Tag Archives: family

Learning Some New Things

19 Nov

To follow up my last post about relearning the same old things, I thought I’d share a couple of the new things I’ve been learning over the past six months or so.

Bad Days Don’t Have to Turn into Existential Crises

Recently, all my kids (9, 7, 4, 18 months) sat through a church service with minimal drama or chaos. I was pleasantly surprised. This past week, I planned out meals Sunday night, picked up a Walmart order on Monday, and we had non-frozen-pizza dinners the whole week. Bedtime on Monday night with my husband gone actually went really smoothly. Our three older kids all share a bedroom right now (their choice); I nursed Neola in the chair in the room while singing songs, and everyone zonked.

But these things don’t mean that I am a great mom or that I have it all together — mostly it just means that the stars have aligned, and things have fallen together in such a way as to work out swimmingly. Case in point: Bedtime Tuesday night (with my husband still gone) was a total cluster. Same mom, same kids, different outcome.

Sure, there are some routines and preparations that have gone into those situations, but any parent knows that you can prepare or you can not prepare; you can teach or you can not teach; you can do your darnedest or you can wing it; and you really have no control over the outcome. Because your kids are their own persons, and they have their own experiences and factors going into every and any situation.

Sometimes things go really well.

And sometimes they just don’t.

It was fairly easy for me to learn that just because a certain situation worked out well didn’t mean that I was super mom. No sooner had I had thoughts like that than one of the kids threw a tantrum or hit their sibling, and it was painfully obvious that no, indeed, I am NOT super mom with angelic children that I have perfectly raised.

But it has taken me longer, much longer, to learn that those bad days, those stressful situations, also don’t mean that I am a bad mom, with bad kids. Carrying a screaming child out of a store because I told them I wouldn’t buy them a toy, or having a child wander off in church or a store and be brought back by a helpful but slightly judgmental adult, or losing my sh!t on my kids while they fight about who gets to play “delivery” with the groceries we just bought while the toddler is screaming full-bore — any and all of these situations threaten to prove to me my worst fears: I am a bad mom; I can’t handle my kids, let alone homeschooling; other moms are way better at this job than I am; and why did God entrust me with these souls?

But bad days or stressful situations do not have to turn into existential crises. Just like the parenting triumphs, they can be viewed as circumstantial. Like the saying, “Bad days don’t make bad moms,” stressful situations and bad days don’t need to be interpreted in the light of who I am or my worth as a person/mom. Having a rough homeschooling day where we did not even scratch the surface of what we needed to get done because of kids with bad or whiny attitudes, or mom’s own meltdown, often tempts to me wonder, “WHY am I homeschooling? How did I think I could handle this? These kids would be better off in school.” But a bad day doesn’t mean that the lifestyle you’re living is the wrong one for you. A bad day means a bad day. Period. Get up the next day and try again.

And for the love of Pete, don’t make any big decisions about your life while you’re having a bad day! Do something that makes you laugh or takes your focus off how frustrating things are. Get your kids outside. Watch a funny show. Take a nap with the baby. Then, when you’re in a better place and mood, if your lifestyle choices really are the wrong ones for you, God will reveal that to you then. Things always look worse at night and in the throes of a bad day.

Do the Hard Work of Healing

It’s hunting season here in Minnesota, which has been the annual nadir of my mental health since my husband is an avid hunter. I’ve blogged about that here and here. My husband and I joke (but it’s not a joke) that hunting is a four-letter word in our household. I have a love/hate relationship with hunting. I love that my husband has a hobby that he really enjoys, and that provides fresh, wild game meat for our family (95% of what we eat for red meat). But I hate that it takes him away from the family on top of his full-time job, for hours and often days at a time.

I have prayed and prayed about this issue, asking God to help me have an encouraging, positive attitude about his hunting. But year after year, I feel the familiar grip of bitterness and resentment. Back in 2016, this feeling led to me getting a part-time job. I thought that having something outside the house would help me better deal with being “stuck” alone with child duty for what felt days upon days. And it did… somewhat. It also added stresses and challenges of its own. (A big reason why I think moms, whether they work in the home, work from home, or work outside the home, all have unique challenges and hardships! None is on the whole easier or harder — they’re just easy and hard in different ways.)

Now I am a stay-at-home, homeschooling mama to four, and I can honestly say that I really enjoy all this time with my kids. Do I love every moment? Absolutely not. Do I love the constant messes (when your kids are here all. the. time., the messes!!), the whininess, the juggling, the constant at-home-ness? Not always. But it is worth it in so many ways.

Nevertheless, it has increased the challenge of my husband being gone hunting. As I was praying about this issue again this fall, God brought to mind the story of the paralyzed man lying by the waters of Bethesda (recorded in John 5:1-15). This scene was powerfully portrayed in the show The Chosen. “Do you want to be healed?” Jesus asked the man. “Do you want to be healed?” God was asking me.

So often, we want deliverance from a hard situation, but we are clinging to certain things that hold us back. We cling to excuses, lies, and fears. In the case of hunting season, I had an expectation of what it would look like for God to deliver me from my bitterness and resentment. And when He didn’t do that, I wondered why He was allowing me to continue to struggle with this year after year. Would it always be this way in our marriage? (Which led to the slippery slope of, “Doesn’t my husband care about our marriage? Why would he continue in a hobby that causes so much strife?”)

This year, there were two specific instances when I was on the verge (and even sliding over the edge) of a self-pity breakdown. I went to God in prayer, and wrestled with the truths He had given me through my recent Bible study. In my mom-dazed brain, I honestly cannot even remember what specifically they were right now! But the gist was that if I really wanted to be free from this struggle, if I really wanted to get well, then I had to do things God’s way. And doing things God’s way in this situation was letting go of all the excuses and justifications I had for why hunting season was so hard and overwhelming; trusting God to supply every thing I needed as I needed it; and support my husband in hunting with a positive attitude.

Have I done this perfectly? No. Well? Probably not. But I have made progress. It has been a personal sacrifice to support my husband in hunting. But I think the difference this year is that the sacrifice was made for God, not for my husband. But in submitting to God first and foremost, I have also been enabled to submit to and support my husband.

(Lest you get the wrong impression, part of our continued journey in figuring out how we can incorporate hunting into our family life in a healthy manner is also figuring out how I can get more regular breaks from the kids to do things that bring me joy. Hence why I am in a coffee shop right now typing this post!)

If you are reading this, I encourage you to look at a challenging situation in your life and honestly ask yourself, Do you want to be healed? Are you willing to do the hard work of healing? Are you willing to do things God’s way, despite any excuses or justifications to the contrary you might have? God’s ways are always best.

“This God — his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him” (Psalm 18:30).

Life Lately: Routines Edition

16 Oct

I’ve never been much of an intentional-routine type person. And even when I’ve tried to implement more intentional schedules or routines, they usually fall by the wayside within a week or two because #life and because it just doesn’t come naturally to me or my hubby. We are very spontaneous, game-time-decision kind of people.

But having four kids has forced us to get better about routines. For the past 4-6 months, we have doing a few things that have made a big difference in our home life. We developed these routines over time, based on what we were actually kind of already doing (it has never worked for me to decide on a routine and then try to implement it).

  • The kids do chores after dinner. Emma loads the dishwasher and wipes down the kitchen table, and Annabelle cleans up whatever area of the house or yard is the messiest (usually it’s the upstairs living room). Corbin picks up all the shoes left out and puts them by the front door.
  • The kids each have a calendar where they keep track of checkmarks for following through on their morning and evening routines, and they earn rewards for certain amounts. But we also expect them to do their chores regardless, so if they don’t do their chores, they not only don’t earn a checkmark, they lose one as well. It has helped keep them motivated.
  • Either Travis or I do the hand-wash dishes and set up the coffee maker for the morning after Emma has loaded the dishwasher. Having coffee ready right away in the morning is so amazing! We set it when we’re in the kitchen cleaning up after dinner so that we don’t forget about it.
  • I unload the dishwasher and dish rack every morning while the kids (especially Neola) eats breakfast (otherwise she just wants to play with the clean dishes).
  • I do at least one load of laundry every day. I used to wait until each person’s hamper was full to do their laundry so that I’d have a full load of just their clothes to wash. I kept everyone’s laundry separate because I found it a pain to fold a load of laundry that had a little of everyone’s stuff in it. But then my kids went through a period of time where they all four had their clothes upstairs, and the dirty clothes were getting put in whichever laundry basket was the most convenient, so I was just naturally washing everyone’s laundry together. Once I figured out my system of sorting clean, dry clothes into a separate laundry basket for each person, thus making the folding process much more streamlined, I decided to just always wash everyone’s clothes together. So now I just do the laundry as it gets dirty. Everyone’s dirty laundry from the previous day pretty much makes a full load, and I usually run a load of towels or sheets each day too. I do still get a little behind frequently, but I love loading the washer at night — makes it so easy to start right away in the morning. I fold the kids’ clothes when their laundry baskets get full — usually about once a week (I put Travis’ and my clothes away a little more often). I really like this laundry system for now!
  • Since the fall of 2021, we have had a housecleaner come twice a month for two hours to clean our bathrooms, kitchen floor, and some other odds and ends. It has been a lifesaver! Some day I will go back to cleaning my own house, but that day is not today. However, there are still plenty of other things that need cleaning that our housecleaner doesn’t get to. As often as I can, I try to clean one of those things each day for at least five minutes — even just cleaning one thing here and there makes a difference.
  • I try my hardest to plan out lunches and dinners for the week on either Sunday night or Monday morning. Then I either put in a pickup order for Monday on the way home from the girls’ gymnastics class, or I take Corbin and Neola grocery shopping during gymnastics (their class is an hour long in a small community so it actually works out about perfectly). I used to only plan out dinners (and sometimes not even that…) but having a plan for lunch is so helpful. I don’t have to rack my brain every single day, or end up making the same thing all the time, or decide on something only to discover we don’t have a key ingredient, or buy a different vegetable in the store and forget about it until it has gone bad. I want to start planning breakfasts eventually too, but mornings are rough for me right now (#sleepdeprivation), so that will have to wait. The kids all have their own favorite thing for breakfast too (Corbin — toast, Annabelle — yogurt, Emma — English muffin or oatmeal), so I’m not even sure they’d be amenable to me making one specific thing for breakfast.
  • Corbin just started going to preschool three days a week this fall. On those days, Travis and Neola take him to school (it starts at 8 AM), and I get 45-60 minutes of school in with the girls. Travis has also been taking Neola on a walk during/after lunch so I get another chunk of time to do school with the older girls then. I’m still figuring out which subjects are best to do when, but overall, the routine is working well. Doing school with Neola around is tough — because she’s in a cast/brace for hip dysplasia, she is much needier than normal. I am hoping that things get much easier when she’s done with her treatment!

I think that’s all the routines I can think of. Two areas of life that Travis and I have not been able to figure out a good, consistent routine or system for are Bible study and working out. Probably the biggest challenge with that is Neola’s nighttime sleeping habits. She wakes up 4-6 times a night, so I am beyond sleep deprived. After bedtime is tricky (though not impossible) because usually I am completely dialed, and I am often nursing or holding Neola in the morning before she completely wakes up, so mornings are tricky too. But the long and short of it is that I just don’t want it badly enough.

Just this past week, I did have, and tried out, the idea of me working out for 20-30 minutes right away in the morning when Travis leaves to take Corbin to school (M, W, F). Then I don’t have to wake the girls up to do school either (because they’d be up by the timer I’m done). Travis can work out on Tuesday and Thursday (and sometime on the weekend) when I am out of the house with the kids at Homeschool Group or BSF.

I also am planning to either get up early to do my BSF study or do it on my phone during Neola’s naps. I did it in the app last week, but then the app or internet wasn’t working during BSF so I couldn’t access any of my answers, and it looked like I hadn’t done my lesson. 😬

Anyway, that’s our daily routine with four kids right now!

Thoughts on Marriage After 15 Years

1 Jul

Do you, Kathy, take Travis to be your husband, your partner in life and your one true love; will you trust him, respect him, laugh with him and cry with him; loving him faithfully through the good times and bad, regardless of the obstacles you may face together? Do you give your hand, your heart, and your love, from this day forward, as long as you both shall live?

On my wedding day, I answered “I do” to that question.

After 15 years, I still do.

But it’s not without sacrifice. On your wedding day, you acknowledge that the future may not be all sunshine and rainbows, but you have no idea what that will entail, and honestly, you are so in love with your new spouse, it’s hard to imagine a time when your marriage vows could be put to the test.

But in the 15 years Travis and I have been married, our vows have been tested. In every conflict and season of bad times, we have been faced with the question: were we serious about the promise we made that day?

The truth is that there are times when you don’t like your spouse. When you feel like there’s no possible way you two could be any different. When their quirks and idiosyncrasies drive you up the wall.

Many in our world hold themselves apart from their spouses, and when things get hard and their love grows cold, they cut bait and move on.

God willing, Travis and I won’t. We will continue to go to battle for our marriage. Whenever we find ourselves fighting against each other, and not for each other, we will regroup. We will humble ourselves, have the vulnerable conversations, and be willing to sacrifice and change for the good of the other.

And it is a battle. There is a spiritual war going on in every Christian household, with Satan and his demons trying to destroy, or at least disarm, the powerful picture of Christ and His church that is marriage. Satan wants the husband to pursue his own interests at the expense of his wife and family. He wants the wife to disrespect and mock her husband behind his back. He wants disunity in parenting decisions. He wants lack of intimacy. He wants two people who pass like ships in the night, orchestrating a chaotic life, with neither love nor friendship between them.

So Travis and I cannot be content with drifting apart. We can’t just focus on other things and let it happen. At the first hint of distance and disunity, we have to take action. We must apologize and admit, when the other confronts us with ways we’ve wounded and harmed. We must swallow our pride and insults. We have to refuse to bring up the past in begrudging ways. We have to choose to believe that the other person is sincere in their love and desire to change. We need to be willing to learn and grow from our mistakes, or to at least try imperfectly to do things differently. We must extend grace to the other person when they fail again.

Those things are not easy to do. In fact, they are the very opposite of easy. They are the hardest work. Fighting for my marriage requires fighting against my natural human instincts of self-righteousness and pride, of feeling justified and without blame. I must be able to admit when I’m wrong, and to see my husband’s side. Even when I think I’m right, I must be willing to allow that I could be wrong…

Because I am a sinner just like my spouse.

And that is really what it all comes down to. Do I really believe that I am a sinner, in need of a Savior? That I am just as much to blame for the problems in my marriage as my husband is? Maybe even more so? Do I believe that I am hopeless and helpless without the intervention of God in my life?

Or do I grumble against my husband, focusing on what he should be doing differently? “If only he had a daily quiet time… If only he worked less… If only he put his tools away… If only his dirty socks were taken off right-side-out… If only he contributed to household chores more… If these things were done my way, we wouldn’t have an issue. Therefore, my husband is the problem.”

I confess that I am often tempted to think that way. But he could say the same about me. “If only she didn’t care so much about the house being clean… If only she didn’t let the kids watch so much screen time… If only she didn’t buy the kids so many treats and toys… If only she gave me more physical affection and intimacy… If only she supported me more in my hobbies and time away… If these things were done my way, we wouldn’t have an issue. Therefore, my wife is the problem.”

This way of thinking will destroy a marriage if left unchecked. Like John Piper illustrated in one of his marriage sermons, when we discover that the landscape of our marriage is littered with cow-pies (all our problems and tensions and disagreements), we must get out our pitchfork and scoop all the cow-pies into a pile. We don’t pitch our tent in the middle of, or even next to, the cow-pie pile. We go find a clean area, no matter how small. That’s where we pitch our tent and live our lives. When we have to revisit the cow-pies, we will. But we will not live there.

Practically speaking, that means that I have to practice gratitude and focus on the positives. What does my spouse do right? How does he communicate love and commitment? He might be showing love and respect in a way I don’t recognize. Even if it’s not my love language, I can affirm what he is doing, while also respectfully reminding him of what does make me feel love and respected.

Finding a clean area free of cow-pies means finding some way to have positive interactions with my spouse. If all we talk about when we’re together are stressful things like work and parenting decisions, or if the only time we see each other is when the chaos of home life is bombarding us, no wonder we’re having a hard time!

Not living next to the cow-pies also means that I lay down my demand that things be the way I want them to be. If I get mad at my husband every time I’m doing laundry and have to flip his socks right-side-out, I’m living next to the cow-pies. If I rehearse over and over in my mind a careless word he spoke to me without bringing it up with him, I’m living next to the cow-pies. If I am angry and bitter at him for saying he wants to do something differently, or for making a different parenting decision than I would have made, I am living next to the cow-pies.

So I must believe that I am a sinner just like my spouse, and be willing to admit that just because something is my way doesn’t automatically make it the right way. Humility is willing to admit fault and to change.

On the flip side, do I also believe that because Jesus died for me and I now have the Holy Spirit, I am empowered to change? That I am not captive to my personality or habits? That God is able to grow my spouse and me together, and bridge our chasm of differences (or at least use our differences together in a divine balance).

As Christians, we should never say, “That’s just the way I am” or “I can’t change.” We can recognize that we have unique personalities determined by God, but we must submit even our personalities to God and allow Him to sanctify them. That means we have natural tendencies, but we can fight against them if they are causing sin or strife in our lives.

In my own life, I have long struggled with anger. When I am hurt or sad, I don’t cry or mope; I get mad. When I feel overwhelmed and flustered, I get irritable and impatient. When I am tired and clumsy, I get frustrated. When I am too hot or too hungry or have to pee really bad, I get angry.

But does that mean my anger is ok? “It’s just the way God made me.” No, it does not mean that it’s ok. The way God created me does not give me license to sin. I must be willing to place my whole self on the altar, to allow the Spirit’s sanctifying power to cleanse all of me — my quirks, my interests, my strengths, my weaknesses, my hobbies, my tendencies — ALL of me.

Marriage has revealed so many layers of sinfulness in my heart over the years, and often the process of sanctification seems incredibly slow. Like, so slow that I seriously wonder if anything is even happening. But I cling to the promise in 1 Thessalonians 5:24 regarding sanctification that “He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.” He WILL change me!! As I look back on 15 years of marriage, I see how He HAS changed me. I’ve matured and deepened in my faith and in my relationship with Travis. So often it didn’t feel like I was growing. But the Spirit was indeed at work. The key is to keep pressing forward, and keep desiring to change. Like A.W. Tozer says in The Pursuit of God:

“Let us beware of tinkering with our inner life in hope ourselves to rend the veil. God must do everything for us. Our part is to yield and trust. We must confess, forsake, repudiate the self-life, and then reckon it crucified. But we must be careful to distinguish lazy `acceptance’ from the real work of God. We must insist upon the work being done. We dare not rest content with a neat doctrine of self-crucifixion.”

The promise of 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 is so great that I’ll quote it again to end this post (using the Phillips translation):

“May the God of peace make you holy through and through. May you be kept in soul and mind and body in spotless integrity until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is utterly faithful and he will finish what he has set out to do.”

Ask God to be faithful and present in your marriage, and watch Him finish what He has set out to do!

The Raw Struggles of a Homeschool Mom

2 May

I make plans. They look so good on paper. I feel optimistic, like maybe I could actually get all the stuff done that needs to get done. I’m not being unrealistic. Maybe ambitious, but not ridiculous, right?

Then life happens, and I am forced to admit that yes, any ambition in my season of life with my specific kids is ridiculous. If it’s not the baby crying or needing a nap, it’s the toddler/preschooler throwing another tantrum and becoming the wedge pulling me in multiple directions. And if it’s not him, it’s my big girls complaining about school or whining about my making them clean up the messes they’ve made. And if it’s not them, it’s the dog chewing up a poopy diaper or my husband venting frustration that he can’t find the tools that HE moved. NO ONE COOPERATES. NO ONE UNDERSTANDS THE ASSIGNMENT.

I feel good on the days we actually do more for school than just math and reading. Not just because I feel like the girls are learning more, but also because those extras are fun. They’re creative, and not just the “bang it out so you’re done” school.

But those days are few and far between. 

This season of life — baby who won’t nap without being held and wakes up 4-5 times a night (on a good night); preschooler who is intense, loud, and over-dramatic; homeschooling 1st and 3rd grade; husband who could be (and should be) working 60 hours a week — is breaking me. Both Travis and I are being swallowed up by so much stress and chaos that we might go down with the ship, and never recover. 

What does God want? Put aside the voices of other homeschooling moms, and even my own standards, and ask, What does God want from my day? Does He want me to follow the schedule I’ve laid out in my planner, forging the path no matter who I mow down or flatten? Or would He rather me walk in obedience, which looks like trust and patience? No yelling, no forcing, no threatening. Just clear expectations, and appropriate follow through.

I can’t live that way. That’s my first response. Because how would anything get done? And how can I keep my cool when they are so stinking disobedient?!

But what if, just like tithing is an expression of trusting God to materially provide what we need, acting in love and patience was an expression of trusting God to multiply the time? Trusting that what He wants us to get done WILL get done. And whatever does not get done, didn’t need to be done.

But I don’t want to surrender control to my schedule, and my agenda. I have surrendered everything else! I have surrendered my body, my time, my sleep. I have given up my hobbies, my lunch, my sanity. Must I also surrender this?!? 

“I just want to…” The death knell of those words. That’s what I was thinking this morning. “I just want to do school so we can be done!” And “I just want to go on a freaking walk!!” Those words are my discontentment. Those words are me saying to God, “I don’t want this life. You are not enough for me.” 

After studying Jesus’s awe-full sacrifice on the cross, how could I possibly say to my Lord that He’s not enough for me? I am not enough for Him!! He is everything for me, and more. 

Lord, I believe; help my unbelief. I am so overwhelmed by emotions, by frustrations and feeling thwarted by my kids in every aspect of life. Help me see and believe that YOU ARE NEVER THWARTED. Your plans are ALWAYS accomplished. Do I believe that? Do I believe that Your plans for my kids will be accomplished? 

I don’t want to admit that I’ve been wrong. I don’t want to go back to my kids, with my tail between my legs, and say that *I* was the one in the wrong this morning. Because THEY…!!! But I must. I must repent. I must choose God’s way. I must surrender. If I want true freedom, true peace, true contentment, I must do it God’s way.

Give me the strength, Lord. Give me the kind of strength You had during your trial, beating, and crucifixion. Strength borne out of complete trust in the Father’s plan.

Hope: Don’t Give Up {2022 Focus}

23 Mar

My word for 2022 is HOPE. The subtitle for that word is Don’t Give Up. The Scripture God gave me for the word HOPE is Lamentations 3:21-23 —

“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

An alternate translation of verse 22 is:

“It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.”

It is God’s mercy to me that I am not consumed by this season of life (parenting four young kids and homeschooling). It is because of His compassion to me that I haven’t given up and curled into the fetal position indefinitely. There are so many moments, even whole days when I am tempted to. Because it all feels like too much. From my viewpoint, I am falling short in every area — parenting, homeschooling, homemaking, personal goals.

When one is trying so hard to do something right and well, but still meeting with failure, it would be understandable to just give up, right?

But God’s steadfast love prevents me from giving up. He sustains me by giving new mercies every morning, mainly in the form of HOPE.

The way I’m viewing HOPE is this: Hope doesn’t give up. Hope doesn’t look at the challenges before it and grow discouraged. Hope isn’t cynical or pessimistic. Instead, Hope continues to believe that things can change. Hope keeps showing up, pressing forward, living faithfully into God’s calling for that day. Hope accepts what God allows, even if it is not what was wanted.

I can’t count how many times I’ve had to “call to mind” God’s mercies for HOPE so far this year.

When I want to work out in the morning, and be productive after the kids go to bed, but sleep deprivation from baby Neola makes extra sleep the greater priority, I have to remind myself of hope.

When I feel incapable and daunted by the thought of and need for potty training Corbin and sleep training Neola, I remind myself of hope.

When the girls are showing troublesome attitudes and Corbin is throwing yet another tantrum, and I am tempted to feel like I’ve failed them as a mother because of what I’ve allowed them to do, or acted like myself, I remind myself of hope.

My natural human reaction to these discouraging and overwhelming situations is self-pity. Like Oswald Chambers writes,

“Most of us collapse at the first grip of pain. We sit down at the door of God’s purpose and enter a slow death through self-pity.”

(Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest)

But HOPE reminds me that I don’t have to give up, or collapse in the face of these challenges. God gives new mercies. I can trust Him to keep providing, day by day, what I need. I can trust Him even if I don’t meet my goals, if I lose my temper again, if my house is a mess, if I can’t figure out how to get Neola to sleep better. My purposes may remain unfulfilled, but HIS purposes will be accomplished.

God’s provision of new mercies every day won’t mean that I wake up in the morning or enter different situations feeling competent or on top of things. I hardly ever feel that way, and I actually think that is intentional on God’s part. Jesus fed 5,000-plus people with just five loaves of bread and two fish. He didn’t produce a banquet table laden with food. He just stretched the existing food farther. He takes the little that we have, and He makes it enough, as we need it.

As I’ve been digging into Lamentations 2:21-25, I read in a John Piper sermon transcript (from almost exactly 28 years ago),

“Our task today is not to have the strength needed for tomorrow’s burdens. Our task today is to live by the mercies given for today, and to believe that there will be new mercies for tomorrow. Today’s mercies do not include strength for tomorrow; they include faith that tomorrow’s unseen mercies will be sufficient for tomorrow.”

(John Piper, “Today’s Mercies for Today’s Troubles,” March 13, 1994)

I love that. Like the manna given to the Israelites in the wilderness, God gives just enough for each day. I must live in moment by moment dependence on Him. And because His provision of mercy for this day, this moment is always sufficient (and abundantly so!) for my need, I can always have HOPE.

Here’s to a hope-filled year.

Neola Bethany: 4 Months

14 Sep

Neola turned 4 months on September 12. This post is over a week late but I wrote it right at 4 months. It just took me this long to put the photos in it!

Size

Neola is now 15 lbs 4.5 oz (71%), 25.25 inches long (80%), with a head circumference of 16.54 inches (85%). She is starting to outgrow her 6-month sleepers but is still wearing size 2 diapers. Long and lean!

Sleeping

Neola is still a rockstar at night and usually gives me one stretch of between 5 and 8 hours. She usually wakes up around 3/3:30 to eat, then again at 6 or so. I usually put her back down until about 7:30 (unless I foolishly change her diaper between sides, then she’s awake for the day —which thankfully I only did once).

Not sure if I mentioned this in a previous post but Neola never did really like being swaddled for sleep (our only child who didn’t!). So she’s been using straight sleep sacks since about 6 weeks old. She is still sleeping in the Rock n Play. I’ve tried putting her in the crib a few times but her legs wake her up. I’m trying to muster up the courage to go for it (same with potty training Corbin!).

But during the day… 😩

I am extremely thankful for a healthy baby and for the fact that we have a few tried and true ways to get Neola to sleep, but this whole catnapping thing is for the birds. I was just reading Annabelle’s 4-month blog post and that girl took a 3-hour nap every day! But she was definitely our easiest baby. Neola hasn’t napped longer than 30 minutes since she was probably 2 months old. Our pediatrician said she might sleep more after getting her vaccinations — our other kids did — but nope, didn’t affect her at all. I’m glad she didn’t have a fever or anything, but couldn’t she have been just a little sleepier than normal?!

Since it’s still nice out, we swing Neola in the hammock swing for almost all of her naps. Her other naps are either in her carseat or while nursing. She likes being pushed across somewhat bumpy ground (like a yard) in the stroller or being swing back and forth in her carseat. I have some gnarly calluses on my right hand to prove that!

Eating

Neola is doing great nursing! She likes bottles less and less. I’m so happy that I didn’t give up and that I muscled through the frustration and discouragement.

I think she nurses every 1.5 to 3 hours, but I honestly do not keep track of the time. We just have more of an intuitive rhythm/flow, and a “when in doubt, nurse” kind of approach. #fourthchild Our days are so chaotic that I often look at the clock and realize that even though it only feels like 9:30, it’s actually noon and I have to make lunch!

Neola is still a spit-up, drool machine. She wears bibs almost all the time now, or we have to change her shirt every 20 minutes.

We plan to start Neola on solid foods around 6 months.

Development

Neola is a very talkative baby, and just in the last couple of days, she has started giggling, specifically when I tickle her neck (cleaning spit-up out of it!). She’s also very smiley and patient — she puts up with so much from her siblings!

Her torticollis is getting better — she will voluntarily turn her head both directions now (though it does seem like she maybe still favors the one side a little more). We haven’t been doing the exercises very often with her 😬 but she is getting more time in the Bumbo, Baby Bjorn, and being carried around. I’m going to break out the jumperoo one of these days too. (Update: Since writing this post a week ago, I did break out the jumperoo. She loves it!)

{9-Month Update} 2018 Focus: White Space

26 Aug

I haven’t sat down just to write in forever. This feels good.

________________________________

There is no margin in life with three kids. At least, not with three kids this young, or with us being the parents we are. I used to be flexible, spontaneous. I could adjust my plans, stretch my energies to accommodate doing something that might fall during naptime, push back bedtime, or replace my grocery shopping time. I’ve always been the one to overextend myself for good causes or fun experiences.

No more.

Now I live on the margin, and there is no extra. There have been several times since Corbin was born that I literally could not muster up the socially appropriate or polite response or action in a situation. One example: family was staying at our house overnight, and instead of making their beds for them, spending time with them after the kids went to bed, and making breakfast for them in the morning, I told them where the linens where, went to bed without saying goodnight, and said they were on their own for breakfast. Because I just can’t.

“I just can’t.” A phrase that has often echoed through my mind these past five months, justifying to myself why I cannot and will not, despite the responsibility I feel or expectations I imagine, go to x meeting, be involved in y cause, or overextend myself for z thing. A reforming commitaholic (reforming because this is ongoing), I have both loved to say yes to all sorts of things, and also felt the pressure of saying yes if I didn’t have a legitimately good reason to say no.

Now I don’t care about legitimacy. I don’t have the margin to.

When you’re a parent of young kids, the reality is that during certain seasons, your hands will be tied, and you will not have the time or energy to do many things that you would like to do. People without kids (I used to be guilty of this) do not understand this, or view having kids as a cop-out of other responsibilities and obligations. But parenting during the little years is consuming and demanding. (Then there are all the expectations that having kids in school entails, but I won’t get into that here.)

I spent last year chasing all manner of commitment other than loving my family well. I detailed all of that here. This year, I have said no. We have said no. We said no to getting a babysitter for a meeting that I “should have” been at with my husband. We said no to meeting once a month with a group from our church to talk about vision for our adult Bible community, though Travis loves discussing that sort of thing, because it was just one more thing on our calendars.

And then there are the other things I have said no to by simply not pursuing them. I didn’t plan a garage sale. No get-togethers or parties. Believe me, it hasn’t been easy. I’m pretty sure one of my spiritual gifts is hospitality—not that I do it well or have everything together, but I love it. I love planning events. LOVE IT. In high school, I planned a formal dance on New Year’s Eve at a hotel (with the help of my mom) just for fun. That was my kind of fun.

So I’ve had all sorts of ideas churning in my brain of people I’d like to have over, and events I’d like to plan, and sometimes I even get excited enough about it to almost ask Travis. But then I take a deep breath, and remind myself, Not this year. This year, I need to prioritize my family. I need to figure out how to do this well before I start taking on that.

We’ve made progress in figuring out our unique family balance (and it is unique, because it’s different for everyone. Some couples/families can handle a lot more busyness and separate-way-ness than we can, and vice versa). This summer, we’ve scheduled weekly hobby time for both me and Travis. Knowing that we have this time (at the same time every week) to do our own thing has really cut down on the number of arguments/tense discussions about hobbies and who gets time for what.

The key to making the hobby time work, however, is guarding that time from other commitments, which on weekends in the summer is very difficult to do. Guarding that time sometimes requires saying no to good, fun things, or leaving somewhere earlier than we might’ve otherwise. It also might involve being seen as socially rude, or inflexible. Obviously, there are exceptions, and we want our family routines to be filled with grace. But we also recognize that for them to be routines, they have to happen most of the time. So that’s what we’re shooting for.

One thing I have spent an inordinate amount of time doing this year is purging. Decluttering. I’ve been reading about minimalism a ton this year, and am convinced that having lots of stuff is robbing us of time that we could be spending doing other things. So even though it takes time upfront to purge, the effects it has on the rest of your life makes it worth it (just like you spend time working out to experience the benefits of being in shape throughout the rest of your day).

My main focus for the past couple of months has been our utility room. We have been holding on to all of the girls’ baby clothes with the idea that we would need/use them for foster care, but we have so. many. clothes. And we were given a ton of clothes for Corbin, so I’ve been sorting and organizing those, and donating what we don’t need, with the goal of freeing up some space. I’ve also been adding stuff to donation piles as I get a wild hair to organize a certain drawer or shelf.

But after donating a full carload of things to our local thrift store, I’m taking a break. I am stubborn and persistent, and have a really hard time stopping in the middle of something, so projects like this tend to be all-consuming. Even though I believe all the time spent doing this will be worth it, I need a break to focus on my family and relax.

It is seriously amazing how much stuff we accumulate. And this coming from a person who has done regular purging/decluttering my whole life. I didn’t have any bonus rooms filled with unused stuff, or closets ready to vomit the minute the door popped open. I regularly got rid of stuff I didn’t need, and my crap was organized.

But I still had too much. My kids had too much. My husband has too much (still working on with him to downsize his winter jacket and boot collection).

So I made us all capsule wardrobes out of the clothes we already owned. In my particular case, that involved getting rid of two boxes of clothing that I liked, and that fit me, because I just had too much. Now my closet is 55-60 things. I have loved the result. It takes me under five minutes to get dressed every day (no more trying on multiple outfits!), laundry feels much more manageable, and I still have plenty to wear. I did find myself getting a little tired of my options by the end of the second month, but it forced to me to wear a dress that I had been ignoring, so I kind of like that aspect.

I also purged our kids’ toys down to 20 per child. The toy purging has been an 18-month process. In the spring of 2017, I sold at a garage sale all the toys that the girls never playing with, even the ones given to us by family. Earlier this year, I once again donated all the toys that the girls never play with, and that Corbin won’t be interested in when he gets older (Frozen castle and play purse, anyone?).

But I was still picking up toys constantly, and even when everything was picked up, it seemed like there were toys everywhere. I’ve been reading a lot about minimalism online and came across the idea of having kids choose 20 toys and boxing up the rest on Erin Spain’s blog. I thought that idea was genius. It gives kids control of the decluttering process, while also being reasonable and a very easy-to-remember boundary.

I brought all our toys to the basement and laid them out so everything was visible. Things that were sets (like play dishes) counted as one item. Dolls and Barbies were each one item. I chose not to include the toys and activities that I either like them having (Duplos, puzzles, games, books), or that don’t contribute to messes (play shopping cart, baby stroller).

Once all the toys were spread out, the girls went through and chose 20. I reminded them several times to choose the toys that they loved, and not worry about what the other person chose, because they would still be sharing the toys in the end. And I have to say, they did not choose the toys I thought they would. Annabelle chose only one baby doll, and Emma chose none. Emma chose all her Barbies (I did expect that), but between the two of them, they chose all of their dress-up clothes and shoes, which they hardly ever wear (and the shoes are almost too small for Emma). (I also chose 10-15 of my favorite toys for Corbin once he starts sitting/crawling/walking.)

We just did this recently, so time will tell whether they will miss the things they didn’t choose. I am holding onto the toys that weren’t drafted, and allowing 1-to-1 exchanges until Halloween (and may encourage some exchanges, based on what I think would be better choices). Then the rest of the toys will be donated. So far, the girls have only made exchanges for two things—Big Purple Baby, and the baby bottles and accessories.

The idea behind purging their toys was to 1) Decrease the amount of time spent picking up toys throughout the day; and 2) Limit their toy options to a reasonable amount. The fact that they haven’t at all missed the majority of their toys proves to me that they weren’t really enjoying them anyway. They still have plenty of things to make messes with, so we do still spend time picking toys up, but it usually only takes about 15 minutes before bedtime to clean up inside.

One other area that Travis and I have been focusing on is our eating habits. For the month of August, we’ve been following the Paleo diet (no dairy, grains, or legumes) with four “cheats” per week. The best and most challenging thing about the Paleo diet is that it forces you to be intentional with what you’re eating. No more grabbing easy empty carbs. Instead of a bagel with cream cheese for breakfast, now I eat breakfast sausage and a smoothie, or eggs with spinach, mushrooms, and bacon. For lunch, I’ve been loving spinach salads. And for dinner, we make a recipe out of one of Danielle Walker’s cookbooks (everything we’ve made has been amazing!).

Anyway, all of these things—boundaries, hobby time, capsule wardrobes, toy purging, healthy eating—have combined to make life feel less chaotic and more stable. We haven’t spent our summer flitting around to a thousand different things. Instead, we’ve stayed home and kept things low-key. We’ve had fun but also focused on maintaining a good balance – something I don’t think we’ve ever really had.

With fall coming, school starting, and all that goes along with that, things are going to start being a little more hectic than they have been this summer. But I really hope that the lessons we’ve learned so far this year will help us maintain this life balance, even with a fuller calendar.

2018 Focus: White Space

6 Feb

whitespace copy2017 was a crazy year…

Because of me. I made it one.

The whole year, my mantra was, “I just have to get through this/finish this/do this… THEN life will slow down and I can spend more time with my kids/have a consistent quiet time/read more books…” Except that following each one of those “had-to’s” (some my own doing, others expected of me) was another, and another, and another.

Don’t get me wrong, I was busy with good, worthwhile things…

I decluttered our whole house, did a garage sale with friends, and we donated $500 to the Lakes Area Pregnancy Center.

I co-organized and hosted a pallet-painting craft night. I organized several events for our church group. I threw a baby shower for my brother and SIL.

I brought meals to families with new babies and other needs.

I served on the leadership teams of both my local MOPS group and our church group.

I worked 2 days a week and served in the church nursery once a month.

But the more important things suffered…

I had no consistent quiet time with God. I’ve been using the same journal since June of 2016, which for me is unheard of. To me, that shows how poorly I’ve prioritized my relationship with God as well as my mental health.

I went months without actually playing with my kids, or spending time outside. There were too many “When I finish this” and “I can’t right now” responses to my girls’ pleas to do something with them. Too many days of errand-running and just keeping the kids “occupied.”

By the end of the year, I was feeling crushed by obligations. I deeply desired a day to just BE and not have anything I had to do, but it seemed I always remembered something that was either already overdue or would be overdue if I waited. I felt bitter and boxed in by my life.

Life actually slowed down in December, giving me the chance to reflect and decide that this year…

I’m choosing White Space.

I’m going to Say No and Do Less.

I’m giving myself permission to not bend over backwards to meet every demand, see every person, milk every opportunity, and take every chance.

I’m letting myself step back from being the responsible person, and the person responsible.

I’m promising myself (and my husband) that I won’t plan any events this year, and will never do a garage sale again.

I’m setting up boundaries, limitations, and borders on my time and my family’s time, so that we can live out a schedule that aligns better with what we say our priorities are.

Because that’s the thing about busyness and no margin, regardless of how good the reason: they squeeze out the important for the sake of the urgent.

NO MORE.

Things may fall through the cracks. Balls may get dropped. Opportunities, untaken. Fun things, undone. Expectations, unmet.

But I’ll be gaining my own sanity. And spontaneous memories. Time with my family. Relaxation. Refreshment. Freedom from responsibility.

That’s not to say I won’t ever Say Yes and help others. I don’t think that’s what God wants. But I will Say Yes with a much more intentional mindset, remembering that a Yes to one thing is a No to something else. My time is finite, and I can only do so much. And I want to Say Yes to my family more.

WHITE SPACE. It’s about time.

Our Trip to Michigan 2017

2 Aug

Back in June, Travis, Emma, Annabelle, and I vacationed in Holland, Michigan, with almost my whole family—my dad, 2 of 3 brothers, 2 of 3 sisters-in-law, and the 2 nephews on my side (to be joined by 2 nieces by the end of the year!). We were the first to arrive on Saturday. We flew from Brainerd to Grand Rapids (with a layover in MSP), rented a car, and drove an hour to Holland.IMG_4540IMG_0297 (Large)IMG_0298 (Large)IMG_4541The beach house we rented through Airbnb was in a small community of private owners, right next to the mouth of Lake Macatawa, and had its own private beach, which was super nice. Would definitely recommend this area!IMG_0435 (Large)IMG_0431 (Large)IMG_0317 (Large)We didn’t know it at the time, but the day we arrived was one of the nicest days we had there. The girls were so excited to be at the beach that we dropped our stuff in the house, got suits on, and headed out. It wasn’t extremely warm, especially for being at the beach, but it was warm enough to enjoy being out there, even in water that was only 68 degrees.

Later that day, my dad, and the 4 Js (Jeremy, Jen, Jensen and Jackson) arrived. Brian and Jill arrived the following night. Chris and Meg were unfortunately unable to come because of last-minute complications with selling their condo and building a new house.

Most days were a combination of hanging out in the house doing puzzles or watching movies, kids playing on the beach or in the water, chilling, drinking, playing Kubb (which Brian introduced us to), and going on some kind of outing.IMG_0319 (Large)IMG_0335 (Large)IMG_4615IMG_4631IMG_4592IMG_4562IMG_0373 (Large)IMG_0375 (Large)IMG_0437 (Large)Sunday, we had planning to go on a hike in a state forest but turned out it was only a random trail through the woods. So instead we went to the Lake Macatawa State Park, which was where the public beach was located. We ate ice cream, watched kite flying, walked out on the break water, and played on the playground. The funny thing was, it was literally just on the opposite side of the red lighthouse and mouth of Lake Macatawa as our beach house–but it took us about 30 minutes to drive there. After seeing all the people on the public beach, we were grateful for our private one. IMG_4586IMG_4573IMG_4576Monday, Jen and I went to a used book sale at the local library while Brian and my dad bought groceries. Then we visited the Windmill Island Gardens, and learned a little about Dutch culture. We took a tour of the working windmill and learned how they grind flour and cornmeal, which was really interesting. The kids rode the carousel a couple of times, we listened to an antique Amsterdam street organ, and bought some yummy Dutch treats in the gift shop.IMG_4603IMG_4642IMG_4609IMG_4602Tuesday, Annabelle got sick. 😦 Poor little girl didn’t have much of a fever, but she got a ton of mucus buildup, so she had a hard time sleeping and just wanted to cuddle all day. That evening, the four of us did a little shopping downtown while others went grocery shopping and then we all went out to eat at New Holland Brewing, where the food was delicious (and I heard the beer was too, but I am not a beer drinker).IMG_4620Wednesday, we finally had a day that wasn’t super windy so we spent most of it on the beach. Annabelle still wasn’t feeling well, but she enjoyed snuggling on the beach and listening to the white noise of the waves.IMG_4630Thursday, Annabelle was starting to feel better, but still wanted to be carried most of the time. We debated about whether we should have her out and about, but after much hemming and hawing, we decided to go for it. We went on a Saugatuck Dune Ride and a hike at Sand Dunes State Park. The dune ride was awesome. Our girls loved it, putting their arms up in the air and squealing whenever we went around a fast turn or down a steep hill. Jensen and Jackson were a little apprehensive about the ride at times though. I don’t like rollercoasters whatsoever, but this ride was tame enough for me (while still being fun for others with stronger stomachs). Our guide, Joey, was very friendly and told us some of the history of the sand dunes.IMG_0405 (Large)IMG_0409 (Large)IMG_0390 (Large)IMG_0387 (Large)IMG_0383 (Large) Afterward, we ate ice cream, then went on a short, easy hike in the state park, which ended at the beach, where Emma and Jensen proceeded to go swimming fully clothed.IMG_0411 (Large)IMG_0415 (Large)Friday, we went to the Outdoor Discovery Center, which was a great find. There was a nature center with some impressive taxidermied animals, a kid-size zipline, a bunch of walking trails, and a birds of prey center, where we saw bald eagles, hawks, owls, and more who had all been rehabilitated from an injury and could no longer survive in the wild. Oh, and we also lost Emma on the never-ending maze of trails for a good 10 minutes.IMG_4664IMG_4647 We also stopped by the fishing pond, where Jensen and Travis both caught a few fish.IMG_0426 (Large)Saturday, it was time to pack up, tidy the beach house, and head south to South Haven to see Jeremy race in the National Auto Sport Association (the J’s had driven there the night before). We got there right as Jeremy was on the track for the Qualifier, and got to see him drive by a couple of times. Then there was a break for his class/division (whatever you call it), so we got to chat with him, see their car trailer/RV rig, and eat lunch. Right after lunch, Jeremy had his big race of the day so we all made our way up to the big spectator hill. Unfortunately, Jeremy only made it around the track a couple times before his car had a major malfunction and he was forced to exit the race, and also be done for the weekend. Such is the life of a race car driver.IMG_4666We left soon afterward for the airport in Grand Rapids. Because Travis has often flown Delta for work, and we made two separate itineraries for this trip in order to use mileage points, he and Emma were TSA Pre-check and got upgraded to first class seats on the way back, while Annabelle and I were all the way back in Row 24. Honestly, it wasn’t bad at all. I just love giving him crap about it. 😉

And that was our trip! We would definitely love to go back!

Christmas & New Year’s 2016

13 Jan

I better get posting about Christmas before it’s February, huh?

We celebrated Christmas first just the four of us on the Thursday before Christmas. I made chicken cordon bleu (from the deli), green beans, red potatoes, and rolls, and we drank “bubbly” (which Emma loved). Then the girls opened their presents from us, and their present from Papa Dave since it was a big box that we didn’t have room to transport from Rochester. We got them some art supplies, a few books, a bouncy buddy, and a Little People nativity set. Papa Dave bought them this treehouse with the camping buddies from The Land of Nod. Within 15 seconds of opening it, both girls were drawing on it with crayon. (Seriously…) Luckily, I was able to scrub most of it off. Their favorite present by far, though, was the box that the treehouse came in. Of course.15741131_1332807960082856_4438754616654293238_n15781037_1332807950082857_3583310463122747060_n15727286_1332807923416193_7831163184979449209_nThe next day, we headed up to Travis’ parents’ house in Nevis, arriving in time for dinner. Travis’ sister and nephew, and brother and sister-in-law were also there almost the whole time we were, so we were able to spend some nice time together. Emma and Annabelle were in heaven. They love their Nana and Papa, and Aunties and Uncle, and have a lot of fun with them. Their cousin Drew isn’t so much of a kid person at age 16. 😉

Christmas Eve (Saturday), we headed into Park Rapids to have breakfast with some friends. That night, we dressed up all fancy and attended the Christmas Eve service at Travis’ parents’ Catholic church, Our Lady of the Pines. The girls actually did fairly well, all things considering! And they were adorable in their Christmas dresses.15726473_1332807670082885_2760584912961896007_n15672976_1332807490082903_846264537335391369_n15726223_1332807436749575_6890398017756359744_n15697791_1332807883416197_1671014031762530795_n15780738_1332807703416215_2116758220268045907_n

Cousins

Christmas morning, we ate the traditional breakfast of egg bake and monkey bread, and then it was time to open presents—the time that Emma had been asking about for the entire month of December. It started off well. Emma helped divvy up the presents, and was even tasked with the job of deciding who should open a present. But eventually that petered out, and both girls ended up throwing a tantrum in the middle of opening presents. Emma wanted to do something besides open presents, and Annabelle was apparently ready for an early nap, because I ended up putting her down around 11. By the time I got back downstairs, Emma was entertained with some of her new art supplies, and the adults were able to continue our gift opening in peace. Kids!

15726344_1332807373416248_4862802626677382042_n15726258_1332807200082932_8528536388724082939_nNote that Emma is wearing a tank top and shorts, despite the several weather-appropriate, cute Christmas outfits I had for her.15697526_1332807043416281_5419901375432218552_nSo tired15672964_1332807230082929_3678291493226962891_nMmmm… chocolate15697834_1332806786749640_3627580145260719665_nEmma went “Christmas shopping” at daycare this year for Nana Beth and Papa Al, and she chose a measuring cup for Nana and a fishing sinker for Papa without our help!15672680_1332806713416314_6249755915390785047_nTravis’ gift from his sister… perfect for him15780887_1332806673416318_9097940835346127866_nMy gift from Travis’ sister… love it15747611_1332807103416275_4427022023995455069_nEmma loves all thing art

The rest of our time up in Nevis was pretty lowkey. We ate a lot of yummy food and Christmas cookies, played outside sledding and snowmobiling, the guys cut down a tree and burned some brush, the adults played some games (including Speak Out, where you put that big plastic mouthpiece in—that’s quite the game!). There was only one political (civilized) discussion that we non-debaters had to break up, for fear that the discussion would last the whole night.

We stayed up in Nevis until Tuesday morning. The plan had been to head back home Monday night but the ice storm on Christmas Day made the roads pretty nasty, so we decided to at least drive home in the daylight.

We spent the rest of Tuesday and all day Wednesday at home. Travis had work off, but wanted to work on some projects (including cutting down a tree in our front yard, which almost ended up falling on our cars, due to a little miscommunication and lack of thought on my part…whoops—but all was well in the end, praise God). The girls and I went to 321 Bounce with our neighbor friends.

Thursday morning, we packed up and hit the road down to Rochester. Since we weren’t trying to get there by any certain time, we decided we could stop every hour on the 3.5-hour drive. Well, Travis wasn’t completely a fan of our many stops, but it was nice to take our time. We stopped for gas right by our house (#1), for lunch in St. Cloud (#2), at Cabela’s in Rogers (#3), and at a gas station just south of the Cities for a potty break (#4).

We arrived in Rochester just in time for dinner. My oldest brother Jeremy and sister-in-law Jen, and their two sons had arrived the day before, and my other brothers would arrive later, so it was just us, them, and my dad that night.

The four kids—Emma and Annabelle, and Jensen and Jackson—had a blast playing together. One of the cutest sights was seeing the four of them run around in circles together. Another favorite activity of theirs was jumping on the couch and building forts out of couch cushions (much to Papa’s dismay). They were also pretty wild and crazy with one of those Fisher Price ride-on toys and a little dog that you pull along behind you. Four kids is a little crazy at times!15781534_1338920992804886_5472908077247000943_n15823490_1338920989471553_969281655933574630_n15823680_1338921229471529_3041714289093367911_nOn Friday, Brian and Jill arrived around lunchtime. Chris and Meg arrived Saturday. We spent our time drinking lots of coffee, eating delicious food (frequently topped by grated Asiago), and watching animated movies that we turned on for the kids but that they didn’t end up watching. 😉 We also played outside in the ice-encrusted snow, which was great for sledding but not much else. I pulled Emma and Jensen on a sled all the way around the house, and it was a workout!15732661_10103166680174752_2259524021720836268_o15800359_10103166677405302_1021290843782300839_o15800498_10103166678178752_6830543933580665853_o15844768_10103166677744622_7747851522964179194_o15825795_1338921386138180_1443544932537754384_nThanks to my sister-in-law Jen for these great photos!

On New Year’s Eve, we opened presents in our now-traditional way (we draw names, and then try to go around and try to guess who had us), and then ate our special Christmas dinner. Everyone pitched in with various sides and dishes, and it was great! Though the orange sherbet jello salad that I attempted to make was an epic fail. Jello: a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.

We apparently had a little bit of trouble getting the girls down on time that night, because I was downstairs getting Emma to sleep until 11:55… though I might’ve fallen asleep, it’s really hard to say at that hour of the day. I actually made it back upstairs for the ball drop, though, and stayed up until 2 am watching bad New Year’s entertainment on TV and chatting with those who were still up. It was the first time I’ve stayed up for New Year’s since having kids I think, and it was nice! Thankfully the girls slept in the next day, and we were still able to make it to church at 10:30.

There was another snowstorm predicted to hit Rochester and the Brainerd area on Monday, so we ended up leaving Sunday night instead of the next morning. We got home around 11, got the girls to bed, and hit the hay ourselves.

Though I always love spending time with family, it was a hard holiday season without my mom (and the first). We miss her dearly, and talk about her often. My dad, as usual, bears the brunt of her absence, and through a series of miscommunications, ended up spending Christmas Day alone, which I feel badly about. A loss like this continues to reveal situations and circumstances that have been forever altered, and the best way forward is not always readily apparent.