Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thinking about Christmas Cards and Why I Love Shutterfly

I recently read a magazine article contemplating why people send photo Christmas cards every year when we share pictures throughout the year on Facebook, blogs and through e-mail.  The writer considered it a waste of money, and time.  It made me really think about sending Christmas cards, and wonder WHY it is that I want to do it anyway?

I think it's because I LOVE getting people's Christmas cards!  I especially love it when you send us one that has a family picture on it -- we often leave them up for months, or at least tack them on the fridge long after we take down the Christmas decor.  Last year we put our cards up around the doorway to the kitchen, and Susie, who had just started on solids, would sit in her high chair and grin at all the people smiling at her from their cards!

My favorite company to order cards from is Shutterfly  If you have ever ordered anything from them, you KNOW they have exceptional quality!  Their site is really user friendly, too.  I ordered Susie's birth announcements from them, and even splurged to get the really special beautiful cards I wanted.  I have ordered invitations, Father's day cards, prints and photo books.  Their quality never disappoints! 

Check out some of their Holiday Cards they have this year -- they are always coming up with new and AWESOME things!! Here are a few of my favorites:

This one unfolds to show a picture timeline of your year -- so you can add pics and tell what your family did that year.  LOVE IT!

Just so classy!
This would be super cute if you had the perfect picture to go.  I'm thinking a baby laughing???

Of course, I'm not going to tell my VERY favorite!  I'd rather keep it a surprise until my Christmas card comes in the mail!

Project 52 -- Date Night #5

Saturday night Josh and I dropped Susie off at a babysitter, and went to see the new Harry Potter movie together!  While driving in the car, we tried to remember the last time we'd gone to a movie together. . . yep, it was the last Harry Potter movie!  Last summer, when Sus was tiny.  I think it was the first time she'd gone to a babysitter.

Anyway, in an effort to make out date lowish cost (movies are SO EXPENSIVE) we went to the 5:55 show so it still counted as a matinee!  Also, I packed cans of soda in my purse for us (ok, some frown, I know, but we still gave the theater plenty of money).  I did buy us a big popcorn, though.  Some things you just can't replace (at least for us).  We packed sandwiches to eat in the car to save time and money (because the movie started so early).  It was really really fun!  The theater was packed, so I had to lean over to Josh a little since the guy next to me was certainly taking up more than his share of our armrest. :)

I'm guessing we might pull out another movie date night -- the new Narnia movie comes out next month!

Linking up with Simply Modern Mom's Project 52.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Importance of Read-Aloud

I had to write a topical speech for my class, and I thought I'd post it here.  I'm sorry that it's in speech form, and not too easy to read, but I hope the content is at least somewhat interesting! If it helps, you might want to read it out loud in my voice.  In front of a mirror. . . :)

Intro:  On a snowy blowy day in January, the winds blew drifts around our big house in the Wisconsin countryside.  I sat in the front living room with my brother and sister, listening to our mother read to us from a thick chapter book.  The room was golden and glowing, not just from the sunshine that fell through the window, but also from the story we all soaked up together.  We could sit, lay, or cuddle as Mom’s voice read on and on.  And when it would stop, we’d all beg for just one more chapter!  We loved having her read to us, even though we were all certainly old enough to read the book ourselves.  It was more than the story that we loved, it was the togetherness, and the way her voice brought it to life.  I would like to share with you some of the joys and benefits to reading aloud to your children.
I.                    Who? Everyone!  As much as possible, gather the children together for reading
A.      Babies and toddlers – a child is never too young to be read to!  Begin by reading even just a few pages or short board books to your littlest ones.
B.      Younger children – benefit from hearing stories they would not be old enough to read themselves.  Early readers can learn to love books and reading because they are engaged in stories they would otherwise not yet be able to access.
C.      Older children – don’t stop reading aloud just because a child can read for himself.  You are still modeling good reading habits, and engaging your older children in the story.
1.      Reading aloud to older children can keep a child-like spirit in them, teaching them a “willingness to be enchanted” (C.S. Lewis) that is lacking in our modern technologically-driven world.
2.      Reading aloud to older children can give you opportunities to reach their hearts in ways directly speaking to them cannot.  A story can touch us deep inside, and make us think about deeper things.
II.                  What? Your options are unlimited!  There are more good books to read than you will ever have time to uncover.  Here are some suggestions:
A.      Classics
B.      Books that Build Character by William Kirkpatrick has many good suggestions
C.      Think outside the box – I’m thankful my mother read us Treasure Island and other “boy books” that I would never have chosen to read to myself.  She also read us all of Little House on the Prairie books, which I’m sure my brother wouldn’t have chosen!
III.                When?
a.      Start young – keep going til they leave the nest
b.      Every day if possible.  If your children go to school and you don’t see them all day, try to read together before bedtime at least.  If they are still at home or homeschooled, find a good restful time that everyone can relax and enjoy, like after lunch.
IV.                Where?
a.      In a golden living room
b.      On Mommy and Daddy’s bed
c.       Around the table after dinner
d.      Get creative!  Build a pirate ship, take a quilt outside under the apple trees, make a tent in the basement. . .
Conclusion: You will never regret the time you invest in knitting your children’s hearts together when you read aloud to them.  You will be building memories for them to hold onto for life!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Good Night, Sue -- Chapter 6

Susie was a little mommy.  It may have been that she had little sisters (and she got another one when she was nine years old -- Sandy).  Or it just may have been the way God made her, to care for the small, the weak, or just anyone who needed loving.  Each night, before Susie went to bed, she put all her dolls and toys to bed as well.  Even if they were just on the floor, or on a chair, she couldn't bear the thought of them going through the night feeling cold.  So she would cover them all up -- and be sure to get their feet nice and covered (because it's the worst to have cold feet while you are sleeping).  If she didn't have enough blankets for them all, she'd use spare pieces of fabric or clothes.  Once everyone was all tucked in, Susie could rest easy.

She was also very creative.  Sometimes a little girl cannot fall asleep right away at night, even if she is actually tired.  Sometimes she would be the only one having trouble falling asleep, and she would play this game while she waited.  She would pretend that she was a queen, and the bed was her throne, and the whole bedcovers were her royal robes.  They spread out from her in a wide, lovely flow, just like a queen's long gown should fill her throne room.  This worked especially well when she was sleeping at her grandmother's house, in a big big bed with old fashioned bedcovers.  Those worked very nicely with a stately touch that a queen's robe needed.  She would lie very still so the dress would not get messed up, and imagine her throne room full of courtiers, and entertainers until she got sleepy enough to drift off. . .

Years later, when Sue was a mommy, she was still big on tucking her children into bed.  Gretchen and Anna would call "Mommy, will you come tuck us?" if they had been in bed very long without her coming upstairs.  And if there were any fears related with sleeping, she had creative ideas for how to overcome those keep-you-awakers.  For instance, when Gretchen was afraid of housefires, her mommy told her that their cat Peaches, who always slept on the end of their bed was their own little fire alarm, and that was all the assurance she needed.  She told all her girls the idea of pretending to be a queen, and it was a fun game for them to try as well.  Read here for more ways Emily was helped by her mommy when she had a hard time sleeping.

Linking up with Mommy's Piggy Tales (and for those of you who are interested, also finishing my YAY posts this weekend:  getting engaged and married!)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Project 52 -- Dates 3&4

So I noticed over at Simply Modern Mom, she has some rules for Project 52, that we haven't been very good at abiding by.  For example, you are supposed to do something different at each date, and now we've done 3 movie night dates.  Well, I'm thinking that for us, that rule just might not work too well since we've been having our Friday night dates after Josh gets off work, and a movie is just about all we have energy for!  But, I've decided to put a bit more thought into this week's date, and maybe borrow Tiffany and Nathan's idea from this week.

Here's what we did:

Date #3 Movie night with cookies:  Friday night Josh brought home the new Robin Hood movie after work, and I made cookies for us to munch on.  I thought we would both need a snack to stay awake, but it turned out that I was so into the movie that I could NOT fall asleep.  That was not Josh's problem, though I think he did better than usual, and woke back up near the end.  I filled him in when we went to bed, but I think he was a little drowsy.  He did later point out that "this Robin Hood movie is way more historically accurate.  For one thing, Robin Hood is a human instead of a fox".

Date #4 Bookstore and intern small group:  Saturday night we actually had a babysitter!  We dropped Susie off at our preaching pastor's house.  Our pastor's wife had offered to watch Sus for us sometime, and it kept not working out with our schedule, so we were glad when it did!  According to Diane, she was a good girl the whole time, which was great (you never know with babies -- you could leave a fussy all evening and it be a nightmare for the sitter).  Josh and I first went to Half-Priced books to walk around and look -- it's one of our favorites.  We didn't buy much, but I found an old Golden Book to give Susie for Advent.  After we left there, we had dinner at another one of our pastor's homes and had a great time in small group with their family and another intern's family.  My husband Josh is interning at our church this year, and our discipleship pastor hosts groups of the interns each month.  It was great to go as a couple and just relax and be together knowing Susie was in good hands!  We love our church and are so thankful for the families our hearts are knit with there!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

At the grocery store -- Chapter 5

When Susie's mother took her girls shopping at the grocery store, sometimes she would let them have a special treat.  When they first went into the store, Mother would give them each a box of animal crackers to hold while they were in the store.  The little red box decorated like a circus train car would hold their fancy so Mother could do her shopping in peace.  Of course, Susie and her sisters were only allowed to keep the box of crackers to eat if they were good in the store.  One can only imagine how devastating it would be to have your crackers put back on the shelf when your sisters were allowed to keep theirs.  Susie greatly treasured holding her own little box of animal crackers.  She loved how it rattled with the promise of the menagerie of animals it held inside.  She was always sure to be good and helpful to Mother so that that little box of crackers was hers to keep!  And then! How fun to open the little red box and discover the assortment you had!  You could trade your elephants for your sister's lions, if you wished (lions are the best, of course).

Susie must have learned loads about taking your children grocery shopping, for when she grew up and became a mother, she always took her children along with her.  From a young age, they were given tasks in the store to help with, and by the time they were in late elementary school, they could divide up her list, and take 3 separate carts around the store to cut the shopping trip down by quite a bit!  Sue always took the produce and dairy sections, her son Nathan took the frozen, and Gretchen and Anna went together through the grocery sections.  They had seen their mother choose sizes and brands so often, that they knew just what she would want them to get!  And instead of animal crackers, they liked to choose Hostess fruit pies -- chocolate for Nathan, cherry for Gretchen and lemon for Anna.  And they liked those just as much as Susie liked her animal crackers.


Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Project 52 -- Dates 1&2 in the same weekend!

I have been following Simply Modern Mom's Project 52 for weeks now, and Josh and I have been planning to start our own weekly date nights, but just hadn't started.  Until this week!

Date night #1:  Friday night we somehow forgot that Josh got off work at 9:00 (instead of 11), which was a pleasant surprise!  Josh suggested getting a Redbox movie on his way home from work, and I was super excited.  We watched Toy Story 3, which we both really enjoyed!  I will say I probably enjoyed it more, since Josh fell sound asleep partway through. . . So, because this was a last minute date, we didn't put a WHOLE ton of time into planning things, but it was still fun and good to actually have our first date night!  And I love a surprise, so that alone made it special for me.

Date night #2: Saturday night we had a second movie-after-Susie-went-to-bed, and this time we watched Robots -- which was hilarious!.  Since we planned this date, I actually took a few minutes to declutter the living room while Josh was putting Susie to bed.  I also made us homemade "Blizzards" with vanilla ice cream and leftover Halloween candy!  YUM!  I have to admit, once Josh polished off his blizzard, he fell asleep.  It's ok.  We've been married for nearly 10 years, so I'm pretty used to him not making it through a movie with me.  He even falls asleep in the theater (sometimes).

Now that we have started, we have to keep up the streak!  We are planning another date for this weekend!  WOO HOO!

Monday, November 08, 2010

Gretchen Meets Josh -- the start of our relationship

I've missed so many weeks of "My Young Adult Years" that I was linking up to on Mommy's Piggy Tales, so I decided to do 2 last posts -- one about meeting and dating my husband and another about our engagement and wedding. People want to read that stuff, right?? :)

Except for the first couple of months in college, I did not date anyone.  I went ON a few dates to required functions, and I was interested in a guy or two from time to time, but generally, I was a girls' girl.  I had a handful of guy friends, but being sort of a loud girl (in more ways than one -- all you had to do is see my colorful vintage wardrobe), I wasn't the greatest at making a good impression on many of the guys I knew.  I did go through a period of time feeling like I would never get married, and had to fight for contentment because quite a few guys were interested in my sister, or my friends. . . so I'd feel like "when will someone come along for ME?"

Gretchen Meets Josh
Second semester of my Junior year, I was signed up for a dreaded science class.  I had put off those classes so long because I was never good at science, and I was afraid of taking them.  When I walked in the door, a guy I knew said "GRINCHIN, come sit by me!"  He was a loud guy who liked to say my name wrong.  Sure, why not, I'll sit by him, I thought.  Moments before the class began, the prof came over and told him "Matty, you already took this class.  You were in it last hour.  You're not in it again!"  So all of the sudden, I was sitting alone in a class where you needed a science partner.  I saw another table with my friend Heather and this guy named Josh who dated a girl in my dorm.  "I can sit with them" I realized, and joined their table.  It only took a few minutes before I realized that this was Josh Neisler, a different Josh from the guy who had a girlfriend -- of course I didn't ever get them mixed up after that!  

Here are two things Josh told me the day we met:  "You're OLD!" he said when I said I was a senior (I was, credit-wise).  But I was 20 and he was 19!!  Not exactly old.  Also, when my long hair got caught on the bolts of my chair and a few strands ripped out, he said "sick. . . "  I sure thought he hated my long hair!  Well, no worries about having to make an impression on this guy!!  Nothing to lose!

I could tell right away that Josh was really smart, and that science was pretty easy for him.  Before our first test, I asked if he would mind helping me study, and we sat and talked in the library for quite a long time, which was great!  I liked a guy who could really talk!  Amazingly, I ended up getting a better grade on my test than he did -- probably because I was so freaked about it, and he figured he could wing it and do fine.

Our First Date
A few weeks later, our mutual friend Scott found me outside the library and asked me if I would go as friends to an event with Josh if he were to ask.  I told him I probably would.  Less than an hour later, Josh found me in the Student Center and asked me to go to the Symphony in Milwaukee.  I can remember right where I was standing, underneath the stairway across from the snackshop.  I was so flattered he was asking me to something GREAT like the Symphony, something that cost MONEY and wasn't required to attend!  When I told my mom about it, she asked me if I was excited, and I told her I bought a new dress for the date!  HAHA!  I guess so!  I still have that dress -- don't wear it, but I thought it was sort of special, so I kept it.  Black with little flowers on it, in a very popular late 90's style (I thought it looked 1940's -- whatever!).

The night of the symphony, the guys came to pick us up (we had to drive as a group to Milwaukee), and I could tell right away Josh was anxious.  We had to go back to his dorm because he'd forgotten our tickets, so he was ticked at himself.  We waited in the car for what seemed like QUITE  a long time. . . as they tore apart their room looking for the tickets.  Turns out, they were in Josh's suitcoat pocket the whole time.  So when he came back to the car, he was furious with himself. . . which translated to me that he wasn't thrilled to be with me!  We missed the opening movement, but as the music played, he relaxed a bit, and we were able to whisper a bit about the music.  I love Milwaukee symphony, and it was beautiful.  The man sitting in front of us told us we were very rude and we talked the whole time, but I am certain we didn't because Josh still was giving me (or himself?) the silent treatment for the most part.  We took a picture afterward. . . you can see his smiley face. . . We stopped for coffee on the way home, and he just drank water.  Wow.  I had been totally willing to enjoy this date, but it seemed like he was killing it in it's tracks.  
I'm so glad I made sure we took a picture!  We have it as a record!

Later that night, I talked to my friend Stephanie about it (she was back working for the school, and I worked as an RA in her dorm).  She suggested writing him a thank-you note just to let him know you had fun.  That wasn't as forward as a phone call or something, but still let him know you weren't mad or something.  She was so smart.  That started a series of note-writing back and forth between us.  AH. . . those were the days of free inter-campus mail, and it was so fun to go check your boxes between classes to see if he'd left a note!  Josh called me a few times as well, and one time, not long after our first date, he told me something I will never forget.  He told me that his roommates gave him a pretty hard time about asking me out.

"Gretchen BENZING?  Do you really think you can HANDLE her?" they had said to him.

"Wha. . what did you say?" I was afraid to ask.  I could only imagine he'd said "no" or worse, an arrogant "YES, I can handle any girl!"
"I said, what do you mean?  What's to handle?" he replied.  And I knew then and there that he saw me differently than other guys had seen me.  What was to handle?  She's not too much.  Not too loud.  Ohhhh. . . I think I started falling in love right then!

Other things we liked to do
Josh obviously got over the bumble on the first date, and we started hanging out a lot more, talking in the library, "studying" together, etc.  We didn't eat meals together or go to church together or sit in chapel together, though, which were the typical things dating couples in college did.  We generally took it pretty slow, and kept hanging out with our separate groups of friends -- until we really clicked with a mutual friend, Melissa Szydlowski (we called her "Sid").  She was the perfect person to hang out with both of us, because it took off a little pressure from trying to impress each other.  We mainly hung out in the Student Center and talked together. 

Josh and I would both go to the Nursing Home ministry together on Thursday nights.  It was my society's ministry (we had societies with ministry focus in college in the place of sororities and fraternities), but everyone was welcome to join.  I was so impressed with how well Josh interacted with elderly people.  I really admired how he was good with kids, too.  I had not met a whole lot of guys who was good with both ends of the spectrum.  It quickly became a requirement for my future husband.
A Dating Couple
Right before spring break, I had some doubts about a possible dating relationship with Josh.  We had had talks about moving forward, and he was planning to come home with me for Easter and talk to my dad about dating me.  But I was interpreting his easy-going laid-back nature as not being a good leader, and it scared me that I was getting in a relationship I should avoid.  I told him frankly right before we said goodbye for break that I was rethinking our relationship, and I was going to think things over while we were gone.  He looked really sad, but he just said "well, ok, let's pray together about it."  When I got home, I told my mom everything and showed him a letter he'd sent home with me.  I can't remember what the letter said, but Mom about cried and told me "I like him."  As that week went by, I had a big change of heart.  Josh was smart, and didn't call me until the end of the week, and by that time I was missing him big time.  I read a passage in Proverbs that said "With-hold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it." which convicted me that I was with-holding my affection from Josh just to protect myself.  I needed to do him good, and trust the Lord to guide my steps.

After his Easter visit, where Josh asked my dad if he could date me (Dad gave him a copy of "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" in response), we considered ourselves a couple.  We felt like we had gone about things in a proper way, talking through whether or not we were pursuing marriage before we started "dating".  Josh's family came to visit us right after that, and it was fun to meet his parents and sister Melissa.  I had been SO nervous about it, but they were all normal and nice.  His parents took us to eat on State Street in Madison, and I remember we held hands in the van on the way there.  WOO WOO! (You have to understand that any physical contact AT ALL was not allowed at our school, so holding hands in front of his parents was really our only option).  

A Change in Relationship
From my college scrapbook
At the junior/senior banquet, Josh and I went together with Sid and Scott, and it was one of the most fun nights of my whole college experience.  I'd gone dress shopping with Sid for the occasion, and we found a fun 20's style swing dress for her.  I remember being so tired that night from staying up all night the night before, that I was drinking coffee at the banquet (coffee was new to me at this point).  Josh suggested adding just a tiny bit of sugar to take off the edge of the bitterness, and I told him that I would always remember him the rest of my life as I drank coffee because he was the one who taught me to like it.  He said "Maybe I'll be the one to pour your coffee for you."  I thought that was SO sweet and romantic!  You know how it is!  Saying those little things that make those big promises. . . 
The dynamic in our relationship changed dramatically when our friend Sid graduated.  Suddenly, the three of us was down to two.  We loved hanging out with Sid so much, and it took a bit of adjustment to just hang out together. We both stayed for summer school, and we started finding out how to hang out just together.  It was the start to a new chapter in our relationship . . . 

To be continued. . .

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Classic Susie Stories -- Chapter 4

Like many little children, Susie sometimes did not want to obey her mother and daddy.  One time, she had a harder time obeying than usual -- and what transpired will always be known as:

The Popsicle Stick Story
Susie was eating a yummy Popsicle, and when she was finished, she did not want to throw it away in the garbage can, so she just set it on the edge of Mother's table.  

"Throw your stick away," Daddy told her.
"No." Susie dared to say, and she even dared to smack the stick so it would fall onto the floor.

Daddy leaned over and picked it up and put it back on the table. "Throw it away," he repeated.
She knocked it down again and still refused.

Daddy was a firm disciplinarian.  He swatted her bottom.
She cried, but refused to pick up her stick and throw it away.
Over and over, Daddy would pick it up, and she would knock it down, and she would get another swat.  Finally, after a rather long battle, Susie caved.  She could tell that Daddy would win, no matter how long the battle raged.  She weepingly carried her stick to the trash and threw it in.  

"Now look at that," Daddy said, "You hurt my hand because you wouldn't throw it away."

Susie looked at him with a totally serious face and said "Not as much as you hurt my tail!"

Sometimes Susie could be a little bit dramatic, as all little girls can be.  She did not like getting hurt, not one little bit!  Here is a story that illustrates what might happen if a dramatic moment got the better of her. . . 

The Apple Peel Story
Mother was sitting by the kitchen table, peeling a bright red apple.  She had the amazing talent of being able to peel an apple in one, long, spiraling peel.  This time, she must have broke off a bit of that long peel, which fell to the floor.

Susie came into the kitchen with bare feet.  As soon as she ran by the table, she stepped on the small bit of apple peel, which stuck to the bottom of her foot.  Not too long later, she happened to notice the bright red spot on the sole of her foot.

Immediately she ran shrieking through the house: "I'm BLEEEDIN', I'm BLEEDIN'!!!" she shouted at the top of her lungs.  It never dawned on her that she could not feel any pain in her foot.  She just knew what she saw.  "I'm BLEEDIN'!!" she wailed to her mother, who, upon examining the foot, removed the piece of apple peel and held it up for Susie to see.

"It's just a bit of apple peel." was the calm explanation.

Maybe Susie felt a bit silly then.  But she probably felt better if her Mother let her eat some of that long, spirally apple peel.