Family Night

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I am married to a Marriage and Family Therapist.  Believe me, this has its drawbacks.  For one thing, he is almost always right.  This can be…unsettling…if I ever wanted him to bow to my unreasonable demands.  Fortunately, I don’t make unreasonable demands.

The other problem comes in that he knows the futility of arguing, and sometimes I just want to indulge in a good argument!  Selfish, really, that he won’t oblige me in this.

Other than that, though, the Counselor’s knowledge and passion for healthy families mostly comes in handy.  For instance, we are currently living with three teenagers.  In spite of the natural trials borne out of this season of life, these young people are relatively well-adjusted, highly capable and mostly pleasant (probably because they’ve grown up with free counseling).  The perspective of a godly man who has worked with people in resolving personal crises–as well as worked through a few crises of his own–is beneficial.

Fairly early in our parenting, Counselor Dave and I determined that we would guard our time together as a family.  We would control our schedules and not allow our schedules to control us.  Over the years, this has required us to make a number of healthy, family-building decisions, some much easier to make than others.   One of the fun, easy decisions we made, following Dave’s lead, was to institute a Family Night.

Initially, we prompted each child, then ages two, four and seven, to suggest a few outdoor and a few indoor things that they really liked to do here at home.  Their suggestions included things like building with Lincoln Logs, watching a family-friendly movie, playing Blind Man’s Bluff and baking cookies.  Dave and I added our own suggestions, and we put all of the ideas into a jar to be drawn out for Sunday Family Nights.

Now that the kids are older, we rotate through the family, each person getting to choose weather-appropriate activities for their turn.  I usually prepare a fun, informal supper, like nachos, burgers or tacos and we quit whatever projects we’re working on by about 5:30 each Sunday evening.  It is a rare exception that we are on the computer or even take a phone call or return a text once Family Night begins.  If a Family Night falls on Mother’s Day or a birthday, then the honored person gets to choose the activity–or sometimes everyone else chooses an extra-special activity for the honored person.

I confess that not everyone is always thrilled with the chosen activity for the night (including myself).  There have been driveway face-plants from bike rides, split lips from Pickle, complaints about Croquet, unending games of Monopoly, cries of “Not fair!” when Daddy vetoes a movie option in favor of an outdoor activity when the weather is nice.  Our Family Nights have not created a perfect family; however, they have created opportunity for intentional time together to build relationships.  Families are the foundation of every society.  If our society is broken, we are reaping the consequences of our families being broken.

Whatever you choose to do this Mother’s Day weekend, I encourage you to make it a family-building activity.  Invest in the people you love.  Guard your time.  Put away your phone.  Plug in to one another.  You may not have family in the area, and you may not have children, but you still have people around you that can be blessed by what you have to offer.  Maybe you know of a broken family that could use a little building.  Maybe now is the time to reach out.

 

Time to Plant

Ahhhh…planting season already.

Sometimes, in my brain, it sounds more like, “Awww…planting season…already”.

Other times, it resembles more of an, “Aaaaaaack!  Planting season!!  Already!”

Regardless of my current personal feelings on the situation, it is, indeed, time to plant in the State of Indiana.

Sigh.

We began putting in cool-weather crops a couple of weeks ago.  We followed up with a second planting of many of them today–beets, sugar snaps, radishes, leafy greens.  We also planted candy onions, kale, turnips, parsnips and kohlrabi.  A rainbow of seed potatoes were put in a week ago, and our rhubarb is coming up nicely.  The broccoli plants my husband started will be ready for the dirt in a week or so.  We should be able to sample our first little harvest of this season’s asparagus tonight.

I struggle to comprehend that it is once again time to plant the produce that it seems like I just finished putting up for winter.  I seem to have lost an entire month…or two.

Lately, I am increasingly aware of how quickly each day passes.  Weeks that used to seem to meander along are now gone in what seems like moments.  I am trying to hold on to the routine, the mundane, the essence of what our life here at home has always seemed to be while still embracing the changes that teenage children bring.

I’ll be honest:  I miss my little ones.  I miss their simplicity and wonder and snuggles.  I miss bedtime stories and tickle times and three meals together each and every day.  I don’t resent the changes that have come with having older children, and I do not wish things were different, but I genuinely miss those days of sticky fingers and blowing bubbles and three sweet kids being scrubbed in the tub.

I am so thankful that I was able to spend my days at home with them.  I wouldn’t change that for the world.  However, if I could do it all over again, I would choose to be even more present in the moment.  I would choose even more long, lazy walks, even more times together bundled up in the snow, more times looking into their eyes and telling them who God has created them to be.  I’d let go of more of the lesser things and hold more tightly to the greater.  I’d play more.  Cherish more.  Ask more.  Pretend more.

Listen more.

I’d commit to less outside of their world and do more in it.

I have never felt like I sacrificed myself when I chose to stay home with my kids.  Instead, I feel like I have been impacted in such a life-altering, faith-building, comfort-zone-stretching way that I am better for my investment in their lives.  They have softened me and challenged me and clarified for me in a way nothing else ever could.  I am seeing glimpses of the harvest in my children, and I am pleased and humbled.  They each shine in their own beautiful way even as they continue to learn and grow and navigate this garden of life.

I am so thankful that I took the time to sow when the soil was ready.  Lord, help me to tend to their fertile hearts with the fruits of Your Spirit.

 

 

Sick Days

Today is the first day in twenty-three days that no one in my family has run a fever or exhibited some new symptom of illness.

Hallelujah!

We are not normally a sick group, but February has been hard on us.  Lingering colds, influenza, stomach yuck.  It’s been a long month.  Due to influenza, my son ran a 102-103 degree fever for seven days.  As soon as the fevers went away, his viral-related asthma kicked in.  For days, he was not able to talk without an ensuing coughing fit.  This morning, for the first time in over a week, I heard him laugh his true, unfaltering laugh.  The cough eventually followed, but there was enough of a delay that he was able to finish his laugh.  I am so thankful.

Over the past few weeks, those of us who are feeling okay have divided up the chores of those who are not.  This has been a fluid thing–one in which we all rotate doing what must be done and try to overlook what can be ignored.  Every day, after the animals have been fed and the breakfast things have been put away, we disinfect the house.  We wash blankets and hand towels and sheets that have lined the couches.  We sanitize light switches and doorknobs and handles and faucets.  I don’t know that it has helped, but I need to do something.

We have canceled plans, mandated rest, drank water, popped pills, choked down apple cider vinegar, smeared vapor rub, mandated more rest, administered essential oils, guzzled vats of bone broth, taken mega-milligrams of Vitamin C and mandated more rest.

We have watched documentaries on a variety of animals, Nellie Bly and The Dust Bowl.  We have listened to most of the Chronicles of Narnia on CD.  We have watched musicals, westerns, fairy tales, action films and episodes of Little House on the Prairie.  We have watched more television in these four weeks than we have in the past six months.

Oh, wait.  One of my children just came and showed me a developing rash.

So much for no new symptoms.

As much of a hassle as this month has been for me, and as disappointing at it has been for us to miss out on so many highly-anticipated engagements, I am thankful.  I am thankful that this has been one cruddy, inconvenient month and not a series of life-threatening crises.  I’m thankful that these illnesses are light and momentary–that we have the modern conveniences to make them bearable–even moderately pleasant.  I am thankful for hot running water and fresh citrus fruits and indoor laundry facilities and television and easy, inexpensive access to fever-reducing medications.

One time, just before my son turned four, we noticed a squishy spot on his skull.  It was a delayed result from a fall he’d had a couple of days earlier.  After a long day of tests, scans and waiting at a local hospital, we were told to take him to a well-known children’s hospital about an hour away.  We were able to drive him ourselves, and we arrived at about 11:30 that night.  The staff was ready for us, so we followed the nurse through the darkened waiting room to get to the exam room.  As worried as I was about my now-sleeping son, I was overcome with gratitude that night.  As we quietly walked past child after chronically ill child, a lump formed in my throat.  These little ones with their bald heads, wheelchairs, IVs and oxygen tanks were regulars.  I could see it in the lines on their parents’ faces and in the resignation in the children’s eyes.  My son, with his one-time head injury was the doctor’s priority when these little ones were fighting for their lives on a day-by-day basis.  For some strange reason, I felt guilty about that.  To be honest, I sometimes still do.

Life is truly a matter of perspective.  Sometimes, I let the fatigue and frustration creep in and steal my optimism and start to eat away at my joy.  Sometimes, I feel like giving up and just giving in to whatever mood is on the horizon.  Then I remember to give thanks.  Oftentimes, gratitude makes the difference between joy and despair in our lives.

Our feelings will almost always follow our focus. 

Yes Appreciation Day

I’m thinking about having a Yes Appreciation Day.  In all actuality, our particular household might need more than one day—maybe as many as a dozen.  Yes, an even dozen.

I feel like I’m being relatively reasonable, mostly accommodating and even somewhat selfless.  All to no avail.  They just want more.  They always. Want. More.

I know I’m not alone in this plight.  I see the slumping shoulders and the resigned-to-martyrdom looks in your eyes.  I hear the whining, nagging and pitiful woundedness in your voices.  We must not resort to such petty behavior!  We must simply band together in a united effort to increase awareness and to prohibit further entitled behavior.

Which brings me to my point:  Yes Appreciation Day.

This will be a day in which there are no yesses.  They will hear no, no, no all day long.  From morning ‘til night, “no” will resound!

“No, I will not provide breakfast this morning.”

“Out of shampoo?  No, I will not buy you more.”

“No, I will not overlook the eyeroll you just gave me.”

“No, no television today.”

“No, you may not use my wheelbarrow to get the four 50-lb. bags of feed out to the barn.  Bundle up!  It’s cold!”

“No, I will not go over dividing decimals with you for the fifth time this month.”

“Sorry, no computer time.”

“No, I will not drive you to work today.”

“Ummm…no, I will not share my chocolate-hazelnut biscotti with you.”

“No, I will not replace the pants you’ve outgrown.  Besides, we may have flooding.”

“Nope.  You may not borrow any of my books today.  Even the one you were reading yesterday that left off at that really good part.”

“You want to run a load of laundry?  Sorry.  No one but me is using any appliances today.”

“You need tape?  White-out?  Scissors?  A stapler?  The printer?  Toothpicks?  Paper towels?  Lotion?  A fork?  Running water?  Sorry…but…no.”

My theory is that if enough of these Yes Appreciation Days are strung together firmly and without any waffling whatsoever, a return to the routine of thoughtful yesses will be much more highly valued.

Wouldn’t that be fun?!

Who am I kidding?

I know that parenting isn’t about fun.  I also know that it isn’t about being liked or disliked.  It isn’t always about yesses and nos, and it isn’t always about teaching someone a lesson.  Sometimes, the person who most needs to learn the lesson is me.

I feel like there’s a lesson I need to learn in this.  What am I taking for granted?  What example am I setting?  When am I keeping score, and what is my goal?  Are my expectations reasonable?  Is there a deeper need that I’m missing, or is this a character flaw that needs exposed…in them or in me?  I don’t always know.

I wish I knew the answers as soon as I needed them.  I wish I didn’t make so many mistakes.  I wish I didn’t hold so tightly to some things, and I wish I hadn’t let others go.

The fact of the matter is that wishing will get me nowhere.

Lord, please give me the wisdom I need to raise these children according to Your plan.  They are so bright!  So amazing!  So helpful and talented and creative and generous!  They are so capable—so completely captivating to my heart.  And they’re human.  Just like their parents, these precious children are incredibly human.  There are times when I’m tired.  And hurt.  And uncertain and insecure.  There are times when I think I will surely burst a blood vessel if I am asked that same question one more time…or if I hear a ridiculous argument erupt again…or if I have to address the fact that the dog’s water bowl is still empty.  Please help me to respond with wisdom and in love.  Not to lash out.  Not to berate.  Not to give up and just ignore bad behavior.  Help me to choose my battles wisely and with eternity in mind. 

And, Lord, like I’ve prayed hundreds of times over the past 16 ½ years, thank You for letting Your grace cover over my mistakes. 

My Favorite Things

I was recently invited to be the guest speaker at a ladies’ tea party.  The event was a community outreach, and the theme was “My Favorite Things”.  Various women in the church hosted a table then invited other women to fill the seats around that table.  Each table was decorated by the host, and guests voted for their favorite table display.  A light luncheon was served along with a variety of hot teas and a hot chocolate bar.  Music was provided by a local group and I was to speak on my favorite things.

I love the idea of this luncheon, because it is so personal for those who are invited.  Each woman is specifically asked to be there as the guest of someone with whom they already have a connection.  The planning committee was warm and gracious, and the atmosphere was relaxed and fun.

In preparation to speak, it was good for me to ponder upon my favorite things.  There is so much of life that I enjoy, but I found it beneficial for me to really meditate on those things that can be considered my favorites.  Because I was asked to keep my presentation between 20 and 30 minutes, I left a lot of things out.  Like my extended family, my pets, getting mail and Alaska.  I had to draw the line somewhere.

Here’s what I came up with:

My husband, Dave.  We celebrated 21 years this month.  He is patient, forgiving and hard-working.  Even though we had some significant trouble early in our marriage, we mostly live at peace now—especially when I resist the temptation to micro-manage him.

My kids.  As of this month, I have three teenagers in my house.  They are fun and funny (and sometimes frustrating).  It is exciting to see them grow in their giftings while learning to manage (or not) their weaknesses.  I see a lot of myself in them…and I see a lot of what I wish I’d done differently.

Our home.  We call it Country Haven, and it is my safe place in the middle of nowhere.  We have big gardens, a few animals, a young orchard, a big front porch and a warm woodstove.  At any given time, there are a dozen (at least) projects in the works, but we keep plugging away.  It is mostly a place of peace—one of the gifts Dave and I most wanted to give to our children.

Food.  I have loved baking since I was a little girl.  I learned to enjoy cooking as a necessity.  Most recently, I have come to appreciate growing and raising our own food as a means to an end.  And then there’s eating.  I have been highly genetically engineered to love to eat.  It’s a family tradition.

Managing my resources.  This may sound strange to some, but it’s true.  I kind of look at my family as my employer.  I manage our resources here at home in order to generate income for our family.  Sometimes the income generated is money for our homeschooling needs; more often the income fuels our bodies with healthy foods.  We work to live within our means, which isn’t always easy, but it sure makes life simpler.  I did not used to love this aspect of adulthood, but I was pleasantly surprised to realize that I now do.  I see it as an answer to prayer.

Naps.  I loved my kids’ naps when they were little, and I love my own power naps now.  Most people are more pleasant when well-rested; I’ve learned that my family prefers me to be pleasant.

Teaching, writing and sharing.  I have done some really dumb things in my life.  Like, seriously dumb things.  I have also done a lot of things that just didn’t work–as well as a lot of things which have.  I like sharing about all of these.  I enjoy encouraging others to focus on their own personal abundance of resources—their talents, abilities, time and money.  I believe that our culture prefers to encourage us to play the victim card, and I believe that recognizing the power of personal choice and responsibility can free a person to be who God has created them to be.  Whether it’s a class on cooking, canning, gardening, saving money, home management or parenting, I like sharing what has worked for me.

Change in seasons.  Each season holds wonder for me, and I embrace each one for what it offers.  Dave threatens to move south when he retires.  I’ll miss him.

Time with friends.  Whether it’s a cup of something hot to drink, long walks, dinner out, chit-chats, laughter, commiseration, heart-to-hearts or even the occasional hand smacks, I treasure my time with friends.  Though I prefer to do the smacking through the leading of the Holy Spirit, sometimes God uses a friend to smack my hand in regard to a particular issue.  This is not always comfortable, but it is necessary for personal growth.  I had my hand smacked over coffee with a friend a couple of weeks ago, and I wrote her a thank-you note.  I want to grow in my faith.  I want to be a better wife and mother and friend.  This is easier to do when I’m willing to take a good, hard look at what I’m doing (or not doing) and measure it against what God has said in His Word.  Sometimes, I find that I’m at peace with my choices; sometimes I find that I need to change something.  I am thankful for friends that speak the truth in love and for the maturity that allows me to weigh their words against the words of Jesus.

Though there are lots of good things in my life, things are not perfect.  I have real struggles with things like broken relationships, addictions, regrets, tight budgets, insecurities and misunderstandings.  Sometimes, I don’t feel appreciated, understood, valued or even loved.  In these times, I struggle with the temptation to focus on the yuck.  Part of me wants to lash out, part of me wants to pull in, part of me wants to somehow even the score.   Sometimes, I just want to check out of the situation altogether and quit trying.

Then I remember Jesus.

I remember the healing He brought to my marriage 18 years ago when we were one signature way from divorce and humbly re-committed our relationship to Him.

I remember the joy He has brought to my life through parenting.

I remember the cycle of abusive, angry behavior He is working on breaking with me.

I remember the times I just didn’t think that I could take one more day of the rejection, the disapproval, the regret.

I remember the times He has looked so deeply into my ugliness, seeing the utter blackness of my darkest thoughts and most hidden moments, and loved me in spite of them.

I remember the obedience of a young couple, the birth of their perfect baby, the patient determination of a carpenter’s son, the cruelty of the cross and glory of the resurrection.

Loving and being loved by Jesus are my most favorite things.

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Doughnut Traditions

It seems that almost all of our family’s special occasions are somehow punctuated by the food we share.  It’s not that we don’t enjoy spending time together or that we don’t value the reason for the holiday; it’s just that the love of good food runs deeply in our family.  I have a nine-year-old nephew who puts every family get-together in the context of the food that is served.  He remembers a beautiful, spontaneous, autumn outing on Summit Lake as “that day when Aunt Trista fixed that chili that I wouldn’t eat” and a certain birthday celebration as his introduction to peanut butter “scream” cake (also known as peanut butter sheet cake).  He gets his love of food honest.

When I was a little girl, I remember family members making a big deal about my maternal grandma’s from-scratch walnut fudge, her crunchy peanut brittle and her fluffy white clouds of divinity.  That stuff was all right for the grown-ups, but I was mesmerized by her cocoa brownie cubes that had been individually rolled in powdered sugar and piled high on a cake stand and her buttery, gooey caramels that had been individually wrapped in wax paper.  In later years, I remember helping my mom to make some of these same sweet treats, and I still continue to make some of them for my little family today.  I have learned to appreciate the focus it takes to get that peanut brittle to just the right temperature and the patience it takes to cut and wrap all of those caramels.  Not to mention the expense of all of that butter!

The memories I associate with my paternal grandmother’s holiday food center more on the savory—namely her turkey & noodles with mashed potatoes.  For a number of years, I completely skipped over the roasted turkey, stuffing (especially if it had oysters in it!!) and cranberry sauce in favor of Grandma’s perfect turkey & noodles.  I still can’t get mine to taste like hers!  Even when I make noodles from scratch, there’s still something not quite right about the consistency.  She was a self-described “pincher and dumper” when it came to measuring, yet her food always turned out heavenly!

My mom has continued the tradition of good food for our family.  Whether it’s angel food birthday cakes topped with whipped cream and toffee bits, Polish mistakes served piping hot at Christmastime, oven-baked porcupines for family dinners or ginger ale with cranberry-juice ice cubes, Mom makes sure that we are fed well and that get-togethers are festive occasions.

One of my favorite food traditions involves making tender cake doughnuts on Thanksgiving morning.  I guess I was probably 8 or 9 when this tradition began with my mom and siblings.  I remember that Dad would often go hunting on Thanksgiving morning and would come home to enjoy the sweet treats Mom left for him under the cake dome.  When I got married and discovered that getting together on Thanksgiving Day was especially important to the Hill side of the family, my mom graciously suggested that we move our family dinner back a couple of days to the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  What a blessing that was to us!  Our crew makes every effort to wake up at Mom’s on that Saturday morning to continue the doughnut-making tradition.  Oftentimes, my brother and my nephews are there to join us when we pull out my mom’s worn Betty Crocker cookbook and turn to the batter-splattered doughnut recipe.  We put in an old Kenny Rogers Christmas CD and make a lot of noise–as well as a lot of mess–in our breakfast production.  We also make a lot of memories.  And, of course, those memories are what are truly the sweetest.

This article was originally published in HER magazine.

 

Focus

It has been a long time since the candidate who held my vote has taken up residence in the White House.  2017 will be no exception.

However, I will continue to respect the office of the Commander-in-Chief.  I will continue to require my children to speak of him with courtesy.  I will continue to pray for him and for his family.  I will ask God to give our new President-Elect wisdom, a spirit of humility and the courage to do what is right.  I will also pray God’s protection over his family–from within and without–as they continue to live under the harsh scrutiny of a very outspoken people.

I give thanks, again, that out of the hundreds of other points on the globe, I was born here–in the land of the free and in the home of the brave.  A place in which most of us can easily afford the luxury of not fighting for our survival.

Let me not lose sight of the fact, Lord, that the world still turns at your command.  You are the King of kings and Lord of lords.  Thank You for being my one true certainty in these uncertain times.  I choose to continue to focus on You.

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