Tuesday, April 8, 2014

{Tuesday Tip: Special Breakfasts}

My dad walked in the front door, smelled the aebleskivers, saw my powdered sugar-dusted children and looked at his watch. "Breakfast?" he queried. "It's 11:20!"

"We like to call it brunch," I smiled. "Do you want one?"

Although it was late, aebleskivers do tend to be an undertaking -- I had started them quite a bit earlier. Each little puff-like pancake (my pan holds seven) cooks for about six minutes. With six in the family, I double my recipe. Those puppies take a while. (Did I mention the egg whites need to be whipped to a state of perfect stiffness? I'm so thankful for my KitchenAid.)

But I grew up with this being perfectly normal. Special breakfasts were not just for special occasions. Saturday mornings often meant French toast, pancakes, waffles, Dutch babies, Swedish pancakes or aebleskivers. Friends staying the night looked forward to Mrs. Stevens' breakfast treats, and we were proud of our mom for the way she worked her magic over the mixing bowl. (She didn't have the benefit of a KitchenAid. Those egg whites were whipped with a hand mixer, making aebleskivers an even more impressive undertaking.)

This week we don't have any big plans for spring break, but one of the things I've enjoyed is having more leisurely breakfasts. (Well, brunches.) It's okay if it takes a while to serve up individual Swedish pancakes. We can linger and ease our way into the day over our breakfast treats.

With the busyness of normal life, it can be easy to slip into the habit of relying on cold cereal or an egg and toast for breakfast. But every once in a while, it's nice to make that little extra effort to start the day with a meal that really says, "Good morning!" And to kiss little faces that have the sweetness of berries and maple syrup on them.

* * * * *

Here's one of our favorites:

Dutch Babies

1 stick butter
3 eggs
1 C milk
1 C flour
1/4 tsp salt (optional)

Melt the butter in a 9 x 13 pan as the oven pre-heats to 450. In a blender, combine the remaining ingredients. Pour mixture over the melted butter and stir. Bake for 20 - 25 min. (And call the children when you're ready to take the pan out of the oven -- the fluffy golden edges are quite puffy, and it's fun to see it before it deflates!) Serve with maple syrup, fruit or powdered sugar. (Or, if you're my children, all of the above.) For a variation, pour the batter into individual ramekins. Super cute. Enjoy!

(Food allergies can make the breakfast menu feel limited. Check out my sister's blog for some healthier options: The Nourishing Apron.)

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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

{Floods, Fleas, and the Flu}

You know how sometimes you just have to laugh at life? Because, really, that's the best way to maintain sanity. And joy.

The last several weeks have been rather wild with my husband gallivanting about the globe. Slovenia and Haiti and such. It's all good, but it's these situations that remind me of how important it is to be grounded.

Sometimes, however, that ground gets . . . soggy. Literally. Thankfully Jamie was in town when we had to address the leaky pipe out front. Also thankfully, it didn't require digging a trench through the entire front yard. (I was just sure it would be a huge undertaking.)

Aidan, ever the optimist, was downright thrilled. This all took place during a school day, and I figured digging and fixing something was much more practical than diagramming sentences, so I told him he could help. "Tomorrow we get to dig!" They dug. They scooped out the gushing water and eventually found and fixed the problem.

Of course, if Aidan didn't have to do school, Little Miss wanted out, too. She suggested that she might practice her piano for a nice long time instead. I let her. It was poignant to hear her recital pieces (I Surrender All and My Favorite Things) filling the air as the guys worked in the muck. Because it's in the surrender and in focusing on the beauty of "raindrops on roses" and "bright copper kettles" that we see it all as a gift. A flood of grace.

Shall we move on to the fleas now? Not much to report, just that we have a dog who is low-to-the-ground and long and hairy and sweet as can be, but tormented by fleas. Poor puppers. I had to run to the vet for her medication, but I wasn't quite sure when to do that because . . .

My kids have the flu.

(Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens . . .)

Thankfully they're on the mend (and so is the puppers), but it just took a long time for everyone to get it (the flu, not the fleas). Funny how a week can feel like an eternity. (I'm also thankful for Fiddler on the Roof, The Sound of Music and Pride and Prejudice as we while away the feverish hours.)

I've learned that it's best not to face these trials on my own. At the beginning of the week I asked a few friends to be praying for me, and I truly feel as though I've been carried through each day on cloud-like pillows of grace -- grounded, yet soaring.

(Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings . . . 

I'm so grateful that our Father cares for His own -- floods, fleas, flu and all -- and that His sense of humor toward this daughter often includes alliteration.   

When the fleas bite,
When the pipes leak,
When the kids have flu,
I simply remember my favorite things,
And then I don't feeeeeel so blue!  

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

{Tuesday Tip: Use Servant Words}

One of the things I pray for my children at bedtime is that they would have the heart of a servant. It's what Jesus taught, and it's what He lived. We often preach it and it's likely that we've heard the concept so often that we skim over the powerful verses without really taking in the meaning.

If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there shall My servant also be; 
if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.
John 12:26

. . . whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant . . .
Matthew 20:26

As I try to rewire my kids' (and my own) natural bent toward self, I'm coming to see that the words we use can be changed, ever so simply, to convey an attitude that is ready to serve.

Years ago, my Aunt Marlene taught me the beauty of this habit when she demonstrated how to graciously receive an invitation to someone's home. It's quite natural to say, "Can I bring anything?" But this has a way of leaving the responsibility in the host's hands. The host can go out on a limb and say, "Well, yes, actually you can . . ." or put you at ease and say, "Oh, no, that's okay." But if we reword that just a tad, we reveal our desire to help: "What can I bring?" The question isn't whether we will help, but how we will help.

With this concept in mind, I've taught my kids to use a servant phrase when we tidy up the house. Rather than using the hopeful exit phrase, "Is that all?" or "Am I done?" I ask them to say, "What can I do next?" (Sometimes I make them say, "What can I do next, darling Mother dearest?" And sometimes they think it's funny.)

Last night as we tidied up the house before bed, I even pulled out the chocolate. (We find chocolate to be highly motivating in our home.) Every time I heard the magic phrase, "What can I do next?" my child was given his next task . . . and a chocolate chip to toss into his mouth on the way. (Drew and Bethie have outgrown this, of course, but still appreciate the joy of stuffing their hands into the chocolate jar while working.) A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, you know.

Although it takes drilling, my older kids are finally catching on. Drew walks into the room, with a "What can I do next, Mom?" and a more observant nature. He sees that Avery is struggling (surprise, surprise) and diverts her attention with a game or activity. He sees that I'm tired at the end of the day and puts the kettle on. We are learning.

Serving is about seeing, asking, and doing. And so I pray that my kids will see the need, ask how they can help, and eagerly put their (chocolate covered) hands to the task.              

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

{The Trip, Part Five: Germany}

Shall we hop on over to Europe again for a few minutes? After our glorious day in Salzburg, Austria, we took another day trip over the border to Berchtesgaden, Germany. Our first goal was to find a "Maria hill" upon which we could twirl.

Johnny scanned the map and found an area that was pretty close to the original. We pulled the car off to the side of the little country road (I'm rather fond of little country roads) and scrambled out, ready to twirl. My sister and I grew up looking out the car windows for Maria hills. We'd point and say, "That's a good twirling hill!" And we'd picture ourselves in our dresses, twirling and singing, twirling and singing.

Well, we found ourselves a mighty good twirling hill. We twirled. And we sang. "The hills are alive! Ah-ah-ah-ah!!!"

And then Johnny whipped out Kinsley's kite and a sob caught in my throat at the beauty of that perfect moment. I wanted to freeze time. We all did. It was tangible. The majestic Alps in the distance. The lush grass beneath our feet. The dazzling blue sky overhead, the sun warming the earth, the memories behind us and the memories that we knew would be made in the days to come.

The wind danced through Kinsley's hair, the kite surrendered itself to the breeze and leapt into the sky. Suspended perfection, a moment that planted itself in our hearts. And only silent worship seemed fitting.

Silence doesn't last forever, and we eventually tucked the memory and the kite away and headed toward our next destination.

Which happened to be a grocery store. Rather prosaic, I'm afraid, but we were hungry. So we grabbed some pretzels and cheese because it just seemed like The Right Thing to Do When in Germany.

Our ultimate destination was Hitler's Eagle's Nest. Thankfully, we caught the last tour bus. Not so thankfully, our driver seemed to be a bit . . . rushed. I was grateful for both a bar and my sister to hold on to (and Altoids to munch) as we charged violently up that winding mountain. Nevertheless, I took in my surroundings and couldn't shake the somber eeriness of what we were experiencing. Treading the ground where Hitler and his men once walked. Following the path he would have followed. Glancing at the stone structures he would have admired.

We finally (and safely) reached the top. The view was breathtaking. We were among the highest peaks in the Alps, with Salzburg and the surrounding towns and villages lying far beneath us in the distance. (Krista noticed the peak on the map called "Untersberg" which we recognized from The Sound of Music: "The Untersberg kept leading me higher and higher, as if it wanted me to go right through the clouds with it . . ." We knew that feeling.)

The Eagle's Nest itself, which was built by Hitler's men as a gift for his 50th birthday, sits among the weather-beaten evergreens overlooking the valley. Unfortunately we weren't able to tour most of the inside, but the location certainly left us aware of the reality that Hitler admired perfection and desired to reign from on high.

A memorial cross wreathed in edelweiss stands quietly on one of the highest points.

Krista and I stood for a picture, but I hesitated before Brooke snapped the shot. "Do we smile? Is it appropriate to smile?" Brooke didn't bat a lash. "Yes! We smile because we won!"

And, even more than that, true Beauty and true Perfection have already won and will indeed reign on high. For eternity. So we smiled.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

{Tuesday Tip: Clean Your Room}

At the risk of sounding like your mother, I bring you today's Tuesday Tip: Clean your room! Now, before you scowl and stomp your foot, let me explain.

We all know the benefits of having a tidy bedroom, especially at the end of the day when we crawl into bed. The lack of clutter frees our minds to rest more peacefully, and waking up to a clean slate is much more welcoming than being faced with last night's laundry.

But I want to share with you another benefit. When I was growing up, my mom cleaned the house every Monday. I can still remember her donning those blue sweats and an old T-shirt, filling the bucket with Pine-sol and attacking every germ like Wonder Woman. (She even had a way of making it look fun.) After a few hours the house sparkled, at which point we would promptly spread our fingerprints and kid germs all over the place. (Such is life.)

When I became the mom, I quickly realized that I couldn't attack the house in one day. (Homeschooling can be limiting, let me tell you.) So I spread out the tasks over the course of the week. I also realized that I have the most time and energy on Mondays, in addition to the fact that we don't have any commitments outside of the home. Therefore, that's when I take care of the most important job: cleaning my room.

Why is it so important? Because my marriage is important. By taking care of this "chore" right away in my week, I'm giving it priority. If I only have the time or energy to complete one task that week, I want it to be our bedroom. Because that's our haven, that's our place of peace and rest. I want to nurture it, tend to it, and not let it become neglected because no one else really sees it or hangs out in there anyway. It represents much more than just a tidy space.

Now, hear me: This doesn't mean that our room is always perfect. Heavens, no. I have two brown paper bags full of the girls' clothes sitting in the corner right now, waiting to be stored or donated. I have a stack of papers to organize, and Jamie's video equipment has a way of . . . sprawling. (I finally removed the helicopter from the dresser.)

But rather than let what I can't do overwhelm me, I try to do what I can, letting the principle of this ministry motivate me. My Monday cleaning routine usually involves changing the sheets, dusting, vacuuming and emptying the garbage. Sometimes I'm able to accomplish it all at once, and sometimes I do it in spurts. (Like when the kids are doing math and we decide to race each other: "You finish five problems and I'll get the sheets in the wash! Let's see who can be done first! Ready? Set? Go!")

By the end of the day, our cozy space is welcoming, and my week begins with the knowledge that I've spent my time well, representative of my desire to keep my most important relationship first.    

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