Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Highway Perspective

Discovering True Thanksgiving

When I was a child my family had more than its share of lean times. I remember sometimes we didn’t have telephone service because we couldn’t afford it and it was disconnected. I remember the majority of our clothes were old hand-me-downs. (Our brand-new clothes were reserved only for school and church.) I remember sometimes receiving second-hand toys for Christmas (i.e., the Nintendo that a neighbors’ parents sold us because they were buying their son a brand new Sega).

I also remember the even leaner times. I remember having to go to local charities for back-to-school supplies. I remember going to local churches and soup kitchens for food. I remember going without a car and walking almost everywhere we went. I remember even having one or more of the important utilities shut off for being months overdue. And I remember the feeling of going to bed sometimes with a grumbling belly because we didn’t always have enough to eat for dinner.

It was tough being a kid and going through such difficult times. And I’ve done everything in my power to make sure my kids never once have to worry about like I did. However, I often feel like since my kids have always had their needs (and a healthy amount of their desires) provided for all their lives, they don’t understand nearly as much as I do how much we have to be thankful for now. Once in a while, I get caught up in the negativity of my life because of having a chronic illness (fibromyalgia) and having to deal with all the complications it brings to day-to-day living.

However, I always have in the back of my mind how hard my childhood was and I can clearly see how much things have changed for the better. We may be on a very tight budget because I can’t work full time, but we are warm and dry inside a modest home we now own. We can’t afford a lavish diet, but we never go hungry and I’ve learned to make satisfying and healthy meals with what we do have. All of our utilities stay connected all the time. Everything we give our children is new or gently used. We own two vehicles and actually get to do fun activities together as a family occasionally. Life isn’t perfect, but it is a far cry from where I once was!

My kids, on the other hand, have no idea how bad things can get for some people. Although they aren’t selfish or spoiled in the least bit, they often overlook the good things we do have and are sad or disappointed when they find something they really want and it simply isn’t possible. Don’t get me wrong, I find myself doing that periodically, too. It’s human nature to reach for better things.

Still, I want to find a way this Thanksgiving season to emphasize how blessed we truly are. To help remind me of all the positives, I’ve been participating in the 30 Days of Thanksgiving challenge. (I am a little behind yet, but you can check it out here if you are curious.) It has been an eye opener and I’ve noticed my automatic outlook on day-today things is improving. Consequently, I am going to establish a Give Thanks jar in my house. And I am going to encourage each member of our family to write something each day or so that they are thankful for and then put it in the jar. On or the day after Thanksgiving (since we are hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year), I plan to read over all of them together to share with each other and give thanks for the wonderful life we have. And if it goes well, maybe we will have it year round, picking other holidays or special occasions when we can share more of our blessings.

What do you do with your kids to encourage a positive and grateful attitude?

© 2013 Amanda R. Dollak

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Parenting ABC's: The Crazy Side of Parenting

Parenting IS one of the greatest adventures in life. It holds such joy, happiness, surprise, and laughter. Nevertheless, like any other life adventure, it does have its fair share of chaos, discomfort, and turmoil. So often, it seems like society expects us parents to claim that parenting is all sunshine and smiles. However, I’m going to stand up and shout it out for all to hear: “I’m a mother. Parenting can be hard. And it isn‘t for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach!”

To all the parents who (just like me) love their children more than anything but are tired of society trying to shame us into silence, this is for you:

A is for aches from head to toe.
B is for burps that turn to whoa!
C is for candy stuck to walls.
D is for diaper duty calls.
E is for ears aching at night.
F is for frightening food fights.
G is for gates aren’t baby proof.
H is for he’s gone in a poof!
I is for I’m never alone.
J is for juice-coated cell phones.
K is for kids can multiply.
L is for late, late lullabies.
M is for months that feel like years.
N is for nightmares and big fears.
O is for oh, no, get the wipes!
P is for what’s clogging the pipes?
Q is for quick, get a towel!
R is for rotten and foul.
S is for sleep has come and gone.
T is for teething--dusk to dawn.
U is for unbreakable smashed.
V is for veggies smeared and mashed.
W is for windows licked.
X is for xylophone toys kicked.
Y is for yelling ‘til your hoarse.
Z is for zonked parents, of course!

© Amanda R. Dollak 2013

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Pumpkin and Two Pirates

It has been a couple years since I took my son and daughter trick-or-treating. The last few years, I was the one that stayed home to hand out the candy. This year, though, it is MY turn to go with the kiddos, and as usual, I’ll be dressing up in a costume, too.

My love of dressing up never went away. I loved to play dress up as a little girl and I always looked forward to Halloween every year. When I got older I signed up for every school play or church presentation I could, so I had an excuse to put on a costume. And now even as an adult, I can’t get enough!

My kids have always loved my costumes. They insist I’m “the coolest mommy EVER!” I’m really just a kid stuck in a grown-up’s body when it comes to these things, and I think they sense it. I only hope that as they grow older, they will continue to appreciate my love of dressing up and never see it as a sense of embarrassment. (I know, that will take a miracle!)

This Halloween my 7-year-old son is dressing up as a giant pumpkin. He is excited because he loves orange and pumpkins AND my mother made his costume...which means no one else will have a costume like his this year (unlike the zillion fellow Captain Americas he ran into last year). My daughter and I are going as pirates. My daughter asked me to break out my pirate costume from a few years back, so with a few new accessories, she and I could be a fearsome and awesome swashbuckling duo.

My children were so thrilled and wound up about Halloween and Trick-or-Treat being tomorrow that I could scarce get them to stop morning long enough for them to fall asleep. They have missed trick-or-treating with me, and they already know we will have a blast.

Their only disappointment (besides having to leave poor Daddy behind on candy duty) is realizing that I’m too old for getting candy from houses. You should have seen my son’s face drop when he found the ugly truth. He never considered the idea that anyone could be too old for treats...and that someday he will be, too. After getting over their initial shock, though, my kids cheered up and promised me they would share lots of their candy with me. Those two really know how to make a mama proud and feel loved!

© Amanda R. Dollak 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Happy Halloween!

A big spider-ly 'hi!' and wishing you and your family a safe Halloween.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Super-Duper, Super, SUPER Old

My 7-year-old son and I were talking just a little bit ago. He wanted to know more about a bracelet I had given him about a year ago. He just found the bracelet in the bottom of his toy box and was dismayed that it is starting to fray around the edges. This conversation transpired:

Son: “Mommy, how old is this bracelet? It’s starting to come apart, and I’m sad!”

Me: “Well, I got it while I was still in high school, so I’m guessing it is 11 or 12 years old.”

Son: “Really? That’s super-duper, super old!”

Me: “But I’m almost 30. If that bracelet is ‘super-duper, super old’, what does that make me?”

Son (without hesitation): “You are super-duper, super, SUPER old!”

Yes, thanks, kid! Thanks for your support here. Turning 30 won’t be difficult enough without my kids putting their two cents in.

I have to laugh, though. Just wait until HE is about to turn 30. Just wait until HE has a little kid tell HIM he is ancient. His time will come. Life has a way of turning full circle and repeating itself, just with different roles or different players. Although I don’t recall, I have a feeling I once was in my son’s shoes and called my own parents old. And now I know how they must have felt. The universe has one crazy sense of humor!

How do your kids feel about your age?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A Poem to My Daughter

My dear sweet, little princess,
You’re growing before my eyes!
I know you are in distress,
And you do not realize

That everything I do--
Both of what seems good AND bad--
I do because I love you
With a love I never had.

You and your brother are two
Biggest blessings in my life.
Motherhood has pushed me through
The most grueling pain and strife.

I am more as a mommy,
With your tiny hand in mine,
Than I ever thought I’d be
Even ‘til the end of time!

You bring out the best in me;
You make me want to be more.
Finally, I can now see
My life IS worth fighting for.

You are only six years old,
So you cannot understand
Why I correct you and scold...
Why I guide you hand in hand.

Oh, it would be so easy
To let you e’er have your way...
My efforts may seem cheesy
And perhaps cause you dismay,

But I only want the best
For you--today and always--
So I will not ever rest
Until only the best stays,

And you become a lady--
Kind, tender, caring, and strong--
Who offers her gifts daily
And who loves her whole life long.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Friday, August 23, 2013

If Blogs Were Houseplants...

If blogs were houseplants, I would be in serious trouble!  They would surely be dead by now.  I have been neglecting my blogs lately.  They are shriveling and drying up.  They are crying out desperately for some love and attention.  And I really don’t blame them…

When I started all three of my blogs I didn’t really have a plan.  It was more of an impulse.  I had some ideas.  I live to write.  I wanted some place where I could write whatever inspired me.  And it wouldn’t hurt for me to have some extra writing practice either.  So, I jumped in headfirst, eager to test the waters.

At first, my enthusiasm carried me along.  Sometimes I would go a few days without posting, but I eagerly came running back  I never run out of ideas to write about, so I was convinced that at least three posts per blog per week would be a breeze.

Boy, was I wrong!  I never planned on my son having difficulties in school and needing much more of my attention for the 2012-2013 school year.  I had underestimated how greatly my fibromyalgia affects my concentration and my ability to sit at a desk.  I hadn’t planned on my mom getting married or the week-long vacation that followed.  Oh, and I never realized how insane it can be to plan your own wedding in only three months.

I know, excuses, excuses.  Blogs are a commitment and when we start them we make a promise our readers to keep them up and running.  Still, knowing now where I went wrong from the beginning, I can now make a new beginning and start over fresh.  From now on, I’m going to put regular posts into my schedule, and even if it is only once a week per blog until I get my true blogging legs, at least I can revel in the consistency.

Thank you for understanding and supporting my journey into blogging.  I hope you continue to check back in the coming weeks to see what new posts I have in store.  You never know what new treasures you might find amongst all this blogging dust!

Friday, July 12, 2013

A Vacation of a Lifetime

Taking my kids to SC this summer to the beach for the very first time is truly one of the highlights of my life.  Their excitement, raw energy, and awe of the ocean will forever stay with me.  I have never witnessed my son and daughter so happy and content...and this mama was extremely content and happy, too.

We learned that one week at the beach is NOT enough!  We all missed home, but we left the ocean behind with sadden hearts.  Being by the sea completely felt like the most natural thing, and no one wanted to leave that feeling behind.

If I ever win the lottery or get rich through some amazing book deal, I know we will sell our current home in an instant and move somewhere south and closer to the beach.  A part of our hearts were left on that beautiful SC beach, and we returned with plenty of sand in our luggage--and gorgeous memories to hold us over until we can visit the sea once again.

I took lots of photographs of our vacation, and we plan to have a photo book created from over favorite snapshots.  We even collected seashells, other beach trinkets, and some sand so we can create a beach jar. We will cherish this vacation forever, and perhaps my son and daughter will pass on some of the stories from our beach adventure on to their own children someday.  I live for moments like these--so special, so breathtaking, and so miraculous.  I won't ever forget to savor every single second!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

My Creepy-Crawly Month

If I see one more creepy crawler, I’m going to scream! We recently had to have some work done on our sewage pipes, and it stirred up a bunch of house centipedes. The first one I saw flitting across my bathroom at about 1:00 in the morning! And the last one I pulled out of the kitchen drain with my bare hands with some orange rind that my daughter accidentally dropped in the sink. Oh, I was NOT happy at all!

Fast forward only a few days. Several stink bugs decided that my house would be their perfect home. Eventually, one of them landed on my right cheek just as I was beginning to drift off to sleep. I don’t think I’ve ever jumped so high in my life as I flew out of bed trying to get away from the disgusting thing.

Then, this week tiny little gnats discovered they could squeeze through our window screens. Between them and the fleas that my dog brought home from the vet, my kids and I have been itching at every thought of pests. And I feel awful because my son and daughter are suffering from the first bug bites of the year.

So, a good part of today was spent stocking up on pest-killing gear (kid and pet safe, of course) and going all postal on these unwelcome guests! And on the way home, who should pop out of my heating vent in the car? It was a big fat wood spider! Why do these creepy crawlers love us so much this year?

After a lot of scratching, my daughter finally asked me today why some bugs have to be so mean. Honestly, I have no idea. I love so many insects: butterflies, ladybugs, fireflies, earthworms, fuzzy caterpillars, pill bugs, etc. They are so fascinating and exciting. Still, I sometimes wish the pesky, aggressive creepy crawlers didn’t exist. And I always wish that nature would stay out of my home. If my tiny crawly neighbors would stay out of my business, I’d gladly stay out of theirs!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Seeing Myself Through My Daughter's Eyes

My daughter's family portrait
It may sound strange, but I find solace in my children’s drawings of me. They can offer such profound and touching insights into my son and daughter and how they see the world around them. For example, my daughter had to draw a family portrait for art class this week. Looking over her artwork, I realized that she doesn’t see me as I see myself.

I’m subconscious about my extra pounds, short height, and a few other small physical features. But in my little girl’s drawing, all that doesn’t matter. All the members in our family are around the same height and have no signs of love handles anywhere. And even though we aren’t perfect, we seem happy and content as can be just being together.

Undoubtedly, that is how it should be. That is what I try to teach my son and daughter. Yet, I find myself being hypercritical of every little flaw I see within myself or on my body. I need to find a way to finally practice what I preach!

I want my little princess to continue seeing the best in people. I want her to always see the best in herself, too. Consequently, it is time for me to face my inner critic and tell this ugly voice it is time to go. It is time for that critic to stop harassing me and abusing me with her insults and wisecracks.

It is time to start loving myself for who I am, regardless of my imperfections. I need to take a lessen from my daughter and find my inner and outer beauty. I must find a way to permanently shed this unhealthy image that has haunted me most of my life.

My future AND my daughter’s future depend on it! I should NOT be living this way, and I will NOT pass this flawed thinking down to my daughter. The ugliness, self-hate, and low self-esteem stop here. It’s time to get comfortable in my own skin and be happy with who I am--for me AND my little princess.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Loss of My Little Helper

I am mourning tonight the disappearance of my little helper. Once upon a time, my 7-year-old son was incredibly eager to always try to help me. He took great joy in little chores around the house and was always asking permission to do this or that for me. Even when he was 2-years-old he loved to clean and help me around the house or the yard.

But today marks the end of a beautiful and amazing era: my little helper isn’t so little anymore and he has now decided he hates chores. Say it isn’t so! I had mistakenly believed this time would never come. I had always assumed that since cleanliness seemed like second nature to my little boy, I would never have to worry about him. Boy, was I wrong!

This evening turned into a huge battle with my son over a tiny little chore…something he used to volunteer for with excitement. Now he tells me that chores aren’t any fun, and I am mean to make him do any work around our house. His words cut me to the deepest part of my heart. Once I was so proud of his strong work ethic and desire to be helpful. Now, I’m left wondering where I went wrong.

In reality, though, my son’s current state of mind has absolutely nothing to do with my parenting skills or lack thereof. He is now becoming much more independent, so he doesn’t like when he is told what to do anymore. Oh, when he chooses to clean he is still an eager beaver, but as soon as I mention that I want him to do that same chore, his stubbornness knocks all sense out of him. He whines, complains, drags his feet, and finds every way possible to take longer or not do nearly as good of a job. Seeing how much effort he puts into not giving his best effort is simultaneously infuriating and saddening. I know I have my work cut out for me until this phase comes to an end.

Maybe someday my little helper will return—and if he does, I promise to never take him for granted again! Maybe he is gone forever. Either way, I must find a means to show my son again why hard work and wholehearted effort is important in life. Slackers and procrastinators get nowhere in this life, and I want the best for my son. I want to see him flourish and succeed, not doom himself to mediocrity and the bare minimum.

Has your child ever gone through a similar stage? Did your little helper ever return? Did you find a way to show your child that working hard and helping out is a crucial part of life? I’d love to hear about your experience!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day Reflections

It is amazing how much we can change, while still being the same person. A long, long time ago–ok, more like 10 years ago–I was convinced that motherhood was not for me. I strongly believed that there was no way I’d ever become a mother. My childhood had been nowhere near normal. I didn’t have a very close relationship with my parents. So, I was convinced that I would be the world’s worst mother. I have always love children, but what did I know about properly raising kids? Ultimately, I couldn’t justify putting any child through that uncertainty.

Now those days seem like just a distant memory–almost like it was a lifetime ago. This Sunday will be my 8th Mother’s Day, and I’ll be eating up my two children’s attention and affection. They are now old enough to understand what Mother’s Day is, and they get thoroughly excited every time it comes around again. I’ve been getting showered with extra drawings, hugs, kisses, and I-love-you’s all week. It’s great to be a mom!

I know I’ll never be a perfect mother. I make mistakes and always will. But judging from my kids’ infectious laughter, frequent smiles, and affection even towards each other (at least most of the time), I must be doing something right. According to my 5-year-old daughter, I am “the bestest Mommy ever” and she is so thankful that I take such good care of her and her brother. Who knew I had it in me?

I can’t imagine my life without my children. They are such an enormous part of who I am today that I can’t fathom being me without them. I look back and realize that I was a frightened, scarred, and insecure girl 10 years ago. I had the sense to know that motherhood isn’t easy and shouldn’t be approached lightly. However, I failed to see all that I learned from my childhood and less-than-perfect relationship with my parents. All that happened in the past helped prepare me for the mother I am today because I was so determined not to repeat my own parents’ mistakes. I’m so relieved that I finally gave motherhood a chance, for it has changed my life forever!

Happy Mother’s Day to all my readers out there! If you are a mother, grandmother, or other special lady, I hope you have a relaxing day full of love and laughter. And for everyone else, don’t forget to spoil the women in your lives. You know your life wouldn’t be the same without them.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Mommy Doesn't Work...8 Hours Every Night

It’s funny how kids can so easily misunderstand things. Sometimes, it is pretty funny the way little minds try to understand the world around them. Other times, it’s hard not to feel a little sad about their misconceptions. Recently, my son and I got into a tiny argument about his homework. He didn’t want to practice reading. In fact, he was determined to not do school ever again! I tried to explain to him why reading was so important—an explanation that included that reading was necessary for getting a job.

As soon as those words were out of my mouth, my son glared at me and said, “I don’t plan on ever getting a job. You don’t work, so why should I?!”

I know kids will be kids, and temper tantrums are a part of the parenting journey. Still, his words really stung. I may not work outside my home but raising and cyber-schooling two children is hard work. Besides, I spend an average of 6-8 hours each day working diligently at my writing, long after my family is fast asleep. It may not make me much money now, but I’m working towards something bigger and better that will help make my family more financially stable. I know he is too young to understand that I work my buns off for him and his sister. Yet, it still hurts that it goes unrecognized sometimes.

I hope as he grows older that he will see that everything I do is for the betterment of our family. I frequently skimp on sleep, occasionally pass up on fun activities, and forever plan and refocus myself, so I can offer more for my children. No, I don’t write solely for my children’s benefit. However, a lot of the driving force behind my writing is related to my son and daughter. They give me the added push I need to make myself sit down and work, even when I don’t feel like writing. They also are one of my biggest inspirations for my ideas and creativity. They bring out the best in me and make me always strive to be better than I am now. I honestly believe I wouldn’t be the writer I am today without my children, and I thank God every day that I have them in my life!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

A to Z April Blogging Challenge Reflections

As a mother, I always want to encourage my children to dream big and never give up on their deepest desires. Yet, I find myself so frequently using lame excuses why I can’t write. I’m too busy. I’m too tired. I have a million other things to do. I’m not feeling up to it right now. I need to watch just one more TV show. My day was just too hectic. The words just aren’t flowing right. The excuses go on and on and on forever if I let them.

The truth is, though, I am meant to write. Even when I convince myself I’m not in the mood to write, the desire is always there. I frequently wake up in the middle of the night because my dreams give me awesome ideas to write about. Whole strings of poetry come flooding into my mind at the strangest times. Some ideas won’t leave my head until I finally write them down. And I don’t feel like myself unless I write on a regular basis.

I AM a writer. There is no point in trying to put my writing on the back burner. It is always going to force its way back into my mind. Besides, the more I write the happier I become. Why have I fought this integral part of my being for so many years? It’s time to embrace my writing abilities and to see where they will take me! 

The A to Z April Blogging Challenge, for the last two years, has helped me see just how important writing is in my life. Although I’ve spent plenty of late nights scrambling to keep up with this challenge (especially this year since I entered three blogs), I got a sweet taste of what I am capable of and how much I can accomplish under pressure.

Not long after the 2013 A to Z Challenge began, I started to doubt my sanity. I had barely finished one blog last year. How was I going to blog through the alphabet with three blogs? I had to be a crazy to think I could write 78 posts in a month in addition to all of my other obligations!

I’m never one to give up easily, so I pushed through the challenge with all three blogs—just barely—but I made it! I was exhausted and pretty frazzled, but I felt so proud of myself and even a little surprised that I had it in me. The 2013 A to Z Challenge has revealed that there is a lot more potential inside of me than I’d ever given myself credit. And I am determined now to reach far with my writing—just like I encourage my two children.

I may have taken a small break this week to recover from the challenge madness, but I am determined more than ever to write daily. No more lame excuses. No more convincing myself that I can always write later. No more thinking that I don’t have the ability in me. It’s time to dream bigger and work even harder to be the writer I’ve always secretly wanted to be!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Z: I'll Take a Zoo or Two

I am a huge animal lover. I have owned and helped take care of quite a variety of pets and exotic animals over the years. Cats, dogs, hamsters, gerbils, hedgehogs, hermit crabs, rabbits, a squirrel, a skunk, various small birds, iguanas, anoles, chameleons, fish, turtles, frogs, toads, goats, chickens, emus, peacocks, and wallabies—I’ve loved them all and cherished every second of taking care of them. I’ll even go as far as saying that I find cleaning out their cages/pens satisfying and relaxing (despite the fact that they can be a bit stinky and gross!).

When I was a little girl I dreamed that I would get rich one day, either by writing a bestselling novel or by becoming a famous singer. And with that money, I would help people and then buy myself a zoo or two. Oh, but it wouldn’t be a zoo with tiny cages. Each of my animals would have huge habitats that would keep them happy and healthy. And I would work all day long, loving and caring for my many animals.

Although I never shared this childhood dream of mine with my own son and daughter, they seem to have caught on to my zoo fever somehow. They have told me that they wish we could own a zoo so we could have lots of different animals to love. Better yet, they want us to have a huge farm where we can help sick, injured, or abandoned animals. They, so much like their mommy, wish they could adopt and love every unwanted animal in this world.

Perhaps love of animals is genetic. Maybe it is something that we all are born with. Or possibly, I subconsciously passed my compassion for animals on to my children. Either way it warms my heart and makes me proud that they care so much about animals and their wellbeing. Who knows? Maybe someday I will write that novel, and we’ll have the money to make our little animal haven. Then we could live the rest of our lives incredibly happy, doing what we all love together!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Y: Yoga Youngsters

One of my 2013 New Year’s resolutions was to get more fit and healthy. I’m not having the best of luck though. With an overloaded schedule and a chronic illness that involves fatigue and pain, I have found it difficult to find the time, energy, and motivation for exercise. But with summer fast approaching, I plan to utilize my kids’ summer vacation to the max.

I have noticed that I am much better at sticking with and pushing through exercise that involves my kids. My son and daughter sometimes do yoga with me, and they absolutely love our walks and playtimes outside. When I exercise with them I am too busy laughing and having a good time to focus on how much it tires me or how long it is taking. In fact, sometimes I am amazed at how much time seems to fly when I am exercising with them.

As a result, I plan on building some healthy habits with my children this summer—healthy habits that I hope will continue even after summer is long over. First and foremost, I want to reclaim my body and be as fit as possible. I want to live a long and healthy life for myself and my family. Secondly, I want to give my kids a good example to follow, so they can grow up to be healthy and happy adults, too. And lastly, exercising together is a wonderful family activity. It will help to keep us connected and hopefully will help create a bond between us that will last a lifetime.

Do you exercise as a family? If so, what are your favorite activities? And how often do you get to exercise together?

Saturday, April 27, 2013

X: X's and O's

I remember when I first learned what X’s and O’s stood for as a little girl. I would cover the cards and drawings that I made for people with a thousand abbreviated hugs and kisses. I wanted my friends and family to know that I loved them so very much, and in my little mind, a paper full of X’s and O’s was the perfect way to prove my love.

As I grew older, my obsession with writing a zillion X’s and O’s started to fade. Soon, I found myself writing them only on rare occasions. My mom, however, still is a big X’s-and-O’s fan. She signs all her cards to my son and daughter with a huge string of them. For the longest time, my children didn’t pay these letters any mind. However, since they are now reading, they finally asked me what this strange ‘word’ means.

I explained to them that X’s and O’s in cards and letters stands for hugs and kisses. I told them that it is an easy and quick way to show someone that you are sending them your love. Now my house has turned into a giant Valentine’s Day mailbox. It is filled with countless papers covered with X’s, O’s, and carefully drawn hearts. As my kids love to say, every day is Valentine’s Day here. It’s important to tell everyone that we love them, and we aren’t afraid to show it!

In a way, I am overjoyed to see my kids express their love for others so openly and freely. I remember that my family was much more closed when I was growing up and it sometimes left me wondering if everyone truly loved me. But my kids will never have that problem. They are my little cupids, spreading love, hugs, and kisses wherever they go—all year round. And my family no longer hesitates to return some of that affection.

Do you ever wonder how much more beautiful this world would be, if only we would be more open about loving others? Just seeing how much my children’s love has opened my own heart over the years has convinced me that love is a powerful thing. With love, anything is possible and the possibilities are truly endless.

Friday, April 26, 2013

W: Who? What? When? Where? How?

What seems like a lifetime ago, my kids went through the why stage. They drove me a little batty with their never-ending whys. Nothing ever seemed to satisfy their curiosity, no matter how long I took to try to explain why. I am not ashamed to admit that I was extremely relieved when they outgrew this difficult stage.

Recently, though, I have come to realize that those were simpler times. The infamous whys have reemerged and brought with them their many exasperating relatives: who, what, when, where, and how! I am happy to see my kids so eager to learn, but my world gets pretty crowded with all these questions floating about 24/7!

There are moments when I swear I’ve become a professor and an encyclopedia. My days are crammed with little mini lectures and demonstrations. And my kids eat them up. The more I talk, the more they ask…and in turn, the more I talk. If I am not careful, we won’t get anything else done because I love to lecture a little bit too much and I am perfectly content talking the entire day away.

My grandmother teases me that I have missed my true calling. She insists that with my love of rambling lectures, I was born to be a college professor. Who knows? Perhaps she is on to something, but I have to learn to restrain myself from getting too far away from my obligations and my kids’ actual schoolwork. It is a fun diversion for me and my children now and then, but I have to resist going off on every wild tangent each time another question surfaces. Or I risk lecturing my life away, and there are so many other amazing things I want to accomplish in this life.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

V: Vacuum Cleaner Connoisseur

Since my son was two years old, he has been obsessed with vacuum cleaners. As a toddler, he wanted to start using my vacuum cleaner. As a compromise, I bought him a toy vacuum cleaner that made noises and came with a cleaning cart. It wasn’t long, though, before he wore it down and was pointing out it wasn’t really a vacuum cleaner since it didn’t suck anything up. When he was three I bought him a sweeper broom and adjusted the handle to fit his height. Within a year, the bristles on it were so bent that it no longer would roll.

When he was four I bought him another sweeper broom. This time it was a heavy duty model. The sweeper broom still works, but by the time my son turned five, he longed for something more. I found a Swivel Sweeper on sale and thought it would be the best of both worlds. It would give my son true suction power under my supervision, without me worrying about the dangers of power cords. Within three months, he had that Swivel Sweeper so worn out it wouldn’t even charge.

When my fiancĂ© and I were out Christmas shopping this past winter we found Dust Busters on sale. They were an incredible bargain and we knew immediately that my son would adore such a gift. On Christmas morning, once my little buddy unwrapped his Dust Buster, he didn’t want to open any more presents. He was one very happy little boy.

Now that it is April, though, he is already planning what he’s going to ask Santa Claus for this coming Christmas. Although he loves his Dust Buster, he still wants to add to his vacuum cleaner fleet. He has been eyeing up stick vacuum cleaners and all the fancy vacuums that Dyson sells. I fondly call my son a vacuum cleaner connoisseur. He enjoys telling me what he loves and dislikes about different models every time he sees a commercial, leafs through a catalog, or takes a trip down the vacuum cleaner aisle at the store. He has even told me that he plans on designing an even better vacuum cleaner when he grows up. With how much he already knows about vacuums and how passionate he feels about them, I won’t be surprised if he follows through on this dream someday.

U: Underwear Under Where?

Our pants-and-sock-stealing cat is at it again. No longer is he content to steal socks or my children’s panys out of the laundry. He has now graduated to diabolical underwear raids from our dresser drawers. If we leave our drawers open even a tiny crack, he maneuvers his way in there and takes off with a fresh pair of underwear.

At first, we were oblivious to our cat’s new obsession. He was just too sneaky and careful to get caught. However, as I started spring cleaning this month, pairs of underwear started popping up in the strangest places. I was finding underwear in the couch, behind the TV, under the refrigerator, and even in my kids’ arts and crafts supplies. Either our underwear was beginning to creep around at night or something very fishy was going on in our home.

As I gathered up the pairs of underwear, my kids put them in the dirty laundry. Just as I thought I had found the final pair, our resident clothing thief came running out of the bathroom dragging the pile of underwear with him. I hurried up and rounded up the underwear once again. I tossed them in a laundry basket and carried them down to the washing machine. After putting a load in the wash, I went back upstairs to continue with my cleaning.

I went to my room to return a book that I had laying on the coffee table. I quickly put the book down on my desk and turned to leave the room. Immediately, I stopped in my tracks. From behind me, I heard this strange scratching noise coming from inside a dresser drawer. I crept slowly over to see what could be making the noise. I half expected to see a mouse scurrying around inside the barely opened drawer. But instead of a mouse, I saw a black fluffy tail sticking out of the dresser drawer. It was our underwear bandit striking again!

My kids keep asking me why our cat loves to steal our clothes. But to be honest, I have no clue. I can’t figure out why he is so fascinated with socks, pants, and now underwear. He has plenty of cat toys to entertain him. He has plenty of kitty companions to keep him company. And we spend a lot of time playing with our cats, so it isn’t likely because he’s bored. Perhaps he just loves the taste of my laundry detergent. Or maybe his nesting instincts are kicking in. Whatever the reason behind his behavior, it guarantees I never have to face a dull day…ever again.

Have you ever had a cat that stole clothing from dresser drawers? If so, what did your kitty like to steal?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

T: Twitter Twits

Even though I’d like to think my kids are still immune to the influence of the internet, the social media age is upon us. My kids go to cyber school and their school has a solid social media presence. And then there is me, online writer mommy and social media extraordinaire. Ok, I’m not nearly as internet savvy as I would like to think, but I do check in with my social media accounts frequently throughout the day. When my power goes out or my internet service is down I feel the withdrawal symptoms just a little! 

A couple months ago, my son’s 1st grade class was discussing a little bit about Twitter. Although my kids know plenty about Facebook, I use Twitter mostly as a writer. I keep my professional social media to myself, so my son was quite confused and had no idea what Twitter was. After listening to his teacher talk for a while, he turned to me and asked, “Mommy, what is a twit?”

Let me tell you I was pretty surprised by his question and it took me a moment to process that he was actually talking about Twitter. I asked him, “Do you mean Twitter?”

He immediately smiled and nodded his head. I chuckled and then explain to him that it is a site where people can share their thoughts, photos, etc. As he finished up his class, I couldn’t help but laugh some more to myself. His twit/Twitter connection was merely a misunderstanding, but in reality, it could be said that Twitter is a playground for twits. There are so many foolish and annoying people running amuck on social media sites, and Twitter is no exception.

I may not be able to think of Twitter the same again. Once you put the twit into something, it’s impossible to take it out. No longer will the image of that cute blue Twitter bird pop into my head when someone mentions this site. Instead, visions of obnoxious fools spouting off nonsense will fill my mind and make me chuckle!

Monday, April 22, 2013

S: Stuck Between a Sled and a Hard Place

One of my favorite winter activities has always been sledding. Now that I have children of my own I get even more excited when snow starts to pile up. There’s nothing like an afternoon of running, sledding, and laughter, followed by some hot chocolate.

This winter proved extra special for me and my family. It was the first winter at our new house. We finally have a yard of our own, and our backyard is hilly with some nice areas for sledding. The first snowy day was magical for us. My kids eagerly rounded up their winter gear, and I dressed in as many layers as possible. I had a feeling that this was going to be the best afternoon we had had in a long time.

Our backyard drops off steeply into the driveway, while its slopes more gently to where our property ends. My 7-year-old son was too afraid to sled on the steeper hill. He was even hesitant about the smaller hill. So my daughter and I decided to try out the gentler hill to show him that there wasn’t anything to worry about. My 5-year-old daughter and I climbed into our sled together, and I pushed us forward with all my might. The snow was slippery and pretty packed, so we took off at a good speed. It looked like the path I had chosen down the back of yard was going to be perfect.

But just as we almost reached the bottom of the hill, our sled lurched to the right and we found ourselves underneath a bush lining the back of our property. My daughter and I burst out laughing. We were such a funny sight all tangled up in the bush! My son tried to help us out, but the awkward angle with which we had slid under the bush made it impossible for us to get out of the sled.

I was laughing so hard that I could barely move. With all the strength I can muster between laughs, I picked my daughter up and tossed her gently out from under the bush. I then managed to get the sled out from under me and was able to finally crawl out from under the bush. The entire time my kids and I were howling with laughter. This had been one of the funniest things we had ever witnessed, and I know that it will be a memory that will bring us much laughter for years to come.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

R: Real Friends, Please Stand Up!

Perhaps the hardest part of moving and buying our own home was having to leave our old neighborhood behind. My son and daughter spent 5 years getting to know the children who lived in our neighborhood. It is difficult to leave friendships behind. Almost 6 months later, my children still mourn the end of their friendships, and it makes me sad.

Normally, I would have done everything in my power to keep my kids connected to their friends. However, the months before our move, some of the children started treating my kids poorly, especially my little princess. These children kept making fun of my kids and calling them mean names. On top of this, they would go play with other kids in the neighborhood and then tell my son and daughter that they weren’t invited to play.

I know kids aren’t always nice, and teasing and name calling are a part of life. Still, I have taught my son and daughter that such behavior is unacceptable, and it hurts to see them crying because they think their ‘friends’ don’t like them anymore. My children are very forgiving (as you can see by their desire to still see these children), and I’m proud of this. I am still their mother, though, so it’s my job to make the tough choices and always think of what is best for them.

I want my kids to be forgiving, but I also want them to be smart. If people keep abusing their friendship with you, no matter how many times you tell them it hurts you, it is time to let such friendships go. I want my children to know that it is ok to end a friendship if the other person keeps hurting them. I want them to have the courage to always look out for their best interest. Of course, friendships are precious and should be fought for. But if the other person isn’t doing the same, it isn’t a real friendship, and it’s time to move on.

As warmer weather sets in, my kids are spending more time outside. They are starting to talk to some of the children in our new neighborhood, and I have a feeling they will be making some new friends soon. I hope they find some real friends here so they can finally see what true friendship is and forget the pain of the past. I hope they meet some other kids who are caring and fun to be with--children who are worthy to be called their friends.

Q: Quibble, Quarrel, and Quack

I absolutely love being a mom. It is one of the most rewarding experiences, but all parents know that not every moment with children is peaceful and cheery. Sometimes parenting gets downright difficult, gritty, and unpleasant. My kids have now reached the age that they love to argue with each other. When they were younger they spent more time playing by each other than with each other. Consequently, they had arguments, but they were short-lived and not very frequent. And it was usually over a toy or who could sit in Mommy’s lap.

These days, though, I swear my son and daughter will fight over anything and everything. And at times, I am convinced I have a flock of squabbling ducks wadding around my house. The noise level and intensity of their arguments can be astonishing and quite deafening. When they get into ’duck’ mode there is no yelling over them or reasoning with either one of them. As a result, we have implemented a new rule in our house. If they get out of hand with their quarreling, they have to go to their rooms to cool off until they are ready to talk reasonably with each other and are willing to try to find a compromise.

My kids aren’t too fond of this new house rule, but some sanity has returned to our home because of it. Although they still quarrel over silly things at times (i.e., who a penny belongs to or whose turn it is to let out the dog), I’ve noticed the frequency and intensity of their arguments is diminishing. They hate timeouts, so hopefully their dislike will continue to foster better sibling communication and make them realize that some things are not worth squabbling over. They are now the same age as when my brother and I grew so competitive with each other that it was like we were trying to kill one another. I certainly want to avoid such behavior in my kids at all cost!

Do or did your children have trouble communicating or argue much too frequently? What have you found to be helpful with diffusing the situation and lessening the frequency of arguments in your house?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

P: Pass the Peppers, Please!

Homemade Chili

When I was pregnant with my son I had three main foods that I was constantly craving: chocolate, dill pickles, and anything spicy.  I was content to sit down with a glass of chocolate milk and tacos (or other Mexican dish) with a side of pickles, regardless of the hour.  Even though I struggled with all-day morning sickness for the whole length of my pregnancy, my stomach never once protested at this type of meal.  In fact, my little boy seemed to relax and settle down as soon as I ate this strange combination.

With my daughter, I was always craving pastries and chocolate, but even with this second pregnancy, my body could handle spicy foods easier than even crackers or toast.  My doctors looked at me like I was insane when I told them this.  Looking back now, if I hadn’t been there to witness it firsthand, I would be skeptical, too.  There isn’t any logic or rhyme to why I could eat a hot pepper but a plain saltine cracker would make me gag.  No, it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

However, I know see that it was a sign of things to come.  My kids adore spicy food nearly as much as I do.  We eat something with a kick at least once a week, but it isn’t too unusual for us to have something spicy for dinner nearly every other day.  I even find my kids snacking on jarred hot peppers, salsa, or hot sauce from time to time.  A big favorite in our house is salsa scrambled eggs.  It’s never too early in the day to enjoy something spicy!

Our love of hot foods amuses me to no end because most of my relatives think we are insane.  My grandma tears up when she eats even mild salsa.  And most of my extended family watches in horror at how much hot sauce or hot peppers I love to add to my food.  Many of my relatives insist that I’m ruining my stomach with all this spicy food, but I rarely get heartburn or an upset stomach.  Maybe I have a cast-iron stomach and I’ve passed it on to my kids.  Or maybe we’ve built up tolerance to spiciness.  Either way, I love cooking spicy foods and then enjoying them with my children.  It’s one of the highlights of our week.

Do you and your kids love spicy food?  Or do you or your children prefer eating more mild foods?

A to Z Blogging Challenge Update

Because of a health issues this week, I've fallen behind on the A-Z Blogging Challenge.  Things are settling down again, so I will be working hard to catch up.  Thanks for your patience.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

O: Organ Oblivion

"Is there room for me, kitty?"
My family is a music-loving family. We play the radio, CD’s, cassette tapes, and records like they are going out of style. My children are growing up surrounded by music from the 40’s to today, as well as classical music--similar to how I did. My family has always had a solid appreciation of a variety of music and I’m happy to be passing on that love to my own children. I don’t know how to play an instrument yet, but one day, I plan to resume my guitar lessons. Maybe my children and I can all learn together because they’ve also shown an interest in learning the guitar (as well as other instruments).

For now, I have passed on the electric organ that my grandmother had given to me and my brother when we were still kids. I remember spending hours just making a joyful noise, trying to figure out songs, or making up my own. I thought that my children would enjoy it, too. Plus, I reasoned that it would be a wonderful way to nurture their musical interests even further.

I forgot one small thing though: that electric organ doesn’t have a volume button. And oh, is that organ loud and obnoxious! Of course, my kids love the thing to death. They are forever asking me if they can play it. Each time I am torn between my desire to encourage my children’s love of music and my fantasies of all the ways I can destroy that monstrosity. My love for my children wins in the end (except on days when I have a headache), but I find myself still trying to find somewhere--anywhere--to hide from the electric organ when it is in use.

I attempted to show my kids how to play it beautifully or at least tolerably. After a few demonstrations, my daughter is doing a little better. My son, however, enjoys making the organ screech and howl. (I know who will be doing our Halloween sound effects this year!) The more obnoxious and horrible he can make it sound, the better he likes it. Yes, boys will be boys. I’ll let him get his kicks from seeing how badly he can play.

But eventually, if he is anything like me (and I know he is), he will tire of making noise and long to make music again. It’s in our genes--in our blood--and he won’t be able to resist it for very long. Until then, I will be grimacing and cowering here in organ oblivion, waiting patiently until sanity returns to me again!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

N: Now IS Later!

Impatient doggy!
I grew up around animals, so I came to understand that animals don’t have much sense of the passage of time. I can’t even remember how many times I left the house for only a few minutes and my dog Honey Bear acted like she hadn’t seen me in hours when I returned. Oh, and don’t get me started on how much my cats protest when I make them wait for breakfast each morning until I am awake enough to function. They act like by the time I get around to filling their dishes, they’ve been waiting all day for their food!

But it never occurred to me that children can have trouble with discerning passage of time, too. I’m a ‘later’ person. I’m guilty of telling people we will do things later without giving a specific time. I have every intention of following through on my promise, but I get so distracted by whatever I am doing that I don’t have enough cognitive function left during those moments to think in those terms. In fact, I only have a passing awareness of what time it is at that very moment, if at all.

My 7-year-old son is either more in tune with my way of thinking or very patient with me, so he waits until I’m no longer distracted to ask when this ‘later’ may be. My 5-year-old daughter, though, is the exact opposite. I swear every minute she will impatiently exclaim, “Ok, it’s later now! When can we do it?”

I try to explain to her that it isn’t later, but she insists that now IS later. Technically, we are both correct. We haven’t reached my idea of ‘later’ yet, while each second after our conversation IS actually later. We have gone round and round many times on whether or not it was actually ‘later’!

In the end, I’ve decided to try to stop for a moment, think, and come up with a better response than simply ‘later’ to explain to her when we can finally do what she is asking. It has been quite the chore trying to retrain my brain in this area. I still occasionally find myself automatically telling my kids that we will do something later. However, I remember all the now-IS-laters and debates I’ve endured over the last couple of years, and I realize that often it makes more sense to change a little for others than to endure endless frustration!

Monday, April 15, 2013

M: Marry-Me Mania

My mom will be getting married in June. My fiancĂ© and I making weddings plans as well. And my brother is engaged now as well. So, weddings are on everyone’s minds right now. My 5-year-old, though, is especially fixated on concept of getting married. Not a day goes by without her asking me a thousands questions about weddings and marriages. She wants to know everything!

I thought it was so cute and funny…until one day, she walked up to me and asked, “Mommy, when can we have my wedding? I know who I‘m going to marry!”

Few parents are ready to let their children go off and start lives of their own, but with my children only in kindergarten and 1st grade, I choked on my morning tea. I was NOT ready to even think about wedding date for my daughter--not that early in the day and not that early in motherhood!

Recovering from my initial shock, I asked her who this person was that she was so determined to marry already. It turns out it is a little boy in her class--her online cyber school class! Yes, folks, my daughter thinks she’s in love with a little boy she’s never met. She has heard her voice many times and has seen a couple photos which he shared with the class. But other than that, she hardly knows him.

I had to smile, though. I remember my first “boyfriend”. His name was Brian (or Bryan, I can’t remember which anymore), and he was my neighbor. We started “dating” in kindergarten and we showered each other with little gifts. When I had to move away not long after the beginning of 1st grade he made me mixed tape (now I realize how talented of a little boy he truly was!) and asked me to marry him. He wanted me to move to his house, so we could be together forever. But alas, our parents wouldn’t have any part of it.

It seems like a couple lifetimes ago, but I still remember how much I cared about Brian and was convinced that we would get married someday. Things seemed so much simpler then. I still sometimes wonder what might have happened if I had never moved. But I have a feeling that our little relationship would have ended long before middle school.

These days few people fight through the hard times to get to get to their golden years. Couples are often too busy fighting among each other and eventually give up than try to fix their problems. It’s shame they will never know what they could have had together. As I watch my little princess scribble little hearts and the little boy’s name on paper, I send silent prayers up that one day, when she is truly ready to be married (and maybe when I’m more ready to give her away) that she finds a man worthy of her love, who will cherish her and protect for a lifetime.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

L: Look But Don't Lick!

Boomer, one of my daughter's inspirations
My 5-year-old daughter is obsessed with the idea that she has “cat powers”--super powers of a cat nature. She claims that she can run as fast as a cat, as well as roam silently throughout our home. She also insists that she has super cat strength and can always land on her feet. At first, it didn’t bother me. In fact, I found it pretty darn cute and hilarious. Unfortunately, with young kids, things can easily take a drastic turn for the worst!

In this case, my little princess has now progressed to adding licking to her cat power repertoire. She randomly goes around licking herself, others, or things in our home. She has even licked a cat or two. Despite my heartfelt protests (a.k.a., total freak-outs!), this is one bad phase I can’t seem to break.

I thought once the toddler years were over I’d never again have to tell my kids not to lick things. Nevertheless, here I am having a total breakdown because my mind can’t handle the idea of a human tongue on a furry cat! Once again, I wonder if my kids are going to be the death of me--or at least, the death of my sanity.

To try to understand why she finds it necessary to keep licking everything and everyone she can, I sat her down and had a little heart-to-heart conversation. I tried to explain to her that people shouldn’t be licking people or things because it spreads germs and can make them sick. She kept insisting that she’s a cat, so she is immune to people germs. Additionally, she reasoned that cats have to lick themselves because they can’t bathe themselves.

After 20 minutes, I felt like I was talking to an actual cat. There was absolutely no reasoning with her. Although I plan to continue to actively discourage her from this gross behavior, I have a feeling that in time, it will remedy itself…for what cat has ever gone very long without getting a disgusting hairball from all that licking?

Friday, April 12, 2013

K: Kindness and Karma

My son sharing the last strawberry
One of the most important things we can teach our kids is kindness and the idea that our deeds--good and bad--will come back to us someday. Lately, I have been reminded again just how judgmental and hateful people can be. It shocks and horrifies me that human beings can treat each other with such rudeness and meanness. We all have our problems. We all make mistakes. We all do things that are wrong from time to time. So why do some people feel they have the right and even the obligation to condemn others for their sins?

I am not one of those people that doesn’t believe in a clear right and wrong. Actually, I do try to live my life as I feel I should. But even when I try my best, I still fail at times. It’s those times that remind me that I am in no position to be passing judgment on others. Instead of judging, I know I should be spreading love and kindness to those around me, regardless of who they are or what they’ve done wrong. And that’s what I strive to teach my kids. I want my children to treat others like they want to be treated and to always attempt to be fair.

If more people would practice this mentality, can you imagine how much more pleasant this world would be? I know I can. Sometimes I get so frustrated that my kindness and consideration is often only rewarded with rudeness or lack of appreciation. Yet, I firmly believe that we do reap what we sow. Thus, until the day I die, I will do my best to be a considerate person and take the higher road. It isn’t going to be easy, especially when rude jerks can run rampant in this world. Ultimately, though, I want to stay true to myself and to be an example to my children that I can be proud of.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

J: Jumping Beans Included

I remember when I was in kindergarten my best friend Michelle seemed to have the coolest toys. I would beg and plead with my parents to allow me to spend the night at her house because I loved playing in her bedroom. One of the best things I thought she had were her Mexican jumping beans. At that age, I thought that Mexican jumping beans were magical beans, and I wished every night that I could have some for my own someday!

Well, I never did get my own Mexican jumping beans, and now I know that Mexican jumping beans aren’t really magic beans--or beans, for that matter. But I’ve found something cooler and more energetic than jumping beans: my kids!

My son and daughter have always been filled with such energy that I joke with them that they must be full of jumping beans. Of course, they have absolutely no idea what I’m referring to, but every time I call them my jumping beans, they giggle and hop around doing their best impersonation of a jumping bean--or at least what they think a jumping bean is like.

My 5-year-old daughter goes into a crazy, bouncing frenzy. She pops, jumps, and flies around the room with her arms, legs, and hair flailing everywhere. My son, on the other hand, feels jumping beans are much more stiff. He sticks his arms straight down at his sides and jumps around, barely bending his knees at all. (Personally, I think he looks more like a Mexican jumping burrito than a jumping bean. But hey, what do I know, right?)

They have been doing their jumping bean impersonations for years, but they never fail to make me laugh until I cry. Some things never grow old, no matter how many times you watch them. And I have a feeling that they will tire of their jumping bean acts long before I ever grow bored!

Do you have any Mexican jumping beans bringing laughter and energy into your home?