Mind the Gap: The only New Year’s resolution you need.

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Today I’m sitting in my “office” in Oklahoma, sitting indian style on a dining room chair and munching away on veggie sticks.

I’m also contemplating some hot tea and about to give Kel his marching orders for a much needed WalMart run.

Yesterday we spent 18 hours in the car driving from Hudsonville, MI back home to Ada, OK.  I wanted to kick and scream like a toddler for the entirety of the trip.

Because I was exhausted and the end was always forever away.

Because I hate long road trips

Because the kids were constantly whining and kicking my seat

And… Because I flat out didn’t want to return to Oklahoma.  Michigan is home and I really do hope that God gives us what we need to do something about that in the new year. Continue reading

Breastfeeding, Hot Wheels and Kitty Cats

Me and my "kitty"

Me and my “kitty”

For the last week of the year I am going to be doing some reposts from the year, some of your favorites and some that I think may have gotten lost in the mix.  This post was featured on Epicparent.tv and I’m featuring it here today. 

I have no idea if you breastfed your kids or not, if you’re a man I’m about 102% certain you didn’t. Although I do hope you played a key support role as your wife did.  I breastfed both of my kids for a year and I’m supremely glad that I did, I’m not bragging or passing judgement mind you, this is just backstory.

When my babies were new it seemed like nursing them successfully revolved around the concept of latching, around them having a proper hold on me (if you know what I mean.)  If your newborn isn’t latching well it causes all manner of issues such as crying, malnourishment and extreme pain for the mama.

As I was sitting in the playroom the other day I realized that when it comes to latching, I’m not worried about nipple confusion anymore, rather it seems as though my kids are the ones hoping I latch on properly to them.

Let me explain, my son recently got his first batch of matchbox cars, our world was forever changed.  He’s thrilled and we now tread carefully around every corner for fear of our tender feet.

My daughter on the other hand is all about pretending to be a kitty, all the time, and I mean ALL THE TIME.  She wakes up and goes to bed meowing at me and I use the phrase: “Say words, not meows” at least 37 times a day.

So back to that day in the playroom when I was thinking about latching, I realized that afternoon that my kids need me to latch onto what they’re into.  Not with my mouth, because ewww I’m sure matchbox cars taste nasty, but with my time and enthusiasm.

My son needs me to zoom cars down the ramp and my daughter needs me to get on all fours and play kitties with her.  This is how I can show them I care, this is how I can give them the nourishment they need NOW, by being willing to latch onto what they’re into.

For me personally, breastfeeding has and continues to teach me things I never would have learned otherwise, such as patience, rhythm and reliance.  I had no idea these lessons would keep on giving almost two years later but I can’t help smile and give thanks for a God that wastes no opportunity to connect life with valuable lessons.

What are your kids into?  How do you “latch on?”

If you have a favorite post from 2012 that you’d think should make the “best of 2012” list I would love to hear about it.  

Merry Christmas from the Pennys

I’ve spent the past 24 hours surrounded by rooms full of family.

I’ve been nibbling on spiced ham, holding babies and catching up on the  past year with all of my cousins.  And when you have 26 first cousins (many with delightful spouses) that’s a lot of reunion hugs and catch-up chats.

I love every second of these huge family parties because it connects all the dots of my life.

It reminds me that the mother, wife and writer that I am is the same little girl with the awful bowl cut who spent every Christmas in these houses, with these cousins, eating these cookies.

I thank God for these moments when life feels like a continuous journey rather than a fractured jumble of hard messy work.

I’m a little girl from Michigan who grew up, went to college, and then fell in love with an Oklahoma boy, was given the gift of two gorgeous children and somewhere in the middle of it all had her heartbroken and started writing to sort through it all.

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You’re a part of my life and I’m so glad to share this space with you, so glad that you click on over here throughout the year to share life with me.

When I count my gifts, you’re one of them.  Thanks for being on the journey with me.

Merry Christmas to you, whoever you are, wherever you are.

Home for Christmas and the Miracle of the Bat Jerky

The miracle of the Bat Jerky

The miracle of the Bat Jerky

Well guys, we made it home for Christmas!  The journey from Ada, OK to Hudsonville, MI took us an unprecedented 22 hours but somehow we arrived in one piece.

God’s hand was on our van and he protected us from winter storm Draco.  I really know it was going to be alright when he sent us “The miracle of bat-jerky” God had our backs like a caped crusader.

The only remnants of the winter storm we encountered was the wind, which was sometimes gusting across our van at speeds of 22 MPH.  As we drove through Illinois we saw at least 3 semi trucks that had tipped over on the side of the road due to the ice and wind.

onion rings on a car antenna, why not!?

onion rings on a car antenna, why not!?

The best part of the trip was what we’re now calling “the miracle of Portage” where we met up with two other carloads of family, mid-journey and had a reunion lunch at Quaker Steak and Lube (a car themed restaurant which the kids loved and actually served good quality food- color me pleasantly surprised… although Lube fries?  Salad Lubes?  Really?)

Get out your mental maps, this part gets confusing:

We were traveling from Ada, OK to Hudsonville, MI

My Uncle Jim and Aunt Mar were traveling from Hudsonville, MI to Chicago, IL

My brother was flying from San Antonio, TX into Chicago O’Hare where his wife Lisa picked him up.

Somehow we all passed through Portage Indiana within 3o minutes of each other and got to enjoy a two hour lunch.  It’s always so good to see my brother, even if it’s always in his military garb.

Also, good news! He’ll be stationed at a hospital in Kansas after he finishes in San Antonio, so he will likely never get deployed to the Middle East.  And all the people said PRAISE GOD! Continue reading

When God sends you a plunger

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Broken, every piece, sob…

Mornings with preschoolers always feel like they’re teetering on the brink of chaos and some mornings they fall right into insanity. Today was one of THOSE mornings, fraught with chaos.

It started out fairly normally, warming sippy cups of milk and turning on PBS for the kids while I found my bearings, made my coffee.

Then, while I was in the other room trying to finagle a last minute Christmas gift for Noelle my son pulled all of my parent’s heirloom stone bakeware onto his feet.

The result was a shattered mess of lovely pottery and several cut and bleeding toes.

I was a weepy, awful mess over the whole thing, because I cherished those pieces of cookware and I cherish my sons baby toes.

I couldn’t help but grieve those shattered pieces of stoneware that I’d lovingly gathered from my parent’s house after my Mom’s funeral.  Why couldn’t it have been something cheap, something from Kohls or even a wedding shower gift.

Out of everything in the cookware cabinet, why did he have to break those?

Why couldn’t he have been content with the safe, plastic mixing bowls I’d set out for him to play with instead of going back in for “a different ones!” Continue reading

Our Noelle (on her fourth Noel)

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We have a daughter named Noelle, she’s three and this is her fourth Christmas.  She was born in May, this confuses people.

(He’s got a daughter he calls Easter She was born on a Tuesday night… every day is a winding road… Sheryl Crow anyone?)

I am always intrigued by how people land on their children’s names.  Are they familial,  biblical, ethnically important, from your favorite novel or does the name just embody something special for you?

As for Kel and I we selected our children’s names by the following criteria:

1) Do we like it, is it lovely on our lips?
2) How easily can it be twisted into an elementary school taunt? (We knew Caedmon would get Caveman before we named him that, but still… Caedmon it was)
3) What does the name mean for us?  What does it speak over our child’s life?

And so I can clearly remember the moment that we found the name Noelle for our firstborn. We were driving in our gold Saturn south to Dallas to visit my friend Amy when I came across it in the name book, which was laying open across my lap.

I said Noelle and Kel told me that he didn’t want to name his daughter “Christmas”

I insisted that the word Noel meant more than just Christmas, it meant a turning point in history, the birth of a savior, the beginning of something revolutionary and new.

I was wrong by the way, Noel just means:

no·el noun nō-ˈel

1: a Christmas carol
2: capitalized : christmas

Yet, those stirrings in my heart, all thing things that I thought Noel meant, those are the very reasons that we named her Noelle.

This baby would be the start of something brand new.  We were starting a new family, a new generation through which we could change the brokenness of our own families of origin.

We wanted to do things differently and we were determine to build something strong and lasting, full of love and joy.

We were young, we thought that we were immune to all of the issues that had plagued our parents.  We still blamed them outright for a whole list of things that we didn’t understand and had no right to judge.

And now here I am three years into this mother-daughter journey.

I’n three years, I’ve already walked in my own Mother’s footsteps more often than I thought I would in a lifetime.

I’ve been terrified to find myself at the exact same forks in the road where my mother found herself with me.  We’re different women, with different paths, but as I stood there making my choices, I understood how she landed on hers.

And although there is much journey left ahead of us, God willing I’m discovering that Noelle is one of my life’s true gifts.  With every passing day I understand that God gave her to us exactly as she is to bring healing to some very broken places.

Through being a mother, I’ve forgiven my own.

Through helping Noelle through my same struggles I’ve forgiven my childhood self.

Through enjoying her creative energy I’ve recaptured some of my own.

Through instructing her I’ve learned the patience I so desperately needed. 

My Noelle, my Christmas in May, you truly are a gift to me.  Our God in his infinite wisdom, knew I needed you to become the woman, the mother and the daughter He’s calling me to be.

Merry Christmas Baby, just as you are.

I would love to hear how you’ve become more the person God’s calling you to be through the gift of your children.  Would you share with me?

This Advent: Somewhere between “what the Hell” and “But God”

http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1264297

http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1264297

I woke up today in a world that feels darkly different, so much crueler than the one I woke up to yesterday.

Yesterday when I spent the morning making a felt fire pit for my two little ones so their pretend camping play would seem more authentic.  I logged off the internet and I chased them around the house, stopping occasionally to sew up another log for the fire.

We danced around to Sesame Street, because the word on the street was “Bailé

Then as I rolled up turkey lunchmeat and peeled little clementines for their plastic plates I skimmed the Facebook statuses of my friends and read of their sobbing, wrenching grief.

Confused, I flipped on CNN and hit my knees.  Dear God what fresh Hell is this?  Dear God what the Hell… What true and actual Hell is this?

And I ran to grab my little ones right of of their play tent and held them so tight they squirmed.  I kissed them until they were a bit damp and my lips a bit chapped.

Later that evening,I thought of christmas gifts purchased for little hands that will never open them.

As I did the laundry I thought of those mothers, those homes with last night’s pajamas in the hamper, never to be worn again.

Of those mothers in Connecticut with idle hands that cannot fix the rending of their hearts or the hearts of their sisters and PTA Friends.

I’ve spent large chunks of time over the last 24 hours tugging on my hair and burying my tear stained face in my hands.

How do I go on living in a world where children just like mine go to the safety of their classroom and never come out?  Seriously, how?

The only piece of sanity I’ve been able to find have come, quite surprisingly through the lines of the Christmas carols drifting through our living room.

“Oh come, Oh come Emmanuel and Ransom captive Israel that mourns in lowly exile here until the Son of God Appears”

“Long lay the world in sin and error pining til he appears and the soul felt its’ worth.”

“Come thou Long Expected Jesus, born to set they people free.  From our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee.”

I feel that longing acutely, the sting of the evil that exists is like a barb in my heart today. I can’t ignore it and it’s making it difficult to breathe.

We live in a sick and broken world, where there exist many places the love of Christ has not restored.

We get confused and wonder how horrors this unspeakable could have slipped through the cracks and when it comes to our children we reel, because it’s hit a sacred nerve in our hearts.

We know God didn’t cause this but we want to scream at him anyway.  Will our human hearts ever fully get over this need to know why?

But why isn’t the question, and God isn’t the one responsible.  Our world is broken and still lies in darkness, we have seen the light but it does not touch all corners of earth, there are minds and hearts still sick with darkness so black that it knocks us on our asses.

But God, he is close to the brokenhearted.
But God, he will wipe every tear from their eye.
But God sent his Son, and we are his messengers of that love meant for the darkest of days.
But God will restore it all
But God will set it all right
But God will carry those Mothers with a gentle graceful graylight that will sustain.
But God wins in the end, he loves all, heals all, redeems all.

Today we are at War, and today we can’t ignore that, but God is on the move, may we not forget that sustaining truth as we Advent harder than ever before.

At War With Fair and Normal

http://www.sxc.hu/

http://www.sxc.hu/

I’ve been at war with the word Normal lately, although truly I’m too old for this.  How can I have made it thirty years on this earth without truly realizing that Normal is as real as unicorns or delicious microwave dinners.

There is no “normal marriage.”  No matter how much advice I get from the lovely, more experienced wives who mentor me, I always take some of it to heart and leave some behind.

No two souls are identical so it stands to reason that no two marriages are the same either.

It’s fruitless and joy stealing to compare your marriage to that of your friends.

And then there’s children, and parenting… there is no normal here either, is there?

Are there general guidelines for what children need?  Absolutely, resoundingly, yes! Across the board children need love, play, instruction, discipline and nourishment but the delivery of those needs is going to look different inside each door in your neighborhood.

Yet lately I’ve been grieving our abnormal-ness with a depth of pain that’s been close to all consuming. Continue reading

Grasses and Groaning

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Rare is the time when I’m alone in our home yet I find myself always craving it, the silence of sitting in my kitchen office with nothing but the humming of the refrigerator as my background noise.

These days we are keeping the shades in the dining room half open all day because the oppressive Oklahoma sun has taken it’s winter break.

There’s a pond behind our house, just beyond our picket fence.  It’s nothing to write home about, I can assure you, but when we first moved in I cried with joy at the very thought that I had a view of water from my kitchen window.

Sad how blessings depreciate with time, isn’t it?  I hardly even notice it anymore.

The pond is less visible these days because tall water grasses have popped up around , nearly obscuring our view of the water which used to so beautifully reflect the evergreens behind it.

These grasses are rusty gold and dead for the year, yet no matter how strongly the Oklahoma winter wind blows, they stay rooted in the watery muck, their roots so deep.

For days now the sight of these dead, wind bent reeds have been speaking something to me that I can’t put my finger on.

Something profound but completely elusive to my consciousness.

Then today, in the stillness of the house over my last sip of coffee I think I figured it out.

These grasses speak to the groaning within. Continue reading

Grandma Verkaik’s Sugar Cookies (a Christmas Cookie Exchange Link-up)

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Today I am going to teach you how to make the Christmas cookies that our family has been making for about 50 years.  And I’m thrilled to share it, and even more thrilled to read all of your heirloom recipes and the stories that go with them.

My Aunts and Uncles have memories of these cookies that extend back into their childhood.  They remember eating them as children and then returning thousands of miles from college to help roll them out and decorate them together.

As for me, I can’t remember a time when these cookies weren’t a huge part of my Christmas.  My dad always made them at home along with 6 other traditional cookie recipes.  He had an affinity for christmas tree shaped cookies, frosted green with green sugar sprinkles. He didn’t like to get crazy with the decorating and I must confess I’m still partial to a good ol’ green tree.

Not only that, but every year growing up my Grandparents would rent a cottage for our family so that we could spend a weekend together over the holidays.  My Dad was 1 of 5 and I have 13 first cousins, so this was no small gathering.

We would play Euchre on card tables, spend hours in the snow and stay up late telling stories and plotting practical jokes.

At some point over the weekend we would roll out these Christmas cookies by the dozens and then spend the next 24 hour devouring them with hot chocolate from a huge thermos.

I love that because of my Grandparent’s intentional living, my cousins and I have these recipes and memories in common. Continue reading