Friday, March 31, 2017

Because of Nathan

Today's post could easily become a novel.

However, there is one gorgeous day waiting outside my window, so I will pare down a bit. Ten years ago I was painting a small room pale green on the bottom and pale blue on the top and trying to figure out how to glue a dinosaur border between. I had registered for the essentials that come with the first baby, and I'd read the how-to books cover to cover. Nathan was coming that summer, and I had to be prepared. While I knew the basics of childbirth, I had no idea how much I'd learn in the following decade.

Today's post is the second in a three-part series of what I've learned from my kids {Nora's post is here}, but I'm fast-forwarding this one. Following are some of the more recent things I'd never know if it weren't for my oldest.

Because of Nathan I know...
  • How much patience it requires to have both a little sister and a little brother.
  • That it's hard to tie a new pair of high-top Converse, but it's worth it.
  • That a recess spent sitting on the sidewalk with friends is way better than being the first to the swings.
  • That help around the house from a child is a godsend.
  • That more expensive art supplies really do {unfortunately} make a difference in the finished piece.
  • Words like mage and night elf and druid, and the fact that I'll never fully understand World of Warcraft.
  • What is.
  • On that note: the necessity of headphones.
  • How to kill an Ender Dragon.
  • How to transpose music. Seriously.
  • That subtracting by way of borrowing and carrying is still as complicated as it was in the '90s.
  • That elementary school seems to be about finding your path as much as finding the right answer.
  • The best days in the fourth grade are popcorn chicken Wednesdays and art class Fridays.
  • How to juju on that beat {expertly, might I add}.
  • Who Dan TDM is.
  • That "YouTube personality" is a multi-million dollar career. Who knew?
  • That those creepy Goosebump tales still reign supreme as a go-to book series.
  • The intricate tastes distinguished among the various flavors of Sour Punch Straws.
  • What the regions of Arkansas are called. We live in the West Gulf Coastal Plain, apparently.
  • How bees make honey, why the Berlin Wall was built, and the methods of drawing anime.
  • That watching my kid make discoveries is one of the coolest things I get to do.

Happy Weekend, friends! Get outside and enjoy it.

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Monday, March 27, 2017

Spring Break Pictorial

This bunch didn't mess around when it came to making the most out of Spring Break 2017.

Although only four-fifths of our bunch got much-needed time off {I'm not bitter}, we all enjoyed our week. My kids spent most of their days outside, either on or beside water. We also played host to Jonathan's cousin and her family, who pitched a tent in our backyard. My kids loved having their cousins with them, and it didn't hurt that their dad is a professional chef. Our fish fry was accompanied by some pretty fine homemade hush puppies. Instead of a feeble attempt to spin Spring Break tales I didn't actually witness, today's post will be a pictorial. Following are a collection of photos from my phone, some from Jonathan's phone, and some professionally shot by Owen. See if you can tell the difference. We fished. We slept. We ate. We laughed. Take a peek at the Bauer Bunch Spring Break 2017:

As you can clearly see, Spring Break was done right down south this year. We caught our dinner and soaked in the springtime sunshine. It was just a taste of what's to come this season {along with a pretty big taste of local pollen}. Jonathan fired up the tiller last night and turned our overgrown garden patch into a rich brown square, just waiting to grow whatever we please. This spring is full of promise, and I'm ready to make good on it.

How was your break? Were your kids just as ready to get back to school? Do they also know exactly how many days are on the summer break countdown? Have a great Monday, friends. See you soon!

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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Always Be

Last week one of my youth group girls asked me a simple question.

I was unloading my flute from its case to practice the music for our upcoming Stations of the Cross. Fun Fact: I saved for months to buy that very open-holed flute when I was 16 years old to upgrade from my standard version. It was my first eBay purchase. {It might have been one of the original eBay purchases.} As I lined up the keys and fit each piece together, I heard: "Mrs. Jessica, how long have you been playing the flute?"

I had to stop and think and count, because I was struggling to remember a time when I didn't. I finally arrived at the answer of 22 years, which also meant I have been playing the piano for 26. The answer satisfied her and we went on with our practice, but that small exchange stuck with me for days.

Twenty-six years is an awfully long time to be doing something you enjoy. As a matter of fact, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I ought to be more advanced in something I've been doing a quarter of a century. Perhaps I didn't practice nearly as hard as I did in the days I had teachers to answer to, but that never stopped me from sitting down at the piano or opening up my dusty case each time it caught my eye. I love music and I have been making it for most of my life. That makes me feel both accomplished and old.

It also makes me a realize that an amateur musician is something I will always be.

In my teens, I was afraid of my twenties. In my twenties, I was afraid of my thirties. At the ripe age of thirty, I was afraid of going any further. June will mark 33 for me, and the fear is fading. I can say with confidence that this stage in my life has been the most comfortable. Not because I have a handle on responsibilities or I have figured out how not to fail my children or have a perfect marriage, but because I know who I am.

Someone once said life's about change and nothing ever stays the same {pretty sure it was Patty Loveless}, and I have found a lot of truth in that. Change will rush in like an early storm and turn its unsuspecting victims upside down, but I've learned it's best to let it come. Knowing that, however, I think I'm old enough to have amassed a collection of traits sticking around for the long haul.

I will always be an outside girl, living for summer air, dirty fingernails, and electric skies. I will always appreciate how ocean waves move in meditative rhythm, asking me to slow down and move with them. I will always be a mom, no matter how hard it gets. I will always be married, despite the unseen potholes I know are ahead. I will always be a child of God, finding peace in His overwhelming love. I will always be a teacher, whether in a classroom or my backyard. I will always be a writer, unable to understand my own perspective until letters are strung into ideas {like now, for instance}.

I have spent a very large portion of my life being these things, and I can't imagine a reason I'd ever stop.

Twenty-six years may not make a profession, but I'd say that makes a passion. None of the things listed have gained me money or fame, but it makes me. It's what I have always done, and it's what I will always do. Now you've got me curious, what falls into that category for you?

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Monday, March 20, 2017

Saturday in the Jonquils

{Owen Bauer: all of us at this year's Jonquil Festival.}

The jonquils were a bit droopy and so were we, but that didn't stop this bunch.

It's a documented fact that March should come in like a lion and go out like a lamb, but I was unaware that the frigid winter lows and sweltering summer highs were stuck in the middle. Last weekend I told you about freezing at Owen's party, and today I'm talking about sweating at the Jonquil Festival. This craft-and-corndog-filled weekend is held at Historic Washington State Park and it gets top billing on our festival circuit. Sure, we could have spent the money we dropped on a swanky date night, but sometimes nothing hits the spot like a $10 hunk of meat on a stick. The kids had cash and they were hungry:

The sunny skies and warm air brought a crowd to our corner of the state this year. We started by weaving in and out of the first line of booths and it wasn't long until we had a stuffed puppy, a beautiful hydrangea arrangement, and a couple of yo-yos to haul around. We were quickly sidetracked by the smell of fried things. We scarfed down our hand-dipped, on-a-stick fare, then let Owen lead the way to our next activity. All three kids climbed up the towering bouncy slide and shot back down for their allotted three turns. At that point, things were getting sweaty. I was regretting wearing jeans and Nora was regretting leaving her lemonade in the shade with her Grammy.

Once we bounced back from the most physical part of the day, we rallied as the noon sun shined overhead. We passed by the baked goods, jewelry, and various lotions and soaps, but our crew halted when Nora spotted a sword with a pink handle. She added this weapon {plus a pink halo crown} to her collection and transformed from Nora to the Princess Knight. As far as I know, Nora has still not returned at the time of my writing.

While the Jonquil Festival is typically the figurative start to spring for me, it happened to be the literal one this year. When I woke up this morning, I threw the covers off and greeted the new season! My favorite time of year is here, and those jonquil blossoms are just the beginning of a gorgeous season. Garden plans are rolling through my head and I have a list of back yard chores a mile long.

It's spring, y'all. Let's get to it! How did you spend this summery/springy/not-so-wintry weekend?

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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Favorite Books

March 2 marked the birthday of the beloved Dr. Seuss.

Kids across the nation dressed as their favorite book character and listened attentively as rhymes and new worlds spilled from colorful pages. Except Owen. Who decided he'd rather not dress up.

Despite his inclination to go against the grain when it comes to dress-up days, Owen loved his primary school's celebration of NEA's Read Across America Day. In honor of the man whose made-up words have become part of my parenthood vocabulary, I'd like to share some of my family's favorite reads.

Nathan has always loved a good story, but it wasn't until fourth grade that he started devouring books. His favorite series is Goosebumps, but his current top genre is historical fiction. His favorite is A Night Divided. It's about a family separated by the Berlin Wall. His homeroom teacher has a library and gives them time after they complete their work to kick back and read. He gets to bring these books home, as well as the titles he checks out at the school library. Nathan's elementary school has played a huge part in his love for reading, and I love hearing all about his new worlds. He's currently reading The Hypnotists by Gordon Korman.

Owen's favorite book series is Pete the Cat, because who doesn't love this cool cat? All of his stories feature Owen's kindergarten sight words and the rest are fairly easy to sound out. He loves reading these with his brother and showing off his skills. Owen also loves to lean against me in bed and listen to his stories. His favorite right now is Owen by Kevin Henkes. Not only does he share a name with the lead character, he also shares a love for blankets. His aunt gifted him this book for his first birthday, and he was shocked when his librarian read it to him a few weeks ago. Unlike the book Owen, though, my Owen bravely leaves his blanket home each day.

Nora's reading habits fall in line with mine: she's a lover of the classics. We always seems to land on the words I've been reading for a decade: Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and If You Give A Mouse a Cookie {plus all the other animals and baked goods involved}. She does like being read to, but more often she'll carry a pile of books to a comfy spot and enjoy the quiet. Dr. Seuss is especially good for that.

My own preferences are long and genre-hopping, but I will try to narrow it down. In no particular order, these are my favorites: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, To Kill a Mockingbird, Leaves of Grass, Looking for Alaska, and The Catcher in the Rye. Done. Jonathan's always been a more genre-specific reader. While he loves the magical world of JK Rowling as much as any human should, he's stuck beside Louis L'Amour western novels for as long as I've known him. I do like that about him.

There you have it, friends, an insight into both the fight-the-system attitude of my middle child and the reading habits of my bunch. Hopefully we've inspired you to pick up a new book or reread an old favorite. Now, you give it a go. Share your favorite books and leave us some suggestions in the comments.

Have a lovely Wednesday!

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Monday, March 13, 2017

One *Cool* Party

{Note pink cheeks and arctic blast protection for the cake.}

I don't think southwest Arkansas broke any weather records this weekend, but our bar has been set with regard to birthday parties.

March is always a toss-up when it comes to outdoor activities. In the past we've invited Owen's buddies to the house and last year we just stuck to the local pizza place for dino cake and air hockey. This year, however, Owen chose the park. Soccer is high on my son's radar at this point in his life and he wanted a soccer party with a soccer cake at the soccer park. Knowing it could be sweltering shorts weather or a rainy, stormy mess, I went for it.

What's the worst that could happen? A bunch of muddy boys could play soccer in the rain? They'd love it!

The invitations went out and we counted down the days. We watched daily as the forecast numbers dropped. When Saturday arrived, we piled every fuzzy blanket we could find into the car, covered the family in various layers of sweaters and winter coats, and froze our buns off at the soccer party.

Car after car drove down the gravel path and moms and dads entered the wintry air. Maybe I'm being dramatic, but I firmly believe we live in an area that should not *feel like 37* in March. Still, we persevered. As the grownups sat sheltered beneath the pavilion and tossed around ideas of starting a bonfire in the grill, the kids remained unaware.

Our soccer complex is surrounded by a playground and a skate park and the kids had free reign of the whole place. Immediately they realized skate ramps were basically metal slides that 8 people could fit on at once, so that happened for a while. Up they ran, and down they slid:

That little Eskimo had a blast trailing her brothers and all the big kids who came out to play with her in the frozen tundra. In fact, they all had a great time! Sure, keeping the candles lit in the wintry blast was complicated, but we had zero need to bring a cooler for the drinks and the veggie tray stayed nice and crisp. Owen said his favorite parts of his party were the amazing soccer cake from The Picket Fence in Hope, running up and down all the skate ramps {obviously}, and getting to ride his new bike and scooter with a trail of pals running behind him. It's also not every day that you get to smack a soccer ball with a baseball bat, so that was also a highlight.

As you can see in the photos above, the flushed faces and frozen fingers were no match for six-year-old fun. I am so glad the rain held off for the birthday boy and all of his friends' parents were brave enough to party with us. Thanks to everyone who came out and celebrated! Owen had a very happy birthday and though he's probably a bit warmer now than he was on Saturday, he's still riding the high of a great time.

PS: I bet you $5 it'll be 95 degrees next year. ;)

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Friday, March 10, 2017

Owen: Age 6

Six years ago I was tapping my very swollen toes.

I had a good enough reason for the tapping, but I couldn't see them because I was five days overdue with a nine-pound bun in the oven. And that, my friends, was the first day of Owen Bauer's life. Last night my five-year-old {who happened to utilize his last free buffet at the local fish joint} told me he was going to fall asleep a little kid and wake up a big one. Maybe he didn't look much different as he prepared for yet another kindergarten day, but he is. He's six years old and walking tall.

Owen is so many things wrapped up in a pint-size package: he drives me crazy, wears me out, melts my heart, and makes me proud to be his mom every day. Owen is one cool six-year-old, but I think you already knew that. Now it's time for his turn! Read on for his annual birthday interview:

Birthday Interview: 20 Questions
  1. What's your favorite color?
    I like red. I don't have a reason why.

  2. What is your favorite thing to do?
    Go to school because it's fun.

  3. What do you want to be when you grow up?
    A police man, because I want to have a cool shirt and hat.

  4. What is your favorite food?
    Donuts and macaroni and I love cheese biscuits from Red Lobster.

  5. What is your favorite TV show?
    Spiderman cartoons, because it is so cool.

  6. What is your favorite animal?
    Shark. They're mean and they have really sharp teeth!

  7. What is your favorite toy?
    Everything... I guess my soccer ball if you think that's a toy.

  8. What's your favorite thing to wear?
    My soccer jersey because I look SO. COOL.

  9. What do you do really well?
    I'm really good at playing tee ball, at hitting and at catching. I run fast to the bases, too.

  10. What makes you laugh?
    Nothing. Nothing at all.

  11. What are you afraid of?
    Makeup. Because it's disgusting and scary.

  12. Who is your best friend?
    Mario and Ryan and Bryan and Ace.

  13. What's the best thing about your big brother?
  14. That he can write and draw better than me.

  15. What's the best thing about your little sister?
  16. That she can poop and pee in the real toilet. And that she's really funny.

  17. What do you like to do with your parents?
    Go fishing because I'm really good at that and I always catch the most fish.

  18. What do you love to learn about?
    Well I love to go to PE the most and learn about exercise.

  19. Where do you like to go?
    The beach because it has the ocean and there's waves.

  20. What is your favorite book?
    Owen because it's about me and it's a mouse.

  21. What is your favorite movie?
    Moana because of the lava monster.

  22. If you had one wish, what would it be?
    That I had a pet T-Rex because it can kill bad guys.

Past Birthday Interviews: Age Five, Age Four, Age Three, Age Two
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Thursday, March 9, 2017

Joy in the Mourning

There's always a bit of poetry that comes with this time of year.

We watch the old turn over to new as winter threatens to leave and we bounce between short sleeves and warm coats. Buds wait patiently for the perfect temperature, and we teeter on the brink of two lives. While there's all sorts of metaphors and similes and I could weave into this time of year and this season of life, it's been a difficult few weeks.

Jonathan lost his dad last week after a battle with ALS. He died on Ash Wednesday and while we mourn the loss of an incredibly strong man, we rejoice in the fact that his battle was won. "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." He is where he was always meant to be, and he is better off for it.

While I could write a book on what my father-in-law meant to my family, I am going to stick with a different perspective today. I can't imagine the pain his children and wife are going through in learning to live without a piece of their heart, but I can see how it's affected my kids... and you might be surprised.

It was with a heavy heart that Jonathan had to tell Owen his Poppy was gone on their way home from school last Wednesday afternoon. After we gathered in the living room for hugs and tears, I noticed a shift in Owen's eyes. I knew five would be a hard age to deal with death, and I worried how he'd wrap his brain around it. It turns out he ended up teaching us a thing or two.

Owen broke away from our family huddle and darted through the back door. I followed him and watched as he climbed into a chair and lifted his small arms toward the sky. Shouts of "Hi Poppy! Can you hear me? You're in heaven now!" filled my yard and every inch of my soul. I stared a hole through my son who understood the joy that comes with knowing Jesus. Our death was destroyed on the cross, and Owen was psyched that Poppy was able to realize that.

When I approached him, he bubbled over. He was so excited that his Poppy could run laps without a wheelchair, speak plain as day, and see every goal scored this soccer season. He named all the dogs ready to play fetch in heaven, and he was floored when I told him Poppy's mom and dad were there, too. Never before have I seen someone thrilled about the end of a loved one's life, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. It made perfect sense. Life without our father, father-in-law, and Poppy is proving to be tough to navigate, but we are the ones suffering. Owen admits he misses Poppy, but loves that he's been made perfect and whole.

I'm also fairly certain he's having a good time rocking a grand-baby we never got to meet.

We have been a bit overrun with emotions lately. It will be hard for a while, but we feel the prayers and support and love. Thank you to all who helped honor Rickie during his memorial services, and for giving his family a place to lean. Jonathan's sister Bridget told me she adopted a new mantra: WWOBD? While it's not the best question to ask when it comes to deciding whether to jump off the top bunk, it's fitting in matters of the heart.

When it comes to his Poppy's new beginning, Owen Bauer has it figured out. Like Owen, we're all trying to find peace, but we're also looking forward to the day we join him.

PS: In lieu of flowers, we asked for donations to the organizations that helped improve Poppy's quality of life and help him live it to the fullest. Memorials may be made to ALS in Wonderland, Arkansas Hospice, and ALS Association.

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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Dear March

New month, new me?

Maybe I don't have the bar set that high for March, but the calendar flipped just in time for Ash Wednesday and for me, that brings a sense of rejuvenation. While I don't have my Lenten plans exactly lined out just yet, I always look forward to the renewal of faith that comes with it.

I love that Lent goes beyond giving up Cokes, Facebook, and other things we're better off without. There's also a heavy focus on doing more. I want to pray more and give more. I want to remember to help those who need it most, especially when it doesn't affect me personally. I want to focus on the steps Jesus took during His final 40 days as one of us.

March is a month that sees renewal all over. Green stalks break through the dormant ground, seeds are plunked into soil with the hope of fresh life bursting within them, calves {and baby giraffes... eventually} are born to mothers waiting in the fields. It's a beautiful thing, y'all. Lent is not just a countdown to Easter, just as March is more than a countdown to spring. We have to spend these 40 days {or 20 days} preparing for the joy that comes in the morning. Just as the bitter winter is necessary to bring the vibrant spring, the cross was a step toward new life. We mourn the dark times, but we celebrate their meaning.

Even though I'm looking at March as an opportunity to make all things new, there are plenty of other things I'm looking forward to this month, as well. My middle child will turn six years old {yes, Owen will soon utilize two hands} a week from Friday. We're in party planning mode and hopefully we'll get a whole gang of his buddies to show up at the soccer fields and kick the ball around with him in honor of his big day.

One of my favorite youth ministry events is sneaking up on us, as well. Throughout the season of Lent, Catholics remind themselves of Christ's final days with the Stations of the Cross. Our group gets one Friday a year to present these stations to the parish, and they have a wonderful script that relates Christ's struggles to our own. While it's the same words every year, they still hit me the same each time.

I do solemnly swear to wait patiently this season, but I am ready for spring. I am ready to smell sweet honeysuckle, take my kids seed shopping, and watch as Arkansas brown fades away and a brilliant green takes its place.

The buds are forming on the trees and everything is place for the grand rebirth we await in March. I am ready.

Happy March, friends. What are you looking forward to this month?

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