Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Left To Our Own Devices

All four of our children are away this week. The older two are at church camp and the younger two are at grandparent camp. We have had reports of all manner of fun and learning from both camps and are thankful that the kids are enjoying themselves.

Though we take a week each year to travel without the children, it has been many many years since my Man and I have found ourselves home alone.

{You saw that coming right?}

Here's what I am learning as we have been left to our own devices...

My Man does, in fact, remember how to take the trash out.

I do remember how to unload the dishwasher.

There is little need to do either of these activities because the amount of trash and dishes generated by two 40 somethings is significantly less than what it was, say...last week!

The same holds for the laundry.

When my Man is away, the kids and I plan all sorts of adventurous "Daddy's Gone Dinners" with international themes and ingredients. When the kids are away, however, an acceptable dinner just might be two bowls of cereal enjoyed in front of a favorite TV show.

When the children are away it is possible to actually HEAR every word of a favorite TV show.

A spoon loaded down with peanut butter and chocolate chips is the perfect lunch.

My Mother-In-Law was correct when she told me that cooking for two is not nearly as fun as cooking for the whole family.

There is no one with whom to share trivial things with the very instant I learn of them after my Man has gone to work.

I have no earthly idea what LeBron James is up to this week.

There is no one around to "do what I say and not what I do".

Minivans are huge with only a driver.

Socks do not magically appear on the living room floor or on the couch or under the dining room table or in the fridge but I did hear a report of an orphaned sock of my Man's appearing at church camp?!

Our home echoes when there is only one person in it, that is, if that one person choses to create noise, but really...what is the point?

Podcasts are wonderful ways of learning and of filling a house with sound.

So is talking to oneself.

There is no line at the coffee pot in the morning...but there is also no one to bring me coffee out of the goodness of their teenaged hearts in the middle of the morning either.

Finally, I've learned that time alone is a wonderful restorative privilege in this life of mine for which I am grateful but it is not the life which I've been called to live. So as the house fills back up and as the noise level rises and the pantry level dwindles and the laundry piles and the dishwasher runs and runs and runs, and the line at the coffee maker grows, my prayer is that my heart will remember the joyful refreshment of this week and then charge ahead to the jolly chaos of the next.






“Home wasn't a set house, or a single town on a map. It was wherever the people who loved you were, whenever you were together. Not a place, but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter that you take with you for your entire life, wherever you may go.” 

~Sarah Dessen
What Happened to Goodbye



Thursday, July 17, 2014

All the Wrong Rules

Growing up, my family owned a checker game much like those you see at Cracker Barrel. Big and soft and carpet-like with red and black checkers that were roughly the size of hockey pucks.

My Dad taught us how to play and reigned as Checker King for as long as I can remember. It always perplexed me how he could be planning strategy three steps ahead while my whole goal was to not get jumped in the very next move.

I remember a particular match between my Mom and Dad where my father won in such grand fashion that my Mom was forced to grab the corners of her side of the checker board and flip the remaining checkers (all of which belonged to my Dad, of course) at the King. 

This summer Molly has taken quite an interest in the game and I've spent a good deal of time teaching her the basics during the last few weeks. This week while visiting my parent's home, she was destined to meet up with both the checkers set from my childhood and the Checker King himself. 

Last night I received this report from my Mom via text:

Dad and Molly just at [checkers] game for 30 minutes. Kate and I in beauty shop. Molly came up and announced that "Mom taught me all the wrong rules but I let Poppy win two games." Thought she would be sweating but none was visible. [She] was in a tiny snit over some king issue.

The question that remains is not what the snit over the king issue was, though one does wonder. The question that remains is how Molly managed to win or rather how Molly was allowed the victory because, as the child of King Checkers...I do not ever remember being allowed this pleasure!! 

And so I conclude... Poppy has gotten soft. 

This is yet another example of the affect of grandchildren on formerly sensible adults. 

Mark it down and enjoy!


The true art of playing is not only to make the right move at the right time, but to leave unmade the wrong move at the moment of truth. 

Players are usually at their most confident peak....just before they walk into disaster.

~Tom Wiswell, World Checkers Champion 1951-1976~

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

How to Make Your Gal Grin...{a little}.

My Man and my kids had been working hard outside all morning. 



It was a day that threatened rain but in the meantime was delivering humidity by the bucket. I made an iced tea-lemonade combo from a powered mix I’d purchased. 


On a whim, I sliced a circle of lemon and added it to my Man’s tea before delivering it to him on the front steps where he and Cole were working.

After a long drink he said, “Wow!!” and then looked our boy in the eye, “Son,” he said with a serious voice, “marry well. Marry a woman who will care for you like this.”

{I might have grinned a little.}


Please note here that the THIS my Man was referring to was merely powdered drink mix and a lemon slice!! 

It was not because of a washed car or a hot meal made from scratch, it was not because of a freshly mowed lawn or even enough clean socks to make it through the week (as if!).


It was because of a little slice of lemon.


When life gives you lemons…put a slice in someone’s tea… at the very least, they’ll appreciate the thought, 


...and maybe, just maybe they’ll say just the right thing…an make you grin…{a little}.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Demise of Mr. Cranky Pants


“Mom, can you even believe those folks in the theater?”

“Which ones Kate, the children or the grown man and his family?” 

“That MAN!” she said, “he totally annoyed me!”



He had totally annoyed me too.

It all began in the movie theater. 

Kate and I, alone for the afternoon, decided to see a movie. We were happily situated in our seats when a man, woman, and a teenaged girl chose seats in the row directly behind us. In the last few rows of the theater sat what I imagined to be a preschool class or a summer camp group of sorts. They were of kindergarden age give or take a few years and there were maybe six children and two adults. Also in the back rows was a mother and three young children. 

The children chattered, eagerly anticipating the movie. Kate and I portioned out our candy and popcorn making sure the candy boxes were opened and ready to dispense. I finished a text to a friend before the lights dimmed and turned my phone to silent. While I was doing so, the man behind us rather loudly asked his wife if she had her phone on silent. “Yes,” she said irritated, “WHY do you always ask me that, I always do.” 

I thought to myself, perhaps he was trying to send me a signal that my phone would not be welcomed in this section of the theater and that I should put it away. OR maybe he just wanted to check on his wife’s theater etiquette…hard to tell. 

The children who had continued to fidget and chat throughout the previews were shushed by their keepers as the lights dimmed and the feature presentation was about to begin. The shushing, however, had come entirely too late for the fellow behind Kate and me. The huffing and sighing became quite a distraction as the story on the screen was being told. The huffing soon graduated to a “PLEASE be QUIET!” through gritted teeth directed toward the children in the back.

Now here’s the thing, I’m often a high-strung gal who is terribly oversensitive to what I deem unnecessary noise. Tap your fingers on the dinner table, I’m all over your case. Whistle while you work or really, while you do anything, I’m your worst nightmare. Chew potato chips with an open mouth, you are my sworn enemy…I promise. HOWEVER the children in the back were NOT loud enough to be distracting.  


What happened next only served to add some comedy to the situation. Sir Cranky rose from his seat and with a determined gait marched down the steps and out the door of the theater only to return after a few minutes with a similar stride. Ten minutes later a theater worker entered the room and stood quietly to the side, listening for the Great and Terrible Ruckus that must have been described to him by Mr. Pants. It just so happened that the movie had taken an adventuresome turn and the youngsters were paying close attention and were as quiet as they’d been during the whole show.

The presence of the theater employee seemed to make the rest of us feel like we should be extra quiet so that we were not accused of excessive noise-making. Kate stayed frozen in her seat, eyes never leaving the room monitor, completely disengaged with the movie. Eventually the worker left and as you’d expect, the kids in the back got squirmy once more. The huffing and commenting from Cranky resumed behind us. 

I’d been having a difficult time getting into the movie and things weren’t getting any better there in the dark so I turned my attention to the argument that I was having in my head with Cranky Pants. I don’t know about your skills, but I am QUEEN of the mental argument. I can joust and perry with the best of them…in my head. Usually all of this internal arguing comes to nothing and proves to be a supreme waste of my time and energy but today as I sat there, energy provided by a large box of Mike n Ike’s and nothing but time, I indulged…

“Really Cranko…you came to a children’s movie about a dragon that can fly and than acts like a puppy, who exactly did you think you’d be sharing the theater with?”

“Mr. Pants, if you’d get over yourself and pay attention to this movie, the noise of the kids would not seem so loud…believe me…I cannot even hear them…BUT that could be because of all the noise and commotion YOU are creating in my ear.”

“Sir, an entire 36 rows of seats exists in front of me. Perhaps moving forward in the theater would put some distance between you and your current obsession AND the screen will seem so much bigger than those five year olds back there.”

“Please look at your watch, it is 3:00 pm again, who did you expect to find in the theater at this hour?”

And on and on I went, pressure building in my gut with each witty remark.

Finally, suffering from too much candy, popcorn, and soda intake Kate said, “Mom, I’d like to go. My stomach hurts and I’ve sorta lost the focus of the plot anyway.” So, we gathered our things and left the theater. Kate making quick tracks for the ladies room and me more than a few steps behind her when I heard from behind me…

“Hey! Weren’t you just in that movie?” 

I turned to see Cranky standing in the otherwise empty hallway looking at me. 

“Yes,” I answered amazed that for once in my life all of my mental argument prep work was finally going to pay off. I had my chance! Here he was smiling at me unsuspecting.

Here is what I wish had happened…

“Yes, I was in the movie.”

“Those kids are driving me nuts in there! Will you come to the theater manager with me to complain?”

“Sure, let me do all the talking this time.”

“Ok!” he would say, happy to have a like minded patron of the arts on his side.

Approaching the theater manager I step forward and explain that ever since the beginning of the movie there has been an annoying disturbance behind me. 

“Really, ma’am?” the manager would say, “what have the offending parties been doing?”

“Well,” I’d say pointing with my thumb, “this guy right here has been huffing and puffing and complaining and fussing at the kids who’ve come with their weary keepers to see a CHILDREN’S movie. The kids are not being silent, they are however being reasonable, unlike Mr…what did you say your name was? Anyway, I told this fella I’d come to you and lodge my complaint. Have a nice afternoon.”

What really happened…

“Hey you just left that movie right?”

“Yes. My daughter is not feeling well,” I answer pointing in the direction of the restrooms and taking a step in the same direction.

“Oh, ok,” he said and started back into the theater and then stopped unable to let his matter rest. He thought I’d left because I was as irritated at the children as he. 

“Those KIDS in there! They are driving me crazy!” he said shaking his head as if to rid it of preschool chatter.

I smiled and nodded. “Well,” I said “you are watching a children’s movie.” 
His head bent down slightly, more in disappointment over my lack of agreement with his case and less in embarrassment over his own actions, “And, it is a 2:30 movie,” I continued.

“You’re right I guess,” said a deflated Mr. Cranky Pants as he turned and, I imagine, resumed his spot in his theater of misery while Kate and I headed for home.

There are SO many lessons to take from this but I think the one I’m going to ponder most is this: if I am the only one bothered by a situation and I can’t get anyone else to see things from my point of view then it could very well be that the problem is not with everyone else but instead with me. 

As previously stated, I can get hung up on some pretty crazy things (but please STILL don’t crunch your Doritos in my presence…kidding, sorta) and maybe what irritates is a real issue but probably it is not of vital import. However, my focusing on any issue to the exclusion of reason puts me on the side of Mr. Cranky Pants himself and NOBODY has ever been blessed by Cranky! In fact, my focus on the minor matter will eventually make its mark on everyone else in my theater and will blanket the room with stress and angst and will extinguish every ounce of fun and happiness. Kate and I watched that happen today and it wasn’t pretty, it was pitiful. 


Down with Cranky and ...

...UP

...with


...JOY!!


See?! 

Both cranky ...


...and joy 




...are contagious.


Which will you be spreading?

{Choose JOY!}

Friday, June 27, 2014

Pasta Pronto!!! {When you need dinner in a hurry}

There are times in the life of a family for a luxurious meal around the table with a nice main dish flanked by side dishes of various shape and color. The meal takes nearly as long to consume as it does to prepare, and those seated around the table are at their leisure to enjoy the food set before them. Silverware clanking and voices mingling over good food and happy hearts.

However...

There are also times in the life of a family where ball practices and youth events and street hockey and theater camp toss a wrench into the lovely family dinner ideal...and that's ok if your family is prepared.  It is NOT ok if you have forgotten about an event and have made no plan for dinner and have to go flying about the kitchen hoping that the dinner genie has something special waiting in the freezer for you to microwave at the last minute.

Obviously, I've been in this situation very recently, not the prepared situation, I can run with that, but instead the completely-at-a-loss-feel-like-I've-never-before-in-my-life-fixed-a-meal-what-am-I-gonna-do-now-the-game-is-in-an-hour situation. My gang gets peanut butter and pretzels on those days. Later we drag into the house after the game is over and after the post-game ice cream has been consumed and we find ourselves fairly ravenous at which point we inhale whatever exists of our cereal and milk supply and hope that the dinner genie has alerted the breakfast genie via a text in ALL CAPITALS that she'll need to haul my buggy outta the fire in the morning because who's had time to go to the store to buy yogurt or bagels and who has the energy after weeks of a frenzied schedule to bake oatmeal or cookies or treats?

Today on the family schedule we have multiple trips to theater camp 20 minutes away, a softball tournament 15 minutes down the road and vacation bible school {happily} two minutes across the street. Clearly, dinner will be a frenzied affair here's what I'm serving...

Vodka pasta...yes for the Baptist preacher's family. Haaaaa!  We live on a sharp edge over here, yes we do! The sauce for the dish does have vodka in it but I need not show my ID to the grocery cashier when purchasing it. Processed so that only the taste is left, the sauce is available in many brands...


...our preferred brand is Newman's Own but it was not on the shelf on shopping day so I settled on Emeril. (note: if you do not think this style of sauce is to your liking, just substitute a pasta sauce of your choice and all will be well.)

You'll also need a one pound box of pasta. Any short shape will do, but we really like the bow tie or shell shape for this dish. Finally, you'll need three cups of shredded mozzarella cheese and an optional 1/2 cup of Parmesan. That's it! From here it's just incredibly easy, you'll be on the ball field or at the theater or in the pews for VBS opening in no time!

Vodka Pasta Baptist Style
Adapted slightly from The Mom 100 Cookbook, one of my favorites!
{Printable Recipe Here}

What you'll need:
1 1 lb. box of pasta (we like bow tie or shells for this)
1 24 oz jar of vodka sauce
3 cups shredded mozzarella
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (optional but highly recommended)

What to do:
Preheat oven to 350˚.
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add salt to the boiling water and add the pasta. Cook according to package directions and drain. 

Return cooked pasta to the pot ...



...and add entire jar of vodka sauce,




 ...and the cheese. 



Stir well and pour into a sprayed 3 quart baking dish.




 Top, if desired, with parmesan cheese and bake in a 350˚ oven for 20-25 minutes until the cheese is bubbly and just beginning to brown on top. 


Serve with a green salad or steamed broccoli if you've got time for such things and enjoy!


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Writing: Can we make it less painful?!

It's nearing the end of June and I'm just now getting settled into a cozy/crazy summer but the realist in me knows that school planning is just around the corner. Today, Nikolas Baron from Grammarly is guest posting with some suggestions and tips to lend a hand as we encourage young writers to achieve new heights.


Written work can be a problem for many students, including homeschoolers. You’ve gone to great lengths to create a fun, life-learning, homeschool environment, right? Forcing your child to sit down and churn out essays can then feel like a step backwards—particularly if they have existing negative experiences concerning their abilities to write the typical school “show what you know” assignments.

Pick ‘n’ mix methods

The Internet is a fantastic source of writing tools for homeschoolers. Gone are the days when the only options were laboriously copying sentences and answering complicated grammar questions without any real understanding of what they meant. Gone are the days when the only options were the laborious copying of sentences and complicated grammar questions without any real understanding of what they meant. There’s a huge drive to make writing a natural part of every child’s education in a way that makes sense for each individual. If one method doesn’t work, just try another!

Spark creativity and imagination

Consider the approach used by writing prompt sites. Kids are encouraged to be creative, writing their own stories with the help of artwork that’s designed to stimulate the imagination and prompt ideas. It not only engages them but also simplifies the process by providing them with a “puzzle-solving” approach to writing. The stories are already there, and kids enjoy the satisfaction of “finding” them. The ease with which they can create something they’re proud of is often the incentive they need to keep writing. 
As a bonus, many of these sites have “share” features which allow the writer to embed their stories on blogs, e-mail them to relatives, or receive feedback in a safe, monitored forum. All are surefire ways to build confidence and encourage more writing! There’s a plethora of sites like this, and a bit of Googling is sure to hook you up with at least one or two that suit your own young writer (or anti-writer!). 

To criticize, or not to criticize?

Major obstacles to overcome are criticism and correction. Is it better to let the child write freely with minimal correction, and thus build confidence and avoid discouragement, or to have a strict “red pen” approach right from the start to make sure they don’t develop bad habits that will be difficult to undo? It depends on the child to a large extent, but it’s safe to say that you need a bit of both. Rare is the student who is encouraged by pages filled with critique and error. Motivation and confidence are paramount when it comes to something as subjective as writing. 
A good tip is to let the child take responsibility for correcting their own work. There are plenty of spell-check and grammar check programs available online - with varying degrees of success. It’s important for kids to know not just that their sentence is grammatically incorrect but why it’s incorrect. Find an online grammar check tool that you can use alongside your own teaching. Sites like Grammarly offer proofreading and correction with useful explanations, hints, and suggestions. This approach can be invaluable when it comes to striking the careful balance between encouragement and accuracy, as it gives the writer a chance to identify and understand their errors in their work before presenting it for evaluation. It is like having a personal, online writing tutor and is infinitely more useful than standard spell-check software.

Go with what works

Some kids love creating stories from prompts. Some prefer using graphic organizer tools (check out Writing Fun as a well-developed example) to help them gather their ideas and put them into writing. Some young writers need interactive and practical instruction to help them with the technicalities of grammar and structure. Whatever your child’s struggle with writing may be, there’s help to be found! Find the method that works for you, and roll with it! Make it relevant, make it personal, and make it fun. 
By Nikolas Baron  


Nikolas discovered his love for the written word in Elementary School, where he started spending his afternoons sprawled across the living room floor devouring one Marc Brown children’s novel after the other and writing short stories about daring pirate adventures. After acquiring some experience in various marketing, business development, and hiring roles at internet startups in a few different countries, he decided to re-unite his professional life with his childhood passions by joining Grammarly’s marketing team in San Francisco. He has the pleasure of being tasked with talking to writers, bloggers, teachers, and others about how they use Grammarly’s online proofreading application to improve their writing. His free time is spent biking, traveling, and reading.




Sunday, June 15, 2014

Happy Father's Day to my Man!


It seems that every year by the time Father's Day arrives, summer is at a fevered pitch and the celebrating of my Man as a father is given, at most, a passing nod.  He deserves better.  He's a great Daddy.  I've loved him for what seems like forever, but on the day my Man became a Father, my love for him deepened exponentially.  To see a man, my Man, "doing the dad things" was to see him truly in his element.  On that day...

...this day...
my Man began taking care of our family and he has been doing so for over a decade now.  I am all the crazier about him as I have watched him grow as a Daddy. 
 As the years have gone by, my Man wasn't the only thing growing.  Our family, of course has grown a bit too, and each time I see this...

(Darrin dressing Megan in the first outfit he had ever purchased for her.)
...my heart beats a few beats fonder.

As babies number three and four joined us, his experience as a dad only made him more fun to watch.  He was an "old hand" at C-sections and was the first of us to hold each scrunched-up, gooey little life.

Hello Kate!

Molly weighing in!

What's wonderful is that when we got home from the hospital each time, Darrin worked just as hard as I did taking care of our family--most times, harder.  He didn't just leave it all to me, thank goodness! 

(Molly)

(Megan)




"A woman can tell a lot about a guy by the kind of dad he is.  When I see you being a parent, many of the things I appreciate most about you...your patience, your kindness, your fun sense of humor...show up so clearly.  You obviously love being a dad, and I love that about you.  You are a wonderful man and an amazing father who really deserves this day week..."
~Quoted from my Man's Father's Day card~

We all love you so!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

All was Right in My World...and Then Some


My Man had been gone for what would eventually seem like eternity. 



I was feeling his absence and the kids were feeling it. The hiccups in our family rhythm caused by the void seemed to get more powerful and disrupting as the days wore on. "It was sorta fun and different when Dad first left," Meg observed, "but now the adventure of it all is over and I'm ready for him to be home."

Indeed.


It wasn't all gloom and grief though. This year, like last, those of us left behind knitted ourselves a little more tightly to one another and that renewed bond was balm to my heart which was at turns anxious and excited and blue and blessed. We shared news, laughter, an adventure or two, and most notably an evening of ice cream that we'd been looking forward to for nearly a year. 

And then we shared in the safe return of our loved ones who had accomplished so much on their journey. 


We packed them up into our cars and gathered them back into our homes and

all was once again right in our worlds...


...more than right really, for in the moments and days we were without our loved ones, they were affecting the worlds of others in such fashion that the millions of small ways that we missed them, now seem like a very small price to pay.  



Click {HERE} to view a 5 minute video of the 2014 Honduras Mission Team in action.

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