Saturday, November 30, 2013

American Jesus, Etc...



Well, Black Friday was more wonderful than expected.

Our trip to Ohio fall through at the last moment and I was honestly dreading the day, myself and all 4 of the kids cooped up. I thought there would be massive amounts of angst happening, mixed with a loud, chatty, drama-laden dose of Robert.

Hallelujah, I was wrong.

All I'll say is this: Holding "If you're good today, we can put the Christmas tree up later" over the head of my shortest shortie proved to be a powerful motivator.


We did two Christmas crafts yesterday morning, made Bisquick waffles (is there any other kind??) for lunch, had the tree up by 4, and went to Pizza Hut at 5 to celebrate the end of our dreadful 5-week stretch between paydays. We made it! Whew. It was nip and tuck.

I was reminded (again) of the simple sweetness of these little people.


Last night I dreamed we sold our house and moved one block up the street, into a ridiculous shamble of a home. I spent most of the dream crying my eyes out and told Cory at the end that I would have to shut down my blog because "My readers can't take any more of this!" hahahahaaaaa! Dreams are so messed up and hilarious. And for the record, we have no plans to move, but should that ever change, you're coming with me. Like it or not.


For today, I wanted to share my guest post at The American Jesus. I stumbled on this blog for the first time a couple weeks ago and instantly fell in love. I submitted a guest post later that day and was thrilled when it was chosen, along with 4 other fantastic posts. Check it out and be sure to nose around a bit. (He lists some of his most popular posts on his sidebar - that's a good place to start.)

All hell broke loose when we adopted a 19-year old convicted felon and welcomed him into our home.
The problem wasn’t him, or at least he wasn’t the biggest problem.
The problem wasn’t us, or at least we weren’t the biggest problem.
The poker-hot problem was the voice of other Christians in our ear.
- See more at: http://theamericanjesus.net/?p=11189#sthash.g1pzELoJ.dpuf
All hell broke loose when we adopted a 19-year old convicted felon and welcomed him into our home.

The problem wasn't him, or at least he wasn't the biggest problem.

The problem wasn't us, or at least we weren't the biggest problem.

The poker-hot problem was the voice of others Christians in our ear.

Click here to keep reading...

Happy weekend, Homies!


Friday, November 29, 2013

This IS the Big Time


Thanksgiving held her own this year.
All she was asking... was forrrr alittle respect just-a-little-bit. Right?
You give her a chance, and she knocks your socks clean off.

This was our family Thanksgiving and it was completely perfect, especially after we managed to wrestle Robert's cell phone from his hands. Just before we prayed, Calvin raced upstairs and came back down with a strange, stained button-down thrown over his t-shirt. He felt a sudden and visceral need to be "dressy" for dinner.

I'm really so proud of all our kids. They're so quirky and rad. They just make life better.

I cooked alllll day long, but it's what I wanted. I wanted to honor them with my time and effort.
They didn't hold some glowy, swirly ideal of what Thanksgiving dinner should be.
We just like each other. Our history keeps wrapping us tighter.
And it's easy to think about who might have been missing, but all that really matters is that all of us weren't.

I kept looking around the table thinking, I can't imagine if it was just 5 of us. I truly couldn't picture it. This is who we are, right now. And sometimes there are others and I'm sure things will keep shifting and moving, but this is today and today is just right.

This was our main course since I had roast in the freezer. YUM. (Mine slow-cooked an hour or two longer than what the recipe recommended.)

I made two desserts from scratch - a pumpkin cheesecake that Robert linked on my facebook wall (he's subtle like that) and this buttermilk chocolate layer cake.

Doesn't this look delicious and beautiful and very, very impressive?

Well.

For one thing, the cakes came out of the oven swirled. I don't know how that happened. The batter was lovely and delicious. For another thing, my frosting didn't come out rich and shiny looking. Basically, mine looked 15% like the photo on the recipe. Please don't look. You'll lose all faith in me.

Then I cut it, and let's just say, I had to push down on the knife with a bit more force than I would have hoped. The kids all ate it like champs. Haven had my back saying, "It's not dry...it's...flaky!" Like that was a compliment. :)

It's the thought that counts, and that's no joke.

So, are you people Black Friday Maniacs? We're watching the news right now where all kinds of weirdos are saying they lined up at Best Buy on Wednesday at 7pm. WHAT???!

I'm not a Black Friday girl.
Unless Black Friday is celebrated by staying in bed until 8:30 then schlepping around in pajamas until noon and curling up with this book whilst tuning out cooped-up, arguing, shorties. In that case, yes, I'm definitely a Black Friday kind of girl.

I do have my eye on one deal - my homies at Canvas People are running a special for a free 8x10 or $40 off larger sizes. Whenever they lose their good sense, I try to add to my collection. But, you know, you could go a different route and wow a parent, friend, or husband.

And with that, I give my official blessing for Christmas Mayhem to commence.

See how reasonable I am?

Hope your day was a stunner.




Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Place



A few days ago, I started to worry about Thanksgiving.

I read Becca's post and it ripped my guts out. It's beautiful and wild, and there's just no combination I love more these days. I felt so proud of my girl for loving her people so fully, so well.

It got me all excited.
It made me jealous.

I wanted that big room bursting at the seams, rowdy boys and ladies taking a load off. I wanted to be in that mix. It made me envious that our life is so settled here, in our little hood. It's not even close to crazy enough.

If all of this sounds messed up to you, it's only because it is.
I'm choosing desperate honesty, friends. Anything else is wasting our time.

And isn't this just like Satan? It's just like that nasty rat to make us compare gifts and decide ours come up lacking.

It's just like him to tell us the neighbors don't need us and we don't need them. It's just like him to make us believe we should go big or stay home.

The truth is, sometimes God's ridiculous request is that we go small and stay put.

Because while I lamented the dearth of prostitutes on 5th Street, there sat a strapping kid slurping his first mug of homemade cocoa in amazement. I handed him a beater from the whipped cream. He licked it and asked, "How'd you do that?" He tracked me down in the laundry room and said I "nailed" it. He joked that it was never too late for that mom-sort of thing, and though I laughed along with him, we both thanked God that it's true.

Thanksgiving is family. It's God's provision bowing the table legs.

I can't stomach the thought of anyone missing out on this communion, this clasping of hands and clatter of voices.  I pray God leads them here, somehow, some way. I pray that when He does, I recognize them as belonging to me - my family.

It's Wednesday morning and we're all up to our earlobes in potato peels and gravy. It's hectic and the lists are long, but we still have a whole day to become someone's place at the table. There's plenty of time for a family to grow.

I know wishing is for Christmas, but I'm taking an advance today. I don't want anyone left in the lurch this year. I want to be sick to death of living the traditions of exclusion and convenience.

I want us all to believe what we offer - our tiny, messy kitchens, our pans of mac & cheese - take the form of the living, breathing God who lives in us and moves among us.

I want more of the healing that happens when strangers and meth-heads and broken girls and lost boys and compulsive liars and lonely dads and welfare babies and slum lords and undocumented citizens and grieving women and tired grandmas and the scared, the broken, the prideful, the closed-minded, the ashamed and impatient and angry and loud come together and share a pan of Parker House rolls.

This is God's body, broken for every single one of us, no exceptions.

Be ready for them, friends - the one person or the twenty.
Be ready to welcome them the way you have been welcomed.

Skewer every lie with the jagged end of the wish bone.
All of it, any of it, is BIG and worthy.

Happy Thanksgiving, Sisters. Happy Thanksgiving, Brothers.


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Fatherhood Project

From the time we began intentionally walking toward urban American poverty, aside from all of the faith issues it raised in me, I've also spent a lot of time thinking about two specific things: Education, and Fathers.

I see babies who will grow into fathers and fathers who have barely left childhood. We sit here at center-stage, the vicious cycle of abandonment-suffering-lack of knowledge-parenthood-abandonment-suffering swirling over our heads and right under our noses. When a boy never learns what a father is, how can he possibly hope to do better? When a boy learns to hate his dad, to never trust him, how can he chart a different course with his own children? And how can a young mother hold realistic expectations for the father of her children, when her own caused her untold pain?


I'd wager none of us here had perfect dads. My relationship with my dad has been frustrating at times, complicated in patches. We've struggled to find common ground and shared interests. But there has never been a day when I was unsure of my status with him - fully loved. My childhood is rooted in both my parents, my Dad grounded us, he ground us still. Despite his own weaknesses and regardless of our own, he etched our names across his heart, he still keeps his promises.

It hurts to admit I've taken that for granted at times.

Now, I look at the lives around me and ask the question, though I know the answer - how would things be different for them if they had what I have?

We're simple beings, defaulting most often to the thing we know best. In some cases, this happens to be the ideal. We're lucky enough to have predictable patterns to trace. We know a little about self-sacrifice and providing. It became part of our fabric when we weren't even looking.

Others struggle against a fate they didn't ask for. Some manage to learn what matters in spite of all they lacked - an education holding greater capacity to change the world than any Ivy League degree.

It's a complex reality, one worthy of our sincere thought and attention.
There's got to be a better way.

My friend Corby Tyson just produced a pilot show for Rainn "Dwight Shrute" Wilson's production company, Soulpancake.

It's titled The Fatherhood Project and it will pierce you and make you nostalgic and possibly weepy. It might break your heart. It might leave you feeling hopeful, or ready for change.

If this pilot episode gets enough views, they'll put additional episodes into production following the same Fatherhood theme. This is the power of media at its best.



Have a watch. And please, share on facebook and twitter so this story can continue.

ps - Happy Birthday, Papa. I love you and appreciate all the ways you keep on trying and working for our family. Also, the hooded rainbow shirt you bought me for Christmas when I was a little girl will always be my favorite, because you picked it just for me.


Monday, November 25, 2013

Just Run with It


Silas and I hung this garland last Thursday. We're trying to do better about displaying some of the hundreds of photos we take every month and this was the perfect application. Aside from the cost of printing the pics, the only additional expense was a $1 bag of tiny clothes pins. (Silas calls them "clippers" and he should know, because he was in charge of handing them to me.)

It's my new favorite thing in the house and I'm not even close to being ready to take it down.

I find myself getting all twitched-up, because this is Thanksgiving week. There's so much to do but they're all good things and I don't want to forfeit a moment of this right here because I'm too busy thinking about what comes next.

There's plenty of time for that.

I'm not ready to think about taking down the paint-by-numbers. They still make me so happy.
And my 10-cent gourds are still fresh as a weirdo, bumpy-skinned daisy.
The foot turkeys? I can't compose myself enough to even talk about it.

I'm content here.
I'm wading around in dashed-off grocery lists, debating the merits of various non-pie pumpkin baked goods and desserts.

It's full of promise but slow as a Sunday nap.

This is the season. This one, right here. It's where we are and it shouldn't be short-changed or over-shadowed. How can we possibly celebrate the day of gratitude when we're up on our tippy toes looking over its head?

I shall now hop down from my high horse.
You're welcome.

I know most of you don't feel as strongly about this sort of thing. Seasonal allegiance is one of my spiritual gifts, that's all.

I promise I don't judge you early-Christmas-music listeners ducking your heads in shame. It's okay, lovies. Come on out behind that pre-Thanksgiving Christmas tree. We can surely live in harmony.

Just tell me this: Pumpkin coffee cake with brown sugar glaze? Pumpkin cream cake? Pumpkin cinnamon rolls with maple cream cheese frosting? Pumpkin scones with maple glaze?

I'll let you know what I decide.

Happy week-of, friends.


PS - I found the rad Grateful pumpkin print a few weeks ago in my friend Sasha's shop. I loved it immediately for its pure and simple sentiment. Annnnd, it's a fresh variation on all the typical orange. I tried to buy it but she got all rascally and sent it for free. Yeesh, my life is rough. She's got so many sweet goodies happening in her store and she's gracious enough to offer you guys 10% off anything you fancy with the code "flowerpatch". (The offer expires in one week and her shop closes for the holidays on Dec. 13th.)


Saturday, November 23, 2013

{ }


I've spent almost five years blogging, detailing bits and slivers of this life, wrapping them up in context, chiseling the stone so these moments stay right here forever.

It's something most people probably can't understand, this compulsion to document, to share in the town square. But because I do this, because I was meant to do this, it's woven into every thread of the fabric. This online space circles my mind in a hundred different ways, sometimes orbiting from a distance, sometimes pulling into the atmosphere, just one keystroke or shutter-click away from memorializing what matters to me.

I sailed away yesterday with some of my favorite people, the camera stowed and ready, and it never made it out of the bag. It was the kind of living that's so easy to share, dripping spectacular city lighting and bluesy ambiance. Of course I thought about grabbing that camera, but sometimes you just don't want to break the spell.

It snoozed through life-changing guac and tacos that still have me quaking in my boots, through drizzled streets and holding hands, second-hand J Crew marked $15 that made me thrilled for its simple existence, no purchase required.

I sank down into stadium seating while everyone around me stood, where it was just me and the cello, a handful of rockers with simple lyrics that stirred me up because they slowed me down. I listened in storylines and thought in promises.

I've got nothing to show for my last 36 hours, not a pixel to be found.

I have tired eyes and and a settled soul, but there's no good way to show you. I have new hope for my future. My confidence in all the weird things has been restored, or at least spit-shined.

You'll just have to take my word for it this time.



Friday, November 22, 2013

Party People


I spent the day getting ready for a party.
Siley and I were all low-key. We stayed in pajamas most of the day. I did a little cleaning up, which is the main reason I try to have company now and then.
But I also feel like I don't want things to ever be too perfect, cause that's just now how we roll.
And I don't feel as comfortable in someone's home if every single thing is spotless.

But I digress.

It really was a relaxing, productive day.
And here's the honest truth, I thought of you guys. I wished I could have a big Us party, and give you all treats. Do you believe me? Does this sound cheesy?

So what. It's true.
I was standing there dipping oranges in chocolate and thinking that you guys are my friends and my people. It feels weird to have a party and not invite you'ns.

Just know you're loved, okay?

Said oranges.
Aren't they cute?
Well, they very nearly killed me.

Melting chocolate is not my forte, okay?
But they were DELISH.

I found this recipe here.
I did something I've never done in the history of the world and made the cranberry sauce a day ahead. WHAT? I did. I planned ahead.
I sort of made up the cranberry sauce recipe as I went. It was easy and YUM.

We also had hot tea.

So the snacks were the easiest ever, minus the whole chocolate debacle, but I really don't want to talk about that.

Fine.
I burned the chocolate.
Then I started over and it was perfect.
So I wisely thought, "I think I'll add some heavy cream! It will make it even smoother and glossier!"
AND THEN IT TURNED TO GANACHE.
So by that time, all the good chocolate was ruined.
But luckily I had some chocolate chips.
So I went ahead and burned those, too.
It's just what I do.

This is my new friend, Jolene. We live in the same town. I ran into her at the coffee shop two weeks after I got back from Ethiopia and she was wearing Noonday and I totally recognized it. Turns out, she's a Noonday ambassador. Also, she has 3 little sweeties adopted from Ethiopia. Anyway, yada yada, I instantly loved her and immediately blurted out, "I want to host a trunk show."

I haven't hosted one of "those" invite-lots-of-friends kinds of parties in roughly 8 years. I'm usually just not into it.
But this company has such a heart. All of their pieces support artisans from developing countries. Their work keeps families intact. It provides money for food and needed medication.

This is orphan prevention.
It's advocating for the helpless.
It speaks to my heart.

And...

I Can't.

 Stop.

Loving.

Everything Noonday Sells.

I earned some credit with my sale tonight. This is one contender. It's between this one and 18 others.

This stuff is so statement-piecey. But there's something for everyone. There were some really beautiful, delicate pieces. I may have literally drooled on the Ethiopian collection made from recycled artillery shells.

 
 It's definitely not the same, but pretend you're choosing a mug from my thrift-store mug collection and I'll boil the water.

Have a look at the Noonday Collection stuff and buy something for your mother-in-law who has everything, or your best friend because she makes you a better person, or yourself, because you're just so money and you don't even know it.

At check-out, put Shannan Martin in the section "Trunk Show Name".

Voila.

And one of these days, let's throw a big bash and party together for real.
But you gotta melt the chocolate.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

So, About Those Dreams



Relief over misery. I've seen the enemy. And I won't go back. Back to how it was. - Switchfoot, This is Home

All the world seems a little bluesy lately. Or maybe it's just me? The time of year?
Last November was so full of crushing tragedy. This one is different. Hallelujah.

But where one year ago the train whistle wailed like one hundred breaking hearts, now it just sounds tired. Spent. The sluggish footnote to one more year.

Who wants to live like that?

Not me, that's who. I seem to have taken a hiatus from dreaming. I've been treading water too long. I think I've forgotten I was allowed, maybe. Or I just didn't give myself the room.

So this is my small November suffering - a dream deficiency. (And I'm not talking about the kind where my molars crumble or I've forgotten to study for my chemistry final. Or the kind where one of my kids turns into just a head with no body and I carry on like it's normal. Or the kind where my mom gets pregnant at the age of 65 and I decide she did it just to end up in the news.)

The remedy is day-dream supplements, as many as possible, taken most optimally in the steam of the shower or with your hands in a bowl of dough.

Here's my list, for now.
It's subject to change by the hour.  Change is mandatory, in fact.

* I'd really like a gray polka-dotted sweater. Call me a trend-hopper. If the cotten-blend fits, I'll wear it.  Ruche has a super cute one for around $30.

* I've never had my make-up done by one of those ladies at the department store counter. Have you? Because I feel like I've missed out. Would they make me all smokey and smoldery? Would they plaster me up a quarter-inch thick? Who knows. The suspense is killing me.

* I want to sit and read for two uninterrupted hours. Right now this book is Slaying me. Capital S. Gorgeous prose and every analogy is food-related. Nothin' butter'n that! (See how I did that? I should totally be a writer.)

* Related side-note: Calvin is all hopped up right now on this book. It's imaginative, moody, and intriguing and as a bonus, we found a potential typo! (Either that, or we're more behind than we even knew.)

*Face wash with glycolic acid. Self-explanatory. All the "experts" say I need it, because I'm, uh, aging. All I use right now is baking soda in the a.m. and generic Cetaphil for oily skin in the p.m. Your thoughts on this?

* Our bedroom is a hot mess. We collect junk there. We have no curtains. One of us has a bent toward untidiness, though I shan't name names. I think curtains would be a fine place to start. After that, in my dream-world, I'm sending out an SOS to this lady. Because she works it. She works it.

* Silas and I would dearly love one of those ceramic table-top Christmas trees with actual, light-up lightbulbs. Please tell me you follow me here...my Aunt Carol used to have one. Or maybe it was Aunt Jan. One of the Aunts had one. I think ALL of the aunts EVERYWHERE probably had one at one point.

* I'd like this girl and this girl to sit down and create a rotating schedule in which they deliver dinner to my door each evening or, at the very least, teach me to make my food pictures look prettier. That's all I'm asking. Oh, they also have to keep me company while I eat. No big.

* I want to be the boss of my inbox.

* I want a solo salsa/movie night with Cory. (Hi, teenager who isn't allowed to leave the house - EVER. I'm looking at you!)

* I want to take a trip for our 15th Anniversary. (Money's no object when I'm dreaming in the steam!)

* I miss game night with our Big Kids. They pretend like it's dorky and then they can't stop loving it. But now they're both gainfully employed and parents and it never happens anymore. ((rubs genie lamp)) MAKE IT HAPPEN!

That might be all for now.

Come on, guys, play along!
What are you dreaming about right about now?


PS - The book links and the Ruche link are affiliate links, which means if you buy something, I get a small commission. The end.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Little Window is Large Enough



I keep finding myself a little lost in patches, hazy blue down at my hem.

Survival mode has its merits. There's value in just doing a hard thing, in putting one foot in front of the other, in recalibrating one's personal universe in such a way that a new rhythm is inadvertently plunked out - the melody in a minor key.

But living this way can also fray the soul if you're not careful. A wide-stretched life can gut you in the middle.

And before you know it, you can't stop saying how tired you are.
And before you know it, you're always chasing, never steady, lamenting the day when you should be clinking salsa bowls.
And before you know it, you're passing the baton and it's all relay. The teamwork spins in two separate orbits, not because you have any hope of winning but simply so you'll keep on breathing.

But some days, those orbits collide. They fuse. You find yourself there with your elusive fixer, that guy who picks up all your slack while you pick up his. You get just enough time - just enough to breathe in then out, and it's not perfect, but that illusion is long gone and no one misses it.

I'm going to go out on a limb - my marriage could not survive our life without moments like these. Call me weak, I don't mind. Am I spoiled? Maybe.
But I need time alone with Cory. It's one of the things I miss most about the good ol' days. We have to hunt it down now and hook it through the nose. It's complicated and far too sporadic, but so worth it when it happens. It just makes everything better.

{My official favorite fashionABLE  scarf, the Genet. Extra weighty for winter and makes every single outfit look cooler.}

Here's what we did on our fortuitous 4-hour day-date:
Coffee (him)/Earl Grey and pumpkin muffin (me) at The Brew
Church sale
Goodwill
Consignment store
Fancy lunch
Antiques store
Book store

(We fit as much food in as possible. It's our "thing".)

This photo brought to you by: I Can't Be Trusted At a Church Sale (& Ruby)
$3/bag, baby! You'd better believe I crammed all this into one, fine bag.

I wisely deduced that we could spring for "fancy" since it was lunch. Then we sat down, they poured our water, and regret started its low boil. $14 for a sandwich? That ship has sailed, my friends.

I was at risk of ruining the moment with my weirdness. I kept thinking, "I would be happy with 2 Doritos Locos tacos", but then Cory sprang for a cup of chowder along with his 14-karat chicken sandwich and the spell was fully cast. It was too late for second-guessing.

I enjoyed my overpriced salad so much. Those capers made my mouth pucker in the best way possible.

And then.

And then.

For the first time in my life, the waitress sashayed over and said, just above a whisper, "Your check has been taken care of." She left a plate of chocolate chip cookies and waltzed away. Cory didn't want his, so I ate both. See? The story keeps getting better.

Woven through those 240 minutes, I found room enough to dream a little. I decided it's not too frivolous. It's necessary, at least to me. It's how I connect my head with my heart.

I just think, God? You sure are rad.
You invented all the ways of giving me what I need. And though it sometimes seems like your clock is overdue for a tune-up, I'm the one getting rusty on the inside.



Our date was 5 days ago. Am I still floating on one of its sparkly sunbeams?
Not even close.

But I was reminded of a few important things.
I did my hair first thing in the morning on a weekday.
I wore many layers and foolishly mixed my patterns.
I read Cory's mind from across a crowded room without the hum of interruption.

The day was all orange, persimmon-smooth and warm as a fire dance.

It was the opposite of blue.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Simple, Delicious Tomato Basil Soup


We're in full-on soup mode around here.
Robert is less than thrilled

Here's one thing we've discovered - he grew up eating very differently than we do. He once said, very nicely, "I just don't like most of the stuff you make." Recently, he clarified by saying, "Oh mom, it's not that you're a bad cook, you just use ingredients I don't like."

That's the problem - ingredients. And it's not the specific ingredients I use, it's that I use ingredients.

This kid was raised on a steady diet of chips and frozen pizza and boxed everything.

You know me, I'm not about to hate on chips or frozen pizza. But there's something to be said for having lots of "ingredienty" foods between the nights I completely give up entirely. (And those nights definitely happen.)

This is my all-time favorite tomato soup.

But let me clarify.

I have never in my life had a bowl of Campbell's tomato soup. I had lots of other kinds of Campbell's soup as a kid, but never tomato. Turns out my mom wasn't a fan, and you know how that goes.

A couple years ago I accidentally tasted the elusive soup and was shocked to see it was basically the sauce from Spaghettios. Yikes.

(True, I've always had a soft spot for Spaghettios. The story keeps getting weirder, right?)

Long story short, I decided I love tomatoes, but don't like tomato soup.

That all that changed a year or so ago.

I found a recipe that looked fresh and simple and I gave it a whirl. It  was alright, but there were still things that bugged me. So I tweaked it and twerked it.

Okay, no, there was actually zero twerking involved.

The end result is the stuff snowy Indiana evenings are made of. It's flavorful and creamy, not too chunky but with a little bit of texture.
I'm confident it'll translate swimmingly to any region or climate.

This week, I served it with a very high-brow partner - refrigerator biscuits stuffed with Velveeta.
OH MY WORD, these two were meant to be together! (Flatten out two biscuits, stick a cube of Velveeta in the middle, crimp edges together, bake on a baking sheet according to package directions.)


5-Ingredient Tomato Basil Soup

1 T olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced (if they're really small cloves, use more!)
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp sea salt
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes with basil
1 28-oz can regular crushed tomatoes
2 cups chicken (or veg) stock
1/4 cup heavy cream
Big fistful of chopped fresh basil (1/4 - 1/2 cup, depending on your preference. I like lots!)

Heat oil in your soup pot over medium heat and add garlic until softened, being careful not to burn it. Add both cans of tomatoes, sugar, salt, and broth. Cook at medium heat for a few minutes, then drop to low and simmer at least 10 minutes, though I usually do at least 20.

Before serving, add cream and top with basil.

Feel free to tell us about your favorite soup in the comments.

Happy Friday!


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Thoughts From the Unpracticed Mom of a Teenager



Just like that, it's officially winter over here. The kids have begged for this for months, adamant that it's their favorite. And then it came. And we're all sort of feeling the fall-out.

I can't adjust, not like this. My new fall jacket just arrived two days ago, for Pete's sake!

But we're coping the only ways we know how - with lots of soup, carbs, library books, and plenty of sitcoms after dark. Which happens to be around 5:45. Not that we've noticed.

The bad news is, we're officially caught up on New Girl. 48 episodes left us feeling like they were family and now they've vanished into the deep recesses of wherever entire seasons of shows go to retire, which, in this case, has to be somewhere quirky and weird. We miss them.

On a scale of 1-10, how tired are you of hearing about this obsession? I almost lead with it, but coupled with yet another photo of the green table, I thought you'd probably all just skip it.

Now you feel tricked, don't you?

As with every change of season, I've been doing a little too much thinking lately, a sure sign it's time for an adventure of some sort.
Life with our youngest has been really hard again.
Life with our oldest has gotten mysteriously easier in recent weeks.

By "easier", I mean he's stopped being such a grump. (Maybe we've stopped being such grumps, too. I'll have to ask him.) We've come to a cease-fire in some of the nagging disputes we'd been waging week after blasted week.

He's following me around the house again, hugging me one hundred times a day, forcing me to find a new way of believing my affection isn't reserved for people shorter than myself.

He's tossing all the little kids around, tickling them while they beg him to stop and hope that he won't.

He got his driver's license last week so we celebrated with doughnuts and ordered a covert pizza after the littles were asleep, but Robert also fell asleep before we even got it home. (His 5a.m. mornings are catching up to him.)

Calvin yells downstairs, "Robert! Mom and Dad need you!" and it sounds like it's always been that way. We trace his giant hand next to ours on Siley's family project and find a perfect fit on the page. He braids Ruby's hair, "You gotta hold still, Sis". It all seems perfectly right. The kiddos understand on every level that Robert belongs to them. It helps.

I guess what I want you to know is this: Bringing our tallest kid into the mix is one of the hardest things we've ever done. We have doubted and stewed. We've worried and wished. I have accused him of not really wanting us, as insecure as the mom of a teenager as I was as a teenager myself.

We've yelled and stood our ground. We've all had moments of behaving badly, then realizing again that "loving" from a place of stubbornness isn't really loving at all.

He's eager to get his own place and I want it both ways. I want a taste of quiet, of getting babysitters and going on dates again, of not wearing a bra until midnight, of experiencing, once again, the delight of the left-over.

But I only want it for like one week.

And then I want him back, right here, following me around, pressing his perpetually warm cheek to mine, causing mayhem during homework hour, talking so dang loud. I want him at the island, telling me everything I never wanted to know about being a laminator in a factory. I want him laying on the couch and making his beloved baloney sandwiches in the kitchen. I want him screaming "MOM!" and flushing cigarette butts down the toilet.

I want to keep him under my thumb and pretend he isn't almost 20.

I want to micro-manage him forever, because it feels much safer and I think I might be more effective than God. (Keeping it real, God.)

I want to keep him with us, because I'm afraid he'll forget us and I know we won't be the same without him.

Is this normal teenage parenting stuff? Tell me, please.
Do the stakes always feel this high?

I know messing up is inevitable, but I know messing up means different things for this kid.

I don't have tidy answers right now, just the niggling twitch that things can't stay simple forever. The leaves all come down, eventually.

For now, I'll lean into my instinct to pull everyone in for the winter, bundle us together while we're all right here, and pray we make it through and then keep on making it through after that.



Tuesday, November 12, 2013

small



If I'm completely honest, I forget my calling sometimes.
Often, in fact.

I'm prone to turning the right thing into something bigger or glitzier than it was ever meant to be.
I feel the need to shine things up a bit. I over-analyze, plumb weird situations for deeper meaning, twist my back turning a phrase into something that will resonate, something that will be remembered. (And by "remembered" I mean "retweeted", of course.)

I'm a thinker and a doer, but on top of that I'm also a writer and a human.
It can get a little sketchy.

I share the urge to be noticed, applauded, adored, high-fived, respected and admired. The problem is, I'm starting to see with tack-sharp clarity the true beauty of feeling forgotten and ignored sometimes, of living a life that makes people scratch their heads before walking away, of flinging my inadequacies at one who manages to make use of them.

God has humbled me so many times in the past couple of years and despite my fervent insistence that I've gotten the memo, He keeps carrying on with His bad self, sizing me up against all He is, proving His greatness in ways that command my attention.

What on earth would happen if I began to truly believe Christ doesn't need me noticed or worthy? What would become of me if I loosened my grip on my reputation and simply stayed low to the ground, doing what He asked without bouncing every possible outcome off my oversaturated opinion of myself?

It's really hard to value less "stuff" in a world of more.
It feels almost impossible to value less me in the face of platforms, followers, pageviews, and pins.

But I believe what He said, that He is much in my little, that the way to more Him is paved with less me. I've lived a life that tempted me to believe I was pretty awesome, so responsible, smart, and savvy. I'm terrified of going back, yet I can't stop looking over my shoulder.

So, this is what I pray right now, with knocking knees: God, keep me small. Let me never taste enough success to believe I earned it. Let my life continue to confuse people. Keep me stammering, fumbling, walking in reverse. 

It's so tempting to turn around and wish for a lie. I do it all the time.

But He shows me, every single day, why this is right. He does trick math with my weaknesses from center stage and loves me through my doubting. I keep on seeing how all the fame is His.

I want more of that.

I want to live small.

**

My rad belt-buckle key-chain was a gift from my friend Becky. You can get yours here but only through November 20th, so better get moving! (Her shop will reopen again in February.) Use the code Shannan15 for 15% off any purchase through the 20th.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Why We Come




We sit in the very last row, the high November sun filtering through glass stained green. I never saw myself in a stained glass church.

For nearly a year we've filed into the wooden pew several rows up, but the vantage point is different today, row after row of fluffy white curls, rhinestone brooches, hearing aids. And these people are changing who I am, the way I see the world and myself. They're changing the way I see my God.

I lost interest years ago in the debate between traditional and contemporary. I don't so much care if the announcements go long or if communion is passed from the left or the right. Still, I was never good at articulating what it was I was looking for at church, so I was never good at knowing if I had found it.

But I feel alive and known in this misfit community.

I watch the young guy singing in the choir, his burgundy robe covering faded jeans and a Cubs t-shirt. He waves goodbye to us after service, a cigarette dangling from his tenor lips.

Two teenagers hand me a chunk of bread dipped in juice, the same two teenagers I saw walking down the alley with their arms tangled up. She looks me dead in the eye, "Christ's body, broken for you". Her hair is wild and I know she is living one thousand different hurts. She wounds and is wounded. Just like me. I see my brokenness in their faces and I want to grab hold of them, because it suddenly seems like our chances of making it to shore are better if we tread water together.

I swallow down all of the grace, all the Life, all of my salvation and it has never made more sense. Our voices rise up together, a mash-up of different lives, different world-views, different generations, different colored collars. It doesn't even matter a little. "If you tarry 'til you're better, you will never come at all."

We're the best at nothing. We will never rock your world. We're not top-notch or trendy.
We are feeble. Failing. Quick with a hug.
We're clinging. Sometimes questioning.
We are beggars.

But we come, hearts on sleeves, grumpy at times, and always very sure of our need.

We come because we find Jesus in our messed-up midst.
We come because we don't have to pretend.


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Pear & Cream Cheese Tart aka Thanksgiving Dessert


In honor of Robert getting his driver's license yesterday (woop woop!) I decided to go hog wild and make dessert on a week night. After all, he does love pears, and I happened to have some perfectly ripe ones on hand. 

Blah blah blah, fast forward, needle skids off record, screeeeeeeeeeech.
He doesn't eat cooked pears.

Naturally.

But the rest of us shoveled this in like it was our J.O.B.

This dessert is not only simple to make (foolproof, even!), it's delicious and so much prettier than pumpkin pie.

(I'm sorry I keep hating on pumpkin pie.)

It screams Thanksgiving Dinner.

You'll want to buy your pears several days ahead and let them ripen up. If you're in a hurry, put them in a paper bag, roll the top closed, and forget about them for a couple days. Your pears will ideally be super juicy and quite soft. I used red pears this time, but any kind will do.

The end result is a perfectly crunchy crust, a cheesecakey interior, and sweet, juicy, spiced pears on top. It's divine. Even my "I don't have a sweet tooth" husband had two slices.

It's subtle. It's fancy. It's classic.
It's the Natalie Portman of the dessert buffet. 

It's deceptively easy to throw together.
It'll make you feel like you deserve your own cooking show.


 Pear & Cream Cheese Tart

1 stick of butter, softened
1 cup sugar, divided
1 cup flour
1 pkg (8 0z) cream cheese, softened
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
3 thinly sliced pears, peeled

Preheat oven to 425.
Beat butter and 1/3 cup sugar until light and fluffy. (I do this in my Kitchenaid mixer.)
Add flour, mix well.
Spread firmly onto bottom and up the sides of a springform pan (I push it about 3/4 of an inch up the sides of a 10-inch pan. A 9 inch pan is a more standard size, so you could push up about an inch.)

Beat cream cheese and 1/3 cup sugar in same bowl.
Add egg and vanilla, mix well.
Spread evenly over crust.

Combine remaining 1/3 cup sugar with cinnamon and nutmeg.
Toss sliced pears with sugar mixture until covered.
Arrange pears in concentric circles on top of cream cheese filling, starting with the outside and working in.
Eat any left-over cinnamon sugar pears.
(Do not share.)

Bake 10 minutes then reduce to 375 and bake 25 minutes or until golden brown at edges and the middle is set.
Cool on wire rack.
Remove outside of springform pan.
Refrigerate tart for a few hours until cool and well set.


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Close Quarters :: Our 3-Kid Bedroom


Back in March, I got an email from a lovely magazine editor. She wanted to feature my kitchen in a magazine.

What???!

That's what I said, too.

I had immense trouble wrapping my brain around it at first. It caused great philosophical and existential dissonance within, because we moved here to simplify and scale back. We moved to the weird part of town, for Pete's sake. And now this?? It all seemed very backwards. (I should be used to that by now.)

It was fun sharing my kitchen with all of you, but good grief, if I had known magazine people were watching, I would have at least organized the bread basket.

In the end, we decided why the heck not.

The editor and I emailed back and forth a few times. And then she asked for more pictures. She wanted to see the living room and the dining room. The entry way. You know, normal places in a normal house. I complied.

A few weeks later, she asked to see the bedrooms. As in, the rooms with next-to-nothing on the walls. The messy rooms. The bedroom that my 3 kids share. The crazy places.

I explained that nothing was really happening up there, but she said she really just wanted to see the bones. She suggested that I find matching quilts for the twin beds and said we could pretend that Silas didn't live in there, but in a different, undisclosed room.

I totally understood that she was doing her job, but matching quilts don't live here. Nothing "matches" in this hood and there was no way I was going to go buy matchy stuff for a maybe-opportunity. The thought of me presenting a matchy house made my wheels screech off the rails.

As for Silas? He lives in there, man. In all his dramatic glory and with the evidence of much wall-scribbling. I explained that it's important to always present my life with authenticity and that I wasn't comfortable pretending anything. She emailed back with so much kindness and said she understood. "Send the pics."

I tore around this place and grabbed some colorful odds-and-ends. I had no great "vision", it was more a matter of putting something together on the fly, without spending money. As luck would have it, I had just bought Ruby a quilt at Craft Weekend.

Here's the good news: I didn't have to move any furniture and the beds were already both gray, which helped. (Although we made the mistake last year of putting a coat of poly over Calvin's bed, turning his gray into a weird greenish/yellowish gray. Take heed.) The other good news: white walls. It made it all easier.

The dresser originally lived in Silas's first bedroom, back on the farm, back when everyone had his/her own room.

Seems like a lifetime ago.

My friend Holly gave me that round, metal piece for Christmas last year. She found it on the side of the road one day while she was running. And she gave it to me! I almost cried.

The lamps are cheapskates from Target.

Small maps used to live in the upstairs bathroom on the farm.
That turquoise trunk? I found it in the old cow pen at my parents' house. Hate me.

Plaid Throw :: $2 thrift store purchase eons ago originally intended for Calvin's old room.
Striped comforter :: $15 Target
Curtains :: Urban Outfitters - This is one of my favorite places to find curtains, throw rugs, and other quirky homegoods. Their clearance sections rocks!!

Best garage sale find EVER! I don't remember how much I paid. Maybe $50? It used to live in our old toy room.

The barn art also came from a garage sale ages ago for $1. It's an old 4-H project, hand stitched.

In the end, I'm sorry to say our home didn't pass muster. I never heard back from the editor. It was a tiny bummer, at first. But it's also just really okay.

Because whether we're in a magazine or not, I love my home. I love that it represents who we are. I love that we don't try too hard around here. I love the people who live with me.

The bedroom has evolved a bit since these original pics were taken.


We added Ruby's collage wall and switched out the art above her bed because the horse means a whole lot more to her.

Calvin's collage wall grew...

 
And he made room for his "My Collection" shoe box. (I'm sure you can imagine the contents of said box.)


Silas is still sleeping in a toddler bed. He's small, okay?
But he is, in fact, growing. It's probably time to figure out a new plan, but we're a bit land-locked. We're contemplating bunk beds, though the floor plan makes that tricky.
(Note to self: Vacuum under Siley's bed.)


We hung the Ethiopian bird mobile, because it makes us all happy. Especially Ruby, our resident Bird Girl.

I'm not gonna lie, there is often considerable angst happening upstairs around bedtime. In a perfect world, Silas goes down first and is asleep before the other two go up. This usually works well.

When they all 3 go down together it typically spirals into dancing, yelling, fighting, wailing, whining, and occasionally, mooning. On those nights, we split them up and send someone into our room.

I wish I could say we're perfect parents with perfect kids who all behave perfectly and whisper poems to each other and softly sing hymns while they drift off to sleep. But we're rowdy. Impatient. We fancy entertaining each other at the worst possible times.

We're messy and disorganized and the kids are happiest together when they're doing things like this:

I'm not sure what this was called, but they sure had fun.

This is how we roll right now. I've gotta say, it does my heart good knowing they're all tucked in there together. There's something so heart-pinching about the nights when things go smoothly. Sometimes one kiddo prays before bed. Sometimes we pray for the person on our right. Sometimes we say the Lord's Prayer together. Now and then, I whisper to Calvin and Ruby, asking them if they've talked to God during the day, because I want them to know it's not just a bedtime thing. It's not a task to check off and it doesn't have to happen at certain times or in certain places. They don't need to do it out loud and they don't need Mommy or Daddy with them to do it. I don't know where this particular thought came from, but it suddenly seems important.

Our routines aren't hard and fast. They aren't really even routines. This is our rhythm, and it fits us.

We kiss all 3 heads in a matter of just a few steps. And with any luck, we hear just  a few whispers and giggles before things quiet down for the night, because bedtime giggling has to be the official love letter of childhood and I don't want to be so rule-obsessed that I rob them of the wonder of living small together.