Friday, February 27, 2015

On Bad Drivers & Admitting We're Wrong

Driving home from our sanity-preserving Friday pool day today, the kids were happily snacking on cups of grapes and I was glad to be in dry, warm clothes again. As we merged onto the highway, a spiffy white SUV in the receiving lane decided to dance the do-si-do with me. Every time I sped up, he sped up; every time I slowed down, he slowed down. After several seconds of this, the driver finally stopped his dancing and decided to solve our merging dilemma by blaring his horn at me. 
A bit confused and irritated, I checked my rearview mirror for oncoming cars, then slowed down to let Mr. Spiffy SUV pass on by. 
The kids noticed the chaos at this point and asked, “Mama, is he honking at you? Is he teasing us?” You should know that in our house, teasing is a pretty dirty word. With toddlers only 11 months apart, we have had to drill into them that games of “See this? Want it? Too bad!” are not acceptable. Our kids have learned early that sharing and cooperation are musts in life.  
As Mr. Spiffy SUV sped past - a teenage guy, probably driving his mom’s SUV - I glibly replied, “Well, he certainly doesn’t understand what it means to cooperate!”
I was finally able to merge, and we all settled back into our snacks and warmth. As we cruised down the highway, I debated for the next ten minutes whether we all had the energy to make a quick stop at our local Trader Joe’s before heading home. It would save me an extra trip out later on, but I knew we were nearing the crash-and-burn zone just prior to the kids collapsing into bed for naps. I decided to try it. 

Entering the shopping complex where we would need to park, a car stopped at a stop sign suddenly zipped out into the intersection, attempting to make a left past me. I had to slam on my breaks and swerve a bit so that we missed each other. This car, full of teenage girls, jerked around us and sped on. 
“Wow, people really need to learn how to drive!” I said, scowling and feeling my own crash-and-burn zone quickly approaching. 
I grumpily circled around until we found a parking spot and then unloaded the kids into the sub-freezing air. 

The kids were surprisingly pleasant in the grocery store, even helpful, and we were able to quickly find everything we needed, thanks to the sweet lady holding the “Can I help you?” oar. We paid. We loaded. We started for home.

At this point, everyone was exhausted. We’d pushed past nap time, despite having worn ourselves out swimming for three hours that morning. I was desperate to get home. But - wouldn’t you know - just as we were pulling out of the parking lot, an incoming car nearly swiped us as they zipped past. 
After yelling, “Come on, people!” in my hangriest, mama bear voice, an odd thought suddenly dawned on me. What if some of these close encounters were partially my fault? 
I mean, of course, only partially, and probably hardly at all, but maybe just a tiny bit? Maybe in my distracted snack-passing, exhausted list-checking, frantic homeward-hurrying, I had some minuscule fault to bear in these near-accidents? I agree it’s unlikely. 

Still, I kept thinking, "Gosh, what if?" 

And then I thought about the relationships in my life that have been strained and how obviously the fault lay in the other person's court. But, "Gosh, what if?" 

And then I thought about arguing with my husband and all the icy-silences and how desperately he owed me an apology. But, "Gosh, what if?" 

And how, even God had let me down and gone silent and for years now I have waited for a word, a sign, a touch. But, "Gosh, what if?"







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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Recipes for the Heart: Weekly Nourishment for the Soul


We met over coffee and shared stories about building online businesses, throwing parties for our littles and trying to build community through the web. I have known Abbey, author & owner of The Cards We Drew, for a couple years now, but only recently got to meet her in person. Together, we dreamed up a new series that I will be launching in just a few days.

It's called "Recipes for the Heart." 
The goal is to bridge the gap between our usual, casual web-surfing for that next great recipe or yet another must-do Pinterest project, and the hearts and relationships that make each of our lives truly meaningful.

The goal is not to downplay the joy of crafting or the thrill of throwing a great party. I love those things, too! Rather, my goal is to offer a space for connecting with our hearts, in the midst of all the other to do's crammed onto our daily lists. 


My goal is to create a space where we can take a few deep breaths, be reminded of what beats most truly inside of us and hopefully encourage us toward more wholehearted living. 
Recipes for the Heart will focus on a new quality each month - ideas like Bravery, Vulnerability, Mystery, Gratitude. I will share stories and quotes and offer questions and prompts. We'll start this Monday with thoughts on {Bravery}.

I hope you'll stop by and join us! 


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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Kids' Art & Learning Room Chalk Paint Ideas

Once you have kids, pursuing creativity becomes a {family} endeavor. Since our family values creativity, learning through trying and getting our hands dirty along the way, we decided to "put our money where our mouth is," or rather, to put our living space where our mouth is, by converting our master bedroom into a family art & learning space. 
Two falls ago, we decided to convert our master bedroom into a family art and learning space. 
We haven't regretted this decision for a second! We spend hours in our art room every day, each of us trying new art forms and learning as we go. I love what Oriah Mountain Dreamer says about cultivating creativity, "To create we have to risk learning something, we have to risk shaking up our assumptions with a new way of seeing. And we have to risk failure." We are trying our best to build these values into our daily family life. 


*************

When it came time to execute this special art and learning space, I found myself drowning in a zillion amazing Pinterest ideas, that would cost a zillion billion dollars to execute. It quickly became obvious that I would need to use what was available to me, simplify and prioritize our spending.

Chalkboard paint became my best friend in this makeover! 

~ The Easel ~

I was able to trash-pick an old wooden easel and transform it into something visually pleasing and very functional. I painted the boards with chalkboard paint and ordered a $10 replacement paint tray. Viola! The kids and their friends have used these trays for hundreds of hours in the past year and a half. 

~ The Desks ~

Next, I got some hand-me-down old school desks from my mother-in-law. 

I bought a cheap can of white spray paint, sprayed the rusty legs & table white, then coated the top with - you guess it! - chalkboard paint. 

Again, these turned out really cute and are essential to the function of the room. We added $1-bin buckets and old metal cans as storage bins across the top. The kids seemed particularly thrilled with the idea of having their own space & their own supplies, which has given me a great path into talking about responsibility. 

If you're concerned about how well this paint wipes off & continues to hold its "chalkboard" quality, I can attest to its durability! My kids draw on their desks constantly (amongst other things, i.e. painting, playdoh, markers, etc.). 

I have been pleasantly surprised by how easily things wipe off the chalkboard paint and by how well the paint job has held up! 


~ The Message Board ~

I also wanted a place to be able to write messages - inspiring quotes & thoughts for the week. We literally found a piece of scrap wood in the garage, did a quick sanding job and added two coats of chalk paint. 

I love being able to update the room with a simple wipe of a hand!  

One of my other must-haves in the room, was plenty of space to display the kids artwork. We have a series of black frames below the chalk plaque, as well as a foam strip on the opposing wall for projects that are still drying. 

~ The Learning Trays ~

I just used the same can of chalkboard paint to coat the inside of a serving tray the other day, which the kids use to practice their writing and numbers. It took two coats, ten minutes and a tiny bit of cleanup. 

And the can of chalkboard paint is still half-full. Best $10 investment ever!  

This art & learning space has been one of the best investments our family has ever made. It has allowed us to spend hours creating, learning, exploring & growing {together}. 







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Saturday, February 21, 2015

Mama's Cheesy Potato Soup


I am so, SO over winter this year! The beauty of all the white-coated tree limbs outside my office window lost their appeal ten negative five degree days ago! It's been too cold to even go outside to enjoy the snow, at least for wimps like me. 
We are all going a little stir crazy, which means many days, mama is losing her mind.  
One of the only consolations to days-on-end of being snowed in and frozen stiff, is a warm bowl of hearty soup. I don't normally share recipes (we each have our giftings and I am very comfortable with the fact that mine is not a culinary gift.) 

This recipe, however, is worth sharing! And my kids request it constantly.
It's my mother's cheesy potato soup recipe, and while it won't win any health awards, it will definitely keep you warm and your family happy.

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Start by baking 10-12 medium potatoes. I use red potatoes, baked at 350 for 45-55 minutes. I tend to back my potatoes mid-morning, so that they can fully cool before I have to peel and dice them. Dice all your potatoes into 1/2 inch cubes. Dice up several stalks of scallions or green onions. I call them by either name, but refer to the picture if you're not sure which thing I'm talking about. You'll also want to cube  your block of Velveeta cheese now into approximately 1/2 inch cubes. 

Now that the prep work is done, let's start the soup! Begin with a roux (if you're like me, you have no idea what that means - I'll explain!). On medium-low heat (my range goes from 1-7 and I cook on 3), melt a stick of butter and mix in 2 tablespoons of flour. Season with salt and pepper. This is your roux, or soup base, and the texture should look like the picture below. Once the roux is made, slowly stir in a can of chicken broth. Next, add your cubed Velveeta, your milk, potatoes and scallions, keeping the cooking temperature at medium-low. You'll need to stay close to your soup now, stirring regularly until the cheese is melted and all ingredients are well blended, which can take twenty minutes or so. If the soup seems too thick, add more milk. I was told you can add instant potato flakes if the soup is too thin, but have never had that problem. Serve with a fresh, crunch baguette and enjoy! 


Mama's Cheesy Potato Soup

10-12 medium potatoes (bake, then peel & cube)
1 can chicken broth
1/3-1/2 gallon of milk
1 large block Velveeta, cubed
5 stalks green onions, diced

For roux: 1 stick butter, 2 tablespoons flour, salt & pepper

1) Bake potatoes, let cool then peel and cube
2) Cube Velveeta and dice scallions
3) Make roux over medium-low heat
4) Slowly stir in can of chicken broth
5) Add remaining ingredients to soup (milk, cheese, green onions, potatoes) and stir regularly until cheese is melted & all ingredients well blended (about 20 minutes)
6) Serve with warm bread for dipping! 

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

One Small Noticing At a Time

Grief is cyclical. I learned this years ago, read it in a book and saw it in my life. I quickly realized that those famous “stages of grief,” which I first had high hopes of consecutively walking through, checking them off my to do list as I did everything else – denial, check, anger, check, depression, check – were far too interconnected, too influenced, too messy to follow such a pattern. I knew grief would ebb in one day and flow out the next, showing various shapes and hues along the way. 

But this week I have lived that truth.

A spontaneous visit from a family member lead to an unearthing of parts of my past that that conscious memory had long ago released. Losses that seemed grieved and gone, traumas that had finally been spoken and healed, were in an instant made alive again. New stories, new details, new knowings that left me both thankful for their clarity and burdened by their weight.

How do we find the will to be thankful in the midst of grief? 

One small noticing at a time. 

103) Paint splatters & rows of drying art
104) Crumbs on my bare feet
105) Three-year-old I love you's


All week, my gratitude list slowed while my mind raced ahead...in worry, in fear, in sadness. All week, I came back - trudging, trying, barely lifting my head enough to see - but seeing still, stopping and noticing and knowing that this is all gift. 

114) White wine in juice glasses
115) Friends that show up 
116) A room with no rules 

Anne Lamott says in her newest book, Small Victories, "A fixation can keep you nicely defined and give you the illusion that your life has not fallen apart. But since your life may indeed have fallen apart, the illusion won't hold up forever, and if you are lucky and brave, you will want to bear disillusion. You begin to cry and writhe and yell and then to keep on crying; and finally, grief ends up giving you the two best gifts: softness and illumination."

How do we find the will to be thankful in the midst of grief? 

By naming our grief, telling our story, owning our pain. 
And by so doing, learning that - despite our mess, despite our fear, despite ourselves - our hearts are softer & larger because of it. 

124) Room to grow, room to fail
125) Birthdays that make us remember
126) A voice to say I'm sorry 
What are you thankful for today?  Will you join me in counting the ways... 




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Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Gift of Friendship



I have always hated to ask for help. When my husband and I first got married, I remember marveling at his willingness to walk up to any seventeen-year-old employee of a store and ask them about a product. How are these two different? How does this one work? Which do you recommend? He knew he needed answers, and while the awkward, pock-faced teenager before us was an unlikely place to receive them, he was willing to give it a try. I, on the other hand, would have rather spent hours driving back and forth to a store to return items, settling for the lesser product, or going without water for a week, than to be forced to ask anyone for insight about which shower head to put in our cart. 

I know as a child I had a natural propensity toward independence and trying things by myself, which I see actively emerging in my own children. But somewhere along the way, that instinct became a form of self-protection, an only way of doing things. I learned, as many kids do, in subtle and less-subtle ways, that weakness is bad, vulnerability is bad, uncertainty is bad. I saw all the adults around me working very hard to appear to have their lives “put together” - pressed clothes and big smiles, correct beliefs and regular church attendance, proper greetings and plenty of shallow “I’m sorry’s” - all painting a picture of happiness, of composure, of contentment and clarity. 
If someone needed help, I saw panic and a scurry to conceal. 
I didn’t know what it mean to ask for help, let alone to sit in my discomfort and vulnerability, and to receive that help with grace. And so, throughout my childhood and well into my adult life, I carried the belief that needing help was a sign of weakness and struggled to reconcile that with my deep desire for connection. So many times, I sat in a small group meeting or over coffee with a friend, and couldn’t find the words to express my need. 
I didn’t feel I had a right to ask for help. And I didn’t know if it was okay to admit I needed it.
Anne Lamott wrote, "The American way is to not need help, but to help. One of the hardest lessons I had to learn was that I was going to need a lot of help, and for a long time. What saved me was that I found gentle, loyal and hilarious companions, which is at the heart of meaning: maybe we don’t find a lot of answers to life’s tougher questions, but if we find a few true friends, that’s even better.”


~:~

I have been writing about friendship all week, and thinking about it for what feels like a lifetime. What it has been in my life, and what it hasn't. But last night I experienced friendship, for which there is absolutely no replacement or nothing closer to true bliss.

A year ago, I invited a small group of women to my house for what I hoped would become a monthly meeting of sharing meals and sharing lives. Inspired by Shauna Niequist's book, Bread and Wine, I cast the vision of carving time out of our busy lives to connect with each other, to preserve these thread of friendship in our lives while our children are young, while our careers are starting up, while our lives seems way too full to add one more thing. And thankfully, these wonderful women caught the vision and showed up.
We have only missed a month since starting a year ago. Sometimes we cook together, but mostly we eat. And always we talk and connect and give each other space to be ourselves. 

Last night, everyone met at my house for a fondue-themed evening: French cheeses and bread, chocolate and strawberries, Chardonay and Moscato. We eased into the evening, piled around the table with strings of cheese webbed out in every direction, laughter and warmth and the smell of belonging. 

The day before, I had received hard family news, which had kept me anxious all day and unable to keep down food. I knew I needed to share, and yet that old message started to pervade my thoughts, "Don't dominate the conversation. Don't make tonight about you. Don't ask for help." Three years ago I would have listened without a fight. Two years ago, I would have struggled and fought, but more often than not lost the battle. Last night I spoke up. 
I told them about my grief. I told them about my anxiety and fear. I let all eyes be on me, and admitted I didn't know.
And they each showed up. They met me in my grief and welcomed me in my uncertainty. They shared their own stories, related their own wisdom, and resisted the urge to fix, to control, to compare. They showed me that asking for help, admitting our need, is not weakness at all. They gave me the gift of friendship. 



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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

What Does it Mean to be a Good Friend?


A few years ago, in the wake of the tragedy of losing our first son, I had an overwhelming need to know I was not alone. 
I longed for comrarderie in my suffering, not to be coaxed out of my grieving or to be told everything would be okay but just have someone there. Someone fiercely available. 
Someone to listen when I was ready to talk and someone to laugh and play when I just needed to forget.

Maybe that was too big of an ask, or maybe we're all just flawed humans with good intentions that only get us so far. Either way, I didn't find the companionship I was longing for. 
I found bits here and pieces there, enough to keep me from completely drowning, which I realize is a gift in and of itself. But, most days I was still submerged in loneliness.
The irony, and the wounding of it all is that I came from a religious community that claimed to value a deep, life-sharing style of friendship. We made claims like, "We do life together," and believed we had come upon the truest form of committed community. We all had good hearts mixed with a lot of religious zeal. And because we were all so young, our values had never really been put to the taste, and thus, neither had our friendships. When the storms of life finally did arrive, the truth was hard to bear.

I watched as my youngest sister and her college friends, with no religious affiliations or moral claims about their community, supported one another and enjoyed one another. They showed up late at night when a friend was down, gathered to celebrate the good and memorialize the sad.  
All the while, I sat waiting for the phone to ring, waiting for those I was "doing life with" to show up and be true to their word. Some did, the best they knew how; others didn't seem capable of offering much more than empty religious ideals.
Since that experience, I have come upon many others who have felt similary "disenfranchised" by their religious communities, and others who were just genuinely dissapointed by friendships they thought would stand the test of time. 
We all share common wounds - a feeling that somehow the loss was our fault, a wondering if we were enough, a confusion that perhaps we were expecting too much, a haunting that we are alone in the world.

With this background, I have spent a lot of time asking, What does it mean to be a good friend? Although I would never claim to be an authority on the topic, my life experiences have lead me into plenty of contemplation and a lot of conversations on the theme. I have listened to friends and strangers share their own stories of woundedness and have sought to name what it is we are all longing for. 
When do we know someone truly loves us? When are we convinced we are not alone? What is it that makes someone a truly good friend?

1) Pleasure: A good friend enjoys you, and shows it. While this may seem obvious, in many religious communities, this step of "friendly attraction" is often skipped. Friends, first and foremost, need to like each other and enjoy each others' presence.
2) Follow-thru: A good friend does what she says she'll do. Nothing undermines a friendship faster than broken promises and empty words - which come in all shapes and sizes. Do you profess a level of commitment that your actions do not match? Do you call when you say you'll call? Do you offer well-intentioned help, but never really give it?
3) Empathy: A good friend delights in your wins & grieves with you in loss. Do you make a point of celebrating your friends' birthdays? Make a big deal of the "big moments" in her life? Do you stop and acknowledge your friends' pains, dissapointments, failed attempts and lost opportunities?
4) Sharing: A good friend shares. As a mom to two toddlers, I cannot count how many times a day I find myself exhorting my children to share, to take turns, to think about the other person. All great advice, and all essential to being a good friend. How good are you at sharing - your time, your resources, your words - with your friends?

5) Communication: A good friend expresses both her love and her frustrations. Communication in friendship is about developing a level of trust and openness that allow both parties room to freely express their souls without fear of judgement or retaliation. When was the last time you expressed, in words, what your friend means to you? Do you verbally affirm your friend? Do you hide your hurts and dissapointments from your friend?

6) Acceptance: A good friend embraces us for who we are. The other day I was venting to a friend about the meltdown I had earlier in the week with my kids. After casually sharing this story of locking myself in my room for a few minutes to calm myself, I realized what a gift it was that I could share this so openly and not fear judgement. Do you embrace their humanity, including their flaws and limitations?  Do you celebrate your friends' uniqueness? Do you harbor subtle judgements - critiques on how your friend lives or parents or believes?
7) Loyalty: A good friend shows up, again and again. One of the things I have heard over and over, and long for in my own life, is the yearning for a friend that shows up, even when it's hard. Good friendship should be fun, but it will also require sacrifice. Do you spread yourself too thin, making yourself unavailable when your friend needs you? Are you willing to sacrifice - your comfort, your time, your energy - for your friend?

8) Challenging: A good friend helps us grow. Nobody that is being truly honest with themselves wants a companion that is always a "Yes Girl." We want someone to call us out when we aren't being true to ourselves and to pursue life in a way that challenges us to do the same. Do you pursue your dreams? Do you encourage your friend to pursue hers? Do you speak up when think your friend is making a bad choice, offering your hand, not your judgement?


Nobody is going to be all these things, all the time. It's more than our humanity can accomplish. But, I believe we have grown far too comfortable with a mediocre level of friendship - in both the friendships that we offer the world, and the friendships that we expect in return.
We all need to know that we are not alone. And maybe that starts with the friendship you offer to the two or three people closest to you.







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