2018 Summer Mini-Bucket List

 
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I’ve always loved summer, especially when my kiddos were school-aged.  The Fun Fridays, endless pool days, library reading challenges, and impromptu meet-ups with cousins to tour potato chip factories or play in the park filled our days with fun and created wonderful memories.  Now that I’m a parent of two young adults and a teenager who is driving, the structure of the summer months has morphed into something entirely different and it still feels a little weird to me.

High school and college are finished for the year so the kids are technically enjoying a break, although it doesn’t feel like it.  Julia is studying abroad in Italy this month and we only speak to her a few nights a week for a few minutes.  When she returns, she’ll be working and probably spending a lot time with her boyfriend.  Mark is working full time for a landscaper friend of ours during the day and his evenings are dedicated to his girlfriend or to fishing with his brother. And Aaron, who would love to find a job, prefers fishing or watching Netflix with a certain girl with very long hair and glasses to hanging out with his mom.

I’m being left to my own devices this summer and it’s a bittersweet experience.  While I’m sad that the years of corralling and entertaining little people are over, I’m enjoying the experience of watching my children grow into their capable and independent adult selves.  I’m also really looking forward to some me time this summer, which brings me, finally, to the reason for this post.  It’s time for my annual Summer Mini-Bucket List.

This year I’m taking my inspiration from Tsh Oxenrider of The Simple Show, a podcast I occasionally listen to.  The theme for June is Grown-Upping the Summer and Tsh and her co-host Kendra Adachi talk about ways to have a personally enjoyable and productive summer without losing your mind.  In the first podcast of the series, Tsh outlines four categories that provide the framework for her low-key summer goals.  The categories are: 1) Something to learn, 2) Something to enjoy, 3) Something good for me, and 4) Something to finish.  These mesh well with my own summer goal philosophy so I’ve decide to build my mini-bucket list around her framework.  (Note: I have added one additional goal: Some way to serve).

After considering these categories and my own expectations and hopes for the summer, I came up with this list:

2018 Summer Mini-Bucket List

  1. Something to learn:  Learn how to play Somewhere Over the Rainbow on the piano.  I just bought the sheet music for this lovely arrangement and I’d like to take time to learn it well and maybe even memorize it.
  2. Something to enjoy:  Voracious reading for pleasure.  No surprises here, I know, but I have been doing so much hard reading lately for the Challies 2018 Reading Challenge and for work that I need a break.  I am only going to read what thrills me this summer.  Period.
  3. Something good for me.  Walk 10 miles a week.  The goal here is to get outside, indulge in the pleasure of moving my body and reap some health benefits.
  4. Something to finish.  Finish decorating the dining room.  Originally I was going to say “Hem the drapes in the dining room”, but that would only be a partial finish because we still need a carpet and wall sconces and a plant and a photograph framed and hung.  With this in mind, the actual goal includes putting all the finishing touches on the dining room.
  5. Some way to serve:  Prepare and deliver meals for people in need.  I am part of a group at my church that prepares meals and takes them to individuals who have recently had surgery or welcomed a new baby into their family.  Because of my work schedule most of the year, I can only infrequently sign up for a meal.  This summer, every time an opportunity arises, I am going to sign up and make it work with my schedule.

This is a short list, especially compared to some of my previous summer mini-bucket lists, but it feels just right for this time in my life.  It’s eminently doable, totally low stress, and just makes me happy.  It also provides plenty of breathing space for all the other serendipitous and wonderful things this summer might have to offer.  I think I’ll get started right away with a good book and a beverage on the front porch.

Do you make any goals or bucket lists for the summer?  Please share.

 

 

A Little Yule Cheer: Day 21 (Christmas Card Outtakes)

Ever since my youngest child joined our family, my husband and I have been exploiting our children to create adorable Christmas cards.  When Aaron was four months old, we dressed the kids up as  Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus.  We used an old Crate and Barrel magazine rack for the manger and pillow cases for costumes.  The card was a huge hit and a tradition was born.  Through the years the kids have been angels, shepherds with cardboard sheep, lions and lambs, Santas, and the reindeer you see below.  They’ve held candles, played in the snow, and spelled the word Joy with cardboard letters painted gold.

Now that the kids are older (my daughter is 19 and my sons are 16 and 14), we’ve pretty much given up doing creative family Christmas cards.  The last time I asked the kids what theme they wanted to do, my middle son suggested a recreation of that first manger scene complete with my youngest son, who is now 5’7″ and 170 lbs., playing the role of baby Jesus.  That went over like a lead balloon as you can probably guess.  With that, our card tradition has come to an end.

I wish I could say that I miss creating all those Christmas cards, but I really don’t.  They were a lot of work, mostly because getting three children to look at a camera at the same time and smile is difficult  under normal circumstances.  Add props like a lit candle or uncomfortable costumes and it becomes an impossible task.  Photos sessions always ended with someone in tears (usually me and at least one child) and an oath that we were never, ever, doing this again (which we always did).

Somehow, we always managed to put a card together before Christmas and as much as I don’t miss doing it, I’m so glad we made the effort.  Our family and friends have enjoyed the cards and w e now have a wonderful collection of images of our children across the past 14 Christmases.  The funny thing is, when I look through the photos, I love the ones that didn’t make the cut the best because that is where each child’s personality really shines through.  Sweet Julia, who has always been a pleaser, wanting to do exactly what we asked of her and who the boys could get to laugh at the drop of a hat.  Mark ,who was always half annoyed that he had to participate and who could never keep his eyes open when the flash went off.   And Aaron, who has the most expressive face of anyone ever and who couldn’t sit still for 5 seconds.

The photos below are from our 2007 Christmas card.  The kids are 11, 8, 6.  You’ll notice they are signing in some of the photos.  I found that it helped them to smile if they sang Christmas carols.  None of the photos below made it to the cover of the Christmas card that year but I love every single one of them.  They are the perfect example of what our Christmas card process was normally like and are beautiful reminders for me of who my children were at that time.

Christmas Reindeer of 2007

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Thank you for allowing me to revel in some Christmas nostalgia and for joining me.

Black Hole Brain

Did you know a black hole is not an area of nothingness located in the vast reaches of outer space?  On the contrary, it is a celestial entity so densely packed with matter that the resultant gravitational field doesn’t even allow light to escape it.  The pull can be so strong, in fact, that it devours other stars and can significantly impact its heavenly neighborhood.

{image acquired from didyouknowarchive.com}

At the moment, my brain is a creative black hole; it has been soaking up information like a sponge, but the gravitational pull of all that swirling, spinning “matter” in my small skull won’t allow even one focused ray of an idea to escape.  The present lack of quality time available for writing only seems to intensify the severity of the condition.  It’s a maddening form of writer’s block and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

In other words: Too many nebulous ideas + no time to sort them out = black hole brain = ME!

While I recover from this debilitating disease, please enjoy the links below.  They are some of my favorite finds from the last few weeks of surfing the Internet waves.  Let me know what you think of them.  And please, if you have any suggestions I should check out, add them in the comments.  At the moment I may be incapable of writing anything worthwhile, but my brain sucks up thoughtful blog posts and fun websites like Cygnus X-1 devouring extraterrestrial real estate.

Links I’m loving right now:

1. Nectarine Skillet Cake – My mouth is watering just thinking about it!

2. Eleuthera, Bahamas – Dreaming of going here next summer…

3. How To Talk To Your Daughter About Her Body  and How To Talk To Your Son About His Body– Parenting wisdom I wish every parent understood and every child experienced.

4. The Impediment of Art – I love the quotes by Brooks Jensen.

5. When Words Fail (Steve McCurry) – For photography and music lovers.

6. What Miley Taught Me About Parenting – More parenting wisdom about raising teenagers.

7. What Is Your Design Style (Polished Casual here) – Why are these quizzes so addictive?

8. How to Pay Attention to the Beauty in Front of You – I read this just when the complete crazy of everyday life was starting to get to me.

Finally…

9.  Summers Last Embers – Beautiful…

Practice for Life

An over-scheduled life has me struggling with a nasty bout of writer’s block.  In an effort to get the creative cogs turning, I began sifting through some of the posts hanging out in my “drafts” bin.  I came across the following essay (which is over a year old) and thought it might be good enough to share.  Although the child and the situation have changed, I’m currently struggling with this same parenting issue.  As you’ll see, I astutely predicted that would be the case.

I am sitting on the edge of the sofa in the late afternoon sunlight.  Ace is standing beside me, bow in his right hand, upright bass supported by his left.  He keeps absent-mindedly tossing his head to flick the hair out of his eyes and attitude is oozing out of him like hot lava.  He is disgusted with me and I’m trying desperately not to return the favor.  I sigh and look out the window.  Why must everything be so hard?

“OK,”I say“Play it again and I’ll clap the beat for you.”  He groans and slumps his shouldersAs I mark a steady beat, he barely attempts the notes.  It’s a pathetic effort and he knows it.  I resist the urge to grab the bow out of his hand and bonk him on the head with it.  Instead, he takes the bow and bangs his bass with it.

“Play it again.”  I state this with authority and very little emotion. It is taking every ounce of self-control not to explode.  I can tell his disgust is multiplying by the second, but he makes another attempt and there is improvement.  I’m pleasantly surprised and Ace can tell.  Do I detect a smile?  No, it’s a smirk.

“Play it again,” I say.

“What?!”  he asks, truly incredulous.  “I’ve already done it three times.”

“Only one time well and that won’t make you a better bass player,” I respond.  As he rolls his eyes – wait, did my baby boy just roll his eyes at me?! – I try to explain that practice teaches his fingers where to go so he won’t have to look at them every time he changes a note.  I tell him that practice puts the music in his head so that he doesn’t have to work so hard reading it on the page.  I end my mini-lecture by saying practice is the blood, sweat, and tears that make the performance so sweet.  I believe I’m making a solid and highly motivational argument.  Ace’s eyes glaze over.  All he hears is “Blah, blah, blah”.

I sigh again.  I can’t help myself.  “Do you like playing the bass?”

“Yeah,” he replies.  I know he’s telling me the truth.  When he does take this seriously, he creates low melodious tones that resonate through the house.  He desperately wants to play the electric bass, too.  We’ve promised he can start taking lessons in the summer as long as he makes a good effort with this classical instrument first.  He’s not holding up his end of the deal.  I get updates from his strings teacher at school after every lesson and they are getting progressively worse.  Secretly, I feel like it’s my fault.  I’ve been so preoccupied with my own school and work that I haven’t been paying attention to the quality of his practicing. He’s been flying under my radar unnoticed for too long and now things are falling apart. I’ve forgotten that even practice skills need to be taught.  I shake my head as I think about this.

“What do you want?” I ask, looking directly into his hazel-colored eyes.  I want him to say that he wants to be a great bass player.

“I want to go over to Alex’s house.”  This matter-of-fact statement makes me laugh because I’m not expecting it.  Ace isn’t smiling.

“Well, then, once more through this song and two times through the next two.” Ace bangs his bow on the bass for the second time and groans in frustration.  I’m on the verge of losing my cool.

“If you don’t do what I’ve asked, you won’t being seeing Alex tonight at all.”  I’m resorting to threats and I hate myself for it.  Ace finishes practicing because he knows I mean it.  It’s a painful five minutes.  I’ve frustrated him to the point of complete apathy.  The bass whines and moans through the notes.  Was there even a melody in all that screeching?  It’s so awful, I can’t even tell.  Aaron resists any of my advice and argues with me when I tell him he’s playing a G instead of an F#.  By now, everyone within earshot just wants this to end.  When he’s finished, he rests the bass on its side, tosses the bow on the couch, and walks toward the front door.

“Same time tomorrow, then?” I say brightly.  He doesn’t even turn around.

I throw myself back against the cushions and close my eyes.  For all the joy and pleasure I get of out of parenting, at the moment I can’t decide if it’s worth going through these hassles.  Does it really matter if Ace practices his bass regularly and well?  Should I be creating situations like this that frustrate my children to the point of anger?  Why am I constantly second guessing myself and my parenting choices?  Once again I find myself marveling at the complexity of parenting tweens and teens, the layers of meaning that seem to permeate every encounter.  The terrible twos were a piece of cake compared to this.  It’s mentally and emotionally exhausting work and I often don’t feel up to the challenge.

Teaching my children to strive for excellence is very important to me.  I believe it honors God when we do our best regardless of the circumstances.  When activities and responsibilities are fun or encompass favored skills, talents, and interests, excellence is easily achieved.  The ballgame changes considerably, however, when the task at hand is boring, disagreeable, uncomfortable, or inconvenient.  The interesting thing about this striving for excellence is that God makes no distinction between situations in which excellence comes easily and those in which is does not.

Colossians 3:23-24 says: Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.  It is the Lord your are serving.

Striving for excellence even in the difficult or boring things has been a very hard concept for my kids to grasp. Understanding and application is requiring significant amounts of failure which has been hard on all of us. With Ace, it’s his skill with the bass and his desire to rush through the things he hates (like homework) to get to the things he loves.  For Buddy, it’s learning over and over that effort made towards assignments is directly related to his grades.  Lovey, who is the farthest along in developing the character trait of excellence, still did poorly on a scale review in band recently because she didn’t feel the need to practice.  Poor grades, weak performances, pitiful cleaning attempts – it really doesn’t matter what it is because it is all relevant.  Every situation is an opportunity to practice the pursuit of excellence.  The kids are slowly learning that if they slack off in the boring or hard parts, they have no hope of excelling when the rubber meets the road.  There have been many scenes like the one Ace and I have just endured.  I’m pretty sure there will be many more.

As I consider all of this, I recognize that I really cannot teach this life lesson to my kids.  The learning comes from living out the choices they make, dealing with the consequences, and learning from mistakes. Trying to control their behavior too much just postpones the real learning opportunities and makes the consequences potentially more serious.  My job as The Mom is to offer guidance and insight that encourages them to recognize the benefit and satisfaction of a job well done.  As hard as this is for me, I need to let the mini-Whimseys fail if their choices and behaviors produce that outcome.  Then, I’ll help them pick up the pieces and work through what went wrong – the failure needs to be experienced for real understanding to take place.  For Ace, this means helping him develop good practice skills and setting the expectation of practicing 15 minutes everyday.  Then, it is up to him.  How he does during his lesson is directly related to the effort and commitment he chooses to apply.

The next couple of years flash before my eyes and I feel tired just thinking about it.  More and bigger battles are yet to come; it is inevitable.  No doubt, it would be much easier to allow the kids to wallow in the mediocrity of things poorly done.  So. Much. Easier.  I wouldn’t have to endure frustrating instrument practices, whine fests about cleaning bedrooms, and heated discussions about how poor grades couldn’t possibly be —–‘s fault even though —— never bothered to study.  However, if I don’t encourage my kids to work toward a particular standard, I’ll be practicing my own version of parenting mediocrity.

My attitude and reactions during the difficult times have an impact on whether these struggles are helpful in moving the kids along the path to maturity or turn into stumbling blocks. God has blessed me with three incredibly bright and challenging children and I want to do this parenting job well.   My goal is to do the very best I can to raise kids who are intrinsically motivated to give life their best effort because they love God and want to give Him their finest.  This means helping them develop the skills they need to do a great job, cheering them on, allowing them to suffer the consequences when they fall short, and being honest with my own shortcomings and failures.  I “work for the Lord” when I diligently and lovingly support and guide my children in developing the desire for excellence (not perfection) in the nitty-gritty of their lives.

I open my eyes and lean forward to pick up a piece of sheet music that has drifted to the floor.  For a brief second, I find myself wishing for the Terrible Twos again.  The very worst of the toddler years is nothing compared to this parenting teens thing.  The last fifteen minutes hasn’t been fun.  But, I’ve already decided I’ll be doing it again.  It’s my job and I will work at it with all my heart, as working for the Lord.  I just pray that God will bless my imperfect efforts and grant me an extra measure of self-control because hitting my son on the noggin with his bow would be a definite hindrance to the cause….

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Ace has come a very long way since I first wrote this post.  This photo was taken at his Spring 2013 concert. The practicing has really paid off!

Books I Loved Reading to My Kids (Part 2)

A few several months ago, I shared a post describing some of my favorite children’s books.  (You can check it out here if you like).  To my utter amazement, the post was Freshly Pressed.  I’m still delighted that a subject so personally meaningful to me was appreciated by the WordPress gurus as well as by the many wonderful people who stopped by to like the post and/or comment on it.  I promised at the end of that post to write another one about my favorite novels for reading out loud to my kids.  After months of procrastinating, I’m finally getting around to it.  For those of you who have been hanging around Whimsey Pie just for this post, I apologize for the delay.

The Whimsey family graduated from picture books to novels at bedtime with the acquisition of Despereaux, purchased from the now extinct Zainy Brainy toy store.  My munchkins were about 7, 5, and 3 at the time and although that may seem a bit young, the switch worked well for us.  Each night, I (or my husband) would sit in our darkened hallway, reading by flashlight to our sleepy children who had been scrubbed clean, prayed over, and tucked snuggly in bed with their stuffed friends.  In those last wakeful moments of the day we would embark on thrilling adventures, travel to far away lands, and encounter heroes large and small.  Many times when I stopped reading, thinking everyone had fallen asleep, a little voice from one of the bedrooms would say “Just one more page, Mommy”.  The whole family eagerly anticipated the next chapter of our bedtime book in the evening.  Over the years, I (and my husband) have shared numerous tales with our kids in this way and enjoyed every second of it.

It never ceases to amaze me how the stories we read together during that time have become part of the my family’s unique collective history.  We often talk about the books we experienced in those quiet hours and have even been known to quote favorite lines.  I’ve picked out a few gems to share with you here, but I have to say that editing the list to a manageable size was no easy task.  And please note: the books aren’t organized in any particular sequence other than the order in which they popped into my brain.

The Tale of Despereaux

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DeCamillo.  Despereaux Tilling is a tiny mouse with big ears who behaves in a most un-mouselike manner – he’s born with his eyes open, he reads books instead of eating them, and he loves a human princess.  Understandably, this causes him all sorts of problems – among his fellow mice and in the castle at large.  The story has the feel of a fairy tale and celebrates individuality, courage, forgiveness, and redemption.  The style of writing, with the narrator speaking directly to the reader, makes for an engaging listening experience.  It’s a great read-aloud book and was the first novel we read as a family.  We just couldn’t help falling in love with Despereaux the mouse.

My Father's Dragon   

My Father’s Dragon, Elmer and the Dragon, and The Dragons of Blueland by Ruth Stiles Gannett.  To be honest, the cover art hooked me even before I knew what treats were hidden inside.  Imagine, then, how tickled I was to discover that the contents of each book were as quirky and delightful as the packaging.  The stories revolve around Elmer Elevator, a young boy who runs away from Nevergreen City on the coast of Popsicornia to save a blue-and-yellow-striped baby dragon named Boris from cruel slavery on Wild Island.  Their subsequent adventures take them to many interesting places where they must use their cleverness to manage very difficult situations.  These enchanting vintage tales (written in 1944) are pure imaginative fun and are timelessly sweet.  This is make-believe at its believable best!

The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron.  I first encountered this book in second or third grade when my teacher would read a chapter of it to us after lunch every day.  I loved it.  When I happened upon it in a bookstore several years ago, I knew my kids would love it, too.  The story revolves around two young boys, David and Chuck, who answer an unusual ad in the newspaper to build a small spaceship without adult supervision.  With the help of Mr. Tyco Bass, who placed the ad in the paper, the boys fly their completed spaceship to a small undiscovered planet called Basiduim located close to earth.  After reading this book in the evenings, my kids literally dreamed about flying their own homemade rocket ships to little planets in outer space.  This is another vintage book (published in 1954) that still has the ability to spark an impressionable imagination.  It’s timeless kid-style science fiction.

Inkheart (Inkheart, #1)

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. Inkheart is a stellar fantasy of epic proportions for book lovers.  We began this story as an audio book on a trip to Niagara Falls and finished it by reading at night.  Mo and Meggie are a father/daughter duo who make the care and keeping of books their livelihood. Mo’s nickname, Silvertongue, describes his ability to “read” characters and objects out of books and into to real life.  Some unsavory characters that Mo accidentally reads out of “Inkheart” kidnap him to use his special skill for their evil gain.  This magic-infused book is filled to the brim with interesting characters and suspenseful plot twists.  Even so, be warned: Inkheart is a long, meandering tale (a quality that makes it perfect for bedtime reading) so patience is a virtue that will bring a satisfying reward at The End.

The Magician's Nephew (Chronicles of Narnia, #1)

The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis.  During the time that we were reading novels together at bedtime, we devoured several of the books from C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series and enjoyed them all.  The Magician’s Nephew became a favorite because it chronicles the creation of Narnia.  Aslan (the lion), Queen Jadis (the White Witch), and even the lamppost are introduced through the adventures of Digory and Polly.  With the help of a magic ring, the children are able to travel to the Wood Between the Worlds, a place dotted with puddles of water which are portals to fantastical places.  Through these portals they accidentally bring the White Witch first to England, with disastrous results, and then ultimately to Narnia, just as it is beginning to come alive.  Although Lewis’ style of writing can feel a bit old-fashioned, the mystical quality of the plot, the infusion of magic, and the idea of the Wood Between the Worlds are the stuff dreams are made of.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson.  I’ve already talked about this book here but it deserves another mention.  If your family likes humor and isn’t turned off by children behaving badly (because they can’t help it) this is a great Christmas read.  My kids love it and have since read it numerous times on their own.  Very funny!

Eragon (Inheritance, #1)

Eragon by Christopher Paolini.  Eragon an epic tale of dragons, fairies, and destiny that borrows heavily from Tolkein and McCaffery.  As a lover of Tolkein and someone acquainted with McCaffery, I personally felt the borrowing bordered on obnoxious at times.  However, my kids had no background for comparison so they couldn’t wait to go to bed to hear more of the story.  Eragon, a poor farm boy, finds a blue stone that turns out to be a dragon egg.  He and the dragon hatchling, Saphira, find themselves in the middle of an epic battle between good and the evil forces of the Emperor. The story is filled with action, adventure, and magic that my kids ate up like candy.  There are some rather violent sections, but I just skimmed over what I thought was inappropriate and they were none the wiser.  A caveat: This is a long book and the material is best suited for older kids.

The above list of favorites is by no means an exhaustive one.  As an honorable mention, I’d like to suggest the Magic Treehouse series by Mary Pope Osbourne. These easy-read books subtly educate about history through the surprisingly thrilling adventures of brother/sister team Jack and Annie, who travel through time in a treehouse.  Also, between big novels, we sprinkled in fairy tales, Greek myths, legends like King Arthur and Robin Hood and many, many Bible stories (favorites included David and Goliath, Samson and Delilah, Queen Esther, Daniel in the lions’ den).

My final suggestions for this post are books I have recently read myself but have not shared with my kids.  Please consider The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente, and The Giver (and its series) by Lois Lowry as bed time reading material for older kids.  Although I can’t speak to the popularity of these books in relationship to my family’s tastes, I loved them all.  Sadly, the Whimsey family no longer reads together at night.  With teens and tweens, bedtimes and agendas vary so much that it is impossible to find everyone in bed at the same time at a reasonable enough hour to do some reading together.  It is a very sad thing to realize that season of my life is over but I also feel blessed to have experienced it at all.

I’ve spent many hours of my life on this post.  But honestly, the specific books don’t really matter.  It is in the intentional and active pursuit of reading with our children that they learn the value of it and develop a love for it.  And I believe that far more important than the actual type or quality of story or even the development of a life-long love of reading is the focused time spent together in each other’s company.  My fourteen year old son, Buddy, summed it up in a few words that caught me completely off guard and made my heart melt.  When I asked him what he remembered about The Magician’s Nephew, this is what he said:

“I don’t really remember much about that story, Mom.  I just know I loved listening to your voice when you read it to us.”

What books do you think make great read-aloud novels for kids at bedtime?  I would love to hear your suggestions.