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A Letter to Sort Out the First Grade

A Letter to Sort Out the First Grade

Dear Son,

I don’t know what I’m doing. There, I’ve said it. Now I will write more words until I come to an end.

This fall you will begin your first grade year. That is to say that if you were in public school, you would be in first grade because that is the grade your age relates to.

To is a preposition and you’re not supposed to end sentences with it. (I should have said, “…because that is the grade to which your age relates.”) But people end sentences with prepositions all the time, and honestly proper grammar often just sounds snooty.

We should remain aware of our tone both when we write and when we speak, and the two applications of tone are not interchangeable. If I were writing an academic research paper, I should aim to use exactly the correct grammar. In this letter-blog, however, I wish to remain more informal than exact, proper grammar allows. If I were speaking, this entire paragraph would come out in bubbles because I can’t seem to think and speak at the same time. But also, you will often see that speech does not translate well to text. When we speak, we rely on the tone of our voice and often forget about how diction and syntax can change our stories. This is fine, and natural, but still something of which we should remain aware. (Look at that proper preposition placement! At least I think it is proper, but honestly prepositions confuse me. Is first grade the year when you study prepositions? I don’t think so, but it’s probably also not the time to practice division, and we have done that.)

Speaking of grammar and confusion, people also often start sentences with but (and I have done this several times already.) But is a contraction and meant to combine two related, but different, thoughts, into one sentence. Since but is meant to join two thoughts into one sentence, you can expect some controversy if you choose to begin your sentences with it.

You love the word but because it sounds like butt. You are six years old.

I giggle now because of a scene from a college class. The class was called Feature Writing. Features are a type of article that show up in newspapers, but they have a bit more flare than what you might find on the front page. Newspaper writing is all a bit funky because it uses its own kind of grammar, something called AP Style. One day my class landed on the subject of these particular grammar rules. I think we were talking about commas and whether or not you’re allowed to use them in newspapers (the answer: yes, but only if absolutely necessary. A comma often just takes up space and when you’re paying per page printed, you only want to print what is necessary.) One boy spoke up in the middle of our little grammar lesson. His hair was a fuzzy, dark, stark contrast to his smooth pale skin. His arms showed no muscle and the tone of his voice rang higher when compared with most males his age. He was intelligent, loved music and had tattoos. He interrupted the lesson with genuine interest.

Genuine means authentic. You know this well because children are always authentic. You know nothing else.

“What about buts?” he said, placing emphasis on the most hilarious word in the question. If I had had milk in my mouth, it would have come right up my nose. Still today I giggle as I write this story. “What about buts?” The placement was perfect, full of dramatic irony. He hadn’t thought his question funny at all, and he didn’t laugh but called me immature and waited for our professor to give an expert answer. Maybe I am immature. It was just so funny, so my reaction was to bust out laughing.

Now I begin first grade home school with you, my firstborn. This is a place where I must play the teacher. You have never been in school, but my experience with teachers is that the best ones practiced humor. What stands out is not the teaching itself but the laughter and personality. Bits of immaturity made them more relatable, so perhaps I should not fret at that at all.

We will figure this out together, or maybe we’ll just study grammar. If we know the literary, surely history and science will find us. I have no worries for mathematics because you love those so much.

Yet, yes I do worry. All parents do. I’ll set that aside for now and simply say that surely more will come of these first grade homeschooling thoughts, just as surely more will come of homeschool than I could ever predict or schedule in. (Yikes. In is a preposition too. I could remove it since I’m typing but I won’t for circularity’s sake.) Mistakes are the inevitable, editable beauty of life.

Stay tuned.

Love,

Mom/Sara/Haiku the Day Away

 

 

 

 

ON TRAINS AND TRAINING AND THE “I WANT!” MONSTER

ON TRAINS AND TRAINING AND THE “I WANT!” MONSTER

I had a friend in college who used to say that she wanted to be an elementary school teacher because she loved kids. Then she would clarify that she actually only loved kids who sat and listened. She loved nice kids, the kinds of kids who practiced the art of the inside voice, kids who only used their hands for hugging and giving. Kids who would never hit or pinch or pull hair and didn’t tap your shoulder every five minutes asking for lunch. Kids that never said mean things like “Shut up you stupid head.” Kids who would never talk about butts or junks at the dinner table, not even on a triple dog dare.

In other words, she wanted the yoga body without doing the downward dog. She wanted a garden of roses without getting down in the dirt. All the benefits of well-behaved children without the work of training them.

My friend knew this was unlikely, albeit impossible. But I suppose one can dream.

The reality is, children rarely act how my friend dreamed. Children have to be taught (and they will be taught something no matter what!) Children have to be trained to be functioning adults.

Train: To guide the growth of. To guide the mental, moral, etc. development of; bring up; rear. To instruct so as to make proficient or qualified. To prepare or make fit.

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Perhaps my friend was somewhat justified. It is not necessarily the teacher’s job to guide a child’s life. At least not solely. Teachers are mostly supposed to teach. Though I believe with all my heart that teachers can be highly influential people, really, kids need parents.

Wait just a minute…

I’m a parent.

So you’re telling me that I have to train my kids? That they’re not going to sit quietly and only use their hands for nice things unless I train them to do so? You’re telling me that I have to train my kids? What does that mean? I didn’t sign up for this. I just wanted to go to story time, to snuggle and play dolls.

Yeah. I know. And I don’t have the answers for how to do this. I am figuring all that out for myself. But I do know it’s important. I know that a parent who does not discipline is a parent who does a disservice to their children and to society. I know that, even if I told you how to discipline your kids, it probably wouldn’t make a difference unless you spent time with your kids, observing who they are and what their specific issues are, figuring out exactly what kind of training works for them.

One thing that we are dealing with at my household is the “I WANT” monster. He comes out almost every time we do anything. For example, yesterday when my kids got up from their naps, I offered a slice of apple dipped in caramel sauce and crushed up nilla wafers. I said, “Come over here! I want to show you what I made while you were napping.” And I took a slice of apple and dipped it in sugary goodness and handed one to my 3 year-old, who ate it with gladness. Then I did the same for my 5 year-old, who immediately screamed and cried “I wanted to do it myself!” Which spurred lots of nasty reactions and eventually brought me to explain to him that when someone gives you a gift, you say thank you and you take it. You don’t cry because of how the gift was given. You simply, and graciously, say thank you.

Hold on. My kids are each a gift, so does this little lesson apply to me to?

Maybe. Just maybe it does.

Though my children (and yours) were given wrapped in nausea and discomfort, then with sharp pains, with goo and crying and squirming about, they were a gift. Though they were, and are, much more needy than generous, they are a gift. So I shouldn’t whine about the requirement of training them. Maybe the training is even a gift.

Do you think so?

Can we choose to call our children blessings, even when they are screaming at the good things given them? Even though every single day they hurt us and their siblings and they break everything their hands touch?

The same friend I mentioned in the beginning of this post would initiate a game called “I want.” It went like this: while driving, or while lounging around in our dorm rooms, she would say, “You know what I want? A doughnut from Dunkin’ Donuts,” and we’d sit around just like that for a few minutes coming up with increasingly improbable wishes.

I should probably tell you that, at that time, the closest Dunkin’ Donuts was 30 minutes from campus. It was not an impossible desire, but it was not easy to meet.

Truly, the “I WANT!” monster is a monster of destruction. A monster who is never satisfied, never thankful. This monster breeds the opposite of joy. That’s mysery, discouragement.

Lately, when the “I WANT!” monster grabs my 5 year-old by the teeth, I try to stop and look at his face. I try to remember to think about what is happening in his heart (though, truthfully, at least once a day I just erupt and send him to his room because I get tired of training kids). I try to ask, “Do we always do what you want, or do we operate by what is good for the family?” This usually gives him a chance to think about what he’s asking. Sometimes, even if his request is reasonable, it’s just not doable because there are five people in our family and we have to think about the good of the whole, not just what the individuals want.

I guess the conclusion of all this is that we are to train our children, not to throw them off the train, no matter how slow the one-locomotive, two-locomotive, three-locomotives are moving.

And I know from personal experience that these trains can be painfully slow. But they’re never stopped. Not completely. And I’m one of them, too.

FROM LONELINESS TO FULLNESS: THE STRUGGLE IS REAL

FROM LONELINESS TO FULLNESS: THE STRUGGLE IS REAL

Last week, I was on vacation with my family. We were visiting family and lifelong friends, staying near the beach, and celebrating an anniversary. It was a refreshing and beautiful time. But while we were out of town, we missed some events that happened at home. Events that all my very best friends are still talking about.

I know we can’t be everywhere all the time. Sometimes we miss out on things because of prior commitments. Yet, since I’ve been home I’ve been hit with the weight of everything I missed here.

Though our vacation was purposeful and plentiful, I feel separated, weary, incomplete.

While these feelings stomp on my heart and make me simultaneously wish that I was still away and that I had never left home, what I’m remembering is that these are only feelings. I admit that feelings have purpose, but I don’t believe we are to live in our feelings. Feelings allow us to have empathy for others, but too often we call our feelings fact and use them as an excuse for selfishness.

Feelings are not facts, and my particular feelings are brought on by lies.

These feelings are trash.

But how do we rid ourselves of trash-lies when they have gripped us and plagued us and seemingly made their homes on top of our chest, so that every time we breathe we only get enough air to sustain our life?

It is not good enough to just sustain life.

I recently heard a woman speak whose life has been transformed by a stroke. She is learning to live a new kind of life and is joyfully doing so, but one thing she said is, “Well, I’m alive.” Those words struck me deep because I say them too, but I say them differently. As in, “Well, life sucks right now, but at least I’m alive.”

Truth is that, though life can be wonderful, it also often brings troubles. As in, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome this world!” (from John 16, msg). Since God gives good things and only moves in His purpose, we have to know that life is good. God overcame the world of darkness so that we can walk in His light.

Yet I still feel terrible when my children are disobedient. I still feel lonely when I watch others have grand excursions and I’m stuck in my apartment with three children who just won’t quit. I still feel the pangs of heartache when I am not included, for whatever reason. I still reel when I take a step back and realize that I have acted in rash.

My life has been transformed by children, similar to how that other woman’s life has been transformed by a stroke. Children are blessings, but they are mysteries, too. They are problems. They are troubles, at least for me. I know there are some moms out there who always know what to do, but I can barely figure out breakfast, let alone how to home school and discipline in love.

Then, there’s Jesus, just hanging around my apartment, sitting at the table and watching my family wander around in this world of troubles. And he’s saying “Take heart! I’ve overcome this.”

Very gently, He’s reminding us that He is the gate to fullness:

“Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” ~John 10:7-10

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I have heard the voices that say I’m not good enough. Have you? Have you heard the voices that say you’ve missed it, that your dreams are silly and unreachable?

Jesus says these are the voices of thieves and robbers. This is trash trying to clog up our lives of fullness. Throw it away. Right now. Because what else should we do with trash but throw it in the dumpster so it can rot away?

God doesn’t speak in lies. He doesn’t speak in heartache. God speaks in love. He speaks in mercy. He wipes every tear.

No matter where we are or who we’re with (or not with), can we recognize the lies that seek to destroy, before they actually do? Can we see the gate to fullness, and enter it, instead of standing outside and just watching everyone else have fun?

 

 

7 Ways to Help Your Kids Love Books

7 Ways to Help Your Kids Love Books

First of all, a while ago I wrote this post called Why You Will Not Find Tutorials Here, and I stand by it. Yet I also think I have some insight on helping kids love books. It’s so easy today to let kids do anything but read books, but I hope you will shower your children with books so that they will learn to love reading!

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I thought about doing a bunch of research so I could give you statistics about kids who read a lot, but I don’t think that’s necessary. (Read these Benefits of Reading if you want to know more about that.) You know it’s important to read. And “a lot” is such a generic term. Who cares if someone else reads more than your kid? Lots of people read lots more than I do because I’m a pretty slow reader. But I love books, and I want my kids to grow up loving books too. So far, they do.

Do you want to help your kids love books too? Here, I’ll share some things that could help you. Of course, every child is different, but perhaps some of these will be helpful, or at least interesting.

Don’t Go for a Marathon

While I’m pretty sure my 5-year old could listen to me read an entire book in one day, my 3-year old and my 1-year old would not allow it. Believe me, it’s tempting sometimes to lock my other children in the bedroom while my 5-year old and I cruise through stacks of books.

But that’s not necessary. Small spurts of reading are very empowering.

Teaching Quiet Time

We all know that most kids are loud. And if they’re not loud, they probably love to make some kind of noise and move around. But it’s okay to have 15 minutes of focused reading time. I’m still working on this with my kids, but I believe it will one day be an easy reality! I think so much of parenting is just continuing. I haven’t yet seen the results that I want, but I think that’s because I have an 18 month-old, and a very active, very kinesthetic 3 year-old. But I will keep going because this is important to me and I believe it will benefit my children too.

Read About What Interests Them

I know you probably want to read those beautiful old books from your childhood. “Little Women” or “Nancy Drew” or whatever. But letting your child go to the library with you and choose a book (probably based completely on the cover) can be great fun for them. I have one son who will always fill our bag with Clifford or Berenstain Bears. While there aren’t many books that I oppose, I would always choose the original Curious George over Clifford and Berenstain Bears. I still let my son bring these home because these are books that he will sit with at home and look through, even if he doesn’t read every word. Which brings me to another point…

Let Them Look

It is absolutely, perfectly fine and acceptable for children to look through books before they can read. This will build their interest and make teaching them to read easier. My boys love to check out the “Lego Star Wars Visual Dictionary” and they will sit together and look at it for hours. (Sometimes I have to break up a fight, when one boy takes more than half the book for his lap, but they’re usually pretty civil due to their mutual intrigue.)

Give them Access

I think that part of the reason my kids love books is because they have always had access to books. In our old house, we had a half-wall of built-in bookshelves and they were mostly filled with actual books. Not knickknacks or empty vases, not even very many photos. Just books. Books of all ages and styles, all sizes and genres.

From the moment my children could touch things, they were touching books. When my firstborn was as young as 1-year-old, he would sit on the floor quietly and page through a book, looking at the pictures and feeling the paper. My younger two children are total book-destroyers. They have even torn up several of our cardboard books, so I have to watch them a little closer. But all of my children love books and I think that’s because they have always had access to books. Books have always been considered toys to them. Whenever they handed me a book, I would open it and read, even if my child walked away after a few words.

Read What Interests You

I know that a few points ago, I said to read what interests your kids, and I stand by that. But it’s also important for your children to see the books that you love to read. Of course, discretion needs to be made here. If you’re reading racy or inappropriate books, it’s probably best not to share them with your kids.

Earlier this year, I read “Ghana Must Go”. This is in no way a book that my children should be reading. But one day, I was reading it during nap time and my 3 year-old woke up. He came and sat on my lap and asked  me to read it to him. And I did read a few pages, censoring anything that he didn’t need to hear. Luckily, those pages were pretty serene so I didn’t have to sensor much.

Challenge Them

This year I have been inspired by Ellen from Cutting Tiny Bites to read chapter books to my children. So far this year, we have read “The Mouse and the Motorcycle”, “Peter Pan” (adapted), “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” (adapted), “Stewart Little”, “Gulliver’s Travels” (adapted), and “Space Taxi”. While my 3-year old still wanders around while I read long books like these, that’s okay with me. Often I’ll read while my children finish their breakfast, while they color, while they build blocks. They don’t have to be sitting still, cuddled next to you, in order for you to read. (Though it’s awfully lovely when they do.)

When I’m reading, I find it helpful for my 3 year-old to have something to color. He thinks it’s especially funny if the picture he’s coloring goes with our book. For instance, a pig or a spider when reading “Charlotte’s Web”.

If your child is still at a very sensory-explorer age, that’s okay. You can still read to them and encourage them to read, too!

Do your children love books too? What tips would you give?

WHY I STAY AT HOME WITH MY KIDS

WHY I STAY AT HOME WITH MY KIDS

Let me begin by saying something that may be obvious. I am a stay-at-home mom, and I know there are millions of us out there. I also know that there are millions of working moms, and I’m not saying that anyone is right or wrong. There is a reason I didn’t title this, “Why You Should Stay at Home with Your Kids”. That is a personal decision, a personal journey, and you should probably seek that for yourself. For better or for worse, this is my stay-at-home story:

People often say to me, “It’s so great that you can stay at home,” or “I wish I could stay at home.” Though I don’t usually ask for clarification, it seems that the implication here is that my husband makes enough money, so I don’t have to work.

That is completely inaccurate. My husband and I made the decision that I would stay at home, and that is why I stay at home. It’s not because my husband makes enough money. In fact, he doesn’t. Simply, we believe that I am supposed to stay at home, so I do.

It may have been easier for us to make this decision for two reasons: 1.) I have never had a full-time job, so the cost of childcare would have almost equaled the paycheck I was making when I was pregnant with our first child. 2.) I am passionate about writing stories, and that kind of job just doesn’t exist in the 9-5 world.

Today, I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for almost 6 years. I did go back to work for a brief time, and I do a little freelance writing every now and then, but I don’t have to do any of that. My main job is Mom.

And do you know what that means? It means that from 9-5, I do the work of guiding big emotions and exploring big imaginations. I wipe small butts and I try to keep small hands from getting into the trash can, the toilet water, or the raw meat thawing in the kitchen sink. I give a lot of hugs, but I also get kicked in the shin a lot. I get to sit with my kids and snuggle, reading books in the morning, but I also get to deal with cranky morning kids who don’t want to let up on their selfish desires.

Sometimes it seems like too much for one person, especially when I have dreams of my own, on top of my own emotions, my own imagination, and my own physical body to keep clean and well.

It’s time like these (and, honestly, these are most of the times) when I wonder why. Why do I stay at home with my kids? Why don’t I go to work? Why don’t I just hire a babysitter or a nanny and take an office somewhere so I can write all day long and grocery shop in peace? Well, first of all, it’s not just me. I’m married, so it’s WE. And WE have 3 children.

Today, I’m listing my reasons. Here they are:

1.) So I can hear everything. This is not about being in charge, but being near. I can hear when my children are having a hard time. I can hear what makes them happy. I can sit with my 3 year-old while he goes to the bathroom and spits out the deepest thoughts of his entire running, jumping, loud-noise making day. I can hug my daughter before nap time. I can enforce the rules of our home without confusing my kids with the rules of daycare. I can know what rules are important for them and what rules really aren’t.

2.) Because I believe that my kids will be better off if they are with me or my husband the majority of the time. Personally, I just couldn’t imagine our kids being in someone else’s care for 8 hours of every weekday. That’s about half of their waking moments.

3.) Mostly, though, when I’m having a rough day and I don’t want to be home anymore, I have landed on this: I want my kids to see what a well-rounded person is. My husband and I are the only people my children know. I know that sounds extreme, and you’re probably thinking, Don’t you ever let your kids out of the house? Yes, we do. We let them socialize all the time- at the playground, at church, at a weekly mom’s group I go to. They are around others quite often, but those people can’t show my kids what it’s like to be human. Only my husband and I can do that. If my kids were in day care, they would be in the care of a professional for most of every day. While I’m sure that most day cares take fine care of children, I believe the best care is that of a parent. When my children have tantrums, when they do something wrong, I can talk to them every time. I can talk to them in a way that they can understand. Or I can talk to them until they understand. When my children need food, I can teach them to make it themselves. I can teach my children through example that people are not perfect  because I am not perfect. I throw my own tantrums sometimes, and because I’m home, my kids can see my process. I know that sometimes we just have to forgive each other and move on with life. I can help them understand that it’s okay to be sad and angry and to feel like the world is trampling on them. And I can help them understand what to do with those kinds of feelings. Right now my kids are 5, 3, and 1, so we are in a season of continuing, of repetition. On the days when I’m tired of the same old-same old, I choose to believe that everything will make sense eventually.

A few months ago, my pastor said something like, “We are not suppose to manage our money. We are supposed to steward it,” and without going into a lot of financial stuff right now, I want to turn the table a little bit. When he said that, I instantly thought of my job as a mom. At the time I had been saying to myself, “I don’t know how to manage my kids.”

But we’re not supposed to manage our kids. We’re supposed to steward them. And that starts a whole other journey because I don’t know how to do that either. But I know there’s a lot more grace, a lot more freedom, a lot more reason to stay at home and figure this thing out together than to leave them in the care of someone else.

So maybe I should add this one: I don’t know what I’m doing, so I probably shouldn’t send my kids off into the world just yet.

Again, this is a piece of my stay-at-home story. I’m sure your story looks a little different.

Do you stay at home with your kids? Why or why not? Do you want to stay at home with your kid, but feel like you can’t?

FUN WITH FOOD: SCATTERING OATS ON PUMPKIN MUFFINS

FUN WITH FOOD: SCATTERING OATS ON PUMPKIN MUFFINS

Last week I made pumpkin muffins. (I know it’s a little early, but I grew up in Florida where there are no seasons, so it’s all fair game year round. Besides, the grocery stores are selling pumpkins, so it’s fall now 🙂 )

I love muffins, but I don’t love when you buy them at a store and they become a dessert. I want my muffins to be healthy enough to replace a complete breakfast on a busy morning. Sweetened mostly with maple syrup or fruits, using whole wheat or another whole grain instead of all-purpose flour.

These kinds of recipes exist all over the internet. On this day, I landed on Cookie and Kate’s Healthy Pumpkin Muffins.

I had my kids help me. I really do believe that kids can help in the kitchen. Even my 18 month-old girl loves to be near when we cook. It’s never easy to involve small children, but for me it’s easier to bake with my kids than cook with them. Maybe because baking is usually something extra. If it fails, we don’t have to scrounge for dinner.

These muffins looked great in the original recipe. When we made them, they were a little dense but I’m sure that’s just because we didn’t follow the recipe exactly. At some point, we probably added extra flour or not enough oil or we stirred too long or something. But they were fun to make and they tasted pretty good. The best part came at the very end, when we sprinkled oats and cinnamon on top of the raw muffin batter.

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I actually had the brilliant idea to put the oats and cinnamon in two tiny bowls. I instructed my kids to “pinch” the oat mixture and sprinkle. It’s almost like I got that idea from Pinterest. But I didn’t. I made it up myself.

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When my little girl (18 months) saw this, she grabbed a chair from the table, scooted it to our island, and climbed up so she could participate. Then she did this:

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Scooping oats from their canister and into the nearest other container. Something else Pinteresty that my 18 month old discovered on her own. That’s called natural.

I love when my kids entertain themselves. She actually didn’t make a giant mess or anything, either. I figured, even if she did, they’re just oats. Pretty easy clean up. Once I put the muffins in the oven, I moved my daughter to the table because she was having so much fun. As I was cleaning up from baking, this happened:

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It’s okay though. “Amazing Grace” was playing on YouTube, so we were all reminded to just take it easy (okay, I was a little frantic, but we figured it out quickly).

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What a beautiful song, right? Perfect for those frantic moments of motherhood when we have lots to do but our babies are yanking on our shirttails, drawing us near. My kids just got out their little “set” as they call it (a mini dustpan and brush) and swept up. Then, the kids went to bed and the next morning we ate pumpkin muffins. Win. Win. Win.

Quest to Distinguish a Vacation

Quest to Distinguish a Vacation

This is the last day of vacation. A day of immensity, sentiment, expectation. I can’t recall the past week, but I know it has been here. Each day has run into all the others like the colors in Van Gogh’s skies. So today I am looking closer.

Vacation: An extended period of recreation
Vacation: The action of leaving something one previously occupied
This is where moments have come and gone. Now, I am sentimental for them. A vacation’s moments blow like the breeze. They are the very movement of this time. They are the only surroundings I see.

This is a week filled with recreation. We traveled. We left occupation.

This is a week where occupation followed us anyway. Motherhood, and fatherhood too, can never be abandoned. Though a vacation’s moments blow like the breeze, so do a mother’s moments. They are unpredictable and many.

This is a lake filled with fish and loons, edged in rocks and docks and boats, but mostly tall, dark trees.

This is a cool breeze on a porch. It is a family sitting in lawn chairs, filling bellies with root beer floats and gingerbread cookies, lobsters, sandwiches and snacks, while wind chimes sing the tune of relaxation. This is a yard of dirt for kids to touch and dig. This is sensory play at its finest.

This is where breeze is as welcomed as it is intrusive. It surrounds our skin, blows our hair, invades our lungs, moves the lake in ripples, and distorts reflections.

This is where our life has paused. It is a place rich with my husband’s memories, a place where I am forming my own. The place where my husband spent every summer growing up, the place we honeymooned and once before vacationed with our little family.

This is a place once foreign to me. Growing up in Florida, I knew beaches and year-round warmth. Now, I am in Maine, at the other end of US1. Here, warmth is found but not always felt in the air.

This is a kind of warmth that doesn’t make you sweat, but offers room to breathe. It almost forces breath while at the same time stealing it. Nature. Beauty. Only being here can truly describe.

This is the writer’s dilemma. To figure out a way to show a reader what is meant. How do I make you hear what I hear, feel what I feel, see what I see? How can I put this dirt on your toes when you will probably never sit on the slats of this porch, listen to these leaves blow, watch the changing reflections of this lake?

This is a place we leave tomorrow. Then we will go home to a place where sidewalks tell our path.

This is life, where warmth is offered, yet created.

This is vacation: when eyes open for every moment, where we realize that setting is important, that we always are somewhere, but more than that, we always are. No matter where we take our family, there our family is.

This is a pledge to open eyes, something that is necessitated by the change of location.

This is a location.

This is family.

This is where memories are made from moments.

This is always possible.

Fun With Food: A Snacky Scrabble Game

Fun With Food: A Snacky Scrabble Game

**I admit that this is a little different from the usual Fun With Food posts, but stay with me. I promise this fits.

This morning’s Fun With Food brings us to a game that is dear to my heart. One that I have racked hours playing, in various scenarios, with all kind of friends and family. Yet my first love for this game is centered around my grandmother’s giant oval table, in her ancient dining room with a tall grandfather clock that ticked and chimed, next to french doors that never closed, sheer white curtains hanging over their glass and creating the opportunity for a barrier that was never taken.

My grandmother loved words. She loved literature, gardening, and history. Actually, she loved anything that could be learned, anything that could grow. She loved the act itself. She used to tell a story about how when she was a child her school did away with algebra and she and her classmates went to the teacher begging to be taught the ins and outs of the elusive x and y.

Yet her real love could only be found in literature and art history. Not a day went by without Shakespeare’s words. She knew them all. She believed learning could happen anywhere, and would say that the best way to learn American history was from Normal Rockwell and Ogden Nash. For as long as I can remember, my grandmother taught literature to a group of homeschooled teenagers. Together, they read Shakespeare and Homer. They acted out Macbeth (and others, I’m sure) because my grandmother always said the only way to really understand Shakespeare is to act it out, to get into the text and realize how the words created life. This is a Scrabble principle too. In Scrabble, we have to get into the confusion and find meaning.

I’m finding this is true in motherhood as well. In motherhood, we are given a tray of tiles that at first make no sense. Maybe we have tears, diapers, heartbeats, coos and gurgles, little arms that shake randomly, and a belly that is never full. These tiles continue to be moved around. The tray is confusing, full of non-words, difficult to sound out. We don’t know what to do with them. But we try anyway. We move our tiles around and we make their noises, we shuffle, we try to find meaning. Then, one day, we do. We place those life-giving tiles on the board and we draw new tiles. We start over. But not really. All new words must connect through existing ones.

In one of my college writing portfolios, I placed this in the front page: Dedicated to my grandmother, who unknowingly taught me to love words, whether mumbled by a weary man on a street corner, written in Shakespeare’s finest, or lost in a game of Scrabble.

Scrabble: scratch or grope around with one’s fingers to find, collect, or hold onto something.

Scrabble: the game where words are made.

In any game of Scrabble, both definitions are used. While we move 7 letters around on our narrow trays, we find newness in a void. Once an array of nothingness, we grope (we search blindly or uncertainly with the hands) until we find something useful, something that makes sense, something that makes our heart go “yay!” My grandmother added one rule to the game: if you learned a new word, you got 50 extra points. In the above dedication, I said that my grandmother unknowingly taught me to love words, but I know she was intentional. It’s just that her educational ways were not made from rules. She was simply sharing the things she loved. She was simply living and inviting others to live alongside her.

When I found these Scrabble Math Worksheets, I knew my kids would love them. My oldest had already found our game of Scrabble and was intrigued by the letter and numbers and set of squares that filled the board. We started our Scrabble life with those Math Worksheets, then we moved onto Word Building. My oldest was not content. He knew there was more to the game. So we tried a round of real Scrabble and we found that it was amazing.

Kids can play Scrabble! Who knew? (See: My Tips for Playing Scrabble with Preschoolers)

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First thing this morning, my 5 year-old asked to play Scrabble. I poured myself a cup of coffee, filled a little bowl with trail mix, added almonds and cheerios, and we sat down to a lovely morning with words and food.
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My 5 year-old is getting antsy to read and write. This morning he tried to spell the word “furnace” (FRNSHE). “Furnace. That box that heats up.”
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I told him “FRNSHE” was not the correct spelling of furnace. He was disappointed, but then found the word “FUN” on his tray.

At my grandmother’s table, food was a part of Scrabble. My grandmother was always hours behind the rest of the world, so by the end of a game she was usually still finishing dinner. We were probably all snacking on our desserts.

This morning on our Scrabble table, we snacked on this:

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Most of the yogurt-covered peanuts, banana chips, dried apricots and mango were gone by the time I took this photo. But this was the perfect pre-breakfast snack to have while Scrabbling.

There you have it, all the best thing in life: Fun! Food! Scrabble!

Tips for Playing Scrabble with Preschoolers

Tips for Playing Scrabble with Preschoolers

When it comes to teaching small children, I think the key is finding something you love, something that they love, something that is fun and also full of learning opportunities.

Enter, Scrabble!

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It’s not easy, but Scrabble offers so much for children:

  • word building
  • counting
  • adding
  • the concept of double and triple
  • the respect for rules and taking turns
  • the ability to wait
  • celebrating each other’s victories
  • the art of observation (you have to pay attention to double/triple word/letter)

Tips for Playing Scrabble with Preschoolers

  • Don’t get caught up in high scores.
    • I always want to find the longest word that will give me the highest score, but when playing Scrabble with preschoolers, I have found that a quick word they know is better. My kids won’t sit around for 3 minutes while I fumble with letters.
  • Small words are best
    • Three and four letter words, and words that they know, will help to reinforce spelling and make them feel good about the things they already know. When my 3 year-old spelled the word “ice” he was so excited because he loves ice and he could see how those three letters fit together to make a word. It’s okay, and encouraged, to find and introduce new words (this builds vocabulary!) but that should not be the goal.
  • Use all the pieces
    • What I mean by this is, let them draw on the score sheet. Let them run their fingers through the bag of tiles (really good sensory play!) Let them turn their trays on their sides and try to build towers. This is a game after all, and should be fun for everyone!
  • Think simply and don’t be afraid to bend the rules
    • Scrabble can be really simple or really complicated. Don’t get caught up in the Scrabble dictionary or proper names at this point. Just do what fits your kids, but make sure you spell real words. Making fake words won’t help much because then you could just throw anything down.
  • Use my grandmother’s rule
    • 50 extra points when you learn a new word! This gets kid really excited about building their vocabularies!
  • Let them count the points
    • Even a very small child can count to 10, or 20, especially with your help. Since you’re building small words, they can probably help you count most of the points. They can look at the tiles and identify numbers. If they can’t do it, then you add the points up for them, but count out loud so they can start to understand the concept. I love teaching my 5 year-old to count double digits by lining them up, and he’s really into it and it makes him feel important and smart to add such big numbers. 
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      Today, my 3 year-old quit playing and my 5 year-old won by almost 30 points!
  • Grab a non-messy snack
    • Something like trail mix or dry cheerios, something yummy to keep your kids busy when they have to wait for other people’s turns

Have you ever played Scrabble with your kids? What tips would you give to parents?

How the Small Things Help out the Big Things

How the Small Things Help out the Big Things

My husband purchased this website domain for me for Mother’s Day. Pretty sweet, right? He knows me. He didn’t come up with the name. I had been running a wordpress-hosted poetry blog by the same name for a few years. Then it seemed it was time to move on to bigger things. Like full-length posts.

While I navigate this blogging thing, I’m also writing a novel. And although I’ve written lots of short stories with fleshed out characters who do important and beautiful things with their lives and reveal meaning to ours, this novel thing is hard work. I know the beginning and the end, but I am having a hard time with the middle (the details) of it. How will my characters get from the muddy, messy place they are in right now to where the novel ends in all its majestic conclusion?

The answer is the same as it’s always been because the question is also the same question that’s been asked for centuries. How does anything ever happen? One word at a time. One scene at a time. One step at a time.

Every time I put my pen to my notebook, my characters live and breathe. I need to remember that this is how they move forward. It’s how they learn. It’s the only way they will get to the last page.

I think some of my problem is that I see the end and it’s so beautiful. Right now, though, my characters are stuck in a world of daily life, of working and struggling with tiny things that they are allowing to become big things. Here in the real world, I am doing the same thing.

I have a daily life where I live and breathe, where I walk, where I do dishes and clean up spills, where I sit on the sidewalk with my kids and collect rocks from the gravel parking lot, carrying them in buckets. On their own, these scenes are nothing. But when you place them all in sequence, they make life.

My kids are so happy with the details of life. They LOVE picking up rocks and carrying them in buckets. But I get caught up in the ending. “Yes, rocks are great, but don’t you see that this parking lot will be paved and it won’t flood anymore when it rains?” But my kids also love the rain, and the giant muddy puddles it leaves behind.

While I don’t know my entire future, I know a few things. There are a few things we can all be certain about. Yet if we focus too much on the future, we won’t ever get there. If I keep wanting to just get my characters to their last scene, there will be no meaning to it. The future is always made from tiny, daily, walking, breathing, rock-collecting, mud-stomping details where our feet get dirty and it seems all we have are useless pieces of ground.

But the ground is not useless. It is necessary. Without it, our feet would never go anywhere.

But the ground is not useless. It is necessary. Without it, our feet would never go anywhere.

While I work on the rocky, muddy details of this novel, while I parent my children who never seem to learn, I am also writing blogs right here. These blogs are like exercise. They are like tiny rays of sunshine. They are like the moments I spend collecting rocks with toddlers who will one day make me a grandma. I can’t finish a novel in one day, but I can finish a blog post.

Life is like the gravel outside my window, which is pretty useless when picked apart and scattered. Together, lots of rocks make ground. Like together, each of my moments make days, make years, make a life.