Monday, September 29, 2014

On Homeschooling and Holiness and the Giveaway

I was doing the dishes and wearing the baby and making eggs for the other kids and thinking about holiness.  About what it would take to become a saint and how I'm not sure that I'm interested in all that.  In my head it sounds nice, but I'm not sure that my heart is really there.  You know that quote by St. Augustine that goes, "Lord make me pure, but not yet"?  That...except sub the word holy.  Lord make me holy, but not yet.  

I saw on Facebook recently that someone else said something like, "The only thing stopping you from becoming a saint is you."  I don't know who said it but the phrase has been clanging around in my head today.  I'm sure that it's true.  And I'm growing in my awareness that maybe I am too fixed and focused on the things of this world.  Like maybe I just really want to be successful here on Earth and eek my way into heaven.  I give a lot of lip service to Christ, but in the depths of my heart do I give him all that I can?  Nope.  Not even close.

Why not?  Sometimes it's hard and usually I'm lazy and I'd rather just be comfortable doing what I do.  But maybe God is asking more of me?  Probably.

This all came about because we are actively thinking about homeschooling.  AAAAAHHHH!  That is how I feel about it.  I alternate between thinking it is best for us and being afraid we will ruin our kids.  Not that I think homeschooling will make us saints, by any means.  But I was just considering how sometimes I think God might be asking something of me and I'm unwilling to take the leap because I think it will be hard.  So we're praying for wisdom about it right now.  And doing a lot of Googling.  And I actually said the words, "I don't want to homeschool them because I'm afraid they'll turn out weird."  News flash: they are already weird!  So that's how discernment goes in my house--I think about all the bad things that could happen, and then I Google things and take my search results as a sign from God.  Perhaps I should improve my method.


Anyhoo...if you have any experience with homeschooling, chime in here and let me know!  How did you make the decision?  What methods/curricula do you use?  Do you love it?  Hate it?  Are your kids weird?  (Ha!)  Who is the patron saint of homeschoolers?  Were his/her kids weird?  I should find out.

**Don't forget to enter to win the Anchor Inn on the Lake giveaway!  You have until the end of Tuesday to enter and you don't have to attend a Marriage Encounter to be eligible, in case you were confused.  Although you should consider attending, in case you didn't catch my drift in the last post. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Marriage Encounter and a Giveaway!

Alright. I'm gonna get a little personal with you on the ol' blog today...hope you don't mind.  And stick with me, because it might be what you need to hear and also there's a super fantastic giveaway at the end!  

If I had to sum up my adult life with a timeline, this is what it would look like so far:


When I turned 22, I graduated college, got married, and 9 months later we had a sweet baby to call our own. Over the course of the next two years, my husband finished school and graduated, we both got real jobs, we bought a house, and we had our second baby.  We were 25 and 24.  Since then, we have changed jobs and homes, and have added two more little ginger spices to the mix. All this to say that our first years of marriage were full to the brim in more ways than one.

Our wedding photo...we were approximately 12 years old.

Maybe you can relate?  Even if you don't have kids, the first few years of marriage are full.  Full of getting to know your spouse in a new way, full of learning how to share a life, full of careers, full of family.  And sometimes after all of that fullness, it can be easy to forget what you wanted out of your marriage in the first place.  Sometimes you are just trying to get through the day, and by the time you finally get the kids to sleep and the dishes done (or not), you can muster just enough energy to flop onto the couch.  This is where we found ourselves after 9 years of marriage.  Nothing traumatic had happened.  We still loved each other, for sure.  But we were passing like ships in the night, not really seeing each other or feeling connected.

Enter the Marriage Encounter weekend. 

We had seen church bulletin announcements about the weekends for several years, but in 2013 the stars aligned and we were able to work it into our schedules.  We arrived Saturday morning, not knowing what to expect.  I remember sitting in the event room thinking, "I don't think I'm gonna like this."  As someone who led retreats for a living, I found it ironic that I was now on the other side with a bit of a sour attitude.  But as the day unfolded, so did the blessings.  Our Encounter weekend was not fancy or flashy.  The speakers delivered a carefully prepared message from the heart, but they weren't trained "motivational speakers," per se.  Just a group of married couples, speaking the words that I wished someone would have said to me before.  You see, marriage is hard.  Obviously, we are all told that over and over.  But no one really explains what that means.  It is difficult to open your life up to someone and share your struggles.  We are pretty good at pulling the wool over each others' eyes.  We are good pretenders.  And while our pretending might protect us, it also disillusions.  No more illusions here.  What I saw were real people with real struggles and real love for one another. 

I know that in some churches (ours in particular) it is common practice for engaged couples to attend an Engaged Encounter weekend as part of marriage preparation.  And I also know that it doesn't have the best reputation, according to some.  I remember back to our own engagement, hearing that the Engaged Encounter was a "waste of time."  So we chose the other option, which was a six week "course" on marriage.  I thought it sounded more in depth, more serious, more mature.  While I can't speak personally to the Engaged Encounter experience, I know some of you may have attended and felt underwhelmed.  Maybe that is keeping you from thinking more seriously about a Marriage Encounter weekend.  Don't let it!   Engagement and marriage are totally different.  I was naive and immature in my understanding of marriage.  I'm positive that's the norm.  Because how can you understand what it will be like?  How can you foresee the trials, hardships, and beauty that come out of married life until you are in the thick of it?  And your struggles now?  Most likely they are different from when you were engaged.   

For us, Marriage Encounter was where the rubber met the road.  It gave us the tools and the time to reconnect, and to really work on our relationship without distraction.  When do you get that kind of time in the real world?  And nearly two years later, I can say that we are a more whole and holy couple because of it.  Marriage Encounter does not claim to save troubled marriages, although I know couples who will say that it has done that for them. But what it does is offer help when you are a little in over your head. And doesn't that happen to most of us from time to time?  For us, when the waters were swirling and we couldn't quite tell which way was up, Marriage Encounter gave us a foothold. From there, we could pull ourselves to the surface, take a deep breath, and find each other again.
The whole crew after Andrew's First Communion

Us on our 11 year anniversary breakfast date!

So...all this to ask that you consider attending an M.E. weekend.  If you are in the Central Missouri area or even within a reasonable driving distance there is an M.E. weekend scheduled for November 1-2.  If you are in the far reaches of the universe, I can promise you that there is a weekend near you sometime reasonably soon.  You can go here to get more info or to register for the Jeff City weekend and here to find a weekend in your area.  Consider this your official invitation!

And now for the giveaway!  Jefferson City Marriage Encounter is partnering with the Anchor Inn on the Lake in Branson, MO to offer one lucky winner a $400 gift certificate!  This will provide the winner and their spouse with a two-night stay in any of their accommodations!  My husband and I were privileged to stay at Anchor Inn a few years back and it was a lovely and refreshing getaway for us!  The owners, Mike and Dee, were wonderful, the room was fantastic (we stayed in the Mediterranean Lighthouse Room), and the breakfasts were delightful and relaxing on the screened-in porch.  And it was close enough to all the Branson action, without being directly in the hustle and bustle.  Make sure you check out their website, even if you don't win.  You will not be disappointed!

You can enter the giveaway by using the Rafflecopter below.  This is my first time ever doing a giveaway, so hopefully it will go off without a hitch.  The Rafflecopter gives you several different ways to earn entries, so follow the directions! 

**UPDATE** The first Rafflecopter entry asks you to tell us how long you've been married.  Please leave that answer here in the comments!

Here's the Rafflecopter.  May the odds be ever in your favor!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Classin' Up the Joint

I did a little craft with the minions yesterday and it was a big hit with everyone, myself included!  After I posted some pics of the fancy online I had some folks asking for the specifics.  I aim to please, so here is the link to the original post where I discovered the craft-tastic activity.  (Did you think I came up with that on my own?  Never.  Googling should be my job.)

And the pics...

The original post says to tape the leaves to the windows, but I had some twine from another craft explosion so I used that and I think the garland is definitely classier (if you can call coffee filter decorations classy, which I do.)  

My little craft drones, laboring away in their crafty sweat shop.  If you are going to do this activity, I recommend covering your table with newspaper or butcher paper or something.  As you can see, I did not do this and they are painting directly off of the table.  This is why we can't have nice things.  (Kidding, sort of.  I told them it was okay, and the magic eraser just took that right off!) 

It was pretty excellent.  Next week I think I'm going to have them paint my living room. 

Also, stay tuned here for an exciting giveaway later this week!  I am seriously pumped about this!

Keep it classy, Columbia (or wherever you are.)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Guilt Trip

I wish I was a better mother.

Don't we all think that to ourselves sometimes?  Unless of course you're a dad.  But the same sentiment holds...I wish I was a better father.

We are a new generation of parents.  The internet is our guidebook for all things: pediatrics, behavior modification, potty training, birthday partying, training up our children in the way that they should go.  Or the fifty ways that they could go.  Or the hundred.  Because that's just it, for every one so-called expert, you can find another that contradicts the first.  And if there's one thing I've learned from reading all the blogs that I do, it's that every family is just a little bit different.  And isn't that the beauty in the body of Christ? 

I was just reading a blog post by one of my favorite writers and she was talking about her family's "catch phrases."  And I thought to myself, "We should have some of those."  And I am currently reading a book on the Kindle app in which the authors were sharing some of their practices of faith in their home.  And I thought to myself, "We should be better about that."  And I also got on Pinterest while I was nursing this morning (why do I do that to myself?) and I pinned 20 different kids' activities that I will likely never do.

The point of all this is to talk about the guilt we feel as parents.  I think that one of the really positive things about having been a mom for ten years is that I finally (just finally) feel like I am coming into my own.  Like I am figuring out who I am as a mom and who I am not.  And I am learning to be okay with that.  It's still a process, and I don't imagine that will change anytime soon.  But there's a difference between feeling guilty and being guilty.  And how often are we really guilty, as opposed to just feeling bad about our inability to create a seasonally appropriate, on-trend preschool learning activity with accompanying gluten-free, sugar-free, designer snack.  All before 8am, while still showering and fixing our hair.  And it can be especially hard to discern that difference with all the voices on social media, parenting magazines, Pinterest boards, and blogs telling us who we should be.

The reality is that there is only one voice we should listen to.  God gave us our children because he knew that we were the specific parents that our specific children needed.  This doesn't mean that we are perfect, or that we should never feel convicted to grow or change.  But maybe this is one of those times when we should be listening to the still, small voice instead of the guilt-infused cacophony of the internet.  And we can trust that the One who gave us the gift of being parents will, in time, give us every tool and skill that we need to raise our children to be whole and healthy people.  Do I need to think more seriously about our family spirituality?  Probably.  Do we need to have family catch phrases?  Maybe not.  The trick is in the discerning.  And also in the ability to recognize that there is a season for everything, and as my children grow, so will my ability to parent them.

And now, all the crazies are acting crazy.  So that's enough waxing philosophical for me for one day.  Here's some pictures of the kids.  Only Emma and Luke because I love them the most.  JK. 

Who needs a pack n play?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Good, The Bad, and The Mediocre

I feel I have been remiss in keeping you up to date on my life status.  The van that died, apparently, was not too far gone to be revived.  So $800 later we are back on the road again in our dirty, banged up, but paid off mom-mobile.  We all miss the rental.  But we are happy to still not have a car payment.

Phew.  Glad that's off my chest.

Onward and upward, my friends!

As summer winds to a close and fall weather kicks in, we have been doing some more "projects" 'round these parts. 

The Good: Ice Tower Excavation

Over a period of a couple of days, I froze some crap "treasures" in a cup of water.  I did it in layers: water, treasures, freeze.  More water, treasures, get the picture.  After they were frozen solid we got them out to play.  I gave each kid an ice tower in a big dish, a bowl of room temperature water, salt, and some other tools like eye droppers, medicine syringes, paintbrushes, spoons, etc.  Then I told them they got to try to excavate their treasures.  And they loved it!  I think they played happily with this for a whole hour with only minimal intervention from me!  There was the occasional spilled cup of water and some cold fingers, but otherwise this one was a definite win.  It takes a little planning ahead, but nothing you couldn't muster yourself, I'm positive. 

The Bad: Cornstarch, Water, and Paint Cubes

Remember those frozen paint cubes we used a few blog posts ago?  I loved them then.  In this little experiment?  Not so much.  I read on the www that it was super cool to play with goo (cornstarch + water) and the paint cubes together.  They were supposed to mix into the goo and make it beautifully bright and add a whole new level to that sensory experience.  Instead, we got this:

The kids still had fun, but mostly they just kept dumping cornstarch into the pan and then running back to the pool of water to wash off.  In fact, at one point I think they were just playing with straight up cornstarch.  These kids.  They are hard core.  It might have been better if we had done this on a cooler day.  I thought it would be good because it was a bazillion degrees out and the frozen paint would be nice and cool.  But really it just melted instantly so the effect wasn't nearly as remarkable. 

The Mediocre: Nature Collage

Here's how this went down: Reece found a box of treasures left over from the ice tower excavations.  He wanted to glue them on some paper.  Since some of them are game pieces I suggested we go outside on a nature walk and gather some natural treasures.  He took the bait so we went out and collected acorns, brown leaves (because the leaves haven't turned yet), sticks, rocks, and some flowers we found in the neighbor's yard (sorry.)  Then they glued them.  That's it.  But everyone was happy and I could nurse the baby in peace while they glued to their little hearts' content.  If you are super duper prepared or an overachiever, you could cut some circles from paper plates or cardstock or something and make a "fall wreath."  But I am neither of those things, so plain paper will have to suffice.  Also, I'm pretty sure Reece glued a checker on to his, so "Nature Collage" might be a stretch of a name.  

That's it, folks.  I'll be accepting enrollment for my College Prep for the Pre-K course soon.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

When It Rains, It Rains

Last night I was at my (new!) women's group and as my prayer intention I asked for a big pile of money.  Maybe that's wrong...To be fair, I also asked for prayers last time for some folks with sick kids, so it's not all about me all the time.

If you have been reading this blog for any length of time you probably remember how I crashed into my own garage door.  We have yet to fix/replace that door.  Our basement has been mildly flooding since we moved in last fall but with the crazy monsoon we had last week it was more of a major flood.  So we need a sump pump or some yard re-grading or some other stuff I don't really understand. And yesterday our 10 year old van might have bitten the big one...gone to the parking lot in the sky...kicked the oil get the idea.  It essentially turned off in the middle of driving.  Brakes and steering locked up.  I had to pull the emergency brake to stop it.  So that was fun.  And I totally get that my life is not that hard, even with all of these inconveniences, hence the title of this post.  But still.  Frustrated is my middle name some days. 

So, other than looking for a pile of money, we might also be looking for a new-to-us family vehicle.  Which secretly makes me excited to be getting a new(er) one--one that might not have Cheez-its and melted crayon stuck in every crevice.  (I feel like Cheez-its should pay me to advertise for them here, as often as I mention them.  Actually they are the Aldi brand "Savor-itz."  Aldi is my BFF.)

So herein lies the dilemma...what kind of prison-on-wheels should we buy for the little Burns inmates?  There are six in our family to date.  There are no guarantees if we will or will not have another ginger baby sometime in the future.  We are open to either possibility, honestly.  Plus, I babysit other kids--sometimes just one, but soon it will be 2 because she is having a baby sister.  With our current minivan situation, we can seat all the kids in the middle and back seats with no room to spare.  When J's little sis comes along, one of my big kids will have to ride shotgun in order for everyone to fit.  Which is fine, but probably isn't the safest thing.

So, do we go with another minivan or SUV that seats seven?  One that seats 8?  A Suburban, which the internet tells me seats nine?  Or do we really go for the gusto and get a Nissan NV 12 passenger monstrosity?  We've been debating for quite a while because the NV would be so nice what with all the can't-elbow-your-siblings room.  Right now, if we were going to go on a long trip (for instance, to Jazzercise on the south side of town...or some fancy vacation I guess) each kid could have their own isolation chamber in the NV.  One big, happy, well-spaced family!  And if/when I am babysitting other kids or my own offspring want to have a friend ride with us somewhere we could all fit without wanting to murder each other.  And as far as fuel non-economy goes, Mike tells me the NV gets about the same gas mileage as our current mom-mobile.  But I don't know.  What do other people with 4+ kids do to get around?  I am intrigued.  Give me your opinions, educated or otherwise.

For today, I will enjoy the fresh and clean rental van.  Sorry kids, we can't listen to Frozen--they only have satellite radio!  If we get stuck in the rental during the zombie apocalypse or a snow storm or something we won't be able to survive on the crevice crumbs, but I guess we'll rough it for now. 

Terrifically horrible rental van selfie! 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Don't Hate...Advocate!

Somebody should really work with me on improving my blog-titling skillz.

Advocacy.  It's something I didn't really think much about until recently.  And mostly when I consider it, I think in terms of advocating for others...the poor, the marginalized, etc.  But advocating for ourselves has been on my mind a lot lately.

It all started with a tiny health scare--some changes in a breast that were worrying me.  So after about a month, I called some people.  The lactation consultant said she didn't think it was breastfeeding related.  My OB said he didn't think it was anything.  I went home feeling better.  For a few days.  Until I got that nagging feeling that something was just not right--I still had questions that hadn't been answered.  To cut right to the chase, I had some further testing done and it doesn't look like anything serious.  We still don't know what it is, but have done our due diligence in terms of breast cancer screening and things of that nature. 

But the point of this whole post is about being your own advocate.  It really felt silly.  I consulted with a breast cancer survivor and friend of mine and did a lot of reading and all signs pointed to getting a second opinion and leaving no stone unturned.  But I was too sheepish to call my OB back and ask for some more in-depth analysis.  So I called a random office and scheduled an appointment with a doc I'd never seen before.  And even though everything is turning out just like my OB suggested in the first place, I'm so glad I made the second call.  Because what if?

I think that we are often too afraid to challenge someone who is an expert in their field!  I have had multiple occasions where, hindsight being what it is, I wished I had been brave enough to question the first decision or suggestion made by a health care provider.  The birth of my first baby and the decision to have a C-section, some poor breastfeeding advice from the hospital, and the lack of weight gain of our little baby Emma being among those that stand out in the forefront of my memory.
And not just in medicine!  In the last couple of years we have been seeking some solutions for Emma's struggles in school.  And even though Mike and I both have degrees in education and were educators in our own public school system, we still found ourselves "at odds" with the schools from time to time.  The systems in place don't really work for a kid like Emma, and we have had to be very adamant about what we know (we really know!) is best for her.  After one of her recent 504 plan meetings, we talked about how difficult it would be for a family with no teaching experience to muddle through the complicated maze that is the IEP/504 plan system in education.  And how if you are told by classroom teachers, special educators, and principals that "X" is the way to go about things, you are likely to agree just because they are the experts and you are not.  But what if there really is a better way?  

Sweet baby Emma!  Doesn't it look like somebody should get that kid a taco or something?
Again, it all comes down to advocacy.  And I firmly believe that teachers, principals, doctors, nurses and the like are doing their very best for us.  Absolutely they are!  Nobody goes into health care or education so they can "pull a fast one."  That's why it feels so weird to question and second guess!  I do like a good TV medical drama and I can Google my symptoms with the best of them, but does it make me qualified to doubt the experts?  From now on, I think my answer to that question is yes.  If my gut tells me that something is wrong, yes.  Because I have had times when my gut said, "Stop!  Something's not right here!"  And I didn't listen because I was too afraid to call the expert into question.  And I really, really wish that I would have.  Even though all of my second and third opinions turned out the same as the first in this case, I am so glad that I got it checked thoroughly just for my own peace of mind.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Laws of the Universe

Joke telling is not the strength of the Pre-K set.  Consider this little interaction:

Reece: Knock, knock
J (3yrs old): Who's there?
Reece: Interrupting cow
J: Old MacDonald had a cow E-I-E-I-O!
Reece: Knock, knock
J: Who's there?
Reece: Interrupting cow
J: I don't know that one.
Reece: Knock knock
J: Who's there?
Reece: Interrupting cow
J: Why did the banana cross the road?
Reece: Knock knock
            Who's there?
            Interrupting cow
            Interrupting cow who?
            Interrupting cow peed on the grass!

He told that whole joke to himself.  Immediately followed by peals of laughter from the backseat of the van.  We have a ways to go with humor, obviously.

Now for the real point of this post...I give you, Laws of the Parenting Universe!

Law #1: All children will awaken immediately and fully at first daylight.  They will demand to be given food or drink or television or beef jerky.  This will happen every day without fail.  Except on the day that you have someplace to be very early.  On that morning, the children will sleep in.

Law #2: Babies must awaken at the sound of their parents falling asleep.

Law #3: Children will only be sick on the days when the doctor is either off or the office is closed.      Law 3b: All symptoms will vanish upon arrival at the doctor's office (or urgent care, since the office is closed.)

Law #4: Someone will need you urgently every time you a). start to use the toilet or b). are undressed for whatever reason.

I'm sure I missed some.  Let me know if you can think of the others!  Here's a grainy iPhone photo to round things out...

Who us?  We are innocent!