Friday, September 23, 2011

The Desires of your Heart

I realize my children are nearly 11 years apart and most people find that shocking.  So you would think I wouldn't find it particularly shocking when my girlfriend whose youngest just started his senior year this fall announces she is pregnant.  We both struggled with infertility after our son's were born and both assumed after so many years another child was not meant to be.  And while physically that continues to be true for me, apparently God had other plans in mind for her.

It has me thinking about what it has meant to have a second child so many years later.

 On the one hand John and I are the same people, my desire to raise my child and be present in every part of her life is the same as it was when Jake was little.  I am just as committed to seeing my daughter raised in a Christian home and to know the Lord personally as I was with Jake.  My mama bear is still always at the ready and I still let my kids watch too much TV and videos (although now they are dvd's).

On the other hand John and I are completely different people.  We have tried and failed and tried and succeeded.  Our experiences make us wiser and our lives richer.  We have so much more to offer Isabelle than we had to offer Jake.  We are more confident as parents and we are more relaxed.  We know ourselves and we know our children.  We don't care if you think our kids watch too much TV!

Since Isabelle came along things have changed a lot at our house.  And while she wasn't exactly a surprise it was still quite a shock to our lives when she finally arrived.

I had a lot of fear about who I would be with new baby round 2.  While I enjoyed Jake's baby years and childhood very much  I also remember the insecurity and struggles for contentment that went along with those years.  When I thought about having a baby again after so many years both the good and bad memories of those times flooded back.  But I realized I did not have to go back and become the person I was at 23 just because I was a new mom again.  And my needs were very different round 2.  So while I enjoyed MOPS, cloth diapers, nursing and all the other new mommy activities that were part of round 1, I decided not to do them again with Isabelle.  (Yes you can nurse an adopted child, FYI)  Instead I looked at the life I had now and what I needed at this stage.  I needed a child that could be mobile because we were a busy family and I had come to value the array of friends I had with children at every stage of life.  Plus my siblings were now having babies and round 2 I got to share parenting with them.

I also worried about having to let go of my dreams.  Did having a baby mean everything I had worked for and dreamt about for the past 11 years would be put off or never experienced? I did end up letting go of the real estate we owned and managed when Isabelle was born and I second guessed that decision for the first few years afterward but I have come to realize what a blessing that was as we sold right before the real estate bubble burst and avoided getting stuck with a very large backward mortgage we couldn't pay.  On the other hand not only did I get to hold on to my dream of doing mission work in Africa, I got to take a 4 year old to Kenya!  And while the idea of being empty nesters at the ripe old age of 41 had its appeal I have no regrets about raising children to the riper old age of 52.  This was clearly God's plan all along.

So while I am certain this baby will significantly change my friends lives I know it won't change them and while their dreams may have to be altered slightly in the end God's plans will be even better than they imagined.

Once upon a time, my friend, we prayed together that God would give us the desire of our hearts, another baby, and here we are in our old age seeing God answer those prayers in amazing ways.  We are blessed.

Delight yourself in the LORD;
And He will give you the desires of your heart.
Psalm 37:4

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Cooking Lessons

OK I have covered my thoughts on lots of different things here but I don't think I have given a cooking lesson so today you get my cooking philosophy.

I believe there are 2 kinds of cooks: artists and scientists.

Scientists follow the recipe exactly.  My mom is a scientist.  I laughed one afternoon as I watched her pull out her cookbook and study the recipe for a dish she had made at least once a week for most of my life. Scientists scrape the top of the measuring cup perfectly level before dumping in the flour and level out the liquids on the counter to make sure they are putting in exactly 1/2 cup of water before pouring it in.  They do what the recipe tells them to and expect the experiment which is cooking to produce the results the book promises.


I am more of an artist.  Recipes are nice but they are more like concepts.  They produce inspiration but do not necessarily need to be perfectly followed.  Measurements are approximates and can be eyeballed for the sake of saving washing more dishes.  My mom and I are hilarious in the kitchen together.

Here are a few meals I would consider to be concepts.  You take the original thought but you can go anywhere with it.

Pizza:  Just ask yourself what carbohydrate do I have in my house to make a base?  Tortillas, English muffins, crackers.  What saucy type stuff do I have for a sauce? Spaghetti sauce, hoisin, pesto, Alfredo, salsa.  What veggies or meat can I toss on top?  What did I have for dinner last night?  Taco meat, chicken, steak, stir fry, and anything that comes out of the garden, put it on the pizza.  Toss cheese on top, or don't that is good too, and you have a meal.

Meatloaf:  Just mix any old combination of some sort of bread, seasonings and veggies and put it in a loaf pan.  Think themes like taco, pizza, shepherd pie, garden veggie, etc.  And just toss whatever would go with those themes into your ground beef, turkey, chicken or pork.  Or a combination of those meats.  Be sure there is some sort of binder like an egg and some sort of carb like crackers, potatoes or corn flakes.  But really there are no rules, just go for it.

Tacos:  recently a friend said she had great fish tacos somewhere and wished they had the recipe. A recipe for tacos?  I asked her what was in them.  Fish, mango salsa, cabbage, cilantro.  It sounded good so I made it that night, I happen to have those ingredients on hand.  I just fried up my favorite fish, no breading just toss it in a little olive oil, sprinkle a little of your favorite seasoning (salt, pepper, cumin since it was tacos, whatever), chopped up the cabbage and cilantro and defrosted some frozen mango which I tossed in my store bought salsa.  Voila the recipe.  Don't over think here.  Just do it.

We had a couple favorite meals from Kenya that we have developed at home.

Rice and beans.  Cook up rice, open a couple cans of beans (we like red but have used black as well).  We cook up a chopped onion before adding the rice and beans then add your favorite seasonings, for us garlic and curry go in there and balsamic vinegar.  Stir fry until warm and serve.  delicious.  I have also modified it using frozen veggie fried rice from trader joes, some sesame oil and rice wine vinegar with beans for a more Asian flavor or adding more Mexican spices and a little salsa with the black beans for a south of the border feel.

They serve a lot of cooked cabbage in Kenya which we just loved.  It seemed like it must be more complicated than it looked but cabbage is pretty cheap so we just bought some, red and green, chopped it up and tossed in in the skillet with a little olive oil and salt and pepper and waited until it looked like Kenyan cabbage.  Turns out it really is that simple.  Just like we remember it.

The Hot Dish (that is what we call a casserole in Minnesota) is a lost art.  Possibly for good reason but in a pinch it is handy.  Simply take your favorite meat, or the meat you have on hand, some rice, a bag of your favorite frozen mixed veggies and a can of cream of...soup.  Mix it all together, add a little water.  Sprinkle the top with croutons or bread crumbs or tater tots or something like that, a little cheese if you must and pop in the oven.

Finally, as I am learning to simplify my meal time I am thinking back to the old fashioned meat and potatoes meals of my childhood and updating them Melanie style.  So we just look for our favorite meat on sale, Pork tenderloin, chicken, beef, pork chops, ribs, etc.  And simply cook them up.  Pop them in the oven with a little seasoning on top, toss them on the grill, or fry them in a skillet with simple seasonings.  Don't look for a recipe, when in doubt salt and pepper go a long way.  Or toss them in a marinade ahead of time.  A marinade is just an acid, a base and some seasonings mixed together.  So oil, vinegar and garlic or some variation on that theme.  don't worry about amounts just keep them balanced and remember you are going to toss the marinade so who cares what the amounts are. Then I add a big salad, I keep a giant bowl of lettuce in my fridge that I cut up once a week so a salad is always a moment away or a veggie or maybe even potatoes and I have a delicious but simple meal.  And actually my kids seem to like this a little better than when I mix a bunch of ingredients together and use too many sauces.

OK so now you know I am a little crazy in the kitchen but don't be afraid to join me!  Tonight, go into your fridge and throw together a meal with whatever you have on hand.  There is a delicious meal in your fridge just waiting to be discovered.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Vision for the next Decade

"Once you have mastered time, you will understand how true it is that most people overestimate what they can accomplish in a year -- and underestimate what they can achieve in a decade!" --Anthony Robbins

As I was thinking about time management this past week I came across this quote and can't stop thinking about it.  How true that I try to do everything in one year but don't value the process of all I could accomplish in a decade.  It is particularly profound as we look to this next decade as a time we do hope to accomplish quite a bit.  Much more than we could ever hope to accomplish in one year.  And as we look at each year separately it doesn't really look like we will be accomplishing much in any one given year.  But put them together and a decade from now John will be a practicing Physician's Assistant, we will have paid off our debt and I will once again be a happy homemaker.

Why didn't we do this when we were younger?  Why didn't John go to school 20 years ago instead of now half way through our working years?

I have been thinking about this and I have come to realize it is all about vision.  We just didn't have the vision to accomplish such a long term project 20 years ago.  We had the vision for what we wanted from life but didn't necessarily value the steps necessary to accomplish those goals.  We wanted instant success and an instant life.  We had the enthusiasm for the moment but lacked the vision to see something through long term.

My mom, who is just full of quotable quotes, often says, "you can't skip steps".  So true.  When we were younger we just didn't value the process.  We wanted to get to the end not realizing the end was only of value because of the process we went through to get there.

Success is sweet and sweeter if long delayed and gotten through many struggles and defeats.

-Amos Bronson Alcott

I have learned over the past 20 years that,  “Victory is won not in miles but in inches. Win a little now, hold your ground, and later, win a little more.” --Louis L'Amour.  One victory at a time.  One step at a time.  When we were younger we wanted to rush into adulthood.  Wanted to rush into our career, family life, and financial success without taking the steps necessary to accomplish our goals.  We thought we had forever to plan for retirement and so cashed out our 401K's whenever we left a job in our 20's.  Then we thought we could build wealth quickly in our 30's and read lots of real estate books that assured us of that truth.  None of them mentioned the bubble bursting on housing values.  Finally at 40 we have come to see the real truth.

"Studies indicate that the one quality all successful people have is persistence. They're willing to spend more time accomplishing a task and to persevere in the face of many difficult odds. There's a very positive relationship between people's ability to accomplish any task and the time they're willing to spend on it." --Dr. Joyce Brothers.

I must admit that while I feel very enthusiastic and optimistic about this task before us right now I am also very fearful.  We are at the beginning of a long process.  3 months into my working and 1 month into John's schooling we have barely scratched the surface of this very big task ahead of us.  A year from now we will have only just begun, we will be far from finished.  Will my enthusiasm and vision for this task still be as strong?

"Don't let the fear of the time it will take to accomplish something stand in the way of your doing it. The time will pass anyway; we might just as well put that passing time to the best possible use." --Earl Nightingale

One of my big lessons from Kenya is to be present in each moment without worrying about the next.  I try to remind myself of this in the busy and overwhelming tasks of life.  Be present at work, be present with my family, be present in whatever task I am doing or whoever I am with.  I think as we go through these next 6 years that will be my focus, not looking at the 6 years but at this moment.  What am I doing in this moment?  What is God accomplishing in my life or through me right now and how can I join Him?

Rather than spending the next 6 years only looking at the end goal and getting frustrated with how long it is taking to get there I am going to try to sit back and enjoy the ride.  Enjoy this first transitional year not being involved in any outside activities but just enjoying the family.  Looking into the next few years to see where God will turn my attention and allow me to invest my time and enjoying the process of life and the victory that comes with long term accomplishment.

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.--I Corinthians 15:57

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Finding my way toward the end of the tunnel

Yes.  I am still working.  Can you tell by my lack of posts?  My mind was so full of inspiration 6 months ago.  I was wise and deep and growing and learning.  Now my mind just gets through the surface thoughts and survives.  It is all I can do to keep up with the necessities of the day to day of life let alone attempt any new thoughts or tasks.

Which brings me to the main thought I have in my free time:  How to organize my life so I have more free time.

Basically I have come to the conclusion that I cannot leave my entire life on hold until the weekend because that just makes the weekend no fun and then I can't wait to get back to my nice neat organized desk at work where I know what to do and how to do it and at the end of the day I feel like I accomplished something because at home I never feel like I get on top of anything but just keep bailing.  This is not working for me.  I don't want a life where work seems more appealing that being at home.

I have determined to step away from all responsibilities and say NO to all proposed responsibilities that come into my life this year.  I literally had a pencil in my hand at Isabelle's school open house while standing over some sign up sheets and having an argument in my head about why I should or should not write my name down.  Oh how I desperately wanted to help with the monthly art masterpiece program or at least sign up to help the kids off the bus on the first day of school.  But NO! I put the pencil down and walked away.

I did not go to a long term planning meeting at church this weekend but I am sure the church and women's ministry specifically will continue on without me.  I hope.  Yes I believe.  I think I do.  I am pretty sure God will call someone else to step up.  Probably.  Either way, I am not planning anything this year!

I am stepping away from outside responsibilities in my life.

But I still need to clean my house, do the laundry, keep up our checkbook, buy groceries, make meals, snuggle with Isabelle, listen to Jake and spend time with my husband.  And while I can and am sharing some of those responsibilities, the truth is I love doing them and don't want to delegate them completely away.

So this week I picked up 3 books at the library on time management.  Like home organization, time management basically is a one trick pony wrapped in different packages.  Or more clearly, they all say the same thing.  You need to consider the various areas of your life and be present in each of them.  One at a time.  Don't just react to what comes your way but sit down, look at your responsibilities and decide when you will do each task.  Etc, etc.  I summarized them for John over dinner on date night.  He is also struggling with managing all the tasks before him.

But we march forward.

I have decided that I need to nightly update the checkbook so I am not stressed at the end of the week wondering if we still have money.  I am ordering groceries online each week, just the basics but enough so we always have something to eat.  We have discovered if there is food in the house we don't eat out even if I haven't planned a specific meal.  Interesting. We have talked to Jake about adding some activities in his life so he isn't spending all day hanging out at home which causes me mental stress.  And I continue to remind myself to prioritize exercise and good food choices which so significantly improves my health, energy levels and mental state.  And I ordered some new shoes online which if they fit may revolutionize my life.

I am still working on how to make the bathrooms and floors magically clean themselves. And I have no idea when I am going to buy fall clothes as the season changes or how I am going to Christmas shop.  But I am seeing tiny lights at the end of the tunnel and believe that before long my weekends will belong to me and I will be thrilled to spend them with family, friends or doing other social activities without any concerns about the tasks that await me at home.

Until then I give myself grace.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Where is a set of bagpipes when you need them?

My son has a Kilt. He is officially a Festy. (Festy: a person who gets so into the Renaissance Festival they attend regularly in full costume.)

I am sure somewhere in the mix of heritages that represent the mutts that are John and I someone was Scottish and wore this particular tartan.

And today, as he is every weekend during August and September, he is out at the fest wearing this costume while yelling at people to buy stuff.

I am so proud.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

School is in session

After a summer of transition for me and anticipation before our new life began we are finally here.  John and Jake started at Normandale Community College 3 weeks ago and Isabelle started 1st grade this past week.

Jake started his Senior year of High School and his Freshman year of College all on the same day.  He tried to sneak off without pictures but John had been charged with the task of photographing his first day for me and he would not be deterred.

I was almost bursting with love for my two boys as I saw them sitting at the table that week both doing homework.

They have totally different schedules and while they are both taking Freshman English it is like they are taking 2 totally different classes as their assignments are so different.  Jake's classes are still your basics, Spanish, English and Calculus.  While John is taking some classes that have been great for conversations at our house.  Along with the English class and pre-college math he is taking Psychology and World Civilizations, both of which have been fun to hear about and talk about.  We actually talk about these things all the time anyway but how fun to get conversation starters from his teachers about the way our brains develop or what influenced the development of our modern society.  Date nights are just that much more interesting these days.

This past week the final member of our house started school.  I went into work late and left early on Tuesday to be there and capture the first day of 1st grade.

It was going to be a perfect morning where I got up and got dressed, made a big breakfast, read a devotional, prayed for Isabelle, took many photos of her in the backyard and then drove her to the school for more pictures and the launching of my baby girl into full day school.

It started off like that but just after getting dressed Jake starts running around looking for his keys.  Then after going out to check he comes in and announces he locked the keys in the truck.  Suddenly my leisurely morning went into high gear as I threw together Isabelle's first school lunch without any love, didn't even make myself a lunch, realized as we were putting the lunch in the backpack that the teacher had told us at the open house there was homework in the packet she was giving us, ripped open the packet to discover she is supposed to bring her 5 favorite books, quickly grabbed them off the bookshelf, wrote her name in them and tossed everyone in the car to get Jake to class on time.

We did have a couple minutes before Isabelle's school started so we stopped at Caribou for a slice of Lemon poppy seed bread.  The breakfast of champion sugar rushed students.

When we got to school I realized I hadn't had my time to pray for her so much to her dismay I prayed for her as we rushed across the parking lot to find her class.

She was nervous when we first arrived but I finally manage to get her to pose for a decent first day of school photo.  That is really all I ask for.

I did get home with plenty of time to spare in the afternoon and was there to greet her off the bus.

And get a picture of my now official 1st grader.

We then went inside for our usual after school tea party.  John and Jake joined us.  It was great.

There are still plenty of transitions ahead for us.  John's work is slowing down and finding time to do what work he has while learning to be a student has been challenging.  Jake on the other hand has lots of free time in his schedule and helping him utilize that free time to accomplish all that needs to get done this year rather than fritter the time away has been a focus this past week.  And Isabelle has come home exhausted each day and has crashed in front of the tv for the rest of the day.  Probably not the best long term plan for her evenings.

Overall we feel great about how everything is going.  Life is definitely very different than it was 6 months ago but different can be good and while I think we have a good 6 months or more before "normal" will be a word we are comfortable using to describe our day to day life we are definitely on the right path.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Melanie's Must Read list #2

When John and I were dating and first married we both worked for a wholesale Christian book distributor.  I sat at a desk next to John's mom doing the accounts receivables while she did payables and John worked in the warehouse pulling and shipping orders.  You would think this would have resulted in quite a collection of Christian books but I was in high school and quit just a few months after we got married.  If I worked there today I would be in trouble.

One year at the company's national conference I found myself sitting in on one of the writer's talks.  Emilie Barnes.  She had written some home organization books and while I don't remember much of what she said I remember her sharing a tip for spinning lettuce.  Put it in a delicates bag and spin it in the washing machine.  I was18 and then, as now, I thought that was an insane idea.

None-the-less I noticed one of her books, "The 15 Minute Organizer", on my Mother-in-Law's bookshelf shortly after we got married and asked to borrow it. She never saw the book again.

I literally read this book once a year for the first 10 years we were married, maybe more.  She helped me understand how to organize my storage space, kitchen, bathroom, closets, my kid, garage sales, etc.  And how to clean them out and purge, purge, purge.  Unfortunately in one purging session a couple years ago I purged this book, one of only about 2 or 3 things out of the hundreds I have purged which I have regretted getting rid of over the years.

While I don't know if you can still buy this book in bookstores you can definitely still get books written by Emilie Barnes.  She has broadened her writing outside of home organization to wonderful devotion books and another of my favorites, "If Teacups Could Talk".  A wonderful book about the relaxing and connecting nature of tea with lots of different tea party ideas.  I should be doing a whole post about this book I love it so much.  While the book is about tea it's not about just tea.  It is really about spending time with people, really stopping and connecting, relaxing, making your guests feel special.  Or sitting down by yourself for a cup of tea and taking care of yourself for a few moments.  Not just the sitting down but the whole process of making and serving tea is a ritual that is part of the tea experience.  It has inspired me to share many special cups of tea with family and friends and I am thankful for the tradition of tea which she added to my life through this book.

Your library reading assignment of the week:  Get a book by Emilie Barnes.

Monday, September 5, 2011

My Minnesota version of a Kenyan Experience

As some of you may recall, a couple years ago we were in Kenya.  On a tourist day we visited Nzambani Rock.  It was definately a significant event in my life as I forced myself to overcome my fear of heights and climb the 6 stories of rickety metal stairs to reach the top.  About 2 stories up I turned around to go back down only to see one of our fellow team members behind me with a look on her face that was clearly saying she was also panicking and would not be able to move out of my way.  I turned around told John I was not going to take my eyes off his back and he better not stop moving until we got to the top.  On your mark, get set, GO!

It wasn't easy but it was worth the view.

Two years later I don't think about climbing that rock too often but on Saturday I was thinking a lot about it.  We were at the State Fair with Isabelle enjoying our usual favorite foods and activities.  One of the things we have always enjoyed when we bring the kids is the DNR building.  As we walk over Isabelle sees the fire tower and announces we need to go up there. 

So John and Isabelle get in line and I follow behind.  It is coincidentally also a 6 story climb up metal stairs, although not nearly as rickety having been fully restored just a couple years ago after being closed for many years.  As we stood in line I continually told myself I was not going with them.  I mean I had conqured that fear and I had nothing to prove.  Besides this was not a once in a lifetime experience and if I have regrets there will be many more opportunities to climb the DNR tower again.  Good so that is settled.  Then literally as we are standing next in line I suddenly announce I am going to go for it!  I took the lead and sprinted up the stairs arriving at the top before I could realize what I was doing.

Worth it.

But I forgot how much the thighs burn after going up and down 6 flights of stairs!

Having added a new tradition to our state fair trip we proceeded to enjoy our other usual traditions:

 Another wonderful day at the Great Minnesota Get Together.