Friday, June 26, 2015

Carb Lovers Rejoice! Wheat Harvest is Now In Session!

Fifteen years ago my handsome hubby and I were stretched out on the beach, drinks in hand, toes in the sand, ocean views stretched out before us, the warm sun and beachy breeze keeping all the romantic vibes alive...

Just kidding.  We were in a wheat field.

The only waves around us were amber waves of grain. Please, try to control your jealousy.
Sometimes honeymoons come right after the wedding, and sometimes they come after wheat harvest. Crazy as it sounds, that's our story!  Two days after walking down the isle, I found myself sitting in a big blue Ford tractor tugging a grain cart around the dusty field where my brand new shiny happy husband was cutting wheat.  

I may have traded my white dress in for work boots and blue jeans (however, my French manicured nails still looked totally fabulous….and that’s the last time they were polished), but I was happy! When farming is your livelihood, harvest doesn't wait for honeymoons, honeymoons wait for harvest.
{That's the toughest guy I know, right up there. 
Screw Lyme disease. We're gonna cut some wheat!}

Our farming ventures have led us down many different path since then, and it’s been several years since we’ve actually had a wheat crop to cut.  Now that our older boys have outgrown the toy tractors and are ready for bigger and better things, life on the farm is really getting fun. I was super excited this summer when Steve told me we (we!) had bought a combine and would be harvesting wheat this year, for the first time in ages.
{Thank goodness for big brothers who can help little brothers up the ladder.}
{I think Chuckeroo may have been a liiiitle bit nervous sitting up that high.}

The boys spent a week prior to harvest helping Steve make sure the combine was in tip-top shape. Although it was new to us, the old girl (as Steve affectionately calls had seen some miles and had plenty of wear and tear.  You know, buying things brand new can be more convenient, more comfortable, but in our case, bargain hunting has it's benefits.  Fixer-uppers give the boys plenty of opportunities to work beside their father, to learn how to solve problems, and to be attentive to details. 

I love that they are learning some serious mechanic skills from their father.  I'm tellin' ya, they are gonna make some sweet little lady with a long "honey-do" list very happy some day!

Henry and George were at Totus Tuus all week, so they didn't have a chance to ride the combine with daddy, but the little ones were more than happy to tag along with me to deliver meals to the field.
Andrew kindly sat in the car with Joseph so I could take a spin with dad and Charlie around the field. Joseph was soooo charged when he saw the combine rolling along.  100% testosterone that boy!!
While most of this part of the state is finishing up with harvest, much of the Midwest will still be out in the field working long hours in the days to come. So, carb lovers, if you happen to be cruising along the rural roadways of America this weekend, enjoying the fruits of a farmer’s labor, be sure to wave your bagel and holler thank you. They love what they do and do it well so that you can have what you love!

Have a wonderful weekend, friends!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Joseph William Karol Turns One! Brotherly Love and Birthday Photos Abound

"How can there be to many children? 
That's like saying there are too many flowers." 
- Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta
Last Friday our youngest son, Joseph, turned one.  My heart simply could not accept how quickly this year has passed.  Just yesterday I was begging my ten day overdue belly to get busy! Despite the intensity of life that comes with raising six young boys, like clockwork, when that first birthday arrives so does the crazy intense longing for another baby. (Go ahead, call me coo-coo.) It's just automatic.  I can't help it!

Steve and I have always been open to life, and the Lord knows that if it were up to us, we would have ten boys by now.  But, He is the Creator and Crafter of our family, and so six it is! (Until we adopt those twin girls I've been trying to convince my husband we have plenty of room for!)

Anyway, for days leading up to Joseph's birthday, there was a great deal of excitement in our house. Everyone wanted to know what kind of cake I was going to make, if we were going to have a party, and they all took turns exclaiming to Joey, "You're going to be one year old on Friday!"

When the big day finally arrived, the great enthusiasm and love that the boys showered over Joseph was so touching, I cannot describe it. The older boys were all awake bright and early to help Steve work to get the combine ready for wheat harvest.  While they waited for me to prepare their sack lunches, they sat quietly in the living room listening for Joey's little voice to signal that he was awake.
Goooooood Morning!! Come and get me!!!
Gosh, guys. It's just my first birthday, no biggie, really.

Everyone dashed in to hug and kiss him and to wish him happy birthday.  It was a sweet sort of chaos.  I wish I could bottle up all of their giggling and hugging and endearing words.  Those are sounds I don't ever want to forget.

Of course our boys have their fair share of fighting and selfishness, but that's all on the surface of learning and growing up in a family of boys.  Beneath it all is an beautifully intense love for one another.  I see this love expressed in so many wonderful ways between each of them every day. The love was especially visible on Joseph's birthday.
Despite the obligations of the day, when possible, all of our attention was on Joseph.  I, especially, found myself just watching him, noticing every little distinction that makes him so unique, so precious - his wispy curls, his long lashes, his big blue eyes, his many expressions, the way he says "HI!" so emphatically when I walk in the room.

The boys will never know how emotional their birthdays are for me.  Behind the smiles and celebration my heart is completely engulfed in waves of love, joy, gratitude, wonder, and admiration, and the exhaustion I feel intensifies all of those emotions immensely. 

I suppose those emotions come from a combination of wanting time to slow down and also knowing that each child we've been blessed with is such a gift, such a mercy. Children save us from ourselves.  I've written before about how babies make us better.  Because, they really do.  

They uproot us from all our selfishness and attachment to things that don't matter and reward our self-gift with an all consuming love, adoration, and cuteness that makes us forget who we used to be. They make us face our weaknesses and our faults and leave us longing to be better, to be more, to be different, and that often very uncomfortable change requires a total reliance upon God's mercy and grace.
Early that day, I had hoped to dress Joseph up in his Wranglers and boots and take him to a special spot just outside of town that I thought would be the perfect place for his one year photo session, but it was so hot outside, I knew he would be miserable. Another day, another time.
After supper, the boys offered to take care of the dishes so that Steve and I could have some one-on-one time with Joseph outside.  He is taking his first steps, so it was the perfect time to snap a few (hundred) photos!  
Are you ready dad? I'm gonna show you my slider, then my curve, then my fastball!
 Um, guys, have you seen my baseball anywhere? Anyone, anyone??
 George noticed how much Joey wanted to take a turn on the slide....
So, he happily made his birthday wish come true. 
When it came time for the cake, Joseph was not sure what to think. The boys, however, were about to burst with excitement, because they could not believe that I was going to let Joseph actually eat his very own piece. Mom! It has sugar in it! Sugar is bad for Joey! Are you sure he should eat it??
First taste....
After the cake was devoured, Charlie volunteered to "bathe" Joseph in the baby pool.  Hold still, Jophis, I'm going to wash the frosting out of your hair with this ice cold bucket of water.
Really, how can there ever be too many of these precious ones???

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Raising Boys to Men - 12 Insightful Guidebooks For Parents

The second I read that little plus sign on the very first pregnancy test I ever took, I knew that two things had to happen.  First, I had to call my husband and shake up his lunch hour with the crazy wonderful news. Second, I had to drive to the nearest bookstore and scour the shelves for the very best books that would help me figure out how to navigate everything from nausea to nursing.

As you might have guessed, all of those highlighted and tabbed pages did not make for a textbook labor and delivery, nor did it birth a textbook baby (haha, surrrrprise!!), but there's a few of those books that I have returned to for guidance with each and every baby we've had since the first one arrived fourteen years ago.

Outnumbering the baby books on our shelves is a growing stack of guidebooks that I have returned to time and time again for wisdom and advice.  With six wonderfully different personalities, interests, talents, strengths and temperaments to nurture, I have found each and every one of these books to be incredibly helpful and encouraging when it comes to raising our sons.

I refer to these texts as guidebooks, because, while much of them contain great wisdom and advice, sinking all of your time and effort into a bunch of books and hoping that the right formula will result in a perfect child is simply a waste of time.  That being said, it doesn't hurt to set aside our parenting pride and seek out the knowledge of a few trusted resources (including scripture and prayer!) to guide us along the parenting pathway.

Please note that some of these references are not exclusive to raising boys, and can be excellent resources for families with both boys and girls.  Several of these texts taught me not only about my children, but also about myself, giving me insights into the ways that I love, discipline and respond to tough situations based on my own personality and the way that I was raised.  All of those factors combined have a tremendous influence on the decisions I make as a parent.  To have those sources of knowledge as a parent is incredibly valuable!

Do you have a favorite parenting resource? I'd love to hear about it!

1.  Boys Should Be Boys by Meg Meeker is tops on this list for me.  She dives right into the nature of boys and affirms who they are despite what the world is telling them (and everyone else) who and what they should be. 

2.  Strong Mothers, Strong Sons by Meg Meeker is one worth investing in, particularly if you are questioning or struggling to understand the role you play in your sons life. I'm reading this one for the second time, and am gathering new bits of wisdom that I missed the first time through!

3.  Compass: A Handbook on Parent Leadership by James B. Stenson - With a strong emphasis on character formation and how to deal with cultural influences, Stenson's book is one of our go-to handbooks that we reach for time and time again. This is a great one for dads to read.

4.  How We Love Our Kids by Milan and Kay Yerkovich came by recommendation of a wonderful friend of mine.  The authors dive in to five different love styles of parenting, and I have to say that discovering and understanding my love style has really changed the way I communicate with my sons!

5.  Discipline That Lasts a Lifetime by Dr. Ray Guarendi - just read this book, or any of his books for that matter.  Dr. Ray is hilarious. Your house can be burning down with frustration and he can still make you laugh despite all of the parenting struggles you may be dealing with. 

6.  The Birth Order Book by Dr. Kevin Leman was one of the first books I read as a new parent. I'll admit the whole birth order thing gets a little confusing if you have four or more but, for the most part, his points on oldest, middle and youngest children are really interesting and spot on!

7.  Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men by Leonard Sax - If you have sons, I highly encourage you to take the time to read this one.  It's an eye-opener to say the least. (This title of his is also a worthy read.)

8.  Wild at Heart by John Elderedge was one of the first, and most influential, books Steve and I read together as a couple.  For me, it opened my eyes and heart up to the remarkable and wonderful nature God has given to men and shown me, through that understanding, how to relate to our sons (and to my husband as well) in the most positive ways.

9.  The Temperament God Gave You by Art and Loraine Bennett is a wonderful resource for better understanding the varying personalities in your home (even your own!) and how to encourage those personalities to thrive together despite their differences.

10.  Bringing Up Boys by Dr. James Dobson is probably one of the most popular books written on the topic of raising boys.  It's popular because it's THAT good. There is one particular topic that Dr. Dobson addresses that I very clearly disagree with, but it does not detract from the quality advice and insights in the rest of the book.

11.  Character Building: A Guide For Parents and Teachers by Dr. David Isaacs is not one that you will sit down and devour in one sitting.  It's a lot of information, but a tremendous resource to have on hand in your are striving to teach your children about virtue.

12.  Love and Logic: When Kids Leave You Speachless by Jim and Charles Fay is just one of this duos fantastic resources for parents.  Love and Logic is a simple every action has a consequence philosophy. If you're a Love and Logic parent you know how helpful their tips for discipline and communication are! 

*Bonus* Okay, so this one is kind of a bonus book, and has not made the "Tried and True" list yet but The Art of Manliness by Brett McKay came highly recommended by another homeschool family, and I knew I had to give it a go. It just arrived a few days ago, so I'm only a few pages into it, and so far it's as entertaining as it is interesting!  Now that we have a high schooler under our roof, I have a feeling that this one will be fun to share with our boys as they get older!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Joy Would Be Worth the Pain If Indeed They Went Together - Our15 Year Anniversary & Thoughts from A Severe Mercy

Last night, in the deep midnight quiet, I leaned against the wall of our room and, sliding down to the floor, clutched to my chest the broad, heavy album of wedding pictures, memories of the day Steve and I began our life together.

My Love is gone, a few hours away, working, sweating, struggling to withstand the miseries of a failing body while attending to business and helping his parents on the family farm. And, while we juggle work, children and family responsibilities apart from one another, I am intensely aware of how much I wish he were here to hold me, to hear me speak to him the words,

Happy Anniversary. Thank you for choosing me.
Slowly, I turn the pages of the album, crisp and clean, photo after photo reminding me of where we began and how far we have come.  Fifteen years. How quickly they have passed, and how dearly I hope for fifteen more.

Beside where I sit, there is an old dusty bookshelf and on it is a copy of Sheldon Vanauken's book, A Severe Mercy (one of the few books I can credit for breaking wide open my vision of love and commitment). I reach up for it and flip reminiscently through highlighted pages that had once been dog-eared for times such as these, I suppose.

On one page, circled in faded pencil, I read again:

"What is beauty but something that is responded to with emotion? Courage, at least, is partly emotional. All the splendour of life. But if the best of life is, in fact, emotional, then one wanted the highest, the purest emotions: and that meant joy. Joy was the highest. How did one find joy? In books it was found in love– a great love… So if he wanted the heights of joy, he must have it, if he could find it, in great love. But in the books again, great joy through love always seemed go hand in hand with frightful pain. Still, he thought, looking out across the meadow, still, the joy would be worth the pain– if indeed, they went together. If there were a choice– and he suspected there was– a choice between, on the one hand, the heights and the depths and, on the other hand, some sort of safe, cautious middle way, he, for one, here and now chose the heights and the depths. Since then, the years have gone by and he– had he not had what he chose that day in the meadow? He had had the love. And the joy– what joy it had been! And the sorrow. He had had– was having– all the sorrow there was. And yet, the joy was worth the pain. Even now he re-affirmed that long-past choice.” 

The joy would be worth the pain. The joy would be worth the pain. It's funny how concrete words can be. Those words, pain and joy, are a real thing inside of me. (You, too?) In marriage they can be inseparable, and often difficult to explain to others how wonderful their unity actually is. How they give such substance to our daily life and guts to our commitment to one another. They are like old friends, and I breathe them in and out from lungs that have inhaled and held in all the joy and all the pain of the past fifteen years.

Setting the book down, I reach back for the photos.  The first page I see is one that holds a large photo of Steve and I, hand in hand, reciting our vows. The vows.  For a short while they are simply words. Expressions. Promises. Then there is the first day of a new life together, then another, and another and slowly the vows, when honored, when truly honored, despite feelings, despite circumstances, despite the crumbling of every ideal you had fashioned in your imagination of marriage to be, they become like tightly-woven threads.  Layers upon layers of threads that, one day you wake up and realize, are holding your love together with the most incredible security despite feeling sick instead of healthy, poor instead of rich, worse instead of better....but, despite the pains, you are together and you are in love, and it is the highest of joys.

If I may, I would like to speak to you, who perhaps are engaged, or single, or married and struggling to stay in the dance. The (real) reality of marriage is that it is not a self-fulfilling fairy tale, but a slowly written story of self-gift, the constant and consistent letting go of self for the good of another. Marriage is the highs and lows, it is not the safe, cautious, middle ground of self-centeredness.

It is the poverty and illness and infidelities and anger and loneliness and children and longing for children and everything in between that, at times, makes the idea of the safe middle ground so attractive, so tempting. I know. I've been there.

And, yet it is the very hideous and hurtful pains that make the joys all the more astonishingly beautiful, especially, after wrestling through the struggles, when we find ourselves all the more tightly bound to the one we've given our lives to through it all.

With all my heart, I encourage you! Do not be afraid to do the hard thing, to forsake the safe middle ground, a life that you've planned for yourself, and to choose a life that is lived for another, to choose the pain so that you may know the joy, the real, endearing joy of a love of heights and depths.

Honey, if you're reading this, which I know you aren't because you're fixing a broken down tractor, Happy Anniversary.  Thank you for choosing me.  I love you.  I can't wait for you to come home.

Friday, June 5, 2015

You Had Me At Margarita ~ Creamy Coconut and Cool Mint Margarita {Recipe}

Normally I like to begin my Friday posts with something like "Happy Friday!" or "Hellooooo Friday!" (insert unlimited enthusiasm and favorite uncoordinated cheerleader jump), because I want to ring in the weekend with you guys! But, celebrations are gonna be on pause for a little while...

Por Que?

Because, while the rest of the world is planning their summer vacations and neighborhood BBQ's, farmers are spending these warm months doing that little thing called feeding the world. I'm married to one of those farmer guys, and farmers don't get weekends off during the summer. Which means farm mamas don't get weekends off.  Which means, please pass the booze.

I'm up to my armpits in grass-stained baseball uniforms and greasy jeans, but my hands are still free, so thus, I blog. Although there's half a dozen more meaningful things I could write about, I'm just gonna go ahead and do the right thing here, and make sure you all go into the weekend well-prepared for whatever may come your way, such as toddlers plugging up the toilet with Hot Wheels during your first attempt at showering for the week (I love sharing personal experiences).

And, by prepared, I mean stocking up on the ingredients for this amazing cocktail, because friends, we owe it to ourselves (and our families)!
When I came across the original recipe for this margarita, I wanted to make it for a special occasion, so I whipped up a batch for Mother's Day brunch last month. With the first sip, I knew that not only was this recipe was a keeper, but that it had earned a spot on my list of favorites.

The recipe is currently my screen saver. So handy.

Call me me picky or prideful or whatever, but because cocktails are kind of like shoes and music - everybody has different tastes - I had to tweak the original recipe just a tad to fit my own (no offense original recipe prize-winning person.)  Those few simple changes have been taste-tested and mother approved, so I hope you guys like it!

Let me know what you think!

I'm off to the land of tractors and amber waves of grain.  Have a great weekend!

{Serves 3 - 4}

The original recipe for this cocktail called for Patron Tequila, but hello, if you're buying diapers, you're probably not drinking $Patron$.  There are plenty of good tequilas out there that are great for mixing and won't send your budget off the cliff.  I like this one and this one, too.

1 Box Outshine Creamy Coconut Fruit Bars
2/3 cup of blue agave tequila (or a splash more)
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
4 - 5 mint leaves (optional, see notes below)
4 tablespoons simple syrup (more or less depending on taste)

Muddle together for 1-2 minutes:
1 tablespoon finely shredded unsweetened coconut (like this brand)
2 mint leaves (remove any large pieces before rimming the glasses)
Then add:
2 tablespoons sugar
Dash or two of salt 

Using a wedge of lime, wet the rim of each glass then dip the glass into the coconut sugar mixture.  I like to put my glasses in the freezer while I make the cocktail.  Place tequila, lime and mint leaves in the blender and pulse until mint leaves are finely chopped.  Scrape coconut bars off of the sticks into the tequila mixture along with a cup of ice and blend well.  Pour the coconut mint margarita into the glasses and garnish with a mint sprig or traditional lime wedge.

*If you prefer a more smooth margarita, but still want the mint infused flavor, you might try making a mint infused simple syrup instead of adding the mint directly to the tequila mixture. I like the little specks of mint in the margarita, but my hubby isn't such a fan.  I think the mint simple syrup is a nice compromise!


My favorite summer time sip from last year?? It's all right here!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Back-to-Back Half Marathons & The Boys' First Official Race!

Well, hello there, June!

Today I turned as I was turning the calendar page to a new month, I laughed at how the month of May looked like one of those messy, scribbled up, wadded up coloring pages they give the littles at restaurants to keep them occupied during the long wait for chicken nuggets.  Every square inch of the thirty-one day page was either written in, marked out, or shredded from children constantly yanking it off of the wall to double check the days' events.

Somewhere behind all that messy madness were two brightly highlighted boxes that read Race Day! I'm not sure why I thought running two half-marathons in one month was a good idea, let alone a realistic possibility, but I'm thankful for whatever moment of inspiration motivated me to sign up, because it feels so good to be racing again! Here's a little recap on the events:

{Running with Purpose: Remembering Steve and my beautiful friend, Jolynn, and all those who suffer from Lyme disease with every step.}
The Prairie Fire Half was a local race, which was nice, because I was able to run the race and get back home before the crew even realized I was gone. (They usually don't miss me much until they're starving or can't find something.) Those 7 a.m. start times can be tough, but they're perfect for those of us moms who want to make the most of weekend time with the family.

This was my first time running this particular race, and I really enjoyed the fast, flat course.  Much of the course was off-road on trails that looped through parks, by the river and adjacent to some really lovely neighborhoods.  I didn't make my goal time, but finished well under the two hour mark, so I was pleased with that.

{Ready to Run!! That's my this won't hurt a bit game face.}
Three weeks later, I headed up to my favorite university to join one of my college friends for the Bill Snyder Highway Half.  This was definitely the most scenic race I've ever participated in. It was a bit hazy and overcast the morning of the race which made for mild temps and beautiful sights across the sprawling green Konza Prairie that enveloped the highway along which we ran for the first eight miles of the race.

The night before the race I was pretty restless with pre-race jitters, so catching those much needed zzzz's was almost impossible.  For two weeks prior to the race I had been trying to get over a bronchial infection that had put a serious wrench in my training and still had me coughing and wheezing at times.

I know what you're thinking: whyyyyyyyyyy you do dat?  I think it's called runner's denial.  I'll be fine. It's not that bad.  They'll have medics along the way....the things we tell ourselves!
To be honest, I really was expecting the race to be a struggle, and at times it was.  The first half of the race went pretty smooth, we even tackled, in good time, a 3 mile incline that I thought would never, ever end. Then, around mile eight, even though my legs still had some good giddy-up in them, I could feel my lungs beginning to give out.

It was pretty much down hill from there.  Not literally.  The hills kept coming, and for the first time ever I had to stop and walk during the race. I'll admit having to slow down injured my pride a wee bit, but what they say is true: it's the tough races that make you a stronger runner, not the easy ones. Such is life.

{Willie the Wildcat wanted to have his picture taken with us, since we finished in two-hundred something place.}
The very best part of the race was running with my wonderful friend, and fellow K-Stater, Jill. She is such strong runner, which made pushing the pace, especially at the beginning really fun!  Our fastest miles were actually uphill! Jill is as stubborn as she is strong, because she would not leave me on the course, and I had really slowed down the pace.

I finally convinced her on the last mile (when I stopped again to catch my breath) to run ahead and finish strong. When I got to the finish line, I didn't even want to see my time, but was completely surprised that at 1:52.38 I still managed to keep it under the two hour mark, which wasn't terrible for having to walk twice.
Getting to see my parents, who came up for the race, at the finish line and knowing that cold beer and the best donuts (not together, but much of both) were in my near future were a fine consolation for my craggy lungs.

The final race of the month was a bit of a spontaneous one. The boys have been asking when we could all run a race together and, because our weekend schedules have been a little crazy, I thought a virtual run might be a great way for the guys to test the waters a little.
So, I signed us up for the Remember the Fallen race hosted by Virtual Strides.  We chose this run because our family has a great love and respect for our military, and a portion of the race fees is donated to the families of our service men and women who have lost their lives in dedication to our country.
Because I wanted keep track of the boys' times and make sure we were covering exactly 3.1 miles, I took them in groups (thinking I could keep up!). Ben and Andrew went first, and never. slowed. down.  Then, I turned around and ran the same loop with Henry and George, who also had no problems passing me:
{Et tu, Jorge??}
They all LOVED the run, and I know once they experience the atmosphere of a live race, they are going to love it even more!  Steve and I were so proud of them! Children have so much spunk and enthusiasm - they are natural athletes.  I think their zest for life is such a beautiful image of purity and hope - they really believe that anything is possible!

Benedict: 23:47
Andrew: 26:34
George: 30:55
Henry 31:29