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July 2016 entries

Stop the Blame Game

A few nights ago, Liam accidentally hit Ellie.  The accidentally part is suspicious, actually.  He was upset about something, and I am fairly sure he meant to hit her.  But, he didn't mean to hurt her.  So, when she was crying and I told him to apologize, his response was: "I didn't do it!"  What he meant was: "I didn't mean to do it!"  Either way, the damage was done and his sister was hurt.  

This is a common scenario among children.  Who can blame them?  It's tough to accept responsibility for something that went wrong, especially when they know they had a hand in making it go wrong.  Often, it's easier to not only deny responsibility, but to also blame someone else.  Liam attempted to say it was Ellie's fault he hit her because she made him mad.  That's 5-year-old logic for you.  When this happens with my kids, I tell them that whether they meant to do something or not, they need to accept the consequences, not blame others, and give the apology, and play nicer. 

This is a common scenario among adults, unfortunately.  Whether it's a failed project at work or a failed relationship in our personal lives, too often we fail to accept responsibility for our actions.  Maybe you know someone like this -- the person who is always the victim, and nothing is ever their fault.  My boss doesn't like me, that's why I didn't get that promotion.  My ex is a total jerk, and that's why we broke up.  My mother likes my brother better, and that's why I'm never invited anywhere.  

You get the idea -- the person who doesn't have the courage to admit that maybe someone else was more qualified for the promotion, or that maybe they contributed (or even caused) the breakdown of their relationship, or that maybe their negative attitude keeps people from inviting them places. 

I believe the reason adults avoid taking the blame is the same as why children don't:  we all have difficulty admitting we were wrong, that we are less than perfect.  And, blaming someone else is a surefire way to avoid having to admit, even to ourselves, that we did something wrong. 

Let me tell you a little secret:  once you start admitting you aren't perfect, once you get past that scary moment and  admit it out loud that YOU messed up, it feels great.  Great?  Why, you ask?  Because the pressure to be perfect is too much to bear.  And when we can simply admit that we aren't perfect, then we start to LEARN from our mistakes and mend our relationships.  

By the way, when we admit we aren't perfect, when we show others that we make and learn from mistakes, we gain an incredible amount of credibility.  I see this in my classroom.  If I write a test question and a student brings to my attention that the question is flawed in some way, my reaction is to apologize and make it right, whether it's throwing the question out or awarding points for more than one answer.  I use the flawed question as an opportunity to teach.  If I stubbornly say there is nothing wrong with the question and say the students must figure it out on their own, I lose credibility with them, and I instantly become unapproachable.  

Sometimes, we hesitate to take the blame because, like Liam hitting Ellie, we didn't intend for something to happen the way it did.  Sure, we knew we weren't putting a lot of effort into that relationship, but we didn't mean to drive the other person away from us.  Again, like Liam hitting Ellie, regardless of intention, the effect remains the same.  We did drive that person away, and we need to accept responsibility instead of denying our part in it, or worse -- blaming someone else for what we did.  

When we accept responsibility for our own actions, we become open to learning from our past, as opposed to being doomed to merely repeat it.  

Second Star to the Right and Straight on 'Til Morning

Aidan's theatre camp this year is a grades 6-8 cast of 45 kids who are putting on Peter Pan, Jr. in three weeks.  Aidan is going into 6th grade, but he landed the role of Michael Darling, Wendy's little brother who wears the pjs and carries his teddy bear around.  He loves to sing and dance and act, and every day he comes home from camp and thanks me for signing him up.  

Gabrielle has assumed her usual role of line coach, and whenever we have a spare moment, Aidan works on his lines for the show.  


Impressively, they have been able to memorize over 80 pages of script in just 5 days of camp.  And Aidan's even managed to catch over 40 Pokemon in the Pokemon Go app.  Talk about being able to balance a responsibilities and priorities!  


One of the many things I love about Aidan is his ability to avoid being pigeon-holed.  He loves bugs, he loves to sing.  He loves the tuba, he loves Pokemon.  He loves Rubik's cubes, he loves to ride his bike.  He may not love organized sports, but he can get along with anyone he meets.  He loves to introduce himself to new kids on the playground and he loves to spend time with his little sister and brother.  

And, like Liam, I'd be okay with Aidan staying a lost boy from Neverland too.  This summer, probably more than ever, I want to freeze time and keep my kids from getting so old so fast.  I know, that is pretty much what every parent has ever thought in the history of the world -- and most likely, every kid at some point, too.  Isn't that the beauty of the Peter Pan story to begin with?  Avoiding adulthood and responsibility and obligation in exchange for fun and stories and adventures -- we all want to return to our childhoods at one time or another in our lives, and to, even for just a few hours, escape the demands of being a grown up.  

But, until I find my shadow hiding in a drawer somewhere, I guess I'll be playing the role of "Mom" for now.  Believe me, it's an amazing gig.  


I Once Had a Little Boy


This summer, my baby has all but disappeared.  Liam is staring kindergarten in the face like a champ, and I find myself in constant awe of how long his legs are getting.  Where has the time gone?  

Liam has a spunky personality and a quirky sense of humor and the gift of good timing in his jokes.  He knows just the right moment to crack a one-liner or to make a silly face.  Case in point:


(Why Gabrielle looks like a psychotic clown is a question for another day...)

While I am trying to help Liam understand the difference between having fun and completely losing control (this gets more challenging depending on the time of  day and the amount of ice cream in his system!), he is genuinely a wonderful kid with a unique perspective on life that I adore.  

And -- he's a heck of a bowler.  


While Gabrielle was at a friend's house for a playdate and Aidan was at theatre camp, Liam and I snuck in a couple of games at the bowling alley.  Full disclosure -- we both used the bumpers.  Fuller discloser -- he nearly beat me. 



And a note about his haircut, which I did:  he requested it be "long but short" and that the "sides should be short and the top should be long."  We can't decide if he looks like Gibbs from NCIS or like a trendy kindergartner, but we do think he looks adorable -- and at least 2 years older than before I cut his hair.  

How does he feel about growing up?  "I just want to be in Neverland and stay tiny and no growing up."  

I can get behind that idea! 

Domestic Goddess in Training

Let me tell you a secret:  one of my go-to forms of humor is self-deprecation.  OK, if you actually know me, this isn't a secret.  I like to make fun of myself because my shortcomings are my best-known material and I'd rather pick on myself than anyone else. Believe me, it's not because I have sub-par self-esteem or anything like that.  I just love to laugh at myself.  

One of the many things I pick on myself about is my lack of domestic and culinary skills.  It seems like I have these amazingly talented friends who make meals from scratch or who seem to be the personification of Pinterest.  And I'm just plugging away, grading papers and directing shows.  

Now that I am a single mom, I have been happily exploring cooking and grilling, and when I make even the simplest dish, I credit myself a "domestic goddess."  For example, when the kids came home on Monday, they begged me to make my "famous grilled cheese."  This highly secretive recipe consists of buttered bread, American cheese, and a skillet.  In other words, FAMOUS. 


Lately, Gabrielle (aka "Little Mama," as the boys call her, the middle child who worries about her brothers and who would  micromanage their every move if only they would let her) has been bitten by the cooking bug.  The drinks in the picture above are her hand-squeezed lemonade.  She "plated" the meal, placing the carrots and chips just so before serving it.  

She's been a busy little chef this week.  We picked green beans and berries the other day, so Ellie used the blackberries to make fruit popsicles.  We had them today, and they were delicious. 



She made a fruit salad (cutting the pineapple with a little help from me) 


and tonight we grilled dinner together: smoked pork chops, baked potatoes, and a sautéed garlic green bean dish that Ellie made up on her own.  Uh. Maze.  Ing.  




And remember the time Ellie said she loves to do the dishes?  She still does!  Who could ask for anything more?  

It won't be long before the student surpasses her teacher, that's for sure.  Although, now that I think of it, I do have that secret recipe for grilled cheese in my back pocket . . . 




More Pets? -- Jacoby Falls and County Fair 2016

When Aidan was a baby, we first hiked Jacoby Falls, a short jaunt to a waterfall close to our home.  I've hiked to those falls nearly every summer since.  This year was no exception.  


As the kids and I made our way down the trail, I reminisced about our trips of the past.  About halfway down the trail, part of the stream crosses the path.  That used to be our stopping point when the big kids were really little and Liam was in the Snugli carrier.  Now, the kids easily hike all the way to the falls and back, and the trip feels shorter every time. 



The best part of the hike, of course, is the search for creatures -- millipedes, salamanders, minnows, frogs, you name it.  I had packed bug containers and nets along with some snacks and bottled water.  

Hiking under a canopy of trees on a hot morning was the perfect way to start the day.  

And the 5 salamanders we brought home needed a habitat -- I mean, that just goes without saying, doesn't it?  We added some stones and water to a 10-gallon tank, and fed them some mealworms.  



And I should probably mention that we made the trip to Petco to accommodate the THREE GOLDFISH the kids won at the County Fair the other night.  (the other boy is Aidan's friend and his goldfish lives at his house.  Thank.  Goodness.) 


Our three fish -- named Albert, Blub-Blub, and Goldeen by the kids -- are living the dream now. 


I once had a fair fish that lived for three years (maybe more?) and the salamanders are definitely out of their natural element, so it remains to be seen how long these three are with us, but we've had some fun with them so far.  And as usual, the kids have learned a lot along the way.  

While many people are a little confused (aka grossed out) when they see our terrariums and bug containers all over the back porch (or dining table as the case may be!), for this mom of two boys, I am never even fazed by it.   A house full of creatures and kids is our way of life . . . and I love every minute of it.  



"I hears your lonely heart in all the whisperings of the world": The BFG and Me

As the kids and I have ventured all over this summer, we have been listening to audio books.  (Yes, yes, I know my kids were blessed with a REALLY cool mother.  You don't have to tell me.)  We've listened to some contemporary books like Out of My Mind, a fascinating novel about a girl with cerebral palsy whose body and voice can't keep up with her brain and mind.  We've listened to some classics like The Secret Garden, and my own personal childhood favorite, The Black Stallion. 

When we saw the blockbuster hit Finding Dory at the movie theatre, one of the previews was for a film adaptation of Roald Dahl's book The BFG.  Instantly, we decided that we had found our next audio book.  On our way to the wedding last week, we listened to the adventures of the orphan Sophie and her Big Friendly Giant, spanning England and Giant Country and Dream Country and the many places between.  The kids were completely enthralled with the story, and I found myself falling in love with it all over again.  

On a particularly hot day while we were at the farm, the kids and I snuck away to see the movie.  Directed by Steven Spielberg, The BFG was truly magical.  I don't intend this post to spoil the movie for anyone who may wish to see it; I loved the way the film brought the book to life.  The dreams which the BFG collects and shares with sleeping people were perfectly animated; the other giants were appropriately intimidating.  The kids and I had some thoughtful discussions post-film about the decisions a director makes when adapting a text to the silver screen.  

I have always considered books and scripts (including films) as vehicles to portray the human experience.  Sure, individual plots are captivating, but what makes great works great is the way we find ourselves drawn into the story, the way we care about the characters and what happens to them.  And why do we care? Because we see ourselves in them, in their lives.  Because the message of the text speaks to us and our own lives.   

There were two moments in The BFG when I teared up, like the emotional sap I am.  The first was when the BFG explained to Sophie why he took her from the orphanage the night she wasn't able to sleep and inadvertently saw him during "the witching hour."  BFG has hyper-sensitive hearing, and he told Sophie he knew she was awake and had seen him because he "hears [her] lonely heart in all the whisperings of the world."  (In case you didn't know, BFG speaks in delightful malapropisms and sports a fantastically fun vocabulary.  He never went to school and explains, "Words is oh such a twitch-tickling problem to me all my life.")

And, wow, I love that phrase -- "I hears your lonely heart in all the whisperings of the world."  BFG isn't a father; in fact, giants don't have mothers or fathers, according to BFG.  Giants just are, and always have been, and have always been men.  But the ability to hear a child's lonely heart is without a doubt a beautiful quality of a parent.  I pray to always be able to hear the hearts of my own children. 

The next tear-inducing part for me was when Sophie asks BFG about a dream in his collection of jars that is labeled "Sophie's Dream: her heart's desire."  She, naturally, wants to know what her dream is about. (I found the following quote inside an intriguing article which speculates about The BFG being "too wholesome for Hollywood."  Worth a gander, if you are interested!)

 The BFG tells Sophie: "It tells the story of a little gal, a little chittler with her whole life ahead of her — with a family of her own,” BFG says. “Little chittlers of her own, too. Someday. There will be great successfuls and funnies ahead for her. And, truth to tell, just a dribble of despair. Times will be hard, times will be soft. Adventures will come and go, but in the end she remembers the good deeds. And Sophie, I know that story be your heart’s desire. I know that.”

Again, talk about the heart's desire of any parent!  Yes, yes to all of this.  We can't keep our children from challenges.  Really, we shouldn't keep them from hardships because of the invaluable lessons learned when they overcome them.  We know life will have "just a dribble of despair" (if we are lucky!) and that "times will be hard, times will be soft."  But to have a life full of adventure and love and good deeds?  Yes, I believe Sophie's heart's desire may just be my own.  

Even if The BFG may be overshadowed by hugely popular films like Finding Dory or The Secret Life of Pets, we found it a beautifully rendered, magically captivating tale of a little girl and a "runt" of  giant who find each other and in turn, find themselves.  


Thank God I'm a Country Girl: Or, It's a Nice Day for a White Wedding

I know, I know . . . I've fallen off the blogging wagon this past week.  The kids and I went to my aunt's house (about 40 miles from Philly) to help prepare the family farm for my cousin Trisha's wedding, which was held in a barn on their property.  

Fortunately, my aunt has a 13-room farm house which easily accommodates our big family when we all come together for special events.  I think at one point, we had 11 children and 9 adults staying (and eating -- God bless Aunt Betsey's amazing cooking!) at the farm.  Trisha and her fiancé bring 5 children to their new marriage; my cousin Paul and his wife Missi (my sister from another mister ha!) have 3 children; I brought my 3 . . . so it was a beautiful mess.  Aunt Betsey also has a pool set up near the house, which was a blessing during the past week of 90-degree days!





So much happened over the course of the week -- from mowing to decorating, and everything in between -- but I won't write about it all.  As per my usual, I'll share some photos and narrate a little along the way.  

When the wedding day arrived, the sky was overcast and a heavy storm hit us at about 3 PM.  The wedding was at 4.  As the weather should do on a wedding day, it cooperated and the rain stopped at 3:30 or so.  The result was a cooled-off barn and a happy crowd of wedding guests.  

While it rained, I broke out my hair stylist skills and my curling iron and got busy!  This is the bride's hair: 



I also braided her daughter's hair (and did the hair of her finance's daughters, too).


And when Missi's daughter Ellie (short for Elizabeth, and while my Ellie is at the farm, she is "GabriellAAAAA.") arrived, she decided she wanted her hair done, too.  Braids for days!


I love doing hair, and I am glad to have a chance to do it for special days like this one.  

When my job was done, we headed over to the barn to wait for the ceremony to start.  And discovered that I had dressed Aidan just like Missi's sons, which was hilarious. 


The girls were excited, too!


And Liam, being Liam, informed me that he "didn't want to watch anyone get married" because "that is just disgusting."


When the bride and her father entered, it was just as magical as it should be.  All our hard work from the past week had paid off, and the wedding was beautiful. 


My favorite part of the ceremony was when the bride and groom, and their new family of 5 children came together and poured sand into a bottle engraved with their new family name and date.  Each person had a different color, representing their diverse personalities, but they join in the one family bottle. 


And, isn't this how it should be?  When a couple brings children from other relationships to a marriage, both the husband and the wife need to accept and love those children as if they were their own.  This doesn't take away from any birth parents who are involved in those children's lives at all, but instead adds to the number of people who love and care for those children.  A couple can't have "your children" and "my children" and expect to have a strong, united bond in a family.  Trisha and Charles balance this so well.  They love and provide for all five of "their kids" equally, and they co-parent well at the same time.  

All told, it was a great week and weekend for me and the kids.  We were able to spend time with family members we don't see nearly enough, and we celebrated a new life, a new beginning.  I, too, was reminded of how much I love my new life, filled with time with my family and those I love.  


This is Missi :) 

And this is the part where I just post pictures I like, and I assume you can figure out the rest.  Goodbye for now, Dear Reader.  






Friends, Family, and yes, more Food

So far, the holiday weekend has been a blast (*groan...firework pun*).  

Friday brought a surprise party for my friend Jill's husband, and it was a great success.  A lot of people came, and we had a genuinely nice time.  I am so grateful that the summer has brought me together with some people I knew before, and now I am so much closer to.  These two women in particular, Jill and Mindy, have become very close friends of mine, and I love them to pieces.


And these are just two examples of people who have come to mean a lot to me lately.  I truly am blessed with a lot of good people in my life. 

Saturday, the kids came home and Aidan and Ellie were eager to catch up with some friends in the neighborhood, so Liam spent some much-needed quality time with his dog and his momma.  


He also helped me cook up some potatoes for a picnic.  He's becoming quite the helper in the kitchen for me.  


In the afternoon, we walked to the Folmar's house.  Jim, Tammy, and their girls have been our friends for as long as my children can remember, and they are definitely among that list of great people I was just talking about.  Our kids have gone through the same developmental stages and have had similar successes at school and in extra-curricular activities.  We have a great time when we get together, and this time, Jim's dad, whom we all affectionately call "Bear" bought the motherload of fireworks at Sam's Club for the holiday.  


The running joke is that Bear, much like my own father, should not shop without a chaperone.  

Jim let each of the kids (including another boy from up the road whose house Aidan ended up staying over at) select some fireworks for him to set off, and aside from the excited squeals from the kids, my favorite part of the night was when Bear turned to Tammy and me and said, "It was worth it, just to see the looks on the kids' faces." 

Because Ellie stayed the night at the Folmar's, and Aidan was at his friend's, Liam ended up being the only child for the night and morning.  I love being able to have some one-on-one time with the kids when I can.  Aidan stays up later sometimes, Ellie and I do crafts together, and yesterday morning, Liam and I cooked breakfast before going to the park to feed the ducks and play on the playground.  He was in heaven. 

But first, he had to sleep in with Ginger.  This is a lot of trust, if you ask me.  




In the afternoon, my outlaws and their adorable kids came over for lunch and a fun day of Eder's ice cream (if you aren't from around here, just imagine the best ice cream in the world, and you are sort of on the right track) and bowling.  Did I mention we love good food in the summer?





And, if you could do me a favor, don't mention to Scarlett that we had ice cream, OK?  She may have missed out completely...


Bowling went really well, too.  Scarlett started to get pretty tired by the end of the second game, but considering her age, that is not bad at all!  I was really amazed by Liam, who used to need my "power push" to help him get the ball down the lane last year, and who this year bowled like a mini pro.  He really has some natural athletic ability, which is awesome and well...surprising. ha!  I shouldn't say that, since I am a runner, but let's be honest.  Running is basically "left, right, left, right, repeat," according to my wise friend Marisa. 



A few days ago, Michelle and I were talking about how the girls are not sleeping through the night well lately, and she has been exhausted.  I suggested that she and Adam just leave the girls with us for the night so they could go home and get some rest.  And so, here we are, Monday morning, July the 4th.  The girls got Ellie up around 5:30, and we've been busy ever since!  We've made pancakes and played outside, and Scarlett even got a hair trim (requested by her mom, of course!) before 8 AM.  

We are off to the park in a few minutes, and I have a feeling Gabrielle is going to need a nap if she is going to make it through the fireworks tonight!  She is a professional big sister, if I ever saw one!  

And, so we wish you all a happy Independence Day -- not only to celebrate our beautiful liberties as a country, but to celebrate the freedom we have in our lives to be happy and to surround ourselves with people who encourage us to be better people just by who they are.  Happy 4th of July! 




A New Normal

This summer has brought a lot of adjustment for me -- going a week at a time without my kids around is weird.  I am able to talk to them whenever I want: we text, FaceTime and call each other.  But still, the house is very quiet without their boundless energy and excitement bustling around.  In some ways, it is very lonely, but in other ways, the time alone gives me the opportunity to work on school work (yes, I am aware that it's summer, but my AP students are writing 10 blog posts before school begins, so I am giving them assignments and grading them) and to spend time with friends.

I've also had the chance to catch up with some recent graduates this week.  My first dinner was with Kelsey, who is heading to Susquehanna University to major in theatre.  Kelsey is the kind of student that I know I will be close to for life.  We have made the same jokes or finished each other's sentences from the moment we met.  We went to Williamsport's Brickyard restaurant, and we had a great time.  We topped it off with some geocaching, for old time's sake.  


Next up was Jake, the young man whose mother taught Liam at preschool, and the young man whom I love like a son of my own.  Jake is heading to Temple University next month to major in film and media arts.  I have always wished we had more film experiences for him -- more classes, something.  But, I helped Jake to coordinate a few projects our tech director Jordan, whose background and love for gadgets are the perfect mixture of what Jake needed to create his own independent study of film.  He's made a few short films, a movie trailer, among other projects.  Jake has also been one of those actors that I barely need to say a word to in order to coach him.  He can read the tilt of my head, the pace of stride, and the rise of the infamous Connor brow, and he adjusts accordingly.  We went to Williamsport's Moon and Raven restaurant, and it was so great to catch up with him as well. 


Last night, I met up with another Montoursville friend and former department chair, Michelle!  She "graduated" (aka retired) last year, and she has been absolutely loving her new phase in life.  Between her volunteer hours at a local cat shelter, her new home purchase (and sale of her former house) and her own busy social life, Michelle is absolutely filled with joy.  We had our trademark strawberry and almond salad . . . 




and since we were so proud of ourselves for being healthy, we headed out to Montoursville's own Eder's Ice Cream for dessert.  We earned it!  (I think?) 


I have also been working on a big project of my own, and I'll talk about that later when I have more details.  It's pretty exciting.  That's all I'll say for now!  :) 

And tomorrow the kids come back to me!  Yay!  We have some fun things planned for the weekend, and then we head to my aunt's house near Philly because my beautiful cousin Trisha is getting married to a wonderful man named Charles on Saturday.  

So, as I look back over this blog post, I have two observations: 1.  I eat a lot.  and 2. I have a great life and I am so very happy.  It's an adjustment for sure, but I think we are all getting accustomed to our new normal.