Thursday, February 22, 2018

just going HOME...


You, who have always loved HOME more than any other place on earth...

You, who created a home that was a warm and welcoming haven here on earth...

You, who knew how to bring comfort with an extra chair at your kitchen table and rich chocolate chip cookies to share...

You, who knew the value of home and belonging...

You, Dear Grandma, keeper of one of the dearest homes on earth to me...

You are drawing near to your Final and Forever Home.

You will soon be home with Jesus, the one who loves you completely and perfectly.

You will soon be completely whole again, more alive and vibrant than ever before.

Unshackled from the tyranny of human disease.

Completely free from fear.

Free from sorrow.

Free from pain.

I feel sorrow at the thought of your physical absence here on earth.

I will miss you deeply because you have loved me so well.

My heart will be left with a gaping hole that was meant for you.

But you are just going HOME and I will not stand in your way.

I love you too much to ask you to stay.

Grandma, the end of my journey is not as imminent as yours is right now.

I am not sure when I will get to join you,  but I am on my way HOME too.

See you soon,


Monday, February 19, 2018

candid photography

Currently I am in the middle of deleting and organizing my photo files from 2016 and 2017.

Somehow I fell behind 2 complete years. {not funny}

This is a huge job for me since I take probably 20 photos for every 1 photo that the ordinary person shoots.

It's also an enormous job for me because I mostly really like to take photos, but I mostly dislike the editing and organizing that really should follow the shooting.

The fun part about going through all my photo files a year or two later is that I get to relive some of the best and happiest moments of the year.

I also get to congratulate myself on surviving some really difficult moments.

I likewise get to blush again over that silly birthday cake that totally flopped.

I am reminded again of the tremendous gift of health and life while I sort through files that witness that Jesus has faithfully sustained me and my family during times when we felt unsure of what the next few moments held.

During my sorting, I have found that some of my favorite photos from the last two years are the candid shots rather than the carefully staged ones.

My very favorite candid shots from the year are the ones that I have shot early in the morning on my children's birthdays.

I'm not sure when I started this traditional shot, but I'm sold on it and plan to continue
for a long time.

Something about that early-morning-messy-hair-crusty-mouth-birthday-joy just totally slays me.

             (a birthday candle glow photo is another favorite shot I like for documenting birthdays)

As you can easily observe, I struggle with having enough light for these early morning photos.

However,  part of the charm of these pictures is that dark, grainy look that screams "it's my birthday and I'm just too excited to wait for the sun to come up so mom can get top notch documentation of this moment". 

One tip for dealing with low light and low end equipment is to MAXIMIZE the natural light. All of these pictures were shot right inside a window. I have learned to strategically place my children at places in my house that offer the best natural light for opening their birthday gifts.

You may suggest that I use a flash. That's a great idea........if your flash is functional.

Having a dysfunctional flash has forced me to be dependent on natural light.

*I did purchase an external flash about a year ago, but I haven't learned the ropes of using it yet. I enjoy working with natural light and have little ambition for learning to use the flash.

Here's a little sermon mostly for myself concerning candid photography:

1. Don't miss documenting the sweetest moments of your life just because you know that photo quality will be compromised.

2. When my children look through their photo albums, they are looking at memories not my photography skills or lack thereof.

3. A few years from now,  photo quality will matter less to me than the fact that I have documentation of the darling expressions, the tight hugs, the crooked teeth and the dirty faces of these little people that are growing up so quickly.

4. There's not such as thing as taking too many pictures. Just keep them organized.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

a few of my favorite things

The older I get the more I anticipate each changing season and my favorite things that I associate with it.

The contentment and joy I have experienced in becoming familiar with my own style and loving it and owning it has been a slow but growing  phenomenon in my life.

So. We are now well into the month of December. 

I still love all the things that I mentioned last year when I wrote about decorating for the holidays.

The things I am going to share now are not all new for me this year, but simply a few more staples that I look forward to using in the month of December.

1. I literally did a little happy dance when I saw this drink hit the shelves of the local supermarket in December. (the store was basically empty, I promise)

 I typically do not even enjoy soda. But this stuff--wow--it's hard for me to stop at one cup.

 It's beautiful and dazzling and festive. It's my favorite last minute add on to almost any Christmas party.  And there is no mixing ingredients or forgetting that one important ingredient for the drink. It's as simple as dump and serve.

2.  Printables.

 I think I have mentioned these little nuggets of gold before. I especially love free printables. 

I fell in love with this sketch as soon as I laid eyes on it. If I could change one thing about this print it would be only that it was an original piece of art created by a relative or friend. 

 This little arrangement is my favorite corner of my house this year.

 Keeping Baby Jesus visibly central during this season is one way I like to keep my heart and mind focused on the incredible way our King came to us in such  humility and vulnerability.

I have a tradition of  wrapping this particular newborn baby in a swaddling cloth as part of our Christmas decor. He gets quite a bit of attention and tender loving care throughout the season.  My heart almost bursts when I see my 2 year old rocking Baby Jesus or when I catch my 4 year old fixing his blanket just right or arranging the burlap so that he will be more comfortable.

4. This year I discovered how to glue a graham cracker gingerbread house together.  It works. 


I coordinated an event in which 22 youth club girls decorated these 'gingerbread' houses.

Several ladies helped me glue them together earlier in the day. 

I was so impressed with their strength and stability.

The girls loved the activity.

There was an enormous mess to clean up afterward.

The girls each carried home a charming little cottage, heavy laden with icing and candy.

And. I just have to say it again, it really did work.

This will definitely be a repeated activity at my house in the coming years.

I unfortunately have NO pictures of our party. However, thankfully someone did an excellent job of capturing a similar event.  

I like to pretend our party was as orderly and perfectly coordinated as hers. 


That's my list of four simple staples that are helping to make this Christmas season simple and meaningful and festive at my house.

How are you celebrating this year?

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

in which the Crazy 8 decided they needed more excitement...

I don't know how it happened, but at some point I guess my family felt like I barely had enough on my plate to keep me occupied.

So. A brilliant idea was born.

PUPPIES!!!!  $$$$   PUPPIES!!!! Let's raise a litter of puppies.

Since everyone knows that I love dogs * it seemed altogether natural that I should give the next few months of my life to caring for and worrying about our pregnant pooch and then to caring for her darling puppies.

The long awaited day finally arrived in which we knew  that Carli would soon give birth to her puppies.

Much to my horror, I realized I was going to be alone with a laboring dog and two little girls for the day.

Much to my horror, the labor didn't go as friends and google said it should.

Thankfully,  I was not left alone with a laboring dog with complications and my two little girls for the entire day.

After texts and phone calls and googling and more texts and more phone calls my husband decided to come home and assess the situation.

Being smart and calculated and much more experienced with such situations, he decided to haul her off to the vet.

The story ended well when we got a phone call from the vet telling us that 4 healthy pups had arrived via c-section.

This was one excited house full of people when I walked in the door with Carli and her puppies.

The puppies are almost a week old now and we're having a great time with them. It's amazing to watch Carli be a momma to these wee ones. She's doing a great job!

I must give due credit to my son, Nicholas. He really is primary caregiver of our dog and he is also taking great responsibility for the puppies.  I still am the primary worrier and photographer.

Just to answer the questions that are sure to come:

No. We are not planning to keep the puppies.

Yes. We are planning to sell them. That was the whole idea in the first place.

Yes. We are hoping to make a good profit off of them.

It makes me feel happy when friends show interest in our puppies.

But I cringe because I know that they will cringe at the price.

So. I  just warned you.

Having said all that, I am absolutely sure these puppies will make perfectly adorable and smart and sweet little house dogs.

The pictures of my children's delighted faces are just for any of you who possibly need a little nudge to take the plunge and get your child a puppy.

One last closing statement: If I am able to tolerate and be so fond of our house dog, probably just about anyone can do it.

But I do plan to keep myself occupied in a way that my family realizes I'm quite happy and fulfilled without the added stress and joy of puppies.


*just for the benefit of those who do not know me well, I have never been known to be an animal lover. Getting a family dog was a huge hurtle for me. Now though, miracle of all miracles, I love our dog and she's just one of the gang. 

Friday, October 6, 2017

embracing servant-hood

Do you ever get sick and tired of this sight??

I mean. REALLY,  R.E.A.L.L.Y. tired of it.

I do.

Those tasks that have to be repeated every day are the ones that get me the most.

No matter what strategy I use, I never gain the upper hand on them. 

The dirty laundry piles up again before I ever get the clean clothes back into the drawers.

Before I put the last dish in the cupboard, there's already a little army of  drinking glasses gathering on the counter top.

Even in the middle of mopping the floor,  I've turned around only to discover more muddy tracks.

Really!!?! You're hungry again!!?! You've got to be kidding me. I just fed you several hours ago.

More grass stains??!! I just scrubbed your pants yesterday!!!

Clean windows? I try. 

So much of what I do seems so small and insignificant and mindless.

To add insult to injury, I have been repeating these sames tasks DAILY for the last 14 years and it doesn't look like my job description will be changing in the foreseeable future.

Wasn't I created for more than this!!??!

Would anyone even notice if I shirked? 

I am tempted to call off sick. 

Or pretend I can't see what needs to be done.

Praise the Lord if you do not struggle with growing weary in the mundane tasks of life. 

I admire you.

You are miles a head of people like me who sit around trying to come up with  new strategies every few weeks for coping with the gritty demands of life.

Speaking of strategies, I really have tried to approach my responsibilities from all different angles and perspectives in order to bring more purpose and joy to my every day life.

Some angles haven't helped much. 

There is one perspective that has made all the difference.

At the end of the day, the only place where I find true sustaining power to get up and prepare another meal or wipe another rump or fold another load of laundry is in the fact that I am called to be a servant.

Being called to be a servant is not a less than job. Neither is it glamorous. 

He calls each of his children to follow his example. In fact, He tells us to imitate him.

I  rejoice in the fact that the realities of my life grant me ample opportunity to grow in servant-hood on a daily basis. 

I am given opportunity upon opportunity to embrace servant-hood.

No job is too small or insignificant when it is done out of love for Jesus and for other people.

Embracing servant-hood as a Follower of Jesus is the way to find joy in the mundane.

Do I perfectly keep this perspective? 

Absolutely not.

But my heart's desire is to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord.  Every day, by His grace and power, I want to choose servant-hood.

Lord, Make me a servant, Lord make me like you.
For you are a servant, make me one too.

Lord, make me a servant, do what you must do.
To make me a servant; make me like YOU!!!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

back to school, for mom

It's that time of year again.

Back to school.

Excitement is high.

The kids are scrubbing lunch boxes and shoes and backpacks that have been left to gather dust over the summer.

Angeline is making the sewing machine hum. 

{Good grief she out grew last year's dresses in a flash this summer.  I'm prepared for her to pass me up like I'm chained to a tree here in the next 6 months.}

The  new school supplies have been bought and carefully packed in their proper places.

On Friday morning my children will head back into the classroom for 9 months of study.

And I will begin my wild morning marathon of getting breakfast prepared and lunches packed and faces wiped and rooster tails smoothed down and papers signed and homework folders organized by 8:00 am each morning.

Ok. Really, I don't do e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g. for my family in the morning. BUT I do need to makes sure everything somehow does happen.

 I would feel ultimately responsible if my child didn't show up at school some morning for no other reason besides "mom didn't have my lunch packed in time".


I try all kinds of things to keep myself excited about packing lunches.

I try all kinds of things to keep my children excited about the lunches that I pack.

Some days I even try adding hilarious jokes to distract from the pathetic lunch. It buys me a little favor but it isn't long lasting.

Don't be fooled.

I really struggle with packing lunches.

Either I pack the same thing too often or I totally forget that Son A hates peanut butter but Son B loves peanut butter.

Or I pack things that I love to eat and forget that my kids don't necessarily share my personal preferences.

Or I send something that just doesn't really work. It takes way too long to heat up so they just don't eat it or it ends up creating the mess of the year on the front of their shirt.

Or get it, right??

I have some years on my back and I know how this goes.

It only takes about one or two weeks of packing school lunches and all the above scenarios begin to surface.

And then I get in some for silly argument about school lunches with either child A, B, C or D.

They end up sad and crying and I end up feeling unappreciated.

 I eventually repent because visions of my tear stained, hungry child at school with un-salvageable salsa  dripping out of his lunch box along with a small bag of crushed chips haunt me when I am falling asleep at night.

This morning I thought to myself, You know, Shaunda, you really could be more proactive in this whole lunch packing initiative. 

So I began brainstorming of ways that I could prepare in advance for this whole morning rush and lunch packing pressure.

I decided to make these babies.

They are basically home made hot pockets.

I mix up a batch of my french bread dough.

Roll it out and cut it into small squares.

Place some sliced ham. pepperoni and cheese inside.

Bring the corners together and pinch them shut.


Freeze. (If you can keep from eating them)

So they're a bit messy and time consuming to assemble, but it is like finding a nugget of gold in the freezer on a hurried school morning. Especially if you were thinking you might have to go out and butcher a chicken in order to have something to put in the lunch boxes.

For me these little hot pockets present a win-win situation.

Never once have my children complained about this particular item.

They are quick and easy for me to pack

They also offer an easy alternative for the boys to pack their own lunches. (My oldest daughter already packs her own lunch)

I want to work towards allowing the boys to pack their own lunches this year. However, I know that means that I need to have lunch items on hand that are not too complicated for them to pull together.

I  am considering doing a baking day twice a month this year in which I will make baked goods and prepackage them for lunches.

Along with the baked goods, hopefully I will have the courage to prepare more of these sandwiches or other similar kinds of baked sandwiches or pizza.

I would love to hear any good ideas that you have for either menu suggestions for packed lunches or methods which have helped you sustain good momentum with packing exciting and nutritious lunches through out the entire school year.

So. Yeah. I am basically yelling "HELP" before desperation even has a chance to strike this year.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

birthday fun

Cassie turned 4 this week.

What a great occasion for celebration.

This is her early morning birthday joy face.

Cassie had her first real birthday party this year. 

She has been a long time fan of Madeline. 

The secret is that I am also a huge fan of Madeline.

It was fun for me to introduce her to the Madeline books when she was really quite young. I was secretly thrilled when she started toting around the Madeline doll that had just been lurking around our house for years and began bringing the Madeline books to me for story time. 

It really is no surprise to me that Cassie has found such a big soft spot in her heart for Madeline since this tiny, feisty, spunky adventurer fits Cassie's personality to the T.

For several years I have known that someday we would have a Madeline birthday party for Cassie.

I've been tucking some ideas away in my head for this party. Occasionally great ideas would pop up on pinterest and I would save them on my birthday party board.

When we began talking about having a Madeline party this year, suddenly new ideas came flooding to me faster than I could process them. I even had trouble falling asleep one night because my brain was in overdrive. *

It is  hard to say who had more fun in the end with this birthday party, Cassie or Mom or the Big Siblings. :) This is a good dilemma to face.

Cassie's big siblings made an amazing team in pulling off her birthday party -- as you will soon see. They basically took my wild ideas and made them a reality.

 Cake credit goes to be sister, Angeline

 The awesome Eiffel tower -which was the perfect prop-  was borrowed from my friend Shari.

I told her "I am begging to borrow your Eiffel tower because I feel like a kid with grown up dreams but no cash".

Cassie with her friends that she invited to her party. The little stinker on the far right didn't receive a special invitation, but she is Cassie's little uncooperative shadow these days.

Just a little note about their costumes:

I found the straw hats at Dollar Tree for $1 each. The capes were simply cut from a large blue plastic table cloth also purchased at Dollar Tree. I made small slits near the top of the capes and wove red ribbon through and tied it in the front to keep the capes in place.

The capes also doubled as a smock for the painting project they did later in the morning.

The best part for me was that since they were so simple and inexpensive to make it didn't bother me a lick to throw them in the trash a few days after the party.

It was best if I kept all thoughts of Super Man out of my head as I watched the kiddos gallivanting around the yard.  Any such thoughts totally ruined the charm of my home made Madeline capes.

The Bad Hat even showed up the party and delighted the guests by being a genuine pest.
Shooting marshmallows, stealing their pet puppies, dropping fake bugs and snakes out of the tree...creating an atmosphere of general mischief.

It was all pretty much genuine, no acting required for this Big Brother.

Angeline planned (and created) this pin the hat on Madeline game.

Angeline also guided them in a painting project while I was getting lunch ready. (see, I told older kids pulled a big load)

This picture makes me chuckle every time I look at it. If you look closely you will notice the girls are sitting on their stuffed puppies in a valiant effort to keep the Bad Hat from swiping them. 

I have no pictures of the scavenger hunt planned and executed by Nicholas, but it was a highlight of the day. The scavenger hunt included finding these stuffed puppies which they toted around for the rest of the party.

Eating lunch together wasn't exactly the coolest or calmest moment of the day. :) No one ever said that birthday luncheons for a 4 year old and her friends would be exactly calm.
(no worries, I rescued those sheers from the little miss half a second after the shutter clicked for this photo)

I think the bottled juice and cheese balls were the favorite part of the meal. 
Pardon me as I gag just mentioning it.

All in all, the perfect moments and the not so perfect moments all together added up to a special and fun filled day for Cassie and her friends.

I think I enjoyed it perhaps more than any other birthday party I've hosted in the last 13 years. 

I am seeing a repeat Madeline party in the future, maybe for Elliana or maybe for Cassie again in a few years.  

I would be delighted to introduce you to these Madeline cartoons if you have never watched any of them before. Beware: you may possibly fall in love with Madeline too.

*this used to happen to me often before I was a tired momma. Now it's a special occasion for me to actually be able to have creative thoughts as I am trying to fall asleep.