Saturday, June 8, 2013

Learning from Experience

I received the email last Sunday.  The subject line?  "Strawberries are Here!"  Meaning, or course, our local farm and uPick has strawberries ripe for the picking.  What followed was a week of a newsfeed clogged with pictures of adorable kiddos holding a quart of strawberries.  With the innumerable pictures, I was beginning to fear that by the time I was able to get there Thursday with my mom to pick, the plants would be picked over and bare.

Back story: I grew up on a farm where we rarely bought produce.  My parents put out a huge garden, and mom "put it up" every year (meaning she stocked the freezer and canned) so that we only ever purchased a few produce items throughout the year, and if we didn't grow it in our garden, we went to a local uPick to stock up.  Our summer meals reflected whatever was currently ripe in the garden, and a typical summer meal consisted of sweet corn (4-6 ears per person), tomatoes, cole slaw, and hard boiled eggs.  (Obviously, that doesn't quite work for me anymore since we live on a quarter-acre lot smack in the middle of suburbia, but my extended family continues with that self-sufficient lifestyle.)

So when we go to pick strawberries, we don't go for a quart.

In fact, we were probably fortunate that my mom had a busy weekend ahead of her and didn't have time to "do" her strawberries, so she only picked 3 quarts for herself, but she helped pick my 16 pounds so I could make my jam and freeze sliced berries for use throughout the year (and I still want to go back for more!).  Needless to say, my fears about the plants being picked over and bare were assuaged.  And while we were there picking, I learned why.

The uPick was more about a photo opp for a lot of people than it was about an actual desire to teach their children about a process.

I was astonished by the number of families who showed up with their kiddos in cute outfits, picked a handful of strawberries, snapped a pic, and left.  (If this tells you anything, the price of the strawberries was $1.95 per pound.  The lady in front of me had a bill of $1.70, but boy did her kids look cute, and I'm sure her pic was perfect to post to Facebook.)

So here's the question.  Are we more concerned about giving our kids experiences than with teaching them about processes?

I'm thirty-one-years-old.  I would venture to say that our generation was one of the forerunners of experiential childhoods.  Many of us didn't lack for experiences: youth group lock-ins, short-term missions trips, studying abroad.  While there's nothing wrong with simply allowing yourself or child to have an experience every now and then, many of us would probably confess that the experiences that meant the most were the ones where we somehow participated in the process around the experience (for me, it was serving on the leadership team for the camp I worked at in the summers; for others it might have been leading a short-term missions trip, or serving as a class officer and planning prom). 

Regardless, the experiences we value most and learn the most from in life are those that we directly have our hands involved in.

So by plopping our kids in a strawberry patch, a pumpkin patch, in a hot air balloon, beside a celebrity or pro athlete, or thrusting them onto sports teams for a photo opp and for our own treasured memories and sense of accomplishment as a parent may be a waste of energy, time, and money on our parts if in the end our children haven't gained a sense of understanding or appreciation for the experience.  It's easier to whip out our smart phones and quickly post a pic to Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram to inform others about the experiences we're creating for our kids (and to be honest, to pat ourselves on our backs for being such great parents).  In our consumer-based society, many of us are raising obese children: children who are obese with stuff, experiences, and their own self-centeredness because we aren't teaching children how to appreciate and value people, things, or special moments.  We're more concerned with exposing them to innumerable experiences in hopes they'll be well-rounded individuals, when in reality, deep relationships and an understanding and appreciation for life and all its nuances create centered--not self-centered--and peaceful individuals. 

So, instead of picking a quart of strawberries with your child for a picture opp, take the strawberries home and teach her how to make jam or strawberry shortcake.  Allow her to help you wash and hull the berries--even though it's messy, especially because it's messy!  Create a memory for your child that is cherished because of the quality time spent with and learning from you.  A strawberry shortcake tastes so much sweeter when one has picked, washed, and sliced the berries herself. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Tough Get Going

Photo Credit johnharveytolson flickr

I rarely complain about having a child with Down syndrome and special needs.  It's our normal day-to-day.  It's been a journey getting to this point because I definitely felt worthy of indignation and self-pity in the early days and months of Bear's life.  But if I've learned anything from being part of a special needs community, there are families who have far greater challenges than we've faced.  Kids who face severe health concerns, parents who make the journey alone because a spouse couldn't shoulder the weight of raising a child with special needs, and those who lack extended family and friends to support them.  We are truly blessed to have a healthy and bright little boy, a loving marriage based on a solid best friendship, and family, church family, and friends who are like family who love and support us.  So I've come a long way and measure my life as a blessed one, not a burdened one.


Yep, there's the big "however."  Here recently, Bear has been a CHALLENGE.  Though he's four-and-a-half-years-old, developmentally, he's a bit more like a two-and-a-half-year-old.  Which is TOUGH.  His big boy body doesn't seem to sense danger and has no healthy fear for our warnings and reprimands.  Where our daughters will respond to our chiding, Bear conveniently ignores it and continues his negative behaviors, which are sometimes dangerous.   

  • Girls will play on the deck and sandbox in our backyard for HOURS.  I can do dishes and some household tasks while keeping an eye on them through our windows and screen door.  Bear will take off down the stairs and around to the front of the house and busy road.
  • Girls will "work" beside me in the flower bed and dig through my gardening tools in the garage.  Bear will hop on his hot wheels trike and fly down the driveway like a bat out of hell.
  • Girls will eventually keep their hands off things they're not supposed to touch.  Bear will grab a knife on the counter and wave it around while beaming a proud face that says, "Look what I've got!"
  • At a park and playground, girls will play on the equipment and stay within the appropriate boundaries of the park.  Bear will jet off on a running path (and the little booger is now able to run!), leaving me scrambling for the girls while trying to chase him down.

And some people try to reassure us he's just being a boy, but to those people, I'd like to offer them an opportunity to spend 24:7 w/ Bear before they assure us he's just being a boy.  Dan and I have literally been pulling our hair out, as were his teachers at school the past few months.  We worked together to start a new discipline program (1-2-3 Magic), but it only seems to work its "magic" part of the time.  While we've seen some improvement in his behavior, there are days we fear that he'll never outgrow this.  Will we ever be able to vacation for fear that Bear will just jump off a steep mountainous cliff, or run headlong for a raging ocean, or worse yet, in his meanderings be harmed by a stranger?

One of the beautiful things about raising a child with developmental delays is that every stage lasts longer, so though I had a baby stage that lasted for two years, this wicked little toddler stage just might kill me.  These are the days when I hear those lies whispering how nice it would be to have a "normal" family and a "normal" toddler who eventually listens and responds to discipline and that it's never going to get better and woe is me.  So these are the days, family and friends, that we need you to pull us up and assure us that it does get better.  We KNOW in our souls how special our little man is and what sheer love and joy he has brought to our lives; we don't need to be reassured of that.  But you know what they say: when the going gets tough...

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Month in Books: May 2013

Hardcover book gutter and pages
Hardcover book gutter and pages by Horia Varlan, Flickr

If you're like me, you enjoy reading but often find yourself in need of good material to read.  I hate making a trip to the library--or worst yet, purchasing a book--only to find I've wasted my time or money on a novel or book I don't enjoy.  That's why I LOVE my friend Catherine's blog, A Spirited Mind.  Not only does Catherine have a spirited mind, she has a brilliant mind, so I frequent her blog for recommendations.  Not kidding, I keep her site open and open the library's site in another tab and start placing holds on books I want to read.  AND because I only recently learned of her blog, I have YEARS of reading recommendations to catch up on.

I love her Year in Books reviews with her top five-ten recommendations from the year, so I've decided to do a monthly post to recap what I've read that month.  Hopefully you'll find this list useful in helping you find something good to read, and if my list doesn't help you, surely you can find something at A Spirited Mind.   

May 2013 Reading List


Carry on, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed I actually came across this book because I recently began following the Glennon Melton's blog Momastery.  I enjoy Melton's brutal honesty and flew through the first half of the book, but by the end I felt like telling her to get over herself.  Because each chapter is an individual writing (some which appeared first as blog posts), the book can be read in small doses, and I think I would enjoy it more that way.  I appreciate that, too, since some of them were especially meaningful and worth rereading.  Overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

The Prodigal God I'm not sure why it took me so long to read this one since it's been recommended by numerous people, but it's one that really is a game changer.  Timothy Keller's mind works in unique ways, and his retelling of the parable of the prodigal son will change the way you view yourself and the Heavenly Father.  This quick read is worth purchasing and reading at least once a year.  Overall rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Crazy Love  This is another book that's been recommended by several people, and I had actually tried reading it two years ago but couldn't "get into it." Now that I've read it, I think it's pretty telling of the condition of my heart two years ago.  Francis Chan is not afraid to say it like it is and call out the comfortable, lukewarm Christian and challenge him/her to a radical life marked by risk and devotion to the Lord.  Definitely worth your time and thought.  Overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are  I really don't enjoy the self-help genre, and despite Brene Brown's claim that "self-help" doesn't aptly describe her book, I would beg to differ.  Brown is a shame researcher who through her work stumbled upon trends amongst people who were living "wholeheartedly" (her term).  She describes ways in which we can all strive for wholehearted living, and while I could appreciate her research-based approach and advice, I found myself skimming by the end, but that is probably more because of my low tolerance for self-help than her writing style or content.  If you are into self-help books, this is probably a good one for you.  My personal overall rating: 2 out of 5 stars.

Adoration: The Untold Story of Mary of Bethany  Can I just say I've not been so emotionally moved by a piece of nonfiction that I cried?  Well, this one did it.  This book delves into the lives of Mary and Martha, the famous sisters of the Bible.  Martha was chided for being a busy body, Mary praised for living in the moment and worshiping at Jesus's feet.  I was so touched by Martha Kilpatrick's portrayal of Mary and her relationship with the Lord, though I do question if she took some liberties in her interpretation of scripture (perhaps there are more historical texts that helped provide some of her facts?).  Regardless, her poetic style of writing left me worshiping while reading and desiring to fall more deeply in love with Jesus.  Overall rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars


Thanks to Catherine's recommendations, I began reading my first Bernard Cornwell novels and started with The Warrior Chronicles/Saxon Series.  If you enjoy historical fiction (these particular novels are set in medieval England) and battle scenes (think Braveheart), this series is for you.  I've flown through the first four novels in the series within a week and hope to finish the final two this week.

The Last Kingdom  We meet our protagonist and warrior hero as a young boy.  Son of an "ealdorman" and Lord, Uhtred is captured by Danish invaders and raised as one of their own, and though he loves his adopted family, his loyalty lies forever divided between Saxon England and the Danes who raised him.  Nevertheless, he fights amongst the Danes as they raid England and capture all but Wessex, the last kingdom.   Overall rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

The Pale Horseman  Uhtred regains his English roots and fights alongside King Alfred the Great to defend Wessex from the Danes.  Overall rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Lords of the North  Uhtred returns to Northumbria, England's northern kingdom and home to his boyhood home.  In order to recapture his rightful inheritance, he must defeat the "Lords of the North" but in the process is betrayed and loses sight of his dreams.  Rating: 4.5 stars

Sword Song  Uhtred returns to Wessex and is again Alfred's man who must defend London from the Northmen and rescue Alfred's daughter who has been kidnapped.  Rating: 4.5 stars

Friday, May 31, 2013

Having a Purpose

eye of the wall

Photo rights KS Photoprints

Ever meet someone who’s magnetism is matched by his or her humility and genuine concern for others?  In my life B.C. (before children), I taught at a middle school in the area and had the privilege of working with a woman who was magnetic.  Not magnetic in the sense that she was boisterous and the life of the party, but magnetic in the sense that she lived life differently.  She seemed to work and live at a different pace.  She wasn’t frenzied or worried and possessed an enviable sense of peace.  She was soft spoken, slow to speak, and quick to listen.

My sister-in-law is another such woman.  Rarely angered, quick to find the best in others, and never given to gossip or degrading talk about others but rather seeks to always find the best in people and situations.  A doting wife and loving mother who lives simply and loves deeply.  Never tries to top others’ stories and experiences with her own or to “1 up” others.  Again, soft spoken, slow to speak, and quick to listen.  Truly a life of integrity.

And another one.  The guy who took the photo at the top of this post?  Yeah, he's one of those, too.  A guy who genuinely loves people, looks for beauty in everything, and is grateful for every day.  One who asks and listens before he speaks and takes great joy in the smallest of things.

So how does one become that way?  The world would tell us it’s simply personality (no doubt Myers-Briggs would assign four letters to them) or possibly how they were raised.  But I would say a great deal of it is learned.  It is not natural for any of us to be unselfish; we are all egocentric and want others to listen to us, connect with us, and need us, so to learn to listen first and speak second has to be learned.  It is my observation that all three of these people and others like them live life with a sense of purpose.  They know who they are and where they’re going.

But sadly the world views this type of person as weak, and she is often overlooked or taken advantage of because she doesn’t assert her rights or demand to be noticed.  But when these men and women do speak up, they’re met with opposition because they speak the truth.  They’re “goodness” makes the rest of us wrestle with our lack thereof, and because they make us feel uncomfortable we often keep them at arm’s length and steer our conversations the the shallow end of the pool.  Often, we are condescending and strive to talk down at such a person because if we allow ourselves to be the expert then we don’t have to be confronted with our own “badness” or allow them to speak truth into areas where we don’t want to face it.

The reason these truth-speakers live with a sense of purpose and have learned such behavior is because they’ve learned to model their lives after the One absolute truth-speaker.  One whose very being is truth and peace--not personality, not something learned.  Jesus lived his life in a way that threatened those in authority because he lived with purpose.  He knew he had come to die for us and bring us life, and the trivial things of this world did not matter.  He need not power.  He need not fame.  He need not the praise of men.  I can imagine that he was not frenzied, was not worried, and seemed to live life at a different pace than those who swarmed him.  His eyes were ever on the Father and on his purpose.

We don’t need personality tests or spiritual gift inventories to reveal our purpose in life.  It is not some great mystery.  The mystery is that a loving God would send his perfect son Jesus Christ to die for us that we might live.  And that mystery has been made known (Ephesians 1:9).   Our purpose is to keep our eyes on our Father and imitate the life of his perfect son, and in doing so we’ll become a person who is magnetic in her humility, love, and concern for others. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Dear Anna Grey

Hi Baby,

This letter is long overdue.  Today, when you woke from napping after only an hour, I was annoyed.  But when you let me sit and rock you for nearly a half hour, I was in love.  These moments between us are so far and few, what with having an older brother and sister to keep up with, toys to be dumped, games of chase to be played, furniture to be climbed, and a cat to be tormented.  You're such a little busy body, though momma must confess that her busy body rarely takes the time to slow down and breathe you in.  How sad to think my third and last baby will be grown before I take the time to enjoy her.

So as I rocked you today and you started to stir, I kept snuggling you tighter, trying to convince you how much better the world is when you're in my arms.  And for awhile, you believed me.  But then the temptation of stuffed animals was too great and you wiggled from my arms.  Time to get going.

Baby, have I told you that you're my secret gift I didn't know I needed?  You see, shortly before Lila turned a year old, we were out for a family walk, and Daddy and I were discussing whether we thought our family was complete.  Having one boy and one girl seemed so perfect, but we both had lots of brothers and sisters and wanted the same for our two perfect kids, so we decided, that yes, we wanted another baby.  Which is a really good thing, because later that week, I found out I was already pregnant with you!  So unplanned and unexpectedly you came to us, which is quite perfect now that I know you.

You, little dancer, bring LIFE everywhere you go.  The sparkle in your eye is literally contagious, and your playfulness transforms me to my 13-year-old self who's saying, "YES!  Let's go teepeeing!" at the mere start of your giggle.  Before you, I thought I had everything.  Your brother was born and shattered my heart simply by being born.  I didn't think it could possibly contain more love than it held in the moment I first laid eyes on him.  But then your sister came along, and she's turned into my little mini-me.  So what more could I need?  I didn't know I NEEDED you!  You and life and dancing and giggling and silliness and playing!  Every. single. thing about you.

But there's something else you need to know about yourself, baby.  You see, during each of my pregnancies, I felt very strongly and specifically how to pray for the baby I was carrying.  For Bear, I knew I needed to pray that he would bring love and joy to everyone he met (and he does).  For Lila, I prayed for kindness and compassion but also bravery and courage (and she is).  But for you, little warrior, God placed in my heart to pray for you who would fight for peace and justice, which quite literally scares the heck out of me!  I have no idea what that means for God's plan for you, other than the fact that you came out a fighter.  You are fierce.  Fierce in your love.  Fierce in your play.  Fierce
in life.

And I can't believe I get to touch and love that little bit of heaven's fierceness that's contained in your great big fierce heart.

Anna Grey, my heart is shattered again and just oozes all the love it couldn't hold.  Baby girl, you completed our family when we didn't even know it needed completing.

With all the fiercest love a mother can muster,

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Grace and Peace to You

You must first know that I am a competitive and driven person who also happens to be an empathetic, compassionate people-pleaser.  (Confused much?  Yeah, so is my husband).  Being 16 months younger than my older sister, our relationship is naturally competitive, so growing up we drove each other to excel, and excellence became the standard I set for myself. 

Until Bear.  My husband and I had our first born four years ago, and twelve days after his birth we learned he had Down syndrome (you can read the rest of my story here).  Both my husband and I had been athletes and were high achievers in many areas of life, so you can imagine how difficult it was to receive the news that we had been given a child whose involvement and inclusion would be limited in so many things in life.  But slowly, fear and worry gave way to fierce and incredible love as we got to know our Bear, and excellence and achievement were redefined.  

And though we have no trouble accepting Bear exactly as he is, we sometimes forget that outside the safety of home, there’s a harsh world that is often ignorant of his needs and abilities.  And in those moments when someone poses a ridiculous question or makes a rude remark, I’m reminded to extend grace.  Grace defined is “unmerited favor, mercy, clemency, pardon.”   I’ve been wrestling with that word a lot lately.  I make snap judgments, criticize without knowing all the facts, and am often harsh and unfair in my assessment of people or situations.  I’m quicker to handout condemnation than grace and find that I often shut myself off to people or situations rather than extend grace and allow myself to be vulnerable.  But the real reason I’ve been wrestling with this is that I feel that I’m finally beginning to grasp what God’s grace truly means.  Grace is one of the most commonly used words in the New Testament, so obviously it’s a big deal.  

While recently listening to a podcast on Ephesians, I was struck by what the pastor said about Ephesians 1:2.  “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  I don’t know about you, but I typically find myself skimming over verses like this one to get to the “meat” of the chapter.  But the pastor pointed out that the writer (Paul) was not wishing this as a prayer or a hope for the future.  Rather, he is declaring what IS ours because of what Christ has done.   

Did you catch that?  Grace and peace ARE ours if we are in Christ.  What does that mean?  What does it mean that grace is ours?  What it means is that I alone cannot do a single thing to earn God’s favor.   

And please pause and rest on this next thought: I cannot "be" a good enough person to earn God's grace. 

It does not matter how kind I've been to others, how generous I've been, whether I've spent hours pouring over the Bible and in prayer, and whether I've confessed every sinful thought and action.  Surely God cares about those things but they do not EARN his favor.  That kind of thinking leaves me enslaved to my behavior and performance and abolishes the amazing work that was accomplished by Christ on the Cross.  That kind of thinking focuses on ME and what I can do to draw closer to God, when grace teaches that he’s already done it all.  That kind of thinking is not grace-based; it’s works-based.  If I think I have to add anything, it is no longer grace.    

What is also beautiful about grace being ours is that we are free to extend it to others, too.  I’m free to extend grace to my husband if I feel he’s wronged me, to my children when they’re little heathens, to the hurtful people who don’t love Bear the way I do.

And what does it mean that peace is ours?  Simply put, without the cross, we are at war with God.  But when we come through the Gospel and the grace of Jesus, we are at PEACE.  We no longer have to war within ourselves or with God to try to measure up.  God’s wrath toward us is gone.  See, we are free from this insidious fear that keeps us in its grasp, telling us that our God is a just God, a wrathful God, an angry God and that we have to constantly work to earn his favor.  Just as my children often mess up, NOTHING can stand in the way of my love for them.  YES, our Father is just.  Yes, he is storing up wrath.  And yes, he has a righteous anger toward sin.  But it is a beautiful thing to be in Christ, an heir to the kingdom, received in love by the Father. 

That’s grace.  That’s peace.    
And all we have to do is claim what’s ours.  

Do you struggle accepting God’s grace?  Why?  What specifically keeps you from claiming the grace and peace that are yours?

Disclaimer:  I am in no way a theologian.  I have no formal training in doctrine, theology, Greek, seminary, or anything of the sort.  I'm just a normal girl who's responding to what God's word is doing in my heart as it renews and refines me.  If you would like to learn more, the podcast I referred to is Greg Pinkner at Crossroad Fellowship Church in Knoxville, TN.  You can access his podcasts here or via iTunes.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Basking in Easter

I have to confess that being a mom of young children, I rarely get to pause and bask in the meaning of holidays.  I'm often busy packing to head to family gatherings and don't allow for margin or white space where I can reflect, especially during holy holidays like Christmas and Easter.  This year was different.  For the first time since having children, we were able to attend our local church service before rushing off to a family gathering.  And I was able to sit.  And listen.  And bask in the presence of God.

I'll confess that my heart was already tender this Easter season.  Maybe it's because I have a daughter who has the most beautiful, sensitive heart, and that we had been talking about the cross and resurrection all week.  Maybe it's because as I read my children the story of the resurrection from their children's Bible and relayed the Good News that Jesus is alive, Lila's eyes filled with wonder and excitement.   Or maybe the Spirit had been working on my heart through those things to prepare me for Sunday.  Our pastor shared a beautiful message on salvation, much more than just a sinner's prayer and altar call.  Reading from 1 Peter 1:3-5, he spoke in depth about God's reason for salvation. 

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
At one point during the message, he alluded to a scene from The Passion of the Christ.  Jesus is bearing the cross, and Mary wants nothing more than to be near her son, but the main street is jam packed with people, so she asks James to help her as they rush along the side streets, catching up to a place that she'll be able to be near him.  But when the moment comes, she's paralyzed by her fear and grief and can't bear to come closer, until finally she sees her beautiful son's body, broken, bruised, bleeding as he bears the cross for us and stumbles in so doing.  Immediately, she flashes back to a scene from his childhood where he had fallen and she had run to him to soothe him as she does in this scene and simply says, "I'm here, I'm here," to which our Christ replies, "See, mother, I make all things new."

Listening to the description of this scene, my mother's heart was suddenly shattered.  Why had this never sunk in before?  The amazing sacrifice that was asked of Mary--to not only carry, birth, love, and raise the son of God, but to give him up in the ultimate sacrifice?  But think then of our Father's heart and the sacrifice he made.  He was willing to give up his PERFECT son in exchange for fallen sinners and believe that he was somehow trading up by gaining us!  This absolutely blows my mind.  I can't fathom giving up my imperfect son for the bratty kid at the grocery store let alone giving up a sinless one for an entire fallen world.  So I sat in church and cried and worshiped in gratitude that our Father's love is so deep for us.  For once, Easter didn't mean rushing through the house to make sure I had enough diapers, everyone's change of clothes, and checking to make sure everyone's outfits were perfect upon arrival at a grandparents'.  Finally, I basked in the meaning of Easter.

How great is the Father's love.  All I can do is worship.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Parenting Quick Tip: Packing the Diaper Bag

Have several young kids sharing one diaper bag and heading to the nursery or daycare?  Put each kiddo's change of clothes and diapers in a Ziploc bag with his/her name and your cell number on it.  No need to label each piece of clothing. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

He Thinks My Kisses are Magical

In the last several months, Bear has begun doing the most endearing yet heartbreaking thing ever.  When he's hurt or heartbroken, his pouty face could turn the coldest heart to a puddle of mush.  He turns his bottom lip down and feigns the back of his hand against his eyebrow (definitely need to snap a pic of this face).  But what's even sadder is that if one of his meany sisters has hurt him, he cries silently.  He huffs and puffs for minutes, trying to convince himself that he doesn't need to cry, but the look on his face nearly moves me to tears before he ever cries out in pain.

"Look," has become his catch phrase.  "Look," as he shows me the red mark on his forehead where he just ran into the wall.  "Look," as he displays the finger that was just pinched.  "Look," at the invisible ouchy that's causing so much pain.  And who knew that, "Look," could be so beautiful.

Because in it he says, "Look, momma, only you can fix this.  I need you.  I want you.  Please make me feel better."

And as much as it hurts me to see my child hurt, there is beauty in it.

You see, he BELIEVES my kisses are magical. 

So I kiss him.  And he does (feel better).  

I know that Lila wants to believe my kisses are magical, but she also knows that the pain still lingers after the kiss, and often her tears do, too.  That doesn't mean she doesn't ask for kisses, and I sure don't mind giving them.  But with Bear, my kisses are truly magical and instantly stop tears and pain, and I pray they always will be and always do.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Domestic Goddess Quick Tip: Laundry

Do one load of laundry per day rather than waiting for "laundry day" to tackle it all.  Get in the habit of putting a load of wash in as soon as the kids are in bed.  Switch it to the dryer when you head to bed, and fold it and put it away first thing in the morning.  Laundry becomes much more manageable when handled this way, preventing mountains of dirty clothes from piling up.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Meal Planning: Shopping from Your Pantry

If you're like me and until now haven't been very conscientious about meal planning and grocery shopping, you probably find you have a lot of canned or boxed food in your pantry that needs to be used.  Though I planned a March Meal Plan, I decided to replace next week's meals with recipes that utilize as many of my on-hand ingredients as possible.  I started by pulling everything out of the pantry: pasta, rice, boxed goods/mixes, canned goods, and then pairing items I thought would be found in recipes together.  With the help of All Recipes Ingredient search tool, I was able to plan FOUR of my dinners for next week, use all of these items, and only shop for three additional ingredients I was missing! (Note: we have a small deep freeze in the basement where I keep meat on hand, so I didn't have to purchase any meat for these recipes!)

So replacing the meals I have on my menu for next week, here's what I came up with:

Hearty Hamburger Stew
Ingredients on hand: hamburger, onions, barley, diced tomatoes, beef broth, carrots, spices
Need to purchase: celery, tomato soup

Pork Chop and Rice Casserole
Everything on Hand but the pork chops

Pizza Pasta Bake
Everything on hand

Tuna Noodle Casserole
Everything on hand

If you haven't shopped from your pantry prior to meal planning, I highly recommend it.  You'll be amazed at what you already have on hand, and you'll be discouraged from getting take out.  My husband's thrilled at how this will save on our grocery budget this week, and I'm thrilled that my shopping will take half as long.  

Have you shopped from your pantry before?  Take a peek..what meals were you able to come up with?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Parenting Quick Tip: Waste Less Food

Tired of throwing away uneaten food from your kiddo's meals?  Start with small portions.  You can always scoop up seconds, but once served, you often throw out uneaten food.  By starting with smaller portions, you'll save on your grocery budget and may find that you have more leftovers to serve up for future meals.  And if you have a child who tends to overeat, smaller portions can help discourage that as well. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Spread the Word to End the Word 2013

I'm embarrassed to admit that the word "retarded" was a part of my every day vocabulary prior to having Bear. I think most of us find ourselves using it when in reality we mean, "ridiculous." Today and every day, make a conscious effort to use ridiculous or some other more appropriate word in its place. Help Spread the Word to End the Word! 

The Lucky Ones

When Bear was a little over a year old, his physical therapist mentioned that she was working with a family w/ a newborn with Down syndrome and that the mom was wanting to connect with other mommas.  I was thrilled to meet someone in the area who was on the same journey, so I agreed to exchange contact info.  That mom and I met and closed down Starbucks that night.  And time went on and both of us became more connected to the Down syndrome community in our area.  Before we knew it, there were about 15 of us in the Indy/north Indy area, so we started a Facebook group to be able to connect regularly.  Last summer, we had our first official girls' night out and since then our group has nearly tripled in size to almost 50. 

We've gained a lot of new mommas to the group over the past few months, and when meeting a new momma, it's so hard to remember that she is probably still reeling and coping with some grief, because on the other side of that grief is such joy and deep love.  Those first months after the diagnosis is a really hard place to revisit because they were awfully lonely and dark days filled with fear of the unknown.  So at our girls' night out this fall, I was telling some moms from our group (called Moms of Kids with Down syndrome) that at first it's so scary and that we have to grieve the loss of the child we thought we would have.  But as time progresses and we get to love our wonderful children, we realize we're the lucky ones for having a child with special needs.  And so our group became, "The Lucky Ones."

I can't begin to describe what this group of women has meant to me.  Our daily Facebook posts of questions, concern, encouragement, and inspiration get me through those times of discouragement when Bear isn't progressing like his typical peers.  I've made some dear, dear friends through this group...girls who upon meeting for the first time become instant sisters (because when you share something like Down syndrome, you forget all the small talk and get right to the core of the issue: did your child have open heart surgery when he/she was a few months old?  Did you have to have a G tube?  Is your 3-year-old walking yet?  4-year-old talking?  5-year-old potty trained?  What have you done about Medicaid Waiver? Social Security? and so on and so forth.  Oh how your topics of conversation change when you have a little one with special needs.)

What doesn't change is our fierce love for our children.  Like any mom, we would give our lives for our kids; we just get to experience the raw, unbridled love that comes with a child with special needs.  And if you didn't read my post On Love the other day, now would be a good time to do so.  Love does not mean it's all warm fuzzies all the time.  Love defined is seeking to know and intentionally meet the legitimate needs of another.  I can't think of a more appropriate definition of how "lucky" we are to LOVE our special kids!

Monday, March 4, 2013

What's Cooking: Recipes for Chicken Enchiladas, Chopped Salad, and Smoothies

I promise I have no intention of becoming a cooking blog, but since posting my March 2013 Monthly Meal Plan last week, I've had several requests for some of my recipes.  So I hope to occasionally share them with you so that you can use them in your own meal planning, too.  Know that I rarely make meals that take longer than 30 minutes to prepare or that require fancy ingredients.  Neither are practical to our lifestyle, so I try to make choices that are both financially and nutritionally reasonable for our family.

First off, tonight's dinner is chicken enchiladas.  This is a super easy recipe (most of mine are) and one my mom made often while we were growing up.  It's also an easy freezer meal, so plan on doubling your ingredients and making a pan to freeze.  (Note, if you're a "spicy Mexican food lover" this recipe is not ideal for you.  You'll want to add some flare!)

Chicken Enchiladas
4 c. diced, uncooked chicken (or a 28 oz. can of deboned chicken)
1/2 c. diced onions
1 1/3 cups milk
2 tsp. (2 cubes) chicken bouillon
1 can cream of chicken soup
10 flour tortillas (I prefer the taco or fajita size..can also use whole wheat)
1 package of shredded cheese (I prefer mozzarella)

Optional fixings:
Lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, sour cream, salsa, etc.

1.  Place 1-2 tablespoons oil in a skillet and add chicken and onions.  Cook until chicken is no longer pink.
2.  Add 1/3 cup milk and chicken bouillon.  Cook until bouillon is completely dissolved.  Remove from heat.
3.  Mix remaining 1 cup milk w/ 1 can cream of chicken soup.  Pour half into greased 9x13 dish.
4.  Place 1-2 spoonfuls of chicken mixture in a tortilla.  Fold up bottom, fold in sides, and fold down top.  Place seam down in the 9x13 mixture.  Repeat, making 2 rows of enchiladas and 10 total

5. Pour rest of soup mixture over enchiladas.  Cover with foil.
6.  Bake at 325 for 20 minutes.  Remove foil and cover with shredded cheese.  Bake for another 15 minutes.
7.  Remove and top with fixings (optional).

Suggestions: Spice up by adding chopped or canned peppers or chiles.  Serve with Spanish Rice, Refried Beans, or Guacamole.  TIP: You won't need an entire onion for this recipe, but since you're already dicing one up, go ahead and measure the leftovers, place in a freezer bag and label it, and put in the freezer for future recipes.  

The following recipe is one of my favorites for lunch.  I love how versatile it is.  Definitely not one I make for the kiddos, but my husband and I both love it.

Chopped Salad
Baby spinach, romaine or salad of choice (chopped or torn to pieces)
Feta Cheese
Mandarin Oranges, Chopped Apples, Chopped Strawberries (and/or fruit of choice)
Dried cherries, cranberries or fruit of choice
Chopped Pecans, slivered almonds, or nuts of choice

1/ 4 cup Apple Cider Vinegar
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup Olive Oil
1 tsp. Dried Mustard (I never seem to have this on hand, so I always give a squeeze of regular mustard--no need to measure.  Just don't overdo it)
1 tsp. salt
1 T. grated onion or dried onion (optional)oppyseed

Place desired amounts of salad ingredients in a large bowl and toss.  Add salad dressing. 

Suggestions: To ensure longer fridge life for your salad, add croutons and dressing to each individual bowl instead of tossing w/ entire salad.  I can usually get a large salad to last 2-3 days by using this method.  You can also add some cooked, diced chicken breast to add some yummy protein.  In more of a greek, vinagrette mood?  Leave out the fruit, add some black olives & chicken and enjoy.  Serve with warm flat bread!

And finally, smoothies.  My sweet neighbor who shared the recipe for the Chicken Tortilla Soup told me awhile back that they have a smoothie every morning for breakfast.  It seems that juicing and/or smoothies are all the rage right now, so I thought I'd give it a try as a way to sneak some extra nutrients and vitamins into our diet.  One quick Google search, and you'll have endless smoothie recipes on your hand, so don't be afraid to experiment with your ingredients.  Here's one that's working for us:

1 banana
1 cup frozen strawberries or berries of choice
1/2  cup milk
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup plain vanilla yogurt (regular or frozen)
1 tsp. flax seed (great for fiber)
1/2 cup spinach, kale or cooked carrots (optional, but a great way to sneak in some veggies)

Place ingredients in a blender of your choice and puree away.  NOTE: You can add more milk if your liquid is too thick.

Suggestions:  Currently, my children are 4, 2 1/2, and 1 years old.  Smoothie drinking is a SLOW process, especially if the consistency is too thick or frozen.  I've opted for adding more milk and removing some of the frozen ingredients so that we can get them down a little faster in the morning.  :)
 Hopefully these recipes will help you in your weekly or monthly meal planning.  ENJOY!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

On Love

A couple of months ago a friend posted this video, and after laughing my way through it, I followed the link at the end to It Starts at Home.  At the time, I was suffering through an incredibly busy and stressful holiday season with my business and was feeling the tug of being more intentional with my children.  After spending some time on the site, I ordered the book and have been making my way through it, albeit slowly.

In It Starts at Home by Kurt Bruner and Steve Stroope, they take on the challenge of nurturing our kids' faith at home and not relying solely on the Church and its programs to fill that role.  But more importantly, before they even mention parenting, they spend a significant section of the book on marriage and how a healthy marriage is imperative in helping nurture our kids' faith.  Though I can't possibly summarize that entire section, much of it was useful and biblically sound advice.  And while it's directed at marriage, I couldn't help but apply the following thought to all relationships:

Love is a commitment.  It is a commitment to first discover and then intentionally meet the legitimate needs of others.  Nowhere in the Bible are we commanded to feel good about people. (see Philippians 2:3-4)
I wrestled with this thought for days, weeks.  For so long I had associated love with "warm fuzzies" and feeling good about the people I love (after all, I had grown up reading and watching fairy tales and happily ever after).  I condemned myself for not being able to easily love everyone, especially fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.  And as I allowed this new definition of love to start to take root in my heart, I felt a burden lifted.  No longer did loving someone mean that I had to be his/her best friend.  No longer did I have to experience warm fuzzies in order to love.  (I'm certain warm fuzzies were the farthest thing from Christ's mind and emotions as he took our place on the cross and displayed the ultimate love for us.)  It simply means that because Christ has commanded me to love that I seek to know and meet the needs of others. Applying this framework of love beyond marriage, the following excerpt would read like this (parentheses mine): 
(Warm fuzzies) Romantic feelings are a wonderful, God-given part of (close relationships) dating and marriage.  But they are the effect, not the cause.  In a healthy (relationship) marriage we choose to love even when we don't feel very loving, often prompting loving feelings to follow.  In an unstable (relationship) marriage it works the other way around: We wait for loving feelings to inspire loving choices.  True, lasting love is more about conscious choices than chance encounters.  We commit ourselves to another human being and accept the dual responsibility of learning and meeting their needs.
Of course I still struggle with this.  Warm fuzzies are a wonderful effect of love, and it would be much easier to love others if a dose of warm fuzzies came with every act of love.  But not every act of love is greeted with open arms and sometimes we have to love simply because we've been commanded to do so.