Friday, May 31, 2013

Kindergarten Gradua...What?!

Will's preschool graduation photo.
In my opinion, students should graduate TWICE: once from high school and once from college. I'm willing to accept a third graduation, from preschool, because five-year-olds in little caps and gowns look adorable, but I really don't think kids need graduation ceremonies - or even "to graduate" - every year.  "Yippee! You graduated from 7th grade! You're moving on to...8th grade! You're still in middle school! You're still attending classes in the same building, with the same kids, and you'll be taught by the same teachers!"

I place yearly graduation ceremonies in the same category as participation trophies. Trophies for participation give children the impression that showing up to practice and daydreaming in left field during games is good enough; trophies for participation make trophies for outstanding performance, exceptional effort, and actual victory mean less. Yearly graduation ceremonies make the big ones - especially high school graduation - carry less weight.

Will's kindergarten graduation picture.
I'd like this picture better if Will had posed
with the number 25, since that's when he'll
graduate from high school. Also, I think it's
awesome that Will is wearing orange nail polish.
This morning my six-year-old son "graduates" from kindergarten. There's a ceremony. I think he'll wear a cap and gown. We'll dress up. I'll take pictures. I'll probably cry.

Will has grown tremendously since that late August day nine months ago when we dropped him off for his first day of kindergarten. And as the last day of kindergarten comes to a close later today, Tom and I will make certain Will knows how proud we are of him. But let's be honest...he's only one-thirteenth - the easiest one-thirteenth - of the way to his graduation day. The road ahead of him is long and arduous and unpredictable. Countless triumphs and struggles, each of which will further define his strengths and weaknesses, await him.

Eventually Will's years in elementary, middle, and high school will run one into the next like chapters in the novel of his academic career, a novel that will tell the story of how he traversed that long and arduous and unpredictable road and grew from a little boy into a man. Graduation will be the epilogue...the happily-ever-after he EARNS after 13 years of hard work and perseverance.

I want nothing more than for Will to be happy, but it's too early for his happy-ever-after. 12 years from now there'll be another ceremony. He'll wear a cap and gown. We'll dress up. I'll take pictures. I'll definitely cry. And THAT will be a graduation worth celebrating.

Congratulations on a job well done, my boy. You make my heart soar.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Year of the Teacher

It occurred to me, as I wrote end-of-the-year thank you notes to Will and Hallie's teachers and allowed my mind to wander back through the last few months, that this has, at least unofficially, been the year of the teacher. Not in the sense that we've suddenly decided to pay teachers the salary they deserve; or provide schools with adequate human, physical, and educational resources; or stop basing teachers' worth on how well their students score on standardized tests. But in the sense that teachers have been thrust into the limelight for going above and beyond their professional responsibility to teach our children the basic lessons of reading, writing, and arithmetic.

In Newtown, Connecticut in December, dozens of teachers saved the lives of hundreds of children when a crazed gunman opened fire in their elementary school. Two teachers, two aids, the school psychologist, and the school principal paid the ultimate price for their bravery and lost their lives that day.

And in Moore, Oklahoma last week, dozens of teachers saved the lives of hundreds of children when a EF5 tornado crashed directly through their elementary school.   

Our children mean more to us than anything else in the world. And every morning we pack their backpacks, hand them their lunch boxes, kiss their cheeks, and send them out the door to spend the entire day in someone else's care. We trust our children's teachers to not only educate them, but to also nurture and support and protect them.

A good friend of mine, who has been a high school English teacher for 11 years, recently said, "I don't know one teacher who WOULDN'T throw him/herself in front of a gunman or on top of students during a devastating tornado".

And you know what? Neither do I.

Hallie's preschool year ended last week, and after tomorrow morning's kindergarten graduation, Will's first year of elementary school will be a thing of past. Both children had a wonderful school year - courtesy of the teachers who educated, nurtured, supported, and protected them - that thankfully held none of the violence and destruction that now define Newtown and Moore. But I have no doubt that if a similar tragedy befell their schools, Will and Hallie's teachers would have done their very best to get my little ones back to me safely.

So I tip my hat and raise my glass to teachers. My teachers, my children's teachers, my friends who are teachers, and all of the teachers I don't know - and won't ever know - but who are making a difference in their small corner of the world. Thank you.

And now that this year of the teacher has come to an end (though I think every year should be the year of the teacher, don't you?), close the door to your classroom and enjoy your summer break!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Currently: May 2013

Our foursome rehearsing for a previous gig.
It looks like I'm bossing everyone around.
A Thousand Years by Christina Perri, One by George Jones and Tammy Wynette, Love So Strong by Joe Mattingly, and Everything by Michael Buble. Tom, my sister, my dad, and I are providing the music - these four songs, along with instrumental versions of three traditional processional and recessional pieces - for my cousin's upcoming wedding, so for the last two weeks I've been listening to our "playlist" on repeat. Though I suppose that since her wedding is only 31 days away it's time to stop listening to these songs and start actually practicing them...

This evening Tom and I will finish the Advocare 10-Day Cleanse, during which we consumed a garden's worth of vegetables, protein at every meal, and carbohydrates of only the complex variety. We ate essentially no white flour, sugar, or dairy, and we avoided coffee, soda, juice, alcohol, and candy. Sounds like fun, doesn't it? (Apparently it is, for some people, but it wasn't for us. Not because we go overboard with the foods and drinks avoided during the Cleanse, but because we both tend to crave what we can't have.) Tomorrow I'll enjoy white cheddar cheese and a brownie, and I'll wash both down with an ice-cold Blue Moon.

Will's upper lip Gatorade hickey: reason #147
not to give Gatorade in bottles to children.
Water, water, and more water, in part because I cut out coffee, soda, juice, milk, and alcohol during the Cleanse, but also because the suddenly summer-like temperatures and brutal humidity have combined to create perfectly awful sweat-inducing weather conditions. Time to start stocking up on Gatorade...

As I mentioned above, summer has arrived in Texas. My kids have once again begun wearing only their underwear or swimsuits around the house and in the backyard, and I've reluctantly pulled all of my shorts down off the top shelf of my closet. I don't love shorts, but when you live in Texas you have to get over not liking shorts if you don't want to die of a heat stroke.

Frustrated with my four-year-old, and overwhelmed at the prospect of spending nearly every waking minute for the next 90 days with her. Thank goodness for the gym and their fabulous childcare center, without which my physical, mental, and emotional health would suffer greatly during the summer months.

He's smiling because the
stream of water "mooned" him.
Hot. Humid. Perfect for running through the sprinkler, playing at the splash pad, or swimming in the pool, but less-than-desirable for all other outdoor activities.

Flattering shorts, dark brown sandals, and a vacuum cleaner that actually vacuums dirt and dust up off the carpet. My shopping list gets more and more exciting every month.

A vacation from school and the parental responsibilities that accompany preschool and kindergarten, which I'm thankfully about to get. A break from my kids and the emotional roller coaster they've had me on for the last month, which I'm unfortunately not about to get. A date night with my husband, which if I get around to emailing our babysitters tonight, I'll hopefully get within the next couple of weeks. Ultimately I need to take responsibility for and better care of my time, and when my time is my own, I need to spend it more purposefully.

About packing for our trip to Nebraska and Wisconsin. Not to pat myself on the back (though in writing that sentence I guess I'm kind of patting myself on the back), but I wrote the book on packing. Well, to be fair, I wrote the second edition of the book on packing. My dad - from whom I inherited my amazing packing skills - wrote the first edition.

One of my techniques is to begin the packing process the same number of days before departure as the number of days the trip is long. Going on a weekend getaway? Start packing two or three days prior. Traveling for a week? Start packing the week before. Leaving town for a month? Start gathering the items you know you'll need on your trip but not before then about four weeks before you leave.

The kids and I leave at the end of June and will be gone for more than a month, so last week I made my packing lists. This week I'll pull together the items - like life jackets and water shoes - that we'll need on our trip but won't need before then so that I can ship them to my parents' house ahead of us. Next week I'll put together and lay out everything else, and then in the final days I'll load everything into our suitcases and our suitcases into the car like only a Tetris expert could.

I actually really like packing, so if you ever need any help, don't hesitate to call me...

Defending Jacob by William Landry, Peanut and Dark Chocolate Kind Bars, dark hair in the summer (I've never kept my hair dark brown throughout the summer months before - it isn't usually worth it, because the sun bleaches the dark dye out pretty quickly, but I'm going for it this year), catching up on all of the season/series finales saved on my DVR (did anyone else cry their way through the final episode of The Office?), and veggie and egg scramblers.

How about you?  What are you eating, drinking, wanting, needing, or enjoying these days?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

&%$# Four-Year-Olds Say

On Saturday morning I sat on that piano
bench for TWO HOURS and 46 minutes.
The last few days have undoubtedly been my most frustrating and challenging as Hallie's mother. Beginning Thursday evening, Hallie instigated stand-off after stand-off, the worst of which lasted nearly three hours and involved us barricading her in her bedroom (the door to which doesn't lock) with the mattress from Will's trundle bed and the piano bench so that she could finish throwing her fit without hurting herself or us.

I've never seen a will as strong or a temper as fierce as Hallie's. She stands up to us at absolutely every turn, and does so fearlessly. She plants her heels, digs in, and never wavers, regardless of what she stands to lose or gain by sticking to her guns. She knows exactly what she wants, and "hits below the belt", if you will, to tip the scales in her favor.

Hallie knows exactly what to say to hurt our feelings, and though I try not to let her words bother me, doing so grew more and more difficult as over the course of the weekend she repeatedly screamed, "I HATE YOU!", "YOU'RE THE WORST MOMMY IN THE WHOLE WORLD!", "I NEVER WANT TO LIVE WITH YOU EVER AGAIN!", and "I WANT A NEW FAMILY!"

After we finally resolved Saturday night's stand-off (by putting Hallie to bed at 6:25pm), Tom and I collapsed - physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted - onto the couch. I wondered aloud where we'd gone wrong with Hallie; after all, her six-year-old brother is for the most part well-behaved, well-mannered, a good listener, kind, and respectful...and was raised by the same parents.

And then Tom gently reminded me that Will went through this same phase. A short stretch of time during which he used violent and angry words and acted as though the entire world was conspiring against him at every turn. I couldn't remember experiencing anything with Will like what we'd just gone through with Hallie, so I did what any writer would do and began searching my archives.

Sure enough, Tom was right. I found this post, written for Blogher on August 28th, 2011 when Will was four years old.

I've hemmed and hawed for the last two hours over whether or not to write about what happened to me tonight, and while I probably shouldn't do it, I'm going to anyway. Because I know writing it down will make me feel better. Because (I hope) my mom and mother-in-law and friends with kids will comment and tell me that their kids have done the same thing to them and that they got over it.

Tom had to work late tonight - so goes the beginning (and the middle and the end) of the university semester. As a treat for the kids, who were missing their dad, we 1) went to Blockbuster and rented a movie, 2) played on the indoor play structure at McDonald's, 3) purchased Happy Meals for dinner, 4) had a picnic with said Happy Meals on the floor of the living room while watching the movie we rented, 5) took a bath in Mom and Dad's "swimming pool" bathtub with the jets ON, and 6) finished the movie curled up in beanbag chairs.

Not a bad evening, right? At least until that point it wasn't.

I asked Will to pick out a book to read before bed. He said no.

I told Will that his two choices were picking out a book to read before bed or going straight to bed. He said no.

I told Will that if he didn't make a choice I would make a choice for him. He said no and ran away.

I made the choice for him and put him straight to bed, at which point he told me he didn't like me anymore. Will tells me he doesn't like me whenever he doesn't like what I've asked him to do or not do, and while I tell him it hurts my feelings, I try not to overreact.

It was after I'd sent Will to bed and was tucking Hallie in that he went for it - he told me he wished I was dead.

I have no idea where he heard the phrase - we certainly don't use it in our house, and I'm sure the four Disney Channel cartoons the kids watch On Demand don't either - and as it turns out, he doesn't really know what it means. He knew it was hurtful though, and he chose to direct it at me. (We did eventually discuss what Will said meant, how it made me feel, and better ways for him to express his anger. Not sure that conversation was all that productive though...)

So I'm kind of sad, I'm pretty pissed off at Will, and I'm wishing there was a way to write this outburst off as just another thing four-year-olds do and even eventually outgrow. Is it? That's what I'm wishing for tonight.

I'm not sure I'd ever appreciated my obsessive need to document everything more so than I did the moment I discovered this post. Interestingly, reading the words I'd written two years ago didn't bring back the pain and frustration I'd so clearly felt when dealing with Will that night. Instead, reading this post gave me hope. Knowing that Tom and I brought Will through his rough patch to where he is today gave me hope that Tom and I can also bring Hallie through her rough patch; hope that if we stay the course - parenting with love and boundaries and respect and faith - we'll all survive this.

As I typed that last sentence, singing rang out from Hallie's room..."If you're lost and alone, or you're sinking like a stone, carry on. May your past be the sound of your feet upon the ground, carry on."

She didn't have all of the words exactly right, but the message was clear.

So yes, we'll carry on, and hope to once again see our sweet girl on the other side of this draining and demoralizing four-year-old phase.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Sacrifice Comes in All Shapes and Sizes

"On Memorial Day, I don't want to only remember the combatants. There were also those who came out of the trenches as writers and poets, who started preaching peace, men and women who have made this world a kinder place to live."

~ Eric Burdon

I am tremendously grateful to the brave men and women who have fought to protect our freedom and preserve our way of life. But I am also grateful to the men and women who, as the author of the quote above so eloquently states, "started preaching peace...who have made this world a kinder place to live". 

Today I will honor and thank those individuals who made sacrifices - remembering that sacrifices come in all shapes and sizes - in the name of the American dream...those who in some form or another, courageously and selflessly walked into the trenches in the first place.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Weekly Wrap-Up (5.24.13)

Amidst the heartbreaking and paralyzing news coverage of the horrific destruction and loss in Oklahoma, stories of bravery and triumph and hope emerge. This is one of those stories. Get tissues.

A Beautiful Life
This video is long, at least by internet video standards (22 minutes), but is absolutely worth your time if you need a reminder about what it means - and how - to live your life to the fullest and like every day is your last. Hold on to the tissues you used when you watched the previous video.

Just Another Day in the Life of a Lizard Wrangler
You're probably tired of entire posts about me and Will catching lizards, so this time around I'll just give you a brief synopsis and show you the photo.

Will went out to get the mail and accidentally let a lizard inside. "You let the lizard in, you put the lizard out" is our newest household rule, so Will was tasked with catching and releasing the little buddy. I did lend a hand by building a soda-and-beer-cade to keep the lizard trapped by the front door, however. 

In the end, Will had a panic attack (gee, I wonder where he inherited those from?) and I had to step up to the plate. And by stepping up to the plate, I mean grabbing a fly swatter and literally swatting at the lizard until he "saw the light" and ran back outside. We haven't gone out the front door to get the mail since...

Just Because
Yes, this photo is ridiculous. But it makes me laugh every single time I see it posted on Pinterest or Facebook. I hope it at least makes you smile today.

MomsEveryday: What Will Your Tombstone Say?
If you missed it the first time around, you can read "What Will Your Tombstone Say?" this week on MomsEveryday.

Red Cross: Back in the Saddle Again
This week my story about how I became a blood donor - and how I found my way to the blood donation chair after a 2+ year hiatus - was posted on the National American Red Cross blog.

Red Cross: How to Help
Just a reminder that there are ways you can help the American Red Cross help those affected by the bombing in Boston, the explosion in West, Texas, and the tornado in Moore, Oklahoma.
A Red Cross volunteer assesses the damage in Moore, Oklahoma.

Thursday, May 23, 2013


It would make sense for me to try to brainwash her into becoming an Iowa Hawkeye (my alma mater) or a Wisconsin Badger (my hometown team).  It makes little to no sense for me to spend so much of my time and energy trying to turn her into an Aggie.

This took me an entire dinner hour - "thumbs up" is a tough hand signal for a two-year-old to make, especially on command - but at least I'm making progress.

Just as long as she doesn't end up a Longhorn.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


This post might be better suited for our family blog, since it includes A LOT of pictures and videos of Will doing karate, but I decided to post it here instead because I wanted to share - along with the pictures - a bit about the positive impact karate has had on Will in case parents out there are considering enrolling their kids in karate lessons.

Will started "karate chopping" furniture, stuffed animals, and his sister years ago, but it wasn't until last summer that he inquired about taking karate lessons. I had absolutely no interest in becoming a karate mom - odd, considering how much I enjoy my own mixed martial arts/kickboxing/Muay Thai fitness classes - so when Will asked to take lessons I dodged his request. To be honest, I suspected that either 1) the instructors wouldn't teach the "cool" skills to children Will's age and as a result he'd grow bored quickly; or 2) the instructors would teach the "cool" skills but then Will would inappropriately use them at school or around the house. I mean, Hallie can hold her own against a physically unprepared and unarmed Will, but I'm not sure how she would do against a round-house-kicking and nunchucks-wielding Will...

When nearly six months passed and Will's enthusiasm for karate and interest in taking lessons hadn't diminished in the slightest, I gave in.

I signed Will up for a free trial class, and as much as I hate to write it...Will looked completely ridiculous that first day. He walked in - as I'm sure many little boys do - feeling like a karate rockstar, but quickly discovered that his personal brand of karate looked absolutely nothing like real deal. Over the span of 30 minutes, Will transitioned from confident to confused and overwhelmed, and I assumed that at the end of his first class he'd walk off the mat and declare himself finished.

Instead, Will couldn't wait to go back. So we signed up for the reduced-fee, month-long trial, and at the end of the trial, Will again couldn't wait to go back. So we signed up for six more months, and now here we are, five months in and still committed to twice-weekly karate lessons.

Interestingly, Will seems to have a knack for karate.  Will typically learns new things - at least physical activities - slowly. It took him months, if not years, to become comfortable with swimming, soccer, bike riding, and catching a baseball, so you can imagine our surprise when after a handful of lessons Will looked like he'd been on the mat for much longer than a few weeks. In less than three months he graduated from a white belt to an orange belt, and I expect him to graduate from an orange belt to a yellow belt within the next month or so.

But throughout the last five months I've discovered that karate lessons aren't just about karate. Oh, they are to Will. He loves kicks and punches and knife-hand strikes, he lives for breaking boards (special plastic boards designed for developing these skills, but boards just the same), and he defends with his nunchucks like his life depends on it. But they aren't to me.

Though I had no idea going in, I quickly discovered that karate lessons at our gym (and for kids of Will's age) are as much about developing social skills and self-discipline, learning about and understanding responsibility and courtesy, setting goals, and above all, showing respect as they are about learning martial arts. And over the course of the five months Will has been enrolled, I have witnessed significant growth - growth that is noticeable on the karate mat, but also on the baseball field, in the classroom, and at home - in all of these areas.

Here's a glimpse into Will's world of karate, first by way of his white belt graduation, and then by way of his first tournament.
Graduation warm up: punches 
(which they count in Japanese).
Graduation warm-up: "Yes Sir!"
Graduation warm-up: tiger push-ups.
When you finish a tiger push-up you have to roar.
Graduation forms: knife-hand strike.
Graduation forms: step and punch.
Graduation forms: side kick.
Graduation one step: high block. 
Graduation two step: step back, low block.
Graduation: waiting for his orange belt.
Graduation: receiving his orange belt.
The graduates.
Tournament forms: standing at attention.
Tournament forms: outer form block.
Tournament forms: knife-hand strike.
Tournament forms: back fist.
Tournament forms: receiving his evaluation.
Tournament weapons: beginning his nunchucks routine.
Tournament weapons: hip, hip, shoulder triangle strike.
Tournament weapons: right before he 
whacked himself in the face with his nunchucks.
Will earned the trophy for competing in 
forms and the medal for competing in weapons.
Proud of his "bling".

I'll leave you with the Tiny Tiger (the youngest group of karate participants) pledge, which sums up both the foundation of Tiny Tigers karate and why I want Will to be involved.

What Does It Mean to be a Tiny Tiger?
"To be a good person; to have knowledge in the mind, honesty in the heart, and strength in the body; to make good friends; to have a black belt attitude; and to be a leader."

  • All terminology for this blog post was provided by a six-year-old. My apologies if any of the terms are spelled incorrectly or are incorrect all together.
  • I have purposely not shared the name of the gym where Will takes karate, but I would be happy to pass the name along and answer any additional questions you might have about karate lessons at our gym with you via email. Please don't hesitate to email me at

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

How to Help

Yesterday a massive tornado, classified as an EF4 with wind speeds between 166 and 200 miles per hour, swept through Oklahoma, killing more than 50 people and destroying entire communities.

The American Red Cross is already on the ground in Oklahoma, as well as in many other states that have suffered at the hands of this horrific storm, assessing the damage and providing support based on the immediate needs of the communities. In the affected areas and as of Monday night, four shelters are open and others will be open within the next few hours. Volunteers are out providing food and supplies to first responders. More than 25 Emergency Response Vehicles, as well as kitchen support trailers, will move in at first light on Tuesday to provide meals to those displaced from their homes.

But this is just the beginning.

I am not asking you to donate your hard-earned money to the American Red Cross. But because I believe strongly in their mission and have seen firsthand the amazing work they do in the face of disaster and tragedy, I'm going to share with you how you can make a financial contribution - should you feel compelled to do so - to the organization's efforts to support these devastated communities.

Visit, call 1-800-REDCROSS, or text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a quick and easy $10 donation.

Additionally, here are three pieces of Red Cross-related information I believe are important enough to share here today:

If you are in immediate need of a shelter, click here to view a map of the shelters available in your area. (This map is updated every 30 minutes by the National Shelter System.)

Safe and Well
If you have been affected or displaced by the tornadoes, register your status on the American Red Cross Safe and Well website so that your family members and friends will know where you are and how to contact you (if possible).

If you are concerned about a loved one who may have been affected or displaced by the tornadoes, search for that person on the Safe and Well website.

Safe and Well is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and is accessible in both English and Spanish.

Tornado App
If you live in a tornado-prone area, consider downloading the free American Red Cross Tornado app for any iOS or Android device. This app provides tips on what to do before, during, and after a tornado strikes and includes a warning siren and watch/warning weather alerts.

My thoughts and prayers are with all those whose lives have been affected by these tornadoes, as well as with the first responders and volunteers who have put their lives on hold to be there for those in need.

Monday, May 20, 2013

They Wore Itsy Bitsy, Teeny Weeny, Matching Yellow Raincoats

Just like the heat follows me to Wisconsin, the rain follows my sister to Texas. Last year, when drought-suffering Texas hadn't received precipitation of any kind in MONTHS, Sara and her family came to visit and it rained three out of the six days they were here. I felt badly because when she'd called to ask me about bringing rain coats and boots, I responded, "don't worry about rain gear - it literally never rains here". Oops.

Sara brought the rain to Texas once again last week; it rained three out of the six days she, my mom, my niece, and my nephew were here.

The rain gave us a little extra time to spend together - one of Will's baseball games and Hallie's soccer practice were cancelled - and provided a fantastic play area for the kids (the little kids AND the big kids) outside our house. And by "play area", I mean puddles in the street.
At first it was just wet outside...
...and then the rain really started coming down. Yes, the girls are just 
wearing their underwear. And yes, Will is doing karate in the street.
A very wet boy.
Listening to Uncle Tom explain how the noodle races would work.
Supervising the noodle races.
Sword fighting.
Their umbrellas did little to block the rain, but they looked cute. 
Jumping in puddles.
Drinking from puddles. No, really. In the next second she 
put that hand into her mouth and licked the water off of it.
Love this girl.
Kicking water at Daddy and Will.
Love this little girl too.
My new favorite picture of Lily.
At some point I ran inside to grab a difference lens for my camera and found a completely-forgotten-about - but still smiling - Carter, sitting all alone in the living room. After I snapped his picture I brought him outside so he could experience the rain as well.
Smiley boy.
Headed out into the rain with his mama.
Splashing in his very first puddle.
We'd previously made plans to go shopping at the (outdoor) outlet mall outside of Houston one of the days everyone was here, and we weren't about to let a little wind and rain - after all, the weather report predicted the severe weather would blow over by the time we'd arrive at the mall - stop us.

But as is usually the case, the weather report was wrong, and we spent the first two hours running from awning to awning and popping in and out of stores we had little-to-no interest in, just to keep the kids dry. The silver lining in this cloud of gloom and doom was that we found and my mom bought adorable little yellow ponchos for the girls, who were FREEZING in their matching damp tank tops and skirts.

These two sweet little cousins remind me of two sisters - their mamas - many, many years ago.