Mary & Martha Revisited: It’s Attitude, Sister.

13 Dec

It’s not how much you have to do, it’s how you feel about it doing it.

(Note: Wow – one MOPS meeting results in three blog posts! What a morning it was! First, Potluck; then My Fave  Five, and now, Mary & Martha. Yahoo!)

I just completed one of the most schedule-packed, busy, speaking-writing,-cooking-socializing 9-day chunks of time in my adult life. The culmination event was leading the devotional and discussion time at the Mothers of Preschoolers group at my church Monday morning. Not surprisingly, given my audience of busy young moms and my recent schedule, I chose a verse that is often studied this time of year — Jesus at the Home of Mary & Martha: Luke 10:38-41. Check it out:

“38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’”

In my many years of studying this passage, the revelations just keep on coming.

In my early days of reading the Bible, I marveled: This is in the Bible? It seems like such a mundane, slice of life passage. But Jesus cares about the details of life! I have, at various times, identified (silently!) with Martha – Seriously, can’t somebody help me around here? And at other times, when my kids were little and the demands on my time precluded periods of “sitting at Jesus’ feet,” I yearned to be Mary: Please leave me alone and let me just sit quietly!

This year, however, as I revisited this passage with the intent of sharing admonitions against over-committing, and tips for doing what’s really important and lasting during the Christmas season, I had a new reckoning.

It’s not that Martha took on too much, per se. It’s how she felt about her decision – worried and upset. It’s attitude, sister.

After the 9 days of  crazy scheduling I just had – that included producing and co-MCing a women’s event at church, coordinating food for a memorial service at the high school (and I was a speaker there too), baking for a cooking exchange and a care package for my finals-burdened, out-of-state college student, three dinners out, cooking dinner at home every other night for my hubby and my busy 16-year old, hosting three meetings at my house (with food and bev, naturally), coordinating with the dryer repair man, doing announcements at church, going to the holiday fireworks show in our town, and then, speaking at the MOPS group on day nine, you might think I was being Martha – overscheduled and bitter about having to do so much.

But unlike many of those busy times in my adult life when I have over-committed and grumbled, this was different. I loved every minute of it! I mean, I was seriously joyful!

What was the difference this time? Well, the only explanation is: God.

As I approached this season – which I knew would be busy, even without foreknowledge about the death of our beloved Track Coach and his Memorial Service – I was praying fiercely and obediently. And I asked others, whom I knew would really do it, to pray for me. Before accepting responsibilities or offering to help others, I laid my ideas before God and asked Him – Should I? I didn’t respond to any requests immediately. I let the decision marinate in prayer.

Did I hear a voice? Well, that’d be weird! But “hearing” isn’t necessary when all the answers I need are in the Bible. This verse, which I had memorized long before, resonated with me as I prayed and sat quietly, “listening:”

“Whatever you do, work at it wholeheartedly as though you were doing it for the Lord and not merely for people.” Colossians 3:23

So, I felt God was saying – Hey, Cindy, it’s really up to you if you decide to do this stuff. But if you do, remember that you are doing it for me, you are representing me, so don’t go all Martha on me. If you decide to do more than that “one thing that is needed,” don’t be worrying and upset. And definitely don’t try to pass the buck to someone who has chosen differently. No guilt trips, girl.

So, with God’s blessing, I discussed the scheduling with my wonderful, patient, also-busy husband, and we figured it out. And then, there was the matter of a couple of giant and key naps on last Sunday afternoon and this past Saturday afternoon. Those kind where you wake up and think it’s a different day! So awesome!

So, as you go forward with your to-dos and your plans, and all those “shoulds” that you have on your calendar, it’s probably too late to decide whether or not you can get out of them. But it’s never too late to lift up your attitude for a recalibration. Remember who the Christmas season is really for, and ask Him to help you get to a place where you can joyfully serve, work, cook, clean, shop, host, whatever, as though He were going to be right there with you. Because, ya know, He is.

Now, as the real “meat” of my Christmas season looms (and yes, it’s Dec 13 and I have only bought 3 gifts), my challenge will be to maintain my joy, my daily conversation with God, and the act of laying my schedule out for prayer and approval.

Stuff to think about while you’re in line at Costco…or on the freeway….or trying to fall asleep:

When have you missed a moment because you were more Martha than Mary – grumbling about all you perceive you must do instead of enjoying it?

In what areas do you struggle for perfection – often hampering your own – and others’– joy?

What can you do this Christmas to be more “sit at the feet of Jesus and enjoy the moment” rather than “Hey, why isn’t anyone helping me do all this crazy stuff I think I need to do?”

Identify what you can let go of, and let go. Identify the “have-to’s” and work to change your attitude about them.

And pray!

“Mary” Christmas!

My Fave Five

11 Dec

This fall we started a new segment of our monthly Mothers of Preschoolers group (I’m the mentor, BTW, not one of the “young” moms) called Fave Five where we share our five favorite “things.” Could be anything, from cleaning products to websites, from recipes to cosmetics. I was considering sharing this: “Sunday after-church nap.” But I wanted to combine my talk with giveaways in the spirit of Christmas, and I wasn’t about to offer to watch toddlers while one of the mamas napped! Maybe in the spring….

Here’s what made the list (and seriously, I feel like I could have done my Fave Fifty!)

Microfiber Hair Towel — I’ve got thick, curly hair that takes forever to dry (I don’t blow-dry my hair, so this is especially an issue in the winter). I love my super absorbent hair towel turban! I usually go through one about every year and a half (they last but get discolored… especially when I use it within a day of “rescuing my roots.” Ahem.) My latest version of hair towel is turbietwist. Of course, it has its own website (but I bought it at CVS–they had a two-for-one dealio that was perfect for my give-away idea!) TurbieTwist

Fleishmann’s Pizza Dough Yeast — We love thin, crispy crust. Since I discovered Fleishmann’s

Pizza Dough Yeast at Ralph’s

supermarket (it doesn’t need time to

Homemade Pizza with dough by Fleischmann's Pizza Dough Yeast

Homemade Tostada Pizza with dough by Fleischmann’s Pizza Dough Yeast

rise!) I’ve been making pizza from scratch about once a week. Makes it so easy! I make two crusts from one packet, and I let my bread machine do the heavy kneading (I split the dough ball into two after it’s formed). I bake the crust for 7 minutes before I add the toppings for extra crispiness, but otherwise, I follow the directions on the packet. I have frozen the crusts (after the initial baking) and it worked out great to pull them out of the freezer, add leftovers and bake! A fave:  BBQ Chicken Pizza — use bbq sauce instead of tomato sauce, add white cheeses, thinly sliced Bermuda onions, fresh chopped cilantro and leftover shredded bbq chicken!) The photo is another favorite — half salsa/half refried beans for the sauce; Mexican cheese blend, shredded roasted chicken, black beans and corn. Mmmm. Fleischmann’s Pizza Crust website

Kevo Moisturizer: My friend, Brad Glynn, developed this great product after years in the sun playing and coaching

tennis, as well as years on the giving end of deep tissue sports massage. He wanted an all-natural moisturizer that could multi-task. He has since developed a couple of more specialized products (deep tissue massage oil, lip balm and eye cream), but I still love Kevo original for a lip balm, eye cream, cuticle cream, chapped face (hello Tahoe!), dry elbows, heels and knees, and so on. I have pretty sensitive skin (especially when it’s chapped….even hypoallergenic stuff stings me), but Kevo has never failed me nor stung even my most chapped ski-bum lips! Kevo Website

Method Shower Spray: We have two glass shower walls and really hard water. That’s not a great combo. And who wants to squeegie every time you shower? Neither my husband nor I! Never fear, Method Shower Spray is here! Bought it at Target after reading the label – it’s all natural, non-caustic and –yahoo– you just spray it on and leave it! Five years of showers and still the glass looks great! You can spray it on the tile too. If I could only convince my sons to use it too…..workin on it! Method Shower Spray

Mr. Clean Magic Eraser sponge: Not new, but still one of my favorite household products. Thank you, Mr. Clean. You’ve been bald with an earring long before it was trendy. What a forward thinker! These magic sponges are great to wipe away scuffs on the wall, scuffs on my shoes, soap scum in the tub (for those among the family who don’t use Method Shower Spray, cough cough) and a variety of other wondrous feats! Magic Eraser

So, there’s my Fave Five for now — and it’s probably important to know that I don’t get any kind of grease from promoting any of these products. Dang, that’d be nice, wouldn’t it?

Get Lucky this Christmas! (We’re Bringin’ Potluck Back)

10 Dec

In these tighter economic times, it makes sense that potluck parties should be on the rise. We shouldn’t give up our get-togethers just because our party budget has shrunk! And, with busy lives, the ability to cook multi-course meals – and still have the energy left to enjoy them with guests – is a rare feat!

I’ve hosted quite a few potlucks over the years –  from 80-person grade-level parents parties when our kids were in elementary school to Bible study end-of-year soirees that grew to 90 folks. We recently hosted a smaller potluck with a crew of 20 friends who all have kids in college (that same crew from the elementary school days)! If anyone ever understood the necessity of a frugal dinner party, it’s those of us who are paying out-of-state tuition!

Whether you are hosting or attending, here are a few tips!

Tips for the host:

Don’t kill yourself cleaning: Hide the stacks of unfinished business in your bedroom, turn down the lights and light some candles. Even a mess looks better by candlelight.

Tell them what you want: Give people suggestions for what to bring. You can even create a signup on one of the online sites like SignUp Genius. Unless you want specific items (such as bread to accompany lasagna) you can ask for general categories (appetizers, salads, main, sides, desserts, beverages, paper goods). But make sure your guests can see what the others are bringing – you don’t want four people bringing brownies! And, from experience, you don’t really need as many desserts as you think. One or two usually will suffice.

Be ready: Have everything ready to go so that you can greet guests and not be busy in the kitchen when they arrive. That means you’ve got space in the fridge for items that arrive and need to be kept cold, and space on the counter or in the oven – or on the buffet table – for items as they come. Also, lots of aluminum foil, ziploks and containers you don’t need back for sending leftovers out the door (or at least so you can send the original dish home with the provider. Who wants to drive around town with a load of Pyrex deliveries?)

Self-serve beverages: Unless your spouse or a friend really enjoys playing bartender, make drinks as self serve as possible. Walk your guest, for instance, to the cooler and cups, the already-opened wine bottles and glasses —  and get them the first one – then deputize them to help themselves  (and anyone else) to seconds!

Prepare for forgetful guests: Have plenty of dishtowels, trivets, oven mitts and serving utensils on hand, as well as platters, bowls, etc. for those who neglect to bring them. You don’t want to be standing on your head peering into the dark depths of your serve-ware cabinet trying to find the chip and dip bowl while you are supposed to be mingling and offering witty and charming commentary on your Christmas décor, right?

A friend indeed: Enlist a good friend to help you do an occasional walk-through-tidy (throw away empties, pick up used napkins, replenish ice or wine) or walk around with a platter of appetizers.

Ice-breakers: Even if someone else is bringing appetizers and drinks, be sure to have a few simple things on hand for those who arrive before the providers: some little cups of nuts, pretzels or Chex mix, a few large bottles of sparkling water, a bottle of champagne or prosecco (something that’s festive but won’t trump the person who arrives a few minutes late with that gallon of sangria or pitcher of Pom Martinis!)

Tips for the Best Potluck Guests:

Sign up early – but be flexible: Let your hostess know that even though you signed up to bring a chocolate cream pie, you would be happy to bring something else if she would like. This is better than signing up “I’ll bring whatever you want.” If you do that, you are forcing the hostess to figure it out for you. Give a default and proffer a phone call a few days before.

Know yourself, tardy girl: If you sign up for appetizers, arrive on time. If you are a habitually late person, offer to bring dessert instead!

Be fully prepared: When you bring something to a potluck, bring it ready to serve (or as close to that as possible) with all the appropriate serving utensils. I once had someone offer to bring macaroni and cheese to a potluck. They arrived 30 minutes late with a grocery bag and handed it to me: two boxes of uncooked Kraft Macaroni & cheese, a half gallon of milk and box of butter. I thanked them and told them we would be enjoying it for lunch the next day!

Even if you are bringing chips and salsa – bring a bowl for the chips and a dish for the salsa. Ask the hostess where she wants it and take it there. Dump them in and throw away your trash! If your dish needs preparation right before serving, let the hostess know that you will prepare it at the time – just ask for a five-minute heads-up before she wants to serve.

No doggie bags for You:  If you bring something to a potluck and it doesn’t get completely consumed (food or beverage), offer to leave it there – ask if they have a ziplock or a container you can transfer it to so they don’t have to wash your dish and get it back to you. (I know, the temptation is to take it with you – especially if it’s a bottle of wine – but etiquette wise, leave it unless your host resists and wants you to take it with you. They hosted, cleaned house and organized the party. They deserve to have a glass of wine and a nosh of onion dip once the guests have left!)

High-maintenance dish: If your signature potluck dish needs to be in an oven, be sure to check ahead with the hostess to make sure she has the oven or microwave space. I was once doing a pizza party (I had made several homemade gourmet pizzas). One guest arrived – they had offered to do meatballs – but they needed the oven for 30 minutes to heat them up. 30 minutes is a LONG time – and I needed the oven for the pizza. It was awkward…..but we did a little Rubik’s cube action and enlisted the microwave for the initial heating, and got it to work. But if it’s not convenient, consider making something else this time and save that high-maintenance entrée for you own party.

Gifting your Hostess: When you bring a hostess gift, make sure it’s not something the hostess has to deal with—such as a bouquet of flowers that are not in water. Nice host/hostess gifts you might consider as an alternative: a plant; a bottle of fancy olive oil or balsamic vinegar; bottle of wine with a note (but wrap it so it doesn’t get consumed that night);  cute cocktail napkins; a Christmas apron; small plate of something homemade (cookies; banana bread; brownies) wrapped nicely with a note; liqueur or schnapps (especially peppermint this time of year) are always nice to have on hand.

Courtesy call for help: Call an hour before the party and ask if you can pick up anything on your way over (a bag of ice – a bag of chips. I love it when someone does that for me!)

Last minute cancellations – send the dish anyhow! Unless your host refuses (or you have the stomach flu and no one would want to eat what you made with your infectious little hands) send your dish over even if you have to cancel – especially if it’s last minute and you’ve already made it. And that’s doubly important if you are bringing dessert – you might be the only one!

Now, shutdown your computer and get out there and socialize, people!

What’s For Dinner Templates?

8 Oct

Here are some templates for print at home weekly menu sheets. You can either print a new one each week and post it on the frig, or print your favorite, trim it to fit in an 8×10 frame, and use a dry erase marker to write your weekly menu on the glass!

WhatsForDinnerTemplateTemplatePink

WhatsForDinnerTemplateWater

WhatsForDinnerTemplateStripes

WhatsForDinnerTemplateStarfish

WhatsForDinnerTemplateFiery

WhatsForDinnerTemplateNoPic

Recipe! Breakfast Burrito Casserole

1 Oct

You can prepare this ahead of time (night before) and refrigerate until ready to cook.

Ingredients:

Three Medium Tortillas

Half a can of refried beans

Half a jar of salsa

Half a bag of precooked turkey sausage crumbles

Half a cup of Hormel real bacon bits (or 6 crumbled bacon strips)

6 -8 eggs, beaten (depends on how ‘high’ you want it and how many folks you want to feed)

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (or Mexican blend)

20 cooked tater tots or hash browns, finely chopped (you can do this with your hands). You can microwave them (they’ll crisp up when you bake), or you can just save out some next time you make tots!

Instructions:

Heat oven to 350

Spray a 13×9 casserole dish with Pam

Spread three tortillas with refried beans

Place bean-covered tortillas on bottom of dish (you could place them and then spread the beans on, whichever is easier. Just try to cover the entire bottom of the dish. You can tear them to puzzle it together)

Spread salsa evenly over beans

Sprinkle sausage and bacon evenly over salsa

Pour beaten eggs evenly over meat

Sprinkle 1 ½ cups of shredded cheese over eggs

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes

At 30 minute mark, take casserole out, sprinkle potatoes over top of casserole. Then sprinkle remaining  cheese on top of that.

Bake 5 more minutes (or under the broiler if you’d like the top crispy)

Serve alone or with salsa, avocado, sour cream, etc.

Makes 10 servings (large servings)

Pray, Pray, so you won’t be so Cra’y Cra’y!

11 Jan

 

 

This is an excerpt from one of my “McTopics” presentations for the Mothers Of Preschoolers group I mentor.

 

Prayer Life – if Jesus made it a priority – and He’s Jesus! – then we should too! But in the hectic lives of moms with young kids, it can be challenging to fit it in. I know – I was there, and to prove it with apologies to Laura Numeroff (author of the “If You Give a Mouse…” books), please enjoy:

If you give a mommy a free hour …..by Cindy McMahon

If you give a mommy a free hour of quiet time to spend in prayer and meditation while her baby naps, she’s going to need a hot cup of coffee to go with it.

When she goes to get her favorite coffee cup, she notices that she never started the dishwasher. While rinsing out her cup, she sees that there are some additional empty spaces in the dishwasher, so she tours the house, gathering up a few dirty dishes to fill the dishwasher.

While her coffee is brewing, she gets a text from her best friend, who wants to know if she’ll be able have a playdate at the park later in the week. She opens up her laptop to check her online calendar, and realizes that she never scheduled her dental checkup – three months late! Quickly, she looks up her dentist’s phone number, whose name is alphabetically next to her in-laws’ and she realizes that she never got around to ordering her mother-in-law’s birthday gift from Amazon.com.

She goes online and sees that she has 12 notifications on Facebook and 32 unread emails. As she checks those notifications (mostly on a cute pic she uploaded of her sleeping angel) , she sees that someone has shared a Pinterest pin with her.

Ooooh – it’s a darling craft she wants to do with her older kids. But she’ll need clothespins. She goes into the laundry room to see how many clothespins she has, and realizes that she never put the last load of clothes (from two days ago) into the dryer. She notices they smell kind of funky, and so she decides to run them again with a little baking soda to refresh them.

Heading back into the kitchen to get the baking soda, she smells her coffee. She tries to pour it without putting down the baking soda, and drops the baking soda, which was wide open, onto the kitchen floor. She puts down the coffee pot and sweeps up the spill – and the rest of the kitchen, for good measure.

Finally, she fills her favorite mug and carries it over to her cozy spot on the couch, where her prayer list and Bible, open to Proverbs 31, is waiting. As she sits down, she wonders if she’ll be able to stay awake if she closes her eyes in prayer. Just as she does, she hears crying on the baby monitor, looks at her watch and realizes that naptime is over.

If you give a mommy a cup of coffee, she’s going to need a free hour of prayer time to go with it.

Have you been there? Me too! With so much to be done – both the “have to do’s” and the “want to do’s” – it is challenging to make the time to just sit and spend time with God. But as I’ve found over the years, it is such a key component of living a Spirit-filled, “slow-to-anger,” wise-decision-making kind of life. Jesus, at the height of his ministry when he was in high demand and being sought after by thousands, made solitary prayer a priority.  That’s humbling, really, because as busy as I am, my schedule is certainly not as full as his! And yet, he stole away for quiet time with God. Obviously, we need to as well!

Get started:

1. If you haven’t been regularly spending time in prayer, start small – how about 5 or 10 minutes? Can you wake up a bit earlier? Lock yourself in the bathroom? The car?)

2. Grab a pen & paper: As you sit quietly, plenty of forgotten tasks will flood your mind. Write them down, and get back to prayer (don’t go off and do them!)

3. Cellphone goes to another room.

4. Read the Bible: Psalms are my favorites – reminders of how amazing God has been through the ages – and certainly, that my situation isn’t as bad as David’s was at times! And, it helps to settle me in. You can even print a Psalm out from a Bible website like BibleGateway.com the night before.

5. Prayer routine: I’ve followed the *Moms In Prayer (formerly Moms In Touch) fours steps of prayer for the last 10 years and so I begin with praise for God, then I move into a moment or two (or more sometimes!) of quiet confession. Next comes a period of thanking God for what he’s done or answers to prayer that I’ve received. Then, finally, I begin asking God for his help in certain areas. *momsinprayer.org

Benefits: I love the phrase Prayer doesn’t change God, it changes us. He wants to hear from us (what parent doesn’t want to hear from their kid?) But our time with Him makes us better folk.

Spirit Girl: What I’ve experienced in the days when I begin with prayer (and I confess this is not every single day – but I try!) is a wiser, more calm approach to everything. From long lines in the market to inconsiderate drivers, broken glass to sass from my kids, my reactions are more in the *Fruit of the Spirit category than the “react now, regret it later” mode, which seems to be my default. The new jar of salsa still breaks and splatters when it hits the kitchen floor, and people still don’t understand what a four-way-stop means (that all four cars have to stop in order for it to work!!), but that stuff bothers me less. I have even been known to shrug and laugh about it.

Wise-time management: Regular prayer has me in the habit of reflecting upon any day’s to-do list and figuring out which things are important, and which things can wait (or go away, or be delegated – that’s my favorite!). Lots of paring down this way – there may even be time for a cup of coffee later!

Now that quiet time with God has become more the norm than the exception, when I do miss that morning window, I will regroup when I remember and take a moment right then to check in with The Creator. Usually that realization hits after I’ve made an error in judgment (did I really need to walk up and down every aisle at Costco, picking up several impulse items, just because I was there to save $12 on trash compactor bags?) or meted out harsh words for someone I love. Sigh. It’s a process folks.

Finally: I think of it like this: Going through my day without prayer is like going to the supermarket without a list. I might get what I need, but more than likely, I will forget something important and come home with several things that I don’t need and won’t use.

Happy New Year to you – enjoy the fresh start!

*Fruit of the Spirit, from Galatians 5:22-23

New International Version (NIV)

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Sit Down For Dinner, folks!

11 Oct
McFamily at JRDN in Pacific Beach (San Diego)

A quick iPhone pic taken by Rachel before a fancy dinner out.

Bite-sized Portions for My Maidens

McTopics: Family Meal Time – You can do it!

My 15-year-old son recently wrote an essay about the positive influences that have shaped his life. The assignment required that he write a paragraph each about a significant person, place and event/experience.

He asked me to proofread it (“for spelling only,” he reminded me, of former editor of red-pen fame).

I was blessed to the point of tears. He chose to write about his brother, (a freshman in college this year) as his “Who;” playing hockey and attending an annual week-long Christian summer camp as his experiences; and our dining room table as The Place. It was the kind of essay that makes you so proud you want to tell everyone about it (and I guess that’s what I’m doing, right?).

Then, a week after the heart-swelling essay, a study from Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse concluded that teens who regularly eat with the family are less likely to engage in risky behaviors and more likely to fare better in the adolescent years and beyond. An excerpt from the report:

“This year’s study reinforces the importance of frequent family dinners,” said Joseph A. Califano, Jr., CASA Columbia’s Founder and Chairman and former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare. “Ninety percent of Americans who meet the medical criteria for addiction started smoking, drinking, or using other drugs before age 18. Parental engagement in children’s lives is key to raising healthy, drug-free kids and one of the simplest acts of parental engagement is sitting down to the family dinner. Seventeen years of surveying teens has taught us that the more often children have dinner with their families the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use drugs.”

For the full report:

There are many times in the parenting journey where we wonder if the things we do make a difference. It seems that the family dinners have.

In our community, we are among a large percentage of people who are involved, educated and dedicated to raising their children to be successful. There’s nothing unique about that. Apparently, however, our regular old family meals together are one of the things that do set us apart from about half of the other families in our country. Life is busy, kids and parents are going in several directions, and eating is often done alone, in front of the TV, in the car or with teen friends rather than family members.

Family dinner is sacred in our house. We are not legalistic about it, but we are dedicated to making it happen on a regular basis.

We both grew up having family dinners, even if they weren’t what you might imagine. My husband’s family rarely ate before 8 pm and those dinners were spirited. My dad worked for a professional baseball team, so sometimes our “family dinner” consisted of him coming down from the Press Box to our seats behind the visiting dugout, enjoying a hot dog or a hot chocolate, and asking us about our day, schoolwork, etc. Thus, it’s probably not surprising that we wanted to make this a goal also.

Family of Two: Our family meal tradition was purposeful. And it wasn’t always easy. But from the beginning, even when it was just the two of us, both working full time, we’d sit down to eat at our dining room table – foregoing the TV trays we received as a wedding gift (although those were great for football-watching parties!) TV was off. Phone went to the machine.

Party of 3 and then 4: Once the kiddos arrived, we still made the effort, although sometimes it would mean that we’d pull the baby swing up to the table so bambino could be a part of the dinner, even if it meant constant winding that swing to keep said infant from getting fussy.

Somewhere down the line, when both the boys were of talking age, we added in the conversation starter, “What was the best part of your day?” and made our way around the table, including any guests in our query as well.

These days, we rarely even prompt doing the “best part” query – the conversation just seems to flow around so that everyone reports something significant from the day – be it hilarious, bizarre, frustrating or amazing. The boys linger at the table, dipping community carrot sticks in community Ranch long after the main meal is done. As they’ve gotten older, the conversation occasionally gets a little too “salty,” and so we’ve added the admonition: Civility! Lots of laughs and hilarity ensue, and the boys have been known to arrange their evening plans around dinner so as not to miss it.

But we didn’t get here easily. Sometimes the family dinner (we aim for Sunday-Thursday at home and one family dinner out on the weekend) just isn’t doable because of extra-curriculars, work, meetings, etc. But that’s the exception, rather than the norm. If we have to eat at 5:30 to make it work, so be it. If we have to push it til 8, we’ll do a heavy after-school snack. If one of us (mom or dad) can’t be there, the other makes the dinner sit-down happen. Even if it ends up being a meal out – fancy restaurant or fast food – we still eat it together and we talk to each other. One spring, we had baseball games almost every night of the week between the two boys. The snack stand diet put a temporary kibosh on the home dinners. But the season passed, and we got back to it.

A couple of times last year, when we’d all be going out on a Friday night – the boys to a football game or social event and my husband and I to a movie or dinner – we’d have a family Happy Hour, with appetizers, lemonade slushies for the boys and cocktails for the grownups. And we’d talk about the week behind and the weekend ahead.

A friend once commented (before she knew us well) that it seemed like we really enjoyed our teens. She was right. We really know them, know what’s going on in their lives and the lives of their friends, and they ours.  And maybe that stems from these dinners.

So, if you’re not regularly doing a family meal together, here are a few tips if you would like help starting up your own Family Meal Tradition:

Any Meal Time Will Do: Dinnertime has worked for us in general because my husband’s office is nearby and he sets his own schedule, but I know sometimes career, commutes and kids’ ages preclude delaying dinner until a working parent gets home. There’s always breakfast, or even the option of sitting at the table with the late-arriving family member and chatting while they eat. And remember, as kids get older, they can stay up a bit later, so just because it’s not dinner now, someday, it might be. You can also consider setting up a video chat session for a portion of the dinner so that the missing parent can hear about the family’s day. And there’s always the Milk and Cookies sit down if your kids can handle the sugar and later bedtime.

Any loving adult will do: Whether you are a single-parent home, a sometimes-single-parent home (spouse traveling a lot), a home with grandparents, aunt, uncles — the key is that the family meal includes a loving, caring adult family member who can steer the conversation, listen to the kids, and provide the sympathetic ear. Don’t cancel the meal because there are just two of you!

Any Food Will Do: Extravagant or simple, organic or fast food, the purpose of this sit-down is family connection.  It doesn’t matter who made it or where you eat it, as long as everyone can sit down at the same time and enjoy it, and each other, in community.

No Media: Turn off the TV and either turn off or agree to ignore all phones. Once in awhile we’ll break this rule if there’s a big playoff game on TV – but we still pause it while we pray together and for the first 10 minutes or so of dinner, just to check in with each other. Often there’s the temptation to look something up online or on the iPhone when the discussion hits a question (Sometimes we resist the urge, but sometimes we don’t) We’ve often said we need to make a list of things to look up later!

Conversation Starters: As I mentioned, we always did “best part of the day” highlights, but I know some people do best and worst, Roses and Thorns recaps. Here’s my caution: if you are content to “just listen” to the worst part, without turning it in to an intervention where everyone tells the person what they should have done, go for it. But along with “worst parts,” are often parenting questions, admonitions, and accusations. I’d advise you to keep it zipped when Tommy tells you that the Bully of the school tripped him, other than to say, “Wow, that really stinks.” Later that night, when it’s private and appropriate, bring it up again and go to town on making sure that the Bully got his just desserts! You could also do a “What was weird or wacky,” roundtable, or pick up a book of conversation starter topics. (Go ye to Google, my friend!) Let your kids take turns with the conversation starters.

Where to begin: If you’re not regularly having meals as a family, start with one night a week (or one weekend daytime meal) that is usually predictable. Sunday evening works for many, and it’s a great time to review and preview.  Look at your calendar and see if you can identify several dates in the future and commit to them. Your tradition will be unique, but the earlier in your kids’ life you begin, the better the chance you have of making it a permanent, significant part of their sense of family when they are teenagers – and it they are already teenagers, you can still work it out. You will be giving them a several-times-a-week reminder that they belong, that they are part of a something, that come Bullies or drama queens, they will be able to sit amongst loved ones later in the day, share a meal and a story, and know that they are loved.


Hockey and the Here and Now

20 Apr

It was loud. So loud. Ear-itching loud. The cheers, whoops, heavy metal music, screams, applause, a roar of a soundtrack filling the building, and increasing. A flurry of white towels, twirled in small circles with abandon, was juxtaposed against the black garb of every die-hard Kings fan.

As the tension of anticipation rose – along with the decibel level – I put my arms and my towel down for a moment and got still. I felt a vibration in my chest – so much bass. I looked at each of the men in my life – my husband of 22 years who lured me into this hockey fanaticism when we were dating, and my sons, 18 and 14, who had been attending Kings game faithfully since they were in utero. I smiled at the pure joy of hope, of expectation, of promise that was obvious in their screaming demeanors, their fists pumping the air wildly to “This Is LA.” Yes!

18,000 of us, hollering exultantly because the puck had not yet been dropped on this first home playoff game of the season. We could all celebrate this moment, the culmination of a grind-it-out fall and winter that qualified us for late April play.

I breathed it in, savoring every sound, every sight. The smell of my ice cold beer, the taste of it so perfect after my onion-laden hot dog. The cold blast of air from some unseen vent that had chilled us at every game since we began sitting in Section 218, Row 12, several years before.

This time next year, not one of us knows where we’ll be. Let’s be honest – we don’t even know IF we’ll be. Certainly we hold hope and expectation that our oldest will be away at the University of Texas-Austin navigating his way through his freshman year of college. We expect that our youngest will be moving forward through the challenge that the sophomore year of high school inevitably brings. We expect that we will all be able to successfully respond to the change in our family dynamic – that party of four becoming a party of three. That we’ll be alive, and healthy. But we don’t really know.

And that’s what makes living in the moment – one of those buzz phrases of our time – so important. It’s certainly not new. Jesus himself advised us not to worry about tomorrow for “tomorrow will worry about itself.”

He knew then that our tendency is to focus on the goal, the destination, and to worry about all the steps that lead there. And while we must do our share of planning if we are to be successful, prepared people (and not end up lost somewhere, either literally or figuratively), if we are to go to college, lose weight, remodel our homes, coordinate a fundraiser, even make a healthy, balanced dinner, we must look forward and plan.

But not at the expense of missing what’s happening right now. Today. This minute, this right now, that moment before the hockey game begins. While others shouted, “Drop the puck!” because they just wanted this game to get started, to get closer to that hoped-for outcome, I just wanted to languish in this anticipatory revelry a few more moments. Tears pushed at the edges of my eyeliner and I thanked God for these seconds, this slice of sheer joy that had risen up in the strangest of places – downtown LA in a sea of fluttering rally towels, with rabid fanatical hockey fans, and with the most precious people in my life. This is a blessing from God. This is the experience. Marinate in it. Experience it with every one of the senses. Rejoice. Be thankful. Soak it up. And I did.

If you follow hockey, you know how the rest of the night went. We got to scream hysterically in celebration of four unanswered goals – some coming so close together that we hadn’t finished cheering for the previous one– only to end up losing the game in overtime, 6-5. Oh, yes, quite the buzzkill. People will certainly talk about this game for years – how the Kings blew a four-goal lead and the San Jose Sharks were amazingly able to rally in this game after losing the previous game 4-0.

But I will never forget this night for what happened before the main event. I will always cherish, relish and reflect on that blessing of being right where I was, happy, safe, secure and profoundly thankful in experiencing the joy of hope and promise. Unlike a four-goal lead, no one can ever take that away from me.

It’s Only Hair, Right?

24 Jan

It’s only hair, right?

Yesterday, in an act of independence, my 14 year old son went with two friends to SuperCuts for a trim of his golden locks. The boy has been blessed with beautiful, fine, straight hair. I marvel that he is my biological son, and yet I have coarse, thick, curly (with gel, frizzy without) dark hair. He has hair that on a girl would be Marcia Brady Hair (the hair I so coveted in my own teens). Today, or more accurately, yesterday, it would have been known as Justin Bieber hair.

He knew he was in trouble when his “stylist” grabbed clippers. Clippers for a trim?

“I just want a trim,” he reminded her.

“I know,” she said.

And then the buzz. Up that back of his nearly shoulder-length hair and his neck.

He panicked. Is she giving me one of those step-cut bowl cuts?

He sat in silent horror as she shaped a 1980s Joey Lawrence as a toddler mushroom cut.

So, he said, you’ve gotta go shorter up top (meaning, blend it so it’s not a bi-level haircut). She didn’t understand, and further mangled his diminishing locks.

Finally, knowing it was beyond repair, he told her to buzz it. Number 2, setting. All over.

Now, let me be clear: if he had wanted a buzz cut, I would not be blogging about this. We would all (except for a number of freshman girls, I imagine) be fine with it. But he didn’t want it. He wanted a frickin’ trim, stupid lady!

I could tell he was biting back some tears as he explained it to us. His two buddies (who got a bit luckier in the StupidCuts lottery) were kind and supportive.

My oldest son was furious about it (he shares my hair-itage). He went on a verbal rant.

I almost cried (I would have but too many people around, you know?) because it brought back so many horrible memories of my own bad haircuts. Let’s just say, Brunette Little Orphan Annie, and leave it at that, okay?

My husband, formerly of the long flowing locks crowd, and the genetic source for our son’s tresses, knew the indignity. “I’m going up there,” he said, grabbing his keys.

Well, the woman was “on break” when my hubby arrived demanding to know who cut the boy’s hair. He brought a school photo of my son to show them the pre-buzz splendor of the boys’ mane. They told him she’d be back in 10 minutes.

When he returned 15 minutes later, she was still conveniently not available. The manager, who I can only describe as a stubborn, prideful fool, defended the coif. “She ended up giving him three different haircuts,” she whined defensively, never offering so much as an “I’m sorry there was a misunderstanding,” much less showing any regret. She had obviously spoken with the stylist and prepared her lame rationale.

My husband, who lives and breathes graciousness and mercy in the best form of “the customer’s always right,” was incensed. He gave them what-for and verbally shook the dust off his sandals upon leaving.

How hard is it to say, “Sorry. We screwed up.” ? To offer the $16 back? Or offer a free cut (this would cost them nothing, since nary a strand of McHair will every pass through their wash basin again!). He knew she wasn’t to blame. What does an apology, offered on behalf of someone who’s hiding in the back, take away from the apologizer? NOTHING! And it goes so far in making the receiver feel a little better. Infuriating!

A few hours later, we all had a fine time verbally bashing this woman as we sat around the dinner table. And then my sweet, wonderful, kookie husband decided to show solidarity. He left the room for a few minutes and came back clean shaven.

I have known this man 25 years. Never seen his upper lip. And usually, not his chinny-chin-chin either.

All hilarity ensued, as my 18-year old was the first to notice. “What is happening to my family?” he exclaimed in mock horror, dramatically falling to his knees and burying his face in the couch.

“I can’t look at you!” exclaimed the newly bald one.

“I can’t stop looking at your upper lip!” I said, laughing.

“Maybe I’ll shave my legs,” said the 18-year-old.

“I’m getting a Brazilian tomorrow,” I said.

This stopped the laughter immediately.

“Too far, Mom,” someone yelled.

“Brazilian Blowout?” my husband offered.
I shrugged and we kept laughing, and settled in to an after dinner movie.

It’s only hair, right?

Musings over meatballs

2 Jan

Musings over Meatballs….

Dec 12, 2010 — Today’s pre-Christmas task: prepare the labor-intensive, paw-licking delicious Sweet N Sour Meatballs that surreptitiously (it was stolen) entered our Family Recipe Book around 1973.

We made these Meatballs, my mother, sister and I, many a December in preparation for our annual Christmas Eve open house. We’d relish the cooking and baking …and sampling ….in the kitchen with my mom.  Today, as I fried up meatballs solo with just the dog to help out with anything dropped (it’s a little different in a house full of men, just saying), and I created the meatballs for my own Christmas Eve Neighborhood Open House, I began thinking about meatballs and life lessons. It’s not exactly Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, but stay with me here.

First of all, you need to let the raw meat reach almost room temperature or else you’ll feel like you have arthritis while you squish around in there. Bone chilling ache in the fingers makes for painful work. Many times we’d zealously rush to the task and end up miserable. Life lesson #1: Some things cannot be rushed and are much more pleasurable when nature is allowed to take its course.

My sis and I would always begin the meatball formation with glee, shaping the spheres with care to match the size of the perfect sample Mom made. Right around meatball number 50, however, and a glance at the still gigantic mound of raw ground beef with chopped water chestnuts, onions and spices, we’d gradually begin making the meatballs bigger. The bigger the meatball, the fewer we’d have to form. Right? Wrong. Quality Control (QC, aka Mom) sent them back and we’d have to pinch off the excess and form new ones.  Life lesson #2 – Do it right the first time, even if it is more difficult, more time consuming or not as much fun. It is worth it and will save you regret and do-overs in the future.

We loved these Sweet N Sour meatballs. LOVED them. We would snarf a few that Mom would offer as part of QC. Then, before the guests arrived, we’d power a few more. So yummy. Then, of course, a morsel or two (or 10) during the party. Well, more than a few times, I experienced meatball remorse — or reflux more accurately. Ugh. Life Lesson #3 – Too much of anything isn’t good for ya. Moderation in all things – even those things that you just love love love.

Frying the meatballs is not pleasant. Grease splatters and hair that smells like fried fat are part of the deal. But trying to determine if they are done is daunting me. I roll them around – squish them a little to see if the juice runs clear. But sometimes, you’ve just gotta open one up to check and be sure. Even the crispiest exterior can mask a raw middle. Life lesson #4: You can’t judge anyone or anything by outward appearances.

Several years after I’d left home, my Fightin’ Irish-loving hubby and I came to my folks for a visit in honor of the Stanford v. Notre Dame football game. My mom and I decided to make the Meatballs for the tailgate party, for which we’d rented a motor home. Departure time for Palo Alto rolled around, and we finally finished bringing out a week’s worth of food for the afternoon. It was difficult to find places to stash everything, and rather than have someone hold the Pyrex dish full of meatballs in their lap the entire ride across the SF Bay, one of us (we’re not sure who and let’s just leave it at that) decided that putting them in the RV’s microwave would be a good storage spot. Never mind that there was a sign (we discovered later) that said, among other admonitions “Warning: Do not use microwave as storage while motor home is in motion.”

So, as we backed the behemoth down the slanted driveway and reached level ground, a shift occurred in said microwave, and that Pyrex dish banged it’s way out, crashing to the floor of the RV (there goes the cleaning deposit) and worse, shattering a million Pyrex shards into those precious meatballs, which I can honestly say, were it not for the glass, would have been consumed by any number of people despite having been on the floor of a rented RV. Life Lesson #5 — Read and follow directions, especially those that begin with the word “Warning.”

We still had fun at that game, and I don’t even remember who won.  We had plenty to eat and drink. We have had many laughs about the meatball explosion – it is a family story now that must be told whenever meatballs are served. Life Lesson #6 — Often it’s the things that go wrong that make life richer and bond us together through shared experience and how we react to trouble.

Long gone are the who-put-it-there debates and the was-it-driver-error-that-caused-it ponderances. It doesn’t matter. Despite our hard work and our care to attention and detail in our preparation, something went wrong. Life lesson #7 — Bad stuff happens sometimes and it’s no one’s fault in particular. And even if it can be blamed on someone, if it’s done, and can’t be undone, and people are sorry and learned a lesson, forgive them and let it go. Clean up the meatballs and glass, and go have a good time at the football game.

So all this deep thinking in the time it took to fry up three pounds of meatballs. Funny, how much our family has gained through this stolen recipe. Which brings me to Life Lesson #8 – Share your dang recipes, people, so no one has to steal them! And, I promise to share this recipe with you – as soon as I can find the meatball portion of it! Had to wing it today – basic meatballs, but you add dried oatmeal, water chestnuts and Worchestershire sauce. They turned out okay, but I’ll have to tweak the exact measurements. But here’s the recipe for the sweet n sour sauce.)

Sweet & Sour Meatballs Sauce

Bring to boil the followiing:

-2 cups sugar

– 1-1/2 cups vinegar

-1-1/2 cups water

-2 tsp paprika

-4 tsp salt (3 may be better)

-4 Tb cornstarch in T water.

After sauce thickens add 1/4 cup Soy Sauce and 1 tspn ginger. Stir.

Pour drained meatballs into sauce and EAT!

God bless you and Merry Christmas.