Saturday, January 10, 2015

The End of an Era

After ten  years  of blogging under this title, this is officially the last  Growing in Truth blog post.  I will leave the content here, but am starting a new chapter of  my life, and  "growing in  truth" no longer best defines my life.  So hop over to follow me at my new blog, "Surrounded by Truth."   Here's to God making  all things new.    

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Best Deals at Dollar Tree

You  know. The store where everything  is a dollar… or less.  You can buy  a lot of  stuff you need there, but it is not  always the  best deal in quality or even quantity. Yes it’s fun for your kids to use their pocket money on candy or an interesting toy that is pretty much dead within five minutes of use. There is a lot of junk there not really worth a dollar. But here are the things I think are totally worth that buck.

1. Gift wrap,  gift bags, tissue paper, crepe paper, foil/mylar helium balloons, and party favors. You will pay at least double (but easily triple and beyond) for this stuff anywhere else.  One time we wanted to get a balloon for our son’s birthday but we were out late and the only place open was Kroger. We picked one nice helium-filled  mylar balloon and imagine our  shock when it rang up for $14.99.  WHAAAAAA?

2. A 20 oz. bottle of Coke (or Coke products) to go from the cooler.  You will pay at least $1.59 for this anywhere  else.

3. AIM Toothbrushes. These are my favorite  toothbrush for quality and cleaning—better  than the more expensive $3 and $4 ones you can get anywhere else.

4. “Generic” Magic Erasers. A two-pack.   Once, my Dollar Tree was out of these, so I bought the “Mr.Clean” brand for more than three times the price, and they did not even clean as well!

5. Planners and appointment books. Even the cheapest  appointment books on Amazon or at Office Supply stores start at $10 (but easily $20-$30 and more), and the formats  you can  find in the Dollar Tree are often nicer.

6. Poster board and Foam Board.  More than half  the price of anywhere else and  just  as nice.

7. Aluminum cookware, tins, and “tupperware”, for cooking for a crowd or for cooking  to take to someone else.

8. Dishes. Even  the plainest  ones  at Walmart  are $1.50 each. Dollar Tree has lots of nice choices for  building a collection of dishes.

9. Yardley  of London bar soaps. My  grandmother always “splurged” to use this  as her everyday soap. Now it is your  cheapest option  for a quality-made milled soap in wonderful, more  “natural” fragrances.

10. Coloring books, drawing paper, construction paper, elementary writing tablets, composition notebooks, and practice workbooks for preschoolers and kindergartners. I have found some of the most wonderful science-themed coloring books of animals, plants, insects, and more,  as well as coloring books of all my kids favorite characters, including Dora, Diego, Precious Moments, Disney, and superheroes, as well as wonderful “beginner” coloring books with large,  cute pictures, and other  themed books such as doodle prompts, princesses, fairies, vehicles,  and more.

11.  Glue, glue sticks, glitter-glue, post-it notes, stickers, rulers,  erasers, calculators, binder clips, paper clips, push pins or thumbtacks, BIC white-out,  reinforcement stickers for notebook paper  (you know, the little white donut-stickers), regular white  envelopes (both sizes), manila envelopes (including padded envelopes), file folders, foam craft  stickers, popsicle sticks, google  eyes, pipe cleaners, pom-poms.  Now, to make it easier,  here is what I do not recommend in the school supply area: Pencils, ink pens, markers, binders, colored pencils, ruled notebook paper.  You can get  Crayola markers for $1.00 a pack or even less during school supply sales, and even sometimes get 24-packs of Crayola crayons for 25 cents (Walmart especially).

11. Hair ties, scrunchies, headbands, clips, hair brushes, combs, and more. You can’t beat the price  anywhere else and  there are more than enough options  to keep your  little girl well-stocked and coordinated all the time.

12.  Mascara, blush, eyeliner and eyeshadow.  Check if you’re in there. This section changes more than all the others.  You will score when they have full-sized mascara, and it’s a great way to play around  with new colors before investing in your favorite  designer brand.

13. A colander (strainer). The cheapest plastic colander I remember seeing outside of the Dollar Tree was $9.00. My $1.00 colander lasted me 15 years (and I have seven children—that’s LOTS of mac-n-cheese and spaghetti, folks), so even if I have to buy a new one  every 15 years,  I still come out way ahead  in my  lifetime.

14. Tape. Especially packing tape, masking tape, and tape refills for your “Scotch” tape dispenser  (no comparison  on that last one—the price difference is VAST).  

15. Mini-laundry  baskets and newspaper bins. Very sturdy and very handy.

16. An umbrella. If you catch  yourself  out running errands in a  downpour, don’t let Walmart  or the  grocery store get you because they will move an umbrella display  to be the first thing you see when you walk in, and you will pay $6-10. Instead, run into a DollarTree, and then keep the umbrella in your car for emergencies.

17. Candy. Anything over 4 oz is the best deal. Also, they have a wonderful selection of sugar-free candy to satisfy  a sweet tooth.

18. Kettle-cooked chips.

19. Fudge-covered  graham crackers and  fig  bars.

20. Reading glasses, and neck chains for glasses.

21. Travel  mugs/cups (insulated, with straws). Yes, they’re not  quite as nicely made, but they are a fraction of the cost and plenty nice enough.

22. Drink bottles. Not just any. You have to look harder for the nicer ones!  Don’t fall for ones that are too fat for your car’s or backpack’s  drink  holders, and don’t buy them so skinny they are tippy!

23.  Books. But you have to look. They have nice board books and children’s stories sometimes. They have devotionals and Bibles, reference/educational books, and cookbooks. We even super-scored on some crochet pattern books before.

24. Waxed  paper.

25. Baby rattles, teether  toys—some  really cute ones  for stocking the diaper bag or tying onto the bow of a baby gift.

26. ???? What have I missed? Leave your best deal from Dollar Tree in the comments!   

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

My "Good Toys" List for Christmas, or "LIFE" (Show & Tell)

So, I've been raising children for 20 years now, and still have another 20 to go.  My oldest is moving out December 1, but I have a newborn, and three others age six and under (and some in the middle there somewhere).

Necessary simplifying for good home management and upkeep has affected our home in all areas:  clothes, school, toys, knick-knacks, kitchen-stuffs, bathroom stuffs, etc.  This post is about how we manage the toys. What we have and why, and how we keep it under control.

We've had a basic toys list now for years that we stick to, replacing items in the same categories as needed, or adding different or new things in the same categories.  So, for my children, ages 7 months to 20 years, here are our basic BEST and time-tested toys and gifts, in case you need ideas for gifts, or how to simplify for yourself.

1. LEGOS.  Of course. The monstrous collection began 19 years ago with my first son when he was just 1 year old.  While paying for a 25-cent item at a yard sale, I saw, sitting by the seller, a giant cardboard box full to the brim with Legos, spilling over the top. I asked her how much she wanted for the whole box, quickly calculating in my head that it was $1200 worth of Legos, so she would probably ask for $40 or $50, but I was only going to offer $20.  She said, "I don't know... 50 cents?"  I said, calmly, "I'll take them. Here, I'm already buying this for 25 cents. You just keep the whole dollar."

As I left, she yelled after me, "Have fun picking them up!"  Haha.

At the moment, we have a ban on new Lego sets (maybe for the next few years at least). My oldest is moving out and taking his favorites with him (the Technic pieces and the architectural sets), and the rest are in two HUGE tubs in the boys room (four boys, ages 3, 5, 6, 9).  They are not old enough to keep sets together or even sort them as meticulously as my 20yo perfectionist did, so until they get their playing and sorting systems worked out, they all stay together in the bin, and they have a shelf for displaying temporary favorite creations, and they each have a shoe-box-sized bin for keeping their own "works in progress."

And for the record, I don't pick them up. My kids do. Every night.  I have never stepped on one, either. My oldest was a perfectionist and kept them perfectly tidy and sorted in different bins. My littles play with them all day, but every night they are picked up thoroughly before bedtime. This routine must pass inspection until it is second nature (they each pay me a quarter for each Lego I find left out, so I make 75 cents per Lego. They hate that. You could call it extortion. I call it effective teaching in cleaning thoroughly and working with dilligence).

The shared Lego Bins of the 4 younger boys  (above),  and what their  floor looks like by 10 a.m. every day (below--taken this morning at 10:00 a.m.).  No worries, though. Rules:  1) Legos must stay  in bedroom, and 2) Must be completely  put away before bedtime.They always are. 

2.  HOT WHEELS.  Other vehicle systems have not worked for us--not even Fisher Price, Play Mobile, Shake-N-Go, Busytown, or other car tracks.  Each boy has a small plastic Hot Wheels bin that must stay at or under 20 personal choice cars.  Often, when I am going to the store, they rush to find their wallets to grab 4 quarters or a tattered dollar bill from the tooth fairy (or any other creative collection of change totaling a dollar) to pick a new car. I love watching them assess cars for weight, aerodynamics, model, features, and wheel size.  They do a great job of remembering exactly whose cars are whose, so that has not been a problem!

We have two tracks, and love them both.

a.  The Hot Wheels Super 6 Lane Raceway. Which is now out of stock and no longer made. But you may be able to get a four-lane version of this.  This enables a perfectly fair race between 6 cars, the computer declaring the undisputable winner, with a cheering crowd noise.  I love when my boys rush home with new cars in their pockets to set it up and race the new cars against each other, and then against their older fastest ones.  This set folds up not very easily, but my 9yo can do it, and at first I thought it would not be sturdy, but all parts have held up for several years now, even with a 2yo learning to play with it not so gently.

b. Hot Wheels 10-in-1 Track Set  I got this set for $20 at Aldi (what a deal!)  The boys pick the track they want to build, then have so much fun seeing which cars do best on which set-up. The set stores away nicely in an under-bed storage bin. My job is to keep the bin full of giant packs of fresh Duracell size D batteries.
 Hot Wheels 10-in-1 Track Set

3. A Solid Set of Good Building Blocks.  We had the luck to inherit the ones my husband had as a boy, and his parents invested big bucks in it back then. This set can (and has--for a Bible lesson several times) build the Tower of Babel to the very ceiling, and then bury the kid it falls on.  They build forts, race tracks, houses for their animals, zoos, towers, and more.

4. Real baby dolls with clothes, or, for boys, stuffed animals with clothes (such as Build-a-Bear).  I'm a little boy-heavy right now in the toy department. My daughter outgrew her dolls and passed them on. My boys have a maximum of 5 stuffed animals each, and a bin of cool outfits to dress them in, including Darth Vader, Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and Spiderman (from Build-a-Bear), or even crocheted "capes" they asked me to make on a whim. They have tons of fun playing with this. And when little girl cousins or friends visit, they are perfectly satisfied. Thrift stores are a great resource for Build-a-Bear outfits, because often the animals get donated with their outfits on. I buy the whole animal, often for less than a dollar, take the outfit off, then redonate the animal before I leave.

5.  Dress Up.  When my daughter was dress up age, 80's prom dresses from garage sales or thrift stores, when given a tuck at the shoulders and waists, made gorgeous floor-length princess gowns.  We also found prairie skirts, shawls, and aprons at thrift stores and made quick modifications to help them fit--but this way my daughter's dress-up morphed into putting on small plays with costumes by age 12.  She and I managed the costume department for our local children's theater for three years, too.

For my boys, their bin consists of ninja suits and masks, capes, belts, shields, swords, a Scooby-Doo costume, a puppy costume, cowboy hats, character masks, and various other super-hero pieces.  They use it every day, all day long.

6.  Kitchen and/or Tea Sets.  My daughter had tea sets. Now she is grown (15), and has a bistro table with two stools in her room, and a REAL tea set. There she has had many a cozy cup of tea, coffee, or hot chocolate with her friends, or her school work, or even a brother or two.

How cool is this  retro-chic bistro table (Big Lots) with a real  tea-set from Pier 1?

My boys prefer the play kitchen--but they outgrow it about age seven.  I still have seven years to go before we outgrow our $30 kitchen and its rotating collection of play food. They love planning and setting up feasts and picnics, and forcing any adults in range to pretend-eat their plastic creations.

This cute  little  kitchen  was $30 at  Target,  and covers all the  bases:  Fridge, oven, microwave, cupboard, sink with running  water  sounds, and stovetop with frying  and boiling sounds when you place something on a burner. Below:  our ever-changing  food collection, except the bread. Love that sponge  bread!     

7. Board Games.  Our long-term favorites are:  Super Scrabble, Clue, Monopoly, Rummy-O, Trouble (This Star Wars Version is our favorite), MouseTrap, Bananagrams, Apples to Apples, Scattergories, Mastermind, Battleship,  Stratego, and Telestrations.  We keep Chutes and Ladders and Candyland for the babes, but even the 3yo can play Trouble. We also have Uno, Spot It, and Farkle.  Every year we try to add a game or two to see if we find any new favorites. Last year we added the Farkle and the Spot-It. Instant hits.  This year, I'm thinking of trying Bible Outburst, Buzzword, and Math Dice, and looking into one called "Ticket to Ride" that I've been seeing recommended everywhere (over 1,600 5-star reviews on Amazon. Not bad!).

8.  Weapons.  My boys play every day with their collection of light sabers, swords, toy pistols, and/or nerf guns.  Heck, even I have been known to participate in some duels! The rule:  Swords only hit swords.  But since that is nearly impossible all the time with moving targets, if you get hit on the hand or anywhere else, don't complain to me, because I will say, "If you don't want to get hit, don't play."  I usually get a blank stare in return, and then the fighting resumes. By age 5, they toughen up and quit complaining.  When the 20-yo joins in with his younger brothers, it gets intense and very loud, and often feels like this old farmhouse will be shaken apart.  GOOD FUN!

The  "Arsenal"  shelf.
 9.  How-To-Draw Books.  We have about 15, and are always on the hunt for new ones.  This year I am looking for some Star Wars or Super Hero "How-To-Draw" Books. But we have all the basics:  Animals, birds, people, buildings, flowers, vehicles, cartoon faces, and more. We use them to illustrate our Bible and Science lessons. They use them to draw thank-you cards and pictures, or just draw for fun.  They use them to draw and illustrate their own books. We have nurtured a love for drawing, and they all just DO it, and I love, love, love their precious drawings!  Especially when a 3 or 4-year-old uses a how-to-draw book for the first time! Priceless!
Did  I say 15?  Looks  like  we  have 12. 
  My 9-year-old's  drawing from his Bible  journal this week, illustrating from  Matthew chapter 6 how God  feeds the sparrows  and clothes the flowers, so how will he not much more provide for you? He used two different drawing books,  and look at the bright, rich colors of  our colored pencils--I link to those below.

10.  Playdough. We have a good basic set with molds, cookie cutters, rollers, and a press-toy.  I replace the dough once a year. We play with it once a month on a rainy day.  Then it goes away until next time.  They all love it. Below is the set we have stuck with that covers all the  basics  (after  you  add  your own  preferred cookie cutters): molds, grow the puppy's hair  or tongue, a  crank/cutter that  makes  dog food  bits and   other shapes,  etc.    

11. Books. Books. Books.  We keep a children's book basket of our favorites, and rotate through other recommendations. Some stay, some go. But it has to fit in the basket. (We get others from the library).  Starting at age 10 (or, "I definitely like to read chapter books all by  myself now all the time age"), a child gets their own bookshelf to keep their personal collection.  They start with classic age-appropriate books, and gradually hand them down and move on up to their final, grown-up, personal collection.  So, starter books are the Chronicles of Narnia, Little House on the Prairie, Beverly Cleary, Charlotte's Web, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh, Magic Treehouse, Boxcar Children, Encyclopedia Brown, etc.  Then they move on to Trixie Belden, Alex Rider, Ralph Moody, easier Lamplighter books, and Elsie Dinsmore.  Then they move on to their permanent book collection of favorites. My oldest child's shelf has his favorite Lamplighter books (Ishmael, Self-Raised, The Hidden Hand, The Lost Clue, That Printer of Udell's, and several more), the Ralph Moody series, and his favorite Spiritual/Doctrinal basics (Tozer, "Imitation of Christ," Fenelon, etc.), as well as a few other individualized preferences.  My daughter (15) has her favorite Lamplighter books (some of them duplicates of her brother's, but they will be hers for life), The Elsie Dinsmore Series, The Little House Series, Chronicles of Narnia, Alex Rider series, Trixie Belden Series (collected one at a time from, one of our favorite sites), The Lord of the Rings (one of her favorites right now), and a sprinkling of other gems. She keeps the classics on her Kindle Fire (Little Women, A Little Princess, Shakespeare, Austen, Sherlock Holmes, etc.).  But the Kindle Fire is now broken, and also was used more for multi-media and social networking than reading. I will address that next.

The children's  book  basket,  contains our time-tested  favorites: Dr. Seuss,  Goodnight  Moon,  Fairy  Tales,  Seals on Wheels,  Never Tease  a Weasel, Rotten Ralph, and more.

Teen  daughter's personal  permanent book  collection.  Her shelf  also  houses  her personal collection  of meaningful gifts  from friends  and  souvenirs.It's a happy little place!

Grown  boy's permanent  book  collection, going  with  him  when  he  moves out next week.

This year for Christmas I am considering getting the older two a Kindle PaperWhite, which is very practical for reading and has no other multi-media distractions. Through Amazon, any books I own or purchase for my Kindle can be downloaded to any Kindle purchased on my account. I'm thinking of loading one up for each older child with back-ups of their favorites, plus anything I think will be helpful for ease of future reading at their fingertips.  It's a great Christmas and "moving-out" (sob) present for my oldest.

12.  PUZZLES.  My 3yo LOVES puzzles. They all enjoy them. We keep about one dozen quality wood puzzles from 12-48 pieces, three beautiful Melissa and Doug floor puzzles (one 24-piece, one 48, one 100) then rotate through owning a few bigger ones for everyone to do together.

Duct  tape  on the boxes  helps immensely  for puzzles  AND games.  They just don't make boxes like they used to!

13. Art supplies.  Our favorites:  The classroom pack of Prang colored pencils--rich colors that blend beautifully.  Lakeshore Learning "People  Colored"  pencils are  a  must  (top center slot of next photo), Crayola markers, bought by the dozen when sets go  on sale for $1.  A set of oil pastels for each child.  Sketchbooks. A big box of white paper.  And my daughter bought her own charcoal sketching pencil set when she was old enough.  Five colors of acrylic paint for painting (red, blue, yellow, black, and white).  We blend our own colors beautifully (markers, colored pencils, and paint),  and know how to paint wonderful things thanks to Barry Stebbing's 3-day art class.(If there's a class in your area, GO. If not, host one.)   We also have a scrap paper bin of card stock and fancy papers for card-making or scrapbooking or collaging, or whatever. Glue. Scissors. And that's it.

14. Magnets.  Boys. love. magnets.  We have a great kit that comes with tons of different magnets and a book to set up different projects and experiments. But they also love to just play with them.

15.  Nesting Toys.  For the babes.  Nesting buckets, cups, bowls, or dolls.  Everyone enjoys them. Below are the four sets we have owned for years.

Miniland Giantte Stacking Cups
Nesting Buckets.

Fisher-Price Brilliant Basics Stack & Roll Cups
Nesting  Bowls--also make nesting balls. Very  fun set!

Nesting  Sock  Monkeys.
Discovery Toys nesting cups.

16. Small plastic animal collection.  We have one bin of these that can be added to or swapped out.  But this bin started when my oldest was a baby, and 20 years later, still going strong with many of the same animals in it. They love sorting them, setting them up in zoos or jungles or "battles," and playing with them in all sorts of ways.

These also double as our bath toys--keeps  them clean, too!   Some of these are nearly 20 years old now!

17.  Outdoor toys/sports equipment. Bikes, scooters, jump ropes, a soccer ball, a basketball and hoop, a trampoline, two good kites, a skateboard (as my boys grow, I'm sure we will get more of these), baseball bats/balls/gloves, a football, golf clubs and golf balls, water guns, orange cones, a volleyball and net, badminton, and even tennis rackets and balls, and Bubbles, and a Slip-n-Slide.  All good, healthy play.  We make sure these things are high quality and buy them ONCE, and they last.  We replace as needed.  The littles start by inheriting the 3-wheeled scooter, and when they are ready, get a 2-wheeled scooter for a present. They start on the same training-wheel bike, then they practice on the same small 2-wheeler, and when they are ready, they get their own new bike.  As a teen, they may choose to swap it out for a mountain bike (my daughter did, but my grown son kept his dirt bike--it was made to fit kids through adults).  We are attempting to move to Florida, in which the trampoline will be replaced by an in-ground pool, and we will gain things like sand toys, boogie boards, surf boards, and kayaks.

18. One large gaming system (Wii) and one hand-held gaming system (iPod). NOT ONE PER CHILD.  One for the whole family.  My kids take 30-minute turns on each, weekdays only.  No weekend play.  It is easy to add a new game or app for a little gift.

19. Musical Instruments. We have one nice upright piano that was my mother's and then mine. At age 16, my oldest got his own full-size electric piano. He is taking it with him when he moves out next week.  My daughter will probably get her own at some point (but I know she's hoping for a baby grand. Good thing you cannot hear me laughing, because I really would do anything to get her one).  She also has a guitar (handed down from her older brother, but he will probably buy his own), and a violin.  My 6-yo has a Yamaha electric drum set--he asked for it. But we bought him the real-deal to nurture his interest, as well as inspire all the kids.

20. Small Toy Basket:  What a little treasure trove for a quiet night of family play!  Two awesome wooden tops, a sliding "15" puzzle, a light-up hand-held microscope, a slinky, a wooden kaleidescope, a coupla nice decks of cards, and some pocket games:  Uno, Spot-It, Farkle, Scrabble "Slam" and a set of jacks (kids love to play jacks. Try it).  It's easy to add a little thing to this basket, or swap something out that doesn't get any attention.

21.  Pattern Blocks.  My kids do "Pictionary" type contests (build a robot, a flower, a house, an animal, a butterfly, etc.), or sometimes work together to build one colossal pattern with every block. They build pattern after pattern. And sometimes the boys build mini forts and play a game where they take turns rolling marbles to knock each other's down, the longest one standing wins.

22.  "Temporary Toy Bin."  Each little boy has a nice lidded ottoman box for their personal toys. Gifts they receive from relatives or friends, happy meal  toys, or favorite things they purchase with their own money, maybe something that looks like  fun to try from  a  dollar store, thrift store, or yard sale.  An RC car, an action figure, and miscellaneous--anything that doesn't fit in with our permanent basic toys listed above. These bins are never fuller than just a few toys on the bottom, and they clean them out and rotate the toys regularly. This is a way to manage the toys that "appear" outside our set system, and keep them in a place that routinely gets checked and cleaned out.

A  peek inside the  5yo's bin: favorite happy meal toys, two beloved "Speed Racer" cars, a catapult, a pin-art  toy, and a  baby fox.   These  bins rarely get fuller than this. 

Okay.  My  mini-book  is  now done. "All  the Toys  You Need For  7  Children."

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Marriage: Bigger than the Both of Us: An Update a Year Later

Marriage.  I haven't written a blog post on marriage in years... doesn't it make you wonder?  Haha!

I've only been married fifteen years.  But, what a journey it has been! 

Neither of us were Christians when we married.  Well, that didn't last long. If anything will make you seek God, it's a troubled marriage. And ours got into trouble.

When my efforts failed (namely reading every self-help book recommended by Oprah), and EXPENSIVE secular counseling failed (and believe me, I gave it my BEST effort by dutifully drinking several shots of gin before each counseling  session so that I would not be afraid to speak my mind), I gave up. And gave it to "God," (whoever He was), and told Him if He was really God, then He was the  one who made marriage in the first place, and He was the only one who knew how to fix it, so it was His problem now. And I quit.

And He took over.

Within six weeks, I saw Him at work. I was stunned when I saw things changing, even "repairing." I committed to Him then and there, vowing to do whatever He revealed to me was His way for marriage,and anything else.

He first taught me to SUBMIT to my husband--to forget ME and commit to loving, serving, and supporting my husband. (What? Are you kidding me? This wasn't mentioned by Oprah ANYWHERE?  But, too late. I had already promised, and He had cunningly (lovingly) left me with nothing else to try).

He taught me to be a help meet.

He taught me to be a manager of my home.

He taught me to train my children to honor their father, and honor God.

It has been a glorious, happy path--one that  has brought me to a place I never dreamed existed (my ideals of marriage before I got married never included what a godly marriage would be like!)

But, there is always something more.  Another way to learn, another way to grow.  You can be a help meet all day long, until you're help-meeted out, and sometimes that isn't enough. That's not "where it is."  You can submit, defer, love, support, until you can't even breathe, let alone smile, and that's not always where it is.

Because I'm a sinful human... married to another sinful human.  Sometimes, the ways of God just "bounce" right off our toughened, stubborn flesh.

One of the more recent lessons I had been learning through marriage is that  love keeps no record of wrongs. NO. RECORD. I was learning that my husband should have a clean slate every moment he stands before me--and that I should have no memory or lasting repercussions in me of previous "wrongs."  I have wiped the slate clean. I am the "eraser."  Just as Jesus is for me.  Oh... learning to forget all that history and give your husband the gift each moment of a completely clean slate. That is miraculous.

Until you realize you're not Jesus, and you just can't.

I got stuck. I mean, really stuck.  My eraser was all rubbed out. My white-out bottle was dry. I had nothing left to work with.

So back to my old standby.

GOD! HELP!  This is your "thing."  YOU fix it. I can't.

I also prayed my first ever sincere "Hail Mary."  Pray for me, for my marriage! I need help and answers!

And the heavens opened, and the answer came.

God revealed to me in a moment of understanding how marriage is His. It is Holy. It is spiritual. It belongs to a realm that is outside my human flesh. It's a covenant and a sacrament.

With my "eraser" scheme, I had often been telling myself internally that I had to "be the bigger person."  Forgive, let go, and not expect anything in return.

But now I saw that while heroically trying  to  be the "bigger person," I had just backed myself into a corner. 

God showed me how silly it was for me to worry about being the bigger person (pat myself on the back). He showed me that marriage is bigger than the both of us.

The glorious miracle of the union God made between my husband and I on the day we got married--none of my petty offenses are even relevant compared to that!  God let me see how our marriage is a holy reflection of Him, and His Holy Trinity, and a living example of Christ and His bride.  My marriage is a place for God to reflect His holiness and perfection despite all of my (and my husband's) imperfections.

The magnitude of it--I saw it all for the first time. And my "huge" offense that I didn't have enough erasers or white out to erase, instantly became irrelevant, and didn't matter any more. The beauty of God's design and plan for marriage shone so bright--His light was my eraser.  Oh--there's no trace of anything left of whatever it was I was trying to erase.  I'm left with nothing but awe at the gift He has given me--marriage.  So beautiful! What a blessed sacrament! What a gift to have in my life, by submitting  to my marriage, His continual blessing and presence! At any given moment.  NOTHING compares to that.  I never knew what a treasure... I just never knew.

And once again, I am awed by Him. And how He loves me. And all He has done for me.

UPDATE:  One Year Later, November 22, 2014:  I was just shown this beautiful blog post on this same matter, but with a bigger vision, and better understanding of this little glimpse I was trying  to explain.  She gets it all and  drives it home, ladies.  Go read it at "Blessed Is She,"Gaining a Perfect  Love.Thanks to Kendra Tierney at one of my favorite blogs, Catholic All Year, for posting the link. What a blessing! Love me my blogging sisters for exhortation and uplifting words of wisdom!

Am I surprised He fixed the problem?

Um, Noooo!


Oh, what in the world will He show me next?

Don't be too much of a spoiler... but if you know, you can give me a hint! :-)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Singing in Spain!

I was so disappointed that not only my pregnancy due date of late April, but then my unforeseen illness prevented me from ever even thinking about chaperoning my daughter's choir tour to Spain in June, but I was a bit broken-hearted thinking I would never even get to hear her sing sacred music in those ancient, beautiful basilicas and cathedrals all over the country, some as part of the Granada International Festival of Music and Dance.

So... while not sleeping last night, I stumbled across an old FB post of my husband's linking to a YouTube video of one of their Spain performances.  WHAT?  I did not know these existed. He said he played them for me when I was in the hospital. But those were the ICU days. I have absolutely no memory.

But, if you would like to hear a VERY  talented group of children with an AMAZING director, singing in these beautiful, holy, and ancient places.... Here I am sharing her tour.  Mostly for you, Mom.  And Aunt Sue.  Nobody else will probably listen much. But it is beautiful--at least pick one!  Breton is usually in the back row on the far left (glasses!)

But I'm so grateful that she was able to go and people stepped up the help while I was in the hospital. What a treasure of an experience for her!  She worked very hard to earn a major portion of the money for her trip, but thank you so much, too, to those of you who sponsored her and helped her pay for it!

1. The Columbus Children's Choir, New World Singers perform Deep River in the Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Pi, the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona, Spain.

2. The Columbus Children's Choir, New World Singers perform Allunde Alluya in the Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Pi, the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona, Spain.

3. The Columbus Children's Choir, New World Singers perform Music Down in My Soul in the Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de las Expectaciones, Órgiva, Spain as part of the Granada International Festival of Music and Dance.

4. The Columbus Children's Choir, New World Singers perform Let Me Fly in the Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de las Expectaciones, Órgiva, Spain as part of the Granada International Festival of Music and Dance.

5. The Columbus Children's Choir, New World Singers perform View Me, Lord, A Work of Thine in the Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de las Expectaciones, Órgiva, Spain as part of the Granada International Festival of Music and Dance.

6. The Columbus Children's Choir, New World Singers perform A New Year Carol in the Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de las Expectaciones, Órgiva, Spain as part of the Granada International Festival of Music and Dance.

7. The Columbus Children's Choir, New World Singers perform Ave Maria in the Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de las Expectaciones, Órgiva, Spain as part of the Granada International Festival of Music and Dance.

8. The Columbus Children's Choir, New World Singers perform This Little Light of Mine in the Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de las Expectaciones, Órgiva, Spain as part of the Granada International Festival of Music and Dance.

9.The Columbus Children's Choir, New World Singers perform How Can I Stop from Singing in the Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de las Expectaciones, Órgiva, Spain as part of the Granada International Festival of Music and Dance.

10. The Columbus Children's Choir, New World Singers perform Psalm 150 in the Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de las Expectaciones, Órgiva, Spain as part of the Granada International Festival of Music and Dance.

11. The Columbus Children's Choir, New World Singers perform Loving Shepard in the Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de las Expectaciones, Órgiva, Spain as part of the Granada International Festival of Music and Dance.

12. The Columbus Children's Choir, New World Singers perform Psalm 23 The Lord is My Shepard in the Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de las Expectaciones, Órgiva, Spain as part of the Granada International Festival of Music and Dance.

13. The Columbus Children's Choir, New World Singers perform I Lift My Eyes in the Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de las Expectaciones, Órgiva, Spain as part of the Granada International Festival of Music and Dance.

14. The Columbus Children's Choir, New World Singers perform Lux Aeterna in the Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de las Expectaciones, Órgiva, Spain as part of the Granada International Festival of Music and Dance.

15. The Columbus Children's Choir, New World Singers perform Sanctus in the Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de las Expectaciones, Órgiva, Spain as part of the Granada International Festival of Music and Dance.

16. The Columbus Children's Choir, New World Singers perform Laudamus te in the Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de las Expectaciones, Órgiva, Spain as part of the Granada International Festival of Music and Dance.

17. The Columbus Children's Choir, New World Singers perform Kyrie in the Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de las Expectaciones, Órgiva, Spain as part of the Granada International Festival of Music and Dance.

18.The Columbus Children's Choir, New World Singers perform Ma Navu in the Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de las Expectaciones, Órgiva, Spain as part of the Granada International Festival of Music and Dance.

19. The Columbus Children's Choir, New World Singers perform Allunde Alluya in the Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de las Expectaciones, Órgiva, Spain as part of the Granada International Festival of Music and Dance.

Monday, October 27, 2014

And... Westley Wins!

My Dr. consult today resulted in the decision that I DO NOT need surgery any time soon, or if ever, possibly.  Now that is miraculous to me, and the best words I could have heard. Thank you, Lord. Thank you EVERYONE, for your continued prayers! And again and again, Thank you, Lord.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

"I killed you too quickly last time... "

Do you know this quote?  It's from one of my all-time favorite movies, The Princess Bride.  Prince Humperdinck says to Westley, The Man In Black, "I killed you too quickly last time; a mistake I do not mean to duplicate."

That quote is running through my head constantly as I have learned I must endure one more surgery soon to repair the "too quickly" sewing up job they had to do of my last surgery due to my respiratory failure.

Why the movie... because this AWESOME book was just released about the behind-the-scenes making of the film, and I got a hard copy of it for my birthday.  It was the most delightful and cheering thing I've read in so long. Well-written, endearing, and full of fabulous tales and secrets and surprises about the making of the movie.

If you order this through Amazon, please go through Sarah's blog as a favor to me. Because of her, I had so much prayer support this past summer (and still do), you could just feel the energy in  the hospital room.

So.... I have the surgery consult tomorrow. My spirit is wounded and my flesh is weak. I am still greedy  for your prayers. Selfish in  just wanting to get back to being a mama who can be just a simple, homemaking mama. Trying to avoid being terrified, and anxious, and gripey about this STILL not being all behind me... And still trying to come to terms with LIFETIME infusions every four weeks as well as serious GI issues. But I have been doing my research and I am far better off than  many with my issues.  Your prayers are working and have worked.

So... let's get upbeat again. I drove again for the first time today and husband said I did fine.

I lost my hair.  Sound upbeat? It's not, really. I had just grown it out for FOUR years (since I lost it last time due to chemo), and was two inches from my goal length. So vain. Such vanity and emptiness.  It was not too difficult to come to terms with the fact it was all coming out. But... my husband bought me, after much consideration on what we were going to do, a "new do" for my birthday--'cause we still don't know yet if it's going to ever grow back.  It's the same length and color as what I had before, but with more layers and lighter highlights on top.  Whatcha think?

Yes, I have an iPad now that a friend gave me as a gift while I was in the hospital, but NO, I still don't have the energy to learn how to take reverse image selfies.  This is like my second attempt ever at a selfie, the last being  my pregnant one a coupla posts ago. Do you  know how hard this is to do in  a mirror with a regular camera?  Sheesh! 

Still upbeat:  Thank you all for the continued prayers. They are needed much and immensely.  My husband still does not have a new permanent job (he was supposed to start a new job in FL the day after I fell ill). Praying for an offer soon!

I'll post an update after surgery. Pray for peace and patience, and strength of spirit. I'm so impatient to get my "littles" (as well as my bigger ones) back on track and get our  whole family  back into a season of peace and rest and routine. 

More happy:  Here's my curly-top, swirly-top, Millie Jewel. She is now six months old and pretty darn good at sitting, and trying  her darnedest to crawl.  I need to call her "Millie Drool."  I never used bibs at all with my previous six children, but this girl soaks up to 8 a day. I ordered her a "genuine Baltic Amber" necklace that is supposed to help.  Well, the internet reviews go like this: 85% of the people rave and swear by it, and 15% of the people say it's absolute baloney. No in-betweens. Funny thing is, this percentage of reviews didn't change much whether there were reviews on the product proving it was "fake" (meltable plastic beads instead of real amber) or real, or a mixture of both (amber and plastic together).  Go figure.  Worth  a shot though, but made sure I ordered the real deal. Any opinions on this?

Look at that adorable curl on the top of her  head! I just LOVE it!

Umai Authentic LEMON Baltic Amber Teething Necklace
Here's her new Umai Authentic Baltic Amber teething necklace.  Again, if you want to buy one after reading the reviews and intend to buy on  Amazon, please go to Amazon through  Sarah's Blog.
I'll let you know if it works.

More happy:  I joined The Honest Company.  They have a bundle and autoship program for the CUTEST diapers on the planet (with  terrific wipes) made with eco-friendly, super baby-safe, non-harmful, and biodegradable materials.  Less than $20 a week. Every bit as good as Pampers. Arrive at my doorstep exactly  when I command them to through  a very easy-to-use website, and I can change my shipment date at any time. I haven't had one leak and the prints make me SOOOO happy.  So glad this company came around in time for my last little one.

Aren't these the cutest darn things? I was so tired, after 20 years, of seeing  Big Bird, Barney, Elmo, Blues Clues, and/or monkeys on my baby's nether-end.  And they have boy patterns, too. And many more than this... and they keep adding new designs all the time.

If you're interested in  joining, use this link, because I'll get a $20 friend credit. Did I mention, you can get  a sample pack for "free" ($5.95 shipping) to  try for yourself? That's how I was double-convinced.  You can get lots of different sample packs. They carry all sorts of  eco-friendly  products.

In the meantime... I'm returning all your prayers for me. But keep 'em coming, PUHLEEZ!  I'm desperate.  Ingesting the Word as much as possible right now to strengthen my spirit and praying for God's complete healing.

May God's blessing  be upon  you all, and if you have requested any specific prayers from me, you are getting them!  The rest of you readers, get them anyway. Thank you for all the  encouragement and prayer support, and even other support (gifts in the mail and donations on the website). I'm eternally grateful to you all.