Blessed with Help

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I’m not great at asking for help. It makes me feel like a burden. I know people are busy–they don’t need my neediness on top of that. But that’s not really a great/healthy perspective to have. Cause we’re all going to need help–eventually. Some more often than others.

In the last few weeks or so I’ve been working up a major eczema flare up on my hands. So much so, that for the last several days, I haven’t been able to use them for much of anything other than very light housekeeping and very minimal food prep. I seem to have turned the corner on it (hopefully) and I’ll share my strategies for recovery and management in another post.

But in the meantime, things needed done. The weeds had waged a major takeover in the garden. The house needed cleaning. Dishes needed done. And half my time has been spent soaking my hands in something or trying to catch up on the sleep I wasn’t getting from the unbearable itch all night long.

And then the helping began. I did ask my older kids to help wash up anything that couldn’t go into the dishwasher. For once they didn’t complain. Everyone pitched in to prep their own meals over the weekend, when my situation was the worst. My mom came over and started cleaning things, and then decorating things in a flurry–just cause she knew it was bugging me and I had been in the middle of a project to spruce things up that I was forced to abandon. My dad popped his head in first thing in the morning to ask me if I needed help with anything.

Monday, I came home from running my son somewhere, and my oldest daughter had emptied the dishwasher and folded the towels–without my asking–because she felt so badly about my hands. I nearly cried.

And most of this wonderful help came without my asking. I’m incredibly grateful for a family that is so giving and thoughtful.

It can be hard for a mom when she can’t be the mom she needs to be. Self pity takes over. I may have engaged in some serious whining. But I’m learning lessons about graciously receiving the help that’s offered to me. Learning that I don’t have to be at top performance all the time. Or that it’s okay if my youngest only knows how to fix herself ONE thing to eat and has it several days in a row.

My kids learn to serve. I learn to receive. We’re reminded to poke our heads up from our projects or plans and team up for one another.

Is it hard for you to receive or ask for help?


Summer Conspiracy

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Haven’t been here much. Summer (and a broken camera) have conspired against me. Well, mostly summer. I just can’t seem to talk myself into sitting at this computer. I figure that’s bound to get worse when the beans are ready to can.  And I think I’m okay with that, I really am. As my husband would say, there’s so much going on in real life (irl).

Good stuff. And I find myself committing over and over–day by day–to be present in it. To slow down and take it in fully, not half halfheartedly from the corner of my eye while I type or check Facebook.

Cause summer is full…

  • lazy afternoons playing lifeguard while my kids swim
  • tending the garden and herb beds
  • picking flowers for inside
  • watching the family of ducks that have taken residence here
  • home improvement projects indoors and out
  • lots of meals outside
  • long evening walks
  • kids’ sleepovers and playdates

Of course there’s lots more. (Plus all the laundry and dirt that all that fun makes.)

So I guess this is my “excuse” post. But really, I don’t need an excuse. None of us do. Because it’s good to remember to keep the right balance. To not exchange “good” for what’s really best for our time. I don’t want this expensive box of plastic and circuits to be my master.

Cause I’m gonna enjoy my summer!

What summer fun is going on in your life?


Make Ahead Father’s Day Menu

Father’s Day is just on the horizon! In my family, we have a string of mom’s birthday, Mother’s Day, Dad’s birthday, Father’s Day. It’s a whole spring of special days! And I don’t know about you, but at our house, Sunday’s can be a little bit crazy–or at least Sunday mornings. My husband and I get up early to be at worship rehearsal (thankfully the kids are old enough to dress and feed themselves), I co-lead the first half of the service, we visit with folks a bit, and by the time we make it home we’re beat.

The LAST thing I want to do is make a giant meal.

So throughout the winter months, I got into the habit of crockpot Sunday dinners or make ahead meals like this one. Just find a day when you have a moment to put a few things together and pop them in the freezer for Sunday. Take a freezer meal out to thaw before you leave for church or overnight in the frig. I even use my programmable oven (LOVE this thing) to come on at a set time and gently warm our food so it’s ready when we walk through the door!

Since I didn’t want to be stuck in the kitchen all Saturday or Sunday, I put the majority of our Father’s Day meal together on Thursday this week. BBQ meatloaf (cause it’s a man’s meal–and there must be much meat), twice baked cheddar bacon potatoes and green beans (which I’ll just pop out of their jars and season up right before we eat).

meatloaf and potatoes

In the interest of helping us all work smarter in the kitchen, I thought I’d share my strategies for getting it done quickly, easily and with as many layers of flavor as possible.

  • Always start with the bacon. If ANY part of your meal includes the need to brown up some bacon, do that first. I diced up a bit and browned it in my big cast iron pan. After I removed the brown pieces with a slotted spoon, I used that same pan to soften and brown the onion, pepper and garlic for the meatloaf. That equals extra savory bacon flavor in the meatloaf without adding any actual bacon (cause it’s expensive and I’ve got to make it stretch). To get even more mileage from that nicely seasoned pan, I made that night’s dinner frittata in it as well.
  • Make your oven do double (or triple) duty. Whenever it’s possible, I try to condense the time my oven is on. It’s energy and money that I’m saving, not to mention heating up the house in the summer. That means I’ll bake up an entire week of muffins at once. Or I’ll do two loaves of sourdough at the same time. For this meal, it was as easy as popping the baked potatoes on the top rack and the meatloaf on the lower. Another tip–if you’re using two or more racks at once, especially for baked goods like cookies or muffins, set your timer for just half the baking time and switch the trays half way through to get more even results. 
  • Use the “flash freeze” method for individual items. For the twice baked potatoes, I scooped out the baked potato skins, seasoned them and mixed them with butter and cheddar and bacon, spooned the filling back into the shells and put them on a flexible mat in the freezer–uncovered and with space between them. A couple hours later, they were hard and ready to put into a freezer bag. So Sunday I can easily pull them out and warm them in the oven. Flash freezing keeps things from sticking together (like berries) and keeps ice crystals from building up.

If you have the time and ingredients today, why not get ahead for your weekend? Here’s some other easy make ahead meals that Dad is sure to love…

  • Lasagna or other pasta bake
  • Chicken fried steak strips
  • Spinach bacon quiche (yes, men do eat quiche!)
  • Spaghetti (prep the sauce today and just boil pasta on Sunday)
  • Pulled BBQ chicken or pork (can even let the slow cooker do all the work!)
  • Steak hoagies (brown the meat, peppers and onions today and just assemble later)

I’m sure there’s a slew of others. I’ll also be making my dad a special dessert and my daughter and I will be baking up some treats for my husband. But Sunday’s dinner is out of the way and tucked in the freezer!

What special treats are YOU making this weekend?


The Mother of All Yard Sales

I’ve been a bit quiet on the blog lately. And not without good reason. Last week, my family hosted a yard sale. But this isn’t just any yard sale. Nope. This is the mother of  all yard sales.

Every May, right after Mother’s Day, the insanity begins. It takes a full week to set everything up. The whole shindig takes place at my in-laws. It’s our family’s stuff, their stuff, the neighbors’ stuff, and my brothers and sister-in-law’s stuff. But wait, there’s more. They also sell of anything that people  leave behind when they move out of a house–with full permission to do whatever they want with it. And we also had quite a few pieces of donated furniture whose proceeds were to go to a children’s cancer research fund.

It was a LOT of stuff. The pictures don’t do it justice. Plus all the furniture was across the street in the neighbor’s driveway.

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As usual, the weather was less than cooperative for the majority of the week. But the sale must go on. So my husband constructs what he refers to as “Little Haiti.” (Please don’t misconstrue that as a derogatory label. He actually was in Haiti. So I guess he would know.)

Tarps, tarps and more tarps. So folks can shop, rain or shine.

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And rain it did. On Thursday, hubby spent all his time adjusting tarps, re-sinking tent pegs, and tightening ropes.

 

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The kids were troopers. They unpacked glassware, manned their bake sale, counted out change and otherwise fine tuned all their hard earned yard sale skills.

 

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We got rid of a lot. And we may have found a few new treasures. I’m sure Ella can’t live without her new specs.

 

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It seems every year, we find more items we just don’t need, and we’re happy to pass it on to someone else. A little extra cash and a little more closet space. A lot of exhausting, hard work. But worth it!


The Power of Two Little Letters…OK

power of ok

Around here, we subscribe to the power of “OK.” Oh, the magic those two little letters possess! Short. Sweet. Not a trace of argument or pretension or pride or frustration…ya know, if spoken in a tone of voice that matches :).

Cause maybe it’s just me, but it seems like the people in my house (yeah, me included) seem to LOVE to add their two cents. We love to give our excuses. We love to add our input and comments and recommendations. We love to correct and inform and yes…be a little bossy sometimes.

Enter the power of “OK.”

Could you empty the trash, dear son?–“OK, mom.”

I’m cranky today and I need you to do something quietly in your room.–“OK, mom.”

You need to get along with your siblings today.–“OK, mom.”

And it works for SO many other things. Your spouse venting or ranting about family or work? Maybe…just maybe…he or she doesn’t want you to *fix* the problem. Maybe he just wants you to listen (all the way to the bitter end) and say “OK.”

Or when your incredibly brilliant teenager takes forever a moment to download all he has discovered about the fantastic new gaming device he plans to buy…for the 20th time. Maybe this mom should just smile in my most interested fashion and say, “OK.”

I can’t say enough about OK. It’s more than just a quick reply. It reminds us that maybe we don’t need to say EVERYTHING that pops up into our little heads. It reminds us to listen. It reminds us to be agreeable instead of argumentative.

Now, I realize there are exceptions. I certainly don’t want my kids to say “OK” to just anyone out there. Common sense and wise discretion still apply here. But in the day to day interaction with family, it goes a long way.

Give those two magic letters a try. Preach their virtues to the family. And let me know how it goes.

OK?

Oh, and just for kicks, our favorite way to say “OK.” Courtesy of Phineas & Ferb.


The Kind of Mom I Want to Be When I Grow Up

I’ve been a mom for over 13 years now. Sometimes it all just seems like a blur. Sometimes I don’t remember life before they were here. And then other times I feel like I just started. I certainly have moments when I feel as clueless as that 24-year-old crying along with the colicky baby in the wee hours of the night.

When Mother’s Day comes around, I think about my mothering. I think about what I’ve learned and how far I still have to go. You see, what they don’t tell you is that when you become a mom, you grow up right alongside your kids. You quickly learn your strengths and weaknesses and as soon as you get a handle on things your little darlings plunge you right back into unknown territory.

It’s stretching. It’s humbling.

It’s a glorious gift. 

I’ve still got a ways to go. And I figure all the learning and stretching will just go right through their adulthood, too. When we finally reach that point, what kind of mom do I want to be?

I want to listen a whole lot more.

I want to measure my words with seasoned wisdom.

I want to always cheer them on from the sidelines.

I want to be their safe shelter from the difficult world of adulthood.

I want to celebrate their victories and somehow heap their broken moments onto me instead.

I want share freely everything I have.

I want to serve our God together.

I want to have an endless well of patience and forgiveness.

I want to be their most faithful friend.

I want to be like my mom.

Because she’s always been all those things. And when I grow up, I want to be just like her.

 

May you have a blessed Mother’s Day.


Abby’s 12th Birthday Party (and a solution to my cake woes!)

abby's 12th

When it comes to kitchen gadgets, I like to keep things simple. I DO NOT like uni-taskers. I dislike them so much that I was actually excited to discover that my pastry blender also works great chopping eggs for egg salad.

But Abby got one of those dang uni-taskers for her birthday. It’s one of those cake pop makers. (affiliate link) Like a little waffle maker (also a uni-tasker I have a love/hate relationship with) but it makes small round balls of…well, cake.

She thought it was a load of fun though, so I relented. And then shortly thereafter, I had an evil, brilliant idea.

But first, a little backstory. I love to bake. LOVE IT. Give me a sack of flour and I’m a happy girl. Bread, scones, muffins, cookies, biscuits, pizza dough…I crank ’em out in rapid fashion, all week long. But there is one thing that is my baking Kriptonite.

Cakes.

I just can’t seem to make a really good cake. They’re either too dry or too dense or the crumb isn’t right. (Fortunately I rock in the buttercream department, so I can hide the crummy cake well.) Also, I really don’t love any fancy cake decorating projects. Cake Boss I am not. Makes me want to take a sedative just thinking about it. I’d rather just slather the icing on and call it done.

Back to the little cake pop thingy. What if, I thought, what if we made a bunch of those little cake pops and let the girls decorate them? You know, as part of the “party activities?” Then I wouldn’t have to really make a *cake* and they’d have fun!

plain cake pop

Yes! This little uni-tasker was going to come to my cake rescue. So, we made about a billion little cake balls (With a mix. Judge if you want. My sanity was worth it.). We picked up some sticks and sprinkles at the store. That afternoon I whipped up a few different colored glazes and some chocolate ganache. Then we laid out the spread and the kids dove in.

sprinkles

 

icing glaze

It was messy. (I think I’m still finding sprinkles all over my house.) It was crazy. It was without any redeeming nutritional value. But it was fun!

And other fun

Cake pops weren’t the only thing decorated that night. We also had a pedicure party complete with fashionable toe separators (do those things have an actual name?) and fancy files for everyone to take home.

nail polish

My house smelled like a salon. We may have lost some brain cells.

pedicures

I really do love the kids’ birthday parties at this age. Once they get to a certain point, you don’t have to entertain them so much anymore. No one cries because their balloon got popped. We’ve come a long way from Pin the Tail on the Donkey.

All around, I’d call the evening a success.

Especially since I escaped cake making.

 

Out with it. What’s your baking Kriptonite?