Today, I Screwed Up the Rice (A Life Interrupted)

“Cooking and mealtimes are some of the most overlooked aspects of grief,” Heather Nickrand, author of Culinary Grief Therapy

Taco dinner complete with pico de gallo, black beans and Mexican rice.

My mother was a fabulous cook. She had this amazing way of making something truly delicious out of nothing at all. Looking back, she would have been a great contestant on The Food Network show, “Chopped.” You know the one where they give you a mismatched basket of food items and ask you to miraculously make something amazing out of it in 15 minutes flat. She was that good. One of my favorite memories of her cooking was just how much she could do with eggs. She could make them a million ways and they were always BOMB—and if she had cheese and tortillas—lookout because you were about to meet your new favorite dish. Breakfast for dinner was an absolute treat as a kid. She was creative, innovative, and basically a food magician. I miss this about her.

I’m not really a cook. I mean, I do cook, but I’m definitely not on her level. I am a baker though. We complemented each other this way. She would make my favorite dish when I would visit home (tostadas) and I would make oatmeal chocolate chip cookies or apple pie. In those moments, all was right with the world. And while I don’t consider myself a great cook, most of what I know, she taught me.

When my son was still a baby she showed me how to make Mexican rice. Sean loved to eat it, it was soft, fluffy, and flavorful. I can remember the first lesson in my kitchen and the subsequent lessons in her kitchen as she helped me perfect it. Mom cooked according to looks and taste, I, however, needed a mathematical formula. Through a series of trials and errors, I finally figured it out. Using an equation (yes, I am a nerd), I can figure out how to make any amount of Mexican rice needed to feed any size group. You can call it a gift…but mostly it’s a nerd thing.

After my Mom passed away, life was a blur. Daily chores were neglected, my mind foggy, I felt extremely lost. I’m sure I was exhausted in every sense of the word—mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually…you name it. And yet, people needed to eat. It was probably three weeks later when I finally got around to cooking something “real.” I decided on tacos, a dish I was certain I could make in my sleep, and of course an accompanying pan of Mexican rice. Every part of the process was agonizing. Each ingredient a tangible reminder of the mother/daughter and teacher/student relationship we had when it came to food. I immediately went to my Mexican rice math equation, but there was nothing. After almost two decades of memorization, my reliable recipe (formula) escaped me. I stood there looking at an empty pan, uncooked rice in hand and I couldn’t remember step one. Nothing, then tears.

I remember thinking, please, Lord, don’t let me forget this! I need to know how to do this. I can’t lose this. I’ve already lost too much. Please, help me to remember.

Here is the part where you might expect a sudden revelation. I hate to tell you this, but there was none. I tried. I cried. I screwed up the rice. Not only that, but I screwed it up the next time and the time after that. Time and time again I stood there, dumbfounded and lost. In the big scheme of things, forgetting how to make Mexican rice doesn’t seem like a disaster and yet it was. It all was. The pandemic, losing my Mom, coping, and trying to move on. It was all a disaster. The kids ate variations of crunchy, under seasoned, too wet, blah tasting Mexican rice…encouraging me all the way. I can remember my daughter, Casey, saying, “You’ll figure it out. Go slow.” These are phrases that I often say to my kids when they’re struggling and being hard on themselves. Hearing these words directed at me stopped me in my tracks. When a child repeats something you have frequently (or incessantly) told them it’s a parenting compliment, a parenting win. Honestly, though, I think it’s just called the circle of life.

I remember the frustration of learning new things as a child. Somethings came naturally, but for me, cooking wasn’t intuitive. My Mom was always gracious in her teaching. I went to college only knowing how to make cereal and grilled cheese, but through her guidance (and many telephone calls) learned to make so much more! I went through my Rachel Ray phase about the same time the internet and smartphones became a part of daily living enabling me to share my mealtime creations with just a click. I remember a phone conversation where she walked me through making a rue. I was terribly unsuccessful. We tried an in-person lesson on my next visit home. Still unsuccessful. It probably took me five years to learn, all the while she would say, “You’ll figure it out. Go Slow.” Yes, definitely, the circle of life.

You might be surprised to know that cooking wasn’t my Mom’s favorite thing. Talented as she was, and I’m convinced food was one of her love languages, she did it for us and for others lucky enough to be at her kitchen table. And, she always made it fun! I come from a large family, so preparing meals for gatherings was time-consuming. No matter, we all just piled into the kitchen and got to work. Mom was great at delegating tasks according to our abilities. This makes me laugh because most of my expertise was in chopping vegetables while my sister, Amanda, was in charge of more complicated (and delicious) menu items that required actual cooking and seasoning. All the granddaughters would get involved —assembly-line style—for enchiladas (a family favorite!) No one ever complained as being a part of Mom’s kitchen crew meant lots of taste testing and samples. A huge perk to the process! By far, the biggest win for me personally was the day my Mom complimented me on my Mexican rice. I carry those words around like a badge of honor, then and now.

So when I failed to remember how to make the Mexican rice, it felt like I was losing something special. In true resolute fashion, I refused to give up. With my Mom’s words in my head, I kept trying. Shortly after she passed I came across a social media post that said, “Be the things you love about the people who are gone.” I saved it on my phone, a poignant reminder on the hardest days. I’m not a cook. I don’t believe I’ve been gifted with that ability, but for my family, cooking and time in the kitchen were so much more than that. I believe my Mom cooked because she loved us and it kept us close. The kitchen was always the center of our home life growing up. The heart of the home, it’s still one of the rooms I spend the most time in, my kids, too.

It’s been more than four months now, and I’m not screwing up the rice anymore. I finally remembered the recipe (formula) and hope that I’m never in a place to forget it again as part of my Mother’s memory lives in the kitchen. She’s in every drawer as she has gifted me with a number of utensils and tools. She lives in the cupboard and the refrigerator as she has influenced the things I love to eat and feed my family. She lives on the countertop, her whiteboard taking up center stage on the kitchen island. And she’s certainly in my cookbook as I try to maintain the recipes and traditions that I’ve grown up with and pass them on to my own children.

May I be all the good things that I love about her…today and every day.

“Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10

“A Life Interrupted” is an ongoing series of blog posts dealing with the loss of my mother to COVID-19.

Anna Claus Holiday Must Haves

When you stop believing in Santa you get underwear.  –unknown

Okay, so I’m not really a member of the official Santa Claus family, but Christmas is my FAVORITE time of the year!  I am well versed in all the songs of the season, I know the “Code of Elves” verbatim and I’ve successfully completed several Christmas-themed Buzzfeed quizzes online.  So OBVIOUSLY I’m practically an adopted member of the Claus household!  As a self-appointed Christmas authority, I feel obligated to share these twelve little goodies with the planet to ensure you and yours experience your best Christmas yet!  In no particular order, I cheerfully present to you Anna Claus Holiday Must Haves…

  • Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris.  I read this collection of short, satirical (and politically incorrect) stories every December for many, many reasons.  Mostly because who doesn’t love the escapades of a grown man parading around Macy’s as an Elf, the unlikeliest Christmas Eve houseguest EVER and the snarkiest review of children’s Christmas pageants you’ll ever read?  Nothing gets me in the holiday mood quite like this fun (and funny) book.  Complete brain candy, it is good for continuous laughs.
  • Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas  If you love jazzy, upbeat Christmas music this album is for you!  The 60s style jazz offerings are traditional yet they possess that special “zing.”  CAUTION:  The “cool cat” vibe this album induces may cause scatting!  Wonderful background music for doing just about anything holiday-related.
  • Candy Canes  Nothing says Christmas like candy canes.  Sweet and pepperminty I try to consume as many as possible.  Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, it’s not unusual to find these tasty treats (and their tiny crumbs) in my purse, in my pockets or in my mouth!
  • IMG_2064Pandora’s Swingin’ Christmas Radio Station  This is the ONLY internet radio station I listen to during the holidays.  On the computer and on my phone this is my go-to background music for the holiday season.  Here you’ll find everything from the Rat Pack Christmas album and Louis Armstrong offerings to Michael Buble and everyone in between.
  • Santa Hat (Reindeer Antlers optional)  My all-time hat of choice, the Santa hat comes out right after Thanksgiving and lives among the coats all Christmas season long.  This year I’ve decided to add reindeer antlers to the list of approved December head-gear.  Very festive!
  • Starbucks Christmas Blend and Peet’s Holiday Blend Warm, sweet and spicy…this is what Christmas tastes like!  For a coffee lover like myself this is a terrific blend that gets the day going…also serves as the perfect addition to an evening dessert.  Would I like another cup?  Of course!
  • Nativity  Nativities set the scene for a Christ-centered holiday.  Our family nativity is my all-time favorite and I love to share the story about how we acquired such a unique set.  I also love visiting the homes of family and friends and seeing their nativity displays.  Most times it leads to another wonderful story as well.
  • Cookie Baking  I am probably guilty of too much cookie baking during this time of the year, but I love it!!!  I wish we could live off Christmas cookies, but I’m afraid of what we might look like if I got my wish.  Too many favorite cookies to name, I especially love making treats to give away to family and friends.
  • Hallmark Channel Christmas Movies  The Christmas season would not be complete without the Hallmark Channel!  Who can resist seeing all your favorite teen heartthrobs return in these fun and romantic Hallmark movies!  Nothing says it’s officially Christmas like the picture-perfect Christmas towns and tales of true love conquering all.  It’s the gift that keeps giving…round the clock with a new opportunity to spread a little holiday cheer every other hour!
  • Holiday Flicks  My all-time favorite is It’s a Wonderful Life, a classic with the lovable Donna Reed and her screen beau, Jimmy Stewart.  Watching the Charlie Brown Christmas is a must.  I also like to sprinkle in a little Christmas with the Kranks, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, A Christmas Story and Elf among others.
  • Christmas Lights Tour This is a tradition that goes way, way back for me.  I can remember piling up in the car as a child and checking out the Christmas lights in my little hometown.  Today, we continue to take (drag) our children out to look at the lights.  This year we cranked our adventure up a notch with a Holiday Lights Scavenger Hunt.  Great fun!
  • Snow Never a guarantee, but snow really makes it all perfect.  It seems that whenever it snows the world seems to slow down a bit…offering us a moment to take in and savor everything around us.  The holidays typically fly by…I need a little snow to take it all in.

A few honorable mentions to my list:  holiday cards, cocoa, caroling and Christmas parades!  They don’t call it the most wonderful time of the year for nothing.  Wishing you the Merriest Christmas!

 

Teen Birthday? Whatever, You’ll Always Be My Baby

I’m one of those moms who tends to go overboard with my kids’ birthdays.  Elaborate cakes, carefully planned parties, and that oh-so-perfect gift.  That being said, I had a little epiphany today–today being my son’s birthday.  As the memories came flooding back of the day he was born and the tear drops started forming, my left brain made a striking realization.  Turns out that my “overboard” approach to celebrating these special days, has a lot to do with my own personal fear of my children growing up.  So, to borrow a phrase from my mommy handbook…”you may not understand now, but I have my reasons.”

My little boy came bouncing into this world three weeks early after a healthy pregnancy turned troublesome.  I was so ready following a month of bed rest, a week of being repeatedly induced, and swelling that made me practically unrecognizable.  Our little bundle was gorgeous and perfect in every way.  And despite some post-pregnancy bumps, we finally settled into parenthood and the real fun (work?) began.

Sean was an easy baby except where sleep was concerned.  That kid hated to sleep and when he finally did fall asleep, it was never, EVER for long (a phenomenon that still holds true.)  His saving grace was his sweet little brown eyes that sparkled in the most amazing way.  Excuse my “mom-gush”, but that boy’s eyes “smile.”  Even to this day, he will be as ornery as any boy can be and follow it up with this look that could melt just about anything…especially my heart.  (Let it be noted that while these smiling eyes occasionally get him OUT of trouble, it’s the same smiling eyes that serve as his TELL when he’s trying to put one over on me.)

Like most kids, Sean has inherited qualities from both my husband and myself.  He has a terrific sense of humor like his Dad.  He’s such a funny kid with a quick wit and the ability to turn a phrase…especially when you least expect it!  Fortunately, he’s a good student like his Mom and manages to keep his clownishness at a reasonable level and not get into trouble at school.  Sean is a huge sports fan like his Dad and has enough good sense to choose the Kansas Jayhawks over every other team (like his Mom.)  Sean loves to build things and has a knack for figuring things out sans instruction booklets…that’s a Dad thing.  At the same time, he likes to watch ridiculous comedies (Kicking & Screaming, Even Stevens Movie or Christmas with the Kranks) over and over like his Mom.

So here’s where it comes full circle.  I don’t just love my son.  I really, truly like him, too…and thus, the overboard birthday parties.  I enjoy baking him extra special chocolate birthday cakes, I like creating and planning parties that reflect his favorite things, and I put a lot of thought into his gifts…all to purposefully mark the day when God blessed me with his precious child, a child who despite my objections, continues to grow up.  Let’s face it, time is ticking.  And while I am perpetually celebrating my 22nd birthday (lol), my little boy is racking up the birthday candles and moving ever closer to birthdays that I won’t be able to plan.  And it’s all coming too quickly.

Thank you, Lord, for blessing me with a gift more wonderful than anything I could have asked for.  Happy birthday, Sean.  I love you.  You are my sonshine…cheesy, but true.

Son, you outgrew my lap, but never my heart.  ~Author Unknown

Parents’ Guide to the ULTIMATE 80s Summer (Your Kids Will Thank You)

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.  –Ferris Bueller, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

So, I’m thinking about putting my current mommy neuroticism on hold for just a bit and going with the flow this summer.  Way?  WAY!  You see I was totally inspired (that’s “totes” inspired for you millennials) the other day by this clever blog about creating a ’70s style summer for ours kids.  While I could absolutely relate to the writer’s top 10, the bulk of my childhood actually took place in the 80s…complete with jams, jelly shoes, Hypercolor t-shirts, mix-tapes and some of the best movies/television EVER!  Thinking about that place in time brings back memories of super rad summers…chillin’ with choice family and friends, no grody schedules bringing us down,  livin’ it up with totally tubular fashion, and maxing out with non-stop gnarly fun 🙂  Back then we turned our nose up at bogus rules and wigged out parents that just didn’t understand the 80s way of life.  Dudes and dudettes, the 80s were BOSS and wouldn’t it be totally righteous of me to share those good times with my kiddos?  Agreed?  Cool beans.

Rockin' the 80s look!

Rockin’ the 80s look!

Here’s my take on the ULTIMATE 80s summer.  Grab your shades, fetch your fingerless gloves, style that hair sky-high…and prepare for AWESOME.  It’s going to be a tripendicular good time…major.

  • Wear what you want…how you want.  Have you seen some of the styles from the 80s?  Hideous, sure, but fun and unique every time.  I don’t remember my folks saying, “cover up” or “that’s too revealing” because in the 80s it was about funky layers and mismatched everything.  So Mom didn’t do laundry last night?  Whatever, kid…you’re living in the 80s now and your faded gym shorts look good with that yellow button down shirt…just remember to pair it with your converse sneakers and a backwards ball cap.  K-RAD.
  • Watch TV…a lot of TV…actually the same shows over and over.  Back in the day nothing new came out in the summer on television.  It was rerun city, baby, and I LOVED IT!  I didn’t mind hitting the couch, remote in hand and settling in for rerun episodes of Three’s Company, The Facts of Life and Family Ties.  So you’re replaying them during the show’s regular time slot?  Still must see TV for me!  Get hooked on my mom’s soap operas…there’s nothing else on, why not?  HBO is showing Sixteen Candles for the third time today?  I’m glued anyway.  While I’m not on board with letting my kids get hooked on soaps, I see no harm in letting them binge watch some retro goodies like Boy Meets World, The Sandlot and Goonies.  Excellent!
  • Drink Kool-Aid ALL DAY and eat your weight in Popsicles.  They always tell you to stay hydrated…especially in the heat of summer.  I know it sounds like a lot of sugar (and it is,) but that doesn’t mean anything to the 80s kid.  Orange Kool-Aid (same color and “flavor” as juice) was perfectly acceptable at breakfast with a bowl of cereal and toast.  The punch version was a staple at every birthday party I ever attended.  Lemonade Kool-Aid was just as good as fresh-squeezed and PINK lemonade Kool-Aid was the beverage of choice for the uppity, preppie set.  When you’re not sucking down this sugar-water, head on over to the freezer for a frozen treat.  Popsicles are inexpensive and unless you want to risk brain freeze, they can kill a lot of time.  Hands down…there is nothing like working on a grape popsicle while sitting on your front porch during a scorching hot, summer day, my friends.  Go ahead, kiddos, enjoy (to the max!)
  • Sunglasses are a must…even indoors and ESPECIALLY at night.  That’s right.  Wear your shades, like all the time!  Your specs speak volumes about who you are and what you stand for…sporty, goofy, cool and if you can pull off the flip-up sunglasses look…all the better!  The coolest kids I knew during childhood had a pair for every day of the week (probably mallrats.)  So come on kiddos, grab your plastic eyewear of choice and get your spec-tacular summer started.
  • Baseball and sunflower seeds.  This pretty much sums up my existence during my childhood summers.  This duo provided evening entertainment as well as a pseudo dinnertime meal.  In the 80s we didn’t have all the fancy flavors they do now…we ate our salted sunflower seeds until our lips were swollen and we lost all feeling in our tongue.  When we were done…we begged for more!  This vicious cycle is never so appealing as when we’re camped out at the baseball diamond.  Sure, you have those who prefer peanuts siting in the stands, but nothing really fills a hole (or maybe burns one in your throat) quite like sunflowers seeds.  Bonus points on your 80s summer if you can score some Astro Pops at the ball park (those bad boys look soooo much cooler than they taste!)

    The Astro Pop :)

    The Astro Pop 🙂

  • Stargazing…oh, yeah.  I can’t remember if we borrowed the telescope or if it was just handed down to us, but either way we were the luckiest kids on the block (even if we didn’t really know how to use the silly thing!)  We spent countless nights outside on our back porch just checking out the moon and trying to spot planets among the stars.  We looked for constellations and laid flat on the picnic table in our yard to take in all the night sky’s wonders.  It was peaceful and totally stellar at the same time.  Come on kids, put down your technology and open your eyes to something so much better!  Shooting stars and meteor showers are just as mind-blowing today as they were in the 80s.
  • Brush up on your gaming skills, dude.  No, I’m not talking about video games…I’m talking about real games…as in the type you gather around a table to play!  Growing up in the 80s we took our games pretty seriously.  Bragging rights were always at stake, occasionally money was involved, and sometimes a stupid dare was the prize.  Either way, we played to win.  All night Monopoly games, vicious games of Sorry and Battleship, and my favorite–card games.  Nothing says summer like a knock down game of Spoons!  This is definitely on my list for this summer.  My kiddos need to learn this throw back game and maybe even how to throw a few elbows in the process…I said we play to win, remember.
  • Fun…on the cheap, duh.  Ahhh, yes…the 80s were a good decade for America.  As kids, most of us didn’t know that we were average middle class and that was okay.  We didn’t expect new cars, designer clothes or the latest gadget.  We were content with simple things and made the most of our days with basic, cheap fun.  For example, we grew up without Supersoakers and Nerf water guns.  The sprinkler and the garden hose provided all the fun we needed.  Water balloon ambushing an unsuspecting friend walking into the backyard was good for a million laughs.  I can remember neighborhood water wars…and when our rinky-dink water guns weren’t enough to win the battle we repurposed 2 liter soda bottles to soak each other to the bone.  Make-shift water games and activities are the absolute best…and my kiddos have already started creating their own water fun with friends this summer.  No pool required.  For added inexpensive fun, check out free zoos (yes, they do exist,) state parks and road side attractions.  You have not lived until you’ve had your photo taken with an extreme size, concrete animal or the world’s largest something or other!  Homebodies can make a whole mess of fun with a good, old-fashioned watermelon feed…complete with seed-spitting contest.  Go ahead, invite the neighbors.
  • Summer music playlist…for sure.  In the 80s, a mix-tape took time and skill…and usually involved a pretty hip friend.  Getting the hook-up on the latest songs sometimes meant that you had to listen to the radio and quickly hit the record button when your favorite jam came on.  I remember countless tapes where I missed the first few beats of a song, you could hear the commercials or maybe even a little of the the DJ talking (pretty amateurish, I now, but whatevs.)  I also remember the awesome feeling that came with getting a “real” mix tape, where 5385cee5557560322982989a1b9ee844someone with an elaborate music collection or DJ skills put together only the best.  Rockin’ out in your bedroom with your boom box full blast…there’s nothing quite like it.  A close second would be toolin’ around town with your Walkman in tow.  Poolside fun requires just the right set of jams, too!  When we were old enough to cruise Main Street the perfect mix tape could make or break the night.  Today’s kiddos love music just as much and here’s where their technology could actually come in handy.  With the swipe of a finger, kids can create their own, FREE summer music playlists or tap into ready-made lists on music streaming services like Spotify, Amazon Prime Music or Pandora.  It amazes me just how much 80s music they already know thanks to pop culture, but the best part is when I pull up the old music videos for them to see with their own eyes!  Thank you, YouTube.  Let’s just say it’s good for a lot of laughs 🙂

So take a chill pill and relax.  After all, savoring summer isn’t privy to just one decade.  We can all take part in this bodacious ride!  Summertime is where we write some of our best stories.  It’s where we create many of our favorite memories and cement those relationships we will always treasure.  This is where best friends are made, family road trips take place, where crushes and first loves are experienced and we collectively have a chance to breathe and reset.  Take in the warm temperatures, go places you’ve never been, laugh a lot and when you run out of things to do–start the list all over.  The rules are different in the summer…and the 80s rules…well they just RULE!  Parents, say hello to what just might be your best summer yet.    Totally (to the max.)

The question isn’t “what are we going to do,” the question is “what aren’t we going to do?”–Ferris Bueller, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

 

KEEP CALM, Summer’s Coming (15 Sunshine-Inspired Songs) SONG 11

Golden State of mind.  –author unknown

There are moments where time simply stands still.  In those moments a solid memory is formed…and that’s where the next song on the list comes in.  “Someday” by the group Sugar Ray (released in 1999) was the soundtrack to an absolutely perfect space in time for me.  As a transplant to California, I quickly learned that there’s a learning curve to navigating the Golden State lifestyle.  First, practically everyone is beautiful.  People dress differently in Cali and carry themselves with a lot of confidence.  Next, most things costs way too much, really.  And finally, driving there is a sport.  Still, after a few months, I finally felt like I was finding my way.  This was home.It’s hard not to love California…amazing scenery and that salty, ocean smell.  I recall driving on the 101, windows rolled down, the rolling hills of Marin County in the background when this song came on the radio.  A song about having no regrets, a song about believing in the choices you have made, basically a song about contentment.  And that’s exactly what I felt in that moment.  For whatever reason, whatever my destiny was, however my purpose on this planet worked out–I wholeheartedly knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be at that particular place in time.  I’ve never forgotten that feeling.

Lead singer, Mark McGrath has said in interview that the group was about having fun and seeing just how far they could go.  While Sugar Ray actually played a wide variety of music styles…it was their pop rock, upbeat stuff that launched the group to fame.  “Someday” was a top ten hit on the Billboard Hot 100, Hot Modern Rock Tracks, Hot 100 Airplay and on the Canadian charts, as well.  The band enjoyed great success with their trademark southern California vibe.

Whenever I hear the song, I’m transplanted back to that time (I can even smell the ocean!)  My life has changed a great deal since them.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have had other experiences like the one that day.  Today, I refer to them as “God-moments,”  little assurances where I know I’m in just the right place, and I am so grateful.

UP NEXT:  Song 12…”run, run lost boy….”

 

 

 

Shout Out to Other Mothers (THANK YOU!)

MOMS.  Because not all superheroes wear capes!  -author unknown

WOW.

In case you didn’t know it, that’s MOM upside down!

Okay, all kidding aside, WOW is the only word that comes to mind for me this Mother’s Day.  I’m not sure what made this year’s holiday different, but I feel very compelled to give a huge shout out to other mothers today.  I feel like belting out a great big THANK YOU…complete with song and dance (not to mention a few hugs!)  But mostly, I just want you all to know that I see you and I really just couldn’t do this mothering thing without you.

Some have said that being a mother is the most important job on the planet.  Something along the lines of “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.”  And there’s plenty more sayings out there to describe motherhood (and, believe it or not, most of them are favorable!)  Still there’s nothing like being deep in the parenting trenches to remind you that you cannot do this alone.  We need each other…sometimes desperately.  I need you to be my eyes and ears,  I need you to catch my kids doing good AND to give me the heads up when they make poor decisions.  I need you to double-check our kids whereabouts and sleepover plans with me…because communicating in the tween/teen years can be difficult and responsibility/accountability are crucial.  I need you to share advice and help me navigate through tough situations.  And I need you to be loving examples, safe places, and trusted adults whom my kids can turn to, if needed.  And I promise to do the same…because motherhood is an interesting club.  It’s not necessarily hard to join (although I’m sensitive to the fact that it can be.)  There’s no pre-mom exam.  No age limit.  No “green light.” Some of us fit in from the get go.  Others clamor to get in.  Some of us enter hesitantly, if not reluctantly.  Many of us trudge through.  And some of us never quite find our place.  Regardless, once you’re in…YOU’RE IN.  And there’s no guarantee of success in this club.  There’s no real manual.  No graduation.  And sometimes, in spite of the numbers, it can be a pretty lonely place.  I can’t speak for everybody, but for myself I can honestly say I had no idea what I was getting into.  Albeit the oldest of four, growing up in a very large extended family, having countless hours of babysitting under my belt and with a “mother hen” type personality…I never felt like I was ready.  In fact, during my teen years and early twenties, I was pretty dead set against becoming a mother.  I had this nagging feeling in the back of my head that I wasn’t up for the task.  At age 26, my son was born…and while this was a well thought out and planned event I still knew on some level that I had no idea what I was in for (despite all my research)–and I was right!

We all know that our bodies change when we have a child.  Hormones fluctuate, things shift, etc., but what happens to your heart has to be the most remarkable, extraordinary change of all!  While the other changes occur over a matter of months, it seems that your heart changes almost immediately.  Your priorities change, your instincts change, your thought processes change…basically, what I’m trying to say here is that EVERYTHING changes.  What I was really least prepared for was the general roller coaster ride of motherhood.  The wins and the losses.  The ups and the downs.  I’m pretty much a planner (and a bit of a control freak) and motherhood is everything but a well-defined plan and you can throw any hope of control out the window.  Plan A quickly moves through the alphabet to Plan Z, and in no set pattern.  What works one day (and for one child) quickly falls to the wayside in lieu of something completely different for another child (or the same kiddo down the road.)  Uggghhh.

Photo of a soccer birthday cake (or at least what’s left of one) that a sweet “other mother” made for my son on his 15th birthday.

So for all this (and so much more) I continue to look to you, fellow mothers.  Without other mothers, I’m not sure where I would be.  I’m grateful to have my own mother to serve as an example and a guide.  Grateful for a mother-in-law who offers love and encouragement.  Grateful for a sister, who lovingly mothers all the nieces and nephews and her own stepkids with a natural mothering gift.  I’m grateful for sister-in-laws who treat my kids like their own.  And I’m especially grateful for the mothers of my children’s friends, the “church” moms, the “teacher” moms, the “neighbor” moms and other mothers in my community.  You all ROCK!  BIG thanks for your kind hearts, for the rides to and from practices/games, for the driving them through the fast food line and including them in your family plans.  Thank you for the birthday cakes, countless sleepovers, day trips and shopping excursions.  Thanks for bridging the gap when our family schedules were overloaded.  Thank you for sharing photos of my kids and yours just doing their thing.  Thank you for the “Walmart Updates.”  Thank you for not judging them harshly, for understanding that they are in a unique circumstance (as are most kids) and for offering them grace and love.  Thank you for including them in your family life.  And thank you for your example…often times it’s your own mothering actions that speak volumes.

So let’s forget the mom-shaming, the parenting peer pressure, and all the other nonsense.  And instead, keep breathing life and love into each other’s kiddos.  Keep talking, keep texting, keep cheering, keep showing up and keep vigilant.  Please continue to keep your eyes open…looking out for my kids and others.  Thank you for filling my ears (and heart) with bright spots that you see in my children.  I see the same bright spots in your kiddos, too!

We truly are on each other’s team.  Happy, happy Mother’s Day!

She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.  Proverbs 31:25

 

 

In These Desperate Times

Are we not all desperate one way or another?  Taylor Caldwell, author

The funny thing about standing on the edge is that there’s typically little to no warning that you’re about to go over.  No countdown.  No alert system.  I usually only realize that I’ve arrived at this point when one foot is dangling and the other is making every crazy attempt to stay planted.  It’s a dance I’ve seen countless times and one that I’m not proud of.

Lately, this idea of desperation has been rearing its ugly head in all kinds of places.  I see it everywhere–in my home, overheard at the grocery store, on television/radio, it’s become a mainstay on social media, I hear it in the voices of my closest loved ones and it even stares back at me from the bathroom mirror.  It’s become practically inescapable and totally overwhelming.  And it appears to be the new norm.

What I hate most about desperation is that it clouds decision-making, muddies our sense of right and wrong, and worst of all causes us to say/do things we (should) almost immediately regret (although that’s not always the case.)  And “desperation” has become so incredibly clever.  Nowadays, it masks itself as “urgency,” “FoMO” (fear of missing out) and even “self-righteousness”…often times creating an anxiety that holds us captive.  This type of desperation not only leaves us hopeless but it creates fear, anger,  and sadness.  Desperation puts us in situations we could have never imagined…poisoning ourselves and everything around us.  Numb and cowering like a defenseless animal, we can only respond by lashing out at one another or internalizing our darkest fears.  When these feelings reach their peak, one is left feeling incredibly alone.  And yet, we keep coming back to the same well.  Doing the same things.  Repeating this frantic pattern over and over.

Where is the faith, the peace, the hope?  As a Christian, I think it’s in the same place it’s always been–Jesus.  I’ve noticed that as our culture continues to distance itself from God…the only truly content people I can find are those who consider themselves followers of Christ.  In fact, one of the reasons I was so drawn to Christianity was the sense of peace that Jesus offers.  Picture the most devout person you know and I’m willing to bet that person just exudes peace.  Shining, content, grace-filled peace…in abundance.  The kind of peace we hope to capture for ourselves.

We’ve been conditioned to believe that peace is elusive…only attainable after years of practice.  We’ve been told that peace is for the enlightened, those who have achieved some higher level learning.  We’ve been advised that peace is for the naive.  And we’ve been warned that peace simply cannot exist.  And I think that’s exactly what the world wants us to believe.

There are no quick answers here, only prayer.  Distancing ourselves from desperation requires discipline and personal growth.  I imagine it’s a lifelong endeavor, but one well worth every effort.  I refuse to drink from the world’s cup and fall prey to these desperate times.  I will continue to seek out those whose grace-filled examples serve as encouragement and inspiration.   And I fully plan to surround myself with only His perfect peace.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Romans 15:13

Closing Time (Every New Beginning Comes from Some Other Beginning’s End)

She believed she could, so she did. –R.S. Grey

A young woman who I know AND love is about to do something BIG and brave…and I couldn’t let this occasion go by without penning a few thoughts…because what’s the point of growing older (and wiser) if you can’t drop some knowledge on a youngster, right?  Amen.

myrandaMost of these musings came to me at 2am.  I mention this as both a disclaimer and an explanation to the randomness of these points, but let me start at the beginning.  I remember the day you were born.  Driving down the highway to the nearby town, your aunt and I talked excitedly about our soon-to-arrive niece.  I’m pretty sure we didn’t know exactly what to expect, so when we were invited into the delivery room we stood dumbfounded.  Now that you know us (and my aversion to all things medical) you can probably guess that we declined and opted to do the next best thing–MAKE A SIGN!  We sat in the hallway with a poster board and some markers scribbling a “welcome baby” greeting just for YOU!  From the beginning, you were so loved.  For years, our whole family life revolved around you.  When I would come home from college, you were one of the people I most looked forward to seeing.  I liked to rock you to sleep and quietly sing the KU alma mater song…because I found the song both hopeful and soothing (and I wanted to make sure you grew up to be a Jayhawk fan.)  Funny how things come full circle…it was this memory that actually brought me to write this blog which I hope will be equally hopeful and soothing to you as you ironically prepare to move to Manhattan, Kansas!  So here goes:

  • Moving away from home/going to school takes guts.  Not everyone can do it.  Not everyone should do it, but having the courage to walk away from everything you know and try something new/exciting/scary and uncomfortable deserves some major props.  In doing this, you have already proven one thing:  you are WILLING to take chances.  Kudos.
  • In many ways you’ve been preparing for this your whole life and in many other ways you’re not prepared at all.  This is okay.  In fact, it’s better than okay.  It’s absolutely normal.
  • Good things will happen and bad things will happen, too.  How you deal with these things will make all the difference.  My favorite quote is by author Og Mandino.  It says “Count your blessings, proclaim your rarity, go another mile, USE WISELY YOUR POWER OF CHOICE, and one more–to fulfill the other four–do all things with love…love for yourself, love for all others, and love for GOD….You Are the Greatest Miracle in The World.”   You can always choose.  Remember that no hole is too deep, no place is too far for redemption.
  • Never date a man with hair longer than your own.  Random, I know…but really.  Who needs the competition?  I actually came up with this rule while visiting friends at K-State.  I can’t remember what the circumstances were exactly, but it’s a rule that has served me well.  BTW…man buns are now included in this one.
  • Talk to God (a lot) and don’t forget to listen, too.  Although I think you should go to church, I have to admit that I didn’t attend while I was in college.  I can honestly tell you that I missed out and I would definitely do this part differently today.  Nonetheless, I did a whole lot of praying during that time and LISTENING to God, too.  This saved my bacon more than once and I am eternally grateful.  Looking back I can clearly see God at work during my college years.  Make your relationship with Him a priority.
  • Practice the “pause.” I didn’t come up with this…I’m not sure who did, but it makes a lot of sense and it may actually save your life someday.  “When in doubt, pause.  When angry, pause.  When tired, pause.  When stressed, pause.  And when you pause, always pray.”
  • Keep an eye on your drink.  Again, another random one…but this is vital.  There are bad guys (and girls) out there.  People who do not have your best interest at heart.  People who will try to use (and abuse) you and hurt you to satisfy their own evil desires.  These people will buy you drinks and worse, they may even spike your drink.  I made it a practice to never, ever, EVER accept a drink from a stranger (and eventually I didn’t accept any drinks at all.)  It was not always well received.  I’ve been called countless names, been yelled at, and made fun of.  I didn’t care.  In fact, it just proved that this was someone who I definitely didn’t have any business hanging out with.  If someone wants to buy you a drink, great.  The two of you can go up to the bar and order it together.  At a party, keep in mind that you are perfectly capable of pouring your own drink.  Carry a water bottle (drunkenness is overrated anyway.)  Be on guard.  Protect yourself…and look after your friends, too.
  • You’re not expected to peak now.  While these clearly are some of the best days of your life…they’re not the only days of your life.  Someday you might choose to travel, land your dream job, become President, meet an awesome guy, have a fabulous wedding, start your own business, become a mother…the list goes on and on.  Life is a series of journeys.  Never think that your best days are behind you…always look forward.
  • Trust your gut…that’s the Holy Spirit at work.  Look people in the eye, but more importantly watch what they say and do.  I wholeheartedly believe God speaks to us and a little warning light goes off when we’re in bad company.  Do not ignore this!  Women (especially) tend to discount this small little voice.  We want to be nice, we want to give people the benefit of the doubt, we don’t want to seem childish or afraid…you get the point.  So we make nice…and often times this puts us in very vulnerable situations.  If it doesn’t feel right, it isn’t right.  End of story.  You owe no one an explanation.
  • Finally, know this…you can always go home.  ALWAYS.  There is no shame.  You’ve stepped out once, you can and will do it again.  This IS life.  Having a home base is a luxury not afforded to everyone.  You have a family that would move mountains for you (just ask.)  This is an incredible blessing.

There are a lot of people rooting for you, kid.  Team MO is firmly in your corner!  You’re going to do great…I just know it.  Do your very best, make good choices, and have lots of fun.  You are so loved.

The old is gone.  The new is here. 2 Corinthians 5:17

 

Dollar Store Jesus

“Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.” Psalm 31:24

The Holy Spirit spoke to me while putting away Christmas decorations last year.  “Leave this one out,” it urged, “Place it some place where you will see it.  Leave it some where so you won’t forget.”  This Divine nudge prompted me to leave the Dollar Store Jesus on the shelf in the dining room.

dollar-tree-jesusAt first, it felt odd.  Really odd.  Not a lick of glittery, sparkly Christmas décor around and there sat the clumsily painted baby Jesus.  A gift to my son from several years back.  A tradition really, as I always try to purchase a little something for the kiddos to remind them of the true Reason for the season.  Mostly I buy ornaments, but when the children were very young I wanted them to have a “hands on” experience with Jesus.  The Dollar Store is perfect for gifts like this…it was a cost-effective way to teach the children to be careful with breakables while allowing them to touch, feel, and hold an item so precious.  If it broke, no problem.  We would carefully glue it back together or (as is prone to happen with little boys) we would sweep up the pieces.  I wanted them to know that Jesus was always within reach and as a result various Dollar Store Jesus figurines would live among other toys, on their bedroom night stands or carried in a backpack to preschool show-and-tell…all December long.  The collection grew larger each year with a few duplicates after Casey was born (whatever Sean had, Casey had to have, too) and then back in the box they would go.  Until now….

Over the past year, this Dollar Store Jesus has lived among various other holiday decorations, next to the kiddos’ photographs, by the clock, near the plants, and on the piano.  I laugh to myself every time I place Him in a new “home.”  Will anyone notice?  (They did.) Will anyone care?  (This is yet to be determined.)  Regardless, I know He’s there…reminding me.  EVERY DAY JESUS.

Peace on earth will come to stay, when we live Christmas every day.  -Helen Steiner Rice

A Case for Kitchen Walls (My Rally Cry Against Open Concept)

The kitchen is the heart of the home.  –author unknown

When I was a kid I remember telling my Mom all about my dream house.  I mean, if Barbie could have a dream house…surely I could, too.  In my simplistic, imaginary abode there would be few rooms (less to clean,) one room completely without furniture (reserved exclusively for me,) and absolutely NO KITCHEN.  “How will you eat?” she asked, “Where will you prepare your food?”  Okay, Mom, I didn’t have it all worked out.  I always thought food was overrated anyway, but in a pinch I figured a microwave and a mini refrigerator would bail me out.  Eventually, I developed a love for baking and thus a kitchen became a necessary evil in my small mind, but it still didn’t make me an overall fan of the kitchen.  In fact at that point, I started championing the idea of paper everything.  Paper plates, paper cups, disposable silverware, etc.  I even spoke of inventing paper pots and pans (I was a tween at this point and HATED doing the dishes!)  Finally, as a young adult preparing my own meals in a “one-butt” kitchen, I gave up on the idea of the “kitchen-free” home.

Fast forward many years (and many kitchens later,) and I practically double over laughing at myself for these crazy anti-kitchen ideas.  Especially now that I claim the kitchen as my favorite room in the whole house.  No, it’s not because I somehow became a master chef (we all know that didn’t happen.)  The reality is that no one in my home seems to really enjoy being in the kitchen. For our family, the kitchen is for doing homework afterschool and grabbing the occasional meal together.  This means that I basically have this room all to myself, ALL THE TIME.  As an introvert…this qualifies as my own little inner sactum.  And I like it that way.  So when everybody on HGTV demands open concept, I’m the one screaming at the television, “DON’T DO IT!”  Keep your walls, people.  Whatever you do, keep your walls!!!

Obviously, no one is listening to me.  Kitchen remodels are underway as we speak and the people are clamoring for the open concept.  Apparently, we’re all hosting large dinner parties and get-togethers thus making the need for a life without walls mandatory.  I believe the folks on HGTV call this ideal for “entertaining” and everyone on the planet is doing this but me!  Look, I’ve had the open concept kitchen before.  It meant that I was subject to watch/listen to whatever the person in the “family” part of the room had on the television.  It meant no private phone calls.  It meant constant interruptions.  If I wanted to take in a little talk radio or music (as I am prone to do,) I had to do so via ear buds which meant I couldn’t hear my kiddos (this is imperative as everyone knows that the best time to act up is when mom is out of earshot.)  The open concept was also problematic whenever company decided to drop by unexpectedly (as is apt to happen in a parsonage.)  Oh yes…on HGTV the kitchen portion of the open concept is always spotless.  In real life, however, the kitchen is a constant work in progress.  I don’t know about you, but a pile of dishes in the background quickly negates any inclination toward hospitality.  I just remember feeling so self-conscious.  I know, real friends don’t judge…but come on, it’s a little weird to have your breakfast leftovers hanging out for all to see.  Then there’s the smell.  Okay, we all burn the bacon every once in a while, but sitting down on your couch and catching a whiff of it in the fabric of your decorative pillows hours later is just not worth it.  And since I’m laying out my case, have you ever noticed that food travels just a little easier in the open concept home?  Toddlers suddenly believe that mac and cheese is good at the kitchen table, but even better on the living room floor.  Uuugggghhhh.

kitchenI could go on and on about the pitfalls of the open concept, but what really inspires me are all the perks of having a “real” kitchen (complete with WALLS.)  This is my space.  I control the lighting, the radio, and the level of activity in this room.  I can quickly whip something up for dinner or I can methodically (and slowly) try out a new recipe with the level of concentration a less-than-great cook requires.  I can spread out without the risk of someone “observing” and judging the madness.  I can multi-task and take my time cleaning up (or better yet, I can just walk away.)  Like a dictator, I can make sure food doesn’t wander out of this space.  While kitchen smells always migrate, I am less likely to catch a whiff of “Taco Tuesday” in the couch cushions on Wednesday morning.  Still, my all time favorite argument in defense of kitchen walls is that I can dance.  A lot.  I can blast New Kids on the Block, George Strait, or my non-stop Christmas music and jitterbug, two-step and let loose to my heart’s delight.  It’s at times like these that walls make all the difference.

I’m no interior designer (and no one is asking,) but I have a feeling that the open concept is here to stay.  As much as I love HGTV, I am fully aware of the more/bigger/better/different agenda that permeates our culture and homes.  Still, I will not be deterred.  Say it loud, say it proud…I AM ALL FOR WALLS…because if cooking is good for the soul, then the sanctity of the kitchen must be a personal heaven.

When life is heavy and hard to take, go off by yourself. Enter the silence.  (Lamentations 3:28)