Monthly Archives: February 2012

“Just Me and My Mom”

Just Me and My Mom

by: Alaina Phillips (age 9) February 23, 2012

We went on a walk, just me and my mom. We saw cool trees, we  saw big flower petals, and cool bugs. We took lots and lots of pictures. We saw the sky light up, just me and my mom.

We caught a black bug with red stripes, Just me and my mom. We saw lots of spider webs, and one had a big bug in it!

Just me and my mom saw some raindrops. We took pictures of them with trees That look like they were inside the raindrops. We saw a big piece of bamboo with branches on it, Just me and my mom.

We walked and then stopped, Just me and my mom. It was a fun time to see God's creation, Just me and my mom.

Quality one-on-one time with each child?  Totally worth it!

Involving kids in things you love?  Totally worth it!

All photos by Alaina and Janet 😉

ABC Photo Walk

We've been taking a lot of walks lately.  I find that when I get outside and walk on a regular basis, it does wonders for my soul.  As a family, it is a cheap and easy activity that we all enjoy. For the kids, it burns up some energy and reminds them how beautiful God's creation is.

One night last week, we decided to go for a walk.  Only this time, we decided to do an ABC Photo Walk.  After I published my book in November, I was kind of happy to just set it aside.  I had seen too much of it!  But it's been a few months and I was reminded why I wrote the book: so that we would have fun and frugal family activity ideas.  As I looked through the book, I was reminded again how easy and fun it can be to do things with the family.

We told the kids that we would be taking a walk around the neighborhood and looking for "letters".  We showed them a few examples of what we meant, and they got it and were excited. Once on our walk, we tried a few things (going in order from oldest to youngest and then looking for letters in order) but in the end, we found that as long as one person wasn't trying to take over and we worked as a team, we just called out letters as we saw them and it all went smoothly.

We were afraid that it would take a long time or that we would have letters we couldn't find, but it turned out to be quite simple.  I think it only took us about 30-40 minutes to find every letter of the alphabet!  It was a lot of fun and a good way to break up and otherwise normal Thursday night!  We didn't leave our neighborhood and yet we had a great time and a wonderful memory.  Maybe I need to dust off my book more often!

Have you done any fun family activities lately?


When In Doubt, Choose Family


I have had to say no to a lot of things over the last nine years.  I am a creative/dreamer/deep thinker type and I always have new ideas and dreams springing up everywhere.  Almost every day, something excites me and sends me down a path of longing for knowledge, understanding, and experience. I can get carried away quite easily.  At times things have attracted me so much that I have pulled away from my family in order to pursue them.  It was never a good idea.

I then have had to backtrack.  I have needed to loosen my grip on something I love (or loosen its grip on me), and instead, choose family.

  • I remember discontinuing my Indonesian language lessons with the phrase, "In a few years, the language will still be there.  My kids won't."
  • I remember the day I deleted all my computer bookmarks for photography websites because I knew that during that chapter of my life, I couldn't add one more hobby or interest.
  • I remember the day I asked my friend Steph if she would be interested in full ownership of The Daily Digi.  My running the site was interfering with homeschooling.
  • I remember the relationships I wasn't able to pursue because it would involve me leaving my kids behind.

I've made choices.  Lots of them. Some of the choices have left me lonely and sad and yet, I knew they were right. Jason and I decided a long time back, "When in doubt, choose family." I can't tell you the number of times this conscious choice has made an otherwise difficult decision quite easy. When all the other factors are equal and no real answer comes forward, we choose family. When we have to decide between two difficult things, we choose what is best for our family. When we have to figure out what to do, how to spend our money, or ways to spend our free time, we choose family.  It isn't easy and it has often involved personal sacrifice, but it has always been the right choice. Family or money? Family. Family or hobbies? Family.  Family or comfort?  Family.

And when I say that I choose family, I am not saying I choose to cater to all our wants and desires.  When I choose family, I choose what I believe to be best for us.  Sometimes what is best is going without so that others can be blessed with our humble offerings.

As parents, we have a high calling. Deuteronomy 6 is a call to parents:

Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.

How can we teach our children God's word diligently and talk of if throughout our day if we don't first choose family?  If we don't consciously and intentionally choose to live a life that will best enable us to love our kids and raise them to wholeheartedly love the Lord and serve others, we aren't able to pass the baton of the the Word of God to a new generation. But if daily, when we face decisions about our time, money, relationships, school, church, activities and leisure, we look at all of them in light of God's Word and how best to pass it to the next generation, decisions become much easier and are made with much more wisdom. We first choose family.

That's what I am thinking about today. I am thinking that I choose them. The manifestation of that choice is looking much different than I thought it would, but the choice remains the same.  As we look towards our future and we ponder what life will be like a year from now, there are a lot of scary thoughts threatening to make me anxious and untrusting. But when I stop, and remember the wall that God has called us to (see Nehemiah), then even in the uncertainty I know things will be okay.

I know that when I am in doubt, I need to choose family.

We Need to Listen

The hearts of children are full—full of dreams, hopes, fears, questions, and excitement.  They have so many thoughts and ideas that run through their minds and they long to have someone to share them with.  Sure, these thoughts might be about wondering if they truly are the best Lego-builder in the world or what they will eat at Wendy's or McDonald's in the States since they don't serve rice, but still, they are real and true questions and our kids want someone to share them with.

We need to be the one listening.

We need to be attentive to our children.  We need to give them our full attention.  It is so easy to just let them talk while we intently focus on our screen, book, or dirty dish.  It is so easy to throw in an occasional "Mmm Hmm" and hope they don't notice that we have no clue what they have said. It's easy to do this, but it isn't right.

I could list many reason why we as parents need to be good and active listeners, but here are my top four :

1. We can't expect them to listen to us if we don't listen to them.  When I speak, I want my children to put down what they are doing and look at my eyes.  That's how I know that I have their full attention.  And so I need to do the same for them. When they are speaking to me, I need to stop what I am working on, look at their beautiful eyes, and make sure they know that I am fully engaged in what they are saying.  Kids do what is modeled for them. We can't fool ourselves into thinking that if we aren't attentive to their words that they will be attentive to ours. When our kids seem to be not hearing a word we say, maybe we need to ask ourselves how many of their words we have heard.

2. Actively listening and engaging with our children affirms them and builds love, trust, and a deeper relationship.  I once had a friend who I really enjoyed being with.  We had a lot in common and we got along pretty well, but there was one problem. About half the time I spoke to her she would be looking around the room, obviously not the slightest bit interested or engaged with what I was saying.  Our relationship stagnated and as much potential as there otherwise might have been, it just didn't work out.  I felt insecure and embarrassed that I couldn't hold her attention. After a while, I just stopped talking.  She never even noticed. It can be the same with our kids.  After a long time (minutes or moths) of speaking without capturing the listener's attention, kids will just stop talking.  And we might not even notice.  On the other hand, if we give our hearts and eyes to our children then they will see that we care, that we are engaged, and that we want to know them.  They will know that we value who they are.

3. If we don't listen, they will go to someone who will. Every person longs to share their heart.  It doesn't matter if they are naturally quiet or chatty, everyone wants to be able to reveal themselves in a safe place and to be known, understood, and accepted.  When we turn away from our children when they speak to us—no matter how trivial the matter—we send a message that we don't think they as human beings are of value.  And since people want to feel valued and affirmed, they will those things from other people.  They will head to their peers, to chat rooms, to other adults—really, to anyone who will listen. When my children have a concern, fear, misunderstanding, or just a plain 'ol bad day, I want them to want to come to me. My job as a parent is to teach my kids to walk through those moments in light of the Word of God.  How I can I teach them if they won't come?

4. Preparing for the future. I'm not a parent of teenagers yet, but I am firmly convinced that if I don't actively listen to what they have to say when they are six (no matter how silly it seems to me), then I have no reason to ever believe that they will want to share their hearts when they are sixteen.  Parents gripe all the time that their teenagers won't talk to them.  I have to wonder, how many of those teenagers aren't talking to their parents because when they were little and they tried to talk, their parents couldn't be bothered to listen? Listen now when they are little—listen with an open heart and open mind—and I am willing to bet that they will still be talking to you when they are teens.

I am not trying to say that this listening comes easily.  I have been guilty of having to say, "I'm sorry, can you repeat that?" to a child because my email seemed to be more interesting. This attentive listening, like so much of motherhood, often involves sacrifice. It means that I have to remember what is eternally important (my children's heart and souls) and to remember what is not eternally important (whatever I happen to be doing at the time).  I may have to sometimes ask them, "Can you give me five minutes to finish __________ so that I can make sure to give you my full attention?"  But I do strive to fully give them my ears and heart.  I don't always succeed, but I am actively and intentionally striving.

And so, this morning as I took my morning walk and Caleb came with me, chatting the entire way, I silently prayed that his little boy soul with be filled with the knowledge that his mama loves him and cares about what is on his mind — even if it is all about our dog Lucy and how amazing it is that she can do so many things when she is only one year old.  And someday, I hope that he will walk next to me as a teenage boy, sharing about his hopes and dreams and the questions of his heart.  I have a feeling those might be more important than Legos.



Lately, this one is looking so mature and grown up.  She may be only nine, but I know my time with her is short.

Lately, this little one is looking like she might be finally interested in walking. She's been pulling up for months, but hasn't shown the slightest inclination towards scooting or walking.

Lately, I've been handing my camera to my kids a lot.  They enjoy it and I love knowing that when my kids are older, they will have pictures of themselves with their mom.

Lately, we've been taking more walks, drives, and motorbike rides into the nearby villages.  I want to soak all of this in while I can.

Lately, our weather has been either lots of rain at night or some incredibly gorgeous skies.  We took advantage of one of the latter evenings to be silly.

Lately, my baby boy doesn't seem like a baby.  He's almost six and I cringe to think of this sweet boy being anything but my sweet, giggling baby.

Lately, I've been taking a lot more pictures and for the first time in the last four years, am actively trying to improve. It has uncovered a lot of fears, insecurities, and some serious love.

Lately, this girl is making my heart thump out of my chest.  She's sweet, a bit sassy, and totally hilarious. My favorite thing is waking up and seeing that she has crawled into bed and has her arms wrapped around Jason. She's a daddy's girl for sure.

Lately, this boy is getting big. He has matured in so many ways and yet he remains the quirky little guy I love so much. Today he told me, "I'm going to let my pet millipede sleep in my hair, because that is where he likes it best.  I think it is because it is so soft back there."

Lately, I've been thinking a lot of our influence as mothers.  These little feet will follow ours.  Is that where we want them to go?

Lately, we've been spending two nights a week at the school watching basketball games.  Well really, Jason watches basketball, the kids play with their friends, and I chase this little one around the grass.

Lately, if it is possible, I have fallen in deeper love with this kid.  This photo is just so him.  Dirty face, tears just finishing up, sweet grin with that irresistible dimple, and a twinkle in his eye. If I could bottle him up, I would.  But I have been trying since he was three and have yet to succeed.

Lately, I have been learning to walk the fine line between treating this girl like a young child (which she still is in many ways) and treating her like a young woman (which she also is). I don't want to lean too far in either direction. I want to teach her responsibility without expecting her to do my work.  I want to teach her playfulness and fun without letting her exhibit a level of selfishness and carelessness that is beyond her. Wisdom, Lord.

Lately, I've started to wonder if this will be the last of the Phillips babies.  We're open to more but are trying to look to God and trust Him in all things. The answer seems to be, "Not now" and I don't know if that makes me sad or makes me feel relieved. One thing is for sure, children are a precious blessing. And I will just keep praying what my professor in college recommended, "Lord, give us as many children as we can effectively raise to serve You."

Lately, I'm been mindful of how truly blessed I am and I am seeking God more than ever for wisdom in fulfilling this calling to raise these children to love Him and serve others.  May they have undivided hearts!

We All Have Bad Days

A few weeks ago, my then almost-nine-year-old daughter woke up with emotions running high.  Within ten minutes of her being awake, she was in tears. This was very unusual for her, and I just let it go. She and her brothers solved whatever issue was going on and the morning went on.  Less than an hour later, she was in tears again as she started her school work and her tone of voice to someone (I don't remember who,) wasn't acceptable.  In that moment, I needed to make a decision.

I could have spoken sternly to her, disciplined her in some way, talked to her about using kind words.  But I knew that this wasn't the time.  The tears and frustration were out of character for her and my mothering instincts told me that on this day, in this moment, she needed something more that a reminder about kind words and actions. I suggested that she stop working on math and go to her bed and do her reading time.  She didn't want to.  The tears rolled faster.  I hugged her and held her and yet she couldn't gain control emotionally. I told her, "I'm sorry honey, but you are not in control of your emotions right now. Spend some time on your bed and calm down, and please join us when you are ready." She's heard this many times before—this was nothing new.

One part of raising girls that I take seriously is teaching them to deal with their emotions.  As women, our hormones run wild and our tears run fast.  We don't always know why we are upset, nor do we always know what to do about it.  The men in our lives usually want to know what is wrong so they can fix it.  But sometimes, as women, we just don't know and we need time.  Sometimes, we are just having a bad day.  From the time they are little, when our kids are not in control of their emotions, we have asked them to please go sit on their beds.  We make sure that they know that they are not being punished and that sometimes, people just need time alone in order to calm down.  I want to teach my girls that when the emotions are intense, one of the best things they can do is stop, think, breathe, and calm down.  Let their senses be at rest and the peace will come. They always know that when they have regained control and are ready to be part of the family again—complete with kind words and gentleness—that they are more than welcome to join us.  In fact, what we usually say is, "When you are ready, we will be excited to have you join us again!"  

And two notes for the record: 1) We do this with our boys, too, but in all the years I think they have each gone to their bed once or twice for breaking down emotionally whereas our girls visit their beds on a fairly regular basis. 2) Mama has times outs on her bed, too!

All of this to say, on this particular day, my spirit was prompted that my little girl needed more.  She needed to feel loved, not lectured.  She needed to feel valued, not disappointed in.  And so as I talked with her and asked her to sit on her bed, my heart was already in motion for a little surprise.

I got out our favorite Indian tray, made her favorite milky coffee,  opened a pack of Oreos (at 7:30 in the morning!), picked a flower from the backyard, wrote a little note, and got my Kindle so she could continue reading Heidi.  I then carried her tray into her, told her how much I loved her, and that I would see her when she was ready.

About 30 minutes later I heard the door open slowly.  My sweet girl had replaced her tears with smiles and the rest of the day went on as if nothing had happened.

Sometimes parenting is letting our spirit be prompted to do the little things that will make our children feel loved.  Little surprises.  Little acts of grace.  Little extra bits of love thrown in where we would rather throw criticism. We all have bad days, and a little bit of love goes a long way.


A Little More Me

For as much as I love to write an talk about parenting, you would think writing here—in this space—would be easy.  But for a reason I have struggled to understand, it hasn't come easily. Oh, the ideas and thoughts are there. They are always there. But the desire to sit and write them (and the time to sit and write them!)has been  hard to come by. Parenting, both in the specific ways it pertains to me and in the general ways it affects everyone, is a topic almost sacred to my soul.  Not much ignites my heart and mind as much as talking about the trust that God has given us in raising these little ones. And yet, sharing those thoughts has been a struggle.

For the past few weeks, I have really put time into thinking about the why of the struggle.  A number of reasons surfaced, a lot of excuses were made, and a few gems of real enlightenment shone. I believe my biggest struggle in writing here is that there is a lot of "me" missing.

I know that blogs are "supposed" to be focus- and topic-driven.  I know that all the "rules" of blogging say that you need to know who your target audience is, where your niche is, and what subjects you will cover.  Everything else can be ignored.  However, there is one big problem with the "rules" I was trying to follow:

They aren't me.

I started blogging in 2006.   I had been scrapbooking for about 8 months and it just seemed like a fun thing to do. After all, other people in the scrapbooking world were doing it.  I shared a little about our life (living in Malaysia at the time) and our role as dorm parents.  Over time, especially as we returned to the States and I became more involved in the scrapping world, my blog was much more focused on scrapbooking, with a lot of real life thrown in.  In January 2007 I decided to start blogging every day, Monday to Friday.  I did that for 18 months.  I shared so much of real our day-to-day life, while keeping private matters private. Some posts were serious and thought-provoking while others were just recounts of our day. There was no blogging schedule, no "niche" I was trying to fit into, no "rules" that I felt like I had to follow. And I loved it.

And then this past summer, the Lord laid it on my heart to start Preparing the Soil.  I had a clear vision and motivation and the excitement was high.  I read a lot about blogging and the do's and don'ts of the online world. I decided to narrow my focus, provide useful information, and let personal stuff take a 3rd row seat. But there was a problem.

That isn't me.

I have a creative and passionate heart and by trying to draw out a narrow path for this blog, I have felt confined and trapped.

Imagine you are on a beautiful path in the forest.  You have been wanting to take this particular route for some time and you know from the little you have seen that you are going to love it. Next to this gently winding path are fields of flowers, birds of extraordinary color, and skies stretching above you that are so blue they almost look fake.  You know you should stay on the path but those wildflowers just over there are too beautiful to walk past.  The sky screams for you to sit down for a while and just stare.  The flight of the birds has your head moving so fast you don't even realize you have stepped off the trail.  The goal of the day is to walk the path, but the full enjoyment can only be had to slowing down and stepping off from time to time.

Now that's how I feel.  I am walking a path of parenting that I love so much and want to talk about almost every chance that I get.  But there are also other things in my life, other songs that my heart sings, other questions about faith and family and finances that are all part of the role I play as mom.

And so, throwing all blogging rules out the window, I am going to step off the path from time to time and share a little more me.  The goal is the same: to share about my heart for parenting and to encourage your heart in your own parenting.  However, I am going to loosen the reigns and share more about my family, about our real life and our real struggles. I want to share about life in Indonesia, about my love for photography and memory keeping, about my love for baking, about our transition back to America in June, and about the ways that God is working in my heart and soul.

I want to share a little more me.  And if the blogging police come to get me, I'll plead guilty. In order to understand my heart as a mother then you need to see my heart as a child of God. Only then does any of it start to make sense.

And the picture? A friend snapped it this weekend.  I hadn't showered, had no make-up on, and didn't know he was taking it.  The real me.