Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Keep it Simple Sister


It’s coming.

And I feel compelled to break the silence on this blog to share a few thoughts. Jill Savaage had a great post this morning on simplifying the holiday season, and I wholeheartedly agree.

All around me, women have that glazed expression that will only get worse as the holidays get nearer and they get more and more exhausted. Because, as women, we are the Keepers of the Christmas Magic. We tuck children into bed and our real work begins—making the holiday special for everyone around us.

I believe this is a noble task. I also believe we can make things simpler for ourselves by adjusting our expectations. I’ve written about this before, but each year I remember the days I spent in the hospital on bedrest while expecting the twins—from the day before Thanksgiving until the day after New Year’s. The entire holiday season was spent in and out of active labor, and you know what? It didn’t matter that I didn’t send a single Christmas card, put out a single decoration, or purchase a single Christmas gift. All that mattered to me was that my little family was safe and together. Truly.

The rest of it? It’s optional.

Let that free you, my friend. Do you dread sending Christmas cards? Don’t. Find another way to keep in touch with faraway friends. Hate buying so many presents? Ask people if they still want to exchange gifts. In this economic climate, people are happy to cross someone off of their gift list.

And the most important piece of advice I can give you, mother-of-young-children-I’m-talking-to-you: keep your kids’ expectations reasonable. Don’t go overboard. Young children enjoy gifts more when there are fewer of them. If your kids are older, it may be hard to backtrack; but if they’re little, resist the urge to overindulge them. You will thank me when they’re thirteen and don’t expect Santa to show up with a thousand dollars worth of goods.

So, without further ado, here’s my personal Holiday Survival Guide, in no particular order:

Make a master list for gifts. Include everyone you buy a gift for—teachers, coaches, family, children—everyone. Then brainstorm. Set a budget. As you buy gifts, cross it off the list. Start this today. Just do it. All those little details running through your head? Write them down.

Decide as a family how to spend your time. Do you enjoy going to lots of parties? If the answer is no, it’s okay to say, “not this year.” But maybe you’ve always wanted to have a holiday gathering, but never seem to have time. If that’s the case, make it a priority. Put the date on your calendar and do it. My point is, don’t just let December pull you under—take control of your calendar.

Spend time with friends. Take coffee breaks, make playdates, and enjoy the people you’re living life with. Incorporate friends into holiday activities like baking, cookie decorating, and even putting up the Christmas tree.

Incorporate spiritual disciplines. Don’t neglect your spiritual life because of busyness. Find time to pray, meditate, and reach out to others. After all, Jesus kind of is the point. Remember that. It will put the rest of the holiday into perspective.

Shop online. Seriously. The deals are fantastic and many places offer free shipping. If you know what you want, why drag everyone out to the mall to get it? I’ll never forget when the preschooler was younger and we walked into Kohls at Christmastime. His eyes got big and he asked, “Is THIS the mall?” So, thereyougo. Obviously shopping with the kids isn’t on my to-do list very often!

Plan meals. If I know I’m going to spend the day baking or shopping, I plan a very simple dinner. Sometimes this dinner even involves frozen food from Trader Joes. And, no, I don’t have any pride left. But I do get adequate rest.

Make your family a priority. If you’re screaming at everyone to get in line and have fun because, goshdarnit, it’s Christmas and this-is-supposed-to-be-fun, well, you’re missing the point. Chill out and go with the flow. Throw the kids in the car in their jammies and go through the drive-thru at the donut shop and just drive around, looking at lights. Enjoy the people you live with. If your traditions are turning you into a screaming shrew, maybe you need to rethink your traditions. (Or get therapy. But that’s another post.)

I know Christmas gets crazy, but we don’t have to go crazy to enjoy it!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Very Expensive Soup and an explanation

By request, the Expensive Soup Story is below. And by way of explanation, I haven’t given up blogging forever. I just need to be more focused on my writing, and am considering setting up a REAL website with a REAL author’s blog. More on that soon. Plus I’m working through some personal issues—nothing dramatic—just stuff I don’t feel comfortable blogging about.

So without further ado, the Story of The Expensive Soup:

It was a rainy, cool night in Door County, our last night of vacation, and we were looking for a restaurant for dinner. After a bit of googling, I found the perfect place. The Summer Kitchen, featuring a soup bar with five homemade soups made fresh every day. Perfect.

We walked in with our three starving, slightly melted down children, were greeted warmly, and seated on the back porch. The ambiance was lovely and the waitress brought water for all of us and invited us to check out the soup bar.

The kids weren’t too excited about the selections—cabbage, tortilla, and I can’t remember what else.

And then we opened the menu. The soup bar was $15.95. Each. A cup of soup? $10.95. Ridiculous.

But it was almost 7:00 at this point, pouring rain outside, and the boys were at their breaking point. Do we walk out? And go where?

No. We stayed and ate Very Expensive Soup and Weird Lasagna and Very Expensive Hot Dogs.

Crazy. But you know what? We were able to laugh about it, and that’s worth something. The Very Expensive Soup will go down in the history of our family as a night to remember.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


I keep writing posts in my mind, but not posting them.

And, honestly, I have no desire to post them. Not really.

Life is full and I'm sorting through some difficult things in real life. Things I can't blog about.

So, I'm officially taking a break. I'll be back. (I think!)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


We just got home from a last-minute “just-one-more-vacation” trip to Door County. We rented a cottage and soaked up the last week of summer break.

What fun.

(Remind me to tell you about the fifteen-dollar bowl of soup.)

The cottage we stayed in was sort of, how should I say, rustic. Or maybe just old. In any case, when we walked in, the boys’ reactions were priceless.

The Preschooler: “Oh, wow! Awesome! We have our own microwave and everything!

Twin B: “Well, at least it’s clean.”

Twin A: (after walking through the whole cottage) “I wouldn’t want to live here for my house, but it’ll be fine for vacation.”

And so it was.

We made hot cocoa in our very own microwave, biked through Peninsula State Park, swam in the lake, and ate ice cream at Wilson’s almost every day.

Tomorrow, the noisy boys go back to school. In the middle of summer, I never think I’ll be ready for school again. But right about now, I am. I’m ready for the routine and the early mornings and busy schedules. So are the boys.

Stay tuned for the story of the Really Expensive Soup.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

building ideas for kids

My boys love to build. Tinker toys, Lincoln logs, legos, couch cushions, you name it.

A few weeks ago, Twin B. found this book at the library, and we’ve been having a blast trying out different mediums for building. Jello cubes in ice cube trays (made with extra gelatin), looks like fun.

Sugar cube pyramids are another. We went to Jewel and found sugar cubes on clearance for a dollar a box, and stocked up. We now have one thousand sugar cubes—or at least we did before starting our construction projects.

The book recommends making a mortar out of equal parts flour, corn starch and water. I just mix it up into it looks nice and thick. Then, you build.

It’s that simple.

And the kids love it!

Cool building projects on a rainy day works for me. Check out more great ideas at We are that Family.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

my garden is dead

It turns out my garden plot is one of the “new” plots the park district created for this growing season. The soil wasn’t great to start with, but the bigger problem is that it’s on the low side.

We had torrential rain this spring, and my plot was completely underwater for about six weeks.

My gardening neighbor was able to get a new plot in the center. The rest of us just watched our gardens rot.

When things finally dried out, I could have replanted. But, to be honest, I didn’t have the heart.

So. Much. Work. Down. The. Tubes.

It just makes me sick.

But the alternative—investing more resources into something that isn’t healthy to begin with—isn’t good either.Sometimes we just have to cut our losses and move on. Is it painful? Yes. But this is life too.

Sometimes we work really hard and our garden dies.

Monday, July 12, 2010

missing life

“No. I don’t want to,” the preschooler said, shaking his head.

“But doesn’t it look like fun?” I asked, pointing to stack of canoes.

He shrugged his shoulders and looked down. He didn’t want to put on a life vest and climb into that canoe.

I assured him it was okay that he didn't want to go, and sent Llama Papa and the noisy boys off in canoes with my Aunt and Uncle. The preschooler and I walked back to the boathouse, and I asked one more time.

“Why don’t you want to try the canoe?”

“Well, it’s too long.”

“We don’t have to go for a long ride. We could just paddle over to the dock. Wanna try it?”

“No. I don’t have my swimsuit on.”

“Oh, that’s okay. We won’t get wet. We’ll stay dry in the boat.”

“Then why do we need to wear those vests?”

“Those are just-in-case vests. Sometimes the boat tips over by accident and we wear the vests to stay safe. But most of the time, almost all of the time, you stay perfectly dry in the boat.”

“Oh. Well. Oh. Okay. I changed my mind. I want to try it.”

We flagged down Llama Papa’s canoe as it headed around a corner, and climbed in. The preschooler grinned as he sat down. We paddled around Stoney Lake, swapping stories with our family in the other canoe and racing toward a mama swan and her babies. We enjoyed the fresh air and sun and time together floating around. The preschooler loved it.

And to think he almost missed it.

Fear holds us back sometimes without us even noticing it. We don’t have the words to describe it, but it’s there. And sometimes we just need someone to ask us the right questions so we can move forward. Life is short. Too short to be held back by insecurity and fear.

Surround yourself with people who ask good questions. People who listen. People who encourage you to try new things and be your best self.

You’ll be glad you did.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

writing retreat

It’s that time of year again. Time for me to plug the Writing Academy and encourage you to check out their retreat for writers coming up in August. (You can choose from two tracks: the first runs from Thursday, July 29 until Monday, August 2; the second is Friday, July 30 through Sunday, August 1.) Located at the Mt. Olivet retreat center in Minnesota, you won’t find a more beautiful place to hone your craft.

I cannot say enough about this writing group. Truly.

If you’re a writer in need of a writing community, look no further. I attended my first retreat when the twins were two, and was amazed at the talent and depth of this group. Even more amazing? They’ve been meeting for years, yet their ability to welcome a newcomer into their fold is unparalleled.

Show up ready to grow and learn, and you’ll be family by next year.

This isn’t a networking conference. You won’t walk away with a book deal or an agent connection, but Writer, trust me when I say this, you will find your people. I never would have finished my young adult novel if not for this group.

I’m leading two workshops this year, so if that’s not incentive enough to come, I don’t know what is. Ahem.

I should add that this is a Christian writing group, though I’m confident that they would welcome a writer of any faith (or no faith) for the weekend. Just be aware that there is a prayer before each meal (actually, a song. They sing prayers that I've never heard of before. But nobody looks at me funny when I don't participate because, well, they like me. I think.) There's also chapel each morning and the speakers present their material from a Christian perspective.

So…who’s in? (Please don't let the singing thing scare you away. It's not as strange as it sounds...)

Thursday, June 24, 2010


The preschooler has a problem.

He thinks everything in this house belongs to him. He walks around and gathers things up, saying, “Hey! Do you like my new ball/guitar/flashlight?”

There’s only one problem.

None of this stuff is his.

Twin B. is most aggravated by this new development. With a strong sense of fairness and a very black and white approach to justice, this pushes him over the edge. “I just bought that game last week with my own money. Now he’s saying it’s his!”

We remind the preschooler who really owns the stuff he’s pocketing, but he just laughs. In his mind, I think, everything in this house belongs to him. He’s on the receiving end of so many hand-me-downs, he probably figures eventually it will be his.

And I remind Twin B. that his frustration at his little brother might be how God feels sometimes. He gives us so much. Everything we need! A home, plenty of food, clothes, and even some of the stuff we want, like toys and games and vacations. And sometimes we forget it’s all a gift, and we walk around like the preschooler, just grabbing onto it, insisting it’s ours; refusing to share.

And God watches. He’s full of grace. He just wants us to get it.

It’s all His.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

how to host a water balloon fight

I love having fun. And nothing says fun like a water balloon fight.

I know, I know. The mess. The trouble. The work. But stay with me for a minute. I don’t know about girls, but little boys and water balloons are a perfect match. It involves violence, throwing things, water, and making a mess all in one package. And they’re cheap!

Want to be the coolest mom on the block? Here’s the plan:

Buy a lot of water balloons. Start filling them up before guests arrive.

Fill a cooler with juice boxes or put a jug of water outside for kids to help themselves. You don’t want to be running in and out of the house during the fight. (Well, maybe you want to, but the importance of supervision cannot be overstated.)

Lay a thick towel on the floor for kids to walk on when they do need to go into the house and use the restroom. (And, for goodness sakes, don’t sweep or mop the floor before the kids come over. Do this after they’re gone.)

Set ground rules. No water balloons to the face is a good one.

And here’s my favorite tip. During our last water balloon fight, towards the end, I had the boys pick up the scraps of water balloons all over the yard by “charging” for the new ones. So, bring me ten popped balloons and get one full one. When we were fifteen minutes from the end, that number jumped to twenty.

And it worked.

As moms, we all want our kids to just help because they want to and jump in and say, “Wow, Mrs. Llama. You’ve worked really hard and I’m so grateful. Let me help you with that.” But they never will. (At least not at my house.) And so we teach the kids to help. That’s part of having a fun day—cleaning up at the end.

By the time the kids left, the water balloons were picked up. The yard was a muddy mess, but that’s another issue entirely. And as a wise friend once asked me, “Are you raising children or are you raising lawns?”

Someday, my lawn will look great. And I'll be sitting in the backyard sipping iced tea, remembering all the fun afternoons I spent with my boys. Having water balloon fights.

If you're looking for more fun household tips, check out We are that Family for more great Works for me Wednesday tips!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

writer's conferences

I have a love-hate relationship with writer’s conferences.

I love to connect with people, attend readings and workshops, and learn more about the craft of writing.

But I usually leave feeling overwhelmed and inadequate.

Build a platform.
Make a website.
Write consistently every day.
Be organized.

Here is my writing space.

There are a few sleeping bags at my feet (the noisy boys were making a fort), a green froggie towel (the preschooler must have wandered in after bath time and dropped it), a few items I’m selling on ebay, a garbage can overflowing with used Kleenex (I get emotional when I write. Plus, well, allergies), a few printed copies of an edited document that I need to put in the recycling bin, a printed contract I need to mail in for my real job…you get the idea.

Conditions are not ideal.

My website? Um. Right.

The Llama Momma.


Here’s what I know about myself: I’m a writer because I love to write. Mostly every day, and mostly during the fringe hours—early in the morning before the kids are awake or at night when they’re asleep. I write in fits and starts, and don’t keep very good records. It has taken me almost two years to write and edit and rewrite a 55,000 word young adult novel. Two years.

In the fiction workshop I attended, the author cranks out three good novels every year.


Would I have more creative energy if I had a better writing space? Maybe. Would I get more done if I had more writing time? Probably.

But it is what it is.

I have three young children, a part-time job, a volunteer job, a husband, and a big house that insists on getting messy on a consistent basis. Oh, and all these people I live with? They’re always hungry.

This is my life.

I am a mother. I am a writer.

I am me.

Friday, June 11, 2010

quote of the day

Fear is not a sign that you're not called.

- Jane Rubietta (Write-to-Publish 2010)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

because there's never a good time...

We weren’t planning to have a party today. The kids were with a sitter this morning while I ran around getting ready for a writer’s conference later this week. (Write-to-Publish, anyone?)

But I was home this afternoon, and told the boys they could each invite a friend over to play. We left a few messages, and as the kids began calling back, another friend called wondering what A. was up to, and so it goes. When it was all said and done, we had a backyard full of boys, about 400 water balloons, a cooler full of juice boxes, and a whole lot of laughter.

What a blast.

As I sat at my station filling up water balloons, I thought of all the things I could be doing if all these kids weren’t over—dishes, laundry, washing the floor—and I found myself grateful for an excuse to just sit outside and enjoy the kids.

Besides, after an afternoon of running in and out to the bathroom, the floor would just get muddier anyway. And the kids sure don’t care. They’re just grateful for a place to hang out and play.

It wasn’t on the agenda today—invite half the neighborhood over and make a muddy mess in the backyard—but I’m glad we did.

I hope and pray the boys’ friends will continue to feel comfortable and welcome in our home, and we can be the “hangout house” for many years to come!

What are you waiting for, Moms? You know you'll never be "caught up" on everything. Why not just stop and enjoy the kids, just for a few hours? It doesn't have to be perfect. Just be there. And if water is involved, trust me, they'll have a ball.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

time warp

It’s begun. It happens every year around this time. I look at the calendar and it’s Tuesday…and then it’s Friday. Or Saturday.

I’m in some sort of time warp.

We go to the pool and get together with friends and just hang out at home, and the time just slips by.

June and July will pass this way, and then we’ll be moaning that it’s August already. I feel old when I mumble about how fast time is going, but I can’t help it.

We're soaking in summer. How about you?

Friday, May 28, 2010

summer break

Today is our first day of summer vacation, and my boys would rather be in school.

They don’t want a break. They want to keep going. Even the promise of science summer camps and unlimited books at the library isn’t enough to persuade them.

They’d just rather be in school.


Lest you think I’m holding huge chore fests over here, let me set the record straight: I’m a fun mom, folks. We went bowling yesterday. We’ll host water balloon fights and sleepovers and go to the zoo. I’m fun, I’m fun…really I am!

We’ll balance all this fun out with chores and math facts, but mostly, we’ll hang out at the pool.

That’s just the way I roll.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad my kids enjoy school. And I’m trying not to take it personally that I’m more excited about summer break than they are.

Once I get past ME and my own insecurities, I can see this isn't about me at all. It's about them. The noisy boys are growing up. They have their own interests and friends and lives. This is a good thing. A healthy thing.

Do you savor summer break with your kids? I do. I figure I only have seven or eight left. Less than that when you consider how busy teenagers are.

Will my house be loud? Yeah. Will I get tired of washing wet beach towels and wiping up the muddy kitchen floor fifty thousand times every day? Yeah.

Will we create memories that the boys will remember forever? Yeah. Will I have the opportunity to teach them new things about life and the world and relationships? Yeah.

Will all the hard work be worth it?


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

missing out

I really wanted to give the kids ice cream cones tonight.

It was hot. 84 degrees to be exact. The kids were playing outside, running in the sprinkler and making our play structure into a “water slide.” It was the first real water play of the season, and all three boys were loving it.

I served dinner outside to my soggy boys, and thought to myself I’ll let them play a bit more, then give them ice cream cones before they come in for showers.

That was the plan anyway.

I cleared the dinner dishes and was taking out the garbage when it began.

“He pushed me!”

“He put water on my face!”

“Mom! He pushed me again!”

The fighting and bickering and rude talk continued, even after a warning. So in they went for showers. No ice cream cones tonight.

And I was disappointed. I really wanted to watch them enjoy the first drippy, all-over-their-tummies ice cream cone of the season. They never knew about the ice cream, so they weren’t disappointed. But I was. I wanted to bless them, but had to hold back because of their behavior.

I wonder how often God feels this way about me? If you follow this blog at all, you know I’m a big believer in grace. God doesn’t treat any of us as we deserve, but instead, lavishes grace on us, in spite of us.

And yet I’m sure there are times when He holds back His blessing, just waiting for me to give up my stubborn pride and stop bickering already so He can bless me. I'm sure there are times I've missed out because of my selfishness or arrogance or addictions.

And God just waits. He wants to bless us and He waits.

Thank goodness for ice-cream-cones-tomorrow kind of grace.

Monday, May 17, 2010

and that would surprise me because...?

I'm the mother of three boys. So I don't know why I was surprised to find this sitting on my kitchen counter recently...

Hmmm. Tupperware. And inside?

Rocks. Of course. Who doesn't need a few tupperware containers full of rocks sitting on the counter?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

teacher gifts

At different times during the school year, we give gifts to the boys’ teachers. The end of the school year is one of those times.

I always do consumable gifts. No mugs or ornaments or chachkas. We usually include a small gift card (Starbucks, if they're coffee drinkers), a yummy homemade treat and a handwritten thank you note from both the student and me. I try to include specific examples of things I appreciated, like “Thank you for calling me right away when Johnny started picking his toes in class.”

Nobody was really picking his toes, but you get my drift.

The boys usually keep their notes short, but a simple “Thanks for being my teacher this year. I enjoyed the field trip to the math museum” is nice, I think. Even the preschooler can draw a picture.

A few days ago I was on Walgreen’s photo website when the inspiration struck: photo collage cards. It’s perfect. I pulled a few pictures from each of the 3 boys—including one of them with their teachers taken at an open house—and arranged them on the card along with the caption, “Thanks for a great year!” (If you do the cards at Walgreens, click on the "folded cards" section. This allows you to buy only one card, instead of 20.)

It only took a few minutes and each card was only $1.99. I picked up a few treats at Trader Joe’s along with gift bags, we’ll do our handwritten notes in the cards, and call it good.

Past teachers have told me how much they appreciate the encouraging words from both me and their student. We all need encouragement, so even if you can’t afford a fancy gift, do write a note.

Thoughtful teacher gifts for a great price works for me! For more great tips, head over to We are that Family.

Walgreens did not ask me to write this or give me anything free. You could do these cards at any photo center. Walgreens just happens to be convenient.

Monday, May 10, 2010

the guilt

As moms, we all have it. We feel guilty if we work too much; we feel guilty if we don’t work. We feel guilty if we drag our kids out to run errands; we feel guilty if we leave them home and run errands by ourselves. We feel guilty if we’re overweight and out of shape; we feel guilty if we take time for ourselves to exercise.

We just plain feel guilty.

I was sitting with a group of women last week, and the subject of guilt came up. Everyone chimed in, and a mom with grown kids even suggested that this guilt was a good thing. After all, maybe a “good mom” does feel guilty if she takes time for herself, even if it is at the grocery store buying food for her family.

To which I say, in a nice Christian way, of course, BULL.

I just don’t think we need to buy this, ladies.

Whatever your situation in life—working, not working, whatever—do your kids a favor and get over the guilt. And if you leave the kids with a neighbor or sitter or their (GASP) Dad for a few hours to get out alone? Celebrate those moments and come home refreshed. That will do your family a lot more good than the guilt does.

It takes some practice, but let me tell you, life on the other side of guilt** is really nice. It still comes calling once in awhile, but I find that a hunk of dark chocolate shuts it right up.

** I feel like I need to add a disclaimer that I’m not suggesting moms become uber selfish and shirk their responsibilities to their households. Not at all. But, come on. I know moms who work forty hours a week, stay up until midnight baking twelve dozen cookies for the church bake sale, and feel guilty on a Saturday afternoon for sneaking off for a pedicure or, heaven forbid, lying down and taking a nap. That’s what I’m talking about.**

Thursday, May 6, 2010

community garden

Our peas are coming up. The preschooler was so excited when he saw them, and told everyone who walked by, “Look! I planted these little thingies and now, look! It made a plant that will grow vegetables.” You really just have to hear him say the word “vegetables.” It’s adorable.

We’ve met most of our gardening “neighbors” now, and it’s a lovely group. There’s a newbie family next to us with three kids, as well as a veteran gardener with three plots on the other side.

The preschooler and I spent the better part of Tuesday afternoon at the plot, and enjoyed chatting with “Doc.” He’s a retired trauma surgeon who just returned from a month in Haiti. He has stories we all need to hear.

And, thankfully, he enjoys listening to the preschooler’s stories too. Thank goodnesss, because that boy is a talker.

I’m hoping to get my tomatoes and peppers in this weekend or next. We’ll see what the weather looks like.
It’s interesting to watch the other gardeners. I don’t think any two garden plots look the same, and I’ve been given so much conflicting advice, I’m learning to just follow my instincts.

And as Doc says, “It’s good dirt. Add some water and it will grow just fine.”

Twin A. and the Preschooler planting sunflowers

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Weird Christians

Every day, I walk past a house in my neighborhood that makes me uncomfortable. The curtains are drawn, and for a long time I wondered if anyone lived there. Then, a few weeks ago, I saw some kids outside, bringing groceries in from the car. I said “hello” and asked if they were new to our neighborhood.

They’ve lived here longer than we have.

To each this own, I suppose, but this family also has a big sign in their window protesting Planned Parenthood. And a little fish on their car, symbolizing that they’re Christians.

Of course they are.

This bothers me because I’m a Christian too. So, it's kind of like we're on the same team, but, well, we're not.

Don’t advertise you’re a Christian then never come out of the house or let your children play outside or walk to school with the rest of the children. In case you haven't noticed, this is a vibrant neighborhood. We live life together and rely on one another. We celebrate together and grieve together.

And if the only thing your neighbors ever know about you is that you’re a Christian and you hate planned parenthood? Yeah. Skip the advertising. Please.

I'm tired of sharing my faith with people who have experienced nothing but Christian weirdness. So, please. If you want to be weird, fine.

Just don't blame it on Jesus.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

the urge to grow things

Every spring it comes. This need to plant something in the ground and watch it grow.

The only problem? Our yard is full of big trees, which shade the entire backyard. (Which isn’t a problem during the summer, when the kids are playing outside in the shade!)

But it does create a problem when it comes to growing things.

I’ve used little pots that I have to drag all over the yard to catch an hour of sun here or there. Ask me how that worked. (Yeah. Not so much.)

So when I saw in our Park District guide earlier this year that you could rent a community garden plot not too far from our house, I jumped on it.

The preschooler and I went on the designated day and carefully selected a spot near the water spigot. On Saturday, they opened the plots up.

And, OH MY GOODNESS, the dirt! It’s wonderful.

The kids are jazzed about planting a vegetable garden. (With a few flowers thrown in for good measure.)

We’ll see how excited they are in August on Day 98 of Going to Water the Garden Plot.

But for now? We’re enjoying the dirt.

Monday, April 12, 2010


Do you shop the clearance sales?

After each holiday, I try to stop by Target and Walgreen's and hit their clearance aisles. Easter is always a good one. I buy easter egg coloring kits, plastic eggs, easter grass, and age-appropriate easter toys, if I can find them. Last week, I was able to buy my easter egg coloring kits for next year for 13 cents.

I just tuck them away into my "easter box," and happily pull them out next year, knowing I only spent a few dollars on all this stuff.

I also buy easter candy, if they have any that would be good for baking with. M & Ms for a dollar a bag make great cookies. (And nobody's ever complained about pink and purple M & M cookies in June or July.)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

man versus...park?

You know your kids watch too much "Man versus Wild" when you lock yourself out of your car and they immediately start looking for crickets and firewood.

I locked my keys in the van at the park, and you would have thought we were stranded in the middle of nowhere.

"So, we have one granola bar and no keys," B. said. Quickly adding, "I call it!"

He's got a sense of humor, that boy.

The noisy boys got right to work searching for crickets to make the cricket stew. When Llama Papa showed up to rescue us, the preschooler ran into his arms and said, "YOU SAVED US!"

From the doom of a suburban park.

And cricket stew.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Epi pens and intution

I joined the club today. The “Mom’s-who-carry-epi-pens-in-case-their-child-has-a-severe-allergic-reaction” club.

Not as fun as bunko.

Twin B. was hanging out with his grandma and grandpa when he started having an allergic reaction, presumably to a guinea pig they were babysitting.

By the time I got there, his face was red and splotchy, and his eyes were swelling. I started calling our doctor on my cell and threw B. in the van, thinking we’d drive the three minutes home and he’d have some Benadryl and be fine.

But while I was sitting at a stoplight, still waiting for the nurse to call me back, I looked in the rearview mirror and B’s eyes had swollen shut.


And without waiting to hear back from Katie, the nurse at our pediatric office, I knew what she would tell me.

Trust your instincts, mom.

I drove straight to the ER.

They gave him a shot of epi about 30 seconds after our arrival.

He’ll be fine. No doubt some allergy testing is in his future. Along with a few epi pens, just in case.

I’ll be fine, too.


Friday, March 26, 2010

spring break survival

I was planning to take the kids to the zoo today to celebrate the Official Beginning of Spring Break, but instead, half of us are on antibiotics for strep throat.

So…on to plan B!

We broke out the miniature marshmallows and toothpicks and did some building. This is a great “all ages” craft that doubles as a snack.

And, of course, the froot loop necklaces. Even though the noisy boys are in second grade, I can still get away with this craft since it’s for the preschooler.

And math worksheets. Lots and lots of math worksheets, which the noisy boys are asking for because during spring break, one neatly completed math worksheet = 10 minutes of media time.

They can earn up to 2 hours of media per day.

I realize that sounds like a ton of time, but it goes by in a blink when they sync up their DSi’s and enter the world of Mario.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

God is trying to kill me

I was about half way to Bloomington for Hearts at Home when a light appeared on the dashboard. “It’s like a parentheses with an exclamation point in the middle and a squiggly line on the bottom.” I told my husband on my cell phone.

“One of the tires needs air,” he said. “You should stop as soon as you can.”

And so I stopped at the next gas station and Llama Papa patiently talked me through the process of checking the air pressure and filling up the low tire. “I’m sorry,” he said more than once. “I should have checked out the van before you left.”

I was just amazed I was able to figure it out, and grateful the rain had stopped.

And then I tried to start the van again. Nothing.


I went in the gas station and talked with the gals working there. “Did you leave the lights on while you checked the tires?” She asked.

I nodded.

“It’s probably the battery. Give it ten minutes or so and try it again.”

We chatted while I waited and munched on a Milky Way bar that I purchased because, you know, eating chocolate seemed like the right thing to do.

I tried the van again. Nope.

The helpful gas station lady asked another customer, Fred, to take a look at it. Kindly, he did. “Doesn’t sound like the battery,” he said. “It might be the fuel pump.”

A few more phone calls home and we had a plan. Llama Papa would come pick me up and I’d carpool the following day with a friend. I was volunteering both days, so I called and let them know I wouldn’t be there until Saturday.

Then I settled into my van for an hour-long pity party while I waited for my husband to come and rescue me.

It had been a long week. After three interviews in a matter of days, Llama Papa and I were cautiously optimistic that he might be offered a real job. But no. He was their third choice.

I chatted with my friend on the phone and we laughed together at the misery of it all. “You know what’s really funny?” I told her, “I was listening to that Casting Crowns song, Praise You in the Storm, remembering that God really does have a plan for us. And right now, this is it. I was just thinking, Lord, I do surrender to your plan. And then my stupid van breaks down. What IS that?” (Except maybe I didn’t say stupid because, being the spiritual giant that I am, sometimes I swear when I get stressed out.)

We laughed and agreed God wasn’t trying to send me any hidden messages, because if He were, it would be that He’s trying to kill me.

Llama Papa arrived in good time and proceeded to—I am not making this up—start my van on the first try. He offered to trade vehicles with me, and I continued on my way to Bloomington after all.

I’m glad I did. Hearts at Home rocked.

And I’m convinced that God isn’t trying to kill me after all.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

will blog for dishwasher

Every day I get email from someone wanting me to review something on my blog. I usually don’t respond. I think the only reviews I’ve done are for books—and I usually ask to review those!

I do, however, volunteer for market research studies separate from the blog. I’ve done this for years—go taste test yogurt for an hour and get $50 kinds of deals. When the noisy boys were babies I did a diaper study that paid for our diapers for at least a month. That was cool. My favorite, though, was when a woman came to my house with her marketing people and watched me make soup, then asked me a bunch of questions about the soup making experience. I even made a poster about how the food made me feel. They gave me $300 for my time.

Last night I got a call from one of my research places with another cooking gig. I answered the questions honestly, and they said I didn’t qualify. Then they called back and said I did. For a special blogging review.

They wanted me to cook with their products and blog every day for three weeks about the experience. Every. Day. About. Food. And then spend three hours with a focus group talking about the experience. All for $200.

I asked her to call the company and clarify—every day? They want me to blog about their food every day for three weeks? Wouldn’t that get, um, boring? She put me on hold.

“Yup. Every day for three weeks. That’s the deal.”

I told her I’d do it once. ONE review on the blog. ONE focus group.

No deal.

Bummer. I do like the cooking stuff…but to turn my blog into some weird marketing machine defeats the purpose of blogging. (Maybe I’m a hypocrite since I’ve got ads in my sidebar, but I can live with that. The ads don’t dictate what I write and for pete’s sake somebody has to fund my Starbucks habit.)

Now. If someone wants to offer me a new dishwasher, we can talk. I’ll blog every day for a week for a new dishwasher.

(Yeah, those are some dishpan hands typing. Our dishwasher bit the dust a few weeks ago and we’ve yet to replace it. I’m just so irritated because it was a NICE dishwasher. A Kitchen Aid. The quiet kind. And it just up and died after only seven years. The repair people I’ve talked to tell me to just buy a new one. They don’t last as long as they used to, blah, blah, blah. But only seven years? Is it just me or is that crazy?)

Maybe we’ll just teach the noisy boys how to do dishes.

Friday, March 5, 2010

wacky cake

I don't buy cookbooks anymore. With so many recipes online, I hardly need an entire book full of recipes cluttering up my shelves. Unless, of course, it's a church cookbook. Or the ladies guild. Or whatever community group has taken the time to compile a book of favorite recipes.

I love these cookbooks. They're more than just recipes...they're history.

I have a small collection of these books, one from every church we've attended over the years (that published one), and I make some of the recipes over and over. The recipes tend to take on the persona of whoever contributed it. Margot's Amazing Chocolate Stuff, Smith Chip Dip, Lara's Roast.

And even if I don't have a connection to the cookbook, I enjoy the stories.

This afternoon, the preschooler and I decided to bake a cake for the noisy boys to celebrate the end of the school week. I glanced through a community cookbook and picked a simple, Wacky Cake recipe. It's an older cookbook that I received as a wedding gift, and the advice with the cake is decidedly old fashioned. The recipe is as follows:

1 1/2 Cups flour
1 Cup sugar
3 T. Cocoa
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 T. Vinegar
6 T. melted butter
1 tsp. vanilla
1 Cup cold water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Use an ungreased 9" x 9" x 2" pan. Sift dry ingredients into the pan. Level off and punch 3 holes into mixture with back of spoon. Into one hole pour vinegar, into the next pour butter, and into the last hole the vanilla. Pour water over all and stir thoroughly with a fork. Bake 25 min. This is a fine moist devil's food cake that will keep 4 or 5 days and is a man's favorite.

I love it.

Not only is it hilarious to think about such a small cake lasting 4 or 5 days, but it's a snap to whip together, and especially fun for young kids since so much stirring is involved.

The cake itself isn't too sweet, making it a yummy choice for an after school snack.

And it's a man's favorite. What more could you want in a cake?

Monday, March 1, 2010

those mothers

I became one of them today. One of those mothers. You know the ones. They’ve got kids hanging on the cart at the grocery store who are whiny and disrespectful and they snarl at their children to BE QUIET and STOP IT and FOR GOODNESS SAKE NOT RIGHT NOW.

It all started with an ill-timed trip to Target for Twin A. to pick up the New Super Mario Bros. with his birthday money. Never mind that it was almost time to start making dinner and—oh yeah—Twin B. is still grounded from his DSi. (I know, this trip sounds like a great idea, doesn’t it?)

Actually, the shopping itself was fine. We even picked out a birthday present for a friend’s party coming up. It was all good until the checkout aisle when the preschooler asked for a pack of gum.

And I said no.

(I know…the nerve.)

You see, we’d been grocery shopping earlier this morning and I had already bought him a pack of gum. I explained this to him, but three-year olds use about as much logic for their purchases as lizards, which is to say, none. So he escalated his request. “No, no, no, that gum is from ALDI. I want gum from TARGET.”

The tantrum was interspersed with a carefully rehearsed speech from Twin B. that maybe he could POSTPONE being grounded from his DSi until, you know, he got tired of playing with Twin A.'s new game.


And so it was that I found myself in the parking lot half dragging a crying preschooler screaming for gum and arguing with an eight-year old and yelling at everyone to just GET IN THE VAN when I noticed a young couple without kids holding hands and glancing my way, giving me the look. You know the look. The when-I-have-kids-I-will-never-ever-talk-to-them-that-way look. My children will always be polite and respectful and they will never beg for gum because I will teach them to behave better than that.

To which I can only say…yeah. Me too.

Friday, February 19, 2010


I never thought I'd be one of them. One of those cocky midwesterners with their coat unzipped in the freezing cold, declaring, "What a beautiful day!"

But that's exactly what I did in the school pick-up line this afternoon.

After some truly cold weather, today was a balmy 40 degrees and sunny. Truly, it felt like a taste of spring.

And so it is. I am one of them. So hardened by the cold and the snow that 40 feels like a heat wave. I never thought I'd see the day.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

asking for help

I read somewhere that women would rather choke to death (literally) than call attention to themselves. I believe it.

Recently, a friend (who will remain nameless*) was up all night in pain. She didn't call a friend to drive her to the ER because she didn't want to bother anyone. She waited until morning to send an email asking for help. She didn't want anyone to be alarmed by a late-night or early morning phone call even though it was, um, an emergency.

I gave her a terrible time the next day, and I'm hopeful that next time, she will call when she has an emergency. I like to think I would, but who am I kidding? I hate to put people out too. (Maybe that's why we're friends?)

I know I'm not alone in this.

We all know a "needy Nelly" who is constantly bombarding us with requests for a favor, and we don't want to be like her. So we suffer along, hoping things will get better or someone will just magically know what we need without our asking. And along the way, we rob the people closest to us from the opportunity to serve because we never let on that things aren't just fine thankyouverymuch.

So, ladies, how about a New Year's resolution to ask for help from a friend when we need it? I'm not talking about a generic facebook plea, I'm talking about reaching out to a real, live friend and asking specifically for what we need. Something like:

-- I'm scared to go for my mammogram because last time they found something fuzzy and I never followed up. Will you go with me?

--I'm depressed. Will you pray for me?

-- Can we get together for coffee soon? I really need to talk to a friend.

-- Can I drop my kids off this weekend for a few hours? My husband and I need to get out alone.

You get the idea. And next time you think you might need to go to the ER and your husband is out of town? Call a friend. They'll be glad to help.

* Details have been changed to protect privacy. My friend will be fine.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

praying for Haiti

As I read the stories of the Haitian people, I'm amazed at their strength. Not just through this earthquake, but through life.

I've been following this blog and continue to pray for the people on the front lines of this tragedy. May God's hope shine brighter than the darkness.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

when things go wrong

Here’s a paradox: some of our happiest memories as a family are created when things go wrong. Is this true for you too?

Thankfully, we didn’t have any big problems on our recent trip to Disney…just the typical “stuff” that happens when you’re traveling. Here are a few of the highlights that we’re still laughing about:

Chicken. All I have to do is ask Twin A. if he wants some chicken and he busts up laughing. We were eating at Paradise Pier one night, and he ordered a “toddler” serving of macaroni and cheese—the only size they sold—and when he opened the box, there was a condiment-sized cup of macaroni in it. Like, three bites. Not even enough for our toddler.

We laughed, and the two of us walked over to the Chinese stand, where he ordered teriyake chicken and rice. The cashier asked if he wanted an adult portion or a child’s portion, and we wisely asked to see the difference in size. When the cashier held up a teeny tiny white box, A. started giggling. “The adult portion, please,” I said before busting out laughing. The two of us stood there and laughed until tears came out of our eyes.

And then—the story gets better—the chicken was really gross.

He ended up having some of the rice for dinner, and then eating a bowl of cereal back in the hotel room.

Did we pay a small fortune for strange food that never actually got eaten? Yes. But, oh the memory. We still laugh every time we hear the word, “chicken.”

And then there was Legoland in the rain. We bought bright yellow ponchos and celebrated that there were no lines for the rides. The boys huddled under a table at lunchtime and we all laughed at the absurdity of staying at the park in the rain. But we stayed and we laughed and we had a great day together.

Planning is an important part of vacationing with young children, but just as important, I believe, is the ability to be flexible. Things happen when you travel that you have absolutely no control of, and it’s important to be able to take them in stride.

Can you make the best of things and laugh together as a family when things don’t go according to plan? These are the stories your children will love to tell—the “remember when…” stories. They’ll remember the good times too, but the hard stuff—the time you ran out of clean underwear and had to wash it out in the sink—that’s what memories are made of.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

downtown disney

“I can’t stop saying ‘thank you,’” Twin B. said. He and I were the first ones up, so we snuck out of the Disnyland hotel and wandered around Downtown Disney and shared some warm beignets from the Jazz Kitchen.

The Christmas decorations were dazzling, and even though it was a chilly morning in California, it was nothing compared to the temperatures we’d left behind in Chicago. It felt great to wander without boots and hats and gloves and coats.

Soon, Llama Papa and the other two boys joined us, and we had breakfast and decided to head straight to Toon Town to meet Mickey Mouse, and then go from there.

That first day was full of Pixie dust and exclamations of, “I can’t believe we’re really here!” We all rested in the afternoon, then headed back to the park in the evening for a few hours. Disneyland at night during Christmastime is pure magic.

With a two-hour time difference and exhausted kids, we never did stay late enough for fireworks. Even on our “late nights” we were in bed by 8 or 8:30. Which brings me to my first bit of advice for families traveling to Disney with young children: When you walk through the gate, promptly forget how much it costs to be there. If you’re busy trying to “get your money’s worth,” you’ll have a miserable time and so will your kids. Dumbo or Die is a bad plan.

Rest in the afternoon. Go to bed at a decent hour. Eat well. These basics go a long way in ensuring everyone has fun during the day.

The noisy boys loved Space Mountain. Llama Papa did not. And the preschooler? His favorite ride was the monorail that took us back and forth from the hotel.

to be continued…

Saturday, January 9, 2010

homemade hot chocolate

We interrupt these Christmas reflections to share a critical recipe: Homemade hot chocolate!

The temperature is hovering between 0 and 10 degrees today in the tundra where I live, and we've been going through a lot of hot cocoa.

A few weeks ago, Llama Papa took our boys -- plus a few extra from the neighborhood -- to the big sled hill for an afternoon of fun. He called me on his way home so I could start the cocoa, and I had a moment of panic when I realized I only had two little packets left.

So I asked my good friend, Google, what to do, and it gave me lots of wonderful recipes using sugar and cream and cocoa powder. After a few weeks of tweaking, here my new go-to recipe for hot cocoa:

2 Cups milk
2 Cups water + 2/3 Cup dry milk powder **
1/2 Cup sugar
1/4 Cup cocoa powder
dash of vanilla and salt

Combine all ingredients in a pot on the stove and heat until warm. Taste it and tweak it to your families' taste -- add more cocoa powder or sugar as needed. But watch out...you may never go back to the little packets again! This makes four generous cups of cocoa, which is about right for my crew. It's easy to adjust and make more or less depending on how many you're serving. You really can't mess this one up, and it's sooooo good!!

**You can use more powdered milk if you're running low on the real stuff...or use all regular milk if you don't have powdered. But I recommend buying a box of powdered milk -- Aldi sells it -- for a very economical cup of cocoa! And while you're at Aldi, don't forget to stock up on miniature marshmallows to top off the cocoa.

I never thought I'd enjoy winter, but I honestly do. The kids love playing outside making snow forts and sledding, and with the right snow gear, we all stay plenty warm. By the end of February, I'll be done with snow, but for now, we're all enjoying it!

Have fun stay warm!!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

the REAL plane

Even after our exciting news, we had a fairly low-key Christmas day. We were over at Grandma and Grandpa Llama’s house, just hanging out. The kids played games and watched movies, while we talked, read, and drank coffee. In the early afternoon, Llama Papa took the preschooler home for a nap while I packed up all the gifts.

After an early Christmas dinner (or late lunch?), we headed home to do our final pack. At this point, the kids started getting excited.

Will we go on an airplane?
Will we stay in a hotel?
Will we go to Disneyland tonight?
How long will we stay?

Uncle Llama drove us to the airport, and as the kids marched in with their backpacks, I was grateful we were flying on Christmas day. The airport wasn’t very crowded, and we didn’t have to wait in any long lines. The noisy boys looked so old, helping us roll the luggage and get checked in.

They must have looked shifty, too, since security asked them all to take their Mickey Mouse sweatshirts off and run them through the scanner. (But they didn't ask Llama Papa to, which I found curious.)

The preschooler was excited to fly on a real airplane.

All in all, they were awesome travelers. Of course, they were all exhausted and happy to kick back and watch movies and play video games. We checked in late at the Disneyland hotel and after exclaiming over the cute little shampoos with mickey mouse ears, and jumping up and down a few times, we all collapsed into our beds, excited to wake up the next day and continue our Christmas adventure. Well, after reconfiguring our sleeping arrangements a few times. All you families of five will be able to relate! :-)

To be continued…

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Christmas magic

I didn’t think I’d really be able to pull it off, but I did.

Talk about a covert mission. I did all the planning during the day while the kids were at school, and on Christmas Eve, Llama Papa took the kids out while I packed.

On Christmas day we drove over to Grandma and Grandpa’s house—where Santa had left our gifts—and proceeded with Christmas as usual. Which is to say, loud chaotic joyful fun with the cousins while we ate cinnamon rolls and opened presents. I could hardly wait until the last one.

After all the packages were opened, Llama Papa left the room and came back with 3 more gift bags. We set up the video camera and waited while they opened their final gift—matching Mickey Mouse sweatshirts.

“We’re going to Disneyland!” I told them.

The boys just stared at me.

“Today! Our plane leaves today and we’ll be there for a week!”

“Oh,” Twin A. said, going back to his magnet building game.

“Boys! We’re going to Disneyland today!” I tried again.

They all smiled and nodded, but there was no shrieking or jumping up and down. Not quite the reaction I was hoping for, but looking back, I’m glad. Going to Disney without expectations is a good thing.

To be continued…