Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Sad End to Andrew's Wrestling Season But a Few Happy Snapshots of Football From Last Fall

Now that college the college football season has ended, and the Green Bay Packers are finished, the football season in our house if officially over. * Sniff * I can't believe I'm actually saying this, but I do feel a little bit sad.  Football is just so American and family and food beer and tail gating and beautiful weather and yelling and throwing things and celebrating that I really do miss it when it's over.  

I'm one of those moms who tries to sit in the stands, somewhat calm and composed while cheering on our sons, but really you should know that most of the time I'm a nervous wreck inside, and my deodorant always fails every. dang. time. due to the pig like sweat that my uncontrollable pounding heart produces. (More sweaty details here.)

It's not that I'm nervous because I'm afraid of my kids failing, it's more like I suffer from a mix of one part excitement for my kiddos wanting them to have fun and do well and one part fear that they might get injured by some kid fifty times bigger than they are. And, speaking of injuries, an injury is the reason we are sitting out the wrestling season this year. Normally, we jump right from football into wrestling and I sprint from one anxiety laden sport to another, but we've had a change of schedule this year.  
{Sweet pea therapy}
Just a few days before Andrew's first wrestling meet, he partially tore his MCL.  That's the ligament that runs along the inside of the knee.  His child-like optimism kept hopes high that he would be able to wrestle again mid-season, but both parents and docs concur that it's best to sit this one out.  

At first, I know the thought of not being able to wrestle was quite a disappointment to Andrew, but as time has passed, Steve and I have both been so impressed by his cheerful disposition and ability to stay positive despite the pain to both the body and the heart that the injury has brought to him.  True to form, he said after we let him know that his season was over, "Well, I guess God has a different plan for me this year.  I can't wait to see what He's going to do with me now that I have all this free time."

Um, yeah.
I have a 12 year old spiritual director living in my house.  Convenient, huh?

Our Saturdays feel somewhat sane, now that we don't have to juggle Benedict and George's basketball games (pics to come!) and wrestling all in one day.   It feels somewhat strange that we won't be a wrestling family this year. For the first time in five years, we won't be spending our Saturdays packed into stinky, sweaty gyms waiting hours upon hours to watch our son wrestle for just a few minutes. { I know, you feel my pain.} Next year, people, next year!

Anyway, as I was trying to clean up my photos a few days ago, I realized that I never did write a post about Andrew's football season from last fall.  So, here's the overdue addition to our online scrapbook...
The real joy in watching Andrew play football is knowing that he is having the time of his life.  He dreams of playing college football then becoming a chaplain for a college or pro football team.  I love that our children express their dreams with so much fervor and hope.  To them, all things are possible!
He loves discussing plays with this teammates on the sidelines and is always huddled up with a few other players giving them encouragement.  Last season one of the referees pulled Andrew aside and thanked him for his positive sportsmanlike conduct.  Good stuff.

We try to remind our sons, that what you do in the presence of ONE is more important than what you do in the presence of many. God is always watching. Andrew is truly the same, steady, consistent boy in all circumstances, and his strong character and sincere goodness inspires us greatly. 
Being the only homeschooler on a team of boys who all know each other so very well from school, made me a little bit nervous for Andrew when he first started playing football in our community. But, the boys have been amazing, and Andrew really values their friendship and the brotherhood that comes from being a part of the team.
Because Andrew was able to play both offense and defense as fullback and outside linebacker, the games were really exciting for us to watch, as he had countless tackles and several key touchdowns. He says that defense is his favorite, because he loves blitzing the quarter back or stopping a good run in it's tracks! I'm not gonna lie, we love it too!! 
George nominated himself Cougar Football water boy and apparently everyone voted him in! So, on game day, his singular focus was chowing down a snack and hopping on his bike to ride to the stadium, because he "had" to be at the game at least an hour before kick-off just to be sure every water bottle was sufficiently topped off.

What's really great about this story is that, because of his heart condition, George cannot play full contact sports, including football.  And, football is the one sport he longs with all his heart to play. But, I guess if you can't play on the team, the next best thing is to serve the team, and he's got that one down good.
Mr. Chucklepants' favorite part of football season is hot dogs and chips and pop on hot days and hot chocolate on cold days and screaming at Andrew to "GET HIM!!" which of course means tackle!
When we weren't watching Andrew, most of us were passing Joey around, taking turns being the baby whisperer so that I could take pics of Andrew and just enjoy the game.  He was always in such good hands!
This is my most favorite picture of Andrew from football last year.  I snapped it right after his last home game. He is always lifting someone up, taking care of, or encouraging another, and he does it with such joy. God has given him awfully big shoulders...I know, because he has carried me up there a time or two.

Thankfully, Andrew's knee is on the mend.  Next up for our big guy? Baseball, then football camp. He's already counting down.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Over-the-Top Intensity of Youth Sports and Parents Who Make Me Want to Throw My Snow Cone

The other day I received an e-mail from one of our sons' basketball coaches that included an attached letter addressed to all of the parents who have children participating in youth basketball in our community this year.

The letter didn't concern details of practice times, game schedules or appropriate length measurements for uniform shorts (although that would be a super fun topic), in fact, it had nothing to do with our child athletes and everything to do with us parents.

There was no beating around the bush in this letter, no "three positives for every one negative." We were in trouble.  The detailed admonitions written into every line were a shameful slap on the hand. A slap that, I admit, was well deserved.

Say what you want, but if an athletic association has to threaten the dismissal of any parent(s) from a game due to their unsportsmanlike, their un-parent like conduct, then Houston, we have a problem. The letter actually confirmed my heightened anxiety toward the undeniable fact that with every year that our kids play sports, parents are taking the competitive intensity up a notch (in the wrong direction) and their poor behavior is on display for all the world to see.

Then again, maybe I'm the only one who actually read the letter, or felt a little frustrated that it was even delivered to my inbox in the first place.

At any rate, the whole thing has been bothering me, and it's got me feeling like maybe it's time we take a step back and ask ourselves why such a serious lack of self control, a lack of properly ordered emotion is becoming the new normal in many of, if not all, youth sporting arenas.

Let's not kid ourselves or make excuses here, people.
I see the over-the-top mentality all of the time, don't you?

When our boys first began playing sports, I was a bit shocked at the intensity that parents brought to the playing field. This was especially true when our boys started wrestling. No one told me the atmosphere in the gymnasium was going to be that intense - and by intense, I mean one dad literally threatened to beat my husband up after our son defeated his son in a match by points.  After screaming red-faced at the scoring table volunteers, he had to be physically removed from the mat.

After six years of our kids playing a variety of sports in SIX different communities, I've witnessed enough displays of rage and counterproductive upbraiding of child athletes, coaches and referees on the court, the mat and the field, that nothing surprises me much any more. Sad, isn't it?  I certainly don't want that to read as an admission of acceptance of the out-of-control-parents dictating the climate of the environment in which we place our children in for hours upon hours each season.  We strive to set a strong example for other families with young athletes by the way that we support our boys and their coaches, but unfortunately, that example is not going to be embraced by everyone.

Last summer our son, Andrew, participated in a pretty intense three day football camp.  On the final day of camp, parents were encouraged to come and watch their boys scrimmage. At thirty-nine weeks pregnant, I made the two hour trek to the camp to watch Andrew, hoping that climbing up and down the bleachers would stir up some contractions.

The hot summer sun and stair workout didn't induce labor but the scalding tempers of a good share of the parents screaming at their little athletes who failed to catch a pass or nail a tackle nearly did. Maybe you're thinking that I'm being overly sensitive, that yelling is just part of the game and I should accept that.  Well, honey, I can yell with the best of high school or college games when scholarships and championships are on the line, but NOT at little kids' events.

My blood pressure had to have been through the roof that afternoon, because it took Mr. Miyagi like focus to keep me from completely losing it. Every ounce of my preggo self wanted to chuck my snow cone at the haters and scream that real good pregnant scream (oh, you know what I'm talking about) "It's a freakin' camp, people! Chill OUT!!"

Don't get me wrong, I'm just as competitive as the next parent, my husband and I have played a lot sports and love that our sons are now doing the same. But, competition without a standard of respect for others is not the kind of competition that fosters growth in our children beyond the physical and athletic component of competition.
Our family recently watched the fantastic movie When the Game Stands Tall, an incredible story inspired by the legendary coach, Bob Ladouceur who took an average California high school football team and led them to a 151 game winning streak.

Now, I know that competition and parental involvement at the high school level is much different than at the youth sporting level, but certain elements of athletics should be the same at all ages, and one of those aspects is the understanding that sports aren't just about the game or the match or about personal stats and notoriety. Sports should be about the formation of the people who play them.

After achieving outstanding levels of success, countless accolades and press attention from around the nation, Coach Ladouceur still believed his purpose in coaching football was to help his athletes to understand and love much more than just the game. He wanted them to understand what it means to be a team, to have faith in your brothers, to believe in yourself and to offer your perfect effort in honor of the team, a team who is like family.  One of my favorite quotes from the movie is:

“Growing up is painful. It’s not easy. 
But that’s what our program is about, in case you haven’t figured it out. It ’aint about the football. 
It ’aint about scoring touchdowns. It ’aint about the win streak. It’s about moving you in a direction that will assist you and help you grow up, so when you can take your place out in the world and out in our society and out in our community, you can be depended on.” 

The contrast in the movie to Coach Ladouceur's strong character commitment is a father who's singular focus is the success and recognition of his son, a star senior player on the team.  The dad's constant verbal tirades toward his son, the coaches and officials, on and off the field, might leave one questioning why parents like him are becoming not the exception, but the norm in sports today.

Have we forgotten that sports weren't created for adults, they were created for the youth?

Local wrestling clubs and football teams, along with about a dozen other athletic opportunities, weren't established so that parents could relish supreme bragging rights on Facebook or so that kids could become community celbrities.  They were created to provide a platform from which coaches and parents together might teach kids about the bigger lessons in life in a fun and healthy way.

I know, seems a little crazy, doesn't it?  You know, letting your child shoot hoops so that he can make friends, strengthen his or her body and learn a little perseverance at the same time.  What value is there in all that if it doesn't include a little fame, right?

{Um, for those of you who reject sarcasm, the literal answer to my question would be "WRONG."}

I've seen kids cry over everything from being defeated to not getting the playing time they feel - yes, feel they deserve. They curse the refs for a "bad" call and speak disrespectfully toward teammates and coaches, and they do so NOT because they are "passionate" about their sport, but because they truly believe the essence of what we parents have drilled into their minds, and that is that sports and winning means recognition and recognition is EVERYTHING.

We have an insatiable need to be recognized for EVERYthing in this country. Social media is filled with proof: Look at this, it's a picture of my supper, my cat rolling over, my Christmas tree (same as last year), my pedicure, and myself, myself, my little selfie self.  If we as adults want to be seen, heard, appreciated, acknowledged, liked, admired and emulated, then naturally our children follow suit. With so much focus on self, there's just not much "we" in the experience of daily life and activities anymore unless it involves the share of blame or problems.

We, us, team that's what sports are supposed to be about.  Cooperation, dedication, encouragement, virtue....the sharpening of the interior, not just the exterior. This is also true of sports that look like individual sports, such as swimming, wrestling, gymnastics or track.

Our kids' coaches, as well as those who officiate their sports, are mostly volunteers who don't get paid.  But, they believe in the greatness of sports and are committed to helping make our kids' opportunities to play their favorite game on Saturdays possible.  I believe they deserve our support and encouragement, regardless of whether or not their able to call a perfect game or match.

If the coaching and officiating in your community is less than admirable, then you might consider volunteering yourself to coach.  If you're not qualified to coach or referee, find someone who is and recommend them to your community athletic association.

Here's the thing - poor coaching and bad officiating may seem supremely unfair, but hello, LIFE is unfair. So, how are you teaching your kids to deal with the challenges of life when things don't go their way? Screaming? Cursing? Pouting? Crying? Belittling others? Because, I see a lot of kids doing the very things they see their parents doing when it comes to facing personal loss or team defeat.

Our kids are watching us...they learn from us how to handle upsets, victories, setbacks, and unfair shakes. What are we teaching them from the stands, from the sidelines??

Little kids who are just trying to learn the skills required to play a sport, who are also just wanting to have FUN, cannot hide the disappointment they feel when they look up into the bleachers and see their parents freaking out over a missed foul. Suddenly something that wasn't even upsetting in the least to them becomes a huge deal because their parents showed them with their words and actions that this or that "unfair" call was some sort of crisis.

People ask me all the time how I feel about youth sports and whether or not I think they are good for kids and family.  I usually give a nice reasonable answer centered around the temperament of the child, the importance of parental involvement, keeping the focus on having fun, and connecting that all to the development of the person...not just the athlete.

But, now I think I'm gonna tackle the questions with a different set of answers:

If there's any chance you think that your child playing sports has any thing to do with YOU, then no, I wouldn't advise that they play.

If YOU expect your child to become a super-star at any cost then, negative on that one too.

If YOU are not capable of zipping it when your child loses or when the rulings are unfair, then I'm gonna have to go with NO.

If YOU do not see yourself as an encourager and teacher to your child in their sporting adventures, then, let's see....NO.

If YOU do not value the importance of showing respect to your child as an athlete, to their coaches and officials then how about another big fat NO.

If YOU, as a parent, DO NOT understand that it is YOU who set the primary example for your child when it comes to displaying positive behavior rooted in strong character, sportsmanship and self-control, then please, for the sake of the rest of us who are trying to make sports a positive, encouraging and reasonable enviornment for our kids, consider an alternative activity for your child.

C'mon parents.  Let's get it together for our kids, before we cheat them out of experiencing the best things that sports really have to offer.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Why I Let Our Boys Write My Resolutions for the New Year

Well, here I am, on the evening of the first day of being back to real life (work, school, laundry, non-fleece attire) finally ready to give you my little list of goals for the new year.  Because, as you can see, I like to be on top of things around here, hello January 6th.

It's not that I've been procrastinating when it comes to making some New Year's resolutions (that's my eternal NYR - stop procrastinating), it's just that this year I've decided to take a look at life and the direction I'm heading from a little bit different perspective. And, by perspective I mean that I've been hunkered down in this little hut for two weeks focusing on 6 ornery boys, who were bound and determined to overwhelm me with their mannish ways.

The past couple of weeks that I've been MIA from the web have been spent pretty unplugged, but I confess, I kind of enjoyed hibernating for a bit in my domestic dwelling, spending some hard core time living life with our boys....watching them play, listening to them chat about sports and more sports, and learning from their testosterone filled mannerisms...
Every big brother is a toy mentor.  
This looks a lot like a donut. I think I'd rather have a donut.
You're kidding! A box? I've heard about these things! 
Uh oh, there might be some coveting going on right there. The toddler is ready to snatch!
I love how every opening is a group meeting. Gather 'round, ya'll!

What I discovered in 14 days of dodging Nerf bullets, gluing on the hand of an "accidentally" broken wise man, and keeping my post in the kitchen (boy-oh-boy can my crew eeeeeat) is that I think that children can teach us a lot about being happy, healthy and holy in this life.  That's what all these resolutions are for anyway, right, to make us better in one way or another??

I'm not sure if my beloved children have short term memory loss or if they honestly don't give two bits about the former days irritations, but I've noticed that to them every day really is a new day, a fresh start. I love that about them - leaving the past in the past and living fully all that is here today. That forgetting the past bit, I'll admit, is not one of my finer skills. So, this year, instead of focusing on a big list of New Year's resolutions, I am narrowing my focus to a one-day-at-a-time scope.

365 New DAYS ~ Resolutions for 2015:

Spin the Fork
Is it just my kids or do your little ones have a serious disinterest in food 95% of the time, too? Charlie would rather practice spinning his fork on the edge of his plate than use it to put my lovingly prepared fare in his mouth.  Maybe I need to be a little bit less interested in food, too, which won't be easy, because I really love to cook and eat. My goal for this year isn't just to shed the holiday cookie, party booze, post baby weight combo, but it's to eat with intention.  Instead of inhaling the chow while driving, paying bills, blogging, teaching school or changing out the laundry (two days ago I found a bowl of uneaten cereal on top of the dryer - crazy, no?), I will take the time to sit down, chew, taste and enjoy my food.  Fork spinning is optional.

Hold the Glitter
I'm a woman, thus I prefer to complicate things as much as possible.  It's just my hormonal feminine genius at work.  But, honestly, it doesn't really fly in a house filled with men.  I kind of mope around sometimes playing the "woe is me" and "no one here understands me" victim of all that testosterone, but truth be told, there's a few things to be learned from their, shall we say, simplicity?

Boys are great at keeping life on a direct path. Cut to the chase, go for the goal, one foot in front of the other.  No squiggles, no unnecessary turns and fewer words is always better.

They don't need their pb & j's cut into stars and hearts, they prefer to wear the same shirt for 13 days straight, they can rewrite the rules of Monopoly to make it more interesting in 7 minutes and 46 words plus or minus a few gestures.  Bendy straws make perfect pistols and a chop sticks collection from my purse (thank you Pei Wei) provide hours of jousting, fencing and strategic catapulting of random objects across the room. And, if plowing through a states and capitals worksheet means more time to play outside then pass on the nifty glitter project from Pinterest that puts the exact same facts in their precious little heads.

I'm going to take some cues from the boys and try a little less is more, quality over quantity and if I don't make life color coordinate on every level then we will all survive!

Let It Go! 
(I'm so sorry if you have that song in your head for the next couple of hours.) Have you ever noticed how boys like to work out their problems with flying limbs, but as soon as the duking is over, they are instantly best buds again? This happens in our house all of the time.  One moment the rug is on fire from wrestling friction and the next those same boys are laughing hysterically over whoever just tooted.

Forgive and forget, that's what they do. Move on. Let it go. I'm gonna give that a try (minus the wrestling and punching, I think...). If my plan to shed the Christmas cookies doesn't make me feel lighter, at least leaving behind the ball and chain of grudge might.

Make Time For the Maker
Many of you who actually posted about your resolutions before the ball dropped on Times Square, mentioned a sincere desire to devote more time to prayer in this upcoming year.  Yes and Amen and Hallelujah! I am right there with you!

One of our sons requested a prayer book for Christmas, which truly touched my heart (his piety is such a gift....NOT from his mother, who preferred to play MASH and meditate on the dreamy blues of Kirk Cameron in whatever teen magazine she was reading when she was 12).

Anyhoo, I took the advice of a few trusted friends and purchased a copy of Fr. John Hardon's book of prayers and meditations for our oldest two boys, and I must say it is quite a jewel. Steve and I have dozens of prayer books and stacks of spiritual reading, but there's something very special about this collection of prayers that I think I might be sneaking it off of the boys' nightstand!

Surprise Me!
When I asked the boys to write a Christmas wish list for me, they couldn't wait to explain their hearts' desires, and I was thankful to know and appreciate their own individual wonderment. Henry, however, had just one thing on his list - a BB gun.  We gently explained to him that he is a bit young yet to receive such a gift.  We could sense his disappointment, but he never did ask for anything else. So, Santa brought him a gift that was a complete surprise, a new bike.
He had absolutely the very best time opening his gifts on Christmas morning, because each one was truly unexpected. As I was scrolling through the photos form Christmas day, I couldn't help but marvel at Henry's expressions.  Joy.  Pure joy. Delight, wonder, thanksgiving, contentment, all of it flowed straight from the purity of his precious little heart.

I make an awful lot of lists throughout the year...some practical, some wishful, others more along the bucket type.  But, I think I might try a little less planning, a little less wanting, a little less asking for or at least expecting so much.  Perhaps instead I will follow Henry's lead and let myself be surprised with whatever life brings. I do love a good surprise!

Here's to 365 359 new days!!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Chocolate Covered Candy Cane Marshmallow Generosity - The Boys' TakeCharge of the Treats

Since generosity is the virtue our family is focusing on this Advent, last week I asked the boys if they would like to put some charity into practice by making something homemade for their homeschool classmates. They were so eager to jump right in, that I decided to let them completely take charge of choosing and making the treats for their friends. 
This was a good idea because why, again, can you remind me??? Ha! Just kidding. Say it with me, sugar-coated chaos is fun!!

What I realized after it was all said and done is that if you give boys free reign in the land o' treat making they will always:

1. Instinctively find the recipe with the most grams of sugar per bite (marshmallows, candy canes, chocolate and sprinkles, need I say more?) Yay for dental bills! Note Exhibit A:
2. Continually lick their fingers even if you make them wear gloves. Behold Exhibit B (Charlie's 17th pair): 
3. Ruin half of the treats by infecting them with finger-licked germs, so you must always buy twice the number of ingredients and plan on the "easy" Pinterest project taking twice the amount of time than if you were making them yourself and zero children were near the cooking premises.
Of course, it always requires a healthy dose of patience and a bottle of Holly Nog to let kids make anything with more than two steps entirely on their own, but nothing is better than the pride and joy they feel in making something from start to finish all by themselves for someone else.
Aside from melting the chocolate for these little cavity inducers, and being on finger-licking patrol, I kept my arms out of the project and wrapped around Joey the entire time. The boys did such a great job! I wish I had a photo of them delivering the finished packages to each of their peers. Their grins were priceless.

Steve and I try to teach it is in giving that we receive to the boys, words we, as adults, are still trying to trust.  Being generous not only with our material blessings, but also with our time, can sometimes be a challenge to our self-seeking natures.

We can only be said to be alive when our hearts are truly conscious of our treasures.
 - Thornton Wilder

How many more days 'til Christmas, Mommy??

If you have little ones at your feet today, I bet that, like me, you've been asked that question countless times over the past few weeks.

Weren't we the same when we were young? There's so much excitement wrapped up in the Advent and Christmas seasons.  I wish I could say with 100% confidence that my boys are counting down to Christmas purely because they are awaiting the supreme gift of Christ, O Come, O Come Emmanuel, but the honest truth is they can't wait to see what Santa brings.

I'm not sure our nature changes all that much much as we get older.  The longing for something more, to be blessed, to be surprised, to be thought of, to be given something we can call our own is within each of us.  Those longings can be such a good thing, provided they are anchored in Christ.

My children make dozens of requests every day, from a necessary glass of water to unnecessary extras such as sweet treats, toys or more TV time.  Being asked over and over constantly for things is kind of exhausting, isn't it?

I wonder sometimes if I weary the Lord with all of my requests, I'm quite certain that I lack gratitude and thanksgiving in a measure that far exceeds my wants. Steve is always saying that we cannot give that which we don't possess.

How can I expect my children to live a life of gratitude if they don't see it in me, or hear it from me first??

There is so much to be thankful for. All of the time.

During the penitential seasons of the church, I like for our family to choose a virtue that we can focus on together, and this Advent we chose generosity.

Deep and sincere generosity toward others comes from a place of gratitude.  When we understand how blessed we are, giving to others is a natural response.  We have a quote from Ben Franklin on our wall that says, "What good can I do today?" I knew when I saw it in the store that it would become a focal point in our home, not just for the boys, but for Steve and me as well.

Despite the visual reminder hanging in our living room, there is still a tendency in our home toward selfishness. The children need a great deal of encouragement as well as practical opportunities to grow in virtue without being overly criticized for their faults or feeling overwhelmed by their weaknesses.

I always thought as the kids got older that we would go out as a family and participate in volunteer work at soup kitchens or shelters, but many of those places require kids to be of a certain age before they may volunteer.

So, until the boys are a bit older, I have to set my ideals aside and show them that our home is full of people to care for and every day offers an abundance of opportunities to be generous.
I am certainly no expert when it comes to raising sons, but many of you have asked for me to share details of few of what we do in our home to foster virtues in our children.  I also love it so much when you share your wisdom with me! Here are a few ways we encourage generosity in our sons:

At meal time, we ask each of our children to serve someone else at the table, and to be mindful, especially, of the littlest ones' needs to have their food cut, to have a water glass replenished, or second helpings given. While the younger children often desire a reward for their sacrifices, the older boys are beginning to discover the merits in exercising generosity without being asked or prompted.  They are attentive to Joseph when they know I am needed elsewhere, often clean up toys or dishes without being asked, and even take over another brothers' chore without him even knowing.

When they balk at being generous when asked, I find it is helpful (but not always a cure for the bad attitude) to remind the boys that we are ultimately serving the Lord, and that the rewards for every act of loving sacrifice are eternal.  Jesus didn't feel like giving His life for us, but He did, and He is the perfect example of charity in action.

When we're out as a family, during our time together in the car, I try to remind the boys that as young men they are called to be an example of courage, strength and sacrifice to the world.  They can demonstrate these virtues by opening doors for others, assisting the elderly, being gracious to those who serve us and even just cheerfully acknowledging others with a kind hello or how are you can be an act of sincere generosity.

I think it is especially important, as well, that children remember generosity toward grandparents. Our boys pull weeds and mow lawns for grandparents during the summer months whenever possible. And, if they are not sure how they can be helpful, we just remind them to ask, "Is there anything I can do to help you today?" Grandparents cherish children's thoughtfulness and their helpful hearts, too!

Each Christmas the boys put their names in a hat and draw someone whom they will either buy or make a gift for.  If they don't have any money of their own, and want to purchase a gift, then we put up a list of chores that can be completed for payment such as detailing the car or cleaning out the garage. I feel that this doubles their generosity, because they have to sacrifice play time to work hard in order to obtain their goal!

In addition to Christmas, birthdays and Father's day are also special times during the year for them to show extra special acts of generosity toward others through the gift of sharing something they possess, doing chores for others, or making or buying a gift for a family member.

I really love how every day family life provides the most perfect and abundant opportunities for everyone to strive toward living a virtuous life.  It just takes a little bit of effort on the parents' part to show the children how precious these opportunities are, and that the value in seizing the opportunities has an eternal reward.

Friday, December 19, 2014

A Snowman Named Phil, Good Reads, Goal Setting and Cocktails to the Rescue {7 QT Friday}

TGIF!! Steve and I are heading out the door with the gang for a day of Christmas shopping. Yes, we are crazy!  Even with homing devices attached, walkie-talkies fully charged and the diaper bag busting with baby stuff plus emergency melt down supplies (dum-dums and Smarties - Smarties are best for rationing) I'm 90% certain we'll still have to stop at the liqueur store on the way home. Before we venture out into the land of holiday delights, I thought I'd throw some 7 quick takes at ya:

- 1. -
We had a little snow spell here that lasted less than 24 hours, and the boys made the most of it.  It was that heavy, wet snow, perfect for rolling into snowballs and snowmen.  I posted Henry and George's creativity on Facebook yesterday:
So, this is Phil. Phil enjoys biking, gardening, collecting leaves, grooming his beard and eating at Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers. 

- 2. -
Steve and I would like to personally thank those of you who have reached out to us with such great kindness over the past few days in response to the post I wrote sharing news of his struggle with Lyme disease.  Since we are fortunate to have caught his symptoms in the early stages, Steve's condition is, at present, not as severe as many patients who have been suffering from the disease for years.  He is bearing the load of the illness so courageously, rarely complaining and offering always every ounce of strength he has to serve the family and to be attentive to our children.  

To walk beside him in all of this is a privilege, and he inspires me daily.  I am amazed that Steve is still going to CrossFit.  Although he admits it's a struggle to be so much weaker and slower than he was a year ago, he continues to try because pushing through a workout bolsters his confidence and fighting spirit against the disease. I love that about him!

- 3. -
In light of #2, finding time to run has become more important than ever.  If you've been here before, you've heard me say time and time again that exercise for us ladies is the very best way to manage stress, our hormones, emotions and to stay strong so that we can better serve our family and community.  For the first time ever, I actually sat down and put together a tentative race calendar for 2015, which includes a few half marathons and one full marathon and of course a lot of little races here and there.  On a lighter note, I'm kind of loving the crazy running tights trend.  I actually threw on a fun pair yesterday, which resulted in confused expressions from the men in the house.  I enjoy confusion *wink.*

- 4. -
We decided to put up our tree a bit later than usual this year in hopes that it might inspire a deeper sense of anticipation in the boys, and I have to say that it truly has.  Each week of Advent, we've been adding ornaments to the Jesse tree, sprucing up the house, putting up lights outside, baking treats and doing everything except decorating the tree.  Steve and I love watching our kiddos dig through the box of ornaments in search of their favorites.  We get so tickled at how all of the ornaments seem to end up in one spot on the lopsided tree.  After the boys go to bed, we do a bit of rearranging, laughing over the recollection of the evening's events.

- 5. - 
Another tradition we enjoy during Advent is reading by the fire.  The boys have their stash of books, and Steve and I like to choose something that we read together each holiday season, too.  This year we're really diving into Dr. Scott Hahn's book, Joy to the World.  It is absolutely amazing.  But, aren't all of his books? When is that last time you read one of his works and thought to yourself, "Welp, that was pretty average." Exactly. I daydream of returning to the school days, of sitting in Dr. Hahn's classroom and absorbing all of the wisdom and truth he has to share, but since that's not likely to ever happen, reading his books is a pretty fine second.

- 6. -
Look who's six months already!! The rice cereal adventures have begun, which he loves. This new little snack has made Mr. Chubbikin's thighs even chubbier which is the best. thing. ever!

- 7. -
Next to my overflowing recipe board on Pinterest, the one that generates the most successful activity (and results *hee-hee*) is the cocktail board.  If you're looking for some super fun sippers for the holidays or a 911 to help you handle awkward family moments, you're welcome to check out my bag of tricks.  Of course, if you're an expert in this department, I would love for you to fill me in on one or all of your favorites in the comments!

Have a fabulous weekend, my friends!! XO

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Because Sometimes an Illness is the Very Best Reason to Party -Unfolding the Story of Steve's Struggle With Lyme Disease

The week before Thanksgiving I (with the help of many generous souls) threw a dandy of a surprise party for my husband, Steve, in honor of his 40th birthday.

Throwing parties is not one of my gifts. Just thinking about it makes me sweat profusely with stress. But, with a lot of help, I mean a lot, we did it, and it was awesome! I wanted to take many more pics of the day we spent cooking and decorating in preparation for the festivities, but we were all running around like crazy trying to pull everything together, so I had very little time to get behind the lens.
Steve's sister, Jennifer, and her daughter Brianna worked their magic in the kitchen.  Bri is the baby-sitter extraordinaire.  Joey is in love with her.  Deep, deep love.
My friend, Susan, who happens to be the amazing mother of nine precious souls (so you know she has tons of free time) came to help me decorate for the party. She possesses the rare, yet precious, talent of figuring out how to unravel a mess of tangled balloons!

Both my mom and Steve's mom did SO MUCH to make all of the carefully thought out plans a reality.  They seriously moved at lightening speed, and I wish I had photo evidence of all their generosity and effort!
My goal was to keep the decorations masculine yet simple, but ya'll know that with Pinterest, anything that looks simple is never really simple. Ahem.
My mom was incredible during the weekend of the party. She was right beside me all weekend helping at home with the kids and the entire day during the set-up process being much more attentive to the little special details that I didn't have the time or energy to focus on.
Steve's mom generously gave me her time and assistance for two solid months making phone calls, digging up pictures, advising, watching kiddos, running errands. It was a gift to bring the event together for her son, whom we both love so much.  I was really touched that her entire family was able to be at the party!
Steve with two of his best college buddies from Farmhouse fraternity, Steve and Scott.

One of the most fun decorations we put together was a big 40 that we covered with photos from Steve's life from birth to present.  Watching guests gather around the pics to catch a glimpse of his life was such a treat.
A supremely talented friend from our parish agreed to make Steve's birthday cake.  She did an amazing job, didn't she?? She not only made the cake for Steve, she gave it to him as a gift!

Friends came from far and wide, and those who couldn't come sent loving messages and sincere wishes for fun - and fun did we have!
Our friend, Sara, came from out West and, let me tell you, she was the life of the party!
Stephi and Joe were my picture takers - without them this would be a pictureless post!

Over one hundred people came to celebrate with my guy.  He was truly touched by all of the sacrifices and efforts that so many people made in order to be there with him that night.
Our amazing friends, J.P. and Elizabeth traveled from KC for the party!
These two...oh, my gosh, these two!! They kept us on our toes all night, and we were so happy that they made the long drive to spend the evening (and early morning *eek!*) with us!
Several of Steve's fraternity brothers and their beautiful wives were able to make it to the party. We are so blessed to have been able to stay connected with them over the years since graduating from KSU. His brother, Scott, agreed to give a toast, and it was one that we will never forget.
There wasn't a dry eye in the room as Steve's dad also shared a toast. At least my eyes weren't dry, but that's because crying is something I'm really good at. I should be in a sad movie, because I can cry on cue.
Watching our parents dance together is such a supreme joy!
Annie Up = Most awesome party band evah!
We ate, drank and danced - yep, I hired a band, and they were crazy good! Steve and I have always loved to dance.  We secretly dream of being wedding crashers. (Did I just admit that??) Getting a wedding invite in the mail, especially if the wedding festivities include dancing, is like the supreme gift.  Hiring a band for the party was the easiest part of the surprise planning.
Joey was an absolute trooper. He enjoyed being passed around between the guests, adorned with hugs and smooches, and even twirled around on the dance floor a time or two!

So how did all this craziness come to be?? Last fall, when I realized Steve would be turning forty in December, I knew that I wanted to do something really special, not just because he would be reaching one of those landmark birthdays, but for reasons much bigger than that....

It was almost exactly one year ago when, on an ordinary afternoon of school and chores, I found my husband, whom I thought was in his office fielding business calls, on the bathroom floor completely overcome with uncontrollable anxiety. I immediately dropped to my knees, reaching out to wrap my arms around the broken man who fought desperately to hide his swollen tear-filled eyes behind the cover of calloused hands.

I had hoped and prayed that this day would never come.  Just six months earlier, Steve began experiencing sensations of numbness and tingling in his hands and occasionally his feet.  The symptoms were sporadic, so we both gave it little attention until one day he came home from work bothered by uncontrollable muscle twitches on the backs of his legs, and a disturbing inablity to concentrate or focus on daily tasks.

I'll never forget the look in his eyes as he explained to me how bothersome the twitching and foggy brain symptoms were.  It was a look of both worry and fear.  That day was the beginning of a long and arduous process of researching illnesses that might be associated with Steve's symptoms. Eventually, we narrowed the symptoms down to what we believed could be Multiple Sclerosis, ALS or Neurological Lyme Disease.

After weeks of appointments, phone calls, more research and tests, Steve was given the Lyme diagnosis.

The past few months have been filled with many ups and downs physically, mentally, and emotionally for my love.  At times it feels as though he is adjusting well to this new way of life, a life that requires Steve (and myself) to be much more attentive than before the diagnosis to his day-to-day habits that affect his health. Being attentive to a healthy diet, regular exercise, proper rest, remembering medications and supplements, tracking and journaling symptoms, and embracing the reality of physical limitations that were simply never there before has been an adjustment for everyone.

Once we put a treatment plan in place (last winter), Steve began to experience some relief from his symptoms, so we were very encouraged and felt as though we were on the right track with regards to his medical protocol.  Unfortunately, late last summer, some of Steve's symptoms began to escalate, and new ones popped up with a vengeance. He began experiencing terrible sensations of pulsating frequencies in his head, especially at night time, which often left him completely unable to sleep. Naturally, his ability to concentrate, to remember the names of friends and family, or even simple objects became terribly difficult.

He was exhausted and worried that these new symptoms the Lyme was presenting would not be remedied and could even get worse.  The worry was nearly consuming.  Nothing can prepare you, as a wife and mother, for the great amount of strength and fortitude required to truly care for a sick spouse, and manage the needs and lives of all the little ones too.

If you are reading this and have dedicated your life to caring for a sick child, spouse, parent or friend, I wish I could reach out and embrace you this very moment.  I offer you my deepest empathy. Words cannot possibly describe the weight that presses upon the care-taker's heart, and I know you understand what I am saying and feeling.

Steve's doctor, who was very concerned with his new set of symptoms, recommended that he begin testing for Multiple Sclerosis. Many of the symptoms that Lyme disease can present are similar to symptoms for M.S., Fibromyalgia, Parkinson's, ALS, and a number of other neurological diseases, which is why those very illnesses are often misdiagnosed.  The doctors believe a patient has M.S. or some other neurological disease, but he or she actually has Lyme disease.

The days of waiting for his testing to begin were filled with terrible anxiety for Steve.  He couldn't help but worry about what the future held for him as the provider and protector of our family.  To say that my heart was completely broken for him is an understatement.  I simply cannot explain the intensity of my desire to take away all of the pain and worry from him.

I've never prayed as hard as I did during those weeks when Steve was suffering most.  It's funny, but I've never been one to enjoy getting up at night with our babies for multiple feedings, but I am truly thankful that Joseph has been waking often in the night to nurse, because I want to be up, ready to help Steve in case he cannott sleep and, if nothing else, just to pray over him again and again and again.

When Steve's doctor encouraged him to begin testing for M.S., I knew right then and there, that I wanted to do something significant to celebrate his upcoming birthday.  At the present time, he still possessed a good amount of physical strength and mobility and was trying to carry on through the days as normal as possible.

I couldn't help but think that a year from now, the picture of life could look quite different than the present.  Would he be confined to bed or to a wheelchair?  Would it be necessary to send the boys to school so that I could dedicate myself to caring for Steve full time?

These were all frightening questions, yet very strong possibilities that we wrestled with day after day as we waited for Steve's test results.  During the wait, I decided to move forward with my idea to host a party.  I booked a band, locked in a great venue, and gathered Steve's family together to see if they would join me in the planning and execution of the event.

Just days after diving into the party plans, I received a call from a very emotional and relieved husband who called to share the wonderful news that the results of his M.S. tests were negative. I cannot tell you what an enormous relief this was to both of us!  Now the question was, what can we do to step up his treatment of the Lyme?

Everyday we are devoted to researching possibilities and opportunities for potential treatments of the disease. Steve's symptoms continue to change from week to week and their frequency and severity is often unpredictable, which makes understanding the disease a monumental task.

To watch someone you love so much, someone who has always been in perfect health, suffer so greatly is a mighty cross to bear.  And, yet, as I say that, I can also speak with complete confidence that Lyme disease is not something that has happened to Steve, but rather something that has happened for him.  Our crosses are often a gift, a mercy meant to bear a particular fruit in our lives if we are willing to offer ourselves unreservedly to the Father, trusting in his great plan and purpose.

We pray daily for Steve's healing, but we pray even more that he might be a docile and loving servant of the Lord, submitting himself freely to accept with humility the greatest good that can possibly come of all of this.  If it be healing than praise the Lord, and if it be to suffer the terrible pains of mind and body as well as the physical limitations that the Lyme brings, then Praise Him Still.

Looking back, I'm truly happy that I decided to surprise Steve on his 40th.  There's something so beautiful about friends and family coming together for a celebration.  I believe that celebrations can open our eyes to glimpses of heaven, the supreme eternal party, and that glimpse has the power to infuse a deeper sense of hope and encouragement into the heavy hearted, the broken body, the tired soul.

I know that's exactly what the surprise party did for Steve (and for me as well).

If you could be so kind as to keep Steve in your prayers, I will be eternally grateful.  We are thankful for your friendship and support, and promise to keep you posted on any new developments concerning Steve's condition.