Maybe It Is Just a Phase: 7 Ways to Build Trust with Your Toddler

Does your toddler trust you? It felt like mine didn’t for a while.

I remember it vividly. It was almost two years ago- I was pregnant with June (our 3rd) and I was expecting someone to come over to help me with our 4 & 2 year olds. Just before the door knocked, Pearl (2 at the time) woke up from her afternoon nap. She had been going through a major daddy phase & I feared it would not go well when I went into her room to get her.

I was right.

I opened the door and as soon as she saw it was me, she started screaming & crying, “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! I want Daddy!” With her arms flailing & legs kicking,  I picked her up to change her diaper and then went to answer the door to let Hillary in. Surely she’ll calm down in a bit.

But not only did Pearl not calm down, it got much worse. Over the next 10 minutes, she began to hyper ventilate and through hiccups & shortened breath, she continued in her tantrum, barely intelligible.

Innocently, Hillary asked the natural question: “What’s wrong??” Humbled, I answered her honestly, “She’s upset because I went in to get her. She wants her dad.”

Pearl didn’t like me for a while. It was easy to blame myself and feel like it was because of all the changes coming with my growing belly. And maybe she was struggling with the idea of a new baby coming. Or maybe it was just a phase. It sure didn’t feel like one.

This continued. Not usually this extreme, but often in small, equally painful gestures. At bedtime, for example. After reading books & singing songs, she’d snuggle into her bed & I’d reach out to give her a hug. “No! I DON’T WANT A HUG!!” And she’d jerk her body away quickly. Hmm, maybe Ginger was “the affectionate one” & Pearl was the “tougher one”. Or she’d fall & scrape her knee and instead of running to Mommy for consolation, she’d get mad at me if I offered a hug and insist she was fine- though she clearly was not. I thought there was some sort of written code where kids automatically always wanted Mom when they were hurt. Everything’s better with a hug from mom, right??? Apparently not.

It seemed this was never going to end. Ginger was growing more & more affectionate and meanwhile Pearl was… not. It was almost impossible for my heart to not equate this in black & white terms: Ginger loves me. But Pearl doesn’t like me.

It hurt my heart.

My husband & I had many late night conversations where he would encourage me to hang in there: “It’s just a phase. We have to be careful not to react in ways that perpetuate her behavior. If you act out of your insecurity, it could & most likely will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.”  I knew he was right, but for this mom whose tendency can be to take things personally, I was struggling.

Although sometimes we need to hear other moms simply understand our struggle, we also from time to time, need vision for holding out hope, especially in the little years. Fast forward almost two years later and I can say with joy & relief, that really was just a phase. Pearl has even swung to where she is very clingy with me. She tells me she loves me and gives me big snuggles & hugs. Of course I’m not saying there won’t be new phases and challenges ahead- even at times cycling back into some of the very same ones. After all, we’re currently going through similar things with June… and soon it will be Annie. But I am encouraged by the pay off we’ve seen in Pearl after fighting really hard for my relationship with her & I’m confident the outcome could have been quite different if I’d responded to my natural tendencies. So, if you’re a mom who feels your phase will never end, this is for you.

Here are 7 general principles that have helped me fight for trust with my toddler:

  • Resist the mom guilt.  I give #Momguilt its own hashtag because I see it as a constant, unrelenting destroyer of moms. Guilt loves to drive its subjects with shame & self contempt and never, ever produces what we wish it will. With Pearl, it was the temptation to feel guilty that at a certain point in my pregnancy with June, I could no longer hold Pearl standing up. It was easier to sulk in these thoughts- which led to nowhere good- than to refuse them. Thankfully, my husband encouraged me to fight & resist the #momguilt and that while there were some disappointments and limitations that would come with growing our family, there would also be lots of benefits for Pearl and the rest of us. Guilt is the mom disease and its only cure is grace.
  • Resist the urge to label them & box in their personalities, especially early on.  It never ceases to amaze me how early on people will ask young parents: “What is their personality like?” And unless the baby is super colicky, the parents will answer back about how how laid back the baby is… until they come to around a year & a half or 2 (like my Juney) and you might hear how strong willed their child is- HA! Are they? Perhaps. Or maybe he/she is going through the very normal developmental state of learning boundaries. That he or she is his or her own person & separate from you. It’s easy to label them both out loud and even subconsciously: the good one, the bad one, the responsible one, the rebellious one, the stubborn one, the stinker and on & on. And some of that is just birth order. But I’ve also seen that it can be helpful to hold off on attaching labels, particularly negative ones. Even if it seems innocent, your child can hear the conversations you’re having about him/her right in front of them. And as my husband said, we have to beware the self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe your child is one way, talk about him or her in that way and relate to them in that way…. some things can eventually become true that may not have needed to be.
  • Flex your Mom muscle. Not the one that says I’m in charge & I’m digging my heals in until you do things my way. Flex the muscle- though it may be weak & out of shape- that says I will not take that personally and I won’t hold it against you. When Pearl would pull away, I often felt the pull to want to withdraw as well. A friend lovingly reminded me that when the child acts like that, they don’t need us to respond like a child or punish them back. Our children need us to remain constant, to love them unconditionally. To flex that mom muscle that says, I choose to be the bigger person; I choose to be the mom.
  • Don’t stop disciplining. If our toddler doesn’t like us, it’s easy to want to swing the other direction and go easy on them in hopes that they’ll like us again. Unfortunately, this never works for so many reasons. You always need to emphasize that your love for them is your motivation in discipline (say it out loud ever time), whatever the consequence. But steer the course and stay as consistent as you can.
  • Meet them on their terms. Pearl didn’t want a good night hug or kiss, so instead of saying, “Fine, I won’t kiss you!” I started doing something with her where I’d cover my mouth & kiss her through my hand, mumbling in a silly voice, “Don’t kiss me on the lips!!”  She LOVED the silliness and this became our special thing for almost a year. I’m thankful to say I can’t remember now when she switched and started hugging & kissing me normally. But I tried not to force myself on her or pull away in the meantime.
  •  Defend, Protect & Champion them. I’ve noticed that with Ginger being the older sister, she was kind of becoming the “good one” like I said above with labels. It became important that Pearl wasn’t constantly the one in trouble, but that she felt protected and championed when she was wronged. I saw her feel validated & understood when I defended her. That doesn’t mean she was always off the hook. But I’ve seen how I publicly praising and defending her has caused her to trust me.
  • Keep praying for them. I prayed almost every night with Pearl among other things that God would give her a soft heart. I’m seeing it now and it’s amazing to watch.

So I hold out hope for you, dear Mom. Parenting is meant to be a reflection of the way God parents us. He loved us first and He never stops coming after us with that undeserved grace that turns us upside down. With His help, you can resist that Momguilt which threatens to destroy you & your relationships with your children. And you can flex that mom muscle, which says you will keep moving toward them even if it’s hard and sometimes on their terms. From this mom’s heart to yours: Hang in there, Mama.  Maybe it is just a phase. And maybe- just maybe- by God’s grace there will be payoff down the road.

My pearlie girl.
Learning to uniquely love my Pearlie girl.

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What of this can you relate to? What does your #momguilt tell you? What’s one way you’ve built trust with your toddler?

Bringing Church Home

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A few years ago, I was sitting in church and a video was shown that contrasted the influence of both the church and the home on a child’s life. The point of the video was to show that while Sunday mornings definitely have an impact on how a child experiences God, the majority of how a child perceives, internalizes and encounters God happens in the home. So, while it is important to bring your child to church (and this might be obvious to some)- you can’t simply leave your child’s faith in the hands of his/her Sunday school teachers and expect that they will have a meaningful relationship with Him.

Click HERE to watch this 2 min video.

If you’re like me, you care deeply about your role in influencing your child’s mind and heart, but can sometimes feel overwhelmed at how to do that or even where to begin. My children are small and there are tons of resources out there- everything from the Jesus Storybook Bible, to flannelgraphs (which I’ve seen make the Bible come alive for my kids), online curriculum with crafts, coloring worksheets and memory verses… but I want to share two simple ways I’ve tried to “connect the dots” for my children between church and home. The first has to do with what they’re learning. The second has to do with the songs they’re singing. 

      1. Find Out What They’re Learning and Ask them About it. Our church has made this really simple through weekly handouts and email updates. As we’re driving out of the church parking lot, I pull up the email on my phone, click on either “little ones” or “preschool” and read the Big Idea and Overview from what they’ve just learned that morning. Then I ask them each a simple question like, “What did you learn today? or What did you talk about at church?” to see what they remember on their own. I ask them about the lesson and the craft they did. Our church actually writes out questions for you (see I wonder questions below)- so I try to go through those and prompt them if they need help. Then I prompt them with their memory verse & help them repeat it. It’s almost too easy. But really what they’re providing is a reminder that I need to be engaging with my child over what they’ve been taught… and affirming those things. Don’t feel like you need to have a big knowledge of the Bible to engage with your him/her. It’s just important that your child begin to see that Mom and Dad care about God too. And that they avoid the sacred/secular split that happens when church and home are worlds apart and God is a Sunday thing.

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Parent email with info for each age group.

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It also reminds me of a book I read called “Everyday Talk: Talking Freely and Naturally about God with Your Children” in which the author talked about how it’s important to weave in spiritual conversations amongst your simple everyday talk- be it about the weather, birthday presents, friends or anything else. Knowing what my kids are learning about in church helps put it on my radar so that when we’re cooking or going for a walk, taking a bath or watching a TV show, I can try to bring God into the conversation.

“It’s just important that your child begin to see that Mom and Dad care about God too. And that they avoid the sacred/secular split that happens when church and home are worlds apart and God is a Sunday thing.”

       2. Play Their Church Music at Home. Not sure how many of you are familiar with Spotify, but as an alternative to iTunes, you can subscribe for a yearly amount and listen to music without having to pay for each album. I like it because that I can create playlists on my iphone and play them at home and in the car. When we’re driving, we plug in the auxiliary cord and play music that way. At home, we have dance parties in our living room by playing music from our phones through our AppleTV (a $69 product that sincs with your computer & makes your TV a smart tv). I LOVE that our church makes it easy by telling us what songs the kids listen to each week. So, amongst other playlists, we have a church playlist where we keep adding music they hear on Sunday mornings. While I haven’t been able to find all of those songs on Spotify, I’ve found about 95% of them. It’s fun to see our kids dance around and know the words to these songs I’ve never heard before… And to see the look on Pearl’s face when she hears the song “Two by Two” and lights up & says, “I know this song! We sing this in my class!” While it’s good for them to hear Mom & Dad’s worship songs, there’s also a huge benefit in them hearing their own worship songs. Talk about connecting the dots. As a side note, you can share your playlists with other people- here’s my Crossing Kids Music Playlist, if you want it!

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This lets me know what songs theyre hearing on a Sunday morning. I simply copy and paste these song titles into the search engine on Spotify or iTunes.
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This is what Spotify looks like on our computer, though I typically use it through my phone. And here’s our Crossing Kids Music Playlist on Spotify, which we’re continuously adding to. Click HERE or on this picture if you’d like to listen to it.

 

Ginger & Pearl dancing to our Crossing Kids Playlist.

 

Yes, there are times when they just want to listen to “Let it Go” on repeat- and we do that too- but there are also times to turn Frozen off and turn their Sunday songs on- to bring those songs from the church into our car and home. To connect those dots that our worship of God isn’t just a Sunday thing… it’s a Monday thing and a Tuesday thing and a Saturday thing. It’s an everyday talk kind of thing.

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How do you bring church home? What are some specific ways you help your child connect the dots between church and home?

A Bug Party for Junebug

One of my favorite parts of any party is designing the invitation!

For Juney’s first birthday party, in honor of her being our little junebug, we decided to throw her a bug party. But not a gross bug party- a girly one. More like a garden party. Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate, so we had to move our garden party indoors, but it was still pretty buzzin’. I got some ideas for the language of invitation off of Pinterest and then designed their invitation using pages, Etsy flower images and some bugs I copied & pasted off of google image.  Ginger and Pearl, her two older sisters, helped make the beehive pinata. I watched this DIY tutorial on youtube and we modge podged some old newspaper, wrapped it in streamers and added a few pom poms, vellum paper with black pipe cleaners all hot glued together and WALLAH:

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Beehive pinata. My older toddlers loved helping make this for the party!

Since we moved indoors, I wanted some things to “garden” up the house. So, the day before, I painted a Happy Birthday sign with grass & bugs…

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Pinata, garden birthday sign, artificial round moss mats, spanish moss, fake flowers and butterfly wings for the backs of the chairs.

And I cut out some circles of old cardboard boxes with some leftover fabric to make these lovely creatures. I hung these above the fireplace. They helped me bring the outdoors in, even though it was raining!

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Ladybug, ant, caterpillar, spider, grasshopper, fly, snail & bee.
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Cardboard & fabric bug banner.

My husband drilled some 2×4’s together to make this bug photo booth, which I will probably use in the future by just replacing the fabric and doing something else.

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Bug photo booth.
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Me and Nana in the photo booth!

Now for the grub!!!! We did bug meat, bee bread, butterfly salad, snails, caterpillars, ants on a log, roly polys, ants on a hill, dirt desserts, butterfly cupcakes, beetle juice and sweet nectar.

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The “garden grub.” Lots of caterpillars, dirt desserts, bug meat and more!
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I also used green Twizzlers for grass and dried spanish moss for table decorations. The dirt desserts were kind of my centerpiece.
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The caterpillars (grape skewers with chocolate eyes) were a HUGE hit with the kids.
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Roly Polys (ham & cheese wraps) and ants on a hill (cheese ball toped with a few raisins).
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Butterfly salad (pasta salad with farfalle noodles).
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Ants on a Log (celery with peanut butter & raisins).
Snails (crescent rolls with broccoli slaw for antennae).
Snails (crescent rolls with broccoli slaw for antennae).
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We did pulled pork sandwiches (“bug meat” not pictured) on “bee bread.”
For drinks, we had some wine & juice (
For drinks, we had some wine & juice (“beatle juice” and “sweet nectar”). Here’s a pic of the cupcakes (pretzels & skittles) and a close up of the dirt dessert (chocolate pudding, oreos & gummy worms).

Once again, our favorite baker Kathleen came through with an amazing smash cake. I told her I wanted butterfly/garden theme and sent her a copy of the invitation. This is what she came up with.

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Butterfly smash cake.

I love that June ended up a hot green mess at the end of the night. 

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There is nothing like watching a bunch of 3-5 year olds swing a bat at my husband while he holds a piñata out for them 😉

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Or watching the looks on their faces when they discovered that amongst the other candy, my mother in law had accidentally bought Warheads. The kids were not amused by this oversight.

Piñata time!
Piñata time! Who knew that toddlers didn’t like warhead candies?! Thanks, Nana 😉

And finally, the favors. I did little bags of jelly beans held together by a paper clip & some pipe cleaners to make butterflies. And a friend gave me some butterfly bubbles from the dollar store, so I threw those in there too!

Favors: jelly bean butterflies in plastic bags with pipe cleaner antennae.
Favors: jelly bean butterflies in plastic bags with pipe cleaner antennae.

June has been a super serious baby since day 1. And we joke that she didn’t smile the whole first year of her life. But I kid you not, the kid woke up the day after her birthday party and was all smiles for like a week. I think she was so used to being all go-with-the-flow-third-child, that she finally got some attention and it was like she just came into herself! That was six months ago or so and I really feel like it was a turning point for her with little personality. So, on top of being a creative outlet for me and a great chance to pull friends & family together while creating a fun memory, it also just reminded me how special it is to celebrate children. Not that you have to go all out each time, but it really does impact their little hearts when they know you’re lavishing love and attention on them. What a precious little gift, our Junebug.

We love you, Junebug.
We love you, Junebug.

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Although a relatively small birthday blunder, it makes me smile thinking about putting Warhead candies in their piñata. What’s a big or small birthday blunder you can remember from growing up or from your kids’ parties?

Girls in Pearls, Guys in Ties Party

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The birthday girl at her “Girls in Pearls, Guys in Ties” Birthday Party.

When our daughter Pearl turned one, it only made sense to do a pearl themed birthday party, right? Normally the “Girls in pearls, Guys in ties” theme is a sorority party theme, but hey- it works. We had the kids as well as the adults wear either pearls or ties. Here are some pics- hope they provide some inspiration if you’re thinking of doing a similar theme.

Pearl balloons say: “It’s Party Day!!”

I love these pearl balloons from Shindigz– they have a soft pearl finish that goes perfect with the pearl theme.

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A ballon wall made with “pearl” balloons.

Pearl was obviously all decked out in pearls from her head to her toes. Aunt Allie got her the most perfect headband from Wren & Ribbon on Etsy (no longer available but maybe they’d custom make it if you asked) and these most adorable leg warmers (here are some similar). I’m also a sucker for rompers, so my mom got her this one off Zulily.

I knew I had to tie in the guys’ part of the theme (pun intended) 😉 so I stained a couple small pieces of wood I had and made a tie and a pearl necklace from some beads I found at JoAnns and a tie banner from some fabric.

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Tie & pearl necklace decor, tie fabric banner and pearl table runner.
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Tie banner.

My favorite part was Pearl’s smash cake. We’ve used a local girl who owns Tartelette Bakery for several of the girls’ birthday cakes and they always turn out beautiful. I told her I wanted pink pearls & this is what she did. It was not only beautiful, but it was an orange almond flavor and tasted amazing! Pearl did not disagree!

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Pearl Smash Cake.
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Cake time!

With some burlap fabric, I sewed and glued some lace and pearl-looking ribbon onto it to fancy things up!

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Super easy homemade pearl table runner.

Best of all, some close friends helped me make these pearl cake pops. They were gorgeous and a total show stopper!! We used this pearl color mist over white chocolate so they looked like ACTUAL pearls. So fun.

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Pearl cake pops with pearl color finish.

Sweet friends celebrating with us.

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Girls in Pearls.
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Guys in ties.

Our family- two kids ago.

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Pearl banner made with burlap and white polka dot fabric.

 My sweet Pearl, the birthday girl.

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Happy Birthday, Pearliegirl.

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So far we’ve done a lot of parties where we invite the parents to come, too and it’s fun to involve them by having them wear pearls & a tie… or at our donut party, having them all wear sweats/pj’s along with the kids. Have you had any fun ways of involving parents at your parties?

A Food Network Holiday Menu

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Turkey…. Mashed Potatoes…. Rolls…. Stuffing… a relatively brown plate, right? If I’m honest, as much as I love the idea of traditional foods of Thanksgiving, loading up on turkey and bread doesn’t exactly make me salivate. For all the time and work it takes to prepare a Thanksgiving meal, I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to have a meal that’s just crazy good?  I know, I know. It’s messing with all things sacred to not to serve a turkey on Thanksgiving, but when your husband is saying that carryout from Las Margaritas (or insert your local Mexican restaurant) sounds better than green bean casserole- and you know he’s right- you have to do something.

The last straw was one Saturday morning in November, my husband and I were corralling our kids through Hyvee with our donuts when we walked by the meat department. If it’s possible to drool over scallops, raw filets and homemade sausages at 8 in the morning, we were… But then the heavens actually opened and shined down on that crown roast of pork accompanied by an audible high pitched song “ahhhhhhh.” From there, it was all over. Goodbye bland flavors, Hello Food Network site. We had my husband’s side coming in for Thanksgiving, which might sound initially overwhelming for a pregnant woman with three little children. But unlike my normal life, I knew I’d have help with both the food and the kids… And I figured, if I was going to be pealing potatoes and chopping vegetables regardless, I might as well draw from some of the food gods like the Barefoot Contessa, Michael Symon, Paula Dean & Tyler Florence. So, for anyone interested & wanting to mix things up a bit for Christmas, I wanted to pass these along. They did not disappoint.

We started with an appetizer: Roasted Pears wrapped in bacon & stuffed with brie cheese. The original recipe called for goat cheese, but since I was doing goat cheese mashed potatoes, we substituted brie. Make sure your pears are ripe, but not too ripe. And I recommend cooking the bacon a little before you wrap it to make it a little more crunchy.

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The main entree was of course that crown roast of pork. Normally, you buy a larger crown (maybe 13-14 chops) and bake the stuffing inside, but since we only had around 8 adults, I bought a smaller one and did the stuffing as a side. I wanted to do watercress with apricots as a garnish, but they weren’t available, so I used some arugula and cherries. I also made a cranberry reduction for a sauce. I didn’t really use a recipe, but this one is pretty close to what I did. I also added some red wine, fresh rosemary & thyme (what was left and hadn’t froze in our little herb garden) and some orange rind. Don’t forget to strain the sauce if you use fresh herbs.

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crown roast

For sides, we started with an Apple Fennel Sausage stuffing. Stuffing can be another Thanksgiving/Christmas food that tastes super bland, so it was fun to have some different flavors. I was worried about the fennel being overpowering, but it really wasn’t. It was delicious.

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I didn’t take pictures of the goat cheese mashed potatoes or Paula Dean’s corn casserole, but if you like cheese and you like butter, enough said.

Lastly, since my mother in law made an awesome pecan pie, I decided to make a pumpkin chocolate bread pudding. It was a little on the dry side (next time I won’t use as much bread) but that bourbon sabayon. If you’re like me and you hadn’t heard of a sabayon before, much less know how to pronounce it, it’s like a whipped cream mousse. Uhhhh, yeah. So, so good. I was surprised by how excited everyone was to try it!

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I had a lot of help with the food & the kids, which took the pressure off and gave me the chance to remember in this life stage how much I really do love cooking. I actually couldn’t fall asleep that night until after 11pm because I was on such a high from cooking… And eating 😉

Oh, and seven words: Blue Bell Pumpkin Spiced Pecan Ice Cream. Do not underestimate its power. Enjoy!
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Do you have a recipe you’d be willing to share that’s a slightly modern take on a traditional holiday food?

Why Not One More? (Part Two): Our Personal Process From Three to Four

“This is me processing our journey, not my take on raising kids God’s way.”

Photo by Lindsey Cavanaugh.

Over the years, we have experienced the black hole of infertility with some friends we love the most. I’ve wept with and for other friends who’ve faced the heartache of their baby being born with certain delays or chromosomal defects. And I’ve walked- and am still walking- through the valley of the shadow of death with one of my best friends, who lost her firstborn son to a cord accident. Walking- sometimes crawling- through these times of despair has, to say the least, shaped my view of “family planning.”

I am much more hesitant (and appropriately so) to share about the woes of pregnancy because I understand that it is a gift that is not guaranteed. I am much more hesitant to share about “making decisions” about the size of our family, when I know that after carrying that baby for 9 months, there is always the chance I may not bring him/her home from the hospital. Despite the difficulty to find the right words which convey my heart and the nuances of all things related to this sensitive area- I risk sharing from my personal experience in hopes to encourage another mom out there who may be wrestling through some of the same struggles I was/am.

Let me begin with a couple disclaimers-

  • I believe it’s normal to plan and prepare and make decisions and dream for our families. I also believe that what happens to those plans and dreams is entirely beyond our control. 
  • A while back, a book came out called “Raising Kids Gods Way.” It was a book on sleep schedules for babies. While the book had some good principles, the title was presumptuous to say the least. This is me processing our journey, not my take on raising kids God’s way. I don’t know what’s best for you & your family. Any time you cut and paste from someone else’s life and situation, ultimately it won’t fit completely right. There’s no formula or right or wrong answer or standard for how many kids you should have. There’s you and God’s plan for your family. I share my thoughts to encourage, inspire, embolden and perhaps even challenge you, not as a prototype to be copied.
  • Please extend grace to me and believe the best as I attempt to put my thoughts into words. Where I might struggle to find the right way of saying something- please look more to the spirit of my words, rather than the words themselves.
  • If on the contrary, you’ve been feeling that life is full or hard enough as it is… and you find yourself coping with the difficulties of parenthood in some unhealthy ways, it’s okay to pull back and take some time to heal before thinking about adding another child to the mix. Strains from finances, marriage, discipline issues with the other children, job, etc etc. can all play a part in shaping our capacity and these are legitimate things to consider. Don’t let platitudes like, “Just trust God more” put you under the pile and guilt you into going to a place you shouldn’t go. May grace and love compel and direct you as you dream for the future of your family.

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Many people have asked me how we decided to have four children. This is how. 

I’m not typically an indecisive person- to the contrary- once I set my mind on something, I’m pretty single-focused and don’t usually waver. But when my husband & I were trying to decide whether or not to have more children (and again, I use the term decide very loosely) I felt torn and confused. My husband and I prayed and had many discussions that would go round and round. One day we’d feel confident we were done… the next day, just as confident that we should try for another. I even found myself up late one night googling, “Going from three kids to four” or “How to decide whether or not to have another child.” I was looking for even some principles to lean on- ANYTHING.

As we talked and talked, weighed the pro’s and con’s, hashed and re-hashed, here were some of the pro’s we kept coming back to that tipped us over the edge to go for it:  (In no particular order)

(1) Grandkids. We fully recognize that we are weird for thinking so much about being grandparents when we are having babies ourselves. But we can’t help it. Both my husband and I keep coming back to the picture. The picture in which we are sitting in the center- and our kids and their kids are surrounding us. We get that lots of grandkids is not a guarantee, but we can’t help ourselves- the opportunity to have kids all over again with none of the responsibility… and to impact future generations in the context of family is super compelling to us.

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Us… in a few years.

(2) Everyone has a buddy.  A month after we’d had Juney (our 3rd), I saw my friend Joanna at church. Having four teenage daughters of her own, she smiled brightly and said, “Now you know you can’t just stop at three- everyone needs a buddy!” It got me thinking, when we go to amusement parks, everyone will have someone to sit next to on the roller coaster rides. I like it.

(3) Friends with regrets. We’ve had a few good friends, whose kids are now grown, say to us: “Man, we wish we had one more. The little years were rough and at the time we just couldn’t do it… but now looking back, we really wish we’d had just one more.” Hindsight is always 20/20 and hello- easy for them to say now!!! But weighed alongside our limitations, we’ve seriously considered these statements. If we can just get through these early years- especially the high chair years- one day, our kids wil be grown and I know we’ll be glad we endured.

(4) I’m already in baby-mode. For us, we knew if we even so much as tasted what it was like to be semi-rested and out of the baby phase, we would not re-enter. Plain and simple. We’ve kind of figured, we’re already in the baby phase- if we can just hang in there another year or two- a few more diapers, a few more sleepless nights, we will eventually feel human again.  And we’ll have this whole other person in our family that wouldn’t have existed otherwise.

(5) Our neighbors have a trampoline. But seriously. I look at our life and all we’ve been entrusted with and all the big and little provisions and it frees me to consider adding to our family. Several years ago, God provided our home- with plenty of space and room for little ones to enjoy. He provided a finished basement for them to play and run around in, a craft room in our unfinished storage area for them to create, a swing set given to us by friends and neighbors who have a giant trampoline they can jump on any time they want. I don’t feel a warped sense of guilt telling me that I need to be a good steward and therefore must respond by having more children. But for someone who could tend to feel claustrophobic during little years where I don’t leave my house as much, these extra gifts take the edge off in a major way and free me to want to consider stretching my capacity.

(6) It’s gotten easier. You’ve heard it said that the more kids you have, the less stressful it becomes to add one more. I can say from personal experience that it’s true. People talk about the transition from one to two or two to three, but what about the transition from zero to one?! For me,  just becoming a mom in general was such a huge transition where everything was new and the learning curve was unbelievable. I had no idea what an exersaucer was or how to give a baby a bath. Now all those things are just my world. And my two oldest Ginger (4) and Pearl (2) are my helpers (they unload my dishwasher- think about that for a second) and they also entertain each other. My capacity has also grown tons. Adding June (our third) to the family was by far our easiest transition. I’ll come back and delete this post if number four doesn’t go well 😉

(7) The vision of a full family. Although growing up I never thought I’d have four kids, I was impacted by a couple scenes from the movie While You Were Sleeping that I just couldn’t shake. One is in Peter’s hospital room and the other is at the Christmas family gathering. In both scenes, everyone is pretty much speaking over each other and you see both the noise and the love of the family. The funny thing is, I went back to show my husband the movie and they don’t even have this huge family. So, for some- full might be one or two. For me/us, we continued to be more drawn to the muddle of more. Six chairs taken at the dinner table. Toys falling out of the toy box. Shoes scattered around the entryway. Clothes falling out of drawers. I’m okay with it. And kind of love it. Smashed cheerios in the carpet, no. But the overall mess I’m willing to embrace.

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While You Were Sleeping. Funny how this sweet and not-so-large family made me want to have more kids.

“We continued to be more drawn to the muddle of more. Six chairs taken at the dinner table. Toys falling out of the toy box…. Clothes falling out of drawers. I’m okay with it. And kind of love it. Smashed cheerios in the carpet, no. But the overall mess I’m willing to embrace.”

(8) I’m enjoying these little years. Not every moment of every day, obviously. And again, not to say that if you aren’t called to more kids, you aren’t enjoying being a mom or that there’s something wrong with you if you legitimately don’t enjoy the little years- that’s fine too. But for me, I feel like I have the grace I need to do each day. And for having had four kids in just under five years, that says a lot. I couldn’t keep going if I felt like I hated this season. It’s a LOT of work and constant serving. Trust me, I have my days for sure (and lately my hormones are raging!) but overall, by the grace of God, I am enjoying my kids.

(9)  Answering the Question: Would surrendering to the current cost lead to long term regret? The answer for me was yes. But it’s a strange thing to willingly embrace something you know is going to make your life a heck of a lot more difficult. It’s one thing to be compelled be a bigger long term vision for your family. It’s another thing to live that out and to count the cost. To agree to two more years of changing diapers. To enduring another hard pregnancy. [Side note: I’ve had more than one woman ask me, “So, do you just love being pregnant?!” No, I do not. In fact, it was probably the biggest con on our list that was holding me back. Although I still see it as an enormous privilege, it is something I fantasize about- after ten weeks from now- never having to do again] . But I couldn’t get away from the regret I know I would have felt if I hadn’t said yes one more time.

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If you’re done having kids, what factors helped determine that your family was complete? If you’re not, what questions, reservations or thoughts do you have as you look ahead?

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Why Not One More? (Part One): When The Culture says Not To

“To the young mom who doesn’t have time for sipping mimosas, who is knee-deep in dirty diapers, who may indeed feel lost altogether at times, whose body is just not quite the same and is so very, very tired… I suggest a different solution than the one our culture is screaming.”

A year and a half ago, I posted an article on Facebook from Time Magazine called, “The Childfree Life: Having it all Without Having Children.” It sparked some very interesting and controversial conversation amongst friends. I took some time to respond to that article, which I’m posting here first, since it is provides some context for my next post: “Why Not One More? Part Two,” in which I’ll share more personally from our own journey. Pushing back against some of the current cultural norms wasn’t our driving reason for wanting a bigger family. There are many reasons, which I’ll discuss in the next post- but I did want to provide some background that has shaped us in this process.

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Time Magazine cover, August 12, 2013.

If you have the chance to read the Time article in its entirety, it is fascinating. But, for those of you who are probably not going to order an online subscription just to read one article, I will try to summarize. As you can see in the image above, the child free couple lounges on the beach sipping mimosas, while the exhausted & grumpy parents struggle with their truck load of toys. In my opinion, this picture depicts another problem: parents over burdened by American consumerism. Time author, Flores, pushes back against the American pie family image and exposes some of the ugly sides of parenting. She writes that we live in a baby crazed, “oppresssively family-centric” culture which is “obsessed with kids.” She describes a world where people “disappear into parenthood” and the loneliness that is felt by those that- for whatever reason- don’t have kids. These revelations aren’t unfounded. I would feel the same way if we didn’t have children & I know some of our friends have felt some of those same feelings. I agree with what she said about social media “adding to the pain.” And I admit, I’ve been guilty myself of doing some of the very things she mentions. Plain and simple- it’s making children idols. As Tim Keller puts it, “An idol is usually any good thing we make ultimate.”

Though she makes some good points, her solution is to swing the opposite direction and glorify a child-free life. In my opinion, none of these complexities or common mistakes of parenthood should necessarily lead to a rejection of having children, but rather a rejection of a specific parenting style and worldview.

The American birthrate is at a record low. In fact, from 2007 to 2011, the fertility rate declined 9% and currently, 1 in 5 American women who end their childbearing years maternity-free, compared with 1 in 10 in the 1970s.
The American birthrate is at a record low. In fact, from 2007 to 2011, the fertility rate declined 9% and currently, 1 in 5 American women who end their childbearing years maternity-free, compared with 1 in 10 in the 1970s.
Isabella Dutton. Her son Stuart was five days old when Isabella realized having a child had been the biggest mistake of her life:
Isabella Dutton. Her son Stuart was five days old when Isabella realized having a child had been the biggest mistake of her life: “I resented the time my children consumed. Like parasites, the took from me and didn’t give back.”

Around this same time, another friend posted an article: “The mother who says having these two children is the biggest regret of her life.” She says, “I dreaded (my daughter’s) dependence; resented the time she would consume, and that like parasites, both my children would continue to take from me and give nothing meaningful back in return.” She went on to describe the “dread the encroachment of this demanding little being on my own independence… I felt oppressed by my constant responsibility for them. Young children prevent you from being spontaneous; every outing becomes an expedition. If you take your job as a parent seriously, you always put their needs before your own.” This picture- of children infringing on our freedom- as parasites nonetheless, is what saddens me most. So there seems to be a trend in our culture (alongside the baby craze), which harbors resentment toward children, seeing them as burdens & nuisances.  One mom implied children potentially “hold you back from the things that matter to you” and said she didn’t “want to be seen as a mom.” I hear that our culture can be overly & perhaps oppressively “family-centric” but I am saddened by the equally strong opposite sentiment- that moms are just are “martyrs” and “lose themselves.” While this is certainly true for many moms, isn’t it also possible for women to do the same in other careers? I’ve thought a lot about what it means to lose oneself as a mom in the way that Jesus described losing your life on behalf of another, as opposed to maybe an unhealthy way we can lose ourselves… to anything.

Some of the most influential people in my life, not to mention dear friends- are either singles or couples without kids. Some of these friends expressed hurt for being judged as selfish for not having kids- or even in some cases “enough kids.” On the flip side, I also took offense & felt equally annoyed & frustrated by the whole portion in the Time article, which implied that those who choose a childless or child free life, are “highly educated” and “just smarter.” It goes to show how easy it is to demonize someone else’s view, rather than confidently arguing one’s own viewpoint, while still seeking to understand another’s. That’s why it’s important to express your own convictions carefully and confidently, but with room for life’s nuances, which are many. Demonizing causes more damage than we can possibly realize and doesn’t prove anything.

And so, I write this post to any young mom out there who may have “disappeared into parenthood.” To the mom who may be pulling the wagon in the picture above… who may be guilty after all of American consumerism, of being baby-crazed, family-centric and spending too much time on Instagram. To the young mom who doesn’t have time for sipping mimosas, who is knee-deep in dirty diapers, who may indeed feel lost altogether at times, whose body is just not quite the same and is so very, very tired… I suggest a different solution than the one our culture is screaming. The answer to our parenting idols and disappointments is not to erase the source of our struggles and glamorize a life with less chaos, more independence and more “me time.” Our children are not parasites, burdens or nuisances. Yes, children often prevent you from being spontaneous. And yes, If you take your job as a parent seriously, you will put their needs before your own. But there is a delayed glory and greatness in submitting to these little teachers that can challenge the passing pleasure of any mimosa any day.

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If I’m honest, what sounds attractive about the child-free life to me (or even less children in general) is the promise of less chaos, less noise, less mess, less work… and of more rest, more comfort, more… mimosas. But, whether you are “childfree” or have more children than you feel you can handle, Jesus presents a better vision for us both. Better than being family-centric, better than making your kids idols, better than Instagram. And likewise, better than me-time, better than finding yourself and better than your self-comfort. On either side, it involves self-denial and often delayed gratification.

If it seems backwards that in the chaos, and in the diapers and the mess and the pile of dirty laundry and dishes, and in the driving back and forth and in the constant discipline and in the naptimes and in the lack of naptimes and in all the noise(!!)… that there could be a glory and freedom worth pursuing…. it’s because it is. But the kingdom of God often works this way. I’ll say it again because He is worth repeating:

“Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it” – Jesus Christ (Matthew 10:39)

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What are your thoughts on any of this?

The Artistry of Motherhood

“Do you tend to value the functional utilitarian side of things or do you value the artistic and the beautiful?” -Dave Cover

I find it’s much easier to write about birthday parties and preschool activities than say, you know- the artistry of motherhood, for example. It takes a lot less mental energy to post some pictures of how to make baby food than to share why I haven’t been able to stop thinking about a recent sermon. And by recent I mean almost two months ago.

My main job is to keep my kids clean (I use this in a very relative sense) and more importantly, alive. At least that’s how it feels a lot of the time. After being awoken by little voices, I often start my day by doing laundry & washing sheets from someone who wet the bed the night before. Then onto getting Ginger & Pearl something to eat & drink, change June’s diaper, dress her, get her a bottle, put the dishes away, and so on. Legitimately, meeting their physical needs is a big part of what I do.

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Some of today’s dishes. You should see my laundry mountain.

But there’s another side to me. The side that likes to use Alton Brown’s recipe to make a lemon meringue pie for the first time. [As a side note, if I could double date with anyone living or dead, btw, it would Alton & his wife]. The side that nags my husband to use his jigsaw so we can carve a Mother Goose out of plywood for me to paint for their birthday party. The side that is still riding on a high one month after throwing a block party for my neighbors despite being pregnant and having three kids 4 & under. Am I insane? That’s a legitimate possibility. But I often ask myself, “Why, when I’m so exhausted, do I feel the need to make Maggiannos Rigatoni D and chopped salad for my sister’s visit when we could make things so much easier on ourselves and just order a pizza?!” Is it all performance? Maybe that’s a piece. But there’s something else deep inside of me that aches to create something beautiful- whether a dish, decoration or an event- where I can stop and smell the roses. When I can take a break from the monotony of diapers and turn an ordinary evening into something special, something memorable.

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Stopping to smell the roses in our garden.

Recently I heard a sermon entitled “Filled with the Holy Spirit to Make Art” by our pastor, Dave Cover. It was based off of the Old Testament passage where the Lord calls two men “not as prophets, but as artists:”

“The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. And I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you” (Exodus 31:1-6, italics mine).

Dave pointed out that this was the first time God fills someone with the Holy Spirit and it’s in the context of these men working with metals, fabrics, gold, engraving, stones, woodwork, etc to design and furnish the tabernacle. And although these men were called to a specific task at a specific time, there are some basic principles we can take away. Surprisingly, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about how some of these principles apply to my life as a mom….

“God attaches great importance to the arts. So much so that He fills the artist with His Spirit- with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs. In fact, all human beings have been created in the image of an artist. In Genesis chapter one, you will see a God who is busy creating art and calling it good. God values not just propositional truth- the words of a prophet, for example, he does value that- but he values truth sensed through artistic beauty and artistic expression.

It was not enough for the tabernacle to be functionally laid out the right way (though it needed to be); that wasn’t enough. It also had to be artistically symbolic and beautiful. That was important to God, its beauty. In the color of its fabrics, sparkle of its gems, luster of its precious metals, shapes of its objects, symmetry of its proportions- all of this tells us that he wants us to worship him through spirit filled intelligent skilled artistic symbolism & abstract beauty” (-Dave Cover).

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The tabernacle was a tent-like structure that was a temporary copy of God’s heavenly dwelling to be later replaced by the temple.

So, what does it look like to not merely value the utilitarian side of motherhood, but to bring artistry to it? In the midst of meeting my kids’ physical needs, to bring a sense of beauty & wonder to things? I find it’s harder than it looks. It takes time. And effort. And thoughtfulness.

So, when we have company and I’m up late kneading dough for cinnamon rolls the next morning… or I’m using naptime to sew tulle for my girls’ Halloween costumes… or I’m bending my pregnant belly to weed our first flower garden… I’ve questioned myself at times: “WHY am I doing this?!?! Am I weird?!” Probably. Could I have made my life easier by buying coffee cake, cute costumes and avoided the work of planting and tending a garden? Sure. And yet, I’m drawn to- almost need to- have these creative joys in my life.

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Making our Halloween costumes. Can anyone guess by the fabrics what we’ll be?
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Lemon Meringue pie for friends. Is it possible that a simple pie could “point to the Transcendent”? It shouldn’t surprise us that the pleasure of food can point us to the God who invented it.

Dave ended his sermon saying: “Excellence in the arts always points to the Transcendent in some way.”

It struck me: Could it be that my handmade Humpty Dumpty piñata, my peach cobbler, the time it took to plan a neighborhood luau and the roses in front of my house… could all be used to point to God Himself in some ways? …That God could use these creative efforts from a tired mom to create a meal or memory that would speak in ways that words cannot? No wonder I enjoy these creative outlets. And not because I have some mom standard to live up to, but because I crave that beauty. And probably because I’m experiencing the God of these decorations and flavors and flowers as I sew or cook or tend to them. And the thought that God could use these creations to point myself & others to Him encourages my heart.

There have been many times I’ve judged myself-  “Why do I WANT to do this when it would be so much easier to just… not?!” And although I think it’s good to evaluate one’s motives- whether from guilt or performance- this sermon really encouraged my heart to keep creating because:

“Art done right inevitably declares the praise of its giver in ways that words sometimes can’t touch. And in some ways it always whispers that lingering question in the soul: ‘Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God and the Creator of the ends of the earth’” (Dave and Isaiah 40:28)

(***Note: Dave credits Phillip Ryken’s book Art for God’s Sake and Art and the Bible by Frances Schaeffer for much of the thoughts he shared throughout his sermon.)

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How do you bring artistry and beauty to your vocation?

How to Throw a Block Party

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Our 2nd block party. After starting 3 years ago with just a few families, our second year we had around 60 adults and around 40 kids after our first year, when we had around 20 adults. After that, we had about 150 adults and kids.

Throwing a block party is a great way to foster feelings of fun & connectedness amongst your neighbors. It’s also a great way to break the ice and meet people you might not otherwise meet. Don’t be intimidated to be the first one to step up and coordinate- everyone loves a good block party and you’ll be surprised how great the reward is for a little work on your part.  Here are some tips to help:

1.  Get Input on a Date & Go With It. Picking a date can be the largest obstacle for some. It’s hard to nail one down because inevitably great people won’t be able to come, whichever date you choose. Put some feelers out there and then just move forward with what works for the majority of people you talk to.

2. Make a Flyer. This is one thing I didn’t want to delegate because I personally enjoy a little graphic design. We distributed ours through our Homeowners Association management company. See if they’ll mail everyone a hard copy versus an email version. I use google image & Picmonkey.com.

3. Create a Sign-Up/ RSVP. For one,  this will give you a gauge as to how many people are coming. But also, people are more likely to come to something they’ve committed/ RSVP’d to. We used Sign Up genius which I liked because people could also sign up for which side they were bringing. It also gave me the emails for every person coming so that I could email them a few days out with last minute details.Please comment below if you have something else you prefer!

4. Budget/ Food. My theory is that people like to participate. And we didn’t have a lot of money to pull this thing off. So, we asked people to volunteer- which they did GENEROUSLY. Don’t be afraid to ask people if they’re willing to run with something. If they don’t want to, they can say no. You might be surprised though- a lot of people want to feel involved. We also had everyone bring their own main dish, plus a side or dessert to share. We are considering food trucks for the future, but the downside is that I think that people like the feel of a potluck dinner. We’ve also considered catering the main dish and having people chip in a few bucks. We’ve also considered a shrimp boil, which I’ve done with another group. Last year, we did a fish fry, which was a blast. But similar to the shrimp boil, it does make a for some extra work for those working the fryers.

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Last year’s fish fry. Bingo (right) working the fryers while my husband (left) & our neighbor battered peoples’ fish.

5. A Bounce House is Key. If you have kids in your neighborhood, I can’t emphasize enough what a big hit this is. Nowadays, a lot of people own bounce houses because you can pretty much buy one for the same price as renting one (around $200). We actually had TWO this year! We were fortunate that our next door neighbors were willing to volunteer theirs for the smaller kids… and Century 21 has one you can reserve for free. One neighbor reserved it, picked it up, set it up and returned it. Amazing.

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Double the bounce houses= double the fun!

6. Greeter’s Table & Name Tags.  Our first year, we had no one to officially greet people when they walked up, so some people just kind of wandered around. We saw it was hard for people to break into groups/conversations if they didn’t know anyone. This year, we had a welcome table where we could greet each person, give them a name tag, further instructions about the food and encouraged them to introduce themselves to someone new. We also had people write their address under their name so that we could have a general idea of where people lived as we mingled- especially helpful if you found someone just a few doors down! If you are more administratively bent and less of an upfront person, consider asking someone with a more outgoing disposition (even better if they’re already connected in the neighborhood) to be the official greeter at the welcome table.

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Greeter/Welcome table (left) and food tables.
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This year’s theme was a luau, so we also gave each guest a lei.

7. Take Pictures. People love to have their picture taken. We tried to get a picture of everyone who came through the line (although I know we missed people) and asked if they’d feel comfortable if we posted the pics to the Neighborhood Facebook group. Hoping this creates a sense of connectedness and belonging as well. If you have your hands too full that night, assign someone else to the Greeter’s station to take pics.

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We lucked out with beautiful weather. Next year, I will make sure we have a date locked and loaded for May.
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New friends.
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Everyone enjoyed themselves.
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Kona Ice was a huge hit with the kiddos.
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View from my garage.

8. Have a Bathroom Plan. For the first few years, rather than pay for a porta-potty, we offered our house for those who needed a bathroom, as did our next door neighbors on the culdesak. If you’re coordinating down the street from your home, make sure you ask (don’t assume!) if you can use the bathroom of the nearest house. Some may feel uncomfortable with this for a variety of reasons, including if they have babies or small children they need to put to bed before the party ends. In that case, respectfully figure out plan B. Now that it’s grown so big, we’ve decided to get a couple porta potties (the company we’re using is charge $150 for 2 and will deliver them and pick them up the next day).

9. Music. Music is a powerful tool that brings joy & sets people at ease, so don’t let this be an afterthought. If you delegate this, ask someone who will choose fun, familiar songs that are also appropriate for kids if they’re around. Consider making a long playlist on Spotify.

10. Get Others Involved. This is a big deal. People will feel way more connected to the neighborhood if they’re personally invested and have served even in a small way. These are some tangible needs you may have in addition to those listed above:

  • Design & distribute Flyer (or contact Homeowners Association to have them distributed)
  • Decorations- Tiki Torches are fun to have. If you get some, don’t forget oil and a gas lighter as well.
  • Plasticware & Tablecloths- You’ll need Silverware, Plates, Cups & Napkins.
  • Water & Lemonade- People may bring their own drinks, but it’s nice to have a big cooler (or two) of at least water provided. Make sure your coolers are cleaned out in advance- that can be a last minute pain!
  • Trash- Make sure you have extra large trash bags.
  • Tables
  • Lawn games (ie: Bags, Washers, Can Jam, Spike Ball, etc. Ask around!)
  • Set Up & Clean Up Crew- Always good to have paper towels, masking & scotch tape and scissors on hand too, btw.
  • Ice Cream Truck- Have someone call in advance to have them come through

Also, utilize social media. Our neighborhood has a Facebook group, so I was able to communicate with a core of about 40-50 people. If you don’t have a Facebook group, consider starting one for an easy means of communication.

At the end of the night, I heard several people say how connected they felt and how much they already loved the neighborhood. Just by throwing a party, you can literally help people build relationships, feel safer and less isolated in their home. I hope this gives you some vision- as well as some steps- to reach out to your neighbors and make some new friends.

Good luck & let me know how it goes!

To read my thoughts on some of the why’s behind The Art of Neighboring, read my guest post on the Every Square Inch blog.

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Our growing family.

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For those of you who went to a Block Party growing up, what’s a fun memory you have?

Decorating for 4th of July

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Mac wishes me Happy Birthday and Pearl gives a big smile.

I’m a huge 4th of July person. And part of that is because my birthday is the 5th.

A couple of years ago, when I had more time, I made a bunch of 4th of July party decorations- chair covers, fireplace banner, star “wreath” for our front door, etc. It was fun pulling everything out again this year and since I know some of you out there are always looking for holiday decoration ideas, I thought I’d share. Happy Summer!

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4th of July Star “Wreath”
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America fireplace banner.
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4th of July Chair Covers.
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Chair Covers close up.
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4th of July Burlap square for table centerpiece.
Pendant bows.
Pendant bows.
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Yummy!
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Happy 4th!

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What’s a cute idea for something simple I could do to add next 4th of July?

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