Thursday, September 27, 2012

to the huggers

Here's something that's been on my mind for a while now.

It may not be vitally important.  In fact, I'm certain it's not.  Yet it begs to be said - and paltry though it seems, I believe it's worth putting out there.

I am not a hugger.  (This will come as no surprise to those of you who know me in real life.)

By this I mean that I am not naturally inclined to offer hugs, at least not to those outside my close family.  I simply don't think of it.  It's also true that at times I am uncomfortable receiving hugs.  Not always, but at times they feel contrived to me, forced, unnatural.  But I'm pretty sure that's my own issue and not the individual hugging me.

But here's the thing: usually I don't mind getting hugs.  If I see you going in for one, I'll likely reciprocate with affection - even warmth.   It's simply that I just - don't - think of initiating such a thing myself, not usually. 

Oh, don't worry: I hug my kids incessantly.   I hug my man.  I hug my parents, brother and his wife, in-laws.  And during our trip to the Midwest last summer, I gave hugs a-plenty.

But if I see you somewhere...say a restaurant, my church, the library, a store - don't be hurt if I don't automatically lean toward your body with extended arms.  I'm almost certainly glad to see you (honest!), but it's a personal space issue - and it's my "problem," not yours.

And if I've been known to hug you in the past, but there's not even a hint of it now as we're catching up?  Take heart.  It probably never even occurred to me.

I leave you with this....

(If you find this hard to read, try clicking HERE.)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

seven years ago...

It was seven years ago that we celebrated the birth of our second son, our smiley, sunny, hilarious, stormy, dimpled, generous, and smart Kyle.  I am so excited to watch him grow and develop into the young man God wants him to be.  He is dynamic, full of charm; he has a strong sense of justice, he's quick to laugh, and even faster to share.

The world would be an infinitely better place if everyone had a heart the size of  my Kyle's.

Happy Birthday, precious boy.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

freak me out

That moment when you realize that you dressed your baby boy and yourself with eerie similarity...

Monday, September 24, 2012

homeschooling: make new friends & keep the old

This morning marked our third week of Monday School with our local homeschool co-op.  With the glaring exception of little Gabriel essentially imploding before the end of the last class period, it's been really good. So good.

I'm seeing so many new faces, in addition to many that I've known for several years now.  It is such a pleasure to feel a little more seasoned and to know what to expect a bit better.  I feel as though I'm finding some kind of groove with the whole mother-of-five thing.  It helps tremendously to have such amazing helpers.  The little ones are being very obedient as well.   It's easier to maneuver my brood around outside of the house.  The big trip had a lot to do with that - and I'm sure it will be a little more difficult once Oregon's rainy season begins in a month or two.  But still.

I'm a little overcome by the authenticity of the ladies who gather their families each Monday.  It is decidedly a joint effort to make something like this happen, and the encouragement and kindness I've encountered is beautiful to behold.

While I help with (and learn) the First Aid stuff, my kids are building friendships.  When I play games with a group of elementary kids, my baby is being cuddled by other mothers.  My children see kids raising their voices in worship during chapel time, while the mamas lift their hands.   They see, and I see, other families who live this crazy life - and we are all encouraged.

We're not the only ones walking this amazing, challenging road.  The life of math at the dining table, history snuggled up by the fireplace while we read about ancient times.  Of pausing the grammar lesson to deal with a runny nose or taking the play dough away from the toddler who found it so tasty.   The path that is filled with intensely difficult days and exquisitely exciting ones, with tears and laughter and hugs.

What a blessing.

And what a gift to know that regardless of what happens, the Lord'shomes mercies are new every morning.  This is just one of the evidences of the kindness He shows us.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,

    for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
             ~Lamentations 3:22-23


Thursday, September 20, 2012

another year

I had another birthday this week.  It turns out they're kind of an annual thing.  My day was filled with family, fun, and really good food.

crafted from me by our oldest son

Cinnamon Roll Pull-Apart Bread

Lunch out, followed by shoe shopping!


watching the annual birthday soccer game

Me & Jeff at the soccer field

A sweet ending, surrounded by family

Friday, September 14, 2012

taking a...break?

Elise and Ben helping make pancakes for breakfast

So, counter-cultural once more, we are on a break from homeschool just as the rest of the country is beginning.   We will be taking three weeks off total, and currently we're a third of the way through our vacation.


I have a host of projects I want to get done.  I want to finally get Gabe's newborn photos framed and on the wall.  The pantry desperately needs to be organized, the study (where we keep our school materials)  needs a complete overhaul.  Monday school has started, we have Bible study on Tuesdays.  I have preparation I need to do for the new term beginning in October.  And I must confess: I still haven't graded the end of the year math tests.

Between all this stuff and a flurry of playdates (yes, three playdates in three weeks is a flurry to me!), our time off is filling up fast.

But it's all good.

Somehow the important stuff will get done.  And the things that aren't quite as high on the priority list will work themselves out.  While I feel busy, it is a good busyness.  At the moment there's a little more time for cuddling upstairs before I head down to fix breakfast and start the day.  The kids now have plenty of time to give their bedrooms a good cleaning.  The crisp fall mornings are perfectly delicious, and I'm excited about the new season about to begin.

And today?  My kids and I are heading to play at the park.  It's a gorgeous day out there, and we're going to  soak up this time...

Thursday, September 13, 2012

busy summertime

Lately I've noticed something.  As summer is ending, when I chat with  people about it has gone for them they talk about how busy it was.  Lots of activities and gatherings.  Go, go, go.  It always strikes me as slightly odd, because the main reason my summer was busy had to do with me standing in my kitchen and chopping things.

Don't misunderstand: we took outings.  We traveled the central and western United States for three weeks in our Suburban.  We've had gatherings with friends.  We went swimming.  We did stuff - although I think we probably did less of that stuff than a lot of people took on.  Because, let's face it: I am a homebody.  A homebody and an introvert, which is not really the most exciting combination.  Still, I kept my self busy...

I blanched beans and roasted tomatoes.  I froze and bagged berries.  I made jam.  And rendered tallow.  And made some more jam.   Then I prayed for more tomatoes.  

So...I think it's safe to say that I kept pretty busy - even beyond the regular stuff like school and laundry and diaper changing.

Was it worth it?  I suppose that's a matter of opinion.  I know that for me, it's important to do what I can to preserve the harvest, to use what I can now and save some for cold weather.  It's important to make use of fresh, organic goods, of healthy, clean animal fats, and of my freezer space.  It is very satisfying to pull out summer goods in the middle of winter, to taste those gorgeous summer tomatoes, the sweetness of summer berries.  It's good to know I'm providing for my family with my own two hands - even if my feet do get tired sometimes.  I want to seize the opportunities I've been given at every chance.

For me, it is worth it.  The work of my hands is rewarding in its own way, and it does my heart good to know I've done what I could.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


My littlest little turns 9 months this week!  At this milestone, my darling...

...can pull himself up. able to get himself down from a standing position.

...can crawl like the dickens.

...charms people everywhere he goes with his dimply smile.

...loves loves loves to chase cats; he would make it a career if only it paid better. mostly interested in table foods as hands-on, tactile experiences.

...has the loudest tongue-click in the west.

...just cut his second tooth.

...has discovered that he can make a lot of noise with that mouth of his. quite a "chatterbox," and is going to give a certain talkative sibling a run for his money!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


I remember that it was early on a sunny morning.  My husband and I - childless couple that we used to be - were getting ready for work.  He kissed me goodbye and walked out the door, but two minutes later he was back.

"Turn on the TV," he said.  "Something's happened."

We turned it on and stood in disbelief as we watched the screen.  The towers on fire, crumbling.  The shots of the planes hitting them, played over and over.  We were stunned.  Could this be real?  What did it mean?  What would happen next?

When I got to work, I was the one to unlock the doors and begin the day.  Soon my co-worker arrived.  She had heard nothing of the events of the morning, and I suspect she might've thought I was making the whole thing up.  And who could blame her?  This was unreal, unbelievable.

I remember the sense of uncertainly.  The paper flags people put in their back windows.  The pointed efforts to not discuss it - what had happened, what was happening, what might be happening - with the parents who dropped their children at our preschool for the morning.  After all, we didn't want to frighten the little ones.  Still, the tension in the air, the fear, was almost palpable.  The silence, and our eyes, spoke fathoms.

I remember wondering what would happen next.  Would there be more attacks in other cities?  Was my husband, in a tall building deep in the metro area, in danger?  Would would America look like in a week, in a month, in a year?

I remember the way people prayed.  The sense of unity, and the powerful awareness of how much we needed Him.  I remember the gathering of churches that night as dusk fell.  I remember looking at my pregnant friend, wondering what kind of world her child would grow up in.

Eleven years have come and gone.  Many things have not changed, and many things have.  In many ways the world is a much scarier place.  Yet - God is still on the throne.  We continue to pray.  We still desperately need Him.

And we remember.

Monday, September 10, 2012

first day of (monday) school

Today was the much-anticipated beginning of Monday school for our homeschooling co-op.  The older boys had chosen their classes carefully.  My pre-k (!) son was looking forward to another Monday school experience, and my daughter was excited about her "big girl" class.

Here they are, all bright and shiny and breakfasted.

my four "big kids"
The baby and I went, too.  I get to help in a First Aid class this term, and I am very excited about that.  I've forgotten everything I learned when I was certified way back when (before I had children!).  Not knowing what to do in various emergency situation has always left me feeling anxious, especially with a crawling baby prowling around the house in search of choking hazards.

Me and Gabe at in the chapel
In addition to helping in the First Aid class, I'll be a floater.  I've never been a floater before, and aside from the lack of predictability (will I have 2nd period off or 3rd period?  what to wear that would work for any and all classes I might help in?  when will I be able to go nurse my baby?), I'm looking forward to experiencing other classes and meeting even more people.

It was a short day today, more of a practice run than a regular, full morning.  But we went, we saw, we did it.  We had a great time, and we're really looking forward to the rest of the fall term!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

finishing and fun

This week we finished up our 2011-12 school year.  (Yes, I know we were behind.)

Can I tell you a little secret?  It was fun.  Really, really fun.  Not every moment of course, but way more fun on the most consistent string of days than I've ever had homeschooling before.

Was it because the end was in sight?  Because we'd finished grammar the week before?  Because I let my preschoolers play (upstairs or outside)?  Because we read about the drama of ancient Rome every single day?  Because we began most days with a worship song from YouTube, singing, dancing, and shouting praise together? (The baby really got into the shouting part.)  Was it because the part of our Bible lesson covered the Ascension and Pentecost, and I showed how thrilling I found it while reading aloud?

I don't know.  I cannot say.  But whatever it was, I enjoyed it so much; I soaked it in.

God was in it.

I'm thankful and optimistic.  I don't know what the next school year (coming in October!) will hold, but I know we are exactly where we are supposed to be.

Friday, September 7, 2012

our first rendering

You'll never, ever guess what we did this week.

Okay, you might guess if you follow me on Facebook.  But otherwise, I bet you'll never guess.  So I suppose I ought to just come out and tell you.

We rendered tallow.

You know what beef tallow is, right?  It is to cows what lard is to pigs.  It's a very stable fat, which makes it great for frying.  Tallow and lard are also traditionally used in pie crusts and other pastries (as well as butter, of course).  When sourced from healthy, pastured animals they are a great source of health benefits.  Julia Child is recalled to have said that back when McDonald's used tallow to prepare their french fries, they were surprisingly good.  But after they changed to "healthier" oils, not so much.

When it comes to rendering beef tallow at home,I got the idea HERE, and we ran with it.  When we were getting our grassfed beef for this year, we had the option of receiving fat as well.  When my husband asked, I answered with a very enthusiastic "Yes!"

It's a sure sign you're a food geek when you're super excited about two bags of beef fat in your refrigerator.

Finished tallow

The process is simple: trim the fat, cut up the fat, and then very, very slowly melt the fat. I used my slow cooker on warm and low settings.  After it's melted down, strain and cool it.  When it's hot, it will be translucent.  When cool, it will be solid.

Hot tallow

Cold tallow

I've been asked approximately 600 times (or something like that) what I'll use my tallow for.  And no, I'm not planning to make soap or candles with it, though many people do.   Most of our rendered beefy goodness will be used for food!  I'm planning to use it for french fries and making tortilla chips.  I cooked quesadillas in a little tallow last night, and I think it's safe to say I will never be the same (I'd always used olive oil before, which has a fairly low smoke point - not good for high heat! Besides, they were indefinably yummier this way).   I'd like to try making pastry with it too, and see how my particular tallow from my particular animal works in that situation.  

So far I've used it in cooking several different was:  cooking eggs, roasting red potatoes, and frying quesadillas.  Delicious all around, I tell you.

There is one other thing I'll use my tallow.  Stay with me now; this may stun some of you.  Last night I found a recipe for tallow body balm.  Apparently it's fabulous for the skin.  And check it out: they even sell it at $13 for 2 oz. on THIS website.  The testimonials are amazing.  I used some of my homemade lavender-scented balm this morning, and my skin feels so supple and soft.  Astounding.  Who would've thought?

Tallow.  Simple and natural.  A delicious way to get the fats our bodies need!


Thursday, September 6, 2012

all he wants

 All he wants for Christmas are his two front teeth.

Or if they were in by his birthday in a few weeks - even better!

Good grief, it looks like there'll be no more corn on the cob for the boy this year...  This makes three teeth lost in six days.  They're dropping like flies!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

We need that book.

The other day I was listening to Dr. Dobson's program via podcast, and I heard about a book.  It wasn't very long before I knew, I knew.  We need that book.

I told my husband (who also listens to the program) about it, and his immediate response was "Buy it."  We're not usually so fast in deciding to make such purchases, so either it was my zeal or the program itself which influenced such fast agreement.  I'm frankly not sure, and I'm a little afraid to ask.

We do love books, though.  I've often said we should have a separate corner of the budget, just for books.  I love the feel of them in my hand, the smooth covers.  I love the sound of the pages being turned.  I love the soft tickle as I search for a certain part.  My husband and I have been known to come home from marriage conferences with a gorgeous stack of new, wonderful books.  Some area read right away, some end up sitting on a nightstand for months or even longer.  I suppose it's alright, though - we're helping to support likeminded writers, and if we start wandering around in search of reading material we've got a ready supply, yes?

I did call about the book, and last Sunday it came home to our house.  It is wonderful so far, and I hope it will make a big difference in our family.  But that's not really what this post is about...

See, when I am faced with something unknown, I usually seek out a book.  I'll go to a bookstore or pour over the library's website.  I'll search Amazon, ask my friends.  Something in my seems to believe that when I need an answer, it's likely to be found in a book.   I have books on romance, marriage, breastfeeding, baby signs, parenting, cooking, nourishing foods, family nights and yes, homeschooling. We even have a book on the best places to kiss in the Northwest.

It's a pretty thorough collection.

Yes, books are my default, my go-to.  I love books and have found them very helpful and enriching in my life.

And then my thoughts turn to the Good Book.  The B-I-B-L-E.  The Word.

Living.  Active.  Unchanging.  Powerful.

The Bible is not a book for the faint of heart -- it is a book full of all the greed and glory and violence and tenderness and sex and betrayal that benefits mankind.  It is not the collection of pretty little anecdotes mouthed by pious little church mice -- it does not so much nibble at our shoe leather as it cuts to the heart and splits the marrow from the bone.  It does not give us answers fitted to our small-minded questions, but truth that goes beyond what we even know to ask.                           
             ~Rich Mullins, "The World as Best As I Remember It: Thoughts & Reflections" 

Oh, how we need that book...

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

times like these

Please welcome a guest post from my amazing husband Jeff.

With 5 kids, we’re becoming very accustomed to the unique way that people respond to us when they see us or hear how big our family is. The responses range from surprised to sympathetic to cheeky.
“That’s a handful!”

“You’re very blessed!”


“They know what causes that now” wink wink

Naturally, we cut quite a swath when we go places. And people also make assumptions about our religion or our sanity. And while I won’t bore you with details about either, bottom line is we’ve made a choice to have a large family. And that’s unusual these days.

Both of my parents came from decent sized families and in that generation it wasn’t out of the ordinary. My dad has 2 brothers and 2 sisters. My mom grew up with 2 sisters and 3 brothers. And to be honest, my parents probably wanted to have a similar sized family, but they struggled with infertility for years. Of course I never blame them, but I was always envious of my best friend who had 3 siblings. All those friends to play with all the time!? I know it wasn’t always happiness and light, but I sure wished I had someone to share a bunk bed with.

So when my wife and I got married, I told her I wanted 6 and she said she wanted 2. I guess I’m winning. But seriously, she had a change of heart and we are both so excited to meet each new blessing that God sees fit to give to our family. And while at times it exhausts me, the rewards are far beyond measure.

And there are a few unique benefits:
At restaraunts we get seated ahead of the couples on a date by themselves because there is less demand for the big tables.
Family reunions are so much fun!
If you’re bored, it’s your own fault.

But beyond the humorous and exciting is one benefit that was brought home to me in a very moving way last fall.

In times of celebration or times of sorrow, there is nothing like family. Blood is thicker than water. My mom is the youngest sibling from her family and her next oldest sibling was her sister Sharon. Their birthdays were a 2 years and a day apart. They talked alike, laughed alike, both crossed the border south from Canada to marry their American hubbies. And as of 8 or 9 years ago when my parents moved to Tigard, they both lived in the Portland area. This was the aunt that drove Mindy all over the metro area looking at apartments and duplexes when we moved out here in 2001 while I was still driving our truck across country with my dad. Nearly every time we spent a holiday with my parents, Sharon and her family were there. And boy could those sisters tell stories and have a good time together. So when I got a call at the beginning of September last year from my mom, I was shocked to hear her say that Sharon had been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. All the more surprising because she never smoked a day in her life. I didn’t know what to say. But my mom and her sister were so optimistic and hopeful. And they just ramped up the fun they had together in case the time really was short.

It was a gut-wrenching situation and soon her brothers and other sister made arrangements to spend as much time as possible supporting her and her family. My mom took days at a time off of work to accompany Sharon to Arizona for treatment and was there to comfort their daughter Amy when the news wasn’t good about how things were going. When they brought her back to Oregon City, there were evenings spent eating, singing praise choruses, reminiscing and just being with Aunt Sharon. Amy would paint her toenails and do her hair for her. Aunt Ruth cooked and cleaned. The brothers encouraged her husband, Daryl just by being there and helping with the arrangements for the final days. It’s so hard to describe. It was a little surreal. But the love in the room was amazing.

One evening when we were visiting, my Uncle Ron was sitting next to Kyle, our six year old. They sat quietly for awhile and then exchanged some whispered small talk. Then my uncle looked around the room, smiled at a couple of our other kids and said "Kyle, when your mom and dad get older... When times like this come... it will be a blessing to have your brothers and sister with you."

My aunt Sharon passed away a few weeks later on a Sunday morning as her siblings and their spouses gathered around in an impromptu church service. And Cousin Amy and uncle Daryl were cared for the way only family can. I watched and saw a little glimpse of what may be the future for my kids. Not with sorrow, although I’m sure that will come, but with joy. Because I know that no matter how they argue about whose turn it is with the Wii or who has to set the table this week, they will be there for each other. I see it in the way Kyle defends the baby when Owen plays a little too rough. They way Ben dotes on Elise, helping her into the truck, or cheering her up when she’s sad about not being able to do something. Now I'm not blind to the reality that they may not all be fast friends as adults. But I know that when times like this come blood really will be thicker than water.

(This is the text of a speech that I gave at my Toastmasters club a couple of weeks ago.)

Monday, September 3, 2012

it's what's for dinner

This marks the fourth year we've purchased grass-fed beef from a rancher.  
(Why grass-fed and grass-finished?  Click HERE to read more.)

We bought the most we ever have:  three-quarters of a cow.
Our family is so excited, though.   And to tell you the truth, it was a little tricky to get it all in the freezer.

We had to utilize every square inch of freezer space we had available, which included one big chest freezer and two refrigerator freezers.  My husband did it though. Didn't I tell you he was spatially gifted?

I'm so pleased and happy to have such a supply of lovely, healthy grass-fed beef available.   I can hardly wait to make this sausage again.  We love it in omelettes, on pizza, and in many other dishes.  It's so easy!

Recently I discovered some other promising recipes: Homemade Beef Pepperoni (which the commenters say is similar to summer sausage!) and Spicy Pepperoni, as well as a new Beef Jerky recipe.  

A word of advice, though: grass-fed beef cooks differently than conventional beef.  It's quite lean, so it needs to be cooked more slowly, over lower heat.   I highly recommend Stanley Fishman's book Tender Grassfed Meat, especially if you are new to grass-fed.  Here's a link to some free recipe ideas:  American Grassfed Beef.  It took me a while to learn how to prepare grass-fed beef, but it was so worth the process!