Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Seedling

Since the moment I ripped open this year's seed packets, I have watched.

On a warm day when timing was right, we began. The seeds were put into place and watered, and our patience was tested. In the few weeks between that moment and today, I have noticed beauty in the waiting. I've also seen an incredible alignment between parenting and gardening. While I have about the same amount of experience in both areas, today's post will flesh out that metaphor a bit.

The life cycle of a plant begins in the dark depths of the Earth.

It's comforted by warm soil on every side and waits until the conditions are right to make the first move. Above the soil we stand, wondering when the seeds will become seedlings, whether they'll be successful, or if they'll even emerge at all.

After several days, I notice a shift. Something small and green is proving mighty enough to literally move earth. Everything around the tiny plant is disrupted as the soil continues to break and settle... and break and settle. As the small plant pulls itself into the sunshine, other things are pushed out of the way. Small rocks and grass and weeds that don't seem nearly as important make way for the star of the garden.

In the weeks following what I think is the most delicate part of my plant's life, reality strikes. The seedling is no longer the most important plant in the garden. Although it needs my attention, it becomes clear I need to also focus on weeding and watering in other areas.

Sometimes the best thing for this little plant is to let it be.

As the plant thrives on its own and practically doubles in size overnight, I come to realize it never is truly still. The leaves move and stretch daily and the stem shows strength with age. As soon as I think it's good where it is, it turns into something else I love even more. I love the way its foliage contrasts against the bright blue sky. I love the way its smell floats in my yard like a perfume. I love this sign of life in a once empty plot.

Flowers dot the vibrant plant and the seed I scraped from the bottom of the packet is a memory I struggle to remember.

When the scorching summer sun fades behind the trees in the hours after dinner, I pull on my gloves and wander outside. At this stage my plant is unruly. Heavy fruit weigh it down and I try to retrain the branches going the wrong way. However, that trick doesn't always work. This plant grows where it wants to, and I do my best to prune it and give as much direction as I can. It doesn't need as much care from me anymore, as it's becoming what it was born to be. Nature and nurture push and pull, and I pray my plant grows as tall as possible.

The plant bears the most beautiful fruit as a sign of my care and the outside forces that cooperated in harmony. I cherish the summer it was mine and I care for it as long as it lets me.

Until the plant itself goes to seed.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Into the Wild

All week Nora anxiously awaited her first venture into the jungle.

Her main concerns were vicious alligators, sharp-toothed lions, and towering elephants wandering throughout, ready to attack at any moment. However, she assured me she would risk life and limb and scary animals in order to meet a penguin. I reminded her daily that we were not planning to traverse the wild, just the Little Rock Zoo. Yes, all of the animals are behind glass and bars and unable to eat you. No, you probably won't get to take one of the cute ones home.

Both boys finished their school year with flying colors, and while they enjoyed their time in the classroom {okay, maybe Owen would say the lunch room}, they needed a break. We used their first summer Saturday to ride the zoo train and sweat profusely.

The boys had such fun jumping from exhibit to exhibit. Nathan told me the place was overwhelming, because when a sign for one animal caught his eye, he was distracted by another... and another and another! Highlights included watching two of the maned wolves fight and growl {it looked like an average day at my house} and seeing an elephant cool itself down.

This was Nora's first non-baby zoo experience and I was thrilled for her. While she was impressed by her beloved penguins and enjoyed chatting with many animals {especially every small monkey}, she had a definite answer when I asked for her favorite. She told me the best thing about the zoo was the slide. I pressed for more, and reminded her we had a slide at home. I asked her to name something we don't have at home. Her answer? The mini corn dogs. She's right, we do not have those at home. Nathan finally piped in to help. "No, Nora, what was your favorite animal you saw at the zoo?"

She thought for a few seconds, then the answer registered on her face... "THE DUCK!"

It was the duck. This duck:

Even though Nora did enjoy seeing animals from different parts of the world, I think the amenities won her over. If it wasn't the incredible playgrounds that were {much to my chagrin} at every corner, it was the cut-outs behind which Nora needed to pose. I'm not sure we hit every one of them, but the following collage does not feature my full gallery:

{I can't look at bottom center without cracking up.}

We had a fantastic Saturday and it served as the perfect start to summer... especially when Nora realized how much entertainment the jungle wilderness has to offer.

How did you start your summer break? Were animals involved? What about slides? Let me know down below!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Racking Up Awards

{And you thought Monday's post was full of gushy proud mom stuff...}

After the elementary principal read a prestigious letter from the 45th president of the United States, he began to call up students to receive medals for outstanding performance.

I steadied my hand on my phone, trying not to look too eager, but I was certain Bauer was near the top. As the name Jonathan and I chose a decade ago was announced to the room, I watched my bespectacled kid walk calmly to the podium, careful to keep his smile from rising too far.

Fourth grade here is the first that features an awards assembly, so Jonathan and I had front row seats. The medal Nathan received was for being one of the few in his grade to make all As for the year. His dad hopped up to snap a picture of him, then we settled in for the remainder of the program.

Once the principal finished his list, the keyboarding teacher took the stage. The first name called was Nathan's. He told me he was a fast typer, but I didn't know he stayed on the leader board. He didn't even make it back to his seat when "Nathaniel Bauer" rang into the microphone again, this time from his music teacher. His grin widened as he changed direction and I caught the eye of a teacher who probably noticed the incredulous look on my face. If you read my post on Monday, you know Nathan has musical ability, but his piano teacher and family aren't the only ones to notice.

When Nathan's classroom teachers announced winners, he went up for honors in both social studies and math. When it was over, he had a stack of five certificates. We were gathering his winnings when the principal stopped by. He looked at the awards in front of Nathan and congratulated him and pointed out that he now knows where the bar is set.

As we walked out of the school, I remembered that afternoon would be his last pick-up until fifth grade. The school year is over, and it ended with a bang.

On my Time Hop app today there's a photo from ten years ago. It's Nathan's 4D ultrasound I proudly shared with Facebook. I have a son! With a face! Just a tiny face with features we could barely pick out, but full of potential. This morning my heart swelled {just like the lump in my throat} when I saw just how that potential is being realized. Nathan works so hard at school. I am happy that he's able to see the results of his efforts.

He is a dedicated student, an incredible person, and one amazing son.

Happy Hump Day, y'all. Cheers to summer break!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Student Musician

This weekend my oldest son once again shook off his nerves and took the stage.

Nathan's had two and a half years learning major chords and allegro speeds and not to look at his fingers while stretching them to sixths. In the past I have written performance posts about how Nathan's anxiety melts through his fingers and comes out in impressive sound. While I could spin a tale about Nathan's experience at his fourth recital, that's his story. Today I have my own.

As his mom, there's a good chance I will always think Nathan is good at what he does, but what I want to share today has nothing to do with being his parent. I have played beside so many people, including several beginner band students in church. The thing about playing with someone who may not have as much experience is that you must let them set the pace. You obviously can't leave your partner in the dust. A duet is not two separate sounds, but a melding of noise that produces something better. That's how I approached our recital duet when Nathan asked me to accompany him.

When we first tried the song together, I was floored. While we were playing, Nathan kept one ear to the piano and another to me. He listened for my breath and struck the keys at the exact millisecond I exhaled. He held notes when I stumbled over mine, his sound rose with the emotion of the piece, and his fingers found every chord while his eyes scanned the notes. He asked me to play one section a different way, and we tweaked it until it felt right to him.

Once we got it down, I wandered into the kitchen and tried to explain what I felt to Jonathan. Nathan was no longer playing music, he was feeling music, and he was working with me to make our audience feel it, too.

I was discussing music with Nathan as a colleague, not a teacher.

At Friday night's performance, he played perfectly while I stumbled over a few notes. He also played a solo performance that sent chills down my arms, and a duet with another student a few years older than him.

The recital lasted two hours, but I still wanted an encore when it was over {it did help that Nora was asleep by then}. It was surreal to watch a fifth-grader belt Johnny Cash, then have a young girl take us to church while her fingers flew and her booming voice bounced off the back wall, followed by a preschooler who played classic nursery rhymes without thinking twice. Being in audience to this group had me floating on air.

I know these kids aren't just lesson-takers. They're all musicians, and I am so proud to say that Nathan has every right to hold that title.

It doesn't make sense to talk about the recital without sharing a little footage,
so click below to hear two of Nathan's songs. Enjoy and have a lovely Monday, friends!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Dirty Work

{and it's done dirt cheap!}

There seemed to be more dirt on Nora's face than in the garden, but summer planting is done!

We spent a long afternoon last week plunking seeds into the ground and patting soil at the base of tomato plants. Booms of thunder rang in our ears, so we hunkered over and worked quickly. We finished just in time and were left with hope in this little patch of land. I say little, but I don't think it's appropriate anymore. This year we stretched our growing area into 1,120 square feet... the size of a very nice home.

The idea to stretch our space was born when I couldn't decide between tomato varieties. I came home with 20 total, a pack each of Bradley, Cherokee Purple, Early Girl, Arkansas Traveler, and Celebrity. I knew I needed three rows to make this work, so we tacked a few feet onto the plan. We also needed another row for the four varieties of peppers I grabbed, so another few feet were penciled for that, too. Then I needed a couple more feet for the sack of purple hull peas Jonathan picked up at the farm store. We're adding this new crop for Jonathan's mom. She's looking forward to shelling them with the kids, and we'll try them to see if our tastes have changed... maybe.

When the tiller was shut off, more than a thousand square feet of turned soil lay waiting for work. We dug rows, filled them with compost, and got to planting. Nora and Owen happily took charge of the green bean row. I asked Owen to push two seeds into holes six inches apart. He somehow knew just what that meant, and told his sister to stay in front of him. Back and forth they went, leapfrogging down the row until it was done.

In honor of your curiosity and the fact that I can't remember anything, here's what's growing in my backyard: one row of cucumbers {two different types}, one row of bush beans, one row of Clemson Spineless okra seeds saved from last year's crop, poblano peppers, jalapeño peppers, and two colors of bell peppers, the aforementioned tomato forest, two rows of various sunflower types, and those gross unique-tasting purple hulls.

In past years April flooding meant planting in a straight-up mud pit, but this year was different. The soil was easy to work, and it smelled rich and full of life. Planting day also coincided with the full moon and was followed by a day of rain with nitrogen-heavy lightning. It's now one week post-planting and there's new life sprouting all over the place. I have a good feeling about this garden, y'all. Keep watching this space to see if my predictions come true.

{Yes, these are bean seeds and pea sprouts, but you still get the idea, right?}

If a fruitful season follows, you can have all the purple hulls peas you want!

Are you still considering what to plant for summer? If so, I have a handy-dandy suggestion list for you. If you've already planted, please jump in the comments and let me know what you've got growing. I love a good garden talk.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Celebrating Mama

{Takes a mother's love for those three, am I right??}

My Mother's Day began with 400 teens screaming praise music, and ended with just my three... negotiating an exit from the pool.

Not sure which wore me out more, but what a fine way to revel in my motherhood.

The annual Catholic State Convention for our youth group is typically held the second weekend in May, and although I have to spend half of my day of honor away from my kids, I really do enjoy it. Honest. It's been a joy to spend it with the kids I didn't birth, but still claim.

Once we made it back to my parents' house for Mother's Day festivities, I was rewarded for doing the one job I always prayed I'd get to do. Owen and Nora gave me herbs in pots they colored, and Nathan handed me a perfectly decorated mug full of Dove chocolate. I also got the treat of reading the infamous kindergarten "My Mommy is..." interview.

I giggled when Owen said I weigh 50 pounds and nodded in agreement when he said my favorite color was "all of the colors," but I spit my tea when I saw he told his teacher that "Move That Body" was my favorite song. For some reason Owen is heavily into early '90s jock jams and "Move This" by Technotronic tops the list. We can't help but dance like maniacs the entire time it plays. Yes, he nailed that question.

I enjoyed my day of traveling home with tired teens then chasing my not-so-tired kids, but I kept thinking about others I know who celebrated this weekend. I know moms who had babies on their hips yesterday, with cheesy grins from finally being counted among the many. I know moms who have held the title for decades, including one who smiled just as big when opening a card from her thirty-year-old son. I also know moms whose hearts break on this particular day. As flowers and personalized gifts flow on Facebook, they grieve for the children they barely got to know.

Moms are amazing creatures, and children both here and in heaven know that. I know we don't do it for the potted plants and funny questionnaires. We all, every single one of us, do it for the love. The love between me and my kids is unlike anything else I have ever felt, and even though I do have one child already waiting for me, I feel that love, too. I feel it coursing through my veins every day.

While Mother's Day has never been my favorite horn-tooting holiday, I do acknowledge the fact that being a mother is hard, dirty work. Being the mother to a child who left before you is probably one of the hardest things any woman ever has to do. To all in that boat: I am so sorry for your loss; however, you are one unbelievably strong mother.

And to every single mom out there: Happy {day after} Mother's Day!

Friday, May 12, 2017

To The Graduates

{Oh yeah, I dug into the catacombs for this one.}

Tonight the Hope High School Class of 2017 will walk across a stage, shake a hand, and peace out.

Some will leave the auditorium in tears, some will leave clueless about their next step, and some will hit those doors and never look back. Still, that school will always be their first chapter, no matter what waits in the next one. When thinking of all these teenagers making their great escape, ready or not, the thought that hits me the hardest is how old I am.

On a May Friday a whopping 15 years ago {that's 5,475 days of my life}, I was there, worrying whether my heels would sink into the grass and which side of the cap indicated my graduate status. The future was far down my priority list in that moment. Since that day, however, I've learned dozens of unexpected life lessons.

Today I want to reach out to the Class of 2017 {or their moms, who are more likely my target audience} with a handful of advice for their debut into the real world. These thoughts can go for those a few years away from graduation, a few years past, or those who just need a brief refresher. To whomever you are and wherever you are: Congratulations. You may have had a fun four years, but the best is waiting. Whether you have a binder detailing your ten-year-plan or you're still debating tomorrow's lunch, you did it. Graduates, it's time to begin...

  • Be happy. Wake up every day knowing it's going to be a good one. Sometimes it'll work, and sometimes it won't, but it sure is nice to start on a good foot.

  • Pray. It isn't something you have to do in a church or with anyone else. Just close your door and talk to God. I can almost guarantee he won't arrive with a Power Point presentation on "What You Should Do" but this relationship is crucial. Get to know Him better.

  • Be brave. Talk to the guy who smiles at you in college algebra. Change your major. Change your career. Go on an adventure. Don't be afraid to live the life you want.

  • Be prepared. Know how to do laundry the right way, and start building up your sack full of quarters.

  • Be kind. Pay for the person behind you in drive-through. Stop to help a stranger in need. Open the door. Check on a friend who's having a hard time. Check on a friend who isn't having a hard time, but you just haven't heard from in a while. It's easy to be nice. And it's free!

  • Call your mom. Seriously. It's probably a good idea to just do it right now.

  • Take naps. Nap as often as you can {you know, within reason}. Trust me on this one.

  • Go to class. Your college professor won't care nearly as much as your high school teachers that you were too tired to make it. This is an easy way to get dropped from a class and lose those precious tuition dollars.

  • Learn about money. Don't spend what you don't have, and save as much as possible. I know these can be lean times but you don't want/need credit card debt to haunt you.

  • Fail. It's visible proof that you tried. Failure leads to growth and shows you where the bar is set. Mistakes are going to hurt, but they're coming. Wear your scars and let them push you to try again.

  • Succeed. Your level of success is not based on the performance of anyone else. Go ahead and read that sentence again, I'll wait. I want every person reading this to succeed in all their goals, especially the ones they don't yet know they want. However, the only person you have to prove yourself to is YOU. If you're a better person than you were yesterday, you made it.

  • Love. Everything you do, do it in love. It is the one that thing that can hold us all together, and the baton has been handed off to you. Bring love back into the world, one word, one action, one step at a time.

Congratulations to the Class of 2017! Do well, and do good.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Batter Up!

{Fair Warning: I have upgraded from soccer mom to baseball mom.
Buckle up, buttercup, because I'm about to share some serious little league fandom.}

Owen stepped up to the pitcher's mound, beads of sweat dotting his concentrated brow...

He ground his fist into his glove, and let the gravity of the moment sink in. It was the first game of the season, and Owen's debut as a starting pitcher for his 5/6-year-old team. He dug his cleat into the dust and made eye contact with the batter at the plate {who also happens to sit two tables down from him in kindergarten}. Then... Owen took a few steps to the left and handed his coach the ball.

Okay, so Owen's first pitching gig doesn't actually involve throwing strikes. This league is a hybrid of coach pitch and tee ball, and the kids love it. During his first fielding experience at Game One, he ran to his spot, smack in the middle, and yelled for my attention. I assumed he was going to tell me he needed to use the bathroom, so I ignored him. Therefore, he shared his question with the entire field:

"Mom, is this the time when I catch the ball and throw it to first??"

Once every parent in the bleachers gave him the green light, he was all about the action. When any bat-to-ball contact is made, he scrambles to the ball and shoots it to his buddy on first base. Once his head coach let him know that he can run to home plate and get outs there, too, it was on. He really is a good little southpaw, honest. He's also a good batter when he remembers to stand on the other side of the plate. This age group gets three coach pitches, then moves to a tee until they get a hit. Owen's gotten all sorts of runs and RBIs and other baseball abbreviations I don't know at this time.

Post-game, Owen looks like an extra off Sandlot. Ball cap askew, head soaked with sweat, and dirt up both legs from unnecessary dives to catch grounders. He grabs a Gatorade and smiles big as he tosses his glove into his bag and slips it on his back. I understand tiny humans have been wearing tiny baseball uniforms for decades now, but my goodness those are small pants expertly pushed up to reveal small baseball socks. You're killing me, Smalls.

I don't know if he'll play baseball for-eh-ver, but the first weeks have been a success. He has such a fun time, and I love watching him.... in his tiny pants. Happy Wednesday!

Monday, May 8, 2017

Weekend Vibes

Well, we let the kids get all the way in the pool.

We {read: Jonathan} spent most of Saturday prepping our garden for summer planting. We added what was supposed to be a few more feet to it this year, and ended up with more than 1,000 square feet total. Yes, this is bigger than any apartment we've ever lived in. Yes, I may be in over my head. You'll have to stay tuned for that story, though. Because Saturday was spent in dirty manual labor, Sunday was kicked back poolside.

My bunch squirmed through church Sunday morning, eager to get to their grandparents' house to test whether the water was cannonball worthy. I'm not sure I even finished saying "Go ahead, Owen," before water splashed onto the sidewalk and his body shot beneath the surface. He's working on remembering his swim lessons, but his jump skills are still there.

Nathan zipped around the pool like a pro, and Nora was fearless. She did so well dunking her head and kicking her legs as hard as possible, that I texted our swim teacher to reserve this three-year-old her first week of lessons. I know it was a workout, but my dad sure seemed to enjoy tossing her up "again" and "again!" and "AGAIN!" Nora napped hard once we all parted ways, and it's a safe bet Grampa did, too.

Once we convinced the kids to exit the pool for dry towels and Popsicles, Nora kept asking, "So is it summertime now??" I told her there's still a while until the official start of summer, but Sunday was good enough for her. Kids were thrown into the deep end {all of Jonathan's fatherhood dreams}, bright orange Popsicles dripped down swimsuits, and goggle tan lines began to form.

If this start to the swimming season is an indication of the summer vibes coming our way,
I'm ready to jump in... {except it was still a bit too cold for this mama}.
Happy Monday, y'all. How did you spend your weekend?

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Dear May

You can't tell by the swamp in the yard and the jackets near the door, but planting season is here!

You may get tired of me declaring each spring month my favorite {just kidding, I know you could never tire of me}, but May brings 31 stellar days. Whenever the garden returns from its pond-like state, we'll start getting things in the ground. There are only three weeks left of school, and my youth group calendar is dwindling. The freedom of summertime is knocking on my door, and while I have to pull on my rain boots to answer it, I'm ready.

Monday kicked off a few days solo while Jonathan was gone on business, and we all made it! We even went to Owen's ballgame, where he gave an outstanding first performance from the pitcher's mound. More on that later, though. Today I want to share a few of my hopes for May. I want to make it a great one.

  1. Favorite Thing: Due to the current situation outside, I'll to refrain from saying "sunshine on my shoulders." Let's go with "scents of springtime." This delightfully stormy season has carried the bright smell of honeysuckle to every corner of our property. I love it.

  2. Planning: Fifty points to whomever guessed my garden. This weekend the family has a date at the local nursery for tomatoes and peppers and herbs, oh my! Last year I think we planted 15 tomato plants. We can do better.

  3. Eating: I want to step up my farmer's market shopping this year. All three markets in my area started their season last week, and I want to supplement what's not growing at my house with what's growing at someone else's. For early May, that means replacing all the strawberries my rude chickens have been stealing.

  4. Drinking: Tequila. Every time I do this monthly questionnaire I answer this with alcohol. Still, my mother-in-law fancies herself a margarita expert, and she ain't wrong. She recently discovered Don Julio and May 5 seems like the perfect time to empty the bottle a little. ¡Olé!

  5. Wearing: We've yet to require a steady summer wardrobe, so I'm going with makeup. I have been loving the new Rainforest of the Sea Color Splash Lipstick from Tarte. I just have the color Island Life right now, but I'd like to up my collection. Every shade gives off the perfect vacation vibe.

  6. Listening to: Low-rumbling thunder, buzzing bees, wind chimes singing in the humid breeze, and the sound of my kids not playing in the house.

  7. Enjoying: My husband! Although May's calendar is already crammed full, much of that time will be spent right beside Jonathan and I will enjoy every second. It's been a lonely four days, y'all.

  8. Current Project: A fourth-grade volcano. It's due May 18 and Nathan has molten lava papier-mâché dreams. Thankfully his Dad returns home today and they can get cracking. If it were up to me, we'd go the cardboard, Mentos, and Diet Coke route... You can probably check back later this month for an update.

  9. Hoping for: Dry weather. For the past two years I have planted my summer garden straight into mud. It's not looking good right now, but if I can get a week of sunny weather, that garden of mine just may dry out. Work with me here, Mother Nature!

  10. Doing: Getting dirty. My fingernails will soon sport a springtime manicure, and the knees of my jeans will be brown. It's hard work, but it's my favorite kind of work. This year I intend to get a good dose of backyard therapy. Those sunflowers and cucumbers are pretty good listeners.

What are you looking forward to most this May? {... you know, once the sun returns.}

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