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All who know me also know that I love the Toastmasters club of which my dad and I are a part. Not only is it a safe laboratory in which to challenge myself as a public speaker and communicator, but also so often I walk out of our meetings with the joy of connection—connection to my colleagues, connection to ideas larger than myself, connection to a broader sense of the world and the people in it.

In addition to our three impromptu speeches today, we had two prepared speeches. One was presented by one of our newer members, Tara Fall. I read Tara’s blog, and I enjoy Tara’s unique perspective—one of joy and optimism—as much as I enjoy her speeches at our meetings.

Today she spoke about teaching her daughters to say “See you later” to their father when he leaves for military duty. Tara’s husband is an officer in the United States Navy and has had several tours of duty in the last few years. She spoke of the ways in which she helps her daughters transition between his shore time and his time away, and it was clear to me that she gives them the strength to see his departures and his homecoming with equal hope and enthusiasm. She is a great mom.

What stayed with me most, however, was not something she spoke about. Listening to her and watching her and thinking about her children, I remembered that it is not only our military troops that serve our country—their families do, too. The spouses and children remaining on shore share in the honor of those they send. I am profoundly thankful for the wives and husbands and children—as well as our servicemen and women—who carry part of the responsibility for the welfare of democracy and freedom as part of their daily lives.

Thank you, Tara, for reminding me of all the people who help to ensure my freedom, and the freedom of my children. You are an amazing force of love, strength, and optimism—and also a compelling speaker. Hearing you speak was incredible today, and I thought your prize ribbon was well-deserved.

Let us gather our joy in truly listening to the voices of others.

There are most definitely times in our house when we use sugar, butter, and other forms of deliciousness in all their rich and tasty glory; however, for the most part, we try to eat well with health in mind. We try to reduce the sugars, reduce the fats, reduce the salt when possible.

A few months ago, we discovered these tasty Honey Oatmeal-Raisin Cookies, a recipe created by nutritionist Ellie Krieger. We love the heartiness of the oats and almond butter and the sweetness from the honey. Each cookie is about 100 calories, according to the nutrition information. Bill, Katie, and I really love them. The kiddos and I made a batch today and then snacked on some warm ones in our fort while we had story time.

For those who might try the recipe (and I really recommend it!), Katie had the idea to add a few 60% cacao chips. Yes, it increases the caloric value some, yet the little bit of chocolate satisfies the chocolate need without being excessive.

Hope you all enjoy!

Every once in awhile, life requires a fort:

A place of games and toys and fun, a “time-in” space of laughter and happiness…

A place to hide away…we have a little front flap to put down as a door when we really want to get away… We used two sheets and some office clips (really handy for clipping sheets to chairs). Yesterday we played Chutes and Ladders and various card games (Old Maid and Go Fish).

Boppa and Katie help to clean the pond.

Eric loves the outdoors.

Hi there!

We like to leave our forts up for awhile when we build them, so if you are a friend or family member stopping by in the next couple of weeks, we will probably invite you in. We like to sing songs in our fort, so bring your favorites. Also books: we love to read and cuddle in there. Our next task is to find some operative flashlights to use in the fort when it is dark, right before bedtime!

Great teachers truly are found in all professions, not just in education. I am thankful that my dental hygienist Jan is such a teacher. Her patience and willingness to explain just enough of her process to Katie, as well as her ability to use terms Katie would understand, helped to make Katie’s first official dentist visit a success. Katie is the 3rd generation in our family to see Dr. P…, a small town dentist who has worked his way to a thriving practice.

I credit Jan—as well as my parents—for getting me back into the routine of seeing the dentist every six months. During a visit in college, the words “wisdom teeth” were once uttered to me. What many people do not know is that I am fairly terrified of anything having to do with examining my teeth, let alone the thought of operating on them. I did have one cavity in 7th grade, and the office did a great job with it… I want to be clear that my irrational fear of having my teeth examined has nothing to do with my dental office—in fact, Jan and Dr. P have helped tremendously the past few years in reducing my anxiety with their professionalism, care, and understanding. In fact, I trust them totally. But at 20 years old, I heard “wisdom teeth”….and I refused to see the dentist for five years because I couldn’t handle even the thought of having them removed.

My parents finally convinced me to work on overcoming that anxiety, and I started seeing Jan—whom I will always adore now because she helped me over many hurdles of my dental fear. I still have some anxiety, even in dreams, in the week or so leading up to my appointments, but I am a little better at compartmentalizing it now. A little. I was SURE I would have a cavity today (I am always sure, though I haven’t had one for 18 years).

I had to calm myself this morning by repeating over and over: “You bore two children without any pain meds; if you have a cavity, you can certainly deal with it.” But it seems to me that one of the hallmarks of irrational fear is that small things get blown way out of proportion.

Fortunately, I found out today that I am still cavity-free! Yay!

I knew when I had children that I had to do everything possible to suppress, squelch, and not pass on my dental fear. Katie or Eric might develop it regardless of what I do, but if they have that tendency, I do not want to inflame it by my own behaviors. I have to do work to hide the tension in my body and mind the day of an exam. Having children makes me a little braver, because I know I have to be…for them, so that they can make good decisions about seeing doctors and dentists later in life.

Because this was Katie’s first experience with the dentist, I wanted it to be all positive for her. We took one of our special stuffed doggy friends to watch, snapped several pictures, and made sure to talk about it as an exciting rite of passage, choosing words to celebrate the experience. She did beautifully.

Katie watched while I had my cleaning first. Jan let her help to polish my teeth and rinse them out.

Katie’s turn! Jan reviews the polishing tool and explains how she will use the suction device—“Mr. Thirsty”—to remove some of the rinsing water.

Katie has her teeth polished. She was good at holding still.

Say “ah!”

Because this was Katie’s first time, Jan thought she might only polish Katie’s teeth. Since Katie was enjoying her experience, though, Jan went ahead and took out one of the scrapers to clean out the “sugar bugs” (tartar). She would clean some out and show Katie what she got (the sugar bugs) on the end of the scraper. Part way through this, Katie wanted to be done—which was fine. Then she did a little more. Finally, she said she wanted to be finished. I hugged her and told her what a great job she had done letting Jan take out some of her sugar bugs. Jan agreed, and said, “We were able to get out about half the sugar bugs…and we can get the rest out next time!”

Katie thought about this for a moment and then grew very concerned that there were still some sugar bugs left in her mouth. “I want them out! I want them out!” she exclaimed, and climbed back into the chair. Jan was able to complete the cleaning! What a lovely teacher she was for Katie… I am so grateful that we have her as our hygienist.

After the appointment, Katie wanted to follow Jan around the office while I waited to see Dr. P for a moment so that he could tell me the result of my x-rays. At the end of the appointment, she gave Jan a big hug. Katie genuinely had a great time.

In fact tonight when we were talking about it again, she said, “When is our next appointment? I want to see the dentist everyday!”

Few things in life surpass the delight of being mostly asleep and feeling someone lay a blanket over you to keep you warm. It is a magically cozy feeling, a coziness that starts way inside the heart and through dreams. It is one of those simple gestures of love that one person makes to another.  A way to say: I am loving and thinking about you and your comfort; I am protecting you while you sleep. To cover someone with warmth and love is to give a true gift. So simple, and it costs nothing: the glow of coziness.

The kiddos and I had a busy morning: we took a long walk and played at a nearby park. When we got home, Eric was sleepy. Katie went to get one of their blankets, and she gently covered him after he had already fallen asleep.

Big Sister tucks in her little brother for a small nap.

 

She tucked him in, saying, “Swaddle him, swaddle him.” Such sweetness…

While he napped, we made lemon bars from some lemons my mom and dad brought back from my grandpa’s land. We talked about how the scent of the lemon zest reminds us of his land and of him.

Using the pastry cutter, Katie helps to make the shortbread crust for the bars.

We also worked on today’s craft/lesson: wax paper “stained glass” hearts. We shaved crayons onto wax paper, folded over the paper, ironed, and then cut out heart shapes. Pictures of the final product still need to be taken, as we have yet to hang them up. That will be tomorrow…

Katie said this project was “the best one we’ve ever done!” (And that’s really saying something, because we have done many, many art projects together. She loved choosing the crayons and color blends. I also let her help with the ironing (carefully).

Katie works on making crayon shavings.

I love my two little people so much. My wish for them is that they will always be the kind of brother and sister to cover one another with a blanket when the air is cold, that their bond will triumph over any test life brings. I see in Katie the loyalty of a big sister and in Eric his totally adoring and trusting eyes. Because one is three and one is 5.5 months, I am often bouncing from one’s needs to the next—and it can get hectic to have them so close in age and still so young. Yet then there are a great many magical moments like today, when I am beyond thankful that they are so close in age and will travel through many of the same life phases together.

And there is so much joy for me, as a mother, to watch my daughter gently tuck in her brother the way I have done for her so many times. It means that she knows, at some deep level that she cannot verbally express, just how much I love her.

The beauty of this springlike January weather is that we have plenty of opportunity to exercise outdoors and soak up the sunshine. There was a bit of a chill early this morning, but by the time we started walking, it was definitely much warmer. Katie took off her sweater and jogged and walked the last full mile of our walk. We talked about how important exercise is to keeping our hearts and lungs healthy—I want to give her some of the good habits that I struggle to abide, such as daily exercise. Brother ended up falling asleep, though he enjoyed sitting up and looking around for awhile.

Here are the kiddos as we leave for our walk.

Home again, Katie asked if we could do another project out of her Giant Busy Box. Oh, yes! She decided to work on the chicken project. After coloring it, attaching feathers, and trimming it with various accessories, she decided—totally unprompted and out of the blue—to give it to her little brother as a gift! What a sweetheart! She was so excited, too, and Eric was delighted about the chicken, as well. Katie wanted to write on the back: “For Eric, Love Katie.” She told him it was for Valentine’s Day, and she said, “It is a girl chicken so that you will always remember your sister.” Wow!

 

Katie was excited to give the chicken to Eric!

 

Eric loved his first homemade gift from his big sister. After we cleaned up, Katie wanted us to hang it up in his room for him. She chose to hang it on his bookshelf so that he could see it from his crib when he wakes up. The love between the two of them makes my heart purr.

We also spent time playing with some insect puppets that Uncle Chet and Aunt Irma gave Katie for her 2nd birthday. The kiddos were BOTH laughing as I had the insects devour Katie’s princesses for lunch. Really, both of them were cracking up. I love playing with them and watching them laugh together.

Joy is watching Katie and Eric delight in one another. I am so grateful that they have each other.

With my mom not feeling well this morning and unable to watch Katie and Eric, I had to skip our Toastmaster’s meeting to have fun at home instead. We had a leisurely morning in our pajamas, and during Eric’s morning nap, Katie and I savored some one-on-one time together that we have both been craving. We worked several puzzles (one of her favorites is our United States puzzle—she loves maps and globes), and read some of our longer books that do not quite captivate Eric yet.

When it was time to pick up some of our toys, Katie asked the question mothers long to hear, “What would you like me to pick up?” Woo hoo! This is the first time she has ever asked this, and we celebrated together. I made a big happy deal of it. Clean-up went very smoothly this morning, and I was grateful.

The rest of the day we worked on art projects and with this beautiful, glorious weather, we spent most of the afternoon outside. Oh, how I love outdoor days. We ate lunch, did some art, played in the yard, watched the sky, and visited with my dad. Soaking up that lovely sunshine…

Here are some of our joyful moments today:

Katie tried on my wedding shoes this morning. She chose her whole outfit today (clothes, accessories, hair), and it is clear that she loves, loves being a girl. She was pretending to be a fairy princess with a red flower necklace of mine that I got long ago in Little Italy in New York. When I let her borrow it, I thought about how when I bought it, I had no idea that such a beloved daughter would be in my life…amazing and beautiful how life works out. We pretended the necklace was magic, and we made up a little song to go with it: “Little flower necklace/Close to my heart/All of your goodness/Please impart.” (We learned what “impart” means). It helps to have a pretend narrative going when we’re getting dressed.

Oh my goodness, my cousin Jed gave us one of the best gifts EVER! My Giant Busy Box by Alex Toys. I would give this gift in a heartbeat. There are sixteen different crafts all prepped and ready for doing—so perfect for a busy mom with a child who loves art!!! Since all the materials are present and ready for use, I get to do the fun part of teaching (makes me miss my classroom sometimes!), and Katie gets to dive in immediately. We opened the box today and were just so thrilled… We made a dog project and a tissue paper fish, enjoying the sunshine. Easy clean-up, too—since it all fits in the box. Glue is also provided, and everything is pre-cut and ready to punch out, so no scissors are necessary. Awesome, awesome gift.

Katie explains to Eric what she is making.

Katie’s tissue paper fish. So much fun for both of us (fun for me to instruct and lead, and fun for her to do on her own).

 

Then it was time for the swings… Eric’s first official swing (I had suggested it once to him a couple of months ago, but he didn’t want to be in it back then). Today he really enjoyed himself!

Katie gently swings her brother. I love that they are so close in age…I can see the magic between them, even in how they look at each other.

The swing is yummy!! Mmmmmm!

Boppa gave Eric his first taste of apple, and Eric found the food he likes best so far. Apples….yummmmmmy! Boppa cut a big piece from his apple for Eric to suck on and gum a bit, and Eric did not want to relinquish it. I had some applesauce on hand…oh my! Eric had just finished a big bowl of oatmeal, but when he tried the applesauce, he gobbled it!

All tired out…Eric is napping at this moment. He loves his giraffe, especially today. He fell asleep while we three were sitting all in a row and reading books. Joy is often so simple…

 

It was time for a family adventure, and so last night Bill and I talked about ideas for a day-trip or something fun to do with our kiddos today. Since Katie has been asking to visit the snow again, and since she routinely points out the snow on the mountains we can see in the distance from Temecula, we decided last night to head toward the mountains in search of snow. Right before she fell asleep last night, Katie listened as I told her, “In the morning, Daddy and I have a surprise for you. We are going to do something very fun tomorrow! It will be a surprise!” She was so excited, and she woke up wondering what the day would bring. Isn’t it neat how easy it is to create delightful anticipation in our children? To turn an ordinary day into an extra-special day?

We weren’t sure if Idyllwild would still have snow since it hasn’t rained for a couple of weeks. It seemed possible, though, and since Idyllwild is a special place for our family, we decided to head up there today. Sure enough, we got lucky with patches of snow along Strawberry Creek, right by the inn Bill and I try to visit yearly for our Anniversarymoon.

This was Eric’s first time to visit Strawberry Creek out of the womb. He actually has been twice already (last year’s snow day in February and our Anniversarymoon this past May). Katie burbled over with memories of last year’s snow trip, and she is starting to know some of the special spots at the inn: the chairs Bill and I sat in to talk about what to name her when I was pregnant with her, for example. She feels connected to this beautiful place in some of the ways we do.

Eric was delighted. I hiked with him in the Bjorn carrier (I wish I’d had this carrier for Katie), and he bobbed around making happy noises at everything. He especially loved the chickens, and he was so curious to touch the snow. Both Katie and Eric come alive in nature, and we all loved the scent of pine needles around us. Although last year’s trip to Strawberry Creek was the discovery of a winter wonderland swath of snow all along the creek, we really found only a few patches this year. But no matter. The point was for all four of us to be together, to make a memory, to have an adventure, to see what we could find and celebrate the beauty there was.

After playing and hiking by the creek, we drove more into town, went to the restaurant Bill and I ate at our first honeymoon night several years ago, then found a candy and toy store and poked around a bit. We had a nice day together.

Some pictures from today:

Today was a beautiful day in Southern California—warm, clear, fragrant with the promise of springtime. The perfect day, in fact, to celebrate Christmas with my Nana and our family.

Originally, Bill and I thought we might surprise Nana on Christmas Eve on our way to dinner that night. There has never been a Christmas when I have not spent at least part of it with Nana. When we received the call, though, telling us that Grandpa Yoder had taken a turn for the worse, we drove immediately to the hospital and knew that Christmas with Nana would need to be shared on a different day.

She left her tree decorated, and we could see it through the slider window as we all ate lunch outside by the pool today. Aunt Jenny and Aunt Anna set up the ping pong table and found a new model of the old Toss Across game, which we set up for Violet and Katie. We all enjoyed the time outside, time with family. It was still Christmas, because we were all together. Yes, the kiddos may have been in rompers. Yes, we ate sandwiches instead of prime rib. Yes, we all broke a sweat in the hot sun playing ping pong. Yet, it was just as full of the Christmas spirit as any time we’ve been together on the holiday. What a blessing to know that Christmas can truly last all year in the heart, and in the gathering of family.

Eric was able to take his first “generations” picture. The four of us have been together before, but we had yet to all be pictured together. I remember on that last visit with Grandpa Yoder at his home in November, it crossed my mind to take a “generations” picture…but I didn’t get around to it that day, and I thought “We’ll have another chance soon.” I wish we had one of all four of us, like we do for Katie.

Eric met Great-Aunt Jenny today. If Eric had been a girl, we had decided that he was going to be named “Jennifer” after her.

Eric and his great-grandmother, June Mitchell.

Learning how to play Toss Across.

How fortunate we are to have had this day together, to make these memories. In a life where we must say goodbye to those we love all too often, happiness is taking time with one another while we have each other here.

Gather your joy in your family, and celebrate the love that spans generations and years.

My two little birds have been patient all day, as today we have spent most of our time on chores…you know, those little things that just need to be done. Some of it was fun: Katie helped me to change entirely the bedding in the master bedroom, and we had fun cooking together. Some of it was not fun: while Eric napped, Katie had to play patiently on her own while I collected laundry and finished assorted tasks.

Although we began the day with some reading and playtime, when it came time to do work, parts of it were difficult for my children. Their little mouths were open—not for food, but hungry for play and attention.

I’ve had to make choices about my time tonight. Instead of blogging and working on my photograph projects as much as I normally do, I am choosing to spend the balance of time reading to Katie and filling up her little heart. All day she has wanted to read, and we’ve hardly had a moment. It is time to put her first today.

Sometimes we need to gather joy in making choices that fill up someone else, and that can be the best kind of joy there is.