Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Happy 8th Birthday-star wars style!

On the off, off, off, OFF chance that anyone ever shows up at my house and thinks, "Dang. That DeNae girl really has it all together," I share these snapshots into our day of party prep for Elliot's 8th birthday party.

Elliot wanted to try a new cake recipe and I try to oblige the birthday kids' cake requests. Fortunately the recipe made 3 round cakes and I only needed two because this happened:

Unfortunately, the other two didn't fare much better. Fortunately, frosting cures what ails ya. Unfortunately, the cake was tremendously ugly. Fortunately, it was delicious.

At about 2 pm, (the party started at 4) while I was mentally trouble shooting my cake dilemma, we decided to set up the Jedi training obstacle course in the backyard. This involved moving an 8 foot wooden balance beam from the back of my car to the backyard, along with rolling two tires from the side yard to the back. Isaac and I were on balance beam duty, while Audrey and Elliot were on tire rolling duty. Apparently there was a mishap because as Isaac and I made our way to the backyard, we saw an out of control tire picking up speed as it headed down the hill of our backyard and a sprinting Elliot not far behind, but losing ground quickly. The tire ended up in the neighbor's front yard, about 2 acres from where it started. Isaac dropped the beam, literally, and ran after the tire, then kindly pushed it back up the hill. That was exciting.

I lost my temper and shouted at the kids to move faster to help me. Then, a few minutes later, I asked them to come sit on the couch and I apologized for losing my temper with them. I told them that I get stressed out before parties, that they were being incredibly helpful, and that I shouldn't be short with them when I'm stressed. I commented on the fact that the important parts of any party are making people feel welcome and having fun with friends. Those reminders were as much for me as they were for them.

At 3 pm, I carried a pajama clad and barefoot Asher to the car so he could join me for a trip to Papa Murphy's for the night's gourmet dinner of pizza and carrots. Go big or go home, I always say. Just kidding. I don't really say that. Plenty of time to get home for that 4 pm party start time, right?

I arrived home at about 3:30 and there sat my two crumbly, but mostly intact, cakes. I had the kids clean a bathroom while I tried to get the cakes from the cooling rack to the plate. Let's just say that it didn't go so well, and three cheers for frosting. I remembered to print up some Star Wars coloring pages for people to color as guests arrived. Then the first guest arrived and my kitchen looked like this and my kid was still wearing this:

Is this where the hastag #keepingitclassy originated? Maybe not.

The kids arrived, the light saber committee had a meeting in the front yard to go over key rules for a successful Star Wars party, and then the pool noodle light sabers were distributed. If you hand a light saber over to a group of kids, you have to be prepared for some battling. I let the kids go at it for a while, and then when it seemed like it was about to get out of hand, I took possession of the light sabers and told them they had two minutes to think of and practice their best jedi saber move before showing it to all of us as part of a Light Saber Talent Show. This got each person in their own space for a few minutes.

they were going for it!
The kids showed off their moves, and then it was time to head to the backyard for the Jedi training obstacle course. Elliot showed them the course, and then each kiddo took their turn running the gauntlet. The last person finished just in time for a short spurt of rain, so we headed inside for Elliot to open gifts. He will be one happy, Lego-building fiend in the morning.
running back up the path while deflecting bullets with the light saber

tire jumping and balance beam

a little disc golf thrown in for good fun

Asher prepared to run the course, then got scared and asked Elliot to go with him

Audrey finishes up the balance beam

The rain ended, so we headed back outside for a little pinata busting. We had a pinata etiquette session, with the intent of making sure everyone got candy and toys and no one got knocked unconscious by a swinging plastic bat. I am happy to report that we had success on both counts!

At that point, it was time to head in for pizza, carrots, "The Attack of the Clones," cake, and ice cream.
Happy birthday, big 8 year old!

Not one kid commented on the state of the kitchen, but they did love the cake and asked to lick the butter knife I used to cut the cake. The kids played well and got along and had fun. I had a lovely opportunity to chat with the mom who stayed and was so helpful with the party.
The six boys. (Audrey was in the bathroom)

The six boys + Audrey show their silly sides

I tucked my Elliot belliot woo woo into bed and his smile spread from ear to ear. "Did you enjoy your party, buddy?" "YEEESSSSS!!!"
Good night, sweet boy.
That's what matters. The guests felt welcomed, people had fun, and friendships grew. That, right there, is what matters.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016


I like to write. It clears my mind and makes me joyful. Looking back on things I've written in the past is a lovely little trip back in time as I recall the little moments that make up my little life. Sometimes I worry that the stuff I write here doesn't carry enough weight or matter enough or sound good enough. That's when I go quiet, filled with doubt. I mean, really, I could just be writing a journal and no one would know the difference. I think that, but then I hear from someone who was moved by a post and I think I should just do a little more writing. Words matter to me. They really, really matter. Through words, the crafty rearranging of 26 letters, I am moved to laughter and tears, compassion and understanding, questions and sometimes even a few answers, but usually just more questions as I ponder my place in this world, in this time, surrounded by these people.

I'm hoping to pop on here more often. Maybe you'll read. Maybe you'll scroll on past. I'm fine either way. We all have our stories to tell, and this is an easy way to record mine. I'd love to hear more of your stories, too.

For now, we'll spend the day prepping for this sweet boy's 8th birthday party, complete with a pinata, Star Wars obstacle course, and movie night.

  Peace for the journey, friends.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

what we remember-to my mama

The cards were stacked against her. Fifteen. Unwed. Pregnant. Therefore, the cards were also stacked against me.

She straightened up her act in a hurry. I was born. She finished high school, in spite of many obstacles placed in her way by an administration that thought new moms had no place in their high school. She and my dad got  married. She and I moved out of my grandparents house. My mom, dad, and I moved a few times. My favorite game was standing on our brown and yellow couch, jumping high in the air, and landing on my knees on the hardwood floor. My brother was born. She had an in-home daycare so she could be home with us, but still earn money. As we got older and went to school, I remember her working at a chiropractor's office. My parents divorced. We moved a few more times. My mom got a job at United Way in St. Cloud, then at the College of St. Benedict. She started working on her degree when I was around middle-school age. She graduated from college while raising two kids and working full time.
the kids obviously get their good looks from yours truly

awww. Sending love to my dad and mom

Christmas love

a new baby brother and neither of us look too sure about the whole thing

Happy Halloween from the clown

I liked perms

a lot
My brother and I grew up and graduated from high school and college and got married and had babies. My mom moved, both geographically and up the employment ladder. Today's she's Vice Chancellor of Gift Planning at a prestigious university.

Apparently my mom doesn't give one crap about how the cards are stacked. She's going to reshuffle. She's going to come to a dead end and make her own road, a closed door and pull out her axe to bust it open. But she's going to do it with humor, killer music, flawless hair (although she loves to be reminded of her mullet days), raucous laughter, generosity, pasta, wine, bread, okay, carbs in general, and love.
the laugh, including the knee slap, the face we make, and the disbelief that others might
not find us as hilarious as we find ourselves are identical

rocking modern, black furniture since way before it was cool
I'm sugar coating it, obviously. There were fights and hurts, tears and bitter misunderstandings. I had classic teenage moments. There was depression. To this day, in the ways we are alike, we are identical, and in the ways we differ, we are polar opposites. I have made and continue to make many decisions that disappoint her, and she's done things that make me shake my head in disbelief.

But at the end of the day, when all is said and done, there is love, acceptance, and support. No matter how deep my hole is, my mom will lean over, extend an arm, and help me start the climb back up.

I didn't understand the depth of love, the depth of pain felt on someone else's behalf, the depth of awe at another person's accomplishments until I held Isaac, then Audrey, then Elliot, then Asher. I cannot begin to express how fortunate I am to have had Kellie as my mom, how fortunate my kids are that she is my mama role model, even with the cards stacked against her and against me, too.
since having these four, I get it.

please let them remember these moments

please let these moments outnumber the angry, poorly handled moments
What will they remember of me? There are certainly millions of mistakes, but I hope that at the end of the day, when all is said and done, they will remember love, acceptance, and support. I certainly do.
Mom, Cory, and I in my post-birthing Asher stupor. It's a good look on me, right?

Celebrating my mom's birthday, December 2014.
Our sense of style is clearly not identical!
From me to you:

Friday, May 6, 2016


A friend posted this on her facebook page. It's hilarious, right? Ridiculous. A funny poke at the silly things celebrities do that some people actually care about. While it looks harmless and silly, it brought up a few questions to my overly analytical brain.

1) How did these people become celebrities? What makes their comings and goings and outfits and boyfriends so much more interesting than the rest of the world's daily lives? Is a sex tape, being related to someone with sex tape, or dating someone with a previous sex tape our best bet for fame these days?

2) How long does it take to create that one picture to post on those social media outlets to get shared around the world to get you free stuff?

3) Aren't they hungry?

4) Isn't living with a constant wedgie just grueling? I mean, add constant wedgie to constant hunger pains and I would be the most unreasonable, insane person on the planet.

Some of these questions are obviously tongue in cheek and others are absolutely serious. When did we become a culture looking to these people for fashion, dating, life advice? What are we missing in our lives that we want to shop where they shop and look like they look and distort our faces to match their faces?

I'm raising humans here. I'm trying to grow myself. At this point, as I knock on the big 4-0, I'll be one of the very few un-botoxed, un-collagened, un-augmented or reduced people my age.

These pictures aren't real. The time and effort that go into taking one of these highly processed, highly photoshopped pictures is ridiculous. Yes, they are beautiful humans. No, they are not perfect.

Maybe that's why I struggle so much. It is impossible for me to feign perfection. My clothes are about as out of style as they come. My house has holes in the basement and kitchen ceiling, not to mention popcorn ceilings, which, according to our realtor, are about as bad as things can get in a home. My kids aren't the best at everything and they argue sometimes and they still choose mismatched clothes and balk at taking showers and I lose my temper sometimes, too. I'm just here in real life. I'm a reasonably intelligent human being, buying in to the lies that my real life is eight billion degrees removed from the real life of my friends. That's dangerous. And silly. And stupid. Therefore I can't even begin to compare my life to that of celebrities.

I guess I'm just reminding myself that we're all doing the best we can. And we're all craving connection and acceptance and love. And if I start looking for that in the world, I lose. Every time, I lose.

Friday, April 22, 2016

A boy meets his shadow

Our Classical Conversations group is done for the year. Final papers are written, speeches have been presented, Memory Masters certificates have been earned. We are not done with school for the year, but the most intensive part of our day is done until next fall. Today was our first day since all of the end of year hoopla ended, so we all breathed a nice, calm sigh and had a relaxing day.

There's this two year old in our house who cheers at every baseball game and gets shuffled along to every homeschool group, show choir practice, baseball practice, and church meeting. He builds with blocks while mama teaches math, plays with playdough during writing, and draws during family read aloud time. He does it with a smile on his face and makes fans wherever he go, but he rarely has time to do whatever he wants to do on his little two year old timeline.

This morning he did.

He were outside throwing a football when he asked, "Mama, can we go for a mile walk?" With nothing on the agenda and no pressing school work to get done, I happily replied that we could. Carrying his little cow umbrella to block the sun, he walked to the end of our driveway. "Which way should we turn," I asked. He thought for a moment before replying, "mmmmm, prolly Grizzly Way." Since we get to Grizzly Way whether we turn left or right, I decided to just follow him.
swishy pants. check. plaid shorts. check. little brother t-shirt. check. cow umbrella. check. let's roll!

He wanted to cross the street so we looked both ways and crossed. Apparently our long driveway tired him out because he sat down in the grass on the other side of the road. "Should we sit here and have a snack," he inquired. "Maybe an apple?"
Yes. We took a break across the street from our home
Disappointed to hear that I hadn't brought an apple on our one mile walk break across the street from our house, he got up and decided he wanted to walk the opposite direction. We looked for cars again and crossed the street. He quickly tired of holding the unwieldy umbrella and asked if I would carry it. I happily obliged, not because I love hauling all of the kids' castaways, but because I couldn't find my sunglasses and it kept the sun out of my eyes.

We walked a bit more, with him crossing the street every time a dog came into sight so he could ask the owner for the chance to pet the puppy. I guess the sun began to bother his eyes because he started a question about the umbrella. "Mama, if that bright sun. . . WAIT. Is that me?"
a boy meets his shadow
My sweet boy just met his shadow. I told him to move around and see what the shadow did. "Dance, Asher," I instructed. He wiggled his arms and watched Mr. Shadow do the same. "Even the hairs move, mama." He was blown away. I watched him learn and observe and verbalize his new discovery and it was an absolute gift.
and dances with him

We finally continued on and I pointed out the melted snow running through the ditch. "No, mama. That's water," he replied. We talked about the fact that when snow melts it turns into water and goes down hills. We walked along the ditch and he shuffled into the snow to touch the cold, "freeeeezing" water about ten times.
He discovered that melting snow is not just cold, but freeeeeeeezing water
Then he found some pebbles and threw them into the snow to see if they would stay on top or sink into the rapidly melting snow. We found an icy spot with some melted water, a teeny tiny pond put there just for us, or so it seemed. We threw our little rocks into it to see where it would splash and sink and where it would stay on top of the ice. As we played in the ditch, the homeowner pulled up and stopped her Prius at the end of her driveway. She asked about what we were doing and what Asher had discovered. She smiled to see a little boy enjoying a lazy day of outdoor learning. I think she would have ruffled his too-long, blonde hair if she'd been close enough. She had that loving grandma look in her eyes.

We turned back toward home and hadn't been walking long when Asher uttered, "A mile walk is long, mama." I asked if he wanted a piggy back ride and he most certainly did. We walked. I kept reminding him to hold onto my neck. He kept asking why. I kept telling him that I was holding a 34 pound toddler and an umbrella while I walked up a hill in Danskos so I needed a little help. Well, I said that in toddler-speak. He'd hold on for a while, then point to the bird or the water or the rocks.

We returned home from our mile walk. Technically it was less than a mile, but don't tell Asher because that was his "mile walk."  A lot can happen in a (almost) mile. Memories. Learning. Love. Lots and lots of love.

I sure do appreciate the leisurely pace of a two year old boy on a brilliant spring day.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Caption this. . .

Forgotten Spring.


Pining for Spring.

Maybe this is a study in glass half full, glass half empty types.

Winter here is magical. Tomorrow it will be 55 and Monday it will be 65 and it is entirely possible that we'll get two feet of snow on Mother's Day. Good thing that wagon is weather resistant.

Monday, March 14, 2016

making space

I am astounded at how quickly these mountains have become my home. I look around and these trees whisper to my soul and the sight of the mountains from our front yard delight me many times each day. I never knew a place to infiltrate my heart so. The move has had many bumpy moments and I miss many people almost all of the time, but when I stand outside and breathe in the mountain air, look up at the millions of stars, pure and bright without city lights reflecting, and hike and explore new places, I feel at home.

I've run in places that have been devastated by forest fires. Every time we drive through our little town, each little volunteer firehouse has a sign informing us of the current fire danger. We are to inform the fire station before we use our firepit each time. Getting home insurance is no easy task due to the risk of fire. All of these situations are constant reminders that the danger of a forest fire exist here, too.

I've been thinking about that a lot lately. Watching a wall of fire take out the trees that whisper to me so sweetly with the gentle breezes and howl when a new weather system blows in like a freight train. Seeing the devastation later. Picking up the pieces.

When a forest fire finally sputters out, the charred remains of a glorious forest seem to be all that remain. Toothpick remnants of majestic trees and exposed animal burrows. Raw. Hot. Dead.

But then something beautiful happens. Green growth peeks through. Seeds germinate. New animal habitats are formed. Destruction and death become growth and life.

I've been thinking about that in my life. What parts of me need to die so that there is a space for newness? What parts of me need to be put to the fire so that new pieces of me germinate?

With each child and each passing year, I have gotten more and more disorganized. I rearrange piles, but never take the time to purge unused, outgrown, and unwanted items. I walk into the house and drop things in random spots. It has gotten to the point that I am wasting money buying things I know I have somewhere in this pit of a home I have created and time because I am searching for items that I cannot find when I need them. I do not like having people over because of the mess. In short, it has gotten out of hand. This piece of me has to die so that I have room for the people, relationships, passions, and things that really matter to me.

I am working on it. Oh, boy, it is a challenge, but it is a necessary change in my life. On Friday, my mom took the four kids to the Museum of Nature and Science, and I spent the day cleaning out the entryway, closet, living room, and dining room, and got a good start on my archenemy, the playroom/schoolroom. I am throwing a lot of things away, donating many other items, and making sure that everything that stays has a place and that we can all find that place easily. Did I say challenge? Yes. This goes against my very nature. But the other way is no longer working for me. It has to go. I need space for beautiful things to grow and that cannot happen in this mess.

I spend too much time on Facebook. There. I said it. My excuse is that I am home without another grown-up for many hours, weeks, and months of the year, so it is my communication with the outside world. My excuse is that with so many family members and friends back in MN, that is my mode of communication with them.

In truth, so much time on there prevents me from doing some of the things I need to be doing here, and, yes, keeping my house in order is one of them! In truth, spending so much time on there prevents me from the reading and writing and laughing and living that I want to be doing here. I don't have a smart phone, so when I am away, I am away, but when I am home, I am pretty plugged in, and who wants to look at a mama with her face in the computer? In truth, the upcoming elections are causing me quite a lot of stress, and seeing the chatter on facebook is an absolute detriment to my mental health. (that sounds like an exaggeration, but it really is not.) In truth, I do things and automatically think of how I would caption the picture or something funny happens and I think of how I'll explain it. That's weird. I mean, really, if I go to a concert with my kids, but don't post about it on Facebook, did it really happen? Why do I need people to know what I did? Why do I require that validation that I'm doing ok? Why do I feel like everyone's marriage is better than mine and everyone gets to fly to a beautiful beach for spring break and everyone has cute stitch fix clothes, and I'm just sitting here wearing pajama pants covered in dog hair with a big zit on my chin in my messy house with a basement that will never get finished and that still doesn't have window coverings in some (most) of the bedrooms? I am not in junior high; this stuff shouldn't matter to me, and the vast majority of it didn't matter to me before social media.

Last night I saw a political video that just about threw me over the edge. I decided then that I needed to step back from social media for a while. I needed some time to rearrange my priorities, let other people bash each other about how they hang their toilet paper or the proper pronunciation of New Orleans, or some other nonsensical argument that will never ever ever be resolved on social media. I jest, of course. But really, the hate that I see and read about the November elections, the comments I read about the Women's National Basketball League after the Lynx won the championships, the vulgarity that is posted about nude selfies and sex tapes are far outweighing the benefits of easily staying in touch with people and laughing about miniature giraffe videos. My mind just can't handle that much hatred anymore. I feel fragile, wavering in my knowledge that light really does overpower dark, that love really can overcome hate. So I am walking away from social media for as long as necessary so that I have room for love to take hold and overwhelm me and pour forth from me and find a home within my soul.

I don't know. I'm just this big work in progress and I think progress has stalled. So I will let go of the things that are holding me back, as hard as that is, so that I have room for new growth. It is all I can think to do. One step at a time.

I will let the wildfires burn within so that fresh greenery can push through the charred pieces of myself.