Simplicity.

balloons

**Major disclaimer: please read this knowing it is my opinion and parenting approach, and not a rip on the way other people choose to approach this as parents. There’s plenty of that elsewhere in other blogs. I just thought that there might be some other moms out there, maybe younger moms especially, who could use some insight and encouragement in this area. That’s it.**

I know I’ve mentioned on the blog before that I’m not much of a birthday party mom. I generally find it stressful, and overwhelming, and not fun. And yes, I know it’s not about me, but when I am all of the above, it doesn’t make for a happy household. That doesn’t mean that we don’t celebrate birthdays, or skip parties with friends. It just means that I like to keep things simple.

Part of my issue is how huge, in both numbers of kids invited and expenses, birthday parties have become. I’m simply not interested in keeping up with the Joneses. The potential expense completely overwhelms me, and the excessive amount of planning time to make everything creative and perfect makes me break out in hives. And I’m a creative person. Who adores Pinterest. I think part of my aversion is that all of this effort is put into something that lasts 2 hours.

Now. If crafting up an amazing party is your thing, go for it, sister. If you can afford a fun location, go all out! I don’t think badly of you, and I’m happy you’ve chosen to celebrate your kiddo in that way. Those parties can be really fun!

But if you can’t afford it? Or don’t want to spend that kind of money or time on a party? It’s ok. It really, really is ok to go against the grain. I honestly don’t think it’s going to impact your kids negatively in the long run. In fact, it might even lead to some really great discussions from an early age about family priorities and making hard choices (i.e. you may give your kid the option of an expensive party in lieu of a gift from you if it’s that important to him to have a big party).

We’ve had several small parties at the house, and we’ve also done the pick-three-friends-to-go-to-the-movies route. Each boy has been given the option of one bowling party (or similar expense), but Bennett didn’t even want that, and instead chose to have friends over to the house because that seemed more fun to him. One of B’s friends’ parents take a few kids camping at a local campground for their son’s birthday…super fun, doesn’t break the bank. There are tons of ways to celebrate your kid and his big day without forking over the equivalent of a car payment.

Clearly my kids aren’t grown yet, and this whole topic of how lame their birthday parties were compared to their friends could still lead them to the therapist’s couch. I hope not, but I don’t know. So take what I say with a grain of salt ;)

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Yesterday was Jack Henry’s first friend birthday party (he will be 7 next week!). With a September birthday, he didn’t know enough kids at school last year for us to have one, and having attended two different preschools didn’t allow for a good group of friends to form by the time his birthday came around each year.

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my happy birthday boy!

He invited 6 kids, and 4 were able to come over for a 2-hour party with pizza, homemade Oreo truffle cupcakes, and ice cream. We decorated the kitchen with streamers and a fun banner that my friend Corrie printed for me for Bennett’s last party. A couple of balloons were tied to the mailbox and to JH’s chair at the kitchen table. The kids played with a giant whoopie cushion we have in our basement, played one relay game I’d planned (and weren’t that into it, so I let go of any ideas I had of more organized games), ate, opened gifts, and just played. Jack Henry said it was really fun. The other kids seemed to be having a good time.

jh party popcorn game

popcorn shoe relay race, found on spoonful.com

ice cream pinterest idea

excellent time-saving idea from pinterest…scoop ice cream into cupcake liners ahead of time, and pull out of the freezer when it’s time to serve dessert!

I’m sure it wasn’t the most earth-shattering day of any of their young lives. But it was a great celebration of my boy. He had fun. I didn’t put us in debt.

Win-win.

Minus One

Last weekend, for the first time ever, Luke went away for the weekend on a church retreat for sixth graders. I have to admit, it was really, really weird to not have him with us… I felt like I was forgetting something all weekend.

However, it was really cool to spend some time with just the two younger boys while Luke was doing all of the Big Kid Things. Because we did not have a crazy overscheduled weekend for once, we had plenty of time to just do what we wanted.

Friday night, after Matt and I took care of the yard work and finishing up our bathroom remodel, we decided to have a bonfire in the cul-de-sac and let the boys have s’mores before dinner. Might’ve been our best decision all weekend.

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Saturday: early breakfast at The Shack (I’m obsessed with their berry granola pancake), a long walk on Grant’s Trail,

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and took some time to hang out at Grant’s Farm.

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It was just so much fun for Matt and me to focus on these 2. And even better, by far, was how they got along with each other. I’ve loooong known that just removing any one of them from the mix for a while totally changes the dynamic, but it’s such a pleasant surprise to see these two getting along.

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By Sunday afternoon we couldn’t wait to have Luke back! He was, of course, exhausted, but full of fun stories. Growing up Catholic, I didn’t have these kinds of experiences, so I’m excited for him that he got to experience something like this with his youth group!

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Things are totally (eyeroll) back to normal now, with B and JH resuming their roles as oil and water. Oh well. It was sure fun while it lasted.

Vacation 2014: The Estes Park Part (The Beautiful Weather Days)

Picking up where I left off

When we woke up Thursday morning, we knew the forecast had a much better day in store for us, despite some initial cloud cover and gray skies. We grabbed a quick breakfast at a little cafe on our way into RMNP, and we stopped for the obligatory entry pic at the park, since it wasn’t raining for once.

One of our very favorite parts of the park from our trip 3 years ago was the Alluvial Fan. Unfortunately, in the flood last fall, much of the Alluvial Fan was washed out, and we were disappointed to find that it was completely closed to foot traffic while they’re doing some sort of rebuilding. However, we did one good hike (a bit narrower and rockier than some) near the Alluvial Fan that took us up high enough to see the rushing water that eventually spills out below.

We spent some time driving around different parts of the park as the clouds completed burned off for the day, and decided on hiking to Alberta Falls. We were in a bit of time crunch, especially given that the trail is a) very busy; b) a little more difficult on the way back up than others we’d done; and c) we were meeting up with friends in less than an hour. No matter. We did it anyway.

SO glad we did. The last time we were there, and we didn’t realize this at the time, we didn’t hike all the way up to the best view. This time, Matt was intent on making that happen, including a small, dangerous, off-path diversion before we realized the regular path would take us up to a breathtaking view! We loved it…the air was misty with the spray coming off the falls.

We hiked back quickly to meet our friends, the McGills, for a walk around Bear Lake. How cool is it that their trip overlapped with our time there? Our kids had fun climbing rocks, until Elle slipped on the absolute last step of her climb down and gashed her leg! So that was a bummer. But still, definitely a highlight to have them join us there!

One more 2 mile-ish hike that day on what became known as “Horse Poop Pass” because our trail had been used FREQUENTLY by horses. Gross, but for boys, pretty much the highlight of the trip, what with all of the poop talk.

We finished the prettiest day in EP with mini-golf, where Jack Henry got TWO holes-in-one! Dinner at a very forgettable pizza place, and then a stroll down Elkhorn for t-shirts and ice cream cones.

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Part 2 of our Colorado trip began Friday, as we took Trail Ridge Road all the way across RMNP as we headed to Steamboat Springs to meet up with my whole family!

While it was a tiny bit hazy as we got started early, by mid-morning it was crystal clear and the absolute perfect day for seeing all that this incredible road has to offer. We took our time moseying along, looking for wildlife, stopping to skip rocks in the river, and checking out the Continental Divide.

Up next: 7 adults + 8 kids in one condo for 3 nights :)

Vacation 2014: The Estes Park Part (The Bad Weather Days)

As I mentioned before, we had 36ish hours at home. Around 4am on Tuesday, we woke the family and headed to the airport for our 7am flight.  And for the first time I can ever remember, our plane took off EARLY (I love you, Southwest Airlines!).

It was only after we were comfortably sitting on the plane that I remembered: we’d forgotten Jack Henry’s booster seat for the rental car. So that was fun. Related: I’ve got a brand new booster seat for sale.

After a brief panicky moment where we realized that the boys had left their backpack on the bus that took us to the rental car place from the airport (it was found immediately – that bus was still in the parking lot 10 minutes after dropping us off, which I consider a miracle. Oh, and everything was in it, which included an iPod and iPad. Sheesh.), we headed to Boulder for breakfast. We ate at The Buff, recommended by a friend who lives there, and it did not disappoint!

By going through Boulder, we planned to take a slightly more scenic route into Estes Park (EP from here on out)…however, we didn’t realize we’d really be rerouted due to damaged roads from last fall’s disastrous flooding. But, that was fine. We were treated to a pretty view of the St. Vrain Creek the whole way. Which was nice, because the rain started to fall on that drive, and it stayed majorly overcast and rainy for the next 36 hours.

Kind of a huge bummer when the reason you’re in Colorado is to hike, and the weather is unseasonably cold and wet.

However, we made the best of it. We bought ponchos, ate a snack, and got started on our first hike of the trip shortly after getting to EP.  We all loved Gem Lake. The trailhead is located just outside of EP and not in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) proper, which made it super easy to access. I was too worried about rain while we were on this hike, so I kept my camera in the van and just used my phone. This was probably the hardest hike we did, and everyone loved it, from the views to the difficulty to all of the rocks to climb on for the 11-and-under set.

Sidenote: these boys of mine nearly gave me heart failure several times with their rock-climbing antics and getting too far ahead on the trail this first day. I *may* have tried to put the fear of God in them by making them read the back cover of a book on people who have died while hiking in RMNP (and the story on the back cover is about a 12-year-old boy from the Midwest who was never seen again after he got too far ahead of his family and presumably fell to his death. I know, I am the funnest mom ever.)

We ended that day by settling into our amazing condo (people, seriously…if you’re going to EP, stay here), getting dinner at a place we’d never have tried if it weren’t for TripAdvisor’s recommendation (and it was delicious!), and went back to the condo and crashed by 9pm. Since we’d been up since 4am.

Day 2 in EP started out with more rain, but since our plans included not much more than RMNP, we decided to tough it out and take the drive up Trail Ridge Road that morning. We saw nothing. Absolutely nothing. Unless you count thick fog as something. Matt made us take this mile-long walk (thankfully not a hike) up in the Alpine region where it was 37 degrees, heavy fog, and steadily drizzling. As you will see in the pictures below, I wasn’t thrilled.

So we ate lunch in the van up at the top of Trail Ridge Road, turned around, and drove back down. We crashed at our condo for a while, and when the weather looked slightly more favorable later in the afternoon, we talked the boys into going on another hike: Nymph Lake (which we’d seen last time we were in RMNP in 2011) and on to Dream Lake.

It was raining on us as we started, but the drizzle stopped as we made our way up to the first lake. The trail was muddy and we stopped often to watch the water running off the mountainside in various cool little trickles. And then, we heard it ahead: a waterfall. We totally weren’t anticipating it, and it was raging due to the recent rain. It made wearing a poncho and being cold totally worthwhile! Dream Lake was beautiful, but I would definitely love to see it on a not-overcast day sometime with my own eyes, knowing it looks like this.

Making that last hike happen made us feel like the day wasn’t totally lost, and we all appreciated that had it not been raining for 2 days, the mini waterfalls, huge waterfall, and overflowing streams wouldn’t have been near what we got to experience.

By the time we made it to dinner at Poppy’s, we were really tired and hungry. There wasn’t a lot of talking until there was food in everyone’s belly…these children don’t stand a chance of avoiding the hangry gene.

Up next: the prettiest days ever in RMNP.

Some Thoughts on Parenting a Middle Schooler, 3 Weeks In.

Clearly, as the title indicates, I so far have a lot of experience parenting a middle schooler.

For the sake of record-keeping, and my failing memory, I thought it might be good therapeutic to write these thoughts and feelings down.  Because though some stages move along quickly, and others d-r-a-g by painfully, time wipes away some of the day-to-day type memories, right?

So here are my thoughts in a nutshell: I’m pretty sure I’m a much better baby/toddler/preschooler/early elementary mom than I am a late elementary/middle school mom. This really comes as no surprise to me, as my college major focused on early childhood development. I feel like I’m probably too snarky and sarcastic to be good at this at all. 

And let me say: it’s not like these new attitudes and behaviors and whatnot just came on when school started.  By mid-5th grade, there was some evidence of this tween Luke sneaking into our home. I can only describe it as such: sometimes, he seems like an exceedingly mature teenager, and he knocks my socks off with his insight and knowledge and responsibility. And sometimes, he’s like a giant toddler. And ya never know what you’re gonna get.

I DO understand that this is a major time of growth/exploration/changing about who one is, and that there is a ton of science that indicates major brain function changes (like, parts of the brain literally don’t work like they used to while other grow and stuff – obviously, I’m majorly oversimplifying it, but you get the point). I don’t think Luke is abnormal.  I just think I’m not used to this, and we – both Matt and I – need to get there.

Case in point: last weekend, one of us *might* have jokingly/not jokingly asked the other if it was possible that Luke had gotten a concussion we didn’t about. So you know, we’re handling this well. And by well, I mean we’re having a drink after the kids’ bedtime.

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In other news: though Luke isn’t exceptionally organized in general, he’s so far (as I can tell) been successful at keeping his school work straight.  This was a major concern of mine, so I’m really happy that this is going well!

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Next, beginning band. Oh, beginning band.

Luke is doing a great job as he’s learning to play the trombone. From what I can ascertain, it’s a pretty hard instrument to learn (I played the flute, so I don’t know anything about this, really), and he’s taking his responsibility to practice at home seriously. He has an excellent band director who is making learning fun. I’m being supportive, and congratulating him when I recognize pieces he’s practicing.

But let’s talk about that practice. It’s 100 minutes a week, guys. ONE HUNDRED MINUTES. Bless. That’s a lot of beginning trombone practice every week. And yes, he’s only going to improve if he practices. It’s just…

…I’m pretty sure there aren’t trombones in heaven. Or at least, there aren’t trombones playing “Let’s Go Band” and “Hot Cross Buns.” It’s just a hunch, so don’t quote me on that. 

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Lastly, to middle school teachers and pastors the world over: I love you guys. I mean it. I don’t know what on Earth would possess you to choose to spend your time and career this way, but THANK YOU. Thank you for coming alongside us and wanting to help my child grow and figure things out. I have so much to learn from all of you. 

Vacation 2014: The Wisconsin Part

As is custom in our family, we wait until the boys’ baseball season is over to travel. Which means that by the time late July rolls around, we are very ready to get out of town for a while!

This year’s vacation had 3 parts: Wisconsin and 2 parts in Colorado. We spent a weekend in Wisconsin with Matt’s family, came home Sunday, Matt worked Monday while the boys and I did laundry and repacked everything, and then very early Tuesday morning we headed to the airport. It was a whirlwind but really, really fun!

Our extended family now numbers 16 on the Diehl side, which means we’ve outgrown the family cottage. Therefore, Matt and the boys and I stayed in a little cottage across the neighborhood from the rest of the family, which worked out fine! We spent our lake time eating (great meals out but also pounds of Chex Mix, which I have proven time and again I have no self-control with), playing baseball, shopping a little bit in Lake Geneva, eating some more, and playing at the Assembly Park beach. Just all-around fun family time at Lake Delavan!

Sidenote: Luke found this picture of our family at the lake years ago on Google Images. Isn’t that crazy? Also: we had a talk about not searching Google Images, because, you know, they aren’t always PG.

So here’s the rest of the story, told in pictures…

So Clean.

The first week of the kids being back in school consisted of me running errands, meeting people for lunch, and just generally skipping and floating through life because, hello, freedom.

Now with the second week here, I’ve settled into a routine of volunteering at the school, working out, actually preparing food ahead of time for my family to eat, and starting on all of the things that have accumulated over the last few months that I haven’t been able to tackle.

One of those was deep cleaning the bathrooms, and I decided that today was the day. The boys had kept up all summer with their weekly cleanings, so it’s not like they’ve gone uncleaned for months, but I knew it was time for me to do it.

Let me just sum it up like this:

1. I didn’t know how bad a housekeeper I really am until today.

2. Toilets have so, so many tiny gross places on them, and I’d really never cleaned one that well, apparently. What prompted this crazy cleaning is my super-sensitive sense of smell, so, you know, gag.

3. I’d like to issue a blanket apology to anyone who has used the bathroom at our house the last, oh, say four years aka the whole time we’ve lived here. Because I guess our bathrooms really haven’t been that clean this whole time.

In the boys’ bathroom I realized that the shower curtain was due for a washing (extremely close proximity to the toilet), and in keeping with my previous low standards, as I rehung it, I asked the boys to please just do their best not to pee on the shower curtain. My comment was met with mostly-blank stares and some nods, like they didn’t have a clue what I was asking them to do. So we’ll see how that goes in the future.

Even though it was gross, I was surprised at how much today wasn’t horrible, even though I cleaned all day long…turns out being uninterrupted, with loud, favorite music playing, makes even the worst jobs tolerable.