What’s For Dinner? My Quest to Bring Joy Back to the Table

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Not long ago my children and I met some new friends at the park. As moms getting to know one another typically do, we shared about where we grew up, how we handled the challenges of parenting, what was making us laugh, and little quirks about our kids. As we sat on the bench chatting, my new friend leaned in and with a look of severity said, “I’m sure you can relate to the one thing that I’m really struggling with: my children need to eat. . . . like multiple times every day.” Be still my heart. We had only known each other for such a short time, how was she able to see into my soul?

All jesting aside, there are times when my desire to nourish my family with healthy, hearty and beautiful meals can be really overwhelming. In seasons of welcoming a new baby or caring for an aging relative, moving or just getting up to speed with a change in the school schedule, meal planning  can feel nearly impossible. As my children have grown older, I have come to realize that there really is no slowing down, there will always be a transition that I must weather well, a crises to avert, a difficulty to overcome- or even just busy seasons with activities to navigate.

There will always be challenges, and yet my desire to light candles, to love on and to connect with the members of my family is unchanging. The most important thing we can bring to the table is a heart for fellowship with one another!

Sitting at the table is one of my favorite times of our day as a family, but often the planning required to get there zaps my joy. I have tried exactly one million and one ways to meal plan and while there have been seasons I have accomplished this task quite well, it mostly just drains me and I am left  with questions about how to make meals fit all the needs of our family. When should we have leftovers? Should I have made a double batch of that? Are we eating too many calories? Is there an easier way to do this? 

This summer, after an extended period of kitchen blahs, I was determined to bring JOY back to my dinner table. I knew I needed a plan. Without a meal plan, our time at the table falls apart and we end up eating pancakes or scrambled eggs. True story. So, exhausted from travel, lacking inspiration and facing an empty fridge, I decided to start by printing off  the Better Mom Whole Food Meal Plan. After a few months of seeing it make a big difference in our home, I wanted to share how it has impacted my family with you, because I know I am not the only woman out there who has no idea how to answer when the kids ask, “Mom, what’s for dinner?”

If you feel unorganized like I did and don’t know where to begin, if you long to be able to focus on relationships instead of logistics, can I encourage you to give this meal plan a try? There is a sweet offering of grace in this meal ministry and I want to shout it from the rooftops because it has anchored our family to having sweet time together at a time when it seemed like being overwhelmed might just win.

Kelly from The Nourishing Home has put together an absolutely beautiful and entirely FREE meal plan for The Better Mom Readers. Really, absolutely, for always and forever FREE!  She has links to all the recipes used for breakfast, lunch and dinner, a pdf shopping list for the week and most of all- a heart for moms. This ministry has freed me to love on my family and not get lost in the logistics of the kitchen. It is practical and so very valuable!

-Every recipe is made with whole food, with gluten free and paleo options.

-Each menu plan utilizes leftovers, and indicates time saving measures for meal preparation (like grilling up extra chicken at dinner time to use in tomorrow’s salad).

-Careful thought about balancing out your plate with flavor, color and nutrition abounds in these meal plans!

-Every other Saturday the menus, with full recipe links are posted at The Better Mom. These are absolutely complete and absolutely FREE!

-Subscribers to The Nourishing Home (Also a free service!) additionally receive shopping lists and other recipe extras.

The next Bi-weekly meal plan will be available at The Better Mom tomorrow! I hope it is a practical encouragement to you and that your coming week is filled with yummy food and precious time with your family!

Blessings,

Kristen

www.hopewithfeathers.com

How Moms Can Learn to Read

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“A little learning is a dangerous thing; drink of it deeply, or taste it not, for shallow thoughts intoxicate the brain, and drinking deeply sobers us again.” ~ Alexander Pope

As our children head back to school, or our formal homeschooling studies begin again, I think the minds of mothers naturally turn toward learning. Setting new rhythms, making goals, developing great study habits- education is on our brains this time of year! Around our table lately, we’ve been talking a lot about what our children will study this year, but more importantly, we’ve been discussing how we want them to learn. What will the process look like? How will we teach them to think?

Motherhood has sparked my appetite to grow and learn along side my children- I want to be excellent so I can share with them and spur them further! I’ve also become more and more aware of all that is online and on bookshelves competing for my heart and time. Sometimes I feel like I’m walking in an endless Times Square, lights flashing, constant buzz, everyone crying out to be heard…marketing their ideas and wares in the way that will grab my attention the fastest and longest, enticing me to stay just one more minute to take the cream.

Among all the noise, all the headlines, all the messages coming at you today, how will you choose? How will you truly engage and really read, and know what is true? And how will you teach your children to do the same?

As I teach my children how to read, not for phonetics and fluency, but for meaning, I’m finding clarity in how I want to approach learning to read as a grown-up. I want my babes to drink deeply from the words they encounter, to measure them against the truth they know and hold.  I want their own impressions to be forged deep, to be marked with ideas that are unique to them and to their experiences so that they add to the conversation that has already begun.

Because the cream, really, is that sweet spot of connection, isn’t it? Its where relationship enters the scene.

You know the place. It’s where our knowing and understanding collides fully with the ideas expressed by another, where the truth of God’s Word is revealed and soon we are a little troupe banded by the experience of words striking deep within and becoming a part of us. Community grows like this,  even here at The Better Mom, with words exchanged and shared together.

With our children this means we talk. A lot. 

Its hard to share what you do not know, and  moms, we have to be ready for those conversations, so our job of continuing to learn and grow becomes even more important.

So how do you learn to read as a grown-up? How do you develop the art of knowing? 

First, mamas. . . . pray. God wants to see your capacity for learning grow and delights in the connections you make between different topics and especially to his Word. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide your studies, your reading, even your math fact practice (shout out to my fellow elementary school moms!) Our God wants to be the one to lead you as you think deeply about ideas, history, blog posts and all the wonderful things He has made.

The Four Questions (adapted from the work of Mortimer Adler and Charles van Doren) is another great way to approach what you read, especially as a way to breakdown material that you might find difficult at first. Its a classical model that gets at the root of how we think and interact with what we are studying and is really easy to implement. Here’s how it works:

1. Read. Keep Reading. Read some more. Immerse yourself in the work of great minds, of those who have gone ahead of you, of those you admire, esteem and even disagree with. Just don’t stop. Carve out time to apprentice yourself to great writers and great ideas. Read actively and with intention.

2. Ask What is this About? What is the main theme or idea, what is the message? What details are important and how are they being shared?

3. Determine if it is true. Measure what is being said with the Scriptures, with what you know and believe to be true about humanity, yourself, and the world that is being shared. Dig in to the details and don’t be afraid to disagree. {Conversely, don’t be afraid to have your opinions and thinking challenged and changed}

4. Decide if what you have read is significant. Why is it important to you? Why is it important to others? If you find it meaningful, Share it. Add to the conversation. Respond.

Friends, don’t won’t waste your reading. Engage it. And don’t forget to add to the conversation! Your insight and comments are precious and have the ability to build up the body of Christ and your children’s minds. 

I can’t wait to hear what you share,

Blessings,

Kristen

www.hopewithfeathers.com

On Finding Home in New York

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He’s doing it again. My sweet beagle is staring me down, tilting his little head to one side. Its his passive way of begging me to take him for a walk. I need fresh air, fresh inspiration, and to move a bit in the great outdoors, and so I give in quickly, gather his lead and plop my shoes on to head out. Its not until I’m crossing the street and spot the sign of the CNN building that my surroundings hit me. Just beyond the next batch of trees, its there, peeking out: The Empire State Building. Seeing its spire has become a part of my daily rhythm, but every once in a while it catches my breath and I realize that I’m actually standing in Central Park. I actually live in New York City.

I wish you were walking with me, gazing across the water of the reservoir at the Guggenheim, eyeing each curve around the path until we reach the rowboats and see the silhouette of the Plaza Hotel to the south.

The iconic scenes that make up my day sometimes go unnoticed, but when I remember to really see them, I love to drink them in. They are welcome moments of beauty in the midst of my routine and remind me of the glimmers of grace God has revealed to me during my time here.

You see, dreaming of New York, holding hopes and imagination about this place, and actually finding a home here are two very different things entirely. 

I’ve always had a bit of wanderlust. The urge to go, to move, to see all I could and experience everything new has always propelled my life choices. I deferred my college years to be a missionary in Asia and if I hadn’t met my husband just months before and fallen madly in love, I’m not sure I would have looked back. God has placed something inside of me that has always been up for a grand adventure. So when my husband’s job led us to consider a move across the country, away from all family with four kids in tow? My response was instantly, “Yes, of course! Let’s do it!”

It was quite a cultural shift moving from the green woods of the Pacific Northwest to the famed concrete jungle, but we couldn’t wait! Challenges felt like part of the adventure, we faced life in a 1000 square feet apartment with gusto, we loved embracing the simplicity that came with small space living. Our children were all sharing one bedroom and I’d homeschool them around our kitchen table, that is I kid you not, mere inches away from my front door as it swings open. I found it somehow charming that my garbage was to be sent down a shoot in my hallway to a mystery incinerator and that to get fresh air one must first ride an elevator and greet the doorman on the way to the sidewalk. Without owning a car we’d walk everywhere: to church, the grocery store, the movies, play dates, and the park. When I’d be feeling wild we’d hop on the subway. Figuring out how to live day to day felt like the adventure for nearly a year and kept us busy! Before long though, I just felt tired.

About two years in I began to crash.  Slowly, discontent grew, and I began to long for my old life. I wanted my minivan, my house in the mountains, my family close by and all the ease of a life I knew how to control. I was ready for the adventure to end, ready to get back to regular life.

The New York of my imagination was not the New York of my everyday.

In my everyday felt foreign and uncomfortable. I questioned why I was raising my children in a place that felt nothing like the home we’d left, the home we’d loved, the home waiting for them every summer and Christmas with grandparents and cousins surrounding them. My husband’s job continued to be a great gift to us and one that he adored, but I couldn’t stop shaking my own quick judgement, my lust for adventure that had not considered the cost of this move and I wished I could take it back. Everywhere I looked, I began to see the gray and soot of the city , it lacked color and seemed over-run by litter and grime. Our apartment began to feel even smaller, and my own bleak attitude only multiplied its gloomy atmosphere. I longed for home.

Here’s where I misplaced my desire though: I longed for a place and a history that was tangible to me, that I could describe to you by the landscape and the people and the scent in the air. We all long for places in our past that hold meaning and memories, and we all experience sadness when we have to leave them behind. When we have tasted something so sweet, experienced love and beauty and seen a shadow of heaven in the process, there is a pain when we have to leave it. What God showed me in the strangeness of New York was that I had a deeper longing, not for my own hometown or a place I held dear, but that my longing for those sweet places were guideposts to show me my truest longing for him.

What I really longed for was to find my home in Christ alone.

It didn’t happen instantly, but little by little, Jesus is leading me by faith and I am learning what it looks like to abide in Christ in all circumstances, in all cities, among all people. That’s why I write, because I know that like me, so many of us  are striving to find rest in our seasons of motherhood. I know how quickly it takes to go from a place of expectation to despair and how important it is to remind one another of our Great Hope- to gather it and sing of it daily together. All the glimmers of beauty lead us to One who is Beautiful, and so I drink them in and gather them like feathers and share them with you.

I have found my home in New York because I have never needed to rely and depend on Jesus so desperately anywhere else.

I’m free to see the wonder of this place anew because of the One who led me here, and leads me still, to find my home in him. May you find your heart in Him today too, sweet mamas.

Blessings, 

Kristen

www.hopewithfeathers.com

This post is a part of our “Who We Are” Series. For all posts visit,

“Who We Are: The Stories Behind TBM Writers”

Who We Are at The Better Mom

Five Ways to Find Hope When You Are Overwhelmed

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Back to School time is in full swing at our home, and while it has been eagerly anticipated, it is rocking our calendar and zapping the energy out of my crew who were really loving lazy days of summer  vibe we’ve had for the last few months. There are lots of things that I am good at, but juggling a schedule is not one of them. I feel like a wild beast is taking over my home with every email that arrives telling me that I (or one of my children) need to be somewhere. When you have a shift in routine, find yourself in a season where there are countless activities and orientations, how do you cultivate peace in your heart and in your home?  More than anything I want to cling to hope and help my babes have a blast, not be the crazy mom yelling at everyone while we rush to tie shoes and brush our teeth as we jet out the door. So, sweet mamas, I present, 5 Ways to Find Hope When You are Overwhelmed, because don’t we all need just a bit more sunshine?

1. Take Time to Look at the Big Picture

Carve out a few hours when you can open your calendar and see the big picture of what is happening in the coming weeks. Mentally prepare for what lies ahead and how you will manage the logistics. Pray for God to lead you by faith in all your commitments, and maybe even to help you say no to a few things that don’t fit for you in this season. Can you enlist a friend to help with pick-up or drop-off, adjust the baby or toddler’s nap to ensure that your homeschool time will flow a bit more smoothly, or prep any supplies in advance for an outing or event? Even small changes can make a big difference! There are certain days in my week that I need to rise an hour earlier, others where I know I’ll need to schedule a quick meal that could be on the go and a few times where I need to be two places at once and need to reach out to ask for help from some girlfriends!

2. Prep Like a Mad Woman

Nothing makes my family crazier than to being on the go AND starving, and even though I’ve been a mom for over a dozen years, nothing sneaks up on me more than dinner time (or lunch…or breakfast!) I need a game plan! If you’re stuck trying to meal plan, you can download the bi-weekly meal plan right here at The Better Mom- it is amazing! This month, I’m spending time grilling and freezing chicken and ground beef, slicing vegetables, and making sauces on the weekend when my husband can take a shift with the kiddos. Then on weeknights, my sous chef work is done and I’m able to put our meal together in a lot less time. Are there things you can do ahead? Laying out clothes the night before, packing backpacks for the next day at an hour that doesn’t stress you out, putting together daily snack bags ahead of time so you’re ready for life on the go or just for that child that is longing for something in the late afternoon at home? Take just a few moments to be ready and you’ll feel like a warrior mom!

3. Laugh a Little!

When my older girls were little, a wise older mom shared her secret for breaking up sibling arguments and grumpy attitudes and we adopted her trick into our own family. Whenever my children are squabbling, I make them hold hands and jump up and down, swing in a circle together, or try to out do one another with a goofy face to “win” the argument. They can usually go about 15 seconds before bursting out in laughter with each other! A good laugh is truly the most wonderful of reset buttons, moms! If you find yourself with a huffy tone, feel tense or grumpy on the inside, take a minute to make goofy faces with your kids, twirl until you’re dizzy or just google some knock-knock jokes together…I promise you will be ready to tackle what is before you afresh and your children will light up at the way you lead their hearts into a sweet connection with you!

4. Don’t Be Afraid to Fail

At the end of the day, if you crawl into bed with a to-do list that isn’t all crossed off, with ideas of lesson plans that didn’t quite make it to life in your homeschool, with the realization that you completely forgot about soccer practice, ballet class, the PTA meeting or your mother-in-law’s birthday….take heart!  Sweet mama, you can take your burdens, concerns, heartache and even your schedule to the feet of Jesus every single day. Rest in him. Remember that you are lovely and that you will never get it all right or be perfect. There is grace and so so much to be learned when we stumble. Don’t be afraid that you won’t keep it all together!

5. Don’t Neglect Your True Nourishment

It might just be the easiest thing to skip, forget, or let slide by when you are overwhelmed, but friends, you need time every single day in God’s Word. Search for treasure, seek wisdom, bring your petitions to his feet and listen for his voice. There is nothing that will sustain you more than meditating on his word and joining your heart to his in prayer. Don’t miss what God has made you for, don’t miss enjoying his very real presence, because your days are too full. Make time and let him carry you through the rest of this season.

Share some of your ideas for making it through September in the comments?  Wise women copy other wise women, and I’d love to copy all the wise things you do! Let’s get a big list going to help each other in this community.

Blessings,

Kristen

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