December 28, 2015

My Top 5 Mom Lessons (So Far)

I approached first-time motherhood pretty much the same way I did getting my bachelor's degree: like a crazed maniac. I was going for a 4.0 in pre-motherhood studies, baby. I read everything I could get my hands on about how to wash tiny onesies, how to swaddle a baby, how to breastfeed, how to give my baby a bath, how to get my newborn to sleep through the night, how to provide adequate tummy time for my infant, how to ensure proper sensory stimulation for my baby, and, just for good measure, how to discipline a toddler and raise a respectful teenager.
Then I had the baby. And pretty much gave up on everything but that sleep deal.
Over the course of the 17 years since the birth of my eldest (who is, as it turns out, a pretty respectful teenager, thanks for asking), I kept up my on-the-job training in the school of motherhood. I learned how to get permanent marker off the walls, how to hem a dance costume at the eleventh hour, and what in the world “box multiplication” is. But while I was figuring out how to be a mom (a learning curve that still hasn't straightened out for me), I also gleaned a few lessons that spill over into the rest of my life. And honestly, I'm not sure I could have learned these any other way.
A baker's dozen (at least) of triple-chocolate caramel cookies goes to Power of Moms for letting me ramble on about these lessons. They put this up awhile ago, but the start of a new year seemed like a good time to throw it on here. I know it's a pain to be redirected, but I'd be eternally grateful if you'd head on over and peruse my top 5. And as long as I'm being demanding, I'd also love it if you came back and added your own hard-won maternal wisdom to the list. Thanks, mama. You deserve an A+.

December 2, 2015

The 12 Days of Christmas Things I Love

Good enough.

These two words have helped me refocus my attention and recapture the joy of the Christmas season the last few years.

Good enough.

Not to "settle." Not to give less than my best to the people who mean so much to me. Not to just get through and get by.

But to filter all the shoulds and coulds to make room for what matters more and most.

If the decorations are good enough and the food is good enough and the gifts are good enough to celebrate the season and the Savior Who is its Reason, they are good enough for me. 

There is always one more decoration that could be put up or one more new recipe that could be made or one more gift that could be given. But if not putting up or making or giving one more leaves time or energy or money for something better, then what is already put up or made or given is good enough.

The 12 songs and traditions and recipes and stories on this list make up a lot of what my little family cherishes most during the Christmas season. We think these are very good. And they are more than enough.

1. The 12 Days of Christmas...Straight No Chaser-style. The only place I can rightly start this list. A gift in and of itself.

2. The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, by Susan Wojciechowski. Other than the original Christmas story, this is far-and-away my favorite. 

3. Family at-home Christmas Eve service. One day-before-Christmas morning several years ago when my girls were younger and required more intervention from me to stay occupied than they do now, I suggested they plan a family Christmas Eve service for us to all attend that night. They took the idea and ran with it, and now it is one of our most precious family traditions. We've had dances and hymn sings and comedy routines and clarinet-flute duets and readings and raps. I can hardly wait to see what they come up with this year. (Girls? Are you with me?)

4. Cut-out sugar cookies worth marrying into. Saying "I do" to my patient, kind, loving, and generous husband came with a lot of perks (that he puts up with me not the least among them). His mom's fabulous sugar cookie recipe is high on the list. If you like crisp cut-out cookies, this isn't your gig. (Try this list at for some options that'll be more your style.) But if you like soft, tender, melt-in-your mouth pillows of happiness, you need to stir up a batch of these soon. Now would be good.
I bake. I don't decorate. Obviously.

Cream-Cheese Sugar Cookies
Don’t forget to plan ahead for this recipe: the dough has to chill for at least 2 hours before you can work with it. But it will be worth the wait.

(Click here for a printable version.)

10 tablespoons butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
½ of an 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened and stirred until creamy (you’ll be using half of one “brick” of cream cheese…do not use anything in a tub)
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice (yes, this matters)
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking soda

Cream together the butter, sugar, egg, cream cheese, and lemon juice in a large mixing bowl.  This is easiest using an electric mixer. Beat until fluffy but do not overbeat or the cream cheese will get runny. Mix together the dry ingredients and beat them into the butter mixture just until incorporated.  Divide the dough into 2 equal portions, wrap in wax paper, and place dough portions in a plastic storage bag. Refrigerate at least 2 hours or up to a couple days, or freeze for up to a few months.

If dough is frozen, transfer it to the refrigerator to thaw for several hours before working with it. When you’re ready to bake, preheat your oven to 350° and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or coat them with nonstick cooking spray. Remove one portion of dough from the refrigerator (keep the rest of the dough chilled until you need it) and place on a well-floured work surface. Roll out to about ¼” thickness and cut into desired shapes with floured cookie cutters. This dough can be very sticky, especially as it warms up, so if it sticks to your counter or pastry board, just gather it up, re-flour your work surface, and start again. It will be worth it! Bake cookies at 350° for 6-8 minutes or until just set but not browned. Cool on cookie sheets for 2 minutes, then carefully remove to wire racks to cool completely before decorating or freezing (unfrosted). Makes approximately 1-2 dozen cookies, depending on the size of your cookie cutters, how thick you roll out your dough, and how many scraps of dough you and your helpers eat. Frosted cookies can be stored airtight for up to a week—if they last that long.

5. Christmas Eve spaghetti and meatballs. My favorite recipe is from Cooking Light. Among other reasons this is our family's go-to night-before-Christmas meal: spaghetti + meatballs in red sauce + green vegetable = Christmas colors all on one plate. Eat first with your eyes and all that...

6. Go Fish Christmas. From the best version ever of "Little Drummer Boy" to the beautiful, puts-everything-in-perspective "It's About the Cross," I love, love, love this entire album, start to finish.

7. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson. After the original Christmas story and The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey (see #2 on this list), this is my long-time favorite. For one thing, it has possibly the best opening line ever: "The Herdmans were absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world." I mean, seriously...genius. It also has one of the best closing lines ever: "HEY! UNTO YOU A CHILD IS BORN!" Read (or reread) this book. You'll see what I mean.

8. Page CXVI's "Silent Night." Get. Ready. For. Gorgeous. In case Roman numerals baffle you like they do me, these amount to 116. And tell me this isn't the most beautiful quote to base a group name comes from page 116 in their copy of The Magician's Nephew, by C.S. Lewis: "In the darkness something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing. It was very far away and Digory found it hard to decide from what direction it was coming. Sometimes it seemed to come from all directions at once. Sometimes he almost thought it was coming out of the earth beneath them. Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. There was hardly even a tune. But it was, beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise he had ever heard. It was so beautiful he could hardly bear it.”

9. The Christmas roast. On Christmas morning, families the world over can be divided into two categories: those whose members simultaneously tear open their gifts in one frenzied fit of gift-getting delirium, and those whose revelers take turns opening their bounty. The family I grew up in fell squarely into the “take turns” category. Once the Christmas-morning stage was set—Christmas music on the stereo, a fire in the fireplace, all of us in our robes and slippers—we determined the gift-opening order, and the unwrapping began in deliberate fashion. We tried new clothes on over pajamas, read packaging, commented on each other’s gifts, and told shopping back-stories. (“This was the last _____ in the state of Michigan!”) Thus, our gift exchange easily lasted several hours, at which point my brother and sister and I began to make noises about being hungry, at which point my mother realized she hadn’t even started Christmas dinner yet.

Because I am more worried about eating than my mother is, I like to have dinner well in hand before a single gift is de-bowed. To that end, I usually make “Forget-About-It and Open the Gifts” Pork Roast. This roast requires no trimming, trussing, or tying; you just throw it in a large pan, sauce it up, and park it in the oven for many low-temperature hours while you ascertain whether or not your spouse listened when you dropped hints about what you wanted for Christmas. It is delicious enough to serve to company (I once fed it to my mother-in-law, and she loved it) yet simple enough to please children if they are willing to eat meat at all. My 17-year-old daughter, our resident carnivore who plans to serve steak at her wedding reception, is wild for this pork. Our 12-year-old daughter, who would be a vegetarian except that she is not all that crazy about vegetables, will usually consume her obligatory three bites of this meat without too much complaint or bartering. (“If I eat an extra bite of broccoli, can I only take two bites of meat?”) A note of thanks for inspiring this dish goes to my surrogate big sister, Karen, who served us another version of this pork and whose family is, I’m quite certain, in the “take turns” camp of Christmas gift-opening.

“Forget-About-It and Open the Gifts” Pork Roast
I cook food.
I don't photograph it. Obviously.
(A printable version of this recipe is lurking here.)

1 (4-5 pound) boneless pork loin
½ cup apricot preserves
1 tablespoon orange juice
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar*
Olive oil
Nonstick cooking spray

Preheat oven to 400°. Spray the bottom of a roasting pan with cooking spray. Remove the pork from its wrapping, rinse it with water, and pat it dry with paper towels. Brush or rub it with olive oil, then sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Place in roasting pan (you’ll want the layer of fat to be facing up) and roast, uncovered, at 400° for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, put the apricot preserves in a 2-cup glass microwave-safe measure, and heat in the microwave on High for 20 seconds. Stir, then mix in orange juice and balsamic vinegar.

When the roast has cooked at 400° for 20 minutes, remove it from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 225°. Spread the apricot glaze mixture over the top of the pork. Cover the pan (use two layers of aluminum foil if your pan doesn’t have a lid—make sure the foil is crimped tightly all around the sides of the pan) and roast at 225° for about 6 hours, or until the meat can be pulled apart with a fork. Allow to rest, covered, for about 20 minutes. Serves 12-14. Leftovers can be shredded and mixed with barbecue sauce for sandwiches or frozen for later use.

10. A Christmas Carol. My dear husband introduced me to this holiday classic, and far-and-away our favorite movie setting of it is the George C. Scott version. We watch it every year on Christmas Eve with all the lights off and candles glowing. God bless us, every one.

11. Dove Peppermint Bark Promises. No list on Guilty Chocoholic Mama is truly complete without (wait for it) chocolate, and in my opinion, no holiday season is complete without this form of it. Note to the serious: stockpile these babies for the non-holiday months. Let's not take chances here.
12. The best gift ever. "The angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord'" (Luke 2:10-11).

Now: what do you love at Christmastime?
Share it in a comment or on Facebook!
This post originally appeared on Blogs By Christian Women's Christmas Blog Tour.
Stop by the tour and find more holiday happiness. 
You've even got time to make your own batch of Christmas bark
to snack on while you read.

November 20, 2015

(in)courage: Surprised by Good

“Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; 
His love endures forever.” {Psalm 107:1 NIV}

Three years ago, our family hosted Thanksgiving dinner for the first time.

I’d waited a while to do it. We had lived in our 100-year-old farmhouse for more than a decade. We had a formal dining room. I knew how to cook a turkey.

But established traditions called for us to spend Thanksgiving Day with my husband’s side of the family one year and with my parents at their house the next.

That year, we were supposed to be at my parents’, but my mom graciously agreed that my little family could host at our house instead. She and my dad would be our guests, along with my brother and sister-in-law and their two children.

I dreamed of how the day would go. It would be cold and gray and dreary…perfect for a fire in the fireplace and cozy indoor games. We would linger over dinner, taking time to savor each dish and share our thanksgivings around the table.

I would set the stage in the dining room ahead of time and then close the double sliding pocket doors. When our company arrived, I would slide the doors open with a flourish to reveal a Norman Rockwell-esque scene.

“Happy Thanksgiving!” I would declare. Probably, there would be applause. Probably, it would be like a Hallmark movie. 

Except, of course, it wasn’t.

Join me over on (in)courage for the rest of this story that I love so much...

November 6, 2015

Why I Still Stay Home

"Why do you still stay home when your kids are older and don't really need you that much any more?"

I'm a public-school mom of one tween and one teen, and I'm sharing my heart on this subject that's so near and dear to it at Her View From Home. Go ahead, mama, and click on over, because this site is worth the cyber-trip. Then if you want to put off your to-do list for awhile longer afterwards, I'd love to have you stop back here for some of the "what" that goes with my "why." 

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

"So what do you do all day?"

Stay-at-home-moms* have been fielding this part of the "why do you stay home and what do you do all day while you're there?" double-barreled question for decades now, and writers a lot craftier than I have answered it quite nicely.

(*SAHMs, and we aren't even going to go into how we can put a man on the moon but we can't come up with a clever, catchy, concise phrase or acronym or acrostic or SOMETHING that adequately reflects the status of a woman for whom the care and feeding--literally, but also figuratively, spiritually, emotionally, and other -allys--of her home and family are her primary occupations.)

But things get really tricky when you are a non-homeschooling SAHM of older children. 

Your PTA days are gone. 

Your kids dress themselves and direct themselves and possibly even drive themselves. 

Supposedly, they don't "need you" much anymore.

I do a some work for my husband from home (legal document prep). I write a little (which is to say I put the "free" in "freelance"). I occasionally work as a catering assistant to fund my girls' dance costumes. 

But what, exactly, DO I do all day the rest of the time? If you're like me (a long shot, admittedly, since I am far from being the most normal person you'll ever meet), and you, too, enjoy "day-in-the-life" posts OR if you happen to be wondering how a non-homeschooling SAHM of older kids fills her days, here's a condensed run-down of a typical day. (And please know this: I'm not anti-homeschoolers. I'm not anti-working moms. I'm just not either of them, so this is what I do. Please also know that I'm not intending this as a "look how busy and meaningful my life is!" deal, just a little lighthearted diary.)

4:30 a.m. My husband wakes up early. So I wake up early, too. If anyone else in this house is awake or, you know, breathing heavily, I'm awake. My husband goes back to sleep, but I know I'm done for the night. 

4:45 a.m. Pay bills online. Work up worship team notes for our tech/sound crew at church for this Sunday when I'm filling in for our worship pastor. Do some prep for women's Bible study, which I gratefully facilitate. (See "Seven Lessons From Leading Women's Bible Study," over on The Unabashed Life.)

5:30 a.m. Leap up from the computer and start packing lunches and making breakfast for my girls. I know I should make them do these things themselves. But I'm interested in them getting every minute of sleep they can, so I do it for them. I am A Bad Mother that way. While I'm catering to my spoiled children, I also try to advise my daughter when she asks if she'll be too hot in the outfit she's got on.

6:15 a.m. Review the driving directions I typed up last night for my new-driver daughter so she knows how to get from the career center she attends every morning back to school.

6:30 a.m. Hop around to a few link parties for my blog. Work on some in-progress articles I'm hoping to submit to other parenting sites.

7:00 a.m. Take my younger (tween) daughter to school for her once-a-week reprieve from The Dreaded Bus. On the way, remind her of the rules for taking a math test: check your work; make sure your answer makes sense in terms of the question; if there are 5 steps to solving a problem, don't finish with 4 and forget about the last one, that sort of thing...

7:30 a.m. Get home and put my husband's breakfast together for him. He's an insurance agent/attorney in private, small-town practice. Lots of responsibilities...the buck stops with him, as they say. try to get around some kind of breakfast that's more than a bowl of cereal most mornings. In exchange, if I find, for instance, a bat hanging on the curtain of the window at the top of the stairs, I call him at the office, and he's home in 15 minutes even though the drive takes 20. You've really got to love it when Batman wears a business suit. Breakfast prep for bat all works out.

7:45 a.m. Start the draft of a blog post. Go back and forth between that and some estate-planning documents my husband has given me to do.

8:15 a.m. Clean the bathrooms and make some beds.

9:00 a.m. Go for my morning walk/interval training/prayer/Scripture memory power combo workout. 

10:00 a.m. Breakfast at the computer while I work on my blog. I always eat a late breakfast because I love eating and I love breakfast, so I always want to get just one more undesirable task done before I reward myself (see 8:15 entry). Yes, I know you're not supposed to reward yourself with food. 

10:30 a.m. Put myself together enough to be able to leave the house in respectable fashion. This is no small effort, BTW.

11:00 a.m. Stop by my teen's school to pick up student work release forms so my girls can student-teach dance at their studio. Pick up a mail-order delivery of what is apparently the last pair of acceptable gym shorts in the known universe, according to my tween. Shop for a birthday gift for my nephew. Also pick up pizza to have on hand while everyone is coming and going all weekend. Yup: I'm that kind of mom. While I'm driving around, I practice a song my older daughter and I are singing in church on Sunday.

12:30 p.m. Come home and make an Oreo Cake to have around this weekend. Yup: I'm that kind of mom, too. I'm also the kind who licks the bowl and beaters and calls it lunch.

1 p.m. Type up band booster meeting minutes. Update our booster Facebook page. Reply to emails.

2 p.m. Take a nap. (Aha! You knew it, didn't you?!) Five hours of sleep most nights isn't cutting it, and I've got a long night ahead of me during which I have to leave the house and pretend to be a semi-normal human being. This is also no small effort.

3:00 p.m. Get ready for The Second Shift, otherwise known as "when my daughters get home from school and I assess who needs emotional rehab and who just needs a snack." 

3:30 p.m. Respond to some lovely comments on my blog. (Read: very obnoxious and unsubtle hint.) Finish up those estate-planning documents for my husband. Reply to a text from the caterer I sometimes work for to tell her I can do the luncheon she needs help with in a few weeks.

4:00 p.m. Feed my marching band daughter her very early dinner and make sure she's got her uber-reed for her clarinet so she can hit the high notes on the National Anthem at tonight's game. Load up rain gear for all. I love wet band-uniform wool.

4:30 p.m. Warm up some pizza for myself and my husband. My younger daughter is eating with her friend. (See 5:30 entry.) I know all this eating-takeout-on-the run sounds terrible. (Really? You STAY HOME and this is the best you can do?!) But I cook real food most nights, and we manage to eat dinner together as a family at least four times a week. Our other favorite band-night standby meal is sloppy's my go-to recipe

5:30 p.m. Hand my younger daughter off to the mom of her best friend. Said friend used to go to my daughter's school but changed this year. Heartbreaking. (See "emotional rehab," 3:00 entry.) (See also "How to Help Your Hurting Child When Everything Won't Be Okay.") BFF's mom and I are doing all we can to get the girls together as much as possible and keep the friendship going.

6:00 p.m. Go to the marching band field, which the band allows the football team to use during first, second, third, and fourth quarters. Set up snacks for the marching musicians to scarf down after they play their halftime show. I love wet crackers.

7:00 p.m. Listen to the National Anthem. That clarinet high note was SPOT ON. Must've been a good reed.

8:00 p.m. Cheer like crazy for the halftime show.

8:10 p.m. Run like a maniac through the crowd of football fans and young boys aspiring to have football fans toward the band snack table. Feed 80 musicians who eat as if they've never had a meal before in their lives.

10 p.m. Finally get home from the game and get the post-mortem from my daughter on how she thinks the band did. Herd everyone toward bed.

Midnight Five hours of sleep is looking like a distinct possibility again tonight.

So: I am beyond grateful to have even the option of spending my day like this. 

But why do it in the first place? As I mentioned earlier, I'm putting that out there on Her View From Home. Head on over for the "why" part of this post. Please and thank you. And thank you again.

What does a day in your life look like, mama?
Leave a comment or say hello on Facebook and tell me all about it. 
And if you happen to also be a non-homeschooling SAHM of older kids, 
will you let me know that, too? It gets a little lonely around here sometimes.

Gratefully shared at these parties perfect for introverts (which is to say I don't have to leave the house, make actual conversation, or get out of my yoga pants to go them).

November 1, 2015

Five Things I Do (Almost) Every Day

One of the best things that happened last week was meeting my new bloggy friend Lisa, a.k.a., the Syncopated Mama. I love that blogging gives me a chance to meet fellow bloggers whose posts make me say, "Me, too!" alot. Lisa is one of those writers. To say nothing of the fact that a blog called "Syncopated Mama," whose tag line is "Living a Life That's Just a Little Offbeat,'" holds enormous appeal for someone who's, er, syncopated herself (although no one in their right mind would call me only a little offbeat).

As it turns out, Lisa is the gracious hostess of a weekly link party called Five After Five, which is based on one of my favorite things: lists. (I hear you, dear mama..."yes, we KNOW you love lists.") I learned a lesson with my 31 Things I Love (That You Might Love, Too) the end, I was sitting at my computer yelling, "I DON'T LOVE ANYTHING ANYMORE!" Which is why a nice manageable handful of things sounds like such a better idea.

I'm jumping on board with Lisa's list for this week: 5 Things You Do Every Day. If you're a blogger, put together your own list and join the party. If you're not, hop over to Lisa's blog and add your list in the comments. Or add them here...I'd love to see what you've got.

1. Pray. I start my "official" daily prayer first thing while I'm making the bed and finish it during my walk. To keep my mind from wandering to my grocery list or the subject of yet another blog post, I follow a prayer P.A.T.H.--praise God; admit what I've done wrong; give thanks; and ask for help for others and for myself. 

2. Walk. I do 8 loops of a power combo in front of my house for a total of about  40 minutes most mornings. The loop started when I did this with babies in the house while my husband got ready for work. I stayed close to home, and if someone needed me, he only had to flick on the front porch light, and I'd go in. This freed me from worrying something was wrong: if the light wasn't on, there wasn't. The "power" part of the deal comes from the combination I do: fast walking alternated with jogging spurts (during which I, a non-runner, pray for the spurt to be over), covered by the rest of the prayer I started earlier (see #1) and Scripture memory (if you're interested, the memory method I use is here).

3. Listen to music. Music, both vocal and instrumental, has been a core part of my life since I was about 3 years old, sitting and singing on the front porch in a little rocking chair that used to belong to my paternal grandmother. I started in choir when I was four and was a full-on choir geek all through high school. These days, I still sing every day (mostly in the car, learning songs to do in church) and am also now, happily, a full-on band mom to my clarinetist teen and percussionist tween. And I have that tween to thank for telling me, "Mom. You've GOT to hear this song." Yes--and so do you.

4. Write. I nearly gave up writing, which I've also been doing most of my life, about 6 months ago. But a conversation with my sister and a little list that came out of that conversation and an article based on that list and a wonderful and gracious editor who was wiling to put up the article based on that list based on that conversation brought me back. I'll always be indebted to Jenny at For Every Mom for saying yes to these three things I wanted to say. 

5. Eat chocolate. Because, hello, Guilty Chocoholic Mama. My whole family, whom I've dragged into my chocolate addiction quite nicely, is crazy about these Brownie Batter Cupcakes. Just beat up your favorite brownie mix with melted butter equivalent to the oil called for, along with however much water the box specifies. Form this into 1-inch balls and freeze until firm. Then make your favorite chocolate cake batter and fill lined cupcake tins about 1/3 full. Drop in a brownie ball, cover with more batter, and bake until the edge tests done. Cool and lavish with chocolate frosting. 

Now, speaking of chocolate frosting, it's almost 4 p.m the day I'm writing this, and I have not done #5 on this list. This is a problem that needs solving ASAP, so I'll leave you to work up your own "5 After 5" list. Don't forget to share it in a comment here or as a link at Lisa's party! I'll be licking the frosting bowl and waiting to see what you come up with.

October 26, 2015

What the Lady at the Grocery Store Didn't Tell Me

My older daughter is a high-school junior.

Oh, mama, let me catch my breath for a second, because I'm still caught off-guard by that shocking fact.

My daughter. My firstborn. The baby with whom I share a middle name and, sometimes, clothes, is a high school junior. 

I didn't feel this thrown when she finished middle school. "Freshman" sounded young and still childlike. Sophomore comes off as inherently and appropriately immature (see "sophomoric"). But junior? As in, next stop, senior? As in, "start paying attention to all those college information emails from the school guidance counselor you've been dismissing up until this point"? As in, "you'd better figure out who's going to take her senior pictures"? 

Hold on...I'm still regrouping.

While I'm at it, I'm flashing back to my new-mom days and to that older mom at the grocery store, telling me, "Cherish every moment. It goes by so fast. In a blink, she'll be all grown up."

With the clarity of hindsight, here's what else I think she might have told me if it hadn't been abundantly clear my baby was on her last Cheerio and I was on my last nerve.

1. It goes so fast, but sometimes only when it's already gone. When you're in it--I mean, IN it up to your sleep-deprived eyes--motherhood often creeps by with agonizing slowness. Right about the time you're figuring out the whole senior picture thing, you start to think you just got her 5-weeks-2-days-and-36-minutes-pictures done. But that doesn't mean you didn't appreciate all the moments in between. 

2. You are not the only one. Whatever "it" is that you feel like you might be the only mom doing or not doing or feeling or not feeling, you've probably got company somewhere. Find another mom at library lap time or in the church nursery or at the pediatrician's, lay "it" on the line, and wait for the blessing of a "me, too" moment. There are few things more encouraging than to say or hear, "Really? I thought it was just me."

3. Everything that's good to do is not necessarily good to do right now. When my older daughter was not quite 6, we started her in kindergarten, dance, and a midweek kid's club at church. All in the same week. Rookie mistake. (Only kindergarten ended up making the cut that year.) As a mom, joining a book club might be good. Training for a marathon might be good (I mean, not for me, but some some other mom). Repainting your bedroom might be good. Getting your master's degree might be good. But any of these good things might not be good in this season, and they almost certainly are not good all in the same season.

4. It will be okay. That thing you're worried about right now--getting your baby to sleep through the night, potty training, friend drama, college applications? It will probably turn out just fine. Of course, some things are not fine at all, and my heart goes out to parents who are living with these every day. Also, the journey from here to okay is often hard and exhausting. But with some effort and time, most sources of mom worry end up working themselves out. And this is coming from one of the worryingest mom worriers of them all. I worried that my firstborn would never learn to write her name or count past 29 or have any lasting friends or survive high-school geometry. She did. It was all okay. And your "it" most likely will be, too.

5. You don't have to fight every battle there is to be fought. TV/sugar/screen-time consumption. Messy rooms. Kids who don't love reading. That t-shirt your elementary child wants to wear day after day. There's always something that can be an issue. And what matters to one mom for very good reasons might not matter at all to another for equally good reasons. But in general, is this battle eternally important? Does it have to do with shaping your son or daughter's soul? Will it really count in a week or a month or a decade? I personally try (try) to use this litmus test: many years ago, the cane seat in the chair I use at our computer broke through. (I tried not to take it personally.) My then-4-year-old wrote me a note about it. Translated from her preschool phonetics, it said, "I'm sorry ('srre') about the seat but that's not the importantist ('inpotinist') thing because God is." If it's not an importantist thing, maybe it doesn't need to be a thing in my life or in your life after all.

Of course, these days, I am the older mom at the grocery store. (Let me catch my breath again.) For a list of what I'd tell a young mom now that I've put in 16 years at the University of Motherhood, hop over to Mom Babble(Really, I'd be so grateful if you put off painting your bedroom or training for that marathon or whatever and clicked on this linkYou're heading there right now? Thank you so much...can I send you some cookies?)

Gratefully shared @ Works For Me Wednesday.

October 18, 2015

I Don't Deserve to be Treated This Way

A few Saturdays ago, I was having one of my mom freak-outs.

I felt overwhelmed and tired and crunched for time and stressed and discouraged. 

So I did what I always do under those circumstances: I started running around like a maniac, doing bits of one project, then abandoning it to do a piece of another. The whole time, I was slamming things and babbling incoherently and generally scaring my daughters--except that they've seen this so many times before, they're used to it. Which is terrible but true.

A few hours later, when I'd calmed down, I noticed a sticky note my daughter had written to me, mid freak-out. She'd posted it on the faux-vintage Ghiradelli canister that lives on my counter for easy access to chocolate-for-medicinal-purposes.

The note said, "We love you."


And that, mama, is what grace looks like. That is what mercy looks like.

My girls gave me what I didn't deserve, and they didn't give me what I did deserve.

Which is what God--the Grace-Giver, the Merciful Judge--does. 

He loves me most when I am least lovable. And His love, like that of my sweet daughters', doesn't hinge on what I do or don't do.
"This is how God showed His love for us: God sent His only Son into the world so we might live through Him. This is the kind of love we are talking about--not that we once upon a time loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they've done to our relationship with God." (1 John 4:9,10 The Message)
My girls and husband and God also do not give what they get from me. They do not treat me the way I treat them. They do not repay me in kind but by being kind.
"The LORD is compassionate, merciful, patient, and always ready to forgive. He will not always accuse us of wrong or be angry [with us] forever. He has not treated us as we deserve for our sins or paid us back for our wrongs." (Psalm 103:8-10 GOD'S WORD Translation)
Missionary and author Amy Carmichael wrote, "Our feelings do not affect God's facts." The fact is that my family loves me. The fact is that God loves me. These facts are not altered by what I say or do or feel like or act like.

I don't deserve to be treated this way. In fact, I can't deserve to be treated this way. There is nothing I can do to earn this kind of unconditional, lavish, generous mercy and grace. This is does not mean I have an excuse to be as undeserving as possible. It just means that I love God and my family not to get something from them but out of gratitude for what they've already given.

I'll be keeping that sticky note on the canister on my counter for, oh, forever. 

To remind me of how much my family loves me and how much God loves me.

And to remind me of how to love them. 

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Have you been on the receiving end of some mercy or grace lately? I'd love to hear about it.

October 9, 2015

5 Reasons Moms Shouldn't Feel Guilty About "Alone Time"

A few months ago, I put together a little list of "Mom Fails That Aren't."

"Loving your alone time" was #5 on this list.

I was so grateful to hear from moms who said they were encouraged and appreciated the perspective that some crazy standard of "perfection" is not the goal of motherhood.

But along the way, I also heard from several moms who said they still feel guilty about loving their alone time. 

I don't think their guilt is so much about taking time alone: I think most moms understand they need to do it, for their own sake and the sake of their families.

I don't think the guilt comes from doing it; I think the guilt comes from enjoying it. I suspect some moms think their time alone should be viewed like a trip to the dentist: necessary maintenance for the greater good but not something to be anticipated or savored. 

Admittedly, as one of the most introverted introverts ever to draw a breath of air, I crave solitude more than, well, anyone else I've ever met. But I'm convinced all moms need time on their own to recharge, refill, and regroup.

For the as-yet unconvinced, here are five reasons moms should take time for themselves, by themselves--and why they should feel absolutely free to love it while they're doing it.

1. Good stuff in, good stuff out. There are plenty of analogies I could use here: a rechargeable battery, a gas tank on a car, etc. Maybe you're thinking, "I already get the point. I don't need an analogy." Well, I'll give you one just in case it's been a long day (or a long night) and your abstract thinking is a little fuzzy. Picture a pitcher of water. It gets poured out into glass after glass until eventually, it has to be refilled. You, mama, are that pitcher. I know: obviously...but stay with me. You pour out love and attention and wisdom and creativity and energy and sympathy and discernment and enthusiasm over and over again into the little glasses who live in your house. Eventually, you're empty. Usually, this happens right about the time someone in your house wails that they're thirsty. You've got to get it to give it. Spending time on your own is for your family, not against them.

2. The Master example. No one ever loved better or deeper or more passionately than Jesus. He spent a lot of His time on earth in the middle of crowds so thick, He could barely move through them. What did He do for a counterpoint to this? "He left and went to a place where He could be alone" (Matthew 14:13). Following Jesus' example in anything is a good idea, and this is no exception. If the Master Teacher did it, we've got a lesson to learn from it. (And if you find that your people follow you to your alone-place, take heart: Jesus had the same problem. Check out the link at the Matthew address above.)

3. You don't have to unlike everything you liked before you were a mom.
Before you had kids, what did you enjoy doing? Did you suddenly develop an aversion to all those things just because your title officially became "mom"? Motherhood changes you for the better in so many ways, but it doesn't completely wipe out everything you were before. Doing some of what you loved, pre-motherhood, while you're in--IN--motherhood fills you up. Which is necessary and good. See #1 on this list.

4. Loving alone time doesn't mean you don't love your kids, too. These are not mutually exclusive interests. Both things can be true. You love other people and other pursuits at the same time you love your kids, don't you? This is not an either-or-deal; it's and-and.

5. Taking time for yourself does not make you a bad mother. You are not abandoning or neglecting your children. You are not ignoring or brushing them off. And if taking time to be by yourself makes you a better mom (and it probably does), then doing it is actually an act of love for your kids. And actively loving your children makes you a good mom! You are not taking some time for yourself because you don't love your kids, but because you do love them and want to give them your best. So get out of the house or into a bubble bath or wherever and be blessed.

We moms have plenty we can feel guilty about. (See "With Apologies to My First-Born: 5 Things I Feel Really Badly About" for one of my mea culpa collections. It's down a ways on the "Lists & Laughs page of this blog.) 

But enjoying--yes! ENJOYING!--time alone shouldn't be on the list. So how about making a new list instead? "5 Things I'm Looking Forward To Doing the Next Time I'm By Myself," maybe? 

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If you're still not sold on this subject, click over to "The Importance of Alone Time for Moms" at Go Forth and Mother.

And by the way, that dentist's visit does not count as "alone time" even if your kids aren't with you. That's all I'm saying.

How do you like to spend your alone-time, mama?
Share it here or on Facebook!