Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Edgar Allan Poe for first graders

We're big fans of Halloween in this house. I suppose we simply love holidays in general, and Halloween always feels like the kick off of the holiday season. Dress up is a daily activity here, and Halloween takes it to a new level of awesomeness. In any case, I wanted to do some fun, Halloween-ish things this week in our school. I already had a couple of art project ideas (we made egg carton spiders last week and did glue and glitter spider webs today), but I wanted something more to tie in the upcoming holiday with what we're studying in school.

I came across lots of worksheets and printables online that I could use - lifecycle of a pumpkin, anatomy of a bat, etc. Not bad ideas at all, but they don't really fit in with anything else we're doing. So I thought maybe we'd just read some Halloween inspired poetry. After a few minutes of searching, and not finding anything spectacular, it hit me - I didn't have to fall back on child-like silly poems (which are fun, don't get me wrong, but we have a Wee Sing Halloween CD that is getting lots of playtime this month and it's full of the silly stuff). My mom has been scouring her bookshelves of late, passing on a number of books that she thought we might use in our schooling. One of them was "Edgar Allen Poe for Young People." Oh my goodness. I love Edgar Allan Poe. I didn't know who he was until I was in high school. I have a first grader. But what the heck - "The Raven" it is.

I got out the book first thing and told him we were going to read a poem by a very famous poet who wrote some things that were rather creepy. His eyes lit up immediately. Then I told him that it was long and had old fashioned language that might be hard to understand. His reply? "Cool!"

I read the whole thing, slowly and enunciating each word carefully. I didn't stop to explain things the first go around - there was too much to explain and it would have ruined the rhythm of the piece. He sat and listened quietly and although he didn't understand much of it (I asked when I was done), he immediately said he loved it upon finishing. He told me that the "old fashioned" language sounds cool, even if he doesn't know most of the words :). I can appreciate that.

We went through the poem, verse by verse, and I gave it to him as more of a narrative. "Here, the man is sad because the woman he loves is gone - her name is Lenore. And he's reading books trying not to think about his sorrow." That kind of thing. We talked about some of the language used and what the words mean, and he told me his impressions. He didn't have a lot to say, but he enjoyed the poem and I have to admit, I was tickled.

Afterwards, he wanted to make a raven, so we found a template for a raven art project and he got to coloring and cutting. We happened to have some black craft feathers, so he glued those on for dramatic effect. It needed time to dry, so it is sitting on the bookshelf overnight; but I'm thinking about suggesting that we put it up over a doorway, as if perched above the chamber door :).

Today we read it again, once through, and I asked him to "narrate" it with a picture. We often do "narrations" of things I read aloud, where he tells it back to me in his own words. But this time I thought he could just draw his impression or a scene from the poem. He drew a big raven perched on a statue above a door. He wrote the word "Nevermore" coming from the Raven's mouth. It was a cute touch. Then he wanted to write some of the poem along the side of his picture to tell part of the story. He chose a line and I helped him spell the words he didn't know.

We're tackling another selection tomorrow - a passage from one of Poe's stories (the name is escaping me right now). I'm enjoying sharing this stuff with him so much!

Friday, October 21, 2011

7 Quick Takes - Fall Edition

1. I love fall. Even though I live in the Pacific Northwest, which means it rains a lot (but heck, it rains most of the year anyway, so I'm used to it), fall is so lovely. Crisp, cool air. Vibrant colors. Beautiful sunsets. Scarves and knee high boots. And the food... oh the food.

2. I love fall food! Soups and stews and chili and squash. Mmmmmmm. I have a torrid love affair with my crockpot and it breaks into full swing when the weather cools. Oh how I love me some crockpot soup!

3. And pumpkin pie. Nothing tastes more like fall, and the forthcoming holidays, quite like pumpkin pie. I'm awesome at pies (and by awesome, I mean I rock pie making) but there's a grocery store nearby that makes pumpkin pies that are *almost* as good as mine. My dear husband brought one home tonight, and ooooooooohhhhhhh. Let's just say I ate way too much and enjoyed every last bite. That stuff is like crack to me.

4. Speaking of crockpots, tonight I made Spinach Chicken Artichoke Dip, posted by Wellness Mama. Oh my stars, was it good! I am married to a man who could make a serious run for the "Pickiest Eater in the World" contest. He is tough to please, and like all picky people, he defends himself with, "I just know what I like!" In any case, he took one look at my crockpot full of cheesey goodness and gave me The Look. I've known him since we were 15 - I know The Look. It was the look that said, "I'll try this if I absolutely have to, but only because I'm hungry and you took the time to make it, but I just know I'm going to hate it." It's quite similar to the look a four year old will give you when you tell him to try "just one bite" of his dinner (and yes, I did just compare my husband to a four year old - don't worry, I'd say it to his face). :) He did take the bite and the look melted into another one I am familiar with, the "This is so good I'm perfectly willing to admit I was wrong because I love it." I get that one a lot too.

So yeah... try it. It's yummy.

5. Speaking of rain (see #1), it didn't rain all week. In fact, we had the most lovely fall weather that really reminds me why I love this season so much. My four-year-old's preschool class had their annual trip to the pumpkin patch today, and all week I kept thinking how lovely it was we were going to have nice weather. Not so much. It rained all day today. On the bright side, it did temper the smell of the pigs and keep more of the bees away. So that's a good thing.

6. On said field trip, my older son (who happily tagged along with the preschoolers) said the turkeys looked like dinner. This is right after the tour guide told the kids these turkeys are pets and won't ever be a Thanksgiving dinner. This is the same kid who raised his hand on our recent salmon watching field trip and said seeing the fish was making him hungry and could he go get his fishing pole. A carnivore to the bone, that one.

7. Also at the field trip, I was the recipient of a wonderful gesture of mommy-kindness. I realized on the way back to the car that my daughter had a poopy diaper. The boys climbed in while I laid her out on the passenger seat to change her. Only after I'd taken off her dirty diaper and wiped her clean did I realize, I didn't have a diaper! Oh the horror! My mind raced with the possibilities - what should I do?!? I tried to think of where I might have an extra one stashed, but alas, I had none. As I was trying to calculate the odds that she wouldn't pee on the carseat after having just had a juice box, and whether I might have any napkins in the glove box to put down to catch some of it, a woman came up to the car next to me. I managed to catch her eye and asked if she happened to have a diaper. I didn't even see if she had diaper-aged kids. Matter of fact, she did have one to spare! (insert Halleluja Chorus here). Oh thank heaven! And thank you for kind-hearted and prepared mommies! She saved my bacon, and my carseat cover.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

They turned off the TV... by themselves?

Our normal daily routine is hinged around lunch and naptime. My daughter needs a nap in the afternoon, and I need a break - so my boys are used to this being their TV time. I will freely admit that I have shamefully abused this in the past, letting them watch far too much TV because the little one was still asleep and I was doing something really important messing around on the internet. I have made a concerted effort to keep their TV time more limited, encouraging them to find something else to do (quietly if upstairs). The vast majority of the time, this works out fine. They play or find something else to do, I still get a few things done (because getting up to tell them to turn the TV off has the added benefit of prying my butt from this chair and my eyes from the screen).

I don't know what's up lately, but my boys have been a lot less interested in TV than they once were. Just a few months ago, if I had let them, they probably could have watched TV all afternoon until it was time to cook dinner. And then they'd ask to watch "just one more episode of Spiderman!" (we only have Netflix). Over the last several weeks, they've done two extraordinarily shocking things, and not just once, but on a regular basis.

1. They have turned off the TV with no prompting from me after just one cartoon.

2. They have not asked to watch TV at all and simply found something else to do.

Insert jaw-dropping face here.

Today they are playing outside on the trampoline, even though it's cloudy and cold. Awesome! They've also been furiously making art projects together - we've had a lot of coloring, cutting and pasting going on in this house lately. Aside from the fact that I'm running out of paper and glue, it's been awesome.

I wish I could say I did something magnificent to induce this change, but I really haven't. I do think, however, that homeschooling has had something to do with it. The way we live our life has changed and as we all adjust, the projects and reading and other homeschool-ish things are spilling over into their free time. It isn't as if they're off pursuing things that directly relate to what we did in school, but their free time is beginning to have a different feel to it. They want to draw and do art projects constantly. They want to look up random facts on the internet about bugs and animals. They want to look at their library books and fill up their booklists (of course, they do get a prize for that, but still).

Now that I think about it, perhaps some of this shift is because of me. I'm far more willing to indulge in the art projects and random Googling. Before I might have put them off with a "maybe later," when asked if they could get out more paper or try glitter, or find out the wingspan of a bald eagle. But now I almost always say yes.

Of course, now that I've written this, they will probably swing back to wanting to watch TV all afternoon and won't voluntarily turn it off ever again ;).

Seriously though, it does ease that bit of mommy-guilt I harbor over letting them watch TV, especially because I know my motive for allowing it is rather selfish in nature. Not that I think watching TV is terrible, but I do believe in moderation and I'm not always great about moderating them enough.

Plus, I love their artwork! I have no idea what to do with all of it, but they are both having so much fun being creative, it makes my mommy heart glad.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The NOT best housekeeper and why Pinterest is clearly a good use of time

I am not the best housekeeper on the planet.

In fact, one could argue that I am quite far from such a noble distinction. Sure, I have seen houses in worse states of disarray. Some filled with more clutter, others with genuine dirt and grime. Mine tends to swing from "looks-like-a-tornado-ripped-through" at worst to "mostly acceptable" at best. But most of the time, I feel like I'm barely treading water, trying to get everything done.

This is one aspect of living my vocation that I have struggled with, not only in the doing, but in the valuing. When my first son was born, I fretted about how difficult it was to stay home with a baby and vented more than once to well-meaning friends, "I didn't quit my job to be a housekeeper!" That was when I still had a tough time with my new identity of stay-home-mom and felt like keeping the house was beneath me. I would not have admitted such a thing at the time, mind you. But deep down, that is how I felt.

Over the years, my heart has softened to the realities of my vocation and I've realized there is value and honor in even those simple (and sometimes thankless) tasks of keeping a house. During this phase of my life, my role is to care for my family. This is not only lived out in the kissing of boo-boos, reading of books, and feeding of cookies to my little people. It also has to include the feeding and the cooking and the cleaning; the less glamorous tasks of daily life that simply must get done.

I often let those things go, and the truth is, it isn't because I don't have time. Granted, I don't have time for a perfectly clean house (and who am I kidding, I wouldn't have a perfectly clean house even if I had the time). I don't need a house that is spotless from top to bottom. We live in our house. And still, I could do a much better job of creating a space that is orderly, and by extension, serene.

A neat freak I am not, but I do love a cleaned up room. Things in their places, lined up just so. There is a loveliness in order, in being clean and ready for the next round of living. I am always in a much more peaceful mood when things are reasonably well clean and picked up around here - yet all too often I fail miserably at keeping my house in such a condition.

I ran across something on Pinterest that linked to a blog post on how to have a "fake" immaculate house in 15 minutes a day. I read through it and it was like a light bulb. It is so simple, and I feel silly for not having tried something like this before. I've been at this for almost 7 years now (the stay home mom thing), and I have spent most of that time feeling overwhelmed, like I can't keep up. (Wait, why did I feel that way when I only had one child?) This approach is simple, although does require a level of diligence I'm not accustomed to devoting to keeping my house clean. But I want to give it a try to see if it can ease some of the burden I feel, and keep my house from deteriorating into a state that drives me crazy.

I created a schedule for myself that breaks up the major housecleaning tasks to be done throughout the week. I only have one or two things to do in a given day, and although I think it's going to take me longer than 15 minutes a day, it shouldn't be too much to handle - if I have the self discipline to work at it. Changing habits isn't easy, and I know I'll have the tendency to let things slide out of laziness and procrastination. But I think this has the potential to help me out a bit and keep me on top of things without driving myself nuts in the process.

My schedule looks something like this:
  • Monday - vacuum downstairs
  • Tuesday - clean master bathroom, take out garbage
  • Wednesday - vacuum upstairs (this one is tricky, because I can't do it during naptime)
  • Thursday - clean other two bathrooms (one is just a small half bath downstairs)
  • Friday - dust and clean kitchen floor

I'm also going to make an effort to clean up the kitchen at the end of the day (still need to do that today... yikes), and do a load of laundry every day - and get it put away. The dishes I tend to stay on top of for the most part. The laundry is the bane of my existence. I'm good at getting it washed and dried, but from there it tends to accumulate into an enormous pile, which I am quite certain has the capability to breed (I just wish it would breed something stylish). Instead of doing a bunch of loads once or twice a week, which I never have time to fold and put away as I go, I'll do a load or two each day. I can find the time to put away one or two loads of laundry, for the most part. I think this will help me keep up and not find ourselves digging through the Great Pile of Clothes each morning to find something to wear.

My kids will get in on the action as appropriate, and I'm hoping this will help me integrate them into the housekeeping chores more naturally. I haven't been great about getting them to help with things, but it's so much more work to get things done with little hands "helping." My boys are finally old enough that they can be of real help, at least some of the time. And I need to make a better effort to get them to help around the house so I'm not kicking myself down the road for not requiring it of them.

We shall see how it goes. I'll be honest, I'm already behind. I didn't vacuum the upstairs today. But like I said, that one is tricky, since my optimum chores time is when my daughter is napping, and I can't vacuum upstairs when she's asleep. But the beauty of this routine, is that if I miss something one week, I can just do it the next and it shouldn't be too big of a deal. I'll be cleaning things way more often than I usually do this way, so missing a week should be fine.

And see, Pinterest is clearly a worthy use of my time!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Friday Quick Takes

It's Friiiiiiday.....

1. Thank goodness.

2. Today's workout is a testament to the power a goal has over my willingness to get up early and go to the gym. I didn't get to bed until late and the only reason my annoying alarm finally woke me up is because my husband elbowed me. I don't usually sleep that soundly (thanks to babies), and under typical circumstances I would have turned it off and gone right back to bed. But I kept thinking about how I want to see what this workout experiment will do, and I don't want to have to preface it with, "Well, I didn't really do all the workouts...." So I got up.

3. And now my legs feel something akin to jello.

4. Tomorrow is week three of fall sports - flag football for my 6-year-old and soccer for my four-year-old. I'm not enjoying this sports season very much and I'll be pretty glad when it's over. My husband is coaching flag football, but he's also rolling out some sort of upgrade at work (I pretend to understand what he's talking about, but he's way smarter with all that technical junk than I am), and looking for a new job, so he's not exactly focused on it. And Grayson, well my Grayson is just... Grayson. Soccer games are really frustrating. And yet the kid still says he loves playing and is excited about his practice tonight. I guess that's good - and I'll still be glad when the season is over.

5. Flag football this year has reminded me of one of my biggest pet peeves as a parent - other people's kids. Some kids are great, mind you. I like kids, generally speaking. But we have some kids on our team that are... difficult, to say the least. There are two brothers on the team, in particular, who cause a lot of trouble. They weren't at practice this week and my husband (and my brother and our other friend, who are helping coach), kept going on and on about how great practice went. When I pointed out that those two kids weren't there, they were all, "Ohhhhhhh....." I feel bad for thinking this way, but it would be a lot more pleasant if those kids decided to stop showing up... Isn't that terrible?

6. Fall is probably my favorite season of the year. The colors, the crisp, cool air. I like fall clothing too - layers, and coats, scarves and hats. I am so not a fashionista, but I do appreciate cute fall clothes. And boots - oh the boots! I think if my husband gets a job that pays well, I may have to treat myself to a fabulous pair of boots.

7. I think I deserve 'em. ... and maybe a pair in brown too ;)

Happy Friday and see Jennifer for more Quick Takes!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Life changes - job hunting

My husband is losing his job at the end of the year.

How's that for a dramatic statement? It isn't so dismal as all that. For one thing, it's largely voluntary. For the past 6-ish years, he's been a partner in an IT consulting company that works in the medical industry. He and our good friend used to be internal IT staff for a group of medical clinics, but spun off to create their own company under the umbrella of the medical campus where they work. At the time, it seemed like a great opportunity and it had potential. I won't go into all the gory details as to why things are coming to a close. Let's just say, there are reasons - plenty of them. Everyone has agreed to go their separate ways once their contracts are fulfilled.

Fortunately, no relationships are being damaged in the process (part of why they chose to end things now, rather than drawing it out longer). But it does leave us in the odd position of.... needing a job.

The good news is, my husband activated his resume on Monster.com last week and he's had numerous emails and calls - without having actually applied for any jobs yet. It appears his skill set is in high demand at the moment, and that is great. He's also in talks with their largest client about the possibility of being hired as an employee, or somehow continuing the relationship as an independent contractor. I'm not sure what to expect there, since we'd kind of assumed that option wasn't going to be on the table.

The tough part is that we moved out of the major metropolitan area because hubby's job was down here. But there aren't many other jobs where we live - so it was sort of, this job works out or Daddy has to commute. The commute is a big bummer. Traffic is awful. Like, really awful. We used to make fun of our friends for living down here and commuting to the city, but now the hubs might be facing that very scenario. There are possibilities that make it less of a burden (taking the train if it's downtown, partial telecommuting maybe), but it's going to change our lifestyle quite a bit. We're very used to having Daddy 5 minutes away most of the time. Losing that is going to be a bummer.

Mostly we're just trying to not stress (hard) and leave it in God's hands (hard). I believe that God will guide us and help us make the right call for our family. And I have to remind myself often to stop, pray, and listen, rather than getting caught up in the stress of a job change. Whenever we've really trusted in God to guide us, we've never come out wrong, so I have a lot of faith that He will help.

And it's still hard.

It is also a good reminder to be really, really grateful for what we have though. It isn't likely we'll be facing a lengthy unemployment. It's very likely he'll find a good job. It's likely we'll do better financially. All in all, this situation has a lot of potential to be great for my husband's career. It could be so much worse, so much scarier.

So we'll see what happens in the coming weeks and months. I'm not sure what to expect, and I am doing my best to remain open to the possibilities.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Our honeymoon adventure... remembered

Ah, love. I am in love with love. So when dear Betty Beguiles asked for honeymoon stories, how could I not venture down memory lane to that wonderful time when my husband and I were just married, and off on our first adventure as man and wife.

An adventure it was! Since high school, I had been chomping at the bit to travel in Europe. I'd toyed with the idea of studying abroad, but decided against it, so my goal was to travel after I graduated college. I read up on how to travel solo, and how to travel cheap. I researched my brains out, trying to find a way to make my dream trip happen.

Then we got engaged. He loved the idea of traveling too, so we decided to make my dream trip our honeymoon.

I won't go into all the details of where we went, the things we saw or places we stayed. I will say that the funniest thing about our trip is how differently my husband and I remember it. I can tell you all about the churches we visited, the castles we explored, the museums, the monuments, the sights. My husband will tell you about the food. He remembers the name of the restaurants we loved, the food we ordered and exactly what it tasted like. He remembers a lot of experiences through food, but it always cracks people up to hear him talk about a vacation, especially when I've warned them beforehand that they're about to go on a culinary journey. "So how was your honeymoon?" you might ask. "Oh man, we ate at this amazing place..." I love that man.

What I remember most is the sense of utter freedom we had. We created an itinerary before we left, and pretty much scrapped it a couple of days in. We had railpasses and the question was always, "Where do you want to go today?"

We explored the countryside of England, by train and by bus. We decided we just *had* to see this little town in Wales that had a castle built by King Edward I, and it took 3 trains and a bus to get there. But it was glorious. We had no fear, no inhibition. Public transportation on that scale had once been intimidating, but in England (and a bit of France), it gave us wings. We decided where to go as we went along and we loved every minute of it.

We did see castles and majestic gothic churches (oh the churches!). I stood on stairs worn so much with age that they were curved in the middle. We saw 700 year old houses with the original stone roofs, and people still living in them. We saw cemetaries with gravestones so old, you couldn't read them. We saw Roman ruins and artifacts, Viking helmets and enough swords and armor to send a couple of uber geeks like us into a coma.

We were free.

It was a grand adventure and I look forward to the day when we can go back and show our kids the things we enjoyed - and discover new things along the way. My husband and I both love history and being in the places where amazing things took place was just.. breathtaking. Here in the US, especially on the west coast, nothing is old. You see a building from the 1930s and it's impressive. There, you can walk streets that were built hundreds of years ago. See the site where Constantine was proclaimed Roman Emperor. Visit a medieval gothic cathedral that was built on the site of a Viking church, that was built on top of a Roman temple. History lives there.

I will always cherish that time we had. We were young, in love and on such an exciting journey. We tasted a freedom we'd never known and we learned a lot along the way. We were very glad to return home when it was over, but it was the experience of a lifetime. For us, it was the perfect way to celebrate the beginning of our new life together.

Calling myself out

I really need to develop more self discipline. I'm writing about it to bring it out in the open, so that I can face something that needs to be faced, and hopefully find it within myself (with God's grace) to change.

I spend way too much time on my computer - in the afternoons in particular. Evenings after the kids are in bed are one thing. I have to work, so I do pop around online, reading this or that to take a quick mental break from whatever I'm working on. And jumping on the computer for 15 minutes to decompress and check Facebook and email after I put my daughter down for a nap is fine.

What I'm finding, however, is that I'm spending a heck of a lot more time than that. It's just so darn tempting. I start reading blogs, or people's Facebook posts, or search for something I was thinking of earlier and the next thing you know, an hour and a half has gone by. My boys have watched some cartoons and are plugging for my attention and I brush them off with a, "Sure, I'll be there in a minute..."

I complain a lot about how I feel like I don't have enough time for things. The truth is, I have more time than I give myself credit for - I just don't use it very well.

There are a lot of things I want to build into our routine, but after lunch I find myself craving a break. And a break is good - I can recharge my batteries and get myself energized for the afternoon. The problem comes in when my break lasts so long, the afternoon is practically gone before I peel myself out of this chair and go about my business.

I could be reading aloud to the boys more. Sure, Grayson tends to not want to listen to a story if it doesn't have pictures, but we could read some picture books and then a chapter or two of whatever book I'm currently reading aloud.

We could have afternoon tea (I know some lovely ladies on a homeschooling message board I frequent who do this and the idea is so sweet). My daughter especially would love this.

We could spend more time with music, or doing art projects or trying a science experiment in the kitchen. My kids eat that stuff up. Why don't I do more of it?

I could do a better job keeping up on at least some of the housework that always seems to be so overwhelming.

I could also get the kids more involved with chores around the house - something I have been terribly inconsistent at doing.

I need to exercise some self control and get up the motivation to get off my toushie and get back in my life. If I want my kids spending less time in front of a screen, I need to remember to set a better example myself.

God grant me the grace to do better!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Fitness Monday: My strength experiment

I know "Fitness Friday" would have sounded better, but it's Monday, so there you go.

I generally like to workout and I like being fit. I don't feel so hot when I don't workout, and I've been consistent for a long time now, even though pregnancies and babies and all that. But since I started homeschooling, my workout time has taken a back seat. I used to schedule our days around my workouts. If there were classes or activities that were in the 9:30-10:30 hour - sorry kids, but Mama needs her gym time. When I decided to homeschool, I realized I was going to have to change things. I can't justify spending that much of our morning driving to the gym, checking kids into the childcare, working out, picking up kids, and driving home. It's nearly a two hour process, and back when we weren't doing school at home, it was a perfectly decent use of our morning. I can't afford that time now, so I'm relegated to working out in the wee hours of the morning before the rest of my zoo wakes up.

I'm not a morning person, but I'm willing to do it to make it work. It just isn't easy. And lately, my motivation has been low. That alarm goes off and my sleepy brain, which in that moment probably couldn't tell you the sum of 1 plus 1, could easily think of at least a dozen perfectly logical reasons why I should not get out of bed and how working out can certainly wait. As a result, I've been working out once or twice a week for about two months now. And that simply can't go on. I'm feeling it, physically and emotionally.

I realized I needed a goal. What brought fitness into my life as a permanent fixture was training for a triathlon. I had a race to train for, and goodness me, I wasn't going to slack off! It changed my focus from what my body looks like, to what my body can do. Since then I've always done well with that kind of a goal in mind - performance, not appearance.

But what sort of goal to work towards? I'm not feeling the running or triathlon thing at the moment. I'd love to do more (maybe even next year), but there aren't as many good races in the winter, and outdoor training in the winter here is... wet. Not super motivating.

Then I saw the post from Wellness Mama about her strength challenge. She designed a workout for herself to see how much strength she can gain in the next three months. I read her post over several times; I couldn't help but be intrigued. I've been reading about crossfit and other heavy-lifting, strength based type fitness for a while now, but I wasn't sure how to incorporate something like that into my routine.

I decided to go for it. I'm going to follow the same workout she is doing, and let me tell you, this is nothing like I've ever done before. I've always believed in strength training, but was in the "moderate weights, high reps" camp for years. I thought that was the best way for women to workout. What she's doing is totally different - heavy weights, low reps, and everything is designed to gain strength. Plus, they are very focused, efficient workouts that don't take much time.

I am so into this!

My goal is to be able to do pull ups - actual pull ups! And maybe even hand stand push ups. Oh my goodness, those seem impossible, but I'm going to try. I'm going out on a limb here, but I figure it will be fun to experiment and see what my body is capable of.

I took measurements this morning, so I'll see how my body changes along the way as well. But my goal is strength first and foremost - losing a little more fat along the way will just be an added bonus :).

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Saying goodbye to Betty

A couple of years ago, I let myself be talked into buying a car. It wasn't just any car, it was THE car. The car my husband has wanted since he was old enough to know what a cool car is. A 1968 Camaro.

He started watching ebay auctions and scouting craigslist, and soon enough he'd found one that seemed to good to be true (hmmmmm...). No matter that it was in California. It would be worth the drive! He told me if he could get it for a low enough price, it would be the deal of a lifetime. How could we pass that up?

The trouble started right away. We didn't get it for the price he said he'd max out at. The auction closed and the reserve hadn't been met. So he called the guy to see what was up. Maybe he wanted just a little bit more. Turns out, he wanted quite a bit more, but was willing to negotiate. We were out of my comfort zone, and I'll be completely honest - we didn't really have any of this money to spare. But I will take credit for my part in the debacle. I definitely didn't try to talk him down. I let myself get caught up in the oh-so-close to the realization of his dream. The owner threw out another number, I could tell my husband was sure this was going to be a.ma.zing. and I gave him the go-ahead.

He named her Betty.

Once we got the car home, the trouble got worse. Isn't that the way of things with old cars? Especially old cars that you don't really take the time to inspect because you just road tripped 800 miles (one way) to pick it up. We bought it under the impression that it had a newly rebuilt engine and was in great mechanical working order. It just needed an interior.

That was most definitely not the case. In reality, it needed way, way, way more work than that. The engine was a mess, it leaked transmission fluid like crazy, the electrical system was shot and who knows what else. My husband kept at it for a while, making plans and trying to wrap his head around where to even start with the thing.

Have I mentioned he doesn't actually know how to work on cars?

He can tinker a little, but he isn't a car guy. He figured he'd learn as he goes, and get help from people when he needed it. But pretty soon he was talking about stripping the whole thing down and basically starting from scratch. Do you know what that kind of thing costs? Oh heaven help me....

He got some parts and tools along the way. He took a welding class. He bought books, did tons of internet research and tried to really immerse himself in the world of muscle car restoration. But mostly, the car just sat.

Remember that part about the money? We didn't really have the money to buy the car in the first place. We definitely didn't have the money to even begin to restore it. So there it sat.

About six or seven months ago, he finally said it out loud. He was thinking about selling Betty. I admit, I'd been hoping he'd come to that conclusion. The reality of restoring this car was far more work, and far more expense, than we'd ever anticipated. We're struggling a bit financially, and the poor decision of buying this car had made the burden that much heavier. We certainly didn't have any extra money to put into the car and it's hard to imagine when we would. And even if we did have the extra money, is this what we'd really chose to do with it? Restore an old car? What about all the travel we'd love to do, the family vacations? What about putting money into our house, or actually saving  for retirement? What about our kids' education?

He talked about selling it off and on, but didn't really do anything about it for quite a while. I realized this had to be his thing. I didn't want him feeling like I pushed him into it. This needed to be his decision. Finally, a couple of weeks ago, he listed it on craigslist. He'd been thinking he really should get it running first, but I suggested he might list it as-is first, and see what happened.

A week went by with no response, but suddenly we got several calls. We felt we'd listed it at a fair price, but we weren't sure what to expect. In one of those coincidences that doesn't really seem like a coincidence, two people who were interested in the car showed up to look at it at the same time - one guy was a little late, and the other was a little early. It also turns out, they knew of each other and one guy did not think very highly of the other. He'd started out making casual comments about how the economy was bad and pointing out all the work the car needed, clearly setting himself up to start negotiating price. That is, until the other guy showed up. Suddenly, he seemed to decide he had to have this car. When the other guy left, he said he'd buy it for full price and muttered something about, "Yeah, that guy, he can't have this car. He'd never do it justice." We just sat back and watched the whole thing playout with a little bit of awe.

So now Betty is gone. The garage has a heck of a lot more room, and I'm not gonna lie, I'm excited to get my parking spot back.

Most of all though, I'm so proud of my husband. He wanted that car so bad. It was his dream. But he told me recently that even though he's dreamed of having a 1968 Camaro since he was a kid, it's still just a thing. Sure, it was a big thing, but a thing nonetheless. I heard him tell my brother today that, "Sometimes this is what it means to be a man. You gotta do what you gotta do for your family."

This helps us out financially in a really big way. It also frees us up later to do more things with our money. Not only did we really need the money we got from selling the car, future decisions won't have to be weighed in terms of whether to spend on the car, or take a vacation or sacrifice from something else. It is an emormous weight off of both our shoulders.

I'm sad he had to give up something that was so exciting for him. But I'm so proud of him for doing the right thing and putting aside his material desires for the benefit of his family. That wasn't an easy thing to do and I feel so blessed that he's man enough to make that call.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The greatest branding campaign ever

In my work life, I deal a lot with branding. The company I work for helps communities to find and build their brand, so I do a lot of writing about branding, product development, that kind of thing. A lot of what we have to do is educate our clients about what a brand really is, and what it isn't. One of our biggest messages with new clients is that branding is not just a logo. A logo supports your brand, but it isn't your brand.

However, in cases of extremely well known brands, the logo does become synomous with the brand itself. Think the Nike 'swoosh', Mickey Mouse ears, or the big McDonald's "M". You see the symbol, you know exactly what it stands for, and what the brand is promising in terms of the product or experience. It takes a lot of work (and a whole lot of money) for a company to build a brand that is so universally recognizable. Companies like Nike, Disney and McDonald's have poured millions of dollars (at least) into their branding campaigns, working for decades to build a brand, and a logo (symbol) that is instantly recognizable and understood by the masses.

But they've got nothin' on the cross.

The greatest branding campaign the world has ever seen wasn't hatched in a conference room in some high rise building with a bunch of suits and creative types bantering ideas back and forth. It didn't come from a guy designing stuff on his Mac. Nobody paid a flashy company millions of dollars to come up with and execute a carefully planned strategy designed to sell products.

In the time of Jesus, crucifixion was not just a death sentence. It was a painful, humiliating, shameful death sentence. The cross then would have been a symbol of shame, of worthlessness, of torture and death. Jesus was sentenced to die on the cross, not just to execute him, but to humiliate him. He was hoisted up there to not only deprive him of his life, but his dignity - and the dignity of his followers as well. Their leader, their great rabbi in whom they put their faith, was stripped, beaten, and killed like a common criminial.

What a wonder it is that today we drive by nearly any Christian church and see a cross. What was once a symbol of death and humiliation has become the most recongizable, powerful symbol of Christ Jesus. We wear the cross around our necks, we display them in our homes and in our churches. We process a crucifix up the aisle at mass, displaying it at the center of our worship. Even the most austere churches who have rejected any ornamentation usually still display a cross.

The cross today is the ultimate symbol of God's grace, mercy, and unconditional, unending love. It reminds us of the sacrifice of Jesus and the salvation God offers us (for free, by the way - you can't get a better deal than that). As if the story of Jesus needed anything to make it more incredible, He took something that was a symbol of shame and death and reformed it into the symbol of love and salvation.

The cross has become something beautiful, something extraordinary. And the fact that Jesus' act of dying on that cross, and rising again to new life, took a symbol that was so negative and made it the ultimate positive is just the tiniest hint at how powerful God really is. It gives us the smallest of glimpses into the power Jesus has to change the world. If He can take one little symbol of death and transform it into the ultimate symbol of salvation and life, imagine what He can do if we let Him in our hearts.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Soccer, take one

Today was our first day of fall sports games. David, my oldest, is playing his second year of flag football, coached by the fabulous team of Daddy, Uncle Chris and our friend Dan. They had a great game - David's only complaint was when it was over. He wanted to play more.

We're making a second run at team sports with our four-year-old son, Grayson. T-ball was a bust last spring. I should have listened to the kid; when it came time to sign up, I asked him if he wanted to play and he said no. My response? "Of course you want to play! You can play on your own team, just like David!" He still said no, I still signed him up, and he didn't like it one bit. Looking back, I should have known. He's not a baseball kind of kid. There is far too much standing around and waiting. He liked hitting the ball and running to first base, and he didn't even mind waiting at each base to run to the next one. But being in the outfield was pure torture. He got frustrated very quickly that he wasn't getting a chance to catch the ball. There were too many kids on his team last year and the coaches (sadly) didn't do a very good job, so the whole experience wasn't great. We wound up going to the first couple of games, and then just letting it slide. It was too frustrating for all of us and we decided it wasn't worth pushing something like that at age 4.

We thought soccer might be more to his liking, and he'd played soccer a little bit at preschool, so he had an idea of what it was. When I asked if he wanted to play on a soccer team, I got an emphatic yes, so I took a chance and signed him up.

He did great at the two practices he's had so far. He participated, he listened, he ran around after the ball. He seemed a little distracted at times, but overall it went fine.

And then came today's game.

He started out ok, but mostly he was just running up and down the field (I guess you'd still call it a field, although it was inside in the gym). He didn't seem to really understand what he's supposed to do. Running around after the crowd of other kids got old pretty quickly, and the hustle and bustle seemed a little overwhelming. When Grayson gets overwhelmed (or frustrated) he shuts down. He checks out. This is too hard, I don't know what I'm doing, and so I'll just stop and do nothing. That's his deal.

Thankfully his coach was really sweet and helped coax him back into playing a little. But he really had no clue what he was supposed to be doing. I suppose from his perspective, it was just a bunch of kids running around, up and down the gym, trying to get a ball that seemed impossible to actually touch, due to said kids. At one point he asked the coach if they could play a different game now. Later, he asked us why they can't just take turns kicking the ball, like they did in practice.

The tough part with him is that, in this type of situation, instead of trying harder to get the ball, he stops trying at all - and then gets frustrated because he isn't playing. The fact that he makes it worse for himself doesn't occur to him. By the end of the game, he was walking up and down the gym, looking everywhere but where the ball was going. I think at one point, he was singing something, looking up at the ceiling.

His lack of attention wouldn't bother me near as much if he was having fun while doing it and excited about trying again. But his shutting down mechanism kicks in when he doesn't like what is happening around him and he can't control it. So he cuts himself off. He doesn't like feeling that way, so it makes the whole experience negative.

Fearing a repeat of baseball (not only did we already pay for this, but I don't know how many times I will be willing to let him join a team and then quit, although I know he's only 4), we all tried to keep it light and positive after his game. Rather than focusing on how utterly maddening it was to watch him out there, doing almost nothing, and knowing he was hating it because he wasn't getting to kick the ball, we told him he did great and it was a great first try and that maybe we should get him a soccer ball for home so we can practice and learn. He seemed to like that idea, and much to my relief, he did not declare that he's never playing soccer again.

Later this evening, we did go and get him a soccer ball. He picked out a red one (apparently he needed to match his bright red soccer socks that he picked out last week) and said over and over how much he loves his new ball and how he's going to kick it every day. The kid can be ridiculously sweet when he wants to.

The thing is, I have such a hard time understanding Grayson. He is an utter mystery to me in so many ways. His brother, I get. David needs a lot of attention, reassurance and praise. He loves being the center of everything and he thrives on achieving things. I know how to reach David, I know how to motivate him. Grayson is an entirely different little person. He is so much like his Daddy, and his Papa as well. In fact, he might be more like my father-in-law than my husband. They both possess this quality that makes them, enigmatic, in a way. They are not forthcoming with their feelings, and they are both really hard to read. It would almost be easy to assume that my father-in-law has few feelings other than a friendly joviality, which seems to be his typical demeanor. He runs far deeper than that, I know, but it's hard to find it. He's not a feely kind of person. And neither is Grayson.

Grayson could be crushed over something and all you will see is a slight downturn of his mouth and a little bit of something in his eyes. He won't necessarily tell you if something is wrong, and when you ask, very often the answer is, "I don't know!" I think often, that's true - he doesn't know. He just knows that something doesn't feel right, but he has a hard time sorting out his feelings and understanding what they mean, let alone communicating them to someone else. It makes it really difficult to help him when something is wrong. And sometimes I worry about how often I'm missing things with him, times when he is upset or hurting and I don't realize it because he doesn't know how to tell me.

Watching him out there, looking so lost amidst the other running, scrambling children, made my heart ache a little. He is simultaneously intensely frustrating and intensely endearing. His enigmatic nature confuses me to no end, yet I am so intrigued by his uniqueness. He shares so many characteristics with his father and the funny thing is, my husband doesn't understand him much better than I do (although my husband would tell you that he doesn't understand himself half the time, so maybe that's part of the problem). Much like his father, he is a study in contradictions. He is mellow, yet difficult; happy, yet reserved; chaotic and impulsive, yet often displaying discipline beyond his four years.

As his parent, he will always pose unique challenges. He doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve like his brother does. You have to dig deeper with him to get to the core of what is going on in that little body, heart and soul. It's in there, and if you have enough patience, you can find it. But he doesn't make it easy.

He sure is lucky he's cute.