I Don’t Count Sheep

P1010499We did a small remodel of one of the preschool rooms at our child care center over the Labor Day weekend: ripping out carpet, building a loft corner, and changing storage and activity centers. The kids love the loft. The adults love the hardwood floor, original to our old building, that was in fair shape underneath the old carpet. Many expressed admiration that we got it all arranged and ready for the kids in just three days. I explained that the physical work may have taken place in a weekend, but the “new room” had existed in my head for months now.

I don’t count sheep when I’m trying to fall asleep, but I often rearrange or redecorate rooms.

Some of the rooms I plan as I fall asleep end up as real rooms in our life, like our garage-turned-family room and living room-turned-bedroom suite. Others will never come to pass. It interests me to think about living in other homes and buildings, or in our own home in a new way. Since there is no urgency, it relaxes me – unlike thinking about things I really need to get done tomorrow – and I can sleep.

What would I take if we moved to one of these new little houses? A cabin? An apartment? How could a barn be turned into a home? What do I need to move/store/rearrange to create a guest bedroom upstairs? A craft room?

Let me count the ways!


Meeting the Flowers

White Peony

White Peony

“Peony” was one of the first flowers I remember meeting, the peony bush taller than me as I toddled behind my parents through the flowerbeds. They both loved to garden and talk about the plants, flowers, trees. Everything had a name. That was fascinating to me. Snapdragons, Honeysuckle, Four-O’clock’s, and Hollyhocks were my childhood favorites, fun to say, with flowers suited for play.

I met “Bachelor Buttons” at Grandma M’s house, a field of blue, purple, and pink growing wild atop her root cellar hill. We were allowed to pick as many as we’d like, a rare extravagance in childhood.

Of course, kids can always pick all the wild violets and dandelions they want...

Of course, kids can always pick all the wild violets and dandelions they want…

My mother-in-law introduced me to local wild flowers, Queen Anne’s Lace, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, and others not common where I grew up. I’ve toured gardens with many relatives and friends over the years. Those memories flood back today at the sight of particular flowers enjoyed together. My yard has become a memory garden.
Japanese Iris.  Iris were often called "Flags" when I was a child.  People were proud of their many varieties.

Japanese Iris. Iris were often called “Flags” when I was a child. People were proud of their many varieties.

I never got to go on a “meet the flowers” walk with my husband’s Grandma Ruth, but we still enjoy some of her flowers planted on our property more than forty years ago. The Narcissus-faced Daffodils and Grape Hyacinth greet us each Spring, her lilacs still perfuming the air.
Narcissus-faced Daffodils

Narcissus-faced Daffodils

Patch of Grape Hyacinth

Patch of Grape Hyacinth

Grandma Ruth planted the four peony bushes that line our drive, too. I would love to hang a sign on our mailbox, announcing “Peony Lane”, but perhaps need more than four bushes to justify it. Two pink and two white bushes, the white ones bloom first. We always have peonies for Memorial Day.

Peony Lane?

Peony Lane?

Hooked on Child Care

(Also see “The Business of Caring”; our challenges in owning a child care center.)IMG_3496

Between the sad little girl looking out the window and the little boy sitting on a time-out chair (who’s name I would learn very quickly that day!) I was hooked. 

It was my first day as a preschool teacher at a day care center.  I had been privileged to stay home with my own children during their preschool years, then taught at a preschool-only facility for a few years before coming to interview at a day care center.  I didn’t know what to expect, but my education about caring for other people’s children in a child care facility began as I interacted with those two children my first day.  More than twenty years later, as an administrator, I’m still learning.

In a few weeks time, a “goodby routine” helped Rainie and her mother get the day off to a more pleasant start.  Austin was the first of several who could have had their names engraved on a plaque above the time-out chair commemorating their frequent visits.  Slowly we encouraged Austin and his cohorts to redirect their energies to avoid “the chair”, while at the same time training staff to stop overusing time-outs. (With better behavior management techniques, the chair sat empty and could finally be re-purposed into more productive space.)  Since some of the children spent more hours at the center daily than I did, this job provided new challenges as a preschool teacher, but also more time to spend with the children.

Preschool aged children learn and change so quickly from age three to five, and show great joy in learning – almost as much joy as I had teaching them. Unlike older kids, they are easily impressed. They often told me I was a good singer/dancer/painter/juggler or whatever we were doing at the time. Alas, I barely do these things at a preschool level. I assured them they were also wonderful. When we exercised and stretched our arms “up to the ceiling”, they would tell me I was so tall. “Yes, yes I am,” I would agree, “but you will probably be taller than me some day.” (A safe bet if there ever was one.)

It is hard to narrow down favorite moments from my memories of teaching preschool. A top one would have to be three year old Ben, who paid unusually close attention while I demonstrated the properties of magnets. Before setting the kids loose to explore with them, I ended my demonstration by lifting up a plastic ball magnet with a string of ten other plastic balls suspended in air below it. “So,what do you think is making these plastic balls stick together?”, I asked. Wide-eyed, Ben solemnly replied, “Magic!”. Yes, I had failed to get my lesson on magnets through to him, but at least I got to add magician to my list of talents.

Preschool children exploring as we add tree stumps to our outdoor classroom

Preschool children exploring as we add tree stumps to our outdoor classroom

Working in a child care center gives me the opportunity to stay connected with children and their families for many years beyond preschool. Some enter the center as infants or toddlers. Others stay up to age twelve in our after-school or summer programs. Families with more than one child have been a part of our center for over a dozen years before the youngest outgrows us. Some families keep in touch years after leaving, and a few former students have come to work for me in the years I’ve been an administrator. We take great pride in our former students during their successes at local high schools, and beyond, whether they were with us just a few years or most of their childhood.

Handprint and footprint art is a favorite with our quickly growing Infants and Toddlers.

Handprint and footprint art is a favorite with our quickly growing Infants and Toddlers.

Shifting to the administrator’s job thirteen years ago was an adjustment for me. Now instead of knowing my classroom full of children well, I get to know over a hundred children, from babies to preteen, a little bit. I still miss the classroom connection at times, but this role allows for more interaction with the parents and staff and that has been rewarding to me in surprising ways. As Administrator, I’m still hooked on child care, and love being able to influence the kind of care our children receive.
A great staff of loving care-teachers makes my job so much easier! (If anyone is shorter than me in this picture, I must have worn heels that day!)

A great staff of loving care-teachers makes my job so much easier! (If anyone is shorter than me in this picture, I must have worn heels that day!)

Reflections on Easter Weekend

Two weekends before Easter, I stood with 500 others at a funeral for my friend’s husband. The death had been sudden. Totally unexpected. We gathered to mourn with his widow, children, and grandchildren, while celebrating his life and his Lord. So many lives had been touched during the last third of his life he had lived following Jesus.

The weekend before Easter, my family celebrated together at the marriage of my niece and her groom. Love beamed from the couple, surrounded by their friends and family with much good food, laughter, dancing, and reminiscing. The joy of that day will long be in our memories.

Sadness. Grief. Tears. Laughter. Celebration. Hope for the future. I was exhausted from this range of emotions as Holy Week began. Slowly I began to see how Easter had been mirrored in these recent events, helping to prepare my heart to worship.

Our church offered a new service to observe Good Friday this year. Songs and scripture focused on Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross, followed by an opportunity to take communion, creating a meaningful, but sober, time of personal reflection.

Easter Sunday we sang loudly with a crowd of other believers of our resurrected Christ, many bursting into spontaneous applause for God as His plan of salvation, His plan to defeat death and provide life eternal were praised in the lyrics. Such love! Such grace! Such joy! Someday our Groom will return for His Bride, the Church, and that celebration will be beyond our imagination.


Just Call Me

Grandma called me Christine Jeanie Karen.  She went through different name lists for others in the family, but the route to “Karen” was always the same.  I often wondered, but never asked, how I fit on this particular list.

Christine was my great aunt, rarely seen, but much remembered thanks to Grandma.  The same starting sound best explains why our names were linked.

Jeanie was my mom’s cousin, maybe fifteen years older than me.  Another rarely seen relative.  She and I were the only blondes in a brunette and black haired family.  That’s the best I can do to make any kind of connection with Jeanie.

I remember this fondly now, largely because I find myself struggling with family names, too.  The first syllable of my daughter’s and sister’s names rhyme.  Anyway, that’s my excuse for repeatedly calling them by the others name. The children I work with and my nieces and nephews often suffer through being called a siblings’ name – by me and others.  I knew better than to name my children with the same starting letter sound, but failed to apply that rule when we named our pets.  Luckily Dixie, Dogg, Daisy and Dexter don’t complain when I get their names wrong.

As the old saying goes, “I don’t care what you call me – just don’t forget to call me for supper.”  Maybe that should be our family motto.

Weekly Writing Challenge: Power of Names

The Business of Caring

We bought a zoo daycare in 2004.
We are currently licensed to serve 96 children, with more than that enrolled due to part-time preschool classes and before/after school programs. We employ between fifteen and twenty-five people, depending how many are full or part-time.

With all those people, nine classrooms, five bathrooms, two workrooms, two playgrounds, two entryways, an office, and a kitchen, little things go wrong all the time. A very partial listing from over the years includes: 3 broken aquariums(the fish were all saved!), a half dozen broken windowpanes, 3 employees’ keys broken off in the door locks, and numerous plumber visits to retrieve UFO’s (Unidentified Flush-able Objects)from our pipes.(The latest was a yellow marker. $200.) We have worn out more vacuums and toasters in ten years than I will have owned in a lifetime, if I life to 100.

At home we occasionally need to repair or replace larger appliances and fixtures. At our center, fifteen sinks, nine toilets, four furnaces, four air conditioners, three full-sized refrigerators, two freezers, two hot-water heaters, along with office and playground equipment, greatly increase our odds that something needs work. Monthly, if not weekly. Though not a handy-man to tackle the big repairs, much of my husband’s “free time” goes to the many smaller repairs, painting, snow removal, etc.

I had worked many years for this business as a preschool teacher, then as administrator. We knew some of what we were getting into. In 2004, we were sure we had weighed all the possible scenarios that would complicate the venture.


Two of the biggest unexpected challenges we have faced:
1)Several years ago,our state suddenly increased minimum wage well ahead of the federal rate, with a built in annual increase. (This thwarted our desire to see most of our employees working well above minimum wage.) We are in a small town market that will not support what businesses in Ohio’s larger cities are charging to cover this increased expense.
2)The “Great Recession” hit some of our neediest families the hardest, as temp workers and new hires were often the first let go by their companies. Almost every family felt the crunch, with fewer work hours and lowered salaries if not with lay-offs. There was less need for childcare and preschool during 2009, and slow growth as jobs returned to our area in 2010. An unusual result of this recession was an increase in the number of people offering childcare in our state, our area included. Though we are back towards “normal” we have never returned fully to our numbers prior to 2009.

Surprise expenses have come in many forms, such as the city breaking a gas line when working on our road ($3,000 to redo our gas line to meet new regulations after the break) and the Federal government requiring all new cribs in 2013 to meet new safety standards ($2500).

Less surprising are the increases in food costs, shipping costs, energy costs, all those things that keep the cost of living going up for everyone. Educating staff, paying for more highly educated staff, providing educational materials and toys, all add to the expense of providing quality care for the children.

We are a business that provides care. Our challenge is to provide quality care at a fair price for our families, while making a fair income to cover our costs and pay our staff.

These are the nitty-gritty (boring!) details of our life as child care business owners. They tell such a small part of our story. Motives, plot-twists, and seeing God at work – that’s what I like in a good story. I’ll share some of that next time.