Friday, April 28, 2017

Because of Owen

One of the best parts of my day is seeing Owen's hand shoot up when he spots my car after school.

He scrambles in and proceeds to spin wild recess tales and recite the sentences he wrote in his journal. Lately I have been sharing the vast pool of knowledge provided by my kids, and today I'm wrapping it up with my middle child. {Nora's is here and Nathan's is here.} In the six years I've known him, I've heard "he's all boy" more than a few times. I don't like this stereotype given to boys who may be more rambunctious than others, because Owen is more complex than that.

Sure, he likes to roughhouse and play sports, but he's also one of the most compassionate people I know. He worries about others and he wakes up every day determined to do the right thing {even if it means not playing near the rocks on the playground}. He is a good kid and a good person and he has brought a wealth of new information into my life. Read on to see a few of things I know from this sandy-haired wild thing.

Because of Owen, I know...
  • That Daddy's superior at snuggling, but nothing beats my fluffy robe.
  • That you simply cannot ignore a girl who's talking to you, even if it means clipping down.
  • That peanut allergies are real.
  • The exact level of disturbance it takes to make Nora crack.
  • That it's possible to make noise every second of every day.
  • The importance of blankies.
  • That you should do things that scare you {even if it means speaking in the kindergarten program}.
  • That practice makes perfect and helps five-year-olds ride on two wheels.
  • The correct form of every exercise taught in PE class.
  • The precise noise zombies make.
  • That extra-small baseball pants rank high on my cutest-things-I've-ever seen scale.
  • That it's possible to admire and model after your big brother, then immediately tattle on him.
  • That it's possible to be your little sister's best friend and worst enemy on the same day.
  • The lifespan of the knees on a pair of Children's Place jeans.
  • The lifespan of a new pair of tennis shoes.
  • The lifespan of a gallon of chocolate milk in my home.
  • That the #1 vacation hot spot is Punta Cana {thanks Skylander Family}.
  • That there's not enough time during the offering to explain transubstantiation. Every. Single. Sunday.
  • That someone can exhaust me and melt my heart into goo in the span of three seconds.

Happy Friday, friends! Have a good weekend, because come Monday...
{insert Justin Timberlake meme here}

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Monday, April 24, 2017

Best I Ever Grew

As I was snacking on a store-bought pepper this weekend, I realized it's time to get my rear in gear.

Saturday marked Earth Day. In the past we celebrated the big mound of dirt beneath us by planting various veggies in our yard, but we've since learned it's best to wait until May. Still, it's prime planning time. I've already amassed a collection of seed packets, but I've yet to sketch out my garden and prep the perfect soil.

When brainstorming a topic for today, I thought of the how-to-start-a-garden post I wrote last year. While all that information remains true {and do click on that if you're thinking of growing your own}, today I want to share my five favorite crops to grow. Read on to see which varieties I recommend for my area and have a lovely Monday. I'm off to start measuring, figuring, writing, erasing, and writing some more... Good thing I have a fourth-grade math whiz to help.

  1. Clemson Spineless Okra: If you live in the south, you've heard this name. This is one crop I've planted every year, and with good reason. It loves the heat, can stand a drought, and the seeds are super easy to collect. I have continued the same crop for years and I have a bag full of seeds waiting to go in the ground. Also, it's delicious. If you cut it at its perfect length {that's about six inches, please stay away from those too-long okra pods}, it's tender and delicious. It also freezes easily.

  2. Burpless Beauty Cucumber: For a few years into my gardening experience, I hated growing cucumbers. I've always loved to eat them and although I could grow them by the pound, every single one tasted bitter. Then I realized that was a thing. I started testing out the varieties bred to be resistant to bitterness, and this one is delicious. I could eat a plate of these with ranch dip for every meal, and I get pretty close during the month of July. My mouth is watering. Seriously.

  3. Early Girl Tomato: Believe when I say I've experimented in the tomato department. {Honorable mentions go to the deep, earthy flavors of Cherokee Purple and the enormous Big Boy.} I still have plenty on my to-grow list, but Early Girl gets the top spot. As the name suggests, these are the first to fruit, the last to stop, and the most bug and disease-resistant variety I have ever grown. Even when the tall plants give in to the August heat, little green tomatoes are still everywhere. I will never not grow these.

  4. Super Sugar Snap Pea: I have only planted this cool-season vegetable once, but once was enough to win me over. I think maybe one basket full of these babies made it into the house. The rest of the harvests went straight from the vine into my mouth. They are as sweet as candy, but oddly enough.. still vegetables. They were also extremely easy to grow from seed. I planted in March and munched in May.

  5. Allstar Strawberry: My blog records show the strawberry patch was started in 2012. Since that initial planting, there are still baby berries of this variety growing amid the weeds. I didn't know whether the patch was alive after our not-so-cold winter, but apparently it went to sleep and woke up just fine. This variety is not an all-summer type, but the berries are big and better than any other I've tasted. Trust me, I am a strawberry connoisseur.

Nora would like to add broccoli to this list, and I'd also like to add the Jubilee Watermelon that grew beautifully despite the bugs, but ended as a midnight snack for sneaky raccoons.

Now it's your turn! What backyard crop variety do you think I should add to my repertoire? I'd like to try some new things this year, so jump in the comments and let me know!

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Cool Pool

Each April when my parents' pool guys peel back the cover and reveal a sparkling blue oasis, it's hard to imagine waiting another month to dive in.

My kids found an easy fix for this over this weekend.

Usually my "first dip in the pool" photos are snapped around Memorial Day, but they decided Easter Eve was good enough. It may have been 80 degrees in the air, but that water had not seen sun since October and the temperature hovered at a much cooler mark. Before we arrived at my parents' house, I knew they would want to swing or fine-tune their egg hunting skills, so I reminded them not to run by the pool, play by the pool, and or really look in the pool's general direction. I wasn't swimming in April.

Eventually my nervousness subsided and I let them dip a toe in to test the frigid waters. They assured me it wasn't too cold, and I had flashbacks of my my brother and I bobbing around the shallow end in early spring with chatters of "...this feels great!" on our blue lips. I redirected their attention and went inside to visit/linger at the appetizer table.

Every so often I peeked outside and saw three sets of feet standing on the first step, loading their squirt guns. Harmless enough, right? I warned them: "Don't get in that pool!" They reassured me: "We won't!"

{Two great aunts and a grandma, what could possibly go wrong?}

Then I noticed they'd moved a bit deeper:

This doesn't technically count as the first swim of the year because no one was actually swimming. I did, however, have to peel wet clothes off the two smaller ones who failed to remember they weren't in swimsuits. We are beginning to close in on summer, but we still have several weeks to go. Sometimes it's just hard to wait, isn't it?

Happy Hump Day, y'all. Listen to your moms!

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Easter Life

Ring pops for breakfast and Peeps for lunch. Living that Easter life, y'all.

We had a weary start to our Easter Sunday. We stayed up a little later the night before to once again convince Owen that the Easter Bunny would not actually enter our home. Whatever helped him get to sleep, honestly. He warmed up to the big bunny when he woke up to find marshmallow treats and matchbox cars.

The kids were well-behaved through Mass, and loved all the joyful white decor and the Alleluia that rang through the sanctuary. Obviously, they deserved a post-church donut. Once we made it back to my parents' house, family poured in and Easter festivities began.

We spent the day before working hard to craft the perfect Easter egg. Some of the eggs sat in their cups too long and the bottoms turned a different shade. Many eggs were cracked down the sides from the work of small hands, revealing delicate veins that looked intentional. We even busted out the shaving cream and glitter and food coloring and paint. While this year's eggs weren't the uniform pinks and greens and yellows on the front of the egg dye kit, they were perfect. It was within these mistakes and accidental designs that we came up with one fantastic collection. Each one is different, but each was crafted on a table in a house filled with love.

Imperfection can be pretty perfect to me.

One of the best parts of the day was when our hodgepodge collection of family members, including all the grandmas and one aunt from Montana, formed a line of chairs in the driveway. The spring breeze carried the familiar knock-you-over scent of honeysuckle and we watched the kids zoom in and out of view on their bicycles. Any reason is good enough for this bunch to get out and enjoy a beautiful spring afternoon, but Easter is the tops.

We celebrated the eggs for their flaws and not in spite of them, and Jesus celebrated us just the same. Even though each of us is marred with imperfection, He died so we can live. The image of sinless perfection and divine nature chose to live the most excruciating aspects of humanity because he loves us. Love won. Death no longer owns us.

I'd say that deserves one loud Alleluia! Rejoice, my friends, for we are free. Living that Easter life, indeed.

Happy Easter, from us to y'all!

{Also: Alleluia! We all looked!}

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Friday, April 14, 2017

Coach Dad

It wasn't our winning-est little league soccer season, but it sure was fun to watch.

Jonathan made his coaching debut when the city park was looking for someone to help in Owen's age group. Obviously, he was quick to step up to the plate {or... goal in this case}. Owen and five other kids made for one rag-tag red team that never gave up. With many players new to soccer, Jonathan worked on the basics: which goal is the right goal and "stop touching the ball!" Despite the fact that the season is about to close without a win, they've had a blast.

One of the highlights of this team was a little four-year-old girl, smaller than Nora with a sweet-as-honey personality. She immediately took to Jonathan, holding his hand during practice and reminding him she was on his team. I've watched this guy be a father for almost ten years now, but my heart melted every time he knelt down to to tie a tiny cleat and doubled over for mini high-fives.

Although Owen doesn't have any Ws to tack onto last season, his playing improved. He scored a goal in almost every game, and he was more eager for the action. All the field time that comes with a six-kid team wore him out, but a quick drink and pep talk from Coach Dad got him back in the game. He ran harder, deflected opposing points, and worked on assists. It was fun to watch him grow as a player, and still have fun when he was losing.

There are all sorts of lessons learned in little league sports {or dance or music...} and losing is a big one. Owen saw that even though it's kind of disheartening to lose game after game, you still have to pull on your shin guards and show up. And they all did, with big smiles and semi-concentration.

Next on the agenda is an assistant coaching gig in an area where Jonathan has actual experience. Once the soccer tournament ends, t-ball/baseball starts and my husband is already trying to figure out how to pitch to someone who stands at three-and-a-half feet. This will be a new adventure for Owen {but not for us} and I'm excited to see which sport ends up being his favorite. Even more, I am pumped to watch Jonathan in action again. He's a fantastic father and I think it's pretty cool he's spreading it out to some of the other little sports fans in our town.

Happy Friday, friends. Have a lovely Easter weekend!

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Prom Season

Nora was mulling over prom dress ideas during Monday night dinner {yes, she's still three}.

While she understands that a solid 13 years or so is enough time to decide on a style, she's already set on light pink, big, and fluffy. I don't know if that will stick once she makes it to high school, but for now it's fun living vicariously through my youth group kids. The dress styles have changed since the turn of the century and I don't recall a single "promposal" in my day, but the nervous excitement is still the same...

Picture it. Hope. April 2002. It was both Good Friday and Senior Prom. My dress was purchased, pressed, and ready. I skipped over browsing the be-dazzled pageant dresses and chose this bridesmaid style. I'm not sure why, but it was a beautiful lavender gown with a full petticoat and I was sold. I also opted for matching elbow-length gloves and those odd plastic/silver prom shoes that made your feet sweat. I think I also had a very tiny purse because why not?

I'm not sure baby's breath is still a staple for prom up-dos, but I wasn't the only one sporting it in that gym. This was my first time to wear acrylic nails {beneath gloves?} and the first time my full eyebrows were waxed into that coveted thin line. I even had my makeup applied at the beauty salon and the frosty purple eye shadow was on point.

Once my look was complete, a handful of friends met my house, accompanied by every parent in a 20-mile radius. There was no hired photographer capturing the moment as we leaned against dilapidated buildings or stood in fields of dandelions. Just dozens of 35mm cameras firing as we scanned each one and tried to make eye contact. Once our smiles were as stretched as possible, we jumped into the limo for an evening of fine dining.

At the Red Lobster.

When we finally piled into the school parking lot, nerves crept in. What will everyone think of my dress? Will my feet start to hurt? Do I remember how to do the butterfly? There is zero evidence of this prom online, but I vividly remember dancing the night away. I was awkwardly spun to the sounds of Lonestar, Train, and K-Ci and JoJo. I'm sure I failed to dance like Beyonce, but knew just how many times to stomp during the Cha-Cha Slide.

Our post-prom party was lit, too. Don't tell Nathan I said that. A tired crowd returned to my parents' house where we watched movies, ate snacks, played pool, and giggled until daylight. The best pictures from this particular part of the night involve all of us with full-glam faces wearing pajama pants. Classic.

While the memories are fuzzy at this point {and I'm still blocking out the part where my mom showed up at the prom to sneak pictures}, I love these memories. I still enjoy going out to eat this time of year, hoping to catch a glimpse of giddy kids in sparkly dresses and fancy tuxedos.

Now, I posted a picture of myself with purple elbow-length gloves. The least you could do is share your favorite prom memory with me. Let's chat in the comments! Have a great Wednesday, y'all, and to those counting down to this weekend's big event: Be safe, let loose, and watch out for moms in the shadows with cameras.

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Monday, April 10, 2017

Walking for the End

As we were strolling down the Clinton Presidential Center sidewalk Saturday, Owen zeroed in on the flags adorning each side.

He studied every face, trying to pick out the one he knew. It was early on the trail that he spotted the memorial recognizing his Poppy. We gathered around it, snapped a pic, and kept on marching in the annual Walk to Defeat ALS. It was our third time to attend, and we wore our superhero blue to remind others of our favorite fighter.

After just a few minutes of silence on the path, Owen poked me in the arm. "There's a lot of these flags, Mom." We continued on the mile trek, and the flags stayed steady. They showed faces of people we didn't know, but people who fought a disease we learned a lot about over the last few years. "Are all these people in heaven?!"

We talked a while about death, which has been a hot topic in our house. Owen wants to know what heaven looks like, why Poppy bowls so loudly during thunderstorms, and if I was there when Jesus died. "But you're from the 1980s!"

I digress...

Once I satisfied his questions to the best of my abilities, we rounded the last stretch and returned to the dozens of tents set up for teams that represent both the faces on the flags and people still living with ALS.

There were 42 teams for this year's walk. And while it's a malicious disease with no cure at this time, this event was full of hope and help. There were smiles and balloons and so much dancing. My mother-in-law even took this opportunity to donate Poppy's turbo wheelchair to another man in need of an upgrade, and it made his day. It was a beautiful way to honor my father-in-law, and I was so proud that the crowd heard the extent of his coolness {both on-road and off}. Saturday was about celebrating the lives lived in spite of ALS, but also remembering the fight is still ongoing.

I know dropping some dollars on a research site, walking a mile, or dumping a bucket of ice on your head doesn't feel like it will cure a terminal disease, but any start is good. Funding research and increasing awareness so others do the same could finally slow the number of flags lining that trail.

Owen and I agreed that there didn't seem to be an end in sight, but one day there will be.

To visit the ALS Association and learn more about how to help, click here. On the same note, my sister- and brother-in-law work tirelessly for a central Arkansas-based organization called ALS in Wonderland that very literally makes the lives of people living with ALS as easy as possible, through financial support, equipment, assistance in medical care, and friendship. It is an excellent resource to look into for volunteering, for donating, and if you know of someone who could use a little help. Click here to learn more!

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Friday, April 7, 2017

Good Morning Girl

There's a big world out there, and somebody's gotta play in it.

After the boys were off to school and work, I soaked in today's perfect spring morning. I don't go to the office on Fridays and I like to savor any slant of silence that comes my way. I ate breakfast, walked to the chicken coop, threw in a load of laundry, but mostly watched TV. It was a good time. Then at about 10:00 AM, Sleeping Beauty woke up and requested my presence. I brushed a nest of curls from her forehead and asked what she wanted to do today.

"I want to eat a muffin and play outside."

Easy enough. We baked and ate, then Nora tapped her pretend watch and proclaimed it time to go outside. From drawing chalk flowers and tomatoes and chickens to lying on the trampoline and watching the real hens chase each other, we made the most of our Friday mid-morning. {It also doesn't hurt that at about lunchtime she proclaimed it time for a juice box and iPad.}

She upped her swing push request from five to sixty and repeatedly assured me "five more" slides, but I treasure these easy days. I sang this tune with Nathan, then I wallowed in this tune with Baby Owen, and here we are on the homestretch with Nora June. In less than two months the boys will be out of school and our all-girl Fridays will be no more. In the fall Nora will start preschool {!!!} and move to a normal full-week schedule. She will love being in a new and exciting environment, and I will love real, live, unadulterated alone time, but I'll miss her.

I'll miss tuning my full focus to her sentences that run on and on. I'll miss watching her pedal face-first into a bush, then get up and dust herself off. I'll miss her sitting beneath the giant Japanese maple, telling me she feels so small.

As usual, the summer will bring with it a much louder and busier house, but the fall will bring a level of quiet I haven't heard in a decade. Maybe it won't be so bad...

Happy Friday, y'all. The weather is gorgeous, go see for yourself!

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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Their Faces

I snapped the photo above yesterday afternoon at the request of my sister-in-law.

She painted these pieces for me several years ago, and may or may not be working on another set for someone else. She wanted a reminder of them, so I happily obliged. Once I shared it with her, I returned them to my bedroom wall. I didn't think anything of it until this morning when I was scrolling through my phone photos and these three images caught my eye. Though they may look like black and white blobs to the unknowing eye, these are paintings of my kids. The first one to the left was done about ten years ago, when the ultrasound technician first caught an image of Nathan that looked more like baby than gummy bear. Bridget decided to portray the light and dark areas on canvas, and she handed me Nathan's first portrait before he ever made it to my arms.

She continued the tradition and added the other two pieces as we waited for Owen {top} and Nora {bottom} to arrive. I see so much in that black paint and blank space. There's a pointy chin, round eyes, and the ton-of-bricks reality that I was someone's mom. It was a jumble of blurry angles, but it captured our first look. In these faces were our new world.

These days their faces are bit clearer.

I didn't know those images hid a mess of blonde curls, deep brown eyes that find beauty in everything, or a talented artist's hands. The ultrasounds showed ten fingers and ten toes, but they didn't give me the whole picture. It was a sneak peek that fueled my prayer to deliver safe and sound and do a decent job as a mother.

When I look at them today {or point an iPhone at them... sorry, kids}, I still see hope. While I know the soft details of their cheeks and the striking color of their eyes, there's more to discover. I don't know what they'll look like, where they'll go, or who they'll become, but their faces still spark the prayer that I help deliver them there safely.

Happy Wednesday, friends.

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Monday, April 3, 2017

Dear April

The month of April is off to an exhilarating start around here.

My first order of business on a gorgeous Saturday morning was making Owen cry when I told him the muffins he wanted had strawberries {to which he is allergic}. After I quickly called April Fool's to the situation, it was on. I panicked when he told me two chickens were fighting and one was dead. I rolled my eyes when he said there was a coyote in the back yard, but still double checked. I fell for it when he told me there was something on my shirt.

Exhilarating, indeed.

Now that the first of April is another year away, we can focus on the remaining 29 days of beautiful springtime. April definitely ranks in my top five months, and a lot of that has to do with the sights and sounds and smells of spring. We'll go shopping for tomatoes and peppers later this month and start sketching where to plant the bounty of seeds burning a hole on my dresser. I think winter is finally over {knock on wood}, so I can't wait to see what lies ahead. Here are a few specific things I'm hoping April brings...

The Walk: This Saturday, April 8, is the annual Walk to Defeat ALS in Little Rock. The bunch and I will don our bright blue shirts and take a mile to make a difference in memory of Poppy. Want to walk with us? Want to virtually join our team? Want to donate to fund research that may finally cure this horrible disease? You can do all those things by clicking here.

Earth Day: Earth Day used to be my official garden planting date, but past experience has bumped that exciting day to early May. I now see April 22 as a reminder to run my hands through the grass, dig my fingertips into the dirt, and literally stop to smell the flowers. It's also a great time to start preparing a new kitchen garden. I wrote a how-to post last year. Click here to get growing!

Date Night: I have my fingers crossed big time for this one. While our schedules have been packed lately, my husband assures me we'll make time to be alone at some point this month. The above mentioned April Fool's Day scenario should indicate this bullet point's necessity.

Fresh Air: It's time to play outside! It's time to jump on the trampoline until the mosquitoes start buzzing and make use of the piles of bubbles and chalk that wait in the carport. Let's get dirty, sweaty, and leave rings in the bathtub. Let your lungs get a big dose of spring air this month.

Fresh Eggs: And let your bodies get a big dose of fresh eggs while you're at it. The girls have been cranking 'em out in recent weeks and we're averaging more than a dozen every two days. This trend should continue until the scorching summer temps arrive, so if you need any eggs between now and then, I'm your girl.
What are wildest hopes and dreams for April 2017?

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