Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Intentional Parenting :: Reprise :: Intentionally Disciplined


This post is just being reposted in its entirety partly because I thought it was just right as it was originally written and partly because I'm on vacation with my family this week. Discipline is hard! Ha! (But I'd still love your thoughts in the comments!)

*****

It’s funny that I should be writing about discipline because, truth be told, sometimes I feel like the most undisciplined person ever.

It’s not that my parents didn’t discipline me—they did. For sure. They made sure I behaved properly. They made sure I finished piano practice and homework before I watched T.V. They made me play outside and get plenty of exercise.

My parents tried their best to raise disciplined children . . . and yet . . .

And yet I fail so often.

I have many days that my lack of discipline has me getting up late, rushing to get kids to school, foregoing my workout in order to get other things done, leaving my kitchen a mess until dinner, neglecting my time with God.

And just last week I found it much easier to rationalize the behavior of one of my kids so that I didn’t have to do the hard work of disciplining her. I just didn’t want to do it. (But I did.)

So, really, me? Write about discipline? I want to laugh and tell you it’s a joke, but that wouldn’t be the truth. The truth is, I know how important discipline is in my life because I lack it so much.

And another truth . . . I see how important it is going to be in the lives of my daughters because they aren’t naturally self-disciplined either. Who really is?

So today I want to explore this idea of intentional discipline. What is it? Why is it important? What does it mean for our kids?

What is Discipline?
First of all, let me say what discipline is NOT. I am not talking about the old “to-spank-or-not-to-spank” question. (Remember, intentional parenting asks “why” not “how.”) There are plenty of how-to-discipline-your-children books out there—some of them very good.

I’m not here to tell you how to discipline your kids, but rather to encourage you to really do the hard work of discipline so that your children will enjoy happy, productive lives and relationships.

So, I’m not talking about spanking. I’m not talking about shaking a finger at your child for spilling his milk. The discipline I’m talking about is self-discipline—helping your kids monitor their own behavior so that, ultimately, they will become well-disciplined adults.

Does this require sacrifice on the part of a parent? You bet it does. It also requires paying attention, giving your time, and doing some hard work.

A lot of hard work.

Why Discipline?
I’ve already hinted at this, but I’ll say it a little differently: I’m afraid that undisciplined kids become undisciplined adults. And being an undisciplined adult is a very hard person to be.

This may seem like a simplistic example (and it probably is), but even on the days when I give in to my slothfulness, I feel out-of-sorts. I feel like my day just doesn’t go quite right. I feel like my lack of discipline affects not just me, but everyone around me. I can’t imagine living like that every day.

And, worse yet, when I am undisciplined about my time with God, my relationship with Him is affected. I don’t enjoy the peace that I would normally enjoy on a day when I’ve taken time with Him. I don’t enjoy that closeness with God, all because of my own lack of discipline.

So, you see, my relationships are affected when I lack discipline.

Undisciplined adults also tend to lack stick-to-it-iveness. When situations become hard, undisciplined people give up. They don’t have the inner fortitude to just hang in there and keep going. A strong sense of discipline will help a kid become an adult who can handle tough situations without wilting under pressure.

Finally, we discipline because God calls us to do it. The Bible has a whole lot to say about discipline. God disciplines us for our own good—because He loves us; as parents, we should do the same. God calls a person who lacks discipline evil (Proverbs 5:22-23). Now there’s a scary thought, huh? And the Bible says that a person who is disciplined is called “blessed” (Psalm 94:12).

To show our children love, to save them from evil, and to ultimately bless them—these are the reasons we take discipline seriously.

Intentional Discipline
So when I encourage you (and me) to discipline your kids intentionally, what do I mean? I mostly mean don’t give up. Don’t be afraid to set rules and to follow them consistently. Do the hard work it takes for your kids to become the well-disciplined adults you want them to be.

Some friends of ours have been fantastic examples of this. They have set the expectation that each of their children will spend time reading their Bibles every morning before breakfast. (What a wonderful discipline to instill in our children!) But just telling their kids to read their Bibles every day wouldn’t be particularly intentional. Our friends take their expectation to a new level when the family meets together for breakfast in the morning. Our friend (their dad) asks each of his kids what they read in the Bible that morning. If one child has not had time to read that morning, perhaps choosing a few more minutes of sleep over Bible reading, our friend sends them back to their room for a few minutes to spend time reading the Bible. No breakfast until his children have fed on God’s word first.

Personally, I have a thing about getting homework done (probably because my mom did too), so one rule in our home is that homework and practicing instruments must be done before any television is turned on after school. (My parents were more strict—no T.V. until 6:30 p.m.) If my child chooses to put off homework for a little while after school, that’s O.K.—they do need a little break sometimes—but they understand that they will not watch T.V. until all chores are done.

It might sound like a small thing, but I hope this is teaching my girls that they must be disciplined with their use of time. Sure, they have choices about how they use their time, but they also need to realize that they have to prioritize their time in order to get the most important stuff done first.

So guess what? It takes discipline to discipline your kids. Really. It takes determination. It takes setting rules. It takes follow-through. Sometimes it takes time and energy and even tears on your part in order to see the fruit of strong discipline in the lives of your kids.

And I fail. Every day I fail at this. But I have to keep telling myself that it’s worth it. It really is. Because I’m seeing results every day.

So, let’s talk. What are the things that you are intentional about in the area of discipline? What discipline is it important for you to see in your child? What’s hard about discipline for you?


*****
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Friday, March 25, 2016

Jesus at My Kitchen Table

This post was originally written in 2014 but it seems fitting on this Good Friday. May you find grace and peace this Easter.

*****

Are you doing any special reading for Holy Week? Our church sent out some booklets of brief devotional thoughts for the week, so I’ve been working my way through those.

This morning’s reading was about Jesus before Pilate (found in Luke 23). This chapter of the Bible tells how Jesus was put to trial, first before Pilate who couldn’t find any fault in him; then to Herod who mocked him and sent him back to Pilate; then to Pilate a second time. Still, Pilate could find no wrong in Jesus, but because Pilate was a weak leader and a coward, he ordered Jesus to be flogged and killed, releasing a thief and a murderer instead of Jesus.

The whole time, Jesus stood silently, not answering his accusers. Not saying a word to defend himself.

I thought about how quickly I jump to defend myself, how I always have something to say, especially when I feel backed into a corner. If anyone was backed into a corner, it was Jesus. False accusations flew all around him, and yet, he did not respond.

I wonder why. Why did he just stand there and take it? Why didn’t he just bring the temple crashing down on them all? Why didn’t he at least laugh at them and tell them that their day is coming?

Humility. Jesus knew that this was his time and that no answer he could give would save him from what he had come to do. Jesus knew that he was the only one who could set the world free, but in order to do that, he had to endure suffering, mocking, torture, and humility.

As I wrapped up my time in the Bible this morning, my coffee cup in my hand, I started to imagine what it might be like to have Jesus sitting at my kitchen table with me. His physical scars healed, yet still visible. His compassion showing through his eyes. His love overflowing.

And I wondered what I would say to Jesus.

I would tell him about my friend who is in a place of intense spiritual warfare. I would ask him to help another who is suffering with mental illness. I would ask him to help another who is struggling financially after a divorce.

Surely he knows the people I love who are hurting.

And I would tell him all about the incredible blessings in my life—my husband, my daughters, my family, my friends. We could talk for hours about the blessings.

Then I would take his hand, open his palm, trace the scars, and whisper, "Thank you."

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Intentional Parenting :: Reprise :: Intro (Part 2)


 So how did it go last week? Did you spend time thinking about your unique family? Did you jot down some aspects of family life or character that you’d like to instill in your kids?

This week I want to expand on my thoughts from last week to share three things that intentional parents do.

1. Have a plan.

It’s so funny that I say to start with a plan because I realize that not everyone is a planner. In fact, sometimes I wish I were a little more spontaneous. Friends of ours just took their kids on a last-minute trip to Disney World and, I’ve got to admit, that sounded pretty cool.

Three day weekend? No plans on the calendar? We’re going to Disney!!

Best. Parents. Ever.

I’ve never done that. Never. Not once.

The most spontaneous I’ve ever gotten was to wake my kids up for a ride to Dairy Queen to get ice cream after dark. That was cool too. Maybe not Disney World cool, but my kids thought it was fun.

Anyway, when I say to have a plan, I’m not talking about spontaneity vs. boring-old-parents-like-me. I’m talking about having longer-range goals and ideas for your family. Maybe even writing them down somewhere so you can go back later and see what you’ve done.

As I wrote in my last series, Intentional parents think about the results they’d like to see in their kids and then think about how to accomplish those results.

So goals might be important to think about, even if your kids are very young. But be open to changing those goals as your kids grow—you don’t always know what challenges may lie ahead.

Once those goals are determined, then think about how you might go about seeing those ideas take shape. Do you want your kids to be kind to outsiders? Then you need to put your kids in places where they might be able to practice kindness. Do you want them to love the homeless? Why not make it a goal to serve in a homeless ministry regularly?

You get the idea.

2. Focus on why rather than how.

This, I think, is the key to bringing intentionality into our homes. When we start to train our thinking, focusing our parenting on why we do what we do rather than how we do what we do, our goals begin to take shape.

When our girls were very young, we noticed that everyone in our community put their kids in a sport of some kind. This was new territory for us because even though my husband was an athlete growing up, I was not. We didn’t know yet if our girls would have any athletic ability (if they were going to be anything like their mom, the future was looking grim in that department), so we thought we’d try soccer.

Four year olds and soccer aren’t always the most intentional combination, as we soon found out. Basically, four-year-old soccer is like watching a clump of kids follow a ball around a field. Oh, and don’t forget the one or two stragglers who just run willy-nilly around the field without a clue, pretending to do something important but really not. (Those were our girls.)

If we were just focusing on the “how” of soccer, we’d let our girls play and the season would run its course and we’d be done after one year. Because the running willy-nilly wasn’t getting us anywhere.

But instead, we thought about why we were putting our kids in soccer. Yes, there was something about exercise and finding a sport they could play and having fun while doing it. Yes, there was something about hanging out with their friends.

But could there be more?

For us, it came down to meeting parents in our community, establishing relationships with people we might not meet at church, and getting to know the kids that our kids would eventually go to their neighborhood school with. Soccer had to have a bigger purpose than just chasing a ball down the field.

So B signed up to coach. Yes, this dear man who knew nothing about soccer read up on the sport and coached four-year-olds for a couple of seasons. He had no clue what he was doing (in case you’re keeping score, that makes about five of us who never had, nor still do have, a clue about soccer), but he signed up anyway because they needed a warm body and it would be a good way to meet our neighbors.

It worked. We actually did meet people whom we still know today. We did make friends and relationships with neighbors. We did get to know kids who went to school with our kids.

When we asked why, soccer had a bigger purpose than simply how to play a game.

3. Be proactive rather than reactive.

In my previous series I said, Intentional parents look ahead at what’s coming. They think about how a situation might affect their child and develop a response before it comes up.”

I used curfew as an example, even though we had not crossed the curfew bridge at that point. But let me tell you, I’m sure glad we thought it through ahead of time.

Because teenagers.

Sure, we’ve had pushback about curfew (andprettymucheverythingelse) over the years, but because we set the ground rules ahead of time and because we were clear about our expectations, both with ourselves and with our kids, we were able to be proactive about setting curfews ahead of time. This helped us avoid the waiting-until-midnight-fuming-about-a-child-not-being-home-wondering-where-she-might-be scenario.

Anyway, this week I’d like you to think about how you can be proactive in your parenting. Can you identify areas that could be potential land mines in the next year or two and think about ways you can proactively address them? I’d love it if you’d share some of your thoughts in the comments.

Next week we’ll talk about discipline, and I’ll tell you right now, we won’t be talking about spanking.

*****


*****
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Friday, March 18, 2016

Fabulous Friday Food :: Homemade Cinnamon Bread (and some Easter menu suggestions)


Sunday after church I announced, like I was making the most important declaration of my life, "I feel like baking today."

Truth be told, I had a craving, a wish, a hankering if you will, for some cinnamon bread. Which I made and then posted on Instagram and Facebook and so many people asked me for the recipe that I had to share it with you today.

Slight sidebar before we go any further. I should let you in on something important: I tried to make cinnamon bread a couple of weeks earlier but failed.

It hurts to even say that, but it's true--I failed. Big time. My dough didn't rise. It just sat like a lump in the bottom of the bowl doing nothing, and after two hours I just picked the whole mess up and threw it away. I've never done that before. Never.

(Honestly? I think my yeast was expired. Check the dates, people!)

You should know, however, that even though I've never had to throw out bread dough before, I have all sorts of other kitchen failures. Pizzas (yes, even the frozen ones) burn. Cakes turn out dry. Cookies don't always come out beautiful and soft and delicious. I've even had a failure or two when I've had company coming, which is never very much fun.

Yes, failures happen.

Even with this recipe. To get the good pictures that I got in the end, I had to make this recipe twice in one day. Because I realized that the first time I made it, I put too much water in the recipe (that's the only thing I did wrong) and my loaves turned out GIGANTIC!!!

See?


So weird. But the second time I followed my recipe to a "T" and everything turned out just fine.

(Sort of. They still weren't perfect, as you'll see, but that didn't stop us from eating every last morsel.)

So to those of you who think you can't make bread or dough or anything with yeast, I'm here to tell you, you can. You can do this. You'll be fine. Just take a deep breath and dive on in. Follow my instructions, measure carefully, use yeast that isn't expired, and you too will be enjoying the most delicious loaf of bread you've ever tasted.

You may never buy your bread at the grocery store again.

(And if you don't want to make a turkey sandwich with cinnamon bread, you could try my homemade Honey Whole Wheat Bread instead. That one is foolproof!)

Anyway, Easter is coming next week and this bread would be amazing with an Easter brunch. You could add Breakfast Won Tons (we're having those on Easter, for sure) and maybe some Blueberry Coffee Cake. For a spring-y main dish, how about Spring Green Risotto alongside a delicious Easter ham? And then perhaps Amy's Lemon Cake or some Lemon Squares for dessert?

Now that would be a fabulous Easter dinner!

Hungry yet? Ready to make some bread? Here we go.

First, combine some yeast with warm water (110-115 degrees and, yes, I do check the temperature) and two teaspoons sugar. (This is a little trick I learned a couple of years ago--the yeast feeds on the sugar and gets bubbly quicker. It really works!) Let that sit for five minutes until it's really bubbly like this.


Next, heat 1 C. whole milk (use whole milk if you can--the fat in the milk makes a richer dough) to scalding. Once it's warmed, add a stick of softened butter, 1/2 C. sugar, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Let that sit for a few minutes until the butter is melted and everything has combined, then pour it into your mixing bowl.

Add the yeast to the bowl and stir everything together.

Using the paddle attachment, mix in about 3 cups bread flour, then add smaller amounts of flour until the mixture resembles a sticky dough. Turn up the mixer and knead the dough for about five minutes, adding a tablespoon or two of flour as needed to make a soft dough that pulls from the sides of the bowl.


When everything is beautiful and soft and squishy, turn the dough onto a floured surface and form it into a ball, then place it in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let it sit in a warm place until doubled in size.


When the dough is nice and big, turn it onto a floured surface, divide it in half, and form each half into a ball. Roll each ball into a nine-inch square(ish) . . .


. . . and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar all the way out to the edges. (You can add raisins if you want, but my family prefers their bread without raisins.)


Now, here's where you have to be very careful. Starting at one side, roll the dough tightly. If you don't roll it tightly, your bread will have gaps inside it after it's baked (see my example below) and you don't want that. You want a nice, uniform piece of bread that has a nice swirl of gooey cinnamon running throughout it.

Take your roll of dough and cinnamon sugar and place it, seam side down, in a bread pan. Cover with a towel and let rise for about another hour until the dough comes to the top of the pan.

Now bake your loaves for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees and voila!

When the warm loaves come out of the oven, brush them with some melted butter for an even more beautiful, glossy finish.

I know there is no way you'll be able to resist this bread--it's best when it's warm anyway--but give it a few minutes to rest before cutting into it. And then, enjoy this ooey-gooey, cinnamon-y richness.

(Now, if you look closely, you'll see that the gap I was talking about happened to me. Ugh. Doesn't matter--the bread tasted amazing!)

For a printable version of this recipe, click here.

I'd love to know if you try this or any of my recipes. Why not post a picture on Instagram and tag me on it? I'd love to see your creations!

*****
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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Letters to My Daughters: Let’s Talk about the Election


Dear Daughters:

There’s an election coming up, have you heard?

That’s a joke. How could you NOT have heard? It’s talked about on every television channel, in every hallway at school, around every water cooler, and at every playground in America. You can’t escape talk about the election, even if you wanted to.

A couple of nights ago as we watched the evening news I actually said to Julia (out loud!), “I’m starting to not care who becomes the next President.”

Part of my comment was borne out of sheer frustration: I can’t do much about the outcome anyway. We live in Illinois, the heartland of corruption, so no matter how I vote it won’t make a difference. And I’m so sick of thinking, hearing, and talking about this that I’m done with it all.

You and I have every good reason to throw our hands up in frustration this year. This entire country has become a circus. The choices seem either dreadful or heinous or a combination of the two. Namecalling, lies, and now even violence have become de rigueur this year—I’ve never seen anything like it.

But another part of my comment to Julia came from my reading of scripture recently, and that’s where I’d like us to park our brains and our hearts during these turbulent days.

I recently read the book of Numbers. (I know. So weird, right? But when you read through the Bible in a year, you can’t exactly skip it.)

Anyway, I got to Numbers 14, and I had to stop, read it again, and then read it again. I’ve even gone back to read it several times since then. It just seems to reflect so much of what is going on in our country today.

Here’s the situation. In the previous chapter, Moses selected twelve men to spy out the land of Canaan—God’s promised land to the Israelites. They came back and reported that the Canaanites were a big deal. Literally. They were giants. Huge.

But the land. Oh the land! Flowing with milk and honey and grapes the size of your head. Plus it was the land God told them to possess and promised that He would help them do it.

You know the story. Ten of the spies said, “No way. Can’t do it.”

(Haters.)

But Joshua and Caleb said, “Wait a minute. God told us we could do it, so let’s believe Him and take the land.”

Besides, it’s kind of what God commanded.

You know who the Israelites believed, right? We get to Numbers 14 and we read that the entire community of Israel has been up all night, crying and wailing and begging Moses not to make them go into the Promised Land. They are scared. Totally frozen with fear.

And finally they come to the conclusion that it’s not their lack of faith that is their problem, it’s their leader.

Yeah, that’s it! We need a new leader! Let’s ditch this Moses guy and get somebody else.

Do you see the problem here, girls? The Israelites took their focus off of what God wanted them to do (take the land) and could certainly help them do (defeat the Canaanites), and instead they blamed leadership. They exchanged their faith in God for a faith in a person and things went downhill fast.

Moses is completely demoralized. Wrecked with self-doubt.

And God? God is MAD. In fact, God is ready to destroy them completely and start over with new people.

But Moses falls on his face in front of God and prays what I think is one of the most amazingly honest prayers in the entire Bible. (You can read it in verses 13-19.)

He appeals to God based on three things: God’s reason (“what will the Egyptians think?”), God’s own words (“you said . . .”), and God’s character (“in keeping with your magnificent, unfailing love . . .”). And God is swayed to forgive the people, but not without some pretty significant punishment—they would have to backtrack and would never live to see the Promised Land.

How does this relate at all to our current situation? Well, here’s what I think.

1. We cannot put our faith in a leader. Period. Leaders are human. Politicians will let you down. Eventually this election cycle will end, positions will be won or lost, and hopefully people will stop shouting at each other. 

In the meantime, however, don't take your focus off of what God wants you to be doing in the place where He's put you right now. 

And do not think for one minute that a certain woman or man or political party will be the answer to this country's problems.

2. We can put our trust in God. Moses wanted the Israelites to look heavenward toward a God who had answered all of their prayers, delivered them from slavery, and who promised to bring them into freedom if they would just follow Him. God had already proven trustworthy, yet every time the Israelites took their eyes off of Him, they got into trouble.

Psalm 56 says, “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in you. . . . I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me?”

I know that mere mortals can make life pretty miserable here on earth. I’m not na├»ve enough to know that whoever runs our country doesn’t make a difference. Yes, policies could cost us something. The character of our leader does matter. And, yes, I think we should vote.

But in the end, we need to have a bigger perspective than just this election. We need to take a stand that says, “I trust in God. I refuse to let fear drive me.”

3. We can and should pray with fervency and honesty to God for our nation. Moses isn’t afraid to get really honest with God (go read it!), and I don’t think we should be afraid of that either. God isn’t afraid of our honesty—He can handle it. In fact, I think He relishes it.

And the best part is: He answers.

So if you’re feeling fearful, frustrated, or fed up like I am, remember girls, that life, the future, even our country is not about a leader. It is SO not about the leader.

It’s about a God who is totally, completely, fully trustworthy. That’s where our faith should lie at all times, maybe especially now. Your future is secure in the hands of a sovereign God who sees all, knows all, and hears all.

Take courage.

I love you,

Mom


*****

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Monday, March 14, 2016

Let's Talk About Email

Happy Monday morning! Did you survive the time change this weekend?

We need to do a little housekeeping today.

If you're an email subscriber to my little ole blog, you probably have received (or will receive today) a couple of emails from me. If you've been inundated with more than a couple, I humbly apologize.

I made some changes to my email services over the weekend--a feat for my technologically challenged little brain, let me tell you--and, to be honest, I'm not sure it's all going to work the way I want it to. As I told my husband, I'm sure I found a way to screw it up.

But hopefully . . . if things go according to plan . . . if you're already an email subscriber you should keep receiving email updates from me this week just as you always did. *fingers crossed*

Things may look a little different, but the content will still be mine. Nothing's changed there.

And if you're not an email subscriber, WHY NOT??!! It's so easy to sign up and you'll never miss a post. Come on. Just do it.

I'm also thinking about starting a newsletter for my subscribers that will give you a little extra content. Links to other places I've written. Maybe a travel tip or two. Certainly a recipe that I haven't posted about here. And maybe a little about what I'm reading or a fantastic restaurant I've discovered lately.

Again, I wouldn't inundate your email box, but I would like to give you a little insider information just for subscribing. Something like three or four times a year.

Is this something you'd be interested in? Would you let me know your thoughts in the comments? 

I love you, dear readers. You're why I keep writing. And I'd love to stay in touch.

*****
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Friday, March 11, 2016

Intentional Parenting :: Reprise :: Introduction


Several years ago, 2010 in fact, I wrote a blog series titled "Intentional Parenting." Maybe you were around here back in 2010 and read those posts. But maybe you're new here and have no idea what I'm talking about. This series is for you. And for those who read the first time through. And for pretty much any parent who wants to think critically about this important job God has given you.

I recently sat down with the friend who inspired several of the posts in the original series, a friend who didn’t even have kids of her own at the time but who now has three children. She felt it would help her to read through these posts again with new eyes (six more, to be exact!) and certainly, she said, I’d have more to say on the topic since six years have passed.

Reading about parenting when you have no children and reading about parenting when you have three children is a different ball game all together. In fact, you’re not even playing on the same field or even in the same game. Life looks so different for me six years later, but I’m sure it looks radically different for my friend.

So I thought about her words, pulled out the old posts, and dusted them off a bit. And I thought, why not? Yes, I’ve learned a few things since then, but mostly I still believe that intentionality in the area of parenting is one of the best things we can do for our families.

So I’m doing this for you, sweet mama of little ones. And for you, sweet mom of tweens. And for you, sweet mother of teenagers. Because intentionality can be practiced at any time—not just at the beginning stages. Because I believe it’s so important. And because our families deserve the best we can give them.

[Here’s a funny side note about going back to these old posts that I hadn’t read in several years. When I looked at my first post about Intentional Parenting, I was so surprised to see that the very first comment I received was from the amazing Emily Freeman who right away saw potential in this idea. She suggested that I work these ideas into a book proposal, which I have done, but I’m still waiting for just the right publisher (hint, hint) to run with the idea.

I’m open to discussion, though. :)

Anyway, Emily's comment was, to me, worth going back for. God knew that I needed that sweet encouragement right now, yet I didn’t even realize that it was sitting in my comments all along.]

So here we go. I’m not quite sure how my posts will change, but I’ll be sure to link to my original posts along the way so you can compare the old with the new. Sometimes my words and ideas may change very little, but other times they may change a lot.

*****


So. Intentionality. What is it?

Well, it’s a buzz word, that much I know. Throw out the word “intentional” and you’ll get an eye roll and maybe even a groan. Parents have been told ad nauseam to be intentional about everything from the diapers their babies wear to the food they feed their kids to the types of sheets they use to the schools their children attend.

Advice for parents is everywhere about pretty much everything. I get that.

But have you ever thought about being intentional about not just the external details of your child’s life, but about the internal? About developing his or her character?

And how would one even go about doing that?

That’s what this series is going to address. Yes, intentionality is a buzz word, but I can’t think of a better one to help guide our thinking about forming the inner qualities that we’d like to see in our kids.

Let me say right off the bat that I wasn’t a parenting expert six years ago, and I feel like less of an expert today. My three daughters are nearly grown now, and as I look back on their early years I think I have more questions about my methods than answers. I feel helpless on so many days, I wonder if I’ve done this well, and I worry about their futures now that my parenting is so much more hands off.

Which is why I need so much grace.

And so do my kids.

Please know that my words are just that—my words, my ideas, my trial-and-error experiences over the past 24 years. And know that I come back to these posts with deep humility, very much aware of the many days I got things wrong more than I got them right.

Grace, remember?

I am also much more aware that each family is unique. Each family has its own set of challenges and opportunities for growth. And because of the incredible uniqueness of each family, the different challenges facing each one of us, we ultimately have to decide for ourselves and for our children what areas we need to be intentional about.

My friend, Kate Batistelli, has a sort of famous daughter. Francesca was a gifted, only child who was homeschooled in order to allow for her God-given talents to be developed fully. Kate was intentional about placing her daughter in situations that could help develop her character and her talent for the glory of God.

I know another family with eleven children. Also homeschooled. Also talented. But the areas that this mom must be intentional about are probably quite different from those that my friend Kate could help nurture in her daughter.

Because each family is unique, each parent must ultimately decide which areas of intentionality to focus on for the unique needs and challenges of their children and their family. This is not a one-size-fits-all idea. What I will offer over the next several weeks are some suggestions--ideas for our family and our kids that my husband and I thought about, prayed about, and tried to implement, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. 

So this week I want to encourage you to prayerfully think about what makes your family unique. What values do you want to shape your family? And how would you begin to go about developing those qualities in your children and in your family?

Next time we’ll talk further about what intentionality looks like.

One more thing: I’d love your thoughts along the way. Would you please leave a comment with thoughts, questions, words of encouragement for other moms in your situation? I’d love for this to be as interactive as possible as the weeks go by.

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Series listing from 2010: Intentional Parenting

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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

My Favorite Moments from the Downton Abbey Finale, S6:E9


Oh friends. Wasn’t that all so lovely?

I’ve chatted with many of you, and I think we all agree on one thing: the Downton Abbey finale was perfect in every way.


Oh sure, it was cheesy (especially that last scene with Isobel and Violet talking about moving forward to the future instead of back into the past—what?—but still, I’m glad they gave Violet the last line), and sure, it was predictable (Mary’s pregnant!), but you have to admit that it was pretty much the tied-up-with-a-ribbon package that we all wanted it to be.

And such a happy ending it was.

I have watched this episode a few times (call it research), and every time I start to cry about 30 minutes in and pretty much don’t stop until the end. I think it hit me, finally, that this silly television show that brought me so much joy for the past six years, is finally OVER. It sounds so trite, I know—it’s a TV show!—but I really am going to miss it.

I have had so much fun writing these posts and getting feedback from all of you. I’ve loved dishing about the latest antics, the cruel gestures, the unkind remarks, and the crazy escapades. These characters have taken on lives of their own, and at times, I’ll admit, I got a bit too caught up in thinking about them.

I guess that’s what makes it a good series, though. Characters you love in a setting you adore in a story that takes you right in. Just like a good book, and whoever found fault in a good book?

This week, because it was impossible to find just five lines that I loved in a 90 minute finale, I’m going to write about my favorite happy endings. Yes, I’ll include some of my favorite lines, but do me a favor and don’t count the number.

Let’s just dish.

Thomas
If you’ve been around here for any time at all, you know that there has been no love lost between me and Thomas. In fact, for five seasons I haven’t been able to find many redeeming qualities in the guy.

But this year was different.

It seems Julian Fellowes spent some time rounding out his character, smoothing off some of those rough edges, even taking him to some admittedly low lows, only to bring him to his highest high—the position he’s always wanted: Head Butler of Downton Abbey.

And I’m happy for him. For all of Thomas’s faults, and there were many over the years, I couldn’t help but feel compassion for him this season. I’m so glad he ended on a good note.


And, as Thomas himself said to Robert, “I arrived here as a boy, but I leave as a man.”

Good for you, Thomas.

Violet and Isobel
These two. Sometimes you loved them, sometimes you hated them, but all along you knew there was no other BFF for either of them. Where would Violet had been if Isobel hadn’t followed her son to town in Season One?

I absolutely loved their last grand adventure—going to rescue Dickie from the clutches of his horrible, greedy daughter-in-law, Amelia.


Violet shows herself to be a true friend when she takes the lead and marches straight into the house to confront the wretched Amelia: “You don’t need Mrs. Crawley to take him off your hands anymore, do you?”

You tell her, Vi!

I know I’ve mentioned this, but I really thought it was so sweet and so fitting (albeit a bit cheesy) that Violet and Isobel got to share the final scene. The two somehow managed to stay up until midnight to toast the New Year, looking really spry, I might add. There they sit together, BFFs, and they reflect.

As usual, Isobel is ready to take on the future with gusto, and Violet wishes she could go back to happier times. Times that aren’t ‘a changin’ quite so fast.

But they chuckle together, realizing that this is who each one is, and each accepting the other, even if they disagree on most things. Kind of reminds me of one of my own dear friends.

Isobel and Dickie
I have to go back to the Great Dickie Merton  Rescue because it was just. so. good.

Didn’t you just love how Dickie, after hearing voices in the hall, comes down the stairs in his bathrobe and tie?! Always the formal one, that Dickie.

Anyway, he’s astonished, as is pretty much everyone, that Isobel has taken matters into her hands to come and rescue him. He also realizes, finally, what his son and daughter-in-law are up to, so he packs his bags (with Izzie’s help) and hands over the keys to his pretty great house.

Dickie has left the building.

But not before he proclaims to his son, 

Larry, as my son, I love you, but I’ve tried and failed to like you.”

And with that, Isobel and Dickie are free to live their own happy ending.

Robert and Cora
OK, just so I’m completely honest here, these two bother me. A lot. They have been such weak characters. And I think they are terrible parents. They act mainly from selfish motives (heck, their marriage was arranged for the best interests of the parties involved), until the very end.

Even in this last episode, Cora gets completely involved in her hospital work and Robert pouts like a baby because she’s not paying attention to him as much as he’d like. They’re like a couple of teenagers!

And when Edith strikes gold, literally, they can barely contain their glee.

Let’s go back to that moment, shall we? Edith calls home late at night to share her happy news. Robert gets out of bed (harrumph) to take the phone call, then comes back to share with Cora. He barrels into the bedroom saying, “You’re not going to believe it!”


And Cora, ever the supportive mother, retorts, “She’s pregnant again.”

Way to go, Cora. Mother of the Year.

They get into a little scuffle about the hospital because Robert is a selfish little baby, but Cora quickly diffuses the situation by saying, “Never mind it now. Edith is going to be happy. Just think about that.”

(And Downton is saved!)

Robert agrees with a hearty Hurrah!

Oh those two.

But I’m including them in my list because this week because there were a couple of sweet and tender moments between them.

Robert finally gets to see Cora in action at the hospital and realizes that she’s actually pretty good at her job.  

“You are a woman of real substance, and I am lucky to call you my wife.”

Now who wouldn’t want to hear that?

Later, just before midnight, Robert and Cora have a moment in the hallway. They still can’t believe that their ugly duckling has landed such good fortune (for them) and that both of their daughters are happy. Everything looks rosy and Robert asks, “What more could we want?”


“A long and happy life to watch the children grow. That’s all I ask,” 

replies Cora.

Seems like the two will be very happy in their empty nest.

Andy and Daisy
One of my favorite lines of the night: 

Is Daisy interested in men?”

We roared at that one.

Still, you knew it would happen, didn’t you? You saw it coming, right?

And if you didn’t see it coming this entire season, you surely saw it coming when Daisy looked up . . .


. . . and saw this.


Yes, Daisy is going to let herself fall in love again. I’m sure it won’t be an easy road for poor Andy—Daisy is no pushover, that’s for sure. But I think they are a sweet match.

She even cut her hair for him!


I wish those two cuties well.

Edith and Bertie
Finally. FINALLY!

Edith gets her man.


And a good one she gets, too.

I am so happy for Edith I could just spit in Potter’s eye. (Oh wait, wrong movie.)

I’m just so happy for Edith!

Bertie had some choice lines tonight.


“Would you believe me if I said I couldn’t live without you?”

*swoon*

And even after Edith protests, suggesting that the gossip about Marigold will be all over before sundown, Bertie holds fast.

“The only thing I’m not ready for is a life without you.”

We always knew Bertie was a stand-up guy, though, didn’t we? He never had an unkind word to say about his cousin, even though he, and pretty much everyone, suspected he was gay, which would have been scandalous back in the 1920s.

Bertie’s mother, however, is an entirely different story. She blows up about Cousin Peter and his forays to Tangiers (as if we’re supposed to know what that even means). But Bertie defends the memory of dear Cousin Peter: “That’s ENOUGH, Mother!”

And Bertie will defend dear Edith too.

Edith proves to be a woman of great character in the end as well, a perfect match for upstanding Bertie, the moral center of the county, according to his mother. Edith tells Mrs. Pelham the truth about Marigold, effectively heading her off at the pass. Mrs. P isn’t happy about it, but in the end she takes the high road for the sake of her son.

And finally. That wedding.


Wasn’t Edith just the picture of beauty and happiness? Oh, that made me so happy.

(But was Mary happy? Or jealous of her sister’s happiness? Oh, who cares.)

Edith wasn’t always my favorite, but she really grew on me these last couple of seasons. I think that’s because she has grown into a mature woman—complicated, honest, compassionate, and sincere. I wish her all the best in her new life.

It’s just too bad her mother-in-law will be living down the hall.

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I don’t have time to talk about all the others whose stories got tied up with a happy bow: Molesley and Baxter, Mr. Mason and Mrs. Patmore, Carson and Hughes (now that they’re calling each other by their first names I think they’re going to be OK), Tom and Miss Edmunds, Mary and Henry (they’re having a baby!), Anna and Bates (it's a Boy!). Perfect endings, all.

I think the only people not ending up together are Denker and Spratt.

And that’s as it should be.

*****
I want to leave you with my favorite line from the finale from, of course, Violet.

Rosamund and her mother are sitting together waiting for Edith’s wedding to start. Rosamund says, “We didn’t always think there’d be a happy ending for Edith.”

Violet responds, “Well, there’s a lot at risk, but with any luck they’ll be happy enough, which is the English version of a happy ending.”

The two sit on that for a moment. Happy enough. Is that what the English are all about?


“What do you think makes the English the way we are?” Rosamund asks her mother.

And then Violet offers this nugget of wisdom that I absolutely loved: 

“Opinions differ. Some say our history, but I blame the weather.”

*****

Thank you again, friends, for being here throughout the six seasons (well, maybe just five—I can’t remember) of my writing about Downton Abbey. It seems superficial, at times, to spend my time writing about a TV show when there are so many other, more worthy topics to write about.

Too quote Robert, Golly!


It’s been such a joy to spend these weeks with you. I hope you’ll stick with me around the blog, even though there may not be as much DA talk. (Although, I don’t think this will be my last DA post.)



Friday, March 4, 2016

Fabulous Friday Food :: Short Rib Ragu

I often hear from you about how you love my recipes--you're sweet to say so--so one of my goals this year is to give you more food posts. I have so many great ideas that I want to share with you, and you all seem to like them, so I figure why not?

(I know you've heard that before, but hang with me. I'm trying!)

Truth be told, I've been waiting for Downton Abbey to end (*sob*) so that I can move on to other (ahem--more serious--ahem) writing. Now that we're getting closer--Sunday is the finale, folks--I thought I'd share something delicious that you can make this weekend. Maybe you could even enjoy this while you watch the Downton finale.

I've written about short ribs before. Short ribs are one of my favorite cuts of meat. Most often they come with the bones, which, I'm sure, would give you a richer, more flavorful dish than this one even is, although that's hard to believe. But I'm all for shortcuts--and no bones--so I get my short ribs at Costco where they come boneless. I think you get more bang for the buck if you buy the boneless ones anyway. In fact, this recipe will make a delicious meal for your family and will leave enough to give away to a friend.

The first time I had a ragu was, I think, in Italy this past summer. And then I had it at an Italian restaurant in Chicago a couple of times this fall. I wasn't familiar with what a ragu even was, but I've since learned that it's basically a slow roasted meat sauce that can be made from beef, pork, or veal. It's braised for several hours so that the mean pulls apart, and then it is served over pappardelle or polenta.

This has easily become one of my favorite dishes. It's SO good.

Over Christmas, Kate and I decided to try making ragu for ourselves, and it turned out so well that Julia requested it for her birthday in February. I've made it a few times this winter because it's delicious, easy, and it makes a lot. This is comfort food at its finest.

So pull out your favorite cast iron dutch oven and let's get cooking!

First, you'll need some vegetables and herbs. The holy trinity should do you just fine. And maybe some shallots if you have them. And garlic.


Chop those up into fairly small pieces and set them aside.

Next, you need your short ribs. It's helpful if you pat them dry with a paper towel, then sprinkle them generously with salt and pepper before placing them in your heated pot with plenty of olive oil. And maybe a little butter to make everything brown and yummy.

Brown the meat on both sides and then set the pieces aside on a plate. You might have to do this in a couple of batches.


See how brown and delicious this looks already? Just wait . . .

Next, add the vegetables to the pot and brown them for several minutes until they are soft and caramelized. Add the garlic at the last minute so that it doesn't burn.


Next add a couple of cups of red wine to the vegetables and let that simmer for about five minutes until the wine is reduced by half.


See how rich this is getting?! I'm licking my lips just thinking about it.

Next add a can of crushed tomatoes and about 3-4 cups of beef stock. Place the meat back in the pan so that the juices cover all of the pieces of meat. Add some herbs--rosemary, thyme, and bay leaf should do it--then cover the whole thing, put it in the oven for about three hours, and forget about it.

You'll know it's ready when the meat falls apart.

Remove the herbs from the pan and shred the meat very well--just use two forks and go to town. This shouldn't be too hard since the meat will be falling apart anyway.

And that's it! Serve the ragu over pappardelle noodles, like we did for Julia's birthday.


Or you can serve it over polenta, which we tried a couple of weeks ago and liked very much.


Either way, you have GOT to try this recipe. You won't regret it. I promise.

And if you don't like it, I'll come take it off your hands for you.

Want a printable version of this recipe? Click here.

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