Less is More.

8.17.18

I remember when I was a new mom and made the decision to stay home full-time with my first-born son.  I decided to treat motherhood like a career.  I studied parenting books, listened to parenting podcasts, joined mommy groups and filled my days with “enriching activities,” like Book Babies at the library and Kindermusik.  My husband would come home from work and ask about my day: I’d proudly tick off all of the things we’d “accomplished.”

As our family grew from three to four and finally to five, I continued to add activities with each additional child. Last summer, I often felt like a pinball: bouncing from one drop-off to the next pick-up.  I heard myself bark orders at my kids, “Hurry up and change out of your swimsuit. It’s time for math camp!”  “Hustle! We need to eat lunch in the car, so we can to make it to tennis on time.”  I would wake up at 5:30 each morning in order to find time to attend a yoga class or to run and shower before swim team at 8 a.m. At the end of each day, I felt exhausted and unfulfilled. I missed the lazy days of summer when my kids were in preschool, back when time was measured by rest break whistles and afternoons included naps at home.

This summer, for the first time, I took a dramatically different approach to scheduling my kids’ activities.  First, I told the kids that they weren’t allowed to do swim team. I didn’t want to drag them out of bed each morning at 7:30. And, selfishly, I wanted to eliminate three trips to the pool before 10 a.m. Unlike previous summers, math camp was not offered at our school. Consequently, I eliminated four trips to the school to drop off and to pick up kids after swim team practice. I also told the kids that we were going to skip all summer camps.  In the past, my kids signed up for various sport camps and educational camps at local colleges and museums.  Instead, each kid picked a single activity for each day…and the rest of the time was free for creativity, reading, biking, swimming and just being kids.

My husband and I plotted out time for old-fashioned family vacations. We went on a road trip to the Black Hills and took hikes, caught fish and visited Mount Rushmore.  We spent nearly a week in a cabin without WI-FI or cell phone reception. We played board games, read books, enjoyed campfire s’mores…and each other.

We also spent a week exploring beautiful Oregon as a family. We went rafting, biking and hiking near Mount Hood.  The kids swam in the river and jumped off rocks.  We visited the Coast and caught crabs, discovered starfish, saw seals and witnessed the majestic beauty of the Pacific Northwest.

The result? We had the best summer ever. It taught me that less is more.  I would never argue that kids don’t need a little structure or routine; but, by eliminating all of the extras and allowing my kids time to just be kids, we created a summer that was both restful and “enriching” in a completely different way. The unscheduled time allowed my thirteen-year-old to discover a love for fishing and biking, which gave him a new independence. The unscheduled time provided the opportunity for my twelve-year-old to launch a slime business with a friend; it taught them real-life lessons about profit, loss and successful marketing plans.  And, the unscheduled time enabled my seven-year-old to build forts, create Lego action scenes and simply play with friends…something that was difficult to fit into our previously over-scheduled calendar.

This summer, I learned that it’s okay to not fill every free minute of our life with “enriching” activities. I found that there is real value in unstructured playtime.  I discovered that it’s okay to carve out a little piece of my day for myself. I also realized that my kids are getting old enough to take on more responsibilities around the house, which is actually a positive parenting move. Yes, this summer taught me a lot of important life lessons. And, I’m sure that if my new-mom self could travel through time and witness my evolved approach to motherhood, she’d think that I was doing everything wrong! The truth: Now, I know better.

xo Kara

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What Does Your Calendar Say About You?

11.8.16

Last week, my kids celebrated the end of their first quarter with a Recognition Rally in the school gym. As I sat in the bleachers with the other parents, watching the principal award each honor roll student with a certificate, it hit me: We are already in the second quarter! Where has the time gone?

Before I sent my baby off to full-day kindergarten, I was worried that I would be depressed and lonely. How would I spend my time? Maybe I would go back to work part-time? Focus more on writing? Get my photos organized and the “2016 Family Album” caught up? Or, finally clean out my storage room? Maybe I’d start cooking more meals from scratch and stockpiling my freezer with casseroles and soups? All great ideas in theory, but not in action…

Instead, I find myself rushing from drop-off to work out…to Costco/Target/Trader Joe’s…to the physical therapist’s/dentist’s/hair salon…home to change a load of laundry, clean up the house and to make dinner…and back to pick-up. Occasionally, I’ll sneak in a volunteer meeting or lunch with a friend. But, mostly, I feel like a little gerbil on a wheel: Running, running, running, but not really getting ahead on any of my grandiose plans…

I remember reading an article in the New York Times by Carl Richards titled, “Your Spending Choices Often Reflect Your Values.” In it, Richards asserts that if a future cultural anthropologist were to stumble upon one of your credit card statements, he could make basic assumptions about your values based on how you spend your money. He encourages the reader to take time to look at what you say you value, versus the values reflected on your receipts…and, to be more proactive about aligning the two.

When I look at my family’s crazy schedule on my iCal, I recognize that there isn’t a lot of free time right now. Our after school hours are jam-packed with homework, dinner and the juggling of three kids’ extracurricular activities. My husband’s evenings are often consumed with meetings and various call shifts. We are all racing against the clock to get everything on our “to do” lists accomplished before bedtime.

If a future anthropologist were to find my iCal, no doubt he’d think we were a little crazy and over-scheduled. But, he’d see that I value my family (they take up most of the space on my calendar). And, I value my health; I deliberately carve out time each day to exercise. He’d also see that I value my friendships, extended family and volunteerism. (Luckily, my iCal does not reveal all of the time I waste on mind-numbing Bravo TV and other guilty pleasures.)

As I sit and ponder where all of my time has gone, I realize that I need to be more intentional about setting aside time to do things that are important to me…and intentional about defining what is important to me. As my blog gets ready to celebrate its first anniversary, I need to decide if I want to make it a priority – or if I want to pursue other goals…

I also want to encourage you, my beloved reader, to look at your own calendar and to see if it reflects what is most important to you. Because, it’s true: Our time is finite, so we must cease the day!

xo Kara

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Grateful and Authentic: A Work In Progress

10.21.16

I recently celebrated another birthday; this one carried very little pomp and circumstance. However, it encouraged me to take a step back and to look at the big picture…to celebrate all of the experiences that have brought me to this point and to ask myself, where do I want to go from here?

During the past year, living a grateful and authentic life has become my personal mission statement. While I clearly have not mastered the art, I have learned a few things along the way:

  1. Be thankful and ask for help. Last January, I began keeping a prayer journal. Each morning, I try to take a minute to document my blessings; I celebrate everything from my strong cup of coffee to the sweet freckles on my daughter’s nose. Then, I pray for help… This simple ritual starts my day off on the right foot, with a thankful perspective and a calm heart.
  1. Collect authentic friends. I hear myself telling my kids to fill up their lives with friends who lift them up, make them happy and like them unconditionally.  Lately, I’ve had to remind myself to follow this advice, too.  Life is simply too short and too busy for “friends” that add stress and subtract joy.
  1. “No” is not a bad word. I’ve learned that saying yes to one thing means saying no to another. There are only so many minutes in each day. And, we all have a limited number of days. So, I have become more selective about how I fill up my calendar. Just because I think that I have time to take on another volunteer project or other commitment, it doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing for me (or my family).
  1. Each day is a gift. Ever since my birthday, my enthusiastic five-year-old (who loves everything birthday-related) keeps asking me, “Are you 41? Are you still 41?” Each, innocent question connects me to my aunt, who passed away at 41. It reminds me not to take anything or anyone for granted…
  1. Be brave and try new things. Writing this blog is completely outside my “box.” Putting my thoughts out into the “Universe” for others to read and judge is terrifying. Whenever someone mentions that they are following me, it makes me feel a little self-conscious (like I forgot to wear my cover-up to the pool). But, I appreciate the encouragement; it’s much more fun to have an audience than to write for myself.

So, thank you for joining me on my journey. I encourage you to take a step back and to admire your life…If you’re inspired to create your own “mission statement,” I’d love  for you to share it, too.

xo Kara

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Surrender, Enjoy the Journey

9.8.16

Twelve years ago, my first-born son arrived three weeks early and in the midst of Hurricane Frances. I remember the loud rain and crazy winds whirling around Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC. Nearby streets were flooding; I was so thankful to be safe, inside the hospital with my doctor and husband by my side. The next morning we learned that Frances spawned 101 tornadoes from Florida to Virginia…In hindsight, it seems like the perfect setting for my son to enter the world and for me to become a first-time mother.

Since then, motherhood has been a lot like a violent, cyclonic storm. No book or class could have possibly prepared me for it. And, I thought I was prepared. I’d read What to Expect when You’re Expecting; being an over-achiever, I’d even read ahead to What to Expect the First Year. My husband and I had taken the “Prepared Childbirth” classes and learned about labor, delivery and how to care for a newborn…

Looking back, I roll my eyes at the judgy person I was before I became a mother. I remember traveling for work and wondering why young parents around me could not calm fussy babies on airplanes?!? Or, why a frenzied mother of three would give her children sugary lollipops to keep them happy in the cart while shopping at Target?!? My son was born before everyone had iPhones, but I imagine that I would also have had an opinion about giving them to children in restaurants and waiting rooms…because I was prepared to be a really perfect mother. I was prepared to have perfect children…

But, God had other plans; we are all perfectly imperfect. And, twelve years into my journey as a mother, I’m thankful for my family with all of its flaws. I’m grateful for the lessons that my children have taught me about the silliness of pride and the beauty of authentic, unconditional love. I’m thankful that they’ve taught me to be humble and to give myself a little grace. I’ve also learned to extend that grace to other parents who are also struggling to do their best.

Back on September 8, 2004, when I first met my fragile, five-pound son, I felt like I was looking into my own eyes. He inherited them from me. Over the years, I’ve seen them reflect my own joy back at me (and my own strong-willed, stubbornness). Although we may not always agree on everything, when I look into my son’s eyes I can see that we are more alike than different.

As we celebrate his twelfth birthday, I can’t help but wonder if we are standing in the eye of the storm? No doubt, his teen years will bring new challenges. But, today I want to celebrate a dozen things (in no particular order) that I love about my son at age 12:

  1. His infinite thirst for knowledge.
  2. His insatiable appetite for books.
  3. His sensitive soul.
  4. His creative mind.
  5. His ability to forgive.
  6. His generous spirit.
  7. His easy laugh.
  8. His courage to color outside the lines.
  9. His kindness to younger children.
  10. His quirky sense of humor.
  11. His strong sense of loyalty.
  12. His inability to be anything but his authentic self.

If I could travel back in time to his birthday, I’d tell myself to relax and to surrender to the storm. As much as I will want to control my children and to protect them from danger, it isn’t possible. The best advice that I could give myself (and anyone who is reading along), is to simply enjoy the journey.

xo Kara

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Sometimes You Just Have To Laugh…

8.20.16

Ever since my first-born went off to kindergarten seven years ago, I’ve been dreading the day that my baby would follow in his footsteps. For the past month, I’ve felt depressed about sending my caboose to full-day kindergarten. Each new school year marks the passage of time in a tangible way: We are all a year older…and closer to graduation…and a quiet house (if all goes as planned).

This week, the first day of school arrived and my alarm went off at the crack of dawn; I realized that I really hadn’t slept at all: I’d had a long, restless and sad night…dreading the next morning’s drop-off and my youngest son’s first day of real school.

That morning I awoke three very tired and unhappy children. I made a big, healthy breakfast from scratch, which no one ate. I helped everyone get dressed in their stiff uniforms, combed their hair and laid out their brand new school shoes. Both boys started crying and yelling – telling me that their feet had grown or shrunk (one of each) and that the expensive school shoes no longer fit… I started seeing red and asking, “Why did you say they felt great when you tried them on in the store?”

Next, I loaded the kids into my car and the fighting never stopped… They couldn’t agree on the radio station. The kids in the back seat were arguing about trespassing across an imaginary line and invading each other’s personal space. My oldest child was upset because my youngest child was so excited for school (which was not cool). It went on and on and on…yelling…physical squabbling…loud unhappiness and bickering…

I pulled up to the front of the carpool line and looked out the window. All around me, mothers were taking photographs of their beautiful, beaming children, who were posing like perfect angels. I turned up the volume on the radio to try to drown out the angry voices around me. Then, it happened. My oldest child emitted the most horrific cloud of gas that I’ve ever smelt; I started gagging and kicked them out of my car…all three of them! My sweet little kindergartener took my daughter’s hand and walked to school with his little blue oxford shirt untucked. I thought, “Oh well, his first uniform infraction.” Then, I followed the car in front of me out of the lot. And, just like that, the moment I’d been dreading for seven years came and went in a cloud of putrid dust.

I was so thankful for the calm that surrounded me as I drove home that I forgot to be sad. I drove home with a sincere sense of peace and realized that I was grateful for that awful fart and all of the morning’s cacophony. I found myself laughing at the absurdity of the chain of events. As I look back, I see that crazy morning as a big, beautiful completely unexpected blessing. I am so thankful that God used humor and a little naughtiness to help me see that it’s okay. We are all ready for a little more independence and fresh air to breathe…

xo Kara

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End of Summer Blues or Celebration?

8.7.16

I’ve recently identified two camps of “mom friends.” The first camp is eagerly counting down the days/hours/minutes until the school doors swing open for the 2016-17 school year. The second camp is mourning the end of summer, commenting on how quickly it’s passed and how they wish it would last until Labor Day…at the very least!

I have mixed feelings about the end of summer. On one hand, I agree that it’s zipped by. The days were long, jam-packed with activities and quite exhausting. But, the weeks flew by. We all got older. The kids grew a little taller (and I grew a little wider). But, I think we maxed out summer. I think we packed as much fun into each day as possible. Now, I’m preparing for the next season.

I say preparing because I’m not quite prepared. This year, the first day of school for my kids will be my last official day as a full-time mom. For nearly twelve years, I’ve had at least one child with me during most of my waking hours. When my oldest was getting ready to start kindergarten, I began dreading this day and convinced my husband that we needed one more baby to keep me company… just to put off the inevitable a little while longer.

As my caboose’s first day of kindergarten approaches, I’m finally ready to begin my next chapter: one with time to take deep breaths and to refocus. To stop measuring all of my success in terms of my children’s behavior/academics/achievements… To start defining a few goals for myself as I enter my second half of life… Six years ago I wasn’t prepared to address these scary questions; now, I’m older, wiser and ready. (I think. I hope!)

Until September 23, my school hours will be consumed with planning a fundraiser for a local non-profit. I agreed to take on this role a year ago, thinking that it would be a welcome distraction from the sadness of sending my baby off to kindergarten. I reasoned that the flurry of phone calls, e-mails and meetings that go along with benefit planning will fill the new stillness of my days as I adjust to my new normal. Although all of the planning has made this summer more chaotic, I think it was the right choice. In the beginning, I will need to be busy.

My friends with school-aged kids tell me how quickly the school day flies by. They laugh when I tell them that I’m sad and worried about it… I realize that my standard “to do” list will not disappear and that it will be easier to knock it out without my little buddy in tow. But, I’m going to miss him. And I’m going to miss his preschool, his playgroup and our trips to the park, zoo and children’s museum… I also know that when the clock strikes 3:20, I will have to hit the ground running. There will be homework, activities and dinner: a lot to pack into those precious hours before bedtime.

While my heart is authentically blue about sending my baby off to kindergarten and having another summer behind us, I must choose to celebrate everything that’s ahead. This is going to be a big year. My baby is going to learn how to be a successful student, make new friends and important skills like reading and writing. He is probably going to lose the cute way he pronounces certain words. (I love the way he says “guls” instead of girls.) For my other two, I felt like kindergarten was the biggest year of change in their elementary school lives. That makes me excited for him…but part of me wants to keep him just the way he is. I do love my son at five and a half.

My middle daughter is going to start middle school. It will be a big year for her, too. But, I’m excited for her and know that she’ll rise to the occasion. She’s ready to decorate her locker and will enjoy mixing up teachers and managing a more challenging schedule. My oldest son began middle school last year and will help guide his little sister along. It’s going to be a year of change for all of us…a year of big, positive changes. I just need to keep focusing on all that we are gaining (not losing).

xo Kara

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Finding Our Happily Ever After…  

7.16.15

Tomorrow, my husband and I will celebrate our 18th wedding anniversary. It’s hard to believe that I met him when I was an 18-year-old sophomore at the University of Kansas. He literally almost knocked me off my off my feet when he bumped into me at “The Bull,” a dive bar down the road from my sorority and his fraternity. I remember thinking that I’d never met anyone quite like him. He was tall, tanned and handsome, with these intense blue eyes. He was also kind, driven, intelligent and athletic. He checked all of my boxes and then some…

About a week later, my sorority had a date dash: we were given 24 hours to find a date for a surprise party, which was planned for the next night. My first thought was to ask Kyle. I’d seen him running (shirtless) that afternoon and he’d yelled “Hey, Kara!” to me (a good sign). With a room full of sorority sisters, I mustered up the courage to call his fraternity and to ask for him. Eventually, he answered the phone; I asked if he had plans for the next night? He paused and said that he thought he might have to study. (It was a Friday night…and the first week of school!?!). Before I could say okay, he hung up on me. Stunned and embarrassed, I handed the phone to my roommate and said, “It’s your turn. I hope you have better luck!”

About a half hour later, the house phone rang and was connected to my room. It was Kyle. He said that he was asleep and confused when I called. When he tried to fall back asleep, he realized who I was and what he’d done. He asked if I’d found another date and I said, “No. I’m still trying to recover from your rejection.”

I’m not sure why I love this story; it’s pretty humiliating! My eleven-year-old son was asking about our first date a couple of days ago and I told it to him. He started laughing and said, “I’m sure glad that Dad came to his senses and called you back!” Me too.

Today, my own dad pointed out that I’ve spent the same amount of time as Kyle’s wife as I spent growing up in my parents’ home…It’s all gone by in a blink. I constantly hear myself commenting on how fast our three children are growing up. Although I’ve started buying wrinkle cream and coloring the silver sparkles that I am beginning to spot more frequently in my hair, I rarely pause and reflect on how quickly my husband and I are also growing up. (I think that sounds much better than growing old.)

When I look at photos from our wedding, I see two kids making grown-up promises. I see two bright-eyed, optimistic twenty-two year olds who cannot wait to take on adulthood together. We could not imagine the challenges or struggles that we’d face as a team. We could not envision the beautiful family that we’d create or the friends and experiences that we’d collect along the way. I am so thankful that I’ve had him as my teammate to help navigate the bumpy road of life. We continue to pursue our happily ever after, one small (and big) decision at a time. As we celebrate our 18th wedding anniversary, I’m so thankful that he made the correct first decision and chose to say, “Yes!” to me.

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180 Birthday Candles and 70 Years of Marriage

6.19.16

Last night, my family gathered to celebrate two of my favorite people and three really big accomplishments: two 90th birthdays and one 70th anniversary. As my house filled with loud, loving laughter…mixed with a little mischief, I realized that none of it would be possible without my wonderful grandparents.

For as long as I can remember, my Nana has personified love. As a child, I was given the gift of spending one week at their farm in Illinois each summer. She stocked her kitchen with all of my favorite (and forbidden) foods; I loved it when she served me ice cream sundaes for breakfast! We spent hours dressing the tiny barn kittens in doll clothes and strolling them around in a baby buggy. I loved making hollyhock dolls from the blooms in her magical garden. Each year, she’d take me on a day trip to Chicago to explore a different museum; I remember being amazed by Colleen Moore’s incredible dollhouse at the Museum of Science and Industry and begging to go back to see it again and again!

Later, my grandpa lovingly built my own cherished dollhouse. He allowed me to select the design plans and colors…wallpaper and flooring, too. It was a true labor of love: I cannot imagine how many hours went into this project. When my grandma would visit, she’d take me to Miniature World, where I’d select a small piece of furniture or whimsical accessory. Eventually my dollhouse was so overly decorated that it had seasonal decorations that I’d switch out, depending on the holiday… (Maybe, I was just a little spoiled?!?)

On the flip side, my Papa has always personified laughter. I remember him embarrassing my grandma when we were shopping at Water Tower Plaza. We came out of a store and put his hat on backwards and started walking pigeon-toed toward us, pretending that he had too much to drink. He yelled her name and waved wildly. She blushed and I giggled and giggled and giggled…

At 90, he still loves to entertain both himself and everyone around him. Just the other day, he was telling me about the identity thieves that have been targeting residents in their senior living community. They’ve been calling and pretending to be representatives of a health insurance company, hoping to get personal information. My grandpa got a phone call and the game was on. He said his name was Freddie Fudpucker. He spelled it very carefully then made up all sorts of information regarding his date of birth and address, etc. When it got to the phone number, he gave them the number for IRS Fraud line and said he’d be calling it next. He started laughing; the reply was a click. I love that my grandpa can find the humor in all situations. During another recent conversation, he was laughing about how he was on Hospice for a month last summer. He truly is a miracle and proof that attitude is everything.

My grandparents met in high school and married at age 20, after my grandpa returned from World War II. Seventy years of marriage is a great accomplishment, but being happily married for seven decades is exceptional. One of the joys of having my grandparents just down the street is that I’ve gotten to know them as an adult, myself. I often leave their apartment praying that my own mature marriage will have the same loving tenderness and patience that I witness each time I spend time with them.

My grandparents are among the people that I love and admire most. I’m so thankful for those 180 candles and 70 years of marriage. I’m lucky to be a branch on their family tree. I can only hope that I inherited some of their good stuff. To be honest, I see a lot of it in my own children. I hope that love and laughter remain dominant family traits for generations to come.

Teachable Moments: Finding the Good in the Bad

6.3.16

Sometimes it feels like you are sailing though life…loving your family, making new friends and feeling authentically happy. That is how I would describe the first weeks of summer: filled with sunshine and freedom.

My kids feel relieved to have a break from the rigors and routines of the school year. They’ve been enjoying long and lazy days, filled with unscheduled stretches of time that allow them to read books, play Legos and pick up spontaneous games of kickball with the neighborhood kids. This week, swim team practice and tennis clinics began; it’s felt good to add a little structure to our days… In short, our summer has been filled with abundant blessings.

Yesterday, I had a reality check when I walked into a situation where a pack of boys was treating one of my kids with cruelty. My child was asking “Why?” and was being laughed at as I walked up and stood next to him. The kids stopped and looked at me, wondering what I was going to do. I simply put my hand on my child’s shoulder and said that it was time to go home. As we walked away, I wondered if I handled the situation correctly…

This event completely sucked the wind out of my sails. My mom’s old saying describes my feelings perfectly: “You are only as happy as your saddest child.” I just cannot shake this overwhelming sense of sadness.

When your kids are toddlers and have a “booboo,” you can kiss the pain away. As they grow up, you become more of a passive spectator…a fan, cheering for them to make the right choices and to pick the right friends. You are backstage, making sure that they feel loved and supported at home; but, you realize that most of their daily experiences are completely out of your control.

Growing up is hard. Everyone wants to fit in and to be accepted. Some kids struggle more than others to find friends that click. Although I desperately wish that I could turn back the hands of time and prevent the ugly incident from happening, my hope is that this will become a teachable moment. From it, I hope that my child will learn to pick his friends more carefully. I hope that he will choose to fill his life with kids that make him feel happy and who can appreciate all of the qualities that I love most about him.

I need to let go and to move on with the understanding that all of the boys involved are also growing up and learning who they are and who they want to become. What I witnessed was a snapshot in time, not their defining story. Maybe my intrusion will create a teachable moment for them, too? Who knows? It’s time for me to focus on my blessings and to enjoy the short season of summer.

 

Rattlesnake Tails & Other Gifts From My Grandma

3.17.16

When I was a kindergartener, I brought a little baggie full of dried rattlesnake tails to “show and tell” at school. Thirty-five years later, I can still remember the shocked expression on sweet Mrs. Blackwell’s face as I stood in front of my class (with my big bow and perfectly curled hair, wearing a little dress with white knee-high socks and black mary janes) and explained that my grandma had killed all of these rattlesnakes with an ax on her ranch in Montana. I told my classmates that she had a large glass jar full of rattlesnake tails on the shelf in her basement, but I only took a few. I explained that she taught me that you can tell the age of a rattlesnake by counting its rattles; a rattlesnake grows 2-3 rattles each year of its life.   It was a “show and tell” first for Swanson Elementary.

My grandma, Mildred Spencer Monson, passed away more than 14 years ago. But, she’s been on my mind a lot this week. At times when I’ve felt like my life is hard, I’ve encouraged myself to summon my inner Mildred. When I compare my life to hers, I have it pretty easy.

Mildred was a strong woman. She killed rattlesnakes with an ax. She grew up in the Bear Paw Mountains of Montana. She received a formal education as a young girl, attended boarding school, college and went on to become a teacher. She married Melvin Monson (a handsome rancher), had three children and settled on a cattle ranch near Chinook, Montana. A regular day for her included waking up at the crack of dawn to milk cows, gather eggs, make three meals from scratch (no convenience items or microwave), tend the family garden (where she ran into many rattlers), sew her children’s clothes, wash all of the family’s clothes and dishes by hand . . . Oh, and teach grades first through eighth in the rural, one-room schoolhouse. She ran a small home without indoor plumbing for years. My dad remembers playing marbles with his siblings and listening to the radio at night for entertainment. The nearest town was about 25 minutes away (no Amazon.com). She was an expert at stretching the dollar. I fondly remember her cutting paper towels into fourths because that was cheaper than purchasing Kleenex (she’d done the math). She also stretched her coffee grounds by reusing them multiple times…

It really is amazing how quickly life has evolved in just a couple of generations in this country. I was trying to explain to my kids that cell phones did not exist when I was little and that I didn’t have an e-mail address until I was in college. In order to do a research paper for school, I used to have to go to the library and use a card catalog, microfiche film and encyclopedias (all foreign words to them); we did not have the Internet or a computer when I was in elementary school. They could not comprehend that my television only had three channels or that cartoons were only played on Saturday!

Modern conveniences have allowed us to save time, but somehow we’ve still managed to fill our calendars with more “stuff.” I wonder what Mildred would say as she scrolled through my family’s iCal for the week? Would she approve or would she scoff?

I think she’d question the value of spending so much time and money on extracurricular activities. I think she’d wonder why my children don’t help out more around the house and why I’m so exhausted at the end of the day. But, I think she would be incredibly proud of my oldest son, who inherited her love of learning. I think she’d smile as she took in all of the messy stacks of books around his room, noting many familiar ones that I inherited from her own book shelves; that image makes my heart happy.

When I was a little girl, I was told that I inherited my grandma’s eyes. As an adult, I catch myself thinking Mildred-like thoughts and doing Mildred-like things. I am thankful that I grew up with a strong grandma who taught me that you don’t need to be afraid of rattlesnakes or hard work.