Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Pet Rocks

I have talked about the big changes that are coming our way before. We are really getting into crunch time, now. Joel received his form the other day from the big wigs that decide whether or not you are "fit for duty". We knew what his would say (due to his ankle surgery last year, he doesn't meet Army requirements), but it felt so very official to see the paperwork that said he was no longer eligible for service. And so much more real.

We are preparing to take a vacation. I know, it doesn't seem like the best time to me, either. But Joel really felt like this might be the last chance we have to do this for a while. To me, it will make the next couple of weeks fly by, and right now, I would rather that time stand still for a few minutes.

But, as everyone who has ever parented small children knows, time stands still for no mom. Every day seems to run away on winged feet, leaving me hopeless to catch it and actually make sense of things. And we all know what a worrier I am. I like to have things all planned out, and be ready for the future. But that, to beat a dead horse, is impossible right now.

So, I am trying to focus on the positive. And thinking about that reminded me of memorial stones. Memorial stones, like the ones from Joshua:

"So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe,and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the LORD your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”
Joshua 4:4-7 (NIV)

They are memories of the time the Lord has provided in my life. Sometimes in completely miraculous ways, other times in ways that are "normal" but that still affect me deeply. Focusing on these things, these concrete examples of the Lord's working in my life, reminds me that He will not change, and since He has "engraved me on His hands" (Isaiah 49:16) He is not bound to forget in the future.

Often, He has come through in the 11th hour (His timing is perfection, but often it seems so close to "too late" in my human mind). I can't help but remember Jocelyn's birth: Joel was deploying to Iraq on the 1st of December. I was due on the 8th. The doctors wouldn't induce me. I was hysterical. I kept praying and praying, literally begging God to allow Joel to see our first child before he left to fight a war I wasn't promised that he would come home from. I was living in Texas, no family or friends nearby. It brings tears to my eyes to think of it every time. It was an impossible situation.

But God was there. And on Thanksgiving Day, we gave thanks for our new daughter. The one who arrived BEFORE her dad left. All through God's power and provision. Nothing I did could have changed that situation. I was completely dependent on the Lord. And He did not disappoint. We celebrated our few brief days as a family, and treasured the memories during that long year apart.

That memory is a memorial stone. A record of His care for me during a humanly insurmountable difficulty. During a time when I couldn't do anything, He was able to do everything. And He didn't even ask my opinion, but when I realized how futile it was to continue to to try to rely on my own strength and when I gave it over fully to Him, He gave me the desires of my heart.

You would think that I would have the faith of a Hebrews 11 hero after that point. But, I can be as forgetful as the Israelites. Here I am again, worried and stressed, after a million examples of how He has answered every question I have ever had. So, I go back. And I remember. Because to forget might be on the of the greatest tragedies in a Christian's life.

And sometimes, I am tempted to go drag rocks out of the ground to build a tangible monument to His grace, to have a physical pile of stones sitting in my way, reinforcing my fragile memory. But as the Israelites moved on, so must I. I must discipline myself to remember. I have to make these things the pure, lovely, of good report thoughts that I should be having (Philippians 4:8). Picking up these little pebbles and reviewing them, knowing them intimately. And that is a good practice, one I am sure I will be tested on sooner rather than later.

Monday, June 27, 2011

"Attractive" Lap Trays

        We are taking a trip. A rather long one. We are driving from Colorado to see my sister in North Carolina. With a three year-old and a five year-old. The kids and I have taken several long car trips before (none of our family lives closer than a solid one-day drive-about 14 hours- and we have been several times to Washington, which is another two day trek) but they haven't been recently. Also, this will be the first time Joel has had to travel with the kids for more than a day.

We have a very tiny car. We do not have a DVD player. We considered investing in one, but we have not had great success with portable ones in the past, so we decided to forgo it this time. We both loaded up our Ipods with movies, but I know that even those get boring quickly. I wanted something that the kids could use to play in their seats, kind of like a table.

I debated buying tv trays, but they were kind of pricey. We also have very limited space, so I wanted something compact. I was also thinking it would be fun to have something that was magnetic.

Then I thought about cookie sheets. My mom used to give my brother a cookie sheet and magnetic letters when he was little so he could play on the floor. That was it! I bought two cookie sheets (from the wonderful Dollar Tree). They were a little plain, so I decided to spruce them up, with what else? Mod Podge and scrapbook paper, of course!

Here's what you will need:

Cookie Sheet-from the Dollar Store

Mod Podge


2 Sheets of Scrapbook Paper (one isn't wide enough to cover the entire tray)

Rubber Cement

Clear Coat Spray Paint (optional)

First, trim your paper to fit your cookie sheet. This is really easy, just fold it where it meets the edge and trim along your folded line. Isn't that scrapbook paper cute? I thought I was particularly clever to buy travel themed ones!

Next, you will need to trim your edges to fit the rounded corners. Flip your cookie sheet over and trace along the edge, the match up the top and bottom of the paper and you will only have to cut once.

Just be sure not to crease your paper! You don't want a big fold line across the middle. You can also use this as a guide because you will have to use a portion of your second sheet to cover the rest of the tray. I just kind of eyeballed how wide I wanted my "stripe" to be, and then rounded the corners on the side that would be against the tray. I also forgot to take photos of that part!

Then, spread your rubber cement across the back of the larger sheet. Press it firmly into the bottom of the pan. I used rubber cement instead of Mod Podge because I thought it would hold better on the metal. Then glue your shorter section to cover the remainder of the bottom of the tray.

Cover the entire surface with Mod Podge. Remember, use it sparingly! It will bubble some, but I have found that it almost always dries flat. Allow to dry completely- for me, about 30 minutes.

Then, cover it with the clear coat. You could probably skip this step, but I wanted it to be fairly sturdy. I used about 3 coats, it only takes about 10 minutes to dry.

Ta-da- a magnetic lap tray, suitable for magnets of all sorts, coloring, constructing, eating, whatever. Easy! Then I realized something. Crayons would still roll around and off the tray- although the lip would prevent that somewhat.

So I decided to magnetize some crayons. I chose the twistable kind because they don't melt as easily, and they don't have to be sharpened. Also, it prevents my kids from peeling the paper off- one of their favorite activities! I just bought a roll of magnetic strips to use.

Cut the magnet to size. I wanted mine to be fairly long so it would hold well. This stuff isn't very strong.

I cut my strips in half so they would fit the crayons better.

The stuff says it is adhesive, it isn't. It doesn't hold for more than about 6 seconds. So I just ran a line of hot glue down the magnet. Hold it on the crayon until it sets.

And you have a magnetic crayon! Perfect for your little magnetic tray.

Fun, huh? Also, the nice part about cutting the magnet strips in half is that it allows you to put the crayons back in the packaging. Not that they will ever be in there.

There you have it- two magnetic travel trays. I hope the kids enjoy them on our trip. Not too bad considering they only cost me about $1.50 each!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Father's Day 2011

Have I ever mentioned how much I love this state?! I know, it probably bores you all to tears to hear me ramble on about it. I suppose part of it is that I did not have much appreciation for the outdoors when I was younger. I am catching up now! Please excuse the funny camera angle, I am experimenting with more "artistic" shots. What do you think? Anyway, we found the perfect picnic spot at Helen Hunts Fall (if you have never been there and you live in the Springs, you should definitely go) last year. We were anxious to make another trip up there and Joel readily agreed it would make a great Father's Day.

On the drive up to the falls you follow the creek almost the whole way. It is fed by snow melt from the mountains, so it is crystal clear and a little chilly! There are plenty of little dips and bends that form mini "falls" and my engineers thought it would be fun to move all the rocks around to see how it would affect the water flow. Shh, no one tell Josie she is doing science!

The kids jumped at the opportunity to wear their rain boots. There isn't much actual rainfall in this dry country, so the creek was a good place to try them out. Jocelyn realized that they also made good tools for moving rocks.

Carson decided the water was a little too cold for him, so he mostly ran around the edge of the creek and threw rocks, and sticks, and pretty much anything else he could lay hands on into the water.

Jocelyn saw Carson posing on this tree so she had to try it. If you are pondering her strange outfit, she has on a rashguard. It is the top of her swimsuit, and she had the bottoms on underneath her skirt.

Carson, braving the water. I am not sure what his deal was, he was much more adventurous last year. I think he was a little out of sorts about having his nap interrupted. That boy loves his sleep!

Jocelyn was hilarious-she kept getting water in her boots and then she would hold on to this rock while she emptied them out. The first time she did it they must have been full to the brim! It was so funny, and she, of course, had to keep showing off.

Joel had as much fun as the kids. He decided once they pulled down the "dam" they should rebuild it, so it would be "better". He had worked until 6am that morning, and he said the cold water was keeping him awake! He was really a great sport about the whole thing, and I think he had a pretty good time.

The only kind of couples' photos we seem to take lately. I think we are pretty cute.

The finished "dam"- it didn't hold the water completely, but it did a pretty good job of significantly deepening the pool behind it. All the workers left tired and happy!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Book Review: The Inconvenient Marriage of Charlotte Beck

I love a historical, romantic fiction novel. The Inconvenient Marriage of Charlotte Beck by Kathleen Y'Barbo falls into that category, but I didn't see much in the way to recommend it as either historical or romantic. It was a fine book, but it wasn't amazing.

First, I was unaware that this book is the third in a series of three. I am unsure as to whether the other two titles would have filled in the gaps that I found in this one. The book is not labeled as part of a series, so I am guessing it was intended to also work as a stand-alone novel. In that case, it had some details that were sorely lacking to aid in understanding the plot.

Charlotte Beck is the beautiful, spoiled daughter of a Colorado tycoon. She is only interested in pleasing herself- mainly through obtaining a college education and becoming a board member in her father's company. I disliked how inaccurate many of the details concerning a period woman's behavior were. I am sure there were exceptions- but I doubt that they were quite this bold. I am not a feminist at all, so I suppose if that is your thing you would probably enjoy Charlotte's determination to be proven an equal to her male counterparts in business. I did not.

Her "love interest", Alex Hambly, is more often frustrated with Charlotte than enamored of her. When Charlotte's father arranges Alex's marriage to Charlotte, neither of them are happy about the prospect. However, due to the Hambly family's financial troubles Alex needs the Beck's funds, and because of Charlotte's outrageous behavior, Charlotte's father is insistent on the match.

The book has a predictable ending, which I don't mind, actually I usually enjoy them. Both Charlotte and Alex realize their love for each other and settle down, happily ever after. However, as I was not deeply engaged in the characters, and found much of Charlotte's behavior to be ridiculous, I was not applauding. The author seemingly hurries to tie up what I am guessing are lose ends from the previous book and it is a little hard to follow.

I will refrain from passing too harsh a judgement. The book wasn't a total drag, and had some interesting details. I would like to think that I would have enjoyed it much more if I had read the series in its entirety.

Please take the time and rank my review! Uncheck the box if you don't desire any email contact.

I was provided a complimentary copy of this book by the publisher, Waterbrook Press,in exchange for my unbiased review.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Coupons and Criticism

I like saving money. Mostly because when I save it I have it spend somewhere else. I took up couponing about 8 months ago and I have really started saving money on my groceries. I won't make this into a coupon blog (or even a money-saving blog) because there are plenty of other ones out there. I plan to continue filling the random-party-crafty-type-thing-bizarre-thought-mixed-into-the-everyday niche that I currently occupy now, please don't worry.

But back to the couponing. I am not someone who is easily daunted. I very easily fall into righteous indignation equally over rights and wrongs. I am just as likely to return a dollar to the cashier as to make sure they don't overcharge me a dollar. I am all about fairness-especially when it comes to businesses.

And I am a fine-print reader. Want to know the ins and outs of a store's return policy? Ask me. Want to know what exclusions apply to a sale? I know them all. So when it comes to coupons, and coupon policies, trust me, I know what I am talking about. I can tell you that Proctor and Gamble's coupons say, "Limit of 4 like coupons in a transaction" in bold red print, I can tell you that trial sizes are excluded from almost everything. I know I can use a Target coupon and a manufacturer's coupon at Target to get a better deal.

And you would think, since I am so committed to honesty and integrity, that my transactions would go flawlessly. And you would be wrong. I have spent 15 minutes at Target's customer service counter because they CHARGED me for a coupon-rather than discount my purchase the amount (and it was $3!). I have had to read the fine print out loud to the cashier. I have had to recite their own store's coupon policy to them ("yes, you can take this coupon, you just need to reduce the amount so I am not getting an overage").

In short, it hasn't really gotten any easier. I am constantly fighting with the cashiers for justice. Often they just huff and tell me, "well, they will do it this once". Oh, thank you, for following the rules! You are so gracious. After a particularly trying episode at the commissary this week- three separate coupon "discussions" to put it nicely, I thought about just giving up. Was it really worth all the hassle? There are days when I feel like I am educating every cashier in Colorado Springs about coupon etiquette. And I am in no way an extreme couponer!

Every time I stand at the register with my fist full of coupons, my heart beats a little faster. I prepare myself for battle, knowing that imparting this knowledge will come at a cost. Mostly to me, to my patience, my kindness, forcing my own sense of injustice back down, telling myself that I must assume that they are ignorant. Otherwise, wouldn't they be rejoicing with me at all the money I am saving?

I really think they don't know. They think I must be doing something wrong. If it was as easy to save money as pushing a little piece of paper across the counter, wouldn't everyone be doing it? And it is, but also it isn't. They think I must be cheating, trying to take something that I don't deserve, that I haven't earned. And I am, but I'm not. You know? So they argue with me, and they reject my coupons, and I have to patiently explain, over and over, that I know I am doing the right thing. They don't have to use their own coupons, but could they please just let me use mine?

And it makes me feel like I am a coupon evangelist, of sorts. Trying to convert the world to saving money, one cashier at a time. And I was struck by how it really is just like true evangelism. I know the right way, I am doing the right thing. But it just seems so wrong to everyone. A little too easy. But they don't see how once I clip that coupon, I have to go out there and use it- it won't change my life by sitting in a drawer. And using it is the hard part. But I can't give up, because I know in my heart it is the right thing to do.

Explaining over and over to unfeeling minimum wage employees, who suddenly become very possessive over a system they don't fully understand, and that has never done them any good-"just buy our products at regular price, we have the best ones and it will save you money", just because it is all they have ever known, can be very trying. But I keep doing it, because I know that being a good steward of the resources I have been blessed with is the right thing.

And I have to keep sharing the real Good News in the same way. Even when I am embarassed and I just want to shut down-to keep it to myself. And even when I want to just clutch the precious gift that I have been entrusted with to my chest, I can't really have faith until I use it. Even when others don't understand- when the old ways seem just fine, even though upon close inspection, anyone can see that they are barely passable at best.

And there will be plenty who won't understand-who don't even want to understand. They are content to try to establish the system based on their own flawed knowledge, content to try to work their way into a heaven that has very legible fine print, but is the Cornerstone over which men stumble. "I AM the way, the Truth and the light- NO man comes to the Father, except by Me." John 14:6 (emphasis mine). It just seems a little too easy-and we want to feel that we have earned our rights. Except we can't.

And it is truly my job to explain it. Over and over and over. Even if they still choose to close their eyes. Even if they reject it outright. I have been given stewardship over the keys to true life, and I can't keep them in a drawer. It may seem to good to be true, but it is complete Truth. And I can't give up, because I am absolutely convinced in my heart that it is the right thing to do. So I will keep patiently explaining, and kindly reminding, and in the end, I know I won't be the only one to benefit.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Memorial Weekend: Part 2

We went up to Rosemont Reservoir on Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend. Joel had been dying to fish there, but by the time we got there it was really too late. It was still nice to walk the trail, though. It is about 1/2 mile each way, but the kids did pretty well. It gives me hope that soon we will be able to go further.

I love this state. Doesn't that just look like a poster or something- it needs a cheesy cliche caption, something like "The Road Less Travelled". The light was perfect for photos.

I loved this shot, too. The kids had a great time running down the hill, they were completely unaware that hiking back up is not quite as fun.

Carson was so anxious to get down there. I think I am going to print this shot in black and white. Isn't it precious?

The reservoir supplies part of Colorado Springs drinking water, so it is pretty pristine. The fishing regulations are extremely strict. I just thought it was such a majestic example of God's grace to us through the beauty of creation.

Joel realized the other day that there are precious few photos with me in them. So he decided to snap a couple. I so got the "can't keep my squinty eyes open for a decent photo gene", thanks to my maternal side. Oh well, hopefully you will be distracted by my cute kids.

Carson was completely enamored of the huge sticks everywhere. And since there was water that was right handy, and plenty of wood, what else was a boy to do?

Jocelyn had to show that she could pick up pick "logs", too.

And, of course, throwing sticks in the water has no age limit for males. This picture is blurry, but it was rather hilarious watching Joel launch them into the water.

Jocelyn, happily watching her splash.

A boy, a stick, water and lots of dirt. I think Carson would have just moved there permanently.

I have been trying to take fewer scenic photos. But these views were just to gorgeous to resist!

A tiny creek that feed into the reservoir. Even the creek was pretty!

The guys finishing up the trail. Carson walked the whole way, which is pretty good for him. He can be a little whiny when he is tired. He was trying to catch up to Josie, so he kind of got fooled into it.

Some of the aspens were leafing and some weren't, but they were pretty either way. It was a nice little drive/hike. I am hoping to do some more of these this summer. It is easy to see beauty of the mountains from down here, but they are even more gorgeous up close and personal.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Memorial Weekend: Part 1

We started our Memorial Day weekend off on Friday. We visited the North Pole Theme Park. We took Josie right after Carson was born in May of 2008. I thought it would be fun to take them again. I love this park because it is not crowded, it is fairly cheap in the grand scheme of things ($13 per person) and it is really geared towards little kids. As a matter of fact, there was no rides that Carson couldn't go on-which he thought was terrific!
We started off on the Sky Ride. Because the park is at the base of Pikes Peak, there are some absolutely fabulous views. Joel ended up taking off Carson's crocs because Carson was afraid they were going to fall off!

I got this really great shot of them coming around the turn. Josie and I were in the car right behind them. Carson was mostly grinning like that the whole day and running around saying, "Can I ride another one?"

Jocelyn was my buddy. She was a little afraid of the heights, but I told her my trick for when I am afraid. I just sing. So she sang "Jesus Loves Me" and told me she felt much better.

We also went on the Ferris Wheel, it is the world's highest. Not the tallest, but the highest altitude. It is funny, because it is actually pretty small. Then the kids went on the "Rodeo Rider". Jocelyn loved it, but Carson wasn't quite so sure about it.

As you can see by his face!

Far and away, the roller coaster was the biggest hit. It is really jerks you around, so Joel wouldn't ride it. Carson and I rode it three times and Josie went five times! Thekids were so adorable, they kept putting their hands in the air. It never goes any higher than about six feet off the ground, so it is not scary at all.

This was Jocelyn's other favorite ride. She is sitting in a huge Christmas ornament that rotates around a giant Christmas tree. It is funny to me to see all the Christmas themed things in May!

Josie loved being able to drive her own "antique" car. I just think it is so great that the park pretty much lets kids do everything on their own. There was only a handful of rides that she needed an adult.

Joel and Carson cruising. Carson loved driving. And Joel said he did a pretty good job.

The "Big Slide". It goes so fast it is really hard to get a good photo. It takes far longer to climb to the top then to come down!

Josie got a little carried away!

Joel and I switched off with Carson. We decided that trekking up all those stairs definitely constituted a work-out!

This is probably one of the only photos my kids will ever have with Santa Claus. We caught him walking through the park and Josie ran right up to him. We don't "do" Santa, but I don't have any problem with him. I have no idea why this photo has dark spots on the sides. It is like my lens cover didn't open all the way.

Josie feeding the deer. She was a real pro.
Carson was terrified. You would have thought that those deer were trying to eat him! You can't really tell, but Joel is kind of holding him up there. It was rather comical.
Joel was not afraid of the animals. This big llama practically tried to kiss him!
Waiting on Josie to finish her last ride. Carson was pretty exhausted from all his running around, and he told me he just wanted me to hold him. I was happy to oblige.
Joel's attempt at a family shot. We really need a tri-pod! But I thought it wasn't bad, at all. We had a great day, the weather was practically perfect, and the kids must have liked it. They were begging to come back before we even left the parking lot!


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