Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Penalty Box

If you haven't noticed already, I am a woman who thrives on order and plans.  I get overwhelmed so easily that having a set schedule or 'plan of action' is my key to a successful day.

When Little P started getting to the age where he was CHOOSING wrong or disobedient behaviors (obviously age appropriate), I knew I had to come up with a plan.  This sporadic discipline was not working.  I needed to have a plan of action that ALL of us knew about.  He needed to know his causes/consequences and so did we. 

So, my husband and I talked about different ideas for a few weeks and then decided that we were going to do our own version of Supernanny's Naughty StepCall me a feel good mom, but I wasn't so thrilled on using the term 'naughty' so we decided on

The Penalty Box.

The key to this system was that we had to remain cool, calm, and collected.  We had to remember that these behaviors, as irritating as they were, were not personal attacks.  Little P was doing this TO ME...there was nothing for me to be offended by.  We had to change our way of addressing discipline from punishing to training.  So, now that we had the right intention behind our plan, this is how it would work when a behavior needed correcting:

1) Down on eye level; Warning in a stern but collected voice.
(Little P, I asked you not to throw your toys.  If you do it again, you will go to the penalty box.)

2) Once the offense is done again, without saying anything, sternly but not aggressively take them by the hand and lead them to the penalty box.  No words.

3) Get down on eye level, in few stern but collected words, explain why and how long they are there.  Walk away.
(Little P, you do NOT throw your toys, you will be in the penalty box for 3 minutes)

Age = Time in Penalty Box
Do NOT stand there and hold them/guard them in the box.  This is a lesson in self control and obedience.  You are doing the training, not being trained.

4) If they leave the penalty box, you say nothing, put them back, and start the time over.
The first few times, it may take a while, but stick with it, it's worth it!  I know once mom who battled for 45 minutes, never lost her cool, and it worked!

***The KEY is to remain calm.  Do not show one ounce of disgust on your face.  If the child knows they are getting to you, it defeats the purpose.  You are addressing the behavior, not the child.****

5) After the required minutes are over.  You go to them, get down on eye level, explain the 'offense', ask for an apology, and give them a big ol' hug.
(Little P, Mommy asked you not to throw your toys but you still did.  Next time you need to listen to mom, okay?)

Everybody has different opinions on asking for an apology but from my personal experience, I found that it taught them about being sorry.  I rarely have to ask anymore, even when it's not a penalty box situation, because they understand the concept. 

Lastly, introducing it in a fun way is always crucial.  If they see that you have put the effort in, they know you are not playing around.  We followed Supernanny's recommendation and made up our house rules and posted them in the kitchen. This way, we were all on the same page as far as expectations.  It's not fair to hold them responsible for a million rules that may or may not have been previously covered.  We then made a sign and taped off an area in our dining area. When the kiddos got up from their nap that day, we went over the rules (giving silly examples of every 'wrong thing') and explained to them how the system would work.

This system has been a lifesaver in our house. There are days when it is used often and then we can go weeks where a warning is good enough. If you are going to use this system, its extremely important that you are not only consistent but that mom and dad are on the same team! The system has to work the same way during the day, evening, weekends, with mom, or with dad. With a united front, they will take it seriously.

I can say that we have a much happier house now that the kiddos know their boundaries and we know our response.  There is no hesitation, only confidence.  Good luck!





Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Best Christmas Gift - He Said 'YES'


Every Christmas, I love to reflect on Mary's 'yes'.  I find it overwhelming that she had such a simple faith that it didn't take convincing for her to follow God and carry Christ.  I often wonder if I could have the same faith.

This Christmas I recieved a gift that was so magnificent that I couldn't wait to share.  (No, I'm not pregnant!)  Last Christmas Eve, my brother, Fr. E, was ordained a Catholic Priest in Rome, Italy.  He had studied for 11 1/2 years to prepare for this day.  He was finally reaching his 'wedding day'. 

Fr. E is the second oldest of my three older brothers.  He is 7 years older than me.  As much as I enjoyed having three older brothers, I never really got a chance to know the older two when I was younger.  Fr. E left for West Point when I was in 6th grade and then the seminary when I was in 8th.  Besides letters and the occational visit, he had not watched me grow up.  He didn't know a lot about me and I didn't know a lot about him.  We were sibilings and we loved each other but our lives had not come together very often thus far. 

Then, after getting married, we moved to Naples, Italy.  At the time, Fr. E was living in Rome, Italy (just 2 hours north).  For the first time, I was given the opportunity to get to know him and he was being given the opportunity to know me...as a grown woman, wife, and mother.  I was no longer just his little sister. 

During the three years that we lived in Naples, Fr. E and I's relationship grew by leaps and bounds.  We both learned a lot from each other.  He and my husband and children formed a relationship that none of my other brothers have had the chance to have.  I forever grateful for the years that I spent living near him.  If we had not moved over there, I don't know if we would have ever gotten to know one another.

About a year out from ordinations, we had a unofficial idea that ordinations would be the following Christmas. 

On April 16th, while visiting Florence, Italy, I found out that I was pregnant with Mini-C. 

My due date: December 22, 2010. 
Fr. E's Ordination Date: December 24, 2010

As you can imagine, the tears flowed.  Still to this day, I have no clue how I got pregnant but continue to believe that God had a plan.  He knew what He was doing.

Obviously, I knew that I would not be attending my brothers long awaited ordinations since we were moving back to the States the next month and a world-wide trip was not in the cards at 40 weeks pregnant or with a newborn.  I was heart-broken.

Mini-C ended up arriving early but not in enough time to secure her a passport.  Now it was time for me to step up to the plate and carry out the Will that God had for me in that moment.

About a week before ordinations, Fr. E called me.  He said one of the most amazing things to me and it carried me through this time.  He said,

"Jeanne, during this time, we have a connection.  You are being asked to live the fullness of your vocation as a wife and mother as I am entering into the fullness of my vocation as a Priest.  How cool is that?"

As tough as those days were, they were much better than I had expected.  My brother had given me a purpose.  I refused to dissolve into my own self pity, rather I was going to turn it around and live each day fully, offering up all of my sacrafices for him.  He needed the graces much more than I did.

My family called me before taking off and everybody kept in touch via phone, internet, and pictures.  As the pictures started to pour in, that feeling of being left out and 'I should be in that picture' started to take over.  It was such a hard thing to accept. 
I had spent the last three years with him. 
I had a close relationship with him. 
I should be there.
WRONG.  It's not about me!

There was a purpose.  I had to trust that (as I took care of a newborn and two toddlers with the stomach flu...awesome!)

Over the course of this last year, I have seen pictures, I have spent time with Fr. E, and we were at his first Mass and reception when he visited my parents.  It was amazing.  Still, that feeling of regret kept creeping in.  I should have been there.  I didn't get to experience any of this amazing week with my family.  I didn't get to hear the toasts or see his first Mass. 

And then, when my parents arrived last week, my mom brought a video that my cousin had made.  It had his first Mass, the toasts, and so many memories.  While I will never have the satisfaction of 'being there', all of my questions have been answered and I got to experience some of the moments that my family had experienced.  Part of the hole in heart has been filled in. 

My pride for my brother is enormous.  As I reflected on Mary's 'yes', I realize that my brother has also said 'yes' and for that I am thankful.  If he would not have chosen to follow his calling, I don't think my family would be where it is.  As my dad said in his toast,

"What I realized is that in all of this time of us supporting Fr.E and helping Fr. E because he's doing something so hard, in reality, he knew what he was doing.  And all he doing was looking back at us saying 'Come on!  Follow me!' and we all have."

So, Fr. E, cheers to your first anniversary!  I am so very proud of you and am so thankful to have you as an example for what it means to live our 'yes' in everyday life.  Thank you for encouraging me to live my 'yes' when all I wanted to do was pity myself.  I love that my kids have you as an uncle!

Soaking It All In...

One of my favorite parts of Christmas is carrying out our different family traditions.  There are things that both P and I have brought to our family that make our Christmas Season awesome. 

This year, we made a consistent effort to put the emphasis on Jesus instead of Santa.  I can officially say that for probably the first time in my LIFE, I was successful at focusing equally, if not more, on the reason for the season instead of Santa/presents/food/etc.  I found it so much easier to do that this year because I was so conscious of my kids understanding WHY we were celebrating.  I didn't want them to scream out 'SANTA COMES' when someone asked them about Christmas, I wanted 'JESUS' BIRTHDAY' to be the first thing to came to mind.

We had a lot of fun making it a super fun weekend and they really did understand.  I realized that they understood when, on Christmas morning, while running downstairs, before going to see their presents, P brought them straight to see the Nativity.  I knew they'd be chomping at the bit to look at the tree but they weren't!  I was shocked.  They were so enthralled with the fact that baby Jesus was laying in the manger and my shy son sang 'Happy Birthday' louder than I've EVER heard him sing!  Definitely a proud mama moment!

All of these moments really got me thinking about how simple it is to teach our little ones.  They are like little sponges WAITING to soak up what we have to offer.  Oftentimes, we overlook this amazing opportunity to form our kids because we're busy or tired or just don't want to have to put forth the effort.  But the fact of the matter is that if we don't teach them, society will.  If we don't value the true meaning behind the Holidays or praying throughout the day, how will they EVER learn to value it?  These are things that will not just suddenly click one day...they have to be taught. 

As deep as it sounds, we are forming the future.  We are laying the groundwork for our world in 20 years.  I want to put forth adults who understand that there is a deeper value to life and things.  I want to raise little adults that understand what it means to be generous.  I want my children to be grownups who seek personal responsibility over comfort because they know that it is right.  All of these things, they have to be taught.  They are watching us.  Are we living those qualities that we want them to attain? 

Being a parent is rarely comfortable.  It means constantly giving of yourself, realizing that usually your children's behavior generally reflects directly on your decisions, and stepping up to the plate to follow through on those examples for them. 

So, now that I have veered so off course of my original objective for this post, I will wrap it up by saying that this Christmas has been an awesome one.  We enjoyed each other, celebrated the birth of a King, and it kicked my rear end in gear to do what I am called to do as a mother and form my children into loving, responsible, and generous adults.

They are like sponges, what am I going to give them to soak up?



Thursday, December 22, 2011

Packing - Day 2

Day 2 is definitely the lighter of the two day packing system.  On day two, the first thing I do is get down the suitcases.  I use one suitcase for all three kids for a few reasons.  One, if I don't, there is far too much room to over pack.  Secondly, there are three of them and two of us...we can't be toting tons of little suitcases everywhere.  And lastly, it is so much easier to keep everything organized and together at our destination when I don't have suitcases all over the house/hotel room/etc.

So, once I get the suitcases, I put them to the side in my 'packing room'.  When packing my kids clothes, I am very systematic.  The first thing I do is go through the days that we will be gone.  I figure out the 'special outfits' that will be needed.  For this weekend, we'd be going to church on Sunday and we were going to be celebrating Mini C's birthday.  Child by child, I lay out everything they would need for these two occasions.  I laid out all of their church clothes, socks, shoes, belts, tights, bows, etc.  Then I moved on to Mini-C's birthday outfit, socks, shoes, and bow. 

After I have any 'special occasion' clothes laid out, I move on to the every day clothes.  This is where the open table or bed becomes VERY important.  The first thing I lay out are pajamas.  I use them as place markers for each child. 
After I have their pajamas out, I move on to their clothes.  For the older two, I pack one extra 'everyday' outfit.  I start with Little P and move down the line from there.  So, this is what I do. 

First, I lay out P's CLOTHES.

Then, I add socks and underwear to every outfit (plus one extra).

And lastly, I lay out any shoes that he will need.

Once I do this, I repeat the same process for the girls, taking it step by step.  This is what my table ends up looking like.

Once I reach this point, I can breathe a sigh of relief.  The hardest part is over. 

Next, I finish off my first day bag.  For this trip, we were going to be changing them into these clothes at our breakfast stop.  They needed to be comfy for car riding but cute for arriving at Nana and Pepe's house.  So, I take one outfit/socks/underwear/shoes for each child and pack it into my 'First Day' bag.
Now, if you remember, our first day bag should last us through the first twenty four hours.  So, since we will be leaving at 3AM, I have the clothes that they will be changing into, their bath soap, diapers, wipes, extra underwear, tooth brush, tooth paste, and pajamas for the following night.  Done.  Zip it up and add it to the pile of things to get packed.

Lastly, we just have to pack up all of their clothes.  Like I told you, I put all three kids in one suitcase.  I put all of their socks and underwear in the mesh compartment and then line the rest up child by child.  Little P usually has the right side, Little C usually has the middle, and Mini C has the left side.  This is what it ends up looking like.

Once everything is packed up, I get to pack up the car.  My husband usually packs up our car for other things, but he is so awesome at letting me do it when we go on trips.  There is something about knowing that it is all organized. 

First I get everything into the back (suitcases, stroller, food for our destination, Christmas presents, etc.)  The last day bag is the last bag to go in so I can easily access it when we stop.  Then, I move to the front of the car.  I place the snacks in between the console and the dash board, the diaper box directly behind the console, the toys right behind the passenger seat, and the DVD player behind the drivers seat.  I also adjust their car seats so they are leaning back and place a blanket in each car seat so they can go back to sleep once we load them up in the morning.  They also each have a sippy cup of water but those stay in the console unless they ask for them.  With two potty trained kiddos, less water = less stops.  They know they can take sips but we won't be chugging water...haha.

So, that's about it.  I can't tell you how nice it is to get in the car and drive off knowing that I have everything I need. 

I hope these ideas have helped you in your packing this Holiday Season and beyond.

Merry Christmas!


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Packing - Day 1


We traveled often when we lived in Italy.  Whether it was a quick trip to Rome, a three week visit to the States, or a 5 day trip to Greece, I realized quickly that I needed to come up with an efficient way of packing for our trips.  So, in true Jeanne fashion, I came up with a system.

Now, I LOVE packing for trips.  I can't wait for it.  I love that feeling of being on top of things and knowing exactly where things are.  I love getting in the car and not worrying about leaving items behind or toting too much.  With three little ones, I have enough to worry about.

So, today I will go over the preparations.  The days leading up to the trip and how I get it all together.  I will cover the differences in air travel, car travel, age of children, diaper bags, etc, in other posts.

So, let's begin!

The trip that I was preparing for was a 12 hour drive to my in-laws house.  One of the biggest parts of planning a drive is planning your departure time.  For us, we have determined that all of us do better when we leave in the middle of the night.  By leaving at 3AM, the kids will continue to sleep/doze for the first 3-4 hours of the trip.  Once they do wake up, it's pretty easy to stretch them for another hour or so with bananas, morning conversations, etc.  About 5 hours in, we generally stop for breakfast/stretch legs/change into day clothes/gas.  After this, we are ready to finish the drive.  It's at this time that they will watch a movie/look at books/etc and will usually doze back off because they are tired from their sleep being disturbed.  After they wake up, its the job of the passenger adult to keep them entertained with a movie, snacks, books, singing, conversation, etc. until we arrive at our destination.  In order for this departure time to work, we have to be in bed by 9pm the night before. 

So that is where my planning begins.  Once I know my 'end time' (9PM) I can start planning the days leading up to it.  The first thing I do is write out my 'plan of action'.
I fold a paper (as shown above) so I have 6 sections.  Everybody has different categories but mine are generally Errands, Grocery List, Schedule, Food to bring, Snacks for the Car, and Things to Remember.  It's easy to fold this list up and keep it in my back pocket to add to throughout the days.

So, my system is a two day system.  Day 1 is used to for laundry, grocery shopping, errands, and the non-clothes stuff and Day 2 is for clothes and packing the car.

The key to my system is having an open space to lay everything out (a table, bed, bathroom floor).  This space needs to be 'non-touchable' by the kids and big enough to hold A LOT of stuff.

DAY 1
I head to the grocery store first thing in the morning.  This is my chance to get any items that we will be bringing with us. 
At home, I am focused on getting ALL of the laundry washed, folded, and put away.  In between this, I start with the food.
I gather it all on the table and then separate it from there.
After boxing up the food that I am bringing, I make my snack bag for the car.  Knowing that this bag stays in the front with us, it has to be skinny enough to fit in between the front console and the middle dash.
Once the food is done, I get my 'Diaper Box' together.  The diaper box serves the same purpose as a diaper bag but it doesn't leave the car.  When I had three in diapers, it was full of diapers, wipes, medicine, pacifiers, etc.  Now, it sits pretty empty but its still really nice to have a place for all those little things.  I still prepare a diaper bag but this way, I can just grab and go when we get out of the car instead of chasing down everything I needed throughout the car. 
The first part of my diaper box is the medicine.  I take Advil and Tylenol every time we travel.  With three kids, everybody has a different dosage.  What I have discovered to be the most effective is to write out every body's dosage on a piece of cardboard (won't bed or get lost) that fits in the same sandwich bag.  This way, WHOEVER gives them medicine will know the proper dosage.
After I do this, I pack the rest of the diaper box.

Once the food and the diaper box are packed up, I start on the non-clothes part of the first day bag.  I started packing a first day bag when we would travel back to the States.  I found that every time we'd FINALLY get to our final destination, it was a mad hunt to find the pajamas and toiletries it required to get dressed.  Instead of messing up my entire suitcase, I just started packing a first day bag.  This bag, usually my pink Vera Bradley bag, contains anything I could need during the first 24 hours.  So, on Day 1, I pack the toiletries and on Day 2, any clothes that I will need. 
And lastly, I pack any toys that we will take in the car with us.  I used to pack a lot of toys but have since realized that they really don't play with them.  So, now I just pack them for urgent times of distractions...haha.
Other than this, I just gather any of the other stuff that I will need (hook on high chair, Christmas presents, pack n play, etc).

Once all of my laundry is washed, folded, and put away, all of my non-clothes items are packed up, and errands are run, I can be confident in the fact that Day 2 will go well.

I hope some of these ideas have helped you with your own packing.  Stay tuned for Day 2.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

How to Make Pretzel M&M's

When I was younger, my mom and I used to bump heads in a major way.  We are VERY much alike and I was an EXTREMELY hardheaded kid.  When we'd get to that point of not really talking, mom would always ask me to help her make pretzel M&M's.  At the time, I had no clue what she was doing but now as an adult I realize that it was a time for us to slow down, do something together, and just talk.  Even if I would go into it begrudgingly, by the end I was little miss chatter bug spilling my heart and mind to my mama.  It worked every time!

Maybe for that very reason, Pretzel M&M's hold a very special place in my heart.  There is something about them that comforts and relaxes me, even on the most hectic of days.  I want to share these with you and maybe you can use them to break down barriers or just have fun with the ones you love. 
(Pretzel M&M's can also be made by yourself...it's just not as fun.)

One of the greatest things about Pretzel M&M's is that you can make them for any holiday!  There are very few holiday's that M&M's don't make a special color combo. 

So, this is what you need:
1. Pretzels
2. M&M's
3. White Chocolate (I use Nestle while chocolate but my mom always used 'baking chocolate'...whatever floats your boat.

Lay your pretzels out on a wax paper covered cookie sheet.  You want them to be flat so make sure there are no overlaps.
You also want to pour your m&m's out next to the cookie sheet so you are ready to go once the chocolate is melted.
Next, prepare the white chocolate.
I use a 1 cup Pyrex measuring cup because the handle makes it easy to hold on to but you can use any microwave save bowl you feel comfortable with.
So, pour your chocolate chips in your cup:

You have to be careful not to burn the chocolate when melting it so just start off with 30 seconds in the microwave.  This is what it looks like afterwards.  Stir.
20 more seconds. stir.
 15 more seconds.  Stir.

Now you are ready to put them together.  Go back to your pretzels and start putting about 1/4 teaspoon of melted chocolate onto each pretzel.  It usually takes me a few to get the hang of how much to use.  If you can resist licking your finger, using your pinkie to push the chocolate off the spoon and spread it makes things a lot easier. 


If you are making these alone, do about 7 or 8 and then go back and put M&M's on the chocolate before it dries.  If you are working with someone, they can just follow behind you.  Make sure to put the M&M's 'M' down.

And this is your final result!

And there you have it!

I hope that you enjoy making and eating these as much as I have.  They really have been a catalyst to many awesome memories.

Giveaway Winner!

I am so sorry for the delay in posting the winner for the printables Giveaway!  I used random.org to find the winner.

So, without further ado.  The winner of the free printable from The Busy Budgeting Mama's etsy shop, Pretty Paperie Printables, is:

JESSICA C.

She and her family are living abroad in the Netherlands and she wants to use the printables for international themed baskets for friends' Christmas gifts!  They'll look GREAT!  Make sure to send us pictures!

Congratulations Jessica!


Monday, December 12, 2011

What Are You Thankful For?

One of my most favorite things that has happened since P came home is our new dinner/bed time routine.  On Thanksgiving, we talked with them about what it meant to be thankful.  We made it a funny explanation followed by a lot of silly examples followed by even more silliness.  They got the point.  :-)

So, that afternoon at dinner, we all went around the dinner table telling each other what we were thankful for.  Little P (melt my heart) said that he is thankful that his daddy went far away to work and then came home.  Little C...well, she doesn't quite understand yet and said her kitchen (which is what she asked Santa for).

The next day, as we sat down to dinner, we had the idea to carry on the tradition and after the blessing, say what we were thankful for that day.  My hope was that it would bring an awareness to all of the things that we have/do on a daily basis that we should be thankful for. 

I have to say, I have been amazed at the insights that my little three year old has had.  On P's first day back to work, Little P said he was thankful that daddy went to work but then came home after naps.  The other night, he said that he was thankful that he saved baby sis (Mini C) when she got her hand stuck in the drawer.  And the funniest was that he was thankful that daddy got some more gas for the grill so we could have cheeseburgers.  It has been so fun to watch the wheels turn in his brain and hear the highlights of his day. 

Little C, on the other hand...well, she's still thankful for the kitchen that she asked Santa for...haha.

Another thing we have started is to switch of saying the blessing before we eat.  Both kiddos do great with the blessing but Little C is naturally louder than Little P so we wanted to give him a chance to say it as well.  So, every other night, they switch off saying the blessing.  It has given us an awesome opportunity to help them figure out certain words and to talk about what they are saying.  It's been so awesome!

And lastly, my most favorite tradition we have started is family bible story/prayer time before bed!  I think we all know that we want to teach our children about the Bible and praying but sometimes its hard to find the right time and place.  So, now that dad is home, he gathers us all in the living room, reads a story from the kids' Bible, we talk about it, and then say our night prayers.  I have been shocked at how much a 2 and 3 year old understand. 

I can't tell you how much I have LOVED being a family again.  Yesterday, I looked at my husband and asked him if he is ever so happy that he feels like his insides were going to burst.  That is how I have been feeling.  Being a parent and being married is hard and requires constant self-giving but the reward, when you are faithful, is beyond understanding!  I know we will have our times when it's not so great, but I hope that I always remember how thankful I am for the the man that I married and the kids that we have.  I cannot wait to see how our story unfolds.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

In Search of Balance

In the last few weeks, several of my friends have had babies.  I have so enjoyed talking with them, seeing their pictures, and hearing their 'new baby' stories. 

Last night, P and I were talking about the adjustment that families go through when a new little one is born.  It's always a bit challenging to find that balance but eventually it comes. 

While we were chatting, I realized that the discontent that I have been feeling comes from the same thing.  I need to find my new balance.  While P was gone, the kids and I had a routine that worked for us.  I was able to work out when I wanted, control the money, blog when I wanted, etc.  Now, while the kids routine hasn't changed much, my routine has been knocked on it's head and our budget...well, its MUCH more of a budget. 

This morning, I was thinking that I need to talk to somebody who is close enough yet far enough from our lives to give me a different point of view.  I'm really struggling to find my balance.  The body that I have worked so hard to tone, is slowly losing some tone because I can't find a reliable workout time, my writing outlet (here) is sitting untouched because I barely even have a moment to THINK about it much less WRITE for it, and resting...yea right!  I finally told P last Friday that I couldn't keep up with his pace...I was dying.  It's as though we feel that this time could end so we are running around like crazy people without coming up with a game plan...definitely not my style!

As I thought about it, it just made me realize how often we go through these times of imbalance.  The scale can be tipped so easily and then the battle to get it back in line starts all over again.  With every baby, every business trip, every start to a new school year...it's constant.

I guess I am writing this post for two reasons.  First, to explain why I have not been around as much lately.  I'm trying to figure out a new schedule for writing but until then, just hang in there with me.  Secondly, for all of those new mom's, I just want you to know that life will become normal again.  Just give it time.  Eventually, the uncomfortable tasks with become comfortable and you will feel in control of your day and body again. 

I cannot tell you enough how much I have appreciated your love and support over the last several weeks.  I have loved sharing our experience with you and look forward to sharing them for years to come.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The REST of the Story...

Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV

 Before we got engaged, we knew that P was up for new military orders.  This meant that he could either get out of the Navy or we could move after his next deployment.  It wasn't a difficult decision for him to stay in, the difficult decision was where to move. 

Within hours of looking at our list of options, we had pretty much made up our mind.  We were ready for adventure and we wanted the challenge...

We were moving to NAPLES, ITALY!

Visiting P in Japan
Before we got to Italy, though, we had to handle yet another deployment.  So, five weeks after being married, I watched as P's plane took him away from me...again.  It seemed like it was never ending.  Were we EVER going to be together???

Upon his return, we had so much to look forward to!  Finally, we would get to 'be married', we were moving to Italy, and we were going to travel!  As excited as we were about our adventure, our excitement turned to great fear when we found out that I was pregnant just two weeks after his return.  Now, THAT was not in the plan.

We wanted kids.  We actually wanted a large family.  We had just planned to wait about a year before moving on to kids.  Immediately, all of my excitement about moving was GONE.  All I could think about was having a baby without any family and friends.  I didn't want to leave them.  I cried and cried but eventually, after getting reassurance from my mom that she would be there, I finally went back to looking forward to the experiences that were to come.

Little did we know that this was the first of many growing pains.  God wanted us to realize our potential and we had just given Him PRIME opportunity to do that.

We moved to Naples in December of 2007.  On April 7, 2008, P and I became parents.  My mom lived up to her word...she was there.  Once my mom left, just 5 days after Little P's birth, it was time to buckle down.  This wasn't a dream, this wasn't going to change, we could either take advantage of the opportunity to live overseas or it would be a waste of our time.

It didn't take long for us to realize that we were learning priceless lessons.  Being so far from family and friends, we could only depend on each other.  We didn't have parents to save us when we were tired or we could run to when we weren't seeing eye to eye.  We had to figure it out between the two of us.  We had to learn how to effectively communicate, how to address our own shortcomings for the greater good of our marriage, and how to push ourselves beyond our comfort levels.  We were also given the opportunity to really figure out what we wanted for OUR family.  We couldn't come back to the States for Holidays so they were what we made them.  It really made us get down to business and see what traditions were really important to us and how we could put them together for our family. 

Moreover, we were given the opportunity to really figure out the simplest way to run our day to day life as parents.  We were not going to stop traveling or exploring, we just needed to figure out how to do with with babies. 
About to get on the airplane to visit family in the States
Oh yes, I forgot to mention, after having my wisdom teeth out when Little P was six months old, I got pregnant with Little C.  A word to the wise, narcotics really mess with your cycle (and if you are on birth control, they mess with that too).  So, now we had two kids...both 15 months and under.

As a wife and mother, I was pushed harder than I ever had been.  P was working 14 hour days and had a rotating shift.  This left me to handle everything and I am so thankful it did.  In those three years I realized how capable I am.  A family of four traveling back to the states for 3 weeks...NO PROBLEM!  Your bringing the new guys home for dinner in two hours...I've got it!  We want to go to Greece...I'll plan it!  The more I embraced my vocation as a wife and mother, the more grateful I was for my husband.  Because he was working so hard, we were getting to do all of these things but he was also giving me the opportunity to prove to myself that I could handle it.  I was capable. 

By the end of our time in Italy, we were honestly able to say that we were given the opportunity of a lifetime.  It taught us how to be a team, how to 'date', and how capable we are.  It pinpointed those places where, instead of helping each other, we were enabling each other.  It showed us where we needed to toughen up and where we needed to lighten up.  It didn't allow us to wallow in fear...we had to face it.
Greece February 2010
In three short years of marriage, we walked away with 15 years worth of lessons and three beautiful children (oh, did I forget to mention that I was pregnant AGAIN when we moved back to the States?  Can you say fertile mertile???  Yup, that's me!  And I wouldn't have it any other way.)

Upon arrival back in the States, P got out of the Navy and we began our lives here in Central Virginia...as civilians...who deploy...so maybe not REALLY civilians but you get it. 

It is because of our time in Italy that we are where we are.  It was a priceless experience that I recommend to ANYBODY who has the opportunity!  Push yourself.  Go out of your comfort zone.  Scare yourself.  It will worth it beyond measure in the end.

And that, my friends, is our story.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Preparing Our Kids for Life...Starting With Santa!

As a lot of children do, my daughter screamed BLOODY MURDER last year when we went to visit Santa.  She was so excited as we stood in line but once it was our turn, she froze.  The dream of the cute family picture vanished from my brain...I knew it wasn't going to end well.
So, this year, I wanted to try something different.  We took the same approach we did to Halloween and we PRACTICED!  We practiced for weeks! 
"Ho, Ho, Ho, MEERRRY CHRISTMAS!"
"Have you been a good girl (boy) this year???"
"What would you like for Christmas little boy (girl)???"
They KNEW it! 
Well, Saturday morning came, they were excited, and they did great!  They were hesitant as they walked up but as soon as he started asking the same questions P and I had been asking, they started chatting up a storm!  IT WORKED!!!

On the way home, P and I were talking about how if we don't prepare our kids for these experiences, we can't be disappointed by their responses.  It made sense.  We help them practice their counting, pulling up their underwear, and eating with a fork. 
As parents, it's our job to prepare these little people for different experiences throughout life.  If we don't tell them what is appropriate/inapporopriate, how are they going to know?

One time, my next door neighbor asked me why I am strict with my kids.  I asked him how I was strict.  He said, "well, you have them repeat 'yes' when they have said 'yea.'" 

"Well, my dear neighbor, I am teaching my kids the english language.  More than that, it is my job to prepare them for whatever vocation God created them to do.  I want them to fulfill God's Will in their lives and I need to give them the tools to do that.  Knowing how to innately say 'yes' and look people in the eye will probably come in handy down the road.  We're just starting it now, before it's a big deal!"

Now, before you think I am crazy, I am well aware that Santa is not a big deal.  It was just a fun way to get the Christmas season going and experiment a little bit.  It really showed me that practicing these core lessons can go a long way and not only that, but you can have A LOT of fun doing it!

So, if last year was a disaster and you are hoping for better this year...PRACTICE.  Make a game out of it.  Get into character.  You'll find that in teaching theselittle things, you will have a lot of fun spending time with your kiddos.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Windbreaker Dad

I am so proud to post today's Common Sense Dad post.  It is written by one of the coolest guys I know!  Jerry is the father of one little boy with another little dude, Liam, due in about six weeks!  I have so enjoyed watching them figure out this world of parenthood with a completely hands on and practical approach.  They just have that natural knack for being parents...without all of the drama.

Jerry is quite the funny guy so prepare to laugh!

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As the due date approached for my first son, Roman, I realized I was about to be thrust into parenthood with no idea what would be demanded of me. I began asking trusted men in my life what fatherhood was like and what advice they would give to a rookie like me. The broad scope of answers surprised me – be sure to make time for your kids – trust your instincts – don’t coddle them - just let your wife do all the work – make a financial plan – buy a minivan – don’t leave the house without pants on…ok, that last one was something my wife actually taught ME, but it can apply to kids, too! All this advice, but if someone were to ask me the same question today, I would first laugh because I wouldn’t feel equipped enough to answer (as I’m sure some of the men I asked thought), but then I would really think about the question.After all, the guy would be standing in front of me waiting for me to respond…so I would have to make up intelligently communicate something!
 
I think the best advice I can give about being a dad is…own it. Let me explain what I mean by this. I see so many cases where dads either aren’t in the picture, or they more closely represent the blurry, half-cut-off guy at the edge of the frame that the camera isn’t focused on. In an age that makes heroes of couch potatoes, video game addicts, and the extended childhood of young adult men, (think grandma’s boy or John C. Reilly and Will Ferrell in Step Brothers), the idea of what a real man is like has seemingly faded away like windbreakers - You see one every once in a while and you’re like, “What? Who even MAKES those things anymore?” They’re so distinct they catch your attention. But so do great Dads.

I want to be a windbreaker Dad. I want to walk down the street looking like a complete idiot because I let my son dress me for the day in a baseball hat, sports coat, mesh t-shirt, and spandex biker shorts (it’s better if you don’t ask that question you’re asking yourself right now). I want to have people whisper to each other while watching Roman and I play together in the water fountains at the mall. I want other parents to get annoyed at me when I cheer on Roman at his little league baseball games by screaming and making donkey call noises (thanks, Dad). After all, what’s the point of being a Dad if you’re not going to teach your son to stop caring about what other people think about you and do what you love with everything you are? Own it.God demands we do no less in Col. 3:23.

I know many dads out there who would rather put their kids in front of a TV to occupy them, or will let their child play with whatever they want in the house because it takes more work to discipline them than it does to just let them do was they wish. They do this because it’s easy. Easy….that’s a deceitful word. It’s a word that ensnares us men. The problem with taking the easy way out is it is most often the less beneficial to your child. Owning fatherhood takes work. It’s not easy. I don’t think God meant for it to be. It isn’t for Him. You have to make the choice to do what takes work because it’s what is right and is what will make your children grow into strong, loving, and healthy adults. They need to see you down out in the grass, rolling around, tossing them up in the air. That’s not always easy, though. But then again, wearing a windbreaker isn’t either.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

One...ALREADY!?!?!?!


 It happens EVERY TIME.  Somehow these children of mine grow up!

This morning, I looked at my clock and the date said December 1st.

WHHHAAATT!?!?!?!

That means that my teeny, tiny baby...my just came home from the hospital baby...my newborn...SHE'S ABOUT TO TURN ONE!!!

Mini C's birthday is on December 14th.  A mere 14 days from today!  I am it complete and utter disbelief that it has already been a year!

Is it just me or does everybody experience this same level of disbelief?  It really does feel like its only been a few months but then again, the 6.5 months of deployment feel like they never happened so maybe that's it.
Mini-C is quite the little girl.  Despite her start at 8lbs 6oz (6 days early), she is my smallest child.  She actually had to GROW into her three month clothing instead of coming home in them.  At 12 months, she's just now getting into 18 month clothing.  I love it.  With the other two, we were doubling (if not more) their age in clothing sizes so this has been fun to have a smaller baby.
One thing is for sure...she's got attitude!  For the few days after P arrived home, she was throwing tantrums.  Now, when I saw tantrums, imagine a baby completely intentionally getting down onto the floor, rolling onto her back, kicking her feet, and beginning to cry after the rest was set up.  If she is ready to get up and you try to lay her back down with her pacifier, she will throw it at you...AT YOU!  When the playroom is a disaster, it is not because of my 2 and 3 year old (they know how to clean up), it's because this little one has gone in there and pulled all of the baskets off the shelves.  Awesome, right? 

I definitely foresee some interesting times ahead between the 'spunk' she and her sister have.  Oh, their poor big brother will be terrorized.


It has been so much fun watching Mini-C and P get to know each other again.  She is finally crawling to him to be picked up and she flirts with him all day long.  It is so cute. 


It amazes me that with every child, we experience a new love that we have never had before.  Each of them brings something unique and special to our family.  Watching my three kids play now makes me so excited to see what's to come.  I can only imagine the adventures they will go on and the memories they will make.

In the mean time, I am going to try and soak up every day.  As we can see, somehow a year has already flown by and I feel like it has slipped through my fingers.  Not to mention, for the next two weeks I can still say that I have two toddlers and a baby...three toddlers just sounds intimidating.  Wow, THREE toddlers.

Happy Birthday Month My Sweet Girl!


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree!

As the Christmas season begins, the buzz amongst mom's seems to be,
"How do I keep the baby/toddler from the Christmas Tree."

When my oldest was a baby, P and I considered all of the obvious possibilities.  Should be put the glass ones on top?  Should we buy a little tree and put it on a table?  Or what about surrounding it with a play pen?  As we were trying to figure out what to do, we finally just looked at each other and realized that we were making something out of nothing.  

Even at 1 year old, he could handle a lot more than not touching the tree...so we decided to teach him.  Christmas would come every year, he was going to have to learn at some point.

Just like with most things, it took about 3 days of consistent reminders and distraction for him to lose interest.  Little C was the exact same and Mini C could care less. 

Now that the older two are toddlers, they know the rules.  They also know that with rules comes rewards and consequences.  Those rewards (Santa coming) and consequences are laid out when we decorate the house.  We also bought them a this absolutely annoying cute singing stocking that hangs in the playroom.  They know that they CAN touch and play with that.  So, when their fingers are feeling particularly needy for something Christmas...that's where we head!

So, this Christmas, I encourage you to decorate as you normally would.  Use it as a teaching opportunity.  Give them the opportunity to be proud of themselves when they listen.  Definitely worth every teaching moment!
  

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Happily Ever After...

If you haven't read Part I , Part II, or Part III, check it out before reading this post. Nobody like a spoiled ending!
When I was a little girl, I never wanted to be a doctor, banker, or ballerina.  My dream was clear.  At a very young age, I knew that I wanted to be a wife and mother (of 12 to be exact).  As crazy as it sounds, I daydreamed about driving a 15 passenger van, doing the laundry, and having dinner on the table when my husband came home from work.  I have no idea where that dream came from but it is clearly written on my heart.

When P and I met all those years ago, I had found the other piece of my puzzle.  Whether you call it a gut feeling, inspiration of the Holy Spirit, or just plain intuition, I knew he was the one.   I had fought for his heart since the day we met. I refused to settle for anything less than who I knew he was created to be and I refused to let myself by tarnished by fear, temptations, and outside pressures. 

When he proposed, it was like hitting the last mile of a marathon. We were almost there. Our forever was about to begin.  We had no idea where this life was going to take us but we knew that we were up for the adventure as long as we were together.

When our big day came, we were ready.  Besides the dress, the party, and our loved ones, we were ready to be married.  We stood in awe that this was our reality.  How is it possible for two teenagers, from opposite parts of the country, to meet, keep in touch, and then eventually get married.  It was crazy! 

We had so much fun at our wedding!  We laughed, we cried, we danced, and enjoyed the company of our family and friends.  The knowledge that the dating, the distance, the phone calls, and the traveling were over was almost surreal.  At the end of the day, I was going to get in the car with P and we were going to fly out TOGETHER. 

Our happily ever after had come true.  We had a plan.  Little did we know that in the first year of our marriage we'd have a deployment, a pregnancy, and a move to Naples, Italy...not exactly what one would call the 'honeymoon' stage.

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Celebratory GIVEAWAY!


The week before P came home, I planned a 'Thank You Mom's Night Out' for my friends who had helped me during deployment.  I knew that I wanted to give them a sweet treat of thanks but considering my incredible lack of creativity, I was stumped with the presentation. 
And then I remembered, I am friends with one of the most creative girls around!!! 




My friend, Natalie, The Busy Budgeting Mama, is the queen of cute! 

In addition to running her blog, Natalie has an Etsy shop, The Pretty Paperie Printables, where she sells the CUTEST printables.  Everything from treat bag tags to custom party packs to cupcake toppers.

So, within 24 hours of calling Natalie for suggestions for my thank you pretzel M&M's, I had my very own printables sitting in my inbox.
They were quite the hit at our Mom's Night Out so I wanted to share them with you!

Natalie was gracious enough to agree to GIVE AWAY one printable of your choice (excluding party packages) to one of my awesome readers!

So, you have two ways to enter this giveaway!
1. Leave a comment below explaining which printable you would choose and why! 

and/or
2. Share this giveaway by pressing one of the share options below (facebook, twitter, blog, etc.).  Make sure you let me know if you shared it!

If you don't have a google profile, make sure to leave your e-mail address in your comment!

This giveaway will end on December 8th at 11:59pm.

Natalie also has a Cyber Monday deal going on today so make sure to check it out!

Good Luck!


The Homecoming

About 2 months ago, a friend of mine suggested that I hire a photographer to capture P's homecoming.  I was a little standoffish at first but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that these were pictures that we would probably treasure forever and I'd rather be present during these moments rather than trying to take pictures.  So, the decision was made and now I have pictures to show you!  :-)

The days leading up to P's homecoming were similar to the days leading up to his leaving.  They were full of anxieties, excitements, nerves, LONG lists of things to do, and many errands.  It was a surreal feeling preparing for something that seemed like it would never happen.  I was nervous about the kids response to their dad, the adjustment back to being a family, and the adjustment back to being a team and a wife.  Life was about to flip upside down...AGAIN.

I have to say, I feel like I did a good job during those days.  I tried to get my list of things to do done during nap times/pre-school/etc. and have fun things ready for us to do together.  I spent a good bit of time sitting with Little P, my sensitive little boy, looking at pictures of other daddy's coming home just so he would know that it would be okay if he laughed, cried, was shy, etc.  He has a tendency to get anxious and then melt down so I wanted to alleviate that as much as possible.


The day before, we spent some time making our signs and talking about how the next morning would go.  Once they went to bed, I adjusted their 'Countdown to Daddy' and their 'Kisses from Daddy' Jar so they had other points of excitement once they woke up.
It was set, we were all ready!  After good nights sleep, it was game time!  His flight was landing around 9:45am so I had to hustle.  I had a babysitter come over so I had a second set of hands and, oh my goodness, that was the best $20 I've ever spent!  She was such a help and got the kids fed, bathed, and dressed.  I was also able to get dressed without toddlers at my toes. 

And then, it was time.  It was 8:45, time to go! 

Once I started driving, that's when it hit me.  We were really doing this.  I fought tears the whole way.  I kept trying to talk and laugh with the kids but that lump in my throat just wouldn't go away.  Once we got there, I got everybody inside and this is what happened:






It was in this moment that Catherine looked at me and said, "MOMMY, I need to go potty!!!"  ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?!?!  So off we ran...to the BOYS bathroom.  Hey, it was the closest one and we were in a hurry!

 

I will never forget the first time I spotted him...it was SURREAL!
 




A little unsure of the situation, Little C ran back to me just to check in.

Mini-C finally seeing that man from the computer...






I finally got my kiss...

 

Daddy showing little C that he still had the pocket photo book
we made for him before he left.
I couldn't have asked for a better homecoming.  It was crazy to walk out to the car and sit in the passenger seat.  We were done, it was over.  Our daddy is home!
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