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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.

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


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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Real House


When I was young, my favorite thing to do was play House—a general label for a game that meant nothing more than pretending to be grown up.  It was all I ever wanted—to be older and have a house and babies and do mom-ish things like change diapers and make dinner and throw a purse over my shoulder while I said something very adult-ish like, “Hey everybody, I’m going to the store!” I loved playing House so much that I hid it well past the approved age when one should admit they play House. In fact, I’m pretty sure I smoked my first two cigarettes under the bleachers at a Montrose High School football game when I was the visiting homeschooled sixth grader who went home to play House later that evening.

It’s kind of weird to be living the life I played for so long. And to think that I considered patting a doll to sleep,  hauling my purse to the store and saying “Oh, honey” a lot pretty much covered being a mom. I certainly left out the hard parts. And, by doing so, left out the most beautiful.

There are lots of days when I still feel like I’m playing house. Moments where—don’t blink!—everything lines up and we are that family I pretended to be. Kids going to ballet and babies smiling in photos and “Hi honey, I’m home” blurted from the laundry room and “Hey everybody, I’m going to the store!” uttered from the kitchen and all those things I thought would make me a grown-up played out just like I planned. Paying with coupons and giving my kids baths and cutting fresh herbs and kissing my husband before he walks out the door and having in-laws and planning birthday parties and checking the mail to find things that prove I’m a real life mom who’s playing real life House—like voter’s registration forms and mattress sales and bills from the pediatric dentist.

But here we are and life is so much more complicated and beautiful and richer and challenging and rewarding and gut-wrenching than I could have ever imagined it would be when I was swaddling that doll daughter named Lexi or pretending to make an appointment for her parent teacher conference or even writing dream baby names down in notebooks after I kissed House goodbye and at least balanced my someday life with realistic efforts like college classes and a part time job that didn’t involve babysitting.

We went out to eat last night, and it went very unlike the episodes I played out in old House days. We forgot the big U.S. vs. Portugal World Cup game was going on and consequently drove up to a few parking lots, ran in to check booth availability and left defeated. We ended up finding a fun sports bar, dragged the kids in and smiled through the first thirty minutes because we were so awesome at playing House. Reality kicked in and by the end of the night we were consoling toddlers rattled by all the noisy cheering, cleaning cracker crumbs from the booth and laughing at how much work a night out ended up entailing.

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We came home with leftover boxes and transferred sleeping babies still in their clothes to cribs and beds.

I never worried about the dolls I carried while playing House as a kid. I never prayed for them or contemplated my choices about them. I never kissed the bridges of their noses or whispered in their ear about how much I loved them after they were asleep. I never cried over my House family.

Tonight, I put three kids to sleep, saying separate prayers for each. I listened to them breathe for a minute, watched their chest rise up and down, whispered things in their ears. I straightened all my week’s priorities out and finally retreated to my desk. Above it, the B & K metal  letters are a little knocked off their nails so that they’re crooked. But they’re hanging in there, and there’s a sturdy wall behind them.

This is what a game of real House looks like. Many exhausted, ironic, beautiful moments

I like real House.


Weekend enjoying:

Our grown-up girl.
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Pier Dates 
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Watching her proudly do her own hair every day.
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The new obsession in our home: mice cat toys
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I mean, the little dinner table and the real cheese. The mice are playing House!
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Afternoon sunlight through dirty windows and the Dora watering can.
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Happy Monday.


This week, I’m over at eHow talking about Sanity-Saving Ways to Survive the Witching Hour. Dude. Every day: “Sometimes, when I’m feeling a little crazy and one mess away from snapping, I actually let myself snap–appropriately. Kid of like a ‘controlled burn’ that forest rangers initiate to keep the whole forest from going up in flames.”