Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Timer Isn't for the Kids

Few realizations have been more eye-opening than finally figuring out that I can't just juggle my family and my home in my head now that we're almost six people.  I really did feel like I could do it before.  Remembering who had what toy first and for how long.  Remembering who had had screen time and when they had started using  Remembering that poor kid I put in time out.

Those days are gone.  A few weeks ago I realized that when my kids were on the computer, I started racing around and doing all the chores around the house that did not require "help."  You know what kind of help I'm talking about.  It's the kind that involves a 1 year old playing with a toilet brush and waving it through the air.  A couple days ago, I figured out that my kids were super fidgety in time out because heaven only knows when Mommy will remember that she put them in time out and needs to have a conversation with them.  And, oh the frustration, I have no idea how long anyone has had any toy in my house.  I try not to favor the squeaky wheel who whines about his property all the time or the little girl who steals toys and then shrieks when her brothers try to take them back, but OH MY WORD... the whining, the tattling, the screaming!!  It grates on my last nerve, making my want to send everyone to Australia so I can pretend like adults don't whine and complain just as much (been to Walmart lately, anyone?).

My solution: the timer.  I haven't used it consistently before.  It was always too bothersome to get up and actually set it, but I find that it's no longer optional.  It's not like I'll just magically remember when 30 minutes is up.  Time just flies around here!  So here are some strategies that are working to save me stress.

When a child starts asking for screen time, I give them a time (normally 2 hours or so in the future) when they can have some computer or Amazon Prime time.  This forces them to find something else to do to entertain themselves, but keeps me from having to hear, "Can I play PBS Kids now?" 100 times in a 60 second period.  I'm telling you... It would try the patience of a saint.  I set a timer so I don't forget my agreement and point the child to the timer if the question does arise.  If the question is asked too often, I set the timer for longer.  So far, so good.  When the timer does ring, I set it again for the amount of screen time that that particular child can handle before becoming an emotional zombie.  You know what I'm talking about.  You know you do.  This keeps me from starting a project upstairs and coming down to find that my child has been on the computer so long that his hand is permanently fused to the mouse.  And our children are justice-minded enough to think that if one has had that much time, then all should.  Tell me this is not just our house.

Toys and timers have revolutionized the sharing process.  I remember watching one of my friends do this with her daughter and thinking she was a genius.  She is, but, shockingly, her method even worked for me and my kiddos.  When one child doesn't want to share a toy, I ask them how many minutes they need with that toy (a million is not a reasonable answer).  We set a timer for that amount of time, and the other child has to wait for the toy until the timer rings and then gets said toy for the same amount as the first child had it.  It works like a dream!  Normally it takes no more than 2 rounds with a timer for them to just start passing the toy back and forth nicely.  Phew.  No more tattling or brawling.  So nice.  So worth getting off my tail to set the timer and helping them work it out together.

Lastly, time out.  Some times we have multiple children in time out.  I know.  It's unimaginable that my children would need significant time away to cool off and be ready to talk about better choices, especially with such an even-keeled mother. HA. At this point, I just set a timer for the youngest offender.  After talking to that child and resolving their offenses, I move on to the next oldest until everyone has been freed.  If a child is not ready to talk, I skip them.  They know this only prolongs their own time in purgatory so normally they are ready to talk turkey as soon as I am.  But occasionally someone gets stubborn.  Clearly they get that from Teacher Man.  (Insert giant laugh here.)

Otherwise, I have bad news.  I forget putting people in time out and never get to deal with the heart of the matter.  I get frustrated with people not sharing and raise my voice, never giving any strategies for coping, so the problems just keep coming back.  And I just let the screen time take over our day to the point where I don't even remember what we did with all our time.

The timers aren't for the kids.  They're for me.  Because I've come to the end of myself and realized that I'm just not enough.  I'm gonna need some extra help.  And if that help just happens to be free and to teach my children some concept of time, then so much the better.  But continue to pray for me. At this rate of mental disintegration, I will soon have timers ringing and have no clue why I set them.  Don't judge.  We all have issues.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Life as a Multi-mom

I've had brief glimpses of my former life this month, remembering back to when I was responsible for only one little boy.  Recalling our peaceful trips to the library.  Reminiscing about the little activities and projects we used to do together and the hours that we spent cuddled up on the couch reading.  Fast-forward to today, only five years later...

As I sit here typing, I can look down and see my ever-growing belly, a good sign that the little life within continues to thrive.  I can hear a four year old playing in his bunk bed when he should be napping.  I hear the heavy breathing of my one year old daughter as she refuels her energy tank for a romping afternoon.  And I know that that little boy I used to spend hours/days/weeks snuggling with on the couch is reading to himself while I spend a few minutes recharging my own batteries.  Life is full.  And while some moments fly by, others are so decadently rich with precious moments that my mind and soul can't take it all in.

I'm a multi-mom.  I have more children than I have hands.  I can compare and contrast each of their birth stories in mind-numbing detail.  At times, I glory in seeing the unique personalities each of them has been given, and at other times I wish they would cooperate better as a team.  We've reached a new season.  It's no longer about him or him or her or me.  It's about us, living life, loving God, and enjoying the ride... because it is a ride.  If you try to get off, you will be run over.  I know.  I've tried.  Ouch.  But I've also had to intentionally hit the brakes to at least slow things down because I realized that I was missing all the gourmet moments while being so frantically busy trying to make the daily happen.

More of them.  Less of me.  Something had to give.  So here's what a did: I prayed.  And I talked to Teacher Man, who LAUGHED out loud.  He had the gall to laugh to my face when I asked him if he thought I was involved in too many things.  Apparently, I'm just super slow at recognizing what the people around me can see after 30 seconds in my presence.  And God did a work in my heart and my mind, cutting things away and even adding a few in.  

God was faithful.  A week after I begged the Lord to show me how I was supposed to get to the grocery store in our schedule, a college student asked if she could serve our family with childcare.  A few days after I told Teacher Man I was going to scream if I had to keep cooking allergy-friendly meals every night, a woman from church offered to make me an egg-free, dairy-free meal on occasion.  And at one point when I thought I was going crazy, God ordained a coffee date with a woman I've only met a few times, and I discovered a kindred spirit.

It wasn't easy.  I miss a lot of the things I cut out.  So. much.  But I think I would feel worse about scurrying my way through Laura's second year of life and Ben's first year of preschool at home.  About the feelings of anger as I watched more problems arise than I had the free time to work on.  About missing all of Caleb's crazy stories from kindergarten because I am still processing my frantic schedule.  About not slowing enough to talk to the little life growing inside me.

I was struck this morning as I watched all three of my children jumping and laughing in the family room that, while I will not miss diapers and shoe-tying, I will indeed miss having preschoolers in the house.  Their unrestrained hugs.  The thump of little feet running through the house.  Their inability to hold words back... every honest, sweet, stinking, hilarious thing they feel like saying comes out.  Even at their most excited, I highly doubt all three of my oldest children will jump and laugh and tumble around the family room like clumsy gymnasts once they've reached the teen years.  Bummer.  Although that's probably best for the safety of the furniture.

There's also more scary to come.  With new little person's arrival in April, I'm realizing that even the things that God is allowing me to keep right now, He could very well ask me to give up in the spring.  Ouch.  Pain, but in a good way.  I'd rather have a few deep commitments than a bunch of momentary appearances.  Though it's nice to keep up with everyone, my soul revels in a small circle who can be honest, extend forgiveness, and love richly.  And even though I may refer to my kids as our "crew," my deepest desire is to know their hearts individually and to mother each of them uniquely.  Because even though I'm a multi-mom, my deepest desire to to be Caleb's mom, Ben's mom, Laura's mom, and ???'s mom.  To teach them to live and love together as a family but to pursue the individual callings that the Lord has placed on each of their lives.

To those of you who are enjoying life with one child, bless you.  It's hard.  And scary.  And so very overwhelming.  And to those of you with your hands full of little hands, bless you.  It's hard.  And scary.  And so very overwhelming.  My hats off to each of you for embracing the life God has called you to live today.  May you do it well by the strength and grace that God has given you for this moment!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Spoon Rolls

Okay, I've talked about them enough.  I have to share.  When Teacher Man and I were on our honeymoon, we stopped at the Harrow Road Cafe in middle of historic Rugby, Tennessee.  It seemed like it would be good lunch until they brought out the bread basket, and then... it was an amazing lunch.  We gorged ourselves on these rolls that tasted like a delightful cross between a yeast roll and a buttery muffin with just a hint of cornmeal.  When we were leaving the restaurant, I spotted a cookbook with the recipe for those incredible spoon rolls.  Thus began a beautiful obsession for our family as we've adapted the recipe over the years.

I serve these with soup or just because.  They also have been a great snack for Bible study.  I pull out all my spreads: jams, pear butter, apple butter, dulce de leche, and peanut butter.  Then everyone can eat them plain (my favorite way) or doctored up.  If you eat these cold, they are yummy.  If you eat them warm, they are divine!

Here's my recipe that I've adapted for our family of dairy-free, egg-free eaters:

4 cups of whole wheat flour (I like Wheat Montana's Prairie Gold, which is a similar texture to white flour.  Feel free to use white flour.  I won't judge.)
2 T baking powder
1 tsp. sea salt (or 2 tsp. salt)
2 1/4 cup lukewarm water
1/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup coconut oil or butter if you're able (melted)
2 T cornmeal
1 egg, beaten (or I use 1 T ground flaxmeal mixed with 3 T hot water and leave the mixture to sit for 5 minutes.)
1 T dried yeast

1. Add yeast to warm water in small bowl and stir.
2. Mix egg (or egg substitute), sugar, and melted coconut oil (or butter) in another small bowl.
3. Whisk together baking powder, flour, salt, and cornmeal in large bowl.
4. Add wet ingredients to large bowl and stir with wire whisk.  Do NOT use a mixer.  Trust me.  Resist the urge.
5. Spoon into greased muffin tins (3/4 full) and bake at 400 degrees for 10-14 minutes.

Makes 24 rolls (if you're lucky).

But here's the hint, if you make this dough in the morning and cover it with foil in the refrigerator, it gets SO much yummier.  Then just pull it out, put it in the muffin tins and bake right before supper to have hot rolls.

Go. Make these for supper.  And if you aren't dairy-free, feel free to substitute butter for the coconut oil.  I know I would if I could!  Lovely, lovely salted butter.  Then try to wait to eat one until it cools down... on second thought, don't try.  Some battles just aren't worth the effort.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

It would have been enough...

Seder is big in my family.  No, we're not Jewish.  Evangelical Christians, in fact.  But about twenty years ago, my dad was doing research on the feasts of the Old Testament and ended up creating a Seder service that combined Old Testament and New Testament readings.  At first, it was supposed to be just a small Sunday School gathering, but it quickly evolved into an all-church feast.  And even though a job transfer moved my family away from that church, we continued the tradition in our own family until my parent's new church heard about it.  So Thursday my parents helped to serve the Passover feast to a group from their church in addition to sharing the feast with my Bible study group here on Tuesday.

It's a beautiful time of remembering the grace and power of God to His people and now to us as believers through the Lamb of God, His Son Jesus Christ.  One of the most beautiful parts of the ceremony is a litany in which the leader reads a list of miracles that God did to free the Israelites and provide for them in the desert for forty years.  After each miracle, those sitting around the table repeat the phrase, "It would have been enough for us."  What a powerful reminder of the magnitude of miracles God did for the Israelites!  How amazing to think that they needed each and every one of these miracles to survive their journey through the desert!  And what a practical, humbling experience it is to think that any one of those miracles would have been... should have been... could have been enough for them.  Because God was enough.

Which brings me to Saturday.  It wasn't a very significant day... other than the fact that God woke me up at 7 a.m. and told me that I would really like to go to the grocery store. right. then.  If you know me very well, you know that's pretty supernatural, especially on a Saturday morning.  And He would NOT let me go back to sleep... so to the store I went with an inexplicable joy to be awake and buying food for my family.  I restocked all of our cupboards, and then we all went outside as a family to work in the garden and play in the sunshine.  It was pretty perfect.  Then we got the call at noon that my mom and dad were planning to come and help us out in the garden after lunch. Yay!

My parents are master gardeners, and you'd be hard pressed to find a garden in our city that doesn't have at least one of their perennials in it.  They love to give away their plants and help others enjoy gardening.  Plus, when they come to my house, they get to pass that love on to their three grandchildren.  What could be better?

We trimmed and hauled sticks and branches from trees, bushes, and plants all afternoon together.  It was a beautiful day of good conversation, sunshine, and really happy children. But when I went to take a basket of twigs out to the brush pile, I found my dad lying on the ground.  Thinking he was just examining my lawn for moles because he's the "lawn guy" in the family, I didn't think to much of it until I talked to him and he wouldn't respond to me.  Quickly my mom ran over and my husband came, not knowing why we were all gathered around the ground.

Within seconds, I was dialing 911, my husband was clearing my dad's airway, and my mother was talking to Dad trying to get him to wake up and respond.  But he wouldn't.  And he stopped breathing.  And as I talked to the emergency responder on the phone, I truly thought I was watching my mother say goodbye to my father for the last time.  Teacher Man checked for a pulse.  Praise God it was there!  Then he gave Dad a breath, and by some miracle Daddy started gasping for air.  Snoring actually.  Not regularly.  But every so often, he would snore or gasp for air.  There was life in his body, and his color started to come back.

The EMTs were amazing.  They got here in minutes, and by the time they had wheeled their gurney back to Dad, he uttered his first words after they asked him what happened: "I have no idea."  I can't tell you how good it was to hear those words.  The next few hours were a blur of spending time at our local ER where Dad was gasping for breath and confused, watching Daddy be airlifted to a larger hospital, driving to my parents' home to get things for my mother, and heading to the larger ER to find my dad awake and talking.

It's been a whirlwind.  Test after test has come back negative.  No problems. Dad's heart is fine.  His brain is fine.  Everything is fine.  We're frustrated to not know what happened, but so incredibly blessed to know all of the things it was not.  And through all these tests, we as a family have reflected on the immeasurable grace of God in every detail of this awful event.

This Easter we celebrated the resurrection in a whole new light.  We watched my dad breathe new life with no human explanation.  We watched him recover total ability after only a few hours.  We know this didn't have to be the way that God wrote our story.  But it is.  And as we reflect on this last week and prepare for the future, we can do nothing but give glory to God.  For His grace.  For His goodness.  For His presence in even the tiniest detail.  Because even if everything had not turned out this way, God would still be God.  He would have been enough for us. It would have been enough for us.  It would have.

If the test results had not come back so well... It would have been enough for us.

If Dad had not had one of the best medical teams in the state... It would have been enough for us.

If the Body of Christ hadn't surrounded us in a cloud of prayer... It would have been enough for us.

If he had not been airlifted to a wonderful hospital... It would have been enough for us.

If the paramedics hadn't come so very quickly to give him oxygen... It would have been enough for us.

If Teacher Man hadn't been trained in CPR and able to help Dad start breathing... It would have been enough for us.

If Dad had passed out at home and not here where Teacher Man and I could help Mom... It would have been enough for us.

And if Saturday had been our last day with Daddy...our last day of gardening in the sunshine and laughing together while the children played...his first day of standing in the presence of His Savior... It would have been enough for us. But, oh, how grateful I am though that Dad has been given the gift of another day.

God was and is and will always be enough for us.  Amen.  And amen.

Monday, February 10, 2014

30 years

Yep.  The rumors are true.  Today is my 30th birthday.  As crazy as it seems to have arrived at that birthday, it really doesn't feel crazy at all.  It feels right.

I've spent this month looking back at the last 10 years...

Living and teaching in Argentina for a year

Coming home and falling in love with a man who quickly became my best friend

Student teaching in Bolivia

Graduating from college

Marrying my best friend

Greeting our firstborn

Watching Teacher Man graduate

And figuring out life with a child

Right before we discovered that we'd be figuring out life with childREN

And then falling even more in love with these guys who shower me with a crazy amount of grace

 Before welcoming their sister into the world

And watching my boys become the BIG brothers

To a very adventurous little girl

Not to mention 7 moves, 5 jobs, and 3 mortgages.

All that said, I'm ready to call it a decade.  As I look at these pictures, I remember hundreds of life lessons learned and relearned; dozens of faces of mentors, role models, and teachers who invested their time in my soul; and too many precious and irreplaceable people to count.  I could not be more grateful for the way my Savior has led me and the people I have had the privilege of walking (and sometimes running) alongside in this journey. It's been a privilege and an honor.  So goodbye 20's!  Thanks for the great ride!  We'll see what the 30's hold.... starting.... NOW!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Not a morning person

To say I'm not a morning person is an understatement.  Motherhood and the introduction of multiple sleep interruptions each night has brought this to a whole new level.  Last night was pretty mild though.  One kid with a bad dream.  Two texts messages from Caleb's preschool.  Some excited talking from the boys' room at an ungodly hour of the morning.  Not too bad for our home.

However, I realized halfway through breakfast how foggy I really was.  I had made myself a grilled cheese.  Call me crazy, but I really never feel like oatmeal or cereal in the morning.  And most mornings I am way too groggy to whip up pancakes.  So grilled cheese it was.  I even have a goofy song I sing about eating lunch foods for breakfast.  Ask my boys to sing it for you.  I don't sing it in public.  I've gotta preserve some dignity...says the woman who does the "raise the roof" move to get her baby to eat green beans.  Hey... ya gotta do whatcha gotta do.

I sat down at the table for some time in the Word while I drank my first cup of coffee and enjoyed my deliciously crunchy grilled cheese sandwich.  First bite... good.  Second bite... soo good.  Third bite... what is this hard thing in my mouth?  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I had cooked the twist tie from the bread into my grilled cheese sandwich.  Hold your applause.  Seriously.

This would seem pretty funny if I hadn't accidentally put a piece of cardboard from the cereal box in my cereal yesterday... and chewed it for a second before realizing how not cinnamon crunchy it was.  Now you know why Teacher Man is in charge of making the coffee.  And why my children almost never get a hot breakfast (besides oatmeal out of the microwave, toaster waffles, and, of course, grilled cheese sandwiches).

I'd love to be that mom... you know... the one who serves a three-course hot breakfast that it perfectly balanced and makes you want to get out of bed in the morning singing showtunes, but having three beautiful and very real children has made me realize that it's better for me to catch 30 more minutes of sleep and sanity than it is to have a hot breakfast.  I'd rather my kids had cold cereal and a kindly speaking momma than a three-cheese omelet and a tired, angry mom.  Amen.

So for the rest of you non-morning moms, way to get out of bed today and smile!  You have done a great thing!  And for those morning mothers who love to get up and make hot breakfast, feel free to come over any time!  I like my bacon extra crispy and my grilled cheese sandwiches without twist ties.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


For the last month, I have lived within the four walls of our home with only a few outings.  I have to say... I would be a very good hermit... for a while.

Certain things about being home are amazing.  Having unlimited time to read with my kiddos.  Making giant pots of soup to keep everyone warm.  Making cup after cup of tea to drink.  Taking nap times to read books that have been on my nightstand for far too long.  Hanging pictures in this crazy house (FINALLY!).  Talking with Teacher Man about life, our kids' hearts, and the struggles of my heart.

I feel healed in so many ways by the solitude.  And the time to actually reflect and talk has changed our family... for good.  Here's where we settled:

1. We decided to take a month-long break from having Caleb in preschool.  After having a few weeks off for Christmas, I realized how much getting everyone up and out the door by 7:50 a.m. was draining us.  Caleb LOVED his time with his teacher and friends, but the stress of dragging two half-sleeping little siblings into their car seats in the cold was really getting to me.  REALLY getting to me.  So for the month, Caleb is doing some handwriting, phonics, and math with me (per his choice).  He has also been promised at least one day a week to play with a friend.  So far, so good.

2. Do you ever feel like you are just running on empty?  It's scary, but I feel like I've been in a desperation cycle for the last six months of my life. My apologies to the friends and family who have lived with me! This is what happens when you try to move your household and raise three kids in your own strength for the approval of man.  So a new boundary has been put in place.  No screens until the Bread of Life has been eaten, the only food that satisfies.  It may not be much, but I take a few minutes to do Word of Life's daily passage, reflecting on what the passage says and how it applies to my life.  And then I pull out my list.  My Thousand Gifts.  And I count.  Starting the day with giving thanks back to the Giver of Life.  It keeps me seeing His gifts, and it's filling me up.  Feeling stronger by the day.

3. I'm moving.  Not houses (PTL!) but myself.  Rather than seeing physical activity as something to be avoided, I am embracing the stairs as my friend, the laundry baskets as my fitness helpers, and my children as my workout buddies.  Current workout routines include cleaning floors, doing massive amounts of laundry, and playing very competitive hide 'n seek tournaments.  I have never run so fast in 15 seconds or had more fun with my children.  I still walk/run with a friend a couple of evenings a week, but I want to embrace being active as a part of our family's daily life.  Teacher Man has been biking to work as long as the ice has been cleared off the road.  Bless him.  I hate cold.

4. We're learning.  I want my children to actually see my love for learning, both about the Lord and about the world that He made.  This means we're reading together (something we've always done), but I'm also reading books for my own personal enjoyment and enrichment in front of them.  I want them to know that we have not arrived as adults.  Teacher Man and I are still reading to learn and to have fun.  And, frankly, modeling this learner's spirit is just downright delightful.  These last few weeks have reminded me how much I love the written word.

5. Our dinner table looks very different due to Ben's allergy needs.  Much to my oldest child's dismay, we're eating a dairy-free, egg-free diet.  No cheese.  No milk.  No yogurt.  No cream.  No butter.  Thanks to having Teacher Man home for an extra week, I had time to do more research into making kid-friendly, DF (dairy-free) food now that macaroni and cheese is no longer standard fare.  I've also discovered the beauty of my dutch oven in the process.  OH MY GOODNESS!  Where has this thing been all my life?  I had a dutch oven that I didn't season (easy process!) for two years.  What was I thinking??  So easy to clean.  Goes from stove top to oven.  I could hug that thing (when it's cold, of course).  And it's cobalt blue.  Sigh.  So while I say goodbye to cream of chicken soup, it's nice to say hello to a new friend.

6. We're opening our doors.  There's something about feeling unrested and over-scheduled that makes you want to lock your doors when you actually are at home.  The retreat of the last few weeks and a more relaxed schedule is really motivating , and we're trying to reach out to moms, to families, to old friends, to college students with a renewed focus.

So I'm in the middle of a life that needs tweaking.  Yep, T-W-E-A-K-I-N-G tweaking.  (Name that movie.)  It took me far too long to wake up to the fact that what we were doing just wasn't working for our family and was even hindering us from showing grace to others and to one another.  So there's another gift to add to the list.

145: Waking up to what was holding me back
146: God doesn't give up on us but continues to work in our lives.
147: A change of pace that has been oh-so-healing.
148: Being snowbound.