July 31, 2018

With My Last Baby, I'm Finally Trying To Cherish (Almost) Every Moment

"Can I drive to camp today?"

The question from my 14-year-old caught me off-guard, because I'd already forgotten that she'd gotten her learner's permit the day before.

"Of course!" I told her with encouraging-mom-of-a-new-driver enthusiam, even though what I was thinking was that I'd been blindsided by the milestones of motherhood again.

And these milestones are hitting especially hard with my second-born baby, because she is also my last baby. Which means all the "firsts" and "lasts" with her are the last firsts and last lasts. No more do-overs or do-agains.

I'd be so grateful to have you head over to the lovely Moms of Tweens & Teens and read the rest of this post about how I'm trying to soak up these moments with my daughter in a way I really never have before.

sad my child is growing up
I Didn't Cherish Every Moment Then,But I'm Trying to Now

**This post may have been shared at some of these blog link parties.**

July 4, 2018

Faith Even When You Don't Feel Like It

My husband, God bless him, is a die-hard college sports fan. His blood runs the colors of his alma mater, and he believes in his team whether they’re winning or losing. He’s a faithful fan. 

I didn’t grow up in a sport-centric household. Before I met my husband, I wasn’t even sure what the difference was between the institution of my husband’s devotion and the other big university bearing the name of our state. Out of love for my husband, I’ve learned what downs are in football and where three-point range is in basketball. I root for my husband’s team, and when they’re doing well, I’m an enthusiastic supporter. But if they’ve just given away a big game or are on a losing streak, I leave my NCAA-approved college-logo sweatshirt in the closet. I’m a fair-weather fan.

But here’s the sticking point: this is often how it is in my relationship with God.

I regularly practice fair-weather faith. I enthusiastically worship God when everything is going the way I want it to. I testify to His goodness when I feel His presence and His blessings. When I’m not sure what He’s doing, though, or when I think I can tell what He’s doing but don’t like it, I pull away from Him and hold back my praise.

And this is a problem, because I am not called to love God “when” or “if.” I am called to love God. Period.

What does love for God look like? I show love for my husband and children by spending time with them and bragging about them. So if I’m truly loving God—love, the ongoing action, not some vague feeling or greeting-card emotion—I’m going to spend time with Him. I'm going to pray and read and study His love letter. I’m going to make a big deal about Him to others.

The Psalmist knew the formula for all-weather faith, and it hinges on a single word: yet. He describes his soul as “downcast” and “disturbed” (Psalm 42:11) but doesn't stop there: “I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.” In the midst of a struggle—not when it's over or improved or resolved, but while it is still going on—the saved soul decides to praise God.

In his book of laments, the prophet Jeremiah shows this same “yet” kind of faith. I love that the consistency and connection of Scripture is on full display here: we're told that in his own “yet”moment, Jeremiah too, finds his soul to be downcast. “Yet this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope…” (Lamentations 3:21). Same state of soul, same hinge word, same decision to extol God and affirm who He is.

As a naturally melancholy personality, my soul often dwells in the land of the downcast. When I am there, praise and hope are not my default reactions: withdrawal and wallowing are. But I can learn a new way. When storm clouds of worry, uncertainty, sickness, hardship, or sorrow roll in, I can make the choice to make a habit of defaulting to yet.

Yet, I can choose to praise God. Yet, I can choose to “call to mind” truth about who God is. Yet, I can choose to worship in the waiting, in the meantime, in the midst. Whatever the weather. Whether my team is winning or losing.

I. Will. Yet. Praise. Him.

**This post in its original form first appeared on Blogs By Christian Women. It may have been shared at some of these link parties.** 

June 10, 2018

Seriously Strawberry Sauce

While we're on the subject of fruit, let's talk for a minute about self-control. As in the characteristic of the fruit of the Spirit described in Galatians 5.

We should talk about this because I exercised considerable self-control in not titling this post "Berry, Berry Strawberry Sauce."

The thing is that this sauce really does taste more like a strawberry than the berry itself. I think it's because of the concentration of strawberry essence in the base sauce, combined with the strawberries themselves. And the best news is that this sauce screams "ripe-from-the-field strawberries picked at the exact moment of readiness" even if you make it with frozen strawberries picked from your freezer in the dead of winter.

Go ahead. Blend up a batch now, and save your self-control for something else. I'm going to use my last reserve of personal restraint and NOT tell you you'll be "berry" glad you did.

Seriously Strawberry Sauce {print}

2 cups frozen, unsweetened strawberries
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
approximately 2 additional tablespoons sugar

Measure frozen strawberries into a strainer set over a medium saucepan and sprinkle with 1/4 cup sugar. Leave to thaw, stirring and pressing into the strainer occasionally. Dump the drained, thawed berries into a blender and puree until smooth. Leave them in the blender. Leave the strawberry juice in the saucepan.

Mix the cornstarch and 2 tablespoons of sugar together and whisk into the strawberry juice. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. As soon as the mixture is bubbly and thick, remove it from the heat and cool several minutes. Test for sweetening and add more sugar if needed. Pour on top of the pureed strawberries that are still hanging out in the blender, and pulse several times just to mix. You're not trying to whip this into submission, just to bring the thickened juice and source strawberries into one happy saucy marriage. 

Pour into a covered container and chill until needed. Makes 2 cups (ish).

**This post may have been shared at some of these blog link parties.**

June 1, 2018

Dear Daughters: 12 Things I Didn't Know I Needed in a Husband

My dearest daughters,

Just the other day, you were babies, and now you are young women. How or when that happened, I have no idea, but it did, and so now you are getting to the age when you might start thinking about the kind of man you want to marry someday, should that be God's will for you.

When I was your age, I had no idea what to look for in a husband. I knew he needed to be a man after God's own heart, but beyond that I didn't give very much thought to the kind of mate I should be seeking.

I didn't know I needed these things in a husband. But our God of grace gave them to me anyway in your wonderful dad, so now I can tell you that you might want to look for them, too.

I didn't know I needed a husband who would be patient with me even though I am so often impatient with him.

I didn't know I needed a husband who would spend more time reading the Bible than any other book.

I didn't know I needed a generous husband who would put gas in his teenager's car and would never even once make me feel I wasn't contributing to our household just because I "stayed home."

I didn't know I needed a husband who would serve God and his family by serving his local church as deacon and elder and Sunday School teacher and kids' club leader and pastoral search committee member and prayer room volunteer.

I didn't know I needed a husband so truly kind that when he would be out to lunch one day with our children, someone would come up to their table and tell them, "You do know you have the best dad in the world, don't you?"

I didn't know I needed a husband who would tell me I'm beautiful not because he thinks I expect it but because he thinks it.

I didn't know I needed a husband who would go to work every day to provide for his family without ever complaining or grumbling. Even when he was tired... or it was his birthday...or he had to drive through a snowstorm while the rest of the family had a snow day.

I didn't know I needed a husband who would rearrange his work schedule to attend all his children's events.

I didn't know I needed a husband who, when I called him at his office to tell him there was a bat hanging on the window curtain, would say "I'll be there in 10 minutes"--even though the drive home took 15. (Sometimes, Batman wears a business suit.)

I didn't know I needed a husband so steady and calm that his standard response to panicked messages from me would always be "no problem."

I didn't know I needed a husband who, on a cold Sunday morning when I was running behind getting ready for church, would move the dress I'd chosen to wear out of an unheated closet and into the warm bedroom AND make the bed because he knew it drove me crazy to leave it unmade. 

My beautiful brides-to-maybe-be, look first and always for God. He alone can give you everything you need and will never fail or fall short. But if someday, you bring a future husband home to meet your dad and me, I hope he's a lot like the man I didn't know I needed...the man I didn't know to look for. Because a man who is these things and does these things is someone worth finding and holding onto.


**This post may have been shared at some of these blog link parties.**

May 3, 2018

5 Things We Sometimes Have To Do Before We Feel

My sweet daughter has someone she needs to forgive.

She knows she has to do it, but hurt is digging in deep.

The other day, she asked me, "If I forgive, but I don't want to and I don't feel it, does it count?"

I told her it absolutely counted, if she was doing it because she wanted to be obedient to God. I told her that sometimes—maybe most of the time
you do forgiveness first and feel it later. Sometimes a lot later.

When we're walking in faith and trying to become more like Jesus, we have to do what we don't want to do. We can't count on our feelings to motivate or guide us, because they can't always be trusted. Jeremiah 17:9 (CSB) is mince-no-words clear about the dependability of the source of our feelings: "The heart is more deceitful than anything else and desperately sick—who can understand it?" 


Does this mean our feelings are always wrong? Does this mean we should always deny or disregard them? Of course not. God, the perfect Creator Who makes no mistakes, designed us with feelings in all their complexity.

But there is some truth to the advice, "Fake it till you feel it." Sometimes, we have to act in right ways before our emotions catch up.

I struggle with finding a balance here, because I never want my children to think they have to put on a certain persona in order to be loved by God. But I also try to teach them what I'm still learning myself: obedience to God cannot 
be based on what I feel, which changes. It has to be based on Who He is, which does not.

Here are five areas of our lives that sometimes call for the doing before the feeling kicks in.

Love. First on the list because everything else worth doing or feeling grows out of it. God is big on love in action: "Dear children, let's not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions" (1 John 3:18 NLT).

Real love is a choice we have to make every day, many times throughout the day. Love often does before or in spite of how it feels. 

Forgive. If we love at all, sooner or later (usually sooner), we're going to have to forgive. Anytime we're close enough to someone to love them, we're also close enough to hurt them and to be hurt by them. And this hurt requires forgiveness. 

God minces no words in His Word about the priority of forgiving: "if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins" (Matthew 6:15). But because feelings of hurt and betrayal are so often tied to what needs forgiving—and because these are such powerful, lingering emotionsthey're often what we feel. Forgiveness, then, has to be done in spite of these and in the midst of them. 

When my daughter asked me about this, I told her, "Forgiveness has to look like something. Sometimes, you do it first and feel it later." I encouraged her to pray and ask God what forgiveness would look like in the particular situation she was facing. Would it look like praying God's blessing on this person? Would it look like being willing to talk to this person? Would it look like getting a mental grip on negative thoughts about this person and deliberately rerouting her mind away from those thoughts? Whatever forgiveness might look like, I counseled her to do it without waiting for her feelings to prompt it. (I know...easy for me to say.)

Worship. I went through a season in my life when I did not want to worship God in the assembly; I did not want to worship Him in the gathered body of Christ at my longtime local church home. I'd been part of the worship leading team for a long time, but some changes beyond my control left me feeling hurt and resentful. I carried that hurt and resentment into the sanctuary on Sunday mornings and clutched it to me. I withheld from God the praise and honor He was still entirely worthy of. Finally, I sensed Him gently but firmly asking me, "Elizabeth. Will you worship me no matter what?" 

Once I decided the answer was "yes," I still had to fight emotion that did not miraculously go away overnight. Praise was still a sacrifice. I had to set aside my self-centered feelings (which I knew God still cared very much about) and reorient my thoughts and actions toward the Object and Subject of my worship.

Pray. Prayer is simply talking to God...which is great, except that sometimes, I don't particularly want to talk to Him. Those "sometimes" include but are not limited to: when I don't like what I think He's trying to tell me; when I'm angry at Him (yes, I'm that kind of Christian); when I'm just worn out. If you're thinking these look suspiciously like ALL THE TIMES, you're right. All the more reason I have to force myself to pray anyway. This is where the prayer P.A.T.H. I follow (praise God, admit my sin, thank God, and ask for help) is so useful; it shows me a way to go to God that isn't dependent on my feelings. Often, I start in rote ritual along this path
saying the words and thinking the thoughts in robotic or resigned fashionbut find that my heart and emotions have joined the journey by about the halfway point.

Rejoice with those who rejoice. I really hope I'm not the only person in the world who struggles here. There's no way for this not to be ugly, so I'll just say it: a lot of times when something good happens to someone else
especially when it's a "something good" I wish would happen to meI don't feel particularly happy for that person, and I most definitely don't feel like celebrating with them. (I told you this was ugly.) Jealousy and envy are what I feel, but what I need to do is say, "I'm so happy for you!!!" and send congratulatory messages and balloon emojis. Not to put on some fake act, but to live beyond myself, to do right for right's sake, to put others first.

Amy Carmichael, m
issionary to India, said, "My feelings do not affect God's facts." I'm so thankful for this. I need God to be steady and unchanging and sure and constant. And the fact is that God tells us to love, forgive, worship, pray, and rejoice with others whether we always feel like it or not. 

The beauty, though, is that when we sacrifice our desires
or lack thereofto Him and choose to do obedience, we usually find the truest feeling of all: the joy of Abba's favor.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *
I'm so honored and grateful that this post was featured by Aimee Imbeau on the Grace & Truth link party. This post may also have been shared at some of these link parties.

Grace and Truth Link-up https://aimeeimbeau.com

April 23, 2018

Gluten-Free (Or Not) Sour-Cream Snickerdoodles

My dad and I have an arrangement: I keep him supplied in gluten-free cookies, and he keeps me supplied in home-repair services.

The other day, he came over and fixed the hinge-thingy on my storm door, and I gave him a tin of these cookies. 

It was a new recipe, but I was already pretty sure he'd like them based on the feedback I'd gotten from my quality-assurance testing panel: my teenage daughter and myself. We liked them so much, in fact, that we nearly quality-assurance tested my dad right out of the entire batch. 

If you, like me, are home-repair challenged but know your way around a kitchen, maybe you'll want to barter a batch of these for a new door hinge-thingy or something else that needs fixing around your house.

Gluten-Free (Or Not) Sour-Cream Snickerdoodles {print}

2 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour blend for baking (you need one with some xanthan gum in it...I love Krusteaz) OR 2 cups all-purpose regular flour OR 1 cup AP flour plus 1 cup cake flour)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (freshly grated will change your life)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
6 tablespoons sour cream
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
cinnamon sugar (about 1/4 cup sugar plus a couple teaspoons cinnamon)

Mix the dry ingredients together. Cream the sugar, butter, and shortening together until light and fluffy. (I wouldn't even try this without a hand mixer, but I'm wimpy that way.) Beat in the egg, sour cream, and vanilla, followed (gently) by the dry ingredients. If you have time, chill for an hour or up to a day. 

When you're ready to bake, heat your oven to 350 and grease a cookie sheet or line it with parchment paper. Roll your dough into about 3/4" - 1" balls and roll without restraint in cinnamon sugar. Place on cookie sheet and, if you've chilled the dough, flatten ever so slightly. Bake for 8-10 minutes until cracked and slightly springy in the center. Cool on cookie sheet for 2 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool complete. Protect from passing teenagers if you hope to have any left for later. 

Store, if you get that far, airtight. Makes a couple dozenish.

**This post may have been shared at some of these link parties.**

April 19, 2018

Why I'll Keep Doing Things For My Kids That They Can Do For Themselves

A few mornings ago, I made pancakes for my high school freshman.

The night before, she'd asked me, “I was wondering—and it’s totally fine if you say no—but I was wondering if maybe you could make me oatmeal pancakes for breakfast tomorrow?”

I could. And I did.

Of course she could have made her own breakfast. She does, in fact, make her own breakfast other mornings when I can’t and don’t.

She didn’t actually need me to make her breakfast that day, but doing it for her smoothed out the edges of a morning that was headed toward rough.

And after I made those pancakes, I also packed her a lunch and threw in a load of her dance laundry.

I did some things for her that she can do for herself.
I made life a little easier for her.

I babied her.

And I know I’m not “supposed” to do these things. I know I’m supposed to teach my kids to fend for themselves, to be independent, and, most of all, not to need me anymore.

But here's why I'll keep doing these things for them, while I still have the chance...


**This post may have been shared at some of these blog link parties.**

April 11, 2018

I'm a Girl Mom, She's a Boy Mom...Here's What We Love About Both

Awhile back, my friend Julie wrote a guest post called “You Might Be a Home Schooler If…” for this blog. I couldn’t write that post, because I’m not a home schooler.

I also can’t write a post about being a mom of boys, because I’m not one of those, either. But Julie can, because she is. So she did.

What I can write about is being a mom of girls. So that’s what I’ve done.

This isn’t about stereotyping or labeling or pigeonholing kids based on their gender. We’re not trying to say all boys do this or all girls do that. We’re just saying that this is what life with boys and life with girls looks like for us, respectively. And, for that matter, respectfully.

Whether you’re a mom of boys or a mom of girls or mom of a mixed company, here’s what Julie and I think you might love about it as much as we do.

Julie’s View: 10 Things I Love About Having Boys

I have two boys, ages 17 and 15. We didn’t find out the gender of either while I was pregnant, and when I was pregnant with the younger, I was really hoping for another boy. I already had all the toys and clothes, and I knew they’d be great friends. Many people asked me if I wanted a girl after having two boys, but I never did. Even though boys can be gross and messy and weird, I love having them. Here’s just a few of the many reasons why:

1. They get each other’s jokes. They have many “inside” jokes, and they laugh together all the time. They won’t share most of these jokes with me, and that’s ok, because I probably don’t want to know.

2. They like to ride quads and dirt bikes. This should probably scare me, and sometimes it makes me nervous. But for some reason, not much brings a smile to my face like seeing them ride off down the field on their quads.

3. They treat me like a lady. Their father taught them early on to hold the door for me, and to thank me after each meal I’ve prepared for them. I love watching them become gentlemen.

4. They’re tough but tender. They are becoming strong, but at the same time, they hug me when I’m crying, they tell me they love me when I least expect it, and they help me if ever I’m in trouble.

5. They’re best friends. They’re close in age and they’re home schooled, so they’re stuck with each other all day. And even though they’re total opposites, they really seem to enjoy each other.

6. They adore their dad. There’s something about boys and their dads. They listen to him more closely, obey him more quickly, and definitely prefer him over me. Oh well, I’m glad it’s that way. At least they still want me when they’re sick.

7. I can make them do things. I can claim they need to take out the garbage and walk the dog, because I’m busy inside cooking and cleaning.

8. They can pee outside. Actually, I’m just jealous. I gotta go all the way back in the house. What a time waster. My youngest will even pee outside the living room door while watching TV so he doesn’t have to take 20 steps to the bathroom and then wash his hands. What a life!

9. I like to see them turning into men. Their voices change and they start noticing girls. I’m not sure I’m ready for this, but it’s fun to watch anyway.

10. They’re less expensive than girls. No barrettes, tights, dresses, or makeup. However, as I think about my ever-growing grocery bill, I wonder how it will all add up in the long run. I do love watching them inhale food and seeing their healthy appetites.

I’m sure if I had become the mother of two girls, I’d be loving that just as much. But not a day goes by that I’m not thankful for my two boys.

Elizabeth’s View: 10 Things I Love About Having Girls

Ours is a house of estrogen. My husband carries on valiantly as the token male in the middle of our feminine frenzy: two teen girls and me, a woman who cannot under any circumstances be described as "even keeled."

When you are a mom of only daughters and no sons, you get used to being asked when you’re going to try for a boy. I got so used to this, in fact, that I came up with a stock answer: “Actually, we’re going to try for a goldfish instead.”

I love having daughters. For one thing, if I’m trying on a dress, and I’m not sure whether it makes me look stunning or like a candidate for a “What Not to Wear” reunion episode, I consult my girls, and they give me the truth straight away.

I also love these other joys of an all-girl roster:

1. They notice the cute. When my second daughter was born, a friend (mom of two boys, no girls) came by with a gift. She’d packaged it adorably, and she handed it to my older daughter to open on behalf of her freshly-minted sibling. Big sister took the package and immediately exclaimed, “What a cute gift bag!” My friend said, “Oh. My. Word. That is such a girl thing. My boys would never have noticed the bag.”

2. Clothes sharing rocks.

3. They do each other’s hair. I don’t do hair. It’s too much like crafting, which I also don’t do. But when my older daughter is home from college, the Sisters Salon is in full swing around here. I contribute my limited talents by rounding up ever-elusive bobby pins. (My girls don’t call me “Sleuth Mom” for no reason.)

4. They watch movies with each other and with me. Finally, I have someone who will hunker down for my all-time favorite movie—Sense and Sensibility—without acting like they’re being tortured.

5. They’re neat, clean, and organized. My girls will sometimes spend their free time revamping their dresser drawers. Also, our toilet seats are always down. (Their father, while not a fan of the aforementioned Sense and Sensibility, did come to us well-trained in lavatory etiquette by his mother.)

6. I’ve never had to know about Thomas the Train, Legos, or Minecraft. Of course I know lots of girls are fans of these things. But mine aren’t. We have hair ties and “Dance Moms” instead.

7. I might get to be the mother-of-the-bride someday.

8. I understand their “stuff.” Shower gel that smells so good, it makes you want to eat your elbow. Tank tops. Cute polka-dot water bottles. EOS egg-shaped lip balm. I get these staples of girldom. Which is why I felt a little out of my element last year when I was staring down the football paraphernalia at Walmart. My girls needed black under-eye goo for a dance recital routine. (They were writing something on their arms, and it needed to come off easily.) I found the required item and was comforted by its familiar lipstick-esque dispenser. I was also really, really grateful to realize I’d never have to buy one of the other, er, “products” in that display. Ewww.

9. I understand their other “stuff.” Hormones and crying and mood swings, oh my. I know, sweetie. I know.

10. They’re built-in friends. I mean, yes, sometimes they treat each other like they’re living out War and Peace with all the war and none of the peace. But mostly, I love to see my girls’ genuine love and concern and affection for each other. I think they just might be buying the mom wisdom I’ve preached their whole lives: “your friends will come and go, but your sister will always be your sister.” (See also, “LOVE EACH OTHER! DO IT! DO IT RIGHT NOW!”)

I’m completely crazy about these sweet girls of mine. God knew what He was doing when He made me a mom of only girls. Sometimes, though, I do think about the baby we lost between our daughters in a miscarriage so early we couldn’t have found out the gender even if we’d wanted to. I have no way of knowing this, of course, but when I walk into heaven, if I’m greeted by a little guy who calls me “mom,” well, that will be so sweet, too.

**This post in its original form appeared on Her View From Home. It may have been shared at some of these blog parties.**

April 2, 2018

If I Had Motherhood To Do Over, I'd Still Do These Five Things

The following is a short list of my mistakes as a mom just with my first (a.k.a., "learner") child.
  • High-pressure potty training. 
  • Starting her in kindergarten and ballet and church kids' club all in the same week.
  • That accidental half sumo wrestler/half alien hula girl birthday cake.
  • Letting her sign on for a killer academic and extracurricular load her sophomore year in high school just because we knew she'd be able to handle it.
  • Not having her take a math class the semester before she took the SAT.
  • All the yelling. (Mine.)
  • All the meltdowns. (Also mine.) 
The thing is that when you are a new mom (and that means "new" at every stage), everything seems to matter. And it seems to matter a lot. In fact, the mattering seems to start even before you have the child who will make you a mom in the first place. It matters what doctor or midwife you choose. Then it matters what detergent you buy to prewash your baby clothes. Then it matters where you give birth and how you give birth and what baby-wearing device you have and, eventually, if you should send your child to preschool and, if you should, which preschool, and on it goes. 

I know, because I worried about these things, too. But the blessing of being a mom with some mileage on her is that you have the keen perspective of hindsight. The older your children get, the more you're able to see how the story you've been writing turns out.

I'd be so grateful if you took a moment to head over to Simple As That to read the rest of this post. With a bunch of years behind me and my (mostly) delightful teenage children in front of me, there are five things that truly seem to have mattered...things that, unlike that hula girl cake, I'd do again.


**This post may have been shared at some of these blog link parties.**

March 13, 2018

10 Graduation Party Ideas That Actually Worked In Real Life

It's been a little less than a year since my firstborn's high school graduation party, and now that we've managed to clear all the leftover meatballs out of the freezer, I think I can finally talk about it.

Of course, you don't need this post to find graduation party ideas. Pinterest is crazed with them. But if a graduation party is in your future and you want some practical ideas that have been road-tested and grad-approved, here's what worked for us.

1. Remembering the point of the party. 

I'm a mom who freaks out about everything. I'm especially notorious for doing this when we're hosting people at our house. So my family's skepticism that I would be able to pull off an event for a couple hundred people without totally losing it was understandable. 

But I knew that no matter what else happened--if we had torrential rain the day of the party or no one came or everyone came or 300 cupcakes fell over en route to the dessert table or whatever--the only thing that could really ruin the party for my daughter was me. 

If I freaked out as usual and made everyone miserable for weeks or months ahead of time, or if I freaked out the day of the party and made everyone miserable for hours ahead of time, that misery would be all my graduate would remember. So I prayed over and over again that God would help me keep the main thing the main thing: whatever went right or wrong, if, at the end of the day, my daughter was honestly able to say that she felt loved and celebrated and cherished (which she very much deserved to feel), the party would be a success. 

I reminded myself of this when a March wind storm took off most of the shingles on the barn where we were having the party. I reminded myself of this when the roofing crew said they would "do their best" to get the barn roof fixed before the party…and their best was not nearly good enough. 

I reminded myself of this when I was trying to figure out how we could have a party in the half of the barn that would not be wet if it rained the day of the event. I reminded myself of this when our pump went out while I was attempting to power wash our trampoline in case young party guests wanted to play on it. I reminded myself of this when ants got into some of the lemon meringue cupcakes I had so carefully blowtorched the morning of the big day. 

Having an overarching goal in mind through all the months leading up to the party helped me to be uncharacteristically calm(ish) about things that normally would have sent me over the edge. My own mom, who knows me better than anyone else, said several times, "I'm so proud of how you're handling all this." That meant so much to me, not only because it told me I was getting something right, but also because you really just never get too old to want your mama to be proud of you.

2. Weatherproofing. 
We planned to have our party in our 100-year-old barn. While that came with some challenges (see #1, above), staging our soiree in a sheltered, protected spot lessened my worry about weather. An outdoor event with open-air tents is lovely if the weather is dry and sunny and not too hot or too windy or too cool. But I didn't want to play those odds, and I figured that if the weather ended up being spectacular, people could always wander outside. 

3. Lemonade trio. 

Otherwise known as "streamlining the beverage options." I didn't have the energy to round up 17 kinds of pop (soda to some of y'all), but I did want to offer more than just bottles of water. We decided to make a couple beverage coolers' worth of basic lemonade from a good-quality mix, with lots of fresh lemons added to it, and then flavor it three ways. I bought a trio of Mason-jar type beverage dispensers and loaded one up with plain lemonade, one with strawberry lemonade, and one with blackberry lemonade. The ease-factor was that we used flavored syrups added directly to the glass dispensers so we didn't have to try to guess ahead of time which flavor of lemonade would be the most popular. (Spoiler alert: it was the blackberry.) We had our lemonade three ways and a giant tub of bottles of water in two different sizes, and that was it. Options...but not so many that people were overwhelmed and just gave up and were thirsty.

4. Memory clothesline. 
My absolute favorite element of our party (other than my graduate and our guests, of course). We strung a length of clothesline rope across one corner of our barn and used it to display my daughter's life as told by clothing. The first item was the first outfit I bought my daughter once I knew she was a she. The last item on the clothesline was a t-shirt from her future university alma mater. In between, we hung her favorite dance costume and her marching band uniform and her prom dress and her graduation gown. We used regular clothespins to hang the clothing items, but I wrote captions describing each item on special clothespins with little chalkboard labels attached that I found at the craft store. Even guests of guests who didn't know our grad very well were able to see who she was and what she loved by "reading" this visual story.

5. Divided plates. 

I didn't want my baked beans co-mingling with my fruit salad, and I didn't think our guests would, either. We spent the money on some slightly more expensive, heavy-duty, three-section plates and didn't regret a penny of it.

6. FAQ cards. 
I knew from past parties I'd been to that the graduate usually spends a lot of time answering the same questions over and over. I understand this: guests want to know what's going on. But I wanted my daughter to be able to use her limited time with friends and family to interact more meaningfully with them and to be able to ask about their lives. So I created "FAQs About the Grad" cards and scattered them around on tables where guests would be eating. The cards answered the questions most grads get, plus a couple that were specific to our girl: 
  • Is she going to college?
  • Does she know what she's going to major in?
  • What is she going to do with her life?
  • Will she keep playing her clarinet?
  • Will she keep dancing?

7. Friends on duty. 

Leading up to the big day, I delusionally thought I'd be able to greet and converse with guests in a relaxed manner and refill the meatballs and realize when the trash needed to be taken out. (I did say I was delusional.) Fortunately, I had a wise friend who knew better. She told me in no uncertain terms that she was taking over those kinds of tasks and that it was my job just to be the mother of the graduate. She's a dear friend of our family who can talk to anyone, but she was also free to do all those housekeeping duties. She ran around like a maniac for the entire party, and I have absolutely no idea how we would've done it without her. (I'm on deck to do the same thing for her kids, by the way.) I also have no idea how we would have pulled off the party without the help of my parents and my in-laws and several other friends and family members. If you are reading this and you are one of those people, thank you. Also, THANK YOU!!

8. Graduation hat cupcakes. 

My daughter opted for a cupcake buffet instead of a full-on cake, and these edible mortarboards were the centerpiece of the display. Any flavor of cupcakes and any color of frosting works, along with upside-down mini peanut-butter cups, chocolate-covered graham crackers, and fruit-leather tassels. An assembly line made up of my girls and my sister and her kid-crew (visiting from out-of-state for the occasion, THANK GOD) proved the truth of the adage, "Many hands make light work."

9. Parking on purpose (and a repurpose). 

As a guest, I'm always stressed when I go to graduation parties and don't understand where I'm supposed to park. We wanted to make our guests feel welcome and relaxed from the start, so we tried to make it clear both where the party was and where they were supposed to park once they got here. We mowed down some of our back field, and my daughter painted sections of a dismantled picket fence--with the perfect arrow shape for directional assistance--for signs that pointed guests to our house from the main road and to our "parking lots" once they turned in.

10. Card collection minus the frustration factor.

Not long before our celebratory shindig, I helped cater another grad party and observed many guests awkwardly trying to maneuver their cards through a narrow slot in one of those graduation-hat card collectors. We went with ease and accessibility and set out a wooden bin with a chalkboard label that fit with the rest of our decor AND gave my daughter something she could use afterwards. Our guests tossed their cards in and moved on to more important matters...like the cupcake buffet. (See #8, above.)

At the end of the night, when all those leftover meatballs had been packaged and stashed in the freezer, I asked our girl how she felt. She said, "I feel loved and happy." And that's when I knew our party had been a success and that we'd given our sweet graduate a gift she'd remember forever.

Are you a grad-party veteran yourself? What real-life ideas would you add to this list? 
Or, if you're planning your own bash and have a question you'd like answered by a craft-deficient, Pinterest-intimidated control freak, feel free to ask away in a comment or on my Facebook page
And about those meatballs: here's the famous family recipe that got our whole party started.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *
Previous post that has something to do with this one: "Things You Think When You Are the Parent of a High School Senior."

This post may have been shared at some of these blog link parties.

March 7, 2018

I Wash Hoodies Instead of Onesies Now, But My Babies Still Need Me

I don't remember the last time I washed a onesie.

I gather that "last" was supposed to be a maternal milestone I watched out for and gave its due. But I imagine I didn't realize I was doing it at the time and so didn't pay too much attention to it until I was packing up a few of my girls' most treasured pieces of baby clothing that I couldn't quite bear to part with and storing them away for "someday."

Now, as a mom of older daughters, I wash dance leotards and college t-shirts and skinny jeans and "that gray shirt with the crocheted part on it that I want to wear next Wednesday" and sweaters in gorgeous shades of blush and dusty rose that I ask to borrow for myself.

And yet, they are still my babies.

They still need things only I can give.

I'm grateful for the chance to share this piece of my mom story over on Her View From Home, and I'd love to have you take the trip over there to read the rest of what I promise is a very short post...

**This post may have been shared at some of these blog link parties.**

March 2, 2018

I'm So Grateful My Children Are Growing Up

My high school freshman band student brought her long black concert dress home a few weeks ago, and I told her to try it on because it was clearly too long and needed to be hemmed.

Except that when she did try it on, it was exactly the right length. In my mind, she was still that little girl of a few years ago. My head and heart haven't quite caught up with the lovely young woman my baby has become, the one who’s almost as tall as I am.

And yet I do not really mourn the loss of that little girl. For one thing, I have not lost her. Her mind and her spirit and her heart and her character are all still here, just in a body I can share clothes with.

For another thing, growing up is what children are supposed to do, and seeing it happen is a privilege of parenting. There is a whole new group of parents in Florida, in fact, who will be denied this privilege. I feel like I should try to honor what they have lost in some tiny way by being grateful for what I still have: the opportunity to let my children go rather than having them ripped from me.

Would I love to have my girls be small enough again for a little while so I could nestle them against my shoulder? Of course! Do I wish I could go back in time for a few days to their younger years and appreciate those years in ways only hindsight would allow? Of course.

But most of the time, I want my children to get too big for me to hold so they can take hold of other things: relationships and jobs and opportunities and passions and maybe, someday, their own babies.

I want my children to grow up so they can grow into the people God created them to be.

I want my children to be able to leave me so they can find what's waiting for them.

I want my children to not need me so much anymore so they can meet their own needs and the needs of others.

What I've come to realize is this: we have these children to hold them, but we raise them to release them.

We want them to love us enough to stay with us, but we want them to feel loved enough by us to leave us.

And then, we hope they love us enough, still, to come back to us sometimes...not as who they were when they left, but as who they have become.

It is, to quote Kate Douglas Wiggin in The Best Things Ever Said About Parenting, "a peg big enough on which to hang a hope."

**This post may have been shared at some of these blog link parties.**

February 15, 2018

12 Things To Say To Your Kids When They're Disappointed

When I was a senior in high school, I wanted to be Cinderella more than anything in the world.

Actually, I wanted to play the role of Cinderella in our high school production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical.

Actually, I wanted to land the lead in a musical.

As a senior, this was my last shot at the coveted top role--my ultimate chance at the big dressing room and the final curtain call. The two years prior, I'd been thrilled to play second leading-lady parts (Lady Larkin in Once Upon a Mattress and Kim in Bye-Bye Birdie, if you're just dying to know). But I'd never scored THE lead. And I wanted it. 

I took care of the audition and waited for the cast list to be posted. And there it was, at the top, across from "Cinderella." 

Not. My. Name.

At the time, I thought being bitterly disappointed personally was pretty much the worst thing that could happen. Now, as a mom, I know that the only thing worse is watching your child suffer that kind of letdown.

If when disappointment makes an appearance in your house, here are a few words that might ease the sting a little. 

1. I'm sorry. 

When I say this to my daughters in this kind of setting, they usually respond, "It's not your fault." And I tell them, "I'm not sorry because this is my fault; I'm sorry because when you're hurting, I'm hurting. I'm sorry because I wish you didn't have to feel this way."

2. It's okay to feel sad. 

Our society prizes and favors cheerful optimism above all else, so sometimes our kids need permission and guidance to spend some time in sadness when it's appropriate. And it's also okay to show your own mom emotions to your kids, to let them know they are not alone in what they want and in hurting when it doesn't happen. When my sister had to tell my oldest niece that she hadn't gotten a part she wanted in a musical production (like aunt, like niece), my sister didn't have to say a word: she burst into tears the minute she saw her daughter. 

3. You don't have to get over this right away. 

As moms, we fix things. We make things better. We solve problems. But when our kids are dealing with disappointment, we need to let them feel what they feel for a while. We need to wait with them while they walk through--not around--seasons of regret and unmet expectations.

4. The way things are can be different from what you were hoping and still be good. 

As it turned out, the role I DID get all those years ago--the ironically named wicked stepsister Joy--was my dream role even though it was not the role I'd dreamed of. It was typecasting, really: all I had to do to play the part was be myself in exaggerated form while wearing a shiny purple ballgown and a black hair bow so enormous it almost took over my head. I'd never had so much fun in my life. It was different from what I thought I wanted, but it was still good. In fact, it was better.

All of which fueled my conviction the other day when I passed along this particular bit of counsel--"the way things are can be different from what you were hoping and still be good"--to my college freshman. Whereas I lived for choir and the annual musical all through high school, my firstborn lived for band. Starting the first day of fifth grade and continuing literally until she walked off the graduation field, band was who she was. It was what got her through. So we were thrilled when the college she chose offered a small, friendly, low-commitment band very much open to non-music majors. After the first rehearsal of second semester, though, when I asked how it had gone, she said, "I don't know...I'm not enjoying it the way I thought I would." I told her that she had loved high school band so much that anything else was almost certain to be a letdown. I advised her to try to enjoy her new band for what it was...that it could be a good experience even if it was different from what she was expecting. (I didn't have to haul out my Cinderella story just then, but I keep it on hand at all times for just this kind of mom moment, and you can believe my daughters have heard it before.)

5. Just because this didn't work out now doesn't mean it won't ever work out.

Maybe you weren't ready. Maybe this wasn't the right time. But maybe a little ways down the road, you will be, and it will be.

6. Do you want to try again?

Do you want to reload and give it another chance?

7. If you do want to try again, what can you do to prepare for that? 

What action can you take now to get ready for then?

8. Do you want to just be done with this?

Our culture is big on "never give up." And "quit" really is considered a four-letter word. But as parents, we need wisdom to know when love for our kids looks like giving them our blessing to let something go. 

9. What are you looking forward to?

We don't want to rush our kids through seasons of disappointment (see #3, above), but encouraging them to anticipate something good down the road can help with the healing.

10. I'm proud of you for giving this a shot.

Whether "this" is a relationship or a hobby or a competition or anything else that requires effort and risk, there is something to be celebrated just in the doing and the trying.

11. Do you want some ice cream? 

A recurring theme in our house (see #13 on this post). At the end of my Disappointment Day, my friends Amy and Jenny (the newly cast wicked stepmother and the other stepsister, respectively) hauled my weepy self down the street to our local ice cream shop. An hour and two scoops later, I'd had my perspective adjusted and was looking forward (ish) to hamming it up with those very funny other not-leading ladies.

12. I love you.

It's what we say as moms when we don't know what else to say and even when we do know what else to say. Because it's the beginning and the end and the foundation for everything worth saying in between.

Me (in the purple) as the stepsister Joy...
the role I didn't know I wanted.

**This post may have been shared at some of these blog link parties.**