The Strawberry Patch

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I have been trying to make more of an effort to expose our two year-old and four month-old to new experiences – regardless of their young age, the weather, my mood or any other excuse I make up to avoid the chaos that results from a public appearance with unpredictable sidekicks. I figure if we don’t go now, chances are we will instead spend countless hours staring at Dora the Explorer feeling like lethargic zombies all day.

It’s the beginning of summer at our house which means the sun is out and the heat is on. It also means fresh strawberries are ready for picking a few miles down the road from us. I know the idea of voluntarily picking fruit in the middle of a field under the hot sun with a toddler and infant may seem like a recipe for disaster, but I decided to give it a try anyway.

After applying many globs of sunscreen (or “sour cream” as my two-year-old calls it), we loaded up and were on our way. We arrived at the patch and it appeared only a few others decided to brave the morning sun with us. Hats were strapped on and the baby was nestled tightly in a carrier on my chest. Our toddler ran up to a mound of white baskets and decided which one was suited best for us before following one of the employees to our row.

Whew, we made it.

And then it hit me: do they accept debit cards? After asking, the answer was “cash or check only.”

I convinced my daughter we must turn around, leave our basket at the stand and load back into the car. This is more difficult than it sounds. The two women working at the patch offered to watch my girls while I went to find an ATM. It was a very kind gesture, but the thought of staying with a stranger, understandably, didn’t sit well with my daughter.

We loaded back into the car; out of the carrier and into the car seat. Hats off, seatbelts on.

After finding an ATM and making a withdrawl, we ventured back for round two.

The nice ladies smiled as we returned and prepared, again, to enjoy our first strawberry patch together.

My daughter identified what she believed to be the white plastic basket she had claimed as ours moments before, and we were on our way. The nice women, again, showed us to our row and explained that only berries red to the tip were ripe for picking, and with the grin on her face being shadowed by a pink baseball cap she was wearing, my daughter did it. She picked her first strawberry. And her second, and third, as I took it all in. She then did a little dance and uttered a few short, but moment-halting words.

“Mommy I need to go potty.”

I smiled.

We quickly turned back to the path we arrived on and skipped our way to the front of the patch. On the way, I noticed the only restrooms in sight were those housed in a warm and sticky vertically standing structure – a portable toilet.

One of the employees kindly asked if she could hold my youngest daughter while I went into the cramped space with our potty training toddler. I obliged and we began our walk over to the toilet.

As I took a step up to confidently show my daughter how to use the plastic tower, my sandal caught on the front of it and I tripped, taking my daughter down with me into the door. I quickly stood up and attempted to act as though I had everything together while my two year-old stared at me with confusion.

I smiled.

My “pull it all together” act must not have been very convincing, as my daughter expressed concern for me while using the bathroom.

“Mommy, make sure you don’t fall in.”

Yes, dear.

After returning, the woman holding my four month-old baby half-jokingly said she would love to curb her “baby fever” by continuing to keep her up front while my toddler and I went back and finished picking.

I smiled.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAThe two of us made it back to our row, spending time together just the two of us for the first time since our newest daughter was born. We spent the next 15 minutes picking the reddest of the strawberries, eating a few along the way.

We returned filthy and hot, but happy.

While I wasn’t sure how the morning might turn out, we ended up experiencing much more than a strawberry patch. My daughter learned how to use a remote, public bathroom and I received a lesson in patience and flexibility.

The best part, though, wasn’t the strawberries; it was my daughter’s bright red and juicy smile at the end of the morning.

Sweet.

R.I.P. Halloween Costume

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Without thinking about it too hard, what was your most memorable Halloween costume? I’m not asking for your favorite, but rather the costume sticking out in your mind like a thorn among the rest of the black and orange roses of childhood. Perhaps it was the oh-so-original orange pumpkin or pink sparkling dress your mother stayed up until midnight making the night before. Or, maybe you felt your best approaching a stranger’s doorstep behind a grim reaper mask stained with fake blood.

Either way, why is it your most memorable?

My most memorable Halloween costume also found itself placed in the ‘most embarrassing’ category while I was fearlessly navigating my teenage years. In those days, every outfit was required to match, fit perfectly and follow the current trends. As a child, however, that was not the case.

Halloween cat costumeAround the age of seven, my parents did something as a teenager I vowed never to let my child do – wear an outfit I wouldn’t choose. Seems a bit controlling, doesn’t it? Yes, but I also didn’t know yet what it meant to be a parent, either.

That year for Halloween, I was convinced I’d be dressing as a cat and not just any cat; I wanted to prowl the neighborhood streets as a feline in black tights. This doesn’t seem too unreasonable except for the fact that my version of wearing tights also included a one-piece black leotard, black ears and nothing more. The costume was so creative, in fact, that it shared a peek of my oversized little girl Lion King underwear. I didn’t mind and walked proudly up and down the streets of our Colorado neighborhood fetching candy for my stash.

Now a mother myself, I realize the best part about my costume that year was not the ensemble itself, but instead the way my parents allowed me to make my own decision – tights and all – without worrying too  much about the harmless underwear seams showing though.

My daughter is now two and will be dressing as a ladybug this year, complete with thick black and red striped tights. The costume wasn’t exactly her choice, but made its way into our home following an after Halloween clearance special last year.

I, too, will be joining her on a hunt for treats this week in our neighborhood, but this time leaving my own tights far behind.

Blowing out quarter-century candles

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Birthdays are a good reminder of time and the realization of how fast hours, days and years pass by without warning. The saying “time flies” is not anything new, but it’s the truth.

I recently celebrated my 25th birthday. During a phone call with my Dad that morning, he made sure to remind me that any day after my birthday would be “sliding down the hill to thirty.” What happened to a fatherly rendition of singing happy birthday in front of a well-lit cake?

You know what though? He’s right. I’m no longer in the twenty fifth year of my life. I’ve shut the door on childhood, teenage rebellion and college living and have entered the next quarter-century of experiences, pitfalls, challenges, friendships and celebrations. As I sat down that evening feeling more exhausted than at any previous birthdays, my mind swirled with memories of the past year.

My daughter and I almost a year ago

Since becoming a parent, I’ve promised myself to jot down stories, frustrations and insightful memories to share with my children when they are older. This was no exception. On the back of my daughter’s daycare newsletter, I began scribbling – in no particular order – the lessons I have learned during the past year leading up to turning twenty-five.

  1. Traveling 13 hours with a tired husband, two dogs and baby to see family, even if in a few hours notice, is well worth the trip.
  2. The southern translation of passing gas is “poot”.
  3. Kickball is more than just a game played in gym class. There are leagues of teams playing eight-week seasons, complete with playoffs and concession stands.
  4. Being a parent is the most rewarding, complicated and fun profession out there.
  5. It is possible to make edible hard-boiled eggs in the oven.
  6. Spending Christmas without family (or snow!) is as difficult as it sounds.
  7. Some farmer’s markets sell “throw away” peaches at a discount; all you have to do is ask.
  8. Potty training is more difficult than it sounds.
  9. Andy Griffith grew up in Mt. Airy, N.C.
  10. Every pregnancy is different.
  11. Contrary to the way I was raised, many children will never known what it’s like to eat food out of your own garden.
  12. Ponytails can be fashionable.
  13. Babies grow way too fast.
  14. Meeting new friends without comparing them to others is impossible.
  15. There are never enough photos.
  16. Growing grass is similar to spending your paycheck on clothes without bringing anything home.
  17. It’s important to donate – anything.
  18. A routine drive to work and daycare can be a good opportunity for a toddler to learn colors of cars.
  19. If accidentally locked in a pantry, my Border Collie will make a mess.
  20. It’s possible to lose sleep excited for someone else.
  21. Two-year olds are smarter than people give them credit for.
  22. My husband needs to throw away fraying shirts he still has from high school.
  23. Waking up thirty minutes early to sit in peace before the day begins makes a world of difference.
  24. There is nothing like Michigan in the Fall.
  25. Strangers will surprise you, in more ways than one.

Reflecting on the last year of life has helped me appreciate the knowledge we learn from each other. I’m ready to start the next quarter-century full of experiences and lessons, but think it’s best I light the candles before cutting into the cake.

Parenting musical chairs

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There are many benefits to being a parent, and more specifically, a new parent. The unforgettable first moment of seeing your sweet baby; the first smile; the first word; a belly laugh. All of these are commonly referred to as milestones in a little one’s life. But, I’d be remiss if not to mention the art of playing parenting musical chairs.

You may remember playing a competitive game of musical chairs during your youth, breezing by fold-up chairs in a circle as if running an important race. Once the music stopped, you were left scrambling to find an empty chair to avoid being ejected from the game. The key, of course, was to keep an eye on the empty chair, secretly hovering during each round.

As a new parent, the rules are the same, but the playing field is different. Sometimes the music is soft and easy going.  At other times, it can be fast and unforgiving. In both situations, it’s important to react. I recently encountered one of the challenging rounds while searching for an empty chair – literally.

Before heading to my daughter’s swim class, we planned to meet with friends of ours for a cup of coffee. I thought I would out-smart the logistics of preparing a baby for swim class by putting on her swimsuit and pool outfit before grabbing coffee. I was sure this would eliminate a few steps and make our morning less stressful. I was wrong.

While I am known for my tardiness, this time we arrived before our friends (they went to the wrong place first, but that’s beside the point).  After ordering coffee, I waited at the counter only to look down and see my daughter had spilled her cup of water all over the floor of the busy entry way. I smiled at the customers, used a few napkins to soak water in an effort to make the mess look minor, grabbed my coffee and headed out the door.

We found a seat outside by ourselves. After situating my daughter, laying out her apples and new cup of water, I sat back and took my first relaxing sip of caffeine. It was then I noticed my daughters chair was leaking. I quickly made the connection to identify what was dripping onto the ground. Thanks to what I thought was being overly prepared, she had a swim diaper on, not a regular diaper. For those of you who are parents know there is a significant difference between the two in the way they absorb. My daughter was peeing her pants and there was a small puddle under her chair.

After rushing back inside, I learned there was no changing table in the bathroom. My daughter and I returned to the car for a quick diaper and clothing change.  I wiped down the chair and exchanged it with a dry chair from a nearby table just before our friends joined us for coffee.

Parenting moments like this one have taught me an important lesson. Life is not about choosing the music we listen to; it’s about learning a new dance to the same tune.

It’s important to continue the race, just make sure you find a clean empty chair when the music stops.

10 Awesome Things – Coffee Shop Edition

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You might have heard the old cliché “stop and smell the roses”.

No?

How about “appreciate the small things in life”? Or, “enjoy every day as if it’s your last”?

They’re all sharing the same message: live a fulfilled life – every day, appreciating every moment.

I recently learned of 1000 Awesome Things, a daily blog pointing out the common joys in life we all share. Among them: getting grass stains, fat baseball players, illegal naps, sleeping in new bed sheets, snow days, high fiving babies.
After reading, smiling and relating to the list I began to wonder: what makes these moments so awesome? How is it we can all be in different stages of life, work in various professions, live in different parts of the world, and yet still have these common threads of enjoyment?

This led me to research and find out more about the 1000 Awesome Things project – how it got started, who was behind it and the impact it’s had. As it turns out, Neil Pasricha started the personal blog in 2008 after experiencing a number of unfortunate life events in a short period of time, amid an economic downturn. The blog was created in an effort to help him consciously recognize and appreciate the small joys in life rather than focusing on the negative.

Fast forward to 2012 and the blog now has over 43 million views, inspired a TED Talk presentation and resulted in the publication of three bestselling books.

As I learned more about this project and its origin, I began to think about how coffee shops follow a similar theme, gathering individuals from all walks of life and various backgrounds to enjoy a simple, yet satisfying treat – coffee. So, I decided to make my own list and share what makes this meeting place so awesome.

1. Abnormally loud laughs – this happens when the coffee grinder stops suddenly and the rest of the customers are greeted with a chuckle from the back corner of the building
2. A barista who knows your name and, sometimes, even your drink order
3. Coffee shop friends – others who frequent the same places at the same time you do, creating a friendship by default
4. A decaffeinated customer – usually found slouched in a leather chair, head back, mouth wide open and enjoying a few minutes of shut eye
5. Stocky men ordering skinny lattes
6. The only seat left near an outlet
7. Coffee served in mugs
8. Chalkboard menus
9. Display cases
10. Free Wi-fi

Awesome.

The Name Game

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Have you ever played “the name game”? When, within the first few moments of seeing a new stranger, you rack your brain in hopes of coming up with the best guess for a person’s name given your first impression of them? OK, so maybe I’m the only one who does this. But, either way, participating for me means adding a splash of fun to what may otherwise have been an ordinary day.

During my first visit to a local coffee shop, I quickly noticed something much different from other establishments – when ready; every order and customer name was called out loudly through a microphone at the front counter.

Now, I know what you may be thinking: surely she’s been to a place with this routine. But, nope. Not like this.

“Marrrry! Your order is ready. Order ready for Mary,” the gentleman at the front loudly exclaimed, as if trying out as the announcer of a local baseball team.

This caught me off guard because it was abnormally loud, but also because it spoiled any plans I had for playing “the name game”.

Just as I saw a new customer and began making a list of name guesses, a loud, drawn out announcement was made.

“Ssssstephanie! You have an order at the front counter!”

At first I was a bit annoyed and turned off by the nuisance. But then I decided to use the obstacle as a jumping off point for inventing a new name game. For the next 30 minutes, I listened and took note of customer first names. Among them: Ashton, Jessica, Don, Faith, Buddy, Judy, Jason, Brian, Valerie, Lane, Barb, Caroline, Kate, Gavin, Phyllis, Mike, Sherry, Elizabeth and Donna.

No real rhyme or reason to the names, but interesting nonetheless.

I’ve recently noticed multiple articles claiming older names are “in” and are becoming increasingly popular for those parents looking to name their new babes. Perhaps it’s because I personally know of 11 women pregnant right now,  but I couldn’t help but think of these statistics when hearing names belted over the loudspeaker because, well, these customers were babies once, too.

According to TODAY Moms, baby name trends for 2012 are fierce and heroic. Baby Centre gives a nod to and blames the “100-year rule” for old-fashioned names being “cool” again. Parenting Magazine also released a list of 20 vintage names moving back into style. Of those, none of the coffee shop names made the list.

My attention was steadily captured by the man announcing each order until a gentleman sitting near me loudly shared his thoughts about the ordeal.

“Is it just me or should he take it down a bit?” he said, making eye contact with me. “I’m just waking up.”

I just smiled.

He then looked up at me before making a candid suggestion.

“You know, it would be much smoother if you went up and asked him to calm down his announcements,” he said. “If I went up there, I’d just simply look like a jerk.”

I smiled again and told him the noise wasn’t bothering me. (What I didn’t tell him is I was taking notes.)

After jotting down a series of names and packing up my belongings, I started toward the door. While doing so, I passed two older gentlemen sharing a newspaper.

“Do you like to look at the obituaries?” one of them asked.

“Yes, I like to see if someone with my name is in there,” the other man answered.

Hmm, I thought. Looks like someone else has a name game to play, too.

Don’t worry; we all lose our glasses

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Have you ever had a day (or year) like this? Does it sound all too familiar?

A middle-aged woman frantically ran into the coffee shop, her clutch purse hanging on her wrist and swaying with each step she took. She stood behind two other customers in line, tapping her foot and checking the time on her phone. Once she reached the counter, the barista politely asked her how she could assist her in ordering her morning dose of caffeine. The woman, not trying to be rude, cut her off.

“I was just in here an hour ago and think I left my glasses. Has anyone turned in a pair of brown-framed glasses?”

The barista looked below the woman’s chin, smiled and leaned in before softly saying, “Are those your glasses, ma’am?”.

The now relaxed customer laughed and shrugged her shoulders before turning around to leave. Then, her purse caught the corner of the table behind her, knocking down a tower of water bottles on display. She scrambled to pick them up best she could before heading out the door to start her day.

After briefly witnessing this woman’s frustration and embarrassment, it helped me feel more at ease. Maybe I’m not the only one. While I may not always lose my glasses (or marbles for that matter), it’s comforting to know this woman’s morning was somehow just as chaotic as mine usually is. And, with a bit of humor and a cup of coffee, the end result is a good laugh and a funny story to tell.

In my family, we have a name for these moments — they are called “foozles”. Sometimes used in the game of golf, a “foozle” means to manage clumsily or the act of bungling. We often share these humorous encounters with each other to lighten the mood and usually share in a mutual feeling of public humiliation.

I’ve had many – almost too many to share – situations of which could be classified as a “foozle”. But, one of my husband’s encounters still has me laughing. (Don’t worry, he gave me permission to share).

While enrolled at Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine, my husband and his fellow classmates learned Osteopathic Manipulation – a fancy term meaning the skill of adjusting spines. To hone the skills they were being taught, they often would practice on each other; one person laying on a soft table, the other leaning over to adjust.

One particular day, my husband was the one on the table. As his classmate leaned over, properly moving him into position, he pushed down to relieve tension in his back and my husband unintentionally and loudly passed gas. With those around him roaring with laughter, he looked up and said, “well, I guess you did it right.”

So, the next time you encounter a “foozle”, find comfort in knowing you’re not the only one. Oh, and don’t forget to share.

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