Sunday, March 29, 2009

Goodbye to Jonah and Aja

Sad to say, we've reached the end of an era. With their house sold and their stuff packed up, Jonah and Aja and family stayed with us for a few days then took off on Friday. They headed for Vegas to say goodbye to relatives there and for LA for more goodbyes and then they're off to New Zealand - as far away as you can get from here and still be on the planet Earth. How we'll miss them! It chokes me up a bit to write this and it was weird as can be to meet the people who bought their house yesterday and to have them invite us into a home that looked exactly the same as it always did except different people (they sold the house furnished). Those people sure seem thrilled about that lovely house!

Anyway, here are the top 10 things we'll miss about these great neighbors of ours:

1. Having Jonah pop by at random times in the day (often with warm cookies - how much I'll miss those "cooks" of his) to check in or bring something or just catch up a bit

2. Hearing Aja's astute and often hilarious comments about the goings on in our ward and neighborhood and school

3. Getting sweet snuggles from Elsie - the sweetest, cuddliest girl ever. Having her call me "Sunan" and play with my necklace. Seeing how much she loves Isaac ("Isie") and how much he loves her.
4. Seeing Ana organize all the other kids into a play or be the teacher in the little school she liked to conduct for Eliza and our neighbor Olivia - she's one great little teacher and director - reminds me of myself at her age. I'll miss all her talk of ponies and horses and all her great money-making ideas.
5. Having Cam chat away to me. The other day he and the twins were "helping" me wrap some presents and Cam was going a mile a minute and I was throwing in an "uh-huh" here and there while concentrating on what I was doing. After quite a while, Cam said, "OK, I'm all done talking now" - like he'd just sort of realized maybe he was dominating the conversation. It was really cute.
6. Having Jonah around to give me expert advice on any household project I want to tackle - and having him pitch in to help make my projects happen. Having Aja around to give me expert advice or ideas on just about anything under the sun.

7. Driving Ana to school every morning - hearing her thoughts about things and having her practice the hymns with us as we drove.

8. Seeing my boys (especially Ashton) adoringly play with little Cam out on the empty lot or down in the wash - they'll miss that little guy and his great talents with pretend play so much.
9. Working with Aja on PTA - she always knew how to explain things well and make things happen and Reflections will never be the same without her.

10. Having family right next door - people to share holidays and Sunday dinners with, people to exchange help with, people who care in a way only family really cares.

We loved having them all with us for a few days (and having Grammie and Grandfather join in for the last couple days) and enjoying some last bike rides and meals and talks and good times. We all fell even more in love with sweet little Elsie (Ashton came up to me one day and said "I just don't get how Elsie can be so cute!" and she and Isaac were together like glue whenever Isaac wasn't in school and the twins loved helping her do things and having someone smaller than them around). Ana and Liza did plays and dress-ups galore and everyone thoroughly enjoyed playing with Cam when he wasn't with his beloved friend Heath. And all the kids put together a little "carnival" for everyone for FHE - they had an "animal walk" (like a cake walk), a photo booth, a giant tic tack toe game. Jonah and Aja tied up lots of loose ends and packed and repacked bags to try to get the weight right and get everything they really needed for who knows how long into 10 checked bags and 5 carry-ons. Aja's packing and organization skills are remarkable! They amazingly left almost nothing here and headed off with just the right amount of luggage.

So the house feels a little empty now. It'll be weird to go to church today and not see Aja up there playing the organ. It's weird so see different kids come out of the garage and front door of that house next door. It's weird not to hear (and smell) Jonah and Aja's car heading up the road. It's sad to think of Sunday dinner today with just us. But what good times we had and how grateful we are that we got to live by this great family as long as we did! St. George won't be the same without them - for us or for the many other people who hold Jonah and Aja dear and have learned so much from their example of thrift and adventure and unconventionality and goodness. But we're so happy they're moving on to the adventure they've been craving so much for so long and that we have fun memories to cherish and this lovely place to enjoy thanks in large part to all they did to help us end up here.

We love you Jo, Aja, Ana, Cam and Elsie! And you've always got a place right here in this house you helped us build whenever you want to come back.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Spring Break - Back to the Bay Area

We're driving home after a whirlwind tour of Vegas, the California Central Coast and the whole Bay Area. What a trip we've had! After a LOT of years of travel ranging from slightly painful to thoroughly excruciating, our kids are finally really fun, good little travelers. As we drove, we read and sang and talked and pointed things out - the kids didn't even ask for movies after watching the two new ones we got for the trip. Every kid could enjoy and actually “get” the vast majority of everything we did and there were no nap schedules or diapers or crying babies to worry about. This is a really amazing world we live in full of so many beautifully diverse sights and interesting people and places to see that make us think and wonder and dream - and it's such a joy to have kids who can really enjoy things along with us and bring their own thoughts and ideas to the table!

Here's a quick recap of our trip highlights:

Vegas – Jared needed to meet up with potential customers there so the kids and I had a great time checking out the gondolas and sampling gelato at the “fake Italy” (as they called the Venitian Hotel), playing and learning about desert plants at the Springs Preserve, spending time with one of my best friends from Wellesley, Gina and her two cute kids (haven't seen her in over 10 years so it was SO great to catch up), visiting the really good Vegas children's museum (and buying a membership there that would get us in for free to all the rest of the museums we went to on the trip), and staying with our good friends Kass and Rich who we haven't seen in way too long.

At the "fake Italy" - the Venitian in Vegas

Isaac pretending to hatch at the Springs Preserve
(soon after this he got himself stuck in a tight high up spot not really meant
for climbing and we ended up getting him down with the help of a bunch of strangers -
lots of little lessons we all learned through that...)

Central Coast – to break up the drive from Vegas to SF, we decided to spend a day seeing one of my favorite places, Hearst Castle, and enjoying the coast a bit. We got there for the tail end of a gorgeous sunset and stayed at a great hotel right there (the kids LOVED the all-you-can-eat free buffet breakfast). We spend the next morning on the shore - we ran along the boardwalks on the tops of the beautiful cliffs where the black rocks and blue sea and green green vegetation mixed with bright flowers made so much beauty and the kids loved playing in the waves and collecting rocks and exploring the tide pools. They weren't even phased by that freezing cold water or the fact that the air wasn't quite 60 degrees! There's nothing like kids on a beach. The kids were all really interested and good on the Hearst Castle tour – such an amazing place with gorgeous ground and beautiful views and castle ceilings and fireplaces and ancient beautifully carved choir stalls from churches all over Europe built in. We all liked the IMAX movie there that explained how Mr. Hearst developed his dream for this castle as he travelled throughout Europe as a 10-year-old with his mother, seeing all the amazing castles and cathedrals there. He dreamed of a day when he would bring some of the beautiful things of Europe to America to be enjoyed by those who'd never have the opportunity to travel the way he did.

The bluffs near Cambria where we stayed the night (Silas sneezed right when I took the pic)

The kids getting increasingly wetter as they delighted in the waves -
we went back to the room for swimsuits and it was a great great morning (blue lips and all)
Outside Hearst's amazing mega mansion perched above the ocean. Hearst made $56,000 a day during the 1930's on newspapers and movie studios and had so many antique ceilings, tapestries, fireplaces and wall panels that he "had" to build a whole series of amazing building to use them all up
checking out the weird and wonderful Elephant seals just north of Hearst Castle

San Jose: We stayed with our good friends, the Harringtons, who were so kind to squeeze all 7 of us into their home and feed us and show us a great time. It was so nice to catch up with them while our kids played together so well (Ashton couldn't get enough of their lego mindstorm and when I asked him what he liked best about the trip he said "Emma's Lego Mindstorm"). We took a little trip down memory lane - visited our favorite hang-out - Santana Row, went to our old house (amazing how little anything had changed - the house looked exactly as we'd left it except all the bushes and trees were way bigger), the beautiful old cemetary with the paved walkways where the kids learned to ride their bikes, showed the kids O'Connor Hospital where all of them were born, went to the Tech Museum in downtown San Jose, wandered around Villa Montalvo (a beautiful old estate with lovely gardens and great hiking trails where we always used to picnic and hike) and caught up with some of Jared's friends from work, Phil and Perry and their cute kids.
2385 Boxwood Drive - the first home for all of our kids - what a small place!
Glad we've moved on but what wonderful memories there.
Playing chess at Santana Row

San Francisco: We spent a long time playing at the Exploratorium - I love how that place is so interesting on a different level to everyone and you can have so much fun while learning so much. We went to the Golden Gate Bridge and marveled at that feat of engineering and the beautiful view created by that red bridge against the bright green of the Marin Headlands and the blue of the water dotted with white sails. I love that bay. We followed a cable car for a while (figured we'd skip the $5/each fare and long lines and the twins were facinated just watching those cool old trolleys go), drove up and down the kids' favorite "roller coaster hills" to enjoy the rush and the vistas, and ran up and down the crazy curvy part of Lombard Street. We topped it all off with dinner on Chestnut Street and fabulous fancy crepes for desert. I love SF.After a picnic at the "Palace of Fine Arts" outside the Exploratorium

At the Golden Gate Bridge with Jen, Emma and Gracie Harrington

Cable Cars!


Delicious crepes!

Piedmont/Oakland: We stayed the last couple nights with Jared's sister Kathryn and family (we lucked out and all three of her great kids were home for the weekend). Jared and I had a wonderful (and hard) run through the cemetary by their house and enjoyed amazing crystal clear views of Oakland, SF and the Bay and Golden Gate Bridges. The beautiful old houses of Piedmont combined with the bright bold colors of freshly blooming flowers and bright greenery made a little walk to the great little neighborhood park with the kids extra nice. We did a quick trip to the Chabot Space and Science Center and the kids loved learning about astronauts and planets. Kathryn and MJ treated us to excellent food and hospitality (as always) and took us out to a wonderful restaurant where their daughter currently works - quite a food experience. We've had so many good times with the Pritchets over the years that it felt a bit melancholy to think of that house passing on to new owners - they've got their house on the market now that they don't really need such a big place.
Silas at the Chabot Space Center

Headed to the park with cool cousin Will and a friend

We packed in a lot but still, there are so many people we wish we'd had time to see and places we didn't get to visit. Next time! Now that we know what good little travellers we have, we'll have to head back before too long. It only took about 10 hours to drive straight home yesterday (including a couple quick bathroom stops) so that's not so bad. The Bay Area will always hold a very special place in our hearts.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Ode to Friday the Thirteenth of March

Eleven years ago today, on Friday the 13th of March, this big handsome, smart, kind guy named Jared who had been kind enough to help me chaperone a group of wild little inner city kids on a field trip a couple months prior called me on the phone. He casually asked me what I'd been up to and told me he was staying in Boston for spring break because he had a ton of school work to catch up on and wanted to plan some fun things to do to mix things up a bit. He said there was this IMAX film at the Boston Science Museum about climbing Mount Everest that he was interested in seeing. Before really waiting for him to finish whatever else he had to say, I volunteered that I was going to see that movie with a group of friends the following night and invited him along. I took on the helpful big sister role that I never seem to be able to shake and told him I'd let him know about any other fun things I was doing with my friends that week in case he wanted to join us. He said that would be great and we hung up.

Once I got off the phone, I felt this little rush of excitement that made me a little confused. Stop it! I told myself - don't even go there. Jared is a great guy - fun, helpful, nice, very, very handsome, younger than me, sought after by pretty much every cute girl he met - but he's just wanting to be your friend and tap into your social circle - he's probably wanting a break from the MIT frat guys he lives with and the younger adoring girls who seem to surround him so often. I've got some really fun friends and I'm sure Jared just wants to get in on that. But hey, he was so extra nice to help with that crazy field trip and when we grabbed a bite to eat together after finishing with those kids that night, he was so attentive to me and so fun to talk to. Then after Christmas he had made that comment about trying to find my phone number so we could get together over the Christmas break when we were both out west with our families. I didn't really think about that comment at the time - but hmmmm. And when I'd had my freshly returned missionary sister who is his age invite him to a little dinner party at my house so they could get to know each other, his face seemed to fall a bit when he walked in and saw me sitting there with the guy I was sort of dating at the time. Hmmmm.

Was Jared just calling to ask me out? Did I mess it up? Maybe he's actually interested in me. What should I do? I was sitting there with my heart thumping and my mind whipping different ideas around. I tried to get other things done and get my mind off of this - but it didn't work. I had to do something - this was driving me crazy! I had to fix it if I'd given him the impression that I wasn't interested. I had to call him back. It was scary but I had this calm feeling that this little thing was more right - and more important - than just about anything else I'd ever done. An idea of something fun we could do together jumped into my head and with what felt like wild abandon, I picked up that phone and called Jared.

After asking him how the studying was going, I worked up to "So, are you needing a little study break?" My mind said he'd say no since all the MIT people I really knew were such die-hard studiers but my heart knew he'd say yes. I held my breath and he said "sure" and it all seemed so natural as I threw out an idea that didn't really make sense since March evenings aren't exactly balmy in Boston. "There's this place out on the coast about 1/2 hour north of here where you can jump from boulder to boulder along the shore - it's kind of a cool place - it's called Nahunt - but it would be a pretty long study break - and it might be sort of cold - but it's warmer than usual - what do you think?" As usual, I explained things too much and started to feel a bit foolish - but he quickly said he'd love to head up there, it sounded perfect, just what he needed, he'd be there in 1/2 hour to pick me up.

Wow. This was for real! He's so cool. He's so handsome. He likes ME! I think he really, actually does!

Just then, my friend Dina stopped by and listened to me explain the whole thing - I was in this agitated, excited state and she built my excitement by going off on visions of how great Jared and I would be together and what gorgeous children we were sure to have. As I reigned her in on her wild speculations, somehow the vision she was painting with words seemed actually plausible and it took root in my heart - somewhere deep down inside, while my conscious mind never would have admitted it, I gave room for a tender hope that Jared really might be the one I'd been searching for for so long.

Jared rang the buzzer from downstairs and Dina let out a squeal and launched into another giggly girly bunch of ideas about the bright future in store for me and Jared while I shushed her and tried to surpress my own excitement that Dina had helped to bring to the surface. Jared came up and said hi to Dina (who tried to be a little more dignified - I just hoped Jared hadn't heard her squeals from downstairs!) and we were off. I can't remember a thing about what we talked about in the car. I can't remember what we talked about as we hopped from rock to rock on that beautiful coast with the bright moon above and the chill in the air giving us extra energy. I do remember the butterflies in my stomach taking off and swirling with glee when he first reached out his hand to help me from rock to rock. Then it kept happening - little opportunities to hold hands for a few seconds as he went ahead and helped me across. And each time his strong hand grabbed mine, it felt so good! He was such a gentleman. He was so strong. He was so attentive. He was so adventurous. Could this be real?

Now, eleven years later, I still get a little thrill when this wonderful man of mine reaches out for my hand or grabs me into those big strong arms of his. And I get to feel that support and help and concern I felt back on those boulders in a much deeper way as I look back on Jared's support and active involvement in everything I do. He's so amazingly supportive and helpful with every crazy thing I take on - from trying to make after school programs better to trying to help orphans on the other side of the world to trying to make the kids' school better to trying to get over my own crazy mood swings so I can find more joy and fulfillment in life to trying to help other mothers find more joy and fulfillment in motherhood. Over the last few weeks, he's worked a long hard day at work and then come home to help me with dinner and bedtime and then put in several hours of work on my new Power of Moms website when there are doubtless a thousand things he'd rather do.

The qualities I saw in Jared on our first date (and even before when he was so willing to help me with that field trip) have proven true and vitally important for me. Jared is always up for anything. He's always willing to put off a "put offable" in favor of a "now or never." He's always willing to support me and help me from rock to rock (but probably wishes I'd stop getting us into so many rocky places!).

Jared, thanks for being my rock. And thanks for being all that you were 11 years ago and for being so much more today. Thanks for calling me and inviting me to that Everest movie even though I'd thrown off some previous attempts you'd made to show interest. Thanks for being so open to my crazy nighttime coastal hiking adventure idea and for being such a gentleman to help me across those rocks and make my heart soar. Thanks for being there for me every day and putting up with all my ongoing crazy ideas and ups and downs. Thanks for being a man I've always known I could count on, a man whose presence always makes everything OK, a man I'm always so proud to have at my side, a man who makes my life so good. And I guy who helped me make such gorgeous children and such a beautiful life - Dina was right - the wild speculations came true. I love you.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Bike Race and Other Stuff

Ashton, Hunter, Isaac, Hattie and Sawyer ready to start the race

Jared's best man from our wedding, Derek, is really into mountain bike racing. He and his wife and four kids came down from Alpine for a race this weekend and Jared and Ashton and Isaac decided to do the race as well. With no training, they got in there and did pretty well on their first race and I think there will be a lot more mountain bike racing in their future! We had a great time with Derek's family hanging out at the race area and enjoying a lovely afternoon at the sand dunes - so great to be with another family we "click" with so well and talk about life and kids and work and ideas while our kids play so happily together.

Isaac, Eliza, Hattie and Sawyer loving the sand dunes

This week was Dr Seuss week at school so the kids had fun wearing their PJ's to school, doing mixed up clothes day (wearing things backwards, inside out, mismatched shoes and socks, clashing colors...) and crazy hair day. I thought crazy hair day could be everyone just going to school with their hair the way it always looks when they wake up (pretty darn wild bed head hair we get around here). But the kids had other things in mind. Eliza did her hair herself with tons of clips and Ashton and Isaac had Jared do elaborate hairdos requiring Isaac to hang upside-down off a stool while the hairspray "set" on his thin hair and Ashton yowled through getting spikes put into his hair (he's such a baby about anything to do with his hair - but he was the one who insisted on the spikes!).
Have I said on this blog yet how much I hate daylight savings time? I hate it. I really really hate it. What sort of crazy world do we live in that some group somewhere can decide unilaterally that everyone should change their clocks and mess with what time of day the sun comes up and goes down? Don't mess with nature, I say. And DON'T mess with my kids' sleep schedule!!! It was so nice to put the kids to bed when it was dark. It was so nice to get up when it was light. Now that's over. Sad sad day. I think we should all rebel. Who makes these decisions about daylight savings time? Who can we complain to? I've seriously contemplated moving to Arizona to avoid daylight savings time. How did the Arizonans get out of it?

And speaking of light, I'm totally perplexed by something: Why do most people seem to have all the blinds drawn in their houses all the time? I just don't get it. As I drive around, I've noticed that the vast majority of windows of homes I pass seem to be covered at all times of the day. Do people keep their lights on all day long? Why don't they open their blinds? Are they so worried about privacy? You can't even see into houses except at night when lights are on inside and even then, does anyone bother really looking into anyone else's windows? Maybe if everyone opened up all their blinds and used all the good daylight that's available, everyone would use so much less energy that there would no longer be a need to save energy through daylight savings and we could get rid of the whole stupid thing!

That's all for now.

Happy Things

This week was a good week. Here are a few things that made it really good:
  • The weather was gorgeous. I biked the twins to the park and hung out with friends and soaked in the sunshine and it was so pleasant. I know we hardly have winter compared to much of the world, but this winter was colder and wetter than any we've had - so the sun feels extra great. It makes such a difference in my outlook on life when I can be outside - and it works wonders for the kids as well. With the stunning red rocks against the intense blue skies, I'm in love with St George all over again.
  • I felt a welling up of joy at parent teacher conferences (after feeling pretty frustrated the last time we had them). All three kids got great reviews from their teachers at their parent teacher conferences. Ashton's staying on task much better and has improved his handwriting and his teachers are amazed at his ability to imediately grasp new concepts and to fix any little problems the classroom computers have. Isaac's behavior has been "A+" for the most part lately according to both of his teachers (he's had some behavior problems in Spanish quite a bit in the past) and he's been very responsible and helpful. Plus he's excelling in math, doing very well in writing and is finally right on grade level in reading. According to her teacher, "Eliza is one smart little lady" and her only problem is that she grasps things so quickly that she starts tuning out while the teacher is still talking but she's very helpful and has mastered all the kindergarten site words plus lots of the 1st grade ones. There's nothing like the joy of being a mom hearing great things about your kids (especially after I'd been hearing some not-so-great things previously and worrying a lot).
  • I found a new rug for the living room. I've been looking for a rug forever to replace the one I've never loved and that was falling apart. I walked into TJ Maxx to return some stuff and saw this rug with all the colors I've been trying in vain to find together in one rug (olive green, gold and terra cotta) PLUS it has several other colors that tie in other parts of the room (gray for the concrete, brown for the dark wood and leather) PLUS it is really different with organic patterns that remind me of desert plants in square block patterns that echo the square side table and square slate tiles and window panes that dominate the outside of the house. I played around with getting a more traditional persian style rug or a really plain rug but neither seemed right and I couldn't find anything near our price range with the right colors. Every time I walk into the living room now, I see the new rug and feel happy. It's a silly, materialistic thing, but that old rug has been bugging me for so long and I wanted to integrate all the colors I love and finally it all works.
  • I sold our old Ikea couch in one day on Craigslist and it almost paid for the new rug. I sold one of our highchairs and that paid for the rest of the rug. I love selling stuff - seeing good things go to new homes and getting money in my pocket.
  • I found a new favorite treat. Target's Archer Farms brand makes these cherry pistachio dark chocolate granola bars and they - like the rug I found- are the perfect combination of what I'm always looking for.
  • The twins can play outside on their own without me worrying every second - they don't run into the street anymore and they don't wander off much anymore. How wonderful! We've installed a "red neck trampoline" (Liza's old mattress and box springs - Jo and Aja gave us a newer and way better set for Liza) on our back porch for a few days until we can get around to taking it to the dump and that has offered some great new entertainment value.
  • After lots of long evenings this past week and tons of hours in previous weeks, the new and improved Power of Moms website is getting very close to being done. Jared's worked tirelessly on getting the new template done to give the site an exciting new look and feel and April and I have been entering all the new content we've worked on over the last few months. It feels so good to see an end in site and to feel like all our great ideas and hard work will actually come together to be something wonderful.
It's been a long, cold winter (both physically and metaphorically) and a hard fall before that and a challenging summer before that in a variety of ways. I've had a hard time feeling happy even when things have been going quite well on the surface - there have been undercurrents of difficult things whipping through too often and upsetting my all-too-delicate balance. There have been things to worry about with our kids, things to worry about with other people's kids that I care about very much, relationship issues on many fronts, Jared's dad's health and death to worry about and absorb, strains in many many areas. I've been blessed with "up" days, but have had too many "down" days and have struggled to be the mom and wife and person I know I can and should be. But I've learned to turn to the Lord and to search the scriptures for answers much better. I've learned to balance my time between work and family and personal needs better - and to more fully accept that its OK to have personal needs and to make time to fulfill them - exercise, eating right, sleeping, reading good books - these things all help me be a better person and mom and wife. I've found that I find more joy in motherhood as I schedule in non-negotiable quality time with the kids each day and put boundaries around my personal time and my time with the kids. And I've developed a mantra for the year that really helps - one that came to me in a moment of real desperation a few months back - "Let go and be grateful." Let go of the worry, let go of the stress, let go of the grudges and hurt, let go of the idea that I can or should control so much, let go of the perfectionism. As the Lord instructed, I need to "cast my burdens" upon him. And once I let go, I can focus on being grateful for the blessings that surround me and engulf me -the big things like kids doing great in school as well as the little things like finding a new rug or a new treat - the blessings I fail to see or fail to celebrate when I'm too caught up in the worries and stress. Letting go and being grateful lead away from so many things that drag me down while leading me towards so much joy. I just have to keep this mantra going in my head when things get hard. I can do it. I can I can.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

A Lesson in Gratitude

Every Thursday morning, I use my precious 2 1/2 hours while the twins are at preschool to volunteer in Isaac and Eliza's classrooms (Ashton has Spanish that day so I wouldn't be much help in there unfortunately - someday I'll learn Spanish!). Ever since the kids started school, I've always begged babysitting or somehow fanagled a way to spend time in the kids' classrooms almost every week. Last year I did special story time with Isaac's class each week and helped Ashton's class with centers. This year I help Isaac's class with writing projects and help low level readers catch up in Liza's class. It's great to be able to use some of my education to help the kids and their friends. It's even greater to be able to see the kids in action at school and learn first-hand what really goes on in their classrooms. But maybe the best thing is seeing my kids' faces light up as I walk in the room - that look of pride and happiness is worth all the sacrifice it takes to be there! And it's also pretty nice to get hugs and "hellos" from a lot of kids whenever I'm at the school for something - I've made some great little friends through my volunteering. But even with all the good stuff involved in volunteering, it's hard not to think of the 100 other things I'd really like to do with that time - the piles of laundry waiting at home, the errands that it would be so nice to do without the twins in tow, the work I really need to finish on the Power of Moms website. And it's hard sometimes to really feel excited about expending energy on more kids when I already feel drained from my own kids' needs...

Last year I did storytime all year long in Isaac's 1st grade class and I don't remember the teacher ever saying thanks. It was hard to tell whether she even liked me coming in or not - but the kids seemed so excited to see me that I kept going. With Isaac's teacher this year, it's a whole different story. Ms Duncan always makes sure the kids chorus "Thank you Mrs Loosli" as I leave and she's told me many times how much of a difference it makes for the kids to have me come. She thanked me and other parents who help in the class newsletter. She's remarked several times that Isaac's class is doing better on writing than other classes she's had because I've been there to help them. I'm only there about an hour a week - can it really make much difference?

Well, for Valentine's Day this year, Ms. Duncan had all the kids write me thank you notes. They're doing a unit on letter writing so it tied in perfectly with the lesson plans. She said she gave them very little instruction and they only spend about 1/2 hour on the project. I was blown away by the great letters I got! I think I really am making a difference - and that feels really good. Here are a few excerpts (I'd scan some in because the handwriting is cute and some are so nicely decorated with hearts and flowers, but I don't have a scanner - sorry):

From Halley, a quiet, smart, chubby little girl who is always working hard and writing so neatly:
"Thank you for helping me and telling me I am so good. And you help the whole class. You must be good at taking care of Isaac and his sister and brothers. You are so nice and Isaac talks about you so much. You are so smart. I wish I saw you all the time..."

From Daveena who has such a hard time thinking of things to write when I'm helping with writing time:
"You are a nice woman and I like your stories (they have these pictures to help them think of things to write about and I've usually got some little story to share about most of the pictures - then that helps them think of their own stuff to write about). And you wear pretty clothes. And thank you for being kind. And you wear pretty shoes too (got about 5 comments in these notes on my clothes and shoes - hmmm, I'll have to pay more attention to what I throw on to go volunteer!). And thank you for letting me go to the swimming party when it was summer (Isaac had a year-end swim party 2 years ago and Daveena asks me whether we can have another one every time I see her). And I wish you could be my mom."

From Alejandro whose English has become really good lately:
"Thanks, Mrs. Loosli for helping us do our work. Thanks, Mrs. Loosli for helping me do that rocket kids story with me, Brett, Kevin, Isaac and Jose and helping us when we have truple with doing some ideas (I spend a few Thursdays with a group of wild boys helping them put together a wild story while trying to reign in their behavior - there were moments I was ready to say I was done working with that group - but they were so cute and excited when I'd help them come up with a really funny or creative next part of the story!). Thanks, Mrs. Loosli for being nice to us. Thanks a lot for spelling words for us. Thanks, Mrs. Loosli for helping us learn the real stuff about the planets for our story. Thanks for everything that you do, helping us a lot."

From Laisha:
"Thank you for helping us. You are so pretty. You are my best friend. Can you come to my birthday party?"

From Erik who never seems to be paying attention to anything I do or say and who has such a hard time writing - apparently he dictated this to Makaila who sits by him:
"Thank you for teaching me about bees. Oh, and the polar bears. (from the writing picture prompts) Thank you so much for being nice and for not shouting and screaming. I also like your son Isaac. Me and Isaac don't fight cause it would hurt your feelings and nobody likes fighting. We are good kids."

From Jessica who is facinated with everything I ever tell her. I told her I'd visited a castle in Germany that was in one of their picture prompt pictures and the next week she told me her goal in life was to visit that castle and she wanted to know more exactly where it was...
"You're nice to everybody in this school. Thanks for telling me all of those great stories. I told all those stories to my mom and dad. They like them. Thanks for everything and you are very pretty. I like your clothes and shoes and I want to hear your whole entire stories. How come you know all those things? I wish I knew all those things too, like you. Everybody talks about the things you tell us. You are kind and sweet to me. Thanks for all the work you help us with."

There was way more, but you get the idea. Needless to say, I was touched and realized that little things do make a difference. Now I'm feeling way more motivated about my Thursday morning volunteering. And I'm feeling way more motivated about expressing specific, frequent thanks to those around me. Gratitude is fuel for good relationships and perfect payment for many services. You can get more with sincere gratitude than with money in many cases. So this week I'm going to work on gratitude and see what it can do for me and the people around me.


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