July 28, 2014

A Summer Balancing Act

That's what it feels like as I try to prepare for the upcoming school year, take care of home improvement and maintenance all the while incorporating fun family time with the boys.  It's always like this at the end of the July and early August.  All of a sudden the clock starts ticking and there's so much still to do!  Currently, I have four repair contractors scheduled and a fifth to call (for the furnace cleaning I always forget to do).  Some of the work is on the exterior of the house and I hope I can sneak away on those days.  For the indoor work, I have to be home and that limits our activities quite a bit. It will be too noisy to do much inside, so I hope the weather holds out and we can have some fun in the front and back yards.  I've been told that each job will take 1 full (possibly two) day(s).  I really hate being tied down like that.  What's the alternative though?  There isn't one.  Houses get old, things need to be replaced and repaired and yes, I save all this up for the end of summer.  Every year.

It has been unseasonably cool, so we've only visited the community pool once.  I did want to be sure that we got a trip to the beach in though.  Along with a day at the state fair, that is a top priority.  We had a fun day last week although Liam was a bit cranky.  I'm fairly certain he hadn't had enough sleep the night before.  When he's sleep-deprived, he is very negative.  He complained all day--at each and every lakeside activity.   For the next few nights, I made sure he got lots of sleep (11 hours is always my goal for him).  He hasn't had cranky day since.  Well, not overly cranky, anyway.

We have a few things left on our bucket list but for the most part, I can say we've done everything we wanted--and more!  Henry is finishing his two week session of enrichment classes.  They are held on the beautiful campus of the school I dreamed he'd attend.  "Dream" is the right word because that is all it is--the tuition is 3x as much as what I pay for parochial school.  Henry's (and soon to be Liam's) current school serves its purpose.  For the most part, I like it well enough.  There are always some bumps and hurdles because we are not Catholic and I'm not a stay-at-home mom but I think those things bother me much more than Henry.  He likes it there, he has lots of friends and all of the adults are good to him.  Sometimes you have to know when to stop dreaming and just be thankful for what you have.

Beach food a la Liam

July 20, 2014

Summer Reading Ends July 31. What?

Summer Reading Ends July 31.  That's what the sign says at our library.  I am not a fan of the current trend of abbreviating summer and starting school mid-August and I'm certainly not happy with the message this sign is giving readers of all ages.  That being said, I know that June and July is when my own reading behavior is most prolific.  My sons read about the same amount as they do during the school year.  They just have more genre choices and different reasons for picking up a book in the summer.
Let me recommend our favorite audio book of the summer:  Petite Rouge Riding Hood by Mike Artell.  I know this link is for the softcover version, but if you can get the Recorded Books audio cd at your library, run don't walk to check it out!  The narration by Vernel Bagneris will transport your children on a one of a kind Cajun caper.

Speaking capers (this one much more sinister), I am attempting to finish The Map of Lost Memories set in 1925 Cambodia.  The main character is more real than likable but I find myself wanting to continue her journey.  The supporting characters seem a bit more interesting and forgivable than the protagonist but I'm enjoying her a bit more as the plot begins to spiral.  The story is not condescending nor predictable and I appreciate that.

Also from the library, I picked up this brand new book:  The Dolphin Way: A Parents Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy, Motivated Kids.  The author explains how to develop self-motivation and help children follow their inner compass.  The key is CQ; a focus on four traits that foster 21st century skills. The author's point is that if kids don't grow up with CQ, their IQ will only get them so far.  In reality, I believe these four characteristics have been valuable and led to personal success throughout history.  I can't imagine a parent looking at the list in 1901 and saying, I'm not going to focus on nurturing these traits in my child, he'll never get a job.  I'm pretty sure the generation that survived the Great Depression and the generation that lived through WWII  had CQ in spades. 
  • Creativity
  • Critical Thinking
  • Communication
  • Collaboration
The truth is, it wasn't difficult for Dr. Kang to convince me to concentrate on teaching these skills instead of academics.   I don't much care about standardized test scores (unlike Arne Duncan, I already know my children are brilliant).  I want to see growth in skills that will assure that they have the keys to doors they want to open.  I don't want to prepare my sons for a predicted career path, I want them able to select the endeavors and adventures that make their hearts sing and their minds wonder.  If they meet with that particular success, I believe they will make the world a better place no matter what they score on the ACT.

One thing is for sure, we won't stop reading around here no matter what the calendar says!

July 14, 2014

Four More Weeks Until School Starts...

 ....boo, hiss....

This summer is going at warp speed--the season usual goes fast but this is ridiculous!  I think the reason that it's flying by is that we are spending  time doing things we all enjoy.  No more toddler or preschool venues for us.  The boys and I enjoy (mostly) the same things.  Oh, they still have meltdowns and seem to enjoy food courts and gift shops more than the actual attraction but that's not unexpected at five and seven years old.

This weekend we took the commuter train to the city.  It was the boys' first real train ride.  I loved the fact that including parking, it cost $10.25 for the three of us.  Of course, lunch and souvenirs in the city added a bit more to the tab but it certainly made for a fun way to spend a few hours.
Waiting for the 10:08

Snacks for the trip back home
Last week the weather was perfect for Henry's soccer game.  He's having fun for the first time in four years.  Clearly, a developmental league was the way to go--just wish it hadn't take me this long to find one.

All the time we spend away from home means my food budget is completely off target.  We typically leave the house mid morning and stay out for quite a while.  It is really, really difficult not to eat out at least once every day but that's unhealthy in addition to being expensive.  I've tried packing lunches a couple of times but that only works when there is packable food in our refrigerator.  You can't exactly take pizzas to the park...

Maybe I should just relax about the food thing and let it be for the next month.  There's plenty of other stuff to stress out about including the fact that summer is more than half over and we've used our pool pass only once.  You know, the one that breaks even on the 8th visit...  Yeah, I'm not doing that again next year.  (To be fair, we've had an unseasonably cool and wet summer so far--it won't even reach 80 degrees this week.)

Speaking of first world problems, I've wasted so much time searching for, then meeting with, different contractors for home repairs.  Most frustratingly, nothing has been completed.  Nothing.  Well, except for the things I took on myself...one can only play phone tag so long before heading the DIY shelf  at the library and then Lowe's.  Okay, who am I kidding, I don't use how-to books, I use YouTube.

After three weeks of calling, emailing, pleading my case and begging for estimates, the deck/patio project came to a dead end.  The concrete guy said he'd have to charge me $6000 extra because it was such a small job (12x12).  The deck guy (the one who called back, three others didn't bother) gave me an estimate that was almost 60% more than what Angie's List said it should cost.  I don't know how this project could be simpler and that's what is most frustrating.  I just have to let it go and buy some more sod.

The Pinterest picture I fell in love with...alas, it was not to be
This week's projects include waiting around for the insurance adjuster and the exterior repair guy as well as scheduling the carpet measure.  I really resent the time all this takes away from my children; however, I admit that I schedule almost no maintenance/repair work during the school year.  Not surprisingly, it really piles up in the summer.  You could almost say it snowballs but then that would make us think of summer's end and who wants to do that?

July 6, 2014

Celebrating (and Loving) Independence Day

Independence Weekend has been a time of reflection for this American mother. During the summer I spend quite a bit of time signing petitions, supporting (or boycotting), donating, sharing and tweeting issues that concern me as a mom of young boys.   This article explains that teachers don't have the right to free speech, but thank goodness mothers do.  In addition to education and childcare issues, I've also become a supporter of  Moms Demand Action and Parents Against Gun Violence because I believe that until there is more gun sense, all of our children are at risk.

At times I worry for my children's future.   When I read of the latest state laws and federal decisions, I wonder where we, as Americans, are headed.  I try to take comfort in Margaret Mead's words:
"Never underestimate the power of a few committed people to change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." 
and I'm spurred on by Edmund Burke:
"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
I continue to find inspiration and have the utmost admiration for the people who work tirelessly for justice (while I am tiredly folding a third load of laundry).  Just today I listened to this on NPR.  The entire episode was dedicated to the very American history of loyal dissent. Toward the end of the program Dolores Huerta spoke of criticism as being an act of love.

As a parent, I do my best to teach by example and be a responsible citizen.  I hope my children learn to love this country as much as I do.


July 4, 2014

Mid Summer Madness


Summer means so many fun experiences that there's little time to write about them.  It also means spending 100% of my waking hours taking care of, watching over, cleaning up, laughing with, chasing after and driving around two very active boys.  These first few photos are from a wonderful lakefront festival that has been a Wisconsin tradition for decades.  In my opinion, other cities may imitate Summerfest but they never manage to duplicate it.

I thought the boys would be terrified to ride the SkyGlider
 but they thoroughly enjoyed it!  Three times!
We have been doing one big activity (that takes us out of town) each week and then staying closer to home the rest of the days.  Often, the boys will request to stay home. (Like yesterday when I offered to drive to a huge playground on a beautiful 75 degree day.)  They like to swing in the backyard, get snacks and popsicles from the kitchen, jump on the sofa and watch cartoons.  Go figure.  Thankfully we do have a few structured activities scheduled so I don't think we'll turn into couch potatoes anytime soon.

archery lessons

guided hikes at the nature preserve
Soccer game and Liam's first goal!

I continue to struggle with balance this summer--household chores/repairs, me time (or complete lack of it), healthy food, limited screen time and keeping to a reasonable budget.  Less structure (ie, no school days) means this elusive balance is even more difficult to achieve.  I know I need to live in the moment but then who is going to be responsible for keeping this family "ship" on course?  Not to mention, who is going to do the grocery shopping?

Well, I'll worry about that tomorrow--for now, we're off to a 4th of July parade and a day filled with hot dogs and ice cream.  How's that for living in the moment?