Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Ritual Roundup - Start of the School Year

As I have shared in this space before, one of the tasks that I take very seriously - and most enjoy - as a parent is creating and maintaining rituals to celebrate the little and big moments of everyday life with my family.  One of those days that is naturally full of excitement and that I try to make just a little bit more special is the first day of school.  This is an event that is just full of possibility when it comes to creating rituals.  Although school has started in many places already, in our area kids don't go back until Tuesday.  With the first day of school just around the corner, back to school rituals are front and center on my mind.

Before we even get to the first day of school, one annual ritual that we have engaged in ever since the big kids' preschool days coincides with our school supply shopping.  As much as ordering pre-assembled school supply packages from school or shopping at night on my own are attractive options from the perspective of getting it done quickly and easily, each summer this task is purely a family affair.  In addition to the kids choosing their own school supplies, each child also sponsors a local student through our YMCA branch who might not otherwise be able to start their school year with all of the supplies that they need. The kids really enjoy shopping for another child ("Oh Mom, I think that 'K' would LOVE this backpack!") and it is a great service opportunity that is easy for the children to participate in and, unlike donating money, they can really understand their contribution.

E2B, Miss Intrepid, and Princess Wonder preparing to turn in their donated backpacks and supplies for M, J, and K.

Another ritual that we engage in is to make a special first-day-of-school treat for all of the children and their siblings at the bus stop (last year there were 30 students plus a number of younger siblings not yet in school).  Two years ago when E2B started kindergarten I made fruit kabobs.  Last year I made the pretzel "pencils" pictured below.  I was also reminded how quickly people, children in particular, can attach to rituals like these when a neighbor confided that her daughter said she wasn't planning to eat breakfast that morning.  Her little one - also entering the first grade like E2B - said she just knew that I would have made a morning treat despite the fact that I hadn't told her I planned to do so and had only made something one year before.  Sometimes we inadvertently start rituals and traditions not realizing that this is what they are destined to become (though that was my plan here).

These were a great "make ahead" treat and froze well.

For this year I have been considering Oreo cheesecake truffles, though I worry about sugaring the kids up too much on their way to school.  Or maybe I'll try some variation of these treat bags.  I'm open to other ideas if anyone has them to share.

Last, but certainly not least from the children's perspective, is that we parents have an ice cream social set up for the kids once they get off the bus that afternoon.  It is a nice little treat and the kids seem to enjoy the party atmosphere as they unwind - and share their excitement about - their first day back to school. In fact, this ice cream social is what inspired our bigger last day of school celebration.

So I ask you, what start of the school year rituals do you remember and cherish from your own childhood?  If you have kids now, is there anything special that you do to prepare for or celebrate the start of a new school year?

"You can teach a student a lesson for a day; but if you can teach him to learn by creating curiosity, he will continue the learning process as long as he lives."  ~Clay P. Bedford

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

I cheated and showed a movie at book club

As I make a deliberate effort to simplify my life so that I can make space - both literal and figurative - for the things that are most important to me, I know without hesitation that one activity will never make it to the chopping book club.  As I've mentioned before, I absolutely love to read.  Not long after IronMan and I got married twelve years ago, I asked a couple of coworkers if they would be interested in starting a book club.  As luck would have it, one of them had been asked to join a new group that was to meet the next month for the very first time and she invited me along.  We met that first time at a big box book store to discuss Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen.  We have met every month since then for 11 years.  While only a few of us have been in the group for that entire time, we have a good mix of long-timers and newcomers.  We range in age from our mid-20s to 40-somethings.  Some of us are single professionals and others are married stay-at-home mothers (with a variety of other situations in between). In our years of reading and meeting together there have been marriages, divorces, babies, new jobs, and lives full of twists and turns.  This community of women is one that I deeply treasure.

As our book club has matured (like fine wine, that is!), we have settled into a format that seems to work for us.  Each month a different member volunteers to host at their house and whomever is that month's hostess chooses the book.  We have read a tremendously eclectic selection of books over the years.  The last time that I hosted was in January of this year and I chose The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley.  This is one of my all time favorite books.  Bradley tells the story of the legend of King Arthur and Camelot from the perspective of the women central to the story (in Bradley's retelling it is not surprising to find that "minor" female figures played critical roles from behind the scenes).  This book is quite long and that is part of why I chose to host in January - we don't read a book for our December get together (it is purely social), so I announced this selection in November to give folks two months to read.  But I digress...I tend to do that when talking about books.

When I volunteered to host this month's book club, I decided to select Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.  I read it many years ago and was just recently reintroduced to it by a dear friend - and fellow book club member - who discovered a passion for the book after seeing Cary Fukunaga's film adaptation in the earlier this year. Luckily for me, because I missed it in the theater, it was released on DVD earlier this month.  I decided to change things up a little bit - summer seems a good time to do so - by incorporating a movie viewing into our evening.  I channeled a bit of my Harry Potter movie viewing geekiness into this get together as well by breaking out some English bone china tea cups and serving nettle tea (a delicious tea I learned about from a British nutritionist), scones, English and Irish cheeses, and an Americanized version of cucumber sandwiches.

English bone china tea cups and saucers collected by my grandmother and great-grandmother 
Two of the four British cheeses served
Wine from my favorite Virginia winery was a must, even if I am completely unable to use the fancy bottle opener (IronMan rolls his eyes in amused exasperation every time I make a mess of it...I've had the better part of a decade to figure this out and I'm just about to give up on it).
Scones...yum!  I "cheated" on these, too, and bought them at Panera instead of baking some.
My two favorite film adaptations of the book - we watched the one on the right (the BBC version on the left is 4 hours long...just a bit much for a week night, don't you think?)
It was wonderful to spend an evening in fellowship with the incredible women who make up my book club and to have the chance to discuss such a strong female character as Jane.  If you haven't read it lately - or at all - I encourage you to make a trip to your local library and pick up a copy today.

Happy Tuesday and - always - happy reading, friends!

"I see genuine contentment in your gait and mien, your eye and face, when you are helping me and pleasing me - work for me, and with me, in, as you characteristically say, 'all that is right:' for if I bid you do what you thought wrong, there would be no light-footed running, no neat-handed alacrity, no lively glance and animated complexion.  My friend would then turn to me, quite and pale, and would say, 'No, sire; that is impossible: I cannot do it, because it is wrong;' and would become immutable as a fixed star.  Well, you too have power over me, and may injure me: yet I dare not show you where I am vulnerable, lest, faithful and friendly as you are, you should transfix me at once."  ~Edward Rochester to Jane Eyre

Monday, August 29, 2011

Thrift Share Monday and vintage linens giveaway

I haven't done much thrifting recently in large part because I've been furiously purging my house of "stuff" (in particular I've been focusing on my problem area, a project that I'll share in this space soon) and haven't made the time to hit up yard sales or stop in any of the local thrifts.  That's not to say that I haven't done any thrifting at all, but it does help explain why it has been more than a month since I've published a Thrift Share post.  It has also been more than two months since I've held a Thrift Share giveaway, but that has less to do with my sporadic thrifting than the fact that I was determined not to host another giveaway until I got all of my previous giveaway goodies out in the mail.  This took me an embarrassingly long time.  Happily, I've finally taken care of that last lingering package and I'm back to share some thrifting love.

I've picked a few recently thrifted items - and one not-so-recently thrifted item - to share with you today.  The first is this sweet little Pyrex cinderella bowl in the black and white gooseberry pattern.  While it would have been ideal in pink and white (to match the only other piece of Pyrex gooseberry I own), I was excited to find this one.  It is 2 1/2 quarts and ever since purging these bowls I have been without a cinderella bowl this size.

A friend of mine is getting ready to start her first year in the classroom after a career in business and then being at home full-time with her girls.  She will be teaching the fifth grade and asked amongst friends if anyone had chapter books on a third to seventh grade level that she might include in her classroom reading nook.  Some of the books you see here were from my (almost entirely thrifted) book stash and others were purchased specifically for this purpose at one of the local Goodwill stores.  And in case you were wondering - yes, this photo is taken in a bathroom.  I transformed an unused bathtub into a book nook for my kids (another project I'll share here sometime soon).

Finally, this item is a proverbial blast from the past.  I bought this Smurf nightlight as a birthday gift for Princess Wonder several years ago, long before the resurgence in interest in all things Smurf courtesy of the movie released this summer.  I bought it not so much because of the Smurfs - in fact, I still would have bought it without the Smurf figurines - but because its inherent sense of whimsy just felt right for my little dreamer.  It is marked underneath with "By Josh & Shirley '82" - thanks, Josh and Shirley!

And now, onto this week's giveaway.  I even promise that it won't take me two months to mail it out to the winner.  As part of my recent house purging, I've let go of A LOT of crafting items.  As I've shared in the past, I am challenged by aspirational clutter (you know, that cool stuff that you're going to use someday). Well, these vintage linens fall squarely into that category.  One of my goals is to re-learn how to sew with my sewing machine - something I haven't done since I was in middle school home economics.  I am inspired by so many cool projects I find in books and on the blogosphere and I picked up these vintage sheets and towel to use in some unknown and undefined sewing project.  Now I am passing these along to someone else who might actually use them in some way.  If you are interested in these, please just leave a comment between now and midnight EST on Friday.

I am linking up to Selena's Thrift Share Monday at Apron Thrift Girl.

Happy Monday, friends!

"Clutter-clearing is modern-day alchemy."  ~Denise Linn

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Weekending, part 2 - after the storm

After the wild and sometimes frightening excitement of Hurricane Irene last night, we gratefully awoke to blue skies and the sun this morning.  IronMan got started first thing on cutting up the limbs that had fallen from the tree in our front yard.  I was not at all surprised that it was damaged in the storm because two large limbs have fallen within the last few months - both on sunny days with no wind. Bradford pears are not known for their hardiness and we had already been thinking about having it taken down because all indications were that this was not a safe tree to climb or rest beneath (both things my children enjoy doing).

While I have always thought of this as E2B's climbing tree, the girls certainly enjoyed climbing around its branches this morning.  Unfortunately, E2B was sick through the night and most of today, so he wasn't able to join us as we said goodbye to this fine tree.  Watching Princess Wonder and Miss Intrepid wring the last drops that they were able of loving play and enjoyment out of it made me think of The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.  This tree was well loved and I would like to think that the tree was happy to have the children climb amongst her branches one last time.

Princess Wonder found and rescued this lizard from the fallen branches of the tree during this morning's clean up.

Very soon after IronMan headed out the door this morning, he was joined by neighbors - and then more, and then yet more - who helped finish off the work of cutting branches and removing them from the yard.  After finishing on our tree, this wonderful crew moved two houses down to do the same for friends whose entire tree came down.  But that's not all!  Two more neighbors had at least partial tree damage somewhere in their yard and by the time lunch rolled around they had it all done.  Of course, there were a lot of little helpers...some more helpful than others - depending upon their ages and stamina - but their presence and what assistance they could offer was appreciated as well.  Following this communal tree removal event (I prefer to think of it as a suburban barn raising), we took time to enjoy pizza from a local restaurant, ice cream, and the fellowship that happily resides where there is shared work towards a common goal.

But removing fallen trees wasn't all that we did today.  Princess Wonder also had the chance to participate in a flash mob of Scottish Highland dancing at the local mall. Between out-of-town travel and my desire to simplify our schedules over the summer, I didn't sign her up for dance lessons during the summer session.  I think that this absence contributed to a bit of stage fright on her part, but just before the performance ended she got out there and did her thing.  It was great fun!

On the way back home we stopped by a store where pet adoptions were taking place because we had some dog toys and medical gear to donate.  Miss Intrepid, Princess Wonder, and I enjoyed walking several of the dogs while we were there to give them a bit of exercise and play time.

All in all, it was a very full weekend indeed.  I hope that your weekend was likewise filled with sun and fellowship.  Happy Sunday, friends!

"A few minutes ago every tree was excited, bowing to the roaring storm, waving, swirling, tossing their branches in glorious enthusiasm like worship.  But though to the outer ear these trees are now silent, their songs never cease."  ~John Muir

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Weekending hurricane-style

First an earthquake a mere 30 miles away and now Hurricane has been an eventful week around here with Mother Nature reminding us of her awesome power.  It has been rainy and blustery since this morning and we are preparing for the strongest part of the storm to pass through this evening.

As the storm rages outside...

Although I am not a fan of Bradford pear trees, I am sorry to see this one in our front yard torn asunder.  E2B has spent many hours climbing amongst its branches.

...I find that it looks as though one has blown through inside.

I am reorganizing my dining room while spending time out of the house is not a safe option.

We are staying safe and dry while enjoying an unscheduled day around the house.  Clean up outside will be demanding our time soon enough.  In the meantime, I wish you a day of calm and quiet with the ones you love.  Stay safe and have a happy Saturday, friends!

10:50pm update: This is a slow moving hurricane and at least one recent news update reports that 75% of homes in central Virginia are currently without power. We've had at least one gust above 70 mph in this area, a handful of deaths throughout the state, and the storm marches on.  We, very luckily, still have power and everyone in my family - with the obvious exception of myself - is safely ensconced in bed and asleep.  I'm hoping that the worst has passed and that Irene weakens quickly as she continues to move up the eastern seaboard.

"Spooky wild and gusty; swirling dervishes of rattling leaves race by, fleeing the windflung deadwood that cracks and thumps behind."  ~Dave Beard

Friday, August 26, 2011

This Moment - "Reading Can Be Magical"

{this moment} - A Friday ritual inspired by SouleMama.  A single photo capturing a moment from the week.  A simple, special, extraordinary moment.  A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.  If you feel so inspired, please share your moment here, too!

My kids + the local library + a display about Harry Potter = magic, indeed!

"A library is not a luxury but one of the necessities of life."  ~Henry Ward Beecher

Monday, August 22, 2011

Can I still call myself a blogger when I haven't blogged anything in *ahem* weeks?

Despite the fact that I haven't been here at My (Un)Intentional Life for several weeks - and have only blogged infrequently for much of the summer - this space has been on my mind quite a bit.  Ironically, in between the time I last posted and now I even helped give a sermon at my church entitled the Spirituality of Blogging.  My wonderful friend, Ryan - the creator and voice of The Woven Moments - joined me in designing and leading the service.  Our goal wasn't to encourage others to go out and start their own blogs, but rather to share how blogging has been a positive - and in some ways surprising - part of our lives.  Ryan followed up the next day with this excellent post about traveling along her personal spiritual path and how blogging has been a part of that journey.

Here we are in our pre-service meditative state.  Or in a state where we were trying to project the appearance that we were calm, confident, and knew what was going on.  Maybe a little of both.

I planned to write something afterwards as well but, well, I haven't.  And I don't know that I will write more extensively than what I will share today about that experience.  But I've been thinking about it and I have found myself drawn to my laptop to write a bit today in spite of (or, honestly, maybe because of) my looming around-the-house-to-do-list.

As I examined more closely why I blog in preparation for this month's church service, I found that some of the outcomes of doing so have met my expectations and others have surprised me.  From the very beginning, I wanted to use this blog as a way to publicly declare my intentions and then actually achieve what I set out to do.  My half joking way of describing this to others is that I wanted to shame myself publicly into accomplishing certain goals that I've set - especially those that have been sitting on the back burner or that I've been particularly challenged by in the past.  There is some truth to that, but it has always been about helping me find a way to feel and hold myself accountable to me - something that I have long struggled with.  There is incredible power in thinking about what is important to us, how we want to be in the world, and then actually writing those things down.  As I had hoped, I am creating positive change in my life and approaching the things that I choose to do - or choose not to do - with greater intention as a result of the writing that I do in this space.  I have a long way to go, but life is a journey and I'm happy to be on this path.

I mentioned finding some outcomes surprising.  The biggest of those is that I often find myself "thinking in blog".  I pay attention to life experiences differently because I am looking for those precious moments in my everyday life that I want to savor.  Like many mothers, and many bloggers, I can often be found behind a camera trying to capture the happy, fleeting moments that fill our days.  Be it electronically with photo books or more traditionally with scrapbooking, I - when I intentionally make time for it, anyway - am the keeper of my family's history.  And yet, blogging has subtly changed the way that I experience and think about these moments and experiences.  This blog has helped me notice more, savor more, and approach my life with more intention simply because I am looking at it through a slightly different lens.  I think that anything that helps me do this is worthwhile and I am grateful for this space.

And yet...still that to-do-around-the-house-list awaits.  So gratitude and reflection aside, now is the time for some action.  I sign off here wishing you a happy Monday, friends!

"We learn and grow and are transformed not so much by what we do but why and how we do it."  ~Sharon Salzberg

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

I'm still here, I'm just elbow deep in clutter

Happy Tuesday, friends!  Although I regret that my post frequency has been spotty lately, I don't regret what has been calling out for my attention these past few weeks.  Of course, our time spent supporting IronMan as he completed his big race was very special.  Beyond that, though, I have been working very hard on decluttering an area of my house that has been my proverbial Achille's heel for years.  The progress I made - and how it has been done - has been a big deal for me on this journey towards living more simply and intentionally in many ways and I look forward to sharing it with you soon.

This is what I'm in up to my elbows...not so fun but so nearly done that I can finally see the light at the end of this tunnel!

I'll be back on the blogging bandwagon within the next few days.  In the meantime, have a GREAT week!

"You can't organize clutter; you can only get rid of it!" ~FlyLady