Small Things, Great Love

balloon-girl

Yesterday, in a fit of nervous energy, I baked a batch of shortbread cookies.

In my head, all I could hear was, “Tomorrow is Valentines Day! Tomorrow is Valentines Day!, which meant I should: bake cookies, deliver homemade cards, clean up, get pretty, take pictures of the kids, buy fancy groceries, make a special children’s dinner, make a special-er parent’s dinner, light candles, etc. Etc. ETC.

As a mother of four children five and under, the list was enough to give me hives.

Meanwhile, the cookies emerged from the oven in a perfect balance of crisp and soft, studded with a rainbow of doughnut sprinkles. My daughters, entranced by the smell of fresh cookies foolishly baked the hour before dinner, immediately began bargaining. Half the batch was gone in 10 minutes, and the one thing I wanted to cross off my list stubbornly remained.

In years past, I’ve made similar lists for Valentines Day. It didn’t matter if I was single, dating, married, working outside or inside the home. The power of should shadowed me all day long.

What should I give? What should I receive? If ever a day was fraught with expectation, I’d say it was February the 14th. I’d also wager that most of us are left wondering what grand gestures we should do to communicate love beyond what we manage every day. Will they be enough?

Last week, the kids and I took a spur of the moment trip to my childhood home on the farm in South Dakota. My husband had parent teacher conferences and obligations all week, and it felt like a good time for a change of scenery (once I shouldered through the reality of road tripping with four kids).

One afternoon, a framed quote in my parents’ living room caught my eye. Not all of us can do great things. But we can all do small things with great love. – Mother Teresa

Those words stuck with me all week, and they hit me again this morning.

I am not in a place to do great things today. I’m laying low with a sick baby, cutting out paper hearts with my preschoolers, trying to ignore the glitter glue and scraps that are stuck all over the kitchen table. I need to go to the grocery store with four children in tow later, and also collect all the documents necessary for a tax appointment scheduled for tonight before dinner.

The question is this: can I do those things with great love?

Can I hold the baby a little longer and wait to fold that last load of laundry? Can I settle into a kitchen chair beside my girls, look into their eyes, and help them with their work? Afterwards, can I clean up the table and scratch off the glitter glue with my fingernails without cursing under my breath? Can I dig deep for the gold of patience today as we shop, search, collect, file?

Can I simply let go of the “great” things I think I should do, in favor of the small things I can actually accomplish?

My to-do list above is real life. It’s not about expectation or the list of should-do’s that seem to accompany all holidays. It’s the every day reality that I have the chance to dwell richly in, if only I set the intention and make the time.

Small things, great love.

Today, and every day.

May it be so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To the Woman in the Bathroom

bathroom-signDear friend,

Can I presume to call you that? I hope so. Because that’s how I felt when we met eyes for a second in the women’s bathroom today.

I walked in with a baby in a car seat on one arm, a purse slung across my tired shoulder, and three little girls pushing to get around me. The girls were chattering excitedly, for a minute, I saw them as a stranger might.

I saw the black and white striped pants with the over-sized pink dress that Gabby loves to wear. I saw Ellis’s stained white tank top with the pink sparkly flamingo, and her black stretch pants that have somehow gotten a little too short over the summer. I saw Lucy and her curtain of self-cut bangs, trimmed up by her auntie but still managing to look like a short haired version of Farrah Fawcett. Gabby turned and I noticed I’d forgotten to comb out the bird’s nest in the back of her hair, the one she manages to recreate every night with great skill.

Then the baby started crying, and I whipped back in to the present, racing into the stall so we could get out before he started a full-blown beller of discontent.

I sat there on the toilet, counting the pairs of feet running past my door, and I thought of you, the stranger standing at the counter, watching all of us with a smile on your face and not a hint of judgement in your eyes while you washed your hands.

Friend, I’m so grateful for your kindness. I know most of the time, we are all a hot mess trying to get out the door. Someone’s shoes don’t fit, someone’s pants are dirty, and I’m desperately hoping that the blush I managed to swipe on my cheeks will make me look at least a little bit like I tried.

Heaven knows, I try. I wake up with Ellis at 6:45 most mornings, and haul the baby downstairs with us even though he’s not totally awake yet so that if he cries, he won’t wake up his twin sisters. I attempt semi-health conscious breakfasts and a load of laundry each day so that we have clean clothes. I remind myself to slam a glass of water after my two cups of coffee so I don’t get totally dehydrated and give the baby too much caffeine.

The day keeps going like that – full of tries that sometimes work, sometimes fail, but generally keep the wheels on the bus, and right now, that’s the best I can do.

So us out of the house this morning, dressed, fed, and generally in good moods, is a pretty good accomplishment. We’re definitely not the most stylish, but we’ve managed to get into the world and interact, and that makes life better.

And you, with your warm smile and kind heart? Well, I want to be more like you. I want to smile at people more. I want to not think twice about snarly hair or mismatched clothes, or even looks in general. I want to heap grace upon grace on everyone I come in contact with, knowing that being comfortable in another person’s presence is one of the greatest feelings ever.

Thanks friend-that-I-don’t-know. I needed that.

Maybe we all need a little more of that.

 

 

 

Amateur Farm Hour: How Not to Open a Coconut

A couple of weeks ago, I inadvertently sliced open the skin below my thumb knuckle with a butcher knife. For a brief moment there was a lightning sear of heat and redness, and then I came to my senses, pinched the wound, and closed my eyes.

Cardinal rule #34 of motherhood: Don’t. Pass. Out.

I leaned over the counter, still pinching my thumb. It had begun to throb in a low, dull pattern. I didn’t dare let go of the skin, but somehow, I needed to get…  to reach… to open…

The kitchen began to spin, a kaleidoscope of morning light and the silver gleam of the sink.

I sank, cross-legged, on the cool hardness of the black and white floor.

Don’t pass out. Don’t pass out. You’re the adult here. Lord help us, you’re the adult. 

***

adulting stickers

Thanks to PeanutParade over at Etsy, you can now buy stickers to celebrate you and your friends’ life accomplishments. 

I don’t know why I still get all twitchy about the fact that I’m an adult. I just celebrated another birthday, firmly establishing my place in the mid-thirties set. But somehow, I still want affirmation for doing the grownup things. Moving appliances when I wipe off the counter. Dusting. Sticking to only the items on my grocery list.

For the record, the mid-thirties rock. I mean it. Being a full-blown adult gives me the freedom of accepting, being, parenting, and living as I choose. I love watching my husband grow into new hobbies and skills, and my daughters outgrow their shoes. I love wearing my favorite, worn in clothes and not caring if they’re stylish anymore.

I love being firmly gripped by Grace, every day a brilliant rescue, another reason for gratitude to my Maker.

Still, there’s a part of me that has a hard time believing I’ve been left in charge. It’s like when you babysit for the first time. The grownups leave, the kids stare at you, and the unfamiliar oven and range top you’re supposed to make macaroni and cheese on looks like a nuclear weapon.

Now my own small tribe of pink and ponytails depends on me for almost everything, and some days, that’s the hardest part.

Being needed. 

Strangely enough, I don’t ever feel ready for that role… the one role I feel like I should, somehow, innately just get.  And yet somehow, motherhood is the role I love. The role I play, day after day, sometimes turning in Oscar-worthy performances, sometimes wanting to hide all day in my dressing room.

The scary part is, I’m not sure I’ll ever feel ready.

Adulting is like that. Just when you finally get accustomed to scrubbing the bathroom sink once a week like a BOSS, you have kids and realize the toothpaste crusted to the basin is something that needs daily attention.

Whine. Sigh. Get the towel. Realize it takes twelve seconds. File it away as a mental note the next time you want to complain. Move on.

Nothing really prepares you for adult life. Nothing except the moments when you simply suck it up and do the work. And nothing you can see, at least, in the dizzying minute when you have to gather, rally, wipe away the blood, and haul yourself back to standing.

***

It took me a second to stop the spins, sitting there on the kitchen floor, clutching a bloody hand and desperately needing a few band-aids.

Thankfully, help appeared in the form of my four and half year old, who was more than eager to climb on a chair and dig in the coveted medicine cabinet. She emerged a minute later with the first aid box, along with some professional airs about being a nurse.

“OK. Hold still. This might hurt, but just… for a second. There. All better.” She gave my double band-aided thumb a well-meaning pat, which made me suck air like an industrial shop vac and confirmed that I probably needed stitches.

coconutStitches which I got, thankfully, in the form of glue (God bless those in modern medicine who understand us needle phobes) a few hours later, along with a strong admonition from my husband about trying to cut into a coconut with a butcher’s knife, at-home science project or not.

The YouTube tutorial was wrong. You can’t open a coconut by pounding the exterior with the butt end of a butcher knife. Or the sharp end, either.

Adulting is hard. End of story.

But the next time my daughter plies me with requests for exotic fruit with a hairy but cement-like exterior, I’ll know enough to say no.

That’s something, right?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amateur Farm Hour: The Mug Brownie Moral

mug brownie

Picture courtesy theworstchef.com

It started with a mug brownie.

You know. One of those fad cooking things that sprouted, bloomed, and faded after a few months in the fickle soil of the interwebs.

Take a few things. Chocolate, mostly. Mix them in a coffee mug. Microwave. Bada bing, bada boom. Single serving mug brownie.

Somehow, I missed this craze. (Or just I always wanted more than one brownie.) Either way, I’d never tried the mug method before, until last week.

The opportunity arose. I had a little extra pumpkin bar batter. And since it was a new recipe that I was sending out the door with my husband for a community event, I wanted to make sure the product was edible. So I poured the leftover batter in the mug, put it in the microwave, and closed the door.

At this juncture, a reasonable person would have googled an actual mug brownie recipe to get an idea of how long you’re supposed to microwave this magic.

Apparently, I’m not reasonable. And I also lack a little common sense. Somehow, in the mess and muddle of my day, my pointer finger beeped out FOUR MINUTES, and hit start. I realized this was a little long, but I figured I’d check it after a minute or two and see what was happening.

And then.

And then.

Somehow, one thing led to another and I left sight of the microwave because my two year old announced she had to go potty, and this announcement/action chain goes much better when supervised.

Which means I forgot about the mug.

***

This is how it goes, right? We find ourselves with what seems like a really good idea, and we even manage the wherewithal to start acting on it.

And then.

And then.

Somehow, we get sidetracked. The great blog series we planned/exercise regiment we started/DIY project we bought supplies for/committee we volunteered on gets swallowed by this thing called NEED – which usually belongs to someone else – and all the good things we hoped to accomplish start to smolder and gather coats of ash.

We are left with two choices. We can blow on the coals of those ideas and intentions and watch the flames come back to life, or we can do nothing and watch the ash slowly turn grayish white as the heat dissipates.

For the last month, I’ve been a little out of breath.  Maybe you have too. Maybe the kids are still in the after-shock of daylight savings time. Maybe work is going all crazytown before the end of the year. Maybe the looming HOLIDAY season sends you less into hot cocoa land and more into snarl zone.

Whatever it may be that’s taking your breath away, please don’t let go without a fight. You NEED to foster the things that give you life. They are what make you unique, joyful, and fulfilled.

Which is why today I’m blowing on my coals, sitting at my desk, watching words fall off my fingertips and onto the screen.

I didn’t have an epiphany. I didn’t get a day all to myself to rest and recharge. I simply remembered something. Writing gives me energy.

Doing the things I love to do wakes me up, shakes me out, and resettles me a little more happily into my life. 

Meanwhile, in case you’re wondering, four minutes is WAYYYYY too long to microwave a mug brownie, or a pumpkin bar, or really much of anything.

I finished helping my daughter in the bathroom only to return to the kitchen and find noxious clouds of billowing green smoke emanating from my microwave. The timer dinged before I could race over and open the door, but it didn’t matter.

The stench. The smoke. I gagged and coughed as I opened the door and waves of burnt cake smog assaulted my eyeballs. What remained in the bottom of the mug resembled charcoal and smelled like acrid darth vader death breath.

The next hour would have made a comical video. My daughters and I waved vinegar-spritzed rags like helicopters all around the kitchen. We concocted vinegar and lemon oil “soup” to boil on the stove top and the wood stove. We opened the doors, turned on the fans, turned up the music and shiver-danced to move the air around.

The stench didn’t completely leave, but we at least found a way to get our breath back. And so I leave you with this.

Moral of the story: Don’t cook a mug brownie/pumpkin bar for four minutes.

Other moral of the story: Don’t let what has sidetracked you permanently* keep you there, on the sidelines. Take a deep breath. Find the thing you love that’s been set aside, and fan it back to life.

I’m rooting for you.

 

Comment below and tell me about the things you love that always take a back burner (or a four minute death ride in the microwave).

*My house feels like it’s permanently going to be clinging to this reek, so if anyone has any good smell-busting ideas, I’m all ears!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Only Way to Start

I unlocked the door and pushed the familiar curve of the handle into my old kitchen. I was hoping for good news to share with my husband about our former residence-turned-rental. The former renters had moved out, and a wonderful family was moving in in five days. Meanwhile, I didn’t have huge expectations. Just empty space, wiped down cupboards, maybe even a clean refrigerator.

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Creepy-doll selfie courtesy my four year old

Alas.

Giant black garbage bags squatted in corners, half open, half full of leftover belongings that must not have made the cut. My daughter immediately found a creeptastic purple doll and ran to the bathroom. “She should not be in the garbage. She needs a bath, mama.” I mumbled something incoherent and opened the fridge, appraising the damage of what looked like spilled BBQ sauce. Please let it be BBQ sauce.

I closed the fridge and let my eyes stumble over the entire kitchen. Layers of grime. Dirty woodwork. Spiderwebs draped casually along the walls and in the corners. The rest of the main level was mostly vacant and begging for some serious broom, shop-vac, and window washing love.

I could still hear the water running and my daughter chiding the purple doll. Honey, you have to wash your hair. You have tangles! Hold still! 

I took a deep breath and climbed the stairs, which still creaked and groaned the same song as when we lived there for six years. The second level was only slightly better. One garbage bag, one tube TV that time forgot. Bathroom drawers scattered with broken earrings and crushed bits of blush. A cheap, anise-lavender scented bubble bath gift set still tied in a gaudy gold bow. Broken blinds. Carpet littered with a mysterious miscellany of broken toys, leftover markers, half-sucked candy.

IMG_20150827_084752

ALL THE FEELINGS indeed.

I wandered back down to the kitchen. Then back to the dining room. Then back into the kitchen. I picked up a few dusty glasses left on the buffet and put them on the counter. I opened the oven. Coughed. Opened the freezer. Gagged. My arms suddenly felt like hundred pound weights. I was stuck. I stopped and stood there, hostage to ALL THE FEELINGS.

And then I did what any child need of rescue does. I called my mom.

She listened patiently to my list of and this was dirty and that was a mess and this needs to be replaced and there are scratches here and… She gave a few suggestions. We talked through whether or not the oven had a self-cleaning function. Bless it. It did.

But then I started escalating again, whining about how even the screen door was disGUSTING. So start there, she said. Sometimes the best place to start is with what you see first. Then work your way in. That way, the next time you come in from that direction, you won’t be so discouraged.

It made good sense. She promised to pray, and I promised to calm down. My daughter had finally finished washing the doll and was setting up a tea party with some old shot glasses she found in a drawer. I opened the bottom cupboard and found a turkey roasting pan, which paired nicely with a dusty bottle of vinegar left under the sink, some warm water, and a half-used roll of paper towels.

IMG_20150827_084630Because sometimes, the only way to start is to start. 

I’ve seen that saying a hundred times in Instagram and Facebook posts. Usually it’s in block font with a picture of a person running up a path that’s eventually going to lead them up a mountain, or something glorious and motivational like that. It’s never with a background of a dirty door smeared with greasy fingerprints and old ketchup stains. And yet.

The only way to start was really as simple as that.

Start.

Start with what I saw first. With what I knew I could manage. It didn’t matter how bad the whole of it was. The whole was frightening.

But the door? The door was doable. I could handle cleaning a door.

I just had to start.

The Kitten Connundrum

I recently caught my three year old daughter sneaking out of the house, still in pajamas, before she thought we were awake. The reason? She wanted to “see” the six perfect baby kittens that were born in the chicken coop. Translation: she wanted unmitigated access to do something she wasn’t supposed to.

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6:58 am. This is a new level of sneakytown, even for Ellis.

There’s a long-standing farm rule I’ve heard since I was kid: Never touch kittens until their eyes are open. Kittens that take on a different scent may be abandoned by the mother.

Unfortunately, I’m having the hardest time enforcing the no-touchy touchy rule with a certain young member of the household.

The kittens are barely a week old, downy and delicate, mewling quietly with their eyes closed. Ellis can’t resist them. I find her sneaking in the coop at all hours of the day – so much so that we’ve had to start locking it. She talks about the kittens constantly. She wants to show them to everyone who visits.

I’m torn. The mother is a baby herself – part of our spring litter last year. She doesn’t seem to mind us being near, and welcomes attention whenever human visitors are around.

But the rule.

The interwebs are full of mixed messages about the rule. Some sites say it’s okay to touch them if the mother allows it. Others take a strict hands-off approach.

All I keep coming back to is the advice of the apostle Paul in Corinthians 10:23 – I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. 

(The whole passage really has nothing to do with baby kittens. It’s the principle that’s standing out to me.)

Seriously. How do I resist this face?

 Seriously. This face. Can anyone understand my dilemma? 

Certainly, we can touch the kittens. Is it the best thing for them? Probably not. But do we risk the mother abandoning them at this point? Probably not.

No clear answer.

But if I stop to look at what’s beneficial for everyone involved (kittens, Ellis, my sanity), the answer is simple. We need to wait. Free access to the coop – denied. The kittens need time, and Ellis needs to go another round in learning the wait/reward cycle of patience.

Wish us luck. It’s going to be a long week.

Why Your Mama Blog Matters

I have a confession. Lately, I struggle with blogging. It’s harder and harder to find pockets of time to write, and when I do, I find that a little bit of the party is over. We made it through pregnancy, we survived the first year with 3 under 2, and now…

Now we raise. All the adorable matching outfits are tucked away in a bin. Mismatched play clothes with mud and grass stains dominate the drawers. Every day I dance around keeping enough activities going to leave the TV off. Some days we win. Some, we lose.

And suddenly I find myself in a sea of mamas just like me, trying to do the best for their kids and trying to write about it once in a while, because writing makes sense.

Literally.

Writing helps us sort through what it means to give up one version of ourselves and take on another. Writing makes us speak in full sentences. Writing is a way to process all the broken pieces of the day and remind ourselves of their whole.

I read two very different blog posts this week. One was an open letter To Moms With Kids Under 5: This is Our Time. The other was Dear Stay at Home Moms, Please Shut Up.

One redirected my day, making me take stock of the special moments I usually want to pass up because I have a dishwasher to unload or two bottoms that need changing immediately. It calmed me at 4:00 am this morning when my daughter woke up because she had the snorts and just wanted to snuggle.

The other made me insecure. I thought of all the times I sat down with my friends in some sort of harried, exhausted state, gushing out my parenting struggles like a broken toilet. Was I now the annoying stay at home mom boop booping her minivan fob, looking all privileged and disheveled in sunglasses and stretch pants?

Both posts made me realize the importance of words. Words that matter.

Because they do. Your words. My words. All of us coming unraveled, untangled as we stare at our thoughts on the screen and wind them back into stories.

But it’s how we choose to re-spin and wind our experiences that matters most. When I’m stealing a few minutes in the bathroom, reading your blog posts or your articles on parenting, you have the power to leave me encouraged or disheartened.

As a writer, as a parent, as a person, what would you rather read?

Whenever I can, I seek out words that make me want to have and extend grace. Grace that is greater than all my shortcomings and frustrations.

So please keep writing. Processing. Sharing your heart for your kids, your frustrations in the day to day. Do it with love. Do it in a way that makes me see the shine under the layers of dirt, the silver hiding behind tarnish.

Why? Because I’m here, reading. Listening to your ideas. Tasting your recipes. Trying your method for getting your kid to eat peas. When I hear that you’ve succeeded, I find a little hope. When I hear that you’ve failed, I know I’m not alone.

That’s the beauty of our social media networked lives. I may not know you beyond the words you put on the page, and vice versa. But through those words, we come together. We share a minute or two of pausing in the busy of our days, and when we’re done, we are re-energized.

Somehow, brighter.

Here at the farm, we have a few favorite g-words. Grace. Gratitude. God. Gruyere. If this is the first time we’ve met, consider yourself hugged. Really, for real, hugged. I hope you’ll join in the conversation and come back again soon!