Monday, February 10, 2014

30 years

Yep.  The rumors are true.  Today is my 30th birthday.  As crazy as it seems to have arrived at that birthday, it really doesn't feel crazy at all.  It feels right.

I've spent this month looking back at the last 10 years...

Living and teaching in Argentina for a year

Coming home and falling in love with a man who quickly became my best friend

Student teaching in Bolivia

Graduating from college

Marrying my best friend

Greeting our firstborn

Watching Teacher Man graduate

And figuring out life with a child

Right before we discovered that we'd be figuring out life with childREN

And then falling even more in love with these guys who shower me with a crazy amount of grace

 Before welcoming their sister into the world

And watching my boys become the BIG brothers

To a very adventurous little girl

Not to mention 7 moves, 5 jobs, and 3 mortgages.

All that said, I'm ready to call it a decade.  As I look at these pictures, I remember hundreds of life lessons learned and relearned; dozens of faces of mentors, role models, and teachers who invested their time in my soul; and too many precious and irreplaceable people to count.  I could not be more grateful for the way my Savior has led me and the people I have had the privilege of walking (and sometimes running) alongside in this journey. It's been a privilege and an honor.  So goodbye 20's!  Thanks for the great ride!  We'll see what the 30's hold.... starting.... NOW!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Not a morning person

To say I'm not a morning person is an understatement.  Motherhood and the introduction of multiple sleep interruptions each night has brought this to a whole new level.  Last night was pretty mild though.  One kid with a bad dream.  Two texts messages from Caleb's preschool.  Some excited talking from the boys' room at an ungodly hour of the morning.  Not too bad for our home.

However, I realized halfway through breakfast how foggy I really was.  I had made myself a grilled cheese.  Call me crazy, but I really never feel like oatmeal or cereal in the morning.  And most mornings I am way too groggy to whip up pancakes.  So grilled cheese it was.  I even have a goofy song I sing about eating lunch foods for breakfast.  Ask my boys to sing it for you.  I don't sing it in public.  I've gotta preserve some dignity...says the woman who does the "raise the roof" move to get her baby to eat green beans.  Hey... ya gotta do whatcha gotta do.

I sat down at the table for some time in the Word while I drank my first cup of coffee and enjoyed my deliciously crunchy grilled cheese sandwich.  First bite... good.  Second bite... soo good.  Third bite... what is this hard thing in my mouth?  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I had cooked the twist tie from the bread into my grilled cheese sandwich.  Hold your applause.  Seriously.

This would seem pretty funny if I hadn't accidentally put a piece of cardboard from the cereal box in my cereal yesterday... and chewed it for a second before realizing how not cinnamon crunchy it was.  Now you know why Teacher Man is in charge of making the coffee.  And why my children almost never get a hot breakfast (besides oatmeal out of the microwave, toaster waffles, and, of course, grilled cheese sandwiches).

I'd love to be that mom... you know... the one who serves a three-course hot breakfast that it perfectly balanced and makes you want to get out of bed in the morning singing showtunes, but having three beautiful and very real children has made me realize that it's better for me to catch 30 more minutes of sleep and sanity than it is to have a hot breakfast.  I'd rather my kids had cold cereal and a kindly speaking momma than a three-cheese omelet and a tired, angry mom.  Amen.

So for the rest of you non-morning moms, way to get out of bed today and smile!  You have done a great thing!  And for those morning mothers who love to get up and make hot breakfast, feel free to come over any time!  I like my bacon extra crispy and my grilled cheese sandwiches without twist ties.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


For the last month, I have lived within the four walls of our home with only a few outings.  I have to say... I would be a very good hermit... for a while.

Certain things about being home are amazing.  Having unlimited time to read with my kiddos.  Making giant pots of soup to keep everyone warm.  Making cup after cup of tea to drink.  Taking nap times to read books that have been on my nightstand for far too long.  Hanging pictures in this crazy house (FINALLY!).  Talking with Teacher Man about life, our kids' hearts, and the struggles of my heart.

I feel healed in so many ways by the solitude.  And the time to actually reflect and talk has changed our family... for good.  Here's where we settled:

1. We decided to take a month-long break from having Caleb in preschool.  After having a few weeks off for Christmas, I realized how much getting everyone up and out the door by 7:50 a.m. was draining us.  Caleb LOVED his time with his teacher and friends, but the stress of dragging two half-sleeping little siblings into their car seats in the cold was really getting to me.  REALLY getting to me.  So for the month, Caleb is doing some handwriting, phonics, and math with me (per his choice).  He has also been promised at least one day a week to play with a friend.  So far, so good.

2. Do you ever feel like you are just running on empty?  It's scary, but I feel like I've been in a desperation cycle for the last six months of my life. My apologies to the friends and family who have lived with me! This is what happens when you try to move your household and raise three kids in your own strength for the approval of man.  So a new boundary has been put in place.  No screens until the Bread of Life has been eaten, the only food that satisfies.  It may not be much, but I take a few minutes to do Word of Life's daily passage, reflecting on what the passage says and how it applies to my life.  And then I pull out my list.  My Thousand Gifts.  And I count.  Starting the day with giving thanks back to the Giver of Life.  It keeps me seeing His gifts, and it's filling me up.  Feeling stronger by the day.

3. I'm moving.  Not houses (PTL!) but myself.  Rather than seeing physical activity as something to be avoided, I am embracing the stairs as my friend, the laundry baskets as my fitness helpers, and my children as my workout buddies.  Current workout routines include cleaning floors, doing massive amounts of laundry, and playing very competitive hide 'n seek tournaments.  I have never run so fast in 15 seconds or had more fun with my children.  I still walk/run with a friend a couple of evenings a week, but I want to embrace being active as a part of our family's daily life.  Teacher Man has been biking to work as long as the ice has been cleared off the road.  Bless him.  I hate cold.

4. We're learning.  I want my children to actually see my love for learning, both about the Lord and about the world that He made.  This means we're reading together (something we've always done), but I'm also reading books for my own personal enjoyment and enrichment in front of them.  I want them to know that we have not arrived as adults.  Teacher Man and I are still reading to learn and to have fun.  And, frankly, modeling this learner's spirit is just downright delightful.  These last few weeks have reminded me how much I love the written word.

5. Our dinner table looks very different due to Ben's allergy needs.  Much to my oldest child's dismay, we're eating a dairy-free, egg-free diet.  No cheese.  No milk.  No yogurt.  No cream.  No butter.  Thanks to having Teacher Man home for an extra week, I had time to do more research into making kid-friendly, DF (dairy-free) food now that macaroni and cheese is no longer standard fare.  I've also discovered the beauty of my dutch oven in the process.  OH MY GOODNESS!  Where has this thing been all my life?  I had a dutch oven that I didn't season (easy process!) for two years.  What was I thinking??  So easy to clean.  Goes from stove top to oven.  I could hug that thing (when it's cold, of course).  And it's cobalt blue.  Sigh.  So while I say goodbye to cream of chicken soup, it's nice to say hello to a new friend.

6. We're opening our doors.  There's something about feeling unrested and over-scheduled that makes you want to lock your doors when you actually are at home.  The retreat of the last few weeks and a more relaxed schedule is really motivating , and we're trying to reach out to moms, to families, to old friends, to college students with a renewed focus.

So I'm in the middle of a life that needs tweaking.  Yep, T-W-E-A-K-I-N-G tweaking.  (Name that movie.)  It took me far too long to wake up to the fact that what we were doing just wasn't working for our family and was even hindering us from showing grace to others and to one another.  So there's another gift to add to the list.

145: Waking up to what was holding me back
146: God doesn't give up on us but continues to work in our lives.
147: A change of pace that has been oh-so-healing.
148: Being snowbound.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Dear Grandma Laura & Grandpa Robert,

I cannot tell you how many times that I have thought of one or both of you in the last month.  Even though this isn't the first Christmas you have been gone, I am feeling the loss of your presence most this Christmas.

A thousand little and big things remind me of you.  Starting out the day with a piece of hot buttered toast, just like you used to make for me, Grandpa, after you came in from milking the cows in the morning.  Taking a shower and smelling well water.  That smell will forever take me back to your farm.  Tucking my daughter, your namesake, under one of your afghans, Grandma.  And saying her name... Laura.  You are everywhere.

Our home is full of reminders of tangible reminders of you.  Your nativity rests on top of my piano this year.  All set up and waiting for the Christ child.  Your books (and the notes you made in them) reside on my bookshelves.  Your china served my family at Thanksgiving.

Your traditions have made their mark on the next generation.  Mom is carefully making sure every child and grandchild has gifts that delight each of them in a personal way.  And just so you know, she buys socks every year for my husband now just like you used to for Dad.  No one is allowed to open a single present until the obligatory "kids under the Christmas tree" picture is taken.  The youngest children still pass out the gifts.  And Mom has made at least six kinds of cookies... just. like. you.

One more thing.  We worship the Lord you love.  The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  The God Who meets with people at camp meeting and at the kitchen sink.  It's in Him that I take hope tonight.  That the love that I received from you was just a tiny taste of the love God has for me.  That the longing that I feel to talk to you, laugh with you, wrap my arms around you is a small reflection of a deeper longing for Heaven.  The land of no more goodbyes.  Home.

And as I put the Baby Jesus in the Nativity tonight to celebrate His coming, it just seems so right.  God with us.  Emmanuel.  He came down to us.  And you both are now with Him.  Whole. They say we will all sing together in Heaven, but something in me wonders, Grandma, if you'll be playing the piano.

Your granddaughter,

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Meeting Ben

This is my son, Ben.  Smiley. Sweet. Sneaky. So darn squishy and huggable. And if you look closely, you'll see the tear in his eye. Ben has always been my weapy child, never too far from a frustrated meltdown of tears.  He bounces back quickly (as this photo demonstrates), but his tears are never far from the surface... until recently.

Almost exactly a year ago, we were referred to an allergist.  Ben had frequent facial rashes around his mouth, which I just assumed were eczema.  He can thank me someday for the sensitive skin.  The allergist recommended removing eggs from his diet, which was a bigger deal than you might think.  Custard, baked goods, salad dressings... they all have eggs or an egg by-product in them.  We faithfully removed the eggs and would know when we slipped up by the rash that would immediately form around Benjamin's mouth.  

However, even when we had gotten really good at weeding out the eggs, Ben was still getting the awful rashes around his mouth.  I trekked back to the allergist (who is an hour away from our home) to see what else we should be avoiding, and he immediately suggested taking Ben off of milk and ALL milk products.  

Doesn't sound so bad until you remember how many things have milk in them.  Like EVERYTHING.  Let's just review the basics: cheese (oh my word, do I love cheese), yogurt (a staple in our home), ice cream, sour cream, and butter.  Oh wait... butter is in every baked good known to man.  AND whey is in far too many breakfast cereals, crackers, breads, and boxed mixes.  While I initially looked at this milk allergy as a cooking-everything-from-scratch death sentence, I wanted to give it a try.

Just as an aside, the allergist told me that I might notice a difference in personality if Ben were really allergic to milk.  You see, the body of an allergic person reacts to the allergy-inducing foods as it would to a drug.  Kids with milk allergies often are described sleepy, dazed, foggy-brained, or lazy; but, in reality, they are living in a drugged state 24/7 due to the whey, cheese, yogurt, and milk that the food pyramid tells us we are supposed to be feeding them.

We came home and cleaned out the cupboards, putting all the foods containing whey aside so we could help Ben make good snack choices.  I changed our menu to more a whole-foods diet since we were going to need to know exactly what had been put into everything.  Might as well keep it simple and just have meats, veggies, fruits, and homemade breads.  Besides, no one feels like they are being deprived when they are eating a good spoon roll.  Amen??  In fact, just writing this sentence has caused me to get up and get myself a spoon roll.  Oh. so. good.

Two weeks went by.  Teacher Man and I were both eager to debunk this allergy because... well... we missed cheese.  And Ben cried at lunch when he couldn't have yogurt.  Poor little guy.  

After about three and a half weeks, I was out doing errands with Ben and little Laura, when I noticed something was different.  Ben was talking.  Like non-stop, just like his mama, talking.  And it made sense.  And it was directed at me.  And he was waiting for me to answer him.  And when I did, he listened.  And when I gave instructions, he obeyed.  And when we had to leave the playplace, he was cool about it, understanding that we would come back another day.  Hmmm...

Every night at supper, everyone in our family shares his favorite part of the day.  Ben always wants to go first, but often says, "I forget," when we ask him and then he copies his brother's favorite part.  Every. night. That night, Ben would. not. be. quiet.  He shared all about his morning out with Mama in great detail.  I had never heard him retain information like that.  Poor Caleb. He had never had to share the airwaves at the dinner table before.  It took forever for Ben to share all of the details and for us to get to Caleb's favorite part of the day; but by that time, I was in tears.  I had just met my son.

I hadn't even realized the toll that Ben's spacey behavior had taken on me until that moment.  Suddenly I had a fully coherent child.  And it wasn't just his speech that changed. 

The next day, Benjamin stepped on me.  If you know Ben, you know that he often uses his limbs in ways that are painful.  He's not being malicious.  He just flops around and really never notices when he's causing pain.  I cried out, "Ouch!  Ben, you hurt Mommy!" which normally would not even phase him, but immediately he looked right into my eyes with sadness and said, "I sorry, Mommy.  Are you okay?"  And then, he started moving more carefully and even sat in my lap gently to be sure he wouldn't hurt me again.  Never before had we been able to get through to him the need for gentleness and caution.  Suddenly, he got it.

The next day, he played with the same toy for over two hours.  Ben had always struggled to full engage with anything besides the television.  Board games were over for him after a couple of turns.  Not so any more.  He finished a board game with my Mom yesterday.  I cannot tell you how huge that is.

There have been WAY fewer tears.  WAY fewer tantrums.  And no wonder.  He's living with a lot less frustration.  He can think clearly.  Hear us clearly.  Wake up feeling rested.

It makes me think of when I am on cold medicine.  I feel fuzzy-brained, and I'm not being thoughtful of the needs of others.  I'm just trying to put one foot in front of the other.  I also eat more because I feel tired (this is totally Ben!).  And I'm more clumsy (totally Ben too!).  That's how it seems he felt when his body had dairy.  

Our family loves Jesus.  That's who we are.  My kids are pumped about going to church any time the doors are open because of all the people there who show Christ's love to them so well.  Last Sunday evening I decided to do something brave.  Go to evening church.  There is no children's program during evening church, but it was the choir's Christmas program so I thought we'd give it a try.  Ben normally flops around in the pew, can't sit still, chews on things incessantly (including the pews), and cries.  It's a trying experience every time.  Halfway through the cantata that night, I started to cry.  Ben was sitting on the edge of the pew with perfect posture (he NEVER engages his abdominal muscles if he can help it), listening to every word.  He sat like that for forty-five minutes, hardly moving a muscle except to look up at us and smile because he loved the music.

This is not a scientific study.  It's just our family's experience, but it makes me wonder how many other children are out there, feeling dopey all the time because their bodies are reacting to milk products like normal peoples' bodies react to a strong drug.  I feel immeasurably blessed to have met my son.  To finally truly know the spunky, energetic, hilariously funny boy he was created to be.  It would be easy to beat myself up for not having figured this out earlier, but when I watch Ben (right now he's outside building a snowman with Teacher Man) all I feel is joy and excitement for the new world that has opened up to him.  And if I am ever having a pity party about my cheese-less existence, I only need to watch my son for a moment to realize that it is worth every extra step I take to keep him plugged in, alert, and whole.

(photo courtesy of Nathan Holloway Photography)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

When the adrenaline runs out...

We have been running at breakneck speed, dragging our kids behind us.  Late nights.  Early mornings.  Long days.  Lots of tears.  We're ready to rest, but it doesn't look like an extended stay at a spa is anywhere in this girl's future.

I can feel it.  Feel the adrenaline wearing off.  See my unpacking pace slowing to a mere crawl.  Watch my kiddos having breakdowns.  We've pushed them and ourselves to our limit, but what an incredible ride!

We've moved into a new house.  More space inside.  More space outside.  Which is creating a bit more sanity in our lives (okay, maybe even more sanity when the boxes are all gone).  Despite issue after issue with this new house, we know that God is sovereign, that He has a purpose in placing us in this home.  Therefore, we will be thankful.

Teacher Man is back to school, having had zero summer break.  During the month of June, he packed box after box.  Throughout July, he worked tirelessly at turning our construction site of a house into a safe home for our family.  And in August, he went back to school.  If you are one of the warriors who battle alongside him for the minds of our city's children, be nice to Teacher Man.  It's been a hard, incredibly fast summer.

The kids and I are trying to figure out a new routine.  After much deliberation, Caleb started preschool the week after we moved.  He loves it, but he is also a morning person.  The 8 o'clock starting time is the bane of my existence right now. I hate alarm clocks.

Ben has figured out that Caleb's preschool mornings are his "no one steals my toys" mornings.  He is a different boy!  Non-stop talking.  Funny stories.  Great memories made.  Loving my mornings with my little boy and my little girl.

Laura.  Oh my.  Well, Laura has decided to create her own version of crawling/dragging herself across the floor.  She is incredibly mobile, and in this last week of her life she has mastered da-da, ba-ba, and ma-ma.  Yesterday she even decided to start clapping for herself, and there IS so much to clap about.

I look around every room of our new home with the old mindset of "I'll take care of that on Kitchen Day or Cleaning Day."  One problem though.  Life is so different now that Office Day and Laundry Day aren't always happening in their orderly fashion.  They just aren't.  I'm too busy playing The Very Hungry Caterpillar Game or feeding a baby or reading The House at Pooh Corner because I'm burned out on tasks.

The adrenaline is gone.  Coffee is no longer enjoyable.  It's foundational to functioning.  And the boxes no longer annoy me enough to motivate me.  In fact, if you figure out a way to decorate with corrugated cardboard boxes, our friendship might just get a little deeper.  Having a routine would be great, and I'm sure we'll get there.  For the moment though, just SEEING the people that I live with is so much more important than attacking the next to-do list.

So for those of you who wondered what had happened to us, we're here.  Well... we're in a new here, still seeking to be gracious and show Christ's love to a world in need; but oh so tired. Despite exhaustion, we are reveling in the grace shown to us by the Body of Christ.  And we have about 453 thank-you dinners to host in order to begin to show our gratitude to those who have sacrificially served our family over these summer weeks.  If you've swung a sledge hammer, carried a box, watched our babies, or brought us a meal; consider this your first "thank you" of many.  We are grateful.  Where our adrenaline has run out, grace has filled in the gaps.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Children's Book Baby Shower

So when you tell an elementary teacher that she can throw you a children's book-themed baby shower, be prepared for her to go a little crazy.  Names like Eric Carle, Dr. Seuss, and Beatrix Potter send a teacher into a frenzy.  And don't get me started on Margaret Wise Brown... My sister had no idea how much fun we would have when she told my mom and I we could do this!

Here's a peek at the invite:
I just glued an off-white cardstock rectangle to a 5x7 piece of colored cardstock, used a clear sticker for the "Property of" words, and printed these personalized invite cards from Etsy onto blank 3x5 notecards to be slipped into the pocket that I had created.  So easy!  If you look at the invites on Etsy, you'll notice that our guests were encouraged to bring a favorite children's book in lieu of a card.  My new nephew got a GREAT start to his collection.  One of the reading teachers who came had the wonderful idea of going to the local used bookstore and picking out a great variety of picture books and chapter books so she could really expand this baby's library!  There are really too many great ones to just pick one.

And here's a peek at the shower:

The gift table

And then a different book theme for every guest table.  

Check out the fun, color-coordinating buttons my mom found for this table!

 And Wind and Willow dips for prizes.  YUM!!

Cute, right?  Now for the food...

Jam thumbprint cookies for Jamberry

Strawberries and chocolate dip for The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear

Blue and red goldfish for One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish (They sell these for the Fourth of July!  How lucky is that?)

Deviled Eggs with parsley on top for Green Eggs and Ham (I could NOT have served green deviled eggs.  We have to draw a line somewhere.)

Carrots and herb dip for The Carrot Seed

Cheese in the shapes of bunnies and moons for Goodnight Moon (cause everyone knows the moon is made of cheese!)

And a caterpillar of veggies for The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Oh, and don't forget cookies and milk just in case the mouse from If You Give a Mouse a Cookie drops by.

And if you think this spread looks crazy...

you should see our family at Christmas.

My mom helped me out by wrapping all the display boxes and picking up items for the guest and display tables that I didn't have among the kids' toys. 

We used squares of solid colored wrapping paper for the tables to give them a little extra color.

And you know the best part?  Since I've been crazy busy with the move, I got to pass on the ideas to my amazing mom, and then she took over and made all the food!  Talk about sweet deals!!!!

There's my beautiful mom.  And who is that adorable baby she's holding??  Oh, right.  That's my baby!!!  Clearly, she enjoyed the party.  And I think my sister did too.

Oh, and we played this game and a spin on Scategories where the ladies tried to think of a book title for each letter of the alphabet.  You want to know who won?  The two reading teachers in the room!  

And believe it or not, we had more ideas that we did not have time to get ready.  Oh well.  Next time, right?