Why I spent May on a scavenger hunt

Why I spent May on a scavenger hunt

Back in April, I was scrolling through Facebook when a post popped up from our local park district. They were promoting an event that immediately caught my eye. It was a photography “scavenger hunt.”

Participants would be given a list of items to find and photograph during the month of May. I already spend time each week searching for beautiful scenes to photograph, so this sounded like fun.

But then, I read through the details. At the end of the scavenger hunt, the photos would be displayed in a little museum in town. Judges would choose the winners, and the public would also be invited to vote for their favorites.

No way.

Just the idea of having judges look at my photographs was making my stomach upset. As much as I post my photos on social media, I got nervous thinking about my photos hanging on a wall for people to vote on. Besides, I would probably be the only person to even enter, and then I would feel even more ridiculous!

Then, I started thinking about all of the things I encourage my children do. I thought about our oldest son who creates short films and has to sit in the room while people cast their votes for their favorite. I thought about the times the boys have performed in improv shows, hoping the audience will think they are funny. I thought about our second born going through a week of tryouts for high school baseball. I thought about the girls doing gymnastics or cheerleading, taking huge risks to perform in front of a crowded room. If one of my children loved photography as much as I do, I would absolutely sign them up!

Since the beginning of the year, I have spent a lot of time learning about myself and some of my personality traits that keep me from becoming the person that I want to be. As a 3 on the Enneagram, I have discovered that my fear of failure plays a major role in many of the choices that I make in life. I absolutely cringe at any situation in which my creative work will be analyzed. I’ve come a long way in this regard, but I’ve realized how often my fear of being critiqued holds me back.

So, the first weekend of May, I had a rare Saturday morning that was a blank page on my calendar. My husband took the girls on a road trip to visit his parents, and the boys both had plans. I excitedly packed up my camera gear and set out on my scavenger hunt.

I needed to find photos in five categories: Birds, blooming trees, wildflowers, being green and at the park. The photos couldn’t be of people. They had to be taken within a three-week time span. And they had to be within a certain geographic area.

I leisurely roamed around the river walk downtown. I hiked through the woods. I crawled under a bridge. I waded in the river. I sat down in the middle of a field of wildflowers. I stood for 20 minutes in the swampy area next to a lake watching two swans fishing at sunset. I lost my shoe in the mud.

I realized that everywhere I went, I was thinking about those five categories. It was interesting how my brain started noticing things I might not have seen otherwise.

I knew that I could find swans in the lake that’s just behind my house. But now I made a special trip to catch them swimming right in the spot where the sun was about to set.

Here are a few others of the swans:

I was constantly on the lookout for the gorgeous blooms of blossoming trees. But the scavenger hunt made me more aware of the contrast of a red barn to frame my photo.

Here are a few others of the blooming trees:

I would have never discovered that one of our local parks is completely covered in bluebells in May if I hadn’t been on my scavenger hunt.

Here are a few others of the wildflowers:

I set out to try to find a frog in a swamp for my photos of “being green,” but then I realized how the reflection of trees on the swamp filled my viewfinder with green.

The hardest photo to find was “at the park.” I couldn’t think of a creative way to photograph a park scene without including people (which was against the rules). I took a quick walk around my neighborhood one day without my camera, when I noticed that our local park looked lovely when gazed from a distance between the branches of some flowering trees. I walked the mile back home to get my camera so I could check the last item off my scavenger hunt list.

I returned to the spot to take my photo and realized I had forgotten my SD card. There was no way I was giving up! I walked home and came back a third time to complete my final photo!

This weekend, we got to go see the other entries in the scavenger hunt. It was weird to ask my family to go do something that was centered around me, rather than one of them. It seems like every weekend is me bouncing from one event to the next to cheer them on for something.

Three other people entered the contest, but only one other person was an adult. The other two people entered in the youth category. While we were looking at all of the photos and casting our votes, several other groups of people came in to look at the photos. I smiled as I overheard them talk about my photos and try to decide which one to vote for.

My 13-year-old daughter was the only one available to go with me on Sunday to see the results. “Just try to act like we are randomly visiting the museum,” I instructed her. “Pretend you don’t even know about the photos, and we just happened to see them.” We laughed at ourselves as we tried to walk in casually.

When we saw that all five of my photos had earned a blue ribbon, she excitedly grabbed my phone to take some photos. I loved all of my competitor’s entries, and I really wished she had won in some of the categories. Regardless of the outcome, it was really the experience that made it fun.

I had a month to focus on a goal that wasn’t about work or my kids. I noticed the beauty of my community in a new way. And my family got to cheer me on for a change!


So what about you? Have you done something recently that was just for you?



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A blanket of bluebells

A blanket of bluebells

This weekend, I had a little time to myself because my husband had taken our two girls out of town to visit his parents. Our boys are pretty much self-sufficient, so I took advantage of a Saturday morning to go for a hike.

I have absolutely been loving the spring weather this past week, and I wanted to take some photos of the blooming trees. I drove over to a wooded nature area that’s not far from my house. When I pulled up, I could see that most of the trees in the woods were covered in green blooms. I was really looking for trees that were blooming in vibrant purples and pinks or blossoms of white. I debated whether to even get out of my car.

What the heck? I had time, so I ventured into the forest.

I hadn’t walked far before I saw an amazing canopy of blue covering the ground under the trees. I would find out later they were bluebells. I’ve lived in Illinois my entire life, and I did not know that bluebells would grow here.

My blogger friends, Sues, always writes about the bluebells in Texas, so I thought they must be something you only see in the south.

I know where I can go to find a glade covered in daffodils in the spring. And I’ve always wanted to visit the fields of tulips that bloom the first weekend of May in Holland, Michigan. But I’ve never heard or even seen photos of bluebells in this area.

I sat down in the middle of the tall flowers to take some photos and realized they smell as pretty as they look. I took deep breathes, inhaling the scent of honeysuckle. If I had a book and a blanket, I literally could have sat there all day. But eventually, I needed to move on.

That’s when I saw an even larger blanket of bluebells covering the forest floor. Behind it was a private residence with a picture perfect barn reflected in a pond. I was in photography heaven for a while longer.

I was planning to take prom photos for some friends later the same day, and I almost texted them to ask if they wanted to move their photo shoot to this wooded area. I knew it would be too far of a drive with all they had planned, so I didn’t make the suggestion.

When we arrived at the park we had already planned, guess what was awaiting us?

Yep. More bluebells!

Well, bluebells are for sure my new favorite. I’m so thankful I just happened to find them during the short window that they are in full bloom.

If you haven’t seen them, take the time to find some this spring! I promise it’s worth the effort!



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A special message from your VIP classroom volunteer

A special message from your VIP classroom volunteer

As this school year comes to a close, I am also wrapping up my second year as a classroom volunteer. After serving two full years in this very important position, I thought it might be helpful to share a few things I have learned during my tenure of helping 45 minutes every month (give or take a few months when I couldn’t make it) in my child’s classroom.

Now, I actually used the word “helping” in the previous sentence very loosely. You see, the role of classroom volunteer doesn’t come with any type of instruction manual or rule book, so that is why I thought it was important to share with other parents some of the things I have learned.

I will admit that I got off to a bit of a rough start the first time I volunteered in my daughter’s first grade class.

I mean, how was I to know that allowing the children to make farting noises with their underarms would be looked down upon in such a strong manner?

I was assigned to take a few students out into the hallway and play a math BINGO game. I gave the students a math fact, and if they got it right, they would cover up that number on their BINGO card with a chip.

In my quest to beat out all of the other parent in gaining the title of the Super Fun and Most Popular Classroom Volunteer, I thought I would jazz up our little game by making a sound when the group got the math problem correct or incorrect. The first group loved this idea, and we all used our normal indoor sound-making voices to say things like, “DA-DA-DAAAAA!” at a correct answer or, “BOOOOOOONG!” when the answer was wrong.

This was going very well until we got to about the fourth rotation of students. I was starting to catch on that the teacher was sending the students out to me in groups of kids that had comparable skills in math. It might have been helpful though, if she had put stickers on them or something to indicate their tendency to get in trouble.

Group Number 4 was especially excited about my idea to make sounds, and one child initiated the underarm farting idea. Before I knew what had happened, the entire group was slapping their arms down, filling the hallway with underarm farting noises.

This also was when I discovered that my daughter’s teacher had several superpowers: Super Sonic Hearing and Stealth Undetectable Movements. I didn’t even see her behind me until her laser beam eyes had locked in on two of the boys. With a flick of her head, they were suctioned out of my math center and pulled back into the classroom.

“What have I done?” I asked myself. I couldn’t believe I had allowed two of my little students to get in so much trouble they had to be removed from my center.

So, it goes without saying that if I were to write a guide book on how to be a classroom volunteer, Rule No. 1 would be: Do Not Allow Children to Make Farting Noises with Their Underarms.

This year, I decided it might be a good idea to switch from being a volunteer during math to helping out with language arts.

Most months, my job is to give my group of three to four students three words that are on little cards. The students need to read the words, talk about their meanings and then write sentences using those words.

At the beginning of the year, some of the words were a challenge to the kids. But as the year has progressed, the kids have flown through this activity pretty quickly. That’s why I, aka Super Awesome Fun Mom and Best Classroom Volunteer Award Nominee, have tried to come up with funny rhymes and guessing games to play with the words.

A few months ago, I suggested that my first group of students use their fanciest, swirly handwriting to write out their sentences. I was amazed at some of the creative lettering these students could do.

As I presented different words, they got more and more creative with their handwriting and artwork. One of the girls decided she would write in “cursive.” I do need to commend my daughter’s second grade teacher that she is actually teaching the class to write in cursive. However, the students had not progressed very far in this skill at the time. So, instead, my little group just began scribbling out their sentences.

We were nearing the end of our time together, so I just asked them to tell me what their scribbled, imaginary sentences said. I also made them promise not to reveal to any of the other kids that I had allowed them to write in scribbles. They promised, and I prayed that I would not be fired.

About two groups later, my daughter came out for her time in my center.

These were the first words out of her mouth:


Needless to say, Rule No. 2: Require Students to Actually Write Their Sentences with Real Letters.

This past month, when I arrived to volunteer in my daughter’s classroom, I thought I saw a certain look in her teacher’s eye when she gave me the instructions for my center. She seemed to be giving me the look of, “Hey, lady. We are actually trying to teach these kids something. Could you please make them write with real letters.”

I took her look to heart, and although I couldn’t resist making up rhymes and playing guessing games with the words, I promise that every student spelled every word correctly and was reminded to use proper punctuation. Hopefully, this will get back to the school, and I won’t be blacklisted next year.

Watch out, third grade. Here I come!

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