Monday, June 22, 2015

Summer Treats

Friday night we went to a friend's house to celebrate some good news.  She had been battling some health issues and her doctor had eliminated everything except cancer, and then this past week she got the call that she didn't have cancer and instead has something very treatable.

This news called for celebration!

Of course a celebration calls for food.

I made my French Toast Cupcakes with Maple Frosting and Bacon Sprinkles (perhaps I should shorten that name). 


I also made Rice Krispies Treats that looked like watermelon slices.  I got the idea from InspiredByFamilyMag.com.  The inspiration recipe used chocolate chips for the watermelon "seeds," but two of my kids don't love chocolate (weirdos).  So I found some old Valentine's sprinkles that had tiny brown hearts.  I used those dark brown hearts as our seeds.





This was the bottom after I flipped it out of the pan.

I cut it into quarters.

Then I cut each quarter into three or four slices.  Those tips wanted to crumble when I cut them.


Voila!
Nora was on hand to help me clean the sticky Rice Krispies out of the bowl.


  

She was quite pleased with the fact that she was wearing her watermelon dress while we were making a watermelon dessert.


This was another time of getting to bake for fun.  Plus I got to make something new!  I like to celebrate big things--like a good medical diagnosis--and little things--like fun in the kitchen!

Jessica

Thursday, June 18, 2015

A Fantastic Summer Day

Some days are horrible days.  But then, often for no known reason, there'll be a day that's just so good.  Today was one of those days.

It wasn't that we went somewhere really cool.  Come to think of it, we didn't actually leave the house all day!  It was just exactly what I think of as a "summer" day.

I slept in until 8:30.  Aaaaahhhh.  I got out of bed and pulled back my bedroom curtains (yes, I finally put up curtains!) to let the sunshine in.  This is not the start of a cheesy fairytale.  This is actually how my day started.

I came out to find that my boys had already eaten breakfast.  It's a beautiful thing when kids can get their own breakfast.  Nora came out just after me, and she was warm and she was soft.  She snuggled me on the couch for a little bit before wanting breakfast.

After breakfast I sat down by Nolan on the couch.  I thought I'd read my Sunday school lesson while he watched tv.  However, I got sucked into his History Channel show about an island with possible buried treasure, and I didn't read any of my lesson!  How fun to snuggle my babies and daydream about hidden treasure.

Eventually I figured we should do something besides watch tv and play iPads, so we did a little activity I had found on Pinterest.  We made Erupting Sand Foam Dough from Learn~Play~Imagine.  Ours didn't quite turn out as "dough" because I forgot to tell Griffin to shake the shaving cream before squirting it into the mixture and also because we ran out of corn starch.  It was still messy and fun nonetheless.



After they mixed the ingredients and colored sand, we divided the messy "dough" into three foil pans and took them outside.  I gave each child a squirt bottle of vinegar and let them make mini eruptions in their pans.  

That naturally led to playing outside for the rest of the morning.  I weeded my garden while the kids jumped on the trampoline, played on the swings, rode bikes, and made up summertime kid games.  The kids even helped me weed, for a few minutes at least.  Nolan discovered the first sign of hope for this year's garden--the first pods of sugar snap peas!  Peas may be the only vegetables we successfully grow this year since record rainfall keeps my garden flooded.


When I was finished in the garden and the kids were done playing in the back yard, we moved our fun to the front yard.  We played with a bubble gun and some giant bubble wands.  We discovered ant colonies, blooming Tiger Lillies, and unidentified mushrooms (that my brother later identified via text).

"Elegant Stinkhorn"

"Fairy Inkcap"
As we were playing and exploring in the front yard, a girl who lives down the street rode her bike to our house.  She carried a walkie-talkie that her mom uses to check in on her.  She played with the kids while I made Nora's lunch (the boys make their own!).  The kids sort of ate in shifts so someone could stay outside playing with their friend.  While I ate my lunch, I finally got down to the business of reading my Sunday school lesson.

After the kids ate their lunches, they enjoyed homemade popsicles that I made with Jello.  Most purchased popsicles are not safe for Nolan, and the kids really like the Jello ones.

I was able to talk to my sister on the phone and text with some friends.  All while I wore grubby clothes, had my hair pulled back in a fuzzy ponytail, and wore absolutely no makeup.

Eventually, as we knew would happen, the sky turned gray and the wind picked up.  Our little friend's mom radioed her that she needed to come home, and we watched her ride her bike safely home while the cool wind sent us rushing back in the house.

I let the kids play/watch electronic devices during the afternoon storms.  Once I finished studying my lesson, I sat on the couch watching Downton Abbey (or as Jared calls it, "my stories") while I alternately browsed Pinterest and read a novel I borrowed electronically from the library.

Something wonderful happened.  Something that hasn't happened in months.  I got the itch to bake just for fun.  This used to be such a regular occurrence.  Then my life got so overwhelmingly full of responsibilities that I didn't have time to do something just because I felt like it.  Plus I was baking for so many other people's events that I didn't ever have the chance to bake just for enjoyment.

It felt weird to think about baking something just for the fun of it.  Where would I start?  What would I make?  I considered making cut-out sugar cookies and trying some new piping techniques for decoration.  However, that would take hours and I wasn't sure how long this urge would stick around before I might scare it off.  So I searched "summer cookies" on Pinterest.  You know--since I was so happy with the summeryness of the day.  I found some fantastic ideas.

I got up off the stories/novel/Pinterest couch and worked on getting dinner in the oven.  It was a recipe I had found in a magazine awhile back that turned out to be a huge hit the first time I made it (about a month ago).  It was a huge hit tonight as well!  Sometimes just not having to fight anyone over eating dinner feels like a huge victory.

If you're curious about the recipe, here it is:


After dinner Jared took the kids to go play on the soggy playground at the nearby school while I got to baking.  I was nearly giddy.

I chose a recipe that was new and summery without being too fussy or time-consuming.  I made Pina Colada Cake Mix Cookies from Eat At Home.  When I made the frosting for the cookies, I chose to make it a bit thin, more like a glaze.  I turned each cooled cookie upside-down and dipped the cookies into the glaze (rather than spreading the frosting on top of each cookie).  It was faster this way, and I liked the effect of the thin coating of pineapple-coconut glaze.

Jared LOVED the cookies and even called them "dangerous."  I liked them and would make them again, but I would probably make a couple tweaks to the recipe to amp up the flavors.  But that didn't stop me from eating more than just one or two.

My kids came home fantastically muddy from playing at the school, and then they all showered and came out soft and tan and smelling good as they told me tales from their adventures with Dad this evening. 

This really has been such a fantastic day.  This, to me, is the quintessential summer day.  Some playfulness, imagination, laziness, inventiveness, productiveness, togetherness, aloneness, eatingness.  Ok, now I'm just making up words, but you get the idea.

Oh, AND I wrote a blog post.  So really this day was unbelievably good!

Jessica

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Next Big Dream

Sometimes I wonder what the next big dream is for me.

Other people dream big.  Other people shake things up in order to make those dreams a reality.

I used to read two blogs quite faithfully:  Moms by Heart and Lil Blue Boo.  The author of Moms by Heart sold most of her family's possessions and took off on a roadschooling adventure that brought her family so much closer together and taught them all sorts of life lessons.  The author of Lil Blue Boo sold her giant house and most of her possessions and moved across the country to a small town in North Carolina in order to simplify and be reminded how much beauty there is in life.

My own sister, nearly one year ago, moved her family from Illinois, where all of her friends and most of her family live, to Florida in order to follow the next calling God placed on her family.  She has always been a mom and a pastor's wife, with a little bit of hair dressery mixed in, and now she's a science teacher at a Christian school.

All of these people left their everyday, well-known, worn path lives in order to pursue the next big dream.

About a year and a half ago, my husband and I reached a crisis point.  Not a crisis between the two of us necessarily, but a crisis that the two of us faced together.  I haven't asked his permission to share all of the details, so I'll simply say that we knew something had to give and he/we began desperately pursuing a new job for him.

We thought perhaps God was calling us to a new adventure.  Job offers came from other states, even other countries.  With an undertone of excitement and nervousness, we prayed about each one, waiting with anticipation for one to click and trigger the feeling that we had found the next giant step.  Not a one fit the bill. 

We carried on, silently thinking about our secret burden every hour of every day.  Jared reached the point of surrendering it to God long before I did.  He gave up the anxiety first.  I've always had a tendency to cling to anxiety.  We're old friends.  It's unhealthy and unspiritual, but sometimes it's the only thing that's familiar.

As we held our breath, waiting for God to reveal His plan for our family, I felt myself pulling away from everyone and everything around me.  Without even choosing to do so, I was preparing to leave the things and people I know here. 

In the absence of an actual next step, that only led to feeling discontent.  I was closing off to the known without having a new unknown to open up to.  I found myself wanting to run away.  I wanted to get away from my overwhelming responsibilities at church.  I wanted to be done volunteering for so much at my kids' school.  I wanted to pull away from people who--in my skewed opinion--took me for granted.

The lack of a dream to follow left me discontent and disappointed.  But I couldn't really talk about it to anyone because I didn't have a full story to tell.  I figured I'd wait until I had the other half, the part where I would tell that God was leading us to this next big thing.  So I waited.

As I waited, it became harder and harder to talk about other things.  I couldn't really blog very much because I couldn't talk about the thing that was on my mind and stirring my heart and spirit daily.  It felt fake to write about some recipe or craft or kid moment when that wasn't really what was on my mind.

And then I got a Mac and suddenly managing pictures became the weirdest impossible task ever (Why?!  This isn't that hard!  I just want to upload pictures to a blog--seriously!!).  And with the inability to add pictures to my blog posts, the last bit of motivation to publish died with the last breath popping like a bubble.

With all of the job offers that Jared received--and there were LOTS--none were right for our family.  Each one brought false hope and proportionate disappointment until eventually we numbed ourselves to the sting.  We tried to open ourselves back up to our responsibilities here and I tried to start pouring myself back into all that I do.  I hosted baby and bridal showers.  I prepared a lesson each week for my Sunday school class.  I made teacher gifts and helped with school functions.  I tried to find things I could clear off my "plate" and ended up finding very little that could go.  So I pressed on.

I found a little bit of adventure several months ago when my friend Michele had an opportunity to go back to work and asked me to care for her two children.  Michele's husband dropped her kids off each morning on his way to work, and I kept watch over them for about an hour or so before I took Garrit (a kindergartener) and my boys to school.  I had Abby (preschool age) all day, even when Nora was at preschool three mornings per week.  I had so much fun getting to know these kids.  I worked with Nora and Abby on their reading and writing skills.  I took the girls on mini adventures, which I honestly probably wouldn't have been purposeful enough to do if it was just me and Nora.  I took on these kids as my own and enjoyed so much watching all five kids forge friendships that I believe will last.

School finished on June 1.  I get to have my little chickadees back in my nest all day.  Garrit and Abby are home with their parents just down the street (both work at schools, so they have the summers off).  Jared left for a trip overseas before school even finished, and he just returned (yesterday was his first day home).  So I feel like summer is just starting now, which means my mental clock is about two weeks behind reality.

Besides missing Jared terribly, I have been loving summer.  I LOVE late nights and sleeping in.  I love the relaxed schedule and not being a slave to the clock.  I love my kids putting together a baseball game in our yard and making up sprinkler games.  I love the glisten of sunscreen on their skin and Nora's fuzzy curls from the humidity.  I love babying my garden and eating homemade popsicles and drawing bike obstacle courses with sidewalk chalk.

I study my children every day.  The baby fine microscopic hairs on their faces.  The tiny crease at the top of their cheeks nears their eyes.  The bony knees on legs that get just a whisper longer every day.  I don't want time to hurry up at all.  I am as aware as I can be that this is a dreamy stage of life, and I try to commit every second possible to memory as I know it is fleeting.  I don't want Nolan to go to middle school or Nora to go to kindergarten when August comes.  I want this.  Now.  Forever.

In my quiet moments I still remember that I don't know the next big dream for me and my family.  I have ideas of what I thought it would be.  I have visions of what I hoped it would not be.  But here I am living in today.

While Jared was gone, I was satisfied just to get clothes and dishes clean, to feel like the kids got more time outside than time on iPads, to get Nolan to baseball practices and games.  I painted my nails fun colors just for a cheap thrill.  I completed puzzles and watched Downton Abbey to fill the time that tempted me to feel lonely.

Now I just want to enjoy every minute of these summer days.  But then the part of my mind that never rests still wonders about the next big dream.  This fall will be a huge chapter change for me as my last baby goes off to school.  I agreed to babysit a 4-month-old baby August through October.  It feels a bit like a cop-out doing something I already feel like I know how to do rather than tackling something brand new.  But it will help me with the transition.

We have had mini adventures that seemed like big dreams at the time.  I feel like they could be titled like episodes of Friends:  The One Where Jessica Lost a Bunch of Weight, The One Where We Moved After Ten Years In One House, The One Where Jared and Jessica Went on a Getaway. 

So, what does life look like these days?  Well, I've put on some weight and feel self-conscious most of the time.  Nolan and I still battle stomach issues daily.  Griffin blows me away with his intelligence and with the improvements he continues to make with his skills of human interaction (when I can tear him away from electronics).  Nolan has recently discovered that he knows absolutely everything and has unlimited time and resources to argue until you come around to recognizing his rightness.  Nora has sufficiently mastered the art of the cartwheel and has moved on to practicing handstands.  She says the most hilarious stuff that has ever left the mouth of a five-year-old girl.  We finally decorated a couple rooms of our house but have run out of money to truly finish them off now or tackle anything new.  Our yard is 3% grass and 97% clover.  I planted new vegetables in my garden this year but was apparently overconfident as three of the newbies didn't ever come up.  So I replanted plants (rather than seeds), but we've since had disastrous storms and flooding.  We'll see.  I continue to teach my adult Sunday School class, but I really desire a ministry shake-up.

I hope this summer is full of friends and the smell of sunscreen and weird science experiments and reading for pleasure and garage sales and backyard adventures.  I hope we can swindle our way into other people's pools and duck out of things that drain us more than they revive us.  I hope I can figure out how to publish a picture on this dang blog so I can show you some cool stuff. 

Jared will probably get a new position at his current company, and we will stop imagining a big move and a great adventure where our family grows closer than ever.  I'll stop thinking about joining a tiny church and having a hand in watching it grow as we share what we've learned from nearly 11 years at an explosively growing church.  I'll give up the dream of being like missionaries but in a comfortable bug-free, wilderness-free, language-barrier-free way.

I'll get back to planning dinners that meet everyone's dietary needs and restrictions (and stop letting the kids eat cereal for dinner...).  Now that Jared is home, I can begin to think ahead toward our big family vacation next month.  I will be going to another Beth Moore conference later this month and look forward to the time of worship and growth.  I just finished a book (that was slightly disappointing) and have another ready to read.  I just finished a puzzle and hope to find more puzzles through garage sales or some other cheap source so I can stop paying full price at Walmart to feed my addiction.

At least I ended my long blogging hiatus.  For now.

I may not be selling my possessions or trekking across the country any time soon.  Let's be honest, I'm definitely a stay-in-one-place kind of girl.  I love the predictable and the comfortable.  I'm not really an adventurer or even a free spirit.  But I have a tiny part of me that is open to that sort of thing if I'm certain (like 100% positive) that it's God's plan for me and my family.  So I have faith that He will nurture that willingness into an actual dream in His timing.

I once had a far-off dream of getting married to a tall, handsome man and having my own children.  Sometimes I forget that I'm literally living out my own adolescent dream.  It can be tough to look ahead without missing the present.  Both are necessary.  I'm doing my best to enjoy living this wife-mom dream while straining towards the next big dream ahead.

Jessica

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Not So Shiny

My cousin Elizabeth, who is a dear friend and fellow blogger, insisted that I write about this.  So I blame her for the knot in my stomach.

Just kidding.

About the blame, not the stomach.

As the name of my blog suggests, I am a perfectionist by nature but I try to fight that nature in order to be something that resembles healthy.  I don't want to give in fully to that constant pull to strive for unattainable perfection.  But when I'm not actively fighting against it, it pulls me in closer.

One by one, I've had to let go of things I once saw as "perfect."  I'm not the perfect mom.  I'm not the perfect housekeeper.  I'm not the perfect chef or baker.  My kids do not have perfect discipline records.  Even my perfect grades in college are meaningless now.

Well, yesterday I had to let go of one more perfect thing:  my perfect driving record.

I've had my license for 17 years (go ahead and do the math).  I've never even been pulled over.  No parking tickets.  No fender benders.  No red lights run or even an expired license plate tag.  I've had a shiny, perfect driving record.  And I felt proud of it.  Which is probably why it needed to be pried from my kung fu grip.

Here's the kicker.  Not only was I in a car accident yesterday, but I caused the accident.  Embarrassed doesn't even begin to describe how I felt (feel).  I was also so confused.  I am such a careful driver that I'm baffled as to how this even happened.  My dad says they're called "accidents" for a reason. 

I won't bore you with the details, mostly because it still stings to recount them.  The main points are:  I didn't see a car, I hit said car, all parties involved were unharmed, I had Nora in the car with me, Nora was scared at first but then practiced handstands in the grass while I talked to the police officer, the other car had to be towed as a precaution but was basically driveable, my car is driveable but we are not to drive it until the insurance adjuster comes out.  Oh, and I cried.  A lot.  The middle-aged male police officer wasn't quite sure what to do with a crying woman.

The accident happened while I was on my way to pick up our new dining chairs.  I never got the chairs.  That's a worry for a different day.  I'll need to borrow a truck (and have someone else drive as I am not emotionally ready) or beg Pier 1 to hold them longer due to extenuating circumstances. 

So today I'm nursing an exhausted body and a bruised ego.  It's back to life as usual with school, the last dance class before this weekend's big recital, babysitting the two kids I care for everyday, taking care of the house and laundry and meals, etc.  Only it has to be done with one car between Jared, me, and five kids.  We're working it out.

I'm so grateful that no one was hurt, and I'm trusting God to make something out of the rest of the mess.  And now that my secret is out, maybe it'll stop stinging so much.

Jessica

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Star Teacher Appreciation Gift

I wanted to share one more quick and easy gift for Teacher Appreciation.  My friend Michele found this idea and free printable on Simply Designing.

I printed the cards, cut them out, and punched a hole in the top.  I bought two rolls of Starburst for each teacher (they were 2 for $2 at Walgreens).  I chose special flavors just to make it more fun.  I simply tied the Starburst together and attached the cards.  Done!



It would be even cuter to fill a jar with Starburst candies and put the printable tag on the lid. 

On to the next task for May!

Jessica

Mint Teacher Appreciation Gift

May is CRAZY!  In addition to my son's birthday (yes, he requires a party for family and a separate party for friends), my daughter's dance recital (complete with pre-dress rehearsal and dress rehearsal and performance night), Mother's Day (I may be a mom but I also have to take care of the moms in my life), and all the usual practices and homework (and laundry and cleaning and meals)...this is also Teacher Appreciation week.

Anyone else overwhelmed too??

Well I really do appreciate all the teachers in our busy kid world.  I just don't have time to show them in the most creative way possible!  I helped our Parent Club deliver donuts on Monday and decorate the teachers' lounge.  Tuesday the club gave the teachers fresh fruit.  I already forgot what's being delivered today, but Thursday will be lunch and Friday will be cookies.  I participate in the Parent Club and helped raised the funds used for this week's gifts.  But I still want my boys' teachers to know that I personally appreciate them.

My friend Michele found this "mint" printable and even printed two extra copies for me!  She is a school secretary, and she made adorable little gift bags for the teachers at her school.  You can attach this printable to anything mint-flavored.  I just made it very very easy on myself.

I ran to Walgreens and bought a 3-pack of mint Tic-Tacs for $0.99 and a tin of cinnamon mints (just in case they want an alternate flavor) for $0.99 each.  I threw those into treat bags I had leftover from Christmas (I skipped the Rudolph toppers...).  I used white ribbon to tie them up and attach the printed card.

Voila!



The free printable card can be found at Made 2 B Creative.  It says:
Thank You for your
Achieve"mint"
Commit"mint"
Encourage"mint"
Invest"mint"
Involve"mint"
This morning as I watched someone carrying flowers into preschool, I realized that I've spent all my energy on the boys' teachers and forgot about the preschool teachers!  So I ran out and bought two boxes of Junior Mints and two bags of Pepperidge Farms Mint Chocolate Milano Minis.  I simply tied them together and printed two more cards.  Preschool teachers:  appreciated!



Jessica

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Worthy

The topic of praise and worship has come up lately in a few different settings. 

Because people have different personalities and upbringings, there's a lot of variation in the way people participate in praise and worship.

Some enjoy the music but don't ever sing along.  My husband always sings (and truly worships from the heart) and occasionally attempts to clap, but he's not really a hand-raiser.  Some sing with eyes open to read the words on the screen.  Some close their eyes in order to focus on God and not be distracted by their surroundings.

Roughly a year ago, I told my sister-in-law that I was craving more freedom in worship.  I'm part of a Nazarene church, and I attend our more contemporary service.  We have a praise band with electric guitars and drums and all the usual suspects.  We sing songs that are popular on our Christian radio station as well as songs that have been around in churches for years.  Clapping is certainly acceptable, although Nazarenes either don't have the rhythm to keep a clap going while singing or don't feel the need to clap.  A handful of people will raise their hands while worshipping, but it's usually the same folks each time.

And then there's me.  Over the last year, the depth and breadth of my worship experience has grown in an amazing way.

It started with crushing frustration!  You may remember when I was at the Beth Moore conference and asked for prayer that didn't turn out as I had hoped.  Then God challenged me by asking me if He was still worthy of praise.  You can read more here.

I've always loved singing praise songs, especially in a church setting.  I feel the music in me, and I can't actually not move.  I tap the pew in front of me, stomp my heels or tap my toes, rock back at forth, or act as the lone clapper.

I know pretty much all of the songs, so I don't need to read the screen.  I also find that closing my eyes makes me forget about the people around me so I can focus solely on God.

Then there's the controversial issue of raising my hands.  I don't know the churchy explanation.  I just know that for me, sometimes singing isn't enough.  My soul wants to jump out of my skin in praise, and raising my hands is like an outlet for my praise to burst forth toward God.  It can also feel like an expression of agreement or exclamation.  "Me!  Right here!  I agree with these words!"

Being broken and raw before God in a painful way can allow us to connect with him in praise.  That day when He asked me if He was still worthy of my praise, it wasn't just about my unanswered plea for physical healing.  It has become my praise principle.

When I start singing that first song of the service, my mind is still replaying the kids' drop offs or someone's passing comment.

My soul remembers He is worthy of praise.

My mind recounts my current circumstances and the long list of requests I want God to answer.

But my heart reminds me He is worthy of praise.

I think I have to look and sound and act a certain way when I'm gathered with familiar and new faces in church.

God is worthy of praise.

Worship isn't about me.  I don't sing to impress others (I actually have to try not to ruin their worship experience with my voice!).  I don't raise my hands to seem like a good Christian.  When I start wondering how my outfit looks or if the people behind me have noticed the weird spot in my hair that wouldn't curl right, I remember one thing:  God is worthy of praise.

Singing praise and worship songs is like praying without the pressure of coming up with the words.  That's another thing I absolutely love.  All I have to do is think about the words and make them come from my heart.  There's no pressure on me.  Someone else has written the words, and someone else is playing every instrument needed to make it sound beautiful.  I get to simply participate by agreeing.

My worship time has become my very favorite way to spend time with God.  It's like I have a date with Him, and it is the most refreshing way to spend my time!  God has planned our date, and I just have to show up and pay attention to Him.  It's the only time I stop thinking about my world and what I need to do for everyone else.  My time spent in worship is when I remember who God is and that I belong to Him.  Nothing else matters during that time.

I praise God because He is worthy of it.

Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; His greatness no one can fathom.  Psalm 145:3

Jessica