Monday, March 27, 2017

Quick Trip to Chi Town

We took the boys on a quick trip to Chi-town this past week (OK, actually Schaumburg). As soon as school was out on Thursday, we took off and skipped school on Friday (well, we thought they had the day off....but apparently I misunderstood how recess/snow make-up days work in this school corporation....and by the time I understood, I had already booked. Oh well. They are doing fine in school.)
Thursday evening we enjoyed staying in a hotel. The boys have only done this a few times and still find it incredibly exciting. Comfy beds with lots of pillows. Cable TV. Free toothbrushes at the front desk since we ALWAYS manage to forget theirs. Riding on an elevator. They are such simple and happy little creatures. 

We enjoyed going out to eat and swimming in the evening (Hotel pool was out of service, but we got free passes to a close fitness center that had a MUCH bigger pool.) 

Friday morning we headed to IKEA. The boys were not very impressed. But it was my happy place. Had to explain to them multiple times that family members sometimes endure things because it makes other family members happy. Not sure if they understood the lesson....maybe we need to practice it more often. :) We picked up several things to finish out some of our space in the basement....Rugs. Cabinets and wall shelves to go on both sides of the fireplace. A few other little things. Oh, and cinnamon rolls. 

Then we picked up a few things at Trader Joe's grocery store......Let's be honest, Adam wanted some sesame sticks. I was fine not stopping there. He sent me in and instructed me to get no less than 8 bags of them. I felt a little selfish taking that many. I only got 6. I think he has forgiven me. 

Then we headed to the Legoland Discovery Center (a Christmas gift from Moppy and Poppy). Legos are a pretty big item in our lives. I don't think a day passes where someone isn't playing with them (or in my case, that I'm not accidentally stepping on one). So.....basically, the boys had a great time. I'll let the pictures do some of the talking.....

Some major Chicago attractions.

And at night.

Standing in front of the Willis Tower. Its named after us, right?

A Hippo pic...for my brother Phil (we'll see if he reads the blog....)

The beauty of organization in the Master Builder section.

Beloved R2-D2.

Darth Vader got a little cozy with me.

Why so serious?

They rode this again and again and again.
And again.

I rode this once. This was the most pleasant I probably looked on it.
I cannot handle spinny things in my old age!

I didn't take pictures in a few of the different areas. But we had a fun time. 
The total "vacation" was only about 30 hours, but they said it was one of the best vacations. Ever.
Such easy to please guys.

We are entertaining the idea of Disney in a year or two. I'm afraid it would blow their minds!
(Although, I don't know....I've never been there.....I'm thinking they will have to endure standing in line with me to meet a few princesses though!)

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Hairs cut

Someone asked me recently how we have managed to live off of 1 income for so long. 
(And 1 pretty modest income. You can look up what youth pastors make....people aren't in it for the money. :) ) 
(well, mostly 1 income since I have worked part-time for most of that....although, on average only 5-10 hrs/wk)

But anyways. There's obviously multiple factors that go into my answer.

But one of them is that we have found ways to do things ourselves. 

Case in point: Haircuts

I have been cutting Adam's hair since we got married. 
We registered for a haircutting kit and lo and behold, someone gave it to us!

Well, let's do some basic math.
Let's go off the very base rate of Adam getting a cheap-o haircut for $10 
(we'll even say that includes the tip to keep our math super simple) 
Let's say he likes to get his hair cut once a month.
Let's say we've been married for 13.5 years.

$10/month x 12 months = $120/year
$120/yr x 13.5yrs = $1,620 saved over the course of our marriage

Throw in 3 boys.
The math is getting more complicated....but you get the idea.

Even if you figure we can get all 4 of the guys in the house a haircut for $10/each and if we can manage to stretch that haircut out to 6 weeks (which we usually don't).....we're still looking at a yearly savings of just under $350.

Maybe $350/year isn't much to you.....but its pretty significant for us.
And totally worth it for me to keep cutting their long as they'll let me.

Happy, but scraggly. (minus Adam)

Clean cut and handsome.

Now if only I could trust them to cut my hair the 2 times a year I get it cut. :) 

Becoming Ballers

Now that we live in Indiana and are Hoosiers, I felt the need to introduce the boys to the game of basketball. They had very little experience with it to this point. Watching them dribble was.....painful.

I signed them up for an Upwards Basketball program at a nearby church. The Upwards program strives to teach not only the athletic portion of the game, but also focuses on the spiritual, social, and mental sides also. There are devotional times at each practice and game where they share a Bible verse and important virtue/character. And the coaches recognize different awards at each game (effort, offense, defense, sportsmanship, Christ-likeness). All kids get equal playing time and they don't start keeping score until the oldest age bracket (3rd/4th grade).

Overall, I was EXTREMELY impressed with the coaches, the church staff, and the referees we interacted with. (And yes, I just sent an email to the director telling him all of that). They really see it as a ministry and are so good at what they are doing.

Our boys improved quite a bit. I'll admit they were some of the weaker skilled ones on their teams. They were both on the younger side of their division (1st/2nd grades were together and 3rd/4th grades). But they both improved SOOOO much by the end of the season. Tate even scored 4 baskets in their last game. I'm not even sure if he touched the ball in the first game as he spent most of his offensive time just running around, completely oblivious to who had the ball and where, just trying to juke the kid that was guarding him.

Some of the phrases you may have heard me shouting from the spectator spot:

"Where's your man? Find your man!!!!"

"You're on offense now!!! Stop guarding your man!"

"Get your hands out of your pockets!"

"Put your water bottle down!" (lest he have it up to his mouth the ENTIRE time he was on the bench....not drinking...just chewing on it). 

"Where's the ball? Find the ball!"

"Don't back away from the ball!"


"He's on your team! Don't take the ball from him!"

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Landon turned 9!

Landon is 9! 

On his actual birthday, he had to do the normal kid go to school. But he handed out a little treat. He chose what was for dinner.....a pizza buffet. And then opened gifts and cards from family that had been mailed. 

On Sunday, we threw him a Nerf themed party using the gym at our church. 11 boys being trained in target shooting, agility courses, and evasion tactics. And then of course, they got to shoot at each other. And because it was an odd number, I had to get in on the action to make the teams even. I was a much easier target though since I am bigger than them. I still have a tender spot on my forehead where I got hit at close range. We had bought bulk knock-off Nerf darts online for a great price, but the tips were a little harder than actual Nerf darts. The darts definitely flew faster and hit harder. 

And we enjoyed simple snacks like Nerf Juice, Popcorn Ammo, Cheezy Bullets, Targets (orange slices), Carrot Darts, and cupcakes (sorry, I couldn't think of a clever themed name for them). 

Minimal decorations. We already had an arsenal of Nerf guns and most boys brought their own as well. No cost for using our church's gym. We provided all of the boys with protective eyewear glasses and a utility belt to hold their darts that they could take home with them. The total for both items ended up costing only around $1.50 per kid. 

Only minimal marital conflict as we finalized the games and order of events the night before, once again being reminded of how differently the two of us operate and plan. 

But Landon declared it was his best birthday party yet. We've thrown some pretty fun ones, so I'll consider this one a success. 

Here's what Landon is like at 9 years old:
- He LOVES to read. Mostly mystery, sci-fi, and adventure...with a little bit of humor. I have to tell him to put books down sometimes. He has one under his pillow, takes one in the car, and generally never has one far from him. 
- He is still pretty passionate about soccer and can't wait for this spring. This winter we also introduced him to basketball and martial arts. I have also mildly been trying to teach him some piano. 
- Still is very social and loves people of all ages. Its been interesting to watch him be the new kid at school though and how he has processed that. He was very selective on who he wanted to invite to his birthday party....which was a major shift from past years when I had to limit him to how many he could invite. He said he gets along with all of the boys in his class....but he just doesn't really hang out with some of them. He doesn't seem at all bothered by it. And part of it is probably just age and kids starting to have actual friend groups, where in younger ages you are friends with everybody. 
-  He has taken an interest in stamp collecting (since he read a book that had something about it). He has a nice pile of them thanks to his Grandma Strahm and he also now has an album to start putting them in. 
- He's been referred and recommended to begin orthodontia work. Apparently his upper palette is too small and it doesn't look like there is room for some of his adult teeth to grow in. He's excited about it.....I don't think he understands the restrictive eating part or the pain part yet. 
- But that's Landon. Very easily excitable. Making him for a very fun kid. He is generally very optimistic and eager.
- He's one of the smaller boys in his class. 
- His favorite things in school are.....gym, recess, library, and computers. 
- Sometimes he is a GREAT big brother. And other times, I am appalled.
We consider ourselves so very blessed and are grateful to have him in our family. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

Fa La La La La.....and Happy New Year!

Realizing I haven't finished up posting about our Christmas festivities. Thankfully, I have a few pictures to remind me since its almost a month later.

We enjoyed a lovely Christmas Eve service at church. Later that evening, we opened up the traditional PJ's and ornaments from Adam's mom. 
Heath - a turtle. Tate - a chicken. Landon - a penguin.

Sigh. I have bunny ears in so many pictures.
On Christmas morning, we opened gifts at home with just our little family. Then we headed to church for a short and simple service. With not having any family gatherings over the Christmas weekend, we were extra grateful to have a church that had so many opportunities to gather together and worship and remember what the season is really about.

Then we came home and set up Skype Christmas with Adam's mom and stepdad....and Adam's sister and husband.  His techy expertise allowed us to cast it onto our TV and split screen it. This is the first Christmas that we did not get together with them in person. We had shipped gifts to one another and opened them over an internet connection.
South Dakota, Washington DC, Indiana.....a lot of distance. 
Amazing what technology can allow us to do these days. 
We were thankful that we could do that, but it was definitely a little sad signing off and realizing that was it for our Christmas with them when we usually spend at least a day or two together. 

On the day after Christmas, we headed to Grand Rapids for a quick gathering with the Willis extended family.  No pictures, but a nice time. And then we brought back from GR one of our international students from last year for the week to stay with us. 

Heath gladly gave up his room for an overnight guest and bunked in his brothers' room (a dream come true for him).  And then Adam's dad and stepmom resided in it for a couple of nights right after that.  We enjoyed having them stay for a couple of nights, but look forward to when we can offer better accommodations for guests (guestroom in the basement is in progress!).  They were here for New Year's Eve and everybody except Heath, managed to stay up til midnight. He made it to 11:20 and then asked if he could be put to bed.  We played games, made homemade ice cream in our ice cream ball, watched a movie, and clinked some bubbly apple cider in plastic glasses at midnight.

Overall, our holidays in our new home were nice.  Definitely a different feel than in the past with not getting to see some family and not doing any major hosting - both of which we missed and were a bit sad about. But it was a very low-key and low-stress time.....which was enjoyed. 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Strahm Christmas

One Christmas gathering down.
Got together with my (Becca's) side of the family last weekend.

And yes, we had the 4th Annual Strahm Grand Prix.
Doesn't everybody race Hot Wheels cars at Christmas time?

My gearhead brother, Dan, invented this event. And with the help of my I-like-to-build-things-husband, the two of them keep the event running strong. Its basically a good way for us to have an event that engages everybody together. We've streamlined gifts quite a bit (Kids draw a name of a cousin.....and we still let Grandma buy for the grandkids (within moderation)), so its good to have something (besides eating) that we all do together. This year's race was a single elimination bracket that moved along quickly. Starting slots were done in a fair fashion by drawing names from a hat.

Brother vs. Brother
And the winner is HEATH!!!! The matriarch presented the travelling trophy.
We now have it proudly displayed on our mantle.
And as you can see, the Willis' showed up ready to race! We were the top 3 cars!
Landon was the only one who didn't make it out of the first round. This was the first year our family took the trophy.
We might have a slight advantage in that we own the track.

And my mom and dad told the Christmas story using flannelgraph once again!
Pretty sure I get a picture of these two sleeping EVERY year.
And no, this was not during the telling of the Christmas story.

Trying to get arranged for a family photo. Obviously, Katie likes the camera.

The whole bunch of us.
Gma and Gpa with the grandkids.

A fun and festive day that we all enjoyed! 

DIY Family Photos

Well, the tripod and camera struck again!

We've had some pretty decent shots at taking our own family photos. It certainly does not compare to what our favorite photographer can do for us, but now that he lives 2 hours away and we cannot afford to pay for him to travel to us, we resorted to taking a few shots of our own this fall so that we would have something to put on a Christmas card. 

Here's our best family shot. 
I managed to pull outfits all of what we had on hand earlier that day. I knew this was our last chance before we got some not as lovely weather. Not perfectly coordinated outfits, but good enough for us. I spent the least amount of time on my outfit and seeing the pics afterwards, I wish I would have had on a big necklace or scarf to break up my 1-coloredness. I have cute brown booties on that go nicely with Tate's just can't see them. But now you know.

What was going on moments before we took the picture.....
We had been waiting most of the day to receive a delivery from Menard's with supplies for finishing the basement. Adam was still in the driveway with the delivery guy as the boys and I tromped outside dressed nicely with camera and tripod in hand. I gave a less-than-endearing look toward him and said, "The glow. We're going to miss the glow." (The lovely-warm-sun-is-setting-glow). We did kinda miss it, but at least it wasn't dark yet.

While he went in and changed, I tried to set up the tripod while the boys ran in circles around the yard, the whole time me chiding them to not mess up their hair or fall (one of my children, of whom I will not name at the moment, is CONSTANTLY falling).

We had Landon try to take a picture or two of us. Landon didn't notice what Tate was doing in the background. And I don't think Tate realized he was even in the shot. Bahahahaha!

The boys asked if they could do some leaf throwing pictures.
Oh, Tate. Do you really need that many leaves?

Love this family we've been given! So blessed!
(And having a nice camera that we were given a few years back from Adam's sister has certainly been a blessing and captured so many special memories!)

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Not your typical Thanksgiving post

Thanksgiving is a time where it comes more natural to be liberal with our showering and proclaiming of everything that we are thankful for.  Its certainly not a bad thing to sprinkle efforts of having an attitude of gratitude all over social media or throughout our homes in the forms of wall art or throw pillows. It’s an immensely beautiful thing, really – to be grateful.

Sometimes it comes easily, full of “my cup runneth over” moments where you just cannot get the smile of deep content and joy off of your face.  And other times, it is an intentional mindset or an effort of directing thoughts towards the abundance and the good, rather than the shortcomings or difficulties.  And for some, at other times, it may be downright difficult to see through the veil of hardships to identify blessings and believe that things can ever turn around for the better.

Our family of 5 has so much to be grateful for. We try to be intentional about voicing our gratefulness and identifying our blessings.  A thankfulness pumpkin has occupied our kitchen table for the last two months. Every night at dinner we take a few moments to write on its sides the people, places, and things that we are thankful for  (Yes, you might see penguins written down) Its become a dinnertime tradition that we have enjoyed and may have to do in different forms so that we can continue to practice it throughout the year.

This Thanksgiving was a little hard though.

We actually spent our Thanksgiving Day without any family or friend gatherings to attend.  I cracked the whip and made Adam work on getting the basement project started while I tended to the tedious job of painting trim and baseboards on the main level of the house most of the afternoon and into the evening. Much of the day was dreary, cloudy, and sprinkling rain.  And for dinner, we ate at Burger King because it was the only thing we could find that was open.

But none of that was what made it hard.

You see, we had a family gathering the weekend before. And we have another family gathering today. We’ve experienced a full house of loved ones with plenty of food to eat, good conversation, great moments of connection, and people that love us.  We have other family that we couldn’t see, due to distance, that we know love us also. We have been embraced by our new church. The boys are doing well in school. We have a house provided to us that is next door to church, Adam’s workplace, Heath’s preschool, the boys’ school, the local high school and middle school, and has a large parking lot for riding bikes in. We have closets full of clothes, cupboards and a fridge lined with food, bins stocked with various toys, bank accounts with more than enough for what we need.  We can easily think of people throughout the course of our lives that have influenced, affected, and blessed us.  We have 3 boys that are growing, learning, and are healthy. And I still have a smile on my face from getting to see friends all day yesterday as we made a quick whirlwind tour of visiting Grand Rapids.  We have so many bountiful and good things in our lives.  And we have the joy, peace, love, and hope of Jesus.

It was hard because we had volunteered to deliver meals to shut-ins.  Something I thought would have left a more satisfied feeling in my heart.  Helping out is supposed to feel good, right?....

But it didn’t.  It left me conflicted, confused, and heavy feeling, unsure of what could really be done on a grand scale – a feeling of the need being so much greater than what the offering was.  Our route was what I assume to be a government subsidized apartment complex with mostly older people residing in it.  For the rest of the day, I couldn’t shake the image of the woman who needed help getting out of bed so she could use the restroom – not even remotely interested in the meal we brought for her, and me smelling the urine in her bedsheets and asking if anyone stops in to check on her.  Me trying to smile and tell her we hope she has a nice Thanksgiving only to help her back to bed and have her quietly insist that she just didn’t know how it could be. Or the woman who expectantly and excitedly greeted us, even prepared to give us money for being so nice to bring her a thanksgiving meal….only for us to leave and be on with our route and day. Or the older man in overalls who peeked out his door and who wasn’t on our list that then proceeded to follow us from a distance down the hallway, clearly interested in the food that we were handing out.

But we showed up with our eager smiles and our homemade cards that we had drawn hand turkeys on.  The boys excitedly rode the elevator, knocked on doors, handed out our cards, and exclaimed over and over again how our van smelled like Thanksgiving.  I pointed out how providential it was that we had made the exact number of cards needed, even though we had no idea how many meals we were going to be delivering.  And how perfect it was that we ended up having someone on our list who had somehow just received another meal, giving us an extra meal to hand out to the man in overalls who was still following us down the hallway.  We exuded a spirit of joy as we walked in and back out of other’s realities.

But my heart is still heavy and conflicted thinking about it all.  A dose of reality that I know exists and readily admit to – that people are lonely and living in long moments of isolation, have broken bodies and spirits, and have tangible physical  needs , but one that I don’t often enough willingly encounter in doses like I did on Thanksgiving this year.  I’ve gone on missions trips to third world countries, served in the inner city, held babies in orphanages, fitted children with needed shoes, used a “toilet” and visited homes in rural Africa…..I’ve been exposed to “needs” before.  But it is easy to forget. …..or ignore in the midst of my normally comfortable and full life.

How do we live in the balance of being aware and involved in the deep and real needs and hardships of others…..and still enjoy life’s pleasures and embrace our full and bountiful existences of having more than enough?  All of a sudden, many of those things that our family listed on our thankfulness pumpkin seem silly and trite.  And the little we gave of ourselves on Thanksgiving feels like a drop in the ocean.  How are we supposed to do this Jesus?

But I am grateful to have these moments of wrestling.  Moments that make me catch my breath and ask Jesus to help me understand.  Moments that soften and tenderize my heart, open my eyes, challenge my views and thinking, get me uncomfortable, and spur me onto reaching out and doing what I can with the moments that I have been given. 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Clyde says goodbye

We had to say goodbye to our cat, Clyde.

We went away for an overnight youth retreat this weekend. We had only been gone a little over 27 hours, but we came home to find that that he had died while we were away. A big surprise for us.

He was over 12.5 years old, so not a kitten anymore, but some housecats live quite a bit longer. Still not completely sure what happened, but it appeared to be simply of a natural cause. We had noticed a few minor things lately (a couple of very small growths on his head/neck.....his fur not being as well groomed as usual), but nothing that would have led us to think that he was going to die soon. Thankful that he did not seem to be in pain prior to this or have a lingering and long illness to suffer through.

We haven't shed any tears over him. I know some pets take on extreme familial roles for some people....but well, we'll be honest, he was our pet. We enjoyed him. We were glad to have him in our home and to allow our kids to interact with and care for an animal. And when kids came into the picture, he was probably mildly neglected and occasionally his food dish would not be filled as quickly as it used to be. :) We think he was happy and content in his life. He'll be missed....but not mourned like a human life.

We got him within our first year of being married....when we lived in an apartment that did not allow pets.

Our other cat, Daisy, will certainly miss him. They've been together for almost 9 years.

He was such a good, tolerant cat to have with young kids! If he got fed up with kids or didn't like all the noise, he would simply go hide somewhere.
He had always moved with us.....from an apartment to a 95-year old house that we a 2-month temporary mission our large family our current house in a new state.
One of the most recent pictures taken of him. And probably one of my favorites.
So peaceful.

Clyde was a very good cat and we will miss hearing his large, padded paws come around the corner on the wooden floors. And how he didn't always want to be petted, but he would rub against your hand to let you know when he did want to be petted. How he seemed to have a bit of a fetish for heads/hair.  How he would sit on your lap and knead his paws back and forth on your legs. How he would come when you would whistle for him.

Thanks for letting us take care of you Clyde!