Thursday, December 22, 2011

Holiday Letter 2011


We had a great 2011, my little family. 

Cole started high school, and played his first year of football.  He's a lean, mean Falcon machine, and we're super proud of him.  He's on the A honor roll, and he's a pretty nice kid.  We have a lot of conversations now, but I'm convinced he never really listens to me talk.  He just sits silent thinking of the next smartass thing he can say.  He hangs around the kitchen and pesters me non-stop, unless he's pestering his brothers.  Or playing XBox Live.  (I adore this stage.  I never want him to grow up and leave.)

Matthew learned to read this fall.  That business makes me thrilled.  And proud.  And amazed.  His whole world is opening up.  He lives and breathes Pokemon.  And video games.  I am proud to say I know absolutely nothing about the PlayStation or the Xbox or the Wii.  Or the DS.  Or the computer.  "Hey, Mom, can you get me to the next level?"  Uh...nope.  Sorry dude.  There are lots of big boys in this family who have that covered (see photo above.)

Jack is doing great in his final year of preschool.  (Remind me to schedule his kindergarten screening!).  He's still my super hero.  I'll be sad when he inevitably stops pronouncing his brothers name, "Maffew."  And when he stops saying things from the bathroom like, "Hey, Mom!  When I say "Praise the Lord!" come wipe me, okay?"  

It's hard to see the taillights of my children.  Because one day they're four year olds who need me to zip their jackets and the next day they're fourteen and I'm starting to look at driving schools. 

The captain is still the world's hardest-working, most-adored man.  He takes incredible care of all of us, and overlooks my many faults and fits.  He loves his boys and shares so much of his valuable time with them.  I'm thankful. 

It was a good year.  And next year is shaping up to be even better.

If you were a client this year, I am thankful for your business.  If you referred a client to me, thank you for believing in me.  If you were a friend...from the very bottom of my filled-up heart, I love you.  My life is better for all these bits and pieces.

If you lost a loved one this year, my condolences.  May the love of the Creator surround you and give you peace. 

God bless you and your family this holiday season!
Joy to the World!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Occupy Wallstreet

Do you miss my political blog posts?  Me too.  I've been silent, but I'm not sure why.  Partly because I don't want anyone to dislike me for my worldviews. Partly because the biggest thing going on right now is Occupy Wallstreet and people are downright mean about this protest.  Even reasonable people who are generally kind, are rude and unwilling to look past the people who are causing trouble to see that there is an actual movement here.  But in the last three days, two people have sparked conversations with me regarding this current event, so I thought I'd tell you how I feel.

I think people are going a little crazy.  It's been five years now since the market started to fall.  In that time, people started to lose their jobs, their retirements, their homes.  If they've been lucky enough to hold their jobs, their pay hasn't increased and their costs of benefits have skyrocketed (see: health insurance premiums).  They are struggling, and they are frustrated.  There is a group of people who are experiencing an opposite phenomenon, however.  The bankers and the CEOs of major corporations are taking home record bonuses.  In the hardest economic times since the great depression.  Our government continues to protect them and their tax loopholes, because -- in theory -- they're creating jobs.  We've actually labeled them "Job Creators."  But the people in the first group I mentioned...well, they're not seeing those jobs.  So they're not mad at people for being rich, but they're mad at the disparity between the situation of those thriving financially and the majority of the people who are struggling financially, and who are hurting.

Occupy Wallstreet (OWS) isn't sponsored or promoted by anyone.  No big corporation or corporately-funded group is building smooth websites and putting out the OWS message.  There is no group of billionaires behind it.  Therefore, the message hasn't been clearly distributed.  But that doesn't mean that it's not legitimate.  It just means you're going to have to dig a little deeper to find it.

Increasingly, corporations and politicians are in bed together.  The corporations pay politicians to protect their interests by way of funding their campaigns, and then the politicians make policy that does just that.  They have to, so they get money for their next campaign.  And the cycle continues.  And I think people are sick of it.  I think they're becoming aware that the corporate voices are more powerful than the peoples'.  And know what?  That's not democracy.  That's a corporate oligarchy.  I think that most Americans, right and left, liberal and conservative, are interested in preserving the democracy as laid out by the Constitution. 

Therefore, I do not understand the anger against the protestors.  I don't understand why we don't support not only their right to assembly, but their message. I don't understand why we can't all get behind what is happening here. 

The very best part of this movement, in my opinion, is that people are involved.  Probably the best way to make a difference, and promote good change, is invested citizens.  Tea Party, OWS, doesn't matter.  Be informed.  Learn the issues.  I think we'll find that we actually agree on some of this.

One friend posted this article today.  It's written by a conservative blogger (columnist?) in the UK.  They have a big battle going on over there, not completely different from the OWS movement in the US.  They're calling it an extension of ours, but the conservative legislature in the UK is trying to take away many rights of the people in the name of budget reduction.  They're as frustrated as Americans are.  But this author said basically the same thing I've been saying:  I think we actually all agree on much of this.  We'll make more progress united. 

So there.  That's my political opinion du jour.  You're welcome to comment here or by email or on the phone or come on over.  I'll pour you something to drink and make you something to eat.  And between us, we'll solve this thing. And I'll convince you that you don't actually have to delete me from your friend list this time.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Sharing the Love: Monster Cookies

This is a half batch of my mom's recipe.  And yes.  I do juggle the shells to estimate half an egg.  Make it work.  Or double the batch and use five eggs.  But you're gonna need a monster bowl for that!

Monster Cookies:
1 c shortening
1 c brown sugar
1 c sugar
1 c peanut butter
2 1/2 eggs
1/2 T vanilla
2 1/4 c flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 tsp salt
3 c oatmeal
1/2 lb m&ms
1/2 c chocolate chips

Mix sugars with shortening, eggs, and peanut butter until creamy.  Slowly add dry ingredients until well blended.  Add vanilla.  Stir in oatmeal, and then candy.  Drop on cookie sheet.  Bake for about 10 minutes for 350 (do not overbake). 

*Do not be tempted to double the candy/chocolate.  The cookies will not stick together well.  Lesson learned the hard way. More than once. 

Enjoy!


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

With Gratitude


what i am thankful for,
the short list.

the captain.
the rugrats.
the teenager.
the teenager's mom.
summer.
cheese.
hope.
god's grace.
my siblings.
all five senses.
books.
ellen.
the show parenthood.
my friends.
my clients.
teachers.
the president.
california.
the color green.
childrens' artwork.
facebook.
forgiveness.

and you, my readers.

be happy.  be thankful!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sharing the Love: Chicken Pot Pie

Alternate Title:  Longest Recipe Post Ever

This might be my all-time favorite recipe.  It's not super simple, so it's not generally my style.  But there are definitely ways to cut down the prep time, which I have listed at the end.  I also wrote down a whole bunch of miscellaneous suggestions for your culinary convenience.  The first time I made this, it took me an entire afternoon.  But today, from idea to oven, it took 50 minutes!

This is the BEST meal to make for someone who is sick, or had a baby, or is going through a hard time.  It's comfort food, it's a one-dish meal, you can make it ahead and they can refrigerate it or freeze it, and it's delicious.  I strongly suggest you use my crust recipe, but if you have to use a frozen premade one, please use Trader Joes. 

I hate this photo.  I shouldn't even post one.
Corn.  I'm sure.  You have to use peas and carrots.


Here you are, my mother's Chicken Pot Pie:

CHICKEN POT PIE:

Filling:
1/3 c flour
1/3 c butter
1/3 c chopped onion
1 - 2 chicken breasts, cooked, cubed
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 3/4 c chicken broth
5 oz peas and carrots
2 small cooked potatoes, cubed
2/3 c milk

Melt butter. Add onion, cook for a minute or two. Add flour gradually until cooked together. Remove from heat. Add broth & milk. Bring to a boil until it starts to thicken, stir pretty constantly, or milk will burn. Season with salt & pepper. Stir in vegetables and chicken.

Crust:
3 c flour
1 c shortening (Crisco)
1 tsp salt
1 egg
6 Tbsp water
2 tsp vinegar

Blend flour, shortening and salt until crumbly. Add egg, water, and vinegar. Mix together (I use my hands!). Roll out with rolling pin. I use 2/3 for bottom crust and 1/3 for top crust.

Place bottom crust in greased 9x9 pan (or 9" pie pan). Leave some hanging over the edges. Scoop filling into pan until about 3/4 full (or a little more, just don't fill all the way to the top). Lay top crust over entire pan. Pinch the top and bottom crusts together to seal. I then take a fork and push with prongs all the way around the edges to complete the seal. Poke holes in the top of the crust either with a fork or knife to allow it to breathe while cooking. 

Bake at 425 for 30 minutes.
(If frozen, bake at 400 for 50 minutes)
ENJOY!

Tips and suggestions:
- To make in a 9 x 13 pan, triple the crust and double the filling

- I sometimes buy the disposable mini loaf pans at the grocery store and make individual pot pies. They're putzy, but then I can freeze them and make them one at a time. Or I give them for gifts to my friends!

- I never use more than 10 oz of peas and carrots, even when I triple the filling. Just add the amount to your liking.  Today, as you'll see from my photo, I used frozen corn because I didn't happen to have peas and carrots.  Also, frozen are way better.  Canned will do in a pinch, but they don't look very colorful after you cook them for half an hour.

- To speed things up, you can bake the chicken the day before or buy a rotiserrie chicken at the grocery store.

- If you're making this for a weeknight, you could always prepare it on Sunday and store it in the fridge overnight and cook it the next night. If it's going to be longer than one day, though, freeze it so the crust doesn't get soggy. Or you can make the filling on the weekend and put that in the fridge for up to a few days and make the crust on the day of.

- If your crust seems too "wet" and doesn't handle well, just slowly add more flour until it's easy to handle and rolls out well. I always have to flour my counter surface and my rolling pin. To make consistently good, flaky crust, you need to follow these measurements exactly.  I learned the hard way that estimating does not a good crust yield.

If you have any questions, please call or email me anytime.  I'd be happy to walk you through it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Full Potential

I was watching Ellen just now.  I tape it every day, and I admit that I fast-forward through some stuff (don't tell Ellen).  Look.  My time is really limited.  I always watch the monologue and then most of the guests.  But if there's someone I don't know, as a time-saver, I skip them.  Anyway...

I almost accidentally fast-forwarded this segment on the Collins family, who adopted four boys from Ghana.  They adopted the three brothers together, at once.  The mother sold everything she had, including her car, and has taken three jobs to raise these boys.  When they went back to Ghana to pick the boys up, the best friend of the oldest brother asked if he could come with.  He said he'd only eat one meal and clean her house if they'd take him too.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?
*sob*

What am I doing with my life?  Who am I affecting?  Am I making anyone's life better?  It's moments like these that I ask myself if I am living my full potential.  And usually the answer is "I don't know," which likely translates into "Probably not." 

A lot of things touch me.
I'm pretty emotional.
I'm pretty passionate.
A lot of things make me cry.

But they also inspire me to be a better person.  To have an open mind and an open heart and accept what God has in store for me.  I'll find it yet...by the grace of God.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Project Happiness

It's late fall in Minnesota.  Most of the leaves have fallen, and it's chilly.  Like, really chilly.  If you stand really still and smell deeply, you know that the living things are going to sleep.  That they've paid their annual dues and are taking a well-deserved hiatus.  They're also going to play dead so what's coming next doesn't kill them.  SNOW.  ICE.  BITTER COLD.  Whoa.  I even hate those words.

Last year, after the holidays, in the heart of winter, I got super bummed.  SADD?  Who knows.  I call it winter blues.  I just get tired of being cold, and spring feels so long away.  So I went to the store, and I bought balloons and I took this photo.


And I named it Project Happiness.  I vowed to look hard for things that made me happy.  I vowed to focus on them.  And if I couldn't see anything, then I created it.  And I regularly posted photos and thoughts that made me happy. 

This year, if the w****er gets to you and the s**w chills you to the bones, and you think there is no end, look around.  Find something that makes you happy and share it.  With me, with your loved ones.  And call it Project Happiness (with no credit to anyone but youself).  Yeah.  It'll help (me and you).  I promise!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Sharing the Love: Apple Crisp


10 c peeled and sliced apples*
1 c sugar
1 T flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 c water

Topping:
1 c oatmeal
1 c flour
1 c brown sugar
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 c melted butter

Mix first five ingredients together in a large bowl.  Pour apple mixture into greased 9 x 13 baking dish. 

Mix topping ingredients and sprinkle over apple mixture.

Bake at 350 for 45 minutes.

Serve warm with vanilla ice cream. Enjoy!

*I am partial to Granny Smith, but any tart apple will do.
(good ideas: Braeburn, Jonathan, Pink Lady, McIntosh).

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Speaking of Sandwiches...


No recipe.  That photo just reminded me of this photo of a sandwich I made for Cole this summer.  Looks yummy, right?

Sharing the Love: Big Boy Slim Jim


Almost as much as I love a ham dinner with mashed potatoes and ham gravy, a vegetable, and some yummy bread, I love recipes with that leftover ham.  I probably love wild rice soup the best, or scalloped potatoes and ham, or a good ham chowder.  But I won't lie, I bought a ham to make this week specifically for this recipe.  The captain and I were so excited to try it, and we were not disappointed!

My aunt Anne got the recipe from my Aunt Maria, and she shared it on her blog here.  But in the interest of keeping the recipe for posterity, and to share my variation, I'm also sharing the recipe with you here.

Slim Jim Sauce:
1 c mayo
2 T dill pickle relish
2 T pickle juice
1 T finely chopped onion

Mix together well.  (You can make this ahead of time and chill if you want.)

Hoagie Buns
Ham (I used leftover, but you could sub sandwich slices)
Cheese (I used provolone; Anne uses swiss)
Lettuce
Tomato
Slim Jim sauce

Brown ham in skillet, set aside.  Slice hoagie buns and lightly butter each side.  Grill butter-side down until lightly brown.  Liberally spread slim jim sauce on both sides of bun.  Layer ham, cheese, tomato, and lettuce.

Enjoy!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sharing the Love: Pumpkin Cake with Caramel Frosting


My mom used to make spice cake with caramel frosting.  I love it so much...it tastes like my childhood.  I got a craving for it today, and I had pumpkin, so this is what I made:

Pumpkin Cake
1 3/4 c sugar
4 eggs
1 c vegetable oil
1 can pumpkin
2 c flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice

Mix first four ingredients until well blended.  Add dry ingredients, beat on medium for two minutes.  Pour into greased and floured 9 x 13 cake pan.

Bake for 45 minutes at 350.  Allow to cool before frosting.

Caramel Frosting:
1/2 c butter
1 c packed brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
6 T milk
3 c sifted powdered sugar

Melt butter and add brown sugar.  Bring to a boil.  Boil for two minutes, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat, stir in milk.  Return to a boil, then remove from heat.  Let cool to lukewarm (about 15 minutes).  Stir in powdered sugar.  (If it's too think, you can add a little milk.)  Spread on cooled cake.

Enjoy!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Be Kind Winner!

CamelBak Water Bottle
(I was going to choose Ellen underwear,
but there ain't nothing worse than ill-fitting underwear!)

After a very sophisticated selection ("Pick a number, Captain!"), Mindi is my Be Kind to One Another giveaway winner! 

I loved all of my entries.  My friends paid for others' groceries, and gas.  They paid compliments, and they sent random gifts.  I am so proud of my friend base.  I have succeeded in surrounding myself with really great people and I hope this contest carries on into your lives on a daily basis.  I know others' are blessed by you the way I am!

I am frequently inspired by this story Mindi told awhile ago, and she is a kind and deserving winner.  You all are.  If I was rich, I'd have bought you all something!

Thanks for participating.  Be kind to one another!

Ice Cream for Dinner Day


Tomorrow is a very important day!  It's the Fifth Annual Ice Cream for Dinner Day!  It was started by my friend Jen in memory of her father.  These are her words:

On October 15, 2005, my father's life was cut short after a very brief battle with cancer. While he was in the hospital, the doctor cleared him to have any food he wanted. I called and had my brother bring a small cup of Haagan Daas Vanilla ice cream brought in for him - his favorite. Unfortunately, he was never able to have that cup of ice cream.

As a tribute to my father, ice cream for dinner day was born. Dad was a funny
guy, but most importantly, he had his priorities IN CHECK. If he were here with us today, I know he would not only support ice cream for dinner, but for breakfast and lunch too.

I invite you to join me for one night and get your priorities in check too. Celebrate spontaneity. Realize that life is short and unpredictable and that sometimes you don't get the opportunity to do things that you put off until later (like dessert). Remember those who have left us. Come to terms with the idea that watching the excitement on your children's faces when you tell them you're having ice cream for dinner is way more fun than trying to force them to eat their veggies, and for one night out of the year it truly will not kill them. Join in a tradition. And remember that ice cream has calcium, bananas have potassium and fiber and nuts have protein so all is not lost.

Every year there are always party-poopers who say "there's NO WAY I'd feed my kids ice cream for dinner!" To those people, I say, you have clearly missed the point.

Invite everyone you know! I am always amazed and my heart is so warmed that this event always spreads like wildfire. Every year the response is overwhelming and so touching.

p.s. you know you want ice cream. Live a little.


Brilliant.  Participate, and enjoy.  (And if you already have dinner plans, choose another day!)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Giveaway Reminder!


I bought this and read it on the plane ride out. And those in the seats around me must have thought I was crazy...it's HILARIOUS and I couldn't help but roar out loud.  I felt like I was watching a comedy show.  Read it.

Also, enter my Be Kind to One Another contest!  You can enter until Wednesday night!  Enter here, or there.  I'll get your comment.  Or call me, or email me or facebook me.  Just enter.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Best Friends

There ain't any doubt I have the world's best friends.  Seriously.  Sometimes they take my rugrats, and sometimes they bring me sunflowers when I'm sad that my four-year-old went to preschool, and sometimes they bring me hot tea on a fall afternoon.  They do good for their neighbors, and their communities, and they make me smile.  I am so blessed.

If you don't read The Bloggess, you should.  She is my kind of humor, although she's a bit more crass than Bits and Pieces.  I heart her.  She's actually following me on Twitter, which would be a huge deal, except that she follows about 10% of her 162,000 followers.  She's hilarious.  I was attracted to her when her Big Metal Chicken post went viral.  If you haven't read it, do it before you read the rest of this blog post.

This week, when I was bringing out the trash in the middle of a monotonous day of cleaning, laundry, and child-rearing, I saw this.


I lost my fool head.  I roared for a couple minutes, and then, of course, grabbed my camera.


The note reads:  Dear Ms. Leanne: I need a new home. You are such a kind lady. I know you will give me shelter or find me a real good home. Signed, The Wooden Rooster (cousin to the Giant Metal Chicken.)"

It has found a place in my dining room, where I can see its cute little face (and jointed wooden legs) every day.  Where it looks at me, and reminds me to thank God for my very. best. friends.

PS  Don't forget to participate in my Ellen Show giveaway!  You have a couple more weeks, but I'm going to keep reminding you!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Be Kind to One Another

My sister Laura and I are going to the Ellen Show in a couple weeks.  I've been watching Ellen since the very first season. I had quit my full-time job to move out of state.  I was home packing, and she came on TV.  The first thing I remember her saying was, "...and if you're tuning in for the first time, what took you so long?" 

And I haven't missed an episode since.  She's funny, Ellen.  And she's kind.  And generous.  I like to think I'm her biggest fan, but truly there are thousands who love her as much as I do.  I'm sure if I had an "if you could have lunch with anyone in the world, living or dead..." she'd make my list.  And I may never get that, but I am going to sit in her live audience.  That'll do, for now.

Since I missed my 500th post giveaway (such a slacker...I'm nine over now), I'd do one now!  In honor of eight years of waiting for the opportunity to go to a live Ellen taping.

At the end of every show, Ellen says, "Be kind to one another!"  So here's what you have to do:  you have to step out of your kindness comfort zone.  You have to be kind to another person that you wouldn't normally be.  It can't be your kids, or your spouse, etc. (unless, of course, you're not usually kind to them...in which case...you get extra points for changing that relationship!).

Here are some ideas:

Pay a compliment to a stranger.
Do a random act of kindness.
Pay for someone behind you in a drivethrough.
Volunteer your time somewhere you haven't before.

And then, you have to tell me about it.  You can comment here, or send me an email or call me.  And I'll put you in a random drawing for something I pick up for you at the Ellen shop!

Kindness feels good.  Even if you don't get a prize...you'll still win!

Be kind to one another!

Friday, September 23, 2011

An Open Letter to Facebook

Dear Mark Zuckerberg:

I was going to say, "You don't know me, but..." but that would be an inaccurate salutation.  Chances are you know more about me than most people. 

First of all, I want you to know that I am grateful for you. Facebook has given me the opportunity to know and connect with people in a way I never imagined possible. Like millions of other people, my life is better because of your invention. Thank you.

I watched you via livestream yesterday as you gave your f8 presentation. I don't know what f8 is, but I'm guessing its a really cool technological seminar.  Good job.  Clearly your team worked hard to pull that whole presentation together!

I do have some thoughts on your new format, and Facebook in general, if you'll indulge me.

I've been doing some research.  It appears your average Facebook user is about 38 years old.  38!  Now, I know you have oodles of information and data, but I'm not sure you understand 38-year-olds.  I'm coming up on 35, so let me share with you how I'm feeling.  I think I speak for a many of your average users.  Here's the thing, Mark:  We're smart, but we're busy.

I'm 35, and I'm a parent, and I'm a professional.  I'm very busy with my kids and don't get many opportunities to get out of my house to socialize.  Facebook is my daily coffee break, my communication with my friends, my opportunity to maintain friendships with men and women I don't have the time in my busy parenting and professional life.  It is, truly, my social network.  I realized something really important the past couple days...you don't know what it's like to not have social networking as an adult.  But you know what?  WE DO.  We were without these people, these connections for 15+ years of our adult life.  And we really want to keep it.

I'm 35, and I like things to be simple.  Between making school lunches, and paying bills, and cleaning my kitchen floor, I don't have time for Complicated.  I'm a work-at-home Mom, so I have snippets of time between work-work and home-work to check in on my friends and family online.  You don't need me to tell you that Myspace didn't work because of the clutter.  Facebook has kept away from that, and there is no doubt in my mind that the streamlined format has been one of its biggest assets.  Easy for 35-year-old women like me.

I'm worried about the new layout, Mark. 

You say it's a way to showcase our life.  Let me tell you, I'm far less interested in showcasing my life as I am maintaining my social network.  My relationships.  But if half of my friends can't use Facebook any longer, and leave, then Facebook no longer serves its purpose for me, either. 

You know who the new layout is perfect for?  Every smart 20-something who works for you.  It's a beautiful product.  Particularly for young, smart-phone using college students.  But you know that that's not your only demographic.  And I certainly am not that user.  I've got kids to read to!  I've got cookies to bake!

I have to hand it to you, Z.  A lot of people have gotten really rich from Facebook.  And I don't pay you a fee to use the service, but I still pay you.  My information is invaluable to your advertisers.  Heaven knows they pay you a lot of money to obtain it.  And you're welcome to it, because it's been a fair trade for the networking I've been given.  But don't be fooled -- I'm not oblivious to it.  I know that you have to give your advertisers/partners what they want...and you're probably always going to have to keep changing to excite them.

I'd just encourage you, while you're servicing them, please don't forget about us. 

I imagine when you come into work in the morning, and you talk to all the other 20-somethings, most likely the smartest tech people in the world, you guys are so excited to discuss the next big thing.  And your creative juices flow until that is satisfied.  God bless you -- I certainly appreciate you contribution to the world.  All I ask is that when you're deciding what to do next, consider how this program works for me.  We've put up with an awful lot of changes because there is nothing out there to compete with it (yet). 

I can only speak for myself, but I'm not trying to sell anything on Facebook.  I'm not looking for a spouse, nor a job.  There are different online sites for that.  I don't need my site to look like I am.  I just want to continue to sit in my virtual living room and share ideas and support with my friends (who range in age from 10 (what...as if everyone is the required age) to 75.  I need these people, Mark.  Don't make it hard for them to stay here.

Carry on.  Be well.

Sincerely,

Leanne

Friday, September 16, 2011

Shannon


You know how sometimes you have friends and you sort of grow apart from them depending where you are in your life?  I've had lots of those.  But I've had one friend ALL MY LIFE, with whom I have never grown apart.  We've had our share of conflict, sure, but we've never not been friends.

She's the first one I've turned to for so many years, for comfort, for support, for a kick in the ass.  And she's always delivered. 

For the past 20 years, she's been my very best friend.  Even when I got married, and when I started having kids, she was still interested in me.  For the past ten years, we've talked on the phone two - three times per week for an hour or more at a time.  No one else has gotten this amount of my time and my life.  And I'm so grateful. 

When we've had conflict, we've resolved it.
When I've hurt her, she's forgiven me.
When I've vented, she's comisserated.
When I've been sad, she has comforted.
When I've had joy, she's shared it.

And for all of that time, we've been waiting for this day

It couldn't have happened sooner, because Nate is The One. 
And I knew she'd find him, because everyone deserves this. 
And God is good, and it's worth waiting for. 

All the clichés are annoying, but they're true.

So...on the eve of her wedding, I send her my love.
And my wishes for a happy life with her beloved.

And so, once again, I send her off with this Irish blessing.

May God be with you and bless you.
May you see your children's children.
May you be poor in misfortunes and rich in blessings,
And may you know nothing but happiness
from this day forward.

I love you, Shan.  Forever.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Sharing the Love: Ginger Crinkles

It's fall...how about some cinnamon, cloves, and ginger?!  My mother-in-law's mother's recipe.  Delish.

Ginger Crinkles:
3/4 c shortening
1 egg
1 c sugar
4 T molasses
2 c flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda

Mix wet ingredients well.  Add dry ingredients, beat for two minutes.  Roll into walnut-sized balls, and roll in sugar. 

Bake at 350 for 10 minutes.

Enjoy!

I miss him.

He's my baby.  He's my ninja-cowboy-police officer-getting-the-bad-guys baby.  Every day of the past couple years, he's made me smile with his creativity and laugh at his imagination. 

He's kept this house free of bandits and never before has a mother felt so safe. 

He's mixed that up with hugs and kisses, and never before has a mother felt so loved. 

A hundred times a day he says, "I like you, Mom."

But today, I sent him off to preschool.  He'll be going four hours a day, three times a week.  And that's a lot for Jack.  He really does like me.  Matthew has always left me pretty easily, happy to explore whatever adventures I couldn't be a part of.  Jack would rather stay right next to me, given the chance.  At the barber shop last week, when asked if he was going to school like his brothers, he said, "No.  I'm just going to stay home with my mommy."  But he was wrong.  Because there are many things to learn that I can't teach him, and next year, when he goes to kindergarten, he needs to be prepared.

But it's hard for me, because I was Jack.  I got hives when my mom went out of town.  I cried when we got babysitters.  So I know Jack's pain.  I feel what he feels. 

Today, when I dropped him off with his really great teacher, his soft, still-chubby hand held mine tightly. When it was his turn to go in, she told him to follow the purple footsteps and put his bucket away.  He held my hand so tight.  I went to let go and he looked up at me, with a look, part panic, but mostly bravery and said, "MOM!  I need a kiss!" 

So I smooched my baby and let his hand go.  And his teacher said, "Oh!  That wasn't so bad!"  And I replied, "Except for me."  And I ran out before anyone saw my tears.

And now I sit here, with no little ninja to protect me, to hug me, to make me laugh. 
And I miss him. 
I love you, Jack-Jack.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

American Heroes Day

I hereby request that from now until eternity, September 11 be officially known as United States Heroes Day. We will celebrate those who choose professions in which they put themselves in harm's way for the good of our citizens. Heroes.

I went to an incredibly touching 10-year Anniversary Ceremony of September 11 with many of the fire/police/ems employees in the State of Minnesota this afternoon. I couldn't keep it together when I saw the photos of the firefighters' funerals, or the mournful sound of Amazing Grace on the bagpipes.

An awful lot of Americans lost their lives that day. An awful lot of friends and relatives of those victims are still grieving.

And I suppose it's because of my position in life, but I can't stop thinking about those wives. Those children, who are growing up without their fathers because they ran into a collapsing highrise to save others.

Think of that love. That selflessness. It takes my breath away.

I was sitting by friends of ours, who are relatively new parents. I was thinking about how much Matt loves his daughter and how I know he wouldn't hesistate to lay his life down for her. Those 343 firefighters were men like Matt. They were fathers, and husbands. Good, kind, honest men. And in a devastating moment, they made a decision to put others, strangers, in front of their daughters, their families, because they took an oath to do so, and these are men of deep honor. But now those children, and those wives are living without those men.

So, on this day, I stand in solidarity with those women. Because my pain is no worse than another's, but my empathy for them runs deep. And no matter how proud they are of their firefighters, they must miss them something desperate.


My most sincere prayer is that none of the men and women I was surrounded with today know that agony. That none of them ever have to give everything for their profession, even though they are prepared to do so. That my husband always keeps the promise he made me: to always come home. I remain in deep love, and in admiration of each of them -- and thank them for everything they do.

Happy Heroes Day.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Meal Planning

I thought with the teenager in football and Matty in school all-day, it's time to start planning a meal for every day. Gotta admit, I'm pretty accustomed to winging it, especially when the captain is at work.  I made a list of our staple meals.  I would love to add a new item each week, so I'm more than interested in your ideas!

Here are mine:

Meatloaf/Twice-Baked Potato Pie
Chicken potpie
Meatballs and gravy with mashed potatoes
Ham
Scalloped potatoes and ham
Rice hotdish
Spaghetti
Lasagne
Stuffed shells
Stirfry
Spaghetti carbonera
Sloppy joes
Chip beef on toast
BLTs
Hamburgers/Hotdogs
French dips
Chili
Beef Stew
Wild Rice Soup
Ham Chowder
Tostadas
Nachos
Tacos
Enchiladas
Quesadillas
Mexican hotdish
Breakfast for dinner

Monday, August 22, 2011

Between Two Worlds


Once in awhile, a book socks me in the stomach.  This was one of them.  It's the memoir of a woman who is the daughter of Saddam Hussein's former pilot.  Her parents were intimately close friends of the dictator, and it's a facinating look into his private life and rise to power.  It will shock you.  It will make you cringe.

How this woman escaped Iraq and not came to live a "normal" life, but to thrive and do such wonderful work astounds and inspires me.

This story is why I hate war.  This is the woman I've always thought of when we decidedly hate all Muslims, or carelessly drop missles in other countries.  The collateral damage of war is real and prevalent today. 

Additionally, this book reminds us that there are still oppressed women everywhere.  We must spend some of our resources to help them. 

I finished it late last night and went to bed sad.  Sad that we continue to hurt people so deeply.  That one man can rise to power and destroy a nation.  Both the physical attributes and the people in it.  That we, as human beings, have that much potential to destroy.  I was feeling really depressed about the state of our world and overwhelmed with the responsibility of changing it.  Because I must.  And we must. 

It's a powerful book. I urge you to read it.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Turning pages...

I have been terribly remiss in updating you on my reading lists, but honestly...very little has blown my literary socks off for this summer (trust me -- I'm more disappointed than you are).  I commented on a couple, which you should run out and pick up or reserve at the library.  The ones without comments, you can probably just breeze over.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot

Facinating.  Absolutely brilliant. I had no idea anything like this situation existed.  It will make you think!

Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand

You know, my sister couldn't put this book down, but I quit 100 pages into it. 

The Lincoln Lawyer, Michael Connelly

The Pilot's Wife, Anita Shreve

Dog On It, Spencer Quinn

Super fun. A man runs a detective agency and this book is written from his dog's perspective.  Brilliant, and hilarious.  A great summer read.  (Way better than The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein).

Sister Mine, Tawni O'Dell

House Rules, Rachel Sontag

This was a good book.  A little sad, but a good memoir.

Swallows of Kabul, Yasmina Khadra

Between Two Worlds, Zainab Salbi

You should read this book.  The author is the daughter of Saddam Hussein's former pilot.  The intimate social relationship with the dictator is facinating. Probably the best book I read this summer.

The 19th Wife, David Ebershoff

I'd recommend this book.  It's hard to get into, but about 100 pages in, I was hooked.  Another FLDS book...

Sunday, August 14, 2011

White Picket Fence

I do not have a daughter.

I am the second oldest of eleven kids.  Of the top five, four are girls.  So the bottom half of my family is very boy-heavy. I helped raise those brothers.  I held them, and played with them, and rocked them. So raising boys now is familiar, and comfortable, and joyful.

I am not one of those women who has always pined for a little girl.  The thought of raising a girl, in fact, has made me nervous.  I have enough estrogen for an this household.  I love little girls, and I have a few very wonderful ones in my life.  I was thrilled when my ultrasound showed boy parts.  Both times.  Plus I adore my stepson, as you well know.

But I want a daughter for life.

When I see moms getting pedicures with their teenagers, my heart hurts.  When I think of not having a daughter to watch go through her life...dating...getting married...having children of her own, well...that kills me a little.

I watched The Help last weekend (which has a thousand lessons in it...I should probably dedicate an entire blog post to it, in fact.).  In it, there is a scene with a younger-self of the main character and her maid.  It's an intensely maternal moment and it struck me in a place I can't describe to you except to tell you that it made me weep on my husband's shoulder upon returning home from the movie. 

I love my family.  I love it so much that I'm planning to put up a white picket fence next spring.  True story.  My boys are awesome and healthy and someday they'll marry well and I'll have daughters-in-law, and granddaughters if I'm lucky. And I have little girls in my life to bond with, and love.  And I'm grateful.

But I'll mourn not having one of my very own for just a little while before I move on. (Because it's okay for us to grieve for things we don't have, so long as we're thankful for the gifts that we do have.)

It's my mom's fault, really.  If you know my mom, you'll know that she's kind to everyone.  She's gentle. She's an amazing listener.  I told my mom everything growing up.  I spent countless hours with her in the kitchen (not helping...just watching her work and visiting (she was a far superior mother than I was a daughter)).  I'd be sad, and I'd sit in the living room.  She'd give me some time, and then she'd come in and touch my hair, giving me permission to cry.  She loves me so deeply.  I think she's still mad at the first guy who broke my heart.  So you don't need a psychology degree to see how her beauty as a mother inspired me to want to provide that for another human being.

I'll be 35 on my next birthday.  It would be more information than you'd like (and inappropriate on a public blog!) if I shared with you why I'm pretty sure that the childbirth chapter of my life is closed.  And I trust that God knows best.  And I trust that my boys will always love me, and share with me and want to be with me.  And who knows...maybe I can even drag one of them for a pedicure someday.

Thank you to my God and my dear husband for understanding and kindness and patience, and Kleenex.  And for my white-picket-fence life.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Virtual Reality

In 15 days, the teenager has sent and received...wait for it...4,081 text messages.  Holy crap, Cole.  That is an average of 272 per day.  I expect it'll calm down when the novelty wears off a little but WOW.  That's a lot of texting.  (He totally cracked up when I told him, by the way.  I'm guessing we'll add to that number when he texts his friends that information.)

When I posted the phone contract, I had a good friend ask me if I thought I was invading his privacy by reading his text messages.  She said, "would you read his diary?"  I thought about it briefly before I responded that it's not apples to apples.  What the teenager says in public...via text message or facebook is just that: public.  Therefore, it impacts his reputation and it impacts other people.  His diary would be for his eyes only, and wouldn't impact someone else directly.  I do not ever want to say, "I had no idea my kid was..."

I have checked his phone a couple times.  He always hands it over willingly.  He says, "Don't worry.  I told my friends I'm not allowed to swear."  SUPER.  Nice.  Good job, Cole.  It's vanilla. Nothing to worry about.  I don't read for content (trust me, it's almost all nonsense!), but for red flags.  If knowing I'm "peering over his shoulder" makes him think twice about behaving inappropriately, so be it.

When we were teenagers (a hundred years ago), I have no doubt that the boys sat around the fire or in someones bedroom on Friday nights and tried on bad words.  They talked about girls, and practiced swearing.  BUT that was the primary extent of their opportunity.  Those moments.  Now, kids have 24/7 access to each other.  What is the consequence of that?  If they start using that language now, at that frequency, I'm pretty sure it becomes part of their vernacular.  No thank you.

And what's the consequence of having primarily virtual relationships?  Do you learn to communicate well?  Do you learn eye contact?  Do you know how to read body language?  I am worried about these things. Therefore, I will continue to make sure the teenager has real face time with his friends.  I will continue to talk to him about relationships and how to treat women.  In real life (in addition to via text).

It's complicated.  This is the first generation of kids who will have access to their social network at all times.  I do wonder what the result/benefits will be.  I read this article while getting a pedicure tonight, which mirrored a lot of my thoughts.  Take time read it if you're interested.

4,081.  Seriously.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

High School


I've only told a few people sporadically, but after a heartwrenching struggle to figure out what's best for him, we have decided that the teenager is going to high school here!  God bless his mother for putting his wishes before her own.  We could not be happier.  And you should be too.  Now I'll be able to share photos of his life in detail.  (Did I mention we're not supposed to tell him about this blog?  :))

Friday, July 15, 2011

Everything that Glitters

I have been getting some killer swag in the mail these days.  Everyone should have friends like me.
(And I should mail stuff more often.)

"I made a few cards just for me and decided that this one was clearly meant for you," she said. 
She's right.
(You can check out her whole beautiful line of cards here.)


I won a contest.  This is the last package of Kool-Aid.  I hope she sends more. 
But I owe her a bag of lollipops, so I'm guessing she won't.


I finally know what I'm going to do with this beauty.  She is so thoughtful.

I don't have a lot of stuff, but I'm wealthier than most in fantastic relationships.
My mail proves it.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Where there's a Will

Holy sweet mother.  That totally sucked.  But we now have legal, notarized last will and testament (and health care directives) for both of us.

We were fortunate enough to have been able to participate in the Wills for Heroes program. The attorney we worked with said that a will is most important for parents of minor children.  Us.  YOU?

But then, you have to think about who would raise your children were you no longer here.  ACK.  Torture!  NO ONE would raise them as well, love them as deeply as I do.  But I'm surrounded with lovely people in my life.  So I say to my executor, "You're going to have to do this for me.  Because what if I choose "Sam and Sally," But they're breeding rottweilers at the time of our death and have no spare room?  What if I choose, "Charlie and Charlene," but they're about to embark on a two-year Safari?  What if I choose Mark and Mary but they suddenly decide they're REPUBLICANS?!  (teehee)"  No one knows these circumstances.  So...beware...you might be on the list.  (Don't worry...they're cute rugrats.)

Then the attorney gives me a list to write down my personal property and who I would like it to go to (who wants the captain's Dodge Stratus?!).  But I realize I have no valuable personal property.  Except my wedding ring.  THAT, my friends, is valuable.  Well, kind of. Sentimentally. 

But then I have to consider it.  I don't have a daughter, so to whom would it go?  The boys?  How about whoever gets married first is welcome to give it to his fiancée. If he doesn't want it, the next to be married can use it, or the third.  If no one wants it, screw 'em. 


Hawt.

When we were engaged, Cory's 1974 Camaro got stolen from his parking garage.  He was devastated.  So sad.  He loved that car.  (I'm exaggerating.  He had actually tried to sell it shortly before it was lifted.)  With the insurance money (LUCKY!), he was able to buy me my ring.  Every year, on our anniversary, I'm obligated to give it a little "vroom, vroom." 

So...Cory suggests the boys sell my ring and buy a retro Camaro.  Say WHAAA?  The only way I'll agree to that is if the boys buy it jointly and use it for weekend car trips...brother time.  I wrote that in the will; don't try to mess with me.

At any rate, don't bury me with it.  That's a waste.

So that's settled.  One day of alternating weeping and planning. 
All for a document I will NEVER NEED. 

Amen.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Enger Tower


I cannot believe that in all the years I've visited Duluth, I never made it to Enger Tower.  I will likely never visit Duluth and not take the drive up there again.  It's beautiful, wonderful, magical.  This is the dedication to the tower.  Politically, I adore it.  We should celebrate our diversity on Independence Day and always!


Bert J. Enger
1964 - 1931
NATIVE OF NORWAY
CITIZEN OF DULUTH

From common laborer to merchant prince, he demonstated in his own life that America is a land of opportunity for the immigrant, and that her civilization is enriched by his citizenship.

During his lifetime, by a very generous gift, he enabled the City of Duluth to acquire and develop the land adjacent to this tower as a park, children's playground, and golf course for the enjoyment of future generations, and at his death bequeathed two-thirds of his estate to the people of Duluth.  Hereabout, in his lifetime, he spent leisure hours in admiration of the panorama of Duluth and its environs, which you may see from this tower. 

In recognition of his devotion and benevolence, the people of Duluth elected him to their Hall of Fame, and will always cherish his memory.

Dedicated June 15, 1931,
By Olav, Crown Prince of Norway

Phone Contract

There are so many things I have to figure out about parenting a teenager.  Primarily, I have to figure out how to give him enough space to grow, but not enough that he'll do damage. 

We're super lucky, because the teenager didn't ask for a phone until he was 14. But once he decided he wanted one, he did NOT let up. So today, after a month of nagging, I took him to get one. He's thrilled.


He said that all of his friends have phones and they all have internet access on it (say WHAT?!).  So I told him his friends must have really nice, and wealthy parents.  Then I asked if any of them have to pay for their phones.  He said no, most of them are a reward for good grades.  I told him it's too bad he's such a crappy student (he finished eighth grade with a 3.7 GPA).  *sigh*  What to do?  Here's what we came up with.

He signed this before taking possession of his phone:

PHONE CONTRACT

I, The Teenager, understand that the phone I have received does not belong to me, but is on loan from Dad and Leanne.  I can use it for my personal use so long as I follow these rules:

I agree to leave it on top of the fridge when I go to bed (or 11:00 p.m., whichever comes first), and I will retrieve it when I'm up for the day.

I agree that any of my parents can read my text messages at any time.

I agree that if any one of my parents asks me for my phone, I must relinquish it immediately, not after I 'clean it up.'

If any of my parents call or text me, I agree to respond within five minutes, unless I am at school or a participating in a school-related activity. 

I agree that any of my parents can take my phone away for any reason, at any time, as they see fit.

I agree to pay Dad and Leanne $10/month in cash, chores, or babysitting.  If I don't meet that financial requirement, I will forfeit my phone until that amount is met.

I recognize that this phone is for my personal use, but I will not use it inappropriately.  I will not use bad language, hurt another person, use inflammatory or derogatory language, or take inappropriate photos.  If I do these things, I risk losing my phone permanently.

I understand that my parents trust me, and will continue to do so until I give them a reason not to.

Signed by the teenager, July 3, 2011.

I gave a copy to his mom and patted myself on the back.  Nothing like making a contractual agreement with a 14-year-old.  I should have had it notarized.  Let the nagging cease.

Editing to add this link to another mom's post that I love that includes her contract.  For future reference.  :)

Monday, June 20, 2011

HEY!

Did you know this thing had stats?  I had no idea I could see how many pageviews I got per day and where they came from.  Eeks.  My ego does not need that knowledge.  I'm going to forget I know that.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Privacy is for the birds.

I am completely overwhelmed by the number of readers I have.  Man.  You guys must be really bored to read my drivel.  Heh.  No, honestly, I'm flattered.  The thing is, these thoughts are always in my brain.  So to me, they're old, tired opinions.  But I forget that I don't share them out loud very often, so to you it's not old.  And I'm grateful for your audience.

So...the teenager is on Facebook.  And honestly, I want to hide this place from him.  I adore him, and someday, he can know everything I think and feel about parenting him.  But right now, at fourteen years old...please God, no.  Not yet.  Our relationship needs to be strong.  He needs to think that I'm strong and unwavering because that equals security. 

I can never remember my mother being weak.  Ever.  She's told me as an adult that she had her moments. That she thought we'd always remember her laying on the couch because she was always so tired (and often pregnant!).  I don't remember that.  The only times I remember her laying on the couch is when we played "barber shop."  And I LOVE that.  I love that my parents were a portrait of strength and security.  And although they were fallible, I didn't know it.  I want that for Cole, too.

Aaaand, while I'm on the subject, just so you know, I hesistated accepting Cole's friend request.  (Shhh...don't tell him that either).  I teased him for a few weeks about him friending everyone but me, but I didn't really mean it.  I want to be his friend, but I don't want him to be mine.  It's like having your teenager in your living room in the middle of all your adult conversations.  Annoying. 

So, mum's the word.  I'll keep on keeping on and when I post a link from this blog to Facebook, I'll hide it from him.  I thank you, dear readers, for helping keep my secret.

Besides, I'm probably flattering myself.  I'm guessing he thinks I'm old, and boring.  And could give a rip about my thoughts or opinions or my blog.  And if that helps keep him away from here, super.  Although someone should probably let him know how young, and hip I am.  What UP, Johnny?!

Thanks for working through that little dilemma with me!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Can I get a little privacy, please?

My blog is going to go private this weekend.  If you want to continue to read it, please comment here with your email address, or email me at leanne dot peterson at comcast dot net.  I will explain more, once it's private. 

Muchos gracias.  And I miss you!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

My Crush(ed Heart)

Don't be creeped out, but I have a crush on teenage boys.  Ever since I wasn't a teenager myself, I have been enamored by kids that age.  They're silly, and they love to have fun and to laugh.  They're smart and are sure they know everything.  They're awkward, yet coming into themselves. 

So when my teenager hit this age, it was no surprise that I fell in love with him all over again.  He is all of those things, as I previously shared

He's been bringing his friends home for the first time ever.  I love it.  He has a couple really great friends, and I love having them here.  I told my mom that today and she said, "Did you feed them, right away?"  And I got the giggles, because that's the first thing I wanted to do. 

And then, overwhelmingly, I got sad.  Because for the next four years, he'll be with his mom, an hour away.  And for the first time in eight years, he won't be coming home to me after school.  I won't be his constant.  I don't even know if he'll think of me, or miss coming here, or me.  But I sure as hell know I'm going to miss him.  I don't see him most mornings, but I love when he walks in off the bus in the afternoons.  He usually lingers for five or ten minutes while we talk about his day and go over homework.  His mom and dad have always worked full time, so I have spent so much time with him over these years.  My heart breaks when I think of next school year, when he's not here at all.  Not getting off the bus.  Not walking in the door.

I know he'll do well.  He'll make friends in his new town, and he'll continue to be a smart kid.  He'll do what he loves to do and he'll probably make girls crazy, with his good looks and warped sense of humor.  Hopefully he'll play football like he wants to do, and we'll drive up to his new hometown on Friday nights for games.  And I'll spend some time feeling cheated out of the high school years, but more time feeling proud.  That I laid some of the groundwork for this kid.  That he knows, without question, that I love him, and that he's mine, as much as he belongs to his mother and his father.

I feel like we're losing custody, after eight years.  I'm not mad at his mom.  I know she did what she did with good intentions for her own family.  But I still feel gypped.  For today, I feel sad.  I know avoiding the fact that this was coming isn't healthy.  So I'll share it here, with you, so that I can start to work through the pain of losing him. 

And so that someday, when he's older, he can know how I felt about him moving away from us.  And how important he always has been to this family.  Blended families are hard, folks.  These are the consequences.  Thank you for supporting me and allowing me to share this part of my life with you.  I feel inspired by your support and kindness, as always.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Cool Mom

I'm trying hard to be his cool, hip mom.  I am not succeeding.  He won't friend me on facebook because he says I'll embarrass him.  He's probably right. 

Our conversation tonight:

The teenager, playing Xbox Live with his friends:

Cole:  Hey, Leanne, Johnny says hi.
Me: Oh!  What UP, Johnny?
Cole:  She says, "Hi, Johnny, how are you?"

ROAR!  Can't blame a mom for trying.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day


Dear Boys:

Everything I did before I became your mother was preparing me for raising you.  I know that now.  Here are some examples:

1.  I learned to work hard.  My parents didn't expect me to work, per se, but I knew if I wanted anything special I would have to earn the money for it myself.  So when I was thirteen, I got a job.  And I never stopped working.  I'm not afraid to work hard, and you can rest assured that I will do everything in my power to make sure you have all of the basic comforts.  And you can bet I'll ask you to earn some of your own money when you're a teenager.  (Get a job, Cole!)

2.  I learned to take care of kids.  I am the second oldest of eleven kids.  Of the oldest five, four are girls.  Of the bottom six, four are boys.  So when I was a teenager, there were lots of little boys to care for.  Raising boys is familiar to me.  I thank Tim, Mike, Dan, Stevey, and Ryan for that.  You are better cared for because I cared for your uncles first.

3.  I learned the value of a hug.  Your grandmother, my mom, has always been affectionate.  To this day, there isn't a finer memory of her stroking my hair or my face, or wrapping me up in a hug.  So, following her example, you will always know what my arms around you feels like.  I'm sorry in advance for how embarrassing that will be as you get older.

4.  I learned to follow my inner voice.  I am going to teach you the basics, boys.  I'm going to teach you to trust God, and be good.  I am going to insist that you love yourself and your neighbor.  I am going to remind you that God loves you deeply.  And then, when you're older and you hear the calling of your own heart, I am going to encourage you to sit still, say a prayer and listen. 

5.  I learned I don't know everything.  Here is something I really want you to learn:  It's okay to not have the answer.  It's in those moments, you will learn the most.  It will cause you to look around you, listen to God and search out your own answer.  It's good to admit to yourself, and often out loud, that you simply do not know.  Then, once you do that, I will expect you to go find it.

I learned a lot before you were born, and you have taught me so much since.  I am blessed beyond greatest measure to be your mother.  I take my role very seriously and my heart simply overflows with the love I have for you.  Every day I thank God that He gave me to you.  For every moment that you are on this earth, I will love you.

Be kind, boys.

Love, Mom

Sunday, May 1, 2011

I kind of like it like this.

This is the last photo he'll ever allow me to take with him.  
The Surprise Smooch was the perfect Last Shot.

In December of 2002, when we told Cole his dad and I were getting married, he threw both arms in the air and with a fist pump said, "YES!  I'm going to have TWO moms!" 

I gush about the teenager all the time.  Because he's totally gush-worthy.  He's helpful, and kind, and so funny.  He's clever and has a good heart.  I adore him. 

But if I'm being perfectly honest, and I think it's important to be: It wasn't always this easy.  There were times when I didn't gush at all.  

I met Cole when he was five.  He was a bright, albeit hyper little boy.  Those first couple years were good.  But things started to get difficult for me when he was about eight.  I was pregnant for Matthew, I think, when things got challenging.  A)  Eight to ten is kind of a rough age for little boys.  They're no longer cute and silly, but they're not old enough to reason with.  Its an age filled with frustration and boredom (the desire to "play" wanes a bit...) and annoyance.  B)  I had my own child to compare motherhood to.  I won't lie.  It was hard.  I had to force myself to love him sometimes.  And, the one and only time he played me (lied to his mom to get his way), happened in October 2004.  It was horribly painful for me.  And only he and I knew the truth.

I remember around that time, I heard somewhere that you're supposed to smile every time your child walks into the room.  I remember feeling like I just couldn't always do that.  I was home with Matthew on maternity leave, and because it was summer, I was spending a lot of time with Cole too.  His mom and dad both worked a lot, and I admit that I had some resentment about how much "care" I had to give him.  Because it wasn't me he wanted to spend time with.  The second I picked him up, and every hour until Cory got home he's say, "Where's my dad?"  "When will he be home?"  That used to be very difficult for me, being a parent, but not being one he wanted.

But here's the thing: I tried my damndest to make sure Cole never felt my frustrations.  I have always been very honest about my feelings, and believe in sharing them and getting them out.  I found friends who I could trust, and my mom, of course.  I talked to them about my challenges, so I could be the best mom to Cole possible.

In September 2009, Cole and I had the mother of all fights.  It started with something silly, and erupted into a "you're not my mom!" fight.  A horrible, terrible fight in which Cole went on a rampage saying things that were hurtful.  So terribly hurtful.  After that fight, he and I didn't talk for a couple weeks.  At all.  We had taken the television out of his room as a consequence.  I had told him that to get it back, all he had to do was apologize.

When I was ready, I picked him up from his mom's.  It was clear that we were both done being hurt and angry, and we had a long talk.  I talked to him about anger, and hormones.  And I told him that it's okay to feel anything, but it's not okay to hurt other people.  I said, "You know how sometimes you'll be having a perfectly normal day and then all of a sudden you're so mad you want to punch a wall?  Well, that's hormones.  And it's normal.  And it's okay to be that mad, but it's not okay to punch the wall."  I followed it with, "You know what you have to say.  And I know it's really hard, but it's important.  Just say it quick and be done with it."  He turned to me and said, "Sorry."  I said, "I forgive you."  And we haven't had a fight since.  No lie.

When boys are eight, nine, ten, and they get mad when they don't get their way.  They scowl, say ugly things, march down the hall, slam their door, and keep the silence until they're over it (with Cole, it's always over after a good night's sleep).  I used to follow after him with my own "last word."  And one day, I realized that I was part of the problem.  It got so much easier once I learned to walk away.  Once I learned to let him storm down the hall without my voice chasing him down, making him feel worse, things got so. much. better.

When boys are thirteen, they reason with you.  You give them a consequence for behavior and they understand it.  If I'm not being fair, they say, "That is really unfair.  Do you think we could..."  They reason.  They negotiate.  They learn that if they help out willingly, they will get extra video game time.  The art of you-scratch-my-back-I'll-scratch-yours is mastered.  YES.  This is the good stuff.  Real life skills, implemented.

For the past 20 months, things have been dreamy.  Cole often walks in the door and says, "Hey, can I take the kids to the park?" He helps me haul in groceries -- every time -- without being asked.  He automatically clears the table after dinner.  He loves to help me cook.  He's been with us full time since January, when his mom moved a few towns away.  Next year, when he goes to high school, he's going to be with her the majority of the time.  And my heart catches when I think of it, because he's such a treat to have around.  I no longer have to worry about not being able to smile when he walks into a room.

What I've tried to remember every day for the nine years I've been a stepparent is this:  I picked Cole.  He was part of Cory's life when I met him and I CHOSE him.  I married both of them, and there is a huge amount of responsiblity in that.  It hasn't always been easy, but it's always been good.  I've been good for Cole.  He's been good for me. 

Last winter, I had an opportunity to talk to Cole about blended families (REAL conversations.  I love having real conversations with him).  We were talking about how you get multiple holidays if your mom and dad split up and I suggested to him that most kids would prefer to have their mom and dad together than have bonus holidays.  And I asked him, boldly, and for the first time, "How about you, Cole?  Do you wish your mom and dad had stayed together?"  He thought for only a brief moment before he answered, "Nah.  I kind of like it like this."  Halleluja. 

And now,  on his fourteenth birthday, I can feel confidently, that through my hard work and my constant self-examination and hours and hours of prayer, I've earned those fist pumps that little guy gave me nine years ago.  I kind of like it like this too.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Happy Birthday, Cowboy Jack!

It's Jack's fourth birthday.  It's absolutely astonishing how time flies.  If you're interested, there's a montage I put together for him here, and here are a couple photos from his cowboy birthday party.  We were blessed to have a house full of friends and family this afternoon -- we are truly blessed.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Spring

I know we're officially done with winter because my allergies have set in.  Also, I see things like this, and these are not winter images:




Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Sharing the Love: Flatbread (Take II)

This is another really great recipe for flatbread:

10 - 12 oz warm milk
2 T butter
4 c flour
2 T sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 1/2 tsp yeast

Put ingredients in breadmaker according to your machine's instructions.  Run on dough cycle.  Flatten into oval on lightly greased cookie sheet.  Puncture a dozen times with a fork.  Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise for 20 - 40 minutes.  Bake at 350 for 25 minutes.  Cool on baking rack.

Enjoy!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Sharing the Love: Cowboy Caviar


This is going to go down as one of my favorite appetizers of all time...you can expect to see it at all of my get-togethers in the future (from MIL's friend Katy, who got it from her daughter in law, Sarah.)

Cowboy Caviar

1 can black beans, rinsed & drained
1 can Mexican corn with red & green peppers, drained*
½ red onion, chopped
2-3 tomatoes, diced
3-4 avocados, diced

Dressing:
1 pkg dry Italian dressing
¼ c. white vinegar
½ c. vegetable oil**

Whisk vinegar, oil, and seasoning together, then stir in the beans and vegetables.  Chill for a few hours, or overnight.  Add avocados right before serving.

*I prefer corn, and then add fresh chopped peppers.
**I'd use a little less next time, I think.

Serve with scoop chips...ENJOY!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Legacy

I have a card I love.  It's funny.  It says, "They say you must learn something new every day.  That's not true.  I don't learn something new every day; I even forget stuff some days."

This week was not one of those.  This week will go down as one of those weeks where I learned more than I wanted to. I cried more than I wanted to. I felt more than I usually do.  And it wasn't funny.

My sister-in-law lost her 23-year-old brother in a tragic car accident a week ago.  I didn't know him, but I know his family.  My sweet sister-in-law and my kind and loving brother.  Their kids.  Her mother.  All these people torn by grief and loss.  I was surrounded by sad young people who lost their good friend. 

I am a Relationships Person.  I genuinely love the people in my life, and I like to have conversations and spend real time with them.  I am absolutely facinated by people, and I want to learn how each of them work and why.  And, selfishly, I want to learn how I can affect their lives positively.  I am not perfect.  I am not always a good friend.  I hurt people, sometimes accidently, and sometimes on purpose.  Luckily, I believe in forgiveness as much as I believe in kindness, as do the many forgiving people around me.

You find you are made up of bits and pieces of all who have ever touched your life
and you are more because of them.

It sounds so cliche, but this week, more than any other, I am reminded that each of us are going to leave a legacy. At this man's funeral, it was so clear that he was kind and positive and affected each person he touched in a beautiful way.  And life is so unbelievably fragile.  I encourage you to dig deep and think about your legacy.  How you want to be remembered.  How you can affect lives around you and make the world a better place. 

Like I said, I didn't know Tyler.  But I still owe him a nod of thanks, for being such a great person and for reminding me to be one too, to the very best of my ability, and by the grace of God.

Be kind.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Irish Firefighters


Cory's paternal grandmother was a Kelly.  They, and my kids, have some strong Irish blood.  I think each generation of Americans moves further away from their heritage, so I am thankful for these holidays to help us celebrate our roots.  It's good to take a day to remind the kids where our ancestors came from.

Additionally, this is a special holiday for firefighters.  In the mid-1800s, during the Great Potato Famine in Ireland, many Irish men and women fled to America.  They were greatly mistreated and discriminated against.  They were unable to get jobs in the factories, or in retail, so they had to take jobs as firemen.  In those days, it was a horrible job -- one that no one else wanted.  It was incredibly dangerous, and many of them died.  Bagpipes were customary of Irish funerals, and thereby they became customary of firefighter funerals.  That tradition remains today.

Your St. Patricks' Day Irish history lesson.  You're welcome.

My favorite Irish blessing:

May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face.
And rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the hollow of His hand.