Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Summer Life

Yesterday marked seven days in a row at the pool. Soak it up, I say! In November we'll be weeping for sun, water, picnics, and deck chairs.

The days are flying by. Underneath my summer bliss and contentment, there's a constant low-level thrum of panic over the fact that I can do nothing to make the days last longer or keep my kids this age forever. If only I could freeze time as a summer stay-at-home mom to almost-seven- and newly-nine-year-olds. Younger was precious too, in its own way; but every year I'm more aware that they are growing up and my lucky precious life as their all-day summer companion is limited.

an earlier summer

We have the fewest structured summer activities going on this year than we ever have before. Our mornings are usually unscheduled. We lounge for awhile, over coffee (me) and cartoons (them), then get all the chores and housework done so our afternoons are free for the girls' summer class (which only goes until mid-July, boo) or the pool---or the pool AFTER their summer class.

Sometime in there--often at five a.m.--I sneak in a workout. Yesterday I waited until afternoon and braved a trail run while my daughters were at the weekly child exchange I'm doing with a friend this summer. I hadn't run in weeks due to a particularly notorious runners' ailment, but it went just fine.

At the end of the afternoon, we tumble home in a pile of wet towels and empty water bottles, and I have to throw "appetizers" at them (Vivi especially)--read: a bowl of Goldfish crackers or dry Cheerios, STAT!--and let them turn on PBS Kids while I get dinner on the table because the 10 or 15 minutes that takes is just too long to wait. (I make a point to cook in advance on the days we're headed to the pool.)

Dinner is an EMERGENCY after hours at the pool, in case you didn't know--despite the fact that I keep the pool bag stocked with snacks. Baby fishes burn a lot of energy.

The activities we've been doing from our Summer Bucket List so far are not terribly original and certainly not complicated, but I promised on Facebook that I'd post some kid activity ideas, because I remember when my children were younger and my brain was foggier than it is now, and I'd see or hear about some simple way to keep my kiddos busy and I'd be all, Why haven't we been doing that?! and then the next day I'd be at a total loss, again, to fill their daylight hours.

So, just in case you need some prompting, here are some of the simple Summer List activities we've done so far (several of them multiple times!):
  • gone for a neighborhood evening walk (pj's optional--this is what makes it special to kids)
  • had a picnic at the pool
  • ran through the sprinkler with friends
  • baked treats with our E-Z Bake Oven (lame but kids love it--and they're old enough now to do it on their own!)
  • eaten Popsicles
  • gone for a hike
  • hunted for fairies
  • played tennis (read: goofed around with tennis racquets and balls) at the local courts
  • attended an outdoor concert
  • made a card for someone we love
  • had Family Movie Night
  • took a picnic to the park
  • had "Pajama Day" on a rainy day
You'll notice that these examples are all small, easy ideas. The larger summer-fun activities---camping out, going to the zoo or art museum, taking a family trip---all come later in the summer. We're only three weeks into summer vacation, after all! You gotta ease into it.

And we're off. It's another dreamy summer day. Time to get on with it.


Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Best of Times*

Ah, yes, well. Summer has arrived at long last, and thus we have been spending a lot of time at the pool. We have not been sitting around at home blogging.

It seems strange that my kiddos have only been out of school on summer vacation for 2-1/2 weeks. We have already eased into something of a summer (non-)routine, and life feels, well, wonderful. Let me tell you, there's nothing like having your last snowstorm of the year on May 2nd to make you appreciate the warm, sunny days of summer that much more. The people here are almost giddy. There's this manic and half-frenzied air about everyone right now; you get the sense that we're all unconsciously counting how few days of this type of weather we'll actually get this year, and desperately trying to squeeze every second of enjoyment out of each one.

The girls are happily engaged in their little community-ed summer program--two afternoons per week for two hours at a time at their elementary school playground, where they do crafts and play games with college-student instructors while all the mamas race around getting the grocery shopping done kid-free as fast as they can. On other days they have playdates and we go downtown for popcorn and visit the library and go to the park with friends and take tennis racquets to the college courts and goof around there.


We go to the pool whenever we can. Yesterday, we took a picnic lunch there when the pool opened at 11:30, and stayed until three. Bliss, you all.

 Vivi taking a break from the sun

Because I'm still not running (high-hamstring tendonopathy), I get up at five every day and do hard Jillian Michaels DVDs, which make me extremely crabby for the first ten minutes but end up making me feel fantastic afterward. My days with the girls are too busy to fit a workout like that in later, and by evening time when Christopher is home I'm always too tired to want to do it, so I took my fellow-mom friends' advice and sucked it up and embraced the five a.m. workout schedule like so many of them do, and what do you know, it's actually a good idea. (Once it's over.)

I've also been furniture-shopping and re-doing my children's playroom. It seems that children grow, and then are no longer able to fit into miniature, preschool-sized tables and chairs, and then need larger spaces for art projects, homework, and general busy-ness and creativity. OK, then.

Ikea Norden Gateleg Dining Table = genius for two-child workspace.

We're skipping through our Summer Bucket List with great joy, eating a lot of bomb pops, watching cartoons, running through sprinklers, watering our pansies, reading piles of library books.

Oh, and I declared this season the Summer of the Braid. Get on board.

Bad selfie for my friend Lisa in Chicago who wanted to know what I do 
with the front of my hair when I put it in a braid. Um....nothing?

This is my favorite time of year to be a stay-at-home mom. It's summer. Life is good.

How is summer where you are? Let me know!

*Edited to add: Big thanks as always to Grandma and Grandpa for gifting us our family pool pass again this summer. That pool pass may be the single largest reason summer is as awesome as it is for the girls and me each year; it allows us to spend oodles of time in the water and sun with our best friends, getting fresh air and exercise and fun and love all summer long, and is something we dream about during the rest of the year! Thanks a ton, Mom & Dad!

Monday, June 17, 2013

A Miraculous Journey is About to Begin (Or: My New Favorite Children's Book of All Time)

"This achingly beautiful story shows a true master of writing at her very best."--- School Library Journal (starred review)

 Awhile back, I promised I'd tell you about an amazing book. And then I didn't. Because my kiddos are on summer vacation now, you all, and we be busy!

But here I am. And so I will. Or I will try.

Earlier this spring, in an everyday chat about what was going on in first grade, Genevieve mentioned that her teacher, Mrs. V____, was reading a chapter book called The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane as the class's current "read-aloud." When she said that, Julia piped up, "Oh! Mrs. H___ read that to our class when I was in first grade, too." They both agreed the book was very good.

As the days passed, every now and then Vivi would mention that they were still reading Edward Tulane, or almost done with it, or that it was so good. I had never heard of it and didn't even know it was a Kate DiCamillo (famous, Newberry-Award-winning children's author who happens to live in Minnesota). I didn't even know that Edward Tulane, the title character, was a toy china rabbit, not a person.

Fast forward a week or two. Just by chance, a friend of mine, fellow member of Julia's and my third-grade mother-daughter book club, picked The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane for our group's next read. I still didn't know a thing about it, other than the fact that both girls warned me, "It's kind of sad. There's this part about Sarah-Ruth. That's sad. But it's so good!"

Julia and I checked Edward Tulane out of the public library, a glossy, gorgeous hardback with an intriguing cover illustration and the most beautiful, haunting pictures amidst the chapters inside, and she read it in a few days. Then it was my turn.

I could tell, just by holding it in my hands, that this book was special. The print, the illustrations, the chapter headings--everything was aesthetically beautiful. It had a quiet, graceful feeling to it. It was certainly about as far from the Mercy Watson books (also by Kate DiCamillo) as one could imagine.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is the story of a toy china rabbit owned by a little girl who adores him completely, but who loses him in a dramatic scene that launches him on his ultimately miraculous journey. Edward starts out self-involved and vain and unable to love anyone but himself, but his decades-long journey changes him profoundly.

I won't tell you more; Edward's experiences (both physical/external and emotional/internal) are unexpected and powerful and need to be experienced by the reader along with him as she reads his story. But just know that this book is truly one for readers of all ages, and it is much more sophisticated and delicate than the typical children's book. You will likely love it. Genevieve's first-grade class voted it their favorite "read-aloud" of the entire school year.

I read The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane over the course of two evenings. I CRIED MY EYES OUT.

And not just over the part about Sarah-Ruth--the obvious tragic part of the book, the part that small children would recognize as sad. I cried also over all the other poignant "philosophical nuances," as one book reviewer put it, that run through Edward's story---the themes that only adults, and older children (perhaps with some grown-ups' nudgings) would notice and comprehend. The themes of redemption through (and the transformative power of) love, prevailing despite and through despair, the beautiful brutality of life, the way faith can get you through, even if you hardly know it's there deep inside you.

I literally sobbed, you guys. I had to put the book aside more than once and go back to it after a break.

A few days later, Genevieve was home from school, sick with a terrible ear infection, and we spent much of the day on my bed, me reading The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane aloud to her because even though they'd just finished it at school, she wanted to hear it again. Of course I cried. Genevieve understood, but she also thought I was a little bit crazy. I had to ask her, "Honey, did Mrs. V. cry when she read this to your class? I cannot imagine anyone being able to read this aloud with crying!" Genevieve swore that Mrs. V. didn't cry--that she "got sad," but did not cry. Therefore only Mama was the crazy one crying her eyes out reading Edward Tulane out loud.

But I had to know. I emailed her teacher--with whom I am quite close because a.) she's awesome and b.) I volunteered with the class during the year so had a lot of contact with her--and asked her the same question: HOW could you read Edward Tulane to the class without crying? Did you really do it? This book is AMAZING! It's the best children's book ever!

Mrs. V. wrote back and said, It IS the best book ever. It is a beautiful, wonderful book. No, I didn't cry. I got choked up, but I didn't cry. But I swear to you, if I had been reading it by myself at home, I would have been CRYING OUT LOUD.

Amen, sister. (LOVE HER!!!) Perhaps I'm not so crazy after all.

Just when I'd pulled it together and felt ready to discuss Edward Tulane at book club without appearing a blubbering fool, the last day of school came, and Mrs. V. sent home an end-of-the-year letter to families in which she invoked the class's reading of Edward Tulane as a defining moment in their first-grade year:

We, in room 104, she wrote, have been on a miraculous journey this year as well. We have learned that books can take us to far off places and times, teach us things we want to know, and sometimes lessons we need to learn...   We've learned that everyone makes mistakes and most of them don't matter, but when they do, we need to make it right and learn from them. And like Edward, we've learned to care about each other.

It isn't possible for all we've learned to be reflected on a report card. It is my sincerest hope that the most important lessons will grow and develop as your child continues on the miraculous journey of becoming who they are meant to be. 

Thank you, with all my heart, for sharing your child with me this year. 

With a (very bittersweet) smile, 
Mrs. V. 

And then I became a blubbering mess all over again.

Parenting is a miraculous journey too, of course. It certainly involves the opening of one's heart, the risk and reward of loving someone else so profoundly that it goes far beyond, and deeper than, any other type of love you've felt before. It involves change and growth as a person, perseverance and faith, mistakes and redemption. All those things. And if you're like me, it might involve tears in the face of the end-of-year first grade letter. That's just part of the journey too.

I hope you read Edward Tulane and experience his miraculous journey and hold it close to your heart. I guarantee you won't be sorry. (But if you are, don't tell me because I will not understand and I will secretly doubt your humanity.)

Happy summer reading, mamas.  

Monday, June 10, 2013

What's Up With Summer?

Several people have asked me if we are doing ABC Summer again this year. I have done it with my daughters for the past two years, and it has been a resounding success. I've given tips and ideas to other stay-at-home moms requesting such for their own forays into ABC Summer adventures. I have all our past weekly activities archived here, on this blog.

Truth be told, I had every intention of doing ABC Summer for the third year in a row. My girls would have been happy to do it again. But something happened between January and June. Winter ended up lasting well into May, which kind of got me off track. It kept feeling like it was February or March, and then one day I looked up and realized that it was nearly the end of school and Julia's birthday and past the time I should have started organizing our family's summer trip, and I hadn't done a thing about ABC Summer yet. As fun, helpful, and positive as ABC Summer is, it takes a lot of planning and preparation. And I was too busy in May staving off winter and a winter-in-May mental breakdown to remember to get started on that.

So this year, we are doing something different. We are doing a "Summer Bucket List." (I secretly hate the term "bucket list" and wish I'd named ours "Summer Adventures List," but the fact is that everyone knows what you mean when you say "bucket list," and all the other mommy blogs and Pinterest boards call them "bucket lists," so there you have it.)

A Summer Bucket List is similar, in some ways, to ABC Summer; it just doesn't relegate activities to certain weeks according to the letters they begin with, and it doesn't include the completing of an ABC Summer binder with a page for each week and each letter. Since my daughters got sick of filling out their binders every Friday pretty darn fast, the Summer List is actually better in that regard (though I loved having those permanent "memory books" at the end of each summer).

Our 2013 Summer Bucket List started with 65 items that I typed up and printed out; since then we have penciled in a few more as we've thought of them. The list hangs on our refrigerator door and we check off things as we do them. The goal, of course, is to see if we can do all 70 activities before summer vacation ends.

The key, I think, to a successful Summer List is not to load it up with too many "big" activities. Because let's face it: how many times are you really going to have the energy to take the kids tubing on a river (gah! we're not doing that, by the way) or drive an hour away to the big urban fine-arts museum?

Those things are great, but an ideal Summer List includes many, MANY small summer pleasures that, most likely, you'll have no problem doing (maybe multiples times) in the next few months: eating Popsicles, biking to the pool, having a picnic, making sandcastles, playing hopscotch, baking cookies, throwing a teddy bear tea party. Remember: kids are easy to please, and often the simplest experiences--making S-Mores over a fire (or, heck, in the microwave), staying up late enough to watch for fireflies, or digging in the sand on a sunny local beach--are the sweetest in their minds when all is said and done.

On our list, we've got the mundane (ride bikes, hike, plant flowers, eat ice cream cones), the somewhat less so (have a friend sleep over, attend a sporting event, go on an evening walk in pajamas), and the novel (invent and create a new sandwich recipe, make a card for someone, write a poem). We've got the tiny (have a pajama day, watch a movie, make a fort), the medium-sized (visit the zoo, go to Covered Bridge Park, visit Wild Rumpus Bookshop or Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis), and the big (go on our family trip to SD). We've got 70 adventures of all types to keep us busy this summer.

It's not at all too late to make a Summer Bucket List, if you haven't yet but are looking for something fun to organize your kiddos' summer around and a way to pack the wonderful weeks of summer with all the best parts of the season. Your list could be 70 items long, or 50, or 100. You could start next week, or you could start today. If you want to do it fancy, you could go all out with something like this.

It hasn't even been one full week of summer vacation for my kidlets yet, and it's been cold and rainy almost every day so far, but we've done seven things from our list already (some examples: gone for a hike in the arboretum; looked for fairies; visited our town square's old-fashioned popcorn cart, had a picnic at the park; baked with the E-Z Bake Oven). With many more to look forward to.

One of these days maybe the sun will come out and it will even FEEL like summer!

Happy summer adventuring! We're off to the races. What about you?

Thursday, June 06, 2013

You've Got to Watch This.

So, do you know about TED Talks? Well, in case you've been living under a rock in recent years and have missed it, TED stands for "Technology, Entertainment, Design" and it is an international grouping of conferences that uses the tagline "ideas worth spreading."

TED Talks are, as the TED Talk website says, "riveting talks by remarkable people." They are available for viewing online, for free, and are often broadcast on NPR. They are indeed riveting.

One of my favorite writers, Glennon Doyle Melton of, recently did a TED Talk. If you're a mom, you likely already know about Glennon, the post that made her famous ("Don't Carpe Diem"), and the book that grew out of that post and out of Momastery, Carry On, Warrior. (I'm on my second read-through, and I laugh and cry through the entire thing. Mostly cry, but in a good way, if that makes any sense. See below.)

I won't tell Glennon's story here. She does that in her TED Talk, and in her book. Suffice it to say that from word one, I knew Glennon was a soul sister. She describes herself as born extra-sensitive, with an unstoppable tendency to feel things in a heightened way, so that her emotions--positive and negative--were always super-intense. (She remains so as an adult, of course, by the way. Temperament is the unchangeable core of one's being.)

She'd go out into the world and its moments of discomfort and awkwardness and pain--just normal parts of life--felt extra harsh, as if she was missing a layer of skin that everyone else seemed to have. Her reactions were always "extreme," and as a child she was constantly made to feel like her emotions were too much, told that she was too dramatic or touchy or prone to hyperbole. She was given the message that she wasn't supposed to react the way she reacted, or feel the things she felt in the amounts she felt them.

But that was how she was, and life--as Glennon puts it--is both beautiful and brutal; it's brutiful. But it wasn't for 20 years, after a LOT of drama and trauma and self-destruction and then redemption--that Glennon learned that it was okay to feel her feelings and that the brutiful-ness of life wouldn't kill her.

And perhaps even more important, that by being brave enough to speak and write honestly about what is hard for her--including motherhood, mamas--and about how imperfect and struggling she is, she can help others. She calls herself "a shameless truth-teller." And doing that has saved her.

I have the same born-this-way temperament as Glennon. I have a feeling we'd be fast friends. I've been called all those things my entire life. I've been told that I need to calm down, stop over-reacting, quit being so dramatic, live life on an even keel, and not be so affected by so many things.  I've been told more times than I can count (not by you who love me, friends, but by plenty of other random people out there in the world) that the way I feel, write, or talk about mothering-life here on this blog or there in my book is bad or wrong--or just too much.

That's OK. I strive to be a shameless truth-teller, too, when it comes to putting words to the brutiful nature of life as a mom. There are lots of beautiful parts. There are lots of brutal parts. You can take me or leave me when I give voice to them all.

Glennon's TED Talk is excellent. It will grab you and keep you riveted for 17 minutes. I want you to go here and watch it now. And then when I have more time and space, I'm going to come back here and tell you about something brutiful that you might like to read and experience as I have--a children's book that my daughters and I encountered in different ways and that really rocked our hearts and souls--for me, in a typically deep and intense and heart-aching way. So stay tuned. It will be worth it.

Yay! Book Sales Success. Thanks to You.

You guys! I am so excited.

Yesterday one of my bi-yearly (is that a word? twice a year?) royalty checks came from my publisher. When I see one of these things in the mail (which has only been one other time so far, seeing as how my book has only been out for not quite a year and a half), my immediate thought before I open it is something along the lines of, If this is more than ten dollars I'll be happy.

And I fully mean that.

I never, ever expected to make or planned on making any sort of money off this book. Let's face it, the publishing world is CRAZY HARD, and let's face it even more, first books by unknown authors often do not make any sort of profit at all, at least not in the first year or two of release. Even when it sells, there's all the publisher's expenses to recoup and the paying back of any book advance first, before the author sees any moolah.

My husband is forcing me to let you all know that, for the second time, my royalty check has been much, much more than ten dollars. He insists I need to brag on that a little bit, and while HELLO, I'M MINNESOTAN, BRAGGING GOES AGAINST OUR VERY NATURE, I do want to say this:

My surprisingly fat royalty checks? They are because of YOU. All of you. All of you who have bought my book, given copies of my book as gifts, told friends about my book, who told other friends, who told other friends.....

and lots of copies of my first-time, book-by-an-unknown-author have sold.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. You all win at awesomeness.

I love each and every one of you. You all make me want to actually write the second book idea I've had since late last summer.

Big hugs to all of you.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

The Last Day of School!

It's here!!! The last day of school. First and third grades over. (Wow.)

At 1:15 (early dismissal) today, SUMMER BEGINS. Ahead of us stretches a string of days that will include the pool, picnics, the park, bike rides, strawberry picking, running through the sprinkler, going to the farm, soaking up the sunshine and generally just enjoying everything that comes along with summer in Minnesota. I am so blessed to be a stay-at-home mom and be able to enjoy all this with my littles--who are not so little anymore--every day. Every summer is a reward in itself.

We are so excited.

all good summery things to come

Monday, June 03, 2013

Now We Are Nine.

Nine years ago I went into labor on Memorial Day (that's a Monday, folks) and had this one on THURSDAY MORNING after 3-1/2 hours of pushing and a vacuum delivery:

If I had been in the habit of speaking this way back then, I surely would have said, OMG, YOU ALL.

Our nearest family was a four-hour drive away and this baby had colic and never slept and this went on for months and I had exactly zero stay-at-home mom friends (and pretty much zero friends with babies at all yet, either). There was a LOT of crying. Hers and mine.

The fact that she was my first was probably a good thing, because I had nothing to which I could compare the experience and come up with, You know, this kinda blows.

As I always say, THANK GOD she ended up being the most amazing, brilliant, precocious, mature, sweet, and thoughtful child, because she made up for all that awful beginning stuff.

sorry, a bit blurry because the six-year-old photographer took these pictures

Julia Charlotte turns nine today. That's nearly a decade of life, which seems impossible.

Over the weekend we had her birthday party. It was a garden party--a fancy tea party--for eight guests. All day the forecast was for (more) rain during the scheduled party time, so we held off on putting out the tables and decorating the trees. I put the tables on the patio under our awning and hung the streamers inside instead. Then 15 minutes before the party we spied blue skies, and rushed outside to put out tables on the grass under the birch trees and set them with my antique china cups and saucers. The milieu was a little bare, since I never did get a chance to string streamers and balloons from the tree branches as I'd originally envisioned, but no one knew or cared.

The girls painted their own flowerpots and had flower garden cupcakes.

They enjoyed their "tea" (juice), berries, cake, and ice cream outside under the trees and with a brilliant, unexpected sun overhead.

And today, the day before the last day of school, she is officially nine.

May the next nine years go by much slower than the last.