Wednesday, June 16, 2010

It Mattered Then and Matters Still

This morning, I dropped my kiddos off at VBS and headed to my friend Emily's house for a cup of coffee and some adult conversation. Emily is in the midst of planning for a move so we settled in, boxes around and baby asleep, to talk and reconnect.

Having time to spend with her always feels like such a treat. For so many years, I have been busy with babies and my moments of free time are hard to find. Now that my kids are older, Emily is beginning this trek I have known and loved so well. It has been so fun for me to hear her talk about life with her little man... born mid-March and happy as a clam. I have loved watching her grow from a hard-working student (I met her first during our years as residence directors.) to a faith-filled woman to a loving mom. The person she is just makes me smile.

This morning, we talked about life with our children and I heard again what I sometimes forget... that we have to slow down, we have to be still, we have to pay attention to what is before us today. Being reminded of these truths by a sweet, young mom was helpful to me today.

Emily talked about rocking her baby, about watching him sleep, about loving the way he felt in her arms. She reflected, wisely, that in only a few weeks, he will be so busy that these slow, snuggly days will quickly come to pass.

As I listened to hear talk, I remembered how it felt... being tired and weary by constant demands... thinking through each momma move and feeling the decisions to be of utmost importance... wanting so badly to do my best to love my child and give him the life we hoped he would have. As I listened to her talk, I remembered those hours of rocking and nursing and watching my baby. I remembered knowing their little heads so well that each new hair was noticed (my boys had very little!) and each small cry could be identified. I remembered holding them, cuddling them, rocking and rocking and rocking and rocking... hoping that each minute spent in that well-used chair was somehow pouring into their little souls, "Momma loves you. Momma loves you. Momma loves you..." Even when I was tired, even when there was laundry still to be done, I know now that those minutes were worth it.

My life today is different. We run from baseball game to baseball game and spend time thinking through the importance of guidance that can steer my teen away from life-changing mistakes. We encourage good grades, seek meaningful involvement and pray for our kids to grow in their faith. Those sleepy hours in my rocking chair seem a lifetime away... except, you know, when they don't.

Because sometimes, I still sit there and sometimes they come by and sometimes even the arms and legs of a gangly teen will awkwardly drape over mine and I will rock and rock for the minute it lasts and love the feel of his weight on my lap. And sometimes I can tell that my subliminal message to all four of my sweet kids is still running around in their brains, banging against their hearts, drawing them close to me even as they grow up. I can tell when they seek me out to smooth some crumbled feeling. I can tell when they stand real close and drop a head onto my waiting shoulder. I can tell when their arms wrap around my waist and they pull in tight and I squeeze back and marvel that they are so tall. Momma loves you. Momma loves you. Momma loves you.

Being with Emily was good today. It really always is. She helped me remember a different time... different but not-at-all-less. She helped me remember that it mattered and matters still today. That I love them. That I sit with them. That we do this life here together each and every day.

And when I see my friend snuggle her baby, I do miss it a lot. But, when I catch the eye of my 13 year old from across a crowded room, and he smiles and winks and looks away... the feeling for me is so similar that I really don't wish to go back. Because it's still sweet and it's still good and the message is still getting in. He is still my baby and I am still his momma and what we are building is clear before my eyes.

And even when I miss those warm baby days, I wouldn't trade that for anything in the world.

Blessings on your day.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Simple Woman's Daybook--June 15, 2010

If you blog, you can do this, too. C'mon, you can do it! Join in the fun!

Outside my window...It is cloudy again. We have had so much rain lately. Every now and then we get a little peek of sun... but mainly it is gloomy out there.

I am thinking... about the day ahead... the things I am hoping to teach my kids this week. I am looking forward to finding time to focus on some Bible lessons that I want to experience with them. Struggling with feeling a little crabby today, though. The morning did not go as I had hoped and a bad start is no fun.

I am thankful for... quiet... a little here and there. A chance to breathe... a chance to dream about what we can do together this summer.

From the kitchen... If you can cook it on a grill, I am doing it this week. Love the grill! Have you tried bacon wrapped asparagus?? Oh my goodness! Amazing!

I am wearing... black capris, a black tank top and a white blouse.

I am creating... my book. Finally feel like I am getting somewhere. It is slow going but it is at least going. I want the proposal and chapters done by the end of this month. I will pitch it to a publisher at the end of next month. Prayers are welcome...

I am dreaming... about being in a better place financially. Less worry, less stress. We do not need much but I am so weary of our current situation.

I am going... to help in the nursery for VBS on Thursday... going out with friends for coffee on Friday morning. Cannot wait. : )

I am reading... and re-reading chapters of my book. Trying to edit... not my gift. While I write this one, I am dreaming of the next... excited for what it could be, too. Ooops, my dreams are getting away from me! : )

I am hoping... for a book contract. Praying for a book contract. Wishing. Working. Striving.

I am hearing... the fan in the dining room. The wind outside. The kids downstairs.

Around the house... I can tell the kids are home for summer... little things left behind in every single spot I see.

One of my favorite things... slow, patient days with a calm, patient momma. Not doing very well on this front today. Breathing deeply and trying to regroup.

A few plans for the rest of the week...finish the summer schedule, learn Outlook, finish messing with this crazy (new) phone, go out for coffee with friends.
What about you? : )

Blessings on your day!

Looking for more like this?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Who Knew?

I haven't blogged about food lately... time to make that right!

We have been a charcoal grill family from the beginning. Suited us. Easy, authentic, flavorful. But over the years, I have watched friends fall in love with their gas grills... and use them year round. I was intrigued. As our family grew, the long warm up time and short cooking time of charcoal grilling became really inconvenient. As I became less content with this method, our very old grill began to fall apart. Piece by piece. Sometimes, this is not a bad thing.

With a little budgeting and some HUGE sales, we finally bit the bullet and bought a gas grill. For what we were spending in charcoal, we could easily do a trade off and quickly offset the cost of the grill. But, then I had to learn.... beyond burgers and dogs, what could I cook?

I quickly found that grilling with gas is very different than grilling with charcoal. As someone who loves to cook and does okay with most foods, it was an awful discovery to find that 25.00 worth of ribs had turned to rocks after 5 quick minutes, unattended. I knew that could not happen again so I needed to do better and learn more.

Since then, I have conquered ribs (Amazing!) and we have used our grill to cook up brats and dogs. Yesterday, I wanted to try something new. Pork chops were on sale at our local grocery, along with fresh asparagus. The wheels in my head started turning... What if I wrapped the asparagus in bacon and grilled that? What if I put it on the warming shelf and then let the still-cooking bacon drip onto my grilling chops? What if I dropped a loaf of store-bought garlic bread onto the grill, as well?

The results were incredible! A whole meal cooked in 10 quick minutes and unbelievably tasty! The kids gobbled up the grilled asparagus... those wrapped and those unwrapped. And I had no mess to clean up afterward.

Turns out grilling is the way to go! Who knew?

Last night, I posted a grilling question on my Facebook page and had lots of folks talk about grilling fruit. Especially pineapple! That, I am going to have to try. What about you? What do you just love to grill? What has worked well for your family? Do you have any tips or ideas for family-friendly barbecued fare?

Tonight, I am going to try Italian sausage... What about you?

Blessings on your day.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Journey of the Ordinary

Some days are full of ordinary moments that build upon one another until getting up in the morning quietly becomes going to bed at night. Summer days are full of these moments of beautiful normalcy and I just love watching my children move from task to task, activity to activity....

Here is a glimpse into how our day began today...

7:00 Benjamin and I wake up and spend some time hanging out together.

8:00 Josiah wakes up and comes to spend time with Benjamin and I.

8:45 Noah and Elizabeth wake up and look for breakfast. We all eat.

9:00 All the kids go out to the garden to harvest strawberries for snacks today.

9:30 I prepare the strawberries while Josiah and EB go to play with Legos and Noah and
Benjamin go out for a run with the dog. They are training for fall soccer.

10:00 We gather together for devotions. I am reading to them from the Jesus Storybook.

10:30 Noah comes up to write his blog post for today. (See "Life at the Lamp Post"below.)
The rest of the kids play Legos again and I can hear them cracking each other up

11:00 Elizabeth asks if she can work on the Leapster for a few minutes and then pops in her
Ni Hao Kai Lan cartridge and starts working on some age appropriate learning games. I
love that this game lets her connect with some part of her Chinese heritage.

11:15 Benjamin comes up from downstairs, scans the family room, finds a book wedged under a
side table and throws himself down to read a while. Noah is blogging, still. What he is
writing, makes me smile. It also, however, reminds me to be careful with what I teach...
they soak it up like sponges.

11:30 Noah is done blogging and I go to check it for editing mistakes. I send all the kids out
front to clean up the yard and porch, both of which need some attention.

11:45 Noah's blog is posted and I go outside to help with the yard. They have a good start but
need some help. Once we finish, we move on to cleaning the camper.

12:00 I think it is lunch time but the kids think differently. They squeal for sprinkler time and I
tell them okay so off they go to run and scream and get wet in the yard. I love that they
want to do this... I love listening to them playing together... I just love the whole of it.

So, soon we will have lunch and then we will do chores. The kids are assigned areas in the house to straighten up. They work in pairs to get the job done and then I check it, just to be sure. Having their help makes a huge difference to me because once they straighten an area, I can clean it and working together like this saves so much time.

After lunch and chores, we will sit down together and I will read to them for a while. The book I picked up from Amazon with Read-Alouds inside has been great for us, so far. Monday, we read The Ugly Duckling. Today, we will read a selection from the Odyssey.

After all that? Who knows? Bikes? Baseball? Books? There is enough to do in our little corner of the world to keep my kids busy today... and hopefully tomorrow, too. Removing the word "bored" from their vocabulary was helpful... not because I don't want to hear it but because it changed how they look at their day. They seek less to be entertained and more to discover. On this absolutely ordinary day, that is a journey I want to take with them.

They are off to build a blanket fort! Gotta love a happy mess!

Blessings on your day!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Finding Her Way and Feeding the Dog

Sometimes I forget what works, what's important, in raising kids. This week, on a small scale, I am trying to remember a bit.

Several months ago, when assigning Stick Chores (search Sticks in the right hand search box for more information on the Sticks Program... or book me to speak!) it was Elizabeth's turn to feed the dogs for the week. Each morning, she was taught to get up and give both dogs food and water... and to be sure that it was done before she ate breakfast. Our hope was that she would remember more easily if feeding them was tied to feeding herself.

At 6 years old, my spunky and spirited little girl is really pretty responsible. She knows what needs to get done in a day and this easy chore should have been no problem. Except... it was. Day after day, as we sat down to dinner, we would find the dogs had not been fed. Elizabeth would leave the dinner table (not good for a slow eater) and go off to feed them, under the steely glare of her three brothers who do not want our family pets slighted.

At the end of the week, I told Elizabeth she would keep the job another week. We explained that taking care of our sweet dogs is an important task that helps the dogs to understand how much she loves them. It is love in action, not in word. Unfortunately, the second week did not go better than the first. So the job was given to her again. And again. And again.

Truth be told though, it was our fault. We said, "Feed the dogs, then eat breakfast." and yet, if she didn't do that, there was no consequence to help her remember. The boys were growing increasingly frustrated and I was, too. But, our crazy schedule kept me so distracted that our little princess was getting away with a pretty bad habit. With soccer and school and gymnastics and track and the musical and the play and baseball and... I was working so hard to keep my head above water and these details were just falling by the wayside. Some days are like that... I wish it wasn't true but it is.

Noah, who is very close to our golden doodle, Lexie, was especially frustrated. He complained again and again that they always had to feed the dog and never forgot (this is true...) and we didn't let them slack off like this. The older boys started pet chores at ages 2 and 3 so I could see that this felt unfair to them. I finally told him that summer was coming and that I would be able to really focus on this issue at that time. My answer didn't help his frustration and actually increased mine.

Last week, my kids got out of school and we have spent the past few days regrouping. We are sleeping in a bit and relaxing and playing and taking care of things that had been set aside for too long. Including this chore... this dog-feeding chore... that needed my attention badly. Because sometimes I forget what is important about parenting... sometimes I need to remember.

Yesterday, my kids had toast or cereal for breakfast while I cut up a beautiful watermelon to put out on the island. I was looking for natural consequences to help with correcting this pet chore. Elizabeth ate breakfast and then asked for a slice of watermelon.

"Did you feed the dogs?" I asked.

"Um, no." she replied.

I just looked at her and she turned to do her chore. Once both dogs had eaten and the chore was done, she asked again.

"Can I have a slice of watermelon now?"

"Elizabeth," I responded calmly, "this chore is important. It is HOW the dogs know you love them. You are paying attention to their needs and their wants and it matters. You made them wait. You will need to wait for watermelon."

Her head dropped. Her shoulders drooped and she walked out of the kitchen sans fruit.

This morning, Elizabeth got up and got dressed. She played with her brothers while I made french toast and sausage for breakfast. When we gathered to pray, I had put out some juice and started to get the plates. I put the princess plate aside and waited.

"Can we start?" she asked excitedly.

I looked at her and said waited.

"Where is my princess plate?" she continued.

I looked at her.

The boys grabbed a plate and started to serve themselves and without another word, Elizabeth went to feed the dogs. I know she knows what to do. I know she struggles with clear expectations. I know. But, the truth is I am her momma. The truth is that I do her no favors by feeding those dogs myself. The truth is she needs me to hold her to a higher standard and expect from her what I know is hidden underneath. It is my job... and I have to do it even when it is a tiny matter. Because learning to be responsible and caring with pets will be a lesson that transfers over to many other places. And, because knowing there is a limit you must obey is important for anyone, child or adult.

I am remembering things about parenting that have fallen by the wayside. It isn't that I didn't know that... it's just that life gets away from me sometimes. And when it does, because it will, it doesn't mean all is lost. It doesn't mean my daughter is naughty or irresponsible or anything like that at all. It means I am needed. It means that my job is still going. And even when I take my eye off the ball for a while, it is never too late to start again, not for me and not for you. We might get discouraged. We might feel overwhelmed. But it is good for us to remember that being consistent in what we expect goes a very long way in the life of a child.

We aren't there yet. Elizabeth is learning... and truly not done. We may visit this again tomorrow. It is a small thing in a very big life but a lesson that needs to be learned. And after all this teaching, as I sit here writing this blog, a six year old girl is playing downstairs with her brothers... and she is smiling. She knows she did the right thing and that choice always feels right. We will see where that takes us tomorrow but I know this: I am not giving up. Helping my sweetie find her way is an awfully big job that, honestly, makes me smile, too.

Blessings on your day.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The First Day of Summer--So Far, So Good.

Oh, how I love summer! I really do. After last week's crazy schedule, we are starting today with a much more relaxed tone. I am so grateful.

School got out on Thursday and we spent Friday at the beach and a local pool. The weekend held sports and rain and more work in the garden. But today? A whole new ballgame!

I started the day early so I could go for a walk before Mark left for work and the kiddos got out of bed. I came back and worked a while to set a selection of snacks out on the island to enjoy during the day. They woke up slowly, one at a time. I had time to spend with Benjamin, snuggled a while with Josiah and got a one-armed-hug from my teen as he headed outside to shoot hoops. Elizabeth woke up and played calmly in bed and by 9:00 AM, all were awake.

After a no-frills breakfast, we started with devotions and used a new book that I am really excited about. The kids worked on some memory work and then spent a lot of time playing outside. Having time... open, free, relaxed, unstructured time... is such a gift for us. I am loving it...

So, day one is almost done and dinner has yet to be made. But the dog got a bath and we read a good book and all of us have let the juice of a watermelon run down our arms. We perused the garden, laughed out loud and worked on some goals for the summer. One of the goals I have set is to help the kids work on writing skills. To keep this interesting, they will be blogging a few times a week. They have their very own blog (link at the bottom of this page--Life at the Lamp Post) and will do their own editing and writing and posting, with my overview for safety more than content. Feel free to check it out!

If you have an idea about how to make summer good for your kids and for you, I would love to hear about it. We have a lot of days off in front of us and this is just the start. What do you do to help the days go well? What ideas work for you? I know for myself, I am hoping for a long string of good days, making memories with my four sweet kids. Possible? Some days. Today? Exactly what I hoped to find...

Blessings on your day!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Last Day of School...

My head is full... my words, jumbled. Here is how we started this day. Off to go to the last day of school... They love it. They really do. (I do, too.)

By noon, us mommas stood outside and waited and out they came... backpacks full and teary eyes. My little guy is in orange... with his buddy who is wearing orange, too.

Sometimes, even in the midst of it all, you have to take a second to think... even when you are older... even when you're 13. Because it is a lot to end the year... a lot to think about and a lot to feel.

Then, we went to the park... a grand distraction that works so well! And they played and laughed and jumped and ran and ate junky food while the sun fell on their sweet, little faces. Oh... and there were sandcastles... well sort of.

It's not that we wanted to leave... just that the time had come. So out we walked, ready for what comes next, ready for what summer brings. Because it is good and sweet and needed and right. And our friends will be there, too...

Blessings on your day.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Blog Rewind: The Last Day

Tomorrow is the last day of school for my kids. Below is the blog I wrote last year about this day and how we mark it each year. Enjoy!

Years ago, when I was working at Trinity, I learned huge lessons about the importance of closure from a resident assistant who was working with me at the time. Katie was especially gifted at nurturing relationships and in her professional and private life, she always made sure to make both beginnings and endings in special ways. While I had known, in my head, how crucial it is to find ways to offer closure at appropriate times, Katie taught me how that LOOKED as she lived it out before me. This has had an impact on my life as a parent that I did not expect.

Our children attend a nearby Christian school and they adore the time they spend there. Every year, they learn so much and show such enthusiasm for these new bits of knowledge. The teachers are passionate about their work and exceedingly loving in how they treat their students. The school overall does a phenomenal job of building community and connecting students K-8 in ways that brings out the best in each child. It is exactly the educational experience I had envisioned for my children and I am so grateful that they are able to attend this school. But, the end of the year is always bittersweet. While they eagerly anticipate the free and relaxing days of summer, knowing that they will walk out of their classrooms and away from their beloved teachers for the last time brings on a sadness that is saved specifically for year-end. Yes, less time with friends is a part of this equation but it is the loss of a year well-spent that makes my children sad.

So, seeing this trend from the beginning of their school years, we have established traditions that help to take the edge off the end. Year after year, we conclude our year with carefully chosen activities that offer to them (and to me) Katie's closure.

Weeks before the school year ends, we begin to talk about making the most of our final days. We talk about ending well, working and playing hard. We try to be extra aware of academic issues, spending more time studying for tests and completing projects. In our house, the end of the year is so full, so busy, that it would be easy to let all of this slide. Paying extra attention helps a lot as the final grades are recorded and the days wind down.

The night before the school year ends, I sit with each of my kids and we talk about what they are thankful for in school. We recall the amazing experiences they shared with classmates and the special gifts that each of their teachers offered to them. And then, with all this fresh in their heads, we write thank you letters. I encourage them to do this on their own. The words and memories are theirs and, for us, it has proven to be an important experience to take a minute to not only be grateful but to express that gratitude to someone with whom they have shared this year. (And...this is top secret... after my sweet babies have all gone to bed, Mark scans these precious words into our computer leaving us with a legacy of thankfulness that is heartwarming to review.)

On the last day of school, my children choose an outfit that feels right to them. The process is much like choosing what to wear on the first day of school. For some, it feels right to dress up a bit... for others it makes more sense to choose what is comfortable and comforting to them. Then, after we pray together and they leave on the bus, I begin a lot of behind-the-scenes running and errands to help that day be all that it needs to be.

First, I run to buy flowers. It is our tradition to give each teacher a bouquet of flowers or a hanging basket as part of our thank you to them. Sometimes, we have also prepared baked goods to give them as well. (This year we packed chocolate chip macadamia nut cookies we made the day before.) It is my goal to be at school, flowers in tow, by 10:00 for the first recess of the day. With the thank you notes from the children, the baked goods and the flowers, I go from classroom to classroom giving these to the boys to give to their teachers. While I am there, I take a picture of each child with their teacher and then leave them to finish their day.

Once this is done, I run to McDonald's to buy lunch for the kids. I pack these into the van and then head back to school. Though my children ride the bus, it has been important to them to see me outside when they come out on the very last day. So there I stand, hugging my sad boys, as they say good-bye to what will always be an important time in their young lives. And then, they get on the bus for one last ride. With teachers waving from the sidewalk and parking lot and many young arms waving from bus windows, it all comes to an end. The tears do not belong to the children alone. These amazing teachers who have loved their students so well are often misty, too. It is a bittersweet moment for all... reluctantly turning from the blessing of the school year to face full on summer coming.

Now perhaps you find yourself wondering about my being at school while the bus runs my babies on home... I annually find myself wondering about this, as well! Hoping for a time-warp, I hurry to my van to beat the bus to our house. (Believe it or not, this usually works!) I then wait in my driveway til they all come home and as they step off the bus, Elizabeth and cheerfully yell "Happy summer!!". Dumping all our stuff in the house, we quickly load into the van to head off to the ultimate distraction from all things sad, a trip to the park to have lunch with friends from school!

By now, the McDonald's bought much earlier has grown a little cold but in the last 8 years, I have yet to have one complaint. Arriving at the park, the kids run off to sit at picnic tables with those to whom they have just said good-bye. Eating quickly, they then run and scream and laugh and play at a park we reserve just for this. The moms sit together and dream of days with later starts and worry a bit about filling endless days with meaningful experiences.

After a couple of hours, everyone exhausted, we pack it up to head home to relax. The intensity of emotion has waned by then and the kids are drained but content. Traditions behind us, summer begins. And it is full and it is good and we are ready.

Keep reading... the word we ban and some of our plans are coming up next...

Blessings on your day!
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