Thursday, November 18, 2010

Oh The Glamor Of It All!

I know the principal behind Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” and I even have the verse memorized.  What I don’t always get is how does this look in real, everyday mom life?  Like when the two-year-old is throwing up on me after missing the bucket—for the 4th time today?!

It was probably one of my more pathetic mommy days up to that point, and although I’ve had a few doozies since, it still stands strong in my memory...especially considering the kids are now all pre-teens/teens!  It was Day One of my diet and it was my first ever attempt at dieting.  I had (finally) decided to take off the baby weight now that the baby was almost two years old.  OK—actually, it was to take off the pre-baby twenty pounds plus the twenty pounds of baby weight.  There’s a general understanding and even sympathy for the “freshman fifteen” but why not the “newlywed nineteen”?!

When the day started with the 20-month-old throwing up, it was rather easy to be on a diet.  Who wants to eat—who has time to eat—when you’re on bucket patrol?  However, within a few hours some super pathetic, poor-me thinking took place, and I started to get really jealous of my husband.  “No one is throwing up on him. He can actually close the door when he goes to the bathroom. Heck, he has time to go to the bathroom. I bet he’s sitting on an actual chair not kneeling on the floor with a bucket under someone.”  Once I remembered that I didn’t have to wear nylons OR shoes to do my job, (or even leave the house for that matter), I got over my mental hissy fit and settled in for the glamorous part of mommy-hood.

After an Arthur-bucket-change-The-Big-Comfy-Couch-bucket-change-bucket-change-Veggie-Tales-video-bucket-change morning (you get the idea), I decided that I really needed to eat, as did my four-year-old son.  (Who I was afraid to feed, figuring he would eventually get sick too.)  Once the hoarky kid fell asleep on the towel and sheet draped sofa, I made (and really enjoyed) my healthy lunch…stir-fry veggies with leftover strip steak.  And although I was tempted, I didn’t finger wipe/lick the big glob of peanut butter that was “leftover” on the knife after making my son’s peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  One time, I figured that approximately one-fourth of each peanut butter jar was probably eaten by my effort to clean the generous glob of peanut butter that I had conveniently “leftover" on the knife.

By mid-afternoon, the little guy was starting to hold his own and perk up a bit and he actually asked for his sippie cup.  After allowing him half a sip while over the bucket, I relaxed a bit, eventually allowing two sips in a row.  By late afternoon, I stopped fearing every move he made, and I even ran to the basement to switch the laundry.  (A daring, but necessary feat during this time.)  The calm got sucked right out of me as soon as I came back upstairs from the laundry room and saw the four year old waiting for me.  He uttered the words, “Mom, I think I’m…..”  I yelled for him to run into the bathroom and aim for the toilet, and I followed him.  Except that I didn’t get very far.  And, I wasn’t on my feet.

You know how little boys have LOTS of play cars?  And you know how the house goes to pot when the kids are sick?  I either stepped on or tripped on (or both) a pile of cars, and I went down in a heap.  A big heap.  Of course the thought “Less of me would have gone down had I started this stupid diet sooner” entered my head before pain in my ankle took over all thinking.  My right ankle.  My driving ankle.  My driving-to-see-other-people-who-speak-like-adults-and-don’t-wet-the-bed ankle!!  I half laid, half sat there and started to cry as I watched my son throwing up in the bathroom, IN the toilet, thank goodness.  The 20-month-old remained glued to the TV, unaware of anything else happening except what was on the screen.  He had just seen more TV that day than in his entire life previously.  (Note to self: will need to establish strong restrictions on TV viewing for this child.)  The glamorous, fun part of motherhood was nearly overwhelming as I considered my options.  Call the nanny on her day off?  Climb into bed and pretend none of this was happening?

I called my mom.  I was crying.  I was worse than the kids--combined--on a bad day.  My mom should have been a crisis counselor.  Mom had an immediate plan, and my only job was to call my husband and kindly ask him to come home.  Mom was on her way over, too.  I had enough sense to gather myself together and get a grip as I waited for the reinforcements to arrive.  Somehow, I got my rapidly swelling ankle elevated and then proceeded to lavish praise on the four-year-old for making it into the bathroom.  He now had full control of the throw up bucket and joined his glassy-eyed younger brother, who I knew was sitting far too close to the TV screen.  I kinda figured (hoped?) it wouldn’t be doing permanent eyeball damage, no matter what my grandma had said.  My husband came home and looked so calm and collected and he smelled good—very non-throw-upy.  Mom arrived about the same time, looking and smelling as good as my husband.  It was then that I decided to change into a clean shirt and brush my hair before mom drove me to the emergency room.

We arrived at the ER, I eventually got settled in and was given painkillers.  The ankle x-ray was next, and I’ve yet to understand the gymnastics one goes through to make the technician happy with “the picture.”  I’m thinking, “My kids are at home throwing up, it’s the first day of my lousy diet, I changed into better clothes to go to the emergency room for crying out loud and you want me to bend my injured ankle HOW?”

Eventually, the very kind and patient ER doctor came back to my curtained enclosure and gave me the happy news that my ankle was not broken, just badly bruised and sprained.  His next less comforting words were about needing crutches and about sprains hurting as much as breaks and about sprains possibly taking as long to heal as breaks and about taking it easy and staying off my feet, blah, blah, blah.  (Seriously, why do doctors tell moms to “take it easy” or “stay off your feet” or “be sure to get extra rest”?!  Except for imminent danger or death, moms don’t stay off their feet or just take it easy!!)

The nurse who was in my curtained area was watching me, and she saw my face blanche.  She laid the bed all the way back, and both she and the doctor asked if the pain was making me nauseous.  I shook my head NO, then leaned over the side of the bed (praying for a garbage can) and threw up….partly hitting my new, clean shirt.  Lovely.  I had to reassure them that getting sick wasn’t due to pain, but I was, in fact, the third vomit victim in my family since earlier in the day.  The doctor discharged me with crutches after my mom assured him that someone would be there to make sure I truly did rest and elevate my foot…with a bucket in my lap.

I had a few thoughts on that pathetically fateful first day of my diet.  “Working with all your heart as for the Lord” means just that—my work for His glory.  My work looks very different than my husband’s work and probably very different from your work.
God doesn’t categorize and assign importance to “work.”  He just says “do it” and “do it for Me!“  
While in a mental pity-party, I can think I have a thankless, tiring job.  The reality is that some days, I do!  And, some days, I don’t.  It doesn’t matter…..the command to “do your job for Me” does not change.  Ecclesiastes 7:14 says that good times and bad times are both made by God...He’s not surprised by either.  That day in my life—while I can laugh about it now—was not exactly under my control.  I often ask myself if I am submitting to and trusting in God’s hand of control and plan for me, even on the icky days.  (Which in the grand scheme of things is really, really tame and lame compared to what many women deal with in their lives.)  How’s my attitude toward my current “work” and with what frame of mind am I doing it?

I also had the thought to get an equal number of throw up buckets as kids.  We now have three.  (Throw up bucket/kid combos.)  I also had the thought that getting the stomach flu can jump start a diet by 6.2 pounds, so it really wasn't ALL bad.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

I'm Not Gonna Call

Eight weeks ago, I had what was considered major abdominal surgery.  The surgery went well, but recovery has been frustrating because I’m not one to lie low for long.  It has been during this recovery period that I have realized something about the phrase, “Call me if you need anything.”  I don’t call.

This isn’t meant to offend anyone as I have VERY FREQUENTLY said the same phrase to many, many friends….be sure to call if you need anything.  Guess what?  No one has ever called me!  Am I surprised?  (Relieved?)  It makes me feel good to offer help; it’s like I’m doing what a good friend should do.  But really, what am I actually doing?  There may be a handful of people who actually call when they need help, but I am not one of them and it would seem my friends aren’t either.  Honestly, I’m not going to call someone and say, “Remember when you offered to help?  Can you scrub my tub?  De-clutter my counter?  Make the kids practice the piano?  Change the sheets on all the beds?  Get the oil changed on the minivan?”  Post-surgery, there were a number of little things that needed to be done, and it bugged me that I couldn’t do anything about them as I was confined to the sofa and flying high on pain meds.

[Ok, in the name of full disclosure, there have been some emergency situations where I have HAD to call people.  Like the time I took my daughter to the emergency room and needed someone to pick up my son from another location.  Or, two weeks post-surgery when I had a friend drive me to the store so I could buy elastic waist stretchy pants as all the abdominal swelling caught me by surprise.  In a desire to make sure I had pants, I think anyone would have taken me on that errand!]

Because I have a husband and three children who are not toddlers, my thinking was, “I’m not calling someone else when there are four able-bodied people who live here.”  However, there were extra circumstances in the few weeks before my surgery that deeply affected our family.  Our eldest son lost his friend in a tragic drowning accident when all the high school youth group boys were away on a missions trip.  A week after the funeral, my nine-year-old daughter fell and badly broke her arm, requiring surgery to have titanium rods inserted into both forearm bones.  She ended up in a fingertips-to-armpit cast.  Throw in my surgery and a four-day hospitalization and it was a stress filled month, with lots of tears shed.

During this time, the acts of kindness and love showered on our family were overwhelming and humbling!  Our friends and family jumped into action, taking care of our whole family.

It was the many gestures of care that fully opened my eyes to the fact that while offering help is nice, doing something specific is the way to go.

This is by no means a complete list, but here are some ideas of how to reach out to someone in need.  All these acts of love were extended to us, but if I included every single one, you would be reading for a couple hours!  (And, to list all that my mom did to keep our home, our family and home schooling up and running when I was not….it would take a book!)

SHARE RESOURCES: Some friends with extra Cubs tickets gave them to our son so he and my husband could enjoy a night out.  It was a prefect break from all the tear-filled days and nights our son had been going through after burying his friend.  It did not erase what happened, but it was a temporary break.  And who doesn’t need a little break from the day-to-day reality of sadness and loss?  It is the little breaks that keep us going and give us hope that we can smile again.  Knowing that music is my son’s “language” another friend made him a CD of music.  She also wrote a letter explaining why she included each song, and what messages of hope and promise were to be found.

Think of what you can do to minister to a friend in need and go for it!  Have you read an encouraging book with a message that could help a friend?  Buy it for her!  I had one friend who knew of my “swelly belly” woes and the next week, she delivered a pair of her super comfy pj’s for me to borrow.

MEAL PLANNING: A dear friend set up a meal schedule where our dinners were provided, three times a week for the first six weeks of my recovery!  My husband was so appreciative in knowing the responsibility of making dinner was very frequently removed from his plate.  (I was comforted in knowing the kids were eating more than chicken nuggets or hotdogs every night!)  Many people like to provide meals, but to have someone spearhead and organize all the meals is invaluable.  Two easy resources to use are and

Even if you don’t cook, or don’t have time to cook, you can still help!  We had two friends bless us with restaurant gift cards and two other friends delivered big, ready-to-cook meals from Costco!

FLOWERS: This one seems so obvious, but how many times have you actually brought flowers to a friend who didn’t have a baby?  My mother-in-law had flowers delivered to my daughter by a florist, a HUGE “first” for a little girl.  Family and friends also brought flowers, and she was so proud of them that she insisted on taking pictures of each arrangement.  I also had flowers brought to me a few times and you can’t help but smile and be cheered by a beautiful floral bouquet!

Flowers are easy – every grocery store has a selection.  Go seasonal and get a basket of mums.  Or an evergreen centerpiece.  Or an Easter lily.  Flowers are a guaranteed smile generator!

DO WHAT THEY LOVE: People who know me know that I have a thing for coffee.  An all out love affair might be a more accurate description.  Not once, not twice, but TEN times during recovery, friends stopped by to deliver some form of hot coffee.  Talk about feeling the love!  By general standards, it was a simple gesture, but it meant the world to me.  I knew there was thought and love poured into each cup of coffee!  My daughter received the same thoughtful “deliveries” during her broken arm/surgery.  Friends stopped by with things that make a kid smile: a fruit smoothie, new stuffed animals, silly bands, balloons, games, favorite candy, pens for signing the cast, a gift card to her favorite coffee shop.  She remained in constant awe of the on going out pouring of care.

Whether a $1 or $20 gift, the result was the same – a huge smile and the feeling of being loved.  Think of a friend who needs to feel some care and support…what does he/she love?  Then, do it!  A bakery muffin?  Hot chocolate?  A new release book to read during a time of recovery?  A scented candle?

GET CREATIVE: It’s been firmly established that I have amazing friends and their wonderful creativity should be copied!  Friends brought cooking magazines for me to peruse, hand lotion and lip balm to ward off the dry air in the hospital, a favorite box of tea, a pad of sticky notes to jot down the things I needed to remember for later…the list goes on!  One friend stopped by with a grocery bag full of fruits and veggies, and we were all thrilled to find Honeycrisp apples in the bag!  Another friend went to a used book sale and got some travel books about my dream destination for me to enjoy.  An autumn-themed cookie bouquet was delivered to the house.  (A wonderful alternative to flowers for anyone with hay fever or flower allergies.)

Aren’t these creative and very do-able ideas?  It takes some extra thought, but your friends are worth it!  A decade ago, just days before having another baby, a friend came over to give me a pedicure!  I would NEVER have called and ask that a friend give me a pedicure, but I didn’t refuse it when she and said, “I’m coming over to do this as my gift to you.”  When a great idea pops into your head, either do it right away, or write it down so you don’t forget.

MAKE SPECIFIC OFFERS: If you are unsure how to help a friend in need, suggest some specific ideas to him/her and see where it leads.  Place yourself in their shoes and imagine what would be helpful.  A number of times, I had various friends call and say, “I’m at the grocery store right now.  What can I pick up for you?”  We usually needed something, and they were more than happy to pick up milk, bread, cheese or eggs.  A few times when different friends stopped over for a visit, they would ask if any one of the kids needed to be driven anywhere, as I was still restricted from driving and my husband was not home.  I took them up on the various offers to drive the kids to school for evening choir rehearsal or work or youth group or baseball practice.  I had a couple crazy friends come to visit who insisted on washing some dishes and cleaning the counters while I sat and we chatted.

When you’re out and about running errands, think of how you can double up your efforts to help a friend.  Running to the post office?  Ask if any packages need to be mailed or stamps purchased.  Going to the library?  Offer to return their books.  Will you be at the grocery store?  Ask if they want a movie from the rental kiosk.  When you are taking your garbage cans to the curb and back again, grab your neighbor’s and do the same.  If you look for ways to be helpful, you WILL find them!

(As a side note: If you think it will be an added stress to your friend to appear unannounced at her door with flowers, coffee, a bag of groceries, etc., just say, “I can’t come in, but I just wanted you to know we care.”  Receiving the message of being loved is never stressful!)

Although this seems to be an over-used phrase in this blog, please do not under estimate the power of thoughtful care in the smallest gesture!!!  After the past couple months, I know that I will be offering help to others in very specific ways.  If you have kids, just think of the example you are setting as you strive to teach them to be “other” focused.  Enlist their help and your efforts have just doubled themselves!

It is unrealistic to assume we can do everything for everyone in need.  Sometimes there are time and distance restraints.  (This is when email and snail mail works the best.)  But, do what you can, for who you can, when you are able.  Proactively look for ways to bless others.  Let God use you to be a light of encouragement and a source of generosity to those He has placed in your life.  And, generosity isn’t limited to giving money…it is the giving of YOURSELF, in some way, to love on another.

Monday, September 20, 2010

As Time Goes By

Nope, I have not forgotten about this blog! I've written new things and have jotted many notes for new ideas. But life has thrown us some unexpected curve balls...the kind that can temporarily disable the routine of life, and all effort is put into maintaining ANY semblance of normalcy.

So give me another week or two and I hope to be back in the saddle! I've missed this. But it got ratcheted down a few notches. And to dispel any worry, my family and I are okay and will be okay.

Friday, July 16, 2010

My Model Mom

A few years ago, our local paper ran a “Model Mom” contest, asking people to provide an essay explaining the most important lesson they learned from their mom.  I emailed my submission per the instructions….then never heard back, nor saw the “Model Mom” feature in any upcoming issues.  I was pretty bummed, since there was supposed to be “a prize fit for a model mom!”  Recently, while clearing out some clutter (fit to be moved by a new model bulldozer), I ran across my original submission and decided to share what I wrote about the best lesson I learned from my mom.  (And from looking at my home, it seems the lesson I should have learned is that I don’t need to save every little thing “just in case” since “just in case” rarely, if ever, happens.)

“The most important lesson my mom taught me is the gift of hospitality.  Not entertaining, with lots of preparation and planning and impressive food and decorations…although she DID teach me that too.  The real lesson was in true hospitality, which always cost less in money, but “cost” more in time and thought.

Our family of five lived in a small, neat and tidy 2-bedroom, 1-bathroom, no upstairs, no basement home.  Many will say they have a small house, and I’ve even heard people say they can’t have people over because their house is too small.  Our house was 576 square feet.  Five people.  (Did I mention we were homeschooled?)  We qualify for saying that we truly grew up in a small home.  [Not-in-original-submission side note here: to give you a visual, a standard 2 ½ car garage is about the size of my childhood home…yeah, really small for a house.]  Mom always taught us that hospitality was about the other person and extending friendship, and NOT about the home itself.  She taught it, she believed it and she practiced it.

As a child, I remember it being a regular occurrence that people came over for a meal or coffee and dessert.  Despite our small home, no one ever refused an invitation due to the size of the house or having to squeeze in around the table.  My mom was (and still is) very others oriented and she realized early on that hospitality is something one must purpose to do.  She never waited to have a 5-course meal prepared and freshly ironed linens on the table before asking a family, or a new widow, or a neighbor to come over.  Mom saw a need to reach out to those around her and she did it.  People learned we had an “open door policy” and could always count on a fresh cup of coffee, a listening ear, and possibly fresh-baked muffins.  Having friends into our home went beyond the “obligatory” reasons: holidays, kid’s birthday parties, baby showers, etc.  Having people over was a regular occurrence and it taught me life-lasting principals.

When I got married and had my own home, I purposed to practice hospitality on a regular basis.  [Another side note: it took some practice to convince myself that the house didn’t HAVE to be perfect and the food amazing before opening my door.  In hindsight, I wonder why we have to practice being normal in front of others?!?!]  Now, no matter how busy we get, my kids and husband are never surprised to walk in the door and find people gathered around the table.  It’s rarely a fancy meal – we often order a pizza or throw some hotdogs on the grill.  Sometimes it’s coffee and brownies in the afternoon or chips and salsa.  (Mom also taught me to keep a baked dessert in the freezer or a fast snack in the cabinet to serve on those spur-of-the-moment occasions.)  In my experience, no one has ever turned down an offer of friendship and hospitality just because the floors are in serious need of a sweeping, or because there are 2 (or 3) (ok, fine….probably 4) baskets of clean laundry in the living room, or because I can’t actually see my kitchen counter.  (…or the top of the china cabinet…or the desk…)  It’s not about the house or the food.  It’s about the friendship and the thought behind it.

Mom taught me to worry less about my house and care more about others, and to use my home as a shelter to more than just my family.  And, I understand something she has known for years.  When reaching out to those around me, it usually ends up being me who receives the biggest blessing!  Mom, thanks for teaching me a life-lessons that can’t be taught from a book!”

I think it’s the paper’s loss that they never ran with the idea of printing “Model Mom” submissions because I would have loved to hear other’s stories!

And, I bet my mom is wondering how I never picked up on her “use it or toss it” mantra.  It’s like I’m stuck in the “save it to potentially use it” mode.  *Sigh*  Be warned: you’ll have to move a basket or two the next time you come over.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Game.....

When the kids and I were driving out to the baseball game this afternoon, we were stopped at a light directly behind a huge SUV.  There were 3 really big stickers (bigger than your average bumper sticker) on the SUV's backend, each one advertising something about Jesus.  We all noticed the stickers and the websites they was hard NOT to notice.  My eldest son even joked about them "really being into their Jesus ads."

Also at the stoplight were appropriately badged, neon-vest wearing volunteers walking through the lanes of cars, collecting change for a local food pantry.  They also handed out paper information about the food bank.  The volunteer paused at the SUV then moved on after getting nothing from the SUV's driver.

Huh.  That's what we said.  We figured that maybe there was no change in the vehicle.  "It doesn't have to be change.  It can be a whole dollar."  Huh.  Then, we imagined that the driver just lost his job and had no money to give.  "Then how could he put gas in his SUV?  And anyway, you could always give a quarter."  Huh.  It's possible we are all missing something, but we can't figure what it would be.

It was odd to see a bumper stickered-Jesus vehicle not give anything to the food pantry.  My kids thought it was odd.  I'm actually glad they saw and recognized this dichotomy.

I read the information about the food pantry that had been handed to me.  There was a William Penn quote on it that read: If there is any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not deter or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.

Be careful what you advertise.  You're being watched.  Does your advertisement match the real product?


Saturday, June 12, 2010

Don't Wait For the Funeral

It was one year ago today that I had a “life flashing before my eyes” experience.  In a nutshell: I took some ibuprofen (which I HAD taken before) and had a severe allergic reaction.  The emergency room doctor said I was in anaphylactic shock by the time I got off the ambulance, but gratefully, my airway was never blocked.  (One of the few things that I remember from the ambulance ride was seeing my blood pressure reading of 62/44 and knowing that was far too low, especially for someone being treated for high blood pressure!  The EMT also asked me if I knew what year it was, and after great effort, I answered “yes” but it seems he wanted a different answer.)

This scary experience was the first time I ever truly wondered if I was dying.  Not as in, “Did you see the ending to that movie?!  Ohmigosh, I almost died!” but a real, concrete thought of is this what people feel like before they die?  After the episode was over, I had a difficult time falling asleep for a few days.  Each time I closed my eyes, I would “hear” an ambulance siren and my mind would start to wander to thoughts like what if I really DID die?  I actually thought about how there’d be nothing nice that fit properly to bury me in, so I hoped my husband would opt for cremation.  Then I thought about how my bathtub soooo needed a good scrubbing and wouldn’t I be embarrassed to die and leave it like that?!  (I wish I was kidding or exaggerating; sadly, I’m not.)  I wondered if my husband would remember that I wanted good coffee and a buffet table under a big party tent at my wake and funeral, and NO ORGAN MUSIC!  (I even suggested a jumpy house for the younger kids, as I firmly believe in highlighting the FUN in FUNeral.  Just go with me on this one...)  I thought about how young moms shouldn’t die, and what would my family do?!  I then started thinking about the genuinely sweet words of love and friendship expressed to me after this incident (via written notes, phone calls, emails and Facebook messages) and I was grateful and humbled.  My twisted line of thinking finally led me to believe that we should eulogize while alive.

Almost every wake or funeral I have attended has included multitudes of people remembering the good times, the funny stories, and the highlights of the life of the person who had passed away.  And I always wondered if the deceased person should have heard all this positive stuff before he/she died.  I think the answer is YES!  The fond memories shared after death are only to comfort those left behind…it’s too late for the person who died.  How much good could come from sharing…from eulogizing…before death?!  I think we can all use a good word now and then and how special it would be to hear, “You’re a great friend and here’s why……” or “I love you because…..”  Why not write a note or email or make a call to let a friend or family member know VERY SPECIFICALLY why they are so special to you.  Let your children know what you admire about them and be detailed.  Tell your spouse why you respect him and give an example.  Tell a parent what you have learned from them and how it’s positively affected you as an adult.  Don’t leave things unsaid while there is time NOW!!  It will do a world of good for the heart of the listener!

And now I gotta go scrub the tub so I can sleep well tonight…..

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

It Was in the Sour Cream

I received an email from a dear friend and she told me about a recent, super-encouraging situation she experienced.  Below is her story.

“I have to tell you something that happened today - and after it happened, I was in my car tearing up at the generosity and thoughtfulness of what was done.

Yesterday, I went to Aldi to get some shopping done.  I needed to do major shopping as I hadn't done it for about two weeks, and I had a lot of pantry staples to purchase.

I was in the check out lane with a cartload of groceries, and as I picked up the carton of light sour cream to put it on the conveyor belt, I noticed there was some sour cream on the bottom of the carton.  I flipped the light sour cream carton over and saw that there was a crack across the bottom of the carton.  To make matters worse, some of the sour cream had gotten on the conveyor belt.  I put the light sour cream carton, flipped upside down, on the conveyor belt and put my other groceries around it.  As soon as the cashier was done with the person in front of me, I planned to ask her throw away the sour cream and then let me clean up the mess.

There was a guy in line behind me who appeared to be about 60 years old.  He smiled at me and made some crack about how "you're not supposed to open the food until you get home."  I smile and joked back, "Well, I WAS kinda hungry..."  When I get to the front of the line, I told the cashier what happened, and she just laughed and then cleaned up the conveyor belt for me.  (Even though I said I would!)  I then noticed that the person who had checked out just ahead of me happened to set aside a few items that she couldn't afford.  One of the items, the only refrigerated item, was a carton of sour cream.  I thought, "PERFECT! I'll save someone a trip from having to put that back in the refrigerated section and I’ll buy it!"  I told the cashier that I would take the unwanted sour cream and she said, "It's not light, but is that ok with you?"  At this point I really didn't care, and I wasn't going to hold up the line just to go get a light sour I figured this worked out well.

All of a sudden, the gentleman who had been standing behind me showed up (I did not realize that he had left the line), and he was holding a new carton of light sour cream.  He said, "I wanted to do something nice for you, and I just can't afford to buy your groceries.  But I thought I could at least so something to help and get you another carton of light sour cream."  And then he said (and I can't believe this), "I wanted to help because it looks like you're a woman trying to hold the world together."


I thanked him profusely, paid for my groceries and started to bag my order.  He only had a few items, and as he walked out, he told me to have a good day.  I got to the car, called my husband to tell him about what had happened and it made me cry!  I told my husband this guy was way too old to be hitting on me…it was purely an act of simple kindness.  This man knew exactly what I needed to hear to feel a sense of relief and worth.  The man didn't know this, but as I was standing in line, I was doing a lot of thinking and praying.  I was asking God yet again why He would allow my husband to lose his job and take new job opportunities away from him.  God sure does amazing things and uses people in some cool ways.

This little act of kindness made my ENTIRE day.  I thought of the purpose behind your blog, and I just had to share my story!”

Cool story, huh?  This was truly a “small thing” that this man did for my friend…and yet the affect was multiplied a hundred-fold!  This man understood that sometimes we WANT to do the big, super-meaningful things, like pay for someone’s groceries, but we can’t.  He then took the initiative to do what he could, and it meant the world to the recipient of his kind action and thoughtfulness.

Let’s all look for something we can do to show love, thoughtfulness, compassion, and care to someone else.  Our effort, no matter how small, can have a monumental positive affect and that should not be overlooked!

Look for ways to be thoughtful and give someone else a “sour cream” story!  I’d love to hear about it!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Home Run That Wasn't

Today, we have a guest writer!  Over the weekend, there was a "situation" at our eldest son's baseball game. There were many different reactions to the situation, both health and unhealthy.  This situation prompted my husband to write the following post.  (And I just need to say how grateful I am for a good man who sees the "bigger picture" of our boy's involvement in sports!)  Enjoy!

In a recent baseball game, my son hit a ball far over the outfielder’s head.  Because there were no fences, once the ball hit the ground, it rolled for another couple hundred feet.  According to Google Earth, the approximate distance to where the fielder eventually picked up the ball was more than 500 feet!  After Alex and his teammate (who had been on first base) easily circled the bases, the celebration began as the game was now tied at 4.

When the other team threw the ball back in to the infield, the opposing manager instructed his team to appeal at third base, claiming that Alex had missed touching the base.  The sole umpire at the game ruled that Alex had touched the base and gave the safe sign.  “Try second base!” the manager yelled.  The umpire took a moment and then ruled that Alex had missed second base and called him out.

As you can imagine, this was met by a cheer for the other side and much yelling and screaming by coaches and parents on our side.  Despite protests, both civilized and uncivilized, the umpire’s ruling stood.  There was no 2-run homerun; just a single run was counted (for the runner who was on base when Alex was batting) and our team had another out counted against us.  This call took the wind out of the sails of our team and the game was eventually lost by a large margin.

I want my kids to participate in sports for many different reasons.  They learn to play on a team, they get a good amount of exercise and they learn to win and lose as “good sports” (I hope).  They also can learn other valuable life lessons which were played out in this home run situation.

1) Life is not fair.  Your accomplishments will not always be recognized and circumstances can actually change to put you in a bad light.  In Genesis, we see that Joseph made the morally correct choice in resisting the advances of Potiphar’s wife.  Surely, Joseph made the right choice.  But, was he rewarded for this?  No.  Joseph was made to look like the one who had acted unscrupulously and was thrown into prison.  As it turns out, God needed Joseph in prison to serve His purpose.  Not only was Alex not given a home run, it actually counted as an out.  While we may not see it right now, God always has a purpose and a plan.

2) Details matter.  Whether it is touching all the bases or knowing your responsibility as an umpire to watch whether or not all the bases were touched, details matter.  In Numbers 20, when the Israelites were in the desert and desperately needed water, God instructed Moses to speak to the rock and water would come forth.  Instead, Moses struck the rock with his staff as he had done in a previous situation, and water came forth.  However, Moses was punished for not following exactly what God had instructed him to do.  There are times where God needs us to obey Him in a specific way.  “Love one another” is something God asks us to do, but He doesn’t always give us a specific way in which to obey that command.  When He does give us a specific charge, He means it!

3) There is always someone in authority over you.  In baseball, the umpire is in charge and sometimes you may not like what he or she decides, but the game will go on with their decision in place.  In life, we all have someone in authority over us.  Whether it is our boss, our teacher, our parent, our pastor or our government, there is an authority structure over us by which we are forced to live.  The good news is that God is the one Who determines our authority structure.  He accomplishes His purpose through the authority, even when we don’t like what they are deciding.  Except in cases of clear sin, we are to submit to our authority.

4) Complaining doesn’t help – it just makes things worse.  After so vehemently reacting to the umpire, whether it was fans or coaches, one can’t help but think that the benefit of the doubt was going to go to the other team.  The umpire had to warn fans and coaches about not continuing to argue or he would have them removed as he is entitled to do.

Romans 13:1 – 5:

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. (NIV)

5) When we face adversity, we need to rise above it and keep on fighting.  Very often, this is seen in the world of sports.  A bad call.  A bad hop on a groundball.  An easy fly ball dropped because it was lost in the sun.  These are all factors beyond our control that can easily discourage us.  The truly successful teams do not let these things keep them down…they keep fighting.

This is also true in our Christian walk.  Satan will be there at every turn accusing us of wrong doing and driving us to discouragement.  We are to follow the example of the Apostle Paul who faced much adversity (imprisonment, shipwreck, etc.) and who was able to say “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7).

6) God has a purpose and a plan for our lives.  Our job is to do things His way and to let God bring about the consequences and results He desires.  The consequences are intended for our good and to work toward His ends.  Two key verses come to mind on this point for those who are following the Lord.

Jeremiah 29:11 - For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (NIV)

Romans 8:28 - And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (NIV)

God is always at work and we need to learn to see the things that happen to us through His eyes.  A long home run is a great memory, but life lessons that can be passed along to others are of even greater value.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Jesus on a Billboard

As the kids and I were driving north on I-294 in the Chicago suburbs, we were near O’Hare Airport when my eldest child noticed a billboard advertising a religion.  (I believe it was Islam.)   My son’s question to me was, “Why are they advertising?  Is it to spread around their religion or to make money?”  While I don’t know the true answer to his question, I do think the billboard’s purpose is to spread that particular religion and its way of thinking.  One of the kids then joked about putting Jesus on a billboard, which led to an interesting conversation about each of our lives being like billboards.

In some ways, aren’t we all advertising something?  We are sending out messages about who we are and what we believe.  Consistently practicing foolish actions and foolish words advertises that you are a fool.  Ongoing road rage and rude gestures advertises that you are an impatient, angry person.  Selflessly giving advertises that you are a compassionate person.  Being intentional in showing kindness and going the extra mile for others advertises that you are a thoughtful person.  Good or bad, we all advertise for who we are and what we believe at our core.

The saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” isn’t necessarily true all the time.  In many cases, the cover is giving us a preview of what’s inside the pages.  It is the job of the cover to give a hint of the contents!  I am drawn to many books at the library based on the cover alone…on what it’s advertising.  Is my “cover”…my advertisement…pulling others towards or away from my message and who I really am?

St. Francis of Assisi is credited as saying, “Preach the Gospel always.  If necessary, use words.”  I have always loved this quote and have pondered it often.  Obviously, I can’t “act out” salvation and redemption and other basic beliefs of my faith.  But, I can definitely give a good (or bad) advertisement for what I believe.  I can say whatever I want, but people will look at how I live my life since (unfortunately) words have become many and cheap.  We can draw people to or away from the message of hope that we have to share.

If we were all doing our job effectively, would Jesus need a billboard?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

It's About Time

In the nick of time.  Running out of time.  All the time in the world. Time marches on.  Killing time.  Time is of the essence.  Time management.  Time flies.

Maybe it’s because of the recent winter Olympic games that I have become more aware of time.  Everything is measured in time: how fast a certain event is completed, how long an event lasts, how long until the event begins.  And to think that the difference between earning a medal and not getting an Olympic medal can be one-tenth or one-hundredth of a second!  Talk about every fraction of every second really counting!  It’s easy to think that one (literally: one) second of my life is a mere drop in the bucket and doesn’t mean a whole lot…but tell that to the fourth place Olympian who didn’t take home a medal where that one second made all the difference.  Or the 9-11 story of someone who didn’t make their plane because they were running a couple minutes late.

Time is a funny thing.  It can be embraced or despised, depending on the situation.  Seven days of vacation can bring relaxation, fun and smiles.  Seven days left to live for one with a terminal illness can bring heartache, fear and tears.  Forty-eight hours “living it up” in Manhattan versus forty-eight hours of labor.  There are many instances when we cannot control the time allotted or the circumstance.  But how about when we CAN dictate our time?

I am convinced that the average person tends to fall into one of two basic categories regarding the use of time.  People either waste loads of time and rarely get anything accomplished or they cram far too much into a short amount of time.  In either situation, time is not respected.  I am guilty of the latter issue—ten pounds of “stuff” jammed into a box with a five-pound weight limit.  My life often feels like it’s bursting at the seams, where one activity flows into another.  In many schools, the kids are given five minutes of “passing time” to get from one class to the next.  I barely allow that in my life as I’m running from one thing to the next, often dragging my family with me.

As I write thing, I wonder, “What IS my problem?”  I know I am busy pretty much all the time, but is that the best thing for my life?  How many of the bazillion things I do have eternal value?  Am I spinning my wheels, going no where?  It’s all over once I leave this earth…time is meaningless after that.  (And honestly, I just can’t get my head around eternity.)  Am I judicious in how I use my time or am I exhausting myself on the useless?  William Penn is credited as saying, “Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.”

Here’s a little time test:

1) Is my whole day thrown off if I experience a scheduling tragedy? Including, but not limited to: a long freight train, a flat tire, a puking child, a too-long conversation with someone in the grocery store, a doctor appointment running late, a dropped plate resulting in broken glass everywhere, etc.  (The plate thing happened as we were walking out the door for vacation…glass in my purse and in my bag of maps, not to mention ALL over the kitchen and dining room.)

2) Do I allow any time in my day to get into God’s Word and feed the spiritual part of me?  (And, not just the last two minutes of the day before falling into bed, practically unconscious!)

3) Am I afraid to say “no” thereby filling up every available inch on my calendar and every minute in each day?  (What would “they” think if I said no when the day and time is free on my calendar?!?!)  I now see the importance of a little card my mom had taped to the wall near the phone when we were little kids.  It said, “I’m sorry, I can’t.”  This card was her script when asked to add even more to our family calendar once is was full enough.

4) Do I have to schedule fun?  A spur-of-the-moment trip to the zoo is almost unheard of!  If it’s gonna happen, it better be on the calendar and many weeks in advance!  My kids STILL talk about the spontaneous thing we did last year.  We ran to the local grocery store to pick up a prescription, and we saw that across the road, a garbage truck’s load of garbage was on fire.  When I was in the store getting the medicine, I also grabbed a bag of cookies.  After we all piled into the van to leave, I drove to the far end of the parking lot to get a good view of the garbage truck fiasco, handed out the cookies and we watched the incident unfold for the next 30 minutes.  The kids loved it and it was a fun story to tell.

You may not want to know how often I miserably fail this test!  Sitting down to read a good book is almost the only thing about which I don’t feel guilty.  I used to have a schedule worse that a newborn!  I would stay up way too late to “get everything done” only to be too tired to get up at the right time in the morning, thereby messing up my day and causing me to stay up too late to try to get everything done.  Talk about a cycle doomed from the start!  Talk about crooked thinking!

In reality, will any of us ever get everything done?  Um, no! Sometimes I need to step back and wonder how hard I am fighting a non-winnable battle.  I need to give myself a realistic number of achievable goals for the day, then STOP.  And, “cleaning the house” is not one achievable goal!  I knew I had problems when my to-do list looked more like a research paper outline than an actual get-it-done list.  To-do lists should not have subsections!

The hard part is that it’s all GOOD stuff on my calendar and in my life.  What’s so bad about park district activities, baking 300 cookies for the cast of the play, going to four grocery stores to get the best deals, hosting three luncheons in one week, being the team secretary, organizing play dates, etc?  It’s not like I’m adding “cheat, steal and rob” to my list!  Or, am I?  Am I cheating my family of precious time together since we’re always running out to do something else?  (For some reason, they’ve stopped considering it quality time together.)  Am I stealing away any “down time” that we probably need?  Am I robbing my health by being too busy to de-stress and unwind?  I heard a pastor once say, “A GOOD thing becomes a BAD thing when it takes the place of the BEST thing.”  Are my choices the BEST thing for my life?  My family?  My marriage?  My dad picked a ring tone for when I call his cell phone and it’s the Beach Boys song “I Get Around.”  Funny or sad?  The stay-at-home mom title makes me wonder where the stay-at-home part went.

I remember being struck by an obvious truth that I read in Nancy Leigh DeMoss’ book Lies Women Believe.  She said that everyone has been allotted the same amount of time in every day…24 hours.  If we can’t get it all done, then we’re doing more than God has called us to do!  Obviously, this isn’t talking about things like the laundry and dishes.  Believe me, thinking, “Since I can’t ever fully catch up in either area, then God must not want me to do it!” isn’t correct thinking.  Fun, yes.  Correct, no.

We all worship. We were created to worship; to adore.  How is my time being spent?  What does it indicate I worship?  I say one thing and yet how I use my time proves another.  Am I worshipping at the altar of busyness?  Am I allowing any still time so I can crowd out the world and hear what God would ask I do with my life?  “BE STILL, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10) is one of the hardest commands for me to obey!  Being still does not equal laziness!  And being still in the hours that I am asleep doesn’t count as taking the initiative to BE STILL in obedience.  Being still allows us to rest in His strength.  To be refreshed.  To hear from God.  To recharge.  To worship.  Every minutes of our lives DOES count—it counts for something.  That “something” is where I need to make wiser choices.

The world will not come to an end if I say “NO” to something for the health and happiness of my family.  After all, I need to have the time to say “YES” to garbage truck fires!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Fast Food at Home

(I’ve been sitting on this blog post for over two weeks and since our computer had a nasty virus, I was unable to post it ‘til now.)

We just came off an incredibly long, hardly-ever-home week, and it was made worse by my failure to properly plan for it.  Usually, I am on top of weeks like this, but I let the past few sneak up on me.  We ended up getting far too many meals from a drive-thru window, and the number of straws in my minivan was evidence of my week…and a reminder that I need to go back to meal planning during a busy time. (Although I gotta say…I am loving this year’s Shamrock Shake with the whip cream and maraschino cherries!)

It is not difficult to have “fast food” on hand in your own home, but it does take some preparation and foresight.  In the end, not only will money be saved, but it is healthier to eat at home.  Listed below are some food ideas that I’ve used on those days when the question, “What’s for dinner?” can send me into a frantic panic, wondering if Cheerios can be a part of a good, balanced dinner.  (It works for breakfast – why not dinner?)  These are ideas that we regularly use above and beyond the mac-and-cheese/hotdogs/frozen pizza standbys.  (This is not about making and freezing complete meals in advance… that’s a whole separate system I have.)

1) Assemble a collection of super-easy and fast recipes that use ingredients which are always on hand.
This starts with a well-stocked pantry – or, in my case, well-stocked shelves in the basement.  I was raised with the practice of stockpiling food when there are sales (not in a “the world is ending!” Y2K kind of way), and I’ve carried this practice into my own home.  When we run out of a pantry staple (peanut butter, applesauce, mayo, oatmeal, pasta, flour, sugar, cream of chicken soup, etc.), the kids know to run to the basement shelves for more.  I keep the shelves well stocked!  (They are divided into categories like canned veggies, baking goods, crackers/cookies, etc.)  If you are fortunate enough to have an extra freezer, keep it filled with some basics.  (more on this later)  I am careful to make sure that my fast-recipe ingredients are always “in stock” in my basement.  Go through your collection, pull out the easy-peasy recipes and stockpile ingredients accordingly!  A family favorite meal is Ball Park Soup served with sweet onion cornbread on the side and raw veggies with Ranch dressing as a dip.

[A side note about onions: my kids would tell you they don’t like onions, but I put them (the onions, not the kids) in most foods and no one can tell!  Sweet onions are a bit pricier than yellow onions, but I think they are worth it.  Sweet onions don’t have as much of a biting onion-y taste and when being chopped (in teeny, tiny pieces, of course), they don’t make your eyes tear up.  For me, it’s a safer choice when I have a sharp knife in hand!]

(serves 4 people, but can easily be doubled)

1 can (15 oz) pork and beans (approx. size can)
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes, do not drain
1 c. diced potatoes
4 beef hotdogs
½ med. sweet onion, chopped fine
1 – 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
½ tsp. caraway (omit if you don’t have this ingredient)
½ tsp. dill (I use dried)
salt & pepper to taste
1 Tbsp. parsley (I use dried)
½ stalk celery, chopped
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. vinegar

Sauté hotdogs, chopped onion and garlic ‘til onions are soft.
Add all other ingd and simmer ‘til potatoes are soft. 
Serve hot.

(serves 6 – 8)

2 Tbsp. butter
½ med. sweet onion, chopped
1 c. milk (I use skim)
1 c. sour cream (I use low-fat)
2 boxes (approx. 8 oz. each) corn muffin/bread mix.

Oven to 375 degrees.  Grease bottom of 9” deep-dish pie plate.  Melt butter in skillet and sauté onion ‘til tender.  Combine all ingd.  Pour into pie plate and bake 35 – 40 min or ‘til golden brown.  Top with butter and serve warm.

English muffins and bagels can be used as the base for some yummy meals.  Spread either the muffin or bagel with pizza sauce and mozzarella cheese and broil on a foil-lined baking sheet ‘til the cheese is melted.  Use a pepperoni slice to cover the center hole before the sauce and cheese are added to make it less messy.  Or, spread Dijon mustard on either the English muffin or bagel, top with ham lunchmeat and Swiss cheese and broil for an at-home version of a toasted sandwich.

Change up a basic ham/turkey and cheese sandwich on bread by dipping it in beaten egg and pan frying it like a restaurant Monte Cristo.  Another family favorite using lunchmeat in a “bigger meal” kind of way is this recipe:

(serves 8)

1 box (15 oz) refrigerated pie crusts, softened per package instructions (a staple in my freezer)
½ c. fresh grated Parmesan cheese
¾ lb. thinly sliced deli ham
¼ lb. thinly sliced pepperoni
1 c. shredded Cheddar cheese

Oven to 450 degrees.  Removed crusts from packages and press out fold lines.  Sprinkle each with half the Parmesan cheese.  Top each with half the ham, pepperoni and cheddar cheese to within 1” of the edges.  Loosely roll up each crust.  Place seam side down on ungreased baking sheet and fold ends under.  Bake 15 – 18 min or ‘til golden brown.  Cool 5 min.  Slice and serve!

2) Keep cooked meat in the freezer.
This is a huge time saver for me!  I like to brown up a few pounds of ground beef with some garlic and sweet onions (chopped tiny, of course) and freeze half of it.  I season and simmer the other half with taco seasoning before freezing it.  When in need of a quick meal, I just microwave defrost some seasoned meat to make tacos, a taco salad or nachos.  For fast nachos: line a jelly roll pan with foil – spread tortilla chips on foil – sprinkle with taco meat – sprinkle with shredded cheese – broil ‘til cheese melts – serve with sour cream and salsa.  Easy!  (Goes well with the corn bread!)

I like to defrost the plain ground beef to make green pepper free stovetop sloppy joes.  It’s quick and makes the house smell yummy.  Serve on buns or use tortilla chips to scoop and eat.

(serves 6)

1 lb. cooked ground beef
1 tsp. prepared yellow mustard
½ c. ketchup
½ c. bbq sauce (we like Open Pit for this recipe)
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

Mix all ingd. (adjust ketchup and bbq sauce to taste) in pan on stovetop and simmer 30 min.  Serve.  This is also goes well with the cornbread.

Another very simple family favorite is a stove top meal using the pre-cooked ground beef.

(serves 5)

1 ½ lbs ground beef
1 c. white or brown rice (NOT instant, 5 min. rice)
8 oz. spaghetti, broken into 2” pieces
4 Tbsp. butter
4 c. chicken broth (I use low-sodium chicken bouillon and boiling water if I don’t have prepared chicken broth on hand)

Brown raw rice and uncooked spaghetti in butter.  Stir constantly ‘til lightly browned and nutty smelling.  Add cooked beef.  Add broth.  Cover and simmer 20 min or ‘til rice and noodles are cooked.

I also keep cooked Italian sausage in the freezer to later mix with jarred spaghetti sauce.  Serve over pasta with fresh grated Parmesan cheese and it’s a hearty meal.  Breakfast sausage links or patties are another item that I pre-cook and freeze.  Defrost the sausage then cut up the links or patties to add to a nice baked omelet.

(serves 6 – 8)

¼ c. butter
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
cooked breakfast sausage, cut up (I use at least 9 patties OR 14 links…usually more)
sliced jalapeno peppers (opt)
sliced mushrooms (opt)
sliced black olives (opt)
12 eggs
¾ c. milk
salt & pepper to taste

Oven to 400 degrees.  Grease a 9 x 13 baking dish.  Melt butter in skillet, add onions and garlic and cook ‘til tender.  Spread cheese in bottom of baking dish.  Layer with optional veggies, if using.  Add onion/garlic.  Add cooked sausage.  In bowl, beat eggs and milk with a fork.  Season with salt and pepper.  Pour egg/milk mixture into pan.  Do not stir.  Bake, uncovered, for 30 min or ‘til no longer runny in the center and slightly browned on top.  Allow to cool slightly, cut into squares and serve.

Cooked boneless, skinless chicken breasts are always in my freezer.  I often cook up some pasta, make Alfredo sauce from a packet mix (or open a jar), add some garlic and cut up cooked chicken…and voila!  I also like to shred the cooked chicken (by hand, or with two forks) and simmer it with taco seasoning mix.  The seasoned chicken and some shredded cheese between two flour tortillas go in a 350 degree oven for 5 – 10 minutes ‘til the cheese is melted.  Serve it with salsa and sour cream and you’ve got fast fajitas for dinner.  Often, I skip the chicken and make cheese quesadillas for a pre-baseball game snack or a fast lunch.  Having cooked chicken on hand also allows you to make time-crunched chicken salad.  I chop up the chicken and add chopped sweet onion and celery, a handful or craisins and almond slices (or chopped pecans or walnuts) and half a can of mandarin oranges, drained and chopped.  For the dressing, I thin out the mayo with milk and whisk in some garlic powder, onion powder and dried dill.  All the measurements are “to taste” so be sure to experiment!  Instead of using mandarin oranges and milk, you can thin the mayo with some unsweetened pineapple juice and add chopped pineapple to the chicken salad.  Pre-cooked chicken also makes great wraps: cut up the chicken, toss it with Ranch dressing, bacon bits and shredded cheddar cheese.  Fill a lettuce-lined flour tortilla with the chicken mixture, roll up and enjoy!

3) Marinate meat and freeze.
Throwing some steak or chicken on the grill, baking fries in the oven and opening a bag of pre-cut salad is a great warm-weather quick meal.  When I get home from the grocery store, I immediately marinate some meat, throw it into a zipper top plastic bag and freeze.  (Be sure to label the bag with the date and ingredients.)  There is nothing simpler than chicken mixed with bottled Italian dressing.  My stand-by marinade for almost any cut of steak is a family favorite.  (As a totally geeky side note, “marinade” is properly used as a noun and “marinate” as a verb.)


½ c. soy sauce
¼ c. brown sugar
¼ c. wine (red or white chosen according to personal taste)
¼ c. olive oil
4 cloves garlic, crushed

Multiply the recipe as needed.

Sometimes (but only sometimes), I am a cool and fun mom and I jazz up my kid’s peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  Peanut butter and Nutella (no jelly) or peanut butter and marshmallow fluff (again, no jelly) are easy and fun favorites in our home!

Gotta run – the kids are hungry.  I think it’s a fluff kind of day…although I just might hear a Shamrock Shake calling my name!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Don't Forget

Today, Julia would have been six years old and in Kindergarten. There are a lot of “would have beens” for this baby who was full-term but stillborn; a seemingly perfect baby girl who never breathed outside her mother’s womb.

Julia’s mom is one of “the girls.” (And, I do have her permission to write about this.) There is a group of us girls who have been friends since high school. Life situations have impacted how often we see each other, but we are that group which easily picks up where we left off, no matter how much time has passed. We are the proverbial friends for life. We have been together for more than twenty years, through singleness, marriage, divorce, birth and death. Six years ago, I learned something that greatly impacted me. In the weeks following Julia’s funeral, her mom said she most feared that people would be afraid to talk about Julia and use her name and would then forget about her. That statement stuck with me and has changed how I show love to grieving friends.  I have become more intentional about how I show care and love.

The first week or two after a death, there are cards, calls, hugs, flowers and meals. We need to think beyond the first few weeks. The pain doesn’t go away for those who are grieving. When everyone else has moved on and forgotten the initial sadness of the moment, there is still a raw heart fighting sleepless nights or dealing with regret or fearing running into someone who had not heard about the death. Mail will still arrive in the name of the person who died, making the pain fresh again for those here. Death is a sensitive subject and usually there are tears involved. We need to learn to not be afraid or ashamed of tears! Often, in an effort to avoid bringing on additional pain, we chose to not talk about the person who has passed away. The truth is that the loss is never far from the thinking of those grieving and by not talking about it, we are adding to the loneliness. This is exactly what my friend was afraid would happen with her daughter Julia. The honesty of saying, “I’m not sure how to comfort you, but I care” will be seen as supportive, not awkward. Ask a grieving friend to share a memory about the person who passed away. Look through old photos. Everyone wants to be remembered and often the memories will bring a certain level of comfort.
Be aware that the first Mother’s Day or Father’s Day of not having a parent or child will be horribly hard. Send a card or flowers at that time. The first wedding anniversary without a spouse will be difficult as will the spouse’s birthday. Send an email. Call. Let your friend know that you figure it’s a hard day and tell your friend they are loved. Take the memorial card from the wake or funeral so you can remember the person’s death and birth. I usually write the dates on my calendar so I can remember to send a note or call on what would have been their dad’s birthday, or the one-year anniversary of the death of their mom. Listen for verbal clues of what may be difficult milestones and mark it down so you remember. My friend’s dad passed away last year and she mentioned that it was sad that her dad was no longer around to remember Mark’s birthday along with her. Mark is her brother who had died many years earlier. I wrote down that date in October so when it comes around again, I can let her know that I’m thinking of her and remembering her brother. It won’t be the same as having her dad around to remember, but at least she won’t be alone in her thoughts that day.

Most people are really good about extending their sympathies soon after a death, but there is no expiration date on pain, sadness and loneliness. It only takes a few additional minutes of our lives to walk the extra step of purposeful thoughtfulness. We have to be intentional! Consider this – if you are willing to wait in line for a specialty drink at a coffee shop, would you also be willing to give those minutes to send a card to a friend? I know the answer is YES, so let’s just make it happen. Life is always busy and it’s not likely to slow down anytime soon. Don’t wait for the time; just make the time to be thoughtful. Reach out to a friend who has experienced loss. They may cry and it’s okay. They will also feel loved and will know that their loved one was not forgotten. Don’t forget the important dates that will be bittersweet. There is enormous healing power in showing love to someone who is hurting.  Get active with your concern.  Be intentional in your thoughtfulness.

See you in heaven, baby Julia Marie.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

When I am Queen

There are going to be a few changes when I become queen. Not when I’m President. (Although, I could be the Mom Czar and appoint to all moms what I know they need.) I’m gonna be queen. Last I checked, there was no palace, no royal guards on horseback, no centuries old carriage and no jewel-encrusted crowns for President, so I’ll take queen.

Please understand that my changes are not unrealistic fantasies like, “Pizza will have no calories” or “Someone else can exercise and I’ll reap the benefits.” I’m going for queen, not God. My changes are doable. At least in my head. Listed below are some of the most urgent changes, proven extremely necessary by my own life this past month.

When all the children in the home have all their teeth, a Household Cook will be assigned to each family. I never had much of a problem with feeding the kids when they were really little. As babies, options are limited. As toddlers, a cheese stick, cup of applesauce and graham crackers was a perfect luncheon smorgasbord. But then comes the day when the children turn into eating machines and food consumption more closely resembles an Olympic sport where everyone is going for the gold rather than merely life sustenance. You all of a sudden totally understand the absolute NEED for Costco, because why would you ever buy less than 36 eggs at one time? It’s around this time that I lose interest in cooking, because IT’S ALL I EVER DO!! By the time breakfast is cleared from the table, it’s time for the pre-mid-morning snack, which is closely followed by the mid-morning snack, followed by the pre-lunch snack…you get the idea. And where “snack” used to equal a handful of pretzels, it now means “sandwich.”

This is why all families will get a Cook. Since food has morphed into a 24/7 activity, there will now be someone to handle it ‘round the clock. The process of procuring the groceries can be exhausting, so once we get the food in to the home – someone else will create snacks and meals with it. It goes without saying that the Household Cook will also take care of all cleanup. Any well-balanced meals provided are icing on the cake, because at this rate, we’re just going for quantity.

Or, it can be a man. This will be an equal opportunity position. Yes, the Laundry Lady will do the obvious – the family laundry. But, here’s what else she (or he) will do:

 Wash the towels and sheets once a week like they need to be done! If we’re honest, most of us moms will admit that we’ve laid in bed thinking about all the blue-light-wand/bed-bug Oprah specials we’ve seen, and wondered when was the last time the sheets and towels were changed? No more wondering!

 Find all the sock matches! We will never again need that basket where all the lonely single socks hang out. (or, the pile of single socks laying on top of the dryer)

 Wash specialty items! You know all those things that need to be washed sometimes, but not all the time? Bathrobes, jackets, throw-pillow covers, valances, hats and mittens, bed skirts and picnic blankets stored in the car – it will all be washed and NOT only on an emergency basis due to spills, stains or accidents!

And, it should be noted that all laundry would be folded and delivered to the room of its owner. No more digging through the basket of clean underwear to find a sock match! The Laundry Lady and the Errand Boy (keep reading) will handle all dry cleaning.

(Again, it could be a woman – I’m all about equal opportunity.) This person will get it all done and in a timely manner. No more piles of bags by the back door or in the back of the car. Need to return mascara? DONE! Pick up the snow blower from the repair shop? DONE! Go to city hall to pay for and receive the 3-month parking pass? DONE! Forgot just one little thing from the grocery store and need to go back? DONE! When I am queen, we will no longer carry around a bag full of plastic bags that we keep intending to recycle at the grocery store – it will be DONE! We will not have to run to the library to avoid a book fine – it will be DONE and without having to drag tired and crabby children along!

As a side benefit, Errand Boy will also be available to help drop off and pick up children when everyone needs to be at their respective activities at the exact same time and on opposite ends of town.

Remember those diaper pails that made a long, sausage-like link of dirty diapers and everything was hidden from sight and smell? We will all have something like that for the multiple piles of papers that seem to duplicate overnight. The Paper Genie will not be a contraption of some sort, but a real person, minus pointy slippers and a genie-like appearance. The Paper Genie will be a paper assistant of sorts…someone to make sense of and give order to the hundreds of dead trees that consume my life, counters, purse, minivan, etc. In this electronic age, I wonder why we still struggle with overwhelming amounts of paper that I dare not recycle because it is probably “very important.” The Paper Genie will take all forms of paper and just deal with it! We will no longer search high and low for the Wal-Mart receipt so we can return the antiperspirant with a dial that doesn’t turn. Paper Genie will know right where the receipt is and will hand it to Errand Boy, who will return said item. The Paper Genie will create and maintain a sensible filing system for all papers, and we will be handed a folder each morning with the paperwork needed for that day. No more permission slip/recipe/greeting card/phone tree/receipt/doctor appointment reminder/homework paper hunts or shuffles. No more shoveling paperwork into a grocery bag in an effort to clean when unexpected company comes over. The paper perfume samples will finally have a home! The Paper Genie will keep it ALL under control!

I am sure that my reign will bring many more valuable changes and I will catalog all recommendations made. But for now, I need to throw some laundry into the washing machine and push the counter-top papers over so I have room to make the meatloaf, because it’s time to bake the pre-dinner snack.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Playing Single Mom

You know how when you go through something, you have a new appreciation and understanding for others who have experienced the same situation? Like women who have undergone a C-section have a specific understanding of that way of birth. Or, how going through major home remodeling gives you a new sympathy for others who are living through the same stress. (I do think that any contractor who administers Valium (or the like) to the homeowners living in and through the home remodeling process would have more going for them. Or, at least administer said medication to the woman of the home. But, I digress.)

While I admit to NOT having a true understanding of what it’s like to be a single mom, I have a renewed appreciation for those who are. This happens to me every January through March, as this is my hard-working husband’s busy season. Literally, he is gone from the home from before 7 in the morning until he walks back in the door anywhere from 9:30 to 11:30 at night, depending on the train schedule. There are many days in a row when the kids don’t even see him. My husband is an accountant and while his "busy season" is unrelated to the April 15th tax deadline, it is related to closing up the books for the corporation’s fiscal year. There are a lot of complicated computations, international accounting stuff, number crunching, reporting and filing stuff with the government. I try so hard to understand all he does, but I don’t (heck, I’m calling it "stuff") and I’m okay with that. I just know he’s gone. A lot. I want to state that I am 100% grateful that my husband has a job. I’m not complaining about his hours; just trying to explain my current situation and thought process.

I would imagine that women whose husbands travel frequently experience this same "playing single mom" thing. Not that it’s some game that I like to play—but I do feel as though I’m in competition to maintain my patience, sanity and happy mommy face. I think of my homeschooling, mother-of-6 friend whose husband has to go out of town for a week at a time, on a regular basis. She plays single mom too. While I know that I have been called to homeschool our own kids, it’s during "busy season" that it can get tough! There aren’t many breaks from the kids and while I know that sounds horrible, I’m just keeping it real. However, I have a light at the end of the tunnel, as does my friend. I know that our family just needs to survive til spring, then it’s "game over" and dad is home for dinner again! And there’s someone else around to help get the kids into bed! And, dinners tend to get a bit more gourmet than mac-and-cheese or pancakes! (Recently, I DID wrap the hotdogs in crescent rolls...points for gourmet efforts?!) When life goes back to normal, I stop entertaining myself in the evenings with mind-numbing TV! (Seriously, a 150 pound tumor?!?!) Single moms don’t have that deadline; they have to hold it together with the mind frame of indefinite.

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve been struck by the temporary nature of my situation. Believe me, the temptation is always there to wallow in the details of the day and think dramatic "it’s-never-going-to-end" thoughts. I’ve really focused a lot on the word "temporary" which has brought me encouragement! This won’t last forever, despite my all too frequent exasperation. This focus has led me to think a lot about my single mom friends. They don’t have a set date of when it all gets resolved and life "goes back to normal." I think of my single mom friend with five kids and I’ve been so convicted to really pray for her (and others). During my own seasons of frustration, I have been incredibly encouraged by friends who have said, "I don’t have all the answers, but sometimes life sucks, and I get that and I love you and am praying for you, friend." Single moms especially need to hear that message! A couple months ago, while dealing with some very sick kids for a few weeks, I had a dear friend send me an encouraging note and a gift card to a coffee shop. It was like a little energy drink of instant encouragement….she TOLD me that she cared and she SHOWED me!! I felt revived, in a way. We ALL need encouragement, but how vital it is to a single mom! Affirming words are like being given oxygen—refreshing, calming and restorative to the soul.

As I’ve been doing my short-term single mom stint, I’ve also been working on doing some positive and proactive things for single moms, women whose husbands travel/work long hours or women who need a lift of encouragement. So many of us make dinners for people when there’s a new baby in the family, or when there’s been a death in the family. How about making a dinner for a single-parent family…either invite them over for dinner or drop a meal off at their house. Stop by with a cup of hot coffee and a pan of brownies, and you’ll make that mom’s night! (Use disposable pans to make it really easy.) Want super easy? One time I brought hot chocolate and bread from Panera to a friend who needed encouragement, and I didn’t even go into the house…it was a hug-and-run deal. Easy, and she felt loved! I can guarantee you that a hand written note of encouragement will not be casually tossed aside, but read and savored many times over. Send a Valentine’s Day card to your single mom friend and tell her she’s amazing! Drop a chocolate bar tied in ribbon on the porch or between the doors and you’ll generate lots of smiles. I remember when some of us got together and provided a bag of groceries and diapers for a newly single mom; she was touched beyond words. It’s these acts of thoughtfulness and generosity that mean so much to a tired, and often frustrated and lonely single mom. Of course, these loving gestures can be done for anyone, but I think our friends who are single moms need them! It’s amazing how putting our energy, thoughts and focus on others can change our own mindset and attitude about ourselves! Be someone’s oxygen—their breath of fresh air—this week!

Excuse me now while I clean up the dinner dishes from our grilled cheese, carrot sticks and apple slices so I can focus on the Siamese twin sisters, followed by women who didn’t know they were pregnant. Really.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Free Coffee!

It happened to me on Saturday morning when I least expected it. (Not that I ever "expected" it!) I was the recipient of another person’s thoughtful act of kindness! It felt weird and wonderful and I liked it.

Recently, I had an early morning meeting at Elijah’s, my favorite local coffee shop. I walked up towards the counter and got in line behind a middle-aged woman who had just finished paying for her order. She turned to me with a big smile and as she wished me a "Happy New Year" she handed me a fully punched get-a-free-coffee drink punch card. While my brain registered, "Oh! I’m getting a free drink!" my facial expression and body language showed slightly confused disbelief. She again held the card out towards me and said, "All you owe is a smile." I took the card and smiled…and realized that I kept smiling! There was no effort required to genuinely smile after what had just happened.

As I ordered my coffee, I chatted a bit with this angel of free coffee. She told me that she always gives away her free drink card to whoever is behind her in line. And, she loves doing it. She gets a great feeling from surprising a stranger…not to mention the great feeling the stranger has. My day sure started off well based on the kindness I received! Guess the first thing I told my family about when I got home from the meeting?

What a win-win situation! Getting a hole punched on my coffee punch card is icing on the cake. I am still going into the shop to buy a cup of coffee, punch card or not. So there is really no personal cost to passing along a fully punched card. The only "cost" – the only out-put required – is the mind-frame of purposeful generosity. This is something all of us can, and should, afford! My kids need to see me practicing actions like this so they can learn the fine art of purposeful and creative generosity.

We can not predict the snowball affect of our actions. (Unfortunately, this applies to both positive and negative actions.) I was thrilled and wonderfully surprised by something as small as free coffee…it felt like a gift for "no reason." And who doesn’t like a gift?

Guess what I’m doing with my own punch card once it’s full? You may want to get in line behind me!