Acts of Service Day – A New Family Tradition

One of the neatest things about starting a family is getting to start our own family traditions.  Last year we spent a day where we focused on others and doing small acts of kindness around our town. While it wasn’t without the challenges you’d imagine with a 3 and 5 year old, it was a wonderful, feel-good family day… and the beginning of a new tradition.

So this year I was determined, in the midst of the craziness of the holiday season and the birthday celebration of my youngest, to carve out a day where me and the boys could spread kindness and holiday cheer in our community. For me, the connection to Christmas and teaching them the true meaning of Christmas is important. Now 4 and 6, they understood the concept a little better, and they were generally easier to manage than last year. We repeated some of our ideas from before and added a few new ones too. I tried my best to capture photos of day. Here’s what we did:

  1. Made sweet treats for our neighbors and went door to door passing them out. dsc_3292dsc_3298dsc_3295
  2. Stopped by a fire station to give treats and cards to our local fire fighters. They returned the favor by letting the boys play in the trucks for a few minutes.dsc_3314dsc_3304
  3. Went to a local restaurant for lunch, left a big tip for our waiter and Brogan sang Christmas carols for the wait staff.dsc_3318dsc_3320
  4. While at the restaurant, we ran into some police officers. The boys thanked them for their service, gave them some of our sweet treats and the cards we made for them (we had intended to drop them by the police station). dsc_3323dsc_3327
  5. Went to Publix, cashed in all of the household coins we could find (to help fund some of our acts of service) and purchased some animal food to donate. We gave to the feed the hungry initiative when we checked out.
  6. Stopped at a gas station and gave the clerk $10 for the next customer who pulled up to pump 10 (Brogan liked the idea of $10 on 10 lol). dsc_3332
  7. Went to the local assisted living home to drop off homemade cards to the residents.dsc_3334
  8. Visited the library to give cards and sweet treats to the librarians. dsc_3343dsc_3342
  9. Stopped by Home Depot, brought in some extra carts from the parking lot and grabbed a last minute Christmas gift for daddy.dsc_3349dsc_3350
  10. Went to Aldi to leave quarters in all the carts and purchase food for a local food pantry. dsc_3355dsc_3356
  11. Made a stop at the Dollar Tree to purchase toys to give to random kids at the park. While we were there the boys left $1 bills all throughout the toy aisle for other kids to find. dsc_3361dsc_3362
  12. While driving through the parking lot, we came across a homeless woman asking for help. Brogan gave her a care packet he’d made at school (that we happened to have in the van), as well as $5 of his own money that he’d earned the day before. The woman was overwhelmed with gratitude by the sweet gesture, thanked us for our kindness and gave Brogan the biggest hug. This was Brogan’s favorite part of the day… and the most emotional one for me.
    [at this point the wheels started to come off, and so my energy was spent wrangling the crazies and not photographing our last few stops]
  13. Stopped at another fire station to give the last of our treats and cards. Again we were met by the nicest fire fighters who indulged the boys’ love of fire trucks, sirens and walkie talkies.
  14. Swung by the food pantry to donate our food and pet items.
  15. Went to the park to distribute our toys. Found four kids to give to – the parents and kids were surprised and very thankful.

I share this with the hope that our tradition inspires others.

Despite the good intentions for a selfless day, I still had to deal with whining from the back seats and little boys who were occasionally annoyed by the diverted focus away from them. I tried my best to keep them on mission and remind them that while most days we cater to their wants this day would be about others. Did the boys see the big picture in all the things we did that day? Probably not. But there were parts where they could see how their actions brought happiness to someone else, and that made them feel really good inside. While I don’t expect that our one day a year excursion turns them into unselfish little people, I do hope it plants a seed. The seed of a selfless spirit, the tendency to do for others, and the true meaning of Christmas.

In short, the Christmas spirit is the Christ spirit, that makes our hearts glow in brotherly love and friendship and prompts us to kind deeds of service. – David O. McKay

 

A Family Day of Kindness

This past Saturday I put my family on mission. We spent the entire day out in the community spreading kindness and doing for others – we had a Family Day of Kindness. For the last six months or so I’ve been tossing around the idea of giving the kids this sort of opportunity. After reading a blog post by a mom who did this with her children to celebrate her birthday, the notion was laid on my heart. And while December is crazy for everyone, it was important that this experience be part of my kids’ Christmas season because this is what Christmas is all about.  And so we did it. We spent the day being intentional about giving; about putting others first.

Now before you go imagining this picturesque day of my family out spreading kindness and Christmas cheer – where everyone was smiling and happy and selflessly giving of themselves for the benefit others – please remember that I have a 3 and 5 year old. That is not how it went down. For starters, I got my children in and out of the van (and car seat) 11 times in about 4 ½ hours. 11 times people. And with one child who will not under any circumstance willingly go into the car seat on anyone’s timetable but his own, let me just say that I deserve some sort of award for my patience and the fact that none of the four letter words in my head came out of my mouth. It made me tired. But we persevered – safely and all buckled in – ha! I kept their interest by making it a game, urging them to complete one “mission” so we could hurry on to the next one. But herding 2 little boys is about like herding cats and so “come on!” and “keep it moving!” were the phrases of the day (as were “come back!” and “don’t touch that!” and “you better not run into that parking lot!” and “I’m going to call your father!” – but I digress).  I started singing this hurry-up kind of song to pick up the tempo, which of course thoroughly annoyed one of my boys… so he made up his own song that I should sing instead. And of course my other son hated the new song.  Did I mention I was tired?

Trying to get kids to buy in to the idea that the world doesn’t revolve around them is tough. Kids expect to always get something. And while telling my kids no is not a new thing, the blatant “you get nothing, but you will give to someone else” was pretty in their face – especially at our stop at the Dollar Tree. I handed each boy a few dollar bills and told them to place them in the toy section so that other kids could purchase toys. “So can I get a toy?” they asked. “Nope. Today is about giving to others.” Oh. My. Gosh. Talk about a meltdown. You’d have thought I told them they were never getting another toy in their life. In a matter of moments I turned into, and I quote, “the worst mommy ever!” and the day turned into, and I quote, “the worst day of my entire life!” It was affirmation that the kindness outing was needed.

But the day was not all bad. Absent all the ins and outs of car seat… and trying to get them to leave the fire station (after the firemen so graciously let them play in the trucks)… and the Dollar Tree episode, there were bright spots that warmed my heart and I pray leave at least a small impression on them as well.

So here’s what we did all day…

1) We made homemade cookies and delivered them to 12 of our neighbors

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2) Left a card and homemade sweets for our mail lady

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3) Randomly purchased $10 in gas for a stranger

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4) Put quarters in the carts at Aldi and left a bag full of quarters for later

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5) Delivered handmade cards and a treat basket to the fire station

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6) Dropped of a bag of food at the local food pantry

7) Left dollar bills in the toy section of the Dollar Tree

8) Left our waitress an extra-large tip at lunch

9) Dropped off handmade cards and treat basket for the local librarians

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10) Placed a card and flowers at the grave of my husband’s grandparents

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11) Walked the halls of the nursing home delivering hugs, handmade cards and homemade cookies

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12) Went to the park and gave away bubbles to other children

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13) Stopped by another fire station and delivered more cards and a treat basket

While I gathered a lot of the ideas from the blog post that inspired me, I asked the boys for their input as well. Brogan came up with the idea to visit his great-grandparents’ grave and leave a card – and told daddy what to write on the card – I just love his little heart! Beckett wanted us to give treats to the firemen, and also suggested that we talk to everyone we saw. They really can be the sweetest kids.

Fortunately the idea of random acts of kindness is more prevalent now than ever, but people still have a hard time comprehending that someone will do something for them without the expectation of anything in return. When we were at the gas station, I asked the boys to pick a number (bad idea – 2 boys and I needed 1 number – I’ll rethink that next year, ha!) and I told the clerk that I wanted to put $10 in gas on that pump. She kept saying, “that pump is empty” and I responded, “I know, I want to put $10 on it.” To which she asked, “what kind of car are you driving?” And then I repeated that I had already purchased my gas, and wanted to buy gas for a stranger. It just didn’t register. And then at the park, as the boys were trying to give away bubbles, they would walk up to a kid and say, “would you like some bubbles?” and either the kid or the parent would kindly say thanks, but no thanks, you can keep your bubbles. And the boys would deflate and I’d interject, “we came to the park for the sole purpose of giving away bubbles, please feel free to take them if you’d like them.” And then they’d get it and graciously accept the bubbles. And the boys just lit up when they did.

I share this experience not in search of recognition or kudos, but in hopes that it will inspire someone – just as the blog post I read inspired me. Our experience was not perfect. My kids were not perfect. I was not perfect (but close because seriously, 11 times out of the car seat and I didn’t lose it!). There was more that I wanted to do, and I’m already thinking about how to make next year better. But the point is that we did something. We live in a world where most things aren’t free and if it seems too good to be true, it usually is. This makes me sad about our world. There are so many lessons that I want to teach my children – one is what it means to be the answer to someone else’s prayers. And while I don’t believe that all of our acts of kindness met this criteria, maybe one did. My hope is that their little hearts were softened by making others feel good. My hope is that they begin to realize that life shouldn’t be all about me, me, me – that greater joy comes in giving than in receiving. My hope is that this experience planted the seed of selflessness that will allow God to use them for His purpose. Seeing them boast with pride as they handed out their own handmade cards and got big smiles in return brought me so much joy. I could see that they were getting it – the true meaning of Christmas.

The Next Chapter

It’s funny how things always work out. And that’s not just my rosy optimism speaking. Pray, stay faithful, look for signs that point you in the right direction and you find that even through rough times, God’s plan makes itself apparent. It’s true. We’re proof.

Most of you know that last summer Blake and I bought a gym. Blake left his career as a chef to be a gym owner and operator. We were blessed with what appeared to be an amazing opportunity – more time with family, Blake doing something he enjoyed, the chance for him to be his own boss. So many positives. Blake jumped in with enthusiasm and determination. Things started off great – we made some improvements to the gym, increased membership and made a lot of friends in the process. We saw ourselves in it for the long haul.

But over the last few months the growth waned and the gym was not as profitable as we hoped it would be, especially at the first of the year, a time when most gyms are at their peak. We asked ourselves a tough question – did we think the gym would be able to support our family financially long term. It was a tough call.

Then there were the changing family dynamics with the addition of our daughter. Coming from the restaurant business, where Blake worked most nights and every weekend, the gym schedule was an improvement. However, it still meant he wasn’t home three nights a week. And while that was a schedule I had gotten used to with the boys, caring for an infant made it much, much tougher. I entered into “survival mode” each night Blake wasn’t home and to be honest the stress was pretty intense.

One of the things I love about Blake is his commitment to not settle and not get comfortable with the status quo. When he sees things aren’t what they should be, he acts. And so after lots and lots and lots of prayer, we decided that continuing with the gym was not in our family’s best interest. We were lucky to have purchased the gym from two great people who have worked with us this whole time and who will be operating the gym once again. It will be an easy transition, and we are so blessed to have done business with good people who ultimately want to see the gym succeed, even if we are no longer involved. It could be easy to look at this venture as a failure for us because this was not the outcome we expected, but that’s not how we see it at all. I actually see it as a blessing. Tough times can make you or break you, and this season has strengthened us. It has made our marriage stronger and brought us closer to God. Funny thing, huh. It has reaffirmed to Blake just how important it is to be able to provide for his family and has given him the perspective to appreciate what it means to get a steady paycheck. Sometimes it’s hard to find happiness unless you’ve really seen all that the other side of the fence has to offer.

So what’s next. That’s where it gets exciting. In addition to trying to figure out what to do with the gym, Blake also had to ask himself what career would make him happy and allow him the chance to put his family first. And I’m happy to report that with a lot of prayer and faithfulness, Blake has yet another great opportunity. Blake will be going back into the food industry, but this time he’ll be the Food Service Director for a private school – where they only serve lunch. He’ll be back in the kitchen, but this time he’ll be home before 5pm, and won’t have to work weekends either. He’ll be able to coach the kids in sports too, which is something else he’s really passionate about. It’s pretty much a dream job.

So here we go, the next chapter in our lives. We’re excited, we’re grateful and we’re humbled by all of the blessings we’ve been given. Once again, it’s not the path we saw ourselves on, but it’s the one we’re meant to be on. God is so good!

Jess and Blake

5 weeks to go…

I suppose there’s been a countdown clock going for a while, but today I hear it ticking pretty loudly. 5 weeks to go… 35 days… 16 more work days in my office… holy cow.  It’s like you spend your whole pregnancy thinking this is taking forever – and then all the sudden it’s almost over and the overwhelming feeling of all that’s left to do engulfs you. I’m there.

As I write this I’m hanging out in a hospital waiting room as my husband is in surgery to repair a hernia (a new occupational hazard, I suppose). And so hopefully our household has no need for heavy lifting for a while… yeah, there’s that.

Sometimes life is so busy that you don’t take the time to sit back and think about the enormity of certain situations or bask in the joy of others. And so while I can get caught up in the fact that the nursery’s not finished and all the Christmas shopping I’ve got to do… and ponder how in the heck I’ll be able to wrap presents on the floor in my current state of largeness… what I forget to focus on is how my whole life is about to change in 5 short weeks. In 5 weeks, I’ll have a daughter, Blake will get his daddy’s little girl and Brogan and Beckett will have a little sister. We’ll go back through sleep deprivation, our schedule will get thrown out the window and we’ll be switching from man to man coverage to zone (as my aunt who has three kids pointed out to me this weekend). But all those things will pale in comparison to the amount love and contentment we’ll feel knowing our family is complete. It’s pretty overwhelming when I really think about it.

With just weeks left to go, I also find myself feeling humbled by all of our blessings. Pregnancies don’t always go perfectly, and there are hundreds of far worse reasons I could be sitting in a hospital waiting for my husband to get out of surgery. But I’m thankful that we’ve had a healthy complication-free pregnancy, and that this is a simple outpatient procedure. I’m grateful that my boys are happy and healthy… and that we are surrounded by supportive friends and family who have already started to go out of their way to help us out. And so despite all of the chaos in our lives, the things that really matter are all good.

So I’ll keep reminding myself of these things over the next few weeks when I wonder how it is all going to get done… or when I complain about my lack of mobility or how uncomfortable it is to sleep. And regardless of how prepared we are, come December 17th (and hopefully not sooner!) we’ll get to meet Miss Berkley… and we are so, so excited!

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We’re having a girl!

So I’m a couple of days late on the blog update… but it’s official – we’re having a girl! I’m going to steal the words from one of my aunts… I love when God’s plans fit with our desires. Amen! It is such a blessing that we’ll get to experience raising boys and a girl, and I truly feel as though our family will be complete come December. And I am especially excited for my husband because I know how much he wanted a daughter. I can’t wait to see him get to live that dream of having daddy’s little girl – it is going to be awesome!

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The money shot!!

We went into the ultrasound with a girls name picked out… we didn’t have a boys name, but it wasn’t for lack of trying, we really just couldn’t decide. But our girls name was set… we are naming her Berkley Elaine. Berkley was a name that my mother-in-law came across and we felt it fit well with Brogan and Beckett… unique, started with a B, two syllables, different end-sound, English/Irish origin, you know, all the things one thinks about when they are obsessively thinking about baby names on a daily basis. Elaine comes from Blake’s maternal grandmother who passed away.  She was really special to many people, especially Blake, and I am sad that I never got to meet her. Our babysitter who recently passed away was also named Elaine, so for me, it’s an ode to her memory as well. Needless to say, I love her name. Love it. I can’t wait to see it embroidered on everything…. oh wait, it already is…

Monogrammed Dresses

It took my family less than 12 hours to already go shopping and begin the monogramming. Yes, I am that kind of girl and will have (just about) everything embroidered. Berkley will probably rebel and be a total tomboy after all of the dresses and bows, but that’s okay. For the first couple of years she doesn’t get a choice and so I get to play dress-up.

Brogan is very happy that he’s having a sister. He really wouldn’t even acknowledge the fact that this could have been a boy. As he told me, he already has a brother and does not need another one. Well okay. Glad he got what he wanted too. Brogan has decided he’s going to call her Berkley Blue… who cares that it’s not her real name, that’s what he likes. Blake mentioned it when we were throwing around middle names and it stuck for him. And who are we to argue with Bob? It’ll be fine – she can be Brogan’s Berkley Blue. I took Brogan shopping with me at Target and he got to pick out her first dress and a baby doll. He was so proud to be a part of it, and it just warmed this mommy’s heart!

Excited Big Brother

Beckett, bless his heart, doesn’t really get what’s going on. I keep trying to tell him there’s a baby coming, but it doesn’t seem to stick. Perhaps he thinks if ignores it, he will remain the baby forever.

It’s exciting times for this family! The good thing is that I have cured my curiosity by finding out we’re having a daughter… bad news is waiting until December to get to meet her is going to feel like forever! And at the rate of 16 new outfits within 24 hours – and we’ve got 6 more months of anticipation – means that daddy may be building on to her closet. All good problems to have though… feeling so, so blessed.

 

 

 

 

We’re Expecting… Again!

As if there wasn’t enough craziness going on in our lives right now, it’s about to get crazier! Yes, we decided to have another baby, and I’m happy to report that I’m 12 weeks along today. Baby #3 is due right before Christmas, and we couldn’t be more excited.

Those of you who have read some of my kid-related posts may think I’ve lost my mind. Well, perhaps. But I’ve always wanted to have a big family, so I have chosen to be blissfully ignorant where all the impending logistical challenges are concerned.  Yes, I will have 3 kids 4 years and under. Yes, I will continue to work full time. Yes, grocery shopping will be an even bigger pain in the butt than it is now. Yes, I’ll sleep less, have a messier house and spend a fortune for another couple years of diapers. But despite all the really good reasons not to, we decided that a big family is worth the sacrifice. And if we were going to do it, we decided the sooner the better. We were afraid that if things got “easier” (more sleeping, less diapers, etc.), that we may not want to go back to the life with a newborn/infant. But luckily, things are not yet easy, and so while we’re still in the trenches, we figure we might as well go back to battle.

We made the decision to have another baby before Blake planned his career change, but I have to say that it is going to make things a lot, lot easier. He’ll be home more and not too far away, which will be a significant improvement over his work situation the last two times. It also works out that he got a new truck a few months ago. A big truck. A truck that can easily fit 3 car seats in the back. Hello daddy chauffeur. I, on the other hand, will have to get a new vehicle. And eventually, we’ll need to get a bigger house. But you know what? That’s all okay by me.

I experienced two early miscarriages while trying to have this baby, and so as I enter my 2nd trimester we are counting our blessings. Those experiences have given me a newfound appreciation for the fact that it’s not always easy to conceive. It’s a perspective that I didn’t have after my first two easy pregnancies. But as I sit here today, I am more thankful and humbled than ever before that I am growing another little life.

So if you’ve wondered why I haven’t posted as much here lately, this would be the reason. It’s partly because I’ve been exhausted and just want to go to sleep after the boys go to bed… and partly because this is such a big thing going on that I felt a little unauthentic writing about my life and not including it. But after the miscarriages, I really felt like I should adhere to the “12-week rule”. But now that we’ve passed that milestone, let the pregnancy posts commence!

Well, here we go! A new chapter in our lives that promises to be an adventure. We’re excited and thankful and probably a little naive. But we’re on the way to being a family of 5, and I couldn’t be more happy about it!

Baby 3

 

Baby3

 

And I have to give credit for the photo idea to my husband… one of the many reasons why I love him.

Our first family vacation

And let’s be honest, I’m using the term vacation loosely here.

As I write this this we’re driving back from Hilton Head. Not quite a real vacation, because I firmly believe you cannot have a real vacation with two toddlers. But it was a trip, with the four of us – and it was great family time. Overall, it went pretty well and I’d rate it a success. There were parts that were wonderful and fun and memorable… and then there were parts that were not. Like every time we had to eat outside of the hotel room. That sucked. Or when the kids had to sit still for any amount of time. That sucked too. But when they could run and play – pure joy.

Our trip seemed to amplify their behavior. It was like the fun times were much better than normal – like when they got to play at this awesome park, or when we were at the beach. They had a blast, and Blake and I just loved knowing how much fun they were having. But then the rough times were also exaggerated, partly due to them being out of their sleep routine and the number of times that they were required to “behave.” Having to eat out for 5 meals (in 3 days) meant a lot of behavior enforcement. Something that I realize I’m not very good at. The theoretical me is stern and means business and demands the kids behave. The real me just doesn’t quite measure up. Blake, on the other hand, is AWESOME at this. I almost don’t ever want to leave the house without him again. Seriously.

This morning Brogan proudly said to me, after he had successfully inserted a straw into a pouch drink, “I’m really good at getting drinks. But I’m not really good at listening.” So astute – a pretty good summation of our oldest – very independent and talented (in things other than fixing his own drinks), but just not able to listen to what we say. But I don’t feel like this defined our trip. When I look back on it, I will think about the boys having to share a pullout couch bed and sleep together – and them kicking and aggravating each other like brothers. Or bothering each other on a tire swing like brothers.

Boys on tire swing

I’ll think about us being able to give them undivided attention for 3 days – to be void of our normal responsibilities like work and cooking and dishes. I’ll think about my newfound appreciation for all that my husband does with and for the kids. How he saves us in the way he demands that they behave, and all the kid-duty he picks up when he bathes them and was able to get them to bed each night.

Blake enforcing

I’ll think about how the boys just love their daddy and how much fun they had spending time with him now that he’s around more.

Daddy and Beckett Daddy and Brogan

I’ll think about how the boys danced and danced to live music at Harbour Town.

Dancing boys

I’ll think about how Brogan talked his way onto another musician’s stage so that he could sing his favorite song.

I’ll think of this time as the first of many family trips – and hopefully real vacations one day. Someone with older kids, please tell me that this does eventually happen…

Family trip