Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Eight Things I Learned in July

Cousins walking through the Louisville Zoo on Sunday.

I'm sad July is over. It's not my favorite month, but it means the end of summer is approaching. My kids go back to school two weeks from today. I'm feeling a mixture of denial and mourning. I've always considered summer my favorite, and this one seemed to go by especially quickly. Didn't I just write Nine Things I Learned in June?!

Summer is like no other season. And it's filled with so many of my favorite things. Days that don't begin with an alarm. Swimming. The lake. Lunching at the park with friends. Grilled kabobs. Berries. Road trips. Did I mention swimming?

Now that I have a school-aged child who is getting ready to begin her second year of "real" school, summer has a different meaning. It's like a break from the routine. And, y'all, I really took a break from all things school. I didn't even participate in the summer reading program Cate's school organizes. I seriously hope she's not the only one who didn't earn points. She read. Really. Every night out loud to herself. Greg and I read "Beezus and Ramona" with her. She's read to Ben. She's read to me. She's read to Greg. She's read in the car. And she's stood over my shoulder and read whatever I was working on.

But I didn't write down a single book from the suggested reading list. Y'all, I don't even know what was on the suggested reading list.

So, with that. Eight things I learned in July, in no particular order ...

1. It's OK to say no and not participate in everything. Like your school's summer reading program, apparently. Oh, and, the one at the local library too. We had a few camps/Bible school weeks we wanted to do. They made it on the calendar. No other regular commitments did.

2. Dinner doesn't always have to be served at 5:30 p.m. One of my favorite summer afternoons/evenings went like this: Kids and I left the house to swim at the city pool at 3:30 p.m. I emailed my husband as I was walking out the door: We're going to embrace summer and swim. I have no idea what we're having for dinner. 

He responded: How about I come up there when I leave work? No hesitation from me: Yes! I'll leave your clean swim trunks out. {Because, you see, I may have slacked meal planning and preparing and executing, but, hey, I did laundry so my husband's swim trunks no longer had lake water on them. It's the little things, people.}

So we swam. Until 6 p.m. For kids that go to bed around 7:30 p.m., that's creeping into late-night dinner territory. But we came home, put on dry clothes, and loaded back up for Cracker Barrel because that's like a home-cooked meal, right?! AND THEN I really kept on with the "Let's embrace summer!" mentality and suggested Dairy Queen on the way home. We brought cones home and sat on the front porch eating them. {Well, OK, so mine wasn't actually cone. Mini Reese's Cup Blizzard for the win.}

AND THEN, more embracing summer. The kids rode bikes and scooters in the front yard and then I engaged my son in a game of chase in the front yard. It was past bedtime, which is admittedly looser in the summer, and everyone was so happy and content. I really had no idea what time it was.

3. I taught my husband Scrabble strategy too well. Really. I used to beat him. Years ago, I was on quite a streak when we sat down at the table and played the actual board game. Now, he wins. Of course, now we also sit next to each other on our iPhones, verbally nudging each other to take their next Words with Friends turn. Since the beginning of June, he's on a 22-3 streak.

{Do you wonder how I know the win streak? Oh, at the beginning of June I started a list on the phone. So, yes, if you've played Words with Friends with me since June 1, I've got our games tallied too. Oh, and, hey, if you want to play, my user name is KHT. I'm never one to turn down a game.}

4. My favorite passage of scripture contains encouragement for one of my constant struggles. OK, so, maybe, I didn't technically learn this this month, but it was brought to my attention in a new way, thanks to God-sized dreamer friend Mandy. I quote pieces of Philippians 4 regularly to friends having a hard day or myself throughout any given day. Yet, I realize I skip one crucial line about gentleness, which Mandy mentioned in our Voxer conversation.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. {Phil. 4:4-7}

{More on this later. I typed a bunch, but it was weighing down this post.}

5. God knows I learn by repetition. "Pray about Everything" is one of the songs from the "Kingdom Rocks" VBS my kids went to this summer at a friend's church. And we often have the CD playing in the minivan. This song taken from the New Living Translation of Phil. 4:6-7 is my favorite track. Of course, God.

{Hey, Mandy, the gentleness part there is a reminder to be considerate in all you do.}

6. Adding freelance writing work just as the busy lake house season was beginning may not have been the most logical strategy, but it worked for me. I'm a doer. In school, I wanted to write a paper, not prepare for a test. Anticipation for a presentation or an upcoming change was always harder on me than the actual event. I like to see results and progress. Had I spent too much time thinking about the timing of beginning freelance writing right as I would be managing two busy vacation rentals, I probably would have gotten overwhelmed and stressed before I even got started. But when it all sort of just happened, I was able to dive right in. Finding a balance between work and play was the hardest, but even that was alright, thanks to my kids making sure I figured out when we would swim.

7. The creators of The Bachelorette knew what they were doing by scheduling when most shows are taking a break. I tell myself I'm done, but I always get pulled back in. Really, though, is there a better show to have on while folding mounds of laundry? Not really. Yet if "Parenthood" or "The Good Wife" were on with new episodes this time of the year, I may have an easier time saying goodbye to "The Bachelorette."

So, yes, I'm watching this season. I was a Zak fan. Now I'm a Chris fan. I wasn't surprised Brooks broke her heard. {Am I the only one who saw that coming? Clearly Des didn't!}

8. I can make low-sugar, delicious strawberry lemonade at home. Jaclyn shared this recipe with me and you'll be thanking me that I'm sharing it with you.

2 cups Sprite Zero
1 package lemonade mix for a 16-ounce water bottle {I used Crystal Light}
8 frozen strawberries
2 packages of sweetener {I used Splenda. Packages are likes the ones at restaurants.}
6-10 ice cubes or 1 1/3 cup crushed ice
2/3 cup water

Put in blender and blend. I've been making two blenders full at a time because that fits in my plastic pitcher. And, trust me, you'll want more. 

I could probably go on, but I think I'll stop there. Goodbye, July. You were fun, but couldn't you have stayed around longer? Friends, what have you learned this month?

I'm linking my list up with Emily at Chatting at the Sky. Come join us! And, yes, you may have noticed the permalink is "seven things ..." I totally came back and added one. 

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Grown-up friends

When I make a friend, I assume it's for life. Of course, friendships change as life goes on. We grow up and move away. We walk down the aisle into a new life. We are hired for jobs. Babies are born. Babies become school-aged kids. Calendars get crowded.

But sometimes smart phones shrink distances and friendships get fresh air breathed into them. Perhaps it just takes a text of a picture of a picture of when we gathered all our kids together on a couch two years earlier to remind that it's been too long. At least that's what happened to me last week.

My husband had a Monday meeting near my childhood hometown that's three hours from my new hometown. Of course, "new" is relative; I've been here for a decade. I may not have been born where I live now but it's home.

So I texted Bekah and Shelley a picture of our kids sitting on a couch in December 2011. We were on a five-year streak of having brunch near Christmas, when Shelley and I were near where we all grew up. I loved it. Both of their husbands also childhood friends of mine. Greg is the only one of the six of us who didn't graduated in 1996 or 1997 from Oldham County High School.

We have a history that has helped us stay bonded, but we let each other into our present lives.

Shelley and I weren't in the Louisville area at the same time last Christmas and my family has holiday plans this year that will keep us from going there. In my text to them the other night when I was filling scrapbook pages with memories, I said I was bummed our tradition Christmas brunch wasn't going to happen again. It prompted text conversations with both them. Bekah casually mentioned letting we know when we'd be there. So I did, right then.

"We're actually coming Saturday night for a quick trip because Greg has to work up there Monday. We're going to the zoo on Sunday. Want to go? :) Do you work Monday morning?"

From there, we made a plan. The plan developed as Monday went along. My mom, my kids and I ended up meeting her for breakfast and then going to a playground that also has a spray park {who cares that it wasn't even 80 degrees yet?!}. Katie and her boys joined us there. More out-of-the-blue love happening much sooner than I expected.

Then we all met Greg for lunch. Yep, that's five adults and seven kids 7 and younger. We extended our plan to include a second park {the five boys really needed to run some more ...} after we finished our lunch.

We laughed. We swapped stories from our current lives. We reminisced and talked about the past intersecting the present. We talked about small towns and big plans. We talked about raising babies and being grown ups. We watched the two oldest of our bunch {and the only two girls} befriend each other because when you're 7 and 6 a couple years is enough time to erase the earlier memories of playing once or twice a year. We watched our boys be boys.

So, yes, that's a picture of our kids, who became friends all over again while enjoying a beautiful summer day in Kentucky. But that's not all. That's a snapshot of a continuation of a history God began long ago when us mommas were just kids ourselves. I'm not sure there are many better grown-up moments than watching my kids play with my childhood friends' kids. It's a new chapter in an ongoing story that is certainly worth living.

I'm linking this story up with Crystal Stine's Behind the Scenes and Jennifer Dukes Lee's #TellHisStory. Both are places where true encouragement happens. Like me, they believe telling stories is therapeutic. 

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Saturday, July 27, 2013

{Tyndale Rewards} Get FREE books.

I like free things. And I like books. So when I heard about Tyndale Rewards, I knew I wanted to sign up. Stay with me, you'll be glad to learn about how to get free books.

The Tyndale Rewards program is designed to provide you and me opportunities to get books and Bibles for zero dollars. That’s right — FREE. As a member of the Tyndale Rewards program, you’ll have access to inspiring literature, Bibles, special promotional offers, and much more.

Other member incentives include a free gift on your birthday, along with opportunities to share your personal recommendations and feedback concerning Tyndale products. The more participation you have with the program, the more points you earn — and points translate into free stuff! You can earn points through various ways, including inviting friends, taking surveys and subscribing to information.

The things about free stuff is you can always keep it or give it away as a gift. Yeah, I know, I won't tell you if I give you a gift I got for FREE. 

Y'all, it seems simple. Like you can participate as much {or as little} as you want but still have opportunities for free books. I want to just keep saying it: Free books. Free. Books.

It was quick and easy to sign up and I've already earned points while typing this post. So, go on, you know you want to sign up too.

I learned about this program through FlyBy Promotions Blogger Network, but the excitement I'm sharing with you is all mine. Yes, I may earn some points if you sign up through my link, but then you'll get a chance to benefit with free books of your own. 

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Thursday, July 25, 2013

{eMeals} Food worth sharing

One of the greatest tangible blessings from my friends when life was hard or busy is a homecooked meal that they took time to prepare. When we brought our kids home as newborns, the friends who took turns bringing us dinner taught me that showing up with some food really does make a difference.

Now I like to share meals with friends who are recovering from surgery, bringing home babies, or just plain worn out from life. I have a few go-to recipes, but I've recently added a new one that people {including my family!} love.

Thanks to eMeals, King Ranch Chicken Casserole is a delicious, easy meal that resides in my cooking binder.

King Ranch Chicken Casserole

1 1/2 lbs boneless chicken breasts
2 T oil
1/2 (12 oz) bag yellow corn chips
16 oz shredded colby Jack cheese, divided
8 oz medium salsa
8 oz sour cream
10 oz can cream of chicken soup
5 oz can evaporated milk
7 oz can diced green chilies

  • Saute chicken in oil for 20 minutes or until cooked through. {I've actually been putting the chicken breasts in the crock pot on high for a couple hours. It's quick, convenient and shreds easily when cooked.}
  • Layer chips in a greased casserole dish. Place shredded chicken on top of chips. Layer 1/2 of the cheese.
  • Combine salsa, sour cream, cream of chicken soup, evaporated milk and green chilies. Pour this sauce over casserole and add remaining cheese on top.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 45-60 minutes.

I usually make Spanish rice to go with it. With the casserole, eMeals includes a Spanish rice recipe, but I make this one that we've loved for a long time that looks nothing like the picture on All Recipes.

King Ranch Chicken Casserole isn't the only one reason I recommend eMeals. I was desperate for some meal planning help, mostly with, well, planning the meals. Nothing sounded good. I needed new recipes that didn't take a ton of time. So I signed up for eMeals. And then I realized a shopping list specified to my preferred grocery was included along with a weekly dinner plan {main dish and a side}.

I chose the "classic meals" plan, but there are several options depending on your eating habits. You can add breakfast and lunch plans too. I'm thinking about switching to the Crock Pot meal plan for the fall/winter.

And guess what? Everything I've made, we've liked. Let's just say King Ranch Chicken Casserole isn't the only recipe that made it into my binder full of recipes.

How about a deal to make signing up even more tempting? You can save 15% when you use School15 at the checkout. And here are some free eMeals printables, including a back-to-school checklist, some lunch recipes and food-inspired notes for your kids' lunch boxes.

Make Time For Family - eMeals BlogHave you tried eMeals? Do you have a favorite new recipe to share?

I recently joined the eMeals Blogger Network so I could have access to ideas and discounts to share with you. This post also includes some affiliate links, but my love for eMeals existed before these incentives.  

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A scattered brain and some unexpected love

I went missing for about 18 minutes last week. Thing is, I didn't know I was missing.

Let me tell you the story: It was one of those days {like them all last week} where I had commitments and appointments and responsibilities and plans back to back to back to back. My calendar was pretty full without all the last-minute additions that happened. Such weeks can be exciting, but they can also create a weariness in my momma brain.

Anyway, so it was Tuesday. Cate had been to Robotics Camp and Ben had been at Vacation Bible School. We'd ended up at lunch with some friends after all swapping kids who needed transported at different times and from different places. {That's just setting the tone for what was a slightly chaotic day.}

So after lunch, we came home and I prepared dinner for a friend whose daughter is recovering from surgery while the kids played/rested/napped. I doubled it, actually, so my family could eat the same thing the following night. King Ranch Chicken Casserole, Spanish Rice, brownies and salad all ready to go.

I had a small window of time between that and needing to be back home to meet my husband so we could go to Paducah {45 minutes away} to get our fingerprints done at a certain location with a certain FBI-approved machine, the only one in western Kentucky, for one of the few remaining documents required for our adoption home study. Again, just setting the stage. Important appointment. Short on time.

We pulled into my friend's driveway and I left the van running and told the kids to wait in their seats and stay buckled while I dropped off the food. Now, I should tell you, this friend and I aren't super close. We have a mutual friend, really, but I like chatting with her. I hadn't seen her in awhile, so we chatted. Perhaps we chatted longer than I planned.

So long my kids got unbuckled {so much for obedience, of course, I hadn't really done the quick drop-off like I planned either ...} and came in. Apparently one had to use the bathroom and the other was just along for the social outing. They ended up swinging on a cool swing in the backyard while I finished chatting.

I glanced at the time and realized we needed to go. So I rounded up the troops, well, my two kids who are social they are sometimes more like cats. Have you tried herding cats? Anyway. Finally. We all made it back to the van.

My phone buzzed with a new text. Y'all. I had five missed calls and a "Where r u?" text from my husband and texts from three friends. I called my husband back, obviously that needed to be my first step. I knew I was cutting it close on time, but I still had 7 minutes to make it home. {We live in a small town, you know.} Turns out, he thought we were leaving for our fingerprinting appointment at 3. I thought we were leaving at 3:15.

Ah, yes, a miscommunication that, according to the emails I later consulted, was my fault. And, yes, I'm the organized one who planned our departure time. It had been one of those days. It was only Tuesday, but it was one of those weeks. And my brain was scattered and weary. I tried to fit a bit too much into my day.

Can I confess something, though? I felt loved to know if I went missing, the search party would start after less than 20 minutes. It's not like I struggle to feel loved. But it was an out-of-the-blue affirmation that I'm surrounded by family and friends who care about my well-being. And they {well, at least the one I'm married to ...} apparently also care my current location and estimated time of arrival. 

I pulled in the driveway, picked up my husband who was waiting for me on the front porch, and then started our detoured {thanks to construction!} trek to our fingerprinting appoints. Greg's appointment was at 4:10 and mine was at 4:20. We pulled into the parking lot at 4:11 and we walked out of the little ink/mail shop about 10 minutes later, fingerprinted appropriately for the possible expansion of our family.

We went on to Hobby Lobby to buy a birthday present, some scrapbooking accessories, and school supplies and then to dinner at Rafferty's. This is what happens when the small-town folks make it to the decent-sized city. And then that's where my recent favorite out-of-the-blue moment happened. {See last week's post for the rest of this story.}

Despite the chaos of the day, my heart was full, some friends were blessed with food they didn't have to make, and our home study was one more step closer to being finished. And yet again love overshadowed the crowded calendar.

I'm linking up with a few of my favorite online places: Kristen Strong's Out of the Blue series at Chasing Blue Skies; Jennifer Dukes Lee and other storytellers for #TellHisStory; and other moms who know about scattered, chaotic days at Hope for the Weary Mom

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

{Behind the Scenes} An impromptu nap

Aw, how sweet! My boy who doesn't nap on a daily basis anymore decided to get comfy on the futon in his room yesterday afternoon. Fast asleep. For more than an hour. 

Yes, I texted the picture to my good friend Sarah who also has a non-napping 3-year-old boy and my mom, who, well, likes pictures of her grandchildren. Aw, how cute, right?


And, of course, that sweet, cute picture doesn't tell the whole story.

When Ben woke up after this 90-minute nap, he had missed lunch and peed on the futon. That's "The Jesus Storybook Bible" under his blanket near his head. And he also uncovered my old iPhone that the kids sometimes use. The same one Cate and I couldn't find this afternoon. They're supposed to ask before using it and, obviously, he didn't ask. I'm just glad he didn't get pee all over it. Oh, and, hey, that slip cover I wisely put on the futon is awaiting its turn in the washer and dryer.

And, yes, that's what goes on behind the scenes of ordinary days in this season of mothering little ones, although it's not quite always as comfortable as my boy makes it look.

crystalstine.meToday I'm participating in "Behind the Scenes," linking up with Crystal Stine. I love the encouragement to share real life happening beyond what a photo shared on Facebook captures. Yet another way for this momma to embrace imperfection

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Monday, July 22, 2013

Thumbs up for a giveaway!

Long ago when a friend dared me to blog long before blogging was cool, I kept hearing one conversation from "You've Got Mail" in my head when I tried to think of a name. Admittedly, I've never been good with titles or headlines. And, you know, if we get to have another baby and it's a boy, I'm not sure he'll ever have a name. Yet, long ago, I managed to name my blog. And both the name and the blogging endeavor have stuck.

Thank you, Joe Fox and Kathleen Kelly from "You've Got Mail."

Joe Fox: So what's his handle?
Kathleen Kelly: Uh...
Joe Fox: I'm not going to write him. Is that what you're worried about? You think I'm going to e-mail him?
Kathleen Kelly: [beat] All right, NY152.
Joe Fox: N-Y-one-five-two. One hundred and fifty-two. He's a hundred and fifty-two years old. He's had one hundred and fifty-two moles removed, so now he's got one hundred fifty-two pock marks on his... on his face...
Kathleen Kelly: The number of people who think he looks like Clark Gable.
Joe Fox: One hundred and fifty-two people who think he looks like a Clark *Bar*.
Kathleen Kelly: [laughing] Why did I even tell you about this?
Joe Fox: A hundred and fifty-two stitches from his nose job. The number of his souvenir shot glasses that he's collected in his travels.
Kathleen Kelly: No! The number... the numb... his address? No! No, he would never do anything that prosaic. ...
Joe Fox: Mr. 152 Felony indictments.
Kathleen Kelly: Mr. 152 insights into my soul.
Joe Fox: Oh yeah. No competing with that.
{From "You've Got Mail"}

So, well, I thought it would be fun to giveaway a prize {or two!} when my blog page on Facebook reached 152 likes. You know, it seemed like an appropriate number. I'm at 99 now as I'm writing this post. Want to help get me there?

And when we get there, I've got a prize for two of you. One of you will get that prize package of some of my favorite things {see, there, to the left ...} and another one of you will get a copy of "You've Got Mail."

By "you" I mean anyone who "likes" 152 Insights to My Soul on Facebook. Two winners will be selected randomly when that little thumbs up shows 152. 

This has all gotten me wondering how did you come up with your blog name or what would you name your blog, you know, should you ever, hypothetically, have one?

Edited on 9.18.13 :: We did it! We have 152 likes. Well, actually, it's at 154 right now. Thanks, friends, for supporting this blog by reading and liking and sharing. Heidi Lara and Tracy Dyke are the winners of the giveaways!

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A tale of four extroverts

In a family of extroverts, it's rare it's just the four of us at the lake. We're all party people, but we spent Sunday afternoon and evening at our lake house, squeezing a little time in between renters. While the sun was out, we all played in the lake. Well, OK, Greg and I mostly floated, but we had our two little ones climbing on us when they weren't jumping into the lake. Then it rained and later stormed. But we embraced the down time.

They were going to jump in together ...

... but then he got mad she went without him! They got back up on the dock and did it again and again and again. Ben even asked if she would push him in. I don't know many people who want to be pushed in! I loved watching them play together. Here in the latter half of summer, sibling rivalry and arguing may have gotten the best of all of us. I was so thankful for the opposite yesterday.

Yes, we're all extroverts. We're social. We all like to talk. We often have ideas and plans on how to execute them. We all are filled by the relationships around us. My kids ask every day who is coming over for dinner or who we are going to eat with. And then they are usually disappointed when I say "just us."

Yesterday I soaked up some sun, was splashed by my water-lovin' kids, prepared a delicious summer meal, played Skip-Bo, watched a couple episodes of "Mad Men" once the kids were fast asleep, and thought to myself more than once how grateful I was for just us. They seemed to be happy to do the same.

Speaking of extroverts, I love personality tests. Here is a post I wrote earlier this year about being an extrovert, among other things. I'm also reading another book that has helped me further analyze my perfect melancholy/powerful choleric ways. More to come on that, I'm sure. What is your personality like? Do you family members share yours?


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Saturday, July 20, 2013

Life is like mini golf ...

We played mini golf a couple times this month. And my son asks regularly when we're going again. This summer isn't the first time they've played, but they're both get it now. Whether we have an actual golfer on our hands remains to be seen, but, hey, it's fun.

And, really, when we played last weekend I kept thinking about how life is much like mini golf ...

Ben plays mini golf a little like he would probably play hockey. Of course, I don't actually know how to play hockey, but the way he swings the putter while the ball is still moving makes me think he could probably lace up some ice skates and do the same. Not now and not here, of course, because it's been holding steady at a humid 90-something degrees.

But, you know, that's life. You've got the solve the problem {move the ball toward the hole, in this case} in the most efficient way using the skills you have.

Sometimes you've just got the speak the language those around you understand. Do you think those large, paper mache elephants understood Ben wanted to join their tribe?

Clearly, Ben doesn't know the difference between a driver and a putter. I barely do. But, like in life, a big swing is sometimes necessary. You know, like they say in baseball, swing for the fences, kid.

And sometimes your first methods don't work out. He hit it on the move. He swung a big swing. And a few times he ended up just picking up the ball and moving it closer to the hole. Like I hope is the case in his life, he didn't lose focus of the mission.

And sometimes in life there are no words, just dramatic emotions and a little hand holding between friends. Even so, friends make a game of mini golf more fun, much like life away from the putting greens.

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Friday, July 19, 2013

No More Perfect ... Kids

They're cute, aren't they? My daughter has cheesing down to an art. And my boy has silly faces perfected. As cute as they are and as much as I love their stories of becoming part of our family, they aren't perfect. 

Those kids you see on the playground? They aren't perfect either. That boy challenging his mom in the grocery store aisle or the one in your daughter's class? Yeah, no perfection there. 

So let's stop expecting them to be perfect. {I've just repeated this five times. And I could sit here all day and remind myself.}

"Your kids aren't perfect. Their imperfections are not a reflection of you. You can't control them into perfection. Allowing your children to fail – without getting your anger as a consequence – is a gift to them."
{Jill Savage in "No More Perfect Moms"}

Perfection is rooted deep in my natural tendencies. I'm slowly learning to let go and embrace imperfection, especially in my days and relationships. There is so much more peace and joy when I let go of my expectations.

My 6-year-old daughter is oh-so much like me. I'm trying to help her through her own perfectionist tendencies so she'll try something new without being frustrated that she's not immediately good at it. We had a good lesson this summer at the skating rink and again as she's learned to swim and jump off the diving board without floaties.

Meanwhile my 3-year-old boy is all boy. He's loud and messy and independent and funny and fearless and always on the move. He stretches me and presses me and challenges me and loves me and reminds me to laugh. He's good for me. But, goodness, he's hard for me. He doesn't fit in my box and I certainly can't parent him just like I do his sister. Without him, I'm pretty sure I'd still be trying to keep my life in a perfect box.

God has been trying to break through my stubborn, perfectionist ways for a long time now. This has been the year I've truly let him in. I still learning and trusting in this new way, but my heart is calmer this way. And, really, I have my kids to thank for it.

It's been awhile since I blogged about "No More Perfect Moms." {Read past posts here.} I'm linking up with other moms over at Jill Savage's Hearts at Home Blog Hop. And I've got news: Jill Savage is teaming up with Dr. Kathy Koch to write "No More Perfect Kids: Love Your Kids for Who They Are." I have no doubt it will be real and practical. 

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Thursday, July 18, 2013

{Tiny Prints} Christmas in July

Snowflakes and Stationery Sale - 20% Off All of Last Year's Holiday CardsI was in Hobby Lobby earlier this week. We did some school supply shopping and my girl picked out a gift for her friend. And then I stopped at the Christmas crafts and paper and had a flood of ideas fill my head.

And then I walked away.

Because it's July.

And I have several things I'd like to finish before Christmas.

OK, so I may have some Christmas presents {thanks to some great deals!} stored away in a closet. But, still, seeing Christmas crafts and decorations on display in the middle of Hobby Lobby, right down from the sale on Crayola school supplies, startled me.

Yet Christmas is in five months and seven days. But, hey, who's counting?!

Maybe someone is thinking about Christmas. Or maybe now you are, thanks to me.

So ... how about a deal to help you start marking things off that holiday to-do list?!

Tiny Prints is having its Snowflakes and Stationary Sale, giving you 20% off all of last year's stationary. Use SNOWFLAKES through July 30.

Now you can thank me because I'm sure you're feeling just a tad cooler.

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{Out of the Blue} Coming near

We used to walk back and forth from her yard to mine. We sat on our front porch and dreamed of when we could drive a car instead of ride our bikes. We laughed and cried and shared so many inside jokes we can't even begin to remember them all. Hometown Pizza, Dr Pepper, and Circus Peanuts remind me of us.

We went to different colleges and only briefly lived in the same town again. She moved far away not long after I moved to the western edge of our state.

Katie has been back in the Bluegrass for quite a few years now, but we're still 267 miles apart. Our front doors were less than than many footsteps apart from October 1990 to August 1997, but distance hasn't stopped us from confiding in each other, picking right back up where we were when we finally stop getting each other's voice mails, or thanking God our husbands and kids like each other.

This week has only slightly resembled what my calendar said, but it's been good. I'm thankful for friends who load an extra kid in their vehicle, are quick to check on me, surprise me by coming near, go to lunch on a whim, meet me at the pool, ask me to help, offer to help, and invite us over for dinner.

Katie is the one who surprised me by coming near. Out of the blue, I read this text as my family and I were getting ready to make the 45-minute trek back home from Paducah.

Sooo ... maaaaaaybe my mom asked me last night if I wanted to go to see my grandmom with her, and maaaaaaybe I decided this morning that I wanted to ... So we just got here!!

Here is Calvert City. It's 30 minutes from my house and less than that from where I was standing in the bathroom at Rafferty's, where I was waiting for everyone to empty their bladders before we loaded back in the minivan.

So, yes, of course, we detoured home through Calvert City. And, really, if you're looking at a map, it's all moving in the right direction. AND I GOT TO HUG AND TALK AND SIT WITH KATIE on a day I had no idea she'd be near.

She's is home to me. Even when we sit in her Grandmom's house, where I've never actually been. Especially when my daughter insists Katie sit in the middle of us. Especially when my boy shows his sweet, gentle self in constant conversation with Katie's Grandmom. Especially when she borrows her mom's fancy car for the morning and comes to see me.

Y'all, the timing was perfect Tuesday night when she texted me. She's worth a detour in the wrong direction, but this one was in the right direction. And the timing was perfect when she showed up just before 8 a.m. Wednesday. Jaclyn picked up Ben for VBS about 30 minutes later and then we dropped Cate off at robotics camp.

And then we went to sit in a coffee shop and talk. Uninterrupted, expect by each other. Without an agenda, except each other. I don't even drink coffee, but I didn't want to be anywhere else in the 9 o'clock hour Wednesday morning.

Katie is home to me. It's never long enough. Or often enough. It's usually dependent on so many circumstances and schedules. Really, there is no better surprise than when the person who has known me longer than I've known myself comes near. And we settle back in to the couch, even the one we've never actually shared, that has collected so many memories, conversations, disappointments, dreams, laughs, and seasons. It's there God reminds me who first introduced me to Him and how far we've all come together. 

I'm glad to be linking up with Kristen's Out of the Blue series at Chasing Blue Skies. I've missed documenting the ways God surprises us. 

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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Live and love freely

"Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you. I am emphatic about this. The moment any one of you submits to circumcision or any other rule-keeping system, at that same moment Christ’s hard-won gift of freedom is squandered. ...

I suspect you would never intend this, but this is what happens. When you attempt to live by your own religious plans and projects, you are cut off from Christ, you fall out of grace. Meanwhile we expectantly wait for a satisfying relationship with the Spirit. For in Christ, neither our most conscientious religion nor disregard of religion amounts to anything. What matters is something far more interior: faith expressed in love. ...

It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then?

My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. ..."

{Galatians 5 from "The Message"}

These verses have been on my mind lately. I've needed to hear them. And, honestly, I've been wanting to print them on little slips of paper to distribute nearly everywhere I go.

But perhaps that would defeat the purpose.

It seems we're all too concerned with other people's business. Yes, I believe we're better off when we live in a community that truly shares life. I don't know where I would be without my friends.

But I'm not so sure telling each other how to life is the best way, even when we share core beliefs. And by "each other" I mean on the Internet, down the street, in the grocery story, in your own home, around the people you love, and near people you don't know very well.

Whether we depend on an iPhone to effectively work-from-home while mothering, carry a mobile office in our pocket so we can run a company while maintaining fairly normal hours, or not claim loyalty to a smart phone doesn't determine our worth.

Organic foods are great. If you can't eat wheat, I'm glad there are gluten-free options. Homecooked meals are delicious. Restaurants give another option that sometimes saves the evening. I like, er, love Diet Dr Pepper. Yes, our bodies are temples created by the Maker of the world, but scare tactics aren't the way to changing anyone's eating habits, much less their hearts.

The number of kids you have. Your schooling decisions. What and how much you let your kids watch a TV or any other screen. Country living versus city living. All of these things are topics on which many of us are passionate. Us, yes. Me included. Sometimes I catch myself thinking I have a better idea. And certainly I have wished people would have judged my decisions less. For me, it's a balance between personal decisions and holy convictions.

I'm realizing loving is more convincing than persuading or defending. Like I tell my 6-year-old girl, "Just because our family does it this way doesn't mean everyone does."

Sometimes we just have to tumble through life and listen for God to guide us because what everyone else is doing may not be what we're supposed to be doing. So, yes, live freely, love deeply, and trust the Maker of it all. 

I'm linking up with Jennifer Dukes Lee and other storytellers. Want more stories? Like 152 Insights on Facebook. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram. Follow 152 Insights at Bloglovin'. Subscribe to receive "Insights in Your Inbox."

Monday, July 15, 2013

Hey, summer, s ... l ... o ... w down. {a catch-up post}

Last week I didn't have a single appointment or play date or lunch on my calendar at the beginning of the week. Really, it's the first week of summer that's been that free. I loved it.

Yes, I had a to-do list of freelance articles to be written, computer tasks related to managing vacation rentals, and other things I didn't want to forget to do. We ended up swimming with friends, lunching with friends, working, cleaning, and playing. But I didn't have to do anything at a certain time.

Well, until I dropped off my kids at a friend's church for Vacation Bible School from 5-8 p.m. EVERY evening. They were fed dinner, taught new songs, heard Bible stories, and totally entertained.

So my husband and I had four dates last week. We ate a homecooked meal while watching "Mad Men" the first evening. We went out to dinner the next night. Then a couple I didn't know sat around our table for dinner around our table one evening as we talked adoption, diabetes and homemade Reese's dessert. On Thursday, Greg had a meeting so I got food from a drive-thru, scrapbooked some of Christmas 2011 and then got a pedicure. {I'm telling you, you can do quite a bit with three hours without kids when you're used to having a couple small helpers.} And then Friday night was double date night with our good friends Andy and Courtney, whose kids had been invited to VBS by my kids one night and ended up going the rest of the week.

And, hey, moms, I had a stroke of genius that lasted HOURS. I asked my kids if they wanted to see who could get the most jobs around the house done. So they fell for it. They put away clothes, sorted dirty laundry, carried toys and coloring books back to their places, and washed a couple windows and the front door. And Cate created a scoreboard, of course. The biggest surprise was that it even continued into the next day, when Cate asked if she could get points for doing such-and-such around the house. "Ben should get a point for napping," Cate suggested. Yes, yes, he should because I think that's the only day he napped. Yep. We're in that phase.

Oh and Cate lost her eighth tooth. She's 6 people. Only two months into being 6. She lost #7 and #8 less than a week apart. I didn't even realize the last two were loose enough to come out. Apparently she's a tooth-wiggling pro.

Our weekend included a baby shower for us girls while Greg drove Ben around to his childhood fishing hole and other places on his reminiscing journey and then an impromptu drive around Kentucky Lake, where Greg showed me some bays and camps I'd never seen. We also happened upon a playground with a nice view of the lake and dreamed of future plans, trips and ideas. We played mini golf with friends -- an outing you'll see more about because I have a blog post on that brewing my mind! We were rained out of a swimming party, but we ate pizza and played skee ball instead. And last night I managed to turn in the remaining four freelance articles I'd gradually been working on throughout the week.

Then there is this week. And, really, I love it too. Cate is at a robotics camp at Murray State. Ben is at VBS at our church. We have appointments to get our fingerprints taken for our adoption home study, which we're well on our way to updating for an agency that has piqued our interest. Of course, the fingerprints have to be taken at a location 45 minutes away, so we're going to make a mini road trip out of it. And I have some vacation rental responsibilities with renters coming and going. And I'm sure that's not all. I did knock out multiple errands while the kids were occupied at their respective VBS/camp this morning, so now we're going swimming.

So, there. An recap of sorts. I just didn't want you think I'd totally disappeared. I'm trying to get summer to slow down, but I'm failing miserably. Even so, it's been fun. And we still have month left. In case you didn't catch on, I really love summer.

What have you been up to?

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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

My Perspective on Education

Going to kindergarten, almost a year ago ... 
I argued with my husband about where we would send our kids to school before we even had kids. I should have known then not to say "I will never send my kids to private school!"

I was raised by a public school teacher and a public school principal and spent every school year from kindergarten until I graduated with a bachelor's degree in journalism in public school buildings. My aunt was a high school English teacher and my grandma worked for a board of education – both in public school districts.

Certainly, I would raise the next generation of public school students when I had kids.

But, of course, making plans for my life has never really worked. Most every time I've said "never," God has said, "How about this?" He’s led me on paths I never expected and some I never thought I wanted.

My daughter recently finished her first year of kindergarten – at a small, private, classical Christian school. And she’s looking forward to first grade there. I didn't even know what classical meant educationally speaking until the year before we enrolled her.

But when the principal – well, she’s called the head of school, but, you know, I was raised in public schools – described the school's philosophy and mission and introduced me to the curriculum, I sat there listening to her sum up my beliefs about education that I hadn't yet been able to put into words.

{Finish reading the rest of this story at Simplicity in the Suburbs ...}


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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Joy that crashes my mornings

I'm not a morning person. 

I prefer to wake up on my own, without an alarm or a commitment. And then I want to wake up slowly ... and quietly. I'm an extrovert most of the rest of the day, but I like to have mornings to myself. I especially don't want the TV on. Motherhood has thrown much of this out the window, yet I fought to hold on anyway.

My daughter is much like me in the mornings. She likes to cuddle quietly and gradually wake up. She's much more pleasant when she wakes up on her own, even if the time isn't that different from when I'd wake her up for school.

And then there is my son. Ben is loud and ready for much activity the moment he steps out of bed. He'll wander to our bed and find his way into our bed, beside me if Greg's already left for the office. And he's quiet for about two minutes.

Then he wants to talk. And wrestle. And have you tickle him. And hide under the blankets. He laughs and tells stories. He urges me to get up and get him something to drink.

Admittedly, I can be annoyed by this. He crashes my introverted morning ways. 

But this morning I was laying in bed, snuggling with him while he talked about Vacation Bible School last night. I thought about how I chewed him out for peeing in his pants, again. I thought about how I can be harsh and how I need to speak more gently to him so I don't squash his big, bold spirit.

He's like the joy that comes in the morning

My words were harsh the night before. Ben often gets out of bed with tons of excuses that are only procrastination strategies. He's afraid he'll miss something. He thinks of another song to sing or story to tell.

Many evenings I'm weary and thankful bedtime has come. Even on the best of days, bedtime is welcome. My kids are generally good kids. Yes, they talk much, ask many questions, like to be on the go, argue with each other and then hug in the same moment, want to know what's happening next, and stretch me emotionally. But it's me who is ready for bedtime. Perhaps as the day ends I shift back to introverted ways.

But God doesn't leave me that way. The morning brings joy. For me, joy's name is Ben, and he likes to come to my bed about 6:40 each morning.

I'm linking up with Jen Ferguson's Soli Deo Gloria party, where encouragement abounds, as well as Jennifer Dukes Lee and other storytellers for #TellHisStory

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Sunday, July 7, 2013

A nearby but new view

For the third week in a row, we were sleeping somewhere other than our own house for part of the week. For a family who likes road trips and adventure, we weren't complaining. Funny thing about this last trip was it was only about 30 minutes from our house, yet it really felt like a getaway for me. We like to spend time at Kentucky Lake, and even have a vacation rental house there, but we spent three nights at a different house with some of Greg's family.

New views are good for my soul.

We ate lots of good food. And other than the broccoli salad I contributed for the Fourth of July party, I wasn't responsible for any of it. My mother-in-law had the cabinets and fridge stocked with meals and snacks.

The house has a theater room. And, as you can see, it was a hit. I lost count of how many times they watched "The Jungle Book" with some "Veggie Tales" thrown in.

We also celebrated my nephew Kieran's 2nd birthday about a week late. But, hey, he didn't seem to mind.

There was much laughing with cousins, who are also friends.

Smiles were common too. Greg caught 20 catfish and at least one large-mouth bass on July 4th and Ben was happy to help him out at the dock. Cate lost her seventh tooth, which I didn't even realize was that ready to come out. That's seven teeth out in 13 months and an especially large gap on top.

We didn't see the sun much while we were there, but we still went for a boat ride.

I like that my 6-year-old daughter takes pictures with me in them. {Another favorite moment she snapped is here from last week.}

The sun was still a stranger, but the temperatures warmed up enough Friday we decided to swim. And I'm glad we did. Look at that view. Seriously amazing. Contrary to the illusion, Greg isn't going to fall over. There is a ledge to the pool that over looks the lake.

Have you gotten away to enjoy a new view lately?

We have a three-bedroom house on Kentucky Lake called The Gathering Place that is available for rent. I also manage this house mentioned in this post. It's a six-bedroom house called Kentucky Lake Lodge. Both are available for rent. Let me know if you're interested in reserving some dates for a getaway of your own at either house. 

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Saturday, July 6, 2013

After the rain

Photo by Jodi Whitaker. 7.6.13. Old Richmond Road in Lexington, Ky.

We ended up playing glow-in-the-dark mini golf indoor inside this evening instead of riding go-carts outside. Turned out to be a good decision. Inside, we putted the fluorescent balls up ramps, through barriers, and toward a small hole; outside, rain poured and thunder clapped.

We've seen very little of the sun the last few days, but enough of it appeared after the storm. The sky was ripe for beauty. And then we saw a rainbow as we drove away from the indoor mini golf course decorated with glow-in-the-dark starfish and lobsters creating a neon beach scene complete with Bob Marley music over the speakers.

Driving just a couple miles across our small town back to our house, we saw the rainbow again when we turned on our street. "It's following us!" Ben piped up from the back seat.

I laughed. I'm not sure if I chuckled out loud or just in my head. But upon doing so, I wanted to take it back. The observation from my 3 1/2-year-old boy reminded me of truth that was declared generations ago when Noah obeyed God and built an ark:

And God said, "This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth."

The rainbow wasn't technically following us. We saw the two times we traveled east on our way home. But God's promises follow us. For generations, God has showed us this sign after storms as a reminder of his everlasting covenant with his people. Tonight, he revealed this to friends who live 267 miles apart in this Bluegrass State as the beauty they witnessed filled my Facebook news feed.

Some days are interrupted. Some plans are changed. Sometimes the sun is a stranger. But the promise God made to Noah many generations ago remains. In that truth, there is beauty that stretches across the sky, and our lives.

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Thursday, July 4, 2013

Celebrate freedom!

"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. ... You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"
{From Galatians 5}

Happy Independence Day, friends! I hope your day is filled with sunny weather, good friends and family, delicious food, and an awareness that we're truly blessed to live where we do.

How are you celebrating?

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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

{#SmallTownUSA} Celebrating on the corner of 8th & Main

What says small-town Independence Day more than a John Deere with a flag attached to the back?

Yeah, that's what I thought. 

Our town of 17,741 {according to the 2010 census ...} loves parades. Our Fourth of July parade was on June 29. There's also parades for Veteran's Day, Murray State University Homecoming, and Christmas. We live just two blocks from our favorite parade-watching spot, the corner of Eighth and Main streets, where my husband's family has watched tractors, marching bands, and convertibles slowly move for years. Now our family has our own history there.

We love seeing our community lined down the streets. We compare one parade to another. We wave to our friends who are part of the parade. We snap pictures. We collect candy. We've even walked in a couple parades.

And, most importantly, we gather together to celebrate freedom.

I'm joining Teri Lynne Underwood and her #SmallTownUSA series. Want more stories? Like 152 Insights on Facebook. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram. Follow 152 Insights at Bloglovin'. Subscribe to receive "Insights in Your Inbox."