Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tasty Tuesday--Baked Spaghetti

You ever have one of those days when you really have no idea what you will be making for dinner? Mix that with the tight economic times we are all experiencing and coming up with a tasty meal that your family will eat and that you can afford becomes highly challenging.

I asked for dinner ideas on my facebook page this morning and had a bunch of amazing ideas come in. I wish I could post them all here! I think several of them will make an appearance on another Tasty Tuesday blog post in the future. For today, I needed to find a recipe that would make the most of whatever supplies I had on hand... which were sadly limited. Some of the recipes that were sent in to me include: Chicken Tortilla Soup, Sauteed Shrimp with Lemon, Mozzarella Crusted Tilapia in Lemon Caper Sauce with Ratatouille, French Dip Sandwiches with Oven Fries and Baked Spaghetti. Hungry yet? Of all these amazing ideas, the one I had the most ingredients for is the winner for tonight: Baked Spaghetti. Well... almost... I had to take the recipe that was given to me (Thanks, Lisa!) and tweak it to match what was already in my pantry and fridge. So... here you go! Lisa's dinner tweaked to work for me!

1 (8 ounce) package whole wheat spaghetti, cooked al dente
2 tablespoons butter OR margarine
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 (24 ounce) cottage cheese
1 pound bulk Italian sausage
1 (25.75 ounce) jar prepared spaghetti sauce
4 cloves garlic
10 leaves fresh basil
1 (8 ounce) package shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Combine hot cooked spaghetti with butter; stir until butter melts and coats spaghetti. Add 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese; stir to coat. Arrange spaghetti in an even layer in foil-lined pan. Add a small amount of the pasta sauce, right from the jar. Stir gently. Spread cottage cheese over spaghetti. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Chop garlic and basil. Brown sausage, drain; add pasta sauce, garlic and half the basil, heat until bubbly. Spoon over cheeses. Top with mozzarella cheese and remaining Parmesan cheese. Cover with foil. Bake 30 minutes. Remove foil cover and continue baking 15 minutes or until cheese is lightly browned. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Sprinkle remaining basil on top. Serve with homemade garlic bread* and fresh veggies or salad.

*Not sure how to make garlic bread? Once you make it yourself, you will NEVER buy it again. I am including the recipe that I use but know this... if you are concerned about eating healthy, make a salad! Garlic bread is not really a healthy food. : ) We have tried making it on whole wheat bread but it is not nearly as good. You can try low-cal spreads...but the truth is it is best made with butter. If you eat the final bread sparingly, and are careful with the rest of your meal, it is fine to enjoy this bread. So... here is what I do.

I keep french bread or sub rolls frozen in my deep freeze. When I want good garlic bread, I take out enough frozen bread... no need to defrost. Then,in my food processor, I put:

1 stick of butter (I cut it up into squares)
3-4 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 leaves of basil or about 1/2 t of dried basil
A sprinkle or two of powdered garlic or garlic salt

I turn my food processor on until the butter and garlic begin to combine. If you are using fresh basil, the mixture may turn a little green. When you taste it, you will not care that your garlic bread is green... I promise. As the butter softens, I add in a titch of olive oil just to be sure that the whole shebang will be spreadable.

Next, I cut the loaf of bread length-wise and lay it on a baking sheet. I slather the cut side with butter making sure to leave some for the next step. Put this, buttered side up, into a hot oven...400 degrees. The mixture will melt. Leave in about 7 minutes. Take out and flip the loaves over to the other side. Spread remaining garlic butter on the backside of the bread. Put back in the oven for about 4 minutes. Take it out and turn your oven on to broil. Flip the garlic bread back over the cut side. Slide the whole pan into your broiler. Stand there! It will take all of 2 minutes. Burning the garlic bread now would be a tragedy! Watch for any signs that it is browning slightly on top. Take it out and let it cool long enough to be handle-able. Cut into 3 inch slices and enjoy!

So...now I am off to cook. This recipe is quick and easy and my kids enjoy it. I hope you do, too! : )

Monday, July 27, 2009

Internet, Connection and Kingdom

The internet is a funny thing. It has tremendous power to connect or destroy, to build up or demolish. It can help us to accomplish what we feel most called to do... or keep us from that very thing. How we choose to use this tool is the greatest deciding factor in what the outcome will be... an important choice to make.

Over the past year, I have started to read a wide variety of blogs. One thing that has been so interesting to me is following a blog trail... one blog that leads to another that leads to another, and so on... And in doing so, I have landed on a variety of interesting reads.

Perhaps it all began with reading Lysa Terkhurst's blog after hearing her speak at Hearts at Home. Lysa's blog was an extension of her speaking ministry and in that way, I was being encouraged by her written words building on those she'd spoken. I think it was Lysa's blog that led me to Angie's blog. Angie's blog was a new experience for me... raw, painful, faithful and true, I was drawn into the lessons and thoughts she bravely shared after the loss her sweet newborn. Somewhere along the way, I ended up Marla Taviano's blog and was drawn into the day to day living and enthusiasm that she shares regularly. It was Marla's blog that connected me to The Mac's Blog the week that their daughter, Cora, was first diagnosed with cancer. For the first time, I was drawn into someone else's story, not as a memory, but as something currently happening in real time. As I hugged my little ones, they hugged their Cora. As I prayed with my children for dinner, they prayed for healing for their girl. And as I attended a wedding in Nashville, their sweet baby died of cancer only weeks after being diagnosed.

As I read Cora's story, I felt compelled to pray. I prayed for this family, unknown to me personally, as though we were life-long friends. I prayed for healing, for comfort, for peace. I prayed as Cora struggled. I prayed as Cora died. I prayed still today for Cora's parents, Joel and Jess, as they continue to piece together a life that looks nothing like they had expected just 8 months ago.

Blog to blog, connections made. It is all so facinating to me likely because this way of connecting is really pretty new. But, I believe there is value in what is happening this way... value in the world being connected via blogging or facebook or twitter... value in the Kingdom of God being revealed like this. And, at the core, that is what it all feels like to me. A glimpse into the Kingdom that I might not have otherwise seen. A glimpse into the simple, ordinary lives of people just like me... and in willingly taking that glimpse, a bridge is being built. A bridge is being built that helps me to see that Joel and Jess and Lysa and Angie and Marla are an awful lot like me. We have something to share... some ordinary moment, some lesson we have learned, some funny statement or homey recipe or sincere need, that connects us in a way that is very much the way God builds His Kingdom. Because the truth is, I don't know Joel and Jess. I don't know them at all. But, they had a need and I could help. They needed prayer... lots and lots of prayer. They have traveled a road that most of us cannot even begin to imagine and what they need is not another meal or a pat on the back or a sypathetic, spoken cliche. What they need is for someone to cry out for them... pray for them... be WITH them in any way at all... so that they can find strength and be eased from their pain and be comforted by The One who comforts best. I can do that. I want to do that.

I think it was Angie's blog that lead me to MckMama's Blog. Have you heard about it? Oh, my dear friends, there is a family who needs your help. Their baby, Stellan, has an issue with his heart and is very, very ill. With three other children (all very young) at home, MckMama is being airlifted with her husband to a hospital in Boston in hopes of finding some help for their baby Stellan. We cannot make this baby well. But, we know The One who can. Pray with me for this young family and for the doctors who will work with Stellan today.

Every now and then, we can see a little glimpse into what God's Kingdom is coming to be. Every now and then, we look around and see how He has connected us. It may be a new way of connecting and yes, it is very different from meeting over a cup of coffee at Panera... but, it matters. It is why we log onto the internet, why I visit blogs, why you visit here. In some small way, we are sticking out our hands and hoping that someone on the other side reaches out and grabs on tight. In a world that has grown more divided than ever before, the internet can provide a way for us to sit on the porch and wave to our neighbors, though they may be a world away. It's no substitute for java and face-to-face chat, but it does provide a way for us to add on to that. It gives us a way to see something bigger... to meet someone new... to connect in a way that likely could not happen without broadband to tie the knot.

There is something comforting about knowing we are part of something bigger than ourselves. There is something humbling about knowing we can play a part in the life of another. These feelings come from the fact that we are made to be in relationship with one another. We are created to seek connection and to lend a loving hand. Can you see it? If we choose, we can squint our eyes and see a part of the Kingdom we might have missed. It is not more important, or less, than the corner we sit in right now... but it is a part of it nonetheless. As I sit here right now, a baby is being airlifted to Boston. I don't know him at all. But I know his story and I know his need and it is my privilege to pray for Stellan. I hope you will pray with me.

For someone used to sleeping in a dark closet, Stellan sure i... on Twitpic

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Left with Maybe

Yesterday was a long, LONG day in our house. I am not sure what causes these days but I know that they end with children in tears and a momma falling exhausted into bed feeling completely used up.

So much of what happened was little, and standing alone, inconsequential. But, put in a pile, the whole of it was an awful lot. In addition to the general crabbiness that fell on all of us and the impatience that I juggled all day long, I will share some highlights:

-Noah and Benjamin exploded into an argument after a game of INTO (apparently HORSE is too long a word) and Benjamin, nearly 11 years old, stomps off angrily leaving a frustrated Noah behind.

-Shortly thereafter, Benjamin suddenly realizes that it was a swimming lessons day and while he had his suit and his beach towel, he misplaced his goggles. He MUST have his goggles. He searched in absolute vain for goggles that have clearly fallen off the edge of the earth and very nearly made all his siblings late for swimming.

-Elizabeth, having made her sandwich, ignored 3 reminders to clean up her lunch mess and Lexie, our golden doodle, took advantage of the situation and ate an entire package (from Sam's Club) of ham. Three pounds of lunch meat, gone in an instant.

-Josiah, not wanting to complete one of his chores, announces loudly that he doesn't HAVE to do it. He will just not do it. (Mark and I could not have been more surprised to hear this from our most laid-back little one.)

-All the kids spent the afternoon complaining about one thing after another and asking for more screen time. And more snacks. And more activities. And more attention.

-At dinner, a whole glass of sweet tea was spilled everywhere leaving a sticky film across the majority of our dining room.

-At the same dinner, when I asked Mark to please take the children to the library for new books, Josiah announced that daddy should not have to do it since "he does everything".

-In an effort to "help", Elizabeth emptied a tub standing full of water. Hot water. With bubbles in it. The bath I had just poured her.

-There was an insane amount of tattling.

-The children took turns, literally, interrupting my few phone conversations. Each one coming to me individually with different questions, stories, concerns or injuries leaving me fully unable to be on the phone at all.

Ever have a day that leaves you feeling done? A day where it feels like each quarrel, each request, each whine, each complaint literally draws energy out of your very self? Do you ever fall into bed afraid that tomorrow will be more of the same? It happens in our house... does it happen in yours?

This morning, I am weary. But, here is what I know... I woke up this morning and the sun came out. I took a walk with my husband. I heard the birds sing. Josiah woke up and smiled at me. Benjamin and Noah both woke up with books in their hands and stories in their minds. Elizabeth is working hard to start this day differently than yesterday. My children have combed their hair, brushed their teeth and found their shoes. We have eaten waffles and sausage and are ready to start our day. Benjamin has his goggles. No one spilled their orange juice.

Yesterday was not a very good day here. But maybe today will be better. Maybe I will be more patient. Maybe they will bicker less. In that maybe lies a little glimmer of hope. In that maybe I can find a possibility, a chance that today will have more peace and less mess. In that maybe, lies just enough energy for me to pull myself up out of bed and put one foot in front of the other and start. Start today. Start moving. Start parenting. Start loving. Start being.

Sometimes we have a bad day. Maybe today will be better. And the hope tucked inside that 5 letter word is just enough for me.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Wordless Wednesday

Give Us This Day...

I didn't know what time it was when Josiah touched my face and said, "Momma, let's bake bread." I knew I had been sleeping but being awakened by his sweet disposition has never bothered me a bit. He climbed into bed beside me, his cold toes waking my warm legs. Every time I opened my eyes and grinned at my sweet boy, he was smiling right back at me, waiting for me to wake.

"Momma, can we please bake bread? I want to bake bread. Can we please get up and bake?"

I put my feet on the floor and fumbled for my glasses. He was eager to get started and took my hand to gently pull me forward. We were in the kitchen, bowl on the counter, before I checked the clock. It was 6:15. AM. Seriously.

What to do? By then I was up and the beaming boy by my side was half in the fridge, half out, searching for yeast. I pulled out recipes and we began. The house was quiet and the smell of dough filled the air. It has been unusually cool this week and all the windows stood open allowing us to listen to the birds outside while we mixed milk and yeast and sugar and flour. We chatted in whispers about baking and bread and what we would do with the dough. Josiah pulled out the cinnamon sugar and decided one loaf would be sweet and one would be plain. By the time we had set the dough to rise, Noah rolled down the stairs with a smile and hug. He wanted to help...

The zucchini in our garden had finally started to grow and there were three zukes sitting on the island. I sent Noah on a hunt for other ingredients and we got ready to make zucchini bread for the family. With everything gathered, I put a bowl in front of Josiah and another in front of Noah and we decide to quadruple the recipe. Each boy would mix a double batch. A pinch of cinnamon, a bit of pineapple, grated zucchini... and lots of easy chatter and in no time at all, we had a bunch of batter ready to bake.

When it was all said and done, we had a loaf of white bread, a loaf of cinnamon bread, 5 loaves of zuke bread, 24 mini zuke muffins and 12 full sized muffins of the same. The house smelled like heaven and as the pile of baked goods on the island grew, in wandered our family, now awake, to start the day with something good and warm.

As I worked in the garden later that morning, one thing ran through my head again and again. "Give us this day, our daily bread. Give us this day, our daily bread. Give us this day, our daily bread."

And He did. Can you see? All that we needed... God gave freely and simply. Time with my children. Their voices in my ears. A project shared together... and with others as well. And bread. Bread for today. Bread that satisfies our bellies for now. Bread that fills our hearts for now... and maybe for some time to come.

I didn't know what time it was when Josiah touched my face. I could have checked the clock. I could have said no. I could have slept in. How hungry I would have been.

Zucchini Bread

3 eggs, beaten
2 cups white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups grated zucchini
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup crushed pineapple, drained

I add all ingredients except the zuke and pineapple. Mix well, then add the zuke and pinapple last. I cut the oil in half, replacing with homemade (no sugar added) applesauce. You could easily cut the sugar down, or replace with a more natural version. We have toyed with honey, brown sugar or turbinado. I add ground flax seeds as well (likely a titch under a cup per recipe). I also sometimes add wheat germ. Bake in loaf pans for about an hour at 350 degrees.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Rain and Negativity and the 4th of July

Negativity. It sinks in quickly, doesn't it? It does for me. I have been really aware lately of the negativity that surrounds us every day. I hear it on the news, read it in the newspaper and can sense it creep into my thoughts as I go through my days.

Spring came slowly this year. On evening newscasts, the weather man and reporters commented incessantly on how cold it was, questioned why it was not yet warm, and wondered when it would happen. When the weather finally broke, and we truly did have to wait, within 24 hours the same newscasters were complaining that it was too hot, when would we have a cooler day? I noticed it then... heard it in a new way and saw it in myself, as well. Discontent. Frustration with things outside my control. Negativity.

Where do you see this in your own life? Where does it sneak in and take away your joy?

We grow a huge garden every year. Last week, the garden had grown a bit dry and we knew we needed rain. As the holiday approached, we could see it on forecasts all week long. Rain. It was going to rain alright. On the 4th of July.

Come Saturday, all day it was dismal. All day it rained. The clouds hung low as we cleaned the house to prepare for our barbecue. Streams trickled down the street as I boiled potatoes for potato salad and added the perfect spices to our inch-thick hamburgers. Our kids got squirrely and Mark and I struggled for a while with a general crabbiness that seemed to fit the day. Fighting this feeling, Mark took the kids outside to play football and frisbee (simultaneously) in the rain.

Our guests arrived and seeing the children laughing with their dad in the front yard, dripping wet, likely thought we were a little nuts. We grilled under umbrellas and we laughed at each other' stories and our children played. Then, at about 8PM, the clouds broke and we headed to a local park to watch fireworks. We packed umbrellas and a thermos filled with coffee. Upon arrival, we set up our chairs and the announcement was made that the fireworks would start early in hopes of getting them in. Clouds were rolling in again. Looked like rain.

We watched as the sky exploded in color. Fireworks big and beautiful and colorful in a way that a sunny day would have likely led us to overlook. We did what we always do, sit side-by-side with friends and ooooh and ahhhh at the spectacle above.

As we sat watching, drizzle fell and turned to light rain. But, after the show, it broke again and, not wanting to fight traffic, we played frisbee in the dark and stood smiling as our children ran with sparklers lit. As the rain returned, we packed up our things and headed back to the nearly empty parking lot. We drove home with the wipers on and the kids were damp and happy and tired. As we tucked them into bed and fell exhausted onto the couch, I suddenly realized that we did not miss a thing. Yes, it rained. A lot. But, in all honesty, every single thing that we had planned to do that day, we did. We had friends over, grilled out, played outside, watched fireworks, lit sparklers and had a fabulous time. It didn't LOOK like we thought it would. It didn't FEEL like we thought it would. But it was all that we had hoped for and more. And our garden got watered, as well. : )

We could have missed that truth, my friends. We could have missed it altogether. Had we fallen onto couches and spent the night complaining about how the rain ruined everything, we would have missed the joy.

Negativity is a nasty thing. It surrounds us and keeps us believing that we are somehow entitled to having sunny days. It causes us to see the foibles of our children and the weaknesses in our spouse and the smallness of our house and the struggle of our bottom line...and leaves our focus there. The wonder of our children, the kindness of our spouse, the shelter of our home, the lessons in tight budgets, all of this falls away and we are left shaking our empty hands at what we do not have.

We have lived 2.5 years with two houses and two mortgages and a budget that can never really work. I have children who misbehave and have struggles all their own. And sometimes it rains. It did today. A lot. But, I ended the day with three boys snuggled on the couch with me, laughing outloud. We wrapped blankets around ourselves and I loved the way they felt, warm and cozy and close to me. A warm and sunny day would not have given me that moment. A cold and rainy day caused it to play out just like that.

I know some days are hard. They are hard for me, too. I know this time of struggle leaves us frustrated and often in need. I know. I really, really do. But, I also know this. I have this day. I am still here. I have these children all around me. I have a husband who loves me and plays with his kids. I have a life that is simple but true. And I am not entitled to anything at all. I have not earned this beauty. How could I? I have been deeply blessed and can see God's hand in it all... offering me this gift. Handing me well-wrapped gifts of my children's giggles, Mark's hand in mine, and food on the table. I sit surrounded by all that He has made and the wonder of creation is clear... and sometimes it needs rain. It is blessed by rain. And sometimes blessed in spite of rain. Like me. Deeply blessed in spite of all that seems to fall around me. I will not be distracted by what does not look or feel like I thought it would. Instead, I choose to hunt for what is good... and that hunt always ends well.

Today, I will push the negativity aside and squint to see what is freely given my way. This life. Good and gritty and simple and clear. And that is just enough. I will not ask for more.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Ten Lessons for Early Summer

I sometimes think I should have the hang of this summer stuff by now. But, every year I find myself learning more and remembering again lessons I have learned in summers past. Here is a short list of things running through my head today. Some are reminders to myself and to you. Some are things we are learning in a while new way.

1. Kids need structure. This is no less true in June than in January. Children need to have an idea of what will happen next... and what is expected of them. The weeks when we offer clear structure, easy to reach goals and good follow-through on chores given are far more peaceful than the weeks without. We continue to work, read, pray and play every single day.

2. Kids will choose healthy when healthy is a choice. I have begun (again) to put out fresh fruit each morning. Today on the island in the kitchen is: grapes, blueberries, watermelon slices, cups of mandarin oranges and a small glass of toothpicks. My kids wander in from time to time, grab a toothpick, skewer some fruit and eat to their heart's content. In addition to this, there are four water bottles, each labeled with the initials of my children. I find that when I start our days this way, there are fewer requests for cookies and candy... and if there is one, I feel better about saying yes. My only rule? The water bottle needs to be empty by bedtime. Hot days require more water... some of my kids are great at staying hydrated, others not so much. This way, I can keep better track of who is drinking and eating well... works well for us.

3. Academics has a place, even in the summer. Our kids are matched up into pairs each week. One of the older boys works with a younger one on some household chores and to work on flashcards. They have come up with some great flashcard games all on their own. The older boys get a deep feeling of accomplishment by helping Josiah and Elizabeth learn new things. 'Siah is working on addition flashcards to reinforce math facts and EB is learning sight words to help her become more confident as she learns to read. It has been fun to watch Noah and Benjamin play the role of big brother so well in the lives of their younger siblings.

4. Summer is a perfect time to read! This is not a child-only lesson! All of the kids have been enjoying long periods of reading each day. Noah and Benjamin are pouring through books and working on their summer reading lists for school. Josiah has just discovered the joy of the Magic Treehouse series and Elizabeth and I are reading The Velveteen Rabbit together. I am reading, too. With four kids here all day long, it is slow going but I keep reminding myself that it is important that my children see me reading, also. I have two books started... A Year of Living Biblically (still thinking about this...) and The Weight of Water (drew me in quickly...). Our challenge now is keeping enough books around that there is always something new to read.

5. Outside is the place to be. If you read this blog regularly or have heard me speak, you know this is something important to me. Everyday, my kids go outside to play AT LEAST three times. Some days this goes smoothly and other days, it takes a bit of encouragement. I am ready to help with bubbles and sidewalk chalk on hand but I know that free-play is best. I have to remember that I am their momma, not their cruise director. As the summer progresses, they get better and better at finding things to do in the yard, while bike riding, on a walk with the dog and I am happy to see them come in smiling, smelling like sunshine.

6. Limiting screen-time makes for a better day. I do not know what it is about spending time watching TV or being on the computer that leads to crabby children but I know it is the truth. Our new policy is that they can have one hour or less (my discretion) of screen-time per day. I like that they have to think about what matters to them when they are handed a limit. Do they REALLY want to watch this mindless TV show and lose half an hour of screen-time or do they want to spend that time playing a computer game instead? We so want to raise mindful children who are careful with their choices and evaluate what matters most along the way. This is a small way to work toward that goal.

7. Rested children (and parents) have better days. It is tempting to ignore established bedtime routines and spend every night running freely through the yard filling canning jars with lightning bugs. But, morning comes early and waking short on sleep puts everyone on edge. We do indulge in a late-night bug collection from time-to-time but we really try to keep up with our children's need for sleep. It is a careful balance sometimes, but it is important.

8. Water rocks! What is it about a well-placed sprinkler that can make even my oldest 'tween squeal with joy? When the question posed to me has anything to do with water, I try to say yes. One of the favorite activities? Putting the hose on lightly at the top of the driveway and watching the "rivers" form on the way down. Noah and Benjamin started this years ago when they were both very small but the wonder of it has never waned. Sometimes, they race small leaves or Popsicle sticks down the rivers. Sometimes, they just watch. It is simple but it makes them happy.

9. Friends matter. While the blessing of hunkering down as a family is something I fully embrace, there is good in fostering friendships outside of the school year. Play dates and kids in the driveway shooting hoops is a wonderful thing and helps my kids to not find themselves suddenly sick of their siblings. It can feel like another thing to do but we have found that it is worth the work and worth the planning and worth the hospitality to make it happen.

10. Special outings, even small ones, are remembered for their magnitude more so than their price tag. On our way home from our Lexington weekend, Mark mentioned that we drive past so many cool places on that drive. I remarked that we will be driving very near to Indian Dunes State Park on the way home. We made a quick decision to stop and play a while in the waves and stay to watch the sunset. We were there for about an hour and a half. If you asked my kids about that time, the stories they would tell might lead you to believe we had stayed beach-side for a solid week! They had so much fun and laughed so hard and ran up and down dunes and the sheer bigness of that night built memories for them that were worth far more than many well-planned vacations. We need more of this... more small but memorable experiences shared with our children by our side.

We have spend just slightly over a month on summer break. These ten lessons are likely just the tip of the iceberg of what we will learn in the months to come. While learning is important and I want to pay attention... I want more to pay attention to the ones in the lessons. I want to notice them, cherish them as they are today. May these simple lessons not distract me, but instead bring me closer to that deepest desire of my heart.

Enjoy your day!

Summer Update

It has been way too long since my last post! I know you can understand how full my days have been with my four children home all day, every day! As much as this open scheduling can bring a bit of stress for me, I love being home here with my babies all around. I love having time to watch them, listen to them, store up a bit of today. I love observing the way they play, the way they build their relationships a little bit at a time and knowing that every minute they spend together has an impact on what those relationships will look like years from now.

In the midst of all this downtime, we have had several activities thrown in for good measure. We try to find a good balance of slow days and planned involvements to help the summer fall into some hint of routine.
Our church held a VBS (Vacation Bible School) program a couple of weeks ago and all my children attended. Noah is too old for the actual program now but our family rule is that once you outgrown the program, you volunteer to help run it. We are hoping to help our children learn that when you take something from an activity, you offer then to put something in. Noah was a leader for the five and six year old group and he did an amazing job! I was so proud of him. As someone who has taught leadership for over twenty years, it is a very moving thing to see it all begin to develop in one of own children. The rest of my kids had a wonderful time singing and learning and growing in faith. It was a really good week.

After VBS, all the kids participated in a sports camp at a local church. Again, Noah was a volunteer and spent his days teaching little ones to play soccer. Everyone had a good week and I was grateful for a bit of time to myself. : )

Last weekend, we packed the children up and headed down to Lexington to spend some time with our adoption travel group. If you know us at all, you have heard us talk about our "China Family" and that is exactly what these dear people have become. Family. We enjoyed a very peaceful and fun weekend with them and our daughter, Elizabeth, enjoyed reconnecting with her friends from China. We continue to stand amazed that we can gather with such a big group of people (there are usually at least 35 of us) and have such a smooth weekend. There is no ego, no power struggles, just a bunch of people gathered together, happy to be sitting side by side. I love it... I really, really do.

Now, we are home. The weather in Chicago has cooled off and we are remembering the simple joys of summer life. The garden is growing, although slowly, and my kids have taken on the healthy glow that comes with hours outside daily in the warm, fresh air. We are unwinding from a long school year and finding ourselves learning still. Read more, later this week, as I share some of our summer lessons from the first third of the season gone by.

Enjoy your day!