Monday, May 25, 2015

Strawberry Picking at Ingram Farm

 Our new favorite spot for picking strawberries, Ingram Farm in High Point.

We've gone strawberry picking every spring since Jack could walk. It has inadvertently become an annual tradition that signals the rapid approach of summer, much like a Memorial Day cook-out or the sudden twilight appearance of lightning bugs or finally giving up on reading log homework. 

This month we've been busy with all the usual frantic happenings of May and by the time we found a day to go, we were very sad to discover that our usual strawberry farm had run clean out of strawberries.  

Luckily, I heard about another strawberry farm not too far away and thank goodness I did.

The new place was charming, quaint and picturesque. The old strawberry farm had strawberries; the new strawberry farm has everything it takes to make a kid blissfully happy in one afternoon. I couldn't help but imagine the conversation that they must have had before opening the farm (please note: farmers in my imagination are deeply southern and refer to each other as "Maw" and "Paw") :

"Alright, y'all, Maw and I have decided that we wanna create somethin' special at the farm that will bring people to us, somethin' real kid-friendly because folks just love makin' memries with their youngins. What are some things that kids go crazy for?" 

"Kids love diggin' in the dirt!"

"How about animals? They go crazy over anything they can pet."

"They love takin' just one bite of food and then throwin' the rest on the ground!"

"Kids love dessert. They'll do anything for dessert!"

"And ridin' in dangerous vehicles without seatbelts!"

"Alright, Paw, I got it! We'll turn our land into a STRAWBERRY FARM! We'll drive everyone to the fields in a bumpy TRACTOR with NO SEATBELTS. They can pick and eat and throw all the strawberries they want and when the tractor brings them back in there will be GOATS they can feed and a Dessert Barn where we will sell homemade STRAWBERRY ICE CREAM! Folks'll come from miles around!"

And that's how Ingram's Strawberry Farm came to be. Probably. 

I feel kinda bad for the old place. It didn't even stand a chance.

I consider the fact that her outfit coordinated with the strawberry patch to be my biggest accomplishment of the day.

At any rate, at Ingram's they have strawberries, tractor rides, goats and ice cream, which can only mean that we will never go back to the regular ol' strawberry farm ever again. At one point Jack even declared, "I didn't know strawberries could be this cool!"

I want to squish him.

The afternoon was so strawberry-tastic that we wrote a limerick when we came back home. And by "we" I mean me. Jack wrote a poem too, but his did not even rhyme.

Strawberry Picking, by Mommy

There once was a family quite merry
Who spent the day picking strawberries,
They plunked and they picked
And they chomped and they licked,
And they all ended up red as cherries.

They brought back home all they could carry,
"Now what can we do?" the kids queried,
So they made jam, cream and cakes
And drank strawberry shakes,

Monster, by Jack

It got on their faces.
Juicy red blood.
They looked like monsters.
They tried to scare their parents.
The parents thought it was a real monster.
They hid behind the big pillow.

I am both proud and disturbed.

Strawberries! Goats! Ice Cream! WHATEVER SHALL WE DO FIRST?!?

Henry and Elise did not write poems, but they have since made me read The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry and the Big Hungry Bear so many times that they can now quote it, which kind of counts.  

The literary nerd in me secretly hopes that strawberry picking poems will be a new tradition they beg for each May, but regardless, we are ending the month in short sleeves with sun-kissed cheeks and a freezer full of strawberries, which can only mean that summer is as good as here. 

Saturday, May 9, 2015

This is How I Know My Mom Loved Me

It is late. Like, 10:00pm late. Bedtime has taken 90 minutes, 17 sips of water, 8 kisses, 5 stories, 3 cover readjustments, 2 trips to the bathroom and one final threat to stay in their room or else. I am ready to relax, just for a little bit, before the whole crazy production starts all over again tomorrow.

There is only one thing between me and my DVR:

School lunches.

I don't know why school lunches are such a thorn in my side. They only take about 10 minutes to throw together, but it's like reaching the finish line of a marathon only to discover they've added a few more laps on the end. (At least, that's what I imagine it would be like, having run approximately 0 marathons myself.)

At the beginning of the year I tried to be really creative and health-conscious with the food I sent to school. My goal was to stock my son's BPA-free, eco-friendly bento lunch box with colorful representatives from the entire food pyramid. The vegetables always came back untouched, of course, but I kept sending them anyway because the experts say that if you keep presenting nutritious foods to your child they will eventually try them, but really it was because I wanted the teacher to think I was a good mom.

Now it is May and, well, I'm tired. I'm 5 episodes behind on "Grey's Anatomy" and I had to find out that McDreamy died through Facebook. I am feeling seriously uninformed on pop culture and school lunches are to blame.

Click here for school lunch envy.
While I cut the crusts off ham sandwiches and shake goldfish into baggies, I resentfully think about all the things I could be doing instead. I could be reading a book. I could be shoe shopping online. I could even be organizing the giant pile that has accumulated on the dining room table. Anything but this.

And then it hits me. My mom did this every school night. She had 3 kids, so she made lots of lunches every night for lots of years. I pause for a moment to do a few calculations in my head, as well as I can at 10:00pm. 

My mom made school lunches from 1987 until 2009. TWENTY-TWO YEARS of school lunches. I mean, she got a break on Fridays when they served those killer rectangle pizzas, but for the better part of TWENTY-TWO years she unwaveringly packed white bread sandwiches and Handi-Snacks and Bugles and Fruit Roll-Ups and Capri Suns. You know, the kind of cool stuff that every 90s kid hopes and prays is is in their lunch because she not only packed lunches, she packed lunches that were the envy of the cafeteria table. And she did it for TWENTY-TWO YEARS.

My mom even packed our lunches for us through high school. I remember some of my friends were in charge of packing their own lunches by then; their mothers had passed the task on to them either with the hopes of teaching their children some responsibility or because they were just tired of the whole thing, but probably a little of both. Not my mom. She always handed me a lunch on the way out the door. She didn't have to, but she did. I don't even know if I ever said thank you. 

TWENTY-TWO YEARS. I just can't get that number out of my head. She did this mundane, tedious task for her children every school night for twenty-two years. She also sat in thousands of carpool lines. She lost hundreds of hours of sleep soothing fussy babies, caring for sick kids and staying up late to sew Halloween costumes or dance recital outfits. She spent her hard-earned money on things for me, things I probably didn't need, but things she wanted me to have because she loved me that much.   
My mom and me in 1982. She is oblivious to the fact that she has 22 years of school lunches ahead of her.

Sometimes love isn't climbing the highest mountain or swimming the deepest sea. Love doesn't have to reach as far as the moon and back. Sometimes the best kind of love is found in the ordinary faithfulness of packing twenty-two years of school lunches. 

So thank you, Mom, for all of the daily sacrifices you made for me that I never seemed to notice. At the time it was impossible for me to comprehend the true depth and scope of motherhood, but I knew I felt cared for, I felt safe and I felt special. You gave me an incredible gift. Because of you, I wanted to be a mom too.

So I will cut off crusts and I will slice strawberries because my mom did it for me, and I want to take the blessings that she poured into my life and pass them on to my children.

And maybe, every once in a while, I will pack them a Capri Sun. Just like my mom did for me. ;)

"I love you 2,340 school lunches!"

Saturday, May 2, 2015

4 Gifts Teachers Actually Want (and some they don't)

I taught 3rd grade for several years before my first child was born. My husband says I am currently on hiatus, but I like to think of it more as retirement (tomato, tomahto). At any rate, because I have been an elementary school teacher, I feel as if I am in the perfect position to write a post about what teachers really want. Not only I can write from a teacher's perspective, but I can do so without the fear of an irate parent barging in the principal's office accusing me of complaining about her on the internet, even though the comment was very vague and she was definitely not mentioned by name. Ahem.

Anyway, my oldest is in a Kindergarten program this year. He's been working on letters, sounds and sight words all year, but in the past couple of months, all of a sudden, he's been pointing out signs. And reading them. He's been picking up books. And reading the pages. I don't know why, but I was kind of shocked. When did this happen?? I can't even speak in secret spell-language to my husband anymore. I just dropped him off at school for a few hours a day and he emerged as this little literate person. Almost like magic. Except, it wasn't magic. It was his teachers.

And when you think about it, the gift of literacy is one of the most important, special gifts you can give to another person. There are no amount of Target gift cards that can ever truly show the depth of appreciation for a gift like that.

Still, it's nice to be appreciated, even if it's only a pack of Expo markers or a Mocha Frappuccino.

But first, I cannot in good conscience write a list of what gifts teachers want without specifically detailing the things they DO NOT want.

Please, just no.
Please, please no more mugs. If your child's teacher has been teaching for more than one year, chances are that she already has a whole cabinet full of mugs that remind her that she is the World's Best Teacher every time she drinks her coffee. Do not get the teachers in your life "World's Best Teacher" mugs, plates, plaques or chunky knitted sweaters, unless that teacher happens to be a first year teacher. In that case, shower her with "World's Best" superlatives because chances are the novelty has not yet worn out and even though it is probably not the truth, he or she could definitely use the encouragement.
This is so terrible I can't even think of a funny caption.
Secondly, no more regifts. Even if you are just dying to pass along that apple-shaped cutting board, I beg you to resist the urge. Here's why:

One Christmas a student presented me with an extravagant basket of body wash, lotion, bath gel and the like. It was a beautiful collection, sure to last me at least 6 months. The only problem happened to be the scent. While I'm sure smelling like "Christmas Cookie" would be very festive in December, I didn't think it would have quite the same effect come June. Confession: I decided to exchange the basket for another flavor.

After braving the mall crowds and lugging my basket through a long line, it was finally my turn. "I'd like to exchange this for a different scent, please."

"Oh my, that won't be possible," remarked the clerk as she wrinkled her nose. "This scent is from our holiday collection...three years ago."

And that is only one of many regift stories I could tell you. There was also the time I pulled a bracelet out of a bag that still had a card attached to it which clearly indicated it was originally for the student's mother. On another occasion a student handed me a package and announced, "Here, we forgot to get you a gift, so my mom got this out of the closet this morning."

Your child's teacher taught him to add fractions. Your child will never forget the state capitals because his teacher sang them in a song to him 87 times. The teacher read The Adventures of Captain Underpants out loud so you don't have to. She does not get the luxury of hiding in a closet when she grows weary of hearing her name called every 2 seconds. She loves your child when you are not there. Give the woman a gift she really wants.

4 Gifts Teachers Actually Want

#4 School Supplies

I read somewhere that teachers spend about $500 of their own money every year on school supplies. If you doubt this fact, you have never tried to keep a third grade classroom stocked with number 2 pencils. It does not matter how many pencils you start with on the first day of school. By the second day of school they are ALL GONE. You might as well be teaching a class of woodchucks, as you will soon come to the conclusion that the only way it is physically possible to dispose of so many pencils in such a short time is that your students are actually wood-consuming rodents in disguise. You begin to feel that if you hear the excuse of "but I don't have a pencil" one more time, you may be forced to open the classroom window and throw yourself out.

So please, buy the teacher in your life the largest box of No. 2 pencils you can find and, for the love of planning periods, go ahead and sharpen those suckers for her. Not only will you save her a trip to Staples, you may just save her life.

Teachers also have a strange obsession with Sharpies. If you buy the teacher in your life the biggest, most colorful package of Sharpies you can find, your kid will make straight A's the rest of the year. Probably. (source)

#3 Useful Teacher Items

Similar to school supplies, teacher items are things for the classroom that the teacher uses (as opposed to the students) that she might not think of buying for herself.

Here's a helpful rule of thumb. When considering a teacher gift, ask yourself these 2 questions: Will the teacher use it? Will the teacher use it before it has a chance to collect dust? If the answer is yes, then you are good to go.
I would TOTEally use this
Everybody washes their hands!
NO. I can see the dust collecting already.

One time a mom bought me the most heavy duty pencil sharpener on the market after she helped me sharpen 200 number 2 pencils during testing week. I LOVED that pencil sharpener. The students were not allowed to touch (break) my very special heavy duty pencil sharpener.

Another year the entire class went in together and bought me a fun, comfy chair for the front of the classroom. Class gifts, by the way, are the best way to go. Any teacher would much rather receive a $100 gift rather than 20 $5 gifts. If a parent is organizing a class gift, GET IN ON IT.


I know what you're thinking and you are wrong. Money is not an impersonal gift. Money is an AWESOME gift. When you take a teacher's salary and subtract the amount she spends on school supplies and also the amount she spends on trips to the dermatologist after an encounter with expired body lotion, that teacher makes approximately negative $2 an hour.

If you were that teacher would you rather head home for the summer with 25 new mugs? OR would you rather head home with actual money to buy actual necessities like groceries or a pedicure?

One year one of my fellow teachers received a gift to which the whole class contributed. She got a MONEY TREE. She was so excited that she carried that tree around with her all day long. The rest of us glared at her jealously as we sipped from our World's Best Teacher mugs.

It is so beautiful I want to cry. (source)
I know the thought of slipping the teacher a ten-spot feels awkward and kind of creepy, but there are plenty of ways to make a gift of money more personal. Pinterest has you covered. If it still feels icky, then go with a gift card. Gift cards are almost as good as money.
AMEN. (Free printable here!)

#1 Notes from the Heart

If you ask a teacher to name the one gift she would like most of all, she will probably say MONEY.

However, with the exception of the Bath and Body Works debacle, I don't really remember that many specific gifts from students. I don't remember what I bought with the gift cards or how I spent the cash. But I still have the notes.

Occasionally I will come across the box of kind letters from parents and heartwarming notes and pictures from students, and the memories come flooding back. I open a card and remember that S was an amazing writer with a keen sense of humor beyond her years. I unfold a colorful drawing and remember that C was a beautiful illustrator with an artist's soul. I find a note and remember the journey with J, how she was so difficult at the beginning of the year that I would pray for her to be absent, but by the time she handed me this note on the last day of school there were tears in her eyes; she had become one of my favorite students and I could hardly stand to say goodbye.

The notes are truly a treasure.

They almost make me want to come out of retirement. Almost. ;)


Now that my own kids are beginning to have their own teachers, I am going to take my own advice.

I may give school supplies or a gift card, or I may even initiate a class MONEY TREE!!, but no matter the gift, I will make sure to tell the teacher how much he or she has meant to us that year.

And I hope to teach my children to do the same.
Ok, I kinda like this one.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

You Can Choose Your Friends, but You Can't Choose Your Brother

They say you can choose your friends, but you can't choose your family.

I'm guessing "they" had siblings, whoever they were.

Who else but a sibling can bring a person to tears simply by breathing in their general direction? Or, as I heard this morning over breakfast: HENRY IS MOVING HIS LIPS AT ME! MAKE HIM STOP MOVING HIS LIPS AT ME!!

My boys fight. ALL THE TIME. It's not as though sometimes they fight and sometimes they play nice, like sometimes it rains and sometimes it's sunny. The arguing and picking and wrestling are entangled into every aspect of the day. Sometimes it's a full out downpour and sometimes it's just a drizzle while the sun is shining, but there are always rain clouds looming overhead. They fight AND they play nice. At the same time. 

Every game of Star Wars involves a lengthy argument over who gets to be Darth Vader. The shrieks of laughter turn to screams of agony when someone is "accidentally" poked in the eye with a light saber. Of course, the recovery is quick because they are having way too much fun to actually stop playing and besides THE DEATH STAR MUST BE DESTROYED and for some unknown reason, the way to accomplish this mission is to throw your brother off the couch.

In this picture they are actually arguing over who can jump the highest.

The constant bickering can be exhausting. It sometimes makes me wonder why we didn't have our three children 18 years apart, except I suppose having a baby at 63 would probably be frowned upon, so instead here we are trying to figure out the best way to deal with incessant screams of IT'S MY TURN TO PUSH THE STROLLER!!

But sometimes, sometimes the clouds part for a moment and I feel that magnificent sun so bright it warms me from the inside out.

One morning this week I heard panicked screams coming from the boys' room. "MOOOOOMEEEEE! COME LOOK AT HENRY'S EYE! HE LOOKS LIKE A MONSTER!!!"

As I walked in the room I heard Henry state very matter-of-factly, "I not a monster! I'm Henry!"

True enough, Henry's left eye was pink, puffy and almost swollen shut, a sure sign of an infection.

Henry was oblivious to the state of his eye, but Jack, who has always been the more dramatic of the two, was quite distraught. "Can you see, Henry? CAN YOU SEE??"

Henry nodded gleefully, thrilled to be the reason for such concern.

"Is his eye going to stay like that?? WILL HE LOOK LIKE A MONSTER FOREVER? WILL HE EVER BE ABLE TO SEE AGAIN???"

I reassured him that Henry would be just fine and he probably just had pink eye and I would take him to the doctor and no, the doctor would not give him a shot in the eye.

We dropped Jack off at school and headed to the doctor, but not before Jack told everyone that Henry had a pink eye, but not to worry because he was not going to be blind.

Henry's poor, disfigured eye must have weighed heavy on Jack's mind while he was at school because at pick-up he ran out eagerly waving a piece of construction paper. He hopped in the car and handed it to Henry. "I made this for you all by myself. It says 'I am sorry that you got a pink eye, Henry.' And I drew a giraffe, cause I know you like them."

Jack does not love writing. Jack does not like giraffes. Jack especially does not like to spend his free time drawing pictures of giraffes and writing to his brother.

Henry knows this. He clutched that paper, his good eye lit up and with a big grin he softly said, "I love you, Jack!"

They say you can choose your friends, but you can't choose your family.

My good friend Jesse says that your siblings are the friends God chooses for you.

I like that better.

My boys can choose their friends, but the Creator of All Things selected their little souls to travel through life together.

I'm so glad God gave them each other to care for and love. 

And occasionally throw off the couch. 

Saturday, February 28, 2015

10 Things About February that Don't Make Me Want to Cry

February is a curse word I growl between clenched teeth.

I do not believe I am being overly dramatic in this. February has always been and always will be the very worst month. Even the kids agree:
We are FebruWEARY.

Every year, winter arrives sometime between turkey dinners and Christmas checklists and I am so distracted by the festivities that I barely seem to notice the frigid temperatures, and all the twinkly lights perfectly ameliorate the sad fact that the sky is now pitch black at 5:00pm.

In January reality starts to set in and I put on a brave face, but by February I just want to curl up in a ball on the floor and cry until the sun comes back out, which hardly ever works.

But I am not going rant about how much I hate winter, because I am a firm believer in never complaining and only focusing on the positive and besides, I already wrote that post last year.

Therefore, in a valiant effort to remain unwaveringly optimistic, I have compiled a list of all of my favorite things about February. I was originally hoping to write something beautifully Voskampian like "1000 Gifts of February," but I could barely just make it to 10.

10 Things About February that Don't Make Me Want to Cry

10. Fresh snow
There is nothing quite as beautiful as freshly fallen snow. It looks pretty in all the pictures. It's like, the ultimate filter.

I know my northern friends might be sick to death of snow by now, but here in North Carolina it usually doesn't snow until February. A February snowfall is nature's way of saying "hey, I'm sorry I killed everything, including part of your soul, but here is some fresh white change of scenery to make up for it."

We'll take it.

9. Spending less money
I have noticed my trips to Target have dramatically decreased due to the effort it requires to get the kids bundled up and out of the house. It turns out, if we stay home, the bank account stays full! No wonder my husband isn't nearly as bothered by February as I am.
Of course, I probably should have bought a sled. 

8. No more stressful resolutions
By this point we have all given up on those pesky new year's resolutions, so we can happily fall back into bad habits without guilt or remorse. I'm sure I will magically be swimsuit ready by summer somehow or another. In the meantime go ahead and pass the Chinese...

7. School cancellation can inspire a spontaneous Bring Your Kid to Work Day

It was hands-down Jack's favorite day of February. He said he liked the day he and Daddy built a snow fort too, but they made him his own special name tag at Daddy's store, so clearly that took work to the next level. 

6. Plenty of time to potty train

I suppose this is only a good thing about February if the potty training is successful, which in our case it was! FINALLY. I will pause here for clapping and confetti. I guess the 14th time is the charm!
Also, it seems chewing gum is a powerful motivator.
5. Spending quality time together and learning valuable lessons in cooperation, patience and sharing
That was the best way I could think to say "Holy moly, we've been stuck inside for what feels like an eternity and I need to turn off the TV now because I'm not sure how many shows I can let them watch and still be considered a good mom, but I think we are approaching whatever point that may be, so we'd better make the best of our time together and find something to do that will cause the least amount of screaming and fighting."

4. Spending EVEN MORE quality time together

We have taken more baths this month than we did all of last summer.

3. Seriously, we've done ALLTHETHINGS together. 
I found them all in the shower together and this is exactly what Jack is saying: "You don't need to take 1000 pictures of us, Mommy. You know you see us every day."

The next day I found them on top of the fridge.
Please, Jesus, send spring.
2. Fire 
Or maybe number 2 should be Episodes of Downton Abbey on TV. I don't know. It's a tie. Roaring fires are really fun, but the roaring twenties in class-divided Britain is equally as fun. I think I will just make sure to always watch episodes of Downton Abbey in front of a cozy fireplace.

Hang in there, friends!! FEBRUARY IS ALMOST OVER!!! SPRING IS NEAR!!! The calendar says so!!

We are tired of winter, we are ready for spring. Even as I type these words I can feel the weariness of winter pressing down on me, and yet, my pictures seem to tell a different story.

In all the 1,000 (alleged) photos I have taken this month, not a single one makes me feel weary. I do feel lots of other things though. I feel overcome by the beauty of the snow. I feel deeply grateful for my precious family and I already feel nostalgic as I look at their 3 little faces and know that that these moments will never be repeated at these ages and all that's left of this month are these mementos frozen in time. 

I mean, I still think February is a curse word. 

But it's also kind of a blessing too.

Wait. Did I just call Februweary a blessing?

Oh dear. Please do not hold me accountable for anything I write in the winter.

Come on, Spring!