Photo & Art Credit:

This picture popped up on my Instagram feed tonight, and boy did I need to see it. Social media is funny like that. On the one hand, it gets a bad wrap, delivering scripted, perfect glimpses into imperfect lives, often fostering resentment, disappointment and feelings of failure. On the other hand, sometimes it hand delivers a message that speaks to your very soul. That moves you to tears, or helps you to pull up your pink panties, dry those tears and move on. 

I had some experiences this week that made me feel small and broken in ways that I thought I had long matured past. As it turns out, adulthood does not inculcate one from feelings of self-doubt and exclusion, or fear and loneliness. Nor does it preclude others from giving in to their most base instincts, lashing out at others in mean-spirited, passive aggressive, and downright rude manners I once thought were reserved for the halls of junior high.

These experiences have forced me into a rare bout of self-reflection, and into a need to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) to record my thoughts. As it turns out, I’ve spent much of my own adult life crafting a certain and specific image of myself. Not only to others, and certainly not for them. No, I’ve crafted this image for myself, and projected it to the world. Certain that I am, and have always been, this tough-as-nails, take-no-shit person, who has it (mostly) all together, and couldn’t possibly be brought down by those around me, or hurt by anyone at all. 

Truthfully, in many ways, this identity I’ve created for myself has helped me much more than it has hurt me. It comes in particularly handy in my job, where I’m exposed to the rawest of human emotions, from the highest highs to the lowest lows, and where chaos coordination is a prerequisite for success. It’s certainly helped me through some really heavy personal experiences that I’ve often overlooked as truly difficult, but have shaped me in ways I’ve yet to acknowledge. 

But, I'm also realizing that in some ways I’ve allowed this image, this protection method to become a very one dimensional shell of a real person. A sort of physical representation of that perfect Instagram shot, hiding the mess just out of the frame. The truth, as I’m realizing, is that there’s a lot more to me than meets my eye. A lot more than this image I’ve spent so much time cultivating, and curating, and reinforcing, for myself as much as anyone else.

The truth, ladies and gentlemen, is that while I am occasionally tough-as-nails, I quite often take shit from people whom I thought were my friends. And sometimes, repeatedly, and willingly. And when it happens, even when I know it's coming, I do get hurt. And I do feel small, and left out, and a little broken, no matter how much I hate that I allow others to make me feel this way. The truth is that bravado aside, I’m a lot more than the strong, tough, and impenetrable persona I’ve created.

I’m also a kind-hearted person who believes her own good intentions are reflected in those around her, and who is occasionally (often) disappointed to find they are not. I’m a friend who will bring you soup when you’re sick (homemade and in a cute container, perhaps made and remade until it’s perfect, because my perfectionism knows no bounds). I’m a person who will drop you a candy bar, or a Diet Coke, when you’re feeling the stress of life, and who thinks a well-timed rant session can save the world. I’m a person who spends countless hours and minutes of my day thinking of ways to help those around me, to show them I’m thinking of them, and who longs to offer them solace and comfort in any way I can. Of course, I’m also a friend with the grandest of intentions, but with the absolute worst follow through, whose plans often dissolve into a pile in her ridiculously disorganized office. Products purchased, letters stamped, but never mailed, never finished. I’m fiercely loyal, and I’m happy to be the friend who will hate those who’ve wronged you, perhaps even more than you do. Which of course comes back to bite me when you decide you don’t hate them anymore. 

Beyond a friend, I’m a mom. I’m a mostly stay-at-home mom who loves to spend time in the kitchen with her kids, baking and projecting, but would rather stab her own eyes out than sit on the floor and play dolls or figurines for 10 minutes, which really feel like 200 hours. I’m a mom who is so grateful for the time she gets to spend with these precious souls in her charge, but who is sometimes resentful of her husband for the very job that provides this opportunity for her to be home. I’m a mom who wouldn’t trade my place for all the world, but who often feels like she’s losing every last brain cell, and occasionally feels jealous of those that kept on the academic track, and are building beautiful, brain-stimulating careers, with lots of letters behind their names. I’m a mom who craves organization and order, but who is hopelessly disorganized and who can’t open her van door without half her house (and life) falling out. I’m a mom who cares (maybe too much) what her kids look like, and what they wear when they leave the house, but who is an utter failure at making sure that everyone has clean underwear to put underneath those brand new clothes. As an aside, laundry and I will never be friends, and I feel I can say with absolute certainty that while I may miss the little bodies that create them, I will never miss the piles of laundry that seem to occupy every last corner of my life. Mostly, I’m a mom who gives every last ounce of effort and energy she has to those around her, yet feels like a complete failure more often than not. A mom who stays awake at night, wondering how she could do a better job tomorrow, but wakes up cranky and manages to do even worse because she’s so exhausted from staying up worrying all night. 

I’m also a wife. A wife to an incredible husband who is her teammate, best friend, and who (almost) never makes her feel second best. A wife who doesn’t always do the dishes, who never takes out the garbage, and who refuses to plunge the toilet (good thing we have 4 bathrooms, huh?). I’m a wife who plans crazy last minute trips, and big projects, flippantly asking “how hard can it be?” when planning another hair-brained project that’s sure to be more involved (and expensive) than anticipated. A wife who is so lucky to have a man who brings her Coke and donuts as often as roses and lilies, who doesn’t mind a little clutter on the floor, and who works his guts out for those around him. A husband who reminds her that she IS a good person, IS a good mother, and that while she’ll never fix those who continue to hurt her, that she doesn’t need them anyway, and, most importantly, who gives her a soft place to land when she dissolves into tears anyway.

My point is, that there’s more to me than meets even my own eye. And I’m 100% certain there’s more to those who have, and likely will continue, to hurt me as well. And while when I started this missive, I fully expected to end it with, “and now it’s time to move on, and take back the power to hurt me," the truth is, I’ll probably still continue to be nice, get walked on a time or two, and generally avoid rocking the boat. Maybe I'm a glutton for punishment, maybe I’m actually a pushover, or maybe because if I couldn’t see all facets of my own self, who knows the magnitude of what I’m not seeing in those around me. 

It also occurs to me that in my vain attempts to craft this persona of myself, perhaps there were times I’ve (unintentionally) hurt those around me, and made them feel less than, and excluded, or unimportant. Perhaps even to those who hurt me so much this very week. If that’s the case, if I’ve hurt you, and you’re reading this, I’m sorry. As much as it pains me to admit it, I’m still a work in progress.

Well, there you have it. I’m decidedly not perfect, occasionally tough, but often more sensitive, vulnerable, and easily hurt than I care to admit to even myself. To those of you in my life who have chosen to love me in spite of all of that, know that it means the world to me, and that there’s probably a gift, letter, card or baked good sitting in that pile in my office with your name on it.


Saturday Well Spent...February Menu Plan

Am I the only one who can't believe it's February? Here I am still struggling to write 2016 on all of my documents, and we're already 8% of the way through the year! I came along kicking and screaming, but I made it, and I'm ready to start a new month. We've had a lot of new adventures in January, some I'll share more about next time, and I'm looking forward to a more organized, predictable February. What better way to usher in an organized month than with a beautifully organized menu plan?

Since both Jon's work schedule, and my own, are up in the air for the end of the month, I did a 2 week menu plan this time. I found an adorable set of printable calendars from Short Stop Designs, that you can find here.

I love having these cute calendars on the fridge each month, and having my work schedule listed right on the calendar helps me to plan which meals will work best for our schedule each night. It also ensures I won't miss a shift, which I'm sure my coworkers appreciate!

Here are some links to a few of the recipes on this menu plan:

Dr Pepper Pork Tacos by The Pioneer Woman

Crock Pot Barbacoa Tacos

Virus Killing Soup

Crock Pot Chicken & Dumplins

The Barbacoa Tacos, and Virus Killing Soup are new additions to the menu, and I'll be sure to update and let you know how they turned out! Everything else on here is a collection of staples that we love to eat over and over again.

I must admit though, after making the menu plan, the grocery list, the price-checking list, and the miscellaneous errands list, my excitement for actually completing the shopping is greatly diminished. As usually happens on a shopping day, we'll probably end up ordering in tonight, in the spirit of one of my favorite Pinterest memes ever.

Happy shopping, everyone!


{Elf on The Shelf} Welcome Letter with Free Printable

So, the way I figure it, there are two kinds of Christmas people in this world. The kind who love and embrace that cute little Elf, and all of the rest, who shall collectively be referred to by me as either other people, or Scrooge. Because, really LOOK at that face.
How can you not love me?!
When you add in all of the fun and mischief, the looks on your own kids' sweet faces, and the endless list of believable excuses for why he didn't move, I can't think of any reason not to love this little guy in his red pointed hat.

It's no secret among my close friends, that I get a bit fanatical with our little Alfie each year. He's been known to pop up in unexpected places, from the light fixture, to the top of the fridge, even the rear-view mirror on our way to Disney one year. I may or may not have frosted an Oreo Elf Cake, put a birthday hat on Jesus, thrown marshmallows all over my kitchen, poured sprinkles all over my table, and drawn on all of our photos. And you know what's more? I may or may not have had as much more fun than my kids in the process.

In our house, Alfie (my children aren't very original when it comes to Elf naming), comes on December 1st, and each year, he brings a letter to announce his arrival. Each year the letter is a little bit different. Here's a peak at his welcome letter from 2014. That year, he brought each kid a (clean) garbage bag and sent them to gather some toys for some other little girls and boys. (Obviously, I'm in need of help. After spending far too long writing this year's letter, I can't seem to stop rhyming!)

This year, the kids and I had already cleaned out their toys and donated what we could. And thanks to an exceptionally busy work schedule this week, I didn't even realize it was November 30th until about 2 hours ago. So, this year, Alfie wasn't as elaborate or creative in his note. And he didn't bring gifts, treats, or props. But you know what's great about this tradition? That's OKAY! Not only is every year a little bit different, every DAY can be a little bit different. Drop the ball last night? No worries, there's always tonight! I mean, I'm sure it was just too cold for Alfie to fly all the way to the North Pole, or that he had such a great spot, he wanted one more day to watch, or that he wanted to see if the kids could "spot the difference" from yesterday. Maybe he was sleeping in, and will sneak off while we're heading to school. See, friends? Even the most disorganized among us (ahem, ME!) can have fun with it this little guy!

So, since I was in a bit of a time (and treat) crunch, and since I was WAY too tired after a 12 hour shift in the ER to whip up some elf-sized cherrios donuts, I threw together this simple letter to announce his return. 

Now you get my quandary with the rhyming, don't you? What can I say, it's a sickness.
I really like that this letter addresses another common issue I hear from some of those other people. Those who are concerned that yet another little man in a red and white suit might further take away from the true meaning of the holiday season. I actually totally understand this concern, and it's definitely valid, but I think you can add deeper meaning to just about anything. And I think sprinkling a little bit of fun in with your lessons is a great way to keep kids engaged and involved.

Since I know I'm not the only procrastinator this year, and because I had so many requests last year,  I thought I would share the blank letter template with all of you. 

You can click here for a JPG version, and here for a PDF version. I'm sort of new to this whole file-sharing world, and while I love a good DIY, no one has ever accused me of being tech savvy. Tips, complaints, and any better ideas are more than welcomed in the comments! Since I know some will want to know, the fonts I used on my letter are Bebas Neue and Contribute on the letterhead, and Mountains of Christmas for the body of the letter. 

I hope this helps all of you Elf Lovers, and maybe even converts a few of you Scrooges out there. Oh, and be prepared for plenty more Elf posts this month. I might be a little obsessed.


{Perseverance} Life Lessons from the Space Derby

I think there are some quintessential childhood lessons that we all must learn. Some are hard, some are easy, some are funny, and some are earned by blood, sweat and tears. They come in many forms from small moments, to big events, conversations and questions, personal prayer and schoolhouse woes. As a Mother, I spend a fair amount of time thinking about these lessons. Looking for opportunities to share, to impart wisdom, and to shape my children into the adults I hope they will someday become. Sometimes, though, these moments fall into our laps, with no prompting from me. Sometimes, they come from the strangest places, even the cultural hall at the church, in the midst of a Space Derby.

Before we begin with the heavy stuff, can we talk about the space derby for a second? Best I can tell, it's the newest incarnation of the good old Boy Scout standard, the Pinewood Derby. The age old rite of passage that boys (and their overzealous fathers) have practiced and perfected for generations. The very same derby for which we invested a small fortune in books, supplies, and hours watching YouTube videos last year. For which we were handsomely rewarded with a second place ribbon. And by we, of course, I mean Jon  Landon. The boys in the house spent a good portion of time after the last derby planning how to improve their car, including what aerodynamic and weight placement changes they might need to make in order to exchange that second place ribbon for a first place one. So, when we received word that we were instead doing a space derby this year, we were all a little surprised and taken aback. I'm not really sure who came up with this idea, but appropriate credit must be given to the scout leaders who obviously planned carefully for it well in advance, with field trips to Lockheed Martin, and discussions about aerodynamics.  Thanks to some really fun scout activities, Landon was already primed to be excited about this new undertaking, even if his Dad was less than thrilled.

Naturally, as with any Godbold project, work on this rocket commenced in a timely manner. By which I mean that I reminded Jon and Landon about it on Saturday and they finally got busy with it on Monday. Given that the race was on Wednesday, you can see how this maybe wasn't the best plan, though it bears a striking resemblance to our typical project timeline. What can I say? We like the adrenaline rush of added pressure. After a minor disaster involving a missing bushing and an impromptu trip to the scout store, the rocket was complete, and ready for an inaugural run with a couple of hours to spare. 

Ready for action...before Derby Disaster
In the hours leading up to the derby, Landon could scarcely contain his excitement, and kept letting me know, "Mom, I'll bet I get first place. I mean, I got second last year, so I'll bet I get first this year." To which I gently reminded him that this was about fun, and sportsmanship, and that it would be great if he won, but the most important part was cheering on his friends, and the process of building the rocket. A little background on Landon, he's a very sensitive child. And also incredibly competitive. You can see how this is not always such a great combination. Hopefully, you can also see why I was maybe less than excited about the coming event. 

At 5:40, we all piled into the van and headed to the church. I know, you're already confused, as this means we arrived not only on time, but early. I'm sure no one at church knew what to make of this, either. There were 24 competitors, and Landon and Ashlyn both quickly made their way over to their friends. This left Jon and I on our own in desperately attempting to keep Harper from knocking over the (very complicated) track. I'm happy to report, we did manage to do our part, and no space derby tracks or rockets were harmed by the maniacally running and destructive one year old we had in tow.

Don't let the cuteness fool you, she's very fast...and very destructive!

As number 7, Landon was in the second heat for the derby. He watched, and cheered for the first four rockets to compete, and carefully counted out the 100 clockwise rotations required for his propeller. His rocket was docked on the track, and he made his way to the finish line. The countdown was started, the rockets were released, and then, with a VERY dramatic nosedive, Landon's rocket left the track, and hit the floor, with propeller blades going all over the place. His rocket was dead in the water (or on the gym floor), and his heart was broken. I could see he was trying very hard not to cry, and to be honest, he wasn't particularly successful at this task. We walked him over to our seats, and tried to cheer him up. He was pretty darned upset, even with some really great friends patting him on the back, and trying to cheer him up. 

Jon had a stroke of genius, and remembered that due to the previous day's debacle of the missing bushing, he had an extra propeller in the diaper bag, so he and Landon decided to head to the hall to see if they could rig something up. What I really mean, is that Landon was pretty upset, certain that all was lost, and that new glue would never dry in time for a repeat run and wasn't even sure he wanted to try to fix it. But, after a little pep talk, and maybe some not-so-gentle pushing from his impatient Mother, the boys worked together, and pieced the "Blue Baron" back together. 

As they docked his rocket for a repeat run, I couldn't help but be nervous for him. Even though I had told him to keep his head up, and be positive, I was also pretty certain the glue had not had enough drying time to hold onto the wire track. Four rockets were docked, on at a time, the boys took their places at the finish line, and they started the count down. Lo and behold, the glue held! His rocket made it to the finish. To be honest, I don't even know what place he was in, because I was so focused on his face, which was lit up in pure JOY. The smile on his face couldn't have been wider, and this Momma's heart was pretty darn full. He jumped up and down, and just had a great time racing and laughing and talking with his friends for the rest of the night. He even got a certificate at the end, for the "Blue Baron Award," which put him on Cloud 9 again.

Just look at that smile!

When we got home, we talked about the events of the night, and about what he might have learned from his experiences. First, he learned that it might be a good idea to start his rocket more than a couple of days prior to the race. Or to finish it more than a few hours before. The jury's still out on whether it's possible for a Godbold to complete a project without procrastination though, so we'll see how that shakes out next time. He also learned never to give up; that if you work hard, and persevere, you can overcome a lot of obstacles, especially if you've got some really great friends and family members by your side. 

Perseverance is defined as, "Steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success." And although it took some gentle prodding from his parents, I'm proud that Landon was able to remain steadfast, and that he was able to experience some success. I hope this will be the first of many times he is able to put the fruits of this lesson into practice in his life, and the first of many times he is able to feel the power of the love and support of family and friends. I hope he'll always know that when things get tough, while it's okay to be sad or disappointed, it's never okay to give up. Most of all, I hope he always remembers that he's got so very many people on his side, rooting for him, and willing to help him in any way we can. 

When I look forward, into the future, and think of the kind of things I want my kids to get from their time with me, this idea of having someone in their corner is always near the top of that list. I want them to know they always have someone on their side, ready to build them up. And not just one someone. A whole lot of someones willing to help them find the silver lining on a cloudy day. 

Wednesday night, I was grateful not only for fast-drying glue that defied the laws of physics, but for all of the great friends and ward members who cheered on, and supported my little boy after such a big disappointment. 

I also must admit that I can't help but hope we might go back to that good old Pinewood Derby again, next year!


My Meal Planning Routine


     It's no secret in the blog-o-sphere that meal planning is a major money saver. Way back when I had my Kitchen Revival Blog (2010...where has the time gone?!) I explained that I literally cut my grocery bills in half by planning my meals, and avoiding extra trips to the store. Five years later, I still stand by the importance of planning your meals.  But, five years later, my lifestyle has changed, and so have my needs for meal planning.

     Five years ago, I was a stay-at-home Mom of a pre-schooler and an infant, and my meal planning consisted of writing out whatever 7-10 meals sounded best to me, along with the ingredients I'd need, and any other incidentals. That was it. I didn't even have a calendar. Just an old fashioned spiral bound notebook numbered 1-10. I didn't assign each day a meal, because I didn't want to be too committed. I mean, what if I wasn't in the mood for meatloaf on Tuesday? What if I wanted chicken on Tuesday and meatloaf on Thursday? Committing those recipes to specific dates on a calendar felt way too set in stone. I wasn't a committer. I liked to keep my options (and my meat choices) open. And why not? I had all day to cook, bake, sew or binge watch Netflix. Okay, I didn't really have all day to binge watch Netflix, because we all know a 4 year old and an infant won't let you binge watch (or eat) anything. But, you get the idea.

     Fast forward to today, and I'm no longer a stay-at-home Mom to a preschooler and an infant. I'm now a part-time working Mom to a third grader, a Kindergartener, and an infant. My lifestyle now needs to accommodate school schedules, nap times, 12 hour ER shifts, baseball games, and cheer practice. I am now not only committed and scheduled, but probably OVER-scheduled, which means my meal planning needed to evolve. In fact, our lives had gotten so busy, that my meal planning had consisted of nothing more than occasionally pulling up Pinterest in the aisles of Walmart, or considering which restaurant drive-thru we should frequent on any given night. But my grocery bill, fast food bill, waistline, and nagging Mom guilt insisted that I needed a change.

     So now, I sit down each week on Sunday, and make a weekly meal planning page.  Each day is assigned a specific meal based on our plans and schedule. If I'm working a day shift, then I need a meal that I can either throw in the crock pot when I leave at 5:45 am, or one that I've previously frozen, and the hubs can just pop in the oven before I get home. If we have baseball and cheer, I might need to skip cooking and order a pizza. Planning my week like this has not only saved me time, but money, and  I can't tell you how it's cut down on the food we waste. So many weeks when I was planning meals willy-nilly, the ingredients would spoil or go bad, because I had not taken the time to consider that I simply wasn't going to have the time to make a 3 course, two hour dinner that week.

     Other, very simple things got in the way of successful shopping and cooking as well.  Things like forgetting to thaw the meat ahead of time. So, you'll notice that in my new meal planner, I included things on each day like, "thaw pork for Tuesday's dinner" on a Sunday. This reminds me what needs to be done ahead of time, and eliminates the 4:00 pm crunch of "Oh no, I forgot to lay out dinner, better hit up Chick-Fil-A." (While we're on the topic of CFA, though, can we all take a moment to thank the gods of fast food for those grilled chicken nuggets and Diet Lemonade? They are the holy grail of fast food, both delicious and relatively guilt free. Just don't mention the fries and polynesian sauce to my hips, mmmkay?)

     As usual, in my life, no matter how ridiculous it may be, I value form over function. Or rather, I value form as much as function. I knew if my meal planning lists were messy chicken scratches in a notebook, I'd never use them. I'm encouraged by things that are beautiful, and fun, and my weekly meal planner is no different. So, like any good copycat crafter, I scoured Pinterest for a planning page that would meet my needs. I stumbled on these awesome pages from Jillee, and knew I'd found what I needed. I did need to make a few tweaks though, since I start my weeks on Sunday, and her pages began with Monday, but 15 minutes in Photoshop, and I was in business.

     As far as the "Week 21" business at the top, because of my obsession with love for Project Life, I organize my life in weeks of the year. It's how I organize my digital photos, and personal journal, and since Project Life is about documenting your every day life, it was a no-brainer for me to include my meal planner in this method. It's fun too, because it will make it easy to pop this photo into a Project Life layout. How fun will it be to look back one day and see not only what we ate that week, but all of the activities we crammed into a week as well!
     Without further adieu, this week's meal planning sheet:


     Do you have other tips and tricks you use for meal planning? I'd love to hear about them in the comments section!


My Favorite Moment

In my very first blog post, I talked about the importance of looking for meaning in the smallest moments of our lives. In fact, I challenged each of us, myself included, to take the time to really see what was in front of us each day. I'm not sure if you were doing your homework, but I was doing mine, and I felt compelled to share my thoughts and experiences tonight.

As with last time, inspiration struck at bedtime. Mine this time. Seems the only time my brain slows down enough to really take in these life lessons is when I'm too tired to drown them out. 

Each night, our bedtime routine is a little bit different. We don't have a one hour routine with a laundry list of steps, from bathtime to story time and everything in between. Sometimes the kids get a bath, sometimes a shower and sometimes they slip their tired and dirty feet between their crisp, clean (maybe?) sheets and we worry about it in the morning. Sometimes we have family book club. Most times we start a book together and never finish. Sometimes we have family meeting. Most times we have family prayer. There are usually tears. And trips downstairs for water. And dramatic requests to be tucked back in. Many times there are sleep walking trips to the silverware drawer, and extra cuddles. There is usually back scratching and bear finding. Some nights it's muskimo kisses, and others it's butterflies and lady bugs. There are "I love yous," and "I love you smaller bigs." Sometimes there are more tears. And occasionally, even some yelling; we are trying to improve that one, but what can I say? I'm human, and bedtime with three kids can feel like a battleground from time to time.

As much as we would like more consistency, we just aren't there yet. But there is one routine that never changes. One that belongs to me. One that I take part in come rain or shine, graveyard or early morning shift, tears or tickles, every single night of the year. Every single year since Landon made me a Mom. A routine that (until now) no one even knows about. 

Each night, after the last tears are shed, the last laugh has faded into silence, and the baby has finished her last evening nursing session, I have my moment. I gently lay her in her crib, and head down the hall towards Landon's room. I usually find him sprawled out all over the bed. Sometimes he's barely still on the bed. At nine years old, it's getting a little bit harder, but I gently rearrange him. Moving dangling limbs so they won't tingle, adjusting pillows so his neck won't hurt, and pulling up the covers just so. I stroke his cheek and give him a kiss, knowing that soon, this will be the only time I'll get to kiss him at all. Soon, he'll be "too cool" for that. So I linger. I scan the room for anything that might be a danger, a scattered Lego in his path to the restroom, the sash from his robe hanging from his bed, too close to his precious neck. Satisfied that all is well, I sneak out, leaving his door cracked so the heat will get in, and so I know that I can hear him if he needs me in the night. 

One child down, I gently pad down the hallway, picking up toys, making sure the sink is off and the lid is down on the toilet, lest anyone drown while I sleep. Tonight, I notice that it's April and their mini Christmas tree is still up, with ornaments on the floor. I move them out of the footpath and make a mental note to get a tote and pack that away, marveling at how easy it is to stop noticing things we pass every day. 

I continue on and check the thermostat to make sure it won't be too chilly for Harper, who isn't yet old enough to safely sleep with a blanket, and then I head into Addy's room. I usually find her in the same position where she finally gave up the fight and fell asleep. Blankets just so, and any random permutation of toys lined up next to her in bed. I'm careful in here, and I have to move more quickly, since she's a much lighter sleeper than her brother. I work in opposite order. Clearing paths and removing hazards before I sneak up to her bed. I linger but a moment, risking a quiet hand on her chest, feeling the gentle rise and fall and the soft beating of her heart. I marvel at how peaceful she is, compared to the constant state of motion when she is awake. I often silently apologize for not being more patient with her antics, for I know one day, I will wish she needed me to scratch her back, or lay with her for just one more minute. If I'm feeling particularly brave, I bend down for a quick, soft kiss, and often she stirs, opening her eyes just enough to smile and drift back off to dreamland. Sometimes I even get a "love you Mom," or a slightly accusatory "you woke me up." Then, like any sane and responsible mother, I hightail it out of there before she's fully awake and we're all in trouble. 

Finally I head back into my room, where sweet Harper still sleeps in her crib. I begin to silently chastise myself for having a nine month old still in my room, but I know deep down, neither of us want it any other way. I carefully reach my hand down into the crib and rest it on her side, waiting for that reassuring swell of her tummy, letting me know she's still here, still safe and still at rest. I usually gently pull a foot from between the bars, or move a head from resting against the rails. I briefly consider rolling her to her back, but finally, at nine months old, I've come to realize those efforts are futile. So instead I stroke her soft, fine hair and utter a silent prayer that she will be safe and protected as she sleeps. Then, I  take a deep breath and turn back to my bed.

It is this moment I live for each night. This one moment in the long, and frenetic day that I feel totally and completely filled. In a brain that's always swirling with fears, and plans, and extraneous thoughts, I feel totally at peace. And more than that, I feel whole and content, and surprisingly, I feel powerful. I realize that as a Mother, there are so many times I feel powerless. Times when I can't predict their futures or be there to protect them twenty four hours a day. Times where I feel inadequate to the task, unprepared and terrified about the job I must be doing. But I realized tonight, walking back to my bed, that in these small motions, the gentle moving of body parts, the adept scanning and removal of anything that could harm them, in these stolen, secret moments of observation and reflection, of blanket adjusting and bear finding, I've found my strength, and my confidence. I realize that I've never felt more like a "real mother," than I do in these moments, in these motions, and what a feeling that is. In this moment, with Jonathon gently snoring in the background, I realize that I've got all I'll ever need. That in each other, we've all got everything we'll ever need. Within steps of our bed. You want to talk joy, and contentment? That is it, sister. In this moment, I feel joyful, and I feel content, and so deeply grateful. This moment is my favorite.

{I actually wrote this post from my phone, at about 11:00 pm on April 15. As usual, life got busy, and I never published it, but I'm sharing it with you now. The only difference between tonight, and April 15 is that the kids' miniature Christmas tree is, in fact, put away now. That, and the fact that Harper is now, unbelievably, 10 months old. And still in my room.}


Cleaning House: Kids' Behavior Tracker

I've been trying to focus a lot lately on cleaning house, both literally, and metaphorically.  You see, for the last 8.5 months, we've been suffering from  blessed with what I'm lovingly referring to as "Third Baby Syndrome." In our case, Third Baby Syndrome (TBS) has been augmented by Colicky Baby Syndrome, or CBS, Refluxing Baby Syndrome (RBS) and my personal favorite, Up Every Hour Baby Syndrome, UEHBS, or "give me caffeine," for short. All of these acronyms boil down to us having been functioning solely in survival mode for the better part of a year. Which means that our house has taken a backseat, falling into a bit of disarray, which is not something we're accustomed to here.

I'm firmly in the Type A camp, where a clean house, well-behaved kids, and well-defined boundaries are a part of the territory. In fact, if you must know, vacuum lines in the carpet make my heart sing, and heaven knows we haven't seen enough of those lately. But perhaps the biggest change in our lives since Harper has joined our family has been in the dynamic of family rules, expectations, and discipline. Or in the complete lack thereof. In the fray of bedtime nursing sessions, bleary eyed mornings, frantic taxi driving, and the general chaos that ensues when a house is full of more children than able bodied adults, we've been sort of shooting from the hip when it comes to enforcing rules, defining consequences, and rewarding good behavior. And if you've got children, you can probably already see the vicious cycle we've been creating here, with respect to our older children. Chaos breeds inconsistency, which breeds disobedience and confusion, which leads to more chaos, and the circle continues, ad nauseum.

So, in an effort to emerge from the chaos into a new, sustainable family dynamic, I've been looking at ways to organize, simplify, and clean up our house, and in turn, our lives.  After a few too many late afternoon screaming sessions, it was clear that the first place to start was with a clear system of rewards and reminders for our kids to live by. Something that was simple for them to follow, and simple for us to maintain, and most importantly, a system which reduced the amount of yelling, arguing, pleading, negotiating, and general frustration between parent and child. I've been researching chore systems, allowance and money systems, and general behavioral systems. My ultimate goal is to come up with a comprehensive, yet simple, system for managing our expectations for our children, as well as celebrating their accomplishments. I'm a firm believer that while consequences are necessary, positive reinforcement is the best way to raise your child. After all, we're not simply trying to train them, but to support them, nurture them, and encourage them to become independent people who can be proud of their contributions to society.

To that end, I came up with Phase One of my parenting system, which is this Behavior Tracker. Landon's school uses a similar system, a clip chart to monitor each student's behavioral progression throughout the day. I have to admit that I was pretty skeptical that a simple clothespin could motivate 24 elementary school students, but I've been so impressed with its success. Each day Landon finishes the day on the Amazing level, he comes home so excited to tell me. The look of pride on his face is clear evidence that the system is working, and it does a Mother's heart good to see that in her child's face. It's pretty remarkable too, especially when you consider the only "prize" for receiving the highest clip level is the bragging rights associated with it. I reworked the language of this clip chart to more accurately reflect a home environment, and to highlight the goals for behavior here at home. I did choose to keep the neutral level, or starting point for the day, as "Ready to Learn," because something I try to teach my kids is that we all have something to learn each and every day. Even the grown ups. When we stop learning, we stop living. I was very purposeful in choosing the wording for the other levels as well.  You will notice that the second negative clip level is "5 Minute Reflection," and not simply, "Time Out." Because in our house, at least, all too often Time Outs are simply a time for stomping, screaming, or even toy playing, counting down the minutes until it's over. A reflection however, indicates what this time should really be used for instead, reflecting on negative behavior and ways to improve our choices.

I'm deeming this project Phase One, because I haven't yet decided how I will incorporate this system into our overall parenting system, which will include allowance and chore systems, and because I also haven't yet decided how I want to reward the kids for consistently reaching Amazing status. A prize every day becomes too redundant, but bragging rights at home only go so far. I also want to include a way to recognize, and remember specific acts which helped them to meet their goals. I've pinned several systems, and will probably combine a few elements from each to come up with a plan that fits our family. I'll try to keep the blog updated on our progress.

Once I decided to make a chart, I started perusing Pinterest for ideas on how to make it. (Can we take a moment to truly admire our parents for all the great ideas that they came up with without the help of Pinterest? Seriously, I can't imagine parenting, or crafting, or cooking without it!) All of the charts I saw, however, were too "elementary school" looking for my tastes. You see, I knew immediately I wanted the tracker to be out in the open, in our main living area, where the kids can always see it, and access it, and I've spent a lot of time thoughtfully designing the decor in the house. While I wanted it to continue to be kid friendly, I also didn't want this tracker to completely destroy my decorating mojo. Also, as crazy as it may be, I function better when I'm surrounded by things I find beautiful, clean, and interesting. So I knew if the style weren't up to par, this chart would never last long enough in my living room to be utilized.

So, I've been patiently filing this idea in the back of my head, waiting to be inspired for a design. And one afternoon last week, walking through Hobby Lobby, inspiration struck when I walked past this beauty:
As soon as I saw it, I knew it was perfect for the project, and for my house. It's vaguely beachy, with pops of mint & aqua, and straight clean lines that perfectly lend themselves to columns on a chart. At 50% off, it was a match made in crafting heaven. In the cart, and home she came, along with a bunch of other unplanned, but totally necessary purchases.

At home, I used my trusty Silhouette Cameo machine to cut out vinyl lettering for each level of behavior. I've included a free cut-file of the levels at the end of this post, in case you'd like to make one yourself. Yes, I know, it's Cricut transfer paper I'm using for my Silhouette projects. What can I say? I'm a traitor.

{Vinyl Tip} I use a little craft stick (popsicle stick) to rub the outline of each letter of my vinyl onto the transfer paper, and again from the transfer paper to the surface I'm sticking it to. This is especially important with thin, skinny items like this font. It helps it to adhere better, and saves you from having a sore pointer finger after all of that rubbing. Also, it works better!

I measured each phrase to find the center, and then matched it to the center of each space on the tray. This is fantastically more detailed than I usually am when crafting. I'm pretty much an eyeballer when it comes to any sort of measuring project, but since Jon was manning the baby, and I wasn't in any hurry, I figured I'd actually take the extra step.

Once all of the vinyl was adhered, I needed a way to mark each child's progress for the day. I mulled over several ways to attach their names, and decided on mini-clothespins which I simply hot-glued to the tray. I'm not convinced at the longevity of hot glued clothespins under tiny hands, but it's the best I've got for now. I'll have to let you know how it holds up, as well as what other method I use if/when they fail. I'm also open for suggestions, if you have some!

Overall, I'm pleased with the finished result. The only thing left to do is to make each child a name tag, which I think I'm going to do by simply printing their names on some card stock, and laminating them. The kids are actually super excited to use this, so I can't wait to get it hung, and see how it helps us all to fulfill our roles in the family. 

Click Here for link to Free Cut File for Titles. {Personal Use Only, Please}