Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Legal mess

Sometime during the night my sweet girls were replaced by highly destructive monsters. Monsters who feed on messes and wanton demolition.

The proof...

While I read a book about Godly parenting{!} during my quiet time, they stole into the bathroom and emptied a bottle of Castile soap into the carpet then colored over it with bathtub crayons.

While I made their breakfast, they shredded the table bouquet.

While I called Tim to talk me off the ledge, they painted Afton in blueberry yogurt and splattered the dog in milk.

All. before. 7:30.

I really wanted to leave them to be raised by wolves Jungle Book style. The outcome couldn't be significantly different.

What do you do when mess monsters invade your home?

Give them a mess to feast upon.

I pinned a recipe for homemade slime months ago, then promptly forgot about it. 5 minutes, glue, liquid laundry starch and food coloring - that's all it takes to pacify mess monsters {recipe here and here}. For an hour and a half, we made pancakes, cupcakes, popsicles, lollipops. The princess crown and earrings caused some issues {slime and rapunzel hair mix entirely too well}. Glorious, contained monster fun with very little momma mess. Followed up by a long overdue midmorning bubble bath {recipe here}.

I don't share this crazy-turned-fun morning to show that at my wit's end I found great wit, that I solved this problem all by myself. SuperMom to the rescue. Far from it.

By 7:30, I was done. Ready to quit. A desperate animal caged in by my obligation. The gift of mommahood felt like a yoke of lead.

That became our cry around the breakfast table. Momma bowed and prayed. Afton bowed and prayed. PoppaDaddy bowed and prayed from across town.

Prayer answered with divine prompting to make a mess for my monsters. He doesn't only answer with lofty words and high theology. And this was no who fills the storehouses with snow? morning. The Spirit's voice was completely practical. Distract them with what they want to do. Redirect destructive energy into a legal mess.

Thank you Lord for wisdom, both understanding the deep and recalling the practical. You give to each momma as she has need.

Monday, May 20, 2013

In the Quiet

One of the most difficult things about blogging is writing for yourself. I find myself evaluating my journal entries for post-worthiness.  My very thoughts feel potentially public.

I'm left with an academic overview of my life, some removed third person narration.

The same thing happens when I read. I find myself flying through scripture seeking verses to teach the girls, verses to add to my memory app, concepts to write into a self-deprecating story.

So ironic... Practicing transparency and accountability with anyone who cares to read my confessions, while avoiding unfiltered honesty with myself.

Publicity requires filtered honesty. Not falsehood or misleading. Truth strained through the sieve of propriety. Sift out the complaining voice, the pious tone, the judgmental thoughts.

Filter long enough and you forget that all that ugly is still present.

In Kenya, we {the wimpy, visiting westerners} filled our water bottles every morning from the designated RO faucet. Healthy, bacteria-free water. Drink all you want. It lulled us into false confidence about the campus taps. Without thought, we started rinsing toothbrushes under the bathroom faucets, straining bacteria into the bristles, exposing ourselves to all the Kenya water had to offer. Filtering the water was necessary and dangerous at the same time. Dangerous by our complacency.

My heart is no different. I filter for the girls' sake, filter for the blog, filter for general politeness and good opinion. Until I convince myself that the danger is gone. That the sickness is no longer lurking. 

Isn't that exactly when I'm in the most danger? When I forget the danger. When I walk confident.

Throw a sheet over the pile of broken glass. Cover my ears to the lion's roar. I don't see it anymore, so it must not be there. I don't hear it anymore, so it must be gone.

The real source of my complacency is my own head racket. So busy forming pretty, filtered thoughts that I don't listen to the real noise inside me. Nor can I hear the words whispered by the Holy Spirit, prompting me to confess, not hide. To repent, not filter.

Because filters deteriorate. Time dulls the mind and all the built up sickness of the heart leaches through, revealing the sharp-tongued old woman who was always under the surface.

It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of The Lord. Jeremiah 3:26, emphasis mine

In quiet, the Spirit does his saving work. Doesn't just clean the outside of the cup, the words that pour forth. He digs deep to the source of the sickness, the very heart of the woman. He chips and digs away the stone heart with its selfishness and bitterness and envy and malice. He provides new, a heart beating with grace and love from the Father, so that what bubbles up isn't filtered. Doesn't need the filter. The words are lovely because he gives us love. The thoughts are beautiful because He is gives us beauty.

We are made pure in the quiet. When we turn off our own commentary to listen. When we release the marvelous thoughts that occupy the mind and practice still.

Still doesn't require rest. Quiet doesn't require silence. It's present in the pre-dinner kitchen clatter if our heart's ear is attentive.

And Still isn't forced by rest. Quiet isn't brought about in silence. Not if minds still race and write and filter the very words spoken to our own selves.

Quiet is a mental position, a humble posture of expectation before a God who speaks enduringly.

In the soul silence we find a new voice filled with honest words. God's gift in Still.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Little Man round-up

Some people are not DIY'ers. I get it. And some people simply don't like sewing. I get that too. I didn't sew a single thing for Gwennan's nursery. I lacked confidence and skill. Instead I very happily painted a bookshelf and dresser, and passed off sewing projects to willing friends or relations. Sewing just wasn't my thing.

This pregnancy I'm sewing everything I can think of. This pregnancy it is my thing.

If you don't sew, I don't want to offer a guilt-producing post where I point out how easy it is to make everything you just registered for. If you don't sew, making a crib sheet isn't easy; it's a nightmare. The first set of crib skirts I made took me 6 or 7 hours, and all I could see were flaws. The most fun part was sweeping up and finishing.

But if you enjoy sewing, I want to share the excitement and the results of scanning so many tutorials. I don't feel the need to re-write the instructions that are available, but I thought I'd pass along what I found.

A nursery round up of sorts. A no obligation peek or inspiration and instruction.

1. Pacifier clips at I'mSimplyMe

2. Squared-off crib skirt {more suited to a little man perhaps} at VanillaJoy

3. Fitted crib sheets {without a serger} from Sew4Home

4. Aden and Anais style swaddling blankets from ThisLittleMiggyStayedHome {a note - you do not need a serger if you have an overcasting foot for your machine. Not sure what that is? Check your owner's manual.}

5. Nursing Cover from PrudentBaby

That about does it for Little Man's layette. When I opened the shopping bag after my last trip to JoAnn, Tim's eyes widened with that, 'haven't you ever heard of Target??' look. As of this morning, I only have 2 yards of fabric left. Then I'll be scratching my head for new ideas to stay still and busy for the next 6 weeks.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

What bed rest reveals

When the contractions started, however many months too soon, and the doctor told me, I won't put you on bed rest, if you'll put yourself on bed rest {essentially, I set my own up verses down hours}, my heart beat in panic mode.

Didn't she understand that I have a home to run and a family to feed {gluten free, from scratch, I might add}, and two other children to raise{!!!}? 

Didn't God remember how much was on my plate? How much He put on my plate?

I was a little peeved and a lot stressed {except I'm not allowed to stress - stress causes contractions}.

As a family, we've been at this momma rests on the couch thing for a while. Gwennan reminds me to let her pick things up because she can bend down, Mommy. Afton insists on walking now and happily plops down next to me when we read, leaving my lap for baby brother {breaks my heart a little}. Tim, well, he's a champ, could not do this without him. And me, I'm swallowing my dose of humility.

And exposing my fears:

Like work. I'm a work-a-holic in my own home. I fear inactivity, fear laziness. Because I fear I will like it a little too much. Which has revealed:

I fear being the 'velour tracksuit SAHM,' the one on Super Nanny whose children run wild through the house overflowing with singing plastic toys and unfolded laundry, and she screams over General Hospital for everyone to just shut up. If I model my behavior out of fear of that stereotype, won't I just fall into a different one? Say, the 'jean jumper SAHM,' the overly stern, homeschooling, sew-and-bake-everything-by hand, work-a-holic mom who must let everyone know that she does more in an hour than everyone else does all day {crap - that sounds familiar}.

I'm finding a new balance:

Dirty dishes take a back seat to baby projects. I could buy crib sheets and Aden and Anais swaddlers and passie holders. Amazon keeps reminding me that it's one-click-away. But if I have two hours of work in me, an hour is spent at the sewing machine. I need easy nesting more than I need clean bathrooms. Reminds me of the baby I'm taking care of while resting.

My busted sewing machine was a blessing. How I griped at God for allowing my sewing machine to break with all these nesting projects left undone. I had to apologize to him again this morning as I sat down to sew without needing to prep the machine or fuss with tension. Stress-free start every time. I would not be able to rest in baby projects with my old stress machine. Again, thank you, Lord.

Green veggies are still what's for dinner. Quality meals are the first things to go when I feel bad. How about Chick fil a is the standard fix. But man cannot live on chicken nuggets for 13 weeks {or little girls, for that matter}. Keeping real food on the menu has been awesome - everybody feels better. It's not complicated fare, throw chicken and veggies on the grill. Dinner will be ready in 10. Props to Tim for stepping up on the nights I can't and working out real dinners. Love that man!

We are all blessed by some extra reading time. I can't do playgrounds and such, but I can sit on the couch and read. The girls are getting plenty of book time, replacement therapy for structured school. And this momma, who regretfully spent the last two difficult pregnant stretches watching a tragic amount of tv, finds herself buried in books as well. There's too much to explain in grown-up tv, and little ears miss nothing. A book I keep all to myself. A world that isn't brought to me by the letter K.

Our family priorities are ours, specialized to our little family, and may not translate to anyone else {you might not see baking bread as a top 10 weekly priority}. That doesn't imply wrong-ness for either party.

I'm learning to let my family be right for us, not right for everyone. Learning to let my way be right for me, not right for every mom. Our choices are our own and diligently sought {we hope}. I'm learning to trust other parents to do the same for their brood.

Monday, May 13, 2013

When hands bleed

Like most overly pious people, I like to tell myself that I'm not attached to 'stuff.' It feels other-worldly and spiritual to renounce trivial possessions. 

Then my stuff break.

And I shed tears.

Memories of Christmas morning with my Nannie, opening the box I knew was just for me. It was a ritual between us. These carousel horses. Every year, a new horse with a new song.

I climb the stairs with a heavy heart after Gwennan complains that Afton broke her favorite carousel. I know what this means. It's not just her favorite carousel; it's my favorite. The music box memory of Nannie that I wanted to share with my little girls

And there are their hands and feet stained with tiny smears of blood from trying to clean up their own mess. Shards of evidence buried in the carpet. Glitter and broken glass embedded in quilts and stuffed animals. A stack in the hallway where they wanted to hide their shame, remove it from the scene.

My heart breaks, and my eyes leak as I wash skin, checking for slivers. Wash carpet, checking for slivers. Little pieces of their disobedience lying in wait to pain them again.

The end result: pile of broken glass.

Picture of our sin. All sharp edges. Wounding us over and over as we run circles around the mess we made trying to fix it ourselves.

But this mess needs experienced hands. Fingers that know how to pick up the shards. Fingers that will be cut by our sin, cleaning up the remnants of their own broken treasure.

For he was pierced for our transgression...

He was crushed for our sins...

By his wounds we are healed.

Disobedience breaks God's world, God's order, God's heart, God's relationship with his favorite creation.

And cuts our hearts to pieces, slivers of sin piercing deep and leaving rivers of blood. Slivers of our sin lying around waiting to cut us again.

Then he comes, perfect unstained hands picking up all those pieces in his own skin. Wiping clean our bloody stains. Perfectly gentle and patient with those who deserve the blood and pain. He runs his hands over the wake of our disobedience, leaving nail-shaped scars.
Blood and tears. The price of relationship. The cost of sharing.

I could keep memories packed up, out of reach, safe from damaging forces. But they would never share those memories. Never see the memory of Nannie spinning slowly, plinking out a lullaby.

I could keep my heart packed up, out of reach, safe from rebellion and dishonesty. All those child sins that break momma's heart over and over. But they would not see forgiveness and grace, love from their momma.

I could hide my sin, bury it deep in dark shadows, safe from exposure, conviction. But I would never see the bleeding hands of a savior picking up the shards, taking the pain himself.

The break is good. The shatter a glory. To see the beautiful work of the cleaning.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

A few 'thank you's'

Why my hubby rocks:

1. Last night, he accurately read my "will this evening ever end?!" face and offered me rest {more accurately some uninterrupted time to work on 'princess canopies' for the nursery}.

2. He took both girls with him to work, so I wouldn't be tempted to put them to bed by myself.

3. He took out, in public, two little girls wearing: pajamas, rain coats, pink fluffy snow boots, and crocheted hats with bear ears... in May.

4. He thought it was great.

5. All this after painstakingly blotting ball point pen from the couch cushion after an absentminded momma left out her pen and an artistically driven 3yo added a monochromatic pattern to the sofa.

6. And that after a four-shampoo-and-rinse bath cleaning diaper cream out of little one's hair. 

Which reminds me, I need to say some big thank you's.

First to my Love who is doing his job and mine when I sit on the couch and try not to contract. I thank The Lord for you every day!

Then, to Matt {the boss man} for encouraging a flexible schedule during this crazy time.

Finally, to all of you who are praying for our family right now. Your prayers are felt. This week has been a reprieve from the overwhelming exhaustion of unchecked contractions, dual barrel rebellion, and a lot of tears. We feel like a family again. Still in a struggle, but not alone, and not losing. Earthly efforts haven't increased, so I can only give credit to God's grace. And your prayers.

Thank You and thank you!

From a very grateful momma

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Gluten Free Pizza Crust {or the Holy Grail}

I've wanted to share this recipe for a while - it came together right after Christmas. And the first bite was Heaven sent; tears actually came to my eyes {keep in mind that I was running high on pregnancy hormones and nauseated most of the time}.

But I kept it to myself. at least until the recipe proved itself. How dare I hold out gluten free hope, only to realize that my first attempts were a fluke.

Living with a major food allergy is one of those losses that normalizes. You forget that anything is different. Unless it is painfully pointed out. For people with gluten issues, yeast is that screaming reminder that you're missing out on something truly fabulous. Whether it be cinnamon rolls or french bread or, in my case, pizza.

What can I say, I'm a gourmet pizza junkie aficionado. And the gluten free crusts we tried tasted like crackers or biscuits. They lacked the essential 'spring' and 'foldability' of real pizza dough. I gave up for a while and used this recipe {which is excellent but completely different}.

Then I opened The Homemade Pantry {have I talked you into buying this book yet?? Seriously, you should.} and saw her recipe for homemade frozen pizza crust, real pizza crust. From the wife of a former pizza parlor guy. I either forgot how bad{!} my first attempts were or was overcome with desperation to taste something that resembled stretched, leavened dough.

Here's the result. The Ellis Family All-time Favorite Meal {we finally hear little shrieks of 'pizza!!!' at dinner time - an American family once more}.
Dough post-rising

All that was left...

GF Pizza Crust

1 1/4 c warm water
1 T active dry yeast
1 t sugar

1 c oat flour
1 c quinoa or sorghum flour
1 1/3 c sweet or white rice flour
1 t salt
2 t xanthan gum
2 T olive oil
2 eggs

Proof yeast - mix yeast, water and sugar in a glass measuring cup or bowl and allow to sit 5-10 minutes until foam forms across top. 

In a stand mixer, combine flours, salt and xanthan gum. On medium speed, mix in oil, until evenly incorporated. Mix in eggs, until evenly incorporated. Add yeast mixture as quickly as dough will absorb it. The mixture should resemble a thick cake batter. Add flour (1/4 c at a time) or water (1 t at a time) to adjust consistency. Beat dough on high speed for 4-5 minutes, until dough takes on whipped appearance.

Spray olive oil on 2 pizza stones or air bake pans. Split dough in half. Wet hands thoroughly and spread dough as thin as possible on stones. If the dough clings to your hands, wet your hands again. Smooth the surface from the inside of the ball to the outside.

Cover the stones with a wet dishcloth or oiled plastic wrap and allow to rise until double in size (1-2 hours).

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F. When oven is hot, top your pizza (the crust will be soggy if you top it early). Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until sauce bubbles and cheese begins to brown. 

Note - This recipe freezes well. To freeze without toppings, bake for 5 minutes. Allow to cool completely on pan. Wrap in 2 layers of plastic wrap and freeze up to a month.

Another note - this is not{!} one of those recipes where you just change the gluten free flour for whole wheat flour and carry on. The prep for this dough is completely different as are some of the ingredients. If you want my old {still fantastic} recipe for pizza dough, check it here.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Chatter over breakfast {or what makes a name tall}

Breakfast is our 'around the table' family time. Some of our best conversations circulate over pancakes and coffee, especially on Friday mornings when we have nowhere to go.

This morning, Tim brought up the topic of the trimester... What are we going to name Little Man?

Tim: Girls, what should we name baby brother?

Gwennan: Isaac Daniel Manza

Me: So we should name him Isaac?

Gwennan: No, Isaac is just his tallest name.

Me, philosophically curious: What makes a name tall?

Gwennan, slightly exasperated by my dumb question: Drinking milk from Mommy's boobs.

Ah yes.

Outside of a few cute moments like this one, our conversations seem to be failing recently. Momma's in no mood to talk, to you, to God, to anyone. At least that's how it feels on my end. My every move is punctuated with a sigh. My conversations spoken through unfocused eyes.

Do my girls know I still love them? Do they know how much the pain of carrying brother is weighing on my soul? Do they understand at all?

And where is grace on weeks like this? When I seem to have none?

Grace sneaks up in a child voice. Big one talking to herself at play, I have two beautiful, precious, precious girls. I love them so much!

Through a Holy Spirit filter, she holds fast to momma's phrase of love. She doesn't sigh at her baby dolls and slowly rise from the table to wipe spilled milk. She hugs and sings and latches hard to the good moments. The moments worth sharing.

And I shout silent thanks to the Lord for the encouragement I desperately need. Shot in the arm better than espresso for empowering an exhausted momma to re-enter the fray. The crazy fight to love my family.

When I started this momma journey, I thought momma love was a natural thing, brought on by hormone storms and maternal instinct. Train the younger women to love their husbands and children seemed superfluous. Like instructing someone to train to feed themselves.

Because I did not grasp love. Not real, honest, sacrificial love. No inkling of the root of selfishness burrowed deep in my heart. Or how much hard labor it takes to expose such a root. Or how easily it would grow back just as strong as ever when my world spins a little too chaotic for my taste.

A quiet voice whispers to me I have a beautiful, precious, precious girl. I love you so much! He has not forgotten me, could not forget me, any more than I could forget my beautiful, precious girls yawping in the next room or the wonderful little man squirming inside me. Where my love is learned, his love is nature. He cannot neglect me any more than he can neglect himself. His love is who He is.

As high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him. Psalm 103:11

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

My apologies {or excuses}

I'm bored with my own thoughts recently.

Does anyone else get that way?

Re-reading Anne of Green Gables, and all I want to do is shut myself up in an old attic with a writing desk in front of a bright window and write about girlhood and sisters and so many romantic notions that I hold dear.

Seeing as I have no character of my own, just a conglomeration of all my favorites {Jo March, Jane Eyre, Anne Elliot}, I'm losing myself in Anne Shirley's provincial life.

That and my sewing machine.

News bulletin: I got a new sewing machine!
I can't remember if I bemoaned my broken sewing machine when it first started to go {while I was quilting a gift for a baby being delivered the next morning}. DH slaved over it for hours and restored it for one more use. Only to have it break again mid-project {due that evening - must stop procrastinating tomorrow}. I was done fighting with that machine. Hubby could see it in my eyes.

My old machine for its temperamental nature, had sentimental value. It was DH's gift to me when big one was born, a 'push present.' At that time, I only sewed at Christmas when I felt compelled to make homemade gifts using my grandmother's original 1930's Singer. A beautiful, tiny powerhouse with a perfect straight stitch. Perfect because it could do nothing else. I made a tragically home-ec Christmas skirt that my dear sister still wraps around her tree every year - I love her for that.

Maybe it was the 40 stitches or my new identity as a SAHM, but I sewed the stuffing out of that welcome-to-maternity machine. Sewed through tension nightmares. Sewed through layer after layer of thick fleece and flannel. Sewed my first dress and my first free motion quilt. Until the machine cried, 'uncle,' seized up, and died.

{Did I mention I got a new sewing machine??}

I spent days hours reading reviews, consulting more experienced seamstresses {everyone has a different, equally valid opinion} trying to spend my very respectable budget wisely. Between sewing machines and baby names, I cringed at the computer screen. Until I made my decision {in case you are curious - the Brother PC-420 PRW}.

Then I couldn't be bothered with the computer screen because I have a brand new LED screen on my brand new sewing machine with 200 stitches {!!}. Which is of course why I'm working on my most monotonous project since diapers - fabric banners for the nursery.

Despite the excitement over the new machine and the escape into a good book, this week has been a trial. My girls are whirling through the house leaving the damage path of a tornado.

A glimpse into the tumultuous routine at the renaissance house: Just this morning, the girl wonders took apart their princess tent and used the poles to knock all the 'no touches' off of their dresser. Momma's not up for much these days, certainly not cleaning up raging messes. I've resorted to competition and prizes {a third 'third trimester' is ruining my parenting ideals} - the best cleaner gets to choose the before lunch movie. The first day, Gwennan thought she would strong arm influence her sister into the movie of her choice. Afton raced from toy to bin and proudly announced that we would be watching The Lion King, again. Since then Gwennan has cleaned with a desperate frenzy to ensure that we get to watch a princess movie.

After reading this, you may be bored with my thoughts this week, too. I don't blame you {and I did warn you}. Some weeks are just unliterary. I guess that's my excuse and apology. My brain is fogged by screaming kids, hormones, and nursery decor. While my brain clears, might I suggest re-reading a childhood favorite? I hear Anne of Green Gables is pretty good.


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