Monday, September 29, 2014

Jersey Shore Race

 A visit to an authentic Italian restaurant is a must on a trip to Jersey.  Carb loading at its finest!

Grateful to snag one last "summerish"weekend!  I can't even remember the last time I visited a beach without lugging around an armful of sand buckets and little ones.

The Jersey boardwalk was everything I envisioned.  The kids would have loved the carnival-like environment.  

 Showing off our age group awards.  As a first, we also won a pair of socks for earning 2nd and 3rd place finishes.  

The caliber of photos I snap while running!

Still standing after 13.1!

During my childhood, my dad made it a priority to take his children to all 50 states.  Somehow, I only visited 49, never setting foot in Delaware.  On Sunday, we crossed into Delaware and stopped at a Starbucks.  I have officially arrived in the 50 state club!

The Jersey shore conjures up many images.  Certain reality shows portray the Garden State's coastline as a place where debauchery and intoxication reigns.  Those stereotypes lingered in my mind, and so I arrived on the Jersey shore with a sense of apprehension and concern.  I worried my dear friend Claudia and I didn't own enough gold chains and tacky swimsuits to fit in with the Jersey crowd.  I wondered whether spray tans were required before crossing the state line?

We arrived at Ocean City, New Jersey for a half marathon.  Once again, I accompanied my friend Claudia on her quest to run a race in every state.  New Jersey wasn't on my short list of destination races.  Wasn't there a race in sunny California or scenic Arizona?  Claudia insisted New Jersey would be fun.  I smiled politely, secretly holding onto my doubts.

But Ocean City, New Jersey is nothing like the images shown on TV.  It's more Disney, and less MTV.

Ocean City is your quintessential East coast beach town.  The streets are lined with perfectly restored, historic beach homes facing the ocean.  Little surf shops and coffee bars dot the roads.  Two Ferris wheels dominate the seascape and usher visitors onto a boardwalk lined with food stands and carnival rides.  But the sandy beaches and ocean views are the stars of the show.

Claudia and I (and her friend Rebecca) made it our weekend job to gaze at the ocean.  This was accomplished with hours spent lingering on the beach and then evenings atop a rooftop with chairs facing towards the waves.  For two landlocked Midwesterners, we never tired of our new occupation.  On Sunday, when we participated in the Ocean City Half Marathon, the ocean formed the perfect backdrop and constant throughout the race.

I felt I owed New Jersey an apology.  She was the perfect weekend host and I vowed to see her again.

**  Thanks again to my inlaws for taking on a task not many would undertake! I so appreciate them helping with the kids and cleaning my car!!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Kenya: Experiencing a Different World

On Sunday I was sitting on the sidelines of a soccer field cheering on Connor.  My other boys descended on an empty field and engaged in hijinks with other soccer siblings.

At one point, Cooper rushed to my side.

"Can I have a quarter," he pleaded, "for the snack bar."

 I fiddled with my wallet.

He hesitated and then ask, "Wait, how much can I have?"

The Grandpa next to me, privy to this exchange, fell into hysterics. 

I giggled too.

But it keenly reminded me of how my children lack for nothing (although in their minds, they are lacking the latest in ___ technology).  

Are my kids hungry?

Here's a quarter (or more) run over to the concession stand.  

Our world is such a stark contrast to the world Chris experienced for the last two weeks.  He journeyed to Kenya with our church's mission team and working alongside his American and Kenyan brothers and sisters in the slums of Nairobi.

I have never been on a mission trip.  I have never ventured into a developing country.  But I've heard Chris's stories.  I've looked at his photos. 

He talks about a part of the world that is lacking and even listening to his descriptions makes me reevaluate our world.  

My kids have had a similar reaction.  They gaze at the pictures of a mass of children crammed into a dirt-floored classroom and (dare I say) appreciate their school.

I've heard reactions, appreciations, and changes can happen immediately after a trip like Chris's and it's hard to be thrust back into this world.  I'm hoping our family isn't fickle and that over time those images and changes don't wane.

We may need reminders.  

Monday, September 15, 2014

At 40, there's still things to learn

After Sunday church, we ate lunch at a nearby restaurant.  Caleb ordered a steak (Papa's paying, right?).  When his meal arrived, I watched him laboriously chisel the meat and succumb to frustration.  He asked for advice and I (the vegetarian:)) coached him on cutting a steak.  As I doled out tips, I wondered how my eleven year old reached his age of maturity without learning proper cutting technique.  How did this training fall through the cracks?  Wasn't it one of those skills, like tying a shoe, that children must acquire before earning a voter registration card or a driver's license?

It's funny what skills one may not amass as a child and into adulthood.

I, for one, never learned to mow the yard.  I blame my brother, the one who snagged this paid gig first.  That left me with perfecting the art of folding laundry and scrubbing pans (skills that unfortunately I continue to build on today).

For years, my husband tackled the yard.  It was his baby.  He worried a newbie mower like me could give our yard the lawn equivalent of an unrecoverable mullet. He wasn't ready to risk it.

But then we had four boys.  And he had a busy job.  And we were too cheap to pay the neighbor boy more than minimum wage.  And our yard became less important.  And suddenly I became the most attractive (free) landscaper around.

The problem was training.  My husband can handle cardiac arrests in the ER without breaking a sweat, but the thought of training his wife to mow the lawn put him into a panic.  He didn't know if he had the iron nerves to watch his wife wield a mower over his innocent blades of grass.

Fortunately, my Dad agreed to provide instructions.  He, after all, taught three teenagers to drive and was still standing!

Dad pulled the mower out of the garage and we (Caleb and I) huddled around the machine like doctors inspecting a sick patient.  He pointed to the parts and with the patience of a kindergarten teacher identified the gas nozzle doodad and the oil stick thingie.

He then taught us the one and only difficult part of mowing a lawn: turning it on.  After a few attempts, the mower roared to life with me at the helm.  I couldn't suppress a smile; at the tender age of 40, I was finally mowing the lawn!  I watched with satisfaction as I created a path in the grass and because of my efforts the yard became a little less unruly.

I discovered that mowing the lawn is not hard, just time consuming and monotonous.  It felt a bit like vacuuming the yard for an hour, but I grew to enjoy the hum of the mower teamed with the feel of fresh air. I thought, Perhaps I will like this new gig.  Why didn't I do this earlier?

I determined that it's never too late to learn a skill.  I'm motivated to continue to learn new things.  Next stop: the grill.  Dad, I'll be calling.


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Parent's Job: Make Their Children Miserable

Chris and the Kenyan mission team gather at the church.

Loving on my hubby before he embarks on his mission trip.

The Fall Festival parade ranks right up there with Christmas for my boys. 

Of course, it feels a bit like Halloween when the boys score bags full of candy from the floats.

The drizzle didn't rain on our parade.

The boys enjoy the parade with our friends/candy competitors the Gongwers and the Brinkruffs.

Caleb is busted shoveling down a Pixy Stick!

Mornings can be rough.  In the span of less than an hour, I encourage*nudge* little boys to wake, feed, dress, and groom.  Some need little reminders.  They zip through the routine as if timed.  Others look as if they need a shot of an espresso and a prod.  Those boys are the ones who can transform me from Mary Poppins to Medusa before the sun even arrives.

This morning, one son took on the appearance of a college kid after a late night in a pub.  He traipsed through the morning as if school started at noon.  I could feel my blood pressure rise as I watched said son slowly inch through his morning checklist.  After much encouragement, he was ready without one single second to spare.  

I packed the boys in the car with steam whisking from my ears.  Caleb cranked up the radio and somehow the subject came up about broccoli.  He talked about a neighbor who brought over a head of broccoli for our family.

"Next time tell her we don't need broccoli," he asserted.  "Remind her we don't like it."

I entered into a diatribe about social etiquette (you just don't say that) and nutrition (broccoli is your friend).  He appeared unconvinced with my reason and logic.  And so I took another approach.  

"Let me fill you in on a secret," I whispered.

The boys from the back of the car leaned in closer.

"When you were born, the parent police arrived at the hospital and made us take an oath.  While holding our newborn baby, we had to raise our right hands and promise to make our children miserable," I declared.

Caleb thought for a minute and then laughed.

Pretty soon all the boys were giggling as I recalled all my "successes" as a parent making them truly miserable.

Remember that plate of broccoli?

Pure misery.

How about the times I make you read?

Bonus mom points.

What about when you make your bed or clean your rooms?

The parent police compliment my work.

The boys were in hysterics by the time we arrived at school and I was chuckling too.

As they exited the car, I smiled as I yelled, "Hope today is miserable!"

The boys giggled (although the carpool teacher looked concerned). 

And just like that, our mornings were not the least bit miserable.  

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Books for Kenya

Chris took his annual pilgrimage to a Notre Dame football game.


Chris's happy place: Notre Dame Stadium!

Scouting out campus.  Deciding if he's a good candidate for the 2024 Freshman class.  

Grandma and Grandpa spoiled us rotten.  The boys became accustomed to French toast and donut breakfasts and lots of love.  

Collecting money for Kenya.

Sometimes, when the boys are particularly ornery, I worry that one day they will be clad in orange jumpsuits perfecting the fine art of license plate making.

Sometimes, when multiple boys work together to create diabolical plans, I wonder if their spiritedness can be used for good.  

Sometimes, when four boys bicker more than breathe, I doubt whether they could ever remain in a room together unscathed, let alone function cohesively.  

And then came yesterday: a precious moment where all four boys harmoniously used their spiritedness for good.

We were sitting around the dinner table. I don't recall who proposed the idea, but the suggestion arose to raise money for Chris's upcoming medical mission trip to Kenya.  The notion spread through the table like wildfire.  Forks were dropped in mid-air.  Recommendations were tossed around.  Children flew from the table, racing through the house and plucking up necessary items.

They landed on a mobile book and cookie sale with proceeds for Kenya.  Caleb crafted a poster board sign and added his own special touches, tidbits on Kenya's gross domestic product and literacy rates (extra ammunition to encourage reluctant givers!).

A handful of well-loved books, Pokemon cards, and a tupperware of cookies  were placed in our green John Deere wagon.  Then I watched three sons exit the driveway and meander around the neighborhood with the wagon and their signs.

I wanted to be a fly on the wagon, but I wasn't invited.  I heard things, though.  They stopped neighbors walking dogs and pushing toddlers in strollers.  They rang doorbells.  They peddled their wares and articulated their cause.  (One neighbor joked about price gouging; I'd call it passionately encouraging donations!)  They told everyone about their doctor Daddy going to Kenya to help the sick people.

As darkness set in, I coaxed them back home.  They were exhausted, but giddy.  They dumped a pile of bills and coins on the kitchen table and we counted the proceeds.  A collective cheer rang out when I announced the $40 total.

It was one of those moments I felt a twinge of pride and reassurance.  Perhaps orange jumpsuits are not in their futures.  Perhaps these boys of ours are on the path to change the world for the better.