Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Cruise Director & The Cousins

Kate is downstairs making the case for being allowed a candy bar after breakfast, testing the exact level of vacation that we are actually taking...there have been PopTarts after all. I'm folding beach towels, as instructed by Candy Bar Girl, so that we may make better time getting to the beach than in days past.

Yesterday she and I left the rest of our crew behind sleeping and enjoyed the beach, just the two of us. I had a lovely time watching her try to be content without her build-in beach buds.

A small family of cousins, I assumed, was playing in the ocean near her and she scooted and drifted and scooted and drifted and in her very determined way kept attempting to make eye contact with the little cousins all the while looking toward the beach to see if her own siblings were perhaps approaching.

Eye contact finally established with the oldest of the cousins, Kate spent the next 10 minutes in animated chatter with her mark. Soon however, the conversation ended and Kate made her way back to where I was sitting on the blanket, spending more time watching her than reading words on a page.

In the background, at the edge of the ocean I heard a little voice say as he pointed to Kate, "Mamma! I made a new friend!"

Eventually Kate and I returned to our gang as they gained the pool area. "Wonder if our other friends are going to be along soon?" Our other friends were yet another family of cousins whose acquaintance we'd made on another day poolside.

They were 7 in number and ranged in age from Kate to Molly and were remarkable in their ability to create copious amounts of both noise and splash. Two of the children were quite adept at seeming to be just ready to go perilously under and yet quite. They did this in such a way as to make you fairly certain that you didn't need to jump to their rescue but at the same time feel like an uncaring buffoon for not leaving the comfort of your lounge chair.

Much to Kate and Molly's delight, our friends did arrive en masse just as my Man and I were settling in with our cozy books and our coffee and our deep desire to not be bothered. Nice aren't we?

One of those cousins soon placed herself in Molly's floating whale boat which seemed completely fine with the girls but was less so with me.

That whale and I have a history.

Years ago, we'd purchased my blue friend to serve as a bath tub for a very small Cole and an even smaller Megan at a camp where my Man was serving as camp pastor. The room we were assigned had no good spot to bathe the kids, and the whale was the perfect solution. Since those precious days years ago, our whale has seen many a body of water and has faithfully floated the bodies of every one of our kiddos.

I was on the edge of my seat waiting for that other child to tire of the whale so that I could scoop it out of the pool and hide it before it was beaten to a pulp and deflated, never to take to chlorinated waters (or tile floor) ever again.

Kate, as usual, had other ideas.

I saw that first cousin preparing to disembark, so I too prepared to leave my chair and grab my the whale but before I could stop her, Kate turned to the rest of the group and said, "OK guys!!! WHO wants the NEXT ride?"

For the rest of the afternoon Kate became the official Cruise Director of Floating Whale Cruise Lines, guiding her passenger-filled craft back and forth from the shallow end to the deep end all the while enforcing strict order amongst the group of cousins.

"I'm next, I'm next," each would insist.
"No," answered the Cruise Director, "the one in the purple suit is next, then the one with the sparkles after that, you've already had your turn this round."

Not one soul argued with her. It seemed she who owned the whale was sovereign.

My Man and I eventually relaxed into our chairs and our books as Kate enjoyed what was probably her favorite day of vacation with her friends and her whale and ...her authority.

Kate reminded me of what I already knew, but had shelved for vacation purposes:

Being nice is not merely a luxury only to be shared with folks with whom I am comfortable. Being nice is simply THE way to be, even if you have to get a little wet and endure a LOT of noise and share a bit of your day...even if it's a vacation day!

{Above photo by Megan Wright}

Being nice could even mean having to share my whale!

NOTE: Kate's friend making adventures at the beach didn't begin this year. Click here to read of another.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Making it Matter

He reads to me sometimes, this Man of mine. He just wanders over to where I am and shares a well-written nugget or a thought-provoking sentence with me.

Can I tell you how that makes my heart beat just a little faster?

It's worth more than a bouquet of flowers, a diamond bracelet, or a case of mango sorbet.

Here's why...

Do you know how easy it would be for him not to stop and to not share? Terribly easy. So simple it would be just to charge right on to the end of the chapter and close the book and continue with the day, to mark another task off of the check list. Sure, you say, it's nice of him, but it costs him nothing at all. Yes, nothing at all except for time and concentration, both pretty rare commodities these days...have you noticed?

When my Man was a seminary student he told me that one of his professors warned the students not to neglect their wives. The professor wasn't speaking of the typical dangers of not appreciating one's spouse, or of denying her enough attention. He was referring to the spiritual and mental condition of the students' mates.

It seems that there exists a danger among all types of married students for the partner gaining the education to be mentally nourished, stimulated, and excited about all that he was learning while his wife was living in a completely different existence be it a 9 to 5 job and all of its worldly challenges or a 24/7 career as a mother of small children trying to piece together a real life on a shoestring budget and a steady diet of Dora the Explorer and three-year-old chatter.

Imagine the dinner conversation:

"Honey! You should have HEARD Dr. Deepfaith's lecture today on the different theories about the intertestamental period! It was the best part of my day when he brought it all together at the end."

"That's great dear. The best part of my day was catching Max's juice spill before it ran off of the table and on to the carpet again...or was that yesterday? Oh, AND I found a new recipe this morning for hot dog casserole that I thought we'd try soon."

See the problem?

My Man took his professor's advice seriously and has, for the better part of twenty years, been including me in his education. It began with us listening to systematic theology lectures on cassette tape after work in the kitchen while I washed the dinner dishes and it continued as we attended youth leader conferences together.

As the children entered our lives, my education took on a different appearance as my very busy Man came home from work early once a week so that I could attend a Bible study with my peers during a season as a young exhausted mother when I needed to feel like my brain was still able to function. It was an hour of his week then that still pays dividends in my memory to this day a decade later. Over the following years my Man encouraged me by buying for me whatever particular how-to book I was interested in at a particular moment.

My appetite for books hasn't decreased, nor has my Man's willingness to provide them.

And while my interest in the nitty gritty points of every branch of theology has been...more piqued at some times than at others, my pastor-husband has been a quiet student and a humble teacher ready with soft answers to my let-me-poke-a-hole-in-your-theory questions.

Does he always show up just when I need to hear a fresh thought from a favorite author? No way.

Does he roll his eyes at me sometimes? Absolutely, then he huffs...a little.

Does he care a little about this mamma's brain and spiritual well being? More than a little.

Does he come home every night bubbling over with conversation to share? Not always. But he does come home every night and that's all a gal should ask for some days.

Every now and then though, when he comes through the door he carries a pair of identical books, one for himself and the other for me and every time that happens I feel like I've been invited to dine at the big kids' table where the food being served requires a sharp knife and the conversation calls for a keen mind.

That feeling is worth more than the book, 
     ...worth more than all of the books, 
           ...(and there have been many), 
                ...and God willing,
                    ...may there be many, many more.

Happy Birthday my Man.
Thanks for bringing me along with you. 

Thanks for making it matter 
...and then for making it happen.

All my love,

Friday, August 16, 2013

Overheard at Dinner...

"Dad, your girlfriend is on the phone! She wants to talk to you."

My Man, taking the proffered pink plastic toy cell phone from Molly asked in a whispered voice holding his hand over the mouthpiece, "My girlfriend!? What's her name?"


"Can't it be Roxanne?" he asked.

"Nope. It's Joanne and she wants to talk to you. Tell her something."

"What should I tell her?"

"Oh," grinned Molly, "tell 'er something sweet!"

"Ok...Hi Joanne. What kind of pie do you like?"

The conversation was interrupted by a small chubby hand grabbing the phone and holding it tightly to her chest. "DON'T talk about pie to your girlfriend!"

"You said to talk about something sweet!"

"I said to say something sweet. I did not say to ask her about pie." She handed the phone back to him expectantly.

"Joanne, I'm about to eat some pie. What kind of pie do you like?"

"DO NOT talk any more about pie!" Molly instructed and nodded to the phone to prod him along.

"Hello, Joanne? How do you feel about noodles?"

After ending the "conversation" with "Joanne", my Man turned to Molly and explained, "Molly, Mommy is my real girlfriend. Do you know how long she's been my girlfriend? For over 20 years."

"Well, she's not your girlfriend now, she's your WIFE, and ya can't have BOTH."

"I really can," said my man to this little girl who would not be convinced.

"Which is better," I asked her, "for me to be Daddy's wife or for me to be his girlfriend?"

"For you to be my Mommy," said she grinning as she delivered what she knew was the perfect answer.

"Molly," I said, "what kind of pie do YOU like?"

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

On VEEcation

Four sleep-rumpled kids spilled from a minivan all in various stages of bare-footed sandal
 chasing and clothes smoothing and stretching and yawning. We watched them from our van across the gas station parking lot and began to imagine their story.

"Look, I said, "they are on vacation."

"There are four kids! Nope, five, the mom has one on her hip."

"Definitely on vacation," said another, " look at the sweats and the comfy clothes they are all wearing."

"What's that thing attached to the top of the car designed to carry? A suitcase or two?"

"Look, the dad is pumping gas."

"Wonder how far they've traveled?"

The last comment led to a guessing game about what state would be represented on the license plate of their van.  My man guessed Pennsylvania or Michigan. I thought they looked a bit more travel-weary and so guessed Indiana. Cole thought Wisconsin which seemed far-fetched but not out of the realm of possibilities. It was, we discovered after a slow drive by, Oklahoma! Impressive.

We were at the gas station at the beginning of our journey with a much shorter trip ahead. We'd been awaiting this day on the calendar with great anticipation, not knowing until recently what we'd be doing or where we'd go adventuring. The day, known among our family as The First Day of Vacation, or VEEcation as most of the children have pronounced that magnificent word at one point or another in their young lives.

Molly woke us the night before, a little bit after midnight, telling us that she just couldn't sleep because she was ready to go. I let her climb into bed beside me but her constant vacation chatter earned her a trip back to her own bed on the Daddy Express. She awoke bright and early the next morning still raring to go. Unfortunately for Molly, we'd planned to proceed at a slow, relaxed, we're-on-vacation-and-off-the-clock pace.  After many failed attempts to reconcile her sense of urgency to our lack thereof, she marched into the room asking, "WHEN is it time for us to be ON VEECATION?!?!"

Poor gal. For her, ON VEECATION! was not a state of being like it was for the rest of us, it was to her  a place, and preferably a place that came with a hotel room and a pool.

We gave her job after job, running her up and down the stairs getting this thing and that, carrying messages from parent to sibling, and clothes from dryer to suitcase attempting to make time pass more quickly for her.

Eventually, she was able to stand it no longer and her Dad, with a grin born of favorite memories, loaded Molly into the van, well before the time would come for us to depart. She buckled her seat belt, and relaxed...a little. We used to have to do the same thing when Megan was the little girl who would not rest until placed in her car seat sometimes hours before a trip began.

Van packed, lights turned off (or were they?), and doors locked, the rest of us joined Molly and we were off, stopping first at the gas station where we saw the vacationing family with five kids and the mamma and the daddy and the minivan from Oklahoma. We stared at them from the comfort of our car,  giggling because we knew what the experience inside of that van resembled, we had only to look at ourselves.

As our van pulled out of the gas station and headed west, I announced, "Molly, we are officially on vacation."

"Good!" She said with audible relief, "I'm gonna take a nap now."

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Whaaaat's on the Menu?

Every few weeks I try to plan the menu for upcoming meals and therefore, every few weeks I attempt to discover just what particular meals members of my family are hungry for. One would think that being given the opportunity to have significant input about such vital matters would be an honor and a privilege.  

Apparently this is not the case. 

It seems that giving one's mother or wife the slightest inkling of just which meal would hit the spot is NEITHER an honor, NOR a privilege. In fact, when the family hears me ask the question they look at me much like they look at the lady in the center of the mall who's holding the clipboard. 

They have, over the years, settled into one word answers to my question, hoping to send me on my way as fast as possible.

"Cole, I'm working on the menu, what do you want to eat sometime soon?"



Looks at me like I'm keeping him from catching his flight, "that's good...burritos."

"Meg, how about you?"

"Pasta. I can't think of anything else at all. Pasta will be super."


"Nothing with white cheese."

"Darrin, help me out here. What are you hungry for?"


Often at this point I just give up but today, today I decided to ask Molly hoping she'd not yet learned the ways of the rest of her siblings.

"Molly, what do YOU want to eat in the next few days?"

Her big brown eyes opened wide, excited to have finally been included.

"Come on Molly, what do you want to eat?" 

"Out!" she said with great enthusiasm.

My man, sitting opposite, ducked behind his book trying to stifle a snort.

"Really, what do you like eating kiddo?"

Undeterred, she answered "SONIC!!"

"Molly, we are not eating out. What do you want to eat at home?"

"Ummmmmm, macaroni and spaghetti and pizza."

It was a start at least. Pushing my luck a bit, I asked, "and for breakfast, what sounds good?"

"Blueberry pie."

"You may not have pie for breakfast Molly...how about blueberry oatmeal?"

"Mom," she said slowly and a notch louder, "pie...blue...berry...pie with ice cream."

"Molly," I answer back, my voice exactly matching her slow deliberate pitch, "there will be no...pie...for breakfast.  We will have blueberry crisp."

"With ice cream?" eyebrows raised in last ditch effort.

"With milk." I answered, ending the negotiation sounding much more victorious than I felt. I'd played right into her little four-year-old hands...again. Blueberry crisp for breakfast? Chalk up another win in the Molly column!

Our favorite blueberry crisp recipe is from the book Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist  who shares the recipe from a chapter in which she writes of her experience every Sunday night of her childhood as a pastor's kid...

...part of being a church family means that your weekly calendar runs on a different rhythm than other families'. Sunday mornings were weekdays, and often Saturdays too, so the weekend really began for us on Sundays after church.

And THAT's when the blueberry crisp was served. I read this chapter out loud to the kids one evening while their dad was still at church. They totally related. They also totally related to the blueberry crisp which I served one Wednesday night WITH ice cream after we'd all arrived home from church. It was a wonderful, cozy comfort that filled us up and sent us to bed feeling like we'd splurged a little, but not too much, as the recipe falls well within the bounds of virtue with all of its healthy ingredients.

I've adjusted the recipe slightly so that the blueberry part of the crisp is on the thicker side. If you need to go gluten-free OR if you like the fruit part to be a bit runnier, leave out the flour completely.

Here's what you'll need:

For the filling:

  • 4 cups of blueberries (fresh or frozen, also just about any fruit will do! I sometimes mix blackberries with the blueberries)
  • 1 tablespoon flour (optional)

For the topping:

  • 1 cup old fashioned oats
  • 1/2 cup walnuts or pecans, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup almond meal (I make this by putting a few handfuls of almonds into my food processor and chopping them until they are a fine, pebbly consistency. Alternatively, you can purchase this in most grocery stores in the baking aisle.)
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup (or brown sugar in a pinch)
  • 1/4 cup canola or olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Place the blueberries in an 8 inch square baking dish and sprinkle them with the flour (if using) making sure to stir the berries around so they all get coated.

In a separate bowl, mix all of the crisp ingredients and place evenly on top of the berries. Bake @ 350 for 30-40 minutes (or a little longer if berries were frozen) until the fruit is bubbling and the topping is crisp.

This recipe doubles well in a 9x13 dish. 

As Molly indicates, blueberry crisp begs to be served with vanilla bean ice cream, but if you are eating it for breakfast, pouring a bit of milk over it seems a more responsible way of handling things.

"After we got home from the early service, my mom and my brother and I would wait to hear my day's heavy footsteps coming down the long, tiled hallway after the last service. He always went straight to his closet to change from his church clothes into his Chicago Bears sweatshirt, and when he walked through the study door, the weekend began. He was tired but happy, loose, easygoing." ~Shauna Niequist Bread and Wine
You can see a video of Shauna making this delicious dish here on the (in)courage.me website.

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