Author Archives: thesetimesofjoy

Dog Days Of Summer

Jack's glasses

It’s hot.  The dog days of summer are here.

Why they call them the “dog days of summer” I do not know.

Actually that’s not true. I just looked it up on the interspace web and now I am a well versed expert on the subject.

Ok. That’s not true either. But I did look it up and read a whole bunch about it. So now I have an answer. And it has to do with science and not folklore involving large dogs, big fans, porch swings, and sweet tea.

I must pause to admit that I am no scientist.  I like to star gaze with the best of them, and although I did particularly well in my college astronomy class, it was due entirely in part to the tutoring I got from a boy.  He used a reading lamp, an orange, and an apple to explain the basics of the earth’s rotation and orbit.  The fact that my husband used fruit and a library lamp to help me with a basic concept most fourth graders master should have made him run.  Far and fast. I’m glad he didn’t.

Anywho, I digress.  It turns out these hot days of late July and August are called “dog days” because of a star.  Not just any star, but a very large star called Sirius “the dog-star” in the constellation Canis Major.  Sirius is so big that is visible in the sky during most of the year.  However, during the weeks of late summer, Sirius nearly aligns with the sun and disappears in the sun’s light.  This lead ancients to believe that during these weeks, Sirius made the sun larger, added to its heat, and made our days hotter. Thus the term “the dog days of summer.”

All fancy astronomy aside, I still somewhat believe we call them the “dog days” because our furry friends are the only one who seem to be with ok with August weather forecasts from professional meteorologists that include words like “hot, humid, muggy, and miserable.”

Jack is our resident expert in “dog days,” and he doesn’t seem to mind any of those meteorological adjectives. The warmth (code for downright hot and yucky) makes for good napping.  And good ball catching.  And just about anything else that strikes his fancy, including posing for silly pictures after being dressed-up by eight-year-old girls.

Jack and his fellow canines may revel in these days of their namesake star. Good for them. They obviously enjoy the dog days of summer a wee bit more than me. After the cold winter we had I promised not to complain about the heat.  But this week is testing my tolerance.

Truthfully the summer hasn’t been that bad.  But still.  Sheesh.  I’m kind of over it.

Luckily this was in my path this morning.

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And thankfully, these dog days are numbered.

Fall anyone?

Trades

Gibbons Magnet and Muffin

When I was a kid I used to make pretty good trades.

I once got a brand new Barbie with silky brunette locks because a friend liked the matted blonde mess on my doll better.  And nearly every Saturday morning I got to watch Wonder Woman because I conceded the marshmallows in the Lucky Charms box to my brother.

Easy, right?

Yesterday I made a trade that not so easy.

Emily went off to her first day of high school yesterday.  We inched through the morning carpool line, a slow crawl to “Freshmen Welcome Day,” and a precious last few moments together before the next chapter of her life began.  I knew what was coming, and each rotation of my tires brought the trade closer. There was a steady stream of cars, each had nervous freshmen and anxious emotional parents, all of us waiting for the inevitable exchange.  By the time we rounded towards the entrance, the energy was palpable.  The band played, faculty and staff along with upperclassmen (over 400 of whom gave up their last day of summer vacation to volunteer!) clapped and cheered to welcome my daughter and her classmates to the school community.

In slow motion the trade took place. We pulled up to the front of the line, to the embrace of the throngs of cheering, smiling students.  I was greeted at my window by a lovely staff member who handed me a muffin and wished me a good day.  An upperclassman moved in, handed me a magnet for my car and welcomed me to Gibbons.  And while I was being distracted by baked goods and pleasantries from polite teenagers, Emily was whisked out of my car by students waiting to greet and welcome her.

And just like that, before I had time for one last goodbye, she was gone. They took her by the hand and helped her on her way.

The trade was made.

They took her.  And I got a muffin.  And a magnet.

They should have given tissues too.  My eyes welled once I lost sight of her in the crowd and the mom in my rearview mirror bawled, wiping a steady stream of tears from her cheeks.

Some trades are easy, some are more complicated, and some are just plain hard.  This one was all the above for me.  It tugged at my heart-strings and made my heart explode with excitement for her and all that lies ahead these next four years.

Another milestone.  Another reminder to savor the years, the days, the moments.

And yes, cause to savor the trades too – the easy and the difficult.  There is always good to be found in the exchanges that come our way and the trades that pepper our paths; some are magically delicious and some should come with Kleenex.

And some leave me to marvel at the joy that comes with a muffin, a magnet, and a smiling teenage daughter.

Letting Go

moving boxes

Remember that feeling as a kid, when you stood at the end of your driveway and watched a moving truck load up you best friend and her family and drive her away? Remember standing there, stuck, realizing you’d been left behind?

I don’t.  It’s one of those childhood maladies I managed to avoid.

Remember when you were a grown up and your best friend called to tell you she was moving and you felt like a 7-year-old girl, standing on your driveway watching moving trucks pull away with boxes and belongings and pieces of your heart?

That, I do remember.  Like it was yesterday.

Or 16 years ago.  Or last week.  Or both.

I can still remember exactly where I was standing when I got the phone call from Susie telling me that they bought a house and were moving.  Halfway across the country, to Texas.  And she was thrilled and excited. I nearly cut off the circulation to my fingers as I twisted them anxiously in the curled phone cord. I remember trying to catch my breath and steady my voice while fiercely trying to blink away stinging tears.

I remember hanging up the phone and looking at a newborn Jake and wondering how I would manage this parenting thing without her. I had always envisioned our kids growing up together. What about all the get-togethers, birthdays, celebrations, and milestones? What about our impromptu dinners and backyard barbecues. No more dropping by with a pie.

I think about it now and while that transition was difficult, it was all part of God’s plan.  Texas is their home and where they have put down roots and raised a beautiful family.  It’s where they belong.  It truly makes me happy knowing they are where they are supposed to be and I wouldn’t want anything else for them.

And Perhaps it took all that distance to make the bonds we share grow into something closer to family than friendship. We still share a brain. And a heart. And an odd love for Mondays. And though halfway across the country, we do indeed parent side by side – on good days and on bad. And while I wish I could snap my fingers and come over for dinner, showing up with a pie, the once or twice a year we get to see each other and share carrot cake sustains my soul.

Fast forward a few years and we were the ones to pack up and move away. All the way across the country, far from home. But once here, God put in my path another sister who would share my backyard for 14 years. Kara showed up on my doorstep with a blueberry cake and two babies in a stroller one steamy July morning. She welcomed me to the neighborhood and told me she was there, right in the backyard,  if I needed anything. Anything at all.

Little did I know how much I needed all the blessings her friendship has given me over the years.

The moving truck came to move her family to a new house across town last week. She is only a zip code away but it feels much farther than that right now. I have to turn away from the dark windows of her empty house, the void still too fresh.  I know that this move is the best thing for her family.  I am thrilled for them and the new memories yet to be made in their new home.  It too, is where they belong and where they are meant to be.  And I am incredibly happy for them.

Change is never easy. Nor is letting go. But, as always, there are silver linings to be found. Having two of my dearest friends move on only left me behind to realize the extraordinary gift and blessing of having them in my path in the first place. And certainly part of loving someone is wanting the best for them, even if it takes them away from you.

It may take me a while yet to look at Kara’s house and its dark windows without having to turn away. And for just a little bit I will be the brooding seven-year old girl standing on the driveway.

But pretty soon it won’t sting quite so much.

And I will once again remember that there is joy in letting go.

 

 

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Lasts

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It has been a week of lasts.

Most of them have centered around Emily’s eighth grade graduation and her last days at our parish school.

I snapped this picture last week at the “clap out.” A school tradition where the entire school gathers to clap out the graduating eighth graders on their way to graduation practice in the church.  It’s their last walk through the hallways of the school where most have spent all their elementary years.

It seemed every time I turned around this week it was to greet another “this is the last time we’ll _______” moment.  It was like a Mad Lib fill in the blank all week long.

The more I thought about it, I realized it was more like a whole year of lasts. And I was half mindful of each Mad Lib moment.

Only half mindful because part of me wanted to recognize and celebrate each moment and the other half was in denial about this sweet stage in her life coming to an end.

All year I soaked up the lasts as intentionally as I could.

Like the last time she wore a volleyball jersey and took the court as captain for the school, sport, and coach she loves so much. That jersey might forever be her favorite.

Emily #3

Or the last time she sang with the school choir at mass. Is there anything sweeter than the voices of children singing? In church no less? I don’t think so either.

Or the last time we loaded up in the school parking lot and travelled across town with a car full of giggly teammates gobbling bagels and popcorn on the way to a game with cross town rivals. I’m still not sure why I thought popcorn in the car was a good idea. I don’t really recommend it.

Or the last time she took to the field alongside Maggie at a lacrosse game this spring, each beaming in the presence of the other. Even taking the taking the picture made my heart ache a little bit.

Emily and Maggie Lax

Or the last time she wore her school uniform and sang in the car with her sisters on the way to school, leading the chorus from the front seat. We’ll be minus a voice next year and the band won’t sound quite the same. Maybe I’ll just sing louder and get more lyrics wrong.  That ought to make up for some of the void we’ll feel.  Or not at all.

Or the last time she motioned a secret hand sign “I love you” to me from across the church during a school mass, a secret hand gestures only I would notice. Melt me. I will miss searching for her face in the sea of assembled kids, just as I still do Jake’s.

Or the last time I would see her holding court with a swarm of kindergarteners in the carpool line. Lucky for the young ones Maggie is there to step in with open arms. Genetics I suppose.

I sometimes still see Emily as a first grader with pig tails in the halls of the school and I wonder for a split second why 6 year olds are discussing graduation and high school, only to snap back to the realization that time is marching on. Faster than I would like it to.

There is a bitter sweetness to all these lasts and I have noticed a distinct correlation between the amount of time I spend dwelling on each monumental moment and the size of the lump that inevitably builds in my throat.

The great thing about celebrating the lasts, any last, when we are aware enough to recognize them, is that we get to cherish them.  We get to fill in the descriptive blanks in our own mental Mad Lib, savoring each step and milestone, engraving details in our hearts as well as our minds and memories.

All the while I am reminded that some lasts are more bittersweet than others.

But they all serve to help us find the joy in new beginnings.

Emily graduation

 

 

Oh My. It’s May.

hanging on by a thread

I took this picture a while back. Last summer to be exact. It was a carefree day and we were riding bikes in the park.  There was very little on the agenda except perhaps peanut butter sandwiches by the pool. Bliss.

We came upon this leaf just hanging in the middle of the path.  Holding on for dear life, I assume. I loved the way Erin was watching this little leaf just hanging on by a thread. She was mesmerized by its fragile state.

It reminded me of something, but I wasn’t quite sure of what it was at the time.  A memory? A feeling?  A horror movie? I couldn’t quite place it.

And now I remember.  It was May.  It reminded me of May. The entire crazy, ridiculous, insane, overbooked, over-extended, deadline induced, nutty month of May.  There is entirely too much to do and not near enough time to get it all done.

I feel like the leaf.  I’m barely hanging on.  I’m one strong gust away from disaster.

You know what I mean. We’re all in the same boat.  This brilliant lady says it best.

I am just done.  Sometime over the last week I seem to have switched to survival mode. There is a constant pile of clean clothes that need folding and dirty ones that need washing. This time of year school uniforms can be pulled from either pile. I don’t really care, so long as everyone has something to wear out the door.

I’m over making lunches too. I pack the same darn thing every day now, and haphazardly at best. One day last week three of the four lunches were missing items. One had no drink, one had no fork, and one had no fruit. I could excuse it by saying I was too busy going through homework folders and signing agendas, but that would be a lie. I looked back in shame to see I hadn’t signed Erin’s agenda since April 7.  April !!! That was nearly preseason, for heaven’s sake!

Today I worked was field day, tomorrow I will serve ice cream to sweet second graders, and next week we’ll prepare for and celebrate Emily’s 8th grade graduation.  Relatively quiet compared to the last couple weeks. The to do lists are winding down.

I do, however, still need to send in my contribution to the teachers’ end of the year gift fund.  And that is the one deadline I will be sure not to miss.  I only wish I could meet it with a larger check with way more zeros.  There is no more deserving group of people than those that teach our kids, put up with us slacker parents and our “May brains”, and keep our little people engaged and happy until the very last day of school.

Even those that may come to school in a dirty uniform.

I’ll be good to go again come August.  Or maybe even June.  I promise.  I hope.

Our Moms’ Day

This Mother’s Day was a little bit unique in that we were able to celebrate the day with both our mothers.

We could not remember a time when we had gotten to do it before.  And the inability to remember had nothing to do with flowing chardonnay and everything to do with the fact that my in-laws live too far away.  2000 miles too far away.  Not that I’m counting.

Ann came to town to help celebrate Erin’s First Communion over Mother’s Day weekend. We took lots and lots of pictures on her special day and everyone was kind of over my camera being out all the time. Not that I blame them.

But I am glad I went back in for it one last time to snap this shot.

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We have a gazillion pictures of us and every possible combination of family members over the years, but I don’t think we have this one anywhere. How is that possible?

But here we are, us and our moms.

Two incredibly lovely women who shaped us into the people we are today. They both taught us so many different things.

Ann is one of the most organized people I know.  She certainly helped Jason learn to be diligent and detail oriented.  He can organize just about anything. Which leaves the current disaster state of our garage a total mystery to me.

And my mom taught me how to use a sewing machine and make a mean meatloaf. Which makes the stymied pile of sewing projects and my family’s aversion to my meatloaf equally mysterious and unexplainable.

I guess some things that we are taught, we don’t always learn, let alone master.

Looking at these two ladies and the picture of the four of us together, it hit me that there is one very important thing that they both taught us growing up, something we both clearly did learn. And that is to love and take care of others.

It’s that simple and that complicated.  It’s that easy and that difficult.  It’s that casually overlooked and that monumentally important.

Caring for others is at the heart of what we both do each and every day, and I am certain that we wouldn’t be cut out for the jobs we do had our moms not shown us the way.

We are lucky to have learned how to love from the both of them, and we were thrilled to celebrate the both of them together on the same day.

And for the two of us, Mothers’ Day couldn’t have been much better.

Dogwood Love And Lore

Dogwood

Dogwoods are my favorite. I have loved the lore that surrounds them since I was a kid.  And I have come to love them more now that they bloom so beautifully in my yard.

I can’t believe the blossoms have nearly come and gone. I look forward to them every spring.  And thanks to our crazy winter everything seems to be blooming on a delayed schedule, so gratefully they have stuck around longer than expected. Joy!

I have forgotten how much I love the stunning white blossoms, the petal-tip crimson detail, and the beaded center head.  It still gives me chills to see them in full bloom as the words of the dogwood poem ring in my ears.

Coincidence that it comes alive at Easter? Probably not.

Coincidence that I have adored the tree from the west coast only to find that it is the official flower of my adopted state? Not likely.

Coincidence that Jason planted them so I can see their glory from the kitchen? No way.

While I am sad to see the blossoms fade, I am grateful for the vibrant green leaves that have come in their places, ready to provide cooling shade for imminent warm hot southern days.

Don’t have a dogwood in your yard?  Get one. They are easy to care for.  You can read more about them here.

Haven’t heard of the dogwood poem?  Here is it.  I distinctly remember sitting at a desk in my Catholic school uniform, rewriting the poem in my best cursive and coloring a picture to go with it. I have no idea who wrote it. Nor do I think there is any biblical basis for it.  But I do think it is a sweet poem. Think of it the next time you see a dogwood.

And see if it doesn’t give you chills too.

The Dogwood Poem

Out Like A Lamb

March weather

Yesterday was the last day of March. And as the old saying goes about that marvelous month, “it comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.”

I am not at all sure who said that, but it was certainly fitting for March this year. The above pictures are all from the month of March last week.  What a wacky meteorological roller coaster we’ve been on.

But yesterday gave proof to the old adage.  It was bight, blue, sunny, and beautiful. And 70. Pretty much picture perfect.

And seeing that it’s the same today, I’m happily enjoying it; ever so grateful for lambs.

Because lions are for the birds.

Some Fun For Your Friday

The Friday Fun Five

Happy Friday! Here are five fun things to check out today.

Easter is really late this year.  Ever wonder why Easter changes dates?  Listen to this chap explain it in his smashing English accent.  The lovely ladies had me at hello.  Doris and Winifred,  I wish I was sitting next to both of you.  Or in between the two of you.  We would be fast friends. Drinking tea.  And making hats.

Kid President says “you were made for awesome.  And we can make every day better for each other.”  I couldn’t agree more.  Have you seen this kid?  He rocks.  Click here if you need a little pep talk today.

Cutting things in unusual ways has become a running joke around here this week.  I was reminded that I used to cut the boys’ hair.  Until I stopped because I really wasn’t that good at it. Maybe if I had this tutorial on how to cut kids’ hair I would still be at it?  Probably not.  But this did make me want to try it again just for fun. Or just play with a toddler. And have a absolutely adorable baby on my hip. And be crazy cool and live in an amazing NYC flat.

Anyone else see this commercial while watching basketball on TV and crying while their brackets were destroyed?  I made the boys replay it about five times and laughed harder each time.  I wanted to see it a sixth time but they told me no.  Luckily I have seen it aired since then.  And I can see it here too.

The mornings are finally not as dreadfully dark as they were a few weeks ago.  Dark and cold mornings are painful, aren’t they? I used to be a morning person.  Now I only halfway am. Halfway at best. But I’m working on it. Here are 24 tips on how to start the day off right.  I’m thinking no on #4.  But I am all about #8, 10, 13 and 24.

Enjoy the weekend!

Cut It Out

Sometimes my family does odd things. Like cutting, for instance. Most people cut in a straight line with order and continuity. Most people, when cutting bar cookies or brownies or krispy treats from a pan, start on the left and and move across the pan.

Not necessarily the case in this house. I made krispy treats the other day and some wisecracker teenager thought it would be funny to cut a chunk right out of the middle. When I asked what the brilliant thought was behind cutting that way, he said that he was avoiding the “crispy edges.” Hmmmm. Interesting. Silly me, I thought that the very nature of a krispy treat ensured that all edges were crispy.

krispy treat cut out

I called him out on his ridiculousness while the rest of the family rolled with laughter. Even I thought is was funny. Odd, but funny. I told them I thought there was something wrong with all of them and that the cutting disorder must be genetic.

Here is the cutting job that Erin did while wrapping a gift last Christmas. Only I cut her some slack (pun intended) seeing that she was 7. The krispy treat mauler is nearly 16.

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But I’m thinking that age must have nothing to do with the mutated cuttings that go on around here. My oldest child husband decided to get in on the action and mess with me too, cutting himself a virtual maze through the middle of the pan.

crazy cut krispy treat

You know those quirky family inside jokes that everyone in the house gets and thinks is funny but no one outside the walls of the home gets? The kind that go on for years and years and come up at odd times? I have a feeling this cutting business is well on its way to being one of ours. I can only pray they all control themselves when mowing lawns, trimming bangs, or cutting wedding cakes. With a multitude of birthdays, a First Communion and a graduation around the corner, you can bet that I will be the one with the cake knife, lest we scare all our family and friends with our inability to cut like normal people.

Everyone’s a comedian around here.

Now, if they only knew how to use knives and scissors …