Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Fair Adventures

Tuesday marked a round of firsts for the Bauer Bunch at the Southwest Arkansas District Fair.

{One of which was not me riding the Gravitron.}

We started in downtown Hope at the fair parade. We lined our chairs along the crowded street and settled in for Nora's first show. Finally, after a time or two of pulling my daughter back from the pavement, it began. Her baby blues lit up when she heard the fire truck's sirens blaring and she waved at pageant queens and princesses of all sizes. Owen busted a move as the band marched by and Nathan perked up in his chair when the antique tractors started rolling.

The came a few rounds of discussion as to whether going to the actual fair would be a good idea. The fair isn't my favorite. I'm no rider. I can't handle the Ferris wheel. For heaven's sake, I can't even hold onto my kid bopping up and down on the merry-go-round. I remember attending in my teenage years as more of a social event, but rides are not my thing. Regardless, we quickly found ourselves parking on the grass at the fairgrounds.

We weren't there for three minutes before the stroller storage started filling with prizes. Nathan and Owen {!} each popped a balloon with a dart, and no one was injured in the process. They picked up ducks, fished for sharks and Jonathan desperately tried to shoot out a paper star.

As we made our way from the games to the midway, the boys' eyes danced. The only fair they know is at the county level and they usually skip the rides in favor of farm animals and prize-winning exhibits. That's still a good time, but this scene was a new one. Lights and music came from every direction and they cautiously watched as kids were tilted, scrambled and swung into oblivion. The first order of business was more low-key: Owen chose a black horse on the carousel. Nana rode with him.

Then they found the roller coaster.

It was the exact kiddie coaster I rode at the same fair decades ago. Owen was nervous as he climbed the stairs and I tried not to think about the age of the ride as my baby was strapped into it. Terror flashed in his eyes as he gripped the bar in front of him. Then it melted away in the dips and turns and not-so-lightning-fast speed. He was happy when it ended, and both boys happily handed the guy another ticket.

As for Nora, she didn't play a game or win a prize or a ride a ride, but she was content. From her comfy stroller seat, she held every sword and yoyo won by her brothers and chomped away on a funnel cake. Life was sweet at the fair.

How do you do the fair? Are you more of a watcher or a rider? Do you know anyone who has ridden the Gravitron and lived to tell the tale? Happy Hump Day, friends!

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Monday, September 28, 2015

Pretty Planning

{Disclaimer: This is in no way a paid endorsement, I just wanted to share a great purchase.
However, most Erin Condren links in this post are referral links}

When twenty-something rolled into thirty-something, my tack-sharp memory began to slow.

I knew the answer to remembering all the things on my to-do list and everything scheduled for my family {plus a whole youth group} would be some form of portable calendar. I first turned to the calendar on my iPhone like most normal people. I quickly proved unable to remember to schedule anything, so there's nothing there now but federal holidays. I tried a few apps, but the effort needed to type it all wasn't there. Digital planning was not the way to go and the most popular planners were going for big bucks, so I figured my brain would be my best bet.

Then I started forgetting things. Things like going to a dentist appointment and picking my kid up from preschool.

I needed a place to empty my brain and mentally prepare for the week ahead. I tried various planners with cute designs, but all they did was make a nice collection in the front pocket of my diaper bag. The blanks on one were much too small, the monthly layout was weird on another, and sometimes the pages just didn't lay right.

To be perfectly honest, spending money on myself is not always easy for me. Usually such purchases make several rounds in my head until my husband pushes me to go for it, and I'm not kidding when I say I'd been looking at the Erin Condren Life Planner for two years. Two years. I kept telling myself it was a lot of money for pieces of paper bound together. However, I bit the bullet {with Jonathan's help} and haven't looked back yet.

If you're on the fence like I was for so long, let me encourage you to jump over it. Not only does this beautiful cover make me happy every time I see it, it opens to the layout of my dreams. There are three squares for each day. I use them for family stuff, youth stuff, and blog stuff. Many people use them for different times of the day, but you can do whatever your heart desires. I love taking the time on Sunday afternoons to fill up my squares and actually see the things I need to accomplish. FYI: My favorite pens to use so far are here.

I'm not sure if it's simply because I like the look of the Life Planner or what, but I seriously feel more organized now than I have in a decade. I have blog posts planned, for crying out loud. Also, you and I both know that I won't miss that dental checkup tomorrow!

It's fun to have your week feel a little more organized on a Monday, isn't it? Do you have your own favorite planner brand? Have you jumped onto the planner sticker bandwagon? Let's chat!

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Monday, September 21, 2015

Free Range

We had ourselves a mighty fine chicken adventure this weekend.

With the summer garden season screeching to a halt and leaving in its wake dead plants, weeds, and plenty of debris, we thought the chickens might enjoy a trip to the buffet. As you may notice in the photos below, they have completely decimated the grass in their yard, so it's nice to get a little green in their diet every now and then. When we open the hatches and let the chickens fly, I always get a nervous feeling that we'll be standing beneath the trees they've roosted in or chasing them down highways or through cow pastures. Thankfully, they seem to like us okay. Either that or they're too busy chowing down on fresh grass to run away.

With all this chicken wrangling help, though, the girls didn't quite make it to the garden. I think both the free-ranging chicks and the free-ranging kids had a good time regardless:

The girls are still happily laying and the eggs seem to be getting a bit bigger every day. This half-dozen was laid in one morning, so you can imagine how our egg surplus is growing. I ordered personalized carton stickers from Etsy the other day. Soon, we will officially be in the egg sales business. Stay tuned... or don't, really, just let me know now if you live in my area and need some delicious farm-fresh eggs. My sales girl is pretty cute:

The photo above might have been the best one snapped all afternoon. While we are happy that these birds keep their cool at play time, the one thing the kids don't like is when the chickens get spooked and start flapping. Thankfully, Nathan and Nora were too busy cheesing to know what was going on behind them. {I think it had to do with what was happening to their right.}

These pets may not sit and stay like your standard puppy dog, but this flock is still fun. Plus, free eggs! Happy Monday, y'all.

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Friday, September 18, 2015

The After-School "Good"

You've all heard it before.

After a slow move through the car line while adjusting the radio station to meet my two-year-old's needs, I spot him. He's sandwiched between buddies, but isn't talking to them. He has found his mama. We lock eyes, he jumps to his feet, and his arm stretches up. Another successful day of education is shining on his face, and my own smile broadens as the teacher walks him over. He scrambles past his sister, buckles up, and I offer a cheerful "Hi Nathan! How was your day?"

"It was good."

How was recess?

How was today's chicken patty on bun?

How was music class?

How did you do on your spelling test?

It's a bit anticlimactic, isn't it? This is coming from the kid who can talk about Minecraft for half an hour with no pause for breath. However, hidden among the lukewarm responses my kid utters at 3:15 every weekday afternoon are third-grade tales waiting to be told. As soon as I start asking the right questions {sometimes days later}, I'll learn about things like multiplication tables and the fact that our public school system is still teaching cursive. Owen's preschool answers are similar. Eventually I'll get him to admit that he doesn't mind finger paint or that egg starts with E. All of this learning and growing happens on days that are simply "good." While I don't hold any secret keys to get your kid to talk to you, these questions can get me a step further:
  1. What was the funniest thing that happened at school today? This usually gets me playground antics or the unfortunate event that was Nathan stepping in a pile of ants while lining up after lunch.

  2. Who was your favorite person to play with today? This can provide a peek into friendships I know nothing about.

  3. What was the hardest thing you did today? This is when I find out what a math array is and that Nathan aced his comprehension test. This can also lead to stories about skinned knees and forgotten homework.

  4. What stories did you hear today? Both boys are read to {or get time to read} daily, and I am honestly interested. This usually gets me much more than a book title and for Owen, I may get a song and dance, too.
These are just a handful of alternatives to "How was your day?" to break through the after-school good. Even the open-ended questions can get shut down, but that's okay. Eight hours of focused attention can wear a kid down, and a brain break can be good. I've learned to try again over dinner, or even just wait for him to come to me. It's so nice to get a peek into the secret world of a third-grader, though. School is an experience of their own, but a sparked curiosity is natural. What car line questions do you have in your arsenal?

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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Nora's Hair

Before Nora was born, I unofficially put Jonathan in charge of hair.

He was always fond of brushing the boys' hair and I can barely manage my own, so I thought it was a good fit. It started fine when the soft yellow strands began sprouting from our daughter's head. For a while she let him brush her straight locks into a sweet little side-part and add a beautiful headband to complete her outfit. Then, her hair began growing faster. It began growing curlier. It grew into tangles and turns and twists and now her hair has a life of its own.

When she wakes in the morning, it's a glorious rat's nest of blonde fluff {see above photo}. All it takes is a spray bottle and a heavy helping of detangler and the pretty blonde ringlets come back. As they start to dry, it grows upward and outward into the classic Nora puff you see in most of my photos.

You'd think my go-to style would be some form of pigtails. Trust me, I've tried. I've accomplished it once or twice, but they don't last long. I don't know how to fix this problem other than sit on her hands, but I'm not sure how good that would be toward skills development. Therefore, Nora's mop of hair is wild and free.

I know what you might be thinking. She turned two in July and there hasn't been a pair of scissors near her head. I'd imagine a quick trim would make her hair much healthier, thus allowing the curls to be more defined and give her less of a finger-in-the-socket look. I'll give you the short answer: One day I will take her to get a hair cut, but I need to work on my biceps first.

For now, I will test products, brush less often, and keep encouraging pigtails. If there's one thing I can say about Nora's out-of-control curls, it's that they match her personality perfectly.

Do you have any products to suggest? Or advice on how to style it? I'm a little bit clueless. Help!

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Friday, September 11, 2015

County Fair Artists

One of the highlights of a new school year is starting fresh in activity courses.

At Nathan's school, students spend an hour each day in activity: PE, art, music, counseling, or a trip to the library down the hall. Nathan was excited about the advanced math and heavy reading that comes with third grade, but that kid was ready to get his hands on some art supplies. One of the first projects the kids do under the instruction of their awesome art teacher is create a piece for the county fair. Every year Nathan's art has been chosen to compete and every year he finds a sticker on it. This year, it just so happened to be blue.

This Spongebob scene was designed and drawn all on his own, unlike the pig that snagged him a kindergarten win. I've known for a long time that Nathan's had a natural ability to draw, but it's getting good. There's no way I could have perfected Spongebob's pants. However, Nathan's piece wasn't the only one the boys searched for in the exhibit hall. There was a hand-print owl done by a certain preschooler that was also bearing a first-place sticker.

When Owen began jumping and saying, "I won! I won!" I didn't have the heart to tell him every preschool picture was emblazoned with a blue ribbon. He was proud of his artwork, and he's following his brother's footsteps just fine.

Owen's preschool teacher snapped the photo above this morning when she took her "pre-kindergartners" {not my baby!} to check out their entries. As you can see, there was a wall of winners. She also tagged me in a photo of my stubborn son holding an alligator and another of him milking a pretend cow, two things he flat-out refused to do under the direction of his parents. Kids, am I right?

Is it county fair time in your neck of the woods? Did anyone in your family bring home a blue ribbon? Do you think Owen's picture looks more like an owl or a gorilla {he can't settle on an answer}? Have a happy weekend, y'all!

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Thursday, September 10, 2015

Family: All We Have

"It's been so nice to see everyone, I just wish these were better circumstances."

Every person at every funeral will say this to you. You'll nod in agreement with the corners of your mouth slightly tilted and you'll move on. The statement is true, don't get me wrong, but it's not a terrible thing to be surrounded by people who love you. This particular reason may call for that more than most.

Two weeks ago, all the cousins on my mom's side were together for the first time in more than ten years. When we last gathered at my Mema's house in eastern Arkansas I was a single college student, there for a Thanksgiving meal and to escape the pressures of taking care of myself. In the years that followed, there have been countless marriages, more babies and enough life changes to make your head spin. Despite it all, flights connected, roads burned and we met at the house on the lake.

We stood in Mema's living room, making piles of items that held her memory and thumbing through photo albums yellowed at the edges. We are in our 30s and 40s {the lucky few are holding tight to their late 20s and then there's the 19-year-old baby}. One is expecting her third child next February and another will send her firstborn to college next fall. The wine and memories poured and that decade of being apart disappeared. We were the kids who snuck into the kitchen to find the candy jar full of Snickers and opened Christmas presents in order of age.

Stories and memories flowed into all hours of the night and for us, the laughter outweighed the tears. That's such an odd place. Funerals bring back memories of life and it can easily turn from mourning to celebration. Etiquette may rule against the giggling that went on, but it was what I needed. It was what we all needed.

Yes, it was hard to leave. It was painful to walk away and wave goodbye to my childhood. I know better than to say the memories are gone, though. They're more than a place; they're the people. I can always lean on my cousins to keep the legacy of our Mema alive. There is life in death. I won't be back to that house, but I will be back to strengthen the ties that have bound us together since birth.

Family is our one constant. We should make the most out of every second together.

Do you have a wide-spread collection of cousins? How often do you get together?

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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

September Summer

Nora June knows just what you can do with your pumpkin spice latte.

{Obviously, she would politely decline one because it's still summer, but she would encourage you to enjoy it as soon as you want. She's really a nice girl, that Nora.}

The heat index quickly crept into the triple-digits this weekend as visions of fall danced in everyone's head. For many, Labor Day weekend is the end of an era. It marks the time to pull out those boots and hoodies, plan bonfires and sprinkle pumpkin spice into any and all baked goods and beverages. Pumpkin withheld, I'm a fan of these things, but you can put me on the too early bandwagon. I know it's September and it's probably already fall in some parts of the country, but it's still sweltering summer in south Arkansas. Here is photographic proof:

Like most, we spent the three-day weekend in the pool. Unlike most, we did not celebrate it as a kiss goodbye to a season. We still have a few weeks left to go, and I intend to enjoy summer to the last drop. Even if the forecast calls for a rainy week in my neck of the woods, there's no hint of autumn around here.

Football fans spent the weekend with sweaty brows and wet shirts, the leaves are all bright green, and the summer sun could still cook an egg on the back porch. It's legally, officially, and clearly still summer. Hang tight, all you sweater lovers, it's going to be around for a little while.

Have a Happy Wednesday, y'all!

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Monday, September 7, 2015

A Day with Owen, Age 4

All smiles at the pediatrician's office... wait, what?!

My old sidekick was with me Friday, counting cows and sharing tales from preschool.

I don't work on Fridays and Nora usually stays home while Owen and Nathan ship off to school. However, Owen developed a rather unfortunate rash situation on Thursday and a trip to the pediatrician was penciled in. We drove the long haul to drop Nora off at day care. She attended her two-year-check up last week that did involve a shot and we figured she wouldn't be pleased to return. Owen was nervous, but he kept telling me how he must be brave because he's four.

Once we secured a parking spot, Owen unbuckled himself, opened and closed his car door, and asked me to look both ways before crossing the street. We eventually found the check-in window and he made a friend by the fish tank. When his name was called, he hopped up and walked with the nurse to the scale. He weighed without incident {45 pounds, exactly the same as Nora if you were wondering}, and he didn't fuss a bit when it was time to wait. We sat on the squishy examining table thumbing through a dinosaur atlas as he expertly named them one by one. The doctor came in, he was perfectly polite and explained his symptoms, and we left with a prescription and two green suckers {one for him, one for Nathan}.

I tell you this story because it left me with a burning question: Who is this kid?!

Owen's never been a fan of the doctor. Or the dentist. Or the guy who cuts his hair. Or being confined inside a Walmart buggy. Ever since the kid could throw a punch, any hint of control has incited wailing, moaning, and gnashing of teeth. However, when three turned to four, it brought more resolve than I could have imagined {bedtime withheld}. I'm not sure what this magical number has done to Owen, but I'm not questioning it. Sure, the kid puts up a fight as often as he can, but he's quicker to listen to reason and even realize I may know what I'm talking about {I'll assume this comes back with a vengeance}.

I don't know if it was my attention that made for a pleasant day with a pleasant boy or if turning four unlocked a new desire to respect authority. Whether or not the latter is true, I'll be circling July 8, 2017 on my calendar.

Moms: Did four turn a switch that made your strong-willed toddler become a still strong-willed, but a bit more understanding kid? Do your kids act differently when separated? Do you think it's weird that my two-year-old and my four-year-old weigh the same amount? This is a lot on a Monday, I know. Take your time.

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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

AWBU: Feels Like Home

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name {and blog title}.

My weekend was spent with a tribe of people who don't look at me questionably when I toss around the word blogger. It was my second year to connect with the wonderful women I occasionally stalk *ahem* research at the fifth annual Arkansas Women Bloggers University. I wasn't just Jessica there. I was "The Bauer Bunch" and that felt good.

I found the conference's Hospitality Suite at 10:00 Friday night {the Al Capone room at the Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs, complete with escape chute in the closet, FYI}. I had spent a couple hours traveling from the far reaches of eastern Arkansas, after having left my grandmother's house for the final time. Emotions were high and I was still iffy on whether attending AWBU was the right thing for me. There was no turning back at this point, however, and I quickly kissed my husband goodbye. As the door pushed open, one of my very best friends/bloggers/roomies, Karen of Ting's Mom, jumped off the couch and wrapped her arms around me. This was followed by The Park Wife herself, founder of Arkansas Women Bloggers and all-around hero, and many more who welcomed me with open arms and a sympathetic word. I sat down on the couch and the laughter began. I was right where I needed to be.

Last year's trip to AWBU was spent getting to know people, cracking open my shell, and actually talking to the bloggers I'd only admired online. This year was different. This year I was my blog. I spent less time introducing myself and more time hugging necks and catching up. There was no nervous assimilation period, only jumping in and letting go. It's weird to call people I've only seen in person twice friends, but if the support that goes hand-in-hand with AWBU isn't friendship, I don't know what is.

The sessions I chose for Saturday surrounded coming to terms with the fact that I am a writer. Even though I held the title of "staff writer" for years at a newspaper, that standalone word seems untouchable. I am, though. I am a writer. I'm going to be a better one, too. I also garnered the inspiration to keep my momentum rolling. The speakers at AWBU gave me the confidence to do what I love, seek growth opportunities, and see if I can find success along the way.

I don't want this to read like a fifth-grade essay about what AWBU means to me, but it was more than a learning experience. I appreciate having these wonderful, talented writers at my fingertips to answer my every question, but it's about community. They knew me, they knew my blog, and they accepted both as they are. These women told me they liked the way I told stories, and honestly, that is my goal. It was a satisfying nail-on-the-head moment.

I carried so much encouragement home in my suitcase among the wrinkled shirts and scribbled notebooks. The women who are my biggest inspiration are my biggest fans.

Thank you to Karen and Alicia and Ashley and Jodi, the friends who traveled from my little corner of the state. It's been amazing getting to know all of you and I look forward to continued meet-ups and deepened relationships in the months to come. Thank you to Stephanie for having the idea to grab a bunch of women who call themselves bloggers and turn us into a powerhouse. Thank you also to every blogger in attendance last weekend. You are part of something incredible, and I hope you felt that as strongly as I did.

I'll see y'all next year.

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