How to learn gratitude from Epicurus while on your way to the porta-potty

Hi, I miss us. I will get into a better blogging routine. I swear. I promise. I think.

I owe you a house tour, a wrap up to the Love Showed Up Series and the ending posts for Kel and I’s story.

And thoughts, feelings, convictions on so many topics, probably spirit led and everything yet lost under a pile of laundry, pregnancy exhaustion and summer routine-less-ness.

The bad voices are trying to tell me I’m a crap blogger and my writing career may as well be done, but I’m choosing to call insane season, baby growing and keep trying.

For now hi.

Can I tell you about this cliché I am trying to hang on to? (This strikes at least me as odd because my most viral post is called 12 Grief Clichés and the Reasons they suck)

It all starts with an epiphany I had on the way to a porta-potty. If that doesn’t get catch your attention then I have no idea what will. Who has epiphanies while walking to a porta potty?… Except maybe “Wow this is going to be gross” or “Crap I forgot hand sanitizer.”

 

It was the Fourth of July and dusk had already settled all across the expanse of dark green grass in front of the high school. The lawn was crowded with blankets, lawn chairs and wagons filled with people, eager for the first official firework to be launched.

In the background a band planted on a trailer stage finished the last notes of “sweet caroline” just before starting into the slow, deliberate opening on the national anthem. The signal that the fireworks were about to start.

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Somewhere in that crowd behind me sat my family and friends, a smattering of faces in a sea of patriotism and glow sticks.

If the evening sounds Idyllic, it’s because it was, and it’s our norm for the Fourth of July.

Each year, bellies full of burgers and ice cream we head to the smaller stage of the Grandville fireworks and settle on blankets and into hoodies to enjoy the show.

And as I walked to the porta-potty two things came into sharp conflict inside me.

The warm glow of gratitude I felt for the privilege of that moment and the cloud of discontent I’d been living under. 

A Pinteresty, wooden sign cliché instantly came to mind. Turns out it’s less clicheé because it’s written by Epicurius. Greek Philosophers add a lot of clout.

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“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; But remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” ~Epiucurus, 300 B.C.

Flash back to months of house shopping, patiently waiting for “the right one”, one we could work on a make our own. Which we now have.

Flash back to hot days in Oklahoma, wishing we could live in Michigan, aching for the joy of a Northern summer.  And here we are, year two.

Flash back to evenings worrying about pregnancies, hoping for the gift of a healthy baby. Of which I have three, two wiggling like crazy on a blanket in the crowd and the other doing the same in my midsection.

Flash back to prayers of a career that would support our family. Our fridge is full, our bills are paid, we are well sustained.

Flash back to nights spent thinking that a man who would love me well would never come along. And I spend far too many evenings counting his flaws these days.

All those “hoped fors” brought into vivid reality and still I feel mainly discontent.

I wanted to drop to my knees right then and there and cling like a suction cup garfield to what was unfolding in my mind.

Why, why why is gratitude so elusive and how do I hold onto it with both hands? I’m coming to find out that my life depends on it. 

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I made my way into the porta-potty, did what I needed to do, which as a pregnant woman I seem to do every 13 minutes these days. Then emerged to discover that technology has brought us foot pump sinks for post porta potty hand washing.

Clearly a sign from the heavens that gratitude is in order.

I made my way back into the sea of people, struggling for several minutes to find our blanket among the hundreds of others.

When I found it, I hunkered down and kissed everyone appropriate for kissing, right on the cheek.

And you know what? Here’s the part where things get real.

The next morning I woke up and nothing changed. Not right away.

This epiphany would only be a game changer if I did something about it, took action to change my brain space.

Because gratitude is a habit and a practice and you have to do it intentionally at first, over the din of discontent.

Play it loudly overtop the sighs of “I hate our kitchen” or “there must be more money in the budget somewhere” or “why can’t I have her (seemingly) better-behaved kids?”

In the end I don’t want this blog post to lead you to believe that my porta-potty run in with Epicurus led me to an instantly more grateful heart.

It didn’t. But it can be another jumping off point. Another reminder that gratitude truly is the richest and best rhythm in which to live.

And so I am scribbling thanks
And I am contemplating a large piece of Epicurius art in our fireplace room.

I am looking at un-mowed grass and choosing to be thankful that it’s in Michigan and surrounding a house that is an answer to prayer.

I am thanking God for all we have and trying to stop saying things like “you know what we need?”

I am Setting reminders on my phone 4 times a day that remind me not to criticize the husband I used to hope for, but instead to build him up.

I am getting Brené Brown’s books on tape to get them into my head even if I can’t always slow down without falling asleep. We are all worthy of love and belonging. 

True gratitude will take practice, because deep down change doesn’t happen from one epiphany but from thousands of intentional changes.

Epicurus, please continue to haunt me, Spirit, please direct my thoughts, friends, please remind me of this truth when I complain about the messier gifts in my life.

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Homemade Chicken Stock: The Easy Way

A few nights back I made chicken stock at our new house for the first time. This was a much needed step because we were out in the freezer and I’ve become stubborn when it comes to buying it at the store.

I had multiple friends and readers ask for my recipe. In all honesty, this shocked and flattered me. There are bazillion tutorials on this, but I thought hey, why not take the time to add my process to the mix?

If you don’t like it find another one. Seriously, this is JUST how I DO IT. It’s a compilation of other methods over time. 

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First off, here is why I make my own.

1) The “good stuff” is expensive ranging from .75 – $1 a cup.
2) The not good stuff will say things like “chicken flavored” broth and include food dyes, which no one needs.
3) It makes our house smell amazing and I end up feeling like a mighty, resourceful pioneer warrior.
4) The flavor is amazing.
5) Ridiculous money-saver.

Also here is the difference between broth and chicken stock. Basically chicken stock is a lot more flavorful and better for you as it contains the gelatin from the bones. The longer it simmers, the better it tastes and the more it will do for your health.

Ideally you start with a chicken you roasted yourself, which is free range and all that jazz. These birds are unarguably better for you and generally $10 or more. If this is in your grocery budget, I’d do it.

It’s not in ours so generally I get a fryer from the store (a roaster will also do. Here is the difference between them) or I cheat completely and buy a rotisserie chicken from the deli. This was the instance with this particular stock, they are $5.99 at our local Meijer and for an already-cooked, versatile and relatively healthy main you can’t go wrong.

If you’re roasting yourself, this is my favorite recipe. Yes it’s Ina Garten but it’s not fancy, just use regular onions and don’t make the sauce if you don’t have the time. But totally make it if you do… you will not regret it. People WILL propose. It could get awkward. 

Okay, so however it happened you have a roast chicken. Now it eat for dinner or make chicken salad out of it. Either way you’ll have this chicken carcass leftover.

And odds are if you dig into it and give it a once over you’ll find a couple more cups of meat that you missed. And you’ll pop an obscene amount more chicken in your mouth as you pick. (I happen to be VERY good at picking a chicken due to my deli days making chicken salad. You can’t teach this, it comes with time and a willingness to get greasy)

Whatever you find, save it, put it on a salad, use it for soup because FREE CHICKEN! You’re a genius!

So now you have a picked clean carcass. I realize I’m already almost 400 words in but this part really isn’t that hard. You just need to get to carcass stage.

Now get your largest pot. I like this one and got it on a mother’s day sale for about $60 I think.

You will need the following
Chicken Carcass
Celery
Carrots
Onion
Bay Leave
Peppercorns
Salt

celery and carrots

Big chunks and no need to peel.

1) Throw in your bones and carcass.
2) Grab 2 big carrots, 2 celery stalks, a large onion (quartered) 2 Bay leaves and a handful of peppercorns and a tsp of salt. (Honestly? I eyeball ALL of this)
3) Cut your carrots and celery into big chunks, throw em in the pot along with your peppercorns, bay leaves and salt. Add some smooshed garlic cloves if you’re feeling it.
6) Put the pot in your sink and fill to the top with water.
7) Place it on the stove and bring it to a boil. Once it’s boiling, turn it down to a simmer.
8) If you see a film on top, skim it off with a wooden sppon. This is fatty grossness and you don’t need it per say. Feel free to do this several more times.
9) When the water gets low, add more.

Let it simmer until you go to bed. Then turn it off and put the whole thing in the fridge (use a pot holder. Don’t melt your fridge) because it probably has only been going for four hours or so and needs more time to become awesome.

The next morning throw it back on the stove if you have time (you can also do this the next evening) and let it go for about 4 more hours or so. If it looks gelatinous when cold this is a good thing, it means you have thick, hearty broth. You done good kid.

When you’re satisfied with flavor optimization get a huge bowl or another large pot and strain it.

Use your finest strainer, or if you’re like me, use your biggest one first and then strain it more finely as you move it into storage (I do this because I am the proud owner of a tiny, crappy, dollar store mesh strainer.)

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I strain it once to get out the big stuff and then again through a fine mesh strainer.

Now move it into storage. I use off-brand ziploc baggies and store most of it in 2 cup servings which I can use for either soup or recipes. Sometimes I do a 4 cup serving for a soup recipe, in which case I put it in a tupperware bowl with a post-it to label.

Then I make a round or two of ice cube tray chicken broth and throw them all in a big ziploc bag when they’re frozen. This way I can use just a little for those recipes that call for 1/4 cup or some such nonsense.

(With my ice cube trays 3 cubes = 1/4 cup)

Ludicrous Handiness

Ludicrous Handiness

The best part is realizing that you just took leftover bones and turned it into a TON of broth you can use for cooking. It’s not only more more nutrient dense, but it’s ridiculously cheaper.

For instance my recipe yielded 16 cups of broth. 
Chicken Carcass- Free, leftover after already eating the chicken (which yields more than one meal)
Carrots and Celery – $.30
Bay Leaves- $.30
Onion- $.50 (at the most!)
Peppercorns- $.10
Salt- Not even going to factor this in people.

So you spent maybe $1.25, IF THAT and you got 16 cups of much chicken breast that would have cost you about $15 or more in the store.

Store them flat to free and THEN you can put them wherever.

Store them flat to free and THEN you can put them wherever.

Okay, this is JUST how I make stock.

Also, I swear upon the very old table I am working on, that once you get through this once it will become easy and second nature.

It’s just this thing that is happening at your house making your house smell like maybe you are in fact the Pioneer woman herself.

Did I leave anything out? Do you have any questions? Please let me know and I will field them as best I can. I will try to take better pictures and change them up next time I make this.

Lessons from a Creepy Bagel Gawker (On Encouraging Moms)

A few weeks back Caedmon and I were out for Bagels as a break in the middle of errands.

I let him pick out his bagel and his cream cheese flavors from the case we affectionately refer to as cream cheese heaven. (Think a glass case full of huge bowls of every flavor cream cheese and you’ll see why.)

We waited at our table for our toasted and schmeared carbs to be delivered and as we did he started to whine for juice. This happens a lot, but I generally hold my ground because I want my kids to drink water. Also I hate shelling out $2.50 for a bottle of juice.

Yet, he wouldn’t drop it, he’s three, there are very few hills he won’t die on when it comes to getting his way: Underwear, hand washing, juice, who turns off the TV… these are all battle-worthy topics to him.

It went something like this:

“I want juice!”
“I’m sorry buddy, we are having water today. But I think your bagel will be here soon.”
“I don’t want it, I want a donut from Tim Hort’s… and juice!”
“Those aren’t choices right now, but a blueberry strawberry bagel is. Here it comes!”
“No, I hate bagels!” (goes to smack bagel basket…I block his shot because I know his game)

All the while I notice a middle age man across the aisle staring at us, obsessively and without apology. I try not to catch his eye after the first round because he is really making me uncomfortable with his constant gaze.

Eventually, somehow Caedmon calms down and digs into his bagel, even sipping and backwashing into his water after a few minutes.

All the while our friend across the aisle stares us down like my son stares at a Tim Horton’s donut case.

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From this past Sunday when we accidentally missed church and ended up giving our kids donuts instead of Jesus. #wetried

My creeped out levels were high when he got up to clear his table to leave (Phew!)

As he did he walked crossed the aisle to our table: “Hey. I just wanted to let you know that you’re doing a great job with him. You’re a good mom.”

My jaw dropped open. (don’t worry there was no bagel in it, I devoured that in 1:17 flat)

The whole creepy staring was an appreciation of my parenting skills? Who Knew? And what a weird way to go about it!

I thanked him profusely, felt immensely flattered and proceeded with the rest of my errands like the all star mom that I apparently am. With an extra dose of patience and understanding because of the compliment I’d been paid.

What’s up with the power of these words: “You’re a good mom.”

I hate that it takes a compliment from a real live person to make me feel more secure in my parenting, certainly I would like to be in a place where my call and my identity in God speak to that the most.

Yet, I cannot deny that every time someone has made a point to lift me up as a mom, it stands out.

I remember it, I feel it for the rest of the day and even longer.

Then last night, I saw Facebook post that brought all these compliments back to the forefront of my mind.

A friend from Oklahoma, who parents six beautiful children like a rock star, received a note on her windshield from a stranger at Target.

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Someone took the time out of their daily jam to notice her with her children, find a paper and pen, write a note and stick it under her windshield!

Whoever you are Target stranger, you are an answer to prayer.

Because how many days do we pray for strength, and how many times could we be the answers to each other’s prayers by taking the time to say: “Well done good and faithful (and obviously exhausted) mama?”

Not enough.

So yesterday I posted a Facebook challenge:

“Mom challenge: Let’s all tell three mothers that they are doing a great job this week. Bonus if it’s a stranger, double bonus if they’re having a hard day.”

What if we all complimented three mamas this week? Went our of our way to tell them that they’re great mothers?

What if we took the time to say “Hey, well done mom. It’s hard, but you are loving those little ones into beautiful people.”

What if we left notes on the windshields of dirty mini vans and cars?

What if we bought their much needed coffee at whatever drive thru is on their way to the grocery store or soccer field?

What if, when we saw a Mom struggling we intervened by holding doors and sharing looks of “I’ve been there?”

I know my world would be a more beautiful place if I answered a few more prayers with my actions.

So, are you in? If you are please let me know in the comments, or leave a comment about your encouragement in action. 

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Meeting Nickel Baby ( A gender reveal and subsequent feelings )

Hi friend, it’s been a while. Too long really.

RIght now I’m sitting in the living room while our family watches world cup, loudly, and my daughter pecks at my feet with a beanie baby rooster. This is life, crazy and often happening all at once.

My son is sleeping on the love seat after falling asleep on the way home from the pool, it’s 5:25. This is likely not a great idea but I really don’t have the energy or creativity to get him to wake up right now.

And this morning we got to see baby Penny #3 on ultrasound, which brought tears from all of the places my feelings originate from.

At first the baby wouldn’t cooperate with the ultrasound tech, position wise, so I had to take a walk around the building and chug some more water for bladder fullness.

Then slowly the tech was able to get the measurements she needed. Legs, arms, belly, fingers all accounted for.

FInally she asked us if we wanted to know the gender, we did, we do. I’m still not sure all the reasons why we always find out early, I guess my theory is that the surprise happens either way, at 20 weeks or at 40.

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Kel knew figured it out before the tech got there, We’re having a baby girl!

We told the kids the only way that seemed appropriate, over pink cream cheese bagels.

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Noelle was a lot happier about the news than Caedmon. He’s sort of bummed about not having a baby brother, which is fine. He will be excited when she arrives, right?

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Since the bagel reveal with cute cream cheese photos was a total flop we picked up some balloons, should have been an obvious first choice. Kids love balloons more than bagels. They’ll turn around one day.

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Today I am full of feelings, some of them joyful and excited and some look  more like question marks.

Can we parent three kids well in the middle of all this transition?
Can I bring up daughters who are strong and confident, who trust God in a deep sense and who believe they can do hard things?

Probably. There is healing, there is learning, there is grace.

God meets us all sorts of places, especially in the midst of fear and chaos.

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