Thursday, July 25, 2019

THE GOOD OLE DAYS

Our children are at precious ages - 10, 8, 6 and 6.  We're in those "golden years," where we no longer have very young children who need us every minute and we don't yet have difficult teenagers.  I can now drive my kiddos somewhere by myself and enjoy a fair bit of it, and many of our adventures are fun for all of us.

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When we had our D-Group Lake Day a while back, I remember soaking in the sweetness of time together as a family, with friends that we love and everyone being *mostly* happy.  It struck me that we are living the "Good Ole Days" with our kids that people always look back on with such fondness.  And I was simultaneously overwhelmed with gratitude and panic: gratitude that we get to live good days at all and panic that they are slipping by too quickly.

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When I think about the contradictions that make up our life, and especially my thought life, this certainly ranks up there as humorous.  I love being able to do fun things with our kids - my personality is built for fun, and I regularly expect and look for opportunities to have great experiences at every turn.  I'm always wanting to create "perfect family moments."

I also live in the reality that we have a fair bit of stress, and even when we are having fun as a family, there is usually an undercurrent or a full blown riptide of crazy under the surface.  Our family has an intensity that cannot be denied, and we can only handle so much togetherness before our cracks begin to show.  We often do better with other people so we can be a little diluted.  Too much Spenst is not good for anyone, including us.

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The tension of ENJOY EVERY MOMENT and THIS IS SO HARD continually plagues me, and I'm guessing this comes with the territory of motherhood.  Summer has been particularly sanctifying, because we've had so much togetherness and gotten to see the good, the bad and the ugly of everyone's character up close with the added hours in our days.  It has been wonderful to make memories, and I look back on the pictures from this summer already so grateful for the sweet times we have had.

But, I also had a meltdown a few weeks ago as I saw so many more weeks of summer stretching before me with not a lot of plans.  We don't do "days around the house" well at all.  I didn't know how we were going to fill the time, and so much of it going well depended on me, and I wasn't sure I was up for it.  Now that the end of summer is in sight, I'm growing wistful and sad that it's drawing to a close.  It seems that my heart wants to be discontent no matter what is happening or how I feel.

As I learn more about myself and the ways that I process life and emotions (thank you, Enneagram!), I better understand this trap that easily trips me up.  I have to fight for gratitude in the present moment.  I have to fight against the fear that we'll never have good times again that could possibly live up to these.  I have to push away the discontent that even the good times are marred by the ever present stresses in our life.  That is life - there is always good and hard.  I am constantly working to align with the upside down nature of what God has called us to and how we live that out.

So - here's to the Good Ole Days and enjoying them for what they are and not glamorizing or underselling them.  And to knowing that God in his graciousness will be walking with our family in the good times and the hard - no matter what life holds, whenever that is.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

CAMPING FUN

Back at the end of June, we went camping with friends.  None of us mentioned it at all on social media - so - did it really even happen? 🀣 Well, the camping silence stops now, because it was pretty great and also very photogenic.  The squirrel costume even made another appearance, because two of us are Enneagram 7s, so things that like make sense.

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The only other time we have ever been camping as a family was in 2012 with these same friends.  We've added four kids between us since then and all kinds of life experience. πŸ˜… But, it is pretty great to look back at those pictures and see how much the kids have grown and stayed the same.

We all met up at Devil's Den in NW Arkansas.  John and I had been there over Spring Break and thought it would make a great place to camp, which proved to be true.  Friday evening we got all set up and kicked off the fun with Salmon/Potato packets and kabobs before taking a gander at the creek right by our campground.

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We had a pretty late night, and the kids weren't tired enough to drift right off.  That said, we slept pretty well considering we were sleeping in tents.  We woke to a day of adventure and 8 kids, and a hammock commune that the kids thoroughly enjoyed.

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(Camp Spenst)
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(He loves getting help with anything.)

We had planned to do a bit of hiking, which turned out to be about .5 miles worth of hiking.  (Some half miles seem longer than others πŸ˜‚)  Somehow, between the heat and the bugs and the allure of the creek waiting back at the campground, the hiking was a bit of a dud with the kids.  But it was beautiful.

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By 10, we were done hiking and pretty amazed at how many hours we had left in the day.  Everyone got creek ready, and we headed down to spend the rest of the day frolicking (the children) and sitting (the adults).  Basically, it was delightful.  There was about an hour with scattered storms, but since we were already in the water, we just stayed put.  The kids fished for minnows and caught two!  They built a dam.  I built a rock tower, because there was plenty of time for that.  We reapplied sunscreen.  We slipped down the rapid stream and dodged one tiny snake.  We ate and drank and were merry.  It was a typical river day, and we all thoroughly enjoyed it.

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Also, we all, and I mean ALL, wore Chacos.  12 pairs.

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We had Tacos for dinner and spent time relaxing around the campsite.  The adults all marveled at the fact of having no cell service and how it does seem to expand time a bit.  There were no distractions - only what was right in front of us.

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The last morning we warmed up breakfast burritos - a standby camping favorite!  And, Steven made a brief appearance as a squirrel as a surprise for the kids.  And everyone camping near us.  πŸ€£πŸΏ

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We rounded out our fun with lunch at a diner in Clarksville on our way home that turned out to be wonderful with the sweetest staff.

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SO thankful for these friends and this time together.  And camping turned out to be a lot of fun seven years later!

Monday, July 22, 2019

ONE ON ONE TIME WITH KIDDOS

My 20 year high school reunion was a couple of weekends ago, which is a whole nother story.  But as it relates to this blog post, I happened to WIN outright for the alumni that had that most children.  At 4 kids.  This was sort of shocking to me, as most of my friends here also have 4 kids.  It made me wonder if we are weird or just used to living in Arkansas or, or, or...  Really, those are lots of questions for other days that we will probably never get to, because in reality we have four children and that does not leave a lot of time for extra questioning of things that are already done deals.

All of that to say, we have four children and sometimes that feels like a lot.  I know a lot of people who have more than that, but for us, four feels like a full and overflowing quiver.  Especially with some of the extra needs that are brought to the table through adoption.  Also, our kids are very close in age - 4 in 4 years.  This has a lot of pros, but I regularly tell people that I have PTSD from when they were all very little.  The level of exhaustion and intensity is unmatched in anything else we've ever done.

As they have gotten older, certain things have leveled out.  We are *slightly* less exhausted.  At least, the exhaustion has shifted.  The physical things are easier - they mostly sleep at night, they mostly dress themselves, etc.  The emotional things have gotten harder, because we are raising four people.  They all come to the table with a different set of giftings, preferences, temperaments and needs.  We are actively trying to balance their needs with our needs and with all that is always going on.  The mental gymnastics are often overwhelming.

One of the things that we've discovered is that our children thrive when they spend one on one time with us.  As an added bonus, we've realized that we often enjoy parenting more when its one on one, instead of us with the whole herd.  We saw this so clearly when we peeled Lily off for her 10th birthday trip, and it inspired us to make it more of a priority.

So, we try for John to be able to take each kid out on their own about once a month, which roughly works out to about one kid "date" a week for him.  We haven't quite managed to figure out the best way for me to get as much one on one time out of the house, but I am working to take those moments we get at home and use them more intentionally.  The honest truth is that especially during the summer, I am more likely to need time away from all kids, simply because we have had a LOT of togetherness, and I need to be able to think whole thoughts on my own.

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This is a work in progress and changes with our schedule and the season.  Just the second we feel like something has legs and can walk around, everything seems to change.  But, we are working on it, and it does make a difference for us all.

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Often this means that John will plan things that he knows each kid will love, and it has been fun to see them respond to this thoughtfulness.  He's run races with the big girls and has also hiked Pinnacle.  There are regular trips to Yogurt Mountain and Barnes and Noble.  We did realize that the kids were starting to equate "dates" to "getting a toy" or something else, and so we've cut back on buying stuff on the outings to make it more about the time spent together.

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I'm hoping that building these relationships intentionally will increase the connection we have with each of our children and also build their confidence.  It allows us to speak truth into them and provide more context for big picture things in life, especially with the older girls.  Another thing that John did was had them take the Strengths Finder for Kids test, and it was amazing to see how well those strengths already define who they are.  We want them to know themselves, just as we are trying to know ourselves.  

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I would love to hear other ideas about how people schedule intentional time with their kids - we still have a lot to learn.  It's tricky to figure out how to balance everyone's needs, and we get it wrong probably as often as we get it right.  But, we are trying and praying that God blesses and multiplies our efforts.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

SQUIRREL PARTY

Last week I was in Wichita with my entire family, and we used the opportunity to celebrate my amazing step dad's squirrel victories.  Squirrels had become a problem in their backyard, and he took it upon himself to begin trapping and rehoming the squirrels.  He marks down on a calendar every time he catches one, and his count last week was at 333.  It's become a bit of a thing in the family, which will be extremely evident in the following pictures.

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My sister's and I hatched the Squirrel Party concept a while back, and this felt like the perfect time to execute it!  They made the shirt that we had him don as we were finishing up the surprise.  He added the squirrel to his shoulder that had been gifted to him for Father's Day.

There was bunting and a giant squirrel balloon that was popped during its inflation.  I tried to make a squirrelly menu that included lots of nuts, kabobs, squirrel cookies and acorn desserts.  His Squirrel Whisperer mug also made an appearance.

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A couple weeks back, I found this squirrel costume on Amazon, and my brother agreed to wear it.  He went all in on being a squirrel, much to everyone's delight.

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We certainly love our step-dad and his relationship with squirrels.  Plus, we will take any excuse to plan a party, and having a squirrel costume on hand has already come in handy.  The laughter was worth it all. πŸ€£πŸΏπŸ˜‚