A Posture of Learning

12 02 2014

Despite spending most of my weekdays with 30 bodies under the age of eight, I am surprised each day. In preparing to teach, there is so much to learn. We are working on a non-fiction piece this week called “Ant”. The author loves photography, travel and animals and has married her passions into book creating. I learned about army ants taking over full city blocks, others that carry leaves over their heads like parasols to create nests and later, food. Others work together as teams, creating bridges to get from one branch to another (hello, symbolism!!). We are also learning about a different Winter Olympic sport each day. I now know about the intricacies between luge, skeleton and bobsled (do you know why it’s called “BOBsled”?!). By now I have mastered when to add -s vs. -es to make certain nouns plural, but had neglected to really see WHY. High kicks for P-H-O-N-I-C-S!!!!

I feel my brain churning again in a familiar but neglected way. It’s a slow turning, but those cells are kicking back into gear. The learning edges are vast. Remembering and forming solid classroom management and behavior plans….setting and reinforcing boundaries at home, loosened over endless snow days?!? It is HARD WORK, people. HARD. WORK. And today, as I was leaving at 6:50am eldest encouraged, “Good luck, Mom. Rainy day recess?!? Full Moon?!? Hope you have a good day!” (Ha!)

Many days, like today, are tough. Lightbulb, magic moments of stretching brain cells, learning in tandem. Other valleys where failure and mistakes feel like my address and home. Learning involves risk. Learning requires stepping out over the abyss and praying you land on solid ground. Sometimes growth and learning isn’t “fun”. There is always that moment with each class (or with my own kids) where the reminder must be given, “I am not your on-demand Netflix feed of programs. Everyone is responsible for their own learning.” Or the many moments where in hindsight, my shortfalls and mistakes haunt me.

Despite it all, I am trying to choose to take a posture for learning, even modeling for the kids how to physically do the same. Sit up straight. Dress the part. Engage. Some days, faking it til we make it. The learning usually follows. The spark of joy eventually comes. Maybe even a new discovery or “flow” begins.

As adults, I think we owe it to our kids, our students, our colleagues, to ourselves, to show up. To seek to jump into the unknown, the places where we don’t “know it all”. To be uncomfortable and not have all the answers. A posture for learning might look differently than we imagine….pulled together on the outside but trembling a bit with fear, excitement and possibility on the inside. But so much remains to be found and discovered.

What’s on your learning horizon? Do you feel your brain cells moving these days? What gets you jazzed and excited?

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(My old California history curriculum binders….le, sigh. Onto new learning frontiers!)





Notes from a Blue Bike

7 02 2014

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Two months to the day from the last storm, we have Snowmageddon, the Reprise.  This was our view out the front window about 6 inches into a 12 hour, constant-flow snow storm yesterday.  We have a little reprieve this morning and then reports say it plans to start again in earnest this afternoon.

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A quick dusting at 5:45am became a steady dumping…..

and the boys were “striking”, begging their mean mom (notice the sign, “Mom’s Mine!”) to let them outside at 6:30am after school was cancelled.

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Finally let them out after breakfast and morning cartoons.

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….which lasted for all of 10 minutes when they barreled inside and stripped off all the layers.

Snow days are all about peace, calm, slowness and coziness, right?!??!

It became the perfect day to set aside my grading, lesson planning, schedule stressing and school concerns.

And pick up Tsh Oxenreider’s new book, Notes from a Blue Bike:  The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World.

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I have followed Tsh’s website The Art of Simple (formerly Simple Mom) for a long time, often referring back to her wisdom or ideas here on the blog.

When she began to share about her current book project, now in finished form, Notes from a Blue Bike, the theme resonated with me before I read a word of the text.

Living intentionally in the midst of chaos.

Making intentional choices.

Leaving margin for doing nothing.

Making choices, even hard ones, to live the life we truly seek.

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Back in 2008, we made a very difficult decision to leave our current jobs, house and close proximity to family.  A smaller town beckoned and a job that promised (in our minds) a slower, more intentional framework for our lives.  It was a sweet season for our family.  Our first born was nine months old.  We had a chance to work together in ministry.  Our house was surrounded by Redwoods, we had a creek mere feet from our back deck and the ocean only 20 minutes away.  Within 1/2 an hour we had more wineries than you could ever visit in a life time.  It was a perfect recipe for a slower life.

But…..despite our remote location and ingredients for a calmer pace, it didn’t end up looking that different that our days in the Bay Area.  The pull to work hard while balancing life with a toddler and later, another baby, took its toll.  It wasn’t a BAD life, it was just busier than we had expected and more hectic than we imagined possible “out in the boondocks”.   As Tsh reminds in the opening pages,

Life is chaotic. But we can choose to live it differently. 

It doesn’t always feel like it, but we do have the freedom to creatively change the everyday little things in our lives so that our path better aligns with our values and passions.

Notes from a Blue Bike hits on six main areas of intentional living—food, work, education, travel, entertainment, and revival, with an added appendix on finances and budgeting.  Her style is part travel memoir, with a heavy dose of inspiration and application.  Through her example, I found myself reflecting on our family, the choices we have made, the moves we have endured.

Just as yesterday’s “BIGGER THAN PREDICTED” snow storm halted plans and schedules, we can do the same.  Living intentionally and slowly in our fast-paced world doesn’t just happen.  It requires staying true to our selves and to choices our family has made even when other expectations and voices and internal pressures feel VERY hard to ignore.

In the food vignettes, Tsh emphasizes the importance of slow food, time around the table, menu planning, being intentional with what we buy and valuing the community & connection that can be formed over a meal.

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As I have recently re-entered the working world, her words about work and education rang so true.  As parents and educators, today’s push for each child to learn in the same type of fast-driven environment may not be best.  As adults, deep down, we want more freedom to learn, to be creative and grow.  She writes,

“We are hardwired to learn, and creativity is in our DNA; we’re made in the likeness of an ultimate Creator.”

So often, creativity, time and space to experiment and explore is squelched.  As a teacher, I have a lesson plan book with detailed, daily plans.  I have larger range goals for each subject area, tied to the core standards, to ensure the students are getting a well rounded education.  Despite so much controversy over Common Core Standards and the various “swings” we are taking on the education pedagogy pendulum, I find their intention to be sound.  Deep down, it is about depth of knowledge, critique, analyzing, explaining thinking and sharing learning.  Every theory and educational approach has its “issues”, but truly, if we are encouraging our students, children and ourselves to be lifelong, intentional learners, we are on the right track.  Tsh shared CS Lewis’ thoughts,

“The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts.”

My heart sung when I heard these words.  As my friend commented, it is about being proactive and not destructive.  To offer refreshment, challenge, tools for growth and learning.  As parents, we can provide a wide range of books, out in our living spaces, ready to be cracked open, read and enjoyed.  WE can read more too, modelling an inclination to learn.  Ironically, Tsh’s book was electronic for me as it was an advance reader copy, but typically, I am very intentional about reading paper style, from the library.  I want the boys to see me reading and know that I’m not engrossed in work email, texting with a friend or researching this or that.  Encouraging creativity can mean having toys out that lead to free, self-directed, unrestricted play—LEGOs, trains, art supplies, cars.  And even in the midst of a snow storm (gulp!), pushing the kids, and myself, to be outside, exploring, getting messy and having free time to explore.

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After too much time on the tv yesterday, we said “no” this morning.  Of course, the boys kissed our feet and thanked us profusely for setting this boundary for this {uh, no…..}.  After getting over the initial, painful hurdle, they have settled into playing and creating huge train villages and LEGO communities.  In Notes from a Blue Bike, Tsh shared about the general malaise she noticed in her kids, the lack of productivity and propensity to snap at one another that began when they started their mornings out with tv.  It seems so much EASIER in the moment, but in the long run, it bites us in the rear.

Boredom is a new concept for many of us.  “Lack of stimulation and the accompanying feelings” are almost painful.  My eldest’s grandiose ideas and plans often leave me crying for a trip to the spa for some peace and quiet….  Fostering his creativity has dividends I even can’t imagine, though.  So, within reason, I am working to see his cardboard box creations, never-ending self-authored & illustrated books, hand-drawn game boards and Taj Mahal forts with a different eye.  Intentionally seeing this creativity as learning blocks for who he is becoming.

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As the snow continues to blanket our little neck of the woods, I have turned to dreams of travel and sun to cope.  Tsh’s chapters on travel inspired me to step out into the fears of the unknown and plan some adventure.  To “love the world and drink it in deeply.”  To remember that road trips {despite hours in a small vehicle with young, cranky children} can lead to memories formed and family bonds strengthened.  As we plan for summer ourselves, I am trying to hold true to the stage our family is in.  To lower expectations a bit, think about places that allow for space to explore and room to breathe vs. a fast paced, jam-packed schedule.

Tsh has written a book that leaves me excited to make some tough choices and decisions.  It is not “simple” to make these changes.  It is “easy”.  But it is “good”.

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I would love to hear how you are choosing to live with intention.  What is one change that you are making or would like to impliment?  Leave a comment below, and head to http://notesfromabluebike.com/ to find Tsh’s book.

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Notes From a Blue Bike is written by Tsh Oxenreider, founder and main voice of The Art of Simple. It doesn’t always feel like it, but we DO have the freedom to creatively change the everyday little things in our lives so that our path better aligns with our values and passions. Grab your copy here.





“Who’s in Control Here?!?”

29 01 2014

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My heart and mind want to be in this space, but I am prioritizing a bit differently these days. I am in the midst of my third week back in the classroom, working 1/2 time. We have set up systems at home to allow for smooth mornings for Matt as he gets the boys ready and off to school on his own.

But….illness happens. The unexpected creeps in.

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“Kids will be kids” and exert their opinions and desires.

Sometimes the best laid plans can’t lead to the “control” we hoped for or envisioned.

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In other unexpected ways, we are learning to hold onto what matters and let go of things we once deemed VITAL. I am an avid blog reader. It is a priority to me and a routine that actually awakens my mind and leads to more creativity and thoughtfulness. But….my blog reader has over 500 entries waiting to be read.  It sits untouched.  The upstairs playroom? The one that is a nightly clean-up MUST DO?!? Let’s just say I have stepped on one too many LEGOS as of late. I find it almost impossible to open the cabinet to access the printer due to puzzles in progress. And…..I have just let it be. It’s a big step for this Type A girl.  Some nights, the meals I planned or the recipes that catch my eye in Bon Appetit have to be put on the back burner.  Simplify.  Simplify.  Simplify.

It has lead me to think a lot about control vs management. As a teacher, I want control in the classroom. I seek an environment where students listen and get their work done.  I hope everyone values keeping our classroom neat and tidy. But more so?!? I truly desire a place where ideas can be shared, risks taken in learning and relationships nurtured. And all of those desires are more about management. Creating expectations, setting up systems to allow for growth, learning and independence.

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At home I think it is much the same. Even though I hope I have the perfectly controlled, quiet and behaved boys…it will not come from putting them in lock down mode. Something or someone always escapes. A shrill scream. A loud “NO!!!!!!” Battling wills. I have been wondering what “management” looks like as a parent more and more these days.  Sometimes it might mean holding to weekly traditions and prioritizing family time—–Friday night movie night, game night or making park visits a priority when the sun finally peeks out.

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Other times it means “enforcing” the rules.

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I certainly don’t have the answers and find myself negotiating decisions, picking and choosing day by day.  In my classroom, as at home, it means taking on A project or ONE new behavior or skill to practice each day.  It has meant lots of list making.  Lots of communicating and making sure “everyone is on the same page”.  Sometimes it means Mommy at the end of her rope, yelling.  Other times, we manage to get it right, let something go and focus on what really matters.

It might just be like survival of the fittest.  Eventually, over time, you sift down to what really matters and let the “extras” fall away.  I get worked up over letting go of those commitments, relationships and expectations which feel so important.  But for now, I’m trying to loosen my grip, “managing” and releasing the need to do it all.

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Any advice?  

Do you struggle with a need for control, to have it all together?!  

How do you balance the many balls you juggle in your daily life?  

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Dpp 2013 :: December 31st :: Look Up

31 12 2013

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I have been feeling a little sad over our gray, damp & heavy foggy days lately. So many friends have posted warm & sunny California beach day pics and sunset shots over the Bay and it makes me miss it. And then last night I looked up and saw this out my window.  It kept getting deeper and more vivid as the minutes went by, forming brilliant stripes across the sky.

Sunday I took a few minutes to listen to Oprah interview Marianne Williamson {full episode here}, the author of A Return to Love.  Marianne is the “gratitude guru” if that is a proper title, and she talks from a platform of love.  Williamson reminds that hope and the power to make a difference is within our grasp; that we either live from a place of love or fear.  It is never both.

Marianne shared something in the interview that really struck me and is really appropriate for Oregon.  We often can look up and say, “the sky is gray today.  It’s cloudy.” And yet truly, the sky is blue.  It is ALWAYS blue.  It might be covered up with gray clouds and not visible to our eye.  But the sky still is blue.  It was such a simple concept, yet powerful for me.  On Monday, when I was having a “Ugh, it’s always gray and foggy/cloudy” mental fest, to look up and see the sky painted like a watercolor masterpiece jolted me out of my head space.  It was like God was saying, “LOOK UP.  Do you see it?”  Sometimes I get so enmeshed in the day-to-day life, my anxieties, fears & frustrations (the fog, the gray), that I miss out on the blessings that are unfolding around me.  n fact, this happens OFTEN.   So today, as 2013 comes to a close and we look toward 2014 and all it will bring, I pray.

God, you continue to surprise me and remind me of your faithfulness….when I bother to look up and pay attention.  Give me eyes to see.  Remind me to “Look Up”.  Help me step out of fear and live from a place of love.

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In case you are looking for a few simple, pre-prepared options for reflecting on 2013 and thinking towards 2014, I thought I’d share a few favorites on the blog today.

  • I love the simplicity of this End of the Year time capsule found at Playful Learning.  Mariah Bruehl includes simple PDFs you can print and have your kids fill out.  I don’t care to have the job of storing (and later, LOCATING!) multiple time capsules, so I think I will put them in our stockings each year when we pack them away.  Currently, I have a binder for our yearly Christmas letters and figure I could add a little section to save these yearly.  Ashley Ann Campbell at Under the Sycamore does something similar (see here).
  • Every year we also take time to reflect on the year that is ending and to set some goals for the year to come.  Tsh Oxenreider at The Art of Simple has printables for this purpose.  She also created PDFs with questions that can be printed and cut apart to be used “fishbowl” style with a group of folks.  The New Year’s Eve Reflection Questions for Adults are here and a simplified version for kids is located here.  The Goal Setting Questions for 2014 can be found here.  I did these with Alex last year as a Kindergartner and he loved hearing what he wrote a year ago when we re-read his thoughts last night.  He was pretty proud of how much easier it is to clean up without arguing than it was last year, as well as his growth in reading.  Welcome to 1st grade!

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{I am a bit relieved to be done with the December Photo Project for 2013!  It can get exhausting to post daily…and no doubt more tiring to read daily posts!  I will be taking a little break in January posting weekly while I get my footing with my new teaching job and celebrate our 10th anniversary.}





Dpp 2013 :: December 29th :: 5 Stars!

29 12 2013

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For 2014, I am hoping to craft some goals to keep myself focused. As is typical for many, mine will include some major eating and exercise goals—I am turning 40 this year for heaven’s sake. Time to get serious. I don’t know about you, but I find it hard on many days to see the forest for the trees. Many (most!) days, my goal is to make it through with children fed and alive and clothed, successfully dropped off and picked up at school. But this year, without getting legalistic and freaky, I hope to set a few personal goals as a foundation for day-to-day life. A way to keep my mind growing, to use my imagination, to stay in the moment and focus on relationships.

One of these sillier goals, on the surface, was to complete a five star Suduko puzzle in 2014. Silly in the sense of importance, maybe. To me, however, since our move last summer and beginning to take the daily newspaper, my day feels incomplete without sitting down with my cold or thrice-warmed coffee to stretch my brain, and complete the Suduko. I always try Friday and Saturday’s 4 star challenges, but usually it ends in distraction or frustration. So today I decided to add the 5-star challenge to my list for 2014. I “warmed up” a week early and set to work on it today. A dress rehearsal of sorts. Two hours later, after many sighs, groans, fist pounding and “I won’t give ups”, I did the unthinkable. I finished that dang puzzle—-and didn’t even cheat!

So, the lesson? Who knows, but maybe a little something about setting measurable, specific goals. Goals about things that may seem silly on the surface but which truly push us into an area of growth. Whether it’s Suduko, green smoothies, re-entering the classroom or books to read on my nightstand, there are always going to be areas to stretch and grow. And….areas of frustration and incompletion. Time to sit in the middle of it all and chose to reach for some goals that seem unattainable. To fail. To succeed. To grow. And to get a little obnoxious about our “silly” victories and successes too.





We are dust, but Co-Creators

28 10 2013

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Nothing humbles one as much as children.  Or the disequilibrium of a move or transition.  These moments of humility—born through embarrassment or not knowing the “norms”—can find me floundering.  The walls I erect to protect myself from embarrassment or loss of power get pretty tall, big and strong.  Amazingly, through a child’s temper tantrum in a public place or not knowing accepted “rules” in a new spot (no state tax!  no need to pump my own gas?!?) can prove a worthy challenge.

How then do we see our lives’ journey as one of co-creation with our maker?  An intricate back-and-forth process born through humility and simplest matter—dust?  How can God desire to co-create through ME….when my consuming thoughts are about getting me three year old in the pool without a fit or planning meals for the week or keeping up with homework, packing lunches and reading practice?

As the world around me is ablaze with the colors of autumn, I dig deeper for transition, change and vibrancy.  After a move and working on routine, calm & community for the family and the children, it almost seems like the winds of autumn are a call to similar movement in my own life.

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I find myself looking around for “hand holds” to reach out for and am met with more questions or uncertainty.  Like many students I worked with over the years, I too want to be told the expectations, rules and parameters so I can dive in and make decisions.  Often, though, things are only stable and clear for a brief moment before change blows in and circumstances shift.  The colors change.  The leaves fall.  The fog rolls in.  We feel our earthy “dustness” wondering what can be created, made or formed from humility and earth.

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Vibrancy, vision, courage and bravery feel far away.  Creativity is elusive.  How does God meet us in these places?  As I work with a passage in 2 Timothy for the curriculum I am writing, I have pondered these questions over and over.

I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.  ~2 Timothy 1:6-7, 13-14

We are called to bravery.  Courage.  Living without fear.  Love.  And yet, Paul also reminds Timothy to rekindle the gift of God that is within.  To rekindle.  Who knows if Timothy was having a rough time.  Maybe he, like the early church, was fumbling around through transition and fear of the changes ahead.  Was it easier to be immobile rather than create and form something out of the dust??  Or to bring something that was dying back to life?

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Paul is quick to remind that co-creating, bravery and courage and not mustered up on our own accord.  Rather, God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, is calling us to look at something different.  To seek, push and live into a new thing.  I wonder if it is often like my playdough attempts with the boys, or my LEGO creations.  I never really know quite what I’m going for.  And despite being asked over and over by the kids, “WHAT ARE YOU MAKING!?!?”, I am never sure during the process.  Could the art we were made to live be something wholly in-explainable, impossible to measure or quantify?

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Instead of pushing for new life to come about through my efforts, my plan and my vision, God is starting to paint the picture for me.  I see that it takes God’s light shining on the dust, through the creation, to vision what could be or what is.  And sometimes that takes some rekindling, the “laying on of hands” from our community, friends and cheerleaders, bolstering us to stay in the process and keep our eyes open to see the art that is taking shape before our very eyes.





Summer Bucket List

1 07 2013

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Meg Duerksen’s Amazing Summer Bucket List

I have wondered about the possibility of having a Summer Bucket List for a few years now.  In my mind, it seemed like a perfect way to give some structure to the months the boys are out of school.  During Advent each year, we do a similar concept (search “Advent” on the side for posts about what we have done or click here for a list).  A list for summer seemed to stress me out rather than provide structure, fun and purpose.  Something changed for me, though, recently.  I have been watching my eldest rather closely, trying to gauge how he is fighting or accepting parts of our upcoming move.  Many folks shared suggestions for helping him through this time, allowing opportunities for closure on the experiences and relationships of the last three years.  I know that even as I flounder myself in this goodbye process, that my kids are watching.  I don’t want to put on a show for them, to brush over sadness or anger.  By creating some structure, fun and events to anticipate, I am hoping it just might help this murky “in between” time.

I didn’t get as fancy as Meg did in the example above, but I created a list, beginning with my calendar and events that were already on the books. There are many resources online as well and I additionally took recommendations from folks who live in our new community.  Who doesn’t want to sample the best donut at our new Farmer’s Market?!  It is our hope that the items we get to on our list will provide some fun memories and give purpose to each of our stages ahead:  saying goodbye, travelling & settling into the next chapter.  I’m listing them below, edited to be a bit more general than our actual list, in case you have a desire to try something similar.

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Summer Bucket List!

  1. Go and see Monsters University
  2. Go to the beach
  3. Spend a week at the beach house
  4. Go out for Ice Cream (Fentons?)
  5. Go to Toys R Us and use gift card from the Walk-a-Thon
  6. Go to In & Out
  7. Do a Lemonade Stand
  8. Pick berries and make jam
  9. Have swim lessons
  10. Make Ice Cream
  11. Have playdates with friends
  12. Spend the night on a farm on the way to Oregon
  13. Overnight/Slumber Party at Grandma’s
  14. LEGO Camp!
  15. See Fireworks and Celebrate Fourth of July
  16. Camp in our backyard
  17. Make S’mores over a fire
  18. Plant a Garden
  19. Go and see new Pixar Movie, Planes
  20. Go to Church Picnic at New Church
  21. Play on the Cool, new Playground (Wildcat Park) at new elementary school
  22. Go to Target and shop for School Supplies for 1st Grade with Mommy
  23. Choose a New Lunchbox for 1st Grade
  24. Road Trip to Oregon
  25. Go geocaching (treasure hunt)
  26. Go to the Park and Have a Picnic
  27. Go to a SF Giants Game
  28. Make Homemade Waffle Cones
  29. Watch a Sunset at the Beach
  30. Get Carded (send cards to 7 people in 7 days)
  31. Go on a Photo Walk with Mom
  32. Go to The Sunnyvale Farmer’s Market
  33. Go to the Corvallis Farmer’s Market (get fresh donuts from Gathering Together Farms)
  34. Play Monopoly
  35. Take Lunch to Daddy once he starts his new job
  36. Outdoor Movie Night
  37. Make Popsicles
  38. Go to the new library in Oregon & get a library card
  39. Check out Cloverland Park
  40. Make a Huge Box village after mom & dad unpack boxes at the new house
  41. {new addition I’d forgotten…even though it was already on the calendar!}  Free Slurpee Day at 7-Eleven (on 7-11 of course!)

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Any traditions you commit to every summer?  Things to add to our list!?

Here’s hoping MOST of the items on our agendas actually end up serving the greater purpose of bonding with our kids and making memories.

For me, enjoying In-n-Out and homemade ice cream is a bonus benefit!

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