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.

For freedom

We sit with warm mugs of apple cider and piles of books and fresh pencils this gloriously beautiful, windy late summer morning.  As I read from a book to our oldest four and try to explain in appropriate kid verbage what took place 13 years ago on this day, my voice wavers.  Last year I remember not saying a thing about it because I had a three day old baby in arms and my heart was plum overflowing and it didn’t seem possible to even go there.  So today, I tell them where I was and what happened and why, even though nobody can really say why, there isn’t ever an answer to that question in these impossibly devastating things of life.  I talk of terror and war and try to put words to the wonder of the freedom they live within.  That they would be able to sit at a table with their teacher/mama and learn together as a family, not having any true need unmet, being able to worship freely and speak their beliefs…its impossible to reconcile it with the terror children on the other side of the world are living in the midst of.  To live as a child in such fear and injustice, it makes my whole self hurt.

I whisper because tears are running down my face and they lean in and they don’t make a sound – they can tell this is some piece of sacred by the absolute brokenness of my heart.  I want the world to be good and safe and beautiful for you, like it is here much of the time.  But its not.  There are people so full of evil and hate that only want to destroy and hurt and steal.  They take the lives of others simply because they are different, because they believe different or were born in a different land.  I hesitate and don’t know if the word genocide is one they all should know yet but I decide they must.  They must know.  Because if they don’t then how can they pray and care and keep learning that they have constant opportunities to stand with and stand for those who can’t stand or speak for themselves.  The empathic one moves around the table and sets her head in my lap.  She feels the pain of others in a profound way.  Tears well in her eyes and she holds my hand.  The children there, they aren’t complaining about the snack options or about the math they still have to do or asking for dessert.  They simply want safety, refuge, security and peace.  They want their mom to be there tomorrow, and the next day, and all the days after.  I choke on my own words and can’t even talk.  So we pray.  Because there really is nothing else to say.  Nothing we can do but pray and believe that the God who holds this whole world and my whole heart can do things beyond human comprehension or ability.

Caleb (age 10) prays first  – “I pray for the people who are killing Christians in Iraq, that they would have a change of heart, that they would come to know God.  And for the people who have gone to heaven after they have been killed, that they would have such a good time there.”  The quiet one in my lap can’t muster a word but I know God hears her precious little heart.  I pray and thank God for freedom.  Even for a baby whose name means freedom.  For the constant reminder she is of the immeasurable gift we’ve been given.  For the freedom we live within when we know the one true God, freedom that knows no bounds and cannot, will not be contained or quenched.

Grace upon grace

He left the dinner table quietly, no big to-do.  Just abandoned his favorite piece of meat to sit there and get cold.  When there are seven people at the table, too many of them talking at once, its easy for the easily overwhelmed to want some space.  We keep trying to use the metaphor of a car and when too many cars go at once you have one giant wreck.  Same sort of thing with dinner conversation – but its not sinking in too well.  We’re a work in progress.  I quickly cleaned my plate, not taking the time to be thankful for this beautiful roasted chicken that we raised ourselves or the crunchy cucumbers that grew just outside the back window despite my dismal lack of weeding and forgetting to water them half the time.

I run upstairs and peek inside his door.  He’s laying on the floor with pillows.  I ask him why he left and what’s wrong.  Its been another bad day – he tells me.  I fight the urge to list all the reasons why it was actually a great day…we painted the barn, we got a new goat, and so on.  I listen.  It’s just always another bad day.  I ask what makes it not good instead of disagreeing with him.  I lay down on the floor and wait.  He thinks about it.  Because I do what I don’t want to do and I get in trouble, again.  And my heart hurts and I slowly explain that he’s not the only one.  He may well be one of few boys his age who is so tremendously, keenly aware of this.  I tell him that his mama laying on the carpet there struggles the very same way.

Why? He asks.  He wants to know why its so hard to not get upset when things don’t go how he expects.  Why its so hard to respond well.  And before he gets one step further and thinks he’s the only one this is hard for, I lay it out real clear.  I want to love you well, love you perfectly, never let you down, never get mad at the wrong moment in the wrong way, lead you in wisdom and lavish you with grace, I tell him.  But I mess up all the time, I’m never going to get it just right and there are plenty of days where I feel exactly the same way…its another bad day and I can’t get anything right.  He turns his head and looks at me and sizes me up like ten year olds sure can and he’s hearing every word.  I hope beyond hope that he actually hears my heart oozing through my words and knows that I mean it.

The verse I read this week in John and got tripped up on and can’t seem to read past but can only read again, and again, is this:

For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. – John 1:16

Just a few words, but honestly I can’t get to chapter 2.  If the way of Jesus is grace upon grace then my way at home with these half a dozen kids is meant to reflect that.  And this year here has been tough and I’m bone tired from not one solid night of sleep in just about exactly a year and I wonder where the grace went some days and how I could love so insufficiently when the love God gives is so complete and perfect and enough.  He loves me well.  Every single day.  His patience with my imperfection and inadequacy is chock full of grace while at the same time beckoning me forward with his truth.

We talk about grace on the floor of his room and we both cry as we realize the common ground of our faults and how much we want to grow.  We pray.  And he sits with his head on my shoulder for a long time.  Hoping, even if tenuously so, that this year will be a more gracious one.

Garden confessions

The truth is, I dabbled this year, in gardening.  I dipped my toes in the water.  I requested that the hubby teach me how to use the power saw and the driver and all that neat stuff.  I built raised beds for the garden out of cheap fence posts.   I grew gads of snap peas, enough to keep us happy but they took over the bed so much that they shaded the beets and that was rude of them.  Next time they need more space.  I grew lettuce until one morning I came out and someone ate ALL of it.  In one night.  Someone also ate (or picked) all the zuchinni flowers, so I have big lovely leaves and no flowers = no veggies.  Uncool.  After killing every single cucumber start that I’d lovingly begun in the house, I planted starts from the local nursery.  They are going gangbusters as are the tomatoes.  When both are ready, we’ll be so set for veggies for a good many days.

I built a really awesome, stackable potato planter box and only managed to grow this in it:

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Turns out when you leave your seed potatoes in the garage, never plant them at all, you don’t grow potatoes.  Shoot.  Fail on potatoes.  Next year, try again.

Next, turns out having two sets of kids to care for, bottle feed, love on…it all trumps gardening.  And it is a notable amount of work, especially when doing it for the first time.  While we’ve had goats for over two years, this was our first time raising brand new babies.

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(this is my darling cousin Kelsey who goes to university nearby after living on the other side of the country all her life – its super cool to have her around – she is one of those amazing people who relates delightfully to both adults and children of all ages….my aunt and uncle raised three exceptional girls, we can only hope to do so well)

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If Liberty is outside and near the goats but not WITH them, she will cry.  She adores them.  I however, do not adore goat first aid.  Above is my best attempt at wrapping a profusely bleeding head after Samson opened up his little horn buds (they had been burned off, and were healing).

Carrots did well, but they were a token item and all the kids know they have to ask first before eating one from the garden.  Not nearly enough of them.  Still buying bags of carrots from the store to feed this crew.

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All the berries in the berry patch?  Hmmm, I don’t think you want to know.  Its a sad story.  It involves chickens and deer and goats and dogs and kids and no fencing and not enough water.  Very sad.  That was my most expensive loss/mistake this year.  Lessons learned, all good.

And when we’re not in the dirt, we do clean up every now and then and go out like we did for Father’s Day…

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Let there be berries

First there were strawberries…

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And then two short weeks later there were the raspberries…

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And then just a couple weeks later there were blueberries, which were the best because by this point she could stand up and hold branches and actually pick then eat the berries.  If only she knew her colors…green berries don’t taste so good…but this trip proved the least messy.  Especially for Finn who wanted to sit in the(baby) stroller instead of pick.

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Berry picking is one on our favorite summer fun things – we get to indulge while we pick and there isn’t one in our clan that doesn’t adore a sweet summer berry!  We often compete (nicely) as to who can pick the most berries in 30 minutes.

 

Impromptu adventures

Possibly the best kind…I texted her early, inquiring if she was up for a quick berry picking stop and then a walk at the park nearby.  The perk of having a baby that’s up before 7 am is I’m on my second cup of coffee and am scheming up something fun before some of my friends are awake!  We had such a delightful day, us and our collective 11 children.  No one wanted to go home…

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The Tolt River suspension bridge – as impressive as I remember it from my childhood!

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our combined crew

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girl time – these two talked non stop on those rocks for over two hours!

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boy time – “please don’t throw mud at me again”  or  “that’s my rock”

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he was intent on building a dam like the big brothers

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this little girl loved raspberries…and dirt too

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she also loved her hours long nap in the bushes where we tucked her in a shady spot by the river while the other kids played

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not much unsettles Finn, but the sway of the bridge did and big brother Caleb was very quick to take his hand and walk him across

Hay!

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A friend from church recently harvested his second cutting of hay.  We drive by his field every single time we go anywhere.  And every time, Phineas scopes the field out for his icon Farmer Jared.  He graciously let our three oldest drive the tractor down and back a row “tedding” to help the hay dry.  The two youngers got to sit on his lap.  It was an unexpected summer highlight for sure!

Welcome summer!

After a week in a motel in town with six kids in tow, we were thrilled to be back home on Friday one day before the official first day of summer!  After our septic snafu and water damaged floors, we had to be out of the house while they repaired and refinished the flooring that had been soaked.  All of life aside from the absolute necessities sat on the back burner while we lived out of our van and two cozy motel rooms…traipsing back and forth to our house to feed the goat babies their bottles early and late each day, milk our mama goats, feed the meat birds and layers, check on dogs and cats, etc.  To say it was crazy is a wild understatement.

But I’ve said it before and it still rings true, doing hard things together forges a sense of family.  Whether its a difficult hike in the mountains, a camping trip gone total disaster or a season where all of life is plain hard…the result can be the same.  It all hinges on the choices we make in the midst of the chaos.  That and for me at least, believing God to be above and beyond my circumstances, whatever they may be.  He has proven his absolute faithfulness over and over, and most often through the stuff of life that is either seemingly mundane or wickedly painful and difficult.

Children are amazing in their ability to adapt and look on the bright side.  A week in a motel with mom and dad…with a pool even?  Too fun!  My ability to do the same is certainly lacking however.  The first night I was wound so tight my whole body hurt from our “adventure”.  After a long night, with little sleep from all our family being in such close quarters, we enjoyed the free breakfast buffet that everyone had high hopes for.  Well, it turned out to be a bunch of Costco food dumped on a counter.  Again, the kids had great fun checking it all out and all I did was pine away for my kitchen, healthy pancakes and eggs from our chickens.

By the end of day one, I needed a serious course correction or it was sure to be a long and miserable week.  So I snatched my attitude from the dump it was in and put my chin up and decided we would do this week up right.  And we did.  We swam every night, ate dinner at most of the restaurants our town had to offer.  We figured out how to wash clean all our milking supplies and goat bottles in the motel bathtub twice a day.  We moved sleeping arrangements around until we found something that worked.  We had our beloved cousins over for a swim in “our” pool just for fun too!

I’ll spare you the play by play, suffice to say that we survived.  We gave grace many times and sometimes lost our temper.  Life was strangely simple actually.  I did miss our daily work and routine and animals.  But I didn’t miss the way I flurry around from project to chore to laundry to negotiate a peace treaty to make food to clean up a spill….always onto the next thing and often missing the chance to sit and read a book with a little one or hug another one super tight just because.

Many lessons learned.  Seems to always be the case.  Always room to grow and room to learn.  In the spirit of summer, we put our summer bucket list together, making sure we seize the season and squeeze every bit of fun right of it together  I’ll post it later today in case anyone needs any inspiration!