Tag Archives: blessings

QotD

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“For what we need to know, of course, is not just that God exists, not just that beyond the steely brightness of the stars there is a cosmic intelligence of some kind that keeps the whole show going, but that there is a God right here in the thick of our day-by-day lives who may not be writing messages about himself in the stars but in one way or another is trying to get messages through our blindness as we move around down here, knee-deep in the fragrant muck and misery and marvel of the world.  It is not objective proof of God’s existence that we want, but the experience of God’s presence.  That is the miracle we are really after, and that is also, I think, the miracle that we really get.”

–Frederick Buechner, The Magnificent Defeat

Ten Things I’m Thankful For

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1.  Jesus Christ, who brought me back together with God through the gift of His life’s blood spilled on the cross.

2.  Paul, my husband, best friend, and 24-hour tech support.

3.  My children, who amaze, frustrate, delight, and challenge me every day.

4.  Jobs, both mine and Paul’s, in this time of economic uncertainty.

5.  Our new home, much-anticipated and only half-decorated, but full of good memories already.

6.  Awesome friends, the deep-down kind, good for both everyday wear and special occasions.

7.  America, a country that, for all its faults, wants to do the right thing, and keeps getting up again, no matter how many times it falls down.

8.  Laughter that comes from the belly and spills up and over, wave after uncontrollable wave, until you can’t breathe.

9.  Tears that wash away the balled-up tensions of the day, leaving behind only fresh hope and a desire to start again tomorrow.

10.  Heaven, closer every moment.

10 Things My New iPhone is Good For

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I admit it.  I’d been coveting an iPhone for quite a while.  However, we had been Verizon customers since time immemorial, locked into a succession of satisfying two year service plans, and since the iPhone is exclusive to AT&T, I had given it up as a lost dream. I spent a lot of time checking out the Verizon versions of touch phones, hoping to fall in love with one of them the way I already adored the iPod Touch I got for my last birthday.  But to be honest, there just wasn’t any chemistry.  Apple had ruined me for all other touch interfaces.

Trust my wonderful, darling geek to know my heart.  For my birthday at the beginning of August, he canceled our Verizon plan and bought me my very own iPhone 3Gs.  After spending a couple of weeks playing with it and exploring its delightful secrets, I’m convinced that it is my favorite of all the gadgets Paul has ever bought me.  And that’s saying a lot.

I carry it with me everywhere.  I sleep with it next to the bed.  I’ve even dressed it up in a cute little outfit, green to match Penelope (my laptop):

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And now this new technology is touching my life in ways I never even dreamed.  Here are just a few of them.

10 Things My New iPhone is Good For:

1.  Settling restaurant arguments. Did ZZ Top release their first album in 1971 or 1973?  What was the host’s name on that old game show “Let’s Make a Deal”?  What are the main physiological differences between Vulcans and Romulans?  Before the yelling escalates and dinner rolls are thrown, I can whip out my iPhone and use my anywhere data plan to google the answers.

2.  Helping me find myself. I get lost.  A lot.  It doesn’t matter who is giving the directions; my ability to misunderstand and muddle them knows no bounds.  But the Map application on my iPhone can zero in on my current location using its internal GPS and ping the map exactly where I am while giving me directions to where I want to go.  It even follows me as I travel so I can make sure I’m sticking to the path.  It does everything except yell “turn left, dummy!” (Perhaps that feature will be added in the next software update.)

3.  Entertaining grouchy kids. Movies, music, video games… my iPhone has everything a tired Mommy needs to help her kids weather that extra-long wait while getting the winter tires put on the car.

4.  Keeping the world apprised of my every fascinating thought and action. I have an application on my iPhone that allows me to write entries on my blog from anywhere I go.  I also have one that hooks me up to Twitter, and one that puts me in touch with every one of my 400 Facebook friends at the touch of a button.  Whether I’m eating a cheeseburger, walking to the bookstore, or catching a cold, I can tell everyone what I’m doing at every moment of my day.

I cannot, however, make them care.

5.  Figuring out what’s for dinner. Picture this: I’m standing in the middle of the grocery store, trying to decide what to feed my family tonight.  I know that back home in the pantry, I have some chicken breasts, tortilla chips, and a can of Rotel.  I open my iPhone and tap the BigOven application, then enter the names of these three ingredients in the search box.  Up pops a recipe that uses them all: King Ranch Chicken, 15 minutes to prepare, bakes for one hour.  Looking at the recipe’s other ingredients, I toss cream of mushroom soup and some cans of chicken broth into my cart and poof!  Dinner is served!

6. Videotaping chance meetings with celebrities. Actually, that should probably say “videoing” (“video-ing”?), since tape hasn’t been involved since the eighties.  Whatever.  But the next time I bump into Dick Van Dyke in the produce department at the grocery store, I’m whipping out my iPhone and setting it to record every delicious moment of stuttering, nonsensical adoration.  (Plus, it might come in handy as evidence when I get called into court to defend myself against stalking charges.  After all, singing “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” off key isn’t a crime in the technical sense.)

7.  Discovering new music. A few years ago, there was a Diet Coke commercial starring Adrien Brody that I loved, purely because of the music.  I didn’t know what song it was, and there was only a fifteen second clip of it on the commercial, but I found myself humming that fifteen seconds over and over again until I thought I would go mad trying to figure out what it was.  Determined to buy the song and enjoy the whole thing, I kept trying to catch the lyrics so I could google them.  Eventually, I found out that it was “Callin’ Out” by Lyrics Born, and I purchased it on iTunes, but the whole process would have been vastly simplified by my iPhone and the free application I just got: Shazam.  Hold the iPhone receiver up to capture the song in question, and Shazam will use the song’s acoustic fingerprint to find it in the vast database before displaying the title, album, artist, and release date, as well as a purchasing link to iTunes.  Wow.  Just…wow.

8.  Finding out if it’s a snow day without getting out of bed. When the weather outside is truly frightful, there’s a good chance that life will be temporarily postponed due to snow accumulation.  Now I can just reach across to my iPhone and call up the local news web site to check school closings, all without touching a toe to the cold floor.

9.  Studying my Bible. When the teacher in my Bible class asks everyone to turn to a verse in the Bible, I get out my iPhone and look it up on YouVersion, my Bible application.  I can bookmark favorite verses, search by keyword, and view other people’s commentaries.  I can choose from a dozen translations.  There’s even a daily Bible reading schedule.  I used the same program on my iPod Touch, and it was one of the first things I loaded on my phone.  I used to feel a little self-conscious about firing up my electronic Bible at church, but lately there are a lot more people using them, and I can usually spot three or four other glowing screens from where I’m sitting.  What can I say?  I’m a trendsetter.

10.  Talking on the phone. That’s right.  Lest we forget, the iPhone is, first and foremost, a phone.  A phone with lots of cool phone-related features, like photo caller ID, visual voice mail management, and integrated contacts, along with all the usual cell phone offerings–speaker phone, conference calling, voice dialing, and the like.  There’s only one impediment to pure perfection.  I can’t find a good Chewbacca ringtone anywhere.

Before and After

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Guess what?

I am writing this from the master bedroom in our very own house!  That’s right–moving day has come and gone, leaving a trail of sore muscles, stacked boxes, and happy new homeowners in its wake.  I am exhausted and elated in equal measures.  Recent days have passed in a whirlwind of activity, and I’ve barely had time to breathe, but at last I can sit down and catch you up on all the fun details.

We closed over a week early on the house, and it’s a good thing we did, because the renovating work I so flippantly planned to accomplish in one Saturday before the move actually took about five days, and all the helping hands we could recruit.

In the past week, I’ve learned a couple of things:

1) Home improvement projects always take longer and cost more than you think they will.

and

2) We have the best friends in the whole wide world.

Since we got the keys to our place on the 18th, a small army of generous, hard working friends has been crawling over the house like worker ants–demolishing the old floor, taping and painting, installing the thermostat, cutting laminate flooring, and generally making me all teary-eyed with gratitude for their willing hearts and hands.  They brought over every tool they own, and spent night after night of their own precious free time wrestling with baseboard molding and breathing paint fumes.  They bent their backs to every large and small task I had on my massive To Do list, and then came back after all that and moved our heavy furniture and our thousand boxes, all with cheerful hearts and unflagging good grace.

A million thanks to:

Ben–our very own Helpful Hardware Man, who has generously donated time, supplies, and his limitless knowledge of home improvement techniques.  Also, he let me use his pneumatic nail gun.  Have you ever used a pneumatic nail gun?  That alone puts him near the top of my favorite people list.

Jim–cheerful and resourceful, he isn’t afraid to dive in and figure things out.  He presided over the destruction of our old kitchen and dining room floors, trimmed down and installed closet shelves, and provided the saw and the muscle for getting our new floor started.  His wife, Alyson, brought lunch for the entire crowd on moving day, including diet coke and my favorite store-bought cookies, Fudge Stripes.

Michael–a jack-of-all-trades, he was there with his wife Jessica every single day, helping out wherever he was needed, from demolition to taping off the molding.  He just showed up and said, “Put me to work.”  What a servant heart!

Jessica–room painter extraordinaire.  She mastered the art of cutting in and using the paint edger without getting goop all over the place (I’m still working on that.)

Brenda–even with a sick child at home and a fast-approaching moving day of her own on the horizon, she showed up to wield a paintbrush and kept us entertained with her witty banter.  I can’t wait to return the favor next week when she’s painting her new home.  (My banter might not be witty, but at least I can guarantee it will be plentiful.)

Martin–taped up the high places and provided chairs and stools for those of us who needed a little help to reach the heavens.

Patrick and Allison–speed painters.  I left for a quick hardware store run and when I returned, the family room was almost completely painted!  Patrick also risked life and limb last night to help Paul maneuver our new fridge up the stairs and into the kitchen.  I just watched from a chair across the room, praying that he wouldn’t get squished.

Ryan–drove in from the Valley to help out on moving day (and to scope out the location of future WoW LAN parties, of course).

Kathy–cleaned out her van (and its impressive collection of kid-related detritus) to haul boxes and spent the day waging a campaign to get everyone to start calling the family room the rumpus room.

Dad–brought his truck, his trailer, and his years of experience to bear on the logistical puzzles involved in moving large pieces of furniture through a narrow split entry.  (Clue: removing the front door helps.)

Yvie–Shop vac operator.  She became a torrent of cleanliness in the crazy mess that was our garage.

Mimi–wheeler, dealer, floor joint sealer.  On Wednesday she helped us close on the house and on Thursday she called to see when the work party would be.  She showed up with tools in hand and proceeded to work until the last floorboard was pounded into place.  Now that’s what I call a full-service real estate agent!

Yes, this is the house that love built.  Or at least the house that love painted and installed new flooring in.  Here are some pictures of the whole glorious, messy process:

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Paul's dad loaned us his ladder for reaching the vaulted ceilings.

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Jessica and Michael bringing color to the washed-out kitchen.

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Well, this explains a lot.

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Our own home improvement Ace, Ben. When it comes to "how to" questions, he's the guy to ask.

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Brenda getting some practice in before painting her own house this week.

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The old floor was destroyed to make way for the new one. I think most of the guys enjoyed the demolition much more than the reconstruction.

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Jim and Mimi putting together the world's largest jigsaw puzzle.

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Allison making sure we didn't accidentally paint our taupe carpet...taupe. Hmm.

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Mimi and the dance of the seven saws.

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Our new entry floor.

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Ta da!

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Green paint: $25. Laminate flooring: $312. Being able to look directly at your kitchen without wearing sunglasses: priceless.

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Paul waiting for CSI to show up and outline him in chalk.

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The family/rumpus room.

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Caleb's blue room. I like the two different shades.

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Katie's purple paradise.

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Michael and Dad bring in the entertainment center.

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Pause for lunch and a little web surfing.

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Jessica and Michael taking a well-deserved break.

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Paul and the mercifully un-squished Patrick catch their breath after manhandling the Amana up the stairs.

Lily, the littlest member of the moving crew, with mom Alyson and dad Jim.

Lily, the littlest member of the moving crew, with mom Alyson and dad Jim.

Kathy eating "see-food".

Kathy eating "see-food".

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Caleb and Katie helping out with the move in their own special way.

So there you have it.  We are clearly blessed beyond what we deserve.

Thank you, Lord, for our new house–and for the friends that make it a home.

Now back to unpacking!

Thankful

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The Big Things:

*Jesus Christ, who died to reunite my Father and me.  The rest wouldn’t mean anything without Him.

*the love of a good man.  We’ve walked through the sun and the rain, and every day is a little sweeter.

*two unique and amazing kids, with hearts and minds that grow deeper and richer all the time.  They are a wonder, a joy, and an awesome responsibility.

*my precious family.  We live all over the country, but they are always only a phone call away.

*the friendship of loving, talented, sweet-spirited women–girlfriends who have been there through joy and heartache and the kind of laughter that makes you wet your pants.

The Little Things:

*Paul’s job, and mine.  With economic worries swirling around like a flock of malevolent bats, I am deeply thankful for the security of Paul’s job.  I know there will be lots of opportunities in the coming months and years to help others who are struggling, and I’m thankful that we are in a position where we can do that.  It wasn’t very long ago that we were the ones in need.

*the beautiful home we’re renting.  What a blessing to have a yard, and another bedroom, and (eep!) a walk-in closet!  After so many years in our apartment, I feel like Annie visiting Daddy Warbucks for the first time.

*music, and the iPod that makes it possible for me to carry it around.  It’s my own personal soundtrack.

*hot tea.  I think the British are on to something.  In times of discouragement, it’s a small, warm comfort, and in times of peace, it puts a finishing touch on the feeling of contentment.  My favorite?  English Breakfast with a splash of milk and one spoonful of sugar.

*the smiles of strangers.

*Jay Cutler, who is the main reason my Fantasy Football team is leading the league this year.  I know it’s not ladylike to gloat, but…BOOYAH!

*Netflix.  I don’t even miss cable TV.  Well, maybe Mythbusters.

*the sidewalks in our new neighborhood.  I love to walk, and I appreciate places that make it easy.

*my library card, and the wonderful public library it unlocks.

*living in a place that has all four seasons in lovely abundance.  The fall colors were beautiful, and I’m looking forward to winter’s snow.

*my blog, and those who read it.  I really feel like I know some of you, and you have blessed my life.

Boxes

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“Do you still need more boxes?”

“Did you ask them for some boxes?”

“Do we have enough boxes?”

For the last two weeks, boxes have dominated my waking thoughts and dreams alike.  Where to find them, what to put in them, how to stack them so we could still access the bathroom and refrigerator and emergency exits (both of them) while we lived out our final days of residence.  For the past two days, anyone who could have watched from overhead as we navigated the boxed in paths through our tiny apartment would inevitably have been reminded of a giant game of Pac-Man.

Finally, today, it is moving day.  Wonderful friends are here beside us, loading and unloading all the pieces of our home life with a speed and precision that we could never have achieved alone.  And here I am, taking advantage of a brief respite while most of the crew is back at the apartment filling up the trailers for one last trip.

I only have a few minutes, but I just want to say how incredibly blessed I feel.  How thankful I am–for a nicer place to live, for the comfort and luxury of familiar possessions around us, and most of all, for the love and generosity of our sweet family in Christ, who turned out today in force with smiles of shared joy at our blessings and shoulders for sharing our burdens.  I can’t imagine what this would be like without them.

Thank you, Lord!

Wedding Drums

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Well, Amber is a married woman now.

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I know she’s 29 years old, but she’s still my baby sister, and seeing her in a wedding dress was every bit as surreal as the first time I witnessed my brother (the one who used to give me Indian rug burns and wrestle with me for control of the TV remote) changing diapers and answering to the name of “Daddy.” Still, the look on her face was beyond description. I suppose I could say that she was glowing, but it doesn’t seem to do her justice. When that kind of happiness, so deep and transforming, shines out from someone’s eyes, it’s almost too beautiful to look at. Seeing it radiating from my beloved sister warmed me straight through.

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The wedding was lovely. It was a perfect reflection of the two hearts being joined together that day. Daniel’s twin brother and best man, Samuel, sang a song in Shona, and Amber walked down the aisle to the sound of African drumbeats. Then she and Daniel faced each other before a crowd of smiling witnesses and promised to love each other always, to build their lives on God’s truth, and to be home to one another forever. After their first kiss (which was heralded by Daniel’s sincere “Woohooo!” of glee and the onlookers’ appreciative chuckles), the newly married couple a-wimoweh-ed back down the aisle together to the strains of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by The Tokens, grinning from ear to ear.

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Thanks to the round-the-clock food preparation and decorating efforts of some very dedicated extended family, the reception was a vision of candlelight and white tablecloths, filled with the aromas of delicious Italian meatballs and skewered chicken. Our Aunt Linette made the wedding cake, a delectable Italian Cream cake festooned with red roses. Samuel made a sweet toast to the happy couple, and the bride and groom entertained the guests with their own harmonic performance, singing an array of songs, accompanied by their musical friends, Butch and Linda. A few brave souls even jumped up to strut their stuff on the dance floor; mostly the kids, who found it an excellent way to burn off their sugar high from the cream cheese frosting.

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Finally, the cake was eaten, the bouquet was flung, and Daniel and Amber were ready to exchange the noisy wedding festivities for the quiet refuge of their reserved room at a nearby bed-and-breakfast. Instead of birdseed to hurl at the bride and groom (possibly causing grievous injury or inviting freak bird swarm attacks) the guests received glowsticks to wave around and light the path through the dark parking lot to Amber’s well-decorated car. With one last run through the cheering crowd, the freshly joined pair jumped into their escape vehicle and drove away to begin their new life.

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Just like that, the wedding was over.

The cleanup, however, was just beginning.

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Congratulations, Daniel and Amber. May God bless you with true friendship, self-sacrificing love, and more mountains than valleys. I wish you both very happy!

(Final photo courtesy of Mike McElhatton)

Stranded

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I usually ignore those little lights on the dashboard.

Our car, a Ford Escort, was born the same year the Euro was introduced*, and is starting to show her age. I’ve decided that the “check engine” light, which has been on for the past 30,000 miles, is the automotive equivalent of arthritis. We’ve taken our beloved car to professionals, performed batteries of tests, and repaired everything from the timing belt to the oxygen sensors, but that red light just stays on. I don’t even notice it anymore.

That’s why yesterday, when the little battery-shaped icon started flickering on and off, I didn’t panic. The car seemed to be functioning at normal parameters and I knew the battery was only a year old. Still, to be on the safe side, I pulled into the NAPA parking lot on my way home from dropping Katie at school, just to have them check it out. (Side note: I love NAPA. The floor and walls and shelves are full of interesting looking parts and gizmos that I don’t understand, the air smells slightly of engine grease, and the employees are always extremely kind and helpful and not condescending at all even though I clearly don’t know a manifold from a manatee.) I told the man behind the counter about the flickering battery light, and right away he knew it was caused by one of two problems. Grabbing one of his many cool diagnostic voodoo devices, he followed me out to the car and hooked its two clips up to my battery. After studying the display for a moment, he announced, “Well, the good news is that it’s not your battery.”

In this case, the “good news” wasn’t so good. A battery costs about $50 to replace. A new alternator, on the other hand, costs closer to two hundred dollars. And a new alternator, he assured me, was what we needed. “How long have we got?” I asked. “Do I need to drive straight to a mechanic, or can I get away with shopping around for a few days?”

“Well, if you turn off your radio, heater, and headlights, you might be fine for a while. Just don’t go out of town. And ma’am? If you stop at 7-11, leave the engine running.”

Yikes.

“A while” turned out to be less than 24 hours. We had made arrangements to have my father-in-law, an auto mechanic who works near Paul’s office, take a look at the Escort this afternoon, but that wasn’t soon enough. This morning, as I was driving Paul to work (we only have the one car), our alternator commenced its death throes. First, the engine started missing. It lurched, and stalled, and lurched again, making a sickly thrumming noise all the while. We were about a mile from our destination. Then I noticed the speedometer had stopped working. Its needle was buried deep under the zero, unresponsive. Next, we lost our turn signals. I switched on the left one to take a corner, and nothing happened. We were about a block away. “You’d better drive straight to the garage,” Paul directed worriedly. “There’s no way you’re getting home in this bucket.”

In the end, the engine cut out (and this is no exaggeration) just as we were coasting into the last available parking space in front of Dad’s garage. In fact, Paul had to push us the last three feet. Talk about timing! I’m thinking it was a God thing.

While Paul went and consulted with his dad on our options (a two day wait for the proper part, most likely), I made phone calls to cancel my eye appointment and to tell Katie’s school why she wouldn’t be in attendance today. We came in from the cold and Paul’s wonderful coworkers set the kids up with some computer games to keep them busy as we tried to decide what to do. Ultimately, Dad loaned us his truck and Paul deposited the kids and I back at home, where we are marooned until such time as our old red tank is ready to roll once more.

Not exactly the best morning, but being a cup-half-full kind of girl, I’m going to count the blessings in this situation. Here they are:

*The car died right in front of the garage, not on the side of the road or in front of the school.

*Paul was with me, so I didn’t have to juggle kids with waiting for rescue and working out the car salvage details.

*We actually know what’s wrong with the car, and we have the money to fix it.

*It’s great to be related to a talented auto mechanic. Between Paul and his dad, our cars and computers always receive the best technical support.

*We didn’t have a wreck, despite having to drive our rapidly decomposing automobile on slick, icy roads.

*We might be stranded, but we’re warm and together and at home, with no place to go, just watching the snow falling, falling, falling outside.

It’s not so bad.

*1999 (You didn’t know my blog was educational, did you?)

Love in the Batter

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This morning, Katie asked me to make pancakes.

As I got out the bowl, the pan, and the spatula, the kids hovered around me like moths. “Can I help you stir, Mom?” “Let’s add nuts this time!” “Can I flip them over, please? I promise I’ll be careful!” One reason pancakes are so popular around here is the team effort that goes into making them. Caleb dragged the step stool from its hiding place next to the refrigerator and in a moment he and Katie were both vying for position on the top step, the better to see into the magic bowl.

I’m not going to tell you that I make my pancakes from scratch. Pancake mix is cheap, and easy to whip into a nearly instant stack of fluffy flapjacks. Just add water. Besides, I have to make two batches–one gluten-free, casein-free batch for Katie, and one regular batch for Caleb and Paul. Starting from scratch would just take too long. But I do like to add things to the batter. An egg, for protein. Nuts, for texture. Sugar and cinnamon, just because it tastes better that way. Katie is my little kitchen experimenter, and she is always suggesting new additions. “Chocolate chips, Mom? That would be yummy.” “How about some coconut?” I’ve had to veto some of her wilder suggestions, like gummi bears and marshmallows, but I usually try to accommodate a special request or two. We dump it all in a big mixing bowl and take turns stirring it until every last lump of powdery pancake mix is blended in.

Then comes the fun part.

Dribbling pancake batter off of a spoon and onto a hot griddle in the exact shape of a bat is a lot harder than it sounds. Fortunately, Katie and Caleb have well-honed imaginations, and can easily see horses, snakes, and porcupines where most objective observers might conclude that the chef simply suffered a small seizure while pouring the batter. I also do letters, numbers, and various punctuation marks. “Hey, Mom, make a C, for Caleb!” “Will you make mine say ‘#1’?” I honor nearly any request, as long as I know what it is (although I draw the line at characters from video games.)

The hot pancakes come off the griddle a beautiful golden brown (well, after I burn the first batch, which I always do.) The kids enjoy drizzling the syrup themselves, making big, swirling loops across the tops of the hot cakes with it and letting it pool in honey-colored puddles underneath.

The first silence of the morning settles over the kitchen as everybody falls upon the food, and, in a flash, the pancakes are gone. The dishes are whisked away to the dishwasher, the counter is wiped down, and breakfast is over. Everyone scampers off to meet the day with full bellies. Invariably, that night, whether Katie or Caleb says the prayer, a “thank you for pancakes” finds its way in somewhere between the Dear God and the Amen.

Pancakes are a breakfast for Saturdays, or vacation days, days when the harried pace of the usual weekly routine gives way to the delicious languor of hour upon unscheduled hour. To my kids, pancakes say that I love them, and love spending time with them. They say that I value their contribution, and that they are worthwhile to me. Such a little thing, really, but a big thing, too. I can see it in the glow of their eyes.

I hope I never get too busy to make Saturday morning pancakes.