Thursday, May 31, 2018

School's (Almost) Out for Summer!

(You're welcome for the earworm)

But it's true. In one week, my kids will be officially on summer vacation! I can't believe it's already been nine months since we put them back on the bus for a new school year, brand new backpacks full of pencils and notebooks. Alas, here we are. Staring another three-month summer break square in the face.

And I know that summer hits us all a little differently. So my goal with this post is not to say, "Yay, it's summer! Time for everything amazing and fun and awesome!"

My goal with this post is to say one thing.

Are you super excited to have all of your kids home every single day? Fantastic.

Are you dreading the chaos that the summer brings and aren't sure how you're going to survive? Hang in there.

Are you planning your summer down to the hour with sports and day camps and playdates and outings? More power to you.

Are you hoping your kids can entertain themselves and not get into too much mischief in the process? I feel you.

Here's the thing, friends. There's no one right way to do summer. Your summer might look like a lot of outdoor fun at ballfields and playgrounds and neighborhood pools. Your summer might look like vacations and road trips and camping and lake time. 

Your summer might have you flying by the seat of your pants, trying to make memories for your kids, but really you're just exhausted because KIDS. Your summer might include a lot of screen time and prepackaged snacks because that's just how you roll.

You might be a chore chart-making mom. You might be a "go outside and only come in if someone is bleeding" mom. You might be a swimming lessons/t-ball/VBS/horse camp mom. You might be a last-minute trip to the beach mom. You might be an ice cream for dinner mom. You might be a "spontaneous trip to the biggest candy store" mom. You might be a "go ahead and play outside, but stay where I can see you because you couldn't pay me to leave the comfort of the AC right now" mom.

And you know what? Those are all pretty cool moms. 

So this summer, I encourage you to just do you. Don't try to conform to someone else's idea of a perfect summer. Don't feel guilty when you see someone's amazing summer pictures on Instagram. Don't feel like you're depriving your kids when you see how many activities another mom has lined up for her brood. Don't push yourself to exhaustion in an attempt to give your kids something phenomenal--they also think that popsicles on the deck are pretty phenomenal. 

For the record, I will be posting daily pictures for Summer of Fun again this year, but don't let that deceive you. Some days that picture is pretty mundane. And sometimes I get to 8:00pm and scramble to post something because I'm super put-together. 

(Speaking of Summer of Fun, go read last year's post if you haven't yet).

If you're interested in some further help in regards to summer, I HIGHLY recommend The Lazy Genius most recent podcast series. Her four episodes in the month of May (episodes 62 through 65) all focus on summer strategy. Kendra is just so fantastic and level-headed and I really enjoyed this series. :) (Plus, her episodes are all a very reasonable length--these four are all between 12 and 25 minutes long).

So happy summer! Let's embrace the next 12 weeks and everything that means. Because before you know it, we'll be putting them back on that bus in September. :)

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Dear Will

You sweet boy. Our grande finale. You have no idea just how perfectly you've completed our family! Your peaceful water birth arrival on September 30th, 2013 was the exact balm we needed after almost two years of pain and loss. You didn't take the place of Hannah and Charlie, but God knew exactly what we needed in our lives when he gave us you. Sweet, adventurous you.

You're four and a half--a far cry from the tiny baby we held back then. And you're every ounce boy. Trucks and trucks and more trucks. Garbage trucks and firetrucks and dump trucks and construction trucks. You can name them all accurately (and often correct me when I use the wrong term). When we drive by a fire station, you know to look closely in the windows of the big doors to see if you can spot the big trucks. And you know that Friday is garbage day in our neighborhood and listen closely for the trucks as they make their stops. It's all very exciting. :)

You never. stop. moving. From the moment you wake up, you are running and jumping and bouncing. I'm pretty sure you have a motor somewhere inside you that prevents you from staying still for more than a few minutes at a time. You're learning how to play lacrosse, following in your big brother's footsteps. It will be hilarious and awesome to watch you actually play a team sport someday soon!

It's pretty fun to have just you at home when Jack and Leah are in school. You're my little buddy! And you're mostly helpful. ;) When we run errands or get groceries, you're awesome at helping me get what we need. Especially if I promise a trip to browse the toy aisle when we're done! The best part about you being at home is that we still have one whole year of it! You'll turn five in September and will get to be home with me for one more year before you start kindergarten. It's like a bonus year. :)

One of my favorite things about having you at home is that you get to come to BSF with me every week. You've come since you were a baby, but I feel like the last couple of years you've started to really understand what you're learning. And you'll sing the songs in the car with me on the way home. :) You love to tell me all about your friends and your teachers in your class.

As much as you are 100% boy, you are also pretty darn sweet. You have loved to snuggle since the day you were born--you still crawl into bed with me in the morning! And you are quick to offer a hug or kiss to cheer someone up. When Dad walks into the house after work, you're immediately at the top of the stairs yelling "DADDY!" and jumping up and down, of course!

We are so thankful for you. We had ideas of what our family would look like. But God knew what he was doing when he formed our family. You completed us so perfectly. I love your energy, your sweet personality, and your care for others. You are becoming a wonderful little kid and I can't wait to watch you continue to grow! I'm so happy that I'm your mom. I love you!

Friday, May 11, 2018

Dear Leah

Oh, my dear girl. Jackson may have made me a mom, but you made me a mom of a daughter. On July 11th, 2009, you FINALLY (seriously, you were nine days past your due date and it was HOT and I was DONE) decided to join us. And we're so glad you did! Because you added something to our family that we didn't even know was missing. A spark of something special. Or like your dad says, God put a ray of sunshine in you. ;)

You're going to be nine in July. I'm not sure how that's possible. I'm pretty sure you were just one, toddling around the yard finding dandelions. You were just three, sitting on the counter and helping me make cookies. You were just five, sneaking a nap in our bed, blanket in your mouth.

Your smile is infectious and has been since the first time we saw it. And it's genuine! You have a very sweet, happy spirit that can find the joy in just about anything. And that joy is often expressed through dance. Lack of formal training doesn't hold you back! Whether it's just dancing along to The Greatest Showman soundtrack, or copying a routine you found on YouTube, it's a joy to watch you express yourself. :)

You're in love with horses right now. I say right now, but it's been for a while, and I don't see the fascination going away anytime soon! We went to Mother-Daughter weekend at Shamineau last week, and I think you would have been happy to just stay and help in the horse barn the entire weekend! It's so fun to see your enchantment with these animals--you teach me things all the time!

You decided last year that you wanted to play soccer. And bonus--Dad was your coach! You're starting the second year of that set-up and you LOVE it. And I LOVE watching you play! You have a heart for the game and it's so great to watch you work at something and succeed. You're learning how to be part of a team and work together. Not a bad skill to have for the rest of your life! :)

I adore watching you learn. Because it's not always something that comes easy for you. I'm so proud of you for sticking with it when it's hard. And for celebrating the small victories as they come. You've been an inspiration to me to be patient and keep working. I think you can conquer whatever comes your way in school now!

You are one of the most tenderhearted people I know. A few years ago we joked that your love language is card-writing. And it's still true! You love making cards for people, whether it's a birthday or just for fun. Or like this week, when you made me a card to say you were sorry for how you'd acted that morning before you left for school. :) You leave post-it notes around the house for the whole family. You love playing with Will and helping him build whatever Lego creation he has dreamed up. You have so much fun playing with and taking care of younger kids who come over sometimes. You definitely have a heart for others!

Thanks for everything you add to our family! Your spunk, your sensitivity, your creativity, your love. We are so blessed that God gave you to us. I can't imagine our house without you in it--your smile, your songs, your helping hand. I'm excited to watch you continue to grow and become a young woman. You have so much to offer the world and it's fun to see you start to discover just what that looks like. I am so glad I get to be your mom. Thanks for being my girl. I love you!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Dear Jackson

On March 19th, 2006, at 1:36 in the morning, you made me a mom. You flew (almost literally) into this world, and rocked our lives from the get go! As soon as they laid your 9 1/2 pound "little" self on me, I knew that this mom thing was what I was made for.

It kind of blows me away to think that you've been ours for over 12 years. It feels like just yesterday that you were a curious toddler, climbing and exploring. Or a confident kindergartener, walking down the hall and toward more independence. Skilled with a lightsaber at five years old. Seriously amazing artist at seven. Devouring Harry Potter at nine.

You've made us laugh since practically day one. I can still hear your little kid voice, telling jokes or asking hilarious questions. And laughing so hard you would nearly (or actually) pee your pants. Now you just laugh so hard that you nearly pass out. :)

I love remembering birthday parties. Curious George, Thomas the Train, and Hot Wheels themes have morphed into game nights at Dave and Busters, movie theaters, and sleepovers. And the gifts have changed too. From the excitement of a brand-new bike or pack after pack of Pokemon cards to now wanting cash and Amazon gift cards to get the big-ticket stuff. ;)

You seem to have found "your sport" in lacrosse and it's SO fun to watch you play. I'm excited for our summer of kids in sports. :) It is definitely instilling in you important things--determination, perseverance, and being a part of a team. Plus you're the tallest kid on the field by at least five inches--you've gotta use your size to your advantage. ;)

You're almost finished with your first year of middle school. To be honest, I think I was more nervous about the transition than you were. Maybe it's because I can still remember middle school and you were blissfully unaware of all that awaited you. :) But you have soared this year. You've taken each new challenge in stride and have (almost) finished sixth grade with finesse. Two trimesters (so far) on the A Honor Roll. Another year of saxophone under your belt. You go above and beyond in everything.

And you know what? You're just a nice kid. Like, genuinely nice. You're helpful and responsible and sensitive and kind. You're always looking for ways to help. When you come home from school and I ask how your day was, you always answer and then ask how mine was. That's not typical tween behavior. Then again, you're not a typical tween! You're actually pretty exceptional. :)

So thanks for being such an amazing part of our family. For carrying the first-born torch like a pro. For being a loving, caring big brother to Leah and Will. I'm so proud of the boy you are and the man (eek!) you are becoming. This world is better because you're in it, and I know you're going to do amazing things. I'm beyond blessed to be your mom. I love you!

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Spring Top 5

I had planned on writing this post last weekend. But there was nothing at all that screamed "SPRING!" happening last weekend. We watched for two days straight as the snow fell and the winds blew and we fought the urge to hide under the covers. When all was said and done, Maple Grove ended up with 22 inches of snow. In mid-April. Minnesota is so cranky sometimes.

But THIS weekend, we are watching it all melt, as it is currently sunny and 60 degrees, with more 60s in store for tomorrow. Bring it on! So now that spring looks as thought it just might be here to stay (please, Lord, please), here is some of what I'm into right now. :)

1) Flowers

Real flowers have been saving my sanity in this extra extended winter. (Thanks to Shauna Niequist's IG feed for the photo, as my current tulips are on their last leg). There's just something about something bright, fragrant, and living inside your house when it feels like just about everything outside is dead. Seriously, do it. Trader Joe's is the best for flowers because they're so darn reasonably priced. But Target has also had some lovely tulips lately. :)

2) The Greatest Showman

Our family was a little late to the game with this movie, but we decided to buy it a few weeks ago and we all LOVED it. Critics of the film have a problem with the fact that the story is not exactly true to Barnum's real life (I guess he was actually kind of a jerk). But the movie is SO incredibly enjoyable, that I just didn't care how true-to-life it was. The characters are so engaging, the music is out of this world, and it's just a feel-good story that I could watch over and over. (You should ask Leah how many times she's watched it since we bought it!) As soon as the movie ended, I hopped on iTunes and purchased the soundtrack, so we've all memorized every song now. ;)

3) Ulta nail polish

Since it's officially spring and my feet aren't constantly in socks (and slippers), I painted my toenails this morning and remembered my new favorite nail polish! I have been an OPI nail polish user for YEARS, but I got some of this from Ulta as a gift and have slowly added more colors to my stash. I love the wide brush, and I think it's a little faster-drying than OPI or Essie. Also, it runs a little cheaper than both of those brands. 

4) Trader Joe's dark chocolate peanut butter cups

I accidentally happened upon these when I saw them and thought, "Hmm, I wonder if those are as good as Justin's dark chocolate peanut butter cups." (For the record, I'm not a Reese's peanut butter cup fan, but I tried Justin's brand about a year ago and realized that I just prefer DARK chocolate with my peanut butter). Well it turns out, these are even BETTER than Justin's, and they're also a way better deal. Go but some and tell me how long they last. ;)

5) Books, you guys. So many books. (And these are just the ones I liked enough to recommend). I blame winter....

For the younger set:
One Mixed-Up Night by Catherine Newman is a nod to E. L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. It's an adorable story about two friends spending the night in an Ikea store. Jack picked it up after I finished and he also loved it.

Dream Big Dreams by Pete Souza is a collection of photos and stories from Obama's presidency. Souza was the official white house photographer for Obama's eight years (he was also Reagan's white house photographer, coincidentally) and he captured some pretty outstanding shots. The book is so enjoyable to just page through. We got it from the library, but it sat on our coffee table for the entire time we had it.

Some fiction:
Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere was on so many people's "must read" lists, and I was on the library waiting list for a while, but I can see why. It's a very interesting story of how two family's lives intersect and how the past never actually stays in the past. Definitely a page-turner.

Setting Free the Kites by Alex George was my bookclub pick, and we really enjoyed it. It follows two tween-aged boys through stories of loss, adventure, and life in the late 1970s.

Katie Ganshert's Life After was an unexpectedly enjoyable read. The main character is the lone survivor of a train bombing that kills 22 other passengers. And through her journey of survivor's guilt, she ends up connecting with the families of all the victims.

The Wife, The Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon was an extremely fascinating story. It's actually based on a true story, the unsolved mystery of the disappearance of Joseph Crater in 1930. Crater was presumed dead after six years, but there are many ideas about the details of his disappearance, and Lawhon takes a fictional look at the story through the lens of the three women closest to him--his wife, their maid, and his mistress. 

And some non-fiction:
Barking to the Choir is Gregory Boyle's second book. If you haven't read his Tattoos on the Heart yet, start there. Boyle is a jesuit priest who heads up the country's largest gang rehabilitation organization in Los Angeles. His stories are incredible, and his heart is huge. If you're interested, there's also a documentary about him and his work at Homeboy Industries called G-Dog that was very worthwhile. :)

Girls Like Us by Rachel Lloyd is a difficult read, but a very important one. Lloyd, a former victim herself, helps girls and young women who are victims of sex trafficking. It's extremely eye-opening and educational.

Elisa Korenne's Hundred Miles to Nowhere was also an enjoyable bookclub pick. Korenne lives in New York City and does an artist residency in New York Mills, Minnesota. Despite the small town culture shock, she winds up moving to New York Mills and has the best stories about her tiny little world in rural Minnesota. :)

Okay, on with spring! Quick, enjoy it before it's suddenly decidedly summer and we're all sweltering. ;)

Monday, January 22, 2018

Winter Top 5

Winter, indeed! I'm watching the snow blow outside my window right now. And bring it on! We haven't had nearly enough of the white stuff this year.

So here's what's keeping me busy while I hibernate. ;)

1) Sara Groves "Abide With Me"

I got this for Christmas and it's so beautiful. Dan and I had a chance to see her in concert right before Christmas in an old church she and her husband have converted into a concert space called Art House North. And this album was actually recorded there! It's full of old hymns that she has redone, sometimes to new melody altogether. So lovely.

2) Aldi's Seeded Rolled Tortilla Chips

I grabbed these on a whim at Aldi a couple of weeks ago. As it turns out, they're only around for a limited time, so I've stocked up. They are perfect for dipping in hummus or, well, just about anything. Super tasty!

3) Sharpie pens

I love a good pen. You can spend a small fortune on a decent pen, which is why I love Sharpie pens. They're cheap and awesome, and I just got a brand new pack with all of these colors. Happy writing. :)

4) Koselig candle

Dan and I had a day date about a month ago and after lunch we ended up doing some browsing in the shops in the North Loop in Minneapolis. We happened into Askov Finlayson, where everything costs over $100 (or so it seemed) and we found this candle. Koselig is the Norwegian word for cozy, similar to the Danish concept of Hygge. And this candle smells so amazing. They had a couple of scents in the store (and have a handful more online), but this lavender spruce is perfect.

5) Books
Too many for long reviews, but here are some of my favorites lately. :)

Brene Brown's "Braving the Wilderness" is one of her best books yet. She's the queen of vulnerability research and I really loved her thoughts on belonging.

Katie Davis Majors' "Daring to Hope" is a beautiful follow-up to her book "Kisses from Katie." Katie lives in Africa and has adopted 13 young girls there. Her stories are both heartbreaking and inspiring.

"Heating and Cooling" by Beth Ann Fennelly was a random recommendation on someone's Instagram story a couple months ago. It's a quick read full of essays that are hilarious and thought-provoking. 

"The Nesting Place" by Myquillyn Smith is best described by the book's subtitle: "It doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful." She has great ideas for making your home feel welcoming and comfortable. 

And a few books for the younger crowd.....or those who enjoy a little YALit. ;)

"Out of My Mind" by Sharon Draper is about a girl with cerebral palsy who is learning how to communicate without being able to speak, and navigating school and friends in the process. 

Julie Buxbaum's "Tell Me Three Things" was a cute, quick read about a teenager who moves from Chicago to California and has to assimilate to a brand new school and culture in the wake of her mother's death. 

John Green's "Turtles All the Way Down" comes on the heels of his popular "The Fault in Our Stars" and "Paper Towns." This is another fascinating storyline with interesting characters and I'd love to see it as a movie. :)

Happy winter, friends! Hope you're all surviving well. ;)

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Good grief

Last week I stopped into Cub to buy the candle in this picture. I grabbed the 6. And then I hesitated. It's so easy for me to think of Hannah as a baby because that's the only way I knew her. Was I grabbing the right number? Would she really be turning six? That feels so big. She'd be just two years younger than Leah. They'd be such good friends! And two years older than Will. He'd have two big sisters bossing him around!

Alas, it has been six years since Hannah Marie entered this world and our family forever.

Sometimes I can't believe it's been that long. But then sometimes I can hardly remember what life was like before Hannah. Before grief was the new normal.

Grief is fascinating to me. I've never completely lined up with the classic stages of grief--denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance. Sure, all of those surfaced at times in the weeks and months following our losses. But never in the "right" order. Or for the "right" amount of time. And I knew right away that "acceptance" felt like the wrong word for the end of the cycle--as if I could ever accept this burden and move on with my life. 

I read an excerpt from a book recently that resonated so clearly with me regarding grief. Because the truth is, even though I may never "accept" or "move on," my grief has certainly changed. It's not as heavy as it was six years ago. Not as all-consuming. Not as painful. This is a portion of Beth Moore's book Breaking Free:

"Nothing could be more natural than a mother grieving the loss of a child. However, if ten years later the mother is still completely consumed with the loss and bitterness that have eclipsed all comfort and healing, she has wedged a stronghold between appropriate grief and gradual restoration. The enemy will capitalize on normal emotions of love or loss to swell them out of healthy proportion. They can consume our very lives if we're not aware of his schemes. Loving is never sin. However, obsession that flows from putting something in the place of God is sin. Likewise, grief is never sin, but disallowing God to minister comfort and healing to you over the passage of much time is."

It is my job, as a loving mother, to grieve for my daughter. It is also my job, as a daughter dependent on her heavenly Father, to accept the comfort, healing, and love He gives. We are not meant to be burdened by our grief forever. We are meant to be comforted in it. 

The week of Hannah's birthday last year, I heard this song while I was driving that spoke volumes to me of what I experience in grief.

Hannah is a part of our family and will forever be a part of my story. My story would be really boring if it was just the happy parts of my life. Our stories are the good and the bad. The mountaintops and the valleys. Every piece tells our story and tells of God's goodness through it all.

On a Sunday evening I'm looking back
Over all the years and where I've been
Looking at old photographs, I'm remembering
You were right there and you have been ever since
With every page that turns, I see your faithfulness

The mountain where I climbed
The valley where I fell
You were there all along
That's the story I'll tell
You brought the pieces together
Made me this storyteller
Now I know it is well, it is well
That's the story I'll tell

There were some nights that felt like they would last forever
But you kept me breathing, you were with me right then
And all that You have done for me, I could never hold it in
So here's to me telling this story over and over again

You hold the broken
You hear my every cry
My eyes are open
I know that it is well
It is well