Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Break Up I've Been Waiting For

Yesterday, I strolled into the kitchen and found George sitting at the counter, dutifully calculating three digit sums, while his little brother sat beside him happy as a lark gnawing on an apple, juicy drool rolling down his itty-bitty chin, chubby legs swinging freely as he dined.  
I nearly dropped the dishpan.
This was the day I had been waiting for, the day I had been hoping for since Charlie's love affair with Lays BBQ chips first began.  (You can read about the saga here, if you please.) The day when my baby would listen to his inner angel and dump those little munchy devils for something better.
I should have suspected that underneath all of that adorable innocence he might have a tendency to love those irresistibly crispy, salty, fried yum-yummies.  I mean, I don't want to point any fingers at genetics, but his father has eaten a pb & j with BBQ chips almost every every evening of our married life - no matter what I make for supper.  And, he can, because the last time he went up a jean size he was still trying to figure out what color of bow tie and cumber bun to wear to the prom.  So, should it suffice to say, "Like father, like son" here?? I think so.

I'm not gonna lie, I love on occasional chippy-chip too. (Cheddar and sour cream, please.)  Chips pair nice with a bottle of brew on a Saturday afternoon with some college sports action. Don't gasp.  I live with 6 men, it was bound to happen.  But, it's not like I eat them E.V.E.R.Y. day. I mean, c'mon, I have a health and fitness page on this blog.  I actually care about helping others make good choices about what to eat, and I like to tell them what not to eat, too. (Please don't compare me to that other health "expert "who is also bossy when it comes to food, and who also has a new haircut, and likes to garden - except mine is real, and who also has opinions - though opposite of mine - about school lunches, and who adores her sometimes irritating husband.)
My baby does love fruit, but if I had to give him a choice at morning or afternoon snack time between Lays or a Pink Lady, I would always bet on the first option.  Thankfully I am not alone in this fight. The big brothers have joined my crusade.  They know the rules: 1. Keep the pantry door shut at all times. 2.  If Charlie should break into the pantry, remove the goods from his chubby clutches immediately and carry him out gently.  

Sometimes our reinforcements have failed, and I've considered a lock or an alarm system.  My first mode of operation with "No Chip Charlie" was to put the enticers up high on a shelf, but then (I'm not going to name names here) a certain someone, who eats them every day, would indefinitely leave them out within reach.  The next step was to completely quit buying them.  Who needs them anyway?? All for one and one for all, right?  No good. They mysteriously reappeared.  And, the only thing I got from an interrogation of the guilty party was shoulder shrugging and sheepish looks. Whatever, Mr. 32 x 36!!

It was no use.  I threw my hands up.  I prayed a little, I cursed, a lot (but only while drying my hair or making a margarita with the blender since there are little ears around here).  It wasn't up to me any more.  It was up to Charlie (and his daddy too, but we already know that the Pope will eat meat on Fridays during Lent before my husband abandons his chippalicious habit.)  

Then, it happened one day when I least expected it.  My baby listened to his little inner angel and fell in love with the fruit.  Bye-bye chips. We are never, ever, EVER getting back together (yes, I'm thinking Taylor Swift, here).  Did I just say that? 

Until next time, friends!!

Oops - P.S. I've been nominated for a little award over at A Knotted Life and would be overjoyed if you moseyed on over there to vote for me in the "Most Inspiring" category.  Thank you!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Every Kid Wears Smarty Pants ~ My Interview With Bri the Bunny Expert

Last week I got to spend some seriously sweet time with my niece Brianna and my nephew Ethan.  They know that if they are in the same room with me they are either:
1. Going to get hugged (like a thousand times) or
2. Going to get asked a lot of questions, because I want to have a great relationship with them, and also because I'm nosey, but mostly because I love them.  What??

One thing I love, love, love about kids is how incredibly smart they are!! Seriously, if they ever knew that they are so much smarter than most adults, our gig would be over!  My boys can rattle off so many facts about Star Wars Lego mini-figures in one breath that they could probably become a You Tube sensation.  Our little facticians are also pretty impressive when it comes to guns, sports starts, Egyptian mummies, slimy things and tractors. No need for me to Google those topics (why on God's green earth I would ever need to it's hard to say). Having an unlimited source of information on testosterone topics is just one of the fabulous benefits of giving birth to five boys.

I'm always asking them, "How did you know that?" or "Where did you get all of that information?"  And, when they ask me, "Did you know that, mom?"  The answer is always, "Yes honey, I just wanted to hear all about it from you!" Love that one...but it only has approximately 0.375 years of fooling left in it.
She is so stinkin' adorable! Check out the white coat. It really makes her look bossy.
 I need one to wear around here - you know, to help with my bossiness.

So, what's the point?? Oh, yes, remember how I was talking about how smart kids are?? Well, my niece, Brianna is a super smarty-pants. One of her areas of expertise is animals.  She gets her passion for animals from her beautiful mother, and it's really neat how both kids enjoy animals and are happy to share their knowledge with others (Ethan is an expert on chickens - that will be another blog!).
Snuggle bunnies wobbled around on the carpet and eventually huddled together for some comfort.

Last year, Bri entered her Himalayan rabbits in the county fair and won Grand Champion for showmanship. This winter, she decided to take on the task of breeding her female rabbit, Bella.  Well, it seems as though Daddy John and Mommy Bella get along just fine, because now they have a little family! Because Bri has become a true expert on rabbits, I asked her if she would agree to an interview for the blog, and to my delight she agreed!! (This was a great lesson for the boys, since all they know about rabbits is how to hunt them. Nauseous? Sorry. Outraged? Also, sorry. In disbelief? Explanation here...After a 15 minute Q and A session, this is what I learned:

Why did you begin a rabbit project for 4-H?
Rabbits are cute.  That's what interested me.

What breed are your rabbits?
Well, you know that this isn't my first year at this right? (Pardon Moi!) Last year I showed the Polish breed, but this year I decided to show Himalayans, because they are smaller, more docile and easier to hold which is better for showing at the fair. 

Bri holding the proud and docile papa, Mr. John.

What do you feed John and Bella?
They like lettuce, the bunny food we get at the farm store and these things called Yogis.  They are like carrot flavored treats.

Can I eat them? You know I like veggies and I like yogurt too!
{Giggles} Gross, Aunt Sue!

What is the best part of caring for your rabbits?
I really like to groom them.
Why did you decided to get into breeding?
I thought it would be fun to learn about the baby bunnies and to sell them to kids in loving homes so that they can see how much fun they are!

In this photo, the babies are just shy of two weeks.  Aren't their feet adorable?? 
Can you say Thumper??

How many babies were in Bella's litter?
She had 6 babies.

Those ears, oh my, those ears.
Is that the most she could have?
No, she could have up to 12 in one litter!
This is where the babies sleep.  Mama Bella feeds them just once a day. Talk about a dream job - ha!

What are the proper terms to use when talking about rabbits being male or female?
A male is called a buck, a female is a doe, a baby is a kit and a litter of bunnies is called kits.

Would you share how you learned to show your rabbits at the fair?
I went to a few club meetings where they teach showmanship techniques - how to handle the rabbit, how to place it to be judged and also how to groom the rabbit.

Are you just judged on showmanship?
No, we are also judged on composition, which is the health and vitality of the rabbit.
Bri and her wall of fame.  She really is very humble and modest - until I break out the camera, then she's a total celebrity! I love it!!

Do you get nervous before your judges interview?

What is one piece of advice you would give to someone who is thinking about buying a rabbit?
I would tell them to get a boy first, and not a girl, because boys are more calm and they are easier to handle. (Okay, we better fact-check that one, just in case any bunny-feminists should comment.)
Benedict is smitten! 

Friday, January 25, 2013

7 Quick Takes ~ Glass Half-Full

Most weeks you take the good with the bad, the happy with the sad, yada - yada - yada.  But, some weeks it's so easy to get stuck in the muck, that it seems nearly impossible to recognize the good that's taken place....until you go looking for it.  That's my story for this week - it seems that there has been heaps and piles of not so fun stuff (besides the laundry), I'm talkin' 'bout real dog-house days with an abundance of moaning and groaning on the side just to make sure that everyone is miserable.  Now that it's Friday, I've decided to lead us out of the darkness and into the light with the "glass half full" march. It's time to turn the beat around right here, right now.  And, the best way to get things to start looking up is to change our open our eyes to the good and to be grateful.  Here's my glass-half-full week:

1.  Hearing my boys laugh is some good medicine.  Sunday I decided to take a spontaneous road trip to visit my sister-in-law and her family.  On the way, the boys and I took turns telling funny stories that we remembered about each other.  Nothing like a little family there to applaud all of your goofiness! Then we played "Catechesis for Candy" (I ask them questions about their faith, the scriptures, etc. and if they answer correctly they get a piece of candy.)  They did awesome! And, it opened up a great deal of positive discussion about living our faith in the world today.
Thank you, Beauty for Ashes, for this little truth!
2.  Any time I get to sit down with my sister-in-law and share some laughter and tears over a good glass of wine, it is a blessing.  She is one of the greatest gifts in my life.  Mostly because she shares her wine.  Just kidding! :)
3.  I got to smother my adorable niece and nephew with hugs and questions.  I'm a bit of a question addict.  I think I would have made either a great lawyer or reporter.  Did you order the code red??? Anyhoo....Ethan and Bri are super patient with me and kindly keep their eye-rolling and sighs to a minimum.  Brianna is a bunny expert, and I loved interviewing and photographing her for Monday's post.  She's a natural celebrity. {{Giggles}}
Hootie and the Blowfish ~ Time
4.  The kids were so exhausted on the way home from Wichita that they passed out into limp lumps of snores and drools. In order to stay awake on the drive, I did what any mom in my situation would do - I busted out my stash of old cd's from the B.C. days (before children) and I rock, rock, rocked all the way home.  Thank you Hootie and the Blowfish and Mariah Carey for making it possible.
5.  Stella and Rose were here to greet us when we arrived home.  (I always let out a little sigh of relief when I see that they're alive and well after we've been gone.) They really are such a bright spot in our lives, and always love us, no matter how barfy or tired or grouchy or hormonal or slighted or pathetic we feel.  That's real love, man.  Even if it is puppy love.
6.  The checker at the grocery store last night did not ask me if I was having a party (that's usually their first assumption when they see massive amounts of food heaped up so high it's sliding out of the cart.  She also did not ask me if all of the children were mine, if I run a day-care, if I know how this happened, or if I plan to have more.  She pretty much just scanned the food while I tried not to stare at her strange facial piercings.  She stood on her side, and I stood on mine and we just kept our "she's weird" thoughts to ourselves.  It was nice.
7.  I did it.  I waved good-bye to the locks and am now sporting a fun fresh do.  I will probably end up growing it out, just 'cause I kind of like long hair, but for now I'm really diggin' it.  And, the boys don't mind it either.  When I walked in the door yesterday, they shared their analysis of the new situation:
#1: Well, I don't hate it like I thought I would. (Please, tell me what you really  think.)
#2: You look 20 years younger. (Did I look that old?)
#3: Mom, who cares about hair? Can't you see I'm trying to play a game here??
#4: You never get your hair cut, so it will be long again soon anyway.
#5: Wowzers. (Hubby)

Have a great weekend, everyone!!
Glass half-full!! 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Splendid Silent Sun

Happy Wednesday, friends!! I haven't been able to squeak out a post for the past week due to the war I've been waging against the ferocious flu bug, which is trying it's crazy best too keep us all under the covers. So, in substitution of something new, I thought that I'd dig out the old photo albums and give you a little peek into my world.  Even though I wrote this post last winter, it's words still ring true in my heart.  

I am a tree lover. Not a tree hugger - just to be clear.

Ask my children how much I love them.

When we lived in Kansas City, our trips to various parks or the Arboretum were often filled with leaf collecting and identification, tree climbing and gazing at the changing shapes and colors throughout the seasons.
Running the trails lined with canopies of shading beauties was a retreat for my mind and soul.  They had a way of  taking me into my favorite Jane Austen films, the characters strolling shady lanes contemplating life and love. So, too, is The Lane - Anne Shirley's most precious place to walk with friends, find inspiration or to be alone. My secret joy was to discover fellow landscape lovers in their yard tending to their trees or flowers. Stopping to visit with them was always an education filled with insightful tips and advice. 

I miss it all so very much.
Five hundred miles across the state, the landscape is very different.  On a clear day you can see for thirty miles, no hills, trees or smog to obstruct the view.  Any cluster of trees most surely marks a homestead or what was once a flowing stream or river.  The sandy soil, blistering winds and intense heat combined, do not play gracious host to lush and abundant foliage.
I am learning, however, that when you are taken out of the "abundance" the eye, as well as the soul, become more sensitive to glimpses of beauty wherever it can be experienced.
In the absence of trees, I have witnessed the vast expanse of magnificent sunsets that from horizon to sky, display a brilliance of colors indescribable. And, if that were the supper for my sights, dessert most certainly would be served in the stars.  Not intermittent specs in the sky, (my view from front porch suburbia), but a blanket of shimmer, patterns of bright outshining the dark.  Without the competition of streetlights and smog, they are just what God always hoped we would see and enjoy. Beauty in unexpected places.
Give me the splendid, silent sun. ~ Walt Whitman

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Toasted Snowballs in Chocolate Sauce

A couple of years ago, I made this dessert for my family for the first time.  Ever since then, they ask for it often (like, every day). The original recipe came from Susan Branch's cookbook, Autumn.  The recipe below is generally the same with just few slight adaptations of my own. This dessert can be made ahead of time, which is nice if you are having guests over. To serve, simply warm the syrup, make a puddle on your favorite dish and place a snowball in the center.  If you want to get fancy, serve with a mint leaf garnish on the side. Enjoy!!

To Toast the Coconut:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread sweetened coconut on a cookie sheet (I use about 1/2 bag for 1/2 gallon ice cream) and bake for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally until toasted. Watch it carefully, it can burn quickly!

To Prepare the Ice Cream:
Note: If you can find cinnamon ice-cream at your grocer, that is the easiest way to prepare this dessert. I, however, have not been able to find it over the past couple of years, so this is my improvisation!

Soften 1/2 gallon of good vanilla bean ice cream, and scoop out the entire container into a large bowl. In a smaller bowl combine until well blended 1/2 cup (do not pack) brown sugar, 3 tablespoons of ground cinnamon (more or less to your liking) and 1/4 teaspoon of salt.

Sprinkle cinnamon mixture over ice cream and stir until well combined.  You can use a stand up mixer with a paddle attachment if you like, but do not use a hand mixer.  Return to freezer until firm enough to scoop into balls that will hold their shape.

Scoop out 1/2 cup size portions into round balls and roll in coconut, giving each one a generous coating.  Store in an airtight container until ready to serve.  I like to make these ahead of time, but you can save this step until you are ready to serve if you like.

Homemade Chocolate Sauce Recipe:
 **You will never buy Hershey's syrup ever again!!**
3/4 c. milk (whole milk works best)
1 Tbs. real butter
3 oz. unsweetened chocolate (use a high quality baking chocolate)
1 1/2  c. sugar
3 Tbs. light corn syrup
1 tsp. vanilla (Mexican vanilla is wonderful if you have it!)

Note: If you do not have unsweetened chocolate on hand, you may also substitute 1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips and reduce the sugar amount to 1 cup, and the recipe will turn out fine.

Heat milk over low heat and melt butter and chocolate in it, stirring constantly until smooth.  Add in sugar and corn syrup and cook, stirring for about 5 minutes.  Stir in vanilla.  Serve hot or cold. Refrigerate any leftovers. Try to resist the temptation to drink it straight out of the container. Or, don't resist, because chocolate is good for you!!

The Spiritual Impact of Healthy Living

Last night as I was driving my son, Ben, home from basketball practice we shared some great conversation over his favorite topic of sports.  We talked about everything from his favorite NBA players to the hope of going to a K-State game sometime this winter.  Our conversation soon fell into deeper matter as we began connecting athletics to the spiritual life, to strength of character, teamwork and family unity.

Just before pulling into our driveway I turned to Ben and said, "No matter what athletic endeavor you take on, you need to know what your purpose is in going after it." He immediately followed my question with his own question, "Why are you training for a marathon, mom? Why do you want to run so far??"

I love it when Providence lines things up in your life like a series of dots for you to connect in relation to a prayer, a scripture, or a thought process.  Long before Ben ever asked that question of me, I had pondered it within my own heart.  Ever since I was 19 and diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, I've been trying to beat it. Trying to trump the odds of never being able to do such things as run a marathon.  I knew from an early age that I wanted to discover God's purpose for my life and fulfill His mission with zeal, and I wasn't about to let an illness get in the way - not if there was something I could do to help it.

And, there was.  I soon learned that I could eat better, exercise smarter, stretch often, breathe deeply, sleep well and continue to pray.  All of these things have kept me on a (mostly) solid track of healthy living - I'm managing the Fibromyalgia instead of it managing me.  For many Christians, we strive for the strength of health and fitness of our souls - which of course is priority - but often fail to acknowledge the importance of healthy living physically, attending to our bodies for the sake of keeping our temple strong for the service of which God has called us to.
After my conversation with Ben, I decided to search for a few encouraging podcasts that I could listen to on my long runs.  The first option that came up on I-tunes under "Focus on the Family" was a two-part series on the Spiritual Impact of Healthy Living by Gary Thomas.  BINGO! I have listened to both interviews, and they are truly insightful and encouraging.  One of the quotes that I took away from his first interview was inspired by the scripture from 1 Corinthians 6: 19-20:

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the 
Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God?
You are not your own; you were bought with a price.
So, glorify God in your body.

From this text, Gary was inspired to share the reality that our bodies are meant to be an instrument for the Lord, not an ornament for the Lord.  I would like to take it a step further and say that our bodies are an instrument for the Lord, not an ornament for the world.  Wouldn't this be an perfect teaching tool for young people, especially girls, who diet and exercise to please others, who want to look a particular way in order to garner attention?

I hope you will take the time to listen to both of these radio programs. They really are insightful and motivational!  If you have an i-tunes account, you can also find them in the podcast section under "Focus on the Family."

Rarely do the pages of this blog connect in topic matter, but this week, I'm happy to say that the Health & Fitness page and this, the Faith page are definitely in sync. I invite you to head over to the Health & Fitness page for a little more encouragement! There you will find a list of tips on how to get started moving in the direction toward a healthier way of life.  May your journey to good health and fitness be blessed!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Elmer Fudd Takes on Flesh

If cartoon animation could take on flesh, I would bet the farm that I gave birth to Elmer Fudd eight years ago.  Last fall, when our darling George turned 8, we had the grand idea of giving him a bb gun for his birthday.
I didn't think it would be that big of a deal, but oh, it's big.  He treasures that thing like one of his limbs.  Every free moment of every day he's outside hunting something.  I thought that the newness of the thing would wear off after a while, or the freezing cold would discourage him from wandering around our acreage in hopes of finding something he can sneak up on.  No. No, no, no.
As long as there is daylight and school is not in session, George is traipsing around the farm scoping out anything that moves, hoping to sneak up on it.  Some mornings he goes outside before anyone even gets up out of bed just to go hunting.  In these photos he's obviously dressing the part, but most days he just throws on a good ol' pair of boots with whatever he's got on (shorts and sweats are my favorite), along with his Carhart work coat and a hat. He has no idea how this puts us all in stitches every day!
George's little pellet popping weapon also holds some disciplinary leverage for mommy.  Don't even think about skipping your school work, ignoring your chores or duking it out with your brother, or I will take that gun away faster than you can say "wabbit."
I sort of envisioned George using the gun to target practice, shooting holes in pop cans and milk jugs.  Apparently that's like asking a girl to use her curling iron without plugging it in. In the beginning I was a little bit uneasy with all of the casualties (honestly, I can't believe what a great marksman he is!).  First, it was the birds, proudly brought into the house for me to see in an old flower pot.  After I told him that I really didn't need to see all that, George thought it would be a good idea to bury the birds in a "bird graveyard" and give them names and a proper burial. How thoughtful. Soon, according to George, the graveyard got too full, so now he just tosses them into the trees.  He'll aim at anything that flutters, but cardinals, blue-jays, finches, meadowlarks, oriels and robins are off limits - mommy's rules. 
I'm pretty much over the fowl casualties, it's the rabbits that still make me squirm.  Now, please, don't be visualizing the bunny character, Thumper, in Bambi, the cute, soft, cuddly, fluffy tailed rabbit.  Oh, no, if Elmer killed Thumper, I'd run that gun over with a tractor.  He hunts the rabbits that overpopulate the farm, eat my garden in the summer, and mysteriously multiply all in the time it takes George to reload, cock and aim. I'll never forget George shot his first rabbit.  There he was, standing proud on the deck, holding the lifeless creature by the ears, grinning from ear to ear as if he had just saved our family from starvation. 
Who knows how much longer his interest will remain interesting.  I do have to say, however, that while I can't relate to his enthusiasm for hunting, it does give me a special joy to see his adventurous, 100% boy spirit enjoying a sport in the vast outdoors, rather than whining for more tv time.  Now, I just need to find him an Elmer Fudd hat.

Hunting, fishing, drawing, and music occupied my every moment. Cares I knew not, and cared naught about them. 
James Audubon

Slow and Steady Wins the Race ~ 10 Habits of Healthy Living

Did you make a resolution this year to get healthy, to get fit?? If so, may I ask how it is going?? If you're still on track, congratulations!! If you've fallen off the track, then let me offer you a hand! And, I might also offer a change in resolution perspective - a change that you might actually be able to stick with.  A change that may keep you from making the same resolutions next year!

For the past 18 years, struggling with fibromyalgia, adrenal fatigue, low thyroid and recovering from 5 pregnancies has all shaped the way that I look at and approach health and fitness. One of the biggest lessons that I have learned along the pathway to better health is this:
Slow and Steady Wins the Race. 
Start small, and start simple. Focus on one goal at a time, and strive to make that goal a habit.  Then, move on to the next goal, and the next.  Whatever your time-frame is, let's say it's one year, if you achieve just one goal per month, by the end of the year you will be healthier, happier and more fit. I would not encourage trying to loose weight, and run a marathon, and become a vegetarian and give up sweets (actually, I don't recommend that one at all!) all in one fell swoop.  Strong, proper, vibrant health can be achieved in a variety of ways and sustained as a lifestyle, not just a list of resolutions.
This is a list of my top "get healthy, get fit" habits that I have shared with many people over the years.  It is a list that I try to stick to, and have found to help me keep a "baseline" of good health.  If you master one goal per month, (you decide the order) or one per week, by 2013, you might be surprised at how much you have accomplished and better yet, how great you feel!!

1.  Cut back on diet soda, with the long term goal of giving it up altogether. There are a slew of articles and medical journals that warn against the dangers of drinking diet soda, the main ingredient to be wary of is aspartame.  After reading a significant amount of research on the toxicity of aspartame, I will not consume products that contain the substance, that includes yogurt, protein bars, energy drinks, salad dressing, or any "low sugar", diet product on the market.  You have to be a label reader! If you have to have it, then choose one day per week when you will enjoy it, and keep it to a single serving.

2.  Drink more water.  In response to #1, the best alternative to soda, or any artificially flavored drink is water.  You will be amazed at how Drinking More Water will help your energy, your mood, your appetite, your skin and your hair, just to name a few of the benefits. If you only drink soda or juice, this one will be an adjustment, but water doesn't have to be boring or plain.  You can find some ways to kick it up a notch here.

3.  Reduce your sugar intake.  If you're following #1 and #2 already, then you've been prepped for this one!  I cannot stress how important it is to choose your sugars wisely - don't use substitutes, they simply aren't food, and your body is made to recognize and metabolize real food.  I try to use honey, agave nectar, pure maple syrup and stevia as much as possible.  But, if you're following the 80/20 rule (see #4), and are cooking for a special occasion, by all means use white/brown sugar. It's okay to have a small slice of pie or cake once a week, or at a celebration, just watch your portion size. The great thing about sugar is that the less of it that you eat, the less your body will crave it.  You might even become sensitive to it - a little bit of sweet will go a long way.

4.  Incorporate the 80/20 rule into your family lifestyle.  This is probably the one tip that keeps me on the health track.  Some people may say, "It's all or nothing with this whole healthy diet thing."  I disagree.  If you can strive to eat a clean, healthy diet, drink plenty of water, get rest and exercise 80% of the time, then you have 20% of wiggle room - you can have dessert, a soda, a glass of wine, a piece of fried chicken, french fries etc., just not every day and not all at once.  Balance is the key, and if you teach your kids balance now, it will really pay off in their future dietary habits.

5.  Begin a gratitude journal and write in it every day.  This is a fantastic habit to incorporate half-way through the list, because it's often a temptation to fall back into bad habits.  Keeping a gratitude journal will help you maintain a steady focus on what's most important in life.  A healthy body, mind and spirit means will enable you to continue enjoying the blessings of life for years to come.  This should help you stay motivated!

6. Consider cutting back on meat 2-3 days per week.  It really isn't as difficult as it sounds, especially when you discover how many delicious protein sources are available as an alternative to meat. With the plethora of recipes online, especially on Pinterest, it's easy to find delicious, nutritious recipes and tips for fish, quinoa, and beans.  If your husband or kids are not on the same page (yet), that's fine, but don't discourage them from at least trying! My husband will eat fish, but never vegetarian only meals. So, I just make sure that I have an adequate source of meat-free protein to enjoy with the same meal that I serve my family.  Roasted veggies are a staple in my diet.  Adding your favorite beans to them is a simple way to dish up some extra protein.  Served with a little rice, it's a fantastic meal!

7.  Find a form of exercise that you actually enjoy.  If you're not sure where to begin, consider the options of a fitness center.  Many gyms offer a trial membership that includes a tour and free advice from personal trainers. If you enjoy your workout, more than likely you will stick with it. If a gym membership is out of the question buy a good pair of running shoes , and get outside and walk or run.  Too expensive? Evaluate your weekly spending - more than likely there are some "perks" that you can live without.  Put that money toward the shoes, or better yet ask your friends and family to support you by choosing items from your "wish list" for your birthday/holidays that will help you reach your fitness goals. 

8.  Team up with your kids to get your daily work-out in. Most of us would do anything for our kids, and may even feel guilty for taking time away from them to exercise.  Make them a part of your fitness goals! Playing outside in the yard with the kids, riding bikes together or swimming are just a few examples of active play you can enjoy together.  When you engage with them, you show them that good health is a priority. Sometimes I literally let my boys be my trainer! They time my laps around the yard, count my push-ups and make up crazy exercises for me to do - it's fun and it's challenging, and we all end up laughing in the end!  It's a great 30 minute workout!

(Make a rule that active play must be fulfilled before any television or video games are enjoyed.  Kids are tired when the come home from school and want to relax.  You are tired too!! Exercise can be energizing, revitalizing and restorative for kids as well as adults.  For every 30 minutes of active play, put a quarter or two in a jar, at the end of the year, use the money to do something fun together as a family!  In just one year, you'll have "saved" nearly $100!! )

9.  Recruit a partner to help you - but, not your spouse! (You're more likely to cheat if your better-half is your fitness buddy.) Decide in the beginning to be honest and sincere accountability for each other.  Write your list of goals together, including diet and exercise and work at them together as a team.  This workout for busy moms is short, effective and even more fun if you can do it with a partner!  If crazy schedules make working out an impossibility, consider tag-team babysitting.  You might not be able to exercise together, but you're at least helping each other meet you fitness goals.  Besides calling or texting encouragement to each other, plan a "reward" of some sort that you can both look forward to when you meet some or all of your goals, like shopping, going to a concert, a new restaurant etc.

10.  Get some sleep!  I didn't know until a couple of years ago that getting adequate sleep actually helps you to maintain a healthy weight.  Getting the right amount of sleep and going to bed/waking at the same time each day is difficult, but something I'm always striving toward. With a big and busy family, it's hard to get everything done during the day, so I often stay up late trying to finish undone tasks.  If you know that you are going to be in bed by 11 and up by 7, then you'll prioritize your tasks and get more done during the day.  Also, avoid eating any food after 8 p.m. - you will sleep better and your body's fat-burning mechanisms will not be slowed down by the unnecessary stress of digesting unnecessary food.

Don't be afraid to go for it!! You can do it!!
Remember, slow and steady wins the race, so...

Monday, January 7, 2013

Youth Sports and Trophy Kids

The very instant each one of our children is born, Steve rushes over to them, and through teary eyes counts fingers and toes, his instincts as protector and provider kicking in hard. Then, we lock eyes and laugh, as I wait for him to tease me about passing on my distinctly bent toes to our sons.  Yep, some of them do have bent toes, and crooked ears, but I'm not sure which ancestor to thank for those precious ears!

And, that's the story for so many of us.  From conception and throughout life we want what is best for our children - for them to be healthy, happy and whole. To be shielded from suffering, difficulty, short-comings and failures, bent toes and crooked ears.  

Sometimes we even want more for them than to just be their best self. We want them to be the best. Period.

Internally we're measuring ours against "theirs", we may not say it, but we are.  We are a comparative society, it's etched in our beings. First, we ask ourselves if our babies are rolling over, crawling and walking according to schedule. Then pretty soon, it's can they sing the alphabet? Because the neighbor kids can. And, finally, are they top of the class, top of the team and on top of the world? Because, it sure seems like all the other kids are.

And if our kids are.....then we are too.

My oldest son, Benedict, would never admit to this (because he's getting to be a "big guy"), but he knows I'm absolutely crazy about him.  I know he's not totally annoyed by me since he still hugs me, and thanks me for making supper every night and opens the car door for me when we go places. Every day, I get to savor his goodness, feel the warmth of his innocent smile, listen to his humble insights on life and watch him grow into his true self with each passing day. God has given him countless undeniable gifts.
At the ripe old age of 10, he wants to be a hoop star.  Master and commander of the court.  But, he's not.  And, he knows it.  Steve and I decided early on to take an encouraging, yet laid-back approach to sports (our number one rule is to JUST HAVE FUN).  Since, both of us love sports, it's a lot of fun to watch our boys' own enthusiasm for athletics grow. Yet, sometimes it's difficult to watch the kids put pressure on themselves because they want to be as good or better than everyone else.  
It doesn't matter if he's good at about a thousand other things, it's basketball that he wants to be good great at.  I try to take his enthusiasm seriously but my ancient wisdom knows he has so much time, room and potential to grow.  All I can remember about my first years of basketball was dribbling the ball off of my big bent toe and shooting at the wrong basket - and he's already better than that, so what's there to sweat about??
Children's abilities change as they grow.  And, although after experiencing a season of personal disappointments, we tried to reassure Ben that he has a lot of time to grow in the sport, and that he shouldn't give up.  But, we could tell he was questioning our advice.  So, we broke out the reinforcements - Dairy Queen and story time. Steve shared with him the story of when Michael Jordan tried out for his high school basketball team and didn't make it. Yet, in spite of that singular disappointment, he went on to become an NBA Legend.  

Then, I chimed in with the a little factoid of my own - Mariah Carey was voted off of the Gong Show, but still became a singing legend.  I gained ZERO respect with that little reflection, and my son stared at me with a look that expressed utter confusion, and "Are you serious, Mom?," and "Just let dad tell the stories" all contorted into one.  Thank goodness I had a large oreo mint blizzard there to ease the rejection. But, I shook it off and made a secret plan to brush up on my college and NBA athlete stats and facts between now and next season. I might even watch a game or two.  Might.

Have you known the experience of practicing something over and over and over with your child - musical instruments or spelling words or sports and then, when it's time for your little star to shine, they bonk?  Totally bonk?  And, in that moment, when the child runs left when he's supposed to go right, sings a solo during the rests and scores below average on those "all important" state assessment tests, the heat of pride rises to the cheeks, beads of sweat break out and all you can do is try to keep it together - for your child's sake and for your own.  I mean heaven forbid that our children should miss the mark, or worse yet, make us look like we missed the mark in teaching them how to sink a 3 at the buzzer or sing the National Anthem like Celine Dion, or memorize their states and capitals in alphabetical order, inside out and backwards.
It's NOT easy to separate our kids' success from our own desire to feel successful as teachers and parents.  I know this, because I FEEL IT TOO! Their performance, good behavior and personal achievements reflect back on us, and when they're good, we feel good.  But when their behavior is bad, or their scores are low we feel embarrassed? Disappointed? Frustrated? Determined to fix it all up into something neat and shiny - like a trophy - a trophy child???

This is where the deep down gutsy love of parenting comes in.  A love that desires what is best for the other.  A love that desires for our kids to shine, but is not self-seeking or self-absorbed, or self-fulfilling. This kind of love is NOT the sunshine, rainbows and unicorns kind of fluff. (I'm thinking of those moms who sob all over their daughters when they get voted off of American Idol, reassuring them that they are the best singer in the universe.  Then they turn around and yell explicatives at the judges.  Puke.).  Nor, is it the "tough-love" that is so tough all it can do is focus on making the kid work harder and practice longer, thinking that one day they will "thank you for it."
Real love wants what is best for another. Real love for Benedict and his current journey in athletics does not involve my own personal passion for success, it involves my passion for the soul of the child.  A soul that needs to be nurtured with encouragement, not pressured with unrealistic expectations, delighted in, not disappointed with, free to be himself, not forced to be a superstar.

It is a lonely feeling for our children, for any of us for that matter, to go through life believing the lie that our only value and worth is in what we do, and how well we do it, and not in who we are as dignified persons made in the image and likeness of Christ.


Sadly, I can't help but observe this tragedy all around me, as parents berate their little children at athletic events and academic competitions as if the five-year old carries the weight of the world and all the happiness of its inhabitants on their shoulders.  


How can we teach our children to enjoy the freedom that comes from experiencing a hobby, interest or sport without that enjoyment hinging upon being the best, better than the rest??  Where's the life or liberty in that?
My hope for Benedict is that he will continue pursuing his passion for basketball.  And, one day as an adult, look back and decide two three things:

1.  He still loves the game, whether playing it or watching it.
2.  The experience of practicing and playing the game was worth every sacrifice, because he's a man of character, hard working, dedicated and free - free to play the game because it's fun, not because he's the best or the worst.
3.  Bent toes are cool.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The RV Christmas Vacation We'll Never Forget

There are good ideas and then there are bad ideas.  And, then, there are very bad ideas.  Our grand idea to rent an RV for the trip to see my family for the holiday break was one that would fall into the "very bad idea" category.  It ranked right up there with putting mascara on while driving or letting your 5 year old give your 3 year old a hair cut (with safety scissors, duh), to keep things quiet so you can yell at speak to customer service intelligently on on the phone (I think I read that on a Yahoo headline?? Ahem.).

The whole RV plan was born out of the best of intentions, I assure you.  My sister and her family were flying home from Switzerland and we knew that once everyone arrived, things were going to be super-tight at mom and dad's.  So, why not rent an RV, we thought?? It would be the perfect place to hang out - Steve can set up a mini-office if necessary, the kids can play games, mommy can sneak away for a nap (hallelujah), and we could host a "Christmas Vacation" party. For two weeks we talked about the crazy amount of fun our family was going to have.  Mom was happy that she was going to get to see her sister, the kids were minding their p's and q's (threats to fore go the RV was all it took), and Dad was a hero for conceiving of the idea in the first place.

Unfortunately, our fancy little RV notion wasn't so fancy after all....
Just to set the stage a little, you must know that prior to our trip, I spent two weeks cooking, laundering and packing so that everything would be just right.  Cooking is one way that I show my love - so I made a lot of food.  My momma had a lot of mouths to feed, and she didn't need to do all of the work herself.  Well, it just so happened that all of that food packed into 2 coolers was NOT going to fit in the back of our suburban, along with luggage for 7 people, a gazillion presents, a sporting clays thrower, 2 shotguns, 6 board games, every article of outerwear necessary to keep kids outside playing in the snow for longer than 7 minutes, decorations for the Christmas Vacation party, sheets and blankets for the RV beds. Oh, and snacks.  And, diapers.  And, wine. Oh, and, I cannot forget about the Rice Krispy brick that my sister-in-law gave the boys, that was dang close to the size of a surf-board. Thank goodness Steve's dad has a Harley, and an enclosed trailer for that Harley, because that was what it took to haul all of our stuff across the state.

Never before have we planned a trip and actually left on schedule.  But, thanks to Mommy busting her rump miraculously that morning we did it.  At 8:30 a.m., packed and loaded, the party wagon pulled away from the farm and onto Route de la Fun.  It was only supposed to take us about 3 hours to arrive at Adventureland RV Rip-offs, I mean Rentals, but for one reason or another (not pointing any fingers in the direction of the male species) it took nearly 7.  Yes, 7.  Why?? Well.....

1.  We stopped at the Cathedral so that we could wish one of our favorite priests Merry Christmas, and so that George could make his first confession, which was awesome, so the whole family confessed as well (probably a good thing considering the unforeseen events soon to take place.).
2. Potty
3. Lunch
4.  Potty
5. Gas up
6.  Daddy drove by a gun shop.  Not being one to take his 2nd amendment rights lightly, of course Daddy had to stop. Forever.  It literally took forever. And, he bought ME a gun.  ME!!
7.  Coffee

Finally, we arrive at Adventureland RV's, and this is when the party really gets started.  Now, if you've never rented an RV before, but perhaps seen the movie with Robin Williams, then you must know that the RV we rented was NOTHING like the movie version.  Theirs was a Cadillac.  Our little Rhonday Vou was a lemon. Despite the wallpaper peeling off the interior and the rusty hinges on the cabinet doors, we were still beyond excited. The papers were signed, down-payment paid, underbelly storage stuffed full, and we were ready to put the pedal to the metal.  I could hardly believe that in just 2 short hours I would be hugging my sister, whom I missed terribly, and hadn't seen for nearly a year.  All we had left to do was pick up a couple more gifts, eat a little supper and we'd be on our way.

Cue the music - minor key - something super melancholic.
Because, things are about to get serious.
Or, "Achy-Breaky Heart."  That would do.

We pulled into a strip mall parking lot, right next to Pei Wei (oh, happy day).  I decided to run into a couple of shops and grab the gifts before supper while Steve and the boys strung up some lights inside the trailer.  Thirty minutes later, I expect to find lights all a glow, but am met with 6 droopy faces instead.  None of the electric outlets in Miss Rhonday Vou worked.  Okay, I thought, no biggie, we're still in town, someone can come and fix it while we eat supper.

Well, someone came....and two hours later it still wasn't fixed, so we decided to run (through the sleet, snow and freezing cold) into Super Target to get some snacks for the kids.  An hour later, the electric was finally working (hooray!), but, the brake lights were not (boo!). At this point, I've pretty much stomped the Happy Happy, Joy, Joy song into the slush with my boots, because Momma is a little bit chapped.  Thankfully, Daddy kept his composure, and was able to talk the Adventureland dimwits folks into bringing us a replacement RV.  The clock is now chiming 10:30 p.m.  The kids are tired, parents are tired. But, Mommy is rekindling the Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy song trying to keep everyone's spirits up.  It was late, but we could still make it.

Finally, we hit the road, in our 2nd party wagon, but by now the weather is too severe to travel. Thankfully, Steve's sister wasn't far, and she generously opened her doors for our family that night.   I called my parents to let them know that we would break out first thing in the morning and hopefully be there just before lunch.  Then, after a little help from our old friend, Jack, we were ready to sleep off the frustration and begin again the next morning.

At 9:00 a.m. we were on the road again.  Did I mention that they were icy, snow-packed roads?? Between the road conditions and the wind gusts nearly blowing us into the ditch, we considered turning around.  To add to the misery, there was no heat in the front of Rhonday Vou, just blasts of drafty cold coming in from all sides her.  My poor husband had to drive in his coveralls, a coat, hat and gloves. (Why didn't I take a picture?) So, I did what every desperate wife does in these types of situations: I gave my hubby the most inspiring pep talk ever.  I knew he could drive through the storm, he just needed a few smooches and a little encouragement!  Once we hit the interstate, the roads were much better, and all anxiety was put at ease.  For about 22 seconds.  As Steve increased speed, the front end of the RV began to shake, I mean seriously shake, like Beyonce shake.

At that point, I shouted out, "If one more thing goes wrong with this crazy thing (just fill in some choice words here), I'm going to call Mr. Adventureland myself." Right then and there, our oldest son, Ben, yells to the front, "Um, Dad, the toilet is leaking and it's running down the hallway!"  WHAT???? I knew it was time to pull over and re-think this whole thing.  After a bit of discussion, my Baby decided it was too dangerous to drive, but I said, "Baby, you point this thing north and don't stop 'till we get there!"  And, that's what my Baby did. 29 hours and 29,000 tears after leaving home, we rolled into my parents driveway, numb, shaken, cold and weary.

Obviously, we weren't going to be able to fix Miss Rhonday Vou's crazy shakin' and thermostat issues by ourselves.  So, the head hauncho at Adventureland Rip-offs drove all the way to my hometown just to bring us a third wreck on wheels.  He guaranteed it to be one of his finest rentals.  Let's just say that after he left, his pants were on fire (Mr. Liar, Liar). It wasn't his finest RV, it wasn't even fine.  But, we decided to make the best of it.  Despite being slightly rusty and dilapidated, Miss Rhonday Vou III played host to kids cuddled up to watch movies, play games and prep for family pictures, and she even managed to survive the semi-teenage driving skills of my crazy brother, Scott, during our Christmas Vacation party.
Even though our trip didn't exactly go as planed, we can all look back in hindsight and laugh, knowing we'll be telling this story for years to come.  And, thanks to the the love, support, positive energy and sense of humor from our family (not to mention a prolific supply of wine), we really did have a wonderful vacation!! Here's a reel of highlights:
Christmas Vacation Party:
If they ever remake the Christmas Vacation movie,
 I officially nominate my brother, Scott, to play the role of Eddie.  He's perfect!
He knows everyone in town.  I mean everyone.  
He introduced us to his buddies at the Auto Parts store...
...and the local Country Club.
He took us for a cruise around Rocky Pond to view the splendid display of lights.  
This is Scott's ultra patient wife, Stephanie, on the left with Steve's wife, Julie, and her daughter, Lauryn.

Me and my sis rockin' our parents' retro duds. Woop-woop!!
My big bro Steve and his lovely wife, Julie.
Welcome to our "Home Sweet Home!"
Phebe Marie's Baptism:
Happy to be Godparents to such a precious baby!
Time With Elena:
She really came up to see the boys (who adore her),
 but I got to spend a little time with her too, which was nice.
We love how she jumps right in to lend a hand in the kitchen... offer her welcoming arms to a mom in need of a break.
Our First White Christmas in Years!
Family Bonding:
Mom & Dad Help Steve Tame the Turkey:
Christmas Morning Delight:
Baby Lovin':
Because, he'll always be my baby!
 Snacks Snuck and Stuffed Under Dresser:
Random funnies are the best!
My Favorite Photo of the Holiday:
Grandma and Grandpa with the grandkids.  Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy!!!