Saturday, November 30, 2013

A Crooked Christmas Tree

During the last several months, our tree sat dormant in our basement, nestled within the confines of a storage box.  Sometime during that hibernation, the tree sustained an injury (or perhaps a kink).  Whatever the case, the tree that once stood tall now sags to the right.  Our tree top angel is clinging to a branch for dear life.  It is like the Christmas tree version of the Leaning Tower of Pizzazz and makes the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree look like a fine piece of craftsmanship.

I gazed at our lopsided tree and weighed our options.  We could:

A)  purchase a new tree,

B)  nurse our tree back to its former self,

C)  creatively arrange ornaments,

D)  put everything else in the room at the same angle to ensure uniformity, or...

While I mulled over our choices, the boys raced to the ornament bin and before I could say, "Merry Christmas" began strewing the contents among the branches.  (Well, clumped is a better word!)  Clearly, they cared little about whether their tree was Pinterest-worthy.

Looking at the tree's hunched, imperfect form reminded me of a promise I made last Christmas season.  After I spent last Advent season focusing more on Christmas cookies than little boys' hearts, I vowed to make a change.  I swore I would spend the next holiday season concentrating on the important stuff, the true reason for the season.  I promised to stop obsessing over the details of the holidays.  I would steer clear of a pull to create the perfect Norman Rockwell Christmas at the expense of a meaningful season.

And so I decided to go with Option E:  Our crooked Christmas tree will stay in its current form as a reminder of what the season will be for our family.  In the least, it will bring a smile to my face!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Drumstick Dash: Thankful for a Running Family

Thanksgiving morning was spent trotting along the Drumstick Dash route (minus Collin who spent the morning nice and warm with Grandma and Grandpa Wood).  

We quickly consumed back the calories burned at the race!  My sister-in-law and I modeled our boots and matching scarves!

The Joseph side of the family at Thanksgiving.

Time with Grandma and Grandpa Wood too.

What's a holiday without a brief ER visit!

After many years of marriage, I've learned that my husband is not me (and I am not him).  That means that just because I love something doesn't mean my husband holds similar affections.  And vice versa.  I certainly don't swoon over Notre Dame football and European soccer like my husband.  And he, well, let's talk about yesterday.

Yesterday morning we ran the Drumstick Dash.  The boys, Chris, and I joined 18,000 fellow runners to trot along the 2.5 mile route.  The temperatures were frigid with a windchill in the teens.  We selected positions in the middle of the pack hoping to suck warmth from the body heat of the crowd.

The people watching was a sport in itself.  Turkey/pilgrim/pie-themed attire dominated racing wear.  Dogs, kids, and costumed spectators lined the route and joined the procession.

Despite the Siberian-like conditions, I found the whole thing delightful.  I was running (jogging is a more accurate term) with my family on Thanksgiving.  We were running at such a pace that we really were able to savor the surroundings and interact with our fellow runners and each other.  A festive holiday mood floated among the participants and showed up in conversations and light comments.  

But for my husband...perhaps this wasn't his cup of tea.  Seeing it through he's eyes: he was standing in the bitter cold after working a late night shift in conditions that would make cattle claustrophobic.  He wasn't impressed.  If give the choice between a morning spent in a coffee house or pounding the pavement, he'd choice the latte.

We crossed the finish line apart.  My husband and two sons finished first.  Cooper and I fell second.  As we walked to the car, we swapped stories.  My husband talked about how one son encouraged the other through doubt and discomfort to finish strong.  We laughed about how crazy the whole deal was between the cold, the crowds, and our kiddos.  We touted the charitable aspect of the race to the kids, explaining how race proceeds went to a local homeless shelter.  

After a while, my husband recanted a bit.  Perhaps running the race wasn't his first choice but the experience turned out to be priceless to all.  It was a similar feeling I had after watching a football game at Notre Dame stadium; the experience was not my first choice, but ended up being a blast and a precious memory.

And so on Thanksgiving, I was grateful for:

-a husband willing to run in frosty conditions for his family,

-a family healthy enough to run,

-an extended family joining us for the holidays,

-a mother-in-law who is a whiz at turkey prep,

-a mother who makes a mean mash potato casserole, and

-a Savior who gives all good gifts.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Mommy Covert Mission: Purging a Child's Room

Thanks for these great pictures from the Greenlees.  Cooper was so excited to go to the Pacer Game with their family! 

My friend Maggie and I played hair on Saturday.  She taught me the fine art of using the curling iron.  Love the end result but pretty sure I'll never be able to replicate.  My husband was a bit sad that I didn't curl my hair the next day to go to the grocery store.  Back to reality: ponytails and yoga pants!

A decade plus into this mommy gig and I've learned a few things.  

I know that broccoli will never go quicker than candy.  

If children are too quiet, it's a problem.

Common sense is something that's learned.

I've also determined (the hard way) that children's rooms are never to be purged/organized in the presence of one's own children.  I know some moms feel differently.  They endorse teaching children those skills by working together on a room.  I think those mothers are:

1)  destined for sainthood; and/or

2)  a bit nuts.

I enter into a purge/organization project like one would prepare for a covert mission.  While my children are getting ready to leave for school, I play it casual, hiding empty trash bags and desperately trying to limit my excitement.  I toss out phrases like, "I guess I'll just lounge around the house today."  The minute the boys step out the door, I spring into action.  I dive under beds, move dressers, and climb into the recesses of their closet.

I discover all sorts of goodies: empty candy wrappers, headless action figures, missing library books, birthday party goody bag treasures.  And Legos.  Oh, the Legos.  I think Legos are like cockroaches; they seem to multiply and I have a strong suspicion they too could survive a nuclear attack.  

By the end, beads of sweat cascade down my forehead.  My hair is disheveled and a layer of dust and grime blankets my clothes.  A trash bag full of "stuff" sits by the door.  And the room looks....amazing.  I sit on the ground for minutes on end savoring cleanliness and order.  How rare!  What a treat!

When the boys return from school, I stage my appearance.  I plop down on the couch and clutch a book as if that's how I rolled for the last several hours.  I hold my breathe.  I wait for their reaction.  Will they scream, "What happen to my plastic kazoo from _____'s party?" or "Where is that whistle I earned from the library's prize box?"  Will there be a wailing and gnashing of teeth?

They bound up the stairs and rush into their room.  And then....


After minutes of quiet, I enter their room.  The boys happily fiddle with toys in their newly pristine digs.  Finally, I toss out, "Notice that your room looks cleaner?"

One son lets out a quick glance and then mumbled, "No."


Mission accomplished.



Friday, November 22, 2013

Life is a Stage

My proud mama buttons were bursting when Connor played the Huntsman in his elementary school's production of "Snow White."

Connor chats with his friends (and brother) after the play.  

Collin is all smiles when pal Garrett is behind the wheel.

A special cold weather play date at Chuck E. Cheese!  Collin was smitten by the whole experience.  

The school cafeteria was packed.  Grandparents, parents, and siblings filled the tables and snagged spare chairs.  Little ones secured spots on the carpet.  The lights dimmed and pint-sized actors rushed onto the stage.  The crowd hushed.

The tale of "Snow White" unfolded on the stage.  This version differed from the Disney classic I so fondly remember from my youth.  It infused humor and pop culture and eliminated scenes widely unpopular with the elementary set (i.e., smooching!).

I watched as Connor waltzed onto the stage.  He was cool as a cucumber, seemingly unfazed by the number of eyes pointed in his direction.  He belted out his lines with clarity, adding a requisite amount of levity and passion to his role.

I sat in awe of my son's performance.  Sure, he's acting  captured my attention, but what captivated me was his confidence.  At the age of eight, he held no inhibitions about speaking in front of a crowd.  He never once said, "What if I forget a line/trip/laugh/cry?"  He didn't fear failure or embarrassment.  He seemed at peace in his own skin and comfortable with his performance (in whatever form).

At age eight, I wasn't like Connor.  I never donned a costume and set foot on a stage.  I could say the acting bug never bit, but perhaps that's not all.  I lacked the confidence to stand exposed in front of a crowd without fearing the "what ifs"...the falls, the goofs, the mishaps.  Decades later, I'm not sure if anything's different.  I still hold fears that inhibit.

Gazing at Connor, I'm inspired to live my life without fear of the "what ifs."  I'll try to remember the "what ifs" can actually be rather pleasant.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Boy houses versus girl houses

Terrible storms ripped through the Midwest on Sunday.  Our little patch of Indiana just happened to remain unscathed, minus some pretty massive wind gusts.  This is a neighbor's tree (or what's left of a tree).

I have a friend with four daughters.  Recently I visited her home smack dab in the middle of after school craziness.  I fully expected to walk into a house filled with screams, squeals, and energy.  Instead, it was like stepping into a library.  It was peaceful and calm and...delightful.  I'm sure not every home brimming with girls is this serene, but I'm just betting the odds are greater that a tranquil house will be filled with more estrogen than testosterone.

Boy homes just aren't the same.

Take last night.

I implemented a new "figure it out yourself because you're a big boy" policy.  I'm trying to get my little boys to do things themselves without mommy intervention (aka nagging).  The instructions were simple: shower.pajamas.teeth.laundry put away.  To remove myself from the temptation to assist/nag, I headed downstairs to tend to the dinner dishes.

Within minutes, little feet thundered across the floor.  Squeals (some happy, others not so much) echoed from the beams.  Music blared.  It sounded like perhaps a rave/ fraternity party/animal stampede was up and running inches away from my head.

I clutched my dish towel and toyed with how to respond.  To intervene or not to intervene, I pondered.  I took a few deep breathes and decided to let them figure it out.  Until...

Cooper raced down the steps clad in only his birthday suit.  Green sprays covered so much of his body that he took on the form of a three-dimensional Jackson Pollack piece.  He was half-sobbing/half-laughing as he recounted the upstairs activities.

Sob. And then he.  Sob. Grabbed a can.  Sob. Of shaving cream.  Sob. And covered me.

As soon as the words tumbled out of his mouth, he raced back upstairs.

At that moment, I realized intervention was not only needed, but necessary.  I threw down my towel in defeat and climbed up the stairs petrified about what sort of scene I would happen upon.

When I entered the bathroom, I spotted Cooper clutching the shaving cream can inches away from his open mouth.  I screamed, "No Cooper, no!  It's not whipped cream!"  After I forcibly removed the shaving cream can from Cooper's tight grip, I noted the bathroom actually looked better than expected.  Most of the shaving cream landed on Cooper and not the carpet or the mirrors.

The boys were in hysterics, finding the whole ordeal to be perhaps the best thing that's happened to them since they created the human pinball machine.

Right then and there, I put the kibosh on my new "figure it out yourself" policy.  They're not ready and neither is my sanity (or my house).

I thought about my friend with daughters and wondered if she fully knew how the "other half" (boy moms) lived.  

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Raking Leaves: The Fun is in the Journey

A while ago, my husband eyed up our four strapping young sons and announced, "One day I won't have to do yard work!"

Clearly my husband envisioned his four minions (I mean sons) pushing around a mower and yanking up weeds while he lounged on the patio sipping a cold drink and diving into a thick novel.  A dad can dream, right?

If (or when) that time comes, it will be after years (and more years) of yard maintenance training.  

Consider us still in the training period.  

Perhaps even in the genesis of the training period.

Today we equipped each boy with a rake and pointed to the backyard.  Our yard was blanketed with a solid layer of leaves.  The boys let out a collective "ugh."  My sentiments mirrored the boys, but I smiled through grit teeth.

Any illusions we held that our sons would turn into pint-size yard men the minute they clutched a rake were dashed.  They were still squirmy boys that preferred to use the rakes for ninja moves rather than for leaf retraction.  They were more efficient at hurling leaves rather than forming piles.  They preferred jumping into a leaf mound rather than pulling leaves into a yard bag.

But despite the hiccups along the way, I noticed the progress they were making.  For minutes on end, they would actually fling bundles of leaves into empty yard bags and then repeat and repeat again.

I soaked in the atmosphere.  Perhaps we (all six of us) were not in the place we wanted to be, but we were together.  Over bags of leaves, we talked.  The boys shared more clutching a rake than when seated at the dinner table (or lounging in front of a screen!).  It was actually starting to become (gasp) fun!

After many hours, our yard looked like it received a fresh haircut; it was manicured and clean.

I realized that perhaps grooming our boys to be our future yard men fell second to the other benefits accrued throughout the process.  Family time.  Team work.  Cooperation.  Those were the lessons learned in our back yard.  (Learned, not yet mastered!) 

Thursday, November 14, 2013


Kids Interviews from Traders Point Christian Church on Vimeo.

Connor, my little redhead, was interviewed at church by Pastor Jake.  This video was shown during the church services a few weeks back.  Makes me laugh everytime!

As I walked through our living room, my eyes shifted to a mirror hanging on the wall.  The reflection was clouded by little handprints.  I sighed as I mentally added "clean mirror" to my ever increasing to-do list.

Those handprints conjured up a memory from last week's Smoky Mountains trip.  During one of our hikes, we stepped into an 1800s Baptist church sitting within the valley.  The church interior was sparse, consisting only of wooden benches and a lectern.  We plopped down on a bench and listened to our hiking guide provide commentary about the structure.

She pointed to the ceiling and remarked on the handprints covering the wooden beams.  Indeed, big and little handprints littered the ceiling. The handprints were those of the original church builders.  By using green lumber with wet sap, a permanent imprint of the builders' hands remained 120 plus years later!

Gazing at those handprints, I thought about handprints that can be seen years later; I'm not talking about physical marks, but emotional and spiritual imprints.  I pondered what handprints I'm leaving on my children.  What handprints do I want to remain?

The handprints I hope to leave are those of faith, patience, love, compassion, hard work, endurance, joy, and laughter.  I hope when others gaze at my sons, they see those handprints for years to come.  

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Because I Said So

Little siblings/Boy Scouts-to-be (Collin and friend Dean) at the Boy Scout hay ride and cookout. 

Grateful not one single son ended up in the ER after this!

The sign one son had a really good time!

Connor and Cooper loved having army vet Papa attend their school's Veteran's Day program.

We celebrated Papa at the school's Veteran's Day program (with Memaw, Papa, my boys, and cousin Joseph).

Collin eyed up his plate.  His gaze landed on the heap of roasted vegetables stacked in a corner.  Immediately his expression mirrored his emotions.  A "No Thank You" (or something stronger) scowl covered his face.

He pushed his plate away.

I pulled it back towards his torso.

He whined and unleashed his thoughts on the validity of vegetables in his daily diet.

I listened but remained resolute; those vegetables would find residence in his tummy.  The question was would they arrive easily or under duress?

Coming to terms with the fact that his momma would not back down, Collin fussed, "Why can't I just do what I want?"

His words made me smile.  An honest, heartfelt statement from the mouth of a babe.

I ruminated on how to respond.

Because the Bible says to honor your mother.

Because I know best.

Because it's good for you.

But really I wanted to dole out one of the hard, true lessons of life: Because that's life; we can't always do what we want to do.

I thought about Collin's words several times over the next several days and how perhaps this is a struggle we adults face too (or is it just me?).

Life post-field trip has been full.  Within that week away, I fell out of practice being a mommy to four young boys.  Returning to the carpools, homework, meal preparations, siblings squabbles, laundry, and on and on, has been an adjustment.  During those moments when I am trying my darnedest to catch up with life and my little ones are trying their best not to let me, I want to scream, "Why can't I do what I want!" (like tackle that big pile of laundry or send out a complete response to a single email).

The answer is....Because.

Because I have four young sons.

Because they require care/attention/training.

Because it's ok not to have an immaculate house, quick responses to every single email, laundry stacked in neat piles, four-star dinners.

Because that's life, my life, right now.

Because I'm grateful that's the way life is (even when it is maddening). 

Monday, November 11, 2013

On Top Of Old Smoky

Really, does it get any better than this?

I spent the last week chaperoning Caleb's weeklong (yes, as in five school days!) field trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  

I love this precious picture of Caleb and his buddy Nicky sharing a book.

As a history buff, my favorite part of the trip was touring historical structures within the park, like this 1800s Baptist church.  

My real favorite part of the week: spending focused time with my oldest son.

The second day, we climbed to the falls. 

Caleb was ecstatic over his snake spotting along the trail.  I failed to share in his merriment and quickly realized the error in my belief/hope that all scaly creatures within the park were hibernating!

Look at the picture above and then this one.  

Notice anything different?  

Yep, we're wearing a whole lot more clothing!  The temperature nosedived on the last day and added showers.  Lovely!  Caleb and I packed on a ton of layers and I borrowed this jacket from a teacher.  

Despite the conditions, Caleb was happy.  He successful caught a salamander.  Score!


Trying to capture the depth of my emotions standing in the cold, wet woods with a pack of middle schoolers.  Pondering why I agreed to chaperone this field trip and not next year's excursion to Florida.  

The rain stopped around lunch, but the cold lingered.  We stuck together, partially just to keep warm. 

What's a field trip without an injury?  Caleb left a little something in the Smokies: a part of his tooth!

I found myself in the middle of the Smoky Mountains wading through a maze of thickets, brush, and wet leaves.  Rain pellets pounded.  The wind howled.  The cold lingered.  (And did I mention there are no public restrooms out in the woods?  When asked about the nearest commode, our guide motioned towards a tree.  Right then and there, I decided I'd rather flirt with a bladder infection than become chummy with bark. Anyway...)

I wasn't alone in the forest.  My hiking companions for the day included a pack of fifth graders—my son included—two other parent chaperones, and a guide.  As a surprise to no one, we seemed to be the only travelers that day in the woods.

Our guide studied our pathetic troop and chirped, "You can call yourselves true Smoky Mountain hiker when you hike through conditions like this."

Translation:  We earned our hiking stripes.

My Thoughts:  I'll trade the stripes for a warm shower, dry shoes, and a mug of hot cocoa.

As I sloshed through the mud, I pondered how on earth I landed there.  

I ended up in the woods because of my son.  He needed me with him.  He being the one that struggles with transitions, new experiences, and social situations.  I was his much needed shadow, companion, and personal tour guide.  

The first day had challenges.  I seriously considered locating the nearest Hertz (do they have those in the woods?) and hightailing it back to the Hoosier state, but then the second day was better.  He fell into a routine of sorts and came to peace with his new normal for the week.

Per a school assignment, each day he journaled about his experiences.  He included what he learned in the Smokies.  He scribbled furiously in his notebook and then read his response out loud.  I listened to his detailed description of wildlife and geology with a mixture of awe and amusement.

I pulled out my own notebook and joined in the exercise,  contemplating what I learned in the Smokies.  Of course, I learned about nature, like that stickers are placed on monarch butterflies' wings to trace their migratory path to Mexico or that black bears don't tend to harm humans (or so they say).  But I learned other things from the experience too, like:

1)  A dining hall can actually be a pleasant experience and one momma can get quickly become accustomed to having someone else cook and clean.

2)  Fifth graders can be a very delightful group.

3)  Flip flops are essential attire for camp showers.

4)  A person can live days on end without cell phone and internet.

5)  Hiking four miles is much harder than running four miles.

6)  S'mores taste good at any age.  

7)  Sometimes being away makes you appreciate home.

Good to be back.    

Thanks to Memaw, Papa, and Chris for piecing together child care so I could go on the trip!!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Recap of a Whirlwind Week

 Blogging has fallen second to life this week.  It's been a whirlwind, filled with the good stuff.  The week started out with Mr. Cooper turning 7!

Trick or Treating was postponed until November 1st due to some pretty nasty Halloween storms.  
 The next day was the Monumental Marathon.  We snapped some shots before the race...still smiling.  Pictured with friends: Kara, Miranda and Emily.

More marathon friends: Jim, Claudia, Emily, and Peter.

 My somber cheerleader.

Love these signs my mom made!!

It made me smile when I passed my crew around the half marathon point.  (I did qualify for Boston again in 2015, but this time without as much margin.  Bummer!)

Went from the marathon to Bloomington to enjoy Indiana University homecoming weekend with my brother and sister-in-law.  We had a great time with two of our favorites!

Hope to blog more soon!!