It's Summer and We're Vaguely Irritated

I'm tired.  I've hit a point this summer where the long, hot days feel more exhausting than exciting.  If you can be stir-crazy during the summer, the girls have managed it.  We visit parks, go swimming, read stacks of library books, do crafts and activities, and yet, we reach lulls almost every day when none of us knows what to do.

Everyone seems vaguely irritated.

My last waking thought before plunging into a dreamless sleep the other night was how I could find a way to send my children away for a week.

I could accomplish so much with one uninterruped week.  I could clean the house and organize closets.  I could sleep until noon.  Better yet, I could finish writing the final chapter of my book, something that's continually weighing on my thoughts as the deadline approaches.

Fellow moms, I'm going to tell you something that I've been telling myself these past few days:

It's normal to feel tired sometimes.  Motherhood isn't an easy job.  It's okay to take the kids to McDonald's or let them watch an extra half-hour of television.  You don't have to have things together all of the time.  Give yourself grace.  You're going to make it.

I say this to myself even if I feel the contrary.  Sooner or later, my reality is going to catch up with my words.

Still, if anyone is interested in watching my kids for a week to speed up the process, I'm totally game.

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Love Keeps No Record of Wrongs (or laundry)

Occasionally, I run tallies in my mind.  I estimate how many meals I've prepared, how many dishes I've washed, and how many times I've vacuumed the floor. 

I've matched my husband's socks and stacked his washed and folded shirts on top of his dresser in neat piles as a testament to my work -- a small mountain of clean clothes that announce look what I've done for you.

We spend an awful lot of time quietly serving our families, don't we?

As I sorted clothes the other day, I was reminded of 1 Corinthians 13:5 which says that love keeps no records of wrongs.

It struck me: Love keeps no records of laundry, either.

This isn't a contest.  This is love and service in action.  I've started talking to God about my girls as I hang their shirts and fold their pajamas.  I pray for my husband as I check his pockets and turn his shorts right-side out.  Lord knows that he's helped to right me when I've been inside-out over the years.

Do I love doing laundry?  No.  (Does anyone?)  I love the people who wear the laundry.  Those full baskets have become a tangible reminder -- not of the work that my family causes me, but of the privilege of having them in my life.

It's love.  No records of wrong.  No records of laundry.

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Book Review: The Happy Mommy Handbook

Katie Norris is a MacGyver of mothers.  Of course, she's not making bombs with a stick of chewing gum or diffusing missiles with a bent paperclip, but she is teaching her two young children to entertain themselves and learn from playing with everyday household objects.

Rumor has it that she once scored thirty minutes of gloriously uninterrupted household silence with just a muffin pan and multicolored buttons.

In the book, The Happy Mommy Handbook (co-authored by Norris and Susan Case), these types of activities and tips are outlined for parents of young children.  The premise?  Children behave better when they're exposed to stimulating, age-appropriate tasks that encourage exploration and hands-on learning. 

Some of the book's suggested activities are ones that we already practice in our household regularly.  Even so, when I reflect on my daily parenting, I still have room to implement more.

For example, I've never had my children hone their fine motor skills by setting up a station at the kitchen table where they can pour sand through funnels and between bowls.  Nor have I ever created simple sorting games to help my daughters learn categorization and practice independent play.

If you're looking for ideas but don't know where to start or what products to buy, check out The Happy Mommy Handbook on Amazon.

Also, stop by Katie's blog, Mommy with a Selective Memory, to learn even more craft and project ideas.

On those days when you feel like you're children are out of hand, you don't need a stick of chewing gum to blow down a wall so you can escape.  Instead, turn to some simple and straightforward projects, and you'll find your way out of many tight parenting binds.

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Best Overheard Lines of the Week

Some overheard conversations are too good to leave undocumented.

Father to son at playground:  "Just remember: no involving innocent bystanders in your sword fights, okay?"

Girl: "What was the Colosseum used for?"
Father:  "They held gladiator fights there."
Girl:  "What are gladiator fights?"
Father:  "Well, they sort of were like football.... only different."

One college student to another while playing keep-the-balloon-in-the-air with kids:  "I don't care how old you are.  Never let a balloon hit the floor."

Heard any great lines lately?  If so, leave a comment.

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Why I Never Criticize My Appearance

I'm wrapping up the Why I Do What I Do series today.  This post is a repeat from last year, but it's one that I think bears repeating.

Several years ago I made a commitment that I would never criticize my appearance in front of my daughters.


Continue reading here.

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Why I Cry Easily at Sappy Things

You know that I've been introspective.  I've shared why I run.  I've shared why I write.  All caught up?  Great.  Let's keep going.

I cut the grass and raked brush the other week.  Although I didn't notice it while it was happening, it tore up my hands.  Sweaty and hot, I came inside and inspected my blisters.

Par for the course.  Apparently I've got soft hands.  They blister easily with minimal friction.

I think of other areas in my life that are sensitive, this time in a good way.  I want to have a tender heart.  Give me a lip-dub proposal, draw me into a 52-second romance, remind me that my kids are growing up in a blink, or show me a father's love for his little girl, and I'm a sucker.

Oh yes, I cry easily at sappy things.  It's a good kind of soft.

I can't be the only one.  What book, movie, song, or commercial gets you every time?

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Why I Write

Welcome to the Why I Do What I Do series.  If you missed the introduction or day one (why I run), click to catch up.

See this stack of books?

These are my journals.  I've kept a journal since the fourth grade.  At one point I threw away the earliest volumes that were written during my middle school years.  (Sometimes life is best left undocumented.  The sixth, seventh, and eighth grades are some of those times.)  The journals that remain cover the past 20 years of my life.

I can't imagine life without writing.

I'm a person who can't always discern how I feel until I write what I'm thinking.  When words spill out onto a page -- or this screen -- my thoughts are free to dislodge themselves from my head.  They no longer trip over one another, tangling themselves.

Writing brings clarity.

It also brings such pleasure.  I taste words, noting their distinct flavors and feels.  I chew on good paragraphs.  I sop up well-worded sentences.  I savor clever phrases.  Then I serve them, hoping that my readers will take as much delight consuming them as I took preparing them.

Have you ever kept a journal?  All my fellow bloggers, why do you write?

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Why I Run

I'm launching the Why I Do What I Do series today.  Missed the introduction?  Just click here to catch up.

I laced up a new pair of running shoes the other morning.  They're so clean, so white, so comfortable, and so full of promise.

Of course, then I ran in them.  Immediately I questioned my good senses.  Why, I huffed, do I do this to myself?

Because running gives me a goal to work toward, even if that goal is to reach the next mailbox.

Because it teaches me that when you put one individual step in front of another -- and another -- miles can add up.

Because it shows me that failure, even significant and embarrassing failure, doesn't break a person.

Because if I'm sucking wind, I look at the vast sky, think about all that oxygen out there, and am reminded of God's abundance.

Because it prompts me to be grateful that my legs move and my heart pumps as it should.

Because it keeps my emotions and mental health stable and toned, not just my body.

Because no matter how challenging or painful a particular run is, I've never once regretted it once I'm finished.

Do you run or exercise?  If so, why?

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Why I Do What I Do

Do you ever think about why you do what you do?  Why you like what you like?  In the spirit of introspection, I'll be writing a brief series that I've dubbed Why I Do What I Do.  Why I run.  Why I write.  Why I cry easily at sappy things.

Of course, I've mulled over several topics that won't make the final cut, which I'll share with you here:

Why I cook.
Because cooking precedes eating and eating is necessary to sustain life.  I like living.

Why I don't like chocolate ice cream.
Because vanilla ice cream with chocolaty stuff mixed inside of it is vastly superior.

Why my kitchen floor is clean.
It isn't.

Why I straighten pillows whenever I walk past a couch.
Because it's an attempt to counterbalance the state of my kitchen floor.

Why I sing Livin' On a Prayer each time I hear the phrase we're halfway there.
This one's a no-brainer: Because it's impossible not to.

Since these gems are off the list, I'm open to topic suggestions from readers.  Just leave a comment with your Why and I'll pick from among them.  (Consider this as tag-team blogging, minus the matching spandex outfits.)

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The Best Shower I've Ever Attended (and I've been to a few)

Recently I attended a surprise baby shower.  I must confess that anytime a highly-pregnant woman is being targeted for a significant surprise, I'm a tad cautious.  A small part of me recognizes that it we're too successful, we might end up with a bigger surprise on our hands.

It all worked out.  My friend was blessed and the shock didn't trigger any contractions.  Win-win.

The week before the party I spoke with the hostess.  She explained her plan for a relaxed evening.  We'll do a bit of a spa theme, she mentioned.  I was down with this.

And then I showed up.  I was more than down with it.

Upon entry guests were given a warm towel and a decorated water bottle.  Rose petals and votive candles adorned the foyer of her house, directing you toward the kitchen were stations were set up to create your own sugar scrub, get a pariffan wax hand treatment, and have your nails manicured.  The dining room held an impressive spread of food.

As I listened to the spa music in the background -- music that conjured thoughts of delicate wind chimes, a soothing breeze blowing through tall grasses, chanting monks, and distant humpback whales -- I secretly I began to feel as if the party was for me.

Then the doorbell rang, clinching this particular shower's superiority over all the showers I've ever attended in the past (and perhaps ever will attend in the future.)  It was a masseuse.  She carried her portable massage chair into the living room and invited each guest for a ten-minute massage.

It was at this point that I looked at my pregnant friend and thought this:

My dear, dear friend.  Thank you for this pregnancy.  Could you please continue to have significant life events that would cause people to throw parties for you?  

I'm so in.

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The Plunge

Without hesitation, she leaps from the edge of the pool into my husband's open arms.  Again and again she jumps.  Again and again he catches her.

Never doubting whether her landing will be safe, she lets herself go with abandon.

Slowly, he increases the distance between them.  When she jumps now, her face is submerged.  She has to kick to reach him.  It looks like a struggle, but she's learning how to swim.  Each time she covers more distance.  Each time his arms are there exactly when she needs them.

I think about how I'm standing on edges, my toes over the line.  Not on the side of a pool, but on the cusp of important decisions and new experiences.  It's a void of the unknown.

Even so, I plunge.  I'm convinced that God's arms are outstretched for me.  My face may get wet.  I may kick and struggle momentarily, but it's teaching me how to swim.

Again and again I've jumped.  Again and again He's caught me.

There's no need for us to fear the plunge.  God's not going to let us sink now. 

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End-of-Season Announcement

Title: End-of-Season Announcement from the Local Garden Center

Subtitle:  Is this the precursor to school supplies being displayed in stores?  And Halloween costumes?  And Christmas decorations?

Looking More Closely

From the moment that I wake up, I feel an urge to get our our entire family outside.  The weather forecast warns that we'll reach the upper nineties by afternoon.  The morning, though already warm, is still manageable.

We walk a local nature trail.  The kids point out puffy cattails, darting moths, shiny berries on a bush, and interesting bird calls.  When we reach a low bridge over a small creek, we pause momentarily, look down at our reflections, see nothing else, and are ready to continue along.

But I pause.  Hidden among the rocks and reeds is a trout.  Mostly motionless, it faces upstream.  I call the girls beside me, pointing to its spot in the water until they all find him.  Within a minute, we notice another fish.  Then Joel points out a cluster of tall grass growing in the water from which a half dozen of tiny fish dart in and out.

Sometimes I need to look more closely at ordinary things.  A surface glance doesn't reveal the beauty or interest.

As we walk the rest of the trail, I pay attention.  I notice the feel of my middle daughter's hand in my own.  I watch how our youngest's hair curls more tightly and her cheeks flush as the heat and humidity rise.  I listen to the enthusiasm in my oldest daughter's voice when she points out a flower, and I'm sure to match it when I respond.  I pay attention to my husband, aware of how attractive he is, how warmly his eyes crinkle when he smiles.

I'm with my four favorite people in the world.  We won't always have Saturday mornings like this.

I look more closely, and I'm so grateful for what I see.

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When Summer Isn't What You Expect

Six years ago this month we moved into our house.  Although over a mile away, our front porch provides a clear view of our town's fireworks display.  Our family gathers with us for the Fourth of July, and all of the day's preparations -- cutting the grass, preparing the picnic meal, stocking up on sparklers and snap-its -- are done with anticipation for when the sun sets and the low rumble of fireworks begins.

My middle daughter watched less than half of the fireworks.  She was busy fiddling with her glow stick necklace, chasing fireflies, and running barefoot with her cousin in the front yard.  Explosions of light were filling the sky, and she was captivated by other things.

This morning over cereal, she reported that she had an amazing night.

I used to build up special events in my mind, finding myself surprised if they didn't meet my expectations.  The more I watch my children, I'm aware of their impressive capacity to live in the moment.  To be captured by something that fascinates them.  To delight in the smallest things.

In reality, summer vacation isn't always all that it's cracked up to be.  There are scraped knees, cranky kids, and sand from the outdoor sand box mysteriously trampled onto the kitchen floor on a daily basis.  There are days that are too hot, too sticky, too repetitive.  It's ordinary life -- just a humid version of it so my hair is perpetually frizzy.

And it's entirely okay.  We don't need our days to be perfect for them to be good.  Let go of expectations and live.

Last night I set a few extra boxes of sparklers aside.  When July starts to linger long and August is hot on its heels, I'll pull them out.  We'll add a little flair at night into an otherwise ordinary day.

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On Packing Lightly (and other things I no longer do)

I used to pack lightly when I traveled.  Although I never verbalized it, I considered this a virtue, a silent testament to non-materialism.  Look how good of a person I am.  I barely need to take anything with me when I'm gone for a week! 

This changed seven years ago.  Incidentally, I also became a mother seven years ago.  Perhaps there's a connection.

We now travel in the most laden-down fashion possible.  To be fair, we do start packing systematically.  As I carry the first piece of luggage to the van, I always have high hopes that the entire process will be orderly and calculated.  (For the record, each time I fold a fitted sheet I also entertain high hopes that I'll be able to make nice crisp creases instead of rolling it into a billowy pile, but I've never succeeded at this, either. )

With each additional trip between the house and the minivan things deteriorate.  Items are tossed into the van with abandon as one of us asks, "Do we need this?" and the other replies, "I don't know.  Probably not.  Just take it."

It's ugly.

Unpacking is even uglier.  I've tried two separate methods.  One is where I drag everything from the van and drop it in an imposing pile in one room.  The other method -- the one I most recently attempted -- is when I carry one bag from the van at a time and put every item away properly before returning to the van for the next bag.

I'm up in the air as to what method is superior.  With the first, you can look at your van as it empties and think Now we're making some progress!  Then you look at the mountain of stuff in your living room and that bubble bursts.

With the second method, progress initially seems slow.  Depending on how randomly you pack, you also could end up traveling to every room in your house just to empty one bag.  Not that I've ever packed a bag that contained my kid's toothpaste, a jar of peanut butter, a few loose books, one sock, a stuffed animal, a pair of goggles, and a cell phone charger, of course.  I'm just talking hypothetically.

How do you pack for a vacation?  Any light travelers out there?

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The Aftermath of Vacation

After the kids went to bed last night, I vacuumed roughly seven pounds of sand and Goldfish crackers out of our minivan.  Vacation is officially finished.

I'm proud to report that we experienced no incidents of sunburn, which is partially due to our vigilance and partially due to my husband's method of sunscreen application.  He'd be a wonderful father to mimes.  (Did you know how difficult it is to rub in titanium dioxide sunscreen?  It's like white tar.  Highly effective white tar, of course.)

As for me, I took the plunge and bought a floppy straw hat to wear at the beach.  I was hoping that the hat would make me look sophisticated and mysterious.  Incognito, even.  My children still recognized me, though, so my secret desire to have an afternoon where I quietly sat on the beach nearby them while sipping a cool beverage never materialized.

Am I the only person who equates cotton candy with house insulation?  It barely seems edible, yet there's this odd force that made me take not one, not two, but multiple bites before I could translate the thought that this really isn't any good into the action to stop eating it.  (I experience this same phenomenon with McDonald's french fries.  They're kind of terrible, yet I mindlessly eat them until my brain catches up to that fact.)

My kids loved the cotton candy.  Of course.

They also loved the water.  I'm in full agreement with this one.  There's something both calming and grand about the ocean.  Peaceful and powerful.  My thoughts always turn toward God when I'm near water, and I always make sure I swim -- really swim -- in the ocean at least once.

Right now my straw hat is hanging on a hook behind my bedroom door.

Months from now when the semester has begun, when I tell time by the arrival of the school bus, when the weather is crisp, and when my hallway is marked with jackets and boots instead of flip flops, I'll likely notice it.

I'll remember these humid lazy days.  It's good for the soul to have some days like these.

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A very special thanks to my brothers-in-law and mother-in-law who (unlike me) remembered their cameras and graciously took pictures for us on this vacation.
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