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Month: August 2015

It Works For Me: Conversation Starter Sticks

It Works For Me: Conversation Starter Sticks

I recognize this post could easily be received as an “I’ve got it all together so look what I do” kind of thing so I’m going to shoot that one down right outta’ the gate. This idea was birthed out of desperation. Dinner time desperation.

Maybe it’s just boys. Maybe it’s just MY boys. But, dinner time conversation at our house can sometimes make me want to gouge my eyes out be less than enjoyable.

After I’ve taught a 1st grader, 2nd grader, a 5th grader and made sure our 1yr old and 4yr old haven’t burned down the house, sat through a few hours of arabic, prepared breakfast and lunch for a full basketball team, did a load or 7 of laundry and hung it all out to dry, managed to squeeze in a quick workout, washed the dishes by hand for the 3rd time today… because apparently no one on our side of the pond received the breaking news about the revolutionary invention called a dishwasher. Okay, refocus, I should get back on track-just needed to get that all off my chest. Now, back to my original thought process. When we finally sit down together as a family for dinner after a long day, I would like to have a normal conversation, just a normal conversation. That’s not too much to ask.

But, a woman can only say, “No movie quotes at the dinner table, please” or “You know bathroom talk is unacceptable” and “Only original thoughts for the remainder of the meal” with a smile on her face so many times before that vein in her neck starts to pop out and she must resist the urge to sling taco salad across the table. I’m just sayin’.

In an effort to help guide our conversations over dinner I came up with “Conversation Starter Sticks.”

It’s pretty easy.  All you need is a small bucket, a pen and a few popsicle sticks. After you gather those things, simply write several questions on the popsicle sticks and put them in a bucket.  Done. See, very easy.

We take turns passing the bucket around the table, pulling out a stick and answering the question.  It’s simple- but revolutionary for our little tribal diner.

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Hearing about a place Braeden would like to visit, or what Brody wants to be when he grows up is much more enjoyable than a complete rendition of the opening scene from Despicable Me 2.

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**Please ignore the two day old marker on Breck’s arm. #LoserMom

The older boys are also required to help the younger ones read the sticks. Reading practice….check!

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I tried to think of questions that would really get my boys thinking or things I knew they would love to talk about. So we have everything from “What Lego creation did you build this week?” to  “Who’s your favorite soccer team and why?”, all the way down to “If you could have one superhero power, what would it be?” If you are having trouble coming up with questions check here for more ideas.

So, that’s it– Conversation Starter Sticks. It’s not earth shattering, neither is it rocket science- but hey, it works for me.

Back To School

Back To School

When I was an elementary school teacher I learned pretty quickly that the first day of school would always be eventful. There would always be an unexpected event that makes the day a little extra exciting.

-A child falls asleep on the school bus and misses her stop, sending everyone into “missing child” mode. Hysteria ensues.

-Somebody forgets to bring a lunch resulting in crocodile tears in the lunch line.

-The student who thought he was a car rider missed his bus because he was in the car rider line instead of the bus line.

I’ve since transitioned from public school teacher to homeschool teacher and it still holds true that there will always be unexpected events on the first day of school.

Last week we started back to school, which means I am required to flood your news feed with adorable photos of the boys. Just humor me.IMG_1008IMG_1020IMG_1006IMG_1013

The day began with a bang. We found Brax in his crib, without a diaper, painting the sheets and walls with the contents of said diaper. Art for the day? Check. Seriously, that’s gross, even if you’re his mama. Lucky for me, he cleans up pretty nicely. IMG_0996 (1)I peeled off the hazmat suit and headed downstairs to fix breakfast. We usually start the first day of school with a special breakfast. This time we had pumpkin chocolate chip muffins which may not sound special to you, but finding pumpkin here is like finding gold at the end of a rainbow so we were ecstatic.

Thanks to my friend Lora, we dished out washi-tape coded school supplies.

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We cuddled on the couch, read lots of books and I was reminded of how thankful I am that I get to teach these guys ….despite the random poop clean up. IMG_1033IMG_0978

New Apartment, New Problems

New Apartment, New Problems

There are pros and cons to moving into a brand new apartment on this side of the pond.

The pros are obvious. Everything is shiny and new. You are the first to live there, so you don’t have to clean someone else’s “funk” before you move in. Everything is modern and updated.

Unfortunately, there are also a few cons. For example when you’re the first one to move into a new apartment you must figure out what works and what doesn’t. And trust me- there are always a few doozies that pop up after a week or so of living in your new home. You might have  negotiated your lease so low that the apartment becomes “as is”.  At that point, if the builder had not put in shower doors… well then, you better be learning how to install shower doors.

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Sometimes things will not work properly and the owner is responsible. That’s always a plus. For example, after we moved in we discovered that one of the air conditioning units in the boy’s bedroom didn’t work. In a place where the temperatures can reach 120 degrees… that’s what we call an “urgent problem.” We were fortunate enough to have a kind gentleman fix that little problem… though it took him 2 weeks. Not complaining here.

Then there are always those problems that comes out of nowhere. You know, the one you never saw coming. You think you are finally hitting a nice groove, the place is all fixed up and livable, things are going smoothly- and WHAMO!

Say for example the time our kids turned on the water to our outside area (they call it a “terrace” here) and completely flooded the two apartment floors below us. Yeah, we didn’t see that one coming.

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It was a steamy afternoon a few weeks ago when the boys asked if they could turn on the hose pipe and splash around in the water on our terrace. Not a problem at all, right? IMPORTANT NOTE: we are on the top floor apartment, so there are families living directly under our terrace. The boys ensued on their little water adventure, splishing and splashing for about 30 minutes. They had a jolly ole time. All the while- apartments below us were getting hosed.

An hour or so later while sitting at the dinner table, with our dinner guest, we heard an unexpected knock on the door. We went to see who it was and were greeted by our building guard telling us that the apartments below ours were completely flooded.

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Although we told the kind gentleman what happened- he refused to listen and insisted the problem was in the toilet.

 Since then there have been a flood of men in and out of our home knocking holes in the wall, turning the water off at the main source and scattering tools around in various places in an attempt to figure out the problem. We just let them work.

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But we can assure you the next time it rains, which should be sometime in the next 6 months, they will learn that the toilet is not the problem, it is actually the grout on our terrace that doesn’t hold water. Though it only rains about twice a year here.. it’s gonna be a sad day for our neighbors downstairs when the storm clouds come rolling in.

So while the term “turn-key ready” in this part of the world can be subjective, at least I’m not coming home to a completely flooded apartment.

The Birthday Girl

The Birthday Girl

I celebrated another birthday this week which meant Britten was working feverishly to pull off an epic birthday celebration despite the challenges of making birthday’s special in a foreign land. And I must say, despite the odds, he pulled it off.

The boys wanted to have a voice in making the celebration special so they whisked me off to IHOP for breakfast in lieu of cooking.

Over breakfast, Breck poured chocolate syrup into the miniature milk containers that normal people use for coffee in a desperate attempt to make chocolate milk. Sad, I know. He worked diligently whipping up .30 ounces of chocolate milk at a time and I let him because….well, it was my birthday.

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I ordered chocolate pancakes and reminisced about the good ol’ days when it was acceptable to order chocolate pancakes with chocolate chips, smothered in whipped cream and ignored the fact that I’m now a grown woman who should order something sensible like an egg white omelette. Now you know where Breck gets his chocolate milk obsession from. Guilty as charged.

Warning! Proceed with caution. Fresh out of bed with not a stitch of make-up photo ahead. IMG_2867

Britten surprised me later that evening with a full blown birthday celebration. There were gifts, sparkly wrapping paper, birthday songs, loads of artwork from the boys and a double doozie cake from the Cookie Company with the word “birthday” spelled as two words rather than one and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Such a great reminder of where we are and our crazy life.

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We’ve been extremely fortunate to have a friend whose job has him in our city for the summer. And, he was brave enough to take on all five of our boys while we went out on a real date. No highchairs, no diaper bags, no items from the kid’s menu and no forks flying across the table over dinner. It was delightful.

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The most laborious decision I had to ponder all day was what kind of cheesecake to order after dinner.

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My sweet husband, on the other hand, had his work cut out for him. Stores, restaurants, etc. here are segregated. Some places only men can enter and others, only women (or a man accompanying a woman/a family) can enter.

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 I’m still not exactly sure how Britten managed to get it done but he did and surprised me with a swimsuit cover up and a full length mirror because I take the one down off the bathroom wall every. single. time. I need to apply makeup. Problem solved.

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You know, turning 38 isn’t so bad when you’ve got a crew like this to celebrate your special day.

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Redemption for the Loser Mom

Redemption for the Loser Mom

I had marvelous plans for the summer. I really did.

My boys are in an outer space phase so I planned to spend a few weeks teaching them about the solar system. And when I say “teaching” I mean lots of science experiments, Magic School Bus episodes, Pinterest projects and picture books. You know, all the stuff that often gets neglected in an effort to finish the “real curriculum.”

I downloaded several books from the summer reading list and browsed Pinterest for cute reading charts to keep track of our accomplishments. I planned fun outings. I googled “summer boredom busters” and collected the random supplies. It was going to be an epic summer. It was.

Then we decided to move a few months before we had originally planned. All of my “fun mom” ideas were instantly replaced with uninspired, uninvolved, formulaic ideas from fun mom’s evil twin. Maybe you know her, “Loser Mom.” I think she’s taken up permanent residence in our home the past couple of  months.

At this exact moment my sinful flesh wants to tell you that, as of today, we’ve lived in four different places in a span of six weeks. Or that we’ve moved to a new country or how for the past three weeks someone in our house has been sick and that I deserve a “Loser Mom” pass because we’ve driven around for 4+ hours everyday with five kids in the car looking for a home. I want you to hear that it really isn’t my fault that I’m completely dropping the ball in the motherhood arena because well…I’m a sinner, that’s what I do. I seek to justify the things that make me feel like a failure in order to win your approval. Lame, I know.

The guilt started to flood in. I was ruining our summer. Our boys had watched enough TV and played enough video games to send the average child into a full blown media coma. I had served crackers for lunch and cereal for dinner, again. My kids were wearing the same outfits they had on for three solid days  the day before. The dishes and the laundry were embarrassingly behind. I proceeded to scroll through Instagram only to be reminded that every other mom on the planet was doing a better job than me. I sank deeper. The guilt was crippling.

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In a hail mary effort to get something praiseworthy done in our day, I reached for the children’s Bible and decided we would read a few verses together. At least I could check the family worship box. And then the Lord showed me that He’s at work, even in my failure. The One that created my innermost being reminded me that “His power is made perfect in MY weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

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As I mindlessly thumbed through the pages of the Action Bible the voice of our second son broke through my inattention. “Mom, do you think when I grow up and have my own children I should tell them about this day?”

I managed to muster up a voice that sounded somewhat interested long enough to ask him what about this day he would tell his children.

His answer caused my heart to leap and shatter all in the exact same moment.

“You know mom, how for so many months we prayed that God would give us a house that has an upstairs, four bedrooms, a place for us to play outside and still be close to a dukan and He answered every one of our prayers. I can’t wait to tell that story to my kids when I’m a dad.” (dukan is the word for a convenience store in our neck of the woods)

Oh, that story. The one I totally missed because I was too nearsighted to see it unfolding right in front of me. The one that my seven year old had to bring to my attention.

I had become so wrapped up in comparing myself to other moms that I missed what God was doing in our home. I had sank so deeply into my own self pity that I couldn’t see His hand at work, right in my own family. And worst of all, I was so focused on what I thought I needed to do that I missed what my Creator had already done.

I think I’ll tattoo Psalm 90:17 on my forearm, “May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us– yes, establish the work of our hands.”

In my weakness- in my frailty- He reminded me that it’s not all up to me. Even on my worst days, He is faithful. So for today, I’m not hiding my loser Mom moments, I’m posting them right here for the world to see and holding my head high because It never was me that made my measly efforts successful…It was Him.