Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Charlotte's Web Wisdom

I had another post all planned out.  I had even started writing it.  But then I overheard this quote and I was so struck with it's simple, profound wisdom that I just had to share it.

My Myles is absolutely addicted to audio books.  Now, when I use the word addicted I mean it quite literally.  As soon as he stumbles down the stairs in the morning he turns on his CD player with a story in it.  He has stories in the car.  He will listen to stories all day long.  We have made the rule that the stories must be paused while we eat, but he is a serious book worm.  And I love it!

Often the stories filling our home will be listened to over and over and over again.  Such has been the case this week with the beloved classic Charlotte's Web.


 Like most people I have read the book and seen the movie, but it had been sometime since doing either.  Tonight Myles was listening in the playroom which is right next to our kitchen.  I was filling the sink with soapy water when I was utterly astounded by what I heard.

I shut off the water, went into the playroom and rewound the CD to make sure that I had heard it correctly.  Sure enough I heard it again.

Charlotte has assured Wilbur that she will save him from the awful fate that awaits most pigs.  But Wilbur is scared.  He wants to know what her plan is.  She tells him that she doesn't have a plan yet, but she will.  But when, he wants to know.  How can I help he asks, his anxiety bursting with every phrase.  Charlotte, always calm and gentle speaks these profound words to Wilbur,

“Never hurry and never worry!”
 
 
The simple beauty and truth of these words so resonated with my heart.  How often I am Wilbur running around fretting and worrying.  I become riddled with anxiety, when what I really need to do is embrace the wisdom of the spider, "Never hurry and never worry." 
 
I think that I shall have to go back and read Charlotte's Web  in it's entirety.  Who knows what other nuggets of wisdom are waiting to be rediscovered.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Embarking On An October Experiment


It officially feels like fall here.  I love the colors creeping into the trees.  I love being able to don sweatshirts and smartwool socks.  I love soup simmering in the kitchen.  But one thing I do not love is the upheaval of my routines and rhythms. 



The boys have been in school for almost a month now and I still feel like I just can't find a rhythm for my days.  Last year I established some routines that worked really well for me.  I was able to schedule my cleaning and exercise.  I worked hard to find a balance between activity and downtime.  Sure, there were days or weeks when life went off the tracks, but for the most part we were chugging along pretty well. 

And then fall began...

All of the routines that fit me so well, no longer fit.  I keep trying to squeeze and squish them every which way in an attempt to make them work.  But, the truth is they simply are not going to work this year.

I have spent the last month feeling frenzied.  I am always rushing.  Continually trying to shove more into the fragmented portions of my day.  Just one more thing.  I believe it will be so much better if I just quick do that one more thing.  But that one more thing snowballs into yet another.  All in an attempt to make home a desirable place to be.

The irony of that line of thinking and living is that in cramming in more and more as a means of creating a peaceful, inviting home I am actually wrecking havoc on the very place I am trying to guard. 

Yes, the dishes may all be done and the house straightened before we leave for school, but now  I am rushing around like a crazy lady.  And this crazy lady uses harsh tones of voice with her children and is creating an atmosphere of chaos and unrest during a foundational part of our day. 

Hurry, Hurry, Hurry ...

Yes, I may have accomplished my daily cleaning chore for the day and fit my run in before I needed to pick up Myles from young kinders, but the emotional and mental disaster that I left in the wake of my rushing is a steep price to pay for a clean bathroom. 

This continual loop of frenzied rushing has not produced the results that I thought it would.  Instead of getting more done I seem to keep coming up empty handed and quite frankly, tired.  Thus I have decided to embark on a month long experiment. 



I want to know, what would happen if I decided to do less.  What would my home look like?  What would our calendar look like?  Most importantly, how would the people who live in this house feel if I make a conscious choice to do life with less.

DOING LIFE WITH LESS
(AND HOPEFULLY)
 ENJOYING LIFE MORE
 
I believe that there could be many facets to this experiment.  I plan on taking time to explore different areas of my life in which I could do less.   But ultimately what I am searching to discover is would I (and my family) feel better if somethings were left undone.  Is there contentment to be found in doing less?
 
Maybe you would like to join me for this month.  If you have been struggling to find a balance for yourself and your family this might be a great experiment for you.  Maybe we find out at the end of the month that doing less doesn't help create a more peaceful home.  But, maybe it will.   
 


Friday, September 28, 2012

The Gifts

I received a gift this week.

It all started with a batman lunchbox.  A very cute, tin, batman lunchbox, which Boston was determined to acquire.   Much to his dismay I told him that we would not be purchasing the lunch box. 

Instantly my beautiful sweet three year old boy transformed, threw himself on the floor and began screaming.  It was a doosie of a meltdown let me tell you.  There was no way anyone in Target could have missed it, for that matter it is quite possible that everyone in town heard it. 

And here in Target is where I received my gift.  As I walked through Target with a child who by all accounts appeared possessed, I passed another mother with a young child who was smiling and content.  She smiled at me and said she was just starting her shopping, but that she would soon be joining me with a child melting down as well. 

I checked out.  I pushed my cart out in the parking lot, yes Boston is still screaming. Another mother caught my eye. She smiled, and she said, "I understand."

These women may have no idea how significant their words and smiles were to me.  But, they took what could have been an incredibly stressful, embarrassing situation and helped make it bearable.  Their gift to me was priceless.

As I began driving for home with a howling three year old in the back of the mama van I continued to steep in the beauty of the gift these strangers had given to me.  Then it hit me.  How often throughout my day am I presented with opportunities to be the gift giver?  Do I take seize or squander these moments.

 It was then that I realized I had underestimated the power of these small acts of blessing.  That too often I  have carelessly breezed by these opportunities to sprinkle blessing with out a second thought. 

This realization forced me to ask myself "why?"  Why do I waste these moments that are pregnant with possibility.  Why would I pass up the opportunity to give the gifts of  peace, of grace, of joy, of love to the people that I encounter.  Several reasons came to mind. 

  •  I get too busy and preoccupied with my own "stuff"
When I allow my world to start spinning too fast.  When I stuff my days as full as possible and then try to fit a few more things in.  When I allow my overflowing and oozing to-do list to dominate my mind and minutes.   When I allow perceived chaos to be my master I inadvertently put on my self-centered blinders just trying to make it through the day. And when I do,  I miss out on the opportunity to be the gift giver.


  • I get nervous or embarrassed
"What will she think of me if I say something?"  "I'm going to look like an idiot if I stop to see if they need help."  " I haven't even showered today, I really don't want to be seen like this."  I hate to admit how many times thoughts like these cross my mind.  Selfishness is such a sly deceiver.  It tricks me into believing that this moment is all about me.

The reality is that it doesn't matter what  the other person thinks about me.  Maybe she will think that I am a total loser for talking to her,  But maybe she won't.  Maybe, she needs to hear that it's okay, that she is not alone, that someone cares.  

  • I believe the lie that it doesn't matter
I pass someone on the sidewalk walking Myles into school.  It takes very little effort to smile and say good morning. 
When leaving school for the day, it takes  just a fraction of a minute to sincerely thank my child's teacher for the incredibly hard work that she does.  
It only takes me being brave enough to break the awkward silence to ask the cashier how her day is going.

These are not earth shattering encounters, but they are powerful none the less.  Our days are full of these brief encounters.  Opportunities to make someones day just a little bit easier. These moments do matter.


When I choose to slow down, put myself aside, and believe that these moments are significant I realize that these windows of opportunity allow others to have a glimpse of the Jesus who loves them more than anything.  How could I not want to be a part of that?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Five Minute Focus

This is my first experience with Lisa Jo Baker and Five Minute Friday  http://lisajobaker.com/
 So, here we go...

Focus

Moment by moment I am given the choice of what to focus on.  The world comes at me fast, but I will choose that which I will allow to camp in my mind.

I come home from working an evening shift and the dishes are piled high.  I sigh, thinking of waking in the morning to this mountain.  But then I realize, the dishes are left undone because my husband spent time playing with our boys instead of washing them.  I will choose to focus on the amazing father that my husband is.

"Mommy!!!!! Mommy!!!!!  I NEED .....!"  I will choose to dwell on the beauty of tending to the babies that God has entrusted to me, rather than the drain of meeting needs all day.

I will choose to focus on the beauty.  I will choose to focus on the gifts.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

My First Rule of Cooking

One of the slower things in life that I believe is more than worth the investment is making homemade food.  I do quite a bit of baking and cooking from scratch and I truly feel it is worth the planning and the extra few minutes that it takes to do this for my family and myself.  And you might be surprised at how few extra minutes are actually needed in order to create healthy and delicious whole foods.

Making whole foods at home allows me the opportunity to make health and moral choices that I believe strongly in, while still living on a teacher's salary.  I could talk all day about why I feel these choices are so significant, and I will probably write later posts on the varying subjects, the important thing to know is that eating healthy, whole foods does not have to be out of reach.  It is something that anyone can do. 

Making healthy foods yourself is a key component to being able to eat well and not sabotage your budget.  But so often we get bogged down in knowing where to start or how to do it.

There are oodles of amazing resources out there on how to make everything and anything yourself.  I love having so much information available, but in the past I often found myself too intimidated to actually try any of them

Finally, I came to the realization that recipes are flexible.  Recipes are not the Bible. They are not legally binding documents to which we must adhere.  Recipes can be altered and changed.  They are a fabulous springboards that allow us to create amazing dishes.

I have found this realization to be one of the most useful tools in my kitchen.  Many of my favorite foods, ones that I use every week, were derived from original recipes, that have since then morphed into something that I like so much better.  Of course there are some components of cooking that really can not be altered, but for the most part recipes need not be set in stone.

Sometimes the change came about because I didn't have a certain ingredient on hand or because maybe there was an ingredient that I liked better that I wanted to try.  Or sometimes I tweak the method of preparation to better fit me and how I like to cook. Sometimes the new recipe tastes better, and sometimes it does not.

The key is to shake free from the shackles of recipe bondage.  Use recipes as a starting place and allow yourself the freedom to deviate when you need or desire to do so. 

One of my favorite recipes that has taken on a life of its own my graham cracker recipe.  I make a double batch of these babies at least once a week, if not more.  Here is the original recipe from Whole Foods Market ( http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipes/2629)
 

  

Sugar-Dusted Whole Wheat Graham Crackers Makes 2 dozen

If you don't have raw sugar on hand for sprinkling over the graham crackers before baking, substitute regular cane sugar. Serve these sweet treats with mugs of hot chocolate or tea or use to make old-fashioned s'mores.
 Sugar-Dusted Whole Wheat Graham Crackers

Ingredients:
  • 1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces
  • 2 egg whites, divided
  • 6 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons raw or turbinado sugar

Method:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. Add butter and work into flour with your fingertips until completely incorporated and mixture resembles fine meal. In a medium bowl, whisk together 1 egg white, brown sugar, honey and vanilla. Add this to flour mixture and stir until a sticky dough forms.

Turn half of the dough out onto a very well floured surface and roll out into a (10-inch) square. Cut into 12 rectangles and transfer to one of the prepared baking sheets, spacing them about 1 inch apart. Repeat process with remaining dough and second prepared baking sheet.

Brush graham crackers with remaining egg and sprinkle raw sugar over the tops. Bake until dark brown and fragrant, 12 to 14 minutes. Set aside to let cool completely (graham crackers will harden as they cool) before serving.

Nutritional Info:

Per Serving:

  • Serving size: 1 cracker
  • 60 calories (10 from fat)
  • 1g total fat
  • 0.5g saturated fat
  • 5mg cholesterol
  • 80mg sodium
  • 11g carbohydrate (1g dietary fiber, 6g sugar)
  • 1g protein
 

Here is the tweaked version:
 
I double the ingredients (except for the eggs because I skip the egg wash)
 
1.  I put the butter, flour, cinnamon (I have also used cocoa instead of cinnamon on occasion), baking soda, and salt in my food processor.  I found the part of the recipe when I had to work the butter into the the flour mixture to be too much of a hassle and it prevented me from wanting to make the recipe.  So I improvised and found that the food processor worked just fine for me.

 
2. While the flour mixture is going in the food processor I whisk up the wet ingredients in a large bowl.  Then I dump the flour mixture into the wet mixture and stir.
 
3. I spread flour on a large cookie sheet.  Then I roll out the dough directly onto the cookie sheet into one big rectangle.  I did not like rolling the dough, cutting the rectangles, and transferring them to the cookie sheet.  It just didn't work well for me.  So, I roll it into one big piece.  I also skip the egg wash, but I am sure that it is tasty.

 
 
4.  I put it in the oven at 350 degrees for 6-7 minutes.  Then I use my pizza cutter to cut the large rectangle into smaller rectangles and pop it back into the oven for another 6-7 minute.  When they are done I put them on a cooling rack and try not to eat them all before they even cool.

 
Changing up this recipe was nothing spectacular, but it took a great recipe that didn't work well for me and turned it into something that I can use and enjoy. 

 
 
What are some of your favorite recipes?  Have they morphed over time?
 


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Content

I have heard the story often.  My kindergarten teacher pulling my parents aside and having a conversation with them about little Annie.  My teacher tells my parents, "Please help Annie understand that it's O.K. to get one wrong on her papers."  In other words, please help her to see that she doesn't have to be perfect.  Oh, if only it were that simple.

 

This ache for perfection has plagued me day in and day out.  It has defined and limited me.  It has shaped my world.

I have, and I venture to guess many of you have as well, worked really hard to establish a world in which the only marks possible are pass or fail.  Perfection, you pass.  Anything less than perfection, you fail.

The thing is, life isn't pass or fail.  There are a wide range of possible, often beautiful results.  When we insist on wearing the perfect or fail blinders we limit ourselves.  We set ourselves, and those around us, up for deep heart wrenching pain.

Don't get me wrong.  I am not saying that we should be slackers and not give life our all.  But there is a marked difference between striving for excellence and insisting on perfection. 

I am slowly starting to understand what my kindergarten teacher wanted me to learn all those years ago.  Life is not perfection or failure.  Life is about the process.  Life is about looking more and more like my Creator.  Life is about putting that Creator on display, rather than putting myself or my perfect accomplishments on display. 

This summer Jen and I decided to train for a marathon.  It was a complicated decision, but once we committed we were dedicated to the endeavor.  And what an endeavor it was. 

 
We began our official training in June.  We started with shorter runs and consistently built our mileage throughout the weeks that turned into months.  We remained committed through family vacations, sickness, and crazy summer schedules.  We were personally dedicated during the week to do our individual runs and then on the weekend we juggled our two family calendars to fit in a long run. 
 
We became well acquainted with the dark early mornings.  Our feet pounding the pavement mile after mile as most of the world was slumbering and enjoying cups of coffee.  One weekend we even started our run at the ridiculous hour of 4:30 a.m. so that we could squeeze in our 15 miles before Eric had to leave for jury duty and we all had to work at Gazelle sidewalk sales.  We were running lunatics.
 
Jen went further than she had ever dreamed possible.  I went further than I had since having children.  We both pushed through our doubts and fears. 
 
 And then her foot began to "twinge."  We are three weeks away from the race.  After a grueling 19 mile run Jen faces the truth that she has to get her foot examined. 
 
My boys are napping, I am sitting on the couch when my phone rings.  "It's a stress fracture."  It's over.  There will be no marathon. 
 
We won't have the satisfaction of crossing the finish line.  No medal for all the sacrifice and investment. 
 
After cycling through a barrage of emotions and thoughts I surprised myself with this realization.  It is okay.  I don't have to have perfection, in this case the completion of the race, in order to know that I have done something amazing.  It's okay not to be perfect.   It's okay to know that I gave it everything that I had.  The results were not what I anticipated or had desired, but the journey and the outcome are beautiful none the less. 
 
Such is also true of many worthy endeavors.  I will never be a perfect wife.  I will never be a perfect mom.  I will fall short as a daughter of the King.  But as I let go of the lie that it's perfection or failure I am able to see the beauty in the victories and the losses.  I find contentment replacing the gnawing ache that the drive for perfection created in me.  There is true joy in contentment.
 
 
Psalm 46:10
"Cease striving and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth."

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Authenticity Part 3

 

As I have continued contemplating this idea of authenticity I realized that God has gifted me with glimpses of what authentic living could look like.  And as I take in these small snapshots, I realize that I want more. 

I am hungry to see more of the incredible beauty that is birthed through the hard work of living authentically.  For the beauty that emerges from the mess is astounding.

I wish that there were three simple steps to living a life of authenticity.  I would spell them out for you right here.  But, unfortunately life does not often work that way.  So instead, please allow me to share a few of the insights that God is teaching me and challenging me with as I begin stepping out on this path.

Grace
Immerse yourself in grace.  Allow it to surround you and permeate your innermost being. We need to practice the art of both giving and receiving grace. 

Begin by giving yourself grace.  So often in our attempts to "be it all" we become closed off to the world around us.  It takes so much energy to try to keep it all together that we are depleted and become hollow shells of who we were created to be. Who could possibly have the energy to truly engage with someone else when all of their resources are being funnelled into trying to be perfect?

When we cease striving to constantly attain perfection the peace and joy that follow are unparalleled.

 I have a group of friends who have made a pact that we will not clean our homes before the others come over.  It is amazing!  We were honest with one another about the stress that we were all experiencing when it was our turn to have the group at our house.  We could say to each other, I don't care what your house looks like.  I am coming over to spend time with you.  Hearing this from someone was incredibly freeing.  Going to a friends home and seeing that they have laundry piled up and toys strewn everywhere just like me, is an indescribable blessing.  I still have to fight the default mode of trying to get the house looking presentable.  But when I confront the fear that I need to be perfect for others to accept me I find that it a lie.

I believe that God wants us to create more experiences like this one in our worlds.  God wants us to relish in the truth that we are good enough because he has wrapped us in His beauty.  When we rest in that we can then turn our focus outward and truly begin to connect with those he has put in our world.  We become equipped to pour out grace to a world in desperate need of understanding and
unconditional love.



Be Present
In a society consumed with self and speed being truly present in the moment can be very challenging.
Yet, I believe that it is essential to living authentically with others.  By "being present," I do not mean that we should be at more things.  In fact, the opposite might well be true.  Too often we are trying to do so many good things that we are not completely engaged in any of them.

Being present could look different for different people.  For me, I try really hard to focus on the people that I am with, whether that is my family at dinner, out for coffee with a friend, or even when I am intentionally taking time for myself.  I try to eliminate other distractions and allow myself to completely enjoy the moments that I have with those people at that time.

By doing less we also allow ourselves more opportunities to be flexible and be present in the lives of others.  When we pack our days so completely full we leave no room for the time that authentic relationships require.  By decluttering our days we invite community to grow.

Messy and Costly
Yes, living together in authentic community is messy.   When we are being honest, our lives are often messy. When you put those messy lives together, it is seldom neat and tidy.  Yet, I will hold tightly to the truth that out of that which appears messy God creates beauty.  

Yes, living in genuine community is costly.  It feels risky to put our real selves out there.  It is scary to show others that we don't have it all together.  But it is worth the investment.  So we must choose every day which path we will walk.  I will choose to walk boldly down the path of authenticity.