Jessica

A couple weeks ago, Patriot had a play date with a girl from his class. Matt went with to chat with her dad. Through their conversation, Matt came to learn this family is Hindu. They began talking about the differences in their faiths and the kids mentioned that their teacher said they aren't allowed to talk about God at school. That caught all the grown-up's attention.

We certainly don't want to start teaching these kindergarteners that their teacher is wrong ... but in this case, she is. We also want to empower our kids to talk openly about their faith and their loving God, even as young as kindergarten. So how do we strike a balance?

In this conversation, we started with creating context. We talked about certain times when it might not be appropriate to talk about God in class. For example, if the teacher is in the middle of a spelling lesson, it may not be the best time to bring up God. I figure as long as the kids aren't disruptive with their comments, their teacher cannot be upset when they mention their personal faith.

Next, we talked about times when he can respectfully to show his faith. An obvious time is praying before lunch. Patriot loves the idea of silently praying -- and God can hear his prayer in his head! (How cool is God!?!) Another time would be at recess. We role played a few situations like "I'm practicing basketball because God gave me the ability to play ball and I want to do the best I can. This was a little awkward to work out, but I think he understood that he can talk about God in regular conversation at school.

Since that talk, Patriot has reported a couple of times he mentioned God at school and didn't get in trouble -- I think he was a little surprised by that! I haven't talked with his teacher about this yet. I'd really like to see Patriot learn to navigate his witness himself. And I'm thrilled he's in a position to start learning that process at such a young age. If he can practice this basic skill now, imagine how powerful he can be as a teenager!
Jessica
I have been shocked and disappointed by the number of bullying tragedies in the last few weeks. There has been college cyber-bullying. A dad facing charges for defending his daughter against bus bullies. And a 13-year-old who committed suicide after being bullied at school. Each of the stories I've heard lately have focused on the victims and talked about how parents and schools need to protect kids from bullies. Although this is true, I don't think it's the solution to the problem.

To solve, or at least improve, the bullying problem, parents need to teach their kids not to be bullies.

I know, we all say "My kids would never bully another child!" But every bully has parents, and often those parents don't know their kid is a bully until things get out of hand. So what's a parent to do? Here are my thoughts:
  1. Teach children the importance of others. Instead of landing at "You are special" or "God made and loves you" take it a step further to "God made and loves every person." It's a slight, but important, difference. When you're driving in the car, point out people who look different than you and ask your child if God loves that person. Of course He does! And since God loves that person, that person should be important to us.
  2. Give your children opportunities to interact with people different than him. Intentionally play sports with kids of a different color. Set up play dates with the kids at school or in the neighborhood whose family practices a different faith than you. In the privacy of your own home talk about how some people are different than us. Some of those differences are designed by God, some of those differences are our choosing, some differences (like handicaps) could be from accidents. Be specific about the same and different characteristics in their new friends. But end the conversation with "Even though they're different than us, does God still love them? Then they should be important to us."
  3. Teach your kids to respect their bodies, and the bodies of others. Show her pictures or drawings of the skeletal or nervous system. Be amazed together at how our body heals itself when we get a cut or scrape. Wonder at the amazing bodies God created for us. Since our bodies are so wonderful, we need to treat them with respect, which means not hitting, pushing, etc.
  4. Help your child develop ways to deal with anger. We all have times when we get upset, but we can't allow ourselves to take that anger out on others. Maybe it's as simple as counting to 10. Maybe your child needs a Bible verse to repeat. If he's a particularly physical kid, maybe he needs to hit a pillow or go for a run in the yard to blow off steam -- or sign him up for football to give him a healthy outlet for that physicality.
These four strategies cannot be taught in one day. They must be a part of the ongoing conversation you're having with your kids. But if more of us can use the time we have with our kids intentionally, we can cut back on the number of bullying victims in this generation.

Jessica
Now that Patriot is in full-time school and I've started working outside the home, we've seen a major change in our daily schedule. Of his waking hours, he spends 7 at school, 2 in after-school care, and 3 constructive hours with us as a family (I'm not counting things like brushing teeth and riding the school bus). Part of that constructive time is making and eating breakfast and dinner, and about 45 minutes a day is homework. Yes, homework. In Kindergarten.

I am a big believer in education. I truly believe that learning to learn is a huge factor in future success. Our public school systems may not be perfect, but I think succeeding in public school helps kids learn how to succeed in the world after school. But daily homework in Kindergarten seems like a little much.

We had our first teacher conference last week and his teacher said he's doing great. She's giving him extra work in class because he's advancing so quickly in reading and writing. She said he's one of the top kids in his class. Then she handed us a full-page list of EXTRA activities, customized to Patriot's skill level, that we can complete with him at home. In addition to our regular homework.

Seriously?

In an average week, Patriot spends about 1 hour at church. We try to spend about 15 minutes every morning doing "God Time," a brief devotional that our church sends home each week. We pray together for about 15 seconds before dinner every night. We read a Bible story before bed about 4 times a week. And we say a prayer when we tuck them in at night.

I'm not going to do the math because it would probably make me cry. But his number of minutes spent on school far outweigh the number of minutes we spend on faith-building. And now we're being asked to do more school activities? I am not OK with this.

So we've made a change this week. I talked with his day care about doing homework with him before we pick him up. That gives us back those 45 minutes a day. And I've made the conscious decision to not do the extra activities with him. Instead of talking about the difference between a period and an exclamation point, I'm going to talk about Godly virtues like respect or courage (or whatever they're teaching at church that month). Instead of taking time to build his math skills, I'm going to teach him to build his relationships within the family and with friends.

I am not going to spend my time doing activities with him that anyone else could do. I am going to use my time with him to teach him the things that only I can teach.
Jessica
So Azlan continues to entertain us with his music. His latest favorite is to "mashup" his favorite songs all into one. BTW, don't judge me when you hear what his favorite songs are ...



So that was "Baby" by Justin Bieber, "Battlefield" by Jordin Sparks, "Hey Soul Sister" by Train, all concluded with a rousing rendition of "Space Jam" by Quad City DJs.

He did this completely on his own, even his own choreography. Since we took this video, he's started working on a Mashup of his favorite Bibleman songs. Not sure I'll be able to talk Matt into recording that ...
Jessica
Our church has partnered with a Christian foster care organization to match Christian foster parents, support communities, and kids in need. They announced this partnership several weeks ago at church and I instantly got excited. For years, I've had a heart for families in desperate times and wanted a chance to physically help kids in need. Of course, I started having kids of my own and a baby or toddler's needs became all-encompassing. Maybe this was finally my chance!

I attended the orientation class last week and came home ready to sign up, but I knew Matt would be hesitant. We talked through the details and particulars, determining that it really could work (the support system this organization provides is very helpful!). Seemed like the biggest hurdle is fitting another kid in my car. We agreed that we should sleep on it and not make any decisions for a couple of days.

I woke up the next day and drove to work feeling certain I had an answer from God. But it wasn't the answer I expected, so I argued with Him a little bit. But arguing with God rarely nets anything but frustration, so I quickly abandoned that effort and accepted God's answer -- even though I still don't understand it. Matt and I talked and, fortunately, he was hearing the same thing from God: wait.

We've always taught the kids that God gives one of three answers to our requests: yes, no, or wait. "Wait" might be the hardest answer to hear. I feel ready to help these kids. I feel like our family could really make a difference. I feel like Matt and I are right now uniquely situated to invest in a child more deeply that we could as children's pastor. I feel like this could be why God has me right here. But God clearly said "not right now."

So, for now, I'll sign up for one of the support communities and help where I can. And I'll wait for God's green light to make a difference.
Jessica
Azlan has really warmed up to his little day care class. He talks about his "best friends" in the class and, together, they have planned his entire birthday party already (two months early). He brings home drawings of dinosaurs and roller coasters. And he learns a bunch of new songs.

This one totally makes me smile.


Jessica
A couple of months ago I noticed a misshapen, pale brown spot form on my forehead. The spot looked like I'd just missed the middle of my forehead during my daily sunscreen application. I was able to blend it with makeup and didn't think much about it. But when it didn't go away after a few days, I decided to see a dermatologist covered by our insurance. This is what he said: "As the pigment in our skin ages, it begins to react differently with our hormones and the sun, and some discoloration may appear."

What a minute! My pigment is aging!?! I. Am. Not. That. Old, Right?

But when a medical doctor tells me I'm getting old, I feel the need to take a moments pause and consider my life. I do need a coffee IV to get started in the morning. I do get up pre-dawn and like it. I do think the music at church is sometimes too loud. I do think the kids getting driver's licenses are getting younger each year. I do start sentences with "when I was a kid." I do enjoy bird-watching. I do . . .

. . . think I might be getting old. Or, am I just getting comfortable with myself? I feel like I'm entering a season where I'm accepting who I am, recognizing my strengths, and gaining confidence in my abilities. I've lived long enough to learn who God made me to be. I've had enough life experience to learn what I'm made of, what I can handle and what I can't handle.

Most people probably come into this sense of self at about 17 years old. It's taken me almost twice as long. But with my years has come an acceptance of my weaknesses as well. I know I will never be perfect, and I'm OK with that.

But I will use the skin bleaching cream the dermatologist gave me -- doesn't hurt to erase some flaws.
Jessica

Patriot started public kindergarten two weeks ago. Here's a link to video of him getting on the bus. Since school started, I've learned a few things like:
  1. never show up to a PTA function without your checkbook
  2. the school supply list is not comprehensive, you will need more stuff
  3. discuss rules for sharing DS games before the first day
  4. it's OK for the bus to be late to the bus stop, but not for us to be late
I've also had a few conversations with Patriot that I hadn't anticipated. At dinner after the third day of school, Patriot casually asked me, "Mom, when are you and Daddy going to break up and marry other people?" I assured him that his family was secure, but I was a little stunned he had already noticed such a difference with other families. After thinking for a bit, I realized we haven't had much divorce/remarriage in our immediate circle of influence, so I guess we've just not talked about it.

People keep asking me how I'm doing with him starting school. Of course, I miss him during the day and pray often for his safety, but the most shocking thing is sending him out into the world without me. I'm used to being the protective cushion that guards him from concepts and experiences I deem inappropriate. I'm used to being the filter through which he experiences life. Suddenly, he has to create his own filter.

Fortunately, he's really good about telling me things when I ask the right questions. So our ride home tends to be filled with a question/answer that eventually leads us to conversations like the one about step-parents. Listening to how he views the world and helping him start to develop his filter has been the greatest joy of the last few weeks.
Jessica
Since the last time I blogged, nearly everything has changed. Matt has changed careers. We've moved to the Atlanta area. We've joined a different church. Patriot has started elementary school. I've gone back to full-time work outside the home. Azlan has started full-time preschool. Just thinking about all this change makes me tired.

Even though so much has changed, many things remained the same. The four of us are still together. We are still a healthy bunch. Matt still likes his phone. Patriot still likes computer games. Azlan still tells jokes. Toodles still pees on the floor.

And ... I am still a very blessed mom.
Jessica
Over the past several years, I've adopted one new green habit each Earth Day. With the 40th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22, I'd like to share some of the things that have helped me reduce my family's impact on the Earth, improve our health, and save money. Hopefully you'll find one that you can add to your family's routine.

If your family is anything like mine, you go through AA batteries like it's your job. About 3 billion alkaline batteries are sold in the US every year, and the average person throws away 8 a year (totalling 84,000 tons). Statistically our family should throw away 32 batteries in a year. Between toys and electronics, I think that number is dreadfully low. I would estimate we spent about $100/year on AA batteries, even shopping sales and using coupons.

Having grown weary of buying batteries, and hearing reports about the dangers of mercury and other toxins leaking into landfills through crushed or degrading battery casing, I decided to invest in rechargeable batteries. It has been a worthwhile, but slow, transition, so let me tell you what I've learned.

1. Prepare for an investment. Plan to buy one pack of rechargeable batteries every month until you have enough to power your household (plus a few extra in reserve). Often you can find coupons in the Sunday paper, so watch for those.

2. Wean yourself off regular batteries slowly. Buy a pack of regular batteries to have as backup while you build your supply of rechargeables. Heaven knows you don't want a dead Wii controller while you wait for the batteries to charge.

3. If you have a battery store nearby, like BatteriesPlus or Radio Shack, go there to get your charger. They'll be able to help you choose the best one. If you don't have a battery store nearby, most battery companies have chargers. Just pick the one you like best. Due to poor planning and lack of communication, we have 3 chargers: Radio Shack, Duracell, and Energizer. My favorite is the Radio Shack because it charges in 2 hours, adjusts to charge AA and AAA batteries, and has a cord.

4. Choose one brand of battery and stick with it. Different brands can be fractionally different lengths and hold their charge differently. If you choose one, you'll be able to develop consistency. I like the Duracell because they often have coupons and it's easy for me to remember the copper top. (Sometimes I loose my mind in the grocery store and need visual reminders of what to buy.) BTW, some batteries come "precharged" while others need to be charged before you can use them. Read the package so you aren't caught unprepared.

5. Get in the habit of charging batteries as soon as you discover they've gone dead. Then keep a small container of charged batteries ready for when the camera goes dead in the middle of a birthday party (not that I've learned that the hard way ...).
Jessica
Happy Easter from the McKees!
We pray you each celebrated our risen Savior today.


The Easter Bunny came while we were at church!



The Great Hunt of 2010: Patriot - 5 yo, Azlan - 3 yo, Caedmon - 3 yo, Chloe - 1 yo

In pictures . . .
























And in video . . .
Jessica
Over the past several years, I've adopted one new green habit each Earth Day. With the 40th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22, I'd like to share some of the things that have helped me reduce my family's impact on the Earth, improve our health, and save money. Hopefully you'll find one that you can add to your family's routine.

Traditionally you have two choices at the checkout counter: paper or plastic. Plastic bags are durable and easy to carry, but for some reason it takes two dozen of them to bring your groceries home. If you throw all those bags away, you're greatly increasing your addition to the landfill situation. In some places, you can recycle plastic bags, but the energy and emissions generated to produce and recycle them are hazardous to the air we breath.

Paper bags are another option. Not as durable or easy to carry, but they do biodegrade in a landfill if you throw them away. With paper bags, you still have the energy and emission situation, plus you have to add the number of trees it takes to produce paper bags (about 14 million in 1999, according to the American Forest Association). Since trees improve our air quality, paper bags might be a double-edged sword in your green efforts.
The most generally accepted solution is reusable shopping bags. I have found them to be an easy addition to our family's shopping habit. I simply keep half my bags in the trunk of my car, ready for quick stops at the store. The other half I keep in my pantry, so when I'm in the pantry making my grocery list I can just grab my bags, too.

Once you decide to make the switch to reusable bags, you'll first have to decide how many you'll need. I grocery shop once a week, buying for two adults and two kids. I guessed we'd need about 10 bags (turns out we usually only use about 6 -- you can pack a lot in one of those bags!). You can get them at most major stores for $1-$1.50, not much individually, but if you buy them all at once it could really skew your weekly grocery bill. So I bought 1-2 bags each week for a few weeks, until I had enough collected.

You may want to scout out the different designs available at different stores. Some are very decorative, others pretty simple. I wasn't sure I wanted to be a walking advertisement for any one store, but found some fairly plain black bags at Wal-Mart, and I've been satisfied with them. You'll want to get bags with a flat bottom so they'll stand up nicely when full of groceries. You also want to get bags with a little loop on the back -- makes it easier to store them hanging, and your grocery clerk can hook them over the plastic bag corral easily.

Some people will suggest you buy organic reusable bags. That way you know the bags were produced from cotton that was grown in a healthy way, avoiding any concerns that chemicals in the bags might contaminate your food. If this is a concern for you, ecobags.com is a great place to buy organic shopping bags. I don't have any of my food that just rolls around in my bags, so I'm not personally concerned about trace amounts of chemicals contaminating it.

Many folks will forget about produce bags. If you're like me, you've always used those thin plastic bags at the grocery to carry home your produce, without really thinking about it. Let me suggest you think about it. That little plastic bag gets thrown away and goes directly to a landfill. If you need a bag, try one of these. I also hear Whole Foods has great reusable bags in a variety of sizes, if you have a Whole Foods nearby.

Other ways we use reusable shopping bags:
  • I allowed the kids to each choose one bag they liked. We use them when I have a short shopping list. Each boy "helps" me shop by carrying his bag through the store and adding items from our list. I usually need to carry a bag, too, for the heavier items. But this keeps the boys occupied and keeps us from needing a cart.
  • When I'm taking dinner to a friend who just had a baby, I will pick up an extra bag to deliver it in. Looks a little nicer than a plastic bag and the new mom can use the bag for other things.
  • Toys R Us has very fun designs for their reusable bags. I like to wrap birthday presents in one of their reusable bags instead of a traditional gift bag. It's usually cheaper, won't sit in a landfill, is very decorative, and gives the birthday kid an extra bag to hold their stuff. I add tissue like I would a traditional gift bag (I know, tissue is not very green, but it looks good).
  • Try to find one bag that can be folded up small and snapped closed. Keep this in the car and you can drop it in your purse if you're going to the mall or running errands. You have the bag if you need it.
Jessica
Over the past several years, I've adopted one new green habit each Earth Day. With the 40th anniversary of Earth Day in a month, I'd like to share some of the things that have helped me reduce my family's impact on the Earth, improve our health, and save money. Hopefully you'll find one that you can add to your family's routine.


Recycling is a daily habit that can make a big difference in the amount of waste that goes in landfills around the country. It's estimated that the average person generates 3-4 pounds of trash each day. If we gathered all of America's trash for a year in one place, it would be a pile 40 stories tall and over 1000 acres square. Glad that's not in my backyard! According to the EPA, about 30% of each person's trash is recyclable - that could knock about a dozen stories off our giant trash pile each year!

The easiest way to recycle is to join your community's recycling program. Many communities have recycling pick-up just like trash pick-up. Just call your trash collection company, or city hall, to join their program. You'll want to ask which items can be recycled in your area, then be sure to sort your recyclables to match (you'll have to check the number in the center of the triangle on your plastics). Sorting may be a hassle at first, but it won't take long for you to remember the things you use regularly. Just keep a separate trash can in your kitchen for recyclables.

Recycling could save you money. Most trash collectors charge for the size garbage can you use. If you start recycling, you'll throw less waste in the trash. You may even be able to downsize the garbage can you use, and lessen your monthly payment for trash collection. If you don't fill your garbage can each week, check with your trash collection company and see what they can offer you.

If your community doesn't offer a recycling program, you have a couple of options. You could drop off your recyclables at the nearest recycling center. That seems pretty impractical to me, not sure I'd be really excited about loading trash in my car and going out of my way to deliver it. But if the recycling center is convenient, it might be a great solution for you. Another option would be to start a grass roots campaign to begin a recycling program in your community. Contact someone on your city council and ask for their advice and help.
For whatever reason, recycling just may not be your thing. That's fine. Let me suggest you rethink your shopping routine and habits to reduce the waste you generate. Instead of buying a box of single-serve snacks, reduce the package waste by purchasing the larger bag. If you still want smaller servings of that snack, buy some of the little reusable Ziploc containers to divide your snack. You can also use those containers instead of baggies when you're packing a snack for the kids in the car. Instead of buying plastic bottles of juice, buy biodegradable cans of concentrated juice and mix them in reusable pitchers at home. Don't buy anything with an outer package, like yogurt with a lid over the foil seal. Instead of using paper towels to dry spills or clean your windows, buy some bar towels that can be washed and reused. In most cases, these choices will not only save trash in the landfill, but will save you money, too.
Jessica
I started a new, real, paying job in February. Now that both kids are in school a couple days a week, and I have this college degree, and there are things I like to do besides laundry and cleaning (sarcasm), I thought maybe I could do some of those things and use that degree. A friend of ours at church works with a young company that needs some PR work done for them, so we managed to work out an arrangement where I work from home two days a week. I write press releases and a monthly in-house newsletter. I manage their news archives and Twitter feed. I help them find opportunities to build relationships and promote their product. It is good, and they pay me.

Unfortunately, I have run into a bit of an identity crisis. When people ask "What do you do?" I've always easily and proudly answered "I'm a full-time wife and mom." However, this job has opened me up to the possibility that I might someday re-enter the work force full time. Not because we need the money, but because I like PR work and I'm good at it (which are not feelings I always have about mothering *sigh*).

So now when the question is posed to me, should I say "I'm a part-time PR rep."? Although that's accurate, there's a piece of me that says "If I'm a part-time worker, does that make me a part-time mom?" I don't want to be a part-time mom -- I am a mom all the time, it is who I am.

I also don't like the answer, "I'm a working mom." because, seriously, I work two days a week from home. I have total respect for the women who are able to manage full-time jobs and their mothering and household duties -- I have no idea how they do it. I do not qualify for their ranks.

My conclusion is that I am a woman with no labels. I wear many hats, as most women do. I wake up every day and try to love my husband and kids the best I can, contribute to the world in a positive way, and follow God with all my heart. There is a sense of freedom in ridding myself of a label. I feel like God could lead me anywhere, and I'm ready to follow.

So if you ask me "What do you do?" I hope you have some time to kill. My answer may not be simple, and it may change depending on the day. I think I like it that way.
Jessica
The Superbowl is tomorrow! Any football fan knows Superbowl Sunday should be a national holiday, and deserves the same amount of preparation as other holidays. Mom and I have planned the menu for the day (tacos/chips/cookies/etc.) and I've readied my football themed dishes (football-shaped crockpot/snack dish that plays MNF theme when you open it), and I've chosen my wardrobe (Bengals sweatsuit & slippers).

Hopefully the following clip will help you get in the spirit. Disclaimer: I didn't know the answers to most of these questions, either, but it certainly cracked me up! Can't wait to see these guys play!

CNBC's Darren Rovell Gives Hilarious Business Quiz To NFL Players At The Super Bowl
CNBC's Darren Rovell went around Miami quizzing Colts and Saints on the economy.

When asked to identify a picture of the Fed Chairman, the answers varied from "a crook" to "Raj Rajaratnam." After finding out the unemployment rate is 10%, Colts linebacker
Cody Glenn exclaimed: "What's everybody crying about?"

Watch this clip.
Jessica
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, TOODLES!
Our goldendoodle, Toodles, turned 1 year old yesterday. She got to wear a special birthday bandanna, ate a birthday bone, and we had a birthday party for her. Here she is opening her birthday present:

video
Jessica
We had our first snow day of the year on Tuesday, so we decided to have a Snow Party to celebrate. I jumped on Family Fun's website and got a bunch of great ideas. We had a wonderful day!

We started by making an indoor snowman. We wrapped boxes in white felt (leftover from our Christmas village) and taped on felt facial features. The boys were especially excited that he wouldn't melt.

Next we built indoor snow forts by draping batting over some chairs. Not high tech, but the kids had fun. Then we crumpled up pages from a magazine I had in the recycling bin and called them snowballs. Check out this intense snowball fight!
video

After all that snow play, we needed a snack. We made these snowman-on-a-stick treats with marshmallows and drank hot chocolate, of course.

We ended our party watching Snow Buddies, which Azlan got from Santa this year. We sat in the snow fort to watch the movie and even eat lunch! We had a great snow day and I didn't freeze to death - or have to deal with all the snow gear.

They've already canceled school for tomorrow -- guess I'll have to bust out the snow cream recipe!
Jessica
For the new year, I've established a few new goals to help better myself. I've done OK keeping up with them for the first month, so I thought I'd share what's working for me.

One goal is to develop a daily Bible reading habit. I've tried to do this on my own before, but always faltered after a little while. This year I found John Piper's reading plan that gives me more direction.

This plan provides 4 bookmarks that you place in 4 different parts of your Bible: Old Testament, Psalms/Proverbs, Gospels, the rest of the New Testament. You are led to read a passage from each bookmark every day. One thing I love, is that there are 25 days per month, so the plan gives flexibility for those days you have to miss.

I am really enjoying reading from different sections of the Bible every day. I am amazed how God weaves a consistent message throughout the entire Bible. I would recommend this reading plan to anyone.