Spring break!

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One of our most cherished traditions is having breakfast together. We don’t get to do it very often, but when we do it’s sweet. Ames shouts FAMWY BWEAKFAST at the top of his lungs, at a volume and frequency that drags the sleepy big boys from their beds. Sometimes it’s an eggs & bacon kind of morning, and other times it’s just Trader Joe’s cinnamon rolls. But there’s something special about starting off the day with your favorite people. A fresh start, a new beginning with folks who don’t flinch at your most vulnerable.

The words spring break don’t typically mean a whole lot to us. After all, most of my kids aren’t in any sort of school program, and my husband works from home. As for my own schedule, it’s variable and flexible. But the beloved break has arrived for the big boys, and we managed to schedule a free day or two for all of us. I’ve also taken a rather extended Spring Break of sorts myself. I’ve been writing less and less here for the last few weeks, taking some time to refocus and freshen things up. Thanks for hanging in, and happy Spring Break!

the wonder of Wunderlist.

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While on toddler potty patrol at Trader Joe’s last night, I posted this silly selfie with a plug for my favorite task-making app. Several of you are already fans, but many of you asked questions about the gem known as Wunderlist. Let’s talk!

Wunderlist is a list-making app that allows you to sync with other users. Chris & I keep several between our phones, with categories like Out and About and Target and Honey-do. There’s even Daddy Dreamin’, a place for him to throw out all of his wild ideas about music projects and gear. When something gets checked off the list, it notifies the other user. I’ve even brought the big boys on board, with a Commissions list for weekly chores. They don’t necessarily refer to the list to help them remember, but we all leave each other goofy notes on each task and it keeps us on the same page.

Like I said on Instagram, I can’t recommend this app enough. I’m able to get in and out of the grocery store in just a few minutes, and I save money by sticking to what’s on the list. I simply un-check items to add them back to the list, which is great for basics like bread and cereal. I haven’t decided if we’ll upgrade or not, but for now, the basic free version works just fine!

Who are you? From frozen bacon.

I had been to two sessions with my counselor alone before I invited Chris to come along. We went out for a sushi lunch beforehand and chatted easily. It’s easy, being with him. Even in the hard, ugly places. We walked into our counselor’s office smiling, shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries. We sat down on his couch and cozied up. It was their first time ever meeting each other, but we’re married. We’ve done hard before. We know each other well. This is simply a season where need a few extra tips.

The questions came, and the stories came, and the questions came again. Our guy is good, the kind of man who presses you to think and pray and sort and then allow the Holy Spirit to draw things out of you. New self-awareness, problems, fresh ideas, old ideas, you get the picture. So the counselor asked, and we answered. Then he asked me to explain a story a little further, asking more questions and pausing in all the right places. It’s the closest to an out-of-body experience I might have ever had. We started talking about a certain frozen bacon incident from the previous morning, and I just went for it. I shared and exposed my heart, almost without any thought. Just reactions. Yes. No. Because this is important to me. I’m good at this. It fulfills me. I failed at that, though. So I’m a failure.

And then it was over, and I felt so free. Like I’d been honest with myself for the first time in a long time. I looked over to my husband, to the man holding my hand and loving me unconditionally, to find him staring at me. Mouth slightly agape, he looked sort of horrified and fascinated at the same time. Who are you? he asked with his eyes. And our counselor laughed. He said something to the effect of, “She’s not alone, Chris. This is how a lot of women are. We have to learn to think like this because…”

“It’s totally foreign to me,” Chris said. “I don’t even know what that feels like. I can’t even fathom how she got there from frozen bacon.”

And just like that, after nearly a decade together, we met again. We started over, from frozen bacon. We let the Holy Spirit draw things out of us. New self-awareness, problems, fresh ideas, and old ideas, you get the picture.

Snatch this purse.

I don’t share affiliate links on here often, but this sale needs its own blog post.

Today only, this beauty is only $48, down from the usual $78! I’m a big fan of handbags, and this leather clutch is no exception. It’s handmade in Ethiopia by empowered, employed women… women whom you support when you purchase from fashionABLE. In fact, this piece is called the Tigist for a reason. So between now and Friday at midnight, try to find a little room in the budget! You won’t regret it.

Far more damage.

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Each one of us can probably tell a story about someone who stuck it out in a thankless job, unnoticed and uncelebrated, in order to make a difference our lives and others’… year after year after year. I’m talking about world-changers, the folks who shaped generations from a quiet place. An elementary school teacher. A coach, or a college professor. How about a blogger, or someone on Instagram? Wait. What?

A blogger writes a piece for a hundred readers, after the sermon which inspired it stopped in a room of fifty. A divorced woman encourages newlyweds during a monthly webchat, creating a space for vulnerable and honest conversation. A girl with an eye for design coaches other women through their creative endeavors on Instagram, paving the market for handmade shops and business ideas. A mother of three reaches out to new moms on Twitter, using a few characters to speak life into a tired day. A small-business photographer writes an e-book that inspires women to take better photos of their families and everyday life.

In the story I heard over the weekend, the person with the quiet job was asked why he didn’t want to start his own church or break out into a more noticed, famous career. His reply? I can do far more damage for the Kingdom right here, right where I am.

He understood the power of replication. This idea is an underlying right-out-in-the-open theme of the Influence Network, and it’s become a battle cry of my own heart. Both successes and failures equip us to share wisdom. If you’re not a Christian, this is simply healthy advice for society. Look around your community, invest in others, and build up the next generation. But if you’re a follower of Jesus, if you believe you carry the Good News, then it’s a mandate. This is Christ in us, folks. He is what we pour out, and He is why we pour it so often.

So maybe our blogs only get a few hits per week, and maybe we can’t figure out why our Instagram followers aren’t multiplying faster. We can’t wait to be bigger and badder. Time is too precious. The spotlight only reaches so far, friends. I’ve heard it can be sweaty and uncomfortable. The grass is only so green. I’ve heard it can be expensive and time-consuming. Some of the women atop these vast platforms, the women with the readership and the recognition to which we aspire? Most of them wave their arms at us, trying their best to get our attention. They want us to stop looking at them and look around instead. Replicate. Pour out your cup today, right where you’re at. Let’s be willing to shape a generation from the quiet places.

Riding in cars with boys.

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I frequently find myself having chats with friends curious about large families, especially when it comes to relational investment. How do you make your kids feel valued? How do you  ensure they get the attention they need? How do you afford the energy for it all? The truth is, it can get tricky; even trickier with a blended family. Regardless of how many children and what kind of dynamic your family has, it is important to develop relationships with your kids, relationships that are unique to just you and them. The easiest and most fun rhythm I’ve found for this? Dating my children.

Getting alone time with the kids is crucial for me. Sometimes, it’s as extravagant as a cooking class. Other times, it’s as simple as a grocery run. I haven’t started this tradition with the twins yet, but it’s become my favorite day of the week if I get to sneak away with one of the boys for an hour or two. The quieter time while we drive and the slower pace while we’re out create a breeding ground for juicy, life-giving conversation. I smile when a kid asks a sensitive question, grateful that he’s brought it my way instead of wondering or worse – searching the wrong places for answers. I laugh when a kid points out something that proves he’s noticed me, even when I thought he wasn’t paying attention. I hold my breath when a kid shares something he’s been thinking or dreaming about, honored to be solo audience to a thoughtful soul and a wild imagination for a few minutes.

I come away from these little dates floating a little higher, honored with the responsibility of motherhood. There is something powerful in seeing a child respond to the realization that they’re being seen, heard, and valued. These opportunities tend to overflow into the hard places, too. Patience springs up when I need it, because I know each of these kids is a treasure chest waiting to be opened and explored and celebrated.

family night healing

Let’s do something fun for dinner, Chris says. The weather is warm. Let’s shoot for a place outside. There’s room in the budget, remember? He hasn’t forgotten that I canceled our Valentine’s Day date. His favorite burger place is just up the road, and he’s only dropped the hint three or four times that afternoon. I agree and head for the car. The idea of no prep and no clean-up sounds really, really good. The big kids load up the little ones, explaining the concept of honor roll and how they both nailed it this quarter. Everyone is in a good mood, with almost-springtime electricity rippling through the truck. The music is up and windows are down. Chris reaches over and grabs my hand with a squeeze that says I love you. You’re going to be okay. Look around you and breathe this family in. 

We choose to sit inside at the restaurant, where there’s a table big enough for all of us. I hope it’s okay that we’re here with this big crew. We’ll try not to bother anyone, I say to the hostess. She laughs. We love kids, and you are all welcome here! We sit down with the usual shuffle, crayons and seat preferences flying. May we please have Sprite? Do you want to try the fried pickles? Of course, and sure.

We place our orders, working out the who-shares-with-whom details. I’m trying the special tonight – some sort of tuna burger. The fried pickles arrive. I wink at the boys who guzzle their sodas, and I thank the waiter who fills up the little pigs’ water bottles. The baby nurses and nobody in the joint bats an eyelash. The twins wave and smile at every person who walks by. Ames learned to wink this week, so he doesn’t hesitate to try it out on the waitstaff. I smile as Avery shares his personal space so well, serving the girls tastes and gently shoving grubby hands from his plate. Lucas asks to get Hadassah when she’s done eating, and he props her up beside him. She’s like the most perfect-est baby ever, he says. She gets her first taste of lemon tonight, much to everyone’s entertainment.

The food is delicious and the vibe is joyful. We finish the meal with a game of tag around the fountain outside. Avery impresses everyone with his ability to run the perimeter and avoid falling in, even while getting pushed and tickled  by the rest of us. We load into the Suburban and turn up the tunes once more, moaning about how full we are. As we near the house, Chris misses the driveway on purpose. I can’t pull in while this song is playing, he says as he claps and sings along to Happy at the top of his lungs.

As we park and pour out of the truck, Chris smiles at me. That did your heart good, right? Yes. I can feel it… the thawing of this winter season, both outside of my home and inside of my heart. The Lord is near to the weary, y’all. So, so near. It’s just that when we’re tired, sometimes we have to open our eyes a little wider.

The cheapest, easiest DIY ever.

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We re-did Lucas’ room for his birthday this month, and I used this tutorial for a t-shirt garland to hang on his walls. I bought nearly thirty tees at Goodwill, so I was left with quite a few intact sleeves…

Enter the perfect circle scarf – or bib! Simply roll the sleeve evenly around the neck, or rotate them so that the longer portion hangs down the front, like a kerchief. All four of my kiddos are currently running around the house with one of these as we speak, and the baby goes through one or two per day. They are perfect for mopping up baby food and other goodies from her cheeks. Play around with different sized tees to get different looks.

I was obviously sticking to a theme with color and texture this time, for the sake of the garland project. Next time, though, I’ll try out some different shirts and look for some fun prints. Any sort of no-sew project is right up my alley, so I’ll be keeping this in mind for next winter’s wardrobes… myself included!

wild wild web: creating community on Instagram

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my first Instagram photo, November 2010.

At first, it was a place to store iPhone photos, as well as a place to make them look pretty. There was very little “liking” or commenting on photos in the early days; a sense of community was yet to be discovered. Most of us just linked our Instagram images to the other big social networking sites, like Twitter and Facebook. But the site blossomed and grew, and now there are very few people unfamiliar with the app. Of course, Instagram is a place to share your life, but it’s become much more than that. I use it as a place to meet friends and a place to learn new things. I use it for visual stimulation, when I want to retreat for awhile and take a peek into what folks are doing all over the world. It can serve as a source of encouragement and inspiration.

Occasionally, I run into people who ask me questions about Instagram. I don’t boast an epic following by any means, but I have created a community there, larger than any of my other platforms. That can be interesting to some. How do you get followers? How do you edit your photos? Do you post things as they happen? Questions of this nature led me to some research and contemplation so that I could eventually write on the topic. I’ve been able to whittle it down to two main categories of ideas. These ideas are merely suggestions, of course, but things that I have found helped me retain a sense of satisfaction and mutual engagement when using Instagram.

1. Make the effort. You’re creating (potentially) beautiful content when you post a photo to Instagram. In the same way that I would try to avoid wearing my pajamas to the grocery store, I choose how my photos are presented on Instagram. There is nothing wrong with moving a pair of shoes out of the way, or waiting for a car to pass. This doesn’t make the moments you share any less authentic. Staging a shot is merely a part of telling the world your story. Get down on a child’s level. Move around to grab better light. Ask a stranger to take a photo of your family. Save the “what is in this diaper” photo for an email to your mom. Download apps that allow you to edit of the basic filters Instagram offers. If you’re serious about developing relationship online, put a little elbow grease into the photos you post.

2. Engage the community. I haven’t always been the best at this, but recently I’ve put forth more effort. It takes a little work to get out of the habit of just following the same people, or just posting photos and closing out of the app. Consider scheduling time to respond to Instagram comments, and time to let yourself get lost down the rabbit hole of different accounts. Be on the lookout for new inspiration, whether it be through hashtags that interest you or recommendations from folks you already follow. Become more intentional about leaving a comment on a photo you like, especially if it’s someone you want to get to know better. Simply clicking “Like” or “Follow” isn’t enough if your goal is to get deeper. When people ask questions on your photos, answer them. When you see a photo that makes you want to stop and chat, slow your scroll and do it!

Again, there are all sort of opinions and tips regarding Instagram that might not fall into these two categories. Should I keep my account private or public? Should I use the same filter each time, or switch it up? Is it okay to post a bunch of photos from the same event? To each their own, when it comes to this stuff. But the internet is real. It means something. So as silly as the whole thing might seem, these questions and discussions are important to explore if we’re serious about creating and retaining community online.

The cry for help.

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It had been building for months, but I swore up and down it wasn’t postpartum depression. I still do, to an extent. Everything about Hadassah Lee fills me with joy. I cherish everything about her, even down to her nighttime antics which give me little sleep and no rest. I swore up and down it wasn’t hormones, either. Nor was it winter. I can handle the cold and the dark. But still I was angry most days. All day. I cried a lot, at the drop of a hat. There was a lot of yelling, slamming, leaving the house. I figured out how to dump quickly and efficiently on my husband, and how to mask everything from the kids. My kids are perceptive. They ask me what’s wrong. They give hugs. In the loud places, I stonewalled. In the quiet places, I crumpled. I tried to think rationally through situations and describe my emotions, to take away their power. The only word I kept coming up with was rage. It was bright and blinding.

And then came the cry for help. The event that set off the alarms. A big blaring sign that read GET HELP, RACH.

It was a typical midweek morning. Chris was still unloading his gear and his thoughts from Sunday’s services while simultaneously preparing for the next one. I’d worked the previous day and stormed through the house, cleaning and fuming with what had become the usual fury. We were trying to get out of the house for some reason, but I can’t remember the plans now. I asked Chris to get the girls’ boots for them while I finished getting dressed. After a few minutes of searching, it was discovered that one pair of boots was missing. We looked in the usual spots, to no avail. Instead of just rolling with it and letting Chris grab another pair of shoes for the forlorn twin, I lost my junk. I refused to the leave the house until the missing boots were found, letting it take me to tears. Tears, over some missing boots. I made the kids sit on the couch while I stomped around, convinced that nobody else could find the missing boots as well as I. And besides, they’d just get in the way. I was on a mission. The muttering below my breath became loud and forceful, words and emotions flying as if this were truly the end of my world. I could feel myself, see myself acting absolutely crazy over something so small and yet… I couldn’t let it go. The boots were eventually found nearly an hour later and we loaded everyone up, late to our destination. Chris hadn’t said a word the entire time, but I could feel it. I had crossed the line. I had become fixated on the something trivial to the detriment of my mood, my day, and my family. And this wasn’t the first time. But I knew it needed to be the last.