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A Visit and Another Chapter

A couple weekends ago Israel’s family flew here from Alabama and Georgia. It was such a fun visit. It was a whirlwind visit, but we managed to have lots of lovely time talking and laughing, everyone stayed in our home, we visited with my family sunday, adventured in the foothills monday, and there were pictures. Of course. Lots of pictures. :)

Here are just a few highlights from what Sandra has posted on Facebook so far. I didn’t even get my camera out the whole weekend because Sandra had her camera out at all times. I love it. Because she takes amazing pictures. And I get pictures with me and my babies in them. :)
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The cousins had so much fun together and it was really cute to see so many shirk faces in our house. There is definitely a strong resemblance.

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On Saturday, I recruited help planting peas and then we hit up the park.

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Sunday was family and pizza

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And outside

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And birthdays (israel was trying to blow out more than his share of candles)

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And more outside.

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Monday morning we went to the foothills and took pictures before their afternoon flight.

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Ranger was carefully taught what the 20 ft drop looked like…so as to instill a little fear.

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Up until their visit Ali was extremely nervous with the people who didn’t live in her house, but her Aunt Ari was very determined to have Ali like her by the end of the visit…she gradually lengthened her intervals and by the last day of their visit had won Ali over. We have proof:

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That is a very happy baby :)
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I am so glad this visit worked out. It was good to see everyone and show the Idaho. When they finally left it was goodbye a little while. Arianna and David and their daughters are moving to Kenya on a medical mission (Ari is a pediatric ER doctor) in the fall for at least two years (planning on serving longterm).

It was very strange to watch them drive off and realize this is it for a while. Made me wish I would have hugged them tighter and had better words to say. It is a combination of sadness that we won’t see them soon and joy that they get to live this new adventure chapter. God is good and great and He has placed them and us where we need to be. We are so excited for them!

They will be blogging at http://shirkadventure.blogspot.com if you’re interested in following their adventures. :) because the internet exists to keep us connected and informed. Thankfully :)

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(Photocredit goes to Sandra Shirk :)

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Two Voices of Criticism

There is a certain benefit in a critic.

I’ve been mulling over my post about silencing my inner critic and I realized there is another side to the story.
The critic I wrote about is the dehabilitating inner-critic. It’s the one one who tells you “stop trying” “you can’t” “you’re not good enough” and asks “who do you think you are?” The one that shuts down your creative process completely.

But there is another critic, one who refines you and your message. It’s the gentle whisper (or loud hollering!) saying maybe that’s not the right way, maybe that story is best kept close, maybe there’s a better time or place or manner or attitude to tell it in. It checks for content, accountability, and honesty.

The refining critic encourages instead of discourages. It tells you to strive for better and to show the whole love of God through your writing instead of our own cracked version of love. Or it tells you to share the broken version so we can see God shining through the cracks.

Sometimes refining might sound like the silencing but there’s a difference between exhortation and criticsim.

Exhortation includes an emphasis on hope and future improvement. Silencing criticism just says “This is bad” which is easily confused with “you are bad”.

The silencing critic shuts the process down.

The refining critic breathes fresh life into your art.

Our inner critic can have two voices: one that attacks our worth and one the constructively interacts with our need to create.

We have to choose which to listen to.

7 months!

Ali is 7 months old today. She is getting to be such a character. I am starting to think she is an introverted version of Ranger. She loves to tromp and wants to get into everything.

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Here’s what she’s been up to this month.

She has started taking afternoon naps in crib. This is so wonderful for me because I can often get Ranger to nap at the same time and I can get a few minutes to relax or get things done. Usually she’ll fall asleep while she’s nursing and I can just lay her down, but sometimes we bounce on the exercise ball. She’s usually asleep by the time I count to 500 and if she’s not then it’s not naptime. For some reason counting keeps me sane.

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She scoots (inchworm fashion) pretty well and can often get into things that are within a couple feet of her. She hasn’t gone adventuring large distances yet, but it’s in our near future. She gets up on her knees every now and then. She can sit up and it seems like she’s close to being able to get to sitting from tummy position. She really likes to sit up most of the time and sometimes fusses on her tummy so she can be sat up.

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She’s been trying little bits of food. She doesn’t have teeth so everything is mashed or tiny. She likes it pretty well. She sucks on carrots, apples, celery, peppers. She eats tiny shreds of chicken, rice, rice crispies, broccoli, applesauce, and has been gifted a taste of a few contraband items (popcorn, goldfish, yogurt) by her big brother. :)

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She still sleeps well and wakes up early.

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She is starting to get used to, and getting more chill about, being around more people. She likes me best, but loves Ranger and Israel. She surprised me this weekend when she gradually got used to being held by my sis-in-law, Arianna. She just did short intervals and worked up to longer stretches. So fun to see her interacting happily with other people.

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She likes her carriers and her carseat. Sometimes if she’s fussing and we’re just about ready to leave, she’ll settle right down if I put her seat even if it’s a little bit early. Earlier this month she fell asleep in the boba carrier on my back while I was weeding and hoeing my garden. i was surprised.

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She talks or shouts almost all the time when we are at home or in a group of loud people. She likes to add her noise to the hubbub. She also might think she’s a lion. She growls. A lot. :)

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She’s in 6-9 month clothes and is always super adorable. :)

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**The last four pictures were taken by my lovely sister-in-law, Sandra!**
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Grace and Marshmallows – My Messy Beautiful.

As a mom of two littles, bedtime, the time my children are asleep, is like the last swirl of hot chocolate in my favorite mug. Extra creamy, rich and chocolate-y. With a touch of personality.

Lovely. Sweet. Relaxing.

Bedtime is the goal. The countdown. When the two year old is already whining at 4 pm and naptime is over the clock starts ticking extra loud.

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Tick. Tick. Tick.

You can try your best to revive what’s left of your urge to “appreciate” your child and “live in the moment” (my “moment” has too many decibels in it, can I have a refund?), with little to show for your effort:

Ok. Let’s have a snack… *insert dying animal noises here*

No? Ok… Water? *the screeching tires version of two year old yells*

Ok, then… I don’t know what you want….what do I want?

Retail therapy? Yes. Sound good to me.

You want to go in the car, baby? Yeah! He says in a pitiful voice and then proceeds to run to the front door.

He throws a minor hissyragetantrum when he can’t open it and then is completely devastated when we walk a few more miles in the house while I gather shoes, jackets, blankets, clean diapers and other accoutrements necessary for a quick trip to the store these days.

We spend a few minutes going back and forth between the door and almost to the car to the tune of his horror and freaking out before we finally set out.

A happy trio.

A minor meltdown occurs in the parking lot because of a miscommunication regarding the car’s destination. I thought I had specified the store to buy some flowers and the two year old was sure I’d promised him books at the library… But since I am the mommy and we were already there, flowers won and were soon placed in the cart with him as a conciliatory prize. We successfully completed our shopping trip to fill the flowerpot on our shady front porch (Will the flowers live? Ummm. Hopefully?) and bought our way an hour and a half closer to bedtime.

Luckily, when we got home, Ranger’s buddy (the son of some friends’ comes to hang out with us for a couple hours weekly) was there or I might have had a mini rage-monster on my hands while I made dinner.

But since it was the Evening of the Meltdown Ranger honored the occasion by bursting into heartbroken tears when I tried to put him in his highchair.
Alas. He wanted to play no matter how hungry and irrational he might be. Instead of listening to the wailing we had a picnic in the grass. Dinner negotiated. Ranger ran to me for bites. They played.
I ate. Bounced the baby. Broke up disputes. Fed the baby. And on. Until the friend left. Then desperation set in and we read books and watched Netflix until the long awaited hour arrived. And that is the truth of the matter.

I’d stopped counting down the hours, luckily, but the minutes were beginning to wear.

Ali would be almost asleep enough to set in her crib and then Ranger would go for a Forbidden Item and I’d have to get up to Enforce the Law…and we’d be back to square one.

The bedtime fight can be long, but eventually they will sleep. And then comes the happy prize of a few semi-uninterrupted minutes. Tonight mine consists of a handful of dark chocolate chips …oh but, if I have to be honest..maybe that became three handfuls (I’ll let you believe I have small hands). Mmmm. And The Proposal. Because my husband is out of town. And because Sandra Bullock + Ryan Reynolds = well, I’m not sure, but in the movie, hilarity (with a little bit of semi-believable romance).

And their beauty is only marred by the crayon marks on my computer screen.

I made it: Bedtime.

But why is bedtime so often the highlight of the day? It tends to be the goal I’m running towards: just make it through this day. It’s not because I don’t enjoy my kids. It’s just the wear of being constantly on call and not being able to do everything I want to do.

The job is an all day task, but it always seems like I should be able to fit more loving, and doing, and being significant to the world into the cracks. At this point with two babies, the extra space is limited and I should really just fill it in with grace and marshmallows to the greater good of mankind.

I’m sure there is a balance somewhere, but for now I’m going to let myself enjoy bedtime and enjoy the day as much as seems sane. That’s enough balance for me.

I’m just going to accept it as a part of mothering little ones.

Bedtime is welcome.

Babies are loved.

But I am just glad they need more hours of sleep than I do!

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Grace and marshmallows, people. That seems like a cushy landing place, doesn’t it?

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This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

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Books for the Journey: My Two Year Old Loves…

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It’s been a while since I’ve shared some of Ranger’s favorite books. I think he was nine months old the last time and would only sit through a few pages. His taste and attention span has changed quite a bit.

He loves most books and would make me read to him all day every day if he had his druthers. The trick is finding books we both like. Here are a few of his current (and mommy-approved) obsessions:

The Cat in the Hat Comes Back by Dr. Seuss – He likes the VOOM at the end of the book. And somehow he sits through the whole thing. I think the cats named by the letters of the Alphabet help to draw him in. I like this book because of the interesting ways you can interpret the plot. If you think of the Cat being like a critique of the government the story gets a whole new spin.

My Monster Mama Loves Me So – this was a favorite of one of my brothers when he was little and just a fun book. I love the detail in the pictures and the interesting perspective of the monsters.

Bunny My Honey- this one is about a baby bunny who loses his mommy and then she finds him. Ranger understands exactly what happened and loves the song the mommy bunny sings.

Make Way for Ducklings – I was really surprised Ranger latched onto this one as a favorite. The pictures are not in color and it is a very long book. But the drawings have the perfect amount of detail and objects that he can pick out. Plus, did you know ducks say quack??! It turns into a pretty enthralling book :)

Henry and Mudge in Puddle Trouble – I love this one. The style of writing just appeals to me and the way the author adds details and interest is just remarkable. The pictures are cute, but it’s the writing that gets me. My favorite line: “Mudge looked back at him with soft brown eyes and a flower in his belly.”

Curious George – I can read just about any Curious George book. I think we have 4-5 of them and they’re all pretty tolerable. The older ones are awesome just because the little details, like how George has to go to prison because he called the fire fighters on accident. Yep. Hilarious :) The newer ones are fun too, even though George never really gets in trouble for anything he does. So yes, I’ll take George as an awesome alternative to Clifford or the Berenstein Bears.

He’s also been enjoying any book with counting (Ten Little Ladybugs, Ten in the Bed, Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed ) and any book with pigs (If You Give a Pig a Pancake, Stone Soup, and Small Pig ).

I love that Ranger is getting to a point where we can read books with actual storylines. If Ali goes to sleep early some evenings we will sit down with a whole stack and read for half an hour or 45 minutes. It is so fun!

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What books are your kiddos enjoying these days?

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(This post contains affiliated links)
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The Habit of Being Home {life intentionally}

All too often I get distracted with my writing for the sake of writing (hello, short lived fame of being freshly pressed!) instead of writing out of a place of fullness and reflection in my life. My writing gets stale and my babies get cranky. So this month I’m going to be getting into my life a little more thoroughly so I can be less a knowledgeable bystander writing commentary and more an active participant sharing perspective.

I’m making goals that are more in line with my vision for now instead of wondering about my later so much. For some reason changing the circumstances in my day-to-day is less exciting than planning on being rich and famous and one day taking over the world. Hahaha.

But really there are many things I’d like to see established in our little home that would really benefit from being begun sooner rather than later. And, as the at-home parent, the first step to making many of those things a possibility is mine.

“Leadership is a choice. It’s the choice not to do nothing.”
Seth Godin in Tribes

Balancing my urge to create and need to rest with the call of housework and my babies’ needs is the hardest thing about stay-at-home parenting. It’s easy to detach when I need a break, but if I’m detached all the time I’m not doing my job as a mom anymore. Similarly, I can be doing all ‘good/necessary’ house-y things and still be out of touch with my kidlets. It’s easy to get caught up in a book, a writing project, or a big patch of stubborn vines in the flowerbed and completely overlook the more basic needs of the munchkins who rely on me for nurture, fun, and safety.

I want to make our home a place where good memories live, good habits are learned, and traditions can be practiced and enjoyed together. I want my own focus to be primarily on my family as I create a home for them.

“Are you stuck with the way things were, instead of busy turning things into what they could be?
Heretics have a plan. They understand that changing the status quo is not only profitable, but fun too.”

Seth Godin in Tribes

So. Here are five fun ideas to make this more a reality:

  • Say yes to reading books whenever Ranger asks (unless I’m eating). I used to do this. Reading is something I really enjoy. I love that he loves books too and want to continue to share that with him.
  • Save my reading time mostly for naptime, bedtime, and when Ali is nursing. It is too easy for me to just read instead of interacting with my kiddos and being creative in my home.
  • Once you’ve created another life or committed to another person, it’s your responsibility to put that life first. Sorry, your high-minded, laser focused self-actualization process will have to be put on hold. That doesn’t mean you don’t do your work. It just means that you have to be creative to find that time.
    - What It Takes: Home/Work

  • Continue my Screenless Sundays (one month of success!) and extend it to Saturdays as well. (Wifi-free weekends, anyone?) I have had much better luck with this screen limit than with my two hour limit (I can never remember to start my timer!). Focusing more on doing things outside of screens, as well as having a sort of “reset” time, is more helpful.
  • Do one fun or special thing a day. Maybe playdough, fingerpaints, planting, chalk, playground, visiting, a movie, building, chase, walks, rides in the carrier, airplane rides, etc.
  • Add in the habit of mealtime prayer (only aiming for once a day now). I grew up in thiis habit and gradually fell out of it during my college years. It ‘s good to stay in touch with who our main Provider is throughout our days and lives.

When I’m making these goals it is really easy to see them as hard and fast rules instead of goals/guidelines/hopes/dreams for living more in line with who God wants me to be at this point in my life. I have to remember His grace always as I struggle along. He makes up for and manages to use my attempts at mothering in spite of my failures.

And that is where I find rest at the end of the day.

Nothing really up to me. All I can do is try to be a good steward with what He has given me. And even then my efforts are only by His grace.

Knowing the limitations of my responsibility as a mother has actually been quite freeing to me. I can be God’s agent for cultivating the hearts of my children; in fact, I’m supposed to fill that role. But only God can give them life, strength, and divine guidance. This means my success in life or in motherhood or as a Christian is not dependent on my being perfect, but my allowing God, in the Person of the Holy Spirit, to work through me to accomplish His purposes. His life is far more powerful and authoritative than mine. As I depend on him, he who began a good work in me will perfect it (Philippians 1:6). He will do the same for the precious ones He has entrusted to me.
- Sally Clarkson, The Ministry of Motherhood.

And who wouldn’t want more of this in their life?

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How do you create home for your families?

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A Birthday for Ranger – in pictures, mostly.

Ranger had an extended birthday this year.

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We celebrated and celebrated and celebrated.

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We went to the zoo on his actual day because it was sunny and beautiful and: giraffes.

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The lions were fun too, but Ranger was a little more worried about them and would not get close enough to even touch the glass. His instincts on large animals seem pretty sensible.

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When we got home there was a surprise from an out of town Auntie and we had donuts, singing and a candle. It was apparently traumatic, naps may have been shortened, so don’t ask.

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And then a week later we celebrated with my whole family because cake and ice cream and: NaNa.

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After my brother Josh blew out his own candle, Ranger blew out his candle all by himself (without spitting on the cake, even). We were all impressed (and grateful).

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And then as the month wore on, his birthday books arrived in the mail. Because what’s a birthday without books?

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It is so much fun celebrating with him at two years old.

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Israel’s birthday was a few days ago so when Ranger watched me wrap up the present he was all excited and needed to talk about how it was for daddy and what each thing was. Then he went and told Israel exactly what it was right before Israel opened each thing. It was pretty cute. And luckily he was just unintelligible enough that his shouts about books and coffee came out more like “boots” and “dokkee”.

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Our secrets are still mostly safe.

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On comparison, kindness, and promises :::ideas worth sharing:::

Here’s a collection of posts from others to end this lovely month. I always read so much worth sharing it’s hard to narrow it down sometimes.

Enjoy!
—promises—
My friend Hannah reminds us of the hope in the season:

Gray days don’t stick around forever. Spring will come again. These buds, the first sign of spring, are my life lifter right now. My visualization of God’s promise. How I know He cares.

A Promise

Ellen at Sweetwater writes about being caught between places in life:

Instead of scrambling ahead and trying to pull accomplishment and worth and an answer toward myself, I am learning heart-deep how to wait on Christ, the ONLY hope of my righteousness. I cannot pull righteousness or right living or inspired living to myself. Only Christ can work this in me. He rescued me in His timing. He will return in His timing. He does His good work in me in His timing. So, I wait for my only hope of righteousness to draw lines around any next thing for my life.

About Waiting and Work

—–kindness—–
Adam S. McHugh shares an insightful way of understanding kindness. Just wow:

There is a steep price, and the reason why the world sometimes seems starving for kindness and gentleness is because many people are not willing to pay the price. Kindness requires us to absorb pain. The famine of kindness does not owe to lack of exhortation; it owes to our unwillingness to absorb pain. In order to be the kind of people we wish to be, we must absorb the pain of others and we must absorb our own pain and hurt.
The Price of Kindness

April Fiet talks about politics, laws, and the reality of God’s amazing love:

But, just as it was in the days of the disciples and the Pharisees, so it is now: God’s love is far bigger, far more unruly, far more offensive than we could ever imagine.
The Umbrella of God’s Love

—–comparison—–
Laura at Daily Improvisations gives an excellent rundown of all the reasons Why Being a Mother is Not the Most Important Job in the World:

I don’t need to feel that I am more important in order to feel I am of value. I can appreciate the colorful tapestry of society, knowing it is something I have a unique part in, but strangely equally unique to other people’s parts. No one can be me, but neither can I fulfill someone else’s place.
Read it here!

Jen at This Runner’s Trials on why we don’t care how fast you run:

But here’s the thing, speed is relative. Just because someone else’s “great” workout is way faster than yours, it doesn’t diminish your accomplishment – you should be proud of yourself regardless of how much faster someone else can run.
A Matter Speed

And Jen Hatmaker tells us why we should really really stop comparing, in her signature hilarious style:

Maybe your best thing won’t draw a paycheck, but it is still where you shine and glow and come to life and bless the world. May I legitimize your gifts please? Just because you don’t get a paystub doesn’t mean you should shrink back or play small or give it all up. Do your thing. Play your note. We are all watching, learning, moved. You are making the world kinder, more beautiful, wiser, funnier, richer, better. Give your gifts the same attention and space and devotion like you would if it paid.
Run Your Race.

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And something just plain smart to make your life easier from The Nester:

When I dread something that needs to be done daily, it’s a red flag. It’s an opportunity to evaluate if I’m helping or hurting the situation just by something simple that I can change.
- The One Kitchen Tweak that Changed My Attitude

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