Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Years Goals: The ones with a plan B

I've tried all kinds of approaches to "New Year's Resolutions." Everything from swearing them off all together to making a detailed list of them. This year, I'm taking yet another approach. One that (hopefully) works for an accountant who is also a mom of 4 small children. Because if you have little kiddos, you know that it is quite rare that anything go according to plan. You know the essential nature of a "plan b"- you gotta have one in your back pocket. AT.ALL.TIMES.

May I present my 2014 goals-
including plan B.

Plan A: Plan out and stick to a training schedule that includes exercise at least 4 times a week.
Plan B: When I have to go up and down the stairs 947372949272 times a day, I'll run. And count it.

Plan A: Develop a regular sleep schedule for going to bed and getting up.
Plan B: Learn to walk in my sleep so I always feel like I slept through the night.

Be intentional about what we eat
Plan A: Plan out a biweekly menu, trying new dishes and incorporating healthy choices.
Plan B: Plan out a biweekly menu that incorporates healthy choices. And also incorporates the occasional breakfast for dinner and eating out nights. Allow for spontaneous "tonight I just can't cook".

Spend intentional time with my children
Plan A: Plan monthly one-on-one dates with each child. Help them discover their talents and special interests.  Plan learning experiences for the whole family.
Plan B: Recognize the spontaneous opportunities I get each day to teach my kids.  Take them with me to the grocery store, even if it means sweating more.  Talk to them about money and Jesus and friendships and family while we drive in the car, while we snuggle together on the couch and while we eat dinner together.  Be present.

Be involved at the kids' school
Plan A: volunteer more in the classroom, find an organization to be part of, get to know the other parents from our classes by inviting them over.
Plan B: take sonic drinks to the teachers when I think about it.. Say thank you more often.  Say yes when others invite us on play dates.  And recognize moments like taking a forgotten lunch or homework as opportunities to encourage kids I see in the hall and the adults who take such good care of my treasures each day.

Get to know our neighbors
Plan A: Invite neighbors over for dinner and play dates.  Plan regular block parties.
Plan B:  Play in the front yard more.   Hire someone to mow our yard so that when we do get around to having people over we aren't already on the neighborhood naughty list.

Deepen relationships with others
Plan A: Set aside intentional time each week to visit with friends. Send encouraging notes and texts. Listen more.
Plan B: Pray that I'll still have some friends when I do come up for social air.

Do my part to grow our marriage
Plan A: Plan frequent dates.  Find a study or other learning experience to work through together.
Plan B: say thank you more.  Be frustrated less.  Be quick to point out successes and slow to measure by unfair standards.  Always give the benefit of the doubt.  Say I'm sorry.  Have fun together.

Grow in relationship with the Lord
Plan A: Plan out and stick to a daily Bible study plan. Get up early to start my day with the Lord.
Plan B: Pray to become a morning person. Ask for a heart that sees His presence in the busy-ness of each day.

Sweet readers of DRRF- Here's to you and your fresh start in this new year.  I hope 2014 finds you with a spirit that is willing to dream big and set lofty goals.  But also cut yourself some slack this year.  Sometimes as a spouse/parent/neighbor, you'll find that if you'll allow yourself to embrace it- plan B isn't so bad after all.


Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Charlie Brownest

Last year I was a scrooge.
No, really.  I'm serious.
I barely put up a tree (never did put any ornaments on it), I avoided some holiday get-togethers, and to be honest I just wanted all the merriment to go away.

I faked it until we made it through the season.
I made it through with few being none the wiser.
But just barely.

2012 was a year where it felt like we faced more challenges than victories.  Where some of my most valuable possessions- my family's safety and my own integrity- were threatened.  Where I was smacked in the face with realizations that people you love deeply aren't always what you thought they'd be.  Where we had to make the kinds of decisions no one should ever be faced with.  In 2012 I clawed through a faith crisis that no one really knew about.  But mostly last year I was a scrooge because I was so very aware of so much hurt, poverty, and loss in the lives of others that it seemed wrong to celebrate. 

Linus actually summed it up pretty well:
"Charlie Brown, you are the only person I know who can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem.  Of all of the Charlie Browns in the world, you are the Charlie Brownest."

Sure, it sounds melodramatic, I guess it was at the time.  As if a crusade against Christmas could fix the hurt I saw-  I know it sounds ridiculous.  But I'm sharing this piece of my heart now because I'm not sure I'll ever see Christmas the same way again thanks to that season of joy-less-ness.

This year, I decorated my home the week before Thanksgiving.
This year I soaked up getting out every single ornament and putting up garland, and tying bows.
This year I loved planning out our family advent calendar.
And letting the kids decorate this tree.

This year, I'm celebrating.

This year, long before the season actually arrived, the LORD gave me a picture to celebrate.  A picture of transformation and of hope in waiting.  I wrote about that picture of a parade on this blog and many of you could relate.  With that picture I began a Charlie Brown search for purpose in Christmas.

Charlie: I guess I don’t really know what Christmas is about. Isn’t there anyone who understands what Christmas is all about? 

Linus: Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about. 
“And there were in the same country Shepards abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘fear not, for behold, I bring you tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you. Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in the manger.’ And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men. That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."

Then the entire cast helped him take a Christmas tree that was barely holding on to its last branches and make it into something miraculously beautiful.

Transformation began with remembering the reason for the season.  I bet Charlie Brown already knew the story- about a baby named Jesus.  But maybe he needed some help remembering.  And not just remembering the part about the humble beginnings of that baby, but maybe especially the part about the enormous celebration.

And that's what did it for me this year.  Remembering the JOY.  Can't you picture the party?  Angels proclaiming, shepherds rejoicing and dancing in the fields, a star shining brightly in the sky, a proud momma and papa kissing that sweet baby face for the very first time.

Jesus did come humbly.
But he also came so very celebrated.

There was great joy because for the first time the hurts of the world, every single fear, all the poverty and all of the loss had HOPE, there was a Redeemer.  And it was joy for all people...A savior born!

What hasn't changed for me this Christmas is that I still know of many whose deepest Christmas wish can't be wrapped and placed under a tree.  There are desires that weigh heavily on my heart- I wish I could give gifts like forever homes for children, like safety for deployed loved ones.  If I only I could wrap up restored marriages, and healing for grieving hearts.  It would be awesome to mail gifts like an assurance of a next meal or like true freedom from abuse or addiction.  These are gifts I can neither give nor wish into being.

But I believe there is a Redeemer.  I believe in miracles- those I've seen and those I await.

Which is why more than anything, this Christmas, I want the WORLD...or at least my little world...to see us CELEBRATE.  I don't want anyone to misperceive our belief to be that the more we experience hurt, frustration, disappointment, or grief means the less we celebrate Christmas.

While I know its a crazy ridiculously fine balance- in some ways I think this means we have to celebrate in a way the world can recognize.  Maybe it means I put up a giant tree.  Maybe it means we give gifts to teachers and friends.  Maybe it means we wear matching Christmas outfits and take festive pictures.  Because this is a PARTY.  And maybe by celebrating we won't lose the spirit of Christmas- maybe instead we'll lead others straight into it.  We may not celebrate by romping in the field with our sheep, but maybe we'll celebrate by romping down the street to look at Christmas lights.  And there, in a whisper, I'll hear my sweet little girl remind us all, "At Christmas we celebrate that Jesus is born!"  And I'll answer, "That's right, baby.  We certainly do.  We definitely celebrate!"

This year, we CELEBRATE.  Like the angels did.  Like the shepherds did.  Like the Wisemen and Mary and Joseph did.  Because Jesus came humbly.  But he also came CELEBRATED.
This year, may you embrace miracles.  Those you've seen and those you await.
May you celebrate with great Joy.
Because long ago a savior was born.
Lets lead people to Him with our celebrations this Christmas.


I love our little Charlie Brown tree in these pictures.
As a gentle reminder of the spirit of this season, it makes me smile every time I pass by.
It leans a little and the lights don't match (one blue strand proudly placed in the middle).
There's a paper chain unfinished because its crafter got distracted.
But I love this tree that was all RRL and I could afford for our first Christmas.
I love that we dragged it out of the attic this year for our kids to enjoy.
I love that it's imperfect. And I love the joy my kids are finding in transforming it.

Thursday, December 5, 2013


 Lately, I've been making an effort to embrace my unpinterestable spirit. I've been letting my kids decorate the back door. With no pattern. And I let them decorate their own Christmas tree without forcing them to finish or worrying about whether the lights matched.

After hours scouring the web for ideas- to purchase or copy- this year's advent calendar is at the very top of my unpinterestable list.

It cost approximately nothing.  KJ and I measured, cut and tied the string.  Cbug made all of the numbers and I even let him cut them out without regard to whether any of them were the same size or shape.  We even stuck holes in the wall with thumb tacks.  GASP.

I used a hodge podge of websites and google images to make the nativity characters we are adding each night.  And I stole the wording from the advent calendar my brothers and I used as children.  Finally, written on the back of each character is our daily "family activity" for counting down the days until Christmas- other unpinterestable ideas like making nativity scenes out of playdough.  (you can read about our 2011 and 2012 countdowns here and here for unpinterestable ideas to share with your family.  I'll post a recap of this year at the end of the month-ish.)

And voila, an advent calendar that is absolutely my very favorite ever.

It is hanging right smack dab in the middle of my dining room where everyone who enters my home can see it.  It is placed like a treasure because we love it that much- not because anyone else would see any value in it.

It is unpinterestable.  And it is so very perfect for our family.

So here's to you.  Whether pinterestable.  Or un.
Find JOY this Christmas in using your talents to embrace the holiday season.
And find ways to share that joy with others.


Monday, November 4, 2013

Oh, those Sleepless Nights

A summer night, just one month after KJ was born, RRL and I were sitting at one of my favorite places- my parents' dining room table.  There aren't many places I'd ever rather be.  Usually it means good food, lots of laughter, maybe some snarky comments from a brother or two and always always always leaving so full my pants need to be loosened and my heart might explode.

On this occassion the entire dinner time crowd was in a spell- staring and swooning over our sweet first born son.  "Nonna" was loving playing her new role and "Granny Frannie" an adopted grandmother was happy to step-in when she needed a free hand.  At some point during dinner one of them mentioned, "ABL, isn't this just the sweetest time of your ENTIRE life?"

And I burst into tears.

Oh, heavens- I sure hope not.  Because if you are telling me that cleaning yellow slimy poop, struggling to breast feed, and not sleeping (oh, how I missed sleep) are the sweetest times of my life- I'm not sure I'm cut out for this parenting thing.  Sure, I loved the little guy in a completely unexplainable sort of way.  Somehow, although no formula could rationalize it, I was absolutely head-over-heels for him.  But I also loved sleep.  Really missed it.  Lots.

I was smack dab in my first of four periods of "I don't think I've ever been this tired. Will I ever sleep again?  I'm not sure rational sentences are even coming out of my mouth.  What day is it?" exhaustion.  And every single time I had a baby, even with more wisdom and less stress in each subsequent period, it was overwhelming.  Yes, every.single.time.

But guess what? And depending on where you are right now in the sleepless-night-stage this may shock you:
Each time I came out on the other side.  At some point (and the points were broadly mapped across the spectrum with our four), I did sleep.

If there is any one question I get asked by other moms most frequently, this probably is it:
HOW do I get them to SLEEP?

Here is usually my answer:  "I have no idea."
Which is why this blog is read by 5.3 people.  Ok, sure, I have ideas.  Lots of ideas.  But beware: so does every other mom you ask.  Everysingleone.  So, do yourself a favor- don't ask.

Because unfortunately (or actually, fortunately) every single baby is different.  So there won't be a perfect solution, created by someone else, that will work for your baby.  I'm so sorry.  If you haven't already, you have GOT to go read this hilarious post by Matt Walsh about why we've gotta quit parenting other people's kids.  Read a few things online if you need to, to make yourself feel better, pick one trusted friend to vent to, and then just do what you gotta do to survive.

And for that, I actually DO have some suggestions.
Tips for surviving sleepless nights (none of which have to do with making your baby sleep more):

1) Hide treats for yourself.  Whatever you love- a favorite lotion, some chocolate, a healthy snack (i mean, if you're like that), a book.  Make them accessible.  Forget a sock drawer in the nursery- you need a survival drawer.  Because lets be real, if you've been up 199 times already you don't want to go scrounging around downstairs for these items.

2) Have your husband (or friend or mom) write you notes about what a great mom you are.  These should be very short and easy to read in a state of delirium.  Wives- YES!  It is absolutely ok to ASK your husband to do this.  He won't ever think to do it on his own, but he'll be so thrilled that his way to "help" at night can be accomplished in the day.  Post these on your bathroom mirror, on a table in the baby's room or as book marks in that book you've stashed (see #1).  Believe the words written in love.  Don't let the enemy of doubt creep into the literal darkness of night.  Its one of his favorite places to lurk.  Instead, believe that you were made for this purpose and this baby was made for greatness.

3) Write yourself notes: "This won't last forever"  "In the morning he'll be adorable"  or favorite verses or other quotes you find encouraging.  Put them where you'll see them.  On top of the wipes dispenser, on the diaper trash can, near the crib, beside your clock (I mean have those glowing red numbers EVER been so annoying)- wherever your eyes might go before your brain goes somewhere you don't want it to be: COVER that space.

3) Get a hobby- something you like doing when you are awake for longer periods of time and something you might even start looking forward to. (watching Downton Abbey, Play Sudoku  reading children's books to your baby, picking out paint colors for the dining room.  You know- hypothetically speaking.) Pick something you'll be proud of in the morning.  Beware of addictions.

4) Keep a journal to jot down notes- on paper or just in your phone.  Just write down where-ever your crazy brain takes you on that midnight train.  You will either A- literally laugh out loud later reading what you thought were perfectly rational thoughts at the time or B-record something that only the Lord could have spoken through an exhausted heart. Either way- it will be a best seller!  Do me a favor though- don't post any of these thoughts online until you are awake enough to be sure you really wanted to share that.

5) Remember it is ok to walk away and breathe.  I'm not talking cry it out (remember this is not about how to make your baby sleep).  I'm just saying- recognize your limit and believe with your heart that if you need to put your baby in a safe place for a few minutes and walk to another room in the middle of the night (while munching on something from your stash), this is perfectly acceptable- even commendable.

6) PRAY!  I know, I just lost a few of you.  But really.  Try this:  Pray for your baby. Pray for your husband.  Pray for your coming day.  Make a list during daytime hours of other people you can pray for.  Grab that list at the moment in which you are thinking your life might be the hardest of all lives ever created.

None of these will make your baby sleep more.  That's my disclaimer.  But maybe one of these will help you make it to the other side!  There is light ahead, I promise.  There are many blessings that will come from this season, indeed.  You'll depend on others, your baby will depend on you, you are just at the very beginning of a relationship that will ROCK YOUR WORLD.

And I think that is what they meant that summer night around my Momma's table- they knew that this sweet baby being born (keeping me up at night, not withstanding) was the beginning of greatness for me.  They'd seen their own babies grow AND SLEEP and love and learn and change and share and give and become.  They'd seen the path that would lead out of those sleepless and selfless nights, so they could recognize the beauty of the beginning.  A beginning I now know I wouldn't trade for all the sleep in the world.


Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Halloween Collision = Favorite Photos

Halloween always causes a collision for me.  The ihatetospendmoney part of me collides with the ihatetomissaparty part.  And my poor children are the downstream result of that collision.  We dress up, but they mostly just get to pick from what we have in the existing dress-up collection.  We don't buy much candy, but tend to come home from trunk-or-treats or whatever festival we attended with a bucket load of chocolate.  Our costumes are generally thought through approximately 36 hours before hand (generous estimate), but always have a calculated (loose) theme.

On second thought- that collision sounds more like sweet harmony to me.

 As a result, I always LOVE the pictures from Halloween. 
They aren't stressful.  Just adorable.
Seriously, these costumes photos are all some of my very favorite pictures of my munchkins.

This year was no exception.  I did actually have this idea a few weeks before Halloween, but when the boys decided to be batman and a pirate for the school book parade and Lou declared her only option to be "a princess", I all but gave up on it.  I decided I'd just dress my one child too little to voice his opinion and move on.  But THE DAY of Halloween- the boys decided they really did want to be these characters for the evening festivities and Lou decided that she would carry the football (while dressed as a wedding princess).  And by golly it worked.
May I present...

My very own Peanuts Gang
Maybe only second to last year, these costumes fit their personalities SO INCREDIBLY WELL.  
side note: only money spent= C's hat (which we'll actually wear) and $1 worth of felt.
Lucy (on her wedding day), Charlie Brown (who loved saying "Oh, GOOD GRIEF" - completely unprompted), Linus (of course with his beloved blanket), and Snoopy (who quite literally howled when we tried to pry his Sonic grilled cheese away.  Pictured here protecting his sandwich with all his sweet little might).

And for fun, heres a little walk back through the last few years...

A princess protected by her knight in shining armor
and swooned by her country music artist.

Buzz, Woody, and toy destroyer from Sunny Side Day Care.

Sleeping Beauty- Aurora, Prince Philip, and the Dragon

A house divided

Yep, pretty much my favorites!  
Can't wait to see what the next couple of months of other all-time-favorite traditions hold in store for us!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A bargain of a photo shoot

 If a picture is worth a thousand words

and I only paid/bribed 40 cents for these

I'd say I got quite the bargain!

These matching-but-not-twin brothers had "Superhero Day" at school today.  When they came downstairs in their matching costumes, I swooned.  (Thanks, Uncle Dan and Aunt Diana).  I mean, seriously, how cute are they?  So, I said "Boys, I know you wouldn't want to leave for school without letting me take pictures of your awesome capes, right? And good news, we'll have just enough time".  Shockingly, this idea was met with much groaning.  And then, in a lightbulb moment from Cbug, "Mom, I really like treats."  Sure, bud, I can play that game.  "I won't give you a treat, but I will give you each a penny."  They must be growing up because they laughed at my offer and raised it to a dime.  You got it!  Then it was cold outside so they each got twenty cents.  Riches, I tell ya.  I love these two!

And my superheros would like to remind you that the 5th annual Teen Lifeline 5K is only a couple of days a way.  Please consider supporting our team this weekend as we work together to make a difference.  Any amount truly does help- who knows, maybe together we'll be real life crime fighters!  


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Why I Should Never be a First Grade Teacher...

I volunteered today in KJ's first grade classroom.  I was there for several hours- mostly wrapped up in cutting and gluing.  Which meant I had plenty of time to watch my adorable first grader and action.  And plenty of time to contemplate this deep topic.

The reasons I shouldn’t be a First Grade teacher, but love volunteering…

I have no poker face.
As a volunteer, I loved sitting at the back table CRACKING UP at some of the things that first graders say. It was just about as close as one could get to really being a fly on the wall. 
"Well, I don't have an answer to that question, but I do have an answer to the one you asked earlier"  

Teacher : "What country was the Puerto Rican Baseball player, Roberto Clemente, from?"  Class "TEXAS!"

Teacher: "Who is someone you admire?" Student: "I admire myself because my parents really love me"

And that was just in a 5 minute story time.
I mean, seriously- how can the teacher just look straight at them, not crack a grin and just go on like what just came out of their mouths is perfectly normal.  Seriously.  I was DYING.

The sum of all of my patience would fit into a First Grade Teacher’s pinky finger.
Seriously.  The room was in constant motion.  Wiggle.Squirm.Cough.Sneeze.Giggle.Fidget.Whisper.
Sharpen a pencil.Go to the restroom.Move to another task.Answer a question.
White boards.Workbooks.Computer.Ipad.Book.
  Most of this motion happened completely seamlessly without her ever uttering a word.  Occasionally she would do this cool clapping rhythm, the class would repeat and everyone would snap back to sitting still and quiet.  Rarely was there a moment when everyone didn’t seem engaged.  Seriously- the control of a First Grade teacher’s patience it is a sight to behold.  And as a volunteered I loved getting to watch this miracle in motion.

I break into a sweat at the thought of anything crafty.

When I met up with KJ’s teacher this morning, she started explaining what she needed help with.  “We (meaning me) are going to create a poster for our class to enter in the Red Ribbon Week contest.”  To which I tried
not to cough.sputter.spew. my coffee.  My mind raced a million miles a minute as to how I was going to politely excuse myself from this task.  “Um- I’m so sorry.  You must have the wrong mom.  You meant Jane’s mom, the artist, right? Apparently you forgot you were getting stuck with KJ’s mom the accountant.  Creative= I’m OUT.”  But while my mind was racing she pulled up a picture on her phone and specific instructions about the poster she wanted.  I took a look and did some quick self-talk.  Before long I had myself talked down from the sweaty ledge and into a peaceful state of “Oh, you said create a poster, but what you meant was ‘Please set up and strategize a trace, cut, glue assembly process”.  Got it.  I’m back.  Totally got this.  Give me five minutes to think and I’ll have it figured out- and you can bet it will be efficient and effective to the max.  My happy place.

I didn't actually put this poster together.  I just traced and cut out every.single.stinkin.piece.  Pretty amazing, huh?  I LOVED being a volunteer.  And can't wait to go back again!


The paws on the poster were written on by each student in the class and have positive ideas for things they could do.  Like "read" or "play soccer" or "play outside".  They are learning early that they have a choice.  They don't just have to say "no to drugs".  Instead, they are learning that there are choices they can make to LIVE LIFE BETTER.  Sound familiar?  Kinda like that mantra for a certain non-profit organization I love.  Teen Lifeline's goal is to continue to speak power into students to make positive choices.  To give them tools to handle life's stresses in a way that they live life better.  I hope you will still consider joining us as we run this weekend to raise money to support these efforts.

I'm not exaggerating when I say that truly, any amount helps.  I'd especially love for some of you "secret" readers of this little piece of the web to come clean by joining me in making a difference. Thanks so much!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Ode to the Tension

Several of you astutely identified the underlying issue with my need for "Free Dress Friday". Some of you even commented "at least they are matching" or "they actually don't look too bad" in their ALL RED, or ALL PINK or ALL BLUE. And I'll admit- most of their outfits really aren't the end of the world. They just happen to be a far cry the shirts with collars or plaid shorts or you know, spreading out the red a little- that I usually choose for them. 

I couldn't pull a fast one on ya'll.... now you are driving me to the point of confession. Because it's true. What may seem easy, or even helpful for some- kids picking out their own clothes- is often difficult for me. In this post, I'll come clean about the real "problem". But  before I get to that, don't forget to stop by my recent post about how you can support the TL 5th annual 5K- helping real people and real problems. Problems just slightly more significant than whether my children's clothes match. Seriously. 

Ode to the tension

Welp. It's true. I have a problem folks.
Some serious tension.
On one hand- I'm an accountant.
On the other- I have four small children.

I like control, order, structure, routine, schedules and spreadsheets.
They prefer to trample all of those keys-to-great-life-success.

Craft Cabinet my way
Craft Cabinet their way
Around about kiddo number 3 I learned that I'd have to make a choice- perfection or parenting.  While I realize now that "perfection" was never really an option, I certainly did hold on to the notion for quite some time.  I honestly couldn't tell you when I became a bit more of the mom-of-four-small-children and a little less of the rule-following-perfectionist.  I know both are still there, both are an important part of who I am, but at some point I'd like to think I struck the balance.  A couple of weeks ago, I was at Leadership Training for work.  When the training facilitator found out that I work and have four children at home, she paid me the biggest compliment I could imagine- "Wow, you seem really laid back to have four children".  She didn't mean much by it, probably didn't even give it a second thought.  She only knew me for a couple of days and never saw me interact with my children.  But it still meant so much.  If she only knew all that I'd had to release over the years.  If she knew the prayers I'd prayed.  If she knew the struggles I still have to strike a balance.  Then she would have known how deeply I appreciated those words.

Because it's true-

I would prefer:
To never leave the house without everything in its place
To have all the books in the playroom sorted by genre, size and alphabetically by author's last name.
To have all four children not only dressed neatly, but preferably in coordinating outfits every.single.day
And I'd love to have the house seasonally decorated by a professional around key holidays.

Don't miss the missile coming
at the pumpkin's head
Love this three eyed pumpkin face

But I have four small children.
And they ensure:
I am much more excited about leaving the house with them- even if we leave behind a disaster.
I want to read with them more than I care about where the books live
I (occasionally) let go of what they wear and enjoy their self-expressions when they dress themselves
And I'm perfectly thrilled the my fall decorations (pictured in this post)
= create-your-own pumpkins on the front porch AND the back door fall gallery.

At least when they stick stickers they do it in a pattern
whats better than a pic of you & your bro
taped onto the back door?
one folded into a paper airplane, of course.

As I think about the hours (and hours and hours and hours) that the kids, especially Lou, have put in to decorating that back door.
As I think about the deep breaths I took when she first started taping "art" up.
As I help clean up the mess that trails behind as they cut, glue, fold, tear, color and CREATE.
And as I have forever captured in my mind's eye the joy and excitement on their faces as someone new notices and compliments their work.
I realize.
Ya know what?
They bring out the best parts of me.
I'm so very thankful that this accountant
gets to be their mom.

Life would certainly be boring if I was just me, without them.
I'll take the tension any day.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Choosing the Battles- Clothing edition

This post is going to be SO MUCH FUN!  But before you read it, don't forget to take a minute to check out the previous post about helping teenagers in our community.  Please consider giving THIS WEEK to make a real difference!  Countdown=6 days to 5K!!

Now- on to the adorable blonds:

I mentioned that I was cutting down on a few battles at our house by beginning "Wrestling Privileges".  What a great day that was at our house!

But there's another "battle" looming.

Kids have opinions about what they wear.
I get that.
But, I have opinions, too.
I put time, effort, energy into purchasing, washing, folding, hanging, ironing (ok, only sometimes) their clothing.  Because its true, I care how they look.  It honestly isn't about brand names or expensive clothing.  I just feel like there is something about a person's self-confidence and the impressions that they leave with others when they are neat and tidy.  I want it to be a habit they begin early- not that I'm placing value in their appearance alone, but there is some value to be placed in the impression they make on other people.

That said-
the very last way I want to start the day is arguing with them about what they are wearing.

For years, I cut down on that battle- in all humility I pretty much eliminated it- by a simple compromise.  Our compromise was this: I pick the clothes.  You pick the shoes.

Sometimes that meant rain boots with shorts

or dress clothes.

Sometimes that meant shoes that didn't match at all.

For most of the last year it meant the same multi-colored-polka-dot flats with EVERYTHING for Lou.

And then one day, that all changed.
Round about the first week of school this year, the big two boys (who I'm pretty sure conspire against me each night as they fall asleep together) declared, "WE WANT MORE! More choices, more opportunities for expression, more FREEEEEEEEDOMMMMMM!"
Well, really they just said "When are we going to get to pick out our own clothes for school".
Same thing.

So, in a brilliant parenting move that can only be described as "THANK YOU LORD!"
words came out of my mouth that simultaneously bought me a little longer of picking out their clothes and them the opportunity for self-expression.

Now, we all know- compromise always comes with a price.
Just like the missing tooth and black eye from "wrestling privileges", Free Dress Fridays have a downside, too.

Like this
"My col-uhs ah blush and bashful" -
Steel Magnolias, anyone?

OR This
where a little red is good, a lotta red is AWEOME
and why not tuck in?

And this
I match.  Thumbs up.

The deal is- They don't complain, not a word, about the clothes I lay out for them 5 days out of the week (sun-thurs) and Friday they get to wear absolutely whatever they want.  And I don't say a word.  Even when it was 123 degrees outside and KJ wanted to wear two shirts, I might have mentioned he'd get hot- but he glared the look that say "don't trample the rules of Free Dress Friday" and I let him go to school that way.
KJ's double shirt look and Lou's blue Cinderella socks.

I'll tell ya this- Fridays sure are simple.  I don't have to get anyone's clothes (except Tito's of course).  The others make their own choices pretty quickly (usually the night before).  KJ's choice  is simple.  Favorite.Red.Shirt.Always.  The other two are a toss up.  Lou usually wears a dress and Cbug wears whatever he touches in the closet first.  And I'm pretty sure there isn't a single doubt in any of their teachers' minds whether I dressed my children on Fridays.

So- here's to you and your battles on the home front.
Find a "free dress Friday" or maybe a "wrestling privilege" compromise and embrace it!
You can thank me later.
Unless its picture day!


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

What's their story? - Advocating for the "trouble" kids

When we went to KJ's patriotic performance in the spring, we could not have been prouder of our adorable child.  Granted it was a mere 20 minutes of singing songs, saying the pledge, and each taking a turn at the mic to tell about all things "American".  Granted, for most of the performance, unless you strained your neck (and camera) just right (which I assure you we did), you couldn't even SEE our tiny guy.  But he is ours.  And we think he's tops.

Later that same month, he raked in the awards to prove it.  I'd like to call them "family awards" because we ALL put in some serious efforts to those after-school-reading and math programs just to earn points just to get a stinkin' trophy, thankyouverymuch.  In the ceremony every kid in every kindergarten class got to prance across the stage, have their name called, and swell with pride at their list of accomplishments- accomplishments of the kind only a kindergartner would consider success.  But they certainly do.  KJ did.  AND we did, too.

But shortly after KJ walked across the stage that day another little 5 or 6-year-old girl walked across the stage and had her "success" defined quite differently.  She simply got "Principals Club", the award every kid gets.  Not "cheetah math gold, silver or bronze".  No "Reading Olympics" medal.   No "mastery of study skills."  Not even "good conduct".  She kind of shuffled across the stage, hugged the teacher, and paused (like all the kids were supposed to) for her picture.  Only no one was there to take it.  And I lost it.

There was a kiddo or two like her in every class that day.  Ones who obviously weren't "dressed" for awards day, who didn't have a cluster of family members welcoming them afterward, who didn't struggle to juggle all of their prizes in their proud little hands.  And my heart broke.  Not because it should be fair.  Not because all kids should "get the same thing".  Not because I thought anyone should get an award they didn't earn.  Nope, I fought back tears because I wondered if anyone knew their story.  Did anyone ask, "why?"

I could relate.  I deeply love a little boy who had anything but "mastery conduct" during his first "big school" year last year.  A little boy who didn't have family members present at any of his special pre-k events at school.  A little boy who sometimes wears clothes that don't fit.  A little boy who sometimes gets labeled for his behavior before anyone takes time to know his story, a rough one.  And that day, I could so easily picture a sweet red-head shuffling across the stage.  I could hear the imaginary voices of other parents saying "That kid couldn't even get it together enough for a conduct certificate".  I could sense his disappointment when he paused for pictures and realized the faces he wanted to see most weren't there.  Again.  

That day, like so many others since then, I prayed that someone would take time to know his story.  I prayed that the little girl in KJ's class, the others like her that day, and the one I love so much, would all find an advocate in school.  A teacher who sees their hidden talents and skills, who knows their obstacles and sets them up to believe they can overcome them.  I prayed for other parents, too.  Ones who let their kids be friends with the less-than-perfect playmate, who speaks blessing into someone else's child right along side their own.  I prayed for advocates.  And I prayed for the strength to be one.  

I'm pretty sure I could get as many different political opinions as I have readers, if I tried.  But I'm fairly certain we will all agree on this:

Each of us is responsible.

Not just in our current political state, not just in our current economic state, not only if we have kids, not only if we work in a profession that provides opportunities-  We all can make a difference.  This isn't some over-idealistic-push toward changing the world.  I'm "just" talking about changing lives, just those lives we each come in contact with.  You can vote and write letters to your senator (maybe you should) and you can eloquently explain your political opinions until you are blue in the face (maybe you shouldn't).  But unless YOU (and I) are willing to actually do something I can guarantee that the kid next door won't ever have his story heard.  He's not waiting for his district's Senator to stop by.  He's waiting for you.

You probably already know who "he" is, don't you?
The kid who kinda smells bad so no one ever wants to sit next to him.
The kid who gets asked to leave youth group events because of the inappropriate things she says.
The kid who no teacher wants to have in class because teachers don't know how to "control him".
The kid who has spent more time at the alternative school than the regular classroom.  Since 6th grade.
The kid who bullies other kids on the internet.
The kid who is pregnant at 14.
The kid who drops out.
The kid who gave up.

Have you ever really asked "Why?"  Have you heard "his" story?  Did you notice that no one cheered for them in the program or took their picture on awards day?  I know I don't always notice.  Too often, I don't stop to actually ask.  

But here's the thing:
 I know about this incredible organization that makes knowing teenagers- really KNOWING them- their mission.  They are out to find "those" kids.  The ones at the alternative school.  The ones drowning in their bad choices.  The ones pregnant.  The ones labeled for their behaviors.  The ones who need to have their stories heard.  

Teen Lifeline KNOWS the power of listening to teenagers, of helping them listen to each other, of providing them a safe place to learn life skills.  The unique thing is, this organization doesn't run away from "troubled" kids, they run toward them.  They have this lofty notion that maybe if they can provide hope, if they can provide an opportunity to overcome obstacles, if they actually DO SOMETHING, they might just maybe make a real difference.  One life at a time.  
And you know what?  It works!

It is time for Teen Lifeline's annual 5K, one of their only huge fundraisers each year to support the work they do.  Its the 5th year for this fundraiser and I can honestly tell you I've never been more excited about the difference I truly believe the dollars collected this year will make.  

My very own, RRL, is the executive director of Teen Lifeline.  He knows about coming from a broken home, having to fight to overcome obstacles, and he certainly appreciates the advocates he had along the way who heard his story.   As a result he didn't become his obstacles, he overcame his obstacles.  He stood on top of his obstacles and took a flying leap forward.  Those advocates gave him a springboard to take his story and use it to open doors for others to be heard. 

RRL is teamed up with an incredible Program Director and a super supportive Board of Directors.  You won't find a group of people with bigger hearts or who are more inclined to work together to help teenagers.

But the reason I use this little blog each October to fund-raise is not because of how much I love the hearts of these people (even though I truly do).  It is because I know their mission can make a real difference.  Stories can be heard.  Lives can be changed.  Cycles can be broken.  And we can ALL help make that happen.

Would you please join us in making a difference?
You can:
1) PRAY.
Take time to get to know what Teen Lifeline is all about by reading the information on the website or visiting with someone who knows more about the organization.  Then, commit to be praying for the vision and future of Teen Lifeline, and for the lives of the teenagers impacted by the efforts.  There is even a place under the "giving" section of the website  to send an email to the prayer coordinator to get more details about how you can be specifically praying.

2) GIVE.
Here is a link to our families' 5K fundraising website (with a cute picture of our adorable blonds, of course!) >> 
Would you please consider making a donation?  Any amount truly does help!
For the next couple of weeks I'm going to ask over and over and over for you to give.  I'm willing to risk annoying you just to let you know how important this is :).  I only do it once a year and I appreciate your patience and participation.  Know that whether you live here or across the country, or around the world, you are making a difference.

Share this message and spread the word.  You can share the link to this blog or share the link to our fundraising page.  Help us spread the word about Teen Lifeline and give others the opportunity to partner with this organization.

Thank you for the amazing way so many of you already support teenagers in your own life, and for the way you support and love our family.  We are so grateful for you!


Monday, September 23, 2013

It shouldn't be. But it is...NINE YEARS!

Today is a big day for me!
A day that according to my surgeons and doctors should never have been celebrated.

In 2004, I underwent extensive GI surgery hoping to eliminate the chronic pain I'd been dealing with related to Crohn's disease.  At best, I was told, I might get 3-5 years of pain free living and even then I'd likely need medication to manage it.

It seems to me today that maybe they forgot to factor in HOPE.  They knew what they knew- but not what HE knew.  And boy HOWDY did He show them.

Because after:
One hike to the bottom of the grand canyon

Lots of half marathons (three while pregnant)

Four babies (three completely without medication).

And a ton of other fun...

I can officially say:

9.  Nueve.  Neun.   Neuf.  Novem.  Nove.  Nau. NINE YEARS!!  
Pain free.  And not just that, but medication free as well.

Don't be confused by this list of my accomplishments over the last nine years.  Join me in recognizing that there is not a single ounce of any of that I could have done.  Oh, sure- saying "it shouldn't be" was great motivation for me to try (it is so strange that my kids have a stubborn streak).  But when I see this list, stare into those sweet faces, remember how far we've come...welp, I'm simply overwhelmed.  Overwhelmed with praise for the ONE who provides beyond what we can ask or imagine.  The One who grinned at the thought of "maybe 3-5 years" and delighted in providing so much more.  

And don't be confused.  If today was different.  If there comes a day when it IS different.  Whether there are 9 more years, 3 more days, or a lifetime of living without pain- I'll still declare HIM mighty to heal.  I'll still shout out "HE is mighty to save".  I'll still remember that He is doing more than we can ever imagine.  Don't get me wrong- it won't be easy.  There are other areas of my life that have certainly proven that hope doesn't mean "what I want, when I want it".  Other "miracles" I've HOPED for have tested my willingness to believe.  But isn't it always true that the best things are worth fighting for, and lots of times you WILL have to fight for them.

I'll fight for Hope every.single.time.  I will chose to believe in miracles.
It just so happens that today it is easy.  Today is a day to celebrate.

It shouldn't be.  But it is.
And that's simply miraculous.


Sunday, September 8, 2013

All dressed up with someplace to go

I hear the wedding planning business is a booming one.
Apparently, brides are willing to shell out big bucks if you will make her day perfect.
I could write a whole book about my thoughts on that matter.
It probably wouldn't be very popular.

But if I'm going to tap into this booming wedding business, maybe instead I should write something called:
"Being the mom of the wedding parties' mini-members."
With the subtitle 
"You are going to need a LOT of pennies"

Its not that I have any kind of marketable knack.
Its just that my children have made a grand total of 20 combined appearances 
(in 8 separate weddings).
And you can't do that and not learn a few things.

Like buying miniature tuxedos on ebay.
We own four tuxedos (in two different sizes) with an assortment of ties
 as well as an array of flower girl dresses.

And the trick of giving bribes which fit in their pockets or baskets- like pennies.

Surprisingly enough, I love it when my children are asked to play this special role.
Having my children be the mini-wedding-party-members honestly doesn't stress me out (anymore).

Don't get me wrong. There has been quite a lot of trial and error.
Mostly error.
(like the time KJ's newly polished BLACK shoe came in contact with a brides beautiful WHITE dress)

We've definitely had to make some adjustments to our wedding routine over time.

Mostly we've learned that you can't roll at the same pace or schedule as the rest of the wedding party
Which is actually how we got these pictures.  All 6 of us were hiding out. Outside.  
Far away from the rest of the getting-ready-for-the-wedding-hub-bub.

We've learned that since the majority of brides and grooms have never been parents- shockingly, they don't really get why certain times of the day and certain situations are recipes for disaster.  And they shouldn't have to be worried about those things on their big day.  So, only we-their parents- can really advocate for our kiddos.  Which means,  I've even said "no" to requests that I thought wouldn't be in their best interest.

But when the requests are reasonable (even over-the-top but still reasonable)-
You just figure out ways to make things fun so they'll want to participate.
You have to plan to do things that they don't normally get to do.

And you have to talk about the cake.
A lot.

So, if you are looking for a circus to entertain during your big day,
I happen to know where you can find one.

OR, even better,
if your kiddos are the ones invited to play this special role- just remember:
Nothing they can do can actually keep the bride and groom from getting married.
Even if they do invite the father-of-the-groom to play catch with the ring pillow mid-ceremony.
So sit back and enjoy your children being dressed up and doted on.
It's that simple.

Well, that-
 and bring a lot of pennies.


This series of pictures is one of my very favorites of these four blonds.  I love that we captured them exactly as I imagine I'll remember this stage in life- a lotta parts crazy with even more parts adorable.  We snapped away while we waited for the summer wedding of RRL's sister to begin.  And if you think these pictures are silly...you should see the ones from when three of these rascals figured out the concept of the photo booth at the reception.