Sunday, September 3

Ode to a New School Year!

Today is September 3rd, and in our neck of the woods (Western NY/Buffalo area) that can only mean one thing...

School is about to start! 

I know. I know. I sound a little too excited, don't I?!

I'm really not, honestly. The beginning of September always comes with bittersweet feelings that must be reminiscent of my childhood days. Do I want school to start? Do I want summer to end? Do I want to say goodbye to my kiddos for hours on end while they head off to their classrooms? I know they certainly don't feel like heading off to their classrooms for hours on end.

As I flipped the calendar page this week I felt like I should hear a trumpet bellowing out a tune to alert me to an important announcement:
"Here ye, Here ye! 
Today ends the endless carefree schedule, late bedtimes, lack of structure, bored children, sleepovers, pool parties, don't make your bed, squeeze in the summer reading, roast marshmallows, fun in the sun, squeeze the most of life, kind of days. 
Yes, yes. I'm sorry to inform you.  
You may proceed to engage in picnics and parties for the rest of the weekend, but you must also get your supplies, shoes, backpacks, snacks, water bottles, lunch boxes and books ready. Another school year is about to commence." 
I must say, I'm thankful to have friends who live in places like Ohio, Massachusetts, Florida and Michigan, where school started this week. Their first day of school pictures always help me to acclimate to the impending easing into the water in a 0 depth entry pool rather than jumping right into the deep end (I like slow transitions!).

The hardest part for me about a new school year is reinstating the structured days...

The reality is, I'm a middle of the road mom when it comes to structure. There are moms WAY more structured than me and moms WAY less structured then me. I'm content with my middle of the road structure status.

Structure in the way of bedtimes, and chores, reading schedules and homework, a clean house and folded laundry...well, sure it makes me feel better! It makes me feel on top of things. But, when it comes to executing such structure....ahhh, well...I'm still waiting to take that class. Sometimes, when it's time for dinner, and backpacks are flying, and homework questions are coming at me, and the laundry is sitting pretty and piled high, I keep thinking the "real" mom is about to walk through the door and make it all happen like a pro.

And then I remember, I AM the "real" mom. Hahahahaha.

So, I'm bracing to re-embrace the necessity of highly structured days that I aspire to be good at, but don't always follow through on.  I'm a little bit sad to let the girls head back to their classrooms for hours on end, mostly because there are things I still wanted to do with them that we never got around to this summer...

I wanted to paint a picture with Ella (she's my little artist).

I wanted to go geo-caching with Ava (she's my little adventurer).

I wanted to take Aubrey to Museum of Play in Rochester WITH her sisters to show her all of the fun stuff...not just with boring mom (she's my embrace life as it comes, exuberantly busy 3rd child!).

I wanted to hit up a waterpark and food truck Tuesdays in Buffalo.

We did do other things-- lots of spontaneous sleepovers, playdates, neighborhood play sessions...the stuff summer should be filled with. So, you know what?  I'm penciling the rest of my little bucket list into the fall. Who says it all had to be done this summer and why would I have put such silly expectation on myself in the first place?!

I am looking to a few quieter mornings. There are house projects I'd like to tackle, more writing I'd like to do, and thoughts I'd like to find that have receded to the faraway, quieter places of my brain. I plan to recapture them, and sit with them...maybe write about them, or write poems from them, or use them to resurrect parts of our family life that I always have good intentions of trying to act on, but get too busy to actually follow through on.

Here's to yearly transitions-- I do love that September feels ripe for trying out new habits and setting a few new goals (even more so than January for me). Here's to embracing structure again. Here's to extending my "summer" bucket list into the fall. 

Ode to a New School Year

Here ye, Here ye. 

The summer days were long and fun
But the daily party has had its run

Structure, I say, is due to return
So back to school you must go to learn

It's time for new friends, classrooms and Fall
Lets celebrate a new school year, adventure and all! 

Blessing to all my momma friends and their kiddos as we start a new year!

Tuesday, July 25

Dear Tired Mom in the Middle of Summer Vacation...

Dear Mom in the Middle of Summer Vacation with Young Children At Home,

Are you tried? I am.

Are you wondering if you're going to make it?

Through the day? The week? Until September? Gosh, sometimes I wonder if I'm going to make it out at all. I often picture myself, in 15 years or so, looking a bit like a mad scientist...beady eyes, crazy hair standing on end, a little on edge wondering what wild thing is going to happen next.

This summer vacation stuff is NOT for the faint of heart.

It feels like we've been going from morning till night, non-stop-- ice cream and carnivals, sleepovers and picnics, swim lesson and Vacation Bible School, swimming and crafts, bike rides and berry picking. It's all good, good stuff, and the truth is that I love doing a lot of it. I suppose if there were 30 hours in each day I'd be coping better.  The reality is that I have mommy things to do (and sometimes things I'd just like to do) that just never get done; I don't mean to sound selfish here, but I'd like to read a book (the entire thing!), do some laundry, and try to keep the house from looking like a tornado touched down...again.

Also, if your kids are anything like mine, there is the daily bickering about things "not being fair", or sisters instigating each other until someone is shrieking for me to intercept,  or in tears. There is griping about chores, and whining about going to bed. There are wet towels and suits left precariously around the house, no matter how many times I holler about picking them up. There is the feeling of always, ALWAYS, always being in the kitchen to make a meal, clean up after a meal, or manage the snack consumption in-between meals.

There was also this conversation, while we were running late for a swimming playdate with friends-- despite trying to keep everyone moving in the right direction, finding goggles, suits, towels, throwing sandwiches together, etc.

"Ava, I'm just going to run upstairs to change (because mommy can't go to a swim date in pajamas) Could you please make sure Aubrey gets her shoes on and would you mind cutting that cucumber for me?"

"Sure, mom."

Except, what I found when I came downstairs six minutes later, was Aubrey laying flat across the keyboard (trying to play with her entire body, I presume?), Ella attempting kick overs and Ava dancing, eyes closed, to a song on the I-pad, while the dog was running circles around everyone, barking.

I know there is this idea about there about "being in the moment", but seriously?!

"What are you guys doing?" I holler. Loudly. 

They all look at me like I'm really mean and have two heads.

"Awww, mom, but I wanted to finish my kick over," Ella says with saddest, poutiest face known to man.

"Ava, did you cut the cucumber for me?"


"Oh my gosh, you guys! Get in the car, NOW! We're already 15 minutes late."

The conversations ensues in the car when I start to go on and on, and on,  about how I used to be a really, really nice, CALM, patient, easy going person who was fun to be around.

"So..." Ella interjects. "You're saying it's our fault?"

Oh mercy, I think. No one prepared me for ANY of this. 

And, the reality is, nobody does.

Motherhood is a tough, tough job. Some days I feel like the worst version of myself imaginable- not because I'm a bad person. In all honesty, and by the grace of God, I feel like I'm trying really hard to be a good person. A kind and compassionate person. An empathetic, intentional, encouraging person. A faithful, Godly person.

But, somedays I feel like I'm surrounded by utter chaos.  Let's be real, it can be challenging to live in  chaos for long stretches of a decade, or so. Give or take a few days.

To be fair, I'm a highly sensitive person who is keenly sensitive to stimuli. I don't say that lightly. If you've never read about HSP's (highly sensitive people), it's a real classification, with a compelling body of reasearch. It's part of what makes me creative- the noticing of EVERYTHING-but, it also feels like my kryptonite in this land of motherhood. A land chock full of perpetual stimulation, needs, crises, responsibility and noise.

All that to say, tired momma, whether you're highly sensitive or not, this is no easy gig.

I'm here to remind you that you're doing a really good job! You're most likely pouring out all of yourself to love your children in the very best way you can, despite feeling like you're failing.  You're not failing, I assure you. Your kids will remember this all in a new light someday when they are parents (just as we have!), and think "Whoa! This is why mom seemed a little crazy on that day in the middle of July when we were all acting like drunk monkeys!"

They'll have a LOT of grace for you then. I have a lot of grace for you now. We need to have grace for ourselves in the process.

Anne Lammott, one of  my favorite authors on grace-- someone who talks openly about how utterly human we all are (aka: broken) and how much grace we need, said this in her book, Grace (Eventually), 
  "Sometimes grace works like water wings when you feel you are sinking." 

I like that picture, especially in the middle of a summer where my four year old wears her pink water wings every time she's in the pool. Especially, in the middle of a summer, and a season of parenting, when I feel like I'm sinking... a lot. Especially, in these moments in life when I'm realize I'm somehow still floating, or "swimming", or whatever you want to call my awkward strokes,  as I attempt to swim through this ocean of life, despite feeling like I should have sunk a long time ago. (Grace!!!)

Grace is a beautiful thing. I'm reminded of our inspiration for giving our third daughter her middle name, "If we're going to have a third girl," I reasoned, "we are going to need a LOT of grace!"  And so, Aubrey Grace Littlewood came to be. 

Quite frankly, she's putting us to the test (:

In Grace (Eventually) Lammott also says, "You can get that monkey off your back, but the circus never leaves town."

If that doesn't describe motherhood with young children in the middle of summer vacation, I'm not sure what does.

Here's to the circus fellow mommas! Let's step out to the concession stand for a minute, buy some popcorn and nachos, and try to gracefully enjoy every minute (alright, as many of them as we can!) of this wild ride called motherhood, with our pink water wings on!

P.S. Next week I'll be posting a few tips and favorite quotes about staying in the moment...Please stop back! 

Saturday, July 1

Minivans, Meditation and Marshmallows: Retreating to the Blue Ridge Mountains

It’s hard to believe that it was already a week ago that we loaded into the Toyota Sienna and barreled down to Virginia with another school year behind us, and an adventure before us. 

I usually like to give the kids a couple of days to acclimate to summer vacation before taking off, but we had a destination and a deadline and after one full day out of school we were off to begin leg one of what would amount to about 1,300 miles in the car— and way more hours than any of us would probably like to count. 

We left last Friday morning at the not so early hour of 10:15, almost two hours later than I had “planned” to get on the road. The minivan was packed to the gills with pillows, stuffed animals, my arsenal of books and notebooks, coolers, a tent, sleeping bags, camping chairs, bug spray, snacks, coloring books, I-pads, granola bars and small plastic toys. 

“Lis, are you serious?” Scott asked. “We need ALL of this stuff? This is ridiculous!” he bellowed, while trying to strategically stuff the minivan like a game of Tetris.

“Babe, we have girls. I don’t know what to tell you.”  

We thought the first leg of our trip from Buffalo to Radiant, VA would take 6 1/2 hours…we’re still trying to figure out how we miscalculated that one, but alas, we wound up in the car for close to 10 hours (8 1/2 hours of driving + 1 1/2 hours worth of  stops).  About halfway there I had a fleeting moment, when Ella looked like she was about to throw up, that I wondered if it would be easier to turn around and head back home. But, we persevered and while we intended to show up at the writing retreat between 2 p.m.- 5 p.m. (the scheduled check-in time before dinner), we wound up crackling down the stone dirt driveway that led up to the farmhouse and barn at 8:15 p.m., smack dab in the middle of a quiet open mic session.

“Girls, please be quiet when we get out of the car. This is a writing retreat and we needed to be respectful,”  I said in a whispered tone because our minivan windows were open. 

     “But I need to go to the bathroom!!” Aubrey bellowed. 

I found myself within moments of pulling in, asking a woman I had only met online  (the farm owner and retreat coordinator) if there was somewhere I could take Aubrey to pee without interrupting  the event in the barn. 

      "Of course," she warmly said, "You can take her right into our house." 

      And, that’s about how life goes when you integrate family life and your personal passions— it’s a great big mix of making plans, being flexible when they start to fall apart, and finding a place for your toddler to pee in the midst of a quiet literary event. The important part was that we made it just in time to roast a marshmallow, set up our tent before dark, and kick off conversation with some incredibly kind folks. 

All in all the Writer's Retreat on God's Whisper Farm, hosted by Andi Cumbo-Floyd, Kelly Chripczuk, and Shawn Smucker, turned out to be a sweet and encouraging event. I had toyed with the idea of attending several larger writing conferences this year, but felt God nudging me towards something less stressful, more peaceful, and all together just as significant in my growth as a writer. 

“Show me where you want me to go this year God…in all things, but particularly this writing journey,” became my prayer. 

In the midst of praying that prayer for several weeks, God had also been teaching me about how he speaks to us in quiet places, in still small voices, in ways that we will miss if our lives are too full, boisterous, and noisy.

Listen to the whispers, He had been saying. 

And so one night, when I randomly stumbled upon Andi Cumbo Lloyd's website and saw that her farm was called “God’s Whisper Farm” and that she was hosting her 4th annual retreat, there was no question that I needed to be there. The only hang-up; the retreat was being held June 23-25, right after the girls got out of school and right over Scott’s birthday. 

I knew I couldn’t ditch everyone at the beginning of summer vacation and didn’t want to leave Scott alone on his birthday. 

“Babe, the website says we can pitch a tent right on site. What do you think?” 

Scott loves to pitch a tent and we had yet to attempt sleeping in one as a family--I wasn’t so sure up until this moment that it was something that sounded like a whole lot of fun with 3 children--but since my attending the retreat seemed to be hanging on the line, I was willing to see if this crazy idea could work. 

Andi agreed to having the whole family come and to let our big, boisterous crew camp right on the 15-acre property. It turned out to be a fantastic idea after all. 

It would take me many paragraphs to tell you about all of the ways that God spoke to me throughout the weekend, but the summary is that we all had a ton of fun, the girls asked if they could come back next year, and Aubrey now consider’s Andi’s husband Phillip to be one of her very best friends in the  whole wide world (such a cute story!). The girls have already asked if we can go back next year, we got to see a part of the country neither Scott or I have ever seen before, the weather was gorgeous, the entire family made new friends with a whole bunch of wonderful people and my spirit was filled with many things I wasn’t expecting, but realized I needed.

Over the last ten years, in my life as a mother, I’ve pulled, wrestled, cajoled, cried, kicked, tried, embraced, moved towards, moved away from, and done circles around this idea of cultivating a writing life in the midst of stay at home motherhood. I’ve emotionally embraced the chaos of it all and set my heels in at times. I’ve thrown my hands up in the air at others. At times I have been tired of trying to make time for them both, when they often felt like such separate entities. 

In the last few months I have felt my spirit and my body growing weary…just plain old tired from the daily demands and trying to make everything, and everyone’s schedules “work”. I sensed that my spirit needed to be renewed in some way, but I wasn’t sure how to do that. This past week, even though many moments have been hectic and harried, my spirit has quieted down a bit. After we left the retreat last Sunday, we drove to Shenandoah National Park, and stood in awe for three days of the majestic views that surrounded us. The pace is slower in the mountains. You do things like just look at trees and stop to watch sunsets even when your logic tells you it’s time to get the kids to bed. 

 On Monday morning, I sat on the porch in the brisk mountain air, opened my Bible to the Psalms and read a verse about the settling, comforting, restorative impact of God’s creation on our souls, “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters He restores my soul.” 

While I had read those words countless times, it felt far more personal to be reading them right next to literal green pastures, besides still waters, and in the midst of soul restoration. 

I’m no dummy— I know what I’m heading back into when we get home in a few days (we’re in Ohio now). 

The house is a dusty, littered mess from packing up for a 10 day trip at the end of a busy school year. I will have 3 children home, bored, asking me what to do and I will need to don my referee hat and whistle to interject reason into the fights that are sure to break out. I'm sure to feel tired and weary at some point, maybe many times in the next few months. But, David, the psalmist, wasn’t going to be sitting by still waters forever either. He had nations to lead, and battles to fight and land to defend. But, he reminds us that our restoration doesn’t happen in spite of those things, it often happens in a few quiet moments right in the midst of them.

Here's to hoping you find a quiet place and space for soul restoration sometime this summer.  

Friday, June 30

Book Review: Stepping on Cheerios

"I had expected ordinary, and I got extraordinary. Isn't that just like God? You may not know what's coming in life, but it wouldn't be any fun if you did. Plus, you might refuse to participate because what if you got hurt or couldn't control most of life, which you can't." 
(quote from: Stepping on Cheerios)

     After having triplet boys at the age of 47 Betsy Singleton Snyder found herself at home, with four little boys (she had one son already, when the triplets arrived), trying to figure out how to manage life, count her blessings (all of them!), and continue to connect with God in the middle of the chaos.

     Betsy's book, Stepping on Cheerios, is all about leading and embracing an unconventional life--even if you didn't intend to! The book is an honest reflection of the joys, challenges and questions that arise when we jump into the deep end of raising children. It's about  learning to embrace our uniqueness, our children's uniqueness,  and who we become as a family-- all different, individual and unique, but called to work together as one (kind of like the body of Christ!).

     I found Stepping on Cheerios to be hilarious, truthful and authentic, with a good dose of encouragement and reminders to continually look for God in the middle of "it all".  

     The casual and witty tone with which Betsy talks about everything, including faith and Jesus, might feel irreverent to some readers. While there were moments that it pushed the envelope for me, I was willing to come along for the ride and embrace the candor because I found much of the sarcasm about our culture to be spot on (we Americans have some pretty crazy pop-cutlure, so why not be flagrantly honest about it, right?!).

     I really enjoyed Chapter 5: Whoever The Kids Are, They Are God's, where she talks about embracing  her kid's interests, and letting go of our ideas for them in the process. Her boys, for example, all decided to try ice-skating and really liked it. "Its ok if your boys like ice skating or dancing, and it's OK if your girls like building things and playing with trucks. Dang. I always wanted a slot car racetrack," she says.

     Lesson learned: let your kids be who they are. More importantly, let them be who God designed them to be! Snyder points out that Jesus wasn't a follower of cultural norms himself.

       "Let's be honest," she says, "Jesus hung out with anybody, like anybody...Jesus would literally eat with anyone, and it goes him in trouble with certain religious authorities, and it might get us in trouble. I'm pretty sure that Jesus would get some haters on Facebook with all his jazzed-up coloring outside the lines...I'm love Jesus precisely because his ministry startles our comfortable settled lives."

     Can you really say "haters on Facebook" in a sentence about Jesus? It wouldn't have crossed my mind, but I do love that Snyder pushes the boundaries here! It's truth, isn't it?

Among other significant points, Snyder  also reminds us why parenthood is an important part of re-shaping our stodgy adult thinking: 

"We grown-ups sometimes forget how much childhood matters," she goes on to say,  "It's filled with the sacred and it is not to be missed when it comes around again during parenthood. And parenthood is the time of spirit formation in which we don't realize until later that everything kid-drenched around us was and is a gift."

     I have found this to be true in my own parenting over and over again...the irony, that God makes us parents just around the time that we have forgotten what it's like to be a child. To jump into pools with total abandon, to let a dog lick your face without pulling away, to see the beauty of a dandelion without calling it a 'weed'...and so much more.

     Stepping on Cheerios is a light and witty read reminding us to continue to appreciate these wild and crazy moments. It's a book that reminds moms that Jesus isn't too busy for our sippy cup and goldfish cracker lives-- "Isn't it just like God to show up where you're working your tail off? Jesus met people in their workplaces and in their homes. Jesus came to Peter, James, and John, who were busy fishermen, trying to mend their nets. Jesus met a Samaritan woman who was trying to get water for her home. Jesus met Matthew in his little tax booth...God is a very involved parent, so don't ever think you've got to line those rubber duckies up in a neat row before God is swimming with you." 

     This is a fun book for any mother in the "thick of things" who wants something light-hearted to remind her that she is doing a great job. But, it also serves to compel moms (or, parents in general) to re-look at some of the things we deem as normal,  and to think about how we are pointing our kids, and everyone we meet in the process of raising them, towards Jesus.

Betsy Singleton Snyder, author of "Stepping on Cheerios," is a pastor, a former missionary to the arts community, writer, and blogger. She and her husband, Dr. Vic Snyder who formerly served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 14 years, live in Arkansas with their four sons, Penn (10), and triplets Wyatt, Sullivan, and Aubrey (8).

You can read more about Betsy at