Friday, April 25

5 Minute Friday: Friend


     While I count the friends who have graced my life to be among my greatest blessings, I find it hard to put into words what that means.

    How does one describe the blessing of  a sister, one of my closest friends, who can be counted on daily to encourage and support. To understand without judgement. To offer advice without pretense. To join together with six children between us, serving them macaroni and cheese and finding a quiet moment as they eat, to breathe deep and know that not only are we not alone. That we have a comrade to walk this crazy mothering path with... side by side. 

     Or the beautiful relationship...the deep friendship...found within my marriage? A friendship that stands the test of time, and perseveres in the face of stress and ugly days and ungraceful moments. A friendship and relationship that refines my heart and teaches me lessons about humility, selflessness, grace and forgiveness.  A person who loves me so dearly and fully and wholly, a person who forgives so unrelentingly that I know it is a reminder of the grace of God. I love how our relationship teaches us not just about ourselves, and each other, but shows us more fully the face of God.

    Or the two sweet gals I still see from high-school. We have now been friends for twenty...I must say that again...20 years! And even though our lives move in very different directions at times, we come together for an appetizer or a glass of wine and laugh about our younger selves and laugh about our parenting lives. We laugh about how wildly crazy it is that we have aged, and grown into our thirties and are still gathering to talk about it. 

    And the friend, who currently lives 400 miles away, but who understands me so completely that we swear that our dysfunctional and shady family trees must lead to a point that shows we are somehow related. She buys her clothes in the "tall" section and I in the "petites". I like to joke that I was created from the leftover fabric after God was finished with her. He liked her so much, in all of her quirkiness, that he created me.  Then, through a weaving of jobs and random moves to small towns in Massachusetts, He knit us back together and I am forever thankful. 

    There are others...the women who have come into my life for short seasons, or who are more casual friends or acquaintances but we meet at MOPS, or at fondue restaurants for girls nights. Their stories, their grace, their lives too...serving as a reminder that we are not alone on this path that we walk. 

   Friendship. Fellowship. The intimate tangle of practical life and spiritual growth. The comfort of knowing we're all in this together. 

   Friends = One of Life's Greatest Gifts

Five Minute Friday

This post is part of 5 Minute Friday- a place where hundreds come together to write for 5 minutes about a new word each week, hosted by the lovely Lisa-Jo Baker.

Wednesday, April 23

Baby Lovin'


      This evening, after dinner, the plates still strewn across the table and dirty pans still on the stove, I had a moment in the middle of my grossly dirty kitchen floor. Aubrey climbed up my legs and tugged at me-"Ahh. Ahh. Ahh."- she pulled  and yanked at my leg until I came down to her level. She wanted my attention and I gave it to her. All of it. 

     It was a rare moment where the older girls had gone out with Scott and it was just she and I. We played peek a boo and hide the toy microphone in her shirt and then mine. She thought it was hilarious and cackled accordingly. We sang Mary Had a Little Lamb into that microphone (well, I did!) and then we looked at pictures on my i-phone because even at almost 1 she has already picked up on the fact that I am taking pictures of her and she loves to see them. She will point to herself and gets a huge smile on her face. 

     In that moment on the floor I thought, "It doesn't get any better than this." 

     Truly. It doesn't. 

    We have paid to go out to nice dinners, and they are enjoyable. We have gone on vacation (and would like to go on more!) and those are great too...while they last. I have splurged on occasional pedicures and a once in a while massage and those are all wonderful things, but baby cheeks...crazy, wispy baby hair. Oh! It's the BEST thing in the whole wide world! It warms me up from head to toe and gives me cuddly feelings in my belly. 

     Do you mommas know what I mean? Or have I gone totally goo goo gaga crazy?! 

     How about chubby baby thighs and how she stands on her tippy toes to peek over the gate we put up to keep her out of her sister's rooms when they are playing with their Barbies. The cuddles. The kisses. The drool. The big tummy. The sweet, sweet smell of her head. The babble, babble, babble. The way she is starting to walk so stiffly, one step at a time to me, and then gets a massive smile on her face and eyes that say, 'I am so proud of myself right now!'

     The opening and closing of kitchen cabinet doors even when she is throwing my already mismatched plastic containers all over the place. 

    The smile when I open her door after a nap or in the morning. That HUGE smile. It melts, melts, MELTS my heart. 

     And when she sleeps. Oh to watch a baby when they sleep. She often sleeps all curled up with her bum up in the air. Or sometimes with her lovey next to her face and arms stretched out over her head. 

     In an effort to capture the "moment", or the many of them, in an every present sea of chaos and noise and very quickly moving family life I thought, I have to write this down...NOW...because these moments are going far too fast!

    My sweet, chubby cheeked Aubrey-cakes will be 1 in less than two weeks. 

    It's been one of the most chaotic years of our adult life. Just the crazy, hazy pace of life with three children. 

    It's been one of the fastest years of my entire life for the same reason. 

     And Aubrey, in the midst of it all, has made it one of the sweetest years of all of our lives. Truly. The girls have LOVED having a little sister around and I love that they have gotten to experience how wonderfully sweet, and absolutely fun a baby is. 

    We hestiated and thought long and hard about having a third child. Life already felt chaotic for us with two and we wondered where the mental and physical stamina would come from to take care of another wee one. (Heaven bless those women with 4, 5, 6 , 7 or more children-- they are certainly cut from different fabric than I am and I have great admiration for them!). At the end of the day we kept asking ourselves this question, "Despite the craziness of life now, in 15-20 years would we regret having a 3rd child or realize that we wouldn't have had it any other way and be so incredibly grateful to have made the leap to 3?" 

     I'm guessing you've figured out our answer to that question. And everyday we, of course, as crazy as it is, can't imagine life any other way. We are soaking up all of the smiles and all of her sweetness. I totally now know what all of those gray haired ladies at the grocery store meant when they said, "Enjoy them! It goes so fast!" 

     I get it. It does. 

    That was part of my reasoning for having a 3rd as well. I felt like having Ava and Ella within 20 months of each other was such a blur. Sure we enjoyed the moments and had our share of fun, but I don't think I really allowed myself to be IN the moment with really, really enjoy the baby stages. I was too often grumpy about the diapers and the lack of sleep and all of that other new parent stuff to enjoy the moments as much as I could have. 

    Because we don't plan on having a 4th (sorry! That question we asked didn't work out so well for us a 4th time around...mommy might end up in the looney bin in 15-20 years if she had 4 girls!! Which is how things would likely end up! ) things feel very different this time around. 

Lo and behold, I don't even mind changing diapers anymore! 

Why the change? For all the reasons I've stated already, but I'll summarize here:

1) We know how fast it goes!
2) We know this is the last time for all of these sweet and exciting firsts! 
3) We aren't as stressed about the small baby details. 
4) We know that even the frustrations (poor nursing, sleepless nights, teething, colds) are all short lived and will soon pass. 

     Some stages have already passed and I'm both sad and glad about that. 

     I'm SOOO sad to be done nursing...Aubrey fired me two weeks ago!  However, I'm SOOO happy that she is finally starting to sleep through the night more consistently. 

     And we're so grateful for the joy she brings to our house even in the midst of sometimes tired and stressful circumstances. 

     Cranky about the housework and mess? Go steal a kiss from Aubrey.

     Bickering with your spouse about life and schedules and how crazy life is again? Wait for the baby to come crawling around the corner and into your lap. 

      Frustrated that your feet are sticking to the kitchen floor? Just watch her eat a meal and launch more food on the floor than could feed a small zoo animal...surely enough you'll eventually just throw your hands up in surrender and laugh at the whole crazy thing. 

       As I write this she is completely contentedly banging on the floor with a hair brush and a lid to a pan-- life is good when your 11 1/2 months old. 


    So, I  paused my writing to finish cleaning the kitchen and put the baby to bed. The baby who almost ALWAYs goes right to sleep without so much as a whimper of protest. 

     Not tonight. 

    Oh, the irony. 

    She was fine for 10 minutes after I put her down and then started crying. I went up to try to settle her down and the second I would walk out of the room she'd start screaming. She NEVER does that. 

     I finally sat in the rocking chair in her room and rocked her for 10 minutes until she seemed peaceful. I tried to put her in her crib. Scream. Scream. Scream. 

Hey kid! I need to go finish a blog post about what a sweet baby you are. Do you mind piping down and going to sleep. 

    The irony of the situation was not lost on me. 

    I sat back in her chair and rocked her until she finally closed her eyes in my arms. It was quite sweet. 

     And you know what...this third time around...I didn't overthink it. 

     I didn't get all worked up and think "I'm spoiling her! She's never going to go to sleep without me rocking her again! This is bad parenting!!" 

      Which is what would often happen with the first two in a situation like that. 

     We just rocked. And she was peaceful. I closed my eyes and prayed for her and for her sisters and thanked God for the blessing of them all. 

    She eventually closed her eyes and let me put her in her bed. 

   And I'm glad I had the chance to be in the moment with her...and that I was already capturing it all here to remember. 

    Thank heaven for babies. They are one of life's sweetest gifts! 

Saturday, April 19

Talking to Your Kids About Easter, Cleaning Windows and Crafts Galore!

The sun is shining and Easter is tomorrow! Yay and yay!

We love holidays over here and we really like when a spring holiday is sunny, especially after the winter we've had. Several weeks ago Ava's bus driver joked that the Easter bunny was going to need snow boots this year. I was starting to believe that she was going to be right!

However, the weather (something we talk about a lot in these parts!) seems to have made a turn for the better ( here's to hoping Spring is finally here to stay! ) and we are VERY excited about that.

On a quick side note, Scott found a coupon in our most recent Val-Pack for window cleaning. He asked me if I thought it was something we should have someone come out to the house to do.

"I dunno. Sure!" Something that would make the house seem cleaner that neither he nor I had to do ourselves? Sure thing, I'm in!

We've been in the house five years and have never had the windows cleaned. I'm not sure the people before us had either (they built the house five years before we moved in).  When the guy showed up to give us a quote the other day I asked him how often people do this sort of thing. I'm thinking he's going to tell me once a year...maybe twice a year if they really want to splurge.

"Oh, there are people in some neighborhoods (you know, those really nice neighborhoods where you can score a Louis Vuitton purse at a garage sale) that have us come once a month," he says very nonchalantly.

"Once. A. Month?!!" I'm sure I gasped and laughed and almost choked on my lukewarm coffee all at the same time.

Obviously, we with the toys strewn about and the paint chipping from our kitchen cabinets and the messy garage and the big brown, muddy circle in our backyard from the $100 blue blow up pool last summer, were not the once a month kind of people.

Hahahaha. I can hardly jot this down without laughing.

I'm happy if I get my shower cleaned once a month these days. And I think the refrigerator shelves are on a three month rotation.

He was super nice and said the very right thing, "Yeah. I didn't know that before I took this job either."

So anyways...we had this very nice guy clean our windows and now they look brand new! If ever there was some little thing you decide to spend money on after a long gloomy winter, let it be window cleaning-- the inside and the out. That radiant sunshine is POURING through our smudge, grit and dirt free windows this morning and it is a wondrous thing.

All that said, I did notice that the Easter artwork that I have hanging on the sliding glass door in our kitchen is shining even more radiantly this morning, which brings me to my real purpose for writing this blog post.

Talking to our kids about Easter!

The REAL story!

My girls LOVE holidays, especially Easter and Christmas, just as most kids do. They love getting together with family and decorating the house. They love making countdown chains and asking which day it is on the calendar and how many more days we have until the next big festivity.

They really love candy and that is another story entirely given our dental diagnosis this year, but we'll save that for another day.

However, as much as we love all of the fun parts about Easter, it can be easy to lose the real meaning of the celebration in the midst of the brightly colored gauzy dresses, pictures of the Easter bunny and the anticipation of Easter baskets on Sunday morning.

We try to be intentional about reading stories and doing crafts, about having conversations about the true meaning of Easter and what is really important.

I will also confess that Easter is one of the harder celebrations for me to talk about with my kids because, at it's core, even though Easter is about new life it is first about death. A very hard death.

The overly protective, sensitive mommy side of me wants to protect my children from pain. Wants to keep them naive as long as possible to the fact that there is hard stuff-- really hard stuff-- to contend with in our world.

I'm not ready for them to ask me questions like, "Will I die?" or "Will you die?" or "When" and "How" and for them to have terrible dreams and be filled with fear about it.

It's probably, in part, because I spent much of my young life being fearful-- about death and disease and anything scary like that. I was probably part hypochondriac. I read a babysitters club book about a girl having diabetes and thought for sure that I had diabetes. I saw a news clip about lyme disease and had my parents praying over my mosquito bites in fear that they were something worse.

I'm trying to protect my own children from feeling this way, even though I realize it's a battle I probably cannot win.

At the end of the day, I know that it is not avoiding hard truths that makes things less scary. It is actually shining light on hard truths, going into the dark places with grace and openness, that makes them less scary.

So I'm trying to push the borders of where I am uncomfortable communicating with my kids, even at this very young age and especially around things like Easter and salvation and why Jesus really came to our world. I'm trying to be the adult...the mom... to present the knowledge as fact and be ready to answer their questions.

I'm trying to accentuate the part where new life comes from death. Where Jesus loved us so much that he was willing to endure such a harsh penalty for our sins. Where Jesus, in all of his super amazing, super Jesus-ness actually defeated death and rose again!

It really is a very cool story once you process the hard, sad parts.

So here are my four most useful tips for talking to your kids about Easter:

1. Use Books! I love books for helping me to communicate things that can be a little bit tricky. That is one of the wonderful things about children's authors and illustrators. They do a GREAT job of conveying truth and life through words and stories in ways that I may not have thought to.  The pictures bring things down to their level and help them to connect to the deeper truths in a non threatening way.

Here are several of our favorite at Easter time:

The Jesus Storybook Bible, by Sally Lloyd Jones
We love this Bible for its beautiful narrative of the entire story of God's plan to save the world through Jesus. Every story and page points to him in some way. The stories are very honest and
sometimes slightly graphic (for sensitive children), but they are well written and seem to really resonate with my girls.

Reading the story of Jesus' death and resurrection in here always brings me to tears and prompts thoughtful responses from my girls.

An Easter Gift for Me by Crystal Bowman
This a a great board book that rhymes and offers colorful pictures. It's not graphic (it offers a simple illustrations of three crosses on a hill with some people crying on one page spread), but tells the story in a clear way. It is a great place to start, especially with little kids.

The Berenstain Bears and the Easter Story
We love the Berenstain Bears books. The characters are familiar and the girls enjoy the plots. What I love about this book is that it starts with sister, brother and baby bear dreaming of candy as they walk
to church one spring morning and  then their Sunday school teacher starts to talk to them about how she loves jelly beans, but really loves the Easter story. They watch a play at church that presents the whole story in an easy to understand way.

2. Use Crafts! I'm a sucker for crafts. My crafts are not picture perfect and most often not even Pinterest worthy, but they are tangible ways to spend time together and sometimes to talk about a topic- like Easter!

Here are two Easter crafts we've done that focus on Jesus death and resurrection-- we did the cross craft last year (and saved it!) and the tomb craft this year.

We made these "tombs" out of paper plates. I had the girls color them gray and brown and then we cut out a black circle, painted the words "He is Risen".

I was just going to glue the black paper onto the paper plate, but Ava had the fantastic idea to only glue one side and put a pictures of Jesus inside! We found an i-stock photo image online, printed it out and glued it on! 

These are our crosses from last year. We used contact paper to attach pieces of colored tissue paper and then cut the shape of cross out from black card stock and put it over the top. The end result is a paper cross that has the effect of stained glass in that the light shines through it creating a cool effect. 

3. Just Say It! I have found that in addition to using books, crafts and other tools for jumpstarting conversation that sometimes I need to just be clear and say what I want to say. Like, "Girls, did you know that Jesus died on the cross because he loved you so much and that he rose again three days later? Pretty cool, huh?"  We've talked a bit about sin and what that means and why we needed a savior in the first place. I'm often surprised that they just take my words in stride. "Oh, ok mom."

Sometimes that's it!

And sometimes they have questions. And when they have questions I try to answer them as best as I can.

4. Google it! I'm not kidding about this! I've googled "Talking to your kids about Jesus' death" and sure enough some sweet Sunday school teacher types have put some interesting and helpful information out there about what to say and how to say it. Here is one such link, but there are many others!

Less you think we don't talk about Easter bunnies or candy at all over here-- we do! We made these silly little bunnies the other day. I must say this craft kit was a bit of a joke as the eyeballs and bunny pieces did not stick together as well as the package led us to believe. It was quite humorous actually.

And these foam wreaths, which were fun and easy.

 And we made this banner last year and keep hanging it up.

There is much more I'd like to say, but of course it's already 3:30 p.m. on Saturday. We have places to go, people to see and sunshine to embrace.  The girls are trashing the playroom, AGAIN, as I write this and I promised them we'd go for a walk (:

I hope you all have a Happy Easter and that you find ways to have real conversations with your children about the beautiful gift of salvation and Christ's loving sacrifice for us.

Blessings to you all!

(p.s. I'm going to apologize for any typos, errors and mis-spellings you may have found! I decided I wanted to write this this morning, but had little time and lots to do with the kids today! I squeezed it in, but haven't edited it, so I appreciate your flexibility!)

Saturday, April 5

5 Minute Friday: Writer


I've been known to write in my car on occasion when searching for a quiet space! 

A composer of words, stitching meaning together in a way that will hopefully resonate.

A way to share stories.

A way to process life.

A way to inspire others.

A way to engage a weary and sometimes disconnected world.

In my journals it is a way to pray.

In cards to my children and husband,  a way to love.

Writers come in many differing shapes and sizes. Their word choices unique, their beliefs and life experience shaping a message specific to where they've been, but hopefully universal enough to reach out from where they are into someone else's world.

We are all very different and yet very much the same. We need each others words and we must share our own.

While this season of motherhood doesn't always allow time to craft my words well or, with the precision or beauty I'd like, I continue to write because it is inherent to who I am, like breathing or drinking water. It is my connection to the outside world at times, and therapy to my soul at others. It empties my soul and fills it back up.

I too, like Lisa-Jo said in her beautiful post (that you should read here if you have not already), must steal time...mornings where I wake earlier than I'd like (right now), evenings when I stay up later than I should. Scritch scratch on post it notes, and notebooks pages, the back of envelopes and school papers. I have stacks of journals filled with ramblings and memories, inspirations and laments...for no other reason than the sheer fact that I must.

I must get it down and out sometimes...and then I can go on with my day.

Because I am a writer (:

Five Minute Friday

This post is part of 5 Minute Friday- a place where hundreds come together to write for 5 minutes about a new word each week.

Tuesday, April 1

An Encouraging Weekend at the Raising Generations Conference

I should tell you that this is a good story that starts out on kind of a gross note...just in case you're wondering where on earth we're going when you start to read this. But the thing is, I had to include the icky beginning because it is SOOO true to life, and parenting in general...things so often DO NOT  go as planned, or at least some portion of them do not...but, at the end of the day they are still, very often, very good things. 

And so, without further adieu...

Two weekends ago I drove down to Corning, N.Y. in a minivan with my younger sister and two other sweet mommas from my church (who also happen to be sisters) for a conference on motherhood called Raising Generations Today.

We were quite the crew, us minivan mommas-- Cheerios littered the floor and my sister and I both got car sick in the back was nothing short of sitcom material, really. At one point Katie and I both sat in the backseat, our faces virtually green with nausea, her eyes were closed and my seat was tilted all the way back as I draped a scarf over my head to block the light and the sight of the road.

I joked that the whole thing would HAVE to become writing material! So here you have it (:

We finally stopped at a roadside diner that smelled like lysol, mothballs and beans (It was a roadside cuban diner...a first for me!) and my poor sister lost her cookies (I know, gross! Sorry Katie!) and I almost lost mine when I walked through the front door and was accosted by the smell.  I, fortunately,  was temporarily rejuvenated by the fresh air and we eventually found a small cafe where we ate lunch.

Mmmm. Food. It does a body good (:  Isn't real life funny sometimes?

Despite our carsickness, we did have some great momma conversations on the way there, and on the way home, and the opportunity to connect with several other moms from my church community (there were close to 20 women who ventured down from the Buffalo area...many of us go to different churches, but know each other through moms groups, etc.)  was well worth the trip.

In addition to our encouraging conversations with one another, we also enjoyed meeting and hearing from hundreds of other real mommas...who all managed to sneak away for 36 hours from the busy, persistent chaos that can be our lives at home.

It was encouraging for me to be in a hotel ballroom with 250+ other moms all with one goal in mind: To raise our children and to raise them well with God as our foundation.

I'm sure I don't speak only for myself when I say many of us showed up feeling tired, a little bit stressed (after trying to pack and get out of the house with children clinging to our legs), but thankful to have a meal prepared, served and cleaned up without ever having to  lift a finger while we simply engaged in conversation with other women.

I think we were all hopeful for a least a small iota of encouragement...I'm hoping that every mom left with some nugget of inspiration, be it a smile from a friend, a closer relationship with someone from their own community or the words of one of the speakers at the conference.

Memories and inspiration...I hope every momma came away with a little bit of both.

I will not soon forget getting carsick with my sister, sharing a Queen bed with her for the first time in decades and guiltlessly eating my cheesecake after dinner. My sister and our two sister friends (Yay Candance and Cindy!) hung out for over an hour in a quiet hot tub on a frigid deck off the back of the hotel (we were the only crazy ones!) and I ate way more potato chips that I would ever allow myself to at home as I sat with ten sweet mommas in one hotel room (after our hot tub plunge),  in our pjs,  painting toe nails and chatting about everything from food preferences and oil pulling to potty training and crazy toddlers until almost midnight!

And if that wasn't all enough (one big momma slumber party!) I did also garner some sweet moments of inspiration from the conference itself! Here are a few of my highlights:

*Watching September McCarthy on stage with her 10 (yes 10!!! ) children. September founded the conference and this was the first of what will hopefully be many. I don't know September personally, but I can tell you that any momma who parents 10 children and still has a smile as radiant and as genuine as hers is an inspiration to me, even if I only know her from afar! So thank you September for following through on your God given vision to start this conference and for sharing your family with us.   (You can read more about September and her family on her blog at

*Both of my Saturday afternoon workshops...Hope for the Weary Mom led by Stacey Thacker and Brooke McGlothlin and The Younger Years by the sweet, funny and poignant Faith Bogdan. If I had more time I'd say much more about both of these workshops and all of these wonderful women, but instead I've hyperlinked their names to their blogs where you can read more about their mothering journeys and be inspired by their sweet words.

* The Compassion International presentation led by worship artist Shaun Groves. I have heard Groves speak about Compassion on two occasions, once at this conference and once about three years ago at the Allume blogging conference and on both occasions I left convicted, moved and inspired by what he had to say. I'm embarrassed to say that I did not leave the Allume conference three years ago having sponsored a child.  I intended to and somehow one thing led to another and I never did ): This time, however,  I am am thrilled to have joined with almost four dozen other women who committed to sponsoring a child and I'm super excited about it! I could say a lot more about that too (mostly about the conversations I've already had with my girls about it and how they will be an integral part of the process)...but given my time frame (and impending bedtimes!) I'll just say check out Compassion's website and consider taking the leap to sponsor a child with your family.

* Lisa Jo Baker's tear provoking keynote speech! If you've never encountered Lisa Jo Baker you should absolutely check her out and consider picking up her new book Surprised By Motherhood. She is an incredible writer and, as it turns out, also a fabulous speaker (I had not heard her speak prior to the conference!). She is an encourager of moms everywhere and will never cease to tell you that you, momma, are an absolute hero!

I know there were several other wonderful workshop speakers that I did not have the privilege to hear from, as well as several authentic women who were brave enough to share their stories on stage in front of everyone. Thank you to all of you for your hard work!

I will end with the the words of Lisa-Jo Baker, "One, motherhood is hard. Two, motherhood is glorious. Three, motherhood is hard."

That about sums it up, doesn't it?

And for all of those reasons I am thankful for groups of women who are willing to come together and talk about it and encourage each other.  Let's continue to be one another's cheerleaders and encourage each other to be the best version of our mothering selves we can possibly be.