Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Broken Record

In my late high school years and the beginning of college, I didn't want to go to college.  I went without complaining and was even excited to be there, but my life goals didn't include career or educational goals.  I honestly just wanted to marry and have a family.  But I did really well in college.  I finished my freshman year with a 3.9 GPA.  The summer after my freshman year I worked in a chemistry lab, helping a graduate student with her research.  And I loved it.  And I set a goal that someday I wanted to get a graduate degree myself.

As college went on, I did more undergraduate research.  I was accepted into a summer program at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Melon in Mathematical Biology - a field I was highly interested in because of it's involvement in cancer research.  I left the program after two weeks mostly because of a cute boy that I missed terribly  - and I can admit that now because I am very happily married to him.  After that I didn't know what I wanted to do with my career.  I thought about architecture.  I worked at an architectural design firm for the rest of that summer and enjoyed it.  I interned with the university architect my senior year of college.

I graduated college with honors.  I worked for a year at a design company.  It was a ton of fun, but I could not handle sitting at a desk all day.  I taught high school math for a year.  I married that cute boy.  I started to teach a second year of school.  A few months into that year, I found out I was pregnant.  I knew I wasn't going to return to teaching after the baby was born.

The baby was born.  I was a mother.  It was more beautiful, moving, and harder than I ever imagined.  He was (and still is) an excellent sleeper.  He was (and still is) a super snuggler.  He filled my heart with more love than I ever imagined.  He caused tears and frustrations I never imagined.  He taught me more than I ever imagined.

Then his sister came.  She changed everything.  She was an even better sleeper.  But I was even more exhausted.  Everything was undone as quickly (or quicker) as I could get it done.  Everything he didn't think to get into, she did.  She was happier, but louder and more dramatic.  She was more wide open, but just as sweet.

The husband I always hoped for.  Two babies I always hoped for.  The life I always wanted.  Life was so good.

But when she was closing in on one, the idea of graduate school crept back into my mind.  We were strapped financially and if I had a higher degree, that would help fix our finances.  Graduate school (Round I) didn't go well.  My heart was at home with those babies every moment I was at school.  I realized I no longer had any interest in higher level mathematics.  It's hard to realize something that you once enjoyed just doesn't hold your interest in the least.  I finished out the semester barely - one W, one F, and one C-.  You can decide for yourself if that even counts as finishing.

I dove back into motherhood with absolute vengeance and a renewed sense of purpose.  I think that following year was when I had my best mothering moments.  I was in it.  I was focused.

Then we moved.  The cute boy was now a handsome man and pursuing new goals for our sweet family.  He was no longer the unfocused boy I fell in love with.  He was focused and he had purpose to get a higher degree for our family.  I struggled tremendously last year - I cried and struggled to find happiness in our new "home".  I missed friends.  I missed being able to stay at home completely.  But I loved supporting his dreams.  And really, his dreams are our dreams.  All of these things happened because of open communication.  We moved because we felt like it was the best thing to do, but moving is still hard even when you want to do it and know it's best.

Then the kids started preschool.  And I turned 30.  Eek.  Still not 100% ok with that number.  It means I have to start being an official grown-up.  I kind of liked the 20s - kinda grown up, kinda not really yet.  And that grad school concept started creeping back in.  I mean, we're already in a college town.  I had a better idea of what I would like to study.  The grandparents live here to help out.  And I thought and thought.  And thought some more.  And I figured if I'm going to do this, I better do it now.

So I decided to change areas of study.  And I did a lot of self studying throughout the fall and early winter.  And I started to audit one (undergraduate) class this semester.  And I loved the material covered.  And at first is was really fun to have something all for myself.  After a summer of "single" parenting and a really slam packed busy fall semester for the hubby, it was fun to be a little selfish.

But then the hubby's workload kept growing.  And my workload was full, on top of still working part-time.  And reality set in that four and five year old kids can do a lot, but they still need a lot.  And I kept feeling like I needed to ask more and more of my parents.

And just like a broken record, last week I walked away from higher education in the name of family.  And I do it with my head held high.

I don't get a do-over with my kids.  I don't get a do-over with these years when my spouse needs my support the most.  And I think the most important thing I can do right now is listen to the cries of my heart.  My heart continually calls me back to my love of family and being a stay-at-home mother. 

Someday my children will be grown.  Some day my spouse will be settled into a career.  And maybe then again, my idea of graduate school will resurface with a renewed meaning and purpose.  But for now, I have gained a clarity of how fortunate I am.  I get to make these choices.  I get to choose being at home or going to school.  And I feel so very fortunate that I can continue to choose family.

And so, yet again, just like a broken record, I return my focus to my family and my home with a renewed sense of purpose and joyfulness in my heart.  I only get one shot at this life and I'm going to make it count for the people that mean the most to me.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Kids' Room!

The third area to get new flooring was the kids' room.  Here is their room when we first moved in.  About a year ago we bunked their beds, to create more floor space for play.  It has always felt like a warm, cheerful kids' bedroom, but I had big plans for redoing the room when we upgraded the floors.  However, as tempted as I was to get different bedspreads/covers, new curtains, and make more changes with what is on the walls, I ultimately decided not to.  The kids are happy.  In a few years, they will have their own rooms.  I'd rather put money towards those things when they get their own rooms. 
In the meantime, we did make some changes!  We painted the trim and doors in their room.  In doing so, the yellow of the walls ended up looking bright, bright, BRIGHT.  It looked warm against the wood trim, but I did not like it at all against the white.  My parents had over a gallon of this creamy yellow color.  Free paint?  I'll take it!  The color is much more subdued and gentle on the eyes now.  It blends very well with the color of the floor and the white trim.  
I was tempted to do something different above their dresser - maybe something more "grown up".  But both kids said they love the Elsa Beskow prints.  I also think that ages four and five are still quite young, sweet, and innocent.  No need to rush them out of these dreamy early years.  I may play around with the placement of the frames on the wall, but most likely I'll leave it like it is.  To the right of the dresser is Mannchen's Lego storage bins.  He's a bit of a Legomaniac these days.

Bunk beds!  Now that the kids are little older and there is more floor space in their room, we have taken more of their toys out of the living room and put them in their room.  At this age, they know not to play with them at bedtime and they aren't sneaky enough to try to get away with it after we close the door.  The block basket is next to the dresser and the dress-up clothes are hanging at the end of the bed.  Previously the dress-up clothes were in a large wooden box (think toy box without a top), but the kids had a hard time finding what they wanted.

Another big change in their room was the addition of a reading tent/nook.  We have all really missed the reading tent in our old playroom.  We didn't have the option of building a tent into a corner the way we did before, but this Ikea mosquito net seems to do the trick.  Mannchen is so eager to begin reading, and while truly learning to read is still a bit in the future for him, his interest is translating into extra time spent snuggling up in this corner.  I bought a large dog bed at TJ Maxx for us to sit on and we added a few extra pillows we had laying around.  It's quite comfy and cozy - just what we were hoping for!  Töchterchen's doll house and doll bed are in the room now also.  The toys in the living room trade around every so often with the toys in their room.  Right now it seems her toys are dominating, but that has a lot to do with all the love Mannchen has been giving to the Legos.
I found an over-the-door hanging rack on sale and we hooked it over the top edge of the bottom bunk - the top bunk holds it firmly in place.  Now all the dress up clothes are easier to see and access.  In the Bolga basket on the floor are our play silks and other dress up accessories.

We love creativity in our house and I felt like kids needed more places to proudly display some of their artwork.  Now that they are both in preschool, the stream of art coming into our home is constant.  We have a ribbon with clothes pins for displaying their work in the hallway, but it's just not enough space!  I found these six frames at the thrift store (I think I paid less that $5 total for all six) and painted them with the leftover spray paint we had from painting the baseboard heaters.  Now the kids can enjoy "framed" pieces of their own art in their bedroom also!
The kitchen and hallway are complete also!  I just keep forgetting to take pictures in the mornings when the sunlight is greatest in the kitchen.  Soon, very soon, I will share the last area of our house!  Moving into this apartment was a huge adjustment for me (maybe for all of us), but now that the floors are clean and uniform throughout and all the darkness of the wood paneling and trim is gone this little house really feels like our home!  And a home worth being proud of at that!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

St. Patricks Day in the morning!

For the past few years we have celebrated St. Patrick's Day with a morning scavenger hunt.  I remember the first year it was as simple as each clue told the kids exactly where to go next.  Each year, Lucky the Leprechaun has made the clues slightly more tricky, turning it into an actual hunt.  At the end of the hunt there is typically a special St. Patty's Day breakfast (i.e. Lucky's treasure).

I remember the first year, the hunt was later in the day and ended with chocolate coins (the kids don't remember this at all).  The following year it ended with Lucky Charms and green milk.  The kids LOVED it.  Since then, we've changed our diet so much and I just can't quite stand the thought of pumping the kids full of sugar and artificial dyes first thing in the morning.  Last year it ended with green smoothies (thank you spinach!).  I wasn't sure what the reaction would be, but again they were so excited and ate it right up. 

I didn't want to do the same thing again this year.   Töchterchen really held out hope Lucky would bring Lucky Charms again.  My girl loves sugar, in all forms.  Mannchen thought he'd do something different again, but kept telling me how he couldn't figure out what it would be. 

I have so much fun doing relatively simple activities that bring so much excitement and joy to my children.  The scavenger hunt is never more than three or four clues.  The breakfast "treats" hiding at the end are never more than our typical breakfast items, turned green!  This year was particularly fun - listening to them countdown the days, plan how they might be able to catch Lucky, and brainstorm on what he might do this year.

This year, Lucky started the hunt with green toilet water (one place I have no problem using artificial dye!) and the first clue taped to the lid of the toilet.  That clue led them to the lid of our dog food container.
From here they had to find where Lucky "put the pieces together".  I thought that would be a tricky clue, but Mannchen found it right away.

From the puzzle they went to their desk. 
Taped behind the hanging marker/scissor buckets was the last clue.  The last clue directed them to "the place mommy's yummiest treats come from".  That seemed to be the hardest one, but with some help they realized it meant the oven.

In the oven where these - green muffins!  Again, thank you spinach!  In the fridge they found the last of the milk had been turned green also (thank you natural food dye).

Some one loves to pose for the camera.  Note the hubby in the background, working hard on a presentation.  Not quite as much fun as treasure hunts, but someone has to work around here.

The other kiddo?  Not so keen on having his picture taken, but boy do I love those smiles he flashes when there's no camera around.
We ended our day, once again with corned beef and cabbage Pioneer Woman style.  I know corned beef isn't the healthiest meat option out there, but it makes for a fun celebration once a year!
For those interested, here is the muffin recipe we used:
2 cups white whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup coconut or canola oil (or melted butter)
1 tsp vanilla extract
5-6 oz. fresh baby spinach leaves
2 ripe bananas
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line muffin tins with paper liners.
In a large mixing bowl combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar.  Mash two bananas in a small bowl.
In a blender combine egg, milk, oil, vanilla, and spinach leaves.  Blend until spinach is well pureed.
Add wet ingredients and banana to dry ingredients.  Mix until just blended. 
Fill muffin cups 3/4 full.  Bake 20-22 minutes.
Muffins should store at room temperature for up a couple of days, but I thought they tasted best the first day.  When we had them today I just didn't enjoy them as much.
With St. Patrick's Day behind us, we are not preparing for spring, gardening, and Easter.  I love the change of the season and the excitement that comes along with it!

Friday, March 13, 2015

On Our Shelves

In our house books are loved.  Very well loved.

Starting when the kids were very young, I collected a variety of "seasonal" books that we could rotate through year after year.  The kids are just not reaching the age where they remember the books from one year to the next.  Some are much bigger hits than others..  Some are tied to memorable activities or events.  Some just don't blend well with our interests and are phased out after a few tries.

In Southwest Virginia, spring is on the horizon.  And so, accordingly we have brought out our favorite spring books.  I don't know if I just happen to love these books the most, or if it's the welcome warmth and rebirth that spring brings, or if it's because it was during the spring three years ago that we really started to find purpose and clarity to our family's way of living life, but these books feel extra special this year.  After a period of higher stress and extra cold days, these books seem to bring us back in sync with our family's personal journey through the year and ground us back into our sweet, simple life.

And quite frankly, some of these books are just to wonderful to keep them to ourselves.  So, currently on our shelves you will find these gems:

The Story of the Root Children
How Robin Saved Spring - Of all the books we own, this may be one of my absolute favorites
St. Patrick's Day in the Morning
A Fine St. Patricks Day

The Easter Story - Mannchen has started to ask a lot of deeper questions about faith and Easter during/after reading this book.  I think this book is a good starting point for very young ones and a good starting point for deeper conversations with children as they grow older.

What favorites are on your shelves this spring?