The last day of school pic
Today is my son’s last full day of elementary school. We are done. Moving on. A door is closing. A season is over. The next stage of life is ahead of us. Do I feel sad? HELL NO!

Sorry for being so harsh, but I am tired of elementary school. My oldest started Kindergarten in 2003. I wasn’t sad on that day either. She was ready to go. Excited. She had plans. She had friends from the neighborhood who would be in her class. She walked in with a smile and a quick wave to me. No tears from either of us. It was the beginning of a journey for our family.

But after 10 years, the novelty of “big girl/boy school” has worn off. They are ready to move on and so am I. While I sit here this morning, I thought about the things I won’t miss about elementary school.

The Lack of Competition – The most frustrating thing about elementary school is that everyone is equal – all the time. If one class got something, they all got something (see classroom parties, below). Field Day at their school is more an organized play time. No one wins anything. The sad thing about the absence of competition at the elementary school is that by the time these kids get to high school, the competition is so high that these kids don’t know how to cope.

The Projects – All projects that are done at home are to be done “by the student only and with materials that you have in your home.” That has rarely been the case. First of all, who has felt, clay and Styrofoam balls lying around the house? Secondly, you would be surprised how many parents actually do their child’s project for them.

The Pick-up/Drop off Line –Ten years. Twice a day. Crazy hurried drivers. Creative parkers. People crossing the street in between cars – assuming you will stop for them. Moms on cellphones. Kids everywhere. The dads or grandmas who are sent to pick up the kids and are clueless to how it works. It is a miracle that no one has been injured during the process.

The Reading Log – Starting in first grade, my kids got a reading log from their teacher every month. The kids had to log their reading time and get it signed. Every night. Every kid. Then the librarian decided to do an additional reading log. When all three of my kids were there, that was 6 reading logs per night. Eventually, we just stopped doing reading logs. And you know what? My kids never got in trouble for not handing them in. They were OPTIONAL!

The Removal of the Holiday – At our elementary school, the holidays are “seasons”. For Halloween, it is called Fall Happenings. Those holidays in December? They don’t exist. Better to ignore than to hurt feelings. Honestly, I would love if my kids learned about a holiday that we did not celebrate at home. But, you can’t celebrate December holidays because that wouldn’t be fair to the ones that don’t celebrate at all. The Winter holiday that they do celebrate is Valentine’s Day, but they call it a Winter party. The Spring party is celebrated right before spring break. No holiday is tied to it – especially not that one with the bunny and the eggs!

The Classroom Parties – If you have seen one party, you have seen them all. A few years ago, they decided that the parties (games, crafts, etc.) had to be the same as the other classes in their grade. Sadly, the role of the Room Mom went from creative party planner to babysitter. The parties should probably only go on until 2nd grade. After that, the ring toss, bean bags, Bozo buckets, and bingo gets a little boring. The crafts might appeal to the girls through 5th grade, but my son doesn’t enjoy crafts. And the snack? It’s double healthy snack day! The perfect theme for a kid party! (If there was a sarcasm font, I would use it here.)

The Hours – This is something I will miss the least! School for elementary students in our district starts at 9:05. On Wednesdays, it starts at 9:15. That is so convenient for working parents! (Again, sarcasm font) For ten years, I have lived my life between 8:45 and 3:15. Next year, I won’t have to go into panic mode if I am on the other side of town at 3:15 or if I am running behind at work. All my kids will be taking the bus.

In all fairness, I should share some things that I will miss about elementary school.

After being there for 10 years, everyone knows who I am. Much like Norm walking into Cheers, I get a wave or a smile and a “Hi, Mrs. Molnar” when I walk into the school. In the middle school and high school, I am just another parent.

I will miss the excitement of the kids waiting at the mailbox for the post cards that reveal their classroom teacher’s name. Although they changed that last year, I remember the anticipation of neighborhood kids waiting for the mailman at the curb. The phone would start ringing as the first postcards were dropped off, with their friends asking which teacher they got. In middle school, you find out your schedule when you get to school. Such a downer.

I loved the special events like the Mother’s Day Tea in 2nd grade. My daughters enjoyed going to the Daddy Daughter dances and we all enjoyed having lunch together on field day. The Halloween parade (I can’t remember the politically correct name) was always fun to watch and the ABC countdown included fun days like Pajama Day, Hat Day and Crazy Hair Day.

But by far, the thing I will miss the most is seeing the friends I have made along the way. I know that once the kids get to the middle school, we will see less and less of each other. There is very little need for volunteers and very few times that our kids want to see us at their school. After all, as of tomorrow, those days are over.

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Over the past few months, I have been trying out DIY cleaning supplies. I always see them on Pinterest, but in the past I ignored them. How could they be as good store bought chemical cleaners? I grew up in the 70’s – the stronger the chemical, the better it worked. I remember my mom using some nasty cleaner to get oil-based printing ink out of my dad’s work clothes. When that didn’t work, he would bring home benzene solvents and that would always do the trick. I would stand right there and watch the magic cleaner dissolve the thick, oily ink from his hands and clothes. It was years later when I heard that benzene caused cancer.

Flash forward to current day. Although I longed for a magic cleaner to take away grim with little effort, I wasn’t crazy about the high chemical content in cleaners. I used well known cleaning brands, and although it was far from organic, I felt better using items from a “Family Company”.
Still, I wanted to try cleaning with DIY supplies. I wasn’t expecting much, but I thought it was at least worth a try. My first attempt was with bathroom cleaning supplies. I read about all these magic hard water stain and soap scum dissolvers. Living with hard Lake Michigan water, I knew this would have to be a miracle cleaner. The ingredients are simple:

Dawn and Vinegar

Mix equal parts of vinegar and blue Dawn dishwashing soap. It has to be Dawn and it has to be the original blue formula. This is the same stuff that they used on the poor animals that were covered with oil from the spill in the Gulf. I even used it on a dog’s coated when he rolled in the grease dripping from the grill. Amazing stuff!

Pour the vinegar and blue Dawn in a spray bottle, mix well and spray it on the walls and floor of the shower. I walked away for 15 minutes to let it do its thing. My shower floor has non-slip grooves and it is a pain to clean. The soap, mixed with dirt and hard water collect in the grooves and I usually have to scrub them out with a brush. However, after 15 minutes, I went in there with a rag and wiped it clean. I had to respray a couple spots, but for the most part, that was it. Cool!

The only area it could not clean is the caulk. I have a spot in the corner of my shower near the door where water collects. The caulk is moldy and gross in that corner. I am sure that if I wiped that dry after every shower, it wouldn’t have that problem. But, apparently I am in a huge hurry to get out of the shower (or maybe I am just too lazy) and the water sits in the corner.

Sadly, my new magic shower cleaner did not work on the mold. If I couldn’t get it clean, I would have to replace it. Back to Pinterest to find something else. I combined a couple of recipes to come up with this simple caulk cleaner. You need:

DSC07739

Baking soda
Bleach
A bucket and rubber gloves

Pour baking soda into the bucket. I didn’t measure. I guess it was ¼ to ½ cup. Pour a small amount of bleach and while wearing rubber gloves, mix with your hands. You want a paste like consistency so start off with a small amount of bleach. If the mixture is too runny, it won’t sit on the caulk. I put the paste right on the moldy spot and let it sit while I did something else for an hour.

When I came back, I turned on the shower hand sprayer and all the paste went down the drain. No scrubbing at all. The result was AMAZING! There was no sign of mold. It was completely white again! You have to try this for yourself!

WARNING: Unless the paramedics in your town are hot, don’t use both of these cleaners on the same day. You can be overcome by the vinegar and bleach fumes if they mix. I wouldn’t recommend the bleach if you have colored grout. However, I had the bleach sitting right on the silver edging of the door and I didn’t get any discoloration. To be safe, try it on a small spot before you use it.

If you want to try more DIY cleaners, check out my article, The Chemical Free Kitchen, in the April 2013 issue of Red River Family magazine. Happy Cleaning!

I have seen all the posts on Facebook. Everyone is talking about spring break and posting pictures of themselves in warm, relaxing atmospheres. But they are not alone.

I am also in a warm environment. It is in the low 70’s here and dry with no breeze. We are getting plenty of exercise. My family is spending quality time together and I know that at the end of the week, I will feel refreshed. The best part about this spring break – it has not cost us any more than our regular expenses.

What are we doing for spring break? We are home. Cleaning out closets.

For many of you lying on beaches, this may seem like the worst vacation ever. Like you, I looked forward to a week off from work and school. This was my rare opportunity to purge the house.

The whole family is pitching in. We are cleaning fingerprints off walls. I am vacuuming up dog hairs that try to hide in the darkest corners of the house. We are emptying closets of clothes that no longer fit, games with missing pieces, and things we no longer use. There are piles for charity, piles for our garage sale (blog for another day, I’m sure!) and tons of garbage. I didn’t realize we had so much STUFF! If you ever feel like your closet space is small, start pulling everything out. It’s amazing how much crap you can fit in such a small space.

Now I wasn’t kidding about the quality family time. I have been warning my kids about having to do this for weeks. They were mentally prepared. The kids are going through their rooms with a surprising amount of enthusiasm. They are happily stuffing clothes into bags and filling garbage bags with widowed socks and stained shirts.

My kids helped me clean out the closet under the stairs, too. This is a closet of “out of sight, out of mind.” We have toys in there that my kids have outgrown years ago. We have two large Barbie houses and a box of Barbies. There are boxes of plastic food, dress up clothes that no longer fit, Lincoln logs and large sized Legos. We have books that haven’t been opened in years and enough “play school” items to start our own school district.

They had a great time going down memory lane. We laughed at the journal entries my 12 year old made four years ago. They listened intently as my 15 year old read her favorite childhood book and showed them the pictures as if she was reading to a classroom of kindergarteners. They happily parted with toys that another child might enjoy. The girls tucked their dolls nicely in the cribs. (Thanks to Toy Story, we were unable to get rid of a doll missing her arm, lest she wind up looking like the ones at Sid’s house.) I honestly think they bonded more in that hour than they have in weeks.

I even got my husband in on the fun. Earlier in the week while we were both trying to pick out clothes in our walk in closet, I complained about the wasted space in the closet. The builder only put in one shelf and rod lining the inside of the closet and there is easily room for two. I complained about the closet 16 years ago and probably every year since, but something else always got in the way of improving it. I guess my husband had heard enough.

So, on Friday afternoon, the two of us and my handy Suburban headed to Lowes. We picked up everything we needed for a weekend of closet expanding fun. My husband even offered to paint the inside of the closet and put in a brighter ceiling light. This is going to be the best souvenir from any spring break we have ever been on!

On Saturday, I emptied the closet onto a couple of folding tables and filled every empty spot on the floor. To say our room is a disaster is an understatement. We look like we can rival the best hoarders on TLC. There are shoes and blankets and boxes and general junk all over the floor. The clothes are heaped precariously with hangers shooting out in several directions. It is quite a sight. I hope I can stand up to the temptation of putting it all back in after the extra shelves go in.

I have to say, at the end of my first day of vacation, I already feel refreshed. I ate a delicious steak dinner (prepared by my painter/electrician/carpenter husband) and shared a nice bottle of wine. Unlike my beach going friends, we slept soundly in our own beds without having to shower off the sunscreen or the sand.

Yesterday was a rare day with no kid activities after school or in the evening. My husband arrived home from a trip and offered to make dinner. All of the kids had homework and after a quick snack, everyone went to their rooms to work on it. What was I going to do with myself? The laundry was done and so were the dishes. I was caught up on my email and nothing was happening on Facebook. Sadly, I gave up Pinterest for Lent so that was not an option. And then I remembered – my blog.

I know I have neglected my blog. Having a free afternoon gave me the opportunity to look over some of the things I wrote over the past few years. Wow! I didn’t realize how much I missed it. I forgot about some of those crazy moments and enjoyed reading about them again. I used to write regularly, but then I just stopped. What happened to me?

I am still writing – just not blog posts. I write every morning before my day gets started, but this time I am getting paid to write. For those of you that don’t know, I have been writing for regional parenting publications. My work has been published 46 times in over two dozen magazines in the US and Canada since October. It has been a thrilling time as I am writing, submitting, networking and learning as I go!

But even with my exciting new adventure, I still miss my blog. I can’t tell you how many times I encountered something in my life in these past few months and thought, “That would make a great blog post.”

It was my blog that pushed me to submit some of my work. I got a lot of encouragement from my readers over the past couple of years. I remember one moment in particular. I was standing in the elementary school gym, talking with a few other moms. It was a school carnival and my son dashed back and forth from the games to bring me his prizes to hold. While I was talking, one of the moms said how much she enjoyed my blog post that day. The other mom chimed in that she read it too, and they discussed it for a couple of minutes. A third mom walked by and overheard us talking. She stopped and said, “Pam’s blog? I love reading it.” I was so touched to have these women say such nice things about my writing. I read the stats on my blog, but I never realized that so many people read my posts on a regular basis. The women went on to say that I should try to get some of my work published. At the time, I shrugged them off, thinking there was no way that was going to happen. But it was too late. The seed was already planted. (Thank you, Nina and Shannon. You may not remember that moment, but it is one that I will never forget.)

Sadly, after that, my blog(s) took a backseat to my article writing. (In addition to this blog, I have a food blog at wineanddinewithus.wordpress.com.) After reading my old posts yesterday, I made a decision. In the words of Elwood Blues, “I am putting the band back together.” As I said, I have so much fodder for this blog as a suburban working mom and I love to share the recipes on my food blog. I am going to make an effort to post at least once a week in each blog, so keep an eye out for it. If you don’t already do so, you can follow my blog(s) via email, Facebook or Twitter. Feel free to leave a comment. You never know how your words can change the course of someone’s life.

Last week we put our Christmas tree up. Every year when we decorate the tree, my family takes the time to find their favorite ornaments and reminisce about each one. All of our ornaments are special and tell a story. We have ornaments from our vacations, ornaments that belonged to me as a child, some from the first year we were married and many, many for each child and the interests in their lives. Each Christmas, we get to relive those good times and happy memories.

A week before our tree went up, my daughters and I went to my grandmother’s house to help her put her tree up. It is a job that my parents usually fill, but this year, I told them we would like to help. My grandmother, or Granny, as the kids call her, sat on a chair near the boxes and handed things out to us. She had very specific places for everything to go – including the ornaments on the tree. As we decorated the tree, Granny often made my daughters move the ornaments to a better spot or to space them out differently.

“Honey that ornament goes near the top” Granny told them. When they moved it, she would often correct them again. “No, move it a little more to the right.”

Halfway through the tree decorating I held up an ornament that my sister and I made for my grandparents when we were kids.

“I remember these,” I said as I held the ornament up for my mom to see it. My mom nodded in agreement and we tried to remember how old they were.  At the same time, one of my daughters picked up the matching ornament. Granny saw it and told my daughter that her kids – my mother and my uncle – made the ornaments years ago. She told my daughter to put them in a special spot on the front of the tree.

My mother corrected her. “Mom, Mike and I didn’t make those ornaments. The girls made those for you.” Granny looked at her daughter as if she was trying to remember before she spoke.

“No, it wasn’t the girls. You and Mike made those and I always hang them in the front of the tree.”  When I verified my mom’s story, Granny just looked at us and then went back to the boxes without another word.

I felt sorry for my grandmother for a minute. At 42, I remember the story that goes with every ornament on our tree – who made it, who it belongs to and approximately how long we have had it. After 91 Christmases, Granny’s memory was starting to get fuzzy.

The one of my biggest fears of aging is losing my memories. I worried that it was beginning to happen to Granny before our eyes. After a couple of minutes of watching her direct the placement of the ornaments, I realized that my grandmother was not losing her memories; she was just forgetting the details. That afternoon, we learned that “Who, When and Where” were not as important as we aged. It is the “What” that is most vital in the winter of our lives.

It has been over three months since I last posted in my blog and I decided to shake off some of the cob webs with a post of gratitude. In the quiet early morning hours, I started to think about all the things I had to be thankful for. For me, it goes beyond the basics I often take for granted –  the roof over my head and the food on my plate. I am most grateful for the gifts received and journeys taken that allow me to live under this particular roof and enjoy my time with the people who make my house a home.

▪ For my husband’s support with the kids, our house and my job. He is my rock.

▪ For the many gifts God has given me and especially for the ones that I did not know were gifts.

▪ For the hard work ethic that I learned as a child, that I share with my husband and that we are teaching to our children.

▪ For my health and the health of my family, for with that, anything is possible.

▪ For all the shoulders I cried on and ears that I bent. You know who you are.

▪ For the times when my dogs bark during the night, knowing they are protecting us when we are most vulnerable.

▪ For the nights when my son wants to snuggle with me in front of the TV. It is no longer an every day occurence.

▪ For the determination that I see in my daughters when they are going after something they really want. They are both strong young women.

▪ For the cold nights when my cat inches closer to me. The shared comfort and warmth makes us both sleep better.

▪ For a long to-do list and a full email box because I know I am still needed.

▪ For the kindness of strangers that have crossed my path.

▪ For the dreams my husband and I realized together and for our long list of dreams still waiting to become a reality.

▪ For the mistakes I have made along the way. It has been the best education I have ever received.

▪ For the stories and secrets that my daughters trust me with. May they always know they can come to me.

▪ For the ability to get back up when I am down.

▪ For the confidence my kids display on the stage, the field or the court. It will take them far in life.

▪ For the drive that pushes me to try things outside of my comfort zone.

▪ For the people who tell me it can’t be done. I enjoy proving them wrong.

▪ For the reminders that I am aging so I don’t waste a single day.

▪ For the sunrise each morning. No matter how bad today was, I know tomorrow is an opportunity to start over.

▪ For the rare one-on-one time I get to spend with each of my kids and the knowledge that they enjoy our precious time as much as I do.

▪ For the entrepreneurial spirit passed down from my grandfather and my dad. It is a thrill to see something grow from an idea to a thriving business.

▪ For the ability to express myself through my words and the hope that it  makes a difference in someone’s day.

▪ For the curiosity that encourages me to seek the answers to “What if?”

▪ For the desire to live up to the next challenge.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! May you all live by the blessings you have been given.

“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” – Jerry Seinfeld.

Although I am not that bad, public speaking is not my favorite thing. As a kid, I was uncomfortable speaking to adults. Whenever we went to 7-11, I asked my friends to order my Slurpee from the man behind the counter so I wouldn’t have to talk to him. I tried to go unnoticed whenever possible. It got better as I got older but in high school, I dreaded my speech class. The last thing I wanted to do was stand out or God forbid, make a mistake. How silly I was to think I could blend into the background when standing in front of the class with big 80’s hair and loud bangle bracelets.

I swore that my children would not have those same fears and taught them to speak confidently when talking to adults. As soon as my children could talk, they ordered for themselves in restaurants. My oldest daughter became so confident at a young age that she carried on long conversations with the wait staff after introducing herself and our family. She later talked with ease to teachers and authority figures and took every opportunity to speak in class.

By the time my daughter got to middle school, standing in the spotlight was her favorite thing. She had no fear of the stage or crowds or new people. (Spiders, on the other hand would send her running from the room.) My daughter enjoyed performing in the orchestra, chorus and musicals. She auditioned for dozens of solos and performed them with ease. If she did not get the part, her confidence did not waiver. It seemed to fuel her to practice more and try again – each time with a smile.

High school offers so many more opportunities for performers like my daughter. In addition to chorus and musicals, she plans to audition for plays and the speech team. The speech team is an extracurricular activity where she voluntarily gets up in front of strangers, judges and her peers and performs – sometimes off the cuff. That sounds like complete torture to me and yet, she loves it. This week she attended a speech camp where she is learning the different parts of the speech team – Dramatic Interpretation and Radio Speaking seem to be her favorite so far. They are working in small groups reading off scripts, acting in charade-like games and doing improvisation. I can’t imagine doing that without a glass (or two) of wine in my system!

As a parent, I feel like I can cross an accomplishment off my list. I have a confident teenager who can not only order her own Slurpee, but has also learned a life skill. I think she has found a new passion and I am happy for her. What more can a mother ask for?