Free Books!

Were more beautiful words ever spoken?

I love to read and so do my kids, hence our affinity for the local library (and the church library, and our “home library” which is actually just the guest bedroom that happens to have several bookshelves in it). Buying new books can get expensive, so getting them for free allows us to indulge our passions even more often.

But getting free books you get to keep? Even better! And if you are like me and mine, you jump at book giveaways. There are two opportunities this summer that we know of that cost absolutely nothing to get started and can result in a free book. I’ll share these with you in hopes that if you know of any more you’ll share them with me.

First, the local library’s summer reading program. For children and adults, if you join the summer reading program, you get a free book to take home (and keep). You have to choose from a set stock, but hey, free is free. And it’s not just for kids. Adults can join the SRP too! And while this is specific to my local library, I know there are a lot of others with similar program kick-offs so check with yours. The worst that could happen is that you end up in a library.

The second opportunity is through Barnes and Noble. They have their own version of a summer reading program. This one is only for kids (as far as I know), but it’s still free books. You have to go to your local B&N and get a reading log to fill out. The child keeps track of how much they read and the parent signs off on it. During the month of August you return the completed reading log back into the B&N location and get a free book for your efforts. I learned about this via an online press release, so if you want to call your local B&N to confirm this is actually happening, I don’t blame you.

Huzzah for promoting literacy! Free books all around! Here’s to a well-read summer!

Free Baseball

When most fans talk about free baseball, they mean the game has gone into extra innings. For those of you who are not fans of “the sportsball” that’s the equivalent of overtime in baseball speak. But this week, my experience with free baseball was a little different.

My alma mater (Mississippi State University) has a storied baseball program. We also have a shiny, newly rebuilt and redesigned stadium. Dudy Noble Field has been the home of Bulldog baseball for decades, and its latest incarnation–lovingly called The New Dude–is a thing of wonder. We have been itching to take the kids to a game there all season, but until this week hadn’t quite made it work.

On Tuesday night, the Bulldogs played an extra game. It was added to the schedule only two weeks ago. Admission was entirely free for everyone. Instead, the university asked for something a little different. Let me back up a minute.

Last month, Ruston, Louisiana and the college that calls it home (Louisiana Tech) suffered significant damage thanks to a tornado. The south has experienced quite a few tornados this spring and there are several areas in need. Unfortunately, that means that the aid is spread pretty thin.

Now, I’ve talked about the chainsaw and casseroles brigade that marches through the south when people are in need of help. But sometimes, you still need something more. The baseball game this week aimed to provide that something.

The game was a fundraiser. Instead of admission, each fan was asked if they would or could donate a little something to the Salvation Army who is leading relief efforts in Ruston. No donation was too small (none was required, because we know not everyone can).

It was too much for us to pass up. My husband and I picked our kids up from school and drove down. We donated to the Salvation Army on the way into the park, got to experience the New Dude, ate hot dogs and nachos, and the kids even got a foul ball. A great time was had by all. I don’t know what the totals were for donations that night, but I know they were changing out the donation buckets when we arrived at the field–a full forty-five minutes before the first pitch. Hopefully that means it was well worth it.

It certainly was for us.

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My 5yo putting his donation in the bucket.

Free baseball at the New Dude and a valuable lesson on giving what we can to help those in need–priceless.

Team Mom

My 5-year-old plays baseball. Well, T-ball. Though they do a little bit of coach pitching every game. My husband is the assistant coach. My son’s plays on a team with his best friend. His friend’s dad is the coach. It’s a fun dynamic that had made the season extra fun for our boys. However, last week the coach and his family were out of town. That left us in charge.

My husband wasn’t alone on the field. There is a dad of another player who often volunteers to help and last week he was invaluable. But where the coach’s wife is usually in the dugout helping the kids figure out where to be and when, last week that job fell to me.

Y’all.

Being in a dugout with a team full of 5-year-olds is like being locked in a cage match you know you can’t win. These kids are precious and adorable, but they are just so many of them.

Once upon a time, I was a high school teacher. This, however, gave me a whole new respect for kindergarten teachers the world over. None of you are paid enough.

In the dugout, I had nine children from the team plus my 2-year-old. None of the kids exhibited behavioral out of the normal scope for kids their age, it was just a chaotic environment to begin with.

“Where’s my glove?”

“My drink is empty!”

“I can’t get my helmet on!”

“When is it my turn to bat?”

“How many more innings?”

It was everything that can send you over the edge during a family road trip, but you’re not related to most of the kids present.

So, if your kids play sports of any kind, at the end of the season, thank the volunteer coach, but also give a special shout out to the Team Mom. Or Team Dad. Whoever had the patience, kindness, and desire to run the bench.

This week, the coach’s wife will resume her position. Though I might just offer to help her out. That’s not a one person job. Or maybe just not a one ME job. Either way, it’s like a cage match. She needs someone she can tag in when things go haywire.

Team Mom is not for the faint of heart.

Self-Care Isn’t Selfish

May can be a busy time of the year. For students, it can mean finals, graduations, awards ceremonies, spring performances, wrapping up sports seasons, and possibly moving into or out of a living situation. For parents, it means being there for graduations, awards ceremonies, etc. For writers, well we stress ourselves out enough all year long.

My point is, this time of year can be just as stressful as preparing for Christmas, but without the big family holiday at the end. The start of summer vacation is inherently less stressful than hosting all of your family for a large feast in a clean and perfectly decorated house lest Aunt Edna wield her snarky, side-eye wrath. I have no Aunt Edna, but you know what I mean. May can be just as stressful, but we don’t allow ourselves the same amount of self-care time. We don’t schedule extra time for bubble baths, sneaking baked goods, or even prayer.

But taking care of yourself isn’t selfish, no matter what time of year it is. It doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t care for anyone else. It means that you need to secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others with theirs.

If you have the time, take a nap. If you have the means, make that doctor appointment. If you have neither time nor means, then do just one simple thing today that brings you joy. Listen to bad (aka really good) music from the 1990s or download a new audiobook from your local library’s app. Whatever. Just remember to put on your oxygen mask.

If you don’t take care of you, who will?

Spring!

Spring officially started last month on the calendar, but it was just an arbitrary day. Now, however, the severe weather pattern has begun and everything has actually turned green and bloomed. Now spring is actually here.

Fields of wildflowers. A canopy of green trees. Warm sunshine that burns away the weight on my spirit. Spring is here.

I actually really love winter. So many celebrations and good excuses to curl up under a blanket. It can be stressful, too, but so can a lot of other things throughout the year. But, wow, there is something about spring that makes me feel like I can breathe again–which is ironic considering my seasonal allergies.

Spring also brings with it other things I enjoy. My son started his first season of baseball. This week he played in his first game. He had an absolute blast. I’m always so careful not to push him into things just because I like them, but when he asks to try something new I try not to say no if we can afford it. He gets so excited about every practice and this week, you couldn’t wipe the smile off his face when the game ended. Trying to get him calm enough to go to bed after that was a lost cause, but it was worth it to see the joy exuding from his whole body. I hope it remains just as fun and exciting by the end of the season in June.

Warmer weather–that will be unbearably hot soon enough, but we’ll enjoy it while it lasts–also means more afternoons at the park, trips out to the lake, picnics in the sunshine, grilling out, lightning bugs, and all the gorgeous colors nature has to offer.

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Spring is most definitely here.

Full Circle

I registered my oldest son for kindergarten yesterday. On the surface, it’s just some forms to fill out, some documents to hand over, and a preliminary oral exam to assess his readiness. It’s not a big deal at all. I had already completed the forms online, so when I showed up to hand over our documents and have him tested it took less than fifteen minutes before we were back out the door and on our merry way.

But that’s on the surface.

Emotionally, this was a big day for me. My son is ecstatic. He loves school. He loves to learn. Reading is his love language. And when we got to the school he’ll attend next year and saw they had not one but two playgrounds, he was pleased as punch. I put on a brave face.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m so excited for him. I’m excited for me, too. We survived the preschool phase together and are moving into “big kid” territory. Part of me was ready to do a happy dance right along with him as he finished his test and was told he was more than ready for kindergarten and they couldn’t wait to see him in the fall. Big kid school will be a new adventure and we’re both thrilled.

Or, one and a half of us are.

Half of me still wants to hold him tight and keep him with me. He’s my first baby. I’m not ready for him to be a big kid yet. I was fine with him playing Little League. Soccer and baseball are fun for me to watch and I’m there the whole time. I was fine when he started going to preschool two days a week. This is different somehow. I can’t explain it. I did my best to prepare him for this milestone, but now that he’s reached it, I’m terrified. And happy. And sad. And proud.

Kindergarten is complicated.

My own mother died when I was very young. One of the vivid memories I still have of her is of a day when I walked into the kitchen for breakfast before school and found her eating cold pizza and drinking a Coca-Cola. The look on her face screamed, “Eat your cereal and don’t judge me.” To be fair, I was the youngest of four children and my mother was a teacher, so school mornings were always chaos. I have no idea what had happened that morning before I came into the kitchen, but whatever it was, I’m certain it justified her choices.

This morning, I got my children dressed and double checked that my documents were in order and everything I needed for my other errands was ready to go. Then I opened the fridge to see to my own breakfast needs and saw a box of leftover pizza. It was like a message from my mother.

Maybe that sounds crazy. Maybe it is. But that’s how I felt. It was like she was speaking to me this morning, telling me to calm down. It will be okay. This is normal. And if you still needed to fortify yourself before facing the world, a little cold pizza couldn’t hurt. Though, I did at least warm it up.

When we got to the school, the teacher who came to greet us and help with my son’s readiness test was the mother of a girl on his soccer team from last fall. Once again, it felt like a message. Calm down. He’ll be fine and so will you.

It was still an emotional rollercoaster of a day, I won’t lie. But I realized that life has come full circle. Now I’m the mom eating leftover pizza for breakfast before heading to school. And maybe my son will remember that. Maybe one day, when he’s struggling with something, he’ll open the fridge door and be comforted by the sight of leftover pizza. I was.

Thanks, Mama.

St. Jude Trike-A-Thon

Today is a special day for my kids. Their preschool is participating in the St. Jude Trike-A-Thon and today is the big day! Together they have raised hundreds of dollars for St. Jude, and along with the rest of their preschool, the overall donation from the event will be in the thousands.

It starts with them learning about bicycle safety. Then they get to bring their bikes, trikes, or other riding toys to the school and spend a part of the school day doing laps on the “track” in the parking lot with their friends. They have an amazing time and we get to talk about St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and generosity.

Did you know that families never receive a bill from St. Jude? Not for treatment, travel, housing, or food. Everything is covered by grants, donations, and special fundraisers throughout the year. My husband has run in the St. Jude Half-Marathon, the 10K, and the 5K. And last year my oldest son was old enough to participate in the Kid’s 1-miler. While they have enjoyed the races each time, that’s not the reason they do it. The fact that the families at St. Jude can focus on their children without the added anxiety over what the final bill will be is huge. Did you also know that St. Jude freely shares its discoveries? Every stride made in research and treatment, every child saved at St. Jude, provides knowledge used the world over to save others.

We don’t live far from Memphis, where St. Jude is located. We know people who work there, we know people who work for their partner organizations, and, yes, we know families who have spent months praying for miracles. It’s not a concept for us, but a concrete reality.

The Trike-A-Thon at my children’s school is not the only one. There are others held all around the country on different dates. Schools can actually find information about hosting their own Trike-A-Thon on the St. Jude website.

My kids are so excited to have fun riding bikes at school. But they know–at least the older one does–why they’re doing it. They are still collecting donations even today! Together they have raised more than enough money to feed a St. Jude patient family for an entire week. I couldn’t be prouder.

I am well aware that not everyone can donate, or participate for that matter. But I’m grateful that my kids get to be a part of this event. They are learning about generosity in a way that is fun and age appropriate. I can’t put a price on that.