Music Festival day Two

It’s been described as a spiritual, music retreat/ festival for the whole family. Escape to the Lake #ETTL14 is that and so much more. There is a community feel to this camp experience. Lots of artists, lots  of families, singles, couples, empty-nesters, rest-seekers and people who long to be in community. Isn’t that true of all of us? We want to connect and be in community with others. It’s in us. That desire to do life with others. 

Last night, we were greeted by a downpour of rain, smiling faces and gourmet music by Mercy Child, The Gray Havens, Eric Peters and Sarah Groves. Even with the rain, the night was beautiful. 

Today, the Els participated in an art class led by Julie Lee. They made sunlight prints using flowers, twigs, and leaves. 

After lunch, I was asked to be on a panel of songwriters and share stories behind the songs with live acoustic performances. It was a real gift to sit alongside and share with these talented artists. Honestly, I felt honored and grateful to be included. Steve from Burlap to Cashmere, Tim Coons of Giants and Pilgrims, Matthew Clark and me. Me. These guys were so funny, smart and their songs and voices are inspiring. And, I was asked to share next to them. It was a gift to listen and to share. I’m thankful. 

In the afternoon, we played on the beach at the lake as a family. The Els loved it!
After dinner, the concert was on the lake. 

Tim Coons and Giants and Pilgrims opened the show followed by Julie Lee and Sarah Masen, Waterdeep and Burlap to Cashmere. A lot of really great, thoughtful music. I can’t say enough about the experience of being in community like this. It is a beautiful thing. We met other families, worship leaders, artists, bloggers, moms, dads, kids…others that are in similar life stages as us. Just sharing blanket space on a hill, listening to music while our children played together started a conversation. Hopefully it’s just the start of what God is doing through this experience. I certainly hope and am excited to see God’s mighty hand at work.
Thankful for this life. Glad I get to walk alongside my dear husband, my children and you. 

The Trav-ELS have begun

Morning smiles 

Me and Bakri
After dinner stroll 

Arkansas 

Yesterday we piled into a rented minivan- And headed on a big road trip. Our goal departure time was 5am. We left at 7am. Destination: lake Geneva, Wisconsin for Escape to the Lake 2014. We drove and drove and drove all the way to Wildwood, Missouri. We grabbed a quick dinner upon arrival and headed to bed.

We’ve had our not so good moments and we’ve had great ones. Let me pause to brag on the ELs for a minute. These kids are amazing travELers. Seriously amazing. They hardly ever complain and as I write this they’ve spent approximately 17 hours in the car over the last two days. We didn’t plan to watch movies. But, we lucked out with our car rental. I can’t complain. It’s worked out great and Three out of the four Els have slept a lot. And El Dad has done all of the driving. Not that I don’t want to drive. He seems to like it and I’m a great passenger.
We will arrive at ETTL in the next hour in the final minutes of registration. Oh how I hope our cabin/ room is ready for this family to do a quick change before the first session and dinner. So far, it’s been a great experience. Seeing America like this is inspiring. PS. I think I’m in love with Missouri…

Update and Our first "tour"

Update: no theme weeks this summer. Our weeks have been overflowing with activities and adventure. Perhaps, because we’re all a little older. And, we have a few activities that were seasonal for us in the past that are currently year round. Ie. Baseball and swimming.
So, let’s catch up. We started the summer with a bit of a birthday bonanza. El Dad and our niece were first with their shared birthdays. Then, Jiddy (El Dad’s dad) and then Aunt Bea (El Dad’s sister) and our nephew, Christian who also share a birthday. We went to a James Taylor concert (2 adults + 8 kids on 2 blankets = super fun chaotic goodness).
The Els have attended two great VBS weeks at churches that we know well. And, in between, Maddux has played in select league machine pitch and his team has won both tournaments he has played in. Go Bombers! Trinity also attended a dance class and Leeland took a two week intensive swim class and learned to swim. Seriously. He says “I can float on my back by myshelf!”
We’ve celebrated friend’s birthdays too and we’ve kept up our YMCA routine. Moustapha enjoyed fathers day with the Els, my family and his. It’s been a great summer so far. I even had a Momma-daughter date last night with Miss T to see the Little Mermaid presented by TUTS at the Hobby Center.
Our first “tour”
Now, we’re about to embark on a new adventure. Escape to the Lake in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin sponsored by Under the Radar radio. I’m playing a show on July 4th on the Lake at 2pm. We’ll be at the festival for three days. I’m also speaking about creative things to do with your kids and I’m part of a breakout session on songwriting. I’m totally excited. And, really excited about taking our tour bus (aka a rented minivan) across the country with 6 people (aka my crew). I will take lots of pictures and try to blog along the way. Pray for us. This is going to be a memory the Els have forever. Let’s pray it’s a great one!

Also, Moustapha asked me yesterday if I’ve been coaching the kids. I promise I haven’t. But, I have been writing and singing a lot. So maybe that’s why in the middle of an activity an El will stop, turn to me and say “I love your music” or “you’re such a great artist.” And, then another one will reply “I didn’t know you were an artist, Momma. You can’t draw.” And, then I’m humbled. The end. 🙂
xoxo,
Rebekah







Lessons I learned from a summer day with the Els

Lesson 1: “There is a 5 second rule. Really. It exists.”
This lesson needs no explanation. But, it was told to me by my oldest right after an organic, gluten-free fish stick fell on the floor and I quickly picked it up, (in less than five seconds, of course) blew on it and handed it back to my three year old who immediately ate it. Done.
Lesson 2: No matter how peaceful things are in my home, my children will always start a game of tag the instant I make a dash for a minute alone in the bathroom.
This one never ever fails. I have to attempt this every day and I can promise you, I leave the room, close the door and the pounding of little feet begins.
Lesson 3: Screaming to “STOP RUNNING!” has zero impact.
Zero. Especially when I’ve just left the room to go to the bathroom. Yelling doesn’t work. The pounding sound of running continues all the same.
Lesson 4: Rewards work.
I’m not saying to bribe your children. Really, I’m not. But, if you want clothes put away and you’re willing to have them play a game after or watch a show anyway, guess what? Ask your children to do it and let them know that when they are finished, we’ll play a game. This works with my kids. At least it’s working on day 17 of summer. I’m going to keep trying this one out.
Lesson 5: 50 minutes of pool time makes for some very grateful children.
I packed a small cooler of ice with 5 water bottles, 4 Apple sauce pouches and a tub of washed blueberries. The Els were ecstatic after this very easy adventure. It’s hard to take four kids  anywhere. Honestly, it is. But, the reward; the happiness on their little sunscreened faces was totally worth it. This particular adventure wasn’t even that hard and I even did yoga while they were in the Y Childwatch before we went swimming. Win win.
Lesson 6: Be flexible.
It’s summer. We are on vacation. I’m not. My husband isn’t. But, “we” the Els, are on vacation. And some people in this house like to sleep in until 11am. Crazy, right!? I think that was me like 20 years ago. I can’t even remember those days clearly. Strict schedules and bedtime before dark is almost impossible. So, don’t even try. It’s summer. Just go with it.
I’m sure there are many more lessons I’ve learned from the Els. In. A. Day. But, honestly, I can’t remember what I was just doing. So, I’ll leave you with these six lessons. It’s after 11am and the last El just woke up. I guess it’s time for made-to-order breakfast for one. Bye for now.
-El Momma

My peaceful den (confession: it rarely looks like this and only after all of the Els are in bed)

And We’re Off to a Running Start- First Week of Summer is Done!

I can’t help but sing “in Sum-merrrrrr” ala Olaf from Frozen. If you haven’t seen the movie, then the songs are probably not stuck in your head or being sung over and over again by your housemates. Great songs, but any song can get annoying after the hundredth time you hear it being belted out by your five year old daughter. Gotta love “Sum-merrrrrr!”
So, we’re off and the first week of summer is already behind us. I counted and I believe we have 93 days of summer. Meaning, we only have 81 days left! Aack! We better get to livin…
The first weekend of summer was filled with birthday fun. First, the hubs grilled burgers and hotdogs at his parents’ home on his birthday. 

We had cake, of course and the theme is one that will probably be with us all summer long: B-A-S-E-B-A-L-L! So long 38 and hello, 39. Happy happy birthday to Moustapha!

We decorated with Moustapha’s vintage pennants. Here’s his beautiful momma with one from 1984! “Mo-stapha!”

A little attention needed for our little guy and then…

Time for a song and cake!

We all put up our Longhorns and little Leeland sported his peace sign proudly.

With my dear parents and sister.

Moustapha’s sweet Aunt Mary Louise even joined in for the party. She was visiting from out of town!

Our newest family member was also part of the celebration. We love all of our nephews!

We’ve had cake, and now let’s have some chocolate fudgecicles. Why not!?

Me and the birthday boy!

With his proud daddy.

And, then…we celebrated another very special birthday. Our sweet niece, Grace shares a birthday with Moustapha. She turned 3. Isn’t she lovely?

After the birthday celebrations, we had an adventure of our own at the El House. One afternoon, I went in to our daughter’s room only to discover the noise of a small critter coming from the wall. Something was stuck and not happy about it. That night, the oldest boys slept in a different room (they share a wall with their sister) in sleeping bags on the floor and our two youngest also slept in different beds then their usual spots. All to get away from whatever was nervous and clawing at the wall. The next day, Moustapha cut a hole in the wall, only to discover this little face looking back at him. A baby raccoon. We called the Texas Wildlife Center. They believed that the mom might come back for the baby. So, we placed the baby in this little bin and the baby stayed there all night. By the next morning, Moustapha was really worried about the baby, so he took the baby raccoon – the kids named him Racky- to the Wildlife Center. They said he was dehydrated, but otherwise doing well. We are allowed to check on Racky’s progress twice over the next 6 months. We will try to be patient!

Throughout the week, Maddux played in a tournament on a 7U select league team. His team, The Bellaire Bombers, won every game and they won the entire tournament on Saturday. Moustapha, Bakri and I enjoyed cheering them on to victory. Did I mention that baseball is going to be a big theme this summer? This is part of the reason for that. It’s our first time having anyone play select league. It could get interesting!

Maddux, getting his team first place trophy!

With me.

With Dad.

And, brothers celebrating at dinner!

I think that about sums up the first week of summer. It was a fun doozy! We’ve already celebrated another birthday this week- my father-in-law and we have more coming this week. I can’t complain. Summer, baseball, birthdays, family, music…these are a few of my favorite things….

Hope your summer is off to a great start too. The last few summers, we’ve had theme weeks at our house to give us purpose each week and to really help me stay organized and keep the Els active. Several of my friends shared this blog post from City Moms Blog with a bucket list of things to do with your kids this summer in Houston. Check it out here: http://citymomsblog.com/houston/summer-2014-bucket-list/ This is specific to Houston, but many of the activities would work in any town. I did have one child request the theme weeks again yesterday. I’m still contemplating that. I will update here if we decide to go that route or if we have our own bucket list this summer. I will definitely post our activities here. Keep busy, keep calm and keep cool!

– El Momma

Another Day. Another Field Trip.

With four school-age children, it’s a wonder I get anything accomplished outside of the Els activities and commitments. Yes, most of these commitments are things I willingly commited to, signed them up for and paid for. Most, not all. There’s weekly swim lessons for the three oldest. Leeland will get his turn, but for now there isn’t space for all four to take a class at the same time. Little League baseball. This was probably the most fun for the whole family this semester. Our oldest boys played on the same team and they were a really fun team to watch ending the year with a 17-2 record and winning the playoff championship. However, it’s a three time a week commitment. Sometimes we had call times an hour after school pickup. That’s barely enough time to have a snack and change clothes and leaves no time for homework. Trinity has pre-ballet class once a week. Then, there’s cub scouts and weekly church activities. Nearly every week we have at least one birthday party or family event. I’m sure I’m forgetting something, because that’s par for the course.
I try and try and run around with two calendars, but I still forget things.
So, on top of all of that there are class field trips. My “work” is flexible and so, I usually say “yes” to field trips when given the opportunity. With four kids, there are many many field trips, especially at the end of the year! Yesterday, I went with the first graders to see the play, “James and the Giant Peach.” Except for the fact that our buses took wrong turns, missed turns, basically got lost (in my neighborhood!) and took 45 minutes to travel 8 miles, it was a good time. I LOVE my babies and I love their friends and teachers. But, field trips are exhausting. Can I opt for one per kid next year? And, have no guilt? I’ll try!

Doing What I Can

This is the third entry in a series I call “El Real Momma”

The purpose is just to be completely “Real” with you all and real with myself. The internet can be a place of fear and sometimes I am afraid of the consequences and the negative results that could come from over-sharing.

Three field trips in the last three weeks. How in the world can anyone work, manage a house, take care of children well and get anything done for yourself with such a crazy schedule? Impossible. But, it must be done. So, I’ll try and in the meantime I will stop and attempt to do yoga in the middle of homework hour. 

And, my littlest guy will crawl underneath my warrior two or downward dog and maybe, just maybe, these little ones will learn a little bit about determination. I don’t believe that I have to workout to feel good or do yoga to feel like I’ve had a successful day. But, for me, personally, reading scripture and having quiet time in the morning and finding time to do some kind of exercise during the day are two ways that make my days feel a whole lot more complete and happy no matter how little I may check off my list.

Perhaps there will be another field trip or two before the year is finished. Maybe I’ll be able to go or maybe I won’t. I’ll make every effort to not feel guilty either way. We do what we can.

Finding our Rhythm, Season by Season, Day by Day

This is the first entry in a series I call “El Real Momma”The purpose is just to be completely “Real” with you all and real with myself. The internet can be a place of fear and sometimes I am afraid of the consequences and the negative results that could come from over-sharing. Don’t worry, I am not going to intentionally over-share. But, I am going to share. So here goes:

It’s hard to believe in just a few days we will have a 3, 5, 7 and 9 year old in the house. Time feels faster and faster and all I can do is try to breathe and take it slow. All of the Els are in elementary school. There is a crazy rhythm in that. Tuesday folders full of information. Some of it very important, and some of it not important (to us) at all. Activities. One day a week, three of the Els swim. Three days a week, two of the Els play or practice baseball. One day a week, one of the Els attends dance class. Then, we have family activities, church activities and birthday parties for friends. Date nights (sometimes after my rehearsal we have dinner and actually talk to each other!) On top of all of that, there is an enormous amount of homework mainly for our 3rd grader. And, on top of all of that- making it work with four kids- one of our children has extra challenges. So, sometimes that means we need to meet with his teachers and administrators. Sometimes, I need to go to the school to check on him, bring him medicine, make sure he is happy at lunch, etc. It means that often times, I stop whatever I am doing, wherever I am and I put my child(ren) first. Completely and totally first. Oftentimes, lately, I feel off balance. Like I’m not myself. Writing music, having a cup of great coffee with lots of cream, reading scripture, sunshine in the mornings, laughter and late, lazy breakfasts just don’t make it into my day. They are some of my very favorite and most life-giving experiences, but when I’m lining up my priorities, putting on eye shadow falls pretty far behind making school lunches for 4 people, on my list of important things to do. Don’t get me wrong, I do try to make time for both. But, I will walk around with no makeup on if that’s how it has to be. And, sometimes, it just is what it is. 

Friday, we were walking into school and I looked up to see this. Maddux and Trinity holding hands. Walking together. Happy. These are the moments that I would give up every perfect cup of coffee for.

We’re different. They are different. I am different. I feel completely changed from the day I gave birth to our oldest. Almost like I am a different person, but not quite. These experiences, every one of them. The good, the bad, the amazing: they have shaped me, molded me and at times, forced me into who I am today. I love making friends. I love connecting with people. I love being a momma. I do not love conflict or feeling like I am bothering someone or imposing or asking for help. That list of things I do not love has become more a part of my life than I would have ever hoped. But, it’s okay. I am okay. I am better than okay. I sat in a meeting on Friday about one of my children who needs me to be strong for him and I was. I didn’t cry one tear. Not that crying would have been a bad thing, but I just think that it wasn’t the right thing for me, that day, in that meeting. And, God gave me strength, patience, peace and wisdom to know when to speak, when to listen and when to give praise.

And, today, our three year old Batman went for his first solo drive. Always something to look forward to, even in the darkest of storms.

Peace be with you.
Love,
Rebekah
(El Momma)

Dear Not Nice from Lovely Young Mother of Four – :)

I will begin this post with an apology to my dear husband who I am certain would rather me never write it. Mainly because he would never want something like this to upset me. So, Moustapha, I am sorry. But, I am also inspired to share my not so lovely experience with friends and other parents out there who have ever taken a child or children to the grocery store. This is for you.

The following is an open letter to the admittedly “not nice” lady my four children and I encountered at our local grocery store on December 30, 2013. I’ve written about grocery shopping with kids before. See How does Momma grocery shop for her Els? from 2011 This is a little different:

Dear Not Nice,

I am not sure what it is exactly that my four children and I did to offend you so. However, your aggressive “know-it-all” behavior wasn’t received well by us or any of the human-beings who had the misfortune of being in your path today. To say that I was shocked by you, is putting it mildly. It was astonishing.

Let me tell you about the events before you approached me and my four children to tell me how horrible they were and that they were my responsibility- a fact I am pretty much constantly aware of every moment of every day.

This morning, my fever broke around 10am. I began running fever around 530pm two days prior, during the visitation for my husband’s uncle who passed away on Christmas day. We drove 3 hours to attend the services and not long after our arrival, I became sick. A few hours before encountering you, was the first time I felt well enough to venture out by myself with my children in several days. My husband went to work earlier and I was left to care for our four children alone and sick. We wanted to make the best of it. I offered to take them to a special brunch at our local diner. They were so excited. As is my normal practice, I let them know what to expect while we were out. “First, we will go to the Diner and have brunch together. If we all make good choices at lunch you can each have a quarter to play one video game before we leave. After brunch, we will make a quick trip to the store to get everything we need to make chicken spaghetti and then we will can go home.” We agreed. Got dressed and eventually made it out of the house for our brunch.

We had a delightful brunch.

After brunch, we headed to store. When we arrived, we went straight to the restrooms. We washed hands and I loaded the 2 youngest children in the cart. My two oldest, 7 and 8 yrs old were walking with the cart and me as is our normal practice at this store. The largest cart they have at this location is for 2 children. My two youngest, ages 3 and 5 buckled in to their seats in the cart.

We made our way through the store. Fruits first. Vegetables next. Chicken for the Chicken spaghetti, etc. We were on our way. At one point, one of the boys who happens to have special needs) began to remove his jacket. We stopped everything and waited for him to put it back on. I was afraid he would put it down and lose it and I let him know that I expected him to keep his jacket on and that we were almost done.

Taking four children to the grocery store is never high on my list of things I love to do. It’s work and frankly I am really good at it. I am pretty strict on them. They can’t touch anything. They can only help when I ask and they can’t overwhelm me with a million “i want this and i want thats.” If they are really good, sometimes I will treat them at the end of our trip with a donut of their choice or a favorite snack.

When we made it to the front of the store to check out, we saw a classmate of my 3 year old in the line next to ours. It was extremely crowded as to be expected on the day before New Year’s Eve. We waited patiently. Finally, it was time to check out. I lifted my five year old daughter out of the cart, so she could help her older brothers unload the groceries. We were doing great until she reached into the cart with one hand and lifted the blueberries from the cart. The container opened up and blueberries fell to the floor. We started trying to clean up. I immediately asked our checkout attendant if he could call for help. He called and let me know that someone was on their way to help us. I was continuing to talk to them about being careful not to make more of a mess and step on any blueberries.

That’s when you approached me to tell me “Your children are making a huge mess. This is your responsibility.” Or, something to that effect. I think I handled you well at that point, letting you know that we had called for help and were cleaning up the blueberries. I thought that would be it. But, that wasn’t enough for you. You huffed around and got very close to us continuing to tell me how awful we were. I again let you know that it was an accident and asked you if you had four children. I don’t know why I asked that. I guess in the moment I felt like you had no compassion for a woman in my shoes and were just ready to judge and pounce. You looked bewildered. I then let you know that you were not being nice and that is when I thought something was terribly wrong. You looked at me and said “I am not nice. I am not nice.” What impacted me and my dear children the most was not your poor behavior, but the kind responses of others. The gentle way the lady helping us sweep up the blueberries told my dear daughter not to worry and that accidents happen. The clerk helping us who reached his hand out to me and told me everything would be alright. The neighboring customers who told you to leave us alone and gently told me that everything was fine and not to worry about you.

We celebrate Christmas through the entire Christmas season, which goes through Epiphany. December 30th is right in the middle of Christmas time. I am doing everything I can to teach my children well. We teach them about patience, which we often lack. We teach them about love, loving our neighbors and our enemies, which is often one of the hardest challenges. We teach them about compassion for others, to live outside of our red brick home and make a positive difference in our world. We teach them that God is good and that His desire is for good and not for evil. We face challenges. They wonder about death and why there is so much pain the world. They wonder why bad things happen. Sometimes we can answer their questions and sometimes we join them in the wondering. And, then there is you. The lesson of you. We’ve been back to our neighborhood grocery store twice since our encounter with you. You are now a lesson we have been forced to learn. I have a feeling you thought you were teaching us some other lesson. But, what you taught us was to have faith in the good of humanity. You reminded us that we need to keep our eyes open, be prepared for an attack, but look closer to see the good that surrounds us.

I am so very thankful for every person that surrounded us in that store on that day. Their support was amazing. One last thing. Families need groceries too. I would advise you to shop when children are in bed or in school, if you have such a problem with them. Children do have a right to be in grocery stores.

Sincerely,
El Momma

A picture of Us (minus me, the photographer) at brunch just before our grocery store trip

Summer Week 7- Theme Weeks- Game Week

Our theme this week was Games! The Els are ages 3, 4 (almost 5), 6 1/2 and 8. Between the six of us, we have 4 that are mature enough to sit through family game night and enjoy it. I won’t tell you which four. 🙂 Seriously, even the two youngest enjoyed most of our games. Here are a few highlights from our week:
We had a couple of gift cards to Toys R Us, which is why we headed there to pick out some new games for the week.

 We decided on kid-friendly scrabble, StarWars R2-D2 Trouble, a couple of new family Wii games, a 500 piece puzzle and Classic Monopoly. We already had a set of dominoes.

 First up, Monopoly! This was fun. We played in teams. Me & T vs. Dad & Leeland vs. Bakri & Maddux
 Momma selfie

 Next up…Scrabble! This worked really well with our readers and Trinity had a great time finding letters and trying to put words together. Some of my favorites “jeepers, pew, ew, sliders, elf and brat!”
 We started our 500 piece puzzle on day one and kept it out ALL WEEK. This was a huge challenge for El Momma. I’m not sure I would do this again. But, perhaps the end product is worth it. The Els were certainly excited when we finished it together!