The Best Part

This past weekend our little family joined my mom and dad in a little cottage up in Pentwater, Michigan. I love that cottage. My parents have been renting it on and off for more than 20 years. I have some great memories there, so it was so fun to take the kids and help them make some great memories too!

At the end of each day, we would ask the boys, “What was the best part of today?” They would laugh and giggle recollecting all the fun we had. It was always difficult to choose just ONE best part.

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I will say the 90-minute drive was not my personal favorite. Usually I enjoy the trip; it’s a very beautiful drive, however you see how close the boys sit to each other? And Alice is rear-facing behind me. Yeah, there was loudness.

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Breakfast was always a highlight. Grandpa made lots of breakfast meat and french toast for the troops. You can see that Charlie is dressed and has his backpack on. He was so ready for the beach, man. SO. READY. Sandboxes are his love language and the beach? Dude, it’s one big sandbox.

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See? Homeboy is in heaven. We had the best possible beach weather ever. Charlie still talks about this as being one of his “best parts”. He would live at the beach if he could. Annnnddd…cue beach pics….

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Alice hates sand and dirt and getting dirty. Such a diva. But she sat in that little beach chair just as nice as can be for two plus hours with her cold drink looking cute. That is really my kind of beach day too.

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Grandma gave the boys a snack of Vanilla Wafers…on frisbees! Grandma is so smart when it comes to snack distribution.

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Even Alice enjoyed some beach vanilla wafers. With her cold drink. In her chair. Not touching the sand at all.

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It was a super hot day, but it was quite breezy, so we didn’t feel like were were sweating too much. Plus Lake Michigan was around 75 degrees.  I could have stayed much, much longer, but Alice needed a nap and the boys were getting sunned out.

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We did plenty of sitting around too. That was probably one of my best parts. I enjoyed not having too much access to wifi and having no TV or other screens available. I read a whole book from start to finish from Thursday night to Sunday afternoon. My mom and I both brought a plastic horse shoes/ring toss game, so the boys had a good time sticking the stakes into the ground and making up rules about what “level” they are on. My very patient parents went along with these nonsensical rules and laughed and laughed as my mom pretty much missed every time she tossed.

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When we got home, Eddie made the comment that Grandma is so good at helping us find things to do when we might be bored. My mom totally understands that four and seven-year old boys need to keep busy. If there started to be hints of whining or fighting because of boredom, grandma would swoop in with a game of Go Fish, or Old Maid, or going for a walk to the dock or around the block. Eddie helped set the table most of the time, and Charlie helped carry out food.

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Charlie made a comment that we are pretty lucky to have a Grandpa who shares his boat and fishing hooks with us…and “cuts up a good watermelon!” Charlie is pretty much his Grandpa’s shadow–both lefties, both bearing the name “Thomas”, both loving watermelon and “putzing” around.

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Speaking of watermelon…apparently I bought a good, crisp, juicy one! It wouldn’t be a summer vacation up north in Michigan without a messy delicious watermelon after dinner.

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Alice even needed a sink bath after she demolished a huge chunk of melon. All of the sticky in her hair and on her whole body!

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I mentioned my parents have a boat. They were kind enough to haul it all the way up north and my kids LOVED it. They boys always love boat rides. When we out of the channel and onto the big lake, my dad “put the hammer down” and as we lifted up, Charlie–who was sitting in the “first mate” seat–said to Cortney, “THIS IS MY BEST PART!” After a ride, we circled back to the beach.

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It was another HOT day, but with no wind. My dad anchored off shore from the beach and we all took a dip! The boys jumped off the boat over and over into the refreshing water!

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Both boys showed us all the things they learned in swimming lessons, but with life jackets on since we were in water that was around 6 feet deep. Little Bird paddled around for hours!

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It was so hot we even got Alice to float around a bit with her Daddy! She clung pretty tightly to him, but I think she enjoyed the cool dip.  In fact, she fell asleep on me on the ride back to the boat launch.

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Both boys have fishing poles my dad gave them for their birthdays. They were so excited to fish with Grandpa! He was super patient with them as fish after fish swallowed up his hooks. I even showed off my casting skills (that my dad mocked!) and ability to reel in a bluegill when Charlie got a little nervous about doing it himself. I think Cortney was impressed!

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It rained on our last morning at the cottage. My parents tried to keep everyone busy with Old Maid and other games, but things got a little punchy by afternoon. Luckily, the sun came out and we were fortunate enough to get to town to get my dad the ice cream cone he was craving and find treasures for the boys to take home to remember their vacation.

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Even Alice was getting antsy to leave the cottage by the time the sun came out. It’s a lovely cottage, but it’s small for seven people–three of whom are small people with a lot of energy!

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Before we left, we put jammies on everyone so they would be all ready for their beds when we got home. But we couldn’t leave without one more tickle session with grandpa!

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We were all stinky and tired and ready for our own beds…and showers…by the time we hit the road homeward bound. But we were happy. Because being able to spend so much time with Grandpa and Grandma was definitely the Best Part.

Thank you, mom and dad, for the awesome time. We are grateful to you for sharing the cottage with our noisy, energy-filled crew. Hopefully you got some sleep and quiet after we left! We love you!

Lessons from Netflix

We just got back from being without screens for four days. It actually went really well because we were so busy the boys didn’t have time to want to watch anything. Even before bedtime when a show is usually what chills everyone out, they were so tired from all the swimming and playing that a listening to a couple books was enough to knock them out.

Last night, though, when we got home around bedtime, the first question was: Can we watch a show? Of course I answered “yes” because I too, missed the electric glow of the screen. As we watched yet another episode of something the boys are currently obsessed with, I realized that over the past three years, we have learned a lot from Netflix. Here they are in no particular order.

  • I should probably not supplement my income by making and selling meth with a former student. (Breaking Bad)
  • Vampire squid can see in the dark. (Octonauts)
  • Tomato juice works for getting skunk stink off. (Curious George)
  • We all enjoy waving our hands in the air like we just do not care. (Home)
  • All guys experience the “vinegar strokes.” (The League)
  • There were dragons in the time of Vikings. (How to Train Your Dragon and Dragons: Race to the Edge)
  • Not everything on Netflix is 100% nonfiction (see above lesson)
  • When the children are watching a show and everything stops and the little loading circle stops at 25%, there will be shrieking and gnashing of teeth.
  • It’s fun to go to the “search” option and just type random letters and see what offerings pop up.
  • Excellent nonfiction books can be turned into ridiculously addictive fictional television series. (Orange is the New Black)
  • My kids will watch anything that has been on the Cartoon Network and I will hate all of it.

I have also learned that my kids can binge-watch just about anything, where I simply do not have the binge gene. I can watch a few episodes of something at a time, but I feel like I am wasting my day if I turn on the old Flix then, and at night I am too tired to watch more than a few episodes.

Even so, I have learned that I don’t think our family could go with out Netflix. We all have our favorites shows and movies (um, Back to the Future is now showing. Yes, the entire trilogy!), and it’s become a preferred way to relax at the end of the day…together.

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Finding Joy

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It’s very easy for me to get wrapped up and overwhelmed and pulled down by grief and sadness in this world. It’s always a fine balance for me to let myself feel sadness, but not to take on everyone’s misery. Daily I make a conscious effort to listen and and stay informed, but to also allow myself joy.

I’ve been keeping a daily gratitude journal where I list five things each day that I am “hanging my hope on” for the day. It’s been a really good, conscious way to look for the joy that is in my life each day.

It’s also not a secret that I struggle with being home with my kids. Cortney worked the budget so that all three kids can go to daycare twice a week, which has helped immensely. I feel like I can run all our errands without the anxiety of taking all the children, I can do household cleaning without anyone getting in my way or messing up what I just cleaned, and–best of all–I can read and write in a quiet house (or blare inappropriate music and have a dance party all by myself…whatever).

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Monday, Wednesday, and Friday are my days home with the kids and because I get Tuesday and Thursdays “off”, I find that I am a much better mom to them. My patience has a chance to renew on the “off days” and I find that it’s easier to find the wondrous in the every day happenings of our lives.

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Eddie’s love of Legos.

Alice’s love of books…all books–board books, my books, picture books.

Charlie’s ability to make up stories. Very wild crazy stories that almost always involve his stuffed kitty.

Eddie’s endless patience for his little sister AND how much he loves to play with her.

Alice’s tiny pig tail.

Charlie’s hilarious facial expressions.

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Eddie’s willingness to “ride around the block” with his little brother, even though Charlie rarely stays with him like he is supposed to.

Alice’s willingness to give hugs and kisses and tickles.

Charlie’s desire to be a “good helper boy”.

Eddie’s thoughtful questions.

Alice’s babble talk.

Charlie’s thoughtful silence.

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Eddie’s quickness to read his sister and brother books.

Alice’s way of cuddling her blankie to her face when she is sleepy.

Charlie’s drawings of water towers.

Eddie’s sense of humor that is so much like my own.

Alice’s way of shadowing every single thing I do.

Charlie’s imagination and ability to play happily by himself.

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Eddie’s interest in reading nonfiction.

Alice’s way with dolls.

Charlie’s bond with Alice.

Eddie’s detailed drawings of Star Wars.

Alice’s cheeks.

Charlie’s big blue eyes.

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Eddie’s willingness to try anything once.

Alice’s dancing and booty-shaking.

Charlie’s chuckle.

Eddie’s love of all people.

Alice’s giggle.

Charlie’s engineer-like brain.

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These are only just a handful of things I have written down.

Each of these little goobers is so crazy different from each other. Lately my monthly therapy appointments are more focused on me talking about how to parent each kid to their own personalities than talking about myself.

Eddie is a zero or a hundred type of kid. If he’s not 100% successful, happy, winning, etc, he uses failure talk. He uses extreme talk like “everything is horrible” or “nobody loves him”. It’s all about absolutes with that kid. He is so much like me in this way. He needs lots of encouragement and lessons about how 80% is still really good. Just because he’s not best, does not mean he’s worst. He is my rule-follower, yet he questions why people would break rules or want to do mean things. He is so kind and has such a loving heart.

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Charlie is explosive. He has big feelings he doesn’t know what to do with. He is quiet and thoughtful and loving and then BAM! Throwing things, hitting people (usually Eddie), and screaming hateful words. He needs positive reinforcement more than punishments. He cannot process once his brain floods with frustration. We need to teach him it’s Ok to walk away, cool down, and come back. He wants to be helpful and loving. He wants hugs and snuggles. He doesn’t care much about rules, but he wants to be of service to those he loves.

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Alice is my little shadow. She is proof that sometimes nature does trump nurture. She was born into a house of trucks and blocks and action figures and she gravitated to the stuffed animals and one baby doll in the house. In a room full of “boy toys” she picks the pink tea pot. Not only is she shaping up to be a rule follower, but she is observant. She knows where her dirty laundry and diapers go. She already wants to do things herself. She follows directions and can find things when we ask, “where is your….?” She is starting to test our consistency and boundaries by throwing things and hitting, but responds when we say, “no”.  She is loved on by all of us, and it’s evident that her brothers and her parents have more patience when it comes to her than we have for each other.

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This summer, while I still find myself yelling too much and wishing the hours away sometimes, I have been enjoying my children in a way I haven’t been able to in the past. I’ve been allowing myself to pause and watch them and talk to them and play with them and ask them questions. I’ve given more of an effort to learning their personalities and letting them know I see them.

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Don’t get me wrong. There have been meltdowns by ALL four of us. There have been booties that have been swatted. There has been more screen time than should probably be allowed.

This summer has been far FAR from a perfect picture. However I am doing a much, much better job recognizing the privilege of being home with them while also getting enough “off time” to do work. I am only too aware that we will never have 7, 4, and 1 ever again. This summer will be the only one like it, and our last with a baby-toddler.

So I am choosing, even on the hard days, to find five things to hang my hope on. To focus my joy on.

What have you found joy in today?

Pictured…and #NotPictured

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Pictured: A cutie pie and her mom at the park.

#NotPictured: The whining this child did every time her mom tried to set her down. The foot stomps, the head-shaking “no”, the arm reached up in protest of not being held EVERY. SINGLE. MINUTE.

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Pictured: An older brother with his baby sister, holding hands as they walk around the park.

#NotPictured: The middle child having a meltdown at my side as I take this picture because I didn’t bring snacks or drink to the park and we have been there a whole 10 minutes and “this park is stupid. everything is stupid. I want lunch.”

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Pictured: A smiley girl who loves her shoes and sunglasses.

#NotPictured: The one zillion times she took off the sunglasses and shoes, threw them at a parent, then demanded they put back on.

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Pictured: Eddie crossing from Tiger Scout to Wolf Scout.

#NotPictured: His younger brother who lost all patience with boring ceremonies and went to the playground with his younger sister and dad missing this. Also not pictured is the search that everyone did for the missing Tiger slide because Eddie lost it ramming around in the grass.

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Pictured: Charlie hamming it up for the camera after having his first bloody nose.

#NotPictured: The epic scream-fest and blood-bath that took over my bathroom moments before because Charlie was terrified of what was happening and did not want Cortney to TOUCH him, let alone squeeze his nose shut for ten minutes.

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Pictured: Cortney and me on our 11th anniversary.

#NotPictured: The three children who were at their grandparents’ house, the delicious meal and drinks, the awesome waitress, the 11 years that were a giant ball of pain, heartache, joy, and laughter.

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Pictured, #NotPictured is a little bloggy hop thingy thing from the mastermind of Ann Imig. You should check out her original post, natch.

How They Read Now: The ’96 National Book Award Winners

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Over the past month, I have been busy reading five books that I normally would not have picked up on my own. This year marks twenty years of the National Book Award and this winter I joined a group of colleagues and book lovers to go back and read those award-winning YA books. There are twenty of us participating–each taking a year of winners. Each year has five novels. Each reader is tasked with choosing the one book from their year to move on to the next bracket, with the idea that we choose ONE book from the past twenty years that we all feel is the BEST of all the National Book Award Winners.  I chose 1996 for a few reasons.

I am at that age where YA novels were sub par when I was the target audience for YA literature. My mom would make a weekly trip to the library in the summer and come home with stacks of books from their tiny section with young people as the protagonist. I read a lot of terribly written books over those summers. The YA scene didn’t vastly improve until after I had gotten my job teaching high school English. Coming of age with shoddy writing about gender stereotypes and predictable plots made me want to revisit what judges deemed exceptional back then.

The books I read:

Parrot in The Oven: Mi Vida by Victor Martinez

I read this one in grad school for an adolescent lit class circa 2004. I remember being blown away that this sort of literature existed for young people since everything we read was extremely different than the tales of summer romances and back-stabbing best friends that I had access to. Since it had been more than a decade, I re-read the book for this project. I was sure this would be my pick for the best.

Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida is told from the point of view of 14-year-old Manny Hernandez who lives with his sisters, his brother, and his parents the barrio in California. The writing was beautiful. Martinez creates lovely vignettes for each chapter painting each scene with similes like when he describes the pepper plants he and his older brother are going to pick from to earn extra money: “…gesturing down at some limp branches leaning away from the road, as if trying to lift their roots and hustle away from the passing traffic” (10). The way he describes what the sky looks like above the pepper field, “clouds boiling like water on the horizon” not only appeal to the reader’s visual sense, but also reminds us that it is so blisteringly hot that even the clouds feel it (13).

While the writing was lovely, the plot was underwhelming. Manny’s family has issues and he is deciding whether or not to join a gang. At the time of publication, the race wars in California had tensions across the entire country running high. Not many authors had so eloquently written about the Latino experience from the eyes of a Latino youth, so it is not surprising that the plot coupled with poetic prose, won an award twenty-years ago. However if I were to hand this book to my middle school students now, I don’t think they would be as blown away after reading the works of authors like Benjamin Alire Saenz and Margarita Engle.

What Jamie Saw by Carolyn Coman

After reading reviews of this one, I was looking forward to something ground-breaking. What Jamie Saw read more like what I remember 90’s YA lit reading like: potential that is just not realized. The plot is that Jamie witnesses his mom’s boyfriend do something mean to his younger sister. Mom and Jamie and the baby leave. They are afraid of the ex-boyfriend. The problem is that the plot falls short. Other than mentioning something–domestic abuse–that probably wasn’t mentioned much then, it really stops there with just mentioning it. Since Jamie is just a little kid, the language is simplistic and we are left to infer what conversations his mother is having when she asks him to play outside or tend to his baby sister.

In the end, the book felt like an after school special, but with even less drama. Definitely did not seem award-winning to me.

Send Me Down a Miracle by Han Nolan

This may have been my least favorite of all five books. At least with What Jamie Saw I was interested in the plot even if it did turn out to be too simple for my taste. Send Me Down a Miracle had better writing, but the plot was pretty terrible, as was the characterization.

Charity is supposedly a 14-year old who lives with her younger sister, her dad, who is the preacher in a super small Southern town. Her mom is gone to a birdcage convention and later we find out she may or may not be coming back. A stranger–an artist from New York–comes to town one day to work on her art. She announces she will be living closed from society for a month. When she comes out she claims to have seen Jesus sitting on a chair in her house.

First of all, Charity seems way younger and naive than any 14-year old I have ever met. In fact, she is somewhat unbelievable as a 14-year old. Her father reminds me of the dad in Footloose, but less of a fully developed character. The most interesting characters to me where Adrienne (the artist) and Charity’s mom, both of whom are flat and undeveloped. In the beginning I thought Adrienne was going to be the star of the book when Charity describes her entrance: “Then in walked Adrienne into our tidy home, looking like some wild jungle woman with fat, frizzed-out hair, rings on her toes, and this long, brightly colored skirt that was practically see-through.” But no.

The entire plot of the town going crazy for a “Jesus Chair” was just poorly executed, in my opinion.

The Long Season of Rain by Helen Kim

This was the last book I had to read and it was hard to find. When it showed up to my house I took one look at the book cover and groaned. I thought for sure I would be bored to tears. I was pleasantly surprised.

The Long Season of Rain takes place in South Korea in the 1960’s. It starts during the rainy season, Changma, while school is out for recess. The story is told from 11-year-old Junehee’s point of view. She is the second of four daughters and lives with her parents and her paternal grandmother. One day her grandmother brings home a boy her age who was orphaned in a mudslide. His presence brings out family secrets and tensions between her mother and father.

I will admit that historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, and I hadn’t read any historical YA lit about Korea before, so even though I thought the book would bore me, I was wrong. The writing was lovely and wove Korean words easily with English in a way that was not confusing to the reader, but brought a richer sense of tradition and culture. Kim also does a good job of weaving the traditions of a conservative Korean family into the plot. They do not stand out, but rather enhance the story and push the motives of the characters.

I would classify this as a fairly typical bildungsroman because Junehee “comes of age” as she loses her innocence of her parents’ relationship and family workings. This was my runner-up pick.

A Girl Named Disaster by Nancy Farmer

As you may have already guessed, A Girl Named Disaster is my pick for the best of the 1996 National Book Award Winners. Like The Long Season of Rain, it falls under the historical YA fiction heading. At first, I wasn’t so sure about it since I have recently read two other YA books set in Africa, but this one blows both of those away too.

Nhamo is 11-years old living in a traditional village in Mozambique where she doesn’t fit in. Her mother was killed by a leopard when she was a baby, and her father took off before she was born. Culture places daughters with their father’s family, but Nhamo is brought up by her maternal side. After sickness plagues her village, it is decided that she should be married off to a terrible man to bring health and luck back to the village. Nhamo decides it’s time to find her father’s family who are supposedly in Zimbabwe.

Her year-long adventure is like a cross between the hero’s journey and a bildungsroman. She definitely “comes of age” during her travels, but it almost exactly follows the typical “hero’s journey” elements as well. Of all the books this is the one that not only stuck with me after I was done reading, but I found myself thinking about it when I wasn’t reading it. It was a book I stayed up late to finish because I needed to know what would happen. That alone makes it the clear front-runner.

The writing was beautifully descriptive as well. One of the qualities of a truly good book–especially world literature–is when the author can make the cultures and traditions come alive and make sense and weave them into the plot of the book. Farmer does that impeccably in A Girl Named Disaster.

I look forward to reading the winners from the 2012, 2008, 2004, and 2000 groups so we can decide on one to push through to the final brackets! I’ll keep you posted!

My Summer Binge List

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I’ve seen everybody talkin’ all about what they can’t wait to binge watch this summer on Netflix. New seasons of favorite shows have started coming out and the list of what is coming and going in July was just released. I’ll be honest, it gets sort of stressful to me.

In fact, I have had to avoid certain Facebook threads because people are discussing the new season of Orange is the New Black. Season four just came out like last week and people are already talking all about the thing. I am not even done with season 2 yet because that is how far I got last year on maternity leave before the boys were home for the summer and I never watched it again.

I also haven’t finished Breaking Bad yet.

So let’s put both of those on the list for this summer. I get two days each week without kids and I have some projects to work on that I can do in front of the TV, so maybe I will get to watch my favorite not-kid-appropriate shows while accomplishing things. That would be fun.

Ok, but the real thing that I am looking forward to having a binge-fest on is coming in July. Cortney rolled his eyes so hard when I told him about this that I thought his eyeballs were going to get stuck in the back of his head.

I’ll give you a hint…I’m sort of a super fan…

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YES! BACK TO THE FUTURE! ALL THREE MOVIES IN THE GREATEST TRILOGY OF ALL TIME!!!!

Ok so yes, I have all three movies on both VHS and DVD (including all the special features, commentary, etc), but now it’s on NETFLIX!  That means it’s even EASIER to access on all of my screens all of the time.

ALL OF THE TIME!

No more will I have to go downstairs to find the DVD, put it in the DVD player and all that jazz. Nope. It’s right there. RIGHT THERE ALL THE TIME!

B to the F! Marty! Doc! George! Lorraine! Biff! The whole gang!

Gotta get back in time!!!!

Ahem.

Sorry.

To recap: Orange is the New Black finish season 2 and watch seasons 3 and 4. Maybe finish Breaking Bad. Watch the Back to the Future Trilogy ad nauseam until my family makes me stop.

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Disclaimer: I write posts for Netflix once a month. They give me free streaming and a device to watch it on. All opinions are clearly my own because no body else in the world–except maybe my brothers–love Back to the Future this much.

Oh, I would also like to pour one out for all the PBS shows that are leaving Netflix this summer. We miss you, Curious George. And Daniel and the Kratt Brothers will be very VERY missed.

Magnificently Seven

Dear Eddie,

Lately I have been looking at you in amazement. At some point in this school year you grew so tall, your feet so big, and your intellect so expansive.

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I’m having a hard time with your letter this year. It’s not that I don’t know what I want to say, it’s just…I’m a little overwhelmed. Since school has been out, I have been noticing that you are on the verge of not being such a naive little kiddo anymore.

Have I mentioned that you have gotten SO tall? You are 4’3′ and you wear a size 2.5 shoe. That seems like such a big kid. Your baby face has thinned out, although you still have those totally kissable cheeks. Judging from the Koops lineage where they come from, I don’t have to worry about your cheeks going away any time soon, and that makes me glad. You have a smattering of freckles on your nose which you claim to hate, but I love.

Daddy pointed out that your size 6 jammy shirts look like belly shirts on you, so I ordered size 7/8 the other day. Youth size “medium”.

This year brought a ton of “not a little kid anymore” things.

You finished the first grade! The school year started out a bit rough; you had a hard time adjusting to two recesses instead of three, no rest time during the day, and no free choice play. We exchanged quite a few emails and phone calls with your teacher about how to best help you learn about self-control. Aunt MacKenzie–who teaches first grade in another school–assured us over and over that your behavior was completely normal for a young first grade boy. She also promised we would see a change after Christmas break and she was right! It was like a switch flipped and you figured out how to “do” school.

We never worried about your academics, though. In Kindergarten you were one of the top readers, and Mrs. D placed you in the “advanced readers” group for WIN (What I Need) time. You fell in love with researching and reading nonfiction–especially about weather and animals. You also excel at math. Your swiftness with flying through your math problems and adding and subtracting in your head make me so proud…and glad. Math was so very hard for me–it still is–so to see it come easy to you is a relief to me.

One of the things I am most proud of is that you are sch a good, helpful friend at school. It’s true that often you have to “clip down” on the behavior chart for acting silly and being off-task, but it’s because you are trying to make people smile. You let other kids answer so they will “clip up” even when you know the answer. You play with everyone whether they are “popular” or not, and you told me once that you and your friend, L, were in a “squad” to help a girl in your class stay safe from some mean upper-el kids.

You did a lot of stuff out of school this year too.

You played soccer in the fall, but declared that was it. You weren’t into it and didn’t want to continue, but you did ask to be in cub scouts so we signed you up as a Tiger scout.

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You learned so much this year as a scout! Your favorite things were marching in parades and making your pinewood derby car with grandpa. You took first place in the Tiger scout division! So awesome! Last week you crossed over to a Wolf scout and are looking forward to another fun year with your den and your pack.

You participated in coach-pitch baseball and basketball camp this spring as well as another session of swimming lessons. You grew SO much as a baseball player this year! Your coach was fantastic. You were awesome. It was a really fun season to watch.

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Over and over this year I have just found myself so darn proud of you. I mean, it’s not been without some struggle. Like I said we had MANY talks about self-control and behavior at the beginning of the school year, but you really did try.

I love our conversations. You ask just about anything, and you think very deeply about things. You have never been a “why why why” kid, but more of a “What is Heaven? How do tornadoes start? Where does wind come from?” kid. I love your inquisitive nature and how you really think about things before and after you ask about them.

You are such a good big brother. Charlie has entered a phase where he wants to be just like you and do everything you do and it’s super annoying to you, but when you guys get playing something, you play so well together. You fight and wrestle and yell and play hard. Your personalities are vastly different, yet you have one thing in common: you laugh uncontrollably at anything that has to do with butts, farts, or poop. Even though you guys are a ball of trouble together, you are both always thinking of the other when you are not together. Recently I brought Charlie to get a treat after he had shots and he wanted to also choose something for you. When you got to pick a Gatorade at the grocery store with me, you also wanted to choose one for Charlie. It is my most sincere prayer that you boys always keep each other in mind. You are each other’s best friend and ally in this world. Never forget that. Brothers are for life.

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Where you have frustration for Charlie, you have unending patience for Alice. I don’t know if it’s the age difference or the fact that you have always always ALWAYS wanted a little sister, but you would do absolutely anything for her. You taught her to hug! You comfort her when she is sad. You bring her all her lovies and you play so nicely with her, letting her choose what to play. Please always be there for her. She will need a shoulder to cry on and a strong brother to lean on throughout her life. You are so quick to put your arm around her; I hope that is always the case.

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You still love your stuffed animals and you still sleep with Lamby and your tiny monkey pillow, yet you enjoy Star Wars and American Ninja Warrior. You are the perfect mix of sweet and growing up. You are so empathetic and loving, yet capable of thinking about big things.

This morning you said you were a little sad because six was such a great year. You were sad on the last day of school because you said first grade was so awesome and you would miss Mrs. D. That’s the kind of guy you are, bud. I hope seven (and 2nd grade) surpass your best imagination of what it could be.

Happy birthday, my buddy. I love you more than everything.

Mom

June: The Friday of Summer

June has always felt to me like the Friday of the summer months. You know what I’m talking about. That feeling when work gets out on a Friday and–even if you do have plans–it feels like the possibilities are spread out for you to choose from and that you have SO MUCH TIME.

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That is what June is like. The kids and I make lists of things we would love to do this summer. We make our weekly schedule which includes the library on Mondays, the farmer’s market on Wednesdays, and the park on Fridays. We talk of splash pads, the beach, and visits with friends. I make my weekly chore list: what laundry and household task I will tackle each day so that our weekends can be wide open for family time.

I make piles of books to read.

The kids list all the water-related fun they will have.

June is the best because it’s so optimistic. But there is usually a crash of expectations that first week the kids are home from school. We don’t have our groove yet. People get cranky with each other since they are not used to being together all day. Last year was incredibly rough for some reason. Maybe it was the newborn? Maybe it was because I had been off since March when school let out in June? Maybe it was because I had at least one kid with me every single day? I don’t know.

This year I allowed myself some grace. This first week with the kids would be hard. And Monday was difficult. The news left a giant hole in my soul, we had a funeral visitation, and the kids were just cranky and out of sorts. But then things turned around.

For one, I have two days where ALL three kids go to daycare. ALL THREE.

That means I was able to get groceries all by myself on Tuesday. I could linger over labels and carefully peruse the produce. It means I could have lunch with a friend on Thursday, and stop at the library and look for books for ME (and even sit and read awhile).

The days home with the kids haven’t been perfect, but like I said…we are adjusting. There have been too many screens because we have been frustrated and finding our way. We are figuring out how to be around each other for so much time when we are all used to being away from each other all day.

Sitting here in June, on the first day of summer, it looks like we have endless time to play and melt into each other’s personalities and routines.

Future Days

If I ever were to lose you
I’d surely lose myself 

Thursday afternoon Eddie and I were driving home from basketball camp. The song “We Are Going to be Friends” by the White Stripes came on the radio. I looked in my rear-view mirror as I sang quietly along in time to see Eddie bobbing his head with the tune.

“Ya know, Eddie…this song always makes me think of you.”

“Why, mom? Because it’s about school?”

“Yeah. A little. I don’t really know why. School I guess. And being friends. You’re a good friend and I hope you always are. Plus you were my first little dude and I hope we always have these talks.”

“I like that, mom.”

Everything I have found dear 
I’ve not found by myself

We wordlessly listened to the rest of the song. The next song was a Pearl Jam song. One of my favorites. I sang along, and Eddie thoughtfully listened.

Try and sometimes you’ll succeed
To make this man of me 

When it was over Eddie said, “That was nice. I liked that one too.”

“That song makes me think of Daddy, you know. Every time I hear it.”

“Is it because it sounds like Daddy singing?”

“What? Oh! Ha! Is that what Daddy sounds like when he sings?”

“A little. Yes. Actually a lot. Yup.”

“I never thought of that. Actually the words make me think of Daddy.  Well, me and Daddy.”

“Because you love each other?”

“Yup. It’s about being with someone forever.”

“I like that.”

“Me too, bud.”
All my stolen missing parts 
I’ve no need for anymore

Today is eleven years since we said, “I do,” but I realized that this past May officially marked twenty years of friendship.
I believe 
And I believe cause I can see 
Our future days
Days of you and me 

I’ve written about our story…about how are paths were so twisty and overgrown with other stuff that we couldn’t see that they were leading to each other. That both of us prayed and wished and hoped for someone to not just marry, but someone to love and laugh and cry with forever and ever.
Back when I was feeling broken 
I focused on a prayer 

In fact, we even did this wishing and hoping and praying many times together. Until all that was left was the two of us: looking at each other and just knowing.
You came deep as any ocean
Did something out there hear?

Every time I question God or prayer or faith or grace, I think back on how we are even here together. How we never saw it coming, and how now we can’t imagine it any other way.
All the complexities and games 
No one wins but somehow they’re still played

We are not perfect. We still get annoyed with each other. We quarrel. We snip at each other. We get on each other’s nerves with our “quirks” and bad habits.
All the missing crooked hearts
They may die but in us they live on 

But we also laugh. We laugh so much. We laugh through and into and around our tears. We suck in our breath and pray through our fears. We listen to each other talk, but more importantly, we listen to each other’s silence.
I believe
And I believe cause I can see
Our future days 
Days of you and me 

Sickness, death, pregnancy loss, job loss, sanity loss…we have been through all of it, and yet…
When hurricanes and cyclones raged
When winds turned dirt to dust
When floods they came or tides they raised
Ever closer became us

It’s not easy. People have said we make it look easy. I think that is because we were…ARE…such great friends. I wasn’t a cliche when I said I married my best friend. I really did. And it still surprises and delights me.
All the promises at sundown 
I’ve meant them like the rest 

Even though my depression and anxiety lie and say I don’t deserve any of this that we have built together as a team, I know we are both in it until that death do us part thing. And even then…
All the demons used to come round 
I’m grateful now they’ve left 

One of my favorite quotes about love going on forever is from the YA novel, Wonder: “You don’t need your eyes to love, right? You just feel it inside you. That’s how it is in heaven. It’s just love, and no one forgets who they love” (227).
So persistent in my ways 
Hey Angel I am here to stay 
No resistance, no alarms
Please, this is just too good to be gone

So we’ve been married for eleven years, but I believe that our future days…and the ones after we are no longer on this earth…are days of you and me.
I believe 
And I believe cause I can see 
Our future days 
Days of you an me 
You and me
Days,…
You and me

Happy anniversary, my love. I’m sorry I forgot to buy a card.

future days

*Lyrics from the song “Future Days” by Pearl Jam

Testimony

In 2009, without much pomp or circumstance, I made profession of faith. I’m not sure anybody even noticed because I did it in conjunction with Eddie being baptized. It was a requirement for baptism that both Cortney and I were members of our church. Because I had not yet made profession of faith in any church, I needed to do so to be an official member. So we just added that in to all the other “will you…” stuff that is asked before the water is officially sprinkled on the baby. I was thirty-one years old.

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If I am honest, I only did it because I wanted my baby to be baptized and because I was cool with being an official member of our church. I really didn’t have any of my questions answered that had been swirling around since I was in middle school. In fact, I am not sure why it was even important to me to have Eddie baptized other than it was tradition and I knew I didn’t want to deal with what our parents would say if we didn’t do it. Great reasons, I know.

I was brought up in the church. In fact, my childhood church is across the street from the church my family now attends. My town is small and there are somewhere around a million churches in it. The joke is that there is a church on every corner, and it’s based in a bit of reality. Growing up, if we made a new friend, the first question our parents asked was, “who are their parents?” followed by “what church do they go to?”

Church was not a bad experience for me though. I met my best friend through Sunday School when we were very small. She likes to joke that I scared her back then, but she scares me now. The truth is, some of my best memories are from church-related things; I had lots of fun experiences, but I wouldn’t say any of them were life-changing in the spiritual department.

My family was in church ever Sunday morning for the 8:30am service. We sat in the pew in the same order: me all the way to the middle, mom, Mike (my youngest brother), dad, and Chris (my younger brother) on the aisle. There were some years where my dad was a deacon and we sat in the “reserved” bench. We were always there.

We were also always in Sunday School. All of us. Our church offered classes for every single age, so we all went. Most weeks we even went back to church for the evening service.

Wednesday night was also for church. In elementary school, I did choir and catechism class. In middle and high school I had youth group. I participated in skits and other dramas when I was in high school, I went on retreats and mission trips. I did fun nights and scavenger hunts and ice cream socials.

The one thing I didn’t do was follow the rest of my peers and make profession of faith. Church was fun, but the actual religious part of it…the part where I was expected to feel moved by God…didn’t happen for me.

I credit those years for laying a foundation of good morals and the desire to put kindness into the world. I believe my religious upbringing definitely aided in my perception of my self-worth and self-respect.

However I don’t think I ever felt a strong, unflinching belief that I thought I should be feeling. I never felt the same blind faith that my parents seemed to feel. I had way WAY too many questions.

In college I took a history of Christianity class for a gen ed requirement. I came home with fascinating questions and wonderings and the minute I brought them up I thought my dad’s head was going to explode. He absolutely wouldn’t let me talk about it because to him, you didn’t question God or what we are taught in the Bible. You accept it. You believe it. And that is it.

That was a turning point for me. I just couldn’t accept it as the absolute, literal truth, so I assumed I didn’t believe. I thought it was all or nothing, so since I couldn’t give all, I supposed my faith was nothing.

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I spent the rest of college battling with whether or not I believed there was a God. As much as I tried to deny one, I just felt in my bones that there was something bigger than us. That we weren’t here just randomly.

One night circa 2002, I found myself having a discussion with a drunk, but lucid not-even-on-my-radar-as-a-possible-life-partner best friend named Cortney. One thing we talked at length about was our religious beliefs–something I hadn’t even really discussed with my then boyfriend of four years. It turned out that we had similar beliefs after being brought up in very similar ways. We both believed there is a God, but to what extent everything in the Bible is a literal truth threw up lots of doubts and questions. This was a big deal because I had never talked to anyone with my almost exact feelings about Christianity and organized religion before.

Three years after that conversation, Cortney and I said “I do” in his church just six months after his dad was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.  While the cancer slowly overtook his body, my father-in-law kept a firm grasp on his faith. I felt like he knew something I didn’t. Something I just couldn’t hold onto. And even though I tried hard to see how in the world his faith in God could grow, mine seemed to shrink. Cortney’s seemed to disappear altogether.

Before we were even married two years, I suffered my first miscarriage. I suffered another the following year. When Eddie was three months old, Cortney lost his job. I suffered from postpartum depression and anxiety.

People told us that everything–EVERYTHING–happened for a reason. Cancer, death, lost babies, depression, job loss, all of it…happened for a reason and we just needed to trust that good was coming.

One family member who was a minister told us that everything bad that happened was a result of our faith being too weak.  It was because of something we did or didn’t do.

I had just one question: Where in the world was God?

He’s there was all people could say.

I called bullshit on it.

People said God gives you hard stuff to make you stronger.

I called more bullshit. I still do. I simply cannot believe God purposefully sends death and depression and loss. I just don’t believe that Cortney’s dad was destined by God to get cancer and die at age 49.

I don’t believe that since my toddler years God knew that I would grow up to lose pregnancies and battle depression. That he was knew it and and was all like, “oh yes…”hard stuff”. All according to my plan.”

NO.

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I have so so so many questions. Still.

Three years ago we decided to go back to church because we wanted to raise our kids in the church–to give them the good memories and solid foundation we were brought up with. We also felt like something was missing from our lives., and we found that going to church made us feel better–part of a family.

At the time our church was going through changes in the pastoral staff. In the past few years, all three of the pastors in our church have become our good friends. In fact, I think of them first as my friends, then as the pastors of our church.

On the one hand, the past few years has taught me that my heart for social justice and my idea of putting love and kindness into the world are absolutely what Christianity is supposed to be about. On the other, I have more questions than ever. Our friends-our pastors-are academically intelligent people. Like I said, I think of them all as friends first. I would absolutely hang out with them even if their jobs were not to spread the word of God. We discuss social justice and ideas and books and beer and music and politics. I have a great respect and love for them.

But my heart has so many questions.

 

I think I have more questions than I have faith, if that makes sense.

Cortney was ordained and installed as a deacon in our church last week. We stood and recited the Apostles’ Creed, and I couldn’t help but wonder, “do I believe this?  Does Cort? Are we lying?”

I love baptisms because they are full of faith and love and promise. They are the promise of God’s love for all of us, and I know that if nothing else, I believe in that love.

The rest of the stuff I have no idea, but the love? That I know I believe in.

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