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A Back to School Party

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Blame it on the Dollar Spot at Target. Or the fact that you can take the teacher out of the classroom, but you can’t take the Sticker Obsession/Chalk Attraction/Chunky Pink Eraser Love out of the teacher (which is why I still write in D’Nealian, by the way). Whatever the case, our back-to-school enthusiasm met up with the back-to-school dollar treasure aisle and BOOM! A little celebration was born. See also: excuse to make cookies, we missed our friends, we had some apples to use up, kid parties make people smile.

The plan was low key party, treats and a big kid swim fest where moms catch up in between yelling “Careful!” and “Don’t run!” and “Dry off before you come in!” But it started pouring right when everyone arrived which brought us to Plan B-the trump card for everything in life: COZY FALL FEST. Dim the lights, burn candles, play the jazz greats. This advice works for every situation imaginable. Try it.

Witching hour madness? Dim the lights, burn candles, play the jazz greats.
Want to make out with your spouse like it’s your first date? Dim the lights, burn candles, play the jazz greats.
Company coming over in half an hour and you’re not ready? Dim the lights, burn candles, play the jazz greats.
Feel like everything’s falling apart and you don’t know where to begin to fix it? Dim the lights, burn candles, play the jazz greats.

See? Foolproof.

Quick note: I’ve been advised over the years by many wise homemakers/moms/family members that the best way to quickly clean up when you’re running behind is to grab a laundry basket and run through your house putting anything you don’t know what to do with in the basket. The idea–although it doesn’t always work out this way–is that you entirely clean out the basket later. Or leave it in a closet for two weeks, but who’s counting? Anyhoo, in a quick clean-up of my catch-all kitchen counter before the party, I did this impressive arm sweep across the entire length–like the counter was a windshield and my arm was a giant wiper. This collection of stuff avalanched into the basket, and I had to laugh when I looked down to watch The Life-Changing Art of Tidying Up land with a thunk. I see your KonMari Method, and I raise you a Hampton ThrowShitInALaundryBasket Game Changer. Let’s just say the book may have inspired some new routines around here, but we still have work to do.

A few pictures from our Back to School celebration…

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For the Elmer’s container for the yogurt, I found a square glass canister at Target and cut and glued some orange construction paper to make the famous orange lid. I enlarged an Elmer’s School Glue label and edited it with a little Comic Sans font. You didn’t ask for my feelings on Comic Sans, but I will tell you anyway: belongs in a classroom or the Sunday funnies, and that’s it. I recall a college professor admonishing a room of soon-to-be professionals: “And don’t you DARE use Comic Sans on your resume.”

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Brushed up on my 7’s and 8’s Times Tables because I was a little rusty.

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We did a wafer/mini marshmallow version of the ever popular Pinterest cheesestick/Bugle pencil.

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The kids decorated their own cookies but I did a few samples for them. I’ve loved my buttercream frosting recipe but tried a new decorating frosting recipe that hardens/sticks/paints on much easier, and loved it. It has a little almond extract in it and tastes delicious.

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The kids loved the doughnut competition–a fun game for any party. String doughnuts and hang them high enough for a challenge (right above the nose) above two kids. They can’t use their hands and have to compete to see who can eat the doughnut off the string first.

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Turns out the sun did come out–as it always does–and the rest of the afternoon continued with summer-loving kids making waves before they take their wave-making game to the classroom.

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And now we swim.
And tonight?
Dim the lights, burn candles, play the jazz greats.

20 Summer Hacks for Moms

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The School Supply Pack order forms came home last week. If you don’t know what these are, let me enlighten you. Back in the days when Lainey started school–you know, when I signed all the folders with a designated folder-signing pen and not some dried-up capless marker I found in the cup holder of my car–I thought these little forms were joy suckers. They take all the fun out of school supply shopping and make it so everything your kid needs to start school the following year is shrink-wrapped, sitting on her desk the night of Meet the Teacher. Not for me, I thought. I enjoy the process of shopping for school supplies. I mean, who would want to miss out on the excitement of taking your kid to pick out notebooks? Or weaving your cart through aisles of rainbow folders and little boxes of golden pencils that beg to be sniffed? Who would want to skip the rite of passage of standing next to your child, watching him choose between glue sticks or glue bottles? I’ll tell you who…ME. I want to skip it. And I do now, every year, thanks to these blessed stress-relieving, time-saving angels called school supply pack order forms that I fill out, pay online and then–here’s the best part–forget about them. It took me two years of pushing through crowds to look for the marble purple wide-ruled composition notebook only to find it out of stock, or rummage through folders to hunt for the 2-pocket, 3-prong ones in seven different colors (non-existent, by the way) to offer that task up. Sure, we still end up buying a few extra things before school just for fun, but now there’s no pressure to beat the crowds and cart-block Miss Hoarded-the-Entire-Inventory-of-Orange-Pocket-Folders to snatch the last pack of Expo markers. In fact, come August, we casually hit the Back to School aisles just for laughs. Because frazzled crowds clawing through scattered piles of notebooks in search of red 70 count, non-perforated, wide-ruled ones is just funny. Bet you passed on the school supply pack because you just love the thrill of picking out your own pencils, didn’t you?

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I feel passionate enough about sharing the miracle of buying next year’s school supplies in advance that it got me thinking. There’re other tips out there for preserving summer and making it as easy and enjoyable as possible for moms, and these tips need to be shared. So I gathered some of my own tips and then hit up my friends and fellow moms who have journeyed this summering-with-kids path well. We ended up with a list of 20 hacks to help you brave the next few months. Plus, I went through and found some of my favorite summer photos in the archives and popped them in for some eye candy. My friends shared so many good tips, I feel like a better mom already. Ready? Here we go. I already told you #1.

1. Stock up on back to school needs at the beginning of summer and put it all away. We even go beyond the school supply pack list and restock everything that needs replacing at the beginning of the summer so we don’t have to think about it come August. This includes lunch packing supplies, water bottles, P.E. shoes and backpacks if needed. The only drawback is that Florida offers a tax-free week for clothing and school supplies right before school starts, but it’s worth it to me to get the basics out of the way so that we can fully enjoy our summer without feeling a flush of anxiety when the back-to-school signs emerge (you know, two weeks after school gets out) and we’re not ready to shift gears. We do save some clothes shopping for the end, but the necessities? Out of the way.

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2. Create your family summer bucket list together, and display it large for all to see to hold you accountable…with forgiving wiggle room, of course. (from my cousin Heather): “We have a fun family meeting at the beginning of summer and list all the stuff we want to do and put it on a sign somewhere (these giant wall Post-its work great); otherwise the summer just gets away from you, and you end up watching Netflix the whole time. We put little things like “go out for ice cream” on there and then dramatically cross it off along with the bigger things. “Go see a drive-in movie” was on there one year, and it was a pain to make it happen, but we never would have done it if it hadn’t been written down, and it ended up being so much fun.” (A couple years ago, I published these fun ways to make a summer bucket list.)

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3. I love this one from my sister: Forgive yourself before the summer begins for all the educational supplements you’re never going to get to. Oh, if I had a nickel for every failed summer high hope of “We’re going to start every day with math review.” Yeah, no. Sure, take a shot at it. Because you know you already bought the second grade readiness practice book. But be kind to yourself. I bring summer reading list books for everyone on our trips as well as some Pacon ruled handwriting paper for Nella, but the rest of those summer review lessons? We fold them in to our travels–sorting strawberries in number groups after we pick them, sounding out words on billboards as we pass them and adding uneven fractions as we double that recipe for saskatoon pie.

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4. Keep Solo cups and a permanent marker (to label) in the garage with a water cooler. When your kids are outside playing and ten neighbor kids join them, if you don’t have cold water accessible outside, it’s going to look a little something like Door slam, in. Door slam, out. Door slam, in. Door slam, out. And cups: Everywhere. On hot summer days, kids get thirsty–a lot. When Austyn and Brandyn were younger and had friends over all the time, we actually invested in an office water cooler for the garage that turned out to be the best thing ever. See also: drinking from the hose.

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3. Keep baby wipes by the door to wipe dirty bare feet. (from my neighbor Dede, the Heloise of homekeeping) We spend a lot of time barefoot outside which makes for very dirty feet. All that dirt comes right back inside, and if you don’t clean it right away, it’s gradually making your floors, rugs and furniture filthy. A box of baby wipes at the house entrance (laundry room, garage, front door) reminds kids to quickly wipe the bottoms of their feet before climbing on the couch with those filthy paws.

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4. Have a ready-to-go pool/lake/beach bag stashed for easy impromptu trips. (from my sister) “I used to have pool bags packed for my girls so whenever we went swimming spontaneously, it wasn’t an ordeal hunting for suits and goggles and beach towels and sunscreen. When we got home, I’d throw everything in the dryer and put it right back in the bags.”

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5. Perhaps my favorite tip of all, from my cousin Joann: “Hide in the shower with a box of Hostess cupcakes and pretend you don’t hear your kids when they’re running through the house yelling ‘MOMMMMMMM!!!!!” A comparable solution: my sister once took a box of wine out to her driveway and hid in her minivan.

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6. Here’s your summer survival kit. Ready? Sidewalk chalk (mix up the regular store bought stuff with this vivid drawing chalk for some amazing driveway art), bubbles, a jump rope, a sprinkler, water balloons, an inexpensive kite (love this classic rainbow one or this butterfly), sparklers and glow sticks.

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7. From my friend Katie. “Real paint brushes from Home Depot and buckets of water is one of my summer favorites. Little kids will paint with water for fucking ever.” End quote.

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8. Put summer to dos on little folds of paper in a mason jar, and let one kid pick one every other day. (from my friend Lindsey) “Some are outings like ‘go to the children’s museum’ or ‘go out for ice cream’ but others are simpler like ‘have a picnic in the yard’, ‘put on a fashion show’, ‘paint seashells’. The element of surprise is a big deal and helps stop the “what are we doing today?” question for the millionth time.”

I love this next one. Text to my friend Nici in Montana: “I’m working on collecting a list of summer hacks for moms. Any tips you have to include?”

She texts back, simply:

9. “Booze.”

A while later she did text back an addendum though: “I want to add to the booze statement that I stand behind 100%. We seem to always be hosting late, post-creek, spontaneous dinners at our house. Things that make it a snap: 100% let go of the inside mess and don’t apologize for it, make popcorn, have frozen veggie and fish burgers at the ready and keep booze on hand.”

A few more great ones from Nici:

10. Use a Dinner Bell! “We live in a hood where the kids run wild and free all day long. I have a big ol’ bell that I ring when I want my kids home. It is way more efficient than texting all the neighbors to see who has the pack, and it sure sounds better than me hollering across the valley.” I love this one so much because it would totally work for my dad’s cabin, so I found this bell we can nail to a tree for Bliss for summer.

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11. “A favorite for kids of all ages: outdoor play kitchen. Simply, it’s an outside surface with piles of thrifted kitchen utensils and access to dirt and other nature objects. They’ll spend hours making pies and soups and casseroles. Recently, we added herb shakers full of crushed up leaves, spent coffee grounds and dried petals, etc. Best part: no cleanup other than those muddy kid paws.”

12.  “Summer Camp Co Op. My friends and I have talked about crafting this one-week camp, and I hope this is the summer it happens! Five families, each family picks a theme and takes a day with all the kids. Boom.” We did a spin on this last year with our Camp Bliss day which was a full day dedicated to camp activities including a big camp lunch, archery, crafts and sack races. We even had shirts made for it, and the kids had a blast.

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13. “I save extra goggles, new cheap pool floats and glow sticks under our guest vanity for last minute pool get togethers for my son’s friends.” (from my friend Dede)

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14. Summer must: Always keep s’mores supplies on hand–marshmallows, graham crackers, chocolate bars and good sticks. Put them all in a box, let your kids decorate it, and call it the “S’More Box.” Refer only to the s’more supply kit as “The S’more Box” and treat it like the ark of the covenant. Also, an important word on s’mores. They make those fancy metal poker sticks with wood handles and all, but don’t use them. The metal gets too hot where the stick is inserted into the marshmallow which melts the marshmallow too much, widening the insertion hole to the point where the marshmallow hangs, prohibiting proper rotisserie techniques for an evenly browned crispy edge. Use regular long sticks you find in nature–keeps the marshmallows gripped. Want to get fancy this summer? Try Studio D.I.Y,’s tie dye unicorn s’mores.

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15. Make a summer car kit that never leaves your vehicle for spontaneous adventures. What goes in that bag? Sunscreen, bug spray, baby wipes, sunglasses, hats, hair ties, large Ziplocks (for wet clothes) and a blanket for picnics, parks and beaches.

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16. Lining up some summer BBQs with friends? I love this tip from my friend Katie: “I feed my kids at home before parties and BBQs so that I don’t have to worry about forcing them to make a plate at a BBQ that has some kale salad from Pinterest. Then my kids don’t eat every slice of watermelon just because they’re starving, and I can enjoy the party without chasing down kids to find something for them to eat.” Brilliant.

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More from Katie:

17. “I serve summer day meals on a platter. Slice two apples and drop a big glob of peanut butter. Add some crackers and string cheese, sandwiches cut in quarters, cinnamon toast, banana thirds, a pile of grapes–voila. Free for all lunch.”

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…and…

18. “Keep Dixie cups and a giant carton of Goldfish crackers on hand for hungry neighbor kids who’ve made your yard their main summer station.” That way, you’re not divvying out the individual packages of Pirate Booty you just bought for your upcoming road trip.

Which reminds me…

19. If you live in a neighborhood where all the kids, including yours, always end up at one house (you know, the one with the trampoline, pool, great swing set and club house), consider donating some bulk snacks to the mom who lives there. Most moms don’t turn down little kids who say they’re hungry. Help a sister out.

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20. Stock up on Old Navy flip flops. They come in all sizes (with back straps for the little tot sizes), tons of fun prints and at $3 a pop, you can buy ten pairs.

We’re armed and ready now, summer. Let’s do this.

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Wild and Precious Life, Part 233–Actually, I Lost Count

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Lainey’s backpack signals the excitement of the close of a school year—projects that have been displayed in the classroom throughout the year are now coming home, calls for any borrowed library books are made urgent and plans for end-of-the-year parties are put together. As in, I should get on that—I’m half the room mom.

You can feel the sense that something good is coming. Like when we were little and it didn’t matter if we ever left our house come summer—the weeks leading up to it, you’d think we were all going to do the most exciting thing ever. Which, at seven, really meant nothing more than garbage bag Slip n’ Slide by day and several rounds of neighborhood Kick the Can by night.

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While kids geek out over The Cusp of Summer, I’m likewise energized by The Cusp of—something. Outwardly, I feel it in my uncontrollable urge to weed out things right now—clothes, crap piles, habits, anything that’s not working for me. Must. Make. Space. For. New. Or else New might come sweeping in and pass by, unable to stay because there’s no room for it.

This morning, I took an hour to delete every single e-mail in the inbox I’ve had since college. I’ve come close to doing it so many times before but opted not to, scared I’d delete something I intended to save—someone’s contact info or a sentimental piece from the past. And I feel like hanging on to those things is a theme that’s been lurking in other areas of my life, perhaps keeping me from what’s next. So I deleted the beast today—all the spam, all the stories, all the beautiful quotes I’ve been meaning to sort into folders for later. There is nothing wonderful in that e-mail box that isn’t already a part of me. And the fear of not having something or losing something—an opportunity, a piece of the past, a part of the future, a connection, a feeling, security, safety—is my biggest roadblock in freely moving forward and accepting life’s gifts.

“Dependence on the creator within is really freedom from all other dependencies.  Paradoxically, it is also the only route to real intimacy with other human beings. “ –Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way)

I’ve felt a magnetic force for as long as I can remember towards God and my purpose, along with an incredible freedom to chase the avenues by which I’d fulfill that purpose–an open current of creativity and love, a willingness to make mistakes, a whole-hearted “thank you, I accept this.” I’ve mucked it up a bit, as we will do, and perhaps even done so in feeling so hell-bent on defining that source of purpose. Is it God? Is it the creative self? The Universe? By needing to define and label it and letting the fear of “stuff” (from simply losing an e-mail contact to the more significant “I’m afraid I won’t be enough”) grasp hold of me, I sometimes repel that force, both lazy and rebellious in following its course.

I do know that decluttering closets and e-mail and life opens up that current even more, and so does the simple act of posture. You know how I started my morning today? In a way I haven’t practiced in a long time—I stretched upward, opening my arms to the sky and physically aligning my body with how I aim for it to be mirrored inside—free and open and fearless. I stretched as far up as I could reach until hidden muscles tingled and my capacity for breath seemed to double.  How silly I forget how to do this. It comes so naturally.

And so, while desks are being cleaned out at school and bulletin boards are being stripped and readied for what’s next, I join all the kids in excitement—free, wild and childish excitement for whatever it is that’s in store. I’m making space for New—even if it’s as simple as the Slip n’ Slide that will grace our side yard. I will listen and trust the God that breathes inside, let go of defining it and accept the current of creativity and love that is meant just for me. The dots don’t need to connect. It’s abstract art.

And some wild and precious summer moments from past years to further invite the open current:

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