Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Meal Prep - a little motivation and a brand new system

Meals are one of my anxiety triggers.  I know, that sounds so silly, but I'm just being completely honest.  Trying to keep our pantry stocked and my family fed is a never ending process.  And then there is the trying-to-figure-out-what-to-eat-for-dinner question that always makes me feel panicky if I'm not prepared.

I grew up with a full-time working mama who made it a priority to feed us well.  We spend many nights eating crock-pot dinners in the teacher's lounge after a long day of school and activities.  She taught me to grocery shop in bulk and plan ahead.

And I was pretty good at it for a while.  I remember sitting on the front porch with my notebook and recipe box planning out our meals every month.  But then we kept adding kids and life just got in the way.  Feeding my family healthy home cooked meals is still a priority for me but I neglected to be proactive about it so it became a constant struggle and stressor.

So when my friend, Magan, posted a photo of her meal-prep day last month it triggered some pretty good motivation.  She is a full-time teacher, wife and mommy to two.  She HAS to be on top of her game in order to get her family fed and her budget in check.  Her post was just the motivation I needed to get my butt back into gear and figure out a new system for this large family that never seems to get full.

So with her fresh motivation and my mama's example I think I figured out something that will work for my family in this season.

1 - I grab my calendar, my computer (because Pinterest) and my menu board.

2 - I list out the next two weeks (that is all I can wrap my head around, plus our budget will only allow for 2-weeks worth of groceries at a time).  I write if it needs to be a quick fix or crock-pot night and then place the weekly traditional meals on my list so I know that those are already covered (i.e. homemade Pizza/Movie night)

3 - I only have a  handful of recipe cards that we use now because the internet has completely taken over.  But sometimes I find it's hard to find my favorite recipes.  This is where Pinterest comes in handy.  I create a board for the month's meals.  That way I know exactly where to go for my recipe each night and I only have to sift through a few to find it.  After I use it I move the recipe to my other folder for "Cooking Repeats" or nix it if we ended up feeding it to the chickens because it was a recipe #fail.  (but of course that NEVER happens, ahem).

4 - I write the meals in the appropriate slots on my calendar (with a note as to where the recipe is...cook book, card or Pinterest) and add the next weeks meals to my menu board for easy access.

5 - Next I get two grocery lists going.  One for the big trip to get the ingredients to put the meals together as much as possible beforehand, and then a list for the next week to get the final ingredients or produce we might need for sides that might not keep in the refrigerator for two weeks.

6 - Go shopping.

7 - Come home and do as much prep for each meal as I can.  That means prepping the meat, ziploc bagging up the ingredients to throw in a crockpot, mixing spices with the meat for swedish meatballs or prepping a side such as cole slaw.

So far this system has been a HUGE stress relief when it comes to dinner.  I KNOW what I'm making each night, I have the biggest prep work done and with minimal prep time during homework/piano lessons in the evening we have much happier hearts all around.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Look Up

I was out for a run.
One of those runs to take back the day and show it who's boss.
The kind that makes me a better mom and allows for my kids to want to be around me.

But my body was feeling suffocated by life.
By anxiety.

It was one of those runs where I felt like my legs were made of lead and every muscle was begging me to stop but I was determined to make it to my goal (I can be a little hard headed).

Since one of the Colony members destroyed (another set) my ear buds (thank you Jude) I had nothing to listen to but my own thoughts swirling around in my head.

And all I could think about was my hurting knee.
The nearly 90 degree heat.
And the distance I still had to run to be finished and get on with my day.
You know, the day that I needed a break from since I rolled out of bed.

All of a sudden I passed a man walking his dogs.
We made eye contact as he smiled and said "hey" and I huffed a quick "hi" in return.

But because of that distraction my eyes were up off of the trail underneath me.
I realized just how beautiful it was outside.
I noticed how the sun was shining through the trees.
I observed the squirrels and rabbits off in the brush.

Before I knew it I was another mile in and hadn't even thought about my aching knee, or the heat, or the day that had thrown me for a loop.

I am so easily caught up in my stride and the things right around me that I neglect to see what is in the distance.

And the distance is full of hope and grace and fresh mercies.
The distance is full of purpose and motivation to keep running.

And that makes my steps a bit lighter and the distance seem a bit shorter.
It takes my focus off of me and places it back on the one who sets the pace and promises that everything will work together for my good if I keep my eyes on Him (Romans 8:28).

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrews 12:1-2

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Lessons From The Gardener ~ Perseverance

This whole gardening process can be pretty tedious.  Maybe it's just because I don't know what I'm doing and I'm just hoping with everything in me that some of those little seeds I placed in the soil will do something.  At this point I just want some healthy green foliage, I'm not even asking for the vegetables and fruit to produce bountifully, I just need those little seeds to start poking through the soil to let me know that they are doing something.

I have spent around 40 hours personally digging and ripping up old roots, vines, shrubs and trees from our "bunny bush" area that the kids loved to play in (but our neighbor despised looking at).  It was an old grapevine that had been under cared for LONG before the Colony moved in (and under-cared for it even more!).

Then another 20 hours or so was spent preparing the soil and covering the ground accordingly so it would be ready for a garden in the spring.

I waited all winter long in anticipation of what was to come.

Then February rolled around and I planted these tiny little seeds, following each instruction to a T.

Then, miracle of all miracles, several of my little seeds began to grow into beautiful little seedlings.
I know I shouldn't be shocked, but I typically don't do well with plants that die if I don't keep them watered;).  (I will say that I have gotten better over the years and last year's little garden did surprising well!)

So, I prepared the best way I knew how.
I consistently watered and fed those little seeds.

Next came the transplant, where I had to uproot the tender little seedlings from their safe home and take them out in the "wild" where they will have to strengthen their roots and grow strong to be able to withstand the impending storms (and fuzzy, hungry critters and probably even a peck or 20 from the Colony chickens) that will most certainly come their way.

Sadly some of the little seedlings didn't make the transplant so well.  And even after tucking the Colony garden in for the nights before the frost, some of them have not weathered so well.

It's hard not to get discouraged and even harder to push away the thoughts of defeat and desire to quit.

But wouldn't you know that this month's lesson for the Colony kids at Journey is Perseverance.

Perseverance to keep going when things feel impossible.
Perseverance in the failure,
and in the embarrassment,
and in the feelings of defeat,
and to keep planting those seeds, even when we feel like the roots will NEVER take.

Because the roots and fruit and growth are not OUR responsibility!
Oh no, we could NEVER do that.

Our job is to plant the seeds in faith.
Not knowing what is going on under the soil.
Maybe never even seeing the growth we think we should.

That is the job of the Lord over creation.
The author of life and the finisher of faith.

It's all part of the plan.
And we GET to be part of it.

Harvesting a garden and harvesting souls are so intertwined its no wonder why Jesus used this picture to teach his people.

This Colony garden has taught me more about my own walk with Christ and the mission HE has given me than almost ay other thing I've worked through.

"So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything,
but only God who gives the growth."
1 Corinthians 3:7

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Rainy's Beach Party

I don't do birthday parties.

Ok, so I DO do birthday parties, but typically not so well.

I'm not fishing for compliments here folks.
I'm just stating that I have many strengths in life, but planning and executing birthday parties just isn't one of them.

But with another snowy day back in February we were left with LOTS of extra time on our hands.
Rainy and I decided to take advantage of one of those chilly afternoons and plan the party of the century decade year month, well...a fun party for an upcoming birthday girl.

We set a budget and got to work on Pinterest and Amazon to find appropriate decor and fun budget-friendly ideas to turn our living room into a beach get-away for her friends.

the boys' cake since we had so many of them sticking around;)

Rainy chose for the girls to make jellyfish out of 
bowls streamers and pom-poms and they really turned out cute:)

And Josh did a great job corralling the boys outside
by making a tree house ledge for the kids to fall jump off of!
Thanks babe.  We ALL appreciated that effort!

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Colony Goes To Get Ice Cream

The Colony was so excited that Aunt Joy, Uncle Jay and baby Cohen decided that they wanted to spend some of their vacation time with us this past weekend!  And that's a big deal for a Cop and Special Ed Therapist with lots of capital letters at the end of her name that mean that she's pretty smart.

The excitement mounted throughout the week and by the time the kids went to school on Friday morning they could hardly contain themselves.  (Baby Cohen has already stolen their hearts;)

Friday afternoon and evening were lovely.  We played outside until dark and then we had a leisurely time getting the kids in bed, all while sneaking snuggles with the baby...because, how can you not?!

It was the beginnings of a great weekend.

Everyone slept well and woke up rested, except for one (or three) Colony members who will be left unnamed.

And then it began to downpour...literally, and we lost another couple of Colony member's happy hearts along with the rain.

I knew I needed a plan and needed one fast!  The technological screens were screaming for attention and I REFUSE to let them win!

We DID need milk so I made the mistake of mentioning that we would be taking a fun trip to Lumpy's Ice Cream (the story that brings joy and laughter) to pick up our local milk and we could all get some ice cream.  The story on the side of Lumpy's Ice Cream is about sheer joy brought to some kids by their dad who took them to get ice cream one day.  And that made the dad's heart SO HAPPY that he began his own endeavor to make healthy, organic, local ingredient ice cream for ALL to enjoy.  (It's a sweet story, and important later on in my story.)

Oh, the shouts of praise resounded as my children rose up and called me blessed.  I basked in my Proverbs 31 glory for that split second until the the bickering siblings started right back where they left off and the "I'm bored" chants began pounding through the halls.

It was time for baby Cohen to wake up and eat and I needed a shower.  Let's get these kids out of the house for a bit and maybe it will jump start this day.

By the time we were all ready to go, the rain had stopped and it was time for Zeke's baseball practice.
So ok, change of plans.
I'll make lunch and we'll take Zeke to practice and then maybe we'll go to Lumpy's (the store which brings joy and laughter to all) during practice and bring him back his favorite kind.

Well, as you can imagine, that idea didn't go over so well with the Zekester, so we wait.

Now, I have to pause here to explain something very important about the Colony.

Anything and EVERYTHING you say can and will be held against you.  For example, if Josh and I are going back and forth trying to verbally talk through something and mention, "go to Meme and Poppie's" the Colony kid who heard those words will yell throughout the house to start packing because we are about to take a road trip to VA immediately, when, in fact, Josh and I were really saying that last month when Josh took the kids to VA for a funeral they had seen Meme and Poppie.

They hear words and take them completely out of order and context and make up a reality in their own minds, spread the news like wild fire to the multitudes, and then we spend the next 47 minutes rectifying the situation by answering questions from 5 kids and wiping tears of disappointment for an event that didn't happen because it was never really even going to happen.


So, this is what kept happening all day with Lumpy's (the store which brings joy and laughter to all).  I'd try to map out a plan and it kept changing because of the day's events.  The kids were irritable, tween angst was rising (oh lordy, it has begun), kids were "accidentally" scratching their brother's necks (I mean, really?!).

Poor, poor Jay and Joy.

But FINALLY it was time to pile in the car and go to the long-awaited Lumpy's (the story which brings joy and laughter to all).

I had barely stepped into the store when I saw the Mustache Man (the one who decided that joy and laughter must be enjoyed by all) holding a cone with a large scoop of ice cream on top and digging into another barrel to get another scoop to happily hand to Zeke.

Mission accomplished.  Joy and laughter was just brought to a child.  A child of a family who ALWAYUS ONLY gets the child size, one scoop kind of ice cream cone, because who can afford 7 adult size cones?  I quietly told Zeke that next time we really need to only pick one flavor please and turn around to Cai giving his two-flavor request because "Zeke did!".

I must pause the story again to explain that I don't really take my kids out to do this kind of thing very often without Josh, and Josh couldn't be around much this weekend.  For one, we don't have money to do it and two, well, my sanity would be in jeopardy and my children would be at risk of hearing words that they ought not to hear, ahem.

Ok, back to Cai.  I try to quietly explain that I didn't know what was going on until Zeke had already been served his ice cream, and that we just couldn't do two scoops for everybody and that he needed to choose one.

Meanwhile, the line began growing behind us and the Mustache Man got Jude his Chocolate ice cream, because no matter how many times (or how many people line up behind us WHILE he chooses) he chooses a different kind of ice cream, he always goes back to the ol' faithful chocolate.  Another successful joy and laughter filled child

I turn to check on Jude to make sure he was ok, and by the time I turn back around Cai had given his order to the Mustache Man.  He scooped the vanilla with chocolate chips onto Cai's cone, but instead of handing it to him he began to move down the aisle to another barrel to get another scoop of something.  I kindly told Mr. Mustache Man that we only needed that one scoop and Cai bursted into tears. I mean LOUD tears, people.  My face began turning all shades of red by now.

I turn to Alethia and ask if she wanted the vanilla with chocolate chip and OF COURSE she didn't.

I was stuck and not thinking clearly anymore.

After a second the Mustache Man said, "Oh no, we can't have tears, I'll fix it, just watch!"  He carefully scooped a tiny layer of what he thought Cai had asked for on the top, to appease Cai.  And then Cai began to WAIL!  He wanted the OTHER kind!

The OTHER kind?!
Like, those two kinds weren't good enough?

The Mustache Man looked heartbroken.  A crying child in his shop that was meant to bring joy and heart hurt for the man.  He reached the cone out to one of his workers and she gladly began licking the yummy treat, because ice cream is SUPPOSED to make you happy and smiley.

Cai was graciously given another chance to turn his frown upside down as the Mustache Man handed him the "right" ice cream cone.  I can only imagine the color my face had turned by now.  I bent over to speak my disapproval to Cai and heard the Mustache Man tell Alethia that her flavor was an "adult flavor" and guess what kind she ended up choosing...yup, the vanilla with chocolate chips that she had smirked at just minutes before.

I was absolutely FUMING inside, between the waves of embarrassment and "I've got this!" self-preaching I was doing.

I looked around to see who was next and somehow Rainy had squeezed in the mix and came out with a two scooper too!

We had to get out of there and fast!

We got Joy and Jay out easily enough (because how hard is it REALLY to choose a flavor of ice cream?!) and headed outside to eat.

All of a sudden Jude falls out into an all out catastrophe cry, "I FORGOT TO EAT MY ICE CWEAM OUTSIDE WITH EVWYBODY AND I AWEADY ATED IT ALL!!!!!!!"

*Just get me outside. Just get me outside.  I need some air.  I can't breathe.*

Outside, the kids were complaining that they were cold, they were playing with the table umbrellas and walking, yes W-A-L-K-I-N-G on top of the outside tables.

*I'm about to lose it.  I cannot contain my emotions anymore.*

I turn to Jay and Joy and try to cover my face with my hair and whisper that I was just going to go ahead and take my kids on home and they could come whenever they were ready.

But somehow a tear slipped out in mid-sentence and then the floodgates were opened!  I could no longer stop them.  Joy wrapped me in her arms to help shade my shame as I heard a voice happily yell my name behind me.  I sweet family I hadn't seen in forever had recognized our kids (probably because they were WALKING on top of a table!) and wanted to come say hi.

I turned around, speechless and evidence of ugly cry all over my face, ha!
I apologized and told them I was just having a mommy moment.

Joy handed me baby Cohen and instructed me to get in the car with him and take him on home and she and Jay would get our kids.

I cried the entire way home.  And then laughed because of what I was crying over, and then cried some more, just for good measure.

I'm not sure what their Aunt and Uncle told them, but upon arrival the kids all came up to me and thanked me for letting us do something fun like go to get ice cream and told me that they needed to clean up and then get showers and baths before bed.

Oh, this family I've been blessed with has a way of stretching me farther than I think I can go, but God is so good and reaches out a hand right when we need it (thank you Joy!).

And next time we head to Lumpy's (the store that brings joy and laughter to all) I will be giving instructions on appropriate scoop allotment and table manners before heading in!

The End

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Remembering Past Victories To Encourage Present Ones

"What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?  Can that faith save him?  If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?  So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead."
James 2:14-17

I read this passage of scripture this morning in my quiet time.  The question prompted in my Bible study was asking when the last time was that I responded to an obvious need like this.

I quickly began going through my mental rolodex of past experiences where I was privileged to be the hands and feet to those around me.  (BTW, I am not always so quick to lay down my own to-do's to pay attention to the needs around me.) That time we had a homeless mom and daughter live with us on our couch for nearly a month.  Feeding the homeless downtown.  Passing out water with our family to displaced families after a tornado.  Giving our baby gear to a single mom who just had a baby.  

Then I began looking at other victories in my life journey.  You know, those times when God shows off and provides every penny we needed for that bill, or the VISA for our daughter so we could bring her home to America, or the full healing from the almost deadly ectopic pregnancy.

I'm sure you can think of a handful of times when you were obedient to the gentle nudging of the Holy Spirit to act in faith.  And I'm certain you can recall times of God's faithfulness during a difficult season.  Remembering experiences like these are so important to remember.  In fact, God tells us to remember them frequently to encourage one another and to remember His goodness and faithfulness.

But past victories and obedient works aren't enough for the plan He has for us TODAY.  He calls us to be available at all times, not just obedient in stand-alone situations.  We are to die to ourselves DAILY.  Put on the armor of God and fight this battle DAILY. And we fight it by loving our neighbor DAILY.  By being His hands and feet DAILY.  By getting on our hands and knees DAILY and surrendering for what God has for us THIS day.  (Even if it is simply serving your own family with a happy heart instead of resenting the mundane tasks you continually have to do.)

We can't rely on our past victories to be enough for today's mission.

Yes, remember the past victories and Praise God for allowing you to be a small part of His bigger story.  Then loosen the grip you have on today and release it to Him so He can add more pages to your story TODAY.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Still Enough To Write

I have had a hard time focusing enough to write a steady stream of cohesive thoughts lately.

I'm gonna just blame it on the weather, track out, and the lack of routine (not my instability of my hormones or tired brain cells).

I'm currently listening to Alethia and Cai play family in the shade as I sit out on the other side of the yard by the fire pit in the breeze.  I couldn't have asked for more beautiful weather this track out!

I have had my moments, but overall this week has been much better than last.  I mean, I haven't had to write a single apology letter to the kids for my bad attitude, ha!

Can you believe it's almost Easter?  I love that our kids will be tracked out for Holy Week this year so we can really focus on what Easter is all about.  (Remember, "The Fast Track" begins this week.)

Josh took Areyna and Zeke up to VA with him yesterday for the funeral of his HS Youth Pastor.  Since Josh's parents were coming down today anyway (see next paragraph), the kids decided to just spend the night and come with Meme and Poppie today.  Which means that the littlest littles have had a learning curve as they try to figure out how to play with the bossy biggest littles.  It's been interesting to watch.

Josh and I will be celebrating 14 years of marriage on the 23rd of this month, but since it lands on one of the busiest weeks of the year for Josh we are celebrating early.  Josh's parents are going to watch the kids so Josh and I can "get away" for a night.  We've decided to be spontaneous and not plan exactly what we are doing.  Actually, we just haven't had a chance to decide what our plan is gonna be, but whatever it is it'll be amazing, because it will be JUST US!

Happy Thursday!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Because Just Another Day Is A Good Day

The track out between 3rd and 4th quarter is my absolute FAVORITE!

The weather is beautiful.
The kids are antsy to play outside and run around.
My spring motivation is in high gear.
Did I mention the weather?!

We have had a GREAT week so far.

Minus yesterday, where we spent 2 hours in a dentist office with background music playing, the TV on with the volume up loud and drilling sounds coming from down the hallway and the bright overhead lighting..can we say sensory overload?!

But we made it out alive (and Jude is the only one with cavities...4 to be exact...oh boy) and back to the Colony house just in time for some sweet friends to come for dinner.

You may remember me writing about our experience at Family Camp last year and our wonderful family assistants that shadowed and served us all week long.  Well, one of them has been scouting out  schools to attend after she graduates college a great school just happens to be 10 minutes down the road from us (Noel, the Lord told me that you are supposed to go to Southeastern;) so we KNEW we had to get together.  So she and her mom came for dinner.  Josh and I had a great time getting to know Noel's mom and our kids had a great time pulling Noel in 100 different directions and running around outside until they could no longer see.  What a fun night.

Josh just completed his first deadline for his doctorate project/paper yesterday.  That's a huge relief off of my shoulders for him.  (Josh told me I probably stress enough over this project for the both of us, ha!  What can I say, it's a gift, ha!)

I took a power nap, in the sun, in the hammock.  It was lovely.  And I didn't feel guilty about it ONE BIT.

I think I have figured out all of the curriculum for Rainy's 6th grade year at home and I'm getting really excited.

The Colony garden is done and most of the seeds are planted.  I'm still waiting on a few of them to get a little stronger inside before  transplanting them, but other than that everything is in its rightful place.  I realize that I will never fill up the entire garden area because it is HUGE, but maybe each year it will grow a little bit as I learn to do this whole gardening thing.  I'm anxious to see how it goes this time around.

We may not have extravagant plans for this track out, but we are having a great time being together, laying low at home, having sleepovers on the floor, staying up way past our typical school day bed time, filling up individual love tanks and playing lots of Dutch Blitz (what did we ever DO before we got that game?!).  And all these things make for a good day in my book!

Happy Thursday everybody.  It's time to unleash the kids for another full day in the great outdoors.

Friday, March 4, 2016

I Can't Run And Hide

"To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, and be nothing." 
- Aristotle

I don't do very well under criticism.
Quite frankly, it makes me nauseous.

Unfortunately, it is just part of life, unless you just shut yourself off from society or run and hide, resulting in little to no impact for the Kingdom.

Because Kingdom impact necessitates being relational, even when being relational is almost always messy.

Recently the Lord has orchestrated events and activities which have forced me out of my comfort zone and made me HAVE to get relational.  Oh yes, I could run and hide because the more "out there" I get, the more chances for there seem to be for criticism, judgement and misunderstanding.

My writing gets misinterpreted ALL.THE.TIME. and offends someone.
The jewelry I made wasn't what the buyer wanted.
The Norwex order wasn't right.
The oils didn't work "magic" and make life any better.

I have my hand in all these little areas and my day has the potential to be completely ruined by an email from an offended reader or a disgruntled customer.

But I have to remember that God has allowed me to do all these little things and I have a choice to let these things rock my very being or just keep moving forward, knowing that I am doing my best.

I want to be quick to listen and understand, and apologize when I am in the wrong.
I also want to brush off the hurtful things that are said and be able to move on when something simply is not true.

But I can't run and hide, trying my best to eliminate all areas where criticism could occur, because, like Aristotle said, I would have to "say nothing, do nothing, and be nothing."

And that isn't what we, as followers of Christ, are called to do!

Luckily, God has given us tools (and the residing Holy Spirit) to help us get past the fear and timidity of being relational and all that comes with it.

"For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid,
but gives us power, love and self discipline."
2 Timothy 1:7