Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Dish: Favorite Fall Things

As shifting seasons usher in a new feast for the senses, I'm thinking that a "favorite fall things" post is in order. I never tire of favorite things dish. 

From October 'til spring, I burn candles most every day. And while I love a huge Yankee candle that can fragrance the whole house, I'm loving these little Glade seasonal candles. Even this small one makes my whole great room smell like I've been baking pumpkin bread and apple pies. Which I haven't. 

Okay, that's not entirely true. I have finally found my favorite pumpkin bread recipe. Last year I mentioned that I'm crazy for Trader Joe's pumpkin bread mix. I still am. But, I have now made two batches of Richella's pumpkin bread and it is hands down the best pumpkin bread {or muffins} recipe I've ever tasted. And it's practically as easy as a mix. Here's the recipe. {You're welcome.}


I still have to give a shout-out to Trader Joe's pumpkin pancake and waffle mix. I picked some up this weekend. Throw in some chocolate chips and top with a swirl of whipped-cream. 

And because one can never have too much pumpkin anything during the fall, I've been sipping Starbucks pumpkin-spice Via. You just mix one of these with 8 ounces of hot milk. Perfect for the afternoon. 

{Starbucks really needs to start paying me.}

I can't believe I'm still writing about food. Apparently fall makes me hungry. I think I mention this soup every year but that's because it bears repeating: Williams-Sonoma's lentil soup recipe. I probably make it every other week from fall until spring. My kids even eat it.

{My very well-loved W.S. SOUP cookbook.}

And last but not least, nail polish. My nails are rarely painted but I like this muddy purple-ish color called "Wet Cement." It's Wet n Wild megalast and I think it was $1.99. The crazy thing is it actually lasts. I think it's a great color for fall. 


Your turn. I'm a favorite things junkie so tell me, what are your favorite things for fall? We can dish in the comments section.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

How Two Days of Silence Reset My Soul

He could see that I was walking with a heavy limp, barely getting through the days. 

A torrent of emotion lay just beneath the surface and tears streamed, involuntarily, for over an hour and for no particular reason as I sat, slump-shouldered, in my counselor's office. 

Have you ever taken a silent retreat?

No, I replied. But I've always wanted to.

Well, I think you need one and you need it soon. You've got to find a way to make it happen. 

It wasn't the first time wise counsel had given me permission to do that which duty, pride, and expectation had blinded me to. And it wasn't the first time my husband also recognized my need and agreed to do whatever was necessary to save me. 

The sixteen months leading up to that appointment had been horrendous and by July of this year, I was unraveling in every way imaginable. Chronic headaches and unshakable exhaustion were constant companions but they were nothing compared to the state of my weary soul, a soul that was dealing with far too much in its graceless, tapped-out state. I could barely take care of my kids, much less myself.

I needed a break. Just a day after that counseling appointment, I got one.

For two and a half days I sat in near silence at my parents' house. They were mostly gone that whole time and because they live in the mountains, far removed from noise and commerce and distraction, I had the perfect place to crash. No e-mail or internet or phone calls. No one needing me. No duties or lists or errands.

Initially it was awkward. On my first full morning, I scrawled in my journal:

This feels strange. And wonderful. And necessary. But strange. I sit in silence, summer rain pouring from the skies, candles lighting my room, a garden oasis outside the window to my right, a statue of St. Francis of Assisi standing watch...

Over the course of the next two and a half days, I slept, prayed, journaled, hiked, cried, sat in perfect stillness, watched Pride and Prejudice, and read The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning from cover to cover. It is a classic and will always be one of my forever favorites, for its words reflect the true heart of the gospel of grace. Its message was exactly the one God ordained for me during that time away. 

As I reflect on the retreat, I see that it was both rest and conversation. Yes, conversation even in the midst of silence. From beginning to end, the Father and I "conversed" about some much-needed things. Quiet, rest, and time away provided the medium through which I could finally listen, meditate, and respond. 

It was a reset button for my body and my soul. 

I went away empty and trembling. I came home full and bit steadier. 

That was nearly four months ago and I haven't written about it here because it's difficult to articulate the mysterious mingling of the sacred and the deeply personal. The details of all that transpired remain private and tucked away.

But that silent retreat is on my mind since I'm feeling the need for another one. Because of how I'm wired and because of how my own life story has unfolded and continues to unfold, I'll probably continue to need some time away two or three times a year.

And though it may appear like I can say that with confidence, just typing that last paragraph invites guilt to hover like a thin shadow over my shoulder. 

My, aren't you a needy one, she whispers.

To Shadowy Guilt I reply, Why yes, I am terribly and exceptionally needy

And in my need, I find my Savior and my rest.

The Savior who opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

The Shepherd who makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters, who restores my soul. 

The Comforter who blesses the poor in spirit and gives them the keys to the Kingdom.

The Mightiest of all Kings who reminds me that salvation is found in repentance and rest, quietness and trust.

Our culture preaches the false gospel of productivity and Christians have swallowed it down too, living out a subconscious theology that God helps those who help themselves, make it to the top, and save the world while they're at it. 

The weary mother's version of that insidious theology is that God helps those who help themselves...and who cook, clean and decorate with finesse. And stay fit and healthy. And cheerfully volunteer at schools. {Or cheerfully homeschool.} And bless their husbands with respect and prayer and plenty of time in the bedroom. And if they work, they better balance it all well. And if they stay at home, they better make the most of that "free time." And if they want children who are balanced and enriched, well, let the chauffering to practices and games and lessons begin. And let's not forget Bible studies and making sure we're doing our part in church and in the community.

With lives and expectations like this, there is no time for rest. And that is precisely the problem.

Could it be that a refusal to rest is a refusal of grace? 

Sarah Young says this in Jesus Calling:

Lie down in green pastures of Peace. Learn to unwind whenever possible, resting in the Presence of your Shepherd. This electronic age keeps My children 'wired' too much of the time, too tense to find me in the midst of their moments. I built into your very being the need for rest. How twisted the world has becomes when people feel guilty about meeting this basis need!...I have chosen you less for your strengths than for your weaknesses, which amplify your need for me.

In my own life, I'd spent years striving and accomplishing and poo-poo-ing rest, even though I was unknowingly exhausted. When I decided to stay at home over five years ago, the striving didn't change; it just switched forms. Any crisis that came down the pike {and let me tell you, the crises have come} simply landed atop a house of cards. You can guess what happened. 

And so we've been rebuilding. Rebuilding with rest. If it sounds counterintuitive, it's because it is. I preach rest because I believe it but not because it comes naturally. I talk with weary, burned-out moms. I cry with committed, stressed-out wives in struggling marriages. I grieve with women who are carrying around baggage so heavy, I want to find a wheelbarrow. Sometimes we just have to stop before we can go on again. But rarely do any of us stop unless a breakdown or serious crisis forces us to.  

Life is hard. It's too fast and too much and we are made for rest. God took a whole day out of one week to rest. It's still his design for us today. Jesus, who was perfect and also God, took extended time away, alone, to pray and commune with the Father. How much more do we, who are not God, need deep and regular renewal and rest? 

Sure, certain seasons barely allow for it and though Jesus is certainly faithful to be our rest through busyness and appointments and calamity, sometimes we need a tangible and extended rest, the reset-button-for-our-bodies-and-souls kind of rest. 

What may seem like a luxury may actually be a life-saver, a marriage-saver, a mom-saver. It's not a cure all, but it may be an integral part of the prescription. 



Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Artful Gallery Wall Using Your Kids' Creations

In January I made a few home goals for the year. One of my goals involved art. I longed to make more art, encourage my kids' art, and live with more art in our home. 

I haven't made as much of my own art but the year isn't finished yet. But I have been writing and living, thinking and resting. I've come to believe that when we live in ways that are intentional and authentic to who we are, we're living artfully. 

But I do long to create a bit more visual art. We'll see how that works out. In the meantime, my kids are always making stuff at school and at home and oh, how I love me some kid art. 

Months ago I pinned these inspiration photos from Pinterest.

And here's what ended up on the wall in our front entry.

Here's how it all came together:

  • Gathered thrift store frames and hoarded them in our garage
  • Painted over their oak and turquoise and fakey gold gilded finishes
  • Attached soda flip-top thingy to the back of the two unframed canvases with hot glue

  • Stapled cork to the backs of some of the frames. It helps to add some thick cardboard or mat board behind the cork for added thickness. You can buy rolls of cork at home improvement stores.

  • Arranged the frames and nailed them to the wall.
  • Added the art with upholstery tacks and voila! My foyer is an art museum.

It's still in process but that's the story of my life. The cool thing about this gallery is its flexibility. As my kids bring home new stuff, we can change it around or display some of their seasonal art. {Handprint turkeys anyone?}

And putting all of their art together in one spot makes it feel like a real collection. 

I'm sort of in love with it. 



Monday, October 15, 2012

Coming Home: Same Place, New Eyes

We traveled far away for a long weekend. When our Sienna pulled into the driveway at 1:30 am, my husband and I breathed a prayer of thanks and lugged slumbering, long-leggedy children to their beds. Each of them smiled and sighed, nestling down into their well-worn sheets and blankets as we placed them in bed. Within two minutes of arriving home, every single one of us had said, It's so good to be home.

We have always loved road trips and travel. Much of our family lives far away and we enjoy driving through the middle of the night to wintry Michigan while we listen to unabridged John Grisham novels and munch on gas station candy. The kids sleep while he and I have the time and quiet to connect. Road trips have always been some of our best extended dates. 

But the older we get, the more home feels like gravitational pull. It's harder to stay away as long. Home anchors us.

I've realized that going away makes me grateful and I return with fresh appreciation.  

When we left last Thursday, all I could see was the imperfect and undone. The laundry wasn't put away. The boys' room was left a mess. I'd hoped to clean the bathrooms. Lately I've been discouraged by all that needs to be done: the Sharpie Monet that still graces the hallway, the ridiculously dirty carpets that need a massive steam clean. The list of projects is endless.

But being away always gives me new eyes, a sense of perspective. My house actually looks pretty good, I thought to myself at 2 am. And as I drifted off to sleep, I couldn't imagine any other place I'd rather be. 

Our humble vinyl-sided abode is our home. For nearly seven years now, it's been our home. I recently realized that seven years is the longest I've ever lived in any house. We've been in this locale for over 10 years, by far the longest I've lived in any location.

I daresay we've put down roots in the unlikeliest of places. 

The restless soul who used to long for travel and life in a big city, a place less provincial and more "cosmopolitan"... well, she sort of loves it here. Not because of the amenities. Not because it's the "dream house." Not because we have room for guests. Not because it's well-kept or all that organized or boasts a yard with flowering trees and a screen porch. Actually we have one fledgling tree on our entire property but hey, it's got a huge open space for hitting golf balls or throwing a football.  

I love it here because it's where we live. And man, do we live. The garage, drive, and yard remain in a perpetual state of disarray, thanks to little boys who build rockets out of junk and neighborhood kids who have scooted and biked and hot-wheeled and sidewalk-chalked thousands of laps around our driveway. We've scuffed all the walls, stained all the furniture, and moved things around into every possible configuration, trying to maximize space and make this little house work even harder than it already does. 

On a daily basis, I battle my family's mess and my soul's discontent.

But these last couple of years I've noticed a hopeful trend. Every time I go away, I come back and love home more than I did when I left. I see all that we have instead of all that I wish for. I breathe in memories and nostalgia and exhale thanks. 

Home is where the heart is. It's a cliche, maybe even a cheesy one. But it's true. Our hearts are here. Our roots are here. Our memories, the cherished ones and the awful ones, they're here. Our friends and neighbors are here. Our dreams are spun here. Our redemption is realized here.

Home loves us on the days when we taste our bitterest defeats and sweetest victories. Home shelters our family dinners, withstands the daily foot traffic of fourteen feet {plus the neighbor kids'}, tolerates reverberating band instruments and uproarious laughter, sibling squabbles and slamming doors.

I'd do better to love her back with the same steadfastness and unconditional love, seeing home for all that she already is and has been, instead of all that I wish her to be. 


I have especially enjoyed two different 31 Days series on Home:

Home. On Purpose. {The Nester}

abide: love where you live {Ellen @ Sweetwater}

Friday, October 12, 2012

School. It's Not an Easy Decision. Let's Show Some Love.

This is a post that could be a book. Except that it can't. Because I have 20 minutes.

We all know I put my kids in public school last January after years of teaching them at home. Perhaps you hope I will be quiet about this already. I doubt that will happen anytime soon. This space is like a washing machine. I toss my thoughts and worries into the drum, suds it all up, shake it around real good, rinse, spin, and see what comes out in the end. 

Writing here helps me clean up some of the mental clutter that, unprocessed or "unwashed," makes me feel kind of frazzled and messy. And because I still have thoughts about this school thing, I'm going to keep spinning them around from time to time.

{I cannot believe I just compared writing to laundry. Laundry! The domestic burden I loathe above all others.} 

I have digressed already and am quickly using up those 20 minutes.

Back to the point of this post. School. 

We love it. It's working for each of my kids. It's working for me. It is not at all perfect, but the blessings are too many to count. I thank God every day that He used a difficult season in my life to reroute my kids into public school classrooms. I've quit trying to predict the future. It may not work for us or for each kid forever. I'm simply grateful for the now.  

Why? Because I'm a better mom and my relationship with my kids is better than it's ever been. To quote my wise husband again: Many people can and will be their teachers, but only you can be their mother. 

I am enjoying the role of just being their mother. I think they can appreciate the change as well.

We all enjoy some space from one another during the day and then reunite in the afternoon and evening in ways that are more meaningful and intentional. 

I sort of stumbled into something that's now become a tradition: "Friday Family Fun Night." The kids {and their parents} are loving it, and I feel like I've become reacquainted with the vision of motherhood I once had but then lost somewhere along the way. I'm no Mary Poppins but I have "found my fun" again, my love of planning special meals and activities for us as a family. It's great to know that part of me hadn't vanished forever. Apparently homeschooling just swallowed it up for about five years. 

We have time to miss one another, to move in and own of our own God-given "sub-communities" and talk about our days and friends and teachers with one another at dinner. 

It may sound like a paradox but sending our kids to school has brought us closer together as a family. Homeschooling did that for us in the early years. And then it didn't. Seasons and circumstances change and sometimes we have to change along with them. 

I know families who have taken their kids out of school in order to homeschool. For them, homeschooling provides balance, closeness, health, and sanity that sending their kids to school did not. And I think that's great. 

At this point, life is still just as full but it's more balanced. Like any mom, I keep the plates spinning but I'm slowly gaining a bit of sanity and rest that enables me to spin with more cheerfulness and gentleness.

There's plenty to say about why we need to be more accepting and less judgmental of the way we choose to teach our kids. Plenty to say. But I'm not going to get into the why's right now.  

My point here is simple: I see all kinds of school working for all kinds of kids and moms and families.

There is no one, right way. I repeat. There is no one, right way. 

This isn't the kind of post I usually write. I avoid preachy people and preachy posts. But this post is obviously a bit preachy...about not being preachy regarding this issue of how we school our kids. 

It's on my mind because I spent some time this week talking with a friend who "jumped ship" like I did and is making the switch to public school after many years of homeschooling. There's not a lot of support and affirmation. Which is unfortunate. Because truly, it's such a hard decision. You're breaking with the nostalgia of what's already behind you and letting go of a vision you once held dear and maybe still do. 

I cried for a month after we made our choice, even though I knew it was the right one. Yesterday I was digging around in the attic and came across some of the artwork and projects of homeschool days gone by. I cried. Some days are still sad like that. Moving on is a process.

When homeschool kids aren't thriving at home or when the mom or the marriage isn't thriving either, we {or others} may be inclined to think it's a "character issue." I have actually heard people use that term. It makes me sad. And then frustrated. Talk about heaping false guilt onto a mountain of false failure! 

I told my friend it's not a character issue; it's a "common sense issue." Perhaps we need to be a lot less ideological and a lot more practical. Sometimes doing what's "best" and doing what works are two different things. Sacrificing our mental or physical health or our most important relationships on the altar of educational virtue ends up undermining the values we treasure over and above education. 

We'd probably all agree that education is not an end in itself. But we don't necessarily live and think that way. I'm as guilty as anyone.

Heap grace upon yourself. And then turn around and heap it on others. Don't allow someone else's different decision to threaten your own or evoke misplaced judgement. We are blessed beyond measure to have choices that most parents in most countries don't have. Be grateful that your children and everyone else's children in America can actually receive an education. 

And may your gratitude and mine spill over with Grace to the kids and parents around us who may be doing things differently. 

There's room and reason for us all.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Everyday Grace: When the Unplanned Makes You Cranky

There's nothing like some derailed plans to show me my ugly. 

Kids come home with fevers. 

X-ray machines break at the orthopedist's office. We reschedule and miss another day of school.

Bathroom floors cave in.

An active 8-year-old has to spend a month hobbling around in an orthopedic "boot of shame." 

Money has to be spent in ways that are un-fun. 

The dog chewed off the corner of the only nice rug we have.

Alarms don't go off. Or they go off when they're not supposed to. I miss two extra hours of sleep. 

Time-sensitive texts don't send and I miss my early-morning run.

The unexpected sucks up my precious, planned solitude and I become like a rabid dog.

My eyes roam to and fro looking for someone to blame. Or to bite.

Instead of being grateful that I can stay home with feverish kids and that God provides resources for orthopedic boots and a new bathroom floor, I fume over derailments.

And then I hitch a ride on the all too familiar shame spiral, feeling just awful about my serious lack of gentleness and flexibility. 

Where do I go from here? 

It's the question I have to ask myself {or should ask myself} daily. I've been unkind and unforgiving, selfish and self-absorbed, fists clenched instead of palms open, ready to receive whatever it is that God has for me on any given day.

My liturgy is like the back of a shampoo bottle: 

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Confession. Repentance. Surrender. 

And I do these things within the context of rich, unfailing love. Nothing I have done and nothing I will do can make God love me any more or any less than He already does. While I'm tempted to wallow in guilt, defeat, and anxiety, He reaches down and pulls me up by his right-hand, dusts off my skinned knees, and smooths out my furrowed brow. 

He loves me. My mess is covered and forgotten. I am always, always better than I deserve.  

Every day, new mercy. {And also coffee.}


Related Verses:

Romans 8:1

"Everyday Grace" are posts I began at the beginning of the year. In January I started praying this simple but regular petition: Father, make the Gospel of Grace real to me in tangible, everyday ways. These posts record the ways in which God is answering that prayer. Sharing these vignettes with you is simply an added gift, one I am so grateful for. {To read more in this series, click on the "Everyday Grace" label in the right sidebar.} 

Monday, October 1, 2012

October Plans

Last year I wrote about the Real for 31 days. It was such a rewarding experience and those posts are still some of my favorite. 

I'd hoped to do a 31 days topic again this October. My topic? 31 Days of Rethinking Rest. After all, it's kind of what I've been doing since January.

I had a long list of post ideas but the more I thought about the discipline and energy of writing for 31 days, gratifying though it is, the more it felt counterintuitive. Because of where I am in this season of intentional rest, I felt that 31 days of writing about rest wouldn't really be restful, that it would subtract from my meager well instead of adding to it.

But I'll still be writing about rest, you can be sure. Writing is very much how I process, reinterpret, share, and regain perspective. I simply won't be writing about it every day.

Instead, I'm really enjoying reading some of my favorite bloggers' 31 days posts while I sit on the sofa. And rest.  

I'm also hoping that October blows in crisp breezes of creativity. Yesterday I finished up a lovely project that I've worked on in tiny snippets for weeks now. It involves my kids, art, and a bunch of empty frames I've been stockpiling. It turned out even lovelier than I'd hoped and reaffirmed how much I love living with art. 

Details to come...

In the meantime, go treat yourself to a pumpkin spice latte and greet October with hopeful anticipation.


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