I just finished reading The Overdue Life of Amy Byler, and it really struck a chord with me. It’s about a 40-something school librarian and mom of 2 teens, whose husband had something of a meltdown a few years ago and left her and the kids to go live in China. She has found herself a job, refinanced their house and figured out how to keep the three of them alive when her husband shows up out of the blue to reconnect with the kids. They reluctantly agree to give his plan a try for a week in the summer; she decides to take advantage of the week off to go to a library conference in New York City and spend a few days catching up with an old friend.

A week turns into the whole summer, so she ends up spending it in New York City, where she starts off with a full makeover courtesy of her magazine editor BFF from college. They refer to it as her “momspringa”, a play on the Amish tradition of Rumspringa. She picks up a new routine… eats in cafes while she reads or people watches, works out regularly, starts dating again. She ends up learning a lot that summer, both about what her family needs from her as well as what she needs for herself and from her personal relationships. And as I saw how she found herself, it made me start to think…

When our kids are little, we give them so much of our time and energy, that we tend to lose sight of what makes us happy and don’t always do a great job of maintaining our other relationships. Between working and parenting, I often felt like I didn’t have 5 minutes to myself when the kids were little – and if I did I was too tired to DO anything! Once our kids get a bit older and don’t need our constant attention, I think we all deserve a bit of a “momspringa”!

Even though I’m not going to go live in another city away from my family for the summer, I have been focusing on building new habits and finding activities that are just for me. Some local friends formed a book club which I have been attending. I started taking yoga classes in the spring. I’m going camping with a friend this weekend. Uncle Grouchy and I are taking a solo trip this summer – he’ll be working part of the time so I will be exploring a new city on my own.

Hopefully, in finding activities that make me happy, I will also be better equipped to give more to my family when they need me. Because even though I am finding I really enjoy doing my own thing sometimes, I love spending time with my people (and puppy dog) even more.  

And apparently I’m not the only one…who knew?

The days are long, but the years are short

I heard this quote somewhere along the way when my kids were little but I didn’t get it then. I do now. This quote embodies so much of what has been on my mind lately.

Each stage of life with kids is a new and different kind of challenge. When they are little, some days feel like they will never end. You wonder when it’s going to be bedtime only to realize it’s only 10 am. Then, in the blink of an eye, you suddenly realize you only have a few more summers left with them before they’re all grown up.

This year, Megan is going to be away for almost half of the summer. She’ll be travelling abroad to Iceland, Germany and Austria with the GAPP exchange through her school and also spending a week at Lycoming College. I am SO excited for her and all the adventures she will have. But at the same time I think…She’s my evening dog-walking buddy, style sound-board, music recommender and fellow book enthusiast. I am going miss her SO much.

Last weekend we went to a Girl Scout art event at the Reading Public Museum. We chatted on the hour-long drive each way, listening to a playlist of her favorite songs which she created especially for the trip. We had crepes for lunch before the event; sushi and ice cream for dinner afterwards. She ended up being the only girl registered, so it turned out to be a private art session for the two of us. We crafted with felt, painted with water colors and designed labyrinths. We wandered around the museum for an hour or so – checking out the ecclectic galleries containing various artworks, a mummy and dinosaurs.

I am so glad we had the chance to spend the day together before she leaves for her summer of adventures. We enjoyed the museum but didn’t have a chance to see everything, so we are already planning a trip back in the fall. I can’t wait!

Puppy Sitting

We learned a lesson last weekend. Poppy Cotton doesn’t like puppies.  In her house. At least not big, smooshy, playful ones.

We have been on the Puppy Sitting list for Susquehanna Service Dogs for a while. Sometimes the regular Puppy Raiser needs to send the puppy somewhere else while they go away on vacation or just take a break for the weekend.  On those occasions, Puppy Sitters fill in.  A last minute opportunity for sitting one of three 14-week old puppies came up for this weekend.  I decided it was time to take the plunge and responded that we were available.

We picked up the sweetest, most mellow and laid back 14-month old black lab puppy named Keating. He was huge (almost 30 lbs!) and clumsy and snuggly and playful.  The girls loved playing with him; he was enamoured with Molly,  and he started following her around everywhere she went. And when I sat down on the couch, he wanted to be right up here with me.

We expected a little adjustment time for Poppy to get used to having the puppy around. She’s usually excited to meet new dogs, and while she might be a little grumpy at first, she warms up and wants to play. But with him, here in our house, she just got more grumpy and growly and stressed.

I think Keating just wanted to play with Poppy. He would follow her around – the faster she went to get away, the faster he would go.  He would romp and meander around all at the same time, with his big floppy ears and huge paws.  After a difficult evening of trying introduce them and then a whole night of keeping them seperated, neither one happy, we decided it just wasn’t going to work for us to have him at our house for the entire weekend.  It was just too stressful for everyone.  We had to call and ask them to find somewhere else for him to go.  I was sad, the girls were sad, I think even Uncle Grouchy was sad.

We definitely learned some lessons to consider before we get another puppy (which we’ve been talking about).  We need to get Poppy more used to meeting new dogs, especially puppies.  Or we need to consider getting a more mature dog.  Either way, I think we need to get her used to having other dogs visit the house before bringing one here permanently.

This is the closest Poppy would let him get. And she would not relax if he was nearby.

Our Family’s Happy Place

Over the years, our family has visited Pine Creek almost every summer for the past 10 years (along with my parents and my brother’s family). Even before that, the place was always a retreat for me, where I reconnected with my roots and with nature. Our family has been holding family reunions at Little Pine State Park since before I was even born.

Last summer, we didn’t make it there, for the first time in several years, and my kiddos still haven’t let me hear the end of it.  This year, however, we were able to visit twice, and we did our best to make the most of it!

Panorama of the creek from the bank of our rental house.

First, we went up for a long weekend Wednesday-Sunday in late June.  Megan was lucky enough to be able to stay for a few extra days, but I had to drop Molly off at Girl Scout Camp that Sunday, so our stay was cut a little shorter. Our time there is always made most special by being surrounded by family. The kids play hang out with their cousins and the grownups have extra time to sit and visit. We go hiking or biking on the Pine Creek Rail Trail, and of course spend lots of time in the creek. Kayaking and fishing seem to be the favorite activities for the kiddos…I just love paddling up the creek, then floating back down, enjoying the peaceful scenery.

Lots of cousin togetherness!

The kids have an opportunity to reconnect with their grandparents, great grandmother and lots of extended family too.

And I try to fit in a little quiet time as well.

Enjoying the fire before everyone else came down.

Our second visit was just for the weekend so we could attend the family reunion at Little Pine State Park at the end of July.  We stayed in a house in English Center that used to be a restuarant and ice cream shop.  Nana shared fond memories of visiting the ice cream shop with Grandpa, which I thought made it even more special.  The weather was rainy, so we didn’t spend much time in the creek, but we enjoyed visiting everyone at the reunion and just hanging out together as a family.

We got to play in the creek a little bit in the morning, before it started to rain, but it was cold so we didn’t stay in for long!

Family fun and games – darts and checkers. Poppy Cotton wasn’t sure what to think.

I hope that as the kiddos grow up, they will continue to cherish these times at Pine Creek and keep wanting to visit there. I know these times and this place will always hold a special place in my heart.

Summer Reading Stack

As I mentioned in my last post, I am hoping to get in some relaxing reading time this summer.  I usually read on my Kindle, often eBooks from the library.  But I also like to read “real” books. I picked up a handful of paperbacks at the local library’s used book sale and a few more from the bargain table at B&N.  And yet a few more off of Megan’s bookshelf!

Here’s the rundown – I have a mix of historical fiction and modern fiction. Some adult and some teen novels.  No doubt I’ll add to the stack as the summer progresses. I’m a fast reader and I could easily read these in one month if I put my mind to it!

A few others I plan ot borrow off Megan’s shelf that aren’t pictured are the Passenger series by Alexandra Bracken and the Mysterious Benedict Society. I actually read a lot of “teen” novels.  Sometimes I “pre-read” books when trying to decide if they’re appropriate for my kids…other times I read them after they’ve read them, when I know they loved them. And often, I buy books for Megan knowing I want to read them too!  No matter how it happens, I love reading the same stuff they do, so we can discuss and compare our ideas about the story and characters.

I’m not the only one with lofty reading goals for the summer. Megan picked up this stack of books at the library book sale.  Of course, that was back in April, so she’s probably already read half of them.  And she’s also acquired another stack of books about the same size since then from friends and trips to the book store.  I love that she loves reading as much as I do.

And Molly is determined to finish reading the Harry Potter series this summer. She just fininshed up The Prisoner of Azkaban, so she has 4 books to go.  She’s not a super fast reader. I’m hoping that such a big goal will curb her electronics time so she is able to accomplish it. And I may just add them to my stack as well – it’s been quite a few years since I read them!

Happy summer reading to you!

Where Did May Go?

It’s been a busy month since my last post, without much time to myself. Work continued to be very busy for a while – thankfully it is mostly back to normal now.  Both the kiddos had lots of activities to end their school year. Molly just finished 5th grade (and elementary school!) and Megan finished 8th grade (and middle school!)  School is officially out for the summer!

The end of the elementary school years brings with it lots of “last time” activities that I know I will miss someday, so I tried to be there whenver I could. A field trip to Philadelphia, field day, end of the year class party, fifth grade celebration. I was there, camera in hand, trying to enjoy the time and capture some memories with Molly and her friends. So much changes when they go to middle school – I just wanted to be with them a bit longer while they’re “little”.

Middle school ended with less of a flourish.  There was a day time awards ceremony where the 8th graders were all recognized and got to walk across the stage. For Megan, the end of middle school was more about getting through finals. She had 4 this year and she studied hard for them.  We spent a good part of Memorial Day weekend reviewing study packets and making flashcards.

In addition to school stuff, my Girl Scout troop is working on their Bronze Award project.  We’re building a Buddy Bench for the girls’ Elementary School.  We’re working out the final details and are planning to build the bench soon. Watch for a future post about it – I’m so excited for this project and so are the girls!

Even though I’ll be working through the summer, I’m working on slowing down a bit, too. I have a stack of books I want to read this summer and hope to do some projects around the house. The in-laws are coming to visit for a week. We have minimal travel plans, but both girls are spending a week away at different camps. Summer camp weeks will give Uncle Grouchy and I a little bit of much-needed kid-free time.  I have some craft projects I want to work on.  Time to recharge a little bit. Time to slow down and spend time together. That’s what summer vacation is supposed to be all about, right?

It’s the little things.

Since last Tuesday, I’ve been working extra long hours to help solve a problem with a system I work on (along with several co-workers).  We had to turn off part of the system as a result of the problem, so we’re working extra hard to get everything back up and running.  I’ve missed my time at home with my kiddos, with the puppy dog and with Uncle Grouchy.

Last week on Tuesday when we discovered the problem, I was at work till after 11 pm.  I missed kissing my kiddos goodnight, and it was even too busy to call.  The next night, we didn’t work quite so late, so I got home early enough to see them before bedtime.  I was exhausted, just happy to be home, and looking forward to some dinner.  The girls and Poppy Cotton all met me at the door.  Poppy was bouncing around like Tigger and the girls enveloped me in a big hug. After such a long day, it felt great to be welcomed home like that.

They had spent part of that evening before I got home making me a bracelet, which they gave me after the group hug. They used beads and charms from our shared stash of beading supplies.  They had braided together three strands of embroidery floss in my favorite colors and attached the beads and charms they thought I’d like as they braided. They told me it would help me think about them while I was working.

I wore it for the rest of the week…and they were right.  I was missing them while I was at work, putting in long hours, but it made me think of them whenever I noticed it on my wrist. Somehow, they knew exactly what I needed to help me through the week.  I’m still wearing it this week, as we continue working longer-than-usual hours to solve the problem. Hopefully we’ll be able to implement the solution soon and I’ll be able to go back to my regular schedule. Till then, I’ll be wearing my fancy new bracelet, and thinking of how lucky I am to have the two of them at home waiting for me.

Tinker Crate

For Christmas last year, we got the girls subscriptions for Kiwi Crates – the Tinker Crate for Molly and the Doodle Crate for Megan. They look forward to receiving the box of crates every month (they come packaged together) and can’t wait to see what the next project is going to be.

First, a little info on what it’s all about: The Kiwi Crate brand offers several monthly subscription boxes with educational themes targeted at different age groups.  They offer Cricket, Koala and Kiwi Crates for younger age groups (8 and under); Tinker and Doodle Crates are for kids ages 9 and up. Tinker Crates have mechanical and/or science related projects and the Doodle Crates have more involved art projects.  The kits come with almost everything the kids need to complete the project, plus supplemental information and additional project ideas to further their experience.  The only things they leave out are what you’re sure to have at home…scissors, water, etc. Megan’s last Doodle Crate even came with a hole punch!

Each kit comes in a cute and sturdy box decorated like a crate. Molly stores her projects in these after she’s done with them and some projects use the box as part of the base.

The project in Molly’s Tinker Crate this month was Fiber Optic Stars. She got out the instructions and set up all her pieces to get to work.  The instructions are really easy to follow, they’re illustrated, and she can usually follow them completely on her own.  They also offer videos on their website for some of the trickier bits like the wiring for this kit does (incidentally, she didn’t need it, but it’s nice to know it’s there in case she did!)

Hard at work on her project. The stand for the LED light was well labeled and showed exactly where all the parts went. Assembling the foam board with the fiber optic strands looked like fun.

I love that she got to practice building a circuit and learn about constellations in one project!  And she loved that the project was also simple enough occupy her for the space of a rainy afternoon (it did require a bit of drying time for some glue). The kit even came with enough extra supplies that she can make another constellation from the templates or make up her own design some other time.

Molly chose to make the Leo the Lion constellation. Here she is with the finished product.

If you’d like to purchase a Tinker (or other) Crate subscription for a special kiddo in your life, you can do that here. Using this link should give you a $10 discount on any subscription and will also give us a credit to use on future purchases.

Dying Easter Eggs

The girls are on on spring break from school this week, so I took off the afternoon today and the rest of the week to hang out with them. We decided to dye Easter eggs this afternoon. A few years ago, we decided not to get the kits with the little dye tablets anymore and to use food coloring and vinegar instead. It makes really vibrant colors and you can customize it at much as you want. We found a nifty chart on the McCormick’s website that shows how to combine the food dye colors to make lots of pretty egg colors. We had a ton of McCormick’s food colors left over from a Girl Scout project so we were all set!

Top: Megan getting organized. Bottom: Molly hard at work.

It struck me how differently the two girls approached the project.  It probably shouldn’t have, since their personalities and work styles are so different. Megan got out her notebook and planned out how she wanted to color her eggs.  She wrote down the colors of dye to make and even made a chart of how to arrange her dye jars to make sure she could keep track of what color each one had in it.  She numbered her designs, wrote down the steps and planned out the order to make them in.  Molly, on the other hand, picked some colors she liked, mixed them up and started dunking her eggs in. By the time they had sat in the dye long enough, she was surprised by the colors they came out. She was done in under 10 minutes while Megan was still at it half an hour after starting.

The favorites of the finished eggs. Molly’s are on the green grass and Megan’s are on the blue.

We tried a few new techinques this year from some ideas I had saved on my Pinterest Easter board. They wrapped rubber bands around some of the eggs and masked others off with tape to make patterns. We had trouble getting the rubber band technique to work as well as the tutorial (isn’t that always how it goes?) For the taped designs, we used washi tape because we didn’t have any regular painter’s tape. We did polka dots and stripes with the tape. The dye seeped in around it a bit and made some blended lines.  Even though the eggs didn’t quite come out how we planned or expected, it was neat to try out some new ideas.

Despite their different approaches, both girls made some pretty colorful and fun eggs.  And we had a nice afternoon hanging out together, trying out some new dying techniques and playing with colors. Now, I think I need to go buy another dozen eggs so I can have a turn!

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