Today is the youngest you will ever be

“Well, I can cross THAT off my bucket list!” – 4-year-old Kendall as she finished her cherry Popsicle

You may already be familiar with bucket lists, and might even have one. For those of you who are not, a bucket list is a comprehensive collection of activities and/or achievements you would like to accomplish in your lifetime.

My mom always kept her bucket list current, constantly crossing off completed items and replacing them with new ones. One day, she handed me a canary yellow legal pad and pencil, and said “write your bucket list.” Put on the spot like that, I couldn’t come up with a full list on my own. She, Andrew and Maci helped me complete an entire page in a matter of minutes.

I found that list recently and really thought extensively about the irony of an unfinished bucket list. In fact, there was nothing on that particular list that I could cross off. I in no way feel like I’m not “living” and accomplishing things, but I want to make more of an effort to do some of the things specifically on my list.

This past weekend, we were able to cross off “Take the girls to Disney.” It was not a fully magical experience the entire time as there is a lot of waiting, walking and people; however, there were a lot of really happy and exciting moments and we created many memories we can always cherish. Ideally, we will go again when they are both older and spend more time than a long weekend, but if we never make it again – we have been there, we have done it, and we were together.

One of my favorite parts of trips like this one, is the unexpected. I may have been able to cross something off of my bucket list, but while constructing the list there is no way to prepare for the unknown. For example, Collins is very shy around strangers and sometimes even people she knows well. I did not expect her to get too excited about meeting princesses and riding rides. She really opened up on this trip. Ariel is her favorite Disney Princess and you could literally see the excitement in her eyes when she first saw her. She hugged Ariel three times, and later even sat on Merida’s lap! She was still a little shy at the end of the trip when she and Kendall met Shaquille O’Neal (Shaq) in the airport, but she got close enough for a picture with him, too (I had to throw that in there, I was more excited for them than they were – meeting Ariel trumped meeting Shaq in their eyes, of course).

I was inspired by our trip to update my bucket list and found some interesting resources to do so. I still have my paper copy, right on top of my legal pad, but technology offers some interesting options for creating bucket lists as well. I created a “Bucket List” board on Pinterest, allowing me to add ideas as I come across them (especially since I rarely carry my legal pad with me).

Additionally, there are already prepared bucket lists available online. If you’re not really sure where to start in creating one, or you want to add to an existing one, this could be a helpful tool. I like the prepared lists for a more short-term approach. I searched for “Winter Bucket List” online, and found an abundance of fun, new ideas to do with our family.

Whether or not you actually have a bucket list written down, there are always goals you’re working towards and things you would like to do. Life is short (relatively speaking) and time is valuable. Now is as good a time as any, start crossing off your bucket list!

“I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find that I lived just the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well.” – Diane Ackerman

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Summer days

It’s 85 degrees today (which doesn’t sound too bad), but it’s a hot and humid Midwest heat so it feels like a solid 200 degrees. I get off of work early throughout the week now so that I can spend more time with my kiddos for the summer. Owning my own business has its perks; I can take the girls with me to work and I can customize my hours.

I never went to daycare when I was younger, and none of our children ever have either. My mom stayed at home with me and I feel like spending my days with her exclusively, benefitted me in countless ways. I was able to read and write by the age of four; I had plenty of one-on-one time with the smartest, most beautiful woman I knew (my biggest supporter – my greatest fan); and always had a best friend.

Having one income, my mom always did an amazing job of budgeting for special outings, but most of the time, she was creative and modest with our activities. I feel like a lot of that is lost in families today – it is no longer difficult to drive to a local pool or water park, museum or trampoline park. We don’t have to be creative as parents, someone else has already taken care of that for us.

I asked the girls (before we even left for work this morning), what should we do this afternoon? My youngest said “the museum,” my oldest said “the pool,” I said “fishing.” In the last couple of weeks, we have done the splash park twice; the local movie theater for a free morning showing of “Despicable Me 3,” our local library for Summer Reading Club and a mini-horse presentation; Lunchables and popsicles atop a blanket on the beach at a nearby lake; several special swimming days with my step-daughter, step-son and their mom; and an evening movie date to see “The Incredibles 2.” Yesterday, we played at the park located near our home. I realized, today, that we needed to be more creative with our afternoon. Don’t get me wrong, we have had an amazing couple of weeks, but we all needed something “different” today.

I decide that we can fill up the blow up kiddie pool on the backyard (man, I miss our full-size pool – algae took over last year while on vacation and we had to throw it away. Sigh.), mommy can get some sun, the girls can stay cool. I get in my swimsuit and head outside to get this pool party started, only to discover a hole in the side (it’s an inflatable pool, approximately 6’ in diameter). I head back inside to find the repair kit I recently tucked away in the junk drawer. I repair said hole. I search, extensively and thoroughly, for that handy air compressor pump my husband just purchased. It’s not in the garage, or the shed, or on the deck, or in the driveway, or under the deck, or in the back of my car. Defeatedly, I determine that the pool is NOT going to happen. What now?

*Cue a flashback to jumping through a sprinkler in my childhood backyard. *

I hook it up, wondering if the girls will even find it exciting in comparison, and watch in amazement as the girls instantly ran through the water, giggling and laughing uncontrollably at themselves and each other. Both of them hugging me with their cold, wet little bodies before running back through the water. I joined in, adding to the endless giggles, all of us running and jumping hand-in-hand across the yard.

These moments are the ones I live for, the ones that make every day worth getting up for. The giggles and the smiles, holding hands and a having a genuinely great time. I often consider how my mom felt staying home with me; I imagine those days were some of the best days of both of our lives’. I’m extremely grateful to spend these summer days with all four of our kiddos as I desperately hold on to the present, fearing the future, and envying the past.

Our love is like…

I saw this long-winded post circulating on Facebook, describing love as “not always being a fairy tale,” how it’s not always “breakfast in bed” – it’s also fighting with each other and excruciatingly difficult at times (and about a half a dozen other negative descriptions ending with some positive attributes as well). I wish I could find it again to quote it directly, however, I instantly dismissed it as I read it (and I read it many times as many people shared it over and over). I guess that’s where I got lucky, my love IS a fairy tale.

My now-husband approached me on a whim, on a hot summer day nine years ago. He told me he was head-over-heels in love with me. I always knew I loved him, too, but I had no idea how much love I could have for another human being. That day could easily be marked as one of the best days of my life – the beginning of adventures, children, marriage and unfaltering love.

Did we fight? Sometimes in the beginning, as we found our balance – but it never defined our relationship. Do we fight now? No. In fact, I cannot even remember the last time we argued about anything at all – it’s certainly been years. I can’t say whether fighting is a healthy part of relationships, maybe in some cases it is. But, I just can’t think of a single thing we would fight about. I despise confrontation, especially with my significant other – why would I want to fight with the person I love the most?

In losing my mother, I realized that the old cliché saying, “life is short,” is a mantra to live by. Why dwell on the petty, mundane day-to-day? I have a life to live, and so does my husband, and so do our children, and fighting with each other is not how I want to spend it – it’s not how I want any of us to remember our time together.

I admire my husband. He still opens doors for me; still tells me I’m beautiful (despite my recent weight gain that often leaves me feeling less-than-desirable); he still kisses me goodbye; he still sends me a daily “good morning” text. I still get butterflies every time I see him; I still think he’s the most handsome man in the world; I still wonder why he chose me, why I’m so lucky and possibly so undeserving of this man and his love for me.

I don’t remember a time we ever had breakfast in bed, but we have had room service bring us creme brûlée and carrot cake (our favorites); he still woos me from time-to-time with a surprise bacon, egg and cheese biscuit; he knows that a fountain Diet Pepsi is sometimes exactly what I need; he takes me to my favorite restaurant for special occasions and often “just because”; we have eaten pastries in Paris before a visit to the Eiffel Tower; we have toasted s’mores over too many fires to count (and he doesn’t even eat them).

The excruciatingly difficult times we have endured were not BECAUSE of each other, but rather standing beside each other, hand-in-hand. There has not been a single time that my husband has not shown love and compassion; held me close, as my protector and my true love; he has never given up on me. I can only hope that he thinks the same way of me, as I do of him – I truly believe us to be soulmates.

So, as we celebrate nine years together, I look back on a million good times – choosing always to focus on them. I cannot say a bad thing about this man, the one that I have chosen, the one that graciously chose me. I know, without a doubt, that I will always see our love as a real-life fairy tale. He will remain my Prince Charming for the rest of our days, and I sure hope there will be thousands more!

I am courageous

I Am Courageous

By Lauren Thompson

As it was featured on Facebook in the “You Are Courage Campaign” Page

Friday, July 25, 2014 was the start of the week that changed my life forever. My mother – my best friend, my biggest supporter, my strength, my light on every dark day – was transported to the local hospital exhibiting stroke-like symptoms. At only 58 years old, she was diagnosed the next day with a brain tumor. Four days later it was resected; three days after that, she was told she had a stage IV Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), with a projected life expectancy of 15 months with treatment, or 4 months without.

For the next 12 months, she endured 6 weeks of radiation, countless days of chemo therapy, and an additional resection. She was sick for weeks during, and after, chemo. She missed her last Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and both granddaughter’s birthdays (among other various birthdays, holidays and special occasions) due to her chemo schedule and hospital stays. Ironically, it was because of her family that she was fighting so hard. She was the best Nana two little girls could ever ask for and she loved our little girls more than life itself. Her biggest fear through it all was that her grandchildren wouldn’t remember her.

Growing up an only child, my stay-at-home mom and I shared a very special bond. Until recently, I was too naive to understand that not everyone is lucky enough to share the special bond that we had. In addition to being special to her family, she was also a notable lady in our small community, sharing her wealth of knowledge with children and adults for almost 30 years.

Carol Thompson passed away on July 18, 2015 – a week shy of her first hospitalization. It was a bittersweet day knowing that she was no longer suffering, while knowing I would never again feel her touch, hear her voice or smell her scent. I watched as the woman who witnessed my first breaths, took her last.

This year was my third Mother’s Day without my momma. I have experienced all of the various stages of grief. I have cried almost every single day, but I never let my grief keep me down. Instead, I decided to channel my energy into keeping my mother’s legacy alive.

I talk about Nana every day with my children, my family, my friends and the world. I know that no matter what, she is always embedded deeply into our hearts and forever in our thoughts and memories.

Being brave through my loss was something I would have never believed I could be, but I have done it. On the days I think I cannot go on without my sweet momma by my side, I remember that I can – and she would want me to. I have an amazing support network and have been blessed with astounding family and friends. I am courageous for my fiancé, I am courageous for my beautiful children, I am courageous for my father, I am courageous for my friends, I am courageous for me. Most of all, I am courageous because of, and for, my sweet momma.

Jumping hurdles

She fell up the stairs and scraped her knee. It wasn’t her first fall and it won’t be her last. It was, however, her first fall in front of her friends. She was embarrassed and I was instantly brought to tears. I felt bad for her, knowing she was embarrassed.

We had an emotional morning. A lot of them are that way lately. Part of it is that she is tired, part of it is her gaining her independence. She will no longer wear any clothing I help to pick out, even if we picked it out together the night before. My little girl that is so loving and so big hearted has started using the word “hate”. She “hates” that shirt, she “hates” school, some days, she “hates” me. That one stung the most, of course. If only her little four-year-old heart knew what she was saying to me, she would know how badly it hurts.

But that’s it, she’s four. She is learning and absorbing her surroundings like a sponge. We don’t use the word “hate” at our house. Ever. In fact, there are very few things that I could even say I hate. I mean, I could say that I hate that Kendall uses the word “hate”, but I try to verbally express myself in other ways. I try to convince Kendall to communicate honestly, but without negative consequences. “You don’t hate the shirt, you would like a different one better.”

Use “princess words” my mom used to say. I have tried to explain the difference between being pretty on the inside, not just on the outside. I wish I could wave my magic wand and know that neither of my girls will ever experience the heartache of malevolence, but more so, I hope they are never the ones to provoke others with this pain. It will never be acceptable to be the “mean girl.”

So what do you do to stop this behavior? Do I spank her, promoting hitting as a viable option, or punishment, for expressing your feelings? Do I yell, so that she now thinks yelling is an acceptable way to express yourself? Do I give in, teaching that if you yell loud and long enough, you will eventually get your way? I don’t really know the right answer to this question I have had such difficulty grappling with.

What I do know is that as I empathetically felt the pang of Kendall’s fall, with all of her witnesses, I realized just how resilient she truly is. Her teacher put a Doc Mcstuffins bandaid on her knee, instantly making her war wound worth bragging about. She proudly showed her friends her knee, automatically limping when they didn’t show enough solicitude.

I learned from watching her today. As we experience an obstacle (such as that pesky stair step that jumps right in our way), overcoming it only makes us stronger. I will inevitably hit a plethora of roadblocks with the girls, but we love each other and undoubtedly, we will successfully conquer them all.

“If you expect life to be easy, challenges will seem difficult. If you accept that challenges may occur, life will be easier.”

– Rob Liano

French fries and four leaf clovers

Life is full of surprises. Some are good, some are bad; some are big, some are little. Saturday morning, we stopped by a birthday party for our favorite minion, Arlo, wishing him a happy third birthday before we headed to the baseball diamond to watch Max’s {my stepson} double header.

As we sat between games, we looked up in the sky and there was the most beautiful rainbow. There wasn’t a single drop of rain and it was not the typical arched rainbow you would expect. It was a clear sky, the warm sun shining brightly with only a few fluffy white clouds scattered about.

Andrew and I watched as the rainbow seemingly danced through the sky and throughout the clouds. I looked around at others as they sat in their lawn chairs, oblivious to the sky above them. Just like that, the rainbow disappeared and the second baseball game started.

Driving home after the game, I couldn’t help but get excited. My friend Kate moved to New Orleans about six years ago, visiting only once after Kendall was born. We talk often, but I miss her immensely. Kate texted me Saturday morning, to tell me that she had something for me and someone would be delivering it when I was home. Imagine my surprise when I opened the door to find Kate standing there!

We sat for hours and talked and laughed – dulling the initial shock of Kate’s arrival, graduating quickly back into our old routine. Kendall – hearing frequently of “Aunt Kate”- was anxious to color Aunt Kate pictures, perform spontaneous dance routines in her honor, and also to crawl up on the couch next to her to chit chat about life.

Kate’s return to Central Illinois was cause for celebration so we got ready for a girl’s night out. Once we were out, it didn’t take any time to realize that some things never change. We hit the McDonald’s drive-thru for some iced coffees and french fries, drove around town, and laughed until our faces hurt.

Sunday, we started our morning off by taking the girls to swim at Kate’s hotel. Watching Kate interact with my girls warmed my heart. It was wonderful to see three people that I loved so much, love each other as well.

After swimming, the girls and I left to get ready for our little buddy Koa’s second birthday party at Weldon Springs. Sitting on our picnic blankets, Andrew found a five leaf clover. A walk to the frog pond did not provide us with a closer look at any frogs (although we could hear them all around us), but we did see the Great Blue Heron and found four more four leaf clovers.

Saying goodbye to Kate later that night was just as hard as would be expected. Hopefully someday we can reciprocate and surprise her with a visit, too. Until then, we will hold on to all of the memories we made this weekend, remaining grateful for all of the special people we have in our lives.

Chasing Butterflies

We left the house at 8:15 Monday morning. I had prepared for a week prior, texting my favorite available naturalists for advice, practicing my presentation with my own children so much that all three of us knew it by heart. Driving down the all-too-familiar road, we pulled into Weldon Springs State Park. I was nervous that I wouldn’t do the presentation justice. What if someone asked me a question I didn’t know the answer to? How would I keep 50 children entertained for two hours as I taught them about trees and leaves? Would the children think that was fun?

A friend had texted me that morning. He said, “The kids will see your passion and I’m sure it will ignite their desire to learn about nature. Kids like dirt and bugs…So take a deep breath and just be your fabulous self. It’ll be fine.” It was just the advice I needed to start Camp Osage’s Nature week. My mom always said that she had the best job in the world, she got paid to chase butterflies and play in the creek. For the first time ever, I was getting paid to do the same.

Searching through all of her files and old notes, I can feel the passion my mom had for what she did. Her handwriting, her words – speaking to me and all who will attempt to follow in her footsteps; and what big footsteps we all have to fill. It amazes me, the amount of people it takes to fill one void. She was my mom and that is a loss I will always grieve, but she was an asset to our children, to our community – to so many more than just myself.

A close friend of the family, and previous intern at Weldon Springs told me, “Remember nature has a way of happily, unexpectedly cooperating…don’t miss these moments.” What grand advice, not just in preparation for my presentation, but for life in general. We can prepare for multiple situations, but being unprepared for the moments out of our control can lead to some phenomenal experiences.

I was surprised to find out how many children had never been fishing and how many couldn’t identify a photograph of a cardinal – but their excitement to learn, to experience new things and see nature in a new way, was paramount. Hearing the screams and giggles of a group of girls as my daughter caught a bluegill, kissing it before its release, made me think to myself that we were all making memories together, and wasn’t that the whole point?

Bird watching was a really fun day, I don’t know that there was a single child that wasn’t excited at the chance to use a set of real binoculars and flip through their Peterson Field Guide to identify (and many times, successfully) the birds they were seeing. The Great Blue Heron is my favorite bird – a bird that has become very special to me, my husband, my children and my closest friend – and one that was special to my mom. I took full advantage of the opportunity to express my love for the bird, challenging them all to find one – them, just as excited as myself, when we found one – all five days. As promised, my excitement ecstatically rubbed off.

I know that my talks and activities were flawed, as I am not a professional naturalist, but while I studied and researched – I remembered that my mom was self taught, and I had the confidence that it could be done. We made it through the week (tree identification, prairie walk, fishing, birdwatching, aquatic study and scavenger hunt) with minimal issues and a lot of fun. I can only hope that even one of those children will grow up to value Weldon Springs in a personal way, loving the park for all it has to offer, helping to preserve its significance for future generations.