Christmas...Before Thanksgiving!?!

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas at our house. Usually, I wait until the first weekend in December to put the tree up, but this week my daughter was home sick for a couple days and we started decorating early...November 17! It was fun! No pressure, just getting it all out a little at a time, watching Christmas movies and stringing popcorn for the tree. Of course my other kids came home from school confused and reminding me that we're only coming up on Thanksgiving break, not Christmas! I think they liked it though! We're waiting on ornaments until my oldest can join us, but the tree lights sure do make these dark evenings more cheery!

So far I've watched four Christmas movies, listened to Christmas carols, and wrapped three presents. Scandalous. 

How about you? Is anyone else out there decking the halls or dreaming of a white Christmas a little early? 

Also...I really need some more movie recommendations. My favorite holiday comedy is Christmas with the Kranks. So funny! I've tried a few other Christmas movies on Netflix and they have not been winners. So let me know what humorous or heartwarming movies you love to see each year!

Making Memories

My twin daughters love seasonal decorations. Me, not so much. I like to look at them at other houses, but tend to avoid the extra work and storage for myself. We decorate minimally for holidays around here, much to the dismay of my daughters.

When magazines like this one come in the mail, I think to myself, who in the world has the time or inclination to make such things? But when one of my daughters saw it on the counter, she started squealing and gushing about how fun it would be to make them and could we also make these at Christmas time? What?! Those rice krispie treats look complicated.

Then she informed me that when I come to her house someday there will be decorations everywhere and streamers and it will be lots of fun! Kind of made me feel bad. Sort of. Not enough to put up streamers. 

But mom guilt has a way of prevailing and we made these this weekend...brownie gravestones, marshmallow witches and oreo spiders. My girls couldn't have been happier! They even got to bring them to a party and see others enjoy them. I think we'll have a new fall tradition in the years ahead!

Learning to Love a New Place

So we bought a little rental house. And in many ways it feels like having a new baby. It needs to be cared for and coddled right now. We're tip toeing around trying to learn its patterns and idiosyncrasies and it's definitely kept me awake a few nights! 

I've always been excited about the houses we've purchased. I couldn't wait to get my hands on them and make them my own. This one has cute bones and I'd love to do some things to it, but this time I'm not the one that will be living and making memories in it. 

The house had been neglected as far as maintenance goes, so I've been spending a lot of time over there while different service people check it out. At first, it felt strange to go inside and sometimes I really didn't want to have the responsibility of taking care of it. But now I've gotten used to its smells and sounds and feel more connected. 

We've cleaned the gutters and replaced the water heater. We've had the heating and cooling evaluated and the fireplace cleaned. We're figuring out what to do in the crawl space and working on the yard. 

One project at a time, we'll continue to revive this little house and I hope it will be a happy shelter for those that live here in the years ahead. 

Can-Do Spirit

We had a family gathering last night to celebrate my youngest son's birthday. The best thing about getting everyone together is the reminiscing that goes on. I love it when my kids get to hear their grandparents and aunts and uncles tell stories from the past.

Looking at my parents now, you'd never know their struggles. You wouldn't know how hard they worked to support four kids all born within five years while in their early 20's. I bet my dad couldn't envision himself comfortably retired during those days of literally having a few dollars in his wallet until payday.

Obviously picture quality has improved over the years!

There are some stories from my childhood that have shaped me. I don't remember every detail, but certain things stick out in my mind. 

When I was five, my dad had been out of work for a few months and couldn't find anything. So we moved. We moved from a little town in Western New York to California. They packed us all up and drove an old car six days across the country. I remember very little about that trip except the memories sparked by a few touristy pictures they took along the way. That and squishing hard against the window to avoid my dad's arm reaching into the backseat when my brothers and I had been fighting too long. Two years later, my dad decided he didn't like living in California and we all moved back!

My brother and I enjoying the sights on our cross country trip!

We were once on a trip in Vermont when our car broke down. I remember it being very cold and we stayed in a motel for almost a week. Again, my parents had very little money and the six of us walked two miles to check on the status of our old station wagon. I remember we had just a tiny bit of toothpaste and my mom squeezing it out long past time the point where I would toss the tube unthinkingly in the trash today. The motel owners gave us all free breakfast one morning. At the end of the week, my dad had to sign the title of the car over to the mechanic in order to pay for the repairs and left a post dated check for the motel owners to pay for our room. My parents had finally given in and called my mom's aunt and she paid for them to rent a car to get home. 

We laugh when my dad tells the story of how he scraped together some money to buy another vehicle and told the guy on the lot to show him everything he had under $600. He ended up buying an old beater that hadn't moved in three years. My brother said it looked like an animal had chewed out the middle of the back seat. The windshield was cracked, the battery was dead, and it had four flat tires. My dad said if the guy would replace the windshield and slap a NYS inspection sticker on it, he'd take it! He came home and fixed everything he could and we drove it until it died. 

My mom tells many stories of how she scraped and sacrificed over the years. I've always admired how she went to night school driving an hour and a half each way to get her master's. I don't remember how many semesters it took, but it was long enough to teach me that I never wanted to have to do that. For as long as I can remember, she's always had the attitude of you do what you have to do and you work with what you have. When I was in third grade she took us four kids three days and three nights across country on a Greyhound bus to visit her parents. The only food she had was what she had packed in a brown grocery bag and a little bit of money. It must have been bad because I remember a fellow traveler buying us all breakfast one morning. My grandmother always said she was so relieved when we got there and was sad that my mom looked like she had lost ten pounds on the way!

When it came to home improvement, decorating, fixing cars, landscaping, raising animals, and more things than I can name right now, my parents were always teaching themselves or picking up new skills any way they could. Even today, my dad will almost never pay for someone to do something he can do himself. 

If I could sum up the lessons I've learned from them, I'd have to use the often quoted, where there's a will there's a way. 

I don't know what hardship stories will stick out in my kids' minds about their childhood, but I hope they have some. I hope they remember times where things didn't come easy and they saw us work hard and do without to reach a bigger goal. I hope they realize that struggling for a little while doesn't mean you'll struggle forever and there's plenty to be learned and even fondly remembered in those trying times.

No Greater Joy

This morning I woke up and saw this on my daughter's Instagram.

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. 3 John 1:4
This verse is so true. More than happiness or success, fame or fortune, more than even their very health, I desire to see my children follow Jesus. 
Parenting a real live human quickly brings you to your knees. I never realized how flawed and sinful I was until I felt the responsibility to raise my children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. 
What?!? God, I can't do this. Look at how I've failed You here and here and over here. What kind of an example can I be? Lord, please pick up the pieces and bring them to a saving knowledge of You. 
Steve and I have done what we know to do. We've taken them to church, Vacation Bible School, Awana, and youth camp. We've stopped and started family devotions more times than I'd like to admit over the years. We've blown it in big and small ways and asked their forgiveness. We've tried to explain why we do certain things and don't do other things from a Christian perspective. And we've prayed. Both with them and by ourselves, we pray that they will grow up to love and serve Jesus.
Today I give God the glory, great things He has done. May He continue to move and work in the lives of all of my children and may they each grow up to love and serve Him. 

Getting Through the First Goodbye

All over Facebook and Blogland I see mothers of freshman students breaking down as they leave their babies on college campuses for the first time. And I wince for them, feeling the pain, just as when I see one of my kids getting a shot that I know will be good for them in the long run.

I was right in the midst of all those feelings last fall. I didn't know how often I would see or talk to my daughter. I didn't know how much I would know about this new life she was building and where I would fit into it. I think that's the biggest fear of moms at this stage. How will college life change our relationship with our kids?

What I found out pretty quickly though is that absence truly does make the heart grow fonder in this situation. Being away made her enjoy and really want to spend her breaks and vacations with us. We've had a lot fun together this year and I can see that we're on our way to that long awaited parenting promised land of friendship. 

College brought about other positive changes in our relationship as well. I learned that she makes a lot of good decisions on her own and she learned that her parents often have good advice. I got used to not knowing what she was doing all the time and she started sharing more about her activities. I gave up and let her spend her money without as many questions and she discovered that budgeting is important. I started to let go and she reached out. 

This stage of life brings a lot of changes, but they're mostly good ones. Once you get going, it really is satisfying and amazing to see your kids take off on this new adventure. 

So when freshman year comes, cry and hug and bemoan that your baby has grown up. I fully intend to do all that next year when I drop off my son. But also know that you're going to like many of the changes college life brings!

Why I Don't Want School to Start

Any of you who know me in real life are probably shocked to read the title of this post. Marie doesn't want school to start? That doesn't sound like her at all!

And it's true, that doesn't sound like me. I'm usually counting the minutes until the first bell by this time each summer! But this year I'm not quite ready to see summer end. Oh, I'm definitely ready to hear less bickering, but I'm not ready for...

No more sleeping in. Our bus comes waaaay too early at 6:17. Seriously, it's still dark part of the year at that time. Summer mornings are my friend. 

Less travel. This summer we've gone some fun places and the school schedule puts a damper on our adventures. 

Two girls entering middle school. That's scary. Girl drama in middle school is no joke and the thought of going through all that again makes me want summer to stay a little longer. 

Evenings filled with homework and sports practices. Need I say more? It's going to be hard to see the dinner hour shrink and all that busyness settle in again. 

And this...

My son is a senior. Freeze time and let's stay right here. I thought it would be easier to go through it the second time, but I'm already feeling sentimental at every sappy commercial and Facebook post. Finding an old photograph moves me to tears. It's not going to be any easier to let go of this guy than it was my oldest daughter.

Yes indeed, summer 2015 was an especially good one and I'm sad to see these loves of mine go back to school.