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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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!

#Dofightgo – Guest Posting over at TwinTalkBlog today

Have I raved about Twin Talk Blog lately? Seriously. I would have LOVED to have this as a resource when I was pregnant. (They started up just a month or two after my twins were born.) Luckily, Meredith, founder extraordinaire, keeps posting a variety of topics that relate to all sorts of stages with carrying, birthing, and raising twins. It’s a fantastic site, and if you are a twin parent, I highly recommend you start following it.

Today I’m guest posting a few thoughts at Twin Talk, and I’d love for you to check them out. Here’s the beginning to get you started.

3- IMG_6113 (800x533)DO, FIGHT, GO: WHAT I’VE LEARNED PARENTING 3 UNDER 3

A week ago I started writing a post called “What happens when you treat staying at home with your kids like a job.” Or something like that. The title was a mess. The concept was blasé. The post sounded like every other stay at home parent who’s ever tried to find meaning in the endless rounds of cheerios and diapers and play dough.I never finished it.I have a hard time finishing anything right now. My twins are at a very mobile thirteen months, and my preschooler (who’s not going to preschool yet) has ramped up her curiosity to a new level – namely, the third shelf of the pantry and the top of the refrigerator.

Which brings me back to the post I was trying to write. What my former job taught me about managing my days at home was helpful; it just wasn’t that interesting.

But have I stopped to think about what I’ve learned from staying at home with my preschooler and twins? It’s been almost a year and a half of this complete life change. There has to be something.

So after we put everyone to bed, I promised myself thought space. Yes. I had to make a date with my mind to think. It’s getting real, folks.

Here’s what I came up with. Keep Reading….

Letter to my little girls

IMG_3920 (800x533)Dear daughters,

You are the chocolate in my cake and the butter on my bread.

You are a month away from turning 1 and 3, constantly changing, growing, moving, speaking, thinking.

Your milestones are built on routine and care.

You are full of glory, made in the image of God.

You are full of wind and frustration.

You reach and still can’t get things. You speak and we correct your speech. You climb and we pull you down.

You are still figuring out where the boundary lines are drawn.

You scream your desires into our days, always wanting, wanting, wanting, not always understanding when we say no.

You want to taste the batter and lick the spoon. Your eyes light up when sweetness hits your tongue.

You think mangoes are heaven.

You know that the world is broken every time something hurts, and this we can’t explain until you’re older.

Your toddlerhood is part wonder, part terror. It is like loving a tornado.

Your babyhood is stretching, growing muscle and grace, approaching girlhood. You watch the way things work. You learn seemingly without effort.

You are not a job. Or a skill we can become good at. Some days everyone fails.

Raising you is like raising up a house from an endless pile of boards and nails, windows and doors. It requires tools we don’t always know how to use, skills we don’t yet have. It is repetition, repetition, repetition.

Sometimes things fall and break.

Sometimes we all have to start over, gathering up the pieces from the sawdusted floor.

And some days we hang a door on the first try, wondering at the ease.

You are gracious with our efforts. You grow. Take shape. Learn how to open and close things on your own. Learn how to occupy yourself, live within the frame of your body.

Still, we want you to be more than a body, a structure, pretty lashes and a roof.

We want you to become the definition of home.

Haven to those around you.

So we keep building. Hammering. Hollering. Trading tools.

You are labor and love, and we learn that these two things must coexist.

That love without labor has no depth.

That labor without love cannot produce beautiful things.

That cake needs chocolate, and bread needs butter,

and we need you

to round off all the sharpness in the world.

 

 

 

 

 

Multiple Birth Awareness Month: My Confession

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Hear that? Mama thought we were scary. (G, L)

I used to be afraid of having twins.

It started at nine weeks when the ultrasound technician revealed the amazing truth that I was harboring two heartbeats. I was afraid of not being able to carry them to term. I was afraid of birthing them. I was afraid of how I was going to divide my time between them and my two-year old daughter. I was afraid I’d always be letting someone down.

I was afraid having twins meant I wasn’t going to be a good mother.

Two days after we came home from a thankfully uncomplicated birth, I got my first taste of the chaos I feared. It was breakfast time – my toddler in her booster seat, the babies in their rockers on the floor. My spoon was in my first bite of oatmeal when it happened.

All three girls started crying at once.

Ellis was done eating and wanted out of her chair. Gabrielle had her fist in her mouth and wanted to eat. Lucia was working on some business in the lower realms, her face turned red and squinchy. All of them were screaming.

I didn’t know where to start, still unfamiliar with the triage that multiples require.

That morning I did it all wrong, attempting to breastfeed a newborn, change a diaper with my free hand, and reason with my toddler that I’d be done in a second. It was a massive fail. My husband came in to find us all tear-blotched and upset.

People often ask if it’s much harder caring for twins. My answer? It’s not harder. (Changing a diaper isn’t intrinsically hard.) It just takes longer. 

Diapers. Baths. Clothes. Car seat buckling. Meal time. Crying. Everything takes twice as long.

Add this to the fact that babies in and of themselves are time-consuming creatures. They require slow and careful movements. They long to be held. To stare into our eyes. To form connections and bonds, brain synapses firing like lightning bugs on warm July nights.

april 042 (533x800)Funny thing is, toddlers need the same thing. So do spouses. Just all in a different way. And once I realized this, somehow, my fear of adding two tiny people to our family got a little smaller.

No matter how many of us were in the house, ultimately, we all just needed to be loved. And love was not a limited quantity item that went out of stock in my pantry. Love was the one thing I could always find, even when everything else was short on supply.

Not that it always looks like love within these walls. Everyone still cries. We all get frustrated with one another and the need to take turns. But as a mother of multiples, I’ve learned how to triage effectively. I’m not defeated when everyone needs something all at once.

I’ve learned that helping one daughter first allows the other two to understand the fine art of patience (well, someday.) I’ve seen how sharing, even in its early stages, will become one of the most important life skills my girls can master. I’ve even earned a spot in my own equation, advocating for myself and taking care of my own needs as well so I can better take care of everyone else.

I’ve found love to be an ever-renewable resource, wide enough for all of us, a perfect force for driving out fear.

 

april 022 (800x549)Written in honor of Multiple Birth Awareness Month for my 9 month old twins Gabrielle & Lucia, and my ever precocious toddler Ellis Olivia. For more great thoughts (and adorable pictures) on raising multiples, go check out  today’s link up at Twin Talk Blog.