Here we go…

For as long as I can remember, the start of school represented the “New Year” in a much bigger way than January 1st ever did. The beginning of school represented a fresh start. Smooth, perfect folders, clean backpacks, and a brand new lunchbox. A different group of friends, a new teacher with his/her own approach to classroom management. It was something to which I looked forward. I’ve always enjoyed going to school – to the extreme that after I was just in school for six hours, I’d come home, gather my dolls and cats, and PLAY school. This year, school will look very different, but the same mix of excitement and nervousness remain.

Covid has added to the transition of seasons. A long list of restrictions, limitations, recommendations, and guidelines greet us at each turn. Nothing is the same as before, yet I refuse to call this the “new normal” as some choose to do. Perhaps I’m in denial, but I’m praying that we will eventually (hopefully sooner than later) get a grip on this virus. And until then, I will be a rule follower – like I’ve always been. No, I’m not letting fear control me and my life, I am trusting those who are experts in the field. I don’t need to “open my eyes”, “do my research”, or “stop acting like a sheep”. I will do what I believe is best for me and my family , and respect others as they do the same.

Shortly, I will be preparing dinner for my (now) family of four. Two empty chairs will remind us of the two that are no longer at home. We keep in close contact by constantly blowing up our family group chat, frequent FaceTime, and many phone calls. We check our calendars for the next time we can see them in person. We buy extra stamps so we can send silly note, cards, and perhaps a little fun money. We use their empty rooms and maybe, just maybe, wear some of the clothes left in their closet. We miss them madly.

And yet, it begins. First days come and go. Schedules become familiar and curriculum becomes comfortable. Those of us that still have football to enjoy will do so. The rest of us will need a new hobby this fall. Alarm clocks are set 5 days a week and the dog is completely confused as to where all of her people have gone. The weather changes and we pull out our sweatshirts and cinnamon candles. Thinking of all of us as we begin again.

❤️ Happy New School Year 🍎📚📝🚌🎨

Summer memories ☀️

Covid has me reminiscing lately, feeling all of the feels. I don’t know if it’s the extra time plopped in my lap, or the abundance of time spent with my children (that are now almost grown), or the focus I’ve been putting on prioritizing my life, but it’s happening a lot. Almost every train of thought I have typically arrives at the “childhood memories” station, and stays awhile.

Right now, it’s August. Pure summertime -hot sun, big hair from humidity, and a tall glass of whatever to beat the heat. I grew up in Ohio. Long hours spent outside, abruptly ending each day at the first flicker of the street lights. We had a pool in our backyard. It was part of our daily routine for my sister and I to help take care of it. We would check the acidity levels and add chlorine, skim the pool, and help vacuum when needed. The very smell of chlorine immediately takes me back to those days of my youth. For years, we spent hours every day in that pool. Throwing weighted rings and racing to catch them underwater before they hit the bottom of the pool. The neighbors and my sister and I spent a lot of our time creating a “whirlpool” and then we’d float as the water forced us all in the same direction. We spent much of our time having “hold your breath” contests to see who could stay under the water the longest. Nothing made us laugh harder than trying to talk underwater. Simple statements like “I hate peanut butter” were heard as “I paint underwear” and became the joke of the summer. Every four years, the summer olympics would greatly inspire us and we would spend hours creating synchronized swimming routines and racing our best friends from one end of the pool to the other. The backyard pool provided hours of exercise and entertainment for our family and friends.

Without devices to tie us down, we were constantly busy and rarely inside. We weren’t comparing our summers to everyone else’s, because until school started again in the fall, we had no idea what everyone else was doing. We did what we wanted, and it was usually pretty basic. We took walks, rode bikes, and laughed until our stomachs hurt. We stayed up extra late on Saturday and watched Saturday Night Live. Netty’s was our favorite ice cream shop. My “usual” was a vanilla cone with candied nuts on top. My Dad loved their root beer floats. My Mom and sister typically chose the hot fudge topping that hardened in front of your very eyes. If we stopped for ice cream at night, we would eat our treats outside on their picnic tables as the lightning bugs lit up the sky. Memories of my childhood were sweet and simple.

But before we knew it, the song of the “back to school bugs” (cicadas) warned us that our summer days were limited. We started planning our first day of school outfits and excitedly purchasing smooth new folders and markers in primary colors. We were equally as eager to get back to school as we were hesitant to say goodbye to summer. The smell of sun screen was replaced by the smell of those rectangular pink erasers. Our swimsuits were put away and we tried on our fall jackets to see if they needed to be replaced. We covered the pool and were grateful for the past several months of fun. I was blessed to be a part of a family that treasured our time together in every season. I’m grateful today that I have these memories to call upon when I need a smile.

2😷2😷

Wow. Pretty sure no one saw THAT coming. And by THAT, I mean the whole world going sideways. Schools closing, teens returning from college, husbands and wives working from home, pets wondering why they no longer have the house to themselves – THAT. And again, wow. Still processing all the thoughts and emotions that come along with that… (+) more family time, (-) huge grocery bill, (+) Slower schedule, (-) bored out of our minds by May, (+) extra time to work on house projects, (-) motivation is lost after second closet is cleaned. Positives and negatives all over the place, typically on the same day – causing a tsunami of emotions that only our poor quarantine mates get to experience firsthand (although I’m fairly certain it was happening in every house in the subdivision).

I am a big proponent for calling it like it is. And this is a big mess. If you had things canceled, trips postponed, family events put on hold indefinitely, I’m sorry. It stinks. And you are allowed to be frustrated, angry, and sad. Better yet – you NEED to acknowledge what you are feeling. Your negative emotions aren’t going to go away. They will find a place, set up camp, and grow. Those grumpy, mad, hurt feelings will find an inconvenient time in the future to jump out and spew all over people that had nothing to do with this. Please, feel it. All of it. Be angry (break a plate, scream into a pillow). Be disappointed (take a walk, talk about it). Be sad (cry, eat ice cream out of the carton – no time for bowls now, friends!) Do what you need to do – in a safe way – to process and move forward.

It’s nearing the end of July and this mess appears to be ramping up yet again. I’d assume that it’s not just me that wishes this “new normal” would take a flying leap. My greatest piece of advice – hold on. Don’t let it pull you under. Smile if you want through it – but it’s not necessary. Just get through it – it surely doesn’t have to be the “best year ever”. Stop putting extra pressure on yourself, sometimes survival needs to be the goal. I’ll be checking in on you again soon!

*Big hugs during this big mess!*

Ouch

I was called out recently. It’s OK, really, it was necessary. It made me stop and think and realize that I was once again making a mistake that I was attempting to avoid. Let me explain. I brought up the topic of Fat Tuesday on Facebook and inevitably, the discussion turned to “what are you doing for Lent?”. As a Catholic, I have participated in the Lenten practice of sacrifice – choosing something that I would eliminate from my life for 40 days in hopes of that void bringing me closer to God. In addition to eliminating things, I also add things to my daily routine that will, hopefully, make me a “better” person. This year, I wanted to focus more on the addition of things – more writing, more exercise, more time in the Bible, and yes, l was also planning less time on-line. Upon seeing my list of Lenten goals, a good friend asked, “Wasn’t’ your word of the year ENOUGH?”. Ouch.

She caught me. I was obviously unaware of the path I was walking down once again. I do it on almost every occasion… pretty much daily. My list is too long and my expectations are too high. Because of this, my needs – in the end – are unmet. Each day, I’m tired, frustrated and disappointed if I don’t get to check every box. This is nothing new. I can distinctly remember being a 6th grade Kelly Jean, laying in bed at night trying to figure out how I was going to “get it all in”. At 12 years old, my mind was already full speed ahead, and I had little sympathy for my own desire to stop and rest for a bit. At 47, God has tapped me on the shoulder so many times, that I am now 100% certain that this is an issue that needs my attention. This year, I am devoting extra attention to how I am feeling – regardless of the stupid list of things to do ( that I have created) that sits on my counter. Yet, as Lent approached, I fell back to my old ways while visualizing how I wanted to spend the next 40 days.

Now, with that being said, the things that I had planned to focus on were not inherently bad things. All of them were good – all would benefit me in different ways. I love to write. It helps me to express my opinion more easily than speaking. It brings me peace. Peace is good, right? I already exercise. It’s a stress reliever for me, more than anything else. And, in the end, it allows me to eat the way I like to eat and not worry about gaining weight. Win/win – right?! And reading the Bible? How could that ever be a bad thing? Well, after thinking about it, I’ve come to a conclusion. The ideas and plans that I create for myself are never the issue. It’s the AMOUNT of things I put on my “plate” (which is more like a serving tray) that eventually brings me to my knees. And I *KNOW* I am not alone in this. As parents, spouses, employees, volunteers, neighbors and more – it’s hard to keep piling on the hats and continue walking towards our goals successfully. This year, I am attempting to still wear my hats, just not all at the same time, and that takes planning, too – but it’s worth it.

In the end, as Lent begins, I am happy to say that I will be focusing on two things: my mind and body. I will read the Bible, but without strict guidelines of when and why. I will work out, but without hard to reach weight loss goals or structured scheduled days and times. I will listen to my body a bit more and also focus on rest – which is not a concept that I am very familiar with … are you? I am looking forward to the next 40 days, and I think I will benefit greatly. I am especially grateful for my friend that made me aware that I was getting in my own way – that was my first blessing of the Lenten Season.

It’s now my eighth year for choosing a word to guide my growth. I found that resolutions aren’t extremely effective, and this concept allows me to focus on exactly what part of my life is lacking. It’s always a difficult decision when choosing my word. I love words, and find a connection with quite a few of them. This year I’ve chosen the word “enough” – and now I’ll try to explain why.

In this social media driven world, we are constantly told we are enough. Ironically, these messages are immediately followed by heavily edited pictures of people that we don’t know… and comparison begins. Not only are we comparing apples to oranges, we are envious of a picture that probably took at least 20 attempts, and major filter help. By definition, enough is defined as : “adequate for the want or need; sufficient for the purpose or to satisfy desire”. For this reason, I don’t allow myself to smooth the wrinkles on my face before posting a picture. If you know me, you are well aware that I have a fairly typical amount of wrinkles on my 46-year-old face. I have hips, and big hair, and other flaws that make me hesitate before posting. But to me, it seems hypocritical to eliminate these negative characteristics online if I must walk around with them in real life. In this case, I pray that the word enough will help me to post realistic pictures and view social media for what it truly is – a way to communicate my experiences and feelings to others – without distorting the image or exaggerating the facts. I expect, that in order to support this goal, I’ll ultimately use less social media. But when I am on Facebook, I’ll be more aware of what I post and how I respond to what I see.

Next, I’d like to become more aware of how I use my time. Am I getting enough of what I truly need -rest, relationships, respect? Have I had enough of certain negative aspects of my daily life -excessive planning, over committing, toxic relationships? I’m hoping to discover a better balance of what I had found to be enough in the past to what is more acceptable and practical for my current season of life. An example of this, is that I am posting this blog post about my word of the year on January 8th – EIGHT DAYS INTO THE YEAR. Gasp. Although my right eye is twitching because I didn’t get it out there on January 1st, I am actually OK with it. Having it out there at all is enough. I’m trying to remove the hurdles that I put in front of myself over and over. Being enough isn’t being the first, best, skinniest, youngest, most creative. But that’s OK, too.

Finally, I’m hoping to dive a bit deeper into the Bible to see what my God has to say about what is enough. I’ve chosen the following scripture verse for the year. It has been a favorite of mine for quite a while. As a young mom of four, my Mop’s group verse was John 10:10 (NIV) “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full”. So much to think about here. To the full – not overflowing -causing us stress or anxiety. Not unfulfilled -leaving us craving more. Enough. Just right. That’s what I’m seeking in 2020. And for the rest of my years, too. I’ll do my best to update throughout the next 12 months and hopefully you will share your growth with me, too. Happy new year!

Home

Whenever the word “home” is mentioned, I can literally feel my body relax. I like to think of our home as a “soft place to land” after a long day out in this crazy world. As a Mom of teenagers, and one who depends on her own phone a bit too much – I recognize the importance of recharging our devices. “Who took my charger?!”, and “Have you seen my cord?” are common questions at our house. Realizing that our phones and iPads need to be recharged in order to work at their full capacity lends itself to a similar discussion about our human needs.

When I walk into our home, it’s not uncommon for a huge sigh to escape my lips. Not that my days are always insane, but boy is it nice to walk in and know that I am “home”. I am safe, I can relax, I can hold my hair back with a chip clip and only be teased for a short time by those that love me most. One of my favorite ways to recharge is to have yummy scents in every room. Candles, wax warmers, wall plug ins- so many options! I love the smell of vanilla, cinnamon, caramel – these scents just make me happy! And pillows – something else that make me smile. A couch that is piled high with pillows and a super soft blanket – what is that? I think I just heard angels singing! Being surrounded by the things that I love most helps me to deal with the inevitable stress that comes with each day.

What makes you feel most relaxed and comfortable? Framed pictures of loved ones, soft music playing (or loud music!), needy pets that just want you to sit down so that they can jump on your lap? Check, check, and check! I’d suggest you sit and think about it. The desire for our minds and bodies to slow down is legit. We all need a soft place to land. How can you make your home a more relaxing, enjoyable environment for those in your family? Ask everyone – you may be surprised what they suggest! In the end, in order for US to work, learn, play and thrive – at our highest levels – we need to be able to recharge and take breaks that will allow us all to start fresh again tomorrow. It could be as easy as buying a cozy blanket for our favorite chair, or lighting a lavender candle in the bedroom a few hours before bed. Recognize the importance of your own needs for comfort – and I promise, your mood will improve!

Happy Thanksgiving, friends!

It’s me again!

Time is a funny thing. When you are waiting for test results, minutes feel like hours. If you are in a hurry and caught in traffic – time stands still. Yet, when you are spending time with family that live far away, the hours whiz past. Time also flies as we watch our babes grow from school agers to college students living independently. What I’m trying to say is, it’s been a while since I’ve posted and I have no good reasons and a thousand little reasons why. I’m pretty sure you can relate to life in general being a “time suck”. I would triple love to be able to write weekly and post. I would also triple love to win the lottery and wake up tomorrow weighing 10 pounds less. It’s not happening.

I’m writing this on November 2nd. When I went to bed last night, it was August- or it least it felt that way. In the meantime, school has started and my 3rd book has been released. Both good things – but time consuming nonetheless. Teaching three year olds brings me such joy, but lesson planning and activity preparation can be tedious. Bringing a new book to life is a thrill, but marketing can be a bear. At 46, I am finally learning the importance of choosing the “best yes”. Let me explain. I volunteer a lot- too much, actually. I never hesitate when something is brought up, if I see a need, I want to jump right in. This in itself isn’t a bad thing. The problem is, I don’t stop to think about all of the commitments combined with the needs of my family, my teaching, my book events, helping with my Dad, and the various other aspects of craziness that pops up on the daily. Now – before I open my mouth, I consider the importance, the time it will take, and whether or not someone else could do it other than me. I choose the “best yes” and do it with a smile. I don’t grumble my way through my to do list because it was created with a lot of thought and care. At this point, I’m trying to spend my time more wisely. I recommend it 😊

I’m hoping to be able to write again soon. I pray you are reading this with a smile on your face. Until we meet again –

Be good – to yourself and others – Kelly Jean

“Dear blog readers…”

Dear blog readers,

I feel that I must start with an apology. My last post was March 15th. It’s June 12th. I’m embarrassed. I’m not going to claim that “I don’t know where the time went?” because I know full well what has been occupying my time – teaching, editing, and mom life in general. Too many mundane calendar filling things that I refuse to discuss (zzzzzzz). We are all busy and put the things we want to be doing in the backseat – or behind the darn car, if we’re being honest. I love to write. But my family loves to eat and wear clean clothes. It’s a legit dilemma. How can I do it all?!?!

I’m happy to share the answer. You can’t. Not all at once at least. Now that school is out and I’m on “summer” break (#wheresthesun) I’m finding a few more minutes to do the things I want to do: read, write, knit, thrift shop, paint furniture and organize. And, to confirm, I’m still doing school stuff – because I love it, and it’s fun for me. And not getting up at 5 am is even more fun. Being able to do a few extra things for myself is going to be helpful, since the upcoming year will be a busy one.

My 3rd book is now at the printers! For an author, I liken this to being in my 9th month of pregnancy. It’s a lovely combination of “I can’t wait!” mixed with “What the #%^* did I get myself into?!”. There are an abundance of emotions and a growing list of “to dos” before the big day. I am thinking at this point that I will receive my shipment of books by the end of August. Official release date will be in September or possibly October. Lots of variables will decide these dates. I will keep you informed because… I’M SO EXCITED! (What the #%^* did I get myself into?)

Farewell for now, please forgive my extended absence. I’ll try to pull it together soon!

With love – Kelly Jean ❤️

Friday, coffee & exciting news…

Good morning. I’m sitting here on my couch with my coffee and a fat cat. This is something that happens literally every day of the year. But today is a bit different. Today, I am sharing some fun news. I announced earlier this week that I have signed a contract for book #3. And you know what they say about the 3rd time? Oh boy is this one a charm! You guyssssssss! Seriously, I know when authors are promoting their books they say “I can’t wait for you to read this one!”, and, “I know you’ll love my new book!”. But, SERIOUSLY, all of that and more comes to mind when I think about the book that is currently in the editing process. Here’s a bit of background…

WHEN DID I WRITE IT? I have had several ideas floating around in my mind for book #3, and a few times I even started writing. But I usually feel a spark of some sort, a desire to continue writing, an inability to stop writing if it feels “right” – and it hadn’t… yet. This winter has been nuts. Not necessarily a ton of snow, but frigid temperatures that closed school for an entire week and ice storm after ice storm – to the tune of 12 days off of school. During one of our days at home, something on Facebook caught my attention. I thought for a moment about how cute a children’s book would be on that topic, and before I knew it, I had 6 pages written! The subject is close to my heart and the storyline presented itself quite easily.

WHAT IS IT ABOUT? I will be introducing my main character soon. I can tell you that he has many endearing qualities: adorable, smart, mischievous and a tad stubborn. I am also absolutely certain that he will win your heart.

IS THIS BOOK ANYTHING LIKE YOUR FIRST TWO BOOKS? Crazy enough, no. It’s very different. Which makes it even more special. Like a Mama, an author doesn’t have a “favorite” – or at least won’t admit to it. Each book has qualities that that draw people to it, stories that others can relate to, quotes that bring a smile. This book is especially unique when considering its illustrations. This is a work in progress and something I am extremely proud of – I will share the very second I can do so!

WHEN WILL THIS BOOK BE READY? GAH!!! This is the hard part. Once my text is complete and I sign off out of the editing phase, I move into the layout portion. During this time, we will determine how the page spreads will look, how the text and images will be displayed – the fonts, the background, etc…. it’s a bunch of creative decisions that are necessary to format the completed project. Then we head to designing the front and back covers, and printing and shipping and promotions. I am hoping that by late August/early September you can have this book in your hands!

I will be finished teaching in May. My first year back in the classroom after being home for 20 years raising our family was all that you would have expected it to be: terrifying at first, exhausting as I found a balance and continued the rest of my life’s activities, and more rewarding than I will ever be able to explain. Now that summer approaches, I will be able to switch gears and put my author hat back on. Throughout the year, I continued making author presentations at schools of Fridays, so that author hat was never really that far away! Completing this first year of teaching has helped me to organize all of my curriculum and establish routines and schedules that I can pick up again next year without as much stress and preparation (🎉). I am excited to focus on this new book adventure this summer!

Thanks for reading all of this and please stick around for all of the fun that is yet to come! ❤️📚👏🏻🙂.

Love notes

February is coming. And we all know what that means – Valentine’s Day, and everything red, lacy, and dark chocolatey. Not that I’m complaining, but I’d like to suggest another way you can “offer up” your Valentine’s Day. I have always made it a family affair, because, you know, kids like to have fun… and I’m pretty sure they like to feel loved and eat chocolate as much as the average adult. Involving your children in every holiday is not only a good time, but teaches them that life is about celebrations, creating connections, and enjoying each day to the fullest. In fact – why wait for a holiday – have a heck of a Tuesday night – I dare you!

Ever since my four were tiny, we had several February 14th traditions . That night, we would eat red food – spaghetti, or heart shaped pasta, then go on a “heart hunt”. This was simply a scavenger hunt with the hints written on heart shaped pieces of paper. The treasures found at the end were a gift bag for each filled with dollar store trinkets, or later, as they got older, whatever they were into – nail polish, a new scarf, key chain, cologne, whatever. Nothing fancy – but fun, and something they looked forward to each year. When they were all old enough to write notes to each other – or at least draw a picture – we started the tradition of putting out little mailboxes on February first. These mailboxes were decorated by each child and sat ready to collect notes and drawings from the family. They were found at Target years ago – very inexpensive. If you can’t find mailboxes, you can decorate paper bags or empty tissue boxes for the same purpose. It was always so fun to watch them check for mail – sometimes several times a day 💌. I have a bag of notes that I have saved over the years. It’s so much fun to read them now and laugh about the messages or handwriting. Reading these notes helps to confirm that they really ARE building a solid relationship- that they do actually love each other, despite a bit of yelling and door slamming that happens in every house.

The notes were all quite different. Some thanked family members for helping them with something. Others were poetry (my personal favorites!). But all of them took time to write. The family member had to be deliberate about showing affection – and that was the goal. If you love someone- tell them. Or show them. But don’t keep it to yourself. Making others feel loved and appreciated is something that we are all capable of – even the littles ❤️

Just wanted to encourage you to use February to show your love. Send a note to a friend. Call your Mom. Text your neighbor. Tell them why they matter to you. They will love it, and never forget you or the time it took to share the sentiment. It’s not difficult – and it can completely turn someone’s day around. And, before I sign off, I just wanted to say that I am so grateful for YOU. I love to write, but it makes me even happier knowing that others are reading my words, and (hopefully) enjoying them. You make a difference in my world. Enjoy your February- and I hope you get some chocolate, too!