Photo Op

Pssstt...update!

 

Time for an update, but I won’t keep you long, you busy people!

My Sibling Revelry Project, which I first mentioned back in the fall, has picked up considerable momentum. If you haven’t tuned in, I would love for you to follow along and see what’s new.

A recap: The Sibling Revelry Project is an ongoing photography project that captures the spirit of siblinghood through images and interviews. I meet with siblings of all ages and backgrounds in their natural environments to highlight the unique stories and universal truths of siblinghood.

In the last few months I have featured siblings ranging in age from 4 months to 92 years…including two sets of twins, several pairs of youngsters, and a set of five adult siblings. Though each group has been different, undeniably timeless (and hilarious) themes keep emerging.

Case in point: the conversation below between these charming whippersnappers. (Raise your hand if you know a sibling who does this, too!)

 

Speaking of bringing something to attention…

I’m thrilled to share that I have been nominated for an exciting award for my work on the Sibling Revelry Project. The Iris Awards are annual awards hosted by Mom 2.0 Summit to recognize achievements and creativity in the Internet’s vast world of parenting content. I’ve been nominated in the Best Photography category. Only past attendees of Mom 2.0 or Dad 2.0 conferences are eligible to vote, so I’m not even asking you to click anything. Just join me in celebrating the nomination!

This week I’ll be in Orlando for the Mom 2.0 Summit and the Iris Awards…connecting and learning and celebrating the industry. I plan to be spreading the world about the Sibling Revelry Project and finding ways to expand this project. There’s so much on the horizon, y’all! I hope you will tune in and follow along on Instagram or Facebook.

And if you want to talk details or sponsorship opportunities, shoot me an email!

Thanks, as always, for your enthusiasm and support!

Liz

The Sibling Revelry Project

The sibling dynamic has always fascinated me...I've talked about it, read about it, written about it, photographed about it, hashtagged about it, you name it. As long as I can remember it's been a topic that resonated on a very deep level with me. (Typical Middle Child/Only Girl behavior? Hello observant, empathetic negotiator.)

When my husband and I started a family back in 2002, I hoped a sibling would soon follow. My dream, as I wrote years later, went something like this...

"I never wanted a child. I always wanted children.

Siblings, confidantes, compadres, chums. Tattlers, teachers, accomplices, antagonists. Rivals, secret-keepers, scapegoats and partners-in-crime. Mentors and tormentors.

I wanted wagon pullers, swing pushers, fort builders and sand-castle destroyers. I wanted a full table, too many backpacks, and commas on our Christmas card.

I wanted a firstborn, a middle, a baby. I wanted to marvel at both the reliable and the shattered stereotypes. I wanted shifting alliances and third wheels. Teamwork and the circling of wagons.

For better or worse, I wanted individual players in the ultimate team sport. Sharing the same space, fighting for the same oxygen. Believe it or not, I wanted splash fights, inane arguments, thrown elbows in the hallway, imaginary Do Not Cross or Else! lines..."

So here I am. Living and breathing and observing siblinghood every day. I'm fully immersed in the battles over time, energy and oxygen. It's not always pretty, but it's usually entertaining and sometimes enlightening.

To celebrate these lifelong relationships, I'm launching a new project that aims to capture the heart and humor of siblinghood. The Sibling Revelry Project is starting on Instagram and I hope you'll follow along and see where we go. (@siblingrevelryproject).

I'm planning to photograph a wide range of siblings young and not-so young, so send me ideas and please spread the news ... I swear it's not tattling!

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The legend lives on

 

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So, this awesome photo-op happened the other day. If you don’t live in Austin you might be wondering what I’m doing cozying up with a statuesque guy in a bra and thong undies. Hell, if you DO live in Austin you might be wondering the same thing. Or you might be wondering…why does Liz get to do ALL OF THE COOL THINGS?

Well, in this case it boils down to being in the right place at the right time and being an aggressively friendly neighbor. (I can’t help it—and by the way would you like to help me organize the next block party?) It started a few nights ago when my husband and I were out walking the dog. We took our usual loop and passed a white-haired neighbor as he was climbing out of his truck. He flagged us down and asked, “Hey, do y’all remember Leslie?” Because we’ve lived in Austin for nearly 20 years, we didn’t return his question with a blank stare.

Of course we know Leslie! Well, knew him. Or rather, knew of him. Everyone did.

Leslie Cochran was a local legend—a cross-dressing homeless man who was especially fond of barely-there thongs, sparkly tiaras and feathered boas. He ran for mayor three times and claimed to have coined the “Keep Austin Weird” slogan. He certainly embraced the motto and was adored all over town. Leslie spent a lot of time on 6th Street, flashing skin and entertaining the party-going masses with his stories and his charm. For a tip, he would pose for photos and usually give unsolicited advice. When he died in 2012 a large crowd gathered at Auditorium Shores—many wearing thongs and boas—to celebrate his very large life.

Now the party lives on. It turns out that our neighbor Bob was collecting signatures to “Put Leslie back on the streets” with a sculpture that would reside on a downtown bench near Leslie’s old stomping grounds. Bob is a retired architect and current sculptor. He told us that the Leslie project was not just a petition, but a reality in the works. And by in the works, I mean Leslie was in his backyard right at that moment. I didn’t hesitate: Can we see him??

Bob was happy to oblige, and we got an impromptu tour of the lush garden that his wife maintains. We spotted Leslie’s arms and legs lounging on the covered porch, and we learned that at this stage of a project, Bob stores most of his larger sculptures as disassembled pieces. Looming nearby was another half-built masterpiece: an imposing depiction of Stephen F. Austin. From the waist down, The Father of Texas stood with one leg bent powerfully in front of him, the tail of his frontiersman coat blowing behind him with bold authority. And in a perfect moment of too-awesome-to-be-true, there was Leslie’s armless body…propped up against Austin’s thigh, wearing a bra and smiling as big as Texas.

Bob assembled Leslie with care so that my husband and I could take turns posing with him. As you can see, I was downright giddy by this point. There’s just something magnetic about Leslie, even in statue form. Bob captured it all, right down to his stilettos.

If the project gets approved and funded, Austinites and tourists will always be able to hang out with Leslie and grab a photo with the legend. I can’t think of anything weirder or greater.

 

Seemed like a good idea at the time

Need I say more?

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My friends and I are all riffing on the same theme today... Go visit their blogs and see what kind of brilliance and hilarity they found in hindsight.

Two Cannoli

Genie in a Blog

Smacksy

Good Day Regular People

My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog

The Mama Bird Diaries

Midlife Mixtape

When Did I Get Like This?

Arnebya

Up Popped A Fox

The Flying Chalupa

Suburban Scrawl

Goodness

Like a lot of families, we try to incorporate volunteering into our lives--to support our community and to teach our kids by example. As a family we have done countless school fundraisers and charity races. We’ve collected blankets for animals and coats for kids. We've hosted bake sales for needy families and planted trees for needy parks. Every one of those projects was worthwhile and engaging, but this year we decided to switch things up. Instead of one-time projects we wanted to offer a steady stream of goodwill. We wanted an ongoing commitment that our family could do together and feel a real sense of investment.

It sounded simple enough because of course a city the size of Austin has plenty of needs. Then we factored in our kids’ age range and our busy family life and it wasn’t so easy after all.

So we started researching and began with this wish list:

1. Something meaningful to us.

2. Something that works with our family schedule.

3. Something that lets us work with friends.

Y’all, I’m happy to say we found a match!

It’s only been a couple months, but it already feels so great. Once a month we meet some friends (another family of 5) at Mobile Loaves & Fishes. We make sandwiches for the homeless and load up one of the trucks that goes out for delivery 365 days a year. When our schedules allow, we hope to make some of the delivery runs, too. A few incredible stats: Mobile Loaves & Fishes has 16 trucks and more than 18,000 volunteers in 5 cities and 4 states. They have served nearly 3.9 million meals to the homeless. That’s too many sandwiches to count!

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The organization has also created a 27-acre master-planned community that will provide affordable, sustainable housing and a supportive environment for the chronically homeless. We have worked out at the Community First Village and, like the truck ministry, it is full of family-friendly volunteer opportunities. In fact, one of MLF’s greatest strengths as an organization is how systematic and accessible they are. It’s so easy to volunteer that it takes away any obstacles or excuses.

Working with friends has been a huge perk. Our kids love seeing their friends in this type of setting. Sure, they joke around some, but they also take their jobs very seriously and try to out-awesome each other with their volunteer skills. As a bonus, with two families we have more flexibility if a kid gets sick or someone has a conflict.

And is the project meaningful for our family? Yes. Unfortunately, homelessness is a part of our daily landscape. We live in the middle of the city, a few blocks from an intersection that has at least one guy standing on the corner at all times of the day.

We use this intersection several times a day and for the past couple of years, a man named Eddie has been there almost every day. Eddie is there when we drive to ballet, to soccer, to art class. He’s there when we go to the grocery store, when we go for a run, when we go eat at a restaurant. Our kids see him when he’s cheerfully waving to all the drivers, when he’s yelling at a bystander’s dog, and when he’s stumbling up and down the curb with a bottle in his hand.

Countless times the kids have asked why nobody is helping Eddie. I’m usually at a loss for words. “Maybe people are trying...maybe he has a hard time accepting help...maybe he’s fighting some demons we don’t know about.”

Since we started helping Mobile Loaves & Fishes, the kids have a new question: “Do you think Eddie will get this sandwich tonight?” Maybe. I hope so. And if not this Eddie, then it will certainly help another Eddie we haven’t met.

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The holiday season is a great time of year to support your community, but it’s also a great time to commit to supporting it year-round. I hope you find something valuable that works for you and your family!

Other Austin organizations we love and support:

The Trail Foundation Austin Parks Foundation Little Helping Hands Austin Pets Alive

A week of summer

It was only a week--a tiny blip in the 12-week universe that is summer around here. But for 7 days I kept my camera handy (Ok, handier than normal) and tried to capture our family's summer vibe in images, while still enjoying the fleeting moments as they happened. That's always the trick. Typically my kids hardly notice when I shoot photos of them, but they definitely do when the volume picks up. More than once this past week I heard, "Mooommm...put the phone down." I did, I swear...but not before I captured a few goodies. Hope you enjoy! To see the full #aweekofsummer series, visit my Instagram feed (@ewmcguire).

Happy Summering! Liz

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If you like this, you might like my #aweekofmornings or #aweekofevenings series.

Love is a rock

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It started with a slick, dark rock retrieved from a mountain stream by a boy totally in his element: filthy, soaking wet and up to his knees in adventure.

He presented the heart-shaped rock to me in the completely casual way that 10-year-old boys often do. Check this out, Mom. You should have it. And I reacted in the overly sentimental way that 42-year-old Moms often do. I love this so much, buddy! I will find a special place for it next to all the other treasures you have given me!

Because things have a way of working out this way, his small gift started a habit that I've continued for a year. Whenever I'm out exploring, walking the dog, or really anywhere...one eye is on the lookout for heart-shaped treasures. Usually they are rocks, but sometimes leaves, cacti, shadows or puddles. A friend swears they seem to find me, not the other way around.

All three kids have joined in on the hunt. On my weekly runs with my oldest son, he insists we bring along my phone so we can photograph any hearts we find. For me, this simple tradition has become a moveable gratitude practice, a moment to pause, a hello from the universe, a hug from a lost loved one.

It's a small reminder to seek and you shall find. Look for love and you'll find it everywhere.

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Follow me on Instagram to see more of my #heartshape and #heartshaperock collections. #loveisallaround, y'all.

 

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A week of evenings

I had so much fun capturing bits and pieces of our mornings with my #aweekofmornings series that I've decided to tackle the flip side. The dark side, in my opinion. It's only Tuesday, and I'm already daunted by the task. With three kids ages 6, 10 and 12, our evenings are often a complicated test of logistics and endurance. Long gone are the days of scheduled toddlers and early bedtimes. (Longer gone are also the days of walking around with a wailing newborn in the witching hour, so let's keep some perspective.) For me, the glory days were a brief and perfect time when our family's evening routine consistently looked like this: Kid dinner promptly at 5:00, baths at 6:00, bedtime at 6:30, and adult-only dinner afterward, with no nuggets and ketchup in sight.

Now our routine changes daily depending on work responsibilities, kid schedules and carpool duties. When I have my act together and our schedules allow, I prep dinner in the morning and have it ready for all of us to enjoy together. Sounds lovely, but for us it's only a realistic goal maybe twice a week. Many other nights I'm throwing sandwiches in a bag, raiding the kids' lunch boxes for whatever they didn't eat earlier, and hustling everyone into the car for soccer/ballet/biking/etc.

Despite the full calendar, we carve out mini-routines where we can. Bedtime always involves books. It always involves rituals, no matter how small or strange. One kid wants hugs and kisses and movie-star air kisses in a very particular order. Another kid prefers a quick tuck-in, a special repeated phrase, and lights immediately out. The other wants the sheets and pillows just so and then a glass of water with ice and multiple check-ins just in case. If there's anything we've learned as parents, it's to not fight these evening rituals too much, no matter how exhausted we are, no matter that some feel like stalling techniques, and no matter that a kid was just screaming at us 10 minutes ago because they had the Worst Day Ever. Nobody likes to go to bed grumpy, and the rituals seem to settle us all down.

That said, there's no predicting how an evening will go. Someone can forget homework at the last minute, or fall apart because favorite jammies are dirty, or just be sick and tired of dealing all day. Other nights there is singing in the shower and relaxed chapters of Harry Potter. Your guess is as good as mine...Tune in to my Instagram feed this week, and we'll find out together.

2015.04.07.evenings-1 Monday 8:30pm. Busy boy avoiding bed. Patient dog waiting for attention.

2015.04.07.evenings-2 Monday 8:30pm. Already well past his bedtime and he's asking for 5 more minutes.

 

2015.04.07.evenings-3 Monday 8:45pm. Late dinner for our dedicated ballerina.

 

My #aweekofevenings project runs from April 6-12, and all the images can be found on Instagram @ewmcguire.

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In other news...

I was thrilled to have the story of our new mother/son running routine featured on Huffington Post last week.

I have a new professional Facebook page and would love to get your Like on it. 

Thanks again for all your enthusiasm and support.

xoxo, Liz

A week of mornings

Mornings: Everybody’s got them. I happen to be a fan of them, and this week I’m documenting mine on Instagram. I’ve always been a morning person. As a kid I was the one at sleepovers who woke up early and had to lay there quietly, listening to unfamiliar sounds until my host would finally, finally wake up and show me where her mom kept the Froot Loops.

In college I consistently took 8:00am classes and would come home for lunch (and a nap) right as my roommates were waking.

A decade later as a new mom, I thought my early bird tendencies would totally pay off...but as all veteran parents know, every sleep habit goes to hell when a baby comes along. It wasn’t until I made peace with the fact that I would be exhausted for several years that I stopped counting my hours of shut-eye and got back into my regular early-morning routine, despite how my babies were sleeping.

Now here I am with growing kids and a busy family schedule. Waking up early has become a key factor to my personal happiness because absolutely nobody in my family needs me at 5:00am. That means it’s all about my own needs until the split second I walk back through the door...and then all bets are off.

The mornings aren't over this week, so there are still more photos to come, but here's a small taste of the whole series. Enjoy!

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The #aweekofmornings thread was started by Xanthe Berkeley and has some incredibly lovely photos from all over. Plug in that hashtag and serve with your favorite breakfast!

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Before/After

Apparently it really does take months to unpack, but I think we are now as close to settled as we're going to get. As promised, I've got lots of before and after photos for you. It's so weird seeing the old photos of our home, even though most were taken just a year ago. The rooms are familiar and strange all at once. A quick overview of the remodel: We started with 1,650 square feet (3 bedrooms, 2 baths, 1 living room and 1 small loft that we used as a bedroom). The goal was to get all the kids upstairs, rearrange the downstairs for better traffic flow and add a second living space. We also wanted to brighten up the entire house and pare down our furnishings to make everything look more cohesive. It was a tall order, but our awesome team made it happen. Because of neighborhood restrictions, we were limited on the amount of square footage we could add, but we were able to fit 3 new bedrooms and 2 new baths upstairs in 830 sf. (Hooray for a creative architect and a determined homeowner!) We went from 1,650sf to 2,480sf and love the final result. It feels like our old house vibe, but better...What more could we ask for?

 

EXTERIOR BEFORE: 2014.02.03.House-23

EXTERIOR AFTER: 2015.04.House-3

ENTRY BEFORE: IMG_4621.JPG (1)-2

ENTRY AFTER: 2015.02.04.House-57

ENTRY AFTER: 2015.02.04.House-51

LIVING ROOM BEFORE: 2014.02.HouseBefore-10

LIVING ROOM AFTER: 2015.02.04.House-35

LIVING ROOM BEFORE: 2014.02.HouseBefore-13-2

LIVING ROOM AFTER: 2015.02.04.House-38

DINING ROOM BEFORE: 2014.02.HouseBefore-22

DINING ROOM AFTER: 2015.02.04.House-6

DINING ROOM BEFORE: 2014.02.HouseBefore-19-2

DINING ROOM AFTER: 2015.02.04.House-12

OFFICE BEFORE: 2014.02.HouseBefore-8

OFFICE AFTER: 2015.02.04.House-83

KITCHEN BEFORE: 2014.02.HouseBefore-16-3

KITCHEN AFTER: 2015.02.04.House-14

STAIRS BEFORE: 2014.02.HouseBefore-23

STAIRS AFTER: 2015.02.04.House-64

MASTER BEDROOM BEFORE: IMG_4645.JPG-2

MASTER BEDROOM AFTER (now TV room): 2015.02.27.House-3

MASTER BEDROOM BEFORE: IMG_4652.JPG-2

MASTER BEDROOM AFTER (now TV room): 2015.02.27.House-11

UPSTAIRS BEFORE (photo is 5 yrs old, but gives size perspective. This was the entire upstairs): IMG_1224

NEW VIEW LOOKING UPSTAIRS: 2015.02.27.House-23

And then some AFTER photos that don't really have BEFORE shots...

NEW MASTER SUITE (created by combining two small downstairs bedrooms and a hall bath): 2015.02.06.House-27-2

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THE 12-YR-OLD'S ROOM: 2015.02.06.House-6

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NEW BATH (GIRLS): 2015.02.04.House-100

NEW BATH (BOYS): 2015.02.04.House-113

THE 10-YR-OLD'S ROOM: 2015.02.06.House-16

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THE 6-YR-OLD'S ROOM: 2015.02.04.House-109

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GOOD LUCK CHARMS BEFORE: IMG_4624.JPG-3

GOOD LUCK CHARMS AFTER: 2015.02.04.House-17

Thanks for taking the ride with us! If you want to see previous posts about the project, check out these... Makeover Madness Dismantling I Spent Three Solid Days Obsessing Over Grout Color So You Don't Have To Moving Home

Also, big thanks to our team: Paul DeGroot, ArchitectGary Zygmont, Urban Home Builders and Houzz, which fueled my obsession and inspiration for every last design detail.

Throwback Thursday: Namesake

So many things I love about this photo, which I shot a little over 6 years ago....

My wee one was only a few weeks old, and we had gone on tour to show him off to loved ones who couldn't travel to see him. Here he is meeting his great-Grandpa, who shares his middle name. When I hear the phrase circle of life I think of small moments like this...beginnings and endings all blurred together, propelled by the love and energy of everyday life. Forget the big, bold stuff. Richness lies in these tiny atoms of beauty and grace.

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What my dog is wondering right now...

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What time does the school bus come? Do I smell a snack? What's so funny 'bout peace, love and understanding? Is it nature or nurture? How long til Liz makes me get off this yummy rug and on to my bed? Why does everyone in the house have a regular bed except me? What does “weight-management” dog food mean? I bet Isis from Downton has a sweet deal. And a king-sized bed. How did Katy Perry changed clothes so quickly during the Super Bowl show? What the hell, Sarah Koenig? Does anybody really know what time it is? How long until dinner? Plant, animal or mineral? Remind me again why Pluto can’t be a planet? How does gravity work? Why is it OK to chew on that rectangular thing but not this one? If everything evolved from amoebas, how do we still have amoebas? Squirrel? Squirrel?? Is it mind over matter or matter over mind? Why does Liz think I need music on when she leaves the house? I'm a dog. And the mailman is coming in 3, 2, 1.... I hope I peed on enough spots this morning. I totally could have caught that chicken if I hadn't been on the leash. Why the hell are there chickens living in the middle of our city? If a cat meows in the neighborhood and nobody hears it, did it really make a noise? What's the frequency, Kenneth?

 

Replacing the irreplaceable

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If you follow me on Instagram you may have seen this photo. I have an affection for heart-shaped rocks and photograph them whenever I spot one. This particular limestone treasure sits on the property line between our wonderful neighbors and us.

Unfortunately we are losing these neighbors soon and I'm seriously bummed about them leaving our street. They aren’t going far, but anyone who has been lucky enough to have an amazing next-door neighbor knows how special the relationship can be.

So, now that their house is on the market I’ve offered to help screen the shoppers. It’s a crazy world out there and you never know who you’re going to get. To make it easier on all of us, I even drafted a handy questionnaire. For my readers’ benefits, I’ve included the correct answers. If you are a good candidate or know one, I just might put in a good word for you!

1. Do you have kids? Between the ages of 6 and 12?

Correct answer: Yes and Yes. No offense to the young professionals, the empty nesters, the intentionally childless, or the families with babies who make a midlife uterus do nostalgic flip-flops. But yeah...we are looking for neighbors with young kids.

2. Do you like kids?

Correct answer: Oh I get it. Trick question...because not everyone who has kids actually likes kids and not everyone without kids dislikes them. But yes, I like kids. Especially the noisy ones.

3. Is your kid perfect?

Correct answer: Are you serious? What a dumb question. No...Is yours?

4. Will you freak out if my kid acts like an ass to yours?

Correct answer: No? Maybe? I hope not, but if I do, I will be able to talk about it like a grownup. See answer above: kids are not perfect. And newsflash: neither are grownups.

5. What will you do if we see each other early Sunday morning, braless and in jammies retrieving our newspapers?

Correct answer: I will wave from afar. Unless I have really good gossip that cannot wait.

6. Do you keep avocados in stock?

Correct answer: Yes. And if yours is firm and mine is ripe and you need it for a recipe tonight I will gladly trade you.

7. Do you have a dog? Does it sometimes bark?

Correct answers: Yes and yes. It’s a dog...sometimes dogs bark. But I put it inside or give it a bone to chew on when the noise gets too much.

8. Would you mind if you found my kids digging through your recycling bin for building supplies?

Correct answer: No problem, as long as they aren’t drinking from my wine bottles.

9. Do you appreciate the difference between the all-day playdate vs. the 30-minute, outside-only playdate?

Correct answer: Oh yes! The all-day, in-and-out of the house/yard/pantry playdate is awesome and so wonderfully old school. But then there are days when the house is actually clean and you want it to stay that way for more than 5 minutes. And let’s face it, sometimes we need our space. Those days I'm all, “Stay outside! Thirsty? Turn on the hose! Hungry? Wait til dinnertime!”

10. Will you invite me to every single jewelry/kitchen gadget/clothing party you host?

Correct answer: I am allergic to those kinds of parties.

11. If my kid politely asks you to buy whatever kind of scout/charity thing he’s selling, will you buy one?

Correct answer: Every single time.

12. What’s your stance on toilet papering the house and trees?

Correct answer: I don’t if you don’t.

13. Are you going to blog about me behind my back?

Correct answer: I won't if you won't.

Hammering

2015.01.write-1 Sometimes you just have to start. Pick up the damn hammer and put a hole in the wall. How hard can that be? It’s only a tiny hole. Sure, it might end up being in the wrong place...too high, too low, too wonky. There is always potential for error. In fact, you may get a few holes into the project and realize you have the entirely wrong kind of equipment. You may have to pull everything out and start completely over, in the process making a mess or making a scene. Cleaning, patching and cussing invariably follow. If you are lucky, there will be no permanent damage.

But you have to start. You have to remember that this is not your first time. You’ve sat right here, usually in a January much like this one, and you’ve made plans and charted goals. You are not a rookie. You know that starting is the hardest part.

Yet. You are experienced enough to know that once you do finally start, once you make that first hole, you’ll eventually hang something on that hook, and it’s quite possible this something will look like garbage. Perhaps its no fault of the artwork, but once it’s placed, it simply may not work in the spot you imagined. You may find yourself starting all over again. You may have to scrap the plan entirely.

You may even (gasp) have to live for a while with a bare hook on the wall...goading and taunting you for your inability to finish something. That’s certainly one way to look at it. It’s often my default. But you could also take that bare hook as a sign of determination and optimism...a sign of starting. A sign of doing the hardest part.

A sign of picking up the hammer and hammering away.

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Happy New Year, readers!

I’m looking forward to a new year of storytelling through words and images. Thanks for being here and inspiring me to start...and then to keep going. Liz xoxo

Throwback Thursday: 5 years

Phew...I'm back! Life got crazy for a variety of reasons, and my blog got the short end of the deal, but I'm happy to be here now! Today, in honor of Throwback Thursday AND my 5-year blogiversary, I'm looking through my old posts with fresh eyes. I'm discovering and rediscovering all kinds of treasures...

I'm finding that of course some things change and others stay the exact same. Siblinghood continues to be equal parts harmony, chaos, discord and joy. That's why we call it Sibling Revelry, right?

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I'm finding excellent and timely reminders about parenting and forgotten photos that need no caption.

I'm finding that I hardly recognize the faces in my early blog days.

And I'm finding that some things really never get old. No wonder these are my kids' favorite three posts: Next lesson: What is lame? See also: "Totally bogus" I mean, seriously

I'm finding that I STILL get traffic on this post and frequent requests for the bumper stickers. (I've still got them if you want. Long live Tami Taylor!)

But mostly I'm finding that I'm grateful to have this blog and people who cheer it on. I've always been happiest at the place where stories, family and art intersect. Thanks for sharing that space with me!

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Boys Allowed

2014.BoysBooksPromo2 After last week's piece about my daughter's book club, I received numerous "What about the boys??" questions. Good questions with simple answers...

My 5-year-old is too young for a book club. When he thinks of reading it is all about snuggling and hearing a great story. This summer he has been devouring the Magic Treehouse series. Which means Hubs and I are "devouring" these stories right along with him. For the third time. (Will Jack and Annie make it back to the treehouse in time?? Let's find out! Really great stories, but yeah...third time, my friends.)

My 10-year-old son, a definite bookworm, is simply not interested in a book club. In fact, sitting down with a dozen buddies and talking about books just might fall into the Worst Idea Ever category. Even though he loves books and buddies. Just not his thing.

However...the great mother-child conversations that have grown out of my daughter's book club are pretty special, so of course I want to experience something like that with my boys. The connection is still the goal, but my approach is very different. Like so many things boy-related, my approach is deceptively casual and super stealthy.

We started by reading to him for years, even past the time he could handle a hefty book. Our favorites were always the books like Harry Potter and Peter and the Starcatchers, which combine adventure, suspense and (this is key!) humor.

I now try to keep up with what he's reading so I have at least a working knowledge of what he's enjoying. We go to the library regularly. We spend a small fortune at our favorite bookstore. We he finishes a book and stares at his bookshelf like an open fridge proclaiming he has NOTHING TO READ, I do some research and find a list of books to try. (As I mentioned in the other post: great resources include librarians, bookstores, online reading groups. Google is your BFF here.)

When he does find that cool/awesome/epic book, I ask questions. But only (and this is key too) only when we are doing something else like riding bikes or walking the dog, or shooting hoops in the driveway. If he's doing something else, it doesn't feel like homework...it feels like a casual conversation. And before we know it, he is relaying the cryptic plot of his latest Sci-Fi novel. Sometimes I have no idea what he's talking about. But he's talking! And he's so excited! And if I get lucky, I eventually catch on to a few basic details so I can ask relevant questions.

Sometimes I know the book well, and the conversation turns to wonderfully familiar ground. We fall back on inside jokes. He quizzes me on what kind of demigod I would be and why. He asks me for the thousandth time to name my favorite Harry Potter character. We agree that no matter your favorite character, we all pretty much want to be part of the Weasley clan.

And without even knowing it, without trying too too hard...we've suddenly had a really great, genuine mother-son moment. Very stealthy. Mrs. Weasley would be proud.

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Just as I did with my daughter's book club post, I've included some book ideas for boys. Some of the titles overlap, which is no surprise. Of course there's no such thing as Boy Books and Girl Books...but the following titles have been particularly popular with my son during his early elementary years.

1st/2nd Grade Dragonslayer’s Academy by Kate McMullan Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney Big Nate by Lincoln Peirce Magic Tree House (series) by Mary Pope Osborne Encyclopedia Brown by Donald J. Sobol Geronimo Stilton (series) by Geronimo Stilton Origami Yoda (series) by Tom Angleberger The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White Harry Potter (series) by J.K. Rowling Amulet (series) by Kazu Kibuishi Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick Guardians of Ga’hoole (series) by Kathryn Lasky Anything by Road Dahl

3rd/4th Grade The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis Holes by Louis Sachar The Mysterious Benedict Society (series) by Trenton Lee Stewart Savvy by Ingrid Law Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson (honestly, just go ahead and buy the boxed set because they will read them over and over again for years.) The Wonderful O by James Thurber Regarding the Fountain by Kate Klise Peter and the Starcatchers (series) by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson Platypus Police Squad by Jarrett J. Krosoczka Wonder by R.J. Palacio Love from your friend, Hannah by Mindy Warshaw Skolsky The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate Wildwood by Colin Meloy A Series of Unfortunate Events (series) by Lemony Snicket Hoot by Carl Hiaasen Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper Anything by Rick Riordan

Must-Have Reference Books for Boys Defending Your Castle by William Gurstelle Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden The Boys’ Book: How to Be the Best at Everything by Dominique Enright Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun by Elizabeth Foy Larsen, Joshua Glenn, Heather Kasunick and Mister Reusch

The Club pt. 2

Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 9.35.16 AM A few months ago I wrote about the book club I share with my 11-year-old daughter and the countless gifts it has given back to both of us. The club keeps my daughter connected to friends who share her passion for stories, and it keeps me connected to my child and a wonderful group of tweens.

Since the essay ran, I was thrilled to see The Huffington Post pick up the story and even more flattered to receive emails from readers looking for suggestions on starting a club of their own. I’m happy to share what we have learned! Just as with any endeavor, there are a million ways to organize it, but the following path has worked for our club.

STARTING OUT Enlist a few leaders. We have three Book Moms who are the primary organizers. We rotate houses each month and share responsibilities for reading the books, planning discussion questions and bringing snacks. We also pick the books (more to come on that). Even though we welcome any of the moms to join us at meetings, typically it’s just the three of us. I’ve heard of other book clubs that are true mother-daughter activities (with every mom and daughter attending together), but our goal from the beginning was to focus on the girls and their relationships. As a result, it’s the girls’ book club, but we three leaders happen to reap some pretty great mother-daughter rewards with our own girls. We also decided that a full mother-daughter club would change the vibe significantly. It would be easy for the meeting to turn into a social hour with so many adult friends. We also know that some of our girls specifically request that their moms do not crash book club. It's their club, thankyouverymuch.

As for the club size, we try to keep the group no larger than about 12 girls. Any more and it gets unwieldy.

Our group began when the girls were in 2nd grade. I love that we started so early because it gave them a common thread of friends throughout their years at our large elementary school. At this age, you typically have a wide variety of readers (reading levels, stamina, attention span.) To address that, we picked two books a month: one easy and one challenge book. Everyone read at least one book; some read both. By 4th grade, we cut back to reading only one (longer) book each month.

Every August we set up the schedule and then meet monthly from September to May, usually making the December and May meetings half meeting and half party.

PICKING BOOKS The first year we asked the girls to vote each month on a new book, but we quickly found it hard for families to plan on such short notice. Now the three Book Moms decide the list for the entire year so families have time to borrow/buy the books and the girls have time to finish them.

We get our books ideas from all over: We take suggestions from the girls, poll our favorite librarians and booksellers, look at the Texas Bluebonnet Award list (an annual list of recommended books for Texas grade schoolers), scroll through Amazon and see what comes up as “related books,” browse sites like Goodreads, and visit Facebook groups devoted to reading recommendations.

We are fortunate that the moms in our club are wonderful and trusting of our book decisions. It helps that we are all friends, so there is a certain ease when talking about which books are appropriate for the club. So far this hasn’t been an issue, but as our girls enter middle school we know that the books will only get more mature and complex. For now, we have kept the controversial books out of the mix. (For example, we didn’t read The Hunger Games or the Divergent series for the club, although many of the girls read them on their own. Now some girls are stretching into true YA territory with books like The Fault in Our Stars, and we need to adapt our approach accordingly.)

STRUCTURING MEETINGS Usually all the Book Moms read the book, but the host is the one who also prepares the discussion questions. The discussion questions don’t need to be highbrow, academic efforts. In general, you can’t go wrong with: What did you like/dislike, what did you learn, what did you relate to? And this site is a great place to start for questions that fit almost any novel.

I also love to ask questions that tie back to the author. Questions that help the girls think like writers. What questions do you have for the author? Why did the author write it this way? What did the writer have to research before writing this book?

As a mother, you may need to learn to bite your tongue during some of the discussions. Of course the girls get off track, sometimes have lame answers, or maybe don’t get excited about a book. Follow their lead...Some books encourage lively conversation and some are a total bust. Don’t be afraid to say, “Wow, nobody LOVED this book. Why is that? How does it compare to others you loved? What would you have done differently if you were the author?

Our goal is to keep the vibe upbeat and casual, but still focused. This translates into a 90-minute meeting on a Sunday afternoon, with 30 minutes of book discussion and an hour of snack and backyard play.

We don’t keep a log or notes during the meetings, but at the end of the year we take a poll to ask which books they liked best and why.

At the close of every meeting we leave time for the girls to recommend any other books they are reading. This has turned into a favorite part of the meeting because the girls, avid readers every one of them, share books they adore. They gush. They try to summarize without spoiling. They draw comparisons to other books and try to wow the other girls with their descriptions. Basically they have time to geek out about something they really love. Can you ask for anything better in a club?

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If your daughter is in a book club now, or you start one with her, I would love to hear from you! What works for y'all? What books have you loved? Share any and all of it here!

P.S. Since writing this post, I added a boy-specific list here. Enjoy!

BOOK SUGGESTIONS As an inspiration or jumping off point, I've included our club's reading list from the past four years. Happy reading!

2nd Grade At this age, the girls read two books a month (one easy, one challenge book). Sometimes the parents read the challenge books to the girls.

Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett Fudge-a-Mania by Judy Bloom Judy Moody (series) Megan McDonald The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate Di Camillo Happy New Year's Mallory by Laurie B. Friedman The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs by Betty G. Birney Matilda by Roald Dahl Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye Black Beauty by Anna Sewell Diary of a Wimpy Kid (series) by Jeff Kinney Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery Little House on the Prairie (series) by Laura Ingalls Wilder Charlotte's Web by E.B. White A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis Ramona (series) by Beverly Cleary The Magic Treehouse (series) by Mary Pope Osborne

3rd Grade Again, we paired shorter books with longer books. Several of these books were on their school Bluebonnet list so they wanted to read them to earn the award.

The View from Saturday by E.L. Koningsburg Christopher Mouse by William Wise 11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass Wild Times at the Bed and Biscuit by Joan Carris Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt Smarter Than Squirrels (Down Girl and Sit) by Lucy Nolan and Mike Reed The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Curtis The Book Store Mouse by Peggy Christian Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park Squirrels World by Lisa Moser Bella at Midnight by Diane Stanley Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse by Marilyn Singer Love From Your Friend, Hannah by Mindy Warshaw Skolsky The Case of Mistaken Identity by Mac Barnett

4th Grade Small Persons with Wings by Ellen Booraem Escape Under the Forever Sky by Eve Yohalem Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos by R.L. LaFevers The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale by Carmen Agra Deedy The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters by Lesley M.M. Blume

5th Grade The Rising Star of Rusty Nail by Lesley M.M. Blume Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass Wildwood by Colin Meloy Red Thread Sisters by Carol Peacock Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli Carly Keene, Literary Detective: Braving the Brontes by Katherine Rue The Egypt Game by Zilpha Snyder The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer

Other 4th/5th Grade suggestions from the girls (so many good books, so little time) Chains (Seeds of America) by Laurie Anderson Holes by Louis Sachar The Velvet Room by Zilpha Snyder Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Peterson Regarding the Fountain by Kate Klise Cold Cereal by Adam Rex Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan The Homework Machine by Dan Gutman Someone Named Eva by Joan M. Wolf The Changeling by Jenkins and Fabry Number the Stars by Lois Lowry Ralph S. Mouse by Beverly Cleary The Grace Mysteries by Lady Grace Cavendish Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea Penny from Heaven by Jennifer L. Holm

Summer Snapshot pt. 1

It's now half-way through summer and we've hit triple digits here in Austin. I don't even have to look at the thermometer to know for sure, because the clearest sign is that every little thing my family is doing has started to irritate me. Beginning with swiping my stuff every time I turn around. Which is how this came to be... photo 1 copy

And then I realized that even though I'm always happier in the sunshine, I've been finding more and more reasons to stay indoors. Like when this 3-hour reorganizing emergency happened...

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I know, I know....PUT THE LABEL MAKER DOWN AND BACK AWAY SLOWLY.

 

In between the obsessive-compulsiveness, we are tossing in some traditional summertime fun.

Like this...

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And this...

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And this...

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Lots of this...

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And when I'm lucky, some of this...

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But as we know, all play and no work makes for a boring household so I'm also trying to earn the Meanest Mom Ever badge. Exhibit A: insisting that my new 10-year-old finish his birthday thank-you notes while waiting at a doctor's appointment.

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All in all, it's shaping up to be a great second half of summer. Starting tomorrow we are escaping the heat, heading to the mountains, and leaving the label maker and To-Do lists at home. I'm bringing the camera, of course, so follow me on Instagram and just dare me to come back home from paradise.

 

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