Our FLL Practice & Qualifier Tournaments

Hello, I’m Natalie Wallis, Marina’s 10-year old daughter. I am part of a FLL team with my brother, called The Masterminds. This is my second year participating in FLL, and my brother, Jacob’s, third. Last year the season was all about animals, and this year the theme is water.

There are many tournaments. The practice tournament, where teams might get awards, but always move on. The Qualifier, where some teams advance but others don’t. The regional, where the team that advance to the qualifier compete, and the champion of that tournament goes to the World Festival in either Houston, Texas or this year Detroit, Michigan.

Last season we were a team of five, and we advanced all the way to World Festival in Houston. But the other three decided it was too much of a time commitment, so it left just Jacob and I.

Just last week on Sunday October 29th at La Cañada High School, we went into our practice tournament with excitement. There was no champion’s awards availible there  but we did walk away with 1st place mechanical design and 1st place robot performance. It was sooo fun!

Yesterday at West Ranch High School, on November 5th (Jacob’s Birthday! 🙂 we went in again at around 7:30 in the morning feeling excited but very cold, and walked out with 1st place robot performance as well as Champion’s Award. So that means that in a month, on December 10th, we are competing at the regional and hopefully (crossing fingers) advancing to the regional.

At the qualifier, we got hotdogs and shaved ice. Yummy! Also, there was a dog adoption company there showing dogs up for adoption as well as selling things for dogs like collars and sweaters and such. Sadly I couldn’t adopt a dog because we already have 2 cats, but anyways I bought 2 packs of 4 bows for only $1 each pack! One pack for me, one for my BFF. I’m glad that I got to support those dogs, as all of the money goes to them! We even got in a radio article by KHTS! Here is the link:

West Ranch High School Host FIRST Lego League Qualifier Tournament For Los Angeles Region

I hope that we can continue to do well in our tournaments. All for now!

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No more headgear!

Today was a fun surprise kind of day! We scheduled an ortho appointment because one of Jacob’s baby teeth came out yesterday. That tooth was one of the key teeth on which his retainer clamped onto. Now what? We went in wondering what the orthodontist would recommend as a solution. Dr. Hom held the headgear in his hands as he contemplated a solution. And then right there, as if on cue, the headgear snapped and broke. Yup! Just like that. The timing could not have been more perfect. It literally broke from wear and tear of 2 years of usage right there in the hands of the doctor! So, as a result, the doctor announced Jacob could take a vacation for his mouth. No retainer and no headgear. Wow! Whoa! Unexpected news! And so, the assistant was instructed to remove the bands from the back molars of his upper jaw…..and he walked out a free boy. He’s got 2 baby teeth left. Once those fall out and the adult teeth come out, then we can begin Phase 2 of orthodonture. Until then, a few months of vacation for his mouth. It’s so hard to believe that it’s been 2 years since he first started wearing head gear. Time has sure flown by! October 2015- December 28, 2017. Amazing. Jacob has grown so much in those two years. And crazy to think that the headgear was helping reshape the jaw structure of his face, to correct for the overbite of his teeth, all while he slept peacefully at night. Those days are all over. Goodbye headgear.

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Losing is hard

Today’s basketball loss was hard. Jacob’s team had made it to the QuarterFinals in the RBYB League. Tonight’s game was against the Thunders. Our team, the Kings, had won them earlier in the season. Could they win again? Oh how we hoped! And yet it didn’t happen. The final score ended up being 31 to 45. That hurt.

I think the defeat felt so intense because everyone truly believed deep down to the marrow of their bones that they were champion material. Weekly their amazing coach painted a picture of success for the boys and the incredible potential of their skill and effort. Tonight’s loss hurt because the boys knew that a win could have and should have been possible.

Tonight my mama heart hurt as I watched the faces of these 5th and 6th grade boys be overcome by that really, really hard feeling of defeat. The chance at advancing to the quarterfinals and eventually the championship game, was no longer an option. It was gone. Vanished. Their basketball season was over. And that makes losing really, really hard. When you have to walk out of a gym and hang up your sneakers, ending a whole season of hard work on a loss. And, yet, that’s what causes kids to develop fibers of resilience and strength for their future. Or at least that’s what we hope for.

I recently saw a post made by a man named Mark Wolpert about how paying for our kids’ involvement in sports is an investment. He wrote:

-I pay for those moments when my kids become so tired they want to quit but don’t.

– I pay for my kids to learn to be disciplined, focused and dedicated.

– I pay for my kids to learn to take care of their body and equipment.

– I pay for my kids to learn to work with others and to be good team mates, gracious in defeat and humble in success.

– I pay for my kids to learn to deal with disappointment, when they don’t get that placing or title they’d hoped for, but still they go back week after week giving it their best shot.

– I pay for my kids to learn to make and accomplish goals.

– I pay for my kids to respect, not only themselves, but other athletes, officials and coaches.

– I pay for my kids to learn that it takes hours and hours, years and years of hard work and practice to create a champion and that success does not happen overnight.

– I pay for my kids to be proud of small achievements, and to work towards long term goals.

– I pay for the opportunity my kids have and will have to make life-long friendships, create lifelong memories, to be as proud of their achievements as I am.

– I pay so that my kids can be out on the field or in the gym instead of in front of a screen…

…I could go on but, to be short, I don’t pay for sports; I pay for the opportunities that sports provides my kids with to develop attributes that will serve them well throughout their lives and give them the opportunity to bless the lives of others. From what I have seen so far I think it is a great investment!

We could not have been happier than to be a part of The Kings family, under the direction of Coach Keith. A coach can make or break a kid’s perspective of a sport, just like a teacher can be the reason a student loves or hates a subject. There is soooooooo much power that a coach has to shape a child’s outlook towards a sport. And this season Coach Keith inspired! He made a powerful positive impact on each of the boys. He was indeed an inspirational coach. He trained the boys both physically and mentally. Coach Keith would send out emails with encouraging challenges tailored specifically for each boy. He’d end emails with quotes like “The man who wins, is the man who thinks he can.” (Vince Lombardi). The super hard part, tonight, was that they thought they could, but didn’t. And that’s life, my friends.

Tonight 8 boys went to bed extremely bummed out, with a strain of the heavy feeling of defeat on their chests.

Will life go on tomorrow? Yes.

How will tonight’s loss have shaped these boys into who they will one day become as men?

The best we can all hope for is that they will continue to strive, believe, hope and work hard. That they will continue to give life their all, even in the face of defeat.

Sometimes even when you have a legitimate shot at winning, you lose.

Thankfully we had an incredible season and these boys were in the presence of a coach who was marked by integrity, excellence, and a passion for basketball. He asked them to give their all, and he modeled giving his all. All I can say is that I’m so so so so so grateful that all the Tuesday and Thursday evenings of practices plus all the weekend game time, Jacob was under the guidance and leadership of a coach who was so extremely positive and inspirational and so bent on skill development of the entire team!

Tonight closes Jacob’s basketball season.

Muscles have been exercised, skills have been developed, character has been sharpened.

I call that a win!

Dominic #12, Cooper #11, Jason#3, Cheogal #1, Keith #10, Luciano #2, Jacob #5 & Lucas #4 along with Coach Keith & Coach Jerry.

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Today’s joy-filled outing

Davy running to Jacob. Greeting Jacob with a MASSIVE waist hug.

Hellos. Smiles. Happiness to be with friends once again.

Presentations in the Nature Center.

Ella-Jayne- Giant Blue Butterfly

Asher- Monster Beetle

Caedmon’s very, very, very 1st presentation ever. He’s only 4 years old. Adorable beyond belief! All about Stink Bugs. Him leaning in close to his Mama. Mustering up lots of courage to be just like the ‘big’ kids. Alison prompting him with great interview questions- and Caedmon responding with expertise. Wonderful!

Orange and black Harlequin Bugs. In abundance. On many, many plants. Clusters of the bugs. So colorful! 2 rows of their tiny eggs. Holding bugs. Watching them flip over.

Beautiful Ice Plants, calling them by many different names.  Wondering about their intricate ‘crystal’ like, bulging water cells.

Audrey slipping her little hand into mine. Wanting to walk together. My heart melts.

“Ice Crystal Plant”….. “Raspberry Plant”

Quite warm and humid picnic spot.

Climbing on fallen trees.

Shows. Surveys. Singing. Dramatic ‘trilling’ performances. Hymns.

The world’s a stage. Quite literally.




Charlee walking right in front of me. Stopping, turning, her toes against mine. Her lifting her arms up straight in the air- a quiet plea to be picked up and carried. Her body not wanting to walk anymore. The sweetest gesture: “Will you please carry me?” That wordless arm-reach….melting my heart.

Big white bird nesting in a tall palm tree.

Kids building a fort.

The awesome breeze and wind on our faces and through our hair as we walked back.

More of the Ice Crystal Plant. Lots of it. Red color everywhere.

Kids picking to make beautiful bouquets.

Kids presenting flowers to their Mamas.


Surprise! the snake in the Nature Center has in the meantime eaten its breakfast mouse, shed its whole skin and pooped! What It all happened within the 5 hours of our time spent out on the trail.

Time flew by.


Sunburned faces.

Oh- wish I would have thought of applying sunscreen.

Feel like a negligent mama.

But I also feel like a good mama- I took my kiddos to the great outdoors today.

We learned. We played. We observed. We deepened our friendships.

A great day!

My heart is glad.

A full day.

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I am emotionally spent


What a game.

Intense beyond intense.

Sooooooooooo incredibly proud of this team of boys.

team picture

They didn’t win the semifinals. But man they sure came close. When the game first started the Clippers team (ranked #2) scored a few shots right away. No! We can’t let them create a significant lead. Then our boys got on the scoreboard. Next thing we knew they tied it up 10-10. And then Abe gave them the lead by making his free-throw. 11-10. And that’s when the real intensity began. The points were being added to the scoreboard for each team…..but then all of a sudden we started taking the lead….a big lead….at one point we were more than 10 points ahead of them.  Could we keep the lead? Oh man, then their #13 came back into the game after having sat out the 3rd quarter. The kid who makes everyone else wonder “there is no way this kid is a 3rd or 4th grader?” The kid who is several heads taller than everyone in the league and is the solid brick wall on the court who succeeds at capturing every single rebound. But our boys kept the Clippers sweating. At one point the referee stopped the game and told the parents of the Clippers team to pipe down and cut it out. I’m not sure what they were shouting- but it made the ref mad. And then he had to stop them again when they were hooting and hollering trying to distract Ryan while he was up at the free throw line.

The competition was fierce. Our boys were working their tails off keeping the lead. Then all of sudden when there was a minute left in the game, things turned. Oh no. They were pressing our team and were able to steal the ball as we brought it in. They made the shot. Somewhere along the way Ryan got elbowed hard by one of the Celtics and grabbed his mouth….he was bleeding…..he wanted to keep playing. He was upset- why wasn’t the foul called? Few moments later he and Celtics were going for the ball and both fell face down on the court. Next there was blood coming from Ryan’s nose. This kid was giving it his all. Confusion arose when the scoreboard lights went out. Next thing we knew there were 3.8 seconds left on the clock and the score was Celtics 36- Clippers 35. Pressure, emotions, worry, excitement……all mingled in the air. Our hearts were beating like crazy in our chests…. the intensity was beyond description. And with less than 4 seconds on the clock it was our turn to bring the ball in. Could we do it? Jacob was in charge of bringing the ball in. There was a full-court press, every kid on our team was being aggressively defended. Jacob’s time was running out to pass that ball in…..he hurled it past half court, past everyone and Abe started running for it…..oh oh oh oh oh he was within lay-up position….but just couldn’t get to the ball in time as it bounced off court. DANG IT!!! Since no one from the Celtics had touched that incoming ball, then the Celtics had the advantage of bringing it in just where Jacob had brought it in, right there on their side of the court. Drats! They brought it in and scored.

Final Score

Clippers: 37        Celtics: 36



It was all over.

Here we were……so close to winning the game….could have gone on to the 2pm Championship Game. But it was over. We had been in the lead. We had made the Clippers nervous. We gave them a run for their money. A good game. A hard fought game. An amazing game. Everyone was proud of the boys. And this is what they were able to do without having the amazing skills of their All-Star select Nick! He had been gone the whole weekend for a family member’s wedding up in Northern California. Three amazing games without their all-star. We simply can’t say enough how very, very proud we are of all the boys. They stepped up and played their hearts out.

And all of us parents went home with throbbing headaches and feeling completely emotionally wiped out. All the screaming, cheering, hollering, encouraging- wow.

Now we’re off to go watch the Final Game between the Clippers and the Knicks.

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A great start to a basketball season!

Today was a great first day of basketball season!

Jacob had his very first game playing in the Redondo Beach Youth Basketball League.

Game 1: win

Score: 34 to 26

Natalie had a fabulous hour-long practice with her basketball team and is looking forward to her very 1st game of the season tomorrow.

Right before that practice, she had the joy of having a wiggly tooth pulled by Daddy. Or, as she reports “after he had iced it for a few minutes he barely touched it and it fell out!” “Mama, now I can officially have a gopher smile!!!” Yes. Yes. indeed. With the two baby teeth now missing right next to each of her two front adult teeth, she can indeed smile like a gopher. So cute.

After naps, I headed out to UCLA with the kids to give Daddy some work time at home. We had received complimentary tickets to the 5pm UCLA vs. Oregon Women’s Basketball game at Pauley Pavilion. Steve has been doing an amazing job as Daddy playing and hanging out with the kids for the past 2 weeks of his Christmas Vacation, but with Professional Development happening on Monday, he needed to put in several hours of work tonight…..so off we went.

We found some great general-admission seats in the bleachers, about 20 rows up from the court, just in time for the start of the game…….there were 43 seconds left on the clock before game time when we arrived. Talk about perfect timing! Natalie had brought along her UCLA pompoms from a previous game we had attended. Both were wearing UCLA shirts and donning the Bruin blue and yellow colors. We were ready to cheer!

But then to our GREAT surprise, one of the pep-rally organizers approached us and said he would like to extend 3 court side seats to us. What!? Really!? WOW!!! He said he had been watching us and we looked like excited fans. Indeed! So we followed him down to the court and got the BEST seats ever!!!!!

IMG_9317This was our view for the whole game! Wow…..we were thrilled!!!IMG_9326 IMG_9330 Getting to watch these college women play right before our eyes was a fabulous experience! Just to think…..Natalie will be playing her very, very 1st basketball game EVER tomorrow! One day she won’t be a 7-year old, 2nd grader anymore and instead will be a college student herself. So hard to imagine!

Then it got even better!!! We made it up on the giant Jumbo-Tron!!! Pure awesomeness! A kid’s dream come true. 🙂IMG_9331

And it kept getting better….Natalie spotted ‘Josephine’ the Bruin Bear and she asked me if she could pleeeeeeeease  go say hi. The Bear picked up Natalie’s pom poms and was doing a little cheer for her….and then posed for a sweet picture. Natalie was SO happy!


I asked Jacob if he too would like to say hi to the Bear. Um…..no…..:) He shrugged his shoulders in a “I’m 9 years old and a bit too old (cool) for that, mom” But with a bit of encouragement he went too.


Except for the picture he got in one of his defensive poses! Ha! That cracked me up. It was that exact same look and position that he had this morning all throughout his Celtics game against the Hornets. He took his defensive role very seriously in this morning’s game! At one point the ref needed to point out to him that his stance was borderline foul-behavior. Here he is…..ready to defend against Josephine Bear. 🙂IMG_9352

After we returned to our court side seats, look who came to visit us once more!


And then at half-time the video camera guys were in search of kids who would dance for the “Kid Dance Cam”. Both Jacob and Natalie were busting out their dance moves….and, yes, once more were seen up on the Jumbotron! Oh my goodness- twice in one night!

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Though UCLA lost the game to Oregon, we still had an amazing evening. Natalie in particular was mesmerized by the UCLA cheerleaders. During the first half of the game, the 5 girls were seated on the floor literally at our feet. Each time they jumped up to do a cheer, Natalie watched their every move and tried to follow the routine with her pom poms. It was so adorable to see her eyes sparkle as she watched the ladies do flips in the air in response to each successful free-throw shot. At one of the time-out breaks I tried as quickly as I could to erase as many apps and pictures as possible to make room on my camera to take pictures. I missed the opportunity of snapping shots of how close the cheerleaders were and how Natalie followed suit with what they were cheering. But this was a close second when I finally got my phone camera to work.IMG_9356

After the game was over, I decided “what the heck, why not continue the epic fun day…..and take them to Westwood to go have a pazookie at BJ’s?!” We drove in to Westwood, found a parking spot and then headed to BJ’s Pizzeria. There each of the kids had flatbread cheese pizzas, a soda and they inhaled a chocolate chip pazookie with vanilla ice cream. There was so much ecstatic disbelief in the air, of this incredible treat by Mama…..that I couldn’t help but smile when I saw Natalie write this on her children’s menu:

IMG_9365I’ll take the compliment! Indeed an epic night!

Free basketball tickets…..with court side seats….2 showings of our family on the JumboTron….time with Josephine Bear….getting to high-5 each of the UCLA players after the game as they came filing past our seats….getting autographs from two of the players….finding parking in Westwood…..eating dinner at BJs….and finishing off with a pazookie dessert! Oh me oh my. And that was how we closed an already exciting day, with Jacob’s 1st basketball game and Natalie losing a tooth!

To top if off….all this for $14.25. That makes this money-saving Mama all kinds of happy!

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A truly gloriously fun evening out with my kiddos.

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An Epic Auto Show…..a 9-year old boy’s dream!

DSC_0074Steve was 100% correct…..Jacob was going to be in car-heaven if we went to this particular auto show. Wow. As we drove northbound on the 101 all of a sudden we heard and saw 4 red Lamborghini sports cars roar past us. Jacob was BEYOND excited! Wow. Whoa. Oh my goodness. Four?!? We knew where they were headed!

To the Motor4Toys Exotic Car Show!

When we spotted these two yellow sports cars side by side, I asked him “Jacob, if you could choose, would you choose the yellow Lamborghini or the yellow Ferrari?” He began to chew on that thought….and then asked “for street driving or for racing?” Ha! I didn’t know he’d have a different opinion with regards to the purpose of the vehicle. Indeed he did. But as I type this, I can’t for the life of me remember his answer and his rationale….but he had a very firm reason for choosing the one he did for each type of driving scenario.DSC_0060

Oh and it was just the beginning of all things A-M-A-Z-I-N-G for a 9-year old boy who looooooooves sports cars!!!! I’m sure his heartbeat was crazy high as he spotted cars he had only seen in magazines before! Here, live before him…and in many cases, with engines still warm from the drive they had made to arrive at the show….



Ford GT

Lexus LFA




Porsche Carrera



At one point, as we were looking at three incredible Bogatti parked right next to each other, Steve showed me the quick Internet search result that he had on his phone for the price of each one: $2,250,000.  Each one had been sold at a price tag over $2 million! Dude. Whoa. Wow. I turned to Natalie and said “Natalie, if each one costs 2 million 250 thousand dollars, what is the value of these 3 cars sitting here?” There we stood doing a quick math problem….2 million x 3 = 6 million…..250 + 250 = 500, then add another 250 to get 750. Whoa. We were looking at 6 million, 750 thousand dollars of car value. Whoa.

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As we were walking around the giant parking lot, in rolled a Lexus LFA…..and boy oh boy…..Steve and Jacob both were beyond excited at the sight of that vehicle! They were sharing a moment of being in awe of getting to see one up and personal. Not only them….but every man walking anywhere near this incoming vehicle, seemed to drop their jaw at the sight of this vehicle. I, on the other hand, knowing absolutely nothing about vehicles could not comprehend what was being communicated amongst all these awestruck onlookers turning their heads and quickening their step towards this vehicle. All I heard were incredulous whispers…”Is that a Lexus LFA??!” DSC_0035 Jacob kept his eye on this Lexus LFA and watched the driver make several loops, trying to find a parking spot. He asked if we could follow it. Sure. Why not?DSC_0036Steve had only ever seen this car in magazines and once at the LA Auto Show- and that time it was surrounded by stanchions, no one could come even remotely close to it.  But now here we were following it on foot.

Turns out the reason this car was such a remarkable thing to witness, is that only 500 made worldwide. Only 20 were produced by Lexus each month between 2010-2012. During production, each one received an individually numbered plaque, indicating it’s place in the production run. This vehicle that we saw was #475.

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And then there was Natalie……excited for her brother…..getting to see him revel at the sight of all these dream cars of his. But for herself she was more excited about the cute  poodles and chihuahuas that some people had brought on leash to the event.  Also getting to see some ‘different’ cool vehicles, such as…

the 70s shag-carpet van

the mud-covered jeep

the Bat-mobile emblem covered in jewels

the VW van that her outfit matched color-wise

the original Mini-Cooper that she was taller than (and soooooo much smaller than current Mini-Coopers in production)

the hot-pink Dolorean

and the cool old vintage yellow car with 3 benches for passengers

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Such different delights for these two children’s eyes…..

but together as a family we shared a wonderful morning of enjoying cars. DSC_0014

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Yesterday as I was about to drop off Natalie to her enrichment class at school, she burst into tears. What just happened to my happy girl? Just minutes prior all was well. “Mama I’ve been thinking about this and haven’t told you yet…..” sobs….tears rolling down her cheeks…..”Mama, people say my voice is too loud. They tell me that I need to be more quiet when I talk. I can’t help it that my voice is loud. I try to talk softer, but even then people say I’m too loud. In my head I hear myself talking more quiet, but it comes out loud.” Bright, shiny tears rolling on her beautiful cheeks. My joy-filled girl was no longer joyful. Deep inside she was pained by comments that had been spoken over days, weeks and perhaps even a few months. And right then in that moment her heart was bursting and she wanted to tell me. I immediately thought of a book I had once read….it is SO true…you simply cannot plan for quality time with your child. The quality, deep times happen in the midst of quantity of time. Hours upon hours, days upon days of togetherness and I could not have planned or anticipated we would be having that deep moment of her broken heart just as she was about to exit the minivan to head off to her cooking class. I assured her I heard the hurt of her heart. I offered to let her come back home with me to continue talking about it. She said, ‘no, she wanted to go to cooking class.’ I let her know that there are situations where her louder voice are a gift. For instance, when we went hiking up at Mt. Baldy and she and others wanted to hike back down the dry river bed. The moms were all going down the mountainside on the trail. It was so helpful to our mama’s ears to be able to hear Natalie from a distance. We knew exactly where the kiddos were on their adult-less journey down the river bed. The moms found comfort in knowing they wouldn’t get separated/lost from us, because we could consistently track Natalie’s voice. That story seemed to comfort her a bit. Off she went, with tear-stained cheeks and red eyes to her cooking class.

70 minutes later I was in the valet pick-up lane at school, waiting for Natalie and Jacob to exit their classes. Out they came, bounding for the car and smiling. I thought to myself “oh perhaps the cooking class helped her”. Nope. She sat in her seat, put her seatbelt on and no sooner had the door automatically slid shut when she looked at me and said “Mama, people don’t like my voice. They say I’m too loud.” Oh my heart sank for her. She has been carrying this weight with her amidst her days. She goes through the routine of school and homeschool, seemingly joy-filled and yet deep, deep down her spirit is unsettled and restless and hurt by the comments some have made about her being so loud.

There is no denying that she is loud. She is indeed loud. Everything about her is done with power and fullness and intensity. She plays the piano keys forcefully. She jumps for joy at the sight of her daddy coming home from work- running with full abandon to the front door to throw herself into his arms. She needs much, much, much less sleep than her older brother. It’s like she has an internal energy engine.  She shouts “hooray” louder than anyone in a room. She gives super tight rib-crushing hugs. She used to knock her friends over with her hugs; they didn’t anticipate the force that came with her embrace. Everything about her is full-power.

Well that same day of the tears…..was also the night of the final World Series Game between the San Francisco Giants and the Kansas City Royals. It was tied 3-3 in the number of games each had won up until that point. Tonight was THE final game to determine the winner of the baseball championship. It was a very close game. A nail-biting game. The Giants won!!!!!!!! It was awesome! Daddy jumped on the leather couch. (btw he neeeeeeever jumps on furniture; it only happens if/when the Giants win!) But this was a big deal! The kids couldn’t believe they were watching their grown father jumping on the couch. Of course they jumped into the fun as well. I just looked on disapprovingly. Ha! 🙂

Well how do you wind down super excited kids? It was past their bedtime and they had just witnessed a World Series win for daddy’s favorite team! Energy was high. I called them over to the couch to read a few nighttime stories. I picked up this book:


Jacob was the first to say “Mom, I’ve already read that book.” Then Natalie chimed in “Mama, I already read that book too.” I chuckled in my head, thinking back to the days of old when they wanted me to read the same book over and over and over and over again. There was a time when they were little when reading the same book 50 times was a delight. Now they’re at the stage where a re-reading seems unnecessary. They want to experience a new storyline.

I simply said “But the Giants just won the World Series! This book is perfect for how Daddy is feeling!!!” Indeed, they agreed, that was true. Little did I know that God was going to use this book to speak to Natalie and I.

Here’s the story (well, at least most of it):

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The kiddos smiled and giggled as I read the story. My voice was definitely straining to keep up with all the exclamations in the book! It’s tiring reading that emphatically for so many exclamatory sentences. But I do it because I know it helps my kiddos delight in books. I love that they love books. I love to read with them. They both squealed with delight at the page that said “Home run!” It was perfect for this evening of the World Series winning game. It was a baseball-related exclamation!

IMG_7354I read one other book and then tucked them into bed. As I was getting ready for bed myself, the thought occurred to me, “Natalie is an exclamation point!” oh my goodness….that story is about her…..today she was crying saying she doesn’t fit in….her voice is too loud…..she’s not like all the other kids…..oh wow! I lifted up my thoughts into a prayer to the Lord. “Oh Lord, would you please help Natalie find confidence in being an exclamation point. You created her. Help her to find meaning and purpose in being an exclamation point.”

And then today He answered that prayer. Wow. I’m so grateful. A day after her tears were shed and the book was read and the prayer lifted up……she and I were sitting on the grass field, having just dropped off Jacob for his soccer practice. Again, a moment of quality time in simply being together. I think she could feel how unhurried we were, sitting there, and she began to share with me about a very, very, very, very special thing that happened to her at school today. “Mama, today my heart burst with joy!” she exclaimed. A radiant smile on her face. “What happened today, Natalie?” “Oh Mama, Mama….Ms. Robin was standing by the bookshelf and asked me which book I would like to read aloud to the class. I was shocked Mama! I couldn’t believe it! Inside I was bursting with joy. She asked me to read to the class!!!!!” Oh how the exclamatory sentences were flying from her mouth. Here she was, in her prime, in who God has created her to be. Full of life. Full of zest. Full of energy. “Mama, first she pulled one book and asked if I had ever read that book. I hadn’t. So then I picked out ‘One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish’ by Dr. Seuss. I definitely knew that story. So Mama guess what?!?! The Core 5 girl who helps in class had just played the piano for all of us. And then Ms. Robin said to the class, ‘Class now we have another treat…..Natalie is going to read a book to you.’ Ohhhhhhhh Mama, she said I was a treat. She used the word ‘treat’. That made me feel sooooooooooo special inside. Mama my heart was bursting with even more joy!!! And then Mama right after she said they would have the treat of me reading a book to them, I heard kids cheering and clapping and saying ‘yay!!!!’ Mama that also filled my heart with soooooooooo much joy!!!!!! And when she announced it, I specifically heard Kayla, who sits up front, shout ‘YAY!!!’ ”

“Oh my sweet Natalie, do you especially like Kayla? Did it mean a lot to you that Kayla cheered for you?” “Yes, Mama.” “Oh and Mama there’s even more! So when Ms. Robin reads to us, she pulls a chair out and puts it in front of the class. Guess what?!! She let ME sit on a chair in front of the class!!!! Mama do you know how special that made me feel?! REALLY special! All the kids were sitting on the rug looking at me. I held out my arm like this and held up the book just like teachers do. And then I started reading. The kids even laughed at the funny parts.” “Oh my sweet Natalie, that tells me you were reading with emphasis and great tones!”

“Natalie, has Ms. Robin had other students read aloud to the class?” “No Mama”

“Last year when you were in her class for 1st grade, did she ask any students to read aloud to the class?” “No Mama”

“Oh Natalie do you know what this means? Do you remember how yesterday you were crying because your voice is considered too loud by some people? Do you remember how I read to you the story about the exclamation point last night? Well, last night I said a prayer to God after I tucked you into bed. I asked Him to let you know that He created you to be an exclamation point and that’s okay. That it’s fabulous you are an exclamation point. And you know what? Today He answered my prayer. I believe He prompted your teacher’s heart to ask you to read aloud today. She knows that you have a loud enough voice that will carry to the ears of all the children sitting on the rug. If someone with a very soft voice got up front to read a book, there would be children who would be unable to hear the story. Your voice carries. Ms. Robin knew that your voice could carry the words of the story into each of the corners of the classroom. All would be able to hear and enjoy the story. She also knew that you know how to read with enthusiasm. That when you read, you can add tones to the characters and use your voice inflections to carry words in an interesting way to the listening ears. She knew this about you Natalie. And so the very thing you were crying about yesterday, was the very talent that Ms. Robin called upon to be a gift and treat to your class today. Today your loud voice was celebrated.

And that’s when I realized it was no coincidence that God prompted me to pull out the exclamation point story last night. That helped me see and treasure my exclamation point girl. It helped give me words for a specific prayer last night. I was beyond grateful for the perfect timing of her teacher’s request of Natalie today. Perfect, beautiful timing. A request that had never been made to Natalie or any other student this year nor last school year. But today it happened. The very next day after Natalie shed tears for her loud voice, that very part of her was celebrated. Yesterday she felt ashamed. Today her confidence soared. She is my exclamation point and I will forever make a point of celebrating her for that!


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He’s growing up

Wow…..it started with the purchase of deodorant this summer….

last week he got glasses…..(which by the way he looks SO handsome with)

and yesterday I took him shopping for new basketball shoes. Wowsas! This boy just doesn’t stop growing. As he placed his foot on the youth-sized shoe measurement, the store clerk gasped “oh wow. we need to measure him with the men-sized shoe measurement”. Yes, that’s right, my 8-year old boy now wears 7 1/2 in men’s shoes!

As a result, his basketball shoe choice went from a selection of four available shoes to a selection of 30 different ones! Wow! His eyes lit up at all the different choices before him. Wow. Wow. Wow. This was a boy’s dream come true- looking at all the colors and types of styles in the men’s dept. of basketball shoes. And let me tell you what my eyes noticed?! Yes, in the “youth” dept. basketball shoes were ranging in price from $29-$59. Now in the adult section they range in price from $59-$129. Dude!  Okay, adult world of higher prices- here we come.

It is a joy, though, to see the excitement on Jacob’s face as he grows up and enters the world of ‘grown-up’ stuff. My little baby is not a baby anymore. He’s growing up to be a man.

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Love through bacon

Each morning, I’ve learned, that a breakfast of protein is key to the successful start to the day for all of us. A carb-only type of breakfast leaves me hungry a couple hours later, or less. If only given cereal or pancakes or french toast, my kiddos are more disagreeable in the morning.  Isn’t that weird? It’s definitely true. There are more arguments and irritability in the morning on those days. However, if protein is a significant aspect of the breakfast then WOW! my kiddos are patient, loving and kind with one another. Isn’t that crazy? It is an absolutely fascinating phenomenon to me. So guess what?! I make sure to always have protein options ready for breakfast!!! Somehow that protein gives their bodies the fuel it needs to do all of its growing, functioning, moving and thinking and still there’s enough energy left over to extend love in action. Irritable, argumentative tones somehow magically vanish with bacon, ham or eggs. Amazing.

So this morning as I stood in the kitchen for what felt like 35-40 minutes cutting off all the fat from the bacon strips, I thought to myself “man, cutting fat from bacon sure is a labor of love!” Here I am cutting off all this disgusting fat, so that I can fry up the meaty aspect of bacon to get the sought after protein without all the nasty, unhealthy fat of it. I do this so that my kiddos and I can have a peaceful, beautiful morning together. Perhaps I should look into buying some premium bacon at specialty shops- where it’s big, thick slabs of bacon with more meat than fat. Because let me tell you, the Costco packs of Farmer John bacon and even the Vons packs of all kinds of bacon…..all of it has soooooo much fat on each slice! I used to just cook it all in the pan and then dry to soak up all the fat with paper towels when I took the bacon out of the pan. But that’s gross. Not to mention I would have at least an inch or more of liquid fat sizzling in my pan. Disgusting. So now I take the time to cut off the fat while the bacon is still uncooked. There’s also the method of baking it in the oven- but then you have fatty, greasy cookie sheets and liquid fat in your foil-covered baking sheets.

Anyway, I look at my time standing here in the kitchen cutting off bacon fat as my small offering of love in action for my kiddos. It will help them get started on a great day. Isn’t that funny? But that’s the loving work and sacrifice of a mama.


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