Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Celebrate: Hallmark

This post is a Hallmark sponsored post. I am being paid by Hallmark to write it, but all writing, ideas and opinions are mine. Thankfully, Hallmark and I share the same idea--that little moments are to be celebrated and that good people, good efforts and good intentions deserve a spotlight. See Hallmark Life is a Special Occasion for more details, like them on Facebook, and/or sign up for their e-mail messages HERE.


I am notorious for mixing up music lyrics. To this day, I still mumble through the first line of that "you give love a bad name" Bon Jovi song because I'm not sure if it's "Shock to the Heart" or "Shot through the Heart" or something else that starts with Sh- and ends with Heart. I'm not very good with numbers either. I forget birthdays and still use my calculator in the grocery store. So you would think with my history of both botched lyrics and number miscalculations, I'd slaugter the famous Rent song, "Seasons of Love." But no. I know that there are exactly 525,600 minutes in a year, and I can belt it--on tune--in the shower, in the car, and in the hair color aisle of Target with my friend Andrea when she's randomly signaled it's one of those days. You know, grocery-shopping-turned-Broadway-play days (the third Tuesday every month).

It's an important number to know--even more important than your Social Security number, if you ask me. I might not be a math whiz, but I can certainly tell you that 525,600 minutes translates to: "Time's Ticking; Enjoy Life."

Which brings me to the theme of this post: Celebrate.

Ah, my favorite theme. I dig celebration. I yearn for holidays, I lose my breath at the sight of balloons, I hang colored lights on our lanai year round. And while yes, I can't deny that life calls for serious and mundane and responsibility, shouldn't that be all the more reason to infuse it with color? I think about this a lot having kids--wondering what their memories will be and how their childhood will be painted years later. They will know love and peace, yes. That's a given. But amidst all that love, I hope there are interesting stories of celebration. How we lit candles and played music, danced in our pajamas in the moonlight, created handmade cards for birthdays and holidays, used special cups on special days, joined with neighbors for sparklers and bonfires, baked cupcakes with extra sprinkles, and how we recognized that not one of those 525,600 minutes should be wasted.

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And whether it's a birthday or Father's Day or maybe something fabulous you created on your own--like Opposite Day or Family Movie Night--there's a part of us that comes alive when we make efforts to create memorable celebrations amid ordinary routines. Our children paint colorful stories in their books of childhood, but really I think we benefit just as much. Who said our own books of childhood can't still be scripted? (Read the children's book Mrs. Muddle's Holidays--Goodness, I am in love).

Ordinary or Extraordinary, there are little things we can do to make celebrations a little more memorable.

My Five Favorite Tips for Creating Celebrations

1. Light up the Night

Candles. Their flicker spells "this is special." Turn off the lights at dinner and eat with just a scattering of tea lights, and something triggers within--that memory recorder that preserves all the details. What song was playing, how pretty that table cloth looked, how big your daugther smiled when she realized a simple dinner transformed into a memorable family event.

Candles in cupcakes aren't just for birthdays either. We've been known to light candles on pancakes, cookies, doughnuts--you name it. And, for the record, the five syllables of "Ann-i-ver-sa-ry" can be mumbled quickly in place of "Birthday" for a lovely "Happy Anniversary to You" melody.

And my personal favorite? Put a few jars and tea lights in your beach bag and stay past sunset. Nothing says "Celebrate" like a quilt surrounded by a dreamy glow, nestled in the sand under the moon.

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2. Use the "Good Dishes."

Reserve special dishes for festive occassions, and make a nice fuss over events when you pull them out. The top shelf in my kitchen cupboard holds our favorites--kid "wine" glasses, the "Queen for a Day" plate, a piece of china my grandma passed down to me, a birthday mug, etc. Lainey knows when we use any of these dishes, it's a special event. And stem ware? Oh, she thinks she's so fancy when she gets to use a real wine glass.

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Clothing is such an easy form of expression and consequently, an easy way to "feel" the extra celebratory tone of a special occassion. I can suddenly turn an ordinary spaghetti dinner into a romantic date just by switching from jeans to a little black dress. Likewise, I've watched Lainey's smile turn from "this is fun" to "Ohhh, this is really special" when she realizes she has something festive to wear, even if it's pulled from her dress-up trunk. A big hat to a tea party, Christmas jammies on Christmas Eve, socks with blue stars at the Fourth of July parade--all little ways to make a celebration more memorable.

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4. "Wow" Factor

So, these aren't things you do everyday. In fact, I save these for those very special occassions like New Years and family reunions and welcoming babies with friends--ceremonious celebrations. Sky lanterns and sparklers, our weapons of choice. Like candles, but more grand. We've made wishes, said thank you's and shouted Happy Birthdays under the enchanting glow of rising lanterns, and we've written our names with a stream of sparks. The underlying message...life is grand.

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5. Finally my favorite celebration tip: Become Acquainted with my friend, Spontaneity.

The best way to celebrate? Spice it up. Do it differently. Get excited about something you haven't been excited about in a long time. Try breakfast for dinner. Sleeping bags in the living room on a Friday night. Throw a few drops of food color to make green eggs and ham. Drag blankets outside and tell your kids it's "National Read Outside Day" even though you made that up.

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Stay up a little later, go for a moon walk, buy water balloons, make a scavenger hunt in your back yard. And next time it storms, turn your garage into a storm theater. Eat popcorn. Rate the thunder. Smile.

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There are 525,600 minutes in a year. How will you celebrate?

I know you all have unique ways you celebrate little moments with your families. Summer's almost here. Do you have any favorite traditions? Any made-up holidays or special things you do to transform ordinary events in your home to memorable occasions? Hallmark and I would love to hear your stories. In your comment, please share the special ways you celebrate to help make your year--all 525,600 minutes of it--a special occasion.

To see other Hallmark posts on this blog, click HERE.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

It's a beachy weekend here.

Bored? Find the hidden watermarks. It's like Where's Waldo, but even more pointless.

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We've soaked, sunscreened, sipped and simmered with friends the past two days, and we are, consequently, excited for summer.

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I've packed more beach bags in my life than I've packed lunches, suitcases and heat combined. Okay, I've never packed heat. But I do have the beach thing down and can quickly load up my bag with necessities. We wear our swimsuits to the beach with covers, and the kids carry their own towels. A great extra I recently discovered from Parents magazine? Bring an ice cream scoop. It's perfect for making sand balls.

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Currently reading French Kids Eat Everything and rereading an easy read favorite: Ignore Everybody and 39 Other Keys to Creativity
Unavailable for photo: swim diapers, hair ties, lipbalm with SPF, baby sunscreen, camera (in padded case) and a paint brush (Say what? I just learned this from my friend Andrea: a soft 2-inch paint brush is perfect for dusting the dials on your camera body to keep them sand free)

My three favorites from Isles of Capri yesterday:

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Favorite retro yellow bathing suit: Popina Swimwear

The rest I threw into a video because everything's better with music. We had a treasure hunt for the kids yesterday--clues that led to different locations around the beach and a real buried treasure at the end. It was a little bit fabulous.


Song: "5 Years Time" by Noah and the Whale

If you didn't catch it last time, I created a quick tutorial for making video/photo slideshows like the one above in this post.

Happy Memorial Day. Remembering all those whom this day honors, especially our friends, the Terhune family. xo

I'll be back Tuesday for a Hallmark post.

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Friday, May 25, 2012

A Little Bit Sad, A Little Bit Excited

FRIDAY'S POST, A DAY LATE

I’ve been avoiding the topic of sending Lainey to school next year partly because we haven’t really decided what we’re going to do but more so because, when I think of waving to my child every morning and wondering what she’s doing for the seven hours that follow, my chest feels heavy and I start doing that ridiculous thing I do where I imagine life as a movie montage. On Golden Pond is playing while my girl is walking away from me—slow motion, of course, because that’s how it happens in imaginary movie montages. Two skinny braids are woven into her hair and tied with ribbon, and overpowering her tiny frame is a large yellow back pack. She is waving for me to come with her--whispering that she wants me to stay--and I tell her I wish I could. Finally the screen fades as I hold back the tears that I pray she doesn’t see. So yes—I avoid the topic. And yes, I kind of want to slap myself for being so sentimental. But that's how you end up when you were the kid who asked your dad to put sad music on because you "needed to cry."

Today we visited kindergarten—in our second baby step (first was kindergarten round-up last month) toward whatever it is we’re going to do next year. Which, right now, looks maybe like real school.

She was nervous on the way there. I could tell because when I looked in the rear view mirror, she was biting her lip and fiddling with the broken elastic part of the car seat cover. She caught my eye and smiled, and I told her how much fun this was going to be—lunch with friends, recess outside, and the best part—bunk bed lofts in the kindergarten classrooms.

I’ve never been so completely aware of the way my daughter’s hand fits in mine than I was today, as we walked across the parking lot together, her grip clearly signaling that she needed to borrow a bit of my confidence. I shared it with her with my smile, a skip in my step and a subtle tightening of my own grip on her sweaty little hand. It’s okay. I’m right here.

Large round visitor stickers indicated the fact that we didn’t really belong at this school and strangely, I found comfort in that. We’re not here yet. I still have time.

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They’re little, those kindergarteners. Too small for such a big school if you ask me, and yet I’d suggest you don’t ask me these kinds of things because I’ll throw your question into a movie montage and one piano sonata later, we’ll all be crying.

I recognized two kindergarteners immediately--kids of friends--and they smiled and ran to me, proudly dragging their writing journals with them. I opened a journal. There was a full paragraph of sweet six-year-old penmanship. Capitals and periods and lots of big words in between--things about amphibians and how frogs are cold-blooded and like to swim in water. I read it aloud to Lainey, praised the student and inwardly marveled at how amazing young minds are. But mostly I loved how confident these children were.

She stayed close to me, making sure some part of her body was touching mine at any given moment. She followed my cues, so I made it a point to be happy. Enthusiastic. Relaxed. Peaceful. Open to new experiences.

I watched her absorb every moment, every student, every little event I knew she was storing to discuss later. Things like how the teacher claps a rhythm to get the kids' attention and how they respond with a respective clap, clap, clapclapclap. Or the impressive school store we passed in the central pod--a hinged board with pockets full of colorful erasers, pencil tops, small toys and treasures. She pretended not to enjoy the way the teacher called students to line up by the color of their shoes, and I pretended not to notice when she smiled at the boy in front of her who bent over and shook his head to make another boy laugh.

On the way to lunch, we stopped to peek in the music room where an older class was rehearsing a song. Lainey and I immediately recognized it as a song we play at home--Katy Perry's "Firework." We stood there alone--me and my little girl--as we pressed our faces against the glass door and watched the music teacher guide the crowd of little bodies with sign language motions. We couldn't see their faces, but we saw their backs, their arms raised and their hands swaying in the air; we heard their voices.

Own the night like the Fourth of July. Show them what you're worth. Boom, Boom, Boom. Even brighter than the moon, moon, moon.

I felt hot tears brimming, and I quickly wiped them before my girl who needed my confidence looked up to notice.

We ate lunch at a round table with six other kindergarteners. It felt strange and exciting at the same time. Maybe I overcompensated for her uncertainty, making mention of how great every little thing about school is. Like sporks in the cafeteria.

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Thank you Emerson and Noelle for making Lainey feel so comfortable. xo

There was recess. And library.

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And, funny as it may be, a school carnival today--as if timed by some divine intervention to convince my kid that kindergarten equals festive merriment and pink sugar.


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The principal invited us to his office where he told Lainey he'd watch out for her next year. He let her pick out two trinkets from the treasure box and told her "Take two" when she reached in the jar of peppermint sticks. As we walked back to the parking lot, she held my hand with much more ease, her shoulders relaxed, her smile subtle yet present.

I've made lists of pros and cons of both public and home schooling. Truthfully, I am an advocate of both and more important, I am an advocate of the fact that--like breast feeding vs. bottle or sleeping alone vs. family bed--there isn't a wrong answer. My children will learn to fly in whatever environment in which they are placed because we will support them. Of this I am confident. I also remember that we can change our minds, we can reassess, we can listen to all those quiet cues our children send to tell us exactly what they need, and we can respond accordingly. We will make a decision for our children based on what we feel is right for them and for our family, and we will make it work.

Really, I think we're just feeling very nostalgic right now, and we need to dwell here a little bit. It's an interesting crossroads as yesterday was Austyn's last day of high school, and Brandyn's last day of middle school follows next week. We're very aware of the growth charts in our home and all the notches that have been filled in--Austyn and Brandyn's in black marker on the inside of their bedroom doors, Lainey and Nella's on vinyl banners that hang on their bedroom walls. That's a lot of notches.

My laid-back husband who doesn't express emotion much walked into the bedroom this morning, his eyes full of tears. "This is so hard," he whispered. "I remember Austyn's first day of kindergarten." He stopped and looked at the pictures of Lainey on my computer screen. "He was this big," he added, holding his hand out, mid-thigh. I watched him fold blankets that didn't need to be folded, giving himself something to do to distract his sadness--so characteristic of him. "I like things the way they are. I want everything to stay the same," he concluded.

He continued to fold things--anything--and I didn't say much because I know there's not much to say. But I wait for it--that moment of truth that I know will arrive because, hey--you can't be married to a unicorn lover and not eventually see the good.

And it comes. Quietly.

"There's good ahead," he whispers.

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Growing hurts. I know this well.

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New seasons bring new challenges but also new colors, new fruit, new things that fill us with wonder--things we maybe didn't recognize before.


A little bit sad and a little bit excited tend to compliment each other quite nicely. And that's exactly where I am right now, on the brink of a good summer with memories to be made.

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Happy Weekend.

Friday Photo Dump:

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Friday Phone Dump photos are taken on the Instagram iPhone app (free) and dropped into a 12x12 collage using a photo editing software (Photoshop Elements works). I am @etst (enjoying the small things) on Instagram if you care to follow the feed.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

List Check

Give a girl a list, and she's going to want to cross things off.

That said, I'm movin' right along with my mini bucket list. Large paint strokes in varied shades of pale blue are staggered across one living room wall, a thin layer of sand covers the laundry room floor from our return from beach sunset Monday night, and last night, the girls and I transformed our bathroom into a spa.

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This will be a weekly event now because all the sistahs in the house enjoyed it.

Lainey: Mom, we need cucumbers for our eyes.
Me: We don't have any cucumbers.
Lainey: We can use bananas.
Me: You are brilliant, Child.

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Moon River can accompany anything. I love that song.

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*****

And ballet? One week in, and Sister owns the place.

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I can't take the leotard off after class. I let her wear it all day because it makes me smile. And then at night, when I finally take it off and put it aside, I stand there for a minute, next to her dresser, staring at the small square of folded pale pink spandex next to the tiniest ballet shoes you've ever seen. And I have a mama moment where I connect with my twelve-year-old self. The one who spent many daydreaming hours wondering what it would be like to have little girls.

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So maybe I cut a shirt. Do it. Take a little baby t-shirt and cut the neck off. Bring back the Flashdance.

*****

Finally, the beach. Monday night was glorious--glorious, I tell you. A spontaneous text. Mamas who answered. And this wonder-twin-powers-activate moment where we put our imaginary fists together and promised that yes, we're doing this. Many times this summer.

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Lainey's friend Lauren giggles. All the time. If you barely look at her, it starts. Belly-shaking giggling. It's contagious.

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Nella ran fearlessly, right toward the waves and right past the shells that border the water's edge. And yet she knew to stop at shin depth, bracing herself for the few white caps that knocked her down, and then standing again, proud and smiling.

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And this one?

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In a book club Skype chat the other night, we were discussing sibling needs. I explained some recent feelings I had regarding how we recognize and praise Lainey's strengths. Her attentiveness and love for Nella is, no doubt, obvious to so many, and she hears "you're an incredible big sister" almost every day. I love that--I dreamed of that, and yet I've been very careful lately to recognize the other qualities that make her who she is as well--her creativity and ingenuity, her free spirit, her imagination and her constant awareness of others' needs. Her personality is complex, and it's important for me to continually embrace the many things that make my girls unique individuals, one of which is their incredible attentiveness to each other.

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I love that these moments of recognition and readjusting how we parent just naturally evolve. We figure things out. That truth reminds me not to worry so much about the future. All those questions we have? What will their relationship look like? How will we meet their needs? How will we teach them? How will we know when they need something? I am confident that we will figure them out. And it might mean doing something one way and changing it a week later because we realize we need to readjust.

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Either way, we'll know. Mama's intuition.

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*****

I loved reading your week mini bucket lists and made note of several new things I want to do this summer.

A few of yours:

* Pay for someone's order behind me in the drive through line ~Maria
* Write a heartfelt letter to my daughters AMAZING kindergarten teacher's principal about how incredibly awesome she is ~Michelle
* Learn some crazy Thriller moves and practice the hoola hoop for our last day of school teacher skit ~Kelly
* Pick pea shoots from my vegetable patch and eat them on the lawn ~Fiona
* Celebrate the end of another successful school year for my kiddos with roasted hot dogs and marshmallows ~Halie

Summer is on the horizon, and an upcoming family road trip has me excitedly dreaming.
(Chicago and Michigan book signing information to come!)

*****

Tea Collection is returning in sponsorship this month, bringing beach essentials and vibrant prints, just in time for summer. Tea's soft, lightweight knits are perfect for our tropical weather, and I love the global infusion their styles reflect. We love our Indonesian Batik Dress (on sale!) and wear-with-everything Sanuk sandals (also on sale).

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Inspired by world travel and notorious for comfort and style, Tea Collection continues to provide unique and colorful clothing for both women and children. In addition, their company supports global efforts that benefit children. We love our Tea clothes, and we love having Tea Collection a part of Enjoying the Small Things.

*****

There is a happy summer laziness that is slowly seeping its way in our home. The boys are counting down the days for "school's out." I am making lists in my head of what we will pack for our road trip. The bucket of sidewalk chalk holds nothing but nubs, and we're due for new bubbles, new chalk, new flip flops and some front yard planting.

Good night.

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