Fun End-of-Summer Ideas– tested by the Blalock boys

I have a confession to make. I hate pinterest. Hate it! I’m drawn to it like a fly to a sunny window, but it just leaves me feeling frustrated and incompetent. I’m simple and I’m cheap. You can see where pinterest and I might have a love-hate relationship. So, here are some (pinterest-unworthy) ideas for summer fun that we’ve tested out this month. All are easy to pull off, and like any good teacher I’ve borrowed and tweaked my “lesson plans.” Some worked; some didn’t, but the memories are fantastic!

“Rainy day” sprinkler play

We play outside– A LOT– so playing in the sprinkler was starting to loose its edge. Spiced it up a bit and let boys wear their rain gear. We’re good for another afternoon!

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Ice cube blocks

PROS– ice sticks together and your kids can pretty much build anything they can imagine. The best part= no clean up! Let it melt when you’re done.

CON– only lasted about 12 seconds before my oldest dumped the entire bucket of ice into the baby pool and then got mad because I wouldn’t get him some more. I appreciated the vote of confidence, but no, I can’t just whip up some more ice on the spot. Does anyone else look at your kids and wonder “What were you thinking?” at least a hundred times a day?

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Shaving cream “bath”

I’m all about backyard fun that doesn’t really require me to spend hours or money on building cool things (kickball croquet game made with pool noodles anyone? Or maybe you’re the super-crafty type who actually made a water blob. WHO ARE YOU?!?!? If you really have that much time on your hands, by all means, please invite yourself over to my house. I can keep you busy!)

We used a shower curtain we already have and spent a couple of dollars at the dollar store on 3 cans of shaving cream. Voila! Oh, I didn’t figure out until my oldest cried, “Mom, the curtain is sticking to me!” that you should probably add a little water to the mix. (Have I mentioned how UNcrafty I am?) After I sprayed everything down for a sec, he was good to go.

#1 LOVED it!

#1 LOVED it!

#2 HATED it!

#2 HATED it!

Camping for city girls

Yeah, I don’t camp. But the boys got a kick out of “camping out” in tents in their room. We had one tent; we borrowed another one because Lightning McQueen really is a play tent for toddlers and two boys couldn’t lay in their together without WW III erupting. Remember that I don’t spend money if I don’t have to– ask around for occasional items like a tent. Friends and family never say no.

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Remember the library isn’t just for reading!

Libraries have the best shows for littles and bigs. One we went to this week featured a juggler. We’ve seen him three summers in a row, and he never gets old! Free is gooooooood!

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Impromptu counting practice at snack time

I made this up on the spot, but it worked like a charm for my middle son who has trouble remembering the 11-20 set. We had popcorn for snack today, so I put a piece of popcorn on each number and randomly chose numbers for him to find and say aloud to me. Then he could eat the popcorn on the number. We reloaded it a couple of times and did the numbers in random order, ascending, and descending order.  He’s finally starting to remember 13 and 16! Now, if only he wouldn’t crave a snack every time we count.

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A couple of more ideas I’m too lazy to take a picture of…

  • Letter sound practice with sidewalk chalk: I wrote our “target” letters in random places on the driveway with sidewalk chalk, and then did the same with sight words beginning with those same letter sounds. #2 really enjoyed jumping on the letter that matched a sound I made for him and then finding the word that starts with the same sound. Picture me saying, “Braden, what letter makes the ssssssss sound?… Okay, which word starts with sssssss?”
  • Looking for ways to show love:

1) I wrote a note of appreciation for a lady very important to me, thanking her for all she does for our family and telling her how thankful I am for her. The boys followed my example and chose someone to write a short note to also.  #2 doesn’t really write yet, so I let him dictate to me and I left a few sight words blank so he could write those in himself. Presh! I didn’t realize how unschooled they are in mailing an actual letter though. #2 (4 yrs old) didn’t even know what a stamp was! Whoops!

2) Other easy ways for young ones to show love: bake cookes and take them to the fire dept near you, make a couple of sandwiches and take them with you to the library. There are always homeless people around libraries, and they’d appreciate the snack.

  • Fine motor skill fun:

1) Give kids dry erase markers to draw with. We have a glass door that works perfectly because the space is so big. But you can let them use the mirror or picture frames with just a white sheet of paper in it.

2) Build with toothpicks and mini-marshmallows.

3) Salt drawings- this was a FAIL for us, but it might work for you. Pour salt into a shallow pan and let your kids draw or practice their spelling words by tracing with their finger or an unsharpened pencil. My kids got wild and salt ended up completely outside the pan. They just wanted to feel it on their hands instead of using it to draw. In theory, I think it’s a good idea though.

What fun ideas has your family tried this summer? (that worked or didn’t work.) Our funniest memories are from all of my failures!

Don’t offer me cheese. I’m not whining.

My man and I at our favorite sports venue in Texas- the Texas Rangers' Ballpark

My man and I at our favorite sports venue in Texas- the Texas Rangers’ Ballpark.

Well, this morning was the morning I’ve been dreading since summer started. Somehow, I let it sneak up on me. I’ve just been truckin along, soaking up every second possible with my family, kind of oblivious to the inevitable.

But this morning, summer came to a screeching halt: my husband, a coach, reported back to work bright and early. His summer officially ended yesterday; my family responsibilities just jumped up about 12 notches. Case in point: Brad went to work at about 8:00 this morning; I can expect to see his handsome face again around 10 or 10:15 tonight.

His work week carries about this same schedule during basketball season, which runs roughly October to February/March. Thanks to our district’s ____________ (insert your own adjective here) school board, instead of following this schedule during Coach’s “main” season, we now get to add July- October to the mix since all head coaches are required to assist in a second sport. Brad’s additional duty is volleyball, which is quite entertaining. He likens his trying to coach volleyball to a dog using a fork. Either way, it’s just fun to watch and little disturbing at the same time.

I wonder if other coaches’ wives feel a tinge of panic on  this day each year like I do. Surely I’m not the only one! But the feeling of shouldering the responsibility of the family in the day-to-day always catches my breath for just a bit before we get settled into the routine. It feels overwhelming sometimes. My strategy is to bathe this thing in prayer and thank the Almighty for all the times He is filling in the gaps for a hard-working but busy dad and my own shortcomings– the times when we overtly see Him at work and especially the times when He covers the bases for us and we’re none the wiser.

Coach and I sure had a great summer together, probably one of our best. These 8 weeks were my favorite of the year. Stress-free, lots of sunshine, time to sneak away together sans the 3 boys. We had a great run! I’ve got about 3 more weeks left of luxury before teachers report back to work. That’s plenty of time to love on my boys more and rock the baby a few more nights.

I’m feeling anxious, but I’m confident it’ll be okay.

Quips from the 4-year-old this week:

Nicknamed Cannonball. Does that tell you anything?

Nicknamed Cannonball. Does that tell you anything?

I found my inner peace.

[to me] I want you to stop acting like a child.

Let’s talk about the letter A! I know a word that starts with an A- CHERRY! Wait, no, that’s the wrong fruit, huh? APPLE!

Cammy’s so cute [speaking of our 10 mo. old, Camden.] Mom, I want you to put him back in your tummy so you can be even fatter.

What things have your kids said that left you laughing or worse, speechless?

The 90/10 Rule

It’s all a matter of perspective, really.

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First, you must know that we run a stiff, proper, and appropriately civilized household.

Wait, nope. That’s not us.

Not the real one anyway. That’s the one I play out in my head each morning as I vow to better my family– while jabbing the snooze button one time too many.

The real one doesn’t even call my children by their painfully, perfectly selected names. Most often, in an attempt to avoid yelling roll call, we just refer to the boys by their birth order. Easy. You need 1, 2, or 3. (Press 4 for English.)

Number 2 is an absolute riot, especially in the way he interprets the world around him, trying to make sense of things from his preschool perspective.

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My man sporting said tie during one of his games.

Case in point: Last year following a basketball game my husband had just coached, #2 sprints up to Brad who is still standing in front of his home bench. And the little one says in an over-the-top sweet voice that lets you know he’s overtly giving a compliment: “Daddy, I really like your scarf tonight.”

Coach (with an automatic roll of the eyes as he looks over at me with a glare. As if I’ve turned our totally boy-ish boy into a fashionista): “Son, men don’t wear scarves. They wear ties.”

However, true to his fashion, #2 has already lost interest in the conversation. So, with a sigh, and a turn of his head to let his dad know he’s been dismissed, Braden persistently throws out: “Okay, Dad, but you wear a scarf,” and he runs back to his abandoned hot wheel.

It’s really all a matter of perspective, isn’t it? To-MAY-to. To-MAH-to.

Tie. Scarf.

They both tie around your neck, purely for decorative purposes. We do live in Texas after all. The kid kind of has a point.

In the last few years, I think I’ve learned more about God’s grace and consistency than I had in all my previous years combined. Granted, some of them were painful lessons, no matter how necessary they were. Any way you turn it, some of those lessons were revealed in a time that I will never forget as being a very low, dark, and sorrowful time in my life. Naturally, it was then that I was the most ripe to hear a fresh word from the Almighty. Because isn’t it true that we rely most on God when we have nothing else to hold us up?

But like #2 demonstrated, I’ve learned that I really do have an incredibly limited perspective of life oftentimes. I think we tend to only focus on the present and what’s directly in front of us. When we behave in certain ways as a reaction to what is going on around us at that particular moment, we are acting situationally. They say life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we react to it.

You know what I love about scripture? It’s that when I become aware of my shortcomings, I can always find someone in the Bible who’s already been there, done that. The precedent has already been set. Thank goodness for me the only personal blunders in print are the ones I’ve chosen to post myself! Ever read parts of the Bible and thought, “Oh man! How embarrassing for them!”

Think about Jesus’ good friends Mary, Martha, and their brother Lazarus. Jesus learns that his buddy Lazarus is seriously ill, and his reaction to his friend’s imminent death is one that has been studied by scholars and theologians ever since. Instead of rushing to Lazarus’ side in Bethany to heal him with divine authority, Jesus hangs out where he is for two more days before beginning the journey.

(This story is found in John 11, and on a side note this is one of my favorite chapters of all scripture. It’s basically oozing with divine sarcasm. It’s hilarious!)

Naturally, when he finally arrives, Jesus is greeted by the two frustrated sisters who expected him to come quickly and save their brother before he kicked the can. “Lord,” Martha says. “If you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21). To which Jesus firmly reminds her (I like to picture him rolling his eyes): “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” (John 11: 40).

And though Lazarus had been dead in the tomb for four days, Jesus called to him to come out. And out walks a living, breathing Lazarus, still wrapped in his grave cloths.

When Mary and Martha sent for Jesus, they were stuck focusing on the situation directly in front of them. Their brother was dying! They could easily justify the urgency to reach Jesus. Nonetheless, they made the mistake of acting situationally. They didn’t yet understand the big picture the Lord was trying to teach them, that in Christ death does not ultimately consume us. As Rick Warren wrote, “Jesus waited until the situation was humanly impossible and then He brought the miracle.”

How dare we forget that God sees the Big Picture! He is the God who Is, and Was, and Is To Come. Time isn’t really a thing with God; my dear mother-in-law has reminded me on occasion that He doesn’t follow a linear timeline. He’s in the past, holding up our present, and controlling the future all at once. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8).

Thank goodness God isn’t situational! He is constant and consistent. He never just sees us where we are. He sees how He made us and where we’re headed. We don’t have to be caught up in our present, creating unnecessary stress for ourselves. No matter how busy or jumbled or messed up we feel like we’ve made things, our God still sees the Big Picture for us.

The Face of Mental Illness

             I want to introduce you to the strongest woman I’ve ever known.

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Her name is Peggy. She’s named after her grandmother and carries many of her physical characteristics– the dark hair, the long legs, the slender frame. While Peggy was lucky to inherit those fabulous genes (picture the total opposite in every way, then you have me), she was also unfortunate enough to carry the genetic make-up for  several mental illnesses (not passed down from her grandmother).

My older sister, Peggy, is 36 years old. She suffers from Bi-polar Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, Social anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Conversion Disorder, and not surprisingly when you look at that all-star line-up, Depression.

At this exact moment in time (because it fluctuates often and unexpectedly), Peggy is what our family would call “stable.” What that looks like for Peggy is that she is functioning pretty well in the day-to-day. She volunteers part-time at a non-profit coffee shop, she is practicing driving again, she publishes the newsletter for a major network called NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness). She still attends therapy groups three days a week, but she is down to taking about 18 pills a day.

If you are unfamiliar with the ridiculously broad spectrum of “mental illness,” here’s a drive-by lesson in Pill Taking 101. Your psychologist refers you to a psychiatrist. Your psychiatrist recommends medicine to offset some of your symptoms. While you hopefully trust your psychiatrist to make his best, highly-educated guess, this is not an exact science. You hope for the right brand of medicine, know that the dosages will likely have to be played around with until you get the right amount, and you must be patient because as far as science has come in the last 50 years, it still takes several weeks for the medicine to “settle” in your system and take effect.

That still doesn’t really add up to 18 pills on a good day (upwards of 30 during times of instability). Let me explain the beating your brain is taking when you ingest the pills to offset your illness. While your symptoms become more manageable, the side effects of the pills do not. So, naturally, now you need medicine to offset the side effects of your medicine. It’s pretty safe to assume that your body will have a hard time falling asleep at night after that rigmarole, so maybe you have to throw down a sleeping pill while you’re at it. And so on, and so forth. That’s oversimplifying things, but you get the general idea.

I can’t even remember to take my multi-vitamin every morning!

I joke that Peg is the pill pusher in our family, because– whew!– that takes some serious organizational skills, a skill set that has become a second language to both Peggy and my mom.

One of the things I’m very proud of my sister for is this vision she has for how she thinks mental illness should be presented, advertised if you will, to the general public. It’s no secret that when people think of the term “mentally ill,” they feel a negative reaction. That’s natural; if you are honest with yourself, you could admit that.

At first, I did too.

Photo credit: Peggy Johnson

Photo credit: Peggy Johnson

But Peggy has championed the phrase “Break the Stigma” to illustrate the point that mental illness unfairly carries a negative connotation. Look at her. She may wear her own brand of crazy but there is nothing bad or scary or threatening about her. And that is true for most of the people like her.

“Others like me”– that’s her phrase, not mine. I joke that she’s faking the whole thing just to join the therapy group. Ole’ girl will do ANYTHING for a reason to get a new t-shirt. Ha!

No, no the therapy group does NOT wear matching t-shirts.

I like to make lame jokes.

But isn’t it funny to think about what other people’s shirts would say if everyone had to wear one?

Besides, what would Peggy do? Make a quilt of all her bazillion different shirts and wear it like a toga?

So, why does society associate mental illness with crazy? And why does crazy always equal bad?

Fear is a natural answer. The average person doesn’t know how to react to someone who is mentally ill and behaving in abnormal and strange ways. We’re all afraid of what we don’t understand.

Also, I think there have been several high-profile criminal cases showcased by the media that presented an  inaccurate image of the mentally ill. Serious crimes have been committed, many people have been emotionally ruined, none of that is to be taken lightly. But I am bold enough to remind you that mental illness or not, those crimes were the result of a handful of unique individuals with unique differences, not an entire population.

This is the typical face of mental illness:
Fine, she's cute. But I refuse to stop referring to her as Butt Munch.

Fine, she’s cute. But I refuse to stop referring to her as Butt Munch. Til the day I die.

You probably wouldn’t even recognize it as such if you passed Peggy on the street. (Unless of course, she passed out cold right there in front of you in the middle of the sidewalk, which she has been known to do on occasion. Big tree fall hard. She can thank Conversion Disorder for that.)

Peggy is strong beyond reason. She is beautiful, she is funny, she is determined, she is insanely intelligent, she is a gifted writer, she has no rhythm thus making impromptu dance parties HILARIOUS, she is passionate, she is caring, she is courageous, she is optimistic. She is worth the time it took you to read my blog.

I don’t know why God made her the way He did, but I firmly believe He created her with purpose.

On behalf of Peggy and millions like her, Break the Stigma.

Visit ucfpeggy.wordpress.com for more info.

The other strong woman in my life-- my mom, Becky (pictured here with my ever-supportive dad)-- because mothers are fiercely protective of their children, no matter their ages. She is the glue that holds us together. "Her children arise and call her blessed."

The other strong woman in my life– my mom, Becky (pictured here with my ever-supportive dad)– because mothers are fiercely protective of their children, no matter their ages. She is the glue that holds us together. “Her children arise and call her blessed.”