Sunday, June 30, 2013

Books I've read in 2013 {so far ...}

Sssshhhh. Maybe if we don't talk about how 2013 is half way over, time will slow down. Maybe? How about if we just change the subject and discuss the books we've read so far this year? Yes, let's go there ...

Non-fiction // Christianity
"Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World" by Bob Goff
"Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way" by Shauna Niequist
"Holey, Wholly, Holy: A Lenten Journey of Refinement" by Kris Camealy {Review}

Non-fiction // Dreams & Work
"Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average and Do Work That Matters" by Jon Acuff {Review}
"You're Made for a God-Sized Dream: Opening the Door to All God Has for You" by Holley Gerth {Review}
"The 'Do What You Can' Plan: 21 Days to Making Any Area of Your Life Better" by Holley Gerth

Non-fiction // Parenthood
"Sparkly Green Earrings: Catching the Light at Every Turn"
"No More Perfect Moms: Learn to Love Your Real Life" by Jill Savage {Review}

Non-fiction // Marriage
"Beyond Ordinary: When a Good Marriage Just Isn't Good Enough" by Justin & Trisha Davis {Review}

"Touch & Go" by Lisa Gardner
"Deadly Pursuit" (Guardians of Jusice #2) by Irene Hannon
"Lethal Legacy" (Guardians of Justice #3) by Irene Hannon
"Vanished" (Private Justice #1) by Irene Hannon
"The Survivor" by DiAnn Mills

And I have some books started ...
"Backseat Saints" by Joshilyn Jackson
"Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe" by Sarah Mae and Sally Clarkson
"Hope for the Weary Mom: Where God Meets You in Your Mess" by Brooke McGlothlin & Stacey Thacker

Have you read anything you want to recommend?

The links will lead you to Amazon, where if you decide to buy something after clicking, I will get a very small percentage of the sale. The price for you won't change either way. 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."

Friday, June 28, 2013

Nine Things I Learned in June

A water balloon "fight" between cousins. They were so wet and happy when it was over. Louisville, Ky.

When I browsed Facebook and Twitter this morning, I kept seeing some of my favorite bloggers linking to Chatting at the Sky's post about things learned in June. I love list posts, so I wanted to jump in.

June sneaked up on me and then seemed to be over before I blinked. I say over, but, really, we've got a few days left. Even so, our small town's Freedom Fest celebration is tomorrow, complete with fireworks, so it seems like July has arrived early. Summer Break is half over {and so is 2013 ...}, and, yes, it's flown by. I glance at my calendar, and I'm not sure life is truly going to slow down, but I want to soak up the sunshine and the real-life moments that are strung together to make this my life. 

So, in no particular order, here are nine things I learned in June ...

1. Even extrovert/planners/initiators like a break and want to be invited by others. Making plans and bringing people together is my thing. I like it, and I think I'm pretty good at it. Yet sometimes I like to sit back and have a friend reach out to me. It's a strange tension that presents itself when I'm weary. My husband and a good friend have reminded me that even strong extroverts need help -- something that others can understandably fail to see.

2. We're in the second season of Mad Men {Thanks, Netflix!} and I still can't decide if I like it.

3. Adoption is on my mind. The room that used to be Ben's nursery is sitting empty. I wondered for a brief moment what we should do with the room and I heard God tell my heart: Wait. So, we're waiting to see where this hope goes, but I believe we're supposed to expand this family of ours.

4. "The Internship" was really funny. I hesitate at what seems like it will be just a slap-stick comedy, but laughing is good for my soul. And this movie was funny.

5. I'm old-fashioned. I love my swim dress. I love my mini van. And, well, there may have been some political decisions recently that reminded me of this. {There is a blog post on that brewing in my head!}

6. Quizno's has a delicious sugar-free lemonade. Tropicana, I think. {Apparently I'm still in the process of actually learning this one!}

7. Subway serves avocado as a sandwich topping. It's really good with turkey and bacon. {Hey, with Quizno's and Penn Station, the avocado is what enticed me back!}

8. It's not all going to get done today. And that's OK. {Obviously, this is one I'll always be learning, but I've made progress here, people.}

9. Summer starts well before June 21. I've heard many times since school ended from my quite literal daughter, "Hey, Momma. Is it summer yet? It feels like it." Yes, but, hey, she learned to swim in the deep end without floaties, so there is that.

I'm linking up with other list-makers at Chatting at the SkyWant 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."

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Beneath the surface

We played with my underwater camera last week at the swimming pool and came home with this gem as well as a few others. I soon after made this photo my Facebook cover. Makes me look like the fun mom, right?

Well, maybe. 

It certainly shows how fun my kids are, how they aren't afraid to go under the water, how Ben prefers to swim with his eyes wide open, how Cate requires goggles to see, and how they're quite cute swimming around.

But it doesn't capture everything in my momma heart right now.

I feel God doing a work in me. It's hurting a little because I'm having to let go of selfish desires and self-made plans. But it's freeing to realize {slowly, I'm stubborn ...} that I'm not in charge. It's exciting to see how the Creator of the entire universe is tending to details in my life.

I sense God doing a mighty work in my husband too. He's a businessman, an entrepreneur, but he manages to prioritize his family, seek out authentic relationships with other men, round up guys to play basketball almost weekly, and intentionally build a legacy and learn from those who have gone before him.

I believe God is here with us, changing us moment by moment, promising not to leave us the same.

I've talked about balancing work and play as God gives me opportunities to use my communication and organizational skills. This summer has been the epitome of balancing busyness from responsibilities with play that goes with summer. I'm a summer girl at heart. I want my kids to swim and eat snowcones. I want to take road trips and indulge in the togetherness that doesn't happen in the school year.

So we go to the pool. It's there I feel God reminding me to let go. He nudges me as if he's saying, "Just jump in with them." So I do. That day last week, I set down my Kindle and disconnected my insulin pump and got in. We had this fun, under-the-water photo shoot. I helped my girl practice swimming. I let Ben splash me.

The pool is an easy place for me to parent. The kids are easy there. They like to swim, sometimes together, sometimes with friends they make, sometimes with friends we plane to see, sometimes in their own corners of the pool.  Sometimes I sit there with my Kindle in head, soaking of words. Others times I get in with them. My kids are confident there. They don't ask for much more than an over-priced Airhead from the concession stand. And when I tell them a few hours later that it's time to go, they don't usually negotiate because they're tired.

We come home smelling like chlorine, a scent that takes me back to some of the best moments of my own childhood. Our skin is a tad tanner. They're happy and tired. And I'm reminded that God does indeed meet us wherever we are, even beneath the surface of the water, because he wants us to know peace and joy that come from Him alone.

I'm linking up with Crystal Stine's Behind the Scenes. 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. I'm also sharing this post with Jen Ferguson's Soli Deo Gloria party and Jennifer Dukes Lee's #TellHisStory

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How I am replacing Google Reader and FeedBurner

Goodbye, Google Reader. Your departure makes me sad. You've been with me since I started following blogs many years ago. You've let me categorize and organize and star words I've loved. I liked the simple interface and your user-friendly ways.

I felt a little lost in cyberspace when I heard I needed to find a replace for Google Reader before it shuts down on July 1. {And I'm having a hard time believing July begins next week!}

In the last few months, I've started using Bloglovin' as Google Reader's replacement. I like it, even though it's not the same. You, Bloglovin', make it convenient to share posts via Twitter and Facebook. Organizing my blogs into categories is easy to do and marking blogs or categories as read is an effective option. And, honestly, I like the mobile version better than the desktop version.

Follow on BloglovinIf you're looking for a replacement, I do recommend Bloglovin', which will let you import all your Google Reader subscriptions with just a couple clicks. And, hey, while you're there, you can go ahead and follow 152 Insights to My Soul.

A few of you, well, okay, two dozen of you, get my posts in your inbox via FeedBurner. This is sadly also a Google product that is going away next week. I've transferred these subscriptions to MailChimp. You should get my new posts in your inbox like usual, but let me know if you are one of these couple dozen readers who has been receiving "Insights in Your Inbox" but suddenly you aren't anymore. Anyone can subscribe here to get new posts emailed.

Any questions? I may or may not be able to answer them!

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Sunday, June 23, 2013

Taking a break

I took a break from life.

... from my laptop. {I used my husband's once briefly to link to this post on my blog. Did you read it? If not, you should ... and there is a giveaway!}

... from my "real" camera. {I did post some photos to Instagram, thanks to my phone.}

... from my freelance writing job.

... from my lake house vacation rentals {mostly}.

... from my house.

... from my weariness.

... from my kids.

... from a big event I help organize that is just beginning its major preparation stage.

... from my calendar. {I did try to make plans with a friend via text while standing in line for a roller coaster, but I had to correct that this morning when I glanced at my calendar and realized I had lost track of June!}

Instead I spent two days at a conference put on my the association for classical, Christian schools to which my kids' school belongs. I was invited to go because I'm on the school's board, but it ended up being a time of mental refreshment as I ears speakers who shared about classical, Christian education {obviously ...}, but also spoke to parenting and life-long learning. I have pages of notes I hope to process as I dive back into real life.

I talked about all sorts of things with my husband of {almost} 11 years. We spend much time together, but it's usually as a family of four in the evenings or in weekends. We liked the chance to be together as two.

We ate many delicious meals. The conference center is conveniently located near several restaurants. And we made the rounds: Maggiano's. Ted's Montana Grill. P.F. Chang's. Chick-fil-A. {Add Five Guys and Blackhorse Brewery on the way down and back.}

But my favorite was Big Chow Grill. You choose ingredients for your own stir fry. Yes, the food was good, but the company was even better. We got to spent a couple hours with my cousin Mary who has become a dear friend. We've bonded over adoption and share our lives from a distance, so it was especially sweet to be sitting at the same table.

We went to watch "The Internship" in a theater. {My short review: So funny and all the laughing was good for me.} We rented "Chasing Mavericks" in our hotel room. {We have an unexplained soft spot for surfing movies. And this one was another good.} And we spent a day at Six Flags riding roller coasters.

{Our favorites were Goliath, on right, and Dare Devil Dive.}

I woke up this morning thankful for the getaway and ready to reunite our family of four. Four nights was the longest I had ever been away from my kids since I became a mom six years, one month, and 17 days ago. This break, getting away from most everything, was all just what I needed, yet I was so glad to walk through the door to my real life. 

Apparently my kids want to go with us next time we take a road trip.

What did you do this weekend?

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Friday, June 21, 2013

Looking like family

From the time they were just days old, strangers have told us how much Cate looks like me or Ben resembles my husband’s family. Sometimes we grin and nod. Other times we let them in our story: They are both adopted.

We aren’t related to our children by blood, but they were meant for our family. We’re a family bonded by God’s faithfulness. “Adopted” is a word that has been in my kids’ vocabulary since they started talking – and they both have spoken many, many words. We want them to know their stories – which, admittedly, I embrace as my own stories because their adoption processes were the most faith-building seasons of my life.

At the beginning of May each of the past six years, Cate’s birthmom’s parents have sent her a birthday card with a contribution for her college savings account. This is the first year she really asked questions. It’s not the first year she heard she grew in another woman’s belly because Momma couldn’t have a baby. That’s the basic story that doesn’t capture how an 18-year-old girl was an answer to prayers I cried out to God or how she considered Greg and I the answer to her own prayers.

{Read the rest of our story at Kelcie's blog, This Beautiful Inheritance ...}

And while you're over there, be sure to enter the giveaway for "You Were Always on My Heart" by Mary Beth and Steven Curtis Chapman. Kelcie introduced me to the book when she and I emailed about this guest post a couple weeks ago, and then ... I won my own copy from Jen at The Simple Pen! I'm looking forward to sharing this book with my kids. What a fun reminder that God really is in the details!}

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Thursday, June 20, 2013

{Dear Weary Mom} Hard pressed, but not crushed

Acadia National Park, Maine. September 2011. 

Dear Weary Mom {and others who aren't raising little ones, but who are building companies and making decisions to change the world and wondering what's next ...},

I wrote earlier this week about feeling worn out. Honestly, it's a not a feeling that passes quickly. It hangs around like its your shadow. It nags like a fly buzzing around your head. But, you know, as crippling as weariness and sadness are, they aren't all there is in this life.

My head knows this. But sometimes it takes my heart a little longer to get the message, especially when insignificant circumstances don't go my way and pile up around me as I'm trying to deal with the rest of life. Usually I press through, throwing myself into whatever projects sit at the top of my to-do list. Really, though, holding on tighter and grasping for control is exactly what doesn't need to happen.

All the grasping and pressing and nagging caught up with me. One afternoon this week, I sat on my front porch and cried. Then I turned to a blank page in my journal and wrote. I wrote for me. I wrote to God. It had been far too long. He knows my heart, but I needed to pour it out anyway onto those pages.

And as I wrote, I thought about this truth:

"Therefore, since through God's mercy, we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. ... But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 

... With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. ... So we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."

The aches and pains. The hard days. The dreams that don't work out like we hope. The times we have to say no to something we want. The tears. The fractured relationships. The piles of laundry and stacks of fears. The problems that are hard to solve. All of these things are temporary. They won't last forever, but our journey through them will build within us a faith that will remain.  So, hang in there, weary mom {or weary person ...}, we're going to get there.

I'm linking up with Hope for the Weary Mom, where there is much real-life encouragement. I'm finding other encouragement in these pages: "Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe" by Sarah Mae and Sally Clarkson and "Hope for the Weary Mom" by Stacey Thacker and Brook McGlothin. 

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

'Do not be afraid ...'

Her eyes were welling up with tears. Her sweaty hands were crushing my fingers. She wanted to sit down and take off her roller skates. Yes, it sounds dramatic for what was supposed to be Saturday afternoon entertainment with my girl, but she was scared. Genuinely scared.

It's not the first time she'd been skating, but our local rink didn't have the walker-like helpers to give confidence to her rolling around the slick surface. She just had me. 

We sat down on what used to be church pews that now line one end of the rink and I asked, "Why are you scared?"

She loosened her grip on my hand and said, "I might fall."

"Yes, you might. But it will probably be slowly and on your bottom."

She had other ideas on her mind: "I might break a bone."

"Probably not." I feel like I can say this with certainty. I told her about having monthly skating parties with my elementary school and how the skating rink was the birthday party location of choice. I didn't remember learning to skate, but I remember "Ice, Ice Baby" blaring from the rink's speakers and knowing I never broke a bone.

About then the older man who owns the skating rink, accepted our admission money, controlled the music that he called "records," and made the rules about which direction to skate offered some advice: Right. Left. Right. Left. Just take tiny steps.

Like so many times in life, taking one step at a time is the best way to get there. Sure, taking tiny steps one at a time won't get us there quickly. But it will teach us the route and technique. It will keep us from breaking bones {probably}. And we'll gradually go faster.

I persuaded Cate off the old church pew and we started taking tiny steps, holding hands, moving counter-clockwise around the rink. Her grip gradually loosened. Her steps gradually became bigger and more frequent. There may have even been a couple rolls of the wheels in there.

In her own words: "I got the hang of it, Momma. And I wasn't scared anymore."

Isn't that just like life?

Some moments are scary, but we aren't alone. As we take steps, we gain confidence.

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." {Joshua 1:9}

Cate found comfort in holding my hand on one side and having the wall nearby on the other side. I told her this is how God wants us to be with him. He wants us to rest on him. He can hold us up. He'll take the tiny steps with us and then stick with us when we speed up because we finally get it. Yes, we may fall along the way, but that doesn't mean we can't get up and and try again.

We made several circles around the rink without her even holding my hand. The fear that had been pushing tears out of her eyes had become joy. And now she's asking when we can go skating again.

I'm linking up with Jen Ferguson and her Soli Deo Gloria party and Jennifer Dukes and the storytellers she brings together for #TellHisStory. Want more? Subscribe to get "Insights" in your inbox. Like 152 Insights on Facebook. Or follow me on Twitter and Instagram.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Pressed & Blessed

I'm tried sometimes. Worn out, really. But these people make life so much more fun. Father's Day 2013.

I'm trading my sorrow
I'm trading my shame
I'm laying it down for the joy of the Lord

I'm trading my sickness
I'm trading my pain
I'm laying it down for the joy of the Lord

I'm kind of worn out, honestly. I went to church yesterday morning with a heavy heart for no particular reason but lots of reasons.

This past week we spent four days researching the possible adoption of a 2-year-old girl from Bulgaria. So many variables made the situation something we wanted to pursue, but she had some medical concerns that would likely require doctor's appointments and educational resources we don't have in our small town. Not long after we decided not to pursue this adoption, I texted some of my closest friends who knew about this girl and told them of our decision. And that I was sad. I didn't expect the sadness. Yet I had peace. Holly told me peace and sadness could co-exist. Like rain on a sunny day.

Yes Lord yes Lord yes yes Lord
Yes Lord yes Lord yes yes Lord

I've had a strange pain in my upper arm off and on for months. Like closer to a year. But it's been most intense in the last few weeks. My neurologist friend thought it was a nerve issue, but tests revealed my nerves are fine. So an orthopedic asked questions and x-rayed my shoulder because the pain is usually sparked by shoulder movement that leads to a pain toward my elbow. My shoulder parts all were in the right places. But he offered a steroid shot to hopefully disrupt shoulder inflammation.

Thing about a steroid shot is it wrecks my blood sugar control. More insulin is required, but, of course, it's a balancing act of taking enough extra but not too much extra so I don't bottom out. {If you have no idea what I'm talking about, it's OK. Be glad you don't know about the ever-swinging balancing act of diabetes management. Just know when my blood sugar is high, I feel lethargic and a tad grumpy.}

While balancing blood sugar numbers, I've also been busy balancing writing, lake house management, and mothering. And it's summer. And I just want to be at the pool. My boy still needs frequent reminders to pee in the potty and not his pants. And my girl has lots of ideas and negotiations.

Not only does my arm still hurt {It's a different hurt since the shot ...}, but I also have the weight of dreams, circumstances, ideas, responsibilities, and emotions on my shoulders. It's all making me tired.

I'm pressed but not crushed persecuted not abandoned
Struck down but not destroyed
I'm blessed beyond the curse for his promise will endure
And his joy's gonna be my strength

Yesterday morning in church I was reminded that I don't have to bear it all on my shoulders. In fact, freedom is found in letting it go. There were all kinds of Father's Day tributes in what people had to say in church and all over Facebook. Yes, I'm incredibly thankful for my husband who is an amazing dad to our kids. He's present and involved. He makes me a better momma. He makes our family stronger. And I couldn't do this life without him.

But even together, we aren't alone. Our heavenly Father has adopted us into his family, where there is promise that every thing will work together for the good of those who love him and have been called according to purpose {Romans 8:28}. It may not seem good now. Pain and hard decisions may be present. But there is more. Glory is just around the corner {1 Peter 4:12-13}.

Though sorrow may last for the night
His joy comes in the morning

Italicized song lyrics from "Trading My Sorrows" by Darrell Evans. Want more? Subscribe to get "Insights" in your inbox. Like 152 Insights on Facebook. Or follow me on Twitter and Instagram.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

{Dear Weary Mom} I used to ...

Seeing my kids wear navy blue and black together used to bother me. Now I like that they dress themselves and realize realize my 6-year-old is right: Dark blue and black are close.

I used to lay awake and think about the dishes in the sink or the piles on the counter. I still don't like clutter or unwashed dishes but I've realized a good night's sleep is valuable and I can unload the clean dishes from the dishwasher and load in the dirty ones in the morning.

I used to think my whole to-do list had to get done on Monday morning before lunch. Now I see that I have all day and tomorrow and the days after that. {This is a philosophy I continually remind myself of, but it's always worth it.}

Projects used to become before people. Now I'm trying to balance and be fully present with whichever of the two I'm with at that moment.

There was a time I wondered if I'd always be months and years behind in scrapbooking. Now I'm happy to get a couple hours to wade through 2011 pictures and, more importantly, make memories now in 2013. {Thank God for my iPhone, which helps me remember moments and stories I'm afraid I'll forget.}

My hair used to be dried after my shower that always happened in the morning. I used to run into the grocery store for one can of tomato sauce. Honestly, I'm not sure what I used to do with my time.

I used not to be a mom. Being a mom has changed me and shaped me and given me perspective. Yes, some days are exhausting. Weeks and months may seem hard. I've said this is the hardest job I've ever had. But, really, it's more than a job. It's a calling. It's a relationship. We may be weary but we are making a difference and changing little lives.

One day we will look back and say, "They used to be little and need me every waking moment. I used to be weary, but they were certainly worth it."

I'm linking up with Hope for the Weary Mom because we all need encouragement. Want more? Subscribe to get "Insights" in your inbox. Like 152 Insights on Facebook. Or follow me on Twitter and Instagram.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

We are here.

The blog has been a little quiet. I didn't really plan the break, but, really, it's been good for me to tend to my list of other, more deadline-oriented writing and enjoy the people around me. I'm a funny mix of wanting to take care of tasks but valuing my relationships. My natural instinct is to be task-oriented but I don't know where I'd be without my people.

We celebrated my niece's 3rd birthday in Highland, Illinois, last weekend with a quick day-long road trip that included a fun children's museum, some down time with family, and a delicious pizza dinner. {Ben didn't get burned this year.} That picture above is all of the Taylor cousins: Kieran (almost 2), Elijah (9), Mae (3), Ben (3 1/2), Evelyn (4), Ethne (7 1/2), Charlie (6 weeks), Cate (6).

Cate's been at basketball camp {no really loose teeth right now; she did just lose her sixth one!} and we've been to the pool and will likely make it a time or two more before this week is over. I'm almost done reading "Love Does" by Bob Goff and we're nearing the end of the first season of Mad Men on Netflix. I'm surprised by how much I like it.

Here is a dose of reality from around here: I forgot to feed Cate breakfast on Monday morning before she went to basketball camp. Here, let me defend myself. I had a breakfast meeting with a friend I was dragging Ben to, so I knew we didn't need to eat before camp. Cate slept later and got ready for camp as soon as she woke up and, well, once I helped her tie her shoes, I assumed my duty was done for the getting-ready routine.

And then I finally showered for the day about 30 minutes before friends came over tonight for dinner. I didn't even dry my hair because the baked spaghetti was ready to come out of the oven, sounding the alarm on my personal care time. Catching up with my friend while our kids built a fort with every blanket we own was good for my soul.

It's been imperfectly busy around here, but I'm actually not feeling stressed. I hope that peace that certainly passes my understanding continues because my calendar seems full and my list of projects to get done seems long. But I've got these two kids who are embracing summer just like I hoped they would and I've got a husband who works hard so I can be a work-at-home mom and then is present and involved when he comes home.

So we are here. Living.

And while I'm here, let me tell you about some deals ...

This lovely "Chosen" necklace is only $9.99 {that's $7 less than usual} at DaySpring.

You can buy two journals/notebooks from DaySpring and get a third free. I've loved all the notebook I've used from there. Just add the three products to your cart and you'll receive the lowest-priced item for free.

Max Lucado cards also are on sale at DaySpring. You'll find good deals on meaningful cards.

Elsewhere ...

"Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing" by Sally Lloyd-Jones is just $1.99 for your Kindle {also well worth the $12.23 for a hardback copy}. This is a devotional that is a lovely supplement to beautiful "The Jesus Storybook Bible," which is just $2.99 {Kindle} or $9.93 {hardback}.

Crocs are on sale -- up to 60% off -- at zulily from Thursday through Saturday. Definitely a deal worth checking out if your kids are like mine about shoes, wanting to get them on quick, getting them dirty quickly, and outgrowing them in a flash.

Now that summer is in full swing around here, I'm realizing I didn't share one of my all-time favorite summer products that I manage to use year around: Banana Boat's Aloe After-Sun Lotion. Yes, four 16-ounce bottles seems like more than you'll need, but if you like the preserve the scents of summer, you won't mind having extra on hand. I discovered small bottles at Big Lots recently so now I carry the lotion in my purse.

What are you reading and watching? Where have you seen good deals? What have you been doing?

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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

{Behind the Scenes} From yes to no more

"Hey, Mom, where are those paint sticks?"

Clearly we don't paint much.

But I decided to say "yes" last week when Cate asked if they could paint. I gave them each a Styrofoam plate with five paint choices, three paint brushes and a cup of water. See those colors on the top of each of the pages? Those are watercolors that neither wanted to use. Ben was just following Cate's lead with that choice.

See that black patch Ben is intently painting? Not too many moments later, his entire page was his self-mixed black. The whole page. So I got him a new page, which this time didn't have a picture because clearly that wasn't important to him.

And before he filled his second page with his red-and-yellow-and-blue-and white-and-green-make-black paint, he used his brush to slap a huge glob of his creation on Cate's more meticulous-painted picture. Cate is a creative girl who carries a notebook and colors with her most everywhere, so this was an offensive violation of her personal, artistic space.

"Ben, you're done painting because you couldn't respect Cate's space."

Trust me, I know little brothers are bound to overstep boundaries and sometimes big sisters just need to get over it, but the black paint bomb was rude and we're in that continual your-actions-have-consequences training mode.

Cate got a new paper and Ben went to his room, clearly mad at me. I decided it was just as well he regroup. But then I didn't hear from him for 20 minutes, so I went to check on him. I found him asleep in his bed. And he stayed that way through lunch, without wetting his bed even though he wasn't wearing a Pull-Up, for a couple hours.

Yes, it started with a picture of my kids sitting on their own half of the kitchen table, painting with those sticks, but it ended for Ben when he painted way too far outside the lines and onto Cate's page. I was the "yes" mom and then had to be the "no more" mom. But I managed to come out with some lovely paintings on the refrigerator and the pleasant aftermath that follows a much-needed nap.

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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Friday, June 7, 2013

His & Hers

We were driving out in the country earlier this week when my husband noticed an older man and older woman simultaneously mowing their lawn. Like his and hers lawn mowers.

I reminded Greg I've never mowed the lawn and could think of better his and hers gifts. Like jet skis. Or rocking chairs.

{It's true. I've never mowed the grass. My dad and brother and even my mom did when I was a kid. Then I lived in dorms three-fourths of the year for four years and back at my parents' house where my younger brother also still lived for a few summers. Then I lived in a couple apartments, got married, and lived in another apartment. My husband mowed for awhile, six years at one yard and then a couple at another before he decided to start a lawn service for which he hired some to mow our yard and other yards.}

We like to sit next to each other and play Words with Friends. Sometimes we sit in the same room and read different books or on opposite ends of the couch that has two comfy corners watching our current show of choice. {Last month, we binge-watched "Scandal" in bed huddled around the laptop, thanks to Amazon having the current season, and now we're into "Mad Men," which has several seasons on Netflix.} Other times we sit close and let out lives become more intertwined as we swap details of our days.

He helps me clean up after dinner and sometimes rubs my feet. He sings to and plays with our kids, embracing family without hesitation. It's a good time of the year for congregating on the porch swing and talking family walks across the street at the park. And we're always up for a road trip.

I love to be with my husband, but I don't think we'll ever mow the lawn together. I've never done it and he doesn't like to do it. But we do intend to grow old together. My guess is we'll travel, tell stories, reminisce, try to beat each other in any game we play, and cheer for our favorite sports teams.

This couple in the country was sharing their lives as they rode around their yard simultaneously. I hope they have some his and hers rockers they can sit side-by-side in while recounting the day and years together once the mowing is done. Being together shouldn't be all work and no play.

How do you see yourself growing old with the one you love? Am I the only one who has never mowed the grass?!

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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

{#TellHisStory} Mighty Kingdom

Little Hands Storytime Summer Servants at Emeritus of Murray on June 4, 2013.

He glued down six red strips of paper to make the stripes and then scattered 13 silver sticker stars. He knows it's the 'Merican flag, but that's about where the knowledge of Old Glory begins and ends for my 3 1/2-year-old boy.

But Ben was all in for this craft. I'm not sure why he cared more about this one than others that haven't held his attention. Maybe it was the glue stick. Maybe it was because I told him he could give it to one of the people sitting in the next room of the assisted-living facility.

We were with other families with small kids who are part of a weekly story time that usually meets at a local church. For four weeks this summer, the kids are invited to sing songs, make crafts, play games and eat snacks while learning about a couple different local organizations and ways to serve. The theme is "Mighty Kingdom -- Shield By His Love," which, really, is a good lesson for us parents too.

Moms, we are building God's Kingdom right here in our homes when we wash clothes and make dinners and fix toys and play games and grocery shop and encourage naps and instruct at bedtime and hear the stories and answer the questions. Yes, it seems mundane and so far from mighty, maybe even too ordinary to call it Kingdom work. But it's lasting and it's important. We are raising the next generation of servants and friends. These are the people who will build our communities and serve as the leaders. These are the ones who will carry on with the legacy we've begun.

Ben may not even know he lives in the United State of America. But he knows the words to "Jesus Loves Me" and isn't bashful about telling people what he thinks. Earlier this week, he told an older man he'd never seen words that may have made his day: "I made this 'Merican flag for you." And then he leaned in for a hug.

The older man squeezed him in a side that spanned generations and thanked him. He asked my boy his name and then told him about his own grandson who also is named Ben. He took off his Navy hat that probably holds many stories close to his mind to show him that the cowlicked mess of hair on Ben's head is more than he has. As I watched from a close distance, the conversation seemed superficial, but I could tell the man was glad for the interaction and the crooked 'Merican flag.

Some construction paper, stickers and a glue stick don't seem like much. But they were the beginnings of a gift for someone who soaked in the preschool boy love. What we do here matters. The little people are watching. And there is a great, big world full of people who need God's Kingdom to come to them.

I'm linking up with Jennifer Dukes Lee and other storytellers for #TellHisStory today. 

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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

{Behind the Scenes} Step away from the cheese!

A couple days before Memorial Day weekend started, I posted this picture above on Facebook with a caption that said, "I've had help this morning preparing and cooking food for this weekend at the lake!"

And that's absolutely true. But, of course, there is more to the story.

I had a list of food I wanted to prepare before my family joined my parents and siblings and their families at our lake house for the holiday weekend: kabobs, pasta salad, hashbrown casserole, strawberry shortcake, mac and cheese, and honey lime chicken.

In the picture, the kids are working on the hashbrown casserole after I had measured and portioned what they needed to mix together. I was working on the pasta salad to the left of the picture. You can see the tomatoes and onions on the cutting board, the big bowl I was tossing everything into, and the pot of noodles on the stove. You can also see some drinks, my cookbook binder, insulin and blood sugar test kit on the counter along with baskets of food in the background.

Yes, my kitchen was a mess, but, honestly, it was a fun morning of prepping food. That was my thought when I decided the moment was worth documenting. You have to remember, I'm not always the mom who likes help that makes more messes than I would alone, but I'm trying to embrace real life and live in the moment with my kids. And I really was appreciating what we had going that morning.

Then Ben asked if he could eat some cheese. I told him the cheese I had there for him was to go in the hashbrown casserole and I could get him a snack after they got that mixed up. Yes, I'm a kind of a work-before-play girl, but I also have been known to get side-tracked in the kitchen and just wanted to finish what we had started so we didn't leave out an ingredient. I turned around to stir the noodles and tortellini for the pasta salad just long enough for him to get a handful of shredded cheddar. I noticed the evidence around his mouth and told him not to eat anymore.

But he did.

And I'm pretty sure my girl stole some too. She just leaves less evidence than her brother.

I only had enough shredded cheddar for the recipe and had planned to give them slices of American cheese as soon as I got the hashbrown casserole in the baking dish, ready to bake at the lake. But they couldn't obey my one instruction about the cheese, so I sent them to their separate rooms for being sneaky and disobeying my specific request.

Yes, it's minor, and it's not that big of a deal, but we've been working on obedience and common sense around here. And, seriously, who wants less-than-called-for cheese in hashbrown casserole?!

So, yes, I had help preparing our food. But I also had to send my help away just moments after this picture was taken. Of course, then I cleaned my kitchen too.

crystalstine.meToday I'm participating in the inaugural "Behind the Scenes" link up at Crystal Stine's blog. I love the encouragement to share the real life happening beyond what a photo captures. Yet another way for this momma to embrace imperfection

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Monday, June 3, 2013

Growing up in community

My first experience with community was growing up in a horseshoe-shaped subdivision where us kids rode our bikes and played flashlight tag. One winter Elizabeth and I walked diagonally through the neighbor's yard, going back and forth to each other's house, that when spring came we realized we'd killed a strip of grass. We kept games of Monopoly going for days on my brown bedroom carpet. Then when I was in fifth grade a new girl moved in next door to me and we haven't stopped talking since, although our conversations have since been interrupted by distance, marriage and motherhood. Katie and I knew how many steps it was from her front door to mine.

On the other side of Mockingbird Valley subdivision were Rob and Phil who found their way onto our street and into our lives. My brother, sister and I were recently reminiscing about two neighborhood brothers who taught us secret codes to Super Mario Bros. in the short time they were around. Up our street was the family who had a pet pig. They wanted me to babysit, but that wasn't really my thing. There were kids younger than me on the other side of our house and more kids along the horseshoe-shaped roads who joined us on the bus to school.

I wouldn't have labeled it community. And I certainly didn't realize at the time the impact that neighborhood life would have on my perspective so many years later now that I'm raising kids who are learning to ride bikes and strike up conversations with kids down the street.

I have a community of friends here in my small town that I wouldn't trade for a beach house or big-city living. But I still have been wanting to know my neighbors. So I invited them over for a party.

There were almost two entire days of rain leading up to the party, so I wasn't sure who would come and what exactly we'd do at a party that was planned for outside. Truth is, I wasn't sure who was coming anyway because a couple weeks ago we delivered flyers, leaving most for families to see when they returned home.

We set up a jumpy house in our carport. I mixed up some pasta salad and baked brownies {from a box with some added cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and an egg to make them "cheesecake brownies ...}. We had cokes in the cooler. Ready for party, I suppose.

And then the rain stopped. And six families gradually came. There were 14 adults and 13 kids congregated in our driveway. Kids jumped in the bouncy house and in the puddles. They rode bikes and told stories. We all ate hot dogs. We swamped stories and phone numbers. I reminisced about my childhood days in Mockingbird Valley subdivision, even texted Katie before the party started and told her I wish she was still my neighbor, and ended the day thankful I invited our neighbors into our yard and around our table. People left talking about how we should do it again, and I couldn't agree more.

I linked this post up with Jen, who throws a weekly Soli Deo Gloria party at Finding Heaven Today. Want more? Subscribe to get "Insights" in your inbox. Like 152 Insights on Facebook. Or follow me on Twitter and Instagram.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

{Weekend Words}

Happy June! This is one of those weeks I kept reading articles and blog posts that had me telling myself, "Yes! This! This is what I meant when I thought ..."

Saying No To Your Kids and Fighting the Dragon :: "I want to raise my children to hear the necessary no as a yes to something else, something better. This should, I hope, be true in our homes. It is certainly – yes, certainly – true of the promises of God. At least in the big story. And that is what we are in for, the long story. This is who Christians are, characters in the story God is telling in the world." Well said, Sam Smith. Sometimes saying no is exhausting, even when it's necessary. Yes, sometimes I say no out of my own selfishness and laziness, but often it's because I want something different for my kids than what our culture preaches and screams.

Worst End of School Year Mom Ever :: This nails a truth in a funny way. And, really, it made me not feel so bad for not caring about documenting how many minutes my rising-first-grade girl reads over the summer. Oh, and just go ahead and add Jen Hatmaker to your regular reading schedule. She's funny and full of thought-provoking truth.

To the parents of small children: Let me be the one who says it out loud :: "You're an actual parent with limits. You cannot do it all. We all need to admit that one of the casualties specific to our information saturated culture is that we have sky-scraper standards for parenting, where we feel like we're failing horribly if we feed our children chicken nuggets and we let them watch TV in the morning. One of the reasons we are so exhausted is that we are oversaturated with information about the kind of parents we should be." Yes. This. There is so much out there telling us how to raise our kids, what to eat, what not to eat, where to go, how to spend our time, when our kids should read ... it's not all going to happen, and we'll be alright.

How to Fill Up a Child :: "I was concerned about how my children’s behavior or appearance was going to reflect on me. I pushed for perfection because I was overly concerned about what other people were going to think me, not them." My perfectionist tendencies mean I sometimes have to stop myself from criticizing myself and everyone around me. And raising a girl that is a whole lot like me, means I need to be particularly careful not to instill perfectionism in her. I don't want to make a big deal out of the three different shades of pink she's wearing or that her Js are still sometimes backward. I'm thankful that God is showing me the beauty in imperfection. Hands Free Mama is good for me.

What have you learned this week? Any links to share?

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