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.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Bloopers and lessons learned from traveling abroad with the Crazy 8

Well.  It has taken me quite a while to get around to writing about the bloopers and lessons learned while traveling abroad with our Crazy 8.  It's not for lack of content that I have held back. It's an issue of time and other pressing matters.

So. Here we go:

1. For beginners, make sure E.V.E.R.Y.O.N.E. uses the rest room before you set out on any expedition of any length. The alternative is to make sure you pack plenty of undies and a barge full of wipes. I will not go into any lengthy explanation here but we did learn this lesson very early on this journey.

2. Reserve one suitcase in which to pack your entire medicine cabinet because one of the 8 will probably come down with just about every ailment known to mankind during your stay in a foreign country.

One alternative to packing your entire medicine cabinet would be scavenging your host's entire house in the wee hours of the morning looking for either medicine or home remedy ingredients.

 Another alternative would be staying up for most of the night trying to soothe a sick child as  you wait for the breaking of dawn and the opening of a local pharmacy.

Our medical issues while in Poland were really quite minor - but included a severe toothache, earache, fever, teething, headache and fatigue. Ok. Ok. Fatigue barely counts as a medical issue but it was rather debilitating at times.

The upside of the toothache was that one son came home with a Polish filling in his tooth for a fraction of what the same treatment would've cost here at home. We successfully convinced him that he brought home the coolest souvenir.

3. Pack an extra set of clothing in your carry on bag just in case your checked in luggage gets lost in Germany.

I (semi) rolled my eyes when my nearly 80 year old mother in law reminded us of this fact during our last minutes of packing. I confess that I felt annoyed and didn't really have time to think about one more thing. Besides, in my years of traveling I had never experienced losing luggage. However, thanks to my husband's insistence we did end up with an extra set of clothing for nearly everyone in our carry on bags.

There is a first time for everything.

 Sure enough, when we landed in Warsaw only half of our suitcases arrived with us.

 I keenly felt my own stubbornness when I had to borrow a pair of underwear from my sister in law.

4. Always keep your passport within reach.

5.  A copy of your passport is worthless.

6. Plan plenty of margin in to your trip schedule just in case you get in a tussle with border patrol.

7. Keep your passport with you at all times (see #4)

So. Yeah. We had a minor run in with the Polish border patrol while on our 3 day trip to Northern Poland.

Amos decided that he didn't want the stress of carrying 8 passports with us for 3 days since he was already toting a load of other important tickets and reservations. He made a photo copy of each passport just in case we should need them for some reason. Keep in mind that we were not planning to cross any borders and we had already successfully entered Poland a week earlier.

There really shouldn't be a need for our passports, or so we thought.

And we really didn't need them, except for that one particular moment.

It was at the Malbork train station. We had just exited the train and were gathering our bags and children and trying to orient ourselves when I saw them out of the corner of eye.

Three of them. Were they police??

Oh. Border Patrol.

hmmm. well whatever.

They didn't rattle me at all since we had no slick tricks up our sleeves or anything.

We passed them and continued on our way to find a locker in which to stow our luggage while touring the castle.

We were messing with the locker when I realized they had followed us and wanted to speak to us.

Well. Still....whatever. No big deal....we're just a big family fumbling around here trying to find our way to the castle. They'll  soon figure out we're clueless tourists and we'll all go on our merry way.

First question put us in immediate suspicion: Do you  have your passports with you for identification??

We were escorted to the waiting room in the train station for a few minutes while they looked at our documents (or lack thereof) and discussed what should happen next.

Thus began the long and tedious conversations back and forth and around and about and hither and yon concerning our very threatening situation.

The copies of the passports were basically irrelevant even though one could easily see that each of us matched one of the 8 photos, not to mention that our kids look very much alike and are very obviously our biological kids.

We gave them all kinds of detailed information about where, when, how we flew into Poland a week ago and how we're planning to leave in another week.

Until it was all over we ended up spending 3+ hours in this waiting room being guarded by 3 Polish Police Border Patrol Officers who seemed to take their job quite seriously.

Our bad situation was resolved by Shannon getting our passports from our bedroom in his home and taking them to the local police station in his town to get legit copies faxed to the border patrol in Malbork.  After all these connections were finally made we only had to sign about 50 papers and then we were free to go.

The whole situation to me was laughable.

 We were perfectly harmless.

 I felt sorry that the Border Patrol wasted their time and energy on us.
(Just for the record, Amos did not feel sorry for them one bit)

However, I will have to give them an A+ on doing a thorough job.

I only wish I had a few photos of those officers guarding the door to our waiting area. It was amusing to watch them trying to maintain their solemn and stern expressions for 3 hours straight. I suspect that as soon as they were relieved from their duty they went out the door and fell to the ground in fits of riotous laughter.

We really do not know why we were targeted by the Border Patrol.

Why did we look suspicious?


Illegal immigrants??

Random check??

Our American friends who live in Poland and our Polish friends both were perplexed by the situation.

One thing I know is that we have an experience under out belts that we will not quickly forget. Next time we're in Poland, I promise, the passports will be securely carried with us wherever our feet do take us.

just a random shot taken by Nicholas

Friday, June 23, 2017

Poland (Part II)

 We had decided before hand that we would take several days as a family to do a little traveling during our stay in Poland. We thought it would be wonderful to take our kids on at least a little sight seeing trip and we knew that 2 weeks would get to be a long time for 2 families to live together.

The adventuring was wonderful for us. In addition, it provided a little breathing space for both families.

The options seemed almost endless when we began thinking about where we should go or what we should do for a few days.

Our well seasoned Polish missionary friends recommended a trip to Northern Poland. We followed their advice and couldn't have been more pleased with the variety of experiences we were able to pack into 3 days.

Early Monday morning, laden with backpacks and a stroller, we embarked on our expedition. First we needed to catch a train from Minsk to Warsaw and then from Warsaw to Gdansk.

Catching the correct train and getting 4 children with backpacks and 2 more in a stroller and our 11 water bottles boarded and settled into the correct seats was not exactly a small feat. The process got smoother for us with time, but there was always a level of intensity connected with ensuring a safe and at least semi sane boarding and then settling on the train.  We found the train attendants to be kind, but their helpfulness depended somewhat on their command of the English language. Other passengers were also kind to us and offered to shuffle about on the train so that our family could mostly stay together.

The train ride itself was a new experience and of course a highlight for our family.

The 4 hours on the train went quickly as we spent time reading, eating, chatting, playing games, day dreaming and watching the glorious Polish landscape roll by at a fast speed. Some of us caught a few winks here and there but mostly everything was too new and exciting to spend time sleeping. Amos and I were really happy about the fact that we could kick back and enjoy the train ride rather than having to navigate our way North with a Polish map and Polish road signs that would be difficult for us to understand.

Gdansk turned out to be just as pleasing as what we had dreamed it would be. Upon our arrival we immediately set out by foot for the small apartment we had rented through AirBnB. We were ready to rid ourselves of the heavy backpacks we were toting before we went to do any more exploring around the city.

The apartment turned out to be a wonderful little spot for our family to rest and have just a few moments of privacy during what was otherwise a time of constant activity/interaction in public places.

Gdansk is one of Poland's oldest cities with a history going back a thousand years. It hold a prominent place in Polish history as the location of the start of World War II as well as the place where the fall of communism in Central Europe began.

We enjoyed an evening of strolling through the streets and catching a few important landmarks.

After a wonderful night of sleep, we met  Marian Biernacki, the pastor at Gdansk New Life Christian Center.  He showed us around an old pre-War World II  Manor that his church is restoring and renovating to use for various ministries.  Really quite an amazing story of God's provision and blessing as this church group labors hard together. You can listen to the story here. We were inspired and challenged during our time spent with Marian.

He believes that it is very possible that the manor could have been owned by Mennonites before the war since there was a Mennonite community in this particular area of Gdansk.

Amos and Marian
 Tea time at the manor with Marian.

 Here you can see some of the original walls still in existence. The destruction that came to many of the cities in Poland through the war is nearly unfathomable. We were intrigued with all the bits and pieces of history that Marian shared with us throughout the morning.

You can't see much of the gate here, but Angeline and Elliana are standing in the original gated entrance to the manor.

We also visited the new World War II museum that opened just several months ago.  We easily could have spent an entire day in this museum, but our youngest ones began losing interest after about 3 hours. Wait. I'm not sure if they were interested in the first place, but their boredom began to get very distracting at this point.

So. On we trained to Sopot. Located on the shores of the Baltic Sea, Sopot is perhaps the most charming Polish town I have ever visited. Here we had the pleasure of walking out on the longest wooden pier in Europe and putting our toes in to the Baltic Sea.

The following day we trained back to Minsk, stopping mid trip to visit the Malbork Castle. This Castle is the world's largest brick Gothic castle and was a fortress of the Teutonic Knights. The construction of the castle was complete in 1406 but it suffered terrible damage during World War II.  Much restoration work has been done and today it is an amazing castle to visit.

Again, we easily could have spent an entire day touring this castle and the grounds. So much history. So much grandeur.  We had a train schedule to meet so our time had to be utilized carefully. The littlest people in our clan were losing interest after 2-3 hours anyway.

After several more train rides we were thrilled to walk into Shannon and JoElla's home after 3 exciting but grueling days of travel and exploration. 

 I have to give my husband kudos for being Primary Navigator during this trip. He did an amazing job at keeping us all on track.  I have valid reasons for believing our entire family would be lost world without end if I had been navigating.

So you may be thinking at this point that everything about our journey to Poland went perfectly. Yeah!!??

Well. Next time I will tell you about Bloopers and Lessons Learned while traveling abroad with a family of 8.