ThinkKit Day 28: your sights on the next year: what’s one step you can take to support a goal you have for 2015? Whether it requires a written plan, a list of supplies or ingredients, or even a flowchart: getting your plan down in words should help spur you into action.

We were actually just all around the kitchen table eating lunch talking about our plans for next year.  Everyone in our family has a goal and I loved hearing them share them.

My plan is simple.  And you can read about it here.  It is summed up by this book that I got for Christmas.

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ThinkKit day 27: Time to show off your handiwork: what did you make this year? Share something personal, like a song or art. What inspired you? Was the finished work what you initially imagined? Or a work project – what was the process? The end result? Share your vision…and your work!

Interesting. I fashion myself quite the crafty one, but apparently, my year has been absent of any homemade creations or artistic expressions–or, at least any homemade creations that I took a picture of (other than food).  Perhaps 2015 should include more personal expression.

ThinkKit Day 26: What place stood out for you this year? Outdoors or indoors; a huge gathering or a tête-à-tête? Where were you? Who were you with? What feeling did you have when leaving? Were you inspired? Refreshed? Or…confused and glad to be gone? Whether it was exciting…or awkward: give us a hall pass out of our own room for a few minutes.

There are two places I love to go–both in the warmer days of summer.

First, the lake.  And, by the lake, I mean the Lake of the Ozarks to stay with some of our best friends in their great lake house.  It’s a full six hour drive from our house, but there is something about this lake for me and this place.  It’s a house full of boys with only two girls (me and my friend) out of 9 people and a dog.  The lake water is so clean and warm. Our routine is established and works well.  We eat great food, drink, relax, laugh, read…and that’s about it. There are no distractions of restaurants, no places to visit, no attractions to go see.  This is it: the lake.

Traveling with other families is hard and so is being a houseguest.  But, for some reason, with our two families it works.  We have been friends since our youngest boys met in preschool about 7 years ago.  They both used to lay on the floor and cry together when she and I would leave them for the day.  It was heartbreaking.  They quickly became friends in the classroom and the preschool teacher suggested that perhaps our families should get together out of school to help the boys ‘adjust’ a bit more to school.  It worked and we have been friends ever since.

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The lake also represents some more meaningful things for me.  I am not a lake girl.  I always had a pool in my yard when I was growing up and if I couldn’t see my feet in the water, I wasn’t getting in. I didn’t mind the Gulf or the Caribbean, even the Atlantic on a calm day but I do not like lake water.  For some reason, on Lake of the Ozarks, I am able to convince myself most of the time that it’s okay.  The water is warm, like a bath; the lake is so clean and the giant trampoline thing is too fun to pass up.  I swim in Lake of the Ozarks.  That, people, represents a huge fear overcome.

I grew up snow skiing but had never water skied.  Do you know what it’s like when you sit on the back of the boat and watch your kids pop up out of the water and ski and you think, “Huh, I think I can do that.”  But then, then you try and you realize how almost unnatural the experience is.  It took me a full year, but I finally got up on water skis. I did it. And, when I finally got up, I was so excited, I let go of the rope (my husband describes it as a ‘Saturday Night Live’ skit).  I also mastered the knee board.  I am not kidding when I say that getting up on skis was part of my inspiration for getting back in shape, losing weight and building muscle.  It worked.  And, I look forward to this summer getting up on skis again because I have lost even more weight and built even more muscle.

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A second place I love in the summer is Devon, our swim and tennis club.  Officially known as Devon Country Club, we often joke about that “country club” part.  It’s a time capsule.  Very little has changed since it first opened in the late 1950s.  My dad remembers climbing the fence as a kid and swimming on summer nights–it still looks the same.  That sameness is part of what makes Devon so comfortable.  It’s hidden away on a big lot surrounded be trees.  It’s private alright, but not because it’s super expensive or members have to be vetted. It’s private because it’s hidden.

This is the kind of place where we don’t see our kids all day.  They play tennis, basketball, sit on the benches and talk, swim, play board games, play water games, play sand volleyball, eat, and organize a football game.  All while I am either chatting with friends or reading quietly in the sun.  Here too is another personal accomplishment. It sounds like I am being a snob, but again, the issue of always having my own pool made public (or even club) pools kind of gross. I never swam in them.  And now, here I am! Swimming at Devon and loving every minute of it.

Sure, there are cliques, sometimes drama, gossip and I have even gotten wrapped up in it sometimes.  But even with all of that, there is always a chair for me to sit in and read.  There is always a friend for my kids to play with.  There is always a teenage lifeguard to greet me with, “Hi Mrs. Parmelee.”  I look forward to every summer spending time there with friends and my family.

Many memories have been made at both of these special places and I look forward to making many more with my family and friends in 2015.

ThinkKit Day 25: Today we’ll keep it short and sweet. Share a photo from your year that highlights giving, thankfulness, traditions or finding peace. What does the photo represent to you?

These photos capture some of our holiday traditions.  I think it took us a few years with kids to find and create our own family holiday traditions, but we definitely have them now.  They are made from a little bit of his childhood and a little bit of my childhood and a whole lot of our life together.

We have a picture of every child visiting Santa since 2000 (which, obviously at the time, there was just one tiny infant on Santa’s lap).  These photos are each placed in a holiday-themed frame and displayed during the Christmas season. They are probably my favorite Christmas decoration we have.  I love looking back at the kids.  And, we don’t dress them up.  Instead, we tell them to wear their favorite things so that when we look back, we see who each of them was at the time.

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The boys sleep later and later each year.  This year, it was almost 9:00AM before they finally woke up.  They have to wait at the top of the stairs until we get set up with our cameras just right to catch their expressions.  And this year, like many years past, the boys also had to sit and wait until Jeff was able to come home from work for a few minutes to join us for those Christmas morning moments.  Notice the new pajamas, which are of course opened Christmas Eve.

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We still have one holdout on Santa.  So, the rush is to see what Santa left and this year, everyone was very excited.  Our Santa doesn’t wrap. Once they burn through the Santa discoveries, they open gifts from us and each other.

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ThinkKit Day 24: What are you thankful for? Maybe it’s from this year – or maybe it’s something in your past that resonated with you recently. And – we hold people, places, and things in equal regard: a sense of gratefulness can take many forms.

Saying thank you is extremely important. Acknowledging someone’s kindness and thoughtfulness is part of the giving process. I get it. I know this, intellectually.

But practically, thank you notes are a thorn in my side.

My kids’ birthdays are all two weeks a part (16 Oct/31 Oct/17 Nov). So, when they were little, we would have one big birthday party for the family. I would make cute invitations with all three boys on them and invite the crew of 25 or so over to celebrate. Each kid would have his own cake and we would sing happy birthday three times. It was so fun; those were some great memories.

One year, after the party, I remember lamenting to my mother that in addition to all the other things that were making me stressed out, I still hadn’t sent thank you notes for the boys’ birthday gifts from the party.

“So don’t,” she said. The idea seemed impossible to me. I mean, how could I not send a note? Certainly people would notice and would think badly of me for not following etiquette.

“Really?” she persisted. I had convinced myself that in fact, really, they would notice. I sent thank you notes because you had to, right?

She convinced me that something had to give and this was an easy thing to let go of. I let go. I resigned myself from the idea that I was going to actually complete the thank you notes. I threw away the stack of cards I had before me that needed writing. I crossed it off my list and moved on. It helped relieve some stress.

Guess what? I don’t think anyone noticed. At least, no one called me up and asked where their thank you note was. And, even more proof of this fact is that they kept coming to the birthday parties and bringing gifts. They were giving to give—not to get a thank you note. Huh.

Emily Posts says thank you notes for gifts are only really necessary when you are not there to thank the person in person. I make sure as often as I can that I repeatedly thank the person—in person—for their thoughtfulness and kindness of a gift, of hosting us for dinner, of whatever…I hug and thank and look in the eye and show my appreciation.

Now, what if you are not in front of the person when you get the gift? I understand the need for a thank you note. In addition to thanking the person, the note also represents confirmation that whatever was sent has in fact been received. But I am not picky about what form this acknowledgement takes: card, email, text, whatever.

But writing a note for a gift I receive in front of someone for a regular gift-giving event like a birthday? I have let that one slide—almost completely except when absolutely necessary. And, before you get all high and mighty, I do make my kids write thank you notes for gifts they receive if they have a birthday party and their friends bring gifts. Why? Because they must first learn what is expected, then they can decide how they respond to those expectations and how much value they place on meeting the expectations of others.

Thank you notes have come to represent—for me—a formality only reserved for strangers, or acquaintances but not meaningful friends and family. I think to think that friends and family are okay with me spending time on things I want to do instead of what I have to do; I want the same for them. Sometimes, something has to give, people. And if I can’t cross “feed boys dinner” off my list, but I can cross “write thank you note” off my list, I know which one I will pick.

ThinkKit Day 23: You’ve ranted. You’ve raved. You’ve freestyled, soapboxed, and even waved a magic wand or two. Today, let’s keep it positive. Who (or what) is doing something good? Share a story of your positive action, whether it’s a favorite charity, foundation, or nonprofit – or just an individual whose penchant for do-goodery makes you feel all warm and fuzzy.

Want to know who or what is doing something good? The truth is, anyone can do good. It doesn’t have to be a big public display of giving, it doesn’t have to involve money or even necessarily any extra time.

It annoys the living crap out of me how hard some people work to be nasty. It’s so much easier to just be nice, people!

Make eye contact, say hello, and pay a compliment to a total stranger. And if you don’t think this matters, try it. You will see the person you complement light up in their eyes and even your own disposition will improve.

I find myself wanting to yell to some people, especially people who work with children, YOU MATTER! Your attitude, passion, your words, your interest in kids—all of that matters far more than you might think.

It reminds me of when I delivered Phillip. I had the most amazing nurse; I will never forget her. Her name was Sarah Napier and she—more than any other single thing—made my first childbirth an amazing experience. I had prepared for a natural birth and Sarah was completely on board. I can still see her holding my hand and hear her calming voice. She just made everything a little better; I knew it was going to be okay. She had all the power that day, really she did. I was completely vulnerable and at her mercy. She chose to be nice; that made all the difference for me.

Shortly after I delivered, Sarah’s 12-hour shift was over and a new nurse came in to take over. She chose to not be nice. And, it wasn’t so much that she was mean, but she was unattached—not present. She was going through the motions, settling in to the routine on the first few hours of her long shift. It felt like I was the only thing keeping her from being where she really wanted to be (which, of course wasn’t at all true. She had several other patients too). She moved about the tiny delivery room like a robot, checking her boxes and tracking vital signs. Her touch was cold, her voice almost somber. Finally, I looked at her and gently reminded her of my current reality. “I know you do this every day, but this is my first baby.”

I honestly think she had forgotten that for some people, this is the moment and she can influence that with her attitude, words and body language. While it wasn’t all of the sudden rainbows and unicorns, she certainly dropped the hard exterior and at least made conversation and eye contact. Her touch softened and her words were delivered with a hint of sincerity.

Words, touch, eye contact, a smile—it all matters. A lot. You can make a huge difference for someone in need of something, even if they don’t know they need it. The hard thing is, you never know when you are going to make that difference and you often won’t know you were the one who made the difference.

When we were in Asheville, TN over fall break, every time I would encounter a kid living on the street (there is quite an extensive homeless population on the streets of Asheville), I was intentional to meet eyes and tell them someone somewhere misses them. It drove my husband nuts. “You don’t know that for sure,” he would say. But I insisted that everyone had someone somewhere who missed them and maybe just hearing it would change things for one of them. One of them would go home, wherever that might be.

A teacher’s encouragement changed my middle son’s course in school. That teacher, after years of feeling like he was swimming up the creek, showed my son he could do it. He put his faith in him and my son delivered. It changed everything—forever.

Remember that your words matter. You matter.

ThinkKit Day 22: Today, we’re keeping it wide open – we want you to write. Write the thought ringing in your head this morning. Write what you can’t forget. Write what you want to remember about _____. Write the everyday and the extraordinary.

I don’t make my kids brush their teeth. I know.  Don’t even bother to give me your opinion about what a bad parenting decision that is; I won’t change on this one.  It’s really about my inability to follow through on micromanaged structure.  I am not good at it with the kids.  I am a big picture parent.  Sure, we have strutter but like big structure.  I am terrible at the little things–like monitoring screen time, rewarding for chores, monitoring homework, etc.

Oral hygiene is one of those things that I figure, until it really matters to them–until they care what their breath smells like and decide they don’t like getting cavities filled–they won’t make it a true habit.  I know modern day thought is the opposite and I know the pediatric dentist encourages good oral hygiene of the baby teeth to help ensure healthy adult teeth.  But, I don’t know…I just don’t have the energy to worry about who is brushing and flossing.

This last trip to the dentist, I heard from the other boys that the hygenists were giving Sam a bunch of shit because his teeth were so gross. He never brushed them (Phillip and Andy both do, on their own).  I think he was embarrassed.  He has started brushing his teeth–on his own–twice a day. The other morning he came down ready for school with fresh breath.

He was so proud he wanted me to smell it. “I can’t wait to go back to the dentist and show them how I have been brushing twice a day. When do I go back?” he asked.

“You go to the dentist every six months,” I said.

“Six months?!? You mean I have to do that for a whole six months? Oh man, I will never make it.”

I shared with him that you have to brush your teeth twice a day for the rest of your life.  Obviously, he had never thought of it like that.

ThinkKit day 21: What surprised you this year? Was it a jump-out-of-your-seat shocking moment? Learning something new that really flipped your wig? A moment in time that left you speechless? A friend or stranger’s actions that really blew your mind? Leave us slack-jawed and standing silent…or at least thoughtfully quiet for a few seconds!

You know what really surprised me this year?  Disneyworld.imag0217

Honestly, it was one of those things I had put off forever.  I just wasn’t interested and our kids were not in to characters.  Mostly, I put it off because of the crowds. Crowds are a major anxiety inducer for me.  And, Disney is just crowded.

But, life continues to present opportunities where it is important to challenge myself.  This was one of them.

We had not been on vacation for three years.  We really, really needed a family vacation and we needed a big one.  I planned a 10 day trip that included a three day stay at the Polynesian (on property) and five days at a resort (off property).  It was the most wonderful vacation ever. And, I loved Disney.

It wasn’t so much Magic Kingdom I loved, although we did have some fun moments there.  And it’s great to see things you have only seen through the eyes of a child as an adult; the “Kingdom” itself wasn’t as big as I remembered it. It was the experience. Disney is simply all about the fantasy–whatever you want that fantasy to be.

The hotel was beautiful, every detail thought out and anticipated before we even knew we needed it.  The parks so clean and organized. The food so varied and exceptional for a park (I mean, I would have never expected to have couscous as a side at lunch!). We loved Animal Kingdom and also liked Hollywood Studios, but mostly we loved the “experience” and I cannot believe I am saying this…but I am already looking forward to returning one day in the hopefully near future.

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BEST 

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TRIP

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EVER.

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ThinkKit Day 20: It’s true, we like you a lot – but let’s be noncommittal for now. It’s okay to be unsure! What are you on the fence about? Dig into the meat of both sides. Is it a big deal? A minor quibble? Are you leaning one way…or is the extended forecast just one big gray area? Yes – we’re telling you not to make up your mind!

Nah.  I pass.

Thinkkit Day 19: Strike up the band – what was the soundtrack to your year? Was it the music you listened to the most? A certain song that kept reappearing, or worse…that you couldn’t get away from? Or maybe it wasn’t music at all – maybe a podcast, voice, performance, or significant sound played over-and-over. Whatever you heard: we’re all ears!

Here are some of my favorite songs this year:

You’re Beautiful (James Blunt)

And, to go along with it…I love this story about James Blunt taking to Twitter at the urging of his label.

Stronger (Kanye West)

It’s one of those songs on all my running play lists that my iPod usually knows just when I need to hear it.  It gets me through the roughest parts of my runs.

Birthday (Katy Perry)

This was my birthday anthem this year.  Katy Perry is always about fun.  My kids showed me the video and I instantly loved the song.

22 (Taylor Swift)

Lover her or hate her, it’s kind of hard to hear a Taylor Swift song and not sing along.

The Fighter (Gym Class Heroes with Ryan Tedder)

Also on all my running lists, it’s such a great inspirational song when pushing yourself beyond where you think you can go-or rather, where you want to go (I really don’t like running).  If you ever see me running and pumping my fists at the same time, it’s because this song is playing and it makes me think I CAN DO THIS!2014-12-22 12.24.50

And if I can last thirty rounds, There’s no reason you should ever have your head down, six foot five, two hundred and twenty pounds, hailing from rock bottom, loserville, nothing town, text book version of a kid going nowhere fast, and now I’m yelling, “Kiss my ass.” It’s gonna take a couple right hooks, a few left jabs for you to recognize you really ain’t got it bad. Until the referee rings the bell, until both your eyes start to swell, until the crowd goes home, what we gonna do ya’ll? Give em hell, turn their heads. Gonna live life ’til we’re dead. Give me scars, give me pain. Then they’ll say to me, say to me, say to me there goes the fighter, there goes the fighter. Here comes the fighter. That’s what they’ll say to me, say to me, say to me, This one’s a fighter.

Astral Weeks (Van Morrison) 

Sometimes, what’s old is new again.

Purple Rain (Prince)

Even my kids jam out to Purple Rain.  I mean, seriously.