Thursday, July 21, 2016

Back to School Panic Organizing

In this part of the country we are already staring down the calendar at the first day of school. My children have almost four weeks of summer break left. I go back to work, gulp, three weeks from tomorrow! 

I love the library job I have done for the last two years. It has been a near perfect fit for my skill-set, my interests, and the amount of time and energy I want to give to a job considering the phase our family is in currently. I said, MORE THAN ONCE, at the end of the last school year, how happy I was to be coming back to the same job for the third year in a row. For one reason or another, including a break to be a stay-at-home parent, I haven't worked the same job for more than two years, ever. Unless you count babysitting gigs from my high school days. As much as I love my job, I also love summer break and mourn it as it draws to an end. I miss reading by the pool, waking up later than 6 a.m., impromptu ice cream runs, etc. When I'm at work, I rarely wish I was anywhere else; but when I've had a break from work, the thought of reentering the grind makes me want to hide under my covers, or maybe under a beach towel.

As it happens, I'm not returning to the same job in the fall. I'm still going to be a librarian, but at the other middle school in our district. Applying for that transfer was a difficult decision. Transferring means I will be at the same middle school Harper will attend. She's... not thrilled, but this will infinitely simplify our daily lives. Still, I loved the people I worked with and the space I worked in and I'm sorry I didn't get to say a proper good-bye, as the transfer didn't happen until after the school year had ended. Now, in the little amount of summer I have left, I'm trying to leave my old job space the way I would have wanted to find it as a new person coming to work there. I also need to get oriented in the new space. Needless to say, this year's back to school panic has been magnified.

Every year, when back to school panic mode sets in, I am consumed by an intense need to organize everything in sight. The efforts of this labor will undoubtedly be undone by the second week of school, but seeing order around me helps a little when my psyche is rattled.

And now... evidence of The Back to School Panic Organizing Event of 2016:

Fresh pencils, ready for the homework that will take place at the kitchen table. This shelf used to hold two plastic cups with broken colored pencils and eraser-less #2s. 

The bin holding other art supplies... now featuring items sorted into labeled containers. Micheal helped me test all the markers and every colored pencil has been sharpened. I even cleaned the sticky residue from the outsides and caps of the glue sticks. 

Here you see the ruthlessly weeded toy closet. Half of what was in there has been moved to basement storage or into bags for donation.

This is the magic binder that aims to tame the schedules, lunch menus, directories, and the thousand other pieces of paper that come home from school and activities. This week I emptied it of last school year's papers, which were either filed (report cards, some samples of the children's work, class pictures) or recycled (most of it).

The same binder: it has space for emergency information, allergy information, 6th grade information, 3rd grade information, and a few tabs for various activities. It lives in the kitchen next to the phone. In case you're wondering, there is a three-hole punch in the cabinet, right next to the casserole dishes.

Some of the home organizing spills over into work as well. Here are two of my binders for the upcoming school year. The binders with the plastic cover you can slide paper into might be my most favorite school supply innovation of all time.

Sorting, organizing, labeling - these are my grown up version of sucking my thumb - I find them soothing. To quote Rizzo, "There are worse things I could do..."

Friday, June 24, 2016

Campers (#tbt)

I was fortunate enough to have various camping experiences growing up and for years I've been wanting to share that kind of experience with my children. Unfortunately I hadn't done any actual camping since I was a camp counselor - a couple of decades ago. Even then, there were things about camping that I never had to figure out for myself. For example, the camp cook packed all our food for us, all we had to do was pull out the list of what we needed for each meal and cook it! 

As much as I wanted to take the children camping, there were a couple of things holding me back:

1) Camping requires a fair amount of stuff - very little of which we already owned.

2) The fact that I was the only person in our family with any tent camping experience whatsoever. 

My first major problem was solved when I found a good deal on a tent, back in September of 2014. 

We finally broke it in last July, camping for just one night at a KOA not too far from our house. I chose the KOA because it was relatively cheap - if the weather had dictated cancellation of our trip, we wouldn't have been out too much money. I also chose it for newly renovated bathrooms - I knew that too rustic or distant a bathroom was likely to scare my people off of camping forever. 

So off we went, we survived, and we even had a good time. 

The KOA was close and the bathrooms were nice. It also had a pool, which was beneficial since it can be HOT in Ohio in July. The disadvantages of the KOA were that it was crowded, a little noisy at night, and there wasn't a ton of room to hike or explore. If we'd spent two nights there I think we would have had to leave the campground to find things to do.

Then there was this:

That's the essence of camping for me. When it gets dark and quiet(er) and you sit around your campfire...there's an intimacy among the faces in the flickering light. Never mind that building and maintaining the fire ended up being a little more difficult than I remember! 

We are going camping again soon. Not at a KOA this time. We're trying something a tad more primitive and we're going for two nights. I'm optimistic. 

I want my children to have memories of camping and I believe they will. I don't think they'll remember sweating while we put up a tent, or a fire that doesn't want to start, or mosquito bites. I hope they'll remember the peacefulness that comes from being a little unplugged, the faces of their family by the light of a fire, seeing the stars, telling stories, and just being together.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

The Internet is Strange

I just had an unexpected trip down memory lane.

There is a moisturizer I like to use on my face that has become difficult to find. It finally occurred to me today that I could look on After finding it and attempting to check out, I realized I already had an account on the site. I couldn't, however, imagine what I'd purchased from in the past.

When I checked out I noticed that a message said they would add the items to my "list" for future ordering.

It turns out the old items I ordered were still on my list. It was actually just one item, ordered in June of 2007.  Want to guess what it was?

(I'll leave a little space here, in case you're actually guessing...)

It was:

(Keep scrolling.)

A box of pregnancy tests - the very ones that told me Michael was on the way.

That was not something I expected to think about today.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Beverly Cleary

About two weeks ago Beverly Cleary turned 100 years old. This little nugget may have escaped you. Unless, of course, you are routinely part of activities in an early elementary school sort of setting. Or maybe if you're slightly obsessed with children's literature.

I wanted to write a post about Beverly Cleary on her actual birthday, but it wasn't meant to be. Mostly because I was truly unable to think about her celebrating 100 years without getting a lump in my throat and having the letters on the screen go blurry. You see, I adore Beverly Cleary.

I can understand that maybe, just maybe, her books are right for everyone. But I think it is a rare soul who isn't at least a little charmed by Ramona Quimby and her family; or a child who hasn't smiled at a toy motorcycle, thinking of Mr. Ralph S. Mouse. It's hard to not be impressed with someone who could write stories that still resonate as she turns 100, many of which were published more than 50 years ago.

I'm not exaggerating when I say that Beverly Cleary's books have touched all parts of my life.

Ramona came into my life in first grade, when our librarian read us Ramona the Pest. Over the years I heard other Beverly Cleary books read aloud, either by our librarian or by my classroom teachers. By second grade I was reading and rereading every Beverly Cleary book available in our teeny-tiny library. They were the old fashioned library versions, bound in pebbly orange or pea green covers. When book orders came into my life I ordered as many Beverly Cleary books as possible, wanting my very own copies to read and read again. As I child I identified with rule-follower Beezus, but got such a thrill reading about the scrapes Ramona got into. Thanks to Beverly Cleary I was able to vicariously experience the rush of pulling another child's hair, refusing to do school work, or - gasp - coloring in a library book!

Time passed and I became a student teacher and shared the Beverly Cleary's Muggie Maggie with a group of second graders as they began the daunting task of learning to write in cursive.

Eventually I had my own classes full of fresh-faced first graders and together we read many Beverly Cleary titles. Often the Ralph stories and always Ramona the Brave. While the emotional core of the stories hold up very well, there are a few references that need some explaining, which always ended in interesting conversations with my students. In one of the books there is an incident in which Henry Huggins' dog, Ribsy, gets locked in the Quimby's bathroom. One year I was teaching at a fairly affluent school and none of the children could figure out why it mattered that the dog was in stuck in there and no one else could enter. It never occurred to them that a house might have only one bathroom! When I told them that Matt and I lived in a house with one bathroom (true at the time), one of the students gasped and said, "Mrs. M, are you poor?!" I will never forget the horrified look on her face. I hope she remembers some of the conversation that followed.

The greatest joy, however, has probably been introducing Beverly Cleary's books to my own children. The relatively obscure Ellen Tebbits is the title that has taken up a special place in Harper's heart. Michael, being of prime Beverly Cleary enjoying age, is still figuring out which one will be his favorite.

It's a safe bet that I'll be sending some titles along to my nephew in a few years. And sooner or later, some other lucky child is going to rediscover the stash of Beverly Cleary books on my shelves and they will delight another generation.

I've pulled some of my favorite videos and articles from the days leading up to, and including, Mrs. Cleary's birthday and I'm going to link to them here. If you are even half as fond of her as I am, do your self a favor and enjoy them:

The Today Show interview:

7 Things You Didn't Know from

11 Things You Didn't Know from Woman's Day:

100 Years Surrounded by Books form The Washington Post:

To Beverly Cleary with love, from other children's authors:
(I lost it when Judy Blume spoke...)

Beverly Cleary turning 100 from npr:

And then this 1/2 hour jewel from Oregon Public Broadcasting:

Thank you, Beverly Cleary, for your wonderful contributions to the world of children's literature. My life, and that of so many others, is richer for it.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

A Word of Advice

It is the way of life that we are like our parents in some ways and unlike them in others. When I was growing up, it was very important to my mother that our house be clean. Now I'm not saying I love living in filth, but sparkling floors and mirrors have taken a back seat to many other priorities in my life. However, I am a lot like my mother in that I prefer to be things to be organized and picked up/put away. I won't lose sleep over a few dust bunnies, but having stuff everywhere drives me crazy.

As I mentioned in my previous post, we have an ongoing battle over the state of Harper's bedroom. If there is one thing I wish she would learn over any other, it's this:

Start by making your bed.

I think a made bed is to a bedroom as clear counters are to a kitchen. It gives the illusions of cleanliness and tidiness. I know that I feel better about life when my bed is made (which is 95% of days) and when the kitchen counters are clear (sadly, more like 40% of the time).

Dear children - even if there are piles of books and dirty socks beneath your bed, even if there are more items of clothing beneath your hangers than on them, for the love of all that is good and holy, please make your beds!

Mom, out.

Saturday, March 05, 2016

On the Verge

Dear Harper,

I never managed a birthday letter the year you turned 10. Lest you be too upset, you should remember that Michael turned 7 and didn't get a letter either. I'm not sure why I didn't get around to it last year. A combination, perhaps, of us being wrapped up in our busy days and the fact that it is getting more difficult to write about the two of you in a way that feels respectful. With each passing year I'm more acutely aware that you made read these words someday, and that it will matter what I've said.

In November you turned 11. 11. I still can't quite get my head around it; how much more grown up you seem suddenly. You in a kind of stuck-in-the-middle age. Too old for many things that appeal to little kids, but not quite old enough for all the adult (or even young adult) movies, television shows, and books. You desperately want to be big. In so many ways I see you maturing and feel some of the, "I'm the adult, you are the child," lines starting to soften and blur.

The other day I accidentally used a word I wouldn't normally use around you and when I apologized you gave me a look and said, "It's not anything I haven't heard before Mom, I'm in fifth grade." And I know that's true. I have distinct memories of experimenting with creative vocabulary with my friends when I was even younger than you are now.

There have been several big changes in your life this year and for the most part you seem to have handled them with grace. Your commitment to dance increased dramatically. Most weeks you are at the studio for about eleven hours and you are probably getting a little less sleep than is optimal. The main side effect of this seems to be that you have absolutely no time whatsoever for cleaning up and your room is in a state of nearly perpetual chaos. While this drives me crazy, it doesn't seem to bother you in the least. I'm hopeful that you won't actually grow up to be a hoarder.

You've got attitude for miles, which is no surprise, as you've been finely honing the skills of eye-rolling and stomping for a couple of years. Your attitude has grown as you've aged and I know I'd be foolish to expect that to plateau soon.

Fortunately your attitude isn't the only quality that has been magnified as you've gotten older. You have also grown in empathy, responsibility, and determination. In most endeavors you continue to be fiercely independent, wanting as little help from us as possible. You are starting to feel a little nervous about heading to middle school next year, but I have a feeling the qualities you've been cultivating are going to serve you well.

I would be remiss not to mention the two activities you have grown to feel passionately about, aside from dance. You are learning to play volleyball, which I'll admit is exciting to me. There is something special about watching your child pick up a sport or activity that you once loved. The other activity that has newly been a big part of your life is playing in the Orff Ensemble at your elementary school. You've enjoyed learning the different instruments involved and are definitely developing a passion for playing music. It will be very interesting to see what kinds of choices you make in the next couple of years.

Whatever you choose to do, I hope you always realize that we love you and we're proud of you. I never could have imagined, when you were just a tiny baby, how much joy and passion you would bring to all of our lives. So many things are going to change in the next year or two - we will do our very best to be there for you and love you through all of it.


Sunday, October 04, 2015

Indulge Me

Since I haven't posted regularly in a while, I thought it would be good to do a little update from the home front. While I wasn't posting here, the children, as children are wont to do, continued to grow and age. 

Michael is now 7 1/2 and in second grade. On the list of new things he is trying this fall - bowling in a league and playing tennis. According to him he is pretty fantastic at both. His feet are still larger than Harper's and I think by this time next year he has a decent chance of being taller than her as well.

Harper is now almost 11, gulp, and in fifth grade; which makes this her last year of elementary school. She is enjoying queen of the campus status - it's fun to be a fifth grader. One of this year's fifth grade perks was a spirit week just for fifth graders. Below was Harper's self-assembled outfit for Wacky Wednesday:

The picture was actually taken after she wore that outfit to school all day. I don't know if the confidence I see is evident to everyone, but it is such a part of who Harper is. I am fairly certain I wouldn't have felt comfortable sporting that get-up to school in fifth grade, or maybe ever. Harper's still dancing up a storm and excited to be part of the school Orff Ensemble, another privilege reserved for fifth graders only.

In case anyone is wondering, I still haven't found Michael's DS.