Back to School… And Back to Work

Today I signed an official employment offer letter. Not only am I going back into the workplace after over a year as a stay-at-home mom, but I’m making a career change. Instead of working with young children as a preschool teacher, I will be working with my state’s youthful offenders. Teens. Pre-teens.

I’m feeling so many different emotions after making this decision:
-Excitement at starting a new career.
-Optimistic about rehabilitating youth in trouble.
-Anxious to learn and train for my new position.
-Sad to see my long days and evenings end with my boys and husband.
-Worrisome about my toddler starting preschool for the first time.
-Happy for my oldest son beginning a new school year in first grade.
-Grateful for the opportunity to help others.
-Ambitious to become a provider for our family again.

My current life goal: to enjoy the remaining days of summer with my family.

My current blogging goal: to expand my topics to include posts about balancing work and family.

I hope you will continue to follow me along this exciting new path.

**Check out my blogging friend, Nate, who is bravely returning to work again after 17 years at home. You can find her story at insanityofmotherhood.com


Five Reasons Why You Should Play Minecraft with Your Child

I know. Your eyes are rolling to the back of your head and you’re thinking, “I’m so sick of my child talking about Minecraft!” That’s all my six-year-old has talked about for the past several months too. On the iPad, he plays Minecraft: Pocket Edition. He watches YouTube videos from a lady called Cupquake. He bought the Xbox360 version with his own cash. He wakes up in the middle of the night, sleep-walking into our bedroom like a Zombie and crying, “But I really like that MOD!” I thought his interest in Minecraft would come and go, just as it had with Angry Birds and Skylanders. But his obsession seems to be coursing steadily through his veins. Having no quick antidote to cure him, I did a parental unthinkable: I took a swig of the poison. I immersed myself into his pixelated world of mining and mobs. And if your child is Minecraft-crazed, you should play with him too.

Here’s why I’m glad I did:

  • I had no idea what my son was talking about 75% of the time: diamond swords, iron ingots, exploding Creepers. All day long, he would tell me about these strange things, and the only contribution I had to those conversations were alternating responses of, “Wow… Sounds neat… Huh?” Who sounds like the zombie now?
Photo Credit: www.minecraftwiki.net

Photo Credit: www.minecraftwiki.net

  • After the first few minutes of playing with my son, I started to get it. I didn’t see validity for the obsession yet, but as he gave me the initial tour of Minecraft I finally began to understand the game. Suddenly, those bewildered half-conversations I’d been having with my child had a new perspective. The pixelated images made me feel a little nostalgic, and the different biomes of the Minecraft worlds are actually somewhat… pretty.
  • The way I pictured Minecraft in my head–based on phrases commonly uttered from my son like, “Whoa! I just blew up that dude with TNT!” or “Oh shoot, there’s a spider comin’ at me! I’m gonna die!”–was so much worse than the game’s actual images. The zombies in my head belonged in Night of the Living Dead. Instead, I found the kinda-cute Minecraft Zombie pictured above. When someone dies the screen gets reddish, but there are no gory death scenes to the extent I had envisioned.
  • It’s an opportunity–albeit a virtual one–to promote teamwork. When my son and I play together, he naturally takes on the hunter/gatherer role and I become the homemaker. Even though it’s not gory I’m still not fond of killing things. I build our shelter, and he gathers our supplies and hunts for food.
  • Most importantly is knowing that my son still wants me involved in his interests. He is my oldest child, and I know that a time will soon come when he won’t really care whether or not I like what he likes. Someday, he may be content to shut the door to his bedroom as he runs amuck in a virtual world. Or to run out the door into the real world with his friends. But for today, his face beams with pride as he escorts me around the Minecraft worlds that he so genuinely enjoys sharing with me.

Are you familiar with Minecraft? Have any tips to share? My son is still better than I am at the game, so I need all the help I can get.


Coming Out of Vacation Mode…

We have been back from our AWESOME trip to Tampa, FL for an entire week now, and yet I still feel like I’m in vacation mode. It’s hard adjusting back to life of chores, bills, and daily life when you’ve been floating around in vacation mode. It’s even more difficult to come back to reality since we’ve made a 2-year plan to officially move there… More on that decision to come in a later post.

It’s a dreary, cloudy, cold day in the Midwest today, and I’m missing the Florida sunshine and salty air coming off of the Gulf of Mexico. Visit our family vacation one more time with me through some photos we took along the way… And maybe next week I will be back to posting normal stuff. 😉

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Feel Good Friday: Cherishing The Last of My Twenties.

I’m 29 today. Every year since I can remember, I look forward to Christmas in December, and after it’s over, I have my birthday to look forward to. The New Year just slips on by, because the start of my “new year” begins just a few days later. As for celebrating my birthday, I keep it casual with a favorite meal for supper and dessert and maybe a movie or a good book and a glass of wine. I keep it simple, because I’ve learned that those are the moments when I am happiest. That being said, I do still get excited, a bit giddy even, over my birthday. It’s turning the page to the next chapter of my life, and that’s something worth celebrating, no matter how old I get. Each year is to be cherished, and while I fail at cherishing every single moment, I cherish the ones that matter most. When I look back at my 28th year of life, my first year of blogging, I notice how my stats dipped when I needed to pull out of the blogging world and spend more time cherishing those very moments.

They dipped back in April, when I developed gestational diabetes. I spent the extra time nourishing my body, taking care to track what I ate and when and how much and to check my blood sugar afterwards. Our after-supper walks as a family were some of my favorite moments that month, because my husband and son knew it was what I needed to stay healthy, and they willingly jumped on board.

My stats stayed low for the following month of May, when my sweet baby boy was born. By far, this was the biggest blessing of my year. He came unexpectedly, just as I had hoped for (I did not want to be induced, like I was with my first pregnancy!), and he was a beautiful, perfect little boy. He looked just like his older brother. He snuggled and nursed and bonded with me immediately. He made us parents all over again, and he made our oldest son a brother.

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All of the images above were taken by the lovely Heather Hoch!

There was a final dip in August, when I cherished the last few days of my son’s summer at home with me before he started Kindergarten. He is so smart and talented in so many ways.

With the exception of those months, my blogging stats have been on a steady upward trend. My blog is growing and changing with every post I write, and although I started Close Families with a general idea of what I wanted it to be, it was the readers, the followers, the comments, the feedback… all of that has helped to shape Close Families (and the writer inside of me) into what it is today, almost a year later. I want to thank you all for your kindness, your support, your friendship. It means so much to share the bits and pieces of our separate lives that are joined by one common thread: family. And not just any family, but a family that wants to be close and connected. To have a lasting, enduring bond that is strong enough to face the harsh realities of the world. I’m still learning what that means and how to achieve it, and I hope you will continue to follow our journey.

One last thing: when I started this blog and gave it a name, I was a little over halfway through my pregnancy with our baby boy. Five months away from him being diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. It wasn’t until months after that diagnosis that I made the ironic connection: Close Families… CF… Cystic Fibrosis… CF. Strange, huh? It’s a weird coincidence… or possibly a whisper of a bigger picture at hand.

Cheers to all of you for giving me a wonderful first year of blogging. I couldn’t be more excited about what my 29th year of life has in store.

Thank you, friends!


A Merry Christmas to You!

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas (or happy belated Chanukah!) from our family to yours. May your days this week be full of good news and joy.

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I Shouldn’t

I got out of bed at 6:30 this morning. I went to the kitchen for a cup of coffee, only realizing in the absence of the familiar smell of Folger’s that I hadn’t set the coffee maker the night before. Drat. I poured a glass of Cherry Pepsi instead and sat at the dining room table for my daily Bible reading. When I finished reading, I ended my morning quiet time with a prayer, asking God to wrap his protective arms around the schools throughout the country today.

I made a couple of frozen whole-grain waffles and a glass of orange juice for my six-year-old son. I took it into the bedroom and gently woke him up.

“Hey, Mister Sleepyhead, it’s time to get up. I made some syrupy-sweet waffles for my sweet big boy,” I said. I stroked his soft, blonde hair and kissed his cheek.

He opened his eyes and asked excitedly, “Waffles?”

“Yep, get up and out of bed so you can eat them!”

He jumped out of bed and sat on the floor with his waffles. I left him and went back to the kitchen to put his lunch together.  A Lunchable and a Fruit Roll-Up, two of his favorite treats. I set his lunch bag next to his backpack and went to check on him. His eyes were glued to the TV with an empty plate at his feet.

“Wow, that was fast!” I said. “Okay, get yourself dressed now, please. I’m going to go get your brother.”

As I headed out of the room, our dog started jumping and dancing at the front door. “Okay, okay,” I said. I opened the door, and she bolted past me. The click-clack of her toenails on our hardwood floors woke up the baby boy, and he started to fuss but ended it with an abrupt smile when he saw my face. “Good morning, baby boy,” I said as I picked him up and snuggled him close. “Let’s go see Bubby.”

I carried him back into the room where my oldest son should have been getting dressed, only to find him snuggled under the covers again and watching cartoons. “Son, please get dressed,” I said.

He stared at me. I stared back at him. No one moved. “Let’s go! You need to get dressed for school!” I said.

“Okay! I am!” he said, making his way slowly down to the edge of his bed where his empty clothes rested in a heap.

I left the baby boy to play on the floor and went to get myself dressed. I threw on a sweatshirt and a pair of flats, brushed my hair and teeth, and went back to check on my son’s progress.

Still wearing his PJs. Clothes still in a heap. The only change in the entire scene was bare feet instead of socked feet. I turned off the TV. “Let’s. Go. Get dressed. Now you need to hurry, or you’re going to be late for school.” I picked up the baby boy, stopped at the front door to call the dog back into the house, and got the baby boy dressed and his diaper changed. I hurried back to the room. No shirt. PJ pants. No socks.

“SON! Seriously, this is getting ridiculous! Why does it take you so long to get dressed in the mornings? I hate starting our day with me getting angry with you!” I said. Don’t do this. Don’t let this be the last conversation you have with him. I offered more gently, “Can you please just hurry and get dressed so that I can get you to school on time today?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Thank you.”

He finished getting dressed (somewhat) quickly, brushed his teeth in a reasonable amount of time, and then gave the dog food and water before we headed out the door.

“I love you,” I said on our way to his school.

“I love you too.”

We pulled up next to the sidewalk leading to the entrance to his school, and I asked him for a hug and kiss. I squeezed his little body tight and gave him a quick peck on the lips.

“Have a great day, buddy. I love you so much.”

“I will. Love you too.” He slammed the door shut, and I watched every one of his steps toward the school building. His gym teacher greeted him at the door, opened it for him, and when it closed, I lost sight of my son. Tears that I hadn’t known were forming started to flow down my cheeks in long, fast-moving streams. My heart ached. Even as I drove away, I wanted him in the car with me again. I hadn’t been sad the day I dropped him off in Kindergarten for the first time, but I was sad this morning. Sad for the world.

I shouldn’t need to pray for God to protect our children at school. I shouldn’t feel guilty about yelling at my son for taking an insane amount of time to get dressed in the morning, fearful that those might be the last words that I say to him. I shouldn’t feel terrified as I watch my son walk through the doors of his school. But I do. And if I do, I can not even imagine what a school morning feels like now to the families of Sandy Hook Elementary.


We Need a Vacation…

We need a vacation. However, it’s not the destination that I have in mind, it’s the traveling. It’s the conversations that take place when we’re confined as a family within the small space of a car, with nothing on the agenda for the day but to drive. A long, open road leads to long, open conversations.

Traveling conversations are different from everyday conversations. My husband and I talk every day. But ninety percent of our everyday conversations are about the things that happen on a daily basis. We talk about his job. We talk about the things I’ve done around the house and the things still to be done. We talk about our children and their behaviors, attitudes, well-being, and the funny things that they’ve done or said. We talk about the future by means of doctor’s appointments, events at school, or where we need to be on the weekends. Of course these kinds of conversations need to take place. If there is one thing that my husband and I have been working on in the past couple of years, it’s communication. This kind of daily communication is vital to our happy marriage and a well-functioning family.

When we travel, we leave our daily life at home, and the everyday conversation is no longer needed. The conversations become as long as the roads we travel and just as fresh as the new views from the car windows. While growing up, some of my favorite conversations with my family took place on a long trip to anywhere in the car. I heard stories of who my parents were before they were parents. I heard about my mom and her relationship with her parents and siblings–how she was a daddy’s girl, and she fought with her oldest sister who often acted like she was her mom. I heard how my grandma had the patience of a saint, and that my mom sees a lot of her personality in me. I asked many questions about my mom’s other sister who developed schizophrenia after she had three children and how it affected the rest of the family. I heard about my dad and how he was a mama’s boy and would cling to the doorframe when it was time to go to school. I found out that he played football in a small town high school and has always been a quiet guy. I learned that he met my mom on a double-date (where they were each on a date with someone else), but that they ended up together.

Before I was a mom, I lived these kinds of stories too. I want to have time to tell my husband and children all about them. That I loved a warm afternoon sitting beneath a tree with a good book. That my baby dolls and stuffed animals were some of my favorite friends and my first practice at being a mom. That my sister and I had a “secret recipe” that consisted of brown sugar, butter, and peanut butter rolled into a ball and eaten raw when our dad was a diabetic and much of our pantry was sugar-free. How my dad scared me once when he went into a low-blood sugar reaction and was talking nonsense. I want to tell them about the rush of adrenaline that kicked in when I waited with my feet in the blocks for the gun to go off at the start of a track meet, and how good it felt the few times that I was able to get my chest across the finish line first. That my husband and I spent seven years growing up just a few streets from each other, and yet we met for the first time when he walked into a bowling alley when we were twenty years old.

With the busyness of our everyday lives, there is very little time to tell them all of these stories about the girl I was before I became a mom and a wife. I want to hear my husband’s and children’s stories too. We need a vacation.

**If you liked this post, you should check out the other posts on the Yeah Write open grid this week and vote for the post you like best!**


Family Game Night: “Minute to Win It” Theme

Here is another fun idea for a family game night. Like the last post about game nights, I didn’t come up with this idea. But it was so much fun for the adults and kids alike that I had to share it!

Last week, my son’s elementary school had a PTO meeting which was followed by a “Minute to Win It” themed parent involvement night. The kids and parents divided themselves into teams and used a map of the building to visit various rooms that had different challenges set up for the kids. Some of the ideas were from the game show, and some of them were tweaked to be a little more kid-friendly. Some of the challenges were easier than others for the young children, but all were fun and there was a TON of laughter. These kinds of challenges can easily be setup using household items for a fun family game night at home! Each activity is done with a one-minute timer. You have one minute to win it! Here were some of our favorites:

Game #1–Set up glue bottles (or other similar sized items around the house) like bowling pins on a coffee table. Put a soft ball or a ziplock bag filled with beans into the bottom of a panty hose. Tie around child’s waist. Be sure that the area is clear of any breakables, and stand back as the child spins and spins until their “tail” knocks down all of the items or until the timer runs out!

What’s at work here: Gross-motor skills. Depth perception.

Look out!

Game #2–Fill one empty soda bottle about 3/4 full of marbles, and then tape another empty soda bottle on top of the marble-filled soda bottle, so that the openings are taped together tightly. (Tip: Use duct tape!) Grab hold of the bottle with one hand (two for small children) and you have one minute to shake all of the marbles from the full bottle into the empty bottle. It’s harder than it seems, but my six-year-old was able to complete this one!

What’s at work here: Gross-motor skills.

Shake, shake, shake!

Game #3–Set up a stack of solo cups, with twenty cups of one color, and one cup in a different color. Start with the different color cup on the bottom. When the timer starts, you have one minute to move the cups, one at a time from the top of the stack to the bottom, until the different color cup is at the top. The hard part: You must switch hands each time you move a cup. Left hand, right hand, left hand, right hand. It’s tricky to remember that part!

What’s at work here: Hand-eye coordination. Memory skills. Balancing objects.

Game #4–Line up four forks, spaced slightly apart, and taped to the floor (needs a flat floor surface, or can be done on a tabletop). Tape another line a couple feet away for child to sit behind. Roll quarters to see how many you can “catch” in the forks within one minute. This is really difficult to do, and my son wasn’t able to get any in the forks, but he did come very close! I think next time he will nail it! Once they get the hang of rolling the quarters in the right way, it gets easier.

What’s at work here: Fine motor skills. Depth perception. Hand-eye coordination.

So close!

Game #5–Place a ball on top of empty toilet paper rolls. Blindfold child. Give child directions to the ball, “Forward! Left! More to the left! A little to the right! Right there, bend down and get it!” It was a little frustrating at times to not be able to see where he was going, and he kicked the ball away from him when he was so close a few times! But he did great!

What’s at work here: Listening skills. Spacial vocabulary. (forward, backward, left, right, etc. )Following directions.

There are so many good skills being practiced with all of these games, and it’s all in good family-friendly fun! Be sure to check out NBC’s Minute to Win It site for a complete list of these games and many more, or think up some of your own! Have fun!


Homemade Birthday Card

It’s an equal combination of being cheap and being able to add our family’s personal touch that I prefer to make our own cards rather than buying them. Here is a quick and easy tutorial for a homemade birthday card that I made for my mother-in-law last week for her big 60th birthday:

The “You’ve Touched Our Lives” homemade birthday card:

What you’ll need:

-a blank card

-ink pad or paint

-scrapbook paper/cardstock

-marker

How to make it:

-First, use the ink pad or paint to put fingerprints throughout the front and inside of the card, one fingerprint for each year of the card recipient’s age. If you’re making this for a parent or grandparent, having the children in the recipient’s life do this part is a sweet little touch. In our case, each of our two children did thirty fingerprints to make a total of 60 for my mother-in-law.

-Then use the scrapbook paper or cardstock to decorate the rest of the card. You could choose to do this step first and the fingerprints second, whichever seems easier for you.

-Finally, add the message to the card–the age on the front and the following on the inside:

This card was touched (#) times.

One touch for each year that your life has touched all who have known and loved you.

It took us about fifteen minutes to make this card (including setup and cleanup), which is less time than it would have taken to drive to the store, pick out a card, and drive back home. And the personal “touch” of a homemade card always goes over really well!

Do you usually make your own cards or buy them? If you have a link to a homemade card tutorial on your blog, feel free to leave a comment with a link to it!


Braver Than I

When I’m alone, or with my immediate family, or with very close (and equally silly) friends, I can be myself. But I am reserved and downright shy when out of my comfort zone. I like to blend in amongst a crowd of strangers. And it seems as if my son has inherited this shyness from me. Even with people that he knows, he sometimes struggles with answering the simplest of questions.

When my son won a recent art contest, we received admittance to a black tie gala benefitting the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. At first, I was ecstatic. As I rattled off all of the details to my husband, it felt like we were Cinderella and family.

The elation lasted until reality set in. My husband didn’t own a black suit. I didn’t own a formal gown. My children had only “church clothes” at best: khakis and polo shirts. When checking the website for confirmation of appropriate attire, I noticed that the gala was attended by the city’s “most prominent professional and social leaders.” My throat constricted. Our living room got hotter. I wasn’t sure we could do this.

The next day, I got a message on Facebook from a friend. She asked about the gala and asked if we would definitely be attending. Nervously, I confirmed that we would be there, and she didn’t hesitate to purchase tickets for her family to attend. They were familiar with black tie events. They had the attire. They knew how the evening would proceed. They had the financial resources. They would be at our table, at our sides, giving us the support we would need.

So I dug through our closets. I had shoes from our wedding. My husband had pants, a dress shirt, and a tie. My oldest son had black dress shoes. My youngest son had a tie. I borrowed a dress and jewelry from my mother-in-law. And thanks to a good sale at Kohl’s, we were able to purchase what we lacked. I knew we weren’t going to be on the best-dressed list, but I hoped that we would blend in enough to satisfy my comfort zone.

When we arrived to the event, there were men in tuxedos and snappy black suits. There were women in flowing, sparkling gowns. And yet, I didn’t feel out of place. Our boys got a lot of attention. Men and women alike were giving my oldest son high-fives and making comments on how handsome he looked. Our baby boy got lots of “awws” in his Mickey Mouse hand-me-down tie. I started to feel at ease. Like we were supposed to be there, and like we were catching a glimpse at how the other half lives at the same time.

As we sat at the table for dinner, our children joked and laughed. My friend asked our son if he had prepared a speech for when he goes on stage to talk about his artwork. And suddenly, all of my panicking returned. I had been so worried about our appearances and blending in, that I had failed to help my son, the only one of us who was truly going to be on display.

“We’ll just wing it,” I said, nodding confidently at my son, despite all of the “you’re a terrible mother!” alarms going off in my head.

My friend offered my son her expertise. “You need to get up there and say, ‘I made this artwork to help my brother who has CF. It’s worth MILLIONS. I need you to open your pocketbooks, and DIG AS DEEP AS YOU POSSIBLY CAN.”

We all laughed. It was a great speech, and I was kicking myself for not thinking of something so clever to help him.

When the MC called my son to the stage, he jumped out of his seat and marched straight to the stage. He was on a mission. I could see a twinge of nervousness in his face, but there was enough determination there that I knew he was going to do it. He was going to stand in front of all of those well-dressed people and speak. I stood next to the stage with my husband, holding our baby boy in my arms. My son climbed up the step stool at the podium. From the front, one could see only his little blue eyes and forehead. The MC asked him to step down and stand next to his artwork instead. He asked my son to tell everyone a little bit about his artwork. My son was quiet. Although I could see him collecting his thoughts, none of them were making their way out.

“Dig deep!” my friend whispered loudly from the audience.

My son looked at her. Then he looked over at us. And then quietly but clearly he said, “My brother painted the green grass, and then I drew the flowers and painted them. And that’s all I remember.” Everyone chuckled at his cuteness. It was the perfect speech. Not rehearsed, not embellished. A simple response that was all his own.

The auctioneer started the bidding, and he was quickly on a roll. My son watched as the hands went up around the room. $500. $550. $600. $700. $800. $900.

“I should keep you up here all night!” the auctioneer said to my son.

My son replied, “I don’t know if I could stay up here all night. I might get tired.”

More chuckles from the crowd. $1,000. $1,100. $1,200. Going once. Going twice. My son’s artwork was sold to a gentleman in the front for $1,200.

Now that everything is back to normal in our cozy little home, there are no more anxieties. I left all of those at the gala, and I returned home with more pride in my son than I’ve ever felt, more thankfulness in the generosity of people like our friends, and an internal acknowledgement that my six-year-old son was braver that night than I have ever been.

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