The times, the stages

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My Tessa’s portrait. I struggled pretty hard for this one. There just came a point that I said, “It will get finished”. I have moved on, but not very far. I guess that’s ok, because I am not in a stage where I am making a lot of art. It will come when I’m ready. I feel it will burst open like a dam, a strong steady stream of energy and creativity all together. I look forward to it. Until then, I sit in a dormant state, wondering what it is that keeps me from enjoying the completion of this piece. Maybe because I haven’t reached the next stage. Like the seasons, when winter drags on too long, or summer won’t give way to fall, I wait for that true bit of evidence. I know it’s coming, and that will have to be ok.

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Fierce little blondie bird. She is definitely unique. The baby who cries out her drama because she might get more pity. The sneaky sneak who eats the hidden chocolate, draws on the wall, watches TV on the found iphone without anyone knowing. Rascal. The batting of eyelashes, the curling up in bed with us, the backwards shirts and shoes. I try to enjoy this last bit of small child essence in my home. She will be a grade schooler in the fall, and I will have a third child to truly homeschool. The battle of young parenthood is waning, the season is passing. New challenges lay ahead.

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I captured this. My daughter in the climax of her childhood. To be nine. She’s so smart, so thoughtful, so fun-loving. It’s the saturated beauty of nine. Shortly after this picture was taken we cut her hair off. She was bubbling and proud of her shoulder length bob. She is my friend and partner in our exploration of ideas. I know she will argue with me, but I hope she never hides herself from me. She is a seed that is sprouting, and I want to hold it in my hands and enjoy each millimeter that it grows.

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Homeschooling. I have had a love hate relationship with it this year. I have felt the sting of isolation and I have questioned all of my choices. I have cursed my faults, and my children’s flaws. Then, there is a day when you get everyone to agree to do something together. Reading outside, for example, is one of the most rewarding things for me as a homeschooling mama. It is so simple, but to get everyone to agree to it sometimes takes every ounce of my fortitude. Then they read, and whatever it is, their voice reading the words is like the music I hummed to myself when I stroked my pregnant belly. It’s a bit hypnotic, I wish I could bottle it and pop it open after I’ve had to scold someone, or listen to the din of their goofy banter a little too long. It is a gift. I am thankful for my children’s ability to read and their voices. Then, there is a day when I am doing laps around my house, for seemingly unimportant reasons, to serve each one of there cries for assistance. I want the silence then. If we can go back, to the day we read about beetles and butterflies in the warmth of the new spring days, I will feel the reward and take up that load again for another school year.

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I thought that the 100% pure energy, babbling and loud boy would never ease up and become something more mellow. How many times Joel and I had to play “ninja” when we were so exhausted. Today I have a boy who is almost my height. I do not need to bend over to hug him, and ever so often I have this 5 ft tall child sobbing in my chest. He feels so deeply. He knows his short comings. He feels his sin. He is a first child, but he blows so many holes in that theory. He struggles to learn sometimes. He does not have a work horse mentality. But when it comes to people he can go all night. I am praying for that outlet to show up that uses so many of his gifts, until then, he will love on every small child, old man, teenager, babysitter, teacher, secretary, cashier, and friend of mine who crosses his path. I try to stop myself and not bully him out of the conversation, after all, he is as tall as we are! There is no looking over him, no tugging on apron strings!  He has charming, funny things to say. He will always keep me on my toes

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And what a stage of growth we are all in. I watch my boy become closer to being a teenager and I get concerned. I see girls his age becoming curvier and I tell myself,”they are all still children, give them attention and make them feel important” The stage I am in is one similar to the path my children are growing. They teach me things about myself. I have always believed that children develop at the pace you are ready to see them change. It doesn’t mean it’s always easy, but as I walk through the zoo or down sidewalks of the busy downtown areas with my crew, I know the freedom of their freedom. No strollers, carriers, or highchairs, we are 5 fully functional people. Well most of the time. Tess still needs a boost to the sink. It makes me breathe a sigh of relief, and it makes me sad. No more simple troubles, things now get trickier. I try to not take pride in that struggle. One day, nah, everyday, we are all in the same boat.

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A mysteriously beautiful, elaborate boat that has ample room for pleasure and pain. Hop on and enjoy the times.

Are You Lonely Too?

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Most nights I am home. I am doing dishes, cleaning house, doing laundry. Joel and I put the kids to bed, give hugs and kisses and then we exhale and, hopefully, I get to sit on the couch and watch something fun on TV before I fall asleep. Joel usually falls asleep half an hour or more before I do. Most nights, it’s totally relaxing. It’s normal and it decompresses my day. But then, my extroverted side gets board some days.

Since I homeschool my kids now, seeing other adults can be a challenge. At work, we are all busy managing other children. Other homeschooling moms have all their own schedules and older or younger children to manage. I mean, really, all moms, no matter how we school our children, we are all busy. Soccer, drama, choir, girl scouts, doctor’s appointments, naps, church, family. It’s exhausting. I have made a personal choice to limit those things. I also have very little family in town. I get lonely. Are you lonely too? I see my mom twice a week. I am fulfilled by my job. But I get lonely. There’s something wrong when I have so many women whom I love to be with, and I’m pretty confident that they like to be with me too. Why don’t we see each other? Why aren’t we desperate to be with our friends? I run through all the things that we are in charge of and the many different things we go to, and I’m not surprised. It doesn’t help the fact that I’m lonely sometimes.

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I have been saying that I need to “be the friend I want to have”. This method should bring friends closer to me, or help me make new ones. Right? This motto backed up on me last week. I was letting the loneliness take over my will to reach out. I became tired of reaching out. I mean, why isn’t anyone else reaching out? There are many reasons and it would make this post too long. But nevertheless, I must keep reaching out. Someone has to do it. Everyone needs that life line to make you realize, “Yes, I am lonely, and I will battle my dirty house another time. I will drink some tea and wake myself up so I can spend another 2 hours awake and with friends. I will gamble with my awkwardness, my blabber-mouth (or painful silence), my inadequacies to be with people. To be with people that I love and that God loves. It is important. Stop being selfish y’all! It is so easy to do the normal stuff, do something different!

I believe that God gave us our mountain home so that we can have people over more. I take that to heart. I will invite people over, again and again. Every time I feel lonely I will decide to reach out. It’s really hard. But there are plenty of evenings when I can curl up and troll Pinterest or read one of my goofy graphic novels. Netflix will not disappear. I have lots of cute clothes I hardly ever wear because I don’t GO OUT! Let’s go out, friends. Let’s invite others out. Send me a text, I’m probably, almost always, available.
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Take a deep breath. Press through.

There is never time to blog. There is barely time to sit and reflect. I’ve felt that there is a need to put thoughts down these days. It seems there is more internal activity in my life than external, and although it isn’t fun sometimes, it is necessary for growth and ultimately faith building.With most days just being me and Tessa, we have some quiet moments. Those times are precious, and I don’t long for times to truck her around to a daycare, pre-school, or parents morning out program. Even though I know she’d love it. We have to keep ourselves industrious though, whether it’s cleaning, groceries, or resting, those are all worthy of planned time. Tessa is approaching three years old and boy to I know it. Three is tough, at least it is for me. But it also is incredibly rewarding, her personality is really fun, and she loves being with me, and her siblings. I was concerned she would grow weary of just being with me, but she likes it, she doesn’t have to share. She finally lets me do her hair in a little spring on the top of her head. She loves dresses, and she has been seen wearing tu-tu’s ever so often because-really-who cares. She’s my little friend. She’s different from Eden, not nearly as shy. And I love that she has a whole different social group from her siblings. Tessa has friends that do not call her “Eden’s little sister”, they are in fact glad to refer to our house as “Tessa’s House”. That gives me joy, because it is likely that Tessa will be our last baby, and the fact that she can be a friend with her siblings and have that social group of her own is wonderful. She’s my sweet blonde bird.

The fall is always a bit bittersweet for me. I have missed my kids terribly while they are at school. But when I think about homeschooling, a wave of complexity washes over my brain and I take a deep breath and I sign them up for school the next year. My insides have been upside down this past month. I have felt stress like never before. And none of it is based in reality, I have been fighting the Enemy, he’s trying to paralyze me with irrational fears. God is working on me daily. Showing me that He is near me in the most trivial of ways. He also has gripped my heart over things that I would stand up to with confidence and think, “God is in control, everything will be alright.” Now I feel these prayer requests so deeply. I cry, a grieve, I get down on my knees. I also have felt the joy of those who have had prayers answered. When all those tears in prayer result in a healing, my heart feels more glad than ever. The stress seems to melt away. Also when I sing. And I have missed singing corporately for so long as we have been without a church home. Now that we meet with a small group and we do sing most of the time, I feel the difference physically. My heart is glad, and my fears fade when I sing at the top of my lungs. We had Our Clothesline Art Show a couple weeks ago. We shook things up and did it at a location (St. Elmo Fire Hall) than in someone’s home. This did alleviate some stress in getting the event ready. We made it more simple this time, and we had some new folks. I really enjoyed all the artist’s work, I thought we had a great assortment of things. I do wish we had had more people show up. I am always thankful that people will pay me for the art I make. I know I will be doing it my whole life. I felt more responsibility this time to make sure the other artists made money. Again, I was feeling anxiety and worry. At one point I had to leave because the anxiety had gotten the better of me. I trucked it up the hill and was ready to have a good cry and feel better when I ran into Juden Green. Juden had been going through health issues and had just gotten a good report from the doctor after going through some pretty miserable procedures. He was at the top of the hill giggling at me as I huffed up the hill. I was wanting to ignore anyone and just be angry. But as soon as I saw Juden, I just had to give God the glory. I felt my stress starting to fall away, and I just did what I know how to do: talk to him. I got to see the rest of Juden’s family and I was able to remind myself that anger and fear is not who I am. I was also able to praise God for good reports, and healing. He really is paying attention.I turned 35 last week. Yeah, I did. It isn’t easy to swallow, I realize their are things that I struggle with as far as vanity and I just have to let it go. I have entered a new stage of life in parenting, and as I look into the future I find myself deciding things that don’t seem as hard as they used to. Entering the work force more, not having more kids, maybe. Taking more responsibility to be available for fellowship gatherings, big ideas that my husband has, options for my kids growth beyond the basics, moving away. It’s a new chapter I feel. I love children, but I’m not the one who pines over having another little one. I want to be that person who gives that longing for children and takes it to the classroom. I want to take it to kids church. I want to get to know other people’s kids and call them my friends. I want to give the moms of young ones a place to come where they can relax and fellowship. I want to listen to Joel’s dreams and ideas and take them in, figure out where it fits in my heart and dialogue about it, without freaking out. I want to think of alternatives for my kids education, and also know that if we do the same old thing, they will do just fine. I love them, and we love Jesus, and that’s a pretty good map to follow. And with all this inner turmoil, I have doubts. I mean, I just turned 35 and I still feel 16 most days. Why am I in charge? Why do I have plan ahead? Can I just relax and not care about tomorrow? There is a point where responsibility and worry cross too often. I have reached that point too many times this fall. How I wish 35 could be the year that I find how to overcome more often. I do feel like there are things I am being taught, humility for one. I look forward to each teaching moment, discomfort is better than just waiting. Come Lord, let your Kingdom come.

Ninja Birthday Party: A How to?

Josiah wanted a ninja birthday party for his 8th. I began to google and I could find very little. What?! I mean, I know I am a creative mama, but am I the only one who has tried to pull this off? I don’t think so. If you, cyberspace friend, have done a ninja birthday party (that does NOT involve turtles) than by all means, speak up! But in my web wanderings, I found enough ideas to make a party. So I am doing the world a service to put this blog post out there, to help other mama’s out.

1. First, start with an eager birthday boy who already has a ninja costume. It also helps to have ninja gear for the whole family. We had a Master Ninja (Papa), Mama Ninja, Girlie Ninja and Baby Ninja (who sorta looked like Stevie Nicks.

2. The location. I called a local dojo to see what their prices were like. It was $200 for 2 hours and some instruction and plates and cups. If you want to do this, than you might not need this whole post, but I chose to save money and do it all myself. So I convinced Grandma she wanted to host 🙂 It was perfect.

3. Color scheme. I went with black, red and gold. It helped  a lot that Josiah’s birthday was ON the Lunar New Year this year so party stores were stocked with Chinese New Year decorations (in the tiniest corner in the back, but it was there). I invested in a good luck banner, and some little favors: spiral notebooks, tic-tac drums (think Karate Kid drums), and little ninja figures. I also got red and black balloons and streamers. I got two bamboo placemats to go on top of a black tablecloth. I also think it would be cute to have a bamboo floral arrangement, or chop some down for a centerpiece but I didn’t get to that one.

I had a desperate five year old daughter who wanted to help with the decorations. So I had her little artistic fingers make some “sneaky eyes” for the balloons in stealthy ninja style.

My mom had these images cut out and I didn’t think I would end up using them, but since I didn’t have a big Happy Birthday Banner, they made the front door and table look cool. My mom and her historical correctness.

4. The cake. Now, this was so fun. There actually is a tutorial out there for ninja cupcakes. Zakka Life has a printable template to make little ninjas that pop out of cupcakes. Since I do not have a massive Kitchenaid mixer, and we’re not a big cake family, cupcakes are perfect. I had gold wrappers and made chocolate (straight from the box) cake; I do make butter cream icing from scratch though. I sprinkled the tops with red sugar and Eden and I inserted little ninjas into each one. I’m sure I loved them the most, but Josiah thought they were funny.

5. More food ideas. Again, super fun, I loved this part! I did find another idea out there to make Ninja-bread men! And lo and behold, my neighbor had the ninja cookie cutters! I recommend getting these if you have a boy, mandatory if you have more than one boy. They are so cool. I made sugar cookies and decorated them. I made the egg white icing that was part of the cookie recipe and I added TONS of cocoa powder to get it dark (black icing creeps me out). I added about two drops of blue and green and got a dark greyish color. I add peppermint flavor to the icing too, makes the sugar cookie a bit refreshing. I did get a tube of red to give each Ninjie a sash and mask. So worth it. I got some Japanese rice crackers and some sesame candy. Other than that, I stuck to my typical party food for kids: juice boxes, popcorn, grapes, peanuts. Almost everything was consumed. I stuck some chopsticks in the bowls for fun.

6. The personal touch that’s all me. I am a painter, and an art teacher, so when I look at decorations, craft blogs, design blogs and books it goes through the filter of “can I make that?”. And I wanted so badly to make a big dragon for the WOW factor at Josiah’s party. I am kicking myself that I didn’t use it as a ninja portrait backdrop. Ugh. Not enough hours in the day for all the ideas rattling around. So, I hunted down some clip art and found a beautiful serpentine dragon. I brought home from my school the roll of newsprint and asked my mom how long her dining room curtains were. So one afternoon I sketched out a 65 inch dragon and painted it with watercolor on the newsprint. Big calligraphy brush and all. Everybody’s mom has a super-power right? My mom could sew, and I can make stuff with paint and paper. My pride and joy, the dragon: simple, yet perfect. It is after all, a two hour party for 6 to 9 year old boys.

7. Games. This is where the Master Ninja (that is, Joel) came in. I researched, got props, mapped out where things should go. I decided NOT to buy ninja swords for all 12 kids. It was an awesome day outside, so that made things nice. I had every intention of making origami ninja stars for a ninja star throwing game. I was awful at it. So I grabbed a piece of black mat board and cut out about 15 ninja stars. Sturdy enough to be thrown in a game, not that painful if it gets thrown at you. I bought three buckets and they were supposed to try and get them in. I thought we could assign point value and make a cool backdrop for it too (another circular dragon perhaps?) it didn’t happen. But maybe your party will 🙂 Here’s the birthday boy cheating!

We also did a chopstick relay where they split up into two teams and had to carry marshmallows from one bowl to another. I was stunned by how many of them did not want to even try to learn how to use chopsticks! I gave them my speech in my antagonistic teacher voice, it still didn’t work. But the ones that stuck with it (about half the crowd) had fun trying to beat the Master Ninja and shoveling mini marshies in their mouths after.

Hide and Go Sneak was the most popular. Having somebody’s dad dressed as a ninja trying to catch you can be fun and terrifying at the same time, but it worked for us. I also think a simple obstacle course would be ideal.

There was also a lot of keep the balloon in the air. Put chopsticks into play and it can be a challenge!! Everyone had both eyeballs when we were done.

8. Party favors. I got gold take out boxes from the dollar store and filled them with a ninja figure, a tic- tac drum, and a couple chocolate balls. They were cute.

So here’s my effort for my Josiah who turned eight. I hope this is helpful to someone. I believe that parties are magical and perfect to the kids memory no matter how much effort you put in. Some things I do for myself, but I wanted him to get what he wanted which involved simple things. Go all out if you must, but for me simplicity equals fun. Cuz that’s what childhood is about. Happy Birthday little ninjas.