Monday, January 31, 2011

Myrtle Beach

As you know a few weeks ago our National Lifelines Team met for a week in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Now, before you get too jealous let me tell you that it was COLD- truly cold (being from Wisconsin and living in Maine I think I am qualified to make this judgement)! But that was probably okay because we were really there to work. And let's be honest, when you get a team of Lifelines staff together near the beach for a week of meetings maybe it's best if it's cold! It would have been nice (especially for our kids) if the weather had been warm but I'm certain we wouldn't have gotten as much done! And we did get quite a bit done. We talked through and made plans for recruiting and expanding Lifelines. We discussed training and how to get our staff the best training possible. We shared about how God is using Lifelines across the country and about different strategies that are working (and those that aren't too). We talked about our effectiveness in evangelism and the importance of serving. We planned for our time at our staff conference this summer and got serious about raising money for the ministry. And much, much more. But maybe best of all was that we just got to be together with our wonderful Lifelines National Team. I honestly love them- they are some of the best people I know. And if I am going to be stuck inside all day meeting and planning for a week there is just nobody I would rather be with (except for maybe a few of you too)!
We worked hard that week. And while we worked our children played...together. As much as I love being with these friends I almost enjoy watching our kids play together more. They are friends. They only see each other once or twice a year but they honestly love being together. This year we decided to let Lily share a bedroom with her friend Libby (the daughter of our friends John and Kelly in Virginia). It was like one big week long sleepover for her- and it went fantastic really! The girls were so well behaved. At night before they fell asleep and almost every morning when they woke up they would have "talk time" as they called it- just talking and telling each other crazy stories. It was so sweet. Lily thrives when she's around friends in a social environment and so she was totally in her element this week. It was really fun to watch.

Eli had a little bit of a harder time. He also enjoyed being around (mostly watching) the other kids (including two other little ones pretty much the exact same age as him). But he had a really hard time being in childcare for most of the day (even though we were in the same house). It seems to have sparked some somewhat intense separation anxiety. I think it was always there, but this just seemed to put it over the edge. And thus in the last few weeks we have spent a lot of time holding our little man. I try to remind myself to enjoy it (since I know he won't want to be held forever), but it has made some things a little challenging! So this trip was a little hard for him, but thankfully we had the aquarium and the beach to make up a bit for some of those other times. Oh, and my very favorite memory of the trip came the night before we left. Our whole team went to a Japanese Steakhouse for dinner (the kind where they cook the meal right in front of you). In the middle of cooking the chef lit the whole grill on fire and it erupted like a giant ball of fire. Oh my, if you could only have seen Eli's face (and if only I had brought my camera)- he just sat there staring at the fire in total wide eyed wonder (with his mouth in a complete "O")- and he held it like that for what seemed like 30 seconds! It had our entire group cracking up!

And these are my favorite pictures of the year (so far at least)! The day before we left we headed out to the beach for the sunrise (which really was incredible). These are my first ever attempt at outdoor silhouettes and I am really very happy with how they turned out. I took the first two pictures of Joe with the kids and I set the last one up so that my friend Heather could get one of our whole family. I absolutely learned a few things about this and I can pretty much guarantee that you'll be seeing shots similar to these again as I am determined to recreate that family shot (only with Eli looking at the ocean this time)! My family are such good sports.

So there you have it- our week in Myrtle Beach!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Why I'm Posting...

Nobody has questioned me, but I feel like I still want to share WHY I am posting about our year long family service challenge. I guess that I just want people to know that I'm NOT blogging about it because I think we are doing some wonderful amazing thing. I'm also not blogging about it so that people can see what we do and "pat us on the back." Nope. There are reasons though that I am blogging about it. And in case you are curious- here they are:
1. To encourage other families with small children to consider serving with their kids too! There are so many of you out there who already are (we by NO means have the market cornered on this one)- so hopefully we can be an encouragement to each other. Because, let's be honest, some days just getting the kids dressed and fed is a battle!
2. To give other families some ideas about different ways they can serve with their kids. When I first started thinking about this idea I looked in a few places to try to find some specific ideas/ways to serve with our kids and I was surprised by how little I found. I did, of course, find a few good ideas but not nearly as many as I was hoping for. So maybe some families out there will enjoy hearing about some of the things we do. And if any of you have ideas please DO share as I would love to hear them! I'm finding that this might be the hardest part (and biggest deterrent).
3. Because I blog about so many of the other things in our family life- it would feel sort of strange to leave this out. I by no means think that his is a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but it is sort of a big deal for our little family (like I said- some days just getting us all dressed is hard)!:)
4. To help keep me accountable. Our family has set a goal of doing one act of service a week. I know that there may be weeks that this just doesn't happen, but if at all possible I want to try. Knowing that all of you out there know about it really does help me feel accountable (and thus, hopefully, more likely to follow through).
5. And ultimately I want to give God the glory. If anybody at all is affected in a good way by the things that God is leading us to do I want God to get the credit (because truthfully it is only because of HIM that I am able to serve anybody but myself). I would love it if some of the people on the other end of our little acts of service are interested enough to come to my blog and check out the motivation behind what we are doing. I hope that they would find that it's our relationship with God alone that gives us the motivation, hope, and love to be able to do anything for anybody other than ourselves.
So there you have it. Hopefully you'll hear from us each week about this and I would love to hear back from some of you too (especially if you have good ideas)! There may not always be pictures (which is strange for me) because it's not always appropriate for me to be photographing what we do (but sometimes it will be okay). I hope you'll enjoy reading anyway!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

52 Weeks of Service: Week 4

Once again this week our little family service project did not go as planned and I once again had to find something entirely different. I sense a theme indeed.
Thankfully this week it gave me the time to do something for someone very dear to me. A good friend of mine has been having a rough few weeks and I've been sort of racking my brain what I could do to help (other than pray). So the other day Lily and I bought a few songs from I-Tunes and made her a little CD of some music that really encourages me (and I thought might do the same for her). Then we colored some handmade cards and I asked Lily what she really likes about this friend and wrote down her answer on Lily's card. And despite the fact that she lives in our town we mailed it (because who doesn't love getting mail?)!
Simple. But I think that Lily gets it because she has been making cards for people ever since (for her babysitter who came on Friday, for me today because I'm not feeling well, etc...)!
P.S. Yes, I realize that for some reason when I first started posting about this little service challenge we are on that I wrote that there are 56 weeks in a year (and even called it our 56 weeks of Service)! Ummm....don't know where my head was on that one... I do realize that there are only 52 weeks in a year (though a few more acts of service couldn't hurt)!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Aquarium

Eli loved the sting rays (and splashing in the water)- this one was "waving" at him!

These two aren't very good pictures, but they are the only ones I got of both Lily and Eli touching the sting rays (although they both touched them a few times).

Amazing jellyfish

Eli dancing under the aquarium.

The shark tunnel.
Lily and her friend Libby were a little nervous to walk through the tunnel with the sharks so they held hands (too cute)! Together their fear quickly faded!

The Saw Shark (from underneath).

Eli "touching" the saw shark in the shark tunnel.

Two other sharks named Caleb and Micah!

I think these are my two favorite shots of the day! The first one is just Lily and the second one is Lily and Micah.

On our day off in South Carolina we joined our friends (the family from the last post) for a morning at the aquarium. So fun! I just love aquariums and I love that little ones can enjoy them as much as older kids (and adults- in my case). It really is a great family outing for a family with a 3 year old and a one year old!
It wasn't a huge aquarium, but it was really just about right for us to be able to do everything (a few things more than once) in one morning. We all loved petting the sting rays. It took Lily a little bit to warm up to the idea (she was a little nervous a first)- but once she did she was super excited and tried over and over again to get them (which she did a few times)! I think that Eli really loved most of it (watching the fish, splashing in the water, and just running around). We also really enjoyed the shark tunnel and the two dive shows that we got to see.
It was one of the hardest places ever to take pictures (really dark inside, but with all of the fish tanks it was hard to use flash too)- so I had to get a little creative (and just be okay with not getting all of the pictures I would have liked). Overall it was a really fun morning spent with really great friends!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

I Love This Family!

Just a few pictures I took during our time together in South Carolina.

I love this family.

Dan and Heather were there the day that Joe and I met. They spent that whole summer with us. Dan and Joe were best friends in college and after and he was the best man in our wedding. I count Heather as a close friend- a rare mix of someone that I've been able to share the most serious parts of my life with and someone with whom I'm also able to just have fun and laugh and feel like a kid again with!

We have shared tents and apartments and spent months together working in the same place. And oh how I wish (more than I can tell you) that we lived right next to each other (or even just in the same area) year round. Alas- this wonderful family now lives in Vermont and I have to settle for seeing them a few times a year.

Yes, I love this couple and this family. Their 3rd born (Micah) is just a week younger than Lily and if I believed in arranged marriage this would be a done deal! Instead I'll just wait and pray that maybe someday we will get to share our daily lives with them again this side of heaven.


My little boy started saying MaMa this weekend.

Melt. My. Heart.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Superbowl Bound!

The Green Bay Packers are going to the Superbowl!!!!!!!!
Okay, I just had to celebrate that for a second!
If you know me you know that, being from Wisconsin, I am a serious Green Bay Packer fan. No, I'm not just saying that- I really am a big fan...much to the amazement of the women in Joe's family (I love you all). I watch all the games I can and for reasons that I can't even fully explain I feel emotionally involved in the team's fate!:) Needless to say I'm feeling pretty good right now!
I can say this- that Green Bay Packer football is a culture where I come from.
I am proud to say that Lily has entered into that culture (at the young age of three)!:) She is seriously a Packer fan! Now, I will admit that, earlier in the season I definitely encouraged her (okay, strongly encouraged her) to cheer for Green Bay. But since then it has taken very little on my part to convince her that the Packers are the best football team. In fact, she will tell you flat out that the Green Bay Packers are her favorite (and best) team! Joe will try to convince her otherwise, but she's just not buying it (smart girl).
Yesterday afternoon I was in another room when I heard the Playoff pregame show come on. A few moments later I heard Lily yell, "Touchdown! Packers!"- apparently they were showing highlights and she was quite excited. A few minutes later I heard her explaining to her My Little Pony that, "the Packers are my favorite team and if they win today they are going to the Superbowl." Right then I was one proud mama.
Through most of the game yesterday Lily was just playing (she is three after all). She would stop to jump and cheer when the Packers scored. But, for the last half of the 4th quarter she watched every play with me! And oh my the adorable things that came out of her mouth. Like..."they just need to be brave and strong" and "they can do it, I just know they can!"
She held my hand and covered my eyes and told me not to watch when I was nervous and she cheered like a real fan with me. And the picture above is from our favorite play of the game when Raji intercepted the ball and ran it in for a touchdown. I'll never forget her jumping from the table (yes, I was letting her stand on our coffee table) and swinging her around in excitement (I told you I get sort of emotional)! She may not totally understand the game, but what she lacks in football knowledge she makes up in enthusiasm!
Joe says that I've brainwashed her, but really I didn't. She may be a Mainer born and raised here, but that Wisconsin blood runs strong and deep.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Snow Cave

The snow cave from the outside.

Looking through the entrance at Joe and Lily working inside.

Removing a few more snow chunks.

Joe and Lily inside (there was plenty of room)!

The seat/bed that Joe carved out for Lily!

Below: Even Indy decide to check out the cave!

No, these pictures weren't from our trip outside yesterday (though we DID go outside and we DID spend nearly as much time getting ready as we did actually outside)! But it was still fun for a few minutes watching Lily make snow angels (okay, I made one too) and watching Eli karate chop the snow (it was so deep that was about all he could do)!

These pictures were from a few weeks ago (back in December). After our first big snowfall of the year Joe was so excited to build a snow cave in our front yard! I helped a bit, but he and Lily spent hours outside carving out this cave (which as you can see was quite large)!

And this is one of the things that I love most about my husband. I love it when he does things like this with our kids. With our family really. I love creating sort of magical memories like this for Lily and Eli. I love getting to be a kid again for a bit too (and I think that Joe likes this also)!

Snuggling In

It is VERY cold outside and so we are snuggling in (even Indy)!
Joe is leading a trip today and so the kids and I are holding down the fort here. Actually we are about to have a "circus"- complete with juggling and jumping through hoops and a big pink ball and a sit n' spin!:)
And then...well...actually...I think I'm just going to brave it and take the kids outside for some fresh air. There is so much beautiful snow on the ground (about a foot that we got yesterday)- and it's so hard to resist! So, I'll probably spend more time bundling the kids up than we'll actually be outside, but oh well! Yes, we're going outside.
And then we'll come back in for a soapy bubble bath to warm up and more snuggle time by the fire! Sounds like a cozy day. Hope yours is too!

Friday, January 21, 2011

52 Weeks of Service: The First 3 Weeks

Now remember that I said most of these would be simple things!:) So, the first 3 weeks of our year long family service project were fun. But some of them didn't go exactly as I had planned.
Ever since I began thinking about this I knew what I wanted to do the very first week. You see, there is this sweet little old lady that lives down the street from us. Honestly I don't even know her name. But quite often when we are out walking with the dog and the kids she peeks her head outside her house and says hello and comments on how cute our kids are. She thought Lily was a boy for quite a while when Lily was young, but I can easily look past that!:) Anyway, I've just been waiting for this first week with the plan being that Lily and I would make her some homemade muffins and have a real visit with her. Too often when we would see her the dog would be pulling us and be anxious to go and we never got to talk with her very long. So somehow I envisioned getting to know her a little better over muffins and I just sort of imagined how much she would enjoy having the kids over. Except that, well, she's not there anymore. Joe said he hasn't seen her in over a month and her house is all dark and closed up and the snow is piling up in her driveway. Our best guess is that she has gone to a nursing home or to live with family. And now I find myself wishing that I hadn't waited so long to make an extra effort with her. And so I find that already, in week one, God has been teaching me something.
So while that didn't work out what we did end up doing was filling a need and serving our church. All four of us went over to church one night after dinner and helped take down and put away all of the church's Christmas decorations. The couple that always does it seemed thankful for the extra help and it was a great, simple way for our kids to get involved in serving our church. Lily was especially excited to help put away all of the many wreath bows!
Week two also involved a sort of last minute change of plans (as again my first idea didn't pan out). This week, however, we were in South Carolina. I knew right away though that I wanted to do something for the two staff women that were watching our kids all week while we were in meetings. So on the morning of our day off Lily and I snuck around like little elves and made a surprise breakfast for the girls which we left outside their bedroom door (see the picture above). I think there is almost extra joy is being able to surprise someone and I know that Lily really liked being a little "breakfast elf" of sorts!:)
And finally, we just finished our third week the other day. To do something to serve our community we gathered up all of our old baby food (which we had lots of because Eli just flat out refused to eat the stuff) and one of our gently used blankets with the hopes of donating these things to the Humane Society (which we have done before). One again though we had some change of plans (I'm sensing a theme here). This time Joe took the kids (while I worked) and unfortunately the Human Society was closed. So Joe took them to our very small local animal shelter. They couldn't take the food, but put the blanket to use right away for some cats (which Lily loved). And on the way home Joe and the kids found a home for the baby food at our local food kitchen.
So those were our first 3 weeks of family service projects. Small things. "Our" plans may have changed a lot, but I have no doubt that God's plan for our family remains well intact. And I WILL be keeping a close eye out for the lady who lived down our street and if I get the chance again I won't let it pass by!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Cousins' 52 Weeks of Service

We are just a simple little family trying to teach our kids how to love God and love others (and trying to learn the same while we are at it).

More and more these days I have been feeling that God wants me and my family to show our love (and thus His love) for others by serving them.

God tells us in Mark 10:45, "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Jesus came not to be served, but to serve. And if God's own son came to serve then would should that mean for me? It probably means that if I want to love others like God wants me to then I should probably seek to serve, seek to put others first, and seek out ways to creatively and simply love the people around me.

It sounds pretty easy really. Except that I'm human. And busy. And tired. And selfish (if I'm being honest). But maybe that means that I need to serve even more than the people around me need anything I have to offer. I have a feeling that God wants me to do these things not just to show His love to the people around me, but also to do a work on MY heart.

And so God gave me this idea (through a couple of other sources combined) to engage my family with a year of various service projects. To be honest I sort of tried to talk myself out of it towards the end of December telling myself that it's just too much to try to attempt with a three year old and a one year old. But then God just sort of laid it on my heart again that there will never be an "easy" time to love people the way He wants me too. And that there may be no better time to start showing my children (rather than just telling them) how to serve others (instead of always being served).

So, we're doing it (with God's help that is). We are going to attempt one act of family service each week this year. The Cousins' 52 Weeks of Service. Simple things (and maybe a few "bigger" ones along the way). Just something small each week that we can purposely do as a family to serve our friends, our church, our neighbors, our community, and even complete strangers. I think it's going to be challenging. And fun. And humbling. And I think that our little family is going to get much more out of it than anybody on the other end of our acts of service. It's my heart and prayer that God would use even these small things to bring Himself glory.

And I'll keep all of you updated along the way!

We Are Snow People

It's true- we are snow people!

I love snow. Maybe it's to be expected since I grew up in Wisconsin and now live in Maine. I'm sure it also has something to do with the fact that I'm never the one that has to shovel it! But even Joe loves the snow (and he IS the one doing all the shoveling). But Lily actually loves the snow more than anybody else in our little family. She LOVES it! And I love that she loves it.
Last week we were in South Carolina and I was actually bummed when I found out that we were getting a good snow storm back home (over a foot of snow)- and we were missing it. Maybe I would have felt differently if it were sunny and warm on the beach where we were- but it wasn't. And my theory has always been (and probably always will be) that if it's cold there might as well be snow. Snow is fun and exciting and festive. There is so much you can do in the snow- and there is, well, very little you can do in cold mud and dead grass. Yes, there might as well be snow! So bring it on winter- this family is ready to strap on the snowshoes!:)
P.S. These pictures are from Lily's first snowman of the year (just a few days before Christmas)!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

We're Back!

We're back! Home.

I know- we've actually been back home for a few days now, but it's sort of taken that long to really feel back and settled in! We flew in Saturday night just in time to watch Green Bay just crush Atlanta in a fantastic playoff football game (Even though I was totally exhausted there was no way I could pass up watching the game with my nephews)!

It's good to be home for a bit. I think we have about 2 months until our next big trip!:)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Family Picture

Lily LOVES to draw and color and paint and just generally being creative (just this morning she was making a stuffed animal doll out of paper towels for her donkey)! I would say though that her paintings and drawings are pretty abstract!:) Sometimes they represent something, but often they don't (and she is perfectly fine with that). But the other day she did this wonderful family portrait of us and I just had to share! The two big people are Joe and I and the three little ones are her and Eli and Indy. I have no idea what the 4th little green thing on the right hand side is, but it could be anything...the kitty or bunny she wishes she had...who knows! Overall a pretty good family portrait (though it leaves me wondering if I, in the pink, always look that frazzled)!:)

Monday, January 17, 2011

More Fall Flashbacks

Just before Halloween last fall we had a very fun play date with my friend Becky and her kids at our house. I just love this little family! Becky and I actually met at our childbirth education classes when I was pregnant with Lily (she was pregnant with Addie who was born just a few days after Lily)! We talked a bit at the classes and then happened to see each other everywhere. I literally saw her at almost every doctor's appointment that I had (including the afternoon that I was in labor)! She is just one of those people who is so easy and fun to be around. And even better is that her second baby (Caleb) is just a month older than Eli! I just love how well and easily our kids play together. I just wish that we got to see them more (she is one busy mama). Becky, let's get together soon!

P.S. The reason that I have so many pictures of Addie and Caleb is because I tried to do a quick little photo shoot for Becky. Good thing her kids are so adorable because I just couldn't get very many pictures and it was SOOOO chilly out that day (I do believe that it started snowing shortly after this)- none of the kids really lasted very long outside!