Wednesday, July 13, 2016

What's in that backpack?

  When we take a backpacking trip with the kids, I always get lots of questions about what we pack in our backpacks to sleep in the back country.  I just finished packing up my pack and was ready to take it out to the RV, so I thought I would just show you what was inside.

  On this trip, we will be staying on an island for 3 nights.  There will be no electricity or running water.  If we will need it, it must be carried in on our backs.  Since there are 5 of us, we will be sharing the load. 

  Here is a peek into the pack....


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Sham of Perfection

  While I was perusing the web today, I came across a lovely little news story link to a blog.  The blog, Sham of the Perfect , is a collection of family photos that document REAL family moments.  I thought it was a brilliant idea for a collection of photographs.  The blog post explained that most photos that are featured in magazines, news stories, Pinterest, and other social media are a collection of 'posed moments'.  Those moments often have been edited and are truly "picture perfect".  We just can't seem to live up to that.

It's OK.

  Kids are messy. Big boys cry.  Families struggle.  Parents laugh hysterically. Families don't always keep tidy houses.  Parents sleep in.  Kids don't always eat their vegetables.  We don't always know the answers and we certainly don't get everything right.  But, that is the beauty of it.

No family is perfect. 

I scrolled through just a few of my pictures and picked out a couple that reveals the Sham of Perfect.

Perfection is a sham.  The fact that families aren't perfect is what makes them real.  And beautiful.  And perfect.
Go enjoy your kids.....the ones who are wearing a pair of underwear as a hat...and know that your family is perfect.
Just the way it is.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Stop Keeping Score Or You'll Never Win

  This morning as I sit and watch a beautiful sunrise on my 22nd wedding anniversary, I am reflecting.  Last night, my husband and I went on a date to celebrate our marriage.  On our way home, I posted a picture of our evening on Facebook.

This morning, as I scrolled through the comments, I saw that an old friend had asked this question under the picture:

"Congratulations! What is the best advice you can give?"

That question gave me pause.  What IS the best advice I could give?

There is all sorts of great advice I could give. 

Keep God in your marriage.

Be committed.

Invest time in your marriage.

Laugh together.

This list could go on indefinitely.

But, when I think about the best advice, I think about the words that probably helped me the most in OUR marriage.  I think about how my thought process changed in our marriage many, many years ago when I heard these words....

"Marriage is never 50/50.  It's always more like 80/20.  Sometimes you will give 80% and sometimes he will.....but it's never equal."

This changed everything.

At the time when I heard this, our marriage was rocky.  Bradley and I married very young.  A month out of high school young.  We had no idea how to be married.  We were very poor and stressed and we were struggling.  

After the first two years, I was about ready to throw in the towel and I'm sure he was, too. Thankfully, we committed to making it work.

Back during those first couple of years, I remember walking around the house with such bitterness.  I walked around thinking that I was the only one doing anything to maintain our household and our marriage. 

I washed the dishes and cast an evil glance toward Bradley.  I slammed the dishes into the cabinet. I pulled a load of clothes out of the dryer with a huff.  I swept the floor with angry vigor. 

Dishes +1
Clothes +1
Floors +1

That was 3 points for me and none for Bradley, but I assure you.....I wasn't winning.

I was literally walking around keeping score on our marriage.  Every single thing I did around the house, I felt like I was earning points for. For every point I earned, I got more angry.  I was so resentful.

But then, my thinking began to change...It wasn't overnight. It was a process.  Our marriage wasn't "fixed" instantly.  A marriage takes work.

I began to think on the idea that a marriage is never 50/'s always more like 80/20. I started to resent less the fact that I was doing 80% of the housework and Bradley was doing 20%. I started to notice that there were other aspects of our marriage that he was giving WAY more than I was.

Bradley was providing our family with our income.  I was working a little bit while I was in college, but he was working full time.  He was paying the bills. I was providing very little to the household finances. If I were keeping score on that one, my point total would be quite low.

Bradley was giving more than his share on handing out words of affirmation.  He has always been good at telling me how beautiful I am and how lucky he is.  I was terrible at that. I wasn't winning at that one either.

For putting the effort into the physical needs of our marriage.....he was winning again.

Over the years, I began to try to pick up the slack in the areas that I knew I was providing so little. I didn't want to be giving only 20% any area. 

When I began to realize that a marriage is never 50/50 and that someone is always giving more than the other, I began to see the beauty in the partnership.  We both began working to make each other happy.  If your goal in marriage is to make your partner happy, you will be happy.

I stopped keeping score altogether and our marriage flourished.  We give and we take. Sometimes, one of us needs to take more than we can give....and that is ok.  The score eventually all balances out.  If you are trying to keep score, you'll never win.

As I look back over our 22 years of marriage, I am thankful for those first two or three rocky years.  Those years made us the couple that we are today.  Today, we are strong.  We have built a marriage together that is great.  It's a marriage that earns points for laughter, and adventure, and passion, and communication, and friendship, and dreams and love.....lots and lots of love.

We are winning.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Track Kids Out of Focus

I was approached last spring by our head track coach, who is also my brother, and was asked if I would consider being the assistant track coach for this school year.  It was explained that the paycheck for this position is basically non-existent and the hours of coaching are many. 
Who can say "no" to that kind of offer, right?
I gladly accepted the position and my reward has been great this track season.

We are finishing up a very successful track season. We set several new school records this year. We had a team member sign a college scholarship for her field events. We have earned medals of every color for a variety of events.  Our team just finished our Sectional Championships and walked away with a girls 1st place trophy and the boys finished 4th.  Two weeks ago, we were proudly awarded the County Championship trophies for both boys and girls.
We just had 20+ kids earn spots into the elite group of State Track and Field qualifiers.
For a track team from a school with a very high rate of poverty with absolutely no track to practice on, I would say that we have performed quite well.

I have been at every single event cheering them on and snapping photos of their many moments of glory.

But, all of that success is not the real success story.

The trophies, the medals, the championships, the accolades.....
that isn't the biggest success.

The best stories of our team is not about all the kids who will compete in State.
The best part of our track season is not the medals our kids earned.
The most successful part of our track season is not the Championship trophies.
All of those things are amazing and deserve applause, and
I have pointed my camera lens toward many of those moments this track season.

But, the real success this track season doesn't lie in the spot light.

The success lies in the blurry edges of the photographs.
The best stories happened along the edges of the track and in the stands.
The success was in the infield, not in lanes 1-8.

I have been a part of athletic teams all my life.
Softball, basketball, baseball, football, cheering, band, one time or another, I have been involved in all of those.  But, I have never been a part of a team that is as "team" oriented as this track team.  This track team truly roots for each other.  With all of their heart, they hope for success for their team mates.  This group of kids has a selfless love for each other that is beyond honorable.

I have witnessed it in person all season, but as I scrolled back through the photographs I have taken, I saw it there, too. 

The success of this track season is in the edges of the photos. 
The success of this season lies in the kids who are out of focus.

In this photo, the kid competing is running for a spot in the State Track Meet.  It's the coveted spot that he missed by hundredths of a second the day before.  It's a spot he was given by a team member who wanted him to have the opportunity to qualify for State.  The red headed dude in the infield had been running alongside him cheering him he did with almost every single race that day.  He looks nervous because he is worried that the kid competing will not make the top 5 and will not get to compete.  The red headed kid had already been eliminated.  He had not made the qualifying mark himself, but wanted it for his team mate.  That is success.

The kid running hurdles earned a spot in Sectionals in only one event to try to compete at the State Level.  (He happens to be my kid.) He was running as just a 7th grader, so his chances were small, but he wanted to go to State badly.  He had been beyond nervous all day.  His hands were visibly shaking when he was lifting up his water cup during the day.  The rest of the team (all older kids), took him under his wing and were the epitome of encouragement.  When I looked back at the photographs, I noticed that our team members stopped their events and cheered him on when it was his turn on the track. They truly wanted the little 7th grader to do well. That is a success story.

The cup of water in his hand was brought to him by another team member seconds after he crossed the finish line.  And the kid with the black leggings was his team mate, but also his competitor.  Just before they raced each other, he said this...
"I have already qualified for State.  I would rather you qualify for State in this event than me qualify twice.  I hope you get to go, man. You deserve it."
That is a success story.

These kids out of focus in the infield are cheering for their team mates instead of preparing for their own race. This happened over and over this season with every kid and every race. That is a success story.

On this race day, the infield of the track had been a place for hundreds and hundreds of athletes to warm up and prepare to race.  Those hundreds of athletes left hundreds of pieces of trash behind.  The infield was littered with bottles of water, cups, and snack wrappers.  At the end of the day, I watched a single child, a member of  our track team, quietly walk the infield and pick up every piece of trash that was left behind by the other teams and take it to the trash can.  He never said a word about it and thought no one noticed.  That is a success story.

I have listened to them encourage each other with kind words all season.  It has been all around me.  I have listened and it has done my soul good.    There ARE still older kids who offer encouragement to younger kids.  Not ALL girls are mean girls.  Not EVERY guy tries to win at the cost of other guys. We ARE still raising some children with compassion.  There is still goodness in our kids.
There is still love.

I have seen the selflessness all year.  It was just beyond the focus of the camera.  Behind the scenes. It was in the stands.  The success was in the encouraging social media posts. It was in the seat on the bus ride with the star senior track member sitting with the little boy team manager.  The success was in the wordless high fives in the hallways. It was on the edge of the sidelines.  The success was cheering at the start line.  It was waiting with water at the finish line. 
The success was the way our kids treated each other.

The success of our team was great this year, and I am blessed to have been a part of it.

"Encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing."
     ~1 Thessalonians 5:11

Friday, April 4, 2014

Boys are Gross

  I am an expert on boys.  I am the mother of three of them.  Let me be clear about something....I love my boys dearly, but they are gross.  Truly disgusting little human beings.
 I am very rarely surprised by the things my germ infested boys get into.  I walked into Carter's room to put something away.  I found his room in a disheveled heap.  His pillow case was off his pillow and had been turned into a makeshift bag filled with all sorts of explorer gear.  His clothes were strewn.  Dirty clothes were mixed in with clean ones.  Baseball caps and belts with lying about.  Nerf guns and ammunition was left on the floor ready for battle.  Underwear was hanging off the bed.  I just looked around shaking my head.
But then......
I gazed over at his dresser where all of his most prized possessions are stored.  There he keeps an autographed Red Sox Baseball from his brothers, an Auburn football, a trophy......and......
That's when I saw it.
Carter has turned his baseball cup (You know, the one he sticks inside his sweaty underwear during a baseball game)......into a bank.  He is storing his money in his cup!
I walked out of his room laughing at the absurdity.
Boys really are gross.
They pee on the toilet instead of inside it.
Boys dirty socks smell like some sort of chemicals that will singe the hairs from your nose.
They trash their rooms.
Boys smell.
Washing hands before eating is never given a consideration.
Boys must be forced to brush their teeth.
Boys fart and think it is hysterical.
Dirt and mud are a boys favorite place to play.
Boys love all things slimy.
They leave muddy footprints and there is always a ring around their tub.
Toothpaste is covering their sink
Potty humor is tops on a boys joke repertoire.
Did I already say they smell? 

I have been immersed in "boyness" for so long now that I just accept them for what they are.  They are little creatures who love to dig, and create, and make messes, and build, and romp, and jump, and yell, and tag, and throw, and tackle, and fish, and dissect, and explore and wonder. 
But they also like to snuggle.  They want to make me proud.  Boys are handsome.  They are protective.  Boys are very tenderhearted.    Boys give the best hugs.  Boys say what they mean.  They appreciate nature. Boys whisper, "I love you" when I kiss them goodnight. 
Boys are gross, but they are the most amazing creatures on earth and I love them despite their grossness.  My disgusting boys have me wrapped around their germ infested little fingers.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Hankerin' For A Change

  Nine years ago, we built our forever home.  We finished it up within a couple of weeks of our the birth of our third son, Carter.  Just in the nick of time.  We put our whole heart and soul into building our little home to raise our boys in.  Our home is settled in at the edge of the woods overlooking my parents' farm land.  The inside of our home is definitely "lived in".  The boys wrestle, jump off the furniture, eat in the floor, make messes, track in mud, leave marks on the walls and scratches on the furniture.  I don't really mind those things.  I've never much believed in a house looking like a museum.  I adore our home and the memories we have already made in it, but I am ready for an update.  Our home hasn't had any updates in nine years (aside from a new coat of paint in our master bedroom) in any of our living space. I am frankly sick of looking at the same stuff.  Therefore....I decided to make some lipstick changes to our home.

   The first change I knew we wanted to make was to create a more substantially sized area for our big screen television.  We bought a new big TV last spring when our other tv one quit working properly, but we never had the right sized piece of furniture to put it on.  The large tv completely dwarfed the entertainment stand that it sat on.  It looked so out of proportion.  Thankfully, I am married to a super hero.  My super hero husband was able to see my vision for the area and was able to create a lovely fireplace that now looks proportionate to the big TV.

This corner area was created with old barn wood that has family history.  The wood came from an old barn that stood on our property when I was a child.  The fireplace area was created with airstone.  We are now in love with airstone.  It is very easy to work with and much less expensive that buying real stone.  The finished project turned out just like I envisioned.
We still have lots of little updates in our home to work on, but I am jumping for joy over our start.
Next project.....
a cabinet update!
I'll keep ya posted.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Low Sugar Peanut Butter Balls of Deliciousness

    Our family has now passed the one year mark since we cut sugary treats out of our diet.  When we began the diet change out of desperation to help stabilize Sawyer's hypoglycemic related mood swings, I honestly never expected that we would stick it out.  I have always had such a powerful sweet tooth, that I figured I might be sneaking some sugary treats now and then.  Strangely though, I am rarely even tempted to take a bite of a sugar filled snack.  There have been a couple of occasions, though, when I have almost been overcome with the desire to dig in to something full of sugar.  One of those few occasions happened two days ago.  One of my kindergarteners brought homemade peanut butter balls to share with the class.  I opened the lid to the Tupperware container and the little sugary jewels were screaming their peanut butter smell at me and begging me to pick one up and eat it.  I resisted with all of my power and did not succumb.  I did, however, take several really close up whiffs of them.  Ahhhhh....they smelled heavenly.

   After thinking about those peanut butter balls for two days straight, I knew that I had to do something to fulfill my craving.  So, out of peanut butter desperation, I created my own low sugar recipe.  The turned out amazingly!

In a bowl mix:
1 sleeve of graham crackers (crushed in a blender)
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup of sugar free chocolate chips
Plus.....a couple more crackers crushed used to roll the balls in.

After it is all mixed up, use your hands and roll out a ping pong ball sized amount.

Drop the little ball of yumminess into the extra cracker crumbs. 
Roll around to coat.

This recipe made a batch of 20 balls.  It has only 2 grams of regular sugar in each ball from the graham crackers.  Of course, more grams of natural sugar comes from the honey, but honey is our friend and doesn't adversely effect blood sugar.
My desire for a sugary peanut butter treat has now been sated.
Now, hurry up and go eat yours before the rest of the family spies them. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

Zion National Park - Hiking "The Narrows"

Have you ever had an experience that when it is over, you just know that it will be one of those experiences that you will never forget?  One that you will be replaying and reliving and talking about with those involved for years to come?  Hiking The Narrows in Zion National Park was one of those experiences for our family.
   We visited Zion in July of 2012 on a family jaunt out west to see several National Parks.  While we were in Zion National Park, we hiked on several trails and experienced some wonderful adventures, but the highlight was definitely our hike into The Narrows.
   We got an early start on our day and climbed aboard the required shuttle to the trailhead.  To get to The Narrows, you must take the shuttle to the farthest point on the shuttle route to the Riverside Walk trailhead. 

   The Riverside Walk Trail is a level, paved one mile trail that meanders along the Virgin River.  When the Riverside Trail comes to a dead end at the river's edge, you just step into the river and keep going.  The Narrows Trail is not a 'marked' trail.  It simply follows the Virgin River upstream through the canyon.  The boys, ages 13, 9, and 7, were giddy with the anticipation of being allowed to walk through the river all day.
    We unloaded the shuttle at the trailhead equipped with a walking stick, hiking shoes, and a dry pack on each of our backs.  We all carried our own lunches and drinks in our backbacks and Bradley and I packed a small first aid kit, extra drinks, snacks, and cameras in our back pack.  Since we knew that the back packs would get wet on the hike, we double bagged all of the items that needed to stay dry (like the cameras and sandwiches) in heavy duty ziplock bags, which worked perfectly.
    The Riverwalk Trail leading up to The Narrows was very lovely, but we hardly paid attention to that part of the hike, because we were so ready to get going in the river. 
We began our hike through The Narrows with several other families.  The first section of the hike was much thicker with people than the last.  The farther we hiked into the canyon, the fewer people we encountered.  While we are happy that other people enjoy the beauty of the National Parks, we  prefer to avoid the thick crowds when possible.
    Shortly after we began our hike, we came to the deepest section of the river.  The water was really cold and was about waist deep on the adults at the depest part. This section of the hike delighted the boys beyond belief and are still talking about how much fun it was months later.
We hiked up the river for a couple of hours.  We stopped for drink breaks and to just enjoy the view several times.  The majority of the hike was spent crisscrossing the stream in the paths that we deemed the easiest to cross.  Each group traveling up the river was forging their own path. 
We hiked until we made it to where the walls of the canyon got more narrow and seemed to be touching the sky above. 
We stopped at the farthest point in our hike for a picnic lunch and simply enjoyed the moment.
At this point in the hike, the boys reported to us,
"This is the best hike we have ever been on!"
After we were rested and refreshed, we began our journey back out of The Narrows. 
We stopped for a little bit of fun rock jumping on our way back out.
We stayed inside The Narrows for a total of about 6 hours.  The entire hike was perfect.  It had everything we desire in an adventure.  It was stunningly beautiful, the boys got to enjoy a bit of clammoring over rocks, the hike had water, the temperature was perfect, and we were together. Who could ask for anything more in a hike?
We have experienced many adventures together as a family.....
hiking the Grand Canyon
rafting down the Snake River in the Tetons
exploring caves in Mammoth Cave
watching geysers erupt in Yellowstone
hiking around a mountain lake in the Rocky Mountains
star gazing in Canyonlands
climbing through an arch at Arches Nationa Park
sliding down the dunes at Sand Dunes National Park
....just to name a few.
But out of ALL of these adventures, hiking The Narrows remains near the top of the list for us.  I am thankful to have gotten to experience it with my family.
"For all of this, we are grateful to you."
                                                    ~ Acts 24:3

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Kindergarten Tale of Jesus' Birth

   Each year, I ask my K students the question...."Why do we celebrate Christmas?".  This year, I asked each student individually and was shocked that only 5 out of 18 kids gave a response having something to do with Jesus. 
   Later, we had a whole class discussion about Christmas festivities, which was guided into a discussion about the birth of Jesus.  I prompted the discussion by saying, "Who can tell me something they know about Jesus' birthday?"  Although a couple of the kids could recall details of the story that they had heard at home or at Sunday School, many of them were at a total loss. 
   Here is a combined quick summary of Jesus' birth, as told by my Kindergarteners....
     "Baby Jesus was born in the snow.  He drank a bottle.  When he woke up, he saw Santa.  Santa gave him presents.  Then, on Halloween he went trick-or-treating.  When he was outside, a reindeer ran into him and he died."
Um Kay. Wow.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Money Well Spent

      Our family dreams of travel.  Constantly.  We thrive on adventure and seeing new places and hiking and backpacking and canoeing and rafting and snorkeling.  We are discontent when it comes to just doing the daily grind.  We discuss travel over dinner.  We look at maps longingly wishing we could cover more area of it.  We reminisce over past trips and discuss possibilities for new ones.  We long to travel together more often.

      Unfortunately, the bills just don't pay themselves.  We haven't quite figured out a way to fund full time travel, so we deal with what we have to work with.  We spend the entire year socking away what we can to fund our summer adventures.  We rarely eat meals at restaurants.  We use coupons when we can.  We drive 10+ year old vehicles.  We wear lots of clothes from the thrift store. We never go to the movie theater, nail salons, or concerts.  We certainly have all that we need and plenty of what we want, but we would all give up all of our "things" for more travel adventures.  We have never regretted a single cent spent on travel, but we have many times regretted splurging on unnecessary "things"

     This quote on this photo has become sort of my "motto" lately.  I have the picture printed and hung on my refrigerator as a reminder.  Just there to remind me that another adventure is always just around the corner, and I can do without whatever it is that I am wanting to buy.