Thursday, August 4, 2016

Back to School Favorites

I can hardly believe August is here. I feel like I say this about every holiday, season, etc. but time just moves SO fast with kiddos.

Every year, I think I get a little bit better about being organized and trying to keep things ready to manage papers, lunches, clothing, and all the other details that come with kids in school.  When the details are organized, I find that I am a much happier mom day in and day out.  So, I thought I'd share some of the time-savers that work for our family in hopes that they may work for some other families, too!

And full disclosure--I am cheap. Truth. I will usually try and find something used or borrow or research a more affordable method. That being said, all blessings and gratitude to the sage genius mothers who have gone before that have taught me that some things are just worth the extra money. These are daily-use items that need to be able to take a beating. I regret every cheap backpack, lunch box, pair of shoes, pencil, and folder that I've purchased in my lifetime. I am justly ashamed of my complete lack of foresight. I mean, quality over quantity shouldn't be so difficult, but, folks, I have SEEN THE LIGHT. So, without further ado...

PlanetBox Lunch Boxes

We are lunch packers. We just are. I like to be able to control the health level of the food my kiddos eat, and they really like a lot of fresh items, so it works very well for us. However, I HATE throwing out plastic zip baggies, and I have a hard time springing for the number of reusable bags that we would need daily. So, I found PlanetBox.  This stainless steel, bento-style lunchbox is an expensive purchase, but has a lifetime guarantee, comes in a wonderful carrying bag, and is completely dishwasher safe (EEEK!). I also love that I can pack things from yogurt and granola to sandwiches and fruit without worrying about things getting lost and shaken up. This has been one of our best purchases, and I could see having them for adults too. They fixed the only issue we had by making silicone lids for the little metal containers that were hard to open with the previous lid. These lunch boxes are also super convenient for dinners on the go for soccer practice, etc. because you can put prepared food right in it, and it's actually a great and easy way to eat in the car on your lap!  Not that I would ever serve such a meal to my family. No, siree, it's sit-down fancy dinners only for this momma. I mean, really--ain't nobody got time for that.


Now, I needed a container for soups and chili in the wintertime that would be equally as simple and effective. Enter Thermos. I found a wonderful Thermos that's the perfect size and contains a spoon that folds up IN THE LID. You know what this means for kids who lose everything, right?! (Are there kids who don't lose everything? I'd love to meet them. Maybe they can tutor my kids in the art of NOT LOSING ALL THE THINGS. ) The spoon gets put back in the lid when you're done, and when we fill it in the morning, everything stays hot through lunchtime.

Water bottles

Again, I turned to Thermos here and we opted for the Funtainer water bottles. These are stainless steel, and the perfect size to fit in the PlanetBox bag, keep things super cold, come with fun characters to choose from, and you can replace the straw if your children CAN'T STOP BITING it. Not that I have any experience with that. Our son's survived quite a bit of rough housing, and is still going strong, though it's scratched up enough and covered with I may spring for a new one this year.

Other tips

Paperwork. Is there anything worse? Honestly. The moment I get through the pile sitting in a heap on my counter that is completely filed and neatly organized, I have a new pile. But, a couple years ago, I bought a pretty 3-ring binder that is lovely enough that I'd love to look at it everyday. I keep it in our kitchen, and I made tabs for meal planning, school paperwork, and important events that I want to keep. In the meal planning tab, I keep a calendar and write dinners down that I plan to make for the week. This helps me organize my grocery list, and also gives me ideas when I'm in a meal planning rut.

In the school tab, I keep class rosters, teacher information, and handbooks. SO helpful when we're doing birthday invitations or helping in the classroom.

And finally, in the important events tab, I keep wedding invitations, bridal and baby shower invitations, and other paperwork that I need to keep just in case I can't remember where the bride is registered or where the reception is being held.

Shoes.  This is another area where it's just worth it to buy the better ones to start with. I have replaced a LOT of cheap shoes. A nice pair of good-fitting shoes made by a reputable brand is totally worth it, and will last many games of kickball and hours of time dancing on the playground.

Please share!!

I'd love to hear your tips for Back to School! What are your must-haves? What brands could your family not live without? Are there any that you wish you wouldn't have bought?  Please share, dear readers!

**And a note that I am not paid or compensated in any way for my opinions--they are truly my own!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Springtime and Motherhood

What is it about springtime?

Something in this fresh air and possibly the new life all around turns me into mush for the time when my children were smaller and not celebrating these bigger birthdays.

Every ounce of my being aches to freeze time exactly where it is, but this busy season seems to pass all the more quickly the tighter I try and hold onto it.

I was having a discussion with a friend the other day, and she was talking about enjoying a few hours in the afternoon of doing some "get to" things instead of "have to" things.

My heart leapt when she said those words: GET TO.  YES!!

How many hours a day do we spend in the minutia: the morning routine of packing lunches and making sure the correct homework folder is tucked away and "Oh, don't forget your milk money!"

We fly off to work, with visions of their school days dancing in our heads. Did he remember his belt? Did I put an ice pack in her lunch box? Even though our bodies are elsewhere, at least a piece of our minds remain focused on the "have to's."

And then afternoons of checking homework and fixing a quick dinner and off to soccer practice and "Wait, I need to put some sunscreen on you!"

Then, the evenings. The showers and hair combing and teeth brushing. The stories and prayers and snuggles and all of the cups of water and fixed nightlights.

And we move on to dishes and laundry and tidying and preparing to do it all again. The. Very. Next. Day.

And it's exhausting, at times. Sometimes, the right answer is just what my friend was enjoying: a bit of euphoria over some time for a "get to."

Enjoying a show without folding laundry at the same time, finally finishing that book you've been halfway through for months, just falling asleep early and waking refreshed, an hour walking outside or an evening glass of wine.

And the weeks where the Meat Man travels are the weeks where I see most keenly the juxtaposition of "have to" and "get to."

Sometimes, I rush around all day in the "have to's" and forget, that maybe, some of those can be "get to's" as well.

On our way home from soccer practice, as I begin to relax as the mania of the day comes to a close, I look into my rear view mirror. And I see a handsome, chiseled face just starting to take on the look of a young man.  I see messy, sweaty hair, and the evening sun glancing off those cheekbones and that chin, and those long eyelashes topping that ornery grin as he sees me watching him and smiling at him and smiles right back at me.  He was just arguing with his sister an hour ago--how can he look so mature in this moment!?

And I recommit myself to the "have to's." The details that I'm responsible for that allow these precious beings to feel at home.

The comfort of a home-cooked meal that took me hours to prepare.

The safety in looking up at practice and seeing me watching.

The love felt in snuggling up with a book that I read while I ignore a hundred other tasks.

Sometimes, I just need a reminder: these "have to's" can also be "get to's."

Don't misunderstand me: at the end of the night, I need a little mindless tv or a few chapters of a good book, and when my husband returns from his trip, I may will likely knock him over sprinting out the door for a not-so-quick trip to the coffee shop and some time alone with my own thoughts-- but there is joy, too, in the mundane.

And sometimes, we need the reminder that what we are doing IS hard, but it IS important, too. This is God's work, this raising of children. Sacrifice and tears and frustration and full hearts: these, too, shall pass, and often far too quickly.

So, for today, I will stick out my chin and open my arms and do my best to let my "have to's" and my "get to's" come together and create my life.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Last First Day

"Ward Christopher!!"

I hollered up the stairs for what felt like the thousandth time...

"If you cannot stop teasing your sister, you are skipping dinner and going straight to bed tonight!  I've had it!"

During breakfast, a song plays in the cd player.  The singer croons, "And our babies never cry, and we can look you in the eye, and say, 'I'm not afraid to die-e-e-e.'"

Elliot: "What's that mean?"

Ward: "It means, he's lived a good life and so he's not afraid to die now."

I looked at him a thousand times tonight.

I thought about how little he still is, in some ways.  Relentlessly teasing his sister, still struggling to swim; he hasn't even lost a tooth.

We ran around the yard together playing hide-and-seek.

Surely, he's still little.

Every so often (although it's become a rarity now), he shows up in our room in the middle of the night, standing with red eyes and disheveled hair, and insists on crawling right in between us because he dreamt about some bad guy getting him or us.

I remember the seemingly endless nights when I wished he would JUST GO TO SLEEP ALREADY.

And now, he does.

Now he folds his clothes and carries dishes and takes his own showers. He jumps from high places and swims out just a little too far.

He pretends to box with his sister, but never actually throws a punch, even though she doesn't hold back.

He gives his things to younger children without a second thought.


I asked him tonight if I could cry tomorrow when I drop him off, and he shook his head.

"Would it embarrass you if I cry?"

He looked at me through the side of his eyes, and shook his head again.  He has learned to tell a small fib to preserve my feelings.

How does that happen?

And in every new skill mastered I feel a twinge of regret.

The last first reading.  The last new letter.

Tomorrow will be the last first day of 1st grade for him.

One more last first.

For weeks, he's been saying that although other kids get nervous about school, he's just excited.

Tonight, in the quiet of bedtime, he shared his innermost thoughts that only a parent gets to hear in those moments.

"I'm a little bit scared.  Mostly excited, but a little scared, too."

We've talked a lot about what this year will look like: stricter rules, structured work, longer days.

At bedtime, he prayed, "God, let me behave at school tomorrow.  Help me be kind to others and make lots of new friends."

I remember so many of these moments, preserved perfectly in my mind.

The first time I held him.

The first time he wrote his name.

His first bike.

I was there for each of those, actively encouraging him towards that last first step and even past it...

My role tonight was more of an observer.

He took his own shower, and laid out his own clothes for school.

He made his food requests for day one: biscuits and gravy for breakfast, and chili for lunch.

I hugged him and reassured him.

I promised him I'd make him a great lunch, complete with peanut butter cookies.

And that I'd do my best not to cry.

On his last first day.