Category Archives: This Is How We Do It

Camping With Friends


It was the second annual Phillips-Ransom camping trip. It was great.

We met them back in 2008, six kids between us. With a half dozen each now, we are a site to behold. Dear friends, knitted in heart by common ideals, dreams, and life plans. What a joy it is to spend a week just doing life together.

Our photos from last year can be found here.©janetphillips_june6_2015_web-27

Lots of sitting by the fire, cooking, eating, walking, talking and playing. With a newborn in tow, our time was more laid back than last year, but it was just what we needed. Good friends, good fellowship.

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All I Wanted

PTS | All I Wanted


All I wanted for Mother’s Day was to go camping.

This was my twelfth Mother’s Day. And after all these years, I know myself and my family very well. I have no need of breakfast in bed (seems silly when I wake hours before everyone else!) I don’t need to be showered with gifts (we have far too much stuff as it is). I don’t need a fancy Sunday lunch (we had our favorite New York Style pizza because it’s what we all love).


All I wanted for Mother’s Day was to be with my family, doing what we love best: camping.

Back in February, after returning from a camping trip to the Everglades, I wrote this:

LOVE camping…what I love about camping is that it strips all the extra stuff away. I don’t worry about doing laundry. I don’t worry about cleaning up. I don’t worry about checking email. I don’t put on makeup and I often don’t even bother changing clothes. When all of those little tasks are taken away, you are just left with time. Time to read, time to play, time to sleep, and time to talk. We did all of those things.

Yep, it’s all I wanted.


Camping takes all the things I love best and throws them together:

family time
being offline
taking pictures
watching my kids play
lazy schedules
simple but yummy meals
playing outside
being in God’s creation
time to snuggle and read
warm fires in the cool breeze
seeing kids explore and imagine


We left after church on Sunday and stayed two nights. Staying fairly local (a state recreation area just 45 minutes from home) meant more time to play and less time to drive. It was perfect. The kids played and explored. They founds bugs and lizards and a turtle. We swam in the lake and hiked for miles. We watched a blue heron who visited a number of times. The kids got dirty, sandy, and sweaty. I couldn’t have asked for a better Mother’s Day Gift (though the dozens of post-it notes with all the reasons they love me covering our dining table on Sunday morning comes pretty close!)


I’m thankful for these twelve years of being a mama and all the joy these kids bring to my life.

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That’s a Wrap {Birthday Season 2015}

PTS | That's a WrapIt’s finally done…birthday season 2015. Eight birthdays in three months (seven of those being in eight weeks) is exhausting.



People often ask if we just combine birthdays since they are all so close. And we always say, “No!”

There are many perks to being in a large family. I love it and wouldn’t ever want to change it. However, there are hard things too. Out of necessity, a lot of things in our life have to happen as a group. But birthdays? Those are a day to celebrate an INDIVIDUAL and to make that person know how thankful we are they were born. We want to celebrate the joy they bring to our life and look to the future and pray expectantly for good things to come. We take each birthday to make the day all about that one child, showering them with love, yummy food, and a few gifts.

Our tradition has been to let the kids choose the meals for the day (it used to be dinner, which is what my parents did for us, but somehow over the years it has crept into choosing all the meals. And of course, they often pick the hardest or most time consuming!) We also let them give input on decorations. They each have the choice of a family activity or a party. Over the years, we have only had three parties (two of them this year!) We love doing things as a family and that is most often their choice.

This year was a great year of celebrating each of our children (and my birthday and Jason’s birthdays fall right in the middle of all that!)  As much as I love the fun and creativity that comes with birthday season, I am usually quite happy to see it go. Now I have until the end of January before I have to plan another birthday!

Here is birthday season 2015 in review!









Let Dad Be Dad (again)


About a year and a half ago, I wrote a post entitled Let Dad Be Dad. It was based on some of the best parenting advice I have ever received. I think this mindset has been key in our marriage and in our parenting. If I had tried to make Jason parent like me, I would have squashed his spirit and taken much of the joy out of parenting for both of us.


I won’t rehash my thoughts; you can read them here. I do think, though, another dose of photographic proof might be in order.

The two older boys decided on a birthday party this year. Our children are allowed to choose between a family activity and a party. They usually choose to do something as a family, but this year the boys wanted to celebrate with a few friends. And really, they just wanted an excuse to play more football.

For the younger kids this year, I purchased piñatas. Never ones to miss a chance to get candy, the boys wanted one for their party. Since I gave Jason the reigns of the party beyond the food, the piñata and other activities were up to him.

When it was time for the piñata and the kids were all on the front porch, I took a few moments to rest in my room. I was quietly checking email when I hear this from the porch:

“Now, in Piñata ninja, you have two choices: two hits with the nunchucks or one flying kick.”

Um, “piñata ninja?” What is this man up to?

I snuck outside to hear the rest of the directions. I grabbed my camera to prove once again this man is crazy and that my kids are so incredibly blessed to have Jason as their dad.

Fifteen minutes of nunchucks, headbutts, flying kicks, and karate chops later, the coveted candy spilled and the boys joyfully descended like vultures.

Yes. Always. Let dad be dad.

And let dad run boy birthday parties.

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And Then There is Today

©janetphillips_april27_2015_postimageThose who know me have heard me speak of “yellow bus days.” Those are the days I dream of a big yellow bus to take my kids far, far away. I admit to daydreams of a life where the kids are gone for seven plus hours a day. Think of all I could accomplish! I could clean and there would be no one to reverse my work. I could have a cup of coffee without having to microwave it three times before finding the bottom. I could shower on a regular basis and not have to answer math questions from behind the curtain. Oh, to dream!


Homeschooling is hard. The educational component of it alone is enough to send prayers for the yellow bus. When your child’s academic progress and future depends mostly on you, the guilt flows freely. When you have to listen to struggling readers stumble over the same words again and again, the stress builds quickly. When you realize that no matter how many times you explain squares and cubes, the child will always say that 42=8, the feelings of defeat mount fiercely.


Beyond the academics, homeschooling is still hard. The kids are home all day. They mess up far more quickly than you can clean up. While you read with the first grader, the toddler is pulling DVDs off the shelf. When you are doing grammar with the sixth grader, the third grader has slipped out to the trampoline, multiplication tables long abandoned. When you are snuggling and reading stories to the four year old, the fifth grader can’t find any of his work and therefore asks if he can go out to play instead.


Yes, it’s hard. It’s really hard. And I have many yellow bus days. But then I have a day like today.

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A day when we laugh through group work because words like Hawaii and Oxygen can be said in all sorts of silly ways.

A day when wet rags are thrown and giggles abound during chores.

A day when KLove blasts in the kitchen and the kids discuss their favorite artists.

A day when the kids decide school is much more fun in the camper and they set up a home and pretend its an RV while they do their math.

A day when the big kids play with the little kids and the love just oozes from everywhere.

A day when the little ones splash and giggle in the bath and beg me to take pictures of their funny faces.

A day when we have a scavenger hunt in the afternoon and the bigs are paired with the littles and the tender moments threaten to make my mama heart burst.

A day when we can enjoy silly food during an indoor campout and the kids munch on “acorns” and “bear poop” and wash it down with “river water” and “bug juice.”

A day when I am cleaning in the kitchen and I hear wails of laughter as the kids have their first encounter with The Little Rascals.

A day when they don’t want the fun and togetherness to end and they drag their stuffed animals and sleeping bags to the camper and end their day chatting past their bedtime with their favorite people.

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Yes. There are yellow bus days. And then there is today.

In the Picture

Today, as I was working on a project, I came across this post that I wrote almost a year ago. I didn’t share it here, but rather wrote it for The Daily Digi, a site dedicated to digital scrapbookers and photographers. However, I think it is an important topic for us as mothers.

Tomorrow isn’t promised. We’re but a vapor. The long days turn into short years and all of our excuses for not being in photos with our kids will amount to empty albums and wondering hearts.

“What was my mom like when I was young?”

“What did she look like when she was a young mom?”

“What did she do with us?”

I know your kids will ask these questions someday because I ask them often. I remember surprisingly little about my childhood and so while our family works to create happy memories, I know that the memories may only exist in the photos we take.

I am part of their story and I want the photographs to prove it. My weight has fluctuated over the years and I dislike many other things about my physical appearance. However, I cannot and will not let that stop me. I know that these moments are important and I know that my kids will be thankful that I set my insecurities aside long enough to be in the photo.

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I’m passionate about a lot of things. If someone brings up one of my hot button topics, there is no stopping me. When I believe something, I believe it all the way. And this, dear readers, is one of those topics.

You need to be in the picture.

I know. I know. You plan on doing it. You’ll get in pictures with your kids when you get out of your yoga pants. When you lose the weight. When you do your hair. When you get some new clothes. When…

I know. I’ve been there. I don’t always want a camera pointed at me. There are days when I haven’t showered and I am many months away from being at a weight I am happy with. And yet, I still get in.

This is a picture of my mom with my older brother. I LOVE it. Adore it. Am jealous of it. I love the way her happiness just beams. She is looking at this little boy who she waited so long for and she is completely in love. I love this picture for so many reasons…the look on her face, the Pooh wall hanging she had made, the diaper changing station on the deep freezer, the plaid pants, the paneled walls. What’s not to love? This is a photo that captures a beautiful moment in time. Priceless.

Unfortunately, I have very few photos of me with my mother. In all the scrounging around I have done, only a few have turned up.

These photos are so precious to me. But I wish I had more. I wish I had photos of my mom holding me as a baby. I wish I had photos of us playing together…her reading to me…me watching her cook.

I understand why there aren’t many. Photography used to be a much more expensive hobby. Buy the film. Pay to have it developed. There wasn’t opportunity to take a hundred photos of every outing. So my parents, like most, mainly took the obligatory holiday photos of just the kids.

When I had my children, I knew I wanted more. I wanted my kids to have photos of me. I wanted them to have documentation of a life lived together. I wanted them to be able to see the love in my eyes. I wanted them to have photos of me loving them, snuggling them, and laughing with them. When they get older, these (I hope!) will mean the world to them.

In 2003, I had my first daughter. And from then on, I have made it a point to be in picture. I don’t always love how I look, but I am so glad to have the memories. This is our life together. I want to be a part of it.

With each child, I have continued to push myself to do whatever it took to be in the picture. Here is me, nine months pregnant with #3…

Here are some tips for being in the picture:

1. Stop Worrying. Don’t worry so much about your looks that it keeps you out of the picture. Your children won’t care how much you weighed or what your hair looked like. They care about you. Don’t worry about what your house looks life. Real life is beautiful…and real.

2. Ask someone to take pictures for you. I often ask my husband or other children to grab the camera. I love to take photos but sometimes I want to be on the other end. My kids and husband are getting pretty good!

3. If all else fails, use a tripod, a phone, or a mirror. Do whatever it takes to be in the picture. Photo Booth can be your best friend!

4. Hire a professional. I adore our real life moment photos, but I am also glad that occasionally we have someone outside of our immediate family take pictures for us. Not only is the quality better, but also that person has a view of us that we might miss. Photos are an investment. Don’t be afraid of hiring someone.

5. What do you want to remember? Ask yourself, “What kinds of things/events/moments/activities do I want to have photos of? Think about those special first moments, activities you do every day, and special events that you want your kids to know you were a part of. Write some down and be more intentional about getting in the picture.

6. Not all of you necessarily has to be in the picture. Try different angles and shots that show relationship.

7. Don’t wait. Do it now. Do it today. You never know when tomorrow will stop being an option.

8. Start scrapping!

Check out “Get In The Photo” for more tips from Katie and our team.

Do you get in the picture? What motivates you? What hinders you?

The Everglades, Part Three

One of the most popular trails in Everglades National Park is the Anhinga Trail. It’s know for its abundant wildlife. A number of people mentioned that it was a “must do” walk, so we made sure to leave time on our way out of the park (the trail is near the entrance of the park, 40 miles from our campground.)

We were not disappointed! The kids just loved seeing all the alligators and I LOVED the birds. It makes me long for a good birding lens. A 100mm doesn’t quite cut it, but I still had fun!


The railings were my kids thought they were cool.

The railings were DISGUSTING…my my kids thought they were cool.

The vultures are really destructive and they are everywhere. The park supplies tarps to protect your car. People should use them!

The vultures are really destructive and they are everywhere. The park supplies tarps to protect your car. People should use them!


A Merry Little Christmas

Although I wasn’t feeling well, it was very important to me that I be present for Christmas. I spent a lot of time praying that I would be well enough to be with the kids and have fun. I didn’t want this to be “the year mom ruined Christmas.” Even in my struggles, I am very careful with my words and attitudes toward the kids. They are precious to me and every time I speak to them, even in discipline or training, I want them to know deeply that they are loved and valued. So much is communicated through tone of voice! When mothers are fighting their own struggles, it’s easy to let the kids take the brunt of it. But their little hearts are just too precious for that. I promised myself that if I couldn’t be kind and gentle in my words, I excused myself and went to my room.

Thankfully, the Lord answered my prayers and although physically I wasn’t doing well, I was able to be mentally present enough to enjoy our Christmas traditions such as decorating cookies, making our spaghetti Christmas Eve dinner, making Thai Mango Sticky Rice for Christmas breakfast, and getting through a long day of opening and enjoying gifts. We had a wonderful turkey dinner in there too. I am thankful that I don’t think the kids will have any memories of me being sick this year. Instead, they will remember happy times as a family and with grandparents and what is probably the biggest Christmas they have ever (or will ever) have.

And just a note on the gifts. There were a lot this year. Part of it is simply having six kids. Part of it is that for the first time in many years, Jason and I exchanged gifts. We have spent the last three years in transition and therefore say  no to the kids (and ourselves) all the time. We don’t want to buy stuff that we can’t take with us. And while that is still true, we expect to be in one place for a bit longer this time and so this was the year we said yes. Our kids are the most grateful and loving kids and they have never complained when we didn’t have money to buy much or when we don’t purchase things through the year. Christmas and their birthdays are the only time we buy them things. It was fun to indulge them a bit this year. When they have grateful hearts, it is so fun to surprise them with abundance.  I wonder if this is how God feels too.

And now for the pictures.


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Launching the water bottle rocket

Launching the water bottle rocket

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Real live baby dolls

Real live baby dolls

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They are trying to wait patiently.

They are trying to wait patiently.


These two were up earlier than everyone else.

These two were up earlier than everyone else.


Someone isn't happy to have to wait to open gifts.

Someone isn’t happy to have to wait to open gifts.

Sticky Rice!

Sticky Rice!

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New airplanes

New airplanes

A taste of the chaos

A taste of the chaos

Grandpa helping Zach with his trains

Grandpa helping Zach with his trains

I Don’t Know How You Do It

I Don't Know How You Do It

I hear it often: “I don’t know how you do it.”

I hear it almost as often as “Oh, you’ve got your hands full.”

In this 28 minute audio post, I share my thoughts on the comment and what I share with those who make it.

Please excuse my still-raspy voice and the occasional sniffle. I think my body is revolting against the temperatures that drop below 50˚. Living near the equator for years will do that to you.


As always, you can listen to it here or download below.

To Be Your Mama

To Be Your Mama

“I’m so glad I get to be your mama.”

It’s a phrase I use often. It’s true. It’s intentional.

Of the things I want most for my children, nearing the top of the list is a feeling — a knowledge — that they are delighted in. That they loved, that they are cherished.


“Preparing the Soil” wasn’t a name pulled out of nowhere. When I read the parable of the sower with fresh eyes and realized that the seed thrown (the Word) was the same in each of the four stories, I sat staring…realizing even more the incredible power in parenting.

We can throw the Word at our children. We can bring them to church, put them in Christian schools or teach Christian curriculum at home, we can buy them Christian books, send them to Christian camps, and pray for Christian friends.


But if their hearts (the soil) has not been tended to and is not ready to receive the truth of the gospel’s great love and freedom, our attempts at growing our children up in the Lord will be in vain.

A farmer tends his soil. He waters it. He plows it. He prepares it. Before the first seed is planted, the ground is made ready to receive.

In the same way, we must tend to our children’s hearts.

“I’m so glad I get to be your mama.”


I say it with words. I say it with actions. I say it with the things I say yes to and the things I say no to. I say it with the food I make, the trips we take, the choices we make. I say it with the tone of my voice and the feel of my touch.


“You are loved. You are delighted in. You are a blessing in my life. You are not a distraction or a hindrance to my life. You are part of the abundant life God has given me and I’m so glad I get to be your mama.”


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