Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Advent: What are you doing while you wait?

Admittedly, I'm a bit of a purest when it comes to celebrating the Christmas season. I'm outspoken in my stance of not being a fan of Winter and choose to cling to Autumn for as long as it is around--to the bitter end of November.

However, December 1st is upon us, and with that, our family joyously ushers in the Advent season and throws open the door widely to celebrate this time of waiting in anticipation of Christmas. Waiting is a life lesson that I am still learning into my 30's, and I expect that I always will be in that process. But when you are little, waiting is a challenge of near impossibility--especially if what you are waiting for is Christmas! For our family, this means a day full of special meals, a few small gifts to open, a crackling fire in the fireplace and a day spent together at home with our little family and no agenda--and the arrival of Baby Jesus to our Nativities.

That's a lot to look forward to. And that's exactly why we celebrate the Advent season of waiting by celebrating each day in December leading up to Christmas in a special way, making each day exciting as we wait and count down to Christmas.

A few years ago I picked up a small wooden house to serve as our family's Advent calendar and each day from December 1-25 we open a door and find an Advent activity for the day.

The list of activities that we have planned for this year are as follows. They are in no particular order, and subject to change. As much as I plan ahead, I am also a last-minute kind of gal--so if something comes up that sounds fun, it may be added to the list as well!

  • Make Christmas Countdown chain
  • Decorate the doors inside our home
  • Visit Celebration Crossing at Indiana State Museum
Caroline and Ian ride the LS Ayres train at Celebration Crossing.
Ice Fishing at Jolly Days at the Children's Museum
  • Go see the Gingerbread Village and Christmas events at Conner Prairie
  • See Jingle Rails at the Eiteljorg Museum
  • Visit a live Nativity (we like the one put on at Epworth United Methodist Church)
  • Bake and Decorate Christmas cookies (this takes more than one day!)
  • Deliver cookies to our neighbors
  • Go see the Christmas lights at Reynold’s Farm Equipment
  • Attend Ian’s preschool Christmas program
  • Pack Spread Some Cheer boxes for Crosspoint
  • Make a gingerbread village
Ian works on his Gingerbread house last year.
  • Make ornaments for our Christmas tree
  • Make a Christmas gift for grandparents
  • Mail and ship Christmas cards/packages
  • Make and wrap gifts for teachers
  • Attend a Christmas Eve service at Crosspoint
  • Watch a Christmas movie
  • Read a Christmas book
  • Read the Christmas story from Luke Chapter 2
  • Color Christmas pictures
  • Visit the Gingerbread Bazaar at Heritage
  • Go Christmas caroling at a local nursing home
Another great source for more Advent activities is the Family Fun website. Also, you likely have unique holiday activities and events in your area that can be included as part of your Advent celebration.

This year we are also adding in a scripture reading each day that goes along with the Jesse Tree idea of tying all of scripture together, leading up to the birth of Christ. While I don't plan to go all out with a tree and elaborate ornaments this year, I appreciate tying the Bible stories that our children are learning together in a meaningful way. And knowing myself and my kids, we'll probably make a little tree and create our own ornaments as we go.

The season of Advent is upon us. What will you be doing while you wait?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Try something new (again)

Thanksgiving was a fun long weekend.  My partner and I packed up the chitlins and headed over the river and through the woods to her mother's house.  We not only had the pleasure of hanging out with her mother, but also Wes and Retha, Steph's brother and sister in law.  Some cameos were made by my parents and various aunts, uncles and cousins as well.  Lot's of food, stories, memories and experiences were shared.  Realistically, it was the embodiment of a holiday with family.

A little back story.  My kids, as cute and brave as they are, really don't like dogs. There are other animals that fall into this category, but for this example, I will be using dogs.  When I say they don't like them, I am not speaking of 'they are of the devil and must repent' type of dislike, but rather they appreciate the animal from a distance.  My kids love to pretend and role play as animals, but when it comes to the real deal, they shy away.

Steph and I have speculated how this dislike has come into being.  Our biggest suspicion is the cat that we used to have.  Once Ian started to move around on his own, said cat would essentially terrorize him.  And Lydia.  It is from this that we believe the skittishness around animals came into being.  

So, for all of those nice summer days of playing in the front yard or heading to the farmers market, each time a dog would pass us by, my children would scurry away and hide behind their parents.  I have tried to break them of this by showing that the animals are kind, letting the owner reassure the kids and just trying to get them more relaxed.  It is a cyclical thing, the kids are anxious, which makes the animal anxious, which makes the kids more get the pattern.

So back to this weekend.  Wes and Retha have a pug named Bear.  Cousin Bear if you asked Wes, Retha or my kids.  Yes, Bear is spoiled, but she is so cute!  See...
The mighty Bear! (photo curtesy of Wes Highley)
I went into the weekend with the knowledge that Bear was going to be at the house.  I knew that for the most part, she would stay down stairs in the basement, mostly to keep her hair confined to that space and not the rest of the house.  I also knew that Wes REALLY wanted the kids to play with Bear, mostly to see how Bear would handle interacting with young children.  So begins the social experiment.

Wes had three days to accomplish things.  He needed to start easy, but move quickly if he was going to have the kids and the dog interacting with each other.  Long story short, it was a success.  By the end of the weekend, my kids wanted to go see the dog, to play with her and to pet her.  Now, it wasn't a sweeping 'we want to frolic with a dog all of the time'; Lydia would go down, but still kept her distance when Bear was out on a leash.

I am hoping that through this experience my kids are at least more relaxed around other animals if not a bit more willing to interact with them.  I attribute the change in my kids to a comfortable and friendly environment, trusted family around and a fairly easygoing dog.  I really enjoyed seeing their faces light up instead of cringing in fear and anxiety.  Thanks Bear! (and Wes and Retha).  

Lesson learned:  Even if you don't like something, even if you feel that it is not worth taking another go at, try again.  My kids didn't like dogs getting close to them, and now they are willing to pet at least one.  It may not be an old dog and new tricks situation, but it can be a new experience.

Here is a video of them giving treats to Bear.  (My apologies about the audio, I need to learn how to hold the iPhone correctly)

For the record: I still am not going to eat a banana, for those of you wondering.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A fun day with a pirate and some frogs

This past Sunday was Ian's third birthday.  My wife wrote down her thoughts on the past three years with this guy.

Ian opening his gifts.
So Sunday brought us a nice day to celebrate with the guy.  We started off the day heading to church, where he got to move up to a different class.  He now joins Lydia in the 3-5 year old class, which he was very excited about.  I think the grin on his face afterward showed how much fun he had.  After church we came home to have a nice family lunch, followed by presents and cupcakes!  Both are very exciting, for me and for the kids.  He got several fun new items, but one of his favorite is his pirate hat.  Ian enjoys playing dress up with the girls, but pretty much all that we have is some princess items.  We do have a cowboy/sheriffs outfit, but he enjoys trekking around in the princess slippers a bit much.  He then proceeded to wear the hat for the rest of the day.

The pirate hat.
Ian staring at some frogs.
We went to the Children's Museum to have fun for the day.  They had a frog exhibit still going on, and that was the first place that Ian wanted to go. I really enjoy the traveling exhibits at the Children's Museum.  They provide something different each time, but also it is just a large space for the kids to explore.  Granted that on the busy days it can be unnerving trying to keep track of three kids that want to go in three different directions, but Sunday was not bad (and there were two parents).  So we enjoyed getting to see many live species of frogs, watching some videos and getting to dress up as a frog and hop from lily pad to lily pad.


After touring the frogs, we asked Ian what he wanted to do next.  I loved the saucer eyes and excitement that followed.  What He wanted to do?  This never happens! He decided to go to the carousel for a ride on a lion, followed by some play time at the tree house and ice cream shop.  He then chose to head to playscape for some time in the water, sand and construction areas.  I love this kid.

It's fun to get out and play with your kids.  It's a lot of fun to treat them as the VIP for a day.  You both end up getting a lot out of the experience.

Happy Birthday Ian!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Ian is Three!

A rare moment of quiet with our baby Ian--barely a week old.

Our little boy, Ian Alan--holding his own in a house full of sisters--turns 3 today!

Isn't he precious when he's sleeping?

Ian was my smoothest, easiest pregnancy by far (aside from the false labor scare when Jason was out of town at 38 weeks into my pregnancy with him!). He was also the birth in which labor surprised us the most with its unexpected length, and then as quickly the brevity of the final stages of labor. Additionally, he has been our most challenging baby, without question.

In his three short years, Ian has taught me more about myself than anyone else has in my lifetime. He has stretched me to the very ends of myself, into utter dependence upon God's provision, strength and guidance. Before Ian came along I thought I had a lot of things figured out, but he has taught me that I really know nothing that I thought I knew--and the humility that comes with that has been such a gift.

From the screaming ball of baby that I came home from the hospital with and rocked through tears each day for most of a year (both his and my own), to the stubborn and charming three-year old that I share my life with today, I cannot imagine who I would be without him. Nor do I want to. Because I need the challenges that he brings in my life. And I love that he can challenge me in ways that I would not choose on my own.

Ian is such a loving little guy. While I wouldn't mind some extra sleep in the morning, I secretly love being greeted by him crawling into my bed at 6am to cuddle and rub my back. He gives the best hugs, and while his speech is often unclear, the unmistakable sound of him whispering, "I love you, Mama!" is the most beautiful music to my ears.

He is passionate about life and there is nothing this boy does that is without mucho gusto! If he's throwing a ball--he'll launch it across the yard. If he's dancing, it's the wildest crazy dance I've seen. If it's building a tower or a train track, it will be the tallest tower or most intricate track possible.

Ian loves books like none other. We find he is often the last of our kids to fall asleep at night. We'll peek in after all is silent for awhile to find him sitting in bed, with a mound of books, reading silently to himself. When it's story time, one or ten is never enough. When he's feeling especially generous, he shares a book with a sister--and you know it's love.

When he lets me, I still love to sneak in a moment to rock with him and stroke his little white, fuzzy head and whisper to him that he is my favorite little boy. And if I ask him who my favorite little boy is, the way that he beams when he replies, "Ian!" is just the best.

May you always stretch me and challenge me, but keep your sweet and gentle, yet passionate and strong-willed spirit, my son. I cannot wait to see the man that you grow into. You were named for two of my favorite men who possess some of these very traits--and I love your Daddy and loved your Grandpa Highley very much because of these traits. May God give your Dad and me the wisdom and stamina to harness your energy and direct it in a way that will serve you well, and serve those around you well.

I love you, Ian. You will always be my favorite little boy.

Ian Alan--age 3

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Christmas. Simply.

Have you noticed it?

The evergreen garland appearing on public buildings as Halloween candy was still fresh in the trick-or-treat pails. The lights springing up on houses in your neighborhood. The endless refrain of Christmas carols playing in the malls, and even in the grocery stores.

It seems as though Christmas creeps in earlier and earlier each year, and becomes a game of one-up-man-ship by everyone trying to create a more grand extravaganza than the year before. Even "Black Friday", the un-official start to holiday shopping, is inching into Thanksgiving Day with many stores opening their doors next Thursday night for shoppers who cannot wait until 3:00am.

Before I go on, please understand that just because it doesn't work for me, does not mean that I am poo-poo-ing extravagant Christmas celebrations as a whole. They certainly can and do have their place, and I know that our perspective on Christmas is not a one-size-fits-all view either.

That being said, I'm already feeling Christmas burn-out, and Thanksgiving is still a week away. For most of our life together, Jason and I have valued living simply, but have focused in on this priority in a more intentional way over the course of the past year or so. We see so much excess around us and in our home that distracts and deflects from that which is most important and we are working to simplify our lives to be more in line with the vision of who we should be and what we believe that God has called us to do.

Christmas just amplifies this, in society and personally, and I have felt the pull early this year to plan ahead, in order to be mindful of what is important to us, and to set out our plans for Christmas ahead of the busy-ness that bombards us beginning November 25.

For us, experiences, people and keeping the coming of our Christ as the focus of Christmas are our of primary importance to us. We want to make sure that the way that we celebrate Christmas reflects that. Our kids will remember what we place value on through our choices and our actions, not what we talk about as being our values. What they see and experience will stick with them for a lifetime, long after they forget our words. We can tell them what our values are, but unless they see them lived out, they won't take them to heart.

Therefore, I have primarily been focusing on how to reflect on the birth of Jesus in meaningful ways with them, through activities, interactive stories and play surrounding the Christmas story. As our children grow, our activities and play are growing with them. We have several nativities for the kids to play with as they choose throughout December, as well as a Playmobile nativity that we add to each night in the days leading up to Christmas as we tell another small part of the Christmas story. Now, sometimes the angel sleeps in the stable (because they don't get the baby Jesus piece until Christmas morning), or the wise men exchange beards, but the kids get to interact with the story and it helps them to process the pieces and learn the history.

Christmas 2010-Caroline and Lydia play with a toy Nativity set

Christmas 2009-the nativity scene one evening. I think the wise men had a pretty wild party.
And someone dropped off a jack-hammer! 

Secondary, we want our kids to have rich experiences, and with that we make celebrating Advent--the time of waiting--a time of lots of fun experiences and activities as a family. Each day, beginning December 1, we open a door in our Advent calendar to find a Christmas activity for the day as we are waiting for Christmas. Some days are as simple as coloring a Christmas picture or building snowmen in the yard (if we have enough snow), to visiting a live Nativity or going to one of the local museums for their holiday exhibits. The kids talk year-round about our Advent activities and are anxiously awaiting December 1 when we open our first door.

Ian gets "Elfed" at The Indianapolis Children's Museum Jolly Days
Finally, people are exceptionally important in our lives, and we try to create space to spend time during the holiday season with people that we love. We visit with as much family as we are able and try to make those gatherings as relaxed and refreshing as they should be. We take 20 minutes or an entire evening to visit with our neighbors and reconnect with friends that we see less frequently when the weather draws us indoors and makes impromptu visits more of a challenge. We send cards and letters to family and friends who are dear to us, in an effort to stay connected though time and space separate us. We write hand-written notes of thanks to our children's teachers and those who are coming alongside us to raise our children up.

And because people are important, we choose to share our love and appreciation through gifts. A thoughtful and heartfelt gift is a way to express love or gratitude to others. Many gifts are homemade and prepared with love, with the recipient in mind throughout the process of creating the gift. Those that are not are gifts that the recipient has specifically expressed as something that would be useful or valued by them.

This includes gifting our children. We don't want them to adopt the perspective that "more is more". In striving for simplicity, going overboard at Christmas can seriously undermine this value in our home. We choose a few meaningful gifts that either we know to be useful to them or something that they have expressed interest in that we perceive to have long-term value to them. We select beautiful toys that we hope that they will play with for years to come, crafts and activities that will stimulate and engage them, perhaps igniting a passion, and books and magazines that they will read again and again. I also create at least one hand-made gift for each child to teach them that gifts do not always have to come from the mall.

When our budget is larger, these gifts can be pricier, and when our budget is tighter, these gifts are less-expensive, accordingly. But quality and thoughtfulness do not have to be expensive, and often can be found at a sensible price. I've seen (and purchased) some very expensive junk toys, and have seen (and purchased) some very inexpensive, superior-quality toys in my tenure as a parent. My challenge to parents, in particular, is not to get so caught up in "what a great deal XYZ toy is!" and overlook its value. Yes, it may be 1/2 off, but if it's just "more" and not meaningful, then it's still money better saved than spent.

While the world around me is all abuzz and in a frenzy over the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, choosing to celebrate simply has done my heart good. For me, it all comes back to one not-so-silent night, in a dirty, smelly barn when a baby boy was born to an unwed and nervous teenage mother. Keeping Christmas simple helps keep that in the forefront of my mind, where the pomp and circumstance does not.

Now, if you'll forgive me, I must get back to enjoying November while it's still here. There are leaves left to crunch, turkeys to roast and a host of gratitude to share before I hang the mistletoe and trim my tree.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Black Friday

I was reminded today by the morning news that Black Friday is less than 11 days away.  It stood out to me, mostly because whom ever is in charge of the twitter feed placed the > mark facing the wrong direction, so it came across as 'Black Friday is > 11 days away.  It's only 140 characters people, proof reading does not take that long.  This got me musing on Black Fridays past, and how the day really has lost my interest.  Let me rewind a decade or two.

Growing up, Black Friday was always this time for my Dad, Mom and Grandma to head out for the shopping deals.  These are the days before all of the Internet specials and stores had to lure you in and keep you inside for awhile to buy their junk.  One of the many ways to do this was to offer the 'Valid 6 am to 10 am' coupons that they passed out, one to each person.  So, in the spirit of Christmas, my Dad would take me along so that I could get another one of these coupons for him to use.  If my memory serves me correctly, I would wait in line with him in the cold, bum rush through the doors in the midst of a crowd and then wait off to the side so that I did not see what was being purchased.

And I went back with him year after year.  I guess it was the thrill of the hunt, that male thirst for conquest.  Or it could be that I am an early riser.  Meh.

Once again, going from my memory, which as a child can be polished and silver lined, I recall being able to hit a few stores for these coupons and then go back around to each of them to pickup whatever items were needed.  It was fun, and after a few years I began to make my own purchases to cross others off of my shopping list.

I continued this trend for many years, eagerly devouring the Thanksgiving day ads to find those "must have" items. Maybe not what the main stream was looking for, but the "must haves" to complete my shopping list.  Soon, this habit began to wane.  What used to be a shopping palooza from before God wakes up until the noon lunch of leftovers has turned into a day to hang around the house and stay away from the crazies.  Last year I ventured out first thing in the morning (if you can call it morning at that time of day) for one "must have" item:  synthetic motor oil.  I'm getting old.

More so, I don't see it so much as me getting too many candles on the cake.  I see that my outlook has changed.  I can't really say that I have broken away from the chains of commercialism and being a good consumer (BUY BUY BUY!), but I definitely don't see the need to go and get some more junk just to fulfill some holiday mandate started up by three wise guys a millennium or two ago.

For those of you who keep tabs on my wife's Facebook, you probably understand how we are making the effort to live more simply.  This involves getting rid of the periphery stuff that you don't need or use, and also stopping the accumulation of said stuff.  I will admit, it has been hard.  I have donated/sold/thrown away some things, making room in the house and some money from it, and I have found it hard to not immediately fill in those holes with more 'stuff'.

So, to tease for another time, Stephanie soon will be writing down her thoughts on keeping things simple for the holiday season. In the meantime, what is your take on Black Friday and holiday shopping? Feel free to discuss in the comments section.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

213 Photographs

Beautiful autumn days like today make me forget that winter is just around the corner, and with winter comes Christmas and all of its accouterments.
One of the items that always sneaks up on us is creating our family Christmas card with updated photos. In between baking up a storm to fill the freezer with goodies for the coming winter, cleaning up the yard and winterizing all of our small engines, we took advantage of the gorgeous weather to take our annual family photos.

Our family tradition is to photograph our Christmas card photos ourselves--including a self-portrait of the entire family. 
With six people and 4 of them being between the ages of 1 and 6, this was no small task this year! 213 photographs later, we have a few usable pictures--mostly individuals or pairs--and a lot of fun memories captured on the camera.

This year we are trying a new source for our Christmas cards (Tiny Prints), and are very excited to do something a little different. Tiny Prints is also offering a sample of their holiday cards to bloggers this year, so we decided to check them out. They have a very large selection, and we love the options that they have for including photo collages, since our photos of all six of us together turned out more humorous than typical "holiday card worthy"!

Jason has spent most of the evening selecting photos, editing and fitting them into the card of our choice. Based upon the raw photographs, I was skeptical, at best, that we'd be able to turn out a quality product this year, given the quantity of the silly or squinty faces that at least one of us were sporting in most of the shots. However, after Jason worked his magic, I'm very excited to place our order and see the finished product. It will still be heavy on the personality, but I suppose that's largely the point.

While we're not quite ready to reveal our finished product from this year, here are a few of our "out-takes" from previous years family portraits for your viewing enjoyment:
Getting 6 smiling faces, looking at the camera is hard!
We have teary-tantrum Lydia, Vomiting Ian, and Caroline thinks it's all hilarious!

Lydia's hair is only slightly more distracting than the Yak shirts...

Caroline has never been lacking in enthusiasm!

Before there was the Simpson 6...there was the Simpson 2...not all that long ago...

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Kids and gadgets

Recently the Indianapolis Star published an article (link here) (and text only here) about parents using electronic gadgets, such as an iPhone or iPad, to entertain and keep their children busy.  I have witnessed this phenomenon, mostly at restaurants while dining with my family.

I have a problem with this, and ultimately, my children will have to deal with this problem.

Photo credit within Indy Star article
For the record, I am not against children having access to technology to stay with the times.  What I am against is giving it to them to 'buy their silence'.  Let them learn how to keep themselves occupied, let them participate in the conversation, let them learn some table manners, let them learn to be social.  I admit that I am not without fault, in that I, too, find myself seeking solitude with my portable device when in a public situation.  But I am an adult and I know better, and at times have the conscious thought to put it away and strike up a conversation with the people around me. I even had an adult today muse about how we don't talk to each other anymore, that it is all email, Facebook and texting.  

Admittedly, each parent knows what works for their child.  I seek to offer examples from my experiences.  A recent experience places my family of 6 at Cracker Barrel, where the family sitting at the table next to us had 2 children.  One looked to be about 3-4 and the other was bound to their pumpkin seat.  The elder child sat at the table the whole time we were there watching movies on an iPad.  It was still used even after Grandpa and Grandma showed up to have dinner with the family.  I would be more than miffed if my child did not acknowledge their grandparents sitting at the same table with them.

More often than not, when talking about our Volkswagen Routan with people, they are amazed that we do not have an entertainment system installed.  Following these comments are frequently stories about how they could never survive with out their DVD player, and how it is a God send to get to the grocery store 10 minutes from their house.

And these are the same people who compliment us on how well behaved our children are and able to entertain themselves.  Do you think that there is a correlation?  

We intentionally did not get the DVD player.  It was a hard decision, because there were features that we would really like to have had that were included in the package and we were not able to have installed separately.  I enjoyed playing the alphabet game growing up and would like to afford my children the same opportunity. I also enjoy having conversations with them about their day or what they see as we drive past.

My greater goals are for my children to learn how to entertain themselves, to foster and grow their imagination and their interpersonal skills.  I don't totally cut them off from any type of electronic entertainment.  They do get to watch a 30 minute show each day, if they choose to.  They are starting to learn how to use a computer.  
We are just being intentional with our children in how we choose to incorporate technology into their lives, with these long-term goals in mind.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Eliza Hope turns one!

The smallest, spunkiest addition to the Simpson Six turns One today!

In honor of this, I'm reflecting upon this day, last year.

Our little caboose made her much anticipated, long awaited entrance into this world one year ago today. After waking up 9 days past her due date in early active labor we called our neighbor Courtney in the wee hours of the morning to help care for our other kids, and a call to Grandma to make the trek from her home to come stay for a few days, so that we could rush to the hospital. This was not the first birth that Courtney came running over in the middle of the night and Grandma drove 2 hours after 2am to help us with older kids, and we were no less grateful with this birth for loving hands to care for the big kids while we welcomed the new baby. We were hoping for a baby by breakfast.

However, it was not meant to be yet. We were sent home from the hospital--9 days late, with regular contractions and at 4 cm--to wait. Have I mentioned how much I love my OB who knows my heart for natural labor and birth? I don't know of another Dr. who would do such a thing.

After a disappointing drive home, certain that I was doomed to be pregnant forever, Jason and I went for lunch at Tijuana Flats where we consumed copious quantities of delicious Mexican food--not knowing if it might be our last meal for the next 24 hours or not. We then walked around the mall for another hour or so, stopping every 8-10 minutes for a strong contraction, then went home for a nap.

At 4pm I called the Dr.'s office to see what I should do, since it was Friday afternoon and I suspected that I was still in labor. I wanted to know the game plan for when to return to the hospital so that I wouldn't be sent home again. The nurse told me to come on in, that she'd let the floor know that we would be coming, since it sounded like birth was probably eminent (meaning sometime over the weekend), but I still sounded too calm to really be in active labor. I told the nurse that we'd stick around home, eat dinner (because eating is important to me!), then come in after we put our kids to bed.

Not 20 minutes and 2 HUGE contractions later I told Jason that we just need to go. Fortunately Grandma was still at our home, and my bags were already in the car. So we hobbled out to the kitchen, kissed the kids goodbye and were on the road as fast as I could waddle into the car.

We live 8 minutes from the hospital, which is most excellent given my history of fast labors. We somehow made it out of the car and upstairs to the maternity floor. I was greeted in triage by the same nurse that I had that morning, and she picked up my chart where we had left off. As she stepped out of the room to call a Dr. I felt a POP, knowing that it was my water breaking, at just after 5pm. I called out to the nurse (the only other person in triage) that I needed to get into a room NOW. My water had broken and that we have 30 minutes or less. The sweet nurse assured me that we would be in a room within 30 minutes. I became more forceful as I told her that we need in a room NOW--I'll most likely have a baby within 30 minutes.

To make a long story short, I was wheeled down the hall, calmly but loudly shouting orders to everyone around me, the Dr. on call (because it was now weekend hours) came running into the room. And we waited. 45 minutes passed and still no baby. I began to push and after 12 minutes, the most shockingly beautiful, brunette baby that I'd ever seen was brought to my chest.

The blessing in disguise was that she was posterior, or sunny-side up--meaning she was facing the ceiling instead of the floor at birth, and significantly delayed my labor and her birth. Considering from beginning of active labor until birth was only 1.5 hours, had she not been posterior, I believe with every ounce of my being that Eliza would have been an unplanned (and unprepared for!) homebirth. Instead, she came right on time at 6:11pm--just in time to order dinner. Also, she was born on the date that Jason had been calling as her birth date since April. Already giving Daddy bragging rights!

Eliza Hope, you have blessed our lives so much. In the short year that we've known you, our world has been made so much better, just because you are here. You truly have given me Hope and brought healing to me, from the despair that I once knew. I cannot imagine my life without you, baby girl. You are most definitely your Daddy's little girl and your big brother's favorite friend. Your big sisters dote on and adore you and you have made our family complete.

May all of your days be as life-giving, blessed, and full of love as these first days that we have shared with you.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Food Stamp Challenge(Alternate Title: Stephanie is a Numbers Nerd)

"Live simply, so that others may simply live." --St. Elizabeth Seton

$31.50 per week to feed one person. That breaks down to $4.50/day or $1.50/meal, if you break it down even further. Does that even sound possible?

It's not only possible, but millions of Americans that receive food stamp benefits do this week in and week out as they feed themselves and their families. $31.50 is the average per-person weekly allowance of an American who receives food stamps. For many, these are their only food dollars, and they have to make it work.

I read an article on a local Indianapolis news website today about the Food Stamp Challenge that is going on this week across the country to help increase awareness about SNAP (food stamp) benefits and hunger in the United States. The article followed one local man who was engaged in this challenge and how he found that his food choices were limited by the $31.50/week limit for all of his food for the entire week and that he chose to eliminate breakfast in order to have enough money to eat lunch and dinner, as well as choosing less nutritious options to save pennies.

While I was unaware of the challenge, I was curious how possible it is to live on $31.50/week per person. So I pulled out our family budget to see how our family compares. Our family of six has spent slightly more than $5,000 in the first 10 months this year on groceries, also including the cost of seeds and plants for our garden, all bulk fruit and vegetable purchases for canning and freezing, 1/2 hog and 1/4 beef. We don't purchase formula or prepared baby foods, but it does take into account my extra caloric intake for nursing as well as all foods used to prepare baby food for Eliza.

If I extrapolate that $5,000 figure out for the rest of the year, we will probably spend around $6,000 this year to feed our family of 6. When I break that $6,000 figure down, it figures out to roughly $1,000 per person per year, or about $19.25 per person per week. That's $12.25 less than the $31.50 average for food stamp recipients.

Now, the $31.50 for the Food Stamp Challenge needs to include ALL foods, including eating out. So I checked the budget again and added in the almost $2,000 our family has spent dining out and school lunches in the first 10 months of this year. Again, extrapolated out, let's call our 12-month dining budget $2,500. When added to the $6,000 food budget and broken down between 6 people, the weekly average is still only $27.25.

$27.25 per week to feed one whole person? Well, surely we must eat only processed foods and rice and beans, right?

Actually, no. Over the past few years we've eliminated almost all processed foods from our house except cereals (I'm not a morning person and I have a 2-year-old that demands breakfast immediately upon waking at 6am), crackers, pasta noodles (because that's one thing that's just not worth my time to make), Annie's shells and cheese (because they are just too yummy!), granola bars, tortilla and potato or veggie chips, yogurt and ice cream--which I don't plan to ever give up. Otherwise, it's a rarity for other processed foods to jump into our grocery cart unless they are free and we will use the item.

We have chosen to purchase as much locally produced, whole foods as possible, and when that is not an option, we then choose the most naturally produced, whole foods as possible, including our choice to purchase only local, pasture-raised chicken and pork, and 100% grass-fed, pasture-raised beef.  Amazingly, when we began purchasing local and organic whole foods, our food bill is actually lower than purchasing prepared, processed foods. 

We make almost everything from scratch, down to the whole wheat bread and strawberry jam we make our PBJ sandwiches with. We do have meatless meals, but most days we have meat with 2 out of 3 meals, but we plan ahead.

Many weeks I will roast a chicken and get 3 meals out of it. The first meal is roasted chicken with our vegetables and other sides. The second meal I use the rest of the chicken that is removed from the bones and shredded--instead of purchasing the pricier boneless, skinless chicken breasts--to serve with pasta or to make chicken enchiladas, or another chicken-based entree. For the third meal I make chicken stock from the carcass and vegetable scraps and use the stock to make chicken noodle soup, or chicken and dumplings, etc.

This week I made French dips with a beef round steak one night, then used what was left to make beef and noodles for lunch the next day and had enough leftover for Jason and I to each have leftover beef and noodles for a second lunch.

Eating well for under $31.50 per week is possible, but it takes discipline and a lot of hard work.

When we were still students at Anderson University and not yet dating, Jason and I would meet for lunch every Sunday after church to clip coupons, look over the grocery ad, and plan our food purchases for the week, being mindful of our meager RA stipends that were paying for our groceries. Today, on Sunday afternoons, you'll still find us doing the same thing. Now, however, we are sitting at the kitchen counter and checking the online ads at our favorite stores. The habits we've learned from the humble beginnings of our relationship continue to stick with us and are second nature.

I do understand that at 20 and 21, we were forming habits that would be much harder to try to learn today, but it's not impossible. If you are interested in trying the Food Stamp Challenge, check it out. Even if you didn't do it this week, you can try another week between now and Thanksgiving. Anyone CAN live on $31.50/week for food, and some people have no choice.

For just one week, you can make the choice to live simply, and perhaps you can help someone else simply live.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A lesson in discipline

I should have known that it was too good to be true. That really should have been my first clue not to let my guard down.

This afternoon, so it seemed, the stars had aligned and somehow both Ian and Eliza were soundly napping, at the same time. This is no small miracle these days since Eliza is transitioning to one nap, and it's at an odd 11:00-1:00 time most days, and Ian has taken to napping about 2 days out of 7. So, for them both to be asleep at 2:00pm was fabulous, and I decided to take advantage of the time and slip back to my bedroom to do a little bit of reading for our small group that meets tonight. Our church, Crosspoint, is working through the Strong Challenge along with about 50,000 people in churches across the midwest right now. This week our focus is on Study, so I thought that 30 minutes of quiet in the middle of the day would be a great time to practice this discipline today.

A bit later, I thought it was a little too quiet in the rest of the house, so I went to check on Ian. His room was empty, and I found him in the living room, playing with his cars.

For some reason I didn't notice the 2 canisters of flour, can of dry milk, canister of salt or bag of sugar on the table as well--only a VERY. LARGE. MOAT. surrounding the coffee table. Suddenly I forgot that I was going to scold him for coming out of his room before rest time was over and became concerned that there was a huge puddle of water in my living room.

I asked Ian where the water came from. His response? "I don't know!" So I asked again, thinking that maybe he didn't understand my question. Same response, "I don't know!"

"So what is that on the floor, Ian?" Ding, ding, ding! That was the correct question!

Ian then brought me an almost empty bottle of Canola Oil. The same bottle that just an hour ago had been nearly full and sitting high on the kitchen island.

The subject of my "Creative Problem Solving" for today

It was not water on the floor at all. What a relief! It was vegetable oil--what a nightmare! How on earth does one clean up a half-gallon of canola oil from wood laminate flooring? And how do I keep my busy little boy out of the pool of oil?

I cleaned what I could with old towels and did a quick mopping, but clearly soap and water were not going to cut through the oil. A quick internet search didn't give any more help, so what's a mom to do?!?

Twitter and Facebook to the rescue!

Stephanie Simpson
How do I clean up 1/2Gallon cooking oil on wood laminate flooring? , , ,

How did we ever solve crazy, time-sensitive predicaments like this before social networking?!? Within 10 minutes I learned from a Facebook friend that oatmeal may help absorb the oil, so I got out the canister of oatmeal and Ian and I proceeded to dump handfuls of oatmeal all over the floor until every last bit of oily floor was coated in oats.

My Mom always said that when you clean, it gets worse before it gets better.
Yes, he is wearing his duck suit from Halloween. Again.

Well, should you ever find yourself in a situation where you need to clean up a large quantity of vegetable oil from your wood laminate floor, I can assure you, from experience, that oatmeal does, indeed, clean up most of the residue. The things that you never knew that you needed to know!

Now, Jason and I have very different capacities for handling chaos. Jason is awesome at juggling lots of busyness and wrestling and activity-type chaos. That is not my gift. I try to redirect toward imaginative play and reading books when the rough-housing gets to be a bit much. Consequently, I don't tend to get upset by large messes, spills or other non-permanent instances of mass destruction. I figure, what's done is done, let's make the most of it.

Spilled milk? We all do it. Let's just clean it up and pour a new glass.

Kids went swimming in the sandbox? We'll hose you off in the yard and change clothes in the garage before coming inside.

Spill a half-gallon of oil on the floor? Let's throw down some oatmeal together and try to clean it up.

The way I see it, 20 years from now, this was probably a significant enough event from Ian's childhood that he'll remember it. At least I hope so, since we now have a "No pouring oil in the living room" Rule!

I'd rather he be able to remember it fondly, that he learned a lesson and laugh about the way that he learned it, instead of looking back upon a memory that is tempered with pain for being disciplined harshly for doing something that he didn't know that he should not do. I make a lot of mistakes too, and I find that I learn best when someone helps dust me off, and comes alongside me to help me clean up my act, instead of simply pointing out what I did wrong. I also tend to not make the same mistakes again that way.

I can only hope that I can do the same for Ian. He's got a lot of mistakes ahead of him, and I want him to know that it's okay. We all make mistakes. I may not know how to help him fix them all, but I'll do my best to help him figure it out. And I want him to know that he can count on me to to be someone to dust him off and help him make things right again.