Tuesday, February 9, 2016

A little get-together with the Midwest

I've always been curious about the Midwest. Maybe it was all those Little House books I read as a kid. I'm a lifelong east coast girl with a brief stint as an Alaskan, and the mysterious expanse in the middle (the prairie?) has always intrigued me.

Early in our marriage, George interviewed for a pastoral position at a church in Iowa. We flew out to visit in February. As the plane descended over the frozen earth, I looked down at the grid of brown squares, stretching for miles in all directions, and could only think one thing-

It's so flat.

Perhaps the hearts of the people in the Midwest develop such deep and compassionate contours in contrast to the landscape. I have found my friends from the middle of the country to be some of the kindest, most loyal, most loving people I know. They are truly what is meant by "salt of the earth." When I need solid, practical advice drawn from a deep well of caring, these are the people I know I can ask.

That's why I am so excited to be coming out to the Midwest this summer for the first-ever Finding Your Fiat conference.

When Bonnie Engstrom first floated this idea, I knew it would fill a need for many of us. The internet has made it easier to find community with kindred spirits, but we still crave those real-life, face-to-face encounters with women who get us, with whom we can drink warm, cozy beverages (or cool fizzy ones) and swap hugs and laughs and maybe a few tears.

We need to affirm each other in the ways God is calling us- each of us- into a beautiful, unique story that He has dreamed for us.

This summer, we'll have that chance.

And I can't wait to put on my honorary Midwesterner shoes (wait, what are those? probably cute flats, right? is that ridiculously stereotypical?) and join you.

Are you coming? Will I get to meet you in person? There are still tickets available here for both Friday night's event and the Saturday conference sessions. Let's hang out- you, me, and these amazing people!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Parenting Lesson Learned...the best parenting advice you've never heard

Fellow parents of little ones, I’m going to give you the best parenting advice we have never received.

Picture the moment: I am standing in one of only two open Target checkout lines, watching the second hand on my watch drag slowly around, wishing to be anywhere other than here where my kids are yelling at each other and trying to touch all the mints and Chap-stick and refusing to stay seated in the cart.  I feel like every pair of eyes in the store is on us as I try to quietly correct them and they yell, “NO! She’s kicking me! I want to get out and walk! How much longer! My coat fell on the floor!”

Has that ever happened to you?

Or how about that time when my daughter whined down the entire length of the cereal aisle for something I'd never buy? Or when I had to carry someone kicking and screaming from a restaurant while my extended family and that couple from our church watched me go?

All of these things have happened to me...and in my mind, what stands out about all of these moments is the terrible, sinking fear that I’m being judged by every adult within earshot. Why can't she control her kids? My cheeks burn and I feel like I might cry. And inevitably, some well-meaning person says something like this:

Oh, treasure these moments, sweetie, for they are the best days of your life!

It's a familiar refrain. Some parents who have gone boldly before seem to forget that these terrible moments can feel like anything but the best moments of our lives...and they seem to be suggesting that we can change these moments just by appreciating them.

Nothing could be more frustrating than hearing those words when everything is already falling apart.

Well, what if they're wrong?

What if these aren't the best moments ever?

What if the best moments haven’t happened yet?

Consider what they’re saying to us as we stand in front of them with our arms full of toddler and groceries and our faces full of embarrassment. These are the best moments of your life. You should be treasuring every one of them. If my child, aged 2, is embodying the best moments of our shared time together during this awful scene in the grocery store checkout, that’s pretty sad.

How would things look different if we stopped feeling guilty for not appreciating every minute of this supposedly-best-but-occasionally-awful time of our lives and started looking forward? What if we said to each other instead, “This is a hard moment, but it will pass, and the best is still ahead of you. The best is yet to come.”

Our kids are only going to get older. Their brains are going to continue to grow. They will continue to develop their abilities to practice self-control. They will continue to hone their skills at empathy and manners and public decorum. We are shaping them and helping them to grow into better and better versions of themselves (and becoming better versions of ourselves, too). They are little bundles of walking, talking potential…and our relationships with them can blossom more and more with every passing year.

The best is not now.
The best is what we have in front of us…and how good it can be is at least partly up to us and how we handle these moments while we are in them.

So, the next time there’s a challenging meltdown in aisle 6, instead of feeling guilty about how we aren’t appreciating these wonderful moments, let's try a different approach. Take a deep breath. Relax our shoulders. Smile at our challenging child, who isn’t having her best moment, and say to ourselves (and to her!), “The best is yet to come.”

Friday, February 5, 2016

Five-Minute Friday: FOCUS.

Even the toughest days have beautiful moments.

I collect them, carefully preserving each one the way I did with my Lisa Frank stickers in elementary school: Sam, blowing out his birthday candles on an R2-D2 cake, Felix, swinging in our backyard with a gleeful grin, Lucy and Nora, giggly and soapy with bubble-covered hair in our bathtub; the way the sun slants through the kitchen window in the late afternoons when the day first starts becoming the evening.

They’re tiny moments when things look brighter, somehow…minutes when I realize how good things really are…places where the veil is thin and I notice that God is constantly leaving His fingerprints all over my life. In these moments, the lens of a camera is the most clarifying thing I know.

When things are hard, like they are right now, I scroll through these images in my mind or look at them on my phone, and I can almost see the thread of grace that runs through them. My life is blessed- not because it’s easy, but because no matter how hard it is, I am never alone.

I can’t preserve these moments forever or freeze time when everyone is smiling…but looking at those photos helps me focus on the grace. Focusing on grace leads to gratitude. And practicing gratitude, even in hard times, is how we keep going.

This Lent, I’m offering the HolyLens Lent-stagram project again- daily photo prompts as a spiritual practice of seeing the holy in the midst of the everyday. Each week, I will post prompts on my blog drawn from the scripture readings for the day. Take a photo and share it with the hashtag #HolyLens, and we can all support each other in looking for those holy moments in our lives (and focusing on ways God is present in them) as we prepare for Easter. You can find out more about the project here or follow our page on Facebook. I hope you will join us!

For more Five-Minute Friday, head over to Kate's blog, Heading Home.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

TwinsDay Wednesday: Twin on Twin Violence

These girls of mine have always been risky.

They were risky from the very beginning, when we went to the midwives' office certain that we were losing our baby only to find out there were two babies (and that they were still in some danger).

They were risky when they started trying to be born at 19 weeks, ending up with their mother on bedrest to wait out their gestation, almost afraid to breathe as I counted days and weeks and months while lying on my left side.

It was a very long summer.

Once we all survived their birth, they were pretty safe for a while, until they started moving...and then they crawled off sofas and fell off beds and climbed into each other's cribs and broke the latches on bathroom cabinets to steal toilet paper and roll it down the hall.

Now, the dangers are a little different.

As any pair of preschoolers will tell you, learning to share is not an easy thing. How can I give this thing to you when I very much want it for myself...especially now that I know you also want it?

I can't. It's simple. And if you persist in trying to get it from me, I might punch you. Or shove you. Or smack you in the face with a toy suitcase and give you a bloody nose.

Last week in the back seat of our van, pushed beyond her limits by one of the most persistent, precocious people I know (who happens to be her twin), Nora blew a fuse and gave Lucy her first nosebleed. It bled on and off the rest of the day. After the initial shock, Lucy was rather matter of fact about it (being no stranger to bleeding from her face, unfortunately). We watched it and waited to see if anything serious would develop. When it didn't, we figured it was an isolated incident.

Oh, how silly we were.

Since that day, there have been many blown fuses. Lucy pushes and pushes and pushes Nora's buttons until Nora can no longer hold her temper. Nora erupts and shoves or kicks or bites Lucy. Lucy screams and runs to me for help, and although I'm very much in the "it is never, never okay to hit" camp, I feel a little bad for Nora.

She has all the big feelings. Lucy has a knack for exploiting this. It doesn't seem fair.

People at Costco used to ask if the girls had a special secret language because they were twins. Like so many things that people say to parents of twins, it was a stupid question. Still, they do seem to have a weird connection. Three times yesterday, they got up from the floor at exactly the same time in separate rooms and went running down the hall toward each other, only to collide head first and fall down, each holding her head and crying.

The final time, just before dinner, Nora got a huge goose egg on her head that immediately swelled and turned purple...and Lucy got what I believe is going to be a very impressive black eye.

I can't wait to hear what the people at Costco say about them now.

Is being a twin a lifelong risk factor? Are they always going to be hurting each other? Will it get worse before it gets better? The bigger they get, the more powerful their punches...and they don't seem to be developing much restraint. I never got into a physical fight with any of my siblings, so this is new territory for me- do your kids fight like this? Tell me your stories. I need some perspective!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Felix cleans up after himself (and turns the corner toward 2)

Last night, Felix came running into the kitchen looking for a towel. He opened the drawer, took one out, and went down the hall with it. We all assumed someone must have sent him to get one, but no...it turns out he had spilled some water from his sippy cup and had gone to clean it up without being asked.

I teared up a bit in the middle of my happy dance in the hallway. My littlest guy cleaned up a spill! His own spill! No one told him to do it! I may have been prouder than the first time he talked or walked.

What could it mean? Do I dare to hope that he, like me, will be a person who notices messes and does something about them?

His older siblings are notoriously messy creative, process-oriented types who generally believe that the end justifies the means. They may also believe in small, magical cleaning fairies who come and take care of messes around here, despite my continued insistence that such fairies do not exist. They can be found drawing on walls occasionally (consequences be darned!), swinging from curtain rods and repurposing silverware for their own nefarious uses (like today's jousting match gone awry, for example). They are not often seen putting things back where they found them.

Could Felix possibly be different?
Did I finally get one of them on my side?
Is it too soon to get him his own little broom and dustpan?

Only time will tell.

In the meantime, please help me wish Felix a happy half-birthday. I can't believe he's already been here 18 months...and at the same time, I can't remember what life was like without him.

Here's to bright futures (and maybe, just maybe, less messy ones).

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Great Snow Cream Taste Test: Five Recipes and variations

Have you ever made snow cream? It is good, but it's not that good. It still tastes like snow more than anything else.

Our usual recipe has always served us well, but this year, we wondered- is there a way to make snow cream better? Like something we'd actually want to eat more than once a year? We decided to branch out and try some variations since there is plenty of snow for experimentation. After collecting suggestions from friends and readers, we voted on five recipes to sample and set up a taste test, hoping to find that perfect snow cream recipe that is less like eating snow and more like eating dessert.

Our testers ranged from experienced snow-eaters (Sam) to brand new ones (Felix). Everyone was excited to try out some variations on the traditional vanilla snow cream we have always made.

For reference, here's our regular recipe:

The amount of snow needed varies depending on the texture of the snow, so it usually ends up being somewhere between 2 and 3 quarts.

Here are five new ways to make snow cream a real dessert!

1. Strawberry with chocolate shavings: to the basic vanilla recipe, add 1/4 cup strawberry powdered drink mix (Nesquik). Garnish with dark chocolate shavings on top.

2. Fruity Snow Cone: Instead of vanilla, add one packet of unsweetened Kool-Aid mix and whisk to combine. You can also leave out the milk for an icier texture. We used Blue Raspberry Lemonade because it was what we had in the house. (We also had regular lemonade, but we avoided that one- no one should ever eat yellow snow, even if it came from a flavoring packet.) Word to the wise- if you have unsweetened drink mix, like we do, don't forget to put in the sugar. Yuck.

3. Creamy Cinnamon Snow Cream: instead of milk and sugar, add one half can sweetened condensed milk (Eagle Brand is our favorite) and one tablespoon of cinnamon. This one was my favorite!

4. Frozen Hot Chocolate: instead of sugar, add one packet of instant hot chocolate mix. We liked the one with the mini marshmallows for an extra sweet treat. The majority of the testing team voted for this as their favorite recipe.

5. Kahlua Snow Cream: add coffee liqueur instead of vanilla for a special grownup snow cream treat. Dark chocolate shavings or cinnamon are also great on this one. Adult testers felt this recipe with the addition of sweetened condensed milk instead of regular milk was especially delicious.

Do you make snow cream? What's your favorite variation? We still have plenty of snow left in our yard, and I hear there might be more on the way- my taste testers are ready for another round of recipes, so please share yours!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Snow Cream Recipe

Well, it's here...the big snow of the year! The one we've all been waiting for!

In case you are:

1. Watching the snow from inside,

2. Hungry (and craving something cold and sweet?),

3. Feeling like experimenting but not working too hard,

here is our family's favorite snow cream recipe.

I've written about my love for this treat before. I know it doesn't taste like ice cream, but that's part of why I like it. Snow cream is a stand-alone food- no ice cream comparisons needed.

Have you made snow cream before? What do you put in yours?

Make some...make up your own version...add bananas or cinnamon or Nestle Quick or something, and let me know how it goes. We're all about the variations...and it looks like we have plenty of snow to experiment with this time.