Meatless Monday – Golden Wellness Smoothie

I love a quiet, lazy, summer weekend! Going to bed early with a good book, the fan gently whirring its white-noise breeze through the warm night. Sleeping as long as necessary and still waking early-ish. Caring for pets while the coffee drips; sipping coffee and Bible: flowing, life-giving streams, both.

Gearing up for a workout or, if not too hot, a dog-walk around our lovely neighborhood. Two days in a row scorched, which makes me (and pooch) extra grateful for lower temps and a slight breeze. I laugh that the dog knows, once I indicate left or right at the bottom of our street, what our route will be. She anticipates, pulling slightly, her favorite sniff-and-water spots. I watch the progress on landscaping or home reno projects; I look for newly bloomed flowers since our last stroll. I pray for neighbors I know living in houses we pass. Sometimes I remember to pray for neighbors I don’t know.

I breathe deep the beauty of this quiet, suburban town. The undeveloped ridge lines, the California bleached-blonde hills, the deep green trees. The bright blue cloud-dappled sky. As we pass I greet neighbors walking and running, some with their own dogs. We pause briefly for a quick hello with a mother-daughter duo jogging to the local pool for a swim—it is, truly, a gorgeous day.

Summer has a golden glow.

As a kid I was a huge fan of the ice cream truck that inched through our neighborhood, tinny canned music popping through bad rooftop speakers announcing its delicious approach. Yum… What would I get this time? An Astropop, a Fudgesicle, a Creamsicle?

These days, I lumber up and down neighborhood streets, stepping-in-time to tunes thumping through my earbuds. And still, sometimes I anticipate a delicious cold treat to enjoy at home.

A healthy one, to boot. One that can truthfully qualify as Breakfast, Lunch, Snack or Dessert: you choose!

A few weeks ago at the library I picked up Healthy Happy Vegan Kitchen by Kathy Patalsky. I am loving it! Although I try to get most of my books from the library, I’m tempted to buy this one.

And while I most often make a green smoothie (meaning my smoothies almost always have spinach in them), the Golden Wellness Smoothie has fast become one of my new fav’s. It’s perfect for summer’s golden-hot days!

I described it recently as “spicy ice cream” with a hint of Creamsicle. It might not have appealed to the little girl waving a dollar at the Ice Cream Man, but it sure appeals to me now!

Here’s the thing: most of those ingredients are in my house at most times. My kids love bananas, but only for that hot second between too-green and spotted. Once spotted, I peel them, cut them in half, and stick them in a freezer bag. I can defrost a few for banana bread or add them to a smoothie. We all like oranges, but if you buy a big bag and don’t get to them fast enough, the peel loses appeal. So I cut the peel off and toss it in the blender (Kathy recommends freezing oranges, too; I haven’t tried that yet, but I will next time I buy a bag of oranges). Almond milk is our go-to milk (I add a teaspoon of pure vanilla extract to this smoothie since I always buy unflavored non-dairy milks); maple syrup our go-to sweetener; spices always on hand (mine need to be restocked, actually).

Golden Wellness Smoothie
1 serving

1 large orange, fresh or frozen
1 c vanilla almond milk–or 1 c almond milk + 1 tsp vanilla extract
1 banana, fresh or frozen
1/2 tsp maple or agave syrup
1 tsp turmeric powder
a few pinches of cinnamon
a pinch of cayenne

Blend from low to high speed in a good high-speed blender. I add a handful of ice to make it super-duper extra-frosty cold, which might require adding another glug of almond milk to make it blend properly.

Go check out Kathy’s blog and buy her book. Good stuff, I’m telling ya!

 

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Meatless Monday – Quinoa Two Ways

Summertime is all about salad–cold, make-ahead, no fuss food. Which is why quinoa has become one of my fav’s. Quinoa is a grain and contains protein, making it crazy healthy. And it’s so versatile that it can be a side dish, a salad base, a salad topping, or an ingredient in another dish altogether. The first few times I tried it, it hurt my tummy; and then I discovered that rinsing it in cold water before boiling makes it easier to digest.

My favorite brand, of course, comes from Trader Joe’s. The three colors don’t change the flavor but they do make it more visually interesting.quinoa brand

Friends shared both of these recipes with me, and they have quickly become go-to happy family recipes that I am pleased to share with you!

First, prepare the quinoa. In a fine-mesh strainer, rinse 1 cup quinoa in cold water. Add to pot with 2 cups boiling water. Cover and reduce heat, then simmer for 10 to 15 minutes until the quinoa develops ‘tails’–you’ll know ’em when you see ’em. Drain any excess water and rinse quinoa again to cool. Set aside.

Can you see the 'tails'?

Can you see the ‘tails’?

Lemon-Mint Quinoa Salad

1 c quinoa, prepared according to package directions

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute (or other no-salt herb mix)
3 green onions, diced
3 Tbsp fresh mint leaves, chopped
1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 c almonds, chopped (optional)

While quinoa cooks, whisk oil, lemon juice, garlic and 21 Gun in a large bowl. Add other ingredients, including cooked quinoa. Chill for at least 30 minutes.

Note: I made a little more vinaigrette and lightly dressed some arugula, then served quinoa on top. I can also imagine this would be fantastic in whole wheat pita bread with hummus (Trader Joe’s Mediterranean hummus is our go-to).quinoa salad

Quinoa & Black Bean Salad

1 cup quinoa, prepared according to package directions

3 Tbsp olive oil
1/3 c fresh lime juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 c cilantro, chopped
1/4 tsp cumin
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 c corn, fresh or frozen
1 red bell pepper, chopped
4 green onions

While quinoa cooks, whisk oil, lime juice, garlic and spices in a large bowl. Add other ingredients, including cooked quinoa. Chill for at least 30 minutes.quinoa

Lessons Tween Learned on Vacation

Shortcuts aren’t necessarily shorter.
Our 500-mile drive from San Francisco to San Diego comes in two parts: the long, fast leg between home and the Grapevine; and the shorter-by-distance long-by-traffic leg through Los Angeles. With no traffic on Leg 1, Tween and I stopped for a quick bite almost an hour ahead of schedule. So imagine my dismay when Google Maps reported that Leg 2 was going to take us, not two to three hours, but almost five. If you’ve driven through LA traffic, you understand this particular version of hell.

I called Guy who, checking his computer, confirmed that 5 South was a parking lot all the way down the coast and that the inland route was clear. I wish I had sucked it up and trudged ahead through the gross reality of traffic-induced time loss. Because I had to anyway as our shortcut became a long-cut: the inland route developed its own congestion by the time we got there and added an hour to the already-too-long trip. Typically it takes us seven to nine hours door-to-door; this time it took eleven. And we missed the coastal scenery.

Be earlier than you think you need to be.
Guy and Teen missed the long drive because Teen took the ACT that morning. They also missed their flight to San Diego. Guy got the time wrong in his head. BART ran late, and then they missed the shuttle bus connecting train station to airport. They dashed through security and ran through the airport to arrive as the airline shut the doors.

They got on the standby list for the next flight. After all passengers—including my guys—had boarded, a mechanical problem was detected with the plane and everyone had to disembark. There was some debate about whether they would shuttle passengers to another airport, but somehow the airline ‘found’ a plane and the flight was rescheduled only somewhat delayed from its original departure time.

They might have made their original flight if they had planned to arrive at the airport earlier. Or if they had planned more time for home-to-airport transportation. They arrived eventually, but too late to attend the party.TwMexBeach

Respect the elements.
In pairs of two, we raced to San Diego to celebrate our Nephew’s high school graduation. As a graduation gift, we rented a beach house in Mexico for a couple of days and took Nephew and Grandma on a short vacation—hence the need to have our van with sufficient seating plus room for luggage, food-stuffed cooler, drinking water, wet suits, and towels.

Just over an hour from Grandma’s house to beach house, we hit the beach mere minutes after unloading the car. The three boys sprinted ahead, stripping off shoes and socks as they ran along the sand.

Tween’s flip-flops took their own journey, presumably on the tide. He didn’t say anything as he walked barefoot back to the house; it’s just his style to keep quiet. When he and Guy went back later they faced the fact that, in not carefully placing them out of the way on some rocks, he hadn’t just misplaced them but given them as a gift to the ocean.

Be prepared.
Freshly bathed and in PJs after his ocean romp, Tween decided to light a fire in the gas fireplace. He turned on the gas and then turned around to get the lighter. He should have reversed that process, as he had turned the gas on much too high and allowed too much time. As he pulled the lighter’s trigger, a fireball exploded from the fireplace and momentarily engulfed him in flames. Thankfully Guy was close by and turned off the gas as Tween jumped backward and out of harm. Another shower revealed that Thank God the damage wasn’t worse: one singed eyebrow and his long blonde hair got an unanticipated trim.

Celebrate.
Though the initial drive was maddeningly long, Tween and I made the best of it as we deemed it “an adventure,” something to talk about for years to come. We celebrated with Nephew, family, and friends at his party. The next day we celebrated with his church. We celebrated in Mexico, giving the gift of experience that will last in memories rather than more stuff. We relaxed at the beach, we chuckled at the donkey and dogs who temporarily escaped their home to cavort on the sand, and we savored traditional food and drink. We played games and made conversation. We laughed.

Vacation may not always be easy. Tween remarked, “I’m sure learning a lot considering school is out.” He learned lessons on this trip better to learn at 12 than 40+. But time together, even bored in a car on I-5, is worth it. And what a way to kick off summer!

Thankful Thursday – Kickin’ the Door Shut & a Happy Dance!

school's_out_for-53737

By 12:20pm tomorrow, both our boys will be done with this school year.

Hallelujah!

This has been a particularly rough year for a variety of reasons. Junior year for Teen, filled to the brim with cultural stress even when our immediate little family wasn’t topped to our own stress limit. Unfortunately for all of us, his school counselor didn’t take time to look up at the student sitting before her when she advised he take certain classes (he shouldn’t have taken) and absolutely wouldn’t allow others (completely in his wheelhouse). All year long we have been paying for the mistake of not standing up to a school administrator while there was time. What a painful lesson we have learned…

Sixth grade for Tween, which means we now have one year of middle school under our belts. You’d think “experienced parents” might have this down but different kids transition differently, which makes for a different experience all ’round. We used to say that Teen leaped through 6th grade like a series of belly flops–fun in the air, painful on impact, everyone gets splashed. Tween has been way less adventurous and more consistently bewildered by the new demands on his life. A’s for effort, though, as this kid has been diligent in his hard work, sometimes doing two to six hours of homework per night (yes, WAY too much, and darn that slow processing!)…and then forgetting to turn it all in, or losing it (in his backpack) for weeks. Sigh.

But tonight I am truly grateful. Grateful we are done, mostly. I have been ready to kick the door shut on this year for, oh honestly, months. At least weeks. And yet I am also grateful for the free and fantastic education in our competitive small town. Grateful for the collateral lessons of organization, communication, self-advocacy, assertiveness, creativity, persistence, and more.

I am grateful for my children, these beautiful, amazing, creative gifts from God, each their very own unique human being. And I am grateful that for the next ten weeks we will not argue about homework. I will not have to wake them earlier than their bodies want to rush them out the door. I will not have to hurry them off to bed to get enough rest for the big day, big test/project, the next day’s measurement of their (supposed) worth.

I am grateful for summer and its lazy days slower pace. I am grateful for the adventures that await us individually and as a family–trips to San Diego and Mexico, Oregon and Monterey/Carmel as a family; Boy Scout camp for both boys; high adventure risk-taking for the Eagle Scout-Teen.

I am grateful for summer’s organic learning. Books to read just for fun. Scout badges that will precipitate new experiences and open their minds to new discoveries. Time to hike and climb and explore…just because.

I am grateful for a season of rest. I am grateful for friends we enjoy all year long, friends who have done this year with us, and who will now stretch out into this rest with us. For field trips and day trips ahead. For bowling and roller coasters and movies and beach days and swimming. For glasses of wine and laughter. For concerts and picnics in the park. For worship with our church family.

I am grateful, and so I have been doing my own crazy happy dance all day. Psalm 149:3 says, “Praise his name with dancing…” God has held us close during this chaotic year. He has gotten us through, and He has provided rest just ahead. Want to happy dance this joy with me?

Meatless Monday – Three Bean Salad

Having worked as a cook in the General Motors building in New York City, my grandma did a lot of our at-home cooking while I was growing up. Occasionally, she would send me outside with a bowl of fresh crisp green beans, a pair of scissors, and a pot, with instructions to trim the ends, cut the beans into halves or thirds, and put them in the pot. Why outside? Maybe she needed some quiet time in the kitchen, but more likely she didn’t want to clean up the little bean ends that jumped away from the scissors.

I remember the summer-snap-scent of the beans. The repetitive nature of the task both soothed my soul and made me feel helpful. Win-win.beans green

Last week I purchased some farm-fresh green beans from our new CSA (community supported agriculture), and so I have made Three Bean Salad twice this week. Another kid-memory, Three Bean Salad was my favorite thing on the menu at KFC (a young nod toward the vegetarian I would become, perhaps?).

There are oodles of recipes for Three Bean Salad on the internet with varying degrees of complexity. I like to keep it really simple: three beans, some other form of crunch, and a vinaigrette. You could swap one vinegar for another and/or add other crunches or flavors, but quick and easy is the way to go for me. You could even swap beans if you prefer one over another or don’t have one on hand. I used green beans for a few reasons: I love green beans!; KFC used green beans; and my kids will eat them in this salad. But I have also used frozen soy beans, which goes to my end of keeping things simple. One thing I don’t do: sugar in my salad dressings. Why ruin a good thing?

If you use fresh green beans, start by trimming ends and cutting beans to bite-size. Boil uncovered for five minutes, then shock in a bowl of ice water until they are no longer hot.bean shock

3 Bean Salad
Serves 6-8

2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
½ tsp Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute (or other no-salt herb blend)
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 c cooked and cooled green beans (or edamame, defrosted if frozen)
1 15oz can kidney beans, drained/rinsed
1 15oz can garbanzo beans, drained/rinsed
1 rib celery, diced

In a small jar, combine vinegar, mustard, seasoning, and oil. With lid tightly closed, shake to combine.

In a large bowl, combine remaining ingredients. Gently toss in dressing to combine.

Variations: add corn, 1/2 bell pepper (in your favorite color), red onion, cilantro, parsley, or basil

Last week I added some cooked multi-color quinoa to the leftovers and ate them for lunch. This week I will serve the salad in butter lettuce leaves.bean salad

One Year Later

alien flowerA year ago today, in our last few hours in Costa Rica, I wrote this post:

How was your summer?

Oh, how to answer that question…? In many ways this summer has been like others:

  • We’ve shopped, cooked, and cleaned
  • We’ve done laundry
  • We’ve paid bills
  • We’ve played with the dog
  • We’ve read, relaxed, and rested
  • We’ve taken day trips and road trips
  • We’ve been to the beach and the mountains
  • We’ve had good days and bad days, boring days and exciting days
  • We’ve laughed together and gotten on each other’s last nerve
  • We have lived out our particular personalities – needs and wants, insecurities and strengths – as well as our particular pattern of family dynamics.

The difference? We’ve done all these things while living in a foreign country, facing the challenges of an unfamiliar language and culture.

toucanTsh Oxenreider writes: “[Travel] strengthens our family bond. Together, we smell smells and see sights collectively that no one else will at that exact moment… When we travel, no matter how near or far, we share moments that shape our family culture. Each exploration, to the next town over or the next flight out of the country, is one more chisel notch in our family’s sculpture.”

Almost three years ago our family participated in an MVPC mission trip to the Dominican Republic. That trip changed us, and we believe it set the precedent for this trip. We saw God at work in the world, in our family, in our lives.

We came to Costa Rica for two months of Dave’s pastoral sabbatical. It has been amazing, long and short, hot and wet, frustrating, lonely, beautiful, intense, interesting, educational, challenging, restful… And we almost can’t believe this adventure is coming to an end. We fly home this evening.CR beach

Culture shock hit us harder than we expected, but we’ve been here long enough to adjust, to learn, to grow, to become comfortable. Embarking on this “God Treasure Hunt” we knew we’d find God in the beauty of His creation, and we have. We knew we would go places and meet people and see God at work – in people caring for creation, in ministries caring for God’s children. We expected to see God at work “in the world” but forgot to expect that God would also desire to work in us. Travel has given us an opportunity as a family to limit distractions and share experiences and conversations about important matters: how we live and how we want to live as people faithful to God and making a difference in the world in His name.

Pura Vida (“pure life”) is CR’s unofficial motto. It’s similar to Aloha – “welcome,” and “until we meet again,” and “all is well and all will be well.” Last night we read in Jesus Calling:

I came to give life – life in all its fullness. John 10:10

“Life is my gift to you – enjoy it! I want every day to be a delight as you live in My Presence and discover My blessings. Choose to enjoy life, and let the world see Me through your Joy!”

slothWe expect to face more culture shock as we return home and see our lives with fresh eyes. It would be all too easy to simply worm ourselves back into the familiar, but we also know that this trip has changed us even though we don’t fully recognize how. We look forward to unwrapping the gifts God has tucked away in our minds and hearts along the journey.

By the way, here’s a short list of what we didn’t do this summer: we didn’t ride horses on the beach or to waterfalls; we didn’t go sport fishing; we didn’t learn to surf; we did not get fabulously tan; we didn’t spend hours (or days or weeks) swinging in beach-side hammocks. And though our Spanish skills have improved, we’ve acquired a nice vocabulary of animal names not likely to come up in everyday conversation (unless you’re anxious to discuss monkeys, snakes, or birds!). We had to leave a few things for the next adventure, right?

*****

So how was this summer? In so many ways, just the same. In one essential way, completely different: we didn’t travel, and my heart aches for missing it. However, the garage is really coming along…

passion flower

Jumbled

My kids don’t do transitions well. I know this, and sometimes it still surprises me.

During a still-early fall hallway conversation with Tween’s then-2nd grade teacher, she commented that Tween didn’t seem to be taking school seriously. Without missing a beat I responded, “Give him until Thanksgiving and he’ll be great!” She looked at me cross-eyed, as if I had given the most ridiculous answer. Maybe I had, but time proved me right.

What should surprise me is how little I recognize that I don’t do transitions well. Summer is more than half flown, we’re only weeks from the start of a new school year, and I haven’t yet settled into the rhythm of this season. And it’s about to change, another transition.

I can’t help comparing this summer to last. Apples to oranges but, as I want to continue to learn the lessons packed into our two-month Costa Rica sabbatical, I keep checking our blog to see what we were experiencing and learning last year.

The Costa Rica sun rises around 6am and sets around 6pm and I have never felt so physically in tune with the Earth’s rotation. Not an easy morning person, the sun beckoned me to new adventures each day, at least after a cup of coffee enjoyed facing this view:view

Leisurely mornings, adventure-filled days, and extended togetherness… Costa Rica sunset meant Family Time to eat, talk, play games or watch movies or read aloud. Of course Teen prefers friend-time to family-time, I get it. But a year ago we were making the beach safe for sea turtles and swimming in secluded waterfalls and mugging for the camera with toucans on our shoulders, making memories.

Guy and I took two weeks off for a camping vacation. And then every itinerary we discussed had some strike against it. We researched, Google-mapped, discussed, contacted friends, prayed, and persisted for hours over weeks before coming up for air with the same befuddling conclusion: we need to stay home this summer.

First world problems, I know. But I’m still disappointed.

So instead of adventuring out, we have ventured in to the crazy jumble of our garage to create a hang-out space for our kids and their friends.

We have vision, and still I’m overwhelmed. Cleaning the garage means face-planting in All The Projects I never got around to. I shafted some straight into the trash, donated others, and shuffled some back into the house. Projects covered every surface, and a few miraculously got done. And the panic-stricken late-night realization that the cleaners were coming in the morning meant that a whole bunch of projects went, yup, back into the garage. Oy!

Thank God Guy is an Energizer Bunny! Day 1 we began sorting and donating. Day 2 he pulled Too Much Stuff into the driveway and added storage areas to the rafters, then moved our extensive collection of camping gear up and out of sight. (Inside I’m screaming: “Don’t put it away, I want to use it!” Ugh.)garage

Day 3 we went to work, because that’s what happens when you work at a church and don’t leave town. To be honest, I’ve worked every day of what was supposed to be our vacation, because we are not on vacation, and I mostly work from home anyway. Sigh.

The garage is jumbled but better. I am jumbled, and a discipline of gratitude will make me better.

I’ve just finished reading The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. The surprise ending? A laser-beam focus on gratitude in two steps:

Step 1. For one week try to be aware of your tendency to criticize, to see what is missing, to focus on what is not there and comment on it. Try instead to focus on what is right. Notice what you have and others contribute. Search for things to praise. Begin with simple things. Praise the world. Appreciate your own breathing, the sunrise, the beauty of a rainstorm, the wonder in your child’s eyes. Utter some silent words of thanksgiving for these small wonders in your day. This will begin to change your focus on the negative.

Step 2. Give at least one genuine, heartfelt praise to your spouse [or child, neighbor, whoever] each day for an entire week… extend the exercise one more day. Then add another day…. When you meet someone new, look for what is special about this person. Appreciate these qualities. Remember, this all has to be genuine and heartfelt. Don’t be phony… Tell people what you notice and genuinely appreciate about them.

So I will refuse to criticize this summer, to see what is missing. I will be grateful for the progress we’ve made, the project we’ve undertaken. I will search for bright moments (Teen offered to help me do his laundry – progress!) and offer generous praise.

And eventually the garage will be clean, and I will be grateful.

Slow Down

An ordinary afternoon dog-walk around the neighborhood turned gruesome. A car passed just as I noticed a squirrel hunkered in the middle of the lane. Car 1 slowed down, paused until two cars were directly opposite in the other lane, and then blared its horn. Horn terrified Squirrel who leaped sideways under the tire of Car 2, followed by the wheels of Car 3. No kidding, I squeaked in horror.

All three cars drove on, while Dog and I had to continue our walk past twitching, then dead-still, squirrel. Because God loves all His creatures, I prayed for this little one.

I felt dirty, complicit for having witnessed this scene. It happened so quickly but it seemed Car 1 deliberately honked at exactly the wrong moment, that it could have honked earlier or later, or simply stopped for a moment. That the rush of life was just too much.

Last summer I read a book that referenced “the Gronk,” the driver behind you who honks incessantly the very second the red light turns green. Like the extra five seconds he might rush you to the gas pedal mean that much? Seriously, dude, chill!

A few days later Guy and I took Dog for another stroll. Same neighborhood, different street, equally gruesome: the smallest fawn I’ve ever seen lay in the roadside grass. At first we didn’t notice it as it was so out of place; someone driving too fast must have hit it hard to launch it out of the road and over the sidewalk; and then we saw it twitch. Morning commute had it out for this beauty.

All this during the first week of summer, and meanwhile my kids’ friends were too busy or too tired to play and their moms already seemed harried. Don’t get me wrong, we have a few things going on, too, but balanced with a big dose of summertime do-nothing. Because “Boredom = Opportunity.”

Summer is not a sprint. Honestly, it’s a gift, much like the Sabbath we so dutifully ignore. Long, hot days make our bodies and brains want to move slower, to float in the pool, to sip cool drinks over laughter-filled chats with friends, to play and rest – and work as necessary – in a different rhythm.

We slowed down with a week of family vacation. Leisurely strolls along the beach, hunting for beach glass, reading good books, eating and sleeping as much as needed and then a little more.

“Regular” life necessarily isn’t vacation, but we can bring elements of vacation, of rest, into “regular” life:
Turn off social media
Do something that stretches you beyond your comfort zone
Move your body playfully
Learn something new
Make dinner a family carpet picnic of kid-friendly finger foods
Schedule outings with friends
Create something; if that intimidates you, color in a coloring book
Turn off the TV and read a book
Play a board game
Pamper yourself
Do something you haven’t done since childhood and laugh yourself silly along the way

Yesterday I worked, and then I met a friend and her sweet daughter for a mani/pedi. I usually do my own nails, but after a week of beach walking my feet were a wreck. It felt terrific, and the time with these dear ones filled me up. During a brief conversational lull I glanced up at the large screen TV – mercifully playing without sound – to catch a glimpse of a road sign that read:

LIFE IS PRECIOUS
SLOW DOWN

Yes, that’s it! Perhaps we don’t even see the carnage we create as we race from Point A to B to Z, the lost life or lost opportunities or the children for whom we’ve scheduled too many activities when they truly only want more time with us, their parents.

What would it take for you to slow down? What can you do today, tomorrow, this week, this month, to intentionally stop the madness? Life is precious, and I don’t want to miss the beauty.

slowing-down-gift

The #Day Challenge

I’ve picked up an odd habit this year: I have said Yes! to an assortment of (mostly) online challenges, all for a set number of days:

The 30 Day Power Purge
Soulful Spring Cleaning: A 30-Day Life Reboot
Lenten disciplines, an annual 40 day adventure
The Body Love Experiment 21 Day Challenge
40 Days of Prayer (for a season in our church life)
Clean Eating 30 Day Challenge

Hmm, now that I look at the list, I see that my challenges center on a theme: cleaning out and cleaning up, whether it’s the kitchen junk drawer, my attitudes or relationships, my eating and exercise habits, or my prayers. Sometimes I crack myself up!

With the arrival of summer vacation, I am reminded of the theme song to one of my favorite animated TV shows, Phineas and Ferb:

There’s a 104 days of summer vacation
And school comes along just to end it
So the annual problem of our generation
Is finding a good way to spend it

Phineas Ferb

Around here it’s 72 days of summer, unless you’re in middle school and then you have 73. In any case, a finite number of days with the challenge to fill them well.

Truth: my kids can get pretty sludgey. I can almost watch them melt into primordial ooze as they stare blankly into screens – phone, computer, or TV. They’ll get up eventually, to eat or use the facilities, but return to their well-worn cushions of thoughtlessness. They get less creative and more grouchy as the day wears on.

I can’t have it, and I know from years of experience that they lack the drive of Phineas and Ferb and I lack the skills to make a good summer cruise director. However, I make a pretty good chart and so, some years ago, I devised a summer activity chart for each child. They have to do 5 activities each day, each for at least 20 minutes, and all of them at least once between Monday and Friday. There is no screen time between 9am and 4pm unless both boys have completed their five activities. If they complete all activities at least once before the end of Thursday then Friday might contain even better activities and treats.

Each year I tweak each kid’s chart – new interests and strengths (and occasionally, new weaknesses) require different activity suggestions. I’ve intentionally made the activities general so the kids can apply their creativity to how they will complete the activities.

For example, this year Teen’s activities include: reading, exercising, Eagle Scout project, creativity, writing, Bible, act of kindness, chores, and extra chore.

Tween’s activities include: reading, physical play (exercise, but at 11yo it’s still “play”), creativity, Bible, trumpet, Khan Academy, Typeracer.com, writing, act of kindness, chores, and extra chore.

Yesterday was the first Monday of summer. I reminded the kids Sunday evening that the charts were coming. All warning aside, when they saw the charts you might have thought I’d told them the world had cancelled summer. Teen threatened to leave the house, all day all summer. Tween, less mobile and just as determined, followed suit. I calmly explained that less than two hours of activity suggestions in 14+ hours of sunlight – and they have lots of choice in every regard – was not an unreasonable request, and yes, they’d still get plenty of screen time, fun- and friend-time. And then I left them to it while I walked the dog and walked off my frustration.

I do realize that at 11 and 16 years old it is less plausible that they will enjoy checking things off a chart. However, I also realize that they don’t transition well, that they benefit from lists and suggestions, and a chart has proven more effective than repetitive mom-reminders. And I need a) time to do what I need to do and b) time with them, and the chart helps them know what they should do with and without me.

Despite their initial loud and dramatic protests, they settled in. Among other things, Teen went for a bike ride that led to a hike that led to tree climbing; Tween played tether ball, cleaned the tortoise enclosure, and we read together.

As we read, Teen came in with a bottle of bubbles a friend gave him in honor of getting his driver’s license. He obviously thought it was funny to blow bubbles at us; we found it funny, too. The bubbles were captivating, iridescent in the sunlight, big and small and beautiful. He put the bubble wand in front of Tween’s bedroom fan, then went to fetch another bottle of bubbles so he had two wands to create a bubble wonderland. Tween bounced on the bed to catch bubbles with his hands, his feet, even his mouth.

bubbles

We played and laughed and caught and popped bubbles for I don’t know how long. Eventually Teen was done. Tween and I finished reading our chapter, and then I made the craziest suggestion: push me on the swing? Tween couldn’t believe it.

We have a swing in the big pine tree in our front yard. It’s been on my mind for weeks, waiting for the ‘right’ moment, and this was it. I sat on the swing and, at first, Tween leaned against the tree, ridiculously smirking at me. He couldn’t believe Mom was doing such a kid-thing. But why not? So he pushed me, and I squealed, and we laughed some more.

The day started with battle cries and ended with hysterical laughter. Energized by day’s end (and not drained!), I’ve created my own activity chart. My sons’ mother, I also benefit from lists and suggestions, evidenced by the number of #Day Challenges I’ve undertaken this year. So I’ve joined my kids in the challenge of how to fill our summer days well. My chart includes: work (of course), exercise, reading, creativity, Bible, blog, “project” (a little something I need to get into gear), and purge (once begun, constantly in progress).

And on Day 2, I can already say with confidence: it’s working for all of us. I’ve completed at least five if not more of my activities each day, and so have the kids. Today they didn’t complain at all. I had to go to the office for a couple hours and Tween texted me a picture of his chart with check marks and the word, “Finished!”

Too soon we’ll have to say, “Finished!” to summer and “Hello” to a new school year. But I’m determined to fulfill this 72-day Summer Challenge and live the days well.