Strawberry Shortcake Face

We were lucky to hear a beautiful green house out in the country that sells the best strawberries.  It made me question why I was staying in town and doing all the work of adding on-acres of fields, beautiful big barns, rolling hills (which is rare where we live) and just quiet.  I know the downside is I'd be spending hours in the car driving to this, that and the other.  It doesn't help that when I'm at home there are air compressors going off every day.  I have to remind myself that it's all worth it. One day soon, I'll have my ordinary days back.

Everyone keeps telling me how old Janey works.  I only have two more months before I'll have a two year old.  She is so sweet (and hates all the noise of construction also).  She loves her scooter-that's all she wants to do-ride up and down the sidewalk on her scooter.

It was the weekend of graduation parties-we have two more next week also.  This week three little girls (one niece) who used to play at my house, play Polly Pockets, and dress up and American Girl dolls, are leaving for college.  How can that be?  Time moves too quickly.

On another note-
I have met some great "worker guys" with neat stories.  I have studied and made some enlightening (and not surprising) observations.  Here are a few:
-Those over the age of 60 (give or take) have a noticeably different work ethic.  They work harder, and longer, and show up when they are supposed to, and do what they say they are going to do.
-Those who grew up with big families, and out on farms, also have a strong work ethic.  Maybe it's the chipping in, not a lot of money, high expectations at an early age to work.
-I've met two father/son teams and these were my favorite.  When there is a family stake in the business, there is a reputation to uphold-fair and honest and hardworking for sure.

One man was from a big Catholic family, grew up on a farm, grandfather was an immigrant who came to American with literally nothing-when he died he had money hidden everywhere in his house and lived so simply that everyone felt sorry for him (he didn't trust banks-Depression era).  When this man's mother went to the hospital to have her first, her sister was in labor also-they had their babies together, but his mom lost her baby-he was stillborn.  The couples shared a car-she rode home next to her sister-baby in arms-empty-handed.  She told her husband tearfully, "I'm going to have ten more babies."  And she did-in 16 years!

Another (one of seven) was very hard of hearing.  He told me that they didn't find out he had a hearing problem till he graduated high school...somehow he made it through...he always sat at the front of the class. He planned on joining the Marines to put himself through college, but they wouldn't take him and that's the first time he had a hearing test and was told he had some major hearing loss.  He was crushed-and tried every military branch but was rejected each time.  Instead he went into the wood floor business with his Dad and has made a living that way ever since. His dad (almost eighty) came to help him.  He was so sweet-but oh boy, so stooped over.  Both worked two jobs to support their families.

Well, Janey's up from her nap.
Summer thunderstorm in progress, one of my favorite things.  What is it with the smell of rain in summer?  Love it.


Denise's Story

All I ever wanted was to be a wife and a mother. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I wanted a million other things too, but this far and away led the list. It was so much a part of who I was, even at a young age, that a dear friend actually gave me a subscription to Brides Magazine for my sixteenth birthday (true story). Let me tell you that seeing that magazine in my dorm room (yes, I continued the subscription until the day I was married) scared quite a few young men along the way!  And let’s not even mention the notebook of every changing baby names that I kept for years!

I grew up as the youngest of three, and when I was eight years old, my mom started an in-home day care business called Dot’s Tots. Without realizing it then, Dot’s Tots definitely helped shape my hopes and dreams.  I would get home from school every day, and my mom was there to talk with me and to hear about my day, but there were lots of little people there as well. I always had a baby to hold or a toddler to play with. I watched these children grow up in my home. As I got older, I got more involved with the children. These were the kids I’d babysit for on the weekend, and during the summer I would serve as lifeguard by the pool, and even started the famous “Dot’s Tots Summer Olympics.” Babies were in my blood. Trust me, there were days I would have loved to come home to an empty house or a house with just my mom in it, but most days I loved walking through the door to see all of those little faces.

I don’t remember thinking about whether or not I’d be a stay at home mom when I was young. My picture definitely had a husband and kids in it, but I was raised to believe that I could do or be anything that I wanted in life. Neither of my parents went to college, and I was the only one in my family to finish. My parents truly made me feel like anything I strived for was possible. I guess I believed I could “have it all” even though I didn’t really know what that looked like, or even meant.
Fast forward to a few years after college… I married Michael, my college sweetheart. This was, far and away, the best decision of my entire life.  I moved from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania and began a career in Pharmaceutical Sales. I loved it and I was very good at it. I was at the top of my class in sales school, and won the Fast Start Award my first year out. I had aspirations of working in sales training, but hadn’t quite figured out how that would work since my company’s home office was in Kansas City, and Michael’s career and our whole life was on the east coast. I remember briefly feeling like it wasn’t fair that his career (much more established than mine at that point) took priority. Shouldn’t I get the chance to go to Kansas City and see what I could do?  Boy, I really didn’t worry about this for long. Instead, I got the baby bug.

Michael and I bought our first home at Christmastime, about a year and half after we were married. I remember wanting to get pregnant so badly around that time. I think Michael would have preferred to wait a bit longer, save a bit more money, etc. We had many teary (on my part) conversations that involved him saying that we weren’t in a position for me to be home full-time, and my swearing that I had no problem going back to work full-time if we could just have a baby (I thought I meant it). I was pregnant by June.

I loved being pregnant. I loved everything about it. I couldn’t wait until I could wear maternity clothes, and in hindsight, I really jumped the gun on that one. But I wanted EVERYONE to know I was pregnant. My career flourished. My sales territory was the amazing neighborhoods in and around South Philly, a predominantly Italian area of Philadelphia. Here I was, this young woman with a very Italian last name and clearly not a drop of Italian blood in her. I had established great relationships in my doctors’ offices, but the pregnancy took things to a whole new level. I spent months being turned around to decide if my nose had spread more than my backside, and sat still while having my wedding ring spun on a string over my giant belly – all this to decide if I was having a boy or a girl…South Philly style. The prevailing wisdom said girl…and they were right.

Five days after my due date, in the early morning hours, my beautiful Katie arrived – and I was never, ever the same. In those very first moments I knew with a certainty unlike anything I had ever experienced before, that my life’s work had just begun. I was a mom.

But remember those teary promises about going back to work full-time if I could just have a baby? …well, it had to happen. The mortgage loomed. Twelve weeks later, I returned to work. And so began a whole new series of teary conversations about how and when I could stop working. We got so lucky, because I know this isn’t the case for so many families. Six months after I returned to work, I was able to transition to a two day per week schedule in my sales job.

This two day per week schedule continued for the next few years, and worked out well for us. I still wanted to be home full-time, and we were getting close. We welcomed Cole, our beautiful boy, two years later, and in the fall of 1999, we embarked on the adventure of a lifetime and moved our family to Denmark. 

The three years we spent as guests in this beautiful country, were three of the best years of my life. We welcomed Abbey seven months after arriving, and I settled in so fantastically to my role as full-time stay at home mom.  Being home to kiss every boo-boo, snuggling up to watch The Lion King for the billionth time, seeing the wonder on those beautiful little faces as they discovered new things – I wouldn’t trade those moments for anything.
I’ve been blessed over the years to have several part-time jobs that fell in my lap just at the right time, but that left just as gracefully when they were no longer needed. Some were short-term projects with old colleagues involving really exciting stuff that let me feel useful and smart in a different way when maybe I was doubting myself or my value (Wow! That was a whopper of a run-on sentence!). Others let me make a difference in the lives of children when my three were happy and busy at school, yet let me be home before the first feet stepped off the school bus at the end of the day. I know I’ve been very lucky -- lucky to be at home all of these years, lucky to have a husband that bent over backwards to make it possible and mostly lucky to have chosen the absolute right dad for my kids, and most amazing husband for me.
As I’m writing my story, I realize that I want you all to know every detail, but unless you have nothing else to do today but read this (ha, you’re most likely moms, which means you have a million other things to do today), all I really need to share is that I loved it. I loved all of it. Not every minute of every day of course, because it’s really, really hard work some times. But in true Denise form, my rose-colored glasses are firmly in place while I write this, and I wouldn’t change a thing.
To help fill my need for grown-up interaction and activity and to be as involved with my kids as possible, I was homeroom mom more times than I can count, I attended every Halloween, Holiday and End of the Year party that I could, went on the field trips, etc. As the kids grew and I had more available time, I took on bigger roles in their schools. I ran the book fair for several years, then switched gears and handled all of the tickets for the amazing high school theatre program.  My latest endeavor is handling all of the refreshments for the middle school musical. I love being able to use my time and talents to support my kids in the things they love and also support their amazing teachers and schools. 
I laugh when I think about my eventual return to the work force, and how I’ll use my communication skills to convince my future employer that my volunteer jobs and mom skills garnered over the last twenty years make me a valuable employee. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it, but for now I’m going to savor every minute of my last few years at home.
My baby turned 14 yesterday, and this fall I will have two kids in college. I kiss fewer boo-boos these days, but I’m still lucky enough to snuggle up for a movie (or an episode of Say Yes to the Dress – our guilty pleasure).  Some days I feel like my role is simply that of chief cook and housekeeper. But just when I’m feeling like I’m not as needed as I used to be, someone needs to talk, or vent, or work through a problem, and I’m there to listen, or give advice (gingerly), or just give them a hug.
I struggle with my new place in the world.  I sometimes question who I’ll be or what I’ll do when they are all off being their amazing selves and making their own mark on the world. But really, I do know who I’ll be. I’ll be their mom, forever and always, and I can’t think of anything better I could have done.


Ordinary Days on Monday Morning

(A rare moment when every kid is in one room at the same time!)

Just a quick post because I have 15 minutes till I have to take Patrick to the doctor's office for what I think might be swimmer's ear.  That poor kid is tough and never complains about a thing, but is definitely under the weather.

I am counting the days till the addition is finished, but still trying to enjoy summer before it gets away which it always seems to.   I'm reminding myself that I am going to do the most basic things to make this house live-able and all the fun decorating stuff will have to wait till later when kids go back to school and I have the brain to process and ponder and make good choices.  The cleaning-I can't wait to get my hands on every wall and baseboard and closet-it just seems pointless right now when they are sanding drywall.  Cough, cough.

I found this quote by Rachel Jancovic and I love it:
The whole essay is here and wonderful.

Live the gospel in the things that no one sees. 
Sacrifice for your children in places that only they will know about. 
Put their value ahead of yours. 
Grow them up in the clean air of gospel living. 
Your testimony to the gospel in the little details of your life is more valuable to them than you can imagine. 
If you tell them the gospel, but live to yourself, they will never believe it. 
Give your life for theirs every day, joyfully. 
Lay down pettiness. 
Lay down fussiness. 
Lay down resentment about the dishes, about the laundry, about how no one knows how hard you work.


Kelly's Story

It’s Tuesday morning, and Ainsley rolls out of bed with both eyes crusted shut and a voice that is a cross between an eighty-five-year-old life-long smoker and Kim Carnes singing Betty Davis Eyes. Gravelly, throaty, Darth Vaderesque.

Clearly she’s encountered some pesky virus.

Here’s a confession I’ve made many times: I’m happy when my kids get sick. Not happy for their suffering, of course, but inwardly glad because I know that I’ll simply stop.

Some other Mommy-blogger once coined the term Hard Stops. Hard Stops are those moments sprinkled throughout our day or week that lead us to declare a halt to the frenzy of demands that assail mothers – the laundry, the unsigned permission slip, the missing soccer cleat, the prescription that needs to be picked up, the next meal.

Hard Stops help us set aside what seems urgent to focus on what’s far more important.

In my house that means being fully present to my children, being with them rather than doing things for them, setting aside my To Do List to simply be. When I have a sick child, I stop. That child gets one hundred percent of me. Or maybe 90%. But significantly more, I’m sad to say, than on an ordinary day. We may pick up pizza. We may eat frozen waffles. Housework and cooking, blogging and bill paying  – these get shuttled to the margins, and my sick child comes front and center.

Hard Stop.

Sometimes Hard Stops are not quite so hard as a fever, as colorful as a rash, as dramatic as a sudden bout of vomiting. That still, small voice called mother’s intuition tells me that all is not well with my twelve-year-old.  I notice that my typically amenable five-year-old seems to be nothing but obstreperous. These symptoms call for a Hard Stop but the call comes as a whisper, a Holy Spirit-nudge. I take the tween out for a milk-shake or invite the five-year-old to the library with no one else in tow.

Kind of a Soft Hard Stop.

A Hard Stop may involve Mom.  One recent seven day period began with a weekend visit to Disney World and then moved on  to a science fair  project, packing Daddy off for two weeks in Alaska, making sandwiches for the bereavement committee at church, supervising an in depth geometry project, multiple doctor’s appointments. And at the end of it, I collapsed.

Hard Stop.
Hard, Hard Stop.

We need to take care of the person who is taking care of everyone else.

What does any of this have to do with being a stay at home Mom? Being home with my children helps me to listen to these Hard Stops. Life with four children is intense.  I am an intense person. Gosh, how there are times I wish I could wiggle my nose and be a different version of me – more mellow, more go-with-the-flow, chilled, ya know?

That calm version of me might turn up yet, might just blow in with an East wind like Mary Poppins. But until the day that epochal transformation occurs, it would behoove me to build margins into my life, to erect boundaries that help me put first things first, to add space and time into my life so that I can better hear and heed the voice that says:

Slow Down
Let It Go
Cuddle on the Couch
Build the Fort
Read the Story
Oohhh and Aahhh over that Lego creation
Listen to the Twelve-Year-Old

My decision to stay home helps --  it helps quite a lot.
So this morning I looked at my red-eyed cherub and gave her four options: painting, reading, having a little tea party, playing doll house with Mama. And we sat down with our water colors and got to work.

Seventeen years ago, I looked down at the second blue line that told me I was a mother.  At the time, I was working two jobs – I was a high school English teacher and a weekend warrior with the US Army. I loved both jobs but knew I’d leave them when Tim arrived. My husband, thankfully, has always seen the value of having Mom at home.

Truthfully, I’ve viewed this as more of a privilege than a sacrifice. I’ve cried with close friend s as they’ve prepared to send tiny babies to daycare when they would have gladly stayed home had that been an option.

“You’re going to work,” I told one friend, “so that your son can go to the doctor.”

Her husband was self-employed with no insurance, so my friend had found a job with benefits. It was no small sacrifice.

Certainly many people view full-time homemaking as a waste of an education, but, good gravy, I was once a logistics manager for Procter and Gamble and, believe me, the demands of that job don’t compare to the challenges of ordering the lives and living space of six people. Especially now, having a preschooler and a teenager and two others in between, this life I lead demands all my energy, all my creativity, all my organizational skills , more patience than I possess – in short, it takes virtue, brawn, and brains.

On my bad days – and I have plenty of them – I am grateful that I married relatively late (at 32) and became a mother well past the average age (at 33). I went into this SAHM gig with plenty of real world experience. I had held a variety of jobs and had travelled widely before turning in my power suit, my grade book, my Army fatigues for a life of babies and car pools, Legos and play dates. While some mothers might indulge in wistful thoughts about the working world, might think the grass is greener on the other side, I’ve seen the grass and, though it’s different, it’s not necessarily greener. The clothes are nicer, the pay is better, but it comes with its own set of stresses that I know only too well.

When a mother discerns how best to live out her vocation, here is a pearl of wisdom I have found most helpful: Know thyself. I have friends who beautifully balance motherhood and outside employment. As for me, I think of the words of Jesus: You cannot serve two masters. As an intense, competitive person, were I to invest in a career right now, it would be at the expense of my family. I’m afraid I’d leave them all in the dust. Home is the best place for me for now, and I am so very grateful that it’s a viable option for our family.

No one expresses the value of motherhood more eloquently than G.K. Chesterton who once wrote:

How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. 

Being everything to these small someone?.
It is gigantic indeed.

Kelly blogs here.


Lori's Story


Growing up, I was one of those kids who absolutely loved going to school.  While I was in college it felt natural for me to major in education, my passion.  I was going to be an elementary school teacher and I prayed that, God willing, I’d also find a husband.  Those were my big plans, but I’ll be honest I was a little worried about the husband part back then. 

When I was just 16 years old, I learned that I’d never be able to have children.  It was very difficult news for me because I loved children and not only dreamed of becoming a teacher, but I also wanted to be a wife and mother one day too.  While the news of my infertility was life changing, through time and much prayer, I found acceptance and healing and my faith in God’s plan for my life was strengthened even more than I could have ever imagined. 

I met my now husband our freshman year of college.  We were the best of friends and he couldn’t have been more supportive and loving about my infertility.  When we began to discuss marriage and future babies, he didn’t even hesitate about what we would do.  Adoption would be how we’d build our family. 
 We were married the summer after graduation in 2004. 

I began teaching 2nd grade that September and absolutely loved it.  Three years later and a move to a new city, I landed a position at my absolute dream school, just around the corner from our first home.  My husband and I were happy with our jobs, our new house, and things couldn’t have been going better, but our hearts were yearning for a child.  We hoped more than anything in the world to become parents.

The years of waiting were some of the most difficult of my life.  About two years into our wait, we suffered an unbelievably heartbreaking failed adoption.  I quit my teaching job at my dream school to care for our new baby.  We were so in love with our little bundle of joy and I couldn’t imagine being away from him.  It was as simple as that.  Deep down I always knew I wanted to stay home with my children, but I finally realized the importance of the decision.  We spent 4 months loving and caring for this sweet little boy and I never regretted leaving my job to give him the best start in life possible.  Even though this adoption didn’t turn out as we had hoped, through it all, our faith remained strong. We grieved our loss and our hearts were broken, but we just knew God had a baby in mind for us. 
On a beautiful fall day in 2009, all of our dreams came true.  Words cannot even express the complete and total joy we felt.  We were given our 2 week old baby boy’s picture and tears streamed down my cheeks each time I looked at his sweet little face.  Two days later we were holding the little baby we hoped, prayed, and waited all those years for.  No job satisfaction, paycheck, vacation, or material thing could ever replace the time I now spend with him each and every day.  Being a mom has been a dream come true.

My husband and I have always hoped for a large family and we’ve been blessed beyond belief to have adopted two more children, another boy and a sweet little baby girl.  Just as I had poured my heart into teaching, I have poured my heart into my vocation as a wife and mother.  My babies and I have so much fun together singing, playing, dancing around, doing arts and crafts, and just enjoying each other’s company every day.  Yes, there are crazy moments and seasons of extra challenges that only life with little ones can bring, but truly, it’s the most rewarding job in the world.
Being a stay-at-home mom is a sacrifice for sure (we are a young family with student loans that we are still paying off…not to mention saving for adoption expenses), but through careful budgeting, miraculously things have fallen into place.  We live a modest, happy life and it’s all worth it.  If I had continued teaching I know life would be a little easier financially for a young family like us, but I’d much rather see my babies’ smiling faces each morning, feel their chubby little arms around my neck, and hear their giggles throughout the day than anything money could ever buy.
Each night when we tuck our babies into their beds, I thank God for the tremendous gift of motherhood and our three precious children that He has entrusted to our care.  They are our greatest gifts and I am so thankful that I get to spend my days with them. 

I have this little prayer hanging in our kitchen that I read often:

A Mother’s Prayer

Dear Lord, it’s such a hectic day
With little time to stop and pray
For life’s been anything but calm
Since You called me to be a mom
Running errands, matching socks
Building dreams with building blocks
Cooking, cleaning, and finding shoes
And other stuff that children lose
Fitting lids on bottled bugs
Wiping tears and giving hugs
A stack of last week’s mail to read
So where’s the quiet time I need?
Yet when I steal a minute, Lord
Just at the sink or ironing board
To ask the blessings of Your grace
I see then, in my small one’s face
That You have blessed me
All the while and I stop to kiss

That precious smile.  Amen.

Lori blogs here.