I have heard that having a three year old is terrible. That the threes put "terrible twos" to shame. And sometimes that's true. 

My Mom, however, in her infinite wisdom (seriously, she has never been wrong!), told me three is the best.  She was right, too.

Ever since turning 3 Nora has been astounding me daily. Her comprehension of things in life and in make believe is growing, her capacity for emotional connection and compassion is expanding in breadth and depth daily.

This week is VBS for us. We are doing Group's Weird Animals. The mission for the week is Operation Kid-to-Kid, working to bring clean water to over a billion kids in India who lack safe drinking water. 

Tonight during bedtime Nora and I were talking about VBS.  I asked if she saw the kids giving their money and if she knew what that money was going to buy. She didn't. So I told her that lots of kids just like her far away in India have water that makes them sick. She said, "oh, that's not good". I told her the money at VBS is going to buy clean, healthy water for those kids. I asked her if we should give some money tomorrow at VBS. She said yes. She asked where she could find some money to give and I told her we could look in her piggy bank. She enthusiastically looked at the coins that tumbled out of the bank and counted out just the right ones to give tomorrow. 

Then we prayed. We put our hands together on the coins and I prayed. When it was Nora's turn she hesitated. I asked if she wanted me to say some words and she repeat them. She told me no, she can do it herself. Then she prayed.

Folks, she did not pray eloquently with fancy words or even with complete sentences. But she prayed with the words she had. She thanked God for making her and making the kids in India. She prayed that her money would help kids not get sick and she thanked Him for Jesus who loves us. 

My eyes filled with tears. This is why three is the best.  I'm not just proud of her, I also feel there's lessons to learn here. 

If you're not praying because you feel your words are inadequate, start praying today. I wish you could have heard Nora pray. You didn't have to understand every word to understand the sincerity of them. 

If you're not parenting your child to love God and love others because you feel they don't understand, start today. 

I can't wait to continue to watch her grow and love God more. 


2014 Goals and Resolutions (Part 1)

Ok, folks.  New Year’s Resolutions.  Wowza.  I made a very extensive list of goals for 2014 and was very excited about it—I even started a couple of them early.  But as I began to really work on my goals I discovered something: it’s going to be tough this year.  I’ve got several goals that require planning and preparation and several that require…Time Management.  Dun, dun, duuuuuunnnnnnnn!!!!  Ugh.  If there is one thing that I am terrible at (and have always been terrible at) it is time management.

I’m not going to put my full list of goals and resolutions in this post, but here are the tough ones.

1. Pay off Zach’s student loan.  This goal won’t crush us financially, but it won’t be easy, either.  Thankfully this action plan was easy to make and I’ve already figured up how much we need to pay each month to make it happen by the end of 2014…and it’s probably going to take till the end of 2014.  But when it’s all paid, it will be paid off about 2.5 years early!
2. Become more reliable.  I’ve never been the least flaky person you’ve ever met, but ever since having Judah my memory is jello and I have found myself to be even less reliable than before!  So I’m trying to use my appointment calendar for everything meeting/event-wise.  Here is my first time management challenge, too.  I am using the calendar so I can see what’s happening in the next several days and then I have to manage my time and prioritize my to-do list to make sure the appropriate things get finished for each meeting/event.  For example, I might remember that I have Bible Study, but I might not remember that I was bringing snack (I’ve already signed up for snack at Ladies’ Bible Study to take a baby step toward achieving this goal).  I also could stand to be a little more punctual…not like first person at an event punctual, but at least not abhorrently late.

3. Read 1 novel and 1 other book.  I’ve got an ebook from the library that I have read the first sentence of.  It’s “Looking for Alaska” by John Green.  I have recently become a fan of the Green brothers via YouTube and decided I would give one of John’s novels a try.  Now I need the time management skills to actually end up with time to read it.

4. Be a better house keeper.  Don’t get me wrong…you’re not going to sit on a dirty toilet or sleep on dirty sheets at my house.  But you probably will see laundry piled somewhere (clean and/or dirty) and dishes in the sink.  And clutter.  Now, I’m not looking to make my house a museum—that wouldn’t suit us at all—but I’d like to not have to scramble to get the house semi-presentable when someone is coming over or clean for days before someone comes to stay with us.  When we bought this house we wanted our home and prayed that our home would be a haven for friends, family and strangers.  We want to share our home with others frequently and in the current state of housekeeping we can’t do that.  So in accordance with consecrating this home to the Lord, I need to become a better house keeper.  I thought I was in good shape on this because I found a cleaning schedule that I thought seemed reasonable.  I started trying it and discovered that my options were to meet my cleaning goals or spend time with my kids and I couldn’t do both.  So I lamented over this and then got frustrated and then angry about it and then curious as to how others do it.  And then I came to terms with the big, fat elephant in the room of my life: time management.  I can easily meet my cooking and cleaning goals with a little planning ahead and choosing to prioritize my home over my desire to watch something on TV, nap, or piddle around on my iPad.  Proverbs 31 says (a lot of things that apply here, but this sums it up) in verse 17 & 27: “She sets about her work vigorously…She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness”.  Oh, wife of noble character, you convict me every time!  I also read this blog post recently that really, really spoke to me: “ISigned Up For This”.  I won’t elaborate on it, just go at least skim over it. 
I’ll wait…………………………........................................................................................................OK.

Those are the really tough ones for me personally.  I’ll probably be back with the full list later (without long explanations).  Blogging has been tough for me since the New Year because…time management.  Whenever I feel like blogging there’s always something more important to do.  Hopefully as my resolutions become habits I’ll be able to blog more frequently.  I’m a work in progress, that’s for sure!

Do you have any New Year’s Resolutions?  Goals for 2014?  What are they?  Do you set goals frequently?  Once a year?  Maybe on your birthday or anniversary?  Tell me about your goal-setting habits!


2013 Resolution Review

We've got just a bit over 3 weeks till the new year.  Can you believe it?  If you don't know already, I am passionate about New Year's Resolutions.  I feel like it's just a good idea to start out each new year by assessing where you've been, where you can improve and setting some goals. 

If you've never set New Year's Resolutions or you've never been successful at them, check out my Top 10 Resolution Setting Tips.

But before I finalize my goals for 2014, I want to assess my 2013 goals and how I did.

1. Read the Bible more & build my faith/relationship with Him: I made progress, so I guess this one gets the green light as complete.

2. Reduce screen time : Epic fail.  I don't think this will be on my list in the same format as last year, but I am hoping some of my other resolutions will help me reach this goal.

3. Have a healthy pregnancy: WooHoo!  Success!  I gained a healthy (but less-than-with-Nora) 25 pounds, didn't eat my weight in junk food (at least not every day) and carried to 40 weeks.

4. Have a healthy post-pregnancy: So far, so good!  I've lost all my pregnancy weight and a few more pounds, leaving me hovering right around my pre-pregnancy weight with Nora.  I managed not to get the baby blues so severely as I did with Nora.  I reached out for help with nursing during those tough early weeks and now nursing is going swimmingly.  Checks in all the mini-goal boxes for this one.

5. Give more gifts: This is an example of didn't-make-an-action-plan-so-I-forgot-about-it.  It may or may not make the list this year in some form.

6. Save Money: Check!  We both cut expenses and put some money away this year.  It wasn't a ton, but enough to call it a success.  Now we just need to make this a lifestyle.

7. Make Action Plans: I didn't follow my own advice!  My goals for 2013 weren't really too lofty, so I was able to reach several without the action plan. You'll see that the ones that were at the forefront of my mind were reached and the ones that weren't...weren't.  It's hard to forget you're pregnant (or have a newborn), we took a financial class in 2013 and my husband is a Pastor.  So it's clear which ones were easy to remember and which ones weren't.  This one goes back on the list this year.

Now's the time to get your thinking caps on for your 2014 goals! 
If you'd like, you can go back and see what made my list for 2012 and the full explanation of my 2013 goals.


Ugly Honesty and a Little Redemption

Tonight it happened. I was putting the kids to bed and was just at the end of my emotional rope. I felt as if the dog barked at one more thing, if Nora said, "Mama" one more time, if Judah cried for one more minute, that I would just calmly walk out the door and go. Somewhere. Anywhere. It was ugly. I was ugly inside.  

As I sat there nursing Judah, hoping against hope that he wouldn't wake and cry when I laid him down and wishing Nora could just put herself to bed, I prayed. I prayed that God would redeem parenting for me. 

I left Judah crying while I helped Nora get ready for bed, even though I've tried not to leave him to cry at night. And Nora got her Bible story and prayers, but no extra frills at bedtime; even though there's this inspiring blog post being shared all over about how "sometimes bedtime takes forever (and it should)", this Mama's love always stretches to forever, but sometimes her kindness doesn't.  

The crying subsided and even though the dog still barked and I still heard my name at least 10 more times, I didn't walk out the door.  And at first I heard nothing in response to my request about redemption. So I headed to the only place that made sense. The Bible. I looked up some passages about parents and children. And felt discouraged.

I always think of redemption as God taking something that was His that sin made ugly and making it what He intended it to be again. I can think of at least three times that redemption has been mentioned in this context in the past several weeks during sermons: redeeming marriage, redeeming singleness, redeeming gender roles. These have all been nice, easy concepts of redemption for me. Like when God redeems us from sin, these three have been taking something stressful and messy and made it better. Made it easier, gave relief, gave peace. 

Redeemed parenting? It wasn't shaping up to be so nice, easy, clean, or relieving. I was hoping for a nice metaphor. I was hoping for lots of passages saying things like, "children are a gift" or "being a parent is a joy"...at least then all I'd have to do is grapple with how to get my emotions to reflect what the Bible said. 

But God doesn't deal so much in emotions as He does truth.

The truth that I kept coming across was that passive parenting is not what God intended. I found time and time again a charge for parents to pass the scriptures and the testimonies of what God has done in their lives down to their children. I found Hannah who prayed so hard for a child that Eli thought she was drunk and when she received him she dedicated him back to The Lord. I turned to that darn Proverbs 31 woman (who I often feel I hold so little in common with--especially tonight) and found that she actively worked hard to provide for her children and they called her blessed. I found that she had "faithful instruction on her tongue". I found that parenting is hard. 

I began to think God was telling me my picture of redemption was skewed. This is what I found when I started digging a little: 

"The most common definition provided for the word redemption is to buy back. However, in studying the use of this word in scripture, this simplified definition is found lacking. While it does provide a nice simple definition for many instances of scriptural redemption, it does not adequately define the word as used in the most significant biblical redemptions. A more accurate definition of redemption, as used in scripture, would be to justly bring about the end of a covenant of bondage by which someone or something belonging to God is being held captive." (http://josephjpote.com/what-is-redemption/)

So the thing in captivity which is God's is my parenting and my children. What, then, is the bondage?Our pastor mentioned a few weeks back how what the world advertises as freedom is often slavery.  What am I being told in the parenting world is freedom for my children?  The thing that has come to me strongly is this: freedom of choice. It starts early and only escalates as they grow. 

"Susie didn't want bedtime prayers tonight, so in order not to spoil them/poison her against them, I didn't force the issue."

"Johnny chooses to play 4 sports, be in band, take private music lessons, dance classes and be a Boy Scouts."

"Jane is too old for me to be approving what she wears."

"Chris didn't want to come to church/Sunday School/Youth Group today. I can't make him, it's really his choice."

Then we sit back and wonder how the next generation's morals, values and priorities got all mixed up. Look back at that definition of redemption. Buy. Bring about. Verbs. Action. Passive parenting is creating a prison for our children. Our choice not to set a standard or expectations makes our parenting a covenant of bondage with our children. 

God then directed my thoughts back to the few passages I did find about children being a gift and  to parables like the talents and those beautiful metaphors I was looking for like gold being made perfect in the refiner's fire. God has lent us His children here on earth. Our sweet little ones are but borrowed. What will we do to improve them while they are in our charge until God comes back for us or for them?

We must choose action. 

We must set an example of a heart that loves God and pursues His heart.

We must offer guidance and that faithful instruction mentioned in Proverbs 31. 

A diamond in the rough does not become a sparkling gemstone without shaping, gold does not become beautiful without refining. 

We must choose discipline for ourselves. To commit to redeemed parenting. 

We must pray hard for our children. Hard like Hannah. 

We must dedicate them to The Lord. 

No. I did not find a nice, easy, comforting lesson tonight. But I did find peace.  Parenting is tough, but the redemption is mine to receive, not to create. I am not the redeemer, I am the redeemed.  The freedom for me tonight in my moment of ugly is knowing I don't walk this path without the Wonderful Counsellor by my side giving me faithful instruction so I can make the right choices.

Thank you, God, for answering my call tonight, even though you answered it much differently than I expected. 


Back Taxes and Code Violations and Water Leaks, Oh My!

When it rains it pours, amiright?  We've been in the house 8 months now and have been on maintenance mode for a while due to prepping for Judah's arrival and then surviving the first few months with him.  Zach is also in the community musical again this year and so rehearsals eat up his evenings a few nights a week. 

But we are back in the business of whipping this house into shape.  We started painting the living room over the weekend which is a whole post and adventure of its own.  We also bought the plastic shrink-wrap style window coverings to hopefully hold some warm air inside this winter.  We'll be putting those on after we finish painting, which we hope to complete this week with every minute of spare time afforded us.  With the help of Sean from our family group we have gotten the kitchen baseboard heaters working (hooray!) and it has already made a difference in the amount the furnace for the down stairs runs. 

We've had a few hang ups in the house department lately, too, as you can see from the title. 

One of the joys of buying a home out of foreclosure is that there are usually property taxes that have gone unpaid that the new homeowner inherits when they purchase the home.  New Homeowner=Us.  So we've been working on that.  Ugh. 

Wilmington also just started enforcing new residential building codes and a friend spotted a city worker taking pictures of our house last week.  So while we don't know that our house is in violation, we are expecting a letter any day now asking us to get up to code on something...or somethings.  We think the most likely culprits are the grooming of the ditch outside our fence, the holes at the bottom of our fence gate, the wiring running into our house (it is safe per the home inspector, but it is ugly and does not look safe) or the paint on our house...or lack thereof.  It was primed by the previous owners, but never painted and the primer is chipping pretty extensively in some areas.  If we get a letter requiring us to paint the house that would be a big setback in the savings account department.

Finally, the water leak.  Oh my.  We noticed a small water leak in the basement  about a week ago that only leaked when we ran a lot of water from the kitchen.  Like if we were running water in the sink at the same time the dishwasher emptied.  The glue on the PVC pipes had come undone and needed fixed.  Simple fix, we just needed to get some plumbing cement and fix it sometime that we weren't doing dishes.
Well, last night I went downstairs to throw some laundry in before heading to youth group and discovered water dripping off the ceiling of the basement onto the deep freeze and the floor.  I categorized it as a river.  Zach called it a trickle.  "Stream" is where we've landed in naming the resulting water feature.  It turned out to be a very leaky dishwasher hose.  It is probably a minor fix, we just have to figure out how to access the source of the leak to either repair it or replace the hose.

Oh, and mice.  The cat caught one the other night and kindly left it displayed on our bedroom rug for us.  Gross.  We don't think there's a big problem.  We don't hear or see them or find droppings.  There is, however, a distinct dead rodent smell in our kitchen.  It seems to be emanating from behind the dishwasher or cabinets.  We are losing love for that dishwasher daily. 

Not really.  Please don't die, dishwasher.  We don't want to live without you ever again!

So those are our most recent house adventures.  Hopefully I'll have some pictures of the new paint color in the living area sooner than later!

Also, the misty rain that has been coming down most of the day is starting to turn to a wintery mix and I'm hoping for some snow before the evening is out!  I would never want to skip Thanksgiving (especially since we're visiting my family in just 17 short days!), but this weather sure puts me in the mood for Christmas!


Judah David

I haven't posted in a long time.  If you're a friend of mine on Facebook or Real Life you already know this, but just in case there are some other readers out there, the reason is because on July 12 Judah David made his grand entrance into the world!

I was a little miserable and had nothing nice to say for a couple weeks before his arrival and since then I've been adjusting to taking care of a newborn again, learning to breastfeed, figuring out how to have two kids and stealing some sleep here and there.  So, needless to say, no blogging has been happening.  But I'm back, Baby!

Let's start with some stats.  Judah was 7 lbs 10 oz and 21.5 inches at birth.  The nurse who measured him actually looked at me, asked how tall I am (5'4") and then declared, "This is one long baby to have been inside you!".  He made it here at 2:28am on July 12, 2013.

I was having contractions all night from the 10th into the 11th.  On the morning of the 11th (my due date) the contractions were regular and even though they didn't hurt I called to check in with the doctor's office.  They told me it was a good day to have a baby and to head to the hospital.
I had been told how fast labor usually goes with the second child and even though I wasn't hurting, I didn't want to be that mom that has the baby in the car on the side of the road or at the emergency drop off at the hospital.  I also didn't experience natural labor with Nora because my water broke before contractions began so they were induced when I arrived at the hospital.  So I gave into ignorance and we headed to the hospital.  We were giddy excited.  Like wedding day excited.  That was nice because I was much less nervous this time than last time.

Labor was long and I should have stayed home muuuuch longer, but the hospital was nice, my nurses were all fantastic and they let me eat until they started Pitocin.  And then didn't bust me when I was obviously sneaking food after that point, too.  Nobody ever specifically said "don't eat", so I figured I'd play dumb if anyone made an issue out of it.  But no one did. 

As I just mentioned, I did end up with a Pitocin drip because after about 3 hours of walking the halls I'd barely made any progress.  They gave me my epidural early and I was grateful for that--if you don't know, Pitocin artificially induces contractions and produces harder, faster, more painful contractions than you would normally have in a natural birth.  So the epidural was welcome.  It took unevenly, so I was experiencing significant pain in a band around my right side, but it ended up being a good thing because I knew when to push when the time came. 

Finally the doctor and nurses decided it was time to push.  The room transformed into delivery mode and everyone was taking bets on whether the baby would be a boy or girl.  I did a "practice push" to help me remember what muscles to use and how (and make sure I could with the epidural--no problems there) and pushed through exactly 1 contraction and he was here.  So easy to deliver!

We got to hold and snuggle him, nurse him and then they cleaned him up and weighed him.  Even his first bath was in our room.  He was perfect.

Judah will be 11 weeks old tomorrow.  He loves cuddles, batting at hanging toys, putting things in his mouth, cooing and being naked.  He also loves to be outside.  He hates the swing and having a wet/dirty diaper.

I love to be outside.
This is what I look like when my pants are wet.
Nora loves him most of the time (when he's not crying).  She wanted him to sleep with her the other night and when I came into the living room the other day after leaving them there for a minute she was "reading" him a story.  They are on their way to being lifelong friends.

This was the first time she told him she loves him.


4th of July in Chicago--tips and tricks

At the 2013 fireworks
 Last night we took our 2nd annual trip to downtown Chicago to watch the 4th of July fireworks.  We spent the day up there last year on the 4th and had so much fun that we hoped to make it a family tradition.

Let's just say we learned some things on this trip and that spending the 4th up there each year has its pros and cons.  Here are a few of our observations.

You need to spend at least part of the day there.    We live outside the suburbs in rural Illinois.  It's close enough that the city is attainable, even just for dinner.  But it's far enough away that deciding to go takes at least a little planning.  *AHEM* this is not our family's strong suit *AHEM*.  Yesterday we spent the day at a friend's home and then left in the early evening to head up just for the fireworks.  We made it, it was enjoyable and the fireworks were BEAUTIFUL, but the display was not really enough to justify the trip. 

The Fix: Next year we plan to leave earlier so we can spend time taking in a museum or tour and eat before watching the fireworks.  Even arriving by 3 or 4 (maybe even 5) would make the trip worth it.

And along with that, Think long and hard about how you're going to get there. We love public transit, but it also has its downsides, including the time suck.  We know plenty of people who prefer to drive themselves. If you will need to use multiple modes of travel (Metra and CTA or CTA and Taxi, etc.) or if your family is large (littles are free to ride, but if you have older kids, they require a ticket) it may be more cost effective to drive, though remember that you have to pay (outlandish amounts) to park just about anywhere.  Just look into it and do a little math ahead of time.

We have made 2 different fatal errors in the transportation department for these trips. 
Location!  Last year, we decided we were going to go to Lincoln Park Zoo, North Beach, and then to Museum Campus for the fireworks.  That might all look close on a map, but it's NOT.  Also, consider where you want to go and how easy it is to get there on public transpo or if there is nearby parking.  Lincoln Park Zoo, for example, takes a loooong time to get to by train/bus. 

Our little champ walking back to the station
This year we decided to take the Metra train because the stop is so close to Museum Campus and I was not feeling up to a mile or two walk each way from an L station.  However, unlike the L, the Metra runs on a schedule.  The waiting, you guys!  Even though we looked up the schedule it was not updated in the app (and there was not one posted at the station) so we arrived at the station and had over an hour wait for the train.  The wait was much shorter for the train back, but it was the last train of the night, so if we'd missed it we would have been in a world of hurt. 

Tips/Fixes: I could write a whole post on the pros/cons of public transpo vs. driving.  Who knows, I might!  Until then, there is often a Groupon for the CTA and sometimes you can get tickets cheaper online, but this may require the tickets to be mailed to you.  Metra is a totally different animal and just takes some time to get used to--for example, yesterday you could buy a round trip ticket on the train, but there was not an option to buy it from the ticket machine in the station.  Also, while it may happen, we've never experienced the train attendant charging the extra $3 fee for buying your ticket once you've boarded.  We found the app "Embark Metra" (it's a black icon with an orange M with a circle around it) to be more accurate than the "onTime Metra" app.  If you're going to stay within walking distance of one location all day (or plan to rent bikes), you may save money by driving yourself if the traffic isn't a deterrent for you.  Also, bathrooms are few and far between on the CTA and Metra, so it turned out to be good that we had some wait time to find a bathroom for our little potty trainer!

Getting tired waiting on the train

Consider your kids.  This probably goes without saying.  Every kid has what I call "meltdown o'clock" and each kid's personality raises different challenges.  Nora is super easy to handle and is very easygoing, but next year we'll have to assess the new baby and see what will be best to accommodate his or her personality as well as Nora's as she grows.  Some things to consider: motion sickness and being in VERY close proximity to strangers (if you do the train--they are usually fuller at the end of the night...you know, when your kid is at their wit's end anyway), heavy traffic/sitting at a standstill (if you drive--especially on a holiday), behavior/reaction to being in a crowd (which usually includes leashed dogs), loud noises (especially for the 4th, but Chicago can be a noisy city on any day), lots of walking or riding, heat/sun safety, potential for plans to change suddenly including having to wait longer between potty and/or food breaks, being out late.

Past her bedtime
Tips/Fixes:  PACK SNACKS AND DRINKS!  I had plenty of drinks, but only had about a quarter of a bag of trail mix to snack on.  Our plan was to get hotdogs from the vendor on Museum Campus, but he was SOLD OUT of EVERYTHING.  Thankfully we'd eaten a late lunch and had been grazing all afternoon, so nobody was too hungry and cranky.  Nora didn't even ask for dinner, was just disappointed not to get ice cream and that our picnic turned out to be just sitting on a blanket.  Bring a stroller if you need one, but pack light. Because of how close our train stop was we only carried my purse, a small diaper bag and our blanket.  Bringing a comfort item is probably a good idea, especially for little ones.  We took Nora's monkey--he's special enough that he brings her comfort, but not SO special that if something tragic happened to him (being left, falling off the train platform, being eaten by a pack of hipsters) she would have been devastated.

Hopefully these tips help you out on your next trip to the city...or your next trip anywhere!