Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Run for Our Money

This handsome tree climber has given us quite a run for our money in the discipline department lately. Five year old boys are not easy to parent. He exhausts me, and he fills me with joy, and he forces me to be a better mother.

This morning I am thanking God for him.

Little one
Precious son
God must love you so...
Against all odds
A gift from God
For purposes He knows.
There's ball to play
Trucks to race
Motorcycles too...
But most of all
Fulfill your call
God has chosen you.
-Beth Moore


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Honoring Our Nation's Heroes

Last year I started a Veteran's Day tradition with the kids that I hope I will honor long past my years of teaching them. We sought out two veterans among the hundreds living right in our community, wrote them simple cards and baked them simple treats, and then went to their homes, looked them in the eye, and said thank you. Two words. Not much. Yet it seemed to mean so much to them, and as a mother trying to teach her children to understand the cost of our freedom, I know how much it meant to me. I decided we would seek out a different veteran each year, and honor them in some small way.

This year our search took us far and wide and... next door. Our neighbor, Justin Bakow, is a true American hero. He is a trained sniper with the U.S. Army Airborne Rangers, and recently spent a year in what I imagine are some of the most difficult, dangerous conditions a soldier could face. He served in "the tip of the spear" alongside our nation's best and brightest in a rugged, remote section of Afghanistan. He came home safely, to the great relief of his parents, but too many of his comrades did not. 

Justin isn't the only hero in this story. When he left for Afghanistan, he said goodbye to the parents who would probably say they loved him more than the breath that they took. As they watched their only child walk away from them and directly into harm's way, their sacrifice in the name of our freedom became as important as Justin's. Their bravery matched his.

When we asked about the physical, emotional, and psychological strain he experienced during his tour, he only spoke of the "great honor" it was to serve his country, and the fact that he'll do it again if his country needs him to.

 Whoever said "they don't make 'em like they used to" has never met Justin Bakow.

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine! 
"America the Beautiful"
Words by Katharine Lee Bates,
Melody by Samuel Ward 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sam & Max Turn Five!

On November 1st, my baby boys turned five. It goes without saying that I cannot believe Max and Sam are five years old. 
At their request, we decided to celebrate with a Spiderman/Elephant party. 

My Sam loves animals. I made this cake and my sweet parents stayed up late the night before the party (after all of the Halloween festivities, of course) to help me make gray icing and decorate this baby. The eyes are actually 100-year-old buttons from my great aunt's "button jar." How adorable is it that she used to have a "button jar?" Anyhoo...
I have to admit, I was a teensy bit proud of my Martha Stewartishness as I lovingly laid this cake on the island and showed Sam the morning of his birthday. He grinned, ran to the playroom, grabbed fistfuls of animals, and proceeded to smash them into the top of his cake so they looked like they were grazing on top of Babar. My little sis was over helping me, and as she watched him do it and saw me almost pass out, she burst out laughing. Then she reminded me that it was his birthday cake, not mine. Sigh.

My Max loves superheroes. Greg stayed up late after trick-or-treating through the rain with three extremely energetic sugar-saturated kids to frost and decorate this cake for his boy. Spiderman's okay, but some day Max will know that Daddy's the real superhero.

We played "Push the Peanut," "Spiderman Relay," and "Superhero Sleuth."  Then we enjoyed some pizza, fruit, veggies, and of course, birthday cake!

Then, it was time to open presents. The boys were so blessed by the generosity of their friends.

I recently read somewhere that on your child's birthday, you should invite one friend for each year of their life... we exceeded the suggested limit a bit, and I might rethink doing that next year :-). There were a few times when I wanted to lock the boys in the coat closet quietly take them aside and remind them of their manners. There was a moment of hysteria before the Spiderman relay when one birthday boy did not get to go first. Then there was a moment of horrified embarrassment when the other birthday boy opened a superman book and announced in a loud, clear voice: "This is a mistake. I like Spiderman, not Superman." But when each took their turn blowing out five candles, I had to takes a deep breath and stifle a sob or two. There's an old saying about raising children: the days are long but the years are short. If that isn't the truth, I don't know what is.

I am so grateful that my boys have had five healthy, happy years. They have filled Greg and I with countless moments of unspeakable joy. Happy birthday, my precious little identical twins. I love being your mommy.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Second Annual Homeschool Halloween!

My friend Sarah hosted our second Homeschool Halloween & Harvest party, and it was a blast. I think the grownups had at least as much fun as the kids! I love Halloween. On what other day could you find lions, bears, and elephants cohabitating joyfully? A cowboy and an Indian who are allies, not enemies? A butterfly and an angel flying around the room together? Batman and Spiderman teaming up to fight the good fight? Mario and Luigi busting through the brick wall? Minnie Mouse comforting Cinderella before her nap? An iphone 4 that walks, talks, and play games - sweet goodness, what will Apple think of next? Here are some of the adorable attendees:

A distraught lion who did not like his mane (James)

Mario and Luigi (Jake and Isaac)

Batman (Jeremy)

Spiderman (Max)

A brick wall (Josh)

An elephant (Sam)

A butterfly and Cinderella (Brooke and Bethany)

An angel (Chloe)

An Indian princess (Megan)

A gun-slinging cowboy...

 and hands-down the most creative costume of the morning, the very creative Andy as an iphone 4!

It's a bird! It's a plane! It's, ummmm, two superheroes and an elephant. Hey, whatever works.

 We played a fun game, enjoyed delicious food, and made a craft to honor a very sweet little girl who is in all of our prayers right now...

I am so grateful for the friends we've made homeschooling, and for all of the wonderful memories we will have to share in the years to come.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Five Months Old!

Charlie, you are five months old and a little lovebug!

You want to stay awake all the time now... no napping all day long for you! I put you down in your crib and you look at me as if to say, "Mommy, you have got to be kidding me. There is no way I'm staying in here while you all are out there. Go ahead and pick me up please. I'm quite fine here in your arms, thank you very much." 

Your ears stick out quite a bit since your little head is so blond... we sometimes secretly call you Dumbo - don't be mad! I jokingly asked Dr. Butler if he thought we'd need to have them pinned, and he scolded me and told me to stop picking on you! It's all in good fun, because the truth is, we find you the most charming and handsome little guy in the whole wide world. We are all just smitten with you.

Yesterday at church a woman stopped me in the hall and told me you were the cutest baby she has ever seen - including her own! Her words, not mine :-). She had apparently been sitting behind us while you bobbed and giggled in my lap before you and I headed to the nursing moms room, and she said she was so disappointed when I took you out of the room - she wanted to keep smiling at you!

You have two little teeth on the bottom, and I'm pretty sure two more are coming in on top. It's a bit early for all these teeth, but what can I say? You're gifted.

You were a bear for Halloween, which you slept through by the way. I had to lead the neighborhood parade and I had you in the baby carrier. You fell sound asleep and never woke up, even as I put you in your bouncy seat, and the doorbell rang a zillion times, and giddy trick-or-treaters delightfully demanded their sweets. Daddy was out with Chloe, Sam, and Max, and you and I got to hang out together. I loved my little sleepy bear.

You are so much fun right now. Grammy came to visit this past weekend and said, "This is my favorite baby age" as she played with you and you beamed at her. It is so true - I wish I could bottle you right now. When I walk into your room and peer into your crib, you grin at me and kick as if we haven't seen one another in years! Last night I brought you into our bed sometime in the middle of the night - you've been waking up more lately because of those darn teeth. You fell back to sleep quite happily between Daddy and I, and when I woke up this morning your little face was about two inches from mine, your great big Smith eyes were wide open, and you were grinning at me. Seriously. I don't ever want to forget that moment. I love you dearly, sweet five month old boy.

"And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him."  Luke 2:40

Thursday, November 3, 2011

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

 The weekend before last we planned to meet my parents, sister, brother-in-law, and the cousins for our annual Fall foliage train ride on the Kiski Junction railroad. A series of mishaps, including an ill-advised stop for doughnuts, a wrong turn in the middle of podunk Pennsylvania, and getting rear-ended by a teenager on his way to karate practice - no joke- meant that we pulled into the train station as the red beauty pictured above was pulling out, with my parents, sis, bro-in-law, and cousins all waving sadly from the caboose. Chloe burst into tears. I muttered a few nasty words under my breath and then accused Greg of ruining the morning for me tried to cheer her up by promising her that we would go find a park, eat up all the doughnuts, and take the next train in a couple of hours. 

A little bit of sunshine, a little bit of sugar, and the very odd but much appreciated mural of elephants on the side of someone's garage by the park was all it took to get smiles back on the faces of these kids...

but the morning's misadventure really got me to thinking...

Why is it that I so often feel as though I'm taking one step forward and two steps back in my Christian walk? When is it that I will finally "arrive" as the person I long to be, all the time?

After our morning at the odd little park we found in the heart of podunk, we made our way back to the train station and hopped on for the 2:00 pm ride. We had the pleasure of meeting this sweet lady, who worked for the railroad and was a veritable powerhouse of information on all things locomotive.

She told us not only a nearly encyclopedic history of the Kiski Junction Railroad, but also all sorts of interesting little tidbits about trains in general. The difference between diesel and electric locomotives, for example, and the fact that train whistles actually have specific meanings. Those engineers aren't just tooting merrily along as they cruise across the country - they're actually communicating with one another! Who knew?! Two long whistles mean the train is moving forward. Three short ones mean the train is going in reverse.

I wonder if God sometimes would like to adopt the same system with me...

So often I get caught up in worldly desires, and allow myself to be fooled into thinking that if I just get this one last thing, do this one last home improvement, make a little more money, or have a little more time, I will be filled up with the contentment that all too often eludes me. Toot toot toot!!

The next day I ignore the dirty floors and sink full of lunch dishes and spend time reading my Bible and in prayer. Toot toot!

Then Greg calls to tell me he's going to be late because he's sitting in traffic and, in despair, I accuse him of making up the "so-called traffic story," lose my temper with him and then the kids, and then feel like a failure for losing my temper with him and then the kids. Toot toot toot!

I am truly sorry. I ask for his forgiveness, and I ask for the kids' forgiveness, and I pray for God's forgiveness.  Toot toot!

The next morning I wake up and waste time reading blogs and catching up with the ridiculous lives of ridiculous celebrities on people.com, and then am frustrated and short-tempered when I realize I haven't gotten any of the things God has actually called me to do done. Toot toot toot!

Later, I take time to just be quiet. I nurse the baby. I'm grateful for the silent phone, rather than wishing it would ring. In the stillness of the day, I am filled with thankfulness for all He has lavishly blessed me with. Healthy children. A husband who seeks and models Him to our family. A full refrigerator. The beauty of the changing dogwood from my window. Forgiveness. Grace. Salvation. Toot toot!

Sometimes the knowledge that I'll never "arrive," this side of Heaven makes me tired. 

But then I am reminded that I am precious to Him: "The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you." (Deuteronomy 7:7-8)

The truth of that promise is almost more than I can comprehend. The creator of the universe didn't set His affection on me because I succeed at being perfect, if even for one day. 

It has always only been because He loved me.