C’mon Over

My fiesty fun friend burst through the front door with cheers and hugs and an armful of flowers. She turned the corner and stopped short: “WHAT happened to your house?? It’s, it’s so clean!”

Less than 48 hours earlier, we’d had friends over – in preparation I had cleaned for two days. Family entropy hadn’t yet reclaimed its usual stake of mess on every available surface.

The last time Friend visited, I’d heard myself apologizing for the mess. It wasn’t all that bad, but it wasn’t good.

The conundrum: I am no domestic goddess, nor do I want to live in a sty. I’m Adult Enough to notice that my interior state often affects my exterior reality – if my life feels chaotic, guaranteed my home does, too. It works the other way as well – if I can get myself to clean the house, I might feel more peaceful.

I have plenty of things I’d rather do than clean, including welcoming you into my home. Which means you are always welcome. If I know you’re coming, I might clean myself into a tizzy. And I might not.

When Teen was just a tot, a woman I knew admitted that she hadn’t had friends over in years, for the simple reason that her lack of housekeeping skills embarrassed her. She didn’t want people to think less of her, so she kept them out.

Which meant she also didn’t let them in. There is something very personal about letting others into our space. They see our style, our art and kid art collected over years, our family vacation knick-knacks, our books which reveal our tastes. People know us differently after seeing how we live.

I guess for some people that feels too vulnerable. But if you can ignore the dust bunnies collecting in corners, you are welcome to C’mon Over to my house. If you can’t deal with dust bunnies, we’re probably not friends.

For Christmas last year, Guy bought me a Roomba. I’d asked for a Roomba more than once as we walked through Costco; I had not asked for a Roomba for Christmas – a spectacularly unsexy gift. But Guy was so happy with his gift I let him set it up and, once charged, I let him Push the Button, at which point we quickly discovered that we needed to Prepare the House for Roomba – picking up cat toys and sweatshirts and kids’ shoes and socks, moving counter stools and pulling chairs back from the table, shutting bedroom chaos behind bedroom doors.2989123259_aece327fb5_m

The first time I tried to use the Roomba by myself – husband out, kids asleep, me reading in bed – I decided Roomba just might be Chucky, a Good Guy robot-vacuum possessed of an evil spirit; it kept getting stuck and beeping at me that it was stuck, making me leave my warm cocoon to set it straight each time. Eventually I sent it “home” and decided reading in peace trumped waking to clean floors.

Glennon Melton also received a vacuum gift. I Laughed So Hard when I read this:

“I find my vacuum to be very heavy and ugly and inconducive to relaxing. There is nothing that leads me into a cursing tirade faster than trying to lug my vacuum up two flights of stairs. And Jesus said: if your vacuum causes you to curse, gouge it out . . . or something like that. So actually becoming a real- life vacuumer wasn’t an option, since I love Jesus. (If you do vacuum, I’m not trying to suggest that you don’t love Jesus. I assume it’s possible to do both. I’m just saying it’s not likely. Not likely at all.)”

Roomba and I have mostly made peace, which is a good thing because I love Jesus and do not anticipate becoming a real-life vacuumer anytime soon. Which also means Roomba doesn’t run as often as it could, because that whole Preparing the House thing may just be Too Much, depending on the amount of time my family has spent recently living in said house.

So if you can deal with dust bunnies, C’mon Over. I’ll even try not to apologize. After all, you’re coming for the company and not to grade my housekeeping, right?

Meatless Monday – Bean & Sausage Stew

Fall consistently fills my plate with too much busy-ness. Transitioning kids and family back to school. Swamped at work as new programs kick off and we begin (never soon enough) holiday preparations. This year: add three weeks of Sick Kid, wading through piling-up school/homework and negotiations with teachers and administrators; countless hours of specialist appointments; and four hours/week of physical therapy for me as I deal with an ancient knee injury.

Each day has been a struggle to do necessary tasks, feeling like a schmuck mom unable to snuggle and comfort my boy as I would like. I have had to let other things slide. Cooking and writing among them.

Toward the end of No-School Week 3, I whisked Tween away for a spontaneous after-school visit to his teachers. I listened in as his Language Arts teacher talked with him about how to expand the rough draft of his personal narrative.

“Bit by bit,” she said. “Focus on the small actions, each little bit, adding new little bits to help your reader see the picture.”

“Bit by bit” feels like good life advice. One of my favorites, Glennon Doyle, wrote that she could not take one day at a time, that a day feels too overwhelming. She just needs to take one more step in the right direction, doing “the next right thing.” Step by step. Minute by minute. Bit by bit.

Bit by bit can also be hard. I want to see the Big Picture, to plan ahead, to do All the Things and do them All Well. In this season, that’s just not gonna happen.

So bit by bit. Two weeks ago I wrote a quick draft of this piece you’re reading. I didn’t know if it would ever come out to play, but it was at least worth the few minutes I could give it. A week ago I found time to be a little more creative in the kitchen. It tasted good, so I took a picture. Today I’m doing this bit, putting them together.

I don’t remember where the recipe came from. It might have been intended originally for carnivores, but I only use Field Roast Veggie Sausage. And it was originally titled “Chorizo & White Bean Stew” but Field Roast’s chorizo sausage, while delicious, is necessarily spicy. I have made this before with one chorizo link and two Italian sausage, but my kids won’t eat as much if it’s too spicy, so this time I used three Italian sausage and they devoured it.

The best part, well, other than the yummy taste? It comes together fast, important in this full-plate season.stew

Bean & Sausage Stew
Serves 4

3 links veggie chorizo or Italian sausage
1 large onion, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tsp ground thyme
2 15-ounce cans cannellini (white kidney) beans, rinsed
2 c veggie broth
salt/pepper to taste
5 ounces baby spinach, lightly chopped (about 10 cups)
Smoked paprika (optional)

Cut sausage lengthwise and dice. In a large pan, cook sausage, turning occasionally, until browned and cooked through. Transfer sausage to a plate.

Reduce heat to medium. Add onion, garlic, and thyme; no need for oil as the sausage will have released some during cooking. Cook until onion is softened, stirring occasionally, 5-8 minutes; if necessary, add broth 1 Tbsp at a time to keep onion from sticking. Add beans and remaining broth and cook, crushing a few beans with the back of a spoon to thicken sauce, until slightly thickened, 8-10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Fold sausage into stew. Add spinach by handfuls and cook just until wilted, about 2 minutes.

Divide stew among bowls and sprinkle with paprika, if desired. Serve with brown rice or whole wheat pasta.

Summer Reading – Non-fiction

Sustain Summer!

That’s my theme over here. So what if school started Weeks Ago? So what if it’s Raining in Cali today (yippee! SO happy it’s raining, and yet, I still maintain… It. Is. Summertime)?

Fall officially begins September 23rd, which means No Matter What the activity calendars have decided, summer reigns until September 22nd.

And that means my reading still counts as Summer Reading.

I read ten books this summer, five fiction and five non-fiction. Last summer, our Costa Rica sabbatical summer, I read twelve books. HOW is it that I read only two books more? Last summer felt much more leisurely and book-indulgent. Does a heart good to know that I’m just as much a Book Nerd at home.

So here ya go, friends, my non-fiction book-miracle reads of Summer 2015!

Awaken Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of GodAwaken Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of God by J. Brent Bill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book has been my ongoing spiritual retreat all year. As a contemplative, I live most naturally in my head and heart; this book grounds the spiritual experience in the five physical senses. With short essays and exercises to practice, I have looked forward to reading it when I have pockets of time to engage with God on a deeper level. I anticipate coming back to it again and again.

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country's Foremost Relationship ExpertThe Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert by John M. Gottman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you are married, go right now and get this book! Easy to read and practical, including exercises, there is something to help every relationship. I’ve been married 20+ years (and still going strong!) and we had some fantastic discussions using the questions in this book.

The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt OutThe Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out by Brennan Manning
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Written 25 years old, this is an Important Book for those who would be Jesus-followers. While most Christians give lip service to grace, too many of us don’t live grace-fully. We act like what we do matters most rather than what God has done and continues to do. We try to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, only to discover that we don’t even know what bootstraps are, or at best they’re torn and ineffective. God loves us anyway. He loved us first. His love is the defining characteristic of who we are and who we will become, by His grace.

Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life UnarmedCarry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed by Glennon Doyle Melton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Love! Life is *brutiful*, brutal and beautiful in turns not always graceful. But we can be grace-filled, living into and offering grace one to another.

“I’d found my thing: openness. I decided, based on firsthand experience, that it was more fun to say things that made other women feel hopeful about themselves and God than it was to say or omit things to make people feel jealous of me.” Yes! Openness is hard as most of us want people to think the best of us. But we’re not always our best, and pretense keeps people at arm’s length. Let’s drop the curtain, people, and just be real. And kind. Let’s always be kind.

And this: “The more fiercely I believe what Love says and the more boldly I live out her promises, the healthier and stronger and realer I become. So, for me, it’s not a question of better. It’s about a daily choice: the constant battle to listen to Love and silence Fear.” Listen to love and silence Fear. Let’s help one another get there.

All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern ParenthoodAll Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jennifer Senior
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up this book after hearing Jennifer Senior on NPR’s TedRadio Hour during an episode on childhood. This fascinating sociological and historical look at parenting, or more accurately, how children affect their parents’ lives, makes so much sense. Page after page I had “aha” moments – “Others experience that, too?” or “Oh, that explains the stress I and my friends feel!” In the end, the act of parenting (“to parent” has only been a verb since the 1970’s) is qualitatively different than the experience of parenting, which explains the book’s title: being a parent creates joy, whereas doing the mundane acts of parenting is not so much fun. My only complaint is that not enough parents in the trenches will have the brainpower or time to read the book.

The Kids are Okay

We have completed Week 2 of the school year and I can happily report that we are all doing OK! At least mostly. I think.

We’ve only had…
…one lost backpack,
…one slept-through alarm clock,
…one forgotten bike lock combination,
…one forgotten lunch box,
…one “oops, I forgot to turn it in” homework assignment,
…a couple “oops, I forgot to do it” homework assignments,
…one seven-hour homework marathon (A+ for persistence! And Fail-on-Mom not checking on too-long quiet child),
…one minimum day during which Tween and friends went into town for lunch – a tip-toe into independence – where he purchased one authorized half-eaten sandwich and drink and $20 of unauthorized gum and candy (ew!),
…daily rush-to-get-everyone-out-the-door miscommunication,
…and one soccer ball to the face, resulting in smashed glasses, two hours at the eye doctor (all good!), dilated eyes, and a late night of all-hands-on-deck homework.

Dilated crazy eyes!

Dilated crazy eyes!

There have been highlights, too. Like Day 1 of junior year when Teen allowed me to read him the biblegateway verse of the day, a Psalm, and then proceeded to read his favorite Bible verse to me, also a Psalm, including explanation as to why it was his favorite verse, what it meant to him and what it says about who God is – in general and in his life. Miracles like that do this Mama’s heart good!

Also, twice this week Teen has chosen to hang with me, sometimes talking, sometimes not, sometimes showing me videos he thinks are funny, giving me a glimpse into his mind and his world. Okay, so he’s been stalling on bedtime, but he’s also been choosing Connection with Mom on his schedule. Cardinal rule of parenting teens: be available when they’re ready to connect.

And Tween and I have still found time to read aloud together. One day soon he might figure out that he’s “too old” for this and decide that he prefers to read silently and alone, but I hope not. It’s an easy connection place, shared story making for shared experience. Plus, snuggles.welcome-back-to-school-clipart-2

Last night we attended Back to School Night at the middle school. Having done this before – albeit five years ago – sixth grade doesn’t seem so intimidating this go-round. We know our way around the school and many of the teachers are familiar, as are the courses and expectations. And yet… Teen experienced sixth grade as a series of belly flops, fun in the air and painful when you smack down hard. We know Tween, too, will take his share of risks and flops and that the pain will radiate to the whole family. It happens. By design.

And yet… We know Tween’s strengths and limitations. We know his gifts and challenges. We can anticipate where he will excel and which teachers will suggest a conference in the near future.

The temptation to give in to the anxiety can be overwhelming. But I don’t want to live in fear. I want to delight in my children.delight

Glennon Doyle Melton affirms that all children are gifted and talented, their lives containing glittering Christmas gifts, and God decides when they get to unwrap their special gifts. School insists that all children excel in the same ways at the same age, but that simply is not the case. Clearly kids are not all the same, as people are not all the same – and thank God! The world would be so boring, so inoperable, if we all shared the same gifts.

As parents we have a responsibility to regularly, daily, more often than not, communicate to our kids that they are okay. To do that, we have to truly believe it. Deep down in our guts we have to know that, whatever bumps our kids take throughout a day, they are and will be okay.

We each have the opportunity to delight in one other, but so often we should on each other instead. Like this talented mom, who condensed Things Moms Say in 24 hours into a less-than-3 minute song. Funny, and True, but if our kids only hear these things we all miss out.

I am making anew a decision to delight in my kids. I want their first and last glimpse of me during a day to be smiling, loving, delighted. I request that they “Kiss your Mama!” as they depart for the day and arrive home again, a sweet connection to remind them I will always be in their corner. Sometimes it’s forced, but it’s a good habit nonetheless. I want them to know that, Yes, You are Okay!

Of course I want my kids to do their very best. But their best may not always measure up and that has to be okay, too. I will continue to advocate for my kids as only a Mama can, but I will do it in faith that God created them exactly the way He intended them to be, with their own delicious blend of sweets and savories. They may not be to everyone’s taste, but they will always be my favorite flavors.love not worry

At times it will be a struggle to resist the temptation to fear. To not let their bumps reflect on my ability to parent, or my self-esteem. To be my kids’ rock rather than a puddle of my own worries. To stand strong against this competitive culture and its constant comparisons one to another.

Stand with me and let’s delight together in our children. Their uniqueness can make us laugh, can cause us to think new thoughts, to wonder – with awe – at who they are and who they will become. So much better than worry, don’t you agree? The kids are okay.