He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress and for his children it will be a refuge.
Proverbs 14:26

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Twas the Night Before the Open House...

...and all was NOT well!

I love entertaining and having people in our home.  I've grown to especially love doing so over the holidays that can be particularly difficult for expats living overseas.  It's nice to be able to provide a little holiday cheer both for our family and those friends who have come to be like family that we are surrounded with on this side of the ocean.  

I've always loved the idea of hosting a big open house at Christmastime but have never really lived in a place that was conducive to a very large crowd.  Thankfully, the apartment we moved into last spring has at least enough room for a large dining room table so we decided to go for it this year.  

So we baked and baked in advance- all our favorite Christmas goodies.  Like in the states, there is just so much going on at this time of year, I knew we'd have to get most everything done in advance.  Saturday, December 14 was quickly approaching and our calendars were full to say the least!  
I had plenty of helpers!

However, with snow-mageddon 2013, we found ourselves with a lot more baking time on our hands when we became snowed in for all of the days leading up to the Open House.  

Unfortunately, by Friday evening, when this was the view out my kitchen window...
.... I realized that all the stubborness in the world (on my part) to will this event not to have to be cancelled would not allow friends from across Amman to be able to get out of the 18-24 inches of snow most of us were buried in!  

So we put it off one day and re-scheduled for Sunday afternoon, hoping that  maybe the roads would be somewhat cleared after a day of forecasted sunshine.  

Unfortunately snowy roads were the least of our concern.  We woke up Sunday morning to no electricity!  Thankfully, our stove/oven works on gas along with our hot water so we could still take hot showers and wash the dishes.  Also, thankfully, we had done most of the cooking in advance so things just had to be taken out of the freezer and thawed.

We even made the fillings for the whoopy pies in advance (which would have required the electric blender or a lot of elbow grease to whisk by hand) so all I needed were my helpers to fill them.  Maddie and Naomi were a big help in filling the red velvet and choco-mint whoopie pies. 

I had planned on heating the wassail, pumpkin spiced lattes and cocktail meatballs in crockpots but we had to go to plan B for that as well.  We were glad to have an excuse to turn on the stove to help heat up the kitchen which has turned out to be one of the coldest rooms in this apartment...

Since we had done most of the prep work the day before, my helpers were able to take a break for a manicure mid-day.  Still no electricity but thankful for gas heaters!

Naomi was eager to help Jason clear off the front walk-way so that people could get to our front door safely.   We realized that parking would be an issue on our icy but prayed it wouldn't be an issue....

Some good friends bailed us out when our gas to the stove almost ran out by braving the elements to bring us one of their bottles.  They also provided extra crockpots just in case the electricity came back...

Anabelle helped me get the living room ready and in the process discovered that she could see her breath- doesn't take much to entertain her!!

The table was set and the house decked out in full Christmas mode.  Now we just have to hope our guests can make it!  
Our list of goodies included:
German chocolate cake
Blue cheese bites
Snowball cookies
Mini cheesecakes
Pecan coconut tarts
Red velvet whoopie pies
Chocolate mint whoopie pies
Gingersnaps with pumpkin dip
Angeletti cookies
Cocktail meatballs
3-cheese cheese balls
Christmas raspberry/cream cheese dip
pumpkin spiced lattes
fruit punch

and lots of other amazing treats that our sweet friends brought to share.  

The electricity came back on about an hour before the party was set to start so we were able to crank up the crockpots and not worry about running out of water (which needs electricity to be pumped up to the roof...)

All in all it was a big success.  I think people were stir crazy like us and those who could get out of their houses were eager to.  We originally expected around 75 and we had around 60 come.  Not bad for an open house in the middle of a snow storm!

Middle Eastern Snow Days

So last week there was snow in the forecast.  It was scheduled to start Wednesday evening and snow/rain pretty steadily for the next 24 hours or so.  The temperature was to be hovering around 35 or so- never truly freezing over.  

As you can imagine, this being the Middle Eastern desert, they are not exactly structured to deal with a big snow.  I was extremely skeptical that anything was actually going to stick and said so multiple times to the girls.  Wednesday morning (when there was a light rain, not even snow yet), we got a text from the school saying that IF there was school the next 3 days, it would start an hour late due to the potential for ice on the roads.  That's right, the potential.  Sure enough, by Wednesday evening, we received another text that school would indeed be cancelled the next day due to weather.  Good grief.  Don't get me wrong, this southern girl loves a good snow day, but it wasn't even SNOWING yet.  Of course the girls went to bed excited about the winter wonderland they were sure to wake up to...

Well...  Ok, so there was snow falling out of the sky and it was definitely pretty.  If you squinted really hard you might could say that it was sticking.  And Naomi was able to scrape together a "snow ball" (and I use that term loosely- it was more mooshed slush).   

I confess that I was kind of a scrooge when it came to going out and playing in it.  You've probably heard me talk about the heating (or lack thereof) in apartments here and honestly, I just didn't want to deal with not being able to warm back up after running around in the sleet- as that's all it was at that point...  Anyway, the girls had fun.  

Smart puppy, knew to stay inside where it was warm!

Checked the forecast and it was showing rain/snow for the rest of the afternoon/evening but it was hovering around 38 degrees and didn't really seem to be sticking.   A friend called offering to take the older girls to the Hobbit which had just come out here, so we sent them on their way to the movie.

Naomi thoroughly loved playing with all the neighborhood kids.  (remember, me=snow scrooge, I didn't even go outside to take pictures, but I did give her my camera to snap a few)

They were able to scrape together a snow/ice man with what was on the ground by late afternoon.

About 6 or so that evening we looked outside and realized it was REALLY coming down.  When the girls got out of the movie at 7, it was pretty bad.  It ended up taking them 3 hours to get from the movie theatre back to our friends house (normally would take 15-20 minutes) and they had an impromptu sleep over.   

Naomi had fun playing with the neighborhood kids.  We somehow managed to keep Anabelle from discovering how fun playing in the snow could be.  Thank goodness, since I have realized that I am severely underprepared for cold weather, at least as far as the girls clothes go.  Anabelle's only shoes are crocs which just really wouldn't do in this weather.  No one has a heavy coat, and well, just not prepared.  Anyway, AB had fun discovering new things inside.  We got out the dominoes for a family game of Mexican train and she sat right here at the kitchen table arranging and rearranging the dominoes in a line for close to an hour.  

No idea what she was doing, but it was apparently quite entertaining...

This was what we woke up to on day 3 of snow-mageddon 2013:

This was day 4- it just kept coming!!

We actually got less than most of the rest of the city- some places it was close to 2 feet.  Craziness!  
It's now 8 days later and the girls JUST went back to school today for exams.  Naomi's school actually got called off until after the holidays but AJ and Maddie had to go back for one last day to finish exams.  

Let's just say we are beyond stir crazy!!  I posted on facebook at one point that the little 2 were literally bouncing off the walls-as in throwing themselves into the wall and falling down and laughing.  And not that we needed to add to the stir-craziness, but in true Cox fashion, someone HAD to come down with a stomach virus the week we are scheduled to travel internationally.  Naomi kicked us off Monday night with what we hoped was a quick passing virus, and by the next night, it took another 4 of us out.  Thankfully, Anabelle is holding on as the only non-sick Cox family member- pray with us it stays that way before Sunday morning when we are due to fly out to the US!!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

3 Tips for Moms in the Trenches of Toddlerhood

That's right, 3 things.  Not 10, not even 5, but 3.  Besides, I already wrote about 10 things I would tell new moms that you can find here, and there is some overlap, but these are 3 things that I really think are most applicable in the toddler stage, or at least are so important to start thinking about by the toddler stage.    

 I'm right there with you - deep in the trenches of toddlerhood, and I know that if you're like me, as much as you want to have loads of time to read, process reflect, you simply don't.  And if you do actually have the time, you probably don't have the brain power-at least I don't.   

I started my last post about not being such a great toddler mom anymore with the intent of sharing some things I've learned from having little people in my home, but I decided to separate them into a different post for the sake of simplicity.  

So here they are: 3 things that I really think have helped me keep my sanity (well, mostly) that I've learned largely by trial and error and making plenty of mistakes.   3 Things that if I were to do it over again, I would focus on more deliberately.  And finally, 3 things that I hope will encourage other moms who are also deep in the trenches fighting for the developing character of their little people.  

1. Comparison: just don't do it!  
 It's amazing how much more difficult this has become in the 10 years since I was first in this stage of parenting.  With facebook, pinterest, blogs, instagram, twitter- wow, the list goes on and on, anyway, with all these different forms of social media constantly at our fingertips, it is so easy to begin to doubt yourself and the choices you are making for your family when you see what the Jones' next door are doing.  There is a constant temptation to compare birthday parties, room decor and even daily activities that you engage in with your little one, because at any given point, the activities of so many others are just a click away.  The reality is that most of us don't share our failures or mundane activities in these places, and since we know that to be true, why do we see the highlights that others post, and assume that the grass is so much greener on their side of the fence?  It's amazing really how quickly I can begin drowning in my sorrows because of all the many things I am NOT doing that it appears everyone else around me IS doing- at least according to their facebook wall or pinterest boards 
Remember that just as God gifts us all uniquely as individuals, he also places us in families with different strengths and areas of service.  Families are not cookie cutter molds of one another, so don't make decisions on what is right or wrong for your family based on what is right or wrong for someone else's family.  God leads us all and guides us according to His unique plan for our lives, and Scripture says that He "gently leads those that have young."  (Isaiah 40:11)  The pleaser in me wants everyone around me to be pleased with the decisions I make for myself and my family, but reality says that is just not possible.  We will make decisions for our girls that others around us may not agree with.  We may choose to fight certain battles with our toddlers that others may not choose and vice versa, but if we are making our decisions based on the conviction of Scripture and the Holy Spirit, then we should not second guess ourselves if we value certain things as families that others don't.

Also be careful that you don't take comparison in the other direction.  As in: "well at least my kid doesn't do THAT"...  Give grace to others just as you hope they would give you.  That mom in the grocery store aisle with the screaming toddler who just tuck a piece of candy in his mouth, may very much value healthy eating habits for example, but she just wants A FEW MOMENTS OF SHOPPING IN PEACE or she will lose it.  It's very easy to talk about how our kids will never eat sugar BEFORE we have kids...  Anyway, GRACE!  We all need it, often much more than we are sometimes willing to give it, especially in the trenches of toddlerhood.

2.  Cyberspace can be a dangerous "go-to" source
I know that I am showing my age here, but having gone through a season of toddlerhood with my first 2 when the internet was just really not a factor, I think I can see the comparison between then and now and speak to this a little.  With so much information literally at our fingertips, whether it be something as simple as what brand of stroller or carseat to buy or something a little more serious like childhood vaccinations, we need to be very, very careful in the way we view the internet as a credible source.

I'm not talking about stroller purchases here.  Obviously, I see the benefit of being able to comparison shop, read other people's reviews, and even jump between stores to check availability all at the stroke of a key.  No, I'm talking about bigger, often medical things.  As a nurse, it scares me a little when I hear people referencing blogs and/or internet articles they've read as reasons for making major decisions for their little ones.  When did the internet become a substitute for the years of medical practice and expertise that our doctors and scientists have?  Whether it be childhood vaccinations, dietary patterns and the restrictions of certain foods, sleep patterns for babies, home birth vs. hospital birth, I guess what I'm saying is check the sources of the blogs and articles you count on as information sources.  Is it credible or is someone's opinion based on their specific situation?  The internet IS convenient and does offer a wide range of information, but it cannot see the bigger picture of your situation the way an actual person can.  Most of you may be thinking, "do you REALLY think I'm going to make a major decision based on someone's opinion on a Facebook post?!"  Maybe (hopefully) not.  But some people do seem to truly seek advice in that way.  You're probably going to get a lot of "you should never" or "you should always" on certain topics, and you just have to be so careful.  Especially if your emotions are already raw from being in the trenches with your toddler.  And, yes, I do have a reason for my soapbox when it comes to all things medical and the internet, but since that's not the thrust of this post, I'll save it for another day..

From personal experience, when you're raising toddlers and you're sleep deprived therefore physically exhausted and likely emotionally exhausted on top of that, sometimes you just want to know that you're not in it alone.  So you throw some post out to cyberworld seeking to know that others relate and often end up getting reactions to and advice for your current situation that is not necessarily the best.   I remember when my oldest 2 girls were toddlers, receiving the advice to make sure that God was still my main source of advice, comfort, wisdom etc. because it could be so easy to find yourself turning to other things before God.  In that day and age it would likely be parenting books (remember this was before facebook in the age of dial-up internet so books were on your bookshelf and not online) or simply calling up a friend (again, I raised them in the dark ages before texting was a thing-you actually had to call, and sometimes you had to be still because the phone had a cord attached to it....), as opposed to turning to God first whether it be through prayer or searching the Scripture.  I guess this is essentially what I am saying (to myself as much as anyone else), it's just 10 years later so it applies a little differently.  Make sure you have searched Scripture/talked to God about whatever "it" is before you surf the web, or at least before you turn to the web for the answer that you're seeking.  The other sources aren't bad in and of themselves, just as the internet is not bad, it's just not the best.  God is the best, and your kids deserve to have you seeking Him first.  Toddlers are such volatile little people - they can bring amazing joy and overwhelming stress sometimes at the same time and end up leaving us as parents thinking, "AM I DOING ANYTHING RIGHT?!"   Allow God to be the first one to speak to that heart cry and lead you in the direction He would have you go.  Remember that as a parent, He desires to gently lead you and your young.  (Isaiah 40:11)

3.  Center your family around Christ, not your child
 I loved the advice early on in our parenting journey that children are to become a welcome member of the family, not the center of the family.  It is obvious in reading the Word, that God very much values children and the family unit.   Scripture calls our children a blessing, a heritage, a reward (Psalm 127).  Jesus tells the disciples to let the children come to him (Matthew 19:14), and we are commanded as parents to require obedience of our children (Proverbs 19:18) and impress upon their hearts the commands of God (Deuteronomy 6:7).  Recognizing the value of our children as huge PARTS of our family, however, is vastly different from setting them on a pedestal and creating a family life that revolves completely around them and their activities.

To clarify, I know that in the trenches of toddlerhood, you are probably thinking (especially if you are a stay home mom) "how in the world can life NOT revolve around my child?"!   As toddler moms there is very little that we do that does not relate to our children.  That is normal and is not what I'm referring to.  In my opinion, in the toddler stage, it's more about establishing the attitude from the start of teaching your children that the world does not revolve around them and their needs.  Things like keeping time with your spouse a priority, being willing to be flexible with your child's schedule if other needs or priorities of the family demands it,  or simply praying regularly for the wisdom to recognize if something, or someone is starting to take the place of God as the focus of the family, are things that can go along way in establishing a family centered around Christ, not children.

Yes, of course we love our children.  I don't know about you, but I actually adore mine.  They are amazingly precious gifts from God.  But we are not doing them or ourselves any favors if we begin to worship our children as opposed to the God who created them and gave them to us.
Toddlers are funny, amazing, aggravating and delightful little people.  You never know what to expect and no two days are ever the same.  They bring an energy and an excitement to life that can be contagious and exhausting all at the same time.   Just because you've successfully navigated the toddler trenches with one, even two, does not even begin to qualify you for the challenges and joys that the next will bring.  Days are never dull, that's for sure.

 If you're like me, with my current toddler, (my other 3 have long passed this stage...), I go through some days wanting to pull my hair out, but at night when I go in to kiss her sweet little cheek, I am just overcome by the preciousness of the gift that she is to our family.  I pray that for her sake, for the sake of all of our girls, Jason and I will keep our priorities straight as parents as we strive to raise God-fearing, Christ- loving young ladies who will be ready to face the challenges and joys life brings them.  We are far from perfect parents, but thank goodness we serve an infinitely perfect God.  And it is only in His strength, that we are able to navigate the trenches of toddlerhood in a way that won't leave us too battered and bruised on the other side.

"He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge."
Proverbs 14:26