Tag Archives: family

Back to School Picnic

The purpose of this get-together was for the children in my daughter’s first grade class to have some fun and get reacquainted prior to the first day of school.  As a former teacher I know how crazy things can be on the first day in the classroom.  As a parent I wanted to do something to help the back-to-school experience go well.  Several of the children, my daughter included, were quite anxious about the new school year so this event helped ease some of their nerves.  It was also an opportunity for families new to the school to meet returning families and the new students were able to make some friends.

My husband and I sponsored the event at a nearby military recreation spot.  Since we paid the reservation fee, I wanted to keep all of our other costs at a minimum, which allowed me to be creative with the decorations.

With a school year theme in mind and the school colors as my starting point, I rooted around in our garage, gathering up anything blue or yellow and school related.  I also collected things that could work as picnic/playground games.

Things I repurposed:  plastic water bottles, toilet paper tubes, stop signs, scrap wood, tin cans, alphabet magnets, alphabet flash cards, blue valences from our first apartment

Things I had on hand:  several white tablecloths and sheets, plastic cones, white & colored paper, river pebbles, paper napkins, small clear cellophane bags with twist ties, tissue paper, ribbon, mini clothespins and regular clothespins, paper bags, chenille stems, felt, wooden dowels, paint, paint chips (well, okay, I got to make a trip to Lowe’s and Home Depot for those, but they were free)

Things I bought:  bag of Navy beans, black chalkboard spray paint, white plastic IKEA picture frames, white IKEA vases, 3 white sheets from the IKEA As-Is bin (yes, I’m kinda obsessed with IKEA)

Things I made:  2 welcome banners that hung from trees around our picnic site, 3 chalkboard signs to direct people where to park, 12 centerpieces including pennant flags featuring the school uniform plaid and 5 dozen paper bag flowers, 48 tablecloth weights that turned out to be the most important items I brought, a whiffle ball toss game, 8 paint chip garlands and two “Happy School Year” paint chip banners.  (I shared a few pictures of the process in this post.)

Some confessions:  It was windy at the picnic site, so basically all of the decorations ended up being pointless.  I didn’t get to hang any banners or garlands except for the welcome ones.  The parking lot was extremely crowded because so many events were going on all around the park that day.  At one point, the lot was closed and people were turned away at the gate, so the chalkboard signs were essentially useless.  Despite my best intentions, I took only about six pictures at the event.  This must be why event organizers and event photographers are not one in the same person.  Most of the pictures featured here were taken at my home, after the fact.

On the up side, more than 60 people attended the event and everyone had a blast!

I don’t think I’ll be taking on another project like this anytime soon.  For the Fall, I’ll stick with decorating my own house where I have greater control over the elements.  Here’s a preview of what I’m working on:


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A Memorable Valentine’s Day

Yesterday morning my daughter was half an hour late for school because I could barely drag myself out of bed.  Once I’d dropped her off I sprawled listlessly on the living room sofa vaguely concerned about how I’d summon the energy to go collect my little love midafternoon.  I also thought I had an appointment or something but hadn’t gotten any reminder calls so I shrugged it off.

When my husband came home for lunch, he told me I looked like crap and called in to work to say that he needed a few hours before he could get back to the ship.  He brought me water, scarfed some food, and headed off to our daughter’s school to help with the Valentine’s Day cookie party.  (Ooops—I knew there was something I was supposed to do!)

He brought our daughter back covered in frosting and probably with a cavity, changed back into his uniform and headed back to work.  And when he came home from work he brought me more water and proceeded to fold the mountain of clean laundry I’d piled up.

Eight years ago, my husband surprised me with a classically romantic Valentine’s Day complete with jewelry, dinner, and tickets to the ballet yet it’s this Valentine’s Day that I’m utterly overwhelmed with his love and devotion.

“Love is the only gold.” ~ Alfred, Lord Tennyson


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What is ‘Normal?’ (with a review of next to normal)

World Marriage Day will be celebrated in my Church this weekend so Tricia and Peter have been on my mind a lot.  A very special couple in my life, they had a marriage that my husband and I deeply admire, not the least because their relationship endured in spite of (because of?) heart-wrenching tragedies.

Tricia and Peter’s first child—a baby girl named Kate—was whisked away from Tricia immediately after she was born.  The doctors said Kate had a heart condition that required close monitoring.  Tricia was sent home from the hospital but the baby was not released.  Kate died five days later.  Tricia never got to hold her and only saw her through the nursery room glass.  Kate was born on a Tuesday and for weeks after, every Tuesday Tricia stayed in bed and cried.

Their second child, a boy named after his father, was born with an intestinal obstruction.   During the corrective surgery, tiny newborn Peter lost oxygen and sustained severe brain damage.  Though he survived, hope for a normal life did not.

Tina, Tricia & Peter’s third child, became their pride and joy and she carried on her shoulders the dreams the family had for all their children.

This is the story of my aunt, uncle and cousins though I’ve changed their names for the sake of privacy.  I am more than a decade younger than Tina and grew up on the opposite coast from her family but over the years I learned their story and marveled at the love and quiet strength of my aunt and uncle.  What I remember most about my summer visits to their home is the way that it rang with laughter.

Several weeks ago I saw next to normal, the Pulitzer Prize winning drama starring Tony Award winner Alice Ripley.  The musical bears some startling similarities to my aunt and uncle’s story but with one glaring difference:  my aunt didn’t go crazy.

So I found myself wondering, when it comes to love and loss, at what point does grief turn from a healthy healing process to something abnormal?  What prevents a person from crossing that line?

My uncle didn’t love my aunt any more or less than the husband in the play.  He wouldn’t have pushed her to undergo ECT, but neither would my aunt have taken all the pills prescribed by the psychopharmacologist.  My cousin Tina probably did feel a lot like the invisible girl though.

With allusions to Flowers for Algernon and Frances Farmer and a searing contemporary score, next to normal is simply phenomenal for the way that it addresses the issue of mental illness and the lengths to which a family might go to achieve normalcy–whatever that is.  Click on the image for a clip from the 2009 Tony Awards.

next to normal

Music by Tom Kitt

Book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey

Classification:  Musical

Genre:  Drama

Age Level:  Adult/Mature teens

SubjectsFamily, grief, mental illness, controversial psychiatric treatment

“A serious, substantial, dignified and musically sophisticated new American work.”  – Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune

“The rarest of Broadway species:  a thoughtful, emotional musical for grown-ups.”  – Adam Feldman, TimeOut New York

Characters:  Diana, delusional bipolar depressive

Dan, her faithful husband

Gabe, her charismatic son

Natalie, her perfectionistic daughter

Henry, a musician and stoner, Natalie’s boyfriend

Dr. Madden, Diana’s psychologist with the personality of a rock star

Summary:  The story opens on “Just Another Day” with mother Diana reflecting on her “perfect loving family” but when Diana finds herself spreading bread slices across the floor as she manically makes sandwiches it’s clear that in this house “normal” means occasional emergency trips to the psychopharmacologist.  (Diana was diagnosed bipolar sixteen years ago.)  While he waits for his wife in the car, Dan wonders, “Who’s crazy—the one who can’t cope / Or maybe the one who’ll still hope?”

Meanwhile, Diana’s daughter Natalie, an accomplished pianist, finds her escape in classical music.  When Natalie meets Henry, another musician, she tries to hide her family’s secrets from him but then he introduces her to another, more dangerous way to ease her pain.  As mother and daughter spiral out of control, the men who love them desperately struggle to “get [them] back to normal…back to good.”  However, one secret continues to loom over the family.  It is alive; it is “more than memory,…[a] mystery” and until it’s confronted even a life that’s next to normal will be too far away.

Controversial content:  mature language


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