Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Caleb: 20 Months

Where did my baby go? This month is the first month Caleb has had more "toddler" days than "baby" days. One big clue that babyhood is fading fast: My big boy no longer needs a morning nap. Not that he's never skipped it before now, but we always knew he'd be a nicer person if he got one. Then, as if a switch flipped, he stopped needing one a few days before Valentine's Day. He still rubs his eyes a bit around 10/10:30, but that's it. No other obvious signs of tired crankiness. He just doesn't need it anymore.

No morning nap means more time to play!

Enjoying our neighbors swing on a sunny, spring-like day (read: high of 55! I have totally acclimated...)

Why won't this sled work?

Giving his friend a ride.

This month also brought one of my favorite "milestones". Caleb loooves snuggling up next to me while I read book after book! I love it because my little ball of energy rarely snuggles. I'm also thrilled that his attention span has grown enough to allow him to enjoy an entire story (or 3!). His current favorites are any book with a cookie illustration (really, we are never living the Christmas cookies we gave him down!) or any book where I make a sound effect (like sneezing or animal noises). He is also obsessed with a Little Critter book called "That's not my Frog". David and I will probably still have it memorized when Caleb is 30. Still, there is something really fun about seeing what he likes. He's no longer just a little baby along for the ride of life!

Special Caleb and Daddy reading time after work.

Caleb added a few words to his vocabulary this month:
He likes to say "baaah" (bath) any time he sees a tub
"Baaaa" (Back- as in, you must go to the back of the slide to go up again)
"Buuuh" (Butt- as in, you sit on your butt to slide)
"day da" (thank you)
"Dah-Dee!" (Daddy!!!)

Although he isn't saying much yet, Caleb is great at following directions. I can tell him we're going downstairs and he's waiting by the door to the basement. I can trust him to hold my hand instead of being carried as we walk to and from the car. He knows the names of all the rooms in our house and most objects. He has a pretty good grasp on the concepts of "up", "down", "in" and "out". Even more complex ideas like "wait" and "gentle" are starting to take root.

Just because he knows the word "gentle" doesn't mean we don't still see some shoving during play dates. I'd actually say that's the #1 thing we are working on right now.

I know I wrote about this last month too, but I am still amazed by how much my little helper really is helping. I feel like my life as a mom has gotten so much easier. From having someone to help put the tupperware in the cabinet as I dry it to moving clothes from the basket to the couch for me to fold, it really saves me some bending! I also really appreciate that when he's helping, he isn't busy making a new mess just as I'm cleaning one up : ) Of course, my directions have to be very specific and often it makes a task take a little longer, but I could have never predicted this level of helpfulness 3 months ago!

Sometimes he can't help me yet, like when I'm loading dirty dishes. His kitchen busy box has been our solution. He loves putting his own pots and pans "away". And yes, I know my cabinet is a disorganized jumble even before the baby toys were added and I'm ok with that : )

This is the first month we have seen lots of conflicting emotions and frustration (aka: normal toddler behavior). He cries for help, but when we come to offer it he pushes us away. Sometimes he just pauses and starts screaming for no apparent reason. Those meltdowns are normally my cue to invite him to the couch for some reading and snuggles.

Sometimes though, experience really is the best teacher. Case in point: Caleb decided he, and only he, could snap himself into his high chair. He practiced and practiced until he was able to do so and didn't even cry when his finger got pinched during one of his attempts. As much as it hurt me to see him hurt, I decided I'd follow his lead on this one. Eventually, he decided he really does need mommy and daddy to help sometimes. Recently, he started holding his hand and signing for us to help buckle him in. Apparently there was one pinch too many. Some days he still likes to try, but he's much more receptive to help now, thankfully!

As much as I love chronicling his milestones and marveling at how quickly he's growing up, my favorite moments are those times we are all together being silly as a family. Here are some photos from a recent photo shoot : )

Family Photo Booth

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Golden Friendship...and the story of how I met my husband

At the end of summer camp each year we used to sing a song, "Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold." Since moving to Pennsylvania, God has blessed us with so many wonderful friends through our church, David's coworkers and our neighbors. Yet, there is always something so precious about spending time with those who've known us for years.

This weekend we were finally able to make it over to Philly to visit our friends Dave and Christine. The role they've played in our lives is a story worth telling. Dave M. and my David met when they were matched up as random room mates during their first year of gradschool at FSU. Dave M. and Christine were dating, but Christine still lived in Pennsylvania. After a year of doing the long-distance thing, she moved down to Florida so they could determine if God was moving them towards marriage.

I met Christine and Dave when they started attending the same church as me for their protestant service (Dave is Catholic, so they went to Mass also). Apparently, after the first time I met Dave and Christine, Dave went back to the apartment and informed David, his room mate who was 27 and had never had a girlfriend, that he needed to come to church to meet the woman he (David) was going to marry. David responded by rolling his eyes.

After a month of hearing Dave insist that this girl had a neon sign above her head that read "David's girl" on it, David finally caved in and came to church with them. He was in a bad mood since he already had a church home of his own across town and thought meeting a girl was a terrible reason to switch churches for a morning. I had no idea any of this was going on, but after being introduced to Dave's room mate, trying to start a conversation and receiving mono-syllabic answers...well, let's just say it wasn't love at first sight.

Dave convinced David that he needed to get to know me through the Weds night Bible study where he could actually have a conversation with me that went beyond, "What's your major?". Since David's church didn't have a Weds night service, he agreed.

David and I share a love of reading and discussing the Bible and it didn't take many Wednesday nights for us to become friends. We also shared similar tastes in movies and books and jokingly said we should combine our libraries. I admired David's singleness, as, at the time, I was pretty certain I was going to devote the next 5-10 years to teaching before settling down as wife and mother, if indeed that was something God had planned for me at all.

Dave M., however, had other plans. As the four of us became better friends he was there to, not so subtly, make sure David and I got to spend lots and lots of time together. Dave made sure that no matter how awkward or inconvenient it might be that wherever we went, David was the one sitting next to me, opening my car door and driving me home. Never mind that Christine and I were leaving at the exact same time and my apartment was on her way home, Dave was quick to volunteer that "David could drop you off." David was ready to murder him sometimes, I would just turn red and nod...yet somehow neither of us could be heard to complain...

When David finally worked up the courage to ask me to date him, Dave's advice was "Just kiss her!" Advice that was, thankfully, ignored. I'm grinning as I reflect on all these things. Although David was ready to kill Dave for his pushyness at times, I think we both needed a bit of a shove in the right direction!

Since those days, life has been busy for all of us. Dave and Christine married in 2008, David and I followed the next year. 2010 brought Caleb, and 2011 brought their son Elias. Both couples have moved at least twice and now here we are, all back in Pennsylvania together.

It would have been impossible for me to imagine, playing cranium and talking theology until 2 in the morning at the guys apartment in Florida, that in 5 years we'd all be hanging out again, this time in Pennsylvania. We're still talking theology...but not past 10:30 because we all have to be ready to greet our energetic toddlers in the morning. Now, I can't imagine it any other way.

We feel so blessed for this friendship that has survived distance, moves, and life changes. We're thankful for friends who remind us of those days when we were first falling in love, who challenge us, who are willing to be transparent about how difficult marriage and parenting can be, and who know what it's like to survive colic and a baby who doesn't sleep.

Of course, it's not all theology and serious discussions. The guys went climbing Saturday morning, despite the fact that this was the view outside the window.

Christine is expecting a very special delivery in 6 months, so she and I stayed home and played with the kiddos

Once the guys got back home there was even more fun. Dave and Elias chasing Caleb.

Daddy is base!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


I first celebrated lent back in 2007 when I found myself the only protestant in our 4 person apartment. After two years in college, I was feeling a bit adrift in my faith. I knew I believed in Christ, and him crucified for my sins. I wasn't sure how I felt about church, pastors, campus ministries or even many other Christians. So, clearly, partaking in an ancient tradition from one of our country's most heavily criticized denominations was the next logical step.

Seriously though, I'd really come to respect my roommates. They patiently answered my questions about why they would be observing lent and didn't treat it as something to be bragged about. The idea of spending time in self examination and prayer, giving up something that hindered my relationship with God and using that time to draw near to him appealed to me and to the private nature my faith had taken on in the absence of trust in a church.

For my fast, I gave up recreational internet (facebook, myspace, blogs, news, etc.) and spent close to an hour most days in prayer and scripture reading. God used it to transform me. I was able to see many sins in my life I'd been blinded to before. I saw bitterness over the church experiences of my growing up years. I saw my avoidance of church and the people in it was just another form of pride. I saw that in my unforgiveness I was ignoring all I had been forgiven of in Christ. I had made my bitterness an idol.

Lent laid the groundwork for many changes that would take place in my life over the next year and gave me the humility I needed to heal my broken relationship with the church. With the help of some extra loving church members I came to be thankful for the company of other believers again. Through a patient and humble pastor I finally understood what a good shepherd should look like.

My struggles are different now, yet the fundamental problem is still there. My heart is an idol manufacturing plant. I think whether we are secular or religious, Christian or atheist, there's a temptation to try and redeem ourselves through works. Our job, our children, our hobbies, our political positions, our finances and our marriages can all become alters where we bow down, worship and receive judgement as to whether our lives are meaningful.

Lent is a time where I ask God to show me where I'm trying to find my self-salvation. It's a time to be reminded that salvation only comes from one place and His yoke is easy and His burden is light. If I'm worn down from struggling and striving, then I'm missing how very sufficient Christ's life, death and resurrection is to transform me into his same image, from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18). Yes, giving up something often helps me see this more clearly, but to me, the relief is in knowing that nothing I can do (or abstain from) can add to Christ's completed work on my behalf.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Simplification Begins: An update on our goals

Keeping house has been a challenge for me ever since we got married. I really admire women (and men) who seem to organize naturally. For me, it's been a skill to be learned, painfully and slowly. Not only do I have chronic mess-blindness and a tendency to be lazy, but we haven't exactly had a lot of time to just...clean.

We moved into our home during the first trimester nausea, had a productive 3-4 months in mid pregnancy and then a painful and difficult last 2 months. After that, our colicky bundle of joy arrived and just as the colic ended we moved to Florida for 6 months. When we returned we were greated with scenes like this one:

A frightening view of our master bedroom. I didn't take any of the main rooms, but imagine ever surface covered in clutter and burp clothes stewn about on the floor

Although our house hasn't been at that level of disorganization in quite a while, it seemed like we were always 2 steps behind the clutter. Honestly, it was a lot like being in debt. We were already behind, so getting ahead took at least double the effort. We decided that we needed to get out of organization "debt" and make our house start working for us.

Over the month of February, David and I threw every spare minute of our time into getting the 3 main rooms of the house in order. We decluttered the kitchen island, dining room table and desk. We set up a paper mangement system to keep paper from taking over again. We (and two of David's awesome brothers) rearranged living room furniture to make the room more functional.

To do all this, while keeping up with cooking, dishes, floors, laundry and our teaching commitments at church, we sacrificed a lot of time with one another and a little sleep. We decided that for a short season the loss was worth the gain.

Boy was it ever! Having a living space that works for us is so refreshing.There are still a few small projects to tackle in each room, but our decluttering goal is well under way and our paper management goal is officially checked off! Sadly, I forgot to take "before" photos so you'll have to just imagine papers piled on every flat surface in the room.

A look at the dining room from the kitchen entrance. Note the easy access to the high chair. Nothing must delay food from reaching that destination. The hearts on the wall are from Valentine's Day

I can see my desk again! I still need to sort through the dozen binders and notebooks stacked on the right side, but this is serious progress.

The livingroom. The lighting isn't as good because I had to take these shots at night. Let's face it, with a toddler in the house, it's the only time of day the floor isn't covered in toys.

The view from the diningroom. In case anyone is wondering, the indoor slide is how you keep an active toddler from going crazy during a wet winter here in the north

You'll notice there's no photo of the kitchen island. That would be because it's gotten cluttered again. That is definitely our "catch all" spot!

Not surprisingly, all this sucess has left me even more motivated to keep chipping away at the clutter. Next month, I'll be continuing the process with Project Simplify. If you'd like to join me, just click the button on the side bar : )

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Valentine Tradition

I love traditions. Some families have more, some have less, and sometimes the traditions we build taper off as years pass and circumstances change. One of my favorite traditions growing up was baking Christmas cookies with my mom. As far back as I can remember, I was perched on top of a little, plastic, yellow chair pouring, mixing, rolling and baking.

As the years passed, one cookie often found itself not getting made in time for Christmas, the Sugar Cookie. Due to needing to roll out the dough, cut the shapes and add sprinkles, it was much more time consuming than it's drop cookie cousins. Most people aren't big sugar cookie fans, and I can understand why. But this isn't any sugar cookie. It's my Grandma Betty's Sour Cream Sugar Cookie. Not only does it taste like happy Christmas memories to me, but I think it's objectively the best sugar cookie I've ever eaten in both taste and texture.

After Christmas passed I'd usually keep asking for this cookie, and my mom would assure me we'd make it for Valentine's Day instead. And we did (by we, I of course mean my mom did 95% of the work and I added sprinkles). The recipe makes enough to share with an entire classroom (or 3) and red sprinkle hearts are just as yummy as green sprinkle trees.

I made these cookies by myself for the first time when David and I were engaged. My friend Stacey and I had driven up to PA to visit him while we were on our winter break. We spent our week baking and enjoying the snow before driving back to Florida to visit family.

The first Christmas we were married, I had terrible morning sickness and wasn't feeling up to baking much of anything. The next Christmas we were living in an apartment in Florida temporarily for David's job and I was finally getting to sleep in 2-3 hour stretches for the first time since our 5-month-old was born. Again, no cookies.

This Christmas, I had every intention of finally baking at least 5 types of cookies, including sour-cream sugar cookies. I ended up baking 3 types of cookies and learning what my mother and grandmother before me already knew- baking is fun, but it takes a lot of time! So I took another page out of their play-book and have now, officially, decided Sour Cream Sugar Cookies are going to be a Valentine (not Christmas) tradition.

Although Caleb often helps me with my baking projects, I did this one solo, after his bed time.

Rolled and Cut hearts

Extracting X's and O's from the dough was a challenge
Finally ready for the oven. No wonder my mom says it used to make her want to cry to see me feed these to the dogs because I wanted to "share" : )

Finished Product! Kudos to my husband for capturing this cool shot.

Caleb enjoying the fruits of my labor at play date today. Happy Valentine's Day Buddy!

I wasn't the only one who was thinking dessert today. We had an unplanned mini-Valentine's party.

The boys had a blast as usual

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Welcoming 2012

It's hard for me to believe February is here already. I've kind of been in denial that 2012 is underway. Last year we rang in the new year with an at-home date where we talked about our hopes and dreams for our family in 2011. We crafted a family mission statement and my guiding word was "routine". It was all very purposeful and refreshing.

This year, we hung out with family, shared a quick kiss and midnight and then hopped into bed since our toddler would still be up at the crack of dawn the next morning. As soon as we got back to Pennsylvania, we hit the ground running with new commitments like leading our small group on Weds. night, preparing for another 10 hour trip, and (David) teaching Sunday school for 2 weeks. Not to mention taking down Christmas decorations, unpacking and reclaiming order in the house.

So perhaps it's not surprising that January was almost over before I felt like we had a chance to step back and evaluate how last year went and beginning planning for this year. David and I tend to use our long drive to DC for pain clinic appointments as an opportunity to catch up, regroup and plan. Last week, we carved out some time in between preparing our lessons to discuss family life. Here's what we found:

Recaping 2011
Developing a routine with a new baby and a 1000 mile move was no easy task. In fact, when our conversation first began, I thought we had made very little progress at all. However, as David guided my memories back to what life was like in our very first months of parenting, I could see a huge difference. The growth of a family rhythm is like the growth of child, it's something you're immersed in, and it's hard to see without looking waaay back for perspective. It would probably bore you to list all the teeny tiny goals our family reached, but it was so encouraging for me to hear David's perspective on how I've grown as a home manager in the past year.

While we still have much we want to improve upon this year it's nice to have figured out ways to minimize dishes, keep the clutter from completely taking over, cook healthy meals almost every night and still have lots of time to spend with Caleb.

Moving forward in 2012
Although 2012 has had a very busy start, David and I are both so thankful for the way our commitments have forced us to put down our books, turn off the TV and spend concentrated time reading the Bible and praying. I've seen a huge difference in how much I talk to God throughout my day and my attitude towards disappointments and frustrations. Less time spent with entertainment and more time spent with God is definitely a trend we'd like to see continue this year.

Now that I've developed a pretty good routine for keeping the basic household tasks up-to-date (who knew rinsing dishes immediately could be so helpful?) we have 3 major home-related goals this year:

1. Declutter and deep clean the house. As we began to learn last year, a house with fewer things is a house that is easier to enjoy and maintain. We are planning (as in, need to pick dates on the calendar) a room-by-room declutter and deep clean as our spring cleaning this year. I'm dreading the effort required, but know the results will be worth it!

2. Develop a paper management system. My desk is supposed to be our home management hub. With no system to organize the receipt, bill, file and shred piles though, you can imagine the pile of paper that has resulted. Not to mention all the little stacks of paper shoved in various corners of the house before company comes over...I'm nervous about this goal because it's going to involve building a new habit, which is always a challenge, but I can't wait to not worry if I've misplaced a bill or wonder where a receipt is!

3. Make our home "ours". There are so many decorating projects David and I have had on the back burner because we felt overwhelmed just trying to keep the house clean. Our reward for taking care of these not-so-fun tasks will be to finally get to do some of these long awaited projects.

I can't wait to post before and after pictures : )

Finally, a personal goal of mine is to make David and I's marriage my biggest priority after my relationship with Christ. I must confess that all too often, we put our time together and cultivating our friendship behind other obligations. Interestingly, the focus on cleaning our home is a big part of that goal because David especially needs the peace and calm of organization to relax. I enjoy it too, but not in the same way. Just as he gives me the gift of long conversations, I want to give him the gift of service this year. Neither comes easily for us, but what could be worth more effort than truly speaking to our spouses heart?

I've never been big on making new year's resolutions, but the start of a new year has become a great time for us to take a step back, assess what worked well last year and what needs some tweaking and plan to live more purposefully with the time we are given. I hope 2012 is off to a great start for each one of you!