Christmas Babies


Did I ever mention that my first name is Holly and my hubby’s is Chris? Yup. We’re Chris and Holly. Although neither one of us was born in December, or even winter for that matter. Despite this fact, however, God was definitely displaying His infinite sense of humor when he blessed us with our first child. He decided it would be most amusing to have her arrive nine days past her due date of December 16th. So Chris and Holly had their first baby on Christmas.

After she was born, whenever people would learn of her birth date, I’d get unrequested feedback from friends and strangers alike.

“Oh,” pursed lips, sad shake of the head. “A Christmas baby. That’s too bad.”

Oh yeah? Well, not in the eyes of my Christmas baby! She has always loved her birthday. When she was really young, she commented once, “Everybody shares their birthday with somebody, mom. I get to share mine with the coolest guy who ever lived.”

I embrace her attitude!

I’ll admit though, it wasn’t easy at first. We initially had to do some creative finagling to help foster that positive attitude, starting with her first birthday. We discovered from talking with other December-borns, that their biggest complaint as kids concerned feeling gypped on birthdays due to receiving combination gifts. “You don’t get combo gifts if your birthday is in June!” They would say.

This is true.

They shared other issues with us as well. So my hubby and I sat down and created a few tips & traditions to help keep our daughter’s birthday special, while still managing to focus on the true reason for the season as well. Here they are:

Two for two. Two presents or no presents. Now, this may sound rude, but we asked family members to please give two separate gifts or no gifts. This completely eliminated the combo gift problem.

Wrap it right. Wrap birthday gifts in birthday paper! It may seem like a small thing, but it makes a difference.

Party hearty. We always have a birthday gathering with her friends a few weeks before her “real” birthday. When she was younger it was a more elaborate affair. Now as a teen, she’s perfectly happy to just host a sleepover with a few of her closest friends.

Decorations, decorations. We have NINE Rubbermaid containers full of Christmas decorations. We really love Christmas time. (Ya’ think?!) But we still decorate our dining room completely in a birthday theme for our daughter. She even has her own tabletop tree which she fills with birthday decorations and a party hat for the top. We place all her birthday presents under that tree.

Flexible festivities. We ended up reworking Christmas dinner a bit. Since the birthday child customarily chooses what the family has for dinner, our Christmas meals would consist of: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie with whipped cream… pizza, apple slices, raw carrot sticks and birthday cake. Needless to say, not working! Now, we have our Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve before attending the Christmas Eve service at our church. We keep the focus completely on Jesus until late Christmas morning. Then, we transition into birthday party mode for our December girl.

Applying these principals has been a great success with our daughter. We still keep our Jesus focus, yet also manage to generate a sense of birthday excitement as well.

Have a blessed Christmas everyone! And a big ol’ happy birthday to all the rest of you December birthday kids out there.

Image by: Conorwithonen

Free Hugs

Looking for a great gift idea? How about this one! I'm sharing a feel-good moment. This actually made me simultaneously sniffle and laugh as I watched it.

Free Hugs


Christmas Ornament Expedition


We’ve just returned from our annual holiday trek to the German town of Frankenmuth, Michigan. It’s a Christmas tradition we started when the kids were, well, babies really. We usually make the trip in the fall when the kids have one of those random “why are they off from school again?” days. They had one of those on Monday, so we hit the road early that morning.

Frankenmuth, Michigan is most famous for its Christmas store, Bronner's. The store is open all year and sells anything and everything Christmas. It’s a magical, sparkling fairyland to walk through, and we literally spend hours looking at everything each year.

Our tradition includes the opportunity for each child (& parent!) to select one and only one ornament to purchase for their very own. By the time our children are adults, they will each have at least 18 ornaments with which to decorate their own Christmas trees.

We were inspired to start the tradition when my husband and I were first married. We were about to celebrate our first Christmas together as a married couple, and we realized we didn’t own a single Christmas ornament between us. My in-laws were kind enough to share their abundant assortment. But if they hadn’t, we literally would have had nothing with which to decorate our first Christmas tree except some popcorn string.

I clearly recall our first family trip to Frankenmuth, and the very first ornament our daughter ever selected. It was (is) this hideous mouse lady dressed in a pink fluffy dress, Santa hat, and high heels. We all look at it now and laugh as we remember how her father and I tried so hard to talk her out of it, but she was not to be dissuaded. (A sign of that strong will which continues to flex its muscles today!)

When we started the tradition, we didn’t realize how the collection of ornaments for each child would ultimately be such a reflection of them. A chronicle of their transitioning interests as they’ve grown. Our daughter has moved from ballerina slipper ornaments to soccer cleats to colorful artistic fusions of blown glass. And our son’s choices have covered every sport he’s ever played, to airplanes, motorcycles, and cars he dreams of owning in the future.

We have other traditions to celebrate the holidays. But I love starting out the Christmas season with this one. And I love knowing that by the time our children are ready to leave home, they will each have a beautiful, meaningful array of ornaments with which to decorate their very own first Christmas trees.

What holiday traditions do you keep each year?

Image by: RcktmanIL

Turkey Day Cometh

Wow, it’s almost Turkey Day! A lot can happen in a year, can’t it? Last Thanksgiving we learned my husband had lost his job. With the holidays approaching things were looking pretty scary. We prayed a lot, tried to keep a positive attitude, and we made it through! It took several months, but he found a new job. We have so much for which to be thankful!

Check out my recent Prevention Buzz Blog post on how we try to foster a Gratitude Attitude in our children. And remember, no matter how bleak current circumstances may be, always try to find at least one thing to keep your Gratitude Attitude going strong.

On another note: just for fun, my mom sent me this online turkey quiz. I scored an 11! See how well you do:

http://home.aristotle.net/Thanksgiving/trivia.asp

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Butt Out, Mom!

At what point are moms supposed to stop butting into their children’s lives? (And no mom, of course I’m not talking about you. ;) I’m really struggling against the urge to butt in to a situation concerning my 16-year-old right now. We attended her cross country team banquet last week where something happened that has me spittin’ mad!

Let me back up.

It’s tradition for the cross country coach to announce next year’s team captains at the banquet. Typically the captains are selected from the (incoming) seniors. Well last year, the coach surprised everyone by also naming one junior as captain, along with the seniors. Fast forward to this year. The junior captain injured her toes at the beginning of the season and stopped attending practices and meets. I don’t know if any readers here have teens who participate in sports, but typically, an injured teammate will still occasionally show up for some games, or in this case meets, to offer team support. We’ve had other injured runners over the years (including my daughter) that made it a point to attend several, if not all of our home meets. But not the junior captain. Not one meet.

Now onto the banquet. It is the junior girls’ job to organize gifts for the departing seniors. It was down to a week before the event, and we hadn’t heard a peep out of Ms. Junior Captain. So my daughter and another junior stepped up to the plate and handled everything in a now crunch-time situation. But they did it! And the gifts were awesome, stupendous, wonderful! (Yeah, okay I did butt in a bit in helping decide what the gift should be.)

Anyway, $3 was collected to pay for said gifts from each member of the team, with the exception of one girl. You-know-who. Even after the girls made THREE phone calls to her!

I know I’m totally whining now, but bear with me.

Fast forward again to the evening of the banquet. The coach talked for THREE hours of the FOUR-hour banquet, and amongst her many speeches she went on and on about the wonderful leadership this junior has provided throughout the season.

Huh?

Then the coach announced the captains for next year. She named You-know-who, then completely disregarded my daughter and the other incoming seniors who have been committed to the team for the past three years, and instead selected a handful of sophomores to become the new captains.

Again, huh?

I was so angry I could barely contain myself. I bit my tongue. But since that night, I’ve drafted letter after letter in my mind to this….this coach, to let her know what I think of her decision-making abilities and her incredible lack of observation skills. Oh don’t worry, I haven’t actually put pen to paper…yet. I’m so tempted!

Of course my daughter was shocked and extremely upset by the situation. To her credit, she’s already met with this coach to express her feelings about the matter, but it wasn’t a very effective meeting. I’m proud of her for attempting to handle it; but I’m still battling the urge to butt in.

So what do you think? To butt in or not to butt in?

Stressed Over Homework


Why doesn’t anybody warn you that you get to do homework all over again once you become a parent? That should be in the book “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” shouldn’t it?


Check out my new take on the whole homework situation posted on my recent Prevention Magazine Buzz Blog entry "Stressed Out Over Homework--And It's Not Even Mine!"


Image by: Peter Gene

Is Dancing Becoming a Lost Art?


Throughout middle school, high school and college, I regularly attended dances and had a blast dancing with my friends to the popular tunes of the seventies and eighties. (Yeah I know, I’m totally dating myself here!) I studied dance--ballet, tap and jazz--throughout my childhood and teen years and grew to appreciate the artistic expression of music through movement.

My daughter recently attended her high school Homecoming Dance with a group of male and female friends which, on a side note, I think is GREAT! When I was in high school you either had a date, or you didn’t go. But anyway, back to my topic of dance…

Despite the popularity of shows like Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance, I’m concerned that dancing is becoming a lost art. When my parents and grandparents went to dances they really danced. They waltzed, rumba-ed, and fox-trotted their ways around the floor. And my generation, well, we danced. (Disco counts, right?)

But as I sat talking with my daughter about the events of the evening, and “casually” asked if she’d danced with any boys, she replied, “No, mom. Besides, nobody really dances anymore anyway.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well,” she paused delicately. “The dance floor is pretty much divided into two areas. The center is the ‘mosh pit.’ It’s a big group of kids all squished together in the middle of the dance floor where everyone basically…” she hesitated again.
“Basically what?”
“Well, they pretty much have sex with their clothes on.”
“What?!”
She explained the ‘dance moves’ going on in the mosh pit and I was flabbergasted.
She continued, “On the outer edges of the mosh pit are more couples doing the same moves as the kids in the mosh pit--except they just have more room—then there’s the rest of the kids who just jump up and down to the music.”

I was shocked, and the more I thought about it, disappointed. What’s happened to actual dancing?

I read an article about a community program offered in Rancho Bernardo, California. It would be so awesome if programs like this were implemented across the country. The senior citizens of the area teach children ballroom dancing through the school district’s physical education program. Every year they teach over 1500 students the fox-trot, waltz, rumba, swing and merengue. And the kids love it!

Teens today are missing out on how even simple steps like the cha-cha, can be so cool. And remember the infamous scene in the 1992 movie, Scent of a Woman? The one where the blind character played by Al Pacino dances with a young woman. Not that I want to in ANY WAY encourage inappropriate dancing amongst teens, but if they’re looking for hot dancing, can it get much better than this?

Scent of A Woman Tango Scene





I’m sad. What do you think? Is dancing becoming a lost art?

Image by Jerry Daykin

Now...Vote?

I don’t typically delve into the political arena in my blog—preferring instead to discuss the intricacies of life as a writer and perimenopausal mom of teens. But as I was driving to an appointment today, my attention was caught by these election signs in one of my neighbor’s yards. I had to laugh out loud. I think their yard signs clearly exemplify what is going on in our nation over the upcoming election.



Hopefully this family has respectfully agreed to disagree!

Gym Class Evolution


When I was a kid, picking sports teams in gym class consisted of the really athletic kids being automatically selected as captains by the gym teacher. They’d move up to the front of the room and divide the wheat from the chaff as the rest of us sat on the scuffed-up gymnasium floor.

Anybody from that era remember the small, scrawny kid sitting off to the side? Always the last one chosen, usually by default because nobody else was left. Yeah. That was me.

I hated most sports and I was terrified of the ball. Every ball. The only sport I was decent at was dodgeball due to my horrific fear of being hit by a ball thrown by one of those missile-launching boys. I ducked, hopped, dove and rolled out of the way. Of course, I couldn’t throw the dumb thing, but I could get out of the way real quick when I had to.

Throughout my youth, I completely lacked confidence in my athletic abilities. It wasn’t until I reached 44 years of age and took an eight-week soccer class with some other soccer moms that I scored the first goal of my life.

My 14-year-old son happens to be one of those “athletic” kids. He enjoys participating in a variety of sports, soccer being his favorite. He was recently describing his gym class to me. And I was amazed at how much it has changed since I was a kid.

His gym teacher started a new unit on soccer. He asked for a show of hands to find out who already knew how to play the game. He then pulled my son, and a few of the other soccer-knowledgeable students aside. He explained they would be the coaches for this unit. Their jobs were to instruct and encourage. The coaches were each assigned a group of randomly selected students, and for the first day they worked with their group, teaching them the basic skills necessary to play soccer.

The next day, the coaches met and divided the students amongst themselves. The coaches with the most experience selected more of the struggling players to be on their teams. It was the coaches’ job to create balanced teams, so that no team was stacked in terms of talent. The players for each team were announced in no particular order. Then the games began.

My son explained that if at any time one team started getting too far ahead in scoring, as coaches they would switch players around to create more evenly matched play--the ultimate goal being to have great games. He animatedly described how he worked with his team and how impressed he had been in their first game as they passed the ball, worked together, and successfully scored. Some of the children who normally shied away from athletics, enjoyed being part of a team and were thrilled to score some goals.

How cool is that?

In effect, that gym teacher took the kids like me, and boosted their confidence a hundredfold. Maybe the kid like me is now thinking, “Wow, that was fun!” Or maybe it simply planted a seed and they’ll consider pursuing a different sport down the road somewhere. Who knows what good will ultimately come from this. Instead of learning to play favorites, loading a team up with their buddies and the athletically gifted, these students learned compassion, good leadership skills, and that the goal of a good coach is to teach and support, building up the abilities of their players.

At the very least, it’s nice to know there are some middle schoolers out there who won’t have to wait until they are 44 years old to score their first goal.

Image by Goldberg


Blog Action Day: And The Topic is Poverty

I remember when I was a kid, my mother told me to eat everything on my plate because there were children starving over in China who would have loved to eat what I wanted to throw away. (Actually, I think that line was in the official “Book of Best Mom Lines” back then.)

Of course, we kids never understood what good it would do for poor starving Chinese children, if we stuffed ourselves with a few more lima beans.

Well, today is officially Blog Action Day, and the topic is poverty. Poverty is not only a worldwide issue. According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, “nearly 13 million children in the United States—18% of all children here—live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level--$21,200 year for a family of four.” The majority of these children have parents who work, but low wages and unstable employment leave them struggling to make ends meet.

Poverty can impact a child’s ability to learn, and contributes to poor mental and physical health. It is one of the greatest threats to our children’s welfare.

So what you can we do? Check out this link to find out more: NCCP

And I love promoting this site every so often. Help stop worldwide hunger with a simple click: Click to Give

Birthday Protest


Okay, I know this is going to sound like sour grapes since I already wrote Mother's Day Protest back in May, but now I’m having a Birthday Protest. I think birthdays should be on weekends. I can be a bit flexible here, they can be held on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, whichever day works best for the birthday person’s schedule.

I don’t really know how we managed it when I was a kid, but somehow we were always able to celebrate the birthday on the actual birth date for all my family members. The birthday person got to pick what the entire family would eat for dinner, and what kind of Mommy-made cake we’d eat. Then everyone would gather ‘round for the card & gift opening.

My brother’s family makes birthdays like holidays, with no chores and no school (they homeschool) for the birthday child. Such fun. Sigh.

Being raised like I was, it became ingrained in me to celebrate the birthday on the birth date. Well, my birthday was last Thursday. And when you have older children, especially older children involved in fall sports, weekday birthdays simply don’t work.

To start my special day, I got to do an unpleasant chore—taking our dog, Oreo, to the vet. Oreo has been suffering from a severe ear infection that has not yet been resolved. I got to endure a 1-1/2 hour, $250 doggie doctor appointment, where my pup cried in pain over his ear being swabbed and checked. It was heart wrenching!

After that I came home to bake and frost my own cake (which is never a good idea, see: You Take the Cake.) I had to bake it myself though because everyone else was too busy with sports practices, homework and club meetings. And my hubby was in Slovakia for work. (Where in the world is Slovakia anyway?!)

Next, I got to attend a sporting event. I really do love watching my kids participate in their various sports. But Thursday dawned cold, and wet. So I got to sit in a 45-degree rain (which ruined my perfectly fluffed birthday ‘do) on hard, cold, metal benches for an hour watching my son’s middle school soccer game.

I stubbornly held out hope that all was not lost however, because my hubby returned from Slovakia by 4:30 p.m., and we returned from my son’s game by 5:00 p.m. But where was my daughter? At a drama rehearsal for a school production from which she didn’t get home until 8:00 p.m. By that time hubby Chris was almost unconscious due to Slovakian jet lag, the kids were exhausted, and someone mumbled something about not wanting cake, but that I should go ahead and open my cards. I stuck my nose in the air, sniffed, and replied in my best pouty child voice “I’m not celebrating until everybody is 'into it'!”

Soooo, everybody went to bed by 9:00 p.m., and there I sat all alone. Well, except for the dog. I knew he’d eat cake with me, and be “into it,” but since it had chocolate frosting he couldn’t have any. (Chocolate is toxic to dogs.)

Nope, that is NOT how birthdays should be.

I didn’t open a single card or giftie on my “real” birthday. My chocolate cake sat pristine and untouched beneath the cake cover. And I decided to officially switch my birthday to the weekend this year.

I announced my decision, and when Saturday rolled around we celebrated. I didn’t do any chores all day. We ate a nice dinner that I didn’t cook, ate my cake with ice cream, and I opened all my cards and presents. It was relaxed and fun just the way a birthday should be.

So what do you think? Should birthdays always be on weekends?


Image by: Radiant Guy

How Far Would You Go to Eat Some Chocolate?


I just spent half an hour on the phone calling six different 1-800 numbers just so I could eat some chocolate.

Look, it’s that critical time of the month when I really need my chocolate, you know?

Now the reason I had to spend all that time and effort is due to the fact that my darling husband is a safety nut. A super safety nut, God bless ‘im, who read an article on Friday evening about how the Chinese melamine contamination of milk products had been extended to include chocolate. And he wasn’t clear on precisely which types of chocolate were affected so he banned us from eating any of it. Which was, of course, the right thing to do. Buuuuttt…

Our treat bowl just sat there all weekend, tempting us with its chocolatey-ness while we waited for the Hershey’s, Starbucks, Lindt and Mars offices to open on Monday morning so I could call and verify the safety of consuming their products. (Yeah, we kind of have a lot of chocolate sitting around here. Heh, heh.)

My sugar-monster son would sigh loudly as he searched fruitlessly through the cupboards for “something fun” to eat. We moaned together over our losses throughout Saturday and Sunday.

But fear not chocolate lovers everywhere!

Sacrificing precious writing time, I personally called Hershey’s, Mars, Lindt, and Starbucks today, and all their chocolate and flavored coffees are perfectly safe to eat. Thank goodness! I’m tellin’ ya’, you don’t want to see me when I haven’t had my chocolate. It ain’t pretty.

Image by: Digital Sextant

Pregnancy or Purity...


I had a bit of an adventure with my daughter, Ashleigh, last Friday. She’s taking a psychology class and the teacher assigned the students their first project. Ashleigh had to come up with a psychology experiment, perform it, then type up her results. She brainstormed a lot of really good ideas, but finally settled on the one for which I became her assistant.

Ashleigh is 16 and looks like a typical high school junior. She contacted a maternity store in our local shopping mall, explained her project, and asked if she could borrow one of their maternity pillows—you know, the kind that makes you look pregnant. The store manager of Belli Couture willingly accommodated her request. Ashleigh’s idea was to walk around the mall, approach people of different age groups and ask a question to see how they would respond to her as a single pregnant teen.

We arrived at the maternity shop and entered a dressing room to put on “the pillow.” Suddenly, Ashleigh looked hesitant. “I can’t do this,” she said, uncharacteristically shy. “Plus, I feel like I’m…I dunno, being mean doing this.”

“It’s not mean!” I said. “You’re not making fun of pregnant teens, you’re recording how society responds to them.”

After a little more encouragement she bravely entered the mall. Ashleigh decided the question she would ask would be something along the lines of, “Do you know of any stores in the mall carrying baby bottles and supplies?” My job was to trail her from a good distance behind and take notes on people’s physical and verbal reactions.

The first woman she approached was close to 70. She answered Ashleigh quickly with a shake of her head, her eyes flicking from Ashleigh’s face to her protruding belly and back again several times. After Ashleigh thanked her and moved away, the woman continued to stare after her with some head shaking and a disapproving look.

After that first woman, Ashleigh approached men & women of all different ages, couples with children, and a group of teenage girls (she drew the line at approaching teenage boys! Ha, ha, ha!) And do you know what the most shocking thing about their responses was?

That they weren’t shocked at all!

Aside from the first woman, and an older man, whom Ashleigh didn’t speak with but merely walked past, nobody appeared at all surprised by her appearance. Most people barely glanced at her tummy and never looked back once she’d walked away. Even the group of chattering teenage girls she approached, all turned, looked her in the eye, provided an answer to her question, then turned right back and continued their conversation without missing a beat.

When we finished and returned the pillow to the maternity shop, I commented to the store manager on the surprising lack of response from people. The manager of the shop replied, “Well, I’m not surprised. You see a lot of that kind of thing today.”

What a sad reaction! I think she’s wrong, though. I think her perception is skewed because of where she works.

A report, updated in 2006, on U.S. teenage pregnancy statistics conducted by the Guttmacher Institute shows that the pregnancy rate among 15-19-year-old teenage women in this country is at its lowest level in 30 years—it’s down 36% from its 1990 peak. And there is a growing body of research which suggests that increased abstinence on the part of teens is playing a huge role in that decline.

Those are some encouraging statistics!

I’ve heard some parents say it’s unrealistic to expect their child to remain sexually pure until marriage. In my opinion, those parents are setting up some pretty low expectations for their kids. I give teens today a lot more credit than that.

I’m a bit out of the what’s-cool-in-music loop, but I heard on the radio today that several celebrities, including popular teen pop trio The Jonas Brothers, have been proudly displaying their purity rings. In case you don’t know, a purity ring is worn to symbolize a promise to remain sexually pure until marriage. The middle Jonas brother, 18-year-old Joe, is quoted as saying they wear the rings as “promises to ourselves and to God that we’ll stay pure till marriage.” It’s awesome to hear such positive role models actively proclaiming great moral and spiritual values for kids like that.

You go boys!

Image by: Mahalie

I’m Not a “Real” Soccer Mom…Am I?

We spent last weekend with my brother-in-law’s family. We joined them to watch our niece play in a couple of soccer games and it occurred to me that I’ve officially hit the 10-year mark. I’ve been watching my own kids play soccer for a decade now. But that doesn’t make me a “real” soccer mom, does it?

When my children first started playing, it was really all about the social-ness of the event. I had no idea what was happening out on the field as I chatted away amiably with the other parents. “What? Somebody scored?”

As the years and their skill levels progressed I started paying more attention, still never thinking of myself as a true soccer mom. I’m just a mom, who has kids that play soccer. To my mind there is a definite distinction. Soccer moms are much more soccer-obsessive than me, right?

But what defines “soccer obsessive”?

Does running my kids around to multiple soccer tryouts during the third week of June count?

How about standing on the sidelines and cheering loudly in the rain, sleet, snow, wind, and burning sun in multiple cities and states while they play?

Does being clueless about the rules, but thinking I clearly understand them make me a bona fide soccer mom? Like when I yell, “No pushing!” should another player lay a hand on my kid. “They’re allowed to do that,” my husband whispers before moving quickly away from me, probably concerned about guilt by association.

And I thought I was just being encouraging when a goal is scored and I allow my inner cheerleader to burst forth--jumping from my seat, hands in the air, “Yeah!” (“Knock it off with the spirit fingers, mom!”)

When I’m gripped with the urge to march up to a particularly “foul” player and ask if his or her mother is aware of their language and conduct because I would be ashamed if it were my child, I resist. Doesn’t that show good nonsoccer mom-ish self control?

It’s just normal parental empathy, isn’t it, to feel like I’m out there on the field playing whenever they’re out there on the field playing – experiencing the highs and lows with them every second of the game.

No, not really (sigh). I must acknowledge the truth. I’m a soccer mom, aren’t I.

Well…now I’m starting a new chapter in my life as a soccer mom. My son has completed the soccer referee certification course. He’s so excited to start refereeing games. I’m a bit more apprehensive. What about the stuff we’ve read about how some of the more psycho soccer parents behave towards the refs? I’m a little worried.


There’s no help for it. I’m just going to have to sneak and attend these games incognito. I’ll have to blend in with the parents of whatever sideline he’s working on and say things like:

“Nice call, ref.”

“Good eye, ref.”

I’ll attempt to calm overactive soccer parents with “Let’s keep it professional and be nice to the refs, please.”

And encourage the positive parents, “Gee, that ref is doing a great job, isn’t he. Maybe you should write a letter of appreciation to his boss. Would you look at that! I happen to have the address right here.”

But in order to not give myself away, I’ll have to work really hard on controlling my spirit fingers when he blows his whistle, snaps his flag especially well, or gives out his first yellow card.

Maybe I’m worrying over nothing. I mean, he probably won’t see a lot of action in the Pee Wee division he’s assigned to. On the other hand, you never know what might happen with those soccer moms.

Holly Needs Her Groove Back

Well, it’s the first day of school. I’ve got to tell you, I haven’t been looking forward to it. I know I’m probably considered weird by most of my friends since I haven’t joined in on the “kids are finally outta my hair” dance.

Truth is, they weren’t really in my hair too badly this summer. Maybe because they’re older now, or maybe because my daughter is 16, has a job, a social life, and a car to use so she was gone a lot. But whatever the reason, the kids didn’t fight much this summer and when they were around I enjoyed hanging out with them for the most part. (The 24 hours following a sleepover being the exception!)

And, as I mentioned at the beginning of summer, I loved the freedom from routine. The hassle of getting different kids to different locations for different things all occurring at the same time was making my eye twitch. The break from all that was nice. Real nice.

But on the other hand, when I look back at how sporadically my writing projects progressed all summer long, I can definitely see there were some benefits to the ol’ routine. I sort of lost my writing groove over the summer.

Even though I’d planned to rise at 6:00 a.m. all summer long to work on my writing, well, if one stays up until midnight to look at the stars, roast marshmallows, play board games…c’mon. It ain’t gonna happen! I got up later and later, started working later and later, thus my work hours got shorter and shorter. (Because, of course, I still made time to enjoy the benefits of summer spent with the hubby and kids.)

I’d created a business plan at the beginning of the year, but you can imagine what happened to the record of my achievements over the past couple of months.

Now with the start of school for the kids, I’m looking at a re-start of the work year for myself. I need to get my groove back. I’m going to pull out my goals, give ‘em a fresh look and update as needed. Then I’m going to go at my work full steam ahead. I’m keeping my butt in the chair, fingers to the keyboard.

Even though I can hear the cicadas humming and see the sunshine beckoning.

Yep, here I go.

Um…maybe I’ll do my editing outside today. But I will keep focused and stick to the routine, bearing in mind the words of Robert Bach, “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”

How about you? Does the start of the school year inspire a re-start in pursuing your own goals?

Okay, that’s it for now. I’m going to have The Young Rascals play me out….

"Groovin-The Young Rascals"

Gratitude Attitude

I’ve been having some really weird dreams lately. I don’t know if I’m eating too much late at night or what. But a dream I had the other night sparked an actual memory. This led to some reflection on a comment I often hear regarding teens.

Have you ever thought, or heard people say something along the lines of “kids today don’t exhibit the polite and respectful manners that we were raised to have.” Or “why don’t kids appreciate everything they have?”

Back in 1999, when my daughter, Ashleigh, was in second grade, she and I attended a Girl Scout Mommy-Daughter dance. Exciting stuff! Our troop had worked really hard on creating beautiful (award-winning, actually!) centerpieces for our tables. Ashleigh and I had dressed up all sparkly and fancy.



The facility hosting the event had created a magical ambience. The lights were dimmed, and the girls’ eyes were bright. A disco ball overhead sent rainbows skittering around the room and over the girls’ smiling faces.

Just before the dancing began, while we sat at our tables, an announcement was made. In the middle of each table’s carefully crafted centerpiece sat a collectible Millennium Beanie Baby bear. They were awarding it to the girl at each table whose birthday was closest to the new Millennium!

Ashleigh grinned wide. Her birthday was December 25th, a mere five days from New Year’s Eve. (Yes, she shares her special day with the greatest guy who ever lived! But back to my story…) Nobody else at our table was even close!

I reached carefully amongst the foil stars and glitter of our centerpiece and extracted the collectible bear, handing it to her with a matching smile of my own.

Then, from beside me I heard:

“Mommy, I want that Beanie Baby!”
“I’m sorry honey, Ashleigh’s birthday is closest to— ”
“But I waaaant it!” The child’s voice ratcheted up to a full-blown wail.
“Sweetheart…” the girl’s mother said, slightly exasperated.
“Puhleeeeze, mommy. Puhleeeeze can I have it.”
“How about if I buy you one tomorrow,” the mother said soothingly.
“But I want it now!” The girl’s mother looked on helplessly as the child began sobbing inconsolably.I remember thinking, “Buy her one tomorrow? Are you kidding me!”Then before I realized what was happening, Ashleigh had extended the precious bear toward the crying child. “You can have it if you really want it.”
The girl immediately stopped crying and accepted the bear, squeezing it tightly to her chest.

My jaw dropped, and I’ll admit I was torn.

On the one hand, that was a lovely act of kindness on Ashleigh’s part and I wanted to hug her and tell her how proud I was of the compassion she’d shown (which I did). But on the other hand, I was ticked! What the heck! This was a basic parenting 101 misdemeanor—rewarding bad behavior!

Now someone could argue that this particular child was still little, and sensitive, and didn’t really understand the concept behind winning and losing. And should we really hurt her precious budding self-esteem by actually allowing her to experience “losing”?

Um…you know what, I have to say, “Yup!”

I don’t think Ashleigh’s actions, or the girl’s mother promising to buy her one the next day, really helped that child in a positive way. I think what actually happened is the child learned—had probably already learned—that this type of bad behavior got her the results she wanted. Got her what she wanted.

So, here’s a thought: Before we complain that kids today don’t have gratitude attitudes, or exhibit politeness and respect like they should, well, hmmm…maybe we parents need to examine more closely whose fault that might possibly be?

Quote of the Month

The most essential factor
is persistence--the
determination never to allow
your energy or enthusiasm
to be dampened by the
discouragement that must
inevitably come.


~ James Whitcomb Riley ~

Evolution of a Teenager





We’re back from a relaxing family vacation in the wilds of Canada. When I was a kid, my parents bought property on the Bruce Peninsula, right on the shores of Lake Huron. There was no sandy beach, just these flat, rock plains. When my siblings and I were little, we loved exploring the craggy shoreline and creating fairy-tale hideaways amidst the moss-blanketed trees and thick ground cover of the woods. It was always an exciting adventure going there on vacation.

Until I entered the teen years that is. Then, going up there became a total drag. I mean there was nothing to do, nobody to talk to, nothing to see, and nowhere good to lay out and work on my tan. (Those rock ledges were darn hard!)

Years passed, and my parents built a log cabin there inviting Chris and me to visit soon after we were married. I rolled my eyes and sighed deeply for the entire five-hour trip. I did not look forward to that long weekend at all! We arrived and Chris was immediately captivated by the rugged beauty of the place. He thought it was “cool.” Cool?

Seeing the place anew through his eyes, I actually came to cherish it again. Not the way I had as a child running free, but as an adult. I now appreciate the unusual rock formations, plant life & hiking trails that can only be found there. The raw beauty of that peninsula is such a rare find today, especially for those of us living in present-day suburbia.

Once they were born, we began bringing our children up there each summer. We’ve missed going the past two summers. So this summer, I suspected at ages 14 and 16, they would react a lot like I did, bored with the lack of civilization. Only one T.V. station, no X-Box, Facebook, IM-ing or cell phone reception.

But apparently, my children are way more evolved teenagers than I was.


We hiked around the rocky Niagara Escarpment and saw beautiful waterfalls. We hunted for rare orchids and the area’s infamous carnivorous plants that trap small bugs for nourishment. Joshua particularly enjoyed snapping pics of those.

Both kids recently discovered photography and couldn’t get enough shots of the amazing sunsets there. The colors morphed and reformed by the second, reminding me of an old Ziggy cartoon where Ziggy is sitting on a cliff watching this amazing sunset scene unfold in front of him. The colors are dazzling, and Ziggy is just sitting there clapping his hands saying “Go God!”

One night, after a round of board games (what are those?), we set out our folding chairs, and tipped back our heads to watch God in action. You don’t see stars like that in the ‘burbs. No siree! We searched for constellations, and watched the phenomenal light show of shooting stars. Joshua commented on the amazing fact that God really does know each star by name. Of course that didn’t stop him from naming a star himself. “Bob” is now officially part of the Big Dipper.

Just before we headed home, I walked the short path to the water one last time. It was a brilliant morning. Not a soul around as usual. The sunshine shimmered on the water so brightly that it appeared white instead of the deep navy blue and ocean green that it usually does. The rhythm of the waves sliding up against the rocky shore, then slipping back again was hypnotic and soothing. Ashleigh had followed me down there. She turned and said, “I could sit here for hours just watching the waves like this.”

Hmmm…like I said, my kids are way more evolved teenagers than I was.

Good thing.

Summer Lovin'

The other day the high temp was about 90 degrees. Since my son Joshua and I were still home alone, we joined some friends at a pool for a bit. Then we went to see the movie, Kung Fu Panda, which he has been dying to see since it came out. (It was actually pretty funny!) I had promised him we could have ice cream for dinner afterwards. Our family always tries to have ice cream for dinner at least a couple of times a summer. And since his teeth were aching from the new braces, I decided it was the perfect soft meal for us both. We went to Coldstone Creamery. We’d never eaten there but had about $25 worth of gift cards for it so it quickly became our #1 choice.

As we enjoyed our “dinner” sitting on a bench outside the shop, he whispered to me, “There’s Jane*.” (*Name changed to protect the innocent-ish!)

“Who’s Jane?”

“She’s this girl that sent me an e-mail telling me she liked me.”

I glanced over my shoulder in subtle mom fashion (blatantly staring!) at the family sitting a couple of benches over and noted a girl Joshua’s age, and someone I assumed was her older sister in deep discussion. The older sister kept glancing up to study Josh as the girl urgently continued whispering. I could imagine the conversation…

“Oh my gosh! I can’t believe this! It’s the guy I e-mailed at the beginning of the summer to tell him I liked him! I could just DIE!!!”

I turned back to Joshua. “So what did you do?”

“About what?” he said scraping the bottom of his paper dish.

“Jane!”

“Oh, I told her we should just be friends.” He said simply.

He walked away and tossed his paper bowl into the trash can. As he made his way back to me, I noticed the girl and her older sister whispering even more animatedly to each other. Staring. Pointing. Staring. Pointing some more.

“Well, that wasn’t obvious,” he said to me, arching his eyebrow.

I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. Total flashback to my own youth. It was actually pretty enlightening. I recall doing the exact same thing when out with my own girlfriends in middle school and early high school. We thought we were so smooth; and we thought the “cute guy” was completely oblivious to us. Now I felt like I was in an alternate universe. Instead of relating to the giggling girls, here I was with the “cute guy.” Freaky.

Had we really been that blatant?

On the other hand, we hadn’t prefaced our whispering/giggling/pointing/staring with e-mails (formerly known as “letters”) declaring our interest. Not too long ago, I had a discussion with some mom friends about how girls today are so much more forward than they were. Calling, e-mailing and texting boys to “ask them out.” I mean what’s up with that?

I took in my son’s dark eyes and hair, his dimpled smile. I’m so not ready for this! Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s important for girls to have confidence and all, but I’m not so sure I like it where my son is involved. Nope. Not sure about this at all.

Time Flies

Joshua and I spent last week alone. His sister was away at church camp, and my hubby was working hard in China. Joshua and I managed to do lots of fun things, like um…doctor appointments (his, mine, and the dog’s), more doctor appointments (mine), orthodontist appointments (his) and more orthodontist appointments (his again!).




After that last orthodontist appointment, no more money for fun stuff. Ha, ha, ha!
The entire week went by in a blur and I’m frustrated. I had all sorts of plans concerning what I would accomplish during that week. Aside from squeezing in some meaningful mother-son bonding time, I had several work-related goals I hoped to achieve. I was going to do some cold calling to crank up more commercial writing projects. Work on my novel, maybe start a new short story. By the way, check out my latest short story at: http://www.storiesthatlift.com/STL-stories/a-perfect-fit.htm.
And in my free time, I was planning to work on my scrapbooks.
Ha!

Sometimes I feel like I’m on an endless search for the elusive key to a balanced life. I wonder if I’ll ever find it. What is the secret of balance?

Summer Goals

Every summer we set goals. What kind of goals, you ask? Well, for the past few years they’ve fallen into two categories. The first category includes the Lifeskills training I mentioned in one of my June Blog entries.

But the other category includes the fun goals. Just stuff we want to make sure we do before these sweet days of summer come to an end.

When our kids were little, their goals were so cute.

· Try to get all the way across the monkey bars without stopping.
· Learn to ride my two-wheeler all the way around the cul-de-sac.
· Put my face all the way underwater in the pool.
· Have ice cream for dinner.

Then, when they got a little older, their goals sounded more like…

· Go on family bike rides.
· Take a family fishing trip.
· Go swimming.
· Have backyard campfires with s’mores.
· Have ice cream for dinner.

Now we’re dealing with teenagers. And their summer goals tend to revolve around friends.

· Go on bike rides, with friends.
· Go swimming, with friends.
· Have sleepovers, with friends.
· Go to the movies, with friends.
· Have ice cream for dinner.

Our 16-year-old just returned from a week-long church camp. For two nights straight, as I kissed her goodnight, the last thing she said to me before I turned out the light was “I wish I was still at camp.”

Now at first blush, one might be thinking, gee, aren’t I fun to be around? In fact, that was something along the lines of what my hubby was thinking when I told him what she’d said. He thought this was not a good thing. “She’s letting her friendships have priority over family,” was the gist of his response.

But then I asked him, “When you were a teenager and in high school, who did you prefer to spend time with? Your parents or your friends?”

“My parents,” he replied without missing a beat.

Silence.

“Yeah, right.”

Then he started laughing.

We both realize this is a normal transition phase that teens go through. That we went through. It’s one of those first steps in growing up—and away.

Sure it’s a little sad, but as with all phases of our kids’ development, there are pluses and minuses to each of them. I enjoy knowing our children are forging healthy relationships with good kids. And during the times we do have together as a family, our discussions have grown rich and interesting as we listen to our children develop their own ideas and views on things. Plus, now that they’re older we can all stay up later on summer nights playing games or watching movies with no guilt about missed bedtimes.

As our teens grow and change, and our summer goals evolve to meet those changes, there are some things that do steadfastly remain the same. Like for some reason they still want to join us when it’s and “ice-cream for dinner” night.

Quote of the Month

Don't tell me the moon is shining;
show me the glint of light
on broken glass.
(Anton Chekhov)

Patticake

BTW, if you love baking and are interested in the RIGHT way to bake a cake (among other things), then check out this blog of my good friend's niece, Patti. She's an entrepreneur who has established a catering business, and is currently applying to the dietetics program at the University of Michigan. She blogs about cooking with some great recipes included! Hmmm...come to think of it, maybe I'll hire her for Joshua's next birthday cake. :)

You Take the Cake

We celebrated my youngest son’s f-ff-fourteenth birthday a few days ago. ‘Scuse me. I have trouble getting that out. My baby is 14! Ahem. Anyway, I used to be really creative in decorating my children’s birthday cakes.

I’ve never been all that great at the actual cake-baking part. In fact, my initial attempts would turn out dry with big clumps of cake sticking to the bottom of the pan even though I’d greased and floured my heart out.

After a couple of failed cakes, a friend of mine introduced me to Betty Crocker cake mix and fun-shaped single layer cake pans. She’d taken a cake decorating class and gave me a private lesson on how to form beautiful icing creations. I was off and running, designing elaborate Barbie, Harry Potter, soccer field and beach scene cakes. Finally, I could mask my lack of cake baking ability with pretty frosting techniques!

The trouble now, is that my kids have outgrown these single-layer cakes in the shape of animals and cartoon characters. For the past two years, my son has requested a traditional layer cake. So my true skills have resurfaced, and it ain’t pretty.

I think part of the problem is that I don’t get much practice. My hubby always wants cherry pie for his “birthday cake,” my daughter requests a super easy Bundt cake recipe with no frosting involved, and I refuse to make a birthday cake for myself when it’s my birthday. So I only make a “real” birthday cake once a year for my son.

My first attempt last year was a bit crummy. Literally. I couldn’t figure out how to frost the darn thing without getting cake crumbs mixed in with it. I managed to camouflage this frosting faux pas by covering the cake with decorative sprinkles. (Can I think on my feet or what?!)

But this year, the jig is up. I finally hit rock bottom.

When the two layers came out of the oven, they looked particularly rounded on top. My engineering-minded husband suggested I needed to lop the rounded centers off to make them level with the top of the pan.

I scoffed at him, “Nobody does that!”
He arched a brow, “Professional bakers do.”
“They do not! That’s ridiculous!”
“Okaaaay,” he replied in that voice you use when you’re letting the person know they’re making a big mistake, but you’re going to just go ahead and let them make it.

After the layers had cooled, I frosted the rounded top of one layer. Flipping the second layer upside down, I slapped its rounded belly up against the bottom layer, so I had a nice, new cake-pan flat top to work with. There was a good three-inch gap all around the edges, but no worries. I figured I’d just fill it in with frosting and nobody would ever know.

With the top frosted, I proceeded to the sides. As I worked, I noticed the top layer would slip to one side or the other, gliding down the hill of the cake layer below it. Instead of working like glue as I’d hoped, holding the top layer in place, the frosting was acting more like oil, creating a slippery slope. I kept shoving the top layer back up as I hurried my way around the sides, hoping that once I frosted that baby all the way around it would be permanently stuck in position.

Finally finished, I looked at my creation. Huge air holes kept popping open along the sides because of the giant gaps that lay hidden beneath. I patched the air holes and quickly covered the entire lopsided mess with my cake cover.

Dinner time came along and we ate Joshua’s favorite dinner of pizza, red grapes, and pop. Then it was time for the great unveiling.

I removed the cake cover and my jaw fell open. The precariously balanced top layer had literally cracked open along several fault lines. It looked like an earthquake had hit it. The entire family looked at it. Looked at me. Looked back at it.

“Sorry, buddy.”
Josh patted my back, “That’s okay, mom. It’s still cake, right?” (Gotta love the sugar monster!)

We officially named it the “Happy Birthquake cake,” and ate it.

So are you ready for a picture? (If you have young children reading this blog with you, you may want to cover their eyes.)



Yikes! It is still cake, right? Right?

(Sigh.) Okay, I give up. I really do. I mean, I can admit that we all have special gifts and talents, and cake baking is absolutely NOT one of mine.

I wouldn’t want to deprive someone out there from using their special gifts and talents, would I? So look out bake shops, here I come!

Sometimes...It Takes a Thief

My husband and I just got back from stealing a car. Okay, okay, we didn’t actually steal it. We just stole everything out of it. We stole a cell phone, GPS unit, cool Nike bag full of clothes, pair of sunglasses, money from the change dish and a Puffs tissue box.

We did it because we love our daughter deeply, and feel that she needs to learn the valuable life lesson of responsibility.

You see, ever since Ashleigh started driving three months ago, we set up some rules to help keep her safe and responsible. One of those rules is that whenever she drives herself somewhere, she needs to call and let us know she arrived safely. She’s done a pretty good job of it so far.

But today she left for work, which we know is a 10-minute drive, and didn’t call. By the time 20 minutes had passed with no call, we started getting worried. I tried her cell phone several times but there was no answer. I tried calling her place of work, but the managers weren’t picking up the phone either.

My hubby and I immediately left, following the route she drives to work, and found her car parked right where it was supposed to be while she was safely ensconced inside the facility working.

HOWEVER…

We discovered she’d left the car unlocked, and the back windows completely down (it’s supposed to storm later). Yeesh! I mean, c’mon! What is our beautiful, intelligent girl thinking?

So I immediately suggested we rob her, and my husband agreed. We took every last thing out of that car and left it unlocked (praying nobody actually did steal it in the next four hours). We knew she would completely freak when she came out and found everything missing. But how do we drill this responsibility thing into her head?

LATER THAT EVENING….

I was at my son’s baseball game when my cell phone rang. “Mom! Somebody broke into my car and stole everything!” Her voice was appropriately panicked.

“Calm down, tell me what happened.”

“Somebody broke in--I don’t know how, I locked my car!”

“You locked your car?”

“I—well, I think I locked it.” I could hear the doubt creeping in there.

“Stay right there. Let me call daddy and have him come get you. He’ll be there in a couple of minutes.” (Having anticipated the phone call, Chris left the game early and was waiting in his car for my call.)

EVEN LATER THAT EVENING…

About 20 minutes later, I arrived home with Joshua from his baseball game to find Ashleigh seated at the kitchen table crying. A list of all the items that were “stolen” was scrawled out on a piece of paper in front of her. Chris had the phone pressed to his ear, pretending to call Ashleigh’s cell phone in a fake attempt to locate it. I rolled my eyes. Daddy was starting to have a little too much fun with this now. I gave him a look and he couldn’t suppress the grin that was itching to break loose.

Realization hit hard and fast as Ashleigh looked back and forth between us in disbelief, her voice barely a whisper, “You guys stole my stuff?”

We burst into laughter, which was immediately suppressed when Ashleigh burst into fresh tears.

Several comforting hugs and kisses later, amidst assurances we did it because we love her, she forgave us. We explained we wanted to impress the gravity of the situation upon her, the importance of keeping herself safe.

Ashleigh actually said, “I’m glad you did it.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because I’ll never forget to lock my car again.” And she laughed.

Wow. Lesson actually learned. So ends another chapter in the life of parenting teens.

Quote of the Month

"Everyone who has ever taken a shower
has had an idea. It's the person who
gets out of the shower, dries off,
and does something about it
that makes a difference."
Nolan Bushnell

School's Out!

Only three more days until school is out! Woo hoo!

I personally have never understood all the commercials showing how much parents dread school being out, and the kids being home. I, for one, look forward to the break from the exhausting school/homework/after-school-running-around-like-a-madwoman routine.

I LOVE not having to arise at 5:00 a.m. to squeeze in exercise time and work before my daughter arrives home at 2:00 p.m.

I LOVE that, especially now that my kids are older, we don’t have to hustle them off to bed, but can stay up late enjoying summer evenings, leisurely chats with neighbors, and roasting marshmallows to make s’mores in our backyard fire pit, without worries about getting up early or not getting enough sleep.

Now I admit, there are occasions during those hazy summer days, when my two little angels aren’t quite so delightful to be around 24/7. I know many of you are nodding in agreement when I say those occasions usually occur when they are fighting.

As my kids have entered their teen years, they’ve actually gotten a little better about this. But I recall several summers when, at times, their fighting drove me nuts! I absolutely could not tolerate it.

So I developed a few techniques that I’ve used successfully when these occasions occur; and I’m going to share them with you. :)

One technique I used a lot when they were younger was the Compliment Game.

Whenever I caught them fighting with each other (usually over something ridiculously trivial), I would have them play the Compliment Game. It didn’t matter who started it, or what the cause was, I would immediately sit them down and have them give three compliments to each other. The compliments had to be about qualities they genuinely admired in each other, and could not be something superficial like “I like your shirt.”

Eventually, as soon as the fighting would start, and I’d say, “Okay, it sounds like we need to play the Compliment Game,” I would hear…

“No, not the Compliment Game!”

“Anything but that, mom!”

I’m tellin’ ya’, it worked like a charm.

Another technique I’ve successfully used to forestall fighting is something I like to call “Lifeskills Training.” Basically, that’s just my fancy way of saying I put them to work.

See, I have a theory that oftentimes siblings start fighting with each other because they’re bored. They don’t have enough to do; they need to be put to work. Working helps release that restless energy they’ve built up from just sitting in front of the T.V. watching cartoons, and playing on the computer or X-Box.

I explained to the kids that it’s their father’s and my job to prepare them for life. In a few short years, they’ll be out on their own and they need to be fully prepared for that time. So at the beginning of the summer, we always set some Lifeskills goals. In previous years we’ve covered:

Cooking Lessons, Laundry Lessons, Cleaning the Bathroom (including the toilet) Lessons, as well as learning to dust (white glove test and everything), vacuum, sweep, mow the lawn, weed, do the dishes. You name it.

Sure, at first it’s a bit time-intensive for you as the parent-trainer. But they catch on quick. And the added bonuses are they’re so busy working, they don’t really have time to fight; plus, this ultimately creates more free time for you as the parent-trainer! It gives the kids confidence in their own abilities as well.

Pretty cool, eh? Really a win-win situation.

This summer, I think we’ll add working out. It’s a great Lifeskill to impart, especially with the obesity of American kids being such a popular topic of conversation lately.

So here’s to a buff, fun-filled, relaxing, argument-free summer!

What techniques do you use when siblings are fighting?

How embarrassing!

Think back to your own tween/teen years. If you’re around my age, it was all about wearing just the right pair of Calvin Klein or Jordache jeans, oversized comb stuffed into the back pocket. Making sure your hairstyle had just the right amount of eighties bigness and Farrah Fawcett feathering. It was so important to just blend in.

And no matter when you were a teen, do you remember how your parents could embarrass you just by breathing?

Well, now it’s our turn, and I’m thrilled! I actually think it’s my personal duty as a mother of teens to embarrass them whenever possible. It builds character, don’t you think?

I mean, my daughter has learned to hold her head up high with only the slightest eye roll whenever I burst into song as we approach crowded places together. And my son just hunches deeper over his ice cream cone as I finish mine, stand up, jam my pointer and pinkie fingers straight to the sky in the classic “rock on” pose, and shout “I am Joshua Bowne’s mom, and I’m proud!”

If you’re a parent like me and you’re looking for ways to help your teen build character. Here are my top five ways to embarrass your teen by hardly trying at all.

Number 5: Kissy Face. Whenever driving your teen somewhere to meet with friends, be sure to give her a big ol’ smoochy in full view of everybody. She’ll be happy her friends now know how much you love her and will miss her while she’s gone.

Number 4: LOL. Hey dawg! Lemme tell ya’ teens just love it when parents try to use the latest slang and hip IM terms. They especially enjoy it if you use those terms around their friends. You go girl! You’ll earn lots of props for this.

Number 3: Be Conspicuous. When picking your teen up from an event, it’s always nice to hang out of your car window waving and shouting greetings to all the boys and girls you recognize from elementary school, even if your teen no longer hangs out with them.
“Moooomm!” She’ll hiss climbing into the passenger seat. “I don’t even know him anymore!”
“He’s such a nice boy, you can’t say a simple hello?”
For some reason, this statement is greeted with deep sighs and enthusiastic eye-rolling.

Number 2: Telling Stories. Let’s say your teen is having a bunch of friends over. A great thing to do, is to share baby stories about her with all her friends. Anything concerning potty training or thumb sucking is always a big hit.

And the NUMBER ONE way to embarrass your teen?

Just breathing, baby! LOL.

Mamasource.com

Hey there mamas (& grandmas & aunts too)! I wanted to let you all know about a totally cool website a good friend of mine recently turned me onto. It’s www.mamasource.com and it’s awesome!

Once you subscribe to this free site, based on your zip code, each morning you’ll receive a Mamasource Daily Digest featuring questions from other mamas living in your area. You can post a question of your own, or you can respond to questions posted by other mamas.

It’s a great community of fellow mamas you can turn to for helpful advice, or even just the comfort of knowing that whatever it is you’re facing, you’re not alone. There are other mamas out there who have “been there, done that.”

Questions come from mothers-to-be all the way up to mothers of tweens/teens, and run the gamut from standard-type questions about potty training or trying to get your child to stop swearing, to more unusual questions like how to clean stinky sippy cups or deal with post-pregnancy deflation of, um…upper body parts.

I recently read a posting by a mama looking for someone who has the chicken pox, so she can have a “chicken-pox party” and expose her own children the old-fashioned way. Seriously! She even mentioned a website I’d never heard of called www.poxparty.com. Who knew?!

It’s helpful to have mamas or aunts of older children, and grandmas join the community, because they offer the gift of their experience to encourage moms of younger children.

Questions don’t necessarily need to be mama-related. Recently my hubby and I were looking for a house painter, and within 24 hours we had 10 referrals by local-area mamas who had used and highly recommended a particular painter.

There is a Member Perks section offering exclusive discounts and coupons for mamasource members. And all the businesses listed are by fellow members of the mamasource community. Plus, if you’re a mama that owns a business like I am, as a member, you can advertise for free on their site.

I strongly encourage you to check it out!

Taming the Sugar Monster

I just lost my temper with my son.

Exercising my new grocery shopping habits (Let's Talk Turkey Blog), I purchased ten snack-size Three Musketeers candy bars for one dollar! I selected those candy bars especially because they are one of my daughter’s favorites. She’d had a particularly rough week, and I wanted to do something special for her.

After dinner I noticed her searching the cupboards for dessert and suggested she might like a Three Musketeers bar.

“There aren’t any Three Musketeers bars in here, mom.”
“Yeah, there are!” my son piped up. “I saw them.”
“Well, they’re not here now,” she replied.
I intervened. “What are you talking about, I just bought them this afternoon.”

Assuming she simply wasn’t looking hard enough, I began digging through the treat bowl we keep in the cupboard.

I dug deeper.

I dumped the entire contents of the bowl onto the kitchen counter.

No candy bars!

I looked at my son in astonishment. “You ate TEN candy bars!”

“No, I didn’t eat ten! No way did I eat ten!” He said, eyes wide.

But sure enough, he did. That boy came home from school and ate TEN Three Musketeers bars for his healthy after-school snack.

I exploded. What was he doing to his growing body! How could he choose garbage as his source of nutrition when he was feeling hungry after school! I ranted about how it wasn’t helping his muscles grow, how it wasn’t doing anything positive for his body at all. By the time I was done, he was in tears, and I was frustrated.

As he stormed off to be alone, I thought about the whole sugar issue. See, I think I got so angry because I know exactly where he got that Sugar Monster that lives inside of him. He got it from me. It’s hereditary. It’s in our genes.

The entire reason we even have a “treat bowl” is because of me and the way I grew up.

As a child, my parents were um…how shall I put this— health freaks, really. They made their own yogurt, we ate granola, and multi-grain bread that weighed as much as we did; and the only occasions we had candy in the house were Halloween and Easter.

When I went away to college, woo hoo! I lived on candy and junk food for about a year before I finally figured out I actually didn’t feel so good filling my body up with so much junk on a daily basis.

After I got married and we had children, I suggested to my husband, (who actually prefers a plate of vegetables to dessert—can you even believe that!) that perhaps we should have candy and cookies available for our children to eat in moderation. Then maybe it wouldn’t be such a big deal to them, and maybe they wouldn’t become as obsessed as I had been.

This worked well with our daughter. She can take it or leave it. But our son…well, yep. It was fine when they were little and I totally controlled the amount they ate. But as they’ve gotten older, and I’ve gotten busier, the treat bowl seems to disappear faster and faster.

You know, God didn’t have to make sugar. He didn’t have to make flavors at all. He could have made a bunch of mush for us to eat and we’d never have known the difference. But instead, he made such a wonderful variety of foods in different textures and flavors: sour to sweet, spicy to bland, buttery, juicy, fruity. All these amazing sensations for us to enjoy. He did it because he loves us, and wants us to be able to enjoy food as well as take nourishment from it.

But for my son (as it was for me), the key is self-control and learning to tame the Sugar Monster. He’s a good kid. I’m sure he’ll eventually succeed. But in the meantime, maybe I’ll stop filling the treat bowl quite so often. Start leaving sliced fruit, cheese and whole-grain crackers out for him to nibble on. (Oh my gosh, I sound like my MOTHER! :) Live and learn, right.

Anybody have some healthy EASY after-school snack suggestions?

Mother's Day Protest

As we all know it was Mother’s Day Sunday. I know I shouldn’t whine, but mine was really…well, not fun.

Here in Michigan, the day dawned cold, gray and full of the promise of rain. And the reason I know it dawned that way was because I was up at dawn to get my son to his incredibly early morning soccer game played half an hour away, and which he was required to be 45 minutes early for. So there we soccer moms sat, huddled under overcast skies and shivering under blankets as our boys were pummeled 4-1. Oh what fun!

This is my son’s third year participating in this soccer tournament and it is always held on Mother’s Day weekend. Whose bright idea was that one I wonder.

His game was followed up later in the day by my daughter’s soccer game, which we attended in the still cold, gray, but now pouring-down-rain day. I’m not talking a light sprinkling here, folks. I’m talking a full-out drenching rain. And naturally, the game didn’t start on time, adding to our immense enjoyment of the situation. For this game, I bundled up even more—tucking handwarmers into my gloves and pulling on my battery-powered socks. (Hey, they work!)

Final score: Soccer 4-4, Mom: only slightly numb.

At my daughter’s game, I spoke with one mom who had attended her son’s early morning baseball game, and another mom who still had a hockey game to get to.

In between games, I did manage to squeeze in attending a local one-hour church musical, where I noted an army of mothers working hard behind the scenes serving the choir food and cleaning up afterwards. Ah, a mother’s work is never done.

After this day of fun, we arrived home by 8:00 p.m., too late to go out to eat—school tomorrow and all. So we popped popcorn and downed some sliced summer sausage and cheese. Voila! Dinner is served.

The last two years, I let it slide. But this year, I’ve finally rebelled. I didn’t open my cards; and I refused to acknowledge this miserable way to spend a day as Mother’s Day. I informed my family that I was officially moving Mother’s Day to a new date.

When the kids were little, the May date worked fine. But once kids get older and are involved in school and sports, forget about it. Mother’s Day should definitely be moved to a random date after the spring sports season is over, school is out, and the weather is more consistently warm. (A day a lot like…oh, I dunno, Father’s Day maybe? J )

Fortunately my sister (also a mom) and I already made plans with our own mom to celebrate Mother’s Day with her next weekend. (Hopefully, it will be sunny!)

And my own family awaits a still-to-be-announced day when we will celebrate a real Mother’s Day. When I’ll get to fully enjoy the day as it was meant to be enjoyed: with my treasured breakfast in bed, listening to the sweet sounds of peaceful play and joyful laughter amongst my children (cough!), maybe squeezing in time for a nap, and of course, a little chocolate to finish off the day.

So, how was your Mother’s Day?

Censor This!

Okay, this blog entry may sound a bit like sour grapes, but I got a rejection today. Nothing new there, of course. But it was the form of the rejection. As a writer, I’ve learned there are different kinds of rejections. There are “good rejections,” where the editor sends a note of encouragement along with the rejection. There are “not-as-good form-letter rejections,” and the dreaded “no-response-at-all rejection.” But up until today, I’ve never received a “bad rejection.”

I submitted an opinion essay to a magazine that supposedly provides an open source for essays related to the well-being of mothers—and provides a forum in support of social change. The publication has an opinion section. The primary point of my piece was to challenge mothers of today to take a stand, and stop allowing the male bashing that is currently going on in our society. I pointed to the media, sports arena, and even clothing slogans to back up my point.

The editor of the rejecting publication, instead of giving me the ever-popular “no-response-at-all rejection,” or even the “not-as-good form-letter rejection,” took it upon herself to provide me with her own negative opinion essay of my opinion essay. Gee, thanks. She didn’t agree with my opinion, so therefore, she “regrettably” wasn’t going to publish it.

The editor focused on only one of my given examples, then proceeded to explain to me why she was right and I was wrong. Thanks for sharing.

It’s one thing to reject my work because it doesn’t align with the magazine’s requirements; but it’s another thing entirely to not publish work because you personally don’t happen to agree with the writer’s views. Did I mention we were dealing with the opinion section? I guess the editor of that publication is only going to publish opinion pieces that match his or her own opinion.

Fortunately for me, the editor of the Detroit Free Press’ opinion section, whether in agreement or not, did publish my essay, and you can view it online at: Detroit Free Press.

It’s encouraging to note, that since its publication, I’ve received one negative response, and over 50 positive e-mail responses from people all over the country, and even one person as far away as Australia.

Obviously there are some people out there who agreed with my point of view. And I’m thankful I was provided a forum for expressing it. (Thanks Detroit Free Press!)

As for the rejecting publication, hmmm… can you say “censorship”?

Sacred

Mother’s Day cometh! Always on the lookout for unique Mother’s Day treats, I thought I’d share a really exceptional gift idea with you. My good friend, Linda Hasley, and her twin sister, Lisa Dunlap, have combined their talents to create a masterpiece celebrating the incredible beauty of motherhood—and parenthood—in their book, “Sacred.”

Linda is an accomplished poet, and her sister Lisa, a talented photographer. Together, Linda’s heartfelt poems, and Lisa’s artistic photographs of pregnant women and newly formed families, eloquently reflect the awesome depth and range of emotions that surround the miracle of new life. As the authors describe on the inside cover of their book, their intent “is to capture the sacredness of the soul along with the rawness of what it means to be human.” A goal which they achieve brilliantly.

You will smile and be touched deeply as you move through the pages of this beautiful book. For a truly memorable Mother’s Day gift, for moms-to-be or moms of any age, I highly recommend purchasing a copy of “Sacred.”
Click on the photograph of the book cover or go to http://www.sacredportraitsphotography.com/news.html to purchase a copy.

Puberty

So last weekend, the doorbell rang. I answered it to find myself looking up into the smiling face of a 6'2" gentlemen wearing basketball shorts and a T-shirt.
“Yes?”
“Hello Mrs. Bowne,” he replied in a deep, resonating voice, “I was wondering if Josh could come out and play?”
I blinked. “JORDAN?!”
I stepped down onto the porch, which put my 5-ft.-tall self at an even greater height disadvantage as I looked up into his smiling face. This was my neighbor’s 13-year-old grandson. Thirteen! I’m tellin’ ya’, this whole puberty thing is freaking me out!

My daughter is now 16, and I do recall noticing surprising changes in her and her friends, as they moved through middle school. It seemed like over one summer vacation those two-dimensional little girl bodies formed 3-D curves and bumps.

But somehow, the pubescent changes seem even more dramatic amongst the boys. I look at my own son, with his cherubic, hair-free face and body, his normal boy voice. Then I look at his friends and soccer teammates. They vary so incredibly. Some are just like him, and some seem to have transformed overnight.

They suddenly have hair on their legs. They address me in deep man voices (I never even recall experiencing one squeaky voice-cracking day), and some of them even need a shave! I think back with bitter sweetness to Joshua’s toddler days. His tiny, baby-chipmunk voice demanding I watch as he raced his new Match Box car down the hallway. Or squealing for me to push him higher on the swing.

I remember at that time, parents of older children telling me to appreciate those times because they would go by just like that! Yeah right, I thought—it took every minute of five years to get through the first five years of their lives. But it does seem like, once they get into school, the time passes more quickly. Maybe because you only get to see them on nights, weekends and vacations.

Aside from certain moments, overall I’ve enjoyed each phase of my children’s development. It’s such a cool experience! I get to watch as their personalities develop, their confidence grows. I get to listen as they form opinions on politics, society and religion. I get to witness the emergence of their individual gifts and talents.

Sure there are occasions when I wouldn’t mind trading teenage troubles for the dilemma of getting them to share a toy, or take a nap. But honestly, I wouldn’t really give up these times.

My children are each an amazing work of art--forming and reshaping right before my very eyes. And I’m blessed to even help mold them a little as they form. Like freshly emerged butterflies from a chrysalis, their colors are so fresh and vivid right now-- as they slowly test their wings, and ultimately learn to fly.

Rainy Days

It’s so great to see sunshine today! Last week, on one of those rainy, cold days, I had to run a bunch of errands. By the time I was finished, I was soaking wet, my hair was a frizzy mass, and my feet were cold. Rainy days, with their dark, cloud-covered skies make me feel low—like I just want to crawl back into bed and throw the covers over my head.

My sister-in-law dislikes these kinds of days so much she used to shut all the curtains in the house, and turn on every single light. Letting the blaze of 60-watt bulbs take the place of the sunshine she missed so much.

She lives in Florida now.

A couple of years ago, we were blessed to take a family vacation to Hawaii. We left on a frigid day in February, arriving to sunshine and perfect temperatures. It was amazingly beautiful. I snapped picture after picture trying to capture the beauty of all that scenery.

I couldn’t help but wonder if the Hawaiian people fully appreciated the splendor that surrounded them every day. As they inched through crowded traffic jams on their ways to and from work, did they notice the roadside waterfalls and arresting views that made our jaws drop?

Native Hawaiians may acknowledge the beauty of their islands, but I believe they cannot truly value it the way a person who has experienced the cold, wet, gray days of a Michigan winter can. I think we appreciate that warmth and beauty all the more because of what we have to compare it to.

As much as rainy days wear on us, however, we really do need them. Without them the lovely buds and blooms of spring would never appear. In some ways, rainy days are like the rainy days that occur in our lives. We may not always like them, but just as the plants of the Earth, we can use those rainy days to help us grow--spiritually.

Sometimes it’s the annoying drizzle of worry, or the constant dripping of fear. At other times, it may be a serious illness or even death, when the rain is falling so hard, it feels as if we are drowning from the sheer force of it.

These are the times we need to ask God to hold us close and share his umbrella.

Rainy days remind us that although life isn’t always beautiful and sunny and perfect, we need that rain to help us grow and fully appreciate the sunshine when it finally comes.

So, if you’re wallowing in gray, cold, dripping rain right now, remember one thing: It will not last. Someday soon the clouds will part and the sunshine will beam down, warming you with its sweet embrace.

Letting go's

My 16-year-old passed the driver’s education written test with flying colors. And she could accurately describe every step of the upcoming driving portion of the exam with colored diagrams and everything.

But I took it as a bad sign when she ran over the garbage cans backing out of the driveway on the way to that road test. And an even worse sign when, during the test, she missed two, big yield signs and we almost became the road-kill victims of an 18-wheeler that flew by us on the entrance ramp to the highway.

I was freaked out. If she had been alone, she could have been killed! Even though she ultimately passed the road test, I thought to myself… she’s not ready.

I reasoned that even after 18 months of driving practice in all sorts of road and lighting conditions, that she still needed even more practice with a parent beside her. She needed to practice driving in unfamiliar areas, practice driving while relying on a map, practice what to do when she gets lost—practice, practice, practice.

But when would it be enough practice? Would it ever be enough?

Raising your children is really a series of “letting go’s.” When they’re young, you control everything: when and what they eat, bedtime, who their friends are, what they wear, what television programs they watch--everything.

But as they grow, the series of “letting go’s” begins.

The first time we let them ride the school bus. The first time we drop them off for a play date. The first time we let them go to the movies with their friends. The first time we let them get behind the wheel of a car with us, and finally without us. It’s scary.

But hopefully, along the road to raising them, we arm them with enough knowledge and confidence and problem-solving skills, that they ultimately don’t smash the car, or themselves.

Whenever our kids moan and groan over an assigned chore, my hubby and I remind them it’s not our job to be their maid, cook and personal assistant. It’s our job to raise them to be independent, self-sufficient adults.

And we do this through our “letting go’s.”

So after all this, since my daughter has passed the requisite tests, do I take her to get that license? Um, I will…eventually. But I can’t help it. We’re going to practice just a little more, before I finally do this next big “letting go.”

Did/do you have trouble with any of your “letting go’s”?

Help Yourself & Someone Else!

My mother sent me to this nonprofit website (www.freerice.com), and it’s totally cool! It’s a quick and easy way to improve your vocabulary and help feed the hungry at the same time. The site offers a vocabulary game; and you can spend just a few seconds, or up to several minutes playing—it’s up to you.

How does playing the vocabulary game help you?

According to the FreeRice website, playing the vocabulary game will help you (adults) in all your business communications, including speaking and writing more effectively and persuasively, thus helping you to become more successful at your job. And if you’re a student, it will help boost your scores on tests, as well as help you read faster, and comprehend more of what you read. Even after playing the game for just a few days, “words you have never consciously used before will begin to pop into your head while you are speaking or writing. You will feel yourself using and knowing more words.”

How does playing the vocabulary game help someone else?

For every vocabulary word you get right, rice is distributed by the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) to feed the hungry. It’s the world’s largest food agency, and works with over 1,000 other organizations in over 75 countries. On top of providing food, WFP helps hungry people to become more self-reliant so they can escape hunger for good.

So go ahead, take a break from work and play. Go help yourself, and help someone else!

www.freerice.com

I'm a Terrible Mom

I’m a terrible mom. Yup, it’s true. It’s especially tough to admit this since being a stay-at-home mom has been my chosen profession for the past 14 years.

But time has passed and my “babies” are now 13 and 16, and very self-sufficient. So, with visions of college and retirement expenses looming in our future, I decided it was time to reenter the work force. I was excited about starting a career again. I established Write Expressions and began doing freelance writing work out of our home.

From the beginning it was a battle for my time. I grumbled against the imagined sabotage plot against me, as family and volunteer commitments continually pulled me away from achieving my goals. My frustration grew and finally peaked one day a few weeks ago. Fed up with getting nothing done for days, I came up with the brilliant idea to turn off the radio, turn down the answering machine volume, and turn off the phone ringer.

Diving in, I worked steadily all that morning, feeling great about everything I was getting accomplished. Then at 12:30 p.m. I heard the front door open, and my daughter’s voice calling, “Mom?”

Shocked to find her there, I took one look at her face and could tell she was sick.

“I couldn’t get a hold of you. So I called Mrs. Thompson and she brought me home,” she said, gesturing to the driveway, where one of my closest friends was still sitting in her car.

I ran outside, covering my face with my hands. “I’m so sorry!” I cried. I’m a terrible mom!”

“No, you’re not!” she replied without a trace of judgment in her voice. She is a social worker, and works out of her home as well. “If I’d been in a meeting or on a phone call, it could easily have happened to me too.”

But I couldn’t shake the feeling. Especially when I went back inside to find my big 16-year-old baby girl crying because she had a fever, chills, sore throat, and no mommy to drive her home. I gave her some medicine, tucked her into bed, and rubbed her back until she fell asleep.

As I quietly left her bedroom, I contemplated what I had been doing. I had, in effect, been putting my new career ahead of my old one. I’d lost the focus of why I was at home in the first place.

As excited as I am about pursuing this new career, I still have a job to do here at home. I’m not finished yet. I can’t shove it all aside believing I’ve put in enough time and effort already so now it’s my turn. Of course, this doesn’t mean I can’t continue pursuing my writing and following my dream. But I have to put it in perspective. While my children are here, I still need to give them my all.

So now I’ve got my new phone with caller I.D. sitting beside me so I can see who it is when it rings. And if it’s my kid, this time I’ll take that call!