A Little Bit of Gold

Runner lined up to race

During the Olympics, I have a strong sense of nostalgia. While the they are on, I have a compulsive need to have the TV on in the background, something I don’t normally do while I’m working. There is something different about hearing announcers calling events, learning about sports I barely knew existed, hearing stories of triumph, and cheering. No, they weren’t cheering for me, but for a moment, I could believe that someone saw the excellence in my carefully crafted paragraph or my page of edits and was cheering me on. Writing is a lonely occupation.

But I’ll be glad to switch my Pandora station back to cool jazz, spa music, or even nature sounds when I’m feeling particularly distracted. My house will go back to reflecting the fact that an adult works from home. I won’t feel pulled to glance over at the TV every few minutes.

There’s a sadness too. When I was a kid, the Olympics were IT. They were the highlight of human achievement. It was amazing to think how good those athletes were. It would inspire all of us kids in the neighborhood to mark out a distance and see how fast we could race it. My brothers and I would draw lines in the shag carpet and do the long jump. We’d make up races in the swimming pool and choreograph synchronized swimming routines.

At night, we would plop on that same green shag, to watch the big events: gymnastics, swimming, and track and field. The flickering TV provided the only light in the room. The swamp cooler would be shut off and front door opened, bringing in the faint smell of orange blossoms from the nearby groves to mix with the mustiness of the swamp cooler. Going back to school was just around the corner.

Each Olympic from my childhood holds a special memory for me. 1972 was Olga Korbut with her pigtails doing her famous move of laying prone on the balance beam and flopping her feet over her head. Something I discovered I could also do, as well as the splits and other moves that began my stint as a gymnast that would run until I was in high school and grew to be too tall. I only had fleeting images of men in masks and guns and their assault on the Israeli team.

Most people recall Nadia Comaneci appearing on the scene in 1976, giving gymnastics the modern visibility it has today. In 1980, we weren’t much into the winter Olympics, growing up in Southern California and not having a lot of familiarity with snow or ice. But we would tease each other about Lake Placid appearing on our French toast in the form of powdered sugar. And of course we were bitterly disappointed that President Carter chose to boycott the Moscow Olympics that year. I got into arguments with my friends over the choice to mix politics and sports. For many of these athletes that was their only shot. They had to make a living and couldn’t afford to dedicate another four years to their sport.

I was in heaven in 1984 when the Olympics came to Los Angeles. I was in high school and had great hopes that I would finally get to see the Olympics in person. No such luck, but it barely dimmed my enthusiasm since we had all Olympics all the time for two weeks.

But after I left high school, I had to do what grown-ups do: go to college and work. I didn’t have the luxury of watching the Olympics. When I first realized this, I was saddened. One more piece of my childhood slipped away.

So the luxury of having the Olympics on, if only in the background, brings back a bit of those childhood summers that stretched forever, where we were only limited by our imaginations, and we could still dream of futures where we would be amazing at something too.

I think I’ll hold onto that piece a little bit longer.

Fog over a field

By Faith

BY JENNIFER VANDER KLIPP

By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions about his bones. Hebrews 11:22 (NIV)

Joseph’s faith reminds me of Nancy. While I didn’t know Nancy, I’ve seen her faith. Nancy was dying of cancer when she felt God telling her to write. She didn’t know why, but she obeyed. After her death, her son found a wonderful legacy in her writings. They touched him so deeply that he shared them with others and had them published. Nancy never saw the fruit of her obedience in this life but her faithfulness has already touched many people.

Joseph was also dying. So at first it doesn’t seem remarkable that he gave instructions about what to do with his body after his death (Genesis 50:24, 25). But Joseph’s instructions spoke about an event that would take place 400 years in the future! The Israelites were still in Egypt, had no leader, and no plans to go to the Promised Land. Yet Joseph said that he wanted them to take his bones with them when they go. He knew that God had promised them this land and he held to that promise in faith, even though the circumstances did not remotely indicate that this promise was coming true any time soon.

After a life of difficulties and hardships, Joseph had risen to a high position in Egypt, even though he was a Hebrew. He could have regarded Egypt as his home and requested a large funeral and ornate tomb. But he remained a Hebrew at heart, taking God at His promise. By requesting a burial in the Promised Land, he was saying that even though he wouldn’t live to see it, he had absolute faith the Israelites would get there.

That is the kind of faith the writer of Hebrews wants us to have. Many believers, like Joseph and Nancy, didn’t see God’s promises fulfilled while they lived. Yet they were still faithful. God wants us to have faith in Him regardless of our circumstances. Just because we can’t see how a situation could possibly work out, doesn’t mean it won’t. God’s perspective is so much bigger than ours. Aren’t you glad it is? Ask God to show you where you need to step out in faith . . .and then do it!

Food pantry

The Locust Have Landed

BY JENNIFER VANDER KLIPP

We have a joke in our house about the locust descending. It’s whenever four boys sit down for a meal. I haven’t even settled my napkin in my lap and the serving dishes only contain crumbs. The girls and my husband and I sort of sit there in shock, wondering what happened.

But we’ve learned quickly. If you don’t grab your food first—and possibly keep one eye open during the blessing—there won’t be anything left. We’ve even resorted to hiding food in our room. I’ve heard of other folks doing this, so I don’t feel entirely crazy. But if we don’t dole out the chips a few days at a time, there won’t be any left for school lunches. If we don’t hide the Costco-sized cereal boxes in our bedroom closet, there’s no cereal in the house after two days. So now we put cereal in the cupboard on Wednesday and Saturday and there’s no more until the next distribution day.

I don’t know if locust have hygiene issues. But in our house this is the other big issue. Unless we prompt, remind, cajole, and threaten, the boys would never take a shower, brush their teeth, or change their clothes.

Normally I’m a big believer in natural consequences. You forget your lunch, you go hungry for a day kind of thing. So in this case the natural consequence would be that their peers would comment on their smell, the boys wouldn’t like it and would take showers. Apparently their peers don’t bathe either.

I can’t stand the smell long enough for the natural consequences to take place. This summer we had dirty sheets, dirty clothes, dirty shoes, and dirty boys all confined in the basement. I thought I was going to need a clothespin on my nose every time I went down there to do the laundry. In fact I’ve spent a significant amount of time on Pinterest finding natural, homemade air fresheners that won’t aggravate my allergies. Though I’m willing to risk it if the concoction will battle the smell.

At this stage in their lives, it’s hard to remember them as cute babies or toddlers with kissable cheeks and adorable toes. And on the other end of the spectrum, it’s hard to imagine them maturing enough to become husbands and fathers. But because of—or in spite of—our faithful parenting, they do eventually become less locust-like and more human. They become aware of other people. All of our lessons on serving and responsibility finally take root and produce fruit.

So during the locust years, we keep doing what we’ve been doing: stay on our knees in prayer for wisdom and safety, recognize the uniqueness of each child, and capitalize on the moments to have fun.

And hide your Hershey’s Kisses in your nightstand.

Sunset over California foothills

How To Deal With Loneliness

BY JENNIFER VANDER KLIPP

Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you. Psalm 9:10 (NIV)

Loneliness is one of the hardest things to endure. God made us to be social creatures. Not only were we designed to have a relationship with Him, but with others as well. When we are lacking those relationships, we feel the loss deeply. Yet most of us, if not all of us, have gone through periods of loneliness in our lives.

One of the times of greatest loneliness in my life was when I moved from my hometown. I left my job to make a career change and went back to college for another degree. I had no car, so I took the bus to school, went to class, and came home to study. I felt so lonely. I remember it as one of the dark days of my life. Yet I also remember it as one of the times of greatest spiritual growth. I was forced to rely on God. I learned about Him and myself and our relationship. I learned about my gifts. I learned to trust Him with my future, something I hadn’t really done before, even though I had been a Christian since I was a young child.

The Bible says we will have trials in our life (1 Peter 1:6-7). Perhaps loneliness is yours right now. When we go through tough times, God wants us to use them as opportunities to develop our faith in Him. Consider your time of loneliness as a time to refine yourself. Develop spiritual disciplines like spending time in the Word, memorizing Scripture, or deepening your prayer life.

Additionally, you can use this time to develop your God-given gifts. Volunteer for a ministry. Not only will you learn more about yourself, but you will help others. Seeing others’ needs often puts our own in perspective.

Finally, the hardest part is to learn to be content with where God has you now. Paul says in Philippians 4:11, “for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” He knew this contentment didn’t come of his own abilities. He says later in Philippians 4:13, “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” We can do whatever God calls us to do because He will give us the strength.

Make a plan to deal with your loneliness. Study an area of Scripture you’ve always been curious about. Spend more time in prayer. God has something He wants you to learn during this time. Don’t miss out. He is trustworthy and He will never leave you.

 

 

Shadows holding hands

Survival Skills for Moms, Part 3

BY JENNIFER VANDER KLIPP

Our first two parts (Part 1 and Part 2) discussed getting and cooking food, activities that take up a large part of our over-stretched calendars and budgets. But today we’re talking about you.

As moms, we’re so busy taking care of our families that we routinely put ourselves last on the list. And that’s a sure-fire recipe for burnout. So here are three areas you need to nurture if you want to avoid that.

Time for yourself

I hear you saying, “What’s that? I never have that.” True. You have to make time for yourself. Get out your calendar and block off time for yourself. Whether it’s to do a hobby you love, work out, read, or just be where no one is calling your name. You cannot serve your family out of an empty well. You have got to take time to refill your well.

Time with your spouse

For those of you who are married, I you have to have time alone with your spouse. Regular date nights will feed your marriage. Someday all those little birds will fly the nest. It would be nice to still know the person you’re married to when it’s just the two of you.

Dates don’t have to be expensive. A cup of coffee, an ice cream, a walk all count as dates. What matters is that the two of you have time to connect. A strong marriage reassures your children and gives them comfort and security.

Time with God

Being a mom to boys is exhausting and difficult, fun and crazy. They are quite different creatures from girls. Being a mom to girls brings its own challenges with emotions and identity. We need to regularly go to God with our hopes, fears, dreams, and questions. He is their Maker. He gave them to us. And He loves them more than we do. Let Him refresh your soul and guide you in raising your children.

Hopefully, you’ve found a few useful ideas to try out during this series. Raising young men and women is an adventure, and we need all the help we can get from each other!

 

 

 

Cutting green onions

Survival Skills for Moms, Part 2

BY JENNIFER VANDER KLIPP

What’s for dinner?

Has that become a curse word in your house? In Part 1 we talked about grocery shopping, something that’s a huge part of our schedules as moms of teens. But once you get the food, you have to do something with it. You have to prepare it, cook it, and actually make meals out of it.

Trying to figure out what to have for dinner at four o’clock is a recipe for frustration and fast food. I know for me, when I don’t know what to cook and don’t have the energy or think about it, my default is to order out. If you’re trying to save money (kids are so expensive!) then that can be a budget buster. Thinking ahead about meals and doing some planning will save your sanity and budget. Here are a few ideas that have worked for me.

Plan in advance

Planning and cooking in advance is one of the best solutions. Several places like, Emeals, have prepared menu plans you can purchase. Most are fairly inexpensive, have options for specialized diets and family size, and give you a grocery list. You’ll more than save what you spend on these plans by not running out for fast food because there’s nothing to eat.

When you choose one of these plans, look for sample menus. You’ll want the recipes to be easy to make without a lot of ingredients. They shouldn’t take too much time (generally under 30 minutes). The meals should generally fit into your family members’ tastes. And there should be a good variety so you don’t get bored.

What I like about having a weekly menu with recipes is that I post them on the refrigerator. Everyone knows what’s for dinner. And I can even get my children to start helping prep dinner because they know right where to look for all of the information. This also works if your husband gets home before you (or generally does the cooking) or if you have someone helping out in your house. Everyone can be on the same page.

Cooking in advance

Another one of my favorite cooking survival skills is cooking in advance. Pinterest has tons of recipes. I love the Occasional Cook by Cyndy Salzmann, but there are other resources. This may seem overwhelming at first but the rewards far outweigh the work. There’s something very satisfying about a freezer full of meals that only need to be pulled out and warmed up. It’s also great if you want to deliver a meal to a sick friend or someone with a new baby. You have meals already made and ready to go.

I eased into this. I started by making 7 meals, then 14, and finally 21. 21 meals aren’t that much more work than 7, and it’s so worth the effort.

My game plan usually looks like this. I find a day or two when I can shop and cook. I shop on day one, first looking at what I already have in the freezer, then hitting Costco because the large quantities will work really well in this situation. Finally, I go to my local grocery store. Back at home, I put on whatever needs to cook for a long time: stock, marinara sauce, meat.

The next day I follow the plan to start making the meals. While you’re out shopping, buy something for yourself for lunch. You’re not going to want to make a lunch in the middle of cooking.

Finally, I type up a list of the meals I made, the cooking and prep instructions for each meal, and any side dishes that go with them. I print this out and put it on the freezer or fridge. Then I can cross off each meal as we eat it, and I have a great idea of what I have left

When I do this, I make twenty-one meals in about seven hours. It’s tiring, but satisfying to be able to pull something out of the freezer and not have to cook for a month. Try doing it with a friend to make it more fun.

Use your slow cooker

This seems almost too simple to list, but I know I overlook it a lot. In the winter time it’s great to have something warm and yummy for dinner. But in the summer it can also be great if you don’t want to turn on the oven and heat up the kitchen. Pinterest, of course, has a ton of Crock Pot recipes. Many subscription meal plans include regular slow cooker meals.

Make your own meal plan

Another great option is to pick the top 15 or so meals that your family enjoys and you eat regularly. You can write out a standard shopping list based on those ingredients and then rotate through those meals every few weeks. This works great if you have picky eaters that only like a few things.

Get your kids to help

Sometimes it hardly seems worth the effort when you can just do it faster yourself. Your kids might not want to help. Or they may find that they really like cooking. Either way, you’re teaching your children valuable skills. Being able to make even a simple meal will make their diet—when they are on their own—consist of something beyond cereal, PopTarts, and pizza.

Plus, boys are more likely to talk when they are doing an activity. There’s a good chance you’ll learn more about their lives if you can get them to help in the kitchen. When my stepchildren come over for dinner, I leave the kitchen so they can have time cooking—and talking—with their dad.

We continue with one more part to this series on survival skills with the ultimate survival skill: time for yourself!

 

Note—I do not receive any compensation from any of the companies listed or linked to here. I’m just a mom sharing with other moms what has worked for me.

 

Fresh veggies

Survival Skills for Moms, Part 1

BY JENNIFER VANDER KLIPP

When your kids were little, they needed you for every little thing. Feeding, clothing, changing diapers, toting them from place to place. I remember thinking that things would be easier when they got older and didn’t need me so much.

They still need me. But in a different way. While I don’t have to spoon feed them anymore, I still spend a lot of time in the car running them around for school activities, sports, hang out times with friends, and—because I have two special needs kids—lots of doctor appointments.

Because I’m naturally a planner, organizer, and project manager by trade, I’ve developed a few survival skills for moms to survive those crazy years. Some you may already know about, some might not work for you at all. But the more we share with each other what’s working for us, the more we help each other out.

Groceries

Moms of teen boys often feel they need to take out a small loan before going grocery shopping. The kids eat a lot and often. In our house, we call them locust (see this post ). Once upon a time, I used the grocery lists like the Grocery Game and Savings Angel to figure out what to buy when and what coupons to use. If you haven’t used them before (or something similar in your area) they are worth checking out to see if they will work for you. Most of them have trial periods.

The idea is that grocery stores work on 12-week cycles. You stock up on what you need during the low prices (combined with coupons when possible) then you make your weekly meals out of what you already have on hand. It’s a great way to save money, particularly on things like paper goods, cleaning products, and toiletries. But it does take time. Additionally, if you don’t buy a lot of prepared or packaged foods, coupons won’t be as valuable to you.

If time is really crunched for you Amazon’s Subscribe and Save and Prime Pantry programs might be for you. With Subscribe and Save, you pick out your items from their Subscribe and Save shop. You get a delivery once a month, pay no shipping, and save 15% on your total order if you have more than 5 items. This is great for supplies like toilet paper and dog food that you need monthly. The prices can be comparable to grocery stores or even warehouse stores, so check the prices. You get an email several days before your order is locked in and you can make changes to it. Then it’s delivered to your door. I get about 50% of my groceries this way.

For fresh food, companies like Door to Door Organics (parts of New Jersey, New York, Michigan, Wisconsin, Colorado, Illinois, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Missouri)and Zaycon Foods (nationwide) can be good sources for produce and meat if they are in your area. Door to Door Organics will deliver a box of fresh fruits and veggies every other week, plus other groceries you might like to add to your order. You will pay more than the grocery store, but many people like the option to choose local farmers, organic produce, and community sponsored agriculture.

Zaycon uses the buying power of its members to make large purchases from local farms. They deliver to a local, central location where you pick up your order. Prices are usually better than what you can get in the store. But you need to have freezer room for the large orders and usually it’s several months between orders.

Another way to get fresh veggies into your family without having to go to the grocery store is through Community Sponsored Agriculture (CSA) boxes (go here to find them near you) and produce co-ops like Bountiful Baskets. With CSAs you buy a “share” of a farm from a local farmer and each week they provide you with a box of produce. Produce co-ops buy seasonal produce in bulk and distribute it to their members on a regular basis. Both options provide fresh produce for your families and support local farmers, usually at a savings to you.

Bulk shopping

Most people know the advantages of shopping at places like Costco and Sam’s Club. You can get large quantities at lower prices. For things you use a lot of or go through quickly, this is a good option. But check prices. They aren’t always better than the grocery store. And if something goes bad before you can use it up then it’s not a deal. You also have to have room to store extras (closet, garage, basement, under your bed).

Share the load

If you have friends in the same boat as you, consider sharing the load with them by buying in bulk together. Or start a co-op with several families. Door to Door Organics and Bountiful Baskets work particularly well with co-ops.

Most of these tips require a little prep time, but they will save you in the long run. Realize, too, that your sanity is a valuable commodity. IF something makes your life easier, it can be worth the cost.

Stay tuned. Part 2 talks about what to do with all this food now that you have it!

 

Note—I do not receive any compensation from any of the companies listed or linked to here. I’m just a mom sharing with other moms what has worked for me.

Mountain in Sedona, Arizona

Don’t Waste Your Talents

BY JENNIFER VANDER KLIPP

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ Matthew 25:23 (NIV)

Imagine winning the lottery or the Publishers’ Clearing House Sweepstakes and then putting the money under your mattress or burying it in the back yard thinking it’s the safest thing to do. You don’t want to waste it or make a mistake spending it, so you hide it. Most of us would agree this kind of thinking is ridiculous. Of course we would spend the money, either putting it to good use or just for our pleasure. What good does money do if it’s buried under three feet of dirt?

The verse above is near the end of the Parable of the Talents. This servant used the talents the master had given him to create more talents. In biblical times a talent was a measure of weight used for precious metals.

The spiritual gifts or “talents” God has given us are precious. Yet like a bar of gold sitting in a bank vault, they do no good unless they are used. Every believer has a spiritual gift or “talent.” Spiritual gifts are those given to a person after receiving Christ. Their purpose is to build up the body of Christ.

When it comes to our spiritual gifts many
of us still have them buried in the backyard. We don’t think we’re good enough yet or we’re afraid of making a mistake. Yet we have to be faithful to use what He’s given us—the few things—before He will entrust us with greater responsibility.

Even though the servants received different talents, they both received the same reward. Many times we can look at others and see how God is using them. They seem to have so much more talent than we do. They have the “important” or visible gifts.

Yet God judges us on how we use what He has given us. And when we are faithful to use it, He will give us more. So start digging up your talents and dusting them off. If you don’t even know what they are, try serving in different areas until you find your fit. Remember, the servant didn’t get judged on how well he did, but on whether or not he used his talents. Are you using yours?

 

Boy on zipline

The Joy of Raising Boys

BY JENNIFER VANDER KLIPP

Boys are just different. I’m reminded of this frequently in a house dominated by boys. I grew up with brothers, but over the years the boys have done things that just make me shake my head. So far, that hasn’t stopped in their teen years.

Different isn’t bad. We need the balance of how girls look at the world versus how boys do. But, being a girl, boys sometimes mystify me. Looking back, here are a few examples of things that I found, well, unexpected.

Boys have a protective instinct

For some reason, Christmas brings out the battle spirit. Maybe it’s the miniature figurines on the tree and in the décor that reminds my son of a small village that needs to be protected from attack. I don’t know. But the juxtaposition has had me chuckling a few years.

One year, either Bionicles or Transformers or maybe both (I never could keep all of those warring toys straight), were possibly fighting in, or attacking, or defending my Christmas village. The image of these sweet, snow-capped Victorian ceramic houses being surrounded by creatures out of the space age struck me as something only a boy would do.

When he was four, my son found a different use for the Christmas tree. It was the perfect cover for covert operations. When I caught him low-crawling under it he said, “I gotta shoot the bad guys,” while using the camel from the nativity scene as a weapon.

“There’s no bad guys in the Christmas tree,” I tell him. “They’re not allowed. It’s against the rules.”

He seemed to buy this, and he and his deadly camel headed upstairs to the playroom. A few minutes later, he came back downstairs and two of the wise men were engaged in mortal combat.

I’m glad this was the PlayMobile nativity instead of the porcelain one on the mantel. And somehow, I’m thinking the Advent readings we’d been doing weren’t quite hitting home.

Boys have a unique perspective on what can be considered a gift

One day when I picked up the kids from daycare, I told them their Christmas present was in the back. I was joking; I had just gotten the snow tires put on the truck. My son looked around. “Where?”

“The tires.”

“Cool. We get four tire swings?”

If you can climb on it, over it, or under it, it’s something you can play with and therefore is a gift. What a great way to look at the world.

Boys have a sense of adventure

My kids are not morning people. So when they are home on school breaks I try to get most of my writing done in the morning before they’re fully awake. Sometimes, for my son with Asperger’s, this isn’t until he’s been out of bed for three hours.

One morning when he was still quite young—I was almost finished with my word count for the day—when he came to me. “Mom. I’m hungry.”

“Finish your breakfast on the table.”

He came back two minutes later, jam smeared on his cute little cheeks. “I want a snack.”

“Give me fifteen minutes. I’m almost done.” I was in the middle of a scene. The words were flowing. I didn’t want to be interrupted.

He ran off. With my mom ears, I heard him climb on the kitchen counter. “Get down,” I called.

“I’m making a sammich.”

Great. I imagined the mess. “Get down. I’ll be there in a minute.”

I heard the sound of the toaster lever plunging, followed shortly after by the scent of smoke. I leaped out of my chair and around the corner. Smoke billowed out of the kitchen. My son climbed off the counter, rubbing his eyes. “I was making a sammich.”

Smoke poured out of the toaster but no flames. I unplugged it and carried it out back, tossing it on the patio. Some days I wish the adventure of raising boys didn’t involve my kitchen. Or smoke.

Another time, we were driving to church at night while it was snowing. I don’t like to drive in the snow at night because no matter what direction the snow is actually blowing, it looks like it’s coming right at you while you’re driving. I find this mesmerizing and distracting.

My son said it looked like we were driving through hyperspace. Which is pretty close to what it does looks like.

When we walked through the parking lot and the light caught the flakes, my daughter said it looked like stars were falling.

Walking through falling stars, driving through hyperspace . . . there are worse ways to spend your time.

Hug your boys (even if they protest). Remember the good times. And celebrate the differences. Even if they do make you shake your head.