Friday, December 30, 2011

Thinking about the new year

Here we are, at the time of year when resolutions are made, a fresh start is begun and people are often thinking about how to make themselves better.

I usually make a few resolutions. I know people that don't out of principal, because it's something "everyone" does and "no one" ever follows through, so why bother. And I know people that journal or blog or post on Facebook all their resolutions in order to be accountable, then manage to track their progress.. at least for a while.

I fall somewhere in the middle. I usually have a resolution or three. Sometimes I remember them in February, sometimes not. Except during times when I was pregnant or breastfeeding, I usually resolve to lose weight or get in better shape. Last year my resolution was that this year I would not resolve to lose weight (meaning, of course, that I'd have lost it already). So this year I will not be making a new year's resolution to lose weight - even though some of the weight seems to have found me again. ;)

My one resolution, if I choose to call it that (depending on whether I'm currently siding with the pro-resolution types or the anti), is to make daily toy pick up a habit. I have been severely lax in teaching my children to pick up after themselves and to take care of their things. Two problems are resulting from said parenting failure. 1) My kids aren't taking responsibility for their own things and 2) I am going insane with the tasks of trying to keep this house in a reasonable state of tidiness.

Up until now, I have been bad about toy pickup because with small children, it really means a lot more work for me. I know there are probably magical parents out there with magical toddlers who learn to pick up their toys and do so happily alongside their mommies as she sings a fun clean up song. I am not that mommy. Clean up in my house goes something like,

"Ok everyone, time to clean up!" (pointing to each child in turn) "You can start with the stuffed animals. Yes, put them in the bucket. No, it doesn't matter which color. No, its ok if David's toys go in the red bucket, they just need to be in the buckets. And you, start with the Legos.... Yes, all of them. Ok, at least put them on the lego table in your room, we can sort them later. And I know the pile is already huge, so put them in the bins. Wait! Ella! Don't dump out the stuffed animals baby, we're cleaning up! Here sweetheart, can you put the animals back in? That's right! No, not out again honey. We're cleaning up. Grayson, you're supposed to be picking things up, not building a spaceship. Yes David, I know you're the only one cleaning up toys, but you're the oldest so you can handle it. Ella! Oh sweet girl, really, just go find Daddy and get your teeth brushed. I know you want to help, but dumping the puzzles out is not helping Mommy right now..." and so forth.

Once I've started the process, we see it through, but it tends to take a while and then they're late getting to bed and it's just... tiring. So I wind up leaving most of the mess until it really starts to get to me (or we have guests coming) and then I wind up doing most of the work myself because it's just easier.

The "its just easier" cop out is not usually a great long term strategy in parenting.

So I'm going to build clean up time into our nightly routine. Seems simple enough, the kicker is the follow through. I need to get everyone upstairs earlier than we do now so we have time to pick up. But imagine, things cleaned up at the end of the day. No legos to step on in the morning when I stumble out of my room. No piles of things to walk around. No dress up clothes scattered in the hallway. Things roughly in their places. Ahhh, the peace of a bit of tidiness.

It's something I need to work on for myself as much as them. I keep hearing these words echoing in my mind, although I can't remember where I read them, "Don't do anything that your children can do for themselves." That's an approach that I can really embrace. Not only do I want to teach them responsibility, I want the extra help! I haven't been great about it up until now, but hey, what's a new year for if not to try to improve :).

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Keeping it simple. and real.

So many of my friends are caught up in the just-before-Christmas frenzy. Shopping, wrapping, baking... busy, busy, busy. I'm prone to being overwhelmed with the here and now of living all too often during the rest of the year. I knew this year that if I was going to have a calm and peaceful Advent and Christmas, I was going to have to keep it simple. And real.

Here is my recipe this year for a stress-free holiday. And no, it does not involve finishing all my shopping and wrapping before December 1st.

My list of things I don't do is longer than my list of things I do
I didn't read every Tomie dePaola Christmas book and do themed crafts and baking to go along with them. We didn't make handmade Christmas gifts to give to all our relatives. We didn't bake endless batches of cookies to put on cute little paper plates and pass out to all our neighbors and friends. I didn't have Advent themed projects every day or tons of Christmas crafts. I didn't even send out Christmas cards.

We prioritized what was important and ditched the rest
We watched our favorite Christmas movies with the kids. We'll bake Santa cookies on Friday. I did most of my shopping online. We made some salt dough ornaments because I was in the mood. We've read lots of Christmas stories. I'll wrap the rest of the presents this week, a little at a time. That's about it.

I took my favorite ideas that we didn't do, and filed them away for another year
With no guilt, I might add. The Internet is amazing and I have found about a gazillion really great ideas for projects, homeschool, books, etc. And I can't do even half of them. I just don't have time. So rather than killing myself trying to squeeze in everything, I'm filing ideas away (and this is why I love pinterest) for another year.

If it stresses me out, I won't do it
My house will not be spotless when we have friends and family over for Christmas brunch. I already mentioned, I didn't do Christmas cards. I don't wrap presents all fancy. I'm lucky just to remember everyone that we planned to buy for. I have enough going on that adding additional things simply isn't worth it.

The purpose of Advent is to prepare our hearts for Jesus. In celebrating his birth, we celebrate not only the fact that He came into the world as King and Sacrifice - we celebrate that He will return for us. And whether He calls us one by one and we meet Him when it is our time, or someday comes for us all at once, this time of year should be peaceful, serene and joyful. So I refuse to do more than I need to, more than makes my family happy. Yes, we believe in Santa and we hang stockings and play all types of Christmas music and we'll open too many presents and eat too much pie. But in the days leading up to the feast of feasts, I am making a conscious effort to keep my heart in the right place. Enjoy my family, pick activities that are fun and not stressful, and leave the rest for later.

Simple. Real.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Happy birthday to my biggest baby

My oldest child turned 7 yesterday.

I remember so well the day he was born - seeing this little person who I already knew so well. We were instantly in love with him, in a way that I had never realized was possible. We couldn't stop looking at him - his face, his little fingers and toes. Delicious!

Now he is seven. He is confident and a little bossy, but so sensitive to his own feelings as well as the feelings of others. He wants to be good and please everyone and hates getting in trouble. He can seem so fragile one moment and unbreakable the next. He's wicked smart, with such a literal and logical mind. He has declared he will be a scientist when he grows up since he was about three, and it wouldn't surprise me a bit if he does. He has such a passion for learning and discovery and wants to know, down to the tiniest detail, how everything works. He asks at least 1,852 questions a day and his most spoken word, even at this age, is probably "why?"

He's a sweet and kind big brother, most of the time. He's very social and does not like being alone, or feeling like he's missing something. He and his brother are inseparable and he dotes on his sister. He's the most ticklish person I know. He's fun and funny and smart and wonderful.

I have no idea how I got so lucky as to be blessed with such a great kid. I am endlessly thankful to God for trusting me with his little soul.

Happy birthday to my little man.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Does it really have to be that way?

This photo has been making the rounds on Facebook lately:

I'll be honest - I didn't find it all that funny.

I don't fault the person who created it, nor the people who posted and reposted it. But instead of making me giggle, it made me think - does it really have to be that way? Because one very big reason that people will laugh at a picture like that, is because it rings true. They see something of themselves, or their families, in it. Perhaps not quite so extreme, but I'm sure there are millions of families out there (especially those with teens) that feel as if they see the top of their kids heads more often than their faces, as they lean forward, intent on texting their friends or reading the latest must-read tweets or Facebook updates.

Does it really have to be that way?

I look around at so many things that most people in our culture consider to be "the norm." Maybe not ideal, maybe not even desirable, but many don't question them because it seems to be "the way it is." People don't sit down and eat together very often. Kids have a zillion different clubs, sports, and activities that turn parents into taxis. Everyone has a phone on them every second of the day so they don't miss out on one single thing that happens to their friends... ever. They are constantly connected, constantly distracted. People used to talk about how much TV their family watched with a slight tinge of guilt or worry if it might be too much. Now things are far more complicated. We bring our TVs with us, everywhere we go, and they aren't just TVs anymore. They are little computers and communication devices, making disconnection from the world of peers, pressure and drama nearly impossible. Home is no longer the safe haven for those having a rough day. The complexities of peer interactions follow them everywhere they go and connection with the family seems to be fading away into obscurity.

Does it really have to be that way?

Perhaps I am naive because my kids are still young enough to believe their parents are the greatest people in the world, followed very closely by their siblings, and probably tied with various members of their extended family. It is easy for me to look into our future and think, "We'll be different. We won't let those things rule our lives the way other people do. We'll do it right."

But will we? Am I kidding myself?

The truth is, I don't really know. I'd like to think that we are going to sidestep some of those issues of family disconnectedness because my husband and I both place a high value on family connection. I'd like to think we will always make time for dinners together and keep outside commitments in their place as being secondary to the family. I'd like to think we'll keep our kids free from the slavery of electronics until we feel they are old enough for the responsibility, and then create boundaries to make sure those things don't dominate their lives. I'd like to think our kids won't be so obsessed with peer relationships and fitting in because we're doing things a little bit differently.

I suppose I won't know the answers to those questions until we cross those bridges, but I'll admit, I'm optimistic. If I'm honest, I do believe it is possible to raise a family that doesn't fall victim to all the pitfalls of our popular culture. Not that we will be perfect and not face common problems and challenges along the way. But we've gotten pretty adept at questioning the norm the last few years, so why stop now? Why assume that my kids will be sullen, argumentative, peer-obsessed creatures in 10 years. Why not assume that things can be different - that for us, it doesn't have to be that way, if we make the right choices along the way.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Finding joy despite the hormones

Today is just one of those days - and not for any good reason. Or at least, not for any good external reason.

Yes, my little ones were particularly destructive creative this morning while I did school with my oldest. There are legos and bionicles quite literally covering our playroom/schoolroom floor. My two-year-old daughter ate a steady stream of fruit leather and managed to touch at least 98% of everything we own with her sticky hands. When it was time to get dressed, no one wanted to. When it was time to eat breakfast, no one wanted anything we have. When it was time to go to the library, no one wanted to go. When it was time to leave the library, everyone wanted to stay.

But all of that is normal, day-to-day stuff. And yet today, I find myself feeling like just taking one more step, cleaning up one more mess, getting out one more snack... is going to make me snap.

Why? Hormones. Ah, the joys of being a woman.

Yes folks, PMS rears it's ugly head. I'm still not really used to the ups and downs of my cycle and each month it does not fail to surprise me that I spend a day or two feeling.. out of sorts. I spent most of my twenties either on birth control pills (gasp! I know, I know), or trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant (unsuccessful because I have a hormone disorder called PCOS). I spent years having either unnatural, medication induced cycles, or not having regular cycles because of my PCOS. Then I spent a number of years (finally) having and nursing babies. But my daughter turned two in August, and she stopped nursing when she was about 15 or 16 months old. Thanks to a lot of research and changes in my diet (as well as regular exercise), I've been in the ranks of "regulars" to the (often dreaded) monthly visit for a while now. But somehow, I'm not quite used to it.

It occurred to me early on today why I was not feeling like my usual, (mostly) cheerful self. And yet, simply knowing that I'm in the midst of a hormone crash doesn't seem to override its effects. So what is a busy mom to do?

Well, since I don't have any wine or good chocolate in the house, I suppose I will just have to take the advice of one of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis. No, he didn't exactly have advice for PMS'ing mothers, but he did say something to the effect of (and I'm grossly paraphrasing here), "Fake it till you make it." He wasn't exactly talking about being happy when you want to curl up in a ball with a hot water bottle and a glass of wine. But his advice to those seeking to become righteous (ask, what would a righteous man do, and then act accordingly, and soon you will find you are) seems to apply here. Act like a happy mom, do the things a happy mom would do, and pretty soon, I may just be that happy mom.

I'm not talking, plaster a fake smile on my face and white knuckle it through my day. What I need to do is catch myself in those moments when I feel like blowing up at my kids, or locking myself in my room, and think, "What would a happy mom do?" or at least, "What would I do if I didn't feel like mud?" Then do that. Smile at my children. Take a deep breath when they ask me, again, for another snack when I'm in the midst of doing something else. Hug them when I'm feeling the urge to send them outside and lock the back door (not that I would actually do that, in case that isn't obvious).

And lean on the grace of God. I'm sadly imperfect and flawed through and through. But with His help, I can be a good mother today, even though I don't particularly feel like it.

Fake it till I make it. Breathe. Smile. Enjoy today anyway.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving... for realz

My husband has been looking for a new job....

It has been a little stressful, but we've tried really hard to use the experience as a means to grow in faith...

And still, stressful....

But the wait is over! He officially accepted a new job yesterday.

(Cue great, big, giant sigh of relief here)

It is a great job, a step up and in the right direction, pays great and will hopefully allow him to finish his degree and keep moving ahead in his career. I am convinced he is part kender (if you haven't read the Dragonlance series, a kender is a small Hobbit-ish race who are typically infected with acute Wanderlust and are extremely averse to routine and being bored)... (and if you don't know what I mean by Hobbit-ish, I can't help you).... So he's part kender, and being bored is pretty much the most dangerous thing on the planet for him. This job looks to be decidedly not boring and full of opportunity. The drawback is that it is a long commute away - 60 miles, and there's always traffic. But they easily agreed to a partial telecommuting schedule, which will have him driving up there only half the time.

It is amazing how quickly he went from having nothing in the works to having a great new job. Last Friday he got the news that our good friend (his partner in the soon-to-be-closing business) got a job offer. He didn't. They'd both interviewed with the same company, but they apparently didn't need both of them. He was pretty disappointed, and it wasn't what he had expected.

However, you know what they say about a door closing? He realized immediately that if our friend took this job offer, that left one of their current clients up for grabs. My husband had stepped aside from pursuing their client, since he thought our friend was going to go after that job. When our friend truned it down, he jumped after the opportunity. Monday, he emailed the executive director. Tuesday they met in person. Wednesday he accepted the job.

It's amazing how quickly it all fell into place.

And the timing, well, what could be better than getting a job offer - a good one - the day before Thanksgiving! Now we get to spend the holidays NOT worrying about whether or not he'll be employed in January.

So yes, we have a heck of a lot to be thankful for this year. I'm so thankful for my husband who does such a fabulous job of providing for our family. And I'm thankful to God for extending us His grace and helping us weather through the last few months with our sanity intact (well, mostly - although it's arguable how intact it was in the first place).

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Big day - job search progress

My husband's job search continues. Today he has two big meetings, either of which could result in a job offer. There are pros and cons to both possibilities, and honestly, I'm not sure which one I'm rooting for. There are still some unknowns and my hope is that he'll come away with some concrete answers and have a better idea of the possibilities.

I'm glad there is some progress and will be so thankful when the uncertainty is over!

This is such a test of our faith. We're both working very hard to not let ourselves drown in worry, and instead rest in our faith that God will lead us in the right direction. That, and remember all the things we have to be thankful for - whether this week is Thanksgiving or not. We do have a lot to be grateful for and things could be so much worse. So, so much.

If anyone happens to read this, I would greatly appreciate any prayers you could offer for us.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Spiritual attack

I used to sort of scoff at the idea of spiritual warfare. I mean, wasn't that just something used to explain the unexplained in a time when people simply didn't understand science? All those demons Christ expelled, they were just mentally ill people, right? There can't be any actual bad spirits or demons anything like that. This is the modern world here. Right?

I'm not one to go seeing demons around ever corner or claim they are responsible for my sinful behavior; nor am I going to assume that mentally ill people are in fact possessed. But I also can't discount how the spiritual realm touches the natural world. After all, I believe in angels. If there are spiritual beings dedicated to the glory of God, isn't it possible that there are beings who have fallen?

Whatever the literal reality of the spiritual world may be (angels, demons, etc.), for the first time that I am aware, I felt the effects of spiritual attack recently. That's almost weird to type, as if saying it out loud makes me sound kind of crazy. Maybe I'm still coming to grips with admitting that this piece of existence is real.

In any case, I had been on this "I'm so happy I have been obedient to God's call and started homeschooling" kick for a while. Not in a prideful way - I wasn't boasting to my friends about how great a mom I am. It was an internal thing, a realization that God was truly calling me to this life and I listened, despite being unsure. And He was right. It's been a great experience so far and I am thrilled that we chose to pursue it.

So here I am, feeling all full of the Holy Spirit and I wonder if that put a big target on my back. If C.S. Lewis was onto something in The Srewtape Letters, was the demon assigned to me being chastised for allowing me to heed God's call and begin reaping the spiritual fruits of my choice?

Out of nowhere, I got grumpy. I felt PMS-y (yes, I will feel free to make up words), yet it wasn't the right time for that. Hormones didn't explain it. I was tired when I shouldn't be, frustrated over the littlest things, snappy with my kids. I would get to the end of the day and wonder what on earth had been so draining, so awful about the day. Nothing had gone amiss. The kids were typical, the day had been fine. So why was I feeling so crappy?

Yes, we have extra stress in our lives right now. My husband's job search goes on, but even that added stress didn't explain this sudden, random turn of mood that I couldn't seem to get out from under.

And then it occurred to me. Is this what spiritual attack feels like?

Just as I'm riding the high of my new found commitment of obedience to the will of God (and not just in homeschooling - my husband and I have used the job situation as a means to explore our trust in God and it has been a good growing experience despite the stress) - I come crashing down. Nothing external happened to cause my distress, and yet there it was. I was slogging through the mud of self pity and frustration, wet and cold and dirty, despite the sun shining high in the sky.

So I prayed.

I thought about whether this might be what people mean by spiritual attack, and I prayed for protection against it. And you know what happened? I felt better. Instantly. Right then and there. It was as if the only window to the outside world had been wiped clean of dirt and grime, letting the light pour in and warm the room. I felt lighter, less frustrated, renewed. I have felt that way ever since.

Not that I feel happy and perfect every second. I am concerned about my husband's job situation and there are moments when I'm frustrated with my kids and wish I had more hours in the day to get things done. But that oppressive weight that was dragging me down, the weight I couldn't explain, is gone.

I've continued to ask for protection for myself as well as my husband and it has had quite the effect on both of us. I'm glad I have opened my mind to the possibility that spiritual attack is in fact real - otherwise I would have found myself defenseless against it.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Trying not to stress... trying.

My husband is looking for a new job. He's been helping run an IT consulting company for the last 7-ish years, but for a variety of reasons, they are essentially closing their doors. Long story. In any case, he will no longer have a job as of January 1st.

We've known this was coming for a while now, so it's not a shock in the least. And when he first started looking for a job, he got so many emails and calls, we figured it wouldn't be hard to find a new job. There are some things that make finding the right job a challenge - commute time, benefits, finding the right "fit". But it seemed as if it would be a matter of looking through the potential opportunities to find the best one.

However, none of these emails or calls have turned into actual job offers. He's had a couple of interviews, but nothing has materialized. One of the more promising opportunities was put on hold. Another seemed like a sure thing, but he has yet to hear anything back from them. Another recruiter told him he'd be getting an interview, but so far, no call.

I am trying very hard not to stress. With the holidays right around the corner and possible unemployment on the horizon, I'm beginning to lose that battle.

I wish I could say that we have been really good with our money and can survive for a few months without an income. Sadly, we can't. We just can't. If he doesn't have a job in January, we are in big, big trouble.

This has been a serious test of faith for us. We are both trying really hard to put our faith in God, that He will lead us in the right direction if we have faith in Him and do our part. But as the weeks tick by, I'm getting nervous. I can't help it. I want to embrace the words of Jesus and not worry about tomorrow. But we have never been in this position before - not with kids, anyway. He was unemployed once before, about a year before we had our oldest son. It was very short lived, he had a severance package and unemployment, and we weathered the change without difficulty. He did wind up in a job he hated, but he found his current job less than a year later, so it was little more than a pebble in our path at the time.

I struggle because I know that we could lose a lot in this world, in terms of material things, and that's not necessarily what God has promised to provide. He promises that He will provide for our salvation - but He doesn't necessarily promise He'll make sure we can pay our mortgage. A few months out of work would be devastating to us, and although I know that my husband and I would get through it together - who wants to face financial ruin?

This experience has been an emotional roller coaster. We've run the gamut from feeling elated at all the possibilities, to fear and worry as time passes and our future is as yet unsecure.

Today I pray to God that He helps lead us a we move into this time of transition in our lives. I pray that we are open to the possibilities for where He wishes us to go and that He'll provide us the faith, courage and wisdom we need to face whatever lies ahead.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Edgar Allan Poe for first graders

We're big fans of Halloween in this house. I suppose we simply love holidays in general, and Halloween always feels like the kick off of the holiday season. Dress up is a daily activity here, and Halloween takes it to a new level of awesomeness. In any case, I wanted to do some fun, Halloween-ish things this week in our school. I already had a couple of art project ideas (we made egg carton spiders last week and did glue and glitter spider webs today), but I wanted something more to tie in the upcoming holiday with what we're studying in school.

I came across lots of worksheets and printables online that I could use - lifecycle of a pumpkin, anatomy of a bat, etc. Not bad ideas at all, but they don't really fit in with anything else we're doing. So I thought maybe we'd just read some Halloween inspired poetry. After a few minutes of searching, and not finding anything spectacular, it hit me - I didn't have to fall back on child-like silly poems (which are fun, don't get me wrong, but we have a Wee Sing Halloween CD that is getting lots of playtime this month and it's full of the silly stuff). My mom has been scouring her bookshelves of late, passing on a number of books that she thought we might use in our schooling. One of them was "Edgar Allen Poe for Young People." Oh my goodness. I love Edgar Allan Poe. I didn't know who he was until I was in high school. I have a first grader. But what the heck - "The Raven" it is.

I got out the book first thing and told him we were going to read a poem by a very famous poet who wrote some things that were rather creepy. His eyes lit up immediately. Then I told him that it was long and had old fashioned language that might be hard to understand. His reply? "Cool!"

I read the whole thing, slowly and enunciating each word carefully. I didn't stop to explain things the first go around - there was too much to explain and it would have ruined the rhythm of the piece. He sat and listened quietly and although he didn't understand much of it (I asked when I was done), he immediately said he loved it upon finishing. He told me that the "old fashioned" language sounds cool, even if he doesn't know most of the words :). I can appreciate that.

We went through the poem, verse by verse, and I gave it to him as more of a narrative. "Here, the man is sad because the woman he loves is gone - her name is Lenore. And he's reading books trying not to think about his sorrow." That kind of thing. We talked about some of the language used and what the words mean, and he told me his impressions. He didn't have a lot to say, but he enjoyed the poem and I have to admit, I was tickled.

Afterwards, he wanted to make a raven, so we found a template for a raven art project and he got to coloring and cutting. We happened to have some black craft feathers, so he glued those on for dramatic effect. It needed time to dry, so it is sitting on the bookshelf overnight; but I'm thinking about suggesting that we put it up over a doorway, as if perched above the chamber door :).

Today we read it again, once through, and I asked him to "narrate" it with a picture. We often do "narrations" of things I read aloud, where he tells it back to me in his own words. But this time I thought he could just draw his impression or a scene from the poem. He drew a big raven perched on a statue above a door. He wrote the word "Nevermore" coming from the Raven's mouth. It was a cute touch. Then he wanted to write some of the poem along the side of his picture to tell part of the story. He chose a line and I helped him spell the words he didn't know.

We're tackling another selection tomorrow - a passage from one of Poe's stories (the name is escaping me right now). I'm enjoying sharing this stuff with him so much!

Friday, October 21, 2011

7 Quick Takes - Fall Edition

1. I love fall. Even though I live in the Pacific Northwest, which means it rains a lot (but heck, it rains most of the year anyway, so I'm used to it), fall is so lovely. Crisp, cool air. Vibrant colors. Beautiful sunsets. Scarves and knee high boots. And the food... oh the food.

2. I love fall food! Soups and stews and chili and squash. Mmmmmmm. I have a torrid love affair with my crockpot and it breaks into full swing when the weather cools. Oh how I love me some crockpot soup!

3. And pumpkin pie. Nothing tastes more like fall, and the forthcoming holidays, quite like pumpkin pie. I'm awesome at pies (and by awesome, I mean I rock pie making) but there's a grocery store nearby that makes pumpkin pies that are *almost* as good as mine. My dear husband brought one home tonight, and ooooooooohhhhhhh. Let's just say I ate way too much and enjoyed every last bite. That stuff is like crack to me.

4. Speaking of crockpots, tonight I made Spinach Chicken Artichoke Dip, posted by Wellness Mama. Oh my stars, was it good! I am married to a man who could make a serious run for the "Pickiest Eater in the World" contest. He is tough to please, and like all picky people, he defends himself with, "I just know what I like!" In any case, he took one look at my crockpot full of cheesey goodness and gave me The Look. I've known him since we were 15 - I know The Look. It was the look that said, "I'll try this if I absolutely have to, but only because I'm hungry and you took the time to make it, but I just know I'm going to hate it." It's quite similar to the look a four year old will give you when you tell him to try "just one bite" of his dinner (and yes, I did just compare my husband to a four year old - don't worry, I'd say it to his face). :) He did take the bite and the look melted into another one I am familiar with, the "This is so good I'm perfectly willing to admit I was wrong because I love it." I get that one a lot too.

So yeah... try it. It's yummy.

5. Speaking of rain (see #1), it didn't rain all week. In fact, we had the most lovely fall weather that really reminds me why I love this season so much. My four-year-old's preschool class had their annual trip to the pumpkin patch today, and all week I kept thinking how lovely it was we were going to have nice weather. Not so much. It rained all day today. On the bright side, it did temper the smell of the pigs and keep more of the bees away. So that's a good thing.

6. On said field trip, my older son (who happily tagged along with the preschoolers) said the turkeys looked like dinner. This is right after the tour guide told the kids these turkeys are pets and won't ever be a Thanksgiving dinner. This is the same kid who raised his hand on our recent salmon watching field trip and said seeing the fish was making him hungry and could he go get his fishing pole. A carnivore to the bone, that one.

7. Also at the field trip, I was the recipient of a wonderful gesture of mommy-kindness. I realized on the way back to the car that my daughter had a poopy diaper. The boys climbed in while I laid her out on the passenger seat to change her. Only after I'd taken off her dirty diaper and wiped her clean did I realize, I didn't have a diaper! Oh the horror! My mind raced with the possibilities - what should I do?!? I tried to think of where I might have an extra one stashed, but alas, I had none. As I was trying to calculate the odds that she wouldn't pee on the carseat after having just had a juice box, and whether I might have any napkins in the glove box to put down to catch some of it, a woman came up to the car next to me. I managed to catch her eye and asked if she happened to have a diaper. I didn't even see if she had diaper-aged kids. Matter of fact, she did have one to spare! (insert Halleluja Chorus here). Oh thank heaven! And thank you for kind-hearted and prepared mommies! She saved my bacon, and my carseat cover.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

They turned off the TV... by themselves?

Our normal daily routine is hinged around lunch and naptime. My daughter needs a nap in the afternoon, and I need a break - so my boys are used to this being their TV time. I will freely admit that I have shamefully abused this in the past, letting them watch far too much TV because the little one was still asleep and I was doing something really important messing around on the internet. I have made a concerted effort to keep their TV time more limited, encouraging them to find something else to do (quietly if upstairs). The vast majority of the time, this works out fine. They play or find something else to do, I still get a few things done (because getting up to tell them to turn the TV off has the added benefit of prying my butt from this chair and my eyes from the screen).

I don't know what's up lately, but my boys have been a lot less interested in TV than they once were. Just a few months ago, if I had let them, they probably could have watched TV all afternoon until it was time to cook dinner. And then they'd ask to watch "just one more episode of Spiderman!" (we only have Netflix). Over the last several weeks, they've done two extraordinarily shocking things, and not just once, but on a regular basis.

1. They have turned off the TV with no prompting from me after just one cartoon.

2. They have not asked to watch TV at all and simply found something else to do.

Insert jaw-dropping face here.

Today they are playing outside on the trampoline, even though it's cloudy and cold. Awesome! They've also been furiously making art projects together - we've had a lot of coloring, cutting and pasting going on in this house lately. Aside from the fact that I'm running out of paper and glue, it's been awesome.

I wish I could say I did something magnificent to induce this change, but I really haven't. I do think, however, that homeschooling has had something to do with it. The way we live our life has changed and as we all adjust, the projects and reading and other homeschool-ish things are spilling over into their free time. It isn't as if they're off pursuing things that directly relate to what we did in school, but their free time is beginning to have a different feel to it. They want to draw and do art projects constantly. They want to look up random facts on the internet about bugs and animals. They want to look at their library books and fill up their booklists (of course, they do get a prize for that, but still).

Now that I think about it, perhaps some of this shift is because of me. I'm far more willing to indulge in the art projects and random Googling. Before I might have put them off with a "maybe later," when asked if they could get out more paper or try glitter, or find out the wingspan of a bald eagle. But now I almost always say yes.

Of course, now that I've written this, they will probably swing back to wanting to watch TV all afternoon and won't voluntarily turn it off ever again ;).

Seriously though, it does ease that bit of mommy-guilt I harbor over letting them watch TV, especially because I know my motive for allowing it is rather selfish in nature. Not that I think watching TV is terrible, but I do believe in moderation and I'm not always great about moderating them enough.

Plus, I love their artwork! I have no idea what to do with all of it, but they are both having so much fun being creative, it makes my mommy heart glad.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The NOT best housekeeper and why Pinterest is clearly a good use of time

I am not the best housekeeper on the planet.

In fact, one could argue that I am quite far from such a noble distinction. Sure, I have seen houses in worse states of disarray. Some filled with more clutter, others with genuine dirt and grime. Mine tends to swing from "looks-like-a-tornado-ripped-through" at worst to "mostly acceptable" at best. But most of the time, I feel like I'm barely treading water, trying to get everything done.

This is one aspect of living my vocation that I have struggled with, not only in the doing, but in the valuing. When my first son was born, I fretted about how difficult it was to stay home with a baby and vented more than once to well-meaning friends, "I didn't quit my job to be a housekeeper!" That was when I still had a tough time with my new identity of stay-home-mom and felt like keeping the house was beneath me. I would not have admitted such a thing at the time, mind you. But deep down, that is how I felt.

Over the years, my heart has softened to the realities of my vocation and I've realized there is value and honor in even those simple (and sometimes thankless) tasks of keeping a house. During this phase of my life, my role is to care for my family. This is not only lived out in the kissing of boo-boos, reading of books, and feeding of cookies to my little people. It also has to include the feeding and the cooking and the cleaning; the less glamorous tasks of daily life that simply must get done.

I often let those things go, and the truth is, it isn't because I don't have time. Granted, I don't have time for a perfectly clean house (and who am I kidding, I wouldn't have a perfectly clean house even if I had the time). I don't need a house that is spotless from top to bottom. We live in our house. And still, I could do a much better job of creating a space that is orderly, and by extension, serene.

A neat freak I am not, but I do love a cleaned up room. Things in their places, lined up just so. There is a loveliness in order, in being clean and ready for the next round of living. I am always in a much more peaceful mood when things are reasonably well clean and picked up around here - yet all too often I fail miserably at keeping my house in such a condition.

I ran across something on Pinterest that linked to a blog post on how to have a "fake" immaculate house in 15 minutes a day. I read through it and it was like a light bulb. It is so simple, and I feel silly for not having tried something like this before. I've been at this for almost 7 years now (the stay home mom thing), and I have spent most of that time feeling overwhelmed, like I can't keep up. (Wait, why did I feel that way when I only had one child?) This approach is simple, although does require a level of diligence I'm not accustomed to devoting to keeping my house clean. But I want to give it a try to see if it can ease some of the burden I feel, and keep my house from deteriorating into a state that drives me crazy.

I created a schedule for myself that breaks up the major housecleaning tasks to be done throughout the week. I only have one or two things to do in a given day, and although I think it's going to take me longer than 15 minutes a day, it shouldn't be too much to handle - if I have the self discipline to work at it. Changing habits isn't easy, and I know I'll have the tendency to let things slide out of laziness and procrastination. But I think this has the potential to help me out a bit and keep me on top of things without driving myself nuts in the process.

My schedule looks something like this:
  • Monday - vacuum downstairs
  • Tuesday - clean master bathroom, take out garbage
  • Wednesday - vacuum upstairs (this one is tricky, because I can't do it during naptime)
  • Thursday - clean other two bathrooms (one is just a small half bath downstairs)
  • Friday - dust and clean kitchen floor

I'm also going to make an effort to clean up the kitchen at the end of the day (still need to do that today... yikes), and do a load of laundry every day - and get it put away. The dishes I tend to stay on top of for the most part. The laundry is the bane of my existence. I'm good at getting it washed and dried, but from there it tends to accumulate into an enormous pile, which I am quite certain has the capability to breed (I just wish it would breed something stylish). Instead of doing a bunch of loads once or twice a week, which I never have time to fold and put away as I go, I'll do a load or two each day. I can find the time to put away one or two loads of laundry, for the most part. I think this will help me keep up and not find ourselves digging through the Great Pile of Clothes each morning to find something to wear.

My kids will get in on the action as appropriate, and I'm hoping this will help me integrate them into the housekeeping chores more naturally. I haven't been great about getting them to help with things, but it's so much more work to get things done with little hands "helping." My boys are finally old enough that they can be of real help, at least some of the time. And I need to make a better effort to get them to help around the house so I'm not kicking myself down the road for not requiring it of them.

We shall see how it goes. I'll be honest, I'm already behind. I didn't vacuum the upstairs today. But like I said, that one is tricky, since my optimum chores time is when my daughter is napping, and I can't vacuum upstairs when she's asleep. But the beauty of this routine, is that if I miss something one week, I can just do it the next and it shouldn't be too big of a deal. I'll be cleaning things way more often than I usually do this way, so missing a week should be fine.

And see, Pinterest is clearly a worthy use of my time!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Friday Quick Takes

It's Friiiiiiday.....

1. Thank goodness.

2. Today's workout is a testament to the power a goal has over my willingness to get up early and go to the gym. I didn't get to bed until late and the only reason my annoying alarm finally woke me up is because my husband elbowed me. I don't usually sleep that soundly (thanks to babies), and under typical circumstances I would have turned it off and gone right back to bed. But I kept thinking about how I want to see what this workout experiment will do, and I don't want to have to preface it with, "Well, I didn't really do all the workouts...." So I got up.

3. And now my legs feel something akin to jello.

4. Tomorrow is week three of fall sports - flag football for my 6-year-old and soccer for my four-year-old. I'm not enjoying this sports season very much and I'll be pretty glad when it's over. My husband is coaching flag football, but he's also rolling out some sort of upgrade at work (I pretend to understand what he's talking about, but he's way smarter with all that technical junk than I am), and looking for a new job, so he's not exactly focused on it. And Grayson, well my Grayson is just... Grayson. Soccer games are really frustrating. And yet the kid still says he loves playing and is excited about his practice tonight. I guess that's good - and I'll still be glad when the season is over.

5. Flag football this year has reminded me of one of my biggest pet peeves as a parent - other people's kids. Some kids are great, mind you. I like kids, generally speaking. But we have some kids on our team that are... difficult, to say the least. There are two brothers on the team, in particular, who cause a lot of trouble. They weren't at practice this week and my husband (and my brother and our other friend, who are helping coach), kept going on and on about how great practice went. When I pointed out that those two kids weren't there, they were all, "Ohhhhhhh....." I feel bad for thinking this way, but it would be a lot more pleasant if those kids decided to stop showing up... Isn't that terrible?

6. Fall is probably my favorite season of the year. The colors, the crisp, cool air. I like fall clothing too - layers, and coats, scarves and hats. I am so not a fashionista, but I do appreciate cute fall clothes. And boots - oh the boots! I think if my husband gets a job that pays well, I may have to treat myself to a fabulous pair of boots.

7. I think I deserve 'em. ... and maybe a pair in brown too ;)

Happy Friday and see Jennifer for more Quick Takes!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Life changes - job hunting

My husband is losing his job at the end of the year.

How's that for a dramatic statement? It isn't so dismal as all that. For one thing, it's largely voluntary. For the past 6-ish years, he's been a partner in an IT consulting company that works in the medical industry. He and our good friend used to be internal IT staff for a group of medical clinics, but spun off to create their own company under the umbrella of the medical campus where they work. At the time, it seemed like a great opportunity and it had potential. I won't go into all the gory details as to why things are coming to a close. Let's just say, there are reasons - plenty of them. Everyone has agreed to go their separate ways once their contracts are fulfilled.

Fortunately, no relationships are being damaged in the process (part of why they chose to end things now, rather than drawing it out longer). But it does leave us in the odd position of.... needing a job.

The good news is, my husband activated his resume on last week and he's had numerous emails and calls - without having actually applied for any jobs yet. It appears his skill set is in high demand at the moment, and that is great. He's also in talks with their largest client about the possibility of being hired as an employee, or somehow continuing the relationship as an independent contractor. I'm not sure what to expect there, since we'd kind of assumed that option wasn't going to be on the table.

The tough part is that we moved out of the major metropolitan area because hubby's job was down here. But there aren't many other jobs where we live - so it was sort of, this job works out or Daddy has to commute. The commute is a big bummer. Traffic is awful. Like, really awful. We used to make fun of our friends for living down here and commuting to the city, but now the hubs might be facing that very scenario. There are possibilities that make it less of a burden (taking the train if it's downtown, partial telecommuting maybe), but it's going to change our lifestyle quite a bit. We're very used to having Daddy 5 minutes away most of the time. Losing that is going to be a bummer.

Mostly we're just trying to not stress (hard) and leave it in God's hands (hard). I believe that God will guide us and help us make the right call for our family. And I have to remind myself often to stop, pray, and listen, rather than getting caught up in the stress of a job change. Whenever we've really trusted in God to guide us, we've never come out wrong, so I have a lot of faith that He will help.

And it's still hard.

It is also a good reminder to be really, really grateful for what we have though. It isn't likely we'll be facing a lengthy unemployment. It's very likely he'll find a good job. It's likely we'll do better financially. All in all, this situation has a lot of potential to be great for my husband's career. It could be so much worse, so much scarier.

So we'll see what happens in the coming weeks and months. I'm not sure what to expect, and I am doing my best to remain open to the possibilities.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Our honeymoon adventure... remembered

Ah, love. I am in love with love. So when dear Betty Beguiles asked for honeymoon stories, how could I not venture down memory lane to that wonderful time when my husband and I were just married, and off on our first adventure as man and wife.

An adventure it was! Since high school, I had been chomping at the bit to travel in Europe. I'd toyed with the idea of studying abroad, but decided against it, so my goal was to travel after I graduated college. I read up on how to travel solo, and how to travel cheap. I researched my brains out, trying to find a way to make my dream trip happen.

Then we got engaged. He loved the idea of traveling too, so we decided to make my dream trip our honeymoon.

I won't go into all the details of where we went, the things we saw or places we stayed. I will say that the funniest thing about our trip is how differently my husband and I remember it. I can tell you all about the churches we visited, the castles we explored, the museums, the monuments, the sights. My husband will tell you about the food. He remembers the name of the restaurants we loved, the food we ordered and exactly what it tasted like. He remembers a lot of experiences through food, but it always cracks people up to hear him talk about a vacation, especially when I've warned them beforehand that they're about to go on a culinary journey. "So how was your honeymoon?" you might ask. "Oh man, we ate at this amazing place..." I love that man.

What I remember most is the sense of utter freedom we had. We created an itinerary before we left, and pretty much scrapped it a couple of days in. We had railpasses and the question was always, "Where do you want to go today?"

We explored the countryside of England, by train and by bus. We decided we just *had* to see this little town in Wales that had a castle built by King Edward I, and it took 3 trains and a bus to get there. But it was glorious. We had no fear, no inhibition. Public transportation on that scale had once been intimidating, but in England (and a bit of France), it gave us wings. We decided where to go as we went along and we loved every minute of it.

We did see castles and majestic gothic churches (oh the churches!). I stood on stairs worn so much with age that they were curved in the middle. We saw 700 year old houses with the original stone roofs, and people still living in them. We saw cemetaries with gravestones so old, you couldn't read them. We saw Roman ruins and artifacts, Viking helmets and enough swords and armor to send a couple of uber geeks like us into a coma.

We were free.

It was a grand adventure and I look forward to the day when we can go back and show our kids the things we enjoyed - and discover new things along the way. My husband and I both love history and being in the places where amazing things took place was just.. breathtaking. Here in the US, especially on the west coast, nothing is old. You see a building from the 1930s and it's impressive. There, you can walk streets that were built hundreds of years ago. See the site where Constantine was proclaimed Roman Emperor. Visit a medieval gothic cathedral that was built on the site of a Viking church, that was built on top of a Roman temple. History lives there.

I will always cherish that time we had. We were young, in love and on such an exciting journey. We tasted a freedom we'd never known and we learned a lot along the way. We were very glad to return home when it was over, but it was the experience of a lifetime. For us, it was the perfect way to celebrate the beginning of our new life together.

Calling myself out

I really need to develop more self discipline. I'm writing about it to bring it out in the open, so that I can face something that needs to be faced, and hopefully find it within myself (with God's grace) to change.

I spend way too much time on my computer - in the afternoons in particular. Evenings after the kids are in bed are one thing. I have to work, so I do pop around online, reading this or that to take a quick mental break from whatever I'm working on. And jumping on the computer for 15 minutes to decompress and check Facebook and email after I put my daughter down for a nap is fine.

What I'm finding, however, is that I'm spending a heck of a lot more time than that. It's just so darn tempting. I start reading blogs, or people's Facebook posts, or search for something I was thinking of earlier and the next thing you know, an hour and a half has gone by. My boys have watched some cartoons and are plugging for my attention and I brush them off with a, "Sure, I'll be there in a minute..."

I complain a lot about how I feel like I don't have enough time for things. The truth is, I have more time than I give myself credit for - I just don't use it very well.

There are a lot of things I want to build into our routine, but after lunch I find myself craving a break. And a break is good - I can recharge my batteries and get myself energized for the afternoon. The problem comes in when my break lasts so long, the afternoon is practically gone before I peel myself out of this chair and go about my business.

I could be reading aloud to the boys more. Sure, Grayson tends to not want to listen to a story if it doesn't have pictures, but we could read some picture books and then a chapter or two of whatever book I'm currently reading aloud.

We could have afternoon tea (I know some lovely ladies on a homeschooling message board I frequent who do this and the idea is so sweet). My daughter especially would love this.

We could spend more time with music, or doing art projects or trying a science experiment in the kitchen. My kids eat that stuff up. Why don't I do more of it?

I could do a better job keeping up on at least some of the housework that always seems to be so overwhelming.

I could also get the kids more involved with chores around the house - something I have been terribly inconsistent at doing.

I need to exercise some self control and get up the motivation to get off my toushie and get back in my life. If I want my kids spending less time in front of a screen, I need to remember to set a better example myself.

God grant me the grace to do better!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Fitness Monday: My strength experiment

I know "Fitness Friday" would have sounded better, but it's Monday, so there you go.

I generally like to workout and I like being fit. I don't feel so hot when I don't workout, and I've been consistent for a long time now, even though pregnancies and babies and all that. But since I started homeschooling, my workout time has taken a back seat. I used to schedule our days around my workouts. If there were classes or activities that were in the 9:30-10:30 hour - sorry kids, but Mama needs her gym time. When I decided to homeschool, I realized I was going to have to change things. I can't justify spending that much of our morning driving to the gym, checking kids into the childcare, working out, picking up kids, and driving home. It's nearly a two hour process, and back when we weren't doing school at home, it was a perfectly decent use of our morning. I can't afford that time now, so I'm relegated to working out in the wee hours of the morning before the rest of my zoo wakes up.

I'm not a morning person, but I'm willing to do it to make it work. It just isn't easy. And lately, my motivation has been low. That alarm goes off and my sleepy brain, which in that moment probably couldn't tell you the sum of 1 plus 1, could easily think of at least a dozen perfectly logical reasons why I should not get out of bed and how working out can certainly wait. As a result, I've been working out once or twice a week for about two months now. And that simply can't go on. I'm feeling it, physically and emotionally.

I realized I needed a goal. What brought fitness into my life as a permanent fixture was training for a triathlon. I had a race to train for, and goodness me, I wasn't going to slack off! It changed my focus from what my body looks like, to what my body can do. Since then I've always done well with that kind of a goal in mind - performance, not appearance.

But what sort of goal to work towards? I'm not feeling the running or triathlon thing at the moment. I'd love to do more (maybe even next year), but there aren't as many good races in the winter, and outdoor training in the winter here is... wet. Not super motivating.

Then I saw the post from Wellness Mama about her strength challenge. She designed a workout for herself to see how much strength she can gain in the next three months. I read her post over several times; I couldn't help but be intrigued. I've been reading about crossfit and other heavy-lifting, strength based type fitness for a while now, but I wasn't sure how to incorporate something like that into my routine.

I decided to go for it. I'm going to follow the same workout she is doing, and let me tell you, this is nothing like I've ever done before. I've always believed in strength training, but was in the "moderate weights, high reps" camp for years. I thought that was the best way for women to workout. What she's doing is totally different - heavy weights, low reps, and everything is designed to gain strength. Plus, they are very focused, efficient workouts that don't take much time.

I am so into this!

My goal is to be able to do pull ups - actual pull ups! And maybe even hand stand push ups. Oh my goodness, those seem impossible, but I'm going to try. I'm going out on a limb here, but I figure it will be fun to experiment and see what my body is capable of.

I took measurements this morning, so I'll see how my body changes along the way as well. But my goal is strength first and foremost - losing a little more fat along the way will just be an added bonus :).

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Saying goodbye to Betty

A couple of years ago, I let myself be talked into buying a car. It wasn't just any car, it was THE car. The car my husband has wanted since he was old enough to know what a cool car is. A 1968 Camaro.

He started watching ebay auctions and scouting craigslist, and soon enough he'd found one that seemed to good to be true (hmmmmm...). No matter that it was in California. It would be worth the drive! He told me if he could get it for a low enough price, it would be the deal of a lifetime. How could we pass that up?

The trouble started right away. We didn't get it for the price he said he'd max out at. The auction closed and the reserve hadn't been met. So he called the guy to see what was up. Maybe he wanted just a little bit more. Turns out, he wanted quite a bit more, but was willing to negotiate. We were out of my comfort zone, and I'll be completely honest - we didn't really have any of this money to spare. But I will take credit for my part in the debacle. I definitely didn't try to talk him down. I let myself get caught up in the oh-so-close to the realization of his dream. The owner threw out another number, I could tell my husband was sure this was going to be and I gave him the go-ahead.

He named her Betty.

Once we got the car home, the trouble got worse. Isn't that the way of things with old cars? Especially old cars that you don't really take the time to inspect because you just road tripped 800 miles (one way) to pick it up. We bought it under the impression that it had a newly rebuilt engine and was in great mechanical working order. It just needed an interior.

That was most definitely not the case. In reality, it needed way, way, way more work than that. The engine was a mess, it leaked transmission fluid like crazy, the electrical system was shot and who knows what else. My husband kept at it for a while, making plans and trying to wrap his head around where to even start with the thing.

Have I mentioned he doesn't actually know how to work on cars?

He can tinker a little, but he isn't a car guy. He figured he'd learn as he goes, and get help from people when he needed it. But pretty soon he was talking about stripping the whole thing down and basically starting from scratch. Do you know what that kind of thing costs? Oh heaven help me....

He got some parts and tools along the way. He took a welding class. He bought books, did tons of internet research and tried to really immerse himself in the world of muscle car restoration. But mostly, the car just sat.

Remember that part about the money? We didn't really have the money to buy the car in the first place. We definitely didn't have the money to even begin to restore it. So there it sat.

About six or seven months ago, he finally said it out loud. He was thinking about selling Betty. I admit, I'd been hoping he'd come to that conclusion. The reality of restoring this car was far more work, and far more expense, than we'd ever anticipated. We're struggling a bit financially, and the poor decision of buying this car had made the burden that much heavier. We certainly didn't have any extra money to put into the car and it's hard to imagine when we would. And even if we did have the extra money, is this what we'd really chose to do with it? Restore an old car? What about all the travel we'd love to do, the family vacations? What about putting money into our house, or actually saving  for retirement? What about our kids' education?

He talked about selling it off and on, but didn't really do anything about it for quite a while. I realized this had to be his thing. I didn't want him feeling like I pushed him into it. This needed to be his decision. Finally, a couple of weeks ago, he listed it on craigslist. He'd been thinking he really should get it running first, but I suggested he might list it as-is first, and see what happened.

A week went by with no response, but suddenly we got several calls. We felt we'd listed it at a fair price, but we weren't sure what to expect. In one of those coincidences that doesn't really seem like a coincidence, two people who were interested in the car showed up to look at it at the same time - one guy was a little late, and the other was a little early. It also turns out, they knew of each other and one guy did not think very highly of the other. He'd started out making casual comments about how the economy was bad and pointing out all the work the car needed, clearly setting himself up to start negotiating price. That is, until the other guy showed up. Suddenly, he seemed to decide he had to have this car. When the other guy left, he said he'd buy it for full price and muttered something about, "Yeah, that guy, he can't have this car. He'd never do it justice." We just sat back and watched the whole thing playout with a little bit of awe.

So now Betty is gone. The garage has a heck of a lot more room, and I'm not gonna lie, I'm excited to get my parking spot back.

Most of all though, I'm so proud of my husband. He wanted that car so bad. It was his dream. But he told me recently that even though he's dreamed of having a 1968 Camaro since he was a kid, it's still just a thing. Sure, it was a big thing, but a thing nonetheless. I heard him tell my brother today that, "Sometimes this is what it means to be a man. You gotta do what you gotta do for your family."

This helps us out financially in a really big way. It also frees us up later to do more things with our money. Not only did we really need the money we got from selling the car, future decisions won't have to be weighed in terms of whether to spend on the car, or take a vacation or sacrifice from something else. It is an emormous weight off of both our shoulders.

I'm sad he had to give up something that was so exciting for him. But I'm so proud of him for doing the right thing and putting aside his material desires for the benefit of his family. That wasn't an easy thing to do and I feel so blessed that he's man enough to make that call.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The greatest branding campaign ever

In my work life, I deal a lot with branding. The company I work for helps communities to find and build their brand, so I do a lot of writing about branding, product development, that kind of thing. A lot of what we have to do is educate our clients about what a brand really is, and what it isn't. One of our biggest messages with new clients is that branding is not just a logo. A logo supports your brand, but it isn't your brand.

However, in cases of extremely well known brands, the logo does become synomous with the brand itself. Think the Nike 'swoosh', Mickey Mouse ears, or the big McDonald's "M". You see the symbol, you know exactly what it stands for, and what the brand is promising in terms of the product or experience. It takes a lot of work (and a whole lot of money) for a company to build a brand that is so universally recognizable. Companies like Nike, Disney and McDonald's have poured millions of dollars (at least) into their branding campaigns, working for decades to build a brand, and a logo (symbol) that is instantly recognizable and understood by the masses.

But they've got nothin' on the cross.

The greatest branding campaign the world has ever seen wasn't hatched in a conference room in some high rise building with a bunch of suits and creative types bantering ideas back and forth. It didn't come from a guy designing stuff on his Mac. Nobody paid a flashy company millions of dollars to come up with and execute a carefully planned strategy designed to sell products.

In the time of Jesus, crucifixion was not just a death sentence. It was a painful, humiliating, shameful death sentence. The cross then would have been a symbol of shame, of worthlessness, of torture and death. Jesus was sentenced to die on the cross, not just to execute him, but to humiliate him. He was hoisted up there to not only deprive him of his life, but his dignity - and the dignity of his followers as well. Their leader, their great rabbi in whom they put their faith, was stripped, beaten, and killed like a common criminial.

What a wonder it is that today we drive by nearly any Christian church and see a cross. What was once a symbol of death and humiliation has become the most recongizable, powerful symbol of Christ Jesus. We wear the cross around our necks, we display them in our homes and in our churches. We process a crucifix up the aisle at mass, displaying it at the center of our worship. Even the most austere churches who have rejected any ornamentation usually still display a cross.

The cross today is the ultimate symbol of God's grace, mercy, and unconditional, unending love. It reminds us of the sacrifice of Jesus and the salvation God offers us (for free, by the way - you can't get a better deal than that). As if the story of Jesus needed anything to make it more incredible, He took something that was a symbol of shame and death and reformed it into the symbol of love and salvation.

The cross has become something beautiful, something extraordinary. And the fact that Jesus' act of dying on that cross, and rising again to new life, took a symbol that was so negative and made it the ultimate positive is just the tiniest hint at how powerful God really is. It gives us the smallest of glimpses into the power Jesus has to change the world. If He can take one little symbol of death and transform it into the ultimate symbol of salvation and life, imagine what He can do if we let Him in our hearts.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Soccer, take one

Today was our first day of fall sports games. David, my oldest, is playing his second year of flag football, coached by the fabulous team of Daddy, Uncle Chris and our friend Dan. They had a great game - David's only complaint was when it was over. He wanted to play more.

We're making a second run at team sports with our four-year-old son, Grayson. T-ball was a bust last spring. I should have listened to the kid; when it came time to sign up, I asked him if he wanted to play and he said no. My response? "Of course you want to play! You can play on your own team, just like David!" He still said no, I still signed him up, and he didn't like it one bit. Looking back, I should have known. He's not a baseball kind of kid. There is far too much standing around and waiting. He liked hitting the ball and running to first base, and he didn't even mind waiting at each base to run to the next one. But being in the outfield was pure torture. He got frustrated very quickly that he wasn't getting a chance to catch the ball. There were too many kids on his team last year and the coaches (sadly) didn't do a very good job, so the whole experience wasn't great. We wound up going to the first couple of games, and then just letting it slide. It was too frustrating for all of us and we decided it wasn't worth pushing something like that at age 4.

We thought soccer might be more to his liking, and he'd played soccer a little bit at preschool, so he had an idea of what it was. When I asked if he wanted to play on a soccer team, I got an emphatic yes, so I took a chance and signed him up.

He did great at the two practices he's had so far. He participated, he listened, he ran around after the ball. He seemed a little distracted at times, but overall it went fine.

And then came today's game.

He started out ok, but mostly he was just running up and down the field (I guess you'd still call it a field, although it was inside in the gym). He didn't seem to really understand what he's supposed to do. Running around after the crowd of other kids got old pretty quickly, and the hustle and bustle seemed a little overwhelming. When Grayson gets overwhelmed (or frustrated) he shuts down. He checks out. This is too hard, I don't know what I'm doing, and so I'll just stop and do nothing. That's his deal.

Thankfully his coach was really sweet and helped coax him back into playing a little. But he really had no clue what he was supposed to be doing. I suppose from his perspective, it was just a bunch of kids running around, up and down the gym, trying to get a ball that seemed impossible to actually touch, due to said kids. At one point he asked the coach if they could play a different game now. Later, he asked us why they can't just take turns kicking the ball, like they did in practice.

The tough part with him is that, in this type of situation, instead of trying harder to get the ball, he stops trying at all - and then gets frustrated because he isn't playing. The fact that he makes it worse for himself doesn't occur to him. By the end of the game, he was walking up and down the gym, looking everywhere but where the ball was going. I think at one point, he was singing something, looking up at the ceiling.

His lack of attention wouldn't bother me near as much if he was having fun while doing it and excited about trying again. But his shutting down mechanism kicks in when he doesn't like what is happening around him and he can't control it. So he cuts himself off. He doesn't like feeling that way, so it makes the whole experience negative.

Fearing a repeat of baseball (not only did we already pay for this, but I don't know how many times I will be willing to let him join a team and then quit, although I know he's only 4), we all tried to keep it light and positive after his game. Rather than focusing on how utterly maddening it was to watch him out there, doing almost nothing, and knowing he was hating it because he wasn't getting to kick the ball, we told him he did great and it was a great first try and that maybe we should get him a soccer ball for home so we can practice and learn. He seemed to like that idea, and much to my relief, he did not declare that he's never playing soccer again.

Later this evening, we did go and get him a soccer ball. He picked out a red one (apparently he needed to match his bright red soccer socks that he picked out last week) and said over and over how much he loves his new ball and how he's going to kick it every day. The kid can be ridiculously sweet when he wants to.

The thing is, I have such a hard time understanding Grayson. He is an utter mystery to me in so many ways. His brother, I get. David needs a lot of attention, reassurance and praise. He loves being the center of everything and he thrives on achieving things. I know how to reach David, I know how to motivate him. Grayson is an entirely different little person. He is so much like his Daddy, and his Papa as well. In fact, he might be more like my father-in-law than my husband. They both possess this quality that makes them, enigmatic, in a way. They are not forthcoming with their feelings, and they are both really hard to read. It would almost be easy to assume that my father-in-law has few feelings other than a friendly joviality, which seems to be his typical demeanor. He runs far deeper than that, I know, but it's hard to find it. He's not a feely kind of person. And neither is Grayson.

Grayson could be crushed over something and all you will see is a slight downturn of his mouth and a little bit of something in his eyes. He won't necessarily tell you if something is wrong, and when you ask, very often the answer is, "I don't know!" I think often, that's true - he doesn't know. He just knows that something doesn't feel right, but he has a hard time sorting out his feelings and understanding what they mean, let alone communicating them to someone else. It makes it really difficult to help him when something is wrong. And sometimes I worry about how often I'm missing things with him, times when he is upset or hurting and I don't realize it because he doesn't know how to tell me.

Watching him out there, looking so lost amidst the other running, scrambling children, made my heart ache a little. He is simultaneously intensely frustrating and intensely endearing. His enigmatic nature confuses me to no end, yet I am so intrigued by his uniqueness. He shares so many characteristics with his father and the funny thing is, my husband doesn't understand him much better than I do (although my husband would tell you that he doesn't understand himself half the time, so maybe that's part of the problem). Much like his father, he is a study in contradictions. He is mellow, yet difficult; happy, yet reserved; chaotic and impulsive, yet often displaying discipline beyond his four years.

As his parent, he will always pose unique challenges. He doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve like his brother does. You have to dig deeper with him to get to the core of what is going on in that little body, heart and soul. It's in there, and if you have enough patience, you can find it. But he doesn't make it easy.

He sure is lucky he's cute.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

God apparently knows what He's doing

I know, right? Who knew.

I resisted the idea of homeschooling for a long time. I thought it would be too hard, too much work, something that was fine for others, but not for me. Yet something kept tickling the corners of my mind, bringing the thought to my consciousness every so often. I had some concerns about whether traditional schooling was right for our family, but I tried to stuff those doubts beneath a pile of "It will be good enough," type thoughts.

(I'm sure I've said it before, and I'll say it again here - I'm not knocking schools, or teachers, or people who send their kids to school. I'm not judging other people's choices on this.)

Once I opened my heart to the possiblity of homeschooling, amazing things started to happen. I let that whisper speak to me and I finally started listening. I gave the voice heed, I looked into it, I researched my brains out (because that's how I roll), and ultimately made a rather last minute and semi-hasty decision to pull my son out of public school and jump, head first, into the icy depths of the ocean that is homeschooling.

Only, the water isn't icy. In fact, it's gloriously warm. I realized along the way that God had been leading me here all along, even during those times when I tried my darndest to tell myself homsechooling wasn't for me. He knew what would be good for our family (shocker, there), He knew what would be best for us. He led me to this place and now that I am here, it is nothing short of fabulous.

We get up in the morning and we are together. I don't have to rush anyone off to school to be parted from us for the entire day. We sit down in the schoolroom we created, still wearing our pajamas if we want. My younger kids play and read and interrupt constantly, but it feels like the way things should be for us. We play math games and read poetry and classic children's literature. We read about the life of Jesus and the teachings of the church. We'll study art and music as we go. We learn about the world, about animals, and about nature. We do art and cooking projects. We go outside and get dirty. We Google stuff a lot.

I know there will be days when I am overwhelmed, or stuck in a rut. And truthfully, looking forward into the expanse of time, it is easy to be seduced by anxiety over the questions and what ifs that may pop up along the way. Will I be able to teach all three? Will they make enough friends? Will I miss something? Will I get burnt out?

And yet, I must put all anxiety aside and rest in the grace of God. For it is He who led me here. I am already seeing the fruits of my obedience to His call. My son is happier, I am happier, his brother and sister are happier. Our learning stretches into the corners of the day and I can nurture my son's passion for discovery. This path may not be for everyone, but it certainly seems to be agreeing with our family.

It is a gift to be led by God to something that so enhances your vocation. Homeschooling feels like the most natural extension of my mothering. I am so glad I heeded the call.

(And remind me to read this post when I get frustrated or have one of those "I can't do this" type of days!)

A letter to my daughter

To my dearest daughter,

I am afraid that your current campaign to abolish naptime must not continue. You are two, and as a child of such tender age, you need your sleep in the midst of the day. Desperately. Pulling the pillow out of the window that is there in leiu of a curtain so the sunlight streams in will not help your plight. Throwing all the blankets and babies out of your crib will not make me come in and resuce you from your imprisonment.

Believe me, my sweet girl, there will be many more times when I require something of you that you disagree with. One day, you will realize that I do it for your own good, because I love you and because I know what is best for you. It may not seem that way right now. You seem rather content to throw things in your room and sing and play until I come get you. But please trust me, lying down like your body is telling you to do, and closing those pretty eyes, will bring you a lot more happiness than continuing to fight the inevitable.

Your brothers both went through a similar phase, at this very age, so I'm on to you. I know that this will pass and soon you'll be happily snoozing away the early afternoon hours, and waking up much happier and sparing the rest of us from your screeching and overall discomfort after dinner. Please, for the good of everyone in this house... just take a nap!

Love, Mom

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Buyer's Remorse

Our parish is putting together a directory, which means we all get to go have our pictures taken. We had ours today and I left with a very dramatic feeling of buyer's remorse.

We scurried out this morning in search of some matching or at least coordinating shirts for us all to wear and wound up with a nice ensemble. We went in, the kids did well, and the pictures turned out quite nice. Overall, I'd be happy enough with the experience if a) the pictures hadn't been so danged expensive and b) I'd have gone with my first reaction and said "no thanks" due to a).

When they sat us down to show us the pictures, she gave us some package options. Before she showed us any pricing, I was thinking it would be great to get a family picture for us and maybe a few to give to our parents. They did get some nice shots, after all.

Then she got to the price. Ouch! I think she could tell we were suprised because she immediately started showing us a couple different options that weren't quite as expensive. I thought about it a bit and what I wanted to say was, "Sorry, we won't be purchasing anything, but thanks anyway." What I found myself doing was justifying the cost (they were nice pictures, after all and I'm sure my mom would be willing to chip in a little, and we're here and it feels weird to walk away from these nice pictures without buying anything.....)

So we bought a package. I regretted it as soon as we left the building. I have a friend who is a fabulous photographer (professionally) and for what we just spent on pictures, she could have done a full shoot with family shots and individual shots of the kids and everything, with plenty of beautiful-quality prints. Plus, I'd have rather given her the business, regardless of what I spent.

It's still bothering me and I suppose it will for quite a while. We are trying SO hard to get out of debt and get in a better financial position. We did not have the money to splurge on expensive pictures, regardless of whether they are nice.

I'm half tempted to go back over there and see if I can cancel my order, although I doubt I could at this point (and I don't think they are there still, so I'd have to check back later in the week). Plus, I'll be honest, I'd be really embarrassed.


The paralysis of too much and getting things done

I find that when I am getting behind on things - laundry isn't put away, family room us cluttered with odds and ends, floors are looking rather... spotted, to-do list is lengthening - I feel paralyzed with all I have to do and wind up doing... nothing.

Which, of course, is the exact OPPOSITE of what I should do in that situation. My stress level is so remarkably alleviated by the simple accomplishment of some of my tasks. Check a thing or two off the list, and suddenly, what do you know, the list gets shorter!

Imagine that.

Yet I put myself in this position all too often. I see the stack of bills piled up in the kitchen, and it reminds me that I haven't kept our budget spreadsheet updated in far too long. The stack of unfolded laundry taunts me, and I swear to you, it breeds (I just wish it would breed something cute and fashionable). My to-do list for work grows longer and deadlines loom. But instead of just tackling that stack of bills, updating our budget spreadsheet (even if the news isn't great), folding the stupid laundry and getting a project or two off my list, I ignore everything..

Fortuantely, today my darling husband provided me some prime time to get things ticked off my list, and I feel free as a bird. I sat down for nearly four hours straight and got all my work projects done and sent off. I don't remember the last time I had a completely checked-off work to-do list. The laundry is swishing and I should have just enough time to get most of it put away before the rest of my little fam comes home from their adventure. The bills have been paid, the budget is updated and although there are still about a thousand other things I need to do (meal plan, grocery list, lesson plan for next week, prereading books, curriculum I need to return by mail, new YMCA cards to order, and don't even get me started on the clutter....) -  my heart is lighter.

I need to remember how effective GETTING THINGS DONE is as a stress management tool.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Is it bad?

Is it bad that I often let my four-year-old son wear the same clothes for 2 days straight (including overnight)? I mean, he can't be *that* dirty, right? He's only a four year old boy.....

Is it bad that my six-year-old son is addicted to nutella spread and I let him eat it right out of the jar? We try to limit sugar and grains, but he is so picky, and while the rest of us are eating spoonfuls of almond butter, he has to eat *something*, right?

Is it bad that I let my two-year-old daughter wear worn out Target dress up shoes when we leave the house? Either that or rainboots that she invariably takes off (which I then have to carry) as she goes barefoot.

Is it bad that I tell my kids, "I have to go do some work on my computer," when they get some TV time in the afternoon? "Work" hmmmm. Pretty soon they're going to learn what Blogger and Facebook look like and I'll be in trouble.

<Shrug> Nobody's perfect :).

Friday, September 16, 2011

7 Quick Takes Friday

1. I am most definitely in the homeschooling honeymoon period, if there is such a thing. Right now, I love, love, love it. I hope that lasts, although I am prepared to find that we go through times when it isn't so smooth and maybe I'm not so in love with the whole thing. But for now, it's seriously awesome and I'll take awesome when I can get it!

2. I not quite so in love with the fact that I have to get up at 6am to get in my workout. That part isn't the best, but in the grand scheme of things, it's a small sacrifice to make in order to follow God's call for my life. That said... yawn!

3. Speaking of working out, I only hit the gym twice this week, but considering that's about how many times I had worked out in the last MONTH, it was pretty awesome.

4. I'm reading Charlotte's Web to my first grader. I haven't read that story in years and I am enjoying it as much as he is! I am such a bookworm and it is so gratifying to hear him ask for "just one more chapter!"

5. My four-year-old is welcome to join us while I read, but he is rejecting this whole "homeschool" thing quite soundly and whenever I pick up a book or suggest any activity, he immediately finds something else to do. This doesn't bode so well for next year when he'll be in kindergarten and I will be attempting to include him in our schooling a little more. I'm hoping by then he'll be over his little rebellion and will at least give it a shot. Otherwise I might be dumping him off at the office of David's old school so he can see the principal.

6. Speaking of school, and working out, and early mornings... I'm tired. It's about 9:00pm my time and I wouldn't mind going to bed right... about... now......

7. And I just might have had some wine tonight, which is making me sleeeeeepy........

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Food should taste good

A few months ago my husband and I made some rather dramatic changes to our family's diet, ditching most grains, sugar, and processed foods in favor of a diet that is heavily weighted towards meats, eggs, vegetables, natural oils, fruits, nuts and some dairy. We're not following anything specific, but did a lot of research and decided to soundly reject the "low fat" mantra we've heard our whole lives. We now enjoy a lot of butter.

Not long ago, I overheard a bit of a conversation between a trainer and her client at my gym. She was talking about the importance of following the diet she had laid out for the client and how, "You really need to just think of food as fuel now, not eat for enjoyment." What has struck me during this time (among other things), is that the low-fat idea did a lot to take away our enjoyment of food. I think part of the trainer's message was something to the effect of, "Don't sit in front of the TV and eat a tub of ice cream just because it tastes good." But there's another side to that message - if you're enjoying what you eat, it must be bad for you, and therefore shouldn't be eaten without a healthy dose of guilt.

But why can't good for you food taste good? The problem is, stripping the fat out of everything leaves a lot to be desired in the taste arena. Take broccoli, for example. A very good-for-you green vegetable, and some people are fine eating it plain. But slather on some butter, and whammo - that's good stuff. My kids eat it up like crazy. They've even been known to ask for broccoli with their lunch (ok, I'm bragging a little there.) The point is, fat makes food taste good. And that isn't a bad thing!

If your dinner plate doesn't have a big pile of nutritionally useless carbs on it (which may as well be a bowl of sugar), you have all kinds of caloric room for fat. And the truth of it is, fat isn't bad for you. Even the saturated kind! I know, I know, it sounds crazy. But I'm convinced that the "low-fat" diet is not only ineffective, it's counterproductive and very often harmful. Plus, it tastes like crap.

I want my food to taste good. And it does. I'm no gourmet cook, but I do love cooking and I love making food that gets lots of "Mmmmms," from the people at my table. I love that we eat things with butter, cook things in oils, and add bacon. Our food is delicious, and it is so freeing to enjoy something without feeling guilty about what I've eaten. Even when I treat myself to something "off the menu" like a sugary dessert, I don't fret. I know it's not the norm and so my body isn't going to automatically paste it to my thighs.

Food should taste good, and good food - real food - does. So slather on some butter, crumble some bacon on top, and enjoy!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Men-bashing and being the mother of sons

I grew up repeating jokes about men. The "men suck" mantra often escaped my lips in some form or another. Whether I had any specific reason to be angry at a particular example of the male gender or not, I can't recall. It simply seemed like something women do - we bitch about men. After all, they're annoying, chauvinistic, often stupid and don't understand women at. all.

And then I had a son.

Suddenly those man jokes didn't seem so funny. Memories of my junior high friend joking, "Kill 'em all and let God sort them out," didn't seem nearly as hilarious as it had when I was 14 (and why were we joking about "men" when we were 14?). All those male-bashing quips, which at one point seemed designed to bond women together in our quest for freedom from male domination (or something?)... they suddenly seemed so wrong as I looked into the eyes of my precious baby boy.
There, in my arms, was a boy. A tiny little human being who will one day become a man. One of "them". To many women of this day and age (whether they admit it to themselves or not), the enemy. How can I make such callous male-bashing jokes about my own son? Because he will be one of them, a man grown, and the very subject of such hateful jokes.

He is my son.

It made me rethink how I talk about men. Sure, I have moments where I'm annoyed with my husband and I think, "He's such a GUY!" But usually I'm frustrated because we're not seeing eye to eye and it's probably an issue we've clashed over before and my first instinct is to blame it on the fact that he doesn't think like I do because he is a man. But the, "all men suck" mantra? It feels so incredibly wrong. My little men do not, in fact, suck. Quite the opposite and I do not believe that it is an inevitable conclusion that as men, they will. It is my sincere hope and belief that my sons will grow up to be good men. Good men who love God, love the people around them, and treat others with respect and kindness. Do I think they are now or ever will be perfect? Of course not, I am not delusional. But I do believe in the existence of good men (I know quite a few of them) and I think my boys have great potential to be among them - great men who are not deserving of the kind of half-joking, but half-serious male bashing that is so common among females in our culture.

So next time someone is laughing it up with their girlfriends and bashing on men, think for a moment whether your son, your nephew, your best friend's child, your cousin or your grandson... even your brother or your father... deserve it. And what does it say about us that we so callously berate the men in our lives, even in supposed jest.