The one thing my kids really want

Maybe your kids aren’t like this, but mine seem to always want something.

It’s Book Fair week at the school, so every day, we’ve had a request for books. I am not opposed to buying books (obviously; you should see our overstuffed shelves) but I’d like to be there to see what they pick out. Phil and I will take a spin through the book fair on parents’ night to find them something they want because I’m not a monster and books are my weakness.

Also, they always want food! I mean it’s not enough that I provide three meals a day, but the snacking is a major deal. Especially now that they’re both in school all day. I knew on the first day of school that they would be hungry when they got home, so I let them pick out a special snack from a couple of cookbooks and we bought what we needed and I made them their special snack.

It was a hit! And then they wanted a special snack the next day! And I knew there was no way I could keep up this streak for 180 days, so I had to come up with a plan. Could I give them a snack every day and make it special without busting our grocery budget or spending a ton of time on it?

The entire first week, one of their first questions off the bus was, “Did you make us a snack?”

There was such hope in the question that I couldn’t say “no” and disappoint them.

Could you tell them "no"? I didn't think so.

Could you tell them “no”? I didn’t think so.

But then came a week where we had a bunch of responsibilities and planning a snack, in addition to planning food for church events, and food for our own meals, was too much. So, I tried an experiment. I made a “special” snack from stuff we had in the house that wasn’t very special at all! (P.S. Do not tell them my secret!)

One day, I slathered some celery sticks with peanut butter and cut up some carrots and put ranch in a bowl. I set them out on plates at the counter, and the kids ate it up! The next day, we were going to have to take a snack with us because we had errands right after school, and the only pre-packaged stuff we buy is for their lunches, so I needed to improvise.

I made a snack mix out of a variety of nuts we had in the pantry. I cut up a fruit twist and a Twizzler and dumped in a bag of cinnamon sugar pretzels. I mixed it all up and gave it some kind of qwirky name and presented it as their special treat for the day. They were skeptical, and some of that stuff they wouldn’t eat on its own, but together, they tried a few bites. They didn’t end up finishing it that day, and that’s how I learned the secret of what my kids really want.

It doesn’t so much matter what I give them for a snack after school. But they want to know that I was thinking of them long enough to make an effort. On the days when I throw out a few options without an apparent plan, there is more grumbling and complaining than when I put something on the counter already prepared. A few days ago our daughter was complaining that she doesn’t like the taste of the baby carrots anymore and doesn’t want them in her lunch. I’m wondering what will happen if I put them out as a snack with a ranch or honey mustard dip. I’ll have to let you know how that goes.

What do my kids really want? I think they want what everyone wants: to be seen and known and heard and loved.

I fail at providing those things all the time, but I see the difference it makes when they know that I was thinking of them.

Maybe that’s all that really matters in any of our relationships: not that we get it right or perfect or that we make it special all the time, but that we make an effort to see and know and hear and love, in all of our imperfect ways.

I’m willing to give it a shot. Are you?


End-of-summer fun

Earlier this summer, I got into a habit of posting weekly about our summer fun, mostly to remind myself that even on the hot, stinky, crabby days when we all wanted to be somewhere else, we had some good times. And also because my memory is terribly short. And the grandparents like to see pictures. It’s all for us, and if you like it, too, well that’s a bonus.wpid-20150825_081856.jpg

Summer is officially over. My two “babies” headed out the door this morning and got on a bus to go to school. Both of them! When did this happen? I mean, I’ve been looking forward to this day, but I have a lot of sadness and tears, too.

It’s been a while since I posted because we had this little gap in our summer called “time with the grandparents” and “going to Kenya” and while I didn’t have anything much planned for our last two weeks of summer, we managed to make a few final memories for the summer of 2015.

Our first week back together was basically an act of survival and overcoming jet lag (for the parents). But our first full weekend together again, we used the tickets we earned for summer reading to attend the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire–a first for us.

wpid-20150816_144442.jpgAnd while the joust was definitely a highlight and what we spent the most time on, we had a full afternoon and early evening of fun. Next time, the kids want to dress up. It’s not hard to picture yourself in 16th century England, and what I’ve discovered about things like this is it’s way more fun if you play along.

We hit the park a couple of times just to get out of the house and get moving.

wpid-20150818_085525.jpgOur kids love the exercise stations in our parks, even though they’re meant for grown-ups. They put their own spin on them, and it makes them eager to take a walk with me before we play on the playground, so I’m not complaining.

On Sunday, even though I was wiped out tired, Phil suggested we go to one more concert in the park. We attended one earlier in the summer and had a fun time, and this one was going to be a trio from Ireland. Um, it’s hard for me to say no to anything Irish, so we went.

Our little ginger was right at home with Irish music

Our little ginger was right at home with Irish music

It was a toe-tapping party in the park and swept me away to the few short days I spent in Ireland almost 20 years ago. (Ugh. I am so old.)

Our last day of summer we got to spend all together and we decided to use that time to teach the kids to ride their bikes without training wheels. Yeah, I know, we’re probably a little late to this game, but what can you do. Phil took the training wheels off, loaded the bikes into the van and we went to the park. Izzy took to it right away. She needed almost no help. Corban wasn’t sure he even wanted to try, but eventually, we got him on his bike. We took the advice of a friend and sent him down a grassy hill so he would use the momentum to stay balanced. It worked, too. I’ll admit I had low expectations for this endeavor, but it turned out great and now I don’t feel like a deadbeat parent because our kids are still riding with training wheels. (FYI: I don’t think you’re a deadbeat parent if your kids are still riding with training wheels. I’m so much harder on me than I am on you.)


One highlight of the week for me was the night Phil and I decided not to watch TV and do a puzzle together instead. (I told him we are like minutes away from being middle-aged and put in a nursing home.) We have a collection of puzzles that we’ve mostly not even opened because we had small children in the house almost from the start of our marriage and kids plus puzzle pieces equal an emergency room visit (that never happened but it could have).

We sorted through the ones we thought were doable and found one that’s a picture from Ethiopia. Since we still have all things Africa on the brain, that seemed like a good choice. We sat together at the dining room table putting pieces together and listening to hits from the ’90s on Pandora, laughing and talking about the songs that played.

We didn’t finish the puzzle in a night, which was fine, because then our kids got involved and we were able to work on it together for a couple of days. Sometimes it really is just that simple–making space, creating opportunity to be together.

So, our family fun isn’t over just because the summer is, but this is probably the last post of its kind for a while. Thanks for tuning in to our summer fun!

What were some of your highlights from the summer?

How to live with unfulfilled dreams: Review of Longing For Paris by Sarah Mae

Ah, Paris. The word itself makes me sigh, just hearing it. And if I hadn’t had the unforgettable opportunity to visit Paris in college while I studied for a semester in England, the longing might be unbearable.

Okay, so there’s still a part of me that dreams of going back, this time with my love by my side. Isn’t it tragic that my husband and I have been to Paris separately, in our youth, but never together? Tragic, I tell you.

There’s something about Paris that hits on my longing for adventure and beauty and meaning. And it’s not just Paris. It’s Italy. It’s travel to anywhere I’ve never been. It’s my dream of writing a book. Of finding purpose in my work and life.

It’s the kinds of things that get pushed down or set aside in motherhood, things I’ve been wondering about: Are they recoverable? Do they fit in my life anymore as a mom?

Not long ago, I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love and I wanted to escape my day-to-day life–for real–to have those kinds of adventures and “find myself.”

LFPThank God–I really do!–for the next book to come along: Sarah Mae’s Longing for Paris: One Woman’s Search for Joy, Beauty and Adventure Right Where She Is. Pause for a moment and take all of that title in.

In this book, Sarah Mae recognizes our longings and affirms them as gifts from a God who cares about our dreams because He cares about us.


This book could not have come at a more perfect time. (Disclaimer: I received an advance copy of the book from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for my review.) I’m in the middle of a year focusing on the word “whole” and my kids will both be in school all day starting in the fall. I have this amazing opportunity to rediscover who I am after feeling like motherhood swallowed me these last 7 or so years.

Longing For Paris encourages moms at any stage of parenting (or any woman with unfulfilled longings) that we can have that beauty, adventure and meaning we’re looking for, right in our own homes and towns. But it’s not just empty platitudes Sarah Mae offers; it’s practical ways to do this.

A few of my favorite take-aways from the book:

  • Adventure can be anything out of the ordinary: dessert before dinner, a French pastry from a local cafe, savoring your food. It’s a call to seek out the “Paris” wherever you are.
  • Beauty is what you make of it. In the ordinary, everyday, we can begin to think that we’re not beautiful or our lives are not beautiful. Taking a cue from the confidence of French women, who seldom worry about what other people think, Sarah encourages us to choose to see beauty. And one way to do this is to get rid of our frumpy clothes or anything we wear that doesn’t make us feel beautiful. I love this suggestion because I know there are clothes in my closet that negatively affect my attitude about myself.
  • Simplicity adds to our contentment with what we have. It’s weird how having more stuff doesn’t make us any happier, just more burdened. She told a story about having her kids choose 20 things to keep out of all their things. That sounded like a lot, but she realized how much more they actually had. Purging and simplifying our things helps us enjoy what we do have.

I took a lot of notes with this book, and I want to plaster some of the quotes from the book in front of me always so I can remember these words.


It’s a beautiful call to live a full and rewarding life, even if it’s not everything you hoped it would be.

If you love your life–most days–but wonder if there’s still room in it for your dreams, then this is the book that will help you live with that tension, not just in a settling for less kind of way, but in a deeply satisfying way.

You can find out more about the book here.

Summer Fun Week 6

We’re leaving in a few hours, and I totally should be finishing the packing and errands, but I’m going to try to squeeze this in, just like I’ve been trying to squeeze in a few more moments of fun this last week together before the middle of August.

After today, our family of four will be split between two states, first, then two continents, and it will be hard. I’m so thankful we’ve had these many weeks in a row to make memories and be together.

Last night we fit in one more family outing–mini-golf, a first for the kids and a first-in-a-long-time for the grown-ups. Pro tip if you’re taking your family mini-golfing for the first time: take a picture before the madness fun begins and don’t bother keeping score. We lasted two holes with trying to score and then I was frustrated and trying to hurry along because other people were waiting.

wpid-20150717_180915.jpgThis photo pretty much sums up everything. We had fun by the time the night was over.

The day before, we spent a whole afternoon at a friend’s house in the pool. It was a much-needed distraction from all the stress and packing and such.

wpid-20150716_150557.jpgAnd though we don’t frequent the pool, the kids loved their time in the water and fancy themselves little fishies.wpid-20150716_110442.jpg

I’m not going to go out and get a pool membership, but I’m more likely to take up swimming lessons again. Thankful for friends who invite us into their space.

We spent a lot of the in-between time at home this week while the car was being checked for problems and having problems repaired. This is the part of the summer I’d sooner forget. Car repairs. Yuck. But at least we didn’t have to repeat our visit to the waiting room when we watched PBS for two hours.

Our first fun thing of the week was a visit to the library to see our reading dog friends. We’ve been visiting them at the library for two years and we love the work the therapy dogs do. Basically they hang out and listen and are so gentle that Corban has overcome his fear of dogs. The bonus this week was that one of the local television stations came to film a segment about the program and all three of us were interviewed! It’ll be a few weeks before we see our pretty faces on TV but we’re looking forward to it!

wpid-20150714_120307.jpgThat same day we also donned our cow attire for free food at Chick-fil-a.

I don’t know when the next summer fun update will be, so thanks for reading along and enjoying our summer fun with us! Hope your summer still has its share of fun left!wpid-fb_img_1436903212551.jpgwpid-20150714_154822.jpg




Summer Fun Week 5

We started our week off with a bang–literally. Our city has an amazing fireworks display at a local park, complete with real cannon-fire during the 1812 Overture. Our church sets up in a pavilion during the afternoon. We play games, hang out, eat grilled meats and then gather on the park’s grassy lawn for the concert and fireworks display. It’s a fun night, and this year, the kids were able to go with us.wpid-20150705_205526.jpg

Though it always makes me nostalgic for our hometown fireworks display, there’s nothing like hearing live cannon fire. And I enjoy the chance to hang out with our church family. We even saw Corban’s preschool teacher and had a chance to visit with her.

It’s always a late night, and the exodus from the park is like a scene from an apocalyptic movie, so our group tends to hang out and eat watermelon and other snacks until the masses thin out. A super late night made for a late start to our Monday, but that was okay. We had a few things to get done in the morning and then we decided to take a local hike for part of the afternoon. Hiking is something Phil and I have always loved to do, but we haven’t taken the kids on many hikes recently. There are so many places around here to hike and that are a variety of skill levels.

wpid-20150706_132241.jpgWe picked a starter trail and spent more than an hour exploring a little piece of conserved woods. Inside the preserve, we stumbled onto oak trees that were 150-200 years old. Amazing. We didn’t see much wildlife, other than what we brought with us, but we saw lots of bugs and had some good talks about nature and being out in the woods.

Corban was a bit reluctant at the start: “I didn’t want to go for a hike,” he said. “I wanted to go for a walk.” “Are there wolves and foxes in these woods?” We told him a hike was a walk, just in the woods and that any animals we might see were not interested in him. By the end of it, he had talked himself into liking it. “I love hiking,” he said on repeat.

Me, too, kid. Especially when I see stuff like this: wpid-20150706_140038.jpg

They are almost too adorable for words. Except when they’re fighting. Which apparently they don’t do in the woods.


Family time is precious to us, and we have to be really intentional about getting it. As our summer together winds down (just a few weeks until Kenya!), we’re still making memories. I think we can safely keep hiking on our approved list of family activities.

The kids and I had a pretty low-key rest of the week. We had one playdate at the park and ate lunch at Chick-fil-a.

And we crashed a storytime at Barnes and Noble where some local actors from the Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre came to perform some songs from their show, “Charlotte’s Web.”wpid-20150708_105931.jpg

The kids love stories like this, and Izzy has been to this theater with her first-grade class. We’re adding a trip there to our list of must-do in the near future. They have a great selection of children’s shows, in addition to shows for grown-ups. I love introducing my kids to the arts. And I’m grateful for places like Barnes & Noble that host events like this.

There’s a big golf tournament in town this week, so some of our entertainment has been watching live coverage of our backyard on the computer and television, and logging our experiences as we drive around town. I’m not a golf fan, but I might be after this week!

One more week of summer fun for us, and then our kids will be with their grandparents and we’ll be gearing up for our trip to Kenya. Thanks for reading along so far!

What are some highlights from your summer so far?

Summer Fun Week 4

A month of summer already? And now it’s July? True on both accounts.

Last week, I left you hanging with a teaser about an adventure we were taking on Sunday. So, let me relieve your agony from the anticipation.

wpid-20150628_103831.jpgThe Tall Ships Festival in Philadelphia and Camden, New Jersey, took place last weekend, and we decided to take our family out for the day. (We skipped church because I needed a break, which is probably another blog post I could write, but no one had official duties and that hasn’t happened in months. Family time it was!) One of the ticket options was just for entrance onto the waterfronts on both sides of the Delaware River, but that included access to the ferry. Since we’re newbies to the tall ships world, and we didn’t have an entire day to spend there, we took this option. wpid-20150628_124424.jpg Packed a lunch, paid for parking and wandered around on a beautiful day. (With about a billion other people. Lots of people everywhere. And we spent a lot of time standing in line.)

We didn’t tour any ships this time but it was fun to see the artistry of the boats and learn a little bit about their history. While waiting in line for the ferry the first time, we learned that the U.S. Coast Guard boat that was there was a confiscated German boat from World War II and that the French boat Hermione was an exact replica of Lafayette’s boat.

The closest we ever got to it was on the return trip on the ferry. Still, it was a magnificent boat that sets my writer’s imagination running wild and free. (The costumed people walking around did as well. At times, I felt like I could jump into a story from the past if I wanted to!) Maybe it seems like a bit of a letdown that we couldn’t wander all over the ships or even get close, but for me, this was great. When else do you get to see sights like this? (The next day, friends of ours vacationing in Cape May saw the boats sailing on their way to New York City, which is another sight I’d love to see!)

wpid-20150628_155418.jpgIn-person adventures always make me more interested in the history of those events and places, so I’m adding to my to-read list. (And we have more places to add to our must-visit list.) The Battleship New Jersey “lives” on the Delaware River in Camden, and we’d love to go back sometime and take a tour.

wpid-20150628_124640.jpgOur kids love adventure, and we decided to not tell them where we were going right wpid-20150628_162311.jpgaway. We drove past the church and asked if they wanted any clues. After a few, they wanted to know what we were doing, so we told them.

It was a tiring day of walking and we had a few moments where we might have regretted our decision (standing in line for the ferry for 45 minutes on the return trip was one) but we know the kids had fun when they played ships and Coast Guard for the next two days.

One attraction at the festival was the world’s largest rubber duckie that stands more than six stories tall. But it had some issues over the weekend and never was able to be inflated. We heard a lot of people complaining about that, and though we were a bit disappointed, the ships made up for it. (A couple of women dressed as pirates engaged Izzy in conversation calling her the “dread pirate Izzy.” I think she’s still beaming from this moniker.)

That was our big highlight of the week.

We also managed to make it to two parks this week, despite the threat of rain. wpid-20150630_091938.jpg

We had a super fun playdate on Wednesday in the city. (And because it was so fun, I have no pictures!) And we went to two library programs: one about reptiles and one about insects. Fun times! The kids didn’t get close enough to touch or hold either one, but both programs were informative and fun.

Another part of our week was a rally night at Chick-fil-a for our Kenya team fundraiser. The kids totally stole the show, running the spinning wheel and instructing people on their winnings. As the trip draws closer (almost three weeks now!) our summer plans are dropping off a bit as we try to keep up with housework and packing for our various travels. (The kids to Illinois; the hubs and I to Kenya.)

Not every day or week has to be jam-packed full of fun, but we’re hoping to make a few more memories together in the coming weeks before the school year is upon us again.

How’s your summer going?


Summer Fun Week 2

Just to be clear: I am not SUPER MOM. I have a shirt I wear sometimes that says otherwise–Super Mom, Super Wife, Super Tired–but I really only identify with the tired part. This is why I drink coffee. Parenting is tiring! Summer parenting is exhausting!

So, do not read these posts and think, wow, she’s such a great mom and I am not! I NEVER think that about me. I yell at my kids. I cry. I throw tantrums. I question the sanity of having had children at all. These pictures serve as reminders of the good times so I don’t try to convince myself it’s all bad.

You can check out our first week of summer here.

This is what this week looked like for us.

wpid-20150614_202319.jpgOn Sunday night, we headed out to a free concert in the park. A trio of fiddling sisters from Texas was the show, and man, were they good! After picking out some snacks from the food trucks, the kids got into the groove and took up a large stretch of the grass to dance. I love their freedom and was only slightly worried that other people might be annoyed by their antics, but whatever. It was a free concert.

And sitting outside on a blanket listening to music with my loves is the best. Even when one of them makes faces like this. wpid-20150614_200551.jpgSigh. Maybe we’ll have a normal picture sometime. But then again, I didn’t marry him because he’s normal.

Sunday night would set the tone for the week. We spent A LOT of time outside. On Tuesday, we got to head out to a park playdate with some friends from preschool at a park we don’t visit often enough. (For the record: park playdates stress me out on multiple levels, especially if port-a-potties are involved, but we go because it’s good for all of us! Even me, the introvert!)

My kids are becoming fearless in their play, and I think this is a good thing.

wpid-20150616_093143.jpgThis same day we spent 90 minutes in the waiting room of the auto repair shop so our driver’s side window would go up again and we wouldn’t have to duct tape a garbage bag over it when rain threatened.wpid-20150616_163940.jpgwpid-20150616_164530.jpg

Fortunately, Chick-fil-a had its monthly family night later that day, too, so the kids had more outdoor fun.We didn’t have to spend any money on rigged carnival games and they STILL got a prize. And time in the bounce house! And ice cream!

The next day we ventured over to Oregon Dairy for their annual Family Farm Days. A wagon ride through the farm and then a fun-filled day of free activities, with free samples of milk and ice cream and yogurt. It’s a really generous day and the kids always want to stay longer, no matter how long we’ve been there. (It was close to four hours by the time we left!)

Corban is happy as long as he gets to see tractors. Izzy has fun no matter what’s going on.wpid-20150617_121015.jpg

And we always enjoy seeing animal mascots.

In this case, Cylo, the Barnstormer. Corban was afraid he was going to try to take his hat. (Don’t be alarmed. We are not Mets fans. Phil and I scored these hats when we went to see the Cubs play the Mets. And the kids love the hats. But not the Mets. Just to be clear.)


wpid-20150617_100245.jpgOur one trip to the library this week was for a Lego program. The kids heard a story and then had to create something having to do with superheroes. They worked together to create a superhero house.


It has a pool on the roof and a weapon hanging off the side of the roof. It must be a wealthy superhero’s house–someone like Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark.

Creativity is fun!

We ended the week having dinner with friends. Our kids played till almost 10 p.m.!

How’s your summer going so far?