Friday, February 21, 2014

15 things I've Learned About Homeschooling

We've been homeschooling for 3 and a half years now.  I've taught my kids to read, worked through math struggles with them, and even watched friends and family make the decision to homeschool themselves.  :)
It's been wonderful, and I wouldn't choose anything else for our family.  It's definitely been a learning experience, though, and I thought I'd share some of the things I've come to discover since we started a few years ago.

15 Things I've learned about homeschooling:

1.   It's not for everyone.  This one needs to be mentioned first.  I'm a HUGE fan of homeschooling, because it's so perfect for us and it works so well for our situation (and I love it).  But I know that it's a calling, we're not all called to the same things, and that's okay.  Just like parenting styles, food choices, and clothing styles are all individual choices, traditional schooling vs.homeschooling is a choice and what works for one may not be the right fit for another.  Don't ever judge or feel that your way is the best way.  Frankly, that's pretty arrogant.

2.  It's not easy.  It's not.  It requires patience by the bucketful, organization, dedication, discipline, and a recall of all those math lessons you learned in 8th grade that you forgot years ago. But it's worth it.

3.  You will want to quit. It's true.  There are good days, for sure.  But ohhhh...the bad days. When life happens and your kids are cranky and uncooperative, your house is falling apart, and someone *accidentally* throws a pencil at a sibling.  It happens.  Do your best to find the humor in it (after taking care of the pencil situation, of course).

4.  Your kids will fight you to do school, just like they fight you in other areas.  I don't know how things go in your household, but my kids wake up and just want to play and have fun. They know they have responsibilities, but they're not very happy about it.  And when school time interferes with the 12 hours of Minecraft they were hoping for, they put up a big stink about phonics and times tables (at least, mine do).  Working on discipline and consistent expectations won't get rid of all the fights, but it definitely helps.

5.   Homeschooling encourages individuality and possibly weirdness (embrace it).  We were fortunate to join a homeschool co-op this past Fall, and I remember having an actual moment when I realized how different the homeschool kids really are.  Sure, they participate in the latest trends and they're very much like their traditional-schooled peers, but there's something about them that makes them...different.  And that *thing* is their own sense of individuality.  I see it in so many of these kids, including my own.  It makes sense to me, when I stop to think about it...when you're surrounded by your siblings all day, do you want to look like them, dress like them, and act just like them?  No way!  You focus on your uniqueness.  And when you're surrounded by family who loves you for you, and encourages you to be yourself (and not wandering the halls of the local junior high and trying your best to "fit in" every day), you have the courage and confidence to be you.  I'm sure there are exceptions to this, but in my personal observations, individuality is the norm.

6.  No two homeschools are the same.  One of the benefits in homeschooling is the ability to tailor things to your own style.  I love reading, so our curriculum uses a lot of books to teach, and less workbooks and hands-on learning.  In another homeschool, there might be minimal reading, but many projects and field trips.  You do what works for you, and your children.

7.  Comparing yourself to other homeschoolers can be a bad, bad thing.  This one goes hand in hand with #6.  In our homeschool, we don't do many crafts and hands on projects, because I stink at them.  It's true.  I see other homeschool families who build life size teepees in their living room, or an entire model of the solar system, to scale, and I feel really, really guilty.  But you know what?  My kids are perfectly happy with the few projects I manage to pull off every year, and I haven't heard any complaints or comparisons from them.  And they love when it's time for me to read to them, but it's something I enjoy, and that makes me enthusiastic about it.  It shows in the way I read the words and tell the story.
Find what works for you and embrace it, not compare it to others.

8.  Just when you think you have your curriculum and teaching styles set, things will need shaken up a bit.  This one I really struggle with, because I'm not a fan of change.  I want to stick with one thing, forever, and not even question it.  But a year ago, I noticed that my kids were outsmarting their math curriculum, and not truly learning the concepts being taught.  I also wanted more repetition with previously taught concepts.  After doing some research and talking with other homeschoolers, I made the switch to a new math curriculum and I am SO GLAD that I did.

9.  It can be expensive, but it doesn't have to be.  There are Ebay sales, used book sales, library books, free things on the internet.  You may even have a friend with the exact books you need, sitting in her basement, that she'd be willing to loan to you.  If you set out to buy everything that looks good, brand new off the shelf, you're going to spend a lot of money. Keep in mind, too, that a curriculum that uses a lot of consumable items is going to be more expensive in the long run than a reusable one, if you're homeschooling more than one child.  Hand me down books save a lot of money.

10. Your house will get messy.  As with anything, some days are better than others.  Surprisingly, for me, the craziest, busiest days are when I keep up on the mess.  Relaxed days, when we get a late start, tend to be the worst, because things pile up when I'm not looking and schoolwork takes priority over vacuuming.  This is where assigned chores and making your kids help goes a long way towards keeping your house clean, and keeping your sanity.  ;)

11.  There is something truly beautiful when you've been working with your child to overcome a learning struggle, and they finally "get it."  This is one of my favorite parts of homeschooling.  There is a look on a child's face, when a concept that you've gone over multiple times,  finally makes sense.  It's a beautiful mix of relief and pride, and it makes the effort to get there worth it.

12.  Your kids will grow closer.  And if you're like me, you'll quietly observe them interact, as your heart swells with gratitude and love for each of them and all of them.  My kids play together, share secrets with each other, and have an unbreakable bond.  This is the benefit of having siblings, but when your sibling is the one you're with all day, building memories and sharing moments with, that bond grows tighter.

13.  Having some sort of routine/schedule (even a loose one) makes a world of difference.  I have had to learn this the hard way.  As much as I love making routines/schedules, I am terrible at sticking to them, and it shows in the chaos of the day and the struggles with my kids.  I guess it's safe to say that although I've learned this lesson in homeschooling, it's one I'm still trying to conquer.

14.  Think outside of the traditional box.  Homeschooling stopped being the "traditional school" over 100 years ago. Now, 30+ kids of the same age sit in a classroom learning the same thing, mostly at the same pace, for the same 7 hours on the same days.  That's traditional.  Is that what you want?  Not likely.  Since I work 4 days a week, we sometimes save some schooling for the evenings.  On occasion, we do school on a Saturday.  We don't have homework, because all of our work IS "home work," and we even pack up our books when it's nice out and head to the backyard, the park, or the library.  I saw a blog post from someone once doing school at Panera Bread, and I've been determined to try it ever since!  Throw out your preconceived ideas of "school" and see what happens.

15.   It is a choice that brings much joy and blessings to your life, and the lives of your kids.  Despite the messy house, the extra responsibility in taking on schooling my kids, and the fact that they're with me all the time, there's has never been a moment when I've regretted my choice to homeschool.  As much as Aimee misses the social aspect of school, she has admitted a few times that she would choose to homeschool if it were up to her.  And years from now, when my kids are all grown up and living their lives independent of me, I will look back on these days and be grateful for the time and the memories we have (I try to focus on that when the day is long and hard and I want to quit).

Those are my top 15 things I've learned since we began this journey.  I'm sure there are many more lessons ahead.  :)

If you have anything to add to this list, please share it in the comments below!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Alexis and Mama selfies

This is my baby girl, Lexi. She's 5 now, but still every bit my "baby."
She loves early morning cuddles with mama (but not pictures, as the crabby face makes obvious).
Really, she hates pictures. 
But I take them anyway. And after a minute, she grudgingly complies. 
I love her so much. 
And yes, it's even more fun to steal kisses when she's being a snot. ;)
But after a few minutes, we got some fun shots. 

I love my cuddle bug. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

My favorite Bethany

I had dinner with this beautiful lady last night.

Her name is Bethany, and she’s one of the most special people I’ve ever known in my life.  I’ve known her pretty much since she was born, growing up in the same church, but we weren't close until we were adults.  

She gets to claim this blog post, because between her and I, we have 9 kids, 

which means we don’t hang out enough, and I’m so glad I was able to steal her away last night for dinner at Panera Bread.  And as we talked, I kept thinking about how beautiful and special she is, inside and out, and how grateful I am for our friendship.  Anne of Green Gables (my favorite heroine)  would talk frequently of kindred spirits, and I never knew what that meant until Bethany.  There are no walls with Bethany, no insecurities.  I am me, she is she, and we accept and love each other simply at that.  We understand the other, because we’re so similar.  And when life is crazy and we haven’t gotten together in far too long, we just pick right up like we saw each other yesterday.

I love her tons.  And her giant family.  J

I hope my kids each find a friend like her in their lifetime.  One who feels like family, even when you’re not.  The type of friend who listens to you cry about the same sorrow, for months, and listens every time like it’s a fresh hurt.  Who literally sits beside you at your divorce and keeps you calm and collected. 

A friend who invites you over to watch a chick flick, yet falls asleep before the end.  Every time.  ;)

Who agrees to race you, to see who can have 6 kids first, but then cheats and has twins!!

Someone you can talk on the phone with for way too long, even though you hate phone conversations. 

Someone who totally gets wanting a big family, and why 4 kids doesn’t feel like enough.

Someone my 12 year old adores and asks to spend time with.  And who has such beautiful, sweet babies that she asks me to drop her off so she can be a mother’s helper (aka baby holder).

And someone so special, that simply spending an evening with her makes me feel refreshed and blessed.

This is sappy, I know.  J  But she truly is blessing in my life.  I don’t know that I could have made it through these last few years without her friendship.  And as we ate dinner last night, I was so aware of how grateful  I am for her, and how beautiful of a person I think she is. 

I wanted her to know.  Hopefully now she does.  J

Monday, February 17, 2014

A little update on me and my life

< insert catchy opener here, because I’m struggling to come up with one ;) >

I was thinking about what to put on this blog, since it’s been so long since I’ve been writing here.  A lot has changed in our lives in the past few years, and I’ve grown and learned so much.  I feel like I’ve  conquered life as a single mom, life as a homeschooling mom, life as a mother of 4.  I’ve found the best job for me there could be, and I gratefully get up 4 days a week and count my blessings.  I’ve even *mostly* mastered the delicate balance of having a life outside my home, while still getting the rest and alone time my introverted nature craves.  It was hard getting here, though.

I don’t know exactly what I’ll do with this blog.  As I have mentioned before, God has been clear that He wants me to blog.  My private, quiet nature struggles with it because I like living alone in my bubble and only letting in a precious few.  J  But I write in my head all the time, and later I wish SO MUCH that I would have written it here, even for my own self to reflect back on.  Like my marriage proposal story.  I’m glad I have that here to reflect on years down the road, when I’ve forgotten how I felt at that moment.  I’ll always remember getting a headache.  But will I remember the shock and confusion at Ryan pulling off the element of surprise?  Or the flow of conversation?  Probably not in great detail.  Rereading it will take me back to that night, as it allowed others a glimpse, too.

I’m happy.  Truly happy, in the way that trusting God and His perfect will can make you.  I know how it feels to have your life fall apart all around you, and that feeling of helplessness when it was without your consent or control.  I know what it’s like to cry out to the Lord in your pain, struggling with anger you want to direct at God, but knowing how wrong and dangerous succumbing to that urge would be. 
I know hate.  And I know the power of forgiveness. 
I know what it’s like to swim in a sea of advice, when all you want is to be alone and listening to Him.  To wade these waters by yourself, and learn to find inner strength.
 I know what it’s like to slowly transform from dreading the morning, and the day it brings, to waking with praise and gratefulness on your lips.  To see the good, and not be haunted by the disappointment. 
And I know what it’s like to hear God saying, “Trust Me, Elizabeth.  Trust in Me.  I have a plan, greater than any you could work out on your own.”  And I know what it like to break, giving up your plan, for His plan. To live that plan.
I may be rambling now, but that is what I have learned in all of this.  Everyone has different circumstances, but the journey is the same.  I had my life planned out in my head, and the one I’m living is not at all the one I had wanted.  But I still wake up seeing the beauty in it.  Sometimes I still struggle, especially after a hard day or week, and I call my sister and cry.  But those days are few and far between now.
God has been good to me.  I don't deserve it, and I don't take it for granted.  But I know it.  And at the end of my life, I want to look back and know that I served and honored Him in every way that I can.  Because that's the only life story that matters, regardless of the details.  

Friday, February 14, 2014

A marriage proposal

If you follow me on Facebook, you may have read my status this morning that talked about my disobedience in blogging. Funny thing to be disobedient in, huh?  But God has asked me for years to be a blogger, in many different ways, and I've mastered the art of excuses.  :P

So here I am, working on obedience, and sitting down to write. And I was thinking, since today is Valentine's Day and all, that I could announce, once again, that I'm ENGAGED to an amazing, wonderful man named Ryan, who is not only loved and adored by both me and my children, but loves and adores us right back.
And following that lovely announcement, what better to write about than the proposal??  :D  Especially since I almost messed the whole thing up in the middle.  ;)  And Ryan, in his calm, laid-back way, took it in stride and said, "Well, that didn't go at all how I thought it would in my head.  But I guess it's just a sign of the life to come!"  Oh, darling, I'm sure we have no idea...

The Proposal

I should start by informing you, reader, that I am a planner, and have a tendency to be a bit stubborn about my plans.  Ryan and I have been together for awhile now, and I had decided that it was about time we started thinking about marriage. ;) I am set on getting married in the summer, since I work and homeschool my kids during the school year.  Ryan and I were both in agreement that we wanted to get married, but he's more of a "take each day as it comes" kinda guy, and my day planner has an exact day for changing our toothbrushes. ;)

Needless to say, although I was sure Ryan would propose at some point, I was pretty confident that if I left him alone about it, the proposal would come too late to plan a wedding for this summer, and I couldn't imagine waiting another year to be married. For starters, I miss that man way to much when we're not together, and between his schedule and mine, we only see each other on weekends.  Boo. :(  Plus, dating is hard when you have 4 kids and all you want to do on the weekend is catch up on housework and take a nap.  ;) I've fallen so behind on my to do list that I don't even make one anymore.  *sigh*

So...I had planned in my mind to somehow nag him encourage him to propose, if he hadn't by Valentine's Day.  If he hadn't by my birthday (end of March), I was going to start crying and take it from there.  Haha.

Last Thursday, Ryan texted me that his mom had given him a gift card to The Melting Pot, a fondue restaurant I had been dying to go to, but we're both pretty frugal and The Melting Pot is not cheap. I was SUPER excited to go there for dinner, and not feel guilty about it, and although in my head I thought, "what a perfect date for a proposal!" I honestly bought into the gift card story and looked forward to a yummy dinner.  It was my kids weekend to be with their dad, and Ryan had the whole day off work (a Saturday rarity).  I was looking forward to all that time with him, and The Melting Pot put me right over into dreamy bliss.  :)

I won't bore you with the details of the day, but it involved thrifting (I found some really nice stuff!!), a Netflix marathon, and lot's of junk food while we waited for our 9:15 reservation (ugh!)  We arrived early, hoping to be seated early, and waited in a very cold reception area for 20+ minutes before being seated.

Fast forward an hour and a half.  We thoroughly enjoyed our cheese fondue appetizer, our assortment of meats and veges in a vegetable broth, and were eagerly anticipating the chocolate fondue. This, my friends, is the moment when Ryan had been planning to ask me to marry him.  To pull out a beautiful ring, tell me he loves me, and ask me to be his.  But life never goes the way we plan it, does it?  I take a sip of my Coke, and BAM...Liz feels a pretty nasty migraine taking over her brain.  Looking back, I should have known a few cookies would not hold me off until a 10:00 meal, but I run with a tad bit of denial. Hunger is a huge trigger for me, but I thought I'd be fine.

I immediately swallowed some pain killers, and careful laid my head back against the booth.  By now, the pain was moving into my neck.  And Ryan was inwardly panicking.

But life can be beautiful, even in these messy, unplanned moments, when things feel like they're falling apart and we have no control over a darn thing.  As I laid my head back, I looked over at Ryan.  I thought about how much I had looked forward to this day, and to all of the hours I got to be in his presence and have him all to myself.  I thought about how amazing I think he is, and how much I adore him.  How my kids adore him.  How my heart broke when I surrendered to my divorce, but God held my hand and promised me there was happiness in store.  And slowly, He revealed in my mind this man that couldn't possibly exist because he was way too perfect for my kids and I, but does exist and is sitting right next to me.  A man who calms me and brings me peace when I'm stressed, who loves my kids as much as he loves me.  Who is kind, and caring, and considerate, and loving.  He's even divorced, for about the same amount of time I have been, and for the same reasons.  I cannot explain how huge that is in understanding and relating to each other's scars.  He even has the same love languages I do!  When God promises, He fulfills.  And Ryan is proof in my mind of this.

As I think these things, and the pain in my head is slowly receding, I turn to the man I love and say, "Do you have any idea how much I adore you?"  Cuz he doesn't.  He can't possibly know.  It's too great an amount.

And he says to me, "I adore you, too.  And I love you.  And I don't ever want to lose you."

Suddenly, there is this little black felt bag and the sparkliest of rings protruding from within.  I gasp, and look at the ring, then at Ryan, and back at the ring.  And what sweet words do I utter at this moment?

"But I have a migraine!!"

Someone please stop me.  I'm useless.

And then I apparently said, "No!" because he says, "No?  Or yes??'' And I'm laughing and apologizing and of course it's a yes!  But how did I spend a whole day with this man and not guess what he was up to??  And why did I have to get a migraine in the middle of all of it?!

Because life is a beautiful mess and we just keep moving on.

I wish I could say that my headache went away, but it didn't.  I ate one piece of chocolate covered banana and realized I wouldn't even be able to watch Ryan eat.  Oh, migraines are fun.

But the proposal doesn't end there. In my mind, the last part is equally as good as the main part.  Maybe better.

As we said goodbye later that evening, Ryan looked me in the eyes and with all seriousness said, "I'm never getting divorced again, Liz.  I mean it."  And to test what i already knew, I said, "And what if we're miserable and unhappy?"  With even more seriousness, he replied, "then we work on it."  And this I know we will do.  I knew a month into our friendship that this man would put everything into his next marriage, because he tried so hard to save his first. And he found a woman with the same story, the same fight, the same commitment.

Life is a beautiful mess, but when God is the One writing the story, the beauty outweighs the mess.

Happy Valentine's Day.  

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Post-Divorce Confessions

My son and I just had a “moment.”  I didn’t see it coming, and I’m waiting to see how it affects things around here.  Life has been getting pretty difficult most days, and a lot of that had to do with my son’s rebellion and anger, and as his mother, I could only form suspicions as to the cause, but I certainly didn’t know what to do about it.  I felt like I spent every single day yelling at him, and he just didn’t care.  At all.  He’d even tell me, multiple times per day, that he didn’t care.  And being the mother that I am, I saw this as a red flag that something was going on inside him, and since he’s a boy, he certainly wasn’t about to have a heart to heart with me about it.

I’ve also been a bit emotional myself lately, waking in the middle of the night and losing my patience with my kids over childish immaturity and mistakes.  I felt like I had become “the yeller” again, and what mom wants her kids to feel like she yells all the time???


Life is hard.  Parenting is harder.  And parenting after a divorce, in all honesty, feels like it’s too hard for even the best parent to manage well.  Sometimes, I’m happy if we survive the day.

It’s been almost 4 years since I left their dad and moved in with my parents.  2.5 years since the divorce.  If I’ve learned anything, and could give just one piece of advice to someone thinking of, or going through, a divorce it would be that it literally tears your heart in two, even more so the hearts of your babies, and even years later, when you think you should be “all better,” it still hurts.  It’s not always at the surface, thankfully, and most days we’re all doing just fine.  But every once in awhile, the pain resurfaces and upsets the calm and routine we had been living in.  If anyone ever tells you that someday you will be “over it,” they’ve never gone through a divorce, or they’re in denial over their emotions.  It’s like saying you’ll get over the death of a child.  You’ll never, ever be “over it,” but over the course of time, you’ll learn to live with the pain.

The best advice I was given, was to wait a minimum of a year from the date the divorce was finalized, before I even starting thinking about dating again.  Too often people rush into a new relationship, without grieving and healing from the previous one, and this can bring a whole lot of baggage into a new marriage.  My divorce was finalized a little over a year after we separated, and when my year was up after that, I had grown personally and spiritually more than I could have hoped for.  And I knew I still wasn’t ready to date.  I also knew God wasn’t done, and being the all-knowing God He is, He called me to another church, away from the comfortable surroundings of the church I had been at for 30 years.  It was scary, but I’m so glad listened, because I grew personally and spiritually even more.  About 6 months after the switch, I met someone, and we dated for about 10 months.  I ended it a couple weeks ago, after weeks of prayer and indecision.  He’s a great guy, and my kids love him.  It just never felt right.  And I’m now at a place where I wonder if any relationship will ever feel right.  I was lucky enough to marry the “man of my dreams.”  I fell for him when I was 13, and I thought for sure he hung the moon.  We married just days after my 22nd birthday, and have 4 of the most amazing kids I could ever hope for.  And although, as I’ve said, I left him…it was never for a lack of loving him or wanting to be his wife.  I prayed and prayed it would all work out in the end, but it didn’t, and I don’t blame God and I’m not angry.  Just sad and hurting on the bad days, and my heart breaks every single time I see the pain reflected in my babies. 

And that’s what brought me to that moment with my son, and the admittance of the pain he’s struggling with (and yes, I’m crying as I type.  Will it ever stop hurting us for good???)

He’s been angry and disrespectful a lot lately.  Like, rare is the moment when he’s not mad about something and completely uncooperative.  Today, he went up to his room, and “just because,” slammed his bedroom door over and over.   While a child was napping.  Ugh.

I was mad.  Really mad.  And my patience was already thin, since I fight with him every single day, all day long.  But God is good, and I didn’t yell at all.  I kept my cool, up until that moment when I said I hate that we’re always fighting, because I love him SO MUCH.  At that moment, I started crying, and then he started crying, and the tears just wouldn’t quit. 

His dad has been remarried for a year, and they’re expecting a baby in a couple months.  My son has his heart set on his dad and I remarrying, and this baby is one more nail in the coffin of that dream.  I have told him gently, but firmly, that we’re not getting back together, but he’s not quite 8 and it just hurts too much to accept.  So we just cried.   Together.  And separate.  And then together again.  He laid his head on my lap, and I stroked his hair and told him how much I love him.  And then I prayed, for him and me and his sisters and for all of us.  A divorce affects so many hearts and lives. 

He seems to temporarily be feeling better.  I’m sure we have a long way to go, and I have no idea what to expect when their baby arrives.  I’m hoping he’ll be more accepting when there’s a tiny little human to hold and kiss and love.  

And again, I’m so incredibly grateful for the Lord, because even on the worst days, when the emotions resurface and the pain is almost physical, He’s there.  He is ALWAYS there, bringing peace and hope and love.  I’m sure it’s because of the Lord, also, that the divorce was not one of those emotional wars, with kids caught in the middle.  My ex and I don’t agree on everything, but we get along pretty well, and are even able to co-homeschool our kids.  I school them on MTW & F, and he picks them up on Thursday mornings, spending the day with them, and completing that day’s work with them.  He has a huge part in their lives that he might not have had, even if we had stayed married.  He even rotates one on one with the kids every Tuesday, and it’s the highlight of their week, every time it’s their turn.  

I guess this post is just to get some of this out there.  I know I’m not the only one still trying to work their way through something difficult, and if we allow for transparency, maybe we’ll feel a little less alone.   And it’s where we’re at right now.  Summer is here in a few more weeks, and I’m definitely ready to take it easy and just enjoy my babies every day.  I have a whole list of fun things to do. 

I’ll share them when I find the piece of paper I wrote them on.  ;)

Friday, January 4, 2013

Alexis Katelyn is 4!

My baby, or "mommy's little baby," as I have successfully convinced her to call herself, is 4 years old.



4 years old.  I can't believe it!  It came so fast.  Has it really been 4 years since I met my little baby ??  Since that night, at the end of December, when my sweet little baby was born, who proceeded to scream louder than any other baby?  Even though you're told over and over to, "enjoy them while they're young.  It goes by so fast!" it still somehow catches you by surprise when it happens.

She really is my "baby," and probably will spend her life finding some identity in that.  I spent 26 years convinced that 4 babies were the perfect amount for me.  Then little Lexi was born, and I realized that I would probably never feel "done" having kids.  I hoped I could have a 5th, dreamed about a 6th.  But I'm super grateful for my 4.  I'm enjoying every moment with each of them,  and finding myself savoring Lexi's infancy.  Toddlerhood.  And now she's 4, a preschooler.  She has a mind of her own and her mama's stubborn streak.  She can give a look that could set you straight, or a cuddle that will melt your heart.  Quite often, I find Aimee or I saying to the other, "she's so cute!"  And she knows it.  ;)

She loves the color purple, and feels anything purple should automatically belong to her.  Her favorite drink is milk, and she would have a peanut butter and Nutella sandwich, with a big glass of milk, for breakfast every single day, if I let her.  She loves Minnie Mouse, but Daisy Duck is her favorite.  Every night she thanks God for all of the people she loves, by name.  She asks deep, thoughtful questions, that lead me to believe she has a good amount of intelligence inside her, and she's itching to start doing formal schoolwork like her older siblings.  I'll be shocked if she's not reading reading at 5 like Amerie was. 

She's the 3rd born girl, but won't wear half the hand-me-downs because she "doesn't like them."  It's a far cry from Miss Amerie, who tells me, "Mom...I don't care.  You buy what you like, and I'll just wear it!" 

Not Lexi.  :)  She won't wear blue jeans, and has a personal grudge against buttons.  Her socks don't always match, but if they're making her happy, I'll allow it.  We're on our second year of the infamous puppy hat.  Her hair has finally grown past her waist, but the thought of me cutting it any shorter brings her to tears.  She's full of independance and opinions and a touch of bossiness.

And I adore her.  :)

I'll end this post with some of my favorite recent pictures.  She may be growing up fast, but that doesn't mean I can't take 10,000 pictures to help me remember when she was small. 

Hopefully she'll bring a smile to you, like she always does to me.  :)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Goodbye To Morgan the Elf

I haven't been a blogger this year, but it's been nagging at me lately to get back to it. Then, tonight, we had some events take place that I really wished I could blog about, because I love when people are transparent and honest, and share their learning experiences with others. No one's perfect; why pretend to be? So I guess I'll just jump in and be the first to be transparent, and also get back to blogging! ;)

A couple of weeks ago, we started the tradition of the Elf on the Shelf. It seemed innocent and fun, and in some ways it was. Except that in years past, we have never done Santa. We've kept Christmas focused on Christ's birth, without distraction, and my kids were taught that Santa is a "fun thing people pretend at Christmas."

For some reason this year, as the Christmas season approached, my kids insisted Santa was real. And seeing all of the fun Elf on the Shelf ideas on Pinterest, I caved on my convictions and went with it. I didn't discourage Santa, and an elf arrived, courtesy of a friend.

Well, my prayer is and always will be that the Lord will nudge me if I'm stepping out of line, and a conviction is a conviction, even if you try to reason your way out of it. The elf and Santa can be harmless, but for me, they felt wrong.

He nudged me. Actually, He practically tore my heart in two with a simple confession from a 5 year old. One morning, after waking to look for the elf, she said, "Mom...I really love the elf. I love her more than God. I used to wake up and think about God and how much I love Him, but now I think about the elf!"


Convictions are convictions, even if the matter seems harmless and innocent, and "everyone else is doing it."

So tonight I sat my kids down and told them that the elf is pretend, along with Santa. God is real. Jesus is real. The Holy Spirit is real. And I don't ever want my kids to question those truths or feel if lied about Santa, maybe I'm lying about God. There were tears, both theirs and mine. And Aimee is mad, because she enjoyed being in on a secret. But they've shed their tears, Amerie has asked tons of questions, and we're moving on. We're moving on with our eyes focused on Christ this season, not on compromised convictions, and talking about His birth, and the reason He came as a baby so long ago - to save us from our sins.

And one more thing, that I just realized as I was writing. :) Since the presents under our tree won't be *from Santa,* I can openly give credit where it's due and use it as one more way to praise God and teach my kids about His blessings. Santa didn't provide those gifts, and for the most part, neither did I. I had less than $100 to spend on my 4 kids, the two sweet babies I baby-sit, and wrapping paper and tape. And that's after conserving gas and waiting to buy shampoo. :) But there will be many gifts under our tree this year, and they came through the generosity of others, who were used by the Lord to bless us. I am so very grateful, and humbled. I have to admit, too, that watching God provide in special, surprising ways is so much better than if my finances always allowed me to buy whatever I wanted!

To those who provided, thank you!! So much. And to those who enjoyed my album of Elf on the Shelf pics on Facebook, my apologies. Our elf is retiring. I guess you'll have to be satisfied with mobile uploads of my cute kids. ;)

Merry Christmas!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Some natural moisturizers, and an attempt to find my natural hair color...

I have a little confession to make, although some of you already know this about me...

I like to dye my hair.  : )  It's fun, it can be cheap, and I've been doing it on and off for the past 10 or so years.

But in an effort to switch to natural alternatives this year, I need to stop this little hobby of mine.  The only problem I have is that I don't really know what my natural color is anymore.  Is it light brown?  With a little red?  No red?  I've been adding red to it for a little while, but I think it's actually a light brown, now that I've had four children.  So...this weekend I dyed it light brown.  And I really like it.  It's not much different than what I had, but I've always leaned towards reds and blondes, so this is kind of fun.  I'm sure it will lighten up as I wash it, and my Burt's Bee's shampoo I bought will have to wait for a little while before I'm comfortable using it again.  I'm afraid it would leave my hair a funky color for some reason...

On a side note, I asked my girls if they noticed a difference in my hair color when they were getting ready for bed last night.  The younger two said it looked the same, but Aimee said she noticed a slight difference.  When Amerie heard this, she said, "Come here.  Let me smell it."

sniff sniff

"Yep," she said.  "It's smells darker to me!"

My kids are weirdos.  : )

This weekend I also filled a jar with coconut oil to try as a moisturizer.  The kids and I used it before and i liked it, but Michigan winters are hard on skin, and ours tends to be dry already.  I have a slight memory of it not being enough.  We'll see.  I used it last night as a face moisturizer.  It's not greasy, and we buy virgin coconut oil, so it smells just like coconuts.  : )  My only problem is that I've been addicted to the Mary Kay Timewise collection since they debuted it almost 10 years ago.  It's going to be really, really hard for me to find a replacement.  : (  Plus, I have finicky skin that's dry and breaks out easily.  So switching skincare is frustrating and scary.  Here's what I've tried so far, and my opinions...

Unprocessed (extra virgin) coconut oil - Makes a good moisturizer, and doesn't upset my skin.  Might not be moisturizing enough for winter, but it would definitely be perfect for summer.  I've been using it as is, but this week I'll be adding beeswax and making it into an actual lotion.  It might be more moisturizing with the beeswax.

Grapeseed oil - I believe what I have is processed, because it doesn't say other wise.  I used this on myself and the kids and it was perfect for the younger two, who don't suffer from eczema.  Aimee refuses to use anything until she has a rash from her dry skin (will she ever learn??), so she won't agree to be a guinea pig.  Andrew didn't mind it, but still had itchy skin.  Me too, and it wasn't enough to keep my face from drying out.  Would be good for the summer, though.  Or for normal skin.  And it's an oil, so give it time to absorb.  : )

Raw shea butter - I LOVED this, because it is so moisturizing.  It goes on thick, and you have to melt it in your hand before applying.  But it's amazing.  I had two problems with it, though.  One, my face broke out BAD.  So it's a no-go for that.  And two, it has an interesting smell, since it's completely unprocessed.  I didn't mind it, but my girls hated it.  They don't even like it on my hands.  So I'm at a loss with what to do with my giant tub of it.  I might try using it on my hands during the day, and see if the smell dissipates, because this is some serious moisturizing and I really don't want to give it up.  I've come to accept that winter means my hands are cracked and in pain, but I would be a very happy girl if that could change.  More on this later.  : )

I also purchased Burt's Bee's shampoo and conditioner a few weeks ago.  Like I said before, I won't be using it on my hair just yet.  I'll be finishing up my Tresseme.  But my opinion of their Super Shiny Shampoo and conditioner...I liked it.  Once I got passed the fact that it's the stuff that's bad for you that makes shampoo so wonderful.  It's hard to lather at first, since it doesn't contain sodium lauryl sulfate.  At first, I just used more.  But then I realized you just have to give it more effort to suds, and then it works just fine.  I'm not crazy about the smell as it lathers, but once my hair is drying, it has a nice citrus-y smell that I liked.

(Sidenote - About sodium lauryl sulfate.  It's one item I'm doing my best to eliminate from our lives.  Looking into the claims about it's safety, there are just as many saying it's okay, as there are that it's unsafe. But here's my opinion on the subject, and this goes with all of the chemicals and compounds I'm eliminating this year...if there is a reasonable alternative to a product that may or may not be unsafe, why not choose the alternative?  Maybe my shampoo won't suds as nicely or my clothes won't be quite as fluffy and soft as Downy gets them.  But if I can prevent even one cancer diagnosis in my family someday down the road, these little changes I'm making right now are 100 % worth it.  And that is my motivation.)

I also made some homemade deodorant yesterday, using this recipe.  I'm using it at home, around the house, until I know how well it works.  : )  But from what I read, if your body and your gut are healthy, you shouldn't need strong deodorants because it's the toxins in your body that cause you stink to begin with.  Interesting theory, that makes sense to me.  We'll see how it goes.  It was easy to make, with one part arrowroot powder (you can also use cornstarch, but I had arrowroot in the fridge) and one part baking soda.  After you combine the two, add enough coconut oil to make it the consistency of conventional deodorant.  You can store in an old deodorant container, but I put mine in a jelly jar for now.  I've used this formula before and it worked fine, but I was eating a lot of junk foods at the time.  It might work better this time around.

That's all the changes I've made so far.  I'm still trying them out and seeing how they work long term, and how well my kids like them.  In the end, I won't make a change my kids will hate unless I feel it's completely necessary.  My long-term hope is that they will make these same decisions when they are adults, and if they grow up hating the products I made them use, they will be completely turned off to the idea of using natural alternatives themselves.  So I'm prepared for much trial and error!

That's all I've got for now.  : )  Have a super Monday!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Ball Canning Jars

We had a pretty exciting day around here!!

Okay, well...I had a pretty exciting day!  The kids, to be honest, rolled their eyes at me.   : ) 

But that's okay, because I'm still really excited!!!

I posted on Facebook that I would willingly take any canning jars that were being unused in a basement some where.  I've really wanted to try some new recipes, like homemade sauerkraut, dill pickles, kefir, etc.  But I don't have any jars leftover when I finish up a batch of chicken stock.  And at this moment in time, I can't get myself to justify a purchase of a couple dozen Ball jars.  So I thought about my former mother-in-law, who used to store up jars and jars of applesauce every year (after picking them from the tree themselves, of course!)  : )  Aimee has told me that she doesn't make as much applesauce now, as she did when her kids were younger.  It made me wonder how many others have jars sitting around that at one time were in frequent use, but in the past few years have sat empty.  So I thought, " can't hurt to ask!" 

I'm so glad I did!!  A friend of a friend sent me a private message and told me she had over 4 dozen jars of various sizes, if I wanted to come get them.  : )  OF COURSE!!!  The kids were super excited about a car ride in the middle of the day, and I was envisioning all of things I would use them for.  : D

I came right home and ran them all through the dishwasher, so I could store them clean and ready to use.  Here's Lexi with them on the table, so they can dry thoroughly before I put the lids back on.

Of course, setting a 3 year old in front of a bunch of clean empty jars is not the best idea.  I heard several times, "I touched that one, Mommy.  Oops...I touched that one, too."  Silly girl.

I was really glad that the jars were different sizes, too.  The quart sizes are perfect for chicken stock, kefir, fermented veges (i.e. sauerkraut), etc.  And the pint and jelly jars will not only be used for the homemade toiletries I'm making to replace our commercial ones (I will be posting recipes later, as I make and try different recipes).  But...

We use them as drinking glasses!!  The little jelly jars are great for the younger kids, and the pints are perfect for the older kids and adults.  Plus, they're not only a great alternative to plastic, but they don't shatter when they're accidentally dropped on the floor.  Perfect!!

So a big thanks goes out to Lisa L. for the jars!!!  I'll be posting in the next week or so about some diet changes the kids (but mostly I) will be making, along with what's going in the jars.  : )  I'm so giddy about it all!!

I should add, too, that the first thing each of my parents said when they saw the jars was, "What are you going to use all those for??"  And second, "Where ya gonna store 'em?"  Hahaha.  I'm still working the details of that last one out...  : )

Have a good weekend!! 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Awana and the 23rd Psalm

It's official...the kids LOVE Awana.  :)

This was our second week of attending, and both Amerie and Aimee flew through their starter booklets and have earned their vests and Awana books.  Aimee memorized her entire workbook in one night when they told her she could do it all at once if she wanted!!  It had 7-8 "checkpoints," and she had memorized the first two checkpoint verses and questions for her second night.  We thought it would take her 3-4 weeks to make it through the book, but my girlie did it all in one night. I'm so proud of her!!!!

I signed up for a Wednesday night class, too.  The Wednesday night classes run in 4-week sessions, and the next one starts next week.  The class is about the 23rd Psalm and "truly knowing the joy and peace of living under the care of the Good Shepherd."   This is something I am coming to know, yet still struggle with every day.  When I list out all of the ways the Lord has provided for the kids and I, I am amazed.  And humbled.  And very, very grateful.  And yet I still struggle with worry over our needs.  My biggest worry right now is over the coming summer, and then the purchase of whatever we may need for next school year.  If this coming summer is like last summer, I will have no income from mid-June through August.  And that's assuming I will be watching the same kids next year that I am now (if they're not in school...)  I hope I will be, mostly because my heart loves them a lot.  :)  But I've learned that things change and you can't assume the future is certain.

So...that leaves me worrying, but trying to trust.  And trying to save money to get us through summer, but it's really hard when you earn exactly enough for your expenses.

Ever been there??  I'm sure I'm not the only one.  :)

So when I saw the class description, I thought to myself, "Wow.  That's perfect for my life right now..."  I need to trust Him more.  He's not going to leave our needs unmet, and I know He will provide.  And I need to give up that part of me that likes to plan everything out and know what the future will bring, because He's really working on that with me!!!  It's not always for me to figure out.  I need to be obedient and responsible, and He will provide what the kids and I need. 

As for our "new church"...I'm still on the fence about where we're at.  I've had an emotional week, so that could have contributed to my lack of excitement over where we're attending.  I also had a brief conversation with one of those "you're not a member of our church.  You're an outsider," kind of people.  I know that every church has those kinds of people, and I'm certainly not going to judge the entire church by the behavior of one individual.  Everyone else I have met has been incredibly kind and helpful (it's a big church, and on Wednesdays I have 5 kids to corral around a building I'm not yet familiar with.  I've definitely needed help a few times!!)  But I would like to go on record right now as saying that I LOVE LOVE LOVE Warren Woods.  Jon Nich completely spoils us with Worship.  I doubt I'll ever find a church with Worship music like he provides us with.  And I look forward to hearing Pastor Tim or Pastor David preach on Sunday mornings.  The sermon I heard this past Sunday was "okay."  I'm sure I need to give it a few more weeks.  I also miss the friendliness at the Woods.  It's big enough to have lots going on, but not so big that you walk in the door and feel "lost."  I'm sure part of that is because I've attended for 30 years and know a lot of faces, but I've heard many new attenders say that the "warm, welcome" feeling they got when they walked through the door is what made them stay.  And it's true.

So this week...I'm loving Wednesdays for the kids.  I'm sure I'll enjoy my class, too.  But I'm really missing Warren Woods Sunday morning services.  :(

Who knows?  Maybe I was led to this new church just to satisfy my curiosity.  I've never been to another church, and this one has interested me for awhile.  You have to leave what you know to see what you're missing, or to learn that you weren't missing anything at all.  Right?  :)

It's still in prayer.  We will see where the Lord directs my steps.  But as far as kids are hooked!!!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

2012 "Resolves" and wool dryer balls

Sweet Saturday.  Sweet, sweet Saturday.  And coffee.  Ahhhh...

And sleep coma.  Do you ever get those?  Tuesday-Friday I'm typically up by 5:30, so I've come to cherish my Saturday mornings.  My kiddos wake me at about 8:00, and I flip on cartoons for them so I can cuddle with them and slowly wake up.  By 9:00 we head downstairs for breakfast.  I love my Saturday mornings.  :)

But I also carry that groggy, "I just got way more sleep than I normally do" feeling.  And that's where coffee comes into the picture!!

I'm actually looking forward to today.  The kids and I are putting away clean laundry, cleaning up the play room, and I have my Thursday cleaning still to get done (one of the kiddos I watch, Ms. Laney, was sick this week and I had the privilege of holding her and neglecting my to-do list without a lot of guilt.  If I put her down, she would cry.  So as hard as it was, I held her and we played peek-a-boo and baby games and I stored up Laney kisses to get me until next Tuesday.  My life is rough sometimes...)  :) 

So today I'm cleaning, and if I am feeling adventurous, I might head out in the snow to Joan Fabrics for some wool yarn.  I found these really neat wool dryer balls at the cloth diaper store.

Wool dryer balls are supposed to reduce static, soften clothes, and reduce the amount of time your clothes spend in the dryer, since the wool absorbs the moisture from your clothing.  PLUS, I can add a few drops of essential oils to them and add a light scent to our clothing.  One of my "resolves" for 2012 is to spend the year switching out our regular products for natural ones.  As we use up what we have, I'll replace it with something either homemade or store-bought that's "natural."  In my head, I have my list of what makes a product "natural," but I think anyone can agree that replacing Downy fabric softener and Up & Up dryer sheets for several balls of wool is a step in that direction.  :)

Wool dryer balls are around $10 a piece, and it's recommended that you use at least 3 of them for regular loads of laundry.  I always run large loads, so I'm thinking 5 of them would be perfect.  But I choked at the idea of spend $50 on them, no matter how much they saved our laundry from excess tumbling and heat, and our skin from whatever is in modern fabric softener and dryer sheets.

So I Googled "wool dryer ball tutorial" and found this one.  It looks super easy, and the cost of the wool yarn is much less than the cost of premade dryer balls.  : D  I'll update later with any noticeable changes in static, the softness of our clothes, etc.

My other "resolve" for this new year is to get better about planning out our meals, right down to breakfasts and snacks.  There are so many food items i don't buy, because I'm trying hard to eliminate processed foods from our diet.  But it makes those moments when the kids say, "Mom, I'm hungry," so frustrating!!  I wish I could grab a Poptart or a pack of peanut butter crackers and go back to what I was doing, but I've stopped buying most of that stuff (step 1).  Step 2, that I need to get better about, is always having alternatives on hand for them.  I think they're a little tired of yogurt, almonds, sunflower seeds, and fruit.  So I need to start switching it up.  As I get better, I'll be sharing some of my ideas on here.  :)  I've found that they love fresh veges dipped in hummus, so I'll have that on the menu.  I'm still brainstorming some more snack ideas.  Any suggestions are welcome!!

That's it for now.  I hope everyone has a relaxing, joyful Saturday!!!

Friday, January 20, 2012

First post of the year. :)

I keep thinking, "I need to update my blog.  It's been awhile."

But then I think, "What should I write about?  Do I spell out all the changes in our lives, or let them unfold as I resume regular posts?"

I'm going mostly with the latter thought, because it's much easier.  And more interesting.  :)
But I will say a few things...

1.  I have become quite the blog reader lately.  I downloaded an RSS feed app on my phone, and I follow about 15 different blogs regularly.  It's definitely shown me what topics interest me the most, and which topics make for a dull read.  I love, love, love recipes and food facts.  When I grow up (ha ha), I want to study nutritional therapy.  It's SO INTERESTING to me!  But for now, I'm an amateur.  An amateur that reads everything I can on the subject.  :)

2.  I feel like my "crazy, overwhelmed" phase is finally passing.  It was tough for a little while, but I think we've figured out a good routine.  And my "laid-back" nature is maturing to a level that recognizes the need to do things now, because our schedule doesn't always allow a "later."  A good example of this is housework and's so tempting to take it easy on Thursdays, because my kids are gone at their dad's and he does that day's schoolwork with them.  But if I spend the earlier part of the day (when the sweetie pies i babysit are at my house) working on the laundry, and then once they leave (when I'm super tempted to do absolutely nothing for a little bit) get my weekly deep cleaning done, it makes the rest of the week run so much smoother.  I have been so bad about this lately, but no more. 

I've also gotten much better about going to bed by 9:00, which does wonders for the next day.  I thought it would allow me to give up coffee in the morning, since I drink it with way too much creamer.  But alas, I need that "kick-start" to my day, especially when I'm up at 5:30.  :)

3.  The kids and I have switched churches.  I don't know yet if this is an "official" switch, as Aimee has made it clear she wants to come back to Warren Woods sometimes to see her friends, but we've definitely switched on Wednesdays.  The kids have joined AWANA and they LOVE IT!!!  I wish I would have found AWANA earlier!   I liked the first Sunday I attended, too, and the people seem super nice.  But I've spent almost 30 years at Warren Woods Church of the Nazarene.  The idea of switching is really scary for the "shy, quiet type."  I'm keeping it in prayer and not letting fear or nervousness control my decisions.  ;-)  And for those of you at Warren Woods who may be wondering why I would consider leaving, I may post more in a future blog post, but I will say that I love Warren Woods and I am not leaving because of a problem.  It's a stirring I've had in my heart for a little while, but never considered because I'm so at home at there.  But when you get a Holy Spirit stirring, you have to pray about it and follow it, even if you don't understand it or like it at first.  :)  And so far...I like the new church and I feel like I was led directly to it, not just led away from the Woods.

That's a brief overview of some things in our lives.  I'm looking forward to posting regular blog posts again!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Why I am home, and not in El Salvador

It's been awhile since I've posted, and I've mostly decided to put blogging on hold. is the day that I was supposed to leave for El Salvador.  And for those of you who have heard I stayed home, and for those of you who are finding out right now, I feel like I should at least say something.

But...I don't know what to say.  I'm very, very sad.  And hurt.  And confused.  And trying to stay focused on God's plans and desires, and not spend too much time crying about the things I wanted that obviously weren't a part of His plan.

I did pay for my trip in full.  The Lord provided, even going above and beyond and allowing me to help a couple other people from my church.  But at almost the last minute, a situation arose and I had to make the very hard decision to stay home.  I cannot say more than that, and I am very grateful to those that have prayed and not questioned me.   I hope and pray that I will be able to accompany my church the next time they travel to El Salvador.  And I would appreciate prayers for myself and my kiddos right now.

I do know that sometimes we don't understand the "why" behind God's plans.  And that things make a lot more sense when we look back on them, compared to how they look as we're walking through them.  I thank and praise the Lord for the faith I've gained and the relationship I have with Him.  Even though I am sad, I'm not discouraged.  Nor have I lost my joy.  And although there is a lot of confusion and a need for wisdom and discernment coming, I am not afraid.  I pray all things in my life, good and bad,  are used for His Glory and I believe wholeheartedly that they will be.  I know He holds all things in His hands, and He knows my heart and my mind and He walks with me.  So no matter what, I will not deny Him or turn from His plans.  Am I weary at times?  Yes.  Stressed?  Absolutely.  Do I wish that life was easy??  Of course I do!  Those feelings are so very, very normal and He is gracious and loving and He understands.  That's when His peace and love are the most comforting.

So, that is all I can say.  I really wish I was arriving in El Salvador along with the other 16 or so people from my church.  But I am here, in Michigan, and I am okay.  I'm sad, but it's okay to be sad.  I don't know the future, but He does.  And it's such a wonderful feeling to know that I just have to obey and He will take care of the rest, even when I don't understand what the plan is.  

So thank you for your prayers.  Thank you for all the support.  I have been blessed with some amazing people in my life and I love you dearly.

And I pray the Lord blesses each of your lives, as you have each blessed mine.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Amerie's New Haircut

Someone got a new haircut!!!  We're loving it.  :)  She's had hair past her waist for a couple of years, but we were both tired of the battle every morning to brush it.  The only way to prevent tangles was to braid it, but I was getting tired of that every day, too.  

I like this length better.  :)  It's long enough to braid, but short enough to not look scraggly.  It's perfect!!!

A night out with Aimee.

It's 8:04 on Monday morning.  I'm still in pajama pants, sipping my coffee.  3 kids are watching Jake & the Neverland Pirates, 2 are sleeping and will be woken soon, and 1 more will be here in a couple hours.  It's raining, and the weekend was long.  It's slow-moving so far, but soon we'll be really busy.  :-P 

While I sip my french vanilla yumminess, I want to share my Friday evening.  The whole weekend went differently than I had planned, but I'll just share my Friday night.  :)

On Friday, Aimee and I went to a Secret Keeper Girl conference at a local church.  It was a pig pajama party for moms and their daughters, to talk about modesty in today's culture. 

The conference was good.  I don't feel like it got really deep, but it definitely opened the door to future talks between Aimee and I.  

The evening, however...UGH.  I've mentioned before that Aimee's love language is quality time, so I took the evening and tried to make it really special.  She's been under a lot of stress lately, and really needed some mommy+Aimee time.  Unfortunately, everything fell apart.  :(

Since the conference was a pajama party, and pajamas were on sale at Target, I asked Aimee if she wanted to get matching pajamas (unfortunately, I didn't think of the idea until the day of).  I knew it would be a really special idea to her, and she immediately jumped on it.  After, on the way to the conference, we planned on having chicken nuggets and chocolate shakes at McD's (her favorite meal).  Simple plans, but very special.  :)

We ran off to Target around 5:00, the earliest we could get there (the conference started at 6:30).  It took us some serious searching, but we found matching pajama bottoms and matching clearance tops that made a cute little outfit.  Just to be sure everything fit and "looked good" (Aimee's BIG concern), we headed to the fitting room.  I could tell by all her giggling and smiling that she was having a great time.  :)  And the pajamas fit perfect and passed her "cute" inspection.  Lol.  So we ran to the check-out, entering a time crunch, and rushed out of Target.  On the way home, we stopped to get pizza for Papa and the other kids, who would all be at home for the evening.  By this time, it was just before 6:00.  My original intent for the day had been to get to the conference at 5:30, when doors opened, so save a seat for our friends Gretchen and Megan, but it didn't work out in the course of my day.  So in my mind, we were already late...

When we got home, we flew upstairs to my room to change into our new pajamas.  Aimee was so excited.  I wanted to wrap her up in a big, tight hug.  It made me so happy to see my girl so happy. 

And then we discovered that Aimee's shirt wasn't in the Target bag.  I searched all over, thinking I had dropped it or overlooked it or SOMETHING, anything but the shirt still being at Target. 

In desperation, I grabbed the reciept...

I had never paid for the shirt.   :(

At this point, Aimee started to cry.  I told her she had a few options.  We could just wear matching pajama pants, and different sweatshirts.  We could wear regular clothes.  Or we could run back to Target and buy her top, but that would most likely make us a little late.  She opted to run back to Target, so we ran out the door in regular clothes, hoping we could find a matching top and find a place to change before the conference.

We got to Target at 6:20.  I ran back to the rack, that an hour before had several of the shirts we were looking for.  Aimee ran to the food court to buy us pretzels and Dr. Pepper's, since we were both starving and at this point McD's would have to wait until after the conference. 

I couldn't find the shirt.  Not one, in any size (of course).  I ran back to the fitting room, thinking we had dropped it somewhere and it was there.  Nothing.  I checked every rack they had, and couldn't find a single shirt like mine.  In 45 minutes, Target had sold each of the 6 or 7 gray screen-print tees.

I walked back to the front of the store wanting to cry.  I knew how excited Aimee had been, and now we were late and we didn't even have a shirt to make up for our tardiness.  When she saw me empty handed, she started to cry.  

"Nothing ever works out!!" she said.  "I always get excited about something and then it never works out!!"

The feeling I had in my chest was a horrible one.  I had wanted this evening to be so special and it was blowing up in my face.  She's been through so much, more than a girl her age should go through, and this evening was supposed to be special.  I knew it wouldn't fix anything, or make up for the stress in her life, but I had so badly wanted to give her a special evening with her mama.

As we walked back to the car, I tried to think of something comforting and wise to say.  I think that's the hardest part in parenting.  It's not the continuous use of patience, the sleepless nights, or the busyness they bring to your life.  It's trying to think of the right things to say when their little hearts are breaking, even though you're just as hurt and confused as they are.  I had prayed and prayed that the Lord would bless the evening and it would be something she would remember for ever.  This was so not what I had in mind.

We headed to the conference, Aimee crying during the drive.  I told her that the evening could still be special and to not give up hope.  We talked about choices we have (choosing to persevere and not let the circumstances bring us down), we talked about how Satan can try to screw things up for us, but God can make good come out of everything.  We had a really, really good talk and I could see her calming down and finding comfort.  She told me that she wasn't going to let it get her down, and she was still really excited about the conference.  I told her we'd get our chocolate shakes on the way home, and she said she was at least grateful that Target pretzels are super yummy.  :)

The conference was good.  She had fun with Megan, and also Charity, another friend from church.  The girls giggled and danced and clapped.  It was a fun time.

We said our goodbyes 2 1/2 hours later, jumped in the van, and headed to McDonald's for chocolate shakes.  The drive-thru line was slowwwww, so slow that the car in front of us drove off before he could even place his order.  It was after 9:00, and I knew my dad was expecting us home any second.  Papa loves his grandbabies, but 3 hours with them can wear anyone out.  :)

And then Papa called.

"Where are you?"

"We just got out, and we'll be home in a minute.  Is everything okay?"

"Well," he said.  "Amerie was playing and waited too long to go potty.  She peed all over the floor and I can't see it to clean it up."

For those who don't know, my father is visually impaired.  He can build decks and redo bathrooms and make really good omelets for the kids.  But this situation was a little out of his comfort zone.  I knew I needed to head home.

I looked at Aimee and asked if she'd take a rain check.  There was no way we'd make it through this drive thru in less than 20 minutes.  I told her that one night during the next week, I would put her siblings in bed and head out to get chocolate shakes just for me and her.  She said that was okay, since the evening was so messed up anyway (and when I picked her up from her dad's last night, she told me that she had thought about it and liked that idea better, because it gave us another evening with something special to do).  But it really bothered us both that so much had gone wrong in one evening.  :(

On Saturday, after i dropped the kids off at their dad's house, i went back to Target.  Hanging on the clearance rack, right on the end, was one little shirt in an XS.  It had to have been the shirt.  Her shirt.  The one that should have been in our hands Friday night.  I bought it anyway, knowing that it didn't fix what happened the night before, but at least we'd still have matching pajamas.  

We're going to try for another fun evening in October, after El Salvador is paid off.  She's worried that the evening will somehow screw up, too, but we 're going to see a movie and have dinner, on a Saturday.  It's hard for something like that to get messed up.  Plus, when we look back on Friday, it was still a really good evening in spite of what happened.  We grew a little closer, in choosing to persevere together.  She enjoyed the time with her mom and her friends and the conference. 

I don't know why Friday played out like it did.  I had prayed and prayed that it would be special, and yet it seemed like everything fell apart.  One thing Aimee and I talked about, in the ride between Target and the conference, is that we have to trust that God is in control and has good in mind no matter what happens.  I had prayed about the evening, given it to Him, and we live within His will.  Which means that nothing in our lives happens without Him overseeing it and keeping His eye on the big picture.  We'll probably never understand the "why" behind some events in our life, but it's a huge comfort to know that God is still in control.  Bad things (big or small) don't happen because God "forgets about us" for a moment.  He's always watching, always in control.

Romans 8:28 says, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose."  We love Him, and we live for His purpose.  So we have to trust Him when things seem to "fall apart." It's not an easy thing to do, but there's a comfort in it.  My girl learned that firsthand on Friday. 

And in October, we'll have another evening together.  Aimee and I are both looking forward to it.  Maybe it will seem "perfect," or maybe it will fall apart again.  But no matter what, God already has it in His hands and He's working all things out for our good.  It's such a comforting thing to know.  :)