A PSA to the Well-Intentioned Encourager

"I try to encourage young mothers I see in the store," she said confidently.  I responded with a nod, saying, "Most parents can always use encouragement."  "Oh, I know!  I always encourage them by telling them 'The years go by so fast-- enjoy every moment.' "  I cringed and bit my tongue.

Since beginning my own parenting journey, this word of advice has been, far and away, the most unsolicited sentiment lobbed at me from well-meaning individuals long removed from the daily presence of a toddler.  Dear friend, can we be real for a few minutes here?

There is no season of life or circumstance, however great, that is going to carry second-by-second elation.  Maybe you're in your dream job in your dream house with your dream family and dream dog-- you will not enjoy every second of it.  Life does not happen in a bubble because we are flawed individuals who are surrounded by other flawed individuals living in a flawed world. 

I love being a mom and enjoy much of it.  Watching my toddler's sense of humor and language and personality grow by the day is fascinating.  Observing a child, who only 18 months ago couldn't even hold her head up on her own, enjoy reading books and solve problems is truly amazing.  This is the picture that the well-meaning "enjoy every moment" folks undoubtedly have in mind. 

Somehow, time seems to have zapped the other half of the parenting picture from their memories: The times when that budding sense of humor is replaced with a language-limited, very opinionated, and passionate tiny person who whines loudly and makes her body limp to slide out of your arms in a busy parking lot.  Or the times when the world is on the verge of ending because the hoarse-voiced parent has read the same book twelve times instead of the required thirteen.  Or the times that the dogs' water bowl is emptied on to the floor for the fourth time during dinner prep.  Or the times when the stuffed animals are found swimming in the toilet and then demanded shortly after at bedtime.  Or when a whole day's nutrition comes solely from fistfuls of goldfish crackers.  Ya'll, it's hard to enjoy these moments... and these are not rare moments.

In moments where I find myself sighing and turning on yet one more YouTube video of Cookie Monster's rendition of "Baby Shark" just so I can sit down for 150 seconds, the temptation can creep in, "Years go by fast!  You're not loving every second of this!  One day soon you're going to regret this wasted time!  Enjoy!  Enjoy!  Enjoy!"  Parenthood, like any other job, is not a Utopia.  Yes, it is totally rewarding and filled with joy, but it's also exhausting, full of extreme highs and lows, and, often, lonely.  And there's so much at stake-- of which we're all keenly aware. 

If you truly want to encourage a parent with young children, allow them to be real with their struggles during this stage of life.  Offer to watch the "precious little cherub" so they can take a nap.  Take an interest in them as a person by remembering that they might have other things they might want to talk about aside from their child.  Buy them a coffee or wine or a massage.  Or if nothing else, a hug and non-judgmental smile don't cost a thing.  If you're a parent on the other side of this, we DO need you, your encouragement, and your seasoned wisdom... without the unrealistic platitudes.


Gratitude of Mess

For the pile of books scattered about the nursery room floor, I am grateful. 
    It means my toddler enjoyed sitting quietly reading to herself.

For the endless dirty diapers, I am grateful. 
    They indicate that, despite the dinner battles, my daughter is nourished.

For the dog fur tumbleweeds and muddy paw-prints on the floor, I am grateful. 
    They remind me that a fun house doesn't have to be a pristine one.

For the containers and lids that once were neatly organized but now teeter haphazardly in the cabinet, I am grateful. 
    The disorganization is evidence of an excited child's exploration of her world.

For the tired back and sore feet, I am grateful. 
    It means I have been blessed with a full day of activity.

For the to-do list still uncompleted, I am grateful. 
    It means I played with my little girl, whose days with me seem so long, but are fleeting.

For days like this when I am able to have a heart of thankfulness, I am grateful.
    I fail to recognize life's messiness as a blessing on so many other days. 


Santa Won't Be Shimmying Down Our Chimney

Unlike most of my peers, I did not grow up believing in Santa Claus.  He was never a real or magical character in our house.  I have never mailed Santa a letter (although as an assignment during elementary school, I had to write Santa a letter and felt very silly writing to a make-believe person).  I've never sat on a kindly old bearded stranger's lap and told him of my wish list.  Never have I ever feared receiving coal in my stocking. 

As I've been pondering what I want holiday traditions in my own house to look like, I default, as I think many of us do, to what is familiar.  I have assumed, without giving a tremendous amount of thought as to why, I wouldn't teach my children about Santa.  Until this week, the passing reasons for this were that, 1) I don't want to lie to my children-- not even about whimsical fictitious characters (Santa, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, and certainly not that creepy ol' Elf on the Shelf), and 2) I didn't grow up believing in any of them. 

But recently, I've evaluated why I am uncomfortable with the idea of instilling in my children a belief about Santa Claus.  I do not judge or snub my nose at parents who choose differently.  I don't have the "right" way.  I do think, however, that it's important to challenge our own ways of thinking.  Tradition for tradition's sake isn't a good enough reason TO do something... or to NOT do something. 

Here's what I've come up with: I don't want to bring Santa into my children's Christmas traditions because the commercial ideas surrounding this jolly old soul are completely opposite of the real, true focus of Christmas.  No, I don't think Santa is evil and I'm not a "all things secular are synonymous with raging war on Christmas" individual.  Slow down.  Hear me out.
With Santa, you gain access to him once a year; 
   with Christ, His presence is always with us.
With Santa, you tell him what fleeting thing you want each year;
   with Christ, He knows your greatest need before you even ask.
With Santa, if you behave, you are entitled to presents; 
   with Jesus, there is nothing you can do to earn the gift of salvation. 
With Santa, you act nicely in order to receive
   with Jesus, you receive and then respond in overflowing grateful devotion and obedience.
With Santa, you receive gifts if you're good; 
   with Jesus, you receive the ultimate gift because you aren't good.  .  
With Santa, he comes to bring presents;
   with Christ, His life was the present.

Isn't one of these two characters infinitely much more magnificent?  I don't want to spend precious moments of the few advent seasons I have with my little one focusing on a fable... when Christ's birth and life is so much richer. 

As we progress through this month, I challenge you (and myself) to consider meaning and purpose in your celebrations rather than going through the rote motions.  Our enjoyment of this season will be deeper and richer for it. 


You Don't Need a Party Hat to Eat Cheesecake (Recipe Included)

It annoys me to no end when it takes me 10 minutes to scrolls past a food blogger's life story to get to the stupid recipe, so I'm not going to do that to you.  If you care to hear me carry on about the silly thing, I shall do so after the recipe. 

For the rest of you who have better things to do with your day... you're welcome.

Caramel Apple Cheesecake

Behold.  The No-Special-Occasion Caramel Apple Cheesecake.


2 C fine crumbs Pumpkin Spice Frosted Flakes (roughly 5 C whole), or regular plus and a bit of Pumpkin Pie Spice
1 C fine crumbs Crispix
3+ T unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350.  Pulverize the cereal in a food processor until very fine.  Mix in the butter (If the mixture doesn't stick together when you pinch it, add a T more of melted butter).  Press into bottom 8x8 square pan and slightly up the sides.  Pop that baby in the oven for 5 minutes.  Cool.


1 C sugar
5 T unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 C sour cream, room temperature

In saucepan, melt the sugar over lowish heat.  Stir frequently.  After a while, it will start to melt.  Keep stirring until all of the sugar clumps are liquidy and it's a gorgeous amber color.  Cut the butter into about 8 small clumps and gradually add them in.  Keep stirring and adding until all the butter has been incorporated.  Remove the pan from the heat and gradually add the sour cream. Voila!  Caramel sauce!  Let it cool for a few minutes in a glass bowl.


2 large apples (I used gala because that's basically all I buy), or 3 medium/smallish apples
1 1/2 T brown sugar
1 T unsalted butter

Heat cast iron skillet on low heat.  While it's warming, peel your apples and cut into small chunks (bigger than a dice).  Toss the apples, sugar, and butter into the skillet and stir.  Stir occasionally and cook until apples are slightly darker, soft, and smell radiant. 


1/3 C walnut pieces
1 T sugar
2 t unsalted butter

In skillet, heat ingredients together, stirring constantly, until sugar has melted and coated the walnuts.  Spread out on sheet of wax paper and let cool.  Resist urge to just eat them all.


18 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1 T sour cream
2 large eggs (or 3 egg yolks if you've got 'em lying around)
2ish T brown sugar
1 t vanilla
1/4 t cinnamon

Beat cream cheese and sour cream in mixer until smooth and creamy.  Add eggs and beat until incorporated.  Add brown sugar (more to taste if you like it sweeter), vanilla, and cinnamon. 

Cheesecake, assemble!!  On top of cooled crust, pour thin layer of caramel and spread with the back of a spoon-- just enough to cover all of the crust.  Tilt and turn to make sure it gets to all edges and corner.  Sprinkle some of apple chunks over the caramel.  Add about 1 T of caramel into the cream cheese and pour 2/3 filling evenly over top (you may need to spread around into pan with spatula.  Reserve 1 T of caramel, but pour the rest into the remaining 1/3 filling and mix (do not scrape out caramel container yet).  Add remaining apples to mixture and spread onto pan. 

Take reserved T of caramel and drizzle over filling.  In the bowl that held the caramel, toss the walnuts in and stir to coat in what's left of the caramel.  Sprinkle around pan.  Put cheesecake in the over until set, about 45-50 minutes.  Cool completely and refrigerate for several hours until chilled.

*      *      *

You made it!  Hopefully, by now you're enjoying the fruits of your labor and the kitchen fairy has taken care of the mountain of dirty dishes that this recipe amassed.  (Sorry about that).  Cheesecake is a funny thing.  It's one of those desserts that seems to carry with it this ridiculous notion that you need a special occasion to partake in one.  That's nonsense.  Side note: It's also one of those things that some dessert snobs tend to think a plain New York Style Cheesecake is the best there is.  Those people are wrong.  I'd take one banging Pumpkin Cheesecake with a Paula Dean-amount of butter in the crust any day.  Key Lime Cheesecake?  Praise Jesus.  And I'd give my fourth toe for Chocolate Raspberry Truffle Cheesecake.

Anyway, this recipe came about because I happened to find a box of Pumpkin Spice Frosted Flakes on clearance for $1.25, heard my weight's worth in apples calling to me from the crisper drawer, had leftover spiced walnuts from the week's salad lunches (if you're going to eat salad for lunch, why not throw on nuts cooked in sugar and butter, amiright?), was pondering how to use those three lonely yolks left over from an egg-whites only recipe, and had exactly 1/2 C + 1 T of sour cream (and no cream, which is usually what is used in making caramel) left that was about to go bad. 

And I needed something to bake something that was gluten free.  

And for the love of all that is Fall, apples and caramel and walnuts are a fantastic combination.

And cheesecake is amazing and life is too short to wait until you're dressed all fancy or wearing a party hat to eat cheesecake.  

So if you have looked at this recipe and said to yourself, "I love a good cheesecake, but this recipe is about 12 miles long," fear not.  Change the silly thing.  By all means, alter it to your heart's delight!  Don't layer it if you prefer not to!  Use graham crackers instead of cereal!  Go crazy and add more cinnamon!  Use more apples!  Use store-bought caramel!  

(Actually, no, don't do that.  Homemade caramel is easy, cheap, and SO MUCH MORE FREAKING DELICIOUS). 

Ultimately, I jotted this down so I can remember what I created and do it again in the future.  But hopefully you're able to make some ordinary day more extraordinary.


Why I Will See 3 O'Clock Twice Today

It is presently 5:16am and I have been awake for several hours.  This time, I can't blame the baby or the insomnia.  My soul is troubled.  My soul is troubled in a way that glossy-eyed scrolling through social media, dominoes on my cell phone, and watching one more cute corgi video will not distract.

In April 1999, I was a 14-year old freshman whose naive bubble got a little bit deflated when I saw headlines of a horrific school shooting that took place several states away.  I devoured two books about lives of two 17-year old Christian girls whose lives were taken in hopes of wrapping my head around any possible good that might have come out of the tragedy.

In April 2007, I was a month away from being a college graduate when Facebook notifications began rolling in from long-time friends who attended a university expressing confusion, fear, anger, and pain over their classmates' lives who were either confirmed dead by gun-shot or not yet accounted for.  A week later, my university went on lock-down when two armed suspects were spotted near the student union building.

In April 2011, I was an elementary school music teacher who had just taped construction paper over the door windows and was frantically trying to keep my 27 sixth graders quiet during the excruciatingly long intruder drill.  As police and their K-9 unit ran through the halls, shaking door handles and shouting, I found myself conflicted in reassuring the obviously fearful students that this was "just a drill" and whisper-scolding the ones whose fear masqueraded in thinly-veiled bravado and sarcasm.

It is now February 2018.  I have a daughter who is the most precious, beautiful child I have ever laid eyes on.  One day far too soon, I am going to have to have a discussion with her about the bad things that happen in the world.  Yes, we will talk about sin and the heart.  Yes, we will talk about alerting the authorities if she sees something potentially harmful.  Yes, we will talk about recognizing and taking care of your needs-- physical, emotional, and mental.  Yes, we will talk about doing the right thing and trying to protect others within your abilities.  Yes, we will talk about how it's the job of parents to raise their children to be kind and respectful toward others.  Yes, we will talk about mourning with others who are hurting.  Then, we will not only talk about praying, but we will actually pray for and with people those who are in pain.  If she wants to learn how to hunt or skeet shoot, I will absolutely educate her on gun safety.

But we will also talk about how we live in a country with elected government officials who we choose because we hope that they will help our city, state, and country be a safer place to live.  And we will talk about the fact that sometimes we have to give up things that we want or desire to do because it isn't good or safe for us or others.  And we will talk about how tradition and the excuse that "it has always been done this way" is not a good enough reason not to seek new, creative solutions to challenging problems.  And we will talk about having courage to recognize when talking is no longer enough, but action is required.

I am not ready to have those conversations and I am grateful that I do not have to yet.  For those of you who have and are currently, I will covet your knowledge and experience when that time comes.  But right now, I am going to go hold my tiny 14-pound human and watch puppy YouTube videos.