Helping Hands

“Brown paper packages, tied up with string, these are a few of my favorite things.”

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I don’t know about you, but much of my holiday preparations (and life preparations) happen after the kids go to bed.  It is a proven fact that our mornings go more smoothly if lunches are packed and ready in the fridge and if clothes are laid out the night before.  Similarly, my process for getting ready for the holidays often happens after the littles are tucked snug in their beds.  I shop online and wrap presents while watching shows with my husband at night.  There is a part of me that loves doing things this way.  It save me the hassle of wrangling kids in stores.  It keeps me from getting worked up, as these things definitely take longer to complete with kids helping.  I also really love wrapping presents and making our gifts look beautiful.  There is beauty in Christmas magically appearing in all it’s glory on Christmas morning, but unfortunately my kids have been missing out on learning about the magic of giving.  Which truly is just as magical as Santa and the reindeer.

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Christmas is all about giving.  That can get forgotten in the haze of lists and sales and parties and shopping.  But if we stop for a minute and think about the joy we feel inside when we have truly given of ourselves and see someone else’s pleasure, that’s what it’s all about, right?  In an effort to streamline my life, sometimes my kids miss out on seeing the beauty of all these preparations – the love that goes into giving to others and spending time and energy selecting or crafting something special.

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I spent some time this weekend with our oldest two kiddos learning to wrap gifts together.  One was responsible for folding and the other was in charge of tape.  Sam likened it to origami and paper airplanes, which of course it is a close cousin.  It was fascinating to see how they were really excited to help and be part of the preparations.  I remember learning to wrap gifts from my mom and dad.  I have always loved the process of it.  I remember feeling respected and cherished during those package wrapping lessons.  By about ten years of age, I think I became the official package wrapper of our family.  And although I’m sure I went through loads of paper and tape, I loved the feeling of having such an important job.  I felt so connected watching the recipient open those lovingly wrapped presents.  In my rush to be efficient I forgot this… until now.

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1st Day of School Oatmeal Cookies

Well, it happened.  The first day of kindergarten has arrived and the world appears to still be turning.  All seems okay!  The boy will come home in a few hours and we will have some homemade cookies to greet him.  It may be real, or imagined, but I believe I was greeted with these same cookies when I was in school.   This is not a complicated or secret recipe, by any means, but it is worth remembering!  It is the Vanishing Oatmeal Cookies on the inside of the Quaker Oats container.  We’re not raisin fans in this house, so we sub in some Ghiradelli Milk Chocolate Chips instead.  Hopefully, it will be just the taste of home that our kindergartener needs after his first day!

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Vanishing Oatmeal Cookies

yield: about 4 dozen

1/2 cup (1 stick) plus 6 tablespoons butter, softened

3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 cups Quaker Oats (quick or old fashioned uncooked)

1 cup raisins (or chocolate chips)

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

In large bowl, beat butter and sugars on medium speed of electric mixer until creamy.

Add eggs and vanilla; beat well.

Add combined flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; mix well.

Drop dough by rounded tablespoons onto ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake 8-10 minutes or until light golden brown.  Cool 1 minute on cookie sheets; remove to wire rack.  Cool completely.  Store tightly covered.

Book Bags and Goldilocks

Can you smell the pencils being sharpened?  Yep, it’s that season again.  The start of school is around the corner.  This always brings feelings of excitement and nostalgia for me.  Have you done your back-to-school preparations yet?  We’re part-way there, but I got distracted when a custom request for a preschool book bag came my way.  Then I realized that Duncan could use a little newness to start his year off right!

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My quest for the perfect “preschool book bag” has been a bit like Goldilocks searching for the perfect chair:

too big… too small… just right…

Last year’s bags (Book Bag Fever) got the boys through the year, but improvements were needed.  As time wore on and washings were necessary, the bags required some maintenance and a few of the fabrics didn’t hold up as nicely as I would have liked.

Lessons learned…

  1. I’ve brushed up on my tote-making skills this year with a few amazing classes at make*do*mend, a wonderful sewing studio in Ballard, run by the lovely and talented Keli Faw.  First, Keli is wonderful – she is just someone you want to know.  I guarantee you will want to move in to the comfortable and hip crafting space Keli has created!  If you are in the Seattle area and curious about sewing – take an intro class!  Or, if you already sew, but want a little community – go to their open sewing times!
  2. My favorite bag from last year’s selection was the Kokka Elephants, so I learned that using a little heavier weight fabric works a bit better than quilting cottons for an unlined tote.  It happens that the fabric I am using this year is also a Kokka fabric that I purchased last year without a clear plan in mind, but look for any home decor weight fabric, or canvas.
  3. Handles were another source of frustration.  I didn’t love how my fabric handles became wrinkly over the course of the year.  A much better solution is cotton webbing for a durable and attractive handle.
  4. And lastly, thank goodness for Pinterest, where my friend, Adriane, happened to pin a fantastic simple tote tutorial by Purl Bee.  Purl Bee has a tutorial for The 20-minute Tote that just might be “preschool book bag” perfection (as well as many other uses)!  I love this tutorial.  Although it took me a little longer than 20-minutes, the instructions are clear and all worked according to plan!

I’m really excited to think we’ve got a winner to start Duncan’s preschool year off just right.  Duncan is excited because his new school bag is blue and has “race cars”.  Thankfully my preschool age audience isn’t too picky (about some things at least)!

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Sing For You

I have friends whose lives run parallel to mine, but none of us are in the exact same boat.  Even if we both agree that we are in a boat, yours might be metal and mine might be wood… yours could be blue, while mine is red.  To me, this speaks of the unique experience we all have as humans.  Even though we go through experiences that can be qualified as universal, rarely do we go through something at the exact same rate or pace as our peers.

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This week feels like a perfect storm as our oldest child turns six years old and I wean our youngest (and last) babe.  I have had a baby in the house for six years straight and I am having a difficult time imagining how it will feel to move out of this phase.  As the children continue to grow, leaving behind these markers of babyhood, I realize that they are not the only ones leaving the baby years behind.  I am too.  Of course there is excitement in these changes, but they are bittersweet as well.  I can say that I have been expecting these moments, but I still find myself feeling caught off-guard.  In this moment, I take solace in a book I happen to be re-reading right now.  Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh is a favorite of mine.  Originally published in 1955, it is a meditation on relationships through various stages of life.  I happened to pick up the book again because I felt the need for centering and calming.  How happy I am to be reminded of some of Lindbergh’s meanderings, as I, myself, find myself wandering once again through unchartered territory.

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I have gone through the weaning of babies twice before, which makes me think it should get easier.  I am mistaken, as each time is its own experience – each child unique.  My brain is aware that we will move through this stage and there will be lovely snuggles on the other side.  Cognitively, I know that I will continue to have a strong relationship with my child post-nursing.  But my heart will miss the solitary time together amidst the current chaos of our life.  The unique bond between baby and mother, “In the sheltered simplicity of the first days after a baby is born, one sees again the magical closed circle, the miraculous sense of two people existing only for each other, the tranquil sky reflected on the face of the mother nursing her child…” (Lindbergh, Anne Morrow. Gift from the Sea. New York: Pantheon, 1955. Print.)

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Try as I might, I cannot freeze time.  Even if I could, that would be limiting for everyone.  That’s the thing about life, and parenthood specifically; one is forced to live in the present.  The raising of children keeps one moving forward, even when we, as adults, are hesitant to desire this.  What I am feeling right this minute is a powerful force; a push towards the future and a nostalgic pull back towards my memories of my children as babies.  I realize how immediate these feelings are.  They will pass and become difficult to remember as they are now.  As I think back to friends that have been in this spot, I truly hope the advice I gave to them was thoughtful.  I’m sure I tried to remember the best I could, but I have to think the words I found were rather vanilla.  I don’t believe that my brain could pinpoint the actual feelings attached to the intensity of the situation.

As I begin the steps of leaving my children’s childhoods in the past, Tracy Chapman’s beautiful lyrics run through my head and heart.

Soft and low when the evening comes

Holding you, sleeping in my arms

I remember there was a time

When I used to sing for you

Tracy Chapman : Sing For You (recording)

Song has been an important element in my relationships with the children since the time of their birth.  Songs that remind me of nights spent awake in their infancies, as we grew to know one another.  As with nursing, song has been a soothing practice for us all, but is something that remains.  As we say goodbye to the baby years and move bravely forward, I hold these memories in my heart.  My children love to sing and be sung to at bedtime.  That will probably change someday too, but for now I will hold onto it and enjoy the moment.

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Life Lessons on the Playground

The topic of “love” is current in our house again.  You may remember last year when the boys were starting school in the Fall that marriage and friendship were topics of conversation.  Throughout the year, we have continued to talk about what makes someone an attractive partner; whether it is more important for a friend to be kind, play with you at outdoor time, or laugh at all your jokes.  A first kiss has transpired.  You will be happy to know that no official proposals have been made though.  The kids have continued to get to know one another and the families are being introduced at this point.  Thankfully, Sam took my advice that no quick decisions needed to be made in the area of marriage.  But, there is a new twist on “love” that has gotten me thinking again.

The singer, P!nk, has come out with a new song called “Just Give Me a Reason”.  Side note:  You should know, I am a enamored with P!nk.  I love that she exudes female strength and many of her songs speak to confidence and self respect (and she is currently my favorite artist to run to).  “Just Give Me a Reason” is a song that I enjoy and happily the Top 40 radio stations agree with me, as they play it all the time.  I’ll let you in on a little secret, when we are driving around, and need a break from Caspar Babypants, the kids and I sing along to popular hits.  Historically, it is the random lyric that makes my eldest ask a question regarding the meaning of a particular song (but it doesn’t happen all that often).  The other day Sam said to me, “What does that mean?  Why are they learning to love again?”  At first, I had no idea what he was talking about, but then I realized his question was tied to this particular song.  Concurrently, I realized that this will be a new concept for him.  The idea that love might not last forever and that it might also cause hurt and pain.  For adults, this reality stares us in the face all the time, but for my children this tough lesson has yet to be learned.  A fact I am pretty darn happy about.  I told him I would have to think about how to answer his question and began puzzling over how to explain this concept to a 5-year old.

My son has tried the monkey bars at different points in his short life and they have always been appropriately tough.  After attempting those vexing bars at the park, we typically move on to playing on the slide, climbing, or trying the swings.  Then, one day I got a call.  Sam had successfully traversed the monkey bars!  He was with his grandmother and his voice was bursting with pride – like riding a bike with no training wheels kind of pride!  He was so excited.  On the next sunny day, he couldn’t wait to show off his new skill, but sadly, that day, it didn’t work.  Whether he was tired, the bars were slippery, or the moon was in the wrong phase…who knows why, he couldn’t do it again.  He tried, and tried, and tried.  In one of his failed attempts, Sam even fell and hurt his knee.  But, he got up and tried again.  He has a scar that will stay with him for awhile from all his repeated efforts.  At the time he was pretty distraught, but as we left the park that day, he told us that he had done it before and would try again.  As a parent, that is when I felt proud.  Not after his success (although I was happy for him), but after he failed and knew he would try again.  To this day I have not seen him successfully get across those darn monkey bars, but I remember the happiness in his voice after that first time.

The lyrics of “Just Give Me a Reason” go like this:

Just give me a reason
Just a little bit’s enough
Just a second we’re not broken just bent
And we can learn to love again
It’s in the stars
It’s been written in the scars on our hearts
We’re not broken just bent
And we can learn to love again

Continue reading http://www.songonlyrics.com/pink-just-give-me-a-reason-lyrics#ixzz2UE103xHG

The fact that we all have scars is universal.  The fact that we can choose to “try again” is what is so beautiful to me in this song.  We’re not broken, just bent.  We have all been hurt by things, whether it is a broken heart from love, or from attempting the monkey bars.  To have been hurt by something, and to be willing to try again is what makes us illogically human.  To hold the hope that the next time we might experience a different result… Someday, I hope to be lucky enough to watch my kids get their hearts broken by love.  Obviously their hurt is not something I will relish, but the knowledge that they are putting themselves out in the world to be vulnerable to life is what I look forward to witnessing.  I hope to teach them that risks are worth taking and to know that some of the time they will succeed in finding what they are striving for.

Summer is coming and we will have plenty of sunny days to visit the park practice and our monkey bar skills.  There may be some skinned knees along the way, but I am confident that by September, this will be a skill that Sam can feel proud of and he will have the scars to prove it.

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Choose Kindness

A small gift from one friend to another...
A small gift from one friend to another…

Is my preoccupation with the idea of kindness because I am adjusting to the fact that my oldest will be starting elementary school in the fall?  Is it that I am around the 5-&-under set all day long and witness both trivial and monumental disputes on an hourly basis?  Is it possible that R. J. Palacio’s book, Wonder, has entered my consciousness in ways I am still trying to figure out?  Yes, on all accounts.

My husband and friends can attest to the fact that I am someone who is highly sensitive to the media that surrounds me.  Books, song lyrics, and television all touch me in ways that can alter my outlook for weeks at a time.  Because of this “media sensitivity”, we just do not watch scary movies in our home.  Then, there was that time that I was reading The Black Dahlia and Gone Girl in book club, and I was sure my husband was evil.  Believe me, he isn’t, but I think I slept with one eye open for a full week… You can imagine how much he loved that phase.  Well, the opposite is true too.  When I have been positively touched by a book, that sentiment stays with me as well and for a time becomes the lens with which I view the world.

Wonder, is that kind of book.

August Pullman was born with a facial deformity that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting fifth grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face… In a world where bullying among young people is an epidemic, this is a refreshing new narrative full of heart and hope. R. J. Palacio has called her debut novel “a meditation on kindness”—indeed, every reader will come away with a greater appreciation for the simple courage of friendship.  (from http://choosekind.tumblr.com/)

Each day we have the option to “choose kindness” in big and small ways that can have huge meaning to those around us.  When we are in line for a cup of coffee, do you greet the barista with a smile, or feel annoyed that you had to wait?  When you see that other preschool mom that never smiles, do you say “hello” anyway?  When you fix yourself a cup of water, do you get one for your partner?  When you are sitting at the lunch table are you the person that scoots over to make room for someone new?  Or, do you look away?  Whether out of fear, insecurity, and shyness over the years, I can think of too many examples where I have been one to look away.  But… I’d like to be the person who moves over and makes room for one more.  The one that smiles and says hello.  A person who actively chooses kindness.

Recently, another preschool mom remarked that she enjoyed a post I wrote about struggling with friendships that are in transition (click here to read, In Between).  She voiced that lately she felt as though she is “back in high school”.  I think that what she meant by this is she feels the constant effort of trying to make new friends and find one’s place.  We can all relate to this universal struggle.  Yet it is see easy to see peers acting critically of one another, casting judgement without empathy.  Aren’t parents (and women specifically) known for this frustrating behavior?  In Wonder, there is a quote that states, “If every person in this room made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you will try to act a little kinder than is necessary – the world really would be a better place.”  I feel like it all boils down to that.  Being kinder than is necessary.  Whether you are a child entering elementary school, a teenager searching for acceptance, or an adult still looking for your place, we can all choose kindness as a place to start.  That much is within our power.  If I could pass just one lesson onto my children, I believe this might be it.  I think that these small acts can move mountains.

Wonder has started a national movement that I wasn’t aware of as I began writing this post.  Kids are reading Wonder and realizing how important these acts of kindness are in our relationships.  There is even a CHOOSE KIND pledge.  There have been so many examples of hate and cruelty around us lately, it is possible to wonder if there is any good left in the world?  But here is an example of love and grace.  People are signing this pledge and believing in kindness (I think I am number 11,331)!  Whether you sign the pledge or not, I hope that next time (and every time after that) you choose to be “kinder than is necessary”.

Gratitude

There is a man in my life that deserves some thanks.

Every morning my kids make a bit of a stink about getting ready for school and then an even bigger stink about getting in the car. What is it about transitions that are so universally difficult? I remember back to when my first son was around two or three years old and we realized that “getting out the door” was one of the great hurdles of parenthood. Well, I take that back… at birth there is a realization that you cannot just walk out the door like a normal person anymore. There is process, procedure and packing to contend with upon every departure. But, once toddlerhood arrives, not only are you packing snacks and making sure the diaper bag is stocked, you are also dealing with a little person that has his or her own ideas of how the day should go. Most likely, you are screwing up their plans.

So, when “getting out the door” becomes enough to make you not want to leave the house, it is time to come up with a new strategy. Usually this involves distraction. The distraction I am currently employing with abandon is helped by this man I mentioned. My husband is wonderful, but this is not the man I speak of. Right now, the favorite “other man” in our house is someone named Chris Ballew. It is true, we don’t even know him, and yet this morning he made “getting out the door” to go to school a dream.

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Chris Ballew is a member of the alternative band The Presidents of the United States of America, but he has an alias (which makes him even more popular in my house). He is Caspar Babypants and he is awesome. Since 2009, Chris (or Caspar) has been singing children’s songs that are palatable to adults. There are other great groups who achieve this, but he is the first I learned of and my favorite. Caspar Babypants has released at least six albums and if you don’t know about him yet (and are a parent, an aunt, a grandparent or friend of a child), you need to! One of the things I love about his children’s music project is that he makes his performances very accessible to children around Seattle and many are free to the public. We have gotten to see him perform a few times and my kids go crazy. He is so creative and enthusiastic – it is contagious. Another cool thing about Caspar Babypants is that it is a family run business. His wife, Kate, does all the artwork on the album covers!

So, without further ado… Thanks, Chris, for making my mornings a little easier!

One more thing, if you see us rocking out on the way to school, it is probably to this song:

Youtube links:

Baby’s Getting Up

or maybe this one…

Run Baby Run

Happy Listening!

 Newest Album:

6 I FOUND YOU! cover art

Here I Am! This Is Fun! More Please! Hot Dog! Sing Along!