Monday, September 15, 2014


I teared up yesterday at the thought of it, like every mother does. Five is like a real live kid. The toddler years of chubby cheeks and thighs, Buda bellies and dimpled hands have long since been replaced by lanky limbs and skinny torsos. Thank goodness for his September birthday so we get an extra year of preschool out of the deal. 
We started birthday week off at the grocery store, making The Choice. They get any box of sugary, artificially colored crap that they want. And I cheer them on. I love this tradition. Because even though my cupboards are full of weird stuff like chia seeds and giant tubs of coconut oil and apple cider vinegar "with the mother" (I still have no clue what that means but I drink it anyway), saying yes to breakfast dreams in a box feels good. (And as my mom always jokes, I'm living out my childhood dreams vicariously through them.)
All three boys pitched in to help with baking Dawson's cake. And it was even sorta fun. 
We started his birthday morning off with pancakes and bacon. (Because no birthday is complete without bacon in my book.) Being together, just the five of us, singing him happy birthday was really special. Dawson's not a big fan of crowds and chaos and I love seeing him happy and relaxed when it's just us. (And Pamela's GF pancake mix was delicious, by the way. You know you're officially a health nut when your seven year old says, "We're having pancakes? Are they the green ones or the flat brown ones?" and cheers excitedly when you tell him they're the flat brown ones. They'll thank me one day. Or just binge on Little Debbie cakes and McDonald's for five years straight. More likely the latter.)
Dawson really wanted an Indiana Jones party and I really wanted to give him one. But about five days before his birthday, we were at Target and the thought of crafting up every bit of the decorations from scratch utterly overwhelmed me. So I steered him towards the party aisle and asked him with great enthusiasm, "Wouldn't you LOVE to have a pirate party instead?? Look at all this cool pirate stuff!" He happily obliged and I was off the hook. (Reading this post made me laugh. Clearly I've gotten over my mom guilt in this area since then!) We had his party at a park which was a lot of fun but a little hectic, trying to remember everything I would possibly need to bring from home. It also doesn't help when you show up with a carload of things ten minutes before the party is supposed to start. Will I learn to manage time better before I'm 80? Probably not. I'll probably still be running late to Bingo games and knitting club.
Look at this kid. Can you even handle this?? Gosh. Quit being so cute.  
My mother-in-law, Judie, always come through for me on these parties. I gave her like, two jobs this time, and she always does lots of other things because she's awesome. She decorated the cake for me and made all the little food signs for the table. She also made the treasure maps the kids used and brought the cute fabric for the table from her little pile of scraps. 
She bought the costume for Dawson as part of his birthday present. It will be for dress up and he can wear it for halloween as well. (Glad that's taken care of ;) 
"Berried Jewels", "Golden Nuggets", "Polly's Crackers" to go with chicken salad, "Fish and Chips" and "Pirate Boats". Thanks Target Dollar Spot for adorable paper straws on the cheap.

We sent the kids on a treasure hunt around the pond. We planted all of their goodie bag items at different spots and marked them with an X on their map. The big kids did it too but I told them they had to give the little kids a head start and they were NOT allowed to pass them. The two first born boys in the group were not too happy about this rule. I'm surprised they didn't start breaking out in hives from not being in front.

It was so cute letting them do this all on their own and watching the little band of pirates search for loot.
 My nephew just happened to have a pirate chest we could borrow for the final stop on the map.

I never want to lead any party games (because frankly, I'm just ready for a nap at this point) so an activity like this, that takes up a good chunk of time, is fun for the kids and requires zero participation on my part is what I call a win-win.
I love this next picture so much. Dawson has two cousins his exact age (and so does Bennett, by the way. It's so awesome.) and I love seeing their sweet little faces altogether. The cake turned out to be horrible. I've been doing a mostly gluten free diet for the boys at home (Channing's the most sensitive and the other two are mildly sensitive. I've seen improvements in behavior and with some skin issues.) I'm quite certain I botched something when I doubled the mix because, as my sister so gently put it, the texture was like corn bread. The flavor was fine but it was basically a brick with frosting (which I still ate because I'll eat pretty much anything with frosting on it.) Poor Dawson. I should probably give him a do-over. That's not a bad idea. Any excuse for more cake is good with me. 
There was a moment at his party there aren't any pictures of but I hope it stays burned into my memory forever. After the party had been going on for a couple of hours, Dawson started getting sulky and was kind of off on his own. I went over to ask him if he was ok and heard him telling his friends he wanted to be alone. In so many words, I realized he was just getting overstimulated and needed a break. He said, "I want to go sit by the tree." I asked him if he wanted to be by himself and he said, "no, with you mom." I grabbed his little hand, and pulled him onto my lap under a tree. His friends gathered around but I told them he'd had a lot of excitement and just needed a little break. They were so sweet and waited off to the side for him. And so we sat. In silence. I don't know what was going on in his head but my mind was trying to soak up every second of it. It was perhaps one of my favorite moments of his whole life. I'm probably just forgetting all the rest but it was huge to me. Last year at his party, there was a HUGE meltdown by him (and then followed with one by me because my husband and I weren't on the same page) because he wouldn't say thank-you to anyone when he was opening his gifts. I almost can't believe sometimes that this is the same kid that would be screaming so loudly and thrashing around so violently in his carseat that I would have to pull over and get out and pace for a while just to keep from driving us all off of a cliff (not that this would be very effective in Iowa. 'Driving us into a cornfield' just doesn't have the same ring to it.). And if it was a safe spot, sometimes I'd pull him out of the car and leave him screaming on the sidewalk until we could all get back in calmly. (This was not a random occurrence. This happened constantly.) This was the same kid, when around age three, I sat at my dining room table with my head in my hands and tears streaming down my cheeks wondering if his whole life was just going to be a battle. At that point I truly thought it was. I read books like The Strong Willed Child by James Dobson that left me more fearful than hopeful. (I know he meant well. But gosh. So much talk about inevitable rebellious teenage years made me want to turn him over to a monastery when he turned thirteen and wish them luck.) It wasn't until I read Raising Your Spirited Child that things finally turned around. You can read about the life change here. And now here is, just getting quiet and asking for alone time in my lap, just like I did with him a hundred times last year when I was training him to recognize when he was feeling worked up. No screaming. No tantrums or tears. I want the weight of that to sink in; for me and for any other mama currently in the trenches of toddler years with a spirited child. 

And now he's five. And he brings me so much joy, I have to refrain myself from squeezing him to death ten times a day. His imagination is absolutely incredible. He will play by himself for literally hours, if no one is around to disturb him. I love how all the qualities that make a spirited child so difficult to parent at two and three are completely turned into incredible strengths once they can communicate well and use more restraint over their emotions. He sees people and he cares about them. He's so polite and friendly to other kids and is just hilarious. He wakes me up in the middle of the night to tell me about whatever dream he just had and then goes right back to sleep. I always think I'll remember them by morning but I never do. 
Dawson Graham, you are the spark of magic in this family. You are unpredictable and crack me up constantly with the things that pop out of your mouth (and then get upset that I'm laughing at you. I always try to explain that I'm laughing because you bring me joy.) You still cry just by thinking about something sad. And you talk a lot about God. Your brain sees things in pictures and I love the way you describe what you see in that head of yours. You are so musical and pick up tunes instantly and in perfect pitch. You are easy to take places now and you're easy to have at home. It's kind of the most ironic thing to me ever that you are currently my lowest maintenance child. You are such a gift to me and I'm honored and humbled that I get to parent a child like you. Someday you'll be a gift to the rest of the world too. But for now I'm here with you, your safe place to land when the world around you is just a little too much to handle on your own. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

there's something you should know...

Cooking with my two year old is easier than cooking with my seven year old. This isn't even the slightest bit of an exaggeration. It hadn't really occurred to me to let Channing "help" but he was incredibly whiny all morning and I really needed to make lunch so I plopped him up on the counter and let him dump stuff in and stir. And for the first time in my seven years as a parent, cooking with my child was kind of enjoyable. It brought me more joy than frustration, more peace than stress. This was a whole new concept for me. I would tell him, "Stay there. Don't touch," when I walked to the cabinet for another ingredient. And heavens to betsy, he actually obeyed. He sat when I said sit. He kept his fingers out of the bowl when I said don't touch. Sure, he got slightly overzealous when he was stirring but with a little bit of help, he got the idea. It was darn cute, his chubby little hands copying his mama.
When I cook with Bennett, there are all kinds of repeated warnings and stern commands and frustration (on both of our parts) and neither of us is having much fun. He absolutely cannot keep his fingers out of the bowl. He still has trouble following directions. He dumps before he's supposed to dump and he's constantly putting things in the bowl that aren't supposed to be in there. It's slightly easier with Dawson but not much. I always see moms posting things about cooking with their kids and I've always wondered what I was doing wrong. Turns out I wasn't doing anything wrong. And for the most part, neither was Bennett. He was just being the very active child that he is. There is so much of his behavior that's extremely difficult to deal with in certain settings. (If you're new around here, not to be confused with my Spirited Child, Dawson. Bennett is laid back emotionally. He's just always been demanding physically.) But the longer I parent, the more I can see the big picture and realize that for every difficult part of their personalities, there's an equally amazing aspect that comes along with it. He may not have much self-control, but that boy is braver, tougher and stronger than any kid his age I've ever met. He's so incredibly smart and kind and is going to be a fully functioning member of society whether or not he can exhibit enough self-control at age seven to cook with his mom.

My brother, Graham, shared this article the other day and this portion of it jumped off the screen and hit me square in the heart:

One day I watched a nine-year-old boy as he led a group of children scrambling over Vasquez Rocks, a great sandstone formation that slants up out of the California desert. He was one of those magnetic, electrical, radiant boys; kind to the younger ones, strong, quick, inquisitive, sharp as a tack, his eyes throwing sparks in the clear air. It was a joy just to watch him, I said to the friend standing beside me. She told me he had just been diagnosed with ADHD.
When you see children who do not learn well in school, they will often display characteristics that would be valued and admired if they lived in any number of traditional societies around the world. They are physically energetic; they are independent; they are sociable; they are funny. They like to do things with their hands. They crave real play, play that is exuberant, that tests their strength and skill and daring and endurance; they crave real work, work that is important, that is concrete, that makes a valued contribution. They dislike abstraction; they dislike being sedentary; they dislike authoritarian control. They like to focus on the things that interest them, that spark their curiosity, that drive them to tinker and explore. 
Reading that made me so thankful that God brought the information before me and gave me the insight that I needed to make the best decision for Bennett's education at this point in time. We've never had him tested for ADHD but it wouldn't surprise me at all if he had it. (In fact, I'd be surprised if he didn't.) There's sure to be some frustration this school year on both of our parts but I'm fully confident that he won't be saying "I hate school" every day like he was last year. I read a comment on someone's Instagram several weeks ago that kept running over and over in my mind. The person that posted the photo said something about missing her sweet baby girl when she was napping. And someone commented that "that was the sign of a good mommy." I know she didn't mean anything by it, but wow, did it hit me the wrong way. I never would have commented back to that person with how it made me feel. She doesn't know me and like I said, I know she didn't mean to upset anyone by it. And if I've learned anything about the internet over the last few years, I've learned that constructive criticism or any disagreement needs to be said face to face. If it can't be said face to face, it probably doesn't need to be said. (But supporting another mama that's feeling criticized? Yes. Always, yes.)
But what I really wanted to say to that mom was that I haven't ever missed any of my children when they're sleeping. Ever. Like, not even for one half of a second. I've cheered and thrown a parade in my mind when they've gone to bed sometimes. I've felt a cringe of disappointment when they've woken up sooner than I expected. But missed them? Never. And you know what? I don't think that means I'm not a good mom. I think that means I have very VERY demanding children. And that I'm using up every shred of my energy to parent them with love and patience (and sometimes I royally stink at that part but sometimes I do pretty darn good.) I wanted to ask that mom if she thinks a mother of a special needs child misses them when they're sleeping? Or the mom of a colicky infant. Or the mom of three boys who often spends three full days a week as a single parent because of her husband's work schedule. Or the mom of a soldier who's been deployed for a year and is parenting four or five kids by herself. I'm pretty sure all of these women relish every second of naptime and bedtime and are still rockstar mamas when their babes are awake. I think a mom who misses her baby when she or he is sleeping has a very easy baby. And I'm glad for them. I'm not bitter towards them or envious of them. (Ok, maybe a teensy weensy bit.) I just know that I'm stretched a lot further than a lot of moms. But that in turn gives me characteristics that I'm thankful for. It has also given me an incredibly grace-filled perspective on others' parenting journeys. 
More grace, less judgment. (I'm working on this one. It's a daily battle, people.) And fewer assumptions that any child's behavior is directly linked to the way they're parented. Often times the nature is much stronger than the nurture. And so much of their nature, when nurtured correctly, will be seen as a strength as an adult. In the meantime, I'd really like a padded room with a jungle gym for my seven year old. Or perhaps we can just rent out some space at the zoo...

Saturday, August 23, 2014

My Nest

I sorta can't even believe I'm blogging about this right now. My history of finishing spaces is not good. I think I've fully decorated a room approximately three times in my entire adulthood. One was Bennett's nursery and there was a guest room before we had kids. The other was a tiny powder room bathroom in our last house. I also did one little shelf on one wall in our last house too. My lack of decorating is ridiculous because I absolutely love doing it. My two huge hurdles have always been perfectionism and a very small budget. I would rather a space sits empty than to be decorated with cheap stuff I don't love. But that leaves me with empty spaces that I also don't love. Quite the conundrum. A dear friend of mine sent me a copy of The Nester by Myquillyn Smith, when I asked on Instagram if anyone had one I could borrow. That book, combined with a friend coming into my home to photograph me for a project he was doing, were the two things I needed to get my butt in gear and get my living room decorated.
My personal aesthetic falls somewhere between Ashley Campbell's and Kirsten Niemann's. (I definitely lean more towards Kirsten Niemann's. In fact, I'd be happy to just move into her house as-is. But I reeeeallly can't afford to make it look like that and Ashley's colorful, thrifty, anything-goes decorating mentality has rubbed off on me. Hers is far more attainable for an average budget.)
So here's a little tour of the decorating I've done in our townhouse that we're renting. (Our long term plan is to find land in the country to build a modern farmhouse on but we still haven't found the right property so here we stay for the time being. It has plenty of space. We're just lacking a backyard, which has been very difficult with my three boys. If they're outside, I have to be out there with them.)
Here's the little shelf our TV sits on. I plan on painting the whole thing a dull aqua with some chalk paint but that's not in the budget yet. Having books around makes me happy. And I've found that decorating with antique books is one of the easiest and most affordable ways to fill some space. I usually pay between $3-$6 for an antique book. The antique clock and camera were both gifts from my mother-in-law. Our library books and movies sit on the bottom shelf.

We invested in this couch when we were first married and I'm thankful we did. It's now eleven years old and I'm still happy with it. It's absolutely covered in spots and stains and has been peed on more times than I can count but has otherwise held up well to the daily beating provided by my three boys. I'd probably pick something in gray tweed now but I'm thankful it's neutral and the shape is timeless. That giant coffee table was another pre-kid purchase. The top stays empty for playing and eating since it also serves as our kitchen table until we can get some tall bar stools because there's no room for our farm table in here.
I've had that lamp for about eight years. I've thought about painting the silver parts brass but then my lazy side tells me to watch Parenthood instead. My former self would hate that it didn't really "go" with everything but that's where people like Ashley have influenced me. I like that it's not all matchy matchy. It's just been gathered over time and it works. The green owl is from West Elm and was a gift. (If there's ever something specific I want for the house, I just ask for it for my birthday or Christmas.) Those faux bois pillows were actually one huge floor pillow cover I got for $16 on clearance at Pottery Barn. It sat in a closet unused for a couple of years and then one day it dawned on me it could be cut apart and turned into two pillows. My mom found some backing fabric and made the covers for me. The other throw pillow was a very recent find from Target. I normally wouldn't even "splurge" on a $20 pillow but it was absolutely perfect to me so I got it. I love the colors so much. Now I need two more pillows for the side chairs in some brightly colored modern floral or print.
And here's the gallery wall. I started collecting frames over a year ago. I would buy one that I loved here and there at Target when I could afford it and then bought a few at Ikea. I found that round mirror on clearance at Target and I had that tin ceiling tile for years. The print in the center was a gift from my friend, Katy. I absolutely adore it (and her). Find her shop here.
I did the embroidery myself (inspired by this shop that is currently closed.) I need to add some little olive branches like parenthesis on the sides but I needed to hang it so I'll finish that eventually. Those zinc letters are currently at Michael's for only $7.99! Go get yourself one. (And pull up a coupon on your phone before you checkout.) I have to share just how much of a perfectionist I am. I actually wasn't going to buy it. It really bothered me that the bottom was flat and meant to sit on a shelf, not hang on a wall. I was afraid it would look weird. But Myquillyn's catch phrase rang through my ears: "It doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful." So I ignored my inner-perfectionist and bought it. It was the perfect addition and I love it.
The little deer head was from The Land of Nod. Another gift. I bought the frame to go around it at an antique store. I love hunting for something and finding just the right thing. I love the mix of modern and vintage.
The cheapest way to fill a frame? Have your kid paint a word you love. Or have them paint the word, love. Either way, it works and it's cute. (Not my idea. I think I stole it from Life Made Lovely. Her instagram feed is filled with all kinds of gorgeous vignettes.)
This green chair in the following picture was possibly the happiest accident in the whole room. My little sister, Claire, bought it at Goodwill. Thankfully she's not as much of a perfectionist as I am. She bought it because it was cute and cheap and someday she would use it, not because she needed it. She's currently living with my parents in Memphis and needed somewhere to store it so it's been in my garage for a couple months. It dawned on me that it would be the perfect size for this room. So now I'm "storing" it for her in my living room instead of the garage. I'm kinda hoping she doesn't move into her own place for a long time because I've fallen in love with it and its indestructible green vinyl. That'll be the only chair Channing's allowed to sit in when he's being potty-trained. Oh, and I've had this rug on top of carpet in the last two houses. It might seem odd at first to put a rug on carpet, but it adds tons of character to the space and pulls it all together. I've had it for about eight years. I'm sure I would pick something a little more modern and quirky now but I still like it.
This chair is covered in spots and stains too but it just adds to its charm. 
Here's the mantel of our strangely positioned fireplace. It's simple and I love it. You can read the story of how we got this ocean painting at the very bottom of this post. A piece of my heart lives in California and now a piece of California lives in my home. White metal pitcher: Ikea. (About $12 maybe?) Coral: really old from Z Gallerie.
 Full shot of the tiny fireplace with odd floating mantel:
I took this picture of Dawson and Jon on this trip to Florida a couple of years ago. It felt like such an accomplishment to get some photos printed and fill some frames! Also, photos are so dang cheap to print, which is fantastic. Take some (or ask a friend who has a nice camera to) of your kids not looking at the camera or posing. Then they'll feel like art.
When I first got the painting, I wanted to repair the frame and maybe paint it. Now I'm in love with the way it's all beat up:
And a shot of that whole side of the room. There's a patio door to the left of the fireplace and our front door is around the corner the right. That window looks out onto the pond. It was a strange layout but I think it all works. I have two of those giant brown chairs that we bought shortly after the couch. I don't mind them but I was hating how matchy our furniture was. Plus the second brown chair didn't really fit in here. Substituting that green chair for the other brown one made a world of difference. I should probably just sell the other brown chair since I don't necessarily want a set of them anymore. These are the chairs I'm dreaming about.
So thankful for these words that spoke right to me from The Nester: 
"At times, good enough and done is a smarter choice than perfect, and simply making a choice is often a sign of maturity, balance, and contentment." 
Holy moly, I loved that. Is everything in this room exactly what I want? No. Absolutely not. If I were given an unlimited budget, it would definitely look different. But the thing is, I absolutely LOVE this finished space. It's kinda perfect to me just the way it is. It makes me so happy to walk in and see it every day. It feels cozy and homey and welcoming. I'm proud of my thriftiness and patience and most of all, contentment with what I had to work with. I also feel more of a desire to keep it tidy. If it's not pretty to begin with, it might as well just be a total wreck because who cares? But now it's pretty and I want to keep it that way. Now, on to the rest of the house. I have no idea how much longer we'll live here but in the meantime I want to enjoy it. Next up...the boys' room. I have lots of stuff to hang in there already. I just need to keep this ball rolling!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

My Journey to Homeschooling

I wrote about what led me to my decision to homeschool here but I'll recap it for any new readers. (And for all of my friends who forgot since, if you're like me, you don't remember half of what you read or hear in the first place. I blame the children for that, because, duh.)
I always thought homeschool might come into play at some point with at least one of my kids but I always thought it would be way down the road if any of them really started struggling in middle school or something. And only if I was really desperate. I wasn't exactly against homeschooling young kids but I definitely didn't think it was the best choice. I thought of all the things they'd miss out on if they didn't go to school with other kids and that always seemed more important. Plus, I loved elementary school. Well, at least through first grade. And fourth. The other years were questionable. I still don't think of it as the best choice. Just like every other area of parenting, I've learned through the years the best choice is whatever feels right for you and your kids after you've learned their individual personalities (and your own) and educated yourself on both sides of the issue. I have a difficult time with people who fall on one side or the other, thinking their side is the only option and everyone else is making a mistake. Same goes for every other hot topic, stay-at-home mom vs. working, vaccinating, breast feeding, co-sleeping, the list goes on. Let's just keep cheering each other on because we all have the same goal: raising great kids who love others and love the Lord. The rest, as they say, is just details.
I actually made the decision to homeschool Dawson for at least Kindergarten and 1st grade about two years ago, back when I read Bringing Up Boys by Dobson (good arguments, but still not convinced I wanted to give up eight hours of free childcare five days a week) and Raising Cain by Dan Kindlon. (Done. Decision made.) And since half my friends don't read books ever and just want me to recap them, I'll give you the gist. The all day classroom is not designed for a typical boy. Most girls thrive. Most boys don't. Boys at that age just can't possibly be expected to sit and focus for such long hours. They're constantly reprimanded and feel like they don't measure up. The very active ones will start to hate school and will be turned off from learning for the rest of their lives. (Sounds dramatic, but ask my husband. His response when I brought it up? "I hate learning." And its true. He never reads and has zero interest in learning something new unless it will benefit him directly.) Both books strongly urge parents to homeschool until their boys are 7 or 8. At the time, I had a baby and a very very difficult toddler so I knew homeschooling wasn't an option for Bennett starting in Kindergarten. He was also incredibly smart and I felt like he could focus for long periods of time. (Ha! Yeah....on a screen.) Well, Kindergarten went relatively well for him. I hated that he had to go all day and he definitely didn't LOVE school but it was mostly good. Well, then things started falling apart in first grade. He had trouble socially, physically (sitting still and concentrating for all the desk work) and academically. (He was ahead academically and wasn't nearly being challenged enough, despite the teacher doing everything she could.) He started crying most mornings before school and would beg me to stay home. There were many emails exchanged and meetings with his teacher and the guidance counselor last winter.
I went to a meeting for moms who were considering homeschooling back in early spring, thinking I was going with Dawson in mind. I left that meeting knowing without a doubt I needed to homeschool Bennett for second grade. The longer I sat with the decision, the more certain I was that it was the right one. We talked about it a lot and he was really excited about the idea.
Now that most kids are starting school again here in Des Moines, I've been feeling nothing but relief that I'm not sending him to public school again. Here me loud and clear on this one though. I do NOT think sending your kid to public school is the wrong decision. Quite the opposite. I think its a great decision for a lot of kids, particularly girls. I just know without a doubt its not the right decision for Bennett this year.
Am I overwhelmed? Not yet. But I probably will be as soon as all the curriculum books start arriving in the mail. I'm excited to get into a routine and get it all figured out. If I have clear direction on what needs to be done when, I can make it happen. I was a hard core BabyWise mom and my babies and I thrived on that consistent schedule. But if there's no clear direction for me, our days fall apart very quickly. The weeks we had things on the calendar this summer, like VBS or swimming lessons, went great. The weeks that were open ended were....not so great. So I think having structure, yet freedom, will be great for our family.
Since everyone seems to ask me, I'll share about curriculum I've chosen. I actually contacted the Christian school that we plan to send them to in the future (and I know that decision will become clear when the time is right) and asked what they use. I'm using most of the same stuff for Bennett so that way, if he goes there the following year, he'll already be on the same page. Literally. Its Bob Jones for English/Grammar and enVision Math. I'm going to use Handwriting Without Tears since I've heard so many great things about it. I'll pick my own books for reading and will add some history and geography in there somewhere. And social studies. I don't even know what social studies is but I'll google it or something. Do we need PE? I think we need PE. Mommy/son yoga sounds good. I've been wanting to start. I'm feeling overwhelmed. I signed him up for an after school hours Spanish class that will go for six weeks and then a Science class for four weeks after that through our community schools. I'm really excited about those. I think they'll be great supplements and also something to get him out of the house. And he told me, "I've always wanted to learn Spanish!" :) I'm not joining an official co-op since I want our schedule to be flexible and since Dawson will be in afternoon preschool. But I do have a group of moms I'll meet with at least once a month for different activities and lessons. I also had the option of reporting to a teacher throughout the year (she would do a home visit monthly) or just doing it all on my own. I opted to have a teacher come. I figured as a first timer, any extra help and direction will be beneficial. Its nice to know that I don't have to do that every year though, if I don't want to.
So here's where I ask you for any piece of advice you have for me as a first timer. I think I need to make up a bunch of busy bags for Channing, or else I'll start to rely on the tv too much. I'm not too terribly worried about him since he's my calmest boy, physically speaking. I think he'll be easily entertained with some toddler activities. Let me know if you have a perfect, not-too-sticky homemade play-doh recipe.
Cheers to a new school year. Fresh starts always feel good. But I'm not cheering for fall. Don't even say that word around here. Its still summertime. We just happen to have some schoolwork to do.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Trial by Fire

Today is our 12th anniversary. It should be filled with cards, and flowers and the anticipation of a fantastic date night out. But it isn't. I've never before anticipated a date that I know will be filled with pain instead of celebration. Things crumbled last year around this time. Jon had been hurt by me a few years prior and despite plowing forward and attempting normalcy for a couple of years, the band-aid covering his gaping wounds just wouldn't hold any longer and so began my husband's retreat to try to find healing. I remember last summer being so sure it would just be a handful of months, but here we are a year later. The pain of separation isn't much easier. I'm just more used to the feeling of it.
I've found that people can fairly easily talk about those rough patches once they're back on smooth ground. But I don't hear people talking about it when they're stuck in the middle; at least not outside their trusted circle of family and friends. But you know what's even harder than walking through the toughest time in my life? Pretending I'm not. I can't and I won't. I will not put on a mask of perfection when my heart is aching on the best days and feels like it's being ripped in two on the worst days. I sometimes want to hang a sign around my neck that says, "Tread lightly. Broken heart inside."
People often tell me I'm brave for sharing my story. I don't feel brave. I feel free. I'm free of guilt and shame. I'm free of worrying about any sort of reputation that I may or may not have. Freedom in Christ is so very real in my life. And the more I talk, the more my story is in the light and able to be used for His glory. I want others to experience that same freedom. The sin in my past is ugly. But God is already redeeming it and I think I've only seen a fraction of the redemption to come.
Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed. -James 5:16 MSG
On this day, August 3rd, 2014, I choose joy. I have compassion and empathy for others that I didn't have a year ago. I have more grace and less judgment than I had a year ago. I have a much bigger faith than I did a year ago. And I have had far too many blessings to count this past year, particularly in the area of friendships. When I was at my loneliest, God flooded my life with incredible, deep, authentic friendships. But most importantly I have a desperate need for my Savior. There were times about six or eight months ago that I would honestly think, "God, I'm not sure I want this season to end because I don't ever want to stop needing you as desperately as I do right now." Being at your wit's end is sometimes the most beautiful place to be.
My friend once wrote a great blog post about what to do for a friend who's miscarried and I so appreciated it. (I'd link to it but I don't think it's live anymore.) So here are my tips if you have a friend walking through any sort of difficult and painful time:
Acknowledge it. Don't ignore it. If they know you know about it, ask them how they're doing. Sometimes the conversation is awkward when people ask me how I am (because I'm usually brutally honest) but I feel so incredibly loved by the people who do and sometimes hurt by the people who don't. Send a text or a card if the thought of bringing it up in person seems scary. If you're very close to them, find out their love language and meet it from time to time. You have to remember that someone in a marriage separation or recently divorced isn't receiving any sort of affection, besides from their kids. And although, I'm learning to rely on God and fully realize that He is and always will be enough, it sure does feel good to be loved by a friend. And lastly, buy them a copy of the Streams in the Desert devotional. I don't know where I'd be without it.

My life does not look at all what I imagined it would right now. I can't say yet that I wouldn't change it, although some parts I definitely would. But I trust that I'll be able to say that a few years from now. I just couldn't produce spiritual growth like this on my own terms if I tried. And I know its not in vain. I want to be used on this Earth for the kingdom. And if my broken and redeemed past and broken and someday redeemed marriage will ultimately bring Him glory, then I will continue to praise Him for this storm. My God is big. And He's got this.
Here's an excerpt from one of my favorite Streams in the Desert devos, because I can't ever quote that book enough:
We are to honor the Lord in the trial--in the very thing that afflicts us. And although there are examples where God did not allow His saints to even feel the fire, usually the fire causes pain.
It is precisely there, in the heat of the fire, we are to glorify Him. We do this by exercising perfect faith in His goodness and love that has permitted this trial to come upon us. Even more, we are to believe that out of the fire will arise something more worthy of praise to Him than had we never experienced it.
A person has only as much faith as he shows in times of trouble. The three men who were thrown into the fiery furnace came out just as they went in--
except for the ropes that had bound them. How often God removes our shackles in the furnace of affliction!
This is the way Christians should come out of the furnace of fiery trials--liberated from their shackles but untouched by the flames.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Behind the Camera

This summer I've had the opportunity to do several photo sessions for friends. I love every minute of it. I don't get nervous anymore and always leave feeling completely energized. I love this creative outlet. I love getting out of the house for a couple of hours and making kids giggle. I do charge for my time but I don't charge very much and I generally leave it up to the family to pay me what is a comfortable amount for them. I realize I have a whole lot to learn still, so if you're a professional, please know that I know these aren't technically perfect by any means. But I love having something to learn about and grow and develop in at this stage of my life. It's so fulfilling and satisfying when so many days with young children can feel a bit monotonous.
I love shooting this family. I don't know many other people that are as full of joy as my friend Katie. She brings me laughter and encourages me every time I'm with her. Theirs was the first "real" photo shoot I ever did a couple of years ago. I barely even knew how to work my camera in Auto mode then. Its fun to compare my progress. (I also reeeeally liked the filters in those days. ;)

They were announcing their adoption, a little boy from China, so we shot some with a globe. Of course I started crying when she told me because adoption always makes me cry these days.

 Little girls are SO much fun to take pictures of!
I did this next session for an old friend I hadn't seen in a few years. We didn't have any sunshine and the thunder was threatening but I think we got some good ones despite the cloudy weather. I loved my friend's blue dress against the green. 

This little girl cracked me up. Classic first-born; very serious and very worried about everyone's safety at all times. It was fun to try to coax a giggle from her.
This next shoot was for a friend's little boy's first birthday. One year old boys are just as challenging to shoot as you might imagine. It was pouring rain all day so we were pretty limited to the front porch. I've learned not to wear nice clothes on shoots because I had no choice but to be right down on the wet, muddy porch. There are all sorts of things about photography that I wouldn't have anticipated! Like how sore my legs are the next day from all the crouching. We shot family photos and then I stayed and photographed the party. 

The funny thing was, he never even ate any of the cake. He just played in it. Big brother came in to make sure it didn't go to waste.

This last newborn session was crazy hard but so much fun. My friend's boys are exactly like mine. In other words, sitting still for pictures isn't their idea of fun. Wrestling, punching and making fart noises, is, however, their idea of fun. Thankfully I have a whole lot of practice getting little boys to follow my instructions and to crack a smile. I really loved working with them because I just felt right at home. The newborn, however, was totally not having any of it. It took a really long time to get him to stop screaming his head off every time we laid him down. Lesson learned. Newborn shoots take a whole lot of patience. And time. (And these are completely unedited, straight out of the camera. I just need to crop a few before I give them back.)