Thursday, April 10, 2014

a {big} update

A handful of things you might care to know...

I talked about our decision to move here. We sold our house sometime in January after just four showings. But then it fell through. And then it was back on again. But we still didn't have anywhere to move. So I didn't really talk about it much. We've also been walking through a very hard season of marriage, so frankly, the house stuff was the least of my worries. Selling a house and moving is usually a HUGE thing for people but its funny how it's barely been a blip on my stress radar. But lo and behold, our moving date is next week. Sooooo...probably time to start talking about it. It's also probably time to start packing. But I'm so close to the title of World's Best Procrastinator. I'm somewhere around third or fourth place overall. But I think by waiting to pack a single box until a week before our moving date, that will seal my title once and for all. I dare any of you to challenge me. I will dominate you.
And where are we moving, you might ask? For now we're moving into a three bedroom townhouse that's almost directly across the street from where we live now. (I'll probably just start chucking things across the street, rather than packing it all up.) Ideally we'd be moving into our perfect home in the woods, just a few minutes from my in-laws, but God's holding us up. The lady hasn't sold it to anyone else (it's been quite a long, drawn-out, process trying to acquire that property) so we're crossing our fingers that one day it'll be ours. Until then, we continue to look at pieces of land further out in the country. I just really, really (REALLY) don't want to live half an hour or more away from my in-laws since we're such a close-knit family and are at their house all the time. Trusting God fully that He'll lead us right where He wants us at just the right time. In the mean time, I'm pretty excited to down-size. For the past four years we've lived in a very comfortable home. Not too big, not too little. But this past year, as I've taken on more and more of the household responsibilities due to Jon's schedule (and our little caboose has taken on more and more responsibility of making messes), I've become increasingly overwhelmed to the point of sheer misery. It's always a mess, all the time. And I hate it. So I think this is a small way of receiving grace from God in this area. He's giving me a more manageable place for this difficult season. Also, I was itching to repaint the entire first floor of our home to something lighter and brighter, but was having a hard time wrapping my mind around accomplishing that with three little kids, so this gets me out of that too! ;) Now I can have a fresh start with decorating. 
(Random pictures for a random post. Seeing these compared to these, makes me want to get out my big camera again!)

A little Bennett story for you. He cut a chunk from the front of his hair several months ago because he wanted to "look like Dad". But when the time came to actually chop off all of his beloved curls, he chickened out (Phew!!). So we waited and waited for his patch of hair to grow back out in the front. It finally did. A couple days ago he got into some Silly Putty that I had hidden away. He knew he wasn't supposed to have it. He got a chunk of it stuck in the front of his hair. But instead of confessing, he decided to just CUT IT OUT. Because I certainly wouldn't notice a giant chunk of his hair missing right in the middle of his forehead. Y'all, this is no surprise coming from him. He's 6 3/4 and still a very destructive kid. He means well but his little hands never stop. He has a lot of love but he also has a lot of energy that isn't always focused correctly. (Hence, a huge reason that boy needs woods to play in. He can go to town on some logs, rather than on his hair and clothes and bedding and all the other things.) His punishment was no screen-time for a week. That's his kryptonite. His weak spot. I'd been wanting to cut way back once the weather turned anyway, so this was the perfect lead-in to that. Yesterday was five days in (five days that have been much more peaceful, mind you. Turns out that not turning the TV on at all is actually easier on him than watching for three hours and then having to turn it off.) and guess what he said to me? "Mom, I'm actually kind of enjoying this. I might just do it for two extra days." I about fell off of my chair. Glory to the highest, peace on earth, good will to men. I might have cried tears of joy. And if I didn't, my heart surely did. Lesson learned. Thank you, Jesus.
On the subject of Bennett, another major life decision I made recently was to homeschool him next year. He did well in Kindergarten but this year, in first grade, things sort of all fell apart. He begs and begs me to stay home and has shed a lot of tears before school in the mornings. I think it's a combination of things, physical, mental and emotional. Mostly, he's young (a June birthday, one of the youngest in his class) and he's so high-energy so having to focus for such long periods of time isn't easy for him. He's also bored. (I know....this can be a cop-out. But so many of the papers he brings home are things he knew when he was three or four. I know this is playing into it because he really enjoys the days when he's pulled out for advanced curriculum.) I think there are other emotional issues with other kids and teachers, etc. It's been breaking my heart hearing my joyful, smart boy saying he hates school.I'm also not keen on some of the language skills and attitude he's picked up from his peers. Dawson will be in four day preschool next year, so my goal is to just homeschool Bennett for a year, make it as fun as possible, reignite a love for learning (Lord, help me!) and then transition him to the Christian school for third grade. But if we love it, we'll just keep going. No pressure either way. If it ends up being horrible, we'll just switch to the Christian school half-way through the year. I decided a long time ago I was going to homeschool Dawson for Kindergarten and 1st grade (to avoid what happened to Bennett) based on the advice from Bringing Up Boys and Raising Cain. I really challenge you, if you still have a preschool aged son, to read Raising Cain before making up your mind about school. At the very least, look into Montessori options or half-day Kindergarten. But first grade is such a transitional year, that's going to be the toughest one. 

Dawson's still my hilarious, passionate boy. Full of surprises every day. He's still very tough to deal with at times, and get's into the "Red Zone" (a term from Raising Your Spirited Child, that he understands and we talk about a lot.) when he's using a baby voice and usually flailing around and completely unfocused. But if he's not too far gone, I can usually use a few calm words to help him identify it and he'll get himself back to the "Green Zone". (Only after a year of work, is this possible.) Sometimes though, we still have major tantrums and meltdowns that we deal with as best we can. He and Channing clash a lot these days and he's most at peace when he can play by himself, completely uninterrupted for long stretches. 
He's always had heightened senses and being too hot turns him into monster child. He'll start flailing and kicking and screaming and crying and is nearly inconsolable. This winter I learned that he would have to wear his coat to the car but once inside the car, we'd have to take it off. I can't tell you how many times I had to pull over to remove his coat halfway home because he'd get overheated and would absolutely lose his mind (while the rest of us sat comfortably). And since the weather has warmed up, he's already been complaining that the car is too hot and it's only 60 degrees outside. I think I'm actually going to have to buy a clip-on battery powered fan for the car. I don't think either of us will survive the summer without it.
Channing is at such a fun and equally horrible age. His vocabulary is really picking up and he's starting to communicate better. His fit throwing is altogether hilarious to watch sometimes. I've never had a child throw themselves face-down onto the floor so much. Sometimes he does it with just an unhappy little grunt and lays there in silence. (But sometimes there is A LOT of screaming happening. That's not hilarious.) The last week or so, he's had considerably fewer tantrums and I'm praying it sticks. He's taken up wandering out of the yard, though. I actually had to call 911 last week when I was helping Dawson take off his coat and boots inside and by the time I went back out to grab Channing, he was nowhere to be found. And it was cold and windy. He was gone for about twenty minutes total and was found by a bus driver, who knows where. He passed him off to the police before I got to them.  It was horrible and scary and left me feeling like the worst parent ever. Let's move on, shall we?
He's been a tough nut to crack. I see glimpses of such incredible tenderness, it makes me melt. I took Dawson and Channing for a long walk in the woods yesterday. At the end, on the way back to the car, Dawson kept running ahead. He had a bright blue shirt on, so I kept my eye on him (honestly....I do watch my kids most of the time. ;) but I kept having to shout at him to stay within my line of sight. He was way ahead of us for quite some time. And when we finally caught back up to him, Channing squealed with delight and went and hugged him. He always starts whimpering in empathy when either Bennett or Dawson is really upset about something. It's so sweet to see. But boy, is he touchy around people he's not completely comfortable with. He's incredibly shy and slow to adapt to new situations. He has a hell of a temper and is by far my pickiest eater. But it's interesting noticing the subtle differences after having raised a spirited child like Dawson. Its so hard but yet, it's different. Not as intense. His tantrums don't last as long. And if he's being outright naughty, he'll actually respond (some of the time) to a very stern voice or firm squeeze of the hand (or a very, very occasional spank.). All the things I could never say about Dawson at that age. So I have hope that as his vocabulary increases, his screaming will decrease. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Hope Spoken

I don't know how to do this. I don't know how to put into words what God placed on my heart this weekend at Hope Spoken in Dallas. At the end I was talking to Jami Nato (I am a shameless name dropper. Deal with it.) and she was like, "You have a blog right? Are you going to write a post about this? I'm not sure if I'm going to." And I was like, (in the calmest voice I could muster because...hello, I was talking to Jami Nato...who really made me feel like I had met Kristen Wiig in the flesh. Which makes it doubly amazing.) "I don't know if I'm going to write about it. It's just so personal. How do you even begin to put it into words?" But then I thought, it's too big not to. I have to try. Forgive me for the length. Sometimes I lack the ability to edit. It all seems important in my head.

(In case you are wondering, I did not play it cool. I was running up and attacking people all weekend professing my great love for them. It was usually well received ;) After the conference I was at lunch with several of these girls and was talking about my introvertedness and Joy Prouty said, "I have a really hard time believing you're an introvert." So evidently I'm an outgoing introvert. Who knew.) 
Here's the thing. I struggle with friendships. I struggle with connecting deeply with women. I moved around so much throughout my childhood, I was constantly wondering if people wanted to be my friend. I was constantly friends with people who already had a lifelong best friend so I often felt like sort of a third (or fifth) wheel. That, coupled with a family that was not very close-knit, I started making poor choices that made me feel better in the moment. A lot of poor choices that changed the course of who I became. That has carried through into adulthood. I still wonder if people really like me and want to be my friend. I have about two best friends (like deep, rich, fully connected friendships, where I don't doubt where I stand with them). One of them is here in Des Moines and one of them lives in California, who I only get to see once a year, if that. I've never had a group of friends I belong in. I wanted the 90210 or Saved by the Bell model where each one is a valued member of the group.
This weekend I became real life friends with a few women who I'd already developed incredibly deep, real friendships with over Instagram. Women I missed desperately and loved before I'd even met. I found my people. I found the women whom my soul longed for. This might sound crazy or overly-dramatic to some but I think most of you women will understand. That need for us to have women in our life who feel like true bosom buddies is a God-given real need. And I was just incredibly humbled by the lifelong (yes, I have no doubt they will be lifelong) friendships God finally brought me through social media and a weekend conference we all took a chance on. I'm humbled because they are all amazing women. Godly, kind, generous, funny, incredibly talented and beautiful women. Sherry, Kirby and Naomi- you each took home a good sized chunk of my heart.

And I was also incredibly humbled (and yes, a wee bit intimidated) that I got to hang out with some of the Blogger Greats, who's lives I've watched unfold for years. Unbelievably inspiring and talented women who are using their gifts for God's glory. I can now officially call each of them a friend and that still blows my mind a little (ok, a lot. I might have teared up when I saw my picture on Ashley's blog this morning.) I was hanging out in a hotel room with all of these women until the wee hours of the morning and sort of asking myself, "what the heck am I doing here? I do not belong here." But as the night went on, I felt myself connecting with these women and realizing, it's not about how big your blog is or how great you are at photography. They wanted to be my friend because they liked me as a person. (at least I think so ;) Our worth is found in Christ, not in the numbers at the top of our Instagram account. That was a profound moment for me that weekend.

(hotel shenanigans captured by Joy Prouty and stolen by me, with permission of course ;) 

my favorites. 
So you're probably starting to wonder if the weekend was just about the friendships for me. Half of it was. But half of it was an incredible awakening in Christ. A realization of just how big our God is. Hearing story after story all weekend of God's redeeming grace was a beautiful thing. It was literally a sob fest from Saturday morning until it was over on Sunday. No one could stop crying. I don't think I've cried so many tears in a 24 hour time period in my entire life. We started worship on Friday night and my heart was hard. I didn't want to sing because I knew I'd start crying and I wasn't ready for that yet. I was almost embarrassed by it; to admit that to myself and to God. I've been walking an extremely hard road in my marriage for the last few years and specifically for the last nine months, coupled with very long days of lots of single parenting with three boys who suck every last drop of my energy and patience on a daily basis. I'm not ready to share my story on here (and not sure if I ever will) but have opened up to a lot of people about it one on one.
My soul is walking through a parched desert and this weekend was a stream in that desert. And I believe there are many more to come.
     Isaiah 43:19 "See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? 
I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland."
Leslie Padgett gave an incredible talk that inspired new hope within me. My favorite analogy she used was the Verizon Wireless, "Can you hear me now?" guy. He starts in the middle of the city, asking, "Can you hear me now?" Then he moves somewhere a little more remote and a little more remote until he's in the absolute middle of nowhere. That's like what God does with us. We start out in the middle of our safe and happy little comfort zone and He asks, "Do you trust me now?" Then he makes us just a bit less comfortable and asks again. Then He keeps moving us further and further away from our comfort zone until our whole world is ripped apart and we feel like we're dangling on a precipice barely hanging on and He says, "Do you trust me now?" Boom. Hit me in the gut. And my heart cried out, "Yes. I trust you." I'm trusting Him to restore and redeem and to make a way in the wasteland. A new and beautiful thing. And I perceive it. I feel it trembling and bubbling up in my soul. But I have to wait. I have to keep putting one foot in front of the other in the middle of the desert. 
And maybe my favorite quote of the weekend by Lauren Chandler,
     "When he walks us through that desert, he wants us to know that we need Him more than we need that promised land." 
I was slowly closing up my heart. I was saying I had faith and hope but I think deep down I had lost a sliver of that faith and hope. Lauren said, "Your stuff...your situation is not too much! Are you calling My cross not enough??" I tend to limit God's abilities in my mind. I tend to put labels on what just *might* be too big for him. I ripped those labels off this weekend. The God of the universe, who created each and every person and unique personality knows exactly what needs to be done. He knows the exact number of days we'll walk through that wasteland. But if we're giving it up to him in faith and prayer, not a single day will be wasted. 
Hebrews 11:1 "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see"
There were a lot of stories shared this weekend. Stories of loss and hurt and heartache and pain. But God is the Great Redeemer. He put a girl in my car for the drive to and from Dallas who has walked an unbelievably hard road this past year. Like, the worst kind you could imagine. I won't tell her story but if you want to read it, you can here. I believe it was no accident God placed us side by side in that car, strangers before this weekend started. Two women who didn't have much in common but who's stories God wanted the other to hear. One of the most precious moments of the whole weekend came for me on that drive home when I was sharing my heart. Sharing about what God has taught me through a painful season. And, with tears streaming down her face, she said to me, "That might be the most profound thing I have heard all weekend." And I caught my breath and my heart skipped a beat and I just started repeating in my mind, "Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you Jesus." I am deeply humbled...I mean really and truly humbled...(and getting choked up just thinking about it) that God might use me. Little old me. A mess of a mom in Des Moines, Iowa. That He might use my story and my ability to be open and vulnerable to bring some healing to someone else. I will keep telling my story. And I will keep thanking Him for what He's brought me through.
I used to be slightly envious of other people's great faith and their closeness with God. I now know that's a foolish thing to be envious of. You just never know the fire they've walked through in order to gain that faith. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Life with a spirited child...on the other side.

We have walked a long road with our middle child, Dawson. I wrote all about life with our spirited child just a handful of months ago here. He had just turned four when I wrote that. Back then I would say we had an even amount of good days and bad days; maybe slightly more good than bad. Just 6 months later, at 4 1/2, the good days far outweigh the bad. He has maybe one tough day a week, due to lack of sleep and then just brief moments during other days due to hunger or a transition to his day that comes unexpectedly. (Unless our schedule is drastically changed, like for vacation. Then the days can be rough.) This child is blossoming like a rare and beautiful flower, layers upon layers of petals that had remained hidden until now. His sensitivity to sights and smells and sounds and emotions is nothing short of miraculous. But just two years ago, it felt like nothing short of torture, every little thing setting him off like an explosive volcano. He was assaulted by his heightened senses and had no words to explain how he was feeling so everything came out as a massive screaming fit.
A huge turning point was when I got my hands on the book, Raising Your Spirited Child, which everyone who knows me already knows because I talk about it all the time. Before that book, I remember so many days and nights of feeling total and utter defeat. I didn't know how to parent my son and it was a horrible feeling. I remember sitting at my kitchen table, with tears in my eyes, crying out to God, "Is it always going to be this hard? His whole life. Is it just going to be hard with him forever?" At that point, I sort of assumed it was.
Raising a spirited child is now the greatest gift. His awareness of the world around him blows me away. Lately he's been identifying smells constantly. I smell toast! I smell sweet potatoes! I smell hay! And he's always right on. He walked into the garage the other day where the van had been running and said, "Mmmm! It smells good in here!" Ha! A little worried about that one.... ;) One time, several months ago, we were listening to some music and I pointed out the sound of some trumpets. About a month after that, we were in the car with the radio on and out of the blue he says, "I really like the sound of those trumpets, Mom." And sure enough, it was brass instruments.
And just when I thought I couldn't be more proud of him, his teacher pulled me aside after preschool the other day. She said they were talking about a story in the Bible and about Jesus. Some other four year old piped up, "Jesus only loves the good people." And the teacher said Dawson said to that child, "Oh, no. Jesus loves everybody. Even robbers." Tears sprang to my eyes. This boy. I know without a doubt, God is going to use that tender heart in mighty ways. He's going to use his ability to see people who are hurting or being mistreated when others are too inwardly focused to notice.
I know there are mamas out there in that second and third year of life with a spirited child. All I can say is hang on. It gets so much better. You won't die. Really. You will actually be alive in two years, with most of your hair still on your head. (Whether your child will be alive or not is questionable. Thankfully mine still is. It's best just to walk away when you feel smoke coming out of your ears.) Read the book. Pray that God would give you an otherworldly ability to remain calm and patient through those terrible days where everything causes an epic meltdown. Learn to ignore the stares out in public. I got really good at that ;) Get them into preschool as soon as possible! (Totally just my opinion.) The time apart does wonders for both of you and Dawson loves every second of preschool. Find another friend who'd be willing to swap kids a couple hours each week. I'm doing that with a friend right now with our babies and it's fantastic. Most kids do so much better at other people's houses anyway so they're not going to get the difficult version of your child that you have at home all the time. Really, if you're a stay-at-home-mom, a little time away from a difficult child is essential, in my opinion. I just couldn't survive those days without some time to catch my breath. Rebecca, over at Girl's Gone Child wrote a fantastic post about her spirited child.
We also use Melatonin in very small doses at bedtime. There was a long while last year when getting Dawson to bed (and to stay in bed long enough to fall asleep) would take anywhere between one and two hours. I'm not exaggerating at all. Those were some of the most challenging times I've ever gone through as a parent (besides Bennett's first eight weeks of life). We started using about 1.5mg of Melatonin after discussing it with our pediatrician and bedtime instantly became a 15 minute routine. It was a huge game-changer. I'm not suggesting you use it, I'm just sharing what worked for us. You can do your own research and talk to your pediatrician.
With so many things in life, we need to know we're not alone. You need to know (especially if this is your first born) that you will come out on the other side of this and trust me, the view is beautiful. And often quite hilarious. 
video


Friday, February 28, 2014

Taming of the Shrew

Our normal school mornings go something like this: the big boys wake up around 6:30 and head downstairs and turn the tv on. I stumble down bleary eyed (after staying up too late and getting joined in bed around 3am by a four year old) and head straight for the teapot. (English Breakfast with milk and sugar.) I usually find a handful of granola bar wrappers and applesauce pouches strewn about from the snack the boys have helped themselves to. I make them oatmeal then go upstairs to put on my makeup. I stop to pull some clothes out for Bennett (he doesn't mind at all if I pick his clothes but if I go tell him to get dressed, he comes out in his favorite tank top and flip-flops.) then yell downstairs for him to come get dressed. Stop to yell at him at least two more times because he "didn't hear me". Go back to putting on my makeup and getting dressed but stop ten more times to remind him to stay on task (ie: stop fighting with his brother/watching tv/playing legos/making faces at himself in the mirror) and tell him what he needs to do next. And there's almost always a frantic three minutes where I realize he still hasn't put his socks and shoes on and he's about to miss the bus so I'm grabbing coat/gloves/backpack for him while simultaneously asking him what the heck he'd been doing and pushing him out the door. I'm stressed and he's extremely unhappy and possibly in tears. 

Please tell me this sounds familiar. 

I've read Love & Logic, which is all about giving your children responsibility for themselves and stepping out of the way. I knew I wasn't doing Bennett any favors whatsoever. There was one time that I printed out a checklist for him that I was going to laminate but I think that was half-way through the previous school year and I never got around to it. You see, there's this thing that happened to me that took away the last remaining shred of organizational abilities that I had and it's called a third child. (Well, to be more specific, when said child turned mobile.)  In case I wasn't completely sure that I was failing my children, I got this card from Bennett at Christmastime. It's taken me this long to get up the guts to share it because it's that bad. 


"Dear mom, I hope you have a great day. I wish I could change your life to a happy life." 

I felt like I was punched in the gut. 

I can't even explain how convicting that was (although I'm sure every mom out there can imagine). My grouchy mama self wasn't just peeking out here and there. She was hanging around enough that that's who my six year old saw me as. Let's just say for the past fifteen months or so, I've been a little off my game. A LOT of single parenting plus a very difficult season of marriage plus a toddler who is very clingy and fussy....
This is a common sight these days:
and two half-grown monkey boys who tear the house apart daily in record time does not bring out my best self. I've been trying a lot harder since The Note to laugh more and be silly more and play more with them. But there are still the rushed school mornings and very rough evenings when I'm single parenting. 

Yesterday morning I handed Bennett a to-do list and a pencil. It included everything in detail that he needed to do before school (including put yesterday's dirty clothes away, which without a doubt were still on his bedroom floor.) 
He grabbed the list without even a whimper of complaint and..... drum roll....did it all. In a rather timely manner. And he was out at the bus stop in plenty of time with a smile on his face (and on mine!!). Also, since I wasn't having to stop 32 times, I was actually dressed and ready way earlier than usual. And, *gasp*, Dawson was early to preschool. Like, so early he was in the building, with his hands washed with about 3 minutes to spare. I was standing around with the other early parents thinking, "Huh. So this is normal for all of you." I kind of felt like someone should have started a slow clap for me. The whole morning was SHOCKINGLY different. It was almost laughable. Why in the world did that take me so long to figure out??? Well, whatever the reason, I am singing praises that the morning battle is over for the foreseeable future. 
Another little thing that has helped in bringing out happy mom started last week when we got to the media chapter in Jen Hatmaker's book, 7 (which is only $2.99 for Kindle edition, by the way). I was looking forward to this one because I knew my "boundaries" (I had some but didn't really follow them) for my phone use were not working. So I set my phone aside for a full week. (The first few days I found myself checking the weather app multiple times because I didn't know what else to do.) I got a lot more done and I played with the kids way more than usual. I also went to bed earlier.
My problem is, I'm an all or nothing kind of person. I knew I needed to come up with a way to drastically limit time on Instagram that I could actually stick to for the long haul. I love Instagram. That has become such an important community for me and I have so many dear friends on there. Friends who encourage me in motherhood and point me towards Christ. Friends I now text and talk to on the phone and exchange snail mail with and several that I will meet at a women's conference in Dallas at the end of this month. I really wasn't willing to give it up completely.
I had the idea to delete the app when I'm not using it. If I get on once in the afternoon during Channing's nap or to post a photo, I'll delete and reinstall it once the boys are in bed and then delete it again after that (by 9pm!! I'm putting that out there so you people can hold me accountable). It sounds like a pain but it actually only takes about 20 seconds to install and another 20 seconds to log in. It has completely removed all habitual mindless use of it. It's really working for me and maybe it'll work for you too.
I also read a great blog post by one of my favorite IG'ers (@kristinrogers) but I can't find it right now. The great takeaway I got from it was to quickly snap the shot, then put your phone away and rejoin the moment. You can edit and post it later. No one cares or knows if they're all latergrams! I really liked that idea. Probably seems obvious to some but I hadn't thought of it before.
Motherhood is hard, folks. Like, crazy hard. I hit my bed every night like I spent the day in basic training for the Army. Physically exhausted and emotionally drained from three tiny drill sergeants in my face all day long. But I want those little drill sergeants to remember a peaceful, happy home and a mom who laughed way more than she yelled. I'm thankful for God's grace and forgiveness in my own life and I'm so thankful that every day is fresh in God's eyes and in my children's eyes.
I'm weary, Lord, but that's where you step in. Let me love these boys in a way that would point them back to you. Let me choose my words and tone of voice carefully in order to build them up. And let me selflessly give up time and energy to serve my family, rather than myself. And may I stick out the remainder of this wretched winter with grace and dignity. Amen ;)

That one glorious 50 degree day.....

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

doing more to live with less

I'm reading a book right now that I was scared of. I thought I wasn't spiritually ready for it. I just didn't want to face the ugliness of my own excessive upper-middle-class life. I knew there was probably a lot of ugly. And I was comfortable in it. But comfort is the last thing God wants for us here on earth. In fact, He really wants us to feel uncomfortable. Because that's where our chances for growth lie. And so, without much of a choice (short of taking a leave of absence from my Wednesday morning moms group that I LOVE until they wrapped up the book) I dove in. And actually, I was kind of glad I was forced into it. Because deep down I did want to read it.
The book is Jen Hatmaker's, 7. You can read the synopsis here. I suggest you just go ahead and buy it or find someone to borrow it from, whether you think you're ready for it or not. It'll change your life and save you money at the same time. (I promise you'll make back the $12 it costs to buy the book in your first trip to the grocery store.)
Here's the thing with the book- you can go hard core, all in with the experiment, like she did, and fast in seven areas of your life for however long you choose. Or, what our group of scaredy-cats did was just choose our own method. We read a chapter (currently on chapter four) and then we listen to what God is asking of us and then make big or small changes in those areas. We've all chosen different things and no one feels like a slacker if you don't technically fast (ah hem...like me. I guess I'm the scaredest of the scaredy-cats.)

Along with the start of this book, we all discussed our "Word of the Year". I kind of rolled my eyes when someone first asked me if I'd chosen a word for the year. I mean...really. I'm not one of those Type-A, choose my word for the year, organized, scheduled, clean-freak, on-time sort of people. I'm none of that and a bag of chips. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought I probably needed a word of the year. And once I started thinking I needed a word of the year, the word, EFFORT, popped into my head. I don't like that I'm not very scheduled or clean-freaky or on time. And if it bothers me, it's probably because I need to change something. I need to make some effort. And that word led me straight into my commitment after reading the first chapter (about food) in 7. So before my weekly grocery run, I actually made a loose meal plan. And I was also determined to buy way more fresh fruit and veggies and way fewer processed snacks for the boys and frozen entrees for myself (which are pricey because I buy the healthy ones). I went to Costco and Trader Joe's that day and bought a ton of groceries. And when I came home, I think out of the $160 or so that I spent, I had about 10 items (including several canned goods and oatmeal) that needed to go into the pantry and just a few went into the freezer and I had so much stuff for my fridge, it wouldn't all fit. And guess what? I spent a lot less than usual. Because I wasn't paying someone else to cook and package the food for me. (I also learned that Costco's produce is CHEAP. Like crazy cheap. Like sweet potatoes for $.33 a pound! I usually spend way too much money in there because I buy all kinds of crap but if you ignore all the crap and just buy fresh stuff, you can save a crapload of money.) I told myself, my true test would be if we actually ate all that fresh stuff instead of throwing a bunch out because I was too lazy to cook the veggies and they went bad. Well, it's been a couple of weeks and most of it has been cooked and eaten. (I still have approximately eight pounds of carrots left but thankfully those last a bit longer than most produce.)

A few people asked if I'd share some meal ideas on here from my first round, so here's what I've cooked up lately (I generally cook gluten free at home. I'm on a reduced gluten diet because I feel a lot better that way and my eyes get really bloodshot if I eat too much but I don't worry about it if someone else is cooking for me. Or if there's a cupcake anywhere nearby. Channing is allergic to gluten but he's so picky right now, he doesn't eat most of what I cook.):
My mom made this white chicken chili when we were down in Memphis and I couldn't wait to eat it again. It is so stinkin' good, I'll probably make it every other week. I don't do spicy so this is not spicy in the least. I'm sure there are a thousand other recipes out there if that's what you prefer. This one has a cream cheese base and is so rich and creamy and delicious. Recipe in the comments.
One night's supper of baked sweet potatoes, roasted broccoli and Trader Joe's barbecue pulled pork (ok, I did pay someone to cook and package that meat but I'm ok with cheating here and there for a quick thrown together but healthy dinner.) turned into sweet potato pancakes for lunch the next day. I got the idea from Joy Prouty. Just mix in 2 eggs and some cinnamon for every half baked sweet potato. They're more like a souffle in texture and are a bit bland, so drizzle on some maple syrup. Channing gobbled these up with just a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar. Also, that Jones Canadian bacon from Costco is so good.
Another super quick and healthy meal I've been doing a lot is spaghetti squash with meat sauce. (I didn't take a picture.) I seriously think it's the easiest healthy meal you could possibly make. Just cut a spaghetti squash in half (that's the hardest part!!) and bake it upside down on a greased pan for an hour. Scoop out the seeds then scrape out the squash with a fork (It comes out like noodles. Dawson had no idea he wasn't eating pasta the first time I made it.) and serve it with your normal spaghetti sauce. It sounds kind of weird but trust me. It's delicious. Jon still won't eat it with meat sauce but he's happy to eat a bowl of it with butter and brown sugar. 

I was a bit intimidated to make this shepherd's pie tonight (I'm pretty much intimidated to make anything new that has more than five ingredients and requires a lot of chopping. Plus, it had the word food processor in the instructions.) but I'm so glad I did. It really was easy and it was so delicious. And it didn't require a lot of chopping. Just a little. The entire family loved it. And nobody had any idea that the topping was mashed cauliflower instead of potatoes until I told them! Or maybe they were just too polite to say, "these potatoes taste weird." I don't have a food processor so I mashed the cauliflower by hand with my potato masher. It was totally easy. I left out the celery and added a few extra carrots instead (trying to get rid of ten pounds worth :/ ) and I also dumped in some frozen corn right before I browned the meat. Look at me, putting my own spin on a recipe!! I'm like a real cook!!! That toasty cheese on top was divine.
I think I have at least one more meal to make with what I bought. And we could live off of carrots and sweet potatoes for another two weeks. I've decided I just want to have a small file of about 12 or 15 recipes that the whole family loves and just go through them repeatedly in order. Then I'll always know what I'm going to shop for that week. (With Jon's traveling, I only need to cook a true meal a few times a week. The rest can be simple stuff or leftovers. It used to be that I'd only cook a real meal like once every other week. I ate a lot of Chipotle and Panera and the boys ate too many chicken nuggets and Trader Joe's turkey corndogs. But I'm putting forth a great EFFORT to change that ;) 
Chapter two was about clothes and I cannot wait to do a gigantic closet clean-out. I clean out my closet fairly regularly but there's SO much stuff still in there that I think I'll for sure still wear. Someday. Or I might wear it once a season. That kind of stuff is so not worth keeping. I'm going to donate a ton and I've committed to not going shopping for myself or for the boys until after Easter. Maybe longer. But after that, I guarantee the way I shop for clothes is going to look a whole lot different, just like my grocery shopping now looks a whole lot different. I made a whole lot of excuses before. I mean, I'm super frugal!! I rip cotton rounds in half to take off my makeup and I re-use tinfoil! I'm still carrying the same Coach purse every day I got ten years ago! TEN! I don't buy that much for myself and only if it's on super clearance!! I pride myself on my sale rack savviness. 
But y'all, I could feed and clothe a few families for a year with the stuff in my kitchen and closet that was being wasted. I'm sure most Americans could say the same. I'm loving every second of where this book is taking me. I had so much room to grow and it's stretching me 'til it hurts. Actually, it hasn't even hurt yet. It just feels good. And freeing. Freeing to drive past the mall on a Friday when I'm by myself and not think, "Oh, I should run in and check the J.Crew clearance rack. I know they're having a great sale." It also feels good to mostly shop the perimeter of the grocery store and to actually cook all the veggies I'm bringing home. 
If you feel overwhelmed with anything (particularly healthy eating. I know that's incredibly overwhelming to a lot of people.) just take a baby step this week. Switch from white pasta/bread/cereal to whole wheat. And from quick-oats to old fashioned oats. Add in honey instead of brown sugar. (That was a hard switch for Bennett so I stirred in honey and then sprinkled a tiny bit of brown sugar on top. He didn't notice. After a while I just stopped the brown sugar altogether.) Stop buying fruit snacks and buy dried fruit or applesauce pouches for those quick car snacks (I know fresh fruit isn't always an option with little kids.) Stop buying juice for your kids. They can't eat what's not in the house. Just pick one thing and stick with it. I had to start using a measuring spoon when adding sugar to my tea. I was using way more than I realized. Now if I have too much sugar, I can't stand it. I've literally retrained my taste buds and it wasn't that hard. The thing with baby steps is, eventually they turn into giant leaps. My diet is so different now than it was a few years ago but it never felt like a complete overwhelming overhaul. Just a change here and there. 
Getting rid of excess in order to hear God's voice over all the stuff. I have such a long way to go. I still feel attached to a lot of my stuff. I'm a major work in progress. But I'm thankful I'm progressing. 

"Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better."
                                                                                           -Maya Angelou

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

road-trip

I drove with the big boys to Tennessee this past weekend to visit my parents and youngest sister (and to escape the awfulness that is Iowa in January). Bennett had a long weekend off of school so I made arrangements for Channing to stay behind and the three of us set out on Thursday morning. It's always funny hearing some of my friends' reactions when I mentioned the road trip. "Ten hours?? By yourself??" Someone asked me today if I stopped overnight half-way. I had to suppress a laugh. We grew up driving from Canada to Georgia without stopping overnight. Last summer we drove to California without stopping overnight!! Road trips are a way of life for us. And frankly, all day in the car, listening to a good book on CD, with my boys strapped in, watching movies is a whole lot more relaxing than a normal day parenting all three at home.
We had three full days there and filled them with new restaurants, lots of my mom's cooking (for that alone I'd drive 10 hours), a new library, the children's museum, frozen yogurt and lots and lots of games of Spot It, and Old Maid (Dawson calls it Homemade. We just call it boring.).
Local was a highlight on this trip. I cannot wait to go back there and order something different. I was disappointed we didn't have time to go to Brother Juniper's again for the breakfast sandwich I've quite possibly thought about every day since last June. But then....deep fried, crab-stuffed avocados. I mean.
We stopped at Gibson's donuts for the boys. (I have a serious sweet tooth but don't really like donuts. Unless it's a warm Krispy Kreme original glazed. Which I would consider trading a child for, depending on the day.)
 I'm not really sure how this happened....all in the name of vacation, I guess:

We drove back home on Monday and swerved off the highway (literally. I got honked at.) when I saw this gorgeous old wooden mill. Nobody was around. It was 60 degrees. We ran and hiked and explored and trespassed and it was glorious.

Before any of you question my judgment over the next picture (I know there are at least two of you who would), I assure you, I tested that collapsing bridge myself before I let them cross. Perfectly safe. (Safe is a relative term, isn't it? We like to push the boundary a bit.)



Of course, my little observant one noticed all that gorgeous green moss and kept stopping to touch it. The vibrant beauty of it jumped out at you since everything else was dead and brown.




 This next picture is for my dad. There isn't a historic sign he hasn't stopped to read.
That little 20 minute pit-stop was one of my favorite moments of the whole trip. Being outside at some beautiful spot, exploring with my boys, is the closest to heaven I ever experience on this earth. (Ok, deep fried avocados come pretty darn close too.) I desperately want to live somewhere with mountains (or hills at least!) with beautiful lakes or rivers. I was talking with a friend about contentment. Sometimes there's a deep stirring inside of you that wants something to change. It's hard to tell sometimes if that's the Holy Spirit calling you to something better or if it's just discontentment that can breed bitterness or jealousy if we're not careful. I wasn't content to live in the suburbs anymore with our three boys and I do believe that was ignited by the Holy Spirit. But I would love it if He opened up the door for us to move a bit further South, rather than just outside the Des Moines city limits (which we're currently trying to do). I keep trying to convince my in-laws to start looking for a job elsewhere. Because we'll be right behind them if they do! It was incredibly depressing to drive from 60 degrees to about 12 degrees in just a handful of hours. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Christmas week

Christmas week began the way it should...with lots of snow. This little boy was quite content with a bowl full of the stuff to play with. And eat.
I don't remember what they were laughing at (something inaproppriate, I can assure you) but I just adore these next two pictures, with all their colorful gear and colorful cheeks. And in case you're new around here, this is my sister's daughter, Piper, who's exactly a month older than Bennett.
My parents and youngest sister arrived from Memphis on Christmas Eve. I didn't get any pictures on Christmas eve which makes me sad, because it was the first time my little boys were dressed up since Easter. But it was a hectic night since we always host everybody for appetizers after church services and I was getting all the food ready. I was also being a grouch to my husband who wasn't doing things I didn't ask him to do.
Dawson woke up at 5:40am on Christmas day but thankfully fell back to sleep in our bed for an hour, after throwing a mini fit that we wouldn't let him go downstairs yet. When he woke back up at 6:40, we went downstairs together and found Bennett and Auntie Claire already watching a Christmas movie. Dawson snuggled in there and we waited semi-patiently for Daddy to sleep "just 20 more minutes".
We can never put any presents out before Christmas morning because they'd all be opened. (Jon wrapped a couple of presents for me and left them in the living room and Dawson opened them twice before I locked them away with the rest of the gifts.) I love the magical moment when the boys see the pile of presents for the first time. I still remember those moments so vividly as a kid. (I guess we must have opened presents too, because my parents never put them out until we were asleep on Christmas Eve either.)
I'm so thankful my Dad took these next two pictures. It was a sweet moment, letting Bennett read some of the Christmas story out of The Jesus Storybook Bible:
The boys always get to open their stockings right away and then we have breakfast before the rest of the presents get opened. We like to stretch things out around here. They didn't mind. There was a lot of bacon.
The one time a year I buy my boys matching jammies and I love it. How long will they let me do that?? This year's photo went just slightly better than last year's. ;)

So, Channing has a thing for babies. He's obsessed. He goes up to any baby that's his size or smaller, starts talking in a baby voice (How does a baby talk in a baby voice, you ask?? It's the cutest thing on the planet. Cuter than a pomeranian puppy. His already baby voice gets higher pitched and his face scrunches up and he makes happy little sounds at the other miniature human.) Sometimes he reaches out and gently touches or tickles them or puts a hand on their back. Seriously. Kills me. So I got him a boy baby doll for Christmas. The next three pictures are worth every penny of the $8.99 I spent on it:
 This isn't his mad face. This is just a face he does. Usually when smelling a candle or flowers:
 After our relaxing morning (honestly and truly...it was a really great Christmas morning.), we headed to Jon's parents house. We managed to get all eight cousins in a picture. Almost everyone was cooperating...
There's #8. Slightly pacified to at least sit for a moment with a cookie. (I'm just thankful it wasn't mine this time and that my days with a very spirited toddler are past me! A spirited four year old is very tough. But it doesn't hold a candle to his second year of life.) But seriously, how cute are they all together?? One of the biggest blessings of our life- living close to all of their cousins.
To avoid the absolute chaos that was opening gifts last year, Nana Jude came up with a great idea. Only the child sitting on the stool could open gifts. To which Bennett stated after a couple of kids had had a turn, "I hate this stinkin' rule!" That's the giving spirit, my boy! We also dismissed the kids when their gifts were all opened so the adults could take a long time enjoying our gifts. Although, we came to the decision that we'll dismiss the men next year too. ;)
This was Dawson's face after he opened this Playmobil set, only to find out it didn't come with any "guys". 
Dawson's antics when he received gifts this year were comical. A couple of times, he opened something he wasn't so happy about, stared at it for a minute and then said in a downhearted voice, "Here. You can have it," and handed it to whichever kid he was closest to. 
I'm pretty sure Nana dreamed about this moment her whole life: 
My sis-in-law with the smallest Colyer. Don't let his size fool you. This tiny little peanut took his first steps (at 10 months) only about two months after Channing finally started walking (at almost 21 months!!). They're exactly a year apart.
 Long live the queen.
My brother and his wife flew in from California on Christmas day. They joined us at the Colyers, along with my parents and youngest sister, for Christmas dinner. I'm always gung-ho about taking pictures for our first Christmas celebration and then completely drop the ball for the next one. So there aren't any pictures of my side of the family's Christmas which we had the next day. The highlight for most of us every year is our Christmas brunch. Y'all, my mom can cook like nobody's business. We had baked pumpkin oatmeal and bacon on Christmas morning and then a blueberry baked french toast and ham for our second Christmas morning, the next day.
It's always so much fun to have my brother and his wife around. They don't have kids yet, so of course they have the energy and patience to devote a lot of attention to our kids. And they're also just incredible people. Anyone who meets Sarah thinks she's such a warm and kind and interesting person. We're incredibly blessed to have her in our family and yet, it's heartbreaking we're only with them for a handful of days every year. I'm hoping we can start visiting them out there, in addition to their week here.
We had incredible weather right after Christmas so it was a perfect day for a hike in the woods. 
Auntie Claire has weasled her way into all of these boys hearts. Some more easily than others. They adore her.
My mom was still laughing here. Not for long...on the way back out she was watching her feet, focused on Dawson singing and walked straight into an overhanging tree branch and cut her head right open. She didn't need stitches but there was a lot of blood!
 No outdoor adventure would be complete without a little nature lesson from Aunt Sarah. (She and my brother both teach outdoor education in and around Yosemite National Park.)
 Just missing one Ottley sister in this picture:
My brother wasn't feeling good that afternoon so he stayed home to nap while we hiked. These next pictures are pretty terrible from my phone but they're the only ones with my brother in them! One day we went to the library. Half the group jogged over while my mom and I drove over in the van. Yes, we're the wimpiest about the cold. But mostly I didn't want to haul a load of books back. Mostly. ;) :
At the newly renovated Academy of Wildlife Education at our mall. (If you're local, it's a fantastic place to spend a couple of hours.)
Oh, Graham and Sarah, you bring so much life and energy to this family. Your love for us and our boys is such a gift. Our days with you are a highlight of my year.
And since I probably won't blog again for a couple weeks, I'll throw these on there too. Our New Year's Eve plans got cancelled due to our friends' very sick baby. And then Jon ended up in bed in the basement at 8:45 because he didn't feel great either. I was really bummed that it didn't feel special at all. Bennett was watching a movie on the couch and I said, "this is the most boring New Year's ever, huh?" He agreed. Well, right then and there I realized it didn't have to be. So I said, "Let's make popcorn and go eat it in my bed together!" So I made popcorn and I threw in some marshmallows to make it more fun (we didn't have any M&M's...the obvious first choice). I poured the last of some apple cider we had in the fridge and we snuggled under a blanket together on my bed. I read a book and he watched his movie until he fell asleep. It didn't take any effort and it made for a really special memory together.
On New Year's Day, we took advantage of all of our husbands being home from work and had a Colyer girls shopping day and then came back to Judie's for "high tea". It was exquisite and an incredible way to kick off the New Year. I sense a tradition has begun. 
Well, I should end with all kinds of sentimental words and my goals for the New Year but it took me a week just to get these pictures edited and posted so I'm just gonna call it good and save the sentiments for another day!