Friday, April 25, 2014

{Letter to a Stranger}

Dear Gentleman at the Grocery Store,

I'm always a little nervous when I'm out with my kids in the middle of a school day. Like they should probably be learning or something. Sure enough, as we piled out of the car, you noticed. "Hey, guys! No school today?" My stomach dropped.

And then my son said it. The condemning truth: "We're homeschooled." As though that answered it and sealed my fate. We homeschool, so we don't really do anything.

In my pride, I felt the need to add, "Yes . . . they've just come from their P.E. class!" Which was true, but prideful, nonetheless. (I resisted the temptation to add, "Let's go quickly, my darling children, so we can get sister to her art class . . . and then you must practice your piano!!!")

But sir, you just sipped your coffee, smiled at my not-learning-children and said, "That's great!" We went about our shopping, and as we all checked out you waved and told the kids to have a good day.

You patiently waited while I maneuvered the unwieldy cart between our two vehicles, gallantly letting me go first. I hoped I wasn't in your way, and you continued to gently smile, sip your coffee and say, "Take your time -- it's okay." You waited as my eleven-year-old son unloaded the bags from the cart, lining them up slowly and carefully in the back. (It took an eternity. I'm sorry.) You told him he did a good job, and you watched, still smiling, as he ran the cart back up to the store. It was as though you were swept back to your own boyhood (probably 70 years ago now) and you remembered that thrill of responsibility and the joy of making your mother proud. 

I thanked you for your patience and said, "Have a good morning!" And you said the same to me. You waited, unhurried, and let me back my car out first. We drove our separate ways and I wondered. I wondered if you knew Jesus. It sure felt like you did. You were kind and patient, and you somehow knew what I needed to hear.

So thank you for not rushing through your morning. Thank you for encouraging me, for affirming me as a mother -- you might not even know that you did. And thank you for reminding me that Jesus always knows just what we need.

With Gratitude,

The Harried Mother With the Truant Children

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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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