Like many people this time of year, I have caught myself running crazy looking for the perfect gift, trying to bake the perfect treat, creating the perfect holiday card, and preparing my home for the perfect celebration. I must remind myself that Christmas is not about these things.

Christmas is not about me, what I want and how I want people to think of me.
Christmas is about God, what He desires and who He is.

Christmas is not about my love for my family, or about the gifts and celebrations I work to give them.
Christmas is about God's love for His children, which He demonstrated through the perfect Gift at the grandest, yet humblest, celebration.

Christmas is not about my children, even though I work so hard to create magical moments for them.
Christmas is about God's Son, and the miraculous moment He entered the world to give us salvation.

As your Christmas progresses and you start to feel the stress and strain of creating the "perfect" family holiday, remember 2 Corinthians 12:9: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Let God's power show through your attitude when the kids are crabby, the rolls don't rise, the dog makes a mess, or your family won't stop watching football. God is much better at perfection -- and you just might find yourself enjoying your Christmas even more!
A friend sent me this forward. I don't know the author, but I thought it was really sweet so I wanted to share it with all of you.

Dear Santa,

I've been a good mom all year. I've fed, cleaned and cuddled my children on demand, visited the doctor's office more than my doctor and sold sixty-two cases of candy bars to raise money to plant a shade tree on the school playground. I was hoping you could spread my list out over several Christmases, since I had to write this letter with my son's red crayon, on the back of a receipt in the laundry room between cycles, and who knows when I'll find any more free time in the next 18 years.

Here are my Christmas wishes:
I'd like a pair of legs that don't ache (in any color, except purple, which I already have) and arms that don't hurt or flap in the breeze, but are strong enough to pull my screaming child out of the candy aisle in the grocery store.

I'd also like a waist, since I lost mine somewhere in the seventh month of my last pregnancy.

If you're hauling big ticket items this year I'd like fingerprint-resistant windows and a radio that only plays adult music, a television that doesn't broadcast any programs containing talking animals, and a refrigerator with a secret compartment behind the crisper where I can hide to talk on the phone.

On the practical side, I could use a talking doll that says, "Yes, Mommy" to boost my parental confidence, along with two kids who don't fight and three pairs of jeans that will zip all the way up without the use of power tools.

I could also use a recording of Tibetan monks chanting "Don't eat in the living room" and "Take your hands off your brother," because my voice seems to be just out of my children's hearing range and can only be heard by the dog.

If it's too late to find any of these products, I'd settle for enough time to brush my teeth and comb my hair in the same morning, or the luxury of eating food warmer than room temperature without it being served in a Styrofoam container.

If you don't mind, I could also use a few Christmas miracles to brighten the holiday season. Would it be too much trouble to declare ketchup a vegetable? It will clear my conscience immensely. It would be helpful if you could coerce my children to help around the house without demanding payment as if they were the bosses of an organized crime family.

Well, Santa, the buzzer on the dryer is calling and my son saw my feet under the laundry room door. I think he wants his crayon back. Have a safe trip and remember to leave your wet boots by the door and come in and dry off so you don't catch cold.

Help yourself to cookies on the table but don't eat too many or leave crumbs on the carpet.

Yours Always,

P.S. One more can cancel all my requests if you can keep my children young enough to believe in Santa.

The weather man was forecasting a 100% chance of snow for Wednesday, so we gathered our snow gear Tuesday and made big snow play plans. Here are the pics.

I have a couple of observations:
1. Can anyone tell me why baby snow gear is so difficult to put on? I guess they want to make it hard for the baby to take off. We spent 40 minutes getting dressed and only played for 60 minutes. That almost doesn't seem worth it.
2. My kids had so much fun just riding around our yard in a sled. Sometimes we work so hard to find complicated ways to entertain our children and often they enjoy basic play as much as anything.
3. I just love the peaceful feel of fresh snow. It is so beautiful to stand outside while snow falls around you. You hear very little noise, maybe a breaking branch or the rustle of a squirrel. Even the air smells different, like wet chimney smoke. Thank you, God, for winter.
My family has started a new little tradition that I love. On Friday nights, we order a pizza and eat it while we enjoy a Christmas movie. We started this because my oldest is now old enough to sit and watch an entire movie and understand some Christmas themes. Our first movie was "White Christmas." I want him to watch a few of the old classics before he's "too cool" for them. Last night we watched "Elf." Not exactly a classic, but still a lot of fun.

Above is a clip from my favorite Christmas movie: Irvin Berlin's "Holiday Inn" with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. Released in 1942, it features the premiere of the song "White Christmas." In the movie, Bing Crosby becomes weary of the fast life in show business and leaves it to open a country inn. In his quest for relaxation, he decides the inn will only be open on holidays. He discovers a great singing talent, Linda Mason, and hires her to perform at the inn. Of course, he falls for her in the process. But when Fred Astaire hears her talent, he threatens to steal Bing's performer and love. Will she choose the simple life and Bing or the promise of fame in the flashy life with Fred? I'm not going to tell you. You'll have to watch the movie.

Let's conduct and informal survey. What's your favorite Christmas movie? Why?
This is too funny! My friend, Jocelyn, blogged this with her family and we just had to share. If you make one, please share it. Merry Christmas!
If I had to pick one hour that I truly look forward to every year, it is Oprah's annual "Favorite Things" episode. I know, I just lost a little respect in some of your eyes, but I can't help it: I love this show. I like the fun Christmas music and all of the decorations. I like seeing all of the fancy "things" and getting a peek at what Oprah's life might be like. But what I looovve is seeing all of the audience's excitement when she gives away the stuff.

Each year Oprah chooses a few of her favorite things and recommends them as Christmas gifts for our friends and loved ones. (Please don't send me any comments about corporate sponsorship. I won't let you ruin the holiday fun.) The great part is that she gives one of every favorite thing to each audience member, so they walk out with thousands of dollars of really cool stuff! As you can imagine, people go nuts. So nuts that I even got caught up in the excitement and found myself literally jumping up and down in my living room, and I wasn't getting a single thing!

Since chances are slim that I'll ever get to be in Oprah's Favorite Things audience, the best way for me to be a part of the frenzy is to make my own favorite things list. So here are some of my favorite things, all of which I'd recommend as Christmas gifts for your friends and loved ones.

Jessica's Favorite Things 2007

1. Kellogg's Special K2O Protein Water - I first tried this water when my sister-in-law brought it to the hospital when I birthed Azlan. I have been hooked ever since. Seriously, I drink at least 4 bottles a week. It comes in 3 flavors, but my favorite is the Tropical Blend. It does have 6 grams of sugar in it, but it also has 5 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein. You can get it at most grocery stores, but you'll probably have to look in the diet foods section near the pharmacy. Expect to pay $6 for 4 bottles.

2. Bath and Body Works Sleep Pillow Mist - This aromatherapy pillow mist has a Lavender Chamomile scent that is so relaxing. I promise that I fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly when I spray it on my pillow before bed. I've even used it on the boys' pillows if they seem unusually restless or when Patriot's afraid of monsters (then we call it "Good Dream Spray"). It costs $10 for a 4 oz. bottle. They actually have a whole line of these sleep products, but this is the only one I've tried.

3. "The Christmas Box Collection" by Richard Paul Evans - The Christmas after 9/11 I needed to be reminded of the good in this world. I was wandering through the bookstore and God led me to this book. I have read it every Christmas season since then. It is a collection of three fiction stories about the joys and trials of the Parkin family set in Utah in the 1900s. It's really about the love of a family that sees them through the phases of life. Although it is not overtly Christian, it does reference Scripture and the true meaning of Christmas. In paperback, it lists for $7.99 and is well worth it.

4. "When My Heart Finds Christmas" by Harry Connick Jr. - This CD is simply Christmas in classic Harry Connick, Jr. style. He sings lots of your favorite Christmas songs, including secular and religious, but adds his own arrangements. The band that accompanies him is great. This CD is an oldie but a goody and you can still find it at Amazon for $3 used.

5. Sony Kitchen CD Clock Radio - This CD player mounts under your kitchen cabinet and plays CDs, AM & FM radio, and even gets the audio from broadcast TV stations. Plus it has a remote. It's pretty old school compared to the digital, flip-down TVs and Bose systems that are available for your kitchen, but for us simple girls it does the trick. I listen to mine almost every day while I make dinner. According to Sony it retails for $79.95, but I bet you could find a sale.

6. Fisher & Paykel Intuitive Eco Washing Machine - For you big spenders out there, I know the TV commercials will tell you to buy a diamond or a Volvo, but your lady will thank you every day she uses this washing machine. Besides having one of the highest Energy Star ratings and being one of the most complex pieces of technology in our home, it is so user friendly. This washing machine senses the type of clothing in the load and adjusts is agitation accordingly, so it will automatically spin harder for a load of towels than a load of delicates. It also senses how full your load is and adjusts the water level. It's final spin cycle rotates at 1000 rpms, so your clothes are practically dry before you put them in the dryer. It comes loaded with dozens of presets including sanitizing sheets or towels after you've been sick, washing your comforter, cleaning the sand out of beach clothes, and washing sports clothes and equipment. My in-laws gave us this washer as a gift when my old one broke this summer, and the appliance man was able to give us a great deal because it had a dent on the side. But if you have the money, it's worth it. It retails at Lowe's and other appliance stores for about $800.

So, that's my list this year. At the end of the day, things are just things and are not measures of the love we have for each other. Ultimately, my favorite things in life can't be bought or sold. But gift giving and receiving sure is fun!
With Thanksgiving only a week away, many of us are planning our menus, scheduling our family visits, and making our shopping lists for next Friday. I'd like us all to take a moment to remember the real star of Thanksgiving: the turkey.

Take this Turkey Trivia Quiz and let me know how you do. I got 9 of 20 right.
I forgot that we'd figured out how to do video with our camera, so we actually have some video from Azlan's birthday. We haven't figured out how to edit it, so you're just getting the raw footage, but I thought this would be fun for my first go at posting video.

If I can figure all this out, I'm joining Oprah on YouTube.

Here is Azlan opening presents.

And here he is after eating cupcakes. I call this "Sugar Rush."

Our family has completed "Birthday Season 2007." Between mid-October and the beginning of November, we have five birthdays, which makes for a whirlwind of cake and presents (and hopefully explains why I've not been blogging much lately). Here's how the celebrations go:

October 17 - My sister-in-law, Ashley, has her birthday. Ashley is such a sweet spirit and gathering with her friends was a relaxed, fun evening and a great kick-off for Birthday Season.

October 18 - Patriot, my oldest son, turned 3 this year. The Saturday before his birthday we had a "Go, Diego! Go!" themed party for him. A few of his little friends came over and pretended to be "Animal Rescuers" through the different games we played. It was a good time for all, especially Patriot.

The day of his birthday we had special birthday waffles with candles in them. He got to choose what he wore that day, so he was dressed in his Chad Johnson uniform. He also got to choose what we did for dinner, so the whole family was off to Chuck E. Cheese. We ended up having a great time! See more pics from Patriot's birthday here.

November 1 - My birthday. I really had a great day. My mom took the boys for the day, so I went for a bike ride on the Loveland Trail, met Matt for lunch, did a little shopping at TJ Max, then came home and slept through Oprah. Mom made us meatloaf and mashed potatoes for dinner -- yum! Then the McKee family came over to eat birthday cake that evening. It really was a great day.

November 5 - Matt's Uncle Donnie's birthday. This was the first year we've lived near Uncle Donnie and have been able to celebrate with him. Uncle Donnie has really added a lot to our family in the few weeks he's lived up here and we're so glad to have the chance to get to know him better, especially Patriot, who really adores Uncle Donnie.

November 6 - Azlan, my youngest son, celebrated his first birthday this year. I don't remember Patriot's first birthday being as emotional for me as this one was. I really struggled with making this day appropriately significant, but I think it turned out nice. The Saturday before we had the family over for an Elmo-themed party. Azlan loves Elmo. I mean, really loves Elmo. It is so funny the way his face lights up when he sees Elmo. So we decorated with all of our Elmo toys and made some Elmo cupcakes, which he greatly enjoyed (as you can see). Everyone wrote Azlan a letter that we'll keep in his memory box until he's older. That was nice. He opened presents and generally had a good time.

The day of his actual birthday was again filled with family. Azlan and I got to spend the afternoon together, which was kind of full circle for me, remembering where I was and what I was doing a year ago. All in all, I feel really good about the big first birthday. See more pics from Azlan's birthday here.

We ended our birthday celebrations with a trip downtown to see The Wiggles live. Let me tell you about big times: this was a big night for our family. Patriot studied every movement, every word, every song at this concert. He is an observer and takes weeks to process the things he sees. Azlan enjoyed every moment in the moment. He danced and clapped, pointed and laughed, as if the whole show was put on just for him. Matt and I actually enjoyed the show, too. It was witty and fun, plenty of slapstick and even a few jokes for the adults (at one point Murrey started playing "Stairway to Heaven" instead of "Play Your Guitar with Murrey" -- it was a riot). This concert was a great way to wind up Birthday Season for our family.

In some ways I really like having a Birthday Season. Logistically, it's kind of nice knowing that for a few weeks I will focus on birthdays, and then have a break before the next birthday rolls around. However, I discovered a danger this year: It is far too easy for me to lump all of these birthdays into one sum of a few weeks instead of giving each birthday the individual attention it deserves. I think I'll do better as the years go by.
WARNING: Most of these have to do with bodily functions, so anyone who is squeamish may want to proceed with caution.

  1. Splashing toilet water on Mommy is not a fun game!
  2. No, you cannot eat my spit bubbles.
  3. Can you tell Mommy you're sorry for flinging pee pee in her eye?
  4. We don't chew on our brother's toes.
  5. Please don't blow boogers on the candle.
  6. No, Elmo is not better than Jesus.
  7. I love you all the way to the moon, and back!
I have fallen into a bad habit. One that I realized several weeks ago and immediately knew I needed to blog about it, but just didn't want to. I knew that if I posted it for the world to see, I'd be accountable for changing it, and I've just been too lazy. But God simply won't let me get away with it anymore.

I believe God has given parents the job of preparing our kids to follow Him in adulthood. While they are children, they trust in, obey, and depend on their parents. If we can properly teach them these concepts while they are young, they will make an easier transition into trusting, obeying, and depending on God when they are older. The target Bible verse I use comes from Galatians 5.
"22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law."
In my mind, my disciplining is to develop these characteristics in my children. So when Patriot throws a tantrum because he can't have candy for breakfast, I put him in time-out and explain to him that we need to have patience and wait for an appropriate time to eat candy. We also need to have self-control when we are disappointed and respond appropriately. Or, when he argues with me about a decision I've made, he receives a pinch and I explain that he needs to trust Mommy to know what's right (faithfulness). In these ways, I'm discipling his heart.

Here comes the bad habit I have to break: I have been disciplining his behavior rather than discipling his heart. There is a fine line between the two, but I hope you can see the difference. Disciplining the behavior is, in my opinion, the easy way out. I toss him into time out for not sharing with his brother, but don't follow up with the discussion about love and kindness.
The long-term affects are that he eventually learns the right way to act, but he may not learn the right way to be.

I think I fell into this bad habit with Azlan's birth. I was tired and distracted with the baby and simply stopped taking the time to disciple Patriot's heart. Then, as we grew out of the newborn stage and into baby stage, Azlan still isn't old enough to understand heart issues like joy and peace, so I can only discipline his behavior right now (knowing that "No, you cannot touch the phone" will lead to a self-control lesson in a few months). Now I have teach myself to discipline the two boys differently according to their level of understanding.

Looks like I'm learning a hard lesson in self-control!
I have lots of important things I've been thinking about blogging: Patriot's birthday party, the Biblical view of spanking, gun control and the Christian family . . . We'll save those for another day because today I'm writing about candy corn.

If you're anything like me, you mark your holidays by candy. Easter brings Cadbury eggs, Valentine's was created for chocolate truffles, Christmas is marked with peanut butter balls and chocolate covered cherries, and Halloween is all about candy corn.

Let's first zero in on exactly what we're talking about: Brach's Autumn Mix is the only candy corn worth eating. It is the perfect combination of traditional candy corn, indian corn (with the chocolate bottoms), and mellowcreme pumpkins.

My candy corn ritual begins the first day of October (even though they start selling it in stores at the beginning of September). I buy a bag of candy corn, take it home, and remind myself that one serving is approximately 20 pieces. Then, almost every day in October, I have one serving of candy corn while the boys are down for their naps. My candy corn must be enjoyed with a glass of water to balance the sweetness but not distort the taste. My candy corn will NOT be shared with the children but may be shared with Matt -- he appreciates, even though he may not agree with, the importance of the ritual.

I think it's important for us to have little traditions that help us mark the passing of time. My holidays are filled with them. And not every tradition involves candy, but probably should.

In the words of the great philosopher Aaron Tippin "You've got to stand for something, or you'll fall for anything . . ."

Realizing this, Matt and I sat down several months ago and determined our family's priorities. These are the things we'd like our family to be known for, the things we'd like our children to feel secure in, the "non-negotiables" for our family regardless of how busy we get.

1. Faith

  • Attend church regularly
  • Attend small group regularly
  • Pray together as a family
  • Read Bible stories/devotionals together 3 times a week
  • Serve/help others

2. Family

  • Spend regular time with extended family

3. Familiarity

  • Dinner is eaten as a family
  • Dinner at home 4 times per week
  • Normal bedtime before 9:30
  • Mom and Dad both take part in bedtime the majority of the time

4. Fun

  • Family fun activity 2 times each month
  • Parent/kid date once each month
  • Exercise/activity daily

If you haven't done this, I suggest you sit down with your spouse and determine the things you believe should define your family. It has done wonders for our family communication and keeping us on the same page.

We call this "the net," and it is the coolest thing I've found for my baby since the Boppy. You drop grapes (Azlan's favorite), apples, pears, whatever in this net and the baby gums and sucks on it. He actually gets real food without any choking worries because only swallowable pieces come through the holes in the mesh. We actually put roast beef in one time and he loved it!

They come in packs of 2, and I've only seen them at Target, for about $5. We actually bought two packs because it has to be washed with every use. There's no rinsing it really well and using it again. I love taking this to restaurants because we can feed Azlan his baby food while we wait for our meal, then drop some of our food into the net and keep him occupied while we eat. Love it!
Patriot got to go to the hospital this morning and have surgery. We had a hydrocelectomy (kind of like a hernia) done at Cincinnati Children's Hospital. If you live anywhere near Cincinnati, I'd recommend this hospital. Our entire experience was terrific!

We took a tour of the same-day surgery area on Thursday. They explained everything in terms Patriot understood and let us practice all of the "getting ready" tests, so Patriot (and his parents) knew what to expect this morning. We went into the "sleepy air" room and Patriot was able to smell the different scents of "sleepy air." Then we went into the "wake-up room" where they had a doll hooked up to an IV and Patriot was able to touch all of the hoses he'd have hooked up. It was a fun time and Patriot was looking forward to going back to the "hostible" this morning.

Today went just as well. We got all of our tests done, into our hospital PJs and socks, and were watching Dora in no time. They brought us toys and told us stories about Spiderman. The nurses were kind, attentive, and fun. The anesthesiologist came in and gently told us all of the risks and answered all of our questions. Just on time, they escorted us to the sleepy air room. Patriot got a little nervous here because everyone had on their surgical scrubs, masks, and hairnets, but Matt held him in his lap and I sang him songs while the nurses did their jobs. Soon he was asleep and we headed to the waiting room.

About 45 minutes later, the doctor came and told us the surgery went fine and Patriot was rousing in the recovery room. We were allowed in 10 minutes later and Patriot was just waking. Within minutes he had a Popsicle and we were reading books. Within the hour they removed his IV, we dressed him, and he got to ride in a racecar wheelchair out to our car.

He's rested well today. He ate some Jell-o and crackers for lunch, took a long nap, and had 3 more Popsicles. He did get a little anxious when we told him it was time to go to sleep for his nap. Last time he went to sleep he woke up with an IV in a recovery room! But we convinced him everything would be OK. We ordered Chinese for dinner and he ate a little rice, but by this time the medication was beginning to wear off and he was starting to feel uncomfortable. We pushed some Tylenol down him, watched a little college football and sent him to bed.

I've been warned that tomorrow will probably be a worse day. He'll be more sore and the medication from the surgery will be completely out of his system. I'm prepared for that. What I'm not prepared for is his teething baby brother. Who's cruel joke is it that Azlan is teething this weekend? Maybe we could get him some sleepy air . . .
My oldest, Patriot, will be 3 next month. One of his favorite new games is to dream up ways to exclude me from family fun. Rarely do we all load into the car and I don't hear from him, "Can we leave Mommy at home?" Matt always gives him a big "That's silly" reaction and we all laugh at our cleverness.

In the beginning, I started to get my feelings hurt by the whole game, but then I remembered a chapter from Dr. James Dobson's book Bringing Up Boys. In the chapter titled "Mothers and Sons," Dr. Dobson describes the importance of maternal bonding with male infants, siting statical research of the health and growth benefits found in boys who had close relationships with their mothers as infants. However, things begin to change as boys become toddlers and then preschoolers.
"Despite the importance of an early mother-child bond, it may seem strange that little boys begin to pull away from their moms during the period between 15 and 36 months. Boys, even more than girls, become negative at that time and resist any efforts to corral or manage them. They say no to everything, even to things they like. They run when called and scream bloody murder . . . They usually respond better to fathers."
Dr. Dobson describes this "pulling away" from Mom as a natural part of boys' development. They are beginning to identify themselves as boys and naturally gravitate toward Dad to start building their masculinity. Mom is a girl, so, in their minds, they shouldn't do what Mom says because Mom might keep them from becoming men.

So what's a mother to do? Dr. Dobson says "they should not allow themselves to feel rejected and wounded by their boys' gravitation toward fathers. Just remember that the behavior isn't personal. Boys are genetically programmed to respond that way." Instead, he encourages mothers to look at this time as a opportunity in two particular areas.
  1. "Mothers should encourage their husbands to be there for their sons at this time when the need is the greatest." Suggest and even arrange father/son outings. Encourage your husband to teach your son a favorite hobby or special ability. When possible, allow your son to observe his father in different activities (i.e. visiting Daddy at work for brief times, going to Daddy's soccer games). Set up certain activities that are only done with Daddy. Mother has been the primary adult in the son's life since birth, now help father and son build their relationship.
  2. Mother "must take charge during these delightful but challenging days of toddlerhood. It is not sufficient to leave the discipline solely to Dad. Respect for her authority and leadership are rooted in this period, and opportunities that are lost will be difficult to recover later on." If you find yourself frustrated with your current discipline tactics, see my review of Creative Correction by Lisa Whelchel. It provided lots of new ideas for me.
So next time Patriot asks if they can leave Mommy at home, I just might take him up on that. Patriot might need a little "Daddy time" and a nice evening at home by myself sounds pretty good to me!
Last week I had a brief moment of temporary insanity where I considered that I might want a third child. My baby is crawling, pulling up, and walking with assistance. He drinks from a sippy cup and eats lots of real food. As far as I'm concerned, he's no longer a baby and must now be considered a toddler. I'm feeling a sense of loss that my baby days are over.

As a culture, we put a lot of effort into celebrating our children's "firsts," probably because of those darn baby books that we all feel like we have to complete. We take pictures of our baby's first bath. We write the date of his first smile and laugh. We tell everyone we know about his first tooth. Even his first vacation, trip to the library, visit to the zoo, and afternoon at the movie theater are momentous occasions.

But how much thought do we put into our children's "lasts?" What about the last time your baby needs your help to get from here to there? When was the last time you had to rock your little one to sleep? What about the last time he wore those cute little baby clothes? Do you know the last time you had to cut your toddler's slice of pizza? or, the last time he needed you to push him on the swing? When was the last time your son would give you a hug in public before he became "too cool?"

I need to commemorate some of my children's "lasts" to give me closure on one stage and allow me to move on to the next. Although we orchestrate some "lasts" (i.e. the last bath in the baby tub, the last nursing feeding, etc.) the tricky part about most "lasts" is that you don't always know when they're coming. Sometimes your children develop faster than you're ready! (Who am I kidding, most of the time your children develop faster than you're ready!)

During these times of transition between babyhood and toddlerhood, or toddlerhood and childhood, I find myself cherishing every moment I can. I hug just a few seconds longer, I rock just a few minutes more, I read the extra story, I tickle instead of fold laundry (like I need an excuse) because I don't know when it might be our last.

And I remind myself of two things: 1) although the joys of one stage may be mere memories, the hopes of the next stage are on the horizon; and 2) my sister and my sister-in-law still intend to have babies, so I'll be able to get my baby fix without the midnight feedings!

As any mom will tell you, the strangest stains and spots can suddenly appear around your house. I've found one product that I use on almost anything: Bar Keeper's Friend. It's a powder that comes in a can and is labeled as a "cleanser and polish." I have a white porcelain sink and BKF immediately removes any food or pan stains. My mother-in-law uses it on her glass cooktop almost every day without a single scratch. I've found only one spot that it hasn't removed (a weird water spot where one of my faucets leaks).

The only local place to get it is Wal-Mart (sorry to all those Wal-Mart haters). However, there is a BKF website where you can order the original and several other varieties of BKF. I think I might try the Lime and Rust Remover on that water spot.

This product is toxic, so you'll want to keep it away from the kiddos. But you'll want to keep it close so you can use it often.
There are few things more frightening than awakening to the sound of your child's terror-filled shrieks and cries. Many parents of preschoolers experience this night after night as their children suffer with bouts of nightmares. According to, "2- to 4-year-olds are particularly prone (to nightmares) — this is an age when normal fears develop, imagination blossoms, and the ability to describe a bad dream kicks into high gear." Researchers divide sleep disturbances into two categories: night terrors and nightmares.

Night Terrors
Night terrors occur 3-5 hours after the child has fallen asleep, according to Yahoo Health, and cause
children to cry intensely and often lose their breath, which can frighten parents. Children never fully awaken and will have no recollection of the event the next morning.

Common knowledge suggests parents simply keep their child safe and allow the terror to run its course (usually 10-30 minutes). However, Dr. Alan Greene theorizes a connection exists between night terrors and a child's ability to recognize overnight bladder control. He suggests children experiencing a night terror should be taken to the restroom.

Parents may be able to limit the frequency of night terrors by making sure their child gets plenty of sleep and creating a calming bedtime routine.

Nightmares typically occur in the second half of sleep and are simply frightening dreams. In a classic sleep study conducted in 1966, researchers studied sleep waves in newborns, infants, toddlers, and preschoolers and proved that children at each age dream. This led them to conclude that children at every age also have nightmares. Nightmares seem more prevalent at the preschool age because children have developed the ability to fear, the experience to know normal from unnatural, and the language to describe what they experience. suggests treating nightmares with physical reassurance. Comfort the child and allow him to tell you about the nightmare if he wants. Make sure his favorite toy or blanket is snuggled in close. Then reassure him that you are right down the hall and will protect him. However, Yahoo Health warns to keep these visits consistent. "Sleep problems often become worse if the child is rewarded with attention."

Parents can help prevent nightmares by guarding what children watch on TV or the stories they hear. Also, allowing children to talk through the details of their day helps them process scary events or new emotions during waking hours. Guide children through stressful times like potty training, transitioning to a big bed, or starting school. provides the following creative preventative measures for consistent mightmares:

• Help your child make a Native American dreamcatcher out of pipe cleaners or draw one on construction paper, and hang it over the bed to snare bad dreams and let only the good ones through.

• Let him rub a little skin lotion or face cream — you might call it "good dream cream" — on his tummy or forehead before turning in for the night.

• Fill a spray bottle with water scented with a couple drops of vanilla extract ("monster spray" or "nightmare repellent") and let your child banish scary dreams by spritzing a little around his room before bed.

Parents can be reassured the night terrors and nightmares are a normal stage of childhood development.
I hate to go grocery shopping. I know all the parenting magazines describe grocery shopping as a perfect time to teach children math skills, finances, nutrition, and nuclear physics, but I think it's a miracle to get out of the grocery store without anyone crying (including me). Without apology I utilize every distraction available to me in the grocery store: I give the baby a toy off the shelf and return it when we're done shopping, I feed the kids blueberries directly out of the pint, I bribe with cookies, I rent the TV carts, whatever it takes.

However, I've developed a new appreciation for grocery shopping with my two little ones after reading this eBay listing. It is the funniest thing I've read in a long time.
We just returned from a family trip to North Myrtle Beach, SC. We went with my husband's family. Pictured below are Eddie (my father-in-law), Daniel (my brother-in-law) wearing Caedmon (my nephew), Ashley (my sister-in-law), me, Azlan, Matt, Patriot, and Sandy (my mother-in-law).

You may notice I said a "family trip" rather than a "vacation." The difference? A vacation is filled with sleeping late, lazy afternoons on the beach, and eating great food. A family trip involves waking whenever the kids do (in our case, just after dawn), folding laundry, disciplining kids, washing dishes, and eating in restaurants with balloons and clowns. Both trips have their place in the life cycle of a family, but they are very different experiences.

I learned this difference last summer. I thought it would be my first vacation with kids. At the time, Patriot was 1 1/2 years old and I was pregnant with Azlan. I remember telling Matt before the trip that I needed this trip because I needed a break. I did not get the break I was expecting. I expected a vacation like those of my BC days. I didn't realize that vacations, like all of the rest of life, change when you have kids.

So this year I began the trip with a different set of expectations and we had a nice family trip. Our trip was filled with activities and adventures we'd never have at home. Patriot played "little golf" for the first time. We built sand castles and colored them with food coloring. We threw seaweed. We took morning walks on the beach. Azlan ate at least a pound of sand. Azlan and Caedmon got to ride in the car together. We grown ups got to play cards almost every day. We tried new restaurants and discovered Patriot likes fish.

Was it the most relaxing week I've ever had? No. But it was a great family trip. Check out more pictures here.

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Just a quick note about the Mattel lead paint recalls. Go to their website to determine if any of your toys are included. There are a lot of Sesame Street, Dora, and Diego toys included. We actually had two toys from the list -- and they're both toys that Patriot puts in his mouth (a saxophone and a microphone)! Thankfully, they were produced prior to the affected dates, so we won't have to send them back. The peace of mind alone is worth the couple of minutes it takes to check.
What do roller coasters, iPhones, and Harry Potter all have in common? In the last few weeks I've been invited to stand in line and wait for each of these things.

Our local amusement park opened a new roller coaster this season called Firehawk. In those first weeks of the season, people waited up to 6 hours to ride this ride (according to reports, the ride was broken a lot, making waits longer). Although I was invited to wait for Firehawk, I couldn't imagine spending half the day standing in line for a roller coaster.

Many of you will remember the iPhone release a few weeks ago. It was scheduled to hit stores at 6 pm on its release date. That morning my husband seriously considered standing in line to be one of the first with the new phone (he's a bit of a techno-geek -- the plan was to sell it on eBay). Although it's always fun to be part of the excitement, and I usually enjoy a day at the mall, I couldn't imagine standing in line all day to buy the latest phone.

J.K. Rowlins released the latest and final installment of her Harry Potter series at the end of July. Our local Meijer advertised they would have it on sale at midnight on it's release date. According to the news, people started standing in line the afternoon prior to ensure they got one of the first copies. I found this wait to be the most tempting, as I'm a Harry Potter fan, but I still couldn't let myself spend hours waiting for a book.

Why can't I wait for such things? Am I just that impatient? Or am I just that boring? Could be a little of both, but mostly it's just that I don't have the room in my schedule. My life is generally scheduled down to the 1/2 hour because I keep the boys on a pretty tight schedule. We eat breakfast, lunch, and usually dinner at the same time every day. They nap and go to bed at the same time every day.

Here is a copy of our current schedule:

Living in a schedule has been helpful for so many reasons:
  • the kids have become used to our routine and know what to expect and when to expect it.
  • grandparents and babysitters know what the kids need and when they need it.
  • we know within a day when one of the kids is sick, because they suddenly stop acting within their schedule.
  • we have more flexibility. I know that sounds weird, but hear me out on this. With the kids being so young, if we waited until they told us they were hungry or sleepy, we'd never know when we could go out to eat or go see a movie. Because I have a schedule, I know that I can plan dinner with friends next Thursday at 6:30, and the kids will be ready to eat. I know that I can schedule a doctor's appointment for next month at 10:30 and Azlan will have just enough time before his next feeding. Having a schedule actually gives me more freedom.
The trick with a schedule is establishment -- deciding what needs to be in your schedule and what order things need to be done. For both boys, we used Gary Ezzo's "Let the Children Come Along the Infant Way" to determine our schedule. We started establishing the schedule the first day we came home from the hospital, feeding our little newborns on an appropriate schedule. It didn't always go great (there was some crying involved from both the children and the parents), but within 12 weeks they learned the schedule they'll follow for the next few years. Both boys are now great sleepers and eaters, and are generally pleasant to be around (Patriot is 2 1/2 . . .), greatly due to the consistency they enjoy daily.

As a side note, I rode Firehawk last week after waiting only 45 minutes. There were plenty of iPhone manufactured and the stores even had some left after the release-day rush. And, I've been enjoying my sister's copy of "Harry Potter," which she loaned me when she finished it. I believe it's true: Patience is a virtue.

I hate being a bag lady when I leave the house, so I always try to condense all the stuff into one bag. Because of this, I tend to change bags often, switching from my purse to the pool bag to the boys' backpacks, etc. However, I've run into a lot of trouble when my phone or my debit card slides into the bottom of the bag. I often don't see it when unpacking and repacking the next bag. I've actually been caught at the check-out line of Target with no way to pay!

My solution cost me $25 and has saved me tons of headache: Pouchee. Pouchee is a small purse organizer with pockets and slots for everything. There's a place for your phone, sunglasses, keys, pen, credit/library/insurance cards, lipstick, and more. I actually don't have enough stuff to fill all the pockets!

When changing bags, you just pick up Pouchee and drop it into the new bag. You always have everything. Now that's smart.

I recently finished Lisa Whelchel's "Creative Correction: Extraordinary Ideas for Everyday Discipline" and found it to be one of the best books I've read in a long time. Lisa Whelchel is best known for her role as Blair on the TV series The Facts of Life. She is now a home-schooling mother of 3. I saw her speak at Fellowship Church (where I used to attend and work) in Texas, and was impressed by her wisdom and eloquence. I'm always on the look-out for ways to glean wisdom from moms who seem to be "successful" parents, so I was especially excited to discover Lisa authored books. "Creative Correction" did not disappoint me.

The book follows a basic structure: each chapter covers a topic like parenting the heart of a child, spanking, sibling conflict, or toddlerhood. The chapters are divided into sections: an informative discussion of the topic; then, a "toolbox" of practical ways to implement the topic. This toolbox is like a treasure chest of creative ways to work with God to shape the heart and character of your child. I've already used a handful of the ideas with Patriot and met with resounding success!

I tend to become very frustrated when discipling Patriot and weary of reusing the old time-out approach. I've found such freedom in adding to my bag of discipline tricks and knowing I have other options. This freedom alone has helped me keep my cool when he's in a meltdown.

The most impressive aspect of this book is its Scriptural basis. So much of what we read in parenting books and magazines changes over time. I find it difficult to trust these opinions when forming my parenting strategies. However, I believe there is no surer way to discipline and grow a child than on the truths found in the Bible.

These truths will not change, and Lisa has led readers to some of the most applicable passages. She dedicated 20 pages to memory verses, grouped categorically, that will help guide children in the correct path. So far we've taught Patriot a verse about whining and a verse about listening. Next will be respecting authority. I love repeating Bible verses to Patriot instead of saying "It's not nice to whine" over and over. I hope I learn to get better at this.

Overall, "Creative Correction" is a great reminder that God is the ultimate parent and we earthly parents must simply follow His lead in guiding our children. What a relief to know He is in control and it isn't all my fault! I would recommend this book to any parent.

A few weeks ago we took a family trip to a nearby horse race track: Keeneland. Having grown up in Central Kentucky, Matt and I both enjoy a day at the race track. I love the pageantry and the beautiful animals. Matt loves the excitement and the chance of the game. Patriot loves to cheer and make friends with everyone sitting around us. So when we go to Keeneland it's an all-day affair.

When this spring's racing season started, however, I was nursing Azlan. The idea of nursing in the stands, sitting elbow to elbow with someone else, stressed me out a little, so I decided I'd walk back out to the car when feeding times rolled around. I wasn't excited about the idea. Like most sporting arenas, the parking lot is sprawling so a hike out there and back would not be quick. But I'm a mom and mom's are tough, so I'd sacrifice for my Baby One, knowing that this is only for a season.

Matt decided not to let me play the martyr and got on the Keeneland website to see what he could find. Under the "Frequently Asked Questions" section, it actually suggested that breastfeeding moms use the First Aid station. What a great idea!

I tried it out that day and had the most pleasant time! There was a clean sink for washing hands, a soft bed to change his diaper, and all the privacy I needed. The friendly medical workers were bored (thankfully) and could hardly wait to dote on him once his belly was full!

So, all you nursing moms out there, next time you find yourself with a hungry baby at a sporting arena, amusement park, airport, or shopping mall, find the nearest First Aid station. You'll be glad you did!

Does anyone know a woman who loves her jeans? I mean, really loves her jeans? These women are few and far between.

In my B.C. (before children) days I had finally found my PERFECT PAIR OF JEANS. They were Polo by Ralph Lauren Relaxed Fit Bootcut jeans. The fit was just right. The rise covered by backside without gaping. The wash made me feel cool without looking like I was trying to be a teenager. And, if I caught a sale, I could get them for less than $50. I loved those jeans.

Now, my A.D. (after delivery) body isn't the same as my B.C. body. I've almost lost enough baby weight that I can comfortably zip the jeans, but they don't look the same. Things have changed and I'm back on the hunt for the illusive PERFECT PAIR OF JEANS.

I found a tool that just might help. Zafu has a "jeans finder" quiz. You answer a few simple questions and it provides a list of jeans they say will fit you. They even rank the results as best fitting to worst fitting. They provide the retail cost of the jeans and a link to stores' websites if you're brave enough to order pre-dressing room.

My list included about 30 pairs of jeans in different brands that ranged from $35 - $170. My sister completed the quiz and had 6 pairs of jeans ranging from $20 - $65.

Take the quiz and see what you discover.

I haven't been out to try on any of the jeans on my list. I'm planning to take an "all by myself" weekend when I quit nursing, so maybe I'll do some jeans shopping then. Let me know if any of you try this.

I still have 3 pairs of my B.C. PERFECT PAIR OF JEANS. I can't bring myself to let go of the dream that one day they just might fit like they used to. But now I have hope that I might find an A.D. PERFECT PAIR OF JEANS that I love just as much.

Most mothers I know have their parenting "hill to die on" -- that one thing that they have determined they will not sacrifice for any reason.

Some moms have chosen nutrition as their "hill." If they have anything to do with it, a hot dog will never enter their child's mouth. Their children will eat one piece of candy at Halloween and the rest will be trashed. They will feed their kids only healthy meals at almost all costs.

Other moms choose TV as their "hill." Their children will only watch preapproved videos. TV time is limited to 30 minutes a day and only educational shows. These moms will never let the TV serve as a temporary babysitter.

I have chosen sleep as the "hill" I die on. I am pretty serious about nap and bed times. With few exceptions, my boys spend every afternoon in their beds at our house. My 2 1/2-year-old still naps for 2 hours every afternoon. My 8-month-old naps every afternoon and most mornings. (I am a little flexible with his morning nap because we run errands a few mornings each week.) They both sleep about 11 hours at night.

Why do I insist my boys spend more hours asleep than awake? Simply, I see a drastic difference in their behavior when they are tired. The baby cries more, eats less, and is less willing to play and interact. My toddler is more argumentative, disrespectful, and overbearing. And I think it's perfectly logical. When I am overtired, I am less patient, less creative, and less pleasant to be around. Why would I expect my children to respond any differently?

However, most children in America do not get the sleep they need. According to a 2004 poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, the average child 10-years-old and younger gets .5-2.5 fewer hours of sleep per day than they need. The younger the child, the more sleep deprived they are, with the average infant receiving 1.5-2.5 fewer hours of sleep than recommended.

"It is clear from the poll results that we need to focus as much on the sleeping half of children's lives as we do on the waking half. Children are clearly not getting enough sleep," says Jodi A. Mindell, PhD, who served as Chair of NSF's 2004 Poll Task Force. "And a remarkable number of children have some kind of sleep problem. We need to help parents to become better educated about positive sleep practices so that their children can get the sleep they need to be able to function at their best during the day."

The Foundation's recommendations for improving your child's sleep include:
  • making sleep a family priority.
  • setting regular bedtime routines.
  • adhering to determined bedtimes and waketimes.
  • eliminating caffeine from children's diets.
  • removing TVs and computers from children's bedrooms.
I hope you'll evaluate your family's sleep habits as you think about what "hill" you're willing to die on. Please don't think any less of my parenting when I feed my kids cold cereal while they watch "Curious George." And don't worry about me judging your parenting decisions. I'll be asleep.
10. They finally found the source of that smell: a sippy cup of milk under the seat.
9. A Happy Meal toy just rolled across the floorboard and is lodged under the gas pedal.
8. Can't find the "Dora's Danceparty" CD that we need to listen to right now.
7. Who ever expected those Lofthouse cookies to crumble so quickly?
6. Screaming baby -- can't find the pacifier.
5. Busy playing pretend basketball.
4. The oldest is throwing paper wads at the baby.
3. The baby is choking on paper wads.
2. "Can't you hold it just a few more minutes until we get home?"
1. All the kids are asleep and Mom is enjoying the peace.
I heard a woman at my church mention how much easier her life became when her children became self-cleaning. I am a full-time mom with two sons: Patriot, 2 1/2, and Azlan, 8 months. As you can imagine, cleaning them seems to take up a chunk of my time.

I decided to track exactly how much time I actually spend cleaning my kids. To put parameters around the experiment, I determined to only count time spent cleaning the children themselves, not cleaning up after them. Which means I included time spent wiping bottoms, faces, hands, noses, etc. I did not include time spent wiping tables, washing sippy cups, picking up toys, doing laundry, etc.

The grand total? I spent on average 2 hours, 15 minutes per day over three days cleaning my kids!

We are potty training Patriot (a whole different post!) so he's learning to wipe his own bottom and wash his own hands. His success in these endeavors gives me hope that my 2 hours a day may be dwindling over the next few months.

Before long, he just might be a self-cleaning kid! But then what would I do with all that spare time?