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!













Monday, June 16, 2014

Do You Know Your Neighbors? What Better Time than Now?

Last fall I was talking with some neighborhood friends about having a block party.  They suggested I take the lead and put one together and without hesitation I did.  I quickly had a great group of people to assist and we began planning.  The goal was to create a laid-back, casual event to give people living within our subdivision the opportunity to enjoy an afternoon/evening together with their neighbors.  It would not be anything over-the-top:  simplicity was the key.

We live in such a busy time many of us do not even know who lives a few doors down.  Isn't it a shame we may be missing out on some wonderful friendships for ourselves and our children because we're too busy to take the time to reach out and introduce ourselves to our neighbors? Some of us may feel intimidated or shy to say a simple "hello" or afraid of feeling uncomfortable. Whatever your reason, put it aside, make the first move, and get to know the people living around you!

I am thrilled we put this event together and encouraged many of my neighbors connected with others they had never met (our family included!).  The days of the Welcome Wagon, casseroles, and random rings of the doorbell seem to be gone, but we can swim against the tide.  Take a chance!  Perhaps you will be the answer to a stay-at-home mom's prayer for companionship or your child will find a lifelong friend just down the street.  You may be able to offer help to someone who is struggling, be a welcome friendly face to someone who is sad about what they have left behind, or able to provide a connection they have been searching for.  Whatever the outcome, sitting idly on the sidelines will certainly leave the door closed.

This is a great lesson for our children in hospitality and being a good neighbor and a simple one at that!  If you're still feeling hesitant, turn it into a family event:  bake something yummy and drop it off at the new neighbor's house.  In the end, you'll be glad you did!


Saturday, May 24, 2014

Acknowledging the Need for Help

Why is it we find asking for help to be so difficult?  Whether it be help around the house from our spouse, from friends and neighbors to help you out in a pinch, or to seek out professional help when you feel you've lost your way.  As a mother, why is it so difficult to speak up, to put our own needs first for a change?  We do a phenomenal job noticing when our kids or spouse may need some help and are usually quick to jump in to try to make everything right.  Why do we wait hours, days, months, years to finally speak up on our own behalf; to take notice and realize that perhaps we simply need some help?

If I had to suggest a theory, I would say it's because we're parenting in a competitive, self-sufficient, image-conscious era.  We want everyone to believe we have it together, that we can manage whatever is thrown our direction and manage it well.  We may feel if we ask our friends and neighbors for help, they may view us as a mother who is in over her head.  If we ask our spouse to help unbury us from the pile of household tasks we may fear being viewed as incapable of caring for the kids and managing the house, or worse, just lazy.  If we seek counseling from a professional, we may fear being viewed as weak.  As mothers, we try to steer clear of feelings of inadequacy, embarrassment, and shame.  If we are trying to avoid these feelings, asking for help is certainly out of the question, right?

Wrong.  At least it shouldn't be.  I struggle to seek out help, but lately I've tried to accept those invitations from others who have offered to...help!  As a person who likes to feel independent and self-sufficient this is difficult.  I like to believe I can manage everything on my own and will be just fine, but truth be told I can't.  The sooner I embrace this, the better.  The sooner we as mothers let go of our need to appear to have it all together, to be Pinterest-perfect, the better off we will all be.

Being a mother is the toughest job we'll ever have.  It is an exhausting, exhilarating, emotional roller coaster ride.  Our "work" is to raise a part of the next generation and ensure we are providing a laundry list of important life experiences, values, and plenty of guidance.  This is a pretty big undertaking and to think we can do it only in conjunction with their other parent, with little help from others, is absurd.  There is a reason why it takes a village.  Let's make sure we are accepting the help the village is willing to provide.