Wednesday, February 27, 2013

What Little Girls Are For...

"Can I have a snack now mamma?"

"How 'bout some lunch?"

"How 'bout an orange?" Molly is crazy smitten with the little Clementine variety, leaving the larger ones to the rest of us with bigger appetites.

"Ok. How 'bout while I peel your orange, you run and grab my slippers? Deal?"

"Sure! That's what little girls are for!"


"Oh YES!" she yelled from down the hallway.

I took to her orange and listened to her run a circle from me to my bedroom and back. Then she began another lap..."Dad, can mamma use your slippers? I can't find hers."

"Yes," said the deepest voice.

"Come here mamma, lemme put 'em on you."

Faithful to my end of the bargain, I filled her bowl with the little orange...

...and watched as she ate with an enthusiasm that only a four-year-old can bring to a tiny orange. 

Then we visited across the bowl, she still glowing from her problem solving victory and I secretly thrilled that she's still young enough to enjoy a snack out of a whale-shaped bowl. 

We talked of princesses and of all things purple, of things present and of things pretend. 

And then the bowl was empty, and she was off to see what else the day had in store for her. 

I stayed behind in the kitchen, warm and toasty as much from the few moments I'd purchased with an orange as from the oversized slippers on my feet.

  That's what little girls are for she'd said so happily. 

I wonder...what else does she think little girls are for? 

Maybe I'll ask her while she eats tomorrow's orange. 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

An Extreme Grace

We began well. Actually, our beginning was stellar. We all woke up loving life and one another which, for six very unique individuals, is something to behold. It was this morning anyway. Molly, up first, but not too early coaxed her dad from bed to dish out her Lucky Charms...breakfast of four year olds. Soon Kate awoke but coasted a bit on the couch which had served as her Friday night bed. When I climbed from bed a few minutes later, the kitchen was full of coffee scented goodwill and bubbling conversation.

The older kids soon joined us and we were a happy group, playing coffee shop in our own kitchen, and beauty shop soon after with the little girls in the bathroom. A slow morning to be sure, things getting done but with little rush or worry and all of it in pajama-clad luxury. 

But then somewhere along the way there were chores and hurt feelings and raised voices and dirty dishes and pointed remarks and haughty glances, and frequently tears abounded and the song that had been our perfect morning was choked into a silent misery.

It's like that some days. For us, it's often on a Saturday. 

I don't know what it's like in the families of other ministers, or preachers, or pastors on Saturdays, but in our own little world that day of the week seems to take on a personality all of its own. 

From the moment we wake up, we are, in some form or fashion, in launch mode as if NASA has pushed some shiny red button which causes every last one of us, all the way down to Miss Lucky Charms herself, to move through each part of our day in total relation to the day that follows.   

Saturday then is a counting backwards from Sunday.

It is also a day that carries with it an odd sense of extreme, like this morning. This morning wasn't just lovely with all of us gathered round sipping homemade lattes and uploading Instagram pictures, it was extremely lovely. The kids weren't just enduring one another this morning like it was a regular ole Tuesday, they were getting on famously...because it was Saturday. 

Conversely this afternoon when the wheels came off, things weren't just unpleasant, they were extremely unpleasant. The arguments, and there were many, weren't just squabbles, they were battles and they were extreme because words tossed about on Saturdays are taken in much deeper than they are on Thursdays or Fridays...

...and because while all of it, the good and the awful, is going on, so is the backward count from tomorrow, from Sunday, the day when we understand that all must be right amongst us. It's the deadline for all ill will and disharmony. The day by which all strivings should have ceased. Oh, we know this point well. We've endured a time or two when we've allowed our Saturday extremes to slosh over into Sunday and it isn't pretty. It is in fact, extremely ugly. 
We know, those of us who have lived through an Ugly Sunday or two, what a crippling effect it has on the Pastor, on his family, and whether they know it or not, on the church family at large. 

That any of the six of us possess the ability to derail an entire Sunday for an entire community of faith is what drives a Saturday to extreme. If Saturday finds us jolly, then there is a bit of pressure, real or imagined, for us to see if we can make it till bedtime without incident or at least make it until we start getting our clothes ready for morning because that task, even on a great high-flying day, runs us into a myriad of tangles.

If on the other hand, Saturday finds us struggling, we go through the day ready for the episode that will surely sink the ship and then we dread the pressure of getting everything  resolved in due time...really and sincerely resolved...not pretend for-the-day-resolved, as that kind of resolved is just an Ugly Sunday with too much make-up plastered onto it.

Whichever Saturday we've encountered each weekend, we are learning to clean our messes quickly. Rather we know that we should clean our messes quickly and we are getting better with time about doing just that. 

That we have had help, I am confident.

I don't know what it's like for other families of pastors or preachers or ministers, but in our own little world, in our own family of faith, people are praying for us. I want to think that as a general rule congregations pray earnestly for their pastor, it's just the right thing to do. 

I suspect however, that those praying for our family don't do it out of a noble sense of obligation, they pray for us because they know us, really really know us and surely they know that without those prayers we are sunk. Surely they pray for us out of a sense of desperation and fervently at that.

The result of all of that desperate fervent praying is easily seen in the peaceful ending of our day. We finished much like we started. Therein lies the miracle.

Forgivenesses were gifted and accepted, tears dried, friendships restored, play times salvaged, wounds self-inflicted and otherwise were healed. There was laughter and lightness, and loads that were lifted. There were kisses and cuddles and Kumbyas. There was sushi and sorbet and the six of us all smashed together on the couch watching old reruns of the Cosby show. 

Grace was greater today and I am thankful and ready to praise its Giver...tomorrow.

"I was glad when they said to me, "Let us go to the house of the LORD!" Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem! Jerusalem--built as a city that is bound firmly together, to which the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the LORD. There thrones for judgment were set, the thrones of the house of David.  Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! "May they be secure who love you! 7 Peace be within your walls and security within your towers!"  For my brothers and companions' sake I will say, "Peace be within you!"  For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, I will seek your good."

Monday, February 18, 2013

Kids in My Kitchen

{My Man and I lingered a bit over a dinner out with friends this evening and so upon returning home I dove into a small archive of blog posts that have never seen the light of day for one reason or another so that I'd be on time for our Castle date. The post that follows was written 15 months ago...}

It happens every once in a while that Molly will awaken from her nap just a bit too early and come creeping down the stairs with sleep still hanging heavy in her deep dark eyes.  A still-not-completely-awake and still-completely-cuddle-able little one is not to be ignored. This I've learned well after watching three other children quickly grow beyond the cuddle point.

Today I sat under her sluggish little form until I grew cozy from her warmth and decided to have a little nap too. Oh and we snuggled and snoozed and I opened one eye and calculated that I could remain in our perfect little nest just ten minutes longer before I had to start dinner.

Then that familiar little ding sounded from my cell phone. It was my Man, texting that a friend needed dinner and did we have extra soup? We easily will,(when I actually prepare it...)  I responded and now fully awake and almost alert, I gathered the troops. We had 2 hours until dinnertime and we were starting from scratch--less than scratch actually, our meat was still in the freezer!

It was at this point that I discovered that the time the kids and I have been logging in the kitchen over the past few years was beginning to bear some fruit, or in our case this evening, to bear some chili and cornbread.

"Meg, grab the cornmeal and a big bowl, here's the recipe, you'll need to double it so call out the original amount so I can double check your math."

"Cole & Kate, go to the pantry and bring 3 cans of tomato juice and 4 cans of kidney beans and two packages of ground beef from the freezer."

Now we were cooking with gas, or electric really. Molly asked what she should do. This always gives me pause. Did we really need another set of little feet and hands in the mix while the rest of us were in such a hurry? No. We absolutely did not, but to tell her that the biggest help would be for her to go off and play for a while would hurt her very big feelings terribly.

"Molly, put the silverware away out of the dishwasher," I told her while quickly removing all of the sharp stuff from the silverware basket.

"I'll need a stool!" she said as she ran from the room and returned with a stool to place directly in the center of the chili/cornbread prep zone.

Everyone was busy at their assigned tasks, so I turned on some jazzy music and began working too. It was as cozy in the kitchen as it had been on the couch. Meg at the cornbread, Cole working on dishes at the sink, Kate opening cans of beans, and Molly, finished with her chore, was watching it all from the sideline.

Cooking with the kids as they've been growing, turns out to have been worth it. Worth what, one might wonder. Worth all of the things that having children help in the kitchen entails...

The mess. 
The mess is a big factor when the kids are active in the process--especially if they are small and have less than perfect aim when adding wet ingredients to the mixing bowl. 

 I'm learning though that when kids are comfy in the kitchen, they aren't only learning how to cook, but also how to quickly clean up.

The time.
When I invite a small child to bake with me, I can count on it adding at least 15 to 20 extra minutes to the process. Sometimes I don't feel like taking the extra time, but to insist that I don't have the extra 15 minutes would be untrue. I easily spend 15 minutes doing something useless many times during the day so why not spend an extra 15 on something that is going to pay big dividends in the near future?

The waste.
There is always the chance that someone will send an egg to its end on the carpeted (blechk!) kitchen floor. Also it is probable that the added person(s) in the kitchen will require more focus and concentration than I am able to muster. The result is a recipe that gets messed up big time and all ingredients must be given the el-dumpo. 

Sad, but true. Actually, there is much more in life to be sad about than a ruined batch of cookies or a pie crust that just won't roll out. When mistakes are made, lessons are learned. When mommy doesn't lose her religion over "spilled milk" it helps children learn to roll with the punches as well.

The Licking vs. The Keeping the Food Clean.
Kids are curious creatures. My kids are curious creatures who've never met an object that they aren't willing to at least give a healthy licking. Add to that curiosity the temptation of the glorious smell of vanilla and melted butter or cinnamon and nutmeg and I defy you to show me a kid who doesn't become obsessed with the beaters of the mixer.

When we are cooking for ourselves, I relax the standards a bit, but when we are fixing "take out" it can, at times, be a challenge to make sure all hands are clean and are kept away from eager tasting mouths. The same goes for beaters, spoons, spatulas, or anything else those curious little creatives can dream up to dip into whatever it is they want to sample. 

Cooking with kids is one of those labor-intensive, patience-building,  heart-warming, grit-your-teeth and get-it-done activities that, in the big picture, is so worthy of the challenge.

Post Script February 2013...

Those children in the pictures above look so young compared to the children that populate our kitchen these days.

 In my kitchen these days are two very tall kids who are able to give their personal chef an evening off every now and then and fix dinner on their own. Even better, they are usually happy to serve as sous chefs alongside of the executive chef and make dinner prep happen in half the time! {Those times are fast becoming some of my favorites in this season of pre-teen and early-teen kids. The conversations happen over a batch of banana bread that just don't seem to happen as easily anywhere else...}

Those 20 extra minutes I was hesitant to invest a year or so ago are paying off...BIG TIME. Now, if I want to cuddle with a youngin' on the couch in the late afternoon it's more possible than ever because the sous chefs know how to follow kitchen directions and get dinner started without me...not always perfectly and like I'd have done it myself perhaps...but dinner happens anyway AND so do the cuddles. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Sherri's Striped Delight

Many years ago, we lived in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina and for what seemed like five minutes, Darrin's sister and her family lived within a 30 minute drive. Shortly after we arrived in North Carolina as newlyweds, however, Sherri and Mike and their two boys moved to Michigan. But during that five minutes when we lived close, we'd often find ourselves at Sherri's table for a meal.

Sherri makes iced tea like nobody's business and one evening, in addition to the tea, she made this wonderful dessert that my Man adores. Even then I knew enough to get the recipe before we left that evening.

Today, because it was Valentine's Day, Kate and I decided to make this classic which had been tragically forgotten, for entirely too long. We tinkered with a thing or two, and had such fun anticipating the surprise that would be waiting for our Valentine after dinner.

Sherri's Striped Delight
{Printable recipe HERE}
Here's what you'll need:

For the crust:
2 cups chocolate graham cracker crumbs (from 2 sleeves of chocolate graham crackers)
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup melted butter

For the first layer:
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
2 Tablespoons milk
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 of an 8 oz container whipped topping

For the second layer:
3 1/2 cups milk
2- 4 oz boxes of chocolate pudding

For the topping:
1/2 of an 8 oz. container of whipped topping
1 oz. grated chocolate (optional)

Here's what you do:

**NOTE: This will need to be refrigerated for at least an hour before serving.

Place 2 sleeves of chocolate graham crackers into a blender or food processor and pulse until the crackers become crumbs. Pour the crumbs into a 13x9 baking dish. Add the sugar and mix evenly throughout and then add the butter and stir with a fork until evenly distributed. Press the crust into an even layer.

Layer 1:
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix the cream cheese, sugar and 2 tablespoons of milk until smooth.  Fold half of the whipped topping into the mixture with a spatula. Spread this mixture over the chocolate crumb crust.

Layer 2:
Prepare the pudding using 3 1/2 cups of milk. When it thickens, pour it over the cream cheese layer and spread evenly.

Top the pudding layer with the other half of the whipped cream and then, if preferred, grate chocolate over the whipped cream.

Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving. Store leftover portions in the fridge.

My Man was more than thrilled to be served an old favorite for dessert...he even used more than four words to express his delight!

Thanks Sherri, for sharing that keeper with me...and for the recipe too!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A Serious "Con-ber-sation"

"Daddy, we need to have a con-ber-sation about life and things," said Molly, "let's go upstairs."

And up they went...

It depends on whom you ask, but the conversation seems to have taken the shape of a marriage proposal. Molly asked her Daddy to marry her. He said, "Yes," and then an excited Molly got busy making the wedding plans which she later announced...

The plans were simple and fairly straight forward.

"First we go shopping.

Then we buy the rings.

Then we buy our wedding clothes.

After that we'll go to Sonic and get slushies and tater tots.

Then we get married.

Then we go on a date to the bookstore to look at books!"

I think I see Happily Ever After in their future!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Milk Martyr

We buy four gallons of milk at a time which usually causes onlookers to cast curious glances into our Sam's Club cart. I like to imagine what they may be thinking...Maybe she's hosting a milkshake party, or Has there been news of an upcoming milk shortage? Are the cows going on strike? How many people does it take to consume FOUR gallons of milk before it spoils?

The real story is that when we get home from the store we pop one gallon into the refrigerator and three gallons into the basement freezer. It's a great system for us EXCEPT when the fridge gallon runs dry. NOBODY tall enough to reach into the freezer wants to dig into the frigid depths and haul up the freeze-your-fingers-off milk jug and then carry it up from the basement to the kitchen and then hoist it onto the counter to thaw.

It's bum assignment and when the fridge is out of milk, all of the tall-enough-folks make much work of looking busy so that their number will not be called to bring up the milk. The kids seem to know the drill...they hear the fridge door open and close followed by the sound of a sigh from whomever was seeking a quick hit of dairy. What comes next goes something like this...

"Cole!! What are you doing?"

"Ummm I'm reading..."

"What are you reading?"

"Great Expectations?" (Hoping that he's named a heavy enough book to cause me go on to the next contestant on "Go Get the Milk").

"Ok...Meg where are you?"

"I'm upstairs knitting you a new pair of warm cozy gloves!" (Hoping I'll use them when I go get the milk instead of her!)


"I'm wrestling with a deep theological issue at the moment..."


"Still not tall enough Mom!"

"Can't you lift Molly up and hold her over the side so she can reach?"


And so it goes until someone just bites the bullet and sacrificially freezes their fingerprints for the greater good. The actual task rarely falls on me as I'm generally more in charge of recruitment, however, last night I was the only one awake when I remembered that there was no milk in the fridge and so the task fell to me.

This morning when Molly was intent on oatmeal, I looked at my family and said, pointing to the still partially frozen jug on the countertop, "I don't hear anybody calling me BLESS-ED* this morning!"

{*Proverbs 31:28 "Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also..."}

Molly, not wishing to deal with my morning drama, looked up and said, "Hey BLESS-ED, can I have my breakfast now?"

{In the interest of TRUTH: Cole has not read any portion of Great Expectations and Meg has not at this point in her knitting career made gloves...Kate actually is, sadly enough, too short to reach into the basement freezer.}

Monday, February 4, 2013

Getting Historical

My Man, jokingly referred to on his day off as "The Principal", was suspicious recently when our son waltzed into the school room and announced that he was almost finished with his school work for the day...before lunchtime...way before lunchtime.


"If you are done with school so soon, your teacher needs to give you more work to do," said The Principal.

The real story was that Cole had finished a healthy portion of his daily work, but he still had a few hours left ahead of him. The problem was in the definition of the word ALMOST. The Principal understood ALMOST to mean "nearly totally done." My son meant it as "I've finished enough of my work to this point in the day so that if you'd like to take me to the gym with you when you go, I'll still be able to finish all of my work today."

{This small variation in definition of ALMOST was explained by The Teacher to both parties later on in the day.}

Feeling the need to be sure that his son was actually absorbing the history that he claimed he had read, my Man said, "Hand me that history book. What did you read about today? What did you learn?"

With a poorly disguised sigh, the history book was handed over. "I read about the beginning of the Mormon church and how they were persecuted."

"Ok, who was their founder?" asked the Principal whose eyes had taken on a bit of a sparkle at the mention of religious matters.


"What are some of the beliefs of the Mormons...what do they believe that is different from what we believe."

"That you can have more than one wife," answered my kiddo. "They also use the Book of Mormon in addition to the Bible."

"You said they were persecuted, what happened after that?"

A spirited lecture sermon discussion of theology and history followed and Cole got to talk a little too (grin...). Finally, the Boy was determined to have passed his oral exam and was excused to get ready to go to the gym. There may or may not have been a little steam coming from his ears as he left the room.

In the meantime, Molly was finishing an early lunch and wanted to be excused from the table. "Mommmmmm, Daaaaaaaddddddd, can you come check on my soup (to see if she'd eaten enough of it)?"

Then...a voice, still smarting a little from the insult of the history pop quiz, answered..."Get ready Molly, they're probably gonna want to know what you LEARNED from your soup!!"


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