Thursday, December 07, 2017

A Package on my Doorstep

Every once in a while, I entertain the idea of actually sharing more than a smattering of pictures and little tidbits of what we have been up to.  Believe it or not, there are lots of things going on in my head. These thoughts of sharing are usually very easily dismissed for the sake of other things that I could be doing. But here I find myself under the glow of the Christmas tree ready to pound out a lesson I’ve learned in hopes that it might encourage someone else.
Recently, I was challenged to do the right thing.

It wasn’t in a large effort of feeding the hungry or clothing the needy.
It wasn’t in a wide-influencing action in some monumental effort that the masses would see.
It came in the form of a Kohl’s delivery box on my porch.

I recently made an online purchase during the busy hustle-and-bustle Black Friday shopping. A week or so later when my order was delivered, an item was included that was not part of my order. This item was in itself much more expensive than everything else I ordered put together.

It was a King-Sized Flannel Sheet Set retailing $119.99. (Yes, I’m well aware that prices are marked up and you should never pay full price for anything at Kohl’s.) It was not included on my packing slip or billing statement. It was simply put in the wrong box and delivered to our doorstep.

As I contemplated on how to handle this, multiple battles raged in front of me and in my mind.
“Ohhhh…..those are so awesome, mom! I want them on my bed!” (the boys have yet to understand that bedding comes in different sizes). “They won’t fit on your bed guys….but they could go on our bed or the guestbed which are queens….because flannel sheets always shrink a little.”
“Well, they are the ones that messed up. Their loss, my gain.”
“I could easily sell a new set of bedsheets on an online garage sale site for $20”
“I could return them saying that they were a gift and I could still get store credit to spend on something else for us or…..even on items I could donate for others.”  
“This is a huge nationwide company. They will never notice this mistake. No one will lose their job over the loss of this item. This actual item cannot be returned to the rightful person that ordered it. No one even knows that it arrived at our house by mistake.”

Oh, I had lots of justifications for how I could handle this.  
But in the pit of my stomach, or more accurately – by the prompting of the Holy Spirit in my life,  I knew the right thing to do would be to take time out of my schedule and return them to the store just for the sake of doing what was right.  This item was not mine.

You have to understand I have a history of taking things that did not belong to me. I actually struggled with this A LOT during my pre-adolescent and adolescent years. Never from retailers or stores. Probably worse….I would take or keep items from the homes of friends. Nail polish. Lotions. Jewelry. Little items….but still I knew what I was doing. It was not innocent and it was somewhat addictive for quite a few years. I wanted what was not mine….and I occasionally took it.  I came to terms with making some of this right even just a couple of years ago when I discovered a ring that I had taken from someone. I knew exactly whose jewelry box I had taken it from.  It had probably been in my possession for almost 20 years. But as a result of trying to keep in step with living for Jesus….I was feeling a sense of conviction that I needed to admit what I had done to this person, return it, and apologize.  So I tracked down her address and did so. It was embarrassing. But also rather freeing being able to sense the Spirit working in my heart and pushing and enabling me to do something that silenced the justifications I had in my mind for not doing anything.  

And you have to understand that this was not my first run-in with receiving something that was not mine from a large retailer at the time of holiday shopping.  I shoplifted (accidentally!) an item about 10 years ago. It was one of those large plastic storage bins for storing wrapping paper. It was the day after Christmas when everything was marked down. I had bought a few other items, but I had this container underneath my cart.  It was a very busy shopping day and it was snowing quite hard. I was halfway sludging through the parking lot to my car when I realized that I had not paid for the container. I immediately whipped my cart around to go back in. As I did so, the wind and snow that had been at my back, now pelted me hard in the face – so hard that I could hardly even open my eyes. I whipped my cart back around again. I was not going to battle the weather for this. I would have to stand in a long customer service return line. They would likely look at me like I was crazy. And after all, it was their job to notice that I had a large item underneath my cart. I quickly and fairly easily determined that I was NOT going to make this right. Even though I knew it was wrong. We still store our wrapping paper in that container. And make comments about how I stole it. (No, I do not feel convicted about needing to return it and somehow pay for it at this point in time) (But it does serve as a constant reminder to me about my embracing dishonesty for the sake of convenience.)

And so, here I found myself again with an item that was not mine. This time, it was not an item that I had actually even wanted…..but nonetheless, it was quite easy to justify that I could still easily gain from it by selling it or trying to return it for credit.

But these days, my desire is to walk in step with the Spirit of God…..and when I know He is pushing me to do something….I aim to listen and, well……actually do it.

So, a few mornings later when I had little bit of time, I made my way to the store. I still battled thoughts of thinking how nice it would be to have a little more money to spend by returning it for store credit. But I knew it would not be honest of me to do. At one point on the drive, I even audibly repeated to myself, “I will do the right thing.….I will do the right thing……I will do the right thing……I will do the right thing.”  I was still clearly in the process of convincing myself that I was actually going to do the right thing. I imagined how the sales associate would gush over my honesty and would award me with a giftcard….or at least balloons that might drop from the ceiling recognizing and rewarding me for my efforts. I continued to talk myself through this reminding myself that I was doing the right thing…..for the sake of doing the right thing. Dear goodness, I should not still need incentive and affirmation for doing the right thing!

I stood in the customer service line. Upon my turn at the desk, I briefly explained that I must have accidentally received this item in a shipment and I was just bringing it back. The sales associate curtly said, “Thanks. Is there anything else I can do for you today?” I smiled and said, “Nope.”
And that was that.

My point in all of this…….
Doing the right thing is not always easy. Its often much easier and more convenient to not do the right thing. I don’t share this to receive high fives for being honest in this small way. And I somewhat dread putting some of my past struggles out there. And I even battle whether this is worth typing out…..I know lots of people who are dealing with actual hard stuff these days. This was not a trial of difficulty.

But here’s the thing…..I find myself strengthened by this somewhat trivial little happening.  Through this experience and several other recent things, I see God working in my life in the form of progress, or we can even get real Christian terminology fancy and say that I recognize the sanctification process happening in my heart and life. He’s allowing opportunities for me to work some of the selfish junk out. He’s allowing me to know Him and hear Him….and then respond. And that in itself feels good to know that I am growing and being worked on by the One who loves me the most. Painful, at times. But still good.  I mess up and get tripped up over things that I shouldn’t, but until I take my last breath, I hope and pray that He keeps working on me and allowing me opportunities to hear Him and respond in trust and faith.  My heart’s desire is to glorify God and share the love of Jesus in all that I do.

This journey of life looks different for everyone. He calls to each of us and works in our hearts and lives in different ways every day. Sometimes it is subtle and private. Sometimes it is sudden and big. Sometimes we may fight it. Sometimes it hurts and we can't make sense of it. And sometimes, it shows up on our doorstep in an unforeseen and unwanted package.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The last 3 months...

Strap on your seatbelts.
We are about to fly through 3 months.
There will be pictures and short blurbs. 
Likely out of order at times. 

2nd and 4th grade. First day of school.
This is probably the most handsome day of school.
Otherwise they don't do their hair unless I make them or do it for them.

This is his 2nd year of preschool. Next year it'll be kindergarten!

Tate was studying monarch caterpillars/butterflies for awhile. He really wanted to find one - mostly because the teacher offered some sort of point incentive for a prize (or something). So, we headed out one Friday night to a park. And him and I went looking for milkweed. Less than 5 minutes into our search and we found a good sized monarch caterpillar chilling on some milkweed. We looked another 40 minutes and didn't find another. And we also looked for the next several weeks and never found another.
Can I just say that I do not recollect really ever watching the process of a monarch butterfly before?
I really intended to do a blog post about it.....but here it is amongst a variety of other things. 
And yes, this creature is getting more press time than my 3 darling boys.
We got him on a Friday night and he was a raveonous eater all weekend! Did you know that they poop a lot also?!?! It was Labor Day weekend, so we had an extra day. By the time Tuesday morning hit to take him into school, he had attached himself to the top of our container, but was just hanging there. I didn't want to disturb him, so we didn't take him in that day. At Tuesday at dinnertime, I noticed the caterpillar was moving and jiving. Within a matter of a minute, he had shed his striped exterior and was just a hanging there in a green chrysalis. We took him in the next day for the classroom to keep an eye on him. They stay in their chrysalis for about 10-14 days.
Well, it comes time for this guy to start thinking about coming out and a weekend hits.
I offer to bring him home that way in case he emerged on Friday night and then he didn't have to sit in this small container for the rest of the weekend as a butterfly. Look at that chrysalis! It had gold flecks around the top! And the green was amazing. It was already starting to get a little transparent at this point.
And this was how we left it on Saturday morning before we headed out of town for a wedding.
He emerged at some point during the day. A little bummed that we missed it. 
The teacher really wanted us to try to bring him back if he hatched (Chickens hatch.....I'm not really sure what butterflies do) so the kids could release him.
But I felt kinda bad just keeping him trapped up. At this point, he had been a butterfly for well over 24 hours.
And he was beautiful and perfect. Oh my goodness. So crazy to think about what happened in that chrysalis in 2 weeks. And how he was all folded up in it and emerged with these decorative and gorgeous wings!
So, we let him go on a pleasant Sunday evening. He immediately flew away and up into a high part of a tree.

Point of all of this: Wow. Wow. Wow. God is awesome. I cannot watch this process of life without being pointed toward an intelligent and inspiring creator.

Kenny came for a short visit one weekend. Heath was pretty happy about that. And so were the rest of us.

I battled a pretty pesky elbow injury since the beginning of August. It has turned a corner this past month, but it still feels a little compromised and weak when I do certain things. I hurt it while putting a solid stain on our back porch. A little too much vigor for a little too long. From what I self-diagnosed, it was probably some sort of tendinitis injury, but it was pretty bad for awhile. Hurt to brush my teeth. To do my hair. To write. Forget about actually playing tennis, volleyball, or doing any weight bearing exercises on it. My online sources said it could be a bother for up to 6 months. 

This is a friend's wall hanging. She actually kinda acquired when she came to visit us about 10 years ago. I just heard the story recently though. Anyways. Moving here has allowed me to reconnect with her. And its been a real blessing. She included me in an effort of gathering various women in her life together for a monthly gathering. We talk about things that matter. We eat. We get to know each other. In this season of life of being newer to a community and of also our vocational setting in a church, I am always intitiating relationships and connections with was nice to have it inititated with me and be included. Recreating my own version of this wall-hanging is on my to-do list.

I was also a part of a women's Bible study that did Priscilla Shirer's "Armor of God" study. Some of the work throughout the week was intense and required a lot of time, but it was such a challenging and encouraging study to go through. And even better when you are working through it alongside others. She is a new "go to" for when I want to listen to an online message while working out.

I got my hands on a bunch of free apples! And then a friend and I spent a good portion of a Saturday processing her apples and mine. I believe we canned 68 quarts that day. A long day, but much better with a friend.

We had 4 weddings to attend back-to-back-to-back-to-back. All 4 very different. And that's the fun of weddings. They reflect the bride and groom. A nice time of being forced to shower and get dressed up on an otherwise lazy appearance day of the week.

Landon played soccer again this past fall. He did well. He still declares this to be his favorite sport.
Tate really wanted to try football. I wasn't ready for him to do full-on tackle yet. I found a flag football league that he was barely still able to do based on age. He did really well. I mean, a lot of football at this age looks more like corralling squirrels, but Tate was one of the quicker boys on his team and scored a number of touchdowns. He thinks he wants to do the real deal football next year.....

We were Lego Ninjago for Halloween (costumes courtesy of Aunt Jaime and Uncle Ben.)

Student ministry is in full swing. This was a recent Sunday morning.
Carries with it a large range of emotions and descriptions. Exciting. Challenging. Purposeful. Discouraging. Frustrating. Invigorating. Joyous.

Other areas of mention that don't have a picture to include with them:
We celebrated a 14th wedding anniversary at the end of August.

Adam got a new-to-us truck. Chevy Avalanche. Burnt orange. I still haven't driven it. But he's happy to have a truck again. And I'm happy that he's happy. And that we could pay for it in full.

We marked the 4th anniversary since Adam's spinal cord injury.

I got to lead Bingo for the month of October at a local retirement home. I may have discovered a potential vocational calling.

Adam shot a deer up in Michigan during a hunting outing with friends.

We find ourselves helping with a college ministry at our church.

I'm a table leader for the MOPS/MomsNext ministry at our church.

I've been watching a baby on Mondays. Its been fun to carry a little girl around the house.

We continue to look at houses in the area. In the past 9 months, we've thrown offers at 4-5 houses and looked at lots more. We aren't desperate and are not willing to duke it out with competing offers though. The location and convenience of our current house (the church owns it) is pretty great and has really grown on me. I just miss the days of having more space and being more able to easily host, gather, and accomodate others. Patience. Contentment. I'm still working on those.

Landon and Tate have started piano lessons. They are doing pretty well with it. The teacher is really patient and good with handling boys that are squirrely at lessons after school.

And I'm sure I'm missing something that was noteworthy. But alas, this must come to a close. Really. I'm really going to try to do better at keeping up with this documenting of our lives. For the sake of my children (since I'm not good at printing pictures or scrapbooking or keeping photo albums or journaling.....)

Friday, November 17, 2017

Heath turned 5!

Heath turned 5! 
(And it's not even a month later! I feel like I deserve a high five for this!)
(Let's ignore the fact that I have not blogged about anything else that has happened in the last nearly 3 months.....)

Posing with his birthday haul! He was so excited about the cards and gifts he received from family!
He took in special treats to preschool that we had made. 
And dad even came into his class for some special time.
He chose to eat at Buffalo Wild Wings for dinner. 
And he wanted a Boston Cream Pie for his cake (his dad's favorite also).
And can I just say having Adam's birthday on the 30th, Halloween on the 31st, and then Heath's Birthday on Nov.2.......Well, that was just a lot of sugar, treats, and partying.

Heath had his first friend birthday party. 

Initially, he just named 4 friends that he wanted to invite. 
And then after invites were given out and the party was days away (and after I had initially encouraged him to invite a few others and he insisted he didn't want to), he then said he wanted all of his preschool and church friends invited. 
Too bad, so sad, kiddo! Momma had the door open for that. You didn't walk thru that one!
We had a fun and low-key party at our house though. 
Ocean-animal themed. Games, food, craft....You know how I like to throw themed parties.

And since there was only a few extra kids in the house besides our own, I even let them have some free-play time! This has never happened before at a birthday party at the house. :) 

Here's what Heath is like at the age of 5:
- He likes turtles and frogs.
- He is making great progress with learning to recognize his letters.
- He has also been enjoying sharing the early math skills with us that he has learned.
- He goes to preschool 3 mornings a week. His favorite parts are lunch and gym time.
- His voice is still cute and distinct. Not as robotic as it used to be, but still quite endearing.
- He likes to help bake things in the kitchen.
- He loves trying to keep up with his older brothers.
- His chores around the house include tidying up the shoe area, putting the clean silverware away, setting the table, feeding the cats, and he even proved pretty helpful in raking leaves last week.
- He still likes holding hands and snuggling. 
- He is a hot little body and only likes to sleep in shorts.....even now that its getting cooler. 
- He still benefits from laying down for a nap a couple of times a week.
- He is incredibly endearing and sweet and we are so, so thankful that we get to have him in our family! 

And stay tuned.....I intend to do another blog post soon to catch up on the past 3 months of activity all at once. And maybe then, I will even make more of an effort to stay up-to-date on this chronicle of our lives........

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

2017 Willis Family Summer Bucket List

Even though school started a few weeks ago, I don't consider summer to be over until after Labor Day. Maybe its my years of living as a Michigander that rubbed off on me.

After taking last summer off from a bucket list since we primarily focused on moving, swimming in our pool every last second we could, saying goodbye, and making new friends.....well, we decided to re-institute the Willis Family Summer Bucket List this summer.

Good goal lists shouldn't be so attainable that everything happens, right? Then we'd be setting the bar too low. So, there are a few we didn't get to. There's always next year.

So, without further ado, here's our summer bucket list and our results:

The 2017 Willis Family Summer Bucket List

Go to a South Bend Cubs Game
The rest of the family went also, but they were not wearing Cubs attire, so they were not invited into the picture.

Have a Sleepover
Not much to explain. We had a friend spend the night. Haven't really done that before. 

Decorate Sidewalks at a Park and put encouraging messages on them
Didn't get this one done. Sounds lovely. But just didn't happen......yet.

Pay for the car behind us in the Drive-Thru
Went through the McD's drive thru. The car behind us gave us a nice honk of appreciation. The boys ask to do it all the time now.

Stay up until Midnight
Not really sure why they like to do this so much. But we did it.

Go to the Indy Children’s Museum
Almost tried to frantically get this in last weekend, but decided not to. I'm not a bucket list Nazi.

Visit 10 Different Parks
Yep, 10 of them.

Walk/Ride the Riverwalk 10 times (not in a row)

I think we only walked this once. The rest were on our bikes.

Bike a 12+ Mile Trip
We actually fit a couple of these in.

Paint Rocks
I'll let you try to figure out whose is whose. There's some trends these days of painting rocks and planting them around for others to find. We just decorated our landscape and fire ring with them though.

Watch a Movie Outdoors
We watched Lego Batman in our backyard with over 50 other people. 

Try Something NEW
I was thinking we'd try a new ethnic food or something, but we decided to cross this off the list when all 3 of the boys went tubing for the first time behind a boat. 

Go to SkyZone
Trampoline Park. The boys thought it was fun. I thought it was pricey (and of course, we went while they were running a promotion so as to not pay full price).
Go on a Boat Ride
We've all been on boats before, but only once this summer. Adam gave some wakeboard instruction a few times to a young boy in our church and they invited us all to enjoy the boat with them one afternoon.

Volunteer @ Food Pantry
Didn't squeeze this in yet. Our church has a food pantry. Volunteering with young kids can be hard as I've found in the past as well. Its hard to know how to provide opportunities for kids. And I didn't inquire about it until August. 

Have the Neighbors over
Maybe not a big deal to most people, but we've lived here a year and had yet to be able to make any sort of significant contact with neighbors. We've baked cookies and delivered them without much of a response or desire to interact with us. And for this list, we specifically were targeting our next door neighbors who seem to be the only other house with kids on the street. With a very last-minute-knock-on-the-door invitation to come over for pizza, they agreed! The wife was gone, but the dad with four kids was super eager to not have to feed them dinner himself. We'll take it. And hopefully build on it.

And that concludes the 2017 Willis Family Summer Bucket List Re-cap. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Tate turned 8.....a month ago

Sometimes I wonder if I should really keep blogging.....especially since I go for long lulls and get way behind........(Although, I feel fairly committed since this is the only journal of our lives....)

But then it's our middle child's birthday and I have this nagging pressure to not let our middle child feel neglected. Mostly because I can already tell there is something pretty significant about the whole middle-child-thing. Not because I was a middle child....which, I was....I was 3 of 4 - although, I was the only girl, so I'm quite sure there was a bit of the princess syndrome going on. I don't see it, but my brothers insist it was so. Anyways. I get it. The firstborn hits all the big milestones first. Gets to experience things first. A bit more of a domineering personality. And then the baby.....well, oh my.....he's my BABY! So, I'm working on trying to understand those middle kids and their view on life and the world. And how I can keep our middle child's heart from being hurt and feeling like he is always lacking something and voicing that things aren't "fair." (By the way.....we're OK with things not being "fair".....we consider it a life lesson....Because in case you didn't know, life isn't "fair.") :) How I can already see that he's trying to figure out who he is and sometimes wants to do things differently than his older brother. How he clearly has so much going through that mind of his already. How he is still trying to figure out how to express his big and extreme feelings. How he surprises us with his deep generosity and spot-on insights. This kid is so amazing.

Anyways. Our dear and favorite middle child turned 8.

For the 2nd year in a row, his birthday wish was to go fishing. So, Adam made some arrangements and they went fishing bright and early that morning.

Later that day, he opened gifts and cards from family. He chose to go out to Buffalo Wild Wings for dinner. Tate LOVES some bone-in chicken wings with a spicy sauce. (Thanks to everyone who sent something special for him!)

And well, did we have a birthday party?
If you know me at all, it takes a pretty strong force to convince me not to throw a birthday party! 
They are so stinking fun!
But because of a really busy end of June which lasted all the way through mid-July.....I scheduled his birthday party 2 weeks after his actual birthday. 

We invited a few handfuls of boys, anticipating that because it was summer we would catch some on vacation or with other commitments.....But on the night of the party, we had 17 young boys in our backyard (and a teenager). Every single one we invited was able to attend. 

It was Pokemon themed......little creatures with special powers. There's a whole empire around them with all sorts of playing cards, apps, toys, etc.
The games were all themed. I found a bunch, 144 to be exact, of knock-off mini Pokemon figures on Amazon and based most of the games around them. 

First, they had to hatch a Pokemon. I had put a character in a balloon and then filled it with water and froze it. There was 1 for each of them. They had to handle it with care (i.e. they couldn't just smash it in the driveway. So, it mostly involved them trying to melt it in their hands, blowing on it, etc. to see what character they got.
I had a pencil pouch for each of them that they could put their little Pokemon figures in as they collected them throughout the night. 

Then they played Pokemon Bingo in our basement (the ONLY time I let them inside the house.....except if they had to go to the bathroom). The game leader for this was super cute. And they could win more little figures or cards.

Then they returned to the backyard where I had hid a bunch of figures in a staked-out part of the yard. We had done the math. There was enough out there for each of them to find 7. 

Then the super-cute game leader led them in some sort of game involving throwing balls at each other and running around. I don't know what it was...They were having fun and I was getting the food out.
Nothing too fancy. Little boys aren't going to be impressed with fanciness and finery.
All of the food was named after Pokemon characters. My boys had fine helping me come up with these. Squirtle Juice. Weedle Watermelon. Charmander Chips. Jigglypuff Jello. Pikachu Popcorn. Bulbasaur Beans. Combusken Cupcakes.
(Yes, Pokemon characters have ridiculous names)

Here's what our Tate is like at 8:
- He LOVES being outdoors and exploring nature. A small stream could keep him entertained for hours. 
- He has a very strong affinity for rocks. We can't go anywhere without him looking for interesting rocks. And he's rubbed off on me....I've even found myself picking up rocks for him when I'm somewhere if I notice an interesting one. 
- He wants to try football this fall. There were some full-on football leagues that he could have just barely been old enough to play in.....but I found a flag football league instead. He doesn't even like when contact happened in I'm interested to see how he responds to it in football. 
- He is quite tall for his age. He's now eeked above his older brother barely. But its clear his limbs are longer and his feet are bigger. 
- He is a light sleeper and the earliest to rise in our family. 
- He is a voracious and good eater. Always the first one done at the table. Sometimes we have to implement a "put the silverware down between each bite" rule on him. 
- He thrives with one-on-one time. I still have some behavioral issues with him, but he responds great to Adam and other adults. 
- He can be an excellent worker when instructed and motivated well. He's excellent at being Adam's right-hand helper when he's working on things. 
- He's a thinker. Oftentimes, I'll look back at him when we're driving somewhere because he is so quiet and he is very clearly in deep thought, looking out the window. His deep thinking often results in deep questions.
- He has a sensitive heart. He internalizes mean things that are said or done to him and it bothers him quite a bit and hurts his feelings. Kids at school. His brothers. BUT, on the flip side, a kind and nice gesture or word towards him -- he'll remember and appreciate it forever. 
- He has the sweetest smile and big, dark eyes and we are so thankful to have him in our family!

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

2017 Garden Journal

There's just something immensely satisfying about growing your own food. I love walking into the backyard to top off a salad or to have the fridge and countertops bursting with produce.

Honestly, I'm not sure if its about saving money (or time) at all. I mean, I probably save some money with the amount of produce I get. Plus, I get to usually share some. And I'm definitely not saving time because I spend a lot of time planting, weeding, watering, and coaxing those plants along.

We expanded our garden space a little bit from last year. Adam got some timbers and edged out the sides.

Growing a garden doesn't necessarily come naturally for me. Growing weeds, on the other hand - I'm AH-MAZING! I document my gardening efforts so that I can look back next year and be reminded of what went well. And what didn't.

This year's garden included: broccoli, carrots, green beans, zucchini, yellow peppers, grape tomatoes, roma tomatoes, strawberries, yellow squash, lettuce, basil, and sweet corn. Oh, and weeds.

Broccoli did great. 
Carrots aren't quite ready yet, but they are growing. The tops look nice even if I'm not sure what the undersides look like. And I always forget how little the seeds are making them hard to plant and space well. 
Green beans....yum.
Zucchini....rocking my world.
Yellow squash. Ok. 
Yellow peppers. Hopeful that they'll actually turn yellow. But not yet.
Roma tomatoes were very short in stature and then got way too crowded within the cage, causing the leaves to yellow and die. But there's a lot of green ones waiting to ripen. 
Grape tomatoes developed a huge and tall plant. Lots of 'em.
Basil did super well. But I couldn't keep up with using it. And it flowered (which I believe is not good).
Lettuce variety pack. Did great! But we didn't really like it. Too bitter. And super tiny seeds making it hard to plant. (future Becca.....don't plant lettuce again...even if it is because of a free seed packet).
And those weeds. Continual. Persistant. Abundant. Turn-your-back-and they-are-thriving. Hmmm....I wonder if they are edible? (I did get some grass clippings from my brother early on to put around the bases, which helped with keeping some at bay and also helped to retain moisture. Note to Dan: I'd like more grass clippings if there is a 2018 Willis garden.)

And the sweet corn. It was my first attempt at growing it. And the crop has been decimated by a neighborhood varmint that is yet to be determined. I don't know if there's any ears left on the stalks at this point. Its the only thing that was touched in the garden though. I'm pretty sure hunting is not allowed within our city limits, otherwise I would let my hunter husband have his hand at eliminating my corn eater.

And this concludes the Summer 2017 Willis Garden details.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Grandma Jackson goes home

Last week we paused to remember the life of my (Becca's) Grandma Jackson.  This was my last grandparent. I don't feel "old" enough to no longer have any of my grandparents. But, alas, apparently I am. I know friends who have already had to say goodbye to parents.  As you get older, you start to realize that there are certain roles in your life that are incredibly important. As you parent, you finally have a glimpse of the magnitude of love your parents have for you. No one else will think of you so much, love you so deeply, cheer you on, lose sleep over you, or always want to spend time with you like a parent will. That's a big role. And a big hole once it's gone. And I suppose I'll have a greater understanding of a grandparent's role if I'm able to make it there. But again, there's a hole once that's gone.
Mother's Day 2015 with my mom and I. Three generations, all with the middle name of "Ann."

Reality is - funerals remind us that our lives are brief - even if we nearly make it to 90, like my grandma. We have but this one life to live on earth. There aren't do-overs. There will be a day when our loved ones will sit in a service, or at a graveside, and cling to precious memories of us. The feeling of separation from our loved ones can be painful and hard, but as a Christian, the assurance of eternity spent in heaven offers immense comfort and peace. I am certain my grandma did not just cease to be...this life is not all there is......but that she is living whole and in the presence of Jesus. It breaks my heart to know that many, many people live and die without that assurance.

I had the privilege of sharing my grandmother's life story at her funeral. I had told my mom I thought I could handle it, but 2 days prior to it as I snuck away from the house and worked on honing it while sitting in a coffee shop, I had second thoughts.  My mom had drafted much of it, jotting down details from her memory and from journal entries from my grandma - details that many of us were unaware of. I didn't want to just read some bullet points, I wanted to make it smooth and pretty. But all of a sudden, the weight of sharing one's life story and trying to do it justice in a 10-minute reading seemed overwhelming. I used a lot of tissues, received some sympathetic pity looks, and sent a few texts to friends asking them to pray for me. I could barely type it out and hold it together, I didn't want to be a blubbering mess, not allowing anyone to even understand what I was saying.

I made it through just fine at the funeral though. A little emotion. A few pauses to take a breath and collect myself. And then a big release of tears once I took my seat and we sang "Blessed Assurance."

Some family had asked for a copy of it, so here's a link to it.

The day was long. There was a lunch that followed the funeral. And then several hours of gap time to allow travel to her burial site which was over an hour away. And then another meal. It was a long day.....but not that we should quickly move on from remembering the message of a funeral and of a life well-lived. In that case, it felt much, much, much too short. 

December 1982....I'm the girl in green plaid on Grandpa's lap.
August 2003 on our wedding day.

May 2010, with Tate and Landon.

February 2013, with Heath.

November 2016, with just a portion of her great-grandchildren.
In short, this woman was precious and endearing. I was blessed to call her my grandma. 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Strahm Vacation 2017

The Strahm Vacation came and went!

We headed to the Kentucky/Ohio border area. Rented a BIG house in a teeny tiny town along the Ohio River. The house was perfect for our group and gave us plenty of room to spread out. The riverfront was just a block away and the playground and baseball/kickball field was just a block the other way. And well, the town only really went about a block in all directions. Teeny tiny. We did most of our meals ourselves....and there were definitely some good meals. 

We headed to the area because mom really wanted to experience the Ark Encounter. And well, we all like to try to make mom happy. Not because she's demanding or opinionated.....but because she is kinda the opposite of that and usually does everything she can for everyone else. 

We all got in on Wednesday a little before dinner time. Explored the house and the area. 

Thursday was slated to be a cruddy weather day, so we decided to just chill and get acclimated and relax. The guys all went somewhere at some point....They said they were park scouting, although they had nothing to show for their time (not like the girls when we checked out the Gap Clearance Center on Sunday afternoon). 

On Friday, we headed to the Ark Encounter. Very cool to take in the massiveness of the boat. There was a lot of information to read and they've spent a lot of time researching and thinking through so many aspects.....everything from the timeline/ "why" God sent the the significance of the how the species of animals were how they would feed/water the how they would've gotten rid of the displays of animals that may have been on the ark that are now extinct....and more. To be honest, it wasn't the greatest for young kids - not a lot of "hands-on" opportunities for them to engage with. And well, I scoured the internet for a coupon....nope, nada, nothing. Its a little pricey. But, we had a good time. And we all look pretty good standing in front of it. 

On Saturday, we went to the Cincinnati Zoo. Busy day, but lots of animals and exhibits to explore. Fiona, a prematurely born baby hippo, was slowly being introduced to the public and was the big hotspot. Who knew a hippo could be so adorable?!?! 

I kinda really like big gorillas. (And yes, this was the zoo where the notorious Harambe was from! Google it if you don't know what I'm talking about. I do like people more than big gorillas though.)

On Sunday, we walked to the small church next to our rental house. And spent the afternoon relaxing (with a little bit of shopping mixed in). 

On Monday, we headed to downtown Cincinnati. There is an AWESOME park along the Ohio River.  We easily spent the entire afternoon there before catching pizza for dinner. A few of us had already packed up and had plans to head home from there in the evening, while the others left the next morning. 

When I write it down like this, the vacation doesn't seem we did much.....but honestly, the majority of our time was just enjoying being together. Cooking and eating meals. Kids playing hide and seek. Throwing rocks in the river. Playing baseball/kickball. Playing board/card games. S'Mores. Chatting. It was a very good time. 

Oh, and I *almost* forgot to mention that I continue to be the reigning champion in our Mother/Children Ticket to Ride Vacation Showdown. It was down to the wire, but I continue to be the leader in strategy, skill, and expertise when it comes to building with small plastic train cars.

Heath totally loved all of the attention that he got from his teenage girl cousins. 
He was really good at mooching rides off of them.

Overall, it was a really great time! what to do for Strahm Vacation 2019?