A Sock-Hoppin’ Valentine Party

Valentine’s Day is coming up, and you know what that means…

party time!

If you’re new to Mrs. Gore’s Diary, let me fill you in on the past 10 years. Since becoming a grandmother, my mom has made it a practice to host fun “class parties” for her grandkids. It gives the kids – all of whom are homeschooled – a chance to celebrate with their cousins, and it is such a blessing to their mamas who usually just have one job: show up!

The parties vary. We’ve had Easter parties, Halloween parties, a Christmas baking party, a 12-12-12 party at 12:12 p.m….

but we always have a Valentine party.

I think it must be one of her favorites, and I can’t remember a Valentine’s Day growing up when my mom didn’t deck out the table with special candies and gifts; because of her, I’m a pretty big fan of February 14th myself! Especially now that I have children of my own.

Last year, she decided to give Valentine’s Day a twist and hosted a simple and fun 1950′s-inspired party. The celebration was at my house, and the children were instructed to dress in whatever 50′s-style clothes we could come up with in our closets. And Mom took care of the rest!

~

Before the party started, we took a few family pictures in the dining room. Gideon’s “costume” was easy: jeans and a white t-shirt. Rebekah (left) wore a shirtdress with a pink cardigan, and Betsie (in the middle) was the perfect size for her cousin Abigail’s poodle skirt from a Halloween long, long ago…

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I have to show this one, too, because when Rebekah saw it as I was going through pictures for this post, she laughed a little and said “Oh, my hair is always flowing like that…”

Confident, much?

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and Amy’s crew (Abel, Anna, Kate and Abigail) looked so precious with their neck- and hair-ties and cardigans!

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Anna and Gid, Valentines for life…or at least until they realize they’re too related to get hitched. 

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“Best fweinds” Kate and Rebekah.

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My mom (a child of the ’50′s) whisked Gideon to the back to give him a real 1950′s ‘do. Here’s the front…

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And here’s the back.

(I was already in love with this boy but this hairdo got me all shook up!)

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The kids congregated around the dining table…

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where Amy (playing waitress) came to take their burger orders.

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On the menu was heart-shaped hamburgers (you have to admire a woman who can make shapes out of raw meat), french fries…

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and yummy, beautiful strawberry milkshakes!

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 The meal was served ’50′s style in burger baskets lined with Valentine tissue paper.

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And now a few pictures of children happily eating and slurping…

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When lunch was over, it was time to play some games.

First, the limbo…

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then, a rockin’ rollin’ dance party…

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then a hilarious, knee-slappin’ game of spin the bottle…

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and then we played Valentine Bingo.

Each child was given a Bingo card (free printables here!) and a pile of mini marshmallows to mark their numbers…

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whoever won got to pick a toy from a prize table my mom set up. And, although this isn’t always our game-playing philosophy, each child won TWICE, until all the prizes were gone. It was, after all, a holiday!

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After Bingo, Amy gave a bubble-gum-blowing demonstration…

IMG_0025Then all the kids were given a piece of bubble gum to experiment with…

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after some perseverance (and maybe a few tears?), Abigail succeeded in blowing her first bubble! Obviously, my mom’s parties are as educational as they are fun.

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And then we wrapped the party up with some more fun pictures…

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Pinterest is full of breathtaking and professional parties, and while they are inspiring, they can also be kind of intimidating; I hope this encourages you to remember that laid-back and fuss-free parties still exist and that you don’t have to empty your college fund to celebrate with the children in your life. Come to think of it, I think I prefer my mom’s parties to the professionals’..

maybe because they remind me of growing up, safe and happy, under her nurturing wing.

Can’t WAIT to see what she comes up with this year!

~

For more Valentine inspiration, click on the Valentine tab in my blog’s menu or visit my Pinterest Valentine board.

I Signed Up For This, Too

I Signed Up For This, Too: receiving the joys (and the triumphs) of motherhood

Last week, I shared a post on the common complaints I’ve been guilty of indulging in as a mom, along with my resolution to (try to) abstain from all the sighing and moaning and groaning that so easily accompanies this life with little ones…

but, thankfully, not every day calls for such resolved action, and, as a lady who truly loves being a stay-at-home wife/mom/homeschooler, I would be remiss to mention all the things I struggle with in the mommyhood department without mentioning the things that bless my slippers off.

Because, thankfully, when you “sign up” for the daily grind that comes with being a parent, you are also the natural beneficiary of a good that far, far, FAR outweighs any bad that might occasionally (daily) weigh you down.

Thus, the next time I find myself being a Debbie Downer about the seeming drudgery of my life, after I read through my handy dandy list of what I signed up for…and then after I thank God that I don’t have to attend two weeks of VBS and then go home to do the canning…I’m going to pop right over and read this list…

a list that will remind me of the beautiful gift I’ve been given, a gift that is better than much fine gold and more sparklier than diamonds.

Let us begin.

1. Children are a heritage and a blessing from the Lord.

This I know because the Bible tells me so (Psalm 127:3). And because I feel it in me bones, to the very depths of my soul.

(I feel like you should know that I just wrote that entire paragraph with a Scottish accent).

Holding my two boys, arms full of blessing…

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2. Children are forgiving.

Thanks to godly examples who have shared wisdom with me, I have made it a habit to easily apologize to my kids since I became a hormonal and emotional psychopath a mom.

And you know what? The minute I say “I’m sorry” or “I need to do a better job”, I am immediately met with kindness and reassurances from my little people.

“It’s okay, you didn’t mean to.”

Or “You don’t need to do a better job. You’re the best!”

Or “I didn’t think you were being grouchy. And I was being mean, anyway.”

It astounds me every time. Kids don’t even have to think twice about offering their heartfelt forgiveness.

I’m mad at you…

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Okay, I forgive you.

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3. Likewise, children don’t hold a grudge.

In my almost 7 years as a parent, I have never once heard one of my kids bring up a fault from my past.

(Scratch that…my son has sort of held it against me for 5 years that I sold some of his toys at a garage sale when he was a toddler…).

But, for the most part, on the important stuff, they not only forgive, they forget. Each day is a new day with them, and yesterday’s hurts and failures are literally forgotten.

Grudge? What’s a grudge?…

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4. Children are funny.

I am a huge fan of humor, and I used to think nothing was more fun than going to see the latest comedy at the movieplex…

until my first niece was born. Since that day almost 10 years ago, our family has been introduced to comedian after comedian; each one is unique, but each one has brought new waves of joy and laughter to us, whether it is in their facial expressions, the way they talk, their mannerisms…

And in my own home, not a day goes by that every single one of my kids doesn’t give me something to get tickled about.

Like this guy and his mustaches…

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Or this gal right here…

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Or this little freakshow…

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5. Children are little ministers.

This one actually really surprised me. I’ll never forget the first time it happened. My then 3- and 1-year old were sitting with me on the couch watching cartoons and I was mulling over some intense inner turmoil that had been eating me up for days when, out of nowhere, I felt a little hand on my shoulder.

I can’t aptly describe the peace that washed over me from that childish touch, one that had no idea my heart was so heavy, and I couldn’t get over how soothing it was to be sitting there quietly with them, feeling their love. Unbeknownst to my babies, they helped me through that day.

Since then, I have repeatedly been ministered to by my children. Whether I am sick and in need of a nurse, or crying from pregnancy hormones, or feeling overwhelmed or ugly or sad, they treat me gently, running to get me tissues, asking if I’m okay, smothering me with hugs and kisses…

yes, children drain you and they make messes and they test you to your limit, but they also give.

And I’m pretty sure it’s much more than they take.

We take lots of staged pictures around here, but this one was real. Rebekah and her Papa…

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5. Children are easy to please.

Oh my goodness. Give a kid a muffin tin and a pile of coins (or just the coins!) and they can stay occupied for an hour. Put a slice of cold cheese in a bun and they think you’re the best “cooker” ever. Wear a pair of sparkly earrings and they think you look like a princess…

I know now why people are constantly saying that “it doesn’t take much” when it comes to children: because it’s true!

You know what my two-year old nephew, Brett, told the mall Santa he wanted for Christmas? “Some candy”.

In a world that never stops wanting and buying and consuming, the simplicity of childhood is like a beautiful city on a hill.

2-year old Gid, playing with some coins…

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6. Children are accepting.

Little ones are just sweet. They don’t notice skin color. They don’t see clothing quality. They don’t care too much if someone is different from them. And if you nurture them in it, they will make friends of all ages.

Yes, they notice blemishes and facial hair and that your belly jiggles when you laugh, but they don’t hold it against you. And even when you are rolling around like a narwhal on the slip n’ slide, they just think you’re fun.

Gideon and our friend, Yoyo, who pushed him all over our church in one of the spare wheelchairs…

Gid and Yoyo

Rebekah and our friend, Kenneth, blowing out his 90th birthday candles in Sunday School…

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7. Children are honest.

Sometimes their honesty is of the brutal variety (“why do you have a beard on your face, Mom?”), but it is so refreshing to daily be among a group of people who tell you what they’re thinking. If my kids are upset, they tell me. If they have a question, they ask it. If they have a compliment, they share it.

There aren’t many hidden thoughts and motives with children (unless they’re trying to pick their nose on the sly), and that is a lovely thing.

And sometimes even their nose-picking is honest…

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8. Children are loving.

I can’t count the number of unsolicited hugs and kisses I’ve received since becoming a mom.

And even though I find myself scorning the gift sometimes and longing for that elusive “me-time”, the fact of the matter is this: my kids love me and would spend every second of every day with me. And then they want to sleep in my bed at night. And stand by me when I take my bath. And hand me toilet paper when I go to the bathroom. And bump into me when I stop walking.

My gosh, we spend half our lives yearning for someone to love us and want to spend all their time with us…

voila!

Children.

Where I go, they go (and when I’m away from them, I miss the little boogers)…

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9. Children make the world seem new.

This has been a surprise for me, as well. I had no idea what joy I would glean, not just from watching my kids experience great things, but from reliving childhood from a different perch.

It is like having the opportunity to start life all over again. The stories and fables, the nursery rhymes, the songs, the holidays, the wonder, the smell of crayons…

it is all back in your life again, and it is so much stinkin’ fun.

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10. Children make you holy.

I don’t think there is one single aspect of parenthood that has not brought me closer to the heart of God.

Whether it includes being at my wit’s end and crying out for grace…

or being so crippled by fear for my children’s salvation, safety, and general well-being that I find myself pleading at His feet and entrusting them to His care…

or being overwhelmed by a love that is so big and pure that it leads me straight to worship…

or digging deep for biblical answers to questions that lead to more questions like “who is God?” and “who made God?” and “why do people sin?” and “why did God create all these animals and not give me any?”…

And that’s just off the top of my head! Parenthood = sanctification. And even though sanctification hurts like the dickens sometimes, it is even more precious than children.

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11. Children are wonderful teachers.

And in all of the above, children teach us.

To forgive. To make grudges nonexistent. To laugh. To minister. To live simply. To accept others and withhold petty judgments. To share what’s on our mind. To love someone so much that we are happy just to sit by them and hold their hand. To live. To think about God…

and a lot of times, they can teach us all of this and more without even opening their mouths.

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~

Sisters and brothers, may we never lose sight of the treasures that pitter-patter through our houses.

And may we shed our complaints quickly, freeing our hearts to marvel at the joys, bask in the innocence and laugh at the antics that are only in our lives for a painfully short season…

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“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth.”

Psalm 127:3-4

~

special thanks to Amy Jackson and Benjamin Grey Photography for photo contributions!

~

Do you have anything to add to this list? How have children (whether your own, your grandchildren, your nephews and nieces, or the children in your church) blessed you?  Share and celebrate with us!

I Signed Up For This

"I Signed Up For This: accepting the call (and the chaos) of motherhood"

It struck me a year or two back that I was getting into a habit of making big deals out of the things that my life was entirely comprised of.

There was lots of sighing and moaning and groaning, to the point where I was beginning to get on my own nerves.

Which is saying a lot, because when it comes to myself…I’m kind of a fan.

And once the annoyance set in, I began to notice a stark difference between myself and those ladies I look up to the most…

ladies who had worked hard their entire lives and didn’t make a big fuss about it….

ladies who weren’t forever groaning about all the stuff they either had done or needed to get done…

ladies who didn’t constantly talk about “me time”…

ladies who didn’t see homemaking and/or motherhood as a giant sacrifice, but a natural progression of life…

I’ll never forget the day in our church kitchen when I was bemoaning the fact that we had made it through “another week of Vacation Bible School”.

By the way, our VBS lasts for 3 hours a day.

5 days.

Oh, and a delicious daily meal is provided for us by our good-cookin’ kitchen committee.

The older ladies around me shared knowing glances before one spoke up. “Girl, this is nothing!” she said. “We used to do VBS for two weeks, and then go home with our kids to do the canning”.

My mouth dropped to the floor.

“You did?!” I gasped, horrified at the very idea.

And here I thought it was hard getting the kids in the car and down the hill to where our hot supper was waiting for us every night…

It was an eye-opener, for sure.

And I knew it was time for a change.

From that day forward, I adopted a homemade mantra of sorts, and I repeat it to myself all the time

I SIGNED UP FOR THIS.

Everything that I was whining about was something I had plunged into with my eyes wide…okay, mostly-wide…open.

I chose to pursue motherhood. I chose to forego a career and become a stay-at-home wife and mom. I chose to homeschool….

So why in the world was I acting surprised everytime my kids ate and the kitchen table was covered with food and sticky fingerprints? Why did I sigh every time we decided to go somewhere and I had to pack diaper bags and load carseats? When was I going to stop talking about how many (or how few) hours of sleep I had received the night before? How long was I planning on exclaiming over how many times a day I had to sweep the kitchen floor?

It is no secret that I was painfully naïve when I said my “I do’s” to Mr. Gore. My picture of marriage and motherhood was anything but realistic, and I somehow really and truly believed that we would be wealthy and have househelp and a guest cottage out back; whether that was going to take place before or after I took on the nannying job for $10/hour, I don’t know, but I was reaching for that rainbow.

But 7 years of marriage and a bunch of kids later, it was time to grow up and move on. Accept my duties and find joy in them. Train myself to love hard work. Say buh-bye to the guest cottage.

And guess what? I’m getting there!

But if I’m being honest, I still struggle, and old habits die hard; for this reason, and in hopes of helping anyone who shares a boat with me, I thought it would be helpful to make a list of the things I signed up for and should therefore no longer complain about.

Even though I didn’t really know I was signing up for them when I did.

But that’s neither here nor there.

Let us begin.

1. Children are messy.

Dirty shoes. Stained clothes. Sticky fingers. Matted hair. Crumbs everywhere. Toybox explosions. Bathtub debris. Poop. Spills. Unidentifiable grossness. Paper scraps. The upstairs stuff is downstairs and the downstairs stuff is upstairs.

I signed up for this and I will deal with it. No more sighing. No more being surprised by it.

(And no more sitting down).

2. Children are expensive.

When our first child was born, we couldn’t believe that a two-night stay at the hospital cost more than both of our cars combined. And that was just the beginning.

Diapers. Clothing. Food. Education. Recreation. Birthday parties. Holidays. Dentists. Doctors. Etc, etc, etc. Most of us simply aren’t going to live like kings and queens during these years, so I’ve decided to buckle down and stop whining about all the things I “can’t afford” (which is another post, entirely).

Why? Because I signed up for this.

3. Children must be taught…everything.

Manners. Hygiene. Theology. Rules. How many quarters are in a dollar. What’s a president? What’s America? 

I’ve decided to stop being shocked that they are impolite when I’m the one who forgot to equip them beforehand. And I’m not going to sigh when they ask me again what “tomorrow” means.

Because teaching them and answering them is my job, and it is one I willingly signed up for.

4. Children don’t sleep.

Okay. So really, I didn’t sign up for this because I had NO IDEA that this was a thing. When I was a kid, I slept like a log, one you could carry from the living room to the bed without ever waking up. But apparently, other less obliging children exist out there (say, like, on the second floor of my house), and no matter how late they go to bed at night, they still wake up at dawn’s early light. And sometimes before then to come and tap you on the shoulder and ask where their green-dinosaur-is-but-not-the-green-and-brown-one-just-the-green-one.

But even though I didn’t necessarily know about this when I asked for children, I know now, and I sign up for it. I guess.

5. Carseats.

It’s the law. And I’m a law-abiding citizen. And if I sign up for America, I’ve got to sign up for carseats, as well. No more moaning and groaning when I have to move those ridiculously heavy pieces of furniture from one car to the other.

6. Children are slow.

It is a well-known fact that if you’re going to go somewhere with kids in tow, you have to start getting ready 2 hours ahead of time. That game where I wake up an hour before go-time and then act all surprised and flustered when it is time to leave and no one can find their shoes and the dry shampoo in my hair is showing?…

no more. I signed up for this gig and I run it like a boss.

(Except for when I don’t. But I’m going to try).

7. Children have to have grown-ups for parents.

For years I tried to figure out how we could have people over like we used to and talk and laugh uninterrupted until 2 a.m. every weekend. I wanted to go to every antique show in the state, every movie that looked entertaining, every conference, every church activity…

but guess what? I have little kids. And little kids have bedtimes. And even before bedtime, they need you to wipe them and stuff. These aren’t the party-like-it’s-Y2K years. These are the you’ve-got-babies-and-you-need-to-raise-them-years.

I signed up for those.

8. Children get sick a lot.

When I used to hear a sniffle or a cough in the church nursery, I would go into panic mode and do everything I could to get my kid out of the door before they caught something; likewise, when one of my children would come down with a fever on a Sunday night, I would berate myself for not seeing the signs, putting everyone in the church nursery at risk.

But then I started noticing something: there was no pattern to this stuff. Sometimes my kids do get sick when their friends are sick…but sometimes they don’t. You never know. I will do my best to be wise, but I will also be brave and kind, knowing that kid vomit, diarrhea, full-body rashes and sore throats are just another’s day work.

Work that I chose to do when I signed up for this job.

9. Children have their own personalities.

There is a fine line between shepherding and controlling, and I’ve been very guilty of attempting to do the latter. But it doesn’t matter how much I love that yellow-and-white checked button-up shirt that hangs in my son’s closet. He doesn’t. And just because the rest of the family loves “Andy Griffith” doesn’t mean our youngest daughter ever will (she used to plant her face on the ground and start bawling every time she heard the theme song).

I will learn to listen. I will let them be people. I will give them room to breathe. I will nurture their weirdness, even if it doesn’t match up to mine.

10. Children are unpredictable.

I can make all manner of plans, whether it is to go on a day-long shopping excursion, deep-clean the house, make a big meal, plant some flowers, or simply watch a TV show after they are tucked in at night; but neither the needs nor the foibles of children are scheduled, and while I must teach them that the world does not revolve around them, I can’t do so while acting like it revolves around me.

Someone has to be the grown-up in these situations. Challenge accepted.

11. “Me-time” is not a right.

Yes. It would be wonderful to take a bath without a toddler coming in and dropping toys into the water. It would be dreamy to leisurely sip my way through two entire cups of coffee without having to reheat it in the microwave. It would be nice to have Friday’s off. Or a guaranteed lunch break. Or a daily siesta.

But guess what? The only job description to being a stay-at-home mom is this: crapshoot. There is rarely a “daily” anything. But I’ve learned one thing…

there will be grace for each moment, even when I feel like I want to beat my head against the wall. And sometimes that grace will include a surprise (or even scheduled!) gift of me-time. I will take it when I can get it, but I won’t act like an entitled brat if I don’t get it.

~

Oh, my. I suspect that this list could go on for days, but the heart of it is this: I don’t want to spend my life frowning over the inevitable.

Motherhood is HARD, yes, but it doesn’t have to be dreary and droopy. Chin up, buttercup. Shoulders back. Turn that frown upside down. Swallow those sorrowful sighs. Choose joy, because even on the hardest days, it is still exactly that: a choice. Laugh at today and all the days to come!

And on those occasions when we are at our gloomiest and least grateful, we can always remember this: we’re not going home to do the canning after TWO WEEKS of Vacation Bible School…

~

Find this list a little too realistic? Read a fun (and  more optimistic) follow-up to this post here: I Signed Up For This, Too

The 13 Ways in which “Frozen” Melted My Heart

I have a million things I’d like to write about.

January would be a great month to tell a few more stories from 2013 that I never got to, I have some random nearly-completed posts I could polish up, and I’m feeling antsy to share last year’s Valentine party before Pinterest moves on to Easter (Pinterest moves FAST!)…

buuuuut then we went and saw “Frozen” this week.

And even though it was an inconsequential day and, initially, was never on my dorky blog radar (don’t defend me…anyone who uses the words “blog” and “radar” in the same sentence is a DORK), it turned out to be such a sweet and special occasion, I wanted to jot down a few memories.

Care to accompany me?

For starters, our family doesn’t get out much. I could probably count on one hand the public events we have attended as a complete unit. The reasons for this are manifold: 1. There’s a lot of us, 2. 66% of us are little people, 3. Events, even with little people, are ‘spensive, and, most importantly, 4. We’re homebodies – it takes something pretty special to entice us out-of-our-doors.

But from what I was hearing, “Frozen” was pretty special.

And the timing did happen to be perfect. Gideon loves any movie. Rebekah loves movies with girls in them. Betsie is just old enough to sit still for a bit, and Shepherd is just little enough to sit still for a bit. We had Christmas money to spare.

Honestly, it was go to the movies now, or maybe in two years. This was our chance!

So, after picking up my Grandmother (who is visiting from Texas), we loaded up in our funwagon and headed to Tulsa where we met my Mom at the theatre.

(Oh. I should probably tell you now that I like to spell theatre with an “re” instead of an “er”. It makes me feel fancy).

And, well, since there is a very intense OU game blaring on the television right now and my husband and father are literally dancing around the living room, I am going to have to share my highlights in numerical fashion rather than the flowing literary style that I would prefer. Que sera sera. Thanks for reading what I write, even when I am distracted by football chaos and sports enthusiasts.

Without further ado, I present to you our outing to the theatre (with an “re”)…

1. Is there anything more fun than watching your kids experience something new? This was Gideon’s 3rd movie, Rebekah’s 2nd and Betsie’s 1st, and I realized as we entered into the theatre that I should take note of their response to, well, everything. The arcade games and vending machines at the front. The ticket booth with long lines of customers. The concession area that smells like popcorn and fake butter. The bathrooms with sensor toilets and sinks and foam soap. The long hallways lined with numbered movie rooms. The giant movie screen. The purply, velvet chairs. It was ALL new to them. Looking back, I’m thinking that the theatre should have charged us grown-ups double, because we got to watch two shows today: the movie, and our kids watching the movie.

2. Just like I hoped, by waiting so long to see “Frozen” the theatre was nearly empty when we arrived, save for a few other groups scattered across the room. Slipping into our chosen row, I spoke to the two women in the row behind us: “I apologize in advance that we are here.” They assured me that they were in “kid mode” which completely put me at ease. This was my first time to bring a baby to a theatre. Sooooo taboo. Unless, of course, you are at a matinee showing of a popular Disney movie.

3. Well I’m a dummy. Apparently we had arrived to the movie early, because by preview time, there was not an empty seat in the house. Which was awesome because, you might remember this, I BROUGHT A BABY WITH ME. Still, I was pretty at ease; an attempt like this with my firstborn would have sent me into hysterics.

4. It is also noteworthy that my Mom, who is notorious for being cold in movie theatres, had heretofore avoided seeing this movie because it looked “so cold”. “It makes me cold to even see the previews!” she said. So, being a thoughtful daughter, I brought a few blankets along for her comfort. You know what’s funny about that? So did she. So between our pile of blankets, our cardigans, my giant bag, Shep’s carseat and all our snacks, there was NO ROOM for us to be “frozen”. I was as warm as a “happy” snowman in summer. ;)

And now, a word about each of my children as I watched them watch a movie…

5. Betise was killing me. She looked like a doll, perched on her booster seat next to her Papa, eating popcorn out of a little Coca-Cola cup. True to form, although she sat nicely through the entire movie, she was more about the snacks than the show. I lost track of how many times the root beer and popcorn was passed her way. And while I feigned jealousy that Mr. Gore got to sit by her, I was secretly thrilled to watch them together, especially during the “sca-wy” parts when she would hide beneath his arm. Be still, my heart.

6. Rebekah sat next to me, and provided the most amusing commentary. She inherited her Papa’s booming volume, and while the rest of us chuckled throughout the movie in moderate tones with only a few loud laughs here and there, her chirpy voice would slice through the entire room: “BAHAHAHAHAHA!!! LOOK AT THAT SNOWMAN SLIDING DOWN ON HIS BELLY! THAT LOOKS LIKE FUN! HE LOOKS LIKE A PING-WAN! HE LOOKS LIKE A PING-WAN!! Thankfully, I heard snickers all around us rather than hisses of “shhhh!!!” Folks truly were in kid-mode, thank you, Lord.

7. And Gideon. Complex of soul, his eyes are always telling a story; but when he is happy, they SPARKLE. It did my heart good to see lots and lots of sparkles everytime I glanced over at him during the movie. Flanked by his sisters, he would occasionally lean close to one or make a comment to the other, and he never groaned when he had to pass Betsie her drink again. Peaceful family times are a gift from God, and I loved seeing my son smack dab in the middle of this one.

8. So how did Baby Shepherd do? It was ironically funny, I suppose, that my baby boy who almost never cries decided to start crying two minutes into the movie. A helpless people pleaser, I lunged out of my seat and scurried to the darkened hallway of our theatre like my pants were on fire and stood watching the movie while I tried to rock him to sleep. The only problem was the little booger wanted to see the movie; he can barely hold up his head, but he was twisting his body around to stare at the screen, bobbing all over the place. I would finally get him cuddled back down when a noise or a song would interest him and he’d come bobbing back up. Finally, he gave in and I tiptoed back to my seat where he snoozed until the end of the movie. Phew! Good boy, Jake. I mean, Shep.

9. By the way, when I was rocking Shepherd in the aisle, I was also crying (not because I was frustrated, but because I have become a weeper, especially when I know my kids are having their hearts captured), which was quite inconvenient since I had no hands free. Tears and snot everywhere.

10. Another highlight of our experience was hearing my Mom and Grandmother giggling next to me. Actually, only my Grandmother was giggling. My Mom was cackling. (It’s okay for me to say that, because I’m a guffaw-er).

11. Where it was always such a treat to sit next to Mr. Gore at a movie in our courting days, it did something crazy to my heart to look to my left and see our little ducks all lined up in a row between us. Every once in awhile, we’d look at each other and laugh at a funny part. It was as close to brushing hands in the popcorn bucket as we could get.

12. Lastly, I can’t express how thrilled I am by the direction the Princess movies are going. I love almost every Disney movie there is and will eventually let my kids watch all that we own, but I am carefully meting out the princesses to my daughters for now; if they will be starry-eyed over a character in these formative years, I want it to be over someone very praiseworthy, like compassionate Belle. Thus, when we first saw “Brave” and I discovered that there wasn’t even a love interest and that Merida’s story was centered around her family, my heart did a jig. And now “Frozen”, the story of two sisters, one strong and golden-haired and one kind of ditsy (but loyal!) and brunette…hello, like Rebekah and Betsie?!…I just can’t. I don’t even know what to say. This is why I was weeping in the aisle of the theatre! Thank you, God, for this timely trend in story-telling!

I could obviously go on and on and on about everything I loved about the actual movie, but I don’t want to ruin it for anyone who hasn’t seen it (plus, this football game is getting exciting!). So I’ll end with this…

Our van was full of sunbeams all the way home, and as the kids discussed their favorite parts and laughed all over again at what they had seen, I acknowledged once more how important it is to have good stories in your life, whatever their form; whether it is a tale we make up at bedtime, or a book we read out loud, or a new movie we watch at the theatre, story-telling gives us a common experience and memory, shared convictions, and in the case of “Frozen”, a kindred sense of humor. Which leads me to one last thing…

13. That snowman stole the show.

Hallenewyear, Amen.

I have started and deleted this post 3 times.

First, trying to play it cool, I wrote a line about how I don’t know what is expected in these end-of-the-year blog posts that everyone writes, but here goes…

Then I made a joke about how we barely made it across the finish line of 2013, parched, panting and digging our nails into the ground as we crawled to January 1st, 2014…

but, you know, that was just me being lazy, trying to come up with something to say; my second attempt, especially, was a borrowed and regurgitated sentiment, one that rolled off my tongue without truly capturing what is on my heart…

so let’s start again, shall we?

From an objective standpoint, I suppose you could say that this past year has been the most challenging we’ve ever faced. There were days when I didn’t know how we were going to juggle everything, how we were going to afford everything, and honestly, how we were going to survive and still be allowed to call ourselves Christians; 2013 will forever be branded upon my brain as the year of the puppy, the baby and the back surgery.

Actually, that’s not true. My brain no longer has the capacity to have anything branded upon it. By the year of 2015, someone will ask me when Baby Shepherd was born or when Mr. Gore had his spinal fusion and I’ll stare at them blankly and blink rapidly while I will myself to remember…anything. My name…my political affiliation…what’s for supper…who’s Jake?…

But you get what I’m saying.

2013 was intense.

But sitting here in my room on New Year’s night, and looking back in reflection, it feels less like a difficult year that stands out in a series of not-so-difficult years…

and more like…

another year full of grace-for-each-moment.

Just like 2012.

And 2011.

And 2010…

and every year that we have been held firmly in the hand of the Lord.

Which, if I understand the theologies correctly, encompasses eternity past, present and future. Brother Spurgeon, am I right, or am I right?

Our struggles in 2013 might have been unique compared to any we have walked through before, but that in no way changed the fact that God worked every detail of life for our good and for His glory. The days were incomprehensibly challenging, but He handed them to us very gently, and love and peace and joy were around every corner, even in the hallways of the hospital…

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I guess what I’m trying to say is that, in my ever-increasing age, I am beginning to realize that life is a series of days is a series of moments, and every year has its share of struggles and suffering, just as every year is interlaced with beautiful, abundant graces. And at the heart of all of it is a Creator who is much more involved in the minutia of our daily life than we ever give Him credit for. He measures our blessings and our sufferings so expertly, you’d think He was the God of the Universe or somethin’.

That, my friends, was the most roundabout way ever to say this: our God is good.

Even in 2013.

Especially in 2013.

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~

Happy New Year!

Santa’s Cutest Imposter

You guys know my sister-in-law, Amy. She’s the one who takes pictures of my kids’ birthday parties, who helps me make giant party signs at the last minute, and most importantly, who has a secret window into my brain; she is one of the only people in the world who can take the ideas that I have up there and make them happen in better-than-exact detail. I love her.

So creative, so talented, and so low-key about it, she can do near about anything!

But unlike me, when she does something neat, she doesn’t run straight to a blog and say “Hey world! Looky here at what I did!! Like me! Love me! Compliment me!!”

So I do it for her.

(I also nag her husband – my brother – for her so she doesn’t have to. My pleasure).

Anyhow, the other morning, during a free moment on a typical day at home, she set up a quick little photo session for her baby boy, Abel. He had recently taken his first sip from a real cup, and she wanted to get just one picture of him drinking milk in a little Santa get-up.

But not everything went as planned…

and what resulted is maybe the cutest series of pictures ever.

If you are feeling like a Scrooge today, these will most certainly get you in the Christmas spirit!…

or they’ll at least make you want an Oreo REAL bad.

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~

Nabisco…call us!

My Sweet Home: The Christmas Edition (2013)

Less than a week ago, on the way to the grocery store with my mom to stock up for a coming winter snowstorm, I was bemoaning the fact that my head seemed to be stuck in Fall; I could not for the life of me process that Christmas was coming, and very soon.

Part of my problem was that I had been longing, since September, to get a particular autumnal picture of Miss Sunday…

in my typical dramatic weirdness, I just couldn’t move on until I had checked that last thing of my list; thus, that night, before church, I bathed her, dressed her, dried her hair, and the two of us marched around our property in almost freezing weather to get that “Fall” picture…

got it! (she is SUCH a trooper!)…

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After uploading and editing those pictures, I gave life – and time – permission to carry on.

And it was crazy.

As snow began to fall the very next day, I put the last of my Halloween and Thanksgiving stuff away and started tidying up the house, and, by the time night arrived, my house (and my heart) was completely ready for Christmas.

None of it was planned, really, especially the snow, but at 6:00 p.m., I snapped out of a concentrated cleaning fervor to realize that Christmas music was playing, the house was shiny and festive, the stockings were hung, the fireplace was going, and the children were even sitting around their little table, drinking hot chocolate by the light of their little battery-operated candlesticks.

“This is the best night ever…” Rebekah sighed.

“No kidding!” I thought. And I hadn’t even orchestrated it. It just sort of happened.

It was a fun and unexpected turn of events, for sure.

When it comes to Christmas decorating, I like to keep things as simple and timeless as possible, and it seems like I pare down what I own more and more every year.

What remains are some cherished items that just make my heart so happy, and I can decorate in about 30 minutes, flat (not including the tree, which we do not have yet).

I also have a major thing for oranges at Christmastime. I blame it all on “Little Women”.

All that to say, it really is starting to look and feel like Christmas around here, and I am one happy girl…

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coffee

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Don’t let the photographs or the filters fool you – it is a messy madhouse around here, but at different moments throughout my day, these holiday vignettes are visible and they just make my heart sing. I love me some Christmastime.

Now…let the gift wrapping begin!!

~

I’d love to hear from you! Any questions about anything you see? How do you like to deck your halls? Garlands? Wreaths? Mistletoe? Anyone else a mercury glass junkie?…

The Internet is Alive with the Sound of Critics (and it hurts my ears)

Last night, our family of six sat down in the living room, bowls of popcorn and leftover Halloween candy flanking us, to watch something rather extraordinary on our television set.

We were a day late, and so I had already seen the reviews. Most were positive and the show had been very well-received, especially by Oklahomans. But true to the cultural norm, the negative comments also abounded: “Panned” by critics (or the two critics listed in the article), repeatedly compared to the 1965 Julie Andrews film, and nit-picked on nearly every corner of the internet (I’m looking at you, facebook and Twitter); if you wanted to hear an opinion on The Sound of Music live television event, you didn’t have to look far.

Still yet, I remained unfazed in my determination to enjoy this night. I knew going in to this that Carrie Underwood was an unseasoned actress. I knew that this was a live musical, not a movie. I knew there would be possible hiccups, or lighting problems, or sound issues…

in fact, all of those things actually added to my excitement! Would one of the nun’s candles accidentally blow out? Would Carrie stumble? Would her voice break? Would one of the children forget their lines? Would a spotlight fall from the rafters and crash onto the stage?

Truth be told, I knew none of the above had happened or I would have read about it online before the movie had even ended. But still…I couldn’t help but be nervous.

But even greater than my nervousness was admiration.

Admiration for a television network planning something that the entire family could actually sit down and watch together; I have been a mom for 6 1/2 years and this is the first time we were able to sit with our kids in the living room and watch something on primetime television with no fear of profanity, adult humor, violence or lasciviousness.

Admiration for an entire cast and crew who were willing to stick out their necks to try something daring and different, knowing that the critics would be ready to pounce.

And most of all, admiration for an Oklahoma girl who must have bit down thousands and thousands of stomach butterflies, pushing herself in ways she had never done before, to bring the magic of Rodgers and Hammerstein to a new generation of viewers.

As I watched Carrie Underwood perform, I thought of all the little girls across the nation who would be tuning in to see their favorite country singer on air for 3 whole hours. And what brought tears to my eyes was imagining that they arrived to NBC that night for the name of Carrie Underwood…

but left with a beautiful redemptive story in their hearts and a new playlist of songs that will serve them for a lifetime.

Yes, indeed, the tears were flowing over here.

Several times.

And as the touching story of the Von Trapp family played in this new format before my eyes, I wasn’t thinking about Carrie’s acting, or shadows on the set, or who had the best singing voice. I wasn’t thinking about who could have played Maria or any of the other parts better. I wasn’t even thinking about Julie Andrews or the movie that first stole my heart many, many years ago.

I was swept away, thinking of my blessings, living in a land where I don’t have to kowtow to a dictator.

I was thinking of the beauty of music that brings families together.

I was praying that my daughters would have hearts like Maria.

I was thinking about Carrie Underwood’s mama and how proud she must be.

I was thinking about my children, and thanking God that, while it would be a huge deal for all six of us to scrape together enough money to attend a live musical, we had been given the opportunity to watch one of the best for free without ever leaving our home.

And I am convinced that, regardless of how much money they brought in or how good it was for ratings, NBC gave us a gift this first week of December.

Thus, today’s blog post isn’t really about my heartfelt endorsement of The Sound of Music. I don’t need for every person in America to love the same things I love. In fact, one of my favorite things about living here is that we are free to have an opinion and are free to talk about it on the corners of the street if we want to…

but what I do crave in our entertainment-saturated culture is a little more kindness.

A little more gratitude.

A little more wonder…

And I’m not just talking about the professional critics.

I’m talking about all of us, who have been blessed by so much culture and so many different venues of entertainment that we have become underwhelmed and critical about every. single. thing.

With great blessing comes great responsibility, and we would all do well to take a step back, to contemplate what life could be like, to remember what life used to be like, and to reclaim some of the more admirable attitudes that should surround events like this week’s live television event.

Thankfulness that great music and great stories are being passed down to our children.

Camaraderie with our countrymen that encourages one of our own for doing something incredibly brave and applauds them for their extraordinary talent.

Humility that abhors pretention and doesn’t even care if we know everything about everything.

Kindness that, if it cannot say something nice, says nothing.

Wisdom that discerns when opinions are needed and when they are superfluous and indulgent.

Simplicity that gets excited when entertainers put on a show for us to watch.

And awareness that those on the screens we glue our eyes to are real people, with real feelings and with mamas who have internet access.

Again, I don’t really care if you loved The Sound of Music and I don’t need for you to be a fan of Carrie Underwood.

I just want you to be nice.

You know, like Maria.

~

As ever, my first concern is for my readers. All comments will be read by me, but only those that are edifying and do not lead to further debate will be published. Thanks for understanding!

Kiss Me, Cousin

Thanksgiving week was so wonderful, and we spent every waking (and sometimes sleeping) hour at my Mama and Daddy’s house in the country with my brothers and their families, my Grandmother, and my cousin, Jon, his wife, Amanda, and their precious children. I couldn’t love that entire group of people more if I tried. Like-minded, like-hearted, we like each other. A lot.

But going through my pictures from our week together, one group of photographs stole the show, and I thought it might cheer your hearts to see them.

My brother, Pete, is a fastidious man, and he has fathered an even more fastidious son. Two-year old Brett is a model first child, clean-cut, particular, straight-laced, and very tidy.

And then there’s my Betsie. Also 2 years old, she is the polar opposite of Brett, messy, wild, free-spirited, and very sticky.

The two of them together provide endless entertainment, and while Betsie used to absolutely terrify all the firstborns in her life (she poked Brett right in the eye at his 1st birthday party), I’ve noticed that she is having a different effect on them these days, and that they find her more amusing than they do overwhelming.

But still maybe a tiny bit overwhelming…

Anyhow, we were sitting around the kitchen table one afternoon with the windows open when Betsie pushed a porch chair over to the window and started making faces at us.

Pretty soon, Brett came over to join her, and that’s when she, completely of her own inspiration, decided to try to kiss him.

Over and over and over and over and over again.

Brett would push her away, and then they’d both belly laugh before the next kiss attempt came.

We were in stitches, and I was so glad my camera happened to be sitting right there beside me when their game began.

And since they’ll probably hate these pictures someday, I thought I’d share them on the internet now while I have the opportunity…

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There is no moral to this blog post, really, only that 2-year olds are stinkin’ cute.

The world needs more of them.

And maybe a few kisses, too.

Dear Beautiful

Dear Beautiful, a letter to my daughters about being pretty

To my beloved daughters, aged 4 and 2,

I remember when I was quite young and my Mama would tell me what made a girl pretty…

her smile. She said a happy smile was the prettiest thing in the world.

And she always told me that it was what was on the inside that counted.

“Inner beauty”.

I listened.

I tried to take it in.

But I didn’t really believe her.

Because I had seen what beautiful was…

She-Ra. She had long, blonde, flowing hair and a white mini dress. (and a unicorn with rainbow wings).

Miss America. The ballgowns, the swimsuits, the sparkly crowns, the perfect smiles.

Barbie. Big boobies. Big, big boobies.

Paula Abdul. I don’t know. I just loved her. Did you know she used to be a Laker Girl? I did, because I read her biography. In the 3rd grade.

As a little girl, I looked, wide-eyed, upon the outward features that made something beautiful to me – a certain type of hair, a beguiling turn of the eye, a fancy schmancy body – and I dreamed of attaining that level of pretty.

And the more I admired what was beautiful to me, the more my mom’s definition of “pretty” seem kind of hokey and like something people said to make sure that every girl at least felt pretty, whether she was or not; inner beauty was a good thing, and I wanted it, but it seemed to have little bearing on whether I was perceived as a beautiful person or not. And I wanted to be jaw-droppingly beautiful.

I spent years, even my outwardly-prettiest years, shrugging off her compliments. “You’re my Mom,” I would say, “of course you think my hair looks good like this.”

“You’re my Mom,” I’d laugh, “only you would think this dress looked nice on me.”

“You’re my Mom. You have to say that.”

But, little girl, then I had you.

They placed you on my chest, squalling and crying and covered in birthing stuff, and everything she ever taught me about beauty made perfect sense.

You were alive and breathing and it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

And every morning when you walk down the stairs and I see that you are still alive and still breathing…beautiful.

I finally get it now: the prettiest thing about a girl, any girl, is that she is fearfully and wonderfully made by God. She is alive. She is a person. She has a soul.

Do you understand how fantastic that is? God made you! I know He did, because you weren’t there, and then you were there.

I didn’t make you (minus that one night with your Papa, wink wink, nudge nudge).

Fate didn’t.

A coincidental twist in an evolutionary cycle didn’t.

God did.

I like to think about Him crafting you, weaving all of your different features together into a unique and breath-taking work of art.

Your hair? It’s so amazing. It was made by God.

For you, Rebekah, He chose golden hair, with a natural side part that suits your face just right. It is straight and silky, with a slight bend at the end; sunlight runs to dance among your strands, crowning you like a glowing halo. God gave you a gift when He crafted your locks.

And Betsie Fair, yours is light brown and wild, a perfect match to your carefree and joyful childhood. When you wake up in the morning, your mane is as big as your eyes, ready to take on the world, ready to catch syrup and dirt, ready to make a most fitting frame to your precious, ornery little face.

Your hair is beautiful.

Your bodies? They were made by God, so different, but equally lovely.

Rebekah, my love, your body is like your spirit: strong, sturdy, and precious to behold. When I hold you in my arms, my heart is full and soothed.

And Betsie, your slinky, skinny body is so fun to watch. You run and hop and leap and dance uninhibited, and I marvel at the way you move, like an instrument that proclaims with every step that God is singing over us.

Your bodies are beautiful.

Your eyes? God made them, giving me windows into your sweet, sweet souls.

Your cornflower blue eyes burn holes into my heart, Rebekah Sunday…

and Betsie, your naïve glances cause me to melt.

Your eyes are beautiful.

Your hands? God made them. They’re beautiful.

Your feet? Your toes?

Made by God.

Beautiful.

Your nose? Your mouth? Your lips? Your teeth?

God, God, God, God.

So beautiful.

And oh, those smiles.

Your Grandmother was right. When you smile and your eyes perk up with twinkles of happiness, you are the essence of beauty. And when you throw back your head and laugh, the trees tip their hats and the mountains bow in reverence to this pinnacle of God’s creation.

Yes. Your smiles are beautiful.

So, please, my darling daughters…

Don’t spend a day feeling miserable and fat.

Don’t look with covetous eyes at the hair that was given to another girl.

Don’t wish for blue eyes when yours are green.

This world is not your mirror, a reflection of what you are lacking or what you should look like.

It is your playground.

Live here, freely, happily, and unhindered by the chains and lies of a worldview that says some people have beauty and some don’t, that some have perfect bodies and some don’t, that some are made for magazines and the big-screen and some are not…

because that’s about the stupidest and most shallow thing a girl can believe.

You were created for richer feasts.

When you gaze at your reflection, do your Mama a favor and admire the handiwork of God. And then…

walk away.

Run and play.

Sing.

Laugh.

Dance.

Love.

Tell your friends how beautiful they are.

And, through the grace of the God who made you, work every day to purify your soul and mortify your sin, leaving a beauty inside of you that will dazzle this sad and captive world with the light of Jesus Christ.

They will never know what hit them.