February 16, 2017

Five Ways to Rescue a Rotten Morning


The other day, while I was looking for a baby picture of my older daughter to submit for her senior class slide show (sob), I came across this classic morning moment from my girls' younger years. 
Frankly, this is still how my girls feel about mornings.

As a mom, I consider one of my most crucial roles to be that of morning cheerleader: I truly want to get every member of my little family out of the house in as good a mood as possible. 

Now, before you roll your eyes and move onto to some other post that doesn't inspire the gag reflex, please read this disclaimer: my success rate at this lofty goal is about ten percent. My own mood in the morning is, well...a subject for another post. But when I am successful at sending my husband and daughters out and off feeling loved and cheerful(ish) and optimistic(ish), it's usually because I've put one of these tactics into action.

1. Embrace your power. Here's the deal, and I get that it can feel like a raw one: if you are a mom, you have some power to make or break a morning. I know perfectly well I can determine how the day starts in my house by my mood, my attitude, my words, the tone of my voice, and how much sighing I do. This kind of power can either look like a huge opportunity or an oppressive burden, but as the heart of your home, mama, it's yours whether you want it or not. Of course, you can be cheerful and optimistic and singing rather than sighing, and your people might still moan and groan, but if you choose to harness your power for good (and by "you," I'm mostly talking to "me," you understand), your rotten-day ratio will probably take a hit. Love does a lot more than love is, and sometimes what love does is channel its inner Mary Poppins, plaster on a smile, and say "good morning." 

2. Look forward. I know tomorrow is promised to no one. I know "the past is history, the future is a mystery, and present is a gift...that's why it's called the 'present.'" But in our family, we believe that looking forward to something--with the full understanding that there are no guarantees it will actually happen--is at least half the pleasure of it. 

At this very moment, my girls have countdowns on their phones for: 1)spring break; 2)dance recital; 3)Outcry (a Christian worship event I fully expect to charge up their spiritual batteries for at least six months); and 4)our mother/daughters/grandparents summer trip to Cape Cod. But at 6 a.m. on a school morning, it also helps to look forward to nearer pleasures: sleeping in on Saturday; our annual family "no go, no snow" winter retreat weekend; a new outfit (when you have teenage daughters, there is a lot to be said for the fashion/feelings connection). 

Years ago, I even "titled" every week day to help us get through: we have Make-It Through Monday, Totally Tuesday (because, God be praised, at least it's totally NOT Monday), Woo-Hoo Wednesday (yay, we've made it that far), Thank-Goodness-It's-Thursday (there's something victorious about making it to Thursday), and Finally Friday. Whatever it takes, people...whatever it takes. 

3. Crank up the volume. No, not on whining and complaining. I'm talking about harnessing the mood-improving power of music. (For scientific proof on this phenomenon, check out this post my music-loving friend, new mom, and fellow worship team leader Sammie shared with our group recently.)

My current go-to favorite is this one from TobyMac...the name alone should tell you why I keep it on deck at all times.

4. Sweeten the deal. Our family's fondness for food is no secret around here: we like to eat, and the transforming power of a good meal or a warm batch of chocolate-chip cookies is something I rely on. I know the experts (read: people who are not living in my house on the average Monday morning) say you're not supposed to use food to deal with feelings. But as I have done before on this blog, I'm claiming the truth of the Almighty here...if it was good enough for the biblical Hannah, it's good enough for me.
"Then she ate something, and her face was no longer downcast." 
(1 Samuel 1:18)
When I know ahead of time that a particular morning is going to be less than stellar, I sometimes haul out the big guns of mood management: these Double Chocolate Crunch Muffins. Most of the prep work can be done the night before, so if I drag myself out of bed the minute the alarm goes off, I can have these out of the oven by the time my girls stagger to the breakfast table. 



Double Chocolate Crunch Muffins {print recipe}

Crunch topping:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa (regular, Dutch-processed, or a blend)
1/2 cup brown sugar (pack it tightly into the cup to measure)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

Muffins:
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole-wheat flour (white whole-wheat, regular whole-wheat, or whole-wheat pastry flour)

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa (regular, Dutch-processed, or a blend)
1/2 cup brown sugar (pack it tightly into the cup to measure)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup warm water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1/3 cup reduced-fat sour cream (NOT fat free...NEVER fat-free)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar (I know, this seems like a weird ingredient, but it has incredible tenderizing powers, and I 100% promise your breakfast will NOT taste like cleaning solution)

Additional ingredients:
1/4-1/2 cup mini semisweet chocolate morsels
nonstick cooking spray


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a 12-spot muffin tin with cupcake liners and spray each lightly with nonstick cooking spray. (Yes, you need to do both these things.) 

For the Crunch Topping, stir the cocoa powder into the vegetable oil with a fork. Dump in the brown sugar and flour and blend with a fork just until crumbly. It should look like chocolate gravel. You can do this ahead of time; just make sure it's stored airtight.

For the muffins, blend the flours, brown sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl with a fork or whisk. (Do this the night before if you're trying to get a jump-start on these.) In a separate, medium-sized bowl, mix the remaining muffin ingredients (water through vinegar) with a fork or whisk. Dump the "wet" ingredients on top of the dry and mix together with a rubber spatula just until incorporated. Where muffins are concerned, lumps are good. Leave 'em in. Divide the muffin batter equally among your prepared cups (I use a spring-action ice cream scoop for this). Divide your prepared Crunch Topping equally among your muffins, pressing down slightly to ensure all your lovely chocolate gravel ends up baking into its muffin bases. Sprinkle each muffin with a few (or more) mini chocolate chips. 

Bake at 400° for 12-18 minutes or JUST until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out with a few moist crumbs (not wet batter) clinging to it. Cool in the muffin tin on a wire rack for about 5 minutes before gently removing from the tin for consumption or to cool completely on the rack. Store airtight at room temperature for a day or two, or freeze for a month-ish.

5. Add in some "want to." Your morning routine might be like ours: scheduled down to the second. About 25 things need to have happened around here by 7:03 a.m., or we've got trouble. If the morning is looking ripe to be rotten, though, it might help to make a little time for some happiness-inducing activity. For my girls, that will always be dance. Anytime my daughters have a couple extra minutes on a given morning, they'll pull up a song on YouTube and work on a recital routine. Not only does this help them learn the thing, it also improves the day from the get-go. 

For your kids, the fun factor might come in the form of reading a book for pleasure or playing a few minutes of a game or starting some creative project they can finish later (sorry for the mess, mom). Even a brief stint at a want-to activity versus a have-to one can help hit the reset button on a day that's headed south.
Notice the laundry basket in the background?
Clearly, this is NOT a stock photo.

How do you make over a moody morning? (Apart, of course, from that old "go back to bed and pull the covers over your head" standby?) Share it in a comment or over on FacebookI'll be here, trying to summon up some recessive cheerleader gene and waiting for your wisdom.


Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
This post may have been shared at some of these cybe soirees.

February 9, 2017

Dear School Guidance Counselor: My Daughter Is Making the Right Choice


Dear Miss X,

First, I need you to know that I think you’re fabulous. Parents who were already ahead of us in the high school game told us over and over that we were “so lucky” our daughter had you as her counselor by virtue of the first letter of her last name. “Miss X is awesome,” they told us, and they were right.  You are.

I know you want what is best for my Lydia, so we are 100% on the same page there. 

But I think we were on different pages in terms of what "best" looks like and where it might be found...

You know that my daughter is an A student who works hard for those grades. She's carrying a 4.0 GPA. She is dedicated, organized, polite, diligent, and respectful. Her teachers love her. She’s a skilled musician and dancer. She can do anything God wants her to do when she grows up.

And what she wants to do is work with preschoolers.

We have been advised that early childhood education(ECE) is not always regarded as an esteemed profession in our society. Friends and family have warned us again and again that “there’s no money in it.” We know some people think “anyone” can do it. We are well aware that when educators talk about the best and brightest students fulfilling their potential in the workforce and “being anything they can be,” this is not usually what they’re talking about. We’ve noticed that when motivational speakers list careers to strive for, they tick off engineering and medicine and science and law but never mention ECE.

But we also know this: apart from music and dance and family and God and friends, what Lydia loves are little children. She sees them in the grocery store and gushes about how adorable they are. She loves their little hands and their high-pitched voices and the way they pretend to make hot chocolate at the sand table. She teaches a preschool dance class, and at recitals, when she's leading her tiny ballerinas, I don't watch them: I watch my daughter. Her animated face. The way she saves the day when one of them falls down and Lydia tells them, "No big deal! It's okay! Keep going!" The group hug they all rush to give her the moment the music stops.

Of course you’re well aware that Lydia has been spending half of every school day hanging out with preschoolers as part of our area career center's early childhood education program. She has dreams of opening her own daycare or preschool someday, throwing in a few dance classes, and calling it "On Your Toes." (Which, Miss X, I am all for on account of her "Costume Corner" idea that might finally allow me to get all her old dance outfits out of my closet.)

When Lydia’s teachers ask what her future plans are and she tells them about her dream, this is what they say: "But why would you waste your time doing that? You're so smart." And I always think, "Really? We don't want the best students teaching our society's very youngest learners? Is that really how this works?"

I know you wanted her to "at least" go to the career center's "Education Academy" and pursue an elementary ed degree after high school. But Lydia does not want to teach even kindergarten, let alone a higher grade. 

My daughter loves to play and interact and pretend with 3- and 4-year-olds. She well understands that their play is their learning and that what they are doing when they make hot chocolate at the sand table is actually forming learning pathways in their brains. Pathways that might one day help them understand calculus or French or chemistry or robotics or violin.

But more than all that is this truth I wish you had the chance to see for yourself, a truth I finally had to step in and tell you myself because I could see that my daughter was too worried about being disrespectful to do it: Lydia loves working with little kids. It's how her heart beats. It's her passion. It's what she was born to do. It's what she is gifted to do. There are children who will need what Lydia has to offer. What Lydia can do is not something just anyone can do. That it may not be a high-paying power career in our culture does not make it any less Lydia's calling.

I know you see Lydia’s record and her potential, and I’m so grateful for that. But I needed to advocate for my daughter and let you in on deeper part of who she is that cannot be reflected by a grade report and any standardized test.

So Lydia is on the early childhood track, and she loves it. Her teachers at the career center love her. Her work experience supervisors love her. "Her" kids love her. And when I reported all this to you, dear Miss X, you told me, "You were right. I didn't know. But this is what Lydia should be doing, and I'm so happy for her."

Thank you, Miss X. I'm happy for her, too. Because among many other dreams I have for my daughter, I want her to be happy. And I know you do, too. It’s just that sometimes, the mom is the one who knows best what page that happiness falls on.

Sincerely,
Lydia’s mom



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February 2, 2017

10 Mom Things I've Said A Lot More Than 10 Times

"Elizabeth. When someone pays you a compliment, they are not looking for a discussion. Just say, 'Thank you.'"

This bit of wisdom is one of many things my wonderful mom said to me more than a few times when I was growing up.

Moms say the same things over and over for two reasons: 

1. Those things are true. 
2. We are too tired to come up with new material all the time. 

Which got me to thinking about the mom standbys I've been known to say with some, er, frequency.



1. Well, it's got to be somewhere. I feel like I've spent the last 17 years looking for lost stuff. At least once a day, I tell my girls that whatever they can't find "has got to be somewhere." Because it has. Now in the case of, say, my high schooler's lost cell phone, we still haven't figured out where "somewhere" is, but the phone IS somewhere. It might be a trash heap or it might be smashed in a parking lot or it might be in some mystery spot in her room we haven't though to check, but it IS somewhere. Whatever is lost IS still in existence somewhere. It didn't vaporize, for crying out loud. And I don't mean to brag, but no one in this house is better at figuring out where somewhere is than me. My daughters don't call me "Sleuth Mommy" for nothing. Most recent Sleuth Mommy score: my daughter's lost purity ring. Which was somewhere, as it turned out. Namely, under her dresser. All of which is to say that I'll have to take issue with Tim Hawkins as seen in this video clip. Tim, I love you, but don't call me Captain Obvious. Call me Sleuth Mommy.


2. It will be okay. It will. I have two teenagers, and they're both hormone-ridden girls, so I employ this phrase A LOT. And it's true. Whatever "it" is, it will usually be okay. Someday. Probably soon. In heaven if not before. It's the stuff that might not be okay until heaven that's tough to stomach.

3. Just do your best. And by "best," I mean best under a given set of circumstances, on a given day. Under other circumstances on another day, best might look better than it does right now. But just do it. That's all I ask.

4. Do you need a snack? Once I figured out I was going to have girls and only girls, I started talking to moms of boys and asking if I could rent their teenage sons to feed. Because I love to bake and feed people, and teenage boys are notorious for wanting to eat. Once my girls got older, though, I retracted my offer because as it turns out, my teen girls eat plenty, thank you very much. Which THRILLS me. But their healthy appetites do mean I spend a lot of time coming up with snacks-of-redeeming-nutritional-value that can be eaten on the run, in the car, en route to dance, before a track meet, etc. And in case you're wondering, the answer to "do you need a snack?" is almost always "yes" (insert tones of semi-starvation).

5. Are you listening to me? By which I do not mean, "Are the sounds coming out of my mouth being received by your auditory senses?" By which I do mean, "Are you paying attention to what I am telling you and, more to the point, do you have any intention of actually acting on what I'm saying?"

6. Did you put it in the laundry? Usually said in response to "is such-and-such clean???!!!" shouted from the top of the stairs at 6:08 a.m. on a school morning. Usually a Monday morning.

7. Be careful and pay attention. I have a teenage driver. I say this frequently. And then I pray. 

8. I'm so proud of you. Not just of what my girls have done, but of the effort they've put into the doing. And not just of who my girls are but of who they are becoming.

9. Don't forget to ___________. Brush your teeth. Find out what time the birthday party starts. Turn in your permission slip. Take your vitamin. Look in the bottom of your locker for that missing library book. Give me the shirt you want washed (see #6). Text your mother when you get there. 
Et al. Ad infinitum.

10. I love you. The end. And the beginning. And lots of points in between.

I'll leave it to the brilliant Anita Renfroe to cover all the rest of the things moms say on a daily basis...and she'll do it in 3 minutes and 24 seconds flat. Watch this video, then leave a comment or hop over to Facebook, and let me know what mom thing you've said more than a few times (even if it's something you'd be perfectly happy never to have to say again).




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