Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A New Favorite

I have been wanting some very basic wooden blocks for the kids for awhile now.  All the ones I had looked at were pretty pricey though - let's face it, wood is pricey.  Justin's dad is a woodworker and I asked his mom if there were any small pieces laying around their garage.  If so, could they bring them down and I would sand them up to use as blocks for the kids.  She did even better than that!  She found this set of old blocks at the school she works at.  FCPS has decided wood blocks are a safety hazard (kids might get splinters, which obviously would scar them for life) and there is no time in all-day kindergarten for stations/free-play anymore, so these had spent the last few years in the back of a storage shed - much like our beloved kitchen set had.  My kids have been playing with them non-stop for the last few days.  I'm so happy we can give these wholesome toys some more love!  FCPS, you are missing out on some great learning experiences, but we're happy to help you out by taking the "forbidden" toys off your hands. 
Working on a new creation first thing this morning - the beginnings of a firehouse for his truck.

Now my only question is, can we get more?!   Just think of the things we could create!

Monday, February 27, 2012

They Teach Me So Much

I'm finding that one of my favorite things about having kids (besides all the obvious loves/joys) is the way they are teaching me to slow down and observe the world. They love to play outside. They love to collect things from the yard. They love to watch the moon and stars. When we go on walks, they notice and point out things I never would have seen. With the nice spring like winter we've been having, we've been spending most of our days doing just those things.

 Mimi brought down some bulbs that we all helped plant and water.
 Miss Priss insisted on wearing the monkey "backpack" all day.

 Jackson and his new friend.  Watch out - he's discovered worms and he loves them.  He found one with Justin and wanted to cook it on the grill and eat it.  Thankfully, Justin convinced him otherwise.
Today after naptime, Jackson and I made chocolate cupcakes.  These last two pictures capture his sheer chocolatey joy. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Wearing Many Hats

At different times in life we "wear different hats".  We don't change who we are, but circumstances around us change and we have to juggle different things in different ways.  I have the tendency to want to wear one hat at a time and wear it really well.  Just ask Justin, I can definitely have a very all or nothing mentality - both a blessing and a curse in my opinion. 

My personal favorite is my "mama hat".  My kids are crazy and wild and I love them that way.  They are fun, energetic, crazy little balls of awesomeness.  I would prefer to never take this hat off. 

When I made the decision to go back to school, I just assumed that it would be like my undergraduate years.  I'd put on that "student hat", plug away at some math problems, and presto I'd have all A's.  Oh, how I make myself laugh sometimes!  Someone must have slipped a little something in my coffee the morning I woke up thinking like that.  In our house, family is the number one priority, no doubt about it.  It makes me chuckle right now that I even thought I could take on a full TA position, full time graduate school, and still hold strong to all the wholesome ways in which we want our sweet little family to grow.  It's just not possible (for me - some people can do it, but I can't) to wear the full-time "student hat" while still wearing my "mama hat" in the same way I have been for the last few months.  This past fall we really found a way of life that works - truly, truly WORKS - for our family.  And sorry, I'm just not willing to change my mama ways.

So, this week I broke down.  I finally admitted that I couldn't do it.  I also admitted that I was failing a class.  As in I was gonna get a big, fat F.  I went to the graduate program director and my professor and said "I can't do this.  I don't have adequate prerequisite knowledge for this class (analysis) and I don't want to keep digging myself deeper into this hole I'm in."  And you know what?  They understood.  They COMPLETELY understood my priority to my husband and children and my drive to want to do well in my classes (not just complete them, but excel in them - which at the rate I was going, I wasn't really doing either).  A weight was lifted.  Literally.  I truly feel lighter now.

So, I have a W on my grad school transcript.  I withdrew from my Analysis class.  This summer I will sit-in on an undergraduate level analysis class in the hopes of learning all the pieces that I missed the first time (somehow I pulled off a B in Advanced Calc at CNU, but left it learning next to nothing).  Then in the fall I will take the first semester of graduate level analysis - and most likely that will be the only class I take.  Then, finally, in the spring I will repeat the class I just withdrew from.  I'm going to take my time and give each semester all I've got.  I struggle so much with pure mathematics.  I'm a VERY applied mathematician. I'm hoping if I focus on this one area I can overcome my deficit.

When I first decided to go to grad school I thought I wanted to suck it up and get it over with as quickly as possible.  But I've come to realize that putting on that student "hat" and plugging away just doesn't work right now.  So, I stepped back, re-evaluated everything, and realized that taking three to four years to finish isn't the end of the world.  It actually works with our family's priorities and way of life right now.  And you know what, I'll still get there in the end!  Besides I have no intentions of going back to work until after the kids are in school - which means I've got at least four years anyways (or maybe more, we might do a little homeschooling in the early years).

I'll still finish out my TA duties this semester and the other two classes I'm enrolled in (and enjoying).  Then I will take on analysis with all I've got!  I'm so happy to have an additional 10-12 hours per week freed up (yes, I spent that much time studying for a class that I was still failing) and dedicated back to wearing that "mama hat" that I love so much.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Enrichment Activities

Justin and I would like to think we are really starting to develop a nice list of "go-to" activities for the kids that are very enriching.  I hope when they grow older and look back on their childhood they will remember all the wonderful things we did together as a family.  We've had such success with several of our activities, I thought I might share!

1.  Aquarium/Natural History Museum - We call it the aquarium/museum, but you may know it better as Bass Pro Shop.  I'm not sure if all stores have a massive fish tank, but ours does and it keeps the kids' attention for a LONG time.  Plus there are stuffed animals all over the store (bears, deer, birds, etc) that they love to see.  This is a great opportunity to teach them about the various animals and/or make up stories that entertain them.  Added bonus - they love to try out the four wheelers and boats.  Free way to spend two hours with two little ones.  Just be prepared when your two year old is upset that he can't take a boat home with him.

2.  Indoor Amusement Park - Commonly known as the Chick-fil-a play place.  Ok, maybe it's not an amusement park, but it is indoors and the kids can go crazy playing all over it.  Plus, if you go on a Monday morning, rarely are there other kids there and they offer free coffee for the parents.  If you're like me, free coffee is all the incentive you need.

3.  Construction Site Play-by-Plays - We are lucky enough to live close to a university that has no shortage of construction projects.  Jackson loves nothing more than to watch the diggers and cranes do their work, while relaying to us all that he sees and knows.  Even Summerlin gets excited now when she sees the machines.  Added bonus - plenty of space to run around without having to worry about traffic.

4.  Record Setting Track Meets - Not watching a track meet, but creating our own.  I like to see how long it can take us to make one loop around the track.  Pretty sure we could set a world record for slowest 400m ever completed.  Each lap involves detours into the jump and steeple pits and maybe the occasional walk across the "balance beam" (i.e. steeple barrier).  Added bonus - it wears them out.

5.  One Stop Shopping - Ok, so we don't actually do any shopping.  I'm referring to the fact that our library has a small park and train tracks right next to it.  There used to be a fire station, but they built a fancy new one and closed the small old one in October.  It's been months and we've gone about every two weeks, but Jackson still has a melt down everytime we go because the firestation is gone.  The last few times the meltdown has been in the car before we even got there because he remembers that it is gone and isn't a big fan of that fact.  But he gets over it after we get into the library and check out several firetruck books - followed by the fact that he is then distracted by the fact the playground has a "fire pole" and we usually see a train or two while playing. 

6.  Nature Observatories - Noland Trail, Sandy Bottom Park (which does have an legitimate free nature center), our own backyard - you get the idea.  Just go outside and let them explore.  I'm constantly amazed by the things they find and activities/games they create for themselves.

Who says you need lots of money to keep kids entertained?!  We do pretty good without spending a dime!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

I get confused easily.

I'm struggling a lot right now with what I want right now for our family and what I want for our family down the road.  Down the road, I want to be able to work at a small university part-time.  Maybe one day when the kids are grown and gone or at least in high school, I'll go back to work full time.  But until then, I'm thinking two days a week or three half days.  In order to get to that point, I have to go back to school.

But right now I just want to savor time.  I want to soak up as many moments as possible with my kids.  I know that sounds a little dramatic, but I can't get over how quickly they are growing.  I just can't get enough of them.  I'm one of those crazy moments that feels like every minute I'm gone at school is a time missed watching them grow, explore, and learn.  Not in a control freak way, but in a loving, I just want to enjoy their young, little lives while they are young. 

I've been thinking extra hard about this all lately because I took my first test this week and got a D on it.  I NEVER got a D in college - I think I got all As and Bs.  Maybe a C was thrown in there, but definitely NEVER a D!  A freakin' D!  (I think the last time was back in French III in high school - actually I think there were a lot of Ds in French III.)  Oh, I am so mad at myself.  This wasn't in my analysis class either.  If I got a D on an analysis test, I might actually be pleased.  That's how lost I am in that class.  But this was my complex variables class (which means nothing unless you're a math/science person).  Granted, I definitely wasn't studying as hard as I should have been.  But I was not expecting a D.  For the most part, it was a big wake up call that I need to start studying.  I definitely need to maintain a 3.0 this semester (or we'll owe ODU a lot of money).  But I just can't stop thinking about what I really, really, really want to do after this semester. Keep going now - you know, finish what I've started.  Or go back to baking cakes and hanging out with the coolest kids ever (cakes also have their downfalls - unsteady income, late nights in the kitchen, minimal income for the time put out, and it's not what I want to do forever).

And the truth is...I just don't know.  At least not for now.

Friday, February 3, 2012

It's been awhile

I renamed our blog - Peace and Chaos.  Like "peace and quiet", but there's no quiet around here, just chaos.  We strive for peace, but we just keep landing smack in the middle of crazytown.  We really hit our stride as a family in December.  Then January came and I started grad school....and our beautiful little rhythm ran out the door.  I think we're figuring it out again and making the needed adjustments.  And just because we have our "rhythm" doesn't mean we don't still have craziness exploding all around us.  So, "Peace and Chaos" it is, regardless.

Today we had a playdate with some new friends that I met through a mom's "support" group that I participate in during the fall.  I love having people over and getting to talk with other moms (actually, I just enjoy chatting with adults in general - one and two year olds only provide but so much conversation).  We were talking about peace, calm, and rhythm and how nice it all sounds, but how it seems like we can never quite get there.  I have this idea in my mind that someday, if we follow all the right steps, we'll arrive at this place where our house will stay clean, my kids will always listen, and there won't be any yelling.  I don't know where the heck I got this crazy idea.  I'm completely aware that it's crazy talk...but I hold onto it regardless.  I read the books on simplifying our life, our house, our routine and I do my best to implement the ideas into our family.  Because, obviously, if we just simplify things enough all the chaos will go away.  Right?  Ok, maybe not, but I do buy into the idea that less is more.  And I do hope to create a home that is a comfy, cozy, uncluttered, loving, stable environment. 

Which means, I've been spending at least one naptime a week trying to reduce the amount of "stuff" in our house.  Not big things, but all the little crap that piles up everywhere.  Our living room, playroom, dining room, and the kids' rooms are done.  I've dabbled in the attic spaces some, but I don't know how much there really is to get rid of up there.  Each nook of our "attic" seems crammed, but when I go through it, it's just seasonal or storage stuff that we use on occasion or need for a later date and there's really not a lot to toss/donate/sell.  I'm just happy that each time I sort through it, I part with a few things.  Overtime it will eventually get more and more reduced.  I think ultimately it just needs to be better organized and that's hard when it's all crammed in the small spaces in the eaves of our upstairs (i.e. our attic).  I still would like do more in the kitchen/laundry room and our bedroom hasn't even been touched.  Slow and steady wins the race is the motto I'm applying to this situation.  Justin rolls his eyes at me everytime I talk about it because he knows how I get super passionate about something and I just go, go, go for a few weeks until I drop it for the next thing (sewing, baking, crafting, whatever strikes my fancy for awhile).  I just tell him that's not always true - I'm crazy passionate about him and I have been for years....which leads to more eye rolling.  And I personally think I've stuck with all of these things to varying degrees - I just don't always have things to sew for example.

I'm also trying to simplify our budget.  I think I've got a new one created for us that we can actually adhere to.  It stinks all the little things I need to learn to do without, but it's very encouraging how much money I think we can begin to save.  I tend to get very anxious when I think about all the things we need to save for - two kids to college, two sets of braces, new cars, a down payment for our eventual second home, retirement, get the picture.  It means virtually no shopping, little (to no) crafting (time to use up what I already own), no eating out, and some other sacrifices.  But spending less money fits right in with trying to bring less stuff into our home and keeping things simple!  Win - win situation there!

What else is going on with us?  The kids are continuing to grow - they still won't listen to my pleas to stop.  Twice in the past week I've put 18-24 month pants on Summerlin and they were a bit short.  Jackson is in 3T completely now.  Summerlin adds new words to her vocabulary daily.  Jackson actually speaks in sentences now.  I think he just needed a little competition from his sister before he felt the urge to talk.  We've been enjoying the warmer weather and spending as much time outside as we can.  I was really looking forward to winter this year, but it's really hard to complain about sunshine and warmer temperatures. 

I try to study, but I'm pretty bad about it.  I'd much rather bake bread, clean the house, vacuum my car, facebook stalk, blog, etc.  I know that naptime should be study time, yet I just can't get myself to sit down and start.  It's easier in the evenings for whatever reason.  I'm starting to get better about running consistently.  I'm trying to get myself into a habit of running whatever pace/distance I feel like doing on M/W/F, with a longer run on Saturdays.  I did a fast 11 mile run two weekends ago, an easy 18 miles last weekend, and tomorrow I'm doing 13 miles!  Again, Justin thinks I'm crazy, but I found a new running friend and she's been great motivation!  I keep telling him not to worry, I'm not signing up for a marathon anytime soon nor do I intend to go back to running 60-70 miles a week.  I just like running.  But I'm not so sure he believes me.

Justin has been been amazing with taking care of the kids on the nights I have class.  He's such a good dad and our kids adore him.  He does a much better job of staying cool (most of the time).  I think they really like that about him.  (I tend to yell too much.)  He's been running with me from time to time - and enjoying it!  He's teaching an overload this semester (meaning he's teaching 6 classes instead of 5).  The extra income will be very nice.  He's been finishing up a few small projects that we've been neglecting around the house.  I've never seen him so focused and self motivated.  I mean that purely as a compliment, not a slight to how he used to be.  My husband impresses me.  And he's a stud while he balances it all.  I'm a lucky, lucky woman.

Pre lunch activity - I thought they were playing with the train set.  I should have known better than that.  There is always yelling, crying, and lack of sharing when they play with their toys together unsupervised.  They were so sweet and quiet when they were tearing through my ribbon and fabric supply.