Taking Life One Step At A Time

Taking Life One Step At  A Time

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Best Pizza Dough EVER!

If you like homemade pizza dough and enjoy thick crusts, this is the recipe for you!

This recipe makes 3 pizza dough crusts and can be frozen.

1 (.25 oz) pkg dry yeast or 2 1/4 teaspoons
1 Tablespoon sugar
2 1/2 Cups warm water (110 degrees)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon salt
1/2 Cup whole wheat flour
5 1/2 Cups bread flour

In a large bowl dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water. Let sit until creamy (about 10 minutes). Stir olive oil, wheat flour, salt, and 4 cups bread flour into yeast mixture. Mix in remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time. Stir well after each addition.

When done, knead dough on a floured surface for about 8 minutes.

Lightly oil a mixing bowl and put in dough, coating all sides well. Cover with a damp cloth and put in warm place to rise until doubled (1 hour). Punch down and divide into 3 pieces.

Roll each piece into rounds and cover them to rise for 10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Use a rolling pin and roll each round to fit your pizza pans. Add desired toppings. Bake at 425 for 20 minutes or until the pizza is golden brown and the cheese is melted.

DIY Flannel Board

A certain little two year old in my life loves playing with magnets and stickers. He actually likes anything that can be put somewhere and feels great accomplishment after doing so. It may be keys in the trash can, phones placed on a random bookshelf, or batteries shoved into the VCR.

To provide a constructive outlet for his "putting" obsession, I created a flannelboard to give him at Christmas. It was super easy and I think he's going to love it.

To start with, head to a craft store. You'll need the following:

one art canvas - any size
flannel material - any color and large enough to cover the canvas with a little extra
rectangles of white felt - these are sold by the sheet and are usually around 9"x11"
printable iron-on transfer sheets.
(I got these at Walmart for much cheaper than at craft stores like Hobby Lobby. Craft stores had them 2 sheets for $10. I found them at Walmart 7 sheets for $10. I purchased the ones that are transfers for light fabric. If you choose to have darker felt pieces, then buy specific transfers for dark fabric.)
a pillowcase
a staple gun
an iron

To begin, iron out your flannel to remove any wrinkles. Then carefully and tightly wrap the flannel around the front of the canvas. Secure it to the back of the canvas using the staple gun. You should end up with a tightly stretched flannel canvas. You can trim the excess flannel after the whole piece is secured well.

Next, use your computer to find images you'd like to use for your flannel board pieces. You could just use felt to create your own pieces, but I'm not artistic enough for that. Some people use fabric paint, googly eyes, and all sorts of fancy things to make the felt pieces. For me, printing the images from the computer was good enough! Once you've chosen the images you want, just print them onto your printable transfer sheets. **Be sure to read the directions carefully so that you are printing on the right side!**

And a word to the wise. Numbers and letters will iron on backwards from how they print. So be sure they are printed backwards in order to have them correctly ironed on to your felt.

Once you've printed out your images, simply follow the directions on your transfer sheet package to iron the images onto the felt. It is not recommended to iron on an ironing board. Instead use the kitchen counter top and simply place a pillow case between the counter and your felt.

Once the transfers are complete, cut carefully around the images and voila! You have yourself a flannel board and several felt pieces to go with it! You can even place the pieces in a cute little container to keep things organized.

The thing I love about this is that I can add to the pieces as my children's interests change. Right now, he loves all things that move and animals. So I made him a barn set, a fishing scene, and several emergency vehicles and personnel. However, I'm sure that in the next month or two I'll be adding an entire Thomas the Tank Engine set complete with a roundabout and track. I also think a set of food in a restaurant series would be pretty neat. The possibilities are endless!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Purpose-filled Christmas Cards

Do you ever wonder what to do with all the beautiful Christmas cards that come in the mail at this time of year? Sure, some of them have pictures of friends which you can then put on your fridge. But others are just cards with a little note tucked in. It seems a shame to quickly read them and then toss them in the garbage. Why not do something productive with them since people have taken the time and expense to send them to you?

image from itsbetterhandmade.com

Last year a friend posted a status on facebook that has had me anticipating the arrival of Christmas cards for 12 months! She and her family recently left their comfortable home in the States to live in Kenya as missionaries. They gave up much and left all of their friends and family to live in an unknown place amongst strangers. Perhaps because of a little homesickness, the Christmas cards that made it to them in Africa were extra special. My sweet friend wrote something like this (and I'm paraphrasing): We love receiving the cards from friends and family. It is a joy to open one each evening, read the card and look at the picture, and then spend time in prayer for the ones who sent it.

Her post was like a refreshing glass of water! The sometimes seemingly ridiculous nature of sending out cards once a year was suddenly given new purpose. We receive cards from so many friends and family members. Cards that remind us of lasting friendships, cards that celebrate new life and wonderful happenings, cards that tell of sadness and hardship. While I love to get and read Christmas cards, I've found that my family rarely joins in. The kids look at the pictures sent, but often see only a sea of strangers. My husband reads the ones that I force into his hands, but otherwise takes no part in this particular holiday tradition.

This year will be different though! As we sit and enjoy our dinner together, we'll choose a different card each night to read. We'll tell of how we know the sender. As a family we'll rejoice or mourn with those we love while we read their news. And then we'll do something productive. We'll pray for the one who sent the card. We'll join our voices and our hearts together and seek the Lord on their behalf. Why? Because Christmas isn't about cards and gifts and busy schedules. Christmas is about Jesus. And one of the ways we honor Him is by loving our neighbors - nomatter how far away.

We've already begun our new tradition. And while the kids aren't used to it yet, I hope we'll get enough cards to be going long into January. I've already peeked at tonight's card and it's one from friends who have recently returned to the mission field in a very difficult place. I look forward to a sweet time of prayer for this dear couple, and I look forward to the seeds it will plant in my own children's hearts as they hear of God's work in the lives of others around the world.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Advent Calendar

As our kids are getting older, we've enjoyed using an advent calendar through the month of December. For years we've talked of doing a Jesse tree, but can't seem to find the time to put it together. Last year we used a lego advent calendar and while it was fun for the kids, it didn't do anything to point us toward the real reason for celebrating Christmas.

This year I looked on pinterest for ideas and put a few different ideas together to come up with this:

I bought 12 pairs of baby mittens. You can look for Christmas themed ones, but I like that these are "wintery" instead of "Christmasy". I then took little tags and wrote the numbers 1-24 on one side and pinned them to the inside of the mitten.

On the other side of the tag is a list of Scriptures to read each day.

All of these mittens are hung with small (but not tiny) clothes pins. These can be found at craft stores like Michaels or Hobby Lobby. The rope is actual clothes line that we used on our clothes line outside. This is the leftover. It's sturdy enough to hold anything we put inside the mittens, but is green and pretty enough to work for Christmas decor.

Just before December first we'll also put a little treat inside each mitten so the kids can take turns looking inside. They'll receive a little gift (likely candy) and read the Scripture for the day. We plan to incorporate this into our normal morning devotions during breakfast.

What do I like about this?
1. It's reuseable. Each year we can pull it out and use it again and again.
2. The kids will have a fun thing to do to build anticipation as we move toward Christmas day.
3. It's doesn't end with the fun. We will read the Scripture verses and talk about what really matters.

Here are the verses we're using each day. These came recommended to us, but we haven't yet tried using them in this order for advent. We'll see how it goes. I've been thinking about using a second set of tags that has more of the prophecies from Isaiah and switching back and forth each year. But here's a starting place.

Day 1: Luke 2:21-40
Day 2: Matthew 1:1-25
Day 3: Luke 2:1-20
Day 4: Mark 9:33-37
Day 5: Matthew 4:12-17, Isaiah 9:1-3, Matthew 5:14-16
Day 6: Acts 20:35, I John 4:10
Day 7: Exodus 25
Day 8: Matthew 25:31-46
Day 9: Isaiah 9:6-7, Revelation 19:1-16, I Timothy 6:11-16
Day 10: Matthew 1:22-23, Isaiah 7:10-15, John 1:14
Day 11: Genesis 1:1-31, Isaiah 1:18, Psalm 51:1-10
Day 12: Revelation 2:1-5, I John 3:1-3
Day 13: Psalm 150
Day 14: Acts 15:22-31
Day 15: Luke 1, Jeremiah 32:17
Day 16: Matthew 2:1-12
Day 17: Galatians 4:1-7
Day 18: Isaiah 58, Matthew 6:16-18
Day 19: Luke 11:1-13
Day 20: John 1
Day 21: John 21:25
Day 22: Psalm 100
Day 23: Matthew 25
Day 24: John 3:16

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Bodly and with Confidence

image from thejoyfulcatholic.wordpress.com

We've all been there. We've sat through the awkward silence after a group leader asks if someone would like to pray. It's agonizingly painful for the leader who is waiting for a brave soul to step up, and it's embarassing for all those who feel like they should volunteer, but really don't want to.

Why are we like this? Why do we choose silence when we're given the opportunity to lead others before the throne of grace? I wonder what impression we give to those outside of the faith.

Prayer is a burdensome duty.
You must pray perfectly or God will not accept it.
Faith is a private thing and shouldn't be forced on others.
Only those mature in the faith can lead others in prayer.

Oh, how wrong these assumptions are! Hebrews 4:16 says, "Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." With confidence!! Other translations use the word boldly. That's a far cry from how many of us are approaching group prayer.

Last summer I had the joy of seeing someone approach the throne of grace with confidence. Her name is Patty. To say she's had a hard life doesn't even scratch the surface of what Patty has been through. When I met her, Patty was a homeless alcoholic. In the midst of her pain, someone had come alongside Patty. While providing for her basic physical needs, this woman also saw to the needs of Patty's soul.

Patty is a naturally passionate person, and when she asked the Lord to redeem the mess of her life, her passion spilled over into her faith. She began attending a Bible study and it was delightful to watch her grow and learn. Passionate Patty was never staid in her faith. When the study leader asked, "Who would like to read from ..." Patty would interrupt. "Me! I'd like to read! What verses?" When the study leader asked for a volunteer to pray, there was no moment of awkward silence. Before anyone else could get a word in, Patty would almost yell out her desire to pray.

While most of us approach group prayer by first providing a moment of quiet for anyone else to voice their desire to pray, Patty would be the first to volunteer; afraid the opportunity might pass her by. She wasn't concerned about letting others have the privilege, she simply wanted to spend every moment conversing with her Lord.

Christians, why aren't we more like Patty? We should jump at the opportunity to lead others to the throne. The Lord does not require eloquent, beautiful prayers. He does not concern himself with what others think of our stumbling words. A heart that longs for Him ought to leap at the chance to bring others into His presence in prayer. So next time you're in a group, don't be polite and wait for others to volunteer. Be the one that wastes not even a moment before declaring your desire to pray. What a privilege we have to speak to the Creator, the Savior, the King of Kings!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Soaring on wings with chickens

I just spent an hour of my life chasing chickens. An hour that I can never get back.

Because of my exercise at the chicken coop, a dinner that I've been wanting to make for months and finally made time to cook now consists of overdone meat (chicken, ironically) and no sides. Yum.

School was a disaster, chores are not getting done, the little ones refuse to nap and I am on empty.

Weak, tired, overwhelmed, weary.

All of that may be the reality I'm in right now. And if I focus on that, I'll be frustrated and cranky. But there's another part of reality that is also true.

Isaiah 40:28-31 says, "Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint."

God says, "You are tired, Ali, but I will renew your strength. You long for rest, but I will allow you to soar. You are weary, but I will refresh you and sustain you."

These words whispered into my heart are like a drink of ice cold water on a hot, muggy day. I feel them course through my body, encouraging me, refreshing my mind, and renewing my purpose.

O weary soul, be refreshed! The Lord is your strength. He is your Rock. He will make you SOAR!

Monday, July 22, 2013

A little bit of Nepotism

Shameless plug:

Head over to PJs Outfitters and check out my husband's new blog. It's a blog designed to equip believers for everyday life. He's a good writer and a deep thinker. You'll no doubt be challenged by his posts.

UPDATE (7/24/13): My apologies. The link is now working correctly!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Small Beginnings

My days are currently filled with lots of sitting. Sitting to nurse the baby, sitting to hold the baby, sitting to read to my toddler, sitting to do schoolwork with the older kids. In fact, I’m finding it hard to be up enough just to get the dishes done or food on the table. Forget cleaning the house!

I had forgotten what it’s like to have a toddler and a newborn. I’ve done this several other times (even a newborn with three toddlers!), but it was several years ago. And now, with so many older kids who don’t nap it’s much harder to keep the house tidy and keep up with all that needs to get done.

I’m not complaining. Motherhood is the career I’ve always wanted. I’m thrilled that I have the privilege of teaching my children at home … knowing them so well and seeing firsthand the growth in character, body, mind, and spirit. But I will admit that it’s been frustrating for me to have life slow down to a near stop as we adjust once more to having a newborn in the house.

The other night Josh and I were discussing something completely unrelated to parenting when he rattled off a verse that caused me to stop him midsentence. I was so struck by what he had just said that I ditched our conversation and had him point me to the specific Bible verse he had quoted.

“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin.” (Zechariah 4:10 NLT)

This is a verse that needs to be plastered throughout my house. If I could see my own forehead throughout the day, I’d write it there. This verse should be touted as a banner verse for mothering … for parents everywhere who are frustrated by the slow progress and repetitive nature of raising children.

Today, as I go through my day of nursing the baby again, washing the dishes once more, folding another set of clean clothes, picking up the toys that were just cleaned up an hour ago, re-explaining a math concept for the four hundred and sixty-seventh time, desperately trying to come up with a new and fresh way to drive home the importance of respect … in short, parenting yet another day moment by moment … this verse rings through my head. And I am reminded that these small beginnings are just that – the beginning. I am teaching skills that will be necessary throughout my child’s life. Skills that they will someday teach to their own children. Skills that will aid them in the workplace, the home, the community, the church. My job may feel redundant and mundane, but it is essential. And the Lord rejoices to see me begin these small things with my children.

Am I taking the verse out of context here? Yes. And I know that. But the overall pattern of Scripture shows a God who uses ordinary people in insignificant places doing small things to transform the world. This verse so pierced my heart and convicted me of my own selfish attitude in regards to motherhood. If I’m honest with myself, I can see that I often despise the small things throughout my day. I sigh when I see the dishes in the sink, I inwardly groan when faced with another mountain of laundry, I complain in the middle of the night when another child wakens needing Mommy. But this is what I am called to and if I can see the joy in beginning these small things with my children, the work will not be as heavy. As the Lord rejoices in giving these good gifts of children to me, I can rejoice in the not-so-small work of laying a firm foundation for their lives.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Healing In the Shadow of the Cross

A week and one day ago, I gave birth to the most beautiful little boy.

Isn't he perfect?!

There was a time during this pregnancy when we wondered if we'd ever get to hold this little one. And if we did get to hold him, we feared that he would not be in our arms for long. I blogged about the healing of little Micah here.

The other day as Micah lay in the sunshine on my bed, I was reminded of how much I have to give thanks for. The sun was streaming in and the frame of the window cast a cross perfectly over little Micah's chest. The same chest that once had fluid around the heart, a diaphragm out of place, a too small chest cavity. The chest that God healed in His perfect way.

I pray that he will always live in the shadow of the cross. And I pray that I will never forget the Giver of this precious gift.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Guest Post: Reflections on a Mother's Prayer by Kristyn Getty

It's May, and that means Mother's Day is just days away. As I anticipate the arrival of my own sweet babe, I'm honored to share with you a guest post from Kristyn Getty. The Getty's have a beautiful song called "A Mother's Prayer" and have created a video featuring their sweet daughter. This is the first video the Getty's have done and it is being released just in time for Mother's Day. Please take time to watch the video and read Kristyn's thoughtful words.

Reflections on A Mother’s Prayer
Kristyn Getty

In the spring of 2008 I first prayed for a baby, and in the spring of 2011 God answered that prayer with the birth of our beautiful daughter. My joy was full but so were the fears I wrestled. In some ways I felt like a baby Christian again, caught in a whirlwind of emotions, learning and applying what I have known and trusted into a completely new life - I know I'm definitely not the first to feel that!

Friends of ours had given us a card when their first son was born; it was full of prayer requests for his little life, a prayer for every day of the month. My prayers were not quite as coherent as those, especially at first, but the urgency of the moment drove me to my knees. “Help her, help me” baby prayers at 3am; prayers as I heard the baby monitor light up in the morning; prayers when I thought of her safety, her soul, her future; prayers with my husband; prayers while Eliza listened in.

When people found out that I was pregnant one of the most frequent comments I received was how my creativity would discover a whole new vista of inspiration as I became a mother. So, when Eliza came I was anticipating a fresh flow of profound poetic thought, but instead I was swept up in the constant flow of changes and feedings and “Old MacDonald had a farm!” I was expecting full sentences, but I was blubbering looking at my beautiful girl! I actually wondered if I'd ever be able to write again. I just about tucked some thoughts away to ponder later when my brain would start to fit itself back together again (still nowhere near a completed process!). As I continued to learn the wonderful balancing act and privilege of mothering, homemaking, writing, traveling and singing, Keith and I began to write a song for Eliza choosing this theme of praying for her, and the end result was “A Mother's Prayer.”

My parents have faithfully prayed for me my whole life, and I remember when I was younger my mum met with other mums to pray for all their children – a “Moms in Touch” group in Belfast. Even just the knowledge of that helped me, and I want Eliza to know we are praying for her and trying to guide her in this context that reaches to the call and purpose of her whole life and an understanding of the Lord's grace and faithfulness. We're now in the toddler stage and some of the prayer needs are shifting. We wanted the song to reflect the different seasons - ones we had discovered and then those still to come. We also wrote it to remind us of our promise to pray for her through all the years we're given. We hope this song for her – and even more our praying for her – might catch her ear and help guide her heart as she grows up.

Kristyn Getty's Mother's Day Prayers/Journals

I noticed an older journal of mine amongst the debris of an Eliza playtime around my bookshelf and sat down to leaf through it. Before the sickness and tiredness of pregnancy, in the days when I had time in abundance and thought I was 'busy', my most focused and best devotional times were always when I journaled. To my shame, through pregnancy, and even now I have not managed to be anywhere near as consistent as I'd like to be or need to be. But in this newly discovered old notebook I read through a few prayers I had scribbled pre and post baby and remembered again God's continuing faithfulness through the transitions of new life, chapters and all the unknown days ahead. It also inspired me to really focus on journaling again! I noted some of the prayers below - they're nothing grand!- but I hope they might help someone in someway...

December 26th 2010 (10 weeks until baby comes)

'Lord, help me not be afraid'

January 4th 2011

Father in heaven,

What a miracle it is that a little one is hidden inside of me and that You are weaving her together piece by piece, inch by inch; that You know all her days before they come to be, her abilities, her struggles, her humor, her disposition, the color of her eyes, the shape of her feet. Such knowledge is too marvelous for me. I praise You for she is fearfully and wonderfully made. Lord please protect her within my womb...'

January 8th 2011 - 8 weeks and 2 days till baby comes

'Thank you for this little child within my womb - may she very early in life add her praise to the great song of praise and that those looking on might see Your goodness and strength through her young voice. Help us teach her Lord, inspire her, make known what is right and how holiness is always beautiful...'

The same day -

'I think today of those ladies I know who long to be mothers remembering my own heartache and how hard it is to wait and not know. Father, please enable them to conceive and carry babies full term. Help them to get through each day fulfilling what it is you have called them to for that moment. May their greatest delight be in You and if children do not come move in their hearts by Your grace that they may not be lost in the distraction or disappointment but know Your healing and purpose for their lives. You know the pain - draw near to them this day'

April 8th 2011 (Eliza is 5 and a 1/2 weeks old)

'Father in heaven, thank You for this new morning and safety and rest through the night as Your unsleeping eye watched over us. Thank You that all our nights and all our days are known and measured by You. Thank You for the joy of family and that You love and care for each member of my family more than I ever could. And yet the love of a mother is both fierce and gentle, strong and tender - thank You for our beautiful baby. Forgive my anxious thoughts, worries and any idolatry in my heart. She is Your child and may I love and serve You well in loving and protecting her to the best of my ability. May I love and honor You by loving and honoring my husband well. Thank You for Your care of me in these last weeks'

First Mothers Day - May 8th 2011

Today is my first Mother's Day as a mother - thank you Lord for enabling me to be a mother and for the precious gift of Eliza in our lives. Help me be a godly and gentle and hardworking and loving and joyful mother to the glory of Christ. May He be first in our hearts as we pray He will be first in Eliza's heart

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Enough for All?

I've been slowly making my way through Katie Davis' book Kisses from Katie. I'm reading it slowly not because it's hard to read or uninteresting, but because I'm finding that Katie has so many incredible insights that I really want to chew slowly on them.

For those who don't know of her, Katie Davis left home at as a young woman just out of high school and is pursuing God's calling as a missionary in Uganda. At the time of publication, she had adopted 13 girls and is still only in her mid 20s. She has started a non-profit organization which helps children attain the funds and supplies they need to attend school. She is doing incredible things for the Lord. And her insight into Scripture at such a young age amazes me.

Towards the beginning of the book, Katie shares this profound thought: "God did not make too many people and not enough resources to go around."

It's a simple thought that I'm sure we've all entertained, but one that I have never really put much effort into. I live a comfortable life. I have a large family to care for and work to do so on a budget. We try not to overspend, but we certainly don't lack anything. And even in years of want, the Lord has always provided all we needed and even more. The kind of life Katie describes in Uganda is completely foreign to me. I cannot imagine eating one meal a day, having only one change of clothes, suffering the pain of sores on my feet because I can't afford shoes.

And yet, Katie is completely right. God has provided enough in this world for all the people he has created. So why am I not setting a better example for my children in sharing the bounty God has lavished on us?

There's a second book I'm reading right now. It's part of the curriculum I'm doing with my two oldest children. It's a book on economics by Richard J. Maybury called Whatever Happened to Penny Candy?

Honestly, the word economics scares me. And the thought of trying to teach financial responsibility to my children is daunting. I am after all the person who really truly thought that I would continue to get money out of an ATM even though the bank account tally kept dwindling. Yeah, that's a little embarrassing to admit, but it was a good lesson for me as I struck out on my own for the first time.

Maybury has written a book that is not only understandable for someone like me, but is also a book my children are finding interesting and educational. We're combining it with some studies for kids put out by Crown Financial Ministries. Maybury spends much time in his book explaining inflation - what it is, where it comes from, what the effects are, etc.

One of the quotes I found particularly interesting was this, "At bottom, inflation is an ethics problem. The only way to stop the spread of inflation is to start the spread of ethics. After traveling in 48 states and 45 countries, I have come to believe that all major problems are problems in ethics. When we begin using ethics to attack problems, we will have real, lasting solutions."


What this tells me as a mother, as a homemaker, as a consumer, as a woman, as an American, and as a child of God, is that the problems Katie recognizes in Uganda and the problems we are now dealing with as a nation all have the same source. It's not just that people don't know how to use money responsibly - or even how to attain money. It's that we are lacking the ethical decision making necessary to use and gain money wisely.

So, if I am to be teaching my children financial responsibility, I cannot neglect the importance of wisdom. So many proverbs written by King Solomon and included in the Bible come to mind when I think of wisdom in regards to money.

"Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold." Proverbs 3:13-14

"Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it." Proverbs 3:27

"Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways and be wise. A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man." Proverbs 6:6, 10-11

"The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them. Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death." Proverbs 11:3-4

"Whoever puts up security for a stranger will surely suffer harm, but he who hates striking hands in pledge is secure." Proverbs 11:15

And here's one that speaks directly to this particular blog post:
"One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want." Proverbs 11:24

I could go on and on quoting from the book of Proverbs. But the recurring and underlying theme is that wise dealings in money, life, and faith lead to profit in all those areas. So as I teach my children financial responsibility and point out potential pitfalls, as I seek to model for them a generous lifestyle, I must couple it with the "whys" set forth in Scripture. The "whys" of the wise.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Large Family Car Travel Tips: Keeping Kids Occupied

Often when I research things about large families, I come up with tips for families that have only 2-4 children. We are a family of 8 (soon). These travel posts are to help bigger families figure out how to survive days of road travel with minimal tension, whining, and stress. Hope it helps, and happy travels!

Other travel posts in this series:
Suitcase Organization
Keeping the Car Organized
Special Tips You May Not Know

Let's be honest. Keeping kids happy means keeping your sanity. Our most recent trip included days upon days of driving. So I spent weeks upon weeks working to prepare for it. I spent way more time preparing things to keep the kids busy than I did wondering what to pack or even looking forward to our vacation time. To save you the same amount of preparation, here are some of the tried and true activities that helped us pass the time in busy peace. Our kids all pack their own backpacks with toys and activities, but it's good for mom and dad to have a few surprises waiting.

We've all seen the seek and find jars. These were super easy to make and the kids loved them. I made two that were identical. Just fill a jar with rice (plastic jars are better than glass in case little hands drop them), take pictures of little things found around the house, and place those items in the jar. Then you can print out a card with all the pictures of what the kids need to find, hot glue it to the lid of the jar, and hot glue the lid onto the jar. Be sure to glue the lid. Unless you want rice all over your car.

While we're on the subject of seek and find, if your kids are like mine seek and find books or Where's Waldo books can occupy them for hours. Seriously, hours. Well worth the price of the books.

Those of you with little ones know how excited they get about pictures of family members or things they love. My little one is particularly fascinated with fluffy animals. I purchased 2 little flip photo albums from the dollar store and filled them with pictures printed from my computer. One was all pictures of animals and the other had various items he would recognize from daily life. Things like toys, balls, toes, and foods. He loved them! And since I didn't allow him to play with them before the trip, they were completely new and exciting for him. (On a side note, it helps to actually tape the pictures inside the photo protectors so that little hands can't pull them out.)

Other cheap activities use pipe cleaners and aluminum foil. Pipe cleaners can be bent and re-bent into dozens of different things. If you give kids a variety of colors, they can stay busy for quite some time. Aluminum foil is also great for creativity. Rip off several sections of aluminum foil for each child and let them sculpt the foil into little armies, animals or other fun things. Just be sure they understand the expectation that at the end of the day the sculptures head to the trash. Otherwise you'll have aluminum foil "masterpieces" throughout your vehicle for a long time.

Traveling at nighttime can be tough. The driver needs to keep the lights off inside the vehicle, but it's hard for kids to stay occupied in the dark. The dollar store has little mini clip lights that kids can use for reading or drawing.

And I have yet to meet a kid who will object to having a few glow sticks to play with. Depending on what your kids like, you can get the sticks, the necklaces, the bracelets, or any other assortment of glowing fun. These can also be found at the dollar store for a much cheaper price than places like WalMart or Target. Besides, if you end up at a hotel without a pool, you can always throw a couple of glow sticks into the bathtub for some swimming fun in your room.

Another terrific idea for our toddler was to bring a cookie sheet and some magnetic cars. You can see by the picture how much he loved it! Some car seats have arm rests that include a space between the bottom of the arm rest and the rest of the chair. In such cases, attaching the cookie sheet to the car seat is a piece of cake. Our car seat doesn't have arm "handles" so we ended up drilling holes in the tray and then created a long strap to go around the back of his car seat. We left the cookie sheet hooked to the strap on one side (which also allowed it to hang down against the side of the car when not in use) and just hooked it to the other side of the strap when ready to use it. I picked up a few strong, round magnets at the hardware store and stuck them on the bottom of a few matchbox cars.

Be sure the bottom of the car is flat or else you'll have trouble getting the magnets to stick.

We also used other cookie sheets for our older kids. Our first grader was given a metal tin full of magnetic numbers and letters and he enjoyed spelling out various words. For older kids you can cut out pictures of facial features from magazines and laminate them. Stick magnets on the back and kids have a great time making all sorts of silly faces on their cookie sheets.

In years past, one of the frustrations while driving has been when our kids drop their pencils and crayons. Of course, we want them to stay in their seatbelts, but it can create a long and whiny wait when they can't reach their writing tools until the next rest stop. We've tried tying pencils on to clipboards in the past, and that has worked well, but when space is an issue even a clipboard per child can feel like a space hog. And many clipboards are either too small for a regular sized piece of paper or too large to fit in a child's backpack. For this trip, I used a small zippered bag for each child. In these bags they received two mechanical pencils (so the leads didn't break and leave them useless) of a specific color, a box of new crayons, one dry erase marker, their book light for nighttime, and a small travel pack of tissues. The marker and tissues came in handy for use with their binders (explained below), and the crayons, pencils, and light eliminated the bickering caused by having to share. Plus, by giving each child a specific pencil color I knew who was missing theirs each time we unpacked the van.

The travel binders I made for the kids were tremendously helpful! Each child had a three ring binder filled with various activities and fun papers. Some papers were reusable because they were placed in page protectors and the kids were able to use their dry erase markers to write and a tissue to clean it off. This allowed them to play tic tac toe and travel bingo again and again. Other papers had coloring activities printed from the internet or copied from our own coloring books. And others were given to inspire creativity.

These papers had them creating silly faces, designing cars to get us to our destination faster, imagining what they would do with a thousand dollars, etc. I packed an extra set of papers for each binder to replace the used ones for our trip home. That way, the binders would once again be fresh and new. My favorite paper asked them to draw or write about the best part of the trip. Those papers are great for putting in the scrapbook once you return home!

Of course there are so many other things you can do. One of our children has a kindle and enjoyed several hours playing games and reading on that. A friend lent us a few leap pads and the kids were quietest when playing on those. However, with electronics, it's good to limit the amount of time the kids spend on them each day. Not only can they strain their eyes, but extended use of electronics can also contribute to motion sickness and sore necks. Electronics for toddlers are a little harder to come by, but a friend let us borrow a personal dvd player. About once a day, we'd turn on a Thomas the Tank Engine video and our 18 month old would happily pass through his fussy time of day.

Another life saver in the car was having the sense to bring a few blankets along and to keep the kids' pillows within reach. If anyone was tired enough to nap, they could do so comfortably. And the blankets were great for moderating the temperature in the car with several differing opinions being heard from the backseat.

Having a deck of cards on hand, a few travel games, and a couple of dollar store surprises keeps even a long ride manageable. With a little prep and creativity you can easily pass the hours and days peacefully ... and hopefully happily!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Flash Back to the Future

I'm sitting with a sweet little cuddly boy on my lap. Today he is 19 months old and he has a new fascination with trains. Which means he loves watching Thomas the Tank Engine. It's a special treat since we rarely have the TV on, but today he needed a little mommy time. I have a cold and don't feel great, so a little snuggle time in front of the TV was a perfect option.

As he watches, I can see his adorable profile. His build, hair, and profile remind me so much of his older brother. And as I looked at his sweet face moments ago, I had a vision from days gone by of his older brother sitting and watching Thomas. Enjoying the show with the same interest, the same comfortable, chubby, snuggly little body, the big, blueberry eyes gazing intently at the television.

Today was different though, because as I gazed at my little sunshine, remembering days from years ago, I could see his big brother sitting in the background. Also watching Thomas, but now much bigger. His lanky legs span the length of the couch, he has lost all his baby fat. His hair is still unruly, but somehow it still makes him look older. His feet are so much bigger and smellier than those cute little bricks I used to kiss all day long.

I realized that when this little one on my lap reaches the age his brother is now, big brother will be 20. He'll likely be out of my house, grown, possibly even on his way to marriage! He'll have his sights set on a career, he'll be a man. And the most intense years of my influence will have passed.

I tried to imagine what our little one will be like in 10 years. But just as I can't imagine my big boy as a 20 year old, I also can't imagine my baby as a big boy of 11.

It brought to mind Psalm 90 which talks about the brevity of life, and God's eternal nature. It contains a plea for God to teach us to use our days wisely and to find joy in our work.

Indeed, Lord, grant me joy in the moments of my work as a mother. For as I am finding, those moments accumulate and pass much more quickly than I expect or desire.

Psalm 90
Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. You turn men back to dust, saying, "Return to dust, O sons of men." For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. You sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning-- though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered. We are consumed by your anger and terrified by your indignation. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. All our days pass away under your wrath; we finish our years with a moan. The length of our days is seventy years-- or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away. Who knows the power of your anger? For your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you. Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Relent, O LORD! How long will it be? Have compassion on your servants. Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble. May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children. May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us-- yes, establish the work of our hands.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Large Family Car Travel Tips: Snacks

Often when I research things about large families, I come up with tips for families that have only 2-4 children. We are a family of 8 (soon). These travel posts are to help bigger families figure out how to survive days of road travel with minimal tension, whining, and stress. Hope it helps, and happy travels!

Other posts in this travel series:
Suitcase Organization
Special Tips You May Not Know
Keeping the Car Organized
Keeping Kids Occupied

Okay, let's be honest. One of the toughest things about traveling is keeping the kids well fed and happy in the car, but not having to stop every 10 minutes for someone to use the potty. My kids drink a lot. A LOT. They are always thirsty - especially if they're bored in the car. We also have at least one child with an incredibly small bladder. We've been training our kids for quite some time now that when they first feel the urge to go, they actually have about a half hour before they really have to go. That knowledge does help when traveling. Especially in states like Nebraska or New Mexico. There's really nothing for miles and miles and miles ...

However, much as we'd like to postpone potty breaks until they are convenient, we also don't want to deprive our children of fluids. So, we have small water bottles with their names on them. These are metal and have a top that won't spill much even if dumped while open. We fill these in the morning or whenever needed and let the kids have them in the car where they sit. I know some people have the policy of no food or drink in the car, but really, water can't do too much damage. The kids are allowed to drink whenever they want so long as they understand the concept of possibly having to wait up to a half hour to find a restroom. And whenever we do find a restroom, everyone tries to go. Even mom and dad. Otherwise, someone will have to go five minutes after you get on the road again.

Not only do we allow drinks in the car, we also allow snacks. Most of our kids are old enough to clean up after themselves and those that aren't are fed by hand from one of the older kids. We try not to pack really messy snacks and always make sure we have trash recepticles on hand. And it's important to remember to empty the trash every time you stop at a gas station - especially if you have fresh fruit leftovers in the trash!

So here are some ideas for snacks:
Fresh fruit: oranges, grapes, bananas, apples, raisins, craisins ... I'd suggest keeping the grapes in a plastic container with a paper towel on the bottom. Be sure to wash them first! And with the oranges, you'll want to wait and peel them on the day you plan to eat them.

Veggies: carrot sticks, broccoli trees, cherry tomatoes. This all really just depends on what your kids are willing to eat. Celery sticks with peanut butter are also great! And peanut butter now can be bought in little individual packets! Genius!

Snacky stuff: Fruit snacks (gummies in our house), animal crackers, granola bars, cheese or pb filled crackers, pretzels - which are also great for car sickness, mini bagels, goldfish, teddy grahams or graham crackers.

Homemade goodies: Muffins, cookies, homemade granola, trail mix, energy bites.

Spoon foods: pudding, applesauce, jello, yogurt.

One of the favorite things we've done on a long trip is bring special treat bags for each new state we encounter on the way there and the way back. As soon as we cross a state, we all cheer and then everyone gets a treat. It helps to break up the trip and recognize little milestones along the way. These bags have the only candy we allow in the car. Things like smarties, reeses cups, gum (great for states with high elevations), fruit roll ups, etc. Find treats that your kids rarely get and they'll be so excited about each step of the journey.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Large Family Car Travel Tips: Suitcase Organization

Often when I research things about large families, I come across tips for families that have only 2-4 children. We are a family of 8 (soon). These travel posts are to help bigger families figure out how to survive days of road travel with minimal tension, whining, and stress. Hope it helps, and happy travels!

Other travel posts in this series:
Special Tips You May Not Know
Keeping the Car Organized
Keeping Kids Occupied

If your family is planning a trip that will have you on the road for several days at a time, it really pays to be organized in your packing. Our most recent trip included up to 8 days on the road at a time - with 7 family members and no laundry service. My husband didn't want to haul in every suitcase to each hotel, so I devised a system that allowed us to stay organized and be sure to have adequate clothing for everyone.

We packed our clothing in smaller suitcases. This allowed us to fit exactly two days worth of clothes in each suitcase. The second day's clothes were packed on the bottom of the suitcase like so:

On top of the suitcase divider, we packed the first day's clothes. When repacking the suitcase the next day, I took everything out and put the dirties on the bottom and the clean clothes on the top. It worked beautifully!

Another vital trick was to label each suitcase by day. I simply used laminated index cards with the name of the days listed on the card. These were tied to each suitcase and it was a sinch for hubby to pull out the right suitcase each night as we unloaded the van.

It would have been impossible for us to fit two days of 7 sets of clothes PLUS PJs in each suitcase. Instead, I used a separate bag for all PJs. My kids tend to get things dirty quickly, so I packed 1 pair of PJs for every two days. For the baby, I packed a few extras just in case. Mom and Dad needed less, but we were still able to fit all PJs in one bag to be brought in each night. As the PJs became dirty, we simply shifted them to the bottom of the bag and put fresh ones on top for the next night. And yes, go ahead and label the bag "PJs" so that you know exactly which bag to bring in each night.

We were also planning on attending church while on the road. We used another bag to only hold fancy clothes. Of course, they needed ironing the night before use, but it was easy to find them. Our last labeled bag of clothing was for seasonal items. Because we were going from winter weather to summer and back again, we had to pack sweatshirts AND shorts. These items went in a separate bag so we knew where to find them when needed, but they didn't have to be pulled out of the van at every stop.

It is important absolutely necessary to keep a separate bag of one change of clean clothes for everyone somewhere accessible in the van. These should not be counted as actual travel clothes, but rather an extra set for emergencies. Having dealt with throw up, pee, and lot of spills I can tell you that this bag is essential to happy travel!! Pack extras for babies who may have a blow out and for toddlers who are more likely to spill. Even if you are a parent with a stomach of steel, you never know when you'll get gross while traveling with kids. It's important to keep a change of clothes for yourself in this bag as well.

If you're headed to a destination where you can swim (which would include most hotels), you'll want to keep your swim stuff separate so you can grab it quickly and bring it into the hotel. We love using the Large Utility Tote from Thirty One for our swim stuff. In fact, our suits and towels stay in it year round and whenever we're off to have some water fun, we simply grab the bag and know that everything we need is there. If you fold your towels carefully, you can fit up to ten stacked on one side of the bag. In the leftover space, fold the swimsuits and coverups, pack some swim diapers, and don't forget the sunscreen. Thirty One even sells covers for these bags now, so you don't have to worry about stuff falling out. Win win!

(In the top picture, our swim bag is the one on the bottom right with the big flowers.)

The last item you'll need is not a suitcase, but may be even more important than the clothes you pack. Keep a throw up bucket on hand in the car. Be sure it's within reach of Mom and Dad and pack it with a roll of paper towels, some wet wipes, a water bottle and trash bags. The trash bags are essential to have for clean up. And you'll want more than one bag. You may need one for clothes and one for trash. You can either buy a little bucket to be used for this purpose or turn a gallon milk jug into one. Cut around the mouth of the milk jug and halfway down the front, leaving the handle in tact. These are the buckets I grew up traveling with. Free, disposable, and handy.

I can't promise that following these tips will make everything easy on your trip, but it will make packing, unpacking, and repacking each day sooo much easier. Happy travels!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Large Family Car Travel Tips: Keeping the Car Organized

Often when I research things about large families, I come up with tips for families that have only 2-4 children. We are a family of 8 (soon). These travel posts are to help bigger families figure out how to survive days of road travel with minimal tension, whining, and stress. Hope it helps, and happy travels!

Other travel posts in this series:
Special Tips You May Not Know
Suitcase Organization
Keeping Kids Occupied

Trash cans
You'll want to have trash cans within reach of everyone. With younger children this will minimize the mess of passing items forward or back in the van. It also keeps mom and dad from being needed constantly whenever food is being consumed - which in turn allows you to focus on driving. And it helps the kids take responsibility for the vehicle's cleanliness. We used square utility totes from Thirty One lined with plastic bags, but even just a small trash can would do.

Utilize under the seat storage!
With a big family, you need every spare inch of space! Don't forget about the storage under seats. Even if your seats are low to the floor, you can still find small things that will fit underneath. If your van is like ours, you can fit larger items underneath your seats. This is a great area to store things you won't need to access frequently but still need for the trip. And underneath the front passenger seat is a perfect place to put that first aid kit that you'll invariably need.

Pack music you can all stand
This is sooo important! With younger kids it's easy to pack a bunch of toddler songs. Trust me, you'll go crazy if that's all you listen to for days on end! Likewise, if your teens like a certain genre of music that just grates on your nerves, either get the teen an ipod, or find a compromise by listening to some of their music and some of yours. One of the great things about vehicles these days is that you can set the music to play mostly in the front or back of the car.

For those without ipods, remember that a smart phone can also store music and typically will have a headphone jack. This can allow parents to listen to their own stuff on the phone while having kid music on in the car. And if you want some great kid music that most parents can stand check out Go Fish. Their harmonies are terrific and the music is fun.

Bin for cords
I can't take credit for thinking this one up, but it's a lifesaver. Grab a shoebox sized plastic bin at the dollar store and use it to keep all cords for electronics contained in one place. It's easy to grab as you head into a hotel for the night, and it allows you to find the cord you need quickly and easily.

Label suitcases

We tried this on our recent trip and it was incredibly useful! Before packing I laminated index cards that had days listed on them. I then used ribbon to tie these onto the suitcases so we knew which bags were needed for which nights. It made unpacking the car each night so much easier and massively decreased my husband's frustration at having to bring in unnecessary suitcases.

Keep food organized and dole out snacks by day instead of prepping all before the trip

I'll be honest, this sounds great. But if you're on the road for a long time, it's a little harder to stay motivated. But for our first week, we did really well with this. We brought lots of fruit, veggies, and snacks with us. But instead of peeling all oranges before leaving the house, we just peeled them on the day we planned to eat them. Once peeled, we put them in their own container and then doled them out as needed in the car. Same with the grapes, apples, cheese sticks, goldfish, etc. We had a large bin full of snack items, a bin with bread and other lunch items, one with paper goods and a few knives, and a large cooler filled with drinks and refrigerated items. Instead of trying to access each bin in the middle of a drive, we just prepped things before leaving in the morning and then were set for the day.

Try to keep like items together - clothes, activities, snacks. Certain things must be in reach of the parents, others can hang out in the back
Suitcases just aren't needed while driving. Neither are swim gear, cots, sleeping bags, etc. However, you will need to access toys, activities, food items, trash recepticles, etc. Make sure your throw up bucket is also accessible! Doing whatever you can to have necessary items within reach will greatly decrease the amount of stops you have to make and the frustration level of mom and dad.

Use a grabber to get things to kids in the back

If you have a van, chances are you can't always reach your children. When handing out food, toys, tissues, etc., it's very helpful to have a grabber. These can often be found at toy shops and novelty stores. We've had ours for years and still love it!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Large Family Car Travel Tips: Special Tips You May Not Know

Often when I research things for large families, I come across tips for families that have only 2-4 children. We are a family of 8 (soon). These travel posts are to help bigger families figure out how to survive days of road travel with minimal tension, whining, and stress. Hope it helps, and happy travels!

Other travel posts in this series:
Keeping the Car Organized
Suitcase Organization
Keeping Kids Occupied

Expect the unexpected!
From switching hotels because of filth, to driving extra hours in a day, to massive sightseeing plans obliterated by a snowstorm ... you have to be ready to roll with the punches when traveling as a family. We've had so much go wrong over our years of roadtrips, but most of it has created fun and lasting memories. We've had a few ER visits, a cartop carrier fly off the van on the highway, detours that lasted hours, traffic jams, horrible illness, car troubles that had us walking a mile with a baby to the nearest hotel in the middle of the night, and much, much more. When you are able to look at the situation calmly you'll make better decisions and be able to lead your family in a much more gentle way. No trip will go exactly as planned or hoped, so expect to have a few bumps on the road and pray that you can laugh at it in the days to come.

Plan kid activities in chunks
We've found that giving kids chunks of time to do things makes the day go faster. For two hours, have them play with the stuff in their backpacks. Then get out a snack and an activity that will last an hour or so. Next stop for lunch. After that, a movie can take up the next two hours while any babies nap. Continue the day in this way, and you'll find the kids are happier. Not only does it remind you to keep food in their bellies, but it also forces you to stop every few hours to get out new activities. Breaks for stretching and bathroom visits will keep the whole family in a better mood.

Drink those fluids!
Don't allow yourself to become dehydrated so you can avoid bathroom breaks. Your body needs the fluid to keep you going - especially lots of water! Water will even help with those swollen hands and feet that come from salty take out food and long hours of sitting. Bathroom breaks don't have to be long, but they need to happen. Plus, a little fresh air and stretching will help your brain stay alert as you drive.

Laundry in hotels
Personally I haven't had to take advantage of this service. But it's good to know about just in case. When in a pinch, many hotels will allow their guests to use the laundry services for a fee. The fee and policies will vary by hotel, but if you've had a child get sick in the car, this is a great option to avoid a late-night run to the laundromat.

Check food policies
Did you know that some hotels don't offer a complimentary breakfast? And some will include a complimentary dinner with your stay! We love staying at the Drury Inn. Not only do they give you a hot breakfast each morning, but they also have a dinner option in the evening. The hotel puts out hot foods - simple fare such has hot dogs, nachos, baked potatoes - and you can feed your family for FREE! (Well, it's really in the hotel cost, but it feels free.) They also have a complimentary drink for each adult and beverages for all hotel guests. And popcorn. Not to mention that we've always found the Drury to have excellent service and cleanliness.

AAA and hotel points
Perhaps you don't have AAA. I would argue that it's worth getting even just for one long road trip. Why? Most hotels and sightseeing places will offer a discount for AAA members. You can also request trip tickets from AAA to help you plan your journey. These are brochures that tell all about the areas you hope to visit. Lastly, God forbid you get stranded on the road! But if you do, AAA will pay for itself by coming to the rescue. We arrived in one city and had no clue what to do. We stopped by the local AAA office and received a bag full of ideas. Sooo helpful!

In regards to the hotel points ... some hotel chains offer credit cards that allow you to book within their company and earn points toward a free hotel stay. We got the Choice Hotels card for our recent trip and looked online to find which hotels in each location were within that company. For the most part we were very happy with the hotels, and the one time we weren't we received a full refund after canceling our reservation. The card also helped us to find some great deals online for hotels in this chain - a must for a family as big as ours which requires two rooms each night.
And after 5-6 nights, we earned a free stay at our next hotel. Totally worth it!

Kids just don't handle trips the way adults do. Adults can push through for hours on end in the car. For us, it's easy to rationalize fewer stops by getting to the end goal faster. For kids, it's different. They aren't watching the miles tick by. They are agonizing as the minutes seem to pass slower and slower! Letting them out to run and stretch every couple of hours will actually HELP your travel. When our kids get tired of being in the car, they begin making up reasons to stop: I don't feel well, I need to go potty, my legs are cramping. In the end, we have found that stopping at regular intervals allows us to reach our destination more quickly than if we just power through and end up with lots of made-up excuses toward the end of the trip.

Check the toll road rules.
If driving through Illinois, get an IPass. Otherwise, it'll cost you double if you pay cash at each tollway. The Ipass also works in states that use the EZPass - which seems to be used most in the Midwest and East Coast.

Army cots and sleeping bags
Having a couple of army cots is not only helpful for guests at home and camping in summer, but are also great in hotel rooms. They cost little, take up little space in the car (can usually fit under seats), only require a sleeping bag and pillow, and work beautifully in hotel rooms. If kids tend to argue about bedspace when sharing a bed, these are a life saver! Or if you have a large family like ours. :)

Remember to keep social security numbers on hand
There is a chance you'll run into medical issues while traveling. During our most recent trip, our littlest had a run in with a rusty nail. Because I didn't have his social security number on hand, I was unable to access his records online to see if he needed a tetanus shot. Our doctor's office was closed and it was a huge hassle to figure out whether or not we needed to visit an urgent care facility. Just remember to NOT put names with the numbers. We keep ours written on a small piece of paper in a special spot and have a code to remember which number belongs to which child. Just be careful! If those numbers are ever found and matched with names, it could spell big trouble for you!

Friday, March 1, 2013

People are Watching ...

We have received many varied reactions to our family over the years. Some people smile and say how blessed we are to have so many children. Others look at us with horror and give a litany of excuses of why they wouldn't dare have more than one or two kids. We're used to it and it rarely fazes us anymore. But this trip and specifically the reactions we have received in California have surprised us.

A lot of people have been quite negative in their comments to us. One woman boldly ordered that I had better not be working outside the home. I agree, but not for the reasons she apparently thought important. To her it was the work load of having this many kids that was daunting. For me it's the eternally significant task of being around to teach and train them.

We have had people stare open-mouthed and even point at us as we unloaded from the van at rest stops and parks. Many, many people have asked about my pregnancy and the sex of this baby - only to express extreme disappointment and condolences because we're having another boy. We're not disappointed and we'd prefer congratulations. This is another precious life given to us.

The most shocking rudeness came as we waited for the elevator in a hotel. An elderly lady was also waiting to use the elevator. When she saw us, she blatantly informed us that she'd rather not ride on the elevator with us. No one else was waiting, it was just our family and her, and the elevator could have easily held twice that many people. Josh and I bit back a few choice words and agreed to wait while she took the elevator alone to her floor. (And this was after she had already yelled at David who kindly helped her push the button when she couldn't get it to light up.) We then tried to explain to our bewildered children what had just happened. Frankly, I don't think we understand it!

But in with the bad, there has also been some good. Many couples have stopped to count as we file past. Sometimes, they get a big grin and tell us how wonderfully blessed we are. We always smile, heartily agree, and thank them. We have received several comments on the good behavior and helpfulness of our children. That always makes our hearts glow! And we received one comment that really caused us to stop and think.

We were eating dinner in a buffet-style restaurant. We had all gotten our food and were enjoying the meal when a family walked by on their way out. The husband and wife stopped next to where Josh and I sat and said, "Your kids are so well behaved! You must be religious."

It took us a few moments to recover from that statement. No stranger has ever made the jump from good kids to faith-based training before. Josh thanked them and told them that he is a pastor and we enjoyed a nice conversation with them for several minutes. We didn't exchange names or much information, but their comment has stuck with me and caused me to think about the reactions our family receives and how we ought to respond.

There are three things that come to mind as I reflect on the varied comments our family receives:

1. People really are watching. It may seem that you move in obscurity. It may seem that nobody is noticing you. But even strangers see you. Whether out of curiosity or boredom, self-pride or admiration, people do watch and make judgments. Many of those people-watchers are willing to share their opinions of you as well - solicited or not. Be sure that you are acting in a way that reflects well on who you are because opinions are made in the space of seconds.

2. Those who don't want to listen, won't. We recently had a conversation with someone who specifically asked where we are from. We informed her that we had driven from Wisconsin. In the next sentence, she instead identified us as being from Utah. Even after being corrected a few times, she continued to talk of the "fact" that we hailed from Utah. Apparently a family this large must be Mormon! People who have made up their minds are often unwilling to listen. Just move on.

3. Given that people are watching and often ready to share opinions, be ready with your response. Sometimes you'll be thrown a curve-ball like we were as we waited for the elevator. But many comments are repeats. For those, your response is likely the only chance you'll get to reflect what you believe. As a Christian, my response either represents Christ well or has the power to do damage. Be gracious, be slow to judge, point to the One from whom all blessings flow. For us, most comments are directly related to family size. We expect people to say things like, "Wow! How do you survive with that many kids?" or "Don't you know what causes that?!" The latter is my personal favorite. Josh and I have started responding with a sly grin, a knowing nod, and a "Mmm hmmm". That usually shuts them up. But for questions that deserve an answer, we try to think carefully before responding. Sure, we have bad days with our kids and sometimes people catch us on those rough days. But we are still thankful for the opportunity to raise them, know them, and influence them. Our response to comments rude or kind should reflect our thankfulness - not our rough day.

1 Peter 3:15 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Chains of Bondage

Today my sweet boy turns 7.

And yesterday I wondered for a few moments if he'd see the age of 7.

We were at a touristy store on the side of the highway in New Mexico, stretching our legs and using the bathrooms. My little man was in the bathroom by himself. I hovered nearby as the rest of the family looked at merchandise on the other side of the store.

I turned at a strange sound - it sounded like chains rattling. Sure enough it was! A convict in an orange jumpsuit, hands and feet bound by chains, followed by an armed guard was headed toward the men's room. Because the guard was a woman, she simply waited outside the bathroom door as this man headed into the bathroom where he would be alone with my son.

My heart did a few flips. In a brief moment, I considered several options. Run the length of the store and get Josh so he could join the two in the bathroom and protect his son? Tell the guard to get in there and make sure my little man was okay? Storm the restroom and forcibly remove my son? What to do?

Ultimately, I did nothing. I continued my quiet wait by the store shelves, trusting the only One who could actually protect my son from harm - God. A couple of minutes later, my son emerged unscathed from the restroom and I calmly ushered him to a quiet part of the store. When I asked if he had noticed the man in orange, he replied that he had. Thankfully he is so innocent that he had no idea of the reason for the man's chains and consequently no fear. He simply said, "I thought I heard chains, Mom. That's how I knew it wasn't Zack coming to get me."

A short time later, we returned to the van and continued on down the road. As I reflected on the scene inside the store, I felt the Holy Spirit gently nudge my heart.

Sin is sin. Really, in God's eyes, I was no better than that man. I could have been paraded around in an orange jumpsuit and chains, needing an armed guard to protect the public from my heinous acts. The only thing that has changed me from that person is the grace of God freely offered through Jesus Christ.

I began to quietly pray, thanking God for his saving work in my life.

And then it hit me. Who has prayed for this man?

Perhaps no one has ever cared enough to pray for his life. Perhaps no one has pleaded to God to do a remarkable and supernatural saving work in this man. THAT was something I could take action on! As the mile markers flew by on the side of the road, I spent the miles pleading for a man who only minutes ago had caused my heart to skip in fear.

And fear turned to peace and joy. Begging for my son's physical safety changed to pleading for a stranger's eternal life.

Looking past the physical chains to see the spiritual bondage was the only way for me to remember my own chains and the freedom I enjoy in Christ.

So today as I celebrate the life of my son, I will also continue to beg for the life of this man. For his life is as precious as my son's, and his crime is no different than mine.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Soul Comfort

We arrived home this afternoon from a wonderful week away. And while the vacation part was great, the odd schedule resulted in some whiny children. Our car ride home was quite an ordeal with a fussy baby who refused to nap or eat and who spent the latter part of the trip unhappily filling his diaper.

As soon as we got home I rushed him into the house and upstairs to change him. As he shivered and cried I talked gently to him trying to help him realize that we were HOME. I grabbed a blanket from his crib (we always turn the heat down when leaving for extended trips) and rocked him gently in our favorite chair. Almost immediately he calmed. He wrapped his chubby arms around me and laid his head on my shoulder. The whimpers and shivers ceased and his body relaxed.

We sat in the chair, rocking and cuddling, and I thought of what a difference the comfort of home can make. A specific chair, familiar sights, the safety of Mom's arms.

It brought to mind these verses from Psalm 27:4-5. One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple. For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock.

Doesn't this just give such a picture of comfort and joy? David's one desire was to be at home in the Lord's house. For him it provided shelter, safety, and encouragement. It was his familiar place.

Just as the familiarity of a favorite rocking chair and the four walls of our bedroom calmed my young son, time in the presence of the Lord ought to do the same for us. After a long, hard day moments spent in the Word will refresh and renew us. Quiet times of prayer will center our focus on the One who can calm our hearts and provide perspective. Placing ourselves in the lap of the Father wraps us in comfort and reminds us that we do not have to carry all the cares of this world. Someone else has offered to do that for us.

Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)

Friend, lay down your burden. Give it up to the One who has offered to carry it. Rest, and take joy in His presence.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Mezuzah: A reminder of my calling

Josh returned from his trip to Israel a few days ago and one of the souveniers he brought home is a Mezuzah. A Mezuzah is a small wooden box that is placed on the doorframe of your home. Inside it contains a small piece of parchment on which are written the verses from Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21. It is to be a reminder to you each time you enter your home.

We have not yet placed our Mezuzah on the doorframe but I am thrilled that we will soon have this reminder of my favorite verses displayed prominently in our home. This small section of Scripture from Deuteronomy 6 has become my set of life verses for this intense mothering stage of life.

ESV Deuteronomy 6:4-9 "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Just before this in chapter 5 God had given the Israelites the ten commandments. And then he said these words.

I love the sequence here.

First, God tells us what he expects. Then he reminds us of who he is. Next he tells us how to live as he expects. And lastly, he reminds us of why this is important.

In living out our faith and parenting our children, every single step of this sequence is necessary.

1. God's expectations. God gives us the 10 commandments. Which by the way, were not written because he's a scrooge, but for our benefit. Think about it ... a requirement to rest? Umm, yeah. That's a pretty good thing. Children told to obey and honor their parents? I'm happy I can remind my kids of that! Do not murder, do not steal, do not commit adultery? God is showing us what to avoid in order to keep ourselves from a world of hurt.

So many times I have heard people say that the 10 commandments are God's rules, but that because we sin we can never really expect to live up to them. Carolyn Mahaney says, "For whenever God gives a command, He also provides the grace to obey it." The issue of obedience, then, really comes down to a choice of our will. It's not a matter of if we can obey, but of whether we will choose to obey. There is always a choice to obey or disobey. And God's Word tells us that he will always provide a way out of temptation (I Corinthians 10:13). But although God will always provide a way out, it's up to us to take it.

For many years, it has been helpful to me to think of God's commands as guardrails in my life. On the road you will often see guardrails set up to keep cars from careening into a ditch or off a cliff. Or sometimes they serve to keep us from traffic moving the other direction. As drivers, we don't look at these guardrails and think of them as a nuisance or a hindrance to our driving fun. Rather we recognize that they were put there for our safety and our benefit. It is the same with God's commands. They are not a hindrance to our growth and spiritual health. Rather they protect us from the dangers of sin. They can remind us to swerve away from things that would head us in the wrong direction. They can even save us from death!

2. God tells us who he is. Okay, so the 10 commandments are for our benefit, but they are also for God's. He is the Creator. He made us. I made a cake last week. How would it be if that cake could talk and tell me exactly when I could eat it, how much I could eat, which utensils to use, and what to put alongside it? A poor comparison, but still we are the created ones. We were intentionally designed, and as such, the One who created us really does have the right to call the shots. God is God. I am not. He deserves all the glory for, control of, and honor from our lives.

3. God tells us how to live according to his rules. How is this accomplished? It is taught to children from infancy. This really goes hand in hand with the verse from Proverbs 22:6. "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it." These verses in Deuteronomy 6 give us the "how to". They tell us exactly what to do as parents to ensure that our children will grow up to be godly men and women. So, what do we do? We include our faith in every facet of life. We talk about God and godly living at all opportunities. We set up reminders for ourselves and our children of God's standards, sacrifice, forgiveness, and love. Easy, right? Not by a long shot. Even just recognizing the teachable moments can be difficult. Actually setting aside our adult agenda to seize those moments is doubly as hard. And yet, this is what parents are called to. Not a great paying job to provide the latest gadgets; not well-rounded, activity exhausted children; not even the most rigorous education. We are to be teaching our children about the one true God at every opportunity!

4. God tells us why. Verses 10-12 continue in this way:

"And when the LORD your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you- with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant- and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery."

Did you catch it? We are to do these things, lest we "forget the LORD". The church has been crying out about the mass exodus of teens and young adults within the Christian Church in recent years. These yount people have forgotten the Lord. And sure, there are plenty of reasons why that is, but I have to wonder if maybe the main reason is because the parents (in general) haven't been diligent in teaching their children as Deuteronomy 6 instructs.

There's one other reason embedded in these verses of why we are to live this way. We are to teach our children because God has saved us. Sometimes we say this so glibbly. So let me shout it: GOD HAS SAVED US!!! This is huge! This is the biggest thing! The one amazing fact that we should never tire of shouting from the rooftops! God has saved us! In these verses, it refers specifically to Egypt, but wouldn't you agree that God has also saved us (you and me) from slavery to sin? Jesus' incredible sacrifice on the cross should so alter our lives that it's the one thing we tell our children about again and again. It should be the thing we speak of with the most passion, the most fervency, the most awe. It should be the one thing we are teaching our children day in and day out so that they and we won't forget. The why of these verses is so astonishingly amazing, that it should drive us to speak of it in every conversation.

Are you catching on? Are you starting to see the importance of these verses? Really reflecting on these verses over the past several years has transformed my view of and approach to parenting. It prioritizes our activities, our education, our desires as a family. It is the challenge I need on those days when I just want to hide in the closet. It is the encouragement I long for when looking at the daunting task ahead of me as I raise my children. And it is the reminder of the great saving work that God has done in my own life.

It is my calling as a mother.