Saturday, November 14

Our Thankfulness Tree and Other Family Ramblings

It's a cold, gray and gusty day here in Buffalo. The kind that reminds you that dinners on the patio are a far, far thing of the past, and that mother nature is blowing her big breaths of wind to bid adieu to more temperate fall days and usher forth our blustery winters.


But, I have a warm cup of coffee in my hands, nowhere to go and am looking forward to the girls getting off the school bus in just a few minutes. We're laying low tonight-- putting away laundry, putting a bookshelf together, and just hanging out in all of its unplanned glory.

We have the usual items on the agenda for the weekend; gymnastics, one of the girls has a birthday party, Ella has rehearsal for her Nutcracker performance.  Scott and I are going to a fundraiser tomorrow night for an amazing local organization that is raising awareness and money to build wells for clean drinking water in Sierra Leone, Africa. If you have the time, and have not heard about them, you should check them out online and support their efforts ( It's really an incredible story, down to the husband and wife who started it all in the midst of their own crazy family life (they have 4 children!) and how they just keeping moving and shaking to create big changes one small town at a time in Africa.

It's also mid-November (how did that happen?!), which means Thanksgiving is just around the corner. I love Thanksgiving for all that it is, and all that it is not. It is a sweet time to be even more intentional than usual about talking to our children about being grateful, about practicing gratitude, about intentionally speaking about our blessings. I also love Thanksgiving because there is not a ton of fanfare and hoopla leading up to it. There are no crazy lights to put up, or extra reasons to shop (except for cranberry sauce and stuffing mix or unless you're one of those crazy black Friday people, which I am very much not!). For the most part it is a relatively low key holiday-- a time to enjoy some good old fashion comfort food and hang out with our families.

Each year we try to practice gratitude around the dinner table in one way or another. In years past I've created a thankfulness tree out of construction paper and have taped it to the glass door next to our kitchen table. Here is a photo of one of our Thankfulness trees from years past...

In the last couple of years, I've gathered all the leaves afterwards, put them together in a  little collage and have laminated it. This way we have a thankfulness record for years to come.

Last year's tree. I must say, I'm quite thankful there is no   s...n...o... (I can't even say it out loud!)
on the ground yet this year! 

This year I decided to try something required sticks (that Aubrey and I collected), a vase (that I had in the basement), and a leaf template that I found online (I'm sorry, I can't find the website right now! But, if you look "Thankfulness Tree" up in Pinterest or Google, you'll find lots of ideas/templates!).

Here is our 2016 Thankfulness Tree...

We try to fill out one leaf a day with the things we are grateful for. My favorite response this week is that Aubrey has learned quite quickly that "Jesus" is a good answer for just about any question. So cute! Yesterday at dinner I said, "Aubrey, your turn, what are you thankful for?"

"Jesus!" she said with a huge grin on her face, like she had just answered the jackpot question correctly.

Which, I guess, she kind of had (;

Hoping to share a few more thankfulness posts with you before the month is out.

Tuesday, October 27

Ressurrecting Creativity

Two weeks ago I had the chance to sneak away for a few days to attend a writing conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I try to attend a writing conference at least once a year as a way to continually cultivate my writing life, but as a mom with three young children it can be hard to sneak away. It requires planning, and planning and more planning...and once the planning is done there is often guilt to reckon with-- about leaving your husband with the kids all weekend, about leaving the kids for something that feels so arbitrary. 

But, despite the personally inflicted guilt, I went and it was good. 

So good. 

I started writing this post shortly after the conference, and of course got homework, and house projects, meal planning and laundry. By the day to day schedule, and all that it holds. 

I hope, if you're a mom and feel an inkling towards creativity in any form-- cooking, drawing, a musical instrument, crafting, sewing, singing, writing, pottery, photography, furniture refinishing-- whatever it may be, that you will be encouraged to steal some small pieces of time from your own schedule to resurrect that thing, that beautiful, wild, creative thing called creativity. (Or, if you don't have a "thing" but have always wanted to be more creative in some way, that you would be courageous enough to take a small step towards that interest.)

I feel a little bit guilty even saying that. I am a woman who is fully committed to raising strong daughters, and never want to pull a momma away from one of her most important roles, but I do also believe that we cannot allow these creative parts of ourselves to die in the process of parenting and that there is a healthy way to integrate both into our lives. 

Perhaps this is a deep issue for me because my own mother never pursued interests or passions of her own. She still doesn't and without getting into too much detail, seems sad because of it. I don't want my girls to struggle in the same way. I want them to know that I love them deeply, that I am completely there for them, but that I also have creative passions that are part of my day to day life. I want to be a healthy role model of how to pursue creative passions in the midst of raising children-- so that they too can do the same thing some day. 

I have much more to say on the topic as a mom who is struggling through her own confusion about how to fit writing into my life in way that does not conflict with my role as a mother, wife, daughter, and friend. 

In the meantime, here is that post on how I struggled to get away, but finally did and was thankful for it...

     Ava raced down the sidewalk on her scooter trying to "beat me" down the street and shouting after the car, "Bye mom!" she shouted! "Love you! Have fun!"

      Her younger sisters, who I could see clearly in the rearview mirror,  stood at the top of the driveway, the littlest clinging to dad's shoulder, the other waving frantically, barefoot, in her black and white sundress. She had just squeezed me tight and with big puppy eyes told me I was Not.Allowed.To.Go.

     I must say, if goodbyes are good for anything it is that they serve as a reminder that I am, after all, dearly loved by my wee ones-- you know the same little ones whose complaints about green beans at dinner and groans about bedroom cleaning can leave you wondering at times.

     I was starting out on a 340-mile drive from Buffalo to Grand Rapids, Michigan for the Breathe Writers Conference. This marked the 9th year of the conference, and it was my second time attending. It's a wonderful conference organized by a great group of women from Grand Rapids whom I met at a larger writing conference years ago. It is intimate, unintimidating and always inspiring. There is none of the scary, big-shot editor stuff that you might find at larger conferences and attendees are genuinely kind, and in many cases trying to figure out how to get started or improve their own writing craft without competitive edginess about who is getting published where and when and how.

     The  guilt-filled goodbyes to my three precious girls were, by far, the hardest part of the's good for momma to head out once in a while, but as is the case with almost everything in motherhood you wonder if you are doing the right thing, at the right time, and in the right way.

     Maybe I should be doing these things when they're older?  Are they going to feel like I'm deserting them? Is this good for them? Bad for them? Ahhh! Should I go? Should I stay? I should go...stay...go...stay...go?   

     I knew they were in completely capable hands. More than capable hands. Nanner (which is what we call Scott's mom), was in for the weekend, which meant that there would be lots of cupcake baking, extra kisses, tickle sessions, coloring and lots of cake decorating videos on You Tube. In Ella's words, "Nanner is going to be the Mom this weekend!"

     Nanner loves to come and be the "mom" and Scott and I are so thankful and blessed that she loves it so much. She jumps right into the fray; folding laundry, making funny eggs, coloring pictures, giving baths and changing REALLY stinky diapers! (Thank you, Nanner!)

     In retrospect there is no doubt that it was the right choice to go.  I left home hoping to be re-inspired in my own creative life, and returned brimming with ideas, and renewed motivation.

    At times my writing life and pursuit of creativity can feel like it gets buried at the bottom of the toy bin for months on end, hidden beneath the balls and dolls, the jump ropes and plastic cars that have been thrown on top after a frenzied play session or a string of busy weeks.

     (Other days I swear it's stuck in one of those files, in one of those boxes, down in the cluttered basement...if I could just remember which box...and which which corner of the basement...)

     You get the picture and many of you are living similar lives. You used to do X, Y or Z before you had kids, a house and more family responsibilities than you could have imagined. Whatever it is you used to create, you did it and you loved it and the act of doing it filled you up in some way.

      But somewhere, along the way, the mounting pile of laundry, carpool rides, meal prep, grocery shopping and long domestic to-do list began casting shadows on your creative ideas until you could no longer see them at all.

      Steven James, best selling novelist and author of more than 40 books to date, was the keynote speaker at the conference. He talked about "buried" creativity in his closing keynote speech at the conference and asked a question that will forever stick with me.

      While he didn't talk about it being buried beneath toys or a pile of laundry, his point was compelling and relatable on many levels.

     "What is in your writing graveyard?" he asked. 

     For me it's the stories, book ideas, silly poems I've written but dismissed, essays I've started and deemed not worthwhile, ideas scribbled on scraps of paper or tucked away in a dark corners of my computer, undeveloped and unpersued, some of them lay forgotten for lack of time, others I dismissed because I felt like they were not good...not the product they had been in my mind.

     To expand the dialogue here, What is in your creativity graveyard? 

     What if you pulled those ideas out? What if you started to jot them down? What if the act of writing down the bad ideas, or bad drafts, eventually leads to something better and better? What if, right now, while you're home with your kids you use the cracks of time to just practice your a musician who must spend hours and hours playing their instrument or the figure skater who spends 50 hours perfecting that complex triple spin jump that eventually looks flawless.

      What if something beautiful could come from your dusty, nearly forgotten ideas? 

       I'm on a new mission to resurrect my own writing life...filtering through old journals, and printing out forgotten essays. I'm going to see where there might be a thread worth following. I'm going to give myself over to the practice even if it will never be published. While I've been doing that to some capacity all along, I must confess, I had lost faith in myself along the way...

       Faith in myself that I have anything worth saying, worth writing, worth creating.

       But, if there was one big take away for me at this little faith-filled writing conference on a beautiful fall weekend in western Michigan, it was a reminder that creativity isn't actually just about faith in's about faith in something bigger than your self.

       It's about faith in a creative God who breathed a yearning for creativity into our souls. That our words, pictures, music, and art can be reflections of Him in a world that desperately needs life, light and joy breathed into it. 

       So go forth and resurrect your own buried stories, songs, drawings and dreams. Give yourself over to the process, and permission to engage in the first place. Even if you're not quite sure where it's all supposed to go, let's take the next step and start trusting that God will divinely illuminate the way.

Thursday, September 17

Conversations with God: Pruning Flowers


The woman stood nonchalantly on her front porch, calmly and innocently pruning her potted flowers (which looked beautiful, I might add) as I ran past the house on my morning jog.

     They were lovely flowers, all perky and overflowing out of the pots. Brimming with buds and vibrant petals they stood, in my mind, in stark contrast to the ones on my front porch looking parched from the sun and sullenly deserted.

     Scott and I have joked over the last few years, that that spot on our porch must just be killer for flower pots. Too much sun? Too little? Who knows? Maybe it's the fault of the concrete or the spider lurking behind the front door with his webs connected to the pots that they seem to wilt and die every year.

     (Or, ahem, the fact that we can't manage to water them consistently. Pruning? Isn't that a fruit?) 

     Whatever the case, something about that unassuming woman having time to prune her flowers ignited something not so nice in me...Poor woman!

     (My request for forgiveness comes later in the post, don't worry!)

     Must be nice to have time to prune your flowers, I found myself thinking.

     The plants on my own porch desperately needed pruning. Our vegetable garden has been overtaken by tall grass and weeds this year, and we never even got around to mulching our small flower beds. Our swing set is half stained, the tarp piece that covers the top 'playhouse' component fell apart and blew off over a year ago,  and the most hidden corner of our backyard is beginning to look, well, very..."white trashy" for lack of a better explanation,  with its stash of plastic pools, old toys and a copious number of tall, gnarly weeds.

     My irritation drove deeper than flowers (obviously!).  It stemmed from the fact that there are so many areas of our house and lives that feel like they need our attention these days that we just can't keep up. Scott and I, individually and collectively, often don't know where to begin and can feel like we're failing more than flourishing in the areas that are most important to us (quality family time, how we're living out our faith, exercise/healthy eating, investing in our marriage) as well as areas that are less important, but still need attention, like the yard and house management.

     The flowers, on that morning, were just the tip of the proverbial iceberg (perhaps a fruit/root analogy would be more fitting, but we'll stick with icebergs for now!)

     The truth is I don't care that much about the flowers on my front porch. Sure, I'd like them to stay alive, and to keep blooming, at least until autumn when they're replaced by mums and pumpkins, but my discouragement was not really about the flowers. Or the dying tomatoes. Or the trash/stash in our back yard (lol!).

     The real challenge is that I feel like our day to day lives have become so full of domestic responsibilities that it can be hard to intentionally put time behind the things that really matter-- carving out time to spiritually nourish and "prune" our own hearts, investing more deeply in our children's personal and spiritual lives, finding ways to serve others in the community, or even just connecting more deeply with our neighbors.

     I want to be able to do it all...not in a compulsive and perfectionist way, just in a way that allows me to feel like I'm fully being who I am supposed to be. Who God created me to be; wife, mother, daughter, friend, good neighbor, church member, carpooler, writer, thinker, ...whatever else happens to be on my "plate".

     But, sometimes the plate just feels "too full", and like "too much", and like even though I'd like to eat all that food that is piled on there (or manage all those tasks!), it seems virtually impossible. And, it probably is.

     Sometimes I stand back and observe other families that seem to have figured it out; they're managing the chaos, walking through it with grace, and somehow finding time to serve others, be connected to each other and go on cool trips and adventures, all while pruning their flowers with a smile on their face.

     There are times when it feels like we're the only ones. Like everyone else somehow has their act together, the lawn cut and their flowers pruned while we stand there scratching our heads trying to diffuse the latest argument between the kids over who gets the pink bowl and who gets the blue.

     I just want to pull the shutters down on my front windows..."No, don't look in here! No, there aren't kids screaming, and toys everywhere. Oh no, that house project hasn't been going on for two years now! We just started that yesterday...I swear! Sure, you can come over for a lovely chicken dinner, with the table nicely set. No, no.  That's not my child standing on the kitchen counter...gulp...naked....with a mouth full of chocolate chips!"

     Maybe some other families do have their acts together better than we do...

     Or maybe they just hide it really well that they don't...

     Or maybe they just don't write blog posts about it all (;

     Whatever the case, comparisons are rarely, if at all helpful. Especially when you're comparing your "insides" (what is really going on), to someone else's "outsides" (the "image" they want you to see, not what is actually going on).

     When I consider the families that I do know more intimately, the ones who also have young children, I realize that the reality of their lives is much more similar to our own. They're living some version of the same, young family life craziness--busy schedules, breaking up fights, maneuvering the idiosyncrasies of kids wants, desires and attitudes, all while trying to cultivate something meaningful.

    They're tired too. Sometimes their lawns get cut and the flowers get pruned and sometimes they don't.  They fight and make up. Their kids fight and make up. They have days when their patience is thin and  the voices get loud, and others where they are praying with their kids and teaching lessons like the parenting champions that they are (sometimes all in the same breath!)

    Several hours later, I was thinking about that lady again and the more I thought about her the more my heart went out to her. I have no idea what was going on in her life: She might have been struggling with her marriage, or working through the issues of a hard relationship, or dealing with job loss, or illness in some capacity.

     She might have looked at me and thought, Must be nice to be able to get out and go for a run. The more I thought about it the more I realized I was  glad she had a chance to prune her flowers that morning. It might have been the one moment in her day that allowed her to focus on the beauty of life, rather than the hard parts. 

     Later that day I said a prayer...

     Sorry God. I know...bad attitude. What's the deal? What do you want to show me? 

     Well, there might be some areas of your heart that need a little pruning. The places you are not trusting me. The places where you are giving into discouragement rather than standing on hope and peace about your own life, and the season you are in.

     Ugh. Yes, you're right. Is there more?

     Your flowers,  literally and figuratively, could be pruned in five or ten minutes a day. You can read a book with Ava, color a picture with Ella and throw a ball with Aubrey in the same amount of time.  Do what you can, give what you can, be who you can in the short bits of time and it will add up to something bigger in the long run.

    Really, God. Really? It will?

     It will. I promise. Now trust me, and go water your flowers.

God has been teaching me, for months now,  to not become so overwhelmed by the many tasks, but to focus on what I can do in a given day, and to then give the rest to Him (and then "rest" in that intentional play on words!). That while the enormity of our responsibilities can feel like too much, that if we pray about our vision, ask Him to guide our priorities and help us to see more clearly where and how to use our time, that He is faithful to answer those prayers.

      So, go do that small thing and trust God with the big picture!

Matthew 6:34  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Friday, September 11

Back in the School Swing of Things

It's Friday of back to school week in these parts.

Oh, what a summer it was.

     It felt fast and furious. A hustle and bustle of some planned and LOTS of unplanned activity.  Days that required little more of the kids than to venture outside to draw chalk murals on the sidewalk, or wait for one of the neighbor kids to invite them to play (or better yet, swim in their big-people pools! Our backyard is so small that we can only fit one of these unsightly blue blow-up pools that wiggle like a bowl full of jello every time the kids splash around in it!).

     There is some gladness in the back to school rhythm. It's fun to don shiny new aqua blue sneakers to gym class (shoes with actual shoelaces to tie in Ella's case!), and see old friends.

     It is fun to use new crayons, and sharpen pencils with the anticipation of using them in crisp writing journals and new math workbooks.  It has been fun to meet new teachers, and swing by to say hello to the old, being grateful for familiar faces, yet very aware of a new level of maturity: that each child has graduated to the next phase, stage, classroom of life.

     It's a delight to watch them, and walk alongside them as they experience all of this change and newness and then to hear their response to it...

     "Mom," my 1st grader said, "I saw the kindergarteners today and they looked so small! Was I that small?"

     "Yes, honey," I say with a smile. "Yes you were."

     "Wow!" She says as I pull up a picture still on my i-phone from the first day of school last year.

     "Yeah mom," my third grader chimes in, "I felt so old today!"

     I smile again and nod my head. She is "old" by her standards...the oldest in her elementary school now (which only goes up to third grade).

     Here is last year's picture...

     And this year's...

     I was a total cheeseball and decorated the door from our garage into the mudroom with a "Welcome Home" sign and balloons. We also had a cake (purchased from Wegmans) that said "Happy First Day of School" for dessert.

     Somehow I started this cake and door decorating tradition on Ava's first day of kindergarten (because she was my first to go off to school and I was all emotional and over the top. Ha!), and then felt like I HAD to do it for Ella's first day of kindergarten (before she adds any more fodder to her "middle child plight" file), and then it just kind of became a fun thing we do...

     I did find myself apologizing to the girls for my cheesiness. Are they too old for this? I thought momentarily.

     But their smiles at my cheesy door and cake efforts reaffirmed my silly intentions to try to make the first day of school fun and celebratory, rather than something sad or disappointing.

     "We love it mom," they said.

     And really, who doesn't love store bought chocolate cake with whipped cream frosting? I mean it makes my day a little sweeter too (:

     (Please note! You are not allowed to read any of this and feel guilty! Sometimes I hesitate to share things because I don't want other moms to "see" something I do and feel like they should do those things too. That is the downside of our Pintrest, Twitter, Facebook culture...and while I love sharing about my life as a mom, I never want to add to the "comparison chaos" that we can find ourselves in! Please know that on most days I feel like it's about all I can do to get my act together, get places on time and brush my hair before I leave the house! And, seriously, I found those balloons in the junk drawer!)

     So...the structure is a welcome break from the sometimes too unstructured days (for mommy anyways!) of summer. I hate to say it, but it's nice to clean up the kitchen after breakfast and know that it will not be trashed again in 45 minutes.

     I can also say our house is finally a itsy, bitsy, bit cleaner as a whole...which feels very good! Summer days can leave me feeling like a hurricane blew through the house for 12 hours straight.  I'm then often left to pull the pieces back together at night before the wind starts blowing furiously all over again the next day.

    It's nice to feel like the wind has died down a little bit...

     I do, however,  miss the connection and time with the kids (when they weren't driving my bonkers!). When they come home at the end of the day it always feels strange to ask them what they've done for the last six hours and get a 60-90 second answer that feels like the smallest sliver of insight into their whole day experience.

     Tell me more! Tell me more! I want to know everything, I want to demand.

     Instead I prod them with a few more questions, offer them another Triscuit and cheese, and realize that this, to some degree, is the way it goes as our kids grow up and are away from us for longer stretches of time (Can't I just secretly install a camera on their backpacks?!)

     And while there was much we did, there was also much we didn't do. Unfulfilled intentions seems to linger all around the house as I clean up from the summer fun.

     There were books I wanted to read with them, and crafts I wanted to do. I pulled their memory books out that have been collecting dust all year with intentions of working on them together-- somehow many of these things never happened.

     I think mostly, while I wanted to "read" or work on memory books, what I really wanted were moments to sit and connect. Moments that felt fewer than what I had hoped for at the end of June when summer vacation was budding with expectation.

    I found, with a two-year old on the scene, that it is very hard to focus on...well, anything. I'd start something with the big girls and Aubrey would, naturally,  start ripping pages, or pouring glue, or let the hamster out of the cage...again.

     In the end, I mostly tried to keep her out of trouble, or out of her sisters' hair, while they worked on games or projects and played with friends. It's part of three-child dynamics that I'm still adjusting too... I did plan some big girls breakfasts, and tried to do some one-on-one bike rides, or moments together in a quiet spot on the couch. Often it's a divide and conquer parent is "on" Aubrey, while the other does something with the older girls (again, older mommas! insight here would be great!!! LOL!).

     So anyways, the swing of things looks like lunch boxes back on the counter and copious amounts of paper coming home from school!  It's mommy trying to figure out who likes peanut butter and who likes ham, and why the heck the Pirate's Booty that I packed yesterday morning is littered like confetti all over the inside of my oldest daughter's lunch box.

     There are paper's to sign, and homework coming home...

    This morning, after all the kids were off to school (and Aubrey was settled into playschool for the morning), I had a chance to sweep the kitchen floor, vacuum the rug and put some laundry away.

     And Wow! Can I just tell you? I felt like I had dislodged a popcorn kernel that had been stuck in my teeth for days! It was such a relief to clean something up without simultaneously anticipating the next mess that was going to go down!

     Then to sit down to write this blog post...that was like a sigh of relief too. For those of you who process life through writing or even just journaling, you'll completely understand this. It was like I had been holding my breath for weeks and was finally able to let it all out...


     Sometimes I forget how much I enjoy writing...or running...or reading ...(3 of my favorite things!)...even cleaning (occasionally, when I can do it by myself!) and then I have the chance to get back into them. It feels, momentarily, like I know who I am again. Like I'm living from my real, authentic, God- made self. But now I'm getting deep, and introspective, and all of that is enough fodder for a whole other blog post! So, I'll stop there (;

     We're looking forward to a warm weekend with the kids at home. While September marks the beginning of a new school year, it also marks the beginning of cooler weather and shorter days (bah!), we're making the most of the warmth while it lasts!

     Blessings to you in all of your own back to school, getting-into-the-swing-of-things adventures.

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the sun."  Ecclesiastes 3:1