Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Stepping Up

Today I had a meeting with our pilot school, Monroe Elementary, to discuss our Family Literacy Night event coming up in November.  This project for our charity, From Cover to Cover, has become my fifth baby.  I truly cannot tell you how important it is for our communities to realize how much these kids need us.  Not just the Monroe students.  The children at-risk in communities nationwide.  I have found my purpose.  Raising awareness about the striking correlation between literacy and poverty and doing something about it.

Proficient literacy skills are a one-way ticket out of the generational poverty many of these children come from.  It may seem like a daunting task, but it is quite possible to help some of these kids break free.  This is why we have expanded our project to include sponsored literacy nights.  It is why, each day, we spend time working to raise funds, gather volunteers, and make important community connections to spread the word about this huge need that lies right in our own neighborhoods.

What do these children need?  Books.  They need home libraries.  How can you further develop your reading skills if you have nothing to read at home?  Having fewer than 25 printed materials at home is considered living below the poverty level.  This is the biggest area I feel so many of us take for granted.  Our children are abundantly blessed.  Most of us have at least 25 books lying on a table or a book shelf in our living rooms.  Combine that with those found in bedrooms, play rooms, and diaper bags and I am sure most of us are well into the hundreds.  Could you imagine not having a single book for your child to read?  It is a shame, yet a reality for so many.

What do these families need?  They need to be empowered.  If a parent cannot read themselves, that does not mean they cannot help their child to become a better reader.  We are going to work with all of the parents and guardians that come to our events and teach them strategies they can use, regardless of ability, while reading with their children.  We are going to share the importance of reading together each night and walk them through how to ask questions and utilize pictures to further develop the skills of their child.

What do these schools need?  They need volunteers.  More specifically, volunteer readers.  There are many mentoring programs that do not require a significant amount of your time, yet they can make a huge difference in the life of a child.  The more these children are surrounded by people encouraging them to read and reading with them, the more confidence they will build and, in turn, their desire to read will increase.  They also need books.  Quality, engaging, interesting books.  We want kids to look at their classroom libraries and be excited about reading.  Old, worn, outdated books just don't illicit the same amount of excitement as new(er), colorful, eye-catching books.

I challenge all of you to find a local school in your community and help them fulfill one of these needs.  If you live in the QC, I encourage you to join us in our mission.  When I drove away from the school today and passed the lines at the shelters and soup kitchens, it really hit me how important our efforts truly are.  We know we aren't going to save the world, but if we can change the world for a handful of kids, we have made a difference.  You can make a difference, too.  The question is, will you step forward and try?


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Letting Go

"Busy."  This seems to be the word most of us use to describe our lives.  As a society we seem to wear our busyness with pride, but have we paused a moment to really examine what is truly making us so "busy?"  Are these busy lives we are creating for ourselves and our families truly something to be proud of?  We complain about how we don't have any time for homework, how we don't have time to cook and have a family meal, how we don't have time to...the list goes on.   Our kids attend school all day, we pick them up and begin the evening rush, putting the very things we complain about not having time for on the back-burner.  

As parents, we have been entrusted with the responsibility of shaping the next generation.  Impressionable eyes are watching us.  Little ears are listening.  These children are looking to us for guidance and it is our job to lead by example.  What are we teaching our children by being so busy we don't have time to eat as a family?  How are we teaching them to value education and be responsible when their homework is finished as they're running out the door because we were running from activity to activity the night before?  How are we teaching them to be grateful for their blessings and serve others in their community when we are too busy to volunteer ourselves?  The hard truth? We're not.

The buzz on the street is we're raising an entitled generation of kids.  While it's hard to hear, can many of you disagree?  We have succumbed to the idea that our kids' happiness is measured by all of the "stuff" we provide for them.  Activities, play dates, material items, the latest and greatest technology...ugh, the list goes on and on.  They get what they want and then they ask for more.  They are searching for a feeling of satisfaction that will never come because there will always be something better behind the next door.  Oh, America, what are we doing?

It is time to take a step back and truly evaluate our lives.  If you are too busy for homework, family dinners, and nightly reading then perhaps it is time to make a change.  Our children are depending on us to set limits and create a home environment that isn't so busy.  Sure, it may be hard to say no to whatever it is they are "dying" to do next, but in the end, after the tears have dried and the tantrum has ceased, how refreshing will it feel to not be so overwhelmed and, you got it, busy?  Let go of the guilt.  There is no disservice in saying no.  In time your children will thank you.  

I have always found that serving others leaves me feeling much more satisfied than any material item ever could.  This is the feeling I want my children to experience:  to realize that it is so much more fulfilling to give than to receive.  It is my hope that by example I am teaching them to make time for others, to realize life isn't always about them.  I want them to understand that as a family we are not too busy to serve.

My eyes have been opened in the past year.  While there are many, many people so willing to give of their time and talents, there are so many more who are simply too busy.  So many programs rely on volunteers to fulfill their mission and sadly those programs will cease to exist if no one steps up.  Everyone has been blessed with talent.  It would be a shame to not use this gift to help others, be it your school community, local homeless shelter, youth program, you name it.  You never how your contribution, whether big or small, may change the course of someone else's life. There is an opportunity awaiting everyone.  Let's all band together, get a little less busy, and teach our children well.  Make an impression that will last and not be lost on those little eyes and ears.

We all given the same amount of time each week.  It is up to us what we do with it.




       
 


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Overwhelmed

There's this song on K-Love by Big Daddy Weave called "Overwhelmed."  My interpretation (take it for what it's worth) is someone being overwhelmed by God's love, beauty, and grace.  This song runs through my brain morning, noon, and night and I can't help but feel I'm being spoken to.  Lately my life has been so terribly busy, I am left feeling overwhelmed.  Obviously this is not the true interpretation of the song, but when "I'm overwhelmed, I'm overwhelmed by you" runs through your head on repeat, perhaps it's time to listen!

I may have bitten off more than I can chew.  When I committed to our fall PTA fundraiser I had no idea how much time it would involve.  Add in several upcoming engagements for From Cover to Cover, grant writing, and, oh, taking care of my family and house, I am left feeling incredibly overwhelmed by day's end.  It is so hard to unwind and turn off my brain.  I am overwhelmed.

I have had little time to engage in hobbies I love and find relaxing.  Reading, writing, and baking have taken a back seat to donation requests, typing up informational sheets, and writing long, tedious grants.  My screen time is ridiculous right now and I am counting down the days where I can sit back with a good book and relax!  Coincidentally, I have a book on the way called The Best Yes: Making Wise Decision in the Midst of Endless Demands.  The irony is not lost upon me...trust me.

Are you overwhelmed?  How do we get ourselves in these predicaments people?!


Monday, August 25, 2014

4 Years

Today my little guy turned four.  We had the best two days celebrating this strong-willed little boy.  He had so much fun and pretty much had a permanent smile on his face the entire time.  We heard polite "thank you's," witnessed some sweet moments of sharing his new toys, and best of all, listened to his excitement and stories about his birthday.

It is hard to believe that four years have passed since we welcomed him into our family.  After a brief hospital stay, we brought home this tiny little boy and started our life as a family of five.  While we have had many moments of joy and happiness, we have also had many of despair.  For weeks our sweet little boy cried and cried in pain.  Eventually we found dairy to be the culprit and things began to look up.  We (who are we kidding here, I) spent night after night up with this little boy who did not want to sleep.  Exhausted did not even put a dent in how I felt caring for three little kiddos.  We endured 18 ear infections between him and his sister before both had tubes put in.  Life was hard and all of this happened before he was even ten months old!

We also witnessed three kiddos become the best of friends.  We've seen them grow and watch out for each other.  They spend their fair share fighting as siblings do, but for the most part, they get along great.  There is never a dull moment.  We've also seen sweet gestures of kindness.  Today our oldest daughter gave her partner in crime three gifts:  a picture she colored especially for him, a bookmark, and a quarter from her money jar.  She wrapped them carefully in one of her blankets and brought it upstairs to give her brother.  Precious.

My oldest son does his best to not rock the boat.  Our little guy is going through a phase where he wants to be first to do everything.  He also doesn't like to lose.  His older brother, with the sweetest of intentions, does what he can to please him.  He is smart.  He doesn't want to listen to the temper tantrum that will ensue if his little brother feels put out!

I will be the first to admit there have been many times I was sure we were drowning.  These four years have been hard.  Sleep is a luxury and we have had few nights in the past four years where we have slept uninterrupted.  Our little pack outnumbers us and at times their antics get the best of us.  They are just kids having fun, but they can be a force to be reckoned with.  Who knew words like butt, banana, and burp could elicit such laughter and craziness from these little people?

Four years ago our lives changed dramatically.  Through the ups and the downs one thing has remained:  these kids are my everything.  I look at them and thank God I have been blessed with four beautiful, healthy children who are the best of friends.  I know these years will not be easy, but in the blink of an eye they will be gone.

Happiest of birthdays to our sweet little guy.  Your zest for life and energy are abundant.  You give the best hugs and kisses and your smile shines through your eyes.  I love you, sweet boy, and hope the next four years don't go quite so quickly!

    

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Today's the Big Day!

Back to school week is here.  I am not sure how I feel about having three kids in school this year!  Two full-time and one part.  Hmmm...most of you would probably think I would be relieved to have a "break" in the action.  There are messy days around here when I think the same, but once this becomes our everyday routine and the novelty wears off, I think there's going to be some sadness.

Nearly four years ago we welcomed our third child.  Our oldest was only 3 1/2 at the time, so to say life has been busy ever since would be an understatement.  While it has been challenging and exhausting, every second of the chaos has been worth it.  Our children have grown to the be the best of buds and though there are times this heavily works against our favor, I love seeing my big family grow so close together.

We often say our middle children, just sixteen months apart, speak some sort of twin language.  They are two peas in a pod and get into plenty of mischief together, but the just adore each other.  My little guy is going to struggle with his big sister and playmate gone all day every day.  Luckily he will have preschool four afternoons a week to fill the void and step out on his own, but I can imagine after school and weekends will be filled with as much playtime together as possible.

People always tell you the days are long but the years are short.  In the middle of the chaos it is hard to believe, but in the blink of an eye they are school-aged.  Those innocent early childhood years where their biggest dilemma is what to play with on any given day are coming to an end.  The time has come to head off to school to learn, make new friends, and experience the joys and heartache that will come with those friendships.

Today I send my second baby off to kindergarten.  Lately the tears have come in the late hours of the night or early hours of the morning.  My sweet girl is off to face the real world and I pray she finds acceptance, kindness, and joy in her days at school.  I hope we have taught her well and she, in turn, does her best to be kind and accepting of others.

Another milestone reached.  They seem to be coming all too quickly...Blessings on your first day sweet girl!




Thursday, July 10, 2014

Fear of the Unknown is Paralyzing

Lately I have been feeling a tremendous amount of anxiety.  Generally speaking I am a "take charge" person:  an idea pops into my head, and without too much thought, I run with it.  This has not always be the best option and I have not always been successful when taking this route, but it is the way my mind is programmed.  At least that's how it's been programmed in the past.  Now I find myself confused:  questioning the next move and hesitant to take the plunge when the next big idea pops into my head.  I find my indecisiveness to be paralyzing.  Do I move forward with hope and optimism or do I retreat out of fear and doubt?  These days I seem to be stuck somewhere in between.  Non-committal, full of questions, and in limbo.

This shift in thinking and decision-making has been challenging.  I find myself singing lyrics from songs I hear on K-Love: "I lift my hands and pray," "I want to live with abandon," "We were made to thrive," and my new favorite "What if the trials in your life are mercies in disguise."  I pray for clarity, some sort of a sign, the courage to move forward.  I just know one of these days the vision will be clear.  It is just so very hard to wait.

Yesterday I heard this verse and it resonated deep inside of me.  It is much easier said than done, but I am going to do my best to trust in Him and take the first step in this unknown journey.  Fear and worry simply cannot be an option anymore.  When it is all said and done, standing on the sidelines is safe and unproductive.  I want to be in the game feeling the exhilaration of hitting the winning shot at the buzzer.  I want to live with abandon.  It is time to take the plunge... 
  


      

Monday, June 23, 2014

Stuffed S'Mores Bars

We had some friends over yesterday to for a little "Go USA!" soccer party.  We are not big soccer fans, but it was a good excuse for a party and fun to watch.  Our original plan was to have a BBQ, but with a sketchy weather forecast, I switched it to a Mexican theme combined with some Americana-inspired food.  What is more American than chocolate chip cookies or s'mores?  Why not combine them?  That's what I did today:  stuffed S'mores bars.

I had only made this once before, so I was a little nervous they weren't going to turn out...but they did!  These are easier to make than the cookies, so if you're pressed for time, I'd try this route.  I would recommend spreading a layer of cookie dough on the bottom of your pan and letting both that and the rest of the dough chill.  It was much easier to work the dough for the top because it was not quite so sticky.  Enjoy!

Stuffed S'Mores Bars

2 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 c. sugar
3/4 c. brown sugar
2 eggs
1 T. vanilla
3 1/2 c. flour
1 t. baking soda
1 t. Kosher salt (do no substitute other types of salt; the coarseness makes it great!)
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
Graham crackers (break sheets in half)
3 Hershey chocolate bars (broken into chunks of three pieces)
Large marshmallows (cut in half with a wet, sharp knife)

Combine butter and sugars with a mixer until smooth and creamy.  Add eggs and vanilla.  Mix until well blended.  Add one cup of flour, soda, and salt.  Mix.  Continue mixing in flour one cup at a time until all 3 1/2 cups have been added.  (It makes very stiff dough!).  Mix in chocolate chips.  Layer bottom of a 9x9 pan with half of the dough and refrigerate.  Chill other half of dough.  Once chilled, layer a sheet of graham crackers throughout pan.  It does not completely cover it, so I broke sheets in half for the bottom row.  Place Hershey bars on top of each sheet. Add a marshmallow and top with another sheet of graham cracker.  Flatten balls of cookie dough and place on top of the graham crackers doing your best to cover entirely.  Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes.  Serve warm.

Layer on bottom

All done!

A warm, gooey, delicious dessert!