Easy DIY Gift

My current favorite easy and inexpensive DIY gift is a quote or scripture on a burlap frame.

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Supplies:

Burlap Frame (Pack of two at Walmart, less than $5)

Spray Adhesive

Upholstery Tacks

Favorite quote/paper/printer

Create your quote using different fonts with a program like picmonkey.com.  Print, cut to size, spray with adhesive, stick to burlap, adorn with upholstery tacks.  This one I made for my husbands office, but for a babies room or friend it would be cute adorned with buttons or a bow and your favorite sweet quote printed on fun paper.

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Finding Empathy

4thgrade
Aug 11th, 2015 Her first day of fourth grade!

Empathy.

 

I think it’s what happens when we sincerely ask the Lord to please PLEASE save us from ourselves and our tendency to judge.

My daughter is a smart, hard-working pleaser who is also occasionally a little distracted and scattered. Also a great description of her mother at age 9.

My first response when she left her homework folder in her desk at school was a lecture. “Make a plan to get it home! Everyday! Ask yourself everyday if you have what you need. Double check, there’s really no excuses….” But then I see her face,  full of disappointment in herself, and I am suddenly hurled thru time,  right back to the emotions of being in fourth grade and ONCE AGAIN turning in a perfect spelling test without my name on it. Minus 10 points. Again. Nine year old me was wrecked. “Why can’t I remember to do that?!?” I fully relive the frustration and bafflement. How can I get every word correct on every test, yet can’t remember a simple thing like putting my name on my paper?

So I exit that moment in my brain,  return to the present,  and by the grace of God skip the lecture and go with a hug.

Thank you Lord for the ways big and small that you are revealing hypocrisy in my heart and replacing it with grace. It feels Holy and special when it happens.  It does not feel like working to find empathy, it feels like being mysteriously and suddenly gifted it. I think these small moments are just practice, preparing me for the bigger moments, when my judgment of someone is messier and uglier and the grace-filled response costs much more and is harder to find. But I want that chance.

What is home anyway?

I have a really great life. A perfect life? No. I have certainly had heartache and loss; but I know God as healer and redeemer probably better than I know him in any other way, and he has been good to oversee my pain and certainly never waste it. Bumps in the road not withstanding, I really do get way down in my gut that my life is enviable. It humbles me. A good, good man who loves me.  Healthy kids.  Never missed a meal.  A family in Oklahoma who would do anything for me.

The one “hang up” and pity-party I keep revisiting in my adulthood, in spite of a full and joy-filled life, is my kids not being able to experience a strong sense of “hometown.” The crazy hometown pride, here’s where I from, it defines me in so many ways, I love it in spite of it’s flaws, yes please dress me in my high school colors 20 years later, that kind of home.  They may never feel about anywhere the way I feel about Oklahoma, because they’ve never been anywhere long enough.   And yes, that’s our bad. We did it. We keep moving them around the country.  Sometimes planned and exciting, sometimes unplanned and heartbreaking, but always landing somewhere where we eventually say, “Oh.  Yeah.  We get it now.  We trust you, Lord, with our whole lives. Thank you.”

So, my kids not having a home town, it’s a small grievance in an otherwise pretty charmed life.

I think I’m finally ready to let go of that heartache.  Here’s this burden Lord, I don’t want to carry it anymore. It’s time.  Now is the time partly because, let’s face it, my kids are age 13, 11, and 9. The one-hometown-for-their-whole-life ship has sailed. It’s ain’t happenin’ honey.

But also because the Lord has seen fit that now is the time for him to shine a gentle but very bright spotlight on my heart, and reveal the discontent there.  In short…he moved me to a military town.  So I have been given the precious chance of watching a handful of  families be moved, uprooted, have plans changed and changed again, all at the mercy of some higher up in an office somewhere sending them off to wherever the paperwork says to go.  They do it with joy and peace. They do it accepting the heartache that comes with saying goodbye, but without bitterness. If they feel a sense of loss over “home”, it’s not in a way that steals their joy.

So, this life of never being in one place long enough to lay down roots? It’s not the script we would have written.  But it’s okay.  Better than okay.  As I give up that wish and just go ahead and try and accept with joy that I didn’t get my way, I can more clearly see all the benefits of this life we’ve lived.

A friend once told me that my kids were “well on their way to becoming unflappable.”  It makes me tear up as I realize how true that is, and that I couldn’t have given them that gift with the life I would have planned had I been in charge. They’ve earned their grit the same way we have.  I’m grateful.

And I hope for them that someday they can process whatever heartache and unfulfilled wished-for-things they encounter in their own lives, and find the beauty in it.

So, you are all my witnesses that I am fully accepting this life of ours with joy: Dallas.  Lubbock.  Georgia.  And now, Lord willing for a good long while, Tennessee. I’m glad for the lessons, love, and beauty found in all of those places.

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“Home is wherever I’m with you.”  A cliche by now, but also the God’s honest truth.  Home is the place that’s safe.  Home is where you are known, loved, celebrated, and accepted.  And we’ve always, always had that.  Always will.

Family History in the Kitchen

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This Pepsi crate is stamped “Tulsa, OK”, and it’s something my Grandpa somehow acquired half a century ago.  I saw it on a shelf in my mom’s garage, and asked her for it.  (Thanks to lemonademakinmama for the idea to use it on my kitchen counter; I first saw it on her blog!)

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The white milk glass pitcher was given to my grandparents as a wedding present in 1951.  I rescued it from their storage shed.  The Bowl of Fruit was painted by my daughter.

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These “vintage” metal measuring spoons were one of several sets my Grandma had squirreled away in a drawer, and my mom brought them to me after I someone lost my plastic set in the most recent move.

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These pyrex bowls were my Grandma’s too.  I don’t have a good story for how I acquired them.  I think I basically took them out of her cabinet, with permission. Smile.

 

Sweet little reminders of family all over my kitchen.

you oughta make a frittata

fritatta

 

 

A quick story before we begin: For a good long bit I’ve had blog posts I’ve wanted to write in my head, and then I don’t write them because my photography abilities are about negative 17.

But here’s the deal…..I bought a fancy used DSLR camera.  I tried learning.  I didn’t enjoy it and I wasn’t very good at it.  So, I sold it.  The end.

So, the frittata! My new favorite go-to meal.   I have to write about the frittata even though my pictures don’t do it justice. (See story above.)  Do you know about frittatas? They are basically a crustless quiche and they’re perfect for using up veggies or leftover meat or whatever else you need to use up and get dinner on the table quick.  I like these instructions for ideas about what to include in your frittata, but the basic gist is this:

1.  In an oven proof skillet (cast iron if ya got it), saute your veggies on medium heat. For the picture above, I used onion, mushrooms, and spinach.  Salt liberally.

2. When veggies are soft, entirely cover them with shredded cheese.

3. When cheese has melted, whisk 9 eggs with a tablespoon of milk or half and half. Pour over cheese and veggies.

4. When eggs begin to set around the edges, transfer to 400 degree oven for 8-10 minutes.  Take out of oven and let rest for 5 or so minutes before cutting.  Done!

 

I have three kiddos.  One of them devours this dish heartily with much praise for the chef, asking for seconds. One child eats one serving without a lot of excitement, but eats it nonetheless.  And one scrapes off the egg and cheese layer, leaving the vegetables on the plate.  2 out of 3 ain’t bad people.

 

Joy in the Home When You’re Raising Tweens and Teens

 

PicMonkey Collage

Way back on Mother’s Day, our pastor asked, “What would your kids say if asked ‘Do you think Mom is fun?'” (I haven’t asked my kids yet. I’m a scaredy-cat.) It wasn’t a question posed to heap yet another responsibility on moms.  I know my tendency when I hear a question like that is to respond with a sarcastic, “Oh great, now in addition to laundry and dishes and taxi service I have to be a comedienne?!? Perfect.”  But the point of the question was to help us remember to find joy in this journey.  With all the tasks before us, and the job of raising polite, respectable, and competent humans, us moms can get weighed down and driven and forget to laugh and have fun.  Tweens and teens tend to be in a life stage where emotions run high, and frustration and quarreling (amongst siblings as well as with parents) can set a kind of bummer mood in the home sometimes.

I think I was pretty great at “fun” when my kids were young.  I mean, preschoolers think everything is giggle-worthy, right?  Anyone reading this for a while remembers when my kiddos were itty-bitty that I loved documenting the fun we had around this place. But some years have passed….and themed family nights just don’t quite go over the same with tweens and teens.

So how to cultivate joy and laughter with kids who are in this stage?  Hyper self-awareness and sensitivity toward being “laughed at” (even if that’s not your intent) can sometimes rule the day.

I think the very best, gut-busting laughter and joy happen spontaneously when our heart is right and we are trying to intentionally enjoy our kids instead of just manage them.  But I also think that in these tween/teen years, when attitudes are being addressed, rules are being challenged, and behaviors are being shaped, it’s good to try and bring some deliberate, intentional fun to the home.  Here are some things that seem to work to lift spirits around here:

– looking through old vacation pics together, sharing fun memories

– watching funny YouTube videos together

– give everyone a $5 bill and set them loose in Target

– no one ever says no to a spontaneous ice cream run

– making fun of old pictures of Mom and Dad from Jr. High and High School

– let them create the playlist for the car when you’re running errands

– nerf gun wars are still a hit

– making slow-mo videos

– anything spontaneous and out of the ordinary: Jump in the lake with clothes on, swim in the neighborhood pond, spray them down with the kitchen sink sprayer, agree to let them dumpster dive and build something with the old scrap wood they find…..Anytime they anticipate you will say “no” and you say “yes” instead generates good vibes!

-find some FUN games that you actually might enjoy a little.  As mom to a tween you’ve long said see ya later sucker to Candyland and Chutes and Ladders and GOOD RIDDANCE!  A favorite around here right now is Rummikub.

-give them some challenges that involve cold hard cash.  My brother-in-law recently offered my 13 year old a generous cash prize if he could solve a Rubik Cube within 3 days.  He successfully completed the challenge, and I didn’t hear “I’m bored” for 3 whole days!  Plus it was a great lesson in not giving up. Other challenge ideas would be finishing a book series within a certain amount of time (for reluctant readers), or running a mile within a certain time (for reluctant movers).

– other moms do cool stuff like play video games with their kids.  I have resolved this will never be me.  I just don’t even get it. Minecraft seems like the most boring thing on the planet to me.  I will occasionally submit to a 2 minute “okay, show me your new world you created” but that’s as much effort as I’m willing to give.  I’m out.

Yet again, this post is written for THIS mama writing it.  Here’s to enjoying my kids, finding joy in the journey, laughter, and FUN!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Running water and tall trees.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.”

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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

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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:

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Battle of Yorktown

 

 

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Beautiful blue skys for our tour of Historic Jamestown
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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.

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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:

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Washington Square Park
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Times Square
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Rockefeller Center
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Central Park
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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.
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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.

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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!