What every tween girl needs to know

She’s almost twelve.  This lovely, sweet oldest child of mine.  She is leaps and bounds more delightful than my 12 year old counterpart.  I think of my twelve year old self and shudder.  My poor parents.  But that’s another story.  I have to write down this story from today before I forget because it matters too much not to remember…

Dear precious daughter,

I don’t want you to forget, so I’m writing you this letter.  It might not have seemed like the sort of day you need to remember.  But you’ve got to trust me and know that my thirty-five years have left me knowing more each year how only a few things in life actually matter.  It started a Monday like any other.  But with some changes in the girl dynamics of the co-op we attend every week.  You need to know, I saw you.  I saw you hold back and make room for someone new.  I saw you watch things all shift and everyone struggle to find their place.  You probably think I didn’t notice.  You probably felt like it seemed silly how deeply you felt the change and how hard it was, how hard it is when things go from something comfortable and familiar to something different and new and all in one day.  Daughter, it isn’t silly and your ability to feel deep things, is a God-given wonder.  You may question that in years to come.  I surely have.  You’ll have to learn to trust that it is part of your intentional, purposeful design.  You will get to figure out for yourself that no slew of emotions, no amount of irrational, hormonal talk is too much for God to handle.  I will drive you nuts sometimes and I won’t say the right thing.  I may make you wonder if I really ever was young once in my trying-to-be-wise mother speak.

My mama heart hurt as I stood back, knowing you girls would all need to find your way today.  You were gracious and good.  But I saw your heart and it was sad, I knew.  At lunch time I got a text from a friend asking you for a sleepover, tonight, a school night.  The rule-following mother in me wanted to say “no way, it’s a school night!”.  But the tender hearted, receiver-of-God’s-extravagent-love mother knew the only answer was yes.  So I shot a one-word text back, “yes”, until I had a break and could write more.  We drove home in quiet.  You walked into the kitchen and I wrapped my arms around you.  I held your head close and whispered these words I want you never to forget…

God loves you so much girl.  He cares about every. tiny. detail.  He saw your day and he knows it wasn’t easy.  Your heart matters to him.

So much so that he has gifted you a sleepover this very night with your beloved friend, I told you.  I felt your tears on my cheek as the words soaked in.  Mine joined yours and I held you tight.  It’s true.  You’ll wonder and doubt if it is and that’s okay.  The emotions, the complicated, beautiful mystery of being a woman can feel like a burden not a blessing some days, months, years.  You will feel what seems at times too much, too deeply and relationships will dizzy your heart and mind.  Things that were once one way will be another.  Friends will disappoint and disagree.  Imperfect people will say or do things that break your heart.  It is the way of a broken humankind in radical need of a perfect, saving One.

As you got in the car tonight with your sweet friend, I looked up to the fickle sky.  I grinned.  The dark, rainy sky had met the sun.  And over the trees full of flaming autumn leaves sat a perfect, brilliant rainbow.  It took my breathe away.  The promises of God wrapped up in one physicial reminder that He knew we would always need.  We would need to know

He

is

always

here.

It felt like it was just for you as you drove down the road literally right under the rainbow as I watched from the front porch.  It is in the grey places of pain and loss and change that we get to see the rainbow beauty.   So precious one, remember today, this plain ordinary Monday where the God of the universe reached down into your life and showed you a glimpse of His heart for you.  Oh how He loves you, I said quietly as you walked away.  And He does.  Sometimes it will be quiet and hidden and small.  Then sometimes it will be magnificent and unmistakable.  He will show you a million different ways as you journey through life.  And I’ll be right here, praying you can see and feel His incredible, beyond words love for your one-of-a-kind self.

Life with you in it is such a gift.

All my love,

your Mama

An epiphany on food

I am all over the place when it comes to food and menu planning and grocery lists and all that important stuff.  There are eight eating people in this house.  And since we school at home, they eat here.  Nearly all their meals.  Which adds up to a dizzying 21 meals per week in this kitchen of mine and at least two snacks a day too!  If the belly is growling and wanting, it is terribly hard to learn and focus and engage in learning.  But preparing food is only one of a great many hats mamas wear.  This is my recent new insight on the matter, after sitting down and making a list of our favorite 31 meals, thinking we could just rotate through each day of the month.  (insert smirk or giggle here) Yes, I really did think it a good idea.  But I am learning to simplify and more importantly realizing that having 31 meals to choose from is a “first world problem” – meaning, the majority of the world would be grateful simply to have one solid meal a day.  Let alone three.  Let alone a wonderfully organized list of 31 great dinners.  My life needs to work for me and I need time to be spent where it matters most.  Researching the latest food trends and reading food blogs and color coding my dilapidated recipe binder are not how I choose to spend my minutes right now.  Having a vast array of meal choices is in fact not helpful for me at this current life stage.

Enter theme nights.

It all started with Mission Mondays, where we eat a very simple meal of brown rice and lentils and practice gratitude for our bounty and provisions while remembering how most of the world eats, meagerly.  Then came Taco Thursdays and Make your Own Pizza Fridays.  We don’t have it down pat yet.  But the general idea is, each day of the week is narrowed down a bit.  Crock-pot meals on Tuesdays when we have a quick dinnertime turn around.  Soups on Saturdays.  Salad bar or our beloved Garden Hash on Wednesdays when I have time in the late afternoon to chop a bunch of veggies.

This is our general outline:

Mondaylentils and rice
Tuesday – Crock-pot something (like this roast-terrible photo but a delicious meal served over mashed potatoes)
Wednesday – Garden Hash (recipe below)
Thursday – Tacos of any kind – lots of ways to mix it up each week like this insanely delicious pork taco recipe
Friday – Make your Own (pita) Pizza – kids love it and its a wonderfully fun way to end the week
Saturday – Soup or Stew
Sunday – whatever is left or needs eating up (if nothing else, apples and popcorn, I ate that every Sunday night growing up!)

The underlying premise for me behind this simplifying for this season is this truth:

Food is intended to sustain and nourish us so we can get to the all important tasks of living and loving.

It isn’t meant to be a daily showcase of our mad kitchen skills or be catered to one persons picky tendencies.  It doesn’t need to impress my kids or have five different items to serve up every night.  What matters far more is the cultivating of “family” that happens when we gather together to share a meal.

Though summer is quick becoming a memory and it is pouring rain at the moment, I’ll still share what is probably one of our family favorite meals.  It’s my own creation and is ever so flexible and might not be an exact science since we already established my extra time and energy are not spent imitating Ina Garten or Rachel Ray.

Garden Hash (serves 4, we double or triple this):

Saute in a skillet 1 lb ground beef and one onion chopped.  Add a clove or two of crushed garlic. Once the meat is cooked and broken up, add whatever garden bounty you like.  We love a head of kale or rainbow chard chopped up real small, several carrots grated, a zucchini or even a peeled, chopped sweet potato are delicious too. Really, the sky is the limit.  Salt and pepper the hash.  Let the kale or chard wilt, the potatoes simmer till soft, all in the one pot.  Add water if needed for the simmer, but also add the all important ingredient, tamari or soy sauce.  How much?  Well, I’d just say several swigs and then taste after five minutes, if I had to guess, maybe start with 1/4 cup?  We usually eat it in a pile on a plate and its ugly so I don’t have a photo for you.  It can also be served over rice, quinoa, steamed greens or roasted diced potatoes.

On crazy busy life and “The Best Yes” by Lysa Terkeurst

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a review.  While I have certainly read some good books, I haven’t managed to sit down and write about them.  But this one requires passing on, The Best Yes, by Lysa Terkeurst.  Our flurried, broken, overextended-in-every-way American culture is a living, breathing example of many examples of “you reap what you sow”.  Instead of breaking down that reality, may I just say that despite very intentional efforts not to live inside the crazy…sometimes it seems impossibly hard to step back, step aside, step OUT of the continual myriad of activities.  Nearly all of them GOOD things.  The amount of extracurricular options is staggering.  Whether you are married with kids or without, single, young or old….there is nary a shortage of ways you could spend your time and energy.

One particular aspect of this that I find it difficult to navigate is the mentality that if you don’t offer your children a plethora of options, be they flute lessons, karate, a spot on the baseball team, chess club, horse back riding lessons, 4-H, drama class, choir, soccer, art lessons and tickets to a play or five at the local kids theater, that somehow they will be cheated of a “well rounded” and “rich” upbringing.  The array of “good things” here is at best mind-blowing.  And at worst, well, I don’t know.  I suppose I would just venture to say that this way of thinking is a plague in our culture and in fact, learning to have some white space or margin in your life is perhaps one of the very best tools parents should empower their kids with.

It sounds easy right?  But its not.  Even having moving out of the city into a more rural area, there are so many things one can do!  I have done much quiet thinking about it this past year, a year that left me gasping for breath and feeling like I could not, would not possibly be able to continue on the same path.  A wise mother said to me just last Tuesday while listening to me wrestle out loud with the too-many-options dilemma, “I have come to a place where I honestly believe, if my child has a very exceptional, genuine kind of gift at playing piano or baseball or something….that talent will well up and emerge regardless of my ability to provide copious amounts of lessons and instruction in its realm.”  I breathed a sigh of great relief.  And my heart agreed.

If I believe that God’s plans for the lives of my children will not be thwarted by my inadequacies and imperfectness as a parent, then I can instead invest in loving them well, building strong, healthy relationships, providing a solid, vibrant foundation for their lives. Which I’ve come to believe MUST include having a weekly schedule that has room in it to breathe.  I absolutely must, as a mother who seeks to walk in wisdom, learn how to make thoughtful decisions for our family and for my own life that reflect a measure of having ‘counted the cost’ of each and every spoken and unspoken YES in my life.

This is where the book by Lysa comes in.  I ended the summer feeling terribly unready for the year ahead.  Still struggling to bounce back from last year.  When I read the tagline under the title, Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands, my head just nodded and I clicked ‘place my order’ before the book had even been released.  It is practical and so well breaks down the reality of every “yes”.  Yes to one thing means a no elsewhere, this is the part I hadn’t learned to think through very well.  I just kept on with yes’.  I would liken it to writing a check on an empty bank account, eventually the debt is in your face and you have to deal with it.  Lysa  breaks down, wonderfully well, various ways to learn to cultivate this sort of wisdom and also delves into why it matters so much.

I am learning to weigh my yes and to really sift through all the implications it will have.  Slowly, albeit, but learning nonetheless.  Just yesterday we were at the pumpkin patch, having great fun with my sister as we have done every year for at least 8 years in a row.  I started to get anxious being there, knowing that in two weeks our homeschool group is going on a group trip to another pumpkin patch.  I feel obligated to go, my mind had already relinquished to having to go.  But as I thought more, talked it out loud a bit, it was so clear.  Yesterday was my “best yes”.  Two weeks from now will be my wise “no”.  And in that, I get to practice something I am not good at, giving grace to myself.  Grace to say “one pumpkin patch trip with my six children is all that I can manage this year and that is okay, more than that, it is wise and good”.

If life feels a bit over the top and you aren’t sure how to proceed or how to grow in this aspect, this book is an excellent, very worthwhile read.  Really, just about everyone I know fits into that description in some way!  My copy is heavily highlighted and written on, which is one of my best measures of good books.  Beyond that, my life is incorporating the practical wisdom from the pages and that is surely the best part.

Here are a few snapshots of our one and only wonderful pumpkin patch trip this weekend:

big boys Oct 2014
Finn's pumpkin
Lib and mama
Lib Oct 2014
nana and girls
three girls
photo 4
photo 5

Update – Missions Mondays recipe

I found my recipe to share with you!  If you want the full story, scroll down two posts to read the original Missions Monday post.  Here is the way I make the meal packets:

1 cup brown short grain rice

1/2 cup brown lentils

3T chicken broth powder

1/4 tsp garlic powder

a pinch of salt

Store in glass jar or ziploc bag.

With each packet, these are the cooking instructions – for our family of 8 we make two at a time:

Put 1 Tablespoon olive oil in medium saucepan.

Dump in “meal mix” (whole bag), saute for a minute on low/medium heat

to warm and awaken the spices.

Add 3 1/2 cups water, bring to a boil,

cover, turn to low, simmer 45-50 minutes until most all water is absorbed.

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Loving our kids well

The room is bright green now and it’s been so long since I lived in it, I can’t remember what the color used to be.  I remember being royally annoyed at the pitter patter of feet above in the kitchen.  There must have been no insulation between that floor and my ceiling.  I remember sneaking out the ground floor window one night at 17, not to go anywhere, simply to say I’d done it.  No one needed to know I only sat in the cold bark for a while right? I laid on my bed in that room for hours upon hours talking till sometimes 3 AM to a boy.  It was eons before texting and email.  It was the days of the face to face or at least the real talking over a phone, probably one with a cord.  I have no clue what we spoke of all that time or how we got up the next day for school.  But somewhere in the talking, in the time spent, love unfolded and twenty years later, here we are – still unfolding.

How we have an almost twelve year old, I don’t know but I knew this summer I wanted some face time with her before the hustle and bustle of fall took off.  I shared with her some of my thoughts and worries from that age, told her why it was wonderful to be a girl and to get to grow up into a woman.  How we have this incredible opportunity, to get to be givers of life through our attitude, heart, words and eventually our body.  Something amazing happens when you get to be alone with just one child and with the only intention being time together.  No grocery list or agenda.  No phone on the table beeping or buzzing away.  No other siblings to share the time with.   No distraction, only purpose.  As they nearly always do, they know.  They sense that the time is set apart and they enter in in a different way.

Once I was back home, we were talking one night about how to facilitate depth of relationship with each of our children, how to be keyed in to every one and building something solid so that as they grow and the stakes are ever higher, the losses greater and the dreams bigger – they know we’re right here.  We agreed there really is only one way to do that.  Time.  Shared time, set apart with the purpose of listening and loving.  Our six are wildly different.  Unique and one of a kind.  So naturally, it wouldn’t look the same for each one.  We decided to each take an hour a week and each rotate through the oldest five kids.  Sounds small?  Well maybe.  But let me tell you it was hard to find a regular one hour spot to set aside weekly where the other of us would be home to be with kids.

Our third born, he’s a dreamer, an artist and the most easy going kid of our brood.  His name means peaceful and while he may be all boy and energetic as the rest of them, it really does describe his demeanor.  He’s very different from me.  He’s not book-crazed.  He is meticulous with his pencil but not with his room.  So when I asked him tonight for his choice of a spot for our hour, he said McDonald’s.  And I fought every urge to say “Gross, no!”.  I simply said yes and off we went.  He asked if he could splurge and have two $1 cheeseburgers, I said yes.  Then he asked if we could sit outside by the (dumpy, old) play place.  Again, I was like really, are you kidding me? but I said a smiling “sure!”.  He told me where to sit so I could watch him slide.  I left my phone in my purse and sipped my smoothie.  He was over-the-moon happy to have my undivided attention while he played.  No one else was out there, so I thought I’d see if I could fit in the tunnel.

Oh glory.  If you haven’t squeezed yourself through the play tubes at McDonald’s for decades, it’s about time.  He shrieked “I can’t believe you’re doing this mom!  I can’t believe it!’.  He led me around and told me the best way to go down the slide.  Upside down and backwards.  Alrighty then, of course I want to do that.  He said he’d catch me if I was going to fall off the edge.  So reassuring.  Once I was safely down the slide, my eight year old darling of a boy literally jumped up and down squealing in glee.  He then did three somersaults on the padded floor to further express his delight.  I laughed out loud and climbed back up for another round.  Why in the world not?

We headed for the library to get his books on hold and he grabbed my hand in the parking lot and said with great fervor, “I llllllllloooove you mom.  So much.”  Mission accomplished.  Though it didn’t look like what I expected, it met his needs and filled his love cup right up.  And that’s the whole point.

Building meaningful relationships with my kids doesn’t have to be complicated or involve ten steps or a how-to book or an agenda.  It really only hinges on one thing.  Am I going to show up?  Like really show up…put the phone away, turn the mental to-do-listing off, pay attention, listen with the heart, engage completely in the time spent together.  When we do that, the dividends are beyond measure.