Thursday, August 31, 2017

Adventures with Cupcake

{The day Nora discovered that Snapchat picks up doll faces was a good one.}

Everybody at preschool knows Nora's favorite baby doll by name.

When we walk through the door in the mornings, we're met with "Hey Nora! Hey Cupcake!" Nora just grins and cradles her doll closer, grasping for the strength to hold back her goodbye tears. At pickup time, I have found a crowd of preschoolers glued to a movie with none other than Cupcake sitting smack in the middle, just as captivated by the cartoon of the day. I'm surprised Cupcake doesn't have a cubby of her own yet.

With the help of her sweet-faced sidekick, Nora June's imagination has been going 90 to nothing lately. Just the other night, she was fixing my hair and with a syrup-thick Southern accent she was telling me about her children's amazing dance recital. In the middle of coloring my hair rainbow and pink, her phone rang. She looked at the plastic screen and let out one dramatic sigh. "It's my kid, I've gotta answer. I'm a mom too, you know." I knew, obviously, so I urged her to take the call. Her daughter, Cupcake Cake Strawberry Jeff Bauer, needed her home ASAP because she broke the microwave and her dad was busy at the fire station. That's life.

Sometimes Cupcake is a sassy teen, sometimes Cupcake is a newborn baby, but every time Cupcake is by her mother's side. I've watched them dodge killer sharks during a beach vacation. I've seen them help the patriarch of the family when the dance studio caught fire and he called for back up. I've even seen Nora work her weekend job as a nurse while she administered Cupcake's shots and fixed her broken hand... and arm... and leg... and other leg.

Although at this point you can only take Nora's wild tales with a grain of salt, it's fun to watch the wheels turn toward her next big plot twist. Whether she and Cupcake are famous pop stars ready to take the stage or a mild-mannered family enjoying dinner at the table, I happily accept my invitation into her world. The boys and I get front-row seats into the depths of my daughter's mind and you know we're always ready to pop that popcorn and settle in for the show.

Nora's imagination is a good sign she knows she can do anything.
I can't wait to be front row, center when I find out which of these dreams she turns into reality.

{You know... except that shark thing.}

Happy Thursday, y'all!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Survival of the Fittest

When the school year cranks up, certain sacrifices must be made.

The hours I spent slaving over the pristine, weed-free garden of June and July have been replaced with homework help, early bedtimes, and general post-learning chaos. Late August transforms my backyard paradise into a field of dying/dead plants, overrun with rambling weeds. A wasteland where only the fittest can survive.

Basically, may the odds be ever in their favor.

And that is fine with me. Our summer production was impressive, especially the millions of tomatoes I picked. There are a few green tomatoes that still cling to dying plants, but they're pretty much done. We did freeze some for the winter months and we have a jar of salsa that features our harvest. Good enough for me!

The cucumbers and peas are long gone. There may be some green beans smothered beneath the weeds, who knows. The bright yellow sunflowers that once stretched past my husband's head are now bent over and tired. Their sunny color is replaced by darkness and their faces look like they've seen some things...

This year Mother Nature reserved her hottest days just in time for my kids to sweat buckets in the car line. That means the two crops that live for the scorch of the sun, peppers and okra, are doing fine. The pepper plants look the worse for wear, but every time I peek there's a fully grown bell or jalapeno waiting to be picked. We have even frozen several this year to use for stew and chili. Our freezer finally looks like we have a working garden! As for okra, I think we've already chopped five quarts and it's still going strong.

PS: Last week we fried okra from September of last year that was processed in this way
{chopped into bite-sized pieces and thrown in a freezer bag} and it tasted like we'd just picked it.

In addition to the death and despair, there's a healthy amount of {horrifying} bugs in the garden, which helps my "may the best plant win" attitude. If I had a dollar for every foot-long grasshopper that landed on my shirt in recent days, I'd have a solid two dollars. And that is too much money.

I'm more cautious when entering the weedy garden these days, but I do make it out every so often to cut okra and see if my eyes catch anything else ready for harvest. My chickens have been enjoying all the forgotten tomatoes, too. Now if I can just convince them to go after the grasshoppers...

Any other growers develop this laissez-faire late-August attitude?
Have a lovely Wednesday, y'all.

Monday, August 21, 2017


{This is a stock photo, but I'm 100% sure this is what I would have seen today had I been prepared.}

This afternoon my Internet has been jammed with news articles and blog posts and 140-character opinions riddled with clever eclipse puns.

Not me, friends. Nothing I can say... total eclipse of the heart.

I'll admit that was weak, but I have been singing this song in the shower, in the car line, at my desk, to my kids, to my chickens, to my husband for days. Maybe now that the eclipse has come and gone, things will... turn around.

I'll stop now.

I recently posted on Facebook to see if I had invented my own school-age eclipse memory. I strongly remember sitting in my fourth-grade classroom poking a hole in a paper plate that would somehow protect my retinas from burning when I stared into the sun. I don't really recall having the fear of blindness drilled into me, but I sure remember putting a plate on my face.

Google tells me this happened on May 10, 1994 and several readers chimed in to validate my memory. Who knows if my mom had to sign a permission slip or sort through eclipse propaganda in my backpack, but I had a definite déjà vu moment when my kids woke up ready for a Monday at school.

Now that the moon has blocked the sun, rendering parts of the country {not this part} dusk-like, my kids have come home with their own opinions:

Nathan initially told me he was underwhelmed. However, his imagination had likely cooked up a sudden burst of pitch blackness with zooming comets and passing UFOs. He was excited that his class got to check it out three different times and it was cool to see the various positions of the moon. They even timed it perfectly and got to see only a teeny sliver of the sun. AND he said the crickets and cicadas starting singing then. Cool, right??

Owen said, and I do quote, "The solar eclipse was the most awesome thing I ever saw!" Owen's description was that the moon became the sun, while the sun, in fact, became the moon. Not sure if that'll fly in the world of science, but it works for me. He said it looked like the sun was eating the moon and he kept his glasses on the whole time. Success!

We'll see another round of sun-blocking in less than a decade, according to the Internet. In the spring of 2024, another total eclipse will occur AND southwest Arkansas will be in the exact path of totality. While this doesn't sound like a very long time from now, Nora will be Nathan's age, Nathan will be a junior in high school, and I will be months away from 40. Maybe I'll be able to drag my elderly body to actually snag some solar glasses and see it next time around...

How did your kids feel about being part of a pretty big day in history and science?
Are you still singing Bonnie Tyler? Everyone's pets okay? Anyone develop super powers??

These are things I wonder. Happy Monday, y'all!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Flashback Friday: School Stories

The first week of school brings up a lot of anxious feelings in my little students.

There's that initial worry of making it through the car line on time {which was not helped by this morning's forgotten backpack}. Once you make it over that hurdle, there's focusing on all your teacher's words, staying calm during tests, and trying to navigate a schedule that looks like HTML. Recent discussions about these worries have drummed up many memories for me. Today's post is a Flashback Friday, because I'm about to spin three different tales of my own school-time stress. Gather 'round and cringe, friends:

Story One: College
Let's start with the most recent story {a mere 13 years ago}. I was starting my third year at the University of Central Arkansas and at that point, my minor was Spanish. As my OCD led me to do, I made a dry run before the start of every semester. I needed to know building locations, floor layouts, and the quickest walking paths. I was usually the first person in class and I usually sat on the front row.

On this particular new year, I remember walking into my lower-level Spanish course and planting my backpack beside that coveted center seat. Once the other students filled in around me and the professor took his place, something weird happened. I understood his welcome and directions to speak no English at all, but everything after sounded like a foreign language... literally. I realized this was no cruel trick to ruin my GPA when my name was absent from the class list. I was red as a beet when I raised my hand to own my mistake and slid into a back-row seat next door ten minutes late. Oops.

Side Note: Even though my actual class was much easier, I switched my minor to creative writing that year.

Story Two: High School
I turned 16 in the summer of 2000 and I was fully licensed, ready to roll. My electric blue Mustang was clean as a whistle when I drove toward the first day of my junior year. I parked in the #35 spot on the Hope High School campus and walked in like I owned the place.

Back then the campus was open for lunch, so my best friend and I headed to Dairy Queen. It wasn't far from the school and we knew we could get back in time {my first-day anxiety took McDonald's out of the equation}. After we finished our meals with time to spare, I paused at the stop sign beside our school and cruised on. Notice I said paused? Yes, my friends, I got pulled over for the first time ever... during lunch period... on my first day driving to school... directly in front of campus. I can't recall the shade of red my face wore all afternoon or how many smirking classmates stopped me in the hallway, and I'd really rather not.

Side Note: I only got a verbal warning, but I didn't pull over for a solid minute because I didn't notice the flashing lights.

Story Three: Primary
Let's take it on back to 1992. I was in third grade at the brand-new Hope Primary School, later to be renamed after our 42nd president. I was in Mrs. Hesse's class and I sat on the front row right beside her desk {sensing a theme here?}. One morning she had to step out, and as teachers do, she asked a student to stand up front and take names.

I pulled a book from my backpack {I can only assume Sweet Valley Twins or Baby-Sitters Club} and started reading until I felt eyes. I looked around to find my instinct was right. Everyone was watching me until I turned to the blackboard and saw Jessica in powdery white letters. Rude, right?? My heart sank, my palms puddled up, and I burst into tears. Thankfully many of my allies were in that class with me and rectified the situation when the teacher walked in. Vindication! I don't know why that moment has stuck with me for so long, but there it is, folks.

Side Note: That was not the first time my name made it onto the board. The other times were, however, warranted.

I know these stories aren't super embarrassing, but a lot of the moments that may be deemed mortifying to others {dressing in a kangaroo costume for an entire fifth-grade day or performing a square dance routine at a junior high assembly} were things I chose to do. I think this post has revealed a bit of my character.

Maybe too much?

Did these memories bring up any of your own? If anything, you can share these tales with your kids in the effort of solidarity. Happy Friday, y'all!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Watermelon Queen

Sweaty curls, a hunk of juicy melon, and an expression of pure bliss...

We're expecting a call from the Hope Watermelon Festival any day now, because y'all know this kid is front-of-the-brochure worthy.

This weekend we participated in one of my favorite hot weather activities. This year's festival was the 41st of its kind, and I'm pretty sure my mom has pint-sized shirts of mine that date way back to 1992. I've gone every year for a long time, and even though the sticky humidity makes it hard to stay longer than an hour, it's tradition.

While we {obviously} hit up the foot-long corn dog stand and spent a lot of hard-earned dollars on lemonade, the most memorable stop this year was the watermelon tent. For a mere two bucks, my mom bought a quarter of a giant melon and plopped it down in front of Nora. Before we could dole out the forks to dig into this tasty late-summer treat, my daughter went in face first.

The only regret I had in this moment was not being near my real camera. However, I was quick with my phone and I think it did a decent job of capturing the moment.

While you're toiling away at your job on this hot midweek afternoon, I want to share a few photos just to make you smile. I even have a soundtrack for you to click before reading further. No, she was not entered in any watermelon pageant this year {because let's face it, it would have been unfair}, but Nora was unofficially crowned watermelon queen. And yes, she let both me and Nathan share. Her highness does have royal manners, after all. This photo shoot was full of shock at the wonders of watermelon, feats of strength, and one happy kid... Festival volunteers, be sure to hit me up if you're ever looking for a melon model!

Happy Hump Day, y'all! Have you bitten into a world-famous Hope watermelon lately?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Back-to-School Report

Three kids held three homemade signs in my carport as the thunder rolled and the rain ushered in a new school year.

All three of my kids stood in a row to cheese and shake off the nerves before walking into new classrooms. One kid was less enthused than the other two, as you can clearly see, but there were smiles all around when the day was done. The short story is: preschool was amazing, first grade was amazing, and fifth grade was amazing. I could leave it at that, but it wouldn't be very fun, would it? Read on to learn why these kids had such a wonderful first day:

It's always a little overwhelming to walk into a new situation, but Nathan was ready to see his friends and get started in a routine. This year he has three core teachers, a different activity teacher each day, and a GT class he attends three days a week. This schedule seems beyond elementary to me, but so far he's handling it well. Nathan is pleased to report that fifth grade is awesome so far because:

  • His class was allowed to choose desks in homeroom {#anarchy}. Naturally, he sat in a row of friends.
  • He tells me life is full of responsibility in fifth grade, instead of being lead to classes by teachers.
  • On that note, he is thrilled that lining up is a thing of the past. No more tripping over the kid in front of you.
  • He gets to carry his books and backpack from class to class.
  • All of his core teachers are super nice. So far the language arts teacher is the front-runner.
  • He's already jumping into the study of big words for vocabulary tests, which have turned out to be a favorite.

In the days leading up to school, Owen kept asking if he could stay in kindergarten. He was certain the older grades would be all work and no play. In spite of all his anxious feelings, he mustered the courage needed to walk through the doors. I met his anxiety throughout my workday, but I exhaled when he climbed into my back seat smiling. He said his first day in first grade was great, and here is why:

  • He sits beside Asher in the second row of desks and right in front of Kaylie.
  • The room is bigger and looks much cooler.
  • He got to play a game with play dough and didn't have to watch any boring movies.
  • His teacher has a loud voice, but she is very nice.
  • He gets to check out AND take home library books.
  • He gets to see kids who just started kindergarten and that makes him feel big.

This week isn't technically the first for Nora's preschool class, but Monday was their debut in kindergarten prep. Nora was so happy to show me her "homework" - an apple tree they painted to celebrate the beginning of the alphabet. She said her teacher came around and asked her to pick a finger to dip into the red paint, so she informed her she does not like having her nails painted. Once the process was explained, however, she was happy to create the masterpiece now hanging on our fridge. Following are a few more reasons why Nora thinks preschool rocks:

  • She gets to eat chicken nuggets and green beans that are better than Dad's {her words}.
  • She has a cubby with her name on it. And it's pink!
  • She gets to line up when she goes outside.
  • One of her best friends has yellow curly hair, just like her.
  • She sits on a purple square at rug time and they get to dance at school.
  • She gets to use GLUE and PAPER and "MARKERS BUT I DO NOT MAKE A MESS."

You should know I, too, rocked back to school. I remembered the exact placement in the elementary car line needed for an easy transition through both schools. I left no lunchbox unpacked. I even got out of bed on time! I'm sure there will be bumps along the way as fun first-day activities dissolve into actual work, but I know these kids can handle it.

Happy New School Year to all the parents and teachers out there.
I hope you had a fantastic fresh start, and if not... just a few days 'til Friday!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Stay in School

"Give me one reason to stay here... okay, make it ten!"

Yesterday my family made the classroom rounds for our district's open house. This was a day both boys were looking forward to, because Nathan needed to know who was in his homeroom and Owen's fear of the unknown was reaching what's-under-the-bed levels. They were happy to put a face with the name that topped their class lists, but phrases like "homework three times a week" and "we work bell to bell" made them realize there's no turning back. Hate to break it to them, but Monday's still going to come.

I know the kids will settle into their new school experiences once routine kicks in, but I've been steadily convincing them the first ringing bell doesn't signal a prison sentence. If your kids are dreading turning in lazy days for agenda books, maybe the following reasons could help.

Here are the Top Ten Reasons My Kids Should Be PUMPED About School:

  1. FRIENDS Nathan has seen a few of his buddies throughout the summer, but he is very eager to get to talk to his friends every single day. Owen is apprehensive about a bigger room with bigger desks, but he can't wait to share a class with two kids from his ball team. These kids get to spend their days with people who are not their mother. This reason alone should get them up with the sun on Monday.

  2. PLAYGROUNDS Owen's favorite part about kindergarten was racing his classmates to be the first on the swings and Nora finally gets to play outside in preschool! Fresh air and freedom!

  3. LUNCH I'm not afraid to admit that many a Lunchable will be packed this year, but when you're eating crackers and meat circles with friends at the lunch box table, they taste even better.

  4. LEARNING Oh right, there's a reason for spending half a day in a classroom. I've been telling Owen that first-grade was the most impressive of Nathan's primary school career. The kid entered that class starting to pick apart words, and left able to read the dictionary. The change at this age is unbelievable. And I will assume fifth-grade math questions will divert to Jonathan.

  5. BE BRAVE Another reason my kids will have an epic first day is because they get a chance to show their strength. Owen will gather his courage to walk down the first-grade hall alone. Nathan will exhale and walk into a cafeteria full of his peers before the bell rings. Nora will tell me goodbye without tears. It's hard, but it can sure boost that self confidence.

  6. PROVE YOURSELF Owen can read. Nathan can rattle off his multiplication facts. Nora can write her name. And now it's time to prove it. I know I'm looking forward to all the light bulbs that are going to click on this year, but more so, I'm looking forward to seeing it all over their faces.

  7. PEP RALLIES And field trips and class plays... anything that gets them out of the classroom and onto a bus, really. They get to go places without parents, and one of these places involves crazy dancing and really loud yelling. What more could a kid need?

  8. RAINY DAYS Although Owen tells me recess was his favorite part of kindergarten, there was a special place in his heart for rainy days. Inside recess meant cramming three classes full of kids the same age into one room to watch a movie and giggle. That sounds way better than watching movies on a couch while your siblings poke you.

  9. TEACHERS The teachers in our schools are awesome, and it seems all three kids hit the jackpot. It's important for kids to have a net of adults who know and truly love them. This school year will give my kids another set of adults they can trust and model their lives after. I think that's a pretty good reason to go.

  10. BE PART OF SOMETHING BIGGER While the five of us have had a great summer together, there is so much more beyond the walls of our home. The sense of community that often comes with the school year is something I envy myself {take me back to fifth-grade!}. Alma mater all together now...

After writing this post, I am excited to go back to school, but I'm not so lucky. It may take a few more rounds of convincing for my kids, but I know they'll be ready for what lies ahead. I can't wait to see them conquer it on their own.

{Although I could do without the inevitable first morning madness.}

Good luck to all the students, teachers, and nervous moms and dads. Remember to set those alarms a few minutes early and take deep breaths in the car line traffic jam. We can do it!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017


As we were buckling up after a morning of shots and vision tests and blood pressure squeezes, my poor daughter burst into tears.

No, it wasn't from the poking and prodding, but because her dad mentioned a post-checkup ride through the car wash.

As a matter of fact, I think this morning might go down in history as one of the most impressive pediatric visits I have ever attended {and I've attended plenty}. There's a lot involved at the doctor's visit following a fourth birthday. And by four you've seen enough Doc McStuffins to know what's really going on. Babies cry from pain, but four-year-olds harbor resentment.

Despite it all, Nora was a champ. She happily covered each eye and identified the shapes in front of her {even though she had whispers of help from Owen on a few}. She gave her Daddy high fives each time she heard a beep and she opened and turned and breathed right on cue. Like most toddlers {I'm guessing}, Nora's past checkup experiences weren't much fun for anyone. But then again, she's just now four.

In sharing my parenting "expertise" with friends, I have often waved my hand and assured them that their terrorist three-year-olds would blossom into mature, understanding human beings at age four. I saw a drastic change with both my boys, but every time I share that statement, I always cringe a little inside knowing Nora would be the jinx to end all jinxes.

Car wash tantrum aside, by golly I think it worked.

When their names were finally called, all three kids took turns jumping on the scales to see how much they've grown. It's still strange to walk past the baby scale and straight to the big-kid section, but haunting memories of baby appointments quickly dismissed my nostalgia. Owen was so proud to be just half an inch away from the big slides at the water park, and Nathan clocked in at 4'8". It's only a matter of time until we're eye-to-eye. They all measured right where they were supposed to, and everybody checked out fine. Nora did have to add two marks to her shot record, but a red sucker and two Dory stickers made her immediately forget the incident.

I vividly remember the shots Nathan received at age four, but his pediatrician eased his mind by telling him his checkups would be smooth sailing until the ripe old age of 11. This morning, as the same doctor was going over the boys' charts, she casually mentioned that he'll need a couple vaccines next year. Nathan will be 11 next year. My head might have exploded a little bit.

It seems that with age comes responsibility and a higher tolerance for the not-so-fun parts of growing up.

We'll see if that theory holds true at an upcoming dental appointment...
Happy Hump Day!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Dear August... {thank you}

The calendar flipped on Tuesday morning and the groans began.

"It's August already?!" I do my best to spice up the idea of back-to-school with exciting backpack options and the return of recess, but it's not a positive topic around here. But while the boys dread the return of alarms, I just sip my tea and grin. If you have read here before, you know I love summer. The hot thick air, the garden chores, the pool days, and the blue skies sustain me in the cold. However. Though August means fewer opportunities for fun in the sun for my kids, it's a little different for me. Let me tell you why.

Last weekend Jonathan and I spent a glorious 48 hours in the Spa-ahhh City. We sat at restaurant tables for hours and spent afternoons in bed. We didn't turn the TV on once. I napped. I got an 85-minute massage. There were hot stones. I might have cried a little at the sheer relaxation of it all. While this was an incredible and much-needed escape, it was right back to reality. But now that August is here, my dream of frequent quiet is about to be realized.

In my last post I talked about how strange it feels for Nora to be starting preschool. The flip side of that is all three kids will have places to go on Fridays. And I will not. I don't work on Fridays, but for the past eight years we have lived here, I've spent the last weekday with whatever collection of children I had who were not in a full-time school situation. I cherish Fridays for catching up on laundry and cleaning and not technically having to get dressed, but I've never counted it as a true day off.

My ship has come in.

Beginning the week of August 14, I will be the only person in my house every Friday until 3:00. I'm going to just take a second and let that fully sink in. Especially since I've been trying to write this post since Wednesday afternoon. I haven't had guaranteed weekly alone time in 10 years. I am ready.

Other than reveling in the quiet of my home this month, we have some fun planned, too. Tonight we're going to see Clint Black in Hope. I love good country music and Something That We Do was the first song Jonathan and I danced to after our wedding. Next weekend we'll hit up the annual Watermelon Festival. Nothing makes me feel like a kid, as well as an official resident of South Arkansas, quite like this festival. My dollars are counted for crafts, corn dogs, and a hunk of melon. August will also bring a familiar sense of routine. While the return of normalcy does mean things like homework and soccer practice and youth group activities galore, there will {hopefully} be a rhythm to the madness not present during summer.

No matter what the busyness of the school year throws my way, though, I know I'll always have Fridays.
{insert sigh of utter bliss} Have a lovely weekend!