assistant in his class encouraged him to share that message, so he decided to make a poster.  The message?  "Rudoos, reeuoos, reesickle."  Or, in other words, "Reduce, reuse, recycle". 

This is one proud mama!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Moments of peace...

In our return to work this week, I have been searching out moments of peace - 5, 10, 30 minutes where I am doing something just for me.  Yes, I do have the evenings after the boys go to bed to watch tv or craft, but I am also often doing laundry, cleaning the kitchen, or grading papers at the same time. I  get caught up in those other things, and less-than-satisfying time hogs (hello, The Bachelor) and the time doesn't truly feel restful. But allowing myself uninterrupted time to do something I just want to do hasn't been a part of my days.

I've decided this needs to change.  If I give myself permission to just do the things that are calling my heart, even if for only a few minutes, then I am forced to take note and appreciate the time.

Tonight the boys had swimming lessons and it wasn't my night to take them.  Usually, I would use this free hour to rush around, cleaning up dinner, vacuuming, making lunches, folding laundry, and crashing in front of the computer.  I decided that tonight would be different.  I would view the hour as a gift to myself - what did I want?  And the answer tonight was simply to curl up on the couch and read. I have a book I'm enjoying, and a few more at the ready, but with only the 15 minutes or so I get in before I fall asleep at night, I am not making quick progress.  So, after 10 minutes of cleaning the kitchen and starting laundry (I set the timer so I wouldn't get carried away), I made my way to the couch.  And I read until the boys got home.

I felt like I'd been on vacation.  I am more rested and relaxed than after 2 hours of TV, and I still have plenty of time to get lunches made and a couple other chores done before bed.  But that time? Heavenly.  So worth it.

Now, I don't have that kind of time every day.  But yesterday it was a 10 minute walk at lunch to a cute card store just to browse for fun notecards.  I returned to work rejuvenated.  Monday was tougher - a busy day that almost escaped.  But my five minutes of peace came in making a new running playlist.  Totally not the productivity the day was calling for, but a few minutes to just do what I wanted.

I'm getting past the idea that "me-time" has to be away, big, and planned weeks in advance. It can come every day as long as I intentionally tell myself that I am worth it.  We all are.

Monday, January 3, 2011

One little word...

I'm pretty lousy at resolutions.  The only one that has ever lasted longer than a few weeks is flossing my teeth - and even that took a few times to stick! But for the last few years, I have followed the lead of Ali Edwards (and many others) in choosing one little word to help guide my growth and focus my energy for the year.  Last year was mindful, and I blogged a little about it here and here. It really was a powerful reminder all year long of the things I value most - and every day I wear my ring that reminds me to "Be Mindful".

This year, try as I may, I couldn't come up with a word that really resonated.  But I have just finished reading Brene Brown's The Gifts of Imperfection (more to come on that...), and in it she used a phrase that I haven't been able to get out of my head.  So this year's one little word is actually two.

Practice Love

Often in my life, I find that I am very passive in the love that I have for others.  I say it a lot, know that they know I love them, and leave it at that. I blame it on not being a romantic, or being busy, but the truth of the matter is that I am lazy when it comes to showing others I love them.  So this year I will work towards making love active in my life.  I will:

1. Call when I say I am going to call, and sometimes even out of the blue just to let someone know I am thinking of them.

2. Work to show those kindnesses that make others' lives easier - taking meals, babysitting, sending cards and gift packages to friends and family in need.

3. Talk to my children in a way that lets them know I love them even when I am frustrated/tired/cranky.  

4. Spend more time focusing on showing my husband that I love him, and not letting the romantic side of our relationship fall victim to being too busy.

5. Model for my children that we need to love those outside of our immediate family - and that means helping others in need.

6. Be willing to show some of that love to myself and all of my imperfections.

My little sister has always been an amazing romantic.  When I lived in Europe and she came to visit, she hid notes all over my room that let me know she loved me - I found them for the next 6 months I was there.  She sends the cards I buy and think of sending.  She makes all those around her feel special.  When I am challenged with thinking about practicing love, I am going to channel Erin.  Maybe this year's reminder should be a WWED? bracelet.

But for now, maybe I just need to craft a little "Practice Love" banner. 

What's your one little word this year?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Returning to your regularly scheduled programming...

For the moment, the house is still.  One boy is napping, the other reading.  The husband puttering on the computer upstairs.  Dishwasher and clothes washer are both humming along, and here I sit on the couch, trying to catch my breath.

Like all of you, our Christmas season was full.  Full of joy, full of rich and sugary foods, full of noise. We were very blessed this season to spend time with both sides of our family, and to visit with cousins and aunt and uncles seen far too rarely. There was the whole "over the river and through the woods" element, snowmen, and cousin squabbles (among the littles, not the grown-ups). Generosity abounded both in material gifts and those of gentle kindnesses. And there was a hole where those we miss were felt deeply.

And now for "re-entry" to our normal lives. We go back to work tomorrow, and the boys return to school on Tuesday.  Swimming lessons begin tomorrow night again, along with staff meetings and site council. Early mornings in the cold and dark are the hardest for me to adjust to, and my brain isn't yet clicking along with lesson plans. And there are a few big decisions on the near horizon.  The first is figuring out where our oldest will be attending first grade.  The second is taking a look at my work situation and figuring out what (if any) flexibility might be there for next year. Most likely, those choices need to be made by the beginning of March, and require some heavy research and soul searching.

With those choices come opportunities.  They are chances to refine our goals as a family and make sure that we are living in a way that helps us attain them.  We need it figure out what is not only sustainable for our family, but what pushes us to growth.  It's a tall order, and like everything else I do, I'm sure I'm over thinking it.

But away we go....