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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

9 Toys You (Probably) Won't Regret Giving Your Kids

It's the first week of December and I'm sure that you, like me, are in the thick of shopping for friends, family and your own children this week. When considering what to gift my children for Christmas I'm always torn between buying something they'll enjoy and buying something I won't regret bringing into our home.

You see my daughter sleeps with a plastic bracelet from Chuck E. Cheese's under her pillow. My youngest's favorite book is missing pages crucial to the plot and no back cover. My older boys have a collection of empty gum packages displayed like rare stamps on top of their dresser. These are not people with a taste for the finer things in life - so when my kids are given a quality toy that stands up to their abuse and that I don't hate, we're all pleasantly surprised.

The following toys are ones that, no matter how many times I find them under the couch or step on them in a dark living room at 6am, I am rarely tempted to throw away. These are classics, the keepers, the toys that have proven their staying power for both girls and boys, 3 year olds and 7 year olds, mild-mannered and/or insanely rambunctious children.

Legos or Lego Duplos
No list would be complete without them because, they epitomize classic childhood play. Boys like them, girls like them, Dads like them, Moms like to organize them (is that just me?) We were lucky enough to inherit BJ's full set of Legos, but we've easily doubled our collection since Elijah began playing with them as a five-year old. Prior to playing with these classic Legos, we bought a starter kit of Lego Duplos, which they all still happily construct with when I pull them out. Yes, you will step on them and teach your children curse words. Yes, they will forgive you because - Legos.

Educo Wooden Kitchen
Britain received this for Christmas four years ago and it's been played with everyday since. I highly recommend the Melissa & Doug cookie baking set and the Melissa & Doug Cutting Food set to go with it - both are favorites with all my kids and virtually every friend who comes over to play. Again, both my boys and daughter use this equally and BONUS! it's lovely to look at.

Wooden blocks
I found these at Goodwill years ago for $4 - still can't believe what a steal that was. This set is similar to what we play with daily. These blocks have formed the banks of the Nile River, served as a garage for untold numbers of matchbox cars, been used as Dominoes, car ramps, fortresses and Nerf gun targets. They are sturdy, open-ended play pieces that your grandkids will play with just as readily as your own kids. Even if you can't find them at the thrift-store, worth the money.

Fisher-Price Batman ride-on car
How I wish this were not one of my kids' favorites. Everything about it offends my minimalist, non-plastic-loving, Montessori-preferring sensibilities. But my kids love this thing dearly. Elijah (7.5) still sits on it with knees crunched against his chest and rips down the hallway chasing younger siblings. It is an ambulance, a getaway car, a minivan, a horse. The older kids rarely if ever play with the car ramp component on the front, but as toddlers that part delighted them all. It's held up to more than 5 years of abuse, and it's from Fisher-Price, so although I wish it were made from up-cycled bamboo by hipster Scandinavians who surf on their lunch break, it's been a keeper.

Dress-up clothes

My parents had the brilliant idea several Christmases ago to gift the grandkids the ultimate dress up bin. It was full of masks, swords and costumes they bought for 75% off at Wal*Mart and Target just after Halloween. It may be too late for you to snag those kinds of deals now, but these capes are a great start to any dress-up collection.. As far as costumes go, my kids love any and everything. Capes, masks and especially accessories like walkie-talkies, glasses, hats and belts.

Nerf Foam Sword
Yes, it is expensive "for a foam sword" Yes, it has the word "zombie" in its name. It has neon green accents and no, it is not beautiful to look at. But if any toy in our home has been subjected to years of daily, brutal abuse, it is this one. This sword has not bent or broken in over 5 years of battle, inappropriate use and general wear and tear. The boys have broken every other play sword and light saber we have gifted them, but this one has survived relatively unscathed. (And for those of you with girls...Britain uses it as a crutch when she plays make-believe...)

Tinker Toys
My in-laws gifted us this set when Elijah was a toddler and the kids create with them all the time. These are Wolverine claws, guns (-sigh-), spaceships, Chinese throwing stars (-sigh-), Harry Potter wands, teacher pointers, pencils, etc. I have been shocked by their longevity and I love seeing what new use the kids will put them to next. Again, sturdy, classic, quality toys. (I'm seeing now that apparently we are slightly biased toward building toys.) 

Balance bike
Our kids love this bike and BJ and I love how quickly they have all transitioned to pedal bikes after starting on this model. The seat of this particular one goes the lowest of all the ones we looked it, so you can start your kid on it around 2/2.5 depending on their legs. It also has the best foot rests once your kiddo is really cruising. There are cheaper models out there, but this one has held up to more than 5 years of continual use - it's a quality bike. Jude just started cruising the neighborhood on it last week.

Tonka Classic Steel Mighty Dump Truck
Honestly, my kids rarely if ever use the dump truck function on this bad-boy anymore. Britain sits in the bed and propels herself forward on her heels, her "wheelchair" getting her around the house in style. Elijah sets one knee in the dump and uses his hands to wheel down the hallway like some erratic scooter. Seems like good ab-work to me. Ben and Jude actually do use the dump as intended. They love collecting other toys or blocks and dumping them into bins, boxes and bowls. Works particularly well to clean up Legos. This thing is made of metal and has held up to my four monkeys using it entirely inappropriately for YEARS.

Would love to know what toys have proven themselves over and over again at your house - share in
the comments!

More gift guides from Crazy Joy: For newborns and their mamas: hereFor moms: here and here.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

If It Feels Like You're the One Making All the Magic this Christmas

You know that scene from the Wizard of Oz where Dorothy and her friends finally get an audience with the wizard? This grand disembodied voice is shouting madly, billows of smoke and flashing lights have the four friends completely captivated...and then Toto pulls back a curtain to reveal that the "great and powerful Oz" is just a little man with a microphone wildly manipulating levers and buttons? Picture that man and you'll have a pretty good idea of me the first year I had kids at Christmas.

I was running around between nursing sessions, stringing up half-burnt out strands of lights and trying to finish off our handmade stockings with faux-fur trim (I know y'all...I know). All around me bells were ringing and people were fa-la-la-la-ing and over at my house I was yelling, "pay no attention to the lady behind the curtain!" while making four different kinds of Christmas cookies I had no business eating.

It occurred to me that year that Christmas doesn't feel so magical when you're the one making all the magic.

That Christmas the kids didn't care about the presents I'd carefully selected and wrapped with love,  they played with the Amazon box they came in and expressed their thanks by throwing up on the brand-new sweater the hubs had given me. I felt so defeated by the whole ordeal. There was no joy in my world, no jolly in my season. And ever since that insane Christmas as a family of four, I've tried to lower my expectations for what this season "should" look like at this stage of life.

I've stopped baking Christmas cookies almost entirely and rely on invites to the in-laws or my mom's house to have the goodies I'm so sentimental about. It seems I'm constantly needing to shave an inch or two off my waist anyway, so this is really a win-win.

Every year fewer boxes come down from the attic and fewer decorations make their way into the house. Gone are the twinkly glass Christmas trees that used to live on the coffee table and the massive snow globe that plays 'O Christmas Tree' (which was used as a bludgeoning weapon the last time I put it out...)  

We still buy a real tree, but I've gone from hanging three boxes of ornaments on branches to only putting out a curated selection (on the very highest branches). We still hang stockings but I no longer change out my everyday kitchen linens for ones embroidered with Christmas trees and holiday sayings. Keep it simple is my mantra for the holidays nowadays.

If you're the crazy person behind the curtain at your house this year, might I make a few suggestions?

Pick one party to attend and decline all the other invites. 
Maybe don't put up the holiday village this year?
Ask the grandparents to have your kids over to their house to bake and decorate cookies. 
Get your tree from Home Depot instead of the gorgeous tree farm that is an hour away. 

If taking the kids ice skating downtown defines the season for you, make that a priority but skip caroling with neighbors. If sending Christmas cards is a must, then order them online and pay a little extra to have them addressed and mailed directly to your family and friends.

Pretty soon the kids will care more about watching A Christmas Story than pulling all the ornaments off the tree and in the mean-time, no one will care that your gifts all came straight from Amazon instead of the local fair-trade boutique.

When it comes down to it, it turns out that Christmas is a pretty magical season even without all the Pinterest perfection.

More great advice on how to keep Christmas stress-freee from two moms I greatly admire:

Christmas Guidance for Moms (Clover Lane blog)
How Do I Make the Holidays Run Smoothly? (Wire Talk LIVE w/ Karen Stubbs) 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Slowing Down This Season

I fumbled to the bathroom at 4:59am and couldn't get back to sleep. There's a long to-do list today. Family is on their way into town, there's a 12 pound turkey in the fridge that needs to be brined and I really wanted to connect with you guys before the holiday season is officially underway.

Thanksgiving is my very favorite holiday of them all - it's so pure and simple. Hundreds of years later, here we are, about to gather around a table, eat good food and give thanks for it. I love the new Friendsgiving tradition and the way this holiday seems to hover above the fray of commercialism that all other holidays have been sucked into. (Although yes, I have the Publix salt and pepper shaker pilgrims and would die for a matching pair of Indians...)

I'm off social media for a while (haven't you've been missing me??) - I'll pop on to post this and hope to write a few entries during the month of December, so email subscribers, no worries! But if you only catch the blog when I post on FB or IG, maybe subscribe via email so you don't miss anything? I'm struggling to manage the ever-present pull of social media with the need to be ever-present in my day-to-day routine, so I think it's best I back away from the smartphone and re-assess.

I'll leave you with this simple list, let me know what you're drinking, feeling, bookmarking in the comments? 

wearing: an old t-shirt with a hole in the collar, joggers and slippers
drinking: coffee coffee there another drink to be had at 5:30am? 
listening: to Una Mattina by Ludovico Einaudi (I love me a good pianist before the sun rises) 
wanting: these pre-dawn hours to be less-fleeting
smelling: my Voluspa candle in Baltic Amber, I'm obsessed
feeling: peaceful. Is there any other way to feel when you're awake before the world?
making: margarita pound cake today for a bridal shower this weekend...fingers crossed it turns out
wishing: some of my high school girls (who are now college girls, but who will always be high school girls to me) would come visit while they're home for the holidays. Hint Hint.
watching: BJ and I just started The Crown on Netflix, so far so good! 
enjoying: hearing Elijah read to Jude before bedtime - it's hard to say who is most delighted with this new development: Jude, me or Elijah. 
eating: clean! I started tracking my macros this past week again, it always helps me to keep an eye on nutrition during a month where it's so easy to go off the rails 
hopingJude phases out of this whole screaming "NO!" act real quick
lovingmy new volunteer commitment with Birds on a Wire MomsI get to talk to adults AND contribute to a ministry that has given so much to me... #winning
bookmarking: my Bible. I've been filling up on the Psalms this morning and think I might want an Advent study to do this year, any suggestions? 

Happy Thanksgiving friends! I'm so grateful you read and respond to this little space where I share my heart.

Friday, November 11, 2016

A Sacrifice for Strangers

Never in the history of the world 
has any soldier sacrificed more for the freedom 
and liberty of total strangers than the American soldier.  
~Zell Miller 

I didn't grow up in a military family and didn't really have friends who did. To this 1980s child, war was a thing that happened far away and in the movies. I had a soldier pen pal in 2nd grade who flew bombers over the Middle East. I wrote a few letters and sent a few care packages to soldiers serving overseas post 9/11. For the most part though, a soldier's sacrifice is hard to wrap my brain around and warfare is something that happens far far away. 

Today I want to say thank you to the soldiers I have known. Both of my grandfathers - who served overseas in World War II and the Korean War. Thank you for leaving your families and the comfort of the known to defend the defenseless and offer your strength to those in need of it. 

To my amazing in-laws Bill and Debbie who served for many many years and sacrificed time with their young children and the stability of living in one place in order to proudly serve in the Air Force both here and abroad, thank you so much. The values you passed along to my husband, so many of which were demonstrated through your service in the military have been and will continue to be a great blessing to our family. 

And to all the military wives I have the privilege to know - I see you patiently enduring the home front. Getting the kids off to school by yourself, finding a friend to cover for "Donuts with Dad", Skyping late at night and early in the morning so your husbands can connect with your kids. You are the cornerstone of your family during these years...thank you for a sacrifice that so often goes unnoticed. 

It is something I think about far too little but am truly grateful for - to have never known war in my hometown because of soldiers willing to fight thousands of miles from theirs. Thank you for giving up holidays at home, higher paying jobs, comfortable beds, the security of the First World, your children's birthdays and a thousand other things only you will ever know you sacrificed. 

Thank you for your courage, your honor and your selflessness. Happy Veteran's Day.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Hard is Okay Sometimes

"...for we know suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character, hope..." 

Being a Mom is hard.

I'm seven years into this gig, currently homeschooling four little kids age seven and under and quite often not talking to another adult until the afternoon (on a good day) or the evening when my husband gets home. I also happen to be an extreme extrovert and most days it feels hard.

The primary mode of communication around here is very transactional:

You want a banana? I'm sorry, when you asked for an apple, I assumed you wanted an APPLE. 

Please stop running your bike into the garage door.

No, sorry I don't want to read any more books right now.

No, you cannot eat your sandwich in the bathroom.

Your brother hit you? Work it out.

What do you mean you want grapes? You just asked for a banana!

There's about a 30 minute window each day, usually right around lunch time, when my brain, which supposedly thrives on multitasking and being with people, maxes out and starts to misfire.

When quiet time arrives (less quiet these days than it used to be, but at least the toddler is napping and the others know they need to self-entertain) my brain-dead brain just wants to space out. But it also craves adult interaction and friendship and community. So instead of picking up a novel or taking a nap, I'll find myself hidden in a corner (or as of this week, in the pantry...eating their Halloween candy...) scrolling.

And scrolling.

And scrolling.

And it scratches the itch. I see smiling faces of friends I know and love. I read the inspiring caption of a blogger I admire, appreciate the beauty of another adult's creative pursuits, read their words, encourage them with a quick comment.

But it's a 2D substitute for the flesh and spirit I'm really craving.

The other day I asked my sister  (somewhat ironically, but mostly completely seriously) "how do I make friends?" She deadpanned back, "I think you have to leave your house."

Hmm. Leaving my house is a complicated proposition at best, made less-appealing by the fact that I'm supposed to spend my day educating these children rather than in search of friendship.


I grew up in the 80s and 90s, the era when self-esteem was all the rage. Those decades when coaches started giving us all a trophy for showing up and teachers stopped using red pen to correct essays lest we felt our work wasn't as good as everyone else's.

Somewhere in my formative years I internalized the message that things ought to come easily to me. And if something didn't, I ought to put it down and go find something that did come easily. In high school and college this was easy enough. I dropped classes, dropped relationships, dropped sports, dropped after-school clubs. As adults we operate in a society where it's easy to quit a job, end a pregnancy or leave a marriage that is difficult. I have to fight my innate desire to drop things that aren't easy.

I'm lonely these days. And lonely feels embarrassing and a little pathetic. As someone who is 99% extroverted, lonely is basically my worst nightmare. Lonely is hard.

Friends are difficult to make and friendship is difficult to maintain in this season. It feels really hard some days. But as I teach my kids each day, I'm discovering along the way that maybe hard is okay.

Hard doesn't mean you're doing something wrong.

Hard doesn't mean you need to quit.

Hard doesn't mean you made a bad decision, you're a failure or that you need to seek an out.

Every now and then hard is an indication that you are being pig-headed about whatever it is or truly doing something wrong, but sometimes life is hard. Seasons are difficult. And there are untold lessons to be learned in the persevering.

Homeschooling could be difficult because it's not the right season or the right thing at all for our family. Next year I may have three kids in the public school across the street. And I pray for wisdom and the discernment to make that change if we need to.

But then again, it could be that this feels hard because it is hard. And maybe, just maybe, hard is okay sometimes.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Family Update #5

Today we were in the pediatrician's office and a beautiful mom with a tiny baby was checking out right behind us. We were trading compliments on our babies' hair color (hers = jet black, mine = snow white) when she realized the three kids at my waist were mine as well.

Wide-eyed she gasped, "Oh my gosh you have your hands full!" (which by the way I don't get annoyed at hearing when it comes from the mouth of a desperately sleep-deprived new mom)

I gave my now-standard "yeah, but it's a lot of fun" as she was walking away and then felt inspired to call out from across the room, "it gets so much easier!" 

She turned and gave me a questioning look. "Really?"

"Definitely. I cried everyday when my baby was that old. This...(motioning to my brood of kids scrambling over one another to get the best position in front of the lobby aquarium) is way easier than that age (pointing to her babe) was for me." 

"Oh wow. It does feel really hard right now. Thanks." She adjusted the diaper bag on her shoulder and opened the door with one hand, the other cradling her tiny baby against her chest. 

I thought to myself that even though it's louder and more expensive and I find myself requiring more alone time to recharge - it really does feel easier these days.

BJ and I have both said that we feel like we're on the precipice of a lot of fun with this crew. Like we're on a roller coaster ride and so far we've been on the slow journey up to the top of the big drop. We've heard the ride is fast and exhilarating but right now we're sitting back at a 45 degree angle moving incredibly slowly, terrified that at any moment the train will come unhitched from the tracks and we'll tumble backwards in a crumpled heap of metal and bone. When we focus on the good we see incredible views to the side and a gorgeous sky above - but we know there's more to this ride than we're experiencing. A few more years and I have a feeling we'll be screaming down the other side of the hill, hands in the air, smiles a mile wide. 

For the moment, we're trying to focus on the good - which there is so very much of. 

BJ & Katie
The Parents

We celebrate 11 years of marriage next month - dang! This guy is my best friend, my confidant, my foot-rubber, my help-mate, my eye-candy, my inspiration and my soul-lover. He's the one I always hope the text is from, the one I can't wait to see in the afternoon and the one who keeps me honest. Also, he's told me it's unattractive when I raise my eyebrows like this in pictures. Whatever.

The First Born

Likes: earning and counting money, reading the Magic Tree House series
Dislikes: raisins, writing, things that are "not fair" 
Frequently Spotted: creating spaceships and machines out of Legos
Special Skills: this kid can now mow the lawn all by himself. He charges $4 for doing so and would love to come mow your lawn provided his mom can give him a ride and you can start the mower up for him. 
Noteworthy Accomplishments: Yesterday he rode his bike out on the bike trails behind our house solo for the first time and did not get hurt or abducted - it was a big moment for this mama. 

The Only Girl

Likes: anything "high schoolers" do, talking, reading, make-believing
Dislikes: foods not primarily composed of dairy and/or wheat molecules, sleeping
Frequently Spotted: reading the Pinkalicious "Flower Girl" book & practicing for an upcoming starring role in her aunt's wedding
Special Skills: expressing emotion ("Daddy the grass feels delightful today!" "Mom, the boys make me crazy inside, don't you wish we could all just be girls?")
Noteworthy Accomplishments: even though karate is not her favorite ("I would rather be a singer girl than a karate girl, but I need a little more practice before I can sing on TV...") she did earn her Advanced Green belt last month alongside her big brother and is determined to make it to black belt. 

The Middle Child

Likes: back rubs, snuggling, one-on-one attention
Dislikes: tying his shoes, wearing "long shorts" (aka pants)
Frequently Spotted: carrying around his beloved and bedraggled night-night 
Special Skills: playing up or down. This kid can be Jude's buddy one minute and Elijah's the next. Yesterday he and his sister spent 2.5 hours outside in their tree house in a magical make-believe world.
Noteworthy Accomplishments: Last night he ate four servings of spaghetti at dinner, which was helpful as his siblings ate a combined zero.  

The Baby

Likes: singing in the morning, balls of any kind, wresting with siblings
Dislikes: sharing, apologizing
Frequently Spotted: wearing over-sized rain boots and pajamas at noon
Special Skills: climbing out of his crib, performing naked somersaults at a run
Noteworthy Accomplishments: this kid talks more and has done so earlier than any of our other kiddos. To the chagrin of the other kids, he's now perfectly capable of outing them for not treating him fairly. 

The Dog

Our laid-back chocolate labrador passed away in late September. She died peacefully at home while being petted by BJ, her very favorite human. Estimated to be somewhere in her late 80s, Dakota is missed every time we have to clean up food we've dropped on the floor (which is quite often as you might imagine). Her ears were the silkiest, her eyes the chocolatest. There will be no replacement puppies. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Going Grey

“Your sister asked for Taylor Swift and I’m not changing songs again until this song is over!” I locked eyes with the 6 year old in the rearview mirror to make sure he got my point. That’s when I caught sight of the barely recognizable mousy brown-haired girl in the driver’s seat. "Ugh, I'm so overdue for highlights." I reached up and smoothed down the hair on either side of my part, realizing that without the assistance of my quarterly foils, I had essentially become a brunette.

I eased into a left-hand turn, still glaring at the unfamiliar woman in the mirror, when a glint at the crown of my head caught my eye. "What was that? Surely… no. It couldn't be. It's not. Is it?" I straightened out the wheel and cast a more thorough glance into the mirror.

Rolling to a stop at a red light, I probed my part, isolating the sparkling strand from her more modest sisters. There she was, sticking straight up like a proud first grader's hand, begging for attention... the rest over at Coffee+Crumbs today. And you might want to grab a cup of coffee before you go, I wouldn't be surprised if you find yourself reading more words than mine.  

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

How Homeschool's (Really) Going

Some of y'all may have seen on Facebook that I took a bit of a blog hiatus last month because I was too busy losing my mind to write lovely posts about how I'm nailing motherhood/homeschooling/wifeing. The school year started out like most things do: high on hopes and dreams and low on reality. By the end of Week 3 the wheels were starting to fall off the bus.

Homeschooling has been hard. My classroom consists of an unmotivated 2nd grader, a precocious Kindergartener, a rambunctious four year old and one very loud and very opinionated two year old - who has a penchant for pooping in the middle of particularly hands-on lessons.

Learning: patterns and shapes
 Illuminating: our first names
 Discovering: turtles like mushrooms
 Baking: Brownies 101
Creating: biome models
Destroying: what once was lovely and good
 Observing: a failed science experiment
Escaping: the home part of school
Drawing: a Viking longship
Pretending: SpiderMan vs. Thor
Feasting: Like royalty

It hasn't helped that I'm very much an all-or-nothing kind of person. I laid out my August and September work-out plan right alongside my kids' lesson plans and was dutifully getting up each morning at 6am to get in the workout (Insanity...should have taken a hint there...) and a shower before throwing up a quick Hail Mary and greeting the kids at 7am.

By the end of Week 5 everything just seemed really hard. I was overwhelmed by four distinct personalities, two different grade levels of curriculum, three tornadoes of testosterone and one dramatic diva. Each moment of peace was shattered before I could sink into it. Each lesson was interrupted. Each one of us cried at some point each day.

I felt like I could ace homeschooling if only it weren't for my 2 year old. Or maybe it's my second grader who's the issue. Yes, I'd be fine and in total control if my second grader were less stubborn. Maybe both school-age kids should be in school...then I could go back in time and live my pre-school mom life! Mornings at the park and Bible studies with childcare included....Or maybe I just need a Parent's Morning Out program! Then I could ship off both the little guys and just be a teacher for the morning...I spent each afternoon replaying the morning to figure out what needed tweaking.

Week 6 ended with me having a come-to-Jesus with my second grader. It wasn't a pretty conversation, I'm quite certain I handled it badly. There was a toddler banging on the locked door while I talked to his back as he lay in his bunk above me. I told him he could do school here or he could do school down the street, but I refused to fight with him over it anymore.

In Week 7 I let our science curriculum slide. And I let my workouts slide. I replaced spelling lessons with read-alouds and we limped into Fall Break happy to have survived.

Last week was Fall Break. We slept late and read a lot and my second-grader wrote a beautiful essay about our dog completely without prompting. (Writing is one of the subjects we specialize in fighting over.) It was glorious and just what my soul needed. This week we're forging ahead. I don't really have a different game plan. I did buy candy and toys from the Dollar Store and if the kids get through school with no attitude, they can choose a prize at the end of the week.

I'm still convinced less-school is a good thing at their age. I still believe learning to pull their weight with chores and to speak respectfully to mom and dad are more important than reading at grade level.  I still love our slow mornings and the sound of their voices blending in protest as I close our read-aloud. I still dream of the possibilities that open up when high schoolers are homeschooled.

But I'm praying more and trying to hold this precious homeschool dream, this thing I wanted to do even before I wanted to have kids, with open hands.

Lord you created these kids and you gave them to us. You created us and you know our hearts and hopes intimately. Would you guide us and lead us into your best for us in this season?

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

3 Times You're Holding Your Toddler The Wrong Way (*Video*)

There are times in your little love's life when it's incredibly important they be still and it just so happens that those are usually the times when they are least likely to want to stay still.

Ever tried to hold down a squirmy toddler and change their dirty diaper? Or suction out snot from their tiny tiny nostrils? Or my least favorite... at the doctor's office when it's time for shots?

My pediatric nurse of a sister and one of my friends heard my frustration in these situations as a newer mama and graciously taught me their ways.

I've realized over the years that a lot of my friends have never used these holds (which is why I always recommend having a nurse for a sister.) so for all of you who haven't seen these techniques, please enjoy the first ever video tutorial in the history of this blog - and forgive my voice, poor camera skills and everything else that is amateur-hour about this video.

Knowing how to hold my toddler at these times has made me a saner mama and has resulted in less-traumatized kids. It's my hope that these help you out the next time you find yourself with a squirmy toddler in a high-stakes situation! Let me know your thoughts in the comments and as always, thanks for reading/watching. :)

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Aging with Grace

I turned 34 this summer. So far in this life birthdays haven't given me much pause. My birthday lands on a national holiday so there's always pomp and circumstance I don't have to manufacture and I am generally able to be swept along in the celebration without much thought to what the passing of time means.

This year feels different.

As I glide inevitably into middle age I can't help but notice the toll life has taken on my body. I used to look at other girls' chests with envy. I've always had small boobs and in high school I was pained by them. After I had kids I started envying stomachs. Flat, smooth, slightly concave stomachs.  I knew I'd never have that again.

This past year I started noticing foreheads. I now admire a smooth forehead the way a car junkie admires a late model GTO. I have been known to Google actresses to confirm my suspicion that their foreheads have had a little TLC.

When I'm 60 will I (ridiculously) envy the tight elbows of 40 year olds? At some point I have to make peace with the process of growing old.

I've heard it said that whatever you base your worth on will be the standard by which you are judged. How much of my confidence have I placed in this fragile body that is dying day by day? Do I expect a place at the table because of the way I look? Or have I carved out a life based on the contributions of my heart and soul in the lives of others? One will carry me through to the end, the other is fading daily.

That's the reason for the big header picture of me in a two-piece. Yup - a bikini pic. On the world-wide web for all to see. I never would have posted the picture above in my twenties. I would have worried what everyone else would have thought.

My legs look wobbly. They'll think I'm vain. My stomach sags. They might not think I'm beautiful...

I don't look or act like I did when I was 24 but this past decade has molded me in some beautiful ways. And dang it, that body is healthy and strong and also as un-perfect as it can be. I want to lead the way in showing up in all my imperfection. Not resting in it or wallowing in it, but also not shoving it under a rug and pretending every thing about me is shiny and tight.

BJ and I keep having these conversations about being the people we say we want to be. Trying to line up who we actually are and how we actually live our lives with the way we want to be perceived by others. Getting those two selves to be so closely aligned that they are mostly identical. Acting privately in the way we act in front of others and actually being who we say we want to be. 

Part of that is accepting our bodies. Loving what they are capable of doing and letting go of the bodies we had even four short years ago. I love these words from Paul, a Jesus follower in the first century A.D. 

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, 
yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day." 
(2 Corinthians 4:16)

I honestly can't say I'm there yet. Sometimes I glance in the mirror and lose heart. Or I get hyper-focused on all the things I'm not and forget that I am enough because of the grace of Jesus.

But it's something I am working toward. Focusing on my inner renewal more than my outward appearance. Embracing middle age with a great big hug and arms wide-open to what is yet to come. Being the girl I want to be, the girl who enjoys each day for the gift it is. The girl aging with grace. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

What I'm Loving Right Now [08.30.16]

Friday Night Dinners w/ neighbors 
For the past month (since right before school kicked off around here) we've been getting together with neighbors for a casual dinner hosted at someone's house on Friday night. Once we ordered pizza, once we grilled out burgers and dogs and this past week we hosted and did soup, salad and bread. I love having a social start to my weekend but one that's low-key and doesn't require a babysitter.  The kids out-man the adults about 3 to 1 so these get-togethers are neither peaceful nor full of deep discussion, but it is a lot of fun and kind of feels like what neighbors are supposed to do together. P.S. If the cost of hosting a gaggle of friends for dinner intimidates you, serve soup and bread. I think the average cost per serving of this meal was less than a dollar.

Listening to podcasts with my kids 
Totally beats listening to the same NorthPoint music (sorry, I love you Northpoint, but everyone has their limit) on repeat or flipping through the radio. My kids and I are currently loving The Cramazingly Incredifun Sugarcrash Kids podcast. Some episodes have a moral bent to them, some talk about a random science subject. All of them have great character voices and sound effects and a sweet little phone call at the end from real kids. It's what the kids ask for now every time we get into the car.

Binge watching Parenthood
BJ and I are mid-way through Season 6 and while I still hate the new intro music on principle (bring back Dylan) I love the characters just as much now as I did in Season 1. What is going to happen with Joel and Julia?! (But seriously, don't tell me.)

Throwing fruit into my water
Lemons, limes, cucumbers anything to make it taste interesting! I've been guzzling 64+ ounces everyday this week in an attempt to stave off my sugar cravings. In related news, cucumbers are the only thing I've managed to grow in my garden this summer.

InstaSnapChatGram (aka Instagram stories)
Since most of my people aren't on Snapchat, I am loving seeing you on Instagram Stories. I love seeing your face and your casual everydayness. Don't get me wrong, I still expect perfection from your actual Instafeed, but I like the laid-back nature of the Insta-stories. If you need more of me overexposing my life, I'll be doing so on both Instagram and Snapchat for the foreseeable future. Username: @leipprandt

Reflecting on my ideal day
A few months back I went through Tsh Oxenrider's Upstream Field Guide program. (This was where I took the Enneagram test for the first time and learned I'm a 7.) One of the things we were made to do during the process was to journal an ideal day. This idea seems so obvious but it was really profound for me to actually take the time to write this list down. I kind of use it as a mental check list about midday now, when I am trying to prioritize the second half of the day: did I take 10-30 minutes to intentionally connect with a friend today? Am I eating well? Have I read for pleasure? If I am really off my ideal day, I can still course correct and feel good about myself come bedtime.

Oribe Beach Spray
I bought this stuff because it was on super sale back on Amazon's Prime Day, but I'll pay full price whenever it runs out. Here's my current hair routine: shower and wash hair, towel dry hair, shake this can and spray all over head, leave well enough alone. I love what it does to my semi-wavy locks. Air-drying alone can leave my hair half-frizzy, half-straight and it is simply not an option to blow dry my hair in the summer around these parts. #nothappening Warning: I tried this on Britain's stick-straight tresses and it did nothing. So I think it's probably only going to work for those of you with a little wave in your hair. There may or may not be a guy in the house who has started using this in the mornings too...

The Promise of Autumn
I'm over summer. It's my least favorite season here in the Deep South and I swear I can smell apples budding on trees and tiny green pumpkins peaking out on the vines of farms around us. Right? Right?? I am DYING to say PEACE OUT to shorts and tank tops 'til next May.

What are you loving right now? Any great podcasts I can add to the kids' playlist? Talk it up in the comments. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

How Not to Potty Train Your Child

Last weekend BJ was working in the yard when he came across an unsightly mess that was sure to end up on the bottom of a child's shoe if not taken care of quickly - dog poop. I'm hesitant to admit there's always a fair amount of dog poop in our yard. In our defense, we have had a child (often two) in diapers for seven years now. A person can only be expected to deal with so much poop right? In our poo-weariness, we often neglect to clean up the yard as often as respectable homeowners should.

When BJ scooped the offending waste into a bag and whisked it out of sight our two year old was enthralled. Moments later BJ caught our little guy across the yard bending down to do a little pooper-scooping of his own. Swooping in to prevent him from grabbing a turd with his bare hand, BJ picked him up with a, "Yucky!" He made a big show of removing this second land mine with another bag and returned to mowing the lawn. 

Which brings us to yesterday. Please keep in mind I knew nothing about the lesson my little guy had received from BJ. I was cleaning up lunch when a familiar odor wafted through the kitchen. It was obvious our little guy was the culprit, so I asked him, "Are you poopy buddy? Need Mommy to change your diaper?" 

"Yucky!" was his one-word reply. 

"Poopy?" I asked again.

"Yucky!" he proudly declared. 

This back and forth continued as we made our way down the hall to his room. I decided "yucky" was as good a word as any for the situation. 

We sat on the floor together and I changed his diaper while we repeated his new word over and over again. "Yucky." "YUCKY." "Yucky!" Never one to miss a teachable moment I decided to turn our vocabulary lesson into a life skills class. 

"Should we put your yucky in the potty buddy?"


"Ok, here we go, can you lift the lid of the potty?"

(Lifting lid) "Yucky."

"Mommy's going to put the poop in the potty now, say 'bye-bye yucky'."

"Bye-bye yucky."

"Great job! Can you flush the potty?" 

"Yucky go bye-bye!" 

"Yes, buddy! Yucky go bye-bye. That's what we do with poop buddy. We put it in the potty." 

Triumphant, we washed hands and I got back to washing dishes. A full 5 minutes had passed when I heard a pint-sized commotion from the hall bathroom. 

I opened the door to the bathroom just in time to see a fully-clothed two year old closing the toilet lid.

"What are you doing buddy!?" I asked, lifting the lid. 

Huddled in the depths of the bowl was a small, misshapen lump. 

My initial thought was that another of my kids had neglected to flush. My split-second later thought was that all the other kids were outside with BJ.

I grabbed his hand.


I smelled his tiny hand.

Oh dear heaven. 

It was suddenly crystal clear that my sweet child had gone outside and searched the yard until he found this treasure. Then he had carefully carried it inside and put it where all the yuckies go.

Because that's what we do with poop buddy.

We put it in the potty.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Ground Turkey Lettuce Cups (a Gluten-free, Low-fat, Low-Carb Family Pleaser)

School is back in session all over the Atlanta-area and I think the oh-crap-we-can't-eat-pizza-every-night-by-the-pool blues are starting to kick in for a lot of my fellow mamas. Back to school means more structure in our days, earlier bedtimes and oh yeah, a need for a dinner that my kids might eat to be ready before 8pm each night. 

Making dinner every single night is hard for anyone. But it's especially hard when you're pretty sure at least 50% of the diners at your establishment are going to throw and/or ignore the food you put in front of them. It's enough to make me want to serve mac and cheese every night. At least then we avoid the game where I serve a tiny portion of food to my kids, they pick at it until finally succumbing to our pleas to "just taste it." Then they spit the taste back out and render the entire plate of food worthless. So fun. 

Any dinners that have a greater than 50% chance of getting eaten (that means one kid likes it in this family) become Master Meals around here quickly. 

This recipe gets eaten in it's adult form by two children and if I take an extra step* cooking it, my other two will eat a bit of it as well. It uses ground turkey and a load of veggies so it's healthy and low calorie and it feels different because we eat it out of lettuce wraps. Oh and it's ready in under 20 minutes!

If you're curious about our other go-to recipes, search "Master Meals" on the blog or read this post about how I plan family dinners. 

Ground Turkey Lettuce Cups - Ready in 20 minutes, Serves 4 
via Ladies in Navy 

1 lb lean ground turkey
3 carrots (shredded)
1 bunch green onions (diced)
20-30 fresh basil leaves (chopped)
1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce (make sure to use gluten-free if you need to!)
1 1/2 Tbsp brown sugar
4 Tbsp minced garlic
2 Tbsp olive oil (could sub sesame or coconut oil)
Head of iceberg lettuce

Heat oil in skillet over medium heat and add the garlic. Saute until it smells yummy, then add meat to the pan with half of the soy sauce and sugar.  Brown meat about 10 minutes. Once browned, drain the meat and return to pan. Add the remaining soy sauce and sugar, chopped basil, carrots and green onions. Stir together for about a minute and remove from heat. (You don't want to cook the veggies totally through.)

Serve with wedges of lettuce to scoop the turkey mixture into. We like ours with a drizzle of sriracha on top. Unless you're cutting out all carbs, make some brown rice (because you're healthy like that) to serve alongside.

*To appease my picky eaters who would not touch something with several types of veggie mixed in, I scoop out a portion for each of them prior to adding the veggies, then grate some raw carrot onto their plates to make myself feel better. 
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