Today is my fortieth birthday. I’ve heard lots of jokes about old age this month. My nine-year-old said he hopes someday to live as long as me. My ten-year-old was floored when he realized that he was the only kid who knew me in my twenties (I was 29 when he was born), which means that he’ll have known me for THREE DECADES. Whoa, mind blown. My husband kissed me last night and said, “Man. That’s the last time I’ll kiss a 30-something!”
But my six-year-old daughter’s remark was the one that hit home. When I joked over dinner that I planned to just skip Wednesday this week so I’ll never turn 40, she got sincerely upset. “But Mommy, you HAVE to have your birthday! Birthdays are FUN!!” And she’s right. Birthdays ARE fun.
Birthdays are a celebration of life, of identity. I have lived for four decades. I’m proud of the experiences I’ve lived and the lessons they’ve taught me. No more moping about getting older. It’s time to embrace this milestone. As I look back on the years behind me, I’m honestly psyched for what lies ahead.
In that first decade, the baby years, it’s all about learning the rules of life. How to walk, talk, eat, dress, learn, and interact with the world. But it’s a safe place, surrounded by family and caregivers.
In our second decade, the teen years, it’s all about testing the rules we learned during the first ten years. Our friendships mean everything to us. Sometimes they break our hearts and hurt our feelings, but those first ties outside of the bloodline help us decide who we want to be. We push boundaries, gaining independence and stretching those apron strings until they snap so we can take off on our own.
In our third decade, our twenties, it’s about paving our path. We are fearless. We are strong. We are SO READY for this life. Friends are in abundance. Romance blooms everywhere. Our bodies are in prime, gorgeous condition, and our minds carry enough experience and knowledge to instill confidence at every turn. Bring it on!
Then our fourth decade, our thirties, hits and smacks us in the face, teaching us that once again, we know nothing. Marriage and parenthood turn the world upside-down. It goes from being to all about me, to being all about someone else, everyone else. In my thirties I realized that, at least for a few years, I had to come last. That lesson is a necessary one for maturity and growth, but it shook me to my core. I struggled with both identity issues and postpartum depression. I was no longer working, so what WAS I? How did I define myself? Would the title of “Mom” be enough? It was a rough ride.
But through that struggle over myself, I was gifted with meeting my three favorite people on earth. My kids. Yet as a result of meeting these great kids, my marriage was tested in my thirties. We were both initiated into the parenthood club full force. We had to figure out our new roles as parents while still being there for each other. There were many times in the last ten years that I failed on that one. I was so busy taking care of my kids that I was no longer taking care of my husband, yet I had an unjust sense of resentment that he wasn’t taking care of me.
It was hard. We yelled and fought and ignored each other in turns. But now that our kids are all in school and needing us just a little bit less, we are able to find each other a little more. In addition, we lean on our friends more, too. We learn that friendships matter just as much or more than they did in our teens. Unfortunately, we still feel the sting of betrayal from friends, too, even in this stage of life.
Now, as I face forty, I realize that I have the power to choose which friendships to nurture and which to let go. I also know that my marriage has survived babies and is stronger for it. I love being on this team of husband and wife and am glad for the chance to reconnect.
Similarly, as I enter my fifth decade, I realize that who I am is more than what I do. I no longer seek to find a single label for myself. I’m a mom. I’m a writer. I’m a wife. I’m a daughter. I’m a sister. I’m a friend. I’m a teacher. I’m a volunteer. I am all of these things. I am loyal. I am smart. I am still beautiful, despite the extra padding. Perhaps just beautiful in a different way. Yet I am loved. So, so much.
How lucky I am to be turning forty today. Bring on the next chapter. I’m ready!
We took a hike on a crisp spring eve,
My husband and our children, three.
We went out the door
Into nature’s galore
On the Wilderness Trail through the leaves.
We happened upon a natural swing
Made of vine, a truly beautiful thing.
We took our turns upon it
It held even Mom on it
So strong, Nature weaves her fine string.
The trail led us right to a small pond
Which sat touched, as if by a sprite’s wand,
Boys slid down to the shore
Climbed back up Nature’s floor
Brothers, united in adventurous bond.
Now we’ve all made it home just fine,
Grateful for our adventurous time.
It was fun while it lasted,
Now the kids are all spastic,
I thank Nature for her spring and my wine.
In a few weeks, my oldest son will “graduate” from Cub Scouts at our local pack’s Blue & Gold dinner. He’ll cross over into Boy Scouts and continue his journey there for as long as he chooses to stick with scouting. Five years ago, when I agreed to co-lead his den with two other moms I had only recently met, I had no idea what lay ahead for all of us.
I know now, that this is the time of year for parents of Kindergarten sons to start discussing scouting for next year. But since he was my first-born, I was clueless that we needed to get involved in den formation, leadership, etc. So instead of having a plan in place in the spring, it was late June before I figured out what needed to be done. Thankfully, I wasn’t the only mom in the dark. Once we realized what had happened, we clueless moms quickly got our acts together and became a den of nine.
Eight of these nine boys were first-borns in their families. It was their job to break us into the world of scouting, just like they break us in as parents in every other aspect of life. We were initiated right alongside them.
This new Cub Scout den was made up of all different types, shapes, sizes, abilities and personalities. Some were so shy, they barely spoke. Some were so outgoing, they never stopped chattering. Some were athletic; others were awkward. Some were funny, some serious, some rebellious, some rule-followers. The only thing they had in common was that they all had clueless parents.
As both den leaders and scout parents, we grew along with them. We sat on each other’s kids when we couldn’t tame our own. We realized, through carpools and meetings and scouting event planning, that we needed to be a mini community. This group of nine families became my first set of parent friends for the school-aged years. We helped take care of each others’ kids and our kids learned to have each others’ backs as well. We learned that leading, much like parenting, was a group effort.
As the boys got older and went from being adorable little Tigers, to Wolves, to Bears, to Webelos, and Arrows of Light, our den of nine stayed strong. While other dens dwindled in numbers, our boys stayed, with only the occasional prod to the parents to stick with it. As a result, five years later, these nine boys became family. They will always be OUR kids.
Even as they grow apart and their friendships ebb and flow, they will always have these five years of experiences together.
We tried to make scouting educational for the boys, and we tried to make it fun. Some meetings were awesome and some were agonizing. Sometimes the boys had a blast, sometimes they fought like brothers. Some days we ran out of time and wished we had longer, and some days we watched the clock tick down and wished it was time to give them back to their parents.
We taught and we tried. We laughed, yelled, and cried. But, in the end, five years later, these nine boys who had nothing in common besides the ignorance of their parents are graduating. TOGETHER.
I couldn’t be happier that I’ve been able to be a part of this den’s experience. I initially felt suckered into my role as unsuspecting den leader, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world now. I am so proud of these boys and their families for making it through from start to finish in such a fantastic program of adventure, community service, values and fun.
Here’s to the kids from Den 5 — we never left a boy behind!
When the forecast calls for snow and the world runs out for bread and milk, my mom and I go shopping for big batch cooking ingredients. The cold temps and softly-falling snow just make me want to be warm and cozy, which somehow translates to cooking comfort food.
During our latest snowstorm, I called my mom.
“What are you making today?”
My mom is an excellent cook who always had a big pot of something going during snow days, too. My standards used to be giant pots of either beef and beans chili, or homemade pasta sauce made with tons of Italian sausage (Mom’s recipe, of course), but lately I’ve been looking for newer recipes to fit the comfort food snow day cooking bill. So we chatted for a bit, but neither of us was inspired by any new ideas, so I took to the internet.
I found three new ideas to try over the two days that we’d be inside and I’m happy to report that they were all hits with my family of five. If you’re like me and love to cook during a snow storm, give these a try. And please SHARE YOUR FAVORITE SNOW DAY RECIPES IN THE COMMENTS BELOW. I’d love to try some new dishes!
1. Pioneer Woman’s Potato Soup — This was such a hearty hit, that even my pickiest non-soup eater, gobbled it up. I did find a puddle of celery and onion pieces in the bottom of his bowl, but I’ll tell myself that he got some veggies in by eating the puree. ;) (Tip: Cook the whole pound of bacon so you can fend off the hungry vultures who circle when they smell it, but won’t back away till they’ve had a slice. Just be sure to reserve enough for the garnish when serving. It really makes the dish.)
2. Pear & Vanilla French Toast Bake — This was breakfast, lunch and dinner at different times during the weekend for my family. I made a few modifications, which I think worked really well. First, use a hearty, whole-grain bread for this instead of mushy white bread. It will hold up after soaking up the liquid, plus it makes leftovers last much longer. Second, triple the amount of cinnamon and add 1 tsp of nutmeg as well for more flavor. Third, walnuts should not be optional as they are the star of this dish and give it great crunch as well as some healthy protein. Double the amount of chopped walnuts and layer them both in the middle and on top.
3. Pull Apart Pizza Bread — This one is definitely for the kids. It is such a tasty recipe, but if your kids like to help in the kitchen, this is easy for them to do, too. I highly recommend adding more olive oil, as ours was a bit dry, plus whatever additional seasonings your family will eat. We added some fresh basil along with the dried basil because we had some on hand. If your kids aren’t picky, this could stand some peppers and onions, too, but I left them out and my kids devoured this in one sitting. For the sauce, I used some leftover homemade sauce (recipe below), but if you use canned or jarred sauce, add some additional seasoning.
4. Mom’s Homemade Meat Sauce with Italian Sausage — No quick links for this one as it’s my mom’s recipe, not one from the internet. This is great on its own over pasta, used in a large baked ziti or lasagna, or really in place of any tomato sauce. Once you see how easy it is to make your own sauce homemade, you’ll never buy jarred again.
- olive oil
- minced garlic
- 1 1/2 – 2 lbs Italian sausage (I use half hot, half sweet)
- 4 large cans crushed tomatoes
- grated Parmesan cheese (1/2 cup or more, to taste)
- spices: basil, oregano, parsley, salt, pepper, garlic powder, crushed red pepper flakes
- In large soup/sauce pot, heat olive oil and garlic over medium heat until garlic softens. At least 4-6 cloves of garlic, but I often add tons more.
- Remove sausage from casing and use your hands to separate into small pieces (mine vary from the size of peas to the size of small meatballs. It’s all good!) and brown it in pot with garlic.
- Drain fat from cooked sausage.
- Add crushed tomatoes (careful of the splatter) and stir to help separate chunks of sausage.
- Add spices to taste. I never measure, but start with at least 1 full rounded tablespoon of each of the herbs, and a whole tsp of the salt and pepper. About a quarter to a half tsp of the red pepper flakes because they will heat up the whole pot if you have some who don’t like spices. As with any dish, taste frequently along the way and add more spices to your liking.
- Add parmesan cheese (again, as much as you see fit), and stir to evenly incorporate all ingredients.
- Simmer on low in large pot for 1 to 2 hours (or more).
- Serve over pasta, mixed in a lasagna or baked ziti, on the side for dipping, or in a bowl with a spoon. YUM!
So what are you cooking today?
Now that 2014 is behind us, it’s time for me to look back to the resolutions I set for myself last year and see how I did. A whole year and I can only claim about 40% resolution success.
Because one of my new resolutions for this coming year is to be more positive, I’m going to start with my successes.
#4 – Knit Something — I am proud to say that I knocked this one out of the park! I taught myself how to knit from a book and have made scarves for two of my kids, a hat for the third, a cable-knit scarf for myself and am halfway through another hat. Not only is this a completed resolution, but I’ve learned that I really enjoy knitting. Added bonus: knitting keeps my hands too busy for late-night snacking and too much computer time.
#5 – More Music — Thanks to my husband installing a new wireless home speaker, I now have great music in my kitchen and living room from just the touch of a button on my smart phone. I am definitely a happier person when I listen to music!
#8 – Teach More, Do Less — The kids are all becoming more self-sufficient. And I’m learning to lighten up about the small things when I realize that they are learning to do for themselves. Sure mistakes happen along the way, but independence, not perfection, is our goal.
#11 – Go Skiing — I have my girlfriend to thank for this one. Last year she read my resolutions blog and we booked a ski day away. It was phenomenal! This year, I’m aiming for more often and skiing with my son.
#13 – Eat More Veggies — I’m proud to say that this one has been easy. Just focusing on serving myself a double serving of veggies and half serving of potatoes, rice, or pasta has made me crave more of the good stuff.
#14 – Keep an Indoor Plant Alive — SUCCESS!! I bought three plants last January. Two of the three are still alive. I love my peace lily, and my gardenia is still kicking. Although I did manage to kill one of the hardiest plants out there. Not quite sure how, but I killed my bamboo plant. Two out of three isn’t so bad!
#17 – Drink Water Every Night — This one was tough to remember at first, but now it’s easy. The more water you drink, they thirstier you always are. And I sleep better and wake up more refreshed, too.
#19 – Schedule More Date Nights with my Husband — I’m calling this a success because even a few is better than none. But we need to do better next year. Looking forward to trying more new restaurants in our area this year!
Room For Improvement
While I’m pretty proud of the 8 resolutions I kept, I still could do much better.
There are a few that I did on a part-time, when-I-remember basis, but not enough that I could call them full successes.
Follow Through, Limit Computer Time, Get Outside More, Make My Bed Everyday, Keep Receipts, De-Clutter, and Set Up Coffee Maker Every NIght are all being counted as halfway there for this year. I did each of these enough for me to consider them attempted, but not enough to acknowledge them as successes. With my new positive outlook, I’m going to say, a little is better than none at all and be happy for what little I did accomplish.
Listing these out is a bit of a wake-up call for me. These are the things 100% failed to even attempt. No excuses. Just acknowledging that I failed makes me take a second look.
Take Guitar Lessons, Get a Colonoscopy, Find and Hang Curtains, and Figure Out the iCloud.
Time to list out my goals for 2015 now that I see how I’ve done this past year. My biggest resolution? To end the year with a better than 40% success rate.
As Winston Churchill is quoted as saying,
“Success is not final. Failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.”
My kids are older now, and I’ve overused most of my original list of “outs” for when Elfie Joe is still in the same place in the morning. Therefore, I’ve had to come up with some new excuses and explanations to give my kids when they ask why he hasn’t moved from yesterday’s spot.
2. Frost Warning Excuse: I heard on the news last night that it dropped to -10 degrees last night! He would have frozen if he tried to fly without any extra layers (You can encourage your kids to make him some paper jackets for warmth if you use this one.)
3. Wind Warning Excuse: The winds were howling last night. He may have gotten blown back into the same spot without making it to the North Pole!
4. Stuck Elf Excuse: If the last spot was inside a cabinet, box, or other container, tell the kids he was stuck inside. You can even make a show of the effort it takes to un-stick the door or lid to his hiding spot as proof.
5. Too Full to Fly Excuse: Well THAT explains where all of the peppermint kisses (or red and green spice drops, or Christmas cookies) disappeared to last night! He ate them all and was too full to fly home!! (Bonus: covers up the fact that you and your spouse actually devoured the sweet treats after the kids went to bed.)
6. Report Card Excuse: He’s waiting to find out what you got on your Math test so he can report back to Santa with your grades.
7. Good Samaritan Elf Excuse: He’s waiting till you do a good deed for others so he can let Santa know you belong on the Nice list.
8. Electronics Excuse: You left your iPods on full volume last night, so the constant notification noises must have spooked him.
9. Lights On Excuse: You left the lights on again last night. He didn’t know it was night since it never got dark.
10. Time Change Excuse: You know how we turned our clocks back last month? They had a time change at the North Pole last night, which threw him off-schedule.
11. Aurora Borealis Excuse: The Northern Lights were way too active last night, making it unsafe to fly to the North Pole.
12. More Toys Excuse: So, while this one isn’t a true excuse for forgetting, it IS a great way to reuse the same spot for as many days in a row as you need, while also getting the kids to get rid of some stuff. I admit, our elf placement in our house is not the most creative. We have about 20 days of boring where he sits on a shelf, ledge, or table top, which leaves about 5 days where we actually put some effort into where he perches. My new favorite idea was stolen from a friend’s elf, Sammy, who left her kids a letter saying the kids needed to choose some toys to donate to children in need. Her kids gathered a toy or two each and brought them to where Sammy was sitting that day. The next day, he was in the same place with another note: “More Toys.” Pure genius!!
Want more Christmas posts? If you liked this post, you’ll love
In effort to educate my kids, who know all the words to Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass,” about music and its history, I turned to Pandora. After listening to a few jazz and doo-wop songs last night, we turned on a Motown station this morning.
While they ate their waffles and sausages, I sang along to “My Girl,” and “What a Wonderful World This Would Be.” I danced around the kitchen while making sandwiches, filling water bottles and belting out top-volume, wholesome song lyrics. My daughter came in and danced with me. My boys made fun of us by fake dancing with each other, complete with goo-goo eyes and silly faces. (But hey, they were still dancing!)
It put us in a great mood on this rainy, gray morning, so I kept my phone playing Motown as we walked out to the car to head to school.
We carpool with another family who has three kids, so it’s a full minivan every morning. My oldest son sits in the front seat next to me since the rest fill the seats in the back. We typically look like a clown car unloading in the carpool lane every morning. As the neighbor kids loaded into the car, “Stand By Me” was playing and those who recognized it sang along.
My family is used to the fact that I cannot help but sing along to music. Any song, any day, whether I know the words or not, I sing along. If it’s a popular radio song, my minivan is hopping, with six kids singing along. This morning, though, since Motown was fairly new to them, it was mostly me.
When Mary Wells’ “My Guy” came on, my son was a sitting duck. Captive in his seat belt, within arms’ reach of me, in a slow-moving rainy day carpool lane, my son got to be my unwilling car-dance partner, to the entertainment of the five kids in the back seats.
He tried to scoot as far away from me as possible when I grabbed his chin and sang, “No handsome face could ever take the place of my guy, MY GUY!”
So I locked the doors, grabbed his arm closest to mine and wrapped it around my own, singing, “I’m sticking to my guy like a stamp to a letter, like two birds of a feather, we…stick together! I’m telling you from the start, I won’t be torn apart from my guy.”
By the end of the song, he had learned enough lyrics to yell over my own voice, “…when it comes to being happy, WE AREN’T!!!!”
I pulled up to the front of the school, and the minivan exodus that usually takes a few minutes was done in seconds, with my oldest racing out as fast as his heavy backpack would let him.
I rolled down the window, wished them all a good day and kept singing at the top of my lungs with the rain landing on the leather seats. I’m pretty sure the three girls kept singing all the way to the doors, chasing behind my poor kid. A little fun and embarrassment is a mom’s prerogative.
Thank you, Pandora, for the great music lesson this morning!! If you ask me, Motown beats out Meghan Trainor, hands down.