On the Resolution to Endure: An Annual Report

Dec 31 2011

As I sit here on the last day of December on the closed lid of my toilet with two kids playing Water Fountain in the bathtub and splashing water EVERYWHERE, I think about the year that’s bleeding away.

This year, you sat with me and held my hand as I crafted words on larger scale than I’ve ever written. One year ago, almost exactly, I picked this blog up, dusted it off, and turned it from a very occasional hobby into… well… a super, duper, extra-time-consuming hobby that I like a whole lot more. So it’s a completely different animal, really.

There were some pretty hefty birthing pains along the way, but you turned your head, ignored the horrific mess and the crap all over the table and encouraged me to PUSH. And then you rifled through the gore, and, at the precise moment when you could’ve said, “OH MY WORD, THIS IS TERRIFYING,” you were all, “Look at the pretty bloggy BAYbee!” And even though my writing was wrinkled and wet and squishy and red and new, you found the precious bits and encouraged me to keep producing.

You enCouraged me.

This year, I learned from you that encouragement doesn’t simply mean cheering or applause or praise.

It means to hearten. To give heart to.

It means to infuse with courage.

Way back last year, a handful of people infused me with the courage to don my writing cap more regularly. I was infused with a courage that was not my own. You handed me yours to borrow, and every time I was afraid to push my publish button on a post, I could hear you, my unwitting birthing coaches, yelling, “PUSH!”

And then I did.

Nonprofit organizations send annual reports to their donors detailing all the things their gifts made possible. Here’s an annual report of sorts for the ways I used your heart and your courage:

Your generous enCouragement allowed this mama over and over again to Find the Funny in situations where the Funny SO didn’t ask to be found. I got to be the Laughing Mama more often than I was the Frustrated Mama.

Your generous enCouragement helped me capture moments like my outrageous pride in the stunning accomplishments of my oldest son who otherwise fights every moment of every day to be understood.

Your generous enCouragement helped me to slow down and listen to one daughter’s heart and to watch the other one fly, and it let me see my baby boys through a whole new set of eyes.

Last year at this time, I shared with you my New Year’s Resolution, and I hope you’ll forgive me for sharing it again, but it turns out I mean it even more now than I did then.

Brian Doyle wrote The Wet Engine about his son’s heart surgery. In an Oregon Public Broadcasting interview, he said, “We mistakenly think that life is about being strong.  It isn’t.  There are things that happen to us and to those we love that no amount of strength will overcome.  Instead, we endure. We bear.”

I suspect that one of the triumphs of life is in the endurance of it.

And that a triumph of relationships is in the privilege of bearing witness.

Tomorrow begins a new year.  It’s a natural time to reflect on the past and to think about what the future may bring.  Some moments will be fun.  Some will be funny.  Some will break my heart.  Of course they will.  I’m a mother.

I didn’t expect that this year would see not one, but two, recurrences of my 5-year-old niece’s cancer which her little body continues to battle. That’s a heartache that’s not my story to tell, except for this: there are days upon days when my grief is overwhelming, and I know that the level of my sadness doesn’t begin to touch that of Kay’s mama and daddy. I am helpless in the wake of cancer.

And I didn’t expect that this year would see my 2-year-old nephew hospitalized repeatedly for his ongoing penchant to stop breathing. I am helpless in the wake of childhood illness.

More than anything, dear friend who gave me enCouragement, I want you to know this:

Your generous enCouragement allowed me, over and over, for days upon days, to seek out the joy in the middle of the grief. To refuse to lose the precious moments with my own children out of heartbreak and fear for others. To know that I bore witness to the aching and beautiful ways that our children triumph over life every day in the endurance of it.

So these are my New Year’s resolutions, almost same as they were last year, written as a letter to my children:

Dear Abby, Ian, Aden, Cai and Cael,

That which is of God in me greets that which is of God in you.

As we enter a new year again together, I want you to know that:

I resolve to see you.
I resolve to bear witness to your amazing and crazy lives.
I resolve to infuse you with courage by giving my heart to you.
And I resolve to endure with you.

And always… always, always… I love you; no resolution required.

Mama

 

The Blob and Other Stuff

Dec 30 2011

“Indescribable …
Indestructible!
Nothing can stop it!
THE BLOB!”

You may be under the mistaken impression that The Blob is a 1958 horror and science fiction flick about an alien lifeform that consumes everything in its path as it grows and grows.

But it’s not.

It’s a satirical piece about my dirty laundry pile.

Same idea, though, really.

“Don’t go in, Jim! This won’t do any good! It’s the most horrible thing I’ve ever seen in my life. Come on, we’ve got to clear this area!”
Lieutenant Dave, The Blob

Yes, I’m well aware that I’m supposed to be posting something poignant about the imminent New Year, reflective about the past year, or, at the very least, a list of Top Posts from 2011. All of those ideas sound fun. And as soon a I dig myself out from under the laundry, I’ll get right on that.

“I think you should send us the biggest transport plane you have, and take this thing to the Arctic or somewhere and drop it where it will never thaw.”
Lieutenant Dave, The Blob

Fortunately, I’m lightyears closer to working my way through The Blob than I might otherwise be because my children have only rarely changed their clothes since school let out two weeks ago.

In fact, I’m almost positive that Christmas Eve church services are scheduled one week into winter break so that mamas feel obligated BY GOD to change their children into clean digs. God knows, I needed the reminder.

All that repetitive pajama-wearing, though? It REALLY cuts down on laundry. I might even get through the backlog sometime this weekend!

And if that isn’t a hopeful and optimistic start to the New Year, well, I don’t know what is.

Cheers!
Beth

………

In other news… did you hear?

I’m sending out an enormous and more-than-a-little-bit-overwhelmed THANK YOU to Stephanie Precourt for my inclusion as one of SheKnows Five Funniest Mom Blogs. WOW!

I understand that Stephanie polled folks both online and off as part of the selection process, so THANK *YOU*, too, for believing in me. What an amazing gift you all are! I’m genuinely touched that you’re willing to hang out with me and invite your friends along for the ride.

P.S. In addition to writing for SheKnows, Stephanie blogs beautifully at Adventures in Babywearing. I know this because I stalked her to find her contact information. And then I told her she’s SO pretty. (She is – go look.) And then I told her I’m pretty sure I love her. And then she didn’t take out a restraining order and she wrote me a lovely message back. Not even kidding; nicest stalkee ever.

The Problem with Parenting: Witnesses

Dec 29 2011

My mild-mannered, long-suffering, tolerant husband told me last night that I’m a disappointment to parents everywhere.

OK, maybe Greg didn’t technically tell me, you know, with words, but he spoke volumes with his eyes. The red laser beams shooting from them were my first clue. When they burned “you and the boy are enmeshed to the point of being mutually parasitic” into the wall, I was on to him.

To be precise, I suppose Greg’s exact words were, “Seriously? Wrap yourself around his little finger much?” But he totally meant the rest, which is exactly why precision is a such a poor story-telling tool. You guys, there was sighing involved.

And all because he caught found me in the laundry room, huddled over a pair of clean boy undies, rubbing them vigorously between my hands to warm them with friction before my preschool child (who – hello! – understandably didn’t want to put cold undies on his boy bits) donned them.

The child might have returned the undies to me once or thrice because I hadn’t yet warmed them to his satisfaction.

You say pathetic. I say practical.

Potayto. Potahto.

It’s such a fine line.

Balls of Meat (aka, Meatballs)

Dec 28 2011

My son is a carnivore. Ian’s ideal meal is meat wrapped in meat with a side of meat.

Ian, in fact, had a brief flirtation with a life of meat-centered crime when he stole BBQ ribs from my friend, Leanne. It’s probably not entirely his fault. I mean, he did ask if he could have some, and Leanne, who was making the ribs for her extended family get-together later that day, had the audacity to say no. I know. It’s hard to believe I’m friends with a woman who can look an 8-year-old boy in a face like this


and still say no.

Leanne has a heart of stone.

So, really, the boy had no choice but to turn to deceit and trickery to meat his needs. (Get it? Meat his needs? Ha! And my sincere apologies.)

And the next thing Leanne knew, there was a stack of clean bones in her bathroom sink and a sticky-sweet, BBQ-sauce-covered boy-child playing ecstatically in another room.

Leanne: Ian? Did you eat some of the ribs?
Ian, eyes wide, face pale (except for splotches of sauce) : Nope.
Leanne: Are you sure, Ian?
Ian: Yep. I’m sure.
Leanne: Let’s go look at the bathroom sink.
Ian, suspiciously: Ooookaaaayyyy.
Leanne, pointing to the pile of bones that spontaneously grew in her sink: What are these, Ian?
Ian: Uuuummmm. I don’t know.
Leanne: You? The King of Meat? You don’t know?
Ian: Noooooo… well, maybe bones?
Leanne: Yes, Ian. Bones. And how do you think they got here?
Ian: Uuuummmm. I don’t know.
Leanne: Maybe you can think about it. And while you think about it, you can look in the mirror at that brown stuff on your face. And while you look at that, you can consider the fact that kids who steal and then lie about it don’t get to have any of the chicken nuggets I’m making for lunch, whereas kids who come clean and tell the truth DO get chicken nuggets.

Leanne has big, huge, chicken-nugget guns, y’all, and she’s not afraid to use them. I love her to infinity.

It’s three years later, and Ian’s experiments with living on the dark side have been few and far between. I think we’ve convinced him that he has no giftedness when it comes to life as a criminal, but when he’s in doubt, I use “Bones in the Bathroom Sink” as Exhibit A.

Last week, I told you about my easy-peasy recipe for FAST homemade cinnamon rolls that even a mama of five rambunctious kiddos can make from start to finish in 1.25 hours. And I’ll tell you a secret… I felt very vulnerable in its posting.

See, I used to cook like I meant it. I was creative. I perfected and honed my kitchen skills. I planned ahead. I selected recipes and – get this – I shopped for groceries with a list. In other words, I made cinnamon rolls that took HOURS.

These days, I only have time for 1) easy, 2) quick, and 3) delicious. And, quite frankly, I pat myself on the back for the fact that delicious still makes it into the Top Three. I regularly spend my food preparation time pretending I’m a Top Chef assembling a brilliant meal with only the surprise ingredients placed in front of me. It makes me feel like I’m cooking this way intentionally, as opposed to pathetically.

After I posted my cheaterpants recipe for cinnamon rolls, though, you guys made me feel OH-SO-much better with your lovely responses. And reader Kristen J. commented on the Five Kids Facebook page: “Ooh, hey, if you have any other easy, quick, and for bonus points, cheap recipes, I’d love to read about them!”

Dear Kristen,

Almost everything I make is easy, quick and cheap. You just opened yourself up to a whole world of recipes.

Since you asked – and because I’m busy making my son’s meat-eating dreams come true this Christmas break – I’m writing today about Balls of Meat.

You have yourself to blame. (And thanks!)

Beth

……….

Balls of Meat

Oh, sure. Some of you call them meatballs. But “Balls of Meat” is far more entertaining when you’re a 14-year-old boy trapped inside of a 38-year-old woman’s body.

Hey. I am who I am.

Now, here are my problems with looking up recipes on the internet: 1) They’re complicated. 2) They’re long. And 3) there’s inevitably at least one ingredient I don’t have on hand. Red pepper flakes? Fresh parsley? Meh. Toss that recipe right out.

These days, I use recipes that allow for improvisation, delay (“I said to stop hitting your brother, so now really is timeout time, mister; just because I’m cooking doesn’t mean you don’t get one.”), and a wide margin for error. Clearly, I’m using the word “recipe” loosely. The good news is, you can, too!

Here’s what you need for 24 large balls of meat:

  • 2 lbs. ground lean meat – use any kind or combination of meats. I used beef and pork above. I prefer turkey. I’ve also used breakfast sausage which is DEEEEElicious. If it’s ground-up meat, you’re all set. (If it’s preseasoned, like breakfast sausage, decrease your salt below.)
  • 2 cups of some kind of bread or grain – you can use bread, cooked rice, uncooked oats… or leftover cornbread, garlic bread, croutons, pancakes, waffles, etc. (I freeze any leftover bread-type thing for just this reason. I know; I’m cheaper than cheap.)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup of hard-ish cheese, shredded – any type you like. I’ve used Parmesan, cheddar, jack, mozzarella, Mizithra, and Romano, all with great results
  • 2 cups spaghetti sauce (you can substitute 1 cup of milk if you don’t have spaghetti sauce; I use the sauce because I’m a big believer in using lots of flavor in my balls of meat), which is a neat trick because it totally infuses the “simmering in sauce” flavor without, you know, taking the time to actually simmer them in sauce.
  • 1 Tablespoon garlic salt (or plain salt if no one’s looking)
  • Optional: other stuff. Seasonings, fresh herbs, diced onion… really, the options are endless. See “variations” at the bottom or invent your own.

Step One: If you’re using bread, tear it into tiny bits. (FYI, standardish store-bought bread as your grain, then 4 bread slices = 2 cups.) If you’re looking for a way to involve your kids, have them tear the bread into tiny bits. I station my dog under the table for this step, as bread inevitably flies everywhere. Honestly, some days I don’t know how our floors would survive without the dog’s tongue to mop it.

If you’re using cooked rice or uncooked oats, you can leave them alone. Or, if you’re looking for extra work, you can grind them into tinier bits in a food processor. Sometimes, I just need to work my feelings out with the aggressive “OBLITERATE” button on that machine. It’s WAY cheaper than therapy, and I would know.

Step Two: Dump everything in a bowl.

Yep. Ignore that picture and put everything in. Except the eggshells. Because that would be gross.

Step Three: REMOVE YOUR RINGS. (I almost always forget. And then… ew!)

Step Four: Spray two muffin tins with oil spray. I always forget to do this step, too, and then I’m left with meat-and-egg-infected hands and I have to wash them an extra time. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times I make meatballs, I always forget.

Step Five: Gently combine everything with your hands.

Step Five, Part B: Carefully choose a victim to threaten with your brains-covered hands. This is an opportunity, folks, to run a family drill in case of the zombie apocalypse. You do NOT want to screw this up.

For example, if you choose the wrong person, you will get no reaction at all, almost as if this guy has known you for 18 years and has seen all of your gross tricks already.

And that would be a sad, unsatisfying waste of time.

No, you want to pick someone young (but not too young) and impressionable (but not too impressionable).

Twelve-year-old boy-child? Perfect.

Step Six: With those two muffin tins that you totally remembered to spray with oil before you stuck your hands in raw meat, shape 24 balls of meat and drop ’em into the muffin cups.

This is my FAVORITE tip! No more frying meatballs on the stove and then baking in the oven. Nope! Muffin tins + a screaming hot oven = a nice crust on the balls with a fully cooked, moist center. Perfection without splattered grease or a mama slaving over a dangerous cooktop? Yes, please!

Step Seven: Steal meat from the rest of the balls…

… to fill that one remaining muffin cup that always, no matter how well I think I’m portioning, is left over.

Step Eight: Bake at 425 degrees for 18 minutes (mine take 17-20 minutes) until a nice, golden brown crust forms.

Step Nine: Eat ’em hot over pasta, on rice, in a Hoagie roll, over spinach salad, with or without sauce, or straight out of the pan.

Mmmm!

……….

Balls of Meat:
The Quick Directions

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs. ground lean meat of your choice
  • 2 cups of bread or grain in small pieces
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup of hard-ish cheese, shredded
  • 2 cups spaghetti sauce (or substitute 1 cup of milk)
  • 1 Tablespoon garlic salt
  • Optional: other stuff

Directions:

  • Combine all 6 ingredients ’til the mix resembles zombie food.
  • Divide evenly (ha!) into 2 greased muffin tins (24 balls).
  • Bake at 425 degrees for 18 minutes.
  • Try not to burn your mouth on the pan.

Variations:

The possibilities with this recipe are endless! Consider using ground chicken, cheddar cheese and substituting 1 1/2 cups applesauce and some diced apple chunks in place of the spaghetti sauce. Add a tiny dash of cinnamon, and you have Apple Cheddar Chicken Meatballs. Over egg pasta or with a salad? YUM. (Thanks to Victoria S. on Facebook for the apple idea!)

……….

P.S. If you enjoy recipe posts, please do let me know. I’m considering whether to make these a regular (weekly?) part of the blog, and your feedback is important to me. And THANK YOU for all of the feedback you provide through comments, on Facebook and via e-mail. Your encouragement means the world to me.

Flashing Memories of This Christmas Past

Dec 27 2011

Before too many days pass in the rush of winter break, in the joys of Wiirritation (the particular brand of argument that breaks out in front of our gaming system), and in the flurry of endless activities, I’m going to take a moment to reflect on my favorite things about this Christmas.

I know. Poor blog form. What’s done is done, right?

I can almost hear my busy brain chanting, “Eyes forward! Hasten to the New Year! You are wasting time! Move, move, move!”

But then I listen to my heart, and it tells me that what’s done forms the foundation for what’s to come, and that it’s OK to check what’s beneath my feet before scurrying to the next item on my “to do” list.

Fine.

Reflection, it is.

I rewind the whirlwind events of past few days, and I play them again in my head.

Snapshots surface.

*FLASH*

My 2-year-old nephew, the one who’s spent an inordinate amount of time in the hospital this year struggling to breathe, races around our house screeching, “I running! I running!” before taking a blissful nap on my brother. Their chests rise and fall with easy breaths. And the rest of us breathe, too.

*FLASH*

My preschool son, the one who explained to me that “candles lit with fire are far too dangerous for kids, Mom” finally – and with great reluctance – agrees to hold one at our candlelight Christmas Eve church service… and then drops it, burning, to the church floor. He spears me with an “I told you so” stare full of such fiery passion that I’m shocked the church doesn’t catch fire from his fury alone.

*FLASH*

My oldest organizes her siblings for their 3rd annual Kids-Only Stocking Opening Event. She doesn’t bother to ask permission, but instead slips the reins of leadership from my hands and proceeds as though it’s her due. I’m the oldest, too; I understand.

Under the guise of “letting mom and dad sleep in,” Abby instructs the four littles to wake each other anytime after 6:00am. She readies the hot chocolate and mugs the night before. She makes sure they all understand not to disturb our slumber.

On Christmas morning to shouts of “IS IT 6?” and “GO! GO! GO!” and the even louder shushing – “SSSSHHHHHHHH!” – they stampede down the stairs like rugby-playing elephants.

I lay in bed, wide awake, like every year of the past three. I’m terribly sad to be missing out. And I’m achingly glad for an oldest daughter who uses her tools of leadership to sculpt a joyful whole from five separate parts.

Forty-five minutes later, a 5-year-old lands on my bladder with great wailing and gnashing of teeth because one of those little sweeties bonked him on the head. I grin, hiding it the dark, and I head downstairs to referee.

*FLASH*

We arrive at church Christmas morning in our pajamas. Grown-ups sport everything from bright red Elmo jammies to elaborate Japanese robes, teenagers appear in footie pajamas, and littles run around with pajama-clad glee. Hanging out with a crowd of total weirdos who are willing to laugh and play and show up at church in pajamas on Christmas? I call that family.

*FLASH*

My mom hands me a tiny package. In it, a charm from her own charm bracelet – a cheerleader bullhorn – the symbol of motherhood. And my dad passes down a charm he once gave his mother – the Marine Corps emblem. He includes these words in his note: Semper Fidelis. Always faithful.

*FLASH*

My father-in-law gathers my children to listen as he opens his newest book, “All The Ways I Love You.” Instead of grandpa’s voice, though, they hear the recording of their 5-year-old cousin’s voice. She reads with a strength and confidence that’s a beautiful and bittersweet counterpoint to her ongoing battle with cancer. I watch the lines of his face, and I swear I can hear his heart reading the words back to her.

*FLASH*

*Flash*

*flash*

 

On Messes and Miracles

Dec 25 2011

In a little town in Oregon on a mild Christmas Day,
five out of five kids looked directly at a camera,
five out of five kids kept every eye open,
five out of five kids smiled brightly,
and five out of five kids did each of those things simultaneously,
while their mama snapped the picture in time!

It’s a Christmas miracle!

Two thousand years ago, God-with-Us was born in a stinky barn, proving that miracles happen right smack dab in the middle of the mess.

And that’s the part of the story I like best these days.

Merry Christmas from our messy, miraculous family to yours,
Beth

Five Fun Facts about Flying with Santa

Dec 24 2011

Our house is all a-bustle as we prepare for Christmas.

I sat chuckling silently in my twins’ bedroom last night, on Christmas Eve Eve, as they rather desperately tried to put themselves to sleep. I saw the sugarplums waiting just out of their sight to leap into their dreams, but the boys remained goggle-eyed and awake far past their bedtime, brimming with excitement and nerves. Oh, boys, if you think that’s bad, just wait ’til tonight!

I have one million things yet to do to get ready for this night, but I’m still lulled by the satisfaction of the last one, listening to my boys whisper while the white-noise machine competed for their attention. Oh, I know that at their ripe old age of 5 years I should let them sleep without their mama in the room, but they’re my babies and having a teenager in the house changes everything; I don’t want to miss this swiftly moving time.

Tonight, after we try (again) to not set our church on fire during the Christmas Eve Candlelight service (we’ve been successful so far!) … and after this mama watches her kids by candlelight and tries valiantly not to become a blubbering mess …

… we’ll troop home to make final preparations for Santa’s arrival.

Thanks to our little twins’ preschool friend whom I shall call Em, we’ll sprinkle oats and glitter outside so Santa’s reindeer can find our house. (‘Cause everyone knows that reindeer eat oats, and they poop glitter, and that glitter’s gotta come from somewhere, you guys. Hehehe! Fun tradition, Em!)

We’ll set out a large glass of milk and a whole batch of my mom’s Cinnamon Oatmeal Chocolate Chip cookies for the big man himself. (He eats a shocking number of our cookies every year; our kids are always amazed.)

And then, because we care about having a genuine, old-fashioned, Norman Rockwell style Christmas, we’ll fire up the laptop and start tracking Santa’s progress around the world via NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defense Command) and Google Earth.

Now, my kids have learned a lot from NORAD over the Christmas seasons as we refresh Santa’s status, study our geography, and talk about the science of flight. Did you know, for example, that NORAD uses four high-tech systems to track Santa? They’re kickin’ it with radar, satellites, Santa cams and fighter jets. So they aren’t kidding around!

But my kids have also learned a lot from their Papa, my dad, who was an OV-10 pilot for the United States Marine Corps and a commercial airline pilot for Continental and Alaska Airlines. My dad has flown on many, many Christmas Eve nights, and he agreed to tell us a little bit more about Santa the Aviator and what’s actually going on up there.

For your reading pleasure and the edification of scientifically-minded children everywhere, I present…

Five Fun Facts About Flying with Santa
brought to you by The Old Marine

  1. Although Santa relied for years on older means of navigation, he recently switched to use all GPS waypoint navigation.  Waypoints are identified with five letters, e.g. SANTA, CHMNY, RUDLF, SLEHY, etc.  Unfortunately, several waypoints required changes due to the fact that Santa became distracted by those which were food-related like MILKE and COOKY. (Oddly, though, CAROT provided no difficulty and was allowed to remain the same.) The Five Kids house waypoint is FVKDS. Feel free to use your parents-only hotline to call the North Pole and ask for your five letter waypoint; Santa’s Workshop has permission to release this information.
  2. Air traffic control is not an issue.  Santa flies all profiles above FL600 (that’s 60,000 feet above mean sea level) which is outside of controlled airspace.  Mid-air collisions with other aircraft are avoided during the brief transits between the surface and FL600 by the reindeer’s whiskers (they’re very sensitive) and exceptional sense of smell.  I never worried about hitting a sleigh and 8 tiny reindeer while flying on Christmas Eve.
  3. Santa is exempt from FAR 91.105 (a) (2), the Federal Aviation Administration’s seatbelt requirement.  All that jumping in and out of the sleigh makes wearing a seat belt for every takeoff and landing really ridiculous.
  4. Donner hates wearing his oxygen mask, but does so because he doesn’t like it when all the other reindeer laugh and call him names.
  5. The idea that Rudolph was added to the reindeer flight team because of a “foggy night” is romanticized fiction.  Rudolph was made part of the team when Santa agreed to voluntarily comply with a 1939 CAA (Civic Aeronautics Authority – precursor of the FAA) mandate that all aircraft flying at night display a red “anti-collision” light.  (BTW – Rudolph’s red nose has now been replaced with a white strobe light.  The flashing strobe makes Dasher nauseous which is why he has been moved to the back of the trace and Blitzen has taken his place up front.)

Thanks, Captain Papa! Glad to have you along for the ride.

Merry Christmas, one and all! May your day be merry, bright, and full of magic and mischief,
Beth