Friday, March 30, 2012

Something to Try for the Weekend

This Sunday is Palm Sunday.  Palm Sunday begins Holy Week which will continue through Easter.  What amazing lessons there are for us in this week!

If you would like to learn more about Palm Sunday, offers an interesting article on just that.

This week, we have the opportunity to prepare ourselves for Easter.  We have the choice to walk with our families through this time and open ourselves to the greatest love story ever.  So, let's make a plan.  Let's think it through.  What will you do to help yourself remember and your children learn about all that Jesus did to make a way for us?

Here are some sites with interesting ideas to help you make a plan: a pretzel recipe!

Blessings on your day!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Preparing for the Week Ahead: In My Seat

Noah just texted me in between classes at school.  Here is our exchange:

Noah: Interesting chapel today.
Me:  What was it?
Noah:  About a pilot who was supposed to fly on Sept. 11
Me:  Hmmm.  I don't know about this story?
Noah:  Look it up.  It's called In My Seat.

When my 15 year old connects with something, I know it is worth my time.  I looked up the video and am sharing it with you today.

As we prepare for Holy Week, I would encourage you to take a few minutes in the midst of your busy day and watch and listen.  The story is compelling.  The reminder, powerful.  Sometimes it is hard for us to be still for very long... so many things call to us, so many demands are made upon our day.  But, as we near Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter, being still can make a world of difference.  Watch.  Listen.  Remember.  It is worth the time.

Blessings on your day.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Needing a Do-Over Today

Sometimes, we need a do-over.  I need one today.

Even though we had a family meeting yesterday about reducing stress and being organized, our morning was insane.  INSANE.  In the end, my kids were late for school, which I hate.  Noah did not have everything he needed, including shoes that fit.  And Mark got stitches.  Seriously.

This was not the plan.

Surely this never happens to you.  Right?

After I dropped Noah off at school, I came home to a house that was messy and garbage that needed to go out and a fridge that needed to be cleaned and writing that needed to be done and  I. AM. TIRED.

What am I to do?  I have looked for that "easy button" and wished to start all over and none of it can happen.  So, what am I to do?

Standing in my house, I surveyed the mess left in the wake of our crazy beginning.  I turned on the radio, found a Christian station, and sat down for just a minute.

Then I got up and cleaned out the fridge.  Because it is garbage day.  It has to be done.  And while I washed the shelves and checked expiration dates, I thought about dinner and tried to catch my breath.  I talked to my best friend.  I relaxed my shoulders.  I looked out the window at spring outside.  My tulips are blooming.

Sometimes, we need a do-over.  Sometimes, we need to keep going.  Sometimes, its enough to see a flower outside and accept it as a gift.

My kids will come home in 4 hours.  In that time, I need to regroup.  I am frustrated and stressed but not overcome.  Today, I need to find some quiet and organize my thoughts and keep on breathing and pray for the peace that has been promised to me.

I hope you find it, too.

Blessings on your day.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Hunger Games: What We Chose

He waited for nearly a year.  Benjamin counted the days, read and reread the books, studied the actors who had been cast and talked with excitement about the film's opening.  Noah joined the conversation.  We listened in as they discussed the plot and talked about the lessons found in the books.  They chatted about violence, about character flaws, about future possibilities and about where our current culture can take us.

Yes, they read these books before us.  Our boys are avid readers and keeping up with them can be hard to do.  Teachers had recommended the books and though the plot seemed dark and difficult, we let them read the series.  They read without stopping, hands passing through their hair, tears in their eyes, thoughts flowing through their minds.  They asked us questions and struggled and hurt and we let them continue to read.

Finally, we read them ourselves.

I began Hunger Games just after Christmas and was sure I would hate it all.

Except I didn't.

It is not my type of book and the momma in me wanted to pick up Katniss and hide her from all that is wrong.  The protector in me wanted to trust Peeta to do what was right for them both.  To the core of my being, I wanted to stand up for what was right and call an end to all that was not.  I wanted to save these children.  I wanted them to have a safe place to live.  I wanted them to eat until they were full, to run in the bright sunlight, to trust their mommas and to play and laugh... and it broke my heart when all of this was just not so.

(Sometimes books say something about who we are.)

We can fuss about the violence or we can listen to the message... to be honest, I did both.  And when the movie was being shot, I felt strongly that my boys would not see it.  How could they?  Why would they?  Reading of such darkness and despair is one thing.  Seeing it is something else.

And yet... I think my decision was made in an effort to protect their hearts, when their hearts were already broken, already affected, already connected to these characters, this story, these lessons.  I had already allowed it.  And I  had entered into this with them, too.

So, we chose to change our minds.

Benjamin saw it first.  Surrounded by friends, most of whom had read the books, he sat in that dark theater and watched the story come to life.  Noah saw it next.  In a packed theater with all his soccer buds, he thought it through and felt it deeply.  Both boys came home and talked and talked and talked some more.  They noticed the differences between book and movie reflected on the power of the written word.  Reading of the death of one character in particular affected them more than seeing it portrayed.

Finally, Mark and I got to go.  I watched the beginning in wonder and slumped low, hands over my face, as the inevitable battle began.  I was surprised to feel that I wished I didn't know the end, the way the final book finishes.  Seeing characters I love and knowing their futures brought unexpected tears to my eyes.  Though they were not in danger yet, I knew it was to come.

It was a lot to take in.  A lot for my boys.  A lot for me.  But, in the end, I am glad we share this experience.   Everything in me wants to wrap my arms around my babies and shield them from this darkness.  I want them to read books that end well and make them laugh.  I want life to be tidy and neat.

Except it's not.

And if that is true, if life is messy and things go wrong and we find ourselves in situations that break our very hearts, I want to help my boys think it through.  I want to talk with them about it and listen to them and I want to be quiet enough to learn from their teenage words.  I want to journey with them.

 And I want to save my "No."

Because every movie and every book will not be okay with us.  This one, we could release.  This one, we could share with them.  Even in the midst of so much hurt and violence and sadness, the story we found and the characters we met made it worth it in the end.

How did you make this choice?  Did you see the movie?  Read the book?  Decide that this deserved your "no"?  What factored into what you chose?

As parents, there is a lot to review.  Media provides endless choices for our children and ourselves.  But, if we are careful and think it through, perhaps it can become a tool for us to use to meet our parenting goals.  I think that's what happened this weekend for us.  However controversial, this story became a connecting point between us and our boys.  The story is hard and feels heavy and sad but that is reality, too.  And maybe, if we squint, there were lessons inside about our world, about our insistent focus on appearances, about our obsessions with violence and our desire for control.

I am thankful that I got to talk about all that with my boys who are growing up.  Because we shared this together, it is to us they turned.  So, in some small way, I provided for them what I wished Katniss had.  A safe place.  Parents nearby.  Family to draw them near.

Blessings on your day.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Monday Menu and Hearts at Home!

Oh, what a weekend!  I am just back from Hearts at Home and eager to tell you all about it.  But, first things first!  Let's handle the menu!

Several people have asked how I go about communicating the menu to my family.  Since the beginning of the year, I have posted our weekly menu on the fridge for all to see.  I love this because even my pickiest eaters have time to come to terms with what meals are upcoming.  The fact that they do this on their own is helpful because I am not fielding comments and questions (and sometimes complaints) about what we are going to eat.  Mark and I tend to be pretty strict about eating what is prepared for you.  I am not a momma who cooks separate food for kids who do not want to eat whatever the rest of us are eating.  And still, some of my kids are picky.  I can live with that.  :)  

On Sunday night or Monday morning (depending on when I get the menu completed), I type everything out and  put it on the fridge.  It looks exactly like this:  

(I will now try to act all cool, like I have always known how to insert a document into my blog... I will definitely not admit that I just spent a good 45 minutes trying to figure this all out!)  :)

So, that is what it looks like for us this week.  Since I have previously shared many of these recipes, I will only talk about the stew today.

I know a lot of folks are intimidated by stews and roasts and such but I find them easier to make than a lot of other meals.  I know there are fancy ways to create these meals but for me, simple is the way to go!  So, here is our process for beef stew:


2 lbs beef stew meat (or other beef if on sale, cut into small pieces)
4 large potatoes
4 large carrots
1 large onion
Other veggies you like (rutabagas, squash, pearl onions, etc...)
1 can cream of mushroom
1 envelope dry onion soup mix

Place raw, defrosted beef into the crock pot.  Sprinkle with onion soup mix.  Spread cream of mushroom (or cream of mushroom with garlic, if you can find it!) on top.  Add potatoes, carrots and onions on top.  Put lid on crock pot and turn it on.

How long?

Are you starting it in the morning?  Low.
Did you forget to start it and now it is the afternoon?  High.

I usually keep an eye on it.  When everything seems to be done and cooked, I turn it onto my "Keep warm." setting so the veggies are not overcooked and falling apart.

See?  Easy peasy.  :)  But today, when the Little Ones and I come home from Benjamin's volleyball game and Mark and Noah come home from Noah's soccer game, dinner will be hot, ready and hearty.  LOVE that.

Now that we are done with business, can we talk about Hearts at Home?

We had a fabulous weekend, my friends and I.  As always, I learned so much.  I was blessed to hear presentations by Michelle Duggar, Julie Barnhill, The FlyLady, and many others!

Today, I am hoping to not overwhelm myself with all this helpful information, but to just focus on one small change.  I was honestly so inspired by how calmly and quietly Michelle Duggar handles all her many children.  She talked about how she made an intentional decision to speak very quietly to them.  She noticed how much more peaceful her house was when she did that and it became a habit.  For me, this seems like a good place to start.  With four children, my house can be loud and I often feel like I must be loud to be heard.  But, what if I did the opposite?  What if I taught my children to hear my quiet voice?  I love that this small change can also effect their spiritual lives.  We are taught to listen for God's "still, small voice" and to "be still and know that He is God".  If my voice is quiet, might my precious babies learn to listen to God's quiet voice, as well?  This is my prayer... 

What about you?  What do you hope to do with your family this week?  What area can you tweak to be a better momma to your little ones?  And... what are you already doing well?  :)  It's okay, you know, to see that there are things you are doing well.  It really is.  I learned that this weekend, too.  But that is for another blog...

Blessings on your day!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Monday Menu on Tuesday--Your Turn, Too!

There is a give-away tucked inside this post!  Read carefully and jump on in!  

Last week, it seemed like every day held some hidden surprise.  A volleyball tournament we did not know about, a church event that included dinner, a birthday outing and concert... all wonderful things that we loved attending.  But, for the first time this year, our menu went right out the window!  Now, I am not complaining because the week was good... and because I am ahead of the game for this week!  :)  Last week's menu will essentially become this week's menu, with a few minor changes for the meals we did make.

So, today let's try something new.  Deal?  Are you in?

I know you wander in here, all quiet-like and take a peek around.  But, one of the things I love (like really, really love) is community.  In some ways, we have it here.  I think about some stuff, write it down, you stop on by and read it.  Sometimes, you leave a comment.  Sometimes, you send an email or contact me on Facebook.  Sometimes, we just both think about the same stuff on the same day.  We are doing some "same things" at the same time and we get a little peek into community.

But, for today, let's approach it more intentionally.  Still reading?  :)

Let's talk about family friendly food.  What do you make for your family that they love to eat?  A casserole?  Some yummy meal?  Can you like it to a recipe site?  I would love to see us leave a comment with a recipe link (or type in the recipe!) so that we are all sharing new ideas with one another.  Then, we will all have a bunch of things to try in the upcoming weeks!

Now, I know some of you are already telling yourself that you are not going to do this!  C'mon now!  We need your ideas too!

And there's more!

Every single one of you who leaves a comment here before midnight tonight will be entered in a give-away!!!

So, here's the scoop:

Several years ago while we were fundraising for our adoption, we partnered with 9 other adopting families to write a cookbook.  We did the whole thing ourselves.  We collected recipes, formatted the book and had it published.  The book is amazing and overflowing with family-friendly, tried and true recipes.  There are almost 400 pages in our book and it is the first thing I reach for when I need a recipe.

Wouldn't you love this book??  All you have to do is leave a recipe or a link to a recipe in the comments below and you will automatically be entered to win a copy of this helpful cookbook!  Want to have more than one entry?  You may enter twice by leaving two comments with recipes or recipe links!  Just please be sure to leave enough information that I can reach you when you win!

Did I mention that a copy of our cookbook has been in the hands of a United States President??  It's true!  Our book was (and likely still is) used by a first-lady and was bought by her husband at a farmer's market in Iowa.  Would you like to guess which President?

So, let's get started!  You know you want in!

I will leave the first recipe.  We had this last night!

Swiss Chicken Casserole:  My kids loved this!  I will say though, that I altered the recipe a bit.  Once I took the foil off to finish the baking, I poured some chicken broth on the top to make the stuffing a big more "stuffing-like".  We served it with roasted Brussels sprouts.  So good and so easy!

Now, it's your turn.  I cannot wait to try what works for you!

So there we go!  The give-away begins!

Blessings on your day!

Monday, March 5, 2012

One Choice

In the mid-80's, I was a high school student with little direction or drive.  I had friends who were trouble.  I had friends who were examples.  I had friends who made me laugh out loud.  But, I didn't know where I was going and did not spend much time thinking about it.

One day after school, this teacher who had spoken to my health class stopped me by the gym.  He said, "Hey!  Whatcha doing in  3 weeks?"  I did not need to check my schedule.  I was doing nothing because nothing is what I did.  He invited me to attend this new program that the high school was offering.  He said it would be a whole weekend event and it would be fun and I should go and it would only cost me $35.00.

I have no idea why I considered it.  There were LOTS of things going on in my high school and I did not entertain the thought of attending any of them.  I knew no one who would be going.  I had no money.  The program had no reputation.  And yet.  And yet, for some unknown reason, I wanted to go.

So, I handed in a half sheet of paper to attend.  I babysat and saved my pennies and dropped a wad of rumpled cash on the check-in table three weeks later.

It was one small choice.

And it changed my life.  

The weekend was called Operation Snowball and there I learned, next to people I had gone to school with for years but never really knew, who I was really was.  I learned about my small, teen-aged life.  I learned about my family and our history and our struggles and our strengths.  I learned that even though I looked like I was failing, even though I made a bunch of bad mistakes, even though I had never really stood up for myself or anyone else, these things did not define the person I could become.

I learned to make better choices.  I learned that there are ways to foster positive peer pressure for myself and those I love.  And I learned that there are amazing people all around me... I just never took the time to look.

There were teachers from my school there and we called each other by name and laughed side-by-side as people, not roles.  And I suddenly realized that there was community in my public high school and I had never even wondered about such things.

Within 12 months of that fateful day, this uninvolved, unmotivated, waffling, wondering teenager would become the teen director of Operation Snowball, a position that served three big high schools on the south side of Chicago.  And I would work alongside some amazing people that I am privileged to call "friends" still today.

Fourteen months after that fateful day, I would find myself standing in the Rose Garden of the White House accepting an "Exemplary Youth Volunteer of the Year" award from the President of the United States for my work in Operation Snowball and in a local youth service center.  Seriously.

That one choice to attend one weekend literally transformed my life.

Yesterday, my friend Noreen, who was on staff with me nearly 30 years ago, celebrated her final Operation Snowball closing.  Mark, who not only attended Snowball as an adult, but went on to staff with me, found 6 old Snowball sweatshirts for our family to wear and we attended this closing, too.  We stood in the back and smiled at the whole of it... still going on, after all this time.  We wiped tears from our eyes and smiled and laughed and watched a whole new generation of teens discover themselves and use their gifts and get themselves ready to offer back to this world what has been offered to them.

Nearly 3 decades of memories washed over me there.  I looked at my children watching it all and realized again how much this program has contributed to the person I am today.  I watched my children listen and smile and laugh out loud at the pure joy of that place and reminded myself that who I am as their momma has a lot to do with these people, this program, all of this. 

Operation Snowball is a public, prevention program.  And yet, outside of attending church weekly, nothing has had a greater impact on my life as a Christian.  I found the strength in myself there to stand up for my faith and move forward.  And I can honestly say, that had I not attended Snowball, I likely would not have gone to college, become a teacher, worked in higher education or become a writer and speaker.  The truth is, without Operation Snowball, all of these things might have been in me, but I don't know if I would have had what it takes to find them deep inside.

So, my family and I stood in a crowded room yesterday to help say thank you to dear friend who has spent almost 30 years "keeping the snowball rolling".  She has been a gift to that program and a tremendous gift to me.  My life was changed because of her work, and the work of those who not only started this program but kept it going for so many, many years.

What strikes me today, as I sit here remembering, is how we often believe that one little choice does not matter at all.  One little choice: to go or not to go, to call or not to call, to trust or not to trust, to ask or not to ask; cannot really impact our lives.  Can it?

And then I remember that afternoon in the mid-80's.  One simple question.

"Whatcha you doing 3 weeks from now?"

My choice was to go.

And it has made all the difference in the world.

Blessings on your day.