Friday, May 30, 2014

8 Things I Learned in May

God's still continually teaching me about the beauty and joy that come when I stop to smell the flowers. Or play with the kids. Or read a fiction book. So there's been plenty of those lessons this month, during which we've transitioned from our school routine to summer time!

And I've learned other things this month too ...

1. Kroger sells my favorite kettle corn. Kroger is where I grocery shop {at least} weekly, but I just discovered the red bags of deliciousness ... in the health food aisle near another family favorite, White Cheddar Cheetos Puffs. Obviously, I haven't spent much time in the organic/natural/health food aisle, but it seems I may be there more often now.

2. May really is my favorite month, even if the temperatures fluctuated from 85 degrees to 57 degrees in a matter of days. Thankfully, we're back on the warm end now.

3. A 5K can be both physically and emotionally exhausting, but God still shows up.

4. The Amtrak train is the way to go to Chicago. And there's so much to do once you get there.

5. Online conversations can naturally move into real-life ones. Meeting my blogging friend Beth in Chicago was so much fun. She's the fourth online friend I met in person and it continues to amaze me how real these online friendships are. Ashley started a mastermind group {think like-minded people who brainstorm together and encourage each other} this month. I'm excited to be part of it and have already seen good things happen there.

6. I really liked "Justified." And not just because it's set in Kentucky. Greg gave me {us, really ...} an Amazon Fire TV for my birthday, which makes watching shows on Amazon Prime simple. Plus we catch watch Netflix and listen to Pandora that way too.

{P.S. Doesn't "Justifed" star Timothy Olyphant look like Josh Duhamel? They don't sound alike though.}

7. My newly imposed "Don't get out of your bed until 7 a.m." rule may work. I just instituted it this week, our first week of summer, but it seems to be working. Ben recognizes 7s as upside-down Ls on his digital clock. Whatever works, son. If this is successful, we'll all be nicer people around here this summer. {This rule doesn't apply to Greg, who prefers working early in the morning before his office phone starts ringing.}

8. I'm still addicted to the Pioneer Woman's cinnamon toast that reminds me of how Nanny used to make it when we were kids.

You'll need ...

  • 8 slices of bread {We're big fans of Pepperidge Farm Oatmeal Bread.}
  • 1 stick of butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

It's simple, really, because I only make simple things in the kitchen ...

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Soften butter and mash any remaining chunks with a fork. Mix sugar, cinnamon and vanilla with butter. And spread mixture onto slices of bread on a baking sheet.
  • Switch oven to "broil" and then cook for a few minutes. Typically takes a little less than 10 minutes, but you'll want to watch closely so it doesn't burn. 

How's your month been? Learned anything fun or meaningful?


I love these month-end posts prompted by Emily at Chatting at the Sky. Here are previous month's recaps from 2013: JuneJulyAugustSeptemberOctoberNovember. And from 2014: January. February. March. April.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

This New Season

Well, summer is here.

Don’t look at the calendar to confirm that fact. But look at the flip flops gathered by our back door. Notice the faint smell of charcoal ashes from the grilled hot dogs. There’s a pile of dirty, damp beach towels from our weekend at the lake awaiting their turn in the washer. No alarm sounded this morning. And we picked more strawberries this morning.

Relief and freedom fill the air around here.

We spent this past weekend celebrating summer’s beginning with my family at our lake house. We ate good, laughed much and soaked up the sun. The kids swam and jumped off the dock and chased each other through the grass and into the house. We grilled two dinners in a row there and another when we got home.

One of my favorite moments came after we all washed the lake off our skin: We gathered in the living room to play Game of Things. My 10-year-old niece Milla, 7-year-old daughter Cate, and 5-year-old nephew Jaxson played with us. And they got it. Their answers made sense and they got on to the jokes that started in previous rounds and carried on throughout the game.

I realized then and have continued to since: I’m in a different season of mothering. And this new summer season is showcasing that.

Hello, summer – both the literal season and the figurative one I seem to have waded in as a mother. Of course, my boy is the kind who jumps right in. Regardless, this is where we are.

Neither of my kids actually nap anymore. Some days Ben ends up falling asleep while looking at books in his bed, but we’re in a season of not planning that … or even really counting on that. Quiet times are still going to happen for my soul’s sanity. Cate will likely read, play with Legos, or watch a show on my old iPhone. Ben’s quiet usually involves looking at books or playing with Legos.

I don’t carry diapers or wipes in my purse {although I shouldn’t ditch wipes completely!} and I have two usually willing helpers in stores and restaurants. There are more questions, but there is more conversation that leads to understanding.

I encountered some frustrations yesterday with this growing independence – a battle of wills, if you will – but I like seeing my kids growing up. They make me laugh and they keep me coming back to God. I want to raise kids who love Jesus and are independent – not in a selfish way, but in a way that allows them to see needs and problem solve and help care for those around them. Many times I see that we’re getting there.

Like summer, I welcome this new season in motherhood. I want to soak it in now because I know it won’t be like this for long.

And, really, it’s a fun place to be. The water is nice. Come on in.

I'm linking up this story with Lyli Dunbar's Thought-Provoking Thursday

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Monday, May 26, 2014

Run the race

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith." {Hebrews 12:1-2}

I felt sluggish and defeated about half way through a 5K race Saturday when a woman I'd never met ran up beside me with encouragement and vulnerability. "Every step is for a life," she said, alluding to the local charity that organized the run to raise money and awareness. The goal of Life House Care Center goal is to save a child’s life and share the gospel with their parents by providing pregnancy testing and counseling, community referrals, and other information and support.

"Yes, both my kids are adopted so this cause is close to my heart," I tell her as our steps become in sync for this stretch in the middle of 3.1 miles.

Instead of running on, she slowed down and shared a piece of her story: "I had an abortion many years ago, when I was 33 and old enough to know better. I realized I could forgive myself because of a Bible study at Life House."

She shook my hand and told me her name. I told her my name. Then I told her our pasts don't define us. God makes us new. We both knew this, but it never hurts to remember what matters.

And then she ran ahead. But those moments in my fourth-ever 5K changed me.

Instead of feeling defeated, I thought about our story. I thought about how two women chose life for babies they wanted us to call daughter and son. I thought about a woman we know of who recently delivered twin babies and then had to return to jail while her tiny son and daughter remained in the NICU.

I thought about how God redeems the hard seasons.

Instead of dwelling on how my calves wanted to give out on me, I thought about my dear friend who is walking through a dark season with some relatives and how it’s been weighing on my heart for her. I thought about my other close friend who has lived in a hard season in her home. I thought about how another friend confided in me something I never knew about her as I trusted her with part of my story.

Everybody goes through hard times in life – and we’re better when we make ourselves vulnerable because it helps us heal and reminds others they aren’t alone.

Messages of truth were coming through my headphones: “Lay ‘Em Down” by Needtobreathe. “All Things Possible” by Mark Schultz. “Remind Me Who I Am” by Jason Gray. “Gold” by Britt Nicole. “Home” by Phillip Phillips. I splashed water from the drink station on my face, never stopping my stride. The water mixed with my tears. I was physically exhausted but spiritually refreshed. I kept running – and praying and praising God for the details in this life, both in my own story and in others’.

On the second to last turn in the 5K race, my left foot turned as I rounded the turn eager to head up the small hill toward the finish line. I thought I was going to fall down, but managed to keep my balance. My ankle ached immediately, but I kept going because I was almost there. I made it and it didn't even matter it was my slowest 5K race time yet.

And such is taking steps in life.

Sometimes the journey is hard, especially when we don’t feel prepared for what comes our way and end up hurting. But choosing life is a choice we make over and over again. Thankfully, we don’t have to run this race alone.

I'm sharing this post with Beth Stiff's Three Word Wednesday, Holley Gerth's Coffee for Your Heart, and Jennifer Dukes Lee's #TellHisStory.

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Friday, May 23, 2014

Hello, sweet, sweet summer ...

These strawberries we picked with our hands taste like summer, even more so than the ones we bought at Walmart and Kroger the past few weeks. These strawberries have become a May tradition for my kids and me – along with friends – at The Berry Farm. So, yes, I taste community in them too.

We picked them Wednesday afternoon, taking advantage of the 85-degree sunshine that coincided with my daughter’s early dismissal school day. Courtney and I talked as we moved slowly through the rows of strawberries sprouting out of raised beds beneath plastic tarps. The kids moved faster, up and down dirt rows, then up a mound of dirt, then across the driveway to pet the dogs. It’s the fourth year my kids and I have gone with friends to pick these berries. I do think they get sweeter each time.

{See posts from 2011. 2012. 2012, again2013.}

Summer seems to be like that too. This favorite season of ours goes fast but we gobble it up as we go along. We swim and lunch and relax and read and vacation and catch up and slow down and make plans and play and work. And, you know, these summers are sweeter now that my girl is finished with first grade and we get a break in our routine that is built around the school calendar.

We’ll be consuming more summer foods like pasta salad, broccoli salad, and grilled burgers and kabobs when we hang out with my family at the lake this weekend. There’s likely to be swimming and boating and fishing too. And not just this weekend, but throughout the summer.

The strawberries are gone. We ate them with all three meals the past couple of days and I used the remaining few quarts to make a new-to-me strawberry cream cheese cobbler. I texted Greg a picture of the end result and suggested he come home for lunch so we could eat it together.

My girl and I kind of limped into summer.

The end-of-the-year projects and responsibilities were wearing on me, but I pressed through because I do believe we should finish what we start and do our best. I took store-bought cookies and a vegetable tray to the year-end program last night instead of the homemade appetizer and dessert I had considered making. These moments are good lessons in letting go for me and opportunities to talk to my girl about how we’re preapproved.

And speaking of my girl, this spring has been hard on her respiratory system and sinuses. She’s been to the pediatrician four times since April 2. I was jotting down yesterday’s visit in her baby book when I noticed she’d these four pediatrician visits on the sick side of the waiting room are equal to the number of times she went in for sickness all of 2012 and 2013 combined. Crazy, huh?

Yesterday’s visit was prompted by a 102.1 fever the night before her year-end program. Because sinus infections aren't really contagious and her fever had been gone since around 10 a.m., we went on to the program. I would have had a broken-hearted girl had the doctor encouraged us to stay home. We went. She said her lines and sang songs. We socialized and reminisced with school friends.

The school year came to an unexpected halt when she woke up this morning with a 103.2 fever. There was a time not so long ago in my life I would have been so frustrated that my girl had to miss the last two days of her first-grade year. And, yes, I'm frustrated today, but it's for her and not that I've failed as a mom in some way over which I actually have no control.

So, hello, Summer. We’re limping into to the break, but we’re so glad to be here – where sweet food and even sweeter community abound and hopefully sinus infections are fewer.

What do you love about summer?

Here's a review of my friend Cathy Baker's book "A to Z Summer Fun: Ideas to Inspire Family Fun" if you need such inspiration. 

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

We are preapproved.

We're preapproved. I've been repeating that to myself silently as I go about my everyday life. And I've been repeating it to my 7-year-old girl as we wrap up the school year this week. 

Jennifer Dukes Lee introduced me to the term "preapproved." Well, you know, when it's used beyond what a credit card company tells you. But it's a truth God's been trying to get me to understand for years. Decades, really.

"She is who she is -- organized, tidy, high-achieving, and genetically predisposed to an approval addiction under the subclass known as perfectionism. But we are both learning that a fine line separates perfectionism and excellence. We're trying to keep on the healthy side of that line, with God's daily nudging. (We) are learning that life in grace is about a Savior, not gold stars on a chart."
{Jennifer Dukes Lee in "Love Idol"}

{And this is the second time this year an author has written about perfectionism versus excellence in a way that reminds me this is God's lesson for me. The other time was in "No More Perfect Kids" by Jill Savage and Dr. Kathy Koch.}

I'm certainly not perfected yet, but I'm understanding this preapproval of mine that comes through Christ alone more than ever. Clearly repetition is how I learn, so thanks for joining me in the journey. Yes, sometimes I try too hard for the gold stars, but then God scatters glitter in my life to remind me what matters.

Maybe the end-of-the-school-year papers and projects are stressing out your Type A soul. Perhaps you're doing everything you can to fix a relationship that seems to be crumbling. Do all the ways you're different from others in your life seem so big right now? Maybe the to-do list is dictating your days.

I've been there. Lots of times. Thankfully, I'm getting a new perspective, even if it's a slow soul process. I'm going to keep repeating: I'm preapproved. We're preapproved. And to my girl: You're preapproved.

Yes, even when ...

... the dinosaur diorama {that my girl cleverly labeled a "dino-rama"} is smaller and less elaborate that the others in the class. Who knew families would make bigger-than-shoeboxes dioramas? People, this project is due one week before school lets out for the summer. Yeah, no paper mache volcano for us. I was happy to help Cate cut and glue paper to implement the ideas she had. And we're still loved. Comparison too often steals that joy.

... you eat out because the grocery store seems daunting or you asked your husband to bring home salads because you spent the afternoon at the park with your friend instead of preparing dinner. Productivity and errands don't define my days; God's love for me does.

... we're apparently the only family who chose to send supplies to school to construct a cardboard box car for the end-of-school program. The note from the teacher clearly stated we could make it at home or send it to school. Um, that's a no brainer for this momma. But, hey, I helped gathered supplies for her to take with her to make the box car. And then a week later stopped in Dollar General after drop off to get some more supplies because we forgot a steering wheel and ribbon for straps so she can wear the car. Again, don't let comparison distract you from what matters and what is true.

... someone in the house loses one, er, maybe two, library books. There's a lesson in responsibility in there but no love is lost.

... people don't understand your intentions or decisions. It's OK not everyone shares the same convictions. Love others because God loves you. For me, this sometimes means admitting I was wrong.

... the words don't come even though your head is full of thoughts. Even when you're a writer. Our stories matter, but there's no mandate on how or when to tell them.

... you're waiting and unsure what's next. God's still got you. He still hears the desires of your heart.

God's going to keep nudging. We're going to keep growing and learning and losing and doubting and wondering and deciding and loving and trying and winning and creating and doing. We get to do all those things because Christ approved us and chose us long ago on a cross.

You can read more about Jennifer Dukes Lee's "Love Idol: Letting Go of Your Need for Approval and Seeing Yourself through God's Eyes," a book that explores the idea we're preapproved in Christ and some more of my previous thoughts on the message here. I guest posted at Jennifer Dukes Lee's blog earlier this month on the subject, specifically how motherhood has spurred me along in this process. 

I'm joining #TellHisStory over at Jennifer's place, Beth Stiff's Three Word Wednesday and Coffee for Your Heart at Holley Gerth's blog. If you're looking for encouragement built on truth, you'll want to visit these ladies' online homes. 

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Monday, May 19, 2014

Celebrating motherhood right where I am

I spent my first Mother's Day in a hotel room.

And there was nowhere else I wanted to be.

Before that there were days I wasn't sure I wanted to be a mom and days I didn't think I would get to be a mom. To finally have my baby girl in my arms was where I wanted to be, regardless of the physical location.

Cate was born one week before Mother's Day in a Bloomington, Indiana, hospital. My husband and I were there when the birth mother bravely delivered the 8-pound, 20-inch girl with a head of dark hair into our lives.

With an adoption comes paperwork and rules, so we couldn't leave Indiana until people in that state and our neighboring home state of Kentucky gave us the green light. That was eight days after I became a mom – and one day after celebrating my first Mother’s Day with my husband and week-old daughter as well as my own mom, brother, and sister.

Life seemed right – and not because Greg gave me some picture frames to house all the pictures we snapped of our newborn girl. After a long, emotional season of infertility, I finally knew the baby girl who God chose for Greg and me to raise. Cate is the reason I didn't get pregnant those nearly two years I cried out to God and wondered why I wasn't getting my way.

{Read the rest of this story at Jennifer Jackson Linck's blog, where I'm sharing how motherhood has given me perspective. Also be sure to go enter to win a fun prize pack of goodies!}

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Sunday, May 18, 2014

{Slugs & Bugs Live} Adopting Truth

We're Slugs & Bugs fans around here. And I'm talking children's music more than the creatures. It's fun, catchy and teaches kids about Jesus. Really, I'm not a fan of most kids' music, but Slugs & Bugs CDs are the soundtrack of my kids' lives. {Along with the "Frozen" soundtrack, of course.} Mostly because it's not annoying and it's quality music with a message that matters.

Even Greg sings these songs around the house, often adapting them to whatever situation is currently happening. There are four CDs, although the newest, "Sing the Bible," is my favorite. {I reviewed that one.} But, really, you can't go wrong with any of them.

And hearing the songs live is even better.

Randall Goodgame, the Slugs & Bugs creator, brought the live show to Murray on Sunday. It's the third Slugs & Bugs concert I've organized here, plus there was a private Christmas party. {Read about the previous ones: September 2011. November 2012. December 2012.}

Once again, I was reminded why this music and coming together with other families are two of my favorites things in this season of parenting little ones.

Parenting isn't easy. Teaching them about Jesus can be a daunting task. But together we can do this. And having some catchy songs is definitely helpful.

My favorite song is called "I'm Adopted," a song that celebrates earthly adoptions, of which I'm obviously a fan, as well as our eternal adoption into God's Kingdom. {Here's more about the song from Randall Goodgame himself.} My kids know this song, and they know they're adopted.

I moved around during the concert so I could take pictures and make sure little ones didn't venture up on stage, but I happened to be near my girl Cate during "I'm Adopted." And I'm oh-so glad I was. Otherwise I would have missed her words to her friend Violet: "I love this song. It makes me happy to be adopted."

Y'all. Melt my momma heart.

We talk about adoption. Cate even met her birth mom last fall. I'm writing an ebook about her adoption and her brother's adoption because this is our story that tells of God's faithfulness.

We celebrate adoption. And this song is part of that.

Just read the words. And then listen while watching the fun video.

I was born into a story full of twists and turns
even the scary kind, and that’s the truth
Yeah that was my beginning,
but just turn the page
And there you’ll find, in chapter two

How love had a plan for me
and a great big family
I’m adopted, I’m adopted
I’m adopted, I’m adopted
Love came and found me
wrapped arms around me
I’m adopted

Yeah my family loves me and I know it’s true
though someday soon, I’ll be leaving home
But there’s one who loves me
even better than my parents do
And he tells me I’ll never be alone


Once I was a stranger to my God and King
But he saw me there from his throne above
And he sought me and he bought me,
and now I sing of a brand new life and his endless love

My girl gets it. She gets her adoption is worth singing about. And she's is starting to get that earthly love and acceptance is only a fraction of God's love for us. He chooses us forever.

Thanks, Randall Goodgame, for making music with messages that matter. And thank for bringing that to Murray, again.

You can take a peek at the pictures from the concert in my Facebook album here. Learn more about Slugs & Bugs online at its website, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. You can buy all the CDs at The Rabbit Room; the older ones are also available on Amazon.

I'm linking this post with Jen Ferguson's Soli Deo Gloria party, where God is doing fun new things. 

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Friday, May 16, 2014

Inspiring Summer Fun

One more week. And then school's out for the summer for us!

I may be a momma who thrives in routine, but I'm craving a break from packing lunches, supervising homework and school projects, driving carpool, and practicing spelling words. Plus there are things we like to do in the summer: Swim. Pick berries. Lunch at the park with friends. Swim. Hang out at the lake. Play outside. Swim. Eat snow cones and ice cream. Walk and ride bikes after dinner. Swim.

Our summer calendar isn't too packed. Right now it includes vacation to Hilton Head, S.C., with my family; two vacation Bible schools for the kids; and robotics camp for Cate and swim lessons for Ben the same mornings.

I'm not sure I want to fill the calendar with more. At least not yet. It could easily be a different story in July. But I do have friends preparing for their summer days by searching the Internet for crafts and activities. Another momma I know is planning themed days of the week to organize her kids' activities, play dates and outings.

Whether you want structure or a break in routine or even possibly a little of both, I have a resource I want to recommend to you. My God-sized Dream Team friend Cathy Baker, who I got a chance to meet in Branson earlier this year, recently published an ebook called "A to Z Summer Fun: Ideas to Inspire Family Fun."

It's packed with ideas of how to spend your summer that are organized alphabetically. The introduction even offers ideas of how to use the book -- perhaps you'll want to go from Z to A while counting down the days until school starts again or you'll choose a letter on designated days throughout the summer.

Cathy's family has made A to Z Summer Lists in the past and based this book on her own experiences. But her book is more than a list of ideas because it also includes websites, recipes, and craft and game instructions. There are many free ideas included as well.

"A to Z Summer Fun" costs $3.99 and is available at Amazon for your Kindle {or free Kindle app that makes reading ebooks easy on your tablet, mobile phone, or computer}. This resource is worth your money now because you likely won't get through all the ideas in one summer so you can make plans for future summers or other holiday breaks.

In honor of summer and her book release, Cathy is offering one of your a free copy of her Clean Room Game printable, which is available from her Etsy shop called Celebrating the Moment. Whose kids don't need a little fun to help with chore motivation, especially in the summer?

Just use the Rafflecopter below for multiple ways to enter to win. A winner will be chosen randomly Friday, May 23, which happens to be my kids' last day of school. Updated to congratulate Jennifer Cook! An email should be in your inbox, Jennifer. Thanks to everyone who shared and liked.

So, what are you doing this summer? Are you a planner?

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Cathy gave me a free PDF copy of "A to Z Summer Fun" to review, but I love the inspiration and have already recommended the book to more than one friend. 

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Monday, May 12, 2014

Scattering glitter & letting go

My daughter, who turned 7 last week, pretty much planned her whole birthday party. I have many control freak tendencies, but I loved sharing the party planning.

Really, I'd call all this growth. Cate seems taller basically every day. She uses bigger words and asks deeper questions. So there's that growth. I let go. I realized I don't have to do it all. And I asked my husband to mop the floors after the party, you know, as a Mother's Day present. That's growth too, people.

Ah, the real meaning of letting go around here, Elsa dear. 

Cate wanted to have some girls about her age over for a "Frozen"-themed party. I know, that's not exactly shocking. And who cares that it was 80 degrees outside on Saturday.

Inside we had ice cream cake, "Melted Snowman" {think about it ... yes, that's a fancy name for bottled water ...}, and blue Jell-o {because, you know, it sort of looks like ice cubes}. Oh, and I got out some of those mini bags of chips in various flavors we happened to have. The cake and Jell-o were Cate's ideas. She was immediate on board with the Melted Snowman because she recognized the joke. Thank God she got a real joke. Have I told you how I feel about first-graders and their jokes ... especially when they make them up?!

Cate and I planned her birthday party during Spring Break. That's about a month before the event, but we had fun browsing Internet. She'd been to another "Frozen" party in March. Other than informing her we weren't making snow, I left the crafts up to her.

She chose making "ice bracelets" with clear, sparkly and blue beads strung on pipe cleaners and decorating crowns with glitter. We also tore out some pages from a "Frozen" coloring book.

Here's the thing I love about girl parties: They're all into whatever craft we're doing. The coloring pages went on far longer than I ever anticipated, but who's going to interrupt 13 girls gathered around a table coloring, talking and laughing? Yeah, not me. That's exactly the kind of community I want my kids to know.

The day before Cate's party I did have a brilliant idea. I realized I could buy the "Frozen" soundtrack as karaoke tracks. As I was Googling how to make that work using my iPhone, I realized there were "Frozen" karaoke songs on YouTube. For free. You're welcome. And then my husband showed me how to play a YouTube using my iPhone and our Apple TV.

And we had karaoke. They loved it. I'm sure you're not surprised. I wasn't really, although they were louder and more in-sync with each other than I thought possible. {Have a listen here.} Multiple moms texted me later to tell me that was their girls' favorite part. Yes, the free, last-minute addition part was their favorite. Even my Type A-self enjoys this fact.

Who said birthday parties need to be Pinterest-perfect and complicated? Simple works.

And, hey, Cate told me it was her favorite party ever. You know, it could be mine too. That's what letting go will do for you. 

I'm glad God isn't a I-told-you-so God because he's been trying to teach me enjoyment comes when I realize I don't have to be in control of every last detail. Turns out my girl has some good ideas too. Yes, even the glitter, which is currently still showing up in at least four rooms of my house and will long serve as a sparkly reminder that perfection isn't the goal of a party ... or life.

Joining Jen Ferguson, who is embracing fun this year, for her Soli Deo Gloria party, where being simply real is encouraged. Also joining Holley Gerth for Coffee for Your Heart and Jennifer Dukes Lee for #TellHisStory.

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Sunday, May 11, 2014

For the mommas in your life

Motherhood is the hardest, most adventurous thing I've ever done. There isn't one season of being a momma. For some of us, there are years of waiting. And then there are little ones who are completely dependent on us. They eventually grow up, gradually, and become independent people. Yet, we're always their mommas.

This isn't a profession. It's a calling. And motherhood isn't for the faint of heart. It'll break down perfectionism and usher in beautiful messes that force us to depend on our Father. The crumbs and bedtime stories are for God's glory anyway.

So, yes, it doesn't hurt to recognize women who are mommas one day a year. It just shouldn't be the only day we applaud the women who are waiting or are in the midst of raising little ones or who have been there wondering where the time has gone. Tell your friends they're doing a good job. Tell you mom you appreciate her. Tell your kids you're glad to be their mom. Tell your friend or your sister who is struggling on this Mother's Day you see her and love her.

If you want to give the mommas in your life {or yourself!} something special, I know about some good motherhood resources. And, hey, they're all available electronically, so shipping won't be an issue!

"Trucks, Tantrums and Trusting Him: Confessions of a Boy Mom" by Jennifer Jackson Linck
This is a dose of real-life encouragement. Jennifer's words will remind you of the glory that can come from the mundane. Mothering is a powerful method of sanctification - both for the momma's heart and for those she's raising. This book captures that. Jennifer has found hope and truth in the midst of parenting a toddler boy. Yes, these are her faith confessions as a boy mom, but you girl moms can be just as encouraged through her stories.

"Surprised by Motherhood" by Lisa-Jo Baker
As most of you know, my type A personality has been rocked by motherhood. That's part of why I soaked in Lisa-Jo's story. She birthed three kids {experiences which she describes beautifully, by the way!} and has lived in three countries while I have lived in Kentucky my whole life and adopted my two kids, but I was surprised by motherhood too. This book is worth carrying with you and soaking in when you get a few quite moments between diaper changes and carpool and loads of laundry and homework guidance and making dinner and packing lunches. My guess is it'll make you notice a little more of God's glory right in your own house. {Read my review here.}

"Undivided Mom" by Kayse Pratt
Kayse's authentic works bring hope into your everyday life. This devotional is for mommas longing for a glimpse of Christ in the chaos of everyday motherhood. I like how Kayse encourages women to live {and mother!} with purpose.

Happy Mother's Day, friends! What you do matters. 

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Friday, May 9, 2014

Oh, the places we go ... {Chicago Edition}

I used to think I wanted to live in a big city. Now I'm quite happy living in my small town and occasionally traveling to big cities. And the city that tops my list is Chicago. {Obviously, I've never been there in the winter and I plan to keep it that way!}

We spent my birthday weekend with my family in Chicago. We often travel with or to vacation with family {which we enjoy!}, but I really enjoyed the four of us being able to be in this adventure together. It came at a good time and was refreshing for my momma soul. I believe it was my sixth time in Chicago. {Our other family trip there was with some extended family in September 2010. The rest were when I was in middle and high schools.}

Last weekend we explored the city and enjoyed good food and fun activities. Here are the highlights ...

Take me out to the ballgame! It was a truly beautiful day for baseball! 
Wrigley Field 
We chose this past weekend specifically because the St. Louis Cardinals were in town. {And, yes, I liked that it fell right in our two-week birthday season!}

I had been to Wrigley Field as a kid, but that was before I followed baseball. Greg influenced my decision to root on the Redbirds when we were dating in college, but I've long told him he needed to see a game at historic Wrigley. I didn't even realize until the week before we went that this year was the perfect season to take care of visiting Wrigley. It's the 100th year anniversary of the ballpark.

The Cubs won 3-0 and the game itself didn't have much action, especially for Cardinals fans. But we had a good time. The kids ended up with a ball from batting practice, thanks to the nice guy near us in the outfield bleachers, and everyone around us was friendly. Yes, even the Cubs fans.

I wish there wasn't reason to hear the crowd's rendition of "Go Cubs Go," but I want the teams I follow to have a song. Such a fun atmosphere. Even the Cubs fans seems surprised the Cardinals lost. I even heard one guy say, "The Cubs don't win a lot, but we sure have fun anyway."

Travel: We took the red line subway/rail from near our hotel to Addison street. It was easy to do and we ended up buying a day pass for the rail system because we knew we were traveling north of Wrigley to meet friends and then back south again afterward. And the kids traveled on the subway/rail for free.

Lake Michigan
Our college friend Sarah and her husband Mike live a few blocks from Lake Michigan near the northern city limits. We walked with them to the lakeshore and explored some of that beauty. Cate collected sea glass and Ben tossed rocks back into the water. Neither of these activities is surprising if you know my kids!

Wildberry Pancakes and Cafe
We ate the breakfast included with our stay at Hampton Inn two of the mornings. It was fine. But we really like breakfast, so we ventured out Sunday morning, hoping for a delicious breakfast. We found one here.

It was pricier than we would usually pay for breakfast out, especially at home, but it was a good vacation splurge. Greg has some fancy breakfast burrito and I had French toast on delicious bread topped with glazed strawberries. The kids shared an order of silver dollar pancakes with chocolate chips on them.

Travel: Thanks to Google maps, we walked from our hotel and Wildberry Pancakes and Cafe was just across the street from our next destination ...

The Bean & Millennium Park
My camera and I have a small obsession with the bean. It's a bizarre structure, but it's so intriguing with a camera in hand. But the kids also enjoyed running toward it, acting like they would collide with their reflections.

Millennium Park allowed the kids to run off some energy. They also liked the faces in the fountains and the way it appeared the aces were spitting water.

City Tour & John Hancock Building
As a way to see some sights and move about the city, we took a Grayline Tour on a double decker bus. This gave us good views of the skyline and took us to the John Hancock Building, in which we went up to the 94th floor.

We went up in the Hancock Building in 2010 and had planned on the Sears Tower {shhh, I know, Willis ...} this time, but our tour guide said the Hancock is better crowd wise and with its views. Plus, hey, we were already there. {This tilting view wasn't open yet!}

Navy Pier
Turns out the Chicago Children's Museum is free for kids the first Sunday of each month so we added this to our itinerary once we learned that and knew we would be nearby on Sunday. It is inside Navy Pier and much larger than I realized. The kids loved all the hands-on activities and play areas.

Yes, Greg and I still had to pay $14 admission each, but I'd still say it was a worthwhile investment for our kids.

The ferris wheel is what Cate remembers from our 2010 trip, so we weren't going to get out of town without riding it again. My blogging friend Beth met us at Navy Pier and joined us on the ferris wheel. The real-life time with her was so fun!

The kids also rode the carousel and Cate rode the giant swings. Ben would have joined her but he's not 48 inches tall. We walked and talked around Navy Pier and then had dinner at Bubba Gump's.

Travel: We walked to Navy Pier from the Hancock Building and then back to our hotel afterward. It was a mile each way but easy to navigate. In fact, when booking a hotel I used Navy Pier as a reference point on the map because I was familiar with its location.

Lincoln Park Zoo
My kids love zoos. This certainly isn't the biggest or best we've been to before, but it's free and pretty. Our favorite exhibits were the two 1 1/2-year-old gorillas who were playing with each other and the noisy, active gibbons, including the momma gibbon that swung around while her baby hung on to her tightly! It was a refreshing break with a slower pace - quite a contrast from the hustle most elsewhere in the city.

Travel: We got on a city bus near our hotel and rode it to the Lincoln Park Zoo. Our kids rode free, so it cost two adults just $4.50 for the ride. And the kids' exposure to public transportation continued.

Giordano's Pizza
Eating Chicago-style pizza was Greg's goal so we worked this stop in for lunch on Monday. Turned out to be a great time because the restaurant had lunch specials and service prompt enough for business people on their lunch breaks. Yummy!

In the past we've done a few things I would do again, even though we didn't get to this time:

Shedd Aquarium
This is a "museum" our family enjoyed. Greg and I aren't museum-goers typically but this is well worth much of a day and strep ticket prices. The Shedd Aquarium is near multiple other museum and offers fantastic views of the skyline as well as Lake Michigan.

Architectural Boat Tour
It's a lovely boat ride on Chicago River and offers some different views of buildings. Cate was 3 when we went and wasn't interest in the building details shared by the tour guide but did enjoy the boat ride. We left Ben at the hotel with Gran-Gran that time! Kids aren't given much of a discount on this boat tour, which is a definite drawback for a family.

If you've been to Chicago, what would you add to this list?

This is the second in an occasional destinations series I accidentally started recently. See the Murray Edition here. I also posted about traveling by train to Chicago with kids earlier this week. You can see our pictures in an album here.

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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Traveling by train with kids

It's birthday season for three-fourths of the people our house. So we decided to set out on an adventure.

By train. All aboard! 

We boarded a train Friday afternoon in Carbondale, Ill., and arrived in Chicago about six hours later. Schedule says it's a 5 1/2 trip, but we were delayed a couple times to let other trains clear the tracks.

I highly recommend taking the train to Chicago because, really, who wants to navigate and be responsible for driving in that crazy, big-city traffic? {Yes, I realize I sound older than my 35 years.} Plus, we knew we wouldn't need a vehicle once we arrived in the Windy City.

It's a comfortable way to travel. The seats are like airplane seats. There are two together on each side with an aisle wider than that on a plane in between them. There's also more leg room than on a plane. We were able to move around to the bathroom or the cafe car. And you know kids always think it's fun not to be buckled in.

Here are other details to consider: Our kids are 7 and 4. It cost our family of four $249 to travel round trip. Now, we also had a two-hour, one-way car ride between home and the train station. {Murray folks, you can also get on in Fulton, which is about an hour from home, but you'll be in the train much longer.}

Just for a theoretical perspective, after buying gas for the 418 miles from Murray to Chicago, we would have still had to pay $55/night to park our vehicle had we not taken the train. Makes the train seem even more affordable!

Once we arrived in Chicago, we took a taxi to our hotel from Union Station that first night and again when it was time to head home on Monday afternoon. We had three suitcases, six small bags/backpacks, and two kids so a taxi worked out well.

Throughout our 2 1/2 days exploring Chicago we also traveled by foot, subway/rail, double decker tour bus, and city bus. Navigating those route was smooth, thanks to the way Google maps incorporates public transportation into it's directions. The kids traveled free on the subway/rail, tour bus, and city bus, making them even more affordable ways to see the sights. Somewhat surprisingly, people in Chicago were really friendly and helpful, even on the day all four of us were decked out in Cardinals shirts.

Really, I don't have any complaints about the adventure. Yes, Ben was tired after staying up later than usual and walking farther than usual. But his break down in the Wrigley Field bleachers was such a small blip on the weekend's radar. He did get a little restless on the train, but if you've met him you realize that's his personality. He {and the rest of us} enjoyed the rail trip.

I do have a few specific recommendations should you want to travel by train to Chicago:

1. Pack dinner and substantial snacks. The dinner options aren't good and are extremely overpriced. I took fruit snacks, crackers, Capri Suns, nuts, and gum, but we stocked up before we headed home. We got Subway sandwiches, chips, candy, and drinks to go along with our remains of fruit snacks.

2. Bring the lap top. We brought Greg's lap top because we thought we may want to watch Netflix or Amazon Prime after the kids went to bed at night. And we did. Hello, "Justified." But next time I want to bring mine, which is equipped to deal with all the photos I took with my real camera during the weekend. Uploading and editing photos would have been a great way to spend my time on the train ride home. I did manage to write a couple blog posts on my iPhone. Plus if we had packed a few DVDs the kids could have watched a movie and not just narrated "Frozen," which they could hear coming from seats a few rows in front of us.

3. Give a few gifts the kids can use. Both my mother-in-law and I bought some news books and coloring books for the kids to include in their carry-on bags. They enjoyed fresh pages to pass the time.

Traveling with kids is more complicated than adult-only trips, but we've traveled as a family literally since Cate was a week old. {Ah, interstate adoption ...} My backpack is heavier, the potty pitstops more frequent, and bedtime may come earlier, but I wouldn't trade any of our trips. We've made memories on these adventures.

I anticipate we will do something like this again. I really am not sure where else we could logistically travel by train, but I'm always up for a road {or rail!} trip.

Have you ever traveled by train? If so, what tips would you add?

Now you can read the post about what we actually did while in Chicago

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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Seven Years of Cate

Dear Catherine Anna,

I love sharing my birthday weekend with you. Really, I love sharing my life with you. When God made me a momma seven years ago, I knew I'd never be the same. Even at barely 8 pounds, your little life changed mine.

Being your mom has been the best adventure yet. And we like adventures, don't we? Of course, we both ask many questions along the way and anticipate what's coming next. But together we get to find out.

You've taught me that nuture matters more than nature, although I'm thankful you got your beautiful brown eyes and a determined spirit from your lovely birth mom. You embody my favorite testimony of God's faithfulness to hear the desires of my heart.

God's has been teaching me about myself and my perfectionist, first-born ways through your life. I see you struggle with some of the same approval-seeking, fear-of-failure tendencies and I want to show you that God is bigger than all of that. {Read more about that in a post I shared today on Jennifer Dukes Lee's blog.}

Age 6 is the first one I've wanted to freeze. I've enjoyed the other seasons - the learning how to walk and talk, discovering the world as you toddle, starting preschool and then real school. But each time I've been ready for the next one without tears.

I haven't shed tears yet today, but this one feels different. I've loved this past year in a different way. Maybe it's the way God's been wrecking my approval-seeking heart and turned it toward real life right now. Some days are messy and loud and busy. {Hence the fact I've been writing this post in my head all day and just now posting it while you're sleeping on your top bunk.} Sometimes I don't know the answers to your questions. But I've loved watching you read and write and draw and question and explore. You can tell time, tie your shoes and count money.

You interrupt others sometimes. It's something we're always working on, but I've been noticing lately it's because you have so much you want to share with the world. Yes, you need to wait your turn, but I admire your bravery to voice love and compassion to others. I love the way you invite others in to our lives and around our table. Adventure does await, my girl.

I love you. And I love my life's adventures with you.

Happy 7th birthday, sweet girl.


Look back on other birthday posts: One. Two. Three. Four. FiveSix.

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How motherhood helped me smash idols

Seven years ago today, I became a momma. An adoption process that also was a faith journey led me to that hospital room, where I held my baby girl for the first time. She was just hours old and we’d witnessed her brave birth mom deliver her into this world.

I knew being a mom would change me. I just had no idea how much.

I came into motherhood a perfectionist who wanted to control details, define days by how much I accomplished, and measure my worth by how long my baby slept and how she behaved. I embraced motherhood, but I held on too tightly to a desire for approval from anyone who would give it to me.

Then I saw my reflection in my daughter's little life. I saw her scared to try something new because she hadn't yet mastered it. I saw her mood crumble when life didn't go the way she expected. I saw her stress about first-grade homework.

I understood every single one of those scenarios she was facing. I knew how she felt inside.

Yet God had brought me on a journey to smash those idols – those replacement loves that distracted me from Christ’s love. It’s been a long, hard journey to admit and then abandon my perfectionist ways that crave approval.

{Read the rest at Jennifer Dukes Lee's blog, where I'm sharing about my love idol journey.}

Yes, I'm going to mention Jennifer's book again because it's been that powerful in my life. "Love Idol" by Jennifer Dukes Lee is worth your time and money ... and, most importantly, your heart. I've been thinking about re-reading it already. 

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Saturday, May 3, 2014

35 Things I Didn't Expect at 35

I turn 35 today. Actually, officially, I already did because I was born at some obscene 4 o'clock in the morning hour. I like birthdays because it's a good time to celebrate life, real life, and think back on where I've been and where I'm going.

So that's what I've been doing.

I've said never too many times and tried to plan what God really controlled, but, thankfully, life is a journey and God doesn't leave us the same. While thinking through what I can remember about the past 35 years, I came up with a list of surprises that make my life mine.

I didn't expect to ...

  1. Be a stay-at-home mom ... 
  2. ... who works on the side.
  3. Walk through infertility.
  4. Become a mom through two adoption processes.
  5. Give up my career for the calling of motherhood.
  6. Be a conservative mom.
  7. Be a diabetic.
  8. Wear an insulin pump.
  9. Have online friends.
  10. Meet online friends in real life.
  11. Work toward self-publishing an ebook. {See #2.}
  12. Own a lake house. {Want to rent it?}
  13. Manage someone else's vacation lake house. {Want to rent that one?}
  14. Have a massage therapist in my life monthly.
  15. Go to physical therapy for three months to address shoulder pain that led to virtually no range of motion.
  16. Enjoy cooking my family dinner.
  17. Be uninterested in baking.
  18. Ever skip a daily shower.
  19. Happily live in small-town Murray, Ky.
  20. Like marriage more each year that passes. We're almost a dozen years in.
  21. Process childhood scars all over again.
  22. Have certain friends and not have other friends in my everyday life.
  23. Enjoy my siblings more now that we're all grown-ups.
  24. Like the lake. {But, really, I love it.}
  25. Ever run a 5K. {And then there were three 5Ks in one year for a girl who isn't really a runner. The first was in the snow.}
  26. Say I've bungy jumped.
  27. Not be in a newsroom anymore. I worked in various newsrooms for about six years after college and have been home for 6 1/2 years. {My farewell column is here.}
  28. Enroll my kids in a private, classical school and love it.
  29. Like Chinese food.
  30. Be married to a self-employed attorney who is also a church elder and city councilman.
  31. Highlight my hair.
  32. See so many gray hairs.
  33. Never mow the grass.
  34. Never cook a turkey. 
  35. Be excited about buying an eighth of a grass-fed Angus cow. {So convenient and so delicious.}

And, you know, for being filled of so many things I never expected, I can't imagine myself anywhere else with anyone else. Life is worth celebrating, whether or not today is your birthday and even if it looks nothing like you expected. 

How have you been surprised in life?

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Friday, May 2, 2014

It's a rail trip! To Chicago!

I'm ready for our road trip! Although it's actually a rail trip ... 

We're taking the train from Carbondale, Ill., to Chicago to spend a long weekend in The Windy City. I'm hoping for sunshine though as we have plans to walk places and root on the visiting Cardinals at Wrigley Field. We also have plans to see some friends, eat some pizza, and enjoy the big-city sights.

I like living in my small town, but I love a trip to a big city, especially Chicago. We went a few times when I was in middle school and high school and the four of us went with some other family members in September 2010. I'm looking forward to coming back to you, Chicago!

Where do you like to travel? What do you like to do in Chicago? 

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