Saturday, December 29, 2012

Christmas and Then Some

Christmas was nice, really nice. Not too many places to run off too and visits with both friends and family.

Christmas Tree decorating

A sword fight with Pop-pop

Luminary-enhanced caroling in the park - complete with a visit from Santa

Confirmation of Santa's visit

The excitement of opening gifts

Playing with new toys

Lots to learn about throwing knives

Enjoying yet another car book

Keva Planks - a huge hit with everyone

That mandatory photo op

drinking from the good china
There has been some bowling and ice skating and tons of movies. But now, Sean is very sick and I am pretty sick. It seems like the flu. I hope for a quick recovery and worry about who's next - and I hope what's in this pot can cure what ails us.

I fear that whatever this is will ruin New Year's Eve and that really stinks because I LOVE New Year's Eve!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Baking and Building Boys

While I am too busy this week, I am trying to devise ways to keep The Boyz busy - does that make sense? I'm too busy and they're not busy enough!

One of my favorite activities to encourage the boys to engage in is 'following directions'. I don't care what activity it is, as long as there is a process of independently following written directions, a video, a recipe, or a schematic.

From the earliest ages, I look for toys that present lots of these opportunities. Some of my favorite commercial toys are Lego Products, K'nex, Rokenbok and Keva Planks.

I have 'heard' some discussion on the internet lately about building products that are geared especially for girls. Lego also introduced sets appealing to girls.  I know there are innate and biological differences that affect what boys and girls are drawn to and excel at, but maybe sometimes parents just don't think to bring lots of building toys into a house of girls - if you haven't - why not get some? Yes, Dennis and I bought baby dolls, kitchen sets, and dollhouses into the house from the time Ethan was a toddler. Some things were played with, others were hit on the head with tools ;)

Learning to follow directions is a progressive skill, so I start small - when they are small.

Lego 'Mosaics'

 Building on these skills get you bigger and better creations - with motors!


'Screamin' Serpent'
Another great way to follow someone else's directions is on youtube or Instructables. Recently, Gavin found several videos that explain how to 'modify' his Nerf guns for better function, different ammunition and further distances. He has created paper Ninja Stars, a functioning paper crossbow, learned origami, and countless other skills from online sources.

Another great way to introduce and refine 'direction following' is to provide them with recipes. It is construction of a totally different kind! I love that they need to develop attention to detail and can contribute a loaf of bread to dinner. 

'Amish White Bread'
This is one of those times that I realize this is a skill I completely lack myself. I get halfway through a project only to realize I don't have all the equipment and leave ingredients out recipes. But that does not mean I cannot help them to surpass my shortcomings - I will continue to point them in directions to seek these skills for themselves. 

Just for the record - some of these toys and sets can be very pricey. I obtain almost all of them from thrift shops and various resales. Also knowing what types of items I want for the boys, I have asked for them as gifts over the years - so don't let $$ get in the way of your fun! Build on.

Monday, December 17, 2012


Dark, dank, depressing, forlorn, melancholy and dreary. The thesaurus is no help finding words that explain the feelings of this morning. 

I was in the Crayola Factory with my own children on Friday. A place full of rainbows and color when I started to hear the news. My heart started sinking and my mind started racing. I was incredibly sad, but again, words really escape me as to what the true emotion is.

Ethan's school has been in lock down before. It was late in the day when a local bank was robbed and the armed assailant was unable to be apprehended. A bus driver in the parking lot ready to pick up the children felt that she saw a person walking through the woods surrounding the school. We received a call that the drill had begun of turning out lights, seating children away from windows and other safety measures were enacted. It was of course very scary, but comforting to know that Ethan was in his 'element' with people who knew and loved him and were prepared to follow FBI instructions until the area was clear. It took longer than we would have liked to get the call that everyone was safe and the kids were permitted onto their buses. It is so hard to think of the parents on Friday who did not get that call. 

I hear lots of discussion about mental health stemming from this incident. I have sought psychiatric help for a child of my own - only to find dead ends and little help or understanding or competent care. I have been with friends as the recommendation to call law enforcement for a police escort to the local emergency room, that was not well-equipped to help a child, was the only solution given. I have watched a friend go to a mental health facility to pick up a child who was no more well than he was 7 days before because that is what the insurance company covered. I grew up with a friend who's brother was mentally ill from anyone's earliest memory. I watched as she developed coping mechanisms to keep herself safe when he was out of control. I watched as his parents sought every type of intervention for him - from psychiatrists to schools, boot camps to religious counsel - but ultimately the family was responsible for keeping him, my friend their family and the community at large safe. Their most peaceful time in life was when he was incarcerated for aiming a gun at a police officer. He sadly remains an untreated adult.

My sister and I discussed what is was like to send our children off to school this morning, and we discussed how it feels to let them go. This incident just brings up a general feeling of lack of safety, which I wonder if there is a cure for right now. Praying is what helps me.  

All of the information swirls in my head causing conflict and confusion, but each and every time I feel that, I am reminded that there are families who are having to bury children and family members and I can hardly breathe. I have parties to plan for, cards to mail, cookies to make and presents to wrap and buy and it all seems to have less meaning than it did 72 hours ago.

I am trying to figure out what I would change in my own life if today were my last day. As depressing as that is, I feel it is a worthy exercise. I need to wash dishes and prepare food, do laundry and sweep floors. I need to attend to questions and quarrels and the exuberance of the boys I spend every day with. I am a wife and mother, a friend, a daughter and a sister. Last week these things seemed mundane and routine. Today, these activities seem somehow holy, and somehow sacred. Is that the message?

Friday, December 14, 2012

12~12~12 and Random Acts of Kindness

There was a little bit of buzz in our house as to whether there was an interesting way to mark the last repetitive date we would see in our lifetimes. I know it doesn't sound like much, but we take any excuse to make a production. I had been coming up blank until I looked at our 'Things to Do' Board and saw 'Random Acts of Kindness Day' still hovering around undone. 

If you are good about volunteering or have a regular way of showing your kids how to give to others and put a little love out into the universe, you're doing better than me. I have not pinned down a regular way to volunteer myself or give that bug to my kids. It's a New Year's Resolution - yes, I make them (and of course, I break them). So I asked the boys over breakfast if they thought we could make 12-12-12 '12 Acts of Kindness Day'. They were a little hesitant, but when they thought up a contribution of there own, they are willing participants. 

We made a short list, gathered some supplies and headed of on our adventure. 

Our first task was some mail. We made index cards with inspirational quotes on them and folded them up in cards for mailing to random people from the phone book. The boys put 'This is a random act of kindness - Have a great day!' in each card. We talked about how someone could get a quote that speaks directly to them and take it as a sign. We sure hoped so. 

We then piled up some coloring the boys had been doing for The coloring pages are sent out to various agencies and distributed to people who might enjoy them. Many make their way into the hands of recipients of home meal distribution programs like Meals on Wheels.

We then moved on to the task the boys thought up. They wanted to put quarters in the vending machines at the thrift shop, turn the handles and leave the toys for unsuspecting kids - they thought that was just one of the best things that could happen to a kid!

We waited for quite some time to see if they could catch a glimpse of a kid doing it. Gavin's friend said, 'what's with all these well-behaved kids holding their mother's hands and not begging for toys!' We never got to see it, but we imagined later that it did.

We then made a run to collect and drop off food to the Somerset County Food Bank. We have been made aware several times lately that they are REALLY low on food, so that was something we could do. I armed them with the list the food bank provides and set them loose.

We visited our local library and brought cookies for our librarians who find us books on every subject imaginable and rescue our holds that should be sent back, but they give us a little extra time! We also left two envelopes with $2 each for the next two people that have fines.

The best part of the day was our lunch at A Better World Cafe. A neighbor who keeps me supplied with interesting tidbits clipped from the paper made me aware of it some time ago. I've always wanted to go, but now we had a good reason to get out and support such a valiant effort. I love the concepts behind the cafe. It is a multifaceted effort combined with Elijah's Promise. They not only provide excellent food in the cafe, but training for people who need it in the food service industry - They give a man a fish, AND teach them to fish!

The meals are all whole foods, local, seasonal and high quality. They believe everyone, regardless of budget, should have access to 'good food' - amen! It was a stark contrast to the processed, boxed items we had left at the food bank - which is necessary - but I wanted to point it out. The paying customers support the 'complimentary meal' of the day and 13% of the cafe's diners order the free meal.

We had an delicious lunch, supported this great cause, learned that we would love to go back and Chef Rachel generously spent several minutes telling the boys about the organization, explaining why cafes like this are so necessary.

The boys seemed to have a great time and got a lot out of spread a little love out into the world! I am telling you about our day, not to brag about the good we did, because I know lots of people that are doing it on a regular basis and so much more. I am inspired when I hear of others efforts and hope you will be too. I would like to make volunteering, donating, service to others and supporting charitable organizations part of our lives for myself so I will have the ability to pass on the habit to the boys. If you do something regularly I'd love to hear about it.

Service to others is the payment you make
for your space here on earth.

~ Mohammed Ali

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

More Disney - A Photo Montage of Magic Kingdom

Magic Kingdom was all everyone told us it would be. It was super-clean and every employee we encountered was pleasant and helpful. It was exciting to see the castle and characters and the general energy of the place is exciting. Our kids were not into the characters any more than waving and yelling 'there's Chip & Dale!'. They had very little interested in waiting in photo lines or getting autographs - which is a popular activity for kids, but that worked for our family.

We had our moments, but mostly - it really was magic!

All of our dreams can come true, 
if we have the courage to pursue them.
~Walt Disney