Teaching has become a crazy profession. As a high school English teacher who taught The Crucible earlier this school year, I couldn’t help but draw a parallel between the Salem Witch Trials and the current attacks on teachers all across America. One of our vocabulary terms was scapegoat, and that’s what teachers have become in our modern day society. They are to blame for all of society’s ills, dropout rates across America, and less than 100% of students being “proficient” on standardized tests by 2014 a.k.a. No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the master plan to save America’s students–all of them–created by the George W. Bush.

God love him.

After a decade of that not working, President Obama has basically renamed NCLB to RTTT, or Race to the Top. Let’s keep in mind that the people making the decisions in education have never worked in education. George W. Bush. Barrack Obama. Bill Gates. The list goes on and on… And, if you follow the dollar signs (Walmart, Pearson…), you will see the same big names over and over… The plan in America is to privatize public education and turn education into a for-profit business.

When the wealthy are in charge of making the decisions, experience, facts, reality–none of these factors matter. They want more money; they’ll get more money. Period.

Children?

I think they forgot about that part.

In the past week, in my own experience, I have gotten fired up over many things education. Every day I witness the craziness, either firsthand or through news articles, and I cannot believe I am a part of this. I cannot believe I was ever so naive to believe that education would be “family-oriented” and that decisions would be made “in the best interests of the children.” I never associated the word “business” with education, and if I would have, I would have added the word “family” to it: family business.

Yes, I was naive.

I entered teaching because I loved kids. I love teenagers, especially. They are the most creative group of people I have ever been around. I learn from them every single day. I have been inspired by them for over 15 years. They are amazing. They’re between “kid” and “adult” and they have perspectives that matter. They have different needs and interests, talents and weaknesses. It all comes down to the individual. How can our government reduce them to test scores?

Looking back over my notes from the past week… Yes, I keep notes in my chicken scratch handwriting. Then I type them up and keep them on file. Looking back over my notes from Week 7 of the 2012 – 2013 school year, the word that surfaces is blame. I don’t know about you…but it doesn’t motivate me to have someone criticize me or blame me for things. That, right off the bat, is starting the “dialogue” in a way that puts teachers on the defensive.

I’ve always thought of administrators’ relationships with teachers to parallel that of the teachers’ relationships with students. If a student is cut down, criticized, or devalued in any way, why would they try in our classrooms? Relationships are key. We know this. The administrators know this. Why, then, are teachers across American not being respected? Has the pressure become that great that “the bottom line” (test scores) is all that matters?

This past week, I have felt like I was five years-old in this profession. I felt like I, along with my fellow teachers across America, were being blamed for factors beyond our control: missing assignments (in classes beyond our own…), tardiness, absenteeism… While talking to a good friend of mine who teaches at a different school than I do, this past week, I learned that in their new evaluation tool, they will be marked down for not attending X amount of extracurricular activities per year, not returning all tests to students within 1-3 days and essays within 3-5 days… And the list goes on.

When you think about it, what is this accomplishing? What will teachers be forced to do to ensure they meet all of these “requirements” of them all of the time? Give shorter, less comprehensive tests? Assign cookie cutter assignments to all students instead of differentiating instruction to meet the needs of all students? Ignore their own families and lives outside of school to invest even more hours beyond the regular school day + 10-20 extra hours per week, depending on what subject area the teacher teachers–to prove what? How does attending X amount of extracurricular events make a person a better teacher? Is this not all for show? Why are teachers not allowed to have a say in education?

I believe that America has been brainwashed that teachers do not work hard enough, so now more “stuff” is being thrust upon us to “prove” that we work many, many hours per week… Beyond 2:30, you know?

Every week, it’s getting scarier. I’ve tried talking to people about education, but they don’t care. Even many teachers refuse to believe that what’s happening in their own career field is actually happening. Undermining colleagues, cheating on standardized tests, going along to get along… All of this is taking place in our country (read the articles) over the true education of children. When other teachers say, “Well, this is what we have to do to keep our jobs,” I feel sick to my stomach.

What about the children?

I need to start a new blog–one just about teaching. A place to focus my thoughts. A place to come together with other teachers and vent our frustrations over what is happening in public education. Here may be the starting place, a doorway, to invite people who care about education to join us on an interactive blog.

It’s time for teachers to stand up and speak out about the wrongs and evils in public education today. I have been a teacher for 15 years. This is my 16th year. Before I say anything else, I want to let the world know that I love working with kids. Education has always been a huge passion of mine. There is not a more important age group than 0-18. Our children are everything. Yet, they have been reduced to numbers and profits to those “in charge.”

Even at local levels, administrators are feeling the heat to do as they are told, whether morally sound or not. How? This is the main question, this one-word question, that I have been asking for the past eighteen months. How can people work without a moral compass? How can they just go along to get along? Or, worse of all, how can they ignore what is happening, turn their heads the other way, stay in their own classrooms or offices, and do whatever they’re told to do to keep their jobs?

Where are the consciences of these people? How can they put themselves ahead of children, the very children they claim they are dedicating their lives to helping?

For the past six weeks, I have been moving forward after all that went down last year, thankful that the harassment I endured for years has finally ended. I can breathe again. I’m not shaking while working with students. I am not opening and reading 5 emails a day during the work day meant to wear me down and break my spirit. It’s over.

I can focus.

After six weeks back to teaching, though, I have realized that it’s the same story in education. Teachers are attacked everyday and blamed for everything wrong in our society. Those in charge want to reduce this career to a $10 an hour job and hire people without college degrees and credentials to do it.

Nobody wants to address the true, underlying issues.

  • How does poverty affect learning and success in school?
  • Why are so many children living in poverty in the USA?
  • How many children in this country are on medications they do not need? Why have we become a society dependent on drugs to get us through our days, weeks, months, years…lives?
  • How many teachers in America are truly bad teachers?
  • Why are people not willing to learn what really goes on in public schools behind the scenes? Why is the American public not listening to teachers who work in those schools?
  • The biggest one: Why have teachers been shut out of the discussion/debate on the crisis in American public education today? Both presidential candidates have taken this approach. Why?
  • Why are local people not investigating, digging deeper, to find out exactly how and where the money, their tax money, is being spent within their school system?
  • Why do people refuse to believe that corruption exists in education, in the schools, and that the corruption and power do not lie in the teachers’ hands?
  • Why is the best form of “accountability” a multiple choice test? Did I mention that this is a once-a-year test?

There are many other questions. This is just a start. How about this one? Why do our students as individual people not matter? How, tell me how, students can be reduced to “data”? And how can educators buy into this and think that this is okay?

I am all for accountability. In fact, I believe there should be much more accountability–in multiple forms. How about narrative assessments on every student? How about keeping folders on every student and documenting (in writing) their progress as they work their way through the targeted skills being taught? How about true demonstrations of student learning and not some damn multiple choice test where students can get answers “right” by learning some test taking strategies, yet never learn or master the skill being “assessed.” Yes, what I propose is more work for everybody, but aren’t our children worth it?

Look everywhere around you, and you will see Pearson’s name. There are textbook companies out there that have their hands in everything education. They are making billions off of test prep materials, and the American public, including educated professionals within school systems, are buying (literally) into it.

How about evaluating teachers more than 1-2 times a year? How about evaluating them by a variety of people? Administrators (more than one), other teachers, students, and parents? Why are people being shut out of everything? Everybody deserves to have a voice. All people who play a part in a child’s education should be heard.

I feel like education, while intensely focusing on “the test” has also become all about fluff. Educational jargon is being tossed around, and people are spewing out terms and methods meant to sound good, but is there any depth? When an administrative candidate sits in an interview and says he would expect every teacher to include 4-5 different different activities, minimum, in each class (in a 50-minute period), what does this mean? Is quantity more important than quality? Are we catering to this generation’s short attention spans due to technology, instant gratification, and “boredom”? I don’t understand.

Why the jumping around all over the place? Why are there local schools reading mere paragraphs from major novels and nothing more? Why have they recreated (or purchased from Pearson) a whole curriculum meant to model the testing approach of the ACT? Now students read “passages” from endless texts, but not whole texts–novels, plays, novellas, etc. Reading a text in its entirety and for any aesthetic appreciation will soon be gone everywhere. This is where we are headed.

What is the point of education? Is it to create life-long learners? Is it to prepare for a test? Is it to mold students into non-thinkers and stifle their creativity and individuality so those whose wealth run this country can train them to work to increase profits for the largest corporations and institutions? What is it?

I believe in creativity. I believe in inspiration. I believe in freedom.

I respect those who are true leaders, those who encourage others to question, not to simply accept things at face value. I believe in delving deeper than surface level. I do not believe that an “essay” is a five-paragraph model and nothing more. My biggest fear is the students will never read or write again on their own after high school.

Yes, there are skills that need to be taught. There is a mastery of learning that must occur. Instruction should be differentiated to accomplish these tasks. And there should be accountability, more accountability, than the current “reform,” the current reform that is destroying education and learning.

I feel freer than I have been in years to do my job and to do it well. Leadership is everything. Where we are being led as a country in education is not to a place of freedom.

I fear for our future.

Wherever I shall land

August 5, 2012

As I grow older, I am realizing how little control we have over the “big picture” of our lives… I’ve put so much effort into things that just haven’t worked out. I don’t think work ethic necessarily “counts” in today’s world. It did, back when I grew up, but not anymore. I think some things are simply not meant to be. Just because we want something does not mean we can just go out and get it. We may choose to do something, but that does not mean that it will all work out for us. There may just be a better plan already in place, a different will than our own. “When one door closes…”

Photography: I do not think photography is “meant to be” for me, at least not in a big way. It requires much more time and money to run a photography business than people realize. The expenses, with how little I charge, would eat up too much of the money. I could never earn a full time living doing photography. Not in our modern world where quality digital media is readily accessible to the average consumer. Them actually learning how to use that equipment and the art of photography is another story…

I have been content these past few years to photograph 10-12 sessions during the summer and fall seasons. I love photographing the same families every year and adding a couple of seniors to the mix. Beyond that, I do not have any desire to ever “go big” with photography. It’s perfect the way it is for me right now. Most of all, I cannot even tell you how many times I find myself thinking, “I am so glad I have learned all I can about photography so I can use my knowledge and skills to photograph my own kids while they grow up.” This is one of the best things I ever have done as a mom. And I still keep pushing myself to learn more, strive more, achieve more with my photography. I’ve learned that it’s much more enjoyable to do it “for fun” than as a business.

Design: This would be my dream job. Everywhere I go, I am drawn to colors, patterns, clean lines, and shapes, randomness, simplicity, and surprising elements splashed into the most unsuspected of places. I dream up design ideas in my head, and when I look at a magazine, I flip the pages quickly, looking at the ads, breaking down the bits and pieces of what I see and rearranging, reworking them in my mind.

I would love to design, to be “artsy” and to make money doing this, to be my own boss, to set my own hours, to work any time of the day or night I please. To attend art shows and explore a never-ending world of beauty. To constantly be inspired by others, to connect with other artful souls. I feel starved for art, for beauty, for wholeness, for this type of nourishment of the soul. Pair it with my love of words, and I am in total bliss.

I get so much more excited over design work than I ever have over photography. I am, however, really starting to get into taking non-human photos: sunsets, landscapes, flowers… Places fascinate me now more than ever, and I long to do more “location” work. I want to tell stories about places from behind my lenses and to give people a fresh perspective of places that mean something to them. This is one desire of mine. South Haven. Silver Lake. Montague/Whitehall. The U.P. I would love to sell these images. Just travel around Michigan and capture the glory of our beautiful state. I am starting to see more in ways I have never seen before.

Teaching: It’s not what it used to be. Every day, teachers are slaughtered in the media and disrespected by the general public. The politics have just about driven me out, but I still love my subject matter and working with kids. I love the feel of a crisp, new school year in the fall, and I love the journey of learning, although this is no longer the “focus” in education. I want to fight for what is right for kids, and I do not feel quite done yet.

Jobs I Would Never Want:

Teaching at the college level

Tutoring

Any hourly rate type of job ($10 an hour…)

Daycare

Jobs I Wouldn’t Mind:

Bartending

Event planning in the food industry – high end

Writing

Owning a café

My Personal Life: I would love to be a WAHM. I would love to feel like the sky is the limit for my own personal creativity and financial success. I would love to work in the middle of the night while all is quiet in the house and spend more time with my kids during the days/evenings. I would love to live in my workout clothes every day. I would love to work on the computer and to utilize the Internet to grow my businesses.

I’ve worked a professional job for 15 years. I feel like I should be spending the “second half” of my career pursuing more creative endeavors and working more on my own terms. I could bring domestic arts to a whole new level if I was home every day… What is your dream job? What would you love to do?

Birth pains of a new life

August 4, 2012

Summer of 2012. The summer of organization. The summer of change. The summer of new titles. 2012 is the season of raw, sometimes brutal, deep-searing pain that calls for yet another dose of tenacity.

Friendship: An interesting concept. I am left with more questions than answers. I want to know: Why do some friends walk away during the darkest hours? Do they glimpse slivers of our lives from afar (online) and then stand in judgment of what they believe we should do without walking in our shoes? They’re not there for the daily ins and outs, the ups and the downs. As much as some people depend on Facebook as their main news source, life runs a little bit deeper than that.

Complexity sets in once you become a parent; a non-parent cannot fully understand how life changes after becoming a parent. They can imagine it, they can dream it up all they want, but they will never know what it will be like and how they will be as parents until they live it. And nobody believes that until they reach that spot.

That sweet spot.

I have great friends. I have lifelong friends. I’ve been fortunate to make new friends this summer by opening myself up to a new opportunity. Just sometimes friends we thought would stick by us through thick and thin do not. Again, you can never understand somebody else’s life until you have lived it.

Organization: When one parent craves structure and a schedule, while the other one does not, it presents some additional challenges when it comes to child rearing. I have poured most of my summer energies into cleaning every room in our home (in preparation for painting), meal planning, starting a binder of healthy recipes and coupons to keep in the kitchen, and trying out some DIY projects. Reilly and Addie have worked as little helpers in the kitchen, stirring up energy balls, mixing flour-less cookies, and even shaking up some homemade taco seasoning. One of my goals this summer has been to rid the house of as many chemicals as possible. I’ve thrown out the Windex this past week and replaced it with the Norwex cleaning cloths for glass. I can’t wait to clean the windows now! The “real thing” always made me cough while I was cleaning.

At long last, I’ve created a chore list for the two older girls. They are now eight and six! Time to teach them more responsibility and give them their own specific roles around the house to make them value their spaces and places within the family! Here is a list of their daily chores:

Chore List: Reilly and Addie

Taking care of myself:

***Take a bath: Wash body and hair

***Brush and floss teeth: Morning and night

***Brush hair: 3+ times a day

Taking care of my room:

 ***Make bed

 ***Put dirty laundry in laundry basket

 ***Pick up room

Helping around the house:

***Clear the table after every meal (your own dishes)

***Pick up living room

***Pick up bathroom

Other things I need to do:

***Read books every day: 30 minutes

***Exercise every day: 30 minutes

***Do something creative/fun: 30 minutes

And:

 ***Say prayers.

 ***Say, “I love you.”

Exercise: I have taken Reilly and Addie to the indoor pool at the gym a lot in the evenings. We usually close the place down. I lead them in monkey in the middle games, lane races, and good old water basketball. They have so much fun they don’t even realize they’re exercising. My daily goal is to provide them the opportunity to exercise in a fun way for an hour. When I set the goal high, even when we fail to do it every day, we do meet the goal at least four times a week.

Injuries have plagued my exercise routine this summer. I started off strong in June, exercising three or four times a week, then spent almost all of July “resting” a lower back that kept rotating out of place. Some days the pain level interfered even with daily activities. With visits to the chiropractor and the massage therapist at least twice a week, my back is just starting to feel better, and I am back to exercising three times a week.

Back-to-School: New backpacks and lunchboxes. Land’s End for the older two and LL Bean for Jolie’s first year of preschool. Bento boxes will help us create more organized, healthier lunches for Reilly and Addie! I may take a picture of their lunches every day this school year and them post them on flickr. Healthy choices! One day at a time… Reilly starts third grade while Addie starts first grade on September 4. Jolie will attend preschool two half-days a week. She’ll start later in September, right around the time of her third birthday, which is September 18! They grow up so fast!

A New Start: Starting over has always filled me with the thrill of excitement. I love change. I love the evolution of life. I love the endless possibilities. I love viewing the events on our timeline as opportunities that never-would-have-been if certain (unfortunate) events had not happened. This is how I must “see” life. When I allow myself to slip into the other mindset, one that is ruled by anger and resentment, it is too desolate of a place. My summer “to-do” lists have kept me focused, centered, planted where I need to be. There is so much to do every day! And with productivity comes so much hope, so much light, so much joy! I’m coming off of a couple of bad days, but I’m taking brave steps and getting things done!

Just me and my girls!

Here are just a few photos. I’ll be back to add more soon!

My three girls: Pier Cove

Holland State Park:

The End!

One thing at a time

July 18, 2012

When I went to tuck Reilly into bed tonight, we shut off the lights, climbed under the covers, and read in bed together with a flashlight. We’re reading The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies. We’re close to the end. Only a few more chapters… Tonight brought back memories of my own childhood, reading under the covers with a flashlight.

After reaching the end of another chapter, I shone the flashlight on the wall while Reilly made animals and narrated her own “shows.” Of course, what else do I think to do with the flashlight? Check the ceiling and walls for dust, etc. I added “dusting” to the to-do list for tomorrow! One thing at a time…

Life is busy in our household this summer, but it is busy in a good, laid back kind of way. The sweltering hot weather keeps us inside on most days. Evenings are the perfect time to play on the beach, go horseback riding, or visit favorite towns and places in MI: Silver Lake, South Haven, St. Joseph. We may venture a little farther north by summer’s end.

Addie had a cast on her leg until July 9. She was thrilled to get it taken off finally! She also brought it home in a bag. This neat/clean freak mom did not like seeing this “keepsake” very much!

She loved swimming at the MVP Club for the first time this year during the past week. I can imagine how freeing it must feel for a kid to be allowed to play, swim, run, and jump again after missing the first six weeks of summer break. That must be tough!

Addie told me, “I don’t like being the middle child because the middle child breaks their bones.” I’m not sure it works that way… Perhaps she could work on being a little less wild! This was broken bone #3 for her. When I asked her if she planned on breaking any more bones, she said, “Maybe.” I really hope she gives it a break for a while!

We’ve watched plenty of sunsets this summer, and Addie has joined us the past couple of times. The other night when Jolie realized the big ball of light had dropped below the horizon, she looked up at me with her curious eyes and asked, “Where the sun go?” When I told her it had gone “night, night,” she pleaded, “But I need the sun.”

“What for?” I asked.

“It’s my boyfriend!” she said.

Such a goofy girl!

It’s been a difficult summer in some respects. The words that have pulled me along are “one thing at a time.” I take each day as it comes. I see each sunrise as a fresh start. I would not have chosen my current situation, but I am learning, and I am growing.

When one part of our life comes to a close, another world altogether opens up to us. It’s pretty amazing. I can feel my whole focus shifting. I’m open to new things. I now have more time to explore.

Just one thing at a time:

One new recipe

One bathroom cleaned

One new project attempt

One closet organized

One room dusted

I have “my overall to-do list” that’s at least a mile long, but these days, I need to be with my kids.

While they sleep, I work, on one thing or another. I finally cleaned out the game closet. I’m throwing out old items, delivering bags of excess to Goodwill, and selling my nicest (but no longer needed) belongings on Craigslist. De-cluttering. It clears my house…and my mind.

I’ve made more phone calls. I’ve reached out to more friends. I’ve initiated real life plans with others. I’ve escaped my computer and Facebook more than I ever have in recent years.

I wouldn’t have picked this hard time, this particular challenge in my life, but I’ve learned to take it step-by-step and day-by-day. I’ve learned that there is much in this world that I cannot control. All I know is I can’t live in a state of despair or “limbo”… On most days, I wake up with a kick-ass determination to look everywhere for the positive and to just make more wonderful memories with my girls. It’s pretty simple.

I want to hold Jolie as much as I can. I rocked her to sleep tonight. She’s almost three, and she’s growing right out of my arms! How many more times will we get this chance? It’s all flying by…

I want to play more enthusiastically with my children. I want to be patient with them at all times. I want to learn how to compromise more with them on the “messes” they create all over the place! I want to remove the pressure that exists inside of me to keep everything in my house “just so.” I want to let go more, play more, and be with them more. I want to be in the moment more and to worry less about the rest of it.

I want to do more of what makes me happy. What makes you happiest? How do you most want to spend your time? What hobbies, activities, experiences make you love life? Over the years, I’ve discovered the top things that make me feel excited and passionate. I’ve learned what I love to do the most when I am not “working.”

To create.

To design.

To read.

To write.

To exercise.

To photograph.

To love.

Sometimes life is hard, and sometimes it just kicks our asses. It’s not the “picture perfect” life I imagined back in college. When we’re young, we think we can write our own stories, make things happen that we want to happen and when we want them to happen.

I don’t think anybody says, “I want to live an unhappy life.” John Lennon said, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” Maybe for some people, the blueprint they design for their life works out just as planned, but for many of us, there are lots of bumps along the way. Maybe the strongest people get hit the hardest.

But I believe we can make our messy lives beautiful. We can start over at any time. Some get a new life they did not expect, and I’m starting to think that this new life may end up more colorful than the previous one. It’s weird to feel sad, happy, angry, and excited all at the same time, but that’s just the way life works out sometimes.

I’m focused. My bad days are becoming fewer. Learning to accept what we cannot change is a big step. It’s liberating. It makes life happier, richer, freer. Just “seeing” differently has really helped. I don’t want to wish for more; I want to fully appreciate everything I do have in my life.

To not worry about the number of magical moments each day—but to cherish each one that much more. To enjoy the simple pleasures in life. To not let the heaviness take me to a place I do not want to be. To push through it all, like a long, hard run, to push through the pain and never quit. There is not an end destination. The point is to just keep going, to keep trying. And to just take it all one thing at a time…

***Here are some of my favorite photos from our summer so far (I have so many more to edit!). Thanks for reading and looking!

Pier Cove:

 

 

 

 

 

Waving “Goodbye!” to a “boyfriend” she made on the beach:

Holland State Park:

(Above): About to walk into Snug Harbor to eat.

Back to Pier Cove:

Just a few “extras”:

Jolie at the table:

Addie:

The “view” from my seat on the deck – in my backyard:

 That’s all for now!

Protected: Independence

June 28, 2012

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Summer 2012

June 24, 2012

Written last night, June 23:

School ended on June 4, but I feel like summer is just now beginning. So many exciting, creative endeavors get pushed aside during the school year. Now there is a bit more time to tackle some of those extra projects. For me, that means making our own space, our home, truly our own. We’ve lived here for eight years, but I feel like we’ve spent that whole time just settling in and settling down, building a family and maintaining daily life in the midst of babies, toddlers, and small children. The daily chores keep me fully busy!

I am such a neat freak. I have this thing where I can’t go to bed until my kitchen is clean (spotless) and all of the dishes are washed, dried, and put away. Most nights I get the job done. There were some times during the school year where I dropped into bed out of sheer exhaustion and let the dishes go… Right now, my dishes are done, and I’m almost done with all of the laundry. I am always doing something to try to establish some sense of order…

There is just so much to do…and so much more that I want to do!

Right now I think I may build my own desk. I’ve been “shopping” for a desk for a long time, but I cannot find anything I like too much. The ones I like the most are very expensive (think Pottery Barn), and, even if I like them, I find that I always want to change something about them. This is why I don’t accomplish much while I shop for my house. I always want to change the final products. I envision them in a different color or pattern or size…or style altogether. Skinnier, wider… A different texture… Minus the glitter (I hate glitter or anything messy). I’m a visionary when it comes to shopping and design… I see/imagine what I want in my mind, and then I never find it, or I find something somewhat similar, but not really!

If I build my own desk, I can do it for around $100 or less. There is something totally satisfying about creating something yourself. At least this is what I believe. I love to create.

For the next week, I want to focus on the following DIY projects:

1. Create/build my own desk (with some help).

2. Paint some old decorative bottles I have in the basement that I have not even seen for the past ten years and use them to add more color and personality in the dining room/kitchen.

3. Tape off the girls’ bedroom to paint it. Finally. It’s going to be blue: close to a robin egg’s blue. This is the best way I know to describe the new color for their room. Then we’ll add some hot pink. And bright yellow. Maybe a splash of red or orange.

4. Look for uniquely shaped (cheap) frames at Hobby Lobby and paint them bright colors (red and yellow?) to add to the new blue walls. Then add photos of the girls, of course.

I want to do more this summer. That may be the word for 2012: more. More recipes, more homemade (everything), more sunsets, more picnics, more color, more gratitude, more fun… So many days it feels like we are merely staying afloat. Who knew kids could make such messes and make us laugh at ourselves for thinking we even had a plan? More go-with-the-flow-around here… More enjoyment. More happiness. More passion for everyday life. And if the dishes don’t get done… It pains me to type that.

But I’ll work on it.

I’m entering my summer creative mode. It’s only taken me three weeks to feel like it is finally summer. All is quiet in my house. The girls and my niece are sleeping. We need more nights like tonight. More time with family and friends. More effort. More intention. More adventures after Addie gets her cast off (sixteen more days). Meanwhile, we’ll read, we’ll paint, we’ll create.

For now, here are just a few recent photos. I’ll have many more to add to the blog soon!

 Addie peering through the binoculars:

Daddy and a napping Jolie: Easter 2012

And, to end, with a fun one: Addie at her end-of-the-year kindergarten field trip:

Getting back at it…

June 20, 2012

After school let out for the summer, I needed a break… It always takes me a little while to adjust from the all-out busyness of the school year to the much calmer summer spent at home. It almost feels like a shock each year. I am very much an on-the-go type of person; I rarely sit. I’ve spent the past two weeks cleaning, organizing, and relaxing.

Relaxing, for me, is a challenge. I usually feel like I should be doing something, being productive. I need to learn to relax more and to simply live in the moment. These first couple weeks of summer, I have figured out much of what we will do this summer!

Reilly started tennis yesterday morning; tennis camp runs from 9:00-10:00 each morning. Addie broke her leg on May 24; a hot pink cast is holding her back until July 9. Jolie started gymnastics; this will be her third week in the toddler program. Reilly will attend two art camps this summer, a drawing class at Kendall College of Art and Design for three weeks (only two days a week, though, for three hours) in July and one through our local school system for a week in August. Reilly’s talent is art. Addie plans on attending the second art camp with Reilly and theater camp again for the third year in a row.

At home, Reilly and I are working on reading much longer books together. She reads independently and out loud, and I read out loud to her. We discuss what we are reading, we work on vocabulary development using context clues, and I make connections between the texts and real life. Right now we are reading The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies. It’s around 170 pages. We read one or two chapters at a time. I plan on creating a fun project for Reilly to do after each book we read. Some of the other books I plan on having her read this summer include Frindle, Where the Red Fern Grows, and some non-fiction selections. My goal is to have her read 5-10 longer books with me. She is also starting an online reading program at www.bookadventure.org where she can choose her own books, take quizzes, and win prizes. I want her to have choices, too, and I want her to find her own motivation for what types of books she wants and likes to read. We visit the local library and Barnes and Noble frequently. Reilly also has some workbooks to complete.

Literacy is a priority in our home!

Addie is also a strong reader; she is already reading all on her own, and she just completed kindergarten! She had an excellent teacher. I did not teach Addie how to read at all. Addie is my most determined and motivated kid. She goes all-out in all she does. She is more of an independent, take-charge kind of girl: she makes to-do lists for herself, and she reads without us reminding her to read. Addie is a go-getter! With the broken leg, she is taking a break from her sports activities this summer, but in the fall, she wants to go back into dance class for the next school year (no more gymnastics).

Jolie is the sweetest kid! She’s also the most active one out of the bunch! Almost three already, she’ll start preschool in the fall. I think I’ll pull her out of gymnastics at the end of the summer and enroll her in dance class, too, for the school year. I know she will love it! Jolie talks to everybody everywhere we go. She calls all old ladies she sees in the stores “Grandma!” and gives them hugs! At the dance recital at the school where I teach, during intermission, Jolie found the microphone, turned it on, and started putting on a show for the audience! She also pulled the fire alarm after graduation on the way out the door! It is always something with this kid! Every day, though, she just wants to cuddle with us. She calls Reilly her “second mommy.” Jolie loves to read books, too. We are working on preschool level activities with her. She will be more than ready for preschool in the fall!

I’ve been working out 3-4 times a week at the gym. I also walk while pushing Jolie in the jogging stroller and bike while pulling Jolie along with me. She loves bike rides! I attend a yoga/pilates class two times a week, a regular yoga class one time a week, and I want to consistently attend an aqua workout once a week at the gym. I can already feel the changes in my body, and, at this age, that is a good thing! Ha, ha!

At home, I am trying much harder to prepare better meals. Pinterest has been a great place to find lots of new recipes! I am all about health and nutrition, so I’m reading more books about health and food choices to benefit both my kids and my own long-term health. Plus, I feel great when I eat healthy all of the time and avoid things like wine… Ha, ha!

Finally, I purchased an iPhone this week. The iPhone 4. I felt blissfully happy driving away from the store with my new iPhone! I’ve never had a “real” cell phone. I’ve never texted, I’ve never been connected to the Internet through a phone, and I’ve never had the option of taking pictures with my phone. The eight megapixels pushed me to purchase this phone. I have never had a point and shoot camera I have liked, and I am tired of hauling around my big old Mark II to take photos. Plus, with my “real” camera, I have to think all of the time and plan ahead for the lighting. At last, I can just record our daily lives in such a convenient manner. I think I may post a once-a-week post of iPhotos from our daily life this summer.

Tonight after yoga class, I plan on battling with this computer some more (the next big purchase will be a Mac computer) and editing some of the photos from this summer. We’ve been to the beach a few times. Then hopefully I can get back into my groove of taking photos and blogging! The pictures will show all we’ve been doing everyday!

Saturday morning: Jolie had her first haircut. Just a few snips at an attempt of “face-framing” the scraggly hairs around her face. No bangs. Just a little trim to clean things up a bit. We’re not ready to cut off the length or her curls on the ends. Maybe in September when she turns three.

The hair stylist said one side “dropped off” greatly and needed some touching up while it grew out, but the other side already framed her face quite nicely. How their baby hair grows in can vary between children. You never know. All I know is now her hair looks a tiny bit more tamed.

Jolie and I went shopping after her haircut. I found a new (mom) bathing suit. We’re getting ready for our pool days! The pool at the gym opens over Memorial Day weekend. We can’t wait!

I also shopped for some clothes for myself—my least favorite thing to do. I found a few new items, but it was more than I could take. Maybe twice a year I can make myself shop for clothes.

Jolie and I ate lunch at Qdoba and then went home. Quesadillas for Jolie and a naked veggie burrito for me. We enjoy our rhythm at Qdoba. Same old, same old, but it is so good!

Saturday afternoon included reading and naps; Saturday evening included drinks and dinner with a friend. Long overdue. Adult time. The kids went away overnight. And I missed my Jolie so… I missed her crawling into bed with me, wanting her Mama to hold her by morning every calendar day of the year. My forever baby!

This summer will bring about some big changes in our lives… Some ups and downs. I am considering getting a dog for the kids as one of the ups. Addie and Jolie really want one. I think it might be good for them to have a big, happy dog join the family. One we can take to the beach with us. A new best friend for my girls.

We’re gearing up for summer around here! We’re stocking up on beach toys and extra bathing suits. Cute little girl shoes, dresses, and outfits. Lots of athletic wear, too. Activity. Down time. And back at it all again.

Cookouts and farmers’ markets. Fresh, wholesome food and grill-outs. Ice cream and smoothies. Kids’ wine…and real wine for Mom. Quests for new, beautiful places to visit, soak up, and photograph. Walks under the stars. More mothering. Less working. More still moments. Less frazzle. Happiness. Freedom. Inspiration. Summer bliss.

For now, I’m enjoying all of this cuddle time this weekend with my two year-old (who sits in my lap as I type this now). She just put on one of her bathing suits. “Beach!” she calls out as I drive us here and there in the busyness that makes up our lives. Jolie remembers.

My summer girls!

Tuesday Top Ten

May 1, 2012

I’m thankful for the beauty of my neighborhood: the quiet, secluded street nestled in the woods. Thirteen houses that form a subdivision in a natural setting. My neighbors walk, run, and bike up and down my road and the road that bends around and parallels my road and borders the water. I’m thankful for the setting sun and the way the light glows golden before dropping slowly, then suddenly, behind the trees.

I’m thankful for the physical ability and motivation to walk and bike my neighborhood with my kids. Sometimes I picture a big, happy dog joining us. But only sometimes.

I’m thankful for my children. I’m saddened by the “growing up” they do every day. My “baby” is 2.5 already and looks older. Where is my baby?

I’m thankful for good hearts and good intentions. I’m thankful for deep, meaningful conversations. I’m thankful for openness and honesty. True, weathered souls who selflessly share and open up so the rest of us can reflect and grow. I’m thankful for friendship.

I’m thankful for financial stability. I’m thankful for being able to provide my children with everything they need…and more.

I’m thankful for phone calls from people who matter. As much as I hate talking on the phone… There are a handful of people I will drop everything for when the phone rings and they are at the other end. I’d stay up all night with them, and sometimes I do.

I’m thankful for Lake Michigan. This is the number one reason I don’t want to move from where I live. There’s nothing like when my girls and I step our toes into the sand each time we arrive at the beach. I look out over Lake Michigan, and I experience pure joy every time. The vastness of the scene. The breeze off of the lake. The open space. Happy kids and relaxed adults. Blankets spread and hearts joined. Children running and splashing. Waves lulling and caressing the shore. Forever bliss.

I’m thankful for words. Reading and writing. Emails and Facebook messages. Expressions and declarations. Right now, I am reading Anne Lamott’s book Traveling Mercies, and I think she is amazing. This is only the third book by her that I have read. Previously, I read Bird by Bird and, more recently, her most recent one, Some Assembly Required. She’s inspiration. My new hero. I cannot believe I have not read her books sooner. But that’s okay because right now, I am devouring her words and her books, one-by-one. It just means I have more books to look forward to in the near future! Here are some of my favorite words by her in Traveling Mercies:

“I remembered that old line that if you want to make God laugh, her [Him] your plans. But I also heard these words in my head: seek wise counsel.”

She references a line from the great Persian mystical poet Rumi” “Where there is ruin, there is hope for a treasure.”

And also the Leonard Cohen song in which he sings, “There are cracks, cracks, in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

Perfect for my life right now!

I thankful for what makes each of my children memorable. For my two year-old who still lifts her arms to me and says, “Pick me up-ee!” For my six year-old who relates funny tales from kindergarten. Today:

Addie: “Mom, I have to tell you something that happened at school today.”

Me: “What?”

Addie: “My clip got moved to yellow today because of this boy named Zachary.” Me: “What happened?”

Addie: “He tried to wrestle me.”

Me: “Did you wrestle him back?”

Addie (cracking up): “Yes!”

I’m thankful for my seven year-old who takes such good care of her littlest sister. She carries her around and gives her piggy back rides. Endless love from my oldest girl for her baby sister. We’re still working on bringing out the love between Reilly and Addie!

I’m thankful for nighttime and quiet. This is the most peaceful time of the day for me. I can light candles and work on the computer in the dark: writing, creating, grading, exploring… I can also get up and go peek at my sleeping children. Night represents perfection.

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