Thursday, December 16, 2010

Random Thoughts - Holiday Edition

I could have sworn last Thursday was Thanksgiving, then I blinked and now Christmas is eight days away?  Really?

I have come to realize that Christmas is literally a labor of love (which I enjoy, I will not complain at all).  I like everything about this season (except the longer lines and lack of close parking spaces):

If you have facebook and read my last, last post here, then you are aware that I've been getting some good deals.  Like the photo cards for $4.90 shipped to my doorstep.  Never mind it took me a grand total of 2 hours and 15 minutes to create them and #1's head may be partially chopped off and I may have spelled our last name wrong since I basically gave up before I proofed it.  There were so many technical glitches that if I would have had to do one more thing to it, bad things like it disappearing without being saved, would probably happen.  I could not bare it any longer and just clicked on check-out before the men in the little white suits showed up calling my name.

Speaking of my name, someone very sweet left a beautiful note in my youth group stocking.  She looked up my name which means "honey bee" and shared some thoughts on how that translates and it blessed me to tears!  I must steal her idea and make someone else cry now.

Oh, some exciting news!  My van was vibrating and making some awful noises like the engine was dropping out of it or something.  So, I took it into our neighborhood auto shop  today and my mechanic said it was way overdue for an oil change, needed a new air filter and some other thingy.  He said he has no idea how any air got through my filter.  When I went to pick up the van, he had the filter laying on the ground and told me in all his years of auto service he had never seen an air filter that dirty (and, he is in his sixties). My response was to throw my hands in the air victoriously and yell "YES!!  That is quite an accomplishment, isn't it?".  I now have a legacy, people.  I think he may keep that air filter as a the fake mouth filled with gingivitis at the dentist office. And, the icing on the cake was that whatever part he replaced had completely collapsed and the nasty noise was metal rubbing on metal.  Thank you, Lord for my guardian angel.

I have baked more cookies in the last ten days than the entire last eleven months combined.  And, we take them everywhere we go.  I'm pretty sure Target is going to start accepting sugar cookie cutouts next year as a form of payment.  Seriously, there is a plate of cookies on our counter almost every night that everyone has been instructed: "DO NOT EAT".  I know most of you can relate.

Our elementary "holiday" concert was tonight complete with second grade reindeer, Feliz navidad and Hanukkah songs. Besides my beautiful #2 dancing to a song with friends, the highlight was the boy down in the front, yellow shirt dancing with his own choreography.  It's kids like that who win people money on national TV.  Of course, we recorded it. Along with everyone else in the room.

It's too cold to go shop.  It's too cold to go anywhere really.

Last night at our youth group's Open Mic Night, I listened to my sweet #1 play keyboard and sing the Christmas song she wrote.  Despite being sick, I think she sounded fantastic. And, The Husband didn't do so shabby accompanying her on drums.

Our Advent study has stalled due to sickness and schedules, however we have vowed to finish all 20 days of it, even if it takes until until March.  We decided that it does not really matter what time of the year we study about Jesus....I guess I always put the emphasis on around Christmas so I could counteract the materialistic part of it.  I would like to think as my kids are growing up, they are starting to "get it".  And, when they are not reviewing their mile-long wish lists, I think they do get it.

Perhaps next year I will do a Daniel fast between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Ha that I typed that it looks so extreme.  I guess my point is that I am sick of eating.

To all of you out there baking, cleaning, shopping, wrapping and feeling blessed when you pause from the busy-ness for a moment to think of the great gift of Love given to all of us.  Then, put that next tray of cookies in the oven!

Monday, December 13, 2010

My Own Little World is Not About Me

For those of you who know me well, you know that I am a little on the ADD side as far as "keeping busy".  I don't sit much, I am always thinking of what I will do next and I cram a lot of things into a relatively short span of 24 hours. While most of you think I'm a bit crazy,  I enjoy it.  However, the Lord has been working on my "busy" heart this year.  Some days are better than others.  I had another gut check this weekend as I was at the grocery store (the second one of the day, I might add since it was a freezer stock up due to the success of the Great Grocery Challenge).  This was the first time in months I suffered sticker shock over how much money I shelled out for food.  I had been out running errands and wanted to get home to cook dinner so we could head out to church.  As usual, time was not on my side since I threw in a couple of stops not on the original plan.  I had justified that I was alone so I could scope out a few last minute gifts for the girls, but that was not successful.

When it was my turn to check-out I heard singing and looked over to the Salvation Army bucket.  There was a dad and two little girls singing Christmas carols and I thought in passing how cute and I'm pretty sure I would not have the guts to sing in the grocery store no matter how cute my kids were.  Nobody even looked at them.  Of course, these thoughts were in my subconscious, the far back corner of my brain as I hurried from the store thinking HOLY COW, I spent a lot of money in there.  Then, as the door closed behind me it was like waking up from a dream.  Why did I just walk by preoccupied and not put a $1 in the kettle?  I took another step towards the parking lot rationalizing I had to get outta there and get home.  Plus, it isn't as if I don't already give.....c'mon I could go down the laundry list.  God was not impressed with all that, He is much more concerned with the condition of my heart and in that instant I understood it wasn't just about the money.  Looking down at the tremendous blessing of food in my cart I felt ashamed of myself.  I swung my cart around while grabbing my $1 (thank you, Lord I actually had cash on me for once) and went in the "out" door.  I stuck my money in the kettle as the younger girl was reading the Night Before Christmas and her dad was helping her.  However, the older girl (maybe 7 years old?) turned around and with a small smile said thank you and merry Christmas.  I will never forget the way she looked at me....her eyes shining.  This entire exchange took all of ten seconds, however by the time I hit the parking lot I was in tears.  When I got in the van Matthew West was singing My Own Little World, which made me cry harder. It was like that song was written for that moment!  I cried the entire drive home and prayed for God to help me be more aware of who and what was happening around me.   I asked Him to forgive me for ignoring His quiet voice prompting me to move in compassion when I was too distracted or busy to pay attention.  And, I felt so much peace and joy.

Here are the lyrics to My Own Little World....thank you, Jesus for the eye opener:

In my own little world it hardly ever rains
I’ve never gone hungry, always felt safe
I got some money in my pocket, shoes on my feet
In my own little world
Population: me

I try to stay awake during Sunday morning church
I throw a twenty in the plate, but I never give ’til it hurts
I turn off the news when I don’t like what I see
Yeah, it’s easy to do when it’s
Population: me

What if there’s a bigger picture?
What if I’m missing out?
What if there’s a better purpose
I could be living right now
Outside my own little world oooh

Well, I stopped at a red light, looked out my window
I saw a cardboard sign, said “Help this homeless widow”
Above that sign was the face of a human
and I thought to myself, “God, what have I been doing?”
So I rolled down the window and I looked her in the eye
I thought how many times have I just passed her by?
So I gave her some money then I drove on through
And my own little world reached
Population: two

What if there’s a bigger picture?
What if I’m missing out?
What if there’s a better purpose
I should be living right now
Outside my own little world yeah, yeah
My own little world oooh

Father break my heart for what breaks Yours
Give me open hands and open doors
and put Your Light in my eyes and let me see
That my own little world is not about me

Well I know there's a bigger picture
and I don't wanna miss it now
Well I know there's a plan and a purpose
That I could be living right now
Outside my own little world oooh

Thursday, December 9, 2010

It's Happening Again

I am staying up into the wee hours of the morning saving ridiculous amounts of money on things I may or may not need.

Like my sixty photo cards at for $4.90 shipped.  Except for the fact that I worked on them from 10:23 pm until 12:02 am and because of cookies and other techy glitches that are beyond my realm of understanding, I never finished them until I slept about six hours and gave it another try this morning.  But, hello???  I couldn't get sixty cheesy cards at Ollie's for $4.90 and these have photos on them and our name (hopefully...since I was so sick of starting over 1.2 bazillion times for all I know they could end up just a red and green background with Merry Christmas printed on them and for $4.90 who cares if they do?).

Then, we have my CVS deal where I picked up four Zhu Zhu pets for $9.98 with these coupons (I bought one and got three free).  I had to get a rain check for the almonds on sale for $2.50 with my $2.50 off coupon (yup, that equals free).

And, just in case you are wondering if I need to get a life (or some sleep, since 5-6 hours a night is not conducive for my completing my final school project that I work on simultaneously as I surf the web for coupons and freebies) I also have Brita water pitcher coupons that are $5 off each one and Buy One Get One, even though no one I know needs one, it just makes me feel so good to get a $20 pitcher for $7.50 (I think that's about right...that's why I tell my kids it is very important to study their word problems in math...if Mommy has two $5 off coupons and wants to purchase two Space Saver Brita water pitchers for $19.99 and there is a Buy One Get One Free rebate on them, how much will each pitcher end up costing?).  Got me three packs of this $2.70 lip gloss five pack from Target...shipped free right to my home. I also picked up a darling pair of black dress pants at JC Penney for $4.99 (original price $29.99) for #2's winter concert.  Coupons are my friend...I just glaze over when a new one catches my eye.....

In my surfing I have also gotten several delightful gift ideas that cost next to nothing, however I am going to be solicited out the wazoo for giving out my e-mail to register on dozens of websites to get free stuff.  I like free stuff even more than coupons and wazoo will survive.

I am now on a mission to use my $5 off Hungry, Hungry Hippos coupon on the travel size game for $4.99 that has been out of stock at Target (obviously I am not the only savvy coupon aficionado in the area).  Yes, my kids are too old for the game but Target will pay me a penny to buy it from them with this coupon....and it will make me even more money next summer when it sits on my fifty cent table at our yard sale.

Go over to Money Saving Moms and become just as semi-obsessed as I'll save some money if you don't mind it costing you time (or sleep).

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Advent - We All Have a Part

Somehow by the miraculous grace of God I have manged to start our much anticipated Advent activities (or, as #3 says, Mom, what are we doing tonight for "Abdomen"? I have no idea why...she never had a problem remembering it is called Advent before).  But, oddly enough since our theme is Parts of the Body (of Christ) I guess we can call it Abdomen to be "punny".

I am in the midst of working on my final project for the Class O'Dread I am taking, so there wasn't much time to prepare what we would do.  I always like to make up my own Advent theme/activities and the girls have grown to look forward to it expectantly.  So, I prayed and felt like the Lord was going to give me ideas like manna.  One day at a time.  I didn't really like the one day at a time idea, because I am a planner.  I felt as if He told me I was more than welcome to prepare Advent activities and scriptures in advance without Him, but if I wanted it to be His heart and life-changing then I was to follow His day at a time.  Funny how I thought I was doing something for the kids and here is our gracious God working on my heart that likes to carry out its own agenda at times when God's plans don't make much sense in that moment.

So, each night after dinner, I pray and God gives me a scripture and literally within five minutes I have a teaching and activities. And, while the little object lessons are fun, we have ended up discussing some deep issues each night about feeling defeated, insecure and gossiping when we were not even aware we do it.  We end each lesson with the good news that God can heal us, help us to live more like Him and to be a true blessing to everyone around us!  Our main Advent verse is 1 Corinthians 12:12:

Your body has many parts—limbs, organs, cells—but no matter how many parts you can name, you're still one body. It's exactly the same with Christ.

Any other families out there doing an Advent study?  It's not too late to start!  Here is a link to some ideas and if you type "Advent" in my search box, you will get various posts over the last three years about things we have done.  The Internet is also a great source to get additional ideas, but let God lead you....even if it is one day at a time!

Monday, December 6, 2010

"Passionate Patience"

I love my life despite:

  • my mini-van with 144,000 miles on it is going into the shop tomorrow for who knows what's wrong with it
  • the medical bills from #2's procedure that are still outstanding
  • being disappointed and defeated in certain circumstances
  • enduring a college class that I have really been struggling in
  • needing to lose about 30 pounds and not finding the time or motivation to do anything about it
When our circumstances seem as if we get over one mountain, only to find another one, I am comforted by this:

Romans 5:3-5 (The Message version)

There's more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we're hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we're never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can't round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!

In the midst of the struggles and difficulties I find myself in, something is changing inside of me.  I am more grateful for our health and our home and the food we have on our table.  I have a hope that when God allows the storms to pass through it is only so that we can grow in character and wisdom.  I need to take all of my problems out of the spotlight and instead, choose to shine that light on my loving God. 
  • Thank you, God for a vehicle that is paid for and has lasted us so long.
  • Thank you, Lord that those medical tests that #2 had done showed us that she has nothing that is life-threatening or severe.
  • Thank you, God that your plan is bigger than just the parts I can see.
  • Thank you, Lord that this Law & Ethics class is over in a week!
  • Thank you, God for sweatpants and stretchy jeans....alright, I probably need to work on this one!


Monday, November 15, 2010

College Mommy?

We interrupt the Great Grocery Challenge because I have no time for anything other than to have survived a sold-out weekend of musicals that #1 and #2 were in and my current Communications Law and Ethics class (which has been causing me much lamenting and gnashing of the teeth).  And, let's just throw in a little bit of normal life stress and blah.  No energy to be creative with microwave popcorn, a can of pumpkin and some freezer burned beef cubes.

Therefore, last week was a little bit of a stock up week....oh yes, Pop Tarts, animal crackers and even two boxes of Cheerios.  No meat entered the house and I have personally made it my mission to eat the rest of the peanut butter cereal bars (I got us into this mess, so I guess I'll eat us out of it).

But, enough about food.  I'm toying with the idea of a new blog called College Mommy or maybe even My Mom Goes to College (a funny little saying that #3 loved to say before I actually went to college). In this new blog I will chronicle whatever I happen to be learning that week.  So, for example this week I could entertain you with all sorts of court cases and appeals and defenses for defamation, libel, malice, appropriation and intrusion.  Are you still awake??  It's okay because I'm not.

I've had better weeks.  Aside from the online CL&E class that makes me want to stick a red hot poker in my eyeballs, dear friends of mine have suffered a recent loss that is heartbreaking.  In the midst of this, we are still paying off crazy medical bills and those wonderful end of the year taxes are lurking right around the corner when we are trying to save a tiny bit for Christmas shopping.  The Great Grocery Challenge savings helped pay for one of the brakes we had to replace on the much for my wish to use the extra cash as a Christmas Savings Club.

But, here is the super cool thing. I'm not freaking out!  In fact, I have such a wonderful peace in knowing that if God is for me, who can be against me??  The storms will come, but He never leaves us.  My praise is sincere and my heart even more grateful than when life is going a little "smoother".  I found myself praying a different prayer today rather than God, please help us pay off our debt it was Lord, please I want to be able to sponsor another Compassion International child.  So, until we can do that, I am praying for His provision to do this and even more!.  And, I am sharing a link here with you in the event you want to prayerfully consider sponsoring one of these precious kiddos.  Please comment and let me know if you did so I can give you a shout out!

I have made a deliberate decision that I will look for Him, not just on the mountain tops, but in the valleys and even the seemingly boring plains that we travel throughout life.  I will rejoice and be glad even when trying to write an analysis at 11pm on the New York Times v. Sullivan libel case!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Week 2 and 3 - Great Grocery Challenge

The Poor Husband.

He wants Pop Tarts. 

I had to tell him that I could not accomodate that request unless:

1. We ate the 20-25 peanut butter cereal bars that are still in the pantry.
2. They were on sale with a coupon for $1 or less per box.
3. Someone left some on our doorstep (brown sugar cinnamon, please).

I did, however, make chocolate chip banana bread with the overly ripe bananas I sometimes throw away because I have no time to do anything with them.  A sure sign of our Great Grocery Challenge...within 24 hours the banana bread is gone!  It usually stays on the counter 4-5 days until I throw away the last few stale pieces because other, more interesting and new snack/breakfast food has entered the house.

I would call that progress, wouldn't you?

I did break down and buy 2 whole chickens for $0.89 a pound so I could make chicken stock (rather than buy cans of it).  Plus, that's a lot of chicken to last us for awhile (one went to live happily in the freezer where there is now actually some room to put things in).

I had a very crazy busy week last week and broke down to purchase the following items that were unauthorized:

  • $8.99 Chinese Kitchen triple entree with lo mien from Giant (but, all five of us ate it for dinner on trick-or-treat night and I made our own rice to go with it!).
  • 1 box of South Beach cereal bars (for #1 and #3 because it is an easy breakfast and I had a weak moment).
  • 1 box each week of cheese crackers (because they can't eat chips/pretzels with their lunches everyday, right?!).
  • 2 gallons of my favorite Turkey Hill Diet Green Tea because it was on sale for $2 a gallon (that only happens a few times each season and I usually buy 6 when they are on sale like that).
  • 4 packages of Christmas dessert plates and 2 packages of birthday dessert plates because I thought they were cute and were only $1. I was immediately convicted so they are in my car with the receipt ready to be returned.  I need more "special occasion" paper products like I need another bag of microwave popcorn.  Again, it is a sickness and I must ask for strength one day at a time to resist the temptation of those adorable gingerbread plates with snowmen on them that would be perfect for our annual cookie decorating party....and they were only $1!!!  Helpppp.  meeeeee.........
Well, as a result, my grocery bill was only slightly over half of what it usually is (remember I am still buying dairy, eggs, and produce on a weekly basis).  I am going through my coupons every week and trying to plan better instead of just running out for one thing and coming home with four bags. 

There is still a good bit of chicken breast and some miscellaneous meat items left, though I am starting to miss the ground turkey.  Maybe someone will leave that on our doorstep with the Pop Tarts.....

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Great Grocery Challenge Update

Just thought you may all be wondering how we fared after our first official weekend on our family grocery challenge.  In the event you have no idea what I'm talking can read about it here.

Let's do a little comparing and contrasting.

The Old Melissa: Ran out of paper plates and bought more.
The New Melissa: Ran out of paper plates and used real plates except for breaking open a package of $0.38 soccer ball paper plates that I have about 10 packages of.

The Old Melissa:  Went to Hersheypark In the Dark and bought the kids overpriced hot cocoa.
The New Melissa: Went to Giant after Hersheypark in the Dark and bought a box of cocoa and a cheesecake (not sure if that is an improvement or not??).

The Old Melissa: Between running all the children from soccer to play practice we would hit the fast food drive-thru for lunch.
The New Melissa: Packed lunch and only bought a couple of fountain sodas at the drive-thru.

The Old Melissa: offered to bring a few friends home after soccer so a stop for pizza would make the most sense to serve to a group of hungry kiddos, especially after the crazy weekend I had.
The New Melissa: Grabbed some burgers and tator tots out of the freezer and cooked at home while the kids jumped on the trampoline.

The Old Melissa:  Would stop for milk and buns for above mentioned hamburgers and end up spending $43 on groceries we don't need.
The New Melissa: Sent The Husband to the store to purchase only buns and milk.

The Old Melissa: Find some reason to justify lunch out after church on Sunday because everyone is usually starving.
The New Melissa: Cooked some lean ground turkey to use as taco meat the night before so all I needed to do was heat it up and viola!  Lunch was served!

I think we are doing well and I am shocked at how much food we have left!  This time next week may be a little tougher since the choices are starting to dwindle and I am not certain I have ever lived for more than a few days without paper plates and bowls!

To be continued.....

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Great Grocery Challenge

The new challenge at our house is to cut down on our food bills.  I have become sort of a "food collector",  For some women, they buy a ton of shoes on sale.  Others, may purchase hundreds of flowers for their gardens.  I, however, collect chicken breast and microwave popcorn.  It's a sickness, so please don't judge me.

Last week, when looking through my stocked freezers (yes, I have 3) and cabinets with six open bags of cereal (not an exaggeration) I had a thought. 

I wonder how long we could live off the food already in the house?

So, my plan was set in motion.  I decided I would only purchase milk, half & half for coffee, eggs, bread and fruits/veggies until we used all the food already in the house.  I would purchase coffee and deli meats on an as needed basis (not stockpile it) since those were two necessities needed to avoid purchasing it outside of the home.  The girls have already been packing lunch for school about four times a week and not only were we saving a ton of money doing that, all of them have lost weight! I plan to use all these savings to pay cash for Christmas gifts this year for the kiddos. Or, new jeans for them since they are falling down.  Or, maybe just belts since the jeans are nice and new.....actually, I'm sure it will take a full year or two of packing lunches to pay for all their sports and activities!

I digress.

Update for week one....I already cheated a bit.

I had a coupon for candy and CVS had an in-store coupon and it was on sale, so I got a bunch to keep on hand.  #3 will need some to throw in the parade with the Girl Scouts and then her birthday is coming up (treat bags!).  C'mon, I got five bags of Hershey's and Mars candy for only $6.50!!  Then, I saw that Karn's had Turkey Hill ice cream on sale for $1.99 and I had $1 off coupons so how could I not go buy five half gallons when they were only $0.99 each?? I'm only human, people!!

So, I adjusted my little plan.  If it was about a $1 with a coupon, on sale and something we would really use, then I'm allowed to purchase it.

When revealing the plan to the kids, #1 asked if we were poor.

Little does she know, her mom is just playing a little mental game with herself.  And, hopefully, if I don't keep changing the rules, she may get a few Christmas gifts out of the deal.

All in all, this week (because I had already thrown in a trip to Costco) my food bill came to about 2/3 of what it usually is.  My goal is to cut it in half from now until the cabinets and freezers are empty.  Realistically, I think we can make it about a month.

On a positive note, while purchasing the Turkey Hill ice cream, out of habit I was going to grab something unhealthy from the bakery for breakfast and I stopped myself.  Nope, I can eat oatmeal in the morning.  Since there is probably enough in my pantry to feed a small island in the Bahamas.

To be continued....

Thursday, October 21, 2010

"I Will Not Dissapear Without a Trace"

Here I go

And there's no turning back

My great adventure has begun

I may be small

But I've got giant plans

To shine as brightly as the sun

Nothing like a little show tune to inspire me. In the event you don't recognize it, the title and paragraph above are some of the lyrics to "Astonishing" from Little Women....the song that Jo sings after Laurie proposes and probably my favorite part of the musical. In the course of this four and a half minute song, Jo has an epiphany. It provokes me every time and you really need to hear the song, rather than just read the lyrics. You can hear the emotions build and as Jo reflects about herself, the result is a newfound determination. She is never the same after that. While her realization comes in discovering who she is, I'm anticipating some additional time discovering who He is.

Tomorrow, I have a date with God. One hour set aside, free from distraction to connect with His heart. A heart that is so filled with love for me that all the cares of the world grow dim in comparison. Some people may think spending an hour praying, worshiping and receiving God's promises for my life would be better spent doing something more practical. I could be working, volunteering or catching up on my giant laundry piles. However, my heart is eager and expectant to soak in His presence and as a result, all the other "practical" areas of life will find a proper place. After I receive all that He has for me, then I anxiously look forward to helping others seek out what our loving Father has in store for them. Destiny and dreams will be released and envisioned. We have been created for so much more than surviving and mediocrity!

You see, we need to believe we have been designed and destined to be astonishing! The great adventure has already begun.

Here is a link to the song....bare with the beginning, it gets better!

Sunday, October 10, 2010



1. Change or restore to a different or former position or state.

2. Change one's position or attitude 
Every once in awhile I look back on the previous weeks/months and see that my thought process is out of alignment.  I have had nothing to write about, no inspiration.  I wondered for awhile if I was done writing for good.  And, while I was at it, maybe just done dreaming in general.  I still remain focused and determined to complete my BA, but when asked what I'm going to do when I finish, I'm left with no answer to that question.  In fact, it only leaves me with more questions.  Can I possibly pursue a full-time career and still be the support that my family needs and deserves?  If I don't go to work full-time after I graduate how in the world will I be able to pay back my student loans?  Why do I have such a peace about going to school, yet I feel so restless about what I'm going to do after I graduate?  And, while I am in this odd stage of having kids that are helpful and becoming self-sufficient, they still need to be driven everywhere so much of the time that it reminds me of being just as worn out as when they crawled around the house in diapers. Only a box of Pampers costs much less than soccer cleats, softball registrations and homecoming dresses! It is a daily battle I find myself in, knowing that raising my kids is much more important than any career I could have, but knowing one day when they are grown (and, even now) I have my own desires and dreams to live out. 

So, when I take my eyes off of the big picture it brings me to this lonely place.  I needed a reminder that it isn't so much "what" I do, but "how" I do it.  But, even more important is that while I am in this place of uncertainty, weariness and frustration about things not going my way, my heavenly Father could not love me any more or any less.  It's time to stop hanging my head and doubting His promises. I have heard His gentle whisper to me over the last few weeks in my times of weariness.....patience.  That's it.  One word.  A word I believe can change the atmosphere around me.  Rather than allow my circumstances and obstacles to define me, I'll exercise patience with an understanding that it isn't about "arriving" at any particular destination.  I have a choice to take this journey with God going before me...I can be led gently, I can go kicking and screaming or I can ignore/forget His promises.

Therefore, I'm going to chill out a bit....plan better....yell less....write more just because I want to whether anyone else reads it or not.....take care of myself....and most of all, take the time each day to get to know God's heart a little bit more.  So when the storms come (and, they will come) attempting to knock me out of alignment with His word and my destiny, I will have an even deeper revelation of His never-ending love for me!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Parable of the Runaway Wiener Dog

If you didn't read part one of this story, you can click here

So, basically to make a long story short, my friend who came to help us look for Floppy is a marathon runner. After spotting Floppy in several different places, my friend saw her and began chasing after her.  After a few minutes of running, Floppy eventually laid down exhausted and my friend was able to scoop her up and carry her back to us.  She was covered in burrs and in need of a bath, but otherwise, she was fine.

It wasn't until the next day that I was really able to process it all.  Then, I felt like the Lord shared with me that many of us can act like Floppy did.  We get scared, so rather than run to, we run away from God.  Things in life change and in a panic we try to find our own way out and we leave the boundaries that God sets up for our own good.  But the wonderful thing about that situation is that He will relentlessly pursue us and search for us when we hide from Him.  And, when we finally grow weary and give up the fight, His loving arms pick us up and carry us back to safety.  Sometimes, we have to deal with the consequences of our bad choices, but He will lovingly clean us up and carefully pick off the "burrs" that try to stick to us. 

So, Floppy is settling in and has not tried to run away again.  I'm sure she misses her old family, but what I hope Floppy eventually realizes is that when God writes a new chapter it is always for the best.  And, maybe there is a lesson in that for us, too!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

We Could All Use Another Good Dog Story, Right?

Well.  Well. Well.

Be careful what you say since it has a way of coming back to you in an unexpected way!

Yesterday, as we prepared to pick up our new addition, Floppy, I mentioned to The Husband that we have always had a good dog story to tell.  I wondered out loud what "our story" about Floppy would be.  Oh my...

This weekend, we traded our two guinea pigs for five-year old Floppy, a long-haired dauschund from a sweet family that wasn't home enough to give Floppy a lot of attention, but were willing to help us by taking the piggies (since our girls were allergic to them).  The trade went smoothly, but it became obvious on the ten-minute ride back to our house that Floppy was clearly upset.  She was shaking and no longer wagging her tail.  The girls tried to comfort her and we all spoke sweetly to her.  By the time we got her out of the van and brought her inside, she was shaking so badly I was not sure what to do.  I held her for a bit and I thought maybe if we took her back outside in the grass she would calm down.  Since our Dobie was in the backyard, I decided to save her the final blow that would cause her heart attack by avoiding the 100-pound scary dog and took her in the front/side yard.  Yup.  The one. with. no. fence. around. it.

The Husband was just a few minutes away from leaving for his limo job...he had on his dress pants, white shirt and dress shoes, so he sort of lingered in the doorway as we went out.  As soon as I found a quiet spot far from the road, I gently set down Floppy, who exploded like a rocket and started running into the neighbors yard.  Through big poky trees.  I started jogging after her thinking to myself, how fast can she run on those stubby little legs?  Apparently, she can run faster than an out-of-shape forty year old mother of three who did not gracefully navigate the trees.  All of a sudden I find myself sprinting down the road yelling HELP!....then, I hear The Husband from behind asking me who I'm calling to help me (Uh....duh...Jesus or the police or the Dog Whisperer, ok Sweetie?  It's called panic, I'm quite good at yelling random ridiculous things like that.....).  The next thing I see is The Husband running down the road (the two of them were no longer in the grassy safety of yards) in his dress clothes.  To which I think for a split second, he looked like he was in a James Bond movie.  In the other half of that microsecond, I realize that we left #2 and #3 at the house hysterical, so I sprint (not really "sprint" anymore, since I was already battling a chest cold for a week.  I more or less jog/wheezed my way back home) and jumped in the van with the kids and half of my wits about me to drive after James Bond and the Wiener Dog (that title is being copyrighted for a future Brandon Hess movie, Brandon just doesn't know it yet).

I found The Husband a few blocks away in a field.  Not good.  I live in the country where there are many fields with knee high grass.  I realize that the only person Floppy will come to is the lady we got her from (whose house I had just left about fifteen minutes ago).  I went to grab my cell phone to call her and then realized it must have fallen out of my sweatshirt while I was running after Floppy.  I had to leave the search effort to go retrieve my phone...thinking to myself....WHO DOES THIS???  Who loses a dog less than three minutes of it bringing it home??  And, then loses her cell phone trying to catch the dog with little legs??? I do! I do!

Thankfully, we found the phone, I call the lady and she rushes over to the field with me  The Husband had to leave for work and on his way, was supposed to drop off #2 and a friend at play practice.  It's all a blur, but I parked in a place where I could have a good view of the fields because when you are actually in the fields, you can't see your own feet, much less a ten-pound dog that stands an inch or two off the ground.  All of a sudden, Floppy heard her previous owner call her and began running towards her in the field.  Then, The Husband shows up with my friend following him (who came to offer her help when she dropped her daughter off for play practice and learned of the incident).  All of a sudden, I'm looking out into the field and Floppy was gone again.  She changed her mind and ran away from her previous owner, who was trying frantically to call to her.

Here is where I have to tell you that #3 sat in the back of the van in tears praying through the entire ordeal.  I was praying, the Husband was praying and the girls were texting their friends and they were all praying.  Tune in tomorrow for the happy ending and The Parable of the Wiener Dog.....

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Got Art?

So, since I got like ZERO comments on my last post, I will keep things lighter and I won't be bitter (haha!). I will say that as I drove to pick up #1 from play practice tonight, the moon looked amazing behind the clouds, the temperature was perfect and it smelled like fall.  I blasted some Benjamin Dunn while I drove and realized I probably have not written much lately because I have so little time and focus to pay attention to the beautiful creation around me.  #1 isn't like that  So, I'm going to post a few pictures that she has taken lately and maybe it will inspire me to write something thought-provoking, life-changing or ridiculous.  #1 is quick to run for her camera when she sees something beautiful that many of us pass by.  I want my writing to be art like paint a picture with words.  She just happens to have a gift to paint pictures with music, drawing, photography and actual paint.

Sorry Forrest, But Life is More Like a Trip to Kohl's

This may require some thought since I'm using a metaphor below (grab more coffee, you will be okay)...a few weeks ago The Husband was wondering if he would ever get out of driving his truck, he was frustrated and feeling sort of stuck.  Then, suddenly with one phone call from his boss, it all changed.  Two days later, he found himself in a newly created position in the office, coordinating a pilot program.  The morning before his boss called him, I told him to hang in there because I thought maybe Joseph might have felt discouragement at times, looking at his circumstances compared to his dreams.  I am so happy for TH, so glad that he has this better position and has been given influence.  But, I struggle from time to time feeling restless.  I completed my first class of the semester and am now searching for the answer to the million dollar question....what do I want to do when I finish my degree in three years?  I feel like because of my age I have limited those possibilities (apparently, I don't take my own advice very old was Joseph??). Hence, this metaphor:

Do you ever feel as if the things you choose in life are not your first choice?  Maybe you settle for what is safe, status quo or even second rate?  Life can feel like walking into a huge department store filled with beautiful things.  You want to choose the gorgeous dress on display, but it costs too much and you suddenly start to question "why can't I have this?".  Then, perhaps you meander through the sales racks trying to find something attractive, but more in your "range".  You can become frustrated by finding something that you can afford, but it does not fit right (although, it looks fabulous on the lady next to you).  Or, maybe we find ourselves at the clearance racks each time....picking over the cheap leftovers with an ungrateful and resentful heart, convinced we will always be stuck with the stuff nobody else wants.

Lord, expand my heart today to be content with in each season of life.  In times of discouragement, please help me to hold on to the dreams you've placed in me that seem so far away.  I don't ever want to adopt a philosophy of "settling" for anything less than what I have been called to do, yet please give me the discernment to know that I am following where You are leading. Oh, and please help me to have joy and a cheerful heart in the process! No pity parties allowed!

Monday, September 6, 2010

My Memoir - Part 2

Here is the last half of my memoir that I had to write for class....

I, too, was very familiar with “Up North”. I lived in Berks County until I was nineteen years old. That year some friends and I decided it would be an adventure to move down to Florida. And, I am very glad I did since I ended up meeting the love of my life there and was exposed to a large variety of ethnic foods that I never knew existed outside of my sheltered life in Berks County. But, now, with a family of my own, my roots were drawing me closer to home. We decided to try to settle down about an hour away from “home” and live with my aunt & uncle initially, both very wonderful people, not much older than us. Other than living there temporarily, we had no other arrangements and didn’t know a single soul besides the two of them. Once the decision was made we quickly rented out our Florida townhouse. I, thankfully, babysat for my last time and The Husband and I began to say our good-byes.

Our last few evenings in South Florida passed quickly with my in-laws. My step mother-in-law prepared many of her signature dishes for us, my favorite being her ham balls. We were limited to this little piece of time trying to savor every memory, knowing it could be a year or two until we returned. I remember feeling the difference of leaving Florida with a family in comparison to arriving there seven years earlier without one. After what seemed like a whirlwind of a week, my family and I drove off and began the journey to our new home over 1,200 miles away.

It was a very eventful road trip. Our van was so packed full I felt as though we would tip over every time we hit a bump in the road. Then, we hit a terrible rainstorm in Georgia. Cars were crashing into each other in front of us and all around us and somehow (angels, maybe?) our van (which was also towing our truck) made it through without a scratch. Of course, it scared us so terribly that nobody spoke for the next half hour until our heart rates reached a normal rhythm after the adrenaline wore off. We decided to stop for the night at a halfway point, which anyone who travels that stretch of I-95 knows that means the infamous South of the Border. I assure you that when you pull in with a baby, a dog and a moving van packed to the gills with all of your possessions, you may have a difficult time relaxing much that night. And, when you have to walk through puddles of unknown liquids and shady characters hanging out in the shadows, then sleep is impossible.The Husband and I took turns dozing so one of us could watch the van and check for unwelcome critters, both big and small, trying to enter our room. At daybreak, we anxiously left there and vowed never to return

We continued our voyage north. #1 and Dixie were patient little travelers. The trip consisted of long stretches of driving, fast food meals and rest stops for diaper changes and Dixie walks. We were so exhausted and relieved by the time we got off the exit and followed the directions to my aunt’s house. I recall that when we went over a rather large bump in the road, The Husband said the van almost tipped over from being so top-heavy with the items in the overhead storage, which U-Haul calls Grandma’s Attic (but, looked nothing like my grandma’s attic). Imagine driving 1,200 miles, only to tip over two miles from our destination!

We relished the novelty of being Up North, The Husband found a job the day after we arrived and we started attending a wonderful church. It was delightful to re-connect with the family and friends I had missed during the time I lived in Florida. My grandmother, Grem, welcomed us home with all of my childhood favorites like baked macaroni and cheese and homemade apple dumplings. Family celebrations were just as I remembered them to be: loud and filled with more food then we could eat in a week. Just a few weeks after we arrived, we were able to assist with a surprise seventy-fifth birthday party for my Grem and her twin brother. That was the day that The Husband tried his first sticky bun. He laughed when we asked him if he wanted one and he thought we were joking with him since he had never heard it called that before (he was more familiar with cinnamon buns)! He thought we called it a “stinky bun”. Once we assured him that it was an actual menu item, he ordered one and I asked the server to have it grilled with butter. He liked the gooey treat so much that he ordered another one, and to this day, fourteen years later, grilled sticky buns are one of his favorites!

A few months later The Husband and I purchased a modest three-bedroom ranch home five miles away from my aunt and uncle, I started working part-time, I gave birth to another healthy baby girl, and when she was just shy of her first birthday, we bought our first Subway restaurant. We always seemed to be adjusting to something new. In the next couple of years, I miscarried, but I was blessed to discover a few months afterwards, I had become pregnant with our third daughter and when she was three months old, we bought another Subway. That was probably the most stressful point in our adult lives. We suffered multiple restaurant robberies, my grandfather’s sudden death, all while trying to adjust to owning businesses as we were raising a young family.

This past decade has continued to be a roller coaster of change; we eventually sold both restaurants and invested in a coffee shop that drained us financially. We moved twice. I home schooled my kids, and then decided it would be best for our family (and my mental health) if we sent them to school. After my grandfather passed away, Grem moved in with us until recently she returned to Berks County to live with my mom. Even as I write this, our beloved cat, Zoe, collapsed today with unknown heart problems and because of numerous, inoperable blood clots, we had to put her down. I have learned to expect the unexpected.

There are days I feel as if I have lived so much “life” in just forty years! The Husband and I are still trying to figure out what we want to be when we “grow up”. Through it all, my faith in God has been the foundation that keeps me following my dreams and persevering in the difficult seasons. I have learned that change is nothing to fear. It is simply a bridge to the next part of my journey.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Her Name Meant Life

It was a sad day.  Very suddenly, our eleven-year old cat, Zoe, drug herself by the front paws across our living room floor, flopped down and was panting.  Thank goodness I took off work today.  The girls and I rushed her to the vet to find out that an x-ray confirmed she had heart disease and a blood clot had broken off into her blood stream and had cut off the blood flow to her legs.  She was on oxygen and the vet explained that since she was in a lot of pain, the most loving thing we could do was put her to sleep. I have never in my entire life had to endure this. We said a quick good-bye because I just could not prolong her suffering (and ours) any longer.  I signed the paperwork, they put her to sleep and I carried her out in a cardboard kitty coffin that made me feel as if I was just putting a cake in the trunk of my car.  Not my sweet Zoe.  Because the little dear was just on my lap the night before as I did my homework at the computer.  How in the world did this happen, our morning had been so normal?? 

Grief is a peculiar thing.  Each of the girls processed it differently and out of respect for their feelings, I'm not going to get into details about that.  Of course, she is a cat, not a human being, however, she was a part of the family and we choose her when she was an 8-week old kitten almost eleven years ago.

The Husband came home from work and buried her on our property with a cross marking her grave.  The girls all have friends over now, as originally planned, but tonight is still marked with sadness.  It's been rough, but life goes on.  Thankfully, during the chaos today, I still felt God;s perfect peace guiding me and comforting me.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Who Showed Up Forty-Five Minutes Late to Her First Class?

I did! I did!

Yes, the drive that should have been fifteen minutes took me an hour and fifteen! Every move I made to an alternate route resulted in traffic from an accident or construction. I was close to turning around to go eat ice cream and play Uno at home and forget this whole crazy college thing. Thankfully for me, The Husband was on the phone being thankful that I wasn't the one in any accidents. After I realized I would be more then fifteen minutes late, the stress left me. Whether you walk in twenty or forty minutes late, the rest of the class is going to look at you like "What's your problem getting here on time, Loser? There are only three classes to attend and the rest are online". Well, that's sort of what I imagined they would say.

Upon arriving, I tried to park in the lot that was full. I didn't want to park in the parking garage and come out at night. So, I parked down the street in a residential area. I heard some kid yell, "Hey, who is that parked in front of our house?". I scanned the area to make sure I was not in some kind of NO MINI-VAN PARKING THURSDAY EVENINGS FROM 6-10PM spot. I appeared to be okay parking there, although in the back of my mind, I thought it would have gone well with the theme of my night if I came out to a towed vehicle.  Just something more fun to blog about, right??!!

I jogged (not a pretty sight in flip flops with my purse and school bag) over to what I thought was the right building.  When I had met with my admissions coordinator, she explained that most of my classes would be in the same building we had our meeting. I headed in that direction and when I walked in, I noticed that the name of the building didn't match the name on my schedule. It had one of those "You are here" maps and I had to turn my body sideways to face the direction to know which way to walk. Me going to the wrong building and parking in the wrong place when I am already late is completely in character for me. Had I made it to the correct location on time I would have wondered if I had some kind of alien body invasion.

I arrived at the CORRECT building (thankfully) and bolted up the stairs. At the top, I realized I had gone up one floor too many so I went back down, huffing and puffing. I walked in the class with my head down mumbling about traffic and then realized something. I felt like I was going to pass out from my dash up the stairs after a 75-minute commute all jacked up on 44-ounces of caffeine filled Diet Coke and a frozen coffee drink. I firmly decided I was already too embarrassed to allow myself to pass out, so I began shallow breathing, as subtle as I could until the black spots went away.

The class was a typical intro to "all the insane amount of work you'll have to do in a ridiculously small amount of time" kind of class. On the break, those 44-ounces of Diet Coke were begging to be released, but the ladies room was down on the first floor. I tried a different stairwell this time. The one for the Oompa Loompas. I'm not kidding, it was the width of my hips. If I eat too much over Thanksgiving break, they will have to call 911 to get me out of there. When I came back up the Oompa Loompa stairs, I made sure I stopped at the second floor.

Oh, and by the left brain and right brain scored exactly the same amount on the dominant brain test, so I found out tonight I am middle brained. That may explain a lot.....

Monday, August 16, 2010

Life. A Semi-Rhyming Poem.

There is so much to ponder about life.
Am I a cool mom and a fabulous wife?
What about me? I'm so busy most days...
I forget if I shaved my legs this morning.

I'm starting class this week....
Brushing up on my writing technique.
What am I thinking, I may be insane.
I'm missing the days playing Candy Lane (ok, not really).

No time to blog.
Or, play. Or, sleep.
But, hopefully, there is still time
to eat brownies. 

This is so not a poem,
I'm just kinda tired.
My fingers missed typing,
Three coffees have me wired.

Needed a break from my studies.
I missed my blogosphere buddies.
I'm going to eat ice cream now.
Yes, this is stupid.

Friday, August 6, 2010

It's Finally Hitting Me

Call it exhaustion.  Or, emotional overload.  Maybe it's relief.  Or, feeling like I played a part in something bigger than any of us thought it would be.  I'm not sure.  I just know that the tears are starting to fall and I'm trying to keep quiet since there are four extra girls spending the night to celebrate #2's eleventh birthday.  Maybe, all the extra estrogen is contributing to my tears, too?

Today, Brandon's video was chosen as the winner of the Great American Video Contest and he is on his way to Cincinnati as I type. He will be attending Sean Hannity's Freedom Concert.  His video will be shown at each concert across America.  That means hundreds of thousands of people will see me bawling while I make out with my husband on a giant screen.  I'm having a hard time wrapping my brain around our "fifteen-minutes of fame".

I am so happy and excited for Brandon and praying that this just leads to more opportunities for him to showcase his amazing God-given abilities.  As for me and The Husband....well, we aren't going to be quitting our day jobs anytime soon!  I realized along the way it stopped being about Brandon winning a Jeep and us being seen by thousands and became more about the people whose lives were being touched and honored by this one-minute film.  I love when God brings a bunch of people together who are focused on His kingdom and teachable.  That's when the real "magic" happens.

Thanks for voting and all your encouragement! To God be the glory!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Back to School Panic Attack

Wow.  I just received my "learning module" for my my first class at Elizabethtown College that starts in two weeks and I got a little nervous.  Actually, all the spit dried up in my mouth and I felt Amazon killer butterflies attacking my stomach.  Each of my five-week classes are "accelerated", but in a scary, will-I-ever-get-to-sleep-more-than-three-hours-a-night kind of way.  I also have not heard back about my Financial Aid.  Talk about a leap of faith...I know me and I can't believe "me" is doing this! I know I enjoy that fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of feeling, but this is a little crazy even for me! I'm noticing I seem to be on the hyphen kick tonight, too.  But, that is completely random and unrelated to the chaos of trying to buy books online and by some miracle, actually read most of them before the first class.  So, we can discuss them.  Like....I actually have to talk in front of strangers.  And, a professor.  Lord, help me.

Eventually, after I finished reading the 16-page document we can call my syllabus, I began to feel at peace again.  A little encouragement from my family helped, too (but, I'm wondering how encouraging they will remain when I get home from work, throw together some grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner and leave them a list of chores to do as I either dash off to class or lock myself in a room to write a fifteen-page research paper). I hope and pray they still adore me when this semester is over.....and, really, it's not like it will be like that EVERY night.  I hope. I refuse to relinquish my title of Super Mom.  The joy of the Lord will be my strength.  I hope.

I've said it before many times...sleep is over-rated. 

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Who, What, When, How and Why

What:  Honor: Pass It On, one of the top four finalists in's Great American Video Contest.  Please vote once a day here.  Over 400 videos were submitted and we are so excited that it made the final four!

Who:  Produced, directed and filmed by the talented Brandon H.. Hundreds of people who pray for him and believe in him also played a small role!

Why:  To honor the great men and women who have served in the military and to win a Jeep Grand Cherokee for Brandon!

When: Vote once a day now through August 5th from every computer you have, your family has, go use your neighbor's computer, your smart phone, the computers at the library and ask everyone with their laptops at Starbucks to vote, too!

How: This is the cool part...filming with Brandon is like being a part of some bigger picture.  God kicks up the wind to make flags blow and He showers us with peace and grace throughout the process. I'm not sure I ever prayed so hard during a film shoot as I did for Honor: Pass It On (although, I have always prayed like crazy when doing theater...things like, please don't let me fall off the rolling track stage or Lord, don't let me split my dress, etc....).  I believed even as we filmed this video that it would win.  I am definitely patriotic and the idea of this one-minute film touched me and broke my heart all at the same time.  Why not shake a hand and/or triumphantly welcome our military servicemen and women home?  I am inspired and I hope you are, too! By the way, each of those men portrayed in this video actually served in that branch of the military....true heros, all three of them (including my adorable husband I'm seen smooching with at the end).

As you watch it, please say a prayer for those serving overseas and for their families who anxiously await their return.

Friday, July 30, 2010

FC3 Was the Place to Be!!

I'm barely awake pecking at my keyboard since, over the past six days, I may have slept an average of 6.5 hours per night.  That would be just fine if I had not also been playing soccer, floor hockey, softball, tennis, volleyball, climbing a rock wall, hiking, horseback riding, and scaring myself silly on a high ropes course (no matter which of the forty-eight contiguous states you reside in, I'm certain you heard me scream on my way down the zip line in the pitch blackness).

We were at Family Camp III at Camp Hebron for our sixth year.  While there are certainly a variety of fun activities from sun up to well past sun down, that isn't what keeps us coming back.  It's the people and the relationships that result after a week of basically living, playing, eating, learning and sharing together like family. 

This is also a place to do some reflecting.  To take a step back from the "busy-ness" of life and focus more on God and family. I usually experience some revelation about myself that I can easily mask (or, try to) when surrounded by the distractions of the normal day-to-day. Whether it be an ability, a gift or a character flaw, this is the place to discover it! There is something appealing to me and completely liberating about walking that high ropes course fighting the fear, yet determined to make it.  Then, there is the loss of control when I push myself off the platform and TRUST that the harness is going to keep me safe as I free fall into darkness. It reminds me every time I'm sitting up there...I can wait to drop off the edge for thirty seconds or thirty minutes, but in either case the outcome is the same. The ride is exhilarating and most importantly, safe.  Reminds me a little bit of following after God's heart...we can trust Him now or later.  Why wait?

I have some new goals and a few things I'm praying about. One major burden was lifted off of me this week. I'm not going to try to figure out everything for the future.  I am never really at rest...I'm usually trying to figure out what happens next.  God's timing is perfect and when I worry about tomorrow (or next week, month or year), it makes today difficult to enjoy.  It can really drain the joy right out of me if I don't trust that God has a plan for me and my family.

If you have never been to a Family Camp and you want to be refreshed, please check out Camp Hebron's website.  You won't be fact, it might just be life changing!


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Hangin' With My Home Girls

This past weekend I headed out to Seven Springs Resort to meet up with some gal pals that I go wayyyy back with...decades back, in fact!  We are all forty (or, will be soon) and we had been planning our "Girls Weekend" since January.  My friends, Cookie Mama (who I met in kindergarten and was my maid of honor), TP Queen, Vanilla J, and Crafty Lady rented a lovely 3-bedroom townhouse with a hot tub that we didn't use and no air conditioning (surprise!).  By the way, names have been changed to protect the innocent.  They all know who they are!

I wasn't sure if I would actually make it to the actual townhouse, since upon exiting the turnpike Friday evening, I drove into a parade taking place in honor of Somerset's 100th birthday (I think).  There is nothing that says adventure like being lost in a town you have never been to before, trying to find an alternate route.  With no GPS or cell phone coverage.  Ironically enough, it reminded of half of my road trips while back in high school.  In a strange twist of fate, TP Queen had been cruising the metropolis of Somerset earlier that day trying to get a tire to replace the flat she got on the way there the day before (and, because she has all- wheel drive, ended up buying four new tires! Happy Birthday to her!).  Since she has been to Seven Springs before to ski and around town tire shopping at Dumbauld's Tire Service (that name, however, was not changed to protect the innocent because we cracked up everytime we said it), she was able to give me some alternate directions in short 20-second segments until my cell phone dropped each call.  By the grace of God, I finally made it.

We had a blast.  I laughed so hard I cried and we stayed up to the wee hours eating cheese, fruit, bruscetta, and most importantly, Cookie Mama's world famous chocolate chip cookies that none of us have ever been able to replicate, even though she has given us the recipe.  She must add magic to them.  Or, opium, because once you start eating them, it is hard to stop.

On our last night we enjoyed a nice dinner out (despite poor Vanilla J not enjoying very much on the overpriced dinner buffet, little did she know that for 1/3 of the price she could have just had soup, salad and dessert so keep that in mind if you ever go there!) and tried to visit the gift shop on the way out.  I had promised #3 a souvenir to let her know I was thinking of her while I was gone and I figured I'd pick up a little cheapo something for all three girls.  The only problem was that the gift shop was closed.  I thought perhaps we could go back to the townhouse and with Crafty Lady's help, make some little trinkets with our recyclables and pinecones (and, maybe even sell the leftovers on to fund next year's Girls Weekend).  We started to look for some tape and then happened upon a large closet filled with ummm.....junk....lost and found items...and basic necessities like rope, rubber gloves and a badminton birdie.  Naturally, that led to a rousing game of Pot Lid, Pan, Baking Sheet Badminton (all the rage in Europe right now) between me and TP Queen while the others cheered us on.  It actually worked out well and brought us partially out of our food coma from dinner. 

In between deep discussions of how to properly store brown sugar and overpriced toliet paper from Sheetz, we talked about our families and the challenges and triumphs we have faced in recent years.  There were so many fun  memories of this weekend, but one thing in particular stands out to me.  We come from all different backgrounds, live in different places, and have very different political views.  None of it mattered.  Conversation flowed, laughter abounded and we could let loose around one another...part of what brought us all together so many decades....ah-hem....years ago! These friends are such a blessing!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Don't Know Where I'm Going, but I'm Going to Expect It's Breathtaking

Do you ever feel like you are on the verge of something amazing?

There is opportunity knocking.  You get to be a part of something that has God's handprint all over it.  After a season of laying low, you suddenly feel pretty fearless. 

You have been climbing for awhile and it gets a little tiring, seemingly endless sometimes, especially if you lose your focus.  This is the place where perseverance is born.  Romans 5:3-5 starts to make some sense.  Hope is a beautiful thing.

I haven't put my finger on it just yet.  There is no specific set of circumstances, just the feeling in my gut that a new chapter is about to be written.  This new season is going to be filled with a greater intimacy with God, void of fear and striving.  Just enjoying where He leads with the understanding that everything I have experienced up to this point served an important purpose in the fulfillment of His promises.  All the details will fall into place, I'm sure of it.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

It's Been Awhile Since These Legs Took a Leap of Faith

I realized something about myself in the last few days.  I am afraid to take a risk.  I miss my carefree self, who didn't question God a hundred times a day, "Are You sure? Really, God?  Are You sure? But, what if this happens and this doesn't happen...I don't know".  Life has a way of trying to define you with circumstances, both good and bad.  It is a daily battle I fight (thankfully, I have some good weapons, as in the Word of God) and you can imagine my angst right now as I have put off applying to college since I prayed about it for the last six months!  Time is running out to enroll for the fall.  I kept reasoning that I just didn't have the time and I could never afford to finish my bachelor degree (I have an associates degree).  Then, I felt like God was leading me in this direction, and I needed to believe that everything would fall into place.  That doesn't mean it will be easy, it will definitely require quite a bit of sacrifice and a financial miracle.  I have to believe that when I get on the other side of this, all the hard work will be worth it.  I have to hope that it will open doors and opportunities, not just as an end result, but also in the process!  I have to expect that as God works out every step of the way, my faith will increase, too!

So, yesterday, after rescheduling three times, I met with an admissions coordinator for Elizabethtown College. I prayed. I applied.  I requested transcripts.  I filled out paperwork for financial aid.  I prayed.  I doubted.  I prayed.  I chose my classes, in the event I get accepted, since the first semester begins August 16 (there are actually three 5-week sessions per semester in their adult continuing education program).  Now, I wait.  And, pray.

So, the writing I have been doing may have to go on the back burner for awhile since I will be required to write a variety of sixteen-page research papers for the next few years!  But, if I can keep my eyes on the prize and most of all, on Christ, then this just may be one of the best journeys ever.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Feeling a Little Emotionally Drained

When we signed up to host two female exchange students from China I was nervous.  But, I figured it was the nice thing to do and maybe we would learn a little bit about their culture.  I told my kids that instead of going on a mission trip, it was like the mission trip was coming to us!  What I didn't realize was that when it was time for them to leave, they would take a piece of my heart with them.

We tearfully said our good-byes this morning after two weeks of being a family.  In those moments I came to the conclusion, I would never be able to be a foster parent and give kids back.  One of the girls sobbed on The Husband's shoulder, telling us she didn't want to go back, that she wanted to stay.  My concern that now they knew another way of life was confirmed...they live at school on weekdays in China and only go home on weekends and breaks.  They didn't know life to be any different until they came here.  Now, after time together as a family sharing meals, playing games, swimming and going out for ice cream, they return back to China to resume a somewhat family-free life surrounded by their peers and teachers for the majority of their time.  That just about breaks my heart.

With promises to keep in touch and someday meet again in the U.S. or China, we put them on their charter bus.  A few weeks ago I would've thought that I would be filled with relief that I had two less kids to care for, but I didn't feel relief.  There was a sense of loss, but overshadowing that was a comforting, peaceful feeling.  This was good for all of us and we had some wonderful conversations about how much God loves them and that they are never alone.  They returned with Bibles written in their native language and we covered them in prayer before they left.

Our lives were changed and I believe theirs were, also! I really hope we can see them again one day.  They were very sweet and if it was actually legal to keep them, we would have!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Getting the Hang of It With Our Party of Five

Now, don't get me has been a balancing act having five kids!  Having two extra teenagers to drive around and care for is no simple task, especially when they must be driven through nearly three different counties every weekday at rush hour.  In the snow.  Uphill both ways.  Just kidding about the snow. However, I am blessed beyond words at how our week has been going!  There is a peace in times like this of knowing we are walking in God's perfect will.  He will provide all that we need and the wonderful thing is that He gives us joy in the process (it's like the cherry on top). 

Last night, we took everyone to get some Chinese take-out, which we ate on the deck by the pool (it was a beautiful evening).  The girls got to speak in their native language to the owner of the Chinese restaurant and then we all used chop sticks (some of us better then others!). Our exchange students are starting to feel more comfortable talking and playing with us.  We discovered that in China, this group of students doesn't go home during the week, they stay at school and go home only on weekends.  No wonder it was taking them some time to adjust to our crazy family life!  They spend most of their time with their peers and doing homework when they are not in class. Our kids had a hard time imagining that (however, now I can threaten them with that prospect on the days they make me feel like ripping out my hair!).

This weekend is already filled with plans for tie-dying, fireworks, a picnic and Hersheypark!  This is turning out to be a memorable summer!

Monday, June 28, 2010

A Divine Exchange

They most likely will return to China twice their original weights and with all sorts of stories about how they ate s'mores, played Wii and volleyball, swam, went to the theater and caught lightning bugs.  In the last three days, we have crammed a lot of American culture into our two Chinese exchange students!  When we are not entertaining them, they spend the weekdays traveling with their school group to Lancaster, Philadelphia, Washington DC and NYC for daytrips.  The Husband keeps telling me that I don't have to talk so loudly to them, but I assured him that I'm not talking any louder than I usually do.  It just sounds like I am because I'm talking slower! However, just because I am talking slower, doesn't mean that we do anything else slow around here, Chinese girls or not.  We ran just as crazy and busy this weekend as ever.  The only difference is that I got some very strange looks while the six of us walked through Costco and Kohl's for some reason??

They are very shy and quiet (just like us, ha-ha); however, we have all made it our mission to make them laugh and it works most of the time.  They especially liked watching America's Funniest Home Videos and The Husband's impersonation of someone playing an aggressive game of table tennis!  My maternal instinct kicked in as soon as I saw them, and with each new day, we are all getting more comfortable with one another.  As we watched them file in late Friday night, I had a big lump in my throat and tears threatening to spill over as I imagined how their parents must feel being so far away from their precious only children.  I decided I would love them like I would want someone to love my own child if I ever lost my mind and sent her away to a foreign country to live with strangers.  These beautiful girls are good for my family, since we mind our manners a little more often and try to serve them, as well as one another, out of love and a generous heart.  My own girls have made me proud this week, as they often do when I observe some of the fruit that results from years spent sowing, watering and weeding!

I would do this again in a heartbeat.  Hopefully, when the two weeks are up I will still feel the same way!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Yay! They Are Here!

They didn't arrive until midnight, but now we are finally home.  Our two Chinese exchange students have joined our happy, busy household.  It is 1:00 am and we are all up, they are unpacking and exploring their living space and I am wired from the giant Sheetz coffee I drank around 11pm.  It is so cool to watch their expressions and getting them to smile and laugh is positively delightful!

So far, so good with understanding each other.  We are trying to keep it simple and talk slowly (a real challenge for me, the babbling one).  They are completely adorable and while I know the next two weeks will contain some challenges, I am so happy to have them here!

Monday, June 21, 2010

I Am Not the Crazy Loon Some of You Think That I Am

I have observed several jaws dropping and eyes rolling when I've shared that we will be hosting two female, middle school age, Chinese students for two weeks beginning this Friday.  In truth, I have wondered if I have finally bitten off more than I can chew.  It was one of those decisions that was made instinctively, no logic involved (story of my life most days).  Now that we are just a few days away, the panic is starting to lift and I began to reason there are so many advantages to this situation:

1.  Every famous Christian author writes about hosting exchange students and loving it.  I have never once read that they regretted doing it or the kids went wild.  So, I figured when I sell my first book it better contain a true life account of being a missionary or hosting someone from a foreign country or it just won't seem legit.  And, anyone who knows me knows that as soon as there is a Caribbean cruise ship missions trip, sign me up. Until then, I prefer being the hostess.

2.  My garden needs weeded.

3.  I'll have a good excuse to hit the mall, I hear Chinese girls like to shop!

4.  I've been trying to get rid of my cat.  Chow time!

5.  I enjoy challenging myself in awkward situations with a language, age and cultural barrier.

Obviously, I'm kidding (except about the cat, who is free to a good home!).  I am taking my role seriously and I know I sound naive, but I want this to be such a life changing experience for these girls.  I don't want them to  just remember our culture, I want to demonstrate what an imperfect family in love with a perfect God looks like on a daily basis.  I want to demonstrate to my kids the gift of serving and hospitality, even when that is not always an easy thing to do.  We are all a little nervous, however we are excited, too.  My anxiety comes mostly from the idea of upsetting the already delicate balance of time management in our home.  To be responsible for two more teenagers seems a daunting task.  This is where faith and endurance get put to the test and we will come out stronger, if we allow God to lead us.  So, that's basically the plan and has been since the day we filled out the host family application.  Not our will, God, but Yours!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

My Little Women

My girls do surprise me at times. I never had a sister growing up and I used to dream about what life would be like if I had a cool older sister to hang out with. In fact, I used to watch the Electric Company and I had decided one of the girls on the show (whose name escapes me right now) would be the perfect big sister. Imagine my delight when after each sonogram we added another sister to the family! I never once felt disappointed or pressured to "try for the boy".

However, the last few years have presented some sister-related drama that leaves me wanting to rip out my hair some days. The older girls won't play with the younger girls. The younger sister(s) will irritate to get the older sister(s)' attention. #2 can work it in either direction, which could be why I find her the most challenging and find myself threatening to lock her in the basement some days! They can act jealous, stubborn, rowdy, and whiny. But, I know one thing. They really love each other.

The evidence is around me if I take the time to pay attention. #1 putting sunblock on the little ones without being asked to when I'm not around. #3 helping #1 to practice volleyball. #2 doing #3's nails. All three girls decided to get sweatshirts that matched on vacation and then they wore them together our last night on the boardwalk. Despite their growing pains they have a special connection, one I'm not sure even I can understand.

While all this estrogen is hard to handle some days, I would not change a thing! They bless me beyond words and I enjoy watching them interact most days (unless they are "interacting" over who gets the bigger brownie)!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Because I Like Free Things (Maybe You Do, Too)

I am breaking tradition from my typical rambling and randomness to post some information that readers may actually find helpful. I'm talking about Summer Reading Programs and free/cheap things to do! Here is a rundown of what I have found:

1. Go to the libraries! Every library that I know of has now gone to an online process to register and log in books for their "Make a Splash" summer reading programs. Here are the links...since it is online this year I think I am going to register at all of them!!

Hershey - click here

Dauphin County - click here

Cumberland County - click here

2. Metro Bank will deposit $10 in a savings account for your child (new or existing) if they read ten books this summer. I can't believe I didn't follow through with this last year! We had already logged books for the library, so I only needed to take the time to copy them over to the Metro Bank book log. I am now scolding myself in my firmest Mom-tone "That's like throwing money down the toilet". Click here for more info so you don't have to give yourself a lecture like I did.

3. Book stores like Borders and Barnes & Noble are both giving kiddos under twelve a free book if they read this summer. Just stop in to pick up a reading log at Borders (I could not find anything on their website) or download a summer reading passport here from Barnes & Noble.

4. Kids Bowl Free sounded too good to be true last year and I was like "what's the catch?” There is none other than you have to pay to rent the shoes! You can get more information and register for the program here.

5. Don't forget mid-week morning movies at many movie theaters this summer. Yes, you have probably seen most of the movies, but who doesn't like going to watch a movie on the big screen, especially on a rainy day? Here is the Great Escape summer schedule. Get there at least a half hour early!

6. Soon, the 2010 Entertainment Books will be marked down to 50% off their list price and you can take advantage of all the Buy One Get One free coupons for places you go to, especially in the summer months. We even ordered one for Florida last year when we went there on vacation. We spent $12.50 on the book and saved over $100 using the coupons! Click here for more information.

7.  Go to Chuck E. Cheese with the kid's report cards and Reward Calendars.  Also, make sure you invest in the refillable drink cups, if you haven't already.  We've spent about an hour at Chuck E. Cheese, first thing in the morning with our drink cups and free tokens. We also get coupons via email and I'll purchase a hundred tokens for about $15 and that should last us for two trips, along with the free ones we always get. Click here to print the reward calendars.

I think that's all I have for now. Please comment if you have anything else that you would like to add to the freebies/super-cheap list!