Thursday, December 1, 2016

12 Months of Kindness 2016 Update

It's almost to the end of the year and we have had a very succesful time with 12 Months of Kindness this year.  With only one more act to go, I'm here with a recap of our year in kindness.

January: We created and delivered blessing bags to our local soup kitchen.  We put together six bags all together - three each that contained gender specific items.  The kids liked packing the bags and then they were proud to carry them in and deliver them (during the prep-time) in which we requested the bags be given out as needed based on the regular volunteers thoughts.  

February: We gave some love to a classroom through Donors Choose and were lucky to be able to support a former high school classmate in her elementary school classroom.

March: Our family volunteered time at the Johnstown Backpack Project to create weekend meal bags for local students in need.  The kids LOVE volunteering at JBP and working in the assembly line style packing line.  It is a wonderful organization that seems to be growing each time we visit.

April: We collected up our own gently used items and purchased a few new items to deliver Baby & Mom supplies to our local YWCA.  We gave items ranging from maternity clothes to diapers.

May: For the eighth year in a row, we selected and awarded our Studer Scholarship to two CV seniors (our high school alma mater).  Brandon and I had ourselves a little date night at the Senior banquet and are inspired every single year by the amount of people from our community that give back to our high school seniors. 

June: To celebrate our new baby brother, we created Birthday Boxes and delivered them to an incredible local non-profit Alleghenies Unlimited Care Providers who work towards giving independence to people of all abilities.   

July October: We postponed our annual Studer's Invitational Beer Olympics (the 8th!) until October to give our family some time to get back on track during our Rusty's rotten first 8 weeks.  But we were ready to host our event come October and had a great turnout.  As always, our friends and family astound us in their generosity and enthusiasm towards having fun for a good cause.  We were able to raise over $360 for a local family who inspires so many people in their kindness towards other and perserverance in the face a challenges.  

August: We purchased and donated supplies to our local Humane Society and then made a little visit with the cats & pups who haven't found their forever family yet. 

September: We donated a backpack filled with extra school supplies to Greyson's school discreetly at the beginning of the school year.  We dropped it off with the guidance office as a just-in-case another student would need it at anytime during the school year. 


October: Our kids, along with my fourth and fifth grade CCD students participated in the Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF program and collected over $53 dollars collectively! 

November: I participated in Giving Tuesday by getting my Spanish I classes involved!  We spent a little time each Tuesday of the month talking about an orphanage,el Hogar de ninos Emanuel, in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.  Some of the students brought in donations for the children and on Giving Tuesday, we spent our class periods writing holiday cards & letters in Spanish to the kids.  It gave my students a chance to showcase all the Spanish they've learned so far all year while also doing something kind for kids they may never meet in their life.  I'll be giving the letters and donated items to a former classmate (thanks Amber!) and they'll make their way to Honduras before the holiday with the next group of volunteers. 

December: Start the 'white envelope' gift tradition in our home.  Brandon is in charge of this one all on his own and I can't wait to see what he comes up with.  Since starting his new job, we are really sticking to our budget and so we've started with a dollar amount of zero in the White Envelope giving box on our Christmas budget.  So, I've been searching for coupons and codes to get our holiday shopping done, and each time I'm able to save a few dollars somewhere, I've been moving the savings down into the giving area - and so far we're up to $30 dollars!  

We also did some kindness that isn't officially on our 12mokp list: 

I worked closely with the CV Alumni Association (Brandon and my high school alma mater). We helped put together an amazing night to honor a longtime #1 fan of the school, I also helped organize alumni-led talks with high school seniors, and an alumni intramural group which included a summertime kickball league and a one-night cornhole tournament, both to raise funds towards supporting the high school.  (and our annual Alumni Human Library event is coming up later this month - our 3rd annual!) 

We ran in races that supported some great causes - like the Bunny Race that supported a local school district with our friends The Stahl family.  Brandon and Greyson ran in the Little Indian Color Run to support Greyson's school's PTA, and Grey and I ran in the Great Santa Race just recently to support the Wings of Hope organization. 


Speaking of races, we also spent the afternoon supporting runners in the Path of the Flood Race in May by creating inspirational signs, sidewalk cheering, and offer high fives.  We stationed ourselves in a spot that was a little less than 3 miles from the finish line, so the look of relief and instant-recharge in the runner's eyes at our signs and clapping was awesome.  

 The kids and I attend our local Empty Bowls event that was put on by a high school key club to help battle hunger in our community.  We treated it like a little date a few weeks before our newest baby arrived and the kids to this day still love using their own special pottery bowls that we picked out at the event.  Each time we use them we're reminded that so many people are not as blessed to have bowls as full as ours.

We try to give kindness out in little sporadic doses, things like leaving treat bags and notes for our mail lady, and offering homemade muffins and cookies to Greyson's bus driver (who is always so patient with our habitual lateness!) 

We also try to participate in small events that come up as best as we can when we hear about them.  We donated to The Big White Farmhouse Ashley's annual Pajama drive to support kids in need during these cold winter months.  I also offer my time towards the Needy Children's Shopping Tour to act as a chaperone while the kids get a chance to 'buy' much needed clothes and winter accessories for the holidays.  And as soon as I was able to again (postpartum) I started donating blood again. Did you know you can safely give blood every eight weeks?  And it's free! I usually take at least one kids along with me (and once this year I brought all four kids with me!) and they call it "when Mumma gets her blood out." I'll be able to give again one more time before the end of the year!  (ps. We're also registered organ donors and on the bone marrow registry list). 

And we have our monthly financial commitments to both Oxfam America, which works together with partners and locally in more than 90 countries to empower people living in poverty.  And to World Vision in our sponsorship of our sweet child, Raph who lives in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  We just recently received our yearly check in update of Raph and he is doing great in school and is getting so big (he's six just like Greyson)! 

The point of all of this - of this dedication to leaving goodness in our trail as we walk through each year is in hopes to inspire kindness, empathy, and goodness in these children of ours.  Our hope is to raise children who have kindness and empathy as their knee-jerk reaction.  To believe that kindness is not only the best choice but also a responsiblity.  That every smile, every kind gesture is the way in which they can make an impact in the world in a positive way. 

And that world can be scary and terrifying - and it has felt especially so this year, and I don't have any expectations to change the world.  This was our whole year squished down into this one post and it sure feels good to see it all together, feels like we've really done some things this year - but know I also know that I am only one momma on this one mountain in this one state of this one country in the whole world.  Only one writer in this one tiny space on the whole wide internet.  

But we really do believe in kindness and the power of empathy, and so we keep going forward in our 12 Months of Kindness Project to keep our hearts and minds focused on the blessings in our life.

be kind, friends. 
sending love to you always. 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Around Here Forty-Seven: 11/18-11/24

A look into what it is like to live in our home just this minute.

Intentional Hours Outdoors: 509  (of 1000)
We racked up three and a half hours on Friday night, jogging in the Great Santa Run to support Wings of Hope for the second year in a row with Greyson. (that completes 100 small things list number 13: Run in three races!) Rusty came along too, so I pushed the stroller while Grey ran right next to us for the whole 2 miles.  It was a pretty nice night, so we weren't too cold and Grey kept me motivated to keep running the whole time.  After the race, we got our medals and some hot chocolate - then snuck into a place on the side of the street to watch the Holiday Light up the Night Parade.  Gemma walked with Abba & Chum and threw candy with Conemaugh Health Systems.  Violet rode the stroller with Uch and threw out candy with Alleghenies Unlimited Care Providers.  The parade was beautiful (Rusty loved the high school marching bands!) and then we all congregated in Central Park to see the giant Christmas tree get lit up for the season.  It was really a magical small town evening. 

Reading My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman little by little.  I am able to clock quite a few minutes reading during bath/showertimes and I've been sneaking in some minutes during the kids' bedtime - but I've been struggling with carving out time to get some longer bursts of reading in.  I just keep telling myself, come January when my substitute teaching comes to an end (bittersweet) I'll be able to play some major catch up! 

Donating my time and math talents to support the Needy Children's Shopping Tour at JCPenney's.  I'm no math wiz at all, but I used all I could muster to keep track of the sales and prices to get as much as possible for my assigned sweet girl during our shopping trip.  We did awesome together searching for her sizes and preferences in the store.  We were able to get a ton of stuff including some warm boots and lots of new clothes.  It was my second year volunteering/chaperoning and it is a wonderful event that is so thoughtfully and efficiently organized.  

Eating dinner after 8p each night as basketball season officially has begun!  Their first game/tournament isn't for another two weeks, but it's practice every night now, so we're enjoying some late afternoon snacks to hold us over until Daddy gets home so we can eat dinner as a family.  The upside is that as soon as dinner is done it's bedtime! hah. 

Dealing with some in-home sickness (runny noses, sore throats) and a bout of pink eye from Greyson!  He missed two days of school this week for it and when I took him to the Peds to make sure that's all it was - the doc took one look at me and the other three kids and said, "Oh gosh, I see a lot of eyes in here....and right before Thanksgiving!"  She gave me an extra refill on the eye drop meds just in case we all woke up on Thanksgiving with pink eyes!  haha, fortunately - we did some serious handwashing & quarantining to keep it contained to just one of us! 

Giving our Trick-or-Treat for Unicef box collections to the Coinstar this week to (finally) finish our October 12 months of Kindness project.  Our kids collected as did my 4th&5th grade CCD students which came to a total of over $53 dollars!  ***Don't Forget:  Giving Tuesday is this coming Tuesday, November 29!!***

Upgrading to a new phone after six years!  Brandon needed to get a new phone now that he has a new job, so we went together and the Verizon guy took one look at my beloved iPhone and said, "um, the last time we sold those was five or six years ago."  HAH.  I was really hesitant to change though because it has so many photos and videos on it from the kids.  Many of which I was saving and trying to transfer to Youtube because I was getting "storage almost full" messages daily.  We did a little tour and when it came time for a decision, we made the leap from iPhone to the Google Pixel phone.  I was worried because of navigation concerns - but after four days, I'm one hundred percent sold on our change.  The camera and video is awesome, there are NO storage limits (like ever), all of my photos get pushed right to google+ (easy for blogging too!), and the photo assistant is basically my BFF now.  

Celebrating Thanksgiving!  One of my favorite holidays of the year with two wonderful family dinners.  We started the day with cousins at our house while their Mum, Dad, and big sis ran in a turkey trot.  The kids love playing with Benny and Brookie so it gave the day a happy start to begin first thing with family that we are thankful for!  The kids played with the Macy's Parade running in the background while I baked three pumpkin rolls and mini apple pies.  Then we got all ready and headed out to Indiana, PA to celebrate with our Adams family (my side) and after delicious food (Rusty had his first thanksgiving 'meal' of mashed potatoes & gravy!) and a happy birthday sung to my Dad (Chum), we headed back towards home to enjoy dinner with our Studer family.  So much to be thankful for, especially given our newest baby this year, and Brandon's new job, and good health, and a warm home, and places to go at every turn where people love and support us.  I am just so very grateful for this beautiful, messy life of ours. 

Making breaded porkchops, doctor'ed-up frozen pizza (I added onions and banana peppers to our parents' pizza), dinner for breakfast (egg sandwiches!) and more than once this week - microwave popcorn with chocolate chips on top (mine and the kids' favorite snack!)  

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

a mother's gratitude

I give thanks for this home that is more often than not disorganized and wrecked and a mess and broken and cluttered.  but also so obviously LIVED in and so obviously LOVED that we are forced to try our best to not let all the disorganized, wrecked, messy, broken, and cluttered parts get us down.

I give thanks for my kids' daddy, who heals any and all of our broken hearts and spirits with a hug,  who administers compliments and kindnesses like a Santa who needs no holiday, who has patience as vast as the sea for every single one of us in this home, and who leaves in the morning to work hard all day and returns each evening with his eyes beaming like a sailor who has returned to land; a Daddy who's favorite place in all the world is right here in our home with us.

I give thanks for this place that I can write and journal and lock away the memories of our life to be read later by me to laugh at how silly or beautiful or wonderful or meaningless or meaningful our tiny moments were all along.  For the friends I've made through this space, for all the support and the moments that made me feel like I wasn't entirely alone or insane in this weird journey of motherhood.  This space that someday, hopefully, our children will stumble upon and realize that their mother was more than just the cleaner-upper, laundry-folding, booboo-kissing, photograph-taking, rule-making, food-cooking blur in their childhoods - but actually like a real person who had thoughts and feelings and a life outside of the prism of Mom (well, only minimally since their arrival into the world, but still true.)

I give thanks for our family who show up without question and usually little notice to make things happen.  Who arrive with smiles and hugs and tool boxes and food and gifts and listening ears and support and a hand outstretched.  Who helped shape our memories as leading characters in the prologue, each and every chapter, and surely in the epilogues of our stories.  Who shrug off our flaws and love us despite (and sometimes because of) them.  Our family who can hear what we are saying before we even know what we are thinking.

I give thanks for our friends who still want to talk to me even though my text reply time is generally a 72 hour minimum.  Our friends who don't miss a beat even if the last time we talked without a child interrupting us has been years.  Friends who double our joys and share the burden of our worries.  Our friends who ask for no apologies, who forgive in spades, and who laugh along with us because life is hilarious and sometimes because the only way to get through it all is to laugh about it with someone you love.

I give thanks for the coffee, and the yoga pants, and clean bed sheets, and meal plans, and dependable wifi, and our van Sheila, and hot showers, and Netflix, and toaster strudel, and DVR, and working appliances, and for all the ingredients for dinner already in the house,  and glasses of wine (or bottles of beer), and scented candles, and cozy blankets.

I give thanks for naptime.

I give thanks for the phone camera roll filled with pictures of up-too-close selfies of flawless skinned faces that send my phone into 'storage almost filled' message alert fits, and the fridge cluttered and full of colorful drawings, paintings, scribbled names, and team pictures.  For our family yearbooks that hold memories of smiles that today's stresses have sadly pushed into the recesses of my mind.

I give thanks for the sweetest feeling in the deepest pit of my soul when little palms are placed on my cheeks with all the lovingkindness a child beholds.  For whispered, "i love you momma," and 'hold you,' For early morning snuggles with slow-to-wake kids that temporarily have forgotten that their 'too big' for snuggles from their momma.

I give thanks for these people who call me mum...they are little now, but someday they will be bigger than me, and though my gratitude list may look different in various ways, this one will remain.

I will never be done giving thanks for being their mum.

my darlings,
to be your mother
will always be
the greatest privilege
of my life.
i love you forever
even when you get so big,

happiest thanksgiving to you are yours.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Marco Planning 2016

Nearly impossible to believe that it is almost this time of year again, but alas it is upon us and as my past few weeks have been going - I wanted to get a jump start on planning for our elf Marco's return so it could just be all set and ready to roll come November 30.

We still participate in the Elf on the Shelf fun because the kids honest-to-goodness love Marco.  When we look back through our yearbooks they smile and ask questions about Marco like he's a real member of our family.  It it obviously brings a little extra special dose of magic to the season for them.

As in past years, Marco arrives with a note from Santa on November 30th and then follows with a little surprise each morning through December 24th.  Santa then takes Marco with him back to the North Pole when he visits that night.

I try to incorporate some of the other fun celebrations we do throughout the month in with Marco too (in part because it helps me remember the activities and him! hah).  Things like St. Nicholas day, the first basketball tourney of the season, and Rusty's half birthday this year are being helped a little bit by Marco.  We have a Harry Potter Marco this year as the two big kids are obsessed.

Mostly posting for myself (hah), but in case anyone else out there needed some ideas and/or motivation to get a jump start on it.  My theory is this planning outline is my 'set it and forget it- crockpot' method to Elf on the Shelfing.  hahhahahha  #momingsohard

....but first!  Thanksgiving:)
xxoxo I'm thankful for YOU!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Around Here Forty-Five AND Forty-Six: 11/04-11/17

A glimpse into what it is like to live in our home just this minute.



Intentional Hours Outside: 506 hrs (of 1000)
It's been such a weird two weeks with big changes, days off of school, and unreliable weather.  I have not been doing well with my outdoor hours - but the girls, Rusty and I made a playground pitstop after running some errands this week and it was a perfect dose of fresh air and vitamin D.  It felt great to be out in the wide open space.  Later that night though I was explaining to B how frustrating it can feel that there just are not enough hours in the day.  Especially now that the days are so short (!!) We got in some much needed playground/outdoor time - but then I had two loads of laundry unfinished.  Ugh, adulting is the worst.

Reading My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman with our Inspired Readers book club

Celebrating.  Big BIG news in our life.  After almost ten years as a district manager, Brandon got a new job as a business manager at a school district only a few miles from our home.  We have been so grateful for Brandon's job, his co-workers, and all the benefits that came with it for the past decade - saying our goodbyes these last few weeks has been bittersweet.  (hello to all of you who read our blog!!) But we are so very excited about this new adventure.  With four little kids who are turning into big kids with activities and friends and busy lives - a new schedule that is synchronous with their schedules is going to be life-changing for our whole crew.  Brandon and I were even able to sneak away for a proper celebration dinner (thanks to my sis Uch and Kevin for babysitting and Steph B for the Longhorn gift card - we finally got to use it!!) It will feel like completely new operation around here and it couldn't be at more perfect timing as Basketball season begins this week!

Hosting a dia de los muertos food day at school for my students which was a nice little break in the studying for a little while.  Then I invited 30+ of them to the Q1 challenge breakfast if they brought their grades up from the first marking period halfway point.  I'm trying some different tactics to inspire and motivate them and it's taking awhile - but it does seem to be paying off in the long run, little by little.

Feeling so much gratitude for our veterans, especially our Aunt Kitty who was able to come in all the way from Pittsburgh on Wednesday morning to attend Greyson's Veterans Day luncheon at school.  He was so proud to have her there!  My little sister is an Army National Guard veteran who spent a deployment in Kosovo in 2004-2005.

Konmari'ing in our bedroom/closet/bathroom for several hours one afternoon with B.  We both were so fed up with clutter that it was a no-nonsense throw-all-the-things-out mission!  What a huge relief I have to walk into our room every day and feel like I can see the floor (hah).  Then I took to the kids living room play area with a vengeance that's been building up inside of me for months.  We pulled the cubbie bin that had previously been in the laundry room (built by my dad! thank you!) and used it to organize the toys and books that we pared down in a big way.  The kids love the new space and because we combed through all of our board games (and put them in plastic bags vs. broken ripped boxes) we have been squeezing in lots of games of Go Fish, Spot It, and HeadBandz in the past two weeks.

Loving seeing the kids all together.  They definitely do their fair share of bickering and teasing each other - but for the most part, they all just love each other so very much.  The way the big kids crack up about Rusty when he grabs them by the hair or ears and gives them wide, open-mouthed kisses on the noses.   The way Rust smiles and delights at the sight of them - he is so bored if they are not providing him entertainment!  I love standing back and taking in their hilarious conversations and seeing the way they interact with each other.

Obsessed with finishing our 2015-16 Family Yearbook!  I switched our yearbook to run the school years and it's knocked me a little off balance of my usual yearbook creation flow.  I made some substantial headway though in the past few days and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel!  Our whole family loves looking at the yearbooks so much and finishing our first one that includes Rustin will be such a relief.  Almost there!

Making cake mix blueberry muffins for breakfast on a school day off, a pork roast in the slow cooker with apple cider,  If I'm being honest, I've been terrrrrrible at meal planning and we've been squeaking by on whatever is left in the cupboards.  A big time grocery trip is in order for sure - good thing Thanksgiving and lots of leftovers are nearly here!