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!
 

  

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Saying "Yes!"

This past year I have begun to follow many Christian blogs and they have made a tremendous impact on my life.  Many of the bloggers I follow are also published authors and I have chosen to read many of their books.  I must say, I have felt truly inspired by many of them.  Today I finished Rhinestone Jesus by Kristen Welch.  Her blog, We are THAT family is very well written and I agree with her parenting philosophy, so I assumed I would enjoy reading her book.

Wow.  Did I ever.  She encompasses much of what I aspire to do in life:  be a good mother, live a faith-centered life, serve others where God sees fit, and to share my story.  I admire those who have been able to be successful and achieve their goals, while continuing to be a "normal" mother raising her family.  The book turned out to be the pep-talk I've been so desperately craving.

Lately I've lost steam.  I have my hands in a lot of pots, but I'm going to take the advice of the author and focus on my "one."  Rather than spreading myself too thin and giving a less-than-all effort, I am going to focus my service in an area I feel passionate about:  education and literacy. I am so thankful this is also a project my entire family can assist with and relate to as well.

The charity I co-founded just one year ago exceeded our expectations in our first year and we are looking forward to impacting even more children next year, but there is a lot of work to be done. We have received many blessings during the inaugural year of From Cover to Cover, but it has been a challenge to build this from the ground up with my partner and dear friend.  We have a solid vision, feel our mission is important, and have seen first-hand the impact the gift we provide these children has.  We know we can make a tremendous difference right here in our community. The hardest part is sharing our mission and convincing others how truly important this project is.

As with all non-profits, we rely on donations and volunteers to achieve our goals.  Fundraising, awareness activities, and coordinating events requires a lot of time and dedication.  We have received tremendous support, but we need to grow our supportive base and it is hard to do!  I know we just have to keep believing He will provide, but there are days when I feel like we have an impossible mountain to climb.  We will continue to move forward and I pray soon we will have more help to achieve our goals!  This is my "one."  This is my "yes!"

Are you feeling the pull towards something and afraid to say, "Yes!"  If you need a little inspiration, I highly recommend reading the book.  Maybe you just need a little nudge to take that first small step.  Whatever the case, now is the time!



Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Our First Family Road Trip

This summer we took to the open highway on our first family road trip.  We headed to the east coast to relax on the beach for a week.  We were all super excited, but leading up to our departure my husband and I got a bit nervous about the 17 hour car ride (one way!) we were about to embark on.  We had high hopes for a successful trip so this can become our way of travel.  Buying plane tickets for our whole family is expensive, but I think hauling all of our stuff around an airport and keeping track of the kids is more painful!

The planning for our long ride began a few weeks before we left.  I found many great ideas I hoped would keep the kids occupied in the van online and came up with a few of my own, too.  I was excited to see what was a hit and prayed our kids would enjoy the trek across the U.S!

To help with the big countdown, I had the kids make a paper chain.  Each morning one of them got to take off a link.  They really enjoyed watching it get smaller and smaller!

Making a paper chain
I began collecting special items for each kiddo as our trip drew nearer.  Most were inexpensive gems found at the dollar spot at Target or books I purchased from my Usborne business or Scholastic.  I enjoyed packing them into surprise bags for each of the kids and prayed they would provide some much-needed entertainment on our long drive.  I found some awesome lap desks at Gordman's on clearance as well, so they each had their own little multi-purpose desk to work at.

Surprise Bag
Lap Desks With a Light
I also packed a backpack for each kiddo with some of their favorite books, coloring books, and a special folder or binder with age-appropriate activities.  I found many great printable pages for scavenger hunts, license plate games, and tic-tac-toe which I included in them.  For my oldest son, I printed out an outline of each state we were going to drive through and a map of the U.S. The goal was for him to color in each state as we passed through on the large map and then write about what each state looked like or any other tidbit of information he found interesting in the outlined states.  It didn't turn out quite as I had hoped, but it's the thought that counts, right?!

My youngest son loves cars.  Using a cookie sheet from The Dollar Tree, I created this road (and train track on the opposite side) so he could drive magnetic vehicles and trains as we were driving down the road.  It worked out pretty well!



His other favorite activity was my sticker book stash I purchased from Usborne.  He is three, and can have a difficult time sticking with anything for long, but these are a favorite.  Several times throughout the trip he pleaded for his "homework."  I truly cannot recommend these enough!

The Coveted Sticker Book!
When it was all said and done, our first family road trip was a huge success.  The kids were entertained, had fun with their activities, and were able to see the sights on our trek across the U.S.  We made sure to stop about every three hours and let them run around, stretch out, and just get some fresh air.  I packed a little sack with bubbles and whiffle balls to provide some fun during our stops.  We also traveled with a fully stocked cooler of drinks, snacks, and lunch or dinner items for a picnic to save money and time.  Additionally, I prepared a snack bag full of goodies I could easily access during the drive and some small baggies to put them in.  It worked out great! 

Lastly, I packed a small bin I kept behind my seat with the following items:
-a roll of toilet paper and paper towels
-a box of Kleenex
-gallon Ziploc bags (for car sickness)
-a few old rags
-a bag of batteries and little screwdrivers (for toys needed help!)
-an atlas

My goal was to be prepared for most anything that came our way unexpectedly.  This trip was pretty uneventful.  I am looking forward to more road trips in our future and using some of these ideas again!