Running water and tall trees.

IMG_20150325_161358

When I’m outside in the springtime near running water and tall trees, it’s like the space inside me opens up and doubles somehow. I don’t know how to explain it, but I bet some of you know what I mean.

I’ve found a favorite spot just 10 or 15 minutes from home, at Port Royal State Park.  I think the drive through the Tennessee countryside might be the best part for me.  No pictures because I was navigating that winding road.  You can imagine it:  As you drive you see stately new mansions, juxtaposed against old, charming farm homes with rusty, beautiful barns; all nested harmoniously into the green rolling hills dotted with cattle. Really beautiful.

The park is small but there’s a nice place for skipping rocks, and there’s an old bridge support that makes a nice climbing wall.

 

skipping rocks

The tranquility I feel is usually broken at some point by a certain 9 year old little girl who has a very strong fear of bees, wasps, and basically anything with wings.  So often when we’re outside, my peaceful feeling of listening to the river or watching the branches blow in the breeze is broken up by her screams; and isn’t that just like life?  I can let that ruin my time, or I can feel grateful that it’s me she runs to in her fear. It takes a deep breath and a refocusing of priorities; but I can comfort her and help turn her heart toward courage if I chose to do so.  Sometimes I do it well, and sometimes my frustration and attitude of “This again? Get over it girl and stop interrupting my peace” comes through loud and clear.

I’m learning that if my “peace” is that easily rattled, perhaps it’s no peace at all.  If is, after all, just a wasp.

 

walking shoreline

 

A bit out of our element.

We have joined a local Family Life Center (basketball,  treadmills, racquetball,  weight room, etc.)…. and I am so hilariously out of my element.  I have pretty much hung tightly to the choir nerd designation I enjoyed in High School 20 years ago, and have thus graced nary a sports field or weight room.

Lauryn and I may hold the record for the world’s longest game of HORSE because we went for such a long stretch with neither of us making a shot.

gym

She’s only 9 with very little experience ever touching a basketball, so she looks adorable bouncing around out there on the court chasing wayward shots. That leaves me. I’ll leave it to your imagination how I look. But you can imagine my grace and handling skills knowing I make about 1 basket for every 20 attempts.

The things we do for our kids. Wouldn’t trade a second of the chance to look absolutely ridiculous spending time with them.

 

 

Our response to no.

Ever seen a stubborn kid throw a fit about not getting his way?  Quite a scene, right?

I can’t quote him exactly,  but a few Sundays ago our pastor said something along the lines of “Our response to ‘No’ is a measure of our maturity. How we feel and act when our expectations are not met reveals our self-righteousness.”

toldno

I love when a truth about my relationship with Father God parallels so well with the relationship I have with my own children. Seeing a spiritual truth play out in my parenting helps me better grasp the truth of it in my own personal responses to God.

One of the greatest joys I experience as a mom is when my kids obey joyfully. It communicates so much about trust, and right relationship,  and contentment.

When my child can handle “no” without throwing a fit,  it makes me more likely to trust him with a “yes” down the road. I know he can be trusted in more mature situations (sleep-overs,  parties,  technology) when being told “no” to those things doesn’t leave him undone. He is viewing things with the proper, healthy perspective when not being able to have whatever that “thing” may be doesn’t leave him flailing. If I tell a kid to turn off a video game and he does it happily, great! If I tell him to turn off a video game and he pouts and panics, or even just quietly ignores me,  he’s probably on the road to giving that game an unhealthy place in his life (or in stronger terms, making that game an idol).

Likewise,  what is my response when feeling like I need to put down something in my own life? Do I sometimes quietly ignore prompts from the Father to quit doing something? To start doing something? You bet I do. Because just like my children, I don’t like no.  I think I know best.  And ignoring prompts from the Father messes with the relationship.  It’s not a severed relationship; God doesn’t stop loving me just like I don’t stop loving my children. But in both cases it makes for a petulant, unhappy child.  In my experience as a mom, unhappy petulant children can’t do much other than just be unhappy and petulant.  They miss out.  There is joy to be had, but they miss it.

There’s also a trust issue at hand, right? If my child is mature and accepts my love and care for him,  he can more readily accept my “no”. He wants what he wants,  sure,  but our relationship doesn’t become undone when he hears my “no” because he trusts that I must have a reason. He can experience disappointment while simultaneously trusting that I’m doing what’s best for him.  (Well, at least what I think best within my my limited,  human frailty and understanding. When God says “No”, I can trust in His perfection.)

I have been told “no” by God, and it’s hard.  Painful stuff.  Trust, contentment, maturity — the absence or presence of all those things are on grand display and it’s not always pretty.  The “no” that I received wasn’t a command or a nudging in a certain direction, or a decision I got to make for myself; but instead it was out of my hands and in the form of friendships that didn’t play out how I wanted, jobs I didn’t get to keep, and places I didn’t get to live.  When I see those circumstances in my life as directed by the hand of a loving, caring, perfect Father, they are still painful but not nearly as much so.  I trust him.  His plan is better than mine.

The more I seek relationship with God, the more I believe that He is the author of the story of my life, and the more I experience of His faithfulness, the more I can accept that “no” is always for my good and His glory.

Look for a purpose in the pain that “no” can bring.  It’s there.  He doesn’t waste anything.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort.  He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others.  When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.  2 Corinthians 1:3-4

 

2014 East Coast Trip

map
Cliff Crew Road Trip 2014

 

2014 was a weird year.  For most of it, Jonathan and I had role reversal; I worked full time, while he stayed home as part Domestic God and part Homeschooling Dad.  We both learned a lot about each other and ourselves, and learned to appreciate each other in a new way I think.

I for one, learned that it’s tough to work a long day (especially if the day brings challenges) then come home and be ready to engage with the family.  A lot of days I just wanted to walk right past them and straight to bed.  Jonathan is great about coming home from work, no matter the kind of day he’s had, excited to see us and spend time with us; I have always appreciated that, but even more so now.

I was commuting a lot of crazy-town miles and working a lot of crazy-town hours. When we got ready to make a transition to a new city where Jonathan would begin working full time again and I would be staying home, we wanted to take some down-time first to be together,  and frankly to sort of recuperate from the nutso schedule I’d been keeping.

So, when the lease on our apartment in Georgia was up on December 19th, and Jonathan didn’t start his new job in Tennessee until Feb 1st…..we hit the road!!!

It really felt like “the trip of a lifetime.”  Since neither of us were working for those 1.5 months and we were living off savings, we did the trip in typical Cliff Style (aka on a strict budget).  We were blessed that gas prices were super low, and the crazy snowfall hadn’t hit the East Coast yet! We had beautiful walking weather in all the cities we hit.  Amazing, amazing trip.

We know life might not ever afford another opportunity like that – I am so grateful for the chance.

Our game plan for Operation: Budget East Coast Tour was to use hotel points for lodging (earned off a credit card we pay off monthly and only use to accrue the points; plus, a family member donated some points as a Christmas gift), eat lots of lunches in the car (I can make a mean PBJ traveling the interstate), eat at lots of local pizza joints (cheapest way to eat local for a family) and to hit all the FREE tourist spots.  I wouldn’t change a thing about our trip.

In addition the hotel stays, we rented a two bedroom apartment in Hoboken NJ off of airbnb.com  for the few days surrounding Christmas.  We had a great experience! The area of Hoboken where we stayed was surprisingly delightful (who knew?), super budget friendly when compared to Manhattan, and a quick walk from our apartment to the train station took us into NYC.  The owners of the apartment even set up a Christmas tree for us!

And if you can believe it….we all even got along really well for the duration of the trip. Planning this trip I thought it might be more fun in hindsight that in the actual day to day of the trip. I imagined squabbles, and boredom with the driving, and all around crankiness due to the sharing of hotel rooms. But I’m happy to report there was really only ONE major outburst. It happened in Boston, with crying and yelling and maybe some cuss words.  I apologized quickly. 

Below are some highlights of the trip!

 

Colonial Williamsburg/Yorktown/Jamestown was made better because Dylan and Lauryn had just studied the Revolutionary War!  I was impressed by how much they retained, and they were excited to see places in real life that they’d read about all year:

yorktown
Battle of Yorktown

 

 

jamestown
Beautiful blue skys for our tour of Historic Jamestown
Williamsburg - 1
We didn’t buy tickets for the full Colonial Williamsburg experience, but we had an amazing time just walking around the city (which is free). Beautiful!

 

 

 

 

Washington DC was the one place that we hit a bit of nasty weather.  There was freezing rain and bitter wind!  It just made us walk that much faster between our favorite Smithsonian Museums.

noskaters
So cold that no one was ice skating!
National Mall
The National Mall is pretty even in freezing rain.

 

 

 

New York City was the favorite stop for all the kids.  They were all three completely taken in by this place.  We kept hearing “I feel like I’m in a movie!” We were sure to watch some of our favorites that take place in NYC (Elf, Home Alone 2) when we crashed back at the apartment after walking our legs off all day long:

washingtonpark
Washington Square Park
timessquare
Times Square
rockefeller center
Rockefeller Center
central park
Central Park
carlos bakery
Carlos Bakery in Hoboken. We were starstruck with a Mario spotting!

 

 

 

 

 

Boston was the favorite stop for me and Jonathan.  I was completely charmed by this city and I can’t wait to go back.  Beautiful, historical, lovely.  Don’t miss the Freedom Trail; we spent most of one day walking it and seeing each of the 16 stops along the trail.

Harvard Yard
Stunning Harvard Yard on a Sunday morning.
oneifbyland
Steeple of Old North Church, of “one if by land, two if by sea” fame.
view from bunker hill monument
View from the top of Bunker Hill Monument
USS constitution
From aboard the USS Constitution, the last stop on the Freedom Trail.

 

 

 

 

 

Niagara Falls. All I can say is that it was so stupid cold.  The spray off the falls was freezing in mid-air before pelting us in the face.  I think it was probably beautiful but I was too cold to know for sure.

NiagraFalls
The coldest I’ve ever been ever.

 

 

 

We were also able to travel to upstate NY to stay with some good friends in Utica.   So nice to have a home-cooked meal after all the time on the road!

After driving the East Coast, we headed back to Oklahoma for a good long visit with family, broken up by a trip to Texas to see friends.

After all that travel and precious time together, we were refreshed and ready to transition to our new city! We are happy to be settling into Clarksville, TN.  We’ve met some great people here, and feel amazingly blessed to be able to be part of an awesome, awesome group of believers, Grace Community Church.  Here’s to our next adventure.

nextadventure
Future Home to the Cliff Crew, now under construction!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9 Tips for Slow Cooker Success

crockpottips

Do y’all love your crock pot as much as I do?  I have learned that a meal in a crock pot started early in the day feels like an all day sigh of relief.  If I get it going in the morning,  then regardless of what chaos the rest of the day may bring,  I at least know dinner is handled.

Over the years I’ve learned a few things about slow cooker success. Here are my best tips.

1. If a recipe calls for chicken breast and you plan to cook it all day, consider trying boneless-skinless thigh meat instead.  Dark meat isn’t nearly as likely to dry out.  It will keep it’s moisture and flavor.

2. If you are cooking a roast (beef or pork), plan to do the following after it’s cooked: take out of crock pot, shred and place on a cookie sheet.  Reduce down the liquid left in the crock pot by boiling it for 10 or 15 minutes in a pot on the stove top.  Pour this reduced liquid over the shredded meat, and place under broiler in oven.  Broil on high heat until tips of meat begin to turn brown.  Trust me on this – so flavorful and good!  See this recipe as an example.  Another of my favorite and easiest dinners to prepare this way is a pork roast cooked with onions and a jar of tomatillo salsa.

3. Think about using your slow cooker for sides too,  like baked potatoes or green beans (we do ours with onions and bacon sometimes; I know it negates the point of vegetables but they’re so yummy). That beautiful trustworthy crock pot is not just for the main dish. Use it for sides and you’ll have one less thing to do at dinner time.

4. Soups are really easy never-fail dinners,  just remember if your soup calls for pasta to add it at the end of cooking just before serving.  This will avoid overcooked, mushy pasta.  Also, if you have “hostess anxiety” about preparing meals for guests (raises hand) I’ve found that soups are a great option.  The meal is done, and you are free to relax and chat with guests, no worrying if the chicken dish you tried to bake will come out of the oven raw.  (Raises hand again.)  Try a taco soup or chili with lots of fun toppings like different cheeses, sour cream, onions, tortilla strips, and avocado.

5. Remember that some things can simmer all day no problem (chili, soups),  while others are better in the crock pot for just a short 3 to 4 hours or it will dry out. I don’t recommend any chicken breast dish if you’re not home to monitor it.

6. Crock pots meals can tend to be on the heavy side,  so think about serving with a salad or some fruit to lighten things up.

7. Don’t forget the crock pot can double as a warming tray – if you’re making homemade tortillas,  throw them in a warmed crock pot so they stay nice and warm. Or if you’re making breakfast for dinner,  use it to keep a big batch of scrambled eggs warm until you’re ready to serve.

8. Make broth after you cook a chicken. Use the broth and leftover chicken with veggies and noodles for a great homemade soup.  Check out 100 days of real food for a super easy way to make homemade broth.

9.  If you have the room, make double! Especially if you are cooking a whole chicken; two can be squeezed into a large slow cooker and still have room for onions, carrots, and potatoes.  You’re going to the trouble of prepping one bird, you might as well make two.  Then you’ll have leftovers for the week to make yummy  sandwiches, soup or quesadillas, and salads like this one (lettuce + all the veggies on hand + hard boiled egg + Caesar dressing + leftover chicken).  So good!

salad

Slow cooker lovers unite. Be loud and proud.  That sturdy, sorta ugly and old ladyish appliance serves us well!

When they see that image.

This is a post about when your children see porn on the Internet. Or receive text messages on their phones of people they may or may not know, naked. Let’s be honest with ourselves and go ahead plan for “when” not “if”.

I read stories like this about the absolute pervasiveness of explicit photos and videos being shared among teens, and I know we have to talk about it. So I take a deep breath, and I say to my children (at the dinner table no less) that when they receive a picture on their phone of someone naked,  they need to tell me or their Dad. I tell them chances are likely that it will happen, and when it does they are not in trouble, nor have they done anything wrong. But they do need to tell us. We can talk about it,  and help make a plan to limit  it happening again.

I tell them that if they happen to know the girl (or boy) in the pictures,  that they might be afraid to tell us. I explain that a fear reaction is completely normal. I tell them that they might worry that I will judge that person who sent or is in the picture,  or get that person in trouble,  or say they can’t be friends with them anymore. I tell them that this isn’t true – that in this house we do not believe in shame or condemnation. We will not love their friend any less, but we will try to help them by loving their friend well. Loving them well means speaking up and getting an adult in their life involved in the situation. So I tell my kids to feel that fear of telling us, know it’s a normal feeling, and tell us anyway in spite of the fear.  They can be brave.

I tell my kids that when they land somewhere on the Internet that isn’t appropriate (*here we talk in detail about what “appropriate” means in our house), that whether they got to that site sorta-kinda-accidentally-on purpose, or truly  by accident, or truly on purpose,  they need to talk to us about that. Again,  so we can talk about it, **remind them why that kind of imagery isn’t best for them,  and help make a plan to limit  it  happening again.

My 9 year old daughter did an image search recently for something totally innocuous,  but in spite of the best of filters on our computers,  something mildly trashy (is that a category?) got through. As I was talking to the kids at the table recently on these topics – of fear and shame and openness and forgiveness –  she teared up,  told us what she saw,  and then said “I feel so, so much better. I don’t know why I kept it a secret.” I know why. Because shame. Shame tells us we must keep silent. If we’re at fault,  if we’re not at fault…shame doesn’t care.  Shame is not a valuable parenting tool. If our kids are feeling it, we have to give them tools to get free from shame.  It starts with being a safe place for them to unload their burdens.  The good news is that you get to give those burdens right back to Jesus, and He is strong enough to carry them.

shame

You know the lyrics to that incredible song that say “Come out of hiding,  you’re safe here with me…” Isn’t that a beautiful lyric? I so want to model that place of safety for my children. Where they can come out of the darkness of confusing and scary situations like seeing images they aren’t ready for yet,  and just be loved. Comforted. Forgiven if needed,  time and time again.

Talk to your kids about when they see porn. Be a safe place.

*I feel like I should just add here that I’m no prude. I’m a big fan of sex. (Also, after proofreading this, my husband asked me to make “I’m a big fan of sex” my twitter bio.  I didn’t.) But I want my children to know the difference between what is good and pure, and what is a cheap counterfeit. And friends there is just so,  so much counterfeit available.  They won’t know that the counterfeit is a cheap fake if we don’t tell them.

**If you are one of those “there’s nothing wrong with porn” and “boys will be boys” sorta parents who have thrown up their hands on the matter,  I would implore you to check out this website and reconsider. It’s not okay for our children to see these things.  It damages them in real ways. Let’s all do a better job.

I so hope this post isn’t just adding to the noise and increasing the fear that mamas already feel about this stuff.  My heart is that it’s helpful, and gives you a starting place to begin these needed discussions. 

 

 

Rethinking Behavior Modification

image

It has hit me in a new way recently,  that of the four people in that photo right there,  I can only modify the behavior of exactly one of them. Me. I can shape,  nudge,  model,  correct and discipline those other three,  but ultimately it’s up to each of those human hearts how they will act and what words they will say.

I’m trying to be ever mindful of the following: When I start to feel like there is not enough gentleness in this house,  rather than trying to figure out how to make my kids lose a bad attitude… maybe I just need to spend that energy on myself. On the self-control and prayer and consistency that it takes to be gentle in the midst of harshness. When I worry my kids are being selfish,  with their time,  their energy, their stuff – maybe instead of discussions and lectures about self sacrifice, maybe they just need to see me get up off the couch and serve with a happy heart. Choose a game with them over Facebook. Read a book with them instead of watch TV. That’s so much harder for me than just having a conversation (let’s be honest, lecture) about behavior, but so much more effective.

To teach my children kindness,  I must use kind words. Not lectures about being kind. To teach them gentleness,  I must actually be gentle. Not nag them to stop being hard on each other. And some days that seems like an impossibility. With a day full of “that’s my spot”, “you took my glass “, “it’s my turn”……… I finally explode “ENOUGH! WE WILL NOT YELL AT EACH OTHER IN THIS HOUSE!”

Modeling behavior really is everything, isn’t it? I know,  intellectually I mean, that to speak harshly and loudly to my kids when they are being disrespectful to each other makes zero sense.To rant and rail at how horrified I am at the level of disrespect in our home does not bring down the tension level. Not even a teeny bit.And yet…. Sigh.

I’m grateful that my kids are quick to forgive,  and we can even laugh about those ironic outbursts later,  but I’m ready for them to happen a whole lot less.

Creating a peaceful, happy home.  It really does begin and end with a peaceful, happy mama.

image (1)
NYC Christmas Day 2014

Bridges

image

“We are each an island,  but He gives us gifts to use as bridges into each other’s lives. When we lay down our gift,  we walk right over it and straight into another heart.”
-Glennon Doyle Melton/Carry on Warrior

I am grateful for friends and family who with their encouraging words have helped me find my gifts. Those gifts allow me to enter into someone else’s story,  and that’s just about the most precious thing in life.

Those generous words about what they see in me have helped me OWN my gifts,  and I want to use them up.

Here are the things I think act as my bridges:
~ Valuing other people’s stories, and remembering the details

~ Knowing that I am not in competition with anyone. You do your best and I’ll do mine. There is no such thing as Mother of the Year.

~ Connecting other women to each other; knowing intuitively that someone A needs someone B in their lives and trying to foster that connection

~ Words of encouragement.

~ Grace for all Mamas. I want us to win. No matter your “style”,  I am for you. I think we’re all in this together.

What is your gift? How can you build bridges? Our gifts are all so different. Let’s value each other’s gifts; to do so, we have to value our own. I think that if we don’t,  value our own I mean,  we can’t celebrate others. Looking closely at another person’s gifts will just lead to becoming jealous or feeling inferior. I want to celebrate your gift and allow it to be a bridge into my life,  not a place of comparison or envy.

I’ve learned so much watching others operate in their gifts. When I let it,  it HELPS and uplifts me instead of making me feel not enough. I’ve learned about graceful hostessing,  beautiful decorating,  joy in mothering,  unwavering faith in hardships, and perseverance in the daily grind of house and home from watching friends and family do it confidently. I’m so grateful.  I’m not naturally great at any of those things, but I’m a lot better than I once was because of the bridges those friends have built.

“Be confident because you are a child of God.

Be humble because everyone else is too.”

-Glennon Doyle Melton

-I wrote and published this on my phone. sitting outside my son’s CrossFit class…. Realizing that okay,  maybe,  I have a teeny tiny bit of envy and comparison with Crossfit Mamas whose gift is physical perseverance and endurance and amazing arms and tight buns. Whatever. I’m a work in no-comparison-allowed progress.

DIY Distressed Thrift Store Table

distressed table

 

Jonathan picked up this solid wood drop leaf table at a thrift store here in Clarksville for $25 bucks.  Woo-whoo!  It had some staining/damage on top, and some water rings, so I followed the advice found here on The Purple Paint Lady’s site to use a spray shellac before painting with chalk paint.  I pretty much just followed her tips, except I used the Americana Decor chalk paint from Home Depot (it took 1.5 of the 8 oz jars) instead of Annie Sloan brand.

This was my first time using chalk paint, and I’m a fan.  Nice to skip the sanding and priming steps that are required when you use regular latex paint. It’s not a smooth, perfect finish but it’s great for the distressed look I wanted. No worries about dirty shoes propped on the coffee table scuffing up my paint job  – it will just add to the charm!  [These are the things moms with wild children tell themselves.]

tablecollage

These are few of my favorite things.

little-women-wp
source

Do you have a few things on this earth that you just know will make you feel better? Just a degree or two better than however you were feeling before?  It might take you from ho-hum to happy, or move you from truly sad to just a little melancholy…but you know it will start you headed in the right direction.  Here are a few of mine, in no particular order:

  • Texas Ruby Red Grapefruit
  • Re-reading any of the following: Little Women, A Little Princess, Pride and Prejudice
  • Bethel worship videos on YouTube
  • Messaging with my friend Lisa in Germany on those beautiful rare occasions our time zones and free times both align; about once every 3 months
  • Letting my daughter brush and braid my hair
  • Cooking and eating a hearty soup —- the ultimate comfort food  (Here’s one that’s simmering away right now.)
  • Writing a quick letter and affixing a stamp and walking it to the mailbox
  • An afternoon cup of coffee with plenty of half and half
  • Taking my kids for a fountain drink at the gas station
  • A phone call with a family member
  • Scrubbing the kitchen counters, including the crumbs underneath the mixer and toaster
  • Turning up the Pandora Classic Rock station and singing along, air guitar to embarrass kids as it is called for

Thinking about how very few of these things include screen time motivates me to continue to try and decrease the TV/computer/phone time in my life.  (Yes. I get that I am typing this on a computer and you are likely reading it on a phone.  The irony is not wasted on me.)

Small joys.  They are the stuff of a rich, grateful life.  Taking time to pause and appreciate the small gifts that bring me joy make for a happier mama, and happier home.

It’s in all our best interest to keep the fridge stocked with grapefruit.