College Mom · Parenting teens · That's How You Learn

Campus Ready in One Trip!

It seems like every time I log onto my computer these days, my social media feed is full of photos of spectacular dorm rooms. Clever young co-eds and their mothers all over the country have managed to turn four cinderblock walls and a linoleum tile floor into an charming oasis of style and luxury.

I would love to do that for MM. I really would. However, when it comes to getting her dorm room ready for the upcoming year, we face a few challenges that might make that experience next to impossible.

For starters, we aren’t sure how to plan. We haven’t actually seen the dorm rooms at The University of Dallas where she will begin college in the fall. Yes, a tour of the dorms was offered during her campus visit last spring. And yes, in retrospect, it might have been wise to opt in for that part of the tour. But in our defense, this was approximately our 98th college visit, and all dorm rooms were beginning to blur together. Not only that, but MM was already in love with UD, and had the model dorm been a dank dungeon cell or a spacious loft with a breathtaking view, it would not have influenced her decision.

Also (and this one is really on me), we had a six hour drive home ahead of us, and we were exhausted. One of us didn’t think she could endure another step.

Another factor that makes dorm shopping a challenge for us is that MM has three roommates–roommates she has never met and who all hail from different parts of the country. The girls are communicating about who will bring a microwave and who has a mini-fridge, but given the distance between them all, choosing, purchasing, and coordinating lavish decor is out of the question.

Still, even if we can’t create a magazine-cover-worthy dorm room, I did want to help MM create a space that is cozy and inviting. And really, that’s more her style anyway.

Since MM will be sharing her space with three other girls, she wanted to focus on purchasing items that will help her stay organized. Since she is going to be six hours from home, I wanted to focus on comfort items–luxurious sheets, cozy blankets, a yummy pillow.

Fortunately, we found everything we needed to get her campus ready at Bed Bath and Beyond.



At home my sister and I share a room. We share everything! With our combined collection of makeup, lip glosses, and hair accessories, our makeup area is a bit of a disaster. I know in my dorm, I’m going to want to keep my things together and out of my roommates’ way.

I was happy to find this cute little makeup caddie. It will help me keep my things organized, and I can easily move it from the bathroom to a shelf near my bed–wherever it’s most convenient and most out of the way for my roommates.



This all purpose tote is going to be great for laundry. I love that it can carry a heavy load, and it can also fold flat for easy storage.


My sister and I keep our room pretty clean. But if I’m being honest, she’s the tidy one. But I am determined to keep my new space spiffy–even without her to nag  encourage me! This will really help!


Having a place to hang my robe and towels will definitely help me keep my area clutter free!


And a couple of these rolling storage containers will make it easy for me to store things out of the way.


This desk lamp won’t just shed light on my books, but it also serves as a charging station for my phone!


But maybe my favorite organizational tool is this nifty tote for my car. Not only will it help me keep things together in my car, but when I go home for a visit, my parents can fill up the cooler with lots of yummy food for me to take back to college!



I love that MM wants to have a well-organized room. That will make life with three roommates much easier. Knowing that she has a few of the comforts of home, will make my life easier. That’s one reason I wanted to be sure she has a delicious set of sheets, a super soft pillow, and a cozy blanket.

IMG_5977 (1)
These Pure Beech Jersey sheets are pure bliss!


This Serasoft blanket is certainly an affordable luxury.
This pillow is a miracle! I’m definitely going back to get one for myself!

I’ll sleep better at night knowing that she has a comfy place to sleep!

Of course I found a couple of other items to help her unwind and relax.

A little lavender oil in a diffuser to help her unwind

And what better way to relax or study than sitting under a cozy blanket with a cup of tea in your favorite mug!




We got her organized, and I can feel good knowing that she will feel at home in her new dorm room. All in all, I’d say we had a very successful shopping trip.


I know that once she gets to college MM will realize there are other things she needs to complete her dorm room. Good thing there’s a Bed Bath and Beyond close by.











Recess is Not a Privilege

I am a high school teacher, and if there is one thing I know about education it is that modern education is steeped in research and data. Teachers collect and examine data in formative assessments (checking to see if students are learning as we go) and summative assessments (checking to see if student learning is complete). We look at data from last year’s test scores and this year’s test scores. We look at what the research says about effective and ineffective teaching methods. We are even expected to collect and use data to determine and communicate how we can improve professionally. Research-based and data-driven are big, big buzz words in education. We are reminded time and again that our instruction must be research-based and data-driven.

Except when it isn’t….

Read the rest on HuffPo Parents

Parenting teens · Parenting tweens · Uncategorized

Mommy’s Favorite 2016

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day!  As always, I am looking forward to it.  I can envision it now.  After I have been treated to a gourmet meal (prepared by my husband) and  all the dishes have been washed and put away (by my children), after I have been showered with gifts and hailed with words of praise and adoration, my children will gather round me for our special Mother’s Day tradition.

This year, just like the past several years, I will pit my precious blessing against one another in a highly competitive game of Mommy Trivia.  I’m excited. It is always fun to see just who has been paying attention for the last 12 months.

No doubt the kids are getting excited too. In fact, I am sure that their eagerness to prepare and train for this year’s competition is the only explanation for leaving for the day (the day before Mother’s Day)  with a giant pile of laundry on the dining table, a sink full of dirty dishes, and four dogs who need to be fed. But I digress…

The stakes for Mommy Trivia are high. The winner earns the title of Mommy’s Favorite and gets to be  photographed for a picture that will serve as my new profile on Facebook for at least a week. And this year, there’s a trophy.


Yes, it is a repurposed showmanship trophy from the dairy goat show at the Carroll County Fair, but it’s still a really big deal and I am sure highly coveted by all my children.

Perhaps the only thing tougher than the competition is coming up with questions. Here’s what I have so far for this year.

  • Name one thing in the back of my Highlander right now?
  • What is my favorite scent?
  • What is my favorite T-shirt to sleep in?
  • What is my favorite sandwich?
  • How do I like my tea from Sonic?
  • What is my favorite store?
  • What did I get for my high school graduation present?
  • What did I get for my college graduation present?
  • Who is my favorite country singer?
  • Who is my favorite 90’s band?
  • Who is my favorite 80’s singer?
  • What is the last movie I saw in a theater?

Every year it gets tougher to come up with questions.  Over the course of the next 12 months I’ll try to make a point to do some notable, interesting, or outrageous things so that I’ll have more material for questions. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your suggestions.

In the meantime, Happy Mother’s Day to all of my Charming Friends. And may the best kid win!


Parenting teens · Parenting tweens · What We're Reading

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs


Growing up Jake thought his Grandpa Portman was the most fascinating man in the world. He loved to hear his grandfather’s stories about life in the Welsh orphanage where he had been sent as a boy to escape the Nazis. Grandpa Portman mesmerized Jake with tales of his childhood friends and their peculiar gifts. One could hold fire in her hand. Another could levitate. Another was invisible. Still another had amazing strength. To add to the intrigue, there were photographs, strange and haunting photographs, of these children displaying their unusual gifts.

But as time passed and Jake grew older, he began to realize that these stories and even the photographs were too fantastic to be true. In time, Jake came to see them as merely a kind of family fairytale – that is, until the night that everything changed.

When Jake’s grandfather is attacked in the woods behind his home, the police blame wild dogs. But Jake was there, and he saw the attacker. He was no dog. He was terrifying. And he was right out of one of Grandpa Portman’s stories.

Unfortunately for Jake, no one believes him – just like no one believed Grandpa Portman. To confront the nightmares and fears that consume Jake’s life, his parents try therapy, drugs, and distractions. Eventually Jake tries to convince them to let him travel, with his father, to Wales to see if he can find out more about Grandpa Portman and the place where his strange stories originated. Reluctantly they agree, hoping it will put to rest Jake’s belief in the truth of these tales.

However, there on the island of Cairnhom, Jake finds Miss Peregrine’s orphanage, old and decaying, but teeming with information. Digging through rubble and remains of the old house, Jake begins to uncover, artifacts, photographs, and the dark secrets of Grandpa Portman’s strange and disturbing childhood and the orphans he shared it with.

Set in a quaint Welsh fishing village and in the fog-shrouded Welsh countryside, this novel, part mystery part horror story, takes us with Jake on his this quest. Who were these children his Grandfather grew up with? Were their gifts real or just fantastic stories? What happened to them? And where are they now?

As intriguing as this story is, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children might not be the book for everyone. I’ll admit that I half hoped the story would turn out to be a mystery of the ordinary variety. But no. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is definitely an extraordinary story.

However for adults and teens who enjoy the strange and the scary, this book is a nice departure from the witches, vampires, ghosts, and werewolves that we see in so many YA novels. The children, although very peculiar, are just children, some darker and creepier than others, but they are not supernatural nor other-worldly. There are monsters in this story, but they former Peculiars whose own attempts at immortality caused their mutation.

Another refreshing thing about this book was the lack of steamy romance. There is an emerging romance between Jake and one of the teenage orphans (yep, they’re still there), but this is not necessarily central to the plot. Unlike most YA fantasy novels where the sexually-charged relationship between some misfit human and some ultra cool vampire, ghost, or witch is the storyline, in this book the romance is more of a subplot.

Like so many YA novels today, this one is the first in a series. So, it looks like fans will have to read the next novel, The Hollow City, to see if Jake’s romance is taken to the next level. In fact, we’ll have to read on because at the end of the Miss Peregrine Jake’s adventure is really just beginning.


Yes, there are some swear words in this book and some crass expressions.


Yes. Jake and the other orphans must battle the monsters who threaten their safely. The last 40 pages or so involve a pretty intense battle between the opposing sides.


There is a kissing scene that starts to get mildly heated and at one point Jake refers to himself as a “horny teenager.” There are also references to “making out.”


Not really. As I said, neither the peculiar children nor the monsters they fight are really other-worldly. But the monsters are scary and some of the children are downright disturbing.


To give you some idea of the type of book this is, Tim Burton will be directing the movie. Check out this article and creepy book trailer.


To add to the eerie factor, this book is filled with photographs of the Peculiar Children – holding fire, levitating, swarmed by bees, etc. The creepy thing is that all the photos in the book are actual photos found in various flea markets, antique shops, and private collections. Chilling.

Due to language and crass expressions some parents might feel this book is not suitable for tweens and younger teens.

In the Middle · Life with Kids · Parenting teens · Parenting tweens

I Get By With a Little Help From My (Cyber) Friends

I’m not gonna lie. I miss having Little Ones. I mean I really miss it. I miss chubby, jelly-smeared faces. I miss sticky kisses and fat little arms around my neck. I miss the way my little boy said, “welwoah” and “wemon cake” and dandewion.” I miss they way my daughter used to pretend to be a baby shark – all year long, on land or in the pool. I miss the way my younger daughter spent day after day wearing fairy wings and snow boots and the way our littlest one used to play with his toes and sing a sleepy song just before dropping off. I miss all of this and so much more.

But I’m not surprised. Even at the time I knew that the moments were precious and the time was fleeting. I knew I would miss having little ones. What I did not expect, what I did not know I would lose, is the friendships I formed in those days of playgroups and play dates and long, lazy afternoons by the pool.

At the time, I did not realize what a gift it was to sit for a couple of hours (or more) each week with my friends and drink coffee or sweet tea and visit while our children played. For me, having small children meant having time for friends. As a stay-at-home and a homeschooling mom, hanging out with my friends was actually a part of my job description.

Of course, I still have friends. Some have moved. Some of us have gone back to work. But none of us had a falling out. We still love to hang out and drink coffee and talk. But now, those opportunities are rare. There are no Saturday mornings at the park because Saturday mornings are for ball games and lessons. We don’t hangout by the pool in the summers like we used to. Sitting in the sun with friends watching your seven year olds swim is normal. It’s good parenting.  If my mom friends and I joined our teenagers at the pool now several afternoons each week, they would be mortified. It would be weird.

So, we do the best we can. Somehow, every once in a great while, a few of us find a night when none of our kids has a game or a practice or a band concert, and we have dinner.

I keep telling myself that, just like those years when I could not sit down to a meal without being interrupted to nurse or take a toddler to the bathroom or wipe up spilled milk, this is a phase, a season of life. The teenage years are, in some ways, the years of isolation for moms.

Or maybe not. Having teenagers does afford me hour and hours of late night solitude as I wait (and pray) for my kids to get home safely. In those hours, I am able to connect with moms all over the country thanks to groups like Grown and Flown.

I was thrilled when I found a website and Facebook group specifically for parents of teenagers and young adults. Like a lot of aspects of middle age  this time in life, mothering older kids entails its own unique set of joys, sorrows and frustrations.  I am delighted to be connected to a supportive group of women who know what I am going through. I am even more delighted to have been able to write for Grown and Flown.

In recent weeks Lisa and Mary Dell, the women who run the site, have published two of my posts. Family Dinner: We Lost the Table and Found So Much More is about the way my family has connected by turning out kitchen eating area into a comfy sitting area. Teenagers: I Want to Remember These Last Times is about the bittersweetness of going from a house full of Little Ones to a house full of teens and tweens.

In the years that my children were small, I needed my mom friends to help me through the stress of teething and weaning and living day after day with a house full of needy little people. Those days are over, but I still need mom friends now to help through these years of living in a house full of needy (and sometimes moody, sometimes hilarious, sometimes infuriating, sometimes delightful) big people. Even though we don’t have a weekly excuse to hang out drinking coffee anymore, I am still grateful for my mom friends. And I’m grateful for my cyber mom friends too.

After all, as Mary Dell and Lisa say, “Parenting never ends.”


A rare moms' night out
A rare moms’ night out

Why I Am Religious and Not Just Spiritual

When I was in college I was involved in an Evangelical campus ministry. I attended a weekly Bible study (most of the time) and went to occasional social functions designed to help Christian students connect and enjoy an alternative to wild sorority and fraternity parties. Once in a while, I even dragged myself out of bed on Sunday morning and went to church.

When the subject of my faith or Christianity would come up with friends, I was always quick to point out that I was “spiritual but not religious.”

I didn’t want people to think I was religious for two reasons. One, I didn’t want to seem weird. I was still trying very hard to keep my faith from interfering with my social life. The other reason that I insisted I was not religious, was that I sincerely believed, as did almost everyone else I knew, that religion was the opposite of true faith. I thought that religion was outdated, mindless, and that it suffocated true spirituality.

Then I became Catholic.

I have been Catholic now for 16 years. I am religious, and I am convinced that my religion helps me to know, love, and serve God better than I ever could apart from the practice of my faith. That is, after all, the point of true religion.

Throughout history the major monotheistic faiths, the faiths that worship the God of Abraham – Islam, Judaism, and Christianity – have sought union with God through the practice of religion, not merely through an individual spirituality based on one’s own preferences, tastes, and personal convictions. The idea that one can know and worship the God of Abraham apart for religious practice seems to be a fairly modern idea.

I cannot speak to the trends in other faith traditions, but many modern Christian denominations pride themselves on freedom from the confines of religion, as if they have discovered some new path to God that the founders of Christianity and nearly two millennia of followers failed to discover.

Yet for Catholics, and I imagine for observant Jews and Muslims as well, our religion isn’t merely a set of rules to be followed or boxes to be checked. Our religion is the house in which our faith is born and the place where it is nurtured.

Here are some of the reasons that that I am religious and not just spiritual.

Religion is physical. Like all ancient faiths, Catholic worship includes specific, tangible physical element. Catholics kneel. We bow. We make the sign of the cross. We hold rosary beads, and we light candles. God made us body and soul. It makes sense that we would use our bodies when we pray and worship Him. Nearly every other activity we do as humans includes some sort of accompanying posture or gesture. We tell our children to sit up at the table. We rise when a judge walks into his court room or a bride steps through the doors of the church. We shake hands, hug, and wave. We hold our hands over our hearts when we hear the Nation Anthem. Soldiers salute. Actors bow. Couples kiss goodnight. All of these things are meant to communicate something – respect, greeting, affection, gratitude. Why would we think that what we do with our bodies should have no effect on how we pray and worship? Bowing, kneeling, the sign of the cross, and other physical expressions of our faith are the accompanying gestures to what we are thinking and feeling. They keep us in the right frame of mind, and they are a signal to ourselves and to others that what we are doing is sacred.

Religion is habitual. As an Evangelical Protestant, I would have equated the word habit with “vain repetition.” It is true that when we say or do anything repeatedly, we run the risk of diluting its meaning and value. A nightly “I love you” between spouses becomes empty words when void of true sentiment or action. So, of course, we must guard against mindless recitation of prayers or thoughtless reception of the sacraments. But habits, when they develop in us a desired effect or quality, are a good thing. We teach our children the habit of saying, “please and thank you” long before they know what the words mean because we want to develop in them a sense of gratitude and respect.

Developing a good habit disciplines us to what we ought to so that when we don’t want to or when we are distracted, forgetful, or distressed, we are still able to do, fairly easily, what was once a struggle. When we do something habitually, it becomes ingrained into the fabric of our being. I want to teach my children to practice their faith, to worship, to pray, and do good habitually and religiously. Their feelings might come and go, but the habit of being a faithful Catholic will sustain them through times of doubt or spiritual dryness.

Religion is unifying. One of the things I love most about being Catholic is the universalness of our faith. The oneness. There is something beautiful and powerful about the unity of religion. I love knowing that the prayers my family prays, the customs we observe, the feast days we celebrate, and the truths we believe are shared by countless other Catholics all over the world. When we profess our faith in the words of the creed at mass, we are making the same profession that billions, of others have made for centuries. When I confess my sins and ask The Blessed Mary Ever Virgin, all the angels and saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God, I do so knowing that I am aided by the prayers of billions – both on earth and in Heaven.

Being a part of a religion is about so much more than just fellowship, so much more than a great youth group or an inviting ladies’ Bible study. Being religious is about being united with other believers all over the world – those living and those who have gone before us. When you belong to a religion, you belong to a family – a family that spans generations and transcends cultures.

Religion is comforting. Like my favorite sweatshirt, a cozy blanket, or my grandmother’s kitchen, my religion is comforting. Even with all the help the Church gives us to practice our faith – the sacraments, worship, traditions, stories of the saints, and so much more – sometimes the world is just too much. I run out of words. I feel too tired or too discouraged to pray. At times like these I can fall back, not just on my personal faith, even faith can be tough in times like these. I fall back on my religion – familiar prayers, beautiful hymns, the smell of incense, the beauty of the mass, the words of the creed. My religion provides vehicle for times when my faith just need to be pulled along.

Religion is designed by God. When I was an Evangelical, we  often cited verses in which Jesus seems to be criticizing the Pharisees for their religious practices. True. Jesus was quick to point out the ways in which the Pharisees used their religion to set themselves above others or the ways in which they were hypocrites. He condemned the religious leaders of His day for burdening people with unnecessary rules and regulations. But true religion, seeks to draw people nearer to God in and through the practice of the faith. True religion is not just set of rules and laws. That sort of religion, the sort of religion that Jesus condemned, drives people to either rebel or to live lives burdened by anxiety and crushing guilt. But Jesus never tells us not to be religious at all -to just do our own thing. Jesus himself was an observant Jew, keeping the feasts and customs of His people. Not only that, but God never tells the Children of Israel to just worship any way they please or to do whatever makes them feel good and draws in more people. Instead He always has very specific instructions for how they are to conduct sacrifices and worship.

Back in college, when I claimed to be spiritual but not religious, what I was really saying was that I was free to pick what, if any, Christian customs and traditions I followed. I could decide for myself which doctrines were binding and which were not. Being free from religion meant that I could choose a church, if I went at all, that fit my preferences and taught what I believed to be the correct interpretation of scripture. Being spiritual but not religious actually meant a religion of my own creating.

Webster’s defines religion, in part, as an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules…

I like that definition. My religion organizes my beliefs. My religion gives me a framework and a system both for expressing my love for God and for helping me to grow in that love. My faithfulness to God does not depend entirely on my feelings. Through the various practices of my religion, I often do feel more love and awe for God, but I am also sustained when those feelings sometimes wane. My religion does not replace a real relationship with Jesus any more than living within a marriage replaces a couple’s real relationship with each other. Rather, my religion is the home in which my relationship with God is nurtured and grows.