Raising a man

That phrase — raising a man — has been floating around in my head today. It is really what I’m doing in a sense. He just had his seventh birthday and somehow between his Birthday Eve and Birthday Morning, I am pretty sure he grew a few inches. And did his voice get lower? Maybe I’m hearing things.

He asked if he could crack the eggs this morning for homemade waffles and I hesitated because I was sort of in a hurry and didn’t want to be fishing out egg shells (even I tend to get a little piece of shell in there). He cracked all 3 eggs — with no shells to be fished out. When did he learn to do that?

And when did he become a walking encyclopedia on the animal kingdom? And how did he know how to rig that little handle on the toaster to stay down (when even his Dad’s attempts didn’t work — you can imagine his proud smile). And how does he know just how to comfort his sister in that way all his own?

Next to the shelf with the bobble head and the coin bank in his room is a picture hanging on the wall that says:

“A little boy is the only thing God can use to make a man.”

And while we are certainly still far away (relatively) from manhood, there is starting to be less “little” in my boy, and more independence, confidence, responsibility.

I sometimes fear for him in this world where many things can threaten the integrity of men (and all of us), but then I look where he’s looking and I am comforted. Because he’s watching his Daddy.

He’s watching him work hard and sweat and push wheelbarrows in the yard. He’s watching him give me a tender hug at the kitchen sink and whisper, “I love you.” He’s watching him react to his little sister’s temper tantrum with gentleness. He’s watching him drink coffee and read a book. He’s watching him pray. My son learns a lot from me — I am a source of comfort that only a mother can provide. But his Dad is his role model.

As for now, he is still busy chasing lizards and frogs and marbles scattered across the floor. There is great idealism, courage and energy in boyhood; there is also great faith, gentleness and affection — and as he grows, I hope these remain. For no matter how big he gets, there are always the truest things that will never change, like how much he is loved.

My little boy who God is using to make a man, I love you.

Family Year Books

My parents have only a handful of pictures of themselves as very young children — and maybe enough to fill a big album from their growing up years.

I treasure these pictures. I study their expressions and the people in the background. Because there aren’t very many photos (by today’s standards), I delight when I discover a new one — with a hairstyle or a toy or an old friend that I get to learn about. Sometimes one picture captures an entire year — or, in my grandparents or great grandparents case, an entire decade of one’s life.

I sometimes wish I could see more pictures of past generations. I would especially love to see videos of, for instance, my parents’ first birthday or a first day of school. But at the same time, the photos we do have are so treasured — and family stories fill in the details of things that weren’t visually documented.

Fast forward a few decades to when I gave birth to my first-born (and had also acquired my first DSLR camera).

I have — literally — hundreds (thousands? Oh man, I need to organize those old hard drives) of pictures of my new baby doing, well, everything a baby does. Oh, look, he’s napping! He’s drooling! He’s dreaming! Click, click, click.

I wanted to capture every moment (and in the best lighting possible). But soon, I realized, what would I do with all of these pictures (many quite redundant)? As time passed and I had more children, my computer hard drive started filling up fast. And in trying to clear space, I realized that perhaps I didn’t need 43 photos of my baby’s wrinkly left foot (though look at those teensy-weensy little toes). Plus, I started to wonder, how would I even organize this stuff in a way that I could (and ever would) go back and look at it again?

There was a time, too, with my camera always in hand, that I sort of felt like I was missing out on an event while I was busy documenting it. It became relieving to me when I could just let some things live as memories. Or, when I gave up on the idea of having to take the “perfect photo,” and just let a few quick snapshots suffice. In fact, some of my favorite photos of my parents’ growing up were the ones where everyone is making a funny expression and you know there was more going on behind the scenes.

Now that I’m on my 5th child, I have had to prioritize how and when and what I document. In a world where it’s so easy to snap and share everything, I know many of us have worked to find balance. For our family, we don’t have personal social media accounts or a “family” blog, but my husband and I do have a little private blog where just him and I save pictures and quotes of the everyday silly and endearing things our kids do and say. We have an app on each of our phones that connect to it, and we can easily dump our favorite phone photos to the private shared space. Then once a year, I print a book of those “Little Happies” to put on our shelf.

This is the first year that I’ve printed the family year books and I used a company called Into Real Pages.

I first discovered them because they support the blogging platform that we use to save our photos (and many others), but I chose them because their books were simple and pretty — and their site was super intuitive to use. With just a few clicks, their website tool easily imported my posts by date and organized them into a book format that I could quickly approve and print.

And now… our memories have turned into real pages for us to always enjoy:

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*Into Real Pages graciously gifted these books to us when I offered to share our great experience

There you are, little one, who will you be?

I was 27 when my first child was born.

The same age that my mother was when I was born. The same age that my Grandmother was when my mother was born. And like my mother and my mother’s mother and her mother before her, with the growing and stretching and pushing forth of that little, squirmy human, I had been inducted into the miraculous and marvelous and sometimes maddening world of motherhood.

I am now 12 weeks pregnant with number five — and the magic of it all never gets old. The morning sickness sort of does. My body feels a bit older in my mid-30’s now and the responsibility of also having four other small children adds to the fatigue. But the awe? It’s just as strong as ever.

For growing a human is not like learning to drive — where once you’ve done it enough, you sort of forget the thrill of that first joy ride and spend the rest of your years on autopilot. And it’s not like getting a new job — where the novelty soon fades to routine.

There’s just something different about participation in a miracle. And no matter how well I understand the biology of how babies are made, there is still a “something else,” a greater creator, that turns mere matter into a living, thinking human who cries and breastfeeds and throws temper tantrums. Every time, I am surprised. Every time, I am humbled.

My 6-year-old is smarter than me. My 3-year-old is more insightful. My 5-year-old brings more light to the world than a ball of sunshine, and yet, they were that way before our eyes even met. Sure, I have a very important part in their formation, but it’s actually comforting to know that they each have their own God-given purpose, and I’m here to help them along their way.

And they do the same for me — pushing me and stretching me and making me stronger than I ever thought I could be. I certainly didn’t know my stomach could stretch that way, nor my heart, nor my soul. And the things that DON’T gross you out when you’re a parent are miraculous on their own. Proof that somewhere in the miracle of life is the miracle of love that makes all things possible.

Today I heard the baby’s heartbeat. I laid on the crinkly paper atop the examination room bed while the nurse moved the fetal Doppler around my already-bulging midsection. Soon the the familiar woosh, woosh, woosh of a tiny heartbeat echoed against the white walls.

There you are, little one, who will you be?

Whoever you are, there is a perfect place for you here — in our hearts and our laps and our intertwined lives, and we can’t wait to meet you.

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The outdoors saves us all

Just when I think we’ll just try again tomorrow —

That the volume is too high;

The spirits too low.

That the whining is but a record stuck on repeat,

We emerge through the smudged backdoor.

Mis-matched socks,

backwards shoes,

two yellow dogs eager to jump and lick

into a world where no screen can emulate

the awe of nature’s playground.

And in this space, almost magically —

the one who was crying has now found a stick,

the ones who were squabbling have now crawled under a box that’s really a boat — oh, wait, now a cave,

And my mind is stilled.

My ears now attuned

to the subtlest of sounds in the winter trees —

And just when I thought it was a day for the birds,

The outdoors saves us all.

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My Word of the Year

I wiped the dry erase calendar clean next to our pantry and wrote in pretty black letters:

January 2016

A New Year is here. Isn’t it strange that we’re almost to the Roarin’ Twenties once again? That throw-back radio stations now advertise the “best of the 90’s”? That my children have no concept of screens that don’t obey you simply by swiping your finger across them? Time is a strange sort of thing.

It is also the crux of the mother with young children: the days can feel long, the years are so short. And as I try to fully grasp these little ones in front of me, wrap my arms around them, hold them tight, they keep slipping past — suddenly bigger, suddenly more “grown up,” suddenly able to get their own cups of water.

Last night, on a date night in the livingroom, my husband and I watched Michael Pollan’s PBS special, In Defense of Food, based on his book of the same name (which was one of my favorites last year). It occurred to me, while watching the special, that for our family 2015 was very much about the subject at hand:

FOOD! (But also, much more than that.)

We completely changed the way we ate last year — and went on a voyage to eliminate (most of) the processed food from our life.

It all started when I received the 100 Days of Real Food cookbook (which I love) as a gift, which introduced me to Michael Pollan’s book In Defense of Food — and from there I went on to read Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Food Rules. Based on my enjoyment of his books, I stumbled upon Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (which I have reviewed here before) and during this time, I also read French Kids Eat Everything by Karen LaBillon, which offered a very interesting insight into French food culture while also sharing tips for parents of picky eaters.

The books were all very different — but had many of the same themes — and in the end, they inspired me to do what I had been itching to do for awhile: Cook more from scratch and try to grow a lot of our food ourselves.

But what surprised me is how much I would love the process.

I never realized how soul-stirring this journey would be. Or how beautiful.

Even from a simply aesthetic standpoint, my heart is full when fresh, flour-dusted bread is rising in the oven and the smell of yeast, salt, oil, honey and whole-wheat grains wafts through our hallways. I love letting the loaves cool on the wooden cutting board before tucking them away to rest in a ceramic bread box. I love the uneven bread slices, sawed with a serrated knife. The way real butter melts into the warm, spongy texture.

I delight in snipping rosemary from a pot on the back porch in barefeet — and the way fresh-pressed garlic stays on my fingertips. The choreography of dancing from cutting board to cast iron skillet, the sizzle and pop of sauteing red peppers.

I love walking by the tower of fresh produce that sits in the middle of the kitchen island. What a work of art! A pile of bright yellow lemons, neon key limes, ruby red tomatoes (or sometimes a deep plum). Food this gorgeous begs to be eaten and enjoyed and cared for. It is thoughtful food — food for thought. And oh my, what about divine dark chocolate or rich whipped cream. A little truly does go a long way. (As Karen Labillion’s French mother-in-law said: “I only need a little or I won’t enjoy it as much.”)

It’s not a surprise to me that cooking shows have skyrocketed in popularity and restaurant-goers post their plates all over Instagram — we live in a world saturated with cardboard boxes and artificial additives; authentic, robust, and wholesome nourishment is longed for.

And maybe that’s the point of it all anyway. The authenticity. It’s always the most nourishing. In romance, in friendship, on our plates. For in this efficiency-focused world of convenience, it is all too easy to substitute a quick and fast version of all sorts of things, only to be left wanting more.

Some people make a “word of the year” for an upcoming year — and I’m not so sure I have one yet for 2016. But it’s easy to see clearly looking back. The word for last year was nourishment. Focusing on slowing down to fill up — on family and friends and food and faith and love. And I suppose, really, it is a theme I will carry with me for every year, forevermore.

May your 2016 be filled with people, places and plates full of nourishment.

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A handful of favorite recipes you may enjoy this year:

This is the bread recipe that I make every other day on average. I have tweaked a couple of things, but it’s delicious.

I love these 5-ingredient granola bars for a quick snack.

I love all of the recipes out of the 100 Days of Real Food cookbook. And there are tons of lunchbox packing ideas and snack ideas for kids.

For whole wheat pizza dough, I use Ina Garten’s recipe, but sub whole wheat for 2/3 of it and add extra honey. (I love all of the Barefoot Contessa cookbooks.)