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)

 

 

 

My Least Favorite Question (A Mini-Rant)

A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer.  –Bruce Lee

People ask questions.  Some appropriate, some inappropriate.  Some thoughtful, some downright stupid.  I have to admit that as I’ve aged I’ve noticed that I’m often on the receiving end of very polite queries (because being 40-something has its perks?)  Gone are the days of fielding ridiculous questions from peers.  Adios, unseemly questions from guys.  It seems like the only people with a license to ask me anything personal has been narrowed down to family and a few close friends.  It’s not that I’m anti-question…I just think for the most part my matronly disposition wins out–“respect your elders” and all that.  I wouldn’t even be entertaining the topic of questions if it hadn’t come up recently.  And when I went to file it away in my little brain I realized that I put it in a folder that I’ve labeled “My Least Favorite Question,” and let me tell you…this file is getting thick.

Spencer FamilyThe funny thing about this file is that My Least Favorite Question has nothing to do with me and everything to do with my kids.  I’m trying to decide if I’m overreacting…and if nothing else, just get to the root of why it bothers me so much.  So here it is.  My heart absolutely sinks when people ask my kids, “Are you going to be a Pastor like your Dad when you grow up?”  It probably doesn’t sound like much but it’s bothered me for years and now that my kiddos are getting older (tween & teen,) it actually bothers me more.  I mean, if your mom’s a teacher does that mean you’re going into education?  If your dad sells insurance is that your child’s assumed destiny?  Not necessarily, right?  So hear me out.  I would love for my children to go into the ministry!  What an amazing blessing it would be to see my children choose to serve the church full-time.  I would be so incredibly proud if they opted to attended seminary/Bible college and become ordained clergy.  I can think of nothing better.  Still I cringe when people ask…mostly because I think it is unfair.  Unfair…and maybe even detrimental to their faith development.

If you have a minute just google “pastors kids” or “PKs.”  There’s a lot more out there than I expected…and most of it negative.  Despite the stereotypes, I’ve tried really hard to raise “regular” kids.  “Regular” kids who go to church.  I remind them that they are loved by God, created for a purpose, and gifted with talents and abilities.  These are things that I think all parents should say to their children.  They are not more special than anyone else, set aside or placed on any sort of pedestal.  They are works in progress (as we all are) and yet in a recent conversation I’ve discovered (again) that they have been placed in uncomfortable positions and asked faith questions that no youth should have to answer to.  One child responds politely (perhaps because this child hasn’t been asked particularly difficult questions yet) while the other child has been asked about homosexuality, evolution vs. creation, validity of the Bible, and more.  I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t answer these questions as a kid…I’m not sure I want to debate these questions as an adult…let alone with someone older or in a more authoritative position than myself.  It’s not right…and it never takes place while my husband and I are around.

In this latest exchange, my child was so put off by the questioning that the only way to move the conversation forward was to change the subject altogether.  And for the first time, I sensed a weariness in the retelling…almost like this might not be worth it.  God.  Faith.  Church.  Often times, Christians are characterized as being judgemental, but I’m pretty sure it works both ways.  I hate that this happened (again.)  I can only imagine how uncomfortable this must be…to have what was a fun evening with friends, suddenly interrupted by an adult who puts you on the spot about what your Dad does for a living.  So now I’m scrambling…for coping mechanisms and tools, for words and remedies.  How can I make this better?  How can I better prepare them?  Being a Pastor is nothing to be ashamed of, neither is being a Christian or going to church.  In a world where anything goes, why does this put my kiddos on the hot seat?

Here’s a newsflash…these kids didn’t choose their parent’s profession.  These kids didn’t go to Bible college alongside their parents.  And I’m pretty sure these kids aren’t giving sermons on Sunday morning.  Today, I know of a handful of PKs who have left their faith…and statistics point to so many more like them.  Each story varies but a couple of comments stick out like “glass house,” never feeling like a “regular kid,” and “negative experiences.”  Countless blogs and articles have been written about these types of hurts.  Intense feelings that lead them to walk away from God altogether.  My heart sinks more.  I’m not asking that you handle my children with kid-gloves.  I’m asking that you not single them out, understand that they’re not Biblical scholars, and please stop asking them if they’re going into the ministry (because if they do, I’ll let you know.  In fact, I’ll probably throw a party!)  In the meantime, just let them be “regular” kids…”regular” kids who go to church.

“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.”  Matthew 7:12

 

 

Why I STILL Make My Kids’ Beds

If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.  –Admiral William H. McRaven

I am the mother of two kiddos…a tween girl and a teen boy and I STILL make their beds. Not every day (as if that makes the whole thing better,) but practically every day.  This revelation is something that I rarely talk about and a topic that makes me a little uncomfortable sharing.  At first glance, it probably sounds like I’m some sort of Martha Stewart control freak or worse yet–a mother who coddles her kids too much.  I can hear it now, “She STILL makes their beds?  Really?  Wow.  How old are they?”  On more than one occasion I’ve been accused of not letting them grow up, trying to make them permanent dependents, permitting/encouraging laziness and impeding their emotional development.  Ouch!  An unmade bed is a pet peeve for a lot of people.  I get it.  Honestly, I know it’s a little (or a lot) quirky, but I really don’t plan on stopping anytime soon…and I have my reasons.

I’m a creature of habit.  When the children were little, I would use the time that I spent in their bedrooms as an opportunity to pray for them.  Nothing fancy or formal…just a few quick words.  Praises for the good days and prayers for strength on the tough ones.  And while we have prayed with the kiddos at bedtime ever since they were teeny tiny, I quickly discovered how much I think about my children when they’re away from home.  When my son went off to school I missed him terribly.  It was just preschool and just a few hours a day, but I wondered how he was doing?  What he was doing?  If he was okay? And on and on.  Instead of spinning in this cycle of worry, I decided to get pro-active and purposefully pray for his day while I made his bed.  And I never stopped.  When my daughter came along, I added her to the daily ritual.  In the five minutes it takes to make a bed I would pray for his/her well-being, his/her character, his/her faith development, those in their classrooms, their teachers, their circle of friends, etc.  I prayed offensively and defensively.  Some days I give thanks and other times I find myself on my knees (things sure get complicated as they grow up!)  But most importantly, I pray regularly.

After so many years, this daily practice hasn’t changed much.  Some days I sing hymns as I go about straightening up their rooms.  I mostly pray silently, but occasionally I pray out loud.  The family dog even gets in on the action.  She frequently comes into the room and guards the door…she knows the routine and has become something of a prayer partner.  This past week I have been in earnest prayer for one of my kiddos and decided to write about my prayer pattern.  What’s been reinforced to me lately is that praying includes a lot of listening, too.  And I am grateful for that.  What started out as a personal antidote to worry and stress has proven itself time and time again as a recipe for peace and assurance…and I thought it was worth sharing with my fellow parents in the trenches.

Someday my kids will make their own beds (and in case you’re wondering, YES, they know how.)  But for the time being, I’m happy to straighten sheets, tidy up pillows and simply pray.

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.  1 Thessalonians 5:16

 

I Have So Much to Tell You….

There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings. –Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Used to be that if you found an interesting news article, you’d clip it out of the newspaper/magazine and store it in a safe place.  Sometimes, if it was particularly moving or important, you’d haul yourself down to a Kinko’s or something and make copies.  If one deemed it EXTRA pertinent, you might purchase a stamp and mail it to someone.  In today’s “copy and paste” world, news nerds like myself are one click away from sharing various news links…or in my case, SAVING, interesting articles.

FullSizeRenderI have several dozens saved.  I won’t give you an exact number…as it might be used against me as a measurement of my nerdiness.  You can probably imagine that several of these saved articles fall into the faith and family categories.  What can I say other than that I’m fairly predictable and in some regards, very old school.  I tried sharing a SAVED article with my son recently…via a link in a text message…to which I received a sullen reply and an interesting emoticon followed by the words “you know, I’m not reading this.”  Sure, I’ve been known to send him (and my daughter) preachy sorts of things, but in my defense this was actually a sports article and a good one at that.  But my kids are too wise and know their mother too well…the warning lights start flashing, “SHE’S TRYING TO TELL US SOMETHING.”  And, yes, they’re right.

Lately, my SAVED files have been focused on one subject–SUBSTANCE ABUSE.  I have countless, tragic articles on teens dying as a result of drinking games, drunk driving accidents, and every type of drug overdose.  It’s morbid, I know.  Some of these news links have photos…sweet, smiling photos of adolescents who have become victims and horrible, graphic photos of teenagers lost too soon.  These are the kinds of things that break my heart.  In the sweet smiling photos I see my own babies…innocent and full of promise.  In the horrible, graphic photos I feel my eyes well up with tears and my throat tighten at what I can only imagine is a mother’s worst nightmare.

The researcher in me keeps hitting the “save” button and then I pour over the article looking for what went wrong and scanning the account for early warning signs and prevention strategies.  The mother bear in me keeps hitting the “save” button, vowing that I will protect my children from drugs and alcohol at all costs.  The realist in me keeps hitting the “save” button knowing that these sorts of things are happening NOW, in our schools and in our community.  I do these things all the while praying…for an angel to watch over my kiddos, for good role models and friends for them, and that I might be the kind of parent that can love them through anything.  I do this because I am not naïve, families (like mine and like yours) have been hit over the head and completely broken by these sorts of tragedies.  If my research has proven anything, it’s that no one is immune.

no hope with dope

Saved by the Bell. Season 3, Episode 21. 1991

But the news nerd in me says, “Tell them, show them” as I compile my montage of anecdotes and news links about the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse.  I play out in my head conversations about how to handle alcohol and what responsible drinking looks like and then, oftentimes following beer commercials (while watching sports on TV,) we talk about it.  I remind the kids that alcoholism has taken the lives of family members.  We talk about some of the science behind addiction.  I quote my mantra (courtesy of the Saved by the Bell television show,) THERE’S NO HOPE WITH DOPE.  (I have actually told my children that I would foot the bill for that tattoo!)  I scrunch up my nose every time some one tries to convince me that recreational marijuana is a good idea…and then I talk about it with my kids.  I tell them that while I worked as a reporter that I met a woman who was my age (22 at the time) and addicted to meth.  She looked gaunt with leathery skin.  She slurred her words because she had lost so many teeth as a result of her addiction.  Her hair was falling out and she was in jail.  I remember this so clearly because in talking with her we discovered that we had similar backgrounds…middle class upbringing, two parent household, grew up in a small town, etc.  And yet our lives were so different.  When I share these things, I’m bold enough to tell them, “This is NOT for YOU.”  And then I pray some more.

So here’s what I want them to know….

  • With one “hit,” they can drastically change their life.
  • Drinking games are not games.
  • Underage drinking and drug use is dumb (you’re destroying brain cells) and dangerous.
  • Being “under the influence” of anything will cause you to make horrible decisions.
  • Be on guard.  Today strangers (and so-called friends) can put drugs/alcohol in your drinks and food.
  • Bad guys will prey upon girls (and boys) who are under the influence.
  • There will be photographs and I will find out.

And here’s what I also want to tell them….

  • I love you.  I will help you and care for you first…but that doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences or a lecture for bad choices.
  • A bad day, date, break-up does not determine your worth.  Don’t add to your heartache by throwing drugs and alcohol into the mix.
  • Peer pressure sucks.  I taught you to the difference between right and wrong.  Be strong.  It won’t be easy, but I believe it is in you to say “No,” in fact I’ve heard you say it a thousand times already.
  • I’m going to ask you where you’re going and who you’re with.  This is for both of us.  It makes you accountable and helps me gauge just how much I should worry about you and whether or not I should just NOT let you go.
  • And finally, don’t die doing something stupid!

I’m sick of people glamorizing drugs and alcohol…in music, television and social media.  It turns my stomach to see celebrities practically endorsing this kind of lifestyle.  It’s gut wrenching to see so many young people, full of hope and promise, end up broken or dead…and for what?  I wish I didn’t have a SAVE list full of these horror stories, but I do.  So listen up, kiddos, I will continue to tell you (and your friends) all about them.  I will even share the photos.  Know that I’m adding to my arsenal of articles everyday…because you are loved and I truly do have so much more to tell you.

Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.  Proverbs 1:8

 

 

 

 

Christmas Trilogy, Part 3: The Sticky Nativity

The magic of Christmas is not in the presents, but in His presence.  –Unknown

I’m just CRAZY about Christmas!  I always have been.  And somehow, I have managed to let both the secular and the sacred share space in my heart (with the tie going to the sacred, of course!) during this magical time of year.  As a kid, I remember Christmas Eve worship and how I especially loved the nativity at my Mom’s house.  I can recall that it was tucked away each year in its original box, every piece finding its place in the foam packaging.  When my mother set it out…baby Jesus, Joseph, Mary and the gang all hung out in a miniature stable that my grandpa made.  Examining each piece, I can still see the beautiful face of Mary and the baby Jesus…surrounded by hay…looking so heavenly and angelic.  Both a baby and a Savior.  The little set symbolizing an extraordinary and miraculous moment in time.  Joseph looking so noble…the epitome of honor and faithfulness.  There were farm animals, an angel, a shepherd boy, and the three wise men, of course.   It was pretty wonderful.

So, it sort of surprises me that I never had a nativity of my own.  Not when I went away to college, not when I took my first job in Arkansas, not when I moved to California, and not when I got married.  In fact, I didn’t have a nativity until after my son, Sean, was a year old.  It all happened in another magical moment at Hobby Lobby (seems that this store is the scene for many Spencer Family Christmas memories!)

After moving halfway across the country from California to Kansas, my mother-in-law, Sean and I found ourselves in the Hobby Lobby in Salina…for what I remember was a brief and snack-filled trip to do a little Christmas shopping (by the way, Cheez-Its make for great toddler payola…just saying!)  Strolling through a craft warehouse with a 1 year old BOY is no easy task!  So when it looked like Sean was going to leap out of the cart at any moment, Karen suggested that Sean help us pick out a nativity for our home.  This was a genius idea because it gave my toddler a sense of purpose and I was just thrilled with the thought of having a nativity of my own.  In record time, my excitement turned to worry as I remembered that something as fragile as a porcelain nativity probably wouldn’t last but a second in our house.  Sean was just so hands-on about everything!  In the back of my mind I had planned to buy him a Fisher Price Little People nativity set for Christmas.  It was important to me that he understand the Christmas story…and at an age appropriate level.  He already had a few Little People collections…the train set and the airport.  Still, it couldn’t hurt to look at the nativities on display at the store.

FullSizeRender (5)It was pretty amazing…an entire aisle with nativities in every shape and size imaginable.  My thoughts were racing…where would we put such a fragile item?  Karen must have heard the wheels grinding in my head.  After explaining my thoughts, she said, “Sean will pick out the one that he likes best…and we will teach him to care for it and look after it.”  My heart was touched as I watched her talk with Sean about picking out a baby Jesus to take to his house.  She reminded him that he would have to take extra special care of it!  And asked him if he was ready to choose one.  Sean beamed!  From an early age, Sean could tell a story with his eyebrows (a talent he inherited from Grandma Karen.)  One second the eyebrows would be arched high as he caught a glimpse of something intriguing.  The next minute the eyebrows would be furrowed as he inspected his options.  Sometimes just one eyebrow would lift as if he was thinking really hard.  It was a wonderful little dance.  When he finally picked one, all three of us knew this was the nativity for us.  It was perfect.  A chunky little wooden nativity…not too big and not too small.  Sean touched each piece and seemed very delighted with the farm animals in this set.  Since all the nativities were technically “on display” we found a store worker who immediately set out to find us a boxed set from the storage room.  However, when she came back, she wasn’t carrying a box.  Uh-oh.  She explained that they hadn’t ordered many of this set and that they were sold out.  She had also checked to see if getting one before Christmas was a possibility.  It was not.

IMG_3354Karen is always cool as a cucumber in these sorts of situations.  Clearly, THIS was the set that Sean wanted.  She didn’t want to disappoint her grandson so she did what ANY grandmother would do.  She asked if we could buy this very set.  The store worker said that in any other situation she would love to sell it to us, except that this set had been GLUED to the foam board it rested upon.  She pulled off one of the wise men to demonstrate.  Stuck to his base was loads of navy blue paper and foam.  Both Karen and the worker tried to pull it off.  It was no easy task.  Even if we pulled each piece from the board we would then have to pull off loads of paper scraps.  The lady said that the pieces might not even stand correctly given the amount of glue left on the base.  She obviously didn’t know who she was dealing with…Karen said she would work all that out later if we could just buy this nativity set.  And so, it was settled.

Sean held the wise man in his hot little hands as we arranged the foam board and the glued down pieces across the shopping cart basket.  There were quite a few stares, but we managed to check out and make it to the car.  From the moment we got home Karen worked on releasing each character from the foam…carefully pulling off paper and glue.  Her beautifully manicured nails probably got the raw end of the deal that day as she scraped and scraped.  Each time she finished a piece she handed it to Sean.  His eyebrows went to work again…doing their little dance as he checked out each one.  He would show it to me and then go and show his Dad and then show me again.  I think Sean had already had a bath and was tucked into bed before Karen had finished them all.  It was truly a labor of love.

IMG_2682Sean played with the nativity all December long.  Each day he would rearrange them and make sure the animals were “fed.”  Since our set didn’t come in a box, we lovingly packed them away in an oversized shoe box after the holidays, unpacking them with great delight the next year and the year after that.  Sean never seemed to tire of “playing” with the set.  When Casey came along (and was old enough to follow her brother everywhere,) he explained the cast of characters to her.  “This is baby Jesus…His mom’s name is Mary and His dad’s name is Joseph…,” and on down the line.  These are the moments that live in a mother’s heart for eternity.

Today, the nativity makes its home in front of the fireplace each Christmas and it serves as the centerpiece of our Christmas Eve dinner table.  I still love taking it out of the shoe box each and every year…a flood of memories spilling out with each “sticky” piece.

Love came down at Christmas,

Love all lovely, Love Divine,

Love was born at Christmas,

Star and Angels gave the sign.

–Christina Rossetti

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Trilogy, Part 2: Deck the Halls with Christmas Spew, Falalalala Lalalala

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere you go….  –Meredith Willson

You know the Christmas trees you see at the store?  The pretty ones that they put in the windows and on display for everyone to gawk at and fawn over.  The perfect ones that force you to stop in your tracks and make your mind ponder (just for a moment) if perhaps you’re really ready for a “grown-up” tree.  The kind of tree that screams I have style AND taste.  Yeah, I’ve seen those trees, too….

Mom's Christmas tree 2015

My Mom’s Christmas tree display 2015.

Lately, I’ve seen a lot of them.  Not just at the stores, but on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest (the social media list goes on and on) and even in the homes of family members and friends.  It seems to me that everyone has one of these beautifully accessorized trees.  And this sort of thing stands out to me, not because I’m envious or jealous but more from a place of sheer admiration.  You see, I LOVE Christmas trees…all kinds (and especially the Charlie Brown one,) but in my heart of hearts I always imagined that I, too, would have one of these special Christmas trees…a “magazine ready,” picture perfect tree.

My Mom has that kind of Christmas tree.  I can remember the red apple tree, the blue and silver bulb tree, and the crystal snowflake tree, among others.  I always assumed that would be my destiny–like mother, like daughter.  In fact, I tried really hard to have one many moons ago.  When I met my husband he had a Christmas tree in his living room…in May.  Granted it was a mini TV top tree, but he had it on display for Memorial Day, I guess (oh, and a plush Thanksgiving turkey was placed next to it, too, probably to welcome the summer season.)  I took this as a sign that he wasn’t much into decorating and eventually I filed it away as proof that I would be in charge of all holiday décor.  So when we graduated from tiny, dorm apartment living and moved to a home in  Salina, I figured this was my big break.  I was going to do Christmas my way.  I remember telling my Mom that I was going for a blue/white/silver snowman theme.  She purchased ornaments to get me started and I began to gather all the “right” accessories as well.  Our son, Sean, was just over a year old, and after photos with Santa one night, we came home to decorate the tree.  And while I was strategizing and putting a final game plan together, Steve and Sean were already placing ornaments on the tree.  What?

IMG_3328Turns out these ornaments were from Steve’s childhood along with a few others that his mother had passed down to us.  (I’m still not sure where this box came from.)  Sean looked thrilled as several of these ornaments were football related.  And I remember stopping in my tracks and thinking that 49er red really didn’t go with my snowman theme…at all.  Obviously, a “discussion” ensued.  That Christmas the tree was properly adorned with blue/white/silver snowman themed items and EVERY ornament my husband had ever owned in his life.  I figured I had lost the battle, but certainly not the war.  There was always next year, and the year after that, and the one after that.  The odds, however, were not in my favor.

Please don’t feel bad for me.  It really wasn’t a make or break deal.  I love Christmas and pretty much all things Christmas related.  So we moved on and it wasn’t until Sean was in preschool that I finally got on board with the “all-things, everything” kind of Christmas tree.  When that sweet-faced little boy brought me his first homemade ornament from school and proceeded to put it on the tree…well, my heart melted.  He was so proud of himself.  A little man contributing to a holiday that I loved so much.  Sean would tell me in his tiny voice, “I made it for you.”  So naturally every scribbled on, wadded up, half-glued, misshapen ornament made its way onto the tree–as it should.  And when Casey came along, well her “contributions” went up right along side his.

ornamentsAs you can imagine, after more than a decade of “contributions” amassed from school AND church, we now have quite a collection going.  Add to it EVERY ornament we have ever received from relatives, friends, plus our church family, and it amounts to 7 boxes of Christmas knickknack goodies.  Every year the tree is quite full (this may be an important factor when you consider the number of times the tree has fallen over the years,) but I wouldn’t have it any other way.  The Spencer Family Christmas tree is full of as many stories and memories as it is ornaments.  This year the kids asked me if we really had to hang every last trinket from the boxes.  I guess they thought that maybe the “bead ornament” (there really is no other name for it since it resembles absolutely NOTHING ever known to man) and the “paper Jesus candy cane” may have seen better days.  “If there’s room on the tree, then there’s room for it,” was my constant reply.  And while I think the “all-things, everything” kind of Christmas tree has roots in my husband’s Christmas tradition, he is the one who announces every year that “it looks like Christmas threw up in here!”  At least he says it with a smile.

Merry Christmas 2015 wideOur tree is still up (it’s New Year’s Day,) it’s leaning to the side as is its custom during the 12 Days of Christmas, and the ornaments are taking themselves down (with a mini thud!)  The Christmas “spew” extends well beyond the tree to the fireplace mantel, hearth, the piano and into the dining room, and it will…for at least another week.  Yes, it STILL looks like Christmas in here and everywhere we go…even if it’s the regurgitated type.  Falalalala Lalalala!

I get obsessed with decorations and decorating the house.  I keep it tasteful outside, but when you get inside it is a bit like Blackpool illuminations, I go BONKERS!  –Johnny Vegas

Stay tuned for Christmas Trilogy, Part 3:  The Sticky Nativity

Christmas Trilogy, Episode 1: THOSE Christmas Aprons

Memories are timeless treasures of the heart.  -Unknown

Sometimes I think that we open some of our very best Christmas presents long before the big day arrives.  For me, there’s something special about unpacking all the Christmas décor, ornaments, and trinkets that I’ve collected through the years.  Every December we lug the boxes upstairs and like little kids open each with a sense of excitement–kind of like running in to an old friend or finding something that was once lost.  My kids (even as a tween and teen) exclaim, “Remember this!” Or they’ll question me, “Why did you save that?” and “How long has this been in the family?”  One of the things that touches my heart most are the tales behind these treasured keepsakes which leads me to my favorite comment, “Tell me the story about this one!”  Then I get to share the story behind baby ornaments, school crafts from days gone by, or the Hallmark Yoda figurine that adorns the tree every year.  It was actually this ornament (and all the hub bub about the recently released Star Wars movie) that led me to write this post as I chronicle three of my favorite Spencer Family Christmas stories.

Casey wearing one of THOSE Christmas aprons before cookie baking in 2012.

Casey wearing one of THOSE Christmas aprons before cookie baking in 2012.

Let me begin with the FACT that my mother-in-law is far more popular than I could ever hope to be.  I think even complete strangers would nominate her homecoming queen should we ever find ourselves in high school again (despite the fact that we graduated in different decades and states!)  From hello, people just love her.  Actually, you don’t even have to speak to her to like her…I’ve witnessed countless strangers ask her for directions, information, and just start chatting with her without any prompting whatsoever.  She just has one of those faces that says, “Let’s be lifelong friends.”  It’s a rare gift (my husband has the same one,) and I just can’t help but sit back and marvel.  This sort of thing comes in handy when you shop at Hobby Lobby…or at least that’s what I’ve concluded whenever Karen is around.  And Hobby Lobby is the scene for this Christmas memory.

My daughter Casey was just a little, bitty thing at the time…probably 3 or 4ish.  She didn’t mind sitting in shopping carts especially if grandma was “driving.”  While I can’t recall why we went into Hobby Lobby that day (although I don’t think one has to have a specific reason for going into Hobby Lobby because who doesn’t LOVE that store?)  There we were in the fabric section when my mother-in-law spotted these cute, matching, mother/daughter gingerbread aprons.  Displayed on mannequins for all to see, they were just perfect for Casey and I.  Karen pointed them out to me…suggesting that we really needed to have THOSE Christmas aprons.  I agreed, but didn’t think much of it because the Christmas apron pattern was situated in such a way as to suggest that you had to make the aprons yourself (this is a craft store after all.)  I believe Karen’s response was, “Nonsense,” as she took them off the mannequin and put them in the cart.  We continued our shopping and eventually landed at the check out.

I have to admit that it was pretty funny watching the cashier search the aprons for the price tag, but what was even better was the look on her face when Karen explained how she got the aprons.  I imagine that it’s a pretty rare occurrence when someone takes a sample product off a mannequin and then proceeds to try to purchase it.  The cashier explained that sample items are not for sale…they are SAMPLE items.  Karen wasn’t deterred in the least.  She asked the cashier to get someone from the fabric section to come to the check out stand so we could discuss the purchase of THOSE aprons further.  I’m pretty sure at this point we were holding up the check out line, but still we waited.  Finally, someone came up.  She agreed with the cashier that the aprons were samples and not for sale which led to a conversation about what actually happens to the samples at Hobby Lobby when they are no longer needed.  It was interesting…typically the items are returned to the person who made them, stowed away for display at a later date, or just given away to someone who works at the store.  Karen reiterated that she would like to purchase them as a Christmas gift for me and my daughter…telling about her visit to Kansas from California, my love for baking, and Casey’s fondness for Rachael Ray (but that’s another blog.)  Clearly, Karen had won over the woman from the sewing department and a few seconds later we were exchanging phone numbers and my mother-in-law had arranged for the store to call me (after Christmas) to pick up the aprons when they were no longer needed.  They agreed the aprons could be purchased for $5 each and all I had to do was keep a hold of this little piece of paper until the pick up date arrived.  SCORE!

Grandma Karen and Casey wearing THOSE Christmas aprons while making holiday rice krispy treats!

Grandma Karen and Casey wearing THOSE Christmas aprons while making holiday rice krispy treats!

In the back of my mind, I wondered if they would really call.  I mean, Karen had already returned to California, no money had changed hands at that point, and the note from the store (scrawled on the back of a receipt) hardly seemed like a binding contract.  Yet, there it was…a few days after Christmas…a message on the phone from Hobby Lobby saying that I could come and pick up the aprons from the sewing counter in the store.  Well, Casey and I hot-footed it over there and sure enough, THOSE Christmas aprons were right there waiting.  They were even cuter than I remembered and Casey was so excited!  We proceeded to the check out full of smiles…and then….

The cashier (the same one from our previous visit to the store with Karen,) looked at the aprons and frowned.  FROWNED.  She looked at me said, “You can’t have these.”  I was taken aback as she explained that she couldn’t possibly sell these aprons to me because the sweetest woman from California had come to the store before Christmas and she wanted to buy them for her granddaughter and daughter-in-law.  She repeated the whole encounter to me and I couldn’t help but laugh…which threw her off a bit.  I pulled out the little note and told her that I was with Karen that day.  I wish I could have captured her smile!  She was so delighted that we were going to have THOSE aprons after all!  She said she remembered my mother-in-law very well and although she didn’t recognize me (surprise?) she didn’t think she had the heart to sell them to anybody else after meeting Karen that December day.  Karen had used her “gift” to secure a truly, special gift for Casey and I.

Every year at Christmas time we pull THOSE aprons out–our cookie baking wouldn’t be the same without them!  This year when Casey put hers on we realized just how tiny the apron really is.  Casey is 10 now and while the apron still fits it’s clear to see that she’s not a preschooler any more, but that same sweet smile spreads across her face when she wears it.  THOSE Christmas aprons have become a part of our family’s Christmas tradition and I love to tell the story.

It is in the kitchen where the warmth of shared memories, laughter and life create a recipe that spans the generations.  -unknown

Stay tuned for Christmas Trilogy, Part 2:  Deck the Halls with Christmas Spew, Falalalala Lalalala

 

 

Repetition Wins (Mama’s Secret Weapon)

Everybody knows how to raise children, except the people who have them.  P.J. O’Rourke

Repetition WinsI often wonder who’s going to write the next BIG parenting book?   It seems like every generation has its guru.  And with today’s parenting styles running the gamut–authoritative to permissive, supportive to absent, indulgent to neglectful–it’s hard to know who really has it figured out.  Throw in your favorite media platform and practically everyone’s an expert nowadays!  So, allow me to throw my hat in to the ring.  While you won’t find any fancy letters following my name, I do have a theory.  And for simplicity’s sake, I’ve narrowed it down to two words:  REPETITION WINS!  Genius, right…I know.

Basically I’ve been applying this strategy throughout my whole parenting career, I just didn’t know it until last election season.  (Stay with me here.) I just happened to be listening to a political strategist ramble on about the power of the message…more specifically the repetitive factor to a particular campaign slogan.  He pontificated that through a basic media blitz, they had managed to turn the tide in their favor…especially since today’s voters never bother to research the issues.  I equate this concept to the “beloved” brain worm–you know, the little song or ditty that invades your every waking thought!  Once it reaches your ears it then proceeds to swim around in your head for hours and if you’re (un)lucky even days.  Oh yeah, there’s power in the message!

So here’s where it comes full circle….  I have been known to be somewhat of a “rules” Mom, harping on my kids with suggestions about practically everything.  (I honestly prefer the word suggestions over rules, just saying.)  My handy little tidbits like, “Wash first,” “Make good choices,” and “No food in the bedrooms–EVER!” are expressions that I have uttered for years.  These phrases have become practically automatic after more than a decade of parenting, only now I hear my kids mumble them (and several other goodies) before I can even get the words out.  I’ll admit that sometimes they’re mumbled sarcastically, still I don’t mind claiming it as a tiny victory!

message 3I’m employing a similar approach with quirky sayings, inspirational quotes and Bible scripture spread across posters, white boards and post-it notes throughout the house.  I’ve got my fingers crossed that these, too, will make their way inside their heads (and hearts,) and if nothing else that they might gain some wisdom from my efforts.    I know I’m doing something right when I see their friends stop and check out the kitchen whiteboard and ask questions about the “Family Rules” poster on the fridge…and I’m just getting started!  Window markers allow me to write messages to my children on mirrors in their bedrooms and thanks to iPhone technology, I have several great memes saved and ready to send to my kiddos’ devices at a moment’s notice.   In my book, it all counts.  Still the master plan is worth nothing without the one message I utilize several times a day, “I love you.”  Out the door, when they come home, before they go to bed and at random times in between, “I love you.”  It’s the message I hope they remember most.

I tease my husband that we’ll find out soon enough whether the strategies we’ve employed will be labeled a success or a failure.  With a tween girl and a teenage boy, I feel like we’ve jumped out of one fox hole only to find ourselves in a whole new set of trenches.  It’s all good, though…because Mama’s got her secret weapon and she ain’t afraid to use it.  Pay heed, parents–REPETITION WINS (no book required.)

I Can Still Taste the Caramel Apples (aka Why I LOVE Halloween!)

Traditions are the guideposts driven deep in our subconscious minds. —Ellen Goodman

10690117_715990488490123_92735026534026743_nWhen it comes to holidays, I like to go full-out! I love traditions…the habits and rituals that create memories (both good and bad, but especially MEANINGFUL) and serve to connect families and friends to the past, present and the future.  Equally as important, I enjoy sharing where, why and how the traditions came about.  So for the last month, my family has endured all of my favorite stories about Halloweens past.  I share these little gems, not just for myself (okay, maybe just for myself) but also as a way to join together my childhood experiences, a little history, some faith/religion and finally…to secretly instill some expectations and wisdom upon my kiddos.  And you thought I just hung out in my kitchen baking cookies all day 🙂

Seriously, I think one of the most effective tools in parenting (and a number of other categories) is the personal testimony.  That’s why I like telling Sean and Casey all about my Halloween adventures–successes and epic fails (age appropriate, of course.)  Everything from what costumes we donned (not ashamed to admit that I was Bat Girl more than once) to trick or treating in the neighborhood to visiting my great grandmother’s house (for peanuts and apples) to haunted houses and everything in between.  We compare and contrast classroom parties, popular candy (then and now), real (and not so real) ghost stories all while asking questions and googling Halloween history.  Together we’ve learned a lot!  And the payoff comes when the kiddos are just as invested in the traditions as I am 🙂

10616209_716894205066418_4160538980628630829_nI would say that I get my love of Halloween from my Dad.  He was the first adult (outside of teachers) that I can remember dressing up for Halloween on a regular basis.  Dad likes his costumes to be scary, and while that’s not my cup of tea, I have many memories of his gory masks and spooky get-ups.  He would help us carve pumpkins and Mom would work on roasting the pumpkin seeds.  At the time, pumpkin patches weren’t a part of our Halloween experience…but we looked forward to the carving nonetheless.  We didn’t use fancy stencils or patterns and our primitive carving tools could have easily sent one of us to the ER (fortunately it never came to that!)  Today, my family looks forward to our annual trip to “the patch” (which my son tells me doesn’t sound quite right) and choosing our own pumpkins from a giant field of orange and green.  Over the years, I have amassed a great deal of pumpkin carving supplies and we make an event out of the whole thing…complete with spooky music courtesy of Pandora.  This year we added hot dogs and s’mores to the occasion.  It’s one of my favorite days of the year (and someday I will master those pumpkin seeds, too!)

The traditions go way beyond the pumpkin patch and the carving.  We decorate the house, reminisce over old Halloween photos and spend countless hours discussing, shopping and creating Halloween costumes.  The costumes have become one of our best-loved parts of the season.  Fortunately, my kids aren’t into scary and with a little imagination and planning, they’ve managed to come up with some pretty creative costumes over the years.  And while I’ve quietly lobbied for the “family” costume, I am afraid that ship has sailed.  For some years, however, I was able to finagle the kiddos into coordinated costumes, but my luck eventually ran out there, too :(.  Oh well.  There’s plenty of fun in sharing stories about past costumes, who we went trick or treating with (family or friends,) where we were living at the time and surprisingly no one ever seems to mention the candy.

Typically we watch “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” once (sometimes twice) each October and I marvel at the questions the kids come up with.  When they were younger, they needed help with the character’s names and who was related to whom.  Now they ask why Lucy is so mean, how come Charlie Brown can’t get a break, and what Snoopy’s role as the Red Baron is really all about.  This year I had to explain that bobbing for apples was a real thing and we discussed some of the reasons why that tradition didn’t carry on (gross.)  We marvel at Schroeder’s piano playing skills, discuss party invite etiquette and basically feel bad for Linus.

As the children have grown older, Halloween has included a faith dialogue as well.  We talk about the early history of the holiday…a time when pagan superstitions and overall fear fueled the observance.  Picture a people who warily watched the seasons change and anxiously retreated into a time of the year when no crops grew, the weather was particularly harsh and their survival depended upon the work that had been done in the warmer months.  Harvest really was a reason to celebrate as they prepared for months of cold and uncertainty.  Can you imagine how they were compelled to turn to a number of gods for protection and provision?  Warding off evil lent itself to carving scary faces on gourds and trees and displaying these items on their doorsteps.  And what about trick or treating?  A custom that spans ancient beliefs, religious practices and morphed into a “pseudo-war” between the haves and have-nots before becoming the family friendly outing that we now know.

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/the-history-of-trick-or-treating-is-weirder-than-you-thought-79408373/?no-ist

10700574_718765481545957_3257901382160519510_oIt’s November 1st and  costumes lie crumpled up on the floor, candy wrappers dot the tabletops, and tired looking eyes stare up at me.  And while the whole Halloween adventure culminates in one day, I realize that it’s not the holiday itself that means so much to me–it’s actually the whole season.  We’ve been gearing up, preparing for, talking about and making plans for a whole month.  Through it all we’ve carved out special (additional!) time together…outside of mealtimes and the occasional quiet evening.  We’ve cooked and baked together.  We’ve shopped together.  We’ve attended school parties together.  We’ve enjoyed nature together.  And it feels good.  I know these seasons are fleeting.  Before long, their Halloween plans won’t include me.  The kids are growing up so fast and that probably scares me more than any creepy costume on Halloween.  For now I hold onto the imagination and creativity of the season.  I look forward to the cooler temperatures and the rustling of leaves and my mind wanders (unafraid) to the approaching season that seems to draw us closer (even if it only is for warmth 🙂 )  The traditions abound and yes, I can still taste the caramel apples that sweeten this already favored season.

There is a child in every one of us who is still a trick-or-treater looking for a brightly-lit front porch. ~Robert Brault

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Daughter…Marry a Chef (You’ll Thank Me Later)

Eating is a necessity but cooking is an art. —Unknown

When I was a kid, I would tell my mother that I wanted to live in a house without a kitchen.  Actually, if I remember correctly, we had several conversations about it.  I’m fairly certain that I’ve even brought up the subject with a couple of past boyfriends (just to let them know what they were in for—yes, I’m a courteous girl :).)  And my poor husband, he knows all too well how much I LOATHE the kitchen.  Turns out that it’s not really the kitchen that I have a problem with…I mean I always planned to have a microwave and a refrigerator (I’m not stupid.)  What I really hate is the COOKING that takes place in the kitchen!

Kiss the Cook :)

Kiss the Cook 🙂

Maybe my dislike for cooking comes from possessing a very plain and boring palate.  For example…I’m pretty much a beans and rice girl.  When we go out for dinner I typically choose one of three entrees:  cheeseburger, pizza or chicken, and I’m not really into sweets.  There isn’t an adventurous bone in my body when it comes to trying new foods (asparagus anyone?)  And I’m actually very okay with this.  I view eating in the same manner that I see the need for sleep–a mere necessity and nothing more.  I have a hard time relating to a lot of my foodie friends who rave about their latest food find and go on and on about “pairing” this delectable tidbit with that scrumptious delicacy (am I even using those words right?)  I really just don’t get it.

In my own defense, I WANTED to get it.  I wanted to be a so called “expert” in the kitchen.  While I make a mean sandwich, there actually was a time when I secretly aspired to be whiz in the kitchen.  I own a lot of cookbooks, including the elusive Joy of Cooking CD-ROM (lol) and at one point I was absolutely addicted to the Food Network.  Like many stay-at-home moms, Paula Deen, Bobby Flay, Tyler Florence, and Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa) were not only my idols, but also my best friends.  As soon as it was acceptable for me to turn off Nickelodeon (11am or so) I would quickly click the channel to see what my “friends” were whipping up for lunch and dinner.  Never has anyone been more into “homemade” and “from scratch” as yours truly.  I was rolling out dough, making my own stock, and a regular in the fresh herb section at our local supermarket.  I’m not sure if I crossed the line into “cooking obsessed,” but I’m pretty sure I was right on the edge.  When my three year old daughter started to request tuning into Rachael Ray instead of Dora the Explorer I finally woke up.

To be honest, I was spending a lot of time, energy and money on a hobby that I hated.  Not only did I not enjoy cooking, but truth be told, I was NOT very good at it.  In hindsight, I realize that I was fighting a losing battle.  Don’t get me wrong…I have the utmost respect for foodies and chefs alike.  It just turns out that it’s not my thing.  Slowly, I stopped turning in to the Food Network and filling my time with other things.  I began adhering more to the Sandra Lee method of food prep—“Seventy percent store-bought, ready-made plus 30 percent fresh allows you to take 100 percent of the credit.” Her kitchen motto was all that was left of my so called “love of cooking.”

Needless to say, my family didn’t starve to death.  Not once has any one ever said, “Oh, Anna, how I wish you could go back to making (fill in the blank.)”  While there are few remaining recipes that I rely on all these years later, I don’t really sweat it…especially since my children inherited my same plain and boring palate.  We primarily live on the basics:  a variety of chicken dinners, tacos, spaghetti, LOTS of sandwiches and whatever my husband can grill.  It’s not exciting, but it fills a hole.  What used to make me feel like a failure as a wife and mother, now has crossed over into the realm of acceptance.  I no longer want to be a good cook.  If I could, I honestly would quit cooking altogether and live on cereal. Unfortunately, that is not an option.  Sigh.

So here it is…I am over the mom pressure from the foodie crowd (I couldn’t grow or can anything to save my life.) I will be the first one to shout from the rooftops that being a successful wife, mother, & homemaker doesn’t mean that you are required to be a culinary genius, too.  Just because you stay home with your kids does not mean your worth and value is tied up in what’s for dinner.  Serving chicken nuggets does not make you less of a woman.  I wish someone had told me all of this years ago.  Today, the only chef I pay attention to on the Food Network is Guy Fieri…and that’s because I like to drool over the food (mostly cheeseburgers and barbeque) he samples on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”  Mmmmm….

I completely understand that no “knight-in-shining-apron” is going to come to my kitchen rescue anytime soon.  Research shows that even in today’s modern society, woman are responsible for nearly 80% of household food prep.  And while a growing number of men are becoming more and more comfortable in the family kitchen, I realize that meals will continue to fall into the woman/wife/mom category for the foreseeable future.  And that’s okay because I’ve already been coaching my daughter to marry a chef.  Problem solved.  (You’re welcome.)

Today’s menu has two choices:  TAKE IT or LEAVE IT!