Then We Asked The Neighbors To Come

I have a crazy picnic table in my front yard now.

table

Yes, that’s a turquoise, kelly green, and cocoa brown picnic table.

There’s this long and winding God story of how I got from hearing a message at Allume about hospitality and having six families I’ve never met in my front yard this week.  Twelve kids (only one of whom was older than 6).

But I’m still trying to figure out how to share it because I’m pretty overwhelmed at what God did to my little scaredy-cat, make-a-good-show, heart.  I will write a little about the journey once I’ve sat with it a while and it’s still pretty much unfolding.

I will say I did a lot that made me uncomfortable.  More than just driving the hubby’s truck to pick up an unfinished picnic table at Lowe’s and then spending the weekend sanding and painting a table with permanent paint with three five year olds (yes, they were each allowed to pick a color they wanted to use for the table).

prepping

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More the uncomfortable “what will people think” actions.  Walking up and down my street on Saturday morning with my kids and putting flyers in everyone’s mailbox inviting them to come to “the table” for Monthly Mondays.  The first of which would be the very next Monday with pizza and drinks.  Standing in my front yard with my kids at 5 pm wondering if anyone would come.

But this is what was more uncomfortable to me:  I have lived on my busy street in west Houston for eight years and I don’t know anyone that lives around me.  All of the 15 flyers I passed out on either side and across from my house went to people whose names I didn’t know and whose stories I’d never heard.  That became unacceptable.  And God basically let me know that He was proposing this as the solution.  I felt like I was going to throw up as soon as we delivered those flyers.

So there we stood, in the front yard, with ten boxes of pizza, a big cooler of water bottles and juice boxes, and a bowl of name tags (because I’m terrible with names and I figured if we all put our house number we’d know where the others were located on the street).

Six families came.  Y’all, out of fifteen houses, SIX whole families came.  Twelve kids played in the front tire swing and gobbled cookies one of the neighbors had brought “to the table.”

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I could have cried.  In one hour, six families on a busy street in a big city met and had dinner.  I heard the most amazing second chance love story from the retired couple down the street.  We discovered the husband in the house next to us is from Louisiana like Bray’s family and hunts and fishes just as avidly.  We had five different private schools represented because most of the families in our neighborhood don’t attend the public school where we are zoned.  Two moms offered to help me host December’s Monthly Monday of cookies and cocoa.

And everyone was told this table was theirs too.  That our house could be a place they were always welcome to come visit.  My kids maybe started to learn that our space has been given to us to share with others.

I’ve been trying to survive with work and triplets and a maze of schedules and competing demands.  I need to show the kids, and myself, that life shouldn’t all be rushed and hurried and that we can’t hide out behind our four walls when we get a spare moment to regroup.  Instead, we have to clear out some of the clutter and make time for community.

That’s what we’re missing.  That’s what we all need more of.  Community.

Fashion Fridays: Styling Your Family Christmas Photo

I’m a little OCD about family photographs.

First of all, I love them.  I would have them taken four times a year if Bray would give me the budget.  As it is, we do a professional photo shoot once, maybe twice, a year.  This year, we had to forego my beloved pumpkin patch photo shoot but I was NOT going to miss the Christmas photo shoot.  They only get that dressed up at Christmas and Easter and, by heavens, I want proof of it!

Here are some basic ground rules for our family that may not make my tips as workable for your family.  One, I don’t like everyone wearing the same thing – like those photos with everyone in white shirts and jeans.  They are great, but I just need more individuality in my pictures.  Additionally, Bray does not want the kids to match.  So despite all the fun matchy things you can do with triplets, I have to go with “coordinating” rather than “matching.”

With those basic principles in place, here are my styling tips and lessons learned for the family Christmas photo shoot:

1.  Buy the boys clothes first. 

Boys ALWAYS have the most limited selection.  It is particularly dire if they wear sizes 4 to 6 because, unlike girls, that age is clothing-nowhere-land for boys that want to wear something other than t-shirts with weird graphics.  Dress clothes will completely evade you in that wilderness of sizes between preschool and size 8.

Yet all too often we allow an adult outfit or a GIRL’S outfit (who has a thousand choices) dictate the style/color scheme/formality of the picture.  I made the huge mistake this year of falling in love with a silver dress for little bit and having to move heaven and earth to find appropriate boys outfits (because of point #2).

2.  Pick holiday themed colors.

Now I am a seriously classic Christmas girl.  But I realized this year that all of our Christmas photo shoots were green and red.  They also often involved plaid and a sweater vest.  I wasn’t kidding – CLASSIC!  However…if I’d like to have any differences from year to year, it was time to mix things up a bit.

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With red and green out the window, and having fallen in love with the silver dress, I decided on silvers and blues for the color scheme – still classic enough of a Christmas color scheme for little ole me to sign off on.  Plus, how hard can it be to find silvers and blues for boys?  Like, the easiest boy color on the planet!

That is a myth.  Dress clothes are completely mythical if you want boys size 6.  Here are the places to shop for boys: a) department stores, b) zulily if you have a zillion years to wait (yes, my adorable gray fedora came in the week after the pictures), c) Gymboree, for pants, d) the Tie Shop for accessories, e) eBay.  I shop more and more on eBay because I can never find what I want in mainstream stores.  Etsy and eBay are life savers.  Just check shipping speed and cost – no two day Prime there.  I finally did find the silver/blue combo in reverse order for each boy.

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3.  Give yourself more than the week of the pictures to do everything else. 

In my case, with the boys/men in pants and dress shirts and little bit in a super fancy dress, I felt like I needed a nice dress, preferably in jewel blue and black tones to go with the color palette.  I tried, and returned, everything.  I then found a patterned gray and black skirt I loved that I tried to plan an outfit around (ahem, never plan an outfit around a skirt).  Still on the DAY of the pictures I had multiple options strew about the bed, none of which were terribly flattering.  (Luckily, because of the meltdown mentioned below, we barely got one family shot and you just see my head – whew!) I also ran around the day before finding silver and blue themed Christmas props (gorgeous Nutcrackers, which we NEVER even used!).

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4.  If you have nappers, don’t schedule the photo right after the kids wake up.

Enough said.  Seriously.  I know photographers like late afternoon photos but if your kids nap til nearly 3 and then you have to get them ready and out the door by 4, you will have a terrible photo shoot.  You can only pray the last five minutes turn out, as ours did, since the rest of the shoot will be an epic meltdown.

5.  Relax.

I’ve not mastered this one.  Maybe next year?

 

* Photos courtesy of the lovely and talented Julie Shochat.  She’s a saint.  The photos used are not the ones featured on my Christmas card in case you thought I was spoiling the surprise.

What I’m Cooking

Y’all, do you ever just get SO tired of cooking?

This weekend I thought, how are we needing to eat lunch, we just ate breakfast?  And then, I swear, as soon as lunch was cleaned up, it was time to cook dinner!  I’m walking through the grocery meat aisle thinking, there is nothing else that can be done to a piece of chicken!  (I don’t eat pork or red meat, but I will periodically cook it for my family and just hope it tastes okay…)

So I thought I’d share a few of my recent dishes that weren’t complicated and that tasted yummy enough for two adults and three five year olds to eat (for two days, because y’all, if I’m going to cook, there’d better be some leftovers).

Let me preface my recipes with this: I am a total foodie when I travel and get to eat out, however at home I’m pretty easy.  I don’t use fancy ingredients and the only thing I buy organic is milk, chicken, and eggs.  These were all cooked after work for dinner except for the roast chicken which is more of a Sunday dish.

1.  Hamburger Stew. 

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If I could fill this whole page with soup and stew recipes I would.  But my kids would kill me.  At least with the cooling temperatures I can sneak one in every Monday.  Most of my soups are crockpot based, but this one was easy enough to do on the fly and we ate it for dinner on Monday and Wednesday (I try to serve an intervening dish).

This recipe is based on Ree Drummond’s hamburger soup with alterations that make it fit our needs:

– Swap the ground beef with ground turkey (I’ll feed them beef, but not in soup because if I make soup I WANT TO EAT IT!).  Swap the beef broth out for vegetable broth.

– I used a bigger can of tomatoes, I think it was about double the size of what she recommends.  And I probably added a bit of water – I need this a little soupier.

– I dropped the yellow bell pepper.  Two were plenty.

– I didn’t use the chili powder (my kids don’t love spicy), but I did use some fresh herbs that I already had handy.  I honestly don’t remember what they were but I think it was thyme and sage.

– I added a can of corn and a couple zucchini and dropped one of the potatoes.

It was so yummy and only took about 30 minutes to make after the prep (cut the veggies in advance if you can).

2.  Roast Chicken. 

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I generally have chicken breasts on hand, but sometimes a whole chicken is just what the doctor ordered.  My very favorite cookbook, and I love cookbooks, is one I’ve had a ton of years (The Ultimate Southern Living) that has a simple crisped herb chicken with roasted garlic recipe.  I make it on Sundays for dinner because of the cook time and serve it with veggies – I think I boiled carrots (a little butter and brown sugar for the kids) and roasted some broccoli.  Easy peasy.

The recipe calls for 1/3 cup each of onion, diced carrot, and celery, but I probably use more b/c I stuff that chicken to the brim.
1 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
3 tbsp. dry white wine
3+ lb broiler-fryer
1/4 cup butter, melted (um, I’m probably a little closer to 1/2 cup)
2 tsp chopped basil, oregano, thyme
1/2 tsp salt and pepper (but does anyone measure salt & pepper, not me, I just throw it on)

Combine the celery, carrots, onion, parsley and wine and toss (wine is optional, I don’t always include it).  Clean and rise the chicken, pat dry.  Stuff the body with the vegetable mixture. Can tie the legs together if you wish, and tuck the wingtips under the chicken.  Place the chicken, breast side up, on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Combine butter and the herbs/spices. Brush the chicken with the butter mixture (generously).  Cut a couple of heads of garlic in half and drizzle with olive oil placing them around the chicken.  Roast at 375 for 1 hour or until a meat thermometer registers 180 degrees (for me it always takes longer than an hour, allow for that).  If you like bread, serve with good bread to spread that yummy garlic on.  The house will smell SO GOOD!

3.  Easy Cornbread.

So I am a complete proponent of starting from box mix and adding a dash and smidge to make it special.  I do that with Jiffy cornbread.

For my family, I start with two boxes, but if we’re with Bray’s parents I add another box.  Follow directions on box and add in one can of cream corn, shredded cheese to your taste (for me it’s a cup-ish), and diced jalapenos (again to taste, we don’t use a ton because of the kids).  Bake in a prepared cast iron skillet and serve right from it.  When cooking at 350, it takes at least 45 minutes because it’s goopier than most cornbread but everyone inhales it.

4.  Twice Baked Potatoes.

potatoes

I roughly use the basics from the recipe on Taste of Home with a few tweaks.

First, my potatoes never bake in an hour and I am anti-microwave baked potatoes, so allow an hour and 15 minutes.  Also, when you cook the broccoli, only cook it for about five or six minutes.  It should still be bright and firm.  Immediately drain the hot water and fill pot with ice water to keep broccoli bright.  Make sure you cut the florets small so they mix well with the potatoes.  I also use a bit more sour cream and cheese because these are potatoes, and you should use the snot out of sour cream and cheese when it comes to potatoes.  I also blend in garlic salt and pepper to the filling.  The tops of the potatoes that I have cut off, I dice and use the next morning for a breakfast skillet.

Y’all these are more than enough as an entrée and my kids adore them even though they’re not huge potato eaters.

What are you cooking?  Help – I need some fresh ideas. 

Soup photo courtesy of The Pioneer Woman and Potato photo courtesy of Taste of Home.

When You Run Away Only To Miss Him

He loves to talk on the telephone.  Sort of endlessly he’ll talk.  So you slip out of the conference to say hello to him, all of them, before bedtime.

You know it’s hard.  Those rushed calls with background noises on either end of the line that prevents you from catching anything but snatches of sentences and garbled words.  You “uh-huh” and “Ohhhh” as best you can until the call passes the ten minute mark.  Then you start to get a little impatient and stop replying with the same enthusiasm of a momma missing her babes and move into the tones of a rushed businessperson.

So by the time the kids are off and your husband finally has the line, you barely remember to ask him about that important meeting he had that morning and how he managed to hike to the farm with three preschoolers in varying stages of having colds.

You wrap up the conversation to hurry back inside only to sit in a room full of mostly strangers and your heart cracks a little that you didn’t spend longer on the telephone with the four people in the world who matter more to you than anyone else.  Nearly instantaneously you miss those jumbled, beautiful, competing voices.  Miss them hard.

It’s like rushed is your default now.  Life is caught in snatches with background noises threatening to drown it out.  Everywhere you go you catch yourself running in one direction only to miss the direction you came from.

Rushed has to stop being default.

And you have to stop running to anything taking you away from your true love.

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This weekend I went to a unique conference that is very precious to me because some of my dearest friends in all of the world are there.  I’ll write about some insight I picked up along the way.  But more than anything, what I received at this conference was a further confirmation that I’m needing to take some time for quiet.  My call to step away, from all the things that so easily entangle me, for a season.  A break from the leading and the speaking and any external commitments that don’t involve my four people or my job.  Because in all the busyness of this year, I didn’t just lose an urgency to serve my family with a passion, but I also lost the urgency of seeking God so regularly as to be certain of what He would have me do in any given day.

So I called them back.  And the next night I sat in the quiet of my room away from all the frenzy and talked as long as they wanted.  And I’m calling God back for a longer conversation too.

That’s all you have to do.  You call back.  You make time.  You stop rushing.

 

** As a part of my endeavor to rush less, say  no, and set fresh boundaries, I’ve decided to spend the remaining leadership Tuesdays this year doing a study of The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands.  You’ll have a chance this week to win a copy if you’d like to join and gain some insight on finding room for your best yes.

When I Write About Failing Miserably

I had no intention of broadcasting this very personal failure.

I didn’t even need to.  I had a poetic Alaskan post in the queue for today.  I went to format it last night and sat staring at the screen with this failure on my soul.  And I wondered what I had learned from it.  Then I wondered if what I was learning, still in the steep sadness, might help anyone else.  Because these private failures often offer some serious teachable moments as I sit with God in the quiet wondering why I have to be so stubborn.

You see, we rescued a dog two months ago.  Bandit.

The kids had been begging for a dog since their fourth birthday a year ago and both my husband and I grew up with dogs of assorted mutt and rescue lineage.

As August approached this year, the kids started in again in earnest, and I thought this fifth birthday would be a good time to explore the option. I researched breeds.  We met a bunch of rescue dogs over a few weeks.  I got feedback from friends in real life and on Facebook.

There were some warning signs that maybe this wasn’t the best time.  One, my hubby is not a fan.  Staunchly in the “I’d be fine if we never had a pet” camp.  Two, I am fried.  I have a million things going and am already worn pretty thin as I’ve written about some this fall.  Three, I have triplets that are only turning five.  Not fifteen.  We weren’t experimenting with a goldfish but a whole dog.

However, I plowed ahead, and we kept returning to this one precious rescue mutt so we adopted her.

And then everything after that was just really hard.  I almost took her back within our two week trial period.  She ate everything – like our furniture and swim trunks and my high heels (and yes she had bones and balls and yes she slept in a crate and on and on – all the stuff we were told to do).  She was super high energy and we didn’t have much of a backyard.  But I dug in.  Partly because I’m stubborn.  Partly because I didn’t want to emotionally scar my kids.  Partly because I was embarrassed about failing and being judged.  {Here’s where I ask you kindly to please keep your judgment to yourself.  Feel free to judge, but just don’t share it because I’m smarting from how I mucked this up right now.}

Twice more I almost took her back but didn’t.  Two of the three kids were even okay with it because this precious mutt who was wonderful with my kids was still wreaking a fair amount of havoc in our home.  I tried to find her another family.  I checked with folks in all sorts of avenues.  I consulted with my hero friends who regularly, and successfully, rescue dogs.

Yesterday, after agonizing and going back and forth, I finally took her back.  We could not provide her with the attention and space and energy that she really needed.  And the rescue I had worked with, who I finally, tearfully, called Sunday afternoon, said they always take their own dogs back and try to find them a new family.  So as the boys worked at the ranch and little bit napped with my mom, I returned our family rescue mutt and cried the whole way home.  I cried that we couldn’t make it work.  I cried that she might not find a wonderful family.  I cried that I’d let my kids down.  I cried that I’d failed.

Here’s what I’m learning as I sit here trying to figure out how to do better:

1.  Make sure your spouse is on board with big decisions.

If something goes south, then at least you are in it together.  Do not press hard into something if your partner is in full resistance.

2.  Listen to people who are wiser than your preschoolers.

I’m not saying there’s not some sage wisdom to be had in preschoolers, but we can let their untested idealism trick us into believing that’s what reality might look like.  It’s not.  I followed my kids visions of happy playful pups piled in wrapping paper during our holidays, and I did want them to have it, but didn’t weigh all the other competing elements in our life or ability to juggle new responsibilities.

3.   Don’t parent out of guilt – from my very grace-filled and wise friend Christine

Instead of chiding me for making wrong decisions, she called out the right one – making the very hard, but right, decision for our family that we couldn’t accommodate this sweet doggie.  If I’d allowed guilt to keep guiding my choices, I’d have been two months further down the road having the same struggles but with all the more heartbreaking attachment.

4.  Just because you let something go, doesn’t mean you don’t grieve the loss.