Oh, Sweet Nostalgia . . .

If you'd like to read a wondrous tale about my hometown at Christmas, I encourage you to click here. It's really (mostly) true and goes down in infamy as one of my favorite Christmas stories of all time.

Christmas is coming so fast and our schedule is clear this week (at least until Friday) and I am so glad. I feel like we've been hurrying and not savoring or delighting and wondering. This will be a good week for being homebodies, for baking and watching movies and hopefully not being so tired during our family advent celebration that requests for "adventus brevitus" are whispered.

I was in my hometown two weeks ago. My sister and her family still live there and it was a treat to take Mr. J and my nephew looking at Christmas lights. So little has changed-at least in the neighborhoods and it felt so much like visiting ghosts of Christmas past. We drove up and down the streets I biked on as a child, revisited familiar landmarks and I was encouraged and delighted to see lights on in the homes of people I still hold dear.

The strangest and perhaps most bittersweet part of our drive, was going past my grandparent's home. They owned a lovely ranch home in a subdivision built mostly by my great-grandfather. The house was the hub of our family's comings and goings. Even extended family from both sides congregated at "Mama Sue and Papaw's" for Thanksgiving, Christmas and every other excuse for a get-together.

When Papaw died young and unexpectedly, we were all broken hearted. Things at the house were never quite the same. Soon after, Mama Sue sold the house and moved down to Florida to be near my folks and my Uncle's family.

The other night, the house was brightly lit with three--count 'em!--three trees blazing with light and decorations. It was full and bright and homey, a beacon of light in a neighborhood that seemed much darker and lonelier and lacking in lights than in years past. As we drove by, an ache hit my heart. It was a longing for what has been, but perhaps more so for what is really to come.

I'll forgo the deep pondering that could burst from this line of thinking. Instead, I can get a bit giddy deep down because next Saturday is our family Christmas with Mama Sue and all the family. Our celebration looks different than years past (for one, my sister and I have grown the family considerably!), but there is this sweet and precious feeling of joy, nostalgia and comfort that comes with being with the whole family for "Blackwell Christmas." There is something about Mama Sue's hugs and smiles, the same food we always eat (cheeseball, tea cakes and fudge, anyone?) and having my aunts and uncles there--who really don't seem much older than me, now, but still make me feel like a kid. I absolutely LOVE this day of the year and Mr. T knows that nothing, no nothing comes before Blackwell Christmas. In this, I am a tyrant.


Crazy Ambition

I feel like a chicken with its head cut off trying to juggle eggs these days. Since Thanksgiving, and all the projects and fun surrounding it, I cannot get my head on straight! Tuan was out of town (North Carolina) for four days and we were bopping all over the countryside. Our house is a disaster of epic proportions--which MUST be tackled after this blog post--and there is so much left to wrap and do--let's not even mention Christmas baking. Just.May.Not.Happen.

Our Christmas shrubbery (read: free, stumpy cedar, cut from the woods, decorated and on our side table) is decorated and beautiful and we are eating off of the Christmas dishes and for now that is enough.

We are also on a CRAZY drive to save every extra penny and dollar and bit of change we can find, because T and I decided to take our two oldest to Disney World in January. We were supposed to go to North Carolina with T, but as we did the math on what even a frugal trip would cost, we decided that we'd rather put the money towards Disney! So, onward we go--we've given up eating out, Sonic Happy Hour, and grocery store treats. The freezer is being emptied of food and lots of rice, beans and baked goods are coming out of the kitchen. The kids are into it as well, especially Mr. J. Anytime he finds money, he runs for the Disney Jar. He cheerfully reminds me that we are "giving up Chik-Fil-A for Disney". Yes, we are, my child.

It's been convicting how much we can squirrel away by not eating out--very convicting and challenging. When you live so far from everything and everything seems to end and start around meal-times it is hard not to dash through the drive through or just give in to the call of the local Mexican restaurant. It's going to be a sweet reward though.


On Sleep Training

I've wanted to write about this subject for some time, but quite frankly felt that my emotions were far too engaged at various period for me to peaceably and graciously approach the topic. Just the other day I was calmly pondering the subject--again!--and thought that I was at a pretty rational place where I could write about it. Then, today, I admitted on a social networking site that I--gasp--liked Babywise and one would have thought FB had exploded.

We have chosen a method that is rather controversial and people have NO qualms whatsoever about attacking it. Honestly, as a mom, it makes my blood boil to hear something I appreciate and am grateful for so across-the-board maligned without any room for discussion. That said, I have friends on all sides of the fences (which there are many) and two close friends in particular who are so gracious to me when we differ. I hope and pray that I can be as gracious. That's why I'm writing not so much about what is "wrong" with the other side, or critiquing a method based on anecdotal evidence, but to share what a blessing and benefit sleep-training has been for our family and what a helpful jumping off point it has been for us in all spheres of parenting. Also, as a disclaimer, I have not read any of the Sears, AP or what-have-you books and have no desire to critique or dissect it. I'm only sharing our experiences with sleep training.

Since Babywise is very controversial, let's refer to this topic as sleep training. I don't claim inerrancy Biblically or logically. This is anecdotal.

When we were expecting our first child, Mr. J, we were so blessed to be surrounded by several godly families who were a few steps ahead of us in parenting. As we observed their family lives, the dispositions of their children, the general health and well-being of their marriages, and their daily routines, we asked many questions, particularly about taking care of this forthcoming baby. One of the common denominators was that they sleep-trained (and they ALL breastfed--most until one year). There was also a beautiful underlying order to their homes--not materially, necessarily, but relationally. There was a striving to make God the center of the home, the husband-wife relationship was a high priority and the children were loved and adored, but part of the family, not the center. They moved in the family unit, but the family did not move around them. Even now, I see these families and am so encouraged to see the amazing home lives and incredible, many godly, children they have and are raising.

So, I read Babywise, which was not recommended to me by anyone, but had some very similar ideas and a few other books.

Just to digress a paragraph about nursing: Mr. J was born quite healthy, but delivered "sunny side up" and was not a good nurser. I now wonder if the difficulty of his delivery made nursing hard for him at first. I began pumping at the hospital and went home with an appointment with a lactation specialist. We STRUGGLED with latching on (TMI?) and it was a relief to see the specialist and know that his latching was not correct. I tried to nurse and I pumped in between and by that point (two weeks and two LS visits later), T and I came to the conclusion that if I could pump and feed Mr. J and not cry and resent him every time I tried to nurse that we would all be happier. I pumped around the clock for the first eight weeks of his life. Miss A went into the NICU the day she was born, couldn't be touched the first four days of her life and came home with thrush. When it cleared up, she had neo-natal teeth. Yeah, nursing didn't happen, but again, I pumped for two months, nearly around the clock. With Mr. O, I was determined to nurse and had a horrible hospital experience with the nursery nurse and unhelpful lactation consultants. At that point, I was so used to the pumping 'round the clock thing, and so frustrated with nursing, that we decided to pump again. Nursing is wonderful, just didn't happen for us.

Back to sleep training. The most useful idea that I applied when first home with Mr. J was the concept of a rhythm (schedule implies strict hours and times, which we never did). Sleep. Eat. Play. Sleep. I remember sitting on the couch the night we brought Mr. J home. He had just eaten and I had no idea what to do next. "Eat. sleep. play." Aha. We had about one minute of interaction before he was conking out again. I laid him down and that began our sleep training. No wailing or fussing or whining.

A lot of the critique I hear about sleep training is that the baby will fail to thrive and, at the worst, dehydrate or die of starvation. Looking back at Babywise, I read over and over again, "If your baby is hungry, feed him." I don't think anyone would advise you to not feed your baby if he is hungry. Upon really and truly pondering this debate, I am beginning to see that one (of many) forks in the road is the initial reaction to fussiness, discontent or what-have-you in an infant. Many seem to offer the breast or the bottle immediately, assuming that what must be wrong is hunger. I tended to consider other needs (sleepiness, gas, or overstimulation) first, particularly if we had just had a feeding (say 45 minutes since). Perhaps one philosophy is sleep-oriented as opposed to feeding-oriented?

Why sleep-training? Why place importance on it? I don't think I understood all the "why's" of what I was doing at the time, but in retrospect (three children later), I am seeing a bigger picture unfold.

Laying our baby down to fall asleep was particularly easy in the beginning. Babies sleep and sleep and sleep those first few weeks. It seems you can hardly get even one eye to open for more than a few seconds. Going ahead and laying Mr. J down after a feeding and quick play started laying a foundation that we would build and build upon. Sometimes he would whine a bit and I'd give him a burp or pat, but generally he'd go right down. If, after, say 15, 30 or 45 minutes he began to murmur and fuss, we'd check on him, but did not pick him up immediately. Instead we waited to see if he was truly waking up. Often he went right back to sleep. NEVER in those early weeks and months did our babies scream in the bed for hours. One's mind may be put to rest right now.

Life with children is always dynamic, particularly with babies. One thinks they've got it figured out and then BOOM a huge growth spurt happens and that sweet child eats every hour for a week and then calms down. Nevertheless, we stuck to the Rhythm: Sleep. Eat. Play. Sleep. The intervals sometimes changed, but not the Rhythm.

During the days, our sweet spot was a 2.5-3 hours between feedings. These lasted until well into the eight and nine and ten month ages. I would wake the baby up around the three hour mark during the day--not letting them sleep longer. At night, we eliminated "play" from the Rhythm and immediately after feedings, baby went back to bed.

As the weeks went by the intervals between evening feedings spread and by two months our kids were sleeping all night (meaning from 10-6-ish). That was around the age we moved our second two babies out of our room. (Mr. J slept in our walk-in closet, so we were close quarters with him until fifteen months)

Also as the weeks passed, awake time lengthened and our sweet babies became more active and alert and fun. We still intentionally put them down before or just as they showed signs of fussiness and tiredness. Even if they were awake in their beds for some minutes before going to sleep, we were okay with that. Because they had always fallen asleep on their own, they continued to.

Babies and children are dynamic, rarely static (shouldn't that be a mantra for parenting? Repeat 10x daily). We constantly evaluated and adjusted their quantities of sleep.eat.play.sleep to suit their needs. Eventually three naps gave way to two and night-time sleep stretched from seven-seven. With each month, our babies began to learn to play and be content in their beds and fall asleep on their own. I think this also helped what I think is a frequent cause of fussy children: overstimulation. To think of all that they are learning and experiencing and feeling in this brand new world, what a relief it must be to just chill out--even for a baby!

As our babies grew older, there were times when we let them "cry it out." Particularly when we knew all their needs had been met and they simply did not want to take a nap or be in their pack-n-play. You know the cry that turns on and off based on whether or not they're getting their way? Our family rating system regarding cries was based on the following three levels: 1. Discussing 2. Fussing 3. Cussing (it's a joke, people). We let them cry it out because they were learning a valuable lesson, one that we all struggle with: "I am not the boss."

As Christians, we believe that we are under the authority of God. Not only that, but under the authorities that he has placed over us. Bosses, ruling authorities,elders, spouses, parents . . . our hope is that our children know early on that they are not in charge and that the world (and our family life) does not revolve around them. We also allow our children (and babies) to cry and be sad. Life is hard. Suffering is more to be expected than excepted in the Christian life. We would much rather them know these truths now than one day be walloped upside the head with the realities of life when mom and dad are not there to protect anymore.

This is digressing from sleep-training a bit, but for what it's worth, like many of our parenting examples, we began teaching obedience around eight and nine months of age. Simple things like not rolling over during diaper changes and not throwing food or fighting mom and dad (you know, the stiff-body thing babies do). Temper tantrums were nipped in the bud. (Thanks Barney Fife) The beautiful fruit of that is that even with Miss A at three years old, we struggle less with defiance and more with learning immediate obedience and heart issues. Our children's norm is that Mom and Dad are the boss and obedience is normal and good. I'm thankful for our sweet children and God's grace evidenced in their lives. They are a joy and delight to us.

As I ponder the sweet fruit and blessings we reap daily with our children, I am thankful for wise friends who pointed us in this direction, but mostly for the GRACE of God. Any good fruit, any blessings come not because we are wonderful perfect parents (QUITE the contrary), but because He is.

Wrapping up this absurdly long spiel (is anyone still reading?). I wanted to share the list of "good things" that have come as a result of sleep-training and all it's spheres.

1. Our babies' needs were nearly always met before they became issues. They were fed immediately upon waking, enjoyed awake people time and went down before they were too tired to sleep. I really think that helped them feel safe and secure. (Mr. J would wail like a banshee from the moment he woke up until he was fed, so he may not have enjoyed that security until after his feedings!).

2. Having a normal rhythm and expectation for the days helped us clue in to when something was wrong.

3. We never coaxed our kids to sleep. The whole rock them, tip-toe to the crib, pat them, "stink, they're up", repeat process was never an issue. It was a blessing to enjoy them at their fullest and most awake and be able to let them go to sleep quietly while we tended to other things (children, each other, laundry). Nor did we ever sit up staring at our toddler because it was eleven o'clock and while we were ready for bed, he wasn't. We did have many nights of "dance parties" in the crib and bouncing sessions from a very awake baby, but they were generally content to party alone (Or, rather, J was. Miss A and Mr. O have always had J to party with them).

4. Bedtime is a JOY with our kids. Pajamas are donned, teeth brushed and stories read, giggles exchanged and a song or two sung. A snaggle-toothed Mr. O bounces in his crib enjoying the spectacle. Bedtime is rarely fought, because it has never been an option. Our children may not go to sleep immediately, but they are free to quietly enjoy all that their bed (and books! dolls! cars!) have to offer.

5. That naturally leads to a supreme blessing of sleep-training. Quality time between Mr. T and myself. It has been so incredible to enjoy time together at the end of the day to decompress and talk and be together. Having that time has strengthened our marriage. Our relationships with our children are precious, but our marriage is more so. One day, they'll all be out of the house, but, Lord-willing, we'll still be plugging along. : )

6. Another natural benefit is rest/quiet/nap-time. At this stage of life, Mr. O (our 21-monther) is the only napper. J and A have mandatory quiet time after lunch in their rooms, often together. Since I am with our kiddos all-day, every-day, this time of rest is beneficial for all. They decompress and engage in such imaginative play that leave me puzzled, and I have blessed quiet time to recharge. Because all their lives they've only known that after lunch is room/nap time they never question or fight against it. Giving up naps gradually transitions to play-time in the bed and then to room-time when they are trust-worthy.

I could go on and on. The foundations that were laid in their first years of life with sleep-training and other associated ideas have helped make our parenting years a treasure and truly enjoyable. We really enjoy our children and are SO thankful for them, for God's mercy and grace to us, such sinners!

I don't expect to change minds about this whole debate, but I do ask that one consider the possibility that this method has the potential to be quite good and beneficial to the whole family.



This amendment is raising lots of questions and thoughts. I have some, too. I don't claim logical inerrancy or to have fully thought things through and I certainly don't expect those with opposing worldviews to agree with me, but here goes.

1. Name calling and labeling will not win ANYONE over to your side.

2. In the same note, attacking the people and not the issue does nothing for you. Additionally, passionate rants about "liberal murders" or "ignorant church-going people" don't advance your viewpoint with the opposite side.

3. Scare tactics are rampant and unfortunately, seem to work.

4. As a Christian, I believe God is the giver of life. He opens and closes the womb. Why pray if he isn't. I believe that NO life is a mistake.

5. As a believer, I HATE abortion. I hate murder and abuse and injustice, too. I daily pray for God to open the eyes of those who perform abortions, abuse the helpless and commit atrocities. My prayer is that if God will not open their eyes and stop their hands, that he would smite them.

6. We stopped using the "pill" because even if there was the REMOTEST chance that it is an abortifacent or causes miscarriages we wanted nothing to do with it. Honestly, if this amendment outlaws some types of "birth control", then so be it.

7. Here's the thing about sex. Yes, it can be great. It can also really mess you up--it is both good and dangerous. However, the thing about sex is it creates babies. God intended sex for the pleasure of one man and one woman and to create babies. Sex generally makes babies. If you do not want to make a baby--as in really, truly consider a baby to be a "parasite", then maybe you should consider not having sex. Or if that is too hard, have your tubes tied, and get a hysterectomy.

8. I don't think that all forms of birth control are bad, but the attitude behind them can be. See, fertility is not a guarantee. How often do we fight, fight, fight conception only to discover infertility? I beg you to consider the attitudes of your heart regarding children. They are a blessing, not a burden (or a "parasite" as I recently saw on FB).

9. It requires self-control to not have sex, to practice abstinence, to wait. It's hard to expect people who have been taught that they are just another type of animal to believe that they can exert the self-control to not act like their fellow animals and go at it.

10. You may have made a mistake, but the child concieved is not. I know so many people (and have a LOT of family members) who were unexpected and unplanned. I thank God that they chose life.

11. I pray that we one day look on this time of legal abortion in our country with the same disbelief as we do when we consider racism, genocide, the holocaust and other atrocities.

12. I realize that the issue of rape is so, so touchy--and HARD. However, consider that the child conceived is still one half yours. It is challenging to think beyond the horrible circumstances and think that God can do amazing things with a pregnancy caused by rape, BUT HE CAN. God exists beyond time and space and his ways are unfathomable.

13. Do I want the government to excessively regulate what I can and cannot do? Not particularly. Am I okay with the government banning the sale of something that is an abortifacent and outlawing all abortion? Yes.

14. We who are pro-life, need to expand our reach beyond protecting unborn children. We need to labor to help the helpless, the abused, the orphaned and widowed.

15. Don't be misled. Despite what the billboard on Woodrow Wilson says, the personhood amendment does not guarantee protection for chicken eggs. Only human life.


Pretty Happy Funny Real

round button chicken

This is a fun link-up. I like how they subtitle it,
"capturing the context of contentment in everyday life."


Fall mums, Pittosporum and Wandering Jew.


This amazing plant is Perilla and when you wrap a few Perilla leaves around a Vietnamese eggroll, your tastebuds will rejoice and you will be happy.


Johnny accidentally hit the accelerator and the Gator took off as I snapped the picture. We were both surprised.


I was not joking about the laundry situation.
It is dire and real. : )

Visit Like Mother, Like Daughter for more PHFR.

The Million Dollar Question

Y'all, I don't pretend to write earth-shakingly important things on this blog or aspire to reach Piperian depths of meaning, nor do I adequately chronicle the comings and goings of my family (as do SO many of my friends with their precious scrapbook-blogs--which is a brilliant idea I should try).

I blog and write because sometimes words, thoughts and ideas simply need to come out and land somewhere. Sometimes I shouldn't say things and sometimes I should say more . . . today is one of those days I just want to write.

This year we committed to attending Wednesday night church. With sicknesses and comings and goings and T's job, we seem to be on an "every-other-week" pace right now. We decided to do this because being involved in the body requires more than Sunday morning attendance--at least for us. I'm so glad we made this commitment! It is great for J to participate in children's choir and for A to have more time with the three's. We also enjoy our discipleship group and studying King's Cross with them. The indescribable benefit of dinnertime fellowship is also sweet.

I must be honest though.

By the time I get to discipleship group at 6:30, my brain is shot. Fried. I feel more like a bump on a log during the discussion than a meaningful contributor.

I have the joy of leading a small group on Wednesday mornings for our MOMS Bible study. It is exhilarating, encouraging and I LOVE going every week, but leading the discussion requires a lot of mental gymnastics and that plus getting up early, wrangling three kiddos to church (and preparing all their stuff), getting them home, fed and down for rest time is draining.

We accomplish nothing on Wednesday besides church. Homeschool does not happen; laundry does not happen. Church and driving happen. : )

Also, naps happen. Well, naps happen until my children who have no concept of the sanctity of naps pop into the room and wake me up with a request for me to help button their pants. Then, I'm awake, but groggy, with no hope of returning to the land of nod and stumbling around the kitchen eating 72% dark chocolate and tidying up while I wait for the coffee to brew and all the while feeling like I need to blog about something instead of tackling household projects and getting us ready for Church.

So this is the Million dollar question--literally. What would you do if you came into a significant amount of money? How would you spend it and how different would your life change? What do your choices say about who you really are? Would a sudden increase in funds change you very much?

T and I have talked about this lately. A friend of his Father recently won 11 Million in the Louisiana Lottery. Shazam!

Okay, here's what I would do--

1. Tithe to the church.

2. Invest half in a safe, interest bearing account and the other half in a more aggressive mutual fund.

Using the interest (I have no idea how much my supposed windfall is, just so ya know):

3. Eventually upgrade my van to a 2004 with three seats in the middle. I'm VERY content with our used cars, but I really wish our van had three seats across the middle.

4. Hire someone to do our laundry. I don't mind cleaning, but if the laundry could be magically done and put away, I think I'd be satisfied.

5. Have a regular baby-sitter for a regular date night.

6. Buy all organic foods

7. Travel. Instead of owning a place on the beach, I'd much rather take all kinds of trips to different places. We'd stay in hotels and I would go to spas. I love spas.

8. Buy art!

9. Frye Boots

10. Give lavishly and generously to people and causes.

I've been analyzing these things lately because I've wondered what these things say about me and what is important to me. In the midst of this, I've been in a blessed place of DEEP contentment with my calling and vocation as a wife, mom, teacher and camp wife. I really and truly LOVE where God has placed me and what I'm doing. In the past I've experienced contentment, but not on this level. So, I'm thankful and grateful without the windfall, but it sure is fun to think about!

What would you do? How would you answer the million dollar question?


Christmas in October

I have Christmas music playing in October and I have no shame whatsoever. While this is the first time I've played music, I was belting out some tunes with the kids the other night. They are the only peeps who get to"enjoy" the gloooo---o-o-o-o-rias that I love to sing. : )

I remember when the giddy, magic-y feeling of Christmas began to diminish and how I struggled for so long to catch it again. Having children helps so much, but I've learned that when the weather turns and I get that little inkling of the giddy, magical feeling, to embrace it no matter the month.

So Pandora is playing Chanticleer and Sleigh Ride Radio and the Cambridge Singers channel today and I'm beginning to make mental lists of goals and, yes, thinking about Jesus : ) .


Durn Give Out

Truly, I am durn give out. My head is full, body: exhausted. Heart: glad. Luggage: still packed. Housework: dented. Laundry: heh, change the subject.

I had the amazing and blessed opportunity to attend the Women in the Church International Conference. This year's theme was: Amazing Grace 360.

Amazing is right.

I remember my mom going to a huge WIC conference in the early nineties with our pastor's wife and another woman in the church. They had a wonderful time and I had sort of filed it away in my head that if the opportunity ever came to attend one, I would jump on it.

I'm so glad I did!

I signed up in May, not quite sure who I'd room with or ride with or hang out with--talk about blind enthusiasm! God knew the details and he PERFECTLY provided room mates and traveling companions and a group of women with whom to fellowship.

I rode to Atlanta with two wonderful women (who homeschool and are "real" and love the Lord!). I don't think the conversation ever dulled the whole seven hours. Not a magazine or book was cracked. : )

One of the riding companions roomed with one of my dearest friends and me. All three of us homeschool, are crazy about our husbands, adore our children, love the Lord and are in/married to ministry in various ways. We laughed, shared, and wore ourselves out.

Several girls who are "staff wives" of our church were in our group--it was such a privilege to get to know them apart from a quick hello in the halls.

I haven't even mentioned the seminars, the worship, the renewing of long-ago friendships, the teaching, the MUSIC! (and shopping and food, although not nearly as important). I hope to share more in the coming days, as I came home inspired and renewed (and with a long list!).

Oh, and I did have this strange expectation that was totally not real. My mind-picture of PCA women as a whole is VERY nineties: helmet hair, oversized pastel pink sweaters, denim jumpers and Keds. I am pleased to report the PCA has kept up with the times. :)


This is Noble, Sir . . .

15 virtual points awarded to whomever guesses the source of the title, plus an additional 10 points if I have the quote completely wrong and 5 if I should have used "whoever." : )

I don't have much time for graphic design these days. That's fine and dandy, but I occasionally enjoy a chance to pull out the sketch pad, stretch my fingers, brain and eyes, and re-friend Adobe Illustrator.

What better cause for diving back into design than the Center for Pregnancy Choices?

Y'all this is a wonderful organization and it was an honor to do all the design work for their annual fundraising event.

The poster is below and if you are not busy on October 20, why not hop on over to Broadmoor Baptist and support a worthy cause? Tickets are on sale at Lifeway and online.


Trauma at the Zoo.

We have been crazy busy and wonderfully so and blogging has fallen by the wayside. I've had lots to talk about and it rattles around in my head like a jar full of marbles.

J started his Kindergarten enrichment program two weeks ago and he LOVES it. Being a male and a five year old, we don't get much information out of him. There are occasional spurts where we learn very enlightening things like:

"I went to four rooms", or "My teacher is fun" and "A soft answer turns away wrath."

Yogurt must also be a big deal in the K class, because that was a request after week 1.

Needless to say the drive there and back and all that entails involves a huge part of our Fridays. The bonus is that I have precious, precious time with Miss A and Mr. O. I took them to sewing time at the church last week, then we had lunch and went to the zoo. Miss A got to go and sew with the "big girls" and ate it up. After an hour and a half, she was begging for some nursery time, but she did really well.

I'm always reminded what a neat place our Zoo is. It DOES need updating and some renovations, but there are some real gems, too. The chimpanzees had me utterly captivated. Miss A had to make me move on to other exhibits and we had our first public breakdown: over the elephant slide, or should I say its absence.

Places that are designed to attract children should post prominent signs at the entrances when they do away with a popular attraction:


Likewise, I, as a mother need to learn not to promise my child we will do or see something that can possibly die, be given away or taken down even though it stood there SINCE I WAS A CHILD.

"Yes, dear one, we will see the giraffes today providing they have not died since we last saw them. Do you understand that if the giraffes are all dead we cannot see them? Good."

When we discovered the slide was broken and Miss A broke down, I quickly realized that she was not throwing a tantrum, but was really and truly grieving over the loss. She loved the elephant slide, it had always been there and now was gone. My poor girl was heart broken. Instead of rebuke for crying she got a lot of affection and empathy from me.

In Bible study small group we had talked about teaching our children about trials and how even if it seems inconsequential to us, it is big to them and it matters. Even at this young age, I do not want to shield my children from all trials and tribulations, but rather walk with them and help them to endure, teach them to call out to Jesus and trust that God does and allows things to happen for his glory and our good.

I would much rather trials and tribulations be a normal thing (reasonably) for them rather than something that hits them upside the head when they leave the house at eighteen or so.

I also want to be sympathetic and attentive to what they are going through and not dismissive when something is truly going on. My prayer is that now we are laying the groundwork for them to know that Mom and Dad are a safe and secure place to talk to about burdens and fears and difficulties (where they are pointed to Christ!) so that as they grow and burdens become bigger and more scary they are not reluctant to come to us (and always be pointed to Jesus) and learn run to Him on their own.

Hmmm. Makes the newborn days seem pretty easy. : )


The Wonderful School

What our days look like . . . sort of . . . .

I always enjoy peeking into other people's days. Seeing how folks live their lives and order their homes is always so interesting to me! Since we have ventured into our second year of homeschooling, the photo above is pretty much what our day looks like! I wear frilly blouses from Anthropologie and play the piano while our children dance and sing. : ) Not quite.

The reality. The dining/school room central.

Although I always wanted to homeschool, I never dreamed how much I would enjoy these days . Truly, I wake up most days ecstatic about jumping into the day's work. Tuan and I are avid readers, so teaching J to read is so exciting and rewarding. At this time, all of the veteran homeschooling mamas are snickering and saying, "just wait until November, Paula, then you'll be saying otherwise." Probably so--but I insist on enjoying it now.

Working on handwriting.

My goals for J this year in Kindergarten are learning to read, improving our writing, grasping some basic number concepts, hiding God's word in our heart, learning to work independently and saturating this kid's brain with good stories, poems and songs. I suppose in some moments, we do resemble The Wonderful School--especially when we are singing and dancing about.

Our curriculum storage module. Doesn't that sound so "educatorly"?

I have set goals for myself: consistency, discipline with reading aloud, outdoor time, and developing good habits with housework so we don't live in too much of a messy nest. Even though school takes over the dining room table, it all disappears when we wrap up. After a busy morning, looking at a serene and empty table and dining room is calming.

I am thankful for these vast cabinets--they are so useful for storing schoolbooks and all the trappings we've already accumulated. As scatterbrained as I am, having a place for everything helps tremendously. It's good for the kids to know that things have a place.

I always want to see how folks organize--don't you?

All the manipulatives, bulky things, infrequently used items and books go in these cabinets. The aforementioned curriculum storage module goes in these cabinets when we clean up. I love being able to pull that basket out and have everything all together.

The miscellaneous drawer.

Crayons, pens, and crafty things that the kids have freedom to use all store in this drawer in our buffet. The pink paint is a source of contention in our marriage, but Tuan loves me enough to bear with the "spicy paprika".

Proof that all is not miserable . . .

For reading and writing curriculum, we chose Sing Spell Read and Write. I picked it because my Mom still had her SSRW set from the days she taught my sister--all I had to buy were the workbooks. I know, such deliberation went into choosing this. Johnny loves this program and is doing very well with it! We skipped the preschool/kindergarten component and started with the First Grade books. We did book one fall of last year and slowly worked through part of the next book during the spring. We are still plugging along and it is so exciting seeing him learn these concepts! In about two school days we will tackle our first reader and I can hardly contain myself!

He is his daddy's child--Mr. J loves numbers.

Mr. J may be doing well with the language arts, but I have a feeling he is going to be much more like Tuan and be a math nerd--ahem, brainiac! He lights up with joy when number and math books are introduced. We did deliberate for days and weeks on end about which math program to use. You would have thought we were choosing colleges--it was that stressful, but in the end, we decided to go with Saxon. (Rather, Tuan mandated I get it over with and PICK A PROGRAM!) Because Saxon K is attached to a calendar system that indicates starting in September, we will begin math tomorrow! In the meantime, we worked through a preschool math workbook.

Penmanship--he already writes more legibly than his parents!

In addition to these two programs, we are going through a critical thinking/puzzle book and reading aloud stories, poems and songs from the Core Knowledge Series and vintage Childcraft books. I'm a real art and design junky, so the illustrations in those books just fill up my art bucket.

Poor, lonely unsocialized child.

In thinking through this year there were a few gaps I wasn't quite sure about. Reading The Well Trained Mind has helped with those doubts, and confirmed our decision to stick with the three R's this year. Additionally, we discovered a wonderful local, classical homeschooling program that meets on Fridays for enrichment. I almost cried when I read the curriculum for the program because it truly meets the concerns I had with our plan for the year. Mr. J will go most of Friday with a small class of other homeschooling kindergarteners and I'll have some time with Miss A and baby O--who is not such a baby, anymore!


Fleamarket Treasure

As a child I spent many happy days at my Granny's house. I credit her for many good things in my life. She read aloud countless times poems and stories from her vintage Childcraft books, let me plunder her "treasures" from her and Papa's time in the Air Force, and many nights set up the slide projector so we could view images from my mother's childhood.

We pored over World Book encyclopedias (the full color picture of Queen Elizabeth's coronation portrait was my favorite!), she showed me her stamps, took me for walks in the woods and stopped the car by cow pastures so I could say hello to the cows.

Because of her, I know all about our geneaology, how to crochet and quilt, how to save, thrift, and give generously. I could go on and on about my wonderful Granny, but I think the one thing that set her apart was that she took time for me (and everyone). With my Granny there was no tyranny of the urgent, she never communicated by words or actions that anything else was more important than being with me. No matter when I dropped by or what I asked for, she was present and helpful. I hope I can communicate and live that way with my children and grandchildren.

When Granny passed away a few years ago, I was fortunate to inherit many "treasures" from her house: the Childcraft books, the everyday flatware pattern we shared, and various bric-a-brac.

One thing I always wanted, but didn't ask for (I mean, I had pretty much begged for every emotional piece there was by then) was her sewing box. Granny's sewing box was such a delight of order and wonder and mustard yellow seventies plastic! Mom has it now and her grandchildren enjoy their turn to plunder, but I confess my delight at finding the very same sewing box at a local flea market. Not quite very same--it's a lovely shade of blue--robin's egg meets turquoise--and confess I like it even more in this color!

The box--it has a funny texture all over it.

Oh, the wonder and delight of proper places for things. This is a vast improvement over a drawer with everything dumped in all higgeldy piggely.

The little pincushion family . . . wouldn't they make for a great children's story? They look like they are about to have tea or tuck in for the night.


Vacation Photos

I remember attending an RUF girls Bible study taught by a very wise woman who advised us that there were just some days out of the month where it was okay to let things go, to give yourself grace and plan for those days. With baby O and Miss A having had the stomach bug this week (three sheet changes for one child alone last night!) and myself feeling a bit achy, this is a perfect day to follow her advice . . . so between the endless loads of laundry and general must-dos and sporadic pick-ups, I am indulging in one of those days!

The big kids are in and out making mudpies and O is sleeping. Miss A may or may not be wearing day clothes. I may or may not have taken advantage of the fact thatTangled is on Netflix this morning. (I have a Netflix and I'm not afraid to use it!)
In the peace and quiet, it seemed like a good time to post pictures!

My Aunt and Uncle have a really great "cabin" on the Choctawhatchee Bay (between Sandestin and Seaside). They are so generous and kind to let us use it and after our post-camp stomach flu awfulness, we were grateful to get away for some rest and relaxation. The porch is one of our favorite places.

The kids already know how to lounge:
with food, of course.
All that's missing is a great book!

I love these little legs and feet!

Lazy days on the bay are perfect for making sea shell mudpies.

Miss A was quite creative!

Gumbo? I dunno . . .

T and the kids built some fun sand spires.
The beach wasn't as atmospheric as
the photo suggests!


Rest for the Weary

My husband is such a servant-leader-wonderful man. I am so thankful for him. He cared for the kids so I could get a Sunday nap today and I cannot thank him enough. A nap was in high order. We have had a wild and crazy two weeks post-camp.

I write to remember.

When camp ended, we were a bit tired, but by no means dragging. Mostly, we were motivated and glad to get back into something resembling daily life and the consumption of vegetables . . . . we were also excited about the following week of "special season". That is when we host other large groups and keep some of our staff on to run activities like the pool, waterfront, horseback, ropes course, etc . . . We LOVE special season because (in years past, at least), every night we open our house to staff for movies, games, visiting, eating and fun. It's a great time to get to know the staff better and decompress from camp. One year we had three weeks of special season--yes, that added up to around eighteen game nights in a row--mercy!

Tuan planned to take some off time the week after special season to rest and tackle projects and do some fun family things, but on Monday morning of special season I woke up feeling very, very wrong. Bada-boom-bada bing, it was the stomach flu. There was no way that Tuan could stay home to help, as three hundred high schoolers were coming in and he had five thousand things to co-ordinate--except that he got hit with the stomach flu only hours later and promptly came home.

It was more "flu" than stomach--aches, pains, chillls, fatigue--so terribly awful. Thankfully only one child got it and somehow we survived. Our poor kids ate crackers and juice along with us on Monday because it's rather hard to feed one's children when the sight of food makes one sick. : (

By Wednesday, we were somewhat recovered and felt the contagion was gone, so the staff came over to a highly lysol-ed house for a raucous game night. Thursday night we partied again and Friday night the last remnant of hosts ate dinner with us and we watched Lord of the Rings. By that point, we had said our good-byes to most everyone and camp was so empty and quiet. The staff this year was a particularly wonderful group and we were so, so sad to see them go!

Saturday morning left us tired and weary and the prospect of a week at home full of projects was no longer appealing. We had planned to vacation sometime in the fall, but so many things fell into place that we realized a get-away was in high order.

Tuan's parents came and spent Saturday afternoon and night with us and we celebrated Nana's birthday with cake and country cooking, mingled with packing and cleaning and preparing.

Sunday after church, we headed south to the beach! My aunt and uncle have a "cabin" on the Choctawhatchee bay and are so kind and generous to let us use it. We spent the week there, came back on Friday, had houseguests arrive Saturday lunch---Our friends the Fortiers , Mrs. Les (my other mother), her son Josh and his wife, Ceci and Ceci's brother Antonio. Such dear, fun, wonderful people. We talked, explored camp, cooked, ate, played games and laughed until we cried. They joined us for church today and lunch after and then we said bittersweet goodbyes.

And as soon as we returned home, I collapsed and slept until six thirty. I think I could have slept straight through the night. This week, we are going to try to remember what normal looks like--ha! Any camp wife (past or present) can laugh along with me at that.

I'm glad to be home and so full of thankfulness. Our God is so good!


Baby Steps

We have been trying for some time to eat a more nutritious diet and are taking baby steps to reach that end. With many of our meals eaten in the dining hall (yes, full of chemical drenched foods . .. .yeesh) and others eaten out due to our 30 minute commute to . . . nearly anything . . . .it makes sense to try to eat as healthy as possible around the house.

When I first read Nourishing Traditions, I was motivated, excited, encouraged and OVERWHELMED . . . . so much to do and so little time, not to mention the sporadic seasons of life where we hardly cook at home at all (read: now). Also, I don't have the luxury of farmers markets (although we do have fruitstands!) and I am rather reluctant to make twelve stops at twelve different places with three children to get in and out of carseats. We decided to take baby-steps (a little is better than nothing, right?) and slowly move towards more nourishing eating.

The thing I love about Nourishing Traditions is the underlying, unspoken message that God knew what he was doing in giving us food and that whole foods are best and frankly, you don't have to branch out super far to get adequate nutrition. (The Alaskans who live on meat alone, for example) Don't get me wrong, I still LOVE junk food --I wish I didn't, but I do. However, I'm trying to make better choices and give my kids a healthier, wiser palette than I have!

Here are some of our "baby steps":

1. Whole, organic milk, but in smaller quantities. My kids drink milk once a day, Owen twice. Sometimes we do coconut or almond, but Owen does not not take that.

2. Butter! We are not in a place where we eat "centrifuged butter from milked cows grazing on rapidly growing spring and fall grass", but we do eat the "real" stuff.

3. Good fats: Coconut, Peanut, Olive Oils . . . and real Lard. : ) Not all expeller pressed and perfect, but better than others, I suppose

4. Whole Wheat flour when we do bake (not as often)

5. Corn instead of flour tortillas

6. Local honey for our coffee and other applications.

7. Less white sugar in everything. I've been baking a lot with palm sugar.

8. White rice on "special occasions." (as a side note, Alton Brown's brown rice recipe is marvelous--especially if you've had unsatisfactory results before)

9. No more juice in the house. I realized that my kids only wanted juice and were
rejecting water. Even though it was diluted, it was a lot of sugar. When I stopped buying it an amazing thing happened: water consumption rose like all get out! Now they ask for water. : )

10. Oatmeal and Eggs are our breakfast staples. No cereals at all.

11. Better eggs--still not sure if the more expensive grocery eggs are truly better, but I'm buying into it. My goal is to find local eggs and I saw a possible source at the fruitstand the other day.

12. Home-cooked beans instead of canned.

13. We found a butcher in Crystal Springs who sells pork bellies, so we've made several batches of our very own bacon--free of nitrites (natural or otherwise). We're planning another round soon since our fridge is empty for camp.

14. A grass-fed beef cow--we bought a share with some friends (and a deep freeze-haha).

That's what we've done, and there is so much more I want to try! Over-all, we've reduced our wheat and carbohydrate consumption in general which has been so good for us. Our next goals are:

1. Aluminum free baking powder

2. Soaked, sourdough breads

3. Local eggs

4. Organic Chickens

5. A hog?

6. A modest garden, since organic produce is costly.

7. More organic produce.

8. Experimenting with grains like Quinoa, spelt and others and soaking.

9. Composting

10. Better eating out choices, both nutritionally and in the way companies are run (if this means more Five Guys and Chik-fil-A, I'll go for it)

11. Less candy in the house and in our mouths (I guess the fact that we are still eating Christmas parade candy should make me feel better?)

What are your goals?


Life, Lately

Camp life is a merry-go-round---not the sedate up-and-down animal kind of merry-go-round of zoos and carnivals, but the kind that one used to find at parks, where you held on for dear life as you were spun at unbelievably fast speeds. Exhilarating? Yes. Dizzying? Certainly. Impossible to stop or get off of? Without a doubt.

We are holding on for dear life, having a blast, and yes, just a bit dizzy.

I thought of writing a "day-in-the-life-of-a-camp-wife" sort of post, but every day is a bit different. This is the third summer since I "retired" from camping and I am finally figuring out how to combine normal daily living with camp life and what my role is as Tuan's wife and a mother and sister-in-Christ to the staff. Apparently I'm a slow learner, as I cannot figure out what I was doing those other two summers--haha. I am so thankful for the Lord's patience and perseverance in working on me.

This has been an amazing summer for our kids. Mr. J LOVES the staff and was a camper for the first time during day camp. It was such great fun watching him and hearing the stories the staff had to tell. He is now old enough to roam and run a bit free (within certain boundaries, of course). I LOVE that. His perspective on camp life is always interesting, too.

Miss A is lapping up the attention that the staff give her. She knows how to get things from them, too. I frequently find her with bandaids that have been absconded from the nurses and watches that she has wrangled from the staff. Miss A is bold and unafraid to ask for anything. The staff are so, so sweet and kind to her. The other day she told me, "the boy campers are mean to me, the girl campers like me, but the counselors LOVE me." Yes, they do.

Mr. O--my sweet boy. He is super independent, hard-headed and strong-willed. He threw a fit in the dining hall because his plate was on the table and he wanted to throw it on the ground. Nothing would do but to cast that plate from the table and the outrage at his will being thwarted was a sight to behold. Mama did win the battle, though. Mr. O also, decided to start walking at the pavilion during the first week. His independent personality is evident in the fearless way he will toddle through the throng of campers with not an ounce of hesitation. Sometimes, he'll crawl headfirst through the crowd, pausing to look up and observe them with his little paci bouncing up and down. I love the reaction of campers as they realize a baby is crawling through their midst . It's like a wave of realization--"there's a baby here! What do we do?!" The staff love Mr. O, but he is very particular about who he loves back and will not go to just anyone. He alternatively turns away at unwanted affection or dives into the arms of those who have his favor. (they are a select bunch, for sure!) I hope as an adult this translate into not having a fear of man and being able to do the right thing regardless of human opinion.

And, Mr. T., my sweet husband. I love this man. It is amazing to me how God gave me just the right man and created me just right for him. One of the things I love is my husband's servant-leadership. He works right beside the staff to do whatever needs to be done. He also lays down his life for me and the kids over and over again--making time to help with bedtime at night and sacrificing his desire to meet our needs. I am thankful for him!

And our staff! They are amazing. I watched two of the female counselors welcome their campers at the dining hall the other night. They were genuinely delighted to see their girls and the hugs and exclamations of affections and "how was your activity?" were just a small example of the joy this staff is bringing to the campers, parents and full-time staff. They are a joy to know, and I appreciate their faithful service (and kindness to my children, too).

I intended to write about something else entirely, but am thankful this is what came out. We are so thankful that God has put us here.


I always enter summer expecting to accomplish one hundred and one projects, but expectations rarely meet reality! I have managed to tackle a few projects and have had a wee bit of time to go thrifting. I stumbled across this lamp at the Gateway thrift store in Magee--I was smitten at first sight and Tuan (who thinks my art and lighting choices dubious at best) lovingly permitted the purchase. : )

At two dollars, it was quite a steal, but I fear that finding a great lampshade to go with it may be another story. Until then, this lampshade that I paid ten cents for (!) will do just fine.

$2.10 beauty

This mirror came out of my parents barn. The ugly finish looks so much better with a coat of Oxford blue. The photo is horrid, but it's rather pretty and the medallion pattern on top is the same as our green living room drapes! Unfortunately the thing is so stinking heavy it must either lean on a piece of furniture, a ledge or be hung with such precision and care via a stud that eludes me. (Read: Tuan is needed, not thumbtacks) Stud. Heh. There's a double meaning in that. : )

Awaiting a home. Maybe our stairwell?



Oh, goodness. Overnight One begins and the second hardest Monday of the year commences! What is the first hardest? Staff training, of course!

At this time of year all sorts of forces: camp, busyness, heat, satan's attacks and MY SIN all collide into this swarming whirlwind of potential calamity. Take note that I capitalized MY SIN, because the first responsibility, the first instigator of the trouble is really me.

This is my 21st summer of camping, I served eight summers on staff here, eleven total of staffing and this is is my 3rd as a straight-up camp wife and Mommy. The Caedmon's Call lyric from "Thankful" rings true, still!

I ran across an old box of letters
While I was bagging up some clothes for Goodwill
You Know I had to laugh that the same old struggles
That plagued me then are plaguing me still
I know the road is long from the ground to glory
But a boy can hope he's getting some place

The same old struggles, indeed! One would think that after all this time, I'd have gotten somewhere in this. Deep internal sins like pride, selfishness, resentment, jealousy, comparison and even envy pop up. Maybe the circumstances change slightly, but the roots don't. In my heart of hearts, I want the glory and the focus and my comfort and it's all ME, ME, ME. Having an attitude of humility like Jesus, living for God's glory, being a helper for my husband (instead of expecting him to accommodate me) and focusing on my three sweet campers, can easily fly out the window.

It was also easy to lose perspective. Ultimately, this was one or two weeks of challenges out of a whole year of blessings. Once camp gets going and we are in a routine, it is WONDERFUL. Tuan's job and the amazing privilege of living here and sharing in the camp experience are something I thank God for almost every day. I am amazed that we get to serve God and his kingdom in this way.

Last summer was especially hard and I failed to fight the good fight early on. As the year went by, I kept on thinking about my sins during this time and how ashamed I was at the attitudes, words and actions that came out of my heart.

I wanted this year to be different.

My sweet Bible study small group was enlisted for prayer back in February and I have been praying and thinking and talking with Tuan about my struggles. He didn't need to change or accommodate me, but having my sweet husband know and understand more ahead of time was important. A dear "Older Sister" was praying. I also planned for strategic baby-sitting, so it would be possible to participate in some of the fun things and good speakers happening.

The week leading up to staff training was lots of fun as it always is. We have a small group of early staff and take turns feeding them and getting to know them, but the entire time I could see the storm on the horizon. It was coming! (or, as Homily said with a shudder in The Borrowers: "Winter!")

By the grace of God this was a much, much better "No. 1 Monday". It was a day of struggles for sure, and it seemed that the harder I fought to not wallow in sin, the more temptations flew at me. I am thankful that in God's grace, I was more able put Tuan's needs and interests above my own, focus on the kids and at the end of the day we were able to have some unexpected fun with the staff.

In college, I had this quote from Jonathan Edwards on my dorm room wall:

"Resolved, never to give over, nor in the least to slacken, my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be."

I had become comfortable with my sins and forgotten how vile they really are, I had forgotten to look to Jesus (It was MY sin that put him there) and be motivated by his amazing love to fight the good fight.

Today (No. 2 Monday), is only beginning. I'm sure it will be full of challenges and lovely temptations to wallow. By His grace, I will fight. Today, like every day, I covet your prayers!