Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Reflections on My 8th Grader, Vol. 3

Five years ago, when my eldest child started 8th grade, her lovely teacher sent an email to all the parents asking them to write a few paragraphs with any information that would help her better understand her students.  I loved the idea of writing about my gal, so I got to work (you can read about my eldest here).  When my second child was in 8th grade, I decided to do the same thing for him (you can read what I wrote about him here).  And now, you guessed it - by some freakishly fast passage of time, my third child is about to graduate from 8th grade, so I want to reflect a bit about him now.  Below, you'll find a few thoughts about our monkey in the middle.

Our sweet son was born 9 weeks early, almost two months to the date before his due date.  It was a tumultuous time (you can read about his birth here) for our family, but we were overjoyed at his arrival.  After 7 weeks in the NICU, we were able to bring our baby home to his big brother and sister.  His first year of life was challenging, but he was a fighter and he pulled through all the challenges. 

Isaac's name means laughter, and we couldn't have picked a better name for this child.  He is almost always happy and laughing, joking or smiling.  He is friends with everyone, and recently I've really noticed how good he is with younger kids. He loves life and has always had scads of interests spanning cooking to learning a language to every sport imaginable.  He is always fun to be around and makes me smile all the time (even during these challenging middle school years).

When he was little, he LOVED my hair.  He was obsessed with it.  He loved his own hair too, and if mine wasn't available, he would twirl his own hair whenever he could.  But he loved mine the most and would happily twirl and twist it as long as I would let him.  It was his security blanket, and I was a little sorry when he outgrew it.  I offer my hair to him now and then (don't judge me) but alas, he is not interested. :(  You can read about his love of hair here and here).

This boy loves any and all sports.  His second birthday party theme was all about sports, because the boy loved to play ball.  Currently he's mostly into basketball and lacrosse, but since he could walk, he's loved them all -- soccer, gymnastics, skiing, snowboarding, tennis, swimming, baseball, tubing, track and cross country. We have loved how active he has always been, and that he's ready to try anything new anytime. 

Isaac is resilient.  He's been through a lot over the course of his nearly fifteen years, and he always faces each challenge with a smile and a can-do attitude.  He inspires me with his positive attitude, and I am so thankful that God graced him with such a go-with-the-flow personality. He loves hospitals and hospital beds and hospital food, and is always up for a hospital stay! He makes the nurses and doctors smile whenever he interacts with them.

He wants to be a nurse when he grows up.  He has been so touched and supported by nurses that he wants to become one and work in a pediatric hospital.  I think he'd be a wonderful nurse (or pastor or youth church worker!) and I hope he continues to pursue a passion with children or people in general.  If he doesn't become a nurse, his other option is the MLL (Major League Lacrosse).  He's nothing if not optimistic!

I'm having a hard time imagining him leaving our grade school and moving onto high school.  I so love seeing him in the hallway with the friends he's known since he was in preschool (or earlier in some cases!).  It's inconceivable (I hope you heard that in your best Princess Bride impression) that the time has come for him to leave and move on, but come it has.  And he's ready.  It's bittersweet for him and he'll miss his class very much, but he's ready for the next step.  And since he's ready, I must be too.  He'll love his four years in high school I have no doubt, and I'll quickly love those years with him too.

Over the last fifteen years, this boy has continued to amaze and inspire me.  His ever-present smile, even during adversity, always warms my heart. God has already blessed him mightily, and I am looking forward to see what He has planned for him next.  I know it'll be good.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Throwback, Cooking Style

When I graduated from college, my mom gave me a gift.  It was a little Longaberger basket, filled with recipes from my childhood.  She had dividers for each section, and notes on some of the recipes ("knead the dough - this is not hard", "very easy", "some people like these toppings" - referring to my rather bland pizza tastes).  The recipe box was both useful and cherished from the beginning.  Over time, I have added my tried and true recipes to my mom's, and I outgrew the little Longaberger basket.  A few Christmases ago, she gave me a bigger basket, so I transferred all of the little dividers in her handwriting, and switched over all the recipes too.  For 24 years, I have thought of her often as I made her pizza, her "famous Mrs. Cleaver's chocolate chip cookies", "baboon brownies" and other time honored dishes.

Yesterday, I set about the task of cleaning out my cookbook cabinet.  What was once oft-used and frequently added to has lately been rarely opened.  So going through this cabinet was like going down memory lane.  Among the things I found:

  • Several Gooseberry Patch cookbooks, almost all from my dear best friend from college.  She dated them all and wrote in the inside cover of them all, and I recalled our visits when our kids were little, swapping recipes and making dirt pudding with our kids.  Cookbooks with handwritten notes = keepers.
  • 25+ Quick Cooking magazines.  Oh, how I loved that magazine.  Each month upon its arrival, I sat down during naptime and read all the wonderful recipes and all the anecdotes about cooks around the country.  I knew they needed to be recycled, but before I could do it, I decided to flip through them all.  Oh, the memories!  I paused a moment as I leafed through the June/July 2004 copy, realizing that the last time I had probably touched those pages was days before I gave birth to our third son, 9 weeks early.  I decided to keep that one and a couple of other copies for good measure. 
  • Kids Cookbooks!  My husband has always worked long hours, and when the kids were little, he was only home for an hour or two on Sundays.  Because the day felt so long to the kids and me, I instituted Kids in the Kitchen every Sunday afternoon.  Each week we would make a kid friendly recipe, and it helped make what felt like a long day a little more cheerful.  I also ran across a well worn birthday cake cookbook (given to me by my dear college friend also!).  Though I have almost no skill at baking, the kids often chose a birthday cake for me to make from its pages, and we have lots of memories of special caterpillar cakes, beach scenes, and carousel cakes (though my talented sis created that one!).  I kept most of these because I'm a preschool teacher, and also grandchildren.
  • Various fundraiser cookbooks.  Man, I had forgotten how common it was to make a church cookbook and sell it as a fundraiser.  I have several from different churches my husband and I have attended over the last 40+ years, and as I thumbed through them, I smiled at all the names I recognized.  I kept a few of these since they were so full of history.
  • A Bread Machine Cookbook.  Remember when bread machines were all the rage?  I still had my cookbook, with a post it inside the front cover from my mom with tips about using it.  She instructed me to buy "Bread Flour", and told me I would find it at King Soopers, the grocery store in Colorado where we shopped the first year we were married.  Sentimental post its = must be kept.
  • Betty Crocker and Better Homes and Gardens Binder Cookbooks.  These were both gifts from our wedding, and one houses the Pastitsio recipe I make every year on Christmas Eve.  Wedding cookbooks must be kept.
As I was going through the books, remembering each season of life with each book, I came across a fundraiser cookbook from an organization I didn't recognize.  When I flipped open the cover, I saw my dear grandma's handwriting.  My breath caught in my throat as I read her brief inscription:  "Shelley, just relax and have fun cooking.  You do all things well.  Love, Grandma D, April 95".  My eyes welled up as I remembered her encouraging me often with those very words.  Cookbooks with handwritten notes (see above), must be kept, especially when those notes are from family members who have passed away.

I know it doesn't sound like I purged much, but honestly I did. And the books I kept will remain in my cabinets, maybe to be used for recipes, but certainly to be used as a snapshot of my life in those years. And the goal of the cookbook purging was met - I made space for some dishes I need to re-house, so it was a win-win!

I use Pinterest for almost all of my new recipes now.  Sometimes, if a recipe becomes a family favorite, I do write it on a recipe card and put it in my box.  But often I just search Pinterest for whatever type of dish I'm looking for and read it from my phone or computer.  And while I love being able to have any recipe I desire in three seconds, I think something has been lost since I've moved away from those pages in my cabinet. In fifteen years, am I going to flip through Pinterest, recalling my son's third birthday or a dear friend's visit?  Probably not.  Someday (soon!), I want to write out my recipes for my daughters when they leave home, and I hope they can treasure the family dishes the way I have been able to myself.  And maybe someday they will flip through my old cookbooks and reminisce about the way mom used to cook. 

Monday, May 6, 2019

Happy Mother's Day, preschool mammas!

Dear my preschool mammas,

Happy Mother's Day!  The school year is almost over and my time with your children is drawing to a close.  I hope and pray I will see you and your children next year, but I know that isn't always possible. I have grown to love and care for your children this year, and I will miss them!

So as the time nears for us to say goodbye, and in special honor of Mother's Day, I wanted to take a moment to tell you something.

You're doing a great job.

I have kids myself and I know that you might not always feel that way.  But I am here to assure you that you are raising fine little people.

Your children are funny.  They make me laugh every day.  They crack themselves up; big belly laughs and hysterical giggles.  They tell me jokes with punchlines only a 4-year-old could create.  And they often think I am hilarious, which may or may not be the actual truth.

Your children are good friends. They love the friends they have made this year in school.  They play together, they hug each other, they share with one another.  True, it's not always unicorns and rainbows, but when they have a disagreement with a friend, they apologize and offer forgiveness.  They truly care about the friends they have made this year.

Your children are loved.  Daily I hear stories about how Mommy took me to the playground, or Daddy loves to wrestle with me.  These are the things that they treasure - memories with you.  You love them with a fierce love, and they know it and flourish because of it. 

Your children are happy.  Ok, maybe not all the time, but for the most part, your children relish life and bounce happily into school with a smile and hug goodbye for you.  And if your children are a little sad to say goodbye, you know to give them one last kiss and hug and send them in promptly, knowing they will be fine before you make it down the hallway.

Your children are secure.  They are secure in their knowledge of your love, of who they are and their place in your family.  They feel safe, knowing Mommy and Daddy love them enormously.

Your children know Jesus.  I am always blown away by how much your children know about the Bible and their Savior.  They know how much He loves them, even when they might make choices that don't please Him.  They know He loves them so much that He died on the cross for them, and they can tell you the whole story.  You teach them about Jesus, and they, therefore, know Jesus. 

We all know just how hard motherhood is.  The daily monotony and frustrations and exhaustion can begin to wear down even the best-intentioned mamma.  But I want to remind you something:  your work is sacred.  Mothering these little people, as I have watched you do this year, is your calling.  God has called you, and only you, to be your child's mother, and God knows you are the perfect woman for the job.  On the days when the task of motherhood seems just one step further than you can manage, remember this:  God gave you these children to raise and He doesn't make mistakes.  And He is helping you every step of the way!

Soon I won't get to see your little ones every day.  But I know they have big things ahead of them.  So keep up the good work, mammas.  You're doing a great job.


Your child's teacher

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

An Offer We Shouldn't Refuse

We've been having noon Eucharist for Holy Week, and I was able to attend today since I was off (though I work just down the hallway from the sanctuary, I can't make it down on the days I work). And wow.  I loved it.  I had already run my son to the eye doctor 25 minutes away, then 20 minutes to school, then 15 minutes back to errands for several hours, then 15 minutes back to church. The rest of the day will look much the same - shuttling kids to and fro, a rehearsal for me. . . the day is full and busy, as usual.

So to stop the crazy for a half hour and come into the peace of God's house was nothing short of beautiful to me.  I sat in the pew, breathing deeply and calming my heart.  And as I sat, the 5th-8th graders came in and I saw my middle school boys among them.  What joy to worship with fellow members as well my children, and the children of our school!  I soaked it all in.

The reading for today is from John 13, and is the story of how Jesus announced who would betray Him ("the one to whom I give the piece of bread that I dip in the dish" 13:26).  The brief meditation invited us, instead of rejecting and betraying Christ when He offers his body to us as Judas did, to accept the gift He gives us - the gift of Himself, in the very Eucharist we were about to receive.

What a gift Christ gives us in His body and blood.  As we ponder and contemplate this week on His holy sacrifice for us, I am in awe -- that He would give up His life for me.   Sinful, messy me.

Over the next several days, especially the Triduum (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday), I pray we all can truly turn our hearts away from the busyness of our lives and truly worship on our knees the God who came to our sinful earth to offer Himself to us on the cross.  I pray we humbly receive Him and the gift of eternal life He gives.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

A Love Letter

My dear church family,

I love you.  This is a love letter to you.  Does that sound strange?  I suppose it does.

For over 20 years, we have been a part of your family.  As I sit in worship each Sunday, I often gaze at the faces that surround me, overwhelmed with love for the people with which we have been blessed to serve.  People we have known for all twenty years, or maybe just a month or two, and every time period in between.  People we have laughed with, cried with, grieved with and grown with.  People who have loved us through hard times and good.

For twenty years we have worshiped in this place.  For twenty years, you have been our family.  Through thick and thin, good times and bad, you have traveled with us.  We have shared your joys and sorrows too -- you have let us into your lives.  We have watched you mourn the losses of your loved ones, and we have mourned with you.  You have cried tears of joy and we have been privileged to cry with you.  And when our family has had hard times, you stood next to us, supporting us. 

We have raised our family here.  Your children are friends with our children; your lives have been intricately entwined with our family's.  We've navigated each new parenting challenge with you by our sides.  And we've launched our first child, with so much love for her from all of you. 

Every Sunday, I watch our Eucharistic ministers bow as they ascend the altar steps, and I marvel at them.  Fathers, husbands, young men.. .all full of love for you and a desire to serve you by taking on the most holy task of feeding God's people God Himself.  I watch you model what it means to love Christ and serve Him.  And my heart overflows.

I watch you young moms and dads teach your children the importance of worshiping each Sunday, though I know how hard it is (oh how I know!) to struggle so often in the pew.  Yet you keep coming back, because you know how important it is.  Your dedication fills me up.  There is nothing more sacred than bringing your children to the foot of the cross each week.

And families with older children, a group I now belong to, I see you bring your preteens and teenagers each week, sometimes unwilling though they might be, because you know that just the same as when they were little, this is the most important thing you can do for them -- far greater than any other activity they engage in.  It's not always easy, but you persevere, and it is inspiring.

And older people, oh how I love you!  Seeing your faithful example to all of us brings such joy to my heart.  You, the seasoned saints, who share such wisdom with us all, often just by your quiet lives.  I adore seeing you, talking with you, and introducing my children to you.  Your experience shapes our congregation.

Today we sang that we are gracefully broken.  Oh, indeed we all are.  And as I looked out at your beautiful faces, I was so incredibly thankful to be gracefully broken with you, here, in this place.  The love and shared experiences we have had, culminating each week with Eucharist,  these past many years is a blessing I can't put into words.  Thank you.  Thank you for sharing your lives with us, and for welcoming our lives into your fold.  My heart overflows with love for you.

In Christ's love,

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Change of Address

I recently bought my daughter a gift:  an address book.  A what? you might say (if you're a Gen Z'er anyway).  An address book! Yes, yes, I know it's antiquated and outdated.  That's what the contacts section is for in our phones, lady!  I know, I know. But still.  There's something about a physical book full of friends and family's information.  I filled in several addresses for her. . .family and close friends, so she can write everyone lots of letters like I did in college - ha!  But seriously, I thought she might like to have the addresses to send thank you notes or birthday cards every now and then.

I chose one I thought might be timeless, because the address book I still use is from early college.  It's ugly - a plastic green cover with some ridiculous design, battered with years of use.  But looking through my address book is like taking a walk down memory lane (which, as you might guess, dear reader, is one of my favorite things to do! :).

5 or 10 years out of college I received an address book as a gift.  It was lovely and I sat down to transfer my addresses out of the old one and into the new one.  But. . . I couldn't do it.  Some addresses were for people I didn't keep in touch with anymore, but I couldn't bear to erase them from my postal history.  A few things you might find if you thumbed through the worn pages of my almost 30-year-old address book:

Scribbles and crossed out entires:  As people moved over time, especially so many of my young friends, I would cross out their name and address, and write a new entry for them at the end of their section.  As a result, I have a timeline of so many friends' geographical history.

New married names:  So many of my friends and family were getting married in those early years, and new married names were popping up all over my book.  It's fun to look back to the first entries of each section to see my friends' maiden names, listed under their parents' addresses.

Sainted friends and family:  As people passed away over the years, I took to drawing a cross over their names and leaving their entry otherwise undisturbed.  When I glance back over each section, I am reminded of people I have loved over the years.  It makes me so happy to see their names and addresses and remember our shared history.

Inexplicable entries:  There are several entries that I have no memory of making or ever needing. . .for example the California Office of Tourism (remember before the internet how we had to plan vacations?  Maybe I was hoping for a California trip that never materialized). . .the Dominoes near my college campus (I don't recall ever getting Dominoes!). . .our college Round Robin Telephone list (I don't remember ever needing to use this, but it was our friend group's telephone tree list in case an urgent need arose while not at school - remember youngins - this was before the world was at our fingertips!). . .Southwest Airlines Reservations. . .my grandma's real estate office number 💗. . .the Chicago weather phone number. . .and several entries for people I don't even remember (I'm thinking they were for people I babysat for in college and not good friends I've somehow forgotten!).

The entrance of my new husband:  After a few entries on each page, you might see my husband's handwriting amidst mine, after we got married adding his college friends to our expanding list of contacts.  He wrote in college-man-speak, listing his friends by their college nicknames, and not concerned with addresses, just phone numbers.

Love:  As I flipped through my old book to determine which addresses my daughter may need, I felt an overwhelming sense of love and gratefulness.  I am grateful for all these people whose lives have intersected mine.  Thankful for the part they played (and still play) in shaping who I am now.  Each of those entries (aside from some of the whackadoodle ones listed above) was written down in a desire to keep in touch with someone.  Though much time has passed, those people still bring a smile to my face, and the memories we shared resurface.

I know the address book I am sending my daughter will probably not be as well used as mine has been (and still is).  Times are changing and her phone will indeed probably be her go to for contact information.  But maybe this book will house a few of her loved ones, and someday she might flip through and reflect on the people God has placed in her path, as I have had the privilege to do.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Table for Seven

Earlier today, I walked through the dining room to notice that whichever child had been assigned to wipe down the dining room table last night had either a) completely skipped the chore, or b)wiped it down with a blindfold on.  Sighing, I grabbed the kitchen washcloth and leaned over the table to give it a scrub.  And as I was washing it, I noticed a mark I couldn't get off.  I scrubbed it for a few moments and realized it was probably permanent, like many other marks on that table.  And as I am wont to do, I inadvertently stumbled down memory lane, dining room table style.

We bought our dining room set shortly after we had moved into our house, while I was still working and before we had children.  We were saving all of my paycheck, and putting some of it into our furniture fund.  We had moved into our house in January of 1999 and had very little to move into it.  By the summer of 1999, we had enough saved for an Amish made, custom dining room set.  We traveled around the Amish countryside, searching for the right craftsman.  The man we found worked out of his garage in his yard, with his many children playing in the yard.  I recall finding the whole scene delightful.  We chose our simple Shaker style set, complete with buffet/china cabinet, mullioned mirror to match our house's windows, and 2 leaves and 8 chairs for the table -- in anticipation of the many children we were hoping to one day have.  It felt so fancy and grown up and new when it was set up in our dining room.  The whole house smelled wonderfully of wood, and every time I walked by I inhaled its scent and admired its beauty.

It's been a few years since that dining room set arrived in our house, and a few things have changed around here.  As we've added children and events and life, I realized many of our memories have taken place at that very table.  If those dining room walls could talk, they might tell of:

  • Our first major family dinner, Easter of 2000, for our daughter's baptism.  We had both leaves in and the table had to be at an angle to fit in the room.   We had only two children in our extended family then, and though it was tight, we could all eat together in one room.
  • Christmas dinner 2004, with our third child, aged 6 months (to the day!) in a bouncy chair on the table, crying through most of our little family's dinner.
  • Discovering the multitude of old science fair projects behind the buffet when we pulled it away last year to paint.
  • Helping a child through many a homework assignment at the table, listening to cries of anguish that "I will never get this!" and "When will I EVER use this in real life?"
  • Filling the buffet up with our wedding crystal and dishes, and later my husband's grandmother's glassware.
  • Feeling a little pang when my eldest daughter left for college and I had to set the table for only six.
  • Finding permanent marker on the table after someone who shall remain nameless used the marker on thin paper.
  • Folding thousands of pieces of laundry on the table and wrapping hundreds of presents.
  • Serving birthday party buffets, and baptism and confirmation and graduation party buffets from the table.
  • Finding, this past Halloween, a rotted mini pumpkin my daughter had made at our school's fall festival, sitting on the buffet.  When we moved it (YUCK!), we saw that her permanent-markered-name had been transferred to the buffet, ever to remain written backwards as a reminder of the incident.
  • Going around the table at countless birthday dinners, each of us honoring the birthday boy or girl by saying what we love about him/her (sometimes these are funny, sometimes these are poignant, and sometimes it's like pulling teeth!).
  • The table full of friends and family we've hosted, laughing and crying together over our shared experiences.
  • Family devotions, full of singing, reverence, pondering, silliness and laugher, but always full of grace.
This dining room has been the foundation of so many of our family's memories.  When we bought it so long ago, we planned to never buy another set.  We wanted this one to be timeless and classic and to last our entire family years and marriage.  We couldn't foresee all that was to happen around that table and in that room.  The laughter, the decisions made, the conversations shared and mostly the memories made.  
I am thankful to the Amish man who crafted it for us.  Thankful for his skill to build something so well-made that has stood the test of time (and children!).  Mostly I am thankful for the family who surrounds the table each day as we come together to share a meal and share our lives.