Sunday, November 29, 2015

Un-Stuff Gift Cards

I dont know what else to call them, and I was really hoping to come up with something super snazzy and catchy... buuuut it's late and really, I should have been asleep a couple hours ago...

oh well.

So here's a sample of the cards I'm making for the kiddo's Christmas gifts this year. I'm hoping to have one for each month. Some gifts will be individual things, like a special date with dad; others will be family gifts that we can all do together.

{we like to picnic on the college campus near our house, 
but maybe this'll push us toward a more exciting location... 
hmm, I should put that on the card, eh?}

{We were given a used pop-up camper earlier this year, 
let's hope i can get it cleaned out and fixed by spring!!}

{A family pass to our city pool for the ENTIRE summer is cheaper 
than ONE trip to the nearest water-park miles and miles away. 
It's a no-brainer.}

 {I always want to do this and just never make it happen}

Hope that gives you a good idea of how we're trying to un-stuff this holiday season and build more memories throughout the year.

Got any ideas that you would use for an un-stuff gift card?? Let me hear 'em!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

That Feeling That You're Missing Out

I think we all get it at one time or another, for one reason or another... that feeling that you're missing out and it isnt' much fun. Sometime's its about something important and meaningful, and other times, not so much.

Today I realized that I didn't have that feeling in one particular area. I didn't feel like I was missing out, which then made me realize that I had felt it before. Quite often as a matter of fact. Sometimes I acted on it and sometimes I didn't.

Let me rewind a bit. We've been on this weird journey of simplifying, which might sound all pretty and fine on digital paper, but when you actually vocalize it to someone else in real life, person to person, it just sounds plain ol' nutso. and then when you try to live it out, sometimes you stop and ask yourself, "does this really make sense? are we crazy?" But we have a purpose behind it, so yes it does make sense. we want to give more. we want to make a habit of telling ourselves no, and saying yes to others.

Sometimes, though I'm not sure where my kids fall. Are they in the "ourselves" category or in the "others" category. They're kinda stuck in the middle... our decisions effect their lives, but obviously we want to give them good things because we love them, but we also want to teach them to live for a greater purpose... we have to find a balance and it isn't always easy. and sometimes the difficulty comes in simply trying to figure out what's a need and what's a luxury. our perception of things can really wreak havoc in this area.

My teenage son (sheesh, that's still hard to fathom) enjoys hanging out with the neighborhood boys and of course I'm thrilled that they'd rather be out riding around than stuck on a video game (don't get me wrong they love their games too, but they love adventuring outdoors as well). Well, my son's bike has been waaay too small for him for a couple years now. Technically, he rides his sisters bike which i guess was technically passed down from him... ok it's all very confusing. four kids and three bikes, but really only one bike works for the older three. i know it's silly. but I'm a little bummed that I can't get a bike for my boy for his birthday in a couple weeks, or for Christmas... or for a while. I feel like he's missing out. i could very easily say he "needs" a bike.

Buuuut, it's been a good lesson in bike sharing, and because we have other options, like scooters and a long board, it certainly doesn't mean he's stuck at home, wasting away. No, he's still out adventuring. and the kids deal with some frustration at times with who gets to ride what, but they work through it. I think ultimately, they remember how 15 of their friends in India share one bike. As a matter of fact, my oldest daughter wants a bike like the one in India, that has room for a person to sit on the back so she can give people rides. so i can just as easily say, he does not need a bike.

whether its in regards to myself or my kids, I am constantly on this roller-coaster ride of wanting and not wanting to want and not wanting and not caring and back to wanting again. And there's nothing wrong with wanting a bike for your kids, cause honestly, i would love to get all the kids at Asha House a bike of their own as well as my own kids.

That brings us to yesterday. Black Friday. The day you save money... we all know that's a load of crap, right?! You buy more than.... ok never mind, dont get me started. my point... some Black Fridays I start to feel like I'm going to miss out on a deal. So i start reaching into the recesses of my mind and start thinking about what i can start looking for to see if i can find a good deal. but Sometimes i dont actually want anything (and certainly dont need anything), but i'll browse to see IF there's anything i MIGHT want. (can you catch where this is going?). this is no bueno.

I sat on my couch in a moment of quiet yesterday, and suddenly realized this was the first time I didn't have that feeling of missing out. and it felt nice to not get pulled into the notion that i need to find a good deal on something. See I may have had the self discipline before not to buy anything on a black friday, but that doesn't mean i didn't want to.

It really is having to break free from an addiction. Ya know, you go through a time where you really want that thing, and you have to battle really really hard against the feeling that you just have to have it. you have to fight to the death. and eventually, sometimes years later, you get to a place where you don't even think about it.

i'll admit, i still wish my son had a bike that fit him. i still wish my daughter could join the tumbling team. i still wish i could send my other daughter to dance class. I still wish i could give my kids lessons with the instrument of their choice. i wish a lot of things sometimes. and mostly i wish very selfishly. even when it's for my kids, it affects how I feel, and how I look to other people.

i think what's hardest is that, honestly, i just want to have my cake and eat it too... i want to give a sizable chunk of our income to people who actually NEED it; i want to be used for a greater purpose. heck, at times i really just want to give it all and be free from things and stuff and more stsuff. seriously. but i also wanna give ALL the things to my kids. I want them to have all the opportunities too. but is that what's best? is that what will change a person's life? is that what will change this world we live in?

the line we walk is so very thin... the line that divides the want and the need. the line that divides give and keep. the line that divides the lust for more and the sacrifice of less. the line that divides "for me" or "for them"?

what are your thoughts... how do you decipher between want and need? between dissatisfaction and contentment? How do you say no to yourself? how do you say yes to others? too often I rationalize my wants. but what i truly DESIRE is to stand firm in my convictions.

anyone else on this struggle bus?

Monday, November 23, 2015

This parenting thing.

so you'll probably think this is ridiculous, maybe not, but here's the deal. our kids had the opportunity to do a workshop with some pretty fantastic people who we already know, but they hadn't been around all four kids for a chunk of time.

so fast forward to later that day when they came to me and commented how great the kids are and of them asked how we do it. *deer in headlights*

uuuuuhh. to my disappointment, i mumbled something about homeschool and character training and who knows what else. i probably sounded completely arrogant and full of myself. :P

honestly, what i should have said was... i. don't. know.

here's the tricky part. there's this fine line between deciding to do something a certain way, seeing the fruit of it and maintaining a spirit of humility about it all. because honestly in the end sometimes it's just feels like pure luck, but also we're so quick to take the credit for the good stuff.

i mean i know it's not just "luck", we do work hard to invest in the kids character training and exposing them to real world things and not saying yes to everything and practicing self control with money and possessions and restricting sugar and oh a billion other things and trying to wrestle with what freedoms to allow and when and how much and at the same time we make 3 gazillion mistakes along they way and we try to be vulnerable with our children. *breathe* and at the end of the day, sometimes we're just glad we've survived. and sometimes we don't work hard. sometimes we're just plain lazy with our faces glued to our screens and we've got to pick up the pieces after they've piled up and that's no fun.

so all that to say... maybe what i SHOULD have said was... "we do our best, like every other parent out there." but sometimes people do genuinely want to know "what" or "how" you do it, and it feels like saying "we just do the best we can" is a cop-out and sounds like "its the luck of the draw, sucker!" more than anything else. am i crazy in thinking that?

i mean, if someone makes really good chicken dumplings and you want to know how to make it, then you hope they show you the recipe that was passed down from their great grandmother right? So in an effort to just be open, I thought I'd just go ahead and share a few things and if it's at all pretentious, forgive me.

7 things I've learned about parenting.

1. Parenting is Hard Work.
Its hard because there is no formula to humans. just like every other relationship out there you have to get to know each child for who they are. One form of discipline, affection, communication, and so on will not work the same with different kids. That's when you have to get creative, or ask for help cause it never gets easier, it just constantly changes. I'd say be consistent, but it's a flexible/changing consistency lol (clear. as. mud.)

2. Parenting is Hard Work. (uh huh, i listed it twice)
Its hard work because it never stops. You really can't decide to take a day off of parenting. You can take a day off of work, school, chores, and so on, but parenting never stops and sometimes it's just beyond what you're capable of. Also, I think sometimes we just forget that kids don't automatically learn things, we actually have to train them and not act surprised when they don't know something. How many times have you heard any adult say to a child "You should know better!". well yeah, and they wont unless you teach them and then give them time to develop into what they "should" know. and that takes a lot of work.

3. You can't do it alone.
I'm not talking about books. I'm not talking about classes. I'm not even talking about other people or parents or even a spouse. I'm talking about asking for help, direction and guidance from the ultimate dude. yup. God, the Father. and even more importantly, it's actually surrendering to the Father. Surrender (give up, let it go, say buh-bye!) to your ways and surrender your children to Him. If you aren't first convinced that He is a Good Father, or that he created your children and reigns sovereign over their lives as well as yours, then you'll probably waste most of your time arguing with Him about whether or not His ways will actually work. seriously? we actually think we know better than the One who created both us and them? learn and glean from his character of grace and compassion and justice and patience and love and gentleness and so much more. [So, really, I wish I had said, "we are learning to follow the Lord's ways. He blesses our family when we trust Him and follow His ways, and He's oh so patient and gracious when we don't"]

4. You can't do it alone. (yep, twice)
Find a parent who displays the qualities you want to emulate and learn from them. Learn from their mistakes AND learn from their successes. Get over yourself and ask for their input. Asking for help doesn't point out that you're not great at parenting... no, it makes you a wise one! The absolute best advice i ever received about parenting was from a more seasoned mother. She prioritized her children's character training over academics and other activities. I didn't do it exactly like she did, but it gave me a new perspective on how to approach my everyday routine. It gave me a new response to daily hiccups in my plans. It showed me that my pursuits and plans for my kids weren't on the right track. I could have dismissed it, and then where would i be?

5. Parents set the example.
There is NO way around this one. Plain and simple, you are lying to yourself if you think it isn't true. If you do something your kids will too. if you eat junk your kids will too. if you have a potty mouth your kids will too. if you drop what your doing to listen to others, your kids will too. if you make sacrifices in order to help someone else, your kids will too. if you keep a budget, your kids will too. if you treat people with respect and kindness (that includes them, because they are people), then they will too. if you whine and complain, they will too. do you get the picture? this is the not so fun part... the part where you realize what you are lacking in your character and you see it staring you in the face in your kids actions and words. if you want to train them, you must train WITH them. admit when you're wrong. admit when you're selfish. admit when you've hurt them. repent from sinful behavior together. love them without condition. set the example of who you want them to become.

6. The Word does the work.
After having just had a very long discussion with a kiddo about how we treat siblings and who our real "enemy" is, it was such a relief to have the Word of God to base everything on. Seriously. The pressure isn't on you to invent the standard and issue the commands or squeeze out the grace. that's been done and its been done to the FULL. Your job is to teach your children to turn TO the word for anything and everything. Let the word inform you and transform you and the way you parent. Be diligent not to use it to support/back up your own ideas and expectations (there's entirely way too much of that in the church today). That means you have to spend time in the Word and sometimes that means more hard work.

7. Parent for something greater than yourself.
In the moment that I received a compliment about my children, I was proud... of them and of myself. I was pleased that someone else recognized the awesome kids i have the pleasure of spending time with each day. but pridefully, I was pleased that MY work had been recognized. shame. on. me. I didn't even point to the Father, i thought it, but didn't say it. how lame is that! If it was the chicken and dumplings recipe, i would've just said, "Thanks, it's my grandmother's recipe!". Unfortunately, I am a selfish human being and I too often parent in a way that is about me and what I want, and that never leads to anything good. but when I go back to that surrender part, then parenting becomes more about the kingdom and the Father's work than my own. If I keep that perspective in front, then it should be easier acknowledge my role with the Father's wisdom and say, "thanks, it's my Father's recipe!" ;)

Monday, November 16, 2015

This Chapter Needs a Hero.

Call me naive. Call me crazy. Call me a fool. 

I guess I'm confused... and stunned.

Can someone explain why allowing families who are running away from attacks, persecution and their homes being destroyed so adamantly being spoken against?

Are we really that selfish of a nation? ok, yes we are. that's not so surprising. 

Ok, then how about the church? are we really that selfish of a church?

This is a genuine question; I would really love a well thought out answer to this response that I am currently unable to perceive as anything but selfish and more focused on self preservation than an opportunity to love and care for a hurting and displaced family.

If your neighbor's house was set on fire by some cruel person, and your neighbors were not Christians, you don't tell them to stay inside their own fence and deal with it because they might come and take over your house. You HELP them. You sacrifice your own everything and you help them, because this is what you'd want someone to do for you and your children. and because this is what we are commanded to do as followers of Christ, to love EVEN our enemy. That means there is absolutely NO one we can ever give an excuse for not loving. no one.

no one.

I honestly am quite flabbergasted at the response of Christian individuals. and the government. stop and think. 

If our entire nation was under attack and we had no where to go. and we traveled at great expense and hoped to simply find a land who would show us an ounce of compassion and a simple kindness and they slammed the door in our face and said "You can't stay here!" and then turned around to excuse their actions by accusing you of being a potential threat to their own safety. How would you feel? what would you do? see in that moment, it wouldnt be about an entire nation of people, it wouldnt' be about a huge enemy possibly knocking at their doors at some future time, it would simply be about the needs of one family in that moment.

We think that by making it a policy it suddenly means we're not turning away innocent people. The policy deceives us with the idea that they are guilty and we are then free from responsibility... no, the policy points directly to OUR guilt. We become guilty of cold-hearted behavior. The exact behavior we can't stand to see displayed in characters of a book or movie. We say to ourselves, "how can they be so selfish and so oblivious to the need around them?!". If we respond this way, then we can be certain we will be treated with the same exact LACK of human kindness and understanding if, heaven forbid, we ever face the same situation.

Here's a crazy, foolish, naive thought... what if we choose to be the heroes of this chapter in history? Let's be like the people who risked their families and livelihood and all they had just to hide the Jews in their attics and closets; like those who ate less, so someone else could survive one more day. Yes, many of them lost their own lives and families and homes. We call them heroes because that's what it requires... it requires laying your own life down for another.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Let's get back to real life.

Seriously. Enough is Enough.

The time we waste on meaningless things that cause meaningless anger that cause meaningless self-righteousness that cause a meaningless onslaught of distraction.

it doesn't matter what it actually is. cup. dress. sport. politician. proposition. medicine. relative. "first world problems". (more like spoiled brat problems).

Here's a lovely little excerpt from The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis...
"You can make him waste his time not only in conversation he enjoys with people whom he likes, but in conversations with those he cares nothing about on subjects that bore him. You can make him do nothing at all for long periods."
I think if Lewis were around today, he would have included such things as the Inter-webs and Facebook among Wormwood's tools of distraction.

so in an effort to NOT be an extended distraction for you, I'll keep this short.

deep breath.

listen to this.

now go do something productive. whether its snuggle and pray for/with your child. call/visit a friend to encourage them. walk outside and worship the creator. wash the dishes. Whatever you do, do it for the glory of God.

Friday, November 6, 2015

My "Crazy" Christmas Idea.

It's been an adventurous year and a half in our new home. We've had quite a few financial surprises in the area of dental work and car purchasing & fixing. The latest installment is that our renters had to move out and our family vehicle needs a couple big things done. $3000 big. oof.

I'm not worried about any of it, but I bring it up because it helps reinforce a crazy idea I have for how to handle Christmas this year.

REALITY #1. Small house = NO room for more stuff.
REALITY #2. Tightened budget = NO money for stuff that we don't have room for anyways.

So with that... I will not be buying the kids any THING this holiday. I promise i'm not just being a Grinch and zapping all the fun out of life. here's why...

FACT: They have everything they need. Shelter, healthy life giving food, clothes, education, love and security.

FACT: They don't have everything they want. and that's actually a good thing. they learn to save up with their allowances. They learn to prioritize and make wise purchases. And quite frankly, Christmastime is NOT the only time to fulfill all of life's hopes and dreams for more stuff.

FACT: When it comes all at once though, it sure is a lot harder to get rid of stuff in order to make room for the new stuff and we end up convincing ourselves that we ought to keep ALL the stuffs. BUT when things come in slowly throughout the year, it's a little bit easier to think through our possessions which makes it slightly easier to let go of one or more things to let one new thing come in. We can train ourselves and our kids to let go of the burdensome clutter and only let things that bring joy into our daily environment.

and besides all that, they remember their experiences more than they remember the stuff collecting dust in the corner of the closet abyss. yes, some experiences involve tangible stuff, but those are few and far between.

the current quandary... we still like to give good things to our kids!! duh.

FAAAAACT: The kids keep mentioning a coupon book I gave each of them years ago for valentine's day. So it makes perfect sense to do the same for Christmas! I'm hoping to figure out an experience for each month of the year to gift them. Now mind you these aren't big. They're simple but meaningful (and hopefully not too expensive). like a picnic lunch. or a fro-yo date with mom or dad, etc... things that are doable throughout the year, but we don't always take the time to do.

"So witty and creative wins the day!" so says the wicked witch of the west. (shameless plug for our local children's theater production of Oz in which i play the Witch!).

so that's my plan for this year... yeah i know it sounds crazy and you're probably thinking the kids are gonna pitch a fit. i dunno. I s'ppose they could. change isn't always fun for adults either, but it's usually beneficial. I'm sure i'll want to change my mind about 3.7 million times every time I see the latest cool toy that i know one of the kids would just LOVE. And it's probably going to feel really weird and awkward cause there wont be the wonderful sound of gobs of gift wrapping paper and the excited gasps of something new and shiny in hand.

There wont be this great climax of getting things... BUT I can tell you what there will be... time spent with family. full tummies. stories told. memories made... throughout the year.

and less trash and clutter for tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

8 things in 8 years

Just read a blog where a mom shared 10 things she's learned after 10 years of homeschooling and thought I'd jump on the bandwagon... of course I've only been homeschooling for eight (though sometimes it feels like longer) so you only get eight this time. but stick around for a couple years and I'll have ten by then. ;)

in no particular order...

1. Don't forsake the day that can't be graded on paper.
Learning happens ALL the time; Academics are only part time. Our schooling revolves around our life, not the other way around. and that's ok. academics are important, but they aren't everything. its good to take time to serve others, to meet needs, to rest, let me repeat that one... it's good to rest. to have fun, to snuggle, to laugh, to have a movie day, to read out loud in British accents, to watch documentaries and to ask the tough questions, to learn to forgive. to go on a picnic. to paint all day. to build legos all day. to sit around the table and tell jokes over and over again. If we're facing a challenge, whether it's a bad attitude, disobedience, sibling conflict, etc... it's always worth stopping to work on the heart issue and the relationships involved. always. the book lesson can be picked back up again, but the heart lesson is time sensitive and needs the attention in THAT moment, not when the schedule says so.

2. You don't always need a schoolroom.
We had one and honestly it was more work to keep it set up like a schoolroom than to just live life and utilize what worked practically (like the couch or a bed or the floor or in the car, ha!). Though there is some benefit to having everyone in one spot if you have a few young ones, but all the schoolroom decor and such... man, just save the cash for a trip to the zoo and extra pencils.

3. You don't need expensive or brand new curriculum.
pretty much you need paper, pencils (lots of pencils) and library books. the rest is just fluff. fluff is nice, dont get me wrong, but it isn't necessary. you have years of experience and knowledge to pass down to your children. If you can read and can teach your children to read, you're already ahead of the curve. Besides, education is about discovering and understanding the world around you, and you don't need a perfectly written and packaged lesson plan for that, you just need time to explore and ...well, more time to explore. we've had our share of "tight" school budget years and my kids didn't care if they had a 40 year old math book or a 2 year old math book. they didn't' care if their science for the day came from a free online seminar or from just being outside digging in the dirt.

4. You can never have too many pencils. 
yeah pretty much because they disappear at a rate of 3.7 pencils per second. where do they go?!?!? i dont know.

5. You can also never have too many pairs of scissors.
and tape. always have tape. an endless supply. and string. and cardboard. and markers. and a secret stash of chocolate just for you.

6. Math is DEFINITELY easier the second time around. 
I wasn't' a terrible math student. i mean, i passed highschool calculus, but i didn't always understand why something worked. but I actually understand it now as i tutor/help my kids along. so if you're feeling a little inadequate cause you weren't a great student growing up or you never felt confident in a certain subject, give it another try! and if you still aren't good at something, it's ok to say "i don't know". you don't always need to know the answers, its not our job to know everything; it's simply our job to help our kids learn how to discover the answers for themselves.

7. Every homeschool family looks different.
Don't waste time comparing. Yeah, be open to glean wisdom and support from one another, but don't measure your homeschool success with someone else's seemingly perfect daily routine.

8. Be the example.
Your kids are watching you. always. your words simply reinforce or contradict what they've already seen, which do you think they'll remember and emulate themselves? yeah, I'm thinkin' it's the things that actually line up in word AND deed.

so i guess that's a taste of what i've learned so far. 8 years down, 9 to go!!