September 12, 2015

I am fully aware it's been five months since I last posted. This happens sometimes with this eight-year-old blog.

Our life has been cluttered lately. A lot of it comes with the territory of having a husband in school full-time and both of us working full-time jobs outside of the house and typically only having one day a week to spend together, but some of it comes with taking on too much knowing full well that we don't have much time to give to everything extra.

I've been tackling that clutter.

Physically, I've been clearing out closets and baskets and cupboards and rooms. I've taken a second look at things that I have because it worked for a time or someone gave it to me. I've been asking myself if it works now, and if it doesn't, it goes. We are down to one car which I am loving more and more each passing month. The three of us and a dog are close-knit in our two-bedroom house that we are updating and beautifying with each passing project. There are baskets full of all sorts of things to take to Goodwill (and I think Chris is scared that if he leaves the house for too long, he will come back to a big, empty room). We are keeping a modest budget without the extras of cable and eating out and all of the things I wish I could have but know it will only add to the clutter I am desperately trying to keep at bay.

Mentally, I've been keeping our schedules somewhat open after the long work days and really trying to keep our days off together sacred. We could easily fill them up with busy errands going opposite directions or separate time with friends, so I've tried to have an intentional family time each weekend where the three of us do something unique and fun together.

Emotionally, I've been keeping away from too many yes's and keeping the priority of our family on what works best for the three of us. When I find us straying from us, is when I find stress and busyness creep in.

Blog-ally, I've taken down ads and sidebars and cleaned up this space so that I can really just focus on the words.

Basically, I am getting really good at saying no to things I don't need. (And saying yes to things that truly fill me up, like writing as a contributor over on East Valley Moms Blog and helping coordinate With Joy Retreat.)

This season has been wearing on us, but I am thankful for the ways it has refined us, too. In our personal lives, marriage, parenting and trust in Him, we are being whittled down and refined to focus on what really matters and what is best for us.

And until we see just what's in store, we are getting by on lots of coffee and grace.

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Liam: Two Years

April 09, 2015

{Liam at his two-year appointment}

Growing: At TWO years (how!?), Liam weighs 32 pounds 13 ounces (87th percentile) and is 36 inches tall (91st percentile). He has 16 teeth: 6 top and 6 bottom, and 4 of his molars. The 2-year molars are right on time and starting to pop through, too. (Send coffee.)

Wearing: He's in all 3T clothes (some 4T shirts) and 4T pajamas. He is in size 5 or 6 diapers, and showing every sign that he's ready to potty train. We are just waiting for a break in our busy schedules to focus on it! He wears size 8.5 shoes.

Eating: He eats three meals a day with lots of snacks in between. He takes a cup of milk in the morning, after his afternoon nap, and we are trying to nix the final cup right before bed and move it to dinner. His favorite foods include peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cheese, and granola bars. His ultimate favorites are still bananas and blueberries.

Doing: He is doing everything and anything, especially if it involves climbing, running and moving. He rarely sits down. He also gives great hugs, kisses, high-fives and fist bumps, and says hello to every stranger he sees. (Warning: If you say hello back, he won't stop.) He is chatting up a storm and is saying new words and sentences every day!

Playing: His favorite things to play with are Legos, balls, his toy car and wagon, and puzzles. He loves being outside and has become obsessed with Elmo, Thomas the Train ("Choo choo") and Curious George ("Monkey"). Move over, Daniel Tiger.

Loving: He is obsessed - I repeat, OBSESSED - with garbage trucks, bugs (and ridding of them), planes, collecting rocks, watching Elmo and building with his Legos.

Career: If he had to grow up right this second, he would be a garbage truck driver, exterminator, or engineer. 

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Dear Liam, You are two years old.

April 08, 2015

Dear Liam,

You are two years old. TWO. Two full years have passed since you were born into our lives screaming and crying with a head full of blonde hair. I never expected a blonde baby, but to this day, you have the brightest blonde head of hair I ever did see.

You and I have a special bond. We spend lots and lots of time together, just the two of us, while your daddy is at school and work. We've fallen into a routine and a rhythm and we kind of just go along together. It's a sweet dance.

This season of our lives is crazy and hectic, but I know one day I will look back and be so grateful for this time I had with you. We run back and forth between bedrooms in the morning as I try to get us both dressed for the day. You hand me my brush, I take away my toothbrush, you hand me a pair of shoes you want me to wear, I hand you a piece of trash to throw away to distract you for 2.3 seconds.

On the weekends, I try to sleep in as long as possible until I hear your voice, "Mama? Mama?" We wake up and ideally do a lot of nothing except stay in our pajamas and sit and drink our respective cup of milk and coffee. I try to watch Good Morning America and you request a rotation of Elmo, Choo-Choo (Thomas), and Monkey (Curious George). I pretend like I don't hear because there's a news story coming up I want to see, but I eventually give into your demands and we settle into watching the same episode we watched over and over already. You cuddle up with me on the couch and there is nothing else I want to do.

I try my best to be extremely intentional with you. Maybe it's a bit of working mom guilt, or maybe it's just plain mom guilt, but I try to make memories with you as often as I can. And yes, memories can be made up of back-to-back-to-back episodes of Elmo and eating breakfast together while Face-timing family, but I also want those memories that say, We did that together.

So we go to the zoo. And friends' houses. And parks. And more parks. We sneak away for ice cream sometimes right after school, and we go on a donut breakfast date on Saturday morning because it's cheap and it gets us going for the day. We take trips to see family and I've lost count of how many plane rides you've been on. 20? Give or a take a few.

I took you to Easter service this last weekend. I was excited to get dressed in our Sunday best and have this special time with you. The pastor spoke of how Jesus goes before us, all of us. I couldn't help but think how He goes and stands before me and you on our weekends together, before the busy weeks where we are running in circles around each other, before months that whiz by, and before years where I am hopeful for dreams and changes coming to fruition. It fills me with such hope and faith knowing that our God is way ahead of us as we try and figure out this life together - you and your two years of experience walking this planet, and me with my two years of experience raising a little human with a precious soul.

And when I mess up, you give me grace. And when you mess up, you say, "I'm sorry, Mama." And you hug me and kiss me immediately. You are a picture of the grace I need to give myself and others, straight from my very being and played out in front of my very eyes.

I look forward to more memories we will continue to make, the snuggles you so openly give me, the moments of grace we give one another.

Thank you for the privilege and trust of being your mama.

Love you,

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The 5 C's of Choosing a Daycare

March 02, 2015

When I found out I was pregnant with Liam, I had just started a new job. After the first day, I got into my car, called Chris and immediately started bawling as I cried, "But how can I do this job and be a mom and work and what am I supposed to do?"

It was all a bit overwhelming to say the least. (And I still say that to myself often, because it is hard.)

As my pregnancy progressed, we went back and forth with the idea of me continuing to work or not. During that time, Chris decided that he would return to school for nursing while we have just one kid in the picture, so that solidified our decision pretty quickly that I would indeed continue to work.

We toured five different daycare facilities before making our decision. Being completely new to the process, we were learning as we went along. 

Almost two years later, we could not be happier with the place Liam calls home during the day. He is thriving and learning, and it is amazing to see and hear what he has learned each day. I love that he runs into his class each morning and rarely looks back. In fact, there has only been two times since he was three months old where he has cried at my leaving. This is so assuring to me that he truly loves his school, teachers, and friends.

So, what do you look for when searching for the perfect daycare?

1. Cost

It's no secret that the cost of daycare is a kick-in-the-stomach to your budget. We are in that sacred spot where my take-home pay after daycare is still on the positive side and very much needed. But, still, it costs a lot.

Once you figure out how much you can afford a week or month, different places have different rates. Most places we looked at had a weekly rate regardless of how many days you would use. They also required you pay at least half of the weekly rate if you were ever going to be out of town in order to "hold your spot." While this is great if you plan on working five days a week every week, I work on a school calendar (minus all of the long breaks!) where we get random school holidays and I take time off at Christmas.

We ended up choosing a place that offered a daily rate - you just pay as you use it. This definitely saves us money each month and was a huge factor in our decision. Where this really comes into play is if Liam is sick, I don't have to pay for a day of missed daycare and a co-pay at the doctor on top of it. And the two weeks I take off at Christmas can be moved to the Christmas fund without us feeling the hit as much.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • What's our budget?
  • How many days a week will we need daycare? 

Questions to ask the daycare:

  • What are your daily/weekly rates?
  • What happens if we miss a day?
  • Do we get an allotment of "sick days" where we don't have to pay if we miss?
  • How often do we have to pay? Weekly? Monthly?

2. Conveniences

So with that cost, what does it include? When it comes to meals and diapers for your child during the day, those are typically a convenience of a daycare and not a requirement. Many daycares provide snacks, but not all of them offer meals.

As we toured, we were sold on the fact that our daycare not only provided breakfast, lunch and snacks each day based on the five food groups, but they also provided diapers. Diapers! This is huge, huge savings for us each month. I literally drop Liam off at school with the clothes on his back and they provide the rest.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you have time to make breakfast and lunch in the morning to send to school?
  • Does your child have any specific allergies?

Questions to ask the daycare:

  • What meals and/or snacks do you provide? If not, what are we expected to provide?
  • Do we get a copy of the menu each month? Do you have a menu we could see?
  • How do you handle allergies?
  • Do you provide diapers and wipes? If not, what do we need to bring and how often?

3. Cleanliness

This stood out to Chris much more than me, but now I am appreciative of his keen eye. When we first started Liam in daycare, he was just three months old in the infant room. The first place we toured required that we put on booties to enter the room. It never struck me that we were tracking in our street shoes onto the floor where the babies were rolling and crawling around, so I was glad to see they were cognizant of that. This was good to see, because the next place just invited us in. I was mindful of not walking on the rug at least!

The place we chose has a half door that allows you to pass your baby directly to the teacher without walking into the room. The teachers even have special shoes they wear specifically for the classroom. 

They also send all of the toys to a sanitation center each night, and all of the sheets are washed and used by only one child each day. Mattresses are also sanitized each night.

Obviously, once you get to the toddler age, this is not all as important, but it was helpful to see the expectation of cleanliness they have as early as the infant stage.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • What level of clean is important to me?

Questions to ask the daycare:

  • How often do you sanitize the toys?
  • Do you wash the sheets each night? Mattress?
  • Will my child have his/her own set of sheets each day?

4. Curriculum

If Liam is going to be out of my arms for eight hours a day, I want to make sure he is learning and thriving. Each place we visited put a great focus on a specific daily schedule and centers where the kids would learn everything from math to letters to science.

He has a specific schedule they follow each day, which is great to know as working mama. I can look at the clock and know that he's eating or napping or just waking up. What makes it even better is that if we follow that same schedule on the weekends, it works so, so well.

Integrated between meals and naps are times for math, story time, science, art, outside play, songs and so much more. He comes home singing songs and naming objects which just reassures me how much they are teaching him.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • What are my expectations of what he/she should learn?

Questions to ask the daycare:

  • What is the daily schedule?
  • When is nap time? How often do they nap? What do we need to bring for nap time?
  • Are we able to see the curriculum each week?

5. Character

You want to feel like the place your child is at each day is a safe, warm, loving place and you want to feel beyond confident in your choice. Watching the teachers interact with Liam continues to make me more and more confident. They are truly excited to see him come each day, and the staff is always welcoming as well.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • What environment do you want your child in?
  • And as you see the facility, how are the teachers interacting with the kids? Each other? Parents?

Questions to ask the daycare:

  • What qualifications do the teachers have?
  • What are their expectations of students in regards to behavior?
  • What is their discipline policy?

Overall, it's a big decision and not one to be taken lightly. It's hard! But beyond all of these questions and options, you'll know when you walk into the right place, that it is the right place. 

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The Business of Marriage

February 20, 2015

We celebrated Valentine's Day with an early dinner on Sunday night - just the two of us. Once you have a child, dinner alone as just adults is one of the most rejuvenating experiences. All you have to think about is your own meal and eating at your own pace and minding your own silverware without concern of impatient screams and knives getting into the wrong hands and spilled drinks. Like I said, it's rejuvenating. 

On actual Valentine's Day, Chris had to work, so it was just me and my other main man for the day. We had a lunch date at Chick-fil-a and an afternoon trip to the library and park, which are all direct ways to his little heart. 

After we picked Chris up that evening, we ate a quick dinner and I promptly headed out the door to go grocery shopping at 9 p.m. Because the idea of going to the grocery store by myself when the rest of the world was preoccupied with their plans and the chance at using a regular cart as opposed to the ones with a plastic car attached was also a huge deciding factor in my late night spree. I walked up and down every aisle just because I could.

I am seriously considering doing our grocery shopping every Saturday night because my life has come to that level of excitement.

But back to dinner. We left Liam with his always-willing grandmother and grabbed dinner at 6 p.m. because, truthfully, I wanted to piggy-back on the happy hour prices. We sat side-by-side, shared an appetizer, ate our meals, and then continued to sit for 45 minutes to just talk.

And here's the thing. When you're married with children and jobs and a hectic schedule that leaves you going in different directions all the time, sometimes it's good to just sit and talk. No kids. No silverware flying off the table. No place to be next. 

It's the business of marriage, this time set aside. It's the talking about the mortgage and the plan of where we want to be next. It's the talk of money and how much and what to do with it and future promises of more. It's the talk of what's going on in your heart and who has hurt you and where the sting is still fresh. It's talking about all things that come together to run the biggest business we got: us.

Because when it all comes down to it, if we run in different directions, we will never meet. And isn't marriage really about meeting? Meeting during the messes, the fights, the 2 a.m. wake-ups, the tears, the joys, the burnt dinners, the never-ending list of projects, the life changes.

If we focus on meeting, there will always be a reason to meet. There will always be a yearning to meet.

So on Sunday night, we met. And we talked. And our silverware stayed on the table.

And I hope we can do it again soon.

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