Pastor Appreciation Month

This isn’t something I talk about often, because it isn’t something I want to be perceived as a brag in any way. But I’ve been volunteering at my church for almost a year now. If you’ve read my previous blog post, you know how much we absolutely love our church. It’s been a huge honor to be able to help out in my church office, and the story of how God has worked in my life over the last 9 months is something to share in another blog post.

For today, I want to talk about my pastors. October is Pastor Appreciation Month, something that might have slipped by without me realizing it if I hadn’t been scheduled to have surgery in October. Several weeks ago, I was pretty despondent over the idea of being confined to my house (and probably the couch) for 8 whole weeks while my ankle healed from being fused. I felt like I’d be useless because I wouldn’t be doing all the work I normally do. God is good though, because He clearly spoke to me and reminded me that I can pray. In fact, I’d have a huge amount of time to pray. I started to consider everything that I could be praying for each day, and I actually felt excited about this opportunity. There is always a long list of important people and things to pray for.

Then God put it on my heart to specifically pray for our pastors. When you consider all that they are able to do with such a servant’s heart, there is only one explanation as to how they keep doing it: their relationship with God. God appointed them and God fills them with strength and wisdom. But we still need to pray for them, daily. I started to read up on ways to pray for our pastors, and saw that October was Pastor Appreciation Month. Coincidence? I think not! πŸ™‚

If you had asked me a year ago if the pastors at Grace work hard, I’d have emphatically said β€œyes!”. But after volunteering in the office, I’ve gotten to see so many more ways that these men serve God, their families, our church, and our community. Most of us see the bigger things that our pastors do: the sermons that they’ve obviously spent a great deal of time preparing for, the worship songs that they’ve rehearsed for hours, the missions trips they go on, the small groups they organize and shepherd.

I appreciate all of the big things that they do. I think they deserve a full month of appreciation from all of us who reap the huge benefits from these guys giving their all to their jobs. What I’ve seen more and more of over the last year is that a pastor works 24/7, his job never ends, and its the little things that they do that really aren’t so little at all.

I’ve seen our pastor at church at 7pm on a Thursday night, folding bulletins after a long day of work. With a smile on his face. Who deserved to go home and relax with his family, but instead overheard that the impact group taking place in the room nearby had forgotten to bring a snack and everyone was hungry. So he goes to the store across the street, buys a bag of snacks, and silently brings them to the group of people he truly loves.

Our pastor goes grocery shopping on a Saturday morning, after a long week of work and hardly seeing his wife and kids. A church member runs into him in the produce section and begins pouring her heart out to him. He patiently listens and gives advice, even if it means that extra time away from his family. But he turned that person’s entire day around. She was seen and heard and able to go on and bless others in her path because of her pastor.

Our pastor spends his mornings working hard and will finally take a break for lunch. And just as he’s about to sit down and eat before his next meeting, someone will want to talk to them about their troubles. And he smiles and listens and prays with them. He’ll eventually eat that now-cold lunch before dashing off to the next responsibility, but you’ll never hear him complain about it.

Our pastor will travel to dangerous countries to preach the Gospel and share the love of Jesus with people who are suffering. He’ll catch a red-eye flight back home, and though he’s jet-lagged, you’d never know it because he often shows up at church the very next day with a smile on his face. And we never hear about the jet lag because his account of his trips are nothing but giving God glory.

Our pastor has a serious illness. He endures unspeakable pain, and medical treatments that give him a whole host of unpleasant side effects. But you’d never know it because yes, you guessed it, he is always there with a smile on his face. Always caring, always there to help.

This is not to say that they never show their own struggles, but on the whole, on a consistent basis, I have seen far more patience and selflessness from these guys than anything.

These are just a few examples of the many things I’ve noticed over the last few months. Our church is extraordinarily blessed to have 6 pastors who are so gifted at teaching and discipleship, but also have a huge heart for loving people in their very real, every day moments. Who really see you. See your needs and do anything they can to help.

Our pastors living out their Christian faith every day and authentically loving people has made a huge impact on my own life. When you feel safe enough to fall apart in your pastor’s office and share the worst pain you’ve ever experienced, and receive only love, prayer, true biblical counsel, and guidance…that is an indescribable blessing. God has used my pastor to save my life in many ways. How can you thank someone adequately for that?

My pastors are fathers and brothers to me. Uncles to my children. They’ve baptized my son. They’re our family and we love them so much!

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Pastor Ryan baptizing our son Connor

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Our daughter Felicity with her “uncle” Pastor Nate

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Last year’s photo of our awesome church staff. Love them!

I share all of this to encourage you to think about all the ways your pastor has blessed your life. These are men who have spouses, children, responsibilities, and stresses just like the rest of us. And they give of themselves constantly. Their families graciously share them with us. Think of what you can do to personally thank these amazing men of God.

After talking with many people about the things that make them feel loved and appreciated, I have a list of some ideas for you:

  1. PRAY! And let them know you are praying for them. Pray for protection over their marriages and families, for wisdom and discernment, for rest, for healing, for their relationships with God. Pray for a hedge of protection around them. Here is a 30 day Praying for Your Pastor challenge that can lead you in your prayers each day.

  2. Write them a note of thanks. Tell them how they’ve blessed you specifically. Share something to encourage them. If you’re not a writer, that’s okay. Buy a card that simply says thank you for all you do. I know of pastors that keep all their notes of encouragement and save them in a box to read later when they’re struggling. Your note might one day help your pastor 10 years from now. Your words are a huge gift!

  3. Give them the gift of alone time. Most people will use their free time to spend with their spouse and/or children, which is a wonderful thing. Giving someone a gift that encourages them to go have fun and enjoy something just for them is a way to help fill their cup. One of our pastors loves to golf. I don’t know anything about golf, but I’m willing to bet he’d love the gift of a round of golf to just unwind and have an hour just for himself.

  4. Along those same lines, a gift that would allow them to spend some extra time with their wives and children is a huge blessing for the whole family. This is a way to also thank our pastor’s wives and kids for sharing their wonderful guys with us. This doesn’t have to be an elaborate or expensive gesture. Someone recently gifted my husband with a $10 gift card so he could take me out for ice cream…a fun treat that we would rarely think to do for ourselves!

  5. Acts of service. Offer to mow their lawn (or send your teenage son to do it). Everyone appreciates a clean house but aren’t always comfortable with friends coming over to clean their toilets, so a gift certificate for a cleaning service is awesome.

  6. Meals. I love to cook and I often tell people that the breads and pastries I bake them are like a big hug, in food form. πŸ™‚ When I make dinner for one of my pastors, its with the intent of trying to help them capture some extra time with their families. Instead of shopping, cooking, and cleaning up, they can just relax and enjoy an extra hour to play catch with their kids, sit and watch a movie with their wives, or even go take a nap. Whatever they want to do, they deserve it. I’ve found that its fun and worth the time to ask around and find out what their favorite meal/dessert is. Have a restaurant deliver dinner if you don’t like to cook. Even a pizza delivery is a huge blessing when you are coming home after a long busy day.

  7. Babysitting service.

  8. Offer to volunteer your time to help the church. Many people have told me that they have wanted to find ways to get more involved, but just haven’t had the time to figure out the details. Use this month to take the initiative to do just that. There are always a lot of areas in the church that would be so thankful for your help.

  9. Encourage their families. I sometimes daydream about having the financial ability to take all the pastors wives on a spa day to really spoil them. They sure do deserve it! But taking them out for coffee, giving them a note of thanks, a hug, taking the time to see how they’re doing and letting them know they’re appreciated is such a gift.

  10. Give public thanks. I got this idea from an article I read and though it was suggested to take out a full-page ad in a local paper, it actually reminded me that we have a Facebook page with over 900 β€œlikes”, over 1500 β€œcheck ins”, and 103 ratings (4.8 stars!). That’s awesome, but only about 6 reviews have been written up in 2017. How cool would it be if more of us publicly recorded just how much we love our church?

These are just a few of my ideas; I’m sure y’all can come up with a thousand creative ideas yourselves and I am praying that God will clearly show you a special way you can say thanks. Our impact group is going to be putting together something special as group, and I would encourage you to do the same with your impact group, or a group of friends. Its fun to get different ideas from different people, and each person can contribute in a small way to bless a pastor in a big way!

If you made it through this very long post, thank you! I hope and pray that its given you a lot to think about, and that it reminded you of how blessed you are by your pastors. If you are so inclined, I would love to hear your stories too! Feel free to leave a comment and share how your pastors have impacted your life.

β€œAnd I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.” Jeremiah 3:15
Darren, Nacho, Ryan, Aaron, Nate, and Russell-thank you for being our shepherds!
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Pastor Russell leading the family retreat

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Pastors Ryan, Darren, Nacho, and Aaron at Pastor Nate’s ordination

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Pastor Nacho on the mission field!

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Pastor Darren and his wife Kathi who works so hard serving the women at our church!

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How To Change Your Life With Pasta…and Impact Groups

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Last year, I shared this wonderful article on Facebook: Friday Night Meatballs: How to Change Your Life With Pasta. I thought it was a neat idea, and it was very well received, with many of my friends commenting “What an awesome idea! We need to do this!”. I also received quite a few private messages from people lamenting how much they wanted to do this, but just didn’t have the community around them to begin. A simple share on Facebook got me thinking really deeply on this whole concept. How much we all long for close, intimate community. Even the self-professed introverts that love curling up alone with a good book on Friday nights perk up at this idea.

Years ago, I started to pray fervently for God to lead us to a community of believers that would become our family. I love my immediate family and absolutely enjoy spending time with them and my extended family too, but they all live in another state so those times are few and far between. It’s tough living in loneliness. We spent years attending churches, trying to get involved in activities and making friends. I told myself “this takes time. It takes years to develop close friendships”. I thought my patience would pay off, but my husband’s military job would inevitably move us around and we’d start all over again in a new place, with a new church.

About 3 1/2 years ago, God brought us to San Antonio and the first church we visited we fell in love with. Our twins were only about 2 months old at the time, and just attending Sunday services was a major accomplishment for me. But I loved hearing about how important Impact Groups were to our church. They weren’t just about spending 8 weeks in a nice bible study, then moving on. Spiritual growth is important of course, but a huge part of it was building a community. Making the close friends we all long for, the people who are there for you in good times and bad. You know, those ladies that will bring you over a pot of soup when your kids are sick and your husband is on a business trip. Real friends.

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I finally started going to impact groups, and like a kid attending a new school for the first time, there was some nervousness involved. But I went, and it was awesome. Each semester I signed up for another group, then another. I made some amazing friends; I started to really feel like this church was a family. We started to include each other in things like Thanksgiving dinners, and birthday parties. Each time we had an “outside the impact group” get together, we would marvel at what a good time it was. How we should do this more often; the kids love it. Let’s do dinner soon! Then the weeks would pass, and we wouldn’t plan anything. πŸ™‚ Life is busy, that’s just how it goes.

Then, this article sparked something in me. I felt like the Lord was speaking loudly and clearly: if you want these things in life, you need to make it happen. Okay Jesus, let’s do this. But let’s also discuss why I am the worst person to try to organize this sort of thing. 1. I’m unorganized. 2. I don’t have much money. 3. My house is too small. 4. What if no one likes my cooking? 5. What if no one really wants to be my friend and they don’t come? Cue all kinds of panic…

Thankfully, I wasn’t the only person in our impact group who thought this was a great idea, and a few of us ladies took to planning. Someone volunteered their home as the hosting spot. One family brought meatballs, another brought pasta, another brought salad, etc. It was definitely a potluck type of affair, with a few husbands coming over straight from work and grabbing a plate of food and joining us at a long table on the patio.

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The only picture from our first dinner: Stephanie, Shawna, baby G, and Cassie

I wish now that I’d gotten a lot of photos from that first dinner. The kids sitting at their little tables slurping pasta, then running and laughing through the yard. The adults gathered around a long table, talking and laughing in the soft glow of the lights. Watching the conversation shift from slightly awkward small talk to deeper things. Watching my friend Stephanie share the deep things God was doing in her life, and reading to us the bible verses that were laid on her heart. I could have cried, but I was still too concerned with appearances that first night. πŸ™‚ I wanted to dance around and shriek a little. Something alive and vibrant and amazing started to grow that night. We knew, we knew that God was going to do some amazing things.

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12

Sometimes this American Christian life can seem so one dimensional. To see God’s plan come alive in such a way was so wonderful. And so…we planned another dinner. And another. There began to be more spontaneous get togethers. Coffee dates, lunches, play dates, ladies nights, etc. Our little village. How I love them so.

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One nice thing about kids from many families dining together: they are inspired to try new foods!

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Our Christmas soup dinner

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These boys…oh my heart!

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Ladies night

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Oh yeah, we know how to have a good time! πŸ™‚ Jeff and Mary…I adore you both

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These precious ones

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Sometimes you need a BBQ in the middle of winter! This dinner was a BBQ chicken, potato salad, fruit and cookies night. Awesome!

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Who cares how big or small your house is? Being cozy is fun πŸ™‚

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So the kids *might* play more than they eat. That’s what gummy vitamins are for, right? πŸ˜‰

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Everyone eats when they want some dessert though

This could be the “happily ever after” ending to this little story, right? God answered our prayers for close friends and an amazing church family. But no. Our pastor has recently done a sermon series entitled “Dream Seeding” that jolted this little dream into the possibility of something more. I could (and might!) write an entire blog post on how deeply this sermon series challenged me and moved me. To think about what God sized dreams I have and how willing I am to trust God and be brave enough to step out of the boat no matter how scary deep that water looks.

So. Let me tell you guys…as I sat in church one Sunday listening to this sermon (you can hear it here by the way), a vision exploded in my mind. Of a simple home with plenty of yard space that was filled with long wooden tables. And I mean long tables, with many chairs filled with many people and many children running around. And a garden nearby. And music and worship and new friends. That is my dream…because you see, as much as I adore my little village I know how many lonely people are out there that need this community too. I want to be able to invite them to join us. I want the neighbors to come on over too. I want people to experience all of this and want to know the Jesus that brings people together in such a way.

I have no idea how this will all happen. Maybe it won’t really happen for a few years, maybe it’ll happen next month. I have no idea how to make that much food nor how to even acquire enough tables and seating for such a dream. But that’s good to know because it means its a God sized dream, not a Tara sized dream. πŸ™‚

We recently packed our biggest crowd into my friend Cassie’s house. There were tables in every nook and cranny with about 30 people. It was amazing. I want to see that doubled, tripled, quadrupled. I want the Lord to open up the chance for Nick and I to buy a home on a decent sized piece of land…something we always wanted but could never answer the question of WHY. Did we want horses or something? I don’t know. I just have a burning desire for some land. I’ve felt this way for years, now I think I know why! πŸ™‚

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Please pray with me that this dream will come true.

Sometimes I get so excited over where we are now, and how much things have improved, that I forget about the very low place we were in just a few short years ago. I am so grateful to be at a church that values community so much that they work tirelessly at putting together impact groups and other community events. I want them to know how far and wide those efforts have gone, and will continue to go.

If you live in San Antonio, I hope you’ll check out Grace Community Church. Join an impact group. Do you already go to church but feel like an impact group is just too much to add to an already busy schedule? Let me just tell you that I understand completely. I have 3 kids, including twin toddlers, I homeschool, and my domestic duties can fill up a 28 hour day. I can say with 100% certainty that being in an impact group is worth it. Keep going, don’t feel bad if you miss a week. Just go. Then go again next semester. πŸ™‚

If you do a bible study group already, and like it, but find yourself longing for that something more…let me encourage you to be brave and put together your own “just because” potluck dinner. Chances are, people might look at you strangely and wonder if there’s an occasion they’re missing. They might check their schedules and see that they are booked solid for the next 5 weeks and it’ll take work getting a date set that most people can attend. That’s okay, pick a date and just do it. Don’t worry too much if its a little awkward at first.

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Its pretty easy to have everyone bring a pot of soup and some bread. Break that bread together; its even more delicious when you’re eating it with friends.

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Matzo ball soup made by the amazing Cassie

I’ve talked to so many friends about this over the last few months. People that see our Facebook postings and confess how much they want something like this. Do it guys, its worth it. I’ll leave you with these last thoughts from the original pasta night article:

“In the past nine months, friends who’ve been inspired by Friday Night Meatballs have told me about slow cookers full of meatballs in hotel rooms at conferences. There’s a Taco Tuesday in Minneapolis and a Brisket Brunch in Austin. Many others have shared their favorite low-stress ways to bring people together: game nights, “bring a weird snack” night, bad movie night, Sunday brunch club, even a backyard fried-chicken competition. It doesn’t matter what dish you serve or what idea brings you together: the point is simply to break bread.”

If you want more advice or encouragement in this, please contact me anytime. I’d also love to pray for you if you’re on the same journey of searching for a community of friends.

And thank you, thank you, thank you Grace Community Church for bringing us together. We love you so much.

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Matthew 18:20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

Acts 2:42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Crockpot Freezer Meals

I’m in a fun cooking group on Facebook, and I shared a picture of my latest triumph in the kitchen: a stack of freezer meals all assembled and ready for cooking over the next 2 weeks. After we chatted about how crazy easy this was, my friend Katie at Oh So Mom asked me to share the details in a blog post, so here we go. πŸ™‚ When I got married nearly 12 years ago, I received a “once a month freezer cooking” book. It had some great recipes in it, but the idea of cooking and freezing meals always overwhelmed me. However, after having my twin girls 3 years ago and going from one kid to three overnight, I had to change my ways. I learned that devoting some time to meal preparation is well worth it in the long run, and I tried quite a few methods. I’d cook a double portion of dinner and freezer half. I planned out menus and had fresh veggies chopped up and waiting in the fridge ahead of time. I’d set aside an entire day to bake a bunch of bread, muffins, and cookies for the week.

None of these methods helped much if I A) Forgot to take meat out to defrost. Or B) Was too exhausted by 4pm to even think about cooking. I’m sure many of you can relate. Yeah, I have all the ingredients in my pantry and fridge, but when you have two toddlers screaming against your legs, the idea of spending $10 on Taco Bell sounds well worth my sanity. The sad reality is, $10 here and there adds up quickly. We all want to save money, eat healthy, and be better prepared but boy its a lot of work right?!

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Italian Chicken-yum!

Well, yes and no. I’m pretty confident I finally found an answer to all my prayers: a make-ahead method that involves very easy prep, no cooking, in which all the menus and recipes and grocery lists are in one spot, ready to print out and best of all its FREE. Enter the amazing website New Leaf Wellness. My friend Kristi introduced me to this page a year or so ago, and I love it. She does have cookbooks for sale and I plan on purchasing some, but I’m beyond grateful she has so many menus online for free. This one—30 Costco meals in 3 hours–is a huge favorite! http://newleafwellness.biz/2016/05/22/healthy-crockpot-freezer-meals-from-costco-30-meals-in-3-hours/

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What I usually do is print out a few that look good and mark the ones my family will eat. I make one shopping trip to Costco (usually for all the meat), and one trip to HEB for everything else. I typically buy a pack of chicken and a pack of ground beef at Costco and plan the meals around that. I spend one afternoon shopping and the next day I put everything together. Because I do have 3 little kids running around, I get interrupted, so on average it takes me 2 hours to assemble my meals. I like to put all the chicken meals together at once, then do all the beef. Once you make these a couple of times, it becomes super fast and easy. All you do is place everything raw into your freezer bags, label and freeze! It could not be any easier! Each evening I look at my stash to see what sounds good, take it out and defrost in the fridge overnight. In the morning, I dump it all into the crockpot and that’s it.

 

On July 5, I made:

Ranch burger patties, Spaghetti sauce (x2), Vegetable beef soup (x2), taco meat, chicken philly cheesesteaks (x2), cranberry chicken, Italian chicken, ranch chicken tacos, and refried beans.

The refried bean recipe can be found here. This one does require a day of slow cooking the beans in your crockpot before portioning them out for the freezer, but I highly recommend it for several reasons: its incredibly delicious. The best homemade bean recipe I’ve ever tried, hands down. It’s cheap. It’s healthy, and it makes a ton. It freezes beautifully! I make a big batch, then freeze small portions to serve as a side dish to meals like tacos.

Predictably, life became quite chaotic this last week, and I’m very thankful I have these meals to fall back on. I haven’t had to do any extra grocery shopping other than a trip back to Costco for milk and eggs.

I love this freezer cooking method because everything tastes fresh on cooking day, nothing is being reheated like leftovers. Each meal feeds our family of 5 twice (dinner with leftovers for lunch the next day). It saves me SO much time and money, and its actually doable. Trust me, I get easily overwhelmed, plus I’m always dealing with both exhaustion and physical pain. If I can do it easily, anyone can. πŸ™‚

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Vegetable Beef Soup

Here are a few more links to menus we’ve enjoyed. This site is so user friendly, and the free printables are clean and easy to read. It truly makes shopping trips faster and so much less stressful.

http://newleafwellness.biz/2016/06/26/12-delicious-freezer-meals-in-2-5-hours/

7 Crockpot Freezer Meals That Even Kids Will Eat

I love having dinner already cooking in the crockpot early in the day. It frees up more time for me to do more fun things…like bake cookies with my kids in the afternoon. πŸ™‚

I love everything about this and I hope you’ll give it a try too! Happy cooking everyone!

 

The Redhead Project

Have you ever had a true “once in a lifetime” experience? I’ve been blessed to have a few of those in my life so far. Visiting Israel. Giving birth to twins. πŸ™‚ And most recently, we were honored to participate in a photo project with Keith Barraclough called The Redhead Project. This, my friends, is high on my list of once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

A simple Facebook posting led us to e-mail conversations, a phone interview, then the shocking news that our family was scheduled for the Austin photo shoot. Based on the hundreds of comments seen on Facebook and Instagram, I had to assume many people were interested in participating in this. We couldn’t believe we’d been selected! What an honor! We arrived at the hotel, nervous but excited. This was a completely new experience, participating in a photo shoot that was more about art than simply capturing a family picture with all 5 of us smiling at the camera. Though we did get a great group shot of the 5 of us… πŸ™‚

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Felicity’s face in this one!

The Redhead Project captures the personalities of every redhead. The first portion of the shoot, we’d been instructed to wear all white so that the picture would focus on the red hair and the person’s face. The idea was for anyone looking at the photograph to wonder “Who is this person? What are they like?”. The next portion of the photos would capture each person’s personality more vibrantly, including props that would showcase our hobbies, interests, etc. Since the minimum age was 4, only Nick, Connor, and I were subjects. The girls ended up being very prominent “props”. LOL

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Portrait of Nick for The Redhead Project

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Portrait of Tara for The Redhead Project

I had previously spoken to Keith on the phone, and admitted about all I did in life is care for the kids, cook, and clean. So he’d suggested we show me as juggling all these aspects of my life. I thought this was a good idea. I’d borrowed a cute apron from my friend Abigail, and brought along some cooking gear and a few of my favorite books. After seeing the amazing pictures on Instagram of the other redheads, I’d started to feel uncertain. Everyone else seemed to have these cool, funny, sexy, and cute poses with interesting hobbies. I started to feel like I was pretty boring, yet this is indeed my life at the moment. I’m a mom. I have twin 3 year olds and I homeschool my 6 year old. My entire life revolves around my family, and I love it. I love to cook and I love my kids. I think our photos captured that very well. The experience also made me think hard about my identity (something I’ll blog about separately).

Portrait for The Redhead Project

Portrait of Tara for The Redhead Project

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Portrait of Tara for The Redhead Project

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Portrait of Tara for The Redhead Project

Portrait for The Redhead Project

Portrait of Tara for The Redhead Project

I want to stop here and say that Keith and his wife Kate are simply amazing. Prior to our meeting, I’d seen them in my mind as these famous photographers from NYC. Meeting them in person, they are warm and kind and totally down to earth and relaxed. We met at a beautiful Hilton right along the river in Austin, and our crew entered their hotel room like a herd of wild rhinos. Our kids don’t know a stranger. The girls especially just immediately ran in and began to explore and talk and make themselves right at home. I’m grateful at how easygoing both Keith and Kate were throughout the shenanigans of twin 3 year olds. It was as chaotic as you’d imagine, but Keith just calmly did his awesome photography and was super patient. I was so preoccupied with the girls’ behavior that I forgot almost all of my props (which had been meticulously packed in a bag and sat there by the door!), and even forgot to put on the makeup I’d brought along to wear after the natural pictures were done (including the brand new lipstick I’d spent WEEKS to find). Sigh. Of course when we were all done and I realized all this, I cried. I was mad at myself. Not only was I boring, but I couldn’t even remember to put on some lipstick. You’ve got to be kidding, right? πŸ™‚

Nick and Connor did much better. Nick used his favorite collectible sword as a prop and a favorite Star Wars themed shirt. He truly had fun with the pictures, which was a joy to see. Connor picked out his own props and was very insistent about them. Keeping with the spirit of the project, I didn’t try to orchestrate anything. He is a huge Harry Potter fan and with the imagination of a 6 year old, he’d brought along the old broom he envisions as a Firebolt, and the other Quidditch props he absolutely insists are authentic. πŸ™‚

Portrait for The Redhead Project

Portrait of Nick for The Redhead Project

Portrait for The Redhead Project

Portrait of Nick for The Redhead Project

Portrait for The Redhead Project

Portrait of Nick for The Redhead Project

Portrait for The Redhead Project

Portrait for The Redhead Project

I’m not going to lie; Nick and I were slightly mortified at the old beat up toys Connor packed along, but once again Keith was gracious as ever and embraced Connor’s vision for his photos. They spent a good bit of time capturing Quidditch action shots, which was so cool for Connor.

Portrait for The Redhead Project

Portrait for The Redhead Project

Portrait for The Redhead Project

Portrait for The Redhead Project

Portrait for The Redhead Project

Portrait for The Redhead Project

Portrait for The Redhead Project

Portrait for The Redhead Project

Portrait for The Redhead Project

Portrait for The Redhead Project

I absolutely love the pictures of Connor reading his book too.

A funny thing happened as Keith was trying to get the more serious photos from Connor: Connor was suddenly overcome with a sneeze attack. Which got captured on camera, and Connor thought that was just too fun. When he saw the picture of himself sneezing, he absolutely LOVED it. LOL!

Portrait for The Redhead Project

Portrait for The Redhead Project

Portrait for The Redhead Project

Portrait for The Redhead Project

Although the girls weren’t individual participants, they ended up in a lot of our pictures, and I had done their hair as soon as we’d arrived at the hotel. I think they purposely messed themselves up more than usual, because they look like wild Indians in most pictures. I just have to laugh. Here we are with an amazing professional photographer from New York CITY who has taken pictures for National Geographic for goodness sake, and my kids manage to be as messy as they could possibly be. πŸ™‚

Portrait for The Redhead Project

Portrait of Nick for The Redhead Project

We had a great time though, and it was a very very cool experience. Being a family of 5 redheads, we get a little too much attention out in public and our kids are growing up thinking their red hair is the equivalent of a magical unicorn. So, they don’t exactly need the extra boost of confidence. πŸ˜‰Β  However it’s still a special honor to celebrate this feature that such a small percentage of the world shares. It’s like being in a special club, the red hair club. It’s so awesome to see all of the redhead pictures Keith has taken, and I hope you’ll head on over to his Instagram page to take a look. Strawberry blondes, auburns, carrot tops, curly, straight, long, short, every type of redhead you can imagine is being represented. https://www.instagram.com/projectredhead/

When we received our pictures back from Keith and Kate, I really felt like we’d been given an incredible gift. This small window of time in our lives is so fleeting. We won’t always have this gangly 6 year old who just lost his first baby teeth and thinks a dollar store broom is as cool as a real Firebolt, who is still shorter than his mommy and can ride on his daddy’s shoulders. We won’t have these two rambunctious 3 year olds for long either. One day they won’t want to cling to their mommy 24/7 and be small enough for their daddy to scoop both up in his arms at once. There’s no glamour here. No flawless makeup, no sexy hair blowing in the wind, definitely no perfect kids with their hair in place and perfectly adorable outfits. But there’s a lot of love, a lot of joy, and a lot of beauty in our messiness.

Portrait for The Redhead Project

Portrait of Tara for The Redhead Project

Portrait for The Redhead Project

Portrait of Nick for The Redhead Project

Portrait for The Redhead Project

Portrait of Tara for The Redhead Project

Portrait for The Redhead Project

Portrait of Tara for The Redhead Project

Portrait for The Redhead Project

Portrait of Nick for The Redhead Project

Portrait for The Redhead Project

Portrait of Nick for The Redhead Project

Portrait for The Redhead Project

Portrait of Tara for The Redhead Project

Portrait for The Redhead Project

Portrait of Nick for The Redhead Project

Portrait for The Redhead Project

Portrait of Nick for The Redhead Project

I’ll cherish these photos for the rest of my life. And we’ll be forever grateful to be part of a project that celebrates being a ginger: what a fun and special memory for our kids! Thank you Keith for this once-in-a-lifetime experience!

*Please note that these photos have Keith’s watermark on them and absolutely must not be cropped, altered, or used in any way without permission. Thank you!

 

The Hardest Age

When you’re disabled and you’re a parent, you have a very different take on what ages are the hardest and why they’re the hardest. That’s been true for me anyway.

Today my twins are in the throes of what I consider to be my hardest age. They’re 2 1/2 years old. They are energetic, curious, determined, smart, brave, and adventurous. They have 2 very healthy bodies with 2 sets of very strong legs that love to RUN. They run fast, they climb, they jump. They do everything that I cannot do.

Taking them anywhere that doesn’t involve a shopping cart with two secure seat straps is a major undertaking. It’s downright scary, to be honest. My faithful old double stroller does it’s best to hold onto the combined weight of nearly 60 pounds of writhing toddlers. I still stow it in my van, always ready just in case. Do the twins like being in the stroller? Nope. They hate it. Especially Felicity.

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Us at the farmers market, a place I’d never try to go without the stroller. Felicity was trying hard to escape. LOL

I knew this day would come and I’ve dreaded it. Big time! For me, AMC affects my legs more than anything. I have a dislocated hip, my ankles and knees have almost no movement. I have almost no muscle in my calves. My feet and knees hurt a lot. I’m in chronic pain 100% of the time. Sometimes people see me pushing a stroller full of heavy kids and think how hard it must be. The truth is, I lean on that stroller for support. When my legs get tired or my ankles are throbbing, it’s a blessing to have something to lean on.

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Last year, looking for bluebonnets

We’ve ventured out on short walks when I am feeling up to it. The girls are learning to hold hands and stay near Mommy. It’s still very much a learning process and I’d never attempt it without Connor’s help. He’s a designated hand holder and twin chaser. Thank God for a helpful older child who is able bodied! He’s a lifesaver.

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The ideal setting: a short path surrounded by trees, far away from the street

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The beach is one of the safest places we’ve let kids run free. No cars πŸ™‚

Felicity is my wild child. She’s the one who will always run off and run fast. I’ve had many people advise me to put the girls on leashes or in harnesses. I am close to giving that a try! My biggest worry is that they will get upset, throw a fit, and writhe on the ground while we’re far away from the car. We had this happen once at church, and carrying Felicity back to the van by myself just about killed my back.

I hate thinking about how much my kids miss out on simply because I cannot physically handle this challenge. If I had only one toddler to keep hold of, it would be easier. But having twin toddlers when you have a disability is really hard. I can’t carry them both. I can’t chase them. I hate saying “I can’t” but unfortunately, there are some things I just can’t do.

I’m trying to enjoy this age, despite everything. I remember going through the same thing with Connor, and looking back, it was a relatively short stage.

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Life is always easier when Daddy is with us to help πŸ™‚

Having kids when you’re disabled is a major lesson in humility. I can’t take my kids on play dates without praying through the overwhelming fear and shame I know will come when I have to keep my toddlers strapped into their stroller or have my 6 year old constantly help me chase them down. I definitely feel like a bad mom even though it’s not my fault. It sucks to have strangers run over and catch your toddler before she runs into the parking lot or jumps into the lake. Things like that make me want to stay at home every day and not hang out with other moms in public because it’s always really humiliating.

Has anyone else ever had this experience? I really wish I had some awesome advice about how to overcome this particular issue. Unfortunately, I think it’s one of those stages you just have to survive and get through. We keep teaching them how to stay with mom and dad, to hold hands, to watch for cars, to not run off, to be careful. One day they will get it. In the meantime, they’re 2. I have to swallow a huge amount of pride and still let them explore and be curious, because the last thing I want as a disabled mom is to cripple my children in any way.

So…yeah I am sure plenty of strangers out there see me and think I’m not doing a good job. A trip to the park sometimes feels like climbing Mt Everest for me, especially when it ends in me sweating and panting as I drag an uncooperative toddler back to the car. Sometimes I’m in extra pain for days afterward. It’s frustrating but hopefully worth it.

My son is learning to be aware of the needs of others and to help. He has learned to respond quickly when he’s needed. He’s learned to be aware of strangers and where his sisters are at all times. He’s become a great multi-tasker. πŸ™‚

I’m thankful that even at age 6, he hasn’t yet said anything about why isn’t Mommy normal, and why can’t Mommy do certain things. I know that day will come and I know it will break my heart a little. But I hope he’ll see that Mommy tried really hard and did a lot of things with them.

We always try to seek out parks and nature walks that are in a gated area or at least far away from any traffic. That’s a challenge for the most part, and on a regular basis I find myself wishing someone would build playgrounds designed to make parents’ lives a little easier. πŸ™‚

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My kids enjoying the indoor play area at the mall. This is another ideal, safe place for us to go!

I’m on a mission this year. My girls will be turning 3 in May, and I’m determined that 2016 will be the year we get out more. I’m currently shopping around for harnesses to try out on the girls. That’s another thing I find very different about parenting with a disability: most moms are against putting kids on leashes like they’re a dog. πŸ™‚ I’d rather be frowned upon for the leash than stay home all the time or chase my kid into traffic, so we’re excited to try out the leash! I’ll share the results soon hopefully.

My mom bought us a zoo membership for Christmas and I want to make the most of it. I know my husband will not want to accompany us to the zoo every week, so let’s see how well I can handle it on my own. πŸ™‚

If you are a parent with a disability or other physical challenge, and have any advice on this subject, PLEASE share. πŸ™‚

Christmas Reflections

I think we’re all happy to be done with the holidays. 2015 was a tough year for a lot of people! I had an interesting holiday season though and wanted to write about some things God taught me. I need to remember it when the holidays come around again. πŸ™‚

I had a long list of things I wanted to do at Christmas. With my twins being 2 1/2 and out of the baby stage, it really seemed like this was the year we could do much more. In 2014, we were all very sick with a flu at Christmas. Connor’s birthday and all of my other plans were ruined. I prayed fervently that this year we’d stay well. I put a huge effort into feeding us healthy meals and faithfully administering vitamins and essential oils. We managed to fit in some fun activities; we had friends over for Thanksgiving dinner. We visited a children’s museum and a farm. We had a few play dates. I even had some bible study ladies over for an end-of-the-year brunch. Things were going so well. I actually saved up enough money to take advantage of those Black Friday online deals, and scored all of my kids’ Christmas gifts at amazing prices! I was rocking!

And then…we all got sick! I recall it was just a little less than 2 weeks before Christmas. We had gotten family photos done and cards made and I was excitedly planning a birthday celebration for Connor, who was turning 6 on December 23. When all 3 kids came down with a bad cold just a few days before our fun plans, I was very upset. It wasn’t anywhere close to as bad as the stomach virus last year, but STILL. Poor Connor was coughing and his throat hurt. He was miserable. The girls and Nick quickly followed. I cancelled the birthday celebration and pouted. I was cranky and angry for a few days. Why did I work so hard for nothing? Why did we always get sick around the holidays? Why did my plans get ruined? Why did my life suck so much?

Yeah, it was a ridiculous and immature pity party. I even had the foolish rant in my head that I may as well never celebrate Christmas again if this was always going to happen! After all, isn’t Christmas all about things going according to my plans?

I’m not sure how it happened since I was obviously in a stubbornly miserable mental state, but God got through to me. I remember vividly sitting there thinking “I only have one more week until Christmas”. And God clearly spoke to me and said “You don’t just have one quick week to try and get through. You don’t need to mourn the time you think you lost due to illness. You still have one whole week to enjoy. A whole week!”

It was a turning point for me. I knew I could chose to be miserable over my ruined plans and think that we couldn’t make that one week special. Or I could chose to make the most of the time we did have and still make Christmas a special time for my kids.

Did I want my kids to remember Christmas a time when Mommy was stressed out and cranky? NO. NO. NO. I felt terrible about the days I’d wasted acting so bummed out. I wasn’t going to do it anymore.

Thankfully, the colds eased up a bit. Just enough to keep everyone from feeling too sick to enjoy life. We fit in some low key activities that I had so wanted to do with the kids this year. We drove around looking at Christmas lights. We baked and decorated sugar cookies. We made some crafty gifts for Grandma and Grandpa. Our week turned around and was wonderful. I had many moments when things would get bumpy and I’d want to complain, but God gently chided me every time. When Felicity had a meltdown during our drive looking at lights, we turned up the Christmas music and sang.

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Sugar cookies

Christmas Day came and was wonderfully relaxed. When the gifts had been opened and Christmas was officially over, I sat back and thought about everything. What went wrong and what went right. I had 2 lists pictured in my head and I realized with shame that I was so often focusing on that list of things that went wrong, beating myself up over what I should have done differently. It was another turning point for me, to give myself grace and appreciate everything God had allowed us to do and blessed us with.

When I threw out the bad list and focused on the good, I saw it was a very long list indeed. We did so many fun things! Our house was filled with friends many times over the months of November and December. We ate a lot of really good food. We were visited by carolers. We were moved and awed by a drive through living Nativity. We listened to Christmas music and hung bells on doorknobs, draped garlands and twinkly lights, hung our stockings, and tied red bows on our porch. The twins learned to sing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and yelled out “It’s baby Jesus!” at every baby they saw.

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So excited to go look at Christmas lights!

I had many deep conversations with my now 6 year old about the birth of Jesus, salvation, Heaven. We didn’t need to stick to a fancy Advent calendar. God still moved in his heart. Driving around the neighborhoods and seeing the many nativity scenes displayed in yards was enough to prompt our conversations and focus towards Jesus. I’m so grateful for that.

We watched all of the movies on my list. πŸ™‚ The Christmas Story, the Nativity Story, Elf, a Charlie Brown Christmas. We were so blessed to be able to give a few gifts that our children really loved.

We went to church on Christmas Eve and the kids played in snow that the church brought in, despite the suddenly warm weather that hit just the day prior. It was joyful just watching our church family romp in the snow, throwing snowballs and laughing. All the kids together. So much fun. The service was everyone together in the sanctuary, no child classes that day. It was a bit of an ordeal getting 2 year old twins to sit through a service, but no one melted down, so I call it a success. My favorite moment was singing Christmas songs with our church, watching Nick hold Felicity and singing Silent Night. Felicity was singing along and looked so happy. It was so wonderful.

So, yes, Christmas was actually a huge success. I’m so thankful God yanked me out of my dark place and talked some sense into me. Kids do get sick despite our best efforts. Plans go awry. I will probably go into the 2016 holidays with the same high hopes and lists of fun things to do. I pray that God will keep me focused on what really matters. That I’ll create warm memories for my kids. That they’ll look back and remember Christmas was magical, full of family and friends, warm sugar cookies, hot cocoa, twinkly lights, and baby Jesus.

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Connor had a great birthday, full of Legos!

2016

Wow, it’s pretty sad that I didn’t blog at all in 2015! There are so many reasons why not…too busy with the kids, too tired, too unorganized. However, most writers will say that no matter how crazy life gets, they make time to write because they LOVE to write. They NEED to write. I have always loved writing and in this past year I’ve been faced with something I never expected: such bad arthritis and pain in my hands that I was unable to write. I’d sit down to type and a few sentences in, my entire hand and arm would go numb and a tingling pain would spread over half of my body. It was awful!

I tried many things to remedy this. Stretching, chiropractic adjustments, pain medications, exercises. Nothing helped. I finally had to take a break and just stop typing, save for the short updates on Facebook. I missed it though.

My experience with my disability has always been the hope I could fix a problem. I could feel better. I could take a break and things would improve. Well, I turned 36 last year and had to admit that some things were probably just not going to get better anymore. That’s a tough thing to face. I catch myself in a panic over the thought of where I’ll be when I’m 60 or 80. But that’s no way to live. I have to be grateful for today.

As we moved into the year 2016, I decided I needed to ignore the pain and start writing again. My kids are a little older and a little more independent. I have memories and experiences to record and share. I need to just get back to trying.

No, my pain and other problems haven’t gone away. I’m still working on it. πŸ™‚ Some days are better than others. One of my goals is to share some of the things I do each day to help me cope with living with AMC.

I’ve prayerfully considered what topics to devote some of my writing to. I have plenty of kid stories and recipes to share, just like hundreds of other mom bloggers. What I’d really like to do though is reach out to anyone out there who has AMC. Especially other moms with AMC. Even with the internet being as wide and far as it is, I rarely come across another mom with a disability even similar to mine. It’s the kind of support and advice I’ve longed for during the last 7 years, since my first pregnancy.

If you’ve found yourself here, please let me know. I am going to try my best to blog regularly about parenting challenges and other aspects of living with AMC.

Happy 2016!

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15 Months of Fun

Our twins just turned 15 months old. Wow. It wasn’t all that long ago that I asked myself if I’d survive their first year and now here we are!

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I am amazed at what God has done in our lives. The fact that we make it through each day healthy, mostly happy, and mostly sane, is just incredible. As I write this, my sweet babes are tucked into bed. They all go to bed by 7:30pm and go right to sleep. I know, how lucky am I?!

My girls are looking so much like toddlers and NOT babies and it’s rather sad. They get more beautiful each day and I am thrilled as I watch them grow and learn. I pray I will be able to cherish the little moments each day, because it’s going by SO fast.

My Felicity is rambunctious, adventurous, smart, loves to eat (and I mean LOVES), is our climber and runner and we are sure that she’ll be an athlete one day. Her auburn hair is thickening up a bit and growing some…finally. πŸ™‚ Her curls are darling, sparse though they may be. Her dark brown eyes are bright with mischief. I adore her beyond words and find her endlessly entertaining.

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IMG_6532 IMG_6544 IMG_6555Our Ruby is a princess who loves snuggles and tickles. She will run over and lay right in front of me to be tickled, that’s how much she loves it! πŸ™‚ Ruby is our quieter twin. She loves books and animals, and does her fair share of climbing and being adventurous. But she’s Mommy’s girl all the way. She loves sitting on my lap and snuggling. She’s a big eater too and I am very blessed that my girls enjoy food so much. Ruby’s hair has grown into a silky mane that is starting to curl on the ends and is a beautiful light auburn. I love it! Her eyes are brown too, but a much lighter brown that Felicity’s and her long eyelashes are to die for. This one is a flirt, that’s for sure. πŸ™‚

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IMG_6549The best thing about twins right now is that they play so well together! It’s fabulous. They love each other and have fun together and are inseparable. In fact, just tonight they were playing in the play room while I got their things ready for bed and Felicity wandered into the bedroom after me. Seconds later, I heard Ruby screaming and crying and then running through the house. She found Felicity and I quickly, before I could even stop what I was doing to see what was wrong. Poor Ruby looked FRANTIC. She was shaking and just appeared completely panicked. I knew it was because she found herself suddenly alone and that never happens. Poor girl 😦 I take it for granted that they are used to being together all the time.

IMG_6434 IMG_6513 IMG_6425It’s the end of another long day and this mama is exhausted, so I’ll end this by saying I feel incredibly blessed to have these ginger snaps. Life is full…very tiring, but worth it! Happy 15 Months to my sweet girls!!

A Fresh Start

Welcome to my new blog! After going on a long hiatus from my old blog, I decided to start over new here. For many reasons, my life was in limbo for a few months. I was “stuck”, literally and emotionally and even spiritually.

Recently though, I’ve broken free of some unhealthy things in my life. My family and I have moved to a better place and the fog has lifted over that part of my brain that just could not write anymore. I’m ready to blog again and to share more of my life, but I strongly felt I needed to do that in a fresh, new place.

My mom is the cheerleader in my life who is always encouraging me to write. She thinks I’m a great writer, but I don’t. Honestly, I do not blog because I feel like I’m a Writer. I blog because I want to capture memories and because I hope to share a bit more with people I love than just the quick tidbits and snapshots I post on Facebook.

Facebook has made me quite lazy, as has the new phone I have that allows me to take a photo and post it instantly. It’s fun, but has caused me to neglect even cracking open my laptop for weeks on end. My digital camera sits here next to it, collecting dust as well. It’s appalling. As much as I appreciate fast technology, I’m committing to getting back to enjoying the process of taking photo shoots, editing pictures and compiling a story.

I hope you will enjoy what you read here. There are thousands of blogs out there on motherhood and homemaking. I doubt much of what I share will be that new or exciting.

I do have a few things that set me a apart from many other blogging mamas:

I have a disability called Arthrogryposis. I was born with this birth defect and it certainly has shaped my entire life. My feet, ankles, knees, hips and left arm and hand are all affected. I’m in chronic pain every day and have to do most normal tasks my own way. It makes life challenging. If you are a mother with any type of chronic condition, I hope some of my stories will encourage you. It’s not easy being a mother and it’s even harder being a mother when you have physical challenges to overcome.

I have twins! I haven’t met anyone else who is disabled and has twins. Maybe you’re out there and you’ll find my little blog somehow. I hope so! Mothering twins is a whole different ballgame. Twins, and even triplets and quads, are more common these days. However, we moms of multiples still face a different set of challenges and need lots of encouragement.

So, there it is in a nutshell. If you are a disabled mom of twins and you find my blog, I hope you’ll leave a comment so we can become friends.

I LOVE my online friends and really enjoy the relationships I’ve made over the years. I’m a Christian, a mom of 3 little ones, and the Lord and my family and friends keep me sane. πŸ™‚

I also love to cook, love to do fun projects with my kiddos, enjoy photography (as a total amateur!), and being outdoors. When I have the time, I try to garden and take on DIY projects. I like making my own concoctions like house cleaner, lotions, and other nifty stuff using natural products. I ADORE my Young Living essential oils. I spend a good amount of time each day chasing and tickling my kids.

I love to read and luckily, my husband does too. We’re passing that love along to our kids and most evenings we get cozy with a good book and a cup of tea. I enjoy being boring when I can, after the hectic days we have with 3 energetic kids.

Last but not least, one thing everyone notices about our family is that we all have red hair. My husband and I joke that we had to get married because we have an obligation to keep the redheaded population going. πŸ™‚ Any other gingers out there will fully understand that being a redhead is a way of life. It’s the #1 thing people notice and remember about you.

family photo may 2014Because all 5 of us are gingers, we get a lot of attention when we go out in public. Thankfully my kids are all social butterflies and love the attention.

My beautiful friend Rhonda suggested the name Ginger Snaps for this blog because of our red hair and all the photos I take of my sweet kids. I hope you’ll enjoy the stories and pictures here.

God bless!

~Tara

Menu Plan

Menu planning is a big job around here. It requires time and mental concentration, two things I do not have in abundance! I always have friends asking for meal ideas, especially for children. Since I finally sat down and put together a meal plan, I’m going to share it on the chance it might help someone else.

I am really loving this recipe site called Super Healthy Kids. I’ve planned many of these meals from their blog because they’re fast, easy, kid-friendly and look yummy. I’ve already tried many of the recipes and all have been a hit at our house.

This menu plan is for roughly a week or two. We don’t eat a big meal at dinner every night, so much of the time dinner is something light, such as fruit and cheese, yogurt, etc. and I plan on rotating some of these meals.

Breakfasts:

Hard boiled egg boatsΒ (toothpick and cheese sail)

Homemade cereal barsΒ (fruit filling inside crust)

Mini Berry Puff Pancakes

Power Packed MuffinsΒ (mini)

Key Lime Pie Oatmeal

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Lunches:

Almond butter/jelly sandwiches

Crispy Baked Chimchangas

Sandwiches on a stick (skewers)

Turkey Wraps (cream cheese, turkey, veggies)

Dinners:

Creamy Soup in bread bowls

Honey Chipotle Pork Ribs with rice and beans

Pesto Pockets

Veggie Pizza Rolls

Enchiladas

Desserts:

Chess Pie aka Oooey Gooey Cake