Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Guest Post with Cara B: Fantastic 16th Birthday Party Idea

This past weekend I saw a fantastic idea for a boy's 16th birthday party.  The idea came from a friend I have known for a long time --- Cara, I think we've known each other since first grade?  Wow.  I won't say how many years that has been.

Cara is great photographer and captures the human spirit so well.  I love when she posts pictures on Facebook or Instagram.  When I saw the photos from her son's birthday party, I immediately knew I wanted to ask her to be a guest on my blog.

Everything below was written by Cara and the photos are hers as well.  Enjoy...

I am so glad you enjoyed the photos.  We had a lot of fun making them.  When we started planning Jake's 16th birthday party, he wanted to have a bonfire, like we always do.  But you only turn 16 once.  I wanted to come up with something fun that we could do to engage everyone - something they will remember for years to come.  With teenagers, its hard to come up with ideas to make the party memorable!  Something fun and cool, that they would enjoy... I always take regular pictures at his party, so he has something to look back upon and remember, but it is hard to get them to engage in just regular pictures.  Some kids do not like to have just regular pictures taken of themselves.

I started searching online and found these very inexpensive plastic backgrounds.  We found a cheap mesh "red carpet" for them to walk down.  We found some props at our local dollar store and around our house.  I had the backgrounds hung on the walls and the red carpet ready the night before the party and all the props collected in a basket.  I wanted them to see it when they first walked in to get them intrigued about the idea.

After everyone arrived and was around the bonfire for about two hours, I powered up my lighting.  I took my camera out back and started with taking their picture around the fire.  I asked if anyone was ready to take some fun pictures with all the props inside.  Before I knew it, they were all in the house in a line, giggling and laughing about different ideas on how they wanted to pose and with who.  They all had such fun ideas!

It filled my heart with joy to hear their laughter, knowing how much fun they were having with it.  I found that teenagers love to show their creativity!  So we took that characteristic and ran with it!  We are having the photos printed and put into key chains shaped like the directors clap board.  Since most of them are driving now, its something they will always carry with them.

I am so glad you enjoyed the photos, Sara! Its a memory that we will cherish forever - and probably a new tradition for us!

Cara -- thank you so much for sharing on my blog.  Your idea was wonderful and now I want to play with it too!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Nature Faces

Happy Friday!  Today I decided to find natural faces in nature and add my own cartoon additions.  Enjoy!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

A Letter and List to My Boys

Dear, B, W, and J,

I hear you playing video games up in your "Man Cave".  It is a brief moment where you are genuinely getting along and dorking out together.  In five minutes, that could easily change and I will probably hear the word "idiot" or maybe "moron" called.  Then I'll have to do the mom thing of telling you to be nice and stop using those words.  Right now though, I will sip my coffee and enjoy the moment of camaraderie.

Sometimes you think you can't stand having brothers and you wish you were only children.  That's normal.  I tell you a lot that you need to try to appreciate each other (even in small moments) because the three of you are together for life.  God willing, you will all grow up and carve out beautiful patches of life.  You will support each other, annoy each other, laugh together, make fun of mom and dad, and see each other grow.   I also hope you will continue to help those who can't help themselves and I hope that, when you see your brother(s) go down a bad path, that you will shine the light to help him back.

Your grandmother told me that parenting is the one relationship where the end goal is separation.   Every other relationship is built to keep the parties together.  With parenting though, we are working towards that goal of seeing you move on one day and need us less in your day to day.   That's a tough pill to swallow.  I think there is a balance we strive for though.  We want you to spread your wings and fly, but we also want to build strong bonds so that you will fly back home sometimes and spend time with family.

Before you fly this nest though, there are some things that I want to make sure all three of you know how to do.  These are not necessarily things that will get you into a good college or help you find the right job.   This list is much more important.  If you can master this list, I will feel like my job as a parent is complete (Dad too).  Some of these you've mastered already, some you are starting to learn, and some you will learn.  We will probably add on to this list as we go so be ready for that.

The List
(in no particular order)

Laundry - you need to know how to do your laundry and keep up with it.  The keeping up with it is the tricky part.

Basic cooking - you are already learning this one but need to expand a bit.   Your adult life should not consist solely of Ramen and fast food.

Changing the oil in the car - Dad added this one.

Understand all that is involved in taking care of a pet (i.e. family member) and being able to make that decision completely before taking one into your home on a permanent basis.  You all have learned this just in the short time we have been fostering.   It warms my heart to see you love these animals who desperately need love.

Creative outlet - understanding why you need it and what yours is going to be.  FYI - if you take after me at all, the outlet changes from day to day.

Know how to throw and catch a ball - this one may solicit an eyebrow raise from some people.  I don't expect my boys to be sports stars.   I think everyone should know how to throw and catch a ball, even if they never do anything with it.   Boys and girls alike.  It is just one small way to foster dexterity and it will come in handy from time to time.  It might make gym class more tolerable during early years.

Know how to ride a bike - similar to the goal above.  A good skill to have.

Treat others the way you want to be treated - pretty self explanatory.

Don't let the world harden your hearts.  All three of you have warm hearts and show them in different ways. Keep those warm hearts and do something with the kindness and compassion you have.  On occasion B, maybe show that kindness and compassion to W.   Don't look at me like that, you know why I'm saying that.

Treat the women in your life as kindly and respectfully as Dad treats me.  Seriously.   I know you see how he treats me - nothing but love and adoration and kindness and respect.  He treats his mother, mother-in-law, sister, sisters-in-law, aunts, etc. the same way.  The three of you already treat the important women in your life this way.  As you grow up and date, I expect the same.   Be that wonderful man.

Expect the women in your life to treat you equally kindly and respectfully.   They should treat you the way I treat your Dad - I adore him and show him that regularly.   This doesn't mean you act like a jerk -- the whole "treat 'em bad so they want you more" is BS (I know you will giggle because I used that term - you aren't allowed to use it, but it fit this scenario).   This just means that you are worthy of kindness, love, and respect.  If a girl you really like treats you callously or demands ridiculous things from you, she is not a girl you should have in your life.  You don't have to put up with ugliness just because she is pretty.  When you end things with this type of girl, you still owe her respect and kindness during and after the split.

Learn and use proper grammar and spelling.  Seriously.  You might not remember every little thing there is to know about proper grammar, but make a concerted effort on a regular basis.

Enjoy and respect nature.  When you feel beat down or bored by life, find the one thing in nature that calms you and brings you joy.  Enjoy it.  For me, it is the mountains that reinvigorate me.   Find your thing.

Never miss an opportunity to let someone know you appreciate them.   Time is fleeting.   Let the important people know they are important to you.  You three are of the utmost importance to me.

Surprise people sometimes.  Maybe it is a gift or a surprise visit.   Maybe it is a moment in time where you step outside of your comfort zone and shine.

Declutter and keep things somewhat clean.   Clearly I am not one obsessed with cleaning, but you should take some pride in your home and maintain a basic level of cleanliness.   I don't think I will look back on my life and wish I cleaned more, but I also don't need the neighbors to complain about "the smell".   Find a good balance.

Practice good hygiene.   I've said it before and I'll say it again, don't be the smelly kid.  Brush your teeth without being told (J, I am looking at you and your seven year old self).

Be you.   Don't follow the pack.  Be who you want to be.  As long as you are coming from a place of honesty and truth, we will love you and support you unconditionally forever.  Anyone who doesn't accept you, isn't worthy of being in your extraordinary life.

Be there for your brothers.   Always.

Call your mother at least once a week.

Be a good friend.

Find the path in life that feels good to you, makes you happy, and has a positive impact on this world.   College will help give you more opportunities, but I honestly will not be disappointed in you if that is not the path you choose.  No matter what you choose to do, do your best.  If there is a period of time where you have to do something you don't love to get to the thing you really want, still do your best.   Find ways outside of that to keep doing something you love.  If you have that balance, things are usually okay.   Don't give up on your dreams and don't be afraid to change your dreams, if that is what your heart wants.

If your priorities have work above family and friends, you need to rethink your priorities.

Find regular exercise that you like to do so that you will continue to do it.  Don't use me as an example on this one.  Do as I say, not as I do...(I know, I know).

Give back.   As a family, we have chosen to give back to animals in need.   Find what ignites your soul.   Always find a way to give back to someone in need.

Learn to live simply.   Don't be consumed by material possessions.   It is absolutely fine to like "things", but don't make that your priority.

B and W, stop biting your nails.   J, cut yours more often.

Read.   Enjoy reading.   If you have kids one day, read to my grandchildren.

Stand up for people and animals who are being treated poorly or unfairly.  It might not be the popular thing to do, but it is the right thing to do.

Seek out God in the way that feels right to you.   Fulfill your soul.   I firmly believe there are many paths to God.  It is a personal relationship and only you and Him know what's the best way for you to feel close.

Finally, don't take life (or yourself) too seriously.  Laugh a lot.  Have fun.  Do silly things.  Don't be afraid to look silly.  Love even more.

This is a rather long list, right?   It may get longer as we wander through this life together.  I think you are all up to the task and well on your way to learning everything on this list.   It will never be complete because you will always be learning.  It will keep you motivated.

I love you boys.  Through the laughter, the love, the pain, the sadness, the challenges, and the joyous parts of life, I will love you.  Dad too.   He's awesome.  You are all awesome.

(I still prefer to go by Mommy)

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Being Still and Resisting the Glorification of Busy, Part 1

Has our society always been obsessed with "busy" or is that a new thing these days?  It is an exhausting but easy trap to fall into at times.  I know people who thrive on it.  I also know people who think they are thriving but they are really just trapped in this cycle of busy and avoid down time like it's a plague.  I think people are afraid of having down time and being still.  I personally love down time.  I need down time.  I would marry down time if I didn't already have a fabulous husband.  Sara, without down time, is cranky, antsy, and not very creative at all.  She is a bit of a downer.

Being still doesn't always come naturally.  Our culture of glorifying busy takes its toll on how we view stillness.  We often feel guilty when we don't have something to do or somewhere to go.  We often feel like we should be checking something off of a list or completing one of those projects that we've been meaning to do.  We feel like failures if we are still.  We foolishly obtain our value from how much we have to do and how much we accomplish.  We are in constant production mode.

The other night, my oldest son had soccer practice.  The fields are far enough from my house that it doesn't make sense to drive back home after dropping him off, so I stick around the area until practice is finished.  Sometimes I will run errands and sometimes I will take advantage of my time alone.  This usually means browsing the bookstore, checking the clearance racks at Target, or plopping myself down at Panera with something delicious to drink. This particular night, I chose Panera.  I left my iPad at home to avoid Internet distractions.  I took my phone (so I knew when I had to leave), my journal, and a crochet project.  I sat down in a comfy chair near the fireplace and I pulled out my journal and favorite pen. I started to write and then became very self conscious.  There were people all around me and I was waiting on a waitress to bring my drink.  I started to find myself picking up my phone and checking work emails periodically.  I wasn't even reading them; I just felt obligated to appear busy.  In that moment, writing in a journal seemed too frivolous of a way to spend my time --- especially when people could be watching!

I decided that I was being completely ridiculous and that our glorification of being busy is equally ridiculous.  I put down my phone and started writing.   I wrote about being still.   I wrote in incomplete sentences and just let my brain release its thoughts through my pen.  I wrote and wrote and wrote.   I ignored grammar and spelling.   I wrote about how I feel when I don't have anything I have to do.  I will often occupy that time with reading blogs and playing on Facebook or Pinterest.   It distracts me from being still and listening to how I really feel.   I spend time on the Internet under the guise of "looking for inspiration".  Really I am just avoiding stillness and avoiding being in the present.  I wrote about marathon TV watching while I am doing laundry and working on a crochet project.  I wrote about that uncomfortable feeling I get when I tell myself I am going to put down my iPad on a weekend afternoon with no plans.

I wrote about how we have put "busy" up on a pedestal.   We tie some of our value to how busy we are.  The busier we are, the more justified we feel.  The people who are busiest and appear to have it all together are valued above the people who have free time and don't feel bad about it.  Having free time and not filling it with some sort of task equates to laziness in our society.  We are constantly pressured to do more, do it well, and look good doing it.  Busy = Well Liked. Busy = Needed. Busy = Better. Busy = Important.  Don't get me wrong, we are all busy some times and that is definitely okay.  The problem I have is the incessant need to be busy at all times.  It's not necessary and it's exhausting.

It starts young too.  In high school I was involved in a wide variety of activities and I usually was in a leadership position.  I played sports, was involved in student senate, multiple committees, chaired a student council conference, sang in show choir, participated in academic clubs, performed community service, took piano lessons, attended school functions, took AP classes, and consistently remained on the honor roll.  From the ages of 14-18, I lived by my day planner.   One time, my dad said that he realized I was taking on too much when my high school boyfriend asked me to go out with him one Friday night.  My response?  I told him I had to write it in my day planner in pencil because I wasn't sure what amount of time I had free.  I literally penciled him in for a date.   Poor fella.

As I have gotten older and also lived with a chronic illness, I have learned to value being still and finding down time.  I am trying to instill the value of being still in my children (not an easy task with three boys).  There is value in structure and having a schedule too, but my boys need to know that their value isn't dependent on that.  The unstructured time is when we can relax and spend time with family and friends.   In my world, that is a priority.   If we become too busy to spend time with the important people in our lives, then we have lost sight of something truly valuable.

Hope you find some time in your Sunday for stillness and peace.