Bring Your Own Blessing

Another blogger this week asked the question: What feeds your soul?

My Answer:

The stillness of a lake high in the mountains, a rushing creek, the rise and fall of the ocean's breath, white sand, swaying tree tops, the laziness of a sticky summer evening, ice-cold water (and central air!), the autumn sun as it tints the color-streaked trees, crunchy leaves, open windows, the first snowfall of winter, the sharp, breath-taking chill, a crackling fire, the hopefulness of spring, daffodils, the birds returning with their simple melodies, the excitement buzzing around the changing seasons and the joy and laughter of my children through it all.

Creation, in all its amazing forms, feeds my soul and I am reminded over and over and over by magnificent, little things to stop, hush, and simply be thankful.

What blessings feed your soul?


Chicken Prayers

Random fact: Not only is there a Chicken Bristle, Kentucky but there is also a Chicken Bristle, Illinois.

Just thought that was, um, interesting....

Recently, I have been spending some time rethinking prayer. Mostly because my mom's group at church is reading a Mother Teresa book and the first section is on prayer. At any rate, for years our bed-time prayer has gone something like this (adding children/pets as they enter our lives):

Jesus tender, shepherd hear me, bless this little child tonight.
Through the darkness, be down near me, keep me safe till morning's light.
God bless Daddy and Mommy, Aidan, Madeline, Lillian, Liam, Solomon, Leroy, Little Sally Dot and all my friends and loved ones. Help me be a good little boy/girl. Praise in Jesus' name. Amen.

I'll even admit that when I am tired and don't know where to begin my own nightly prayers, that is how I start. It only makes sense since it is basically the same prayer I grew up with. I like to think of it as my comfort-prayer. You know, like comfort-food only less fattening. Recently I started leaving space for the kids to tell God what they are thankful for. The first night, after Lily thanked God for the water in the water towers, I put little Liam in his room and he demanded a shot at praying by himself. His prayer went something like this (well this is what I heard over Aidan's and my snickering anyway):

Jesus tend night. And bless night. Aidan, Lily, Solly-mun, Aidan.....Malin, Lily....and, and cat and fish, the fish that not dead, and tank-ew for Grandma and Papa and Nanna and Nunnu and Offah, and iPod Touch, and snacks, aaaaand the bus driver. Amen.

Kids rock.
Have a great weekend!


B.Y.O.B.: Sweet, Fleeting Moments

At the Apple Orchard:

A very photogenic Lily

What is Liam doing?

My Book-end Boys

Now THAT is a big tractor!

She really did wear white knee-high socks under her shiny black boots..... 

Which blessings have captured your attention this week?


School: Week 1

The first week of school flew right on by us. My goal this year is to stay on top of things better by being more organized and planning ahead. Here are some highlights of the perfect (albeit not-so-breezy) start.

Monday: The girls are ready by 7 a.m., about the last time Aidan is seen hugging the toilet. The poor guy missed day one due to the tummy-bug but after eight hours in front of the TV and gaming devices, he seemed no worse the wear. Solomon woke with green goop flushing out of his eyes. I cancel my gym appointment. No worries, there's always the lake in need of walkers! I am amped: we are going to have a great year!

I get home from dropping the girls off at the bus stop (where Lily told me she couldn't WAIT for nap time), get Liam ready for his bus and after he chases Solly with the broom for a few minutes, he is off to his first day of preschool.

After walking with a friend (a walk that included me running a quarter mile back home to get the tire pump so that I could blow up ALL.THREE. FLAT.TIRES on my jogging stroller....why I didn't notice that BEFORE we started, I'll never know), taking lunch to Kurt at work, and quickly coming up with a short devotional to lead at mom's group that afternoon, I pick Liam up from school, go to mom's group and then head to the grocery store (an adventure that included taking Liam to the bathroom where I stuffed his free cookie in my pocket while he went....why, Karen, why?) before picking the girls up from the bus stop. Phew....day one is half way done and I feel like I'm running my second marathon of the day!

Later in the evening, the kids start swim lessons. Liam keeps getting out of the water to ask me to come help him while Solomon squirms himself into a ball of sweat. Meanwhile, Lily won't get in the water past her feet (kicking, screaming, clawing when they try to take her) so after 40 minutes, I finally bite the bullet and walk over to ask the supervisor for advice. At that same moment, the very end of class, each of the kids gets to jump into the water into the arms of the instructor. Right as I am telling the supervisor my kid is too scared to get in the water for some reason (what should I do?), Lily happily jumps from the edge and splashes her way back to the side.....REALLY LILY? You sit there the entire 45 minutes acting like you are scared to death of the water and then somehow feel perfectly safe jumping in off the side? The supervisor asks, "You mean that little girl in pink jumping from the ledge right now?" ARGH! I might as well have taken Lily into the car mechanic and told them she was squeaking whenever I put on the brakes! She'll do better (read: cooperate) next time, I'm just sure of it (partly because we threatened to take away dessert for the rest of her childhood, or something like that, if she doesn't.....)

By bedtime, I have come down with a bad cold (thank you Solomon for those big, sloppy kisses and the heat seeking germs you sneezed onto my eyeballs!) I feel terrible.

Tuesday: We are up a little late since I am dragging from the Ny-quil I took last night. Not quite functioning up to normal standards, I pour soy sauce on Madeline's waffles....in my defense, the soy sauce and syrup containers, side by side in the fridge door, are awfully easy to get mixed up when one is in a hurry.
After salvaging the few bites that didn't get doused, she finishes eating and I still manage to get the kids to the bus stop with 20 minutes to spare. (This "getting organized the night before" thing really seems to be working!) As we wait, for the bus the kids and I talk about their new school gear. I was pointing out the hidden pockets in Aidan's super cool backpack when I noticed he was trying to secretly charge his DSi which he was trying to smuggle onto the bus. (We have rules against this which apparently he has forgotten from last year when he lost the DSi for an entire month for the same violation.) I take the game system away, claiming ownership for the rest of the week as a warning. If it happens again, it will be two months plus extra chores. We both smile about it, for obviously very different reasons.

On my way in from the bus stop, I notice the growing donation pile in my hallway and remember there is more to get rid of down in the basement. I go down to grab those items and remember I need to put the clothes in the dryer (also in the basement). Being in the laundry room reminds me I need to wash Aidan's blankets and sheets from the day before when he was sleeping on the bathroom floor, snuggling with the toilet in the wee hours of the morning. As I gather the laundry, I remember him telling me that he was eye level with at least a half dozen spiders. I grab the rags and clorox and go to work cleaning and sanitizing, silently thanking Aidan for forcing me to clean a bathroom that has gone unnoticed for far too long. I head back upstairs to throw away all the trash, forgetting to take up any of the donation stuff I had gone down for in the first place. So much for being more organized! It's only 9 a.m. though so plenty of time left to CLEAN MY ENTIRE LIFE UP before walking the lake with my friend....but then it continued....

After my walk and a brief visit to the garden, I feed Liam his lunch and take him to school, so very happy that we are right on time (and not ten minutes late like I was with Lily most of last year.) I grab Solomon and then go to get Liam out of his seat only to find he has taken his shoes off.....at. the. house! Taking a deep breath, I put Solly back in the truck and drive back to the house to get his shoes and socks. He's ten minutes late when I finally sign him in. Now I'm ten minutes late to my run with a neighbor (yes, I know, second workout of the day.....what can I say? I got excited about the freedom!)  I zoom home to get Solly in the jogging stroller. I'm back on track now, or so I tell myself. We do a 5 mile-ish jog while Solly sleeps. Unfortunately, he awakes before I get my shower so I clear the bathroom of the most common baby magnets (trash can, extra toilet paper rolls, plunger, etc.) and put him on the floor to play with some cars. When I get out, Solomon is sitting in the middle of a HUGE pile of toilet paper; he had unraveled the entire roll on the wall. (See my last post.) Apparently I missed that one. The day is much smoother after that, although Aidan lost his lunch box at school (yes, day one for him and he's already down one lunch box....and his water bottle...).

Wednesday: Life didn't quite go as planned yesterday but no worries, I am going to make up for it today. Kids at school, workout, groceries, clean house (again), pick up kids, prep for swimming (Kurt took them and with treats hanging over her head, Lily did in fact swim, of course), go teach lessons, check, check, check, check, check.....the only snag, Aidan couldn't find his lost lunchbox. I threaten to make him eat school lunch everyday if he can't find it. We'll see how that plays out.

Thursday: Everything is going very smooth now that I am adjusting to such a quiet house....outside of trying to sweep while feeding Solly his bottle (one handed sweeping is an acquired skill), I can't complain. I even went to Home Goods and got some shopping done (a new Bialetti stovetop espresso maker to replace our old one and a few Christmas gifts) Oh, and Aidan left his second lunchbox on the bus.....Week one and he has now lost TWO lunchboxes. That settles his lunches for some time now....he can choose to use the extra princess lunchbox or just eat the hot lunch. Hee hee hee.

Friday: House is clean, kids are at school, Solomon is sleeping, good friend just left after a couple hours of coffee, chatting and testing the Chocolate Zucchini Cupcakes I made last night. We plan a sewing get together for next month as I dream of all I might get accomplished with only a kid or two around. (On deck: borrowing a food processor to make another couple batches of pesto with the basil I salvaged before the frost hit yesterday! Somehow it doesn't seem right that we are already in the 30s at night! Yikes!)

All in all, this has been a great beginning to what looks like a terrific year! (So long as I don't ever get sick and nothing out of the ordinary happens....of course, the ordinary includes a whole lot of craziness in this house!)

Have a great weekend!


Toilet Paper Chicken

Toilet Paper Chicken - A sign of a slightly dysfunctional share house. The toilet paper has run out and everyone [complains] about it but there has been no agreement to take it in turns to buy more and no conversation occurs to resolve the situation. The person who bought the last packet flat out refuses to buy more out of principle so it is a game of chicken between the remaining housemates to see who gives in first and buys some more. --from the Urban Dictionary 

(Seriously, that must be a guy thing....)

Being a mom of young children requires that you navigate your way through what used to be seemingly simple things. You know those things we all take for granted....like showering for instance? Have you ever tried to sneak in a quick shower when you have a mobile and highly curious eight month old baby?

I have learned over the years that the simple act of showering with children under foot takes a very calculated effort. But even when fairly well thought out, it can still go very, very wrong.

Take today for instance. I planned to shower when Solly was sleeping but since he didn't cooperate, I went to plan B. I prepped the bathroom, putting everything he'd be interested in up high:
Trash can, check
Plunger, check
Extra toilet paper roll holder, check

And then I put him on the floor with a few toy cars so I could hop in the shower.....

But I forgot one little detail....

Solomon found it....

 ...and it made him very happy....

 ....so happy he wanted more.

(Ew! Is that the toilet brush??? How did I miss that?! ICK!)

The little stinker!
 I think he is daring me to put a new roll on...No way Solly, you used it up, you do it.....
(Somehow I think I he's got the advantage here....darn diapers!)


As We Remember: September 11

As we remember....
As we remember, may the heavens open wide, replenishing us.

As we remember....
As we remember, may our honor, strength and courage endure, uniting us.

As we remember....
As we remember, may God also remember His creation,
holding it,
healing it,
guiding it,
saturating it
with His grace, love and peace,
forever changing us.


In the Garden

I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses,
and the voice I hear falling on my ear, the son of God discloses.
--Miles, C. Austin

Well, ok, so there are no roses in my backyard garden and I almost never make it out there before the dew has burnt off and I am pretty certain that the voices I hear are that of five little children screaming at me from the deck because "he pushed me" "because she annoyed me" and "mom, can I have the iPod" and "me want toast!" (The only thing God is disclosing in these moments is that I really need to teach them how to weed more and fight less and perhaps use proper grammar!)

But alas, I do frequently go out to my garden alone. I like to dig my hands in the gritty dirt and really feel the earth. I like to watch the little seeds grow from seemingly nothing into great big plants and overtaking, jungle-like vines. I admit, I love my garden shoes my mom bought me for my birthday and I jump at the chance to put them on for a bit.....Sloggers 5102BK09 Women's Midsummer Garden Shoe, Size-9, Black  And I absolutely LOVE, and by love I am talking about the giddiness of a child in the candy shop with a grandparent whose last words they hear are "whatever you want dear," I LOVE when it is time to harvest.

Well, YEEEEE-HAW and hallelujah! It's harvest time.

I have to admit, this year has been a little disappointing. The weather has been odd (which basically means it has been normal for Minnesota although those of us living here always like to pretend that "this is so unusual" for any given time of year.) The summer was cooler or drier or wetter or something (I am not 100% sure because we were gone for so much of it.)

But, the tomatoes did very poorly (I say this as I am weeding full-fledge tomato plants out of the garden that came up while I was in Florida....from seeds still hanging around from last year's crop!) The few corn stalks we planted out-and-out died (apparently even corn needs water, who'd've thought!) Two of our apple trees didn't grow any apples....again. Most of the peas I planted never bore any peas. One of my zucchini plants gave me two humungous zucchinis and then withered away into nothingness (from dust to dust.....) Fortunately, the other zucchini plant made up for it by creating new shoots and taking over the middle of the garden. Now if it would just keep up the veggie-bearing.....but I believe the days are numbered.

At any rate, not including the spinach and lettuce that we ate in abundance early on, the big winners this year are:

1) Kale....I am the only one who really likes it (think kale-chips, sauteed kale, soy-sauce drenched kale, etc.) but since even the garden pests avoid eating it, the kale has been a HUGE success in my opinion.
These plants are almost as tall as Liam, not that that says too much but still. They are enormous!

2) Brussel sprouts....they have been super fun although no one seems to want to eat them either. Madeline requested that we grow them because she used to eat them up, yum. But alas, they are apparently more fun to grow than to eat!
 See if you can find the fuzzy caterpillar on the plant....it's like a "where's waldo" picture....ok, maybe not, but Fuzzy is in there, I assure you.

3) Green beans....these are the super delicious beans my mother-in-law gave me last year (and if I am correct, her father grew them in Italy and brought them here and she has been growing them from seed each year ever since, but I might have that story wrong so don't quote me...) I planted far more seeds than we got plants but we are finally harvesting too many green beans to actually eat so it all worked out. (Thanks Mamma Maria....these are "proven winners" with the kids, too!)

4) The vining fruits are coming into their own and we can't wait to try them! I am giving them instant winner status this year just because they are so cool to watch grow! Have you ever seen a canteloupe change from a green hanging bulb into the fruit we see in the store? It is really cool!

Here is a sampling of one day's pick a week or so ago:

Here is what came out two days later:

I suppose there is nothing to be disappointed about when I really take stock of what we are getting. Shoot, I could feed an entire village in many places in the world! We are truly grateful! But I am definitely in need of a few new recipes. There is only so much sliced-grated-peeled-unpeeled-raw-baked-sauted-boat-filled-zucchini one can eat. I'm getting ready to try out a few new chocolate zucchini bread/cake/muffin recipes to freeze for winter but surely there is something I am missing! And along those lines, I now have enough pesto to last us all year.....mmmmmm.....I'm so glad I planted that second basil plant. I think I will make another dozen batches of pesto before the frost hits.

But my favorite story in this year's garden adventure has to do with the watermelons I planted. You see, about mid-spring the kids and I decided we would add some melons to our garden. We went to the store, picked out some nice looking watermelon plants and a few cantaloupe plants as well and planted them against the fence of our garden. Well, a month or so later I was looking at one of the watermelon vines, thinking, "What oddly shaped watermelons." The other plant had fruit coming in like this, clearly a watermelon:

But, the odd "watermelon" plant had fruit growing like this with much greener stripes at the time:

So, I kept thinking, well, maybe there is a different species of watermelon I don't know about. Or perhaps they just start off oddly shaped before filling in. All the while, I couldn't help but think they sure looked more like a squash. Then one day I told Kurt to come take a look at the funky melons we were growing and he said, "Are you sure they are watermelons? They look like squash." I didn't buy any squash but something in his matter-of-fact way snapped me back to reality. Well, duh. They certainly are squash....lots and lots of butternut squash! And just about ready to pick, too!

What a pleasant surprise! Apparently the nursery mixed up the plants because I know I bought a 4-pack of watermelons. It's like two-for-the-price-of-one if you think about it. Who needs four watermelon vines when you can have two watermelon and two butternut squash vines instead??? (I just wish they would have labeled them correctly so that I wasn't sitting here confused all summer!) Now, I will need to find a good butternut squash soup recipe that I can freeze....anyone? Anyone?

"And the joy we share, as we tarry there, none other has ever known."


Happy 70th, Dad!

In honor and celebration of my father's 70th birthday (and because I totally failed to get a card and gift off in time and am hoping this will do!) I wanted to share a story that illustrates what it was like growing up with my dad.

This story took place two days ago. We were on our way home from the gym. Madeline and Lily were sitting side by side when Madeline shared a concern with me.

"Mom, whenever I bend my arm like this, it really hurts," Madeline said as she bent her fist up towards her shoulder, flexing her bicep.

Without missing a beat, five year old Lily looked at her and said, "Well, then don't bend it like that, Madeline." (She might as well have included a great big "DUH!" at the end given the way she said it.)

I wanted to ask: "Dad? Is that you? How are you possessing my child while you are still alive and well down in Gatorland?"

But that is EXACTLY what it was like living with my dad: a doctor by profession but a comedian kid at heart. He was the best doctor I ever had, so long as I wasn't sick or injured. (Just teasing, dad.)

Ask him if some procedure will hurt and to this day his response will be, "No, it won't hurt me a bit." (I am just positive that one day he might regret telling a patient that....surely some clown will make him eat those words mid-procedure.....surely....)

At any rate, I can recall being a child and telling him that my (insert any body part here) hurt when I touched it "like this" (or some other lame complaint) and his exact response would be, "Well then don't do that." If I asked him if I was going to die he would always answer with a resounding: "Yes (PAUSE) but not because of this." And while he was constantly using humor to negate our complaints, illnesses and ailments, it really did wonders. I'd ask him what the medication he was giving me would do: "Will it make me sick?" I always wanted to know and he would tell me something like: "Not any sicker than you already are," or "No, but it might turn your hair green," and other such things. (By the time I was 10, I insisted on reading the informational insert on ever medication from start to finish before taking anything he gave me. And truth be told, I still do. A good, albeit paranoid, habit if you ask me. Thanks, Dad!)

And because he didn't panic when my temperature once hovered in the 104-105 degree range and I was somewhat hallucinating on the kitchen floor with my mom holding my half limp body while trying to fill me with fluids and Tylenol, I know that my kids will be okay when they feel like they're on fire and it takes all I have just to keep them hydrated and medicated.

And then there was the time he told my mom over the phone how to tie up my brothers hair in order to close up a head laceration and she did it. And it worked. And because of that I now know that all that blood is not that big of a deal. And even the random head laceration will be okay so long as you stay calm and put on enough pressure. And get it closed up, although I admit we prefer the somewhat more traditional ER-trip method....

And I loved the fact that he gave me my own medical bag to really play doctor with. It included a real stethoscope, bandages and band-aids, splints, gauze and medical tape, ear drops, chewable Vitamin C, children's aspirin and Dimetapp. Best imagination-play ever! My father is a wee bit crazy and perhaps a little unorthodox in spots but somehow it is the perfect pairing as he is truly an amazing physician. And thanks to him I was the healthiest kid, the least likely to have a heart attack and slept really well, no coughing whatsoever! (No, no, I'm just kidding. He was even good about making sure I was responsible with my play-meds. At 5 years of age. No joke.)

But my all-time favorite dad-doctoring moment was the time I was sucking on an ice cube and I accidentally sucked it into my esophagus and swallowed it whole. Not only did it hurt like the dickens, but it left me with the sensation that there was something lodged in my throat and I panicked. I called my father at work and told him what had happened, sure that my prognosis was dismal. My dad didn't even pause before asking all the right questions to assure me he understood the issue and then with a perfectly serious voice told me that the cure for swallowing ice cubes was to take another ice cube and rub it on my bellybutton FOR TEN MINUTES.

Yes, yes he did.

And I did just that. Reddest belly you ever saw. And I guess it really worked because I am sitting here writing a happy birthday post just a few weeks later and my throat feels just fine! (Ok, so it's been closer to three decades later....sigh. Time flies. And it ain't the Goodyear Blimp unfortunately!)

So, with that, I just want to say thanks dad! I'm a terrific fixer-upper for my own kids because of you. You, a little humor, and Tylenol. Oh, and band-aids. And, of course, ice cubes.....

Happy Birthday!



Seriously. So I thought I was done with the Florida posts for the summer but, alas, this story is too good to pass up. (And by "good" I am referring to the accidental spiking of the fruit punch at a birthday party. Oh wait, no, it's more like the ridiculously-crazy-must-be-rehashed-on-my-blog type of good....)

So, picture it: 
There you are, driving by the old-lady-down-the-street's house, honking to say hi like you always do and you see her being EATEN BY AN ALLIGATOR! (Did I not warn you? Tsk tsk. She should have been reading Graceful Chicken.) Please click here for the full story. 

Now, I don't know what you saw when you read that article but a couple things in there stuck out to me like the teats of a milking cow, a turd in the punchbowl, a fox in the chicken coop:

1) First of all, it is so southern I can almost taste the fried chicken grease juice drippin' off the screen. Not only did the neighbor say this woman was "as nice as the day is long" but her relative said that telling her not to pick mangoes from the tree next to the canal was like "telling a song bird not to sing." (They really do talk that way down in those parts. Honest.)

2) The neighbor driving by just happened to have a gun with him. In his car. On his way home from work. Because he might need it to shoot a rogue alligator in the right eye before it eats the neighbor??? You just never know.

3) And I quote: “For area residents that have lived here all their lives, they’re still in a state of shock.” Really? Because YOU LIVE IN A SWAMP! It's the EVERGLADES! Wake up people! Stop acting like you were inside the outhouse when lightening struck, are now two bricks short of a load and couldn't manage to hit the broad side of a barn! You are choosing to risk "death by gator" every time you step out of your house; and perhaps half the time you are IN your house too, knowing Florida! And while it is fine and dandy to *know* you have to run zig zag to get away from those creatures, if you are 90 years of age, call me crazy but you might be at a slight disadvantage! Unless your neighbor happens to be passing by, in his truck, on the way home from work, with his gun, and sees you BEING EATEN ALIVE!  

Holy sandspur in my flip-flops! If that ain't a bumblebee in my bluejeans sort of day, I don't know what is!

Really. (And they say chickens are close relatives to these monsters....even if it is so, at least chickens don't EAT YOU!)

And then my mom texts me a picture of the headline in the paper....it's fuel for the fire mama. (Didn't nobody ever tell you not to play with that there fire?) But, because I hosted a brunch today that seriously lasted like seven hours (I'm not kidding....the last guest went to college for archeology and I am pretty certain she was digging for the skeletons in my closet....) I didn't reply to the text quickly and so I get this email from her that only slightly hinted of urgency that a hurricane is coming and I had best be going on my way now: Karen, did you get the newspaper article I pictured to you today? About the 90yr old woman, attacked by an alligator, and she lost her leg?

Yes, thank you for that mom, and the nightmares to follow. (I swear I do not know what I did growing up but she is definitely trying to get me back for something!) 

Well, on that note, have a great weekend! Oh, and I know of a little old lady down in Florida who is lucky to have only lost her leg (who is perhaps about to fall off the back edge of yonder) and who might need a prayer or two....hundred. 


P.S. Florida

In the wake of Hurricane Irene, I have to make an official hurricane statement. After writing about the alligators, several people mentioned to me how crazy it must have been to grow up in a place threatened by hurricanes each year. The conversations somehow went from the crazy alligators to "Oh, and you have to worry about hurricanes there, too" to which I immediately showed my true Floridian identity by totally and completely denying that hurricanes are that big of a deal.

"Oh, well, you know, they give you lots of warning and anyway, most of them veer north so you know, they aren't as bad as let's say tornadoes, or earthquakes, sheesh, earthquakes. Don't even get me started on those. They just sneak up on you out of nowhere! At least with hurricanes you have enough time to fully evacuate if necessary." Um, right.

And I have to laugh because I was up really late tonight and happened to notice an animal prowling in our yard. My first thought was, "What is that gigantic beast? Could it be an oversized fox? If I were in Florida I would be thinking baby panther or perhaps a lion escapee from the local zoo...."

Yeah, it was a big cat chasing a bug.

But really, Florida has so much character (read: it's where the wild things are). It's the only place I know where having asked a family member if she ever saw this old (not-so-great) former friend of hers she answered: "Oh yeah, he was on TV recently......Because his house fell into a sink hole."

Seriously. Only in Florida.