Wednesday, August 20, 2014

First Day of School 2014

Ugh, I'm a little blue today.  Nolan and Griffin started school, and Jared left for a work trip.  All of my boys left me at once!

I asked Nora if she would cheer me up if I start feeling sad without the boys.  She said, "Look on the bright side:  we can have [singing] giiirrrlll tiiiime!"  That girl cracks me up.  Where did she ever learn "look on the bright side"?

This was our first time ever having a tear-free first day of school.  Of course, I'm not counting what I did when I made it back to my car.

Nolan started 3rd grade and Griffin started 1st grade.  Crazy.

Here are my precious boys before school this morning:

Nolan chose a neon yellow/green lunch box, a black and orange backpack, and gray and orange school shoes.  He chose his new "Rocktopus" shirt for the first day of school.

Griffin chose a blue lunch box and blue backpack, and he wants to keep wearing last year's school shoes for as long as possible.  He also said he didn't need any new shirts, and I could pick his outfit for the first day of school.  I chose his "Just A Regular Genius" shirt.

"Mom, can we do a silly one?"

Me and my boys:

Finally, this may not be the most flattering shot for me, but you can see why I love it:

Happy new school year!


Monday, August 18, 2014

Now THIS Is Summer

This was my favorite moment today:

It was actually a pretty important moment.  Allow me to back up a bit to explain.

Have you ever read the book Are You My Mother??  {Sidenote:  How do you properly type the question mark of the title followed by the question mark that ends the sentence?}

This was one of Nolan's favorite books as a toddler.

In the book, a mother bird sees that her egg is about to hatch, so she hurries off to find food for her baby.  The egg hatches while she's away, and the poor baby bird searches everywhere to find his mother.

The baby bird searches everywhere for his mother.  He has a general idea of what he's looking for.  Something bigger than him.  Something that moves.  Each time he encounters a new animal or even object, he asks this new character, "Are you my mother?"

He begins to get upset because he is absolutely certain that he has a mother; he just can't seem to find her.

Finally, he lands back in his nest, where his mother comes home with food.  

The baby bird went through a lot before he finally found his mother.  He knew she was out there, and he kept going until he found her.

That's how I have felt about this summer.  I knew Summer was out there, but I couldn't seem to find it.  

Watching TV was not Summer.

Monitoring iPad time was not Summer.

Dragging my kids to the places I needed to be was not Summer.

Helping my sister move was not Summer.

Cleaning the house 17 times per day (only to have it gross again in 5 minutes) was not Summer.

Cramming in reading time in order to keep up with the library's summer reading program was not Summer.

Last week I knew our time was drawing to a close, so I tried desperately to find Summer with the kids.  We went at a slower pace.  We didn't eat breakfast until 9:00.  We didn't go anywhere that we didn't absolutely have to or actually want to go.  We snuggled and talked and made each other laugh.

We were so close, but I felt like I still hadn't wrapped my arms around Summer and given it a good squeeze.

Not to mention that one of my boys didn't get the teacher we were really hoping for.  And then I remembered how hard it is to just hand my babies over to people I don't know and trust these people to care for my treasures all day long.  I remembered that it causes a physical ache in my chest to leave my little ones and then turn around and go home without them.  I remembered how Nora had a case of Juvenile Depression (is that a thing?) last year for the first 2-3 weeks of school because she was so lonely without her brothers.  

I don't want summer to be over.  I never even found Summer, but I don't want to give up the search.  I'm not ready to be done.

So today was our last full day of summer.  The last day to sleep in.  The last day to be in control of our own schedule.  The last day to soak in our time together before we go meet teachers tomorrow and start full-blown school on Wednesday.

The kids went in our back yard to play while I worked on a few things inside.  I looked out to check on them, and was astonished to see that they weren't riding bikes in the tennis court behind our back yard, but they were actually playing on the golf course behind the tennis court.

My first reaction was to charge out on our back deck and yell at them for being so far away from our yard.  But then I stopped and watched them.

And I really watched them.

They talked and motioned to one another.  They made up stuff.  They gathered grass clippings and created a bird nest (which Griffin is certain a mother bird will gladly use).  Nora played an instrument she made out of a plastic bottle and some rubber bands.  They discovered a dead branch hanging down from the tree, and they tried to pull it off.  When the tree branch wouldn't budge, they decided to swing from it!

And it hit me:  this is Summer.

I found it.  It's my children spending time together, being carefree, using their imaginations and their own logic and problem-solving skills.  It's running from a bee and standing still to watch a butterfly.  It's making up a game that turns into another activity.  It's Nora's hair blowing behind her as she runs to catch up to the boys to do whatever they do.  It's Griffin talking without any apprehension of how people will respond to him.  It's Nolan leading the pack, keeping everyone safe while also being the first to try something potentially dangerous.

I knew we had it.  We just had to find it.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Favorite Songs

Right before my sister's family moved, I spent a whole day with my niece Layla.  We packed and cleaned and ran errands.  We nicknamed ourselves the Dream Team because we got so much done together.

While we were driving from place to place, we discovered that we both love the song "The Broken Beautiful" by Ellie Holcomb.  Now every time I hear that song, I feel super happy remembering how much fun I had with Layla that day.  And then I feel sad that Layla is many miles away.

Songs are like that for me.  They are connected to memories and emotions for me.

I've been loving "Oceans" by Hillsong United for months now.   It has meaning to me personally, and I've heard from many of my favorite women about how God has used that song to speak to them.

There are so many songs that I love.  For today, I wanted to share with you three songs that currently make me move and groove and tap my steering wheel no matter what kind of day I'm having.

In no particular order...

"Fix My Eyes" by For King and Country

"My Lighthouse" by Rend Collective

"Start a Fire" by Unspoken

It's no coincidence that these are three of my favorite bands.

I hope you enjoy these as much as I do!


Monday, August 11, 2014

That's My Lump

Today Nolan had to have a procedure that required him to be under general anesthesia.  I had lots of friends and family praying for him (and me!), and the whole experience could not have gone any better.  I am so grateful for those answered prayers!

After his breathing tube was removed and he was awake, I was allowed to go back to the recovery room to be with him.  A hospital employee walked me back to a large room with 14 beds for children coming out of surgery or procedures.

As soon as we walked into the recovery area, I saw one curled up lump under warm blankets and immediately recognized that lump as my baby.  It struck me how amazing it is that I could recognize my child when I could only see his vague form under layers of blankets as well as a sliver of the top of his head. 

That's one of the privileges of being a mother.  I know my children.  I know their voices, their cries, their laughs, their smells.  I knew all of Nolan's answers before he spoke them to every worker or nurse who chatted with him.  I beamed as he made jokes because that's my Nolan.

I love that these three children are mine, and I know them.  That's pretty awesome.


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Naked and Afraid

When I first saw a commercial for the show Naked and Afraid, I thought it was ridiculous.  Then I watched an episode, and I got hooked.  I'm pretty sure I've seen every episode so far.

If you haven't seen the show, let me tell you a little about it before I tell you why I'm bringing it up.

One man and one woman are dropped off in a remote location (Madagascar, the Amazon, Belize, etc.).  They have to take off all their clothes, and they are each allowed to have one survival item.  Most common survival items are a knife or hatchet, a fire starter, or a pot for boiling drinking water.  The couple, who meet each other for the first time once they are naked at their location, have to survive for 21 days and then go to a predetermined extraction point.

The survivalists have to build a shelter, find drinking water of some sort, build a fire, and find some sort of food.  Some people are unable to make fire, which means they can't boil water for drinking or cook animals for food.  Some people can't make an adequate shelter to protect them from rain, wind, extreme temperatures, or bugs.  Some people have contracted weird illnesses and had to be rushed to get emergency medical assistance.  Some people tap out before Day 21 because they can't take the conditions, discomfort, dehydration, or starvation.

I am fascinated by the interaction of the two people.  I've seen some pairs work together beautifully and make it to the end, vowing to stay friends because of what they have accomplished.  I've seen some pairs threaten to go their separate ways for the remainder of the challenge because they just can't seem to work together. 

It's interesting to see how people handle the challenges presented to them through climate, lack of food or water, inability to create fire, etc.  I love when a team has been struggling and then they finally get a fire going or find some great food source.  Sometimes they are so dehydrated that they're dizzy and near passing out, and then they finally find a source of good, clean water.  They passed up potentially dangerous pools of water and walked for miles to a clean waterfall or waited until they could boil water to make it safe to drink.  And then they take that glorious drink of water.  It's the best thing they've ever tasted.  I love to see their reaction when they finally get the thing they needed so badly and worked hard or waited patiently to get.

Why am I talking about this show that half of you probably think sounds completely weird and the other half of you are looking up to see when you can watch it?  Because I'm spiritually parched.  I've been fighting spiritual battles on behalf of the people God has called me to care for.  I've been beat down by the elements of church goers not behaving like brothers and sisters in Christ.  I'm trying to build a fire, but it keeps getting put out.  I thought I knew the terrain of the land around me, but it seems to keep changing.

So I go to the Source of living water.  I get that glorious drink, and it's better than anything I've ever tasted.

But just like those survivalists who have to continue to seek more water every single day and more wood to keep their fires going, I have to continue to seek God.  I have to come back to Him daily to sustain me and strengthen me.  Some days I think I'm doing pretty well and I just keep going on my own.  I pay for it later when I realize how worn out and weary I am. 

At the end of the 21 days in the wilderness, the survivalists have always lost a fairly significant amount of weight.  The show displays pictures of them over the 21 days and gives a total of how many pounds they lost.  I always imagine what it's like when they eat a full meal for the first time.  That must feel like the best meal ever.

My getaway with Jared was like that feast at the end of the 21-day famine.  It was a long-time coming, and it was so so so good.

Then we came back to real life.  Back to responsibilities.  Back to demands and requests and unexpected responses.  Back to never ending to-do's and not enough hours in the day.  Back to doing what we need to do and rarely what we want to do.  We're back in the challenge.

The survivalists who make it to the end of their 21-day challenge all take away something different from their experience.  My favorites are the ones who take a way a new respect for their partner or the realization that their way isn't the only way or gratitude for all that they have.  I'm desperately trying to figure out what God is trying to teach me through my challenges.  I know He wants to take me to a deeper level of faith, a more authentic love for people, and a way of living that is more dependent on Him.

Most days I feel like the survivalist who teaches primitive fire skills for a living and is sure he has made his bow drill correctly, but somehow here in the wilderness, his bow drill just isn't producing a coal to make a fire.  I swear I'm doing everything correctly, but it's just not producing the fruit I had hoped for.  I think I need to go back to my survival basics.  It's time to approach God bare, hiding nothing, and let Him teach me how to navigate the place where He has put me.  He is my partner.  He has everything I could possibly need to not just survive, but to thrive.  I'm so worn out, and I want to live my days in a way that's so far beyond just surviving.

Recently, God gave me a verse to cling to:

See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the desert.  Isaiah 43:19
I have been waiting for what feels like a very long time for Him to do some new things.  In the meantime, new things I didn't really want have come to fruition.  Rather than waiting for a grand change, I am learning to see each day as a new thing.  Today God will renew my spirit.  Today God will help me to see my situations from a new perspective.  Today God will give me a new chance to rely on Him.  Today God will be the stream in my desert.


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Our Getaway

I already wrote a VERY long post about our getaway, and Blogger deleted it.  No joke.  It took me days to organize and write, and it's just gone.  I'd like to throw a tantrum and cry, but I'll do my best to contain myself.  I will share the pictures and a few details here, but I'm too exhausted to rewrite all of the entertaining stories.  It'll take me awhile to forgive Blogger for this one.

Jared and I just celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary, and we took our first big trip together since our honeymoon.  Jared planned the whole thing, including asking his mom to stay with our kids for a week and using his frequent flier miles (from so many stupid work trips) to get our tickets for free.

We went to the island of St. Lucia, which is now an independent nation after being owned 7 times by the British and 7 times by the French.  They speak English and Creole (a variant of French), and they drive on the left side of the street.

We stayed at Sandals Halcyon, one of 3 Sandals resorts on St. Lucia.  We had free access to the other two resorts, and we went to Sandals La Toc twice.  Once we ate dinner at their uber fancy French restaurant, and the other time we at lunch and had massages at their spa.  Our resort's spa was outside, and I wasn't about to get a massage out in the open where anyone can walk by and see some stranger manipulating my cellulite.

To get to our getaway destination, we flew from Peoria (Illinois) to Chicago (Illinois) to Dallas (Texas) to Miami (Florida).  We spent the night in Miami, without our luggage (although it was eventually delivered to us at 1:30 am).  The next morning we flew from Miami to St. Lucia.  Then we waited in the Sandals lounge for a shuttle that drove us nearly 2 hours to our resort.

On the shuttle ride, we saw a cruise ship docked at St. Lucia.

First sights of St. Lucia

We had a great room on a quiet part of the resort.  Here's the view from our balcony:

One of the many walkways through the resort:

There were swings, hammocks, and places to lounge everywhere.  We spent most of our days either by the pool or beach.  We'd lay side-by-side and read until we got too hot.  Then we'd dip into the water to cool off.  Relax, rinse, repeat.

Studying my Sunday school lesson--this is how I want to study every week!

Napping on the beach--this is the good life!

I read 2.5 books on my Kindle.
This was our favorite pool.  It twirled and trailed around so every couple could find a quiet spot.

This little fella enjoyed an afternoon by the pool with me.

We ate lunch everyday at a beachside snack bar.  While we ate, we watched people waterskiing, kayaking, and nearly falling off some standing paddle boards.  Some couples rented bright yellow kayaks to go check out the nearby uninhabited island.  We were planning to do that, but we got massages instead. :)

Each day while we were out at the beach and pool, our room was cleaned and restocked.  One afternoon when we returned to our room, we found a little anniversary cake on our bed:

We went on a snorkeling excursion with a few other couples from our resort.  We took a shuttle to the docks and then rode a boat out to a good snorkeling spot.  It was my first time snorkeling, and I had a little trouble training my body to put my face in the water and then continue breathing.  I eventually stopped panicking and got the hang of it.  We saw tons of coral, sea urchins, fish, and eels.

On the boat ride out to snorkel

This is where we went snorkeling.  It was super cool to swim through that archway in the rocks.

Post-snorkeling boat ride

On our very first night there, I apparently got bit in the eyelid by a mosquito.  The next day I had trouble seeing out of that eye.  You can see the remnants of that little incident in this poor-quality selfie:

Here's Sandals La Toc as seen from our snorkeling boat:

We ate lunch at one of their casual restaurants before our massages.  This was our view during that lunch:

There were 1-2 weddings on the beach every day at our resort.  I personally wouldn't want to be in the middle of my beach wedding and look over and see couples sunning themselves on the beach, but that's just me.  We enjoyed watching the couples and their families.

Dinners were one of my favorite parts of the getaway.  Somewhere around 5:00 each day, people went back to their rooms to shower and get made up.  Everyone dressed up for dinner, and it was super fun to go on fancy dates with my husband every single evening!

Since Sandals is an all-inclusive resort, we didn't have to pay for meals individually.  We made a few reservations for the restaurants that required them, and the other days we simply chose the restaurant that sounded good.  Food was always served in courses (soup, salad, appetizer, main dish, dessert), and we always finished with coffee.  Oh, their coffee was A-MAZING!  (They serve Blue Mountain coffee imported from Jamaica, if you're interested.)  Jared's favorite part was just getting up and leaving when we were finished.  No waiting for a check or figuring a tip.

Just in case you're curious, even on a tropical island where unlimited alcohol is already included in the price we've paid, we still don't drink alcohol.  It's our personal choice, whether we are in our hometown where we might run into familiar faces or we are in the middle of the ocean surrounded by people we'll never see again.  It was a little hard knowing we had basically paid for something we wouldn't use (there was a fully stocked bar in our room and bars throughout the resort).  We just told ourselves that the price was worth it for all that we did get out of our getaway.

When our few days in paradise were over, we flew from St. Lucia to Miami, flew from Miami to Chicago, rented a car just after midnight in Chicago, and drove home, arriving home just after 3:00 am. 

Traveling with Jared was like being in Men in Black.  He just knows where to go and has special access and priority to bypass certain lines or at least wait in shorter lines.  For the most part I just held on to my carry-on and tried to keep up with his six-foot-four-inch stride. 

He was most serious when we arrived in Miami on our trip home because we had to be cleared through Customs (or Passport Control?  There were so many different types of security that I got confused!).  On the plane he faced me squarely and gave me a pep talk.  "When we get off this plane, your goal is to outwalk all of these people.  We will do what we need to do to get past them.  We will be looking for kiosks for U.S. citizens.  You will click 'No to all' and then scan your passport and then stand still as it scans your face and takes a pictures."  Can you imagine how much I started sweating as he kept talking?  He failed to mention that we weren't just "outwalking" these folks a short distance to some Customs line.  No.  We had to walk through several terminals, jocky for position on an airport tram, walk up a moving escalator, jog on a moving walkway, run down stairs passing the down escalators, and power walk to the Customs kiosks.  Maybe this would also be a good time to tell you that I messed something up at the kiosk (despite Jared's pre-instructions), which printed a big "x" on my kiosk printout, and I had to receive a little lecture from a cranky man (who, by the way, doesn't believe anyone gets married just once).  I was a little shaken after that.

I told Jared that I felt like a jerk for overtly running past our planemates and trying to get ahead of them (we weren't the only ones).  Jared replied, "Oh, getting through an international airport is like The Hunger Games."  I laughed so hard I nearly fell over.  He made a gong sound for effect.

Here are some of our travel pictures:

On the runway at the St. Lucia airport

Leaving St. Lucia :(

I love how the airplane windows get little frost crystals at a high altitude.

I loved looking at all of the different gorgeous clouds.

There is no question that God took care of us and and our kids down to every detail of our getaway week.  I am so grateful for all of the people who prayed for us (and who gave me pep talks beforehand!).  Not only did everything go just about as smoothly as possible (besides our luggage getting lost twice), but we also had whispers from God planted all throughout our trip.  When we went through Passport Control (Customs?) as we arrived in St. Lucia, the employee behind the glass at our station was a 30-something woman with a hard face who scrutinized our passports.  I was exhausted and overwhelmed and frankly kinda scared.  As my eyes darted around wondering when we would finally just be at our resort, I noticed her nametag around her neck had flipped over.  Written on the back of her badge was "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength."  Jared looked at me and we both said, "Philippians 4:13!"  That evening as we sat down at our first dinner at this new place, the song "At Last" by Etta James started playing.  That was the song that we played at our wedding as we walked up the aisle as husband and wife.  Moments like that happened all week long, proving that God was taking care of us.  I needed His permission to unwind, not think about our kids for a little bit, and take full advantage of the gift He gave us by allowing us to have this getaway.

This getaway was indescribably amazing.  I can't believe I resisted it and thought we wouldn't be able to pull it off.  I have to give a huge shout out to my mother-in-law Cathy for taking such great care of our kids while we were gone.  That was incredibly generous of her to give so much time and energy to our family for the sake of the kids as well as Jared and me.

At ten years into our marriage, I still love Jared--and even like him--as much as when we were dating.  Our relationship has obviously changed over time as our focus has shifted to parenting, but we've never lost sight of each other.  This getaway, however, gave us the chance to really indulge in giving each other our full attention.  Turns out:  we still really enjoy each other.

To be honest, a little part of me wondered if it would be weird or even hard for us to spend so much time together, just the two of us.  It actually wasn't weird or hard at all.  It was awesome.

When we were engaged, we made a goal that we want to still like each other when our kids leave the house and it's just the two of us.  This was kinda our check-in to see if we're on track to meet that goal, and we really are.  We have about 50 new inside jokes from this trip, which is awesome since we use humor in all situations.  This was an experience that we only shared with each other.  Having regular dates where we go out to dinner and have a couple of hours without our kids is necessary for survival and helps us stay roughly on track.  The getaway gave us a much deeper level of connection.  Regular dates give us a chance to align our schedules, exchange stories from our week, and get on the same page about current family issues.  The getaway allowed us to talk about anything we wanted.  We got beyond the survival conversations and got to talk as two people rather than co-parents.  And we are two people who genuinely love each other and enjoy each other's company.

Discovering that was the best anniversary present ever!