the lies i tell myself, part 4


Full disclosure, I didn’t have a great picture for today, so here’s one of Jonah that makes me smile.

OK, it took longer than I anticipated to get these four lies out. I suppose the timeline I had in mind was just another to a long list of lies… but if you need to catch the first three, you can find them here: part 1, part 2, and part 3. Which brings us to the final lie (for now, anyway):

I am the only one who feels this way.

Now, I know we are quick to blame social media for constantly showing us glimpses of other “picture perfect” lives. And yes, to an extent, the general public *may* tend to post highs rather than lows, but here’s what I have found. When I’m feeling bad about myself and I’m scrolling through my timeline, I barely give a second glance to the posts that say “today is hard, I need a hug!” I zero in on anything that looks shiny and glittery, anything that makes someone else’s life look perfect compared to my own. But this isn’t even the trickiest thing my brain does: let’s say someone posts a picture of a a family fun day. All of the kids are smiling, everyone looks like they’re getting along, and I manifest this whole story about how this family is better at family time than I am. I read so much into one tiny image that I have suddenly put this picture on a pedestal that I can’t reach. And it doesn’t matter if this family’s very next post is about a baby who never, ever sleeps or a stress overload. I don’t see those. I only see the good.

When people tell you to see the good in other people, this isn’t what they mean.

Or it shouldn’t be.

What do we say 75% of the time when someone asks, “hey, how are you?” “Fine!” “Good!” “Great!” “Can’t Complain!” So when I ask someone how they are, if I only ever hear “good!” I think: I’m the only one who isn’t good. I’m the only one who doesn’t have a cute family picture online right now. I’m the only one who hasn’t showered in four days and has really stretched the power of dry shampoo to the max. Look. I know it isn’t easy to say “actually, everything sucks and I’m really stressed, how are you?” And, you know what? I also know that sometimes things are just good. And you should be able to tell that to people without having some sort of survivor’s guilt for being in a good place.

And so, here’s my radical proposal to stop this lie: just stop. I know. It’s easier said than done. But still —

Stop the comparison. Your life is your life, and you’re doing it better than anyone else can do your life.

Stop the fantasies. Other people don’t have the picture-perfect life you assign them in your mind. Remember everyone else is as real and raw and fragile as you are, when it comes down to it.

Stop setting impossible standards. Treat yourself kindly. Treat yourself like your own child if you have to; make goals that make sense for the person you are in the stage you’re in.

Stop trying. OK, hear me out. This one sounds like basically the opposite of most self-help advice, but here’s what I mean: stop trying to be something new all the time. Stop thinking “if I can do THIS (eat paleo, run a marathon, learn a new language, etc), THEN I’ll be good.” You’re good now. Stop trying to be “better” and start being who you are meant to be.

I’ve talked to lots of human beings, and if there’s one thing I’m certain of, it’s this: absolutely no one has everything figured out. You may admire certain people, and this isn’t bad on its own, but when you forget that you’re admiring qualities — portions — not a whole — that’s when you run into trouble.

This isn’t a lie that can be overturned by changing how we use social media. It isn’t a problem that can be solved by giving every simple greeting a thirty-minute therapy session on our deepest life issues. Rather, it involves looking at yourself with clear, unbiased eyes (as unbiased as possible anyway, because they’re your eyes so… just roll with me, here). Don’t let someone else’s victory equate to your own failure. Acknowledge the fact that you’re on different journeys, with different milestones, and it isn’t a competition.

But all of this isn’t even the very best way to stop this lie. All you need to do is accept the fact that it is one. Think of the most “perfect” person you know — the person you wish you could be. GUESS WHAT? They get overwhelmed. They feel inadequate. They make mistakes. EVERYONE FEELS THIS WAY — EVERY SINGLE WAY — SOMETIMES. When we compare similarities instead of differences, we find our degrees of separation are much closer than we think.

So, hey. Whatever lies you’re telling yourself? Recognize that’s what they are. If you can’t see the truth alone, talk to other people. Don’t be so afraid to show some of your mess, because other people have mess, too. They do. It doesn’t have to be the same as yours to be real.

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” -John 8:32

if the news of the world is too much to bear

if the news of the world is too much to bear

If the news of the world is too much to bear,
turn it down, turn it off, take a break.
Get all of your news from the anchors at home,
Soak it up, breathe it in, come awake.

This just in: puppies still really cute.
Little kids still angelic in sleep.
Kisses fix boo-boos, hugs say hello,
children love fast and love deep.

Take it from kids, making new friends is easy.
Simply smile at someone you don’t know.
It does not even matter if you don’t catch their name
Just say “hi!” and then go with the flow.

Live from the news desk, a strange case develops:
“The case of the lone missing sock.”
We’re following leads, but they dryer’s not talking,
We have to go, so we’re fighting the clock.

In other news, moms and dads still bicker,
kids and teens still fight and whine.
But at the end of the day (or the week or the month),
everyone’s right back to “fine.”

After this break from the outside news,
return, it’s your duty to do.
And to fight for what’s right and teach your children the same,
It won’t always be easy, that’s true.

For the real world is hard, it is cold and unfair,
We don’t always find peace as we grow
But we cannot ignore it, not totally at least
It’s our job to let pure goodness show.

So let’s teach all our children that yes, life is hard —
But we know how to lighten the load.
Knowledge is power, friendliness can bring peace,
Be kind, and you’ll reap what you’ve sowed.

I don’t always know how to raise my kids now
In a world that seems so full of hate.
But I do know that hate cannot thrive on it’s own —

So we’ll love, and we’ll love, and we’ll love, and we’ll love
And we’ll love and we’ll make our own fate.

E36CE464-B970-432C-9FDA-F6AE28A4EDE1.jpeg
My favorite news anchor, Jiminy Cricket.

focus tips and focus tricks

Hello! Thanks so much for joining me into this look at childhood ADHD. If you’re here for the first time, welcome! This is the final installment of a series on childhood ADHD. If you want to catch up, you can find my personal experiences mothering a child with ADHD here: focus, part 1 and focus, part 2. You can also find a post on ADHD from the perspective of a pediatrician (and a dad) here: focus, md.

Today’s post comes largely from you, dear readers. I sent out requests on social media asking any of you with experience with ADHD (either for yourself or for a loved one) to answer two questions: When did you first suspect ADHD and what made you think it was a possibility, and What did you do to manage it? The responses from all of you were fantastic, so thank you so much for sharing! I’m keeping all of the submissions anonymous, but please know that just about all of these could have come directly from me (but they didn’t!). ADHD seems big and scary, but progress can be made and success can be found — especially in community.

A recent drawing of Boone’s. Intentionally upside-down. Appropriately so, I’d say, give our topic.


Thanks for being in this community.

Without further ado:

When did you first suspect ADHD? What made you think it was a possibility?

“When my son was in kindergarten, he would get completely wrapped up in a TV show, and we would have to physically block his view or remove him to get his attention. He was very impulsive. He has NEVER been a good sleeper, it could take hours sometimes to get him to sit still and relax enough to fall asleep.”

“I could watch my child read a whole book by herself and finish worksheets in no time flat by the time she was in kindergarten, but I could never get her to remember really simple things like bringing her jacket or lunchbox home.”

“When I was younger, I was at the top of my class, but focus was always a struggle. Looking back now, I am so thankful my parents had me tested because it taught me that my mind doesn’t work the same way everyone else’s does, and that’s not a bad thing.”

“My mom suggested she noticed some attention issues with my third grader for a while now, but I brushed it off until his teacher said she was concerned because he is so far behind and he really struggles to say seated and focused.”

“We suspected it at age five. Our child couldn’t do anything that wasn’t very plainly scheduled out. Free time was a disaster.”

“I was diagnosed around age ten. My parents had to remind me to stop, wait, count to ten, and reorient myself.”

“My adult son was diagnosed in seventh grade. He was always hyper as a child, so my husband and I suspected it as early as age three.”

What did you do to manage ADHD?

**Note: I’m not including medications in this list, though several people (almost everyone) included them in some way in their management plans. Medications can and do help, as I’ve mentioned already, but that’s a conversation you’ll need to have with a medical doctor.**

“Structure, organization, verbal rewards for good choices.”

“I needed to create a quiet work space without distractions for my daughter so she could focus on her schoolwork. She also does her school work at the same time each day.”

“Routine, no red dye, cognitive behavior therapy.”

“We would do homework in small increments and pause to literally run around the house a couple times and then back to homework. Also, working toward rewards would inspire him. He would also need detailed instructions. ‘Go clean up your room’ never got him anywhere. ‘Clothes off the floor and downstairs, bed made, vacuum…’”

“I found yelling and getting worked up did NOT help. As frustrated as I would get, I needed to talk to my daughter in a really calm and clear voice, giving simple but direct instructions once she was giving me eye contact. She needed really clear guidelines and structure.”

“We use a board in the morning to help him remember what he needs to do and I’ve started writing reminders on his hand on the key things to bring home from school everyday. L for Lunchbox, C for Coat, etc. We also have a 504 plan (Individualized Education Plan) at school so his teachers are aware of his struggles.”

“I think the best thing my parents ever did was always tell me that having ADHD did not mean I couldn’t do just as much and be just as successful as everyone else; it just meant I’d sometimes have to do things in a different way.”

If you have anything you’d like to add, please do so in the comments! I’m grateful for the dialogue and awesome notes I’ve received from so many of you. This concludes the Premeditated Mama ADHD series, but I’d always love to further the discussion with you one on one! If you aren’t already a member, join the “Premeditated Mama” page on facebook and let’s continue this journey together.

all the things i do not know

I like knowing stuff.

And based on how many questions my kids ask me each day, I mean, it’s a good thing. Like any modern day mom, I answer what I can and google what I can’t. And this little arrangement has made me the smartest person in our family — according to our kids, anyway. On most days. Unless daddy bought donuts – or took the boys to a park – or, generally, is home.

Either way, if the kids have questions, I have answers. It’s a good arrangement that only makes me want to lock myself in a closet with headphones to get a break from the constant “hey mom?”s some of the time. And that’s pretty good!

And then I was putting Boone to bed one night…

“Hey mom?”

Here we go…

“Where do people go when they die?”

“Oh, um, Heaven, if they believe in Jesus.”

“What if they don’t?”
“Um, Hell, I think.”
“OK well do they go straight to Hell? Because I have heard people say that. Do they meet Jesus first and then Jesus sends them there? What if Jesus forgets I believe in Jesus and accidentally sends me there? Will you be in Heaven when I get there?”

We have now reached the point in the conversation where I basically look like this:

I am a believer. I believe that Jesus died so I could spend eternity in Heaven. I believe John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not die, but have eternal life.” But I don’t have answers for like… any of Boone’s questions there. I haven’t died. I haven’t personally met someone who took a death vacation and gave me the slide show presentation of afterlife pics. But Boone looked at me so expectantly. So hungry for knowledge. And these are good questions! I didn’t want to dismiss them. So I sent up a quick help me prayer, and I responded.

“Buddy, I don’t know.”

“Um… what? You always know things.”

I told him no one has all of the answers. But that I believe in Jesus and I believe I will go to Heaven when I die. I don’t know what Heaven looks like, I don’t know if you and I will be the same people we are now. I believe you will go to Heaven too, if you believe in Jesus, and do not worry, God won’t get your beliefs mixed up. Then I let out the big breath I had been holding in and I asked, “hey Boone, what do you think about all of this?”

Jonah has questions also.

He basically echoed a lot of my sentiments and said his fair share of “I don’t know”s. He ended with, “but you know what? I think I’ll see you there, and we’ll be the same, you and me.”

I grew up with a very black and white view of salvation. Believe in Jesus = Heaven. Don’t believe in Jesus = Hell. End of story. Any lingering questions about Heaven of Hell were answered with “it’s perfect!” or “it’s terrible!” and that was that. It wasn’t until I was much older that I started to really own the questions I had about my faith. Until I wrestled with these thoughts, I don’t think I really had the same understanding about my faith. It wasn’t personal.

I want my children to believe everything I believe. It’s true. They’re my little human copies, right? I want us to be on the same page about everything. But I know that won’t happen. If my father’s deep love of olives on pizza (double olives on pizza – WHAT) is any indication, kids just don’t always follow in their parents footsteps. And if kids did just blindly follow, would my dad like that I ate his terrible olive pizza even if I hated it? Maybe, I mean, because he’d probably have been able to order it more, but I think he’d be happier if I ate it because I truly enjoyed the nuance of the rubbery seawater taste of those awful little black and green fruits? Nuts? Fungi? What the heck are olives, anyway?

Back to my point. I want Boone and Jonah to share in my beliefs, but I want them to make it personal. They need to think and hear and choose for themselves. And in order to help this along… I have to say “I don’t know.” I will tell them what I think. But I will be honest about what I know — and what I don’t.

For someone who lives with answers at her fingertips, it’s hard to admit what I don’t know. Especially to the little people I’m raising. But I truly believe to help our children find the answers, we’ll have to admit that we don’t have them.

how to survive your summer in 51 easy steps

1. Make a plan called “How to Have the Best Summer Ever!”

2. Realize on the second day of summer that your plan is garbage.

3. Make a new plan called “Our Carefree Summer!”

4. Don’t tell everyone that your new summer plan is actually called “Dear God help us I miss the structure.”

5. Send your three year old back to his room every morning at 6:00 am.

6. Purchase a fancy color-changing clock for your three year old that will glow green when he is allowed to leave his room in the morning.

7. Say “Stay in your room until your clock is green” every five minutes starting every morning at 6:00 am.

8. Coffee.

9. If June: buy expensive mineral sunscreen and have your children stand like statues while you slather it on like spackle.

10: If July (or mid to late June, whenever you crack): buy cheap spray sunscreen and mist in your child’s general direction. Ask them lovingly to “close eyes and pinch noses.”

11. Just come to terms with the fact that sand will be everywhere.

12. Cry a little bit when you see the first back-to-school display.

13. Cry a little harder when your six year old learns super soakers are a thing.

14. Wine.

15. Teach your kids that the “S Word” is “Snack,” and we do not swear.

16. Glance into your child’s room to see clothes and sand and toys and books and bedding everywhere. Then say a different kind of “S Word” and just shut that door. Shut the door.

17. Try not to look too excited when your kid says he’s tired. “Do you want to TAKE A NAP DO YOU WANT TO TAKE A NAP?” Nope, he’s good now.

18. Visit every park that’s ever existed. Pack every vegetable and cracker and fruit you’ve ever owned. Listen to children complain about being bored and hungry.

19. Attempt to put your child to bed when the sun is still very high in the sky.

20. Try to explain daylight savings time and end up crying and exclaiming that it really, truly is bedtime, no matter what it looks like outside.

21. More wine.

22. Curse the “young adults” next door who are being loudly unsupportive of your belief that it is, in fact, bedtime.

23. Send your kid back to his room.

24. Send your kid back to his room.

25. Send your kid back to his room.

26. Go to sleep.

27. Wake up; send your kid back to his room.

28. Make a mental note to research how tiny humans function with so little sleep. You never will, though. You’re too tired!

29. Buy school supplies far too early. Think about teachers. Mentally send them a fruity cocktail. They earned it, man.

30. Start planning activities that are an hour or two away, just for the air-conditioned kid-buckled driving time.

31. Watch your kid swim the entire length of the pool underwater, when last year he wouldn’t even go down the slide.

32. Realize that summers really go pretty fast, even if sometimes they seem kinda long.

33. Remember it’s your three year old’s last summer before he starts school — preschool, sure — but school nonetheless.

34. Watch your six year old ride a bike without training wheels, after summers of complete bike apathy.

35. Sit in the grass with your kids and catch fireflies long after they should be in bed.

36. Think “this summer thing isn’t so bad.”

37. Get up too early, stay up too late, overplan the warm July days you have left.

38. Vow to do the same when it’s August.

39. You’ll sleep when you’re dead, anyway.

40. (Or when school starts.)

41. (Or when daylight savings time FINALLY ENDS.)

42. Stop rolling your eyes when people say, “oh, they’re only young once.” Even though they’re actually young for like 12-18 years or however you want to gauge it.

43. I mean, they are only young once.

44. At least, they’re only six and three during summer once.

45. So decide to just “soak it all up.”

46. Except for the sand.

47. I mean, you’ll soak that up anyway without even trying.

48. Maybe invest in some industrial strength blackout curtains.

49. Buy lots of coffee and wine.

50. Embrace your summer fully.

(51. And pray for all of the teachers. Their time is coming. You know it, I know it, they know it; pray, just pray, just pray.)

Happy summer to all, and to all a good bedtime. (Or wine.)

you are (2) going on (3)

Have you recently found yourself delighted at the prospect of going to an allergy office to be stuck by needles several times because you have the opportunity to get those pokes all by your lonesome? Do you feel stuck in a loop a la Groundhog’s Day, except instead of trying to make it to February 3, you’re trying in vain to keep food off your floors and walls? Are you rapidly losing your hair (because you’re pulling it out)?

You might have an Almost-three.

Classic Almost-three. Note the spilled marker cup and the eyes that say “yeah, what of it?” Almost-threes are also masters of the smirk.

Almost-threes are a particular breed of child that can “be starving” but also “don’t want to eat that.” Almost-threes often speak in high pitched screeches that rival the decibel level of a jet engine. They love avenging self-declared grevious wrongs, unfolding perfectly matched pairs of socks, and requiring an emergency bathroom at inopportune times. Oh, Almost-threes have their sweet qualities: for one, their little half-baby faces look positively adorable scrunched up into anger. The first time, anyway. And maybe some Almost-threes say “barret feet” instead of “bare feet” or “wass” instead of “water,” and that’s just crazy sweet. 

But let’s be honest with ourselves: we’ve all heard “terrible twos.” We’ve heard “three-nager.” While each child will have a different journey toward reaching their maximum jerk potential, I urge you to consider the oft-overlooked Almost-three. Don’t let them sneak up on you. You’ll probably end up wet as a result (don’t ask what the wet is, it’s better not to know).

“Who wouldn’t want sand over every inch of their body?” -All Almost-threes

So how do you identify an Almost-three? Here are some handy things to look out for.

An Almost-three has successfully completed two journeys around the sun but has not yet completed a third.

An Almost-three simultaneously wants to “play with mama” and “no play with mama.”

Note: “Play with mama” usually means either a) physically abusing mama, b) asking for a snack, or c) making a pile of all of your puzzle pieces and immediately saying “all done.” “No play with mama” usually means your Almost-three is peeing somewhere there should certainly not be pee.

An Almost-three switches moods almost instantly.

And there are ways to work with this. “Suggest” your child take a nap because he seems sleepy. When he doth protest too much, say, “or just play nice with mama and we’ll get a snack later!” That snack may be carrots. That’s future-you’s problem.

This leads us to the Question of the Universe: WHY IS YOUR ALMOST-THREE THIS INSANE NIGHTMARE?

I have a theory, but note: this theory works really well with my current situation as a stay-at-home-mom. If you’re in a different situation but are also experiencing signs and symptoms of having an Almost-three, let me know your specifics and I will come up with a tailor made theory just for you.

As a stay-at-home-mom, I firmly believe that the Almost-three appears about six months (give or take) before you would send your little goldfish-guzzler to preschool or threeschool. Three-year-old preschool is not a requirement of any kind. Truth be told, four year old preschool isn’t either, but then you can use the reasoning of preparing for kindergarten.

But preschool for three-year-olds — especially three-year-olds that, say, don’t get out much (WE TRY OK; jk, I mean the ones that don’t go to a regular daycare) is so good. The three-year-old learns how to become a contributing member of a group. He learns to follow a somewhat regular routine. He learns that his teacher is someone to respect; he learns what respect is (in an ideal world, but hey, bear with me). 

But here’s the deal. Sometimes, when my Almost-three is asleep at night (and bonus points if he’s actually kept his pajamas and nighttime pull-up on), sometimes I look at him. I watch his tiny chest rise and fall and tear up in a sentimental way. I think, maybe you don’t need preschool this year?

Stay with your mama forever, you sweet little fluff of angel baby sent down from heaven!

And then he’ll wake up and dump a bottle of glue on his hands and I’ll say SIGN HIM UP NOW!

Almost-threes are God’s way of letting us know our littles are ready for preschool. Oh sure, we’ll cry and take a million pictures on that first day, but then we’ll drive to Starbucks alone, and we’ll smile, and we’ll think maybe I should have another baby? And then we’ll sip our coffee, remove oatmeal from our hair, and we’ll think NOPE.

’twas the night before christmas (for a mom)

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house,
Not a creature was stirring, except the mom, duh.
The stockings were ruined by the toddler each day
The tree, once a joy, now complete disarray

Yet despite all the mess, the mom’s heart did grin
(though perhaps that was due to the holiday gin)
“Tomorrow,” she thought, “will be joyful and fun,”
“And then — oh yes, then — Christmas will be all done.”

The children were wrestled like animals to bed
With visions of “PRESENTS!!” in their wild little heads
And the dad and the mom with the presents all done
Had just settled down for some holiday fun

When the door to their room started to shudder
“Noooo,” they both moaned, while a small voice said, “mother?”
Away to the closet mom flew like a flash
And emerged in a robe in a manner quite brash

“Santa won’t come unless you sleep,” mama said
And spent 83 hours putting the child back to bed
When the mom returned, the dad said “perhaps?”
And the mom looked over and sweetly said “not a chance.”

When the morning did come, along with new-fallen snow,
The cold winds outside made the fireplace glow
Children ripped presents, mom and dad shared a kiss
Right then the mom knew this was something she’d miss

So instead of wishing Christmas away
She vowed to keep a little bit in each day
So she sang carols in June and baked cookies in Spring
She wrapped soap and paper and silly old things

She hugged her kids hard, even when they were nuts
And told them how much she loved their guts.
She did all she could to keep Christmas in sight,
And hopes you can too — Merry Christmas, good night.

(And pass the gin.)

dsc_0260
Merry Christmas from Premeditated Mama and family!

o tannenbaum

My very favorite day, year after year, is the day after Thanksgiving.

I don’t Black Friday shop. I don’t bask in gluttonous turkey day leftovers.

I decorate.

On the day after Thanksgiving, I am up with the sun (or, as is often the case in late November in Michigan, I am up with where the sun would be if it weren’t covered by clouds). With a strength of ten Jennies, I haul up tubs of decorations like a post-spinach Popeye. I do all of this in a holiday sweater and — this year, thanks to my new obsession — holiday-themed Lularoe leggings. THE JOY! We have Christmas music playing, cookies out to decorate and eat, and there are squeals of delight as each decoration is unearthed (those squeals are solely from me).

To bring in some realness, here is what I look like on the day after Thanksgiving:


And here is what the rest of my family looks like on the day after Thanksgiving:


What a bunch.

I generally have enough energy and goodwill to carry these occasional wet blankets, so fun is had by all. All. ALL.

(Me.)

Knowing of my love of decorating, I once had a well meaning friend ask, “what is your Christmas color theme?”

“My Christmas color theme! Yes! That’s of course a thing I have! It’s… :quickly thinking of Christmas colors: green!”

That’s when this friend probably politely nodded and backed away from my obvious Christmas insanity.

The truth is, I bought an end-of-season Christmas tree my senior year of college. It was on super clearance, and after some creative sale-watching and gift card use, I ended up paying exactly one penny for my tree. It was perfect. Easy to assemble, pre-lit (HAHAHAHA AT ONE TIME I CONSIDERED THIS A BONUS), and not containing any actual pine that would make my allergies go crazy. I loved it. I purchased some clearance ornaments that I thought looked “good enough” to help fill it out that first year. By the next Christmas, I was married and teaching elementary music. Elementary kids LOVE gifting music-themed ornaments to music teachers, so I came home with several blown-glass pianos, coppery treble clefs, and eighth-note patterned everything. I added them to our tree, along with the many “Our First Christmas Together” ornaments we had received on wedding gifts. I bought tacky gold tinsel. Boom. Christmas.

The next year, I was still teaching, and received more musical ornaments. This happened for three more years, actually. 

Additionally, when Jason and I would go on vacations, I would buy an ornament to hang on our tree to remember the trip. So each year added new mementos (a lot of Mickey Mouse, to be clear), and over time, the tree was full of special parts of our lives together. 

One year, the pre-lit lights proved disastrous (SEE; NOT A BONUS) and stopped working altogether. I loved my penny tree — it was the perfect size! The perfect shape! I loved that it cost me a penny! And so Jason spent several hours painstakingly removing each individual light. We threw on our own set of lights and the tree lived on.

It’s now the tree that we decorate as a family on the day after Thanksgiving. The ornaments are random, varied, and slightly broken. Some are musical instruments, some have faded National Park logos. Some have handprints from a tiny baby Boone. There’s magic and meaning there.

But, to go back to my “color scheme?” There totally isn’t one. There will be no awards for the beauty of this tree. It’s a mess, especially this year, where many of the ornaments are hung at Jonah-height since he was insistent on helping. 

“I’m pretty sure this is what mom meant by ‘spread out the ornaments a bit.’ Yes.”

But when I look at this tree, I see Jason taking off all those dead lights for me. I see my parents storing it in their basement before I had a home of my own. I see Boone and Jonah falling in love with decorations and making their own to add to the collection.

I used to get this feeling every time I walked past a Christmas Tree in a store window — the feeling that someday I would achieve “pretty Christmas tree” status, with coordinating ribbons and ornaments and lights blinking on some kind of program. But the more I watch this Christmas tree become our own, the less I want to change it.

Christmas is hard for perfectionists. We want everything to look perfect and be perfect, because if not, it’s a failure. 

Look at your tree, and the love you’ve poured into it. Look at your house, even when toys are scattered and the remote has been missing for days. Don’t get caught up in the vision of Christmas or life you have in your head and forget to live the one in front of you. Maybe your tree won’t be on the covers of any magazines. It may not be shared a million times on Pinterest. But, in the words of our dear friend Linus VanPelt from A Charlie Brown Christmas

“I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love.”

So maybe you don’t have a color scheme. Or maybe you don’t have that many ornaments. Maybe you don’t have a tree — for Christmas, you don’t need any of it. Just the love. Sending you all I have at the start of this holiday season!

in defense of the facebook 

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, a website was created. It was called http://www.thefacebook.com. 

(Please note its debut came at a time when “www” was still used at the start of websites and, at the inception, “Facebook” started with “the.”)

From The Facebook’s beginnings at Harvard (see Jesse Eisenberg and Justin Timberlake tell you all about it in the film The Social Network), this new, exclusive social site was only open to students at select colleges. Eventually it opened its cyber-doors to students at small, private, liberal arts colleges in the Midwest, and my “hope.edu” email address was the only credential I needed to join. 

My early (the)Facebook life was basically an extension of my AOL Instant Messenger. My status updates were “Jennie is studying for music theory.” “Jennie is having a great day!” “Jennie is wondering why this status format only ever allows her to write sentences that begin with ‘Jennie is.'”

My first ever facebook profile picture. Nice sunglasses, past me.

The Facebook was not life changing. I remember thinking I’d probably delete my account when I got married. Surely married people are far too mature for such technological distractions. I grossly underestimated my future relationship with my Roku. Anyway, I didn’t delete it. I used it to stay in touch with college friends who had moved across the country. I used it to comment on the TV Shows I found desperately important at the time (Survivor, mostly). And when the Facebook dropped the “the” and opened itself up to the rest of the world, I used it to keep my family updated on Jason’s and my newlywed life in our new home state of Oklahoma.

And now, ten-something years later, I use it for things like: this blog, my podcast, friends, watching mesmerizing videos of recipes turning into food, ridiculous things Boone says, weather updates, cute pictures of Jonah, I-RAN-SO-MANY-MILES statuses, general questions, prayer requests, memes. 

Here is something you should know about real-life me. You know, the one who exists beyond the words on this screen. She’s an Introvert. She is NOT shy, don’t make that mistake. She just has no interest in superficial, forgettable conversation. She craves meaningful connection, and isn’t upset if someone disagrees with her as long as all opinions are respected.

This is not how the world has taught her to be.

At times, it seems, and Facebook highlights this well, differences of opinion are offensive. They’re wrong. They require teaching, correcting. 

I don’t mind differing opinions. In fact, I dare say they make the world go ’round. But, as the saying goes, “if you stand for nothing, Burr, what’ll you fall for?” (And if you aren’t addicted to Hamilton, as I am, you may be slightly more familiar with the wording “Those who stand for nothing fall for anything.”)

It’s important for me to have my beliefs, and these beliefs have not come easily. Through prayer, conversation, devotional study, and observation, I have fairly solid opinions on a variety of topics. For a long time, you might not really know what they were, however. I watched the world beat people down for disagreeing. I watched people mock people who thought outside the box. I realized the way to survive was to be agreeable.

I was wrong.

In light of recent tragedies in the news, I did something that would once have been out of character for me: I changed my Facebook profile picture from something silly (I believe it was Jason’s and my new Mickey and Minnie tattoos) to a photo of white text on a black background. The text said “BLACK LIVES MATTER.” I shared posts from Glennon Doyle Melton and Lin-Manuel Miranda that shared this sentiment. And every time I clicked the “share” button, I hesitated for a moment and thought, what if people think less of me because of this?

Quietly, but firmly, I heard God answer my question: 

Been there.

God didn’t call me to a burning bush to say, “JENNIE, TAKE OFF YOUR TOMS AND HEAR THIS: YOUR IDEAS ARE THE ONLY RIGHT ONES.” He didn’t even give me a hint that my thoughts are close to being on the mark. But He did push me toward sharing, toward discussing, toward compassionately engaging with others who think differently than I do. 

I’m happy to report as a result of my sharing I haven’t lost a single friend. I may or may not have provoked any new thoughts or ideas, but I feel good about staying true to myself and respecting my friends. 

My real life self would have a much harder time with this. She still dislikes small talk. She still worries she won’t say exactly what she means, or she’ll start agreeing out of habit. Facebook allows us to sit, reflect on what we’d like to say, and write it out clearly. We don’t always do this, of course, either because we’re rushed or writing isn’t our forte. Whatever the reason, can we all add some grace to Facebook? Try not to read into someone else’s punctuation. Try to remember that our opinions shouldn’t divide us into camps, enemies at opposite sides of the battleground. Keep sharing your opinions, because I want to know you. I want to learn about you and in turn, learn about me. 

The real world has its fair share of hate and anger. Let’s flood the Facebook with love. 

love and wet burritos

It’s almost Christmas time, boys and girls. The last week of Advent is actually on Christmas Day, but my last post of this series will be the Wednesday after Christmas. Extending the season, and whatnot.

So today brings us to the fourth week of Advent, or love. What better way to celebrate love than a meet cute?

(Note: a “meet cute” usually refers to a fictional couple in a movie or television show who meets in an interesting, sometimes hilarious way, and defies odds to become a classic romantic pair.)

Jay and I had our meet cute nearly seventeen years ago. We’re currently both 31, so over half our lives ago. Half. Our. Lives. I was a frizzy-haired, awkward high school freshman, as was he (with less frizz). We first got to know each other during our high school’s production of Alice in Wonderland. He was on the crew, and I was playing the Duchess — a character who doesn’t see a lot of play in the Disney film, and in the book she is described as hideously ugly. Fantastic.

Anyway, we made her a gypsy, and to complete the look, I dyed my staticky blonde hair jet black (a look that magnificently highlighted my extremely pale skin). Each performance, we coated my already dyed hair with black hair spray to really make sure that color came through. And to top it all off, I had the worst case of laryngitis I’ve ever had in my entire life. Quite a picture, no?

Every night, when I wasn’t onstage, I drank a horrible concoction of herbs and, if my theatre teacher was to be believed, spit from various animals. And every night, Jay stood behind me and rubbed my shoulders, and while he did so, the black hair spray would flake off and stain his hands.

I tell you, I was spoken for ever since.

That’s not to say we’ve been cloud-walking and untouchable since that moment. We’ve had our fair share of ups and downs. Our colleges were a thousand miles apart. He would sometimes keep his emotions buried far too deeply inside. I would sometimes let my emotions rule my every word and action. We have come a long way through the years.

A word to everyone who is married, or in love, or looking for love — find your person, and remember why they’re yours. Our love today isn’t always Jay risking black-stained hands to give me a back rub, or me walking around with stars in my eyes, overwhelmed by sweet feelings. Sometimes our love is Jay telling me to take a nap or me telling him I’m going to take the boys out for a couple hours so he can have the house to himself. I am absolutely certain that nothing will come between us, because neither of us wants anything to.

It’s cliche, but, married people? Remember why you fell in love with your person. Remember it when he or she isn’t acting that way you’d like them to. Remember it when the craziness of the Christmas season comes to a head, and you could really use someone to lean on instead of fight with.

And maybe when the craziness dies down, make their favorite dinner?

Here’s Jay’s:

WET BURRITOS

finished burrito
I forgot to take an “after” picture when the cheese was melty and delicious because… reasons. (WE INHALED THEM.)

(Note: “wet” burritos are apparently kind of a West Michigan thing — read: not incredibly authentic. But Jay loves sauce, and this recipe delivers.)

Ingredients

Sauce:

1 can tomato paste
1 1/2 cups water
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 can refried beans
Salt and pepper

Burritos:

1 pkg burrito-sized tortillas
1 lb ground beef
2 tbs 100 Days of Real Food taco seasoning (or package of store-bought taco seasoning)
1/2 can refried beans
Shredded lettuce*
Diced tomatoes*
Plenty of shredded cheese

(*Despite my best efforts, Jay is not a veggie-burrito lover. You will not find these ingredients on his burrito. You will find them on mine!)

Cooking Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Start the ground beef on a skillet on the stove. Meanwhile, add the tomato paste and water to a saucepan over medium heat. Add spices (change, omit, or add as you see fit, but don’t omit the cinnamon without trying it at least once), and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and add salt and pepper to taste.

When the ground beef is cooked, drain the grease and add in the taco seasoning and 1/4 cup water. Open the can of refried beans, and add half of the can to your sauce and half to the ground beef. Stir. Spoon some of the beef mixture into the middle of a tortilla,

meat in burrito
Meat mixture right in the middle — top with veggies if you choose!
folding a burrito
How to fold a burrito in four easy steps — 1. top left, 2. top right, 3. bottom left, 4. bottom right.

top with lettuce and tomatoes if desired. Fold up the sides of the tortilla so the meat and toppings stay inside, and place it seam-side down on a steak plate or baking sheet. (We prefer steak plates because everyone gets their own sauce contained on their plate. If you don’t have steak plates, this may be slightly messier; you’ll be fine.) Cover the burrito with the sauce and top with plenty of shredded cheese. Put it in the oven until the cheese melts. Dig in!