Five Things I Learned in February

Can I just say that February was a doozy?!?

This is one reason why the blog has been so quiet and why I’m just now posting almost halfway through March.

February has been busy, rainy and left me parenting solo for two weeks while The Hubs was in Israel. Yes, Israel. Israel as in 10 hours ahead, he was going to sleep while I was waking up, Israel.

I’m trying to get back into my writing groove and I’ll be honest. It’s been challenging.

When you put something off unintentionally (or intentionally) and then put it off, and put if off and put if off………you get the picture, it becomes so difficult to just bite the bullet and do “it”. It could be simple like a phone call or difficult like a hard conversation. Or it could be sitting my butt down and typing out a blog post.

I had some good reasons for being MIA, like my husband left the country for two weeks and I was feeling a tad overwhelmed. But now the excuses are gone and my fingers are tapping at the keyboard once more.

Ya, so February. Kinda nuts. But here’s what I’ve learned:

1.) Boys are gross. Between the not getting the pee in the toilet (I shared a toilet with H for 4 days due to some plumbing problems.  G-R-O-S-S.), the eating of the boogers, the blowing of the spit bubbles and the general licking of well, everything; it’s disgusting. This does not diminish my love for him in way at all; but it’s yucky just the same.

2.) Cooking is not my jam and that’s okay. And it’s only taken me 16 years to figure this out!! I have felt guilty and a subpar wife and mom for years because of my lack of creativity and general culinary skills. And here’s the thing…… I just don’t enjoy cooking that much. I still have to cook (My family still needs to eat.). And while I appreciate his help, The Hubs can’t make breakfast for dinner every night. But I’m going to give myself a much needed break in the guilt department and chalk it up to the fact that I’m better at other things. Cooking is not one of them. And that’s okay.

3.) Speaking of guilt,  I’m ready to throw my mommy guilt out the window. Who wants to join me? I haven’t perfected this way of thinking yet, but I’m working on it. As a matter of fact, I have a lot of thoughts bubbling up inside of me on this topic. So much so, that I’m working on another blog post about it right now. For now, let’s just say I find the mommy guilt to be exhausting and I’m tired of being tired.

4.) The Hubs and I have been trying to encourage our kids to try new things and step out of their comfort zones, even if (and when) they fail. I’m beginning to see that this is one of the best gifts we can give them. Lily played basketball for the first time this year. This was very much out of her comfort zone and I don’t know that basketball will even be her thing. But she tried something that was a little scary to her at first and found out she really enjoyed it.

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Here’s Lily’s team, The Fever, with Coach Mike. They came in first!!

 

She didn’t score a basket until the very last game. I knew that she may very well go the whole season and not score a single basket. I was just happy that she was out there moving and gaining confidence. Let me tell you, when she did score a basket (at the buzzer no less) I blubbered like a baby. A baby! I was emotionally drained for the rest of the day. Through all this, it’s also teaching me to step out of my comfort zone and try new things, too.

5.) Speaking of crying, am I’m going to cry and be a hot mess when my kids do sports? This world is so new to me and I don’t quite know how to handle all the feelings that come with your kids competing in sports. I did not grow up doing any sport really. I’ve realized that sports, as a parent, is emotionally exhausting!! I’m also coming to realize that my Saturdays are never going to be the same again. RIP lazy Saturday mornings.

As you can see, February had a lot going on. Now that spring is just around the corner I know life is going to get even busier. I’m praying that I will embrace the crazy and take time to savor the little moments and my people.

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Hello, February!

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Hello, February with your cold mornings and wet days I see in the forecast; with your Valentine’s Day and barrage of candy!!! I’m looking forward to our ice skating days on Wednesdays, celebrating my 18th Valentine’s Day with The Hubs, and our cozy mornings around the school table (our kitchen table).

This month I will…….

>take time to really love my family by being fully present when I’m with them. That means not trying to get other stuff done when I’m spending time with them. Less multi-tasking; more playing.

>take time for me. That means more sleep and eating healthy. This also means Round 2 of the Whole30 because I tried last month and failed, horribly. I did complete the Whole30 successfully last May, though, and blogged a little about it here and here.

>read more and watch TV less. (Read about my 2017 Reading Challenge here.)Except for binge watching Frasier with The Hubs. I love Frasier and Niles. They are so lovable and pompous. Watching Frasier brings me joy.

This month I will not…….

>put things in my body that make me feel like crap. No cheesy enchiladas and refried beans. Lesson learned! That was a horrible night.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    >listen to the negative thoughts that tell me I cannot do something. I will shut them up, shove them aside and do the hard stuff.

>let the rainy days keep us from getting outside. At the same time, I’ll use some of those rainy days as an excuse to cuddle on the couch with my kiddos or maybe watch a few more episodes of Frasier.

What are your February goals?

 

 

How to Host a Book Club

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How do I begin to describe my love for book club? It’s deep, friends. I would even go so far as to say it is a necessity in my life. Food, shelter, family, medicine, coffee, book club. Yeah, it’s up there.

I love to read and this is my excuse to make the time to do it. We have also built this small, but amazing, tribe of friends. My book club girls are pretty important to me. Since book club began we’ve shared about 36 meals, had 4 babies, celebrated 3 bookclubversaries, talked about everything under the sun from diapers to marrying off sons to “how we met our husband” stories to who saves their kid’s baby teeth. We’ve laughed a ton and shared a lot of our lives with each other. Oh and we’ve read books, too. (And have had some pretty deep conversations about them.)

Doesn’t that make you want to start your own book club?? I thought so. So, I’m here to share how my friend Rachel and I started this book club, how we run it and a really great list of books to get you started.

It started with a conversation between my friend Rachel and I. “I’ve always wanted to be in a book club.” “Me, too.” “Let’s start one.” “Ok, let’s do it!” A mass Face Book message went out to friends who we thought might be interested. Rachel picked the book and we had dinner at her house, everyone contributing part of the meal. And Book Club was born. There were 6 of us. We read Cutting for Stone and it was wonderful.

Rachel moved away not long after that first meeting; but we are still going strong. 3 1/2 years later with 12 lovely ladies. I’m so thankful for Rachel’s friendship, her love of books and that we started this adventure together.

I’m going to share how we run our book club and hopefully this will give you some ideas if you are wanting to start your own.

How Often Do We Have Book Club?

We have book club once a month (usually on a Friday night) and take Decembers off.

Where Do We Have Book Club?

We take turns hosting.  We don’t have a rotation or anything and not all of us are able to host. I think we’ve been to each person’s house by now and some of us host more often than others. It’s whoever is available that month.

Do We Have Dinner, Wine or Dessert?

All of the above! I know book clubs are generally known for having wine. Not that we’re opposed to it; but usually it’s dinner and dessert. Sometimes, just dessert. Since I’m the facilitator, I send out an evite about a week before we meet. The hostess and I talk about ideas for dinner and I put a sign up for food on the evite. We love to eat! Some of us are dangerously good bakers and so we get spoiled with some amazing food.

How Do We Pick The Book?

Ours is more of a group effort. If you happen to find a book that sounds good, you share it. We usually have a handful of suggestions and then we try to pick two books at a time. We do this because some girls like to get a head start on the next book for the next month. This works for us.

What do we actually do at book club?

As far as a schedule, it’s pretty simple. Eat. Talk about life. Discuss Book. Talk some more. Laugh. Talk. You get the jist. When we first started, I would print out questions and ask them. It helped me at first; but after awhile it felt more natural to just jump in and start talking about the book. I think as you get going and get to know your members better, that part is the easiest. The conversation just seems to flow naturally. Some books lend themselves to better conversations than others.

Sometimes, the books will have discussion questions in the back, which is nice. This is a site I used at the beginning to help me get started litlovers.com

Here are some other ideas from other book clubs:

*I have friends whose book clubs meet every 6 weeks instead of 4.

*One friend’s club has each member take a turn picking the book and it has to be a book that person has already read. We don’t like to do this so it’s new for everyone; but there were a few sketchy books picks I wish we had know about ahead of time. Oh, well. It led to some lively conversations!!!

Do We Ever Read A Dud?    

There are a couple of times where we’ve read a book that none of us really like. Maybe the plot was weak or the characters were not relateable. We can usually learn from even the “misses” we read. Sometimes we may not love the story; but the writing is excellent. I promised the girls I would mention our least favorite book, Serena. Talk about an unlikable character!!! Half the time I wanted to punch her in the face. I’m not kidding. There was not much redeeming in any of the characters. The book was well written, though. We all still laugh about how much we did not like the book.

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Master List:

I had to pool the girls for this list because I had forgotten many of these. Everyone has different tastes in literature so what I personally love, you may not enjoy but……… I did put our favorites at the top of the list asking the girls which were their favorites. Though they are in no particular order, the first 10 were our collaborative favorites. (For instance, #31 was not my least favorite. I really enjoyed the Winter Garden; it just happened to be at the end of the list.)

If you are thinking of starting a book club, do it! I hope the tips above and list below will help get you started.

  • And to Kim, Kelly, Dori, Alex, Lori, Louise, Renee, Sarah, Sara, Jennie, Angie and Angela, thanks for making book club such a special thing, for all the great food, conversation and inside jokes we share.
  • Rachel, thank you for your friendship and staring this whole thing with me 3 1/2 years ago.
  1. The Book Thief
  2. Cutting for Stone
  3. Wonder
  4. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
  5. The Scarlet Pimpernell
  6. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Our whole bookclub wanted to move together to live on the island in this book! We really liked this book!!)
  7. The Secret Life of Bees
  8. Unbroken
  9. 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess
  10. Anne of Green Gables, My Daughter, and Me
  11. The Time Traveler’s Wife
  12. The Dressmaker
  13. Still Alice
  14. Serena
  15. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter
  16. Sister Chicks
  17. Snow Falling on Cedars
  18. The Residence
  19. Station Eleven
  20. A Severe Mercy
  21. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
  22. The Zoo Keeper’s Wife: A War Story
  23. The Known World
  24. The Kitchen House
  25. Bridge to Haven
  26. The Mourning Hours
  27. My Sister’s Keeeper
  28. Gulp
  29.  The Art of Hearing Heartbeats
  30. Shanghai Girls
  31. Winter Garden

Yes, I’m 41. Get over it.

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It’s funny what little kids get fixated on. Right now Lulu is really preoccupied with the fact that I’m 41. Seriously. She brings it up at the oddest times.

These are just two examples. There have been more.

“Oh, it’s 3:41.   41 .   Just like you, mom.”

Thanks? I guess.

The other night, I had some girlfriends over and we were eating takeout tacos at my dining room table. The Hubs was keeping the kids out of our hair for the night; but Lulu meandered over to the table and whispered in my ear. “You’re 41, mama.”

First of all, she came out of nowhere and startled me with her stealthiness. Second of all, what the heck? Why is she so determined to remind me of how old I’ve become?

40 was hard for me, people. I was dreading it. 40 is the middle. When I think of the middle, I think of being stuck. I was always the smallest one with the shortest legs and so I sat in the middle of the backseat. The most uncomfortable seat in the car!

At this stage in life The Hubs and I are not “the young newlyweds” anymore. I had to start buying dye in the box to cover my gray. I thought the lines around my eyes would go away with a few good nights of sleep. When they didn’t, I realized that’s just the way my face is now.

Then there was the mammogram.

Happy Birthday! And congratulations are turning 40! Come in and stand by this cold, unfeeling machine while you awkwardly stand there and let a stranger grab your boobs, put them in between two plastics plates and then squeeze  them flatter than you thought was humanly possible. That was a day for the history books.

The day after my Happy Birthday Boob Squeezing, we had to put our dog of 12 years, Jackson, down. I cried for weeks and weeks.

The week before I turned 40, I woke up to the room spinning. I had vertigo. The room spun for 3 days and I could barely stand or walk. I couldn’t drive for 3 weeks. I had always associated vertigo with an ailment older people got. This just threw me further into the depths of despair. (Since then, I’ve come to know of people young and old who have suffered from vertigo.)

What do you do when you turn the age you are dreading? You have a huge party, of course! Still recovering from vertigo, one of my best friends and I had a joint 40th birthday bash and it was off the hook. (Yes, I said “off the hook”. I’m 41!!)

So you see, 40 was memorable. It was memorable for good and bad reasons. But 40 came and went. 41 is here and in just couple of days I will say good-bye to that number, too. Maybe Lulu is just enamored with the fact that she knows my age and it’s new information that she’s mulling over in her little 8 year old mind. Maybe that’s why she mentions it EVERY OTHER DAY. Maybe I’m just thinking about the fact that now that I’m knee- deep into my 40’s, birthdays seem to be a bit anti-climatic. Especially after my vertigo hazed 40th bash. I don’t know, but this getting oldER thing (Notice, I didn’t say “old”.)  has been on my mind lately.

Here’s the thing about being in my 40’s, though. Maybe some of you reached this sort of freedom in your 30’s. I’m kind of a late bloomer. Maybe I didn’t get here until now because my kiddos are still little and so there’s all that mommy comparing crap still going on.

But…… I’m much more comfortable in my skin now at 42 (almost) than I was in my 30’s. I know who I am, the strengths and weaknessess. I’m okay with both. I’m not trying to change things about myself anymore. Now I just know what things fit me and what don’t. I know what I want to spend my time doing and what I don’t. I know the kind of people I like to be with and who aren’t my cup of tea.  It helps me say no more often than I used to.

When I was young(er) I used to think that being in your 40’s meant you were all established and had it all together. I don’t have it all together and the pressure to have it all together is lessening every year. Because guess what I’ve realized? I’m never going to have it all together. But that hasn’t kept me from being extremely happy and fulfilled. There’s so much I want to do still, so much I want to learn, and so much more in life to do.

Yes, I’m in that middle group. I can’t deny it. But I’m not stuck. One person’s middle is another person’s starting point for something new. I honestly can’t tell anymore who is in there 30’s, 40’s or 50’s. You all look so good. Umm…. I can spot the 20 somethings a mile away, though. And when I hear people say, “Age is just a number.” I get it now.

I was so relieved and heartened the other night (as I giggled with girlfriends over tacos and took silly pictures) that I don’t act my age (what ever that means!). I know I’ll be giggling when I’m 82.

So, ya. I’m 41, almost 42. Get over it!!! You know I’m saying that to myself, right? Okay, I think I’m over it now.

Mommy’s Famous Carrots!

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Today, I’m sharing a story about a meal I cooked for my family; but you are not going to want to add it to your recipe binder. Trust me.

This post will highlight my lack of culinary skills; but it will also highlight this truth: Your kids don’t need you to be super mom to think you are pretty dang super.

It was some time ago. Lily was pretty little still and H was a baby. I made what, looked like to me, the most boring, bland, unattractive meal in the history of homemade meals. I made the most beige meal ever, except for my bright orange carrots.

Like most nights, I had no idea what to cook. And to this day, I don’t recall why we didn’t use the barbeque. Maybe it was raining??? I don’t know; but I decided to cook some chicken on the George Foreman Grill. Gotta love the Foreman, right?? It left some “grill” marks; but the rest of the chicken was this sickly off – white hue.

And before you raise your hopes that I at least seasoned it well……….. nope. Just salt. Yup, boring white salt.

I then rounded out the meal with plain white rice and boiled carrots. Oh my, it hurt typing that last sentence……boiled carrots???

Before you rush over here with a group of friends to have an intervention on my poor family’s behalf, the carrots were seasoned with butter and garlic salt.

As I arranged this sad little meal onto our plates I was struck at the blaring blandness of this meal. I was embarrassed. I offered a sheepish, “Sorry guys; I’m not a good cook.” as I meekly shoved the plates under Andy and Lily’s noses. (Henry wasn’t eating solid foods  yet, lucky guy.)

The Hubs is a gem. He would be happy with cereal and the occassional slab of meat with side of bacon now and again. He has no expectations for me in the area of food making and he never makes me feel bad. He gave me the routine, “Jen, don’t be so hard on yourself.”

What came next is  a moment I won’t soon forget. Lily exclaimed. “Mom, I love your chicken and these carrots are the best! I’m going to call this Mommy’s Famous Carrots!” This dear four year old was being sincere. She genuinely liked what is quite possibly the worst meal I ever made.

I still have such a hard time coming up with dishes to cook for dinner. I actually cook on a regular basis now; so my skills have improved a little. A gourmet I am not; but my sweet girl, years later, still asks for Mommy’s Famous Carrots. And I gladly make them for her.

 

 

What We’ve Been Up To: Turning 8, Tahoe & Taking Family Photos

Every month or so (maybe more like every other month!) I like to do a review of our month in pictures. I really enjoy looking back at the memories we’ve made. I want to capture those little, and sometimes big, moments so I don’t forget them.

So, here’s what we’ve up to around here lately:

We have a ton of family birthdays in January; but at the top on our list is Lulu’s of course. She turned 8 this year and we had a tea party, with real tea cups! It was quite lovely.

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Unfortunately, our butler (aka dad), is not pictured here. He did an outstanding job serving the ladies at this party.

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Grandma and Grandpa hung out with us, too. But seriously….. her face. That smile. I love it!

On her actual birthday, we had our traditional pancake birthday breakfast on her birthday plate and we had her birthday dinner at her favorite restaurant, Applebee’s.

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Auntie Clue and Uncle TJ joined us and the rest of the fam.

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I wish I was better at taking pictures. Besides her aunt and uncle, my in-laws, my parents and my sister were all at the house and Applebee’s that night. Not a single picture of them!

Earlier that month, we went to Tahoe with our friends, Kyle and Sandy. They brought their dog, Lucy, and we brought Boomer. (We’ve already decided that Boomer and Lucy will get married. Yes, I’m one of those people that treat my pets like they are human!) Our kids have never really been in the snow before. They absolutely loved it!

No, really, they like the snow. Don't let this picture fool you!

No, really, they like the snow. Don’t let this picture fool you!

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The kids really loved sledding. So did, I. I wished I could have done more of it.

The kids really loved sledding. So did I. I wished I could have done more of it.

Boomer loved catching the snow in his mouth.

Boomer loved catching the snow in his mouth.

H just loved eating the snow.

H just loved eating the snow.

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It was such a fun trip to take with fun friends. We can't wait to go back!

It was such a fun trip to take with fun friends. We can’t wait to go back!

The rest of the month was filled with more birthdays, taking family photos, getting back into school, and many, many rainy days.

I found some super cute rain boots, though.

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When it did stop raining, we tried to get out and take advantage of the sunshine. We spent an afternoon at our local Children’s Museum. We have a yearly pass and it’s so nice to be able to go whenever we want.

 

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Yes, he’s wearing a fox tail. He was a fox that day, of course.

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One of my goals this month was to go out on a real date with The Hubs. That was not happening for many reasons. I was determined to date my  husband, though! We had a really fun “date night in” with take out from Sweet T’s and Ant Man (which I loved) from Redbox after the kiddos went to bed. Date night and I got to wear my pajamas! Win-Win!!

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The highlight for me, though, was taking our first ever family photos with a real photographer (not JC Penny’s). She is my friend and  fellow homeschooling mama. She has her own photography business called Enlighten Me. I am so in awe of Caitlin’s talent. I am absolutely thrilled with these pictures. These really mean a lot to this mama.

Here are a few; but I’ll probably share more in a future post.

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This is one of my faves!

Happy Friday!

My One Word Resolution:: 2016

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I gave up making resolutions awhile ago. I did this for a few reasons. First, I usually made too many and by the end of January I had already abandoned them. Second, I made the resolutions but not the steps to achieve them. Instead of eating the elephant in bite sized pieces, I tried to eat it all at once! Too overwhelming. Third, they were too superficial. Lose 15 pounds, organize my garage, read one book each month. These are fine and noble endeavors; but they aren’t resolutions that will impact all areas of my life this next year.

Instead, I asked God what He wants me to focus on this year, what area He wants me to grow in. I know that putting Him first in my New Year will make a difference in all areas of my life. I still strive for the other stuff….. losing weight, decluttering my home, etc. I call those goals and I try to work on those a little each month, tackling bite sized pieces of my elephant.

For awhile I’ve had this word rattling around in my brain……DWELL. I knew what God was telling me to focus on; I just wasn’t sure the word dwell was the right word to describe it.

The truth that I need to rest in God completely, to seek Him in my decision making, to find my joy and contentment in Him no matter what my circumstances, to leave worry at His feet, to love Him and know Him more – these were the desires and needs tugging at my heart.

So, I looked up the definition of dwell.

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Yup, this is it. This is my word. This is my heart’s desire.

Dwelling is where you live; it’s where you make your home; it’s your anchor; it’s where you find rest.  At His feet is where I want to remain and where I need to keep my attention directed.

When I first began to blog, it really was just a way to document my life and my family’s life.  As I continue to write, the reasons for writing in this space have changed a bit. I still want to document this life of mine; but I also want to encourage others. I want to encourage others to live their lives, whatever the circumstance, with purpose and joy. This means writing honestly and being vulnerable.

If you read Monday’s post Our Year in Review, you’d think my year just came up roses. It wasn’t like that, though. I did have many, many bright days in my year. But this year I probably cried the most than I ever have. Besides the summer Henry was born (And for any new readers out there, I’ll be sure to share that story sometime soon.), this has been one of my hardest years.

Besides some very challenging parenting moments (Not gonna lie here!) that have brought me to tears, our little family of 4 has been fine. There have been some real hardships in my extended family, though. There has been hurt, deep wounds, and some unexpected issues that have been hard to accept. Most of these stories are not mine to tell, yet. So I’ll leave it there.

I’ve had dear friends face great suffering. Sometimes, I’ve been able to be there for them. Sometimes, I just felt helpless.

There were days I just felt overwhelmed with sadness because everything seemed so broken.

This life is one minute happy, the next sad. One minute delightful, the next devastating. It’s shifting sand. Where do I anchor myself when things make no sense and when your heart hurts? On the flipside, who do I give thanks to when I’m feeling blessed and so full of happiness I’m overflowing?

I anchor myself to the One Who Never Changes. That’s why my word is DWELL. God is my anchor, the constant to my unsteady, the One who knows the road before I even take a step. He can be my joy and peace on the brightest of days and my darkest of nights.

I love this verse:

2 Corinthians 12:9 …..”My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power my rest upon me.

Life is not meant to be done alone.

Here are some things I’m resolving to do in 2016 to practice my word DWELL. Some of them are things I already do on a regular basis and some are areas I can be better in.

1. Try my darndest to spend time in God’s Word every day.

2. Read other things that point me to a heart of gratitude.  I’ll be reading and continuing to read 1,000 Gifts by Anne Voskamp and The Valley of Vision.

3. Surround myself with people who will encourage me. (I have a wonderful church family for this.)

4. Be an encourager to other people.

5. Memorize Scripture.

I’d love to hear your word for 2016 or maybe what your top resolution is. Leave a comment. I’d love to read it!

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