Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Better for Boys

This morning, I was rudely awakened from a rather interesting dream. In the dream, I was staying in a hotel with some others - and for some reason we had several "extra guests" in this very nice hotel, so we had to move them from room to room to keep them from being discovered. That was just the weird part. The interesting part was happening to move by a table on which was laid a dozen different foods, mostly pastries and confections and snack-type foods, and one rather curious mailbox.

The food, it turned out, was quite tasty, but wholly organic and with very little in the way of sweeteners - "healthy" snacks. The mailbox was what has stuck in my mind though. It was blue and made of the same sort of material that is used on ranches to pen in the animals. A sturdier metal of some sort. It had hinges on either side, about mid-way down the body of the piece, as well as at the "regular" spot to allow the door to open and midway down the back panel. The side- and back-panel hinges were not the sort that allowed the pieces to open, but they allowed the box to "give" when pushed at (or hit.) Curiously - and I wasn't able to figure out the purpose for this part - there was a black sort of rubber "bumper" bar at the top of the front. The door was more squared off than the standard rounded top as well.

The company putting it out was called "Better for Boys" and their premise was to offer items that are better for their health (and would therefore, help keep more boys off of medication for ADHD diagnoses) or items that can stand up to the abuse a boy, or group of boys, puts on an object. I can imagine more of what might be sold by such a company: walls or wall paint that can stand up to graffiti (or that can wash itself!), the malleable mailbox, bunk beds that double as climbing walls... you get the idea (and the reminder that I have three boys of my own!)

Lord knows that with four children and a fifth coming, I don't have the resources currently to start such a company - but perhaps it would make a good future home school project to design some of these items! So barring a company to create and sell items such as these, the question then becomes is it good for us to offer boys items that will save them from their natural instincts? I mean this question more in the sense of offering them items they can all-but destroy vs. teaching them, and expecting them, to have self-mastery and self-control over their natural impulses to act out in ways that make items such as these necessary and tempting to society's young men.

I would not suggest that it is never right for boys to be boys. When ours were young - very young - they were climbers (and still are!) To keep them moderately safe, we went to IKEA (marvelous place for some things, including kids' toys!) and bought a ladder designed to be attached to an interior wall, along the studs. We put this in their room right next to the book shelf, so they can pull out their books without pulling the shelf over at the same time! The ladder is no longer next to the shelf, but it is still in the room. The boys don't use it so much any more. It is not high enough for them now, it seems (how they grow!) but Buttercup is on her rise to stardom as a Champion Edens Climber.

I delight in watching her reach these same milestones that her brothers did at about the same age (under two.) It scares the heck out of parents at the ... (pick one) ball field, grocery store, playground, etc. She climbs whenever she gets the chance. Though rare, she even manages to give me a bit of a jolt every now and then. But we taught her early on to climb stairs fairly safely so we are slightly more confident in her ability to follow her joy in this. Does this immunize her from the possibility that anything bad will happen? No, but perhaps it is better to help them remain safe through use of moderately safer equipment than to remove the equipment all together.

Our boys though have missed out on many of the old playground toys that we had as children because of an overzealous society wanting to protect from every aspect of possible harm. No longer do we see see-saws (or teeter-totters, depending on where you grew up!), merry-go-rounds or metal slides. My kids are probably happier without the metal slides, but a part of me wishes those other bits of fun were still around and we hadn't sterilized everything so much. What we have now are spaces that make it more difficult to run off their energy and their need to move; we've insisted that they sit in a room all day and try to think while being still (for my Smeagol, that seems almost impossible!). We've watched them struggle to comply, and then put them on medication for not being able to maintain focus under such circumstances.

So the answer to my original question - whether it is better to teach them to behave or to offer them objects that can withstand potential misuse and abuse - lies pretty squarely in the middle. Over time, teach them to stay still, to think, to contemplate. Also find ways to give them freedom to run, jump, climb and to take a few risks so they can reason out for themselves how to avoid danger. This balance is what they need to grow, and with a little guidance from us they will be the bright stars they are meant to be. If we learn to stop ourselves from rushing to "talk to someone" or fix things when they make poor choices, and to avoid bringing them out of the tree when they get a little higher than our stomachs like, they will learn lessons that will help them all the days of their lives. The tendency of children to get into slightly risky situations is both the gut-wrenching fear, and the joy, that comes from being parents as we watch them grow and thrive.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Recipe Day: A little on the UN-healthy side!

Two recipes today - neither as healthy as the last few I've put up (nods to Spinster-Beth!) but both are extremely tasty and worth the time. One is short, one is longer. Both are Delicious (shhhh... and a little healthy,) for a dessert!

The first are the BEST COOKIES I have ever had. Introducing:

Sunflower Seed Cookies


Ingredients:
1 c. butter, at room temperature
1 c. brown sugar
1 c. white sugar
2 eggs
1 Tbs. vanilla + 3" scraping of Vanilla Bean (this can be omitted if you can't find vanilla bean, but it is SO MUCH BETTER if you keep it in!)
1 1/2 c. flour
3/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
3 c. quick oats
1 c. salted sunflower seeds (this does make a difference!), toasted
1 c. nuts (pecans or walnuts are best), chopped
1 1/2 c. dried cherries (you can use dried cranberries, but the cherries are extra-good)

Recipe:
1. Cream together the butter and both sugars.
2. Add the eggs, one at a time, and vanilla and vanilla bean
3. Add the flour, salt, baking soda and quick oats. At this point, the dough will be fairly dry.
4. Fold in the nuts, fruit and seeds.
5. Form in rolls or drop by the Tablespoon on a heavily buttered cookie sheet. Alternately, you can use a well-seasoned pizza-type stone (I have Pampered Chef stones, but others that might also work if they're well seasoned.) Bake at 350 degrees for 10 - 12 minutes. Watch the cookies carefully to remove them before they're brittle. If they're too brittle to get them off the pan, you can put them back in the oven for just a minute to soften them back up.) Remove them from the pan onto cooling racks.

The second recipe is for you chocolate lovers - super simple, super tasty, and just a small bite will do ya'!



Fruity-Yummy Chocolate Bars

Ingredients:
One package dark chocolate chips (Hershey's Special Dark works well for me)
1 - 1 1/2 c. salted pretzels, broken up
2 - 3 c. dried fruit, such as cherries, cranberries, blueberries, or chopped up apricots
1 - 1 1/2 c. salted sunflower seeds
*Optional Ingredients* 1/2 c. chopped up nuts
1 c. coconut
Dash of chili powder

Recipe:

1. Prepare ahead by laying out a sheet of wax paper on a cutting board. This is a quick recipe so try to have all the ingredients ready at hand before starting.
2. Melt the chocolate over low heat, stirring continually to keep it from scorching. The chocolate will not really get hot enough to burn at any point if the heat is low enough. It won't take long. Remove the chocolate from the heat.
3. Mix in the other ingredients.
4. Using a rubber spatula, spread the warm mixture out on the wax paper. Put the mix into the fridge overnight or the freezer for about 2 to 3 hours.
5. Remove from the freezer/fridge and cut into bars. If frozen you may have to let it sit out for 20 minutes to soften enough to cut. Store in a baggie or container in the fridge - the more pure the chocolate, the faster it will melt. The Hershey's SD melts rather quickly in your fingers so have wipes or a sink on hand when you eat them! A small piece is perfect for dessert!

I've done each of the optional ingredients, one at a time, in this recipe to great success. Just be careful with that chili powder, too much can ruin the whole thing!

Looking forward to hearing your reviews!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Todd-Zilla

This is a repost of one of my FaceBook Notes. I have two other posts ready to go, but they need the pictures first - have to bake some cookies for those! In the meantime, here is one to lighten your day and remind all you moms-of-toddlers out there that we all have one of "those days" sometimes!

I know I cannot compare having my four children with those of my sister-in-law and brother (with 7,) my mother (6,) or my grandmother (10,) but with my "paltry" four, every day has the promise of adventure. On some of the most adventurous days, a sense of humor is an absolute requirement of parenthood.

On one day in particular, I needed to go grocery shopping. I left my two oldest children at home, where their pop was sleeping for work. They were instructed to get a couple of chores done before I returned. So instead of taking my two biggest shopping helpers, I took Bruiser and Buttercup, the two youngest. On the way to the store, about 25 minutes away (and yes, the prices are often worth the drive), Buttercup fell asleep (YAY!) She continued to sleep on my shoulder for the first fifteen minutes of grocery shopping ease.

Then... she woke up. Now (I thought) I have my hands free to get everything faster and can move more quickly. Nothing but a good thing, until the 5 yo spoke from somewhere around my mid-section, "I'm hungry."

Okay, we'll finish up and get a snack to eat on the way home. No sweat, right?

Special Mom Tip 1: don't leave your oldest helpers at home without bringing snacks along for the younger children. They WILL get hungry and shopping WILL take longer than normal!

In the produce section, the peaches were on sale, next to the not-so-cheap cherries. I drifted toward the peaches and as I finished bagging up a couple of pounds worth, I noticed my darling son's bulging cheeks, and guilty countenance. Commence Operation "Remove Cherry." I took the half-chewed cherry from his mouth (Warning: Only daring mothers should attempt to remove food from the mouth of a hungry 5 year old!), explained that eating produce that needs to be weighed to pay for it is stealing, and guiltily threw away the remaining portion.

Special Mom Tip 2: Keep an eye out for ways the oldest child available can help out. Even a five-year-old can be kept busy looking for the ripest peaches or run to get produce bags. Alternately, be prepared to push one of those monstrously heavy two-seater carts, but be warned: they come with problems of their own toward the end of the store!

A kind store employee happened to be cutting up peaches to give out as samples nearby. She gave one to the child and I accepted one for the toddler to refuse. Instead, Buttercup was pointing to the bag of *whole* peaches in the cart, saying, "Appo' Appo'" while I smeared peach juice on her mouth in an effort to show her that it-really-does-taste-good-and-you-DO-want-to-eat-it.

Thankfully, she got the message. Buttercup ate two pieces while Bruiser had three. So far, so good on the solo grocery front. As the peaches were nibbled away, I ran to the deli to get some special cheeses and hummus and then headed for the tomatoes and avocados. I got the avocados ice cream and turned to get the tomatoes - just in time to see Buttercup munching on one as if it were an "appo!" Take the tomato, put it in the bag with the rest and just keep moving.

Special Mom Tip 3: Most free samples are a good thing, even better when they're healthy, but keep wet-wipes handy!

While I fetched the onions, she was pulling bits and pieces, bags and boxes up out of the basket of the cart. Soon she found the feta from the deli and proceeded to pull the price stickers off (including the bit with the bar code!); over in the egg section, she took hold of the four bananas, bit into the skin of one and started peeling it open; freezer section: open the veggie-chicken patties and tear into them. What is this?! Todd-zilla??

We finally reached the last hurdle: Lobsters. Quick peek at the lobster tank should satisfy her, right? No. Three or four (or five?) minutes later, I pried her away from the tank to continue to the check out line, she screamed. Quick! Grab a cranberry drink on the fly, pop it open and shove it towards her - ahhh, blessed silence. In the check out line, the saga only continued as she tried to help put groceries on the moving belt, stood up in the basket seat to help and had someone come to "help" her sit back down (we're good, thanks,) and the bagger pointed out that the veggie-chicken patties were opened. (Yes, thank you, I'm aware.)

Meanwhile, older moms all through the store are giving me sympathetic nods and cheering remarks ("I've been there - keep it up!") while the men were giving wide berth as they worked to move around me in the confines of the aisles.

Final Special Mom Tip: When you think things are at their worst, remember that you're not the first to struggle through the store with younger children. Yours are not the loudest, the most ill-behaved, etc. and your perception of what is "bad" can always be corrected by the employees, who can tell you stories of other children that will make your hair stand on end. In the case where you think YOUR child is the hair-raiser, remember to laugh, whether or not you feel like it - in the end, it's a great story for later and if no one is dead or injured, life is going to continue on and all will be okay.

The coup de gras came when I took my own groceries to the car (I can arrange the groceries the way I like them!) I left the cart behind the car while I strapped Buttercup-turned-Todd-zilla into the seat. As I rounded the car, I noticed that my groceries had gone missing! The cart had turned about and headed back down the hill towards the store, groceries and all. I can only assume that the peaches didn't want to be next!


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Whose blessings? His... or mine?


May I "dedicate" a blog post? Are there rules against that sort of thing? If there are, I reject them and dedicate this post to my mother. She has often used action, rather than words, to teach important lessons in life. Today I had the opportunity to use one of those lessons myself. I hope to one day find that my children are as moved and inspired by my deeds as I am by hers. So here is the story - and the lesson - behind my dedication.

I was in a Panera transcribing some interviews for the books I am working on. As I sat in one of the leather seats to the side of the restaurant, I had a plate of food next to me and was eating it a little at a time as I worked. Nothing much, half a sandwich, half a cup of soup, a coffee.

After being there for about 45 minutes, a man came over and sat down in the leather chair opposite mine. He had a tan canvas bag with him, somewhat frayed around the edges. He was wearing faded jeans, an old long-sleeved shirt on a day that was around 85, and no socks under his worn white tennis-shoes. He had a beard that was trimmed, but still scraggly -- longer than a goatee and more gray than black. His hair was similarly colored and just as unkempt, though he was not too dirty looking.

The man didn't say anything to me - he just sat and looked at some generic picture on the wall over my head. It wasn't a very exciting picture even, just something to look at while he contemplated... something. At the time, I had headphones on and was trying to focus on my work - the voices on this recording are particularly muffled in places and it has loud background noises in others. I felt rude sitting with my hands covering my headphones to block out as much ambient noise as I could.

It was hard to focus as the man sat across from me. Some part of me wondered whether he might need a bit of spare change for a meal. Various scenarios (excuses?) as to why I didn't need to talk to him or offer him a bit of kindness passed through my mind. Maybe he's just sitting there thinking of what he wants to order. I don't want to embarrass him by offering him money when he doesn't need any. Maybe... Maybe... Maybe he's just enjoying the air conditioning.

Yeah, I know, I was stretching on so much of this. Suddenly the man saved me from myself by getting up and going around the corner to order. Whew. He was just making a decision. In my heart, I knew I was wrong. I knew I should have and could have offered him the little $5 that I had. What really stopped me? Cowardice.

Knowing that my heart was speaking to me, even as I tried to ignore it, I jumped up to peek through the pillars toward the cash register where the man was making his order. How much did he have? Was he counting out change to pay for everything? Having lost my glasses over a month ago - and not taking the time to get the prescription renewed yet - I looked with squinty eyes, trying to tell what was going on.

I have countless stories of times when I have watched my mother as she offered a kind word, food or some recognition of humanity to someone often considered "less than." She and my sister came to visit us this past spring. One day, we were driving along and trying to decide what to do with the last two slices of pizza she was holding in the box on her lap. Wouldn't you know that just at that moment, we stopped at a red light and she happened to see a man getting ready to cross. He didn't look indigent or "in need," but he was pulling a suitcase behind him and looked a little haggard and tired. She offered him the last two slices of pizza and he accepted gratefully. As he left our car window, he seemed to move with a lighter step.

So there in the Panera, I said a little prayer (I'm fond of that these days): If I'm supposed to give that man this money, Lord, let him sit back in front of me with only water to drink. Then I'll offer him my money for coffee.

Sure enough, here came my man, tan bag, plate in hand, with a little freebie cup of water. He sat down and began to eat his toasted blueberry muffin and I searched myself for some way to open conversation without coming out and saying, "Hey, do you need some money?"

So finally, I said, "Their blueberry bagels are really good."

In a soft tone, characteristic of one who is down on his luck and who is trying not to come to the attention of the rest of society - one who has been scorned and ridiculed for who he has become, my man said quietly, "Yes, they are." His voice was so soft that I could barely hear him.

I (lamely) said, "My husband's favorites are the Asiago Cheese ones...." Just a nod this time, a small one. Lady, don't pity me. "Hey, do you want a cup of coffee to go with that? They're really good with a hot drink to go with them."

Again, barely audible, "Yes, thank you, I would." (Or I think that's what he said!)

I pulled out the money that I had gathered from my pockets a few minutes before, when I was snooping... uh, squinting through the pillars, and offered them to him. He rose and left his bag and plate while he went to buy his cup. He returned a moment later with an empty coffee cup in hand, the smallest size they sell, and offered me back my change. There is an honest man for you - take no more than you need...

During that same springtime visit with my mom, I was in the library at a meeting. Inside the meeting room, there were sandwiches and other goodies to eat that few people were partaking of. My mom sat outside in the lobby area reading books to our daughter and youngest son. As she sat there, a man who is often seen around town happened to walk in. My friends and I have seen him in the local bookstores as well. Often he appears dirty, he dresses differently than "the rest" of us; people tend to give him wide berth. My mother looked him in the eye and smiled. She asked him if he was hungry, did he need or want something to eat? As it happened, he thanked her and said he was okay, and I had seen a TV interview of him online just a short time before. He is not homeless, nor is he penniless, but he does have a disability and he uses biking around town and wearing unusual outfits to help with his uncontrollable tendencies. How many of us, though, think to even ask? How many of us fail to offer that kindness simply because we are unsure, embarrassed or ... (insert 100 different reasons here.) She has shown me that same example through the years.

I have no excuse - my example has been set for me many times.

My Panera Man sat and enjoyed the steaming coffee and the bagel, rose and left without another word to me. He did not want my pity or charity, he asked me for nothing. But I was blessed by the encounter. I was reminded of what I have to offer and that I am obligated to do so. In the end, it is up to the individual to decide who was more blessed by the encounter: the Panera Man... or me?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Super-Healthy Pancake Recipe

In getting up this morning, I was reminded by my bare cupboards and condiment-only refrigerator that we need to hit the grocery store. With that on my mind, finding breakfast for four kids was no easy feat. There were other things to consider that complicated the matter by quite a bit.

Additional requirements for breakfast this morning:
  • Portable
  • Not too messy
  • Not something we've had a whole lot of recently
  • All the ingredients are in the kitchen
  • Must be filling without requiring too many ingredients
  • Must be quick to make
  • Kid-friendly, from the oldest 10 year old, to the youngest 20 month old and through the picky 5 and 8 year olds in between
That left out all of our "standard" breakfast options: eggs and (faux) bacon, cereal and milk, oatmeal...

So on the way out the door to meet up with friends for bowling, I pulled the overripe, saved-for-bread bananas from the freezer (they freeze well, by the way!), flour and walnuts for ...

Super-Healthy, Portable Walnut Pancakes (syrup optional!)
Makes about 4 small or 2 large pancakes

Ingredients:

1 c. flour (I use unbleached "better for bread" flour for just about everything)
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. cinnamon (I used a little more - I prefer to eyeball cinnamon a bit, it's so tasty and healthy, just don't overdo it and end up with little fire balls)
1 banana
1 c. milk/smilk
1 Tbsp. Vanilla
1/2 c. chopped walnuts, pecans or almonds (I used walnuts to great success)

Optional Ingredients:
a splash of syrup (this will be explained in the recipe)
1 Tbsp. ground flax seed
1 Tbsp. wheat germ
1 Tbsp. wheat bran

Recipe:
  1. Mix the dry ingredients, including flax, wheat bran and wheat germ, if using, in a mixing bowl. I add the extras because they increase the overall health value and do not affect the texture or flavor of the pancakes. (These are staple ingredients in my house because I also use them to make sandwich bread, as you can see in this recipe: Sandwich Bread)
  2. (If using syrup in your ingredients, check out instruction #5 before doing this step!) Mix the bananas, s/milk, and vanilla together in a blender, or mash them up by hand.
  3. Add the liquids to the dry ingredients and mix together until just blended.
  4. Fold in the chopped nuts.
  5. In our case, the pancakes needed to be slightly sweetened because we were taking them on-the-go, so taking a tip from McDonald's, I reduced the amount of milk slightly (I do this anyway because I like my pancakes to be a little thicker than most recipes call for) and added my syrup directly to the batter - about 1/4 c. does it for my family, but yours might like them a little sweeter even.
  6. Using olive oil or vegetable oil (we use olive for everything just about), cook the pancakes as usual over medium heat. Watch how long they stay on the fire though - banana sugars tend to burn quickly!
These pancakes met all of my initial criterion and have the added benefit of being vegan (no dairy/no eggs) so I can make them regardless of whether my egg holder is bare! Pictures will follow when I upload them from my camera, but for now, enjoy!

You will find protein, potassium, magnesium, sodium, iron, vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, C, E, K, Niacin, Folate, Selanese, Manganese, Copper, Zinc (and that's just in the banana!), Omega 3's, Lignans, and all in a little pancake. These are low-fat and freeze well too so make extra and keep'em in the freezer.

Here is a great little chart to show you what vitamins and minerals different fruits have: Fruit Nutrient Chart
Info on Flax seeds (I am not endorsing the company - I buy mine in the grocery store, sold by a Washington state company called Bob's Red Mill): Flax info
Info on Wheat Germ and Bran: Wheat Germ info

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Embracing Your Purpose - II

So now that I'm almost another year older, and far wiser, what goals have I for myself? Where am I going next? How am I getting there? I am determined to be debt free (except for the house) by my 36th birthday in 2012 - for that, we have started following Dave Ramsey's program and advice (again, there is another blog post in that, but that is for another time!) As a side note, his program has helped I don't know how many thousands of people and can be found here: www.daveramsey.com - it is worth every penny.

I'm determined to get the many schedules that run my life into a working order that can be synchronized and followed. I don't have a program for that (many use flylady.com though, if that is something you're struggling with but it didn't work so well for me about ten years ago; perhaps I should try it again...) Right now, I see many parallels between the house/clutter-freedom and the budget/debt-freedom. I'm working from that point - but there is one other very important thing that goes with these two goals:

I have learned that, in my own life, to make these two goals happen, I need to stop worrying about working outside of my home at everyone else's projects, at every other volunteer opportunity that comes up that may - or may not - be edifying to my family and me, at every piece that I think I "should" be doing to take some of the financial-breadwinner burden off of Jeff's shoulders.

He has never - ever - said a sideways word about my staying home or about being our primary source of income. The pressure I feel in that comes entirely from within me. The pressure is there, nonetheless, and I am learning that my first job is house and family - there is plenty to do there. My second job is Heritage Transcriptions, in which I get to write memorial books for the families of the fallen members of our military. That is a labor of love. I feel more fulfilled in my life by doing them.

Otherwise, I must be content with "just" being a stay-at-home-mom. I must ignore the looks, the questions, the ugliness that we SAHMs get when we are out and about, especially the looks that see four children and inquire, "Don't you know when to stop??"

For the record, we do know when to stop, but we've decided to love and enjoy all that we're given. Though I am religious and a Christian, I'm not a "quiverful," Bible-thumper type of person: each family has to make its own choices. This is what works for our family, but here is the irony about our having children and choosing to have - or not have - those children with which we are blessed:

Indulge me for a minute in a side-rambling, please: Is it "irony?" I am a little nervous about using the word because of the song by Alanis Morrisette - Ironic - I read an article by a professor after it came out in which the professor said that nothing in the song was ironic; that everything she mentioned in the song was just bad luck! ... isn't it ironic? Don't'cha' think?? So anyway... end side-rambling now. Read on and weigh in...

Here is my sister working with Buttercup in our garden earlier this year. She doesn't plan to have children right now, and I am content to let her be the great-aunt-type to mine! She does a great job!


So here is the possible irony in our having children: when I was sixteen, like many girls, I declared my intention to adopt many children - a busload of them - and never have any of my own. Why would I want to have children of my own when there are so many out there already who need help?? Then I met Jeff and he wanted children - at least one or two - and so we compromised. We would have a couple few bio-babies, then we would adopt at some point in our lives together.

Well, we're up four children and I love them all and wouldn't trade them for anything. They are part of my super-blessed life and to those who would say that I am helping with the "overpopulation" of the world, I say this: which child would you want put back? Which human being would you get rid of? Ponder that, then talk to me. And adoption is still on the table and something we plan to do in our lives.

So what does all of this have to do with "embracing your purpose?" Only this: sometimes, our purpose in life is not really what we might have thought it was. Maybe, just maybe what I want/ed was not what was best for me or where I was really heading in my life and I just didn't know it. Learning to pray, learning to listen for the answer, learning to wait and knowing that what is coming is ultimately leading me to where I need to go to fulfill my purpose in life, gives me peace and makes every step of the way count.

If my purpose is to be a great stay-at-home-mom, who bakes, sews/crochets and does the domestic goddess thing, and on the side, I get to support military folks and their families by writing memorial books, I am at peace with that. It is not what I envisioned when I joined the Navy all those years ago - and it is still on my heart to one day learn to fly, just not F-16s (for the reference to that, go to Embracing Your Purpose - I), but it is where I am now and what I truly believe I have been led to do. In the future, when my children leave home, who knows what my purpose will become? But every moment of what is happening now is leading me to that purpose, whatever "it" is.

Each of us needs to ask similar questions, determine our purposes and learn to embrace who we are. If you don't feel like you're in the right place, make changes to become who you're supposed to be. But consider whether your purpose might not be very different than what you once envisioned and that attitude makes a huge difference in our happiness within that purpose.

As my mother used to say when we asked (whined!), "Do I have to?"

Pause for the big smile, "You get to."

Embracing Your Purpose - I

This is my crew. This is the group that makes every day worthy of a smile and a nod as I get up to search, bleary-eyed, for a cup of joe. I count every day with them a blessing because one day... all but Jeff will be gone. I need to enjoy each minute for what it has to offer because someday I'll look back with nostalgia even as I enjoy those future minutes. I don't need to continue (re-)living my "best" years from high school. Those minutes are gone. Here is where I need to be and where I make sure I am.


It was not always this way. I had to learn that lesson over a long time - not wasted time, because it did teach me the lessons I needed to know, but a long time...

When I was young, I joined the Navy, married, had Maestro, our first child, left the Navy and then... floundered. From my earliest memories, being in the military was all I had ever dreamed of doing. I wanted so badly to fly the F-16s. That part of my dream for life is the only part that did not come to pass.

What was to come after the military, I never gave much - any - thought to. I was going to stay in the military for 20 years, what did I need to think about? But I left the Navy when our oldest was 14 months old. In staying home with our son, at first, I was pretty miserable. I was lonely in that Georgia town; I stayed home with a 14-month old boy, pregnant with a second, and had no further aspirations than those that had already passed and been done with. My adventures were over at 23.

When our second son was four months old, we moved from Georgia to Maryland. The children, pets and I all went west to stay with my in-laws in Denver. Here is how that conversation went:

Me, talking to my father-in-law Jeff, who had always told us "if you ever need anything, just ask:"

Me: Hi, Jeff. You've always said if we need anything to just ask, and I know this may not be what you meant, but we're moving to Maryland and the kids and animals and I need a place to stay for a while until Jeffery (my husband) finds a house for all of us.

Jeff: Uh... Okay. How long are we talking about?

Me: I have no idea. We've never bought a house before, but I don't really think it will take longer than a month or two...

Now, I dearly love my husband's family. I am so blessed to be married into a family that I love and enjoy as much as my own birth-family, and my father-in-law and I get along very well, if I do say so myself. However, I'm preeetty suuure taking in his grown son's wife, two grandsons, three dogs (to which he is allergic), cat (also allergic), and six (at the time) birds was not quite what he meant when he said to just ask! My big, allergic, awesome father-in-law very nicely, and gamely said to come on out.

In the end, we stayed with him for about three months (Sept. - Thanksgiving) and Jeff found us a house. We stayed with my mom for the month of December until the New Year and then flew out to Maryland. In spite of being technically in a big city (Baltimore), the neighborhood is a throwback to the 1950's. There is an active Neighborhood Watch, there a lots of children on our street and the next one over who are very well behaved, the families get together for block parties and bar-b-ques - we just generally all get along well in spite of political differences, religious differences, etc. In short, it's a great place to bring our children through their formative years.

But what did that mean for me? I still had no real aspirations or goals. I was drifting. I was determined not to stay miserable in our new home. In the seven years since then, we've lost all but two dogs and the cat remaining, the rest all passed on; we have four children now - three boys and a girl, and life is a swiftly flowing river, to borrow a phrase. I've tried various work-from-home ideas: mystery shopping, direct sales, etc. Each of those lasted about two years (including one direct sales thing I did in Georgia) and each of those reconfirmed that I am not a born sales(wo)man! The one job I have kept working at, albeit slowly is the memorial book company I started when Jeff was gone for a stretch. The project I have been working on for that company is another blog post - but not for now.

The point to all of this is that there has to be a "next" - what comes after all the goals you've set for yourself have been met? What is your next goal? What are you reaching for? What are you hoping/dreaming/wishing will happen in your lifetime?

The question that should follow next is what are you doing - or going to do - to make those goals and dreams realities? The answer should never be a heavy sigh, rolled eyes or an admission of defeat. Think about your "self talk" - those words you say to yourself that affirm what is great about you, and what you are capable of - or those little nasty thoughts that come out that slow you down and make life dreary. If you are doing nothing to get to your goals, letting self talk destroy your dreams and who you are deep down, or if you're not even setting goals, then you've sold yourself short; you've given up on using the wonderful talents God gave you; you've squandered that which you were meant, and made, to share with others.

I firmly and truly believe two things: 1) there is a job out there for each and every person who wants one that will be pleasing to that person - I have known several men who worked at the local garbage dump and truly loved going to work each day. THAT is what I'm getting at with number one. 2) Ten percent of the people in our population (so I read years and years ago) work in jobs that they love - L.O.V.E - be one of the 10%. Life is too short to remain part of the back 90%. Every day that you get up, you should smile because you're getting ready to go to work and you love it.

With my children around me to wish me good morning every day, with the home schooling, baking, crocheting, photography and writing I get to do each day - when my feet hit the floor I am ready ... for a cup of coffee...

Oh wait... for work! Yes! Ready for... zzzzz... cooofffeee... WORK and the excitement that being a stay-at-home-mom provides each day while I watch my children grow, learn and shine. There is no better place to be. We have goals we're working on, and that is in part II of this post, but I can honestly say that I have a charmed life. Whether we're up or down as a family, whatever is going on, I am at peace with where I am in life. I am happy knowing that even when I don't get my way, there is a reason and better is always just a step around the next corner. Now on to the goals and achieving them - found in part II...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Do you speak'a ma' language?


Wednesday mornings, Jeff needs to be at work by 6:45 - and this Wednesday, the boys and I needed our only car, so we piled in at 6 a.m. to get him there on time. Usually, Buttercup falls back asleep pretty quickly. This week, she felt a need to chat first; she had found one of Smeagol's Silly Bandz in her chair and wanted to give it back to him.

He took it, but she wasn't done.

"NONAH! ... NONAH!" ("Nonah"/Smeagol was busy interacting with his brothers and did not hear her - or at least did not pay her any mind.) Again: "NOONAAHH!"

So often, as we interact with those we love, it can be hard to get the message across. We have to break through the wall of daily noise, all the other events going on, that surround us. That is, unfortunately, sometimes the easiest part.

"Yes?" Finally! Her noise broke through his 20-month-old sound-block filter.

Then comes the difficult task of truly listening to what the message is:

"Wannaonebanspeas."

And continuing the effort, though it's clear that we're not getting the real meaning behind the words and it's difficult or we're frustrated.

"What?"

"Wannaonebanspeas?"

After several attempts, during which even I was somewhat baffled, the lightbulb moment came: "I want a bandz please?" She was asking for the Silly Band back.

Jeff and I have been married eleven years - it will be twelve in November - and we have, like all married couples, had some battles. Not often, never long-lasting, but sometimes big blow ups that left me unable to sleep, until we discussed and dealt with the issue. (Curiously, the loss of sleep does not seem to be part of the process for Jeff!) Over time, we have come to realize that during our most heated discussion, we are actually saying the same meaning but in two different ways. In essence, we're talking right past one another at crucial moments in our lives together.

We are committed to figuring it out, talking it out no matter how painful or difficult. That doesn't make it any easier. I have learned, too, that it is also a matter of my own attitude (as I tell the boys).

I responded to a Yahoo post the other day - in it, a woman was asking if she should keep a written tally of every time her husband (whom she was considering divorcing because she felt he was being mean to and neglectful of her) did something she thought was mean or hurtful. Why would you want to sabotage yourself that way??

What we seek in life, what we choose to focus on and pay attention to, is what we will notice most frequently. As an experiment, try looking out for only the red cars on the road when next you drive. You'll see them everywhere! The same is true for the young lady who had been married only a few years. If she takes the time to focus on, and record, his every error, that is what she'll notice most readily. I advised her to start a love journal instead and write down all the things (right down to putting the chips away after he's done eating his snack!) that he did that were helpful or that made her feel loved. In time, she should begin to notice those nice, loving things most frequently.

I try to model that for our children as well. I love their father with everything in me. He is my "White Knight" and has saved me from others - and from myself, when I've need a (ahem) nudge (or a strong push) in the right direction. I want my marriage to last. Open, effective communication is an important part of that dynamic.

It all requires effort and a keen ear, and a willingness not to go to sleep at night until the issue is resolved.

As Smeagol handed the Silly Band back to Buttercup, "Ack you!" was her chipper return.

... Then she fell asleep.

Monday, August 9, 2010

"Joyful Busywork"

"Real joy comes not from ease or riches or from the praise of men, but from doing something worthwhile." Pierre Coneille


My boys were supposed to be working on a new schedule today. Math, reading, writing, chores, music - you know the drill. They knew the drill but didn't like it. So they hemmed and hawed, they procrastinated, Bruiser (the 5 yo) took out his new 1/8 size violin a hundred times - and Maestro took the full size out (no he does not play, yet!) to "help."

After a morning in which I worked harder than the boys - I was exhausted and ready for a nap. Buttercup, the 20 month old, was finally ready for a nap at around 11. The boys got to have some quiet play time while I put her down and took a 20 minute power nap of my own. Fast forward to the afternoon - time for laundry, four full loads of laundry to be brought upstairs, folded and put away. The laundry was brought up and Maestro mentioned wanting to get a good workout in, so he had brought up two laundry baskets up at the same time by himself.

Lightbulb!

I put one boy onto doing "side straddle hops" (jumping jacks), one to running stairs, one to push ups. They were working so hard that it was relatively peaceful for me to get the laundry folded before the commencement of "Operation Stuff Drawer," followed by "Operation Stuff Shirt" and "Operation Stuff Wardrobe." They enjoyed that all so much that they asked for more exercise to do afterward and were huffing and puffing from the exertion of it all.

So it begs the question. Why can't I find an equally engaging way to get school work done? I suppose my biggest hurdle is the knowledge that I could do all sorts of quizzes, games, puzzles and such to get the messages across and the lessons learned, but doing so takes huge amounts of effort and free time while I put such a plan and schedule together. (Time for a solo trip to Panera, I think!) Perhaps I'll make that happen on specific days, but on the "off" days, the boys are going to have to learn to make their own fun and find the joy in the process and love of the labor itself.

It took years for me to learn to enjoy the process of mowing the lawn, washing the dishes or picking up the living room; that lesson was hard one - and my turning moment came in having a friend profess to "love doing dishes." This friend is so joyful in her outlook and in the many, many activities she is involved with that I really admire her.

Her husband is away frequently for work, she has three boys and a young dog. She home schools, like we do, and is also involved with boy scouts and active in church and yet, she rarely looks tired or worn out and has often been ready to take my own children into her home for play time and fellowship. Perhaps I make others tired with my activity level, but she has been an inspiration to me and a great help. Most of all, she helped me change my attitude about work and what it means to be joyful in all that we do.

Ecclesiastes 2:24: There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment [1] in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God...


I believe in joyful work; and I believe that work is helpful for changing a bad attitude. In our house, it's called "working out the grumpus" and after about 30 minutes (sometimes involving my children wailing over their bad fortune or poor choices) they begin to ask for the next job to do, and with a joyful countenance. That is one of my primary goals for this home school year: work done in a joyful attitude coupled with happiness and peace with one another.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Necessity of Friendship


Last Sunday was a dear friend's birthday. Usually we take our spinster-friend out to a tea house for high tea. Before you think I'm being mean calling her a "spinster," here is a plug for her blog: www.spinsterbeth.blogspot.com You'll see her spinning wheel in one of the photos.

So, we're going to tea... We've considered wearing hats, but I don't usually have one to wear. I need something huge and gaudy and outrageous I think. Most years, we have three for tea - but one of our numbers is out of town until September, so this year we'll have

tea for two...
and two for tea...

(anyone know this song? Or am I just the Queen of Old Songs? Well, it is a song about two lovers, which she and I are decidedly NOT so I can only use that part of the lyrics for this post.)

This same wonderful friend has been a Godsend when Jeff has been out of town on business trips - she has come over when the kids were driving me crazy, she has come over just to sit and play Othello or checkers, and she and a few other friends come over nearly every Saturday evening for dinner, fellowship, and games. Our Saturday night group is a mixed bag - military, civilian, veteran, knitters, woodworkers, married, single, with and without children and somehow we all manage to find enough points of similarity to form a sort-of extended family in it all. The kids ask about each other through the week; the adults keep in touch via Facebook and e-mail, planning meals, deciding who will bring what this week, etc. Two ladies knit, I crochet, but don't have the same... shall we say... obsession for yarn-craft that they do.

A neighbor comes by every so often to have tea and an afternoon chat. Our children play together constantly and we feel at ease in making sure they behave, whether talking to our own children or those of the other. She and her family have come by for dinner once or twice, and have joined us at neighborhood gatherings and "happy hour" at another neighbor's down the street.

Another group I gather with has four to five women, including myself. In that group, we have a military retiree, two military veterans and one who is still active duty. We all met through work. I know only that one is heavy into scrapbooking, two love baseball, and we all have a pretty rowdy party when we go out.

In each of these groups, there may be only one or two places of similar interest or background or life experience - but I feel safe in these groups. I find the camaraderie with them that I joined the Navy to find fourteen years ago. Whether an all-women group, or mixed, we share news of our days, plans for the future and troubles. In return, we offer jests and good-naured ribbing, we offer laughter, we offer advice - and sometimes, in kindness and love and respect for one another, we offer rebuke, knowing that the friendships will hold strong.

I have talked to several people recently who are looking for those connections - people who have them, and don't always realize it. So I started looking around. Do I have them? Where do I stand in this world, with whom do I connect? Whose needs do I help fill? And I found these groups, and others, all around me. People I see regularly enough that I know them by name, not just face (a continual struggle for me!) People that I know care enough to tell me when I've messed up.

This is my thanks to them - the realization that I am not alone because of them. And in this case, this week, it starts with tea.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Mustard Bread Worthy


With a family of six, we were eating a LOT of bread each week and I was buying the "add everything" variety of bread - "double protein," "double fiber," "double double..." Even at our "reduced price" grocery store, those loaves were around $3.50 each - and four a week was getting to be too much! So I decided to pick up where I left off years ago and learn to make bread at home. Mind you, I tried when I was younger - and made enough bricks to form a small dog house! One of Jeff's favorite things is a slice of mustard bread - he takes a slice of bread, spreads Golden's Spicy Mustard on it and eats it with a snack plate. Maestro, our 10 yo budding family musician, was following this somewhat curious (to me, anyway) culinary habit. So until I could consistently make a loaf that was "mustard worthy," my bread was not ready.

Three or four weeks later, here is the recipe I settled on. And it is good enough to make mustard bread with! It's also far less expensive to make four loaves - if you're following you costs, the basic breakdown is about $1 per two loaves of bread. I can give the breakdown on that some other time but it's a sizable savings and healthier since there are no preservatives added. If you have to, the bread freezes well - it won't last long on the shelf! I often make one, freeze one and maybe make the dough for the 2nd batch to freeze for later.

Not quick, but super-tasty, healthy, and simple to make. I make two loaves at a time (only have two bread pans) and bake once or twice a week. I add extra stuff to make it healthier, but you don't have to have all of that to make a decent, fluffy loaf! If you don't add the extra, you'll need more flour to make up for it. The picture above is made without the extras, and shaped by hand instead of in a pan - we were having pasta that night. I added rosemary to the top and a few other herbs as well. But below is what I use every week for sandwiches.

The stuff with a ** by it is stuff that I add, but that is not really necessary - but does help give it a little bit better "sandwich bread" texture. Without the extras, you get a pretty decent french bread loaf!

Homemade Healthy Bread Recipe, with almost all the extras (well, I guess I could add crushed nuts or something - I LOVE the nutlovers bread they sell at the store!)

Ingredients:

4 - 5 cups flour (I use "Better for Bread" flour, gives me about 6 to 8 loaves per $2 bag)
2 packets of dry yeast (NOT the kind for bread machines)
1 scant Tbsp. sugar or honey (only a very slight difference in taste)
1 - 1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 - 1/4 c. ground flax seed** (1/4 c. of each of these makes it a little too heavy to rise well so I use just slightly less of each)
1/8 - 1/4 c. wheat germ** (I find each of these "extra" items over in the organic section of the Commissary - near the protein bars and vitamins.)
1/8 - 1/4 c. wheat bran**
1 Tbsp. gluten**
Olive oil

Steps:

1. In a 2 c. (or larger) measuring cup, warm 1/2 cup of water to 115 - 120 degrees (the temperature can make a huge difference. I look to go at 120 myself.) Add 1 Tbsp. sugar/honey and the yeast. Let sit about 10 minutes until foamy - it will fill up to about the 1 1/2 c. mark.

2. While the yeast rises, in a large mixing bowl, put 3 c. flour (4 cups if you're not adding the extra stuff), salt and flax, wheat germ, wheat bran and gluten (if using.) Mix all of these dry ingredients together. The rest of the flour will be used during kneading.

3. Add the risen yeast and an additional 1 3/4 cups of water, also at 120 degrees. Mix everything together fairly well - but if there is still some flour not mixed in on the bottom it's not a big deal.

4. Put about 1/2 c. flour onto a clean surface (counter/cutting board/etc.) pout the dough out onto the floured surface (the dough will still be sticky.) Put another 1/4 c. flour on top of the dough. Knead the dough, adding additional flour as needed for 8 to 10 minutes (I'm not precise in the time, as you might guess, but it usually takes me about 8 minutes before it's at a good elasticity. If it is getting hard or difficult to fold over for the kneading process, you can pick it up on one side and let it hang for a second to stretch out a bit and continue from there.)

5. Oil the mixing bowl and put the dough in, coating the outside of the dough with the oil. Cover with a fairly damp cloth and let rise for at least 1 hour. How long it needs to rise will depend greatly on the humidity and temperature.

6. Once the dough has risen and is about double in size (or more if you're not paying attention!) put a light coating of oil onto a clean surface, and knead the dough again for three or four quick strokes. Place in two lightly, but thoroughly oiled baking pans, cover with a fairly damp cloth (almost wet!) and let rise for another 30 to 60 minutes (until risen as high as you'd like them to be.) Mine always rise a little more even once I've put them in the oven, so maybe go just under how high you'd like them to be. Remove the cover and bake at 450 deg.s for about 20 minutes. Let cool for about 15 minutes before turning out for best results.

I hope I've written this out clearly and that it tastes as good for your family as for my own!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

IPO

The quiet of a house at midnight is unmatched. Sitting here with a glass of wine listening to dogs snoring and children breathing... so peaceful, so quiet...

until the baby wakes up
because the dog barked
when an older brother
thunked across the wood floor
on his way to the head
because he drank too much Gatorade
before hitting the rack for bed.

(Study Seuss much? There is your poem for the day - and a perfect way to start my IPO blog post!)

As you can see our house is hopping! We have three boys, one girl, two dogs and a cat. The children are all homeschooled - I tried to hs the dogs and the cat, but it really didn't work well. The dogs took to the leash but the cat just flopped down and dared us to drag her across the concrete sidewalk. She pretty well rules the house now. And one of the lovebirds got homeschooled by the Rottie once too - but that's another story for when the mood, and memory, strike me to write it down.

I've come to learn that as many times as I've thought I was the outcast or the silent minority and that I didn't have anyone out there who really connected with me - I'm not alone. There are other Orthodox Christians, homeschoolers, moms to many, (mostly) vegetarians out there. There are other budding photographers, work-from-home, learning to sew, stay-at-home moms. There are other people like me (someday I'll put up the full run-down list, even.) Maybe I will never find someone who connects with me at every point of interest, but at least two or three, and we can just complement one another on the rest.

That's really the point to this blog, I suppose. To connect. I was writing notes on Facebook for "friends-of-friends" to read and even have picked up a few comments along the way! Those will eventually make their ways here to this blog, I suppose. In the meantime, grab your favorite drink (wine, sidecar, water, Gatorade, Perrier) and

sit for a bit
don't read for speed
or because you need
to preview something trite for your kids

Then, if I've touched your heart or your mind, if I've given you a thought or a new perspective - if you can give me an angle I didn't consider before, please, leave your mark - comment, discuss, engage - and pass it on to your "friends-of-friends"; I'd be most grateful!

(Next time, pictures, I promise - I just have to figure out HOW first!) OH and in here you will find recipes, thoughts, hopes, prayers, dreams... politics, laughter, love, and fun among friends and family -

(*ahem* If you'll indulge me one last time:)

even the youngest
among us!
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