This is my Hometown

Friday, August 29, 2014

Inspired by an interview with Lift Johnstown I did last week, I wanted to talk more about the town that I was born and raised and then after much traveling and living elsewhere, have now returned to raise our own kids;  Johnstown, PA.

I am third generation Johnstown-born in my family and my parents and in-laws were high school sweethearts turned married from the same school I attended....where I met my high school sweetheart turned husband.  My husband now coaches varsity boy's basketball in the same gym he broke school records all those years ago as I sit in the stands cheering for the blue jays only now with two squirmy kids (and soon to be a newborn) on my lap.

That's not to say we have limited ourselves to other parts of the world.  We both left town for college, I spent two years living, teaching, and loving Brooklyn, NY, and then we spent three years together making our home in Erie, PA.  We've traveled to Thailand, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica.  Our kids passports will boast a picture of them with their baby chubby cheeks at 4months old until they finally expire at 5years.  Actually, we spend significant time in the year traveling with our kids to see new places; New York, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, North Carolina.


Coney Island, NY
But Johnstown is our home.

It's the people we run into while at the post office, it's the helping hands while I try to unload a grocery cart with two kids in the rain, it's the soldiers that smile and wave back to my kids at the mall, it's the stranger who upon hearing our last name shuffles through the Rolodex in their mind to pull up one of our relatives that they attended school with years and years ago with a, "Please tell them I said hello."

And now that I'm a Mum, it's even more importantly - the place that my kids call home.  The place where on regular days we make our life and memories.  It's where they learned to say 'youns,' where they'll make their first friends (many of whom will be the kids of their parents' friends), where their seasons are sprinkled with joyful celebrations and parades.

It will someday be the backdrop of their childhood; no matter where they choose to travel or live in the future.  Johnstown will be a part of who they are...and for that I am eternally grateful.

So through the eyes of my family, this is our hometown:

A town of rich history that supply never-ending stories (both historical and personal to our family) about how the town has changed and grown.  Including stories about why their great great grandparents first came to live here.

Incline Plane - steepest in the WORLD.
Our favorite out-to-eat spots; most of them locally owned and we are recognized as the family with the kids who love chicken wings.  Like, The Woodside Bar and Grill, The Old Tollgate Inn, Scoofie's Stop and Shop, The Thomahawk, and the Johnstown Inn

The parks and playgrounds.  Goodness, how we enjoy the parks and playgrounds with these two wild children who like to run, jump, and climb.  I fear that had we not had such active kids, Brandon and I may have missed out on the multitude of playspaces that our town has to offer.  Such new breath parenthood has brought into our eyes about our hometown.

Greenhouse Park

Roxbury Playground

Staple Bend Tunnel & the Coy/McCombie Trail Link

Playground on Luray Avenue
Quemahoning Dam & Recreation Area
The grown up groups we have participated in over the past two years; volleyball leagues at our local elementary school and at Roxbury Park with the Greater Johnstown Volleyball Club; pick-up basketball leagues and alumni tournaments that Brandon has participated in, as well as our the Conemaugh Valley Alumni Association.

The kid-friendly hot spots that are scattered around town like the Johnstown Children's Museum and the local library with its drop-in StoryTime, and Sweet Frog that many times our ice cream purchase doubles as a fundraiser for a local organization in need.

Johnstown Children's Museum
drop-in story time at the library
Sweet Frog
The local sporting events, both minor league and high school level, to cheer on hometown sports heroes like the Johnstown Thomahawks, AAABA tournament, and our very own Daddy's team The Blue Jays.

And the seasonal fun we have in our town; the parades, festivals, and annual events that we look forward to throughout the year like Thunder in the Valley, The Halloween Parade, Santa Meet&Greets, Faranda's Farm, and the Children's Book Festival of Johnstown.

Faranda's Farm

Santa Meet & Greet at the Johnstown Inn
We are grateful to raise our kids in our hometown, but being parents has opened our eyes to many things about our town that we didn't know were even going on - or that we could enjoy ourselves; especially through the eyes of our kids.

...just another way the kids help remind us what a beautiful world it is that we live in. 

impromptu dance party atop the city
I would encourage all families (where ever you may call your hometown) to get involved with groups that do things that already interest you - Mom's groups, school PTO, Volunteer organizations, your church - Just put yourself out there.  And as silly as it seems "Like" your local businesses, restaurants, and organizations on facebook. The more you connect yourself to your hometown that you might think you already 'know' - you'll be surprised by how much more you'll learn about all the sometimes hidden opportunities and fun that your town has available.  

If you do happen to be a Johnstown family, you can start here:
YOU in Flood City

The Mom Next Door Series: Shelly C

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Our Mom Next Door Interview comes all the way from rural Alaska, thanks to the candid and amazing Momma of twins and a singleton (all boys!), Shelly C.  If I'm being honest myself - over the past two years, I have come to consider Shelly as an actual real life friend of mine, despite the fact that we've never met in person.  The internet brought us together in this little corner of the MommyBlog world and I have been grateful ever since.

Through her gorgeous pictures, hilarious snippets of life with boys, and her enthusiasm and dedication to a life that is literally off the grid - I find inspiration regularly from Shelly.  I know you will too, so please take  minute today to read more about Shelly, her boys, and her life as a Bush Momma.


Hi! I am Shelly, a stay-at-home mama of three, living most of my life in a tiny village in Alaska and blogging at The Cunningham Family in Bush Alaska. In addition to my three rambunctious boys (the twins, Logan & Jack, age 6 and "the baby" --I seriously HAVE to stop calling him that-- Wyatt, now 3) I also live with my best friend (and husband) Josh.

In my former life, I earned my bachelors degree in psychology with a minor in human development, and while I am not using that degree in a career, I find it quite useful on a daily basis raising three littles. Also in my former life I spent six years as a classroom assistant in special education.

Now I am - what I refer to as- a "bush mama", meaning I homeschool, entertain and hang out with our three boys; and I also bake bread, make tortillas and cook things from scratch (less from desire than for necessity). I consider it "warm" out if we are above ten degrees, thanking God for every day that the twins can gear themselves up to go outside now, and willingly spend $15 on a twelve pack of Coke at the co op in our village.

Marshall, Alaska

Which chore is your least favorite?   My least favorite chore has to be making bread. It's a necessary evil, and I am always ridiculously happy when it's done, but I hate doing it. I also dislike making tortillas and meal planning.

What has become (at least for now) you're parenting mantra or guiding principle?  "There is only love" has been my mantra lately. It helps me remember to see things from their perspective and love them through whatever they are going through.

What keeps you up at night?  Feeding the kids right, getting them enough exercise; balancing praise with not creating competitiveness between the twins; loving "the baby" (there I go again!) through his tantrums, while not raising him to be a spoiled brat.

What big projects, worries, or events have you busy right now?  We are just settling into our routine again after spending the summer in Washington state. While it feels good to be back home in Alaska; unpacking, organizing and jumping back into homeschooling has been, at times, overwhelming!

What do you feel like you are really good at as a mom?  I am really organized. This is a huge boon to our family as living in a remote place like we do, requires a lot of planning. Stocked shelves in the pantry, well thought-out packing for summers spent away, and traveling over 2500 miles as a family of five are all a lot simpler when planned in advance.

What do you feel like you wish you were better at being a mom?  Not rushing. I wish I could remember to slow down.  And also go to bed earlier. I'm much more pleasant then.

What is the one "Mom Tip or Trick" that you can share that has made your life easier somehow? When traveling for a long period of time, have one bag that is for your short term hotel stay that has everyone's things in it. That way, you don't have to unload the whole car for just one night!
Also, there is no shame in velcro shoes, water can almost always cheer the children up (hello bath time!), and sometimes, it's okay to have cereal for dinner.

What are the small joys of being a Mom that you treasure most right now?  I treasure small feet in Saltwater sandals, all three boys asleep in the back seat, and their eyes on fireworks at the fourth of July. Magic.

What do you miss most from Mom days already gone by?   Baby wearing. My three year old is now over 40 pounds and I really miss his squishy baby self. I also miss rocking him to sleep.

What would your pre-mom self be surprised to know about motherhood?  Every.single.thing that I EVER judged a mom for, I now do. I give in to whining sometimes, I have had pink mold in my bathroom from a lack of proper cleaning, and sometimes my kids' hair looks like they just rolled out of bed. I am also surprised that it feels wrong (selfish) to take time for myself.

What would your pre-mom self be proud to know about you in motherhood?  That my heart grew big enough to love all my children, and that I would do anything for those boys. I am a mom through and through, and I took to parenting like a fish to water. My younger, more naive self, would be shocked that I live where I do, but I also know she'd be proud that I was willing to sacrifice so much in order to be home with my children.

Baby Raising Competition: A third baby celebration

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

There are lots of things my third baby won't get that her siblings did:  lots of new clothes (we love handmedowns!), parents that aren't shared with two other kids, a crib that doesn't already have bite marks all over it, board books with clean, unchewed corners and no pages missing....

==Although there are lots of things she will get that her sibling didn't too:  a big brother and big sister who can't wait to meet her, parents that are far better experienced in parenting, a mother who has watched two other children grow too fast and will hold a little longer and cherish all the small moments a little more consciously. ==

Knowing all this makes me feel both a little bad for her (on all the things she won't get) but also grateful for her (for all the things she will get) and as I was filling in the initial pages of her baby book, I flipped to the page that announced at the top "My parents had a party in honor of me" and I thought, 'No, somehow she will not miss out on this one thing.'

We definitely don't need any more baby 'things' to prepare for this girl - we have bins and bins of girls clothes until she and Gem are about 7 (thank you Kate & Tausha!) and all the blankies, swaddles, bottles, slings, and strollers a new mom can care to dream about.  But I did want to have a party in which we could celebrate her impending arrival.  A way to bring our family together, include our young kids and her future cousins, and for it to be fun!! (and funny if possible).

The inspiration for the party came from 'practicing' with our kids about baby related activities (diaper changing, swaddling) and the thought (hope!!) that we will be experts this time around with our third.  Plus, we love competitions and making grown-ups play funny games - thus was born our Baby Raising Competition party to celebrate our newest addition.

Our Baby Raising Competition:

We invited our close friends and family to our house on a Sunday afternoon - boys and kids too! to spend the day together in honor of our new girl.

Our Baby Raising Competition included a delicious spread offered from our amazing guests.  (thank you, all!)  That's what happens in our family - you tell everyone not to bring gifts and they all show up with food, dessert, and diapers!  (we are so, so blessed).

We all lounged around and ate and completed a few little activities at the start of the party.  I had a  Guess how many M&M jar set up (simplest game ever), and some fill-in-the-blanks for our new girl (inspired by this pin) for her to read someday when she's a teenager and needs a reminder how much she is loved.

And then it was time for the Baby Raising Competition to Begin!  We had our guests pair up with a partner to complete a set of Baby Raising related activities to earn points (tallied on our poster size scoreboard).

Our first game was Blindfolded Pudding Feeding:  Feeders were blindfolded and knelt in front of their partners who had to sit on their hands.  The top three teams were selected for having the least amount of pudding on their faces and/or bodies (we supplied napkin bibs to protect shirts).

Our next event was Baby Food Taste Tasting:  the partners each had a chance to test five different baby foods and give a guess as to which fruit/vegetable it was made of.  We didn't blindfold them so they were able to see the color & texture which actually didn't seem to offer much help (hah!)  Teams were given +2 points for each correct baby food guess.

Then we had partners Fill in the Missing Words to our Favorite Nursery Rhymes.  I selected four of my personal favorite songs/rhymes I sing to the kids and we had the partners complete the papers to earn points for each correct word.  Greyson and his partner cousin Ariel were the only ones to get a perfect score!  Way to go Booboo!  (hahha, he had a little bit of an advantage obviously).

Afterwards, I had all the teams watch as I slowly went through the steps to swaddle one of Gemma's babydolls.  Afterwards I asked if anyone had any questions, (no one did), and then I announced that our next event would be Grown Up Swaddling using a moving blanket to which laughter erupted from the crowd.  Partners needed to decide who would be the 'baby' and who would be the Swaddler and the event was timed.  Teams had to follow the exact steps of swaddling for it to count as a complete swaddling.  It was absolutely hysterical.  (Brandon and his partner Aunt Pam won this event!  Yay Daddy!)

Finally, we finished out the competition with a relay-style Baby Raising Obstacle Course:  At the start of the timer, the first partner was asked to diaper a baby doll, put the baby in a carseat, run a set of hula hoops, and then crawl under the trampoline.  The second partner then had to remove the baby from the car seat, change the baby's diaper again, place the baby in a front carrier, and push our play vacuum along a long line.  The obstacle was completed with a 'family' photo finish!

After a close competition, our winners of the Baby Raising Competition were Aunt Uch and Kevin!  (ahem.)

The day was a fun (and hilarious) way to celebrate our third baby's upcoming arrival.  I am so grateful to have family and friends willing to spend a beautiful summer afternoon playing silly games that make me giggle.  I can't wait to show this baby girl how her favorite people in the world spent a day swaddling each other and tasting baby food in her honor someday.  Oh how she will laugh and also think her family is a bunch of weirdos.

We closed out the evening with more lounging, chatting, and laughing.  We are so lucky to have family and friends that help clean up and take extra food home (thank you!!) So as always, parties are easy to manage when people show up early to help and leave late to help.  (honestly so blessed).  And we had very sleepy kids that night after so much fun and playing all day.

Dear baby girl,
We love you, darling, so much.
We just can not wait for you to be here with us.
love you already
and then forever and ever after that,
your family