an Ode to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

An Ode to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
by Tabitha Studer

This book
which I read years ago,
declaring confidently,
'this is my favorite book of all books'

This book
which is framed to an open passage in my dining room
the pages, spread wide like the span of a proud gobbler's fan

This book
which I picked up timidly again to re-read
cautiously bracing myself for disappointment
I've read so many books since declaring
this book
as my favorite.
Maybe I would discover the words don't grip me quite as deeply
Maybe I would find that my own progression in age, experiences and beliefs
will cast a shade on the spotlight I've so loyally directed at
this book.

This book
of which I made it only to the second page
before I was blanketed with the warm comfort of a friend
maybe more than a friend
a grandmother perhaps,
who always has tea and toast ready
and a listening ear
and a hand reached across the kitchen table for you to hold
at just the moment that you realize you had been feeling incredibly lonely
a hand that is worn down by years of life and wisdom
and a hand that says, 'no sweetheart, you are not alone at all.'

This book,
which I repeatedly and uncontrollably
have several times
clutched to my chest like a life vest
as I float through the sea of my days
I cling it near my heart
and frantically whisper
'thank you, thank you, thank you'
nearly weeping
with clear understanding that somehow
this book
contains all of the secret hieroglyphics etched into the walls of my inner heart
and I am so grateful that someone else knew how to discover them
and decipher them
and bring a more clear picture of how the world feels
even if only to me.

This book,
who's author, Betty Smith,
despite our separation of the vastness of space and time
between our lives
this book
that fills my entire soul with a recognition that
someone else on this earth knows
what the voice of my heart sounds like
somehow we are connected, Ms. Smith.

This book
that reaches out to me from the past
that sings to me the song of my heart
that reminds me that one person's story,
one person's written word
can make ripples all the way into a future unknown
to a mother who will put her children to sleep with the sound of her voice reading
this book
and those children will grow up and someday ask, what was important to my mother?
and they'll remember it was
this book,
her favorite,
and so they'll pick it up and learn more about what made their mother their mother
and in that way, Ms. Smith
you will live forever.

This book, these words,
you, Ms. Smith,
have made a difference through the ages,
even if only just to me,
even if only to this one girl out here in the future,
in this time that is so different from when you lived and loved
but somehow not different at all
what you said and what you wrote
do you hear me out there in this prayer of gratitude?
what you created from nothing

This book
that somehow in some fantastic way
quietly and persistently whispers,
'You, Tabitha, are a writer too.
Don't give up, friend.'

Betty Smith,
your book
my favorite,
this book:  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
I love thee.
so much,
do I love thee.

Talking about safety with toddlers: Strangers

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Our underlying family foundation over here at Team Studer is kindness.  We choose kindness, we seek out kindness, we believe in kindness in others.  As only preschoolers and toddlers, our kids already have experience in helping 'strangers' through our 12 months of kindness project.  We talk about people using the words, 'our neighbors,' 'the people working hard,' 'our friends.'  We rarely use the actual word 'Stranger,' because we don't want our kids to think everyone is a bad guy - lots of people are kind strangers! 

With all that being said, bottom-line though, we are parents and our top priority is keeping our kids SAFE.  And we can't do that alone, we believe the kids themselves hold a heap of responsibility in their own safety, so it's important for us to frequently talk about safety with people that they don't know (also known as strangers).

The top three things we discuss with the kids about strangers are:
1. Strangers are anyone that you don't know and they look like any regular person.  They could look spooky like the strangers on tv - or they could look beautiful and handsome.  A stranger is anyone that you don't know, even if they seem to know YOU (thanks for that modern technology!)

2. You never go anywhere with ANYONE without asking your parents first.  ever. ever. ever. nowhere with anyone, as in NO ONE - no strangers, no family, no friends.  NO ONE, NOWHERE without asking first.

3. If you get lost or are in trouble, there are safe Strangers that can help you.  These safe strangers include: policemen, firemen, teachers, and Moms that have their kids with them.

These topics are things we talk about frequently and at random to reinforce in their little sponge brains.  We don't want them to be afraid of people they don't know, but we do want them to be aware of themselves and who might be around them.

Many times we find that the strangers we encounter are kind!  They hold doors for us, or help the kids when they fall on the playground, or say 'what a nice family!' And plenty of times, MY friends that the kids have never met or people that know our family through facebook or the blog, will approach us and use the kids' names to talk to them and seem to know plenty about them from pictures and stories - but we still remind the kids that if they don't know the person, that is a stranger to them.  And they never, ever, ever go with anyone without asking their parents first.

I felt pretty confident that after much discussion that they understood.  We should be good.  They get it.  And then I watched this video: 

Immediately I said (I think I actually gasped it aloud), 'Gemma would go', no doubt in my mind....maybe even Greyson would go too. That was a scary moment for me to admit that they would go- probably for a few reasons they go - because the Mum was nearby (it felt like a space space), it was with someone who doesn't 'look like a bad guy,' and also - hello:  puppy.

But the video me a new starting point to open up the discussion about it and give the kids an opportunity to practice the scenario together.  I had Greyson (5yrs) watch the video so that he could see what happened while I added commentary throughout (things like, "see this man, he is not really a bad guy but he is a stranger to the kids" and "you see how the kids didn't even check with their momma!")  --I didn't have Gem (3yrs) watch it because the playground and talk of puppies would be total distraction to the actual point of the video.-- 

Afterwards, we talked about what to do when we are in a public place (using specific words:  park, playground, store, lots of people around).  And we decided to role play it to practice ourselves (Mum saying she'd be the stranger) and despite just literally talking about saying no to going anywhere with a stranger- BOTH kids ended up 'walking away' with Stranger Mum. 

So, we went at it again - only this time we gave the kids exact words and reactions we want them to use.  And we practiced again and again.  Over and over again.  We wanted to include things that would trip the kids up - things like saying 'I already asked your Mum and she said it's okay" and mentioning things they'd like to see (puppies, candy, etc)

(this is what we practiced multiple times with both Greyson and Gemma)

Mum announces, "Okay, I'm going to be the stranger now.  So I look nice and friendly but you still don't know me, okay." 
Grey/Gem pretend to be playing
Mum walks up to kid(s)
Mum:  "Hi! How are you, buddy?" 
Grey/Gem:  "Um, good."
Mum:  "I have some of my little puppies with me, they're so cute! You wanna come see them?"
Grey/Gem:  "I have to ask my Mom first"
Mum:  "I already asked her, it's okay, come on" ::hold kid's hand
Grey/Gem:  "No.  I have to ask her myself."
Mum:  "No really, it's alright, it will just be a minute - come on" ::starts walking while holding kid's hand
Grey/Gem:  (yelling to get the attention of anyone nearby) "NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"

The kids got a chance to be the 'stranger' too while Brandon and I played the part of the kids so we could portray how forceful we want/hope the kids will respond with "I have to ask" my parents.  And we try to practice this on random every few weeks/months to keep it refreshed in their minds.

We talk about how if someone ever tries to take you somewhere and you say "I have to ask my Mom first" and then the person says, "Nevermind" and walks away - you STILL come tell us because we can protect other kids too!  A stranger is someone you don't know, and if they are a kind stranger, they'll want to talk to and meet your parents.  You don't make friends with a stranger that doesn't want to talk to your parents.

(sidenote:  just practiced again yesterday with Gemma and she went with Stranger Mum first try out of the gate no questions asked while Grey was like, "Gem!  Don't go!!"  This is why its' important to keep practicing and talking about it frequently.)

So we continue to role play, talk about, and remind in situations when they come up in real life (like when Grey went to a different part of the playground with his older cousins without telling me recently and I had no idea where he had gone).  

I'm definitely not claiming to know everything about stranger safety, but I wanted to highlight the ways that we are being intentional at giving our kids experience and confidence in responding to potentially dangerous scenarios - without making the whole world  and all people feel scary.  We don't want them to be afraid, we want them to be aware and have tools to help them be confident and safe.

Coming up soon in my Safety series:
Red Flag feelings
Sibling accountability
Self Awareness

I'd love to hear about how you and your kids talk about strangers?  What tips and info can you share to keep ALL of our kids safe?

Kid chatter

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

These two.

They are pretty funny (among other adjectives I could think of - HAH).  Here's a little sampling of the best quotes from them over the past few months that I've been compiling to share. Hope they bring a smile to your face too :)


Gemma slammed her head off the door frame while attempting a gymnastic move and so I was snuggling her
Gemma:  when will my booboo get better? 
Me:  my grandma always said it would get better before you get married 
Gemma:  did you have any booboos when you got married?
Me:  nope, they all got better!
Gemma:  well I know what could make me better right now, true loves kiss

On the second to last Friday in Lent
Greyson:  boy!  Fish sure makes ya fart! 

Singing old macdonald to Violet and the kids were supplying the animals on the farm so I could do their sound in the song. 
Me:  old macdonald had a farm e I e I o
And on his farm he had a...
Gemma:  unicorn! 
Me:  gem. What does a unicorn say?
Gemma:  magical sounds? 

Greyson (whispering to his sister):  I won't tattle tell on you ,okay Gem. 
Greyson (aloud): I spilled the paint downstairs
Dad: did you? 
Greyson:  well I'm not telling on my sister

Me: you write on paper. Not on couches, not on walls, not on your own body, not on the floor. ON PAPER!
Gemma:  Lord in Heaven, help me. 

Me:  Grey! What's that banging sound?
Grey: what sound?
Me: the one that sounds like you're dragging something down the steps
Grey: um, I think it's your imagination.

While sitting at the breakfast table waiting for Brandon to come down dressed for work.
Gemma:  my handsome boy is going to come down soon!

Outside playing:
Gemma (mumbles something)
Greyson:  did she just say 'hell no?'
Me: I hope not, that's a curse
Gemma:  no I said, 'Aww shi...." (Trailing off while looking at me sideways)...I mean oh God!
Me: Gem, still both curses.

While sitting on her grandfather Chum's lap, Gemma spilled half a bottle of water on the both of them
Chum:  Gem!  It's all over my shorts!
Gemma:  Well it's all over MY FEELINGS!!

After Grey refused to apologize nicely to his sister for kicking her in the face on the trampoline
Me:  That's a shame because you know Karma works fast, my friend.  Something bad will happen to you now since you chose to be unkind to your sister.
(about ten minutes later at lunch)
Grey:  what's on my hair? I can see something
Me:  Um, looks like a little spider
-spider jumps down on a web onto Greyson's nose -
Grey:  Mom!
Me: (sweeping it off) Got it.
Grey:  Omigosh, was that the karma?!

Love, Greyson and Gemma

Not Yet!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

At a graduation party recently, a woman came up to introduce herself and said she reads my blog occasionally when it shows up in her newsfeed.  Just like any other time this has ever happened before, I am overwhelmed with gratitude that anyone is reading this thing (besides Mum and Gigi of course - hello Mum and Gigi!) Blogging can sometimes feel very lonely, me just sending these words out into the void with no response, so to hear someone I don't know say they've read and appreciated something I send out is incredibly humbling and heartwarming.

We chatted for a little while about our kids and lives and then she said that she just wanted to say Hi and let me know she's read the blog before.  "Hah, it reminds me of all the things I'm doing wrong as a Mom!"  It felt like a bolt of static electricity and I quickly tried to recover, "Omigosh, No! You're awesome, we're all just trying to do our best!" but the conversation was sort of already over and I felt like I was making it totally weird when she was just trying to give me a compliment.

This is not the first time someone has said something to this effect to me.  Although I think they're meant as compliments, it's hard to take them as such when it comes at the expense of the mother's own self reflection.  My primary goal for the blog is to write about our life so that I can look back and remember that it was just like this in this very moment and how I felt about it right then.  My secondary goal, if possible, is to inspire other families towards kindness and empathy.

Let me make this very clear:  I am by no means a perfect Mom.  I am in no way doing everything right.  Like at all.  Just like everyone else on the planet, things that get shared here and on social media is the highlight reel, people.  These are the bits and pieces that I'm proud of or that make me laugh.  Photo albums are made up of the happy pictures, not the hard times.  But it's the hard times that get you to each next happy photo.  (That is a line from the movie Just Married, friends - but true none the less).

So for truth's sake and making sure it's clear that I'm just as frustrated, annoyed, and overwhelmed as any mom out there - let's do a reality check with Team Studer -

Our dining room table is covered with items that are being collected all over the house because I am on a minimalist kick and want to get.rid.of.all.the.things!  I'm just making my way through every corner and room and tossing things in the trash or in that ever-growing pile.  This has been going on for three weeks now.  The pile does not make me feel better (where are you dining room table?) and the battle for regaining space and organization seems to have almost no dent.  If you can't tell, this is a pain point for me in my life right now.

We have three kids, five and under, who have a preference for jumping, running, tackling, and climbing over playing with toys.  For the toys they do play with, they would much rather dump out the entire container and then use said toys for inventing, weapons, or leaving them about the house in very odd places for later discovering.  I keep trying to find new solutions (and get.rid.of.all.the.things) for the toys, games, and massive collection (how?) and nothing has stuck or worked yet.  We are well into year five of trying to figure this one out, folks.

True story:  after Gemma got in trouble for not listening for the fifteenth time before 9am, she asked me, "Mom, when I grow up and be a Mumma, can I scream at my kids too?"  nice.  My totally unperfect response:  "Yes, if they don't listen like my kids." (Me as a grandma hates me right now).

We have two big dogs that shed a lot, track in muddy pawprints, and think all spaces are their spaces - including beds and couches.  We also have a cat that sheds a lot and leaves claw marks in the back of our furniture.  Bullet doesn't get near enough exercise, Trixie eats too many dropped snacks (vet suggests she needs to lose about fifteen pounds), Lola and Bullet need to be separated at all times, and every single one of them could use some more time and love from their furparents.

Every expert and experienced parent will tell you that one of the most important things to do as a family is to eat together.  We are really good at eating all together at the dinner table with no technology because we believe it is important to our foundation as a family.  

Ya know what no one ever tells you about mealtimes with young kids though?  How exhausting and frustrating it is:  the noise, the endless talking, the chewing with food flying everywhere out of their mouths, the spills, the whining about food they don't like, the constant up & down of getting refilled drinks, napkins, new silverware to replace the one they dropped on the floor.  And the clean-up, sweet baby Jesus in Heaven, the clean up.  You never knew food could be stuck in neck creases, underneath the chair, and in the curtains like this until you've eaten meals with young children.  (maybe not all young children?  Just my children?  okay, my children, then).

I am good at some things as a Mum, just like YOU are good at some things as a mum to your kids.  It might be easy to look at my blog, other mom bloggers, and pins and tell yourself, 'That is such a great mom, why can't I do that like she can?' 

But here's the flipside to that: We can't do a lot of things too! We are battling those same voices everyday with why we can't do something (many things!) as good as we want to. 

Why don't I ever talk about organization and cleaning on this blog?  Because these are NOT things I am good at!  Why don't I have a blog that focuses on healthy and clean eating?  Or exercise? Or diy home improvement projects?  Or calm parenting? Or homeschooling? Again...all things I am not good at it.  

But I do seek out other moms who CAN do those things in the blogs that I follow and on pinterest - not as a reminder of my own weaknesses, but as I way that I can try to grow and learn and be inspired. 

We have a saying in our house when our kids try something new and fail.  When anyone becomes frustrated and whines, "I CAN'T!"  Our reply is, "We don't say can't, we say 'Not Yet!"

Do I feel satisfied with our routine in the day, in the week...Not Yet!
Am I happy with the way our home is organized and clean?  Not Yet! 
Do I make exercise a priority in my life as a way to support my body and mind?  Not Yet!
Do I end each day feeling proud of all my choices as a Mum?  Not Yet!  

It gives me an ache to think that anyone would come here to read and walk away feeling like they are less or overwhelmed.  To you Moms feeling like this, I say ME TOO!  I am no supermom - I am no perfect mom.  I am just 'Mumma' to these kids of ours and I'm spending big parts of my day frustrated, exhausted, and ignoring that little voice in my head that keeps whispering, "You are not good at this," as I walk by loads of laundry, send smart-mouthed kids to time out, and glance at my never finished to do list.  

My hope is that you can come to my tiny corner of the web and sit for awhile, recognize a little bit of your own life, maybe be inspired to say 'Not Yet!'  I want this to be a refueling station where you can fill up on laughs, inspiration, or simply a recognition that you are not alone - even though some days it sure does feel like it, doesn't it? 

xxoxo forever, 

kid survey about their Mumma

Monday, June 15, 2015

There is a kid survey going around the internet that is incredibly sweet (thanks Shelly for sharing it!) The idea is that, without any prompting, you ask your kids each question and write down their responses. 

The thing that maybe is the most endearing part about the stuff that kids say is because there is usually the smallest hint of wisdom to their words - at least if only because it comes from a perspective that adults can't see anymore; we've lost along the path of growing up.

So, here is a bit of sometimes funny, sometimes insightful bits and pieces of what kind of mumma my kids have:

Greyson, age 5
1. What is something mom always says to you?  you are special

2. What makes mom happy? being good

3. What makes mom sad?  being bad

4. How does your mom make you laugh?  she tickles me

5. What was your mom like as a child?  she liked to play kickball

6. How old is your mom?  21

7. How tall is your mom?  shorter than Daddy

8. What is her favorite thing to do?   do exercise

9. What does your mom do when you're not around?  she goes to races

10. If your mom becomes famous, what will it be for?  talking about the weather

11. What is your mom really good at?  writing and doing letters

12. What is your mom not very good at?  making Violet happy when she's putting her clothes on

13. What does your mom do for a job?  I don't know....what?

14.What is your mom's favorite food?  shrimp

15.What makes you proud of your mom?  when she went in the race

16. If your mom were a character, who would she be?  her name would be 'Johnson Fairakin'

17. What do you and your mom do together?  we go on special dates and eat

18. How are you and your mom the same?  we have the same brain

19. How are you and your mom different?  different hair.  and you're bigger than me

20. How do you know your mom loves you?  she always be's nice to me

21. What does your mom like most about your dad?  she just loves him

22. Where is your mom's favorite place to go?  her sister's house

23. How old was your Mom when you were born?  21

Gemma, age 3
1. What is something mom always says to you?  Don't Yell!

2. What makes mom happy?  make her toast

3. What makes mom sad?  the butterflies flying away

4. How does your mom make you laugh?  make funny things

5. What was your mom like as a child?  she yelled

6. How old is your mom?  3, like me

7. How tall is your mom?  this big (with her arms outstretched)

8. What is her favorite thing to do?  make pizza

9. What does your mom do when you're not around?  Daddy's here then

10. If your mom becomes famous, what will it be for?  being on Mickey

11. What is your mom really good at?  doing computer things

12. What is your mom not very good at?  doing bad things

13. What does your mom do for a job?  carrying Violet

14.What is your mom's favorite food?  chicken

15.What makes you proud of your mom?  sleeping

16. If your mom were a character, who would she be?  Action!

17. What do you and your mom do together?  sleeping and going to the store

18. How are you and your mom the same?  this is taking too long

19. How are you and your mom different?  Mum!

20. How do you know your mom loves you?  her give me snuggas

21. What does your mom like most about your dad?  marrying him, giving him kissas and huggas

22. Where is your mom's favorite place to go?  to the store

23. How old was your Mom when you were born?  16


Friday, June 12, 2015

Saying farewell to our butterflies this week.  We enjoyed our newly emerged butterflies for a day or two by giving them plenty of fruit and kid-picked flowers.  But after I caught Lola sneaking up on our habitat to pounce (! I moved it before she got to it thankfully) and having one butterfly die on us (!! I think it was my little runt caterpillar that has had me stressing all along!), it was time to let them fly off and make their own families and life.  Right after they all flew away, both Grey and Gem said that it was very sad that they couldn't stay with us forever (to which I secretly weeped inside my heart 'try being a mother?!') but then they quickly followed up with 'Can we get more?'

Cooling off this week in all sorts of ways.  We pulled out the slip 'n slide much to the kids' delight and then spent an afternoon at the Ebensburg Public Pool with Aunt Uch too.  We had never been ,but will definitely be visiting again this summer!  I've seemed to 'win' the AC argument this week which means we're 'sweating' it out (hahah).  So we've also been enjoying meals outside and by candlelight at the dinner table (to keep the lightbulb heat down).

Reading Make It Happen by Lara Casey with our Inspired Readers book club.  If I'm being fully honest, the book on the whole is a heap more religious than I am personally, but I am keeping my focus on all the pieces of inspiration that shine through about reflection, naming my goals and fears, and starting to consider what my life could look like if I wasn't afraid to change.  As I talked about in our group - the book has helped me see that maybe part of a my fear (a big part?) is that success could mean a change to the way our life looks now - which is a life we love - so thinking it could change (even if because of something great happening) is a scary thought.  Also still reading Their Eyes Were Watching God and listening to The Husband's Secret on an audiobook on my jogs with Bullet.

Finishing up Grey's very first teeball season this week.  What a great first introduction to organized sports we had and we were so grateful to Grey's Coach Jeff for being the very first coach to our son.  Grey had so much fun and really did learn a lot about the rules and vocabulary of the game - which will certainly serve him well as we've been informed he'll be moving up to machine pitch next year.  Grey's favorite part (besides the action) was his new friends he made and he's hopeful that some of them will be in his kindergarten class this fall!

Gratefully surprised to get a notification that a a friend of mine tagged me in a beautiful passage about being an artist on instagram. It was a passage from The War of Art by Steven Pressfield and I loved the whole passage, but especially, "Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor.  It's a gift to the world and every being in it.  Don't cheat us of your contribution."  It was doubly wonderful because the friend that tagged me (hi, Sarah!) is someone that I've only met in real life once or twice but somehow in the way humanity and magic works - that's all it took for us to recognize some common thread in our souls and maintain contact via social media and inspire each other.

Planning some of our summer fun trips including our Grandma and Kid annual trip (switching it up to a new city this year!) and our summer AKT play date with my best friends and their kids.  We also have the 7th annual Beer Olympics, a wedding, and three family reunions on the horizon.  Bring it on summer, I'm ready :)

This week in interesting internet:

This article about the hypervisibility and invisibilty of black children was both fascinating and informative - especially following my viewing of the McKinney video with open-mouthed horror.

Happy to read this article about how Free Play is fundamental to teaching kids independence and self regulation.  Thank goodness as my interest in doing home preschool has severely waned in the past few weeks.  Oops.

I feel passionate about the topic of giving kids information and education about their own bodies, relationships, and safety  - so I enjoyed this article about Pre-school 'sex' education in the Netherlands and the good it is doing.

A negative article was released about my hometown (of which I am vocally proud of) that stated that our town is the 'poorest' in the state of PA.  After watching many people take it as an opportunity to post unkind things about this city - I responded on our local news facebook page with my thoughts.  Much to my surprise and pride, many people responded to my thoughts with solidarity and positive feedback.

This article about the wild and confusing situation with Rachel Dolezal helped give me a stronger foothold in where my thoughts have been trying to reach about race and privilege and media.

happiness tracking

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

I've been mentally/emotionally struggling the past few weeks* because it's that time of the year again when I tend to overbook myself (even more so than most of the year).  Spring is my 'gear up' for the mayhem that summer brings, and by mayhem I mean our summer weekends get booked up solid before we even head into June.  Which is both overwhelming and exciting.  I sort of thrive on chaos and I love all the experiences and fun we get out of all of our commitments - but that doesn't mean that sometimes it doesn't feel like I'm barely keeping my head above water.  Actually, with three babies, it's less of 'sometimes' and more of 'most times' that I'm gasping for air.

Because I have an addiction to self-reflection (hah), I wanted to be accountable for my self-induced stress.  So, in an effort to sort myself out, I've been tracking  my days as to what constitutes a 'good day' in my planner for the past two weeks.  Its with the hope of shedding some light on how I can be more proactive at helping to make each day be a 'good day.'

My days have fluctuated between two and five star days over the past two weeks and there are some obvious reasons as to why some days are better than others.  Five and four star days happen more when Brandon is off that day or if it was a day that had grown up time for me (playdate with my best friend and her kids, a sleepover with my sisters).  So, having time to talk to a grown up human appears to contribute to my general happiness.  #sahmprobs

By far the biggest (at least it appears) contributing factor is the morning and whether or not I get time to get my day started as just a human, not necessarily as a mom.  That sounds awful, but the impact my day has if I can get up, fully wake up (!), make coffee, make Brandon's lunch for work, and clean up the kitchen a little bit - is profound.  I've been trying (not that successfully) to get up early enough to do all of that AND add in enough time to do a little something for myself (exercise? write?) too.  Baby steps over here, friends.  Baby steps.

There also seems to be some trends in my day to day life that contribute to three and a half to four star days:

the weather:  sunny days and warm days are always rated higher because just the light makes me feel more productive and motivated.  Plus, the kids and I can spend a big part of our day outside.  this is worrisome because I have no control over this.

creativity outlet:  I feel much better when I get a chance to do something creative like write a blog post, read a little for leisure, or work on our family yearbooks.  Even if it's only for a half hour, it feels like I've done a little something for my own guts and I feel recharged.

exercise:  this is not rocket science.  everyone knows this to be true.  On days that I get to take Bullet and myself for a run it does double boosting.  I feel good and energized and also Bullet gets the exercise he needs.

Hanging-over-my-head To do List item:  I have a standard chore list in place (laundry, bathrooms, etc) but there are always tasks that get pushed to the back because they are annoying or tedious to do and I just don't feel like it and the world won't come crashing down if I just leave it for another day.  On days that I just jump in and tackle those items, I feel powerful and proud and the day gets rated higher because I removed some of the guilt load I've been carrying around.

No distractions family time:  even if it's just sitting and reading a book with the kids for fifteen minutes it counts.  We had dinner outside on the patio one night followed by playing baseball in the yard, we all worked as a family in the yard one afternoon getting our flowerbeds cleared out, and the kids and I all sat up in the playroom laughing while Violet tried to talk to us with her silly little baby babble.  These brief moments remind me about that the kids are little and they still want me around and as a stay-at-home-Mum I have the blessing to be able to do that throughout the day.

Limited cell phone screen time:  ack.  I'm not horrible at this, but I'm not as good as I want to be either.  The struggle is always (as I've written a thousand times before) that if my phone is within view, the temptation to mindless scroll is strong.  But if I leave it out of sight, it's easily hours before I think to look at it at all.  I'm working on this, but sometimes the days can be long and boring and I can't reel myself in from looking for a distraction.

The problem now is figuring out how to get enough of my good day boosters (above) in each day so that I can feel productive, happy, and recharged.  I'm trying to juggle with the fact that all days are not going to be able to include all of these (::gulp:: any of these) but I feel a little better at least having an idea of what it is that I need to boost a day.

I'm also working on trying to extend some grace to myself and 'be okay' with chalking some days up to crap days.  Ya know the ones where the kids won't stop arguing and teasing each other - or those days that I get so clumsy I drop nearly everything I touch.  Some days are going to be a pain because life and I want to be able to just be a friend to myself, get myself a beer, and say - okay, we're going to try this again tomorrow.

*I just want to publicly acknowledge quick:  #firstworldproblems
that is all.


Friday, June 5, 2015

some of the non-digital photographic treasures I found this week!

Tracking my days in my planner by mood.  I've been feeling in a rut lately and for the past two weeks, I've been tracking my overall feelings by giving each day stars in my planner; up to a five star day.  I'm trying to see any patterns to what makes my days a two star day (bleh) versus a four or five star day.  I'm noticing some interesting trends from doing something creative, to the weather, to my own screen time, to the length of time I get in the morning before the kids wake up.  I'm planning on doing a full post to update with my findings but it's been interesting and I like the level of self reflection it brings with it.

Reading (still) Their Eyes Were Watching God and now starting our first Inspired Readers book club book Make it Happen by Lara Casey.  If you're interested in reading along, join our facebook group!  Already, our book club book seems to be inspiring to move towards getting out of my rut (above) and that makes me excited, especially to dig deeper into conversation with all the other readers!

Digging up patience from way down deep in my soul.  It was been one whiny week over here with lots of teasing between Greyson and Gemma.  If I say, "mind your own business" one more time this week, I think I might scream.  Grey has been trying to control all things Gemma does or doesn't do which just makes her whine and cry.  I've been attempting to remind him that she is three (a challenge in itself) and that when he was three he also said made-up stories, and wanted to do everything himself, and tried to be a big kid.  As much as I'm sad about him going to kindergarten this fall, I think the separation for them might be a really good thing.  Give them a chance to miss each other a little.

Reminiscing while I put together our individual memory boxes (100 small things item #18 ).  I had already started on the kids' boxes, but this week I pulled the HUGE box of memories and mementos down from the attic and finally combed through it to pull out only the things that Brandon and I want to hold on to.  Sort of like the limited collection of items that someday the kids can look through and say 'this is what my parents were like.' (and then totally trash it all afterwards if they want - we don't want them to feel an obligation to hold on to any old stuff).  What a walk down memory lane to see so many pictures (many of Brandon and I from high school, hahhah) and read through old high school notes (!) and cards from my grandparents (all since passed). What a relief to finally go through all that and get it more organized and pared down!

Playing!  We had a play day with our cousin Caleb on Wednesday and the kids had so much fun together. And then we had a play day with our favorite friends the Fiores yesterday and it turned from just playing the afternoon into a full day of playing followed by dinner together too!  It was so  nice spend the day with Kate chatting and laughing while our babies played and giggled.  What a fun week!

Cleaning up all the floors and low shelves:  Violet Mary is on the move!  She started crawling midweek (I'm calling it officially) and thankfully she is finally happy again. It's been a frustrating past week for her as she wanted to so bad to be and see everything that's going on.  She is delighted to be moving around, getting into everything she hasn't been able to before, and explore our home.  She thinks she is so funny and big now, shout-babbling and trying to talk to us.  She has us all cracking up with her little personality.

Celebrating our community as the Valley Girl's Softball team is killing it in playoffs!  We've had to miss their games this week (boo!) but we've been refreshing facebook constantly to get updates from the parents and fans posting the score live.  I was whispering to Brandon while he was on the field at Grey's teeball game the score updates on Monday! They just won again yesterday in the quarterfinals and had an emergency vehicle escort parade back into town last night!  #bluejaypride forever.

Planning the upcoming Conemaugh Valley Alumni Association's 5K and family fun run/walk as we are now only three weeks away.  I am lucky to be working with such an great group to get the plans all together and organized (thank you!) We've had awesome donations secured this week, the scavenger hunt list for the family walk/run completed, and prizes ordered!  It is all coming together and such a relief for me that the next two weeks will be mostly about organizing and double checking!  Keep those registrations for the 5K coming in!

Thinking ahead to summer plans.  We've got a packed summer over here (what's new?) including weddings, family reunions, 7th annual beer Olympics, Grandma & Kid trip to the city, AKT summer playdate in VA, graduation parties, and local festivals.  There are lots of double checking of open dates, booking hotels, and making travel arrangements.  It's both exciting and overwhelming - but that's how we like to roll.

This week in interesting internet:

Obviously a lot in the social media world this week about Caitlyn Jenner.  Regardless of your thoughts on her decisions on how she lives her life, this was an interesting read on sharing things on the internet without researching first.  I commend the guy for owning up to it instead of just ignoring his findings.  karma and irony can be really cool sometimes.

Here's another example of how each of us can decide to spread love and kindness on the internet or divisive hatred and garbage.  This guy had his wedding photos meme'd (without his consent) and he responds in the classiest, kindest (even though they don't deserve it) way.  Putting good in the world, one drop at a time, people.

This Scary Mommy article had me laughing and sort of smacking my former self too about the realization that comes to first time Moms of all the senseless pre-Mom thoughts they had about motherhood.  I think at least twice a week how I wish I could speak to my pre-Mom self and let her know how clueless she was.

I'll be the first to admit that I don't know everything about feminism and I'm still learning constantly about how me and my life fit into the picture:  Can a stay-at-home Mom be a feminist? the answer appears to be yes.  Can I still believe in romance and chivalry and be a feminist?  that answer also appears to be yes.  Articles like this one talking about how women spend time in their life making plans on how to hide their unopened tampons on the way to the bathroom and this video on if buying condoms was like buying birth control remind me of how weird society can be about gender-based things.  Like men don't have to think about this at all and actually probably don't even know this is a thing we have 'plans' for.  (Hello tampon up the sleeve as my go to maneuver). I've started to learn that being a feminist is simply thinking about the world through eyes of equality.  What can the world look like?  What do I hope the world looks like for our kids (our girls AND our son) when they grow up?

The Inspired Readers Book Club

Thursday, June 4, 2015

I am clearly a fan of the internet (exhibit A: this blog), but I know how it can also be a big, weird, pile of yuck too.  I'm a big believer in the philosophy that you'll find what you look for - so if you're on the look out for hateful, divisive, internet garbage, you'll find it (for sure).  But if you're on the search for beautiful, inspiring, and uplifting corners of the world (wide web), you'll definitely find that too.  

I'm always on the hunt for beautiful, inspiring, and uplifting and I have found a lot of it in the folds of the internet where the gems are buried but still shining.  Two of those gems have been Ashley from the Big White Farmhouse and Shelly from The Cunningham Family in Bush Alaska.  These two ladies have been a regular source of inspiration and friendship to me over the past three years despite never having actually met in real life.  

Ashley recently proposed that the three of us team up to create a book club since we all share some similar thoughts about intentional living, constantly learning and growing, and obviously - Reading!  And so the Inspired Readers book club was formed!

We are just getting started and wanted to extend an invitation to all of you to be a part of our book club.  We hope to read a wide range of types of books together, but to start Ashley selected a book that was representative of our passion towards being intentional about life.  

As Ashley wrote on her blog..

"Our first book is going to be Make It Happen by Lara Casey. We thought it was the perfect choice to start with since intentional living is what brought us together in the first place! We will be reading and discussing this book for eight weeks, which takes us through June and July. We think this is the perfect pace for the summer and it should be easy to fit the chapters in during all of your summer fun!

The reading schedule is as follows:
Week 1 (started Monday!): Introduction to the Book Club, "Welcome to your Start"
Week 2 (June 8): Chapters 1-3
Week 3 (June 15): Chapters 4-6
Week 4 (June 22): Chapters 7-9
Week 5 (June 29): Chapters 10-12
Week 6 (July 6): Steps #1 & #2
Week 7 (July 13): Step #3
Week 8 (July 20): Step #4 & #5

So how can you get in on this inspiration?  Check out our private Facebook group (join us here!), order your book (real book or Kindle version!) and introduce yourself!

Every Monday we hope to post a few questions to get conversations started, so feel free to check in and let us know how you're feeling too. 

As busy Mums ourselves, we want this book club to be something that brings you joy and inspiration - not another thing to add to you plate and make you stressed.  We want to build community, for it to be fun, and to be a place to recharge your soul! 

Looking forward to meeting you all and to help create and be a part of another inspiring little corner of the web. xxox 

Team Studer's 15 Most Beloved Children's Books

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Let me start by saying that I have a fanatical hunger for buying books for our kids.  As a former educator and a lover of books myself, having a plentiful library for our kids is somewhat of an obsession of mine.  I want my kids to have 24/7 access to the classics and the new greats, my favorite books as a kid, informational nonfiction books, fairy tales, stories with lessons in them, and books that only come out for each holiday. The best books are the ones that keep them laughing and wondering long after we close them.

We've been reading to the kids since they were newborns, so sitting down to read together is one of the most natural things I do with the kids all day.  Our kids love listening to books because they love the stories, pictures, and our sound effects - but more so they love the undivided attention it brings with us.  In fact, when the day feels like it's all crumbling into a pile of madness; my first move is to tell the kids they each get to pick some books and we'll all take a 'time in' to read together.

As our children's library in the house is fairly large (and ever-growing!), it's always interesting to me to see which books the kids gravitate towards naturally.  There are books that I love most for different reasons (the moral in Little Blue Truck , the message in Players In Pigtails , etc) but the kids have favorites of their own and those are usually the ones that I have memorized from start to finish.  These are our Team Studer top 15 Most Beloved Children's books*

*And by our Most Beloved books, that means our most beat-up, taped, chewed, busted up books that are asked to be read over and over again.

Mercy Watson to the Rescue - by Kate DiCamillo
Kate DiCamillo is a writing genius.  This book, these characters, this world is our bedtime bread and butter (hah! pun intended if you've read this book).  I seriously might know all the words to this entire book by heart.  We also have Mercy Watson Fights Crime but DiCamillo's first Mercy Watson book is by far our favorite.  Greyson and Gemma both love this story and I know exactly what page Gemma will drift off to sleep.  It's a chapter book, but we read straight through to the end every time we read it.  Thank you Ms. DiCamillo, seriously this is maybe top favorite book in our entire home.

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole - by Mac Barnett
I love this book so much.  It's a bonus that the kids love it too because I don't mind reading it at all.  Sam, Dave, and their pup go out to find something spectacular and, oh boy, do our kids love knowing all the spectacular that Sam and Dave just barely miss out on!  They love being 'in the know' like the dog (hahah!) and then the odd twist at the end keeps us forever speculating on what actually happened on their adventure. We've only had this book since last Christmas and it's in a heavy rotation of here.

Peanut Butter Rhino - by Vincent Andriani
Bar none, the funniest book we have in our collection.  I was first introduced to this book when my little sis purchased it many a year ago in one of those Scholastic order forms you get in school.  The copy we have is actually THAT copy, so it's no wonder it's been taped up about one hundred times already.  It also helps that my voice for the Rhino is straight up ridiculous and the pages are organized similarly to a comic book.  I mean, is there anything more funny than a Rhino who doesn't know his squished sandwich is still stuck to his butt?  um, no.

Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain - by Verna Aardema
I discovered this book while teaching and fell in love with the rythm and the folktale that makes up the book.  The story is set to the pace of 'The house that Jack built,' so it's fun for the kids to hear the story grow up on itself on each page.  Greyson especially loves the idea of shooting the rain from the clouds with a bow and arrow and sometimes we go outside and try to do just that on cloudy days.

Goodnight, Gorilla- by Peggy Rathman
This nearly wordless book captivates my children with some sort of magical pull.  My kids from age 8 months to 5 years all love this book.  It's also one of the first choices when the bigger kids get to 'read' to Violet because the lack of words on each page somehow gives them the confidence to read it without being reminded that they can't yet actually read words.  This book is brillant.

Peter's Chair - by Ezra Jack Keats
Oh, Peter, we can so relate to his ache to keep his own things for himself instead of sharing with his baby sister.  We love Peter because WE are Peter.  Peter doesn't want to give his 'baby things' for his little sister because they are his, but as he finds, he doesn't need them anymore.  The struggle is real over here too with three siblings, so Peter's story is a refreshing and gentle reminder of how big kids get to do big kid things and they grow out of baby things.  Plus, Peter tricks his mom with a funny prank towards the end and the kids think it's absolutely genius.

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? - by Eric Carle
We have three copies of this book and read all of them, but our favorite is the interactive slide&find book.  This book has lovingly grown up with our kids from babies (beautiful colors and repetitive words) to toddlers (they love the funny voices I add to each animal), to preschoolers (who find this book easy to 'read').  Eric Carle is wonderful and we have several of his books.  Our second favorite (almost made this same list!) is The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

There's a Mouse About the House! -by Richard Fowler
This book may come as blast from the past - my sisters and I loved the crap out of this book when we were little.  I randomly saw it in a bookstore a year or so ago and had such a feeling of nostalgia I bought it on the spot.  Now my kids are loving the crap out of it.  We've lost and then found the mouse in our own house multiple times.  We've had to packing-tape the mouse up twice now and also the mouse holes in the book.  It's not a great wear and tear book for little ones - but they don't care, it's all busted everywhere and they are still constantly pulling it out.  It's seriously the most fun book ever.

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale - by Mo Willems
If it's by the amazing Mo Willems, you know its going to be good.  Knuffle Bunny makes our kids laugh and they love knowing Trixie's problem while her Daddy keeps walking totally clueless about the missing bunny.  Knuffle Bunny is our favorite Mo Willems book, but certainly not our only.  We also have the second Knuffle Bunny and two Pigeon books.  My next Mo Willems book that's on my wishlist is Waiting is Not Easy.

Smart Kids: Predators - by Roger Priddy
The kids LOVE these books.  I LOVE these books.  I want all of the Smart Kids books (we already have three of them).  They have just enough information to totally delight the kids, but not overwhelm them.  And if the kids are restless and need something to hold them over until dinner time, I tell them to go get a Smart Kids book and look through it, to which they happily do.  Huge full page pictures of the animals up close and cool graphics to tell you how dangerous and how big each predator is.

Chloe, Instead - by Micah Player
Another sibling book that lends to the fact that having little siblings is both hard and fun.  We originally got this book to read before Violet was born, but it's been heavy in rotation long since then.  The illustrations are bright and beautiful and the kids love Chloe and her hilarious, mischievous nature.  The ending is so sweet, I almost cry every time we read it (hah), and it's such a nice reminder that being a big sibling takes a lot of patience and kindness.

This Jazz Man - by Karen Ehrhardt
I bought this book because of a Intro to Jazz class I took in college when I fell in love with Jazz music and it's history.  To my sheer delight, this is one of our kids' favorite books.  It's set to the rhythm of 'This Old Man' and each page portrays a famous Jazz musician.  We usually end up looking up the real life musicians on youtube after reading the book.  There is a little mouse that hidden somewhere on each page too, which is a big draw for the kids to point the little guy out.

Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You? Book of Wonderful Noises - by Dr. Seuss
This book has the wackiness of Dr. Seuss without the length.  I love it because it is both fun to read and also short enough that keeps the kids attention.  I can say it with my eyes closed and the kids like to try to 'sing' the last page with all the noises.  We have the tiny sized board book, so it's easy to carry in the diaper bag (one of the reasons our is so beat up).  It's our favorite book to read while we wait for our food to arrive at restaurants.

A Lot of Otters - by Barbara Helen Berger
This book will forever be held in my heart because it is a favorite bedtime story for my kids while they were still young enough for daytime naps.  Each page has beautiful, almost drowsy, lyrics and honestly lulls the kids to quiet reflection.  Maybe its the beauty of the otters drudging up stars from the bottom of the sea, or the peace that comes when the worrying Mother Moon finally finds her lost child who is safe floating in a box.  I don't know what it is about this book, but we all cherish it.

My No No No Day - by Rebecca Patterson
We all love this book.  Bella is having a crap day and she just wakes up with a bad attitude.  The rest of her day, she goes on to describe all the things that go wrong (spoiler alert: everything annoys her today) and then finishes with her apologizing to her momma before she wakes up to have a better day the next day.  There are some negative reviews on Amazon for this book because Bella doesn't get any consequences all day for being cranky - but we use the book as a way to see how sometimes we all have hard days, life is like that, but it doesn't mean every day is a hard day and it also doesn't mean that every kid who is cranky in public is a bad kid (including our own)!  I also always point out Bella's momma in the book who looks so ragged and tired (so much like ME! Hah!) and how even after Bella is not very nice all day, her momma still comes to tuck her in at night with her favorite story and forgives her - because that's what parents do, they love their kids, even on the hard days.

What are some of your family's most beloved and worn out books?  You know I'm always trying to grow our library over here!

If you're in need of some fresh ideas, you can check out some of my favorite instagram accounts who catalog children's books with reviews.  I basically build my Amazon wishlists off of the accounts of The Little Book CollectorKid Lit BookaDay, and The Littlest Library.

Disclaimer:  This post includes affiliate links to Amazon.