2016 Precap

It's the final hour of 2015 so I'm tempted as always to recap the events of the past year and marvel at the adventures, the silliness, the ups and downs.  Of course I could still do that, but I'm running out of minutes and for the most part I've already relished in those moments.

I read an innovative idea that I loved on the Pioneer Woman's blog today that suggested Precapping our resolutions as if they already happened, as a way to kick off the New Year.  So here are my goals and hopes that have yet to occur, as if they already did.  Let that sink in for a moment.  Then proceed.

My 2016 Precap

I woke up consistently at the same time every day, before my children, spent time in the Word and actually composed a few blog posts.  Turns out, there are plenty of hours in the day to do the things my soul requires, I still have worthwhile thoughts, and I'm a better person for it.

I changed out of stretchy pants and into pants that button (or should, anyway) a few times a week.  It was a genuine wake up call to my waistline.  I didn't stop eating chocolate because of it, but it did help me reconsider my soft drink habit.

Speaking of soft drinks, I kicked them to the curb entirely except on Sunday with our weekly Firehouse Subs indulgence.  I've filled my carbonated void with ice water, unsweetened tea, and coffee.  Because I'm human.  Not a robot.

I started keeping a food journal which is terrifying and convicting.  Turns out I eat a lot of miniature candy bars.  And chips.  And McDonald's chicken nuggets.  Seeing it on paper is pretty embarrassing.  Letting Sam read it is even worse.  Now I just lie and write "raw broccoli and green smoothies."  Sam knows better.  My pants still don't button.

I have purged mountains of clutter from our home freeing up all sorts of brain space.  It feels like the weight of the world (or ten boxes and sixteen bags of crap) has been lifted off my shoulders.  And also, our house feels a million times cleaner.  Even though I still only mop the floors twice a year.  Kidding!  (Or am I?)

I utilized my new Kindle (okay, fine, the replacement for the one that got dropped multiple times by each of my kids rendering it useless) to read various genres of books, stretching myself from my usual self-improvement, Christian-fiction, and non-fiction ruts.  I expected to be more enlightened, but since I wasn't I'll stick to what I know and love.  Unless you'd like to recommend something to me, the next books on my list are Saved without a Doubt by John MacArther, Big Love by Kara Tippetts, and Smart Women Know When to Say No by Dr. Kevin Leman.

I banned myself from Facebook from the hours of 9-3 every day so that I could wholly devote myself to the job I took on back in August 2012, teaching my children.  We might not adhere to those hours per se, but the self-imposed ban has increased productivity across the board and improved my whole attitude.  I'm not distracted by the "noise" of unimportant tidbits and news articles.  My family is benefitting from my presence.  The only thing I miss is running to share the hilarious things my kids say.  But to be honest, writing them in a spiral notebook is just as effective - and something tangible I can keep forever and share with them.  (Although, I admit, slightly less fulfilling.  No one "likes" my spiral notebook scrawlings.)

I went outside of my comfort zone and started a bible study for my homeschooling peers.  It's not perfect.  It's messy just like us.  And that's why I love it.  I might not be a details person (anymore), but I've found that when you find "your people" they don't care if things are perfect.

I put my own selfishness aside and set up more playdates, engaged in more social events, and threw caution to the wind and taught a class at our homeschool co-op.  Turns out, I don't have to be scared of people.  People are pretty cool.  Especially when you get to know them.
I have no idea what 2016 will bring, but I pray it will be blessed.  For my family and yours.  While my words are few and far between on this humble blog, I hope you know how grateful I am to you for reading it, whether faithfully or for the first time.

Happy New Year, Y'all! 
Here's hoping you'll be hearing a lot more from me in 2016!  I think I've finally got this whole "six kids thing" figured out. 

Not To Do but I Did

A few days or maybe weeks, shoot it might have been months ago, I read this brilliant idea somewhere on the internet.  When I remembered it today, I scoured the depths of the web to find the source so that I might credit them when I mentioned it only to find that dozens of folks were claiming it as their own intellectual property.  Go figure.  All I can say is that this seemingly brilliant idea was not mine.  The chances of a meaningful thought originating in this brain right now are not that great.  Unless you're looking to discuss something like, "Wouldn't it be weird if we did to adults what we do to babies?"  Like holding them and bouncing them and patting their butt to get them to go to sleep?  Or patting them on the back to make them burp?  Or, for lack of being able to locate a pacifier, sticking your finger in their mouth to get them to be quiet in public?  (Oh what's that you say?  You already saw a YouTube video about this?  See, even my newborn delirium wonderings aren't original.)

In the day and age of keeping up with the Joneses "Best Of" snapshots of lives from Pinterest and Facebook, it's easy to let the To Do list get a little overwhelming.  I have a lot of mandatory tasks each day, things like "Keep the kids alive" and "Try to teach the 1st, 3rd, and 6th grader something so we can call it a school day."  I never bother to write them on a list, but it may surprise you to know that those simple tasks take a significant chunk of time to accomplish.  The things that do make the list are my loftier goals, like "Reorganize the entire house from top to bottom" and "Fold Mt. Sheppard of laundry so that I can see even one square foot of my laundry room floor."  Somehow at the end of the day, I find that I have very few checkable items completed.

What in the world did I do all day!?!

That's where the brilliant idea from the internet suggested that instead of making a To Do list at the beginning of the day that leaves you feeling unfulfilled and anxious at the end of the day, make a "Did It" list at the end of the day that leaves you feeling satisfied by all of the things you didn't even realize you did that day.

I've meant to implement this for a long time, seeing as how my To Do lists lately result in nothing but frustration.  I can't imagine why.

Just kidding.  I know exactly why.

Here's my first go at a "Did It" list.  I think it's going to be super fulfilling.

Things I Did
1.  Ended up with as many shoes and kids as I started with after departing the Chick-Fil-A playground.
2.  Had a conversation with my 22 month old that did not involve any shrieking, by either party.
3.  Completed a worldview lesson that led to an interesting conversation about how my children would describe me to someone that went a little something like this:
Me:  If you had to describe my physical attributes to someone, what would you tell them?
Ben: You have a lot of kids.
Me: I'm not sure that's a physical attribute.  Although, sometimes it does feel as though you're attached to me.
Sarah:  You have freckles.
Me:  I do?  That's my predominant trait?
Abby:  Well...you have moles.
Ben:  You have hair.
Abby:  You have big feet.
Ben:  No!  I have big feet.
Me:  So, you would tell people I have a lot of kids, moles, and smaller feet than Ben?
Abby:  You have brown hair.
Leah:  And brown eyes.
Abby:  You look a lot different since you had Hannah.
Me:  I sure hope so.
Sarah:  You like striped pants.
Me:  I'm the girl in the striped pajamas.
Abby: You have pretty teeth.
Ben:  You're a vampire!  In Pre-K everyone used to say if you have pointy teeth, you're a vampire.
Me: She didn't say I have pointy teeth, she said I have pretty teeth.
Ben:  I know. I said you have pointy teeth.
4.  Cared so much about my kids that it brought me to tears around 8pm.
5.  Refrained from losing my patience until about 9pm.
6.  Let my first and only "yell" fly around 10pm.
7.  Fed a baby approximately a dozen times.  Or at least it felt like it.
8.  Wiped up about half a gallon of regurgitated milk.
9.  Showered.  Twice.
10.  Washed a load of clothes without forgetting about them in the washer.
11.  Polished off a chocolate cake.
12.  Thought long and hard about exercising.
13.  Danced to Mariah Carey-esque music in my kitchen after the kids were in bed.
14.  Counted that as exercise.
15.  Tricked the kids into learning about Henry Hudson at dinnertime.
16.  Practiced skip counting 7's with Abby while driving around town.  (Unexpected benefit, Leah has them down now too.  Her favorite is 49.)
17.  Resisted the urge to swing through the Dunkin' Donuts drive thru for an afternoon pick-me-up.
18.  Removed a splinter from a kid's butt.  (Don't even ask.)
19.  Laughed with and at my kids.
20.  Finished this blog post.

Definitely ought to do that more often.  You should totally try it.

Mrs.Tech Support (not exactly)

It's 2am.  I'm supposed to show up to teach something from the book of Genesis to a class of three year olds in about 6 and a half hours, and I will, but for now I have a (hopefully very quick) something to say.

When Hannah was but eleven days old, I sat my computer on the half wall in our living room to keep it safe (or so I thought) from my children.  This computer has twice been repaired by Asus, once under warranty and once out of pocket (cha-ching!), because it has a very fragile touchscreen that shatters if you so much as sneeze by it.  (Or step on it or drop it off a bed, but who's keeping track?)  As my very-responsible Ben walked through the living room, he noticed that three-year-old Leah had grabbed my laptop off it's apparently-not-so-safe perch in an effort to watch Netflix on it.  He dutifully confiscated the computer and put it the safest place he could think of - on top of the refrigerator.


Instead of putting it safely on top of the fridge, he rested it primarily on the door so that when Sarah opened the fridge to pour herself a cup of juice, the whole thing came crashing to the floor.

You can guess what the screen looked like after falling six feet onto a tile floor.  (No, I didn't take a picture. It was too painful to bear.)

I, of course, immediately cried, a reaction that probably would have occurred on one of my best days, but at least I had the excuse of blaming it on my postpartum haze  Having just gotten the computer repaired to the tune of $150+ a couple of months ago, all I could think was how that money was just flushed down the toilet.  I was never going to have a computer again.  I can never have nice things.  My life is over.  (Or something to that dramatic effect.)

In our home, Sam is Tech Support.  (No, really.  He literally worked for Tech Support in college.  He has the t-shirt and everything.)  I defer all computer related inquiries, repairs, decisions to him.  It's his "thing" and he's good at it.  After handling the warranty repair phone calls, and coughing up the cash to have it repaired the second time, I just couldn't stomach asking him to deal with this a third time.  Somehow, the "guts" of the computer were still perfectly functional, so Sam began contemplating ways to convert it into a desktop computer.  It would have worked, but I was dissatisfied with that option.  I decided to pull a Scartlett O'Hara and think about it the next day.  That doesn't usually work for me, and instead I obsessed over it for about three weeks.  Finally, I decided to order a replacement part and take my chances at repairing it myself.  Worst case scenario - I'd finish off the computer for good and be out $22.50.  Best case scenario - I'd have a functional computer.

You see, years ago, I was kind of smart.  Somehow, I successfully completed engineering school, secured a job in my field, and actually did kind of okay in the real world.

Now days, it's hard to remember that.  My days are spent covered in stickiness, wandering around trying to remember what it is that I was doing in this room at all, repeating instructions over and over again, making overzealous to-do lists that never get completed, and trying oh so hard to feed, clothe, and educate six little people all the while doing my best not to completely fail at being a wife.

Don't get me wrong.  My current job rocks.  Wouldn't trade it for anything, and I never imagined I'd say that, but it's definitely less...validating.  There's no paycheck.  No one to tell you "Well done!"  Honestly, most of what I do goes unnoticed.  And, most of the time, that's totally cool with me.  I don't need praise or admiration.  But I do like to, every once in a while, see a job to completion and know that I did it well.

Maybe that's why it was so daggone important for me to attempt the repair.

I just needed to know that I could.

Long story short - I did.

Phew.  Still got it.  (Sort of.)

There are so many blog posts I want to get out of my head and into cyberspace.  Now, I have a means to do it.  Until my next late night...

Sweet dreams!

(PS- I would like to thank Sam for unknowingly giving me to the confidence to even attempt this.  I have watched that man successfully tackle so very many major projects and repairs with nothing but a willingness to try and youtube.  Thanks, man.  You're my inspiration.)


Hannah Rae's Birth Story (because a snazzy title is not happenin' right now)

Perhaps I should wait until the cloud of hormones has lifted and I can reminisce without getting teary-eyed.  Maybe two days after being awake for a 72+-hour consecutive stretch is the perfect time to recall the real, raw details of such an event.  I'm not sure what the proper time frame for recording a birth story is, but for me, the time to start is now.  Inevitably, this means I'll finish about a month from now because, let's face it, having a house full of company and six kids including three homeschoolers, a needy three year old, a strong-willed toddler, and a newborn isn't exactly conducive to continuous composition.

Nevertheless, I'm going to try.

On Wednesday morning, September 2, I woke up grumpy.  It was three days past my due date and I had my final prenatal appointment that afternoon, during which I was certain we would schedule an induction.  We had discussed how long the midwives would feasibly let me go and at my new practice, they strongly advise not waiting beyond 41 weeks.  In my mind, the 41 week mark was fast approaching and with each day that passed and my new baby had not yet arrived, I got more and more anxious.  Having been induced with my three girls and having had Pitocin with all five of my deliveries in some capacity for various reasons, I strenuously opposed a labor and delivery using Pitocin if I could at all avoid it.

The grandparents kept the kids while Sam and I went to Macon for the appointment.  Because of the holiday weekend, my induction was scheduled for Tuesday, September 8th.  I didn't cry.  For some reason, this time I was truly optimistic that I would go into labor on my own before then.  Jessica (my midwife) informed me that I was a good 4cm dilated, but still "thick" and high.  She stripped my membranes.  Then, Sam and I then stretched a thirty minute doctors appointment into a date to Sam's Club for a tire rotation and balance and McAlisters for dinner.  I joked that I should have had the broccoli and cheese soup because that's what I had eaten at Panera the night before I went into labor with Noah.

Around midnight that night, I started having that familiar cramping feeling of very early labor.  The contractions were stronger than Braxton-Hicks contractions, and happening regularly but only about every 15 minutes.  I would snooze for about 5 minutes, wake up from a contraction, wait for another one, doze off, and wake again a couple of minutes later.  This continued until about 3am when I woke Sam up and said, "I don't want you to get up or anything, but I think I'm in labor."  He jumped up, took a shower, and strongly encouraged me to get to the hospital.  He'd heard all of the stories about sixth babies coming fast on the side of the interstate and all of that.  (I confess, however, this sounded ideal to me.  If I could trust any husband and father to deliver a baby on the side of the road, I know Sam could do it.  He probably had an instructional youtube video saved to his phone just in case.)  I talked him out of rushing off just yet, and we took a (very) early morning walk around the neighborhood.  Plenty of contractions during that.  Then we watched an episode of Call the Midwife (seemed appropriate).  We left and headed for Macon.  I contracted regularly on the drive there.  We arrived at the hospital around 7am.  As they checked me in at OB Assessment, I could feel...well...nothing.  Not one contraction.  They hooked me up to the monitors.  Baby sounded great.  Checked my cervix.  Hmm.  Still 4cm, thick, and high.  "Are you sure you've been feeling contractions?"  I had two in the two hours I was being monitored at the hospital.  You would think by baby number six, I'd know what was going on.  Apparently, this is not necessarily correct.  For the first time in my life, I was sent home from the hospital in tears.  Not in "true" labor.

I felt like such a fool.

Sam listened patiently as I lamented that it wasn't real, that the baby was never going to come, that I felt so stupid.  He offered his always-ready encouragement.  We piddled around Macon for a bit before deciding that it would be wise to probably take a nap.  We went home and got a solid three hours.  This would prove integral as events of that night and the next day would unfold.

Thursday night I was exhausted, embarrassed, and depressed, but life went on.  We hung out with Grandmom, Grandpop, and Grammie over a meal of spaghetti and meatballs.  The grands took over bedtime, and around 11:15pm, I opted to try for some more sleep.  Not unlike the night before, when I laid down to try to rest, I was quickly woken from my slumber.  At 11:49, I had my first unmistakable contraction.  Not to be fooled again, I grabbed my phone and started the stopwatch.  I laid back down.  The contractions were coming at exact ten minute intervals.  They were more predictable and more real than the night before.  Rather than jump the gun, I opted for a warm bath to pass the time before I woke Sam up.  Around 2am, I woke him up to inform him that my contractions were between 7 and 8 minutes apart.  For the second time in as many nights, he got up and got ready to head to the hospital.  We got to Macon around 3am, but because I was insistent that I didn't want to get to the hospital too soon, we opted to extend our geocaching streak for one more day.  We had been saving a geocache near the hospital for just such an occasion.  We had hoped to search for it in daylight hours, but nevertheless, Sam searched high and low by the light of his cell phone at the corner of College Street and Georgia Avenue and at 3:30am penned "herdofsheps" to the log.  This would be the final find of our 383 consecutive day geocaching streak.

The parking garage was muggy that morning, and I tried my best to stall or at least leave our stuff in the car - I was not going to be embarrassed again by being sent home, but my efforts were for naught.  Sam convinced me to go ahead in with all of our belongings.  I picked up the phone to cross the pedestrian bridge and didn't even need to speak a word before they buzzed me over.  One look at the surveillance video and they could tell I was about to download a baby.  The experience in OB Assessment was more positive.  My contractions were still only about every 7 minutes, but given that this was my sixth baby and that there had been progress from yesterday morning (I was now 5cm, 80% effaced, and the head was actually to a numerical station for the first time in 6 babies), they went ahead and admitted me.

I was moved to Room M322, the same suite I delivered Abby in 9 years earlier.  The night nurses who would be off duty in just an hour and a half did all of the necessary administrative work and lamented that they would not be around to see whether Baby Sheppard was a boy or a girl.  Apparently, surprises are as fun for the nurses as they are for Mom and Dad.  The nurse started an IV line (as discussed with my midwives) as a precaution.  Then Alyssa (the nurse) called to touch base with my doctor.  She came back saying that they were going to start me on a Pitocin drip and my heart dropped.  Thankfully, Sam is not scared and immediately spoke up on my behalf.  I really, really didn't want Pitocin.  Especially not yet.  After speaking with my midwife again, she recalled my plan to do intermittent monitoring and no drugs.  This happened as the shift change occurred, so when Alyssa left she told me she handpicked my day nurse who was awesome with natural childbirths.  Her name was Noreen.  As soon as she told me, I realized that the room number was not the only commonality between Shep 6 and Abby's deliveries.  Noreen was also the nurse on duty when I delivered Abby.

Alyssa unhooked my monitors.  Freedom!  I was able to walk around and come and go as I pleased, unhindered by IV fluids or constant monitoring.  Every thirty minutes, I was to check back by the room for "intermittent monitoring" where they would verify that baby was enduring labor perfectly.  This was my least favorite part because I have a big tendency to wiggle, knocking the monitors haywire, and setting off alarms.  Let's just say my twenty minute strips weren't of the best quality.  I met Noreen as we passed by on a loop.  My contractions were more frequent while I was up and about, but still nowhere as close as I would have guessed.  They would not get any closer than 5-6 minutes apart until transition.

While I was dead set against Pitocin, I was totally okay with breaking my water.  In my previous experience, this is what really got labor moving as my babies tend to ride high...forever...until the water is broken.  Jessica broke my water around 8:30am, and apparently, I have a very strong bag of water.  The first tool she used didn't work to break it, so she had to resort to a second option.  It worked.  I was optimistic that things would move very quickly (as they always had previously) from that point.  I told her that I was discouraged that my contractions were still so far apart, and she said that she once had a veteran mom deliver a baby with contractions coming every ten minutes.  So, it wasn't completely unfounded.  I was making progress, at this point up to 7cm and 90% effaced, but the head was still pretty high.  I continued with the status quo - walk around, get monitored for a little while, repeat.  The contractions were definitely intensifying, but not getting any closer.  On one round through the hallways, we passed through the waiting room so I could give the kids a hug.  It was great to see their faces.

When we got back to the room, I suggested to Sam that he send the grandparents and kids to lunch since things weren't progressing as quickly as I expected.  They divvy'd up the kids and went to the cafeteria and in-hospital Chick-Fil-A.  As I reached transition, my contractions finally started coming faster and I opted to stay in the room rather than walk around.  This was around 12:30pm.  I got a call from the customer service desk saying that Pastor Bob was there to see me.  I said, "Sure send him back."  Sam said, "Are you sure?  Your contractions are coming like every other minute?"  I knew he wouldn't stay long and just wanted to pray over us, and I was happy to be the subject of an earnest man's prayers at that point.  He did just that, and left, passing through the same waiting room to greet our parents and children on his way out of the hospital - a truly perfect person for a pastoral care position.

My midwife called to check in.  She was off duty at 1pm, and supposed to be en route to Mississippi at that time.  I was rapidly approaching the time to push, but I knew I probably would not get her.  She suggested that since I'd only progressed a couple of centimeters since 4am, maybe it was time to consider Pitocin.  I relented, but it would turn out to be unnecessary.  The next face I saw was not that of my midwife, but of the head honcho in the practice, Dr. Luhrs.  She popped in because she had a couple of circumcisions to perform and knew that Jessica was on her way out of town.  It turns out, so was Dr. Luhrs, but only had to go as far as Charleston, so her drive was not as daunting.  At this point, I was 8cm and I was ready to be done.  She had me push through a contraction to see if the head came down at all when I pushed and she realized that the second bag of water had not broken.  As soon as she broke that, within literal minutes, I was ready to push.

I recounted the events of the pushing stage to Sam through watery eyes as I recalled them the next day.  I couldn't even think about it without getting emotional.  I still can't.  He said that my recollection of how the events transpired was totally different than how he saw it.  Nevertheless, I can only speak from my perspective.

When the Noreen checked me and said, "You're still at 8cm."  I said, "Are you sure?  Because I really feel like I'm ready to push."  She said, "Yes, you're at 8, but it's entirely possible that you could be delivering a baby in two minutes."  I could tell.  At this point, there were no doctors or midwives anywhere in sight.  It was 1:15pm so Jessica was supposed to be gone, Dr. Luhrs was never supposed to have been there, and the substitute midwife, Jeri was supposedly on call but hadn't yet checked in.  Poor Noreen didn't know what to do.  I was paralyzed by my contractions which were coming on top of each other without a single second in between them.  In my previous, Pitocin-regulated labors the contractions during transition were intense, but came at predictable intervals.  This time, there was not so much as 10 seconds rest in between them.  As soon as it subsided, the next one began.  I felt like I couldn't catch my breath.  I couldn't open my eyes.  I prayed and reminded myself that each contraction got me closer to finding out whether we were adding a boy or girl to our family, to finding out what color hair or if they had hair at all, to finding out how big this baby I was carrying had grown inside of me.  I felt a familiar level of frenzy about the room, but I was concentrating too hard to care.  All at once, Dr. Luhrs, Jessica, and Jeri all showed up at the same time to deliver Shep 6.  As they quickly discussed who would stay (Dr. Luhrs pulled rank and "ordered" Jessica to go on and get her oil changed before her trip, she would deliver this one), I started to panic.

That familiar phrase I've uttered each of my non-epidural deliveries came out.

With closed eyes and tensed muscles, I said, "I can't."

Jessica was still in the room and came to my side.  She held my hand and in the gentlest voice said to me, "You've done the hard work.  You're almost there.  You can do this.  You just have to focus for a little while longer."  I opened my eyes, nodded, and with renewed resolve, decided to get. the baby.  OUT OF ME.

You see, Jessica was the nurse who assisted my old doctor with Leah's delivery.  Hers was by far the most traumatic of the six, but Jessica was the first person to equip me with the knowledge that when you feel like quitting, that's when you're almost finished.  It was something I've clung to in the subsequent two deliveries, but that I needed a gentle reminder of this time, and she was right there and ready.  Even though she wasn't able to actually deliver my baby, those few words were instrumental in giving me the encouragement to keep going this time.

Maybe you watch Call the Midwife, but this scene immediately came to mind:

Dr. Turner:  Well done.  You made Brenda McKenty feel safe.
Chummy:  Magic handkerchief.  Works every time.
Dr. Turner:  No.  *You* made her feel safe.  It's the mark of a good nurse.  Midwife too.  Everything else is just mechanics.

It took one bad push and five good ones to deliver sweet baby Hannah.  After the fourth good push, her head was out.  Sam looked at me and said, "Her head is out.  Full of dark hair!  You did it."  One more push and we found out it was a beautiful baby girl. With a head full of dark hair and the longest fingers and toes of any baby I've ever seen, she was laid on my chest.  There are no words to describe the complete sense of relief after delivering a baby.  She was here, she was safe, and she was out of me.  It was a beautiful moment.  Being a baby friendly hospital, they didn't clean her off, or weigh her, or anything before I got to hold her and nurse her.  She latched like she'd been doing it all her life.  All of the kids got to come back and meet her with special permission from Noreen (there are only supposed to be 3 visitors at a time in the maternity pods), then the grandparents all held her.  When everyone cleared out, the baby nurse came in to check her out.  She weighed 9lb 1oz, measured 21 3/4" long, and 14.5" around her head.  She didn't look that big, thanks to her long, lean limbs and digits.  She's going to be a basketball player.  Or a piano player.  Maybe both.

In the hours and days that followed, I felt the best I ever have post-delivery.  I had no pain.  And other than being exhausted already from the days leading up to the delivery, I couldn't have asked for a better recovery.  I could even feel my mood lifting.

We are delighted that God has blessed our family with the precious Hannah Rae.

 We promise to love you so.

Thank you so much to our friends and family who have supported, encouraged, prayed for, and tangibly gifted us in celebration of Hannah.  We love you all!

The Good Stuff

In 2002, Kenny Chesney sang his little heart out right to the top of the charts with the song "The Good Stuff."  If you haven't heard it (and don't want to watch the video here), I'll sum up.  Guy gets into a fight with his "lady", drives off to the bar, and asks the bartender for "the good stuff."  Bartender says, "You can't find that here."  Then the wise, old barkeep pours him a glass of milk and proceeds to rattle off a heart-wrenching list of things that actually comprise "the good stuff" - like eating burnt suppers the whole first year and asking for seconds to keep her from tearing up and holding her hand when the Good Lord calls her home.

Ugh.  Country songs.  They're brutal.  But I guess I'm a glutton for punishment because I always come back for more.  (New blogging idea - highlight sad country songs on the regular.  You're going to love it.  Maybe not...)

Even as a young girl of 19 I loved this song.  That bartender was right, of course.  Not that I know too much about finding solace in a bottle of whiskey, but I do know Good Stuff when I see it.

This weekend I went on a bit of a tirade about what the world commonly considers to be "good stuff."  I had a heart to heart with my dear eleven year old son.  He's one of the best kids I know.  Sincerely.  I'm not just saying that because he's mine, at least, I don't think I am.  Through teary eyes, I explained to him that I want so much more for him than $150 sneakers.  I want him to know that expensive possessions and a big paycheck and a prestigious college degree are meaningless.  These things aren't life.  I want him to ignore the lies that he's being inundated with that bigger and more are better.  They might seem so, but pursuing them for the sake of claiming bigger and more isn't.  It's one of those things that's really hard to teach without perspective.  I told him I'm proud of him.  That he's a fantastic kid, however imperfect he is.  He knows it.  He also knows how imperfect I am.  These things come into the light when you spend your entire days together.

Even after the conversation was long over, I couldn't stop thinking about it.  I want him and all of my children to see the Good Stuff like I see it.  I can't wait until I have the luxury of the life experience and wisdom of my parents and grandparents.  I'm just 31 years old, but life is so much fuller than it was just 10 years ago.

The good stuff -
1.  Seeing the delight in my three year old's eyes when her beloved big, teddy bear of an eleven year old brother drops everything and plays pretend with her big-eyed beanie baby toys with her.
2.  Watching three sisters give each other makeovers and new hairstyles and foot rubs, having fancy drink wars (mostly apple juice with blueberries dropped into it) in the kitchen, and curled up in a single armchair reading a book or watching a movie together.
3.  Hearing the brothers, ten years apart, giggling together in an all-out wrestling match on the living room carpet.
4.  Seeing the tears in the biggest kids's eyes when he met his first brother.

And today -

Foregoing all academic activity around 3:00pm because a cold front brought through a torrential downpour and the back portion of our yard turned into a massive mud pit.

I'm not the fun mom.  And ordinarily, this might not have flown quite as well as it did today.  But for once, I let go.  There are no before pictures because one simply does not plan an epic mud fight.  These things must be spontaneous or not at all.

Folks, this is, without question, the Good Stuff.

It's not in a store or on a screen and you can't manufacture it even if you try.

It's treasuring the God-given gifts of rain, dirt, brothers and sisters, plenty of soap and water, and respite when life desperately calls for one.

Maybe I stand corrected.  This isn't good stuff.

This is Epic Stuff.

Live it well, my friends.


Hell in a Hand Basket

To the casual news observer, it would seem that everything - from our small hometowns, to our cherished cities, to our beloved states, to our entire country - is heading to hell.  In a hand basket.  Every day the news tops yesterday's on every sensational scale - bizarre, horrific, sad, demented, unconscionable.

Whether the issue de jour is a presidential candidate giving out the personal cell phone number of another candidate to the entire country, the sale of "fetal tissue", flags (confederate or half-mast), gay marriage, poverty, immigration, gun rights, I am certain you feel passionately, as I do, one way or another.  The entire country is at odds, about every little and big thing you can think of.

Read more here: http://www.macon.com/2015/07/21/3853306_bibb-county-ranks-near-bottom.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy

No wonder the world seems hopeless.

And yet....

As a Christian, I hear the overwhelming cry of "Come, Lord Jesus."  How much longer can the world go on like this - we wonder.  We pray that Jesus will come and sweep us away from the despair and hopelessness.  We think this is too big a mess to make it through.

What kind of faith is that?

I'm not saying that these are the best of times.  That would be ludicrous.  Times are difficult and sad and downright scary.  But, these things are not new.  If you study history, you will see that cannibalism, slavery, child-selling, infanticide, cruel and unusual punishments, human sacrifice,  witch hunts, sexual depravity - these things are not new. In fact, I'm certain I've heard that somewhere before -
What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.  Ecclesiastes 1:9
While we're down here on earth scratching our heads and shaking our fists, God is up there going, "Yup, saw that coming."  I don't think he's surprised.  I don't think he's happy either, but I know he's not surprised. 


We sit here saying, "This is rough.  I'd rather just call it a day...forever...and have Jesus return right now."  You know why we want that?  Because it's easier.  It's easier than doing the hard things, saying the difficult things, and being the people we are called to be - Christ's ambassadors.
We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.  2 Corinthians 5:20
It's a lot easier to say, "Nope, too far gone.  Hopeless.  We can't do this anymore."  Guess what?  We never could do it.  Alone, we are powerless.  With God?  Unstoppable. We don't have the luxury of quitting while we still have breath.  I don't know if these are the "end times" or not, but the urgency is there, regardless. 

"But what can I do?"

I'm so glad you asked.  I don't really know either.  But here are a few ideas:

1.  Pray.  Hard.  Ask God to reveal to you ways that you can help out.  Ask God to give you courage to be bold.  Ask God to fill you with a desire to know His Word and His Will so you can "always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect." 

2.  Forget what you know "about" a person and get to know the actual person.  Just love people.  Get to know them.  Smile.  Make conversation.  Treat them to a coffee.  Hold the door on the elevator.  Let them in front of you in line.  Forgive them.  Don't make assumptions.  Don't judge by appearances.  Be available as an ear.  Put others first.  Can you even imagine what a different world this would be if we treated each others as individuals with unique experiences, thoughts, and feelings instead of a part of a collective evil?  It doesn't have to be like that.

3.  Admit that you don't know everything.  This might be harder for some of us than others, but really, it's okay to not know.  It's not okay to keep not knowing.  Go learn something.  Get educated.  Dig into the Word.

4.  Be sensitive.  Because people are, in fact, people, they are built uniquely and beautifully with a set of experiences and feelings only they have.  We cannot know what it is like to walk in anyone's shoes, but we can try.  We can talk.  Just...be nice.

5.  Do something.  Do anything.  When we feel ill-equipped and scared, God can use us the most. 
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  2 Corinthians 12:9
At the end of ourselves, we find all of Jesus.  That's a great place to start.

I truly believe apathy is Satan's weapon of choice in our generation.  With a flippant "whatever" we, even as Christians, have thrown in the towel.  What kind of a witness is this to nonbelievers?  We don't trust that God can overcome our present circumstances?  We just quit? 

No.  This is not acceptable.  We have serious work to do, if not to make the world a better place, to tell the world about Jesus.  Let's live so that others can see Jesus in us.  When Jesus comes, I'll be ready, but I don't want that day or hour or minute to come before we've had a chance to do what he called us to do.  We have a message to deliver on his behalf.  Let us believe that...
God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5:8
Because we are all sinners.  And we all need a Savior.  And with God, nothing is impossible.
So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Isaiah 41:10 
Please, do something.

Every New Beginning Comes from Some Other Beginning's End

I was reflecting over our past (school)year in the shower a few minutes ago.  Yes, a midnight shower, because when you're 33 weeks pregnant and you can't sleep, why not?  I figured since I'm wide awake, I would take the time to chronicle some of my favorite, most important memories from the year.  Consider this our year-end review, a report card, if you will.  Instead of A's, B's, and C's, I measure our year in laughs, little moments, and accomplishments both large and small, academic and otherwise.

Sometimes it's hard to differentiate life from learning.  Sometimes I don't think I want to.  After wrapping our third (!!!) year of this grand adventure, I think we're starting to hit a stride.  Of course, this means I need to stay on my toes even more so as not to start cruising.  It's always best to be prepared for hiccups, even if it's just to roll with the punches when the hiccups come.  They are a certainty.

Because it's late, because I'm pregnant, and because this will become my first novel if I don't, I'm going to resort to a reflective calendar.  

7/31/2014:  Adventures in geocaching prevailed over starting "actual" school.  We kicked off the first day of public school by driving around finding caches and signing our names to the logs.  Found our 100th on the last day of July.  Geocaching became a fun new hobby that would ultimately lead to a lot more "adventures" later in the year, some amazing, some not as much.

August 2014
8/1/2014:  The sticker chart was implemented.  Best thing ever.  It's based on the actual number of lessons we need to complete for each subject each month, but without being tied down to a date or time for each one - because that gives me hives.  Apparently I've been cured of all Type-A tendencies.

8/3/2014:  I delegated music time/babysitting Noah/teaching the alphabet to Leah (watch the video here).  They always say you learn better when you teach something.  Let's put that theory to test.

8/4/2014:  On the bright side, I think Leah's really been paying attention to our history lessons. Clearly, she was just trying to paint herself blue and walk around naked like a Celt. Only, you know, instead of blue paint she used white diaper cream.

8/25/2014:  Abby mastered the usage of linking verbs.

8/27/2014:  Today our history lesson took us on a journey down the Silk Road to the palace of the Khan where we were rewarded with gold (Upward soccer trophies), ivory (a white mirror), and exotic animals (a stuffed polar bear). Ben's favorite part, of course, was ending up in Pee-King, because, duh, he's a ten year old boy.

9/8/2014:  The big reveal to the kids about our travel plans for October.  Should keep us busy for a while.  Because when we do field trips, we DO field trips.

9/20/2014:  We've been "practicing" hiking to get conditioned for our trip. Yesterday, I wore Leah and Ben wore Noah. It was quite a trek, during which Noah passed out on Ben's back in the Ergo and slept until we got back to the van. As I loaded everyone into their carseats, Ben unharnessed the carrier, tossed it in the back, breathed a sigh of relief, and said, "Phew, that really was a 'napsack.'"

Incidentally, this was also a geocaching adventure that quite literally took us over the river, through the woods, under and interstate, through lots of poison ivy, only to discover that the published coordinates were over 1/4 mile off.  No chance of finding it.  Total amount hiked in search of it?  3 miles, 3 times.  Good workout though.

9/30/2014:  Leave for Nashville, TN on what would be a three and half week trek across the country.

10/2/2014:  We celebrated Abby's 8th birthday Sheppard style by going to the St. Louis Zoo, Science Center, and up the Arch. But her favorite part was going to the mall for dinner at the food court and to pick out a new treat from the Disney Store.

10/7/2014:  At the gate to Zion National Park, the park ranger looked at Sam's ID and said, "Do you have any peaches in there?" Sam gave him an obligatory chuckle and said "No." Then he turned to me and under his breath he said, "I don't know, do you have any extra wives in there?" ‪#‎utah‬ ‪#‎stereotypehumor

10/11/2014:  Near Mono Lake, California...Just after Ben fell into Convict Lake, I came face to face with four Mule Deer bucks while alone in the woods. And here we thought we were returning to the hotel for a new pair of pants for Ben... ‪#‎yes‬ ‪#‎iamscaredofallanimals‬ 
10/20/2014:  The OKC Fire Department just stopped on the side of the road next to the memorial to let my kids play on their ladder truck. The driver asked if we had a chance to go in the museum yet. I told him we'd just gotten into town, and with tears in his eyes said, "You need to go. It's...emotional." 19 years later and it still hurts.

10/26/2014:  7,105 miles, 190 geocaches, 27 days, 18 hotels, 17 states, 14 museums, 10 national parks, 10 national monuments/historic sites, 3 state parks, 2 state capitol buildings, 2 lost blankies, 1 zoo (unless you count Vegas), 1 less tooth, 1 exhausted but faithful minivan, and 7 happy, tired Sheppards. It's good to be home. 

11/9/2014: Sam is trying to clear off some of the free games that Sarah has downloaded on the tablet recently. This is the best conversation I've ever heard. It's still going...he's going to be there all night.
Sam: Father's Day Quesadillas, Summer Chicken Burger, Mermaid at Doctor?
Sarah: Yes, keep those.
Sam: Baby Easter Egg Laundry Time?
Abby: That's fun.
Sam: What does that even mean?

11/21/2014:  "An ant can eat a seed. That seed is in the mud."
Ok, let's look at the picture for this story you just read, Sarah. What is the ant doing?
"Pulling a shark."

12/12/2014: The day I've been waiting for since I became a mother.
"I'll fold those towels."
That mountain of towels? Voluntarily? Without me mentioning it? Hands down, Ben wins the prize for "favorite kid" today.

12/18/2014:  Good friends go along with your spontaneous, last-minute caroling plans and don't care if the notes are perfect. Thanks for helping my heart grow a few sizes tonight. And Merry Christmas!!!

12/22/2014:  Sam had a successful eye operation to repair damage done by a thorn or twig or something during an unfortunate nighttime geocaching accident in the woods.  He's the bravest guy I know.  Results:  Nearly perfect vision once again.  Not *as* perfect, but very, very good.

1/6/15:  Oh my goodness, the conversations between these children of mine.  
Abby: (to Ben) I think you should keep your pie hole shut.
Ben: I think the saying is "Shut your pie hole."
Sarah: But what about your pee hole?
Ben: What about it?
Sarah: ....do you care about it?

1/17/15:  This is how Super Dad occupied the four littlest kids while stranded at a hotel all day waiting for Mom and the big kid to come back from bible quiz. Rock stars. My whole family.

1/27/2015:  I know everyone thinks their own kids are the best. I suppose I'm no exception. But, I would be lying if I said that I liked them all of the time. Yes, I confess. When we first started this grand homeschooling experiment three years ago, Ben drove me absolutely CRAZY, daily. Every one of his quirks and vices is crystal clear because he is a carbon copy of me. I don't know if he's grown up or I've grown up or a little bit of both, but to my great delight it is now my pleasure to spend my days with this young man. He still drives me crazy a lot of the time, but I genuinely enjoy watching him work through his frustration and anger in maturity, listening to his million spoken words each hour, and most of all, I enjoy being an active participant in his blossoming albeit goofy sense of humor. He's the best first child I've ever had. Hands down.

2/9/2015:  Reviewing today's history:
Me: What was name of the most famous king from Mali?
Ben: Moomoosa? Mimosa? Medusa?
Me: Close. Mansa Musa.
Me: After Mansa Musa got to Mecca, what four things did he do?
Ben: Prayed.
Abby: Pooped?
Ben: He probably did. Does that count?
Me: He probably did, but that was not one of the four answers I was looking for.

2/23/2015:  Over the course of three years in this grand experiment I call homeschooling, I've learned that you have to figure things out as you go along. Do what works. For instance, I recently learned that passing out lollipops before our communal history read-alouds significantly increases the number of sentences I can get through without interruption. Don't judge me.
3/2/2015:  Learning about explorers today, specifically, those in search of a better trade route to India from Europe. Ben's only commentary: "Those people must have really liked pepper."

3/7/2015:  Celebrating Leah's birthday weekend in Savannah at Fort McAllister.  Noah found the full moon on a sunny day.

3/13/2015:  Grammar lessons with Ben continue to be my favorite part of the day. 
"The visitors are they? Why wouldn't you just say 'They are the visitors?' I'm going to say it the way that doesn't make you sound like a dope." ~ Ben

Reading with Sarah -
"The dog said, 'That bug is so little I can not see him...' - how does the dog know the bug is a boy? - '...on this log.'
The bug said, 'I am big.' -No he's not. He's smaller than a newborn baby and they are not big!
The dog said, 'He is not big.' - Wait! Dogs can't talk! Neither can bugs!"

"No. I'm not doing it like that. That's not how you count. It doesn't work that way."
My apologies to anyone who gets behind future Sarah in a checkout line if she ever has to pay with coins. Apparently skip-counting is absurd.

Sarah: (Praying) Thank you for a good life with not very many troubles. And help Leah to go to sleep for heaven's sake. Amen.
Yes. Amen.

4/11/2015:  Got to go to the Teach Them Diligenty Convention in Atlanta without any kids thanks to the generosity of my parents where I gleaned a lot of practical and spiritual wisdom for our current and upcoming school years.  But mostly - this gem -
"Create a heritage of laughter in your home. Our kids say funny things. A lot of times we say, 'Shh, that's not funny.' You know what? It is. Laughter is the safety valve for all of the stress of life." -Rachael Carman
Best advice I've heard all weekend.

Leah scribbling on a sheet of paper.
Me: Did you just say, "Booty, booty, booty?"
Leah: Yes I do.
Me: Why?
Leah: Because that's what I drawed.

5/1/2015:  Because the only logical thing to do after spending two weeks busting your tails at a breakneck pace is to blow off all responsibilities and go on an adventure, complete with costume changes (Abby), dipping French fries in ice cream for the first time (Noah), tasting way too many strawberries (Leah), climbing trees (Sarah), and chivalrously lending your shoes to your mom in possibly-snake-infested terrain because, naturally, she was wearing flip flops (Ben).

5/7/2015:  Reading lessons with a toddler in the house (video here).  I guess we were really asking for it hanging out on the floor.

5/12/2015:  So, I might be grumpy, but some things are worth celebrating - like Ben determining to complete his last three math lessons in one sitting so he can call it DONE for the year. It might cheapen it to mention the 3,211 other things we have yet to finish, but we have to find successes where we can. And this certainly qualifies. Well done, son.

5/19/2015:  You know you are overly hormonal and/or Joyce's daughter when something like...finishing the final chapter in your history book...brings tears to your eyes to the complete and utter confusion of your children.

June and July were both a bit of a blur, full of adventures (and utilizing the a/c for this very pregnant mama as much as possible), and very little formal schooling save for Abby's math lessons which we are still working towards finishing.  She's a rockstar.  And we will finish.

This year has been amazing, challenging, and stretching.  We've pushed ourselves, had fun, and grown closer, all things I dreamed would happen when we started this experiment and all things I'm thrilled to see come to fruition after our third full year.  I'm so far from perfect I convinced myself the other day that if Sam nanny-cam'd me, I'd have been fired from this gig years ago, and yet, my kids get to see my imperfections...every single one of them...and I get to see theirs.  And together, we get through it.  This is our life.  And we're doing it. 

Next week (give or take) we will embark on Year 4 (how is that even possible?!).  We will have a sixth grader, a third grader, a first grader, a precocious 3-year old who might do well to sit in on her big sisters lessons, a strong-willed but oh-so-cute toddler, and a very pregnant mom/soon-to-be-newborn baby.  That's a recipe for adventure if I ever heard one.  Wish us luck, pray for us, send me coffee.  (Ha!  Just kidding.  Kind of.)

My gift to you, if you managed to stick through this long post (in spite of myself), is a couple photos of Noah and Leah shenanigans.  Here they are pilfering in Ben's room while he was away at Grammie's house.  They are partners in crime and precious, precious siblings.  (Side note - Noah has turned a corner just this week and his personality seems to be far less...disgruntled.  I really like him now.  Not just because I have to, ha!)

 He literally said, "Cheese!"

Hope you all have a wonderful Wednesday.  Let me hear from you.  Let me know how I can pray for you.  

Signing off,

He Shouldn't Have Been Standing There.

I've always laughed particularly hard at the ridiculousness of this part of the film Happy Gilmore.

(Caution: There *is* a curse word in this clip.)

But, as I live in this world and observe what's going on around me, I realize "He shouldn't have been standing there" isn't so ridiculous a statement after all.  It's what we do, isn't it?

A few years ago, our sweet Sarah had a lapse in judgment on the playground.  She crossed in front of the swings without noticing how close she was.  The result was a 2x6 to the forehead.  Literally.  Within seconds she had a goose-egg the size of a second head.  The tears were flowing.  It had to have hurt.  But in the midst of being possibly-concussed, the poor girl was lucid enough to say, "Abby needed to watch out!"  You see, to her, the fault was not of her own actions (walking directly in front of a swinger) but of the swinger (her sister) who had little to no control over the speed or direction of her swing.

A couple of weeks ago, I walked down the hallway where I could overhear my son's Skype call that was being peppered with a few "choice" words.  I walked in the room and said, "Do they talk like this a lot?"  To which the offender said, "Ben!  She wouldn't have heard if you'd been in a room where she didn't walk by!"  Because, you know, those words are well and good if only shared among friends.  Or something.

Shortly after the creation of humankind, a man and woman roamed about their beautiful garden, marveling at the gift they'd been given.  They literally had the world at their fingertips and yet...it wasn't enough.  Having been warned of the consequences of partaking of the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Eve chose to trust the serpent's seed of doubt ("Did God really say you must not eat from any tree in the garden?" Genesis 3:1 - emphasis mine) over the clear direction from God ("You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die." Genesis 2:17).  She ate the fruit and gave some to Adam.  When God questioned Adam about it, he replied, "The woman you put here with me - she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it."  Then it was Eve's turn, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate."

But...God said, "Because you have done this..."  And then he doled out some consequences, as was perfectly within his right.

You see, whether we were influenced by someone or not, our actions are still just that.  Our own.  Good or bad, our choices and actions have consequences, good or bad.  Instead of passing the blame, how about let's just own up? 

"Yes.  It was me.  Totally my fault.  My bad.  I'm sorry."  

Why is that so hard?

Human nature.  From the very start we've been blame-placing.  I guess that's not an easy cycle to break.  

That doesn't mean we shouldn't try.  Those words, "I accept responsibility.  I'm sorry." pack a more powerful punch than you can imagine.  Sometimes the hardest thing to do is also the right thing.
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:8-9
My prayer today is that we take ownership of our actions - good and bad, consequences and all.

Let it start with me.



I've never been an easy-going person.  I pretend a lot.  I think I've had to adapt a good bit, not necessarily by choice.  I'm learning to take things a little more in stride, but I don't know that it will ever come naturally for me.

So by virtue of my personality, I am easily overwhelmed.

Probably not a great trait for a mom of five plus kids.

It's not just the kids though.  It's life.  It's my lack of boundaries.  My inability to say no.  My non-confrontational desire to be a people-pleaser.  I heap the anxiety on myself by my own actions, and then I suffer for it.  It's really no one's fault but my own.

So today, I have a prayer.

I pray that I will be brave.  That I can be bold.  That I can say "No." to the things that detract from my ability to function so that I can give my emphatic "Yes!!!" to the things that I can do with my whole heart.  I pray that I will say only what needs to be said.  That I will stop apologizing for things for which I owe no apology.  That I will stop letting people bulldoze and take advantage of me.  I pray that I will have the fortitude to stand up for what's best for me, Sam, and my kids instead of taking for granted the grace they give me when I put others in front of them.  I pray that God will turn my heart from its natural inclination to complain and gripe and instead fill me with a grateful heart and no regrets.  I pray that my interactions with people whom I don't perfectly gel will be grace-filled.  Because I can do none of these things on my own.  I've tried.  I've tried for years.  And as usual, that hasn't worked out.  I'm giving it up.  And asking for help.  I don't want to carry this anymore.  I don't want to teach my kids that it is okay to let people run all over you.  I want to set a strong example.  I want to be able to give my best, including with my best attitude.

That's today's prayer.  One I should I have started praying a long time ago.
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.  James 1:5

Why is my three year old crying?

Because her socks are touching her pants.

Because she told me she didn't want green beans, so I didn't give her any.

Because I put the green beans in the wrong spot on her plate.

Because one of the four corners of her blanket is wrinkled.

Because dark pink is not the same as red.

Because her bathing suit got wet.  While she was playing in the pool.

Because she wanted a popsicle.  Instead of her dinner.

Because I wouldn't let her ride her scooter.  Naked.

Because I wouldn't let her keep the toy she stole from her baby brother.

Because I won't take a nap with her.

Because I laid down to take a nap with her.

Because all I want is a nap and she won't go to sleep.  (No, wait, that's why I'm crying.)

Because she not only has to sit in her carseat, but she has to buckle it too.

Because she thought I was offering her apple juice, not applesauce.

There will always be something

It's nearing the end of April.  The public schools here get out in just over a month.  The kids in elementary and middle school are likely winding down for the year.  The kids in high school are likely cramming in some final info as they prep for finals.  Here at the Sheppard household, it's about the time of year when I take a step back to assess the remaining work to be done and, well, freak out a little.

If I took this concern to the homeschool community, they would vindicate me with something like, "When is the last time a public school class finished their textbook?  I'm sure you're in good shape."

But that doesn't work for me.
Don't say you don't have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein. ~Life's Little Instruction Book
We started out this year in a deficit because, well, during the previous 2013-2014 school year, we added Noah to the family.  Before he joined us at the end of November, we spent nearly a month on the road, exploring the Great Lakes region and Canada in September.  Formal schooling took a back seat during those times, as it should have.  However, because of that, Abby was still finishing her first grade math at the beginning of her second grade year, and we were only halfway through our history spine at the start of this school year.  Determined to finish first grade work before moving on to second, we devoted the time at the beginning of 2014-2015 year to doing just that.

With some hard work, we caught up just in time to take our brood out west for another month on the road in October.  When we came home, it was time for the holiday rush.  Sam injured his eye.  I was fighting some sort of mysterious full-body infection.  Christmas.  January blues.  First trimester exhaustion.  Homeschool co-op started up.  Then all of the sudden it's Easter, and I'm like, "Whoa.  The school year is practically over, and we're only this far into our studies?"

This is the time of year we start planning for the next grade level.  We evaluate what worked and what didn't this current year.  Incidentally, it's the time of year I have my "Oh crap!" moment, especially this year, considering we'll be adding a new baby near the top of what will be our 1st, 3rd, and 6th grade year, which means it's going to be tough going for a while.  I know this.  Add that to life with a toddler and a preschooler and it sounds like a recipe for disaster.

I'm stuck between giving myself grace to stop now and cut our losses or determining to do what I know in my heart we've had the ability to do all along, and that is to do it right and finish.

So the "principal" and I had a heart-to-heart.  We established our goals for the rest of this school year, which included how many lessons we wanted to complete in each subject (ahem, all of them), and accelerated our revolutionary sticker chart to reflect the necessary changes that we'd need to make in order to meet those goals.  We aren't meeting the public school end date, but we'll still have a summer break.  (So, sorry to the neighborhood kids who knock and want to play in June.  They'll be out after lunch!)  We implemented the new schedule complete with a daily checklist last Monday.  I dreaded it.  I knew I'd be met with grumbles and dug-in heels.  I was wrong.  The kids have risen to the challenge.  The only thing keeping us from finishing is my own inability to stay the course.
We excuse our sloth under the pretext of difficulty. ~Marcus Fabius Quintilian
There will always be an excuse to give as to why we are behind, every single year, whether a new baby, unexpected illness, "field trips", general weariness, life with toddlers, being buried in life, visitors, legitimate catastrophes.  Some years, there will be grace.  This year, we're meeting the challenge with grit and determination.  Because we need to save our "mulligan" for a year when we actually need it.  My kids are able.  I am able.  Anything worth doing is worth doing well.  And the things worth doing are never easy.

I have walked alongside some people who have encountered very serious trials and life-altering circumstances.  Sometimes people shrink back, but the ones that inspire me are the ones that rally, who determine to keep going, one day at a time when things are at their toughest.  These are the people who shout Jesus from the rooftops with nothing but their actions.  Finishing out the school year is not a real trial when you consider it in the face of unspeakable tragedy, but I mention these folks because they are the ones whose living testimonies propel me forward.  It's just a little bit of schoolwork.  With God's help, a plan, sheer will, and a little bit of grace, we're going to do this thing.  One day at a time.

This is my message to myself - Stop making excuses and finish what you started.

It really is that simple.

(No, my kids aren't being held captive.  There is always time for play.)
The trouble with always leaving yourself a way out is that you always take it. ~Robert Brault 

I Get To...

For the past 3 months every Thursday morning we've done something most families do every weekday.  It's nothing exceptional for the majority of life livers.  We get ourselves ready, and we get out the door.  This is exceptional for our family because most days we, how should I say, take it easy.  This Thursday morning was the last of our routine, the final week of our homeschool co-op for spring.  I can take a breath and let their dirty faces and pant-less bodies run amuck around the house next week.  For the first time in ten weeks, this morning we actually got in the car and headed that direction with plenty of time to spare.  We weren't going to be late!

As we made our final turn, I grumbled inwardly about facing my obligatory volunteer hour.  Of all of the assignments, I was asked to assist in the sewing class.  My experience with sewing machines is negligible at best.  And the few times I've sat behind one, I ended up cursing violently, throwing things, or desiring to do one of those two things and resisting so hard my ears turned completely red.  It was one of those comical assignments where I just threw my hands up and said, "Alright.  Let's do this thing!"  It was a big step for me to even join a co-op in the first place. (Hey, my name is Jennie, not sure if I've told you this 259 times, but I'm kind of an introvert.) I like my space, my time alone, interacting with people on my terms.  However, knowing that my children are not all like me, I knew that those special extroverts were craving some "other people" time, and I obliged.  (You're welcome, Abby.)  So, I was grumbling a little bit about a lot of things, having to help in a sewing class, having to be around people, having to get the whole herd dressed and ready to go - including doing hair, putting on shoes, and hopefully wiping down snotty faces before getting inside the building.

When suddenly, I heard on the radio, a little spot about changing your perspective.  A caller phoned in to the show and said, "I'm really glad you said what you did yesterday about 'getting to' instead of 'having to.'"  She then proceeded to say how she gets to go to work as a nurse, she gets to drive home after her shift is over late at night, she gets to yadda yadda yadda - all things she whined about every day, until she realized there are a lot of people who would love just to do the things she grumbles about.

Can I tell you how much I needed to hear those words at that exact moment?

When I complain about the side-effects of carrying a baby, I need to remember the amazing privilege it is that I get to.

When I grumble that I have to take my kids somewhere, even co-op, I need to remember that I get to take my kids to a safe place to learn fun things I probably would never teach them with people who pour into them asking nothing in return.

When I sigh because the house is overrun with crap, I need to remember that I get to come to a safe, warm home, full of people who have been gifted with many luxuries above and beyond what we need.

When I whine that the grass needs cutting again, I need to remember that I get to sit on my mower and zone out, with or without a delighted little child at the steering wheel.  That I get to look out of my kitchen window at a fenced-in yard with a sweet playground for my kids to run around and play on, tall grass or not.

When I notice that the milk and eggs are low again and have to go to the grocery store.  I need to remember that I get to go to a store with money that I have to pay for food to feed my many blessings.

I could go on forever.

You see, I felt like I should share this with you all - because if it resonates even a little bit, I think it can really change our lives.  Let's realize these things together.  We get to.

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