Wednesday, October 15

Having Fun With Fall

Tis the season for pumpkins, apples, cinnamon and cider, all of which have entered our house in unabashed surplus. We go through almost a gallon of cider a week (my husband is one of the biggest culprits), sprinkle extra cinnamon on our french toast and into our pancakes, and pumpkins big and small seem to be making an appearance all over the house.

     While the girls know Halloween is not one of my favorite days of the year, I can’t fault them for the growing anticipation over trick or treating. Their cousins come over, we order pizza and eat chili and usually layer jackets over carefully chosen costumes because the evening is often cold, windy or rainy in our neck of the woods.

  Autumn is a favorite season for most of us up here in the Northeast and I am no exception.
 A-u-t-u-m-n was one of Ava’s bonus spelling words last week. She nailed it, making momma proud.

We’ve been decorating and nature walking and making simple fall crafts (i.e. painting pictures of pumpkins, accessorizing orange and yellow foam leaves and painting paper plates to look like happy pumpkin faces).

There are a LOT of pumpkins, scarecrows, leaves and a few silly spiders around the house.  These are all on the list of “mommy acceptable fall/Halloween decorations and fit my rules, “If its happy it can be in our home—if it’s dreary or scary…forget about it!”

The weather has been cooperating thus far, and so we are still running around in flip-flops and sandals on some days, and haven’t had to dig the hats out of the basement yet (though I should probably get on that sooner rather than later).

Just yesterday the girls and I recreated one of their favorite fall crafts, leaf lanterns, as we’ll call them. I did this with them two years ago and Ava enjoyed it so much that she’s been asking to do it again. I’ll include the simple instructions below so that you can make your own at home. They are perfect tabletop decorations for this time of year. I even lit ours and set them on the counter before the girls came down for breakfast this morning and enjoyed watching their faces light up when they saw they handiwork at use (it’s always a bonus when the morning starts with a moment of unexpected joy, rather than the groggy tired nitpicking that can often pervade before breakfast).

So, without further adieu, a few of our fall photos from the last couple of weeks an easy craft idea for you to do with your kids. 

Apple picking shenanigans...

Our paper plate pumpkins...

An example of our foam leaf art... 

Easy Instructions for Leaf Lanterns

1. Save a couple of old glass jars (these were from roasted red peppers and salsa). Any clear glass jar you have around the house will do. 

2. Collect leaves from your backyard, or while you're out on a nature walk.

3. Flatten the leaves between papers (I then put the paper under a book) for a couple of hours, or over night if you have the time. It helps make the leaves easier to work with. 

4. We started with glue sticks (last time we used modge podge for the entire craft and it was incredibly messy!). We put glue on the back of the leaves and gently placed them on the glass jar, flattening them out as much as possible and moving them into position. 

5. Once you have them attached via glue from the glue stick then bring in the modge podge. Simply us an old paint brush and brush the modge podge right over the leaves. It can be goopy and thick (it will dry clear!)-- smooth it out with your finger if necessary.

6. Pop two votive candles into the jars after they dry and you have a beautiful centerpiece created by your kiddos. 

This has ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with fall, but it was so hilarious I had to include it. Aubrey is a bit of a funny girl these days, experimenting with whatever is on hand. You'll notice she's stripped down to her diaper as she sits in her high chair- there is a very good reason for that!

Friday, October 10

My Love/Hate Relationship with Being a Woman

The Woes and Wows of Womanhood

“Ugh! I hate being a woman!” I declared boldly as I flung yet another ill-fitting shirt into the heap of clothing piled at the end of my bed.

            My husband sat by watching as I continued fingering through the hangers in my closet. I was meeting two girlfriends at a local restaurant in less than half an hour and had nothing to wear.

            “You know,” I continued on my rant, “men have it so much easier. Your hair is short, you never have to shave your legs and, if you had them, your clothes from high school would still fit!”

            Scott, my husband, nodded in agreement and laughed out loud, “I don’t know if it’s easier to be a man,” he quickly retorted. “We have to support our wives and that’s a hard job.”

            I cracked a smile in response to his aptly truthful statement. He always found a way to make me laugh.

            In all honestly there are many days when I believe it would be easier to be male than female. When it would be easier to not shave my legs, or paint my nails, or (gasp!) color my persistently graying hairs. Definitely days when I think it would be easier to not face the hormonal fluctuations that can wreak havoc on our moods.

            Then there is the issue of the closet. Mine is currently a testament to my persistently changing body over the last seven years while I have been pregnant, nursing and chasing after three children. Clothing ranging in sizes from 2 to 10 hang haphazardly and always ignite frustration when a date with my husband or an outing with friends requires more than jeans, t-shirts or sweats. Not only does it seem like nothing fits, but who has time to actually get to the mall to buy something that does?

            Quite frankly, all of this female powdering and prepping can often seem like a nuisance. One, that as the mother of three children, I do not have time for.
            And yet.

            God made me a woman and sometimes I have to remember to be thankful for that.

            “Babe, you’re beautiful,” Scott added gently and compassionately. “You always look great.”

            When I am not angry with my clothing and graying roots I will concede to try to believe him for a moment and then thank God for the gift of my husband’s kind words. Words that remind me that God created us purposefully different and then intentionally brought us together.

            Words that remind me that there is a beauty inherent in being a woman that I must work to appreciate and that I should find ways to be thankful for, regardless of how mysterious it feels even to me.

            I guess, if I’m honest, there are some things I rather enjoy about being a woman. I do like painting my toenails bubble gum pink in the summer and now my girls ask me to paint theirs as well. I’m a sucker for a cute pair of earrings, especially when needed to add interest to my boring jeans and solid color tees. I do actually enjoy shaving my legs, when I have the time and, if I must confess, visits to the salon do offer a chance to sit quietly and read a magazine. What momma doesn’t enjoy that?

            While many of these things seem superficial, they are a part of being the feminine me—the me that is also softer emotionally, more intuitive about some things and that allows a perspective on life that is very different and yet complementary to that of my husbands—a very good thing for our children indeed.

            I’m learning to embrace all of me, just the way God created me. Not only for myself, but because a healthy perspective on my part is necessary as I try to shape healthy perspectives in the minds of the three little women God has entrusted to my care. Being a woman and raising women adds a lot of extra color to my life, literally and figuratively, but I’m realizing that color, after all, is a very good thing.

Tuesday, September 30

Connecting in the Chaos, Part 2

      Last week I wrote a post about my struggle to connect with my girls, in a meaningful way, in the midst of what often feels like utter chaos around the house on weeknights. If you missed that first post you can click to read it here.

     For those of you who are in the middle of young family life, you know what I mean. The girls get off the bus around 4 p.m.  and the next 4 1/2 hours are filled with a non-stop string of  high-energy activities that include after school snacks, homework, dinner, ballet/gymnastics on the nights the girls have them, baths every 6-8 days, but only if the kids start to stink (I'm joking here...kind of! We usually try to squeeze a bath in every other day, but sometimes it doesn't always happen!) and then the bedtime routine.

     We try, try, TRY to squeeze something fun in there...a craft, a bike ride, some enjoyable reading, coloring or playtime outside, but it's really a challenge most nights.

     I'm guessing many of you can attest to a similar version of evening events, especially if you have multiple children. It's hard to connect, but so very important. I feel like we have to grab our kid's hearts now, while they still look up to us, so that later when they have so many distractions vying for their attention, we'll still be one of the first places they look for answers, support and encouragement.

     It is my deep hope that building bridges now is creating lasting gateways to their hearts for years to come.  

     But that is easier said than done on the fast-track of parenting life, which is why I really liked the quote above when I found it this week. Family time must be viewed as sacred and important.  In order to make it such we must be  super, duper INTENTIONAL about connecting with our kids on a regular basis, or life will just keep flying by one carpool, soccer game and rushed mealtime at a time, leaving us to feel like we're doing so much, but are we doing enough to connect?

      I decided to float the question out on Facebook to find out what other families are doing and promised I'd compile all of the answers into one blog post. Here is a round-up of the answers I received (Thank you all for your feedback!).

7 Ways To Connect in the Middle of the Weeknight Chaos

1. Dinner table conversation. 
Particularly the high/low game where every person at the table (parents included!) shares their favorite and least favorite parts of the day (Jennifer Seiler, Leslie Stewart)
We have tried this at our house and have enjoyed it. Scott prefers to avoid the "low" part and keep the conversation more upbeat (though I can see how this would have relevance as the girls get older). We have also purchased these cool little dinner conversation cards, which the girls have loved- each card has a question on it for everyone at the table to answer. On some nights we all answer the same question, and on others we will each blindly choose our own question to answer. It's a ton of fun!

2. Making an effort to listen, even when it's not convenient. And I mean REALLY listen. 
            "Listening. REALLY listening, even for just a couple minutes, or even when the talking is incessant and you just want a moment to yourself. It validates them as individuals and builds a trusting relationship. They'll know that they can talk to you about anything down the road"(Karyn O'Connor, mom to 4) 

            "Also, sometimes I want them to tell me about "life" or the day when it's convenient for my schedule. Sometimes they (especially my 3rd grade boy) are ready to talk when I'm busy with something else. That's the time I've got to stop and listen." (Karen Davis Jones, local mom and creator of the fantastic site Fun 4 Kids in Buffalo)

3. Making the Most of Bed Time.   
            How often are we tempted to rush through bedtime? I know I've been guilty because I'm so tired myself! That said, I appreciated these moms sharing how special bedtime can be when we make space for extra snuggles and offer our listening ear. 
            "Both of my girls beg to be taken up to bed early so we have extra time to snuggle and talk, one on one. It's very relaxed and great to hear about all the parts of their day that I missed."
 (Tina Keller Fronden, mom to 2, with one more on the way!)

            "Finally at bedtime is when he wants to divulge everything I've been dying to know from the second he gets off that bus. Lol!"  (Danielle Macaulay, mom to 2)

            "Yes to bed a little earlier so we can unwind and talk about their day. It's also a time for me to pray with them, encourage them and make sure they know how special they are to me - even if it was a day of frustrations and tears.
" (Amy Kinda, mom to 2)
            "Bedtime and dinnertime. Colby tends to tell me more when things are quiet, calm and less distractions (tv, phone, noise)." (Jess Fancher, mom to 2)

4. Making the Most of Homework Time

When I do homework with the older two, I do it one at a time, make a special snack or tea/hot coco and we sit together and do it and have conversation then and it's individualized with no distraction (hopefully!)" (Erin Pankow, mom to 4)

            I love Erin's idea and definitely plan to try to implement this one at home. I would add our version of special homework time, which I started with Ava occasionally last year...

            Tim Horton's homework time!  Because the house always feels full of distractions, she and I would pack up her homework and whatever books she was currently reading (from home or the library) and go the the closest Tim Hortons (5 minutes away for us). She and I would order lemon tea, and usually split a muffin or a bagel. I would help her with her homework, read with her and sometimes we'd even both bring our journals and jot down some thoughts on a page or two! The few times we did this last year were some of my very favorite evening moments with her. I plan to start this again this that I have two in school we might shoot for 1x per child one on one and then maybe another evening where either Scott or I take both girls and leave the baby at home. 
5. Making the Most of the Everyday Moments

Car rides, snack times, or finding the kids playing in their rooms. While it can be easy to shrug some of these times off as unimportant, these moms have found ways to maximize them for connecting potential! 
            "Mine is often in the car conversations or around the dinner table. Right off the bus with our after school snack "porch talk" or when they are in their rooms putting their clean laundry away I will sit and chat. When I'm fixing my daughters hair I can get one on one.( maybe I'm connecting more than I thought I was!)
" (LJ Anderson, mom to 4)
           "I find the kids are totally engaged when we spend time in "their world" , we often do this by hanging out in their room with them, doing things they enjoy. I find it helpful to be intentional about this time after discipline, it helps tie strings between our hearts to each other . We also enjoy baking together, and making little gifts for people together." (Laurie Gworek Henderson, mom to 2)
6. Extra Hugs and Kisses
            "Hugs. Even if I don't get to have heart to hearts, hugs throughout the day changes EVERYONE's attitudes (Brigitte Holbert, mom to 2)"

Thank you for the super fantastic reminder Brigitte! We do hug a lot in our house, but there are NEVER enough hugs. Never, ever, ever. Ever since I read Brigitte's comment last week I've been keeping this in the back of my mind and when things are feeling extra nutty, busy and chaotic, I go up to the girls and give them an extra big squeeze before I keep going on with the to-dos, or dinner, or whatever. 

7. Be Silly and Have Fun. Whatever that looks like for you!
Turn on music loud in family room after dinner ... dance, hug, snuggle... turns everybody into goodmoods!.... doesn't always allow for conversation but often leads to it.."  (Jennifer Jackson, mom to 3) 
Another fantastic reminder!! I so often get into "serious, get things done" mom mode. Sometimes it's hard to turn that off and just be silly, but it's incredibly important to the vitality of the house. It infuses the house with joy, and at the end of the day, isn't that the feeling we want our kids to grow up with when they think about their childhood years?!!!

Thank you all for your fantastic suggestions. What I found so encouraging about reading all of your answers was that connecting with our kids is sometimes as simple as making the most of the everyday moments. Bringing meaning to the stuff that is already going on; meal time, car rides, snack time, bedtime, etc.

What is so beautiful about this is that most of us don't have time to consistently add one more thing to our days, but we can all make the most of the moments and things that are already there.

So, here's to making meaning out of the sometimes mundane moments and creating memories that will last a lifetime for our children! 

Hope this was helpful!!

Tuesday, September 16

Connecting in the Chaos, Part 1

     Early Monday morning, in the middle of the 'get ready for school' shuffle, our oldest daughter grabbed me by the arms, pulled me close and said, "Mom, what did we do together this weekend?" 

     Oh honey, right now? Is what I thought. 

     "Oh, honey," I take a deep breath and  pause while I try to stop thinking about everything that needs to be done to get everyone out the door in seventeen minutes.  "Let me think about that for a second," I said. 

     She is very sensitive and is going through some pretty significant separation anxiety these days. With the start of a new grade at school and all that comes with that (new classroom, new teacher, unfamiliar students), as well as a change in classes at gymnastics and Sunday school as well (September is moving up month everywhere!), she seems particularly attuned to how often she is with me and how often she is not. She is a kid who, not unlike her mother, likes routine. She likes to know what's going to be happening where, when and how. 

     She begs me to stay at birthday parties, is verbal about letting me know that she doesn't like it when I'm not there for bedtime and several weeks ago when we picked her up in Sunday school at church, one of the childcare workers told my husband that she had been crying for a good part of the time and told them that, "My parents have a baby and we don't get to spend a lot of time together anymore, so I'm just sad." 


    If you're a parent you can imagine how sad, and maybe slightly embarrassing that conversation was. 

     She is a kid that needs to connect...frequently, and ideally one on one when where possible. 

    While Aubrey is less and less baby everyday, she's definitely still the baby of the family and one of our biggest challenges in having three children is trying to meet everyones needs on a regular basis. Try as we might sometimes it's incredibly hard to connect, in a meaningful way, in the middle of the chaos. 

    And chaos it is. A lot of the time. 

    Aubrey is a busy, busy, BUSY baby. A friend of mine and I were chatting last week about our one year olds-- hers who likes to snuggle and stay close by and mine who we categorized as a "runner". I like to think of her as one of those little silver balls in a pin ball game going boing, boing, boing, from surface, to surface to surface in a very hasty manner. 

    Just yesterday, after school I told Ava I would play a card game with her in an attempt to connect one on one for a few minutes. We tried to play a memory game until Aubrey came and upended all the cards and started throwing them around the floor. Then I tried to play a card game at the table until the baby climbed in my lap and tried ripping the cards out of my hand. I think we attempted to read a book afterwards and made it halfway through before the baby started pulling on my leg. Then it was time to to take Ava to gymnastics so we hurried into the car and shuffled off to the gym. 

    I felt so sad. I wanted to connect with Ava. I know she needs to connect with me. I made every attempt, but between school all day, and then homework, the baby, gymnastics and dinner...the entire night got away from us. 

    As for her Monday morning question-- it was legitimate to some degree. It had been a busy weekend. Scott's brother was in from out of town and we spent a lot of time with our extended family. She had fun baking cookies with her aunt, jumping on Grandpa's trampoline, riding scooters and playing with Aunt KK's  saved bins of American Girl doll stuff. 

    But, despite all of the fun, she seems to have a connection compass and is taking keen notes about her "connected" one on one time. 

   Knowing this to be the case I had been intentional about taking her home with me while the baby napped on Sunday afternoon. We did a craft together, chatted at the kitchen table and just hung out in the house alone ( I took a short nap while she watched Strawberry Shortcake). It was nice to connect with her and I know how much she appreciates this kind of one on one time. 

    I reminded her of that on Monday morning and she seemed to be appeased momentarily, though you could tell by the look in her eyes that she had been hoping for more. 

    Maybe this is an oldest child thing, or maybe she's more sensitive than others. I'm trying to be in tuned to her needs and proactive about connecting where I can, but sometimes it feels impossible to do as regularly as she would like, and even as much as I would like. Between homework, gymnastics, baths, meals and some general house upkeep-- not to mention a baby who gets her kicks by spilling rice, markers, noodles, and papers all over the floor-- oh and how about the poor middle sister who we find singing to herself as she colors in the corner-- what's a momma to do?! 

    So, I'm going to throw this out there as a question here and on Facebook-- I'd love to hear your answers!

    How, dear mommas, do you connect with your kids in the chaos of life with multiple children?! 

    I have a few things that we try to do on a regular basis, but I would love some new suggestions and ideas. 

    Because I know a lot of you would benefit from the ideas as well I will collect your feedback from here and Facebook and put it together with the few things we try to do and share it in my next blog post. 

    Hoping to hear from you soon!