Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2015 Year in Review

It wasn't my intention to "go green" with our Christmas newsletter this year, but I ran out of ink about halfway through printing. And with 4 kids in the house, there is a general lack of [unscribbled] paper in the house. So for everyone that didn't get an actual letter in the mail ... 

So 3 out of 4 are smiling. I would've tried for a few more retakes but immediately following this photo Jäger decided to make a run for it and Jack ended up face first in the mud--right before we needed to leave for church.

Greetings Friends,

All is calm and all is bright in the Tillman household. And since that’s pretty rare before 8pm, I’ve decided to take advantage of this moment and update you all on this past year.

We’ll start with our newest addition. Since Jon declared that 4 children was enough for our little family, we moved on to members of the non-human variety. Jäger (German for “hunter”) joined us in January. He’s a 2-year-old Vizsla/Lab mix rescue dog. After spending the majority of his lifetime in a crate, he’s very appreciative of his new home and family. He’s a sweet and affectionate canine, and a little quirky too. So while he harbors a strange aggression towards moving vehicles and vacuums, he’s kind to the kids and never, ever complains about my cooking.

Our oldest son, Jack, turned 7 in October. He’s having a great year in first grade! And while his mom has a hard time getting him to stay in his seat for homework in the evenings, he’s typically able to finish his math problems faster than her! Jack’s Christmas list can be summed up in two words: Lego and Minecraft. I think we’ve officially reached the age where we have to bribe him to spend time with us—which usually involves laughing (loudly) during family movie nights or curling up next to me while we read The Boxcar Children.

Jude is 5-and-a-half and, according to his teacher, “such a sweet and sensitive little boy.” I’ll admit to being extra-nervous about him starting Kindergarten this year, but he’s surprised us all with his joyous affection for school. He bounds off the bus and immediately starts asking to do homework. And if he doesn’t have any, he’ll make some up. Jack and Jude love playing Legos and Minecraft together, but Jude is also the family artist—often drawing pictures and writing me notes. He’s still our big helper and can typically be found by our side (and asking questions nonstop) whenever we’re cooking dinner or working on a house project.

Our little fashion princess, Julia, turned 4 in October. She started preschool two days a week this fall (that’s right, for 5 hours each week I only have one kid at home!) Lia loves to pick out her “church dress” each Sunday and wear “Mommy’s spray.” (She also likes to get into my makeup when I’m not looking.) Everybody is her “friend”—which is what she calls them all since she can’t keep track of their names. I think her love language is words of affirmation. One time her teacher sent a note home that said “You love to be silly and make people smile and laugh! Your friends and I love that!” Daddy read the note out loud at dinner one night and Lia practically fell out of her chair with pride. She now brings it to me to read to her over and over again. We’re so thankful for her girliness after raising two rough and tumble boys!

The “baby," as she proudly calls herself, turned 2 in July. Jocelyn is our little ball of fire! Surprisingly, she reminds us all of toddler Jack. Joci’s favorite activity is to scale the kitchen cabinets (she literally uses the handles/knobs as a rock climbing wall) to stand on the counter, get into mommy’s cabinet and dump out ALL the spices. Actually, we call her “The Dumper”—my “‘otion,” the kids’ shampoo, a bottle of cleaning spray (all over the TV)—nothing is sacred. She’s also got no qualms about smacking her big older brother when she’s upset or pushing Lia off the couch when she’s in “her seat.” This girl can really throw her weight around!

Speaking of weight, our “baby” has really packed on the pounds this year! In March, Joci underwent open-heart surgery at Johns Hopkins to repair an atrial septal defect (hole in her atrium wall.) The hole was discovered after her pediatrician noticed a heart murmur at her 6-month check-up. The cardiologist team decided to wait until she was older/bigger for surgery. Last February, at her 18-month check-up, they grew concerned that her hard-working heart was affecting her weight gain. And so, a few weeks later, we found ourselves tearfully kissing our baby goodbye in the operating room.

To make a long story short, Jocelyn did phenomenally well! We give God all the glory for our healthy little girl, and are so thankful for all the doctors and nurses we worked with at the hospital. Today, Joci is a chunky and energetic toddler. She’s jumped from the 0th percentile in weight to the 50th! And while it’s a huge relief when she finally falls asleep at night and can’t get into any more trouble, I’m secretly thankful for all “The Dumper’s” little antics as they’re poignant reminders that she is whole and healed!

As for me, I’ve started working from home for Regent University again. With 2.5 kids in school during the day, I was looking for something non-Mommyish to keep me occupied. Of course, working full-time might be a little more than I bargained for! The girls and I also participate in MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) twice a month and, as a Steering Team member, I manage the finances for our group. I seem to fall more in love with cooking every year, and my poor family is very patient with me and all my new Pinterest recipes. Evenings typically find me collapsed on the couch, after the kids have gone to bed, trying to stay awake long enough to read a chapter or two of a book. Let’s just say I’ve never slept so well or so hard as I do in this season of life!

Jon has become quite the craftsman this year! He made us a gorgeous farmhouse table with room for our whole family plus guests! He also crafted a stand-up desk for his office and some fabulous cedar window boxes for the house. Jon changed Coast Guard positions this summer which, thankfully, meant no more 12-hour and overnight shifts. It also meant he had to spend an entire month in Florida at training (quite the adventure for the kids and I at home!) Although he works long and stressful hours, we’re thankful that he actually enjoys his trade. Jon will be promoted to Lieutenant Commander this spring after a long wait (selected last fall).

You might say the most exciting news of 2015 hasn’t actually happened yet as we are patiently awaiting military orders for next summer. While our original plan was to try to stay one more year here in MD—a place we’ve come to love these last 4.5 year—we now know for sure that we’ll be moving. Our “wishlist” covers nearly every corner of the nation, but wherever we end up, we know it’s going to be an adventure! We’re hoping to hear something soon followed by official orders in mid-February, so be checking Facebook/Instagram/Janine’s blog for the big news (or you could just wait for next year’s Christmas card to arrive with a new return address).

If you had told me 17 years ago, when I was a teenager sporting braces and wide-legged jeans, that in 2015 I’d be married to that cutie from church, birthing 4 babies in 5 years, and preparing for a potential cross-country move with the whole brood—I’m sure I would have never believed it. But God is faithful. I see it as I look back over the last 17 (or 32) years, I see it as I think over the events of this past year, and I see it as we prepare to celebrate the fulfillment of an over 400-year-old promise—our Savior’s birth. I pray that you, too, experience His faithfulness this Christmas and into the new year!



P.S. I’ll now close what could possibly be the longest Christmas letter you receive this year with a reminder that, in case 1300 hundred words isn’t possibly enough, I sporadically update my blog with lots of pictures and gory parenting details at http://coastiemamalogs.blogspot.com.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The long expectation

The countdown is on! Several times a day, the kids are trying to figure out how many days 'til Christmas, how many days 'til "our" Christmas, how many days 'til daddy's birthday... Thankfully, the trusty Lego advent calendar helps them to figure it out on the their own, so they're not always asking me. But either way, it's like having a live, ticking time bomb--a constant reminder of just how little time I have left to get our Christmas act together!

This week at MOPS we discussed "finding rest at Christmas." One of the things we talked about was areas that we can cut back on to make Christmas more restful. Our family has already simplified our celebration a bit this year, simply out of necessity. We hung less lights, haven't put up ALL the decorations, bought fewer gifts, and only made two small batches of cookies for Jon's work party.

Because Dutch Spritz Cookies always taste better when you whip them up naked.
Can you still call it a Christmas cook when it's gluten/sugar free and contains flaxseed?
I had visions of bundling the whole family up and trekking out to a tree farm, armed with steaming hot chocolate and holiday cheer, to pick out the perfect Christmas tree. Instead, we settled for stopping by a nearby tree lot on a drizzly afternoon, nabbing the first tree that caught our eye, yelling at the kids to stop running around the tree rows, and then me dragging everyone back to the car so Daddy could finish the transaction in peace--stuffing them all with Swedish Fish and holiday radio in the meantime.

Our kids missed the "we found the perfect tree picture" because they were too busy chasing each other.

Also, she created her own holiday necklace out of old garland.
And I've been trying to be more intentional about taking a break in the evenings--like working on a Christmas puzzle or reading a book--after the kids are in bed. Sometimes I feel guilty for doing something "unproductive" but being purposeful in finding rest has its long term benefits, not the least is a more relaxed mama!

Don't be misled by this picture. I did 97% of this puzzle.

The kind of evening where you actually gasp when you walk out to your car.
All that to say, things at our house aren't exactly any slower or quieter this year, that would be near impossible with 4 kids 7 and under. That would be near impossible with just one child, namely, the 2-year-old. But we are closing out 2015 with a bang--a bang that is NO MORE DIAPERS!!

Yeah, you heard that right. For the first time in just over 7 years, the whole family wears underwear! I'm still in shock. I'm also a little sad that I won't have an excuse to make random Target runs ... but "toothpaste" has quickly replaced "diapers" in the category of "things we're always running out of." I have no idea why ...

 Thankfully, our kids are still young enough that we don't have to deal with holiday concerts and activities yet. Jude and Daddy built a gingerbread house in school on Friday (that Joci promptly redecorated...)

This is the "after" photo of the gingerbread house--complete with stool pushed over to the counter.
That same afternoon, Julia's preschool class sang some Christmas songs and enjoyed a surprise visit from Jolly Old Saint Nicholas himself. Poor girl, she was at the end of the line waiting to greet Santa and I couldn't see her through the throngs of parents snapping photos. So I had no idea she was dealing with the self-inflicted turmoil of waiting to sit on a stranger's lap.

Apparently, she was so nervous she spent the entire 15 minutes in line clawing at her chest, which was all red and scratched by the time her moment arrived. But nothing was going to get between her and those lollipops and toys that were in Santa's basket. So she stuck it out, opted for a side-hug, and even remembered to say "thank you" before dashing off as fast as a reindeer on Christmas Eve.

At the end, they allowed little siblings to say hello to Santa. Now Joci had just woken up from a car nap moments before. She had fallen asleep on the way home from dropping Julia off at preschool and  had stayed that way until it was time to return for pick up. She had a bit of an accident during her nap and wet through her undies and pretty dress (that she had insisted on wearing to be like Julia.) And of course, I didn't know until we were already at the school and she was doing that straddle-legged walk that all parents recognize. I kept hoping no one else would notice she was standing funny. But I knew there was no way I'd get her out of that assembly room without a lollipop of her own. So I let her have her chance to see Santa, ASSUMING my mama's girl/velcro baby would barely endure a side hug like her sister.

I was wrong. So wrong. Girlfriend rushed right up to the bearded fellow, said, "Hi, Santa!" and crawled up onto his knee for a snuggle. I COULD HAVE DIED. I scooted her off his lap as fast as I could and hurried back home to continue our Christmas resting in dry clothes and underwear.

This season may you rest whenever the opportunity arises.
In other news, we bought out last gift today. Well, I ordered our last gift today, from Amazon, while pulling out of parking lot of the store that didn't have what we were looking for. Yup, we actually took all 4 kids out shopping the Saturday before Christmas and NO ONE ended up injured or even crying. But I'm so glad that's behind us. Now, we celebrate. We get all giddy on Christmas parties,  Jon's birthday, drive-thru lights, extra servings of hot chocolate, all the Christmas carols, and frosty mornings (because snow it's just a little far-fetched these days.)

Because if there's one thing I've learned this advent season, it's that "merry" and "rest" can coexist. That real rest doesn't come from habits or traditions, cutting back on my to-do list, or even doing less--although all those things can be helpful during this season of life. But real rest is only found in Him. The greatest gift this season is the Savior the weary world has waited for. And that is something worth celebrating.

Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.

Israel's strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Rise and shine

Reading: I'm on a book binge lately. Wrapping up Wilkie Collins' Fallen Leaves--not my favorite but I'm still a loyal Wilkie fan to the core. Before that--Poldark, because, have you seen the show?? And while we're in the Brit Lit pot, I also recently read Gaskell's Mary Barton and Burnett's The Making of a Marchioness.
Watching: Since lending Far From the Madding Crowd to my SIL, I've had to look elsewhere for evening entertainment. Naturally, PBS's Masterpiece is a good fallback. This season it's Home Fires--I love the scenery and costumes but if I'm being honest, World War II era is not my favorite. Also, the first time I read the title I got it all wrong and I still mistakenly read this as Home FRIES. And did I mention Poldark? Let's just say I've watched all the episodes more than once. Lest you think I have no concept of life outside of BBC, the Blacklist is back and it's nice having a show that both the hubs and I enjoy watching together (without grumbling and complaining.)
Listening to: I love me some Bethel worship. Amanda Cook's solo album came out in September and it's fantastically good in a quiet sort of way. But my favorite song of all is "Pieces." I've had to stop playing it while working because it's just one of those stop everything and listen songs. Especially right before the 4 minute mark.

Speaking of pieces, my favorite mug shattered last month. It was a noble death--dashed upon rocks where it's pieces nestled among the fallen leaves. Although it certainly wasn't the most glamorous of circumstances--me racing around, returning from dropping the dog off at the boarder, trying to get all the kids and all the car things (so many car things with these children!) into the house before the school bus arrived. It was, as they say, like slow motion. Mr. Darcy's words fly out of my hands, my eyes grow wild, arms flailing in the still, autumn air. All too late.

The kids stopped their typical smacking/chasing/teasing routine and looked at me with the realization that, hey, we're not the only ones who break things! Then they roused their deepest sympathy and gathered around their mama patting my arm and giving me "huggies." Kids know things. And they know that we're coming to the end of an era. This isn't just about the loss of a beloved mug--there will be new mugs to drink out of ... and new kitchens to make coffee in, and new paths to front doors, and new buses to wait on.

Family walk. There was one picture of me but I forgot to change the camera settings, so all you can see is two glowing eyes in a dark bamboo forest.

And then there are people like me. People who love watching the leaves change and the temperature drop, who deep down inside crave adventure and newness, but who struggle to let go of what's comfortable. Who order the same thing off the menu every time because they're afraid something else won't be as good. Who get frustrated when their husbands try to sleep on the "other" side of the bed in hotels because that's "not how we do it." Who drink out of the same old mug every morning and never stop until some unforeseen catastrophe rips it out of their hands...

You see, it's our PCS season--our year to change jobs with the military--and I am two different people these days. I'm the Zillow fiend--tagging rental favorites all over the country. I'm running out of notebooks while keeping tabs on all the good churches and MOPS groups in 4 different states. I've mastered personalizing Google Maps to keep track of my favorite restaurants, grocery stores, school districts and preschools ... In short, I'm doing all the things to make me feel like I'm preparing when really, there's nothing I can do.

There is also the less adventurous but more sentimental version of myself. The one that studies the crayon drawings that keep showing up on our walls and wonders how I'll ever get this house ready to go on the market in a few months. The one that knows just which floorboards to tiptoe on at 5:30am so as not to wake the littles. The one that was nearly brought to tears during our family walk last weekend--admiring the beautiful foliage while thinking about possibly living in the land of eternal flip flops. I'm seeing all the things I've grown so used to and can't imagine living without. And I'm struggling to determine which girl I want to be.

If only we had coordinated clothing a little better I could have had my Christmas card photo completed!

In case you're wondering, I replaced the mug, because I need a good mug to rely on each morning. But not with the same one, because I'm working on being a person who embraces change (and also because I couldn't justify spending that much on a mug that's expected to undergo a cross-country move next year.) Instead I found this little guy at Target. You could say I've replaced Mr. Darcy with the prophet Isaiah:

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
Isaiah 60:1

I also like to wear this shirt to send subliminal messages to the Coast Guard detailer.
It's been a good reminder, lately, that God's glory is on us even in our moments of "exile" in places we know are not our home. And also in the most temporary situations--the half-painted house with all the unraked leaves, one daughter's frustrating tantrums and the other one's mega-early risings, or this completely unglamorous sinus infection I've been battling for weeks on end.

And His glory doesn't change like the leaves. It's Zestimate isn't higher or lower depending on which side of the street you live on. It's not dependent on the climate, the school ratings, or the size of its yard. And you can't Google Map "The Glory."

Because He is constant, I can be at peace. And my job, wherever we are, is just to rise and shine.

Thursday, October 29, 2015


Half my offspring grew older this month! Lia turned 4 the day Jon returned from his month of training.

We went with a (very) loose Beauty and Beast theme this year. Julia chose it because it's my favorite movie and she thinks it's cool that I like a Disney Princess. (Sidenote: Who's counting down the days until March 17 2017??) This was supposed to be a Belle cake but I kinda had lots of helpers. So I gave the kids free reign of cake decorating and we went with the motto: "participation over perfection." In other words, it was Day 27 of single parenting for me and at that point it's all "whatever keeps the kids occupied!"

Lia woke up the next morning, took one look at her cake, and proclaimed it definitely was not Belle. Fortunately, I was able to make up for it with the Belle dress and Jan Brett's version of "Beauty and the Beast" which the girls want to read every night and which I am happy to oblige them with because it's like Jane Austen for kids. Almost.

We also got her "The Doll That Looks Like Me" That's right. Her name is "The Doll That Looks Like Me." I think the name on the box was "Claire," but Lia didn't go for it. And apparently she has no intention of coming up with a new name. Or perhaps she already has. Tonight, in her prayers, she actually thanked Jesus for "The Doll That Looks Like Me." It was a nice change from her typical praying style of telling God all the reasons she's not happy with Mommy today.

The jury's still out on life with a 4 year old girl. There's a lot of changes I'm not so thrilled about--like suddenly being afraid to use the bathroom because there was a Daddy Long Legs in there 4 weeks ago. Or immediately feeling COOOLLLLDDD and curling in a ball on the floor whenever she's asked to do something "challenging." And I'm sure this has a lot more to do with having two older brothers than growing another year older, but Lia is currently very much in to "stinky breath" and fake burping. *sigh*

"Take a picture of me!" in Chick-Fil-A.

"Take a picture of me!" in Aldi.
"Take a picture of me!" randomly dispersing stuff around your house.
The princess aura isn't a complete farce, though, as her fashion sense continues to grow and develop. She asks me to take a picture of her several times a day, at all sorts of hours, because apparently she believes I'm never without my camera. School is still her absolute favorite. It's a shame she only goes 5 hours a week. And she pretty much adores her teacher, immediately taking on the character of "starved for affection" as soon as we walk in the school doors.

Her teacher sends me pictures because she's the BEST TEACHER EVER!
But at home, she's nearly always the center of attention, never without a game or activity to keep her occupied. She plays so well on her own, although her and Jude seem to have the most fun together at this stage. I love hearing her little imagination play out in our day-to-day interactions.

We're so thankful for her. For the young lady God is creating her to be. And for all the love and laughter she brings to this family!
People, my son is 7! Gosh, that seems old. How did this happen? I had no intention of raising a 7 year old boy. I like babies. And 2 year olds. That's what I was picturing back when we "decided" to have kids. This 7-year-old-boy stuff is so out of my league.

He said this bamboo branch weighed 50 pounds. And look, he can hold it while standing on one foot!

I don't have nearly as many pictures of Jack as I do of Julia, and when I do, it's usually of him showing his backside because, butts. 
Everything is all butts and poop and Minecraft. Yeah, that's right. I succumbed. The ONLY thing he asked for that wasn't Legos was Minecraft. I don't know what Minecraft is. Nor do I care to learn. But apparently, watching YouTube videos of other people playing Minecraft for the last 3 months just wasn't good enough anymore. Thankfully, we have some older cousins that explained it all to me and assured me it wasn't entirely inappropriate for a 7 year old. So for his birthday, I bought a $6.99 app for his Kindle. Yeah, it pretty much rocked his world.

But supposedly a bigger deal than a $6.99 app was his birthday party. Because we did an actual birthday party this year. Our first one ever. (I think it may be our last one ever as well!) It was a combination of Jack talking about his birthday party several months ago, and then telling kids they were invited to this mysterious birthday party several months ago, and then us kinda realizing, hey, maybe we really should have a birthday party for once.

Our bus stop birthday greeters!
I'm also starting to feel a little guilty about moving our kids away from their friends and school and thought maybe this would help him feel special. Of course, this was all going through my head during the Month of No Husband, which just made planning and decision making that much more difficult.

I was trying to keep things as low-stress for me since it's been a very busy fall. In the end, we invited his whole 1st grade glass to Rolly Pollies (an indoor gym/tumbling place) for playtime and pizza ... with a side theme of Legos.

Jack said it was "the best day ever." I enjoyed getting to know his classmates and meeting some of the parents too. It was still a little stressful because I'm a big plan ahead person and apparently, other parents like to RSVP a few days before, or 15 minutes before, or not at all??? It also didn't help that the person managing our party that day had forgotten his key, so we were locked out of the place for a good 20 minutes. Awkward.

Jack just looked at this picture and said, "Oh, now I know why you did it like that. It's a 7!!" ... one week later.

It's all about the goody bags--these had Lego candy, Lego Minifigure crayons, a Lego themed coloring book, Lego stickers and tattoos, a not-real-Lego Minifigure (that I ordered in bulk from Amazon), and light sticks.

The house smelled like wax for days.

If anyone has tips on how to capture photos of 7 year old boys, I'm all ears. For now, it's just butts and tongues.
But I think we achieved our goal of "make Jack feel special." We also got some new Legos to build and subsequently, for little sisters to break. And rockets. So many rockets. I definitely took a rocket to the face this weekend. Along with some flying arrows and darts. Apparently, these are the kinds of things you buy boys that are not in your household.

Rockets are fun for daddies too.
We capped off the celebration with "having a friend over." One of our party guests (+ his two sisters) missed the celebration because his mama had the wrong date on the calendar. She and I bonded over sharing stores of how we're failing at keeping track of school stuff + extracurricular activities. So we tentatively extended the invitation. Actually, my husband asked at our soccer game that day and I held my breath. We've never had a friend over that wasn't accompanied by the rest of his/her family (except for those rare babysitting opportunities.) And if one of the parents from the soccer team invited Jack over, I'm not sure what I'd do. Probably curl in a ball in the corner and spend the entire 2 hours fretting over his safety.

But apparently, this brave new mom is nothing like me and willingly dropped her child off at my house. And everyone had fun launching rockets and building Legos and this kid was so chill about being in a stranger's home that I was reminded, yet again, that not everyone is like me. That I tend to see the world through a rare and different set of lenses. And that my boy is growing up and thriving despite being raised by an anxious and uptight mother.

God knew what he was doing when he gave us Jack. He's our fearless leader, breaking us into parenthood one Kindle app, Nerf gun dart to the face, Legos scattered on the stairs, and inappropriate language learned at school at a time. Jack, you make parenting a fun (and sometimes challenging) adventure. We're so grateful that you're ours and you're growing more and more each day!
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