Saturday, December 28, 2013

Learning To Shed My Martha Ways

Christmas morning.  

At 7 a.m., Caleb roused the rest of the crew.  They rushed downstairs giddy over a well-stocked Christmas tree.

You can never have enough Batman goodies, says Collin.

Per our family's tradition, Christmas breakfast was served with a Happy Birthday Jesus Cake. 

This year's "wow" gift: a foosball table.  Santa spent six hours assembling this monster and muttered some choice words in the process!

Let this be a lesson:  Always read the card before purchase!  I love my Christmas Valentine's Day card from my husband!  We both got a good laugh!!

The celebrating continued at Memaw and Papa's house with the cousins.  Poor cousin Savannah....born into a testosterone-heavy family!  

Connor showed off his Tasmanian Devil book (needed for a school project) from Aunt Heather and Uncle Matt.  Score, says Connor!

Years ago, I was fluttering around the house trying to get our home "company ready."  I had worked myself into a tizzy making sure to expel every dust bunny, polish each and every counter until they sparkled, and whip up enough food for a small village.  My husband gazed at my frazzled appearance and exclaimed, "You remind me of Martha."

"Thanks," I beamed, imaging he was comparing my domestic prowess to culinary/household icon Martha Stewart.  

He paused, "I mean Martha...from the Bible."

Oh, that Martha.  The biblical Martha who spent more time in the kitchen than at the feet of Jesus.  I had certainly read the story and remembered Jesus's rebuke of her industrious/overloaded actions; He encouraged Martha to drop the dish towel and spend more time on the truly important things, like spending time with Him.

My husband was right; I have Martha tendencies. 

 I think because God knew that about me, he decided to bless me with four spunky sons that do their best to pluck every single Martha fiber from my body.  This fact becomes glaringly apparent around the holidays.  

Take this holiday season.

Between a rush of December birthdays and Christmas celebrations, we entertained a lot.  Each time, I tried my darnedest to create a home that looked like a Better Homes & Garden spread.  I rushed around spraying, polishing, scrubbing, and waxing.  And what were the boys doing during that time:

1) making additional messes,

2)  attempting to help while at the same time creating additional messes, or

3) playing quietly (while making hushed messes).

Yesterday, with company on the way, I elicited their help in straightened the basement.  I ran upstairs to tend to dishes and within a few minutes checked on their progress.  I found the boys actively involved in the creation of their very own brainchild: "Dangerous Cleaning" episodes.  Each episode featured the vacuum cleaner transformed into a mechinical-version of Jaws.  I watched as one son whizzed around the room with a vacuum while the others leaped from peril.  

And in case your wondering about the state of the carpet and the quality of the cleaning during the "filming"?  Let's just say Jaws seemed to favor certain portions of the carpet while leaving entire regions untouched and the rigors of filming left little time for the star actors to touch dusty cabinets or spray fingerprint-laden mirrors.  

I was annoyed; I toyed with the idea of shunning the boys from the house until the company arrived.  (Or shipping them off to the Grandparents until they turned 18.)  Then, I could live in a beautifully maintained home (alone).  

But then I thought about Martha.

Truthfully, I will never have that Martha (Stewart) ready house.  What I have is a home full of boys with a lot of love and dust bunnies.  I'm learning to accept (even relish) that fact.  

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

If you land on the naughty list....

We took our annual pilgrimage down to the Indiana State Museum to visit Santa Claus.

A visit to Santa comes with a trip on the Santa Claus Express!

Santa's Playground includes the best toys!

Cooper sat at the breakfast table this morning.  He announced to his brothers, "I did a LOT of bad things last year and I STILL got Christmas presents."

His brothers breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Tomorrow, we'll see.....

Monday, December 23, 2013

Overcoming Fear

At Connor's 3rd grade Christmas party!  I begged and pleaded with Connor to wear more festive Christmas clothes.  We compromised on a green t-shirt.

At Cooper's first grade Christmas party.  Yes, we are playing the same toilet paper wrapping, snowman game.  Thanks to Pinterest, I think every mom in the school selected the same party games!

A few weeks back, Connor and friends nestled into the backseat of my minivan.  The conversation flowed between important topics such as coolest superhero to best Lego set.  Somewhere along the way, Connor tossed out the fact that his mother would be running the Boston Marathon this year.

His friend listened and then recounted last year's Boston Marathon tragedy.

I replied, "This year the Boston Marathon will be a lot safer."

"Well, how do you know?" his friend popped back.

Of all the times I've released that pat response, I've never once had someone question my certainty.  Leave it to a kid to say what everyone else is thinking!

I can predict that the Boston Marathon will be safer, but I can't guarantee it.  Few things in life can be guaranteed.  And because of that, I have a choice to live in fear and avoid the race altogether or charge forward despite any risks. 

I replied, "I don't know if the Boston Marathon will be safer this year, but I do know that God doesn't want me to live a life gripped with fear.  I know God has a plan and I can trust in that plan whatever it may be."

His friend seemed satisfied with my answer and the conversation jumped back to Ninjas and the possibility of a Zombie apocalypse.  I, on the other hand, mulled over our conversation.  Honestly, I never thought twice about my safety during the race.  Lightning doesn't strike twice, right!  But it could happen.  And knowing this fact, I have the choice of how to react to fear and uncertainty.

Like the answer I offered Connor's friend, my choice was made; I vowed to run the race and live a life untethered by fear.  And more importantly, I wanted to teach that lesson to my children too.

Sometimes fear can be healthy and wise.  We fear jumping off a cliff, or touching a hot stove, or walking on glass.  But there is the other kind of fear.  The silly, debilitating sort that hinders us from experiencing a rich, full life.  Fear of failure, embarrassment, or disappointment.

This weekend, Cooper had the opportunity to sing a Christmas song in front of the church.  At the Saturday evening service, his premiere performance was to take place.  As we neared the stage, Cooper's knees began to shake.  He clutched my hand.  His stage freight registered in his palm and radiated up my arm.  He was unable to shake his terror and so he settled in backstage and watched from the sidelines as his friends belted out the lyrics and performed the choreographed routine.

I was disappointed, sad that he let fear hinder him from joining his friends in an amazing experience.  And so Cooper and I had a conversation about fear and how it zaps us from experiences and life.

On Sunday morning, the opportunity arose for Cooper to return to the stage.  His fear popped back, but I continued to whisper the mantra "Don't let fear win; never let fear win."  With much trepidation, he joined his friends on stage.  I watched from the sidelines as my sweet little boy caroled and swayed with the group.

When the music ended, his face was aglow.  He breathed, "Can I do again?"

"Fear didn't win," I beamed.  "Aren't you glad?"

He smiled and nodded.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Keeping the Streak Alive

Photo compliments of my friend Elizabeth.  Celebrated Chris's birthday with a few friends at home.

Caleb looked dapper and ready for his middle school band concert.  Cooper asked if he was a waiter and ordered chili cheese fries from him!

Two beloved party guests to Chris's party:  Ali and Gwen.  Bummer the other party photos didn't come out very clear! 

 Followed up Chris's party with a pancake/gingerbread-making breakfast at the Williams' house.

This is what happens when you leave a dad to assist with the decorating!

And the parties continued with a little birthday get together for Caleb and Connor. 

 Caleb's group of friends!

Dad and Papa bestow birthday advice on our new eleven year old!

Siblings received an invite to the party too!

Connor's buddies!

Liam Brinkruff fully enjoyed the buffet!  He whipped together pasta, corn cobs, and goldfish crackers!

I woke up with a scratchy throat and tender head.  My physician husband listened to my woes and immediately diagnosed me with the "sniffles."  (He also called me a "drama one," but that's a story for another time.)  My ailments were enough to elicit whining, but not enough to require any actual medical care or prescription medication.  

I snuggled under the covers, trying my best to suppress an inner voice that questioned, "What about a run?"  Runs are as firmly entrenched in my mornings as my Eggo waffles.  Most days, I lace up my running shoes and pound the pavement before the sun even thinks about rising.  But starting on Thanksgiving, when I committed to the Runner's World Holiday Running Streak, I went from running most days to running every day until New Year's Day (at least a mile a day).

The first few weeks, I braved frigid conditions to trot along the course in the Drumstick Dash; I jogged across a snow-packed trail that left my legs feeling like Jell-O; Thanks to icy roads, I endured more treadmill runs that I care to remember.  And then 22 days later, I'm met with this: the sniffles.  I was at a crossroad:  Do I ditch weeks of hard-work and a successful streak for one morning in bed cuddled up with a Kleenex box?

The thing I know about running is that actions forerun emotions.  Translation:  Even if you don't feel like running, do it anyway.

Begrudgingly, I slipped out of bed and pulled on my running gear. I stepped onto the treadmill and jogged one mile at a pace my Grandmother could match.  At the end, I felt....good.

I was reminded of the second thing I know about running: emotions follow actions.  Translation:  I've never ended a run disappointed that I woke up.

Today, I'm grateful that I battled the sniffles to keep my streak alive.  


Thursday, December 12, 2013

During the Holidays, Don't Forget to Breathe

 On Caleb's birthday, he found donuts and presents waiting for him at the breakfast table.  

This week, our house is a bit like the Groundhog's Day movie with two sons having birthdays a day apart.  The day after Caleb's birthday, we woke up and celebrated Connor's birthday in an identical manner.   (Don't you love how shirts seem to be optional in this household!)

We basically lived on sugar for two days in a row!!  Connor's cake was worth every single calorie!

My dear friend Ali just started a new gig.  She is no longer just a supermom/supermodel; she's added bar method instructor to her title.  For those unfamiliar, the bar method is an exercise class that uses the ballet bar to define muscles (and inflict torture).  And one needs to look no further than Ali, with her chiseled abs and toned biceps, to be convinced of the results.

I've been meaning to try a class for months, but then life got in the way.  Finally, with a little extra time and a few lingering Thanksgivings lbs., I signed up for a class.

Ali suggested my wardrobe and so I showed up in with a running shirt, yoga pants, and an attitude.  My attitude was, "I am marathon runner, hear me roar."  Translation:  I'll treat this class as a warmup and leave the serious working out for my Garmin, running shoes, and the trails.  Or so I thought.

Ten minutes into the class and I was dying.  Beads of sweat,  flushed face, stinky pits, dying.  I provided comic relief to the entire class as I could barely lift my stiff calves over the bar (years of running will do that to you!).  I had to use two hands (and a forklift) to place my ankle parallel to my hips.

My friend Kelly gazed at my pathetic form and snickered, "I bet you wish you were running right now."

Bingo Kelly.

At that moment, I would have given my right arm to be sprinting along a trail rather than performing my umpteenth dip on quivering toes. It.Was.Hard.  HARD.

After 24 years of pounding the pavement, my body knew how to run.  My muscles were well trained.  But this class woke up sleepy muscles and stretched the seemingly immovable parts of me.  As much as I wanted to hate it, I loved it even more.  

As I continued through the class, I learned that the bar method focuses on the repetition of little movements.  Instructors encourage proper form and, most importantly, posture.

During one particularly laborious pose, the instructor gazed at my crimson cheeks and pleading eyes and uttered, "Don't forget to breathe."

That mantra was said and re-said several times throughout the class especially at points that seemed most intense.

During the final moments of class, when we reclined on a mat and stretched out fatigued muscles, I meditated on that refrain, "Don't forget to breathe."  I thought about how life was pulling me along so quickly I could barely catch my breath.  How the combination of holiday preparations, birthday blowouts, and a heavy workload was leaving me as fatigued as my muscles.  How I walked into class feeling like I was about to explode under a weight of stress.  How what I really needed was an hour to do something new, spend time with dear friends, stretch, workout, and most importantly breathe.  And so I adopted a new holiday mantra, "Just breathe.  Don't forget to breathe."

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Nothing Says Christmas Like Snakes

It was 6:30 on a Saturday night.  I had already crawled into my pajamas excited about an evening at home with the boys.  On our agenda: a quite night curled up in front of a holiday movie.  6:30 is when Caleb rushed into my room with a flushed face and dancing eyes.

"It's the Hoosier Herpetology Christmas Party tonight!"  he exclaimed.


I tried to process his words as he reminded me the party was tonight at 7 and he wanted (expected) to attend.

I so desperately wanted to say no.  I was already in my pajamas, for crying out loud.  We had plans.  Remember the couch, the movie, the popcorn?  But as I gazed at my exuberant son, I just knew movie night was over and we would soon be walking out the door.

Because my husband was at work (lucky guy), I packed up the four boys (alone) and headed to the party locale: a near by pizza place.  After we grabbed a few slices of pizza, we snagged seats at Indiana Jim's table.  Soon, the conversation flowed as we gabbed on about poisonous snakes and escaping reptiles.  (You know, the regular topics of discussion at a Christmas party!)

After dinner, Indiana Jim directed the White Elephant Gift Exchange.  I eyed the presents with fear and whispered over to Caleb, "I'm telling you now; I don't care what gift you get, but we will not be walking out of here with a live snake."  I gazed at one poorly wrapped present and could have sworn it wobbled as if its contents were desperate to flee.

Much to my relief, the gifts were all snake-related, but none involved actual reptiles.  Hallelujah!  The boys all walked out with reptile stuffed animals and books.  I (and they) were thrilled (and relieved!).

After the last gift was opened, we warmly thanked Indiana Jim for a wonderful night and then apologized again to the pizza staff for our massive cream soda spill (certainly warmed ourselves to the employees with that one!).  

In the car, Caleb rattled on about more reptiles.  He finally stopped and said, "Mom, you don't have to act interested; I know you do that just because its part of your job."


Truth, to use the words I'm teaching the boys, attending the party was not my first choice.  Learning about snakes is not my first choice.  Hanging around with a group of avid herpetologists is not my first choice.

I'm not interested in snakes, but I am interested in him.  It's a concept he won't fully understand until he has kids of his own.

Until then, I need to improve my acting skills and learn to love the things my son appreciates.  

Snow Prayers

I know there are many circumstances/events in life that elicit prayer.  Snow days must fall somewhere among that list.  The first time a meteorologists hints that the powdery stuff may arrive, the prayers begin.

What I've discovered is that every member of my family shoots up fervent and frequent prayers, but differs in request.

The boys pray the snow engulfs our town.  They petition for treacherous streets and snow drifts so thick that their bright yellow school bus would find the roads impassable (but no so bad that our van couldn't make its way over to the local sledding hill).  They pray for hearty snow, the sort that packs well for snowballs and snowmen.  They pray mom's pantry is stocked with hot chocolate, marshmallows, and whipped cream.

As for me, I pray for wimpy snow.  The type that acts like a bubble; it falls but seems to dissipate upon land.  I request snow that won't trap my car, or force me to race to the grocery store desperate to snag that last loaf of bread, or (most of all) to cancel school.

I think because God can't answer all of our prayers, he invented a compromise and called it the two-hour delay.  He dusted the ground with just enough snow to make a morning bus commute dicey, but not enough that a snow plow can't tackle.  Just enough that the kids get a taste of a snow day, but not enough that moms get the brunt of a full day off.

And so, when my boys had a two-hour delay on Friday, prayers of gratitude were sent up by all. 


Friday, December 6, 2013

It's Official...Going to Boston!

Blogging has fallen low on the priority list this last week.  I've been blessed with a few magazine projects and so my time has been crunched.

A highlight of the week was receiving this official Boston Marathon acceptance card in the mail.  I was immediately drawn to the heart icon situated on the top right.  Notice there's a road leading to the word "Boston."  That's exactly how I've felt about the entire Boston Marathon process.  It's been a road, a journey.  I've learned a runner doesn't just land at the Boston Marathon, it's a bib number that must be earned.

Excited to start training for Boston in a few weeks!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

A Crooked Christmas Tree

During the last several months, our tree sat dormant in our basement, nestled within the confines of a storage box.  Sometime during that hibernation, the tree sustained an injury (or perhaps a kink).  Whatever the case, the tree that once stood tall now sags to the right.  Our tree top angel is clinging to a branch for dear life.  It is like the Christmas tree version of the Leaning Tower of Pizzazz and makes the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree look like a fine piece of craftsmanship.

I gazed at our lopsided tree and weighed our options.  We could:

A)  purchase a new tree,

B)  nurse our tree back to its former self,

C)  creatively arrange ornaments,

D)  put everything else in the room at the same angle to ensure uniformity, or...

While I mulled over our choices, the boys raced to the ornament bin and before I could say, "Merry Christmas" began strewing the contents among the branches.  (Well, clumped is a better word!)  Clearly, they cared little about whether their tree was Pinterest-worthy.

Looking at the tree's hunched, imperfect form reminded me of a promise I made last Christmas season.  After I spent last Advent season focusing more on Christmas cookies than little boys' hearts, I vowed to make a change.  I swore I would spend the next holiday season concentrating on the important stuff, the true reason for the season.  I promised to stop obsessing over the details of the holidays.  I would steer clear of a pull to create the perfect Norman Rockwell Christmas at the expense of a meaningful season.

And so I decided to go with Option E:  Our crooked Christmas tree will stay in its current form as a reminder of what the season will be for our family.  In the least, it will bring a smile to my face!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Drumstick Dash: Thankful for a Running Family

Thanksgiving morning was spent trotting along the Drumstick Dash route (minus Collin who spent the morning nice and warm with Grandma and Grandpa Wood).  

We quickly consumed back the calories burned at the race!  My sister-in-law and I modeled our boots and matching scarves!

The Joseph side of the family at Thanksgiving.

Time with Grandma and Grandpa Wood too.

What's a holiday without a brief ER visit!

After many years of marriage, I've learned that my husband is not me (and I am not him).  That means that just because I love something doesn't mean my husband holds similar affections.  And vice versa.  I certainly don't swoon over Notre Dame football and European soccer like my husband.  And he, well, let's talk about yesterday.

Yesterday morning we ran the Drumstick Dash.  The boys, Chris, and I joined 18,000 fellow runners to trot along the 2.5 mile route.  The temperatures were frigid with a windchill in the teens.  We selected positions in the middle of the pack hoping to suck warmth from the body heat of the crowd.

The people watching was a sport in itself.  Turkey/pilgrim/pie-themed attire dominated racing wear.  Dogs, kids, and costumed spectators lined the route and joined the procession.

Despite the Siberian-like conditions, I found the whole thing delightful.  I was running (jogging is a more accurate term) with my family on Thanksgiving.  We were running at such a pace that we really were able to savor the surroundings and interact with our fellow runners and each other.  A festive holiday mood floated among the participants and showed up in conversations and light comments.  

But for my husband...perhaps this wasn't his cup of tea.  Seeing it through he's eyes: he was standing in the bitter cold after working a late night shift in conditions that would make cattle claustrophobic.  He wasn't impressed.  If give the choice between a morning spent in a coffee house or pounding the pavement, he'd choice the latte.

We crossed the finish line apart.  My husband and two sons finished first.  Cooper and I fell second.  As we walked to the car, we swapped stories.  My husband talked about how one son encouraged the other through doubt and discomfort to finish strong.  We laughed about how crazy the whole deal was between the cold, the crowds, and our kiddos.  We touted the charitable aspect of the race to the kids, explaining how race proceeds went to a local homeless shelter.  

After a while, my husband recanted a bit.  Perhaps running the race wasn't his first choice but the experience turned out to be priceless to all.  It was a similar feeling I had after watching a football game at Notre Dame stadium; the experience was not my first choice, but ended up being a blast and a precious memory.

And so on Thanksgiving, I was grateful for:

-a husband willing to run in frosty conditions for his family,

-a family healthy enough to run,

-an extended family joining us for the holidays,

-a mother-in-law who is a whiz at turkey prep,

-a mother who makes a mean mash potato casserole, and

-a Savior who gives all good gifts.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Mommy Covert Mission: Purging a Child's Room

Thanks for these great pictures from the Greenlees.  Cooper was so excited to go to the Pacer Game with their family! 

My friend Maggie and I played hair on Saturday.  She taught me the fine art of using the curling iron.  Love the end result but pretty sure I'll never be able to replicate.  My husband was a bit sad that I didn't curl my hair the next day to go to the grocery store.  Back to reality: ponytails and yoga pants!

A decade plus into this mommy gig and I've learned a few things.  

I know that broccoli will never go quicker than candy.  

If children are too quiet, it's a problem.

Common sense is something that's learned.

I've also determined (the hard way) that children's rooms are never to be purged/organized in the presence of one's own children.  I know some moms feel differently.  They endorse teaching children those skills by working together on a room.  I think those mothers are:

1)  destined for sainthood; and/or

2)  a bit nuts.

I enter into a purge/organization project like one would prepare for a covert mission.  While my children are getting ready to leave for school, I play it casual, hiding empty trash bags and desperately trying to limit my excitement.  I toss out phrases like, "I guess I'll just lounge around the house today."  The minute the boys step out the door, I spring into action.  I dive under beds, move dressers, and climb into the recesses of their closet.

I discover all sorts of goodies: empty candy wrappers, headless action figures, missing library books, birthday party goody bag treasures.  And Legos.  Oh, the Legos.  I think Legos are like cockroaches; they seem to multiply and I have a strong suspicion they too could survive a nuclear attack.  

By the end, beads of sweat cascade down my forehead.  My hair is disheveled and a layer of dust and grime blankets my clothes.  A trash bag full of "stuff" sits by the door.  And the room looks....amazing.  I sit on the ground for minutes on end savoring cleanliness and order.  How rare!  What a treat!

When the boys return from school, I stage my appearance.  I plop down on the couch and clutch a book as if that's how I rolled for the last several hours.  I hold my breathe.  I wait for their reaction.  Will they scream, "What happen to my plastic kazoo from _____'s party?" or "Where is that whistle I earned from the library's prize box?"  Will there be a wailing and gnashing of teeth?

They bound up the stairs and rush into their room.  And then....


After minutes of quiet, I enter their room.  The boys happily fiddle with toys in their newly pristine digs.  Finally, I toss out, "Notice that your room looks cleaner?"

One son lets out a quick glance and then mumbled, "No."


Mission accomplished.



Friday, November 22, 2013

Life is a Stage

My proud mama buttons were bursting when Connor played the Huntsman in his elementary school's production of "Snow White."

Connor chats with his friends (and brother) after the play.  

Collin is all smiles when pal Garrett is behind the wheel.

A special cold weather play date at Chuck E. Cheese!  Collin was smitten by the whole experience.  

The school cafeteria was packed.  Grandparents, parents, and siblings filled the tables and snagged spare chairs.  Little ones secured spots on the carpet.  The lights dimmed and pint-sized actors rushed onto the stage.  The crowd hushed.

The tale of "Snow White" unfolded on the stage.  This version differed from the Disney classic I so fondly remember from my youth.  It infused humor and pop culture and eliminated scenes widely unpopular with the elementary set (i.e., smooching!).

I watched as Connor waltzed onto the stage.  He was cool as a cucumber, seemingly unfazed by the number of eyes pointed in his direction.  He belted out his lines with clarity, adding a requisite amount of levity and passion to his role.

I sat in awe of my son's performance.  Sure, he's acting  captured my attention, but what captivated me was his confidence.  At the age of eight, he held no inhibitions about speaking in front of a crowd.  He never once said, "What if I forget a line/trip/laugh/cry?"  He didn't fear failure or embarrassment.  He seemed at peace in his own skin and comfortable with his performance (in whatever form).

At age eight, I wasn't like Connor.  I never donned a costume and set foot on a stage.  I could say the acting bug never bit, but perhaps that's not all.  I lacked the confidence to stand exposed in front of a crowd without fearing the "what ifs"...the falls, the goofs, the mishaps.  Decades later, I'm not sure if anything's different.  I still hold fears that inhibit.

Gazing at Connor, I'm inspired to live my life without fear of the "what ifs."  I'll try to remember the "what ifs" can actually be rather pleasant.