Friday, February 28, 2014


I have been drafting this post for a little while now and kept debating over whether or not to post it. It's not really a controversy. It's just a mama's heart and her passion for her perfectly imperfect children.

And then today, I felt inspired to post this because of this. My dear friend posted it on Facebook and it gave me the nudge.


It's a word I have heard way too much of recently.

"Did y'all qualify for anything?" "What is he qualified for?" "Was he state identified and qualified? Or qualified for the school year?"

Qualified? For what?

Middle school class placement. AAP or Regular.

There has been so much chatter among the 5th graders and parents. The pressure is palpable. You feel almost forced to join in, no matter how much you said you wouldn't.

For something I had decided to put in God's hands to turn into such angst is just torture. I had made up my mind that I was not going to let it bother our family, but the chatter is everywhere I have turned. I couldn't help but become wrapped up in it, thinking I wasn't fighting enough for the desirable title of advanced placement in middle school academia for my child.

Word of Caution: As a first time 5th grade parent, at every turn you'll hear one seasoned middle-school parent advise that "it will all be okay". Yet other seasoned and some not-so-seasoned parents advise that they MUST qualify for Advanced Placement because you'd be a fool to let your child be in classes with all "those kinds of people" (real quote).

Well, I have taken both sides to heart. I've been relieved that it'll all be okay and anxious at the same time. I've asked questions - lots, and made phone calls to the "officials".

And then it suddenly occurred to me that average (regular) has been reduced to "those kinds of people".

As I've become more and more anxious, I'm sure my poor child has too.

So here are my questions for the tens of people who read my blog...
Why are we doing this? When did being average become not good enough?

I know lots of really awesome average people.

For starters, my husband. He's average for sure, if you judge him by his middle school through college test scores. But he's still average in lots of ways and manages to have a very important job with a very large company. He amazes me every day and makes me and his parents very proud.

Me? I am average too. Actually, in 1985 this learning disabled little girl would not have "qualified" for anything but "the dumb reading group". Well, it took me a while, but I went on to graduate from college as a Speech Therapist... with HONORS! (Thank you very much, Ms. Mitchell. I wonder if she reads this blog and counts my typos, overuse of commas, and grammatical errors? I sure hope so.)

Can y'all help me with making average okay again? It would really do a couple of generations of people a whole-lotta good.

So back to the question.

Is Sam qualified? Absolutely! He was "qualified" in God's plan long before I knew he'd be mine.
Recently, I've been praying for the right scripture to share with him, to give him a boost for the days when he thinks he's not good enough or "qualified". Maybe you can share a verse or two with someone you know who struggles with being average.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. -Ephesians 2:10
For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. -Psalm 139:13-14
But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. -Isaiah 64:8

Reading those makes me feel far more than average. You?

Any who... go hug and high-five your average child.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

A Year of Firsts

It's been an entire year now.

I can still hear my mom as if I was still in that very moment. "Honey, it's going to be a sad day." Her voice was so incredibly strong while delivering such grim news. The only sense I can make of the strength in mom's voice is that she knew, without out a doubt, the soul of her sister was now in the hands of God.

It was inevitable. Her suffering had gone on for too long.

But still. Not even a handwritten notice from God could have prepared us for the moment she left our world.

She is missed far more than she would want to be. She didn't like for people to make a fuss over her.

Mom and I frequently say, "Oh my word, I wish we could call her because she would love this story!" And sometimes I think I hear her laughing at us. 

We have made it through a year of "firsts" without her. Some harder than others. But the memories of our time together help soothe us.

A few of the many little reminders throughout this past year come to mind...

Easter hand towels
Banana pudding
Well-used cookie sheets
Holiday-themed t-shirts
Crocheted sun hats
The saved last birthday cards
Novelty socks for the boys
Taco Soup
Cooking shows
A REALLY good glass of wine
Keepsake Christmas ornaments
and sometimes it's just a smell or the way the air feels

Divinely, her life verse has continued to pop up throughout the last year in all sorts of circumstances, and I know it is His way of letting her speak to me.
May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. -Psalm 19:14
We cling to the promise of seeing her again. And know that it will be even sweeter than the sweetest memories. 

Still loving and missing "My Laynie".


Thursday, February 20, 2014

New-found Lego Love


Legos. Legos. Legos.

You know 'em. The little plastic blocks with sharp edges that feel oh so great to step on in the dark? Yeah. Those things. It'll make you say words that would make a sailor blush! Or how about the bottomless pit somewhere that's full of all the missing pieces to sets? And if I had a penny for every one that has clinked into my vacuum...whoops, I'd be a millionaire for sure. 

I've never been a fan. I'm too ADD to follow the plans. I'd also rather make something that's in my head with all those tiny bricks, than follow "the plan".

With three boys, my house has been littered with Legos for about 5 or 6 years now. Sam has not been a huge fan, but liked them ok. But then there's Fulton,  The Lego Master Builder. Obsessed. And now there's Oliver, who likes {me or Fulton} to put together the sets, but would really rather play with the mini figures. He's obsessed too!

At any rate, they are on my kitchen table and counters, in my car, in Shan's car, in the bathtub, down in my sofa, on the stairs, on every surface in Fulton's room, on Sam's dresser, on Oliver's floor, and even on the front porch from time to time. I've tried organizing systems, but none have worked. To say that we are a Lego family would be an understatement. So I've just embraced the mess. And I can say they were not my favorite things until...
The Lego Movie! 

During the wintery weather, I took the boys along with a few friends and their mommas to see the movie. I was excited for them, but not super thrilled to watch a movie about the things I pick up 50 times a day. Fulton and Oliver literally counted down the days to Friday - the big day. So excited!
Well I was pleasantly surprised, because it is super cute! It's packed with age appropriate action and suspense for the kids and great adult humor. Kind of a Toy Story for Legos. 

It's funny how I see them differently now. Some moms and I were laughing about all the Legos we've "lost" or sucked up over the years and how guilty we feel after seeing the movie. Ha! It will change the way you think, mommas!

So if you have a little Lego lover in your house, it is a must see! I can't wait for it to come out on DVD.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

FFF...Forced Family Fun

A friend of mine gave my mom and me these napkins a few years ago. I love them. And every time we have a big family hoopla I think of them.

Forced Family Fun {FFF}. I've seen it be fun and I've seen it turnout no-so-fun. We've all been there. But nonetheless, we crave it sometimes. It's all about establishing traditions and creating memories.

While we were suffering from cabin fever during the winter storm, we were participating in LOTS of FFF.

We like to do game night, but it's gotten a little more challenging to accommodate different interest levels and skill levels. There's a big difference in an 11 year-old and 5 year-old!

So last week I pulled out an old favorite that I used to play with my students in therapy sessions, Rainbow Tower. It's like the colored version of Jenga.

It goes quickly enough to not lose anyone's attention and it also presents enough of a challenge for the tween boy in my house {who actually bowed out with a belly ache and watched from the sofa}.

We played two rounds and it was just enough.

1. The Daddy takes his turn (Puny, sweet, Sambo made a cameo appearance on the sofa). 2. The baby bird takes a very steady turn. 3. He said "I can't watch!" as Fulton pulled one from the bottom.

I like the added bonus that it encourages dexterity and coordination, as well as recognizing and following a pattern when you restack the tower.

Who knew a classroom favorite would be a family favorite 12 years later.

In other FFF news...

We also force our children to try on the Baby Bjorn periodically to test the weight limit. Usually, after church on Sundays. HA!

What do you do for FFF? Do y'all have any favorite games?

Monday, February 17, 2014

A Fondue Valentine's Dinner

Just a quick post to share our Valentine's day celebration...

As if we hadn't already spent enough time together during the snow/ice storm - we celebrated Valentine's day all together too.

Shan and I haven't celebrated Valentine's together in...oh say...11 years. But that's ok. We will again someday. Besides, we love our little turkeys and they enjoy the extra special time with us too. {Plus, a dear boy-mom friend of mine with the exact same set up - 3 boys all 3 years apart - is now dealing with the competition of her 15 year-old's girlfriend. *GASP*SIGH* So I'll take my boys on Valentine's while I can. Kinda puts things into perspective.} I digress.

So what do not-so-mushy-gushy people do for a family Valentine's celebration?

Why you Fondue, of course!

That's right. I dragged out my fondue pot and recipes and we had the most fun!

It's been years since we've used it and I always enjoy it. I've just kinda waited for everyone to be big enough to man their own skewer and not get injured. We have arrived, folks. It was a hit!

The boys "dressed up", we set a pretty table, and exchanged valentines with the boys. Our first course was classic cheese fondue. We dipped Italian bread and granny smith apples. I, personally, could have eaten the entire pot of cheese without any help. It was so good! I think they were bigger fans of the bread with cheese and just ate the apples plain. Not quite ready for the whole fruit and cheese deal.

Our next course was the meat and vegetables. We did chicken and steak and for veggies we had zucchini, squash, mushrooms, and potatoes cooked in seasoned bullion. That was tasty too, but took a {long} while. We had fun while we waited though.

And just FYI...any leftover meat and veggies can be thrown into the crock pot for vegetable beef/chicken soup!
After we finished our main course it was time for everyone's favorite. Chocolate fondue! We were all in heaven! So, so yummy! We fondued (?) strawberries, bananas, angel food cake, and marshmallows. Oh-my-goodness.

If you've never had a fondue experience, at home or a restaurant like The Melting Pot, I highly recommend it. I'm not sure a couple of mine are ready for a public fondue dining experience, but I am so glad we did it at home. It will definitely be on our family fun list!
Any who, here are a couple of pics from the rest of our Vday...

 Our traditional Valentine's donut breakfast wasn't spoiled by the ice and snow! Daddy saved the day!
 Oliver's cow tail valentines and his decorated box. LOVE it!

You know you're a boy mom get a Buzz Lightyear card. My heart melted.
How 'bout y'all? Do you celebrate with or with out children? What are your Valentine's traditions?

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Здравствуйте! {Hello!}

Здравствуйте, from Sochi, Russia! Or at least it seems like we're in Russia. We are on day 2 of a pretty intense winter storm. I've lived here all my life and can't remember a wave of wintery weather ever lasting this long. If we get enough snow to appreciate, it's usually all dumped in a few hours. But this monster came upon us Tuesday night and continued until this morning. It's been a crazy mix of sleet, freezing rain, and snow.


{This is pretty, but if you follow me on Instagram, I personally like the #waterlogue pic I posted the other day of my house in "greener" times. You?}

Between the snow two weeks ago and now this, it has been a huge treat for us because it doesn't happen very often. I guess all of the boys' prayers and wishful thinking has paid off. They've been all grins for two days straight. We grabbed anything that could be a makeshift sled {skim-boards, cookie sheets, laundry baskets, etc.} and headed for the hills!

There were many threats of power outages before and during the storm, but thankfully they never came to pass. I spent the majority of Wednesday morning cooking, organizing, and cleaning just in case. We at least got some yummy treats out of my frenzy. 'Cause who don't love a cupcake when you don't have any power! That's my idea of preparedness.

A few things this southern girl learned for sure...1) I am definitely a southerner because I was scrounging anything furry, fleecy, and water-repellent to put on my kids. 2) I don't like being cold - at all. And 3) I can do without the perpetual pile of slushy clothes and boots at my front door.

From snow-storm prepping to sledding until the street lights came on, I must say we have all thoroughly enjoyed it.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

My Hands are Cold but My Heart is Warm

We are hunkered down again, as we await winter storm #2. We have had the weirdest winter this year. Sixty degrees one day - blizzard the next. We can't seem to get it right here in ol' South Cackalacky!

So while it's freezing and I'm watching the sleet and snow come down, I thought I'd blog about some sweet things that have been warming my heart these days.

First of all, I started reading Chasing God by Angie Smith back in January. It's a really good read! The book digs deep into the question, are you following God or chasing after Him? I often wonder this and struggle with it. Am I doing OK in "my walk"? Am I truly following God? And what does following God look like? Surely it looks like perfection. But perfect, I am far from. {Surprise!} Angie Smith says, "our goal is to walk in a way that makes us more like Him every day." So I try. Constantly. I always have. Struggling with self-doubt and anxiety doesn't make it easy. Wouldn't it be nice to get a progress report periodically?

Well, I truly believe that God has planted angels among us. I got a little "progress report" the other day and it warmed my heart!

"J" is a precious 3rd grader who is in school with my boys. It's very apparent that he has a very special relationship with the LORD and I have heard several stories about him speaking TRUTH to others in their hour of need. I truly believe "J" is a vessel for HIM. He is certainly "fit to be used".

Secondly, My mom posted this on my Facebook wall. I fell in love. I vow to watch it anytime I feel blue because it is just the cutest! It was originally posted several months ago, but I'm just now seeing this and smile every time I think about it. She gets double points because I adore a baby in glasses!!

And lastly. On Instagram I follow @heartandhomecollection, and the other day she posted that she was taking pre-orders for the Betsey Cavallo Nativity. I have a "thing" for Nativity sets. I first saw it a while ago on my friend Erin's blog and I just HAD to have it. I have been trying to get my hands on one for a few years now, but they ALWAYS sell out. I am thrilled to say...I'm going to have one this Christmas!

Knowing that buying Christmas decorations is not really in my budget this time of year, I sent an email to a few folks to let them know it was something I'd like to have. I DID NOT THINK any of them would read it and/or take it seriously. But they did. Somebody actually took this crazy fool seriously!

Any who... just some heart-warming things on a really cold day! I'm looking forward to next week when we can thaw out. Come on 60+!

What's warming your heart these days?

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Throwback Thursday

I've never done a Throwback post! So I'm gonna throw it back all the way to this past weekend!

1) The Superbowl: A few things...

A. The National Anthem. BEST EVER! Classy, professional, and the way it should be sung. Thank you, Renee Fleming.

B. Commercials. Not impressed. However, I am a HUGE fan of the Muppets and just adored the Toyota Highlander commercial with Terry Crews. Precious! It was a 2 thumbs up for the whole family.

C. Goooooo Sliders! Since Denver forgot to show up to the game, we needed something to cheer about. I made the buffalo sliders and they were AWESOME! The Avocado Ranch spread made the sandwich and could easily be used on burgers or fish tacos. Delish. Link to recipe here.
2) GIRLS! I have heard for a while now that the HBO series Girls is really good. So I finally got around to putting the HBO Go App on my kindle and started watching it. It's dark, raunchy, dysfunctional, and hilarious all at the same time. I've got a while to go before I am caught up, but so far, so good!

3) So this may not seem "blog-worthy" but to me it's definitely worth documenting. I mentioned in my last post that Shan and I actually got a date night Saturday night. Well, we went to our real-life "Cheers"... The Publick House. They are known for great pub food and beverages, but most of all, their wings! I have been ordering their "SpiT" {spicy teriyaki} wings for almost 20 years. EVERY TIME WE GO. Well, since WW came into the picture I 've been trying to make better choices. And while it probably wasn't the best choice, it was definitely better than the wings. It went down in my history book... I ordered the "special", Stuffed Flounder, with rice and steamed veggies. What?!?! I know any Pub goers reading this will shudder.
It wasn't bad. But it sho wasn't the "SpiT" wings!
Okay! That's all, folks. Thanks for throwing back with me!

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Life Lately: February 2014

Do y'all ever keep waiting on things to slow down, but it seems that they never do.

I often think certain seasons are more hectic than others, but I really think they are all hectic!
Good - hectic.

With three boys in three different age groups, all with different interests, it gets a little challenging at times to make time for nothingness. I so crave it sometimes.

For instance, our weekends. Lately they have been full of basketball games and {very cold} football games. Sam plays basketball in our church league and Fulton plays football through the YMCA. Shannon coaches both. Don't ask how! Because most weekends we have to divide and conquer and their games tend to overlap and are always on opposite sides of town.

Fulton finished up winter football this past weekend, so we'll have a small reprieve before he starts spring football with Upward.

Sam is on the home-stretch with basketball and will begin spring soccer practices very soon.

And Oliver is just a little monkey these days, who has lots of play dates and is eager to get back on the soccer field again with his buddies.

On an academic note, Shannon and I are in utter disbelief that Sam is beginning the orientation and course registration process for middle school! {Gasp!} We actually went Monday night for the tour. Y'all may remember the trauma I suffered his first year of 5K. I'm quite fearful of what lies ahead. Not for him, for me! This has all gone by insanely fast. It makes my heart break just a little.

Our lives lately are busy. Shan with work, officiating, and volunteer obligations. Me, with my hands in all kinds of pots - subbing, the JLC, church, the boys, designing, this blog and trying to maintain a life outside all of that. It gets kinda kooky. We rarely have time for a date night but we actually made time for one this past weekend with our buddies, John and Jen. Yay, us! It's so easy to forget how much you really do like each other when you don't take time to do the things you used to do.

It's not unusual for me to resemble a chicken with my head cut off. And there ain't no shame in my ability to take a short siesta in the carpool line. Though it's overwhelming, I truly feel so blessed by all the goodness life has to offer us. All the things that keep us busy. The good things. My boys are healthy and active. My husband has a great career. I have a very active life with my boys and all my "pots". We don't have room for a whole lot of "nothingness" these days. So, I guess I just have to embrace this time of my life and know that there is a season for everything! Nothingness will come when it's supposed to.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Post from the Past

Summer 2013 Highlights: Chicago!!!

I started this post way back in the Summer of 2013! But I am so super slack about uploading my pics to my computer that I am just now getting around to posting this. I've also been dreaming LOTS about warmer weather, summer vacays, etc. because I am SO SICK OF BEING COLD! And rumor has it that the groundhog saw his shadow. UHG!!!

If you were one of the chosen to receive the Baker Christmas card and letter, you've already heard and seen a smidge of this. So feel free to go on about your everyday business.

Y'all know by now that I am NOT a world traveler. But last summer I had the opportunity to go to Chicago with Shan while he was there on business for a several days. What a treat!

I absolutely LOVED it! I so enjoyed all the "big city" sights and sounds. It was like country-come-to-town as I wandered alone along Michigan Ave. in awe of all the fabulous shopping and gorgeous architecture. And y'all, they play music in the sidewalk gardens downtown! It is so neat! The summertime temps are lovely, so I also took a few long walks by the lake and soaked in the sunshine and cool breeze.

Here we are at The Bean! Crazy lookin' thing that Bean is. Still don't know the significance. Helen, if you're reading this, do tell.

We stayed at the wonderfully historic Palmer House Hilton. The décor and artwork left me feeling a little jealous that I wasn't around to see the great entertainers of the Rat Pack era. The hallways are lined with photographs of great celebrities; Frank Sinatra, George Burns, Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis Jr., Rita Hayworth and so many other talented and beautiful men and women. I just couldn't get enough of the rich history on the walls of that hotel.

The famous Tiffany-designed peacock doors at The Palmer House
And you gotta love the stellar quality of this pic! The non-English-speaking tourist with 3 cameras around his neck acted like he'd never seen an iphone. I didn't have the heart to tell him it was terrible and that I'd like another shot. :-/

We enjoyed a couple of date nights at local restaurants and pubs and some touristy hot spots. But the highlight of our trip was definitely our night on the town and visit to The Second City. I felt like I was in my long lost home. The improv was FANTASTIC. I just wanted to jump on stage so stinkin' bad! I got my koozie and t-shirt and I may or may not have cried on the ride back to the hotel because I did NOT want to leave!!!

This was our first night at a fun bar overlooking the Chicago River. Shannon's customer treated us to a great meal and conversation.
Such a beautiful night and the view was amazing! I loved watching all the boats pass by.
 Looking out over the city at The Signature Room, I thought I would barf, but I was really okay on the 95th floor of that John-Hancock Building. I had to force myself to stop thinking about my exit strategy in the event of an emergency. Anxiety much?

Can you see the "Go Hawks" in the building behind us? 
We were there during the NHL Stanley Cup and the excitement was overwhelming. I felt like I had lived in Chicago all my life and suddenly became a die-hard Blackhawks fan! And I don't even like hockey or understand it. Isn't it like soccer with skates and a stick?
The Second City stage... and by the way, there is a FANTASTIC Mexican restaurant downstairs from the improve in the event you are looking for something yummy before or in between shows. Best guac and mojitos!

And even though ol' Oprah was not taping at HARPO when we were there, I still had to get a pic in front of the sign before we left. The trip just would not have been complete. The only thing that would have made it better is if "my Gayle" had been with me for the photo opp.

It's not often that we get to get away together, especially when he's working, but Shan and I had such a wonderful time together. I'm dying to go back and do more shopping and even more touristy stuff! Fingers crossed that his customer will need him soon.