Five minute Friday – Grace

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photoSometimes the person I have the most trouble giving grace to is…

Me.

Prone to want things to be fixed and perfect, I fall short constantly. I disappoint me.

On Tuesday, I made a homemade, from-scratch chocolate cake.

And I was given an opportunity to offer grace to a person who needed it.

The cake was for my youngest olive shoot’s 17th birthday.

The Hubs is out of town and I felt a lot of pressure (from me) to make the day special.

It would be the first birthday when Ike wouldn’t be hearing from his grandpa.

Dementia and Alzheimer’s along with a deceiving brother-in-law have robbed my son of this simple pleasure.

So imagine my disappointment when I opened the oven door and saw a disaster of a dessert!

If Ike were to look at this cake and consider it a representation of my love for him, he might want to find a new mom.

I was tempted to throw the cake in the trash and start again.

And this is when the spirit of grace fell upon my kitchen.

Instead of making Ike a birthday cake, how about a birthday torte?

This might not seem like a big deal to most people but I had to push aside my expectations of myself and of the day.

I had to not worry about what the guys on his basketball team might say to their mothers about the chocolate disaster with 17 candles.photo

As you might suspect, a starving group of boys don’t worry too much about the presentation. They ate the catered sandwiches with appreciation. And when it came time to laud my orange hair, freckle-face olive shoot a happy birthday, we presented it on the hallway of the high school on the floor.

5minutefridayAnd guess what? It was all wonderful. My boy was blessed,

God’s favor, His grace.

When do you need to extend grace to yourself? I’d love to hear!

Today’s post was inspired by 5 minute Friday! I enjoy getting a word surprise each week and writing with wild abandon for a little snippet of time. Check out other entries here!

A gift of words to my beloved olive shoot

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r-dayandafter210My arms reached down and pulled the orange-haired baby out of my body. Ten days late, I wanted to get this show on the road! A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do!

That old song by Helen Reddy, “I am woman,” could have been my anthem cry. I felt like I could conquer the world by this one singular action. I still get rather uppity whenever I think about my hands being the first ones to touch my child and being the one to welcome him into the world personally. It was instant love and connection.

The delicious ginger boy I once cradled in my arms has now become a handsome 17-year-old man.

Today I honor him.

I praise the Lord for him.

My heart bursts to overflowing because of him and I’ll stop there or I’ll just start crying.

Sometimes it takes my breath away when I consider God’s goodness, how He knit that boy in my womb. I imagine most moms feel that way about their children, how blessed we are to hold vessels of love in our bodies, don’t you agree?

wh401Truly it is by grace that I am the mama to three awesome olive shoots. I know the person I was, I did not deserve such bounty. One day when I am before Jesus, I will tell Him, “Thank you, thank you, thank you” over and over again into eternity.

Though I will never know what it’s like to have a daughter, I do know what it’s like to have a ginger.

Furthermore, I am an authority on raising an Isaac and could easily write a book on this journey.

These might be a few chapters –

Laughter – True to his name, Ike is the child who makes me reel with giggles. Once he gets going, there’s no stopping this kid. Often the Hubs will be driving and Ike will begin using one of his funny voices. Soon Ike and I are both competing each other for who can drive the Hubs the craziest with our silly antics and jokes. The Hubs will have to scream for us to stop because he lacks our jocularity. We rarely stop. 😉

Tenderness – As humorous as Ike is, he also has a gentle side. He is warmly affectionate to me even at this age and I have seen him deeply touched by the pain of others.  He recognizes others’ struggles and is on the side of the weak and impaired.

sc00305c8bLast year, I was sitting next to a boy during a basketball game. This young man attends our school and he has some disabilities. He beamed as he cheered Isaac on from the bleachers. This boy didn’t know I was Isaac’s mom and when I introduced myself to him, he said, “I love that guy.” I believed him, it was so obvious. When I asked Ike about him afterward, he smiled and said, “Tom’s (not his real name) the man.” Time and time again, I have noticed how my orange hair, freckle-face olive shoot has compassion for those who don’t really fit in with others. My heart bursts with joy each time I see the sincerity of his heart.

He’s the cool kid who is relaxed around people of different cultures and skin tones. He hopes to one day adopt and have a melanin-rich child in his family. I adore picturing Ike as a husband and a dad, he will be a wonderful leader and mentor.

Struggle – But it’s not like life has been easy for him. Ike had a speech problem when he was younger and it was only through hard work and perseverance that he was victorious over this.

Also having two high achieving older brothers can leave big shoes to fill. He often puts a lot of pressure on himself though we reassure him that we just want him to be the best ISAAC he can be. And at times, by his own admission, Ike can have a temper as red as his hair but because of what the Lord has done in his life, Ike usually (not always) can now control his anger and tongue. We rejoice in his accomplishments. God is good!

Humility – This is my precious OS who freely apologizes to me when he is a stinker. He desires to be in right relationship with the people he loves. Ike is able to speak into people’s lives because he knows what damage a prideful heart can cause. As a teenager, I cannot recall one single time when I genuinely apologized to the extent that my son does and trust me, like most of us, I should have done that with great regularity. Ike is the kind of kid you want as your friend because he will tell it to you straight and speak with a voice of experience and authority.

Suffering – This summer I sat Ike down and spoke honestly with him. Since he is the only boy living at home all year, I told him that I felt the Lord was calling Ike into a difficult time of suffering. He was going to get a front-row seat into Alzheimer’s and dementia that his brothers would not know. It would be a very painful time but one that the Lord would carry him through. His grandpa’s conditions were serious and there would be great sorrow. Although the situation has not mapped out exactly as I expected, my words have proven true. As much as I hate it (I will refrain myself about some other feelings I’m having…), Ike has been resilient and strong. His heart has been courageous beyond his years.

photoServant – Which leads me to the next part that I didn’t expect. Though Ike has faced great suffering, God has also recently blessed him with a super cool surprise!  A “little” brother! We are now hosting a Brazilian exchange student for the year! Instead of being the youngest brother, our ginger now shares his home with Chico, the 6’1″ dark-haired guy from the Sao Paolo area! The two are quite a pair and you can’t help but smile when Ike is helping him. He shows Chico how to mow the lawn, take out the trash and empty the dishwasher. Ike helps him with homework, the proper use of American slang and how deal with us as his foreign parents. My OS is a living example of how a teenager can live a Christian life and not be swept up by the world. Yes, it’s not always perfect but no one is and that’s ok. Ike truly pours himself out in joyful service to Chico in every way. There is a smile in our family with this new addition and in many ways, it’s because Ike takes the lead in caring for his new buddy/brother.

photoOctober 29th is a day which calls for great celebration! I am the mama to a strong, kind, talented, adorable, hilarious, gentle, super studly olive shoot! I love you, my Isaac.

Darkness and light

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On Sunday, I had a dream. I was crying in the dream. When I woke up, I was still crying. The attractive sleep mask I wear to bed was damp with tears.

It was another sad reality. The Lord is the only one who can help us manage our sorrow and pain.

A test that was performed. It was heartbreaking to see these results.

A test that was performed. It was heartbreaking to see these results.

My waking hours have been anguished. Over a month has passed since we have seen my father-in-law. He has been diagnosed with moderate vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s. My brother-in-law lied to us about having Dad come visit him for a vacation and now he’s saying he wants to stay with him. Appallingly, he denies that anything is wrong with his father.

Now isolated by his oldest son from all the rest of the family, we are told he and his son want no further contact from us. After four years of welcoming him into our home and heart, it is a devastating blow to our family. How can Dad just walk away?

When we have attempted to call the available phone numbers, it is apparent the person on the other line abruptly hangs up the phone. This has been the case as each one of our children have also tried to speak to their grandpa. Can you even imagine?

2013-07-22 19.31.31-1“Um, ok,” you say as you continue to read this post.

Why is she sharing this?” you wonder, understandably so. 

(Btw, the Hubs has given me approval to share).

As bad as the situation is (and it’s bad), God is doing something.

Several years ago, I sliced my finger on a can of mushrooms. We were  getting ready to eat dinner. The Hubs was outside grilling chicken when I screamed for his help.

The cut was so deep on my middle finger, it was obvious a little band-aid would not suffice. We rushed to the hospital and there was a concern that I had sliced through bone or a tendon. When I went to the emergency room, grasping my finger to control the bleed, at one point, the physician needed to see the cut. Reluctantly, fearfully, I opened my bent finger to let him look inside.

This is what is happening to me right now.

A wound is being torn open and examined. I am both nauseated and afraid at extent of my injury.

As my finger was stitched up, I knew it would mend.

In this case, the Great Physician looks tenderly at my wound. He sees the gushing blood and the pain. Frankly, I’m utterly woozy and dizzy from the rejection and suffering. Then I am reminded, His loving arms surround me/my husband/my tender-hearted olive shoots.

I’m someone who has had her fair share of “men” issues. This crisis  reminds of the many other men who have rejected my affections. Some of them never deserved my affection in the first place.

Others, had a logical reason to love me…

I was related to them.

Yet there still was and is great disappointment in how that love wasn’t and isn’t manifested towards me. I imagine some of you might empathize.

I sometimes wonder, does this earthly father miss us? Does he ever think fondly of his other two sons, his five grandchildren and his adorable great-grandchild? Does he remember the meals I prepared for him, the holidays we shared, the care and kindness we extended to him? Is all of this happening because of two horrid degenerative terminal brain diseases or is there yet another evil force at work? In a lucid moment, is it possible that he feels a measure of regret for walking away from us? Does my brother-in-law, this urchin of a man, ever sense guilt and regret over his actions?

The answers to these questions are unknown. I can speculate and pray. Some of them might be revealed to me but it’s doubtful.

So I lean on this TRUTH.

2013-06-01 11.02.08-11. The Lord will heal me eventually. This jagged wound, it will take time to recover. He chose to open this wound and clean it out. We will grieve but we will press on.

2. God is my Hope. He is my lovebeam.

3. Our suffering is not in vain. Though it’s hard to imagine, the Lord will accomplish a purpose through this dark trial.

4. My Heavenly Father is the only man who has ever been 100% reliable, dependable and trustworthy.

5. The Hubs, my three olive shoots are currently tied for second place.

6. The Lord will not waste this hurt. His specialty is restoration. What was meant for evil, God will use for good.

7. There are blessings mixed in and I must be attentive to them.

This beautiful song sums it up. The tears keep falling. Thank you for praying for my family. ❤

My mighty cleaners – Ike and Extreme 18X – free bonus goodies (Ike not included)

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2013-06-13 15.22.35Dirty windows + able-bodied, orange hair, freckle face ginger sitting around watching tv = opportunity

2013-06-13 15.14.03We have a VIP arriving at our house this weekend and in anticipation of her visit, I wanted the windows in our family room clean. Ike began the chore but grabbed a can of aerosol window cleaner we received years ago when the room was constructed.

When I checked on Ike’s progress, the overwhelming smell of chemicals had filled the room. One look at the contents in the can, I was shocked to see the ingredients used. The first ingredient on the list 2-butoxyethanol (or ethylene glycol monobutyl ether). Also known as 2-BU, this widely-used cleaning solvent causes anemia by damaging red blood cells, creates air pollution that exceeds workplace limits, is linked to impaired fertility and reproductive and developmental toxicity. EPA even considers it a possible human carcinogen. Liquified petroleum gas for window cleaner? Come on! Ain’t nobody got time for that!

So I quickly grabbed replaced the can of toxic ingredients with a spray bottle of water mixed with about a half teaspoon of Extreme 18X. This product has replaced at least 80% of my regular cleaning supplies so it just made good, healthy sense.

2013-06-13 15.59.37

Extreme 18X is an ultra-concentrated soap berry liquid detergent and cleaner and now the good folks at NaturOli are giving a FREE BONUS GIFT of a mini or trial size” for every $25 in merchandise ordered!*

We use Extreme 18X and soap nuts interchangeably. I’m also a big fan of their skin care products – toner, skin repair creme, facial creme and the complete daily cleansing kit.

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The mini/trial Sizes are anything but small and NaturOli’s skin & hair care formulas are all FULL 1 to 2-oz sizes – FAR from typical tiny sample packets that are only a mere use or two.

– Values of mini and trial sizes are up to $9.90 each! You might like this gluten-free skin repair creme but take a look around and see what other things look good.

When placing your order, choose one for every $25 in merchandise in your cart. *Limit of six (6) per order. Put the product names (or product numbers) in the “Comments” Box during checkout. Please be specific about which items you desire. They’ll be shipped with your order. It’s that easy!

– No coupon required. Your selections will be on your receipt.

Offer expires Friday, 6-21 at midnight.

Ike and Extreme 18X made a good team. The pictures I took were not filtered in any way, there was no need. My windows are sparkly, streak-free clean and that was done thanks to two things – an awesome son and a petro-chemical free, formaldehyde free product that I absolutely love.

Welcome guests with a great salad – get your crunch on!

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IMG_20110120_185631“What I love most is an abundance of simple food of perfect quality and staggering freshness, very simply and respectfully treated, tasting strongly of itself.” Sybille Bedford, in The Artist’s & Writer’s Cook Book, 1961*

Isn’t that an awesome quote?

On Fridays a box of locally grown, in-season produce arrives at my doorstep from The Produce Box. Fresh fruits and vegetables bursting with color and flavor are a highlight to my week.

In our family, salad is a verb. With the exception of my ministry-minded middle who is loath to leafy greens, the rest of the gang enjoys a fresh green salad. Click here for Nate’s favorite salad!

My first experience with homemade dressing was while living in Normandy, France. My French family created their own salad dressing using Dijon mustard and vinegar and it was sublime. Prior to that I thought the only way to have a salad dressing was to buy it! Boy, was I wrong!

I guess you could say I had “un grand moment avec une salade” or “a big moment with a salad” in France.

Really, it’s so simple to make your own salad dressing. Here are a few reasons why it’s worth the small effort involved.

IMG_3010_10241. The taste is far superior to that of a bottled salad dressing. It never ceases to amaze me how many salad dressings there are in the grocery aisle but you could do the same thing at home, quite honestly!

2. Instead of some gi-normous food manufacturer determining your ingredients, you can please your own palate and your family’s.

3. You can substitute, reduce or omit ingredients based on what’s available in your cupboards.

4. Time saving The few upfront minutes I (or one of my olive shoots) invest in making extra dressing beforehand, allows us to conveniently have a fresh salad in minutes. When I make extra, I  just use a clean glass jar to store it in the fridge. When making the dressing for others, I repurpose a jar that used to contain jelly or jam.

I prefer to buy only triple-washed spring mix or romaine lettuce. That’s because despite my valiant efforts to adequately wash the leaves, I’m often left with a gritty bunch of dirt in the greens and ain’t nobody got time for that.

The recipe I’m including below is a favorite.

Add blackberries plus yellow and red peppers to give the salad a summer flair. For a different salad, throw some pears and walnuts for a delightful and slightly fancy twist. Often in the Christmas season, I toss handfuls of pomegranate seeds to make it festive and add a fun crunch. My buddy and writer pal Meredith stopped by one night and got to try pomegranate seeds which totally rocked her world! #truestory

If I have some homemade kale, spinach or beet powder handy, I’ll sprinkle a little on the salad for additional flavor, color and nutrition. Yes, I take salads seriously.

Here’s the recipe, hope you enjoy!

4 teaspoons seasoned rice vinegar

1 tablespoon honey**

1/2 teaspoon salt

freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Mix it all together and shablam, you’re ready to dress up your salad.

Questions – When you say salad, what is your family’s reaction? Does your family even eat salad? How do you make it appealing?

"My mom makes me eat salad and that's why I have big muscles. She's the best."

“My mom makes me eat salad and that’s why I have big muscles. She’s the best.” Aaron’s buddy Caleb looks by in awe.

*Quote from Simple Food for the Good Life by Helen Nearing

** Raw, unfiltered honey is the best. If you can, get your honey from a local beekeeper. Clover and wildflower honey have the mildest flavor.

Five minute Friday – fall

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I want things to be nice but never perfect.

I want things to be nice but never perfect.

When I have company over, there is temptation.

If I want things to be perfect, I fall into pride.

If the night didn’t gel as I had hoped, like, let’s say, the Hubs got on my nerves the entire evening (true story) I fall into despair.

It’s when I give the occasion to the Lord that I see the greatest rewards.

When the birthday party, dinner company, gathering of friends is marinated in prayer, that’s when everyone has the sweetest fellowship.

IMG_20110120_185631I once had a family member come over for dinner with his family.

They do not know Jesus and before they arrived, I prayed for us to have a special night together.

Strangely enough, as I asked the Lord what to serve this family, I sensed God said “barbecue chicken.”

I realize this might sound like a really stupid prayer and even more so, a really weird answer. You talk to God about food? He talks to you about barbecue chicken? Come on.

My answer is I talk to God about everything and occasionally chicken is part of our conversation. Jesus is my friend and he is intimately involved in my life, so yes poultry is even an open topic for us. Don’t you talk to your best friend about everything?

So this isn’t a usual main dish for me to cook but I listened to His voice and guess what? Barbecue chicken was this person’s favorite meal! I had no idea!

5minutefridayTime and time again, these things have happened to me where God confirms that He was with me the entire time. Falling into his arms, relinquishing the moments into His will keeps me focused on the right thing, serving Jesus by serving others.

Five Minute Friday is a gathering of super cool people who all write for five minutes about one word. If you’re up for the challenge, join us!

Entertaining thoughts about entertaining – getting kids ready for guests

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Lemonhead party!

Lemonhead party!

If we know you are coming over to our house, there are things we do before you arrive. As the mama of three sons, one of whom is currently in Ranger School, I have learned that in military terms, presumably we could call it a “movement.”

We straighten up – usually a vacuum is pushed throughout the area you will visit. There is often dusting beforehand and the bathroom is cleaned. The bathroom deserves its own post though, more on that later.

There they are wearing those collared shirts. We had a guest from El Salvador visiting us among other special people.

There they are wearing those collared shirts. We had a guest from El Salvador visiting us among other special people.

They put on a nice shirt– although my boys moaned and groaned about this, we found that the mere act of putting on a collared shirt indicated they were part of the team. In our family we call it W-H style since those are the initials to our last name. Changing out of regular clothes means something special is going to happen. The collared shirt (usually a polo shirt, rarely long-sleeved)  signifies that our family, every single one of us, not just Dad and Mom, is having company. Even if only one person is invited, the level of alert is heightened.

We rehearse – Just as we had practice training sessions about manners, throughout the years, our family still goes over a list of duties before people show up.

“Ike, you’re in charge of water and drinks. Make sure no one’s glass remains empty.”

“Aaron, don’t talk too much, let others also speak and try to sit still.”

“Nate, when we’re done with dinner, gather up the plates.”

All the guys had a purpose.

So maybe you’re wondering –

Did it always work perfectly? Of course not! We never expected things to be flawless but there was a standard.

Always the life of the party, that's my Aaron!

This guy needs more than a collared shirt! My Aaron!

Did your kids feel like robots devoid of any personality? You haven’t been to our house if you’re asking that question! No, they actually had more freedom because of the rules. We made it fun and not overly formal.

Collared shirts every single time? Not every single time but often. Freshly showered, collared young men are so adorable. Sometimes they would dab a bit of cologne on before bounding down the stairs. The hint of manly fragrance on their middle school necks always made my heart grin and grow wistful. I wish those days back again quite honestly. When the doorbell rang, we were ready for our guests’ arrival. We appreciated them coming into our home.

And I must share this.

Our guests appreciate these touches although most might not even realize what happened behind the scenes. They are just blessed and isn’t that the whole point to entertaining, blessing someone? The minimal preparation we employed allows our guests to be at ease. In some way it announces this family is ready and we have things (slightly) under control.

Last summer, my oldest OS rented a house near Fort Benning and he and his buddies hosted a gathering. Nate called me for advice on menu selection and such. He even wanted to make sure he served a salad (this melted my heart). My boy wanted people to feel welcome in his home. I’m sure my Soldier was a gracious host and maybe he even wore a collared shirt!

And we recently had a 51st birthday party for the Hubs. It was a Lemonhead theme because it’s his favorite candy. The orange hair, freckle face OS  was an integral part of the planning and a huge help before, during and after the event.

But true to form before the guests arrived, Ike asked the standard question. “Do I have to wear a collared shirt?” As this picture indicates, Ike got his answer.

Those are two very lemony collared shirts, don't you think?

Those are two very lemony collared shirts, don’t you think?

Out of all my boys, Ike is very gifted with hos- pitality. His servant’s heart has parlayed into him having a little part-time job at a nearby event venue. He’s the guy walking around with hors d’oeuvres and refilling non-alcoholic drinks. So I guess being a good host, getting kids ready for company has paid off both here and away from home. The more we do it, the better we become as both guests and faithful stewards of our home.

So what are the little things you do before you have dinner guests? Do you even dare try? It is scary! How have you prepared your kids to co-host special times at your house?