Thursday, November 29, 2012

Advent for Adults

Occasionally at this time of year I find myself on the brink of falling into an "Advent is for kids" trap and neglect to recognize that Advent is for adults, too.  Advent is for me, actually.  Not just the me that's the mom and master-planner of all things Advent in the home, but me - a woman, an individual, a child of God.  I absolutely affirm the importance of instructing my children in the How and Why of observing Advent (not what this post is about, though), and of course I take my responsibility to foster their anticipation of the Christ Child's birth seriously.  I make an effort to help my entire family keep Advent and celebrate Christmas in child-friendly ways.  (child-friendly, not child-ish, ok?)   But, for all the time that I've invested in making Advent meaningful for my  family, our children in particular, I can often lose sight of this reality:  I'm an adult, and I may need something more.   I want to be transformed during Advent, and I think it means doing more than what I've orchestrated for the family as a whole.  The family Advent wreath prayers, and songs, and Jesse Tree meditations that  we use to help guide the family unit to the joy of Christmas, are not enough for me.  When those observances are completed for the evening, and the children are nestled all snug in their beds, then it's my adult Advent time.  

It was the week before Advent last year when I first felt the determination to kick my own observance of Advent up a notch.  We had gotten our box of Advent and Christmas books out of the attic.  I was so excited to throw myself into my high-intensity personal preparation for the coming of the King.  And when I pulled my Advent pamphlets and booklets out of the box, my heart fell.  "Oh yeah," I thought, "I remember these" : guides to Advent for the lukewarm soul.  Every year I'd read them, and every year I was not challenged to have the type of Advent I wanted.  The booklets in front of me read like a poorly organized Friday night meditation on a teen retreat... "Advent is a time of waiting.  Have you ever waited for something?  A phone call, a package in the mail, a plane, a train, an automobile?"  or  "Advent is a time of helping.  Have you ever helped someone?  How did it feel?  Did you feel like dancing?  How can you help someone today?  Were you supposed to help someone yesterday, and forgot?" or this  "Advent is a time of social justice.  Have you sung We Shall Overcome today?"  (I have clearly take some liberties here in the paraphrasing of my treasure trove of mediocre Advent literature.)

There was a time when those types of meditations may have been more helpful to me.  And they may actually  be what some adults need to consider.  But last year I was ready for the heavy and hard hitting stuff.  I wanted theology and (small doses of) philosophy, I wanted Scripture, and I didn't want fluffy feel-good Advent books.  I wanted to have a "consider your weakness and helplessness in the face of life's trials and temptations and know the goodness and power of the God who came to Earth in that same weakness and helplessness to rid you of yours" type of Advent.  I wanted a body of Advent literature that would challenge me to strip away the barriers, baggage, and excuses I collected through the last year and jubilantly invite me to a renewed love of the Savior come for me.  

So I put the call out there on trusty old facebook.  I got some wonderful responses, spent a small fortune at, and last year I had a very different kind of Advent.  I finally found some of the books that I had been looking for but didn't know existed.  Finally, I could break free of the free-in-the-back-of-the-church Advent pamphlets.  

I can't wait for this Sunday, the First day of Advent!  I have my stash ready - a book that I'll keep at my corner of the couch, one at my bed, one in the car, and a few others scattered about the house (I wrote that so that I wouldn't have to write that I keep some in the bathrooms...)  I can't wait to revisit the richness I discovered last year.  Borrowing some thoughts from a wise and good friend:  When I nourish myself with the "meatier" materials of the season, I have a spiritual bounty that will overflow into my family.  There is a wealth  of Advent excitement, preparation, and anticipation to share with my children because I took the time to delve into my Advent stuff for adults!

Here's what I have and recommend, in no particular order:
(Obviously, I don't necessarily recommend trying to read everything every day.  Burnout by Day three, guaranteed.)

In Conversation With God, Vol. 1, Advent and Christmastide, Francis Fernandez
     (incidentally, I loved this so much last year, I bought the whole 7 volume set - meditations for every day 
     of the year.  I know I said 'no particular order' but this is my favorite!)

Behold, He Comes: Meditations on the Incarnation, Fr. Benedict Groeschel

The Blessing of Christmas, Pope Benedict, XVI

The Magnificat Advent Companion  (this link is to the 2012 Kindle edition, which I just bought for 99

And two I have my eyes on for this year or next are:

Advent Meditations with Fulton Sheen , for my Kindle  (or should I do the hard copy???)

God is in the Manger, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, because it looks awesome

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Turning Five. Time. Our Fall Soup Party.

Wow!  Our second oldest turned five yesterday.  Five!  He kept telling us all day, "Now that I'm five I can run very fast and probably outrun my older brother."   The older brother kept saying things like, "I'm so fast I can outrun anything this side of the Mississippi."  (He's into American Tall Tales right now, as evidenced by that example as well as this one: "Mom, I'm so  hungry I could eat a hickory stump, roots and all.") 

Anyway, you know what really is fast?  Time.  Everybody knows the whole "time routine", so I'm not even going to waste keystrokes writing about how when you had your first baby everyone told you the time would go quickly and you'd smile and laugh and nod your head in agreement even though you weren't really sure that  it was true...  I get it. I get it.  The time does go quickly.  But I'm not the mourning-mother type, wishing my babies would stay little or wishing I could rewind to when they were younger or being sad that they're growing up.  (I think this trait might be genetic.  Hi, Mom!)  For me, it's now that's going quickly.  It's the present moment that I'm grasping at, that I want to take advantage of.  It's part of my personality to "wait" for the perfect timing for something, or the perfect setting or circumstances.  In many ways I catch myself "waiting for better days," or more specifically waiting for the "perfect circumstances" to share some particular joy with my children.  A simple example of this to illustrate the larger issue would be... I wish I would have celebrated more fully the November 25th Feast of Christ the King with my kids.  But I didn't.  Because to do it the right way, the "perfect circumstances" way, would have required library books, coloring pages, aluminum foil crowns for everyone to decorate, New Testament passages cross-referenced with Old Testament prophecies, a feast served on a regal purple table cloth with a centerpiece made of the various symbols used for Christ, hymns to Christ the King, one preferably in Latin (perfected, of course,  in the two weeks leading up to the Feast),  and the list goes on and on and on.  Before you know it, the Feast is over and I missed it.  And so did my children.

It takes a great effort on my part to let go of all of that.  I have to be very intentional in sharing joys and moments with my children because if I don't intentionally plan them to be less than perfect they won't happen at all.  This is the time that flies by.  This is the time that I don't want to lose because I was stuck in "waiting for perfect circumstances" land.  Because five-year-olds soon become six-year-olds, and so on.  And they deserve to share meaningful moments and joyful memories with me even if they weren't made under perfect circumstances.  

Whew!  I'm going to lighten up now and show you my newest five-year-old... 

Five things about my five-year-old: he is so thoughtful, he is joyful - taking special delight in simple things, he likes to cuddle, he's a little distractible (!), he can't resist a story... if you start reading a book to someone else, he's at your side in an instant, first peering over the book, and eventually just curling up next to you... doesn't matter which book.    And a sixth thing - he loves to sing and surprises all of us with the lyrics that he knows.  

Finally, every Autumn we have our Fall Soup Party, which is nothing more than a night of sampling all of the soups that I've recently made for the freezer.  This year it happened to coincide with the birthday, so it was a doubly fun evening!  Here are a couple pictures of getting ready for the Fall Soup Party.  I didn't manage to get any shots of anyone actually enjoying the soups because I was trying to eat my own three or four bowls while also feeding our screech owl, er, I mean, the baby.  

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Introducing my Kiddos to Opera

The child we seek holds the seas and the winds on his palm,
The child we seek has the moon and stars at his feet.
Before him, the eagle is gentle the lion is meek.

Choirs of angels hover over his roof and sing him to sleep.
He's warmed by breath.
He's fed by a mother who is both virgin and queen.
Incense, myrrh, and gold we bring to his side, and the eastern star is our guide.

 (from Amahl and the Night Visitors, Gian Carlo Menotti)

culture...  2. n. a quality of enlightenment or refinement arising from an acquaintance with and concern for what is regarded as excellent in the arts, letters, manners, etc..
(Thank you, Random House Webster's College Dictionary.)

Kids deserve culture, but they don't get it through osmosis.  So I do things like take mine to the opera.  I got to go to a lot of operas when I was growing up.  More than once, my parents took my siblings and me to see the Christmas opera Amahl and the Night Visitors, by Gian Carlo Menotti.  (And, what's this?  My mom just told me today that my Great Uncle Eddie knew Menotti when he lived in New York.  So, I have, like, one degree of separation from the composer. I'm kind of famous. Or not.)  When I heard of a local performance of Amahl last year, I jumped on it.  "Ok, kids!  We're studying an opera!"

In my opinion, Amahl and the Night Visitors is the perfect opera for any child's "first opera."  It is short (about an hour).  It is in English.  The lead character is a child.  It has elements of the Christmas story that kids are familiar with:  the "Night Visitors" are in fact, the Three Wise Men who are traveling to see a newborn King.  It does not skimp on the message of the newborn Savior and salvation.  Parts of it are humorous.  Much of it is touching.  Perfect. 

(Here is a good synopsis  from Wikipedia.  And here is  a lovely passage by Menotti himself about how he conceived of the idea for the opera.)

I wanted my sons to really understand and appreciate what they were seeing when we went to see Amahl for the first time.  I wanted what happened on stage to look and sound familiar to them, to hold their attention because they already loved the story and characters.  In the weeks before the performance we read this lovely storybook adaptation (available through our library) ...

as well as this one ...

Then we re-read the first picture book and stopped periodically to listen to the corresponding portions of the opera from this recording...

The performance was wonderful (despite the box office employee who told me she didn't really think four -year-olds should be attending an opera...  Bah!  We showed her.)  The boys were blessedly  well-behaved and they loved the opera.  They knew when their favorite parts were coming and would smile and nudge me when they witnessed them unfold on stage.  We got to sit in seats near the aisle - the regal kings passed right by us on their journey!  The head of the kings' camel even fell off at the end of the performance - a prop malfunction for sure, but humorous and memorable for us!

And we went again today!  It was very last minute, and I did not get to do the same intentional preparation I try do for stuff like this.  It actually happened something like this:  "What!  The last show of Amahl is today???  Quick, buy the tickets!  Use the toilet!  Put on some socks!  Get in the car!  Move it, move it, move it."  Thanks to my amazing mother who went with the kids and me, we pulled it off.  Oh, and best of all, this year my little girl  joined her brothers and got to go her first opera!  (She's not yet three... Don't tell the box office lady!)  

The child we seek doesn't need our gold. 
On love, on love alone he will build his kingdom. 

His pierced hand will hold no scepter. 
His haloed head will wear no crown. 

His might will not be built on your toil. 

Swifter than lightning, he will soon walk among us. 

He will bring us new life, and receive our debts...

(from Amahl and the Night Visitors, Gian Carlo Menotti)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

This Soup is SO Good, But This is Not a Food Blog

I repeat: This is not a food blog.  And yet I'm strangely drawn to food.  And yet, fully half of my baby-stage-blog posts are about... food.  ("Baby stage" as in "this blog in new and I'm still developing my blogging skills, flexing my blogger muscles, if you will, by writing about food.")  

Today was a big soup day around here, and although I tried three new soups and they turned out great, I simply cannot resist sharing this tried-and-true favorite recipe.  This soup is so good it deserves its own post.  Even though this is not a food blog.  

This soup is so good that today I made a quadruple batch.  

This soup is so good, I sneaked a cup of it right before dinner.  

(See the bags in the background headed for the freezer?  Yippee!)

(WARNING:  This post contains graphic evidence that I use store-bought foods.  Some of it may even be pre-packaged.  View at your own discretion.)  

(an old Family Circle Recipe, but I don't know how to "link" to things yet, so... sorry.)


1 lg. onion, peeled, chopped
1 granny smith apple, peeled, cored, chopped
3 carrots, peeled, chopped
2 T. unsalted butter
2 packages (12 oz. each) frozen cooked winter squash, thawed
   NOTE: I have always used fresh squash, so I cannot speak to the quality of the soup with the frozen - it's  
               probably fine
   OF FURTHER NOTE: I usually buy pre-cut butternut squash, obviously placing convenience over thrift.  
               My son (who prefers this soup above ice cream, candy, and liver and lima beans) and I tried to
               grow butternut squash this past summer with the dream of using it for this soup, and saving a buck  
               or two.  The squash we grew was smaller than a breadbox and slightly larger than a breadcrumb.
(*EDIT* 3 cups vegetable broth!  Can't believe I left this out.  You can't have the best soup in the world w/o
      a main ingredient...)  
2 T. sugar
1 t. ground ginger (if you ran out of this last time you made the soup, you may have to send your husband out
      to the store with all the urgency of a national crisis.  It may be so urgent, he may forget to change
      out of his slippers.  Don't panic - this will not change the flavor of the soup, but leaving the ginger out,
3/4 t. salt
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
1/8 t. cayenne
1/2 c. heavy cream (I use fat free half and half)


In a pot, melt butter over medium heat.  Add chopped onion, apple, and carrots.  Cook 7 minutes until soft.
Stir in squash, broth, sugar, ginger, salt, cinnamon, and cayenne.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 5 - 8 minutes.  Puree entire soup.  I use a handheld immersion blender because when I previously used my traditional blender I would spend more time cleaning soup off the floor than actually making the soup itself.  Once blended, stir in heavy cream (half and half).  Gently heat through.  

I serve this soup with croutons.  My favorite is the large variety that are sea salt and pepper flavored.  The salty/spicy croutons are great with the sweetness of the soup! 

So, my advice to you is make this soup and I'm pretty sure you'll love it.  If you do make it, leave me a comment and let me know what you think!  (But don't forget - This isn't a food blog.  OK?)  

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The things they love about Fall

Kids in general love Fall, right?  Mine do.  Let me be  more specific...

Part I

My oldest son has a deep, deep, deep, very deep love of manual labor.  (Think hours of intense leaf raking with the focus and precision of a surgeon.)  We don't have a tree in our front yard, and the tall maple in our back yard hangs on to its leaves until the snow flies.  What's a  family to do?  The littler kids want piles to jump in.  My oldest is saying things like, "Aw, Mom, everyone else in the neighborhood has leaves to rake except us."  So we do what any normal leaf-loving family deprived of autumn foliage would do:  we import it.    

Yep, we take our wagons (one a dangerously rusty and loud-on-the-pavement Radio Flyer from when I was a kid.  Classic.) and we head to the yards that have the most to offer.  The kids stuff as much as they can into our wagons, haul them home, and then they frolic.  Then we head back for more leaves.  Again and again.  (This is our fourth year of leaf importation.  I used to be against it.  I'm over it.  Well, I actually lead the excursions now.)  

Frolicking will only hold my oldest's attention for so long.  And then he needs to work.  So we (and I really mean he) begin(s) loading the wagons again and bringing the leaves to the curb.  He goes up and down the block and rakes everyone else's leaves to our curb.  And soon, you can't really see our curb. 

Part II

Both of my sons have a highly developed appreciation for big work machines.  (They think it's a cool hobby, I see it as Physics, so... develop away!)  Every Fall, huge dump trucks and front wheel loaders caravan around our city taking away the piles of leaves left at the curb.  They usually do it at night when there's less traffic and more room to scoop and dump.  My boys have had a lot of up-close exposure to big trucks, so it's not as if they're waiting to see their first live front loader.  But for some reason, it has become monumentally important that we witness the removal of the giant pile of not-our leaves.   

And so, last night, we did.  I heard the back-up beeping, the scraping of metal on the street, and called out, "They're here!"  My husband leapt out of bed and headed for the boys'  room. I checked the clock.  12:45 AM.  (that's AM, in the morning...).  For a while they watched from their window, which looks out over the street.  But (and I knew this would happen) it wasn't good enough.  The guys all went outside to be one with the leaves and the trucks and the night.  No one got back to sleep until about 2:30.  

          (My pictures through the upstairs window.  Well, someone had to stay inside...)

This morning I groggily sipped my coffee and listened to how dark it was, how cold it was, how they could see their breath, how loud it was, how many trucks there were, how you can still see the scrape marks on the street from the claws of the loader, and how when it was all over they fell asleep with Dad in a heap on the couch.  

Was it worth it?  Yes. Will we do it again next year?  Probably.  Because it's one of those things my kids love about Fall.  

p.s.  This afternoon, my oldest colored some paper red, cut it up, whipped up some of his amazing Lego creations, and recreated the scene from last night. (He's pretty awesome that way.) Here it is:

And he's out raking now even as I write, starting a new pile!  

Sunday, November 18, 2012

An Annual Frozen Meal Exchange

How long do you have to do something for it to be considered a tradition or to earn the title "annual" event.  Does five years count?  Or does it lie in the intention to continue for years into the future?  It's probably a combination, right?  In that case, I think I've started a tradition.  It's an annual frozen meal exchange.  And at the risk of sounding prideful, let me just say that I'm proud of this event.  It's truly become one of those favorite Fall activities that I love to look forward to. (to which I love to look forward???  Oh, you prepositions!)

Five years ago I was expecting my second child.  My due date was in late November.  Many of my friends were also expecting their second baby that Winter or the following Spring.  I think some of us felt a sense of  impending doom - the cold, the snow, new babies... "We're never going to see each other again!!"  I recall sitting at my computer, probably some time in mid October, ready to type an email inviting this group of ladies to join me for a holiday cookie exchange in the hopes that we'd get to hang out one last time before Summer '08.  At that time, I had already begun freezing a few meals in preparation for the postpartum fog.  And I knew that the last thing I needed in the house was cookies. It hit me - what if we exchanged dinners???  That was what I really needed.

So we did it!  I invited six other women.  Everyone participated and so we all went home with seven frozen dinners.   We have done it for five years!  I think for three of those years we've had all seven families, and this year was the first time we were down to five.  But, I have every intention of continuing on as long as I have willing participants.

Here are the benefits to participating in a Fall frozen meal exchange:
- You have lot of pre-made meals at an especially busy time of the year (we usually try to do the exchange in the weeks before Thanksgiving).
- You may save a measure of money in buying bulk ingredients for mass producing your particular meal choice.
- You get to serve your family delicious meals that you may not have ever made yourself.  Variety is good, right?
- You may hit upon a great meal that your family likes so much you add it to your own regular meal rotation.
- The participants get to socialize and spend time together while also gathering tons of food to take home to the hungry hordes.  It kind of feels like grocery shopping, only better.  
- And did I mention that you have a lot of pre-made meals in your freezer, ready to defrost (or toss in a crock-pot) and eat whenever you want???

The cons:
- You have a lot of prep and cooking to do at once.  I mean, you are making full meals for for seven families at once :)  (But, you were going to have to cook a meal for your family anyway, why not just make a little lot more of it.)

Let's look at those lists again.  The benefits clearly outweigh the drawbacks.  

So, you want to start a frozen meal exchange?

(Reality check... "Theresa, about 5 people read your new blog.  Three of them are your family members and the other two probably are already part of your meal exchange.  You've had a blog for about week and your inspiration intended for busy moms everywhere is mostly falling on deaf ears...or more precisely, no ears at all.)  Ok, so then for my own benefit, I'll lay it out:

- Invite your participants.  I like seven families.  It's a lot of meals and you're sure to get a good variety.  Don't forget, adding even more families may mean more meals and variety, but it's also more meals that you have to prepare.  It's one thing to be a little crazed and stressed while preparing seven meals, but it's another thing to drop to the floor, unconscious, trying to make meals for 10, 11, 15, however-many families at a time.  
- Choose families of a similar size.  When our group began we all had two adults and one small child.  This year the five participating families (all from the original group) are each up to four children!  The kiddos range from 3 months to 8 years old, and they were all at my house (except for two)!
- Choose families that have similar eating habits and tastes as yours.  Be aware of dietary restrictions and/or allergies and decide if the group will be able to work around them.  It may not be wise to include a family that follows a diet that's not in line with the other families.  However, we have a good example of how this can work... After the first exchange, the husband of my very good friend adopted a fat free vegan diet.  The family still participates though b/c some of the other moms are willing (and able) to adjust their meals to fit his diet, and the meals that are not adjusted are still suitable for the rest of her family.  And - bonus!  We all get to sample and benefit from the fat free vegan meals our friend brings to the exchange.
-Try to dialogue ahead of time about what each mom is going to bring so that you don't accidentally end up with three or four of the same meal.  The meals I've made have been potato cheddar and broccoli soup, beef and bean chili, Mexican chicken casserole, sausage and sauerkraut casserole, and cilantro lime chicken tacos.  Meals from others that I can remember are shepherd's pie, assorted quiches, white chicken chili, beef and barley soup, breakfast burritos, you get the idea.  
- Host the event.  Instruct everyone to being meals in containers they will not need back - plastic gallon bags, aluminum casserole pans, Dollar Store tupperware, etc...  Attach the following info to the meal: what it is, your name, defrost/cooking instructions, and the recipe.  

That's it!  Have fun!  

As I mentioned, I intend to continue our meal exchange for as long as it makes sense for us.  The past five years the meal exchange has been so fun, and it's such a practical way to prepare for the busy holiday season (and to help good friends do the same.)  My only regret is that I haven't taken a picture of the group every year to chronicle the event and the growing families of my friends.  Perhaps that's a new tradition I'll have to start at our Sixth Annual Frozen Meal Exchange.  

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Now Thank We All Our God...

Gratitude is important year round; Thanksgiving Day is one week away.  We spent some school time today considering the things you are most thankful for when you're 2, almost 5, and 6 years old.  I think the things mentioned were fairly standard - what you'd expect to hear from the given age group - food, our home, squirrels, toys, Papa and Grandma.  "Bed" took me by surprise though, as did the accompanying drawing of a bunk bed which we don't even have.  ("Pst.  It's a gratitude exercise, not a wish list.")  

This Thankfulness Turkey has made an appearance in our home for four years now.  (This year, I'm particularly thankful that TWO young participants could write their own items!!  Yay!)  This bird's ancestors (dare I write his forefeathers???  Bad, bad...) were also sporting construction paper feathers of thanks back when I was a kid.  My dad would hang a poster board bird in the kitchen and we'd spend an afternoon decorating our feathers, drinking milk and molasses, and wishing we could draw as well as my dad.  We'd talk about gratitude, too.  I'm pretty sure that every year I wrote that I was thankful for books.  I'm still overwhelmingly grateful for books.  I also remember that every year my dad would express his gratitude for the innumerable freedoms we have as citizens of this country.  And now, that gratitude and the prayerful desire to keep those freedoms, are my own.  

Here is my thankful crew.  I pray that gratitude may always be foremost in our hearts and minds and on our lips.  

Now thank we all our God, with hearts and hands and voices.  

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Go ahead. Ask me what's for dinner.

Go ahead.  Ask me what's for dinner.  It's a question that comes up a couple times a day around here.  It's often part of the breakfast conversation.  Sometimes I know the answer and sometimes I ask myself, "Hmmm... what is for dinner?"

There are seasons of my life when it's very ok to throw together an oatmeal dinner at 5:15 pm.  I won't pretend that it doesn't happen.  Thankfully, all of my old-enough-to-consume-gloppy-food family members like oatmeal.  (Except me.  Too gloppy.  Baked oatmeal, though, that's more my taste.  I mean... consistency.  Whatever.)

On non-oatmeal nights, I sure do relish the sense of accomplishment when at the end of the day we've actually had the dinner that I designated for that particular day.  I keep a very official weekly dinners list on my refrigerator dry erase board.  It becomes somewhat less official when a child erases it and I start to panic, "What was I supposed to make tonight????"  But, there are some weeks where I actually make all the meals I was planning to make and there are leftovers for leftovers night.  It all makes me feel so competent.

Kitchen competency.  It's become a very personal and touchy subject for me.  I'm not a chef or even a chef-type wanna be.  I don't do creative things in the kitchen.  I don't add a little of this and little of that and know that a meal will come out tasting delicious.  I follow recipes, meticulously.  Or I call my mom.  She's very helpful to me; I ask her things like "Can you freeze wine" and "I just found a three-year-old steak in my freezer.  Is it safe to give to the kids or should I test it on my husband first?"  I still have to call my mom to get instructions on how to hard boil an egg.  Even though I have the recipe for it in my recipe box.  I'm not kidding.  It's not my mother's fault that I lack kitchen confidence.  She taught me a lot about baking and cooking when I was younger (and she still does, apparently.)  I recall making muffins from a box mix and trying recipes from a kids cookbook, most notably Hamburger Pie.  And I was there when the one-time lobster splurge went into the pot.  And yet, something must have happened along the way, something I've repressed, because to this day, much of my self worth hinges on whether or not I can make a dinner that my family will appreciate.

I definitely don't have creativity in the kitchen going for me.  But I have other strengths.  Yes, I do.  I can research, plan, and prep with the best of them and I've gotten pretty darn good at producing mass quantities of... well, just about anything.  And a couple years ago my husband got me a gift that says I love you like no other... an upright freezer.  So, my skills combined with that kind of storage capacity... you can see where this is going.

Every Autumn the weather gets cooler and I get "the bug."  It's been coming on gradually the last month or so - a doubled soup recipe here, an extra batch of applesauce tossed in the freezer there.  But yesterday was the transition day - it went from gradual to get-out-of-my-way-it's-full-speed-ahead.  Last night I was on a homemaking high.  With the kiddos in bed at 6:45, and the bottle of Chardonnay my husband brought home, there was no stopping me.  Batches of granola were flying in and out of the oven.  (not a dinner food, but still an important staple around here.)  Multiple casseroles were were packaged up and sent to the freezer.  I put together six gallon-bag Crock Pot freezer meals for friends - I like freezing dinners ahead of time so much, I have a party each year to celebrate this kind of kitchen efficiency.  (Ok, not really a party, but a super great frozen meal exchange!)  This evening I bagged up six more Crock Pot meals to be frozen until the appointed time (to be determined by the dry erase board.)  After this initial flurry of meals, I have three more rounds to go until I rest: (1) soups (2) chili  (3) miscellaneous casseroles.

It feels great.  This is me in my element.  This is what I do to prove my competence in the kitchen.  More importantly, this is what I do to care for my family in a special way throughout the winter.  Meals are available, no wondering what's for dinner, no fuss.  I'm not flustered or distracted during the most critical time of the day (you all know that a perfectly fabulous day can be turned upside-down by those weird things that the 3 -5 o'clock hours can do to children and mothers.)  I can confidently answer "what's for dinner," because I made it many, many weeks ago, and it's written right on the bag.  On any given cold winter evening there is the guarantee that the house will smell amazing, the dinner will be hot, the children will have had plenty of afternoon attention from me, and that I will feel like a homemaker-magician hybrid.

So, go ahead.  Ask me what's for dinner this winter.  It's not going to be oatmeal... I've moved that back to the breakfast cupboard!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Beginning a blog in the midst of my life...

And so I begin… 

with no clear direction or defined purpose other than to consolidate the proof that my ordinary life is a pretty amazing composite of extraordinary moments. 

So, what is Ordinary Lovely?  Today it was my kids raking leaves like it was a privilege instead of a chore, boys racing to observe a grasshopper, a walk in the woods and the genuine fascination we all felt finding trees baring varying degrees of beaver activity, cozy reading at bedtime.  Ordinary Lovely is the simple things that to me, are the important things.  The leaves, the grasshopper, the wood chips, the picture books, and the delight and wonderment of my children - they are the glory of God revealed in a way that I appreciate and in which I can participate.  The awesome glory of God in my everyday life. 

What else is Ordinary Lovely?  It is knowing that life as a wife, homemaker, and home schooling mother does not have to be tedious and uninspired.  It’s keeping this ordinary home and family lovely by the grace of God... and a whole lot of intentional living.  Planning, effort, activities, projects, events… craftiness. 

And what else is Ordinary Lovely?  Consider this: “God’s will is fulfilled in the simplest, most ordinary of circumstances: a woman who gives birth, a family, a home… There is no human situation, no matter how trivial and ordinary it may seem, which cannot be a meeting place with Christ and a step forward on our journey toward the kingdom of heaven.”

-          St. JoseMaria Escriva, Christ is Passing By, No. 22  (emphasis my own)

and this:

“Rest assured that you will usually find few opportunities for dazzling deeds, one reason being that they seldom occur.  On the other hand, you will not lack opportunities, in the small and ordinary things around you, of showing your love for Christ.”

-          St. JoseMaria Escriva, Friends of God, No. 8

And so I begin.  When your inspiration is the simple things, there is so much to look forward to, to learn from, to celebrate.  There is so much fun to be had and so much lovely to uncover in my little old ordinary life.
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