Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Pond

It's morning, and I should be getting dressed, but I hear the call of the doves outside my open back door, and I can't get out of my chair; I'm dreaming. We found a few houses (way outside of our price range, mind you) that have several acres of treed land with ponds. Now that I've seen them online, I'm swept under with dreams of backyard campouts, the boys making bird feeders and houses with Daddy in the workshop, and learning how to attract waterfowl to the pond. I imagine mist rising off the water early in the morning, and hearing the chatter of birds, and watching my retriever burn off some of his sluggishness from living so long in a suburban maze of neighborhoods. I see a big vegetable garden, and herb gardens, and big, unbroken stretches of grass to turn cartwheels and catch grasshoppers and chase fireflies. I'm in love.

If I don't open my eyes and see the long line of rooftops beyond my small, fenced-in backyard, I can pretend I live there already. Bridget commented yesterday that she's amazed by my ability to stay home, perfectly content, for days on end. She hasn't seen anything yet--if I were to live somewhere like that, she'd have to drag me out!

Our house isn't even up for sale yet, with a long list of things to be done to it first, and the houses are beyond what we figure we can afford, and the market is terrible. But still. I can dream.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Happy Sundays

Sundays are long ones for us; with the addition of an evening service at church, my husband works the entire day. So I've had to get creative with how we can enjoy the day. The first thing I did was to shift our school week from Monday-Friday to Sunday-Thursday. Now we're off when Chris is home on his day off, and we have something to occupy us when he's at work. The flexibility inherent in homeschooling makes me love it!

The second thing I've added is a 4 p.m. tea time. Don't read that wrong--not a tea party--a tea time. That distinction is important! I want my boys to grow up as civilized gentlemen, not delicate flowers. I pull out the good china for me, and the decent china for the boys, as well as a tablecloth and cloth napkins, and set the dining room table. We use the teapot and a tea cozy my mom gave me recently, and we make sure we have lots of sugar cubes. I use them to keep Addie quiet when she gets restless in the middle of the story. Her teeth will hate me someday, I'm sure.

I bring out a good, long story with lots of beautiful illustrations to keep the little ones as captivated as I can, and we read as we drink tea with lots of milk and sugar. I made the blueberry muffins this morning, in little heart shapes, and we'll have fruit snacks, my children's favorite food group. It's usually loud and messy and funny and happy, and they look forward to it all week long.

In my years as a pastor's wife, which are now in the double digits, I've lived through a lot of seasons where I had to stand in and distract my children. Now that he's no long doing student ministry, he's not gone very much, but I don't ever want them to grow up seeing any ministry in a negative light, and one way for me to do this is to make the times when Daddy is away, special. When he was in Sydney for almost two weeks last year, I just about ran out of ideas, but we made it through with good attitudes intact. When he travels, we pull out the atlas and globe to see where he is. When he has to put in extra hours to help build new sets or put on a conference or prepare for Easter and Christmas, I prepare as well, sometimes weeks ahead, asking the Lord to give me a good attitude and positive perspective. We pray for the people who will be ministered to, we spend extra time with friends who are also ministry families, and sometimes we even leave Texas behind to visit my family out of state.

Like everybody else, my husband has to work. And fortunately for all of us, he loves his job and is passionate about it. Heaven help us all if he hated his job! His work is important, and people's lives are changed because of it. Shame on me if I "suffer" through it and make my children to feel the same way! I never want to be a ministry martyr. I grew up in a home where my dad worked a lot, and my mom was a champ at making sure we weren't negative about it. My husband's family is filled with military wives, and long years with husbands at war have made them get creative. My sister-in-law and her husband are missionaries, and sometimes they are separated for months while one ministers somewhere else. That's part of life. We are not the Cleavers; we don't live 9-5 lives with no work emergencies, off-the-clock hours of ministering, or seasons of extra busyness. One of the best gifts I can give my children is a good attitude, and with a little shift in our school week, an extra-special snack on Sundays, and a lift in my perspective, I can do that with grace. It's by the grace of God, to be sure, but it comes, nonetheless.

So for today, we'll be having tea at 4, and we'll be happy to do it.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

This and That

*I have a new serger I got for my birthday! It's still in the box, though, intimidating me with every glance. I keep thinking I'll need a quiet evening to figure it out. Complicated machines + three noisy children = one grouchy mama. So I'm waiting.

*I had the privilege--and I mean privilege--of sitting a mere few feet away from Bishop T. D. Jakes last night as he preached at the final night of our church conference. Bridget and I said, as we were on our way to the church, that we were excited to see what all the hype was about. On the way home, we just kept saying, "I get it now." The way he weaved his message together to culminate at the end was awe-inspiring, and I was so focused on him in front of me that I could've been sitting between two lions and not noticed. It was remarkable, and I've run out of adjectives to describe it further. To top it off, he's a Diet Coke lover himself. That clinches it for me. (I'm feeling blessed in the preaching department lately--the night before, Brian Houston of Hillsong Church in Sydney spoke, and I get to hear my own pastor, Ed Young, every week. If you're able to come to the C3 Nights services at our conference next year, don't miss it! What a great experience! And I just have to say that the worship/media team did an amazing job. As always :)

*We're on a school break this week. We have six weeks on, one week off throughout the year, and I'm looking forward to getting a few more things off the "Get the House Ready to Sell" list. Although I'd rather have lessons with Caiden than paint baseboards. He's always bummed when we reach a break. His love of books and learning and pencils reminds me of a third-grade me.

*I haven't forgotten the questions I was asked a while ago. I still have several to answer, and I will get to them soon.

*Our camera we bought before Christmas has died. I'm having terrible luck in the camera department. In three years we've gone through three. So no pictures lately, although I'm literally hurting from not being able to send my mother a picture of Grayson's coat I finally finished. It reminds me of Paddington Bear's coat--a knit version. It's dark blue and fastens at the top with four large, wooden buttons. I'm exceptionally proud of it, and Bridget and I agreed we'd love one for ourselves. I also finished the Burda peasant blouse and cargo jeans I sewed for Addison, and a version of that in my size would also be welcome. But no camera, so no pictures. When I finally do get the camera repaired/replaced, I'm going to have some catching up to do!

So that's what we're up to, a little of this and a little of that! I hope your weekend is a happy one! If you're in the area and don't have a church to go to, our pastor is beginning a new message tonight--I'd love to see you there! You can go here for more details.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Wrinkles

It's a gray, chilly day, following a series of sunny, warm ones. My children are coming down with colds, and they're cranky and tired. I'm sleepy, not very motivated, and feeling the gray sweeping down over everything in our little home.

Some days are just that way: lots of minor injuries and bickering that results in a multitude of tears; restless children; crayon marks on the wall; jeans that don't fit. It's part of life, and it's these constant, little irritations that do the most smoothing out of character. I am reminded this morning that mine still has many wrinkles.

I read Elisabeth Elliot's words on acceptance and peace this morning. As always, her matter-of-fact words bolster my faith and encourage me, reminding me that nothing that comes to me escapes God's notice. On days like this, it's good to know nothing is without gain. Instead of complaining of a long day, I'll accept that it's working something in my life, and that without the constant irritations, life would be smooth, but I'd still be very wrinkled.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Wholehearted Moms Conference

It's dark and quiet in the house, and I'm "sitting by my laughing fire" in a velvet armchair, snuggled up with steaming coffee, an ancient quilt, and my Bible. I'm sure there's not a better way to start a birthday.

I can't explain how life-changing the Wholehearted Moms conference was for me. I went to it excited to finally hear Sally speak, glad to have a sweet friend with me, and thankful for a break that included little pampering treats. But I didn't stop to think that I might hear and learn things that would impact my heart. I just didn't get that far--I was still thinking about 30 hours without changing a diaper.

In retrospect, as I sit and read over my notes from the conference, I'm struck by three phrases she often repeated: we are civilizers; we are to speak life to our children; we are to be lightbearers.

During my quiet time this morning, I wrote in my journal about each concept, and how I see it in my own life, and how I want to see it more. I love the idea of being a civilizer, and anyone with a couple of boys or more easily sees that necessity! Now that my boys have taught the baby to pretend to burp and then sweetly pipe up, "'Scuse me!" I see I have more work to do. But I'll hold the image of civilizing closely to me as I correct table manners, wipe up spills, wash clothes, and remind them to speak softly in the library. Civilized children are becoming a rarity, as are civilized adults. When was the last time someone blared their horn at you, or worse, for changing lanes without signaling? All I have to do is go to the local Tom Thumb, where several sullen teenagers work, to see that our children need our civilizing touch!

Speaking life to my children--and to anyone else around me--touched me deeply. Sally was quick to point out that children need both "high love" and "high discipline," so speaking life doesn't mean making excuses for poor behavior or tolerating sin. But it does mean taking a minute to think before speaking. It means speaking life-giving words of encouragement (not false flattery), and love, and hope to them. This world is going to be cruel enough, without children suffering from their mothers joining in through thoughtless words. I am not cruel to my children, of course, but I can easily become harsh and impatient when flustered. Just ask Bridget. Every time she calls me, my children sense I'm helpless, and they run wild. As the house spins out of control, I find my blood pressure and voice rising. After hearing Sally, I instituted "Phone Drills." When the phone rings, the two older ones bolt for their beds, where they look at books until I'm off the phone. Once they hear my shout, "ALL CLEAR!" they can get up and be noisy again. It's one little way I can tame moments when I'm tempted to be less than life-giving.

And being a lightbearer is important, especially in this culture of relativism, disrespect for authority, and tolerance for every religion but Christianity, it seems. I have to point the way for my children, and teach them to walk in it, before they're called to go out and walk it on their own. Remembering this keeps my priorities in check: church is important, sports not so much. Devotions and books are important, cartoons aren't. Family dinners are important; attending every birthday party, baby shower, or item-selling party isn't. So by remembering that my days to be a lightbearer are short, I pare down our activities to make sure what we're doing matters.

There was so much more to the conference that spoke to me. Sarah spoke on the importance of beauty in our walk with God, and Sally spoke of the different seasons in a mother's life, which resonated with me, as our family has gone through each one in the past couple of years. I'm already looking ahead to next year's conference with much anticipation and have recruited Bridget to come with me, when I assured her it's not only for homeschooling mothers. If you live nearby or are able to travel, I can highly recommend attending. I feel like the breath of God has blown through me, and I'm looking forward to working on those three things in the coming year with my children and family.

Friday, February 15, 2008

A Good Week

I'm off today to a conference hosted by Sally Clarkson for a little refreshment and inspiration, and I'm taking a good friend with me. This is the beginning of a wonderful weekend, following a sweet Valentine's Day, and ending with my 3rd 30th birthday on Monday. I couldn't ask for a better week!

I hope your weekend is filled with little happy things, too.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Go-To Recipes

I have two go-to recipes that I use anytime I'm low on time, inspiration, or kitchen ingredients.

Brittani's Chicken Enchiladas

8 whole wheat tortillas
2 large chicken breasts
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can Rotel (or plain diced tomatoes if you're a taste-bud chicken), drained
1 can diced green chilies, drained
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can red or green enchilada sauce
shredded cheese of your choice

Boil the chicken in a large pot of water. I season mine with a little bit of chicken bouillon because I'm suspicious of frozen chicken breasts, but I use them anyway. Once they're boiled, drain and return to pot. Pour in cans of black beans, Rotel, green chilies, and half of the cream soup and half of the enchilada sauce. Heat.

In a separate smaller pot, stir together the rest of the cream soup and the enchilada sauce.

Take tortillas and place a generous scoop of the chicken/beans/etc. mixture down the center. Roll up, then place seam-side down, in a 9x13 pan. Once you've used the entire package of tortillas, pour the soup/sauce mixture all over, then top with as much cheese as you like. Pop in the oven, at 350 or so, for about 10 minutes.

Eat. And if you happen to talk on the phone while cooking, therefore forgetting what you're doing and accidentally putting the black beans in the sauce, or the soup in the mixture, don't sweat it. It all turns out fine in the end. Believe me.

And my husband's favorite, Cuban Black Beans, courtesy of a friend who knows her Cuban cooking:

chopped onion
chopped green pepper
6 cloves garlic, chopped
4 cans Bush's black beans, drained and rinsed
cumin
oregano
apple cider vinegar
pepper

In a pot, saute onions and green pepper together in the olive oil about 5 min. Add garlic and saute another 5. Add black beans to pot, then add about *1/2 tsp. cumin, 1 tsp. oregano, and 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar. Then top with enough crushed black pepper to suit your taste. Heat on low for as long as you need, no less than 30 minutes. Check them every once in a while to make sure you're not dehydrating them. (I usually put ours in a crock pot.) My husband requests these no less than once a week, and while I'm a little sick of them, they make him very happy, and they're easy to boot!

*Totally guessing on the oregano and cumin amounts. I just pour some in.

And this is a great recipe if you're a fan of Johnny Carino's and will be at home Valentine's evening! I made it the other night, and it was delicious! The only thing I changed was using whole wheat flour instead of white flour. It makes a generous portion, and it's suprisingly easy for a "gourmet" recipe. (Yes, I consider Carino's gourmet. "Real" gourmet restaurants serve tiny portions of food unrecognizable to me, and I like to eat!)

And for a quick snack, when it's 4 p.m. and your kids are starving but dinner's a ways off:

From our friend Kristen, 3 Ingredient Peanut Butter Cookies

1 c. peanut butter
1 c. sugar
1 egg

Mix together with a spoon, then drop onto cookie sheet. Bake at 350 til they're done--I'm guessing about 10 minutes. Eat! Makes about 15 nice-sized cookies. Takes no time at all and makes kids happy!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Pictures of the "Break"

So the break was nice, and now it's over. :) Not a very long one, huh?

Here's what we've been up to, with pictures I've been promising my mother:

Hanging out in the "ugly hat" and new beard, with Addie. And hey! Check out those white laminate counters and dated maroon tiles on the backsplash! They're history! We'll be having granite countertops and backsplash installed in a few weeks, which sends me over the moon with happiness. Too bad it's so we can sell the house. Chris and I are doing the demo ourselves, which will save hundreds of dollars, and sounds fun. Sort of. We've painted, put in baseboards, ripped out linoleum, repaired a section of our fence, and installed light fixtures in the last weeks, so I feel like we could have our own show on HGTV.

Technically this didn't happen during our break, but it makes me laugh to see Grayson's sopping wet legs. Ironically, he fell in the pond just hours after we read the poem, "Daddy Fell Into the Pond," one of my childhood favorites. All three kids are "skipping" rocks. These are the days when I love living in sunny, warm Texas!

A good example of reusing something: the red top was a dress for Christmas, cut shorter for the new Dick & Jane pants, another one from my favorite Britches & Bloomers pattern. (We're at three pairs now, if you're counting.)
But seriously, how can I not keep making them? Those pockets on the bottom and ruffles are too fun! I'd wear them, if I weighed 100 pounds less and were 30 years younger.

And of course Addie needs a Valentine's dress. (Yes, I'm fully aware this making girl clothes habit is addictive.) Since we live in Texas, sleeveless dresses can actually be worn in February! But she has a darling baby-doll style white cardigan as a backup, just in case the temps plunge. This pattern, Butterick B5017, was a good learning one for me, as the facings have invisible stitching, and I learned a great technique for making the bodice look really nice.

Not to leave the boys out, I made them Valentine's Day gifts: 'Simple Totes ' from Bend-the-Rules Sewing. Caiden's is pirates and stripes, with pockets inside and out, and a dinosaur egg inside to "dig" out of rock,

and Grayson's is aliens on the front and orange paisley on the back. Pipe cleaners are sticking out--his Valentine's present, because what three year old doesn't love a big bag of pipe cleaners?


I think I mentioned that I had fallen in love with the "Buddy Bag" pattern found here, and I used old yarn to make it. It took only a couple of days, and the birdy finger puppet is a big hit with Grayson, who's sure to try to steal it when I give it to Addison.

And look at that snazzy blue lining! Just perfect to keep small treasures from falling through the knitting. I'm going to have to make another one, for my niece, who's about to get a baby sister and will enjoy having a gift of her own while Baby gets so many!


And these are way cuter in person, but I had to post them for my mom. The picture makes them look gray, but they're actually a dark denim. I discovered a German pattern company, Burda, that has the cutest baby clothes on earth. (Except for the patterns in Ottobre, from Finland, and the ones I found in a Japanese book. Okay, so there are a lot of really cute patterns out there. Good thing I have a cute baby to sew for.) Anyway, these are the cargo pants to go with the peasant blouse I haven't finished yet. They're dark denim, much darker than in the photos, with tiny daisies embroidered on them. The cargo pockets fasten with white bunny buttons, and when I showed them to Chris last night, he said they're his favorites I've made so far, hands-down. Mine, too. So much so, that today I bought salmon mini-wale corduroy to make another pair. The peasant blouse will be out of white eyelet, and what could be more perfect? Hey, this sewing thing is FUN!

Take heart, I didn't do all of this this week. If I had, we'd have either not eaten, done school, or worn clean clothes, or I would've stayed up all night, every night. But I did get a bunch of it done, thanks to really productive mornings, no blogging, nowhere to go, and long afternoons with the kids playing in the backyard. I set up my sewing machine on the kitchen table, and I can supervise and feed them snacks, while I sew, and they play. A win-win situation if ever there was one!

And I guess that's that. Blogging break over.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Winter Break

I couldn't decide whether to tell you I'm taking a break, or just take the break without mentioning it, but whenever I go without posting more than a week, people start emailing me, worried.

So.

I'm taking a break. From blogging, from reading emails, from searching the Internet, from checking Facebook and Ravelry and Flickr. I love the Internet, but it sucks me in, and I don't want to be sucked in by a computer. I want to be sucked in by making breakfast and reading stories to my children and taking long walks. I want to be sucked in by writing notes to my sister and knitting by the fire at night and talking to my husband after the kids are in bed. I want to pretend I don't have a cell phone or a laptop or TiVo, and after a while I'll decide whether I really want those things anymore or not. Right now, re-reading that last sentence, I can't imagine not having a cell phone or a laptop or TiVo, which means taking a break is a good thing. Sometimes I feel noise fatigue, at the end of a long day with much whining and crying and bickering. Lately I feel the fatigue of too much--too much information, technology, opinions, ideas, and of sharing my life with strangers. Sometimes that alone makes me want to hide, even if I am the one who volunteered my life to begin with.

So in the spirit of a winter break, where time slows down and life is sparser, I'm putting some things on the backburner, and this is one of them.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Three Rs

Jack Johnson's song, "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle," is one of my kids' favorites from the Curious George soundtrack. We bought the CD in anticipation of the movie's arrival on the big screen, and by the time Chris and I took the boys to see it, we'd memorized every song.

I took a look at my stash yesterday. Well, to be correct, my stashes. Of books, yarn, fabric, patterns. They're impressive. I bought several books at the Focus on the Family bookstore back in August on vacation and have read only one so far. I've been collecting yarn for projects since I learned to crochet back in 2005, and although I've only been sewing a few months, my fabric stash is either inspiring or intimidating, depending on my current frame of mind. I almost hate cutting into some of the pieces, they're so beautiful! But it defeats the purpose to let them sit on my closet shelf.

So in the spirit of Jack's song, I'm determined to reduce the stash this month. Rather than buy anything else, I'll be doing projects that use only what I already have. In reality, I could make that promise for the entire year and probably not run out! Yesterday I ran out of yarn for Grayson's beautiful double-breasted coat, so while I wait for the yarn to arrive (ordered pre-reduce promise), I dug through my yarn stash and found the perfect color combination for this project. I started it last night and is it ever a quick knit! I need to take a picture of mine so far--super cute and just the ticket for Addison's Valentine's present. The boys are getting tote bags, so it's just perfect to go with them!

In the bath this morning (There's nothing more indulgent to me than taking a bath for no good reason in the morning!) I grabbed Susan Schaeffer Macauley's book, "For the Family's Sake," picked up at Focus on the Family. One chapter in, and I'm already inspired. And while our bathrooms were being tiled earlier this week, I cut out several sewing projects. Today I'll begin sewing them, and tonight when we have family over to watch the game, I can knit. A perfect day.

I'll be sure to post pictures of my "reduce" projects this month, and I'm hoping to get to another book, fiction this time, when I finish "For the Family's Sake." In the meantime, I hope you have a happy Sunday!

*Speaking of reading, I just finished the book, "Freckles," by Gene Stratton Porter. I loved it! This would be a great read for you, or for your teenaged son or daughter. The main character is a young man, and the book is full of adventure and nature, but it also includes a beautiful love story. It has earned a spot among my most-favorite reads. I've heard there's a sequel; I'm going to have to get it! After my reduce-month is over, of course :)