Thursday, August 27, 2015

Food for Sanity

I've found myself in the weirdest Groundhog Day cycle yet: walk kids to school, walk home, make tea, eat, work, work, work, hurry up and shower, hurry up and eat lunch (at 2pm), pick kids up. The end.

I can feel my social skills slipping, as Howard has proven himself to be a loyal companion and top-notch leg warmer, but I'm still not a cat person and he still doesn't laugh at any of my jokes.

On the flip-side, I've been cooking a lot. As a result, my house currently smells like bacon, I made my first (not last) batch of basil simple syrup, I have a pot of from-scratch pizza sauce simmering, I've boiled over a saucepan of milk twice in three days, and I walked around most of yesterday afternoon with a splash of pickled red cabbage juice on my chin. (I swear it looked like a beauty mark. Only purple.)

Ah, I've missed my kitchen. (And you.)

The good news is, I have a Shannan-tested, Cory-approved, healthy and delicious recipe for you. The bad news is, it's Brussels sprouts. Again.

It's always, always Brussels sprouts.
And here's why: remember that rumor about Coke and McDonald's french fries containing trace amounts of cocaine to keep people duly obsessed and unashamed? It might also be in the Brussels. Somehow. I haven't bothered myself with the science yet.

All I can tell you is that the more I eat them, the more I want them. And I know it sounds like I'm just being cute or ridiculous, but I can't stress how dead serious I am.

Case in point: my homegirl Lauren met me at a park for lunch back in the Spring. She brought Chipotle from the city, along with a tiny vase of flowers (SO Bread and Jam for Frances - I loved it!) and parting gifts of fancy popcorn and...a container of Whole Foods Brussels sprout and kale salad.

The salad was gone later that evening. Finding more became my singular life's work. Only trouble was, the nearest Whole Foods is 45 minutes away...

I thought about it literally every day. The crunch. The chew. The tang. The sweetness. The nuttiness. Thelemonthedressingthecheeseohmyworrrrd.

When I could no longer curb my cravings, I checked myself into rehab.

And when they told me Brussels sprout addiction isn't on the DSM-5 yet and my insurance probably wouldn't cover it anyway, I found a way to recreate the salad myself.

Here's what you'll need:
  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts
  • 2 celery ribs, thinly sliced
  • 2-3 large fistfuls of chopped kale, stems removed (about 4 cups) (I usually by pre-chopped from Aldi and cut the big stems off. It doesn't take that long.)
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 2/3 cup grated parmesan
  • 1/2 cup toasted sliced almonds
  • For the dressing:
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons dijon mustard
  • 2 lemons, zested and juiced
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cut the bottoms off your sprouts, then thinly slice (shave) them. I usually cut some horizontally and some perpendicularly for texture, but that might just point back to something unresolved and deeply seated in my psyche. It's not exactly necessary.

Slice your celery, de-stem the kale, mince the garlic, zest and juice the lemons. (This is one of my most used cooking tools.)  The prep-work isn't rocket science and is guaranteed to make you feel more fully human or your money back!

Whisk together your dressing. Lick the whisk, because vinegar + lemon juice? YES PLEASE. Note:
I often double the recipe for the dressing, because 1) What if there's extra kale left when it's all said and done? And 2) My brain is unable to process the concept of "too much of a good thing." Nope. Impossible.

Now, toss it all together. (Start with half the vinaigrette if you doubled it like a good student, and add more from there. I like mine really well-coated.) Give it a stir, and be sure to use plenty of cheese.
It tastes best if you let it sit for a while in the fridge so the veggies can soak up all the flavor. Delish!

Give it a go and I'll love you forever!

I'm hoping to write up a list of some other things that are keeping me sane in this twisty, tumultuous season.

Until then!

*Amazon affiliate links

Saturday, August 22, 2015

In Praise of the Detached Garage

I recently chatted with a friend about our neighbors. We both want to connect with them in more meaningful ways, yet find it surprisingly difficult to do so.

Before I could launch in to my own list of reasons, she mentioned her biggest barrier: “Everyone in my neighborhood has an attached garage. The door goes up and back down, and we never actually see each other.”

For a split-second, it sounded like a winning situation. There’s something in me, and maybe in many of us, that craves anonymity and privacy. One of the things I miss most about our farmhouse was the freedom to feed the barn cats in my bathrobe without the threat of discovery. Here in the city, my neighbors might expect a bit more from me than the two ponies we raised in the pasture or the suspiciously extroverted groundhog.

Click HERE to continue reading. 

Happy Weekending!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

I Love Jen Hatmaker Like Brussels Sprouts

The first time I "met" Jen Hatmaker, we had just sold the farm and I was living in the Betty Draper Rental, trying to potty-train a tiny person bent on making me pay for every sin of humanity. Calvin was having his sickest year to date. And Robert had just been arrested.

She found me in a most fragile state, but not so fragile that I wasn't convinced to rotate my red henley and my oatmeal-hued (read: bland and humorless) sweatshirt-thing for thirty straight days. (I'm assuming this mutinous experiment had little to do with my near-death experience, but who can say?)

She had some kind of pull over me, and it had a small bit to do with her commitment to rogue, unprovoked cusses, but far more to do with her guts and her heart. She seemed to share my worldview of telling the truth about things, and she's crazy-wild about the Jesus who never stops rescuing her. She seemed to be the singular human in all the world who best understood the world as I was beginning to see it - that down was really up and that God wasn't playing when He said our job is to love our neighbor and be about His business of caring for the poor. Of course I fell in love with her. Yes, duh, I promoted her to Top Imaginary Bestie.

I wanted more, so I devoured Interrupted, and it was like reading my own mind for 50,000 words, which was more worthwhile and interesting than it sounds, largely because she's funnier than my own mind.

I trust her because she listens to the Holy Spirit. God has used her bold, tender heart to guide mine through both a season of jangled nerves and the one that came next, when we realized most of the world around us didn't understand our choices, but oh well. 

She's a champion for the marginalized and a cheerleader for weirdos like me (and you, no offense.)

(Nevermind about my waxy, death-hued hand.)

I'm tremendously geeked to hold her newest book in my claw hands and see how it further rearranges the emotional furniture of my heart.

I have a hunch we're all on to Jen's wonky brand of awesome, but on the off-chance you haven't ordered For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards, well, do yourself a solid and get on it already.

And be sure to report back, as always.


*affiliate link, yada yada blerg

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

It's Simply Tuesday

Five years and three months ago, I was living in the cutest farmhouse imaginable, and my oldest child was a half-day kindergartner. We'd brought Silas home just a couple months before and those days were so hard. The nights even harder.

I was where many of you are right now, in the thick of parenting toddlers, pre-schoolers, and kids who don't seem nearly tall enough to shuttle onto a school bus. I honestly don't know how we spent up all those hours that stacked up to days/months/years. If memory serves me, there was quite a bit of finger painting, and we would have fainted dead away without our tall stacks of library books. (PBS cartoons also deserve a shout-out, along with Cheez-It crackers, and whatever fruit happened to be on sale that week.)

During that season, my loftiest goal was to get Ruby and Silas to nap at the same time, while Calvin was at school. It hardly ever happened, but when it did, I could feel my sanity mending just a bit. Sometimes, I would grab my camera in that quiet hour and head outside. My blog was quietly teaching me to recognize my life as an actual gift, not something to be endured, but something to be savored; something worth enjoying, and even honoring.

Early on, my online path intersected with a woman named Emily Freeman, and I've grown more thankful for her every year since. She taught so many of us to treasure the ordinary. She shared that Tuesday was her favorite day of the week, so unencumbered by the expectations of the others. We gathered at her blog each week to unwrap whatever life was handing us and hold it up to the light.

Often, I would take stock of my Tuesday and realize it was just as un-newsworthy as the last, which was precisely the point. And so I wrote.

Five years and three months ago, my life was wrapped up in laundry, stuffy noses, sidewalk chalk, and rain. With a grateful heart set on noticing, the air in the room began to change. This is the life I chose. This is the life chosen for me. 

"When I think of where to find 'the kingdom of God in our midst,' Tuesday comes to mind. This is the day of the week housing the regular, the ordinary, the plain, and the small." - Simply Tuesday
Five years later, just last month, Emily opened the doors of her home and led me in. I hugged her people, ate lunch at her table, talked for hours about everything and nothing. It was easy and perfect, and I knew for sure that the biggest and best hospitality is always our most ordinary offering and our purest self. It was Wednesday when I showed up and Thursday when I left, but I'm beginning to learn that any day can carry a Tuesday state of mind. She will never stop teaching me about the secrets of the slow-down life.

Today is release day for Emily's book Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World. For years we've welcomed small moments together, and I've been waiting for this book. I'm holding it in my hot claw hands right now, and it's positively stunning. Her gorgeous words always sink me into a place of receiving truth and rest. She's one of my favorite writers on the planet, with a mind that works like some kind of a funny, wise, Yoda word ninja. (I honestly don't know how she does it.)

You and I, we're weary of "big" and "should" and "fast" and "hustle". We're ready to take it down a few notches, and walk the Tuesday way.

"What if, instead of thinking we have to choose between our ordinary life and an extraordinary life, we began to realize they're the same thing?" - Simply Tuesday

Buy your copy of Simply Tuesday by Emily P. Freeman here.
And for practical ways to create place for your soul to breathe, you can sign up for Emily's free video series here.

 *amazon link

Monday, August 17, 2015

Calling All the Nerds

It turns out, I have a job. (Did you know that? I didn't, until about a month ago.)

I half-way figured it out back in May, after listening to this Hope*ologie podcast. It was revolutionary, like someone had called me up on stage and handed me myself, with a bouquet of roses. Yes! I have a job! This is who I am! This is what I do!

But summer vacation came along, and I forgot again. (In our defense, we were busy.)

I didn't realize it until I was out at dinner one evening with my book club ladies. We started talking about keeping our houses clean (or not.) Both full-time working women, the other two dished on how they make it work (a cleaning lady, a slight touch of OCD, etc...) I panicked when it was my turn to weigh in. "My house is hardly ever clean, and I don't even work!"

Those were the actual words that my actual mouth said.

My little kids still can't grasp that I work. My big kids call a couple times a week and say things like, "What are you doing tomorrow?" or "Are you busy today?" and 99% of the time I say, "Uh...I'm working." I honestly don't think they believe me. Then, when it's my turn to own that truth, I bail out. Makes no sense.


My reality is that the manuscript for my first book is due in a little over a month. I've put myself on home detention (it worked for Robert. And Ruby) and every day is now an exercise in falling face-first onto the grindstone and spilling my guts on a Word document.

When I can't write another sentence, or when I'm in so deep that the words start to lose their meaning and shape and I sound like I lack a basic understanding of both the English language and common sense, I do things like bake a peach pie (I finally executed a delicious pie crust. (It tasted better than it looks.)), clean out a closet, or read.
And read.

And read.

It turns out all those years I spent lolling about as a pre-teen, reading every single teen romance our public library had, they meant something, man. I'm a big, ol' reading geek. Best kind there is, if you ask me. And I feel like you might be one, too. I can sense it from here.

I especially read a lot over the summer, while I was unable to write, on account of all the people underfoot. Reading and thinking. That was how I clocked my hours. Both kept the beast at bay, limber and ready until I could give her some attention. (Yes, my writing beast is a she. Duh.) 

This week, I'm taking time to acknowledge some of what I've read, and how it's shaped me, along with a few books I cannot wait to start.

Get your notebook ready, because you're guaranteed to end up with a few new titles for your list. Trust me on this. In turn, I hope you'll pass along all your good bookish dirt.

In a perfect world, I could have you over for a slice of pie and we could talk nerdy to each other in a face-to-face sort of way, but we'll just have to make the most of this little internet living room we've built together. It's not nothing.

You'ns are my people forever, you know.


PS - Full disclosure, because I'm all about it:

I have a catastrophic literary situation on my hands, along with a mid-grade thrift-store linens condition, both of which are exacerbated by a small-house reality. But at least this is proof that I sometimes wash the sheets.

Let's forget I even showed you this.
Go in peace.

*Most pics courtesy of CMB.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Weekend Cheer-Ups

::  Because youth group was awesome, but it left me with some bad theology.

::  Strawberries + shortbread (eat like it's summer whilst fancying yourself a Brit.)

::  So many tomatoes, so little time.

::  I'm trying harder to see people.

::  And not just with my eyes, but with my oversized ears.

::  500 sq ft of San Fran style.

::  How many times can I mention Taylor Swift? (This makes five or six...but there's still time.)

::  It's time to think about the bathroom.

::  While we're already in there...

::  I've now watched this thrice, and it's always funny. 

::  I'm speaking at Allume this October in SC! Some of my favorite ladies will be there. You can get a ticket here

Get dirty. Get some sleep. Do whatever needs doing.
Happy Weekend, Homies.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Sure Community of a Cold Ham Sandwich

The day before the first day of school, the kids woke up with more fire under their feet than usual. After two months with nowhere pressing to be, we had an agenda, and it happened to be just a couple blocks down the street.

Calvin and Ruby made their own breakfast, laced up their sneakers, and circled me impatiently as I boiled water for tea. They begged to go early, and I set them free.

Over the next hour, the two of them rode their bikes along the buckled sidewalk to our little church at the end of street, then back again. Looking both ways before crossing, whizzing past new neighbors and empty rental units, they were shorter versions of the big-city bicycle couriers seen in the movies.

“They need pickles!”

“Do we have any vases?”

“We’ll take the buns down in our backpacks! We won’t squish them.”

Click here to continue reading over at (in)courage...

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

How To Twirl on a Regular Day

I always, always want to buy dresses.

Long dresses, shorter dresses. I want dresses that zip all the way up my back and maxi dresses that drag the floor. Sometimes, I lose my way and want dresses that can only be dry-cleaned or that require a strapless bra, the evil stepsister of the constricting undergarment family.

I honestly can't make sense of it.

I've learned to curb this quiet impulse because I don't have many occasions that warrant getting dressed up. For someone who feels over-dressed in anything not-knit, a simple dress can make me feel like that person who misinterpreted the dress code. I see you savvy ladies in your weekday dresses and your real shoes and crisp wovens, and it makes me feel some type of way. As Tay would say, you're cheer captain and I'm on the bleachers.

Basically, give me a grey t-shirt, or give me death.

(Too much?)

Fine. Give me a loose, hip-length knit and don't ask me to do my hair. I'll love you forever.

But sometimes? A kelly green dress sure is nice.

After staring at it in my closet for most of the summer, waiting for the perfect opportunity to don the dang frock, I grabbed it in a rush on a Sunday morning and Silas zipped me up the back.

My hair was sub-par, and I didn't have it in me to switch bags. Then again, stripes work with everything, and who needs good hair when you're swathed in lace?

I threw on my circa-2005 Payless Coach-knock-off sandals and walked the alley to church in a beautiful dress like it's a thing I do in life.

We showed up to church three minutes late, per usual. On the off-chance that I was going to a hoedown in a tuxedo, I sat next to this little guy, the perpetual ying to all my yanging.

Moral of the story: Some ordinary days are made for a skirt that twirls a little when you walk. If you don't believe me, just ask Ruby, who is currently trucking through her fourth day of third grade in a full-on twirly dress covered in birds.

I'm no Ruby, and I certainly don't have Ruby hair (sob!) but I want to be more familiar with the side of me that believes I wasn't made for pretty dresses on a regular afternoon.

Feeling twirly yourself? You'll be blown away by Shabby Apple. When they offered me one of their dresses it took me multiple hours to decide which one I wanted because I wanted, oh, 18-20 of them.

Their sale items are up to 50% off and they're offering FPFG readers free shipping on all dresses with the code FROCKS at check-out. 

Are you a dress-wearing kind of lady? Have any funny dress-related stories for me?
I'm all ears.


Friday, August 7, 2015

Colorful Scandinavian

One of my most weirdly-treasured possessions are my volumes (volumeS!) of tear sheets from decorating magazines, spanning well over a decade. When the snow is piled up to my bosom, I can't think of a more relaxing "activity" than flipping through the books, editing out images that don't wow me anymore, and adding new pages to the mix.

Social media is doing its best to peg me as a ludite (hey, Pinterest!) but when I need direction or I'm feeling around in the black hole of my creative psyche for a little inspiration, I always go back to the hard copies. They're a scrapbook of my design quirks, minus the scalloped edges and alphabet stickers. They're a major win.


Even a die-hard such as myself is bound to wander. And though I don't use Instagram primarily for decorating tips, now and then I find an image that grabs me by the ears and screams my name. When that happens, I screenshot it for posterity.

I'm starting to feel a little itchy to switch some things around in my house. IT IS DEFINITELY A SICKNESS. From what I can tell, the only cure is more cowbell holes in my walls. And maybe a quick Ikea run.

I'm not completely sure where I'm headed, and there's only one room that can effectively be "decorated" in our little abode. But I'm picking up on a few themes, and honestly, some of them perplex me.

I appear to be drawn to both simplicity and chaos. I want to purge. I want to hoard.

 I clearly want a butterfly poster on my wall. (But WHY?)

I keep wanting color. And texture. And mood.
I want happy accidents and layers and momentos and personality.

And then I want it all to go away.

But only for a minute.

Colorful Scandinavian
{via Joss & Main}

Joss & Main calls my vibe Colorful Scandinavian, and I'm okay with that. I've always fancied myself theoretically trans-continental. (And it doesn't hurt that they featured my couch.)

Hey, raise your hand if you think I'm on a tight writing deadline!
Who wouldn't think this is the perfect opportunity to spend time I don't have contemplating the life-impact of throw pillows and gallery walls?

Nevermind. I'm off to bake a peach pie.

 And paint the exterior of the house.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

And Just Like That

I have a 5th, 3rd, and 1st grader.

You'll be shocked to hear that I'm feel extra-contemplative today. For the past week, I've been walking around saying, "I feel like they just got out for summer vacation," to which Cory replies, every single time, "I feel like they've been out forever."

How is this possible? Where does the dad come up with this nonsense?

Staying in the mixed-up vein of my reality, I wasn't ready to see them go. (Say what?)

I don't know. It makes no sense. Toward the end, we were all dangling precariously from a very fine thread. But, for reasons I don't even understand and certainly can't explain, we had a great summer together. Of all the summers we've shared, this is the one where I've felt most present and we've had (it seems?) the most concentrated time together.

Aside from our vacation, we didn't do anything super extraordinary. There was no elaborate crafting. I didn't plan scavenger hunts or theme days. We didn't even make a summer bucket list.

Honest to goodness, I don't have a clue about what we did.

But it sure was nice.

There was plenty of angsting and there are always tears (at some point.) Calvin has started helping me cook more, and is actually at an age where he's helpful. Two days ago, the kids made me breakfast in bed - pancakes cooked on the griddle with chocolate chips in the shape of a smiley face. He went to violin lessons and tae kwan do. He took bike rides by himself around the neighborhood and even across the busy street. Sometimes, he rode back with friends in tow. He read so many books and felt conflicted about his emotions. He's ten, and we're all feeling it. Most of the time, it feels pretty great.

Ruby keeps on keepin' on with her bad self. She's my adventurer, my shy girl who would fly straight to your house and stay for a couple weeks without thinking twice. She has the heart of an opera singer, but speaks so softly that I'm forever asking her to repeat herself. She rides horses with her gram and zooms down the basement stairs in an old sleeping back with Si. She teaches herself to knit, and displays the patience of Job when it comes to her brothers. I could swear she's getting a rogue Venus gleam in her eye when she wields her tennis racket.

Silas. I mean, that kid. He's playing with the neighbors for decent stretches of time in which no fighting/physical violence/crying ensues. He asks me every single day if he can have whatever bottle/container/empty milk jug he sees me holding. He wants them all. Every container in every shape. All of them. All the time. He wants them for "'speriments" or just to haul around filled with water, ideally colored water, but whatever. He loves us all so fiercely that he sometimes can't contain himself. Every couple of days he flings himself upon me and says with intense earnestness, "Mommy, thank you for choosing me! I just love my family!" which makes me almost forget about the day he climbed up, grabbed the gas can for the mower, and dribbled "seasoning" all over his dirt pie and grass salad.

It's 9:38 a.m. and for the past eight weeks, we'd just now be finishing up breakfast and trying to figure out how we'll possibly spend the long day ahead of us. There would be grumbling and someone might be crying somewhere. But on this day, I've already been more productive in the past two hours than in the past ten days combined.

I'm so honored to be the mom of these wild, smallish people. They have schooled me in many ways this summer, and I've been taking notes.

Right now they sit in desks somewhere, just a block and a half up our street, bringing light to the corners where God sent them. He told our family to stand over here, on a broken street that doesn't look quite as broken as it did three years ago. He told Calvin, Ruby, and Silas to stand inside Chamberlain Elementary, and they do it with enthusiasm and (usually) humility.

I know we go back to school earlier than most of you, so here's my advice, for what it's worth: Leave your phone on the charger and commit to memory the long days in front of you where they keep asking to play Mine Craft or watch tv shows. Keep kicking them outside and making threats about what will happen if they come back in one more time. "Popsicle" and "rules" do not mutually coexist - there are worse things to say yes to. Do everything. Do nothing. Rue your messy house every single day, but don't sweat it. This is not the day for order or clutter-free surfaces.

Be scheduled. Be lax. Just be. Together.

When it's time, send them out. Know in every fiber of your heart and soul that God has a plan for them, one that He orchestrates with them, individually. He's got them, and they're good. Grab a cup of tea, clean the kitchen, and, you know, maybe dust off that book you're supposed to be writing (cough cough).

Today, August is the land, and we are all the living.