October 8, 2018

Autumn In a Sheet Pan Caramel-Apple Cake

I've confessed here before that Pinterest intimidates me, because it makes me feel like an underachiever. 

"How is it possible you've never done a pallet project?" or, "What do you mean you store your desk supplies in a plastic caddy you bought at the office supply place instead of in a repurposed tissue box you decoupaged with pictures of your children? What's wrong with you?"

Happily, Pinterest inspires my daughters, and they often send me links to things they've found there that they think we should make together. Even more happily, these things are usually baked goods...which is a language I speak.

The other day, in fact, my high schooler sent me a link to a caramel apple cake and asked if we could bake it together. I thought about it for possibly 1.1 seconds, because when your teenager wants to do pretty much ANYTHING with you, you jump on it. Also, I love caramel and apples. (And also, I love my teenager.)

I was completely on-board with the idea behind the recipe she sent me but not with the four sticks of butter it called for, so I set about coming up with my own version. My daughter and I baked it up the other day, and as soon as we tried a piece, we were very inspired—to eat more. So, Pinterest, I believe I owe you an apology...and a thank-you.

Autumn In a Sheet Pan Caramel-Apple Cake {print}

1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), cut into pieces
1/2 cup water
2 cups all-purpose flour 
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup reduced-fat sour cream (NOT fat-free)
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
2 medium apples, peeled and grated

1 cup brown sugar, light or dark or a combination
2 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) milk or half-and-half, plus additional as needed
2 cups confectioner's (powdered) sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 

What to Do:
1. Round up a sheet pan approximately 9" by 13" in size. You can fudge a little on these measurements...7x11 or 10x15, for example. But don't try to cram this quantity of batter into a 9-inch square or stretch it across a half-sheet pan. Butter the pan or spray it with nonstick cooking spay.

2. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees (yes) and make sure your rack is in the middle position.

3. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg with a fork or whisk. Set aside.

4. In a large saucepan, bring the 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter and the water just to a full boil, stirring once or twice while waiting for this to happen.

5. As soon as the butter/water mixture boils, pull the pan off the heat. Dump the flour mixture into the pan, followed by all the remaining cake ingredients in the order listed. Stir everything together with a wooden spoon, scraping the sides a few times, just until everyone is in the party and you don't see any rebellious pockets of dry flour mixture.

6. Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top, and bake for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake emerges with moist crumbs clinging to it. Be careful not to overbake this cake. You want the aforementioned moist crumbs—not wet batter, but not a totally clean pick, either. A minute can make a difference here, so start checking early and keep checking often. As my mom always says, you can add cooking time, but you can't take it away. Remove pan from oven and set on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes.

7. When your cake has cooled for 10 minutes, make your icing by melting the 1 cup brown sugar, the 2 tablespoons of butter, and the milk or half-and-half in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook (keep stirring!) until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool for 3 minutes, then add the confectioner's sugar and the vanilla extract and beat with a wooden spoon until smooth and/or you have worked out all your frustrations, whichever comes first. If the icing looks too thick to pour easily (it will set up quickly once you pour it on the cake, so you don't want it too thick at this stage), add a little more milk or (even better) half-and-half, a few drops at a time, until you have a pourable but not runny consistency.

8. Immediately pour the warm icing over your warm cake and spread it evenly and without delay from edge to edge. (This will be much easier if you don't pour all the icing in one spot in the middle of your cake but rather bake and forth from end to end, nearly covering the entire surface just in the pouring.)

9. Allow the icing to set up for at least 20 minutes, then enjoy your cake warm or at room temperature. If you have any to store, be sure to cover your pan tightly with plastic wrap or foil so it doesn't dry out. Eating the entire cake the day it's made also solves this problem nicely. But I will say that this cake keeps well. I'll leave it to you to work out that paradox.

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

September 7, 2018

Now I Can See What Really Mattered As a Mom

When my first baby was in preschool, my husband and I agonized over when to start her in kindergarten. Okay, fine: I agonized. My husband rarely agonizes over anything. He is Mr. Calm-and-Steady to my reactionary nut-job self. But the point is, there was agonizing. Our daughter’s fall birthday put her right on the line for starting before she’d even turned five or waiting until she was almost six.

We went back and forth. We weighed pros and cons. I cornered teachers who went to our church and asked for their expert opinions. I was convinced we were staring down The Right Door and The Door That Would Ruin Our Daughter’s Life. What if we picked the wrong door?

Happily, our second daughter made the decision for us before she was even born by having a due date that was pretty much the same day as her big sister could have started kindergarten as a young five. Since I couldn’t handle two epic life events in the same day and baby girl REALLY needed to be born, we waited on kindergarten. And of course quickly figured out that both doors had pros and cons behind them and that it was our job to make the best decision we could at the time, open that door, and walk through it.

My point (and I do have one) is that one of the blessings of being a mom with some mileage on her is that I can look back and see what really ended up mattering in the overall scheme of things and what I could have saved myself (and, ahem, my family) a lot of agony about.

It didn’t matter, for instance, that we default-decided when to send our first child to kindergarten. It did matter, as it turned out, that once she started school, we tried our best to support and encourage her and to do what we could to help her be a successful student all the way through.

It didn't matter that I never got around to sending my kids to summer camp. It did matter that we filled their summers with other moments they cherish to this day: camping with grandparents and trips to a family cottage on a lake and time spent building lasting relationships with cousins from out-of-state.

It didn't matter that the hula girl cake for my oldest daughter's eighth birthday party looked like part sumo wrestler and part alien but almost no hula girl. It did matter that we tried to make the birthday person in our house feel cherished and celebrated on their big day, even if “all” we did was spend the day together.

It didn't matter that my house was never particularly clean. It did matter that it was home.

It didn't matter that Sunday mornings almost always felt like a war zone and that it seemed we never liked each other less as a family than at that time of the week. It did matter that we got our girls and ourselves to church almost every Sunday—not so we could force-feed them our faith but so that they could find their own faith.

It didn't matter that we never took elaborate vacations or had lavish Christmases. It did matter that we spent time together as a family, doing simple things that turned into sweet memories.

It didn't matter that I often didn’t know how or what to pray for my children. It did matter that I did pray for them, even if it was just, “PLEASE, God!!” (Which it often was. I'm banking on the truth of this quote from Max Lucado: "Since the power of prayer is in the One who hears it and not in the one who says it, our prayers do make a difference."

And it didn’t matter (thank goodness) that I am a wildly imperfect mom. What mattered—and what matters still—is that my children know I love them wildly (if imperfectly) and that they know they matter to me, always and forever.

Okay, mama…now it’s your turn! What matters to you and your sweet ones? 
And for that matter, what doesn’t?
I'd love to have you share about it in a comment or over on my Facebook page.
Thank you so much for being here!

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

September 3, 2018

Note to Self: Stop Saying You Are "Just" a Wife, Mom, and Homemaker

My 30th high school class reunion came and went recently. I didn't go for lots reasons I won't bore you with here (chief among them: that whole "leave the house and talk to people" thing), but if I had gone, I know I would have needed to have been ready to answer The Question. 

"So, what do you do?"

The Question is tricky, because into it I read a deeper one: "who are you?"

Who I am, in large part, is a wife, mom, and homemaker. I am other things, too—school volunteer, Bible study facilitator, church worship team member—but these are the big three.

What I do, in large part, is take care of my husband, our children, and our home. I do other things, too, but again, these are the big three.

I don't have another answer to The Question. I can't say that I'm a teacher or engineer or nurse or administrative assistant or electrician (though I wish I could on that last one, because this old farmhouse sure could use some new wiring).

Not having an answer other than "I'm a wife, mom, and homemaker" doesn't bother me. What bothers me is that I feel like I need one...

I'm so honored to be over on Ruthie Gray.Mom with the rest of this post. I'd love to have you make the trip over there and check it out.❤


Mentoring Moms; Capturing Joy

August 28, 2018

One Day, In a High School Bathroom, My Daughter Showed Me What Kindness Looks Like

Sweet daughter,

Oh, our second and last baby, how we love you. People told your dad and me that your big sister was our "sucker baby": she was so easy-going that she suckered us into having another one. And it is true that when you came along, you were another story . . . your own story. Your approach to us was, "What have you got? Bring it on, 'cause I've got more." That "more" has challenged  us, but it has also thrilled and delighted and stunned us, because it reflects pieces of who you are.

You are complex and complicated and, as my mama and your grandma put it perfectly, "unusually unique." You feel what you feel, deeply, and you don't hide it. You are determined, focused, driven, and passionate. You can be tricky to figure out, but you are a puzzle so worth putting together. 

You are also kind and compassionate . . . and one day, in a high school girls'
bathroom, you showed me what kindness and compassion look like.

It was band camp week, and I'd been in and out, playing band mom and feeding kids. I'd messaged you earlier in the day and commented that there were a couple girls I knew for a fact were lonely . . . girls who'd told me they didn't have any friends.

Right away, you texted back: "Do you know which ones they are? I'll try to talk to them."

So I was already proud of you for that, but then when I walked into the school later that day to do freezer-pop duty, one of your marching band instructors told me, "Your daughter is a real trooper." And then, gradually, I found out what had happened.

I found out how you had walked into the girls' bathroom and discovered one of those lonely girls there, her arms covered with cuts. I learned that you'd tried to comfort her and found her some Band-Aids and gave her a hug and took her to where she was supposed to be.

I also learned that some of your fellow band members gave you a hard time for that. "Why did you do that?" they asked you, and you told them, "She's a person. She deserves to be treated with respect."

My daughter, I know I'll be proud of you many times in the future, but I'm thinking those times will always have to measure up to this one.

Later that day, I came across one Bible verse and one quote that were so right in light of what had happened, I might have called him coincidences, except that they had the mind and heart and hand of Abba written all over them. 

"And the King will say, 'I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!'" (Matthew 25:40)
"May I urge you to love the overlooked? When you talk to the lonely student or befriend the weary mom, you love Jesus. He dresses in the garb of the overlooked and ignored." (Max Lucado)
That day in the school bathroom, you showed me what this verse looks like when it's lifted off the pages of a Bible and put into action in real life. You showed me what this quote looks like when it's not just something somebody says but something somebody does. 

And you showed me what kindness looks like when it's given a voice and hands and feet—and, sometimes, a Band-Aid.



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

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.

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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.