And Now You Are Six

Today, in honor of my daughter’s sixth birthday, I share my birthday letter to her. Read my previous posts about her birthday here, here, here, and here.

six years oldDear G,

Today you are six years old. Six!

You are excited to be six; I too am excited, though I am also a little sad.

You’ll understand this feeling when you grow up and realize that, unlike kids, adults are less interested in getting somewhere fast—like the next birthday—and more interested in slowing down the moments so they don’t slip by so quickly. Adults hope that by doing so they can convince themselves—and everyone else!—into thinking they have more time than the daily allotment of 24 hours. They want to fill that newfound time with more of what they hold in their hearts. For me and for your Dad, too, we’d fill that time with you and your brother. That’s why I’m a little sad: we arrived at six way too fast.

You’ll like being six. It’s a lot like five—but more turbocharged, if you will. Now, you need two hands to count your age and you’re even closer to the tween years (which I am not at all ready for, so move slowly, kid). As a six-year-old, you’ll be in first grade and have homework (you might not like this but it’s good for you). You will join Girl Scouts, you’ll learn harder music for the piano, and you will ride your bike farther than ever before.

My birthday wish for you this year—and every year, I imagine—is for you to be kind and for kindness to find you, for you to be curious and for that curiosity to awaken your mind and heart, for you to be brave and for that bravery to make life rewarding, and for you to love and be loved.

Don’t let anyone make you think you can’t do things that are hard or different. Don’t stop writing stories, drawing pictures, telling funny stories, making up songs, and being you. (Please stop drawing on your comforter, though; that ink really isn’t going to come out.) Don’t ever stop climbing into my bed early in the morning to snuggle; it’s the best part of my day.

Laugh. A lot. And listen. Listen to what people say and what remains silent.

Speak up. For yourself, for friends, for people you don’t know. Some of my favorite stories about you are the ones in which a friend was sad and you comforted her, or a friend was hurt by another child and you stood up against that hurt. Keep doing that; it will make you a better person and your life will be more fulfilling.

Find joy in your body and its strengths. Run, jump, climb, skip, ski, and skate. Don’t stop moving and figuring out who are you—and who you can be.

Trust in me, your Dad, your grandmothers, your aunts and uncles, and cousins to be there for you. Your brother, too—he loves you way more than he lets on. Know that our circle of family and friends sees in you a vivaciousness and joy that is special, and that we will do whatever we can to support you.

six yearsI often describe you as a “firecracker”—full of light, a bit unexpected, and capable of producing awe. You have all of those qualities, though unlike a firecracker your impact is longer lasting. Remember that you can and do impact others. Remember that there are consequences for your actions and words, so you should make choices that represent you well and are true to who you are.

Have fun being six, G! Be a kid—play, make friends, and learn.

Most of all, know that I love you. Very, very much.

Happy birthday.

Love,
Mommy

Making Ice Cream with Stonyfield and YayLabs!

One of the highlights of summer has got to be ice cream. In my family, we’re big fans, welcoming a stop by the local ice cream store for a cone after a day at the beach or on a warm afternoon (check out our ice cream bucket list here). Our small town has five spots to get ice cream or frozen yogurt in our downtown area alone, which, surprisingly, was not one of the reasons we moved here (with the way we like ice cream, you would have thought it was). As a result, we’ve been working on increasing the kids’ stamina on their bicycles so we can ride into the center of town for a cone from one of those shops. (Yes, we’re also working on increasing their cycling stamina because it’s good for them; ice cream’s our “carrot” if you will.) Interestingly, for a family of ice cream aficionados, we rarely have it in the house, instead preferring to see it as a treat to have outside the home.

This approach to ice cream eating changed this weekend, however, when, thanks to our friends at Stonyfield and YayLabs!, we made our own ice cream at home with a shake, roll, and twist.

YayLabs! sent us their the SoftShell Ice Cream Ball to try out, which has been designed to help users make ice cream anywhere—on a camping trip, at the beach, or, in our case, on our driveway. Retailing for $34.99, the ball looks a bit like a small turquoise Death Star—only instead of housing Darth Vader, it makes ice cream.* Each end of the ball opens up: one side is for the ingredients, while the other is for the salt and ice.

This weekend, I recruited my kids, R and G, to put our ice cream making skills to the test. We decided to make frozen yogurt. In one end of our Ice Cream Ball, we placed 2 cups of Stonyfield yogurt, selecting the plain whole milk kind, along with 1/3 cup of maple syrup and 2 tablespoons of vanilla. In the other end we put in ice cubes and ¾ cup of kosher salt (the directions call for rock salt, with kosher salt as an acceptable second choice). I carefully carried the ball—now heavy with possibility—outside with R and G skipping ahead. I had heard from other Stonyfield Bloggers about the importance of not throwing the ball (a temptation for all kids, big and small), for as cool looking as the ball is, it is not indestructible (just like the Death Star!). “Don’t throw the ball at your sister” is a reasonable piece of advice—Ice Cream Ball or no Ice Cream Ball.

making ice cream with stonyfield and yaylabsR and G sat on our driveway, a few feet apart from one another, pushing the ball back and forth for about 10 minutes before I joined the fun. My husband sat down on our driveway, too, and soon the four of us had our feet touching, legs spread out, and the ball was rolling from one family member to another. The kids made a game of the ice cream making, challenging each other to roll the ball back and forth between their two hands, counting the number of times the ball went from the left to the right. G’s turn got her to 110 rolls, the family record. After a few more minutes, we checked on our creation, carefully unscrewing the lid to find frozen yogurt lining the sides of the cylinder with liquid still in the center. Back to rolling we went. After another 10 to 15 minutes of back and forth, up and down the driveway, rolling and counting, counting and rolling, we declared our ice cream/fro yo ready to eat. The end result was delicious, so delicious in fact that the kids wouldn’t pose for a photo. They were too busy eating.

Sprinkles are a must for ice cream (and frozen yogurt) in my house!

Sprinkles are a must for ice cream (and frozen yogurt) in my house!

I enjoyed the unexpected parts of this project: R and G working together (with minimal yelling), and R and G discussing how was that the salt and ice turned the yogurt into dessert (it must be science, they concluded). I also appreciated that, while ice cream can be high in sugar, our frozen yogurt was on the healthier side, using only yogurt, maple syrup, and vanilla (though richer recipes can be made with the SoftShell Ice Cream Ball). The ball is also easy to use: no parts to freeze in advance (the reason I never get around to using the ice cream machine I got for my birthday years ago). And, it’s a great activity to keep the kids occupied—though this is definitely an outdoor activity, as the ice can be messy as it melts.

So our official opinion? With our Ice Cream Ball at the ready, we may give the ice cream shops in our town some competition.

Disclosure: As a Stonyfield Blogger, I created this post in partnership with Stonyfield. All opinions here are mine.

*Anytime I can make a Star Wars reference in a blog post that has nothing to do with Star Wars, it’s a good day.

 

3 Ways to Keep Your Car Clean (even with kids!)

3_ways_to_keep_the_car_cleanIs your car like mine?

My car is a necessity: living in the suburbs, it’s the most reliable way to get my family from home to work, school, soccer practice, and piano lessons. My car is also our home away from home: it’s where my husband and I spend hours with our kids, driving to Grandma’s, laughing, and catching up. It’s our second living room, a place where we’re all together.

My car is also a mess.

Often, when I am driving—especially when we’re in traffic—my kids call out, “Mom, this is for you!” Since my focus is on keeping us all safe, I keep my eyes on the road and twist my right arm backward to take whatever they’re offering. Inevitably, they thrust a banana peel, granola bar wrapper, or empty juice box in my hand. It’s annoying—and dangerous.

Unfortunately, if I tell my kids to hold onto the trash until we’ve stopped, it somehow ends up on the floor and we all forget about it—until the smell.

Since I know my kids could be better at keeping my car clean—they don’t, after all, throw banana peels on the floor of our house!—I’ve implemented three easy organizing techniques to keep my car clean:

1. The Pit Stop: Whenever I stop to fill up my gas tank, I go through my car. I take five minutes—that’s all you need!— to empty out trash that’s accumulated. I look under seats for missing items (and more trash), and I ask my kids to pick up the books and toys that are strewn about the back seat. I make it a game (who can pick up the most books?), and they are (surprisingly) eager to cooperate.

2. The Trash Bag: For too long, I drove my car without a trash bag. This resulted in the aforementioned “Mom, here’s my juice box!” habit and generally made my car unsightly. Determined to get ahead of the mess, I made myself a washable car trash bag (that’s it in the photo). I dove into my box of leftover fabric, finding two pieces of complementary patterns and white strapping for a handle. I made the handle extra long to hang over the back of the driver’s seat. A quick ten minutes with my sewing machine and I had a bag to hang in the car. Now, the kids have no excuse to give Mom their trash, and when that bag gets grimy, I can throw it into the washing machine for cleaning. If sewing isn’t your thing, try using a bag you already have on hand, making sure it’s easy to clean.

3. The Deep Clean: I thought about having a no food rule in my car—and then I had kids. Once you realize that Cheerios can be magical to toddlers, it’s hard to say no eating in the car. So, I let my kids snack in the back seat, and I end up with crumbs is every possible spot. The best solution is a deep clean, once a month. I schedule it on my calendar for 30 minutes, crank up the tunes, and go to work. With a hand-held vacuum and eco-friendly cleaning supplies, I make the crumbs disappear. The key, for me, is the 30 minute time limit and the music. Getting the crumb culprits involved helps, too; after all, once kids see how much of their snack ends up under their booster seats, perhaps they’ll be tidier next time. (A stretch, I know, but I’m hopeful!)

Any tips you’d add? I’d love to hear them in the comments.

Travel to Haiti

haiti_5This is a much-overdue post about my family’s visit to Haiti earlier this year. I can’t believe it’s taken this long (five months!) to share it here on Red Shutters.

In February, my husband and I took our kids, five-year-old G and seven-year-old R, to Haiti for their school break. We were met with a lot of “You’re going where?” questions from friends, as Haiti is an atypical travel destination for a family with young children. It’s probably an atypical destination for a lot of people. My sense is that most people heading to Haiti from the United States these days are Haitians visiting home, aid workers on assignment, or volunteers on a service trip. We were going for a different reason: vacation.

I’ll be completely honest: Haiti would not have been my first choice for a vacation, but family members relocated there last year, and the pull of a quick plane ride to see them, after many years when they lived on the other side of the globe, was enticing. My apprehension stemmed from concerns about Haiti’s stability after the 7.0 earthquake that devastated the country in 2010 and the wisdom of taking of young children to a developing country with such deep and unsettling poverty. According to the World Bank, “Haiti remains the poorest country in the Americas and one of the poorest in the world (with a GDP per capita of US$846 in 2014).” Additionally, “more than 6 million out of 10.4 million (59%) Haitians live under the national poverty line of $2.44 per day and over 2.5 million (24%) live under the national extreme poverty line of $1.24 dollar per day.” In case you read that sentence too fast, 83% of Haitians live on $1.24 to $2.44 per day.

But, my husband and I have a strong commitment to raising children who are good global citizens, people who are aware of the way others around our world live, are respectful of other cultures and traditions, and make choices about their lives that improve our world. Bringing them to Haiti, therefore, was a step toward that goal. So, we went.

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Books to Read in the Summer of 2015

In January, I committed to read 45 books in 2015 and have been tracking my progress via the Reading Challenge on Goodreads. I’m currently nearing the end of book 25 (yea me!). Back in April, I updated you on what I’d be reading this year, and today, I’m checking back in on the rather eclectic bunch of books (both fiction and nonfiction) I’m tacking in 2015. Here’s what I’ve recently read:

books to read summer 2015

  • Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng: I’m almost done with this, Ng’s debut novel, and I am really enjoying it. While the plot is one readers have seen before (a main character dies and her family is devastated), Ng’s approach is original, as she explores feelings of identity, race, and connection. I highly recommend this book if you have not already read it.
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz: I cannot stop gushing about this book, giving it five stars on Goodreads. A 2008 Pulitzer Prize winner, this novel is part fiction, part history, part magical realism, part fantasy, and all of it’s terrific. This book is an inspired choice if you like original and unique voices in fiction writing.
  • Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman: A funny book for me to read since my bébés are in elementary school, but this was my book club’s selection for July. It provoked a wonderful conversation when we met on everything from what our kids eat (or don’t eat) to bedtime routines to “adult” time. I’ll admit to not being thrilled about the book when it was first selected—I wasn’t keen on reading a parenting book—but Bringing Up Bébé is more a memoir about finding your way when you are out of your element, considered through the lens of parenting. I did especially enjoy the author’s peek into the development of the palates of French children; we Americans, with our hamburgers and chicken fingers, have a lot to learn!
  • Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter: This book, which took the author 15 years to write (while he worked on other projects), moves back and forth from la dolce vita Italy, to Hollywood, to Idaho. With rich characters (both real and imagined), Beautiful Ruins is both poignant and hopeful. This would be a good book to pack in your beach bag this summer.
  • Delicious! by Ruth Reichl: I found this book in a used book store (or, as I like to call stores like that, the place to find buried treasure) and quickly devoured (pun intended) it in a weekend. An engaging story about a young woman who moves to New York City to join an esteemed culinary magazine only to see the publication go out of business, Delicious! benefits from Reichl’s extensive years as a food critic and magazine editor. The book is filled with details about New York and cooking, and would make a fun read on a trip this summer.
  • Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming: I’m a fan of Alan Cumming’s (he steals every scene in The Good Wife), so I looked forward to reading his memoir which chronicles his upbringing in Scotland, how he got into acting, and his complicated and difficult relationship with his father. Thankfully, the adult Alan comes across as someone who has an enormous capacity for love and fun and has moved on from the hurt of his childhood. I later learned that Alan narrated the audio version of his book and wished I had listened to it. (I’m such a sucker for a Scottish accent!)

I’m also (still) working on Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
by Laura Hillenbrand (very good but sad) and H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald (also good). Next up is Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed and A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. Also, for book club, I’m going to re-read The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.

Quite a mix, isn’t it? That’s what I love most about my reading list this year – a real array of stories and voices.

What are you reading this summer? What do you recommend I add to my to read list? Tell me in the comments, and happy reading!

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links; learn more here.

Photo Credit: Books 6 via photopin (license)

Birthday Reflections

Two days ago found me in the parking lot of an outdoor store—one of those chains that sells everything from Go Pros and hiking books to mountain climbing equipment and all weather socks. I wore a fluorescent yellow vest and a black helmet and stood in front of a green bicycle painted with flowers with a wicker basket on its front. The bike looked a bit like Austrian elves had decorated it, but I was captivated by the red tassels on its handles and by the silver bell that dinged like a doorbell, so I had selected it for my test ride. For years, I had been without a bicycle, my last one having rusted away, and I was at the store to see about getting a new one.

Apprehensive, I stood in front of the bike wondering if that maxim “it’s just like riding a bicycle – you don’t forget!” was true. My children picked up on my concern, and my daughter called out, “Don’t worry, Mama. Just take a breath and step on the pedal.” I looked at her, encouraging me, and felt a slight twinge of humiliation. Was it embarrassing that she was a better bike rider then me (which doesn’t say much since she learned to ride without training wheels only two weeks ago), or should I feel proud that the child was eclipsing the parent? I decided to go with proud (my ego, small as it is, couldn’t bear it any other way), and stepped up on the bike. I wobbled a bit and then found a rhythm. Around the parking lot I went, wind in my hair. I rode up and down the aisles, remembering how much fun it is to ride a bike, to do something of joy. I stopped in front of my husband, nodding like my daughter. I would get a bicycle.

***

All over the Internet, you’ll find letters parents write to their children on their birthdays. I have been known to do this once or twice myself. What about writing to yourself on your birthday? Birthday reflections for the grown-ups, if you will?

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Yummy Hummus Chip and Dip Combo

Happy Fourth of July! For my family, this fast-approaching holiday is the official kick-off to summer and a fun reason to get together with family and friends. We’ll spend the day at a BBQ, feasting on corn on the cob, watermelon, and burgers. This year, I have a delicious hummus dip recipe to share at the festivities, thanks to my friends at Stonyfield and Late July.

hummus_recipe

My contribution to the Fourth of July!

Stonyfield invited me to use their organic yogurt as the key element in a healthy dip, so I consulted my smallest assistant—my daughter, G—for help. Together, we scrolled through the dip recipes on the Stonyfield website, deciding to make hummus, a perennial favorite it our house (it didn’t hurt that my husband was in the background yelling “make hummus! make hummus!”).  We elected to combine two recipes (this one and this one) to make our own version, which is what makes dips a great addition to any party—you can easily adapt the recipe to your taste buds.

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8 TV Shows to Binge Watch

television

8 TV Shows to Binge Watch Right Now

Last week, I chatted with some colleagues about the television shows we’ve been watching. One of my coworkers, due with her first baby in a few short weeks and therefore looking for something to watch during those 2 AM feedings, took notes on all the things we said we loved. I tried to remember what I watched during my maternity leaves and came up blank. On leave before the advent of Netflix, Amazon Prime TV, Hulu, and the other ways we watch television in 2015, I was stuck with cable and maybe On Demand. I think I watched Gilmore Girls, or maybe it was The Golden Girls.

Anyway, nowadays, I rarely sit on the couch in front of the television when a show broadcasts; instead, I fit in shows while I’m cleaning the kitchen and making school lunches for the kids, laptop open up on the countertop, show streaming online. The plus of this approach is that I don’t often see commercials and I don’t “surf” around looking for something to watch. The challenge is to find the right thing to watch. So, for my colleague who is about to go off on maternity leave and for anyone looking for great TV to binge watch (i.e., watch from start to finish in a short period of time) right now, here are my eight recommendations:

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3 Ways to Celebrate Father’s Day

fathers day

Last month, I wrote a Mother’s Day gift guide, and my husband studiously noted that of all of the posts I’ve ever written on Red Shutters that one felt the most directed to him.

Hint, hint, indeed.

It wasn’t my intent, of course, but if he found my post helpful, hurrah! However, to make the point that I wasn’t writing just to offer him suggestions to celebrate me on Mother’s Day (though I didn’t mind that one bit), today I am sharing ways to celebrate Father’s Day, for those seeking last minute inspiration (equal opportunity and all that). After all, Father’s Day is just five days away!

  1. When our kids were still in diapers, every Father’s Day (and on his birthday), I gave my husband a free pass on changing diapers. For the full 24 hours, he—normally a very hands-on, help-in-every-way dad—didn’t have to change one diaper, or even wipe a runny nose. He did the same for me on Mother’s Day, and it was a get-out-of-jail card we both appreciated. Consider doing something similar for the dad in your life. Would he love a break from mowing the lawn? Washing the car? Packing school lunches? Organizing the recycling? Find that task and let him skip it this Father’s Day.
  1. In our house, the parent being celebrated gets to decide how to spend the day. Want to sleep in? Have breakfast in bed? Spend time with family and friends? Carve out alone time? See a baseball game, or catch a movie? This Sunday, let Dad decide. For Father’s Day 2015, my husband will head out for long mountain bike ride in the morning, the kids and I will treat him to a special lunch, and then we’ll have friends over in the afternoon for a barbeque—a perfect mix of activities he loves.
  1. Everyone loves gifts, but it can be hard to find the right thing that says “you’re the #1 Dad.” I still have flashbacks to the year I gave my dad a super ugly tie for Father’s Day; I knew I “struck out” on that gift before he opened the box. My key for Father’s Day gift giving is to give something that celebrates one of Dad’s interests. My husband has started to listen to audio books while commuting to work, so this Father’s Day, the kids and I are giving him a subscription to Audible (and he already knows; I inadvertently sent him the receipt instead of myself—so much for surprises!). In year’s past, we gave him an assortment of craft beers and bike gear—gifts that match how he enjoys spending his time. Find the same connection with the dad (or dads!) you’re honoring this holiday.

Most of all, have a fun day! Sometimes, we get all caught up in making a day perfect that we forget that perfect isn’t always what we need (or want); being together and showing appreciation is what makes Father’s Day—and really any day—the best day.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links; learn more here.

3 Ways to Celebrate the Last Day of School

3 ways to celebrate the last day of schoolToday, on our calendar, there’s a big 13. Thirteen days until the end of school. Already the homework assigned to my first-grader has ceased, while Field Day, the Art Show, and end of the year parties have been scheduled. The kids are looking forward to the last day of school year and the summer of camp and vacation that will follow. But I’m a bit sad.

It feels too soon to have my kids move from kindergarten and first grade to first and second grade, yet I can tell each is ready for a new challenge. They are eager—especially my son, R—for something new. It always sounds trite to say “it’s gone by too fast!,” but trite as it may be, it’s a true sentiment. The days have flown by and my kids are growing far too fast.

To slow down time—as much as I can!—I have three ways to celebrate the last day of school, building upon traditions my son and I started last year. Now that my daughter, G, is saying good-bye to her first year of elementary school, the three of us will fulfill these traditions together:

  1. Take a picture! On the first day of school, I went “snap happy,” getting lots of photos of R and G holding signs that said “first day of kindergarten” and “first day of first grade.” I’ll do the same thing on June 23 with these “last day of school” printable signs I found on Pinterest. I’ll send the pictures to grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends, and probably get a little teary-eyed while looking at them!
  1. Break bread – Last year, on R’s last day of kindergarten, I took him out for a lunch at a nice restaurant for some quality mommy and me time. This year, R, G, and I will have lunch together, someplace easy and kid-friendly, solidifying lunch together as our annual “hurrah for the last day” must-do event. Or, we may have a picnic in our backyard and invite friends over. I took the day off from work to note this milestone, so our meal can be as leisurely as possible. After lunch, we’ll head to the pool or library, or meet up with friends.
  1. Interview your kid – I’m adding a new tradition this year: one-on-one interviews with each child to capture this all-too fleeting time. I’ll ask them: name, age, favorite color, favorite thing to do, favorite book, favorite superhero, favorite game, favorite book, best memory from the school year, and what they want to be when they group up. I’ll keep the interviews in their not-yet-complete baby books, and ask them the same or similar questions next year. Hopefully, they’ll find these interviews entertaining when they look back—I know I will!

Happy last day of school!

Getting your child ready for the start of elementary school this fall? Check out my How to Transition Your Child to Kindergarten Pinterest board.