Wednesday, December 24, 2014

All Aboard The Polar Express

One of my favorite things about this time of year is our (almost) annual Polar Express Party. There have been years here & there when I just didn't have the time or extra brain cells to do one more thing during this season but I have thoroughly enjoyed the tradition.  It all started with my oldest, Max and 2 friends when he was on Pre-K.  We decided to invite a few kids over for hot cocoa & popcorn in their jammies followed by card making and it was an instant hit. My kids have asked to host one every year since.

We are gearing up to host another one in just a few days. As tempted as I can be to go over the top with theme & d├ęcor (thanks Pinterest for all the ideas) I have learned over the years that less is more when it comes to this event.  This year, we are expecting between eight & twelve kids, including mine and for sanity's sake, simplicity is key.  The kids won't remember anything but the food anyway.

This has been so fun for us and if you think you might want to give it a try with your own kids or even a few extras, here is what a typical party looks like for us.

I usually plan for at least 3 hours to make sure the kids have plenty of time to craft, watch the movie and stuff their faces with Christmas goodies. This year's menu includes Hot Apple Cider, Hot Cocoa with marshmallows and/or whipped cream, store-bought Christmas shaped cookies, take & bake pizza and popcorn with red & green M&M's for during the movie. I bought Dollar Tree paper plates & napkins in Red & Green and I am using Nestle Hot Cocoa Mix from a can.  In years past, I have exhausted myself searching for the perfect recipe and then making home-made hot chocolate from scratch, baking dozens of sugar cookies the day before and then trying to keep my cool while letting the kids "help" frost them at the party.  I guess you could say I'm learning to "Let it go".

I will be making Apple Cider in the crock pot, but it is super easy and one of my favorite drinks, so it's totally selfish actually.  All you need is 2 quarts of store bought apple juice and a few cinnamon sticks. Toss them in the crock pot and cook on low for 6 or so.  Easy peasy, my kind of drink. 

We have also done lots of fun and somewhat involved crafts in previous years and I admit I have loved that part, too.  We have made fingerprint reindeer ornaments, photo frame wreath ornaments from painted puzzle pieces & canning jar lids and gone through more glitter than I care to remember.  This year, I chose to purchase some foam Christmas shapes and stockings from Michael's craft store at 60% off and will have Christmas coloring sheets on hand as well old Christmas cards, markers, glue & glitter for the kids to repurpose them into something new.

As a mom who likes things to be done a certain way and often wears herself out trying to meet unrealistic expectations, I am very excited about this new, laid back style.  My kids are thrilled to have friends over and stay in their jammies all day.  I am thrilled to be able to enjoy the day and seize the moment rather than fretting over every detail and wearing myself out before the day even begins.

So what are you waiting for? "All aboard!"

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

For When You Don't Have All The Answers

"What do you feel God is trying to teach you right now?" That was one of the questions posed to a table full of amazing women recently and I immediately felt my face burn knowing that I would have no good answer. 

What was God trying to teach me? I could barely remember how I had even gotten to the meeting, and I was being asked to evaluate my current spiritual state and give a report at what in the world the God of the universe might be trying to teach me in this season of survival and sacrifice.  Now, the heart of the wonderful woman asking wasn't a harsh one. There was no judgment in her question, simply curiosity and an invitation to wonder, think, assess. 

So, here was my dilemma...do I straight up lie to save face? Or embellish? Do I give some scripted "Christianese" answer or do I be the real, honest woman that I am often not brave enough to be?
The truth is, I didn't know all the women at the table all that well and we are in leadership of sorts, so shouldn't I have some great, inspiring answer to bestow upon them? In that moment, I knew I needed to just be real and I'd like to say it was born out of some conviction to be more vulnerable and available to people, (that would be a great lesson, no?), but really I was just too tired to try and save face.

I admitted to these awesome women that I really had no idea what God was trying to teach me. I mean, I didn't even know what I was cooking for dinner.  We talked a lot about the seasons we were all in, some similar to mine and some very different.  I was able to honestly say my not knowing was not from a lack of not trying or not listening.  There were lots of suggestions and ideas about how to seek out those lessons and encouragement to not be discouraged if I wasn't 100% sure of God's plan for my life at every moment. The important thing was the seeking, the asking and the growing.

If I continue to strive to grow and learn, keep moving forward and being sensitive to the fact that God may show His plan in the least likely of places, I am moving in the right direction.  It is so easy to feel lost at sea when weariness seems to slow the days and blur them together.  The wonderful, beautiful truth is we don't have to always have the perfect answer. We only need to keep our hearts open and our eyes focused on Jesus and one step at a time, He will get us where we need to be.

Sometimes what God is trying to teach us is that we really have no idea what He is trying to teach us and that we need only depend more fully on Him each day...and not be afraid to admit it.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Think outside the box this year {literally} for your special someone

Thanks to the brightly flashing Santa sign at our local Wal-Mart, I now know that Christmas is only 20-something days away...thanks.  The list of things to-do before that time, whether they be "want to", "have to" or "need to"- feels suffocating at times. In truth, there really is only one task that puts me in a cold sweat and it's probably not what you think - shopping for my husband. 

Don't get me wrong, he isn't hard to please or picky and is always gracious no matter what I get him, big or small, but with the double whammy of his birthday on December 24th and Christmas the 25th the pressure is on.  Eric does so much for us. He works hard, is diligent & faithful, and puts his family first always.  I want him to know how much he is appreciated and a great gift has always seemed the answer.  A few years ago, I saw an article from The Dating Divas on Pinterest and thought about a new approach.

The whole idea is basically a spin on the 12 days of Christmas.  Every day, you give your hubs a small, wrapped gift to correspond with the day.  For example, two pairs of socks on the second day, $7.00 for coffee on day seven or a CD with 12 songs on it for day twelve.  The gifts don't have to be expensive or extravagant, but I can tell you the thoughtfulness and excitement of a getting a small token of love tucked into his lunch pail each morning was evident.  I created little stickers for each day and printed them beforehand so it was easy to stay organized and remember what each gift was.  By day 5, it would be impossible to keep up if I hadn't been organized and pre-purchased all the items.  Depending on your Christmas traditions & whether you open gifts Christmas Day or Christmas Eve, you will want to start your 12 Days of Christmas either December 12th or December 13th. There really is no wrong way to do it.


Another idea I have seen floating around that I really like, but haven't had the resources or extra energy to put together, is a gift called The 12 Dates of Christmas.  You basically pre-plan 12 months (1 year) of dates for you and your sweetheart and put it under the tree or in his stocking on Christmas morning.  Again, these dates don't have to be extravagant, but should be pre-planned and pre-purchased.  Ideas could be coffee and grocery shopping without kids, a matinee movie date, Redbox movies and popcorn after the kids go to bed, a few hours at the shooting range or dinner at your favorite restaurant.   Think of things he likes to do, but you might not normally be up for. It is his gift after all.  It's a great idea to make a little coupon book and attach gift cards for each date or fill 12 separate, sealed envelopes with the details of the planned date and some cash/gift cards. That way, each month is a surprise and he can't look ahead :) 

So yes, I still want to find the perfect gift but I am realizing more often than not that all my hubby really wants is a wife who is invested in him and a little effort on my part shows him more about my love for him than anything I can buy at a store. 


Originally published over at Douglas County Moms

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Car Seat Safety Review

As the weather turns cold and we start to plan holiday trips over the hill and through the woods, now seems like a good time to review an often overlooked item on the pre-trip checklist - car seats. I know I have often found myself questioning my own know-how and skills when it comes to the finer points of car seat and booster seat safety, but with the help of Rosalee at our local ODOT office, I feel a lot more confident in my ability to make the best choices for my family and also the resources to get help if needed.
Let me first say I was pleasantly surprised and encouraged by how eager Rosalee was to offer her wisdom and expertise in this particular area. It just re-iterated to me how wildly important and often overlooked this area of child safety is.  When I originally emailed her, I outlined the basics of what I understood about car seat safety/guidelines for review and/or correction and also asked her several questions that I myself have encountered as well as items of concern I have heard brought up during various Mommy gatherings or Facebook posts. 
So to start, let's review the basics:
1.   According to Oregon law, children under 1 year and 20 pounds must be in an approved rear facing car seat.  However, best practice is to encourage parents/caregivers to keep children rear-facing as long as the seat allows it.  This is also recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics because of crash dynamics and how rear-facing seats are designed to protect a child’s neck and spine in a crash.  While it my not be illegal to turn your baby around as soon as s/he reached that magical 1 year/20 pound benchmark, it is most definitely not recommended. Children are safest rear-facing. 
 
2.  There is no longer a recommended age for moving children to booster seats, (I originally thought the law was 4 years old and 40 pounds). Oregon law says that children must be in a harness system until they are 40 lbs.  However, many car seat manufacturers are making harness systems that go to higher weight limits.  So, if the harness system will allow a child to continue using it to say 65 lbs., then families are encouraged to continue utilizing the harness system.  Just like race car drivers, children are safer in a 5 pt. harness.  But yes, technically children can move to a booster once they are 40 lbs.  Also remember that when making the switch to a booster seat, they cannot be used with lap belts only.  You must have a lap and shoulder belt available to use a booster seat legally.
 
3.  Children should remain in an appropriately sized booster seat until 8 years old or 4’9”.  There is no longer a weight requirement.  Plus, Oregon’s seat belt law states that seat belt systems must be used properly and it trumps car seat laws.  So, if you have an small 8 year old and the seat belt does not fit them properly (meaning it rides up on their neck or their waist) then it is not being properly used.  So, even though your child is 8 you could still be cited.  Kids need to remain in boosters until they are big enough for the adult sized lap/shoulder belt to fit them properly.
 
This was a great review for me and I learned that I had several misconceptions about current car seat laws in Oregon.  Above and beyond that, Rosalee offered a few more details about commonly asked questions that aren't necessarily addressed within the law, but I found very informative and helpful.
 
Q:  Is it required to use the anchor system for car seats if your vehicle is equipped? (vs. seatbelts)
A:  Never.  You always have the choice to use the lower anchors or the seat belt.  Use only one or the other and they are both equally safe.  It is recommended that you use the top tether for all forward facing car seats.
 
Q:  When is it appropriate to move your child from a high back booster to a no-back booster or is it preference? 
A:  They are both designed for the same use and the requirements are the same.  The no-back booster must be used in a seating position with a vehicle head rest. 
 
Q:  What are the fines/punishments for inappropriate use of a car/booster seat? 
A:  The current fine for a class D violation (improper or no use of a seat belt/child safety seat) is $110.  That may be changing in 2015 and does not include child endangerment or any other type of citation that may be issued.
 
Q:  What can we do with our expired car seats? Is it legal to still use them? Is there somewhere they can be recycled? Why do they expire?  Does just the base expire or the whole seat? Where can the expiration date be found? 
A:  The whole car seat expires, and Douglas County does not currently have a car seat recycling program.  It is best to take the car seat apart, recycle the parts you can, and then take the remainder to the landfill.  It is illegal and dangerous to use expired car seats.  They expire because of the exposure of the plastic shell to the heat/cold in vehicles year round.  So in a crash, the force can actually cause the plastic shell to break in an expired seat.  Car seats typically expire 6 years from the date of manufacture.  So you can find the manufacture date on the sticker on the seat and add 6 years, or some manufacturers print the expiration date on the plastic shell on the back of the seat. 
 
Q:  What is the biggest or most common mistake parents make when installing car seats? What about when choosing them? 
A:  There are a couple of common mistakes:  Parents can’t get a tight installation; they don’t tighten the harness straps enough; or they don’t have the harness straps at the necessary height for the child using the seat.  Choosing a car seat is different for everyone.  The important thing is to choose a car seat that fits your budget, fits your vehicle, and that you will install properly every time.
 
Q:  Can you go to any fire or police station to have your car seat checked out? Do you need an appointment? Are there any safety events scheduled in the area where this service will be offered?  A:  No, not all agencies have certified technicians.  Right now you can call the following agencies who have certified techs:  ODOT – 541-957-3657; Roseburg PD – 541-492-6760; Douglas County Sheriff’s Office – 541-440-4486; and Oregon State Police – 541-440-3334.  Please call ahead for appointments, that works best for all of us – we can be ready and prepared and have the time needed to help.  There are no more community car seat clinics scheduled for this year.
 
Q:  Is it advisable to buy used car seats? What should we as parents look for if we choose to do so?  A:  We do not recommend that people buy used car seats unless they are buying from the sole owner of the seat, whom they know well and trust.  Even then, be sure to check for things like expiration dates, straps and buckles that are in good repair, etc.  You should never buy a seat from a second-hand store for these reasons: (1.) You don’t know the crash history of the seat (2.) you don’t know how they cleaned the seat (and if they didn’t follow manufacturer’s instructions they could really damage the harness system strength), and  (3.) used car seats may not have all of the information stickers on the seat to help determine important information for recalls or expiration.
 
Q:  Are there any resources or extra information you feel would be beneficial to include? 
A:  Please, please, please if you are an expectant mom, call us for help prior to your due date – at least 1 month before your due date. 
 
I hope you find this information as helpful as I did and continue to stay up to date on this incredibly crucial topic.  Our kiddos are the most important cargo we will ever carry, let's do it right! 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Living For Sundays & Somedays

With 3 kids and a very busy schedule life tends to feel like a runaway train some days. It is easy to get discouraged by all the things I "should" have done on any given day.  I constantly have a mental to-do list running and all I ever manage to do is feel defeated and deflated at the end of each day.  I think as moms, this struggle is probably not unfamiliar to you either.  We all go through seasons of change and growth, however imperfect it may be - and sometimes those seasons last MUCH longer than we'd like.

Here is what I'm learning. It's OKAY.  Profound, I know. Learning my limits and not being able to do it all - all the time is no reason to melt down or freak out.  I am learning more and more how and when to say "no" to things that will only wear me out more and also to accept help. I still shudder at the never ending pile of laundry and unfinished home improvement projects, but I choose to believe my husband when he says it doesn't bother him.

I am relying more and more on finding a place of rest in the midst of my day because it is the most important, if not the most urgent part of it.  Loving and living from a place of rest are not easy, but it has completely changed the environment in my home.  My kids don't care or notice if I accomplished a certain number of tasks during the day but they most certainly notice if Momma is running around like a Banty Rooster (thanks, Marla) and melting down over every spill and mess.

I believe there are days meant to rest and not all days will be as productive as I'd like but that is no reason to become idle or defeated into laziness. It is all too appealing some days to feel like if I can't do it all, I shouldn't do anything which would only lead to more frustration and guilt.  I am striving to work hard during the week, keeping balance a priority but never over-extending my strength, patience or abilities.

For us, that day is Sunday.  For far too many years, I have used Sunday as another chance to catch up and get ahead.  Squeezing every spare minute of production out of it and missing the chance to really enjoy my family and a slower pace.  There is nothing quite like a nap on the couch with my sweet-hearted, snuggly six year old or 30 minutes lounging in the hammock with my handsome hubby.  I have traded thousands of Sundays bonding with my family for a clean(er), tidy(er) house and shorter to-do list.  Striving for perfection as a wife and mother has left me weary and empty.  An immaculate house isn't a worthwhile trade for a thriving family with a Momma whose heart is happy and at peace.

So, I'm living for the easy pace of Sundays and saving my to-do list for Someday.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

7 Things I Love About Fall {& A Few I Could Live Without}

Fall is finally here, and admittedly is my favorite season but as with anything, there is always room for improvement :) Here is a list of my 7 favorite (& a few not-so-favorite) things about Fall.

Love #1:  School is back in session!
I can't tell you how much relief the school year schedule brings to this household. We all know there are some great things about Summer, but overall I love the structure my kids have during the school year as well as the opportunities they have to learn & socialize.  Not to mention I actually know what day it is :P

Love #2:  Mom Time
Now, I don't mean time alone although that would be nice from time to time as well, but I mean time with OTHER moms.  It seems every Summer break starts out well intentioned and full of play date plans but somehow, Summer morphs into this time sucking monster and I rarely see other adult humans for the better part of 3 months. In the Fall, all the organized "mom groups", Bible studies and small groups seem to pick back up and it is a welcome change.

Love #3: Cooler Weather
By now, you all know I am not a fan of the heat and although this week has been a bit of an exception, we know that cooler weather IS on the way and I am thrilled.  I can wear sweaters and boots and not worry about dying of heat exhaustion. I can go for an evening run without drowning in sweat and the pressure for that "bikini ready" body is off the magazine covers for at least a few months.

Love #4: The Food
And since we don't have to worry about that bikini body just yet, can we take a minute and appreciate all the yummy goodness that comes October - December? I mean, really.  The crockpots get dusted off, comfort foods are in high demand and it's almost time to start baking Christmas goodies.  I am a sucker for caramel apples, hot apple cider, hearty soups and rich pumpkin breads (with cream cheese frosting of course), and who doesn't love a Pumpkin Spice Latte?

Love #5: Shorter Days
As a wife whose first wake-up call comes at 3:30am, I am so thankful for shorter days. This time of year, my husband leaves in the dark and gets home after dark which isn't necessarily a good thing but it is so much easier to convince my littles it is time to wind down at 7:00pm when the sun isn't still beaming in through the windows.  With 3 kids, I find it takes the better part of an hour to get through our normal bedtime routine.  We start after dinner and by 8:00pm it is plenty dark  to be tucked in and lights out without too much resistance.

Love #6: Pumpkin Patches
Truth be told, my amazing Mother-In Law grows pumpkins for my kids in her garden every year but the experience of taking them to the pumpkin patch is so much fun!  Our favorite local event is held at Brosi's Sugar Tree Farms and is being held on October 11, 2014 from 10:00am-4:00pm.  They have hay rides, bobbing for apples, a corn maze, cake walk, crafts, a petting zoo and some delish food.  It's been a few years since my kids have a had a school field trip to Brosi's, but their Harvest festival is a must on our Fall bucket list.

Love #7: Costumes
We actually don't celebrate Halloween, but all of my kids love to dress up and this time of year is so fun for costume hunting.  We spend hours rummaging through second hand stores and like to hit up local big chain stores for after Halloween sales on costumes and accessories. We have scored some real gems over the years that continue to be used year-round for imaginary play.

Not-So-Much #1: Rain
We haven't seen much of it yet and in all honesty, I do hope we get a good dose of it this year; however, it is not my favorite part of the season.  Sitting inside watching and listening to it fall is peaceful and enjoyable at times, but knowing we have a good 8 months or so of it coming up here in the PNW can be a bit daunting.  Cabin fever can start to set in and I can be sure the inside of my car will never look the same after a season of football with 2 boys. 

Not-So-Much #2:  The Frenzy
We are encouraged this time of year to slow down and be thankful. To count our blessings and enjoy the bounty of life we have been provided, but it seems to be more of a fight with each passing year. Christmas aisles appear to pop up sooner every year and before we even get to Thanksgiving I am burnt out from battling 3 kids and their misunderstanding of wants vs. needs. Teaching kids to be thankful and appreciate all they have is exponentially harder when everywhere they turn something "bigger and better" is being shoved in their faces.  It's me against the retail world and they have a better PR person ;)

Not-So-Much #3:  Hunting & Football
Now, I could get in trouble for this, because I actually DO like both of these things.  The thing I don't like is the amount of time and energy they take up.  My husband and I both enjoy hunting and I appreciate being able to provide food for my family, but am I the only on that runs out of cooking ideas before I run out of meat?  As for football, with one kid on the Middle School team, one kid on the flag football team, a nephew playing in college and all the non-stop coverage on TV, it just gets to be a little much you know? 

So, there you have it.  My take on Fall and all the things that make it so great!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Crockpot Chicken Tacos {For Breakfast, Lunch AND Dinner!?!}

Well, here we are...School has started, football season is in full swing, and I am happily back together with "Old Faithful", my crock pot.  If there is one thing I love more than an easy, inexpensive set-it-and-forget-it dinner, it is one that can be used to feed my growing family any time of day. This recipe is one of those rare treasures. Not only can I start it in the morning and finish it up in about 15 minutes at dinner time, it is a favorite with everyone in this household. And let me tell you, that is music to this Momma's ears.

I serve this dish at least once a week, and I always put the leftovers to good use.  I intentionally make a little extra each time to throw on top of my eggs in the morning with a little salsa and sour cream or whip up a quick batch of nachos for lunch the next day. I have also used this recipe to make yummy nachos for game day.

Crockpot Shredded Chicken Tacos:

Ingredients:

2-4 Boneless, skinless chicken breasts (I use 3 and it there is plenty to feed my brood and then some)
1-15 oz. Jar of salsa (any kind)
1 Packet Taco Seasoning

Combine all ingredients and cook in crock pot on low for 6-8 hours or high for 4-6 hours. That's it! The chicken shreds easily with a fork and I don't even thaw my chicken breasts before hand. 

Preparation:
I serve ours with warmed tortillas, sour cream, guacamole, shredded cheddar cheese, Mexican flavored rice and pinto or black beans, but there really is no limit to what you can do with these. Top as desired and enjoy!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Why I Write (& Why I Don't)

I have a love/hate relationship with this writing thing. I have days that I feel the pull to sit down and put the proverbial pen to paper only to shy away out of fear. Words have weight and most days I don't feel strong enough to bear the burden of it all.  I can't say what scares me so much exactly - the vulnerability & responsibility of it I guess.   

And then there are days that the words in my heart are so heavy that I think my heart might actually stop if I don't get them out. I write on those days, despite my fear.  God uses my ramblings as a way to help me sort out some of the mess that goes on in my head and turn me right side up again.  I have wrestled with the whole idea of blogging for more than 3 years and every time I walk away, convincing myself it's not my thing, I am pulled back. 

I haven't really written much in about a year and a half, and it feels good to finally put some words down.  My life started to feel a bit sideways a few summers ago and I wasn't sure how to walk through it or what I could or should share so I closed down my blog and Facebook so I could take some time to reflect and learn without distraction. It was good for me I think, but it's time to come alive again.  Time to try new things, reach out and believe that God will help.

Being offered the opportunity to write for Douglas County Moms and connect with other local women has really been a lifeline of sorts.  It has given me structure and deadlines and that little push I needed to jump back in.  There are seemingly endless topics to write about and I am encouraged by how each one is broached and delivered daily by women with same Momma heart beating in their chests as mine.  It seems that everywhere I turn these days, I am being reminded that my story matters...and yours does too.

There are whole writing communities like (in)courage and superhero mom writers like Lisa-Jo Baker all cheering us on to share our stories. On paper, online or in person. With our kids, neighbors and friends. It's all about relationships and understanding that our stories - even the ugly parts - are meant for glory and growth. They are necessary. They are needed. They are ours.  So we write - I Write. I write to remember where I came from and give glory to the One who got me here. Some stories are really cautionary tales and others are simply testimonies of God's faithfulness, because truthfully I need those to be remembered.

I need them for the hard days when I feel life going sideways again. I need them like an anchor for my soul. And I am learning that as much as I need to write them, to declare them as Truth to the world, someone out there may need to hear them. Maybe my friend, maybe a stranger, maybe my daughter.  There are countless women whose words have strengthened my heart and given me bravery for another day. I am so thankful they shared their stories with me.  I am so glad I have a story to share. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Kindergarten Blues

So, here we are just 1 week away from school starting and I find myself with so many conflicting emotions. Usually, I look forward to this time of year. School is starting back up, routines are kicking back in, football is just around the corner and I can almost taste the homemade apple cider & pumpkin pies.

As you all know by now, Summer is not my favorite season. I am not really a warm weather gal and the long unscheduled days of Summer can feel a bit daunting to me.  So why the change of heart you ask? I only have 1 week left at home with my soon-to-be Kindergartener.

Yep, that's right. This Momma is fighting the back to school blues over one blue-eyed blondie and how much his life (and mine) are about to change.  He is so excited packing his backpack and picking out his first day outfit and I am still trying to convince him that I'd homeschool him if he wants me to. He doesn't of course, but assures me he'll miss me and I assure him I'll cry the first (and maybe second) day of school. 

We have lots of conversations about how long 8:00am-3:30pm are (Yes, we have all day Kinder) and whether or not he'll ride the bus and does this mean he can start sports now and all I can think is we may as well be filling out college applications because I know that's just around the corner.  I know..."It gets easier.", you'll say - and you'd be right. This isn't my first experience with the Kindergarten blues, but I blinked and that round faced little boy walking into his first day of school is about to walk into his first day of MIDDLE SCHOOL!  My Momma heart aches at how quickly these days can go by.  I don't always slow down enough to realize it, but when I do it makes my head spin.

The beauty of the lives I have blessed to care for leaves me breathless and I have to admit that at times, I am afraid for them and all the ugly that this world can spew.  More often than not, I wish I could freeze these days. I wish I could keep my little guy "little" and that he wouldn't have to face mean kids, broken families and the lack of morality that abounds.  I wish young girls still dressed like ladies and that 1st graders didn't care about being "hot".  I wish we still used and taught manners, that we didn't accept disrespect or foul language, and that the future for our kids looked a little brighter than the news portrays these days.

And for now I guess, that's all I can do. Wish and pray.  And so I will, I will pray for my kiddos and yours. For the ones down the street and across the globe. The ones who are afraid and hungry, the ones without parents, the abused and forgotten. I will pray for them all and I will keep praying until I feel a little less powerless and a lot more brave. 

Mocha Truffle Cookies

Like it or not, fall is on its way and that is my favorite time of year to do some serious baking.  I came across this recipe a few years back and it instantly caught my attention. Why, you ask? Two words - Coffee and Chocolate. That's always a winning combination in my book.  These cookies have quickly become my go to treat for open houses, potlucks & house warming parties. They are also a staple of my Christmas goodie baskets.  These cookies aren't too sweet, and almost have a brownie like texture to them which makes them even better. The recipe is super easy to follow and one batch makes a ton of cookies. Like I said, winner all around. Enjoy!

Mocha Truffle Cookies - Taste of Home Magazine
Ingredients:
1/2 cup butter, cubed
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided
2 to 3 teaspoons instant coffee granules
2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup baking cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Recipe yields about 5 1/2 dozen


In a small saucepan over low heat, melt butter and 1/2 cup chocolate chips.  Remove from the heat; stir in coffee granules; cool for 5 minutes.


Stir in the eggs, sugars and vanilla. Combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt; fold into the chocolate mixture with remaining chocolate chips.


Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls 2 inches apart onto greased baking sheets.  Bake at 350* for 9-11 minutes or until tops appear slightly dry and cracked. Cool for 1 minute before removing to wire racks to cool completely.


 Enjoy!
 








Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Caution: Work in Progress

I recently turned 30 and in all honesty I have been looking forward to it for a while now.  I never quite understood women who struggled with this age.  I've always looked forward to it thinking, "I will finally feel like a real grown up when I reach 30."  As if 3 kids and more than a half dozen years of marriage hadn't quite qualified me as an actual grown-up adult.  And besides, your 30's can't possibly be worse than your 20's right? ...Right? 

I have been a 30-something for all of 2 weeks now and I can testify that I don't feel any different.  My days are still long and sometimes hard but my life is full of joy and blessings. The same joy and blessings as I had a year ago, but also the same difficulties. I guess what I am starting to realize is, we are all a work in progress. There is no magic age or stage of life where I will finally have it all together. I will always be in progress. I'm not sure my control freak, perfectionist self is okay with that but I think I am. I mean, think about it - what are we if not "in progress"? Stagnant, stale, decaying or dead.  No thanks. Progress is where it's at. 

The struggle I have as a wife and mother - heck, as a woman in general - is that I want progress to equal perfection. Or the possibility that I can attain it. Truth be told, I can't and neither can you. Can we grow? Absolutely. Mature? Of course.  Be better today than yesterday? You betcha.  But that has to be enough for me. I have to be able to wake up knowing that all I can really do is be a better wife, mom, employee, sister, daughter - whatever - than I was yesterday. That I have to keep on keepin' on and know there will be times when life feels like 2 steps forward and 1 step back.  SOmetimes progress is slow, but it's still progress.

For so long, I had this idea in my head of what perfection was and in fact, I can think of so many women that I have given this title to in my own mind. Truth is, they're not. They struggle just like me, but unlike me they have allowed themselves to fail (and move on) instead of just labeling themselves a failure and giving up. My life will always be in progress. We will not be made perfect and complete until the day the Father takes us home and declares His work finished.  I can rest assured that my relationships, finances, fitness, emotions and spiritual health will always be in progress and that Christ will always be there to guide my way if I let Him. To me, that is the true measure of success.

And hey, if the 30's don't work out, there always 40 right? ...Right?  I hope I am blessed enough to find out.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Measure of a Momma

I used to say that if I was guaranteed only boys, I would happily have a football team and drive a 15 passenger van - and then I had her. This tiny and terrifying bundle of sweetness who decided to enter this world on the one day of the year I swore I would never have a baby.  She is fierce and funny, sweet and (sometimes) sassy, a dreamer and a daddy's girl and all she wants to be is just like me.  I have never known this kind of pressure and it frightens me.

As a woman who has struggled most of her life with confidence and self-esteem - who can't quite reconcile the Truth of who she is and who she was made to be with what she sees in the mirror, I feel completely inadequate to lead my daughter through this tough & twisted maze of life into womanhood.  I understand the enormity of the task and in so many ways all I really want to do is shrink away from the responsibility. As I have done in so many other areas of my life, I feel convinced that I am unqualified for the task ahead and it is all too easy to believe the lie that I am not enough. Not good enough, smart enough, patient enough, organized enough, thin enough - as if the size of my jeans has any bearing whatsoever on my ability as a mother - and yet I can believe it does.  Given enough time, and without proper evaluation, all lies can start to look like truth.

Here's the thing that strikes me though - the one thing my daughter hears most often (only second to comments about her ridiculous amount of hair) is how much she looks like me.  It makes her beam and it makes me cringe.  When I hear that my instinctual thought is, "Don't tell her that - tell her she's beautiful".  When I look at her I see freedom, joy, beauty and light - not things I typically associate with my own reflection...but God is using her to change me.  Through her, I am learning to seek out the good and give myself Grace for the rest.  I want her to grow into all the things I was never brave enough to be and she can't very well do that if in one ear she hears how much she is just like me and in the other ear she hears me tearing myself down.

I want her to try new things. I want her to fail and get back up, to forgive and be forgiven.  I want her to know that being kind is more important than being pretty because a gentle heart is the best kind of beautiful there is. I want her to know that God has a plan for her and that I will do my best to help her live it.  I want her to know that I am not perfect and she won't be either - and that's ok.  I want her to know her worth has nothing to do with her dress size or bust size or public opinion.  I want her to know that we are both loved by an awe-inspiring God who created us to be exactly what we are.

And so, He is teaching me first - and He is using her.  This wild-haired, starry-eyed, beautiful baby girl of mine has wrecked my world in the best way possible.  She will break my heart and cause me to cry out for His.  Through her, I am learning how to be a better me, not a perfect one.  And I am so glad God cared more about what I needed than what I wanted, because I would have missed out on the blessing of being her Momma.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Summer Is Not For Every Mom

So yeah, summers here and the craziness has begun - am I the only one who dreads this season? Maybe dread is too strong a word, but honestly...it's a struggle.  Everyone around me is waxing poetic about how great their summer break is going to be and how they are so excited for lounging around the pool, lazing the days away and I feel like I can't breathe at the thought of it all.  I am a routine-loving, schedule-keeping, task-doing momma and summer is just NOT the season for that type of ambition.  Add in the fact that I melt at any temperature above 80* and we have a recipe for (potential) disaster. 

I'm not sure how exactly, but every year summer break sneaks up on me. Maybe it's because it's sandwiched between graduations, weddings, lamb show and Memorial Day campouts but it seems like we're cruising through our school day routine - and one day BAM! it's the last day of school and we all lose our minds. Figuratively, of course :)

Here's the thing - I really want to enjoy summer.  I dream of days at the local pool, trips to the library or Wildlife Safari, hiking the falls, swimming at the river, visiting the local produce farms, camping and on & on.  I have visions of TV free days spent playing outside, riding bikes, reading books in the hammock and sitting around the fire pit at night....and perfectly behaved lovely kids with clean faces, matching shoes and no fighting. YEAH RIGHT.

I did say I was dreaming.  I guess for me, the thing that's hardest about summer is, I gotta let go of the expectations and just make the effort anyway, because honestly - I am the only one that will remember the fights or the messy house in the rearview.  My kids will love knowing their crazy, tight-wound, type A momma made an effort to enjoy them for the few months of summer break.

So here's to all the other summer-loathing moms out there!  Throw away your list, ignore the laundry and grab an ice cream - it's gonna be a wild ride.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

If You Really Want To Be Rad {Like B-RAD}

This week has been hard.  I get so emotional thinking about the fact that you have just graduated high school - knowing all that we have seen you through over the years and it becomes hard for me to properly express everything I want to say.  I tried to write it in a card, tell you in a hug and let you know with a smile, but this is the only place that ever feels right. 

First, let me say I am so proud of you. It seems that's all I can really get out these days and I know you have heard it 1,000,000 times but it is true. You have made us all so proud!

I am a bit excited and nervous and anxious all at the same time to see what is coming next for you - and if I am being honest, a bit afraid. My heart breaks for all the heart breaks that I know this life can give. 

Weston was right when he said the next 10 years of your life are the most important. So many big decisions will be made in the coming years and all I really want is for you to have all that you really want.  But that's a tricky thing. Some of the biggest scars I bear came from the things I wanted most - or thought I wanted. It can be so hard to know at times.  And very often, the things we want most are the very things we should be running from. I think that's why God gave us family and community - to help us know the difference.

So here's the thing, I only want what is best for you and I will always be honest with you. Sometimes that will be hard...for both of us.  I know as a human and fellow finding-my-own-way-through-this-crazy-life adult you will not always (or ever) agree with me. I by no means expect you to heed every bit of advice or agree with every opinion of mine but I will share it anyway because I love you and that's what we do for people we love.  

There are so many things that have made you the "RAD" guy you are today - you are compassionate, genuine, loving and loyal. You pursue excellence with humility and grace. You are faithful, fiercely protective of those you love and (almost) fearless - {cause you know...needles} You are the kind of man this world needs more of.  I am invested in you and passionate for you to live the life you desire.

I am so thankful for you in my life & for all the championship moments I have been able to share with you so far.  I look forward to all the ones to come. Thank you for being a steadfast example and living an honorable life. I pray that God would continue to guide you and bless you with every good thing.

 Love, Ashley



Sunday, May 11, 2014

How Many Mothers Does It Take?

I have been blessed enough to be called "Momma" for 11 years now and as I sat reflecting on all the years leading up to this one and all the years ahead, it struck me just how many "mothers" of my own I have been blessed with on this crazy-wild journey into motherhood. 

My mom - the one with whom I share my flesh and blood - labored me into this world, and I am so thankful for her love and patience with me over the years, but there are so many other women that have loved and labored over me.  Prayed and pleaded, grieved with me and grown me. Given an ear and a shoulder. Today, I want to honor them as well.

Moms like Roni that never bore her own baby child into this world, but loved me as her own.  Checked in on me, encouraged me, always gave the best hugs and the sweetest smile. Was always ready for a laugh or a good long cry. She has loved me well. She is my mother.

Moms like Laurie, with 3 girls of her own that was always okay with me hanging around. She drove me to soccer practice and track meets and basketball & cheered and whistled LOUD even though I was never any good...at any of it.  She was silly and good hearted and giving and patient and would bring me cough medicine and pray with me in the middle of the night when I wasn't feeling well at her house. She was always full of love and a little bit of mischief. She is a living example of what living your life for Christ looks like.  She has loved me well.  She is my mother.

Moms like Brenda, Verna Lee, Kathy, Sue and Susan who mentored me through the birth of my 2 youngest children.  They gave me confidence and assured me that I could do this mothering thing after such a long break. True Titus 2 women that taught me how to love my husband and children - and reassured me it was okay that those things didn't always come easy or naturally.  They were always ready with a smile and a hug and open arms to hold my sweet babies so I could breathe a minute.  They prayed with me through hard times, encouraged me, reminded me that I was not alone - that they had made it through these crazy mothering years and I would too. These ladies were constant and committed to me.  They have loved me well. They are my mothers.

Moms like Mary, who isn't nearly old enough to be my actual mom but loved me like a daughter. She gave me a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on and always gave sound advice. She was honest with me and taught me to love the hardest of truths.  She counseled and consoled me into adulthood and through some of the hardest years of my life. Through abuse and eating disorders and all sorts of ugly, she has loved me well. She is my mother.

Moms like Ora. Moms who are moms and grandmas and the-last-of-her-generation matriarchs.  She was always sweet and just a bit sassy. My daughter bears her name and some of that same temperament.  I loved that she was never too busy or sick - even when she was. She quilted and sewed and painted and loved and lived every minute of her life until the end.  I miss her and I am so thankful she was a part of my life. She loved me well. She is my mother.

Moms like Bonnie, my gracious, kind and loving mother-in-law.  I am not kidding and only slightly bragging when I say I married into the best family ever.  This woman has raised amazing children and given me the gift of my husband, Eric, as the man he is today. She has intentionally loved and guided each of her children to love and follow hard after God. She has embraced me as her daughter and I am blessed by her in my life and the lives of my children.  She is hard working, smart, funny and hospitable.  She blesses me everyday. She has loved me well. She is my mother.

Moms like Marla and Kim that have adopted me as their own. There is no doubt that they love me. They are kind and encouraging - brave and loyal.  I know they are only a phone call or text away at any time. I know I can entrust them with the burdens of my heart and that they will wage war on my behalf at the gates of Heaven.  They have loved me well. They are my mothers.

As I write down these names, I know I could list many more and I am in awe of all the ways that God has blessed me through the years. Some of these women have moved towns, or onto another phase of life or even passed into Heaven, but they have left a lasting impression on my life and the way I approach being a wife and mother.  I pray that I can be that woman for others as I walk out my days and that my daughter is blessed with many, many amazing mothers in her life as well.

I will never be the same for having you in my life and I am so grateful.  So today, I want you to know that I honor you. I cherish the time spent together and all the lessons learned from you. Thank you for giving your time, prayers, energy and love. I count you as my mother and you are treasured.
You have loved me well. I am your daughter.

Happy Mother's Day!
Love, Ashley

Friday, May 2, 2014

Five Minute Friday: Mess

So, I have been reading Lisa Jo's blog for a while now and love her. LOVE her! I cling to her honesty and "realness" daily and know that she speaks His truth into my life. She is a big reason I have decided to write again. My real life friend Tresta at Sharp Paynes is the other. She is a beautiful, talented, gracious, real woman of God and I treasure her sweet words hand delivered to my inbox in a way she'll never truly know.  So, I have decided a good way to "get my feet wet" so to speak is to jump on the FMF (Five Minute Friday) bandwagon.  Every Friday, Lisa gives us a word prompt and 5 minutes to write freely and unedited. This could be dangerous - or hilarious. I like it :)

MESS

Mess seems to be the buzz word right now.  At MOPS we are learning to embrace our Beautiful Mess, my new book from Kristen Welch, Rhinestone Jesus is all about saying yes in my mess, the in(RL) webcast is encouraging us to use our mess to bless others and really all I want to do is hide this mess.

I have long struggled to see the beauty that I should know Christ has given me. I don't mean physical beauty. I mean the beauty that comes from a life lived for Him - a life lived for others. Somehow, I still can't see the value I bring into this crazy world of ours. I try and clean and tidy and organize and shine away every scuff mark of life to compensate for my mess that I perceive to be too great to be useful.  I can't see past the mess of my own life or mistakes or choices - and sometimes circumstances - to believe there is anything good I can offer.

And maybe I can't... I know I can't. All I can offer is the real-life true story of a broken and redeemed mess, and for today that is good enough.


Five Minute Friday

For When You've Been Looked Over

Tonight was hard. I know you had expectations that your greatness would be recognized and I could see your heart sink as you realized that tonight was not your night. I am not a big fan of "participation awards" and "everybody wins" because everyone does NOT win. At least, not all the time.  But let me tell you something - you did deserve to be recognized for 1,000,000 reasons. You deserved to have your name called out, the walk to the front, the applause - you deserved it all.  I am not saying that the wrong kids were picked - only that you ARE great. I see you for all that you are and I. Am. Proud.  You are the kid with the brains, the good looks, the humor, and the stable family (Well, most of the time :p) and it doesn't occur to people that you might need a little encouragement.  It doesn't occur to ME enough.

I think you are amazing and it is unfair that I just assume you know that. As your Mom, it is my job to encourage you and cheer for you and not wait for someone else to do it.  So please know that I am proud to be your Momma and proud of the man you are growing to be, so here's your recognition. Your blue-ribbon. Your room of applause. Your hootin'-hollerin'-fist-pump-in-the-air-atta-boy... 

Max, You made me a Momma. You! Did you know your name means "Great One" or "The Greatest"? It is a very fitting name, I think. I am so grateful for you.  You made my dreams come true.  All I ever wanted to be was a Mom. I was so young and it is crazy to think that you are growing so fast. I have learned so much from you and I know I joke about it, but you really are my guinea pig. Thanks for being such a gracious one :) I have been blessed by you from the very beginning through  all the hard things and tough choices, YOU have given me hope in a future that I didn't dare dream of.  You are a daily reminder to me of God's faithfulness, Grace and Providence.  God could not have blessed me with a better first born.

You are the BEST big brother - smart and kind - and so much help to me! I know I can count on you to be a good example to your siblings and be a leader at school.  You bring joy to the lives of everyone around you and are adored by so many. You are polite, loyal, thoughtful and caring - a great friend to everyone. You are strong as an ox and as gentle as the lamb you have been tending to day & night for the past 6 weeks. I love that you don't play favorites and you don't leave people out.  You are artistic and imaginative, a talented athlete and incredible student. I love that you love books just like me and have such a hunger for knowledge.  You are adventurous and brave and noble and funny - and I love you.

I know you want to be the best at everything you do, but don't give up or count yourself out because you are afraid you'll fail or look silly. There are so many things worse than looking silly.  You can be amazing at absolutely anything you want. God has gifted you in so many ways that I am daily blown away by you and the abilities you have.  This is only the beginning - God has a plan for your life and I can't wait to see all the ways you bless people through Him in the future. 

So, take risks - try new things. Stay humble, and know that you are capable of ANYTHING & I will be here cheering for you through EVERYTHING. 

You are a great son, and I am one blessed Momma.