Thursday, December 20, 2012

Merry Christmas!

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas with your families and friends this year.  Whether you're travelling or staying home, enjoy your time off!  I will be back with you after the new year with all kinds of new and exciting writing!

I'm hoping to get to spend some time on the cruise ship writing, and I plan on having plenty of time to let things "cook" in my head! 

God Bless you and yours!

Thursday, December 6, 2012


It's that crazy time of year again - stores are hectic, parking's a nightmare, people are cranky, and there's never enough time to get everything done.  Merry Christmas everyone, welcome to the season of crazy!  Some of us are getting ready to travel for the holiday while others are preparing things at home and planning family dinner.  I find that I've really lost the magic and joy of Christmas this year.  Do you find this happening at your house?  What sorts of things do you do to keep yourself centered and sane during the holidays?  Here are some ideas I am going to try:

Stop and enjoy the magic with your kids.  Does your town do a Christmas light display or does your church put on a Christmas Eve play?  Go to them with your kids and enjoy seeing them through young eyes.  We have a local train display that the girls really enjoy visiting every year, followed by a drive through town to see the lights.  Even though the lights are the same every year the girls enjoy seeing where different displays are set up - it's like visiting old friends every year!  My goal this year is to share the magic with them and step outside of my "mommy shoes" for a little bit.  Usually during these trips I'm worried about getting us there, keeping track of everyone's stuff while we're at the train display, etc., etc., etc.  This year I want to let that go a bit and just have fun.

-  Take the stress out of your preparation.  I have a lot of packing to do before we leave on the 20th of December... A LOT of packing!  But I'm trying not to worry about it and stress over it.  It will get done in time or we will stop at a WalMart on the way and pick up what we forgot.  Do you have family coming to stay with you during the holiday?  Try to make sure you take time while they're with you to relax and enjoy their company.  Don't let your hostess duties rob you of the special time you have to share with your family.  It's perfectly fine if breakfast on Christmas morning is bakery pastries or a box of donuts if it means you get to sit down and open presents with everyone.   

- Chill out about the shopping.  With our Christmas shopping this year I am doing what I can when I can.  I have pretty specific ideas for most people I'm shopping for and I work on those a little bit during my free time.  Online shopping has been a real life saver this year - we found the girls' big item (chairs for downstairs family time) as well as gifts for nieces, nephews, friends and family all in one handy place - Thank you Amazon!  One thing I am trying to do is buy smart.  I'm not buying out of obligation, but trying to put thought into each gift we give.  Even with gifts the girls pick out for family members, we're trying to pick something that will mean something to the recipient.  It takes a little more thought, but means so much more when it's opened! 

- Remember why we're celebrating.  How often do you stop to remember why we're celebrating Christmas in the first place?  If the first time you think of Jesus' birth is the Christmas Eve service at your church, you might want to take some time out and reflect.  This is such a special time of year - a time we have to remember when our Savior came to earth and was born.  God sure considered it to be special!  How many times in the Bible was an event heralded with choirs of angels and a huge star pointing the way?  I can think of only one time... the birth of His one and only son, Jesus Christ.  Jesus really is the reason we celebrate this holiday and we need to remember that.  Maybe tonight is a good night to read the Christmas story with your kids or talk to them about Christmas.  My girls love talking about Jesus' birth anytime, but especially at Christmas time! 

I hope that you will be able to take some time and enjoy the Christmas season with me this year.  I am determined that I will find the magic and joy in Christmas, even if it means I have to shut myself in the house with my Christmas carols and hot coffee!  Let Christ share His joy with you and let His peace rule in your heart this special holiday!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Passionate for Pumpkin

Is anyone else out there really excited it's pumpkin season?  I love pumpkin in bread, muffins, cookies, pies, and even in some soups!  One of my friends made a Turkey pumpkin chili a few years ago and it was really good.  I would love to try making Pumpkin Soup sometime if I come across a good recipe.  Today I would like to devote some time to pumpkin recipes in case the baking bug bites you like it's biting me today! 

My first recipe is one I made for an Oktoberfest celebration we went to last month and everyone loved it.  I had to watch Charles to make sure we had enough to take to the party!  My recipe comes from the "Betty Crocker New Cookbook," one of my personal favorites. 
Pumpkin Bread
1 16oz. can pumpkin                                       1 2/3 c. sugar
2/3 c. vegetable oil                                          2 tsp. vanilla
4 large eggs                                                    3 c. all purpose flour or whole wheat flour
2 t. baking soda                                              1 t. salt
1 t. ground cinnamon                                     1/2 t. ground cloves
1/2 t. baking powder                                       1/2 c. coarsely chopped nuts (optional)
1/2 c. raisins (optional)

1.  Move oven rack to low position so that tops of pans will be in center of oven.  Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease bottoms only of 2 loaf pans, 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 2 1/2 inches, or 1 loaf pan, 9 x 5 x 3 inches, with shortening.
2.  Mix pumpkin, sugar, oil, vanilla and eggs in large bowl.  Stir in remaining ingredients.  Pour into pans.
3.  Bake 8-inch loaves 50 to 60 minutes, 9-inch loaf 1 hour 10 minutes to 1 hour 20 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool 10 minutes in pans on wire rack.  Loosen sides of loaves from pans; remove from pans and place top side up on wire rack.  Cool completely before slicing.  Wrap tightly and store at room temperature up to 4 days, or refrigerate up to 10 days.

I also want to share a recipe with you that I am planning on making.  I haven't tried it yet, so please forgive me if it doesn't turn out well!  I was intrigued by this "no evaporated milk" recipe since all three of my daughters and I are lactose intolerant and evaporated milk is pretty rough on our tummies.  They have replaced the evaporated milk with egg nog, which you can buy in lactose-free blends. This recipe comes from:

Stacey's "I don't have any evaporated milk!" Pumpkin Pie
1 pre-made pie crust                                       1 small can pumpkin puree
1 1/2 c. egg nog, storebought or homemade  2 eggs
1/2 c. sugar                                                     1/4 c. brown sugar
1/2 t. salt                                                         1 1/2 t. vanilla extract
1/2 t. ground cinnamon

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2.  Put the pumpkin, egg nog, eggs, and both sugars into a mixing bowl and mix on low until incorporated.
3.  Add salt, vanilla and cinnamon until just incorporated.
4.  Pour mixture into prepared pie shell and bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes.
Note: Because of the egg content in this recipe this pie will set up faster and firmer than traditional pumpkin pies.

I hope that these recipes have given you some inspiration for your holiday baking this year!  I know I'm going to enjoy playing with this Egg Nog Pumpkin Pie recipe for my family!  

Monday, November 12, 2012

What's it Mean to Serve?

Today our country is celebrating Veteran's Day - a day we are supposed to reflect on the great service provided by men and women in the Armed Forces, present and past.  How often do any of us actually stop and remember the purpose of this day?  Not very.  It becomes like any other holiday - a day we sleep in, relax, shop, and eat.  Unless you're a veteran, or someone like me who lives with a veteran.  As I think about Charles' service to this country, as well as that of my dad, grandpa, uncles, brother, cousin, and friends it makes me think.  What does it mean to serve?  What does service mean to me? 

Serving is not the most glamorous job in the world.  Whether you choose to serve through military service, or you choose to serve as a waitperson, housekeeper, sales associate,  babysitter, or parent you're not choosing an easy path.  There is nothing more frustrating (or rewarding) than working with people.  I enjoyed waitressing, but it was not an easy job.  You often get to see the ugly side of normally nice people, simply because they see you as insignificant and unimportant compared to themselves.  Why is this?  Why do we look down our noses at people who have chosen to take a position that makes our lives easier?  Jesus chose a life of service and people looked at him the same way.  He's asked us Christians to follow his example, so Christians should be the best customers and servers out there, right?  I wish.  I'm sad to say that my worst tippers, and often rudest customers were people I knew to be Christians.  We have somehow managed to ignore that facet of Jesus' personality and focus on the "easy" things instead.  What we need to remember is this: service of others is what Jesus is about.  His life was lived in the service of his fellow men, and he expects the very same thing of us.  He expects us to be the first ones available to help during a crisis, and the first ones there to help when a brother or sister is having problems. 

So how do I serve?  What is my role?  I am to serve in any way I can.  Personally this means I lead Bible studies, write, and raise my family to know Christ.  It means I help out when someone is in need and lend an ear when a friend needs me.  It might mean cooking a meal for a new mom or watching someone's kids when they need help.  It means doing something good for someone even when I know it won't be appreciated, and doing it even though I know they won't say thank you or recognize my service in any way.  It means serving because Jesus would, not because it will make me feel good about myself or make me look good to others.  It's not an easy attitude to have, and it's one I have a lot of work to do on, but I'm going to keep plugging away at it.  Imagine what our world would look like if we all decided to serve like Jesus and made it happen.  Our churches would overflow and our world would know what Christians are all about!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Hard Times

We've had a few rough days at our house this week.  This election has been a difficult one and I really expected the American people to make a better choice.  Tuesday night I couldn't sleep due to the sinking feeling deep in my soul.  I've never had this kind of reaction to election results before.  Of course, America has never made such blatant choices against God as a nation before, either;  Legalizing pot for fun, legalizing gay marriage, choosing to let the government control more and more of our lives, and the list goes on.  What is this country coming to?   I continued pondering on the situation yesterday while I was writing my Bible study and came across some great passages in the Bible that helped me find some peace with the situation.  I thought I would share them with you today so that God can share His peace with you as we move forward as Christian Americans in a fallen country.

Psalm 119:25-32
25 I am laid low in the dust; preserve my life according to your word.26 I recounted my ways and you answered me; teach me your decrees.27 Let me understand the teaching of your precepts; then I will meditate on your wonders.28 My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word.29 Keep me from deceitful ways; be gracious to me through your law. 30 I have chosen the way of truth; I have set my heart on your laws. 31 I hold fast to your statutes, O LORD; do not let me be put to shame. 32 I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.
Do any of you have a weary soul right now?  Are you laid low in the dust?  It's time for us to lay ourselves at His feet.  He will strengthen us!  There is great freedom to be had in giving your heart to Christ.  Just imagine for a moment - if you've filled your heart with God and His precious word how much room is left for despair?  He is ready and willing to fill those spaces for each one of us, and there is such comfort waiting for us when we make that decision!  
Matthew 5:1-12
1 Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them, saying: 3"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.11"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
I think this is a good time for us to remember the Beatitudes.  You might notice that nowhere does it say "Blessed are the happy people with no problems..."  This doesn't mean we can't receive God's blessings when things are going well.  It means we are going to encounter difficulty living here in the world and we have a Savior who is here for us when we do.  Are you mourning?  Let Him comfort you.  Are you hungry for His righteousness?  Let Him feed you and fill you up.  Are you being treated badly by people around you?  Rejoice in it!  You're walking a path that many have before you and you're storing reward in Heaven for yourself. 
Passages like this one put my situation in perspective.  Think about the world early Christians lived in.  Instead of Sunday afternoon football, people would go watch Sunday afternoon Christian vs. Lion battles, and those contests were rigged - the Christians never won those "games!"  They, too, lived in a fallen world surrounded by people who rejected God and were slaves to their base natures.  But, they didn't quit and neither can we. 
It's time for Christians to take back our country and it's going to be hard.  I saw an interesting segment on Hannity last night.  He was talking with a guest about why Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan didn't win, and they made a really good point.  One side was offering the "easy" solution - let the government take care of it for you.  Let the government pay you instead of getting a job, let the government regulate your food so you'll quit getting fat, let the government tell you what medical care you're allowed to have, and the list goes on.  You don't have to take responsibility because the government's going to do it for you.  On the other side you had guys with big ideas, but they all required work from each one of us.  They had answers to fix the economy, but those answers required change - change in entitlements, change in programs, etc.  It wasn't going to be easy, but they could have fixed the damage that's been done to our economy and healthcare system.  Sean Hannity likened their stance to the parent that makes you take responsibility for your actions - very necessary, but not near as appealing to the masses who have become dependent on the government for their survival.
We, as Christians, need to decide where we're going to put our faith.  Are you going to put your faith in God, the Creator and Savior of all?  His way isn't the easy one, either, but it's full of more benefit than you'll ever find here on Earth!


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Where's My Inspiration?

It's a cold and cloudy day here in Maryland and I am low on energy.  I've been pretty productive today - got some laundry done, cleaned the basement, cleaned the living room and bathroom, but I'm done.  The weather makes me achy and I'd much rather go back to bed for a few hours.  Instead I get to straighten up my kitchen, bake bread, and start soup for dinner before taking the girls out for trick-or-treating tonight.  I promise I'm not complaining - a few days ago I thought that I'd be doing all of this without power!  I am so thankful that we came through Hurricane Sandy with a little roof damage and leakage and power on!  Last year after Hurricane Irene paid us a visit we went almost a week without power.  So, as I sit here struggling with a topic, where's my inspiration? 

Some days the words come pouring out of me at a rate that's almost scary.  I might work on a Bible study lesson, a book idea, blog posting, and an article in the same day.  I love those days!  Even though the housework might lag a bit, I feel productive and fulfilled.  Days like today where the menial stuff gets done, but my creative juices are a bit dry bug me.  I feel irritable and annoyed that I can't get the words right.  This is not a day to sit down with my new book idea and play - all my efforts would end up in the garbage. 

What do you do when you lack inspiration?  Do you have a tried-and-true method that pulls you out of the mess and gets your brain working again?  I have to find a way to end the funk when I'm stuck - usually reading some of my Bible reading plan will help, as well as sitting down and forcing the issue.  I can always work on my blog if my book's not cooperating, or start researching for my next Bible study lesson without actually writing the text out yet.  How often do I actually do that?  Unfortunately not as often as I should.  I'm much more likely to let myself get distracted with other things: reading a good book, checking Facebook, playing games on the tablet, and so many other things. 

I think the answer for most of us is finding a good balance.  I can't write 24/7.  It's not practical - I have a very busy, active family that needs my attention a good chunk of the time, and a home that demands attention from me on a regular basis.  I can, however, make the time that I have to write count instead of hemming and hawing and distracting myself with other things.  I also have to remember to sit down and pray about it - how do I expect to share any of God's words if I don't ask Him to help? I always find it funny when I finally remember to pray about it because the words and ideas start coming... most of the time!  There are some days I think His message to me is, "Stop already - it's not the right day for writing!"  I'm just a bit slow on the uptake and don't get it right away. 

I encourage you to keep trying even when the inspiration well is drying up.  Say a quick prayer and see what God has in store for you today!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Dinner for a Few Dimes

I love fall and winter!  I love nothing more than curling up with a good book and a cup of coffee while the snow (or rain) is falling outside.  All the great flavors come out during this time of the year, too: pumpkin, apple, cinnamon, nutmeg, eggnogg, etc.  It's also the time of year for soup, chili, and fresh bread.  Yum!  Is it any wonder we tend to put on a few pounds during cold months?  We have so many carbs and sugary treats to choose from!  It's very easy to get caught up in the fun of the season and lose track of the budget while shopping for all these tasty items.  It got me to thinking about some of my favorite, budget-friendly winter meals.

Put On a Pot 'o Beans
I put a pot of mixed beans on yesterday morning before we left for church.  The plan was to have it for lunch, which didn't happen.  I thought 4 hours on high in the crock pot would have done it (yes, I pre-soaked Saturday night), but they were still little rocks when we got home.  We ended up having them for dinner instead, and they were delicious!  I took a simple bag of mixed beans (the bean soup blend), sliced onions, and ham chunks from the freezer and threw it in the crockpot.  Budget-wise, you don't get much cheaper.  The bag of beans was less than $2, and the ham was left-over from a spiral I bought months ago.  I always save the bone and odd chunks that don't get sliced when we get a ham, and then take out pieces as I need them.  The downside to this meal is you do have to plan ahead a little bit, but it can all be done in a day if you choose the "Quick Soak" method over overnight soaking for the beans.  One bag fed six people - 4 adults and 3 kids - so if you have more people in your family you'll probably need another bag of beans. 

Homemade Soup
Charles LOVES soup.  I think he would be fine if I made soup once a week.  Unfortunately for him, I don't.  But, as fall rolls around I do get to hankering for some tasty soup and I go recipe hunting.  There are tons of resources available these days for finding recipes: websites, friends, mobile apps, or even cookbooks!  My process usually starts with an ingredient - I have chicken and need a soup that works around that and doesn't require a trip to the store.  Budget-wise it's always easier if I can avoid extra trips!  One of the best soup recipes I have found in the last year is for Chicken Tortellini Soup.  I found it on Betty Crocker's website when I was looking for something to do with leftover Turkey.  One thing I should admit to now is I rarely follow a recipe as it is written - I'm a big substituter.  As I was looking at this recipe I figured my leftover turkey would go perfectly in this soup.  I happened to have some tortellini in the freezer, and the rest is history.  It was a family hit - no leftovers for us that night!  I will include it here in case you would like to give it a try with your family:
If you don't have a recipe, or just want to experiment, vegetable beef (or chicken, pork, or turkey) is so easy!  As long as you have canned or frozen veggies and some meat, you have the base for a soup.  Charles' mom and dad will often cook up a roast in lots of broth, then add a ton of veggies and let it cook the whole day.  They will then eat on that same soup the whole week.  I like to bake up a loaf of homemade bread to go with mine, but it's good just with crackers, too! 

Chili 'n Cornbread
Chili is a staple in most homes in the US, I think.  It's different everywhere you go, but everyone has a chili recipe that they love.  Chili is another thing that I like to tweak depending on the ingredients I have available.  I've been known to use ground beef, ground turkey, leftover chicken, or leftover sloppy joe meat to make my chili, as well as a variety of beans.  Some nights we have kidney beans only, others it's black beans or pintos, and others it's a combination of all of them.  Chili is a pretty forgiving medium, too.  If you need more "sauce" add some canned tomatoes, pizza sauce, or salsa if you like spice!  I wish I had a great chili recipe to share with you here, but mine is different every time.  Pop a batch of cornbread in the oven and you have a nice, hot tasty dinner on a cold, rainy night!

Mostly, I just try to have fun with whatever I'm fixing.  When winter hits I don't mind having the oven on in the house and it's time for cooking!  Have fun with it - try new things and don't be afraid to mess stuff up.  We've all made the meals that no one wants to eat.  We just have to learn from our mistakes and keep trying! 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Hurray for Holidays!

As a mother of school-aged children I sometimes get a little tired of the random holidays they give our kids throughout the year.  Some months I don't think they attend a full week of school because of all the extra time off!  However, there are times that these days come right when we need them.  As I write this, three very happy girls are downstairs playing Barbies in the "village" they created yesterday.  They've been at it since before Daddy and I got up this morning, which is even better.  I love it when they get the opportunity to play like this and potentially spend the whole day in their pajamas if the mood strikes. 

As much as I love holidays, they can't be the blueprint for how our family functions on a daily basis.  I find it interesting that the girls need structure.  Anytime we have an extended holiday - Spring Break, Christmas, Summer Break - we have to space our do-nothing days with productive time.  They do better when we have some structure followed by some fun.  For instance, during Summer Break we often take the morning to clean, then spend the afternoon playing.  When they have too many days playing with no chores they become moody, whiny, and short-tempered... and the house gets crazy. 

I, too, need that structure in my life.  Do-nothing days aren't fun for long when you run out of clean laundry and your kitchen is overtaken with dirty dishes.  Life becomes chaotic and things start to fall apart.  My spiritual life works pretty much the same way.  When I don't perform regular "maintenance" - prayer, Bible reading and study, etc. - my spiritual self suffers.  Little bumps in my life's road become huge obstacles and the big things completely do me in.  It's a pretty easy fix: even on my do-nothing days I spend some time with God.  I might do some Bible reading or work on a writing project, or just spend some quiet time talking to him in prayer.  I find that these small things make a huge difference when life picks back up to a normal pace.  Give it a try and see if your life changes! 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Creative Halloween Solutions - Mommy Style!

As Halloween creeps in on us, we are having the usual costume challenges at the Peterson home. Fortunately, the girls are all pretty even keeled, so there haven't been any hysterics or tears, but we've had to make some compromises. You see, unfortunately for my children, we are trying hard to stick to a budget which means homemade costumes. So all these great magazines with fun pictures of Superheroes, Princesses, and Action Figures are really nothing but torture devices for us. This whole situation is forcing me to be much more creative and crafty (making crafts, not being sneaky) than I've been in quite a while.  

I am actually having fun planning these costumes, and I think we may be starting a new tradition. Crazy, right? I like to think it's crazy-creative! My girls will have unique costumes - how many Indian Archer Princesses or Roman Archery Princesses will there be marching around at school? Emily chose to be Katniss from the Hunger Games, so she will probably have company, but she will still have our own unique take on the outfit! They will get the fun of having creative input on their costumes as well as some hands-on experience. I can promise I'm not doing all the beading and fringing on Morgan's costume by myself! 

This will be a great opportunity to teach my girls about being creative with a budget. They need to see that being on a budget doesn't mean you don't have fun - you just do it a little differently! They will also get to learn the enjoyment to be had in making something yourself as opposed to buying it off the shelf.

So, what does it take to create a do-it-yourself costume? 

1.   Try to have a picture of the costume in your head. The evil costume catalog has actually been a big help with this - Abby and Morgan pointed out what they wanted, and I set about figuring out how to make our own. I also got on the internet and did some research. There are several sites with excellent costume ideas and great pictures!
2.   Raid their dress-up bins. You might be surprised at what can be re-purposed. We are re-using an Egyptian "base" dress from a costume used a few years ago for Abby's Roman princess. You can often find accessories to go with costumes, as well. 
3.   Raid your own closet (and your husbands)! Our Indian Princess dress is going to be one of Charles' brown Army t-shirts. It's the perfect size to be a dress on Morgan, and it will cost us nothing to fringe the edges and add some beads. Abby's shoulder drape will be one of my scarves.
4.   Raid your kids' closets. Our kids can often use existing pieces of clothing as parts of their costumes. Emily is going to wear her own boots and black jacket to be Katniss. We will have to buy her a black t-shirt and some cargo pants to round out the costume. These are all things she will wear at other times, so the cost can easily be absorbed into a clothing budget. Last year, Morgan's Plum Pudding costume consisted of leggings and a purple shirt that she still wears today. 
5.   Have fun with it! Don't stress yourself out over it. Halloween is one night out of the year that really doesn't mean much in the scheme of things. The idea is to have fun with some dress-up and collect way too much candy. Don't let it get you down! 

Saturday, September 29, 2012

God, What do I do??

Do you ever have those moments when all you can do is ask God, "What do I do?"  There are times when we don't have the answers within ourselves.  Maybe we're facing a difficult situation with friends or things are falling apart at home, but we find ourselves floundering.  What do we do then?  We have a couple options: we can assume that God isn't speaking to us at the moment and try to figure things out on our own, or we can lean on Him and His eternal wisdom - fall to our knees and ask for help. 

When I run into this situation in my life I have a passage that never fails me: Psalm 91.

1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.2 I will say of the LORD, "He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust." 3 Surely he will save you from the fowler's snare and from the deadly pestilence.4 He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. 5 You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, 6 nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. 7 A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. 8 You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.9 If you make the Most High your dwelling-- even the LORD, who is my refuge-- 10 then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. 11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways;12 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.13 You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.14 "Because he loves me," says the LORD, "I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. 15 He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.16 With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation."

This passage speaks to me on so many levels.  When I was a teenager I read a book titled "A Thousand May Fall," by Bodie Thoene and I was intrigued by the title.  I looked up the passage in my Bible and it hit me for the first time that this is how God looks out for ME every day in every situation.  Ever since then it has been my go-to Psalm when times get tough.  I love the fact that you get to hear God's perspective as well as the psalmists'.  There's something really comforting about God telling you that He will be with you in your time of trouble.  The imagery in this psalm also gets me every time.  I can just see God spreading HIs protective wings over me when I'm at my weakest.  And, boy are there times I need that image.  I need to know that He is in my corner blocking arrows and pestilence! 

What is your go-to passage?  If you don't have one, I highly recommend finding one.  God wants to share His comfort with you, and sometimes His word is the best place to find it.  We should be actively praying, of course, but I think we do ourselves a great disservice when we neglect to search the BIble for help.  The Bible is as relevant today as it was back when it was written!  It amazes me how much I can find in there that applies directly to my struggles today.  We always assume that the Bible was written to people "back then" who didn't deal with the same things we do.  But, the more I read the more I find that they were dealing with the very same stuff we do - it took different forms, and technology has certainly made our world different, but overall we are facing the same spiritual battles today that our early Christian fathers did.  We should take comfort in the fact that the same God who helped them through their troubles is ready and willing to help us through ours... if we will just ask!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

What About the Small Stuff?

My Ladies' Bible study just picked up for the fall a few weeks ago.  We're studying James this year, which is very exciting.  I have the honor of writing and leading this study every week and it's such a blessing to me.  Our conversation yesterday centered around James 1:1-8 - trials and suffering and how we should deal with them as Christian ladies. 

2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  James 1:2-4 (NIV)

One of the things that really stood out to me after we read these verses was that we often remember to ask God to help us with our "big" trials: illness, losing a job or spouse, or financial difficulties, but we don't often think to ask him for help with the "small" stuff: tantrums, perpetual chatterboxes, smart mouthes, or any number of daily minutiae that slowly drive us insane as mothers.  These are the times I need to remember to stop and ask God "Please Help Me!" 

What happens in your household when the small stuff builds up?  Around here Mommy has a bit of a meltdown and children usually start crying.  I wonder how often these meltdowns could be avoided if I learned to take the small things to God when they're happening, and better yet, if I could learn to rejoice in these trials that come my way.  But, how do I learn to rejoice in Abby's constant distractedness, Morgan's stubbornness, or Emily's know-it-all-ness?  Aren't these the things that are supposed to bother me?  It's a bit of a quandry. 

Considering my trials a joy doesn't mean that I don't ever discipline bad behavior in my kids.  If I read this passage further, I can see that testing my faith develops perseverance.  Dealing with these things gracefully will help me grow as a Christian.  I want to be mature in Christ and I want to teach my girls to be mature in Christ as they grow up.  My personal challenge right now is to let God take over and deal with these little things that make me crazy.  I want to let Him shine through me and help me weather these little mini-storms every day.  If you find yourself dealing with this same situation, whether you have children or not, I would challenge you to try the same thing.  Give it to God - let Him do the heavy lifting for a change!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

What a Job!

I have held some interesting jobs in my life: babysitter extraordinaire, billing clerk, waitress (a couple of times), paralegal, and business owner.  You certainly run into all sorts of characters in each of these fields, from cranky children to mean bosses and rude customers.  But, never have I felt challenged the way I do in my current job:  Mommy.  I've been at this "job" for 10 1/2 years now, and it just gets more challenging every year.  It was almost easy when they were babies - they didn't move a whole lot, feeding them was really easy, if inconvenient sometimes, they slept A LOT, and they didn't talk.  Granted, they were up at all hours of the night and caring for babies is a full time job, but no one prepares you for mothering older children. 

Older children talk... A LOT!  In fact, there are times when all three girls are talking to me at the same time about three different things and I think, "My brain's going to explode!"  Obviously, that doesn't happen, but I feel so overloaded that peace and quiet seem like a heaven that I'll never quite make it to.  Then there are the days like yesterday when Mommy decides it's time to clean our rooms.  You would think I told the younger two girls that we were going to practice Chinese water torture!  There are tears and emotional outbursts - they often forget I can hear them from the next room - and lots of time spent not cleaning, and they wonder why Crazy Mommy comes to visit the house that day.  Needless to say, a 1 hour max. job took them over three just because they refuse to focus and do what's necessary.  I have yet to find a good solution for this, other than sending them up to pick up immediately after getting home from school; before snack time or play time, they have to make sure their room is clean. 

I had a bit of an epiphany about this yesterday - thanks Charles! - and I think I know why I'm so unsuccessful at the cleaning/picking up aspects of mothering.  I am not consistent.  That really stinks!  I pride myself on being a consistent discipliner, but here I am contributing to the problem by letting things go.  I feel mean when the girls miss out on outside playtime because they have to clean their room, but if they have to do it EVERY time their room is messy, I'm sure they'll get a clue and start picking up after themselves. 

This makes me think of how God must feel about us sometimes.  How often do we let the messes of life throw us spiritually off track?  How do we stay on task when life is throwing 30 different things at us all at once?  I think the answer can be found in Proverbs 22:6, "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.  If I train my girls now in something as simple as keeping their rooms tidy, when they are older it will be ingrained.  Likewise, if we train them from an early age to love the Lord and glory in His commands, when they are older their lives will reflect His love and goodness.  That's what I want for my girls, and it's what I want to continue to grow in my life, too!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Winning and Losing

Today’s question is this: when did it become a bad thing to win?  I read a friend’s Facebook post this afternoon and my mind started racing (sorry Eileen!).  A girls’ soccer team (girls around 8 years old) was forced by the referees to quit scoring goals so that the other team – the one they were beating – wouldn’t feel bad.  I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid I was on plenty of losing teams and was not scarred for life because we didn’t play as well as other teams.  I fear that we are doing our children a huge disservice when we don’t teach them how to lose. 

What does losing teach us? 

There are so many varied things that losing teaches us that you’re going to get a list of just a few today:

1.     Losing teaches us humility.  We all need to be humbled once in a while so our egos don’t expand to the size of an elephant.  When we lose a game (which I do a lot!) we learn that we are not the best at everything we set out to do.  This comes in very handy later in life when a business we start doesn’t work out or we lose a job.  If you understand beforehand that you’re fallible, then the blows aren’t quite so devastating.  It still stinks, and I have yet to meet someone who likes to lose, but those who learn to lose gracefully seem to roll with life’s punches a little better.

2.    Losing teaches us compassion.  When you’ve been on the losing team, or finished the race last you can empathize with others when they lose.  If you never lose, you don’t know how it feels and it doesn’t matter as much when someone else suffers loss.  In a very real way losing at easy things like sports or board games prepares you for dealing better with bigger losses down the road.

3.    Losing teaches us self-control.  Learning to be a “good” loser does wonders for your self-control.  How many times have you seen tantrums out on the field because someone’s team lost?  How many times have these tantrums involved the adults, not the kids?  Think about what this teaches the children – it’s OK to yell and scream when you don’t get your way because you are Number One all the time everywhere you go.  A little self-control in that situation works wonders.  No one’s going to be happy with a loss, but you can still emphasize the positive aspects of the game: maybe Charlie caught a ball or Johnny made a run – losing the game doesn’t take away from the accomplishments the kids made. 

I could go on and on all day about this topic, but I’ll spare you the pain!  To conclude, my point is this.  Winning and losing are important concepts for everyone to learn.  Kids have been learning about winning and losing for generations with good results – well-adjusted adults who can take the good with the bad in life.  When we take winning and losing away from our kids, we are severely handicapping them for life in the real world.    

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Musings After Midnight

It's 1:04 a.m. and I'm still awake... again.  So, as I was laying in bed begging my leg to settle down in between massaging and stretching and icing I started my evening prayer.  I got as far as "Why can't I sleep?" when I had a bit of an epiphany.  Maybe I shouldn't be sleeping right now.  Maybe I need to get up and go write. 

Do I want to?  Um... no.  I want to be in bed next to Charles sleeping because, like it or not, I have to be up to get girls off to school in the morning.  But, here we are anyway - just me, a sleeping house, and a crazy leg sitting down at the computer to muse on life.  For those who don't know me well, I'll give you a little back story - those of you who know me and my exciting story, sorry.  You can skip this part if you'd like!  This particular story starts just over 8 years ago, not long after my sweet Abby was born.  I don't remember the exact date it happened, but I started having some serious pain in my lower back that radiated down my right leg.  It was a pain like I had never experienced - which is saying something considering I was recovering from my first c-section at that time!  I sought help from my chiropractor, who eventually referred me to my doctor for an MRI for a suspected disk herniation.  My doctor at the time decided - no, you don't need an MRI.  It's a pulled muscle.  He sent me home with some stretches that alleviated the radiating pain in my leg and I thought we were done.  All through this time I had what I call crazy legs, or my version of sciatica.  Every night at bedtime my leg would start to tingle and go numb which made it very hard to sleep.  Charles and I got into a routine that involved him rubbing my back until the knots dissipated enough that I could sleep.   
Fast forward to 2011.  I still had my crazy legs, but they started getting worse.  Instead of tingling and numbness, I started having leg spasms and some crazy muscle gymnastics every night.  I also had a persistent pain in my low back that never really went away.  That didn't bother me so much - it was pretty normal at this point.  The legs, however, were a problem.  They were starting to keep me up ridiculously late every night, so I sought out my doctor for help.  Fortunately, since moving to Maryland I have found a wonderful doctor who is on top of it, and he sent me for an MRI where they found a rather large disk herniation.  He got me hooked up with a great neurosurgeon and I started physical therapy and pain management.  After several months of PT and a couple steroid injections my pain and nerve issues were just getting worse.  They did surgery and I felt great... until I re-herniated my disk.  They got me in for a second surgery and I am 8 months out at this point with no re-herniation.  The pain is much, much better!  My legs are still crazy though, which seems to be caused by inflammation of the tissues surrounding the nerve root that runs down my leg.  I've been in for another steroid injection and will probably have to go in for another soon.  I keep hoping that one day this will be over and I will lay down in bed to sleep like normal people.
Now, you might be wondering why I had to write a novel about all of this.  Shouldn't I just keep all of this to myself and go back to bed?  Maybe.  But, maybe like me you're wondering "Why" about something.  God doesn't put these things in our paths to destroy us - he puts them there to make us stronger.  I guess my question to myself today is "How is this going to make me stronger?"  I can honestly say I've been letting these legs trip me up instead of looking for an answer in these quiet hours of the morning.  I moan and complain and shoot my why's at the ceiling instead of doing something productive with my time.  Maybe I'll find that my best creative time really is at 2 a.m. and I've really been missing out on something! 

I keep thinking about Paul and his thorn.  In 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 he says, "To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.   
I don't know what Paul's thorn was, but it was a torment.  How many of us can understand that?  Torments come in all shapes and sizes and are tailor made for each one of us.  The question we have to ask ourselves is what are we going to do with that thorn?  Let it stay inside and fester until it destroys us from the inside out or use it to become strong and effective for Christ's kingdom?  I choose to let God make His power perfect in my weakness.  Will you?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Yay for Sick Days!

Believe it or not we are having our first sick day of the school year today.  Abby is home with a barky cough - whether allergy or cold related I can't tell yet.  I'm not a mom to keep my kids home when the first sniffle hits, but there are times you can tell they need a day home to stay in their jammies and let their little bodies recover.  So as I write this, Abby is downstairs watching Scooby Doo in her pajamas and cuddling with a kitten or two on the couch.  I'm sorry she is sick, but I'm kind of happy that I get her to myself today. 

For those of you with more than one child, do you find it hard to get time individually with them?  My girls are so close in age, especially Abby and Morgan, that I feel bad Abby hasn't had the time alone with me that Emily had.  Abby has always been an independent little girl, which is both easier and harder on me.  Easier because as long as she has her sisters or her imagination she's quite happy and self-sufficient.  Harder because it gives me a guilt complex - surely I'm not a good mommy to her if she doesn't need me constantly, right?  I feel like sometimes I have to create opportunities for us to be alone together so she will feel special.

One thing I have found with all of my children is that it doesn't take much from me to make them feel special.  Just a random hug and "I Love You" can make their day.  I wonder why we think that everything needs to be a grand gesture with our kids.  They certainly don't seem to care as long as we're doing something together.  In fact it seems to be the littlest things that mean the most to them: playing Barbies, baking, coloring, reading, and other simple things that only take a moment to do, but mean so much in their hearts and stay with them forever.  

I get so caught up in the day-to-day living that I forget to stop and enjoy little things with my girls.  My goal for this fall is to take some time each week to spend individually with each of my girls.  Maybe we'll go somewhere together or we'll do something at home - either way we'll be together having fun and making memories!  It's time for them to get some "Fun Mommy" instead of normal old boring Mommy for a change!  

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Who Needs A Break?

I was kind of surprised to learn that my girls needed a break this year.  Over the last several years, we have tried soccer, swimming, fencing, and dance.  Not all at the same time, but one or two each year.  I thought they had fun and enjoyed it until last year at dance.  I started getting a clue that maybe it was too much when my kindergartener Morgan got off the bus feeling fine, but mysteriously developed a stomach ache right before dance; or maybe it was Abby, my second grader, bursting into tears every Thursday night before dance.  I may be a bit dense, but even I figured out that they weren't having fun anymore!  Their Daddy and I certainly weren't enjoying ourselves either - who enjoys sitting in a parking lot by yourself for an hour waiting?  But, we finished  out the year and I gave them the summer to think about what they might like to do. 

When I brought up the topic of what activities they were interested in trying this year, Emily, my oldest, asked, "Mommy, can we just take a break this year?  I don't want to do anything."  This was followed with a resounding chorus of "Me, too!" from Abby and Morgan.  It got me to thinking that our kids sometimes need a break from responsibilities and "real life" just like we do.  Here I thought we were doing them such a favor - offering all these really cool activities for them to try out - but they just want to come home and play with their friends.  We will still attend church activities, and there are clubs at school they want to participate in, but my calendar has significantly cleared for the year and my girls are much happier! 

What do you do when you need a break?  I usually find a comfy chair, a good book, and a cup of coffee and escape into someone else's world for a while.  It gives me a chance to recharge and build back up.  What things help you reset your brain?  For some it's a walk outside, watching a movie, or any number of things.  It's different for each one of us, which is how God intended it.  I often beat myself up for needing a break from things, but I have to remember Jesus needed breaks too.  More than once he retreated to a quiet place where he could recharge and reconnect with His Father. 

I am trying to get better about taking quiet time with God, letting Him speak to me in His special way.  It's hard to do that when you have 5,000 other things flitting through your mind, so it's quite an exercise to clear the mind and listen. But when I do, it's the best, most spiritually productive time - more than I could ever ask for or expect.  It doesn't take much, just a quiet room and open mind.  He's always waiting for us to take that step and seek Him out. 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

To Discipline or Not to Discipline?

That is the question today!  This is such a hot topic, I am going to try not to step on any toes but share some insights.  Discipline comes in many forms and variations, and is often looked at negatively.  But, have you ever seen a child that REALLY needed to be disciplined?  I am not necessarily talking about spanking or swatting - there are many different ways to change a child's behavior without a spanking.  These kids are begging for some discipline.  So many parents today seem scared to discipline, thinking their kids won't like them.  What I find to be interesting is that it's the disciplined kids who typically like their parents more than the undisciplined kids. 

We just adopted three kittens a few weeks ago - one for each daughter.  They are absolutely adorable and we all love them already.  But, they need to be disciplined or they will overrun the house in no time!  I had to pull out the spray bottle, and we have to be consistent with spraying every time they get on the kitchen table or the counter.  If we don't do it now, they will always see the table as their stomping ground and I'd better get used to cats in the casserole! 

So, what do kittens have in common with kids?  Quite a bit, actually!  They both have endless energy and huge hearts that they are ready to share with you, and they both have a need for someone to show them the boundaries in their world.  Who will teach your child what's safe to touch if you don't?  Who will teach your child not to run out into the road if you don't?  Who will teach your child how to play with other kids if you don't?  They are relying on you to point them in the right direction, which includes some course correcting! 

Proverbs 29:15 says, "To discipline and reprimand a child produces wisdom, but a mother is disgraced by an undisciplined child." (NLT) 
Isn't it interesting that the parent is the one disgraced by an undisciplined child?  How many mortified moms have you seen in the grocery store, standing by while their child has a meltdown?  Have you been one?  We've all had those moments that we wish the earth would open up and swallow us whole.  But, if these meltdowns are the norm at your house, maybe some change in how you discipline is in order.  None of us wants to be the "mean" one, but your child will thank you for laying down the law - if not in words then in deeds and behavior.  Maybe it's time to sit down with your spouse and create a list of your family rules.  You can also discuss appropriate consequences for breaking rules, and rewards for following them. 

"Discipline your children, and they will give you happiness and peace of mind." Proverbs 29:17 (NLT)  
I don't know about you, but I'm a big fan of happiness and peace of mind!  This proverb makes such sense, doesn't it?  If I instill a sense of discipline in my child, I don't have to worry the second my back is turned.  I can trust that they will remember what they've been taught - whether I'm there at the moment or not. 

If you have questions about discipline and its benefits, I urge you to read the book of Proverbs.  See what God thinks of discipline and its results!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

How Do I Deal With My Free-Spirited Child?

Today's Question:  How do I deal with my free-spirited child?

This is a question I am struggling with a lot now that we've started school for the year.  My girls are all in school now: 5th, 3rd, and 1st grades respectively.  We know the school drill pretty well around here!  My oldest loves school, loves structure, and loves rules.  She will make a great dictator (or mom) some day!  My youngest also loves rules, structure, and school.  My middle, however, is her father's child through and through!  She is the sweetest child with a huge heart - she loves everyone.  She, however, does not love rules, structure, or school.  She's always looking for ways to be different.  If her sisters love pink and purple, she loves blue.  She'd rather talk to her friends when the teacher is explaining assignments, and don't get me started on homework!  Rest assured, it is torturous getting her to sit down and pay attention long enough to get a simple worksheet done. 

So many times parents try to fit their children into molds - usually molds that conveniently fit into the family.  My children teach me every day that there isn't a mold made that they won't break!  The trick is learning how to value each one for the special, unique gifts they've been given by God.  There are days I have to remind myself several times that God has gifted my Abby with a big heart and a chatty mouth to go along with it - this is a blessing, even though it's hard to see when my brain in leaking out my ears from all the mindless chattering!  She is a unique creation made by God and put in my family for a good reason.  We need her and her perspective to keep us young and fun - she does the silliest things that just make us all laugh sometimes! 

So when your own unique little creation is driving you absolutely insane with their "uniqueness," try to find the special gifts God has given them in there.  I am not in any way saying that you should accept bad behavior as a gift; there are some things we need to learn not to tolerate in our children so that they will grow into good adults someday.  But, there are things about our children that are special - maybe they're just like you, which is its own kind of torture, or they're your opposite and nothing they do makes sense to you.  It's these times we need to step back and remember that God has made them this way for a reason.  It's our job as Mommy to figure out how God has gifted them and then learn to incorporate those gifts into our families. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Welcome to my blog!  Stay tuned for more postings about my adventures in mothering and answers I've discovered.