Friday, December 19, 2014

Quick & Easy Chicken Salad



Chicken salad is my new favorite quick & easy meal. I am always looking for these kind of recipes due to life always seeming more and more busy. Isn't it that way for everyone? How can it be that life continually gets busier and busier even with efforts to slow down? Well, I don't know that answer to that but I do know that lately it has been even more tornado-like than usual. I suspect it has to do with the holiday season.

When life gets busy, I'll buy more convenience items from the store, such as frozen pizza, to save money on ordering in pizza or going out for fast-food. Life may get busy, but my people still need to eat. So I love it when I come up with quick & easy recipes. This one has green stuff in it, which is always on low supply when life is busy, so it already had that going for it and then it was also a big hit with the family. It actually surprised me how much they liked it!

But because they liked it so much, we've had it several times in the last month.   It is also super easy to prepare right when I get home from the grocery store. It helps to have an easy meal after a trip to the grocery store; it's kind of like a reward.  This recipe took 15 to 20 minutes from in my door to sitting down and eating. Amazing!

So this is it:

Chicken Salad

1 package frozen, precooked chicken, 22 o.z. Servings said about 7. Cook according to package directions. This package said bake @ 400 for 8 minutes.
1 bag of romaine, rinsed and torn into bite-size pieces. Our package had three stalks.
fresh veggies, whatever I have on hand, cut into bite size pieces; last night it was  carrots, cucumbers
croutons, if available
peanuts, if available
salt, pepper, Parmesan cheese
salad dressing, most of us prefer a creamy kind, such as ranch

This fed my family of six. We also ate pears and Christmas cookies and we were satisfied. There was certainly requests for seconds so it definitely could be doubled, especially if we wanted a second meal out of it.

I love filling my recipe box with quick, easy, delicious, and nutritious meals. 
And I need to be careful that I don't wear them out on this one. 
So what meals do you have that are super quick & easy? 


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Christmas cheer: It's worth it!




My nine-year-old son has been initiating Christmas cheer around here. Not the teenagers. Not the parents. It has been the joy and wonder of the youngest that has motivated us to put up our tree, to read our Advent calendar, to decorate our house, to bake Christmas cookies.

I am thankful for this encouragement to find Christmas joy in the nooks and crannies of our home and our busy lives.



I get stressed at this time of year -- what mother doesn't? Yet, I don't always realize how much my children know that and dislike a stressed out momma.

During the past few years when life got a bit more topsy-turvy than usual (read about that  here and here), I haven't had the drive to create all of our usual Christmas traditions. This year the kids were asking to bake cookies again since we hadn't done it in a few years. My oldest noticed the look on my face; he said that he would rather not do the cookies if it was going to stress me out.

His comment caused me to pause.

I know that the look on my face was partly due to the sigh in my heart at letting traditions, such as the cookie decorating, fall to the wayside. I love the rituals and the traditions. I want to be able to say that we decorated Christmas cookies: Every. Single. Year. But... I can't.

So part of my look was that disappointment and part of it was wondering: 'How can we fit it all in?' My oldest took the look to mean: Mom is stressed by this request.

I'm glad he spoke. It got me thinking.

First, I realized this: Life is stressful.There is a lot to do in this season, a lot of which hinges on the momma. But taking out the meaningful or fun parts will never reduce my life to being completely stress-free. Therefore, I must make time for joy. We must do I the activities that give our lives meaning.

However, this is where discernment is needed. These 'must-do' activities are not to be confused with pressure, or the obligations or the images I have of  'just how things are suppose to be.' They need to be the essential ones we really love.

I need to examine in order to reduce how much I need to do; having less to do also helps to reduce my stress level. Keep it simple. Keep the list short. Then, I need to be sure to keep the activities that give meaning and energy to our lives do not fall by the wayside because I am too stressed.

Secondly, I realized this: not only do I need to do those important, meaningful life giving activities, such as decorating Christmas cookies. I also need to participate in them with a non-stressed look on my face. It would be best if I would be light and free spirit and truly enjoy the moment. 



It helps if I remember I have chosen this moment and it's worth it. I can do this by remembering that the fun, the memories, the traditions, they are not what add stress to my life.  Life is just stressful.

So instead of throwing out all of the fun we're making time for a few of our favorite traditions this year: Christmas cards, birthday parties, and cookie decorating. We are filling our lives this season with opportunities for joy, laughter, and memories due to a momma listening to the desires of a nine-year-old boy and letting it inspire her to keep on, keeping on the very best things in her world.

How is this season going for you?
In this busy -- often stressful -- season:
Which activities bring you and your loved ones energy & joy? 
Could you reduce your list to a small core of the 'most meaningful'?
What activities are the most important to keep doing for you and your family?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Thanksgiving memories, grief and gratefulness



The surgical glove turkey bouquet that inspired my daughter's writing.

My daughter had her hands in soapy dish suds when I asked her for inspiration for a blog post. She had lots of ideas. One of them was to write a Thanksgiving memory. Before I could apply myself to write, she had finished a memory that she wanted to share with me.

She was so inspired by her own suggestion that wrote in-between washing the dinner dishes. She'd wash some dishes. Stop, dry her hands, and write a little bit. Then stop writing and wash some more dishes. Then, stop, dry her hands, then write some more. By the time she was done with the dishes she had composed a Thanksgiving tribute.

She read her narrative to her father, sister, and me. (Her brothers happened to be off somewhere.)

Her memories undid me.

I had started to type a Thanksgiving post while she was doing those dishes but I didn't get very far. The draft is still sitting in my stack of unfinished posts. I even went back to it after she had read hers to me. But I had been undone.

I had asked for an idea and received some therapy instead.  Somehow whatever it was that I was going to write dimmed in my mind. Instead, I cried. But instead of alone tears, we cried together the four of us that night.

We cried quiet, silent tears. For just a little while. It didn't take long and we all hugged together on the couch as we cried together. Those tears sure felt better than the Alone Tears we cry. Better than the sadness we carry in our hearts all alone. At least that's part of what I learned that night. That I wasn't the only one still feeling sad, still grieving.

Still grieving the death of  Papa, my husband's father. And perhaps we are still grieving the many days up to his death. Perhaps we are still crying the tears that we didn't have time to cry while up close we watched him suffer.
Papa on the left with his brother that same Thanksgiving of the turkey bouquet.

I often hover alone in my sadness wondering why my friends don't understand why I might still be sad. They seem surprised: "He was your father-in-law. Were you that close?" They look at me quizzically, especially if their own father-in-law has passed and they can see they haven't experienced what I am experiencing. But...that isn't the point.

Or maybe it is.

We all walk different paths. We have different journeys. While I'm part of the human race, therefore I do experience emotions that others experience. It's just that sometimes the people I'm rubbing shoulders with haven't had a similar enough of a journey to understand me at that moment in time. Especially without words volunteered from me about the path that I've been walking on. But sometimes it is hard to volunteer words when the path of crisis didn't allow time for feeling, for processing, for figuring out. And somehow it goes numb, or at least it's all so mixed up you don't know what to feel and all you really want is a nap.

Until two years later when my daughter writes and reads about Thanksgiving memories, putting into words what we were feeling, even if we didn't know it before she read her words.

There it was: an epiphany! It is right here in this house that I need to look for comfort. Right here with my own people: my husband, my daughters, my sons. These my closest of friends. We have traveled the paths together. The uncomfortable changes. The front row seat to suffering. The amazing provisions. The answered prayers. And... the lingering sadness.

Here is a source of comfort that I had overlooked.

I was cheered that night of the tears and the group hug on the couch. Perhaps it is why it was easy to speak of Papa over the Thanksgiving table.

We shared memories and laughed. We ate and talked and reminisced and sat in the hot tub he kept running. We slept peacefully in the house that he and Grandma lived for more than twenty years.

It was a peaceful Thanksgiving and I'm giving quite a bit of credit to a reading shared, a group cry and a group hug before we headed off to Grandma's house. We added to that long conversations, long naps, and easy laughter.

A peaceful Thanksgiving for which I am grateful. Amen.

"Give thanks in all circumstances. " I Thessalonians 5:18

Some circumstances are just easier to give thanks in than others. Wouldn't you agree?

Friday, November 21, 2014

What To Do With Day Old Bread or How We Make a Great Team



My husband & I make a good team. Just a day or two ago, I prepped our breakfast of French Toast the night before using our day old French bread. He cooked it in the morning.

This works for us because I am the night owl and he is the morning guy. He sets the alarm and makes sure that I get up to eat breakfast with him about once/week. Usually he wakes and leaves for work while the rest of us are still snoozing. But one day a week, we make an effort to eat breakfast together. This started a little over a year ago.


He preps a nice breakfast, such as the French Toast I mentioned or perhaps an omelet with fresh fruit as pictured here. We have coffee and breakfast under our twinkle lights that light up our dining room year round. Much of the time I just sit there without much to say. I am amazed at how much staring at him with my morning hair makes him happy.

Can you see the lights behind him and his big smile?
 
We do make a great team. However, like all great teams we have to keep working at the fundamentals to keep being a winning team. This idea of once/week morning breakfast came after a long season of unusual circumstances in our lives. Hubby & I were struggling to stay connected beyond the communication it took to handle the logistics of caring for others (which included emergency foster care and his dad in the hospital for five months in addition to caring for and homeschooling our four children).

This effort to connect in a new way for this new season has reaped much more than the effort it takes to get myself out of bed. We only get about 10-20 minutes before he dashes off to work at 6:30 a.m. but we both look forward to this time.

Something fresh. Something that has a cost. An effort at connecting. These elements contribute to our winning marital team strategy. We both win.

Another bonus has been using up day old French bread; it makes fantastic French Toast. I don't think that I can ever go back.

How about you? 
How could you connect in fresh, meaningful way with someone in your life this week? 
Or perhaps you have a great way to use old bread?

And for those so inclined, the recipe, straight from Betty Crocker, follows:

Custardy Overnight French Toast,
per Betty Crocker's 40th Anniversary Edition

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1 Tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 eggs
18 slices French bread, each about 1" thick

Beat flour, milk, sugar, vanilla, salt and eggs with hand beater until smooth. Arrange bread slices just to fit in single layer in glass baking dishes. Pour egg mixture over bread slices. Turn to coat both sides. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Heat griddle or skillet over medium heat or to 375 degrees. Cook about 6-8 minutes on each side or until golden brown.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

10 Lessons of October 2014

10 Things I Learned in October 2014



1) I miss my family more than I realize. While hanging out with my mom, my sister, & my niece during their October visit, I realized afresh how much I miss all of my family. Just because I've adapted to the gap, does not mean the gap isn't there.

2) Huge beach balls, bubbles, and confetti all contribute to the art of celebration. Thanks to the Rend Collective concert and the reminder that we need to be intentional about celebration in our lives.


3) Trick or treating for teenagers is much more fun with friends.

4) I am inspired by high school debaters. They give me great hope for the next generation.

5) Sometimes when I am compelled to lead a Bible study, it isn't about some great work that God will do through me. Instead it is about a message that God has for me,  the Bible study leader. Right here.  Right now. The study is Stronger: Finding Hope in Fragile Places by Angela Thomas.

6) I have thoroughly underlined the book Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown. One among many insights gleaned and embraced is the fact that it is okay if I need to grieve differently than other people. I don't need to wait until everyone feels the same as me. I can do what I need to grieve even if it means this extrovert needs to do some of it alone.

7) As my sister shared some of her struggles as a single mom due to the death of her husband four years ago, I realized afresh we never know someone else's story and how they got where they are. I know her story; I have great admiration for how she lives out her path. However, when she shared some of her story, I realized that I needed to have more compassion on people when I don't know their story. It is a reminder that it is easy to judge by appearances.

8) I am learning afresh how much that I like to write. My Wednesday evenings have changed and I am taking the opportunity to write. I love it.

9) After one year on Facebook, I realize that more of my on-line time has gone to Facebook instead of reading and writing blog posts. Is this good or bad? Or the way that I want it to be? Not sure. But it is the reason why I have posted even less over the past year.

10) I am learning right now that I would really like lists to have 10 items even when I can't think of things that I have learned.

Linking with friends at Chatting at the Sky.
The End.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Celebrating a man deeply admired


 
Happy Birthday to my Father-in-law, Clarence. October 22, 2014, would have been his 81st birthday. He was a man who worked hard, played hard, and loved deep. He had a twinkle in his eye, an easy laugh, and a hankering for sweets.

For a little over twenty-one years, I have lived near my father-in-law. Yet, I learned more about the depth of his character during the last 13 months of his life than all the years before. Oh, his character was there all along but the depth of it was revealed through a long trial of watching him struggle to breathe in the hospital for months. It is hard to remember those days of suffering – it was equally hard to see his wife so distraught at his distress. And yet, it was in the suffering, that I saw a man worthy of my deep admiration.

He left a strong legacy in his daughter and five sons. This year he celebrates his birthday with Jesus.

In a few days from now, we will remember the last day we saw him alive. Then, a few more days and we will remember the day he went to be with Jesus. We miss you Clarence!
 
 
Some links to the other part of the story:
and one of my favorites from this season:


We grieve with hope, as it says in I Thessalonians 4:13-14:

"But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus."

Saturday, September 20, 2014

How to Change Frustration to Thankfulness


Let’s play a game. What do a rock, a magnetic letter “R”, and a fruit snack wrapper have in common?

Can you guess their commonality?

Aww, it may be a trick question since their connecting point is simply that they have all been found in my purse.

Yep, you got it. A rock, an R, and a wrapper lived in my purse for a time.   

Sometimes when I notice such things, I get a ‘burst of love’ and I delight in the children that put them there. But, unfortunately, there are the many other times that I just get frustrated. Often, I sigh, “Why is this in here? Who put a rock in my purse? Why do they think my purse is a garbage can?”

On those days, all I can see is work, inconvenience, and thoughtlessness. Rocks need to go outside. Toys need to be put away. Wrappers need to go in the garbage can. Why am I the only one who cares about such things?

When I first became a mom, it was easier for me to be thankful because there was a time when I thought that I couldn’t have children. Sadly as the years sail on by, I easily forget these words that I penned long ago:

“There are so many hopes and dreams tied up into having a baby that I never fully realized were there. Until now. When we are really trying.  And it’s not happening. I can’t believe how much it is a daily ache within me. Yet, I am still hopeful and know that it’s the Lord who opens and closes the womb. And He can choose to do that for us.”

 Eventually, God granted our hope and dream of children.

About nine months after my firstborn son arrived, I said, “The hardest of days with my child are better than the best of days when the longing was so great.”

I wish I could hang onto those feelings of overwhelming gratitude.

But, to be honest the day-to-day grind takes its toll. I often do not stop to ponder and delight in my children. Nor am I thankful for all things at all times.

However, I recently discovered how to change my frustrated thinking into thankfulness. Angela Thomas, in her book Tender Mercy for the Mother’s Soul, says:

The blessings of motherhood have been honored through the ages. Somewhere inside of us, God has told us that this assignment and these relationships surpass any calling on earth. Somewhere in your soul, you know that to hold your own baby and kiss the back of his neck is a holy privilege. The blessings of motherhood are the kinds of things that take our breath away—the moments you hold in your heart forever.
            One day someone asked me, “What are the three hardest things about having four small children?”
            I quickly responded, “No sleep, the never-all-folded laundry and talking to little people all day.”
            Then he asked, “What are three of the best things?”
            I immediately realized that the blessings came attached to the frustrations. “The best things are having my three-year-old crawl into the middle of our bed around 2 a.m. and hold my hand the rest of the night … clean-footed pajamas on freshly bathed toddlers, scooting around the house until bedtime…and the tender words that come from the pure heart of a child.”

 ‘Blessings come attached to the frustrations.’ To learn how to see the blessing that is tied to the frustrations of life is the key to learn how to give thanks for all things at all times.

So, here, I’ll go first.

What can I be thankful for with this rock? Well, when I ask my children who made the rocks, they gladly shout, “God did.” I am thankful for their tender hearts that so easily claim the truths of Jesus.

What about the letter “R”? When I think of this letter R, I can see my two-year-old handing it to me and saying, “Here go, Mommy.” It is a gift from the hand of a two-year-old just because she loves me.

What about the fruit snack wrapper? I can remember the delighted whoops in the grocery store when I finally said “yes” to one of their repeated demands of ‘Mommy can I have this?” Truly, it takes so little to please them.

I am deeply thankful to have children. Therefore, I am glad that I have a rock, a letter R, and a fruit snack wrapper in my purse. They are reminders that God has fulfilled a deep longing in my heart.

And so you just might find a rock in my purse and wonder why it’s there.

Well, I left it there to remind me to be thankful for the frustrations in life because they are really just reminders of how God has fulfilled a deep longing of my heart.

How about you? 
Can you think of the blessing that is tied to a frustration in your life? 
Please share in the comments.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Endurance takes a long time to learn



You would think that as a distance runner I would have understood better the need for time in building endurance. I have run a full 26.2 marathon and will soon run my fourth half-marthon.

I know that endurance is not gained quickly. My daughter and I started training months ago in preparation for our event. Slowly but surely we have increased our runs from two miles to twelve miles. Even though I ran this same half-marathon event a year ago. I must still keep training or I will not be able to do it.

So why did I expect anything different in my spiritual life? Quick endurance does not exist. So, why am I surprised to still need the spiritual pluck to keep moving on in this season of non-crisis?

James 1:2-4 says, " Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,  because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."

When we had bonus children come and stay with us for 9 weeks back in the spring of 2012, I recited these verses as often as I could in the few isolated moments that I could find. I focused on considering it pure joy by saying the phrase over and over. "Consider it pure joy...."

A few months later, after the kids returned to their families, my father-in-law went into the hospital and stayed for almost 5 months. My husband and I lived close so we were part of the hands-on care. While it was a privelege to serve family, care-taking is exhausting.

During this season, I began to recite James 1:2-4 again. This time the focus was on the perservance. 

It has been two years since I first clung to these verses and, honestly, I am tired of clinging. I would like the lesson to be learned so that I can check it off my list. Perhaps even sing of the joy of the lesson learned. Instead, I am still here putting one step in front of the other, wishing that the feelings of joy came more often.

And today, just a few moments ago, I realized that endurance is not quickly learned. 

"Stop being surprised, Kathleen, that endurance takes time!" I almost laughed out loud at this revelation.  I need to keep on, keeping on in my considerations of joy.

I need to consider even these days of non-crisis but full of chaotic life-that-I-can-hardly-keep-up-with-three-teenagers all joy.

If one can only learn to run for hours by running for hours, it should come as no surprise that endurance in the spiritual life can only come through enduring trials for a long time.

Friday, July 18, 2014

When good enough IS special

Why is it that when I am asked to bring a dish to share that I want to try something new? Something fancy? Something 'company worthy'? I definitely want to bring something more special than my everyday offerings. This is for company after all.

This realization of my compulsion came one night as several couples were meeting at a home with each of us bringing something for dinner: either the main dish, the salad or the dessert. As I walked in with my side dish, I was interrogated about whether or not this was a new dish or a tried-and-true dish.

It was new. Never before been tried.

Just like the other women. We each brought a new offering. Not our tried-and-true everyday offering.

I dismissed the gentleman who had asked me as he shook his head. He said the men always prepare what they know will get rave reviews -- not something new.  Not something untried.

I dismissed him. I understood the women. There are always new recipes that I want to try and use these sorts of occasions to try them out. Otherwise I just don't have the time to try something new.

This question about new versus known stuck in my brain. The years raced by and we got  a spontaneous Superbowl  party invitation with just one other family. I have even less time than I did years ago to prepare new and special. I am craving chocolate. I don't even have to bring anything to this event.

But I'm craving chocolate so I quickly whip up my home-made blonde brownies. It's quick. It's cheap. It's chocolate. And if I share with others I won't eat too many.

I bring them. This is no big deal. This is my everyday offerings to my family, who get bored with them because I make them so often.

The family raved about these brownies. Well, I should say the dad of the other family raved about the brownies and ate and ate and ate them. I wondered if anyone else was going to be able to get any. I surely grabbed one or two because I made them for my chocolate craving after all.

Honestly, I had no idea they would be raved about. I didn't think they were that good. They are just what I make on ordinary days and serve to my ordinary, lovely family, who sometimes wishes I would make new things.

The incident, though, got me to thinking about that dinner at that couple's house years ago with that man shaking his head. "Why not bring your tried-and-true recipe that you know everyone will rave about?"

Again, I thought of that couple's dinner and realized that I didn't offer my everyday items precisely because I thought that they were ordinary. I don't want to offer ordinary. I want to offer special. Spectacular. Especially to company.

But, here was the great surprise. My day-in and day-out offering to my family was special. It IS special. I am offering special things all the time. 

Sometimes it just takes offering them to company to notice.


 * * *
 Home made Blonde Brownies
from my mother's kitchen, tweaked by how I make them

2 cups brown sugar, packed
2/3 cup butter, melted
2 eggs, beaten
2 tsps vanilla
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter and mix with brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla. In a separate bowl mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Gradually add flour mixture to sugar, butter, and vanilla mixture. When completely mixed but not overly, pour into 13x9 pan and spread out. Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the top. Bake for 20 minutes.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

One sign that time has been well-spent

When time is well spent, it breaks your heart to say goodbye. Even though you know it will only be for a little while and that you'll not always be  apart, it can still rip your heart in two.

When time is well spent, miles and years can never really separate what has been deeply intertwined in your heart. Because being together has changed who you are. Not because they changed you but because they gave you the courage to be who you really are. To be vulnerable. You were you. And they were they. And you loved each other. Kindred spirits.


And now it is time to say goodbye. For awhile.

I think sometimes the 'for awhile part' makes people think that the goodbye doesn't hurt as much. But that is not true. The only time goodbye doesn't hurt is when it was time NOT well-spent.

There was a vivid time in my life when goodbye didn't hurt. I was glad to be leaving. I look back on that very difficult year of my life and there is not much redeemable from that time, certainly no relationship or connection from that time.

God profoundly used that time in my life in other ways. But at the end of that school year, goodbye didn't hurt. It was a relief.

It was one of the few times in my life when goodbye didn't hurt. Maybe the only time.

So now I know that I don't really want to feel only relief and gladness to be getting away. Even though I don't want to be feeling this. This heart-wrenching good-bye. Even though I don't want to say goodbye right now, even though I don't want to hurt this way.....it is good.

It is good. Time has been well-spent.

I have been given an amazing gift. As a friend reminded me last night, sometimes we don't know how much the Lord has given until He takes it away.

I knew they were special. I knew that I loved them. But I don't know if I knew what a great, grand gift I had been given in their special friendship throughout the years.

We have stories of rattlesnakes, flat tires, wet camping trips, and shivering trips tubing down a  river. We've been at each others weddings and graduations and baby births. We've held each others hands as we've said goodbye to a mom and a dad. We talked and laughed and camped and cried. We've jumped off cliffs. Played cards til the wee hours of the night.  Brewed coffee, run races. Watched chickens and flowers grow. We've spun our lives together for more than twenty years. What a gift.

Soon these kindred spirit friends are moving far away -- four thousand miles far away -- for at least three years. I love their courage, their pluck to live their calling.

I am inspired.

And sad.

My heart is breaking. It feels like it may never recover.

Time has been well-spent. Thank you. Amen.

*  *   *
How about you? Any painful goodbyes recently?

Click HERE if you would like to comment from email or a facebook link.



Tuesday, May 6, 2014

How less can cultivate gratitude

One sweltering afternoon my oldest son played a baseball game. His five family members cheered him in the stands and melted in the fresh hot of summer. One player even fainted from the heat.

After the game, my husband went to the concession stand and purchased cold ICEE drinks for all four children. Inwardly, I groaned.

I braced myself for the moans and laments that would surely come. I was ready for a snotty toned "Well, it's about time" since it was the first slushy of the season and the season was done.

I expected an immediate return to the attitude of last season. The one where they asked for an ICEE as soon as we drove into the ball park and continued pestering until it was obtained.

My husband and I would delay the purchase as long as possible. We wanted them to wait a few innings because the games were long. Yet, we did want them to have a treat because we felt sorry that they had to watch those long games.

It also seemed fair to buy the watchers a treat since the ball players received one after the game. Thus began our toleration for their pestering demands that in a different situation I don't think we would have tolerated. 

Besides, it was only a dollar. So we bought the cool drinks.

We didn't set out to buy those slushies all season long. But that's what happened.

They nagged. We bought. At Every. Single. Game. We had set up quite a system. We thought we were directing the buying of the ICEE treats.

After awhile, though, something bothered us. But it was just easier to keep walking up and buying the cold  ICEE drinks instead of evaluating the problem. 

We just wanted to watch our oldest son play baseball and keep the others happy. It didn't cross our minds  to evaluate what was annoying us.   Thankfully, during next year's ball season it would work itself out naturally.

But I didn't know that yet.

Instead, I was braced for complaints the day those purchases were made on that hot sweltering day.

The flavors were selected. The sips were taken. And the children came running to their dad, saying, "Oh, thank you Daddy!" They were thrilled and thankful for what they had.

I was surprised! Shocked!

What did they say?

Thank you?!?

For this one ICEE on the very last day that the concession stand was open? It was the only one that they got all season long. Could these be the same children who the season before had complained, whined, and even demanded ICEEs?

How could this be?

****


It didn't begin as a noble effort to reduce whining, complaining, or children driving demands. Instead, we simply stopped buying ICEES due to the budget. They were only a dollar. But we had four children and more than one was playing ball that season.

We saved money. Instead of us buying treats, they spent their own quarters and dimes on ring pops and nerds. It was a bargain. One season we bought an ICEE for every child at every game.

The next season we stopped. Just like that.

Yet, we had done something to cultivate gratitude without knowing it. We gave them less. They became more grateful.

It was eye-opening. It was shocking how much MORE grateful they were with LESS.

Less demand. Less expectation. More gratitude.

And so less really can cultivate an attitude of thankfulness.

When they expected to get a treat, they began to demand to get a treat. And when it became special, they were thankful.

The lesson of an Icee. When we are given less, we expect less. When we expect less, we are thankfully surprised when something is given to us. And we are grateful.

It was an amazing process. It shocked me at the time and taught me a wonderful principle about how
less can cultivate an attitude of gratefulness.

*   *   *
"I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, 
whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want." 
Philippians 4: 12

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How about you? When have you been surprised lately? Join us HERE to comment on the blog

You can also join the SDG sisterhood with Jen HERE.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

How a song reminded me of the beauty in release

On Saturday, my oldest daughter's choir sang a haunting melody about giving a loved one the freedom to fly away from you and to trust that they will, in the end, come home to you somehow.


It seems that just yesterday I was the eighth grader struggling against the cocoon to become my own person. Now, I am part of the cocoon that my young adults must struggle against to become who they are.

Some days I just want to close my eyes and wake up in the middle of their adult lives and breathe a sigh of "Whew! We made it"

But, before I can even finish that thought I practically hyperventilate at the thought of my children gone from home. How can this be happening already?  Gone from home? Not yet!

As they sang their choir song, a memory came to me.

Once upon a time in college, I was broken-hearted, lonely, and sad. I had friends but our schedules no longer easily overlapped. It was tough to even make them touch occasionally. I was quite lonely. Then, I met a kind boy. He befriended me. He pursued me. His friendship brought healing to my heart.

Over time, I began to flourish. I wasn't needy in the same overt ways.

I had changed but he didn't know what to do.

He began to smother me. He put me in a box. He wanted me to be the person he'd first met: needy and overly dependent. He couldn't let me be the true me because it wasn't the me he'd known. I no longer fit in the box of who he thought I was.

The weight of this box stifled me. I couldn't breathe. Something had to break: the box, the relationship, or me.

I didn't want the relationship to break because I was quite grateful for his friendship that had given my lonely heart hope. But eventually, though, the relationship broke.

That experience created a strong resolve within me to never confine or stifle anyone like that. It is better to let them be who they are even if it means they can't be with me.

The beautiful, haunting melody of Saturday filled my ears and my heart. As the choir sang, I thought of stifling, confining boxes. I thought of how much I hated them.

Then, I thought of emerging butterflies and the beauty of watching them fly.

I need to let my children become the people that they are even if they are not the people I knew before or who I think they are.

This is the way of letting my children unfold before me even though it means they will fly away from me someday soon.

It would be much better to merely watch the beauty of the butterfly flit around me for a few moments on its journey rather than to crush it in my hands because I so desperately want to keep it for myself.

It means there is struggle in the cocoon of home as they discover who they are. There is struggle as I discover my different role as I begin to release them to the world, careful not to crush their emerging wings, careful not to keep them to myself.

Their beauty is to be shared.

A quiet wave of peace settled over me as I thought of my young adults that need to fly from me. I became transformed from either holding my breath or hyper-ventilating to being able to delight in these remaining flitting moments of these butterflies as they practice their nearby soaring before they take off on their own.

And I can trust that they will find their way back to me somehow.

Have you ever had a similar experience either being stifled, or being released to become your beautiful self or been inspired through a beautiful song? Music inspires writing for me, how about you? Click here if you would like to comment in the blog community.
 
Linking with Jen at SDG.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A lesson learned walking in the shadows of post-crisis


Although I've been heard saying 2012 was one of -- if not the -- hardest year of my life, now that I have endured 2013, I change my answer. 2013 was harder. It was a year of living in the gray shadows of the drama of 2012.

In 2012, I felt pulled and tugged in many different directions. The two major events were four bonus kids for nine weeks and Kip's dad being in the hospital for 5 months. During these times, I have never felt more exhausted in my life. Physically. Spiritually. Emotionally. Responsibility-wise.

Yet during this time, people surrounded us. People noticed us. Hauling eight children around is quite noticeable. Having four children in hospital waiting rooms is also quite noticeable. In addition, the family of God surrounded us with prayers, cards, gifts, and hands-on-support. It was beautiful.

Many memorable moments of deliverance were woven into our lives.

Then in 2013, things quieted down. Quite thankfully! I no longer wrote daily on the Caring Bridge website. I no longer texted desperate pleas for immediate prayer. I had time to sleep. I had time to cry. 

Yet, it felt harder than it had before. 

That was so strange to me.

Was it because I like being center stage? Was it that people prayed more during that time? Was I more spiritual then? Did I have my focus in a better place?

Or perhaps it was something else.

Not that I had sinned. Not that I had fallen from grace. Not that I needed attention.  

Instead I am re-learning to walk by faith after a long season of flying on eagle's wings.

Isaiah 40:31 says, "Yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength. They will mount up with wings like eagles. They will run and not get tired. They will walk and not become weary."

It feels strange. As though I am walking on land after riding on a boat or a roller coaster for a long time. Familiar yet unfamiliar at the same time. I have walked on land most of my life. As most of my life has also been non-crisis.

But what is truly different is that I haven't walked in daily life after crisis before.  I am walking in the land of shadows, both in the shadow of the drama of 2012 and in the shadow of the valley of death.

It has felt strange this walking in the strange, gray shadows. He is still sustaining. Still giving grace. Still making me aware of how much I need him.

But now I am learning to walk in this new place. Not a place of grieving from far away, as it was with my brother-in-law's death. But this time a place of grieving from nearby and up-close and personal. And from a responsible human being perspective.

He is still sustaining. But I don't need wings anymore so I'm relearning the walk of faith from here on this side of the strange, gray shadow lands. A needed walk, step-by-step.

Walking in the land of gray shadows. Learning what it means to walk by faith after having been mounted on eagle's wings.

What lessons have you learned walking in the shadows of difficult seasons?
 
Also linking with Jen at SDG. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Ten thoughts for ten years of home education



Since the beginning of their school years, I have been educating my children at home. We have almost completed 10 years. If all goes as planned, I have 10 more to go. So in light of a half-way milestone, here are ten random thoughts about our last ten years in relation to learning. I don't know that this perspective or the things that I have learned are exclusive to home educators. I imagine parents of children who have been learning for ten years would have similar thoughts.

Ten Random Thoughts on Learning


1)  I have loved all the books that I have met through home schooling. My life has been greatly enhanced through the quality of books that I have found. I have always loved to read but, boy, I sure missed a bunch of treasures. I have no idea why. All of these great books are some of the best reasons for home schooling. So glad that I didn't miss out for a lifetime.

2) Teaching a child to read has been one of the highlights of my entire life. I've had the privilege four times. It's as grueling and exhilarating as giving birth --laborious and glorious!

3) Teaching my children at home has been easier and harder than I ever imagined. I remember the feeling of jumping off the homeschool cliff into so many unknowns. It's been easier than I thought because there are so many guides and resources available. Yet, it has been hard to navigate the management of a household, the curriculum, and the relationships all at once, all day, every day.

4) Home education provides flexibility. How this translates into real living is that not a lot of math problems actually get solved in the ICU waiting room. But some do. It also gives a chance for the grandchildren to bring joy and hope like nothing else to a struggling-to-breathe grandpa. Plus, some math did get done. Maybe as much as a distracted grandchild separated from the situation? In addition, we can keep right on going at that child's speed, taking time for math lessons missed during real life lesson time.

5) It is easy to feel like a failure when one is behind on lessons, the house is dirty, and grandpa still can't breathe. It is hard to be flexible with life's demands. It's hard to get behind on lessons, to have a dirty house. It's the best and worst of times.

6) The greatest personal growth has been the self-employment aspect. I don't make a very good school bell. I do really well finding out what the teacher or the employer wants and delivering it to them. Therefore, it has been different to be the teacher, the school bell, the one to enforce the deadlines for papers.

7) I am thankful for all of the people who we have met on this journey. I love the out-of-the-box creative thinkers. I love the support group where we pray for one another, challenge our thinking, and belly laugh together. I am a richer, better woman.

8) I've loved the learning--my learning. I've enjoyed creating an atmosphere where the children love to learn. I love reading picture books that explain things like clouds, popcorn, and how the inside of the human body works.  I love to explore and observe. I've loved having a front row seat to watching my children learn and bloom in their skills.

9) My favorite time of day right now is snuggling next to my eight-year-old and reading aloud together. The worst school days are those when I'm too busy for the best part.

10) The reasons that I started are not the same as the ones that have kept me going. I began with mostly academic pursuits in mind. I have kept on going due to the amount of time for the family to be together.

What are your reflections of learning in  your life?
Click here or scroll down to join us in the comments.

Also linking with Jen at SDG.

Monday, April 7, 2014

How listening can help you find what you were made to do

Running a very wet half marathon last April with my husband and daughter

I love to run. When I am able, I like to set aside an hour, or longer, to run on Saturdays. I settle into the rhythmic pace. My muscles warm up. I breathe deep and think, "I am made to do this."

Instantly, I reject this idea.

My thoughts sneer at me, "You'll never win a race. You're slow. How can you even think that you are made to do this?"

It is true that I've never won a race. And that I only ran on the junior varsity of my high school cross country team. It is also true that I am the slowest in my family. Yet, I feel good when I run slow for 4 to 8 miles.

My body instinctively knows that I am made to do this. However, because I'm slower than others, I dismiss this innate sense of what I was 'made to do.' My head rejected this urge based on the interpretation of the data.

It is true that I am slower than many others but that doesn't make it true that I am not suppose to be doing it.

As quick as a pain reflex, my mind concluded that I wasn't made to do this based on comparing myself to others: I am not fast, and I haven't ever won a race. Therefore, I cannot say that I am made to do this.

These thoughts reveal an underlying assumption that it is only worth doing things when you are better than others. Plus, an assumption that it is particularly worth doing if you will win.

These assumptions cause me to look to others, or to a standard, to define my significance rather than what I am suppose to be about in my life.

Though I know that it is unwise to compare myself to others, I hadn't realized until now that in comparing myself to others I was dismissing clues to my calling. I was overlooking these almost imperceptible urges  about the true callings of my life.

How many other clues have I missed?  What else am I believing that it is not worth doing unless I am first? Unless it is big? Unless others will notice? Unless I have a chance at the gold medal?

Not everything that we were made to do will win a gold medal.

But it is hard to embrace this. It is hard to 'run' a pace that my husband can walk. It is hard to be the one who gets the whole family to go for a run but then I am the last one home. It is hard to run consistently and still be so much slower than my husband. It is hard to jog a steady pace and have walkers out-pace me.

It is also hard to hear the small, quiet voice inside of you telling you what you were made to do, especially if you aren't first. Especially if you never win a blue ribbon. Especially if everybody else is better than you.

But it is worth it to listen to the clues.  To learn what it is that we were made to do. To find the works that He prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)

I need to stop looking at others. Stop comparing. Start listening to the clues about what the true callings of my life are. Even if I will never win a race.

What about you?  Have you missed any clues to your calling?
Join us in the comments and share your thoughts.
Also linking with Jen at SDG.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A Blank White Wall

I scrubbed the blank white wall tonight.
I scrubbed. I cried. And the Spirit convicted.

I rubbed the wall. I wanted it to be clean. Almost desperate, my strokes were vigorous I didn't want it to be drab, so I scrubbed those stains. Mustering up all my elbow grease to make the wall better.

I really didn't want it to be like her house.

"Why Kathleen?" came nudge of the Spirit's in a thought.

Because I didn't want to be like her.

"Why is that Kathleen? I died for her just as much as I died for you."

And I cried.

Because I knew that the desire not to be like her energized my cleaning.
I didn't want such a run-down place.
I want my house to look like the magazines.

But...instead.. it seems my house is more like hers.
Which might mean that I am more like her than I dare admit.

And that is why I scrub so hard tonight.

I swallow the lump in my throat and continue to scrub.
But not quite as hard.

She does not turn anyone's head when she walks by. Neither do I.
She doe not have recruiters banging down her door to offer her a job. Neither do I.

Her appearance, her life is not together. It is not a life any of us strive for. My life? Well, perhaps it makes for a better appearance but is it truly better? Does it really hinge on a clean white wall?

I might be more like her than I dare to admit.

She is a mom.
Me, too.
She is married.
Yep, I share this too.
She cares about her kids. She's proud of them.
Uh-huh. Of course I share this, too. 

She is the one who invited me to her house and welcomed me in as if I was one of them. She smiles at me. She has brought me shoes when she heard me complaining about the lack of shoes that my children have. She has been kinder to me than I have been to her.

Then these words came to mind:

"The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." I Samuel 16:7b

I am guilty. I look at outward appearances. 

I scrub my walls wishing them to look like designer walls featured in Better Homes and Garden. When in truth, they are downcast and scrubby. More like hers. Perhaps I should admit that I am more like her and actually be more like her: welcoming, inviting, giving.

Forgive me Lord for judging by outward appearances. 
Change my heart, O God. 
Thank you for humbling me through the scrubbing of a white, blank wall.
Amen.

Linking with Jen and the SDG women.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

When Hibernation Gives Strength to Face the New Year


It's eleven days into the new year and my calendar is still blank. I am Hibernating and Pretending that nothing is calling my name. The empty boxes declare to me that each day is a new slate to spend the way I want. No one has pre-determined my course for the day. For the month. For the year.

The cold temps of this past week have contributed to the delinquency of catching up my calendar. Colder temperatures have visited Nashville this past week than they have in a couple of decades. This led to Cancellations and Delays, including my continued pretense that I live a non-busy life.

For the past two weeks, I have not been called hither and yon. I've stayed home since the family left-town. It was a beautiful holiday season twinged with sadness, tension, and beauty. Lots of beauty and gifts. Yet, the days following the holidays have been my favorite.


My husband had a few days off from work that we did not squander in travel but spent at home all together. The children rejoiced at just being home altogether with no place to go, no work projects to do. Instead we were just together. Sometimes playing a game. Sometimes reading. Sometimes doing our own creative thing.. We watched several movies. What a treat! We just hung out at home. Then, my husband returned to work, and the kids and I have gradually gotten back to our duties, too.

Due to the cold temps my usual activity whirlwind was suspended just enough longer to hunker down still for the second week of January. I had just enough social contact to keep me sane. Yet, the rest from swirling activities and trying to keep up and not miss anything has been a balm to my soul. It has been like taking a Great. Big. Deep. Breath. Can you hear my soul breathing a sigh of relief from there?

Usually, it is hard for me to stay home because I feel like I am missing out on something. I want to participate! I want to have fun! Therefore these cold-weather cancellations gave permission to plant my feet right here at home where I have wanted to be with no expectation from anyone in the Southern regions to move at all. Hiding and hibernation are exactly what everyone is doing. It's all the rage!

I couldn't find this more than fabulous even though I grew up in Minnesota where they didn't cancel for cold weather!?! Are you crazy? Life would be shut down for half of the year if they did that Up North. But here in the Southland, things shut down in the cold and snow. Or, at the very least slow down for just  a little while, because we can. We simply hunker down with the Southern Natives and wait a few days for it to thaw out. We always hope that our milk and bread supply is sufficient because snow forecasts cause a run on the grocery stores down here. The other great prayer to pray is for one's pipes NOT to  freeze! Insulation grades are not the same Down Here as they are Up There.

I've gladly taken these contributions to my Hibernation Mode. These few days of slowing down, cancellations, and lesser expectations. It's just what I've needed to face the blank slate of the New Year.

And as it warms up, I guess the ink will flow once again onto the January calendar. I can hide and pretend for only so long that the responsibilities, activities, and to-do lists are not yet calling my name.

Soon enough it will be time to write the upcoming events of our beautiful life on the calendar. But for now I tip my black snow hat and raise my cup of Chai tea to the cold. I will trust that this deep soul breath will help strengthen me for the days ahead as I head off into the whirlwind activity that will come in due time but not today. Not yet.
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How about you? How's the start of your January been?
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