living the dream

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!

2016-siblingrevelryproject

 

 

 

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

Gifts

 

2015.12.24

 

This is Judith and her beautiful friend Prima.

For years Judith and I have crossed paths during Saturday runs along the Barton Creek Greenbelt. We wave, exchange a few friendly words, and sometimes stop to pet her aging greyhounds, who always trail behind as she darts swiftly over roots and rocks.

Judith is perpetually bright and smiling. She applauds my running group for making time for friendship and fitness, and we beam at her praise. Everything about Judith radiates joy and light. In the summer she wears tiny bun-hugger shorts that are smaller than anything my fit, 40-something-year-old friends and I sport in public. She rocks these shorts. My friends and I all agree on two things: Every run where we see Judith is a good run, and we all want to be her when we grow up.

I shot this photo on the morning of Christmas Eve when I was running with two friends. We had not seen Judith in a while and immediately noticed that she had only one dog with her. We stopped to talk and she shared the story of her other dog’s final days and the beautiful, loving send-off she gave him. The conversation shifted toward the heaviness of grief and how every new pain can revive buried ones from the past. She was philosophical and open, and clearly at peace even amidst the heartache. We stood there under a canopy of oak and juniper, soaking up this beautiful human as she poured out her heart to three women she has only known at a distance.

It was a powerful, intimate moment that lasted maybe 10 minutes.

After gathering ourselves and wiping our eyes, we went our separate ways. I couldn’t shake what I was feeling, though. Judith had stirred something in me on this sacred day. I wanted to bottle it somehow, and I immediately regretted not asking to take her photo.

We ran on for several minutes until I convinced my friends to turn around early and try to track down Judith. At a minimum, I needed to tell her something. If I were lucky, she would let me take her photo as well.

We caught up with her eventually, and if she was surprised to see us she didn’t show it. Swallowing a lump of emotion, I told her that today, along with being Christmas Eve, was also my Mom’s birthday. “In honor of her memory, I always look for beautiful moments on my Mom’s day. And you are that moment, Judith.”

We hugged. I tried not to cry. It was both awkward and completely natural. It felt like everything vulnerability should be: uncomfortable but affirming. It was the perfect start to a day in which I always reserve time for contemplation and memories.

For as long as I can remember I have sought out the Judiths in my life. I learned this from my mother. In fact, everything I know about seeking beauty and joy came from my mom. These were her greatest gifts to me.

When my mom was 38 years old, she was diagnosed with a chronic, progressive form of multiple sclerosis. A year later she was confined to a wheelchair. Her future held decades of emergency room scares, ICU visits, near-misses, and too many physical losses to catalog. She spent the last 10 years of her life in bed, relying on a ventilator for every breath.

And yet. Even with her limitations and losses, my mom radiated serenity. She found pleasure in every bird that visited the feeders hanging outside her window, or in the backyard wind chimes singing with the breeze. She exhausted libraries of their audiobook collection. Long after she lost her ability to speak, she could tell you with her eyes that she loved you.

Throughout her life, doctors, nurses and therapists marveled at my mom’s attitude. Over and over we heard, “There is just something so resilient and positive about her.” She saw beauty in most everything. I have no doubt she would have seen it in Judith.

It’s been 5 years since my mom died, and the sharp edges of grief have softened. I think I’m finally accepting that even if I can’t walk with her in my daily life, I can carry the lessons she left me. I can seek out beauty and joy and light. I can embrace--and if necessary, chase down--the Judiths in my life and tell them how they make my world brighter. What a gift indeed.

 

 

 

Peace and joy and other favorites

I hope this time of year brings you many words of joy. Words like...

No assembly required Dishwasher safe Batteries included One size fits all

And also,

I love you Please Thank you Hooray I love it Yes No thank you See you soon It's perfect You're welcome Come over I remember I love you, too

Thank you for reading my words here this year. I hope to bring you even more in 2016! xoxo

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Photo credit: Bonnie Berry Photography

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

Optimism in Overdrive

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Parenting requires a huge dose of optimism. Who else but the glass-half-full crowd would dare bring children into a world fraught with injustices, Kardashians and high-fructose syrup? It can be an uphill battle to keep focused on the bright side.

I have a naturally Pollyanna personality, but I still need frequent reminders to help stay the course. I seek them out in stories, images, blips of conversation. I’m a heat-seeking missile when it comes to examples of the power of positive thinking.

Last week a reminder came from an icon in the world of optimism. I had the great pleasure to meet Bert Jacobs, co-founder and Chief Executive Optimist of the Life is Good Company. Jacobs was in Austin to wow a crowd of 7,000 at the Texas Conference for Women. His speech was everything you’d hope it would be: energizing, inspiring, tear-jerking and funny.

Afterwards I had the opportunity for a quick interview with him, and I went straight to the topic closest to my heart: family life.

Me: Cynicism seems a little too cool in our culture right now. How do we raise children to be optimists? Bert Jacobs: Tell your kids to look through history and find us the great pessimists. Find us the great cynics. You’ll be done with your assignment in 10 minutes. Then go through and find the great optimists, and you can do it for the next 3 years. Every hero you’ve ever had was an optimist, because they see things before they happen. In order to be optimistic, you have to be open-minded and ambitious.

My work is focused on the “small moments that tell the big stories of family life.” What’s one small moment in your life that tells your big story? I would say my mom at the dinner table saying, “Tell me something good that happened today.” That could look on a given day like a very small thing, but it changed our lives. It changed the trajectory of our whole path. It led us to greater business. It led us to a great kids foundation. And look how lucky we are, doing all the things we are doing. All from one thing that Mom said at the dinner table. The interesting thing is...and it’s not even in the book...is that she had huge challenges in her 20s. My mom was put in a mental institute and was told that she would never amount to anything or have a family. So I think her heightened appreciation for life, and never taking a day for granted, and teaching us “Tell me something good” came from a place where she was really challenged.

What did you want to be when you were 10 years old? A stuntman. I was a typical boy.

I went home and told the kids about my day, and we had a lively discussion about great people in history, about how we can all inject more optimism into our lives, and how (high five!) we are already doing the dinnertime sharing ritual, although ours comes in the form of “What are you thankful for?”

The interview and the conversations that followed with my family were both such lovely gifts. I enjoy any opportunity to talk with the kids about my inspirations as a parent and our goals as a family. The entire day was a great reminder that one small conversation can make an impression well beyond the people who initially shared it.

Knowing the power of that ripple effect, I have to admit one thing, my friends: I kept the stuntman detail to myself. The kids don’t need to know everything. I’m optimistic, not crazy.

Business expenses

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So, I’ve been a freelance writer for 18 years, which means the last time I wore “office clothes” was back in the Ally McBeal years.

I’ve grown quite happy with my home-office uniform of t-shirt, jeans and flip flops. When I have a meeting, I throw on a nice shirt and boots, then I actually blow-dry my hair. You know, I get fancy.

Last year I took a contract job that involves spending time with wonderful people who, get this, often wear suits and heels. And unlike the hipster guys who frequent local coffee shops, they wear their suits without irony.

At first I was a little worried my wardrobe could not compete with this new professional scene, yet I didn't run out to the mall right away. If there’s one thing I resent it’s having to buy clothes that can’t be multi-purposed into everyday attire or a date night outfit. With a few tweaks and a couple simple purchases, I made it work out...and so far I have not been kicked out of the grown-up club.

I might be stingy when it comes to buying professional clothes, but there are other business expenses that I never mind investing in. Like conferences. I love conferences! I try to attend at least two every year, and even then I wish I could fit more into my budget and schedule.

Because here’s the thing: these events are always worth the investment. Although I’m not the kind of person who uses acronyms like R.O.I, I get a total boost every time I attend a great conference.

The best conferences inspire and educate me. They surround me with smart, talented people. They reunite me with friends who are like my virtual co-workers. They encourage me to meet new people and practice putting myself and my work out into the world. Great conferences energize me in a non-quantifiable way that always leaves me ready to take the next step in my career. They are worth every penny and every hour.

Do you agree? Or want to test my theory? Join me at the Texas Conference for Women on October 15th! I’m giving away one free ticket and I would love for you to sit with me at the bloggers’ table.

The conference line-up is incredible: a full day of workshops and speakers, including my Boyhood crush and Academy Award winner Patricia Arquette; Good Morning America co-anchor Robin Roberts; and Candy Chang, TED speaker and creator of the “BEFORE I DIE...” street art movement. Wow!

If you want to win a ticket and join me at the conference, share this post on Facebook and tag my FB page (Elizabeth McGuire, writer/photographer) or tweet the link and tag me @ewmcguire. I will choose a random winner on Thursday, September 17th at midnight.

If you don’t win a ticket, don’t worry...I have a super secret password that will get you $10 off the ticket price. You can purchase tickets here and use the password TXBG15.

Oh, and guess what? You absolutely don’t have to invest in a suit to join us. Pretty sure I will be wearing my dressy jeans and professional boots. I hope to see you there!

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Note: My dog likes the way I dress because I'm almost always properly attired to take him for a walk.

Back to School Reboot

2015.08.24

Well hey it’s back to school and I don’t know about you, but our first week lasted approximately 87 days. Or so it seems.

Every year the optimist in me approaches the new school year with enthusiasm, and by the first Friday I want to stab my eyes out with the kids’ freshly sharpened pencils. Transitions are fun like that.

That said, in my years of parenting school-age kids I have learned a few things about coping with the first weeks of school.

1. Don’t volunteer for anything at Parent Night. After hearing the presentations by the principal and teachers, you will be drunk with enthusiasm. Don’t volunteer while under the influence! Give yourself a grace period. Trust me, the teachers and PTA will still want your help after the first week.

2. Make more routines and fewer rules. Instead of hard-and-fast rules, such as no screen time during the school week, we try to focus on fluid, helpful routines. Every day when you get home, hang up your backpack, empty your lunchbox and wash your hands...pretty much exactly what you do when you walk in your classroom. Screens are a maybe...only after homework and only on non-activity days. Bedtime routines are fixed but times shift depending on the after school activities, with ultimate veto power held by parents.

3. Decline all but critical invitations. My kids have had so much unstructured time during the summer that school schedules completely drain them. We don’t add anything extra into the family mix at first. Sorry, early September birthdays...but we are probably going to pass. (Especially if it’s a party that ends in Cheeze. Who am I kidding? This is great year-round advice.)

4. Make lunches before dinner. I can’t actually vouch for this tip, but it’s one of our goals this year. The post-dinner cleaning and lunch-making is such a buzzkill in our house that it can turn a perfectly nice evening into a major grouchfest. The chore might still be a drag, but at least it won’t be a drag at the very end of the night.

5. Schedule the date nights immediately. Five days into our school year and suddenly 90 percent of our spousal conversations are centered around calendars and carpools. If I’m not careful, Thanksgiving will be here before we remember to enjoy each other.

6. Plan a weekday pizza night. This is a year-round thing for us. Once a week we order pizza and (this part is critical) always make sure there is enough for the next day’s school lunches. A win-win!

What helps you get through the back-to-school transition?

 

 

Things you can do while the kids are at Camp Grandma

 

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1. Go swimming on a whim. At night. Without refereeing the rules of The Splash Game.

2. Empty the kids’ closets of annoying T-shirts, crappy toys the kids won at some arcade party, and half the artwork they brought home from school this spring.

3. Empty the office of annoying emails, crappy pencils the kids left when they stole the good pens, and half the paperwork they sent home from school this spring.

4. Finish every conversation with your spouse, even the one you started 8 months ago.

5. Eat every meal at a restaurant.

6. Run a dishwasher loaded only with coffee mugs. (See above.)

7. Think your own thoughts.

8. Make out in the middle of the afternoon.

9. Binge watch a full season of a kid-unfriendly show.

10. Linger everywhere you go. Or rush. Either way, it’s your decision.

11. Sleep late. Or wake up early. Again, your call.

12. FaceTime the kids. Pretend that y’all are totally bored without them.

13. Get 8 hours of work done in only 3.

14. FaceTime them again. Pretend you don’t miss them and that it’s no big deal one kid doesn’t want to talk to you.

15. Make their beds and tidy their rooms, even though 5 days ago you swore up and down that it was their job for now on, every day, for the rest of their lives.

16. Buy fresh milk and apples.

17. Check the clock. Again.

18. Squeeze their guts when they return.

19. Squeeze Grandma harder.

What a week

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Ten days ago I was in New York City with my 12-year-old daughter and my mother-in-law for a wonderfully busy girls weekend. On a bright morning we stood at the feet of Lady Liberty, learning the history of the statue and the famous poem by Emma Lazarus, “The New Colossus.” We’ve all heard her words: “Give me your tired, your poor....” What I had not heard before was that the poem was written before the great immigration rush and that the statue was not necessarily designed to be the beacon of hope it later became. Yet Lazarus’ words were prescient and came to signify everything hopeful about our country. Her words became as important as the statue itself.

So grateful for the power of words.

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Later that day we walked to the grounds of the World Trade Center. The sight of the first pool took my breath away. It looks bottomless and the list of names surrounding it endless. I wanted to read each and every one, to bear witness to the lives lost. And this was just the outside memorial. Inside the museum, thousands of artifacts, newsreels and tributes captured the horror, confusion and heartache of that time. And just as stirring were the features that captured the collective grief, the incredible sacrifice and the outpouring of support in the aftermath.

We spent hours at the museum, immersed in the stories. I watched my daughter as she read each plaque with great reverence. Days later, when asked what she remembered most about the exhibits, she knew the Virgil quote by heart: “No day shall erase you from the memory of time.”

So grateful for the power of stories and memory.

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And then there was Charleston. I found myself once again talking to my kids about hate and prejudice and trying to explain something so horrible. We talked about the Confederate flag and its unfortunate role in history.

I reminded the kids that Dad and I both went to a Texas high school named after Robert E. Lee. It was the late '80s and our mascot was the Rebels; our school song Dixie and our school flag the Confederate one. The flag appeared on the cover of our yearbooks, it waved in multitudes above our football stadium, it adorned varsity jackets and drill team uniforms. Every Friday in the fall it was shoe-polished on the back windows of hundreds of cars and trucks in support of the Mighty Rebel Football Team.

I am ashamed to say that I rolled with it, or at least didn’t speak up against it. In my 16-year-old mind it was a weird, mildly offensive “West Texas Thing.” A “Football Thing.” It wasn’t until I was finishing my freshman year in college in the spring of 1991 that the flag was officially removed from all high school sanctioned activities and paraphernalia. And suddenly it was such a no-brainer: our community had been painfully insensitive. How had we not spoken up sooner? Clearly the removal was long overdue.

To share that story with my kids was one thing, but to then explain that the flag still flies over the South Carolina capitol nearly 25 years later was a whole other sad reality. My daughter shook her head in disbelief. “Mom, that’s so messed up. The only place those flags belong are in a museum.”

So grateful for the power of common sense.

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And now, here we are...a few days after the Supreme Court has declared that marriage is marriage no matter who you are. The kids and I cheered at the news and they named off a few grownup friends who can now be married in our home state.

In almost no time, Texas politicians lined up to argue the blasphemous nature of the new law, and I found myself explaining yet again that hateful, narrow-minded views are unfortunately still alive even amidst such hopeful ones.

And once again, my daughter found the right words so easily...“Don’t people understand that when you give someone equal freedom it doesn’t take away your own?”

May we move forward with this mindset. May we allow words, stories, memories, and commonsense to be our brave and constant guides.

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All the hours

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We are now fully entrenched in summer mode: the good, the bad, the sunburned.

It’s everything you might expect and are probably experiencing now: really long days, late bedtimes and more wet towels than you realized you actually owned. The days are either luxuriously long or painfully long, and you never really know which until you’re past the point of no return.

Where does the time go? Today ours went toward epic blanket-fort building and several chapters of Harry Potter. It went toward hatching plans for homemade ice cream, and then dealing with the fallout when the plans didn’t materialize. A solid hour went toward organizing two shelves of the garage and convincing the kids to “help” by carving up cardboard boxes in the driveway.

Another hour went toward a frantic last-minute run to the nursery before closing time so we could plant the vegetable garden we’ve tried to finish all week. As with any multi-step project that involves all five of us, there were cheers and tears. When someone dared to ask, “Why are we doing this again?” I was quick to snap, “Because! Because this was all y’all's idea! And because I’m following through! And because planting this garden is probably the most optimistic thing we will do all summer!”

So yeah. Optimism. I'm stocking up on it like it's sunscreen. How is your supply of it coming along?

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But wait, there’s more happening!

Beginning tomorrow I’m starting another mini-project on Instagram. Similar to my other ones (#aweekofmornings and #aweekofevenings) I’ll be documenting #aweekofsummer.

I hope you'll tune in!

A game called Summer

2015.gamelife We are one week into summer and for the most part still enjoying the honeymoon phase. The kids have made ambitious Summer Fun lists for us and I’ve made equally ambitious Summer Chores lists for them.

Parenting during the summer is all about finding that sweet spot between freedom and structure, and while it’s never a breeze it’s getting easier as the kids get older. Partly because of the two lists mentioned above. Bored? Great..here’s some laundry to fold! Who’s turn to walk the dog?

This week the kids had no camps or activities, and we quickly found an easy groove of swimming in the morning and hibernating inside during the afternoon heat. In theory, the afternoon hours double as my work time while the kids read, play Legos or use up their screen time. Quiet is of course relative. One afternoon the TV watching turned into an American Ninja Warrior training session complete with a homemade launchpad and Mt. Midoriyama made from the nice furniture and sofa cushions. Yesterday they were busy writing a script to a movie, but that eventually turned into a contest to see who could walk like the best villain. Who knew the sound of three walking kids could shake the light fixtures? Obviously I need to clarify the rules of our afternoon: No interruptions unless your hair is on fire. No climbing doorways. No stacking large furniture. No walking like Professor Snape.

And then there was the afternoon my 6-year-old opened my office door, frowned, and said, “You’re probably going to say no, but will you play a game with me?” The big kids had refused and he was feeling lonely and dejected. Against my better judgement, I agreed.

Now, I’m a fan of games but I have no patience for ones with more than three rules. Give me Battleship, Connect Four or Uno. Even Monopoly is pushing my limits. Don’t even bother bringing Risk into the house. Of course my son pulled out Life. He’s been dying to play this, he said. Dying.

I’m dying too. Life? Worst game ever. Nothing says fun like mortgages, taxes and car payments. I’d rather play Colonoscopy than Life.

In case you haven’t played in a while, there are several points in the game where you and your little plastic car, which may or may not hold several tiny pink or blue plastic kids in the backseats, must make life choices and choose various paths along the way. All roads lead to the promise of a glorious retirement, but the smart players pick the most lucrative and efficient route.

Some of the forks required a little explaining to my son. First, you can either go to college, or you can start a job. Well, buddy...you’re going to college and that’s that. (He chose the college path.)

Next up: Change jobs or stay on the same route? Hmmm...Tough call. Personally I’ve changed jobs a lot. (He took the path of stability.)

And then, more than halfway through the game, after surviving a job loss and buying a $5,000 flat-screen TV, he was presented with this choice: The Family route or the Other route. He already had one pink plastic baby, but no spouse. He steered his car to the Other route.

“Ugh. I don’t care about more kids. I want to win! I want more MONEY!” He paused. I held my tongue because who am I to make that call for him? Sure, you might make more money if you bypass the kid route. Pick the career path and maybe you’ll be crazy rich. Maybe you’ll be able to afford a dozen tiny plastic cars and houses. Maybe you will have a fabulous and fulfilling career. Maybe you won’t be interrupted to play a board game in the middle of a deadline. But remember, there’s more to the kid route than these little squares convey. Stuff that fake paper money can’t buy. Your choice, son, just keep all this in mind.

“Mom," he said, catching my eye, "You know it’s not real life here in this game, right Mom? Even though it’s called Life on the box, it’s just a game. You know that, right?”

Yes, yes I sure do. Your move.

And with that, summer is off to a fine start.

 

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Don't miss a bit of the summer shenanigans....Follow me on Instagram or Facebook!

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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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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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