Wednesday, July 31, 2013

What We're Reading Wednesday + Five (Point Five) Favorites = Double the Love

Is it really Wednesday already?? Whew, time flies when you're buried in laundry, housekeeping, homeschool planning and the deep contemplation of what delicious prize I'm going to be giving away right here next week for my blogaversary post!! (So many possibilities!! Any suggestions??)

The little tail-spin I've been in lately has rendered me a blogging no-show this week. Well, that and the fact that my blistered fingers and some-what sore saddle are still in rehab after completing last week's epic blogging challenge.  7 posts in 7 days was crazy, people. Plum crazy.  My mind was spinning with tidbits on baseball and sibling separation and sugar overload, and the homecoming king and monster trucks. All the chaos up in there made running a marathon feel like a Sunday stroll to the county line.

After a couple of days off,  I feel recouped and ready to jump back in.  Plus, it's a mighty fine day to link up! I'm mixing up the love this week by combing my usual Five Favorites, hosted by Moxie wife, and What We're Reading Wednesday, hosted by Housewife Spice.  One shouldn't be forced to choose between chocolate or vanilla, nor should show-n-tell be limited to one stuffed animal, pet rock or...where are we going here??...

Our house is typically decorated with books.  Some people use floral arrangements and family heirlooms. I use books.  Everywhere books, books, books. I've often thought of replacing my nightstand with one of those library book carts that have shelves. (Wouldn't that be super-chic?) Speaking of library - I've got a knee-high pile there too.  Oh, you know what I'm talking about - the library?? The Library?? Don't act like you don't know what I mean!

Choosing 5 from my stash wasn't easy.  So, I kind of cheated.  Think of it like one of Oprah's giveaways.  Remember how she used to roll out the unbelievable pile of prizes for the audience and then, ooops! She almost forgot to give 'em all a car! So, here it is, 5.5 prizes instead of just 5! I know you understand my need to share, because you also read more than one book at a time, too, right??

Great! Let's get to it, shall we??

First up - what the kids are reading.  Reading, reading, reading.  I'm so thankful they love to read!
1.  The Warriors (series) by Erin Hunter:
A homeschooling friend of mine suggested this series to us last spring, and since then, Ben and Andrew have been cruising through the first box set.  If your kids enjoy Brian Jacques Redwall series, this collection of books will not disappoint!

For me, the Usborne books are a little bit of a mixed bag, but I'm pretty fond of their illustrated soft-cover collections.  George loved this one about Greek Myths, and is also reading Illustrated Stories from Dickens, and Illustrated stories from Shakespeare.  These books offer a simple introduction to the more detailed stories the boys will be reading when they get a little older.

3.  Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle
If you have little ones, you've probably memorized half of the picture books in your library, since kids always want to hear the same story over and over again.  We just retired the Very Grouchy Ladybug, and have moved on to Little Blue Truck.  My favorite aspect of the book (aside from the adorable story-line) is the illustrations.  Jill McElmary is a phenomenal illustrator!

Now, for what mommy is reading! I typically have a trio of books all going at once.  One practical/informational, one spiritual reading and one that is purely entertaining.

4. Family as Primary Educator by Aurora Bernal, Francisco Altarejos and Alfredo Rodriguez
You might have guessed that this one is fulfilling my practical/informational queue. Every year, as I begin planning for the next round of homeschooling, I find myself searching for some sort of text that will either encourage my decision to travel down this crazy path, or offer me some new tools that I can incorporate into the practical realm of our classroom. I'm happily surprised at the fresh perspective (thus far) that this book is offering on the beauty educating (primarily) at home.

5.  Diary of a Country Priest by Georges Bernanos
This book has been highlighted on my "Great Books" list for many years.  I'm not sure why I decided to read it now. While I intended it to fill my "entertainment" slot, it is also truly becoming a spiritual read for me.

5.5  Southern Cocktails, Dixie Drinks Party Potions & Classic Libations by Denise Gee
What can I say, I'm a cookbook reader.  Pinterest and are fine in a menu planing pinch, but I do love me some beautiful cookbooks.  Now, technically, this isn't a cookbook, since you don't cook cocktails (although there are a few appetizer recipes in the latter portion of the text), but since it's currently nested between the likes of Julia Childs and Susan Branch, I'm callin' it what I want.

Over the summer I've been thinking a lot about the beauty of hospitality and what a special place it has in the rhythm and rhyme of family life.  I'm not very good at being a spontaneous host, (mostly because our house is usually a wreck) and have decided that if the food, drinks and company is truly memorable, the socks a Lego's that litter the floor will soon be forgotten.  I'm compiling a "go-to" list of recipes that are quick and simple and am making a sincere attempt to keep ingredients for those recipes well stocked for impromptu gatherings.  For that reason alone, I LOVE this book so much!  The author speaks earnestly with love of her Southern roots, memories of social gatherings, and the "spirits" that were enjoyed at those gatherings. To quote the author:

"We're not reared to be alcoholics, mind you, but we are taught how to be hospitable and have a good time from the get-to.  It's what the late, great bon vivant Eugene Walter - a Mobile native who spent much of his life abroad, entertaining Southern style- called "dropping the mask": loosening up and tossing out pretension. 

The photography is extraordinary, the recipes sound wonderfully refreshing, and the stories and quotes that she stirs up between the pages give the entire book a flavor all it's own.  If you own a shaker and a shooter, I highly recommend this book!

"A good heavy book holds you down.  
It's an anchor that keeps you from getting up and having another gin and tonic." 
- Roy Blount Jr. "Reading and Nothingness: Of Proust and the Summer Sun"

Sunday, July 28, 2013

What I Wore Sunday - Life After the Monster Truck Show

Well, let me just start of by saying that after last nights rumble at the monster truck show, followed by a very unnecessary Dairy Queen drive through (led by the cool parent) at 10:47 p.m., we were in perfect "county fair hangover" form this morning at mass.
(True or false: I've been waiting all summer for this! Ya, this and a bikini wax. Whatever!!)

One kid sat hunchback from entrance hymn to final blessing. 100 gentle pokes to the spine would not revive his posture, nor his woe-is-me outlook on piety.  Then, we had a little casual neck tilt on the back of the pew from another, some pathetic whimper-whine from #4 (still recovering from sugar shock) which was barely audible to me (thank ya Lord) due to the perforation of my ear drums from the Bounty Hunter. Oops, I almost failed to mention the baby's routine cranial crash on the kneeler, which rendered my visit to the cry room permanent.

Glory, glory, hallelujah.

Good times.

Just so our fresh and perky Sunday morning dysfunction could really shine through, Steve asked our parish priest to have lunch with us after Mass (I won't bore you with those details, but you might have guessed we didn't win any glistening awards for proper etiquette or intelligent conversation).  I really should be on the Survivor reality show. Piece of cake....

Anyway, because I love my boys so much, I'm happy to suffer through the occasional Saturday night monster truck show.  But, then, I kind of have this expectation that Sunday afternoon will offer something a little more along the lines of gentle and pretty. Unfortunately, as I type my list of complaints, I can hear discussion of plans for a sporting clays competition this afternoon - that is after they finish watching Mountain Men on the History channel in their socks and undies Sunday attire.

If anyone feels the need to hijack me from the frat house, I'll be more than happy to donate to your rescue efforts a bottle of wine or a bag of some frozen raspberry vodka lemonade concoction that's just waiting to be shaved into a nice tall glass.

But, before I start sending out flares, here's what I wore to the cry room, I mean Mass:
I'm on a bit of a navy-blue kick these days. It's a little less serious than black, and looks so pretty with bright greens, varying shades of yellow and, of course, good ol' red.  My band teacher used to call this the fig-leaf pose. I'm sorry, I can't help it - having my picture taken is a bit of a mortification.  I get all nervous and I never know what to do with my hands.  Next time, I'll go for behind the back, or on the hips, or jazz hands, because that would look totally natural.  Let me just Pinterest that right up for ya.
Skirt: Banana Republic (clearance find!)
Blouse: (worn in 13 previous WIWS photos) Maurices
Belt: Target
Shoes: $15 summer score from Marshalls
Bracelets: Cookie Lee - Won in a drawing at a homeschool conference! 
Earrings: Anthropologie (also worn in 13 previous WIWS photos)
 I have a thing for wedge heels, because I feel a little more stable in them and don't feel like I'm going to display all sorts of embarrassing uncoordination at any given moment.
Well, I'm off to find a new hiding spot, one equipped with a lock, something to sip, something Jane Austen and a generous amount of chocolate.

Have a beautiful day, friends!!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

It's Great to Be Together Again - The Short Saturday Post

Friday night, at 6:20 p.m. with a firm grip, Ben pressed the binoculars to his eyes, bringing into focus the dusty road ahead.

Just behind him stood Henry, barefoot, squinting, as though doing so would help him see more clearly what they had been waiting all week to see - their father, in his white pick-up truck, rambling down the road to see his family after a long week away.

The chain of command was Ben first, on the watch, he would signal Henry to run the message of return to George, the half-way point.  George, with the biggest voice, would yell out to Andrew, who paced the deck back and forth, waiting for his turn to ring the bell, the sound that would sing Dad's long-awaited return to the farm.

I wish I had a picture of those boys faithfully manning their posts.  But, I was inside, scurrying around the kitchen, making sure our love - a home cooked meal - was seasoned well, that nothing was missing from the table, and that I, myself, could possibly be a sight for my lover's sore eyes, searching for my lipstick and a comb.
{George surprised me with bouquet of flowers - perfect for the table!}
I'll admit that this summer has been pretty intense, endless hours of work and responsibilities have left little time for leisure, or opportunities to have an occasional break to do something "girly."  I was very tired yesterday.  When Steve is gone, I don't sleep well, and feel the need to get everything on my long to-do list done.  Part of me wanted to flop down on the couch, tell the kids cereal would suffice for supper, and call Steve up asking him to grab a burger on his way home.
{Simple spaghetti supper on the deck -with vino, of course!}
But, the other part of me, the part that I want to become the whole of me, also knows that there's always a little bit more to give, and once I submit to that thought, grace unfailingly comes just in time to help me say yes.  Yes to a welcome home dinner, a clean house and mowed grass, to lipstick and freshly washed hair.
{Little guys at the little table. Henry and his random slice of ham??}
We always miss Steve so terrible much when he's gone, whether it's for a day or a week.  It stirs up a great compassion in me for those who have to travel for work, separated from family, those who live across the ocean due to military commitments, or others who face the permanent absence of a loved one lost, one whose memory still holds a special place at every dinner table.

I know, without a doubt, how very richly we are blessed to be together again.

Friday, July 26, 2013

7 Quick Takes Friday - It's Been One Super Sweet Week!

No big intro today, folks, just a big fat T.G.I.F.!!  It's been a kay-kay-kayrayzee week! Actually, that seems a little bit dramatic.  Isn't every week crazy when you have kids? So, technically, the last time life didn't feel crazy was back in 2001.  Ah, the good ol' days...Just kidding! Crazy is fun!  No??  Let me show you:
1.  Rice Krispy Treats 
One of my one-thousand "mom goals" is to teach the boys to cook at least 4 or 5 really good, but basic, meals so that they can help me more in the kitchen when they get older, and so they can invite friends over for dinner during their college years.  AND, so when they get married they have a mighty fine "I'm sorry" tool in their back pocket for those rare times when they have wronged their sweetheart. This week, Ben and Andrew had a hankering for something sweet, so I gave them full reign of the kitchen.  They made RKT's with mini chocolate chips and sprinkles. Then, oh-so-proud of their culinary accomplishments, they had to wave a giant piece in front of me - WHILE I'M EXERCISING! Good thing I had weights in my hands...and a color coordinated army of fit and toned humans on TV pressuring me to pump it like a bad ass.
But, true to form, I broke down the next day and slathered a big boulder of that mish-mash real nice-like with some peanut butter.  It made an afternoon of paying the bills slightly less painful.

2. S'mores
As long as we're on the sweet path of diet destruction, why not throw in a bucket of s'mores?  Once you give in to sweets, it's a slippery slope into addition, so the boys refer to me as the sugar Nazi. I lightened up a bit since Steve was gone this week, and because there were so many chores to tackle on the farm after being away for a month, I promised the boys that we would do one enjoyable lazy thing each evening if we finished our tasks cooperatively during the day.
After a big day of cleaning out the garage, when they asked for s'mores, I couldn't say no.
Steve's parents have an amazing fire pit in their back yard, and with the weather being cool from rain we had received earlier in the day, it was a perfect evening to start a fire and saturate ourselves with more sugar!

3.  Farm Fashion (Is that an oxymoron?)
The power of influence that a 20 year old college kid can have on a near-forty farmer is a skosh higher than I'd like to admit to. I've looked at this pic at least 100 times since Steve texted it to me, and laugh every stinkin' time!  Mid-harvest, the guys were getting tired, so it was Jonathan's (far right) idea to kick the attitude up a notch with some cut off shirts and quality made in China aviators from Wal-Mart.  We're one cup of crazy away from having our own reality show. But, more on that later!

Finding quality time for prayer in the middle of all the hustle and bustle of each day isn't easy.  But, I'll be honest, without it, I'm a bit of a mess as a wife, mom, friend etc., etc.  This girl needs grace!! Recently, I have really fallen in love with the book, The Better Part.  It's a scripture based resource that also includes an abundance of beautiful and profound quotes (which I LOVE!), thoughtful meditations, scripture from the New Testament, and Catechism references.  I highly recommend it!

5.  The Cry Room Bandwagon

Last week, Kendra at Catholic all Year opened up to her readers about her feelings on the issue of whether or not parents should feel obligated to use the cry room during Mass if their kids are fussy. Many other fantastic bloggers weighed in on the issue, and I enjoyed reading several of their responses. While I didn't write a response of my own, my personal feelings on the issue are just that - personal. I'm not sure that there's one perfect solution for everyone (However, I do LOVE Melody's brilliant idea to have bouncers at the door!).  Her sentiments on the issue were identical to my own.

What it boils down to for me is this: While I love for our family to be able to sit together during Mass, and the cry-room isn't always the most pleasant place to quiet a screaming child, sometimes it's necessary.  We come to Mass (hopefully) in a somewhat recollected state, to praise, worship and adore our Lord.  If I'm anxious about the disruption my toddler is causing to others, my worrisome mind is most likely not going to be Christ-focused at all.  And, while the play room is more like a chat-room for most parents, I have no problem at all pushing my way up to the front, nose to the glass, reciting the unison prayers aloud in an effort to worship while my child wails.  It is the cry room after all. And, if I happen to accidentally kick one of the "sitters" while attempting to kneel, forgive me, but it isn't the observation room. We're still in Mass -  even if every one else believes the terrible two's has bought them a ticket to romper room instead of church. 

The child soon learns that he/she is not going to be set free to join the zoo of cutie-patooties climbing over and under the seats beside us.  I stand firm, speak quietly in my child's ear to calm down, and simply wait out the tantrum.  The boys soon learn that we're not there to play, and that sitting cooperatively and quietly with the family is less torturous than being in a room full of kiddos who are allowed to run wild while he is locked in mommy's arms, which are not about to let go. Okay, that was longer than I intended - so, moving on!

6.  Forget Bears and Bunnies
It's no secret, we're a little book obsessive around here.  The fascination starts early, and slowly progresses into the child's absolute inability to fall asleep without at least 4-5 of their current favorites in the crib.  One of the boys snuck in and snapped this fuzzy little shot of Charlie, who is proudly following in his brothers' literary footsteps. 

7.  Treehouse Masters
When it comes to what's on TV these days, I'm totally out of the loop. The TV basically takes up living room space in the summer time (unless it's an Olympic year), because our lives function completely in the outdoor world, and we are rarely inside. So many bloggers eagerly share their favorite "must watch" shows with great enthusiasm, and I have NO IDEA what they're talking about! However, a few weeks ago, unable to sleep, I turned on the tube and came across the show, Treehouse Masters and fell in love!  We Tevo it for the boys (because I abhor commercials), and they enjoy watching it as much as I do. It really will make you want to build one of your own!

Until tomorrow my friends!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Truth Behind Why I Love Giving My Babies Hair Cuts

Over the past couple of months, I've been thinking, quite often, about the passing of time, about getting older, about the story of life that the past has written and all that's left to be told of the future. I suppose it's a combination of things that has sent me to this place of contemplation - vain things such as looking in the mirror each day and accepting the image of an aging woman staring back at me, and real things like knowing our oldest son is a pre-teen and will be entering middle school this year.  So big he is, the baby who, just yesterday, slept peacefully in my arms while I counted his eye-lashes and softly kissed his sweet baby cheeks, caring little of anything or anyone else for hours upon end.

The real emotion that keeps me up at night, though, is born in the fear that Charlie may be the last little soul we get to call "baby."  A baby who is running his sweet chubby legs full speed ahead through toddlerhood.  I can't slow him down and, to my great frustration, I can't slow time down.

So many moms rejoice over "being done" having babies.  Done with late night feedings, messy diaper changes and the toting of strollers and sippy cups everywhere under the sun.  I'll admit that those are natural feelings. I can sincerely relate to the exhaustion over the great demands of motherhood, and as well to the temptation of wishing for all of the chaos and strain to pass into a time of greater ease and convenience.  But, to tell me it's over - that this phase of my life is over - is unexpectedly unbearable.

Seeking a place of consolation from all the anxious thoughts, I retreat to the honest realization that it's a wonder that I've been able to have 5 children at all. Managing the aches and pains of fibromyalgia, adrenal burn-out and constant hormone dysfunction have made the physical demands of life a bit treacherous, at times, over the past 13 years.  But, prayers have been answered, and grace and strength have come in sufficient supply to sustain my life and theirs, one precious day at a time.  Every woman has a life-bearing time-table, a table that is different for each one of us.  I'm just praying that there's a little bit more sand behind the glass, and that it doesn't run out before I'm ready.

Overwhelmed with sentimentality and missing my wonderful husband, who (fingers crossed) should be home tonight, I decided to sit down at the computer last night and sort through the thousands of pictures I've saved over the past few years.  In my perusing, I came across this collection of snapshots that Benedict took last spring while I was giving Charlie a hair cut. Seeing them made me laugh, made me smile, made me cry....made me long for another baby (of course!).
I've never taken my babies to the salon for hair-cuts.  Even though I'm not very skilled at doing it on my own, for me, there's such a sweet pleasure in the whole crazy messy process....

The combing of curls...

The spritzing with water to tame the tails...
(Ben is such a good sport!)

The preoccupation with a succession of snacks...
We always begin with Cheerios...
But, eventually pacification is bumped up a notch to a box of raisins or Craisins. 

Watching them dig their chubby little sticky-haired fingers into the box always cracks me up!
The next level of emergency snackage is always chocolate chips.
To my sweet satisfaction, this time the Craisins were just enough!

The burst of giggles and squirms that can't be contained from the tickling buzz of the clippers...
The sweet expression of a face fully revealed after being hidden behind whisps of concealing locks...
It's true what they say, if you're always looking into the future, you miss out on all that is to be gained in the present.  I'm guilty of this, of gazing forward into tomorrow's schedule, fretting over next week's demands, organizing next month's events or perfecting all of the plans I have made to navigate our life toward the dreams Steve and I treasure together.

Today, I'm pulling back, breathing deep, listening to the unique sound of every precious person's voice, embracing the softness of a hand reaching out for mine, kissing one more time the toes that will soon be off and running, savoring the scent of summer - boys on the porch slurping watermelon - waiting for the rain clouds to open up - smiling at the simplicity of life.  A life with them that I treasure more than their little hearts will ever know.  Today is today.  And, today is so very good.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

"Made In the U.S.A." Inspired 5 Favorites

Before I get going with the 5 Favorites, may I ask a favor of you?? Would you please remember Dwija Borobia, the author of House Unseen Life Unscripted, and her family in your prayers? A few days ago, they suffered the loss of their precious unborn baby, Nicholas.  Only those who experience the loss of a child can truly understand the pain and grief that accompanies such sorrow.  Thank you, my awesome readers, I know I can count on you!

Yesterday, I finally had the opportunity to visit with my sister on the phone.  Let me rephrase that.  I sat in the bathroom, on the floor, with the vent on trying to ignore the shingle shakin' ruckus that a house full of testosterone can deliver.  Fortunately, no blood was shed and no furniture was broken during my one hour of neglect far as I know, anyway.

I miss my sister terribly.  She lives in Switzerland, and (sadly) we typically only see one another once a year. During our conversation she opened up her little homesick heart, and as I listened to her worries and longings, I became ever more grateful that I live in America, that I live in the great Midwest of America.  So, today's Five Favorites is dedicated to my sis.  Here are 5 of my favorite, made in America things.  Don't you just love it when you buy something that says "made in the U.S.A." instead of "made in China??"  If you're interested in supporting businesses and purchasing products that are made here at home, there are several sites on the web with American product and business directories.

I'm a Sharpie hoarder.  I thought you needed to know that.  My favorites are the dual tipped ones - fine at one end and medium at the other.  It makes decorating packages that I send over the Atlantic to my sister and her family so much fun! And, the colors, oh the colors - the boys know just how long I can stand in front of the individual sharpie bins at any office supply store and dream of the Sharpie possibilities.


Before I started running, I thought that all socks were the same.  WRONG-O! I could not have made it through marathon training without these socks.  They are hands down my favorite! Cushy on the heels and the forefoot with hugging support for the arches.  They feel oh-so-good on your feet!  Thorlo socks aren't just for running, but for all types of activity and work. This company supports our troops, as well as breast cancer charities which are both close to my heart! BONUS:  You can try them for free. 

If you like to cook, but have never cooked with cast-iron, baby you are missing out!! Cast iron has a magical way of making any meat dish taste amazingly savory, and caremlized onions, oh the caremelized onions!! I also love how durable the cast-iron is. It won't break, bend, warp or....well, yes, it will rust, but there are ways to avoid that.  And, if you prefer beauty over rustic in the kitchen, the enameled cast-iron skillets and dutch ovens are lovely.

My husband and I have always dreamed of restoring an old farmhouse, or building a classic two-story white farm house with a wrap-around-porch of our own. It's fun to dream, isn't it?  (I keep those little dreams on Pinterest, if you care to browse!) A couple of years ago, I stumbled onto the Barn Light Electric lighting company, and knew I had to bookmark it for future use - you know - just in case.  I'm really in love with their new porcelain pendants. Sigh.

Okay, so this one might be more for the dudes, but ladies, seriously if your husband has any interest at all in hunting or camping and you mention the name "Surefire" you're going to score some serious brownie points with him!  I'm not gonna hold back the fact that they're a tad bit expensive, but they are the top-dog of flashlights - military grade, extremely bright and can double as a weapon (I know, isn't every flashlight technically a weapon??).  I got my husband one for Christmas a couple of years ago and his eyes still glaze over when he looks at it, I mean me.

{Thank you, Grace, for guest hosting!}

Have a beautiful day, everyone!!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Family is the First Team - And You are Not the Water Boy

Happy Tuesday, Everyone!! It's day two of this week's Epic Blogging Challenge, and after yesterday's performance (in which I barely stumbled out of the blocks) I'm happy to say that today I'm keeping a little bit better blogging pace!  I'm also happy to announce that while I work at maintaining caffeination and free flowing thought at the Mac, the boys are cranking up the mowers, weeding the garden and playing with Charlie because....
We are duh-duh-dun....duh, duh, duh-dun with sports!
(Please enjoy the stunning collages I made with one eye open at midnight last night while I ramble.)
Until mid-August, anyway, when football practice gets cranked up (Lord, Jesus, have mercy).  You've all heard me complain in the past about how living on a remote farm out in the country means you have to pack it up and haul it like a pilgrim just buy a gallon of milk. Thank goodness I was in town at the book store when my water broke with my last pregnancy.  (Yay for me!) I was only 3 minutes, 14 seconds and 98 drips from the hospital. But, that's another really long story.
Okay, so back to the point, which was this:  the first 6 weeks of summer I lived in the car, saturating my brain with talk radio and my adrenals with coffee, shuttling kiddos back and forth (30 minutes one way, folks!) to First Tee Golf and baseball games. While I love to watch the boys savor the sporting life, sports aren't everything, and we all need to slow it down a bit and catch our breath.
Last week, after an inspiring experience at football camp, I was hoping that the lessons the boys learned from the coaches on character, would have an immediate follow-through once we got back home.  I must have been dreaming.  Instead, daily duties were met with utter disdain, and sometimes left incomplete or, worse yet, completely ignored.  On top of it all, sour chemistry between brothers erupting in petty arguments and uncharitable bouts of teasing left my ears ringing with irritation.
That's when I slapped the "pause life" button with the I mean business slap.  Line 'em up, sit 'em down. It's was my turn to coach.  (The rest of this post is a little soap-boxy, so if that's not your reading pleasure today, that's cool! I promise tomorrow to lighten up tomorrow - it's Five Favorites, baby!) This is what they heard in the huddle:

Listen boys.  While I recognize the hard work you have put in on the farm this summer, and am thankful for that, I would like for you to recognize that your father and I haven't stopped running after you or for you all season long.  We are more than happy to do what it takes to give you the opportunity to enjoy participating in all of the sports you love, but when you forget that 
I've got to blow the whistle and call time-out, okay?

A post I wrote a while back on raising boys is making its way around Pinterest, but I think that it needs a follow-up post, one that is completely dedicated to boys and sports.  I've written a little bit about the topic here, but have failed to make this point:  You are not the water boy.

What. Is. She. Talking. About??

Let me break that down for you.  If you are that parent who works countless hours each week, trying to make ends meet, make a home, make decisions, make sacrifices, and make time for others, but every second of your "free time" is dedicated to chauffeuring your kids to athletic practices and events, guaranteeing that their every over-priced apparel "need" is met, the Gatorade tap never runs dry and the snack selection earns you a "mom-of-the-year" badge, there's a good chance that your kids might actually think that you're their water boy.

Now, don't get all sweaty here. I'm not saying that sports are bad (obviously I'm not, since we play them year-round!), and every kid who plays sports is bad, or that you shouldn't give all of your love and support to your little athletes.  What I am saying is that it's easy to get caught up in the momentum and expectations that youth sports can demand.  Practices are long, games require travel, and the cost of participating, financially and time-wise, can quickly add up.  How easy it could be for our children to - without realizing it - think that we owe it to them to make this happen for them, or rather, that this is just what "normal" families do, or, worst of all, that the life of a family, the life of parents, revolves around the children.

I see so many parents run ragged trying to ensure that their precious Babe Ruth has every opportunity possible to swing the bat, and look like a star doing it.  Honestly, I saw so many kids at the ball diamonds last season decked out head to toe with Oakley sunglasses and Nike cleats, special gloves, glistening bats and Under Armor bags to shove all these "essentials" into.  But, when the poor kids don't even know where to throw the ball, or how to steal, I begin to wonder how well a $50 pair of neon compression socks would work worn around the head.  It makes me miss the Sandlot days of baseball - simple, earnest athletics. I don't want to assume these kids aren't paying for any of their get-up out of their hard-earned lawn mowing money, but if I had to guess, I'd say that parents are the ones staying up at night calculating the cost of all this attire when they should be sleeping.

So, how do you find the balance with kids and sports, and avoid the unproductive, self-focused, image-is-everything mindsets that seem to pervade the sporting arenas across the nation?? My answer at this point of the parenting journey, is that that you have to teach, teach, teach. Teaching your children that FAMILY IS THE FIRST TEAM, to us, means:

1.  Every child has chores and responsibilities that are completed each and every day, and that child knows that their contributions to the team are a very important part of the family's success. If there is a failure to honor commitment to these responsibilities, or if other behavior/attitude issues are causing strife within the family, there will be a consequence. (See #2)

2.  As a parent you must be courageous enough to say no, to put a halt on all activities, if a child is not being a team-player at home FIRST.  Sour attitudes, careless words, lack of gratitude, disregard for duties and disrespect towards parents in any way in our home means we don't go to practice and we don't go to games.  The child who has shown a serious lack of character must then call their coach and explain why they will not be at practice or the game.  The only exception to this would be if the team is short of players.  In that case, it is better for the child to honor their team mates by playing in the game, but must then make amends for their behavior in some other inconvenient and uncomfortable way, such as toilet scrubbing or weed pulling. It's not cruel and unusual punishment, it's called "formation."

3.  One reason kids love to play sports, is because of the competition the get to engage in and compliments they receive.  Make household duties into a contest then offer some small prize for good work at the end.  Also, (this is really key around here) never tire in recognizing the good that your kids do at home.  They love to hear, "thank you for picking up without being asked, that was really generous of you!" or "I appreciate it when you help take care of your younger brother when I'm overwhelmed with too many tasks!" Every detailed compliment that you offer as a parent is a way of coaching the home team, and encourages your kids to be more virtuous players.

4.  As for the athletic gear, I won't deny that if you enjoy sports and fitness, shopping for new gear and clothing items can really be fun - but, it can be really expensive too! I think that sports provide great avenue upon which parents can teach their children some real-life lessons about money management, the value of working toward a material goal (even if it's just a pair of Nike socks), and understanding that just as the clothes don't make the man, the accessories don't make the athlete.  Our boys are blessed to have serious heave-ho farm chores to do, ones that we are happy to pay them a little here and there for.  When they want something that I would NEVER buy ($15 socks and $40 slide sandals) they have to pay for them.  I don't mind buying the essentials like cleats and pants, but if they want the fancy brand above my max price point, then they have to chip in. Remarkably, yet true to nature, the boys take much better care of their athletic gear when they have a financial investment of their own in it.

If you're saying to yourself right now, "but, there's really nothing for my son/daughter to do that I can pay them for" then, may I ask,  do you pay someone to clean your home, to dry-clean and press your work clothes, to detail your car?  Are there jobs that you hate to do, like clean out the refrigerator or the garage? Make this a win-win situation, you know what I mean?  And if they refuse to do the tasks or chores you request of them, you can always say, "I'm happy to take you shopping for your football cleats today, just as soon as you clean out the garage." Also, "feel free to go to the pool with your friends this week on your own dime, because I have to use the recreation funds to buy your football jersey this fall." Trust me, they won't wear last year's cleats, and since going barefoot isn't an option, I'd say you can look forward to a clean garage next time you pull in from work!

5.  Finally, and probably most importantly, a successful and enjoyable journey in sports is one that is built on the principle that sports aren't just about stats, recognition, honor and popularity, but on formation of character and dedication to team. My first reaction is one of anger when I see little athletes on the bench yelling at their parents to get them more water, because the bottle they have isn't cold anymore or when the little punks throw their bag of loot at the parents after a heart-breaking loss, expecting them to carry it for them. We LET them do this!

Outrage soon turns to sadness, because those kids have a rough road ahead of them. The real world isn't going to bring them cold water when they're hot and carry their crap when they can't handle the weight of disappointment on top of it all.  I'm also sad for the parents of these kids, parents who are missing out on a healthy relationship with their kids, because they lack the courage and the backbone to set boundaries and have expectations of their children that will build character and confidence in their kids outside of athletic performance.

We are certainly not perfect, and we've made our fair share of mistakes when it comes to raising 5 sons.  But, as our children grow, as persons and as athletes, and we all get to enjoy that growth as a family, I want to share the few tips that have helped us along the way, tips that so many wise souls have been so kind to share with us.  Sports are a great avenue upon which kids can learn many valuable and important lesson about life and about themselves.  When those lessons transfer into "real life" for our children, helping them face the challenges and obstacles of the real world, that's when you've hit it out of the park as a parent.  That's when you know you've been a Family team coach and not the water boy.

How do you balance youth sports and family life?? 
Please share your thoughts and/or tips with us!!