The McKees (and Abby Cadabby) want to wish you a merry Christmas! We did one of these last year, but when I saw the new dances I just couldn't help myself. Enjoy

Send your own ElfYourself eCards
My sister tagged me for this photo game, and it's easy enough so I thought I'd play along. I'm to go to where I keep pics on my computer (iPhoto), choose the 4th folder and post the 4th pic without editing or cropping.

So here it is! This is Azlan during the summer, so he must be about 8 months old. He's in our living room just playing with toys and being cute. I think he was just learning to stand, so I've got him wedged between the couch and the ottoman. The funny thing is that we've totally rearranged our house, don't even have a couch downstairs anymore, and don't own that couch at all.

Now I'm supposed to tag 4 people, so I'm going to tag Debra, Starr, Lydia, and Matt. Do you think Matt will play?
The following took place in our kitchen this morning . . .

Azlan: Mommy, I have some candy?
Mommy: No, we're going to eat breakfast. No candy before breakfast.
Azlan: Daddy, I have some candy?
Daddy: What did mommy just say?
A: (pause, then with hesitation) I need more candy . . .
D: Are you sure that's what she said?
A: Um, yes . . .
D: Do you know that I was standing right here and heard what she said?
A: Um, yes . . .
D: Are you lying to Daddy right now?
A: Um . . .
D: Daddy is answering you the same way Mommy did. You may not have candy until after breakfast.
This weekend Patriot participated in his first Christmas musical, and made his first onstage appearance (without Mom or Dad). He did great! He loved performing -- you could tell. We had one hiccup that gave me a parenting dilemma, though. Let me tell you about it.

They had three performances this weekend. One was Saturday night for some inner-city kids and any grandparents, etc who couldn't come on Sunday. The gang all came to see him at this show and he was wonderful. The other two were for our two services Sunday morning. The early service was good, he performed as practiced. The second service was a different story.

On the last song of the last performance, Patriot decided to pull his shirt up to his armpits and dance around. I was horrified. I have never seen him do this before. Ever. Why did he pick the church stage in front of a packed house to show off his abs? I have no idea. Then he started tugging at the waist of his pants. I was dumbstruck -- frozen in time and space. I was in the audience on the other side of the room and could never get to him in time to stop what might happen. This was the first time I've ever seen him misbehaving but was totally unable to do anything about it. The crowd thought it was hilarious. I didn't find it as funny.

(Side note: Matt had to come out and close the show by thanking all the volunteers, so he was backstage during all of this. He had no idea it was his son causing the commotion. If only he could have seen and stopped it.)

The show remained G-rated, but that didn't stop the jokes. I sat shellshocked in the auditorium as people filed past. "Didn't know Patriot was an exhibitionist," laughed someone who doesn't have kids yet. "Really enjoyed the strip tease," joked someone whose kids are grown and must have forgotten what this moment was like.

Before I went to pick Patriot up, I took a moment in the empty auditorium to collect my thoughts and pray about how to handle this situation. Some of you are probably thinking I was making a mountain out of a molehill. Maybe, but please remember that Matt and I have been in children's ministry for a long time. We've seen lots of misbehavior, from kids and their parents. We've seen parents in this situation compliment their kid for "expressing himself." We've seen parents get mad at the church for allowing their child to act this way (still don't understand that one). We've seen parents pull their children out of preformances, never to participate in a childrens musical again. I knew none of those options seemed appropriate for us.

But what was?

Funny thing is that I never expected to be in this situation myself. In all the times I'd critiqued other parents, I'd never once thought about what I'd do. I didn't think my kid would ever behave that way. This is pretty unlike me. I tend to spend my moments sitting in waiting rooms or at stoplights thinking about "what would I do if . . ." Kind of a sick hobby, I guess. But I'd never run through this scenerio.

Here's what I did.

The first thing I did was hug Patriot and tell him what a good job he did singing on stage and remembering all the motions. I told him I loved seeing him smile really big on stage. "But then you made a mistake, Patriot. You lifted your shirt onstage, and that wasn't the right thing to do. We sing to show God how much we love him, and being silly onstage is not respectful towards God. Mr. Tim and the other kids worked hard to make this a nice show. We need to go tell Mr. Tim you're sorry for being silly and ask him if he'll let you be in the show again next year, so you can try to do better."

Patriot didn't like the idea of apologizing to Mr. Tim, but discipline isn't supposed to be fun, right? We made our way through the crowd with all their jokes and found Mr. Tim. It wasn't Patriot's best apology, but we got through it. Mr. Tim didn't even realize Patriot was the kid everyone was talking about, but once he stopped laughing he accepted Patriot's apology.

Next we went to apologize to Daddy. We got through that one, too, but not without some drama. I could see in his eyes that Patriot was starting to like all the attention he was getting over this misdeed, so we made a hasty exit from the building.

I will never speak of this incident again. I think at this moment we have the perfect balance of "what I did was wrong" without entering the "my wrong behavior got me a lot of attention" zone. I'm afraid any more attention might push him into the danger zone for more misbehavior next time. If you're local, please don't mention it to him.

Parents, have you ever had to deal with this type of behavior? How did you do it?
Church workers, what have you seen parents do that seemed appropriate?

Below is video of Patriot being good onstage yesterday. He's the second boy from the left in the front row. You can see the light in his eye while he performs. We really might have a rockstar on our hands. (Sorry the video quality is so bad. I hope it doesn't make your eyes bleed looking at it.) Rumor is that footage of "the incident" is on Facebook already, but I'm not telling you where.

I was in the grocery today and remembered I had a coupon for Celestial Seasonings tea. Last Christmas I really enjoyed their peppermint tea, so I decided to buy another box today. I brought it home and unloaded all my groceries. As I put the box of tea away, I noticed another box of tea on my cabinet shelf. I started digging around and discovered this:

I had all this tea sitting on the shelves of my cabinet and pantry. Here's the ironic thing: I'm really not a tea drinker. I like the idea of drinking tea. I admire those women who can sit and enjoy an afternoon cup of tea. I really want to be a woman who tucks the kids in bed, then curls up with a cup of tea and a good book. I want to be her, but I'm not. And I keep buying tea hoping I'll eventually become that calm, relaxed woman who is so together that she has nothing better to do than sit with a warm cup of tea.

Ephesians 2:10 says "For we are his (God's) workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." God created us to be who we are. Do we sometimes stray from the good works He created us to walk in? Sure. But He accepts me exactly as I am -- and I should do the same.

So, right now, I'm going to go brew a cup of peppermint tea and try to forget the mountain of laundry that needs to be folded.
We introduced the boys to Charlie Brown this Thanksgiving. We'd been given the "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" DVD, so we took it to Nana's house for the kids to watch while the grown ups watched football in the other room. They made it about halfway through the first episode before they totally lost interest. I was afraid Charlie Brown might be a little slow compared to the Imagination Movers and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse that are our current favorites.

We went to Wendy's for a quick dinner on Monday night and their kids meal toys were Charlie Brown. So we've been able to reintroduce the boys to Snoopy and the gang through the Wendy's stickers and toys. I think they're starting to warm up to the classic fav.

Then I saw this on my old friend, Jeff Prosser's, blog. The boys loved it, of course. Azlan was dancing and beatboxing along with the music. So we might get them into Charlie Brown after all. Enjoy this little clip.


Today, November 23, is the day that Jack Bauer and the cast of "24" return to TV. It is a day which I've been anxiously anticipating for 18 months. The writer's strike did what Russian terrorists, Colombian drug lords, and a Chinese prison couldn't do -- stop Jack Bauer. Today he will return, in Africa.

Jack has a long history with our family. During those early weeks after Azlan was born, those weeks when days and nights are all the same, Jack provided a much needed distraction. Matt rented seasons of "24" and we'd watch episode after episode during feedings. Watching Jack torture people with a cigar cutter somehow made all of the diapers, spit up, and crying more bearable for us. I did wonder if all the shooting noises might somehow affect the subconscious of my precious newborn, and I decided it was OK.

But the writer's strike took away our beloved "24" just when we'd caught up to the current season. Then the lead actor was put in jail for a DUI. Then another key actress had a baby. Then the NFL season started and Fox knows better than to run "24" against Monday Night Football. But finally, tonight, we get a two-hour "prequel" for the 7th season starting in January. I will have my popcorn ready.

Enjoy this preview to determine if "24" is your cup of tea.

A few weeks ago we took the boys to the planetarium for the first time. Patriot LOVED it and has started on this kick about space, astronauts, planets, and stars. This interest has been furthered by a couple of Star Wars video games (Wii and Leapster) that he's been playing lately. We now have a full blown obsession.

So today I decided to not be annoyed by the obsession but instead to play into it. Today he wanted to blast off in a rocket ship and go fight the bad guys in space.

OK, I said, let's go downstairs and build a rocket ship. We got out our play tools and our plastic mega blocks, all ready to build a rocket ship. Azlan and I put together a pretty nice little rocket ship, but Patriot sat with his arms crossed critiquing our work.

When we were done he announced that this rocket ship was not big enough for us to get in. We needed to go outside, get some wood, and build a big rocket ship, he decided.

Well, no, we can't build a rocket ship out of wood because it would catch on fire when we blast off into space, I explained. We'll just pretend to go onto our nice mega blocks rocket ship through this little door, we'll sit down, put on our seatbelts and countdown for blastoff!

Then Patriot got a great idea: we need to turn our car into a rocket ship. It's big enough for all of us to get in and put on our seat belts!

OK, I said. We found a remote for an old toy and covered it in aluminum foil. We printed off pictures of a rocket ship and taped them to our remote, completing our "button" that could turn anything into a rocket ship.

By now, it was naptime, so we decided we'd all get a good rest and blast off after naps. At Patriot's insistance, we "plugged in" the button so it could "charge" while we napped.

They napped a little longer than I expected and I had a Mary Kay appointment tonight, so Daddy was nominated to blast off with them this evening. According to Matt, here's how it went:

Matt hung the button on the rear view mirror and started the car. They counted down, pushed the button, yelled blast off and he hit the gas pedal. After a few moments looking out the window, Patriot was disappointed.

Daddy, it didn't work. We didn't blast off. We're still on the road.

Well, Patriot, were pretending we blasted off and we're flying in space.

No, Daddy, we have to go into the dark to go in space. We have to go off the road. Maybe the button needs to charge longer.

Guess we haven't perfected the "pretending" idea yet. But I will encourage this interest in space. I've always had a special fascination with space myself. Maybe we have a future astronaut in our house.
Today I was trying to meet a deadline so I had to work on the computer while Patriot was at school (usually our "Azlan and Me" time). After he deleted some text, pulled books off my shelves, and turn the power off on the computer, I ejected him from the office and told him to go play. I heard him throw the laundry downstairs, but figured it needed to go down there anyway so I wouldn't intervene. I kept working and suddenly realized it was way too quiet. Here' s why:

Guess all that mischief wore him out. He may not sleep at naptime now, but at least I got my project done!
We had a great time for Halloween last night. Here are some pics!

We made these pumpkin shirts ourselves! (Idea from Family Fun Magazine) First the boys helped put the rubber bands on the shirts to tie-dye them. Then we each picked out a pumpkin face online and I stenciled them on the shirts using fabric markers. Pretty cool family project, but Matt was called the dorkiest dad on the street so he says he'll never wear his again.
Here's Super Mario and Froggie just before Trick or Treating. Aren't they cute?
This is after the festivities and Mario, Froggie, and Frankenboy (Cousin Caedmon) are in a candy stupor. But none of them wanted to take off their costumes . . .
I've been thinking a lot lately about whom I'm going to vote for in this year's Presidential election.

I listened to both candidates' acceptance speeches at their party's convention (while on vacation, I might add), and I had a pretty strong feeling who I liked best. One candidate talked about education in the way that I think my family would benefit most (can you believe we'll be starting school while this candidate is in office!?). That was important to me. He said a few other things that sounded good to me, but I've not been terribly convicted on much of it.

Then I started hearing all the talk and listening to TV commercials. That just got me confused. I think most of those TV attack ads are so specific and taken out of context so that you can't take any of it seriously. But it is so easy for those messages to get in your head and start to make you doubt.

Next I watched a couple of the debates. What a waste of time. No one answered the questions appropriately and instead just spewed out their canned lines. How ridiculous.

Then the economy went crazy and I started feeling the pressure to make the right choice, knowing it could affect our family's situation. The problem is that I don't understand what went wrong, so I don't understand the possible solutions. Now I'm stressed about making my choice, but more confused about what that choice should be.

Just recently different leaders have stepped up endorsing one candidate or another. They know what they're talking about, right? They understand what's going on, right? Maybe I should just follow their lead.

This weekend I was talking with a friend about all of this. She said the choice seemed simple to her. She was going to vote for the candidate who agreed with her Christian views on life and family. She said the Bible was pretty clear on those two issues, and as long as we as a country follow Scripture on those absolutes, the things that may not seem as clear (economy, war, health care) will fall in place behind.

Well, here I hit a real problem. I believe the Bible and choose to follow God in my decisions (as best as I can). But there are Americans who have chosen not to follow God. They define life and family differently than me and, I believe, differently than God. So what about the separation of church and state? What about choice? Should I vote for a candidate who will make God's laws our country's laws, when there are people in our country to say that isn't right for them?

Wow . . . it is so easy to let relativism sneak into your thought pattern when you aren't diligently guarding your mind.

So this morning I was blessed to have a vomiting child and we had to stay home from church. On the rare occasion that I don't attend Horizon, I like to watch Ed Young back at Fellowship. So I logged on to this morning and found his current sermon series is called "Politicked." Ed is talking about how he is ticked off at politics in our country. I listened to both sermons that were online and they were totally helpful.

Isn't it awesome how God meets us right where we are and speaks to us the way we need to hear?

I recommend you listen to both messages, even if you already know who you'll vote for. The first goes through issues our country is currently facing and helps Christians determine God's perspective. The second goes through qualities that we should seek in any candidate who deserves our vote.

More than anything, these messages armed me with the Scriptural ammunition to boldly enter that voting booth and support the candidate who will promote Jesus in our government.
Today I was either the best or the worst mom ever, depending on who you ask.

Patriot's birthday is this weekend and I'm making cupcakes to take to his school Tuesday (best mom ever). I purchased a new cupcake baking stone from my sister, a new Pampered Chef consultant (best sister ever?). Since I'd never baked cupcakes in a stone before, I thought I'd better do a practice batch before we needed the school cupcakes. So this morning I let the boys help me mix up some cake batter (best mom ever) and we filled the stone and a regular cupcake pan. Here's a pic of the boys watching the cupcakes bake (is that like watching paint dry?):

The cake mix box (you don't have to make cupcakes from scratch to qualify for best mom ever, do you?) said they should bake for 19-23 minutes, so I set the timer for 19. Both the stone and the regular pan were done at that earliest time -- very impressive to me because I tend to do the "one more minute" thing for 10 minutes. Here's how they looked right out of the oven:

We whipped up some buttercream icing using this super easy and super yummy recipe. Then we used our Pampered Chef decorator bottle set to decorate the cupcakes and here's how great they look! I think we'll color the icing for the school cupcakes next week. He wants green.

My general review of the stone is that it's pretty great! The cupcakes baked evenly and quickly and actually seem taller and fluffier than the cakes from the regular pan. I did use cooking spray, but I could pull the cakes right out of the stone with my hand. I love that I don't have to use the paper liners because I think those are just messy when the kids are trying to eat.

So here's why I might be the worst mom ever: we lost track of time while baking and didn't have time for lunch before school today, so I fed the boys cupcakes and water for lunch! Delicious, but not nutritious. Please don't tell CPS.
My dishwasher has gone bonkers and I have no idea how to fix it. For almost a month, my dishwasher has been leaving this white film on my dishes.

It has gotten progressively worse. Now after I run the dishwasher I have to take everything out and wipe it clean with a wet paper towel and then wipe it with a dry towel. If I let them air dry, the white returns.

I've tried four different detergents but saw no difference. I added some Jet Dry (which I don't normally use) but saw no difference. I've tried cleaning out the dishwasher by running vinegar through a cycle, but saw no difference.

Until we get this fixed, I'm back to hand-washing everything. It's actually more efficient than running it through my dishwasher.

Any ideas? I'll take any advice you've got.
Yesterday . . .
Patriot: Where's Daddy?
Me: In Texas.
P: Why's Daddy in Texas?
M: Watching the Bengals football game.
P: Is Daddy in Heaven?
M: No, Daddy's in Texas.
P: Is Texas Heaven?
M: No, Texas is a place on earth. Heaven is where God lives.
P: Will Daddy come home from Texas?
M: Yes, in a couple of days.
P: Will Granny come home from Heaven?
M: No, people don't come back from Heaven because Heaven is such a great place.
P: Where's Daddy?
sigh . . .

This morning we were eating Chocolate Chip Special K cereal . . .
P: Look! I have two chocolate chips stuck together!
M: Wow! That's a bonus!
P: What does bonus mean?
M: Bonus means you get a little bit extra.
P: What does bonus mean?
M: What did Mommy just say bonus means?
P: Bonus means it's healthy for you.
M: No, bonus means you get a little bit extra.
sigh . . .
We've started an annual tradition the first weekend in October. We attend Wool Fest with friends from church.

Wool Fest celebrates all things wool with sheep shearing and dog herding exhibits, spinners making yarn, and knitters weaving fabric. The many other country festival activities include performances by cloggers and harmonica players, homemade sorghum and root beer, deep fried everything, and an old fashioned blacksmith.

The kids love the petting zoo . . .

. . . and the pony rides . . .
. . . and the food . . .

. . . and the unusual freedom to get into stuff.
We really enjoy this country adventure, but seem to endure some mishap every year that makes us rethink attending next year. Wool Fest is in Falmoth , KY, just over an hour from the Cincy area. But, because it is literally located in the "holler," the road system is not designed to handle the amount of traffic this popular event attracts. Last year we waited about 40 minutes to get into the parking field. Fortunately we'd packed plenty of snacks because we were still sitting on the road at lunch time.

This year we wisely decided to leave earlier and hopefully beat the rush. It worked and we had relatively no wait to get in and park. In fact, my accidental shortcut (discovered with a wrong turn that got me there anyway) had us arriving so early that we were one of the first ones there and guided to park in the far side of the field. After our fun-filled day, we loaded back into the car ready to leave and made our way into a line of cars that was not moving.

I had not expected this delay but quickly figured out the problem. It's like when you park at the top of the parking garage at a downtown sporting event or concert. The bottom levels have to clear out before the top levels get to leave. Since I'd arrived so early and parked in the back of the lot, I'd have to wait for the front to clear before I could leave. So I accepted that we'd be waiting a few minutes and we pulled out the treats we'd purchased to take home (rock candy for the boys and cinnamon roasted almonds for me - yum!).

After a half hour my acceptance had turned to frustration as we still hadn't moved. I could see the cars in the front of the field moving, but we never got our chance to go. Does anybody already know the reason? Let me tell you: The difference between this situation and that of a downtown sporting event is the finishing time. The downtown event ends at a certain time and everyone leaves. This festival was ongoing, so people were staggered leaving and the front of the parking field never cleared. (And I suspect some from the back of the field were getting through and driving around to the front.)

We sat there for an hour (precisely 53 minutes, not that I was counting) before one of the poor parking volunteers stationed in the back convinced the volunteers in the front to hold their rows and let those of us in the back drive straight through. I don't know how they handled the situation the rest of the day, but I sure hope they figured out a solution.

Now I'm stuck with the quandry of what to do next year. If I arrive later I'll have to wait to get in. If I arrive earlier I'll have to wait to get out. Any creative suggestions?
My big boy started preschool last week.

The first day was orientation, so Matt and I went with him, but last Wednesday was his first day at school without us. It was the weirdest thing being at home and thinking, "My son is at school right now." His class is called Barkley's Bunch and it's all 3-year-olds.

Here his is with his teacher, Mrs. Beth. You can see Mrs. Annette in the background. She's the room assistant.

He's enjoying school and tells me all about the letter (R), color (red), and shape (rectangle) of the month. I hear about cookies and pretzels for snack time and riding the bikes on the playground. However, today was the first day I've heard about another kid in his class. Before we were even in the car he announces, "I invited Abby to come to my birthday party. You need to call her Mom."

I did one of those confused-dog head tilts and asked for the rest of the story. Apparently Patriot plays with Abby and Hannah the most. He's nice to both of them, but Abby has light hair and was wearing a green shirt (his favorite color) so he invited her to his birthday party. OK.

I have my first Parents Auxiliary meeting tomorrow morning, so I'll have to try to find Abby's mom. I'm also trying to find someone who lives nearby and can carpool with me. I had no understanding how much time would be spent dropping off and picking up my child from preschool. It is seriously an hour a day, and that's if I manage to get out of the parking lot before the elementary school lets out. Trust me, I made that mistake last week and don't plan to repeat it!

Another thing I did not expect: How much Azlan misses Patriot during the afternoon. He spends the afternoon saying "Where's Payiet?" and "Aya go scoo too?" The first day he was beside himself as we pulled out of the parking lot with Patriot's carseat empty. We spent so much time prepping Patriot to start school, I never even thought about prepping Azlan, too.

It's hard to believe we've started the 20-year journey through education. I'm expecting many more unexpected adventures!
I have a big Mary Kay goal this week. My director has challenged me to sell $1000 by Monday, which would allow me to achieve a company milestone -- and I'm excited about tackling it! Thus far my average week is $300, so this goal is quite a stretch. I think it can be done, but not without some help.

If you have a moment and would be interested in helping, please go to my personal web site and browse the great products. Mary Kay is the best selling brand in the skincare and cosmetics categories, so if you haven't tried it you're really missing out. And your order is 100% satisfaction guaranteed, so if you don't like a color or an item just isn't doing what you thought it would, let me know and I'll make it right!

For this week only, if you purchase $30 worth of product, I'll give you the lipstick of your choice at 50% off.

We also have a ton of incredible holiday products coming out next month, so if you'd like to go ahead and invest in some holiday shopping, you can purchase a Star Certificate from me this week. When you purchase a $100 Star Certificate, you'll receive $125 worth of fabulous Mary Kay product! A $200 Star Certificate will provide you with $250 of wonderful Mary Kay product!

Men, this is a great time to treat the ladies in your life to a "Just Because" gift and earn a ton of brownie points. Just browse these gift ideas and pick the one you like best!

So stop by my web site this weekend. Try a new look on our Virtual Makeover! Think about the events you have on the horizon and the gifts you might be needing. Please let me know if you have any questions or need advice. And help a sister meet her goal! You are appreciated!
The other day I was cleaning up after lunch and Steven Curtis Chapman's song "Cinderella" came on the radio. This song tells the story of a father dancing with his daughter at different stages of her life. It reminds me that my children will grow up quickly and we should take time to enjoy them at every stage, because we know that soon this stage will be gone.

Well, I was not having one of those "enjoying them" moments. They were pulling dishes back out of the dishwasher, tugging at my skirt hem, screaming about this and that, and generally driving me crazy. We've all been there.

But hearing this song inspired me. I wiped my hands and decided to take time to dance with my boys there in the kitchen. I took Patriot's-3yr hands and began to lead him in a waltz around the room. Against his resistance, I tried to spin him and twirl with him. He freaked out and refused to cooperate.

"He used to love to dance with me," I remembered. "Maybe he's just too old now. I'll try with Azlan-1yr."

So I took Azlan's hands and tried to waltz with him. He, of course, followed his brother's lead and would have nothing to do with it. So my feelings got a little hurt and I asked them why they wouldn't dance with Mommy.

Patriot responded, "We'll dance with you Mommy, but that's not how you dance. You should dance like this." And he proceeded to breakdance on my kitchen rug. He was spinning and kicking. I think he might have even done the inchworm at one point. After a few moments, Azlan joined in and they were both cavorting around my kitchen. Looked like if I was going to dance with my boys, it would have to be a breakdance instead of a waltz. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em, so we breakdanced through Steven Curtis Chapman's beautiful "Cinderella."

I think boys are really different than girls. And I think we're going to limit how much "So You Think You Can Dance?" we'll let the boys watch next season.
I have met so many moms lately who are struggling with the balance of meeting their children's needs as a stay-at-home mom while also making necessary contributions to their family budget. I guess with rising gas and grocery prices, and many people in my circle of friends working to pay off debt, we're all starting to feel the pinch in our pocketbooks.

Mary Kay is offering a career opportunity this month that cannot be beat, and I'd like to tell you about it. Now, I know this isn't a Mary Kay blog, it's a mom blog. But I have found something that works for me and my family, and I want to share it in case it might work for someone else.

First, let me tell you some of my favorite benefits of my Mary Kay business:
  • The company teaches that our priorities should be God first, family second, and career third. My training even includes quiet time ideas and time management skills to ensure that my time is spent in my priorities. I know some churches that don't even encourage their staff this way -- much less businesses!
  • We're not just in the cosmetic business, we're in the people business. That means we strive to provide "Golden Rule" customer service. (Do unto others as you'd have them do unto you.) I am never asked to "sell" someone on something they don't want. My job is to provide each woman with the tools to help her become the best she can be. Often those tools go beyond skincare and cosmetics to prayer and encouragement!
  • Because I am an Independent Contractor with Mary Kay, I am my own boss. I determine when I work, how much I sell, and when I'd like to advance in the company. The company offers excellent training (they've been doing this for 45 years and have learned a few things!) but doesn't require anything of me or limit me. Now, if I want to drive a pink Cadillac, there are certain things I have to do to earn it, but I can move as quickly or as slowly as I want toward that goal.
There is a ton more I could tell you about this opportunity, but I don't want this post to be too long. Go to my web site to learn more about our company and products. If you've never had a Mary Kay facial, let me know and we'll schedule one (if you're not local, I'll try to hook you up with a local consultant).

Here's the incredible deal Mary Kay is offering this month: When you sign your contract in the month of August and pay your $100 start up fee (which gives you all of the product and materials you need to do your first 30 faces), and then place an initial qualifying product order with the company (product you're selling to your customers) in August or September , you'll receive a $100 rebate check!

If you can get excited about seeing positive change in your life; If you could think of a way to spend an extra $$ each week; If you desire more time with your loved one's while helping others as well; Please consider this Mary Kay opportunity. Check out Matt's blog to get a husband's perspective on this career. Then contact me and I'll fill in all the details.

I didn't think I needed an Apple iPhone. I'm not a high-powered executive who needs to be "plugged in" all the time. I'm not a giggly teenager who needed to text "OMG!" to her "BFF" every twenty minutes. I'm not a tech geek who needs to have the latest thing just because it's the latest thing.

However, Matt let me goof around with his phone and I realized it really could be useful. So when the iPhone 3G came out last month, I used some of my Mary Kay earnings and bought one for Matt, and I took his hand-me-down.

I've now had my iPhone for a month and I LOVE it.

Like so many of you, I wear a lot of hats and this phone is useful in each of my roles.

As a mom, I love that I can download YouTube videos on my phone. This means that while we're waiting in the world's longest line at the grocery store, I can entertain the children with Sesame Street or Veggie Tales videos. I can also download age-appropriate games on my phone, so we can play match games or draw pictures while we sit in the doctor's waiting room. And I don't have to lug around a giant bag of stuff to entertain the kids.

As a wife, I love that I can text or e-mail Matt anytime, anywhere. And it's cool to be able to Google from my phone, so we can settle arguments about "who sings this song?" quickly and accurately.

As a Bible Study leader, I love that I've downloaded the application YouVersion, which allows me to carry the entire Bible on my phone. I can search verses or keywords, switch back and forth between versions, and even sort through commentary about particular verses. This application also gives me a daily Bible reading each day.

As a Mary Kay Consultant, I love that I've downloaded my customer list on my phone. So, with just a couple of clicks, I can have any customer's phone number, address, and directions to her address from my current location. Yes, my phone tracks where I am (similar to a GPS, but not as good -- the 3G actually has GPS). I can also check e-mails and my personal web site no matter where I am, so I can stay in communication with my customers. Plus, since my phone is also an iPod, I can download training MP3s and inspirational songs and listen to them anytime.

As me (like I get "me" time!), I love the application eBooks. I have to admit this was the application I was most skeptical about, but I really love it. eBooks is a web site that sells electronic books. You set up a Bookshelf and then purchase books to add to your Bookshelf. My phone connects to that Bookshelf and downloads my purchased books. Books still cost $5-$25 each, but they stay on your Bookshelf even after you've read them. I thought I'd miss holding a book and turning pages, but this mimics page-turning and the practicality of not needing a physical book is wonderful.

This is what I love about my iPhone after about a month. They are always coming out with new applications, so I'm sure I'll find even more stuff to love about it. With Christmas just a few months away (ugh! it pains me a little to type that), I'd recommend Moms look into asking for one. You won't regret it.
Yesterday I was in the bathroom getting ready for the day and had left both boys watching TV on our bed. I heard some rustling around and then I heard something that struck fear in my heart:

Patriot-3yr. quietly saying to Azlan-1 yr. "If we whisper, she can't hear us!"

They have learned to conspire against me. I'm in big trouble now.
The other day we had some unexpected business to attend to, and I was a good bit irritated that my plan for the day was thrown. As we were running the necessary errands, I actually told the boys, "I know none of us wants to do this, and this is turning into a bad day, but let's just try to be good and get through what needs to be done." Great attitude, Mom!

But when we pulled into the parking lot of the bank, we saw something that peaked all of our interest: a police car, an ambulance, a fire truck, two helicopters, and a crowd of people. My first thought? "Oh, great! There's been some bomb threat and they've had to evacuate the bank. Now we'll have to wait to do our business. Can my day get much worse?" (Remember that bad attitude?) Then I realized the people were not panicked and kids were climbing in all the emergency vehicles. That was my first clue this was not a bomb threat.

We completed our business at the bank and decided to walk across the parking lot and see what was going on. I learned that the library, in the same shopping center as the bank, was having some special event and had brought these vehicles in for the kids. Patriot said he didn't want to get in the firetruck or the police car, but he was definitely interested in the helicopters, so we went over to check them out. He and Azlan both got to sit in the helicopter and pretend to drive (see pics below, taken with my new iPhone, thankyouverymuch).

Driving the helicopter must have warmed them up to the whole idea, so we sat in the police car and got to turn on the lights and the siren, then we climbed into the firetruck and got to turn the big steering wheel. We talked with the police officer and firemen, and generally had a really good time!

Just as we were about to leave, the propellers on the helicopters started spinning and they asked everyone to back up. We were able to watch both helicopters take off and fly away, feeling the warm wind and hearing the loud whir! It really was exciting even for Mom!

So I learned a couple things that day:
  1. A firetruck generally goes about 65 mph. A police car goes about 140 mph. And a helicopter goes about 200 mph. We thought that was very interesting.
  2. I need to just roll with the changes that come to my day, because you never know when the coolest opportunity might pop up.
You know how you sometimes see that little girl in the grocery store wearing her Cinderella dress? Or the boy who looks like he's been wearing his Spiderman pajamas for four days straight? When I see those families, I always have to wonder what happened at their house before they walked out the door. Now I know.

Patriot has taken to dressing in strange costumes. I think it started a week ago when I let him get a Batman mask at Wal-Mart. He immediately (meaning, before we left the toy aisle) put it on and assumed the persona of Batman, at least as much as he knows seeing as he's never seen a Batman movie, cartoon, or comic book. As we continued our shopping, we talked about how Batman was a hero who helped people and fought bad guys. Patriot liked that idea and, as long as I referred to him as Batman, actually helped me continue my shopping.

Me: Patriot, do you see any bananas?
Him: No, Mommy, but Batman might.
Me: OK, Batman, do you see any bananas?
Him (in a deep voice): Yes, they are right over there.

This seemed like it could be a pretty good deal for me. So I let him keep the mask on until naptime. As soon as he woke, he wanted it right back. I figured it couldn't hurt any, so I gave it to him. He was Batman the rest of the day and the next day. As time went on, though, we noticed "Batman" seemed to be a little sassier and wasn't afraid to talk back to grown-ups disrespectfully. This is not OK, so we promptly limited the time in the Batman mask.

The next day he asked to wear his Bengals helmet and wanted to wear it all day long. A little unusual, but maybe he's just anxiously anticipating the start of the NFL season (aren't we all!).

We had a sunglasses day. This day he wanted his brother to join the fun, so they both wore their sunglasses. Patriot told Azlan, "Now we're styling."

Today he found a kid-sized life jacket in the garage. You know, the kind you'd wear on a boat. He wanted to wear it and, since we were just goofing in the yard, I put it on him. The boy wore it all morning. He played Wii in the life jacket. He kicked balls in the backyard in the life jacket. He looked like he was just waiting for a flood! Oh, how I wish I had a picture of him wearing the life jacket and the Batman mask at the same time! It was the funniest thing ever.

So where do you draw the line on ridiculous costumes? For me, the line is when my own inconvenience or embarrassment outweighs his desire to express himself through imaginative play. And my embarrassment threshold is pretty high so don't be surprised to see me running errands with Batman!
My Granny died this morning. She was my dad's Mom and lived here in the Cincinnati area. She was survived by her husband of a zillion years, Grandpa Stan, her three children: John, Susan, and Sarah; three grandchildren: me, Joni, and Curtis; and three great-grandchildren: Patriot, Azlan, and Elias. I don't know the exact cause of death. Her health had been failing for a while now, and she was taken to the hospital last night with stroke symptoms. They determined she had fluid in her lungs and carbon monoxide poisoning. I'm sure we'll learn more in time.

I remember a lot about Granny. She always told a story about when I was a child and she was taking me to the zoo. I was upset because I didn't have new sandals, but I apparently pronounced it "sanders," which she loved.

We used to go to Granny's house for Christmas every year and she always made the best pressed cookies! When she started getting sick and couldn't bake anymore, I secretly tried to mimic her cookie recipe every year, but they were never quite right. I'm sure she'd have given me the recipe had I asked . . .

Granny was quite the card player! She played all kinds of different card games, but we played a lot of Uno around her kitchen table.

Granny loved bird watching. I think cardinals were her favorite. She always had a bird feeder or two set up and could tell you about all the different kinds.

She always used to sing the John Anderson song "Just a Swingin'" -- I have no idea why. She was a Cincinnati Reds fan, especially Johnny Bench. But she was always disappointed by the Bengals (just like the rest of us!). She had also gotten into Nascar and had her favorite drivers, but I couldn't keep up with all of that.

Granny was a spirited woman! She kept up with politics and current events and had an opinion about all of it. She and Matt had several friendly sparring matches, but she always won!

I remember she cried when I told her I was pregnant with Patriot. She said, "I didn't think I'd live to see any of my great-grandchildren." Not only did she live to see them, but she attended Patriot's first birthday party. When Azlan was born, she held him for the longest time and then asked us to take him because he was just too heavy.

She requested to be cremated and have no funeral service, so we're going to have a small graveside service for her. If the circumstances are right, I think I might take the boys (or at least Patriot). Neither have ever been to a cemetery or had any real encounter with death. I don't think Granny would mind if they raised a little ruckus.
My little blog is turning 1 today!

Thank you for reading my random thoughts and enduring my endless pictures of the boys. I see my blog as my electronic scrapbook, because we know I don't have time for all those stickers and stamps that come with regular scrapbooks! The boys and I have already been able to reminisce about Halloweens and snow days by scrolling through this blog. Maybe someday we'll look back and remember how Wii-obsessed Patriot is and how Azlan's appetite is never satisfied. Your comments add to our memories, so please keep them coming!

I hope you like the new look! Change is hard and I keep thinking "Maybe I'll just go back to the pink." However, if I've learned anything as a parent, it's to accept and welcome change because it's coming whether you're ready or not!

Now, do they sell blogiversary cake at Wal-Mart bakery?
It's always interesting to see how your kids react to a new baby. You hope they're going to be kind and gentle, playing peek-a-boo and all those adorable things that make great pictures. This past weekend Matt and I took the boys down to Knoxville to meet their new cousin Elias. We had a great visit, and here's the photographic proof.

Patriot did great with Baby Eli. We had talked a lot about it -- even checked books out of the library to read to him and gathered some of our baby toys to take to him -- so Patriot was well prepared. Plus, he'd already survived a baby brother, so he kind of knew what to expect.

Azlan was a different story. He wasn't unkind to the baby, just not really interested. I had to work hard to even get a picture of both of them. Azlan did fuss a couple of times when I held Baby Eli. Otherwise, Azlan just did his thing.

Matt taught Eli about the iPhone -- looks like Eli enjoyed it!

We tried and tried to get a picture of him smiling. I think this is the closest we got. He's really getting to be a cutie!

And who doesn't need another cute pic of my boys? Especially one taken in the bathroom!

Patriot had a couple of milestones on this trip:
  1. He graduated to a booster seat! We've had to scrunch him into his car seat for a while, so I think it's time. He looks so grown up sitting in a big seat with a regular seat belt.
  2. He's nighttime potty trained! It's been some time since he's had a wet Pull-up in the morning, but I'd been scared to give them up. This weekend, however, I forgot to pack any, so we gave it a go. He's stayed dry every night so far!
  3. He's never allowed to go back to Tennessee. Or at least to leave Tennessee. He threw up again when we came home. Some of you may remember our last fateful trip home from Tennessee. Fortunately, this was not a repeat performance and he waited until we got home to throw up. I cannot explain what about this trip makes him sick, but I'm not doing it again. The good news? My sister is moving to Missouri, so we won't have to make any sacrifices.
Justin, Joni, and Elias are doing well and adjusting to life as a family. Check out Justin's blog to hear about their move (and a lot of bad news about gas prices).
Since we first saw the baby boy sonograms, Matt and I both had a picture in our heads of the kind of men we want our sons to become. Until this week I've not been able to verbalize this notion. Then I heard this Scripture:

"Be on your guard; Stand firm in the faith; Be men of courage; Be strong. Do everything in love."
1 Corinthians 16:13-14

This passage is found at the end of Paul's first letter to the Corinthians and he is giving them several brief instructions and requests. The Scripture doesn't give any conditions, situations, descriptions, or explanations regarding these 5 instructions. It simply is what it is.

I did a little research online and found this commentary on a blog called "Mentoring Our Boys."

Be on your guard: A call to fight against temptations from Satan, from the world, and from our selves. It also helps guide us toward self-control. Finally, we are called to be alert, always prepared for Jesus’ return.

Stand firm in the faith: The center of what gives meaning and purpose to our lives through Jesus Christ. Ultimately, it is our faith in Christ as our Lord that assures our salvation and it is our identity in Christ that directs our heart, mind and soul to the nature and character of God.

Be men of courage: This proclamation implores us to pursue our divine roles as men. Biblically, we are to be disciples, servants, husbands, fathers and finally, patriarchs. Not all men will be called to fulfill every one of these roles. Some of these roles will be carried out during different seasons of life. To fulfill these roles, we are called to spiritual leadership and servant leadership. We are to be the provider and protector. In this directive from Paul, the original text refers to a masculine courage.

Be strong: Strong in faith, strong in character, strong in perseverance, strong in body. This statement dovetails with our roles as leader, provider and protector.

Do: Implies being proactive, not passive or reactive. “Released from the law…we serve in newness of the Spirit,” proving ourselves “doers of the word.” As the Lord’s Prayer says: “Thy will be done.”

Everything in love: Sums up the law (Galatians 5:14) and implies a selfless, servant attitude.

What an awesome role God has given me as Mother to sons! May He strengthen me to trust and follow Him in every moment I'm given with these young men. And I'm charging you, as family and friends, to join me in raising young men of courage.
This blog is coming up on it's 1-year anniversary! To celebrate I'm overhauling it's look. On July 1, watch for an exciting new look for Blessed Mom 24/7.

If you happen to notice any strange changes before then, it's just me working on it.

I'm so excited!
Our church doesn't have your typical annual VBS (anyone who knows Matt isn't surprised to hear this). Instead we have a week-long day camp for 3 year olds to 5th graders called Smash Camp. It's technically three camps going on at the same time, we just share an opening session, lunch time, and closing session. This year our three camps were a soccer skills camp, a science learning camp, and a preschool camp. We had 172 kids and almost half of them were preschoolers. Yikes.

Last year I volunteered with the preschoolers thinking it wouldn't be much different than my regular life, just a few more kids and at church instead of home. I was wrong. What I learned is that Smash Camp is a great opportunity for me to have a break from my regular life. So this year I volunteered with the 2nd & 3rd graders. Since I help with the 2nd grade girls on Sundays, I thought it'd be fun to hang out with some of my girls this week. I was right.

Last week was one of the most enjoyable church camp experiences I've ever had. A little history for those who may not know: in my pre-mommy days I was an event coordinator for a children's ministry. Meaning, planning church camps was my life for several years. Although I enjoyed that immensely, it was a LOT of work and a LOT of pressure. We as a staff always worked hard so our volunteers could enjoy their camp experience with the kids and focus on building relationships instead of logistics. My experience this week was testimony that this hard work pays off.

This week I got to know a girl who was visiting a friend from out of state. During the week, her grandfather died. She came and told me about it, and we were able to pray, hug, and cry together. I was so honored that she shared that time with me.

This week I taught a boy some of the basics of prayer. I noticed that every time we prayed, this kid didn't bow his head, didn't close his eyes, did none of the things we do to show respect. At one point I even had to scold him for burping during prayers. (BTW, I'm adding that to the things I never expected to say list: "It is disrespectful to God for us to make burping noises while we pray. If I hear it again you will be in big trouble.") So I asked him about it and learned that he wasn't a regular at church and didn't know much about prayer. How awesome to be able to teach a kid how to pray!

And this week I learned about science with the kids. We had a large group time when the scientists did demonstration experiments that were really cool. We shot rockets, filled a room with evaporating dry ice, froze stuff in liquid nitrogen, and played with electricity. Nothing but good clean fun here! On the last day the scientists brought in a static ball (honestly, I was tired by the last day and didn't catch a lot of the scientific details from this demonstration). At one point she called me on stage to help. This pic shows what happened when I touched the static ball.

As you can imagine, the kids thought this was hilarious and wanted to see more volunteers. So she called Matt on stage. Here's what he looked like.

The funniest part of his hair-raising experience was his legs. Check this out! (You may have to click on the pic to get the full effect.)

All in all, I had a great time at Smash Camp. Even though I volunteered thinking I'd hang out with my girls, I actually spent more time hanging with the boys. I loved watching the way they interacted and anticipating the way Patriot and Azlan will be when they're older. I think I have a lot to look forward to!

On a "proud parent" note: This was the first year Patriot was old enough to actually attend camp. Here he is posing in his room. How cute is he?

Yesterday Matt and I found ourselves with a free morning, so we decided to take the boys to Boomerang Bay, the water park connected to Kings Island. We have been to Kings Island several times, but never to Boomerang Bay, so we didn't know exactly what to expect.

One thing we did know was that, since we are Kings Island Gold Pass members, we could get in 30 minutes before the park opened. We'd been told this was important because the chairs near the wave pool fill up fast. I don't know about you, but I sure want a coveted chair by the wave pool! Problem: we weren't sure what time the park opened and we didn't know where the wave pool was inside the park.

We arrived just after 10 AM and there was a terrible line at the gate to get in. Matt and I both thought, "Those poor people don't have Gold Passes, so they have to wait while we enter early. Well, membership has it's privileges, right?" I jumped out of the car and walked right up to the gate while Matt gathered the children. It was then that I realized all of these people were also Gold Pass holders and I needed to get in line behind all of them. There went my privileges.

About 10:30 the line started moving and we realized the park opens at 11. We followed the herd through security and had our passes checked. Then we expected to follow them to the prized chairs by the wave pool, only to realize there are chairs all over the place and, at that time in the morning, there were plenty to be had. So we dashed from attractions, slides, and pools scoping out the best place for our young family to plant.

After choosing a great 0-entry pool with a little water slide, several geysers, and a raindrop fountain, we finished our sunscreen coverage and headed into the water. Matt and Patriot were soon off to the bigger water slides but Azlan and I were happy sitting in the shallow water letting the geysers randomly "surprise" us. We enjoyed a light lunch and then went to bob in the wave pool. Soon it was naptime and time to go.

We had a great morning and learned a lot for our next trip to the waterpark:
1. Arriving about 10:30 should be sufficient most days.
2. We can pack a lunch and save ourselves a ton of money and calories.
3. Even spray-on sunscreen needs to be rubbed into the edges of swimsuits and hairlines. We all have red sunburn outlines where our suits had been.
4. Azlan needs to wear a hat, no matter how much sunscreen he has. It's hard to see in this pic, but he has sunburn splotches where the sunscreen was lighter than in other places. (And yes, he has a mouthful of pretzels in this pic.)

So, it's been 10 weeks since I last blogged. Sorry about that. Sometimes life gets in the way of even the best blogging intentions. So this post is a recap of the things that have happened since my last post.

1. My sister had her first baby! He was born May 21 at 2:34 AM. Measured in at 9 lb 7 oz and 21 in long. Mom and I drove down to spend some time with them. (Kudos to Matt who stayed with the boys for three days! When I came home the dishes were done and the laundry was folded!) Here's a pic of me with baby Elias John Tapp. I'm so proud of my new nephew and his mom and dad!

2. Gas prices have gone up like $1 a gallon. Does anybody remember when gas was $1.89/gallon. Seriously.

3. Matt turned 30! His birthday was May 20. Our family and friends worked together to throw him a surprise party. It was a blast! Here he is about to blow out the candles. He makes 30 look good, doesn't he?

4. I've done about 67 loads of laundry. Read this post to know why that matters to me.

5. I started a new Mary Kay business! I've been a Mary Kay consultant for 2 months, but my business has been open for about a month. I am really loving the opportunity -- having a reason to get dressed every day and being out with people so much. It has been an adjustment for both me and the boys, but I am so blessed to be surrounded by supportive family. And we're already reaping the benefits of Mom's extra cash flow -- so far Mary Kay has bought the boys swim lessons and passports for the our upcoming vacation! Here are some of the awards I've already earned.

6. The cicadas have taken over the world. I've never seen so many bugs in one place before. Wikipedia assures me they are not classified as "pests" but I beg to differ.

7. My boys have grown right before my very eyes. It is such a blessing to overhear them playing together in the next room. I pray they continue to be each other's best friend. Azlan is in the thick of toddlerhood; yesterday between naptime and dinner, he played in the toilet, emptied one of my kitchen cabinets, and spilled red Gatorade on the carpet. Patriot has become so independent he can turn on the TV and set up the Wii all by himself. You should hear him sing "Come Sail Away" on Wii American Idol. What big boys!

Each season of motherhood has it's joys and it's trials. Hopefully this season for me will include a few more blog posts.
Like most of the eastern half of the country we had a huge snow storm about a week ago. The weather men were calling it a blizzard and the worst snow storm since 1978. (Actually, it might have been worse than the blizzard of '78, because we had more inches this storm. We just didn't have the same amount of wind so the drifts weren't as bad. I don't really know what criteria is used to judge the worst blizzard ever, but I can tell you it was a snow storm like I'd never seen before.)

Like most of the eastern half of Cincinnati, I went to Meijer just as the snow started to fall because we need toilet paper and maple syrup -- I think even the Survivor contestants aren't required to go three days without t.p. and maple syrup, are they?

Like most of the eastern half of our neighborhood, our road was covered in ice and sludge, so we decided to just stay home for a couple of days. It was nice! We watched a movie, ate popcorn, played the Wii, drank sippable chocolate -- a good, all-American snow day!

Here's a pic of the boys in the front yard. It's hard to see the yardstick, but they measured 10 inches. That's a lot of snow.

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It's a big day for any mom when she leaves the kids with a sitter and spends an entire day with grown-ups. I had such a day today. The staff at my husband's church (and their spouses!) were invited to visit the Creation Museum for a private tour and an exclusive lunch with its founder: Ken Hamm. (I'll write about all I learned from him in another post.)

Through a $27 million facility that includes a planetarium, multi-sensory theater, 18 videos, thousands of informative signs, and beautiful robotic displays, the museum tells the 7 C's of God's Eternal Plan. These 7 C's are a comprehensive, easy to understand explanation of God's workings from the beginning of the world to its end.

The displays throughout the museum were breath-taking. Below is a picture we took in the Garden of Eden room. In this particular display, Adam is naming all of the animals. It was amazing!

They also had a room dedicated to Noah's Ark where you felt like you were walking into the construction of the ark. Incredible! There was also an entire room dedicated to dinosaurs that was fascinating! Through these displays, visitors come to understand how all of the science confirms the Truth of the Bible.

The museum is designed to be family friendly. There are strollers available for rent and every bathroom has changing stations. I think most, if not all, of the exhibits would be appropriate for gradeschool kids. Some are so dynamic that they might frighten preschoolers. (My 3 year-old would freak out in the multi-sensory theater, but older kids would love it!) To make it easier for younger families, they've provided a "Bypass Route" that takes you past some of the potentially frightening exhibits. In the warmer months, outdoor walking trails through the Botanical Gardens will give little one's some room to run.

The museum is located in Northern Kentucky off I-275, near I-75, only a day's drive for 2/3 of the United States. Adult admission is about $20, kids 5-12 are $10, and kids under 5 are free. The planetarium is an additional $7. Snack bars and a restaurant are available on-site. In my opinion, it's worth the drive and the expense.

Or, better yet, get a sitter and go with your grown-up friends! That's a good day!