Tonight, I stepped outside. We’re in that sweet spot between summer and fall, when the sun still feels warm on our bare arms during the day but the open windows invite in a chill at night that makes us curl up in our sleep.

It was always my favorite time of year growing up. It seemed romantic somehow, like that cool, clear air was cleaning off summer’s slate, making way for all the hope and promise of a new school year and the new memories waiting to be made.

I missed this time of year while I lived in Arizona; so I stepped outside tonight to bask in it for a few moments.

I took a deep breath and a memory rushed in with the air. College. Sophomore – maybe junior? – year. A wood patio off the side of a house I can no longer clearly describe. Same time of year, same crisp, still air, same stars overhead. I remembered sitting with a friend. A guy, one who was older than me, quiet and smart. A phenomenal writer. One I’ve long since lost touch with.

I smiled a bit at my own randomness of recall. Then I picked up my iPhone, hit the button to light up my screen … and looked back toward the sky. What was I going to do, check Facebook for the 417th time today?

I put the phone down. I sat and I tried to remember that night, pulling at every detail of the memory that still remained. A muffled party continuing in the house behind us, sitting on a cold wooden step with that friend, escaping the noise together for a while.

It was a time in my life in which I felt very alone. Maybe alone isn’t the right word. Undefined might be better. Not in a sad way; in an exhilarating way. So few chapters behind me, so many ahead. A pivotal time, one that would set the course for the rest of my life.

Not that I was thinking about all this in the midst of a college party.

Except maybe I was because those were the feelings that came back to me tonight as I breathed in the early fall air. Maybe I was feeling the enormity of my future that night, and I needed to step outside and take it all in.

I don’t remember what we talked about, if we even talked much. I don’t remember what we drank or how long we sat there. I just remember the smell of the air and the emotion and the sense of calm he brought with him.

And that’s my problem lately, the core of my recent bout of writer’s block. I don’t allow myself any time to think or to just be, to look around and see and smell, to wonder, to remember.

It’s not that I have zero “me time;” it’s that when I do, it’s easier to check out of life, to decompress by fixing my eyes to my phone or the TV or – if I’m feeling extra motivated – to my computer, trying to arrange words into sentences to tell the story of a little boy who has begun to define me a bit too much.

I’m spending too much time trying to write about what I think I should be writing about and not enough time poking around inside my own head.

I wrote this whole post without checking Facebook once. Maybe that’s a start.

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You know what’s cool about almost-four-year-olds? They love birthday parties. They love their own birthday parties the most, naturally, but they love everyone else’s, too.

I must have a little almost-four-year-old inside of me, too, because I’ve always loved birthdays. So my little partner-in-crime and I decided to really do up Mike’s birthday this year.

We started with a new tradition, which I stole from Kelle at Enjoying the Small Things: Dollar Store gift shopping. Mike turned 33 this year, so I told Ryan he could pick out three gifts for Daddy. He could pick absolutely anything in the store as long as he could tell me why he thought Daddy would like it.


That’s how we ended up with this delightful assortment of gifts:


A scarecrow (cuz he wiggles), a travel cup (for Daddy’s coffee) and a haunted house (because it has a bat).

Oh, and that drawing? That’s the first time Ryan has ever attempted to draw anything other than a few lines. I’ve mentioned before that he’s a bit of a perfectionist. He typically refuses to attempt anything until he knows he’ll be successful (and I mean successful by his standards, which are higher than most). When I told him he should draw Daddy a picture for his birthday, he said, “But I don’t know how to draw, Mommy.” “Well, I can show you!” “Oh, THANK YOU!”

I showed him how to draw a pretty basic stick figure, which is essentially all I’m capable of, and he went right to work. The picture he ended up giving Mike was actually his third draft. Here he is working on Draft #1:


Mike’s smile was not quite right in that one. It wasn’t right in the second draft either. I think that’s how we ended up as The Mouthless Family:


Left to right, that’s Mike, Ryan and me. If you’re wondering about my extra appendage (as was I), apparently that’s my computer. Guess he’s trying to tell me something.

On the morning of Mike’s birthday, we ran downstairs to decorate (Dollar Store blue and white decoration for Penn State, of course.)

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Mike acted sufficiently surprised/excited/impressed:

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The rest of the day was filled with football, family, food, drinks and chocolate chip cookie bars:


At the end of the day, Ryan asked Mike, “Daddy, do you love your party?”

He did. We all did.

At the beginning of the summer, in all my YAYSUMMERYAY exuberance, I created a seasonal bucket list.

I always view these as more of a guide than a hard-and-fast/live-or-die/must-must-must-do-it-all sort of thing. Still, it motivated me on those occasional uninspiring weeks. I think we did pretty well.

Summer Bucket List 2014-complete

Look. Homemade crab cakes were never gonna happen. It’s one of those things that sounds quintessential summer, until you realize it sounds way more appealing if someone else is cooking them for you. Luckily, we went to Ocean City, Maryland last week on our annual family vacation and we had our fill of better-than-homemade crab cakes. Off the hook!

You’d think “Nature Walks” would have been pretty easy to cross off the list. I tried. Today. Yes, in preparation for this post. It did not go well:

Me: Ryan, do you want to go on a NATURE WALK today?!?!?

Ryan: Uhhhhmmm. No thank you.

Me: Really? Why not?

Ryan: Because if I go on a nature walk, I’m going to get too tired. It’s too much walking.

Me: It’s really not that far. You have a lot of energy. You could run for hours.

Ryan: Daddy said I can’t go on nature walks because they’re too dangerous.

Me: Daddy would never say that. Daddy loves nature walks. We’ll look for the best sticks. Also, leaves! And rocks! And bugs!

Ryan, running circles around the room: BUGS?!? NOOOOOO, NOT BUGS!!! NONONONONONOOOOO!

Me: See all the energy you have?!

Anyway, it wasn’t worth fighting for. Plus, we were out of milk. So we went to the grocery store instead. (He was very, very interested in going to the grocery store. Pushing the cart for me + a star-shaped cookie shaped from the bakery for behaving = way better than a couple of dumb sticks.)

We checked everything else off the list, though. Proof:


Swimming. So much swimming. Swim lessons, our little pool, tons of pool parties. It was the Summer of Swimming.


Playdates. He had at least one playdate per week with a friend from preschool or friends from his tumbling class. The zoo, the movies, the science center, the playground, Chuck E. Cheese’s, etc, etc, etc. It kept the kids sane, which in turn kept the moms sane. (No, I don’t always dress Ryan the same as his friends … sometimes it just happens. But you know what? WAY easier to keep track of them all that way.)


Ice cream for dinner. This was the first one we knocked out – on Mother’s Day, in fact. We also had ice cream for lunch, ice cream for dessert and ice cream for snack.


Zoo. Two zoos, actually. A little zoo near Cape May and the Lehigh Valley Zoo (see also: playdates).


Library. Three times, which is enough to be able to easily locate the dinosaur and Curious George sections.


Picnics. We love picnics. We have them in parks, we have them in our backyard, we have them on my bedroom floor.


Iron Pigs Baseball Game. Mike and I took Ryan once (and lasted four innings) and we went once ourselves (and lasted the full nine). I think you know which scenario was more enjoyable.


Puddle splashing. We only did this once. Shocking to me, considering how many times we did it last summer. We just haven’t gotten a lot of long, hard rainstorms this summer – the kind that leave puddles on our street. I’m glad we took advantage of it that day.


BBQs. We love BBQs. We grilled out a lot this summer with family and with friends. On this particular day, the BBQ was a reward for our efforts painting that fence behind Ryan. Please tell me how great it looks.


Chasing fireflies. A terrible photo but the best I could do.

I also discovered tons of holes in my list. All sorts of other awesome things we did that I hadn’t envisioned at the beginning of the summer … roasting marshmallows, twirling sparklers, flying kites, riding rides/playing games at the local fair, feeding ducks. We painted the sidewalk. We found The World’s Most Awesome Playground (not literally, but it’s really really cool and only 20 minutes away). We went to two different beaches and visited family in Ohio and Maryland.

It was such a full summer. A memory-making summer. A bucket-list-worthy summer.

So I’m going to forgive myself for not making homemade crab cakes.

When I worked full time, I was a Master Compartmentalizer. There was a time to work and there was a time to parent.

On the occasional rough day, those two things did collide — like when I’d get a phone call from the daycare director in the middle of a meeting with my boss, explaining that Ryan had a fever and must be picked up.

For the most part, though, I left work at work and home at home. I knew I only had so much brainpower on any given day, and I could not waste it on something that didn’t need my immediate attention.

Now that I stay home with Ryan and freelance on the side, those lines are blurred nearly to the point of invisibility. The mental stamina required to keep a spirited preschooler entertained while writing 400-600 words on any topic (let alone conducting the phone interviews necessary to gather the information … let’s not go THERE) is challenging.

I have to get creative with where and how I work.


Bathe, dear son, whilst I write about ovarian cancer. You will splash way too much, and I will scold you for it, as I simultaneously attempt to do justice to the story of a woman who has survived cancer more times than you can count on your little hand.


Swim, dear son, whilst I write about online liberal arts education options in the Lehigh Valley. (More accurately, splash for 15 minutes, then we’ll take a break and eat popsicles, and we’ll both feel fulfilled even if we accomplished little more than the accumulation of wet laundry and a dead laptop battery. Cuz, popsicles.)

Once in a while, I do get to drop the kid off with some (free! family!) babysitters and get a little work done in peace.


That day, I cranked out an article about getting one’s finances in order before applying for a mortgage in the time it took my hubby to drive from his office to meet me for lunch. Evidently this atmosphere is the most, uh, inspirational for me.

It’s a work in progress.

The good thing is that as a freelancer, I can pick what projects I take on; if things get too busy at home, I can back off of work. In theory, that is. Realistically, as a perfectionist, I want to take on alltheprojects and smash them out of the park while also introducing a new sensory activity to my kid every day and cooking a fabulous dinner for my family.

The end result is that some weeks, I make a fairly respectable amount of money (but Ryan eats copious amounts of chicken nuggets and watches copious-copious amounts of TV). Other weeks, I feel like a good mom (if not a mom who is going a little Zingo Bingo stir crazy).

That’s life, right? You teeter to this side and your work benefits, you teeter to that side and your family benefits, and somehow you manage to keep pulling yourself back to center. As long as you don’t come crashing down to the floor, you can probably call yourself a success.

I’d love to return to my Master Compartmentalizer status one day; in the meantime, I’ll have to settle for Master of Lots-Of-Irons-In-The-Fire.

“Around here, we don’t look backwards for very long…


We keep moving forward,


opening up new doors,


and doing new things,


because we’re curious …


    …and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”


(-Walt Disney)

Sometimes I wish Mike and I could both stay home with Ryan all day. Not just because, duh, two against one, but also because there are so many moments in a week, in a day, in an hour, when that little boy surprises me, makes me laugh or does something so, so brave that I grin and I clap and I cheer and then I think: Darn, I’m the only one who saw that.

I’m the sole witness to so much of his life. It’s a terrible burden for me, on account of my goldfish-esque memory. I think that’s why my phone is permanently lodged in my right hand. Because I know at any moment, Ryan could be on the cusp of doing something amazing that must be remembered and I have to capture it before it floats off into the clouds forever.

He climbed that rock wall with NO hesitation. I kept hitting the camera button on my iPhone, thinking I really should be doing a better job of spotting him and waiting for him to glance over his shoulder to make sure I was still there.

He never did. In fact, he got to the top and took off running without ever pausing to note my coordinates.

He’s grown up so much this summer. As little as a year ago, he stood on the playground sidelines and watched other kids play, too cautious or intimidated or bashful to join them. Now, he’s the kid who goes in search of a new friend everywhere we go, approaching the first kid he finds with, “Hi! My name is Ryan. What’s your name? Want to play with me? Come on, let’s go!

When I try to get him to do something he doesn’t want to do, he placates me with, “maybe tomorrow, Mommy … maybe tomorrow.” He thinks if you are watching a movie, you should also be eating popcorn. He kicks his shoes off as soon as I put the car into drive. He scolds me if I say “pretzels” when the proper terminology is obviously “pretzel goldfish.” He tells me if I get scared of the shadows while I’m sleeping, to call to him and he’ll come scare them away for me.

He must always know where I am. If I’m out of his sight for more than 2 minutes, he yells across the house to confirm my location. If he sees a beach in a commercial on TV, he yells for me to come see it. His favorite job is to sort the recyclables. If I make a dinner he doesn’t like, he runs screaming from the room and throws himself onto the couch in despair; but he almost always comes back to try it.

He’s freakin’ hilarious and part of me wishes I could bottle him up, press a giant pause button on the way he is right now. 

Then again, Walt is right. I want him to keep moving forward, opening new doors, doing new things and following his curiosity down new paths.

I have to have faith that even if I forget the details, I will always remember how he kept surprising and amazing me.

For nearly four years, I have been mesmerized by my son’s eyes.

When he was brand new, he had those deep blue newborn eyes that are so common. They were a beautiful nighttime ocean blue, but we knew they wouldn’t stay that way.



Since then, it’s been a gradual yet persistent change as new colors creep in. By sixth months old, green was pushing the blue to the edges.

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Six months

By the time Ryan reached 1 year, his eyes had turned a deep green unlike anything I’d ever seen, earning him the nickname “green eyes” for a while. A camera never could quite capture their magic. His one-year photo shoot was closest we ever came to documenting them.


One year old

But soon, a rich brown began pushing against the green and by age 2, most people were commenting about his “beautiful brown eyes.”


Two years old

We thought maybe that was it, but the brown somehow lightened and the green around the edges became more defined.

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Three years old

Now, his eyes look different every day. The color changes or deepens depending on the light or his outfit or his mood.

Case in point: these pictures were taken on the same weekend trip to Cape May earlier this summer:





What has remained consistent is that regardless of their color, his eyes have always brimmed with emotion, intelligence and passion. I often turn to him with a thought, a reprimand or a compliment, and stumble in thought when he meets my gaze with such intensity.

He’s my little blue-eyed/green-eyed/brown-eyed wonder.

I’ve been taking a bit of a break from blogging this summer. I haven’t totally abandoned it – I’ve tried to throw out a few sensory or craft ideas here and there, but most anything of substance is sitting half-written in my “drafts” section.

It wasn’t a conscious decision, at least not at first. At first, it was mostly due to a time crunch. Having Ryan home with me all day (preschool starts back up in less than six weeks, not that I’m counting!) at a time when my freelance writing business has picked up steam has proven to leave me maxed out at the end of most days.

I’m tired, guys. Not in a I-just-need-a-couple-extra-hours-of-sleep sort of way but in a bone-tired-brain-fried sort of way. I don’t have the energy at the end of the day to sit down and write anything of substance for myself, not if I want it to make any sense. I don’t mean that as a whine, simply as a fact. I love what I do at home — both with Ryan and with keeping my career alive. But it takes stamina, and things must be prioritized.

It’s not just that, though. I find that the older Ryan gets, the more carefully I’m choosing my words. My friend Kate said it perfectly in her “goodbye, blogging” post – it’s like the stories are no longer mine to tell. I’ve blogged about Ryan since I was pregnant with him. But those posts were really about me. Posts from when he was a sick baby, a silly toddler, even a tenacious three-year-old still seemed like they were more about me, about how I handled each new stage of baby/toddlerhood, reaching out to others for reassurance that we’ve been there and this is normal and omg, me too. I get to choose what I share about myself, what I leave out and what I gloss over.

While Ryan has always technically been his own person, the depth of that truth hits me more and more each day. I find myself stepping into his shoes more often. How would I have felt if my own mom had written about her adventures as a new mom? My god, I would have loved to read that.

But how would I feel reading about my own mom’s struggles parenting me as I reached an age where I finally needed real parenting? The point where Keep The Baby Alive And Call It A Good Day turns into Dear God She’s Moody And I Hate Age 3. Furthermore, how would I like for it to be permanently recorded on the internet for all my future teenage friends to find and use against me? Yeah, no.

This isn’t to say I’m not going to blog anymore. I love the creative outlet, I love the community. But I need to figure out a way to turn the lens back on myself. It probably means posting less often about more thoughtful topics.

Which brings me back to my above-mentioned point re: lack of brain power.

So, who knows.

While I figure it out, shall we look at some cute photos of my kid sleeping? Cuz, apparently, the more tired I get, the more pictures I take of him getting the rest I crave.








That yellow blanket you see wrapped around him in almost every photo? That’s Jigga-Jigga Blankie. Ryan named it that and we have no idea why, but it is his absolute favorite thing In The World and must be protected At All Costs.

(I hope he doesn’t get teased for that one day … but I had to say it.)

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It starts with the obvious.

This is the last time we’ll stay in this house when we visit my family in Ohio.

It moves on to the slightly ridiculous.

It’s the last time we’ll order pizza from Marsella’s. The last time Dad will make chocolate milkshakes in this kitchen. The last time we’ll grill in this backyard. The last time I’ll walk barefoot up this driveway.

Hey, this is the last time I’ll take a shower in the basement! (Yay!)

It ends with the sentimental.

It’s the last night I’ll sleep in my childhood bedroom. The last time we’ll all be here together.

Mom, Dad, Brother, Me

Mom, Dad, Brother, Me

Last weekend, I said goodbye to my childhood home.

After 19 years, my parents are leaving the house we moved into the summer before my 8th grade year. It’s the house I have the clearest memories in, the one I most associate with growing up.

I can still picture the way my bedroom looked when I was a teenager who blasted angsty music on a loop from my sleek(ish) black boombox. I can see the X-Files and Jim Thome posters scotch-taped to the back of the door. The hand-me-down 13-inch black and white TV propped up on the wooden bookshelf. The impressively vast collection of pink stuffed pigs.

I remember the morning I hugged my brother goodbye in the kitchen of that house as he packed up and left for college. I remember navigating my first car up the driveway of that house 15 minutes after proudly buying it. I remember eating cheesecake squares in the basement of that house during my high school graduation party.

I remember the day I packed up my bedroom to move to Arizona. I remember the time I brought my six-month-old baby back to that house and introduced him to his cousins.

cousins 2011

March 2011

It’s a three-bedroom ranch, the perfect house for a young family of four. But young families age and change, and the house is no longer perfect for a couple with two grown children, their spouses and four grandchildren. For one thing, the dining room can only hold about half of our crew. (A good problem to have as far as problems go, but still, it makes everything from a casual pizza lunch to a full-on holiday dinner somewhat of a challenge.)

It’s time for my parents to move on.

I’m excited for them to get everything they want and deserve out of their next home, a brand new house that will come equipped with the exact layout and countertops and flooring and paint colors they choose. (Also, I don’t mind that the set-up in the new house is going to be more ideal for us when we visit with our kid.)


The lot where their new home will be built. They’re on a lake!

Still, my heart ached a bit at the end of the weekend as we packed up our car and began to pull away.

I rolled down my window and called out to my parents, “It’s the last time we back out of the driveway!”

My mom sighed and rolled her eyes as my dad called back, “If you ever want to do it again, just drive by and pull into the driveway. I’m sure the new owners won’t mind.”

Good point. Maybe I will.

We’re still sensory-activity’ing it up around here. In case you were wondering.

I am particularly loving right now because sensory activities take much less planning and happen much more organically when you can, you know, go OUTSIDE.

(I’m officially reacclimatized to the East Coast, taking a jab at winter when it isn’t even winter.)

First and foremost, nothing entertains my kid for long stretches of time like a sandy beach and an ocean shore:



Unfortunately, we live a few hours from the beach, so that can’t happen every day. But what can happen practically every day (as long as it doesn’t rain) is this:


If it does rain, we ditch the pool in search of the neighborhood’s best puddles:


Yet, it’s July already (wha-huh?), so even those activities are starting to get a bit redundant. So back to Pinterest I go, in search of outdoor sensory activities. My new favorite is …


I used an old muffin tin that was long past its prime (you could also use a leftover plastic cupcake holder from a store/bakery or a bunch of disposable plastic cups). I filled the cups a little less than halfway with corn starch, added an equal amount of water and then several drops of food coloring.


The more food coloring you use, the more vibrant your paint will dry. I added tons of color for the yellow paint thinking that color might be too light on the sidewalk … it turned out to be the most brilliant of the batch.


This looks like a messy project, but it really wasn’t. I kept wipes nearby for our hands and a downpour the next day washed away the rest.

My mom got into it, too.

My mom got into it, too.

I’m not done, though. I also want to do:

And on and on and on. I hope that one day, many years from now, Ryan will look back on his childhood and say, “Wow, my mom dreamed up some wildly random activities for me as a kid.”

For more sensory (or just plain fun) ideas, visit my Sensory Play Page on the blog or my Activities for Kids board on Pinterest where I pin all the awesome sensory magic I can find. Also, if you have a fun summer craft/activity idea for kids, please comment here so we can all benefit from your creativity.

Ryan isn’t even four years old yet and I’m already starting to feel like I’m getting close to using up all my sentimental / affordable / unique / easy gift ideas for his dad.

I’ve designed photo books filled with pictures of Mike and Ryan together. I’ve made photo cards and photo plaques. Cards that Ryan has colored, cards with painted handprints. One time, in a rare moment of creativity, I dreamed up a pretty cool hand-painted DAD stencil print.

I thought long and hard about Mike’s Father’s Day gift this year. I had no new ideas. Therefore, I decided to steal my friend’s idea, something she has done for her husband every year since her oldest was born: a little D-A-D photo shoot.


I like that this gift is something you can easily update every year. I like that the pictures show their personalities and how they’ve changed during the past 12 months. I like that once you buy the letters (a few dollars each at any craft store) and a picture frame (I scored this one for $4), the gift will only cost you about 15 minutes of time and less than a buck in prints in subsequent years.

But the best part?

Oh, the best part is the outtakes…

Kissing the chair ... why?? WHY.

Kissing the chair … why?? WHY.


Continuing to tolerate the shoot. Barely.


He’s done.

I really need to create a folder on my computer labeled “Pictures for Ryan’s High School Graduation Slideshow” so I can add that last one to it.

What are your favorite DIY gifts for Dad? Mike has a birthday in a few months and now I’m really out of ideas.