Dear High School Football Fans,

Dear High School Football Fans,

High school football season is now upon us.  Two-a-day practices are over and school has begun.  Every Friday, communities will gather in their respective stadiums to cheer on their local boy heroes.  Cheerleaders will jump and yell, parents will sell hot dogs and Fun Dip, and middle schoolers will walk in circles trying to look older than they are.

And, of course, the marching band will be there.

For most people, football games are the only times they ever get a glimpse of the kids that belong to high school band.  If this is your only exposure to marching band, you may think the band’s main function is to support the local football team and pump up the crowd during halftime.  You would be wrong and I’ll let you in on a little secret:

High school football fans, they’re not doing it for you.

That show that you’re tired of watching by the fourth week of the season….they’re not doing it for you.

The two weeks they sweat through band camp, carrying tubas and getting sunburned, to learn the show you’re not watching because you have to pee….they’re not doing it for you.

The taunts of “band fag!” they endure in the hallways of the school where they should feel safe and secure…they don’t endure them for you.

The mornings they show up at school 30 minutes early to march in the fog and dewy grass, as the weather gets steadily colder….they don’t do it for you.

The years of learning to play an instrument that some 12-year-old on the sidelines will try to launch a French fry into….they don’t do it for you.

Marching on while knowing that the general public completely misunderstands how and why they do what they do, as well as how hard it is to actually do….they’re not doing it for you.

I’m not saying the band kids don’t enjoy football games or don’t want to support their classmates with up-tempo versions of “Hang On Sloopy” and “Land of a Thousand Dances.”  I grew up in a football-crazy town and loved watching and supporting my team from the band section.  But I didn’t join band because of football games and I’m not in the minority.

Kids join marching band for many reasons: because they love music, because their friends are in it, because you have to be in marching band to participate in concert band (yes, there’s still band after football season is over) the list goes on. They stay in band because of the camaraderie that is unique to the experience or because the intrinsic reward of scoring over a 90 at a marching band competition is worth the months of practice. They stay in band because they love the feeling of having worked hard together to accomplish something that no one could’ve accomplished on their own.

Certainly, the band plays an important role at football games. They are a vital part of the school spirit that pulses through each small town on chilly October evenings. Yes, the football team is worth being supported and a long-standing part of that tradition is to have the band there to play the national anthem, the school fight song, and any other music that helps bring the town together. But band students don’t owe you a halftime show. They aren’t rejects who can’t play sports, desperate to be part of the high school football experience. They’re not “nerds” relegated to an activity long-thought to be the final home of social rejects. They’re talented students who have discovered a craft they love and an activity they enjoy. Part of being involved in that activity means putting on a uniform and playing at half-time and that’s a great thing. But don’t think for a second that the long hours of practice and sweat are inspired by what Johnny Quarterback’s Grandma is going to think about their performance while she sits in the stands.

Band kids deserve your support because what they do is as worthwhile as any other activity….

but they don’t do it for you.

 

 

 

Why I Write Online Reviews (and Why You Should, Too!)

I’ve written them all: campground reviews, product reviews, restaurant reviews, book reviews, and amusement park reviews. Some have been paragraphs long with accompanying pictures. Some have been only a sentence.

Years ago, when I was attending a book club meeting, one of the members commented, “Oh, I never read the online reviews on books. I can just imagine what kind of person actually writes them. I mean, have you ever written one? No, because you’re normal.” At the time, I simply smiled and nodded, not having actually written any reviews. If I heard that comment today, my reaction would be much different.

Now, whether I’m shopping for a new bra or looking for a nearby restaurant, I rarely make a decision that will cost me money without first checking online reviews. Yelp, Trip Advisor, and the comments sections of my favorite online stores play a huge part in whether or not I purchase an item or make a reservation. Often, if no reviews are available, I won’t consider purchasing a product at all. I so heavily rely on the recommendations of others, that it feels only right to return the favor by describing my own experiences.

On one of our camping journeys, we travelled to Little Pine State Park near Waterville, PA. It was a beautiful, clean, quiet park and we loved camping there. We had gone on the recommendation of a friend, but I had been unable to find any online reviews. Because I loved the park so much, I made a point to take lots of pictures of the facilities and surroundings. I believed this little park deserved a voice online apart from the cursory information available on the State Parks website. Others should know that this is a wonderful place to visit. As soon as I got home, I wrote the first Trip Advisor review for Little Pine.  It even took them a few days to post my review because they first had to determine it was indeed a real place. Since then, several others have added their comments. Together, reviewers have been able to share a small gem of PA with others who may not have even known it existed.

Certainly some reviewers can’t be taken seriously and one must be discriminating when reading comments, but if there are enough reviews for a product or business the true value will be clear. I write reviews because I want to help good businesses find patrons and protect patrons from bad businesses. I want to help people know what they’re getting for their money because that is what other reviewers have done for me.

Reviews don’t have to be long essays. The next time you get an email that asks you to write a review of a recent purchase, please consider typing at least few helpful sentences. We’ll all be better off in the long run.

Camping: Packing all that Stuff!

Time to pack!

It won’t be long before we’ll be heading out for another camping trip, this time to Gettysburg, PA to tour the battlefields and museums. That means it’s almost time to pack.

Packing is one of my least favorite parts of traveling, so I wanted to streamline the process. We’ve managed to eliminate a lot of the stress that usually accompanies packing for a camping trip.  Here’s how:

Clothing: When we first started camping, we packed our clothing in duffel bags. By the second day of camping, everything I had carefully sorted and folded was a mess from little hands rummaging through the bags. I knew there had to be a better way.  I got the idea of using plastic drawers from the Pop-up Princess Blog (an invaluable resource to pop-up campers) and they’ve made packing and storing clothing so much easier. Each child has a chest of drawers for their clothing, diapers, and other small belongings. Jim and I share a set of drawers. When they’re not in use, they fit nicely in our bedroom closets. Now, everything stays organized and easy to find. Because we tend to pack the same things in the same drawers every time, we’re less likely to forget things. Once everyone is packed, the drawers fit nicely in the folded camper.

It looks like a lot, but it really only took me 30 minutes to pack all those drawers!

It looks like a lot, but it really only took me 30 minutes to pack all those drawers!

Toiletries are also packed in a smaller set of drawers. I pack them at the beginning of the camping season and leave everything in there so I don’t have to go around collecting everyone’s toothbrushes and shampoos each time. This container travels in the cab of the truck with us because too many items are sensitive to temperatures. It gets stored in the bathroom cabinet when not in use.

Linens are washed immediately following the previous camping trip and stored in re-purposed comforter bags that we keep in our linen closet. When it’s time to pack, all I have to do is grab the bags.

Shoes are packed separately a plastic bin. This is usually the last thing that gets packed because we’re using our shoes right up until we leave. The only shoes that stay packed permanently are our shower shoes.  Using a bin with a lid enables us to keep our shoes outside the camper without them getting damp in the morning dew. Keeping shoes in the camper is a no-no since it can make the small interior smell like feet.

Camping gear stays in the camper all the time. When we’re packing up at the end of a trip, we carefully clean and place things in the camper storage so we can easily access them when we get to our next camping destination. Being able to keep our gear in the camper has greatly diminished our packing time.

Swimming gear (towels, tubes, goggles, sunscreen) gets packed into the same bag I use for all our summer swimming trips. We throw it in the truck before we leave and it stays there until we’re ready to head to the pool. We just grab it and go!

Paper supplies are kept in a plastic bin that stays in the camper when not in use. Before each trip, I do a quick inventory and add any missing items to my grocery list.

Cooking Supplies are stored permanently in their own plastic chest of drawer that stays in the camper until we get to the campsite. That means we have to keep a separate set of everything (utensils, spices, etc.) for camping, but that’s not uncommon for people who camp a lot. We got most of our supplies from the dollar store. Larger items like pots and pans, as well as our coffee maker and toaster, are stored in the camper kitchenette.

Groceries, unfortunately, are the only items I haven’t managed to streamline when it comes to packing. Our system for food storage is still a work in progress.

We love camping, but we hate when it becomes a lot of work. By maintaining packing routines, I don’t have to re-invent the wheel each time we head of for a new adventure. It took us a while to get to this point, but now preparing for a trip is pretty easy.

Pictures from Gettysburg coming soon!

Life is So Unfair!!!

“I never get what I want!”

This is a sentence I hear on a daily basis from 4yo. I assume it’s a phase, but it’s one of the most annoying and anger-inducing I’ve encountered as a parent.

Not long ago, I took 4yo to our local amusement park by himself. It was a special day – a no-sisters day! He got to the pick the rides, the food, and the games. He even talked me into a $4 game of mini-golf. As he completed the 18th hole, he shouted, “I want to play again!”

minigolf

“We’re not playing again,” I told him, reaching for his golf club so we could return it.

“But, but, but……aw, I NEVER get what I want!” he declared with crossed arms.

In my mind, I bent his golf club over my knee and hurled it at the nearest pretzel stand.

“What do you MEAN you never get what you want! I’ve spent a small fortune today so you could come here by yourself and ride, eat, and play ANYTHING you want. You’ve done nothing but what YOU want today!”

We stood there for a second, me steaming and him pouting, while I thought about what I should say next. Then, as life would have it, I said exactly what my mother would have said.

“Well, if spending the day here isn’t what YOU want, I guess we should go home,” and I started walking away.

“No! Wait! I DO want to be here!”

Thirty seconds later we were in line for the log flume and I didn’t hear about the mini-golf for the rest of the night.

Unfortunately, as he has informed me several times since, he STILL never gets what he wants.

Life is so unfair.

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Pop-Up Camping with 3 Kids: How We Make It Work

It’s been a few years since this post, and since then we’ve grown into avid pop-up campers. Our little 1996 Palomino served us well, but this year we were able to upgrade to a slightly-less-old  2002 Coleman Carmel. We weren’t looking to upgrade to another pop-up (we have our sights set on larger, loftier travel trailers) but an amazingly priced opportunity presented itself so we went for it. Since we were also able to unload our old trailer for a decent price, the whole process ended up costing very little.

Our good old 1996 Palomino

Our good old 1996 Palomino

Carmel

Our new-to-us 2002 Coleman Carmel

Most pop-up campers are designed to sleep up to 6 people, but that would be really crowded. Fortunately, we only have 5. We’ve managed to make camping work for us in our little pop-up while still affording ourselves the luxuries we like to include in our “glamping” experiences.

Sometimes it amazes me that we can all sleep on the same small place and not keep each other up all night. Maybe it’s the fresh air, but our kids usually sleep better when we’re camping than they do at home. Here’s how we do it:

The older two kids:

9yo and 4yo both sleep on the double-sized bed. I was worried they would pick at each other all night or wake each other in the early morning. To avoid conflict, we decided to have them sleep in sleeping bags on top of a comforter. This works well for two reasons: 1) they aren’t sharing bedding so there’s no fighting over blankets and 2) we can have them sleep facing opposite directions so it appears as though they each have their own end. This has worked really well and has elicited no complaints from either of them. We’ve found it’s best to put 4yo to bed first and have 9yo sneak into bed once he’s asleep.

BigBeds

The baby:

1yo is still sleeping in a crib at home, so we need to use the pack-n-play whenever we travel. The only place to put it is on the dinette bed. When 4yo was an infant, we tried putting it in the bunk end but it was far too hard to lift him in and out from that height.  1yo sleeps really well in the pack-n-play as long as we put her to bed before the other two. To keep cool breezes and light to a minimum, we attach blankets to the exposed sides. One day I may make cute curtains for the sides, but if I wait long enough she’ll be sleeping in a bed and I won’t need to.

BabyBed

If the morning is cold or rainy, it takes 30 seconds to lift the pack-n-play onto the older kids’ bed and assemble the dinette for breakfast, puzzles, or a competitive game of UNO.

Dinette

Us:

Our bed is easy. We topped it with a memory foam mattress pad because all camper mattresses were made by the Flinstones.  Then, I simply make the bed like I would anywhere else. We have no complaints.

GrownUpBed

There’s no more work getting our beds ready in the camper then there would be in a tent. Maybe even less, since we don’t have to blow them up first!

We’ve already camped twice this summer and we have another trip planned in a couple weeks. It’s become a wonderful way to make memories with our children.

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Summer Project: The Deck!

Jim has been extremely busy working on our home remodel, pretty much since the fall of 2014.  It’s a second job we’re paying for him to have. He works all day then comes home and works all evening. Fortunately, the results have been worth it. He completed the work on our bedroom remodel last year and it looks heavenly.

Unfortunately, just outside the double doors of the bedroom is the world’s ugliest deck.

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This deck was slapped up by the original builders. It’s small and the spindles are so far apart we can’t even let our kids hang out on it for fear of them falling through and plummeting to the ground 15 feet below. I decided something needed to be done about it, but I didn’t want to add to the never-ending list of projects Jim is trying to tackle. Painting a deck does not require any special skills, so I decided to take it on.

The prep work wasn’t too difficult. After helping me carry the heavy things off the deck, Jim did pressure wash it for me — not because I couldn’t but because he really loves pressure washing and I have no emotional attachment to spraying things with water. Then, I scrubbed it down with an acid cleaner the paint specialist at Home Depot recommended. Two days later we were ready to begin. I sent 1yo to my mother-in-law’s house because there was no way I could get this project done with her around. I grabbed enough brushes and rollers for 9yo and 4yo to help me out and we got started. decka1

I won’t go through all the details, but painting a deck is long and tedious. 9yo was really helpful throughout the entire day. 4yo lasted 45 minutes, which is to be expected. In the end, I had enough deck stain to finish the deck, but not the steps.  They need to be repaired anyway, so we’ll save that for another day.

Because we’ve spent gobs of money (at least that’s how it feels) on the rest of the remodel, I tried to do this as cheaply as I could. Deck stain costs what it cost, so I couldn’t do much about that. For furniture, I reused our old patio table and chairs. Despite the rusty, old appearance of the table, I was able to make it look nice with a beachy vinyl table cloth I found at the grocery store for $5. We also lucked out with the deck chairs. My parents had purchased them for their pool, then decided they were too low to the ground. Instead of returning them, they generously gave them to us to use for our deck. Score! I bought cushions for them from the garden section of the Walmart. One of my biggest worries was splinters from the old deck boards. I had two Amazon gift cards I’d been saving from Christmas, so I used them to purchase a 9 x 12 patio rug. Our deck is 10 X 13 so it was perfect! I love the color and design and it goes really well with the gray we used for the stain. The umbrella is a beach umbrella we already had.

The only task remaining is making the railing safer. Our plan is to purchase lattice to attach to the spindles to close up the gaps. I’m hoping to get that done this week so we can start enjoying our evening meals on our deck.

decka3 decka4

Overall, I’m extremely pleased with how it looks, how much we spent, and the fact that I did the work myself.

Summer is Here!

We made it to summer!

After the craziness of the last month of school, today marks the kick-off of summer vacation here. Despite the calls for rain, it’s sunny and beautiful outside.

Our plans for the summer include lots of swimming, a couple day trips, and tons of camping trips (provided Jim can get off work). I’m hoping to get in lots more blogging now that I have the time to do it. Watch for chronicles of our summer adventures!

Take a Deep Breath

It’s about to get crazy here.

For the next 5 weeks, I’ll be lucky to keep my sanity. I think I’ll manage, as I do every year, but somewhere in there Jim is sure to be the recipient of a major mommy meltdown.

I’ve always thrived on being busy.  As a teenager, I would fill my calendar with activities: rehearsals, practices, part-time jobs.  If there was an empty day, I would look for a way to fill it. Until recently, I still enjoyed being busy. Maybe it’s age, maybe it’s having a third child, but I’m reaching the point in my life when I look at the calendar and pray we have nowhere to go after work and school.

There are no days on my calendar that look like that.

Part of it is being a music teacher, part of it is having three kids with their own interests and activities. Teeball, dance recitals, concerts, field trips, Mother’s Day: is a Spring whirlwind we fly through every year. I try my best to enjoy it, but some days it’s all I can do just to get through it.

Fortunately, once we’re through the craziness, we arrive at summer when we can take a deep breath.

(Except for Jim.  He doesn’t get breath until September.)

My Third One is My “Only Child”

Every parent I know who has multiple children has said the same thing to me at one point: it is amazing how different they are.

For several years following the birth of our first child, Jim and I dealt with infertility issues. Since we now have three children, we obviously solved our problem.  In the meantime, we suffered through the barrage of unwelcomed comments all parents of only children endure. These comments are usually intrusive and unfair. More importantly, they are dead wrong.

“If you only have one, she’ll end up spoiled.”

“Only children don’t know how to share.”

“How will she learn to get along with others if she doesn’t have any siblings?”

Despite being our only offspring for over 5 years, our oldest daughter is the opposite of all of these things. She’s selfless, kind, helpful, and many other qualities parents wish their children to be.  She is patient and caring with her younger siblings and helpful to adults. She didn’t learn these traits from having siblings. She developed them long before the other two came along.

Siblinga3

Ironically, the third one (1yo) is everything the first one (9yo) was “supposed” to be. Heaven forbid 4yo wants to sit in my lap and snuggle. 1yo will climb over him, screaming, attempting to pry him off. If that doesn’t work, she hits him and ends up screaming in time-out. She loves chopped strawberries until she sees a sibling eating a whole one.  Then, suddenly, chopped strawberries are inadequate and only a whole one will do. If she is the first child to arrive in the nursery at church, her anger mounts as more children arrive to play with the toys or receive attention from the nursery teacher. If there is a communal bowl of snacks, she scrambles to it like a puppy who is one of several in the litter and shoves the food into her mouth as though she will starve if she does not get her fair share of goldfish crackers.

Siblinga2

My 9yo, who spent over half of her life not having to compete with anyone for attention or possessions, is hardly competitive at all. My 1yo, who has always been one of three, has learned very early that there will always be someone else who will take what you want if you don’t get it first. 9yo was never the stereotypical only child (even when she was one), and 1yo is about as spoiled for attention as a toddler can get – despite having two siblings.

That these two completely opposite girls are exactly who they were meant to be has been a big lesson to learn. I cannot light a fire in 9yo’s belly any more than I can extinguish the one in 1yo.  All I can do is guide them, support them and discipline them; and, of course, love them and their brother exactly as they are.

Siblinga1