Thursday, September 3, 2015

Home is Where You Find Yourself

It's Thursday, and I'm drowning.

That's the word that keeps coming to mind when people ask how I'm doing lately. "Well, I'm drowning." It's so dramatic. Yeesh.

I spent Tuesday on the immediate verge of crying and puking, and, as you unfortunately already know, I am not a puker. I'm all keyed up, and it's deeper and wider and much more related to my soul than my word-count. It makes me feel needy; like I need a massage and an afghan and maybe for Silas to say something to me like, "You're just so cute and chunky. I can't believe you're my mom! I never knew you would be so cute and special!" (Editor's note: I've been using the words "cute" and "chunky" interchangeably to describe my nephew and it's causing some...confusion.)

In the midst of all this ridiculous drama, I made a curious choice, and I couldn't be more grateful.

I invited some friends over for tea this morning.
They're coming in and I'm not hiding all the piles. Nope. Not doing it.

It's a come-as-you-are (non) event, a bring-your-littles respite, because I'm busy and they're busy and we're all just way too maxed out to not sit and spill crumbs on the couch for a while. With any luck, someone will spill their tea.

When life gets too big or too tight, I need to throw open my doors and feel the settling of acceptance in my cute, chunky bones.

My home always returns me to myself, and never more so than when I share it with others.
There's a good chance you feel the same way.

My friend Jeanne Oliver is hosting a new online class called Art of Home: modern simple living and you're just going to love it. It's the perfect companion to the slow arrival of Fall and a giant mug of something warm.

"When we can embrace our handmade home and see the beauty in the little things then our homemaking becomes art.  It is not perfect and the beauty is actually in embracing the imperfection." - Jeanne Oliver

Art of Home | Modern Simple Living will be about some of the lost arts of caring for our home and family. Each week will contain step by step videos with decorating, cooking, gardening, entertaining, housekeeping and more.

This four week course is your favorite home and cooking magazines come to life!
The early registration price for this four week online course is $64.95  This course will begin on September 15, 2015 and you will have LIFETIME ACCESS* to the videos.

Week One
The Art of Farm to Table
This week is all about gardening, cooking and preserving food.

Week Two
The Art of Gathering
This week is all about opening your home and creating a space where people feel loved and special.

Week Three
The Art of Domestic Moxie
This week is all about creative and fun ways to keep your home.

Week Four
The Art of Reclaimed Style
This week is all about using what you have and finding new uses for found objects.

Sounds fun, right? You can register for Art of Home right here!

As for me, I have muffins to bake.
With any luck, I'll burn the edges a little. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Staying Part

Three years ago, we were still hanging pictures on our walls and unpacking boxes. Calvin and Ruby had just started at their new school and our hearts were wide open. The scary part was over. We had done a hard thing. We had listened. We had obeyed in the face of doubt.

We had no clear ideas about what to do next.
We didn't know we were just here to live and be normal humans, and we didn't have a clue how difficult that would be at times. We didn't know how much easier it is to help someone than to invest over time and grow to love them.

Our early jitters were swept away. The unknown quickly unraveled into something we were made for. We were simply home.

Please hear me when I say this: Just because something is unfamiliar doesn't mean it's not exactly what you were made for.

Our streets have been so quiet lately. Neighbors come and they go. This community of transience has surprised me and stressed me out. For us, the hard part was getting here. For many others, the hardest part is staying. That's something I knew nothing about, four or five years ago. I didn't realize how much work it is to be poor. I wasn't aware of lives being lived as sparring matches on a chess board. It's calculated and orchestrated, everything hinging on a single move. Stability is short-term and upheaval imminent. Reacting swiftly is among the most prized skills of the streets.

Mixed into the comings and goings was a woman. I met her early and thought she might be the reason we we came. The reason. It was more than enough, and she made my life better all the time. We spent hours together and the ways our lives intertwined made her burst out sobbing more than once. She was a miracle. I was inspired by her resilience and the way she parented her teenagers with stubborn love and vigilance. She became my friend. My sister.

She was the last person I expected to leave.
I see her kids now, from far away and up close, and I don't have any answers for them.

I worry for them, and for all the boys all across this city with lives so rattled that stability is their great unknown, setting fear into their bones like an fever.

They react swiftly, and sometimes with force. There is no justice for these boys, born of hustle and grit, made too early into men inside homes shaped by lack.

There is justice for me, and for you. You know that, right? We stand protected by a margin for error we'll never even test. They react against a world hellbent on hating them, and it only takes one time.

If you don't think it's true, visit your county jail. Learn about your local juvenile justice system and take a hard look at the kids inside. Better yet, move into a neighborhood where you watch fifth graders with Coke-bottle glasses grow into high-schoolers that scrap one time at the park and pay for it with their entire future.

"What it comes down to, then, is the idea that the very same situations and behaviors are treated completely differently depending on how nice your stuff is. Kid gets into a fight at school? If he's black and poor, he's going to jail. If he's rich and white, he's going to military school. Was your daughter busted with drugs? If she's poor, she's getting charged. If she's rich, she'll go to a nice rehab facility for however long proprietary demands. The only reason it looks like our kids misbehave more is that we can't afford to cover up for them when they do." - Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America by Linda Tirado

I never, ever cared about any of this before I moved to the city. I never read those books. It doesn't mean moving is necessary in order to care, just that it was for me. Sometimes I miss the nights where we sat on the porch and only thought about ourselves. I never broke my own heart.

My life is delineated by two places; the farm, and this city. For better or worse, my reality has lined up in two neat columns, and I'm sure it's a little confusing. My actual living isn't so different here than it was "before". I have more neighbors, I take more walks, I see more shabiness. But I'm still me and I love this city like I loved that land. I still enjoy the same things. I look mostly the same, but with a few gray hairs. Many of my friends are the same, and many are new. My day-to-day operations aren't vastly different.

So, why the two columns?

It's because my heart- and head-space are occupied by dramatically different things. I do not live on a block riddled by gang violence. Crime and defeat stay mostly hidden in the shadows here. But I have seen enough to realize an entire underworld I never knew before, and it rolls around inside me like a marble in a can. My worldview is being shaped as I open up my life up to a different (not worse) kind of living.

I'm acutely aware that my opinions are becoming increasingly unpopular. I know, I know. I've become that person. And I won't apologize.

God tells us over and over, "I will save the weak and helpless ones; I will bring together those who were chased away." (Zephaniah 3:19) His heart beats for the fugitive kids and their tired-out, spent-up moms and dads, the ones we're quick to ignore or chase away.

When we allow our lives to intersect with souls wearing the sharp edge of pain, we cannot expect to walk away unmarked. I can't do a single thing for daughters abandoned by their Moms, or sons expected to fail. I can't help them at all.

But I feel myself rising up for them, and I don't know where it will go from here.

Three years and counting have taught me this: going might be hard, but it's the staying that will break you.

*Amazon affiliate link

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.

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