The real story of a Christmas card

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Don't let those faces fool you, friends.  This was like take 28....can you spot the toddler trick we use?  Those m&m's there in front of Violet, yeah, we went there.  Luckily, Brandon was home on photo shoot night and he was in charge of supplying the candy and also making ridiculous faces and cheering directly behind my head to get the kids to look at the camera.  

Everything quickly started going downhill and B looked at me and said, "Why isn't this fun?" to which I turned my head towards him incredulously and replied, 'with that little gremlin? Honey, this is just something we need to get through.'

And so after plenty of enthusiastic effort from Brandon and near constant pressure on my shutter release, and Greyson and Gemma trying desperately to coax their baby sister by pleading 'just one good one, Violet!' we finally had something usable for the Christmas card.

Our happiest wishes to you all this season.

Santa, all I want for Christmas is patience

Friday, December 11, 2015

Dear Santa,

When I originally sat down to write this letter to you, I was frustrated and tired.  I was ready to pen my exasperated letter to you asking...begging for time.
Santa, what Mum of little kids can't use that, right?
What Mum at all can't use more time in the day?
Actually, what grown up can't use that?
More time, especially during this season of hustle and bustle and gifts to buy and traditions to uphold and places to visit and baking and wrapping and elf moving.

So as I sat down, grumbling about how slow my laptop was booting up, my daughter walked into the living room and spilled an entire bowl of cereal.  Let me be more clear, not so much spilled, as accidentally hurled the bowl into the air so that a rainbow of cereal and milk showered three quarters of the living room.  Santa, I swear our natural motto around here is Go Big or Go Home in all things we purposefully or accidentally do.

I saw this happening, as I was in mid-sentence of saying, 'I don't think eating that in here is a good idea,' so my internal flinch reaction was frustration with the fact that the very last thing I needed to add to my to do list, among the laundry list of holiday tasks, regular chores, and child rearing needs, was to add 'mop the living room floor'.

Before I even had a chance to react as she and I made eye contact after the splash, her face crumpled up and said, "Mumma, forgive me! Please forgive me!"

I took a deep breath, and in a calm voice that surprised even me, I had her fetch some towels and we cleaned it up together.  It was only quarter of ten in the morning, Santa, so that certainly had something to do with it (let's face it, my patience bucket is profoundly lower come 5p everyday), but it was at that moment that I realized that my Christmas list needed fixed.

Not because she was immediately heartbroken that I was going to be mad, nor because I am some magical beacon of calm in the face of annoyance.  But because it actually wasn't all that bad or time consuming to just clean it up when I wasn't also using up energy on being annoyed.

Santa, deep down, I understand that the time that I have each day, is just what it is.  There is no getting more because time is just time.  We all, all of us, get the same amount every single day and then it is filled up with life until we fall asleep and try again.

So, Santa, I'd like to change my wish.  What I actually would like for Christmas, Santa, is patience.

Patience to tackle the spilled cereal bowl that flies across the room at 9:45 in the morning (and probably again at 7:30 at night) because someday I won't have kids in my house at all to eat at 9:45 in the morning and 7:30 at night because there will be school and sports and friends and everything that is incredibly more cool than eating cereal in the living room to be near Mum.

Patience to see that an hour spent reading Christmas picture books to my kids is just as valuable as an hour spent folding the laundry that has been sitting in the laundry baskets for three days because someday the kids will be able to both read by themselves and do their own laundry and after all, what's an hour of life?  It is, in fact, both everything and nothing and that's why it is so valuable as to what fills it up.

Patience for the dust and dog hair making tumbleweeds in the corners of every room and the toys and crayon drawings that are because someday my house will be clean and tidy, but in this season of our life it is full of life in all ways possible and that also means full of mess.

Patience for the sounds; so much noise and so loud.  Patience for the humming, and made up words and stories, and the tireless questioning and negotiating, and the incessant 'Mum, Mum, Mum, Mum, Mum, Mum, Mum' that makes up the melody of my day because someday it will be quiet and somehow that will be even louder than all this noise.

Patience for this body of mine that doesn't look exactly like I want it to, nor fit into clothes like it used to because I could use a daily reminder that despite it not being perfect, it sure does work like I need it to, and for that I should be grateful.

Patience for this house of ours that needs repairs, and updates, and has far too much stuff in it because it is the home our children will remember as theirs when they are far away living their own lives and where we work together side by side to make small changes within a budget that we plan together, and where we are safe and comfortable and warm every single day.

Patience for so many things, simply because I live in a country that values freedom of speech and thought and the privilege of #firstworldproblems at all.

Patience for all the things that don't move as quickly as I think I need to move; this laptop, the traffic, the kids, my husband, our pets, the boiling pot of water for dinner, the coffee and this Studerbaby4 bump, because I must learn to recognize that life is not a checklist.
Look up, Tabitha.

Patience when I can feel frustration bubbling up into my voice and my face and my posture because I can change nothing in the world but my own attitude...and yet that change can change everything in my own world.

Patience, Santa,
to be a better wife.
a better Mum.
a better Daughter.
a better sister.
a better friend.

I know I need to work on this for myself too, I'm just hoping for maybe a little extra dose in my stocking this year if possible.
thank you, Santa
(send my love to the Mrs. and the elves)

ps. also, World Peace
k, thanks, love you, bye.

let's let that cat out of the bag

Saturday, November 28, 2015

finally you guys, I can get honest with you!  We are expecting Studerbaby number four!

I hope my blogging disappearance makes a little more sense now.  I am just now, at a little more than twelve weeks, drudging out of the exhaustive first trimester.  I mean, you guys, seriously.  Maybe I'm a super big crybaby or maybe it's fourth baby pregnancy with three other kids to take care of - but I've been dead tired for the past few weeks.

I was staring longingly at my laptop all like Adele, 'Hello, it's me,' but that's about as much energy as I could muster...literally glancing over at my keyboard and feeling guilty was as much as I could give.  #sadbuttrue.  So my apologies, dear friends. I thank you so much for sticking around.

Miraculously despite being up half the night with a sick son, today is the first day that I felt the weight of first trimester exhaustion lift from my shoulders.  You know that feeling, it's a real noticeable difference when you become a normal operating person again.  I was just saying to my sister the other day when I was still blanketed in tired that maybe my lack of motivation and tiredness was just the new me, that'd I'd never feel energized again.  I knew this was not true, as my fourth time through this, but you guys, after weeks, it can feel like that.  (so to all you first time mommas, hang in there! you'll get back to normal energy levels again!)

Now back to the matter at hand, ahem, the bun in my oven.
We figured out we were pregnant in the same way as we have for the past two pregnancies, Bullet told us.  As soon as he is aware which is usually about two weeks before I can even take a pregnancy test (dogs are amazing), he gets all protective and weird around me; constantly wanting to be by my side and sleeping right next to me.

We got the official notice in early October and kept it a secret until late October when we told the kids and grandparents by giving them a 'gift' with a Thing Four shirt in it.  Reactions were all surprised and very excited.  We went about telling our friends and family slowly from there, and we've been blessed to be met with joy and support from everyone.

There are lots of stories out there about people's reactions to big families, but we cannot be included in the group that gets met with judgement, and we are so very grateful for that.  It has been such a reminder to me how beautiful it is to raise our kids up in a community (both physically and metaphorically) of people that celebrate joy with us, with our kids.  It teaches them (and reminds us) to do the same when we see happiness and joy in our life - it is to be celebrated! not judged, or compared, or to make us jealous.  Shared joy is double joy, after all.  (thank you all for that).

Our studerbaby #4's due date is June 7th and we've started our official rounds of doctor's appointments and necessary steps to keeping this baby safe and growing.  I'm blessed again this time around to have my cousin Meg as our midwife.  I cannot explain what a comfort and relief it is to have her with me every step of the way.  She is amazing and so patient with any questions or weird texts I send her.  (thank you, Meg).  At my first consultation one of the nurses was going over the list of pregnancy reminders including, 'don't pick up more than 25lbs' as I was standing there holding Violet and Gemma was asking to be held next.  She and I made eye contact on that one and then both started laughing.  So she quickly followed that reminder up with, 'well, at least use good body mechanics.' #pregnantmomofthreeprobs

This is the first time in four times that it feels like we've made it to our family, at least what our family is in terms of homegrown kids.  It's the first time that the thought of not having a new baby in the house after this one isn't sad anymore, it's kind of thrilling and exciting to imagine our family as growing older together, instead of growing bigger in size.  For a long time, I was notorious for saying, 'I don't know how you know when you're done having babies?!' but now it feels like I know, it feels like this.  like contentment, like fullness, like the someone we've been waiting for.

photo credit:  Carissa Merriman
As in all things in life, who knows where it will take us.  Right now, we're attempting to operate business as usual and daydreaming about our fourth little baby who we hope is growing strong and healthy, and has the patience of a saint, because to join this Zoo Crew is going to be an adventure! Let exhibit A be this attempt at a Christmas card photo:

i choose love.

Thursday, November 19, 2015


it's me.
I'm still here.
it's just that sometimes when the world gets too big.
and too ugly
and too many lines get drawn in the sand.
that i tend to shrink back into my own little physical world.

not because i'm afraid,
but because I know that this is where I can affect real change.
right here,
this is where i can do the most good.
to my kids.
to my family.
to my friends.
in this little part of the world that I am physically in.

I can push out kindness and peace and love and from here it can,
ripple out to all corners of the big world.

i sat and cried, hard cried; tears streaming down my face with my hand over my mouth so as not to wake my two napping girls because of a line from law & order SVU this week.
in the show, a former child solider of the LRA had cried out in a church that God had forsaken him,
"Is He deaf to our suffering?"

and i cried, and cried, and cried.

so much suffering.
real suffering.

and that's not to belittle anyone's current state of suffering in the whole range of what constitutes as suffering that runs far and wide.

I know it's not the perfect way to go about life; looking at suffering through the lens that some suffering is greater than others.  But in the blessed world where i operate that many people's greatest suffering (mine included) on a daily basis is a slow driver in front of us when we are in a hurry-- the enormity of the disproportion of suffering presses down on my chest as a constant reminder to be grateful.

To always be grateful in this life of mine that, if I'm being completely honest with myself, is at worst, slightly annoying.

mostly, i resolve to never be so afraid of something bad happening to me, that it blinds me from seeing the people who are suffering from the bad thing that actually  is happening to them.

so i turn in.
to my kids.
to my family.
to my friends.
and we talk about love, and empathy and kindness.
and we show each other love and empathy and kindness.
and act out of love and empathy and kindness in all things that we do.

because this is the only way that i know how to spread good.
by doing the good.

it is not through shares, and likes, and comments.

it's in the loving.
it's in the compassion and empathy.
it's in the doing.

we can live our life in fear or with love.
and i choose love.

Seventh Blogiversary!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

It was seven years ago, that in our little townhouse in Erie, PA, a newlywed version of me sat down at the computer in the sunlight filled office/guest back bedroom feeling excited and nervous about what living life as a family meant for Brandon, me, and our solitary pet, Lola (well, and a handful of fish).  My first blog post was sweet and and a little apprehensive.  What I wouldn't give to sit next to that girl I used to be and put my arm around her waist and say, 'hey, you did good starting this,'   

A lot of things have changed in the seven years since I nervously pushed publish on that first blog post and then subsequently called my mom, sisters, and mom in law to alert them that I had posted something on the internet that they could read (hah): 
For one thing, I have published 707 blog posts, including this one
(For unfathomable to me reasons yet incredibly so) I have 1100+ on facebook, 600 blogger subscribers, and a huge amount of articles re-pinned on pinterest
Over 3.5 million pageviews (mostly due to my megahit: 25 Rules for Mothers of Sons article)

(I guarantee you that tabitha of seven years ago, blog post #1, is losing her mind about all of that right now, current tabitha will never stop blushing about all of that,

Things have changed in our actual life too:
We have had three kids: Greyson, Gemma, and Violet
We have bought two homes, two vehicles, and a tractor
We have adopted two dogs
I've quit working for a paycheck and starting stay-at-home-mom'ing (ie. working but no paycheck)
We moved back to our hometown

And some things haven't changed at all:
Brandon is still my favorite person on the earth, bar none.
Lola is still making us laugh and an escape artist
We have fully embraced (seven years running!) a monthly act of kindness for our family to complete with our 12 Months of Kindness Project (facebook page, and instagram hashtag:  #12mokp ) 
We still always think about (worry?) about Living Life, all of life in all the ways the best way we can.

This blog has been a thread that connects all our episodes of life, each one building on itself over the course of each new stage and phase.  This blog has really been an anthology of me, all of the different versions and changes of me.  To go back and read my posts, is to be able to feel again former emotions that I had during that time.  This blog and my musings about whatever was happening in my life at the time is quite honestly like real life time travel for me.  Maybe I'm too much a romantic, but it's my love letter to myself, to this life.

Never in a million years when pressing that publish button seven years ago today would I have imagined that anyone would be checking in regularly to see what's going on in our life, or to read what I have to say.  And if you are, thank you.  thank you so much for checking in and caring and listening.  It somehow validating and also inspiring to know that there are friends out there on the other end of this microphone.  Because what is a friend but someone who knows you and acts of a supporter.  I am so grateful to have you, friend.  

So happy blogiversary to Team Studer.  And, friends, I think that's reason enough to have a little bit of your favorite drink or dessert after dinner tonight!

ps. transformation thursday from late 2008 to late 2015.

Meal Planning and our November plans

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Whew, it has been a week and half of each of us scattered through various stages of sick; blowing noses, and administering medicine, and giving hot baths, and making soup for everyone in the house (me included) has left me my apologies for falling off the face of the blogosphere (pity party over).

Meal Planning has been on my mind lately for a few reasons, one of them being we just finished up our month of no-dining-out (100 small things task #74), so I'm taking it as a sign that I need to blog about it again.  I did a post a while back about how I got started if you want to check that out again.

I think there are stages to meal planning:
1. feeling overwhelmed at the thought of planning meals ahead
2. planning meals simply so you aren't scrambling at dinnertime every night
3. planning meals because you see money savings
4. planning meals to save even more money by not just buying meal ingredients but using the things you already have available
5. planning meals because it's the only thing that makes sense

Whatever stage you are at, know that it takes slow steps and consistency to continue on the meal planning journey.  And the most important thing to keep in mind is that YOU have to do YOU.  There is no method that suits everyone.  Meal planning isn't supposed to be another thing to add to your already filled parent plate - meal planning is something that is supposed to be helpful!

Here's how it works for me right now, as a stay at home mum to three little kids.  And after three years of meal planning, I have a stronghold in stage5 of meal planning:

Recipes: About ninety percent of my monthly meal planning recipes comes from pinterest.  The thing about pinterest is you can find anything your heart desires on there.  and lots of times, anything your heart desires is the opposite of helpful.  My kids aren't picky but they prefer certain types of food and many times its food that doesn't include a lot of spice and fanfare.  Simple, yummy, type stuff.  This helps me streamline the kinds of things I'm pinning to my meal boards because I know some things are just not going to fly with family meals.

While planning out the meals, I make sure to comb through the pantry, canned food cupboards, and the deep freezer to do an 'inventory' of things that need used.  In this way, I'm able to save even more money by using food that we have on hand but lots of time, gets pushed to the back of the shelves until they expire.

Shopping:  We do one big shopping trip at the beginning of the month for supplies for the month of meals that are planned.  I keep the running grocery list on a full sheet of paper as soon as I start noticing we need certain items during the month.  Throughout the month though, we obviously need to replenish daily used items (bread, milk, eggs, lettuce) and so we'll have to double up on those things throughout the month.  Otherwise, everything else is purchased at the big shopping trip (we get 90% of our food at ALDI).

Planning:  I only plan for five meals during the weekdays and then with leftovers or dinners at the grandparents houses, we usually can make it through the whole week with no trouble.  I mark down the meals in my planner because it's convenient and kind of my favorite thing.

We are meat-eaters, so I work to spread out various types of meals throughout the week.  Based on meat sales/prices help to determine what we will be eating over the course of the month too.  I try to stretch different types of protein too (beef, pork, poultry, seafood like shrimp and salmon)

I only plan out our main dish and go pretty loose on the side dishes.  We stock up on frozen veggies, those Knorr side dish, and anything else that might seem delicious as we do our big shopping trip to supplement as side dishes on the meal plan day.  We also have salad as an option at every meal because the momma must have salad all the time (we keep dried cranberries and croutons on hand for salad toppings!)  Lunch is for leftovers or throw-togethers (sandwiches/salads/soups,etc) and Breakfast is sometimes quick (waffles, cereal) or a chance to try pinterest yumminess.


So for the month of November, here is what our month of meal planning looks like:

Monday:  Cheesy Veggie Chowder
Tuesday:  Slow cooker Cream Cheese Taquitos
Wednesday: American Goulash
Thursday: Loaded Chicken & Potato Casserole
Friday: Breakfast for dinner! French Toast & Sausage

Monday: Homemade Pizzas
Tuesday: Please-make-more Crockpot Meatballs
Wednesday: Broccoli & Wild Rice Soup
Thursday: Chicken & Stuffing (with broccoli)
Friday: Shredded Deer Meat

Monday: Ranch Porkchops
Tuesday: Tater Tot Enchilada Bake
Wednesday: Slow cooker Chicken & Gravy
Thursday: Crispy Shrimp Pasta Alfredo
Friday: 'fancy' hot dogs

Monday: Open-face layered tostados
Tuesday: Crockpot french onion dip subs
Wednesday: Veggie loaded Fried Rice
Thursday: TURKEY
Friday: Leftover Turkey Burritos

Monday: Turkey Pot Pie

What stage of meal planning are you at?  Do you have any family favorite recipes to share?

Week in the Life: Saturday

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

photos taken: 67

We woke up slowly on Saturday morning with each kid finally making their way to the king size bed where the moms were gathered talking and laughing since 7am.  Once everyone was up and ready to rock and roll, we headed downstairs for a delicious feast of a breakfast while the kids put together some donut spiders (thank pinterest!) 

The kids gobbled down their breakfast and wasted no time in getting to their playing while the Mums hung out in the pajamas for as long as possible sipping coffee, chatting, and playing with the three littlest kids.  We all got in some pumpkin cookie decorating, and visiting with Nana (Kate's mum) before finally getting ready for the day and packing up some picnic lunch for our afternoon activity. 

We made our way toward Weakland farms where we let the three littlest ones finish their nap while the big ones and the Mums snacked on our picnic lunch on the trunks of the cars.  Grey sporting those glasses and messy hair like a bonafied Ferris Bueller look-a-like (!)

After the little ones began to stir from their naps, we spent the better part of a chilly afternoon petting the farm animals, navigating the corn maze, and getting corn kernels into all of our nooks and crannies (hah).  The big kids led the way through the corn maze and then all of them had a blast in the corn kernel pit digging, throwing, and sinking (!) among all the other kids in there.  It was mayhem, but joyful kid mayhem at its best.

We said our goodbyes (until Sunday at least for the kids!) and then went our separate ways for the rest of the evening.  At home, I was able to successfully transfer the two sleeping big kids from the car to the couch without either of them waking up (worn down especially from their sleepover the night before), but the littlest gremlin was not having any more nap.  So I went upstairs to toss her in the bath and jump in the shower myself while she chugged down a bottle.  Then it was dinner prep and waking up the big kids to throw their little corn filled butts into the shower each too.  

I had just got them finished up with dinner while Brandon and his Dad arrived home from hunting that afternoon.  While the kids settled down in front a movie and the baby went down to sleep for the night, I hurriedly finished a blog post and then it was out the door to meet up for dinner with Katie and Karpy! 

I headed out in the rain towards our half-way meeting point; Pour on Center in Ebensburg for dinner and drinks together.  Pizza with argula and fried artichoke hearts:  a real life grown up dinner with food that's delicious and fancy.  We sat at the table and enjoyed some live music and talked about anything that our conversation naturally landed on for topics.  It was such a wonderful evening with my two favorite girls.

After a drawn-out goodbye and plans finalized for Sunday, they headed east while I headed west and stopped off at Giant Eagle to pick up party snacks that I promised to purchase for the upcoming Halloween class party in Greyson's class and milk.  Giant Eagle at 11pm at night is blissful; not kids, only a few other customers, no lines.  Is this my new shopping time?  Haha!  By the time I got home, a little before midnight, everyone but Bullet was snoozing and I headed up to bed myself to read a little before drifting off to sleep.

photo series debrief:  whew!  that was intense, so intense in fact that looking at my life so closely through the lens of the camera really got me cherishing all the beautiful, chaotic, and simple minutiae of my life.  By the end of the week, I was really struggling to grab my camera to take the photo instead of just soaking up all the moments.  Not that I don't normally soak it up, but the extreme focus on capturing it all really brought to life all the beauty in our life that sometimes goes uncelebrated because of everything else that goes on and needs done.  

I feel grateful that I have filled my photo album with a lot of ordinary moments of our life right now too.  They will serve well in our family yearbook next year to preserve what it was like to live our life as it is right now in the moment.  For that, I'm very grateful to have participated in the series. 

I've been struggling with writing a blog post since the series (I miss two days in Blogtober!) and that's because I've really been keeping it close to our family and what we have going on.  I've been limiting social media and really focusing in on our family and our house. It's been kind of chilly and rainy and B is on vacation and nothing else really seems more important than cozying up with our little family and laughing at each other's jokes.  Brandon's response to my sad declaration that I didn't meet my goal on blogging every day for 30 days said, "So you blogged for 27 days in a row instead? that's not so bad, babe."   I'm gonna have to agree with him on that one :) 

Sunday night gratitude

Sunday, October 25, 2015

you guys, so I'm down to twenty minutes before this whole day is over and it's been a long, busy one.  A great one, but long and busy and maybe i'll get to my Saturday week in the life photo series make-up tomorrow, or maybe not.  and we just watched the walking dead (!!!!!) and I'm feeling a tad emotionally drained (hah, but not kidding), and also I'm ready for bed.

So let me just say this, after a great weekend with my two best friends and all of our kids playing, laughing, tattle-telling, arguing, make-believing, giggling, whining, sharing, and loving each other...

I hope with the deepest heart hope, that my kids will grow up and come to know friends like the friends that I have in Katie and Karpy.

I am so grateful for our friendship and for you in my life.
love forevs.
and evs.

Week in the Life: Friday

Saturday, October 24, 2015

photos taken: 33 

We started the morning off right and had a yum breakfast with the sun pouring through the kitchen windows.  Also, TgiFriday.  Also, a weekend with my best friends is on the horizon so all good things!

The girls and I worked around the house on chores in the morning and playing to pass the time.  I had stuff to run up in the attic (seriously, the only organized place in this joint), and bathrooms to clean, and the baby's clothes to fold.  Gemmi was kind enough to brush (and wet with water) Violet's hair to get her 'hairdo' fixed for the day.  

For lunch, I threw together little snack plates for them (cheese, crackers, croutons and ranch for gemmi -her favorite!) while I tossed a takeout style Pad Thai meal in the microwave.  Our little seagulls then of course ate half of my lunch then and Gem had to have some chopsticks of her own.  That little mockingbird, she is just mimicking my every word and move these days!

By the time Violet went down for her nap, I had our weekend bag to pack and a running list of last minute things that needed done like running the dishwasher, throwing on a crockpot dinner for Brandon, and taking care of the pets.  I also took an especially long time to blog since I was alternating blogging and reading my book yesterday (multitasking does not work, tabitha), but I'm really in the groove of the story and I couldn't help myself.  

I got the truck loaded up and the girls tossed into the truck in enough time to run to get gas before Grey got off the bus.  He ran smiling (! Sleepover day!) and if it wasn't for this photo series, I never would have gotten that picture of him and if for nothing else, I think I'm grateful for that photo!

As Grey was getting in the truck for us to leave, I turned around and see Brandon pulling up right in front of us at the bus stop!  He hopped out and said, "I made it in time!" which made me smile like a high schooler.  We got hugs from Dad then and even switched vehicles on account of the truck's power steering issues (ugh forever) and I was relieved to know I'd have an easy ride with the car. Dad for the win, once again!

We switched over all the car seats and supplies, said goodbye, and we were on our way for a weekend of fun with my two very best friends and their kids!  #aktpluskids

From the moment we stepped foot into the Fiore house, it was all on the go and crazy fun.  Loud mayhem and fun.  Just the whole entire night from about 5:30p until I think the big kids finally fell asleep (downstairs in a sleepover - Gemma's first ever) around 11:00pm.  We played, had a Mexican fiesta feast for dinner (thank you Michael!) and brownie and ice cream sundaes for dessert.  Super bonus, I got to spend time with Kate and Karpy; her and Andrew visiting all the way from NC this weekend just for us!

 And now, please excuse all the grammar errors and misspellings.  But I am leaving right this second for a real grown-up girl dinner with those two very best friends.  So, bye!  xxoxo