Birthday, Simplified

I think having a child whose birthday is near Halloween is second only to Christmas for having too much going on in one week.

I won't even bore you with the list of fundraisers, Harvest parties, pumpkin patch visits (two of each) and other things that have been on the calendar between last Thursday and this Friday.

Boo's birthday is right in the middle of all of that. I suppose I could capitalize on the built-in occasions, but my birthday philosophy is that it's the one day that's just about that person. All the other holidays/occasions/celebrations we share in some way.

But in our family, no one shares a birthday, so it's the one time we're guaranteed a "You are special." I'm even working toward making the birthday our primary gift-giving occasion.

I try to make a really special cake, have a fun (not necessarily over the top, but special) party, well-thought out gifts, etc.

This year though, with everything else going on, I'm having a hard time living up to my own expectations. But instead of becoming crazy birthday mom who is so harried by all the plans that no one enjoys it, I decided to lighten up.

We met my parents at "The Pumpkin Capital of the World" last week to get in an early celebration with them (sandwiched between Bug's Harvest party in the am and the Trick or Treat/carnival that evening).

I had an inspiration walking through the mall and purchased a "Cookie Cake" instead of burdening myself with making a cake for the get-together. The kids always beg for one and we finally had a good reason.

We're having a simple "friends" party next week with the kids from just two other families. I don't even know where we'll have it or what we'll do, but I know the who and the when and I'll figure the rest out by then.

I almost didn't make a cake for his actual birthday, but Bug would have missed it and Boo wanted something "with fire on top." I kind of forgot that it didn't have to be from scratch and it didn't have to be fancy.

I let Boo choose from my assortment of interesting Bundt pans and doctored a cake mix to create a Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough cake (that smells awesome). I might not even frost it!

Gifts all came from the stash that I've accumulated shopping Target's 75% off toy sales, so there's been no shopping required.

It's not easy to let my ideas of "the perfect birthday" go, but really, the main thing is that Boo knows how special he is, how loved he is, and how proud we are of the boy he's becoming. Happy birthday Little One!

I don't always let myself off the hook. I'm one of those perfectionists who gets immobilized by the idea of things not going as I envision. Too often, I sacrifice sleep (and thus any ability to be patient, calm and cheery the following day) in an effort to make every detail of something just so.

I'm only of late catching on to the fact that often I'm the only one who will miss the detail because no one else expected it to begin with.

The boys don't care if I hand-carved a cake into a skateboard, they just want something to plant some candles in. My sister and niece aren't expecting the perfect hand-crafted gift for their birthday or Christmas, it's just nice to have something to make them feel connected to us when we're so far apart (I'm putting this out there now as motivation to be sure to get the gifts I've been collecting into the mail).

As moms I think sometimes we want so much for our families that we lose sight of how little it really takes to have a happy birthday or successful Saturday.

What are your birthday "must haves?" What ways have you found to make it special and keep it simple? I know there's a lot of creativity out there...share!

Or, what are some ways you have (or need to) let yourself off the hook and simplified?

Imperfectly Real

The center stone of my wedding set has a 'feather.' That’s a rather romantic name for what amounts to a chunk of diamond missing where one facet should be. I don’t know if the feather was always there—the set belonged to my husband’s mother before me.

The jeweler called about it when we left it to be sized. He put the diamond under his loupe and made a diagram of all the imperfections that make this stone unique. Someone else may have a ring that looks like mine, but like snowflakes and fingerprints, no two diamonds are exactly alike. I know what distinguishes mine from others.

In a diamond, the nature and quantity of inclusions can diminish the value of a stone, but in our modern age of lab-created colored gems, expert Walter Schumann explains, “Inclusions are common. They are not indicators of lower quality, but show the difference between a natural stone and a synthetic stone.”

I think we're a lot like diamonds. Our imperfections may not be visible to the naked eye, but the unique pattern of our lives is what sets us apart from one another.

I'm grateful that God sees me the way a jeweler sees a precious stone. My flaws or lack of maturity--bad attitudes, sharp tongue, overdeveloped sense of independence--don’t diminish my value to God. They show that I'm 'real' and leave room for Him to continue His work in me. But unlike gemstones, I am not in my final state. My 'feathers' can be filled and my 'inclusions' eliminated as the Master Jeweler continues his work in me.

"Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me." Philippians 3:12

"But they might laugh at me"

I figured one of the pluses of having two children of the same gender was getting to use some of my favorite wardrobe pieces from the first a second time.

So when it was finally cool enough on Sunday to wear long pants, I happily went to the bin and got two of my favorite pairs of pants that Bug wore first. One is a cute plaid in nice fall colors and the other is navy with white whales embroidered on them. Boo wanted nothing to do with either one.

"But they might laugh at me." I never expected to hear that from my almost 3 year old boy as he fought my clothing choices for church and preschool!

I couldn't help but wonder where he got that sense of self-consciousness at such a young age! First, I don't know that anyone has ever laughed at him. He does get lots of comments about how cute he is (especially the strawberry blond curls). And since I can still get away with it at this point, I admit to dressing Bug and Boo alike on occasion, which engenders more attention of the "look how cute" sort.

Funny that he's self conscious about what he wears and kind of wanting to blend-in in that sense when he doesn't seem the least bit aware of the attention he garners as he runs full tilt through the church or makes his astonishingly loud chirping/screeching/shouting boy noises.

While I'm sad that many of my favorite plaid pants and hawaiian shirts (not worn together!) may ultimately only be really nice hand-me-downs for some other adorable preppy-style boy, I'm more sad that he's not even three but he's already influenced by what other people think.

I never expected to have to start to work on my preschool son's sense of independence and confidence. He's outgoing and strong willed and imaginative and bold. And surprisingly sensitive to other's opinions of him. I'm not really sure what to do with that.

His brother has never had trouble not 'following the crowd' if he doesn't want to. He still needs to be reminded of the right choice from time to time, but he's not easily persuaded to do something he's already decided against. I love that about him because I can relate so well. (And I hope that some of that might rub off on his little brother as they get older.)
I think we might need to read some stories about Daniel and David. The Philistines did laugh at David, but he still took down the giant. With the right perspective, I know my bold, fearless Boo could slay giants too.

(btw--is it terrible of me that I found a way to get him to wear some of the clothes? He's all about skating--as in skateboards--yes, I have a 3 year old wannabe skate punk! I got him to give in to the cute palm tree bermuda shorts by calling them "board shorts" and telling him that they're the kinds of shorts that skateboarders wear. Bad mom?)

On Being Grateful for the Raisins

Today, I made a special effort to make homemade muffins for the boys for breakfast/snack.

I have a big thing of oatmeal that I want to use in creative ways (because I myself can't stand it as mush). I also always have a half an apple around that Boo didn't finish and I'm tired of throwing them away.

So I found (what I thought was) a great recipe for Oatmeal Apple muffins.
I learned:
  1. They pretty much only like muffins with frosting. Which is kind of just a cupcake.
  2. They only like raisins if they are NOT in a muffin.

So, what was meant to be something special for them ended up feeling like a wasted effort. As did the pasta I made for lunch (which they ended up having for dinner because I wasn't going to strike out a 3rd time and if they get hungry enough, the meal they didn't want at lunch looks pretty good).

It was one of those days where I know I'm experiencing what my mom did. The days that all moms know. You buy the teenage girls something special; they hate it and won't wear it. You plan a special afternoon with your pre-teen boy and all he really wants is to ride his skateboard in the street with his buddies.

There's no gratitude for the thought or intention; just a rejection of the effort and a stubborn resistance to whatever wasn't up to their standards or in their plan.

In the end, my frustration today wasn't as much about my efforts being rejected as much as it is my concern that maybe I give them what they want so often, they don't understand the concept of being grateful for the things they don't want.

Like at Christmas when they're looking for that one special gift. It might be in the pile, but sometimes they go through a lot of other gifts before they get to that one. Often, the things that were overlooked and unappreciated become favorites as time goes by, but in that moment they aren't grateful.

I know I do the same thing with God. I ask for the things I want. I get what I get. Well actually, I get what He thinks is best for me. And sometimes what I get is a steak dinner instead of the Lucky Charms and milk that I was craving. It's hard to believe that sometimes I'm not grateful for the steak at the moment.

But I want to be.

I want to trust that my heavenly father knows what I really need and gives to me accordingly, even when it feels like I'm just not getting what I want.

As I learn to be grateful for the things that I don't think I want, maybe I can teach my children to be grateful for the 'raisins' too.

Matthew 7:11
"If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!"

Muffins of Gratitude

I'm going to make these muffins in the future when I need a reminder to be grateful for what God brings into my life--whether it's what I think I want/need or not. (And despite the protestations, they're actually very moist, tasty, quick and healthy.)

1/2 c. pancake mix (I used Krusteaz Oat Bran Pancake mix)
1 c. uncooked oatmeal
1/2 c. brown sugar (I was out; white worked fine)
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon (omitted since the pancake mix had some and the kids aren't fans)
1 tbsp. flax seed meal (optional)
1/2 c. peeled chopped apple
1/3 c. raisins

1 c. lowfat milk
1 egg
1/4 c. oil (I substituted applesauce)

Heat oven to 375 degrees.

Spray bottoms of muffin tins with non-stick spray. Combine pancake mix, oats, sugar and cinnamon. Stir in chopped apple and raisins.

Stir together remaining ingredients. Add to dry ingredients, mixing just until dry ingredients are moistened.

Fill muffin cups 3/4 full. Bake 15 to 20 minutes. Makes 1 dozen.

Magic Mirror

I stopped by a community garage sale hoping to find a lamp or two to help illuminate our dungeon of a north-facing living room.

I didn't find anything suitable, but there was one item I really wanted to bring home. In the clothing department they had a full-length mirror hanging near the cashier. Now, I'm not really the full-length mirror type. In fact, until we moved to this house with the mirrored closet doors (yes, 8 feet high by 9 feet wide worth of mirrors), I have never had a full length mirror at home.

But this mirror, it's special. It was probably meant for a little girls room; the 1 inch wide white frame is separated at one corner, but that doesn't interfere with its special properties.

This mirror is magic! Honestly, it makes my size 12 hips look like size 4! I pointed it out to my friend Terry who was helping with the sale; she liked that it gave her skinny ankles.

It was really tempting to buy the mirror. After all, how great would it be to leave the house every morning feeling skinny? I told Terry I wish I could give everyone else lenses made of that mirror so that's what they'd see when they look at me. But of course, I'd be bound to catch a glimpse of my actual reflection in the car door or a window someplace and see reality after all.

So I left the mirror there (but I might visit it before the sale is over, just to get another look at the me I want to be). Sometimes people use a photo of themselves when they were the weight they want to be to motivate them to keep working at it; I wonder if the magic mirror would do that for me?

As I was driving away I realized there is someone who sees the best in me even when it's buried under all kinds of excess 'fluff' and flaws. God sees me already in His image. "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, (s)he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come." 2 Corinthians 5:17

In His eyes I am already the best version of myself, and every day He works in me to help me actually be conformed to that. And jeans size aside, I really do want to be my best inside self even more than my best outside self. Maybe if I can see the reflection of myself in His eyes, I will get ever closer to my best.

Cross Cultural Experience

In a nod to the excesses of the past few years, MTV created a show that featured unbelievably wealthy parents indulging their indescribably spoiled children with "Sweet 16" parties with price tags in excess of the cost of the average family home in at least 70% of the country.

Two years later some of those families are starting to see that they've created mini-monsters who are so used to being coddled and catered to that they run the risk of living at home and sponging off their parents for a good long time. So the parents have joined forces with MTV to give the kids an experience intended to "unspoil" them. The kids, now 18-ish, are sent to live for a week in situations varying from reindeer herding in the frozen tundra of Norway to picking up elephant dung in the jungles of Thailand.

It remains to be seen whether any of those young people really are changed long-term, but it got me thinking that it isn't only the exceedingly wealthy who benefit from seeing "how the other half lives."

I've had a few different kinds of experiences. When I was very young our church put on the evening service once a month at the local Rescue Mission. It wasn't the most comfortable experience for a young girl, but it was probably a good training ground for the days when I reached high school and my parents went into full time rescue work.

I worked with youth for many years and had the opportunity to go on various trips to serve in different capacities in Mexico. They were each significant in their own way, but there was one episode that really stands out as having a life-changing effect on me.

On one trip, a couple of us left the main group and accompanied a local missionary to a small village to conduct a children's Bible club. We drove down a rough dirt road past a row of tiny corrugated shacks. Children poured out of the humble dwellings, eagerly surrounding the station wagon.

We played some games while Elizabeth, the missionary, prepared for the class. Jose, a shy little boy about six years old took my hand as we led the group into the trailer for story time. He climbed into my lap so he could see the flannel board.

What happened next was one of those moments frozen in time where a half-dozen thoughts and feelings come flooding in all at once. As Jose turned to look at me, for just a moment, Jose's face faded away and it was no longer Jose in my lap, but Jeremy, a former student of mine; a young man who lived in a different set of difficult circumstances.

In that instant I realized that but for God's providence, my friend could be this little boy in Mexico. Living a life with little education. Little in the way of comforts. Little hope of a life any different than what Jose's family had.

Or it could be me.

But it's not.

It's not by chance that I was born in Lansing, Michigan rather than the jungles of Ecuador. It is no fluke that I had the opportunity to be educated. Nor was it simply coincidence that my mother consistently took us to church and that I have grown in faith since a young age.

The responsibility of God's graciousness to me struck me like it never had before. I am in awe of all that God has entrusted to me. He has a plan for me. I can lose sight of that if I compare myself to others who seem to have more than me.

God chose me to be born in America, to be educated, to know Him. I can best be used by Him right where I am, with the opportunities and gifts He has provided me.

I think God has placed each of us just where we can best accomplish His work. We may not feel rich, but we don't have to wait until we have a certain amount of money or education or experience to be used by God. As we give out of our poverty--poverty of pocket, poverty of spirit, or poverty of experience--the Lord will bless our offerings and magnify them to His glory.

Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much. Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites...So he called his disciples to Himself and said to them, "Assuredly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for the all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood." Mark 12:41-44

Cheese Pennies

These simple, flavorful little crackers are a reminder that the Lord can use what we give Him out of our poverty even more than a great amount given out of our abundance.

2 cups (about 16 oz) finely grated cheddar cheese
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temp.
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne

In a medium bowl, cream butter until fluffy. Add grated cheese and blend together well. Sift together dry ingredients. Add to cheese mixture a little at a time, mixing until a stiff dough is formed.

Shape into logs about 1 inch in diameter. Place on waxed paper. To slice into "pennies," use dental floss (non-minty) or thread. Slide under log, cross ends over top of log and pull, slicing through.

Gather pennies back into log shapes or place on plate and cover with foil. Refrigerate overnight or freeze for a couple hours before baking (they will bake more evenly if all the ingredients have reached the same temperature).

Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake in a 375 degree oven for 10-12 minutes. Cool on a wire rack, store in an airtight container.

Photo and recipe originally appeared in "Tea and Inspiration," copyright Mary Pielenz Hampton. All rights reserved.

Making peace with Ronald McDonald

Ok, I'll admit to being a bit of a junk food snob. Since Bug was big enough to eat real people food, we've been picky about our fast-food stops. For a long time it was pretty much only Wendy's because they were the only ones to offer fruit, and Hubs and I could tolerate their other menu items--baked potatoes, assorted salads (and a Frosty here and there didn't hurt either).

Except for one occasion on a road trip and in need of a rest room, Bug hadn't ever played at a McDonald's playland. We figured he wouldn't miss what he'd never experienced, and just weren't ready to begin the endless cycle of "There's a McDonald's, can we go?" While I am a closet chicken-nugget fan, we've always been kind of anti-Happy Meal for my kids.

When we first moved here, a lovely lady from the church offered to take the boys for the evening so Hubs and I could go to Home Depot to begin to make some decisions so we'd have a kitchen we could actually use. She took them to the local McDonald's playland.

And so it began. It took a while, but little by little I'd find myself dropping by Ronald's joint for various reasons:
  • We got stood up for a babysitting/playdate and I had to do something to appease Boo.

  • Rainy days and Mondays often find me needing to let them burn off energy without jumping off the furniture.

  • I need some time to get some business correspondance done.

Now, instead of seeing it as a corporate evil, intended to fill my children's bellies with questionable nutrition and my mini-van with toys promoting movies my kids will never see, I look at it as a tool. I'm now in danger of going often enough to bore my kids because I'll go when:

  • I need a mommy play-date; we'll invite another family and the kids can play while the grown-ups chat.

  • I have work to get done; writing, bill-paying, catching up on magazines, etc.

  • Bible study is tomorrow and I haven't finished my lesson yet.

Unexpectedly, I've met other moms who work at home and take advantage of the typically clean, indoor play area for the same reasons I do. I think it's just a matter of time until there's an organized "Bring your work to Mickey D's" day!

BTW--there are some yummy healthier choices on their menu too. We especially like the fruit and yogurt parfait (although I miss the bigger size they used to have), apple dippers or the Apple/Walnut/Grape salad.

So Ronald and me, we're on pretty good terms now. If you're looking for some adult contact and a way to let your little ones burn off some energy, stop by your local "Golden Arches."

What are some things you thought you'd never do, but have compromised on in favor of saving your sanity entertaining your kids?

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