a day on the farm

A few weeks ago, we finished reading Charlotte’s Web. I promised the kids that we would go to a farm after we finished reading the book. Since Avery never forgets anything, and is quite possibly the world’s most persistent child, I had to make good on my promise….If only to save my sanity.

I’d seen some photos of the family farm of a high school friend of mine and decided that it would be the perfect place for our first field trip. Falcon Ridge Farm is a good drive from where we live, but was totally worth it. It’s a beautiful farm – and thankfully, I picked the most beautiful day ever for our outing…the weather was perfect-o.

Charlie’s buddy and his family met us there – along with a few of our other precious homeschooling friends.

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The kids were pretty jazzed about the jumping ball area. I have to admit, so was I. Those things are super fun. I need a giant gated area with jumping balls for our next house.

ImageThe farm had so many fun areas for the kids to play. Lots of swingsets, slides, and play grounds. The Corn Box was a huge hit with my kids. They spent a ridiculous amount of time in there. I may need one of those for our next house too…

Avery had fun making “Corn Angels” and I spent most of my time yelling at Charlie for throwing corn. Boys and danger…two things that always, always, go hand in hand.

Image…on second thought, maybe I’ll skip the corn box.

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During the week, Mr. Ray gives a “Horse Talk” to the school kids who come to the farm. We arrived just in time to hear his lesson. Avery was super interested to hear all about the horses. She’s convinced that she will have her own one day. If I know anything about my girl, she’ll find a way to make it happen.

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At the end of his talk, Mr. Ray asked if anyone had questions. These two had no business asking questions.

ImageWhen Mr. Ray called on Charlie, I have to admit that I was a little nervous about what he would ask.  Most kids were asking questions about how to ride a horse, or what a horse likes to eat, but Charlie asked, “Where is the corn maze?”

Not exactly on topic, Bud.

After the lesson, Mr. Ray taught Avery and Charlie how to pet a horse the right way.

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Falcon Ridge Farm has an awesome petting zoo area. They have every kind of animal that you would expect to find at a farm: sheep, goats, pigs, ponies, horses, cows, chickens, a donkey, and a turkey. They even have a few things you don’t normally find at a farm like peacocks and a llama.

These little guys were my favorite. I wanted to put them in my pocket. Adorable!

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Charlie and his partner in crime are obsessed with punching everything. Including each other. Naturally, as soon as they saw this “Hay Spider”, they decided that it needed a good punch too.

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Avery begged me all morning to ride a pony. When she got on the pony for the first time, she was super nervous. In fact, she told me she wanted down almost as soon as she got in the saddle. Knowing how disappointed she would be later that she hadn’t been able to ride, I made her stay on the horse. I walked next to her and held her hand while she rode and she loved it. Charlie opted not to ride on the pony and watched instead.

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We took a hay ride to the pumpkin patch

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and each of the kids picked out a pumpkin to take home with them.

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ImageDon’t ya just love that new pose Avery likes to do for the camera these days? Silly kid.

The boys loved the giant Hay Fort.

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…and tried to get the cow to come close by “mooing” incessantly at it. The cow wisely ignored them.

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After lunch and lots more play time, the kids were nice and tired for our drive home.

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piggy back - notjenny.com

If you live in our area and are looking for a fun place to spend the day – check out Falcon Ridge Farm. I can’t wait to take the kids back at Christmas to pick out a tree!

farm sign - notjenny.com

perfectly imperfect

Homeschooling and home selling are two things that are not compatible. I’m not going to lie – the rope is fraying quickly and I’m definitely at the end of it.

The good news is that my house has never been this clean. I’m a raging clean-aholic. I’m totally obsessed. Not a good obsessed, either: like crazy-OCD-psychotic-obsessed. It’s bad.

The other night, our family was talking about how everyone has special gifts and talents. At the end of the discussion, David suggested that we name each of our family member’s gifts and talents.  Avery said, “Daddy’s gift is singing. I’m a good artist. Charlie has a good imagination and is brave. And mommy is a good cleaner.”

Sweet. My kid thinks that I’ve been gifted in the area of cleaning. Awesome.

If that’s my gift, I’d like a refund.

While my house may be squeaky clean these days, I have no desire to be “gifted” in the area of cleanliness. I can’t stand the stress I feel to keep our house “perfect”. Perfection and I are not friends. We have a long, complicated history together. In my experience, “Perfection” is Regina George and I’m the nerdy band girl who isn’t allowed to sit at her lunch table.

The problem is, random house-buying-types expect perfection when they walk into your home. They don’t understand that my little boy likes to throw his pull-up in the corner of his room every.stinking.morning, or that four year old boys have no clue how to properly aim for the toilet. They could care less that seven year old girls collect “treasures” like band-aids, gum wrappers, broken robin’s eggs, hair clips, glittery chap stick tubes, and stickers and proudly display them in their rooms . They don’t have the back story on that red stain on my carpet that mysteriously appeared after a play-date of epic proportions. They like clean, neat, tidy perfection.

So – here’s what “perfection” looks like when you’re the nerdy band girl and you’ve got 30 minutes before Regina George heads to your house for a showing:

Clean laundry gets stuffed back in the dryer…

laundry piles

When that’s completely stuffed full, I usually just throw it back into a random hamper.

more laundryAfter that, I usually have to clean the toilet area for the 50th time that day. See the bubbles? That’s the little chemical reaction that happens when Clorox bleach hits pee. Busted.

DSC_0626I’ve seriously considered rigging that bleach bottle to a holster of some sort and carrying it around the house with me.

Charlie usually does this while I clean:

helperThis next photo just makes my soul hurt when I look at it. It’s the one thing that is never, ever, ever, finished…

dishes

One of the last things I have to do before we leave is to get my dog out of the house. It’s no biggie, though. He only weighs 92 pounds…and can’t jump into the car without my help.

giant dog in the carPreparing for a showing is a major workout. I’m pretty sure that I have scarred my kids psychologically because I’m such a meany pants these days. I feel like the only words coming from my mouth these days are “hurry up”: hurry up and get in the car, hurry up and get dressed, hurry up and put away your toys. The other day, in a moment of frustration, Charlie told me that all I do is “boss, boss, boss”.

I’m no fun. No fun at all.

As hard as I try, I just can’t seem to find the balance between being a good mom and a good housekeeper. My attempts at perfection always end with me feeling like a super jerk instead of super mom. I feel stressed, frazzled, and just plain mean.

Deep down, I know that attaining perfection is impossible. When my goal is to be “perfect”, I don’t really perfect anything. I certainly don’t perfect the godly mom thing.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that the only thing I’m close to perfecting is the “Mommy Dearest” thing.

Not exactly the legacy I want to leave.

I don’t want my kids to grow up and remember that I was always cleaning. I want them to remember that I played with them. I don’t want them to see me on my phone all the time. I want them to see me coloring with them. I want to experience life with my kids, not just live with them.

Being a stay-at-home mom doesn’t automatically mean that you are doing some great or noble thing for your kids. It’s not the “staying home” thing that makes a difference in your children’s lives. It’s the intentional time invested that makes a difference. Investing in your children requires discipline, effort, and a willingness to put aside your own agenda.

Many times, at the end of a particularly stressful day, I find myself replaying all of the jerky things I did or said on a loop. Every impatient moment, every harsh word, and every frustrated sigh plays over and over in my mind. It’s during those moments that my inner voice typically tells me how bad I’m failing at this whole motherhood thing.  All I do is boss, boss, boss.

Not long ago, I had the privilege to hear author/speaker Jon Acuff at a conference. One of the things he said that really struck home with me is that no one has a positive inner voice. It’s always negative. It likes to tell us that we are failing or that we aren’t good enough. That’s why it’s important to replace that negative inner voice with truth: truth from God’s word.

God’s truth is that even though I’m a hot mess, I’m still His child.

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” – I John 3: 1

God’s truth is that I am perfectly imperfect, and perfectly loved by my Creator.

“The LORD appeared to him from afar, saying, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness. ‘Again I will build you and you will be rebuilt, O virgin of Israel! Again you will take up your tambourines, And go forth to the dances of the merrymakers’.” -Jeremiah 31:3-4

God’s truth is that He makes old things new again. Even mean old crabby things like me.

“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” – Isaiah 43:19

Did you read that? He’s making streams in the wasteland! The mercy in that truth makes me so happy…and allows me to show a little grace to myself when that loop starts playing in my head.

Thankfully, all of this house-selling nonsense is just temporary. Before long, our house will be sold and all of this stress will be a distant memory. My laundry pile will return to it’s former mountainous glory, my microwave will once again be polka-dotted with food bits, and I’ll sigh instead of scream when I find that used pull-up under Charlie’s bed. Life will be less than “perfect” again.

And I can’t wait.

God is great. Beer is good. And people are crazy.

Back in the 90’s, when family sit-coms were all the rage, there was a show on T.V. called Home Improvement. It was huge. If you’ve never heard of it, you either grew up on another planet, or were not lucky enough to be a Generation X’er. Sad for you. You missed out on getting to wear Doc Martins and oversized plaid shirts. It was awesome.

Home Improvement came on T.V. waaaaay back before TiVo and DVR’s were invented. In 1991, you couldn’t just watch a show on Hulu or catch up later on Netflix. Your only option was to watch it when it actually aired on television. When Thursday at 7:00 rolled around, homework was put on hold, dinner dishes were left in the sink, and life stopped for 30 minutes. Unless you remembered to set your VHS machine to record the show. And let’s face it: you had to be a rocket scientist to figure out how to set those things.

Home Improvement was one of those “can’t miss” shows for our family. If I close my eyes right this moment I can still hear my dad cackling with laughter at Tim Allen’s antics.

Anyway- on the show there was this neighbor – Wilson I think – who was always peeking his head over the fence to give Tim advice. On the show, Tim relished in the inexplicable wisdom of his mysterious neighbor. Wilson was wise, he was a great listener. He always knew just the right thing to say when Tim needed him.

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We have a neighbor kind of like Wilson in that he likes to poke his head over the fence and give us plenty of advice. But that’s where his similarities to Tim Allen’s friend ends.

I don’t relish our “Wilson”‘s  mysterious wisdom. Our “Wilson” doesn’t make me cackle out loud. Our “Wilson” likes to tell us how to take care of our yard and anonymously call City Code Compliance when the grass gets too high. Our “Wilson” likes to brag about himself loudly and often. Our “Wilson” makes it hard to “love thy neighbor”.

While it’s been difficult to love our neighbor over the last 3 years, this week, it became even more difficult. This week, he cornered David while he was trying to mow the grass to give us unsolicited advice about our move. In a few short minutes, he berated our choice of realtor and price of our house listing, and then proceeded to say that homeschooling was kind of pointless since we live in such a great school district, and that I should just go back to work…. because, “Jennifer has lots of marketable skills. I’m sure she’d be an asset to any company.”

Oh, Wilson. You’re such a character.

Maybe it’s just me, but there is a (large) part of me that wants to come off the ropes like a WWF wrestler and put people like Wilson in a choke hold. Thankfully, there’s another part of me that actually remembers what it feels like to receive grace and reminds me that I can be just as big of a pain in the rear as Wilson.

The thing is, he’s right. Not about our realtor choice or the house pricing, but about the school and work thing. I mean, it makes sense that I would just send Avery to the neighborhood school, Charlie to Day Care, and go back to work full time. That is the logical answer. Work harder, make more money, see your kids less, and make sacrifices so that you can stay in a big, pretty house. Wilson wasn’t too far off the grid with his advice. But while that may be the answer for most people, it’s not what God wants our family to do right now.

One of my favorite country song lyrics is: God is great. Beer is good. And people are crazy. Because

a. it’s funny

b. it’s kind of true.

Country music has a way of simplifying even the most complex issues in a few short lines. People are crazy. The thing is, I’m starting to realize that there are people who may think that I am the crazy one.

While I’ve had lots of supportive comments from my equally nutty friends (you know who you are, ya crazy nut balls), there are many others who think that David and I are legitimately and certifiably insane for making the choices we are making. I could choose to get my feelings hurt about that, or I could just admit that they are right. We are weird and we are making totally out of the ordinary, abnormal choices.

Working toward total debt freedom is not normal. Living below your means is strange. Being a stay-at-home-mom is crazy when you could just work. Homeschooling is a little nutty.

When you are not normal, people have a tendency to either avoid you or try to change you, because doing something that’s not normal makes people feel uncomfortable.

After a lifetime of seeking the acceptance of others, I’ll admit that not caring about people’s perceptions is a tough corner for me to turn. It’s hard to do, but I’m getting there.

Until I do, Wilson better keep his head on his side of the fence or this Mommy’s going to go Ninja on a brother.

when your dreams change.

Not very long ago, God gave me my dream house. It was a house in the perfect neighborhood and the perfect school district. It was a corner lot in a cove. It had all the little details that I always dreamed of having in a home. I remember walking in the house the day that we signed the papers and dreaming of all the things that our family would do together in our home. I pictured Avery walking down the stairs in her prom gown, Charlie practicing the drums in a converted attic space, and David and I growing old together in that house.  Before we ever moved in, I prayed over each room and asked that God would take the gift He had given us and allow us to use it for His glory. It would be a home filled with love, prayer, laughter, and music. And I never wanted to move. Ever.

That’s why it seems totally crazy that just a few short years later, I can’t wait to leave it behind.

I guess I should explain myself, huh?

The last year and a half has been a year of refinement for me. A time where God has stripped away a lot of the things and relationships that I thought were really important in my life. Being refined can be really, truly painful.  But this year and a half hasn’t only been about “stripping away”, God has given me things too. Awesome things that I always thought I wanted. Things that had a whole lot to do with what I thought my life should look like. Things on my super long “life check list”.  My house was definitely way up high on that list.

Thinking back, I’m convinced that God gave me exactly what I asked for so that I would begin to realize how unsatisfying loving “stuff” is. It seemed that the longer we lived in our house, the tighter things became for us financially. Pipes started to burst, the roof started to leak, and our our beautiful house started to feel more like a prison than a palace. Financial stress is horrible. It’s suffocating. It steals the joy from your life. It’s not the way that I want to live – even if I do have a beautiful house.

I used to think that life was full of huge, important choices and that one wrong choice could change the course of your life forever. I don’t feel that way any more. I’ve come to realize that when you have a relationship with a good and gracious God, He can take even the worst choices and turn them around for His glory. God is such a loving Father. He never forces you to learn something. Instead, He patiently waits for you to have that “ah – ha” moment. He will allow you to have the things that you ask for (even if it’s not His perfect plan), and when you finally wake up and realize that you’ve made the wrong choice, He will take you by the hand and gently lead you to the right one.

Slowly, slowly, over the last year or so… through people, through books, through events, through loss and gain, God has been gently leading me.

In the book Kisses From Katie, Katie Davis said something that totally made sense to me. She said that she’d always read the scripture verse “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart” and assumed that it meant that if she loved God that He would give her a great job, a great home, a great husband and family. Those were always the things that she desired. Just like every American girl. Then she went to Africa. And God changed the desires of her heart. Her desires weren’t things anymore – they were people. They were God’s glory. God’s will. Those were the things that she desired. And those are the things that he gave her. He gave her the desires of her heart.

For most of my life, I’ve been busy desiring approval, position, and possessions. My mouth says that I value God, family, giving, and living with freedom, but my life says that I value people’s perceptions, my house, and all my stuff more.

Like He did for Katie Davis, God is changing my desires. For the first time in a long time, I really, truly, desire His plan. Not mine.

After a lot of discussion and prayer, David and I believe that God is prompting us to get rid of all of our debt and to live below our means. That means doing something that most people will think is crazy. It means selling my beautiful house in the perfect neighborhood and moving back into an itty bitty house.

It also means that we will be able to do things we haven’t been able to do in three years.  We will be able to travel when we want to. We will be able to give generously. We can plan for the future. Most importantly, we can finally dump all of the stress that living at the very edge of a paycheck has brought.

Ron Reynolds said, “Debt freedom is the one freedom that makes all other freedoms possible.” I’ve always believed it, but never lived like I did. I’m ready to change that.

Let’s start the next chapter.