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Archive for June, 2009

Against the Odds

Christine and Steve, June 29, 1991

Christine and Steve, June 29, 1991

Today is my 18th Wedding Anniversary! Being completely immature and a bit crazy when we first fell in love, we had our wedding date planned from the time we had been dating for two weeks!  For many reasons, which I will not go into here, we were not at all well-suited to each other and we had no business dating, let alone getting married.  Sometimes, however, there is no talking sense or right and wrong to couples in love, especially immature couples!

I love the perspective that 18 years of marriage brings me. It gives me a bird’s eye view of God’s miraculous work in my life in a very real way.  Instead of letting us suffer the full consequences of sinful decisions, as He had every right to do, God graciously rescued us.  He has given us a fulfilling, loving and faithful relationship and blessed us with the miracle of six wonderful children.  It boggles my mind that God would allow me, someone with a history of making very big bad decisions, have six of His precious children to care for.  (WHAT is He thinking?)

Slowly, through all the hills (some really high ones) and the valleys (some very deep ones) of marriage, God is teaching Steve and I to die to ourselves in order to become more like Him. This weekend, we attended a conference where the speaker spoke about this verse:

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  Mark 8:34

In so many areas of our life, we are able to avoid taking up our cross and dying to ourselves. When things get rough at work, we can go home that night and avoid the situation.  When things are difficult at church, we can just find another church.  When things are hard at school, we can move onto another classroom.  When a friend disappoints us, we can stop calling.  If we don’t like our neighbours, we can move away.  Opportunities to hide and avoid abound in our modern lives.  But, there is no escaping from the cross in our family.

At the conference, we heard that God uses all kinds of people and situations in our life to ‘crucify us’, so that as we die to ourselves – or decrease – Jesus will increase.  We become like Him slowly, little bits at a time.  Like it or not, our spouses are used by God to ‘crucify us’ and we are used by God to ‘crucify them’!  God has chosen our spouses to help us clearly face head-on the very sharp edges on ourselves that He longs to smooth away in order to make us more like Him and to draw us close to Himself.  When we understand this concept and co-operate with what He is trying to do, we begin to experience the true joy of not only a marriage of two people, but a marriage of three.

When I think of how far Steve and I have come in the past 18 years, I am so excited about the next 18 years. There are opportunities each and every minute in my home to deny myself, take up my cross and follow Him.  I am willing, Lord!

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Image courtesy of thinkpanama

Image courtesy of thinkpanama

We are continuing to examine the habit of remaining calm when faced with challenging situations in our family life, particularly when interacting with our children. Thinking of remaining calm as a habit gives us hope that we can cultivate this habit in ourselves. So far, we have looked at:

Today, we will be thinking pro-actively about a great way to prevent the conflicting situations that often cause us to lose our cool. I hope that this will be a great combination of vision and practical skill for you, as it is for me.

Sometimes, I like to think of my relationships, particularly with my husband and children, as bank accounts. A healthy bank account needs a lot more deposits than it does withdrawals.  In fact, if we do nothing but withdraw from our accounts, soon we will find that we have no reserves at all.  Continued withdrawals will put us into serious overdraft and in the most extreme case, our account will be shut down.

In the most simple form, relationship withdrawals are the things that lead to negative feelings between people.  This definitely includes being yelled at in most situations.  It can also include things like not being listened to and not being respected.  It does not include being asked to contribute around the house!  (Sorry kids!) Really, relationship withdrawals are not so much about what we say as they are about how we say things.

Relationship deposits on the other hand are those things that lead to positive feelings between people. These things may be big things, like taking a child out for a date with mom or dad, or they may be smaller, everyday things like speaking respectfully and graciously when making a request. They can include compliments or pointing out a special effort a child has made or they can be things like praying with a child for a particular struggle. I’m sure you can use your imagination and your common sense to determine what constitutes a withdrawal or a deposit.

When I notice that a child has been particularly challenging to me for awhile, my default is to crack down. I feel like imposing punishments, tightening boundaries and just generally being extra-strict. I am not saying this is never required! However, thinking past my default, I can also ask myself if this child might just need some more deposits so that he/she has a reserve to give away to me and to others.

One of the main problems of making too many withdrawals on our relationship bank account with a child is that it usually feeds back into more withdrawals. James 1:20 reminds us that, “the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” This is a wonderful verse for parenting. We will never be perfect, nor are we likely to keep it together all the time. However, we can make great steps toward making calmness a habit by keeping in mind this principle. God reminds us that losing it will not get us closer to our heart’s desire for our children — that they love God and others.  When we are miserable and crabby, our children will be worse behaved, feeding back into more parental misery!

So, practically, when I find myself chronically struggling with a particular child, I am reminded that I can’t simply allow myself to fall into default mode. There is a child in my family whom I have been struggling with for a couple of weeks now. She is normally very obedient, but lately has been particularly argumentative both with me and her siblings. She was being a problem the other night when my husband was out and I was trying to get all the little people off to sleep, coming out of her room, stirring up trouble with her roommates and being noisy. As I admonished her and tucked her back in, she said, “You don’t care about me!”

Forget the fact that I have devoted my life to parenting her, I thought about her comment afterward and realized she could really use a special deposit. I will be taking her out, just the two of us, for some ice cream and reconnecting in the next few days. I think when a child is normally obedient and helpful it is easy to forget to make deposits.

How about you? How have you used the concept of relationship withdrawals and deposits in parenting your children (even if you have never thought about it exactly this way)?

Have a blessed weekend!

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My Favourite Cookbooks

Christine'e Favourite Cookbooks

Christine'e Favourite Cookbooks

I thought I’d share my current favourite cookbooks with you. I love cooking and do a lot of ‘winging’ as well as using cookbook recipes for inspiration as opposed to following a recipe exactly as written.  However, when I am in need of advice, ideas or recipes, the cookbooks I turn to most often are these four, in no particular order:

More with Less Cookbook by Doris Janzen Longacre:  This was one of my mom’s favourites while I was growing up and it was the first cookbook I bought when I got married.

What makes it special?

  • focuses on eating better while consuming less of the world’s resources
  • frugality is also featured
  • above the recipes, there are little tips/ideas/extras that are very helpful (recipes/extras come from hundreds of contributors)
  • recipes are mostly very simple, using common, inexpensive ingredients
  • I can usually find something to make when I have very few ingredients on hand
  • I love the spiral binding
  • desserts minimize the use of sugar
  • Miscellaneous section contains recipes for laundry soap, playdough, etc.

Anything I don’t like?

  • use of margarine (this is probably reflective of the original publishing date – 1976); easily substituted for butter, of course
  • a (very) few ‘economy’ things I am not big on, such as fake ‘maple’ syrup, but this type of recipe is extremely rare in this book

Favourite Recipes:

  • Whole Wheat Buttermilk Pancakes  – I make this recipe (quadrupled) every Sunday for breakfast before church.  Adaptations I make:  I use butter (not oil), plain milk (sometimes yogurt) and all whole grain flour.
  • Coconut Custard Pie – this is the quickest pie recipe I have ever come across.  I can have this ready to go into the oven before the oven preheats!  It is delicious and healthy enough for breakfast, too.  Adaptations I make:  butter, not margarine.
  • Nasi Goreng – I love this fried rice, which a friend first introduced me to after returning from a mission trip to Indonesia.  Adaptations I make: I don’t have the two authentic spices listed, but the recipe tastes great with them left out; I usually add peas, carrot and chopped pepper.

Simply In Season by Mary Beth Lind and Cathleen Hockman-Wert

What makes it special?

  • five colour-coded sections – one for each season and another ‘all-seasons’ section, making the current season’s recipes very easy to find and browse
  • because I am so bad at meal planning, but like to eat seasonally, I am able to flip through the current season’s section at 3pm and find something yummy to make
  • many recipes have variations
  • most recipes are simple and frugal and avoid really expensive ingredients

Anything I don’t like?

  • Not really — I have the non-spiral bound version and I would much prefer spiral binding

Favourite Recipes:

  • Spring:  Vegetable or Fruit Oven Pancake – I do 4 times the recipe in a big lasagna pan and this feeds our family of 8 with leftovers.  Everyone loves this with asparagus!  Adding a salad makes a great late-spring meal.
  • Summer:  Vegetable Fritters – I do the summer squash option, but add a bit of frozen corn, too.  Many in our family are not huge fans of summer squash, but everyone loves this recipe.
  • Autumn:  Grape Pie – This is a wonderful and unique way to use seasonal concord grapes.  The grape flavour is delicious and the colour of the filling attests to the nutrition contained within!
  • Winter:  Sweet Potato Quesidillas – My husband claims to dislike sweet potatoes, but there are a number of ways he really likes them and this recipe is one of them.  Adaptations – I exchange the spices for a very thin layer of ground chipotle peppers (VERY thin) and a sprinkle of toasted pepitas.

Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig:  This cookbook was a part of our decision to end 11 years of vegetarianism two years ago.  Interestingly, it was both a radically different way of eating and also strangely familiar, as it voiced many of my own philosophies.

What makes it special?

  • focuses on the life-giving aspects of traditional diets around the world
  • the Weston A Price Foundation‘s extensive research has found that many traditional societies all over the world have enjoyed excellent health when they stick to their culture’s traditional diet, whatever that is in their area
  • a wealth of information far beyond recipes – tons of research to back up ideas
  • great section entitled ‘Limited Time, Limited Budget Guidelines’
  • lots of instructions are included for things like making yogurt, fermenting veggies

Anything I don’t like?

  • some recipes are seriously gag-worthy, though I don’t doubt the health aspects (eg. Breaded Brain Appetizer, Raw Liver Drink)
  • I completely part company with Fallon on feeding babies.  She seems to believe that if a mom is not eating a highly nutritious diet, her baby is better off on homemade raw cow’s milk formula (recipe in the book).  Her tips for successful breastfeeding even include the recommendation to supplement with the formula if a mom is at all concerned.  She also suggests feeding babies an egg yolk a day from four months.  I tend to be a little high-strung about things like this and I was so mad when I read these things that I almost didn’t buy the cookbook.  Once I calmed down, I realized that in spite of this, I think it is a great book.  I can take what I can use and leave the rest — and I’m okay with that now.  Deep breath.
  • I think the book has high guilt-producing potential for some type-A personalities, like me, who want to do everything perfect all the time.  Many of the ideas involve extra work (such as pre-soaking grains) and searching out of hard to find ingredients (such as keifer grains and raw milk) and moms will likely find they don’t have the time to do all of the suggestions.

Favourite Recipes:

  • I realized I don’t actually cook that often from this book, when I really stopped to think about it.  I find it more of a reference book and I use it that way quite often.
  • Stewed Rhubarb – very yummy and excellent seasonal fare
  • Mayonnaise – mostly I buy high-quality mayo, but when I make it at home, this is the recipe I use most often

Grassfed Gourmet by Shannon Hayes

What makes it special?

  • features recipes/instructions for preparing grass-fed meats, which need different treatment than grocery store meat (in general – longer, lower temperatures and reduced seasonings)
  • extremely helpful to me in trying to re-learn how to prepare meat after 11 years of vegetarianism
  • great information on different cuts of meat as well as purchasing meat in large quantities (ie. half a cow)
  • recipes are marked with ‘budget’, ‘minimum preparation’, ‘kid-friendly’, ‘showcase’, ‘in a hurry’ as appropriate

Anything I don’t like?

  • nope

Favourite Recipes:

  • Old-Fashioned Beef Stew – a delicious winter favourite.  I add green beans and extra root-veggies if we have them around
  • Best Ever Beef Burgers and Tips for Burgers – I make these burgers and use these tips all the time in the summer.  I don’t have any oyster sauce and keep forgetting to get some, so I leave that out and they are still great.
  • Classic Grilled Steak – Steve and I make these for ‘adult dinnner’ once in awhile.  Simple and delicious.

That’s it for me.  I would love it if you would share your favourite cookbooks with me in the comments section. If you have time, can you let us know what you like as well as anything you don’t like about the book?  I can’t wait to hear from you!

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Sunscreen Dilemma

Photo courtesy of HB Art

It is no secret amongst my friends that I am not a big fan of sunscreen. Fortunately, I am blessed with children whose skin rarely burns.  My policy is that I do not apply sunscreen on our children on a regular basis.  If they will be out in the hot sun for a long time during peak hours, I will sometimes apply a physical block sunscreen.  Other than that, I leave their skin alone.

I believe that if our skin is burning, that is our cue to cover up and/or get out of the sun. Our children wear sunsuit-type bathing suits as long as they will let me put them on them.  I am very grateful that bathing suit ‘shirts’ have been available in regular stores for quite awhile now.  I also try to keep hats on their heads.

I came across these informative posts by Keeper of the Home that mirror my philosophy on sunscreen pretty well. I thought I would share them with you for your consideration.  I really liked her part two post where she shares some great advice for what you can do when not using sunscreen.

My Thoughts on Sunscreen, part one

My Thoughts on Sunscreen, part two

What is your policy/philosophy on sunscreen?  Use it?  Always?  Never?  Occasionally?

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On Monday, I will be posting about my top 4 favourite cookbooks: why I like them, anything I don’t like about them and what my favourite recipes are within each book.  I would love for you to join me and let me know what your favourite cookbook is.  Next week, I will also post more about Cultivating the Habit of Calm in ourselves as Mothers.

For now, I thought I’d share with you a few posts that I have enjoyed at some point on the blogs of others.

How to Can Dry Beans without PreCooking at 11th Heaven’s Homemaking Haven.  I am definitely going to try this!!

Organized Trip Packing for Kids at Small Notebook.  This will be very handy for future trips.

A Cleaning Tool for Large Families at Large Family Mothering.  (Sherry is going to be delivering her 15th baby today!)  This little inspection game sounds like a great idea.

Inexpensive Original Art…Made by Children by Angela.  This looks like a ton of fun.

Look Great with a Five Minute Face by Sarah Vistas.  I think I’ll do this today.  :)

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Yesterday, we talked about the necessity of establishing vision in keeping our cool when parenting our children. Today, as promised, I would like to offer you a practical tool to go along with your vision.  This idea is not my own.  Rather, the phrase was coined by our friend, Tim, a wonderful dad of 4 (almost 5) children.

A few years ago, Tim shared with us that he wanted to write an article entitled ‘Get Off Your Butt Parenting’. He went on to describe what this meant; however, I was hooked right away on the title alone.

I notice that when I am at home with my children and there is a situation that is starting to make my blood heat up, the majority of the time I can turn the situation around and completely avoid yelling by practicing ‘Get Off Your Butt Parenting’. The opposite, sitting on my butt, generally leads to an escalation of the situation which then leads to yelling.

Let’s look at an example from my home that is sure to take place today. Several times a day, before meals and before bedtime, our children are required to tidy the main floor and the little girls’ bedroom.  Amazingly, no one has ever personally made the mess, so there is always complaining.  There are also always accusations that certain people are not doing their share.  If the mess is particularly bad, there are usually tears as the children state they can’t do it all.

If I choose to stay on my butt, I can try offering suggestions from afar, but this will usually involve yelling in order to be heard. When I am not in the room, I cannot tell if anyone is taking my suggestions.  I cannot see if someone needs help knowing what to do.  I can’t see if someone is not pulling their weight or is being unkind to a sibling.  I also can’t tell if the kids are scamming and stuffing things where they don’t belong to expedite the clean-up.  The room will probably not get cleaned up properly, the children will probably not learn to communicate better with each other or to co-operate to accomplish a team goal.  I will probably become very frustrated at the constant tattling and the length of time it is taking to finish a simple task.  However, remembering that our children are immature, inexperienced and still learning, it is no wonder this is the situation.  What do people like this need?  They need someone to come alongside them to teach and to guide.

Getting off my butt will yield a very different outcome. By getting off my butt, the frustrating situation above is turned into an opportunity for me to teach our children to learn to put things away properly and to learn communication skills and diffuse fighting by my helping them re-word things they say to their siblings.  I can help good cleaners avoid resentment of their siblings who don’t naturally contribute as well.

Let’s look at another situation that just happened this morning.

Our little children are not allowed to go upstairs for just any old reason.  Their bedroom is on the main floor, so all that happens if they go upstairs is trouble-making — mostly involving make-up and/or bandaids.  This morning, one child went upstairs to use the bathroom, offering some lame excuse why she could not use the downstairs one.  I let that go.  However, then a second child went ‘to look for’ the other child.  I called her to come back.  She did not.  I raised my voice slightly and repeated myself.  Nope.  I was happily knitting some very cool socks that I have almost finished.  I had a choice to make and I made the wrong one.  At this point, I should have set aside my knitting, stood up and gone upstairs to physically guide the child back downstairs, showing her that I was serious about my request.  Instead, I needed to raise my voice further and speak very sternly.  Three times a charm.  She came down.

The cost for that 30 seconds of knitting time? I didn’t get to the stage of yelling, but I did teach my daughter that when I say something, the first two times, she can feel free to ignore me and wait until my voice reaches a certain level.  Getting off my butt parenting applied in this situation would have shown her that when I say something, I mean it and therefore, she should obey.  No guilt, however.  This is a good learning situation for me.

Get off your butt parenting, I think, is the most effective parenting concept I know of. In recent years, Clay Clarkson wrote a book entitled Heartfelt Discipline which, I believe, does a great job of describing this type of parenting.  They use the term ‘Hands Around Parenting’, which I also love.  I think both terms speak to me in different situations.

So, I am both pleased to share this concept with you and sorry (in a not-really-sorry kind of way). If you are like me, you will no longer be able to let a situation escalate without thinking about how you could diffuse it and teach at the same time if you are willing to go the extra mile.  I promise, it will be wonderfully rewarding to both you and your children.

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In cultivating the habit of remaining calm when parenting our children, we have talked a bit about developing vision. First of all, we need a vision for our own role as mothers that goes beyond survival.  We need one that embraces the idea that we have been carefully selected for our royal position to stand in the gap, the LARGE gap, between our Lord’s will for our children and the world’s desire to squeeze them into its mould.  Secondly, we need a vision for our children.   Our children will be the ones to carry the royal torch into the next generation to stand in the gap for their own children and those whose lives intersect with theirs.  Our children are immature and are learning.  We need to parent with a huge dose of grace and empathy, just as the Lord parents us.

I really hope you will all take to heart what I am going to say here.  While we all want practical, clear, easy-to-follow tips for making parenting easier, the reality is that vision — a true picture of ourselves, our children and our Lord — is what is truly empowering. This is what will truly cause us to grow in any area of our lives, particularly parenting.  When we have a godly, inspiring vision the practical aspects of parenting will almost look after themselves.

In my own life, I saw this idea of vision vs. practical skills at work about two years ago.  At that time, the state of my house was a continual struggle for me.  I longed to have a home where we all enjoyed clutter-free surfaces, knew where things were and could welcome people in at a moment’s notice without cringing and feeling embarrassed.  I read book after book, joined e-groups and did huge cleaning binges.  Nothing was working.  Finally, I decided to pray about it.  (Duh!)  I asked God to give me a vision for a generally tidy, functioning home.  Shortly thereafter, big changes started happening.  We no longer live in a big mess, but rather our surroundings are mostly pretty good.  The take-away message, though, was that although I had lots of ideas, until I developed a vision for my home, I had nothing to hook those ideas onto and, alone, they were ineffective in causing permanent changes.

So, I  encourage you, if you are struggling with remaining calm to cry out to the Lord for vision. I am going to be praying for you as well as for myself this morning, that we would all embrace a fresh vision for our homes as we seek to prepare our children to continue in the Lord’s ultimate desire for them — to love Him and to love others.

That being said, tomorrow I will share with you a practical idea or, rather, a new, practical way of looking at parenting challenges. You probably don’t want to hear what I am going to say tomorrow!  It is simple, easy-to-follow and clear.  Unfortunately, it also promises to cause you more work in the short term, but I guarantee it will drastically reduce the yelling you do around your house.  Curious?  We’ll see you tomorrow.  :)

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