Thursday, December 13, 2012

Gingerbread Play Dough


I like to pin things on Pinterest and think about making them for an extended period of time. . .this particular activity has been on the pinboard and in the works in my mind for about a year, and I finally did it yesterday to rave reviews from the boys, particularly 2-year-old Josh.  If the first thing your toddler says when he wakes up in the morning is, "Mommy, can I make some more gingerbread?" you know you have a win!  So, I wanted to share the recipe because this was easy, painless, inexpensive and once again. . .TOTALLY WORTH IT because it is making the "baby" incredibly happy so mommy can work on Christmas cards!!  This would make a fun gift for any child- just seal in a mason jar or some Gladware and attach a cookie cutter with a bow.  Include one of our favorite books- The Gingerbread Baby by Jan Brett for an even more special gift!


Gingerbread Play Dough
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup salt
  • 4 teaspoons cream of tartar (or 1 tbsp plus 1 tsp)
  • 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 4 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons ground cloves (optional)
  • 1/4 cup canola or other vegetable oil
  • 2 cups boiling water
Whisk together flour, salt, cream of tartar, and spices in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook.  Add the boiling water and start your mixer on low.  Add the oil.  Mix until the dough has an even consistency, scraping the side of the bowl if necessary so that you have one nice ball of dough adhered to the hook.  Allow to cool a bit and play away with rolling pins, cookie cutters, plastic knives and lots of imagination!  Store in an airtight container.
Makes approximately: 4 cups- enough for 2-4 kiddos to play happily!


A few notes- it does use a lot of spices, but the good news is that every year at holiday time, ALL of these spices are available for special purchase at Aldi!  They go quickly, but right around Thanksgiving you will see a special cardboard display appear with all of these guys plus some extracts you can't get year-round for a great price.  We make our own imitation playdoh year round, so I stock up on Cream of Tartar at Aldi when it is there and super inexpensive!   And if you have never used Cream of Tartar before (frankly, I had no idea what it was until I made a filling with it a few years ago) it's actually white and powdery and you find it in the spice aisle.  Go figure.  Cream of Tartar.  Not creamy.  Not Tartar-y. Discuss.

Hope you have as much fun with this as we did! :)
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Thursday, November 29, 2012


"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become Real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.
"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real, you don't mind being hurt."
The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

It was a part of Emily's ministry that I never expected. . .when I thought of her loving orphaned children until they found their forever home, I wasn't really thinking that would so often mean their Forever Home. Yesterday, Sweet Zuena went home to the arms of Jesus, taking a piece of Emily's heart forever. 

Sometimes, I just shake my head and wonder how she does it. How does she lose a child she has loved so freely and so well, and have the courage to open her heart again to the next child who comes to her gate? The need in Uganda is so great, the neglect of those with disabilities so staggering, that the reality is that no matter how much the women of Ekisa are hurting over the loss of their sweet and sassy little Zuena more children will soon come. Needing love just as much as Zuena did, whether anyone's heart feels ready yet to provide it or not. The scar of losing a child might not show on the outside, but I can only imagine that the pain is as real as any physical wound someone could afflict, and stays for far longer than the rest of the world could see or understand. Being Real hurts.

"Does it happen all at once, like being would up," the Rabbit asked, "or bit by bit?"

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out, and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real, you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

When we love a child, and a child loves us, we are doing exactly what we have been called to do on this earth. Love means we try again. We forgive. We give second chances. We keep vigil by the bedside. We share laughter. We give hope. We leave the light on.

And like the threadbare Rabbit, we let ourselves be loved, hugged, used, wrinkled, stretched- literally and figuratively, dragged, prodded, snuggled, and kissed. 

Changed forever.

It can be glorious, and it isn't always easy, and yes. . .sometimes it hurts, but when you're Real, it's just a part of the deal. Being a parent means letting your heart live outside of your body, and if anyone understands that, it's God. He gave His son up for all of us, and when Jesus rose to heaven to join His Father again, He rose up. . .scars and all. Signs of the greatest Love. And at the end of our lives, when we go to our Forever Home, won't it be good to know that we chose love- that we have loved and loved well? We can know that all the scars we bear, both seen and unseen, are a sign of love. 

My whole family hurts today because Emily is hurting. It's hard to think about it or even talk about it. I can't even tell the boys yet because then it will feel too real. I wish that we could jump on a plane and give her big hugs and help her through this loss, but I know that God will send just the right people, right there, right now, to be with her and her staff and comfort them as they mourn.

So, Em, just think about the Velveteen Rabbit- I know Mom read it to you, too. :) Even when it hurts, keep loving. Love until your hair rubs off, and your eyes fall out, and your joints are loose. It's worth it. Eternally. We love you.

"Every time we make the decision to love someone, we open ourselves to great suffering, because those we most love cause us not only great joy but also great pain. The greatest pain comes from leaving. When the child leaves home, when the husband or wife leaves for a long period of time or for good, when the beloved friend departs to another country or dies ... the pain of the leaving can tear us apart. 

Still, if we want to avoid the suffering of leaving, we will never experience the joy of loving. And love is stronger than fear, life stronger than death, hope stronger than despair. We have to trust that the risk of loving is always worth taking." - Henri Nouwen

Friday, July 27, 2012


As the beginning of the school year creeps closer and the stores are filling up with pencils and pens and notebooks and binders, I start to miss teaching just a little bit.  Before I became a mom, the time of year right before school started was very exciting for me.  I'd scour the ads and stock up on staples for my classroom.  My mind would be filling with ideas to make the year in my science classroom the best yet,  and I can honestly say that each year of teaching for me was just that- even more fun and productive and even slightly less exhausting than the last.  I would spend hours setting my classroom up, running copies to beat the teacher work day rush, and of course, planning all of my outfits for the first two months of school so that there would be no repeats.  On a calendar.  'Cuz I'm cool like that.

As the school year began, I would hand out the list of supplies to my kids and throughout the first week of classes, I would walk around the classroom with my clipboard during the bellwork activities getting to know the kids and checking off their school supplies on my clipboard-
binder, calculator, paper, book cover, pencil, textbook- check.
It was really important to me to make sure each student was equipped properly for the semester ahead and for each day of my class, so I was always, always checking their supplies.  I am sure it drove them crazy, but with the students I taught this kind of structure was essential.  If they know you are going to hold them accountable, they will perform.  My students worked in cooperative groups of 4, and as I went around each table that first week of class there was always some awkwardness among the kids, sitting and staring at people they had never met before in a class they weren't sure about.  Most of the students in my class didn't know each other and I always saw it as my job to build a community in that room in the short time of our semester together.  If I could get the kids to care for each other and look out for each other it could be the best feeling ever.  Fortunately for me, some of the kids managed to take care of that themselves.

One early morning in Block 4 Integrated Chemistry-Physics, I was clicking around the room in my high heels checking off supplies.  I got to the last table, the one that sits right in front of my overhead projector and start chatting with the kids.  As I did, I noticed the desk of one boy, a junior named Matt, was decidedly empty.  Matt was small and wiry and had an appearance that was already a little weathered beyond his 16 or 17 years- that general look of a kid who does most of his looking out for himself.  I could tell from his T-shirt that he liked the Grateful Dead and from the way he spoke that he was smart, but I could also tell by his behavior that his grades might never show that.  From my first impression, I liked him right away and I knew he might challenge other people's authority but that we would get along just fine.  I could see him shuffle and squirm in his chair as I got to his desk, which is a look I had seen often before so I smiled and gave him the ol' one-raised-eyebrow and asked if he had a chance to get his supplies yet.  He looked down and his desk and then back up at me and said, "Well, Mrs. Zink, my mom doesn't get paid this week so I don't get any supplies just yet."  He could have been lying or he could have been telling the truth, but either way it was brave of him to say that in front of a table of kids he didn't know who could surely overhear.  I had heard that story many times before and had a special stash of supplies in my room just for money situations, so I told him not to worry and we would work something out after class.  I gave him a binder and a few things to use, and when I did he said, "I'll just borrow these and get my own supplies soon."  I told him there was really no need and didn't think another thing about it.

Fast forward a few days, when another boy, Cory, from my 4th block class comes to me before school.  He seemed to be a newer student, and I could tell that he didn't know anyone else in our class by the way he looked around and mostly kept to himself.  He was shy, and very sweet, with a baby face and reddish hair and that sort of awkward hunching over teenage boys have when grow really tall, but they feel too tall too fast and try to overcompensate.  He walked up to my desk, handed me a plastic bag and said, "Mrs. Zink, could you please give these to Matt?"  It was a Target bag and inside I found binders, pens, pencils, papers, a reusable lunch bag and anything else Matt would need to succeed in school.  I gave Cory and awestruck sort of look and he started to explain.  "Well, Mrs. Zink,  I saw him in the lunchroom after class the other day and he had this wrinkled up old paper bag for his lunch with hardly any food in it.  I just felt so bad.  I asked my mom to take me to get him a real lunch bag and some supplies and she said we could, but I just don't want him to know they were from me."
Uh, wow.
And who says teenagers are self centered?
My eyes started to fill with tears.  I was pretty sure that Cory and his mom didn't have a lot of extra money for things like that, but the fact that the compassion for another person was so deep inside him that he couldn't help but act completely humbled me.

I gave the bag to Matt's guidance counselor, and she called him down to the office to get it.  I am sure he stammered some sort of response before he shuffled back to his locker with his goodies from some mysterious benefactor.  I wish I could have been there as he went through the bag.  I don't think anything feels quite as good as the kindness of a stranger, and it sure makes you feel special and even more accountable when that kindness comes anonymously with no strings attached.  The next day, when I made the rounds for supply check block 4, Matt's desk was full up.  I enjoyed acting pleased and surprised.  I could tell there was a little bit more awe in his eyes and more softness in his spirit after that.  And I smiled to myself as I saw Cory sneak a look over to his tablemate's desk, see his anonymous gift, and hold his shoulders just a little bit higher.  That beautiful act of kindness among two teenage boys will live in my heart forever.  Cory's giving when he had little himself, with no recognition or hope for return, is the kind of generosity we'd all like to have.  So, if you ever lose hope in teenage boys, there's some for you!!  Thank you, Cory and Matt!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Potty Training. . .

One thing a lot of my girlfriends ask me for advice about is potty training.  Let me give a little disclaimer.  One one hand, I love when people ask me for advice!  It makes me feel awesome and super helpful!  But on the other hand, it is a huge responsibility that seems a bit terrifying.  Older moms are lucky enough to be able to brush off the questions, like, "Oh, I don't remember, it was so LONG ago. . ." but I know noone is going to fall for that line if I try it.  The Thomas the Tank Engine underpants in my laundry and the gunky pee on my toilet lid TOTALLY give me away.    I am definitely no parenting expert, so any time someone asks me for advice, I figure they are really just asking me if they are OK.  Like, is what they are feeling normal?  Is their kid going to turn out OK?  Will they all survive?  I know that, because I feel that, too.  And I think the best gift we can give each other as humans is to let each other know that, "Hey, you're going to be just fine!"  Because you know what?  We're all fine.  If you love your child and your child knows you love them, you have done your job.  They will grow up with the ability to love others, because you loved them.  Success.  All the other stuff. . .solid foods, potty training, vegetable variety, sleeping through the night, thumbs, pacifiers. . .those are all secondary to the main goal of parenting, which is love.   It has taken me a few years to figure that out, and sometimes I am still learning.  So, I say if you love your child enough to read up about potty training so that you can give them the pride of being independent and caring for themselves, you are an AOK parent, whatever method you choose to use to get there.

Now that we have that out of the way, here's my two cents on potty training.  I have potty trained 2 of my 3 boys so far, and because each child is so different in their own God-given ways, each experience was different even with the same me using the same techniques.  My potty training method is what I like to call the "Elmo and Mister Rogers 3 Day Potty Training Method".  Patent pending.  Not really, because I just mish-mashed a bunch of stuff together, but here it goes!

1. Go get yourself a potty seat.  Or two.  Or three.  Get some used ones if you don't want to spend a fortune, because since every kid is different, you never know what they will be into! We have 2 Baby Bjorn potty seats- one that sits on the floor and one that goes on the toilet seat.  However, both of my kids just preferred to stand and pee like their daddy.  Whatevs. 

2.  Go check out the Elmo's Potty Time DVD from your local library.  I signed up on the waiting list and I was like #93, so, you know, plan ahead.  When you get it, you can hypnotize your child with not-so-subtle potty messages and ridiculously catchy songs.  The one that Elmo's dad sings him is priceless, and involves lines like, "It's potty time, gotta get down low, it's potty time, just let it gooooooooo".  For your own entertainment alone, get this video.  Also, there is a nifty part where they show you how toilet paper is made!!

3. Now, it's time to do some "reading".  Basically, in my mind anything that Fred Rogers said or did is pretty much solid gold.  So, you start here.

And you read what Mister Rogers said.  And you take a deep breath because he always makes people feel better about things.  And you watch the cute little video.  And you buy your kids a bucked at the dollar bin at Target and let them drop pennies in, and sing "You Can Never Go Down the Drain" and get the Mister Rogers First Experiences book about Going to the Potty  even though the kids have bowl cuts and rainbow overalls, your kids won't know the difference.  They will love it because there are real pictures of real kids doing something that is fascinating and foreign to them and the words will sink in to their noggins and they will be getting ready for the big day.

4. Once you've primed the pump you need to think about when you are ready. When is a GOOD time to potty train?  It just depends on your child and on you.  There are all kinds of signs of potty training readiness, but I think once you detect some of those the most important thing is to pick a time when they are not experiencing a bunch of other transitions and YOU are not experiencing unusual stress.  I feel like being in a big kid bed is an important transition to make before potty training if you want them to be truly independent, which I didn't realize until I tried to potty train a kid who was still in a crib!   Lesson learned. Also, it helps to be clear of any other strife, like getting teeth, and safely past dramatic life events like moving and new siblings.  Now, if you have a resilient child, they could probably handle potty training and some of those other things at the same time.  I'm a pretty sensitive person and I like to project that sensitivity on my kids (often to the annoyance of my husband), so playing it safe and steering clear of major events works best for me.  You also need to pick a time when you can be TOTALLY devoted to your child, which whether you have 1 child or 5 is equally hard to do.  I had no idea how hard it was to actually pay attention to my kid all day until I did the "Three Day Potty Training".  Let me tell you, I felt like a pretty bad parent when I realized how stressed out it was making me just to give my undivided attention to one child. So, if you are confused and unnerved by the amount of time you are staring at your child while potty training, I am thinking that is pretty normal!!   Oh, and once you have decided, it's a good excuse to run to Target, pick up some fantastically cute undies and some stickers and lollipops and juice and whatever else you have planned for their potty training experience, and maybe a frozen pizza or two since there is no way you are going to feel like cooking after a day of potty training!  Plus, you can't take your eyes off of them to whip up anything fancier.  I learned that the hard way!

Now that you have the peppy cheerleading of Elmo, the gentle wisdom of Fred Rogers, and the goodies from Target, you need a roadmap to get to Potty Town.  That's where Three Day Potty Training comes in. One of my friends told me about it and all about how it works.  Her friend told her, who heard from another friend.  It's kind of a big deal. ;)  I would highly encourage people to check it out, with a few caveats. There are some awesome ideas in this ebook.  The highlights for me are

1.  The cold turkey approach- going straight to undies
2.  Pumping fluids at the beginning to give lots of practice opportunities
3.  Undivided attention
4.  Never forcing the child to go potty or asking them if they need to go, just saying things like, "Let me know when you need to go potty!"

As a teacher, all of these things speak to me.  Lots of practice, reinforcement, and putting the responsibility on the child.  For those techniques alone, buy the book.   But here's the things you need to remember when you read a book like this.  The author of this book is not a medical professional or a scholar of child development and psychology.  She has that disclaimer on her website herself.  She is a mom with good ideas.  She has written a book to help others and to make money.  It is based on anecdotal evidence and experience more than scientific peer-reviewed research.  There is nothing wrong with any of those things, but you have to remember that when someone writes a book like that selling a method, they are really going to "sell" it.  Probably in a way that will make some sensitive people like me feel pretty junky if they are trying the "method" and it is not working, and the book says it SHOULD work and it's guaranteed to work and ohmygoodnesswhatamidoingwrongiamanepicfailureasaparent.  At times like this, my mom (who has a lot of the wisdom of Fred Rogers) likes to remind me that they are probably not going to be 20 and in diapers.  And if they are, then you have other problems that are way more important than potty training so count your blessings.

So, all that being said, how did potty training go for me?  Well, thanks to the methods in the 3 day potty training book and lots of hyping ahead of time with Elmo and Mister Rogers, both boys had the pee part down with less than 1 accident.  Of course, part of Daniel's strategy was just to not pee at all for 8 hours despite all of the fluids we had been pumping, but it all worked out!  And for some reason, they were both staying dry overnight within the first week.  I can't take any credit for that, they just went with it!  The poop part was harder.  They both had different reasons why they wouldn't poop on the potty, and we had to get to the bottom of those reasons.  However, washing poopy underpants every now and then was a way better deal to me than changing all those diapers, so we worked our way through it and everyone does their thing in the potty now.  I would be lying if I said I never lost my temper when someone pooped their pants for the bazillionth time, however, if I did lose my patience I would just hug my boy and tell them I was sorry that I lost it and I love them no matter what.  If our kids can see that we can admit when we are wrong and apologize for it, that's a good model for their own life.  At least that's what I like to tell myself when I am a less than perfect parent!!  

Good luck, potty trainers!!  Let me know how your adventures go!  I'll update this after I finally decide it's time to potty train boy #3- who knows what adventures we will have!  :)

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Baby Keepsake Shadowboxes

One of my very first pins on Pinterest was this one. . .
from Midwest Family Life's photostream.  Thank you so much for the inspiration!  I needed to do something like this, and this was just the idea for it!

My amazing mother-in-law, Kitty, knits each of her grandbabies a hat.  All three of my boys have one that is as special and unique as they are.  After they outgrew the hats, they were simply sitting in a box in the nursery closet which seemed like such a shame.   I have been wanting to do something special, but I didn't know what!  After seeing this pin, I rushed out to Target and bought these shadowboxes for about 10 bucks a pop.  Sweet!  The scrapbook paper was also from Target, with the exception of the middle frame which has Becky Higgins scrapbook paper from her Project Life collection.

These sat on a shelf in my office/art room for a good 8 months until today, when I decided it was time to just dive in and do it!  The whole project took less than an hour. Maybe I shouldn't have procrastinated so long, huh?

I simply cut and attached the paper with double stick tape and affixed the hats with three thumbtacks each.  For the birth announcement portion, I searched for free label templates and found these adorable ones.
Thank you so much for offering these for free!  What a gift.

I opened the labels I wanted in Picasa and used the Picnik photo editor to add the text that I wanted for each.  I made the color and font, and even the style of the wording different on each one. . .each boy is unique, each hat is unique. . .so I wanted each frame to have some elements of consistency and some elements that would set them apart!  I printed the labels out on cardstock and used some little scrapbooking brads I picked up at Meijer to add some flair.  In order to get the brads in neatly and in just the right spot, I improvised and used the seam ripper from my sewing box to roughly measure and poke the hole.  Each label is held on with double stick tape.  I know it doesn't seem like the most secure thing, but once you put the frame on everything is pretty much "in there".  I am going to attach an envelope to the back of each frame and tuck in the cards their Grandma Kitty gave them when they were born.  I save everything, so I know I have them somewhere!

This was so easy!  The whole project cost less than $40. Now the hard part is going to be deciding where to hang them!  Thanks so much to Midwest Family Life for the inspiration, Haphazard Happenstances for the labels and Grandma Kitty for the treasured little hats.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

At least I can LOOK like I have it all together, right?

Oh my goodness, I just love all this cuteness.  But before you are fooled by how matchy-matchy and clean my purse is, here's a true story from long before this purse came to be.  We're at church, and Paul is back at the soundboard doing his usual Saturday night thing, when he sees a few ants crawling along the soundboard desk.  Funny, he thinks, ants at CHURCH?  I mean, I would understand in our house, but in the pristine environment of our sanctuary?  Seems a little odd.  He and our music director had a little chuckle about it and didn't give it another thought.  Fast forward a few hours. . .we're in the van on the way home from my parents' house with leftover pizza in tow.  We pull out the pizza box at home and. . .lo and behold. . .more tiny ants, crawling on the pizza.  If you know my husband Paul, you know that he is pretty even tempered- until invasive critters are involved.  I sweetly suggested that the ants might have just hitchhiked from my parents house??  To which I got the exasperated sigh, the stern look and the "Jennifer".  Not the "Jen" or the "Jenny". . .the "JenniFER"  That's when you know it's serious.  So, I obliged my husband and investigated the ant situation.  Turns out at the bottom of my diaper bag there was a long ago unwrapped and melted lolliop, which had fused its melty little self to the lining.  Peppering the melted lollipop's surface were the crumbs of forgotten graham crackers that had attached to the gooey layer, and prancing around on top of the whole mess was a little colony of ants.  
That's how life keeps you humble, folks.  On the one day of the week that I am wearing heels, perfume, makeup, and dry-clean only attire, I learn I have been trailing tiny ant buddies all around town from my purse.  Nice.  Upon further investigation, I discovered a parade of ants who had found their way into our home and up the back of the bench where I keep my bag.  They were stumbling around confused as to where their queen's food supply had been for the past few hours.  Didn't they know their ant buddies in my diaper bag needed to take their sticky lollipop and go get their worship on???

After this incident, I determined it was time for a major overhaul in my personal organization.  Enter my friend Alyssa, who had recently become a Thirty-One gifts consultant.  I decided it was time to separate the purse from the diaper bag and come up with some solutions that would help me become more organized and ant-free on the go.  The first purchase I made was a Retro Metro Bag- which is cute enough to be a purse and big enough to be a diaper bag when needed- those pockets on the sides are just right for sippy cups!  The second purchase I made was a new wallet- let's face it, the sweet Buxton Wizard wallet as seen in your Sunday paper coupon section had served me well for 10 years and now it was time to move on.  I loved the wallet, but there was no room for receipts or bills laid flat, so instead I just stuffed things in.  I got the Thirty-One coin purse wallet (with some laser etching, because why not, I had had the same $10 wallet for 10 years!!) and I am so sad that they discontinued the coin purse part of this style because I loooovve this wallet.  I also purchased a wristlet key fob, so that way if I was hauling the kids into preschool for dropoff I could throw it around my wrist and not have to dig for my keys.  That saved me about 10 minutes a day.  Overall, the key fob makes my keys so much easier to find. . another problem of mine solved.  After these three changes and the addition of a Large Utility Tote for hauling stuff around, I started to get a lot better about keeping my purse clean during the fall.  I knew that I still wasn't quite there yet because my purse was still a receipt explosion at any given time.  Paper clutter was a major problem, so my new year's resolution involved conquering it.  Enter- the Fold and Go Organizer.  I can keep lists, coupons, checks to deposit, etc. all in there and even have a notepad to write things down.  Usually, I would be at the park and some mom would be like, here's my phone #/email address/etc. and I would write it down on the back of a receipt.  Classy.  Now I have a legit notepad.  This little item is so handy and helps keep me from panicking that I am going to lose an important paper and looking like a goof as I dig through my purse for receipts to see which one I wrote something on.  I also started a receipt basket, thanks to an idea I saw on one of my fave blogs, the Nest Effect.  Paul and I try to stick our receipts right in the little basket when we come in the door and that keeps a lot of the paper clutter out of the bottom of my purse and the dresser in our bedroom!

After I became a Thirty-one consultant, I thought it would be fun to pick up a few new things with my discount, which is why for the first time in my life I am the proud owner of a sunglasses case.  That's right, a case specifically designed FOR GLASSES, not the mitten I was carrying my glasses around in before.  I will say that a mitten does make a mighty fine glasses holder, you just don't look very hip when you bust out your mitten at the park in July and shake your sunglasses out of it.  I would also like to add that I got the mitten idea from Real Simple magazine, so that's how you know it's legit.  I love the Thirty-One glasses case because you can attach a wristlet strap to it and carry it that way and it will also fit a cell phone in the zipper pocket, and ID and lipstick, too!  All the essentials.  When I go to the park, I like to attach the wristlet strap and take this as my "purse" because it holds everything I need!

Another nifty item that came in my kit is the Wristlet Wallet.  When I first saw this item, I was pretty sure I wouldn't be using it.  For one thing, the color is called "Painted Snakeskin" and pretty much nothing about me says "snakeskin".  But, surprisingly, the pretend snakeskin print is really neutral and kind of cute!  I carried this all around the amusement park on our vacation and it kept my phone handy and my essentials (cash, debit, ID, lipstick) organized.  It coordinates well with any base color I am wearing- white, navy, gray, even black, and the background color looks great with the flutter, lotsa dots, minty chip, denim and the awesome blossom pattern so it can coordinate with any of my plethora of bags.  Snakeskin, I should not have doubted you.  You are cool.

I also picked up another icon coin purse which is great for holding your ID and clipping on your key ring if you are going somewhere where you don't need much at all.  I like to stick my Aldi quarter in there so I am always set to go, or I hook it on my pool bag to keep a few things in.  Plus, I am a sucker for butterflies.  That's why I also had to get a Flutter Manicure Nail File.  It's too cute to touch to my nails, but I like to look at it.  The mini zipper pouch is perfect for makeup and I have another in my church bag for crayons.  It can even make a fun little wristlet as well!  Just attach strap and go!

I am feeling pretty good about the exciting changes that have happened in my purse life since the Ant-tastrophe of last summer!  I mean, the ants were free and the butterfly stuff cost money, but I think the insect trade-off was worth it.  I consider these items an investment in my marriage.  Right, honey?

The snakeskin wallet.  Not so bad after all.

The receipt basket.  I love it!

One more nifty thing I figured out this spring- I fold one of Phil's old school papers in thirds and use the back as my grocery list- I can put my three stores on there and make the lists side by side, so if something is out of stock at one store, I can move it to the other list, or if I am at Target and decide to run to Meijer, I have that list as well and I am not stuck guessing.  I just fold the paper to have whatever list I need for that store on top and it is even thick enough to cross off while I shop.  Plus, it's recycling and Phil thinks it is really special.  Sweet.
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Tuesday, June 12, 2012


I am learning that for better or for worse, the way I react to present situations is largely shaded by past events.  Each of us brings to the table our own set of personal experiences that are the lens through which we perceive our present situation.  On a larger scale people call it baggage, but even the seemingly small instances can permanently shape our view.  There are things we have seen and heard that can never be unseen or unheard.  Remember that show Rescue 911 where they did cheesy dramatic reenactments of 911 calls?  Yeah, I may still be afraid of the drain at the bottom of the pool from an episode I saw when I was 10.  No matter how much we try to block them out or how many years pass, these memories have become such a part of our being that any traumatic event can bring them right back up to the surface.

Sunday, we had quite a scare with our sweet Josh.  We were at my Aunt's pool and Joshy was being his usual stinker-y, spunky, almost-two-year-old self.  He was standing at the top of the concrete steps that lead down to the pool area, laughing and jabbering.  We had let our guard down a bit since he was far from the water, but even if we were looking straight at him there was no way we could have prevented what happened next. As he was teetering on some stepping stones at the top of the stairs, he lost his balance and toppled forward.  I turned my head to witness Josh landing square on the top of his head on the middle step- not even a hand or arm to break his fall, somersaulting over and landing flat on his back at the bottom of the stairs. 

A pause of shocked silence- then the exhale of relief.  A flood of baby tears started to pour from Josh's eyes and we knew for the moment he was OK. I ran over and scooped him up in my arms.  As Joshy was bawling and I was holding him tight, my mind instantly went back to a place over 15 years ago.

I was in junior high, sleeping in my bed as the early morning sun peeked through the edges of my roller shade.  It must have been a weekend, or the summer. . .I remember being grumpy as my mom rolled me over because it was way too early for a wake-up call from Mom.  I have never really enjoyed being woken up, and my mom was usually the recipient of my grouchiest morning greetings.   I remember Mom was in her matching satin nightgown and robe, which she has had a continuous supply of for as long as I can remember.  Her curly hair was messy and she looked as though she had been crying.  I don't remember her words but I remember exactly how I felt when she told me that our neighbor across the street, a little boy just about the same age as my own sister, was dead.  Suddenly, just like that.  Hadn't we just seen him playing in his yard the day before?  Today, he was gone.  My mom told me the details and the picture filled my mind. . .Climbing a short fence, just playing around with all of his family close by. . . toppling over the top.  Bumping his head, apparently in just the wrong place. 

Nothing they could do.  Gone.  In a heartbeat. With his family right there.

My mom left my room, probably to go call a neighbor and check in or just go hug her own little daughter tight.  On a normal day, I would have just rolled back over and gone right back to sleep, but not this day.  What had just happened was seared into my mind.  My adolescent heart had never known what it was like to feel the love that these parents had for their sweet son gone too soon, but I grieved for them.  I still live right around the corner from the blue house where that family lived.  Many families have lived there since, but I don't think I ever pass that house without a tug in my heart for that little boy.  I most certainly have never let the feet of my children come near our chain link fence, and my disproportionate reaction to their "offense" of stepping on it probably makes them think I am crazy.  Someday, I will explain to them where I am coming from, but not just yet.

So, when Josh bumped his head, my mind went into high alert.  The memories of the little neighbor boy flooded my mind.  My mom and dad were there at the pool, too.   Although no one said it out loud, their minds went to the same place mine did. . .it was the elephant in the room.  Pupils were checked, bumps were inspected, questions were asked, things were Googled.  We held our breath tight and looked at him closely over and over again as he gobbled up his pizza and jabbered away at dinner.  Josh seemed to be OK, but none of us were ready to let our guard down.  I probably went in and checked him a few too many times as he was sleeping that night, but I don't regret it.  I remembered.  I knew the potential of a situation like this. Life is precious and too short not too take something like that seriously.

Paul kept telling me not to worry, Josh was fine, he would be OK, look at him talking and answering questions, he's no worse for the wear, and he was being a stinker anyway when it happened.  I may or may not have snapped back at him and given him some deathly glares.  My reaction may or may not have caused my husband some grief.  My dear husband was just trying to be reassuring, but since we did not share the same personal experience with this, I could only interpret his reassurance as criticism of something that was a part of my being.

From my biologist perspective I am sure this part of our nature gives our species an edge at survival.  We learn from our past experiences and the experiences of those close to us and use those internalized lessons to influence our future decisions regarding our own safety and the safety of our young.  However, since we humans can be complex and dramatic creatures, problems can arise in the areas where you and the person with whom you share your parenting responsibilities share different past experiences.  Really, the problem arises when those things that have shaped you, no matter how small, have not been shared with the other person.  It was my own fault- I had never told Paul this story.  He had no idea where my fear was coming from (or that of my Mom and Dad for that matter).  In the times in the past where he has known, it has much easier for him to extend comfort and understanding.  For example, when we were looking for a house, he understood that I would never live close to a retention pond.  He remembers the day when my friend lost his grandson in a freak early morning drowning in a retention pond.  I don't just remember it, it is seared into my heart, but Paul at least knows that and can extend compassion and modify house searches accordingly.  On the other side, Paul is a car seat designer, so I am careful to honor his obsessive attention to safety for our children.  He has seen way too many crash tests to not have those thoughts run through his mind each time he buckles our own children in.

For me, there are two lessons that came from this.  One is a specific application- we need acknowledge feelings within ourselves and share openly with our spouse the things from our past experience that influence our present reactions.  We cannot expect our spouse to magically understand where we are coming from, and they may think we are a little crazy when they see us gripping our child for dear life on an escalator if we haven't told him about the time we fell on an escalator during our own youth.  Yeah, I am still the crazy lady who is afraid of escalators.  Just sayin'.  :)

The other lesson is the broad application to all parents.  We need to extend a healthy measure of understanding to all of our parent friends (and parent strangers as well.)  Judging parents seems to be a trend everywhere from the playground to the internet.  It is important to remember on a broader scale that everyone is doing the best they can, and the things that are important to them are largely shaped by their own personal history and experience.  Anytime I catch myself thinking, "Wow, I can't believe they actually WORRY about that", I  think about my worries of bumped heads and escalators and retention ponds and know that their worry is probably coming from a very personal place, too.  Lesson learned. 

And I am super glad that my baby is OK.  The positive way that the situation turned out is not lost on me, and I offer a grateful prayer for that!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Side by side (by side. . .)

I did this picture the other night and it brought tears to my eyes.  How fast these babies grow.  Thank goodness for pictures!!  It helps me stop and reflect when I can see those images side by side. . .
 plus the little scientist in me just loves COMPARING. It is so fun to see how our boys grow, or how much they are like each other at the same age, or how much I change!  Here are a few of my favorites for inspiration, and some details on how to do these with very little computer skill.  :)

Me, 9 months pregnant with Josh (left), Daniel (top) and Philip (bottom)

Bringing each boy home from the hospital Josh (left) Daniel (top) Philip (right)

Each boy on their favorite blankie on their baptism day

Each boy in my favorite little St. Pat's outfit.

My bestest friend Kristin and I in 1998 and 2011.  :)

First of all, I am not fancy.  I just like to look fancy.  My husband can use Photoshop and do all kinds of incredible things with it.  It's like another language (Layers?  What are those?)  But he speaks it since he uses it every day at work, and I take advantage of his skills any time I can!  But since I don't want to bug him every single time I want a photo edited, I have picked up some easy things I can do myself.  Thanks to my tech-savvy husband, I have been using Picasa to organize and edit my photos for years now.  It is free, it is awesome, and if you don't understand Photoshop (like me!) it can give you some powerful tools to edit your pictures.  Even if you do use Photoshop, Picasa makes a lot of decisions for you that can make your editing much faster for those times you just need to be speedy!

Here are some things I love about Picasa, in no particular order. . .

1.  Face tagging.

Picasa has a face tagging feature, so if I want to find every single picture of my Dad, it's easy-peasy!

2.  Photo uploading.

I can put all of the photos I want in the tray and upload them to facebook, google plus, a blog post, send them in an email. . .all from Picasa.  It's so simple and visual.

3.  Shopping

Picasa also supports uploading to lots of online retailers I use like Walgreens, Snapfish and Shutterfly.  It makes uploading photos to shop very straightforward since you can see all of the folders and pictures you have at once instead of clicking around in your directories.

4.  Collages

Any time I have a series of pictures I love and I can't choose a favorite, I make a collage.  The collage tool within Picasa is very basic but it gets the job done quickly, which I like!
5.  Adding text

I love to add text to my pictures, especially for gifts.  The picture below is a collage that I made and then added text to (a poem by Meiji Stewart)

6.  Picnik integration

To be honest, I had no idea what Picnik was when people would talk about it.  I figured it must be sketchy because they use a letter "K" where there should be a "C" and that stresses me out.  But I noticed Picasa had added a Picnik button and casually clicked on it.  Now I am IN LOVE.  I can make a collage and then add text to it with all sorts of trendy fonts.  Typically when I see a font I love I have to do some detective work to figure out what font it is, download it, etc.  In Picnik, you can use all of the fonts they have to add to your pictures and it is so easy to move the text, change the color, resize, etc.  I am hooked.  Picnik is really kool.  Just be careful to make a copy of your image before you edit it in Picnik if you do not want to overwrite your current image forever.  Here's a little image I did for a fundraiser for my sister's orphanage in Uganda.

At the end of the day, I really can't imagine using anything else to manage my photos.  Our memories are so important to me, so I love having everything accessible and integrated so I can manage printing, uploading, editing and other memory keeping in a very user friendly format.  Thank you, Picasa, for helping me feel fancy!!
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Monday, May 7, 2012

Plan A.

"The best thing you've ever done for me is to help me take my life less seriously.  It's only life after all. . ."

Closer to Fine, by the Indigo Girls

Last week, THIS happened at my house. . .while I was on the phone.  For a whopping 15 minutes.

Now, I knew I had this conference call for work, and had planned my entire morning around it.  I would get up extra early, get all my chores done, wear the kids out in the backyard, feed them an early snack, take them potty and leave them to watch Sesame Street for a few minutes while I went upstairs for a kind-of-a-big-deal first meeting with a client.   Doesn't that sound like a great plan?  It did to me. . .however, I came downstairs to find that plan B was already in place.   Is plan A even a part of life anymore?   I am starting to think plan A is more elusive than unicorns and finding size 4 diapers at Target.  Even then, I had to try pretty hard not to laugh. . .and all of the stuffing went back in, so, we're good.  But, it got me thinking.  You know that saying, I was a great parent until I had kids?  That was so me!!  Before I had kids, I would sit at the lunch table with my colleagues and they would tell me stories of mischief that their little ones would get into.  Flour and chocolate syrup all over the kitchen, socks down the toilet, marker (or worse things!) on the walls.  These stories were all hysterically funny, but as I laughed with my friends I had a hard time imagining in my feeble pre-parental mind how that would ever happen.  Pre-parenthood Jen was just mildly curious as to what those parents were doing when they were supposed to be watching their kids?  Pre-parenthood Jen was also pretty confident that her kids would never get into any mischief around her house!  No way, not this super-duper-awesome parent!!

I mean, I am going to supervise my kids EVERY SINGLE SECOND.  They will never get into any thing they weren't supposed to while their super-duper-awesome mom wasn't looking. . .

They'll be so clean and well-cared for. . .
Smile angelically in every family photo. . .

Eat really healthy food with excellent table manners. . .

Be totally loving to each other all of the time. . .

And I would NEVER just plop my kids in front of the TV so I could get some housework done, right?


OK, I was totally wrong.  Once you become a parent for realsies, everything you previously thought you knew about parenting was goes out the window.  For example, I had no idea that so much of parenting revolved around poop.  Like, from the time they are born. . .you are counting it, writing it down, changing it, disposing of it, analyzing its frequency, color, and consistency, calling your spouse at work to discuss it, obsessing about the times when it doesn't want to go in the potty because it just prefers to go in underwear. . .I had no idea.  I really thought parenthood was about loving your kids, reading them stories and dressing them up in cute outfits.  Silly Jen.

Also, pre-parenthood, I would see those stories on the news, you know the ones about Britney Spears driving with her baby in her lap or about the single mom who left her preschoolers home alone so she could go out to a bar. . .and I would be like, "Oh my gosh , how could someone DO that???"  Now, I just want to give that single mom a hug.  Then I wish I could just go over there any babysit for her so she could go out and get some adult time. . .poor mom!  I am sure none of that stuff that happened was part of her plan A.

I realize now that when I first became a parent, I missed out on a lot of happiness trying to accomplish plan A and live up to my vision of what I thought family life should be.  I wore myself out trying to accomplish tasks that were so easy for me before another human being's life was so closely intertwined with mine, and no one was better for it.  Over time, I have learned that one big part of happiness is freeing yourself from the burden of expectations set too high.  That goes for your children, for your husband, and most importantly for yourself.  I can be very hard on myself, so attempting to extend graciousness and lovingkindess to the girl in the mirror is a constant area of growth for me.  If I don't expect everything to go according to plan and to be a magazine-perfect parent while executing said plan , it helps.  It's all about enjoying the good-enough-but-not-quite-perfect way things just GO around here.

 Perfect happens in God's time, not mine after all.  

I am slowly letting go of the hypothetical parent I thought I was going to be before I had kids, and becoming the parent that my children that are here right now need me to be.  I don't want to miss out on the fun because I am still focused on plan A. They're just growing up so fast, you know!

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Saturday, May 5, 2012

Biscuits and Gravy.

There is no better way to impress the men in my home than with some sausage gravy.   When I married Paul, I learned that Sunday breakfast after church at his home growing up was a big deal.   (Although, I would imagine any meal that involved feeding 10 kids was kind of a big deal.)  Sunday morning involved lots of delicious food home-cooked by his mom, and his FAVORITE of those meals was biscuits and gravy.  I knew the very first time I had a meal at his mother's table I would never be the cook that she is, 'cuz she's pretty awesome, but as his new bride I was still determined to give him his favorite meal despite my lack of experience.  I had no idea how to go about it, but then one day while cruising down the aisles of east side Marsh I saw Bob Evans already-made-gravy in the frozen section!  I flipped over the box excitedly.  Just defrost and add biscuits!  SCORE!  I hurried home to cook them up and surprise my sweetheart.  

Now, I probably don't have to tell you that it was nothing like his Mom's. Paul would never complain, but I could tell I wasn't going to get off that easy. . .it was time to roll my sleeves up and figure it out for myself.  Here's the thing with Biscuits and Gravy.  The ingredients are really simple.  You just have to play around with it to get it right. . .stirring, adjusting the temperature, checking your biscuits so the bottoms don't burn, watching for the gravy to get to just the right thickness.   It's not fail-proof, but the time spent perfecting the details is worth it.  When my boys smell biscuits and gravy, they come-a-running.  Paul smiles and thanks me profusely.  Phil says, "YES!  My FAVORITE!  Biscuits and GRAVY!", (even though he won't actually touch the gravy, he still throws that word in there.)  Daniel shovels it in his mouth at record speeds, and even baby Josh squeals "GRABYYYY!!!"  Yep.  I found the way to their hearts.  It's the gravy way to say I love you.

So, here's the recipe, along with not-very-concise instructions on how to turn these ingredients into deliciousness.

Biscuits and Sausage Gravy Recipe


1 lb roll of sausage (I use regular or sometimes sage flavored sausage)
3 cups of milk (2% is ideal)
1/4 cup of all purpose flour
Salt and Pepper to taste
2 cans of Refrigerated Buttermilk Biscuits
Shortening (depending on the fat content of your sausage)

Preheat your oven and cook the canned biscuits as directed.  While the biscuits are cooking, prepare the gravy.

1.  Get a big skillet and warm it over medium heat.  You are going to start it on medium, but just turn it up or down as needed as you go along.  The entire recipe might require anything from medium low to medium high depending on your range.
2.  Brown and crumble your sausage over medium to medium high heat.
3.  When the sausage is browned, don't drain it.  I know that sounds fattening, but the fat makes for a better gravy.  If there is a ton of grease, you might skim off a few spoonfuls, or if there is hardly any grease in the pan, add a little bit of shortening, maybe a tablespoon or two.   Or, leave the grease in AND add shortening. Hey, nobody said this was health food!  This is SUNDAY food!
4.  Turn the heat down to medium.  Add the flour and some salt and pepper, maybe 1/4 t of each to start and you can add more pepper later.  Now you need to keep stirring the sausage until the flour turns from white to brown.  Watch your skillet, if you think it is getting too hot, turn it down more.  You don't want it to burn, just brown a little bit.  All of the flour should be incorporated with the sausage and look nice and uniform.
5.  Now slowly add your milk while stirring with your spatula.  You can crank the heat up to medium high as long as you watch the skillet and continue to stir.  It will take a few minutes, but watch for the milk to start to bubble.  Add more pepper now if you think you are going to want a more "pepper-y" gravy.
6. Once your milk starts to bubble, allow it to bubble for at least a minute while stirring.  You can turn the heat down to medium or medium low while it is bubbling.  You don't want the milk to burn, so temperature and stirring are key here.  Too high- it burns.  Too low- it won't thicken.
6.  Watch for your gravy to thicken.  Your gravy will thicken more once you allow it to sit out off the heat, but you want it to get to at least 80% of your desired thickness before you take it off the burner.  This could take anywhere from about 1-4 minutes.
7.  When your gravy reaches thickness, remove it from the heat.
8.  Allow the gravy to set and cool for a few minutes, then transfer to a serving bowl.  By now, your biscuits should be done and you are ready to serve!
9.  Break the biscuits in half, place on a plate and spoon gravy over the open biscuits.


Friday, May 4, 2012


I saw this on Pinterest this week and it made me laugh out loud.  Truer words have never been spoken.  How can you take this crazy trip called parenting, or LIFE for that matter, without humor?  Paul and I love to laugh together. . .one of the reasons I fell in love with Paul is that he can always make me laugh.  Maybe one of the reasons he fell in love with me is that I hysterically laughed at his jokes all the time.  (I mean, It's not very hard to make me laugh, but he didn't know that when we met. ;)  Early in our relationship, Paul and I bonded over funny movies.  Little did we know that one day we would give birth to a tiny David Spade and Chris Farley, and later on a small Adam Sandler.  I mean, we should have seen the warning signs.  I don't know how we thought two people like us would turn out perfect, angelic, and SERIOUS children?

Because of this, mealtime is a little insan-o at our house.  I told Paul that we need to get some acoustic tile for our dining room.  Or at the very least, some very heavy curtains.  Anything to absorb the sound of three little boys who just love to be together and will do ANNNYYYTHIINNNGGG to get each other's attention or make someone laugh.  All attempts at discipline fail as they get exponentially sillier and the decibel level goes up higher and higher.  They take on a life of their own.  They get so excited at breakfast, sometimes I just pretend like I need to clean the kitchen and eat my cereal in there alone where the Sound of Silliness is slightly more muffled.  Since hiding in the kitchen with my food doesn't seem like the most maternally appropriate option, I decided to go with the philosophy of, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."  If they want to be comedians, I am just going to start teaching them jokes.

So, I busted out my laptop at breakfast this week and pulled some of my favorites from Ellen's Classic Joke Monday. 

What did the tie say to the hat? I'll hang around, You go on ahead.

What kind of underwear do clouds wear? Thunderpants!

What do you call an alligator wearing a vest?  An Investigator!

Why did the cookie go to the doctor?  Because he was feeling crumb-y!

What does a nosy pepper do?  He gets jalapeno business.

Aw, yeah.  The kids ate this up.  They love to make people laugh.  They had them memorized before I knew it and when Daddy came home, they filled the dinner table with their jokes.  Win.

However, like all of parenting's ups and downs, you find something that works, but it doesn't work forever.  I am sure that the kids will outgrow jokes at the table and start trying to outsilly each other in different and newly challenging ways.  I mean, they haven't even scratched the surface of bodily function humor yet.  But, it keeps my sanity for this week and for that I am deeply grateful!  Plus, it brings more laughter into our lives.  

Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.- Mark Twain

Nothing can stand.  Not annoyance, not exhaustion, or anger, or tension or fear.  Laughter vanquishes them all.   As silly as Paul and I can be, there have been many times as parents when we have just taken ourselves way to seriously.   We were the accountants who lost our spreadsheets.  We have approached our children many times with furrowed brows and heavy hearts, overwhelmed with the burden of molding our young sons into men.   We have often forgotten that God has given us the gift of laughter to erase all of our stress and perceived suffering, to lighten our burden and drive the dark clouds away.  Once again, I am pretty sure this is why God gave us Daniel.

Lord, help us to remember why you gave us laughter.  Help us to find the funny when things seem to go wrong.  Help us to look at our children with hearts open to the joy that they bring.  Remind us that it was laughter that brought our hearts together and got us into this beautiful mess in the first place! 

Our mouths were filled with laughter, 
    our tongues with songs of joy. 
Then it was said among the nations,
    “The Lord has done great things for them.”
Psalm 126:2 

***As a side note, a few days in to our comedic training they have started making up their own jokes.  To be honest, some of them don't make any sense at all.  But we're working on their comedic skills and timing.  
Here's the ones that made me laugh out loud.

Daniel's:  What did one cookie say to the other cookie?  (I don't know, what.)  Hey, do you smell cookies?  

Phil's:  What did one blueberry say to the other blueberry? (I don't know, what) How are you feeling?  Blue.

Josh's:  Knock Knock (Who's There?) Swiper.  (Swiper Who?)  AWWWW MAAANNNN!!!
(We watch enough Dora the Explorer for that to be hilarious to his brothers)

And I haven't told my kids my favorite joke yet, the one I learned from incredibly gracious and wise, (but never too serious) mentor teacher, Gary. . .

What do you get when you cross an elephant and a rhinoceros?  


Ten years later, that one still gets me every time.
Leave a comment and add to my joke arsenal, OK?

Sunday, April 29, 2012


I've been thinking about this conversation we had as a family the other night. . .

Phil: Mommy, can you come up and watch us in the tub?
Me: Oh, I am so sorry, sweetie, I have to do the dishes.
Phil: Yeah, Mommy, doing the dishes is your JOB.
Paul: (jumping in defensively) Well, it's not really her JOB. . .
Phil:  Oh, so it's your HOBBY, mommy!

Yep.  That's it Phil.  Doing dishes is my hobby.  :)

Now, to his credit, I do tell him every day that doing dishes is my job.  Right after breakfast, they ask me to come in and play with them in the family room and I say, "Well, sweethearts, Mommy has to do her work before she can play."  Then I wash the breakfast dishes and by the time I am done they are so wrapped up in pretend that they have forgotten that they even wanted me to play with them in the first place.  Now, I know if I were the most amazing mommy ever, I would just forget about those dishes and say, "Yes, dears!  Let's play!  I'll be the mommy dinosaur!  RAWR!"  But anyone who has left a bowl of cereal in the sink for longer than a half hour knows why THAT is the meal I always tackle right away!  I'll be the mommy dinosaur later, once those bran flakes are safely down the drain.  Mommy dinosaur doesn't like scraping bran cement out of bowls, it brings out her inner Velociraptor.

Plus, doing dishes really IS my job.  My job is to make a home for my family.  Keeping it clean is a part of that.  To be honest, I don't even mind doing them at all anymore.  For some reason the sound of that running water gets me thinking some of my best thoughts.  Or, I sing when I do them.   The sound of the water also somehow convinces me that no one can hear me, and I can sing as loud as I want!  But when I was first married, you never could have convinced me of that.  When you are a newlywed, you come home after a long day of work and slave away at dinner for your husband, then HE does the dishes, right?  OK, maybe not all the time.  He might just go take a shower or start checking his email and you do the dishes with a grumble and a frown in your heart.  Maybe throwing in a few dramatic sighs, just in case he didn't notice that YOU were once again doing the dishes?  And that you did the dishes LAST night?  And you would really like to sit down, too, because you have been on your feet at work all day?  SIGH, SIGH, BIG DRAMATIC SIGH!!!?????

Yeah, I am guilty of that.  I remember the pile of dishes in our old kitchen, where I only had the brick wall of my neighbor's house to stare at and I could barely see a patch of sky out the kitchen window.  The kitchen was tiny and there was barely room to fit the dishes next to the sink, and they required tons of pre-washing before they went into our 30 year old dishwasher.  First world problems to be sure.  :) I did my share of grumbling and cursing sticky plates and questioning why I was doing dishes once again because didn't I just tackle this kitchen a few hours ago?  How many times a day do these people need to EAT?  Do I now spend my whole life with my bare feet on this cracker crumbled tile floor?  I can't tell you that magic switch went off in my heart, but for some reason within the last year or so the dishes and I have made peace.  Maybe because at my new house I can see sky and trees and watch my new neighbors smoking on their patio.  I love some good people watching.  Or maybe because my new dishwasher requires less prewashing and I am not afraid to run it twice a day.  It says "energy efficient", right?  I think I might be saving water. Or, maybe it's the fact that the sound of the running water muffles the sounds of my noisy lil' children for a few minutes and I almost feel like I am at the beach listening to them play in the sand.  Yep, I have a good imagination.  That helps.

Mostly, though, I think it is just a greater peace in my heart.  When your first child is born, a mother is born in you.  But just like your baby, she grows, too.  You aren't born with all the grace, all the strength, and all the peace and wisdom you will ever have.  It comes to you when you need it.  It comes in big ways through hard lessons and tears, and it comes in more subtle ways. . .through lots of self reflection over that kitchen sink.  

I found a card today while cleaning out some of my old teaching things.  It has this quote by Elizabeth Ann Seton that I used to keep on my desk at work mostly because it is pretty, but I read it today with new eyes. . .

"Contemplate how you are being asked to give your heart to God amidst your everyday activities.  Be prepared to meet your grace in every circumstance of life."

We can meet our grace in every circumstance.  In every plate, sippy cup and bowl.  I know I have a long way to go to grow into the mother God wants me to be. But I'll get there. . .one dish at a time.

(Now, if you will excuse me, there's some rice and beans cementing itself to my dishes and kitchen floor as we speak!)