Wednesday, February 29, 2012

An Extra Day...

This morning on our way to school, the kids and I were talking about Leap Year and what an interesting thing it is to be given an extra day every four years.  Benjamin and I tried to explain to the little ones all about the year normal year being 365 days, plus one quarter of a day.  Add up four little pieces of day and every four years, you get one extra day.  (Seriously, I can spit the words out to explain this but does it really make any sense at all to anyone?)  :)

As I ran errands today, I found myself thinking about the gift of this day.  One bit of time that we will not get next year and did not have last year... One simple day that is extra.  It is hard to not see the blessing in it today. Here in Chicago (where it is February, after all) it is nearly 60 degrees outside, sunny and spring-like.  People are outside, children are running and playing and the wonder of this wacky weather is shaking us from our winter sleepiness.  It is a gift.  By tonight, we may have snow.  The cold weather is coming right back.  But somehow today, on this extra day, we are given a reprieve.

It is a simple thing, really.  Finding yourself pleased with something you did not earn and never requested helps us to feel connected to those things that make us happy.  Today, while walking a bit outside, I made a list of such things... simple things that make me smile...

1.  The sounds and smells of my house in the morning.  Shower steam.  Mark's aftershave.  Kids singing.  Oatmeal cooking.  Backpacks zipping.  Prayers spoken.  I love the whole of it.

2.  Shoes on feet for all of us.  I saw a picture the other day of a man who had flattened two-liter bottles taped to his feet.  I need to be grateful that there are six of us and we all have shoes that fit and protect our chilly toes.

3.  Nerd Jelly Beans.  Oh-my-fruity-goodness.  It is silly, I know.  But they make me smile.  They make my kids smile.  And they are so good...

4.  Coffee made for me.  Most mornings, Mark (who does not drink coffee), makes some for me.  I love the smell floating upstairs.  I love to open my eyes and know it is there.  I love that he does it for me.


5.  Thoughtfulness.  Josiah wondering if Mark will feel bad if we work on his Pinewood Derby car without him.  Noah trying to text clearer so that we can be in contact during the day.  Mark filling the van with gas before he leaves for work.  Benjamin helping Josiah to find his shoes.  Elizabeth offering to get the milk for her brother's cereal.  My best friend making a birthday plan for my upcoming big day.  Thinking about others makes me smile.


6.  Golden-doodle pups.  We have the best dog in America.  I had no idea that dogs could be so great.  Truly.  She thinks about us before herself, finds a toy before answering the door, lives to play and run with our kids and generally makes us happy every single day.  This is no pet, friends.  This is fully a family member!





7.  Grace.  And grace upon grace.  How grateful I am to be loved, everyday, by the God who created me and created this amazing world.  I don't look around nearly enough.  I am not thankful nearly enough.  But knowing that I am forgiven, embraced, saved and seen is enough to drive me to my knees today and every day.

You see, today we have an extra day.  Pure and simple, a day to do with what we will.  I am choosing to be thankful... for time, for people, for so many things... because that seems like a pretty good way to spend an extra day.


If it is going to snow tonight, I have to get back outside!  :)

Blessings on your extra day!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Letter I Wish I Could Send...



Some days are hard, we know this full well.  There are so many things I wish I could say to my children, things they are too young to understand, or maybe not.  Given our difficult day yesterday, I have written a letter that I wish I could send... though writing it out might just help enough. I have purposely not included any names because while I have one child in mind this morning, tomorrow it may be someone else.  Writing and remembering why I do what I do... that is what I needed today. I hope it helps you, too.    

Dear Little One,

It's time we have a talk.  Yesterday was not a good day.  We ended the day, both you and I, worn out and used up and sad and frustrated.  And maybe you felt like we had a talk then but I think we need to clarify things, get on the same page, and start again.  How 'bout that, honey?

First of all, I want what is best for you.  It has nothing to do with me and everything to do with helping you get ready to become the person God intends you to be.  He has a plan for you, Little One.  He dreams about the things you will get to do, the places you will go, the work you will do in the Kingdom.  I want all of this for you... nothing more and not one thing less.  So, when I ask you to do it again or do it well or read it through or think about things, I am not punishing you.  I am dreaming for you.  I am dreaming for who you are which will surely lead to who you will become.  Believe me, what feels like the "hard way" for you is no easier (at all) for me.

Next, respect matters.  I will never pretend that it is does not.  You have no option but to respect your Daddy and I because it is right and good and because it teaches you something big.  Today, you listen to us.  Someday, you will listen to someone else.  You might like them.  You might not.  You might like what they have to say.  You might disagree.  But, learning to handle all those feelings in a way that is respectable matters much more than you can guess.  When you are grown and in a tough situation, being respectful may help you be heard.  And you will need to be heard.  I want that for you.  And, my sweet baby, you will learn that respect is something we offer and something we expect.  You grow into being respectable... and you learn it about yourself.  So, if I say, "Stop." and you keep going, and I say it again, and you keep going, the situation will not go well.  Not today or tomorrow or any other day.  My "Stop." is trying to help you.  It is trying to teach you.  It is important and by stopping, you show respect.  You are respecting my words and my request.  You are respecting yourself by growing into this big lesson.  We need to work on this, you and I.

Lastly, words have power.  They communicate to others something about you.  Your thoughts.  Your desires.  Your dreams.   My honey, use them carefully.  Think about them.  Roll them around your mouth.  Evaluate them.  Ask yourself if they are kind and true.  Ask yourself if they are necessary.  Because it matters that they are.  Today, your words are given to me, to classmates, to a teacher.  Soon, they will be offered to a professor, an employer, a spouse.  Use your words to help them see you, you in all your glory.  Help them to know who you are and who you are becoming.  When your words are twisted, untrue, it shows your struggle and struggling is okay.  But, do you understand you can use your words to let us help you come out of your struggle instead of settling there?  A lie will never be okay with me.  Never.  Lies hurt and lies break and lies separate us from those we love.  I don't want that for you.  I want you to use your words and your desires and your dreams and your thoughts to draw close, to build a bridge, to let us come alongside you and help you out.  Yes, Little One, words have power.  I want to help you learn to use yours well.

This world is not an accidental place.  God, who loves us more than we can imagine, has His mighty hands all over it.  His plan is all for good.  This is not to say it will be easy.  I think we know that, you and I.  But, it is to say that it is planned and it is made for good.  Our family is "on purpose", honey.  These two parents, all four kids, all our strengths, all our weaknesses, all our sadness, all our joy, all "on purpose".  From the beginning of time we were meant to be here, together in this place.  Because we need each other.  It is God's gift to each of us every single day. Together we are all becoming those people we need to be.  And it is big work.  So, I will keep showing up and keep being the momma and keep raising the standard and keep teaching you all I think you will need to know.  Because I love you.  And I know you are a gift to me.  And I am thankful for that.

Love,

mom

Blessings on your day.  

Monday, February 27, 2012

Monday Morning and Menu Planning




It's quiet today.  Maybe after the hoopla about the Oscars last night, the silence of the house with the kids all at school is more noticeable.  I like it, though. I like to hear the sound of the radiators warming.  I like to listen to the returning bird's songs.  I like that the click.clack.clicking of the computer keys can be heard today.  The fridge is running. The dog is sleep-breathing and I am relaxing into the hum of it all.  A quiet house is always comforting after the chaotic clamoring of the weekend falls away.

Now, it is time to write.  As I drove my children to school today, my head was swimming with new ideas.  I fought the urge to be overwhelmed by word counts and focused instead on what I wanted to say.  The book is coming together.  Four chapters are edited and now await tweaking.  Two more chapters are started and coming along.  An appendix is becoming clearer and I am beginning to let myself think that it all might actually happen after all.  That makes me smile.  

But, as eager as I am to get to typing, the minutiae of mom-life calls to me too.  So, I am sitting at the dining room table and taking care of all the tiny details that must be handled today.  Emails have been returned.  Carpools have been set.  The living room is cleaned.  The menu is written.

Want to know what we are eating this week?

Monday: Hot pork sandwiches.  Using my leftover pork roast from Sunday dinner, I throw simple ingredients into the crock pot and tonight it will be ready to eat.  I follow this recipe for beef sandwiches (but substituting pork and adding a jar of mild giardineira ).


Tuesday:  Marinated flank steak with Asian veggies and noodles.  In the morning, I will pull the flank steak out of the freezer and add olive oil, brown sugar, sesame oil, soy sauce, fresh garlic and grated fresh ginger to the meat in a zip lock bag. (I do not follow a recipe but this one is similar to what I do...) By dinnertime, it will be ready to throw on a grill pan.  I have a stir-fry veggie mix in the freezer and will serve this with noodles (shh... don't tell!  I will use ramen for this!  Cheap and easy to keep on hand!)  My kids LOVE this meal.

Wednesday:  Swiss Casserole Chicken.   I still have turkey and chicken in the deep freeze from recent meals so even though this recipe calls for chicken breasts, I will use diced chicken or sliced turkey.  With this we will have roasted Brussels sprouts and fresh baked bread.

Thursday:  Easy Taco Casserole.  My kids LOVE tacos.  I am hoping to expand on that with this new recipe.

Friday:  Fish sandwiches?  Sticking to my hopes of eating fish on Fridays in Lent, this is on the menu.  That said, Friday is my birthday... so maybe I won't have to cook?  :)

Our weekends are usually the same, week to week.  Soup for lunch on Saturday.  A big, traditional Sunday dinner.

So, what about you?  What are making this week?  Where is your favorite place to hunt for new recipes to try?  I would love it if you would share a link!  :)

I am off to make the most of this quiet Monday morning.

Blessings on your day!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Something to Try for the Weekend!


Josiah loves to bake.  My other kids love to help. Some Saturday mornings, we are afforded the time to relax and work in the kitchen together.  This weekend, look for a simple recipe and encourage your family to help you bake.  While it can be a bit chaotic, you are building memories with your children that will last for years to come.  Looking for a yummy recipe?  I have posted our zucchini bread recipe here.

As you work together in the kitchen, take just a minute to step back and look.  Look at your children, listen to their voices, memorize their faces.  We may be tired and the days may be long, but there is wonder here that we will one day miss so much.

Blessings on your weekend!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Pinterest and Providence

Recently, a friend of mine encouraged me to join Pinterest.  I was hesitant and had put it off assuming it would take more of my time away from writing and parenting and laundry and all the details of my daily life.  But, even it the shadow of this threat, curiosity got the best of me and I gave in.

What I found was a right-brained-wonderland of images that caused me to dream and plan and covet a whole bunch.  I found recipes and ideas and floor plans and crafts that could easily consume my waking hours.  I loved the newness... the ability to see things I had not even thought about before... the creativity that so many people showed in how they used the things they no longer needed.  It helped me to look around my own house and wonder what we could re-purpose to make our home more family-friendly.

Dreaming is one thing, reality is another.  Using Pinterest to dream my day away seemed like an awful waste of time.  Was there some way to use what I was seeing?  As I wondered about it all, I came across this picture:


How cool is THAT?  I looked it up and thought it would be easy enough to make.  Mason jars are inexpensive and accessible and my kids love anything that glows in the dark.  As I began to think it through, I realized that the jars looked like they were full of lightning bugs.  Our backyard fills with their glittering every summer.  In my head, I was lost in memories of my babies running barefoot in our backyard in the dark catching fire flies on their hands and arms.  I remembered them falling onto dew-damp grass and looking up at the stars, pointing out constellations and...

What if the jars could be more than an interesting thing to gaze upon?  What if I could use this simple craft item to draw my children back to those memories... and teach them something, too?

As I picked up glow-in-the-dark paint, I dreamed a bit.  What would I offer my babies in this gift of glass and paint?  I went home and began the task of painting tiny dots on the inside of our Mason jars.  Struck by how like stars they looked, the lesson I would offer came together.

As the jars dried, I sat down to write my children a letter.  That night, as each child prepared for bed, I sat with them and read them what I had written earlier.  Then I prayed with them and presented them with the jar as I turned out the light.  The sight of their sweet faces gently lit by the gift's glow is something I will keep for years to come.  It is my prayer that as they fall asleep looking at the lights each night, they will remember my words.... God's promise... to their young lives.

I wrote:

Dear Noah, Benjamin, Josiah, Elizabeth,

Remember when it was summer?  Remember when we could run around outside, barefoot, warm, late into the night?  Remember when the lightning bugs would come out and fill the backyard?  A million lights around us, with a million more shining down from space.  How beautiful the stars are in the middle of  the summer!

Those stars that we see so clearly on those nights, they are a promise.  They were a promise to Abraham so long ago.  They are a promise to you today.  God told Abraham that He would give him as many children as there are stars, as many descendants as there is sand on the beach.  You were on His mind that day.  You were part of His promise.  The Kingdom God was building with Abraham and all of his many babies is the Kingdom we live in today.  It is a tiny glimpse into the Kingdom that is to come.  You are a child of the King.  

Tonight, as you go to sleep, look at this simple jar and remember.... remember the lightning bugs and remember the stars, remember Abraham and remember that the promise God gave included you.  How important you are to Him!  He is continuing to build his Kingdom through you.

I love you.

Mom



Blessings on your day.









Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Sticks! Update


Some of you have been so patient.  I see you poking your heads in here, wondering if this book will ever be done.  Sometimes I wonder, too!

So, in an effort to continue to build accountability, let me give you an update!  The book is coming along nicely.   This week, chapters 1-4 are going to be edited and I am revising several others.  I am working on many details that will make this dream a reality.  I cannot wait!

In the meantime, if you are wondering what I am talking about or wondering what you can do to start Sticks! in your family, let me share some ideas.

1.  Remember dreaming about your kids, your family, and the momma you would become before your babies came along?  Those dreams were important.  Your goals and plans for your life together had nuggets of wisdom tucked within.  We forget these things when we are sleep-deprived and busy.  Take a minute to remember the goals you once had for your family.

2.  Next... What do you want your children to do every day?  What does that list look like?  Is this about chores?  Yes.  And no.  What does a good day hold?  Write that list down.  Will they read?  Play outside?  Practice an instrument?  Tend to a hobby?  Help their momma?  What do they need to do each day?  You cannot create a structure without knowing what building blocks are necessary.

Look at you!  You are already ahead of the game!  Thinking through these two things can be the first steps to making an enormous, helpful change in your family.

More information is coming.  Now, I am off to keep on writing!

Blessings on your day!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Menu Planning Monday and "Recipe Boredom"

Oh, how I love a long weekend!  My children are enjoying day four of a four day and I am thrilled that we have had time to relax and enjoy extended time together.  Noah was gone on a retreat for part of the weekend but the rest of us have had time to sit and watch movies, go on long walks and do the things we need to do to unwind.  In the midst of that, we had basketball games to watch, work to do, rehearsals and practices to attend and lots of driving from here to there.  But, the gift of extra time... that, I love.

As I sit here now, Josiah is chomping an apple while watching Benjamin play a computer game.  Elizabeth and Noah are sleeping in and the house is quiet and peaceful.  It is after 9:00 AM and we are not dressed.... no need to be!  Starting slow is a gift and I am grateful for a few minutes to enjoy my coffee and work on my blog and ease into this new day.

As I worked on the menu this week, I took the following things into consideration:

Monday:  We can order pizza for less than it costs me to cook.
Tuesday:  The boys have basketball practice to so a quick, easy meal works best.
Wednesday:  I have a speaking engagement making a crock-pot meal ideal.  We will need to be able to eat quickly before attending an evening service for Ash Wednesday.
Thursday:  I have time to cook and create a meal.
Friday:  The first Friday in Lent--I would love to go "meatless".
Saturday:  This is the perfect day for a kid-friendly meal!
Sunday:  What can I make that will help me plan meals for next week?

Looking at my week helps me to plan a realistic menu that will work for our family.  I am also always on the look-out for things that my family would enjoy.  I recently joined Pinterest and have found many new recipes to try on that site.  I will be trying one of those this week!

So, here is our menu plan for the next 7 days:

Monday:  Half-priced pizza from a local restaurant.  We can feed our whole family for $9.00!
Tuesday:  Pinterest recipe-Ham and cheese sliders with veggies and dip
Wednesday:  Chili with whole wheat noodles
Thursday:  Ham and potato casserole (using last Sunday's leftover ham)
Friday:  Fish sandwiches and broccoli slaw
Saturday:  Hot dogs in crescent rolls, veggies and fruit
Sunday:  Sunday dinner with all the fixings!

I am struggling lately with "recipe boredom".  Wondering if that ever happens to you?  I find it so hard to be excited to cook when the meals are so... I don't know... ordinary?  I love creating something fun, something new.  I tell myself that some days need to be function over form but when I spend so much time cooking for my family, something with flair goes a long, long way.  When I first started menu-planning, I looked forward to what it could be but I am feeling now like I am staring down a blank page each week.

When I talked to Mark about this, I was looking for ideas.  He said it was time to start reusing menus.  He was trying to be helpful but it was not what I wanted to hear.  I spend so much time in the kitchen, I want to be interested in what I am making... reusing menus does not lead to this.  But, there must be a place where reality intersects desire.  Where is that place for you?  How do you keep yourself interested in what you are making while paying attention to budget and time constraints?  Do you cycle through a set of family recipes or create something new regularly?  As someone who loves to cook, I want to look forward to providing for my family this way but sometimes that "recipe boredom" begins to win out.  I would love to hear your ideas...

Elizabeth is up and it's time for breakfast.  Waffles, sausage and fruit today... a nice start to a slow morning.

Blessings on your day.


















Monday, February 13, 2012

Menu Planning on Monday--Gotta Regroup!


It seems to me it takes a plan... and sometimes I can pull that together, and sometimes I cannot.  Some weeks fall into my lap and I am totally unprepared to pull us through it all.  To be honest, that "pulling us through" is not a job I love.  When the responsibility for getting my family from Point A to Point B lands on me, I find myself struck in frustration and spinning my wheels.

I spent last week reminding myself of a very basic truth.  When I am in that spot... micromanaging my family and telling them what needs to be done next... I have put myself there.  Mark and I have allowed ourselves to be pulled back in to a place where my children rely on us to tell them what is happening.  It does not have to be this way.  It is not what is best for any of us.  And yet, last week I found myself saying things like this:

-brush your teeth
-use soap in the shower
-get ready for school
-feed the dog
-help with the table
-pick up your dishes
-etc.. etc... etc... 

Why do I let myself fall back into this?  I know better!  We all know better.  My children (and your children) do not need to be told every single thing because they already know these things.  We have taught them these things from an early age!  What we need to do is empower our families to manage their day, doing all the things they know they must do.  When they do, stress is relieved and our day runs smoothly and we get to be the people we want to be... the parents we want to be.  

This week, I will get organized and take care of the things that I must do.  I will chip away at chores and make my menu plan and work behind the scenes.  And I will empower my children to do the same.  (I speak on this topic, Sticks!, so contact me at www.NadiaSwearingen-Friesen.com if you want to know more about the way we make this happen at home.)  This week, I will remind myself that some jobs are mine and some are theirs and when we all do what we need to do, our home runs beautifully.  When we do this, we have time to share together and emotional energy to spend in positive ways.

So today, I will start at the beginning. 

1. I will review our schedule and post it. 
2. I will be sure that chores are assigned. 
3. I will post our menu.  

What are we eating?  Read on! 

Monday:  Half priced pizza from a local restaurant... enough for all to eat for about $9.00!  

Tuesday:  Crock pot meatballs and mashed potatoes. I posted the recipe link here.  I had no idea how much my kids loved this meal until I started tracking our menu.  It is quick and easy and I like it, too!  I am planning a special dessert to celebrate Valentine's Day!  

Wednesday:  Lasagna with homemade garlic bread and spinach.  

Thursday:  Chicken quesadillas with dips and veggies.  This meal is so easy, it is amazing!  The chicken quesadillas are a mixture of cooked, diced chicken, a blend of cheeses and canned chopped green chilies.  I put a tortilla in a hot pan, top with this mixture and then top with another tortilla.  After flipping to heat both sides, I put the quesadilla in a warm oven and continue on to the next batch. Right before serving, I cut them with a pizza cutter and serve with fresh salsa, guacamole and sour cream.  Easy and kid-friendly! 
Friday:  Mark will be home with the kids and they will grill hamburger and hot dogs.

Saturday:  The kids will cook!  Hello, mac and cheese!  We will round this out with fresh fruit and veggies. 

Sunday:  You know how I love Sunday dinner!  This week, we will have ham with all the fixings!  

What about you?  What will  you be doing this week to ensure your days go smoothly?  What jobs can you delegate to family members to relieve the stress you feel?  Today is Monday.  Let's make a plan and start the week off well.  Think it through with me... What are you going to do?  

I have wipe boards to clean, Stick! cups to set out, chores to assign and a week to plan!  So, it is time for me to begin!  

Blessings on your day!  

Friday, February 10, 2012

Just a Weekend, Also a Beginning

I want to write him a letter.  Something he can take with him while he rides the bus.  I want to write down all the things he needs to know, the things I have been saying, for 13 years of his young life.  I know he is leaving for no more than a weekend... but still.


I watched him pack.  Snow pants.  Gloves.  Extra socks.  I watched him wonder what he would need.  He is nervous, excited.  I am, too.  All of this he packed neatly away while I watched.




Tonight, I will take my second-born and drop him off with his youth group and they will board a big bus and drive for hours and spend a weekend off in the woods laughing and playing and learning and listening. For two and a half days, I will have no contact, no word, no nothing... Well, not nothing... something, actually.  An opportunity... an opportunity to trust him and an opportunity to trust our Creator with the life and lessons of a boy that I call mine.

These transitions are always big for me.  Watching my kids walk confidently away is what I am raising them to do.  And yet, when it happens, my breath catches and there is a lump in my throat and I am overwhelmed with feelings of pride and sadness.  Longing and letting go, all at once.

Yes, it is only a weekend.  I get that.  Truly, I do.  But, if you squint your eyes and focus carefully, you will see what I can see that releasing him for a far away retreat is really much, much more.  It is part of the beginning.  Part of what is to come.  Part of my sweet Benjamin standing up and trying out the lessons we have given him thus far.  It is his first steps out and away and a time for him to look around and think through some things. It is a time for him to listen for God and wonder about that still, small voice.  It is a time for growth and a time to think about everything that has to do with who he is and who God is creating him to be.  A time... for me to see how little it is about me and how much it is about a plan that is bigger than mine.

And all of that is good.

So this afternoon, I will wrap my arms around my energetic, smart, joyful boy and give him a squeeze before letting go.  And I will count this as practice for what is yet to come.  I will trust that he is well and I will hope that he has fun and I will pray for his sweet self and on Sunday, I will bring him home.  Then, as he falls asleep, he will dream of things that are all his and I will fall asleep knowing he is home.  

This parenting stuff is work, I think.  And how strange the job really is.  We throw ourselves fully into family and faith, spending years and years working ourselves out of a job.  Holding kids closely while knowing that everyday brings us nearer to a time of trust and release.  This weekend, is just practice... and I am glad because I am not ready to let go of this one yet.

How I love my boy...

Blessings on your day.


Saturday, February 4, 2012

Something to Try for the Weekend!

I know it is hard.  I know it can be expensive.  I know you feel like you cannot get away.  But, finding time to spend with your spouse, away from your children, is an enormous gift to your family.  My best friend grew up on a farm.  Almost every weekend, her parents would head out without the children, to visit with friends who lived nearly an hour away!  Their ability to find time away motivates Mark and I to this day.

So, get creative!  Budget carefully!  Trade childcare with friends!  Find a way to step out of your house, even for a short time, and nurture the relationship that began your family.  The day will come when your children are grown... the time you spend now will strengthen what you are able to enjoy together for decades to come.

Blessings on your day!
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