Piano Lessons

G_piano This fall, B and G started taking piano lessons from our neighbor.  It was important to me that they not just play sports, and I’m so glad we’ve started their musical education.  Listening to them practice is actually really relaxing–almost like meditation.  I love it.

B_pianoB can already read music a little because she took a year of viola lessons through her school last year, but this is G’s first exposure.  He’s doing well, and his teacher is so patient, calm, and encouraging.  When he finished his first lesson, he ran to me and hugged me and said he LOVES piano so much he wishes he could do it every day.  That’s exactly what I had hoped for.

They’ve only been at it about 6 weeks, but they’re improving dramatically.  In December, there will be a little holiday concert at their teacher’s house and I can’t wait to see them in their first performance.

I’ve actually decided that when all the kids are in full time school, I’d really like to take piano lessons myself.  I’ve always wanted to learn to play, so I feel like that’s the perfect time!

Happy Veterans’ Day

Veterans Day_Matt and JessMatt and I are both veterans; in fact, we met in the Army when we were stationed at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California.

We’ve been talking with the kids about Veterans Day the past week, and realized in counting that between our two families, going back just as far as my grandparents’ generation, we have 19 U.S. veterans and 1 Canadian veteran–two of whom are women (me and my great aunt).  We have former Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines in our families–the only branch we’re missing is the Coast Guard.  I was sort of surprised when I realized just how many family members we have who served.  And I’m also pretty proud of it–I love that there is a tradition of military service in both our families, and we’ve made sure to talk to the kids about it so they’re aware of that tradition too.

It’s strange to me that my kids have school today, though.  I’ve never lived in a district where this wasn’t a holiday, and it’s even more confusing to me that it would be a school day in a district so near to Washington DC.  I feel like the concentration of veterans and active duty military is higher here than almost anywhere else in country!  Matt doesn’t have work, but the kids do have to go to school.  I sort of wish it were different–it seems like a good day to go downtown, walk around some of the memorials, and really think about what today means.  Since that’s not to be, we’ll try to recognize this day in other ways.  Matt and I will be going to B’s school for a Veterans Day assembly and going to a Veterans Day lunch at G &O’s school.  Yesterday we went to Q’s preschool class and talked to the kids about Veterans Day–we brought in Matt’s old helmet and let them try it on, and taught them how to stand at attention and salute.  It was fun and they had lots of good questions.

Matt and I were both lucky enough to have completed our service without any real hardships–but there are many other veterans who sacrificed so much more.  In case you’re looking for something to do to honor this day, here are the links to a few organizations that make a real difference in the lives of service members and veterans who need it:

Wounded Warrior Project

Homes For Our Troops

Ground Operations

I hope that whatever you’re doing today, you take a moment to remember those who served.

Veterans Day


What I DO Know: Parenting My Tween Daughter


Last week I posted about the parenting challenges that come with the tween years.  I am so grateful to the people who reached out to me with advice and reassurance (and commiseration–it’s always nice to know you’re not alone).  I’ve thought long and hard about what I believe, what people I trust told me, and what I’ve seen, and for better or worse, this is what I’ve come up with:

She is as little as she is big.

She is getting older and looking for independence and autonomy, but she’s not ready for all of it yet.   She still needs to know that she can depend on her Dad and I 150% percent if she needs to.  She needs one-on-one time with each of us, together and separately, and we need to let her BE HERSELF in those times and not constantly be making everything a teaching moment.  Sometimes, just having fun together is enough.

She can have input on the big decisions, but she has to live with what her father and I decide.

Matt and I have more knowledge, experience, and perspective than a ten year old, and can therefore make better decisions for her than she can for herself.  I don’t mean little decisions, like what to wear to school, but bigger things, like when it’s appropriate for her to have Facebook, or go out with her friends, or how much time to spend on her iTouch playing games and checking Instagram.  When Matt and I make decisions for her, she may not like them.  I know this.  But here’s the thing: while she does not have to like our decisions, she does have to abide by them.  If she’d like to discuss them, she MUST be willing to do so in a respectful and calm manner, and she also has to live with the decision we ultimately make.

We have to be willing to LISTEN, not just TALK.

Matt and I need to be a safe haven.  She has to know we will LISTEN to what she’s saying.  We have to actually LISTEN.  Matt and I both have a tendency to make everything into a teachable moment.  Sometimes, we’re going to have to resist that urge.  Rather than jumping in with a judgement or advice, we need to just shut up and listen so she knows she can tell us anything, anytime.

We need to be involved in her social life.

Not to say that we should be hanging out with her friends when they’re here to play, but we need to know who they are and what they like to do.  We need to make our house a fun and inviting place, because the more her friends want to hang out here, the more I’ll be able to see who they are, what they do, and who my daughter is when she’s with them.

We need to provide structure, boundaries, and rules, even if she acts like she hates it.

We can’t be afraid of B getting mad at us.  We are her parents, not her friends, and we make the rules.  Those rules and boundaries must be CRYSTAL CLEAR and REINFORCED.  We won’t tolerate disrespect or unkind behavior.  When we see that, there won’t be an acceptable excuse, and there will be discipline every time.

It’s not about me.

I cannot take any of it personally.  Her anger, her self-absorption, her tears, slammed doors, and shouting–I have the choice not to get upset about it.  It’s not directed against me or Matt,  we are just the closest targets and she knows that no matter what she does to us, we’ll never give up on her and we’ll never walk away. But it’s up to Matt and I to maintain sense and structure and model calm, rational behavior.  If we get wrapped up in the emotion of it all, if we take it personally when she cries and rails at the unfairness of the world and respond by shouting or slamming doors in return, we aren’t demonstrating alternative behavior, we’re reinforcing that melting down is okay.

That being said, we have rules about behavior in this family.  We will tolerate her emotional outbursts to an extent, but  will always remind her there’s a better way to act.  And when she pushes too far, if she veers away from upset and into disrespectful, there will be a consequence.  Every.  Single.  Time.  Maybe the consequence is punishment, maybe it’s a cool-down period, or maybe it’s just an apology and a hug. It’s up to us to set the standard and stick to it.  And to remember that no matter how frustrated we are in a single moment, this too shall pass.

And that’s what I came up with.  Maybe I’m way off.  Maybe this list is naive and wishful thinking, but for now, it’s what I’ve got.  In the end, I know there’s no way to make it through these years without some conflict–this is part of life and part of growing up.  Ultimately, though, what I hope to do is make it through with a sense of humor, a little grace, and more laughter than tears.

Family Photos 2014

family_2014Do you do family photos every year?  We did an official family photo shoot last September, and I loved it so, so much.

After we did our photos last year, Matt’s parents mentioned that they’d love to get pictures done with the kids too.  Somehow it took us over a year, but we finally did it.

gmom_and_pop_with kids

Grandmom and Pop Pop with the kids

We did the photo shoot at a local farm (I wish this was OUR farm, but it’s not.  A girl can dream, though!).  We went for a different vibe than last year with more subtle, muted colors.  And I love them!  The kids change so much, so fast.  I want to make it a yearly tradition.

BB_fall 2014

B, age 10

G_fall 2014

G, age 8

O_fall 2014

O, age 6

Q_fall 2014

Q, age 4

We got a few good ones of Matt and I too.

M&J_sitting in a tree

Like last year, Matt’s incredibly talented cousin took the pictures.  It’s so fun to work with her, not only because she’s a great photographer, but because she loves my kids and I think that helps her really capture their personalities.

The next time we’re up in Boston to visit my family, we’re having photos done with the extended family there too.  I’m really excited!  And I love that we’ll be able to decorate our walls with prints of the people we love most—including grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins in these photos just makes me happy.

Thankful Chain

With Thanksgiving coming up, I wanted to re-run this post from last year about one of my
favorite family traditions.  We’re starting ours this week!

With Thanksgiving just a few short weeks away, we spend a lot of time at my house discussing what it means to be thankful.  My kids generally get the concept, but sometimes I think it seems a little vague to them; when I ask what they are thankful for, I get pretty generic answers most of the time.  I really wanted to help them find ways to relate being grateful to their every day lives–to think of things they are grateful for on a smaller, more immediate basis in order for them to see how this huge concept is present in their daily lives.

Last year, we started what I hope will be an annual tradition.  We call it a Thankful Chain.  It’s a simple activity you can do with your kids all month long (and well beyond November if you wanted to) that helps them really think about being thankful.

Everyone knows how to make a paper chain, right?  You need strips of colored paper–we use autumn colors in orange, red, yellow, green, and brown.  Construction paper cut into quarters the long way is the perfect weight and size for this project.  I cut a TON of strips in advance, because if it’s already done we will keep up with the project; if I have to stop and re-supply us halfway through the month, I may not get to it.

Each night at dinner, while we’re eating and chatting, I ask each of my children what they are thankful for THAT DAY and I write it on one of the paper strips.  I put their name on the back so we know who said what.  Matt and I each do one too–in fact, we often go first so we can give the kids a little inspiration.

The things we are thankful for do not have to be huge concepts–for example, yesterday I was thankful that we got my favorite fruit in our weekly produce delivery.  Matt was thankful that there wasn’t much traffic in the afternoon so he got home a little early.  Showing the kids that we are thankful for small, seemingly insignificant details in our day helps them understand that gratitude is a concept that applies to us all, every day, in some way.

Using the strips of paper on which we’ve written our thanks, we make a paper link chain.  Staple the first piece of paper in a loop.  Link the next piece through the first loop and staple that one in a loop.  Add each link every day, or once a week, until you’ve created a chain of paper loops.

We hang the finished paper chain as a decoration for Thanksgiving.  It’s a great reminder of the small things that have happened in our lives that made us thankful.  I saved last year’s chain and will add this year’s thanks right on to the end of it, and keep going every year we do this project.

Cross-posted on the Bundle Blog.

On The Brink


Image via Flickr

We’re standing on a bit of a precipice over here.

Big things MIGHT be happening.  We’re waiting to get the go-ahead to take a giant leap and to turn our happy little lives upside-down.  It’s exciting and exhilarating and terrifying and frustrating.

I hate the waiting.  I hate not knowing.

But the anticipation, that’s kind of fun.  In the anticipation, I’m free to let my imagination wander, to daydream about what could be, without the pesky irritation of fact or logic to bring me back down to earth.

It’s not easy living in limbo though.  Making long-term plans is difficult when you’re not even sure where you’ll be in a few months.  Decisions have to be put off, but then the problem is that when the go-ahead comes through, there will be eleventy million things that need to be decided in a very short time period.

That’s the price you pay for adventure, though, so I’ll take it.

I’ll always take an adventure.

Halloween Costumes: Themes & Sibling Groups

My kids woke up this morning practically vibrating from excitement.  And Halloween isn’t even until tomorrow.

But my parents are coming to visit this weekend and they fly in tonight and they’ll be here for Halloween and trick-or-treating ZOMG and so my kids are already crazy.  God help their teachers tomorrow.

We’ve done themed/sibling group costumes quite a few times, though not every year.  The theme ones are always my favorites!  I try not to buy whole costumes simply because I think it’s more fun to make them, but we do buy accessories we need (wigs, beards, weapons, spray paint, etc).  It forces us to be a little creative about how we interpret the costumes, I think.  And I love the craftiness of it.

Here’s a few #TBT Halloween shots from the past:

LOTR HAlloween

Halloween 2013, Lord of the Rings (Gimli, Gandalf, Legolas, Arwen)

halloween parade

2011, Wizard of Oz

retro halloween

2010, Classic Halloween Monsters


2008, Superheroes (crazy that there were only 3 kids then!)

This year’s costumes were the easiest EVER.  Everyone wanted to be something we already had or could borrow and so I spent exactly zero dollars and time on costumes this year.  Which, AWESOME.  We have no theme, but the kids are all happy with their costumes, excited to dress up, and thrilled that Nana and Pappy will be here for it!

Happy Halloween!