Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Making life work

I know.

It's impossible to get every detail of life to work perfectly.

I am learning though, that it is critical to know my own stress points and to be proactive in avoiding them.

I know.

It's not that easy.

I can't just jump in and out of life as I please, doing only the things that make me feel happy and alive and fulfilled.

But, I'm not a victim either. I do not need to live my life in one big wadded up ball of frustration and fury.


I can make decisions and take steps to minimize my points of stress.

The word stress for me is nearly synonymous with Walmart.

Walmart does nothing for me -personally- besides fill my cupboards with household and cosmetic  products, rob my wallet, give me exercise I never said I wanted, overstimulate my mind, over-complicate small decisions, make me stand in hopelessly long lines and cause me to loose all hope in humanity (primarily myself).

 I usually get most of my household and paper products and cosmetics at Walmart. I have figured out over the years that these are the items that I most hate spending money on, which is certainly a contributing factor to the angst I feel as I push and pay for a huge load of paper products and cleaning supplies that will all literally go down the drain in another month.


Admittedly, this is my own personal issue and not to be blamed on Walmart. But as I wrote earlier, it has been important for me to identify my own stress points and learn to minimize them as best I can.


I do the bulk of my grocery shopping at Aldi. I am an unashamed fan of Aldi's philosophy and functionality, not to mention their prices.  They offer quality products at rock bottom prices. (a few exceptions, I know...) I love how uncomplicated it is for me to shop at Aldi versus Walmart, especially when it comes to doing all the price comparing for this brand, that size, different packaging, etc. I usually feel quite happily satisfied with the haul of goods that I bring home from Aldi's for the amount of money that I spent, all in record time too.

I also frequent Valesky's, local grocery store, that's barely a mile down the street from my home. Valesky's is the only locally owned grocery store in Meadville. I like to give them as much business as I can afford. I buy my milk and eggs and fresh produce there on a weekly basis. Most of the meat we eat comes from this grocery store.  I love that they offer some bulk food products, such as 50 lb bags of high quality flour.

I love the hometown feel of Valesky's. I know the cashiers and they know me. If I show up without a cartload of kiddos, I am often asked where the kids are at or how they're doing.  Usually there is instrumental gospel music being played across the PA system. Sometimes there is live music coming from the grand piano set up on a balcony above the frozen items. I  typically walk away from Valesky's happy with my purchases and feeling calmness in my soul.

However, there are a few products, especially household products and cosmetics that Walmart offers that are hard to find anywhere else at an equal price. So. I occasionally find myself scurrying through the great maze of our local Super Walmart, either frustrated or numb or - on occasion- surprised by the peace and happiness that is accompanying me. (it's called the Grace and Mercy of Jesus, BTW)

About a year ago, I was introduced to Walmart's online shopping options by a good friend from church.

I know that online shopping has been an option for quite a few years already, but typically I do not shop online, especially from local venues, because of the shipping costs.

Well. I came to find out that Walmart offers free 2 day shipping on orders over $35. *

If you happen to do shopping for a family of 8 you probably know that you can barely buy a month's worth of TP for $35.

This is a win, win, win situation for me. Especially in the dead of winter when there are 3 preschoolers to tote along with me.

I know which products I like to utilize from Walmart. Walmart saves my favorites in my account. All my information, in fact, is stored in my online shopping account.

Ordering then is as easy 1-2-3.

My absolute favorite part of this whole process is having big boxes from Walmart arrive on my front porch 2 or 3 days later-- heavy with things like dish soap, napkins, toilet paper, laundry soap, laundry softener, contact solution, body wash, shampoo, paper towel etc.



It's so satisfying... As long as  I remember to reorder before the napkins, tissues, toilet paper and paper towel all run out on the same day.

I also like that I can talk about Walmart these days without gritting my teeth or getting heart burn.

I like that I can say that Walmart offers me competitive prices along with some good shopping options.

I like being able to give Walmart a big thumbs up.



 *one note of caution: not every item at Walmart is eligible for 2 day free shipping. Just be careful.



Friday, May 11, 2018

of small and cute cherries

 For those who do not follow me on Facebook, I thought you may enjoy this little update from yesterday. This may make more sense as to why I was hallucinating about a  sleepwalking pregnant polar bear a few weeks ago.









I have been calling Elliana "the cherry on top of our family" for the last 2 1/2 years. Come November she's going to need to move over a tad to make room for another "little cherry" to join her on the top. We're all excited, but I'm a little sad to lay down the CRAZY8 title for my family. Any name suggestions for a family of 9 ?? 🍒

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The winter that refused to end

When I looked out the window this morning I just couldn't believe my eyes. I quickly grabbed my camera to capture the unusual sight. I was shaking so badly-either from the cold or from excitement or perhaps both-that capturing a sharp image was completely impossible.


But if you look closely, you might be able to make out a fuzzy figure....

It was a pregnant polar bear sleepwalking through a snow storm.

Have  you ever in your long life beheld such a sight?

Have you ever in your long life beheld such a long winter?

I have lived through hard winters, but I can't remember any of them lasting this long.*

I mean, today is April 19, 2018. We are headed into the last few days of April and still it continues to snow nearly everyday.

I keep trying to pack our winter gear away for the season only to be forced into pulling out the winter coats again and putting the gloves on {hopefully} just one more time.

Even my brain feels like winter has come to stay forever. In fact, the above image is just as likely to be my brain as a polar bear.

We're trying hard to be brave about the weather at this house, but honestly........this is how we feel when we wake up and see snow falling again.



*I'm reading "The Long Winter" from the Wilder Family series to my youngest daughters. I acknowledge that my perspective is limited and that my current long winter has been lived in comfort and luxury. I know nothing of true hardship in battling the elements.

Friday, April 13, 2018

The day I kinda lost my mind

Say what??

'Doesn't that happen to you pretty much every day?' says my very sensible daughter.

Well. This was extreme even for me.


It all began on a mid summer Friday. The weather was delightful. It was warm but not stifling hot. There was a gentle breeze moving a very pleasing amount of air through the leaves.  It was the kind of weather that beckons you outdoors.

We were killing the cleaning in no time flat,  me and my 4 big kids and 1 toddler and 1 baby.

They were working so hard and so diligently that I felt like I should reward them somehow.

At noon we discussed the possibility of going to a few garage sales or the thrift store, both of which would have been a rich reward for my kids.

"Or we could possibly go camping" I said, kind of in passing.

"CAMPING!!!! Mom, do you REALLY mean it!!???!! Did you really say CAMPING??!!?"

{you see, they have become quite agile at riding the waves of my wild ideas, many of which often do not become a reality}

Suddenly every little adventurous nerve in my body was throbbing with excitement.

"Yes. We could.  WE  COULD go camping if you guys are into it!!!" *

{Sometimes being an adult is so much fun....you know, when you realize you have the freedom to make a crazy decision and carry through with it.}

"Jump in the Suburban and we'll drive out to Woodcock to see if any camp sites are even available."


So off we went just like a wild group of Indians.

On the road I had to process both positive and negative feedback for the entire 8 miles.

"Mom, you are SO AWESOME!!!"

"I can't believe this is actually happening!!"

"This is the absolutely stupidest thing you ever did, Mom"

"Mom, you're going to regret this. It is going to turn into a fiasco!!"

"Keep going, Mom!!! Don't stop now!!!"

"Don't listen to her, Mom!!"

"You got this, Mom. Keep going. Don't turn back now!!!"

{I had 5 supporters and 1 opponent}

We arrived at the campground and drove around until we found the perfect spot. We dropped by the office on our way out and reserved our site for the night.

"We will be back in an hour or so to set up camp" I told the Park Attendant.

For the entire 8 miles back home there was no time for either positive or negative feedback because I was wearing my Biggest Bossiest Mama Hat Ever. Everyone had a critical role to play in pulling this together and I was letting them know exactly what I was expecting from each and every person.

I dropped the kids off at home with instructions for gathering sleeping bags, pillows, blankets, chairs, tent and all other manner of camping paraphernalia.

I drove to the local super market -just one mile down the street- and picked up all the essential camping foods.

My list looked like this:

Hamburgers
Hot dogs
Bread
Bacon
Eggs
Chips
Watermelon
Apples
Carrots
Marshmallows
Graham crackers
chocolate
Hot chocolate mix
Soda
Ice

I was home within a half hour and there waiting for me in the front lawn was one enormous pile of camping stuff that was competing in size with our home.

The kids loaded the truck.

I packed the ice chests and lots of paper towel and coffee.

We loaded our 10 week old puppy and her food and cage.



We left a note on the dining room table for my husband that read "Meet us at campsite #32 at Woodcock. Please bring the sleeping bags on the porch with you" **

And just like that, we walked out the door and headed off again toward the campground.

We stopped and bought some wood along the way.

The Park Attendant nodded us right through when she saw us pulling up to the park office window. I guess we must have been a rather remarkable bunch.

And then we set up camp.

{with lots of sweat and groaning and some arguing}

When Amos arrived at 6:00 pm the tent was set up and the fire was blazing. We were grilling our supper of hamburgers and hot dogs.



We were all happier than he had seen us in quite a while.



Our personal satisfaction over pulling this together combined with Amos's pleasure and delight in this little get away all added together to make it one of the happiest days of our lives.

We had the loveliest time.

What is better than family time around a campfire?

Or s'mores after dark?

Or a family of 8 all snuggling together in a tent?

Kids are happiest when playing in nature. I am happiest when I get to sit and watch my kids enjoy nature.




The vacation was short and sweet, but that was a critical part of what made the planning and execution easy for me.

Less than 24 hours later with satisfied and happy hearts we were ready to head for home.

My kind husband helped us with packing up camp and unloading and cleaning up when we arrived home on Saturday afternoon.

My mantra that summer was "Work hard, Play hard".

I am thinking maybe we need to revive the spirit of that summer again in 2018.***

When telling this story to some of our friends, the man replied, "I would think my wife was on medicine or needed medicine if she pulled this number on me!!"

We are good friends and we all had a good laugh about his comment. It was not meant to be negative toward either his wife or me. It was a simple observation of the differences in people.

But I decided not to share this story too publicly until I had a few years of stable history to back up my mental health.




*I did put a little forethought into this before mentioning the idea to the kids. I checked the weather forecast carefully and thought through any plans or obligations we had for Saturday. On all accounts, I got a green light to go ahead.

**this was a big surprise for my husband when it actually happened, however, I had randomly mentioned to him one time that I thought it would be fun for the kids and I to take off camping sometime without telling him. His response was, "that would be cool".  I acted confidently in this situation, because I knew that he would love it. I made sure to check his schedule too before mentioning anything to the kids.

***just in case you are under the false illusion that I am this super energetic and creative mom who is always pulling off fun surprises for my family, you should know that my family just survived probably the most boring and uneventful 3 months of their lives this past winter. If want to get an earful of the real deal just ask my 13 year old daughter.








Thursday, February 22, 2018

just going HOME...








Grandma,

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,

Shaunda


https://youtu.be/TvThHk-wMRk


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CxwN1pUJWsQ




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. 

It's AMAZING. 

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. 


So. 

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?