Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Screen Free Mondays you know how Dustin and I are always scheming some sort of life change experiment? Well, probably more accurately, how I'm always scheming some sort of life change experiment, and Dustin humors my super-passionate kinda-crazy spirit, and goes along with many of my whims?

Well...yeah. That's a thing. And I'm (we're) at it again.

You see, a few weeks ago, I came up with an idea to revolutionize our lives (again) (some more)! I call it:

Screen Free Mondays!

Awww, yeah.

What's that mean, exactly? You might be asking yourself (Or if you are Dustin: asking me). Well basically it's a commitment to forgo "screen time" all day, one day a week. You see, one thing I've learned about myself over years of tried and failed resolutions, is that I'm not really a "set reasonable limits for myself and see small incremental change" type of person. I'm not great at a slow, steady pace of one good choice after another until it adds up to a better whole. I'm impatient, with a big bias towards action. When I get an idea, I want to do it. Pretty much now, and probably with both feet. But just before that, I want to define it, give it parameters,and make it a thing. 

So when I was sensing that our family had gotten a little too enamored by and entrenched in the glow of our screens (phones, tablets, computers, TV) I knew we could just try to rein it in a little. But no...that's not the Courtney way. Instead, why don't we go for a semi-extreme experiment? With a name? And rules?!

I approached my people with my proposal- "Guys...How do you feel about Screen. Free. MONDAYS?!?! (pause for enthusiastic reactions) (receive no enthusiastic reactions)"

"Ummmm. What? Is that?"
"But I like my tablet!"
"What's 'Mondays'?" we had some education to do.

But quicker than you might imagine, I managed to get everyone on board. I was basically making the rules up as we go, so as the questions kept coming, I kept spitting out half-baked answers.

A day for all of us to take a break from screens, and prioritize time talking, playing reading, etc. etc. etc. together.

Well, because we (mostly the grown up "we's") have gotten a little too attached to our phones and shows and a little too comfortable with a nightly routine of Netflix and zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. This will be a good chance to prioritize more social interaction vs. social media, more quality time spent together vs. time in close general proximity to each other, and maybe even a little more progress on all the things we should be doing vs. getting sucked into another episode of 60 Days In (though it is pretty good). (For the record, the kids are screen dependent zombies. The baby thankfully still doesn't know what TV is, and the girls watch a couple shows in the morning while we get ready/they eat breakfast. So they are along for the ride in the name of family solidarity,


Well, because the weekends would be just too dang hard. But weekdays when we have a lot going on might not pose enough of a challenge. Monday nights are usually wide open, so why not make that our chance for together time?

Well, no. How 'bout a month. We can do a month, right?

So there we had it. Screen Free Mondays was/is officially a thing.
And guess what?! We're already 2 weeks in. Yeah I know...If you take a break from social media, but don't post about it on social media, did it even happen? We had to shuffle it to Tuesday in week two because Dustin was traveling on Monday...And a day spent in an airport is pretty much impossible (or at least relatively tortuous) without screens. Plus you know I wasn't making it through a full 24 hours riding solo with three little ones without at least a little bit of technology backup (Holla, Curious George Halloween Special! Thanks for making a shower possible for mama!) But we made it happen.

Depending on your relationship with technology the whole thing might not seem that extreme. After all, it's a day without Facebook, not a season on the Oregon Trail. I'm not sharing this in an effort to earn admiration for my brave crusade. (I mean...unless you want to throw that my way. I'm not turning it down). And I honestly don't think we're actually terribly addicted to least not more than average Americans. But I know how easy it has become for me to absentmindedly scroll through my feeds, while the TV hums in the background. Or to reach for my phone whenever there's a 2.5 second lull in the action of my life. Phones, and feeds and input, input, input have become a constant presence in my day.

So I get that this isn't trophy-worthy, but I am at least a little bit excited/proud about making some effort to shift from mindlessness, to intentional-ity.

Halfway through our first day, I sent Dustin an IM (sanctioned screen use!) complaining:
C: "You have no idea how hard it is for me not to tool around on the side while I'm on this nevvvvvver ending conference call."
D: "I know...I was a few minutes early to a meeting and I just had to stand there."
So, guys:
The struggle is real.
We're fighting the good fight.
And other way over-dramatic cliches that signify how way-too-seriously I take everything.

But it's Screen Free Mondays! A new, and totally real thing that deserves my effort! And theatrics! And total commitment for at least a short period of time, followed by an over-analysis of lessons learned, and then an inevitable abandonment of revised habits, until I freak out and repeat the cycle six months later*.

In case you're interested in joining in (I really sold it, I know), here's where we landed on the somewhat-arbitrary-but-they-make-sense-to-me guidelines:

  • Social Media
  • TV/Netflix/Movies
  • Personal email
  • Web browsing 
  • Games or "Time wasting" apps (pretty much social media, but also fantasy football, 1 second everyday, timehop etc.)
  • Photo editing/blogging
  • Work (email/all other worky work stuff)
  • Texting
  • Taking pictures/videos
  • "Utility apps"- maps, weather, uber, video monitor, etc. 
  • Pandora/Spotify
So, yes, technically we still use screens on Mondays, but the goal is for them to be functional devices that add to our day, not entertainment devices that take away from our real-life opportunities for connection. Work is a given (as much as I'd love a "sorry...I'm not using screens today" pass for all my Monday duties, I'm afraid that wouldn't fly). And all of the "approved" activities on our list are things we already use pretty responsibly (I've never skipping out on playing with my kids because I accidentally got too engrossed in The Weather Channel). Plus, the spirit of the experiment is the important part...I'm trying to improve the quality of our relationships, not become Amish. 

We're two weeks in, three weeks to go (somehow I picked a month with 5 Mondays...figures.) I'll keep you posted on our progress. If irony allows, I may even choose a new hashtag.

* Unfortunately not a hypothetical cycle. I've been working the TV Free Fanfare since 2008. And in 2010. And in 2011. And 2012. (After that I'm pretty sure I did it some more, but maybe mercifully managed to not write about it).
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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Field Trip Lessons

On Monday morning, I worked from home. I held some conference calls, sent out a contract, prepped for a client visit, and basically tried to cram a day's worth of work into a couple hours. And in the afternoon, I was a field trip mom. I picked pumpkins, pet animals, patched up a boo-boo and had an all-around blast with my preschooler. 

If you saw me that day, you'd probably think I was killing it at this working mom thing. And maybe that day I actually was. I mean...look at the pictures...she (and we) had a blast, and for bonus adorable points- she did it in her little red boots. 
But one day, and these pictures, aren't the whole story. It's part of it...and a beautiful part...but not the whole. Every day I'm a working mom, but most days it's not split quite so cleanly- I don't get the morning to be one thing and the afternoon to be the other. I'm both...all the time. And with both, comes overlap, comes pressure, comes stress, comes...mess. 

This working parent thing is messy, and only half of the story is visible at any given time. 

If you see me during a meeting, you might think I've got it all together. I've got a full time job and three little kids. I'm busy! I'm important! I'm doing it all! But if you're on my team, you've also witnessed me stroll in, half-disheveled, apologizing for the cluster that is my morning routine (and the dry-shampoo situation that is my hair). So...yeah. Maybe I'm not doing it all.

If you see me with my kids, you may think I have it all. Three adorable little people, plus a career I'm passionate about. I'm working, and making it work! But if you're around enough, you've also seen me arrive home frantic, apologizing about the day getting away from me. You've witnessed me shushing the kids during a conference call, stepping away from dinner to finish one more email, opting for "movie night" because I can't muster the energy for anything more. So...yeah. Maybe I don't have it all.

I rock presentations....and I hold back tears during airport FaceTime conversations with my kids. 

I say yes to every extra hug at daycare drop off...and I arrive late to my 9:30 meeting (again). 

I surprise my kids with an after school trip to the park...and I catch up on email until the midnight hour. 

I succeed, and fail; I am put together and never enough. 
I work incredibly hard at my job, just as I work incredibly hard at raising my kids. And in the end, I am marvelously imperfect at it all.

If you've witnessed me, a working mom, in either capacity, then you have no doubt already seen me screw up, lose my patience, drop the ball, and at times just appear to be an all-around mess. But I hope that you'll stick around long enough to see the other half of the story: the part where I try my absolute hardest to serve well, to perform well, to love well. 
I'm pretty sure that someday, this little girl will look back on things and know that her mom did not have it all together. She'll remember that I sometimes packed the wrong thing for lunch (though she'll learn that when you have a preschooler, pretty much every lunch item can be deemed "wrong" for a variety of specific and maddening reasons). She'll remember that I wasn't always (ever) the first parent at pickup. 

But I really hope that she'll know about the other side. I hope she'll remember the pumpkin patch days. The boots, the hayrides, and the kisses on skinned up knees. I hope she'll know that I worked, and prayed, and tried, and tried some more to be my best, and show her my best; to model some sort of imperfect path of self-fulfillment, humility and fun. I hope she knows that through it all, I never wanted anything more than to somehow demonstrate to her how immeasurably she is loved. 

On Monday I worked and I mom-ed. And it was a very good day. 

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Monday, September 26, 2016

Little Pip-Speaks: Volume 26

I haven't done one of these posts in a while, but I've been collecting key quips from my little whippersnappers over the Summer. I try to jot down the extra funny/adorable ones whenever they come, and these two little goobers are basically good for a quote every day. And at this point, I should really change the name of the series to include both girls, because Fin is catching up to her sister in the sassy-saying department. Wherever do they get it?!

Pip-speak #1:
Piper: There were lots of friends at soccer. Will, Grace, Teddy...Teddy is not just a stuffed animal. It is also a person. 

Pip-speak #2:
Piper {knowing she's not allowed to say "boring" anymore}: Do you know what's...a little less fun than the other things? The letter m. 

Pip-speak #3:
Mama {listening to the car stereo}: Isn't this song pretty?
Piper: Yes. I love the voice who sings it. 
{later that song}
Piper: I love this song. I can't wait to hear my voice sing it. 

Pip-speak #4:
Piper: I can not remember. That is too much for my mind to hold. 

Pip-speak #5:
Piper {putting on a pretend theater production}: I'll write your name here to check you into the show. 
Mama: Can you write Courtney JoAnn Stegmayer Bowden? That's my name. 
Piper: Umm...I'll just put a check.

Pip-speak #6:

Piper: Daddy, who do you think is going to wear diapers first: G'mi, or Papa? 

Pip-speak #7:
Piper {from the top bunk, talking down to Fin at bedtime}: Do you want to hear a new song? 
Fin: No.
Piper: Well how about I start singing it and you just tell me if you like it. 

Pip-speak #8:
Piper {listening to Megan Trainer's song "No."}: She sounds like a bossy lady. 

Pip-speak #9:
Piper: Mama, I like Jesus. 
Mama: Good, baby, he loves you. 
Piper: I love him too. That's why I was looking at the clouds. I saw one that looked like Jesus. 

Pip-speak #10:
Piper {seeing Fin pout}: Fin, you better put that lip in or some birdie's gonna come land on it. 

Pip-speak #11:
Piper {in the double stroller}: Isn't this the life, Fin? Being pushed around... 

Pip-speak #12:
Mama: Piper, did you see that guy? He was trying to run and not get hit with the sprinklers. 
Piper: And I bet he didn't have his bathing suit on. I wouldn't like that. 
Mama: What? Getting all wet? 
Piper: Yeah. Maybe if we could stand on the water like Jesus.... 

Pip-speak #13:
Piper: Finney, would you like to snuggle with me for nap? This offer will not last forever.
Finnish #1:
Mama {listening to complaining while we're out on the boat}: Girls, you're very lucky. 
Piper: Why?
Mama: Not everyone has a boat. Not everyone gets to do fun things like this.
Fin: Yeah. They just have to swim with their arms. 

Finnish #2:
Fin: Do you want to hear the song in my mouth? **Hums**
Piper: Fin, that is called humming. 
Fin: Well I call it the song in my mouth. 

Finnish #3:
Fin {singing the Spider man theme song- after requesting it 85 times in a row in the car}: Spider man, spider man, shoots a web, shoots a wall...Spider man, spider man, shoots a web, eats a snack. Look out! Spider maaaaaaaan.

Finnish #4:
Fin: I got a wotta toys.
Piper: You got water toys? 
Fin: No. Wotta toys. 
Piper: Water toys?
Fin: No! Wotta! 
Piper: Oh. A Lotta toys! 

Finnish #5:
Piper: **crying because Fin hit her in the back**
G'mi: Fin, what did you do? 
Fin: I hit her and I said "Get a move on, Piper." She was going too slow. 

Finnish #6:
Fin: I'm making this apple into a person. I already gave it a long arm and I'm gonna make another arm. {shows off her apple with the skin bitten off in an unrecognizable shape}

Finnish #7:
Fin: Dad!! There is a fly on the table and he's not killed! 

Finnish #8:
Fin {all the time}: Oh my gracious.

Finnish #9:
Fin {also all the time}: I was just joking you.

Finnish #10:
Piper: Daddy, I don't feel good. My belly hurts. 
Daddy: Well when I woke up, and my belly hurt too. But then I had a big toot and I felt better. Sometimes the toots can get stuck in your belly. 
Fin: Yeah. The toot fairy come and take the toots away. 

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Thursday, September 15, 2016

Rings Over Rio

One month ago, my littlest baby turned one...and a few days after that...we partied. Big time.

I love a party (duh), and I love my babies (DUH) you know I can't resist throwing a party for my baby! But honestly...for a while I couldn't figure out the theme, and couldn't quite muster the energy (or time) to get the planning going. I even thought maybe we'd just skip it this time (he'd never know, and never care, right?!) But I would know, and I would care, so I shook off my lameness and dove into making things happen. 

Soon, an idea started to gel, and my vision started to take shape- I decided to go with Brazilian Olympics theme. Pretty standard on the baby party circuit, right? Ok, even I wasn't quite sure what that theme meant...but I figured this was a once in a lifetime opportunity (his birthday will be at least around the same time as the Olympics every four years...but the Games are not likely returning to South America any time soon...) so I might as well go for it, no matter how weird it sounded. I pictured 80% South American Carnival type fest, with a layer of patriotic sportiness thrown in. I was skeptical I could bring my half-baked vision to life, but I pinned my heart out, went on a party supply shopping spree (with my co-planner/enabler/mom) and it started to take shape. Once the garlands, backdrops and tiny ducks started rolling in, I started to get pretty pumped. Then I found basically the worlds most perfect e-card invite...and we were in business.

The only problem was the sliiiiiiight detail that my knowledge of Brazil was...a little lacking. 
Fortunately, my cousins are half-Brazilian, so I texted one of them to help me out: 

Sounds good to me! 
I wanted to keep things as simple as possible (ok... mostly I wanted things to be as cute as possible, as festive as possible, and as fun as possible, but after that, simple was definitely on the list) so I decided we'd keep the party short, not coordinate any organized games (babies don't really do organized anything) and keep the menu easy to manage. I prepped as much as I could in advance, and then took the Friday off work so I could bake and decorate without kids running around un-doing all my doing.

And somehow, just like always, everything worked out. I spent entirely too much time and money on the whole thing, but how often does your baby turn one?! That's what I thought. All costs- emotional and physical- are justified. But I never stress-cried, and only got relatively sassy with Dustin (vs. all out party-zilla...a role I may have played in the past). I bit off more than I could chew, as per usual, but with my mom's amazing talent for all things party (and endless patience to help me with grunt work), and increasingly lower expectations for myself (and a wee bit of perspective that this is a party for a one year old after all...) it all turned out beautiful- AND enjoyable. 

Click through for full details- and basically a flipbook of pictures. 

For the food we did a nacho bar (I Brazilian), Olympic fruit rings, and red white and blue chips. I underestimated how much people would eat (it was 3:30-5...I figured- how hungry could people be?) so we probably could have doubled up on the amount we served, but no one complained/starved. Plus I think snacks like that might be something that no amount ever seems like enough (does anyone know when to stop eating nachos? Teach me your ways.) so it really was fine in the end.

I made the pineapple vases (Instructions: slice off the top and carve out the inside, being careful not to slice your hand off/mash the fruit beyond repair. Stick a plastic cup inside to hold the water), and my mom arranged all the flowers. I was pretty much obsessed, and kept even the coke bottles up for at least a week. (note: pineapple vases are not meant to be kept longer than about 24 hours. Do as I say, not as I do, unless you want sticky counters and a fruit fly invasion).
My plan for the party was pretty much...invite people over...send them outside. Which was flawless. Except for the forecast, which called for rain almost exclusively during the party hours. So I balanced some optimism with some realism, and set things up outside, but only used decor that could survive getting wet. Lo and behold, it did rain...hard...for about a half hour right in the middle of the party. But there was still plenty of sun to kick things off, and it cleared up in time to do smash cake on the deck, so I consider it a win. 

I didn't plan any games (like I said...not really one year olds' strong suit) but the maraca making station (Easter eggs, rice, spoons and washi tape) was a big hit, and the favors were in high demand. (you would have thought they were actual gold medals with the way the kids were coveting them). Other than that we just set up the bounce house, threw out a few toys, and let the kids go to town. 

So we played and ate, and ran inside to escape the rain, and played and ate some more, and then headed back outside for the Closing Ceremonies: The Cake Smash. 

Now, I have a bit of a dicey history with cake making, but I'm nothing if not dedicated, so I was committed to making a (simple) Olympic cake for the occasion. And I'll spare you the day long process and just brag about the end product(s):

I know they're not exactly Food Network worthy...but I was pretty pumped about them...and the guest of honor pretty much couldn't contain himself.
 And once it was time, this guy delivered pretty much everything you could want in a cake smash session. He did the skeptical-faced song-tolerating, with some icing tastes mixed in:

 He pawed at it:

And eventually just went for it:

He had quite the audience of adoring fan-girls, and he hammed it up big time. I was worried he might get a little overwhelmed by it all, but he ate it up (the attention, figuratively, and the cake, literally).

By the end, he hand a mound of frosting and crumbs on his tray...on his his hair...And he was loving every minute of it (Until we had to hose off the deck...and him). 

Don't worry, eventually other people got cake too (not all off of the birthday boy's fingers...though I wasn't complaining!) ...and the bash wrapped up with far too many presents, and a few more photo-ops. 

It was a wild day, and our favorite little boy soaked up all of the love and attention- and sugar- we could possibly heap on him. I know he'll never remember a bit of it, and even if he did, he would likely never care about the majority of the details. But I hope somewhere in his heart, he eventually sees that yes, his mom is a very specific breed of crazy when it comes to this party planning stuff..but mostly I'm crazy for him. I'd buy all the striped straws, blow up all the balloons, nearly-ruin all the cakes, and theme alllllllll the things to show him how much he's worth. He's gold medal status...on this day, and every other.  

Happy, happy first Birthday, Miller bug.
Or should I say: ParabĂ©ns!

Miller's outfit: Etsy
Party decor: Party City (balloons and clips, backdrop, balloons, cups) Oriental Trading (flower garland, napkins, plates, ducks and punch-ball favors), Hobby Lobby (faux leaves, napkins, plates, straws), Target (medal favors) and JoAnn (parrot napkins, fabric table runner). 
Balloon garland: followed this tutorial
Flag garland: DIY, using this version as a basis
Fin's and Piper's Dresses and my shirt: Kohl's

P.s. Check out Piper'sand Fin's first birthdays too!
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