September 29, 2015

Two of the Most Encouraging Words Another Mom Ever Said to Me

A few weeks ago, I told a mom friend I was hosting a sleepover. I confessed to her that I rarely let my daughters have them because I always get all worked up about what the girls will do and where they'll sleep and if, heaven help me, EVERYONE IS HAVING A GOOD TIME.

"I don't do them, either," she told me.

Later that same day, I told another mom my daughters were making dinner that night--something they'd never done before in spite of being a tween and teen because I'm a control-freak, neat-freak mom who never cooked with her kids.

"I don't cook with mine, either," she told me.

I. Don't.

Who knew two little words could be so freeing and uplifting? 

Sometimes I feel like I'm surrounded by moms who do. They do spectacular birthday parties and they do homemade hummus in Bento Boxes for school lunches and they do craft projects every day of the week and they do...everything. With their kids and for their kids. Which is great for them if they love it and if it charges up their mom spirits. I don't begrudge them their doing.

But I just...don't.

I don't do and haven't done and won't do so many things. And the other day, my friends showed me that I'm not the only mom who doesn't. Which felt like a gift. 

In case it feels like gift to someone else, here are a few other things I don't.

I don't have it all together.
I don't make my girls make their own lunches.
I don't make my girls make their beds before school.
I don't do Pinterest-inspired parties.
I don't like everything that goes with being a mom. 
I don't know what I'm doing a lot of the time even though I've been at this a long time.
I don't make my kids do enough chores.

I don't limit desserts to "special occasions."
I don't switch my daughters' schedules to "school time" while it's still August just so they'll be used to getting up early when September rolls around.
I don't have this all figured out.
I don't...

But, here's what I do

I do love, love, love my girls. 
I do enjoy them.
I do delight in them. 
I do cherish them.
I do love spending time with them.
I do pray for them and with them.
I do talk to them.
I do listen to them.
I do treasure them.
I do want so much joy and satisfaction for them.

One of my all-time favorite quotes is this one from Jill Briscoe: "There is an art of leaving things undone so that the greater thing can be done."
What I don't do--what I leave undone--frees up my time and energy and passion and enthusiasm for what I do do--the greater thing. 

And the value of that is something I don't have any doubts about.

If you are a mom who sometimes doesn't do, know that you are not alone. I don't, either.

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Have you got a don't of your own, mama? tell!
My thanks to BlogHer for putting this up as a featured post.
For more very honest don't-do's, click over to this post at Mom Babble.
Gratefully shared at Works for Me Wednesday.

September 21, 2015

Our Old House: A Home-Improvement Series for the DIY-Distressed

Hello, mama! Have you seen those blogs with stunning pictures of home makeovers and craft projects so brilliant you hit the pin button the minute you lay eyes on them? This is not that blog. But I've decided to do a DIY series anyway, because one of my heart's desires is to encourage other moms by being honest about my, er, "areas of lesser giftedness." What's that? You don't care what color we painted the just want some chocolate? Done. I promise I'll tack a recipe (or at least a link to one) onto every post in the series.

How We Turned a Playroom into a Hangout Lounge
Plus: Chocolate & More Chocolate S'mores Cookies* 

Our Michigan farmhouse has a Michigan basement--which is code for "a great place to hunker down in the event of a tornado but not somewhere you want to spend time otherwise."

In lieu of a subterranean lounge space, my girls have what on "House Hunters" would be called a "bonus room." (Which is code for "we can ask more money for this house.") It's attached to my older daughter's bedroom, and we used to refer to it as "the playroom" in the days when my girls had playdates. 

Now that my tween and teen daughters "hang out" rather than play, the playroom has become (wait for it) the hangout room.

Here are the tools and techniques we used to morph this room into a space "on fleek**" enough that my daughters will deign to take their friends there. 

1. This is no place for beige. The neutral eggshell/cream/ivory/ecru paint that came with the house in this room was so out, I can't even talk about it. Limey green is in, with orange and purple accents. Honestly, I love these colors and am thrilled I've got a room to use them in and interior-design clients who want me to do it. 

2. An attention-grabbing wall. It looks like all the other walls in the room, but it's actually a giant magnetic field! We painted one of the shorter walls with magnetic primer before slapping on the
lime topcoat. The girls hang pictures from magnetic clips and spell out
messages using a magnetic letter set and generally impress their guests with the fact that stuff apparently sticks to this wall of its own free will. We could have painted over this magic primer with chalkboard paint for a one-two magnetic chalkboard punch, but our walls are plastered and textured...too rough for writing. 

I. Love. This. Wall. But if we were doing it again, I'd only give part of it the powers of attraction. This primer is not cheap, and you really need several thin coats for optimum stick-to-it-ness. Maybe I'll add a redo to my ongoing list of "Things I Might Do When My Girls Are Out On Their Own." Or not. I never did get around to doing even half of the items on my list of "Things I Might Do When the Girls Are in School Full-Time." 

3. Fun and functional seating. Specifically: butterfly chair + inflatable chair + futon. I know futons get a bad rap, but ours works perfectly in this space. It's casual but sturdy, and it quickly converts to a place to sleep when the hang-out room gets used for slumber parties. (Can I still call them that?) If you're thinking of getting one, make sure the mattress is at least five inches deep and decent, not some foam wafer (which is why futons have gotten that bad rap, I think).

4. Creative and cooperative photo displays. If you're a returning visitor to this blog (thank you! bless you!), you might be having a moment of confusion and, possibly, panic. Is that a CRAFT? Is that from PINTEREST? What is going ON here? Fear not, cherished reader. Yes, it is both...but my daughters did it. (See "The Fruits of Your Labors" in "7 Reasons I Love Being the Mom of a Teenager.") All I did was screw in the hooks at either end of each strand of coated poly-something twine. Here's a tip about those screws I learned from my dad: don't get out the drill for something like this. Just find a nail slightly smaller in circumference than the screw you're using, and pound it in a little ways to make your starter hole. Then twist in your screw manually. Voila! No power tool needed. (Now, I know all you DIY-divas out there are probably saying, "Um, hello?! I keep my rechargable screw driver in my back pocket at all times for this kind of thing." Or, "Um, hello?! I learned this tip at the home-improvement station in kindergarten!" Please see "DIY Distressed" in the title of this series.) The girls found adorable jumbo clothespins at the craft store, and the whole set-up is charming and easy to change out. As a bonus, it cost about $5 total in supplies.

5. A nod to the past. My husband's parent got this clock for our oldest daughter when she was just a baby. They brought it back from Italy, having purchased it for their beloved first-and-only (at the time) grandchild from an Italian clockmaker. It is from the playroom days, but it fits the color scheme and the space and has sentimental value, so it stays. If my girls ever mention its removal, I tell them it's "quirky" and to embrace the nostalgia.

6. Snacks. Eventually, everything comes back to food in this house. But in the play-to-hangout-room transition, these, too, have matured. Goodbye, Goldfish crackers. Hello, Chocolate & More Chocolate S'mores Cookies.*

Other hang-out must-haves we threw in the room include a colorful five-head lamp, the requisite TV/DVD combo, a giant hand-me-down dresser with tons of storage, and my personal fave: this trash can. $6 at Big Lots, and it completely echoes the color scheme. 

All of this comes together to accomplish my real goal: to create a place right here in our house where my girls want to hang out. Because I like having them home with me. And also because if there's a tornado, we've got the perfect basement to go to.

*Chocolate & More Chocolate S'mores Cookies (Yup, you can print this.)

Heads up, mama! This dough needs to chill at least an hour, so plan ahead. Yes, I know that's a pain. But it will be worth it. Also worth it: getting ahold of some parchment paper to line your cookie sheets. I've even found this at the dollar store, although cheap parchment tends to be a one-and-done deal, whereas I've reused better stuff many times over.
1 box chocolate cake mix (with the incredible shrinking cake-mix "thing" I've found at my grocery store, the mix I used was about 15 ounces...if you like a soft cookie, use one with pudding in the mix)
1/2 cup milk chocolate chips
1/3 cup oil (be generous here if your cake mix is more than 15 ounces)
2 eggs
9-12 large marshmallows
3 whole sheets graham crackers

1. Cut marshmallows in half width-wise. Put them in the freezer until further notice.

2. Combine the cake mix and the chocolate chips.

3. In a small bowl or 1-cup glass measure, whisk together the oil and eggs.

4. Dump the oil/egg mixture on top of the cake mix and stir just until you don't see any more dry cake mix.

5. Cover and chill at least an hour or up to several hours. Did you cut and freeze your marshmallows? If not, do it now.

6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line your cookie sheets with parchment as advised above. Or, if absolutely necessary, butter them like crazy or spray very generously with nonstick cooking spray.

7. Put the graham cracker sheets in a small plastic storage bag and take out any frustrations you've got by banging them into very fine crumbs. Dump the crumbs into a small bowl.

8. Scoop out two-tablespoons globs of dough and line them up on your cookie sheet, 9 to a sheet. (Only prep and bake one sheet at a time.) When you've got your globs all lined up, get your marshmallows out of the freezer. Press and flatten out a dough glob a little, put a marshmallow half in the center, then form the dough around the marshmallow, encasing it completely. Use a little extra dough if you need want your marshmallow all tucked in. Repeat with the remaining dough blobs you've already portioned out. Return remaining marshmallows to freezer and dough to refrigerator.

9. Roll and coat each marshmallow/cookie dough package in graham cracker crumbs...don't be skimpy here. If you run out of crumbs, beat up some more.

10. Place marshmallow/cookie dough/graham cracker packages on the lined/greased/sprayed cookie sheet and bake for 6-9 minutes, or just until puffed and slightly cracked.

 11. Cool on cookie sheet on a wire rack for 5 minutes before using a spatula to remove cookies to the rack to cool completely. Or to a plate to eat immediately.

12. Makes 16-24 cookies, depending on various factors...whether you're pro- or anti-raw cookie dough, how big your "2 tablespoon" blobs are, that sort of thing. Store airtight if storage is something you actually end up eating.

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**Not familiar with this newish entry into the tween/teen lexicon? See "8 Things Moms of Young Daughters Have to Look Forward To (Really)," point #2.

Other posts that would have been in this series except that I put them up before I started the series: 

What inspired idea do you have to make this hangout room even better? 
Tell me about it...but please do keep in mind that #idkhowtodiy.

September 14, 2015

How to Encourage Your Introverted Child

The tricky thing about being an introverted homebody in an extroverted, social society is that you really need to be part of a support group, but then you'd have to leave the house and be around people.

As a passionate introvert, I'm so thankful my sweet husband and daughters are willing to be my built-in, live-in support group. (I pay them with chocolate-chip cookies.)

If you're the parent of an introverted child--especially if you are an extroverted parent--here are a few things you might want to consider editing out of or adding to your conversations with your son or daughter.

"Come on! You'll have fun at the party once you get there." Please try to understand: "fun" and "party" are often mutually exclusive terms for introverts. 

This is not about disliking people or being rude. It doesn't mean the introvert cares nothing about others or about the occasion behind the event. 

This is about the DNA-determined reality that introverts get their energy from being alone. 

Extroverts are charged up by being around other people, but introverts fill their mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical tanks through solitude.

We're not talking right-or-wrong here; we're talking this-or-that.

While your son or daughter may, in fact, end up having "fun" at whatever event is looming, that is not actually the point. The dread of being in a large, socially charged setting is often the worst part of the whole gig. (And this is where you might want to clarify: if the event is a small gathering of people your "I'm fine by myself, thanks" child knows well, tell them so. Some introverts look forward to these kinds of intimate interactions.)

When you are teaching your children to live beyond themselves and prioritize the feelings of others over their own, they will often have to do what they don't necessarily want to do. Tell your child this is one of those times. Explain why they need to do this...who they will honor or bless or what milestone or accomplishment they will help recognize. But be careful about undermining their legitimate feelings by trying to talk them into thinking they'll enjoy something outside their comfort zone. 

"Don't be so shy." I'm sure you know this, but here it is for the record: being shy and being introverted are not the same thing. 

I don't consider myself shy. In fact, I love drama and being on stage and performing. I adore public speaking. All this usually leads people to argue with me when I declare my affinity for fellow introverts. What they are missing is that I love to do my act...and then get the heck out of there and go home and be by myself.

Telling your child not to be shy also implies that they are making a choice about who they are and how they feel about social interaction. It assumes your introvert can simply choose to turn on some "I love being around people" switch at will. Not true.

If you are an extrovert, can you simply decide that you like being alone and that solitude is what energizes you? Of course not. Same rules apply for the other team, too.

"Keep'll grow out of it." Your child doesn't need to grow out of their hair or eye color. Neither do they need to outgrow their introversion, because it is not a personality flaw, sin, disease, or other undesirable attribute that requires repairing, fixing, or changing. 

As they grow up in a social, constantly connected culture, they may learn to better balance their desire to be alone with the needs and interests of others. But they may never derive their energy from interaction with those others. Which is fine. Fine.

By now, you might be wondering what you are supposed to say to your child whose life motto might well be, "Please, do me the honor of not requesting my company." Based on real-life research (e.g., being me), here's what I think they'd love to hear...

"You only have to stay 30 minutes." Or an hour. Or whatever relatively short span of time is reasonable enough so as not to be rude. I can usually psych myself up for people-time if I know it has a definite end and is not going to stretch on ad infinitum

Telling your introverted child "you only have to stay this long" gives them a grip on the chunk of time they'll need to summon up a little extroversion from some recessive gene before they can recharge their solitude-fed batteries. 

"I know this is hard." Which is not at all the same as "I understand why this is hard." If you are an extrovert, you may not have the slightest idea why having a tooth pulled without anesthesia sounds less painful than, say, going to a family reunion. ("Look how you've grown!" and "what are you doing with your life that's exciting and impressive?" and all that.) 

But you do not have to empathize to sympathize. You only have to accept that introverted is how your child is, which makes certain necessary life events uncomfortable.

"You are wonderful, and I love you." Of course, this is what we all need: to know, via words and actions and expressions, that we are cherished and appreciated and treasured--not merely tolerated or accepted with resignation. 

Your introvert longs to know that you will support and cheer them on while they figure out how to walk the line between doing what they want and doing what will bless and encourage others. They have to be taught that life is not all about them, of course, but at the same time, they crave reassurance that you are for them and on their side.

Reassure your son or daughter that they do not have to "convert" to extroversion in order to be valuable and valued. 

Teach them that introversion is not a weakness; it is just part of their uniqueness--and that you are crazy about them just the way they are. 

Or, as only the brilliant Dr. Seuss could put it, "Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”

September 3, 2015

What I'm Hoping to Do This Fall

So I made my summer list ("What I'm Hoping to Do this Summer") and checked it twice ("What I Was Hoping to Do This Summer and How That All Turned Out").

Now, I'm ready to convert our flipflop basket to a mitten receptacle and cozy up to my favorite time of year. Here's what I'm hoping to do during this season I love so much.

1. Use the word "autumnal" as much as possible.

2. Turn on the electric window candles.

3. Sit by the season's first fire in the fireplace.

4. Go to all our high-school home football games. FOR THE BAND HALFTIME SHOW! I do so love my drum line girl. And you know what they say: what's the football team doing on the band field? 

5. Make many batches of this Trail Mix Granola Bark for after school/before dance/after dance/before band/after band/midnight snacks.

Trail Mix Granola Bark
(Want to print this? Great! Click here.)

1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
1/2 cup mini M&Ms
3 cups rolled ("old-fashioned") oats
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons water
1/4 cup canola oil
1 egg white
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a 10x15-inch baking sheet with parchment paper so it hangs over the edges. Mix the chocolate chips and M&Ms in a small dish and put them in the freezer. Mix the oats, coconut, almonds, and wheat germ in a large bowl. In a microwave-safe 2-cup measure, mix the salt, syrup, brown sugar, and 1 tablespoon water. Microwave for 30 seconds and stir. Microwave for another 30 seconds, or until the sugar has dissolved. Don't walk away and get sucked into checking Facebook because sugar syrup boiling over in your microwave is not something you want to see. In another small measuring cup, whisk the remaining 3 tablespoons water, the vanilla, the oil, and the egg white. Drizzle it over the oat mixture and toss to combine. Drizzle the syrup mixture over the oats, et al., and toss to mix well. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle about 2/3 of your frozen chocolate-chip/M&M mixture over the oats and toss gently to distribute. Dump the whole mixture into your pan and spread and press evenly. If one part is a little thicker than another, make sure it's the edges. Sprinkle your remaining chocolate/candy mixture evenly over the surface and press gently. Bake for 30-45 minutes, rotating your pan halfway through. You want your bark to be golden brown in the center or it won't be crunchy. Cool on a wire rack before breaking into irregular pieces and storing airtight. It'll keep about a week. Recipe adapted from Best Lunch Box Ever by Katie Morford.

6. Make applesauce. Thank you, Victorio Strainer. Also (and more so), thank you, Mom and Dad.

7. Make apple pie. My favorite adopted tip is to precook the apples slightly. I also love to use Vietnamese cinnamon, which generally makes all of life better. Looking for a tried and true recipe that tastes "just like Grandma's"? Click here to print one from my friend Karen at Growing Together in Grace and Knowledge. In fact, I suggest you make Karen's apple pie, then savor a slice while you spend some time looking around her sweet and encouraging site.

8. Start my annual sojourn through the Little House on the Prairie series on CD book. I love the Christmas stories every book in the line-up features, but I don't like to hear them right after Christmas or in the spring or summer. If you're a LH fan(atic) as I am, here's a list of the Ma-isms I regularly employ in our medium-sized house in the country.

9. Watch and listen to The Piano Guys' Beethoven's Five Secrets. It's not autumnal, but it is awesome.

10. Make and eat pot roast. My favorite recipe is comfort food in a cast-iron pot.

11. Sleep under heavy quilts.

12. Smell the first woodburner fire of the season.

13. Eat pumpkin everything. I think I'll start with the recipes in this Ultimate Pumpkin Recipe Roundup and go from there.

14. Wear fleece.

15. Notice the changing colors before they're gone. Every year, I think, "We're not at peak yet...I still have time to pay attention." Then I blink, and the trees are bare. Not this year.

16. ________________________ (This is for you to fill in, mama. I'd love to see what you'd add to the list...tack in on in a comment or on Facebook! And be sure to check out what your fellow moms have already of their suggestions might be the thing that MAKES your entire fall season.)

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Add-ons along the way..
"October" by Eric Whitacre. Dear reader, please. Click on this link and let this play in the background. This song IS autumnal and completely gorgeous. You'll be a better person just for having heard it.

And speaking of better people, one of my dear mom friends offered these autumnal addendums: "I plan to enjoy sweatshirts, scarves, tennis shoes, crisp air, cider (preferably warm), caramel dip and Honey Crisp apples, and the awesomely phenomenal autumnal vivid colors!" 

Here are some links from other smart mamas to check out...
Dutch Pea Soup (my husband I had this on our Alaskan cruise, and it was fabulous):

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Gladly shared at these blog bashes.

September 2, 2015

Confetti Cake Batter Cookie Bars

In the category "so it turns out you can teach an old mom new tricks," I think I've figured out how to make GCM recipes printable! My thanks to Ellen at Confessions of an Overworked Mom for being my tutor. 

I know most bloggers with anything worth printing have been offering this option since their premiere post, but I still have a dumb phone and use a desktop. Honestly, I would have made SUCH a fabulous pioneer woman except that I do love my washing machine. Also, I very much appreciate the invention of toilet paper. Which is as much as anyone needs to say on that topic.

(Insert change of subject.)

SO, on to something you might want to print. The first time I made these bar cookies, my younger daughter took one look at them and said, "Those look like a carnival exploded in the best possible way." 

Let me know what you think. And I'd love it if you also gave my little print option a go. But be honest and tell me if it's a disaster or takes you to some alternative link that might sully my good reputation. I'll be licking the batter bowl and waiting for your report.

Confetti Cake-Batter Cookie Bars

NEW! You might be able to print this! Click here to try!

1 cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups dry yellow cake mix without pudding in it (I use Duncan Hines)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup brown sugar 
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips
1/4 cup multicolored sprinkles, plus additional as needed (I get mine at the dollar store)
1/2 cup mini M&Ms (it does need to be the mini version here...I find that my beloved Target has the best price on these)
nonstick cooking spray

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Generously coat a 9x13 baking pan or a quarter sheet pan with nonstick cooking spray.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, dry cake mix, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Set aside. 

In a small dish, mix the 1/4 cup sprinkles and the M&Ms. Set aside 1/4 cup. 

In a large bowl, beat the butter for about 30 seconds. Add both sugars and beat a minute or two until fluffy. Add the oil (measure it first), then the corn syrup (which will slip right out of your tablespoon if you measured the oil first), then the egg and vanilla to the butter-sugar mixture and beat until everyone seems to be getting along.

Dump the combined dry ingredients on top of the butter mixture and beat just until all the dry is in the party. Stir in the mini chocolate chips and the sprinkle/M&M mixture (minus your reserved 1/4 cup) by hand. This might take some muscle.

Plop large spoonfuls of your dough around your prepared pan, then spread evenly. Sprinkle on your reserved "confetti" mixture and press lightly with a spoon or your offset spatula. 

If your bar cookies do not look carnival-y enough for you, dress them up with some extra sprinkles.

Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes or just until puffed in the center and starting to crack. The old toothpick test doesn't really work here: if you bake these until one tests clean, you will have less of a bar cookie and more of a very colorful concrete slab. Gooey is good in this case.

Cool on a wire rack for at least a couple minutes. Eat while warm if possible. If you need to store them, cool completely first, then cover the pan tightly with a lid or plastic wrap and foil.