Remembering Grandpa

It’s hard to break a six month writing silence.  So many stories unfold in a half a year.  There really isn’t anything else I can write of before acknowledging a monumental loss in our life.  I’ve written before about our beloved Grandpa.  We’ve been crazy blessed to spend most Sunday afternoons with him for the past couple years.  It has meant driving two cars to church weekly, so half our family could go sit with him at the lunch table in his memory care facility.  Our time couldn’t possibly have been spent in any better way.  One Sunday in September we went to see him and then by the following Saturday he was gone.  Deleting the recurring calendar event that said “Sunday lunch with Gpa” was harder than I could put to words.  When you love big, it means feeling the “bigness” of loss as well.

Here are the words I shared at his memorial in October back east in Virginia.  I flew with our oldest five children to be a part of honoring him in this way. There is nothing more fitting I could write today than to share those words here….

Good morning friends, I happen to be the eldest of the 9 grandchildren but just because I’ve been blessed under our grandpa’s love and leadership longer than my cousins and sisters doesn’t make me any more qualified to share today.  We all have our own list of memories tucked in our hearts.  The list of contributions of every sort our grandfather made in his lifetime would be impossible for any of us here today to sum up.  And as with most of life, it’s the intangible things that can’t be touched or measured that mattered more than any other.  

It was his “whatey” that he brought with him when he flew to Seattle or visited grandkids in Virginia.  I don’t even know how it started but as little girls as soon as we saw his face, we said “Gpa!” and he said “whatey!”.  We came to expect the “whatey” and we would ask him to make sure and bring it when he came.  The whatey always came with a smile and that’s what made it so grand.

It was their heart to share what they deemed “one of the most stunning places in the world” coupled with their radical generosity that took our whole extended Larson family to New Zealand 14 years ago this Christmas.  They had seen nearly the whole world over and told us we all had to experience together the beauty and breadth of a place they had so enjoyed.  If there’s anything more wonderful than being overcome by an incredible land, it’s sharing that wonder with the ones you love most.  It was the trip of a lifetime for all of us.

It was also his faithful presence, despite having to travel cross country to see any of us in the Sween family at least – he was always there, cheering us on at every big life moment, celebrating graduations and weddings and eventually the births of some 14 great-grandchildren.  He and Grandma were intentionally invested in the lives of their family in a way that communicated our value in their eyes and we were all better for it.

It was an unwavering commitment to building family relationships despite distance that brought us all together time and time again from Fort Casey, Washington to Estes Park, Colorado to the Outer Banks, North Carolina and many others in between.  This left us feeling connected and like we belonged to something special, even if we lived cross country from our cousins.

It was the fervor and passion and deepest pride he had when he talked about politics and education and great leaders and history and America.  He told stories of growing up in the Great Depression and having a tumbleweed for a Christmas tree with a stern face and I knew he still remembered just how unbearable some of those days had been.  

It was the constant encouragement that he offered to me every single time he saw me and my six children the past decade or so.  He was one of my greatest cheerleaders.  These last three years with him living nearby for the first time in my life, my children and I had the privilege of Sunday lunches.  After sharing our grandfather with Right to Work, with presidents and Senators, with our nation really, it was this last season of his that will always be of greatest treasure to me.  He faithfully, dare I say relentlessly, spurned me onward in the daily, sometimes quite monotonous work of educating our children at home, cultivating character and of serving those around us in ways we were able.  His consistent mantra to me as we parted every week was, “You keep up the good work”.  It was fitting to me that the night before he passed away when I went to say goodbye for the evening, he managed to say quietly “You do good work”.

It was Grandpa’s steady, rooted faith in Jesus that was perhaps his greatest contribution to the Larson clan and to an immeasurable many who don’t share our family name.  His extreme generosity to people and to organizations who were committed to furthering the message of Christ and his Gospel in the world has undoubtedly had impact in ways we will never grasp or fully know on this side of heaven.  

There really isn’t a role in the world quite like a grandparent.  And an adult  who fills that unique role with excellence is one in a million in the eyes of their grandchild.  Grandpa was indeed, one in a million and the void he leaves is certainly an impossible one to fill.  

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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:

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Finn's pumpkin
Lib and mama
Lib Oct 2014
nana and girls
three girls
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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.

Mission Mondays at our home

We’d waited and prayed for a long while for something new for our beloved brother-in-law to open up.  His and my sisters’ heart for the marginalized and orphaned has only grown these past few years.  So when he was asked to come on board with Children of the Nations, a non-profit that we already knew and loved, we could not have been more thrilled.  And we wanted to be behind them in this faith venture in every way.  As we talked about how to support them, knowing we already had our “give”  dollars going several different directions, I sat down and talked with our kids.  I told them how much an average dinner cost me to cook for our family of eight.

We talked about the Children of the Nations (COTN) meal packing events that we’d attended several times.  Their faces lit up as usual and they bantered about how much fun it is to pack meals packs.  COTN hosts these events to raise awareness and give people here on wealthy American soil an opportunity to do more than simply write a check.  They are high energy and always fun.  They’ve provided a fantastic conversation starter for our family multiple times to talk about how we can do more to share the love of Christ in tangible ways.  I asked our kids, what do you guys think about eating the COTN meal – lentils, spice, chicken and rice – one night a week to free up some grocery funds.    They said a quick and hearty yes.  I perfected my own rendition of the COTN meal pack.  My kids were the testers, telling me to STOP and not make any changes once the ratio was right.

So began Mission Mondays at our house.  For no other reason than it was catchy so we picked Monday.  The kids actually offered to eat the meal twice a week.  I told them we’d start with one so we didn’t tire of it.  But then quickly caught myself.  Because the very real reality of the meal packs is that the recipients of the very simple food are content, dare I say crazy thankful for the food being provided for them.  They would pale at a glimpse inside my organized pantry, well stocked for an emergency and a half dozen constantly hungry kids.  And my kids, truth be told, sometimes don’t “feel like” eating anything in said pantry.  Which is the double blessing of this weekly simple meal.  It is a continual reminder of the bounty we live within.  The basic comforts like grocery stores on every corner full of fresh food and a dizzying amount of culinary options.

Our Monday night table discussion centers around someone we know serving somewhere in the world.  It’s no organized sort of thing.  Just hearts that want to be aware and tuned in to the heart of God that beats for the orphans, widows and the poor.  I always fight the urge to provide side dishes to the lentils and rice and simply serve the dish alone and everyone gets perfectly fed and full eating it.

…fast forward a bit to July this summer….we hosted a creation camp here at the house for a wonderful group of kids, all sorts of kids.  It was one of those hallowed things you get to do and it almost pushes you over the top but when its over you can hardly catch your breath and you know, just know, that it was holy and beautiful and not to be missed.  We have this crazy awesome, so-not-in-the-box pastor who came to play guitar and lead singing (and hang up tarps in the pouring rain!):

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On our last day of creation camp, I talked about how we were created to reflect God to others, that we get to reflect his image and how completely incredible that is.  Part of that is having the responsibility to be generous givers and ones who love others well, especially those in need.  So I shared with them about COTN and the meals they bring and hope that a simple meal is to children who are starving.  We then headed inside to prepare meal packets for everyone to take home with them so they could, maybe, start their own traditions and perhaps set aside some of their extra to share and give in some way.  At one point there were 52 people inside the walls of our house.  It was, literally, the only rainy week the entire summer.  So our outdoor on the lawn activity all had to happen inside and cozy!  It was insane.  And so loud.  And incredible.  I hope and pray that this is one little way we can be mindful of the things that matter.

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Searching for holy

It’s been five years now since I asked, if I promised to do the leg work, if we could include a live nativity in the Christmas party for low income, pregnant and newly parenting women and their families.  I relished serving every holiday season and it became the highlight of our families calendar every December.  But I couldn’t shake the sense that it was strange hosting the event at a church, showering them with tangible blessings (toys to put under their tree, a bag of groceries, etc) – and not have anything that pointed to the heart of the season.

This year was exceptionally special because we finally had our own set of farm critters to bring to the party.  My friend Holly has always graciously brought her own for me.  It was a delight for our kids to bring their beloved animals to share with others.  It was also extra special because the friends that I spent almost two years praying for for our daughter, joined her as angels this time.  My heart nearly burst with gratitude for these sweet girls and their families who have crossed paths with ours.

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I turn to a friends’ husband last night, telling him how I find it so interesting how certain people groups, cultures tend to pay so much more mind to the nativity scene. Every year I watch this, usually there are two or three unique people groups who linger there, place their baby in the manger, take dozens of photos and exude this sense of respect, awe.

They come once, then sometimes come through again later.  I hear a little boy not more than five – I know I’ve seen him once already – he’s pushing, elbowing through the crowd that has gathered and I hear him say “move, I need to get through, I need to see Jesus”.

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I listen to the little boy and my eyes well up because that’s all I want.

Somewhere in the midst of a wild holiday schedule and gift lists and parties and baking to do and my Christmas boxes still untouched in the garage… all I’m looking for is a glimpse of something holy.

A taste of the miracle that God came down.  Emmanuel.

My hands are a little numb and the earthy smell of the animals and their wet fur and hay meets my nose.  It may not be Bethlehem and the night is surely anything but a silent one – but I breathe cold air in deep and ponder the baby laid in straw in the manger a few feet from me and can’t help but feel a sliver of the “holy night” that came so long ago.

He could have come any way He wanted.  But this, this was the way He chose.  Innocent, small, helpless and perfect.

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He would walk among us.  Live among us.  Know loss and heartache and struggle and unspeakable joy in the midst of all of it.

Emmanuel.  God among us.  Not God-in-heaven-distant-one.

God with us, with me.  One who is intimately acquainted with sorrows.  One who understands pain and the deepest heart sadness.  One who came so I would know what life to the very fullest would look like.  One who hears every word I utter and all the ones I can’t.

Deeply, unceasingly grateful.  For all that He is and how He fills in the places that need filling in.  Brimming at the very thought that God would choose this way, this simple manger in the back of an inn instead of a royal palace….so that I would know, so we all could know, that His gift is for everyone.   For me with the dishes undone from 5 days ago and shredded stuffed animal all over this room and no clean clothes ready for kids tomorrow.  And for every other person who feels a little less than worthy.

He came for you.  He is Emmanuel.

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First annual Ciderfest

We traveled north to visit some precious pals and spend the day celebrating fall and pressing apples for cider.  There is NOTHING like the smell of hundred of pounds of apples being smashed into brown cloudy liquid yum.

First the kids helped rinse the apples before tossing them into the (homemade=awesome) thing that chops them all up before pressing…

Then Kyler stood by with jugs, which were filled super fast because our apples were so darn juicy!

Our fall tradition

Though this post always looks strangely similar to the one last year, I will share anyway.  More for me than anyone else.  We made sure to schedule this fall adventure to the pumpkin patch BEFORE the newest member of the Jorgenson family joins the world this coming Friday!  My sister was such a trooper and didn’t complain one single bit traipsing her nine month pregnant self around muddy fields.

Audrey, rockin’ her big 80’s hair, just because she can
Rylee taking Finn for his cow train ride – how is my ‘baby’ old enough to go without his mama!?
the big four, taking up the whole quad teeter-totter
girlie cousins, taking their first shared ride in the cow train
taking a tractor trailer ride to get pumpkins
Kyler ADORES this little cousin!
finding the perfect mud puddles
my little (big) pumpkin
the ever famous, ever growing cousin photo
be still my heart, I could not possibly love this man any more…

 

this pretty much sums up how Phineas felt about the day
this was the part where we bribed him with two peanut butter cookies…