Saturday, December 21, 2013

Silver and Gold

As a Brownie Girl Scout, I used to sing

Make new friends, but keep the old
One is silver and the other gold.

There is a lot of silver and gold this time of year, on the tree, in the house, in the stores... and a whole lot of it exchanging hands.  But it's those silver and gold friendships that shine like a light this time of year.

We just returned from three days in our former hometown, staying with my parents, doing our best to stimulate the economy, as Josh says. We still go to the dentist there, get our cars fixed there, and I always make a hair appointment when I go. And then there's my favorite things to eat there and my favorite shops.  But what I love, and miss, the most, of course, are those wonderful "old" friends.

It's impossible to see everyone we want to, but I love the little gifts from God, of seeing a friend I didn't expect to.  I turned a corner in Marden's and there was a friend!  A ring of the doorbell after dark and there was a friend, bringing the most unique and delicious cookie!  I had a wonderful, two hour conversation with an amazing godly woman when I dropped her daughter off from a playdate with mine.  I popped in to see my Kelly-girl and she gave me a lovely handmade necklace that I've received so many compliments on already.

I confess, driving into our "old" hometown is like salt in a wound.  I'm coming to realize that what we had there (to me we had it "all") will never be matched again.

But then we drove home. And we were coming home an hour before some of our homeschooling friends were showing up for a Christmas party.  A Christmas party that was rather impromptu, but we decided to just do it.  And it was wonderful.  It came together easily because we have new friends that we're getting comfortable with.  They don't care what my house looks like. They understand the imperfections of my children and are patient with the slow work of maturing in them.  We laugh and talk easily, the kids run out to play in the snow, we're honest about our struggles.

And when everyone has gone home, I put my finger on this lightness in my soul, this joy and gratitude that is there.  We have wonderful old silver friends and we are making wonderful new golden friends.  And I think, the refining of silver and gold is slow, it's not without fire, it takes time and trial to make something precious.

I had eight years to build lasting friendships with those people.  I shouldn't be surprised that, in our new hometown, the process of making and building new and precious friendships is slow. But sure.

Every year, for Christmas, I ask for "something special".  Friendships, old and new, are some of the best gifts I've ever received.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

My Own "It's a Wonderful Life" Story

That wonderful, classic Christmas movie It's a Wonderful Life was just the butt of many a sitcom joke to me, until I saw it for the first time when I was 21 years old.  I remember that Christmas so well.  It was the year I was madly in love with this guy at church.  It was the first Christmas that truly held the wonder of Christ's birth for me.  It was beautiful.

I fell in love with It's a Wonderful Life.  And maybe the rest of the world did, too, because people seemed to stop making fun of it.  It's simplicity perhaps became something this harried, hectic season of celebrators needed and desired.

My own It's a Wonderful Life story happened the summer when I was greatly pregnant with our third child.  She was due at the end of August. The summer was blessedly cooler in comparison to others we had.  I had enjoyed this pregnancy so much and was overjoyed that we were having another baby girl.

But the shadow of that summer was our own Mr. Potter.  He was a heating oil dealer in our story.  Because heating oil costs were sky high, we had locked in our rate the year before and prepaid 800 gallons worth of that liquid gold.  That was no small chunk of change.  We also installed  a wood stove that miraculously heated our entire huge house, much to our surprise.  So the only oil we ended up using was for our hot water.

That was a blessing.  It meant we would get much of that prepaid oil money returned to us.  Right?


The owner of the heating oil company refused to return the $2500 to us.  I tried every avenue possible to get our money back.  I personally delivered a request for our money back, with a copy of the law.  I got the Attorney General's office involved. He dodged their calls. I spoke with a lawyer.  This despicable Mr. Potter type man had no intention of returning our money.

Just a few weeks before Petite was born, I fell down our back staircase on our way to morning swim lessons.  Thankfully, I only sprained my ankle, though it hurt like a beast.  Thirty-five extra pounds on a badly sprained ankle just added to my misery of dealing with our stolen money.  It was taking the joy out of an otherwise wonderful pregnancy.

The only answer to this problem was... to let it go.  To give this one to God and choose to enjoy the last few weeks of my pregnancy.  As unjust as the whole situation was, it was the way to peace.

Right after I let go, after I decided to not even take it to small claims court, my mom and my best friend threw me a baby shower.  So  many people showed up to celebrate my baby girl who was about to be born. My brother hid out in the basement but was sure to add his very large measurement to the game of trying to guess my girth (and he won!).  Jessie brought Ghiradelli brownies. Sara got me a chocolate peanut butter ice cream cake.  Holly and the girls sent me a giant bag of baby clothes from yard sales (she knows how I love to yard sale!) among many other gifts.  Diapers, adorable outfits, so much cuteness was in those packages... but when I unpacked all those things at my house later that night, it was the love and the laughter and the fact that my friends had just showed up that overwhelmed my heart.

There is so much that can be stolen from us, but the worst thing is when your joy is stolen.  My friends, my family, their presence, brought back my joy, as I realized, like George Bailey did, that no man is a failure if he has friends.  No problem is too great... when you have people who love you and show up for you.

This is one of my "corny" Christmas stories, I suppose, one that perhaps could be the butt of a joke :), but to me, it's a precious page in my history.  One that reminds me, my life has been, and is, wonderful.

And as a side note, that mean old Mr. Potter in our lives.... he got convicted of tax evasion a few years later... and went to jail.  And the Lord has more than made good on that stolen $2500.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Sick Thoughts

I'm on the eighth day of a doozy of a cold.  I'm not sure which symptoms will greet me in the morning when I wake up.  It began with a sore throat, and the next day seemed to subside.  The day after that, it felt like I'd been hit by a truck.  Then two days of feeling better.  Sunday was awful.  Monday was better. Today is awful too.

I'm exhausted from lack of sleep.  Coughing and headaches have stolen my precious hours of rest.  On top of that, I find that having three children is not conducive to rest anyway.  They already have far more energy than I do.  Now that I'm sick, it multiplies my disadvantage exponentially.

Being literally sick and tired is no time to think deep thoughts because they only tend toward the depressed and discouraged ones.  But what's a tired, restless body and mind to do when it can't muster up the energy for anything else?

I went to bed thinking about the boy in my kids' karate class who ignores my son every time he tries to talk to him.

I had  "the" bad dream- the one where Josh leaves me.

I notice that the layer of dust is getting thick on the shelves.  And remember that a whole bunch of people are coming for Thanksgiving.

I think of the pies I have to bake.  And that I need to make sure the turkey is defrosting properly.

I get sucked into searching Amazon for early Black Friday deals. And remember that I'm not looking at any of the flyers this year.  And have very little shopping to do anyway.

I'm grouchy because I'm sick but I still have to put the kids to bed every night.  And then I remember that they haven't gotten out of their pjs or brushed their teeth yet this morning.

I start to worry about cavities.

I'm kind of upset and really discouraged that Josh hasn't gotten a deer this year. He's put in  hours in the freezing cold for nothing.

The house is full of food but all I want is some soup.  And there's no soup in the house.

I make some soup out of leftover meatballs, half a carton of beef broth, some quickly chopped baby carrots and a few pressed cloves of garlic. I beg the kids to leave me alone for 52 minutes- just long enough to lay on the couch with my bowl of soup and an episode of Call the Midwife.

I only have a few episodes left to watch and I'll be all caught up. Even this thought makes me sad.  It's such a beautiful program, all about love, so powerfully full of LIFE!  And once I'm caught up, then what will I watch when I need 52 minutes all to myself?

But I feel better after some soup and some rest.  Even 52 minutes helps.

I make lunch for the kids.  I'm calling it lunch, anyway.  Popcorn, a cheese stick, hot cocoa, and a slice of coffee cake.  I'm waiting for Mister to tell me we didn't have lunch today. He likes very traditional meals.

I almost made chocolate chip cookies?  Am I crazy????  No, cooking is just therapy for me.

But I don't need therapy. I need rest today. There will be all that cooking and baking in the next few days.

I'm thankful my mom will be here. She'll make the turkey (if it's defrosted).  She'll give the kids all the attention I haven't been able to this past week.

I'll feel better soon.  Til then, I must come up with something that resembles dinner.  Cereal?  Rolled up ham and cheese?  A scoop of peanut butter and some crackers?

I cough my way through the obligatory three books before bed.  I'm tempted to stay up for a while, now that the kiddos are asleep in their beds and I can get a few things done in peace.  But I force myself to crawl into bed.  I hack and cough for over an hour, and pray for sleep. I need it so desperately.

And it comes.  No bad dreams.  Fewer worries.  Just the usual interruption of my littlest needing to go potty. And the next thing I know, Josh is returning from his night shift. He crawls in beside me, and though I am still coughing a little, all is right with the world and I feel better.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Simply, Thankful

Every day I'm reading thoughts of thankfulness in my news feed.  I love this and I appreciate it, though I haven't joined in.  I sometimes fear being one of those people who updates my status too often.  Or shares too many links. Or comes across the wrong way. Or reveals too much.

So I suppose I save more words for this place, a place only visited by a faithful few (and since I'm writing about thankfulness, I want you to know I am so very thankful that you do read my ramblings).  A writer needs to write.  It's almost like drawing breath sometimes.  And a writer needs to be heard to keep sharing.

I'm thankful for things deep, ridiculous, simple, often overlooked. Things beyond my comprehension.  Things I touch every day.

I'm thankful for the fish sticks and the french fries and the dill pickle slices we ate for supper, because I just didn't feel well enough to make anything better for dinner tonight.

I'm thankful for the layers of deep color in this morning's sunrise, just on the horizon, deep pink and gold and amber and stopping me in my tracks.

I'm thankful for a warm comfortable bed.

For the vacation credit card bill being paid in full.

For the basement being full of wood to heat us this winter.

For bags of potatoes at $1.99 a piece.

For bags of honeycrisp apples at $2.50 a piece.

I'm thankful for The Snowy Day and Llama Llama and Max's Dragon Shirt read over and over and over again.

I'm thankful for peace so deep even though there are so many things I'd change about my circumstances right now.

For Call the Midwife.

For Christmas music early.

For the word "mama".  Even though I don't receive a dime for it's use, it has made me rich.

I'm thankful for the verses that speak to me completely out of context but so clearly by the Holy Spirit.

I'm thankful for photographs.

For all four of my children's grandparents being believers in Christ and for being fully involved in their lives.

For the many beautiful stories I've shared with my children over the years.

For marrying my best friend, though I didn't know he was at the time.

For the times Petite takes me arm and wraps it around her and then snuggles in close to me.

For the intuition of my Brown-Eyed-Girl.

For the strengths emerging in my son.

For that first peppermint mocha of the season.

For the empty hole that will never be filled til heaven.

I'm thankful for the goodness and love and kindness of people. It's there, it's all around; it's stronger than evil and hate and cruelty.

I'm thankful for new mercies every morning. And every afternoon. And every evening. Moment by moment, if necessary, they are available.

For memories.

For the ones about to gather in our home this Thanksgiving.

For the joy in their eyes when they see the snowflakes fall.

I could go on and on. I am blessed.  As my husband says, and as he lives his life, If the Lord never does another good thing for me, He's already done more good than I deserve.

And yet... there is still so much more good to come.

For this, I'm thankful.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

For His Goodness

Earlier this year, my best friend moved from our very northern state to the most southern state.  I didn't feel too abandoned.  After all, we were the first to leave our small town.  We just didn't move so far.

In our many conversations about moving, she looked to me for advice and encouragement.  I often felt inadequate to give either one, at least positive advice or encouragement. After all, we had moved in part because of necessity, but certainly at the call of God to go.  They were going out of desire.  They were choosing this move with arms wide open.  Paradise was calling.  And as I looked around at my life a year and a half after our move, it seemed anything but paradise.

It was loneliness.

It was discouragement.

It was the daily wondering, "Why are we here?".

I wanted to be of value to her during this exciting time, but I felt too disillusioned by my own experience to count for anything.

But this is one thing I remember saying, truth from the very depths of my own experience, my own walk with God over the past 15 years.

There are times when God blesses you so much.  You're so overwhelmed by his goodness, how he pulls everything together, making a beautiful picture puzzle of all the details.  You get that desire of your heart.  You're pinching yourself because things are too good to be true.  Enjoy those moments fully.  Praise him because he is being so good to you.

But then there are the times when none of the puzzle pieces seem to fit.  The details of life don't lend themselves to the big picture you imagined.  Every day is just hard.  Or just monotonous.  Or just confusing.  The desires of your heart are seemingly beyond reach.  Or maybe you've even forgotten what they are.  Even in these times, God is still good.  Even these times are his perfect love toward us.  These are the times our roots go down deep and make us stronger, even when our leaves seem to be withering like the last days of autumn.  Even in these times, we praise Him because he is good.  We praise him as we walk by faith.

And it's those hard times that make the good times so much better.

I remember how faithful and good God was when he fit all the pieces together for us to move.  Our house sold.  Our new house, he saved for us til we could buy it.  There were so many steps along the way that showed his hand in our lives and in the great change we were going through.  Six months later, reality set in.  I knew it would.  It was over a year before we made our first real, close friends.  So many things have not been easy or fallen into place.

But there have been the glorious moments of God's goodness among the more subtle ones.  Right now, we embrace one of those moments.  We try to live fully in the day we are given as we go to places we've never gone and see faces we've missed.   We embrace these moments even as we pray to embrace the ones we will return to. The ones not so sunny, not so exciting, yet still full of the goodness and love of God.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Strengthen Your Arms

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I was at the point of wanting to quit homeschooling.  I reserved the rest of the story for another blog post. This blog post.

I've been able to reflect on some of the factors that brought me to that place where I just wanted to quit. Deep inside, I didn't want to give up. I love that I get to homeschool my kids.  I even knew I wouldn't give up.  I can't fathom placing my children in any other kind of school at this time.  It would just be wrong.  For no other reason than this: God has called me to do it.  It's not just something I do when it's fun and I'm seeing how it benefits us.  It's obedience to the mission and ministry God has given me.  To not do this would be wrong.

That's why it felt so much worse, so desperate a situation.  My will to do it was diminishing.  When I looked toward the future, I dreaded doing it day after day after day. I feared that every one of those days would be like the ones I had been experiencing lately.

There were some decidedly selfish and immature attitudes going on.  There was fighting.  Tempers got lost, including my own.  Tears were shed.  Everything, everyone felt like a lost cause.

But this was just the way it all manifested itself.  Here were some of the deeper issues going on inside me:

The two-year "anniversary" of our move had arrived.  And along with it came the discouragement, loneliness, confusion, depression, and lots of other tough feelings to swallow.  What are we doing here?

It was the weekend and Josh had to work, so I was alone a lot.

I hadn't exercised in a few days and I was eating way too much of the food my body doesn't like.

My blood sugar would spike, then drop.  No doubt some hormones were involved in this whole mess.

I wondered, do I need some medication to help me?  Because nothing seems good right now. Nothing.

Monday was just an awful day of school.  It was then that I began to vocalize that I just had no will to do this anymore.  I don't want my relationship with my children to be signified by this angst we have about math or by fighting with them to get their school work done.  I start to see all the ways I'd be a better mom and have a better relationship with my children if we weren't together all the time.  I'd get to greet them with cookies after school and let the teachers deal with their bad attitudes and laziness.  It sounded heavenly.

And yet, so wrong.

When I finally had the chance to get it all out with Josh, I was feeling a little calmer, a little more rational.  But I still went to bed depressed.

Things got better the next few days, probably because Josh was home and  helping to share the load. And things are just right when he's here.  It gave me some breathing room and time to come down from my ledge.

One of the major factors in this whole situation was that I wasn't taking care of myself.  I had skipped some days of exercise. I was eating too much carbohydrate, which makes me feel tired, cranky, and frustrated with myself when the effects on my blood sugar hit.  My time on the treadmill is decompression time. It's my time to either zone out to some great music, or pound out all the thoughts in my head and make sense of them.  Many of my blog posts are sorted out and "written" while I run.  It's where God so often speaks to me and makes things clear.  If I'm feeling "off" emotionally, and I can't figure out why, I usually have by the time I'm off the treadmill.  The exercise is just as much for my mental health as my physical.

I'm alone a lot. I'm an introvert, so I'm recharged by being alone, but I also need people.  I need other women in my life- sometimes to bare my soul, sometimes just for a good laugh and a cup of coffee.  When too many days go by and I haven't connected with someone, I start bearing more burdens than I'm meant to. Fellowship helps me unload the stuff that's too heavy to carry alone or at all.

It is really, really hard to prioritize taking care of yourself.  First, who has the time to exercise and plan a healthy menu?  And then, who has the money to buy all the special foods you need on all these new diets?  And, isn't it selfish?  Isn't me-time pretty much taboo?  Die to yourself, mama.  Your life is not your own.  Don't grow weary in doing good.  Don't let that candle go out at night and rise up early to take care of your household.

I get up every morning and all I want is a cup of coffee and my Bible.  I groan at the thought of putting on my sneakers and exercising.  It's tough, but when I get up really early and have a house full of peace and quiet, it is so worth it.  I get the recharging I need for a new day because I'm alone and uninterrupted.  I warm up to the idea of working out and feel that I have plenty of time to do it before school begins.  I feel fantastic by the time I hit the shower because I have taken care of me AND I'm running on schedule, ready to take care of my family for the rest of the day.

But then there are the days I sleep in a little and I have my coffee and my time with the Lord and I look at the clock and I just don't think I have enough time to exercise.  I'm running behind and I like to run on schedule.  Type A? I don't know, what am I?  My husband says I'm an ISTJ.  So I always ask him which letter of my personality is operating when I'm ticked off because we're not on schedule.

But the bottom line is that I need to take care of myself and it needs to be a priority.  Perhaps it's wrong that so much of my mental well-being rides on my diet and physical activity.  But taking care of myself pays huge dividends when it comes to my outlook on life and my ability to care for the ones God has given me.  I take care of me by reading my Bible and praying each day.  But let me be honest, it doesn't make my day better.  It doesn't make the kids stop fighting or the dishwasher snap out of it's funk of not working when I want it to.  It doesn't change the reality of life spent at home and the ensuing mess, chaos, and crumbs!  I do this every morning because it slowly, imperceptibly changes me.  And I am a weak and weary mama most days who's only strength comes by the grace of God, building me up line upon line, precept upon precept.

I've been exercising faithfully for over six months now.  Let me debunk a few myths.  You don't have more energy when you start exercising.  Not right away.  It took several months for my energy levels to rise.  One day I realized I wasn't completely exhausted in the afternoon.  At first, you'll probably feel terrible.  You'll be so tired it won't seem worth it. You'll especially be tired if you're limiting your calories too much or eating the wrong foods (you figure out what those are for your body.  It's different for each of us).  I've lost some weight and lost some love handles, but I've found that eating too little has it's disadvantages.  I need fuel to get through every day without crashing.

When I began working out, I was part of challenge group, and one of our assignments was to figure out our "why" for  eating better and working out and share a picture that represented it.  That was a tough one for me.  There wasn't a celebrity body I wanted to look like.  I didn't want to run a 5K.  I just wanted the energy and strength to do what God had called me to do.  The verse from Proverbs 31: 17 came to mind. I love all the versions of it:

She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.  NiV

She is energetic and strong; a hard worker.  NLT

She girds herself with strength and makes her arms strong.  NASB

She draws on her strength and reveals that her arms are strong.  Holman

The Proverbs 31 woman is an elusive ideal, but the heart of this woman is that she did well the things  God called her to do.  Taking care of her family, servants, and property required strength, in more ways than one.  She took the time to make her arms strong. She had strength to draw on.

I need that too. That is why I exercise and make the attempts I do to eat well.  It benefits my family, and that's not selfish.

I've discovered in the past few months that taking care of myself is something only I can do.  It can't wait til tomorrow, my husband can't do it for me.  It's my responsibility alone.  When I neglect to, I find myself spiralling down an emotional black hole, with Oreos and Cheez-Its my only companions.

So the purpose of sharing this is several-fold.  

To tell you I'm weak.  I'm frail.  I'm desperate most days.  Maybe you are too.

And it's okay to be.

That's why you've got to take care of yourself, Mama.  Mrs.  Miss.  You've got to.

There are people who love you and need you and they'll probably be thrilled to see you take some time and a little money to strengthen your own arms.  They can't do it for you, so you must do it yourself.

When you want to quit what God has called you to do, don't.   Wait. Perspective will come.  If you can, let Calgon take you away to wherever it is you'd like to go to get that perspective.  Call a friend or your sister.
Put a movie on for those crazy kids and don't feel guilty about it.  Get your hair cut (step away from the scissors! Don't do it yourself!)  Research workout videos and get one.  Just do it for a few weeks and don't worry about eating less, just better.  Chuck your schedule (if called into question, I never, ever actually said that) and steal whatever time you can to do something you enjoy. Carve out some time every day. Trust that it's doing something good.

Don't believe the myths that say a good Christian woman shouldn't need anything but Jesus.  In principle, yes, it's true.  He is your all-in-all. But discover the Jesus who feasted, celebrated, laughed with his friends, climbed mountains, took time off to pray, considered the lilies and the rest of creation, and travelled the country.  And if there was coffee back then, a million bucks says he drank it.  With delight.

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
1 Corinthians 10:31

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Playground

Yesterday, while my oldest two were at karate class, I took my youngest to the playground next door.  The days was a perfect mix of sunshine and comfortable temperatures.  The mamas and little ones were out in droves- and some of the daddies were on duty too.  It's such a treat to spend some one-on-one time with my youngest. After all, she came along when there were already two children in the family.  When  she was just a babe, on Thursday nights Josh would take the oldest two to church and I would stay home with Petite, snuggling, nursing, watching a mama-movie and soaking up the uninterrupted time together.  I love when our schedule allows time with just one of my kiddos.

I look around the playground and see all these young mamas, many with babies and most with toddlers. Some of the children are older, siblings of the young, but most are preschoolers like my own, if not younger.

There is a strange sigh inside of me as I admire all these adorable children and I watch their mamas.  I feel so young, just like them.  Subconsciously, I think they are my age. After all, I'm in my twenties still, right? I quickly forget I'm halfway between 30 and 40.  I don't believe age matters, I believe you're as old as you feel.  But I watch these mamas and realize that I am slowly graduating from their season of life.  My baby is four now. She'll join the ranks of her brother and sister before I know it, taking classes at the YMCA next door instead of playing at the playground. My arms no longer hold a baby on my hip while pushing a swing at the same time.

It hits me again that this season of young ones goes as quickly as they say it does.  The years of diapers and nighttime feedings are so fleeting.  The chubby cheeks and gurgles last but a moment.  The days of being there to catch them from falling off the swing set come and go before you know it. Soon, they are making new friends and chasing each other and mom is but a watchful eye seated on the bench.

We go to pick up the oldest ones and catch the last few minutes of their class.  Everyone has a piece of a pool noodle and is chasing each other, stopping at the command of their Renshei.  These 8-12 year olds are flushed and full of laughter.  Whatever Renshei is teaching them, it's fun.  It's unleashed the child that is still in them all.

And I know that these days will pass, too.  If they pursue the different belt levels, their training will become even more disciplined, more mature.  The push-ups will come near to perfection.  Their kicks will meet their mark.  Those smiles will turn to mouths set in serious concentration as they get ready to snap a board in half.

I'm thankful we walk this road one day at a time, one season at time.  I'm thankful for the reminders- they come out of nowhere- to just enjoy this moment, this day.  Because the diapers will be gone. The stuffed animals will no longer be cherished.  The Legos will collect dust.  The cell phone bill will have new lines added to it.  The playground will be just a place we drive by.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Drive

There's so much the Lord teaches me as I do the thing he's called me to do: staying home with my children and homeschooling them.  Every day, every week, every year is a journey from one place to another.  The ride is different when there's been a nursing infant coming along with us, and then a toddler, and now a preschooler with two elementary age children.    There is sometimes a long, unwinding stretch of road we travel that is uneventful, daily, but progressive.  These times typically come in winter, when it's too cold to venture too far. We hunker down by the fire and see few people but ourselves.

We've had the stretches that are like a roller coaster.  Ups and downs constantly, unpredictably,  some of us screaming in excitement, some of us holding on for dear life.  The season when we were preparing to move, selling our home, every day was an up or down.  Good news or no news.  Our first year in our new home was the same.  Good days or terrible days that came out of nowhere.  Fear. Crying.  Just wanting to get off the ride.

Rocky patches of roads.  Huge pot holes we could fall in and get lost in.  Math.  Loneliness.  Discouragement.  Just not liking anything about life at the moment.

The scenic overlooks are my favorite.  When we pull off to the side, stop and pause and just enjoy the view.  That rare view that gives us a glimpse into what the Lord is doing, what he has in store for us if we keep going.  Enjoying and delighting in what our children are becoming instead of driving defensively through the days of raising and training them.  Looking in their eyes and seeing the little people in there and realizing they are so much like us.  Holding hands with my husband and remembering "I love this man. I like this man. I love our life together. I love the children we've made together."  Snuggling up all together and just being together with nothing to do and nowhere to go and just enjoying it.

Every day is a winding road, the song says.  And it's true because I never know where we'll go next.

Today we homeschool. I expect we'll be on this path for a while.

But tomorrow we may be led to add something or take something away.

Yesterday, the kids joined a karate class.  Families do this all the time. The kids take classes, join a sports team, leave the nest. Early.  Three, maybe four years old.  But this is new for us.  We haven't done a lot of classes or sports.  Brown-Eyed Girl did dance for two years but since we've moved, we've been going solo, it seems.  Putting most of our energy into home, school, work.  I blame myself, the one who desperately needs routine and feels overwhelmed with too many times to keep.  But it was time for a bend in the road.  It's time for stops along the way of our day.

The Lord has been teaching me that I take the wheel too much.  I'm in the driver's seat most of the day, taking responsibility for the education of my children, the care of their bodies, minds, spirits.  I care for the house, the meals, the pets.  I'm serious about what I do.  I don't take it lightly. But there are just some places I can't go.  I start to get heavy eyes, an achy back.  I need to let someone else take the wheel.

I can't navigate the road of teaching my son to be a man on my own.

I can't be the PE teacher, the art teacher, the music instructor, the foreign language teacher, the coach.  I need to stop trying to take all those turns at it and let someone else take my kids in that direction.

I'm not the mom who easily does that.  I've taken full responsibility for them. They're mine, no one else's.  I get the message from the homeschooling community I'm part of that it's my business to raise them, not the school's or the coach's or the church's.  Yes, I've seen the village and I don't like what I see.  I don't want it raising my kids.  Yes, yes, yes, I agree!  I'm at the wheel, I'm driving endlessly, I've gone through the dark nights, the hills and valleys, the long desert stretches, the scenic routes, and the right-straight-ahead not-much-to-see interstate. 

But I have to make some rest stops now.  Let someone else serve my family and maybe find that we've been given a feast!  Maybe it will just be McDonalds, but it will be a chance for me to sit and watch and trust.  It means I can take my hands off the wheel for just a little while and even if we don't go anywhere, I rest.  Maybe we'll go someplace exciting that I could never take us.

The Lord has reminded me that I have a husband to help navigate and also to drive us through areas where I have night vision (math, science experiments, raising a man).  I have friends who will pray travelling mercies with me, for me, and for my children.  There are wonderful teachers, coaches, instructors who actually do have my children's best interest at heart.  No, they won't love them as much as I do! They never could, but they'll make sure they buckle their seat belts and obey the rules of the road and help them see the wonderful sights along the way, the ones I'd miss because I'm always looking straight ahead, keeping my eyes on where we're going.

That white-knuckle grip of mine must let go.  And I have a feeling we'll still get to where we're supposed to be going.  And enjoy the journey even more.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Already Beautiful

I thought I knew what I was going to say. I debated saying anything and then I decided that my reasons for sharing my good news were pure.  I just wanted to give God the glory for the great things he's done in my life.

I got my braces off today.  It's been a nearly three year adventure, from initially making the decision to get a consult to getting the first appliance put in to getting the top braces on exactly two years ago to getting the bottom braces on the following December to... today.  Through just a few popped brackets and a gazillion teeny tiny elastics and some unwelcome canker sores to this day.

I was so excited. I pretty near cried every time I thought of it. 

But the day was somewhat anticlimactic.  My braces were off in just a few minutes.  They took the molds for my retainer.  I got my teeth cleaned.  I looked in the mirror and smiled, but I wasn't shocked.

I've been smiling for months now.  When we had our family photos taken for Christmas cards after I had my braces put on, I broke into tears when I saw them.  I was smiling. Really smiling. With my teeth showing.  I wasn't trying to smile and hide my teeth; they were right there.  Already straightening out.  I had never ever seen myself look that way. 

I got more and more comfortable just smiling.  Not curling my lips together, not so concerned about posing for photos. Just relaxing and smiling.

So the only thing different about seeing my smile in the mirror today was that the metal was gone.

It was still me.  I hadn't changed.

You were beautiful back when I made you, I felt the Lord whisper to my heart.  I've always loved you the way you are.  You were just as beautiful then as you are today.

I stared in the mirror.  Ran my tongue over my teeth.  I'd never done that and felt it so smooth.

  A friend of mine, who also had braces as an adult, said that most people didn't notice when she got them off.

I know why.

They loved her the way she was.  They didn't look at her and see an adult with braces, they saw the beautiful person she was, both on the inside and the outside.

The people who loved me yesterday won't love me any more today, just because I got my braces off.  Sure, they'll be happy for me, but they liked me just the way I was.

My husband loved me before I got the braces.  He loves so much more about me than my smile, my body, the way I dress.  He loves the deepest part of me.  He's patient with my weaknesses and he celebrates my strengths. 

The other night I confessed to him that even though I've been exercising and lost some weight and I'm toning up, sometimes I still just feel "fat".  I'm constantly presented with images of what beauty is and start feeling inferior sometimes.  I can confide in him because his love and acceptance of me is so deep and I know that he loves me exactly the way I am.

Seriously, who loves their dentist? Me, that's who!  They are the best!
This is the greatest kind of love.  I've had the wonderful opportunity of going through the process of getting braces as a thirty-something.  As a wife of more than a decade and a mom of three.  As a friend of God.  I've experienced that Jesus is the lover of my soul.  He is the lover of every single part of me. He rejoices over me with singing. I remember when I first heard those words from Zephaniah. They literally stopped me in my tracks.

How can it be?  I'm so messed up.  I'm so flawed, physically, spiritually.  The idea of Jesus rejoicing over me, singing over me, it's almost embarrassing! 

This is all I can compare it to:  One of my favorite movies is The Family Man with Nicolas Cage. He plays a man who gets to go back and see what his life would have been like if he had chosen the path of family instead of career.  The house is a mess.  No more designer suits.  He drives a mini-van.  But he truly, deeply loves his wife and is willing to make a fool of  himself over her.  He finds a video of her birthday party and he's singing to her, in front of all their friends and children.  She's a little embarrassed. But she is captivated by him.  His eyes are fixed on her as he belts out a love song.  Their love is something special and as everyone else stands around watching, they are captivated by it too.

You were beautiful back when I made you.  I've always loved you the way you are.  You were just as beautiful then as you are today.

This was the love song He sang to me yesterday as I looked in the mirror at my smile. 

It can't get any better than that kind of love.

I think of the young girls who are getting braces and are so worried about what people will think of them.  Or maybe it's not braces.  It's probably their weight or maybe a scar or a birthmark or maybe just their second-hand or Walmart clothes they are so worried about.  I want to tell them that the people who really love you will still love you!  And that the other people are not worth your time or energy or one single care.  I want to tell them that Jesus is rejoicing over them with SINGING!

He's singing you a song, girls! He couldn't love you more.  You couldn't be more beautiful to him.

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with God's holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love which surpasses knowledge- that you  may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than we could ever ask or imagine... to him be glory...! 

Ephesians 3:16-21

Friday, August 16, 2013

Nursing Your Rights

Recently in the news was the story of a Chik-fil-A manager who requested that a breastfeeding mom cover up because she was making other customers uncomfortable.  The woman's response was to form a "nurse-in", getting 20 other nursing moms to breastfeed their babies in that very same restaurant, to "raise awareness".  Reading the article, I get what these nursing moms are trying to say.  Breastfeeding is natural.  It's not about boobs, its about nurturing another human being.  It should be normal and accepted to see moms nursing their babies in public because everyone else eats in public too.

It makes sense.  As a mom who nursed all three babies, I understand the frustration of trying to feed a baby under a blanket, trying to be discreet. I understand the difficulty of finding a comfortable place to nurse a hungry child.  I understand that when a nursing baby is hungry, you must feed them right away.

And yes, I think it's amusing that America has pretty much ditched all it's Puritanical roots, and has no problem seeing breasts bulging out of a string bikini (even in the mall) but is uncomfortable with a mom breastfeeding in public.  I think it is somewhat amusing that we even have to have laws saying it's legal to breastfeed in public.  I recently saw a mom nursing her newborn at the beach and to me, it was a precious sight, nothing offensive.  It was, however, amusing that she used a "hooter-hider" when she was breastfeeding, but otherwise was hanging out in a triangle-top string bikini which did not fit her engorged breasts very well.  There was very little of her breasts actually covered.

Our view of  breasts is a little flip-flopped here in America.

So why am I writing about boobs?  My point actually isn't to talk about boobs.  God created them, they are a good thing.  I am a bit more modest when it comes to breasts, and I think they ought to be covered whether at the beach in a swimsuit or nursing a baby in public.  I consider them a private part of the body, whether they are being used in a utilitarian way or purely aesthetic, ie. sexual, way.

But  my real beef is the response to this article on facebook by Christian women.  Up in arms, ready to boycott Chik-fil-A (and I thought Chik-fil-A was the hero of Christians?), and ready to stage nurse-ins all over to "raise awareness".  Responses: How would you like to have a hot blanket thrown over your head while you're eating? If you don't like it, tough!  You cover your boobs and I'll cover mine, you hussy!  It's my right to breastfeed wherever I want. It's your problem if you don't like seeing me feed my child.

It took on a decidedly nasty tone.  I don't see how staging a "nurse-in" raises awareness or makes a positive statement.  All it says, in my opinion, is "hell no, we won't go!"  That's lovely coming from Christian women.

I find my frustration with this is demanding "rights".  And it doesn't surprise me that it centers around breastfeeding, which seems to be elevated to a whole new level of "holiness" among some women in the Church.  These women think breastfeeding is God's only way to feed a child and you are weak, carnal, and a really bad mother if you don't do it.  The subtle (and sometimes blatant message) is that you are more holy and closer to God if you breastfeed.  Wow, that sounds like religion to me.

Maybe it's because I've been reading the book of Romans and 1 Corinthians that I take issue with all this taking issue.  Over and over again I read Paul urging the Christ-followers to give up their rights and freedom for the love of not only their brothers and sisters in Christ, but unbelievers as well.

In Romans 14, he writes "Therefore let us not pass judgement on one another any longer, but rather decided never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.  I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone w ho thinks it is unclean.  For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.  So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil...." vs13-16

vs 19, 20 "So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Do not, for the sake of breastfeeding food, destroy the work of God.  Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats."

The Corinthian church was divided over who they followed.  Some said "I follow Paul", some said "I follow Apollos".  The Church today is no different. Who or what method we follow seems to be a mark of "spirituality" in our lives.  Paul addressed this as carnal, not spiritual (1 Corinthians 3:4).

Paul called the  Corinthians out on taking their brothers to court.  Isn't there anyone in the Church wise enough to settle the dispute? he asked.  Do you really need to take this before unbelievers?  And even if you can't settle it, "Why not rather suffer wrong?  Why not rather be defrauded?" vs 6:7

In chapter 8, Paul writes "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up" (vs1).  He says "Breastfeeding Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better of if we do.  But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak." vs 8,9

In chapter 9, Paul says that he has every right to make a living off preaching the gospel, but he has not made use of that right because he would rather "endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the Gospel of Christ." vs. 12

 Pauls says "For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them." vs. 9:19

In chapter 10 he says "All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful.  All things are lawful, but not all things build up.  Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor." vs. 23,24  And vs 32 and 33 he says "Give no offense to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved."

To me, it's clear.  As believers in Christ, we have the freedom to do all kinds of things.  In fact, we are not to be a rule based sect of religious people, we are supposed to live lavishly in the grace of Jesus Christ.  However, when we use our freedoms to offend unbelievers or stumble believers, we are no longer walking in grace or love.  Remove the issue of food from any of these verses and insert a freedom like breastfeeding in public, and nothing changes.  If someone is offended by what you are doing, you should stop exercising your freedom.

My husband's grandmother was of an era when women did not breastfeed and she was clearly uncomfortable with me nursing in her living room, even if I was covered up.  So I graciously would remove myself to a nearby bedroom to feed my babies.  Yes, I felt isolated and I felt it was silly, like this was a shameful practice, but the bottom line was that it made her uncomfortable.  It was not showing love to breastfeed in front of her.

I always preferred to be discreet when nursing in public. I appreciate when other women are discreet in mixed company.  As natural as it is to breastfeed a child, there are always people around who are immature, creepy, or just more modest, so I personally think being as discreet as possible is desirable.  There were certain people I knew were very comfortable with nursing moms who weren't covered up, in their homes or in my home.  If I wasn't sure how people around me felt about nursing publicly, I was as discreet as possible or removed myself.  Or sometimes I just asked if they were okay with it.

I'm not saying you shouldn't breastfeed in public.  But as with anything else, the way we dress, speak, etc., modesty is desirable.  Seeking to draw attention to yourself in the name of raising awareness just seems like foolishness and immaturity.  I can think of several people groups these same women would be up in arms about if they were doing the same thing- letting it all hang out to raise awareness.

There is a greater way, the way of love.

I was really bothered by this and I considered Christ, our Savior.  The one we look to for answers.  How would he have made a statement? How did he raise awareness about his earthly mission?

He died.  Literally. Physically.  He died.

He gave his life. He laid it down.  He who had every right to stand on his rights as a Jew, as God's Son, as God Himself, he died.

That is the greatest statement that has ever been made.  And it's what we're called to do as Christians, too.

You have every right to wear what you want, to nurse where you want, to eat what you want, to say what you want....

But let me show you a more excellent way...

Love never fails.

Go ahead and nurse your rights.  You're free to do so.

Or die to your rights.  Make a statement.

PS- I always feel the need to add to my very opinionated posts that I am far from perfect and I can think of oodles of times that I have not laid down my freedoms and rights.  I can think of many occasions when I wish I had.  But I insisted I was right.  Now I think that automatically made me wrong.  With all my heart I pray I am growing in grace and love.  I don't write this to condemn, but to share something I have learned the hard way and to, of course, get you thinking.

Saturday, August 10, 2013


Some things arrive right on time and just when you need it.

This morning I read the first chapter in Seasons of a Mother's Heart by Sally Clarkson.  She's become one of my heroes, mentors, and Titus 2 women this past year.  I read the book she coauthored with Sarah Mae (Desperate) and I began reading her blog, I Take Joy.  She's a mom who laid down her life for her children, and found life in the day-to-day moments of being a living sacrifice for her family.  I so long to be like her.  She and her husband wrote the book Educating the Wholehearted Child which is one of my top two favorite homeschooling books.  Seasons is written specifically for the needs of homeschool moms, but Sally says it's for all moms too.

In the first chapter, she writes about the day of her youngest daughter Joy's fourth birthday party.  It started so lovely, with spring finally arriving and all four children enjoying the outdoors.  But it quickly became stressful and chaotic as the whole family was trying to clean the house and get it ready for the party.  The party itself was a near-disaster, with crying, spills, and tantrums from the young guests. The birthday girl herself  couldn't wait for everyone to leave so she could go back to having a fun time outside. 

It's refreshing to hear that we're not the only family that has these moments and days.  Days of doing too much when the simple things would have satisfied.  Days of everything going wrong, even special days of everything going wrong.  Days of mom barking out orders, trying to gain control of the household.  Days that don't turn out as fun and wonderful as you had hoped and planned.

We've had many days like that around here.

Today, the weather has been absolutely perfect for early August.  Warm sun, but a potent breeze blowing.  The perfect kind of day to be outside. 

But, for the most part, the kids don't want to be outside.  They are inside drawing and playing.  They do come out here and there, one to play baseball, then the girls come out to play on the swingset.  But nobody wanted to come out and help pick blackberries. Petite came for a while, but the grass was wet and a bug was "bugging" her.  She was like Sal, eating the blackberries she picked and trying to steal mine.  It was nice having her out for the fifteen minutes.  Josh and I picked five quarts of berries and then production began.

I made a batch of jam and prepared some berries for homemade ice cream.  I removed the seeds, dirtied every major dish in the kitchen, and processed 4 pints of jam.  I enjoyed it, to a point.  It's fun using the fruit God has provided right outside our door.  It's a blessing to have it and preserve it and eat it.  But when I was all done, I just felt sad.  I exchanged an afternoon with my kids for 4 pints of jam and some homemade ice cream.  And dirty dishes.  And a messy kitchen.  And a tired mind and body.

I know I should get them in the kitchen with me to help.  And I want to.   But they are not interested. They want to play.  They want to draw. They want to be kids on a Saturday and I don't blame them.  As I dipped jam jars into the boiling water, I thought to myself, Someday I'll look back and kick myself for making jam when I should have been enjoying my little ones.

They are barely little anymore.  Petite will be four in two weeks.  My oldest is ten.  My middler is 8.  Oh, they are still young, but not so little.  And I already, already feel that time has just gone way too quickly.  It's a terrible feeling knowing I can't get it back.  It's exciting to think of the years ahead and the maturity they will gain, the adventures we have in store, but every day we are closer to an empty nest.  That's not crazy talk, it's reality.

I'd rather let the berries rot on the branches.  I'd rather buy jelly or  jam, even if it is made with high fructose corn syrup.  I'd rather keep our life simple than fill it up with projects and plans that hold no interest for the kids.  Of course, we must do the things we must do.  Of course, we're trying to train them to work and be good stewards of what God has given us with our land and our home and our time.  But I'd rather not do these things that should be good and worthwhile, but are just not.  Not right now. 

It's time to push Petite on the swing while the breeze blows through our hair.  Mister is putting a roof on his fort.  I want to see it.  Brown-Eyed Girl is bound to want to play the "foot game" as she glides back and forth through the air on her swing.  The jam will set.  The ice cream will be delicious.  But I don't want to miss any more of these blessings today.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Homeschooler Mother's Journal- 4 Weeks Left Til School!

In my life this week...

Planning for our new school year, implementing a new chore chart, filling up the new school room!

In our homeschool this week...

I finally finished reading the biography of Lillian Trasher aloud to the kiddos and now we've moved on to the All of a Kind Family Downtown.  We read the original in the series almost two years ago and everyone loved it.  This one is no exception... they beg for another chapter.  Ah, nothing thrills me more.

Also, like I said, the chore chart!  We're only on day three of using it, but so far it seems to be a success. I'll blog more on it once it's proved it's worth.


Helpful homeschooling tips or advice to share…

Oh I hate to say it, cause I love reading books on homeschooling and motherhood and blogs and blogs and blogs but... there comes a time when you should just stop reading and start praying and seeking the Lord for his very unique plan for your family.  He takes the pressure off.

Places we’re going and people we’re seeing…

The kiddos have VBS this week at Grammy's church (a carnival theme).  We'll go visit my parents where they are camping one afternoon, and we're hoping to all go out to the Japanese grill for dinner (this is on our summer bucket list).  I'll be meeting up with a book club friend I haven't seen in ages to sip coffee and relax in bliss as we discuss wonderful literature!

My favorite thing this week was…

working out with my husband.  It was a blast and I love spending the time together.

My kiddos favorite thing this week was…

 most decidedly not the chore charts!  But they did enjoy the bike ride and picnic in the park with friends.

Things I’m working on…

planning our first weeks of home school for the year, plus planning Petite's birthday party and a back-to-school meeting for our school group.

I’m cooking…

I have coffee cake batter soaking tonight in Nourishing  Traditions style.  I don't grind my own flour, but I'm soaking the whole wheat flour in cultured buttermilk which is supposed to do all  kinds of important things to make wheat more easily digested.  This is a fascinating book to read, just because I love all things food.

I’m grateful for…

 these few quiet moments at the end of the day, when the kids are finally, finally asleep in their beds, and when I can take a deep breath and relax.

I’m praying for…

my kids a lot more, and our upcoming school year, and a special friend who seems heavy hearted.

I rewarded my kids this week by…

bringing home special ice cream treats- Orange creamsicles for the girls and mint chocolate chip Klondikes for Mister.

Something I am ogling or have my eye on…

 I must stop looking at curriculum! I've made my purchases and we don't need any thing else.  I'm a junkie, a serious curriculum junkie!

A photo to share...

Mister working on that chore chart!  Woo-hoo! I have to admit, my house is pretty tidy tonight!

Read more:

Join in!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Yesterday, I was getting cranky.

It had been a beautiful, perfect summer day.  Low humidity.  Enough breeze to make the 80 degree sunshine tolerable and even enjoyable.  We went to our local park with some friends for a picnic and bike ride.  (It was the first time we went and weren't utterly alone!).  We came home to enjoy some time with Daddy before he had to go to work for the night. We ate raspberry crisp made from our own hand picked berries.  Mister was given a broken coffee maker to tear apart and explore and was relishing every moment of it. The girls were playing nicely together.

And I was cranky!

I hate when that fleshy side gets the best of me.  I had nothing to be cranky about.  I was just getting a little tired physically.  The noise and commotion, though happy, was irritating me.  The endless stream of words from Mister regarding his inventions and science-y stuff was overwhelming me.  I had dinner to make, a house to clean, and a tired body and mind.

I kept telling myself, Go take a break!  I know me and my mind just needed rest.  I can't go full speed ahead all day long without crashing.  After dinner, I finally listened to myself. The kids were all upstairs.  It meant I could slip out onto the deck and enjoy the cool air, alone with a good book.  I grabbed this one off my shelf:

Educating the WholeHearted Child by Clay and Sally Clarkson

This is probably my favorite book on home education, aside from  The Successful Homschool Family Handbook by Raymond and Dorothy Moore.  I read the third edition last summer and was so inspired and encouraged.  It is a gigantic resource and gave me such a vision for making our home even more of a learning environment.  And not just that, but more of a place to call home.  One of the things I  really wanted to implement were the Discovery Corners- places for exploring different arts, sciences, and other interests.  My book had been packed up until recently (the new school room is pretty much DONE!) so I took this opportunity to refresh myself on these Discovery Corners.

As I perused the pages, I fell in love with it again.  Maybe it's because they encourage- and give permission!- to buy lots of books!  The Clarksons believe in lots and lots of reading... so they are dear to my heart!  Maybe it's because they are not formulaic or legalistic.  They stress building a relationship with your children and making learning together a lifestyle, not a start-to-finish part of your day.  Maybe it's because so much of what they have to say makes me yearn to be a better mom, an exceptional mom, a mom who lays her life down for the love of her children.

I only took a half hour or so to skim some parts of the book, but I felt God speak to me as I did.  The Clarksons recommend having a Learning Room, which of course they recognize is not possible for all.  Overall, they encourage parents to make the whole house a place of learning, that nearly every room would be a place the kids want to be- and are allowed to be. 

We are blessed with a lot of space in our home.  We don't have a Learning Room, per se. The kitchen seems to be the best place for us to homeschool.  My new school room isn't actually where we'll do school (it's too small) but it's the place where our books and supplies can be organized and easily found and hopefully we'll maximize their use.  But I thought of our living room, the one room that feels mostly "done". Painted, decorated, curtains up at last!  And I thought of the spot at the bottom of the stairs, between the living and dining room.  In my mind, I dream of our home being Better Homes and Gardens worthy.  Looking like our house is staged for a photo shoot.  Why?  Not so anyone will be wowed by it, but because I simply love beauty and order and the lack of STUFF everywhere.  The upstairs can be whatever it is- stained furniture, colored on walls, popcorn on the floor, and STUFF everywhere, but the downstairs is MINE!

Really Steph?  Just look around you. Look at all the spots you have to dedicate to your children and the whole family.  Who's house is this?  Yours?  Or Mine?

This is not the home of your guests.  They are here but rarely.  This is the home of your family.  Make it theirs, not just yours.  In doing that, you are making it Mine.

I felt refreshed.  Yes, I love when God speaks to me, even if it is an admonishment. He is always sweet and gentle with me.

The other day, as I painted shelves for the new schoolroom in the basement, I listened to a CD by one of my favorite artists, Watermark.  This song has always been a prayer of my heart and seems appropriate with what the Lord is teaching me.

Jesus, come and walk the halls of this house
Tread this place and turn it inside out
With Your mercy...
Jesus, teach us the prayers that open these doors
Until Your light floods in and illuminates these floors
And let Your truth be on our steps and in these rooms
Jesus invade...

I'm so thankful for the gift of being able to create a home for my family, not just a house I let them live in with me.  There will be scuff marks on the walls and floors, everlasting crumbs, odd collections of cheap items that I will never cherish... and more than anything, I pray, the presence of Christ.
P.S.  That spot at the bottom of the stairs? Already being transformed in a Learning Corner.  Little Tykes table with mismatched (and nail polished!) chairs included!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Homeschool Mother's Journal for the end of July

Join the meme at it's new location: So You Call Yourself a Homeschooler

In my life this week... We were back to "real life" after a week of vacation.  I put quotes around "real" because hey, it is still summer, and nobody is working as hard as usual (except Josh of course).

In our homeschool this week... I haven't done nearly all the things I had hoped to with the kids this summer, as far as educational stuff goes.  We're still on our first read aloud and I had planned at least four.  Math has not been touched.  They have been reading.  But I find that though we are not homeSCHOOLING much this summer, the kids are always being EDUCATED.  Though I haven't read aloud as much to them as I had hoped, they  have listened to the audio books of Dr. Doolittle and The Secret Garden, along with numerous other audios by Jim Weiss and others.  They are adding more chores to their workload and learning the basics of Give-Save-Spend with their allowances.  And everyday I hear more than I ever want to know about strange and unusual creatures they have learned about on Wild Kratts.  So not much school, but lots of education.

Helpful homeschooling tips or advice to share...  hmmmm.... have you got a plan for the new school year?  Even if you're not a planner, it's time to start. But then again, it's never too late to start home schooling!

Places we're going and people we're seeing... Yesterday we picked up one of Caleb's buddies and went to the park for a picnic, then to play mini golf and get some ice cream.  It was a perfectly, gorgeous day, not hot, a little cool breeze.

My favorite thing this week... Getting the best news EVER!  My braces come off next month!

My kids favorite thing this week... Mini golf and ice cream.

Things I'm working on... priming and painting the shelves for the new schoolroom.  And since I had the primer out, I figured it was a great time to repaint the second hand dining set we use as our school table!

I'm cooking... way too many carbs lately! Pizza Pasta makes a giant dish that provides many leftovers that the kids actually LIKE, but oh, the carbs!

I'm reading... Since finishing North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, I've yet to pick up another work of fiction.  I've got to "feel" it....

I'm praying for... the upcoming school year and our road trip to Florida.  I'm really excited for this once-in-a-lifetime trip, but really nervous too.  It's a long drive with three kids, lots of things could go wrong,  the planning and prep can be stressful, just trying to make the best decisions.  But....

I'm thankful for... finally making our reservations for where we'll be staying when we go to Disney.  I got the Unofficial Guide to Disney with Kids and it's a fabulously helpful book. I used a small, privately run company that they recommended to book our townhouse with private pool.  I talked to the owner, he was so kind and helpful, and I saw the actual pictures of the home where we'll be staying!  We're not high class folks (especially with three kids) but I was worried we'd end up in a dive about an hour from the theme parks with no customer service to help us if we had a problem (common complaint from those who use larger booking agents).  Best of all, the cost of renting a whole house is comparable to staying at a low-budget hotel with one room.  Sigh of relief that this stage of preparation is complete...

Something I'm ogling or have my eye on... I'm in the market for the perfect art print for our new school room- something that inspires and captures the essence of home and education and family... Mary Cassatt has several I like.  She is one of my favorite artists for her beautiful paintings of family.

A quote, video, or picture... I've begun back-to-school shopping!  Gotta love Target and AC Moore this time of year!  A new pack of Sharpies just makes me smile!

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Seven Day Grocery Stretch

I'm so not a fan of grocery budgets.  I can work on a budget in just about any area, but the food one hurts the most. So, typically, I don't do it.  But every now and then, I like to challenge myself.  See how much we really spend on groceries. I have an amount in my head, but is what we really spend even close?  I like to use up things that have been hanging around in the cupboard and freezer.  And I know it's good to deny myself every now and then and be content with what we have.  Including that stuff in the cupboard and freezer.

Plus, I get tired of running to the store all the time.

And it's kind of like a game.  What can I make with what we have?

So I challenged myself the last time Josh got paid.  I set a very reasonable budget for groceries and determined to stick to it.  Now, Josh gets paid every two weeks, and I had spent the entire budget in six days.  First of all, I bought a 25 lb box of almond meal, one of my newest, most favorite things in the world for cooking.  More on that another time, perhaps.  That baby wasn't cheap, so it put a large dent in my budget.  A few more trips to the store, and the money was gone.  I spent the last $25 on produce and milk.  I knew I had to make this work and make this last.

So I made a list of what was hanging around.

In the pantry:
2 lbs of dry beans
plenty of flours and baking ingredients
dry pasta
snacks for the kids
cans of beans
1 jar of spaghetti sauce
tomato paste
1 can of diced tomatoes
canned milk
sweet potatoes

In the freezer:
Corned beef
Chicken breasts
A bag of shredded hash browns
A pound of bacon
Frozen veggies
1 package of Twinkies
10 lbs of hot dogs (for a BBQ)
Ground turkey
shredded mozzarella

In the fridge:
6 slices swiss cheese
2 dozen eggs
3 gallons of milk
1 quart half and half
salad fixins
about 16 oz fiesta blend cheese
flour tortillas
white grape juice
about 20 baby carrots
grapes, apples, oranges
cheese sticks
plain Greek yogurt

Is it possible to live off this for a week?

Well, here's what we ate!

Friday night: Pizza night!  I discovered I only had the one package of mozzarella, no pizza sauce, and a little bit of pepperoni.  Solution: I made my own pizza sauce using the tomato paste, and some of the jarred spaghetti sauce. I mixed some fiesta blend cheese in with the mozzarella.  The grown up pizza was sautéed peppers and onion with some of the bacon. The other two pizzas were cheese and pepperoni.

Saturday night: Cereal.  Salad.  I confess we went to Denny's for lunch and we were all stuffed, so I didn't feel the need to make a meal. (Hey, the eating out budget is entirely different than the grocery budget!)

Sunday:  For breakfast I made (the night before) a quiche with crust made from most of the bag of shredded hash browns, the six slices of swiss cheese, and real bacon bits (saving the other half of the packaged bacon for something else).

Lunch: leftover pizza

Our neighbor, who sells us eggs, brought us two more dozen (I'm paid up for awhile, too!).

For supper: Boiled dinner with corned beef, the last of the potatoes, sweet potatoes, and baby carrots and the last onion.  Biscuits I had frozen that were leftover from a party we had.  We invited Grammy and Grampy to join us.

For dessert, we made homemade ice cream using milk, half and half, a can of sweetened condensed milk, eggs, and peanut butter.... plus I found a small package of Oreos and some peanut butter sandwich cookies to crumble up and mix in!  We are eating SO well!

NOTE: I was SO tempted to go to the store on Sunday!  My boiled dinner looked so measly with just six small potatoes and 20 baby carrots.  But then I added the last of the sweet potatoes and figured I could cook some peas to go with it.

Also, we met a new family at church and invited them to lunch.  THIS is why I hate being on a food budget, I told Josh.  I always like to be ready "in season and out of season" to invite people over for a meal!  I never want to be more concerned with my budget than I am hospitality and generosity.  I was mentally preparing my stop at the grocery store or pizza place, when I realized it really didn't matter what we fed this family. I had the giant pack of hot dogs, buns, chips, grapes, apples, oranges, salad stuff, we could make smores.... it would be just fine!  It turned out that they were unable to come, but this is a lesson I learn over and over again: It's not what we feed people, it's the invitation and fellowship that matters most.

Monday: Breakfast was the last of the Honey Nut Cheerios and a packet of oatmeal for the kids, the usual Alive shake for me.

Lunch: Leftover pizza for the kids and a giant Cobb salad for me that used up the last of the blue cheese.  I sent leftovers from last night's dinner with Josh.

Supper: Grilled chicken, mashed cauliflower, and grilled Normandy blend veggies.

I also made a double batch of pumpkin muffins using almond flour (hey, I've got plenty!), one can of pumpkin, the last of the Greek yogurt, with some added chocolate chips.  I started planning our menu for our trip to camp for the 4th of July and packing up some of the food we'll need.  We were going up Tuesday morning and returning late Thursday night after the fireworks... so that's three lunches and three suppers to plan with a dwindling supply of food!  Why did I challenge myself this way before a major (feasting) holiday???  Oh, but the good news- July 4th is Thursday! (When I can shop again.)

I planned the following meals:

Tuesday night: Baked nachos using up some of the Tostitoes, ground turkey, last of the fiesta cheese, and anything else I could scrounge up to add to it.

Wednesday night: I was on a desperate search for some kind of chicken crockpot recipe that didn't use cheese or cream of something soup (cause I had none of either).  I settled on chicken topped with two bags of steam-in-the-bag broccoli and cheese over rice pasta.

Thursday, the 4th: My last pound of hamburg for, what else? burgers, the giant package of hot dogs, smores fixins, and buns.  Thankfully we'll have a crowd of contributors to help round out the menu :)

I confess that I forgot to pack the chicken for Wednesday night, so I went to the grocery store and bought some pork chops on sale and a packet of marinade, plus a bag of potatoes for mashed potato.  And 2 containers of ice cream.  But I made up for it on Friday, by still not making a trip to the grocery store and using what was on hand.

Friday: A trip to the beach bringing snacks we had on hand and using the last of the bread for sandwiches.  Dinner was homemade mac n cheese using a can of evaporated milk, the last cup of shredded cheese, and the last of the bacon, cooked and crumbled inside it. Served with steamed sugar snap peas.

I have to say, I am really proud of myself for pretty much doing what I challenged myself to do.  We're out of lots of things so it is definitely time to make a grocery run.  But I stuck to my budget and we didn't go hungry. A little creativity and telling myself no, I couldn't run to the store, made this seven day grocery stretch challenging, but not painful.

Friday, June 28, 2013

In Everything Give Thanks

Here I am, in the process of writing two posts on motherhood- one on its joys, one on its desperate state- and I get caught up in it.  It's made real.  One of my progeny falls apart at Vacation Bible School. Twice. Two days in a row.  We're talking toddler-like tantrums, sulking, and throwing things.

I'm embarrassed.  Frustrated.  Sad.  Angry.  Discouraged.

And somewhere at the end of the path of all these emotions, after we've missed the ice cream social, and talked it through, and I wonder if we've even gotten anywhere, I am....


Thankful that I'm his mom.

Thankful that God answers those desperate cries for wisdom when I'm in the thick of it.

Thankful His mercies are new every morning.  For both of us.

Thankful I get to walk with him through this difficult journey of growing up.

Thankful for the promise God has given me for his life:  He who began a good work in him will be faithful to complete it.

Thankful that I don't go long thinking that I am the mom who has it all together.

Thankful that I can look in his eyes and honestly tell him I love him no matter what.   And so does our God.  And He will help us both.

It is so crazy-hard sometimes to be a mom, but I'm thankful I am one.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Can I Get a Hey Girl?

We homeschoolers have a sense of humor.  We can laugh at ourselves and our stereotypes.

While it hasn't been updated in a while, for a time there was a  Ryan Gosling homeschool meme going around.  I confess Ryan Gosling doesn't do much for me.  But I've got to admit some of the photos were really funny.

I thought of this one today, when my very first humongous Rainbow Resources catalogue arrived in the mail.

  Seriously, I've never received one.  It's mammoth.  Some of you girls will get this.

But, like I said, Ryan Gosling doesn't really spark my attention. But I recently confessed to my hunk of a husband, while watching When in Rome, that Josh Duhamel... well, he kinda does spark my attention. But in a good way.  Something about him, in several movies I've seen starring him, reminds me of Josh.  Seriously. No lie.  So this is my fresh take on the whole hot celebrity homeschooling meme thing.  Tomorrow, when he gets back from that four day hike into the wilderness, oh yeah....

Good times are on the way.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

When the Day is a Bust

Today was a bust.  I was honestly being a little spontaneous.  I had thought of taking the kids to the zoo last night.  But this morning I committed to the idea.  I was up at six, read my Bible, and skipped my workout so that we could all get ready and out the door at a decent time.  I packed snacks. I remembered the drinks.  Loaded up the stroller.  Reminded everyone to use the potty.
By then I was pretty exhausted.  But we hit the road.
Fifteen minutes down the interstate, someone has to go potty.  I didn't figure it was very serious since we had all just gone.  But five minutes later, we stop at a (nice) gas station and I discover she's soaked.  I brought extra clothes, but the car seat is another thing.  I don't even have a towel to cover it up.  So the only thing I can do is turn around and go back home.  Hose off the car seat and try my best not to have a pity party that our plans are broken.
The day's going to be long.  My husband is gone on four day hike.  This is Day One.  The sun is gloriously warm, it's a perfect day to be outside, but I just want to crawl back into bed and hide.  Cry a little.  Maybe a lot.
Cause it's not just a wet car seat, ya know?
And it wasn't just a day at the zoo.
It's just constantly trying to figure this thing out, day after day after day. 
What are we doing here?
Am I totally blowing it as a mom?
Why am I so sad?
Can I possibly ever do enough?
I want to salvage the day.  My son asks me if we can make monster bubbles.  We need a wire hanger and some yarn to make a giant wand and I remember that I bought two one liter bottles of bubbles. Sure, we can make them
 We all have a lot of fun creating huge bubbles and watching them contort through the air and pop on our head or against one another.  One bubble splits into two or even three.  Sometimes two collide and become one.
One guess how many bottles of bubbles didn't get spilled.
They look at me, faces stricken.  They expect me to freak. Cause, hey, I do that sometimes, over small things.  Like two bottles of spilled bubbles.
But I laugh.  And they ask me why.  I don't really have a good answer for them, except that I just knew.
I knew the bubbles would spill.
I knew the popsicle would drip on the brand new tee shirt and on my cushion.
I knew they'd fight over the wand.
I even kinda knew we'd never make it to the zoo today.
But I had no idea what else to do.
The zoo or bust.
I guess it was a bust.
Monster bubbles.
Playing with the hose.
A few books together on the couch.
Printing off some coloring pages.
Waffles with maple syrup and whipped cream for supper.
Popcorn and a movie before bedtime.
How many kisses do you want tonight?
How bout a million? she says with a mischievous grin.
I don't think I can count to a million, I say.
A million is much more than ten, she says and sticks her foot in my face so I'll kiss it.
And she laughs and laughs.
Nobody complained about not going to the zoo.
I worry too much.