Elementary My Dear Mrs. R

I am a recovering high school English teacher.  I was once the den mother of an evil horde of adolescents-whom I loved.  They called me “Mama Ro” and to this day I count that as one of the bests in my professional and personal life.

Fast forward 15 years, I am still between opportunities and have reentered the classroom as a substitute teacher in the elementary school.

Smelling like a mix between cookie dough, moldy lunch boxes and paste, it’s far more colorful than any classroom of mine.  It also is louder…think speeding locomotive and baseball game.

At first I deluded myself into thinking it would be easy.  How hard can 2nd grade math be?  Kindergarten is a breeze if I follow the directions.  Oh, poor soul, how wrong I was.

I was working it.  I mean really working it with a lesson on the tens place.  I had them using hand signals, chanting answers and smiling…until I checked for understanding.  They had none.  Zip, zero, nada, as all my ‘brilliant’ teaching added up to nothing.

“Mrs. R? That’s a nice wist you wote on da board,”  the angelic, italian kindergartener said.

“Thank you!” (pat self on back for listing the afternoon activities).

“But we can’t wead yet,” he smiles and goes back to eating his chocolate Twinkie snack.

I’m still working on it.  Along the way I have learned a few lessons in these hallowed, seasonally decorated halls.

IMG_2364Nicknames are serious business.

I like nicknames, especially the super emotional, secret joke, just-between-you-and-me kind.  I’ve been: Ber, Kymber, KimRo, Ro, Mama Ro and Mama Robertson.  In elementary I’m Mrs. R.  Simple sometimes is better.  P looked at my name on the board with a creased brow, took a breath then poked me in the sternum.  “I’m gonna call you R,” then she sauntered away.  Yes, P, you get to call me R because moxie!

IMG_2347Sometimes you just gotta climb the truck…

…and not think about how to get down.  I came to sub and it was ‘Merica Day (a PTO event celebrating the military and ‘Merica).  I trooped 20+ kindergarteners to the gauntlet of ‘stations’ and saw this 6 ton beauty.

Ginormous truck + unattended ladder + Mrs. R = a good time!  

It didn’t occur to me until we stood atop the truck, overlooking the rest of the elementary school, that we would have to get down-all 20+ of us…including me.  Thankfully a longsuffering Sgt. was there to assist as children slid/jumped/shook/shrieked/giggled their way down the ladder.  Aside from the twin humiliations of me climbing down butt first and being covered in grease, IT WAS THE BEST EVER!  Sometimes you just gotta climb!

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Safety is Serious Business

We learned all about fire safety then had a word hunt in the classroom.  On a whim I told the children it was a secret mission to find the words and they had to sneak up on them, just like firefighters sneak up on fires to put them out.  Picture a room full of tiptoeing, silent little humans.  While the business of safety was serious, we had fun learning about it.  Fun + Serious is an equation I need to experience more.

 

And finally, snacks do taste (and smell) better in the bag…

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…and with a friend.  I got to work with J on writing the numbers 1 and 2.   We double high-fived when he did something right.  Later, I got to sit with him during snack.  For families who can’t afford it, the school provides milk and a snack.  J is in one of those families.  The Aide shared a bag of Cheez-Its out of her lunch box, asking him, “J, how does it smell?”  J likes to smell everything.  During math he smelled his pencil box three times.

As we sat together, J munching happily and telling me he was going to share his library book with Grandma, I noticed the other Aide looking sad.  J doesn’t get to see his Grandma very much.  The look on her face told me J didn’t have it easy outside of school.

J started to carefully pick up the crackers and place them back in the bag, then smelled them again.  “They taste bettor in da bag,” he told me, blue eyes sparkling behind his wire rimmed glasses.  J asked for a hug before he left…I gave him two.

Less Can Be More

I’ve been ‘between opportunities’ (euphemism for still looking for the job) for more than seven months.  Some days are harder than others.  Some days, to be honest, are worse than when I was caring for my sick Dad.  Other days, however, are more.

With less employment taking up my time, I have more to spend with those I love.  I have inside jokes with my 14 year old.  He, sometimes, actually smiles at me.

Kids and Me

My 10 year old asks to watch movies with me.  This means curling both of our bodies in the corner of the couch under a blanket to munch homemade popcorn with butter.

My puppies spend much of the day at my feet or on my lap.  When I’m too busy to be still, they actually follow me around.

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I’ve also reconnected with friends from college.  We have children who are taller than us.  There was a moment of terror when we realized we were outnumbered by progeny.

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There is less money and even less certainty.  Yet, in the midst of less there is more.

I’m more in the moment as tomorrow is full of unknowns, I’m getting better at simply being present.  Being with my kids.  Being with a good book.  Being okay when nothing is okay.

I can’t say I have more faith, as faith is too grand a notion to be measured like peanut butter.  Instead I have a more authentic faith.“Now faith is the assurance (title deed, confirmation) of things hoped for (divinely guaranteed), and the evidence of things not seen [the conviction of their reality—faith comprehends as fact what cannot be experienced by the physical senses].” (Heb. 11:1 AMP).  

Daily I fight to have a real assurance the unseen things are coming to pass in my life.  An inner settling that an unseen God is working in and through me.  

I, literally, can do nothing else.  I have applied, networked and reached out for employment.  I’ve budgeted and cut all the fun.  In short, I can’t fill the space that is empty-only God can.

Less of me and more of Him.  Less worry and more faith.  Less stress and more laughter.  Less is becoming more.He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less. 

The Tao of the Panned Cake

I’ve been on a lifelong quest to make the perfect pancake.  I crave fluffy, light, toasty edges with blueberries or chocolate chips, dripping with real maple syrup.  I tried mixes, different recipes and even the kind you add water and shake.  Still, mine were hockey pucks landing in your gut with a thud.  My tribe would consume them, game faces on, then lay on the couch to let the boulders pass.

Recently I’ve become reacquainted with the Me that liked to cook and make things from scratch.  Seeking to discover the holy grail of panned cakes, I looked for the perfect recipe.  I enlisted the tribe to taste and critique, rather than suffer and hide.  Finally, with a few tweaks I landed on the PERFECT pancake recipe.  (Recipe at the end of this post if you are ready for pancake greatness.)

I have a teenager (!), an athlete and a husband who has rediscovered his love of the gym, therefore, when I make these I do a triple batch.  It means I’m flipping for almost an hour and there may (or may not) be some leftover to toast another day.  I have plenty of time to engage in a little griddle side meditation.  So I offer you: The Tao of the Panned Cake.

  1.  When the heat is too high, the cook is too quick leaving burns and goopy centers.
  2.  Too much mixing and fussing makes tough dough.  Leave it be and it will be.
  3.  Sometimes you have to hide the add-ins (chocolate chips or berries) so they flavor the whole pancake.  If not, they burn and become bitter.
  4.  Many kinds of leavening make a lighter cake.

I can understand the heat being too high.  I have burnt out more than once in church, school, family and jobs.  It left me with some crunchy edges that were a bit sharp.  My center has been goopy with compromise or unwillingness to take a stand and stay.

I haven’t blogged because I’ve been fussing with it too much.  I’ve been comparing my stuff with all those in blogosphere who have platforms, brands and other fancy ingredients.  I need to just be and it will be.

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Part of what makes our lives a little sweeter are the small lessons, gifts and experiences we tuck away.  My boys may not know the sleepless nights when I prayed over them, but I will.  Many have passed from our lives, yet the memories linger like Dad’s cologne on my cheek when he would kiss me goodbye.  I just had a quick call with a cousin who is a sister who, for years, I was a little intimidated by.  Now I celebrate her life and tribe as much as my own.

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I come from a long line of cynics, skeptics and professional melancholies.  We joked my mother could ruin a parade.  Depression is a badge we wear to show, “We have to take care of ourselves because no one else will!” (said in the huffiest, clutch your pearls voice imaginable).  I need to laugh, and play, and joke and make messes.  I need to lighten the load which is heavy enough without me adding any more weight.  I have kids who are wicked funny and a husband who is as clever as he is cute.  I have puppies who are great conversationalists (no, really, I speak Doxie).

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So, friend, do you have anything to add to my Tao of the Panned Cake?  Or will you try the recipe and laugh if it doesn’t turn out?  Will you let it be what it will be?  Please share your add-ins.

The recipe is below. 

Holy Grail Pancakes

 

  • 3 cups plus 2 tablespoons cake flour
  • 3 tablespoons baking powder 
  • 2 tablespoons baking soda
  • 3 tablespoons white sugar
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt 
  • 3 cups milk, plus more if needed for thinning 
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 teaspoons almond extract
  • 2 large eggs 
  • 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips (or other add in)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for buttering the griddle (My tribe doesn’t like them to be cooked in butter on the griddle~crazy, I know~they like the spray so either will work)
  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine all wet ingredients with a whisk until bubbly.
  2. Melt butter and allow to cool slightly.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix all dry ingredients.  Use whisk to aerate dry ingredients.
  4. Heat griddle to medium high.  Grease with butter or non-stick spray.
  5. Slowly pour in wet to the dry and mix only until just combined.  (Don’t worry it will be lumpy but that’s part of the magic.)
  6. Gently drizzle in butter and stir until butter is incorporated.
  7. Allow to sit for 5-10 minutes until you see some bubbles on top.
  8. Pour batter on griddle.
  9. Sprinkle 1/2 tsp (or so) mini-chips onto each.  Dunk and swirl them with a knofe so they are covered in batter.
  10. Flip when edges are dry and bubbles are on top.
  11. Keep warm until serving with REAL maple syrup.  (My tribe each has their own way to eat these-by hand, dipped in syrup, cut with butter and syrup…you decide.)
  12. Makes around 26-30 pancakes depending on size.

 

 

Farewell Frank

Fifteen years ago we met.  You stood tall and proud above all the others.  I couldn’t help but fall in love with you.

We napped well.  I think it was your super power.  I once called you furry valium, able to calm even the turbulent storms.

We traveled, sharing you with friends and family.  You loved New York City with all it’s smells and huge park.  We kept each other company that trip when I couldn’t walk.  You didn’t mind, it meant another nap.

When people met you, they couldn’t help but hold you or scratch your ears.  You reciprocated by making sure every crumb was tasted and accounted for.

The kids asked if you were their furry brother.  We said, “What do you think?”.  They decided yes.

When Dad got sick, you made it your mission to calm and comfort.  The tenderest memory I have of that terrible time, was you, cuddling beside Dad.  You knew when to walk softly and were always up for a post-chemo nap.

Anne LaMott has written that the love of a dog is a living reminder of the unconditional love God has for us.  Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.  What I do know is the love you gave to us and ours wasn’t always motivated by treats.  It often came just in time accompanied by a cuddle and a sloppy kiss.

Today was a terrible day.  We had to let you nap forever-free from pain.  When we came home, we napped though it was a little colder without you under the covers.

Farewell Frank.  There will never be another like you.

A Clean Slate

I washed over 100 pounds of laundry.  I took over an entire corner of the laundromat.  I needed a clean slate.

My laundry is made of rabbits, multiplying at lightning speed.  Though I have inquired, the children can’t explain why their socks inhabit everywhere but the hamper.  Life and a general lack of a home management plan (that’s a thing—still don’t have one), created mountains of laundry on every floor of the house.  I packed it up in minivan sized trash bags and several tubs.  Three hours later I had a clean slate.

It’s a new year.  I have a new degree.  I’m looking for a new job.  New seems to be a theme for me.  However, if you hold tight to the old, there is no room for the new.

Here’s my top three ideas in my clean slate.

#1: Stepping out.

I am standing at the foot of the stairs.  If I grip the handrail, I’ll never ascend.  I’ll be stuck on the first step.  I’ll be safe.  However, I’ll miss what’s at the top of the stairs-a new career, responsibilities, self-image and the future. Seeking the new means stepping up to seek what’s possible.

#2: Endings are necessary.

I’ve been studying the book, “Necessary Endings” by Henry Cloud.  Endings are a powerful part of growth.  Too few endings and your life is full of clutter.  Too many done poorly can drain your spirit and take away vital resources for growth.

#3: Play.

My 9-year-old tried to teach me Pokemon.  I had to wear reading glasses to read the cards.  Despite having a master’s degree, I couldn’t figure it out.  img_3249-2

We turned our attention to SkipBo, a game largely requiring the ability to count to 12.  He has beaten me 7 out of 10 games, a fact he doesn’t hesitate to remind me of-7 out of 10.  However, each time, even in the face of crushing defeat, I found myself relaxing, smiling, and leaving the table with a fuller heart.  Play reminds us not everything is life or death.  It reminds us of the wonder of a game well-played and the sound of laughter from those we love.

After one day, I have a full hamper from the ‘rabbits’.  However, I also have a full heart, ready to take the next step.  I leave behind and end things which have held me back.  I find reasons to play and vow one day (shakes fist to the heavens) to defeat Caden at SkipBo.

Share in the comments how you are stepping into the new year.  What does a clean slate look like for you?

 

Enough, Already

Over coffee my friend L and I were discussing the myriad of weddings she was in and how often people asked/pressured/judged her for not having a +1…yet.  It’s very much a desire of her heart, unfortunately bruised by well-meaning, yet subtly judgemental comments.  Here are a few of my favorites:

  1. “You know dear, the bible says if you delight yourself in the Lord He will give you the desires of your heart.”  (Subtext IF you REALLY delighted yourself in the LAWD you would already be a +1).
  2. “It happened so quick for me.  Just when I stopped looking there he was.” (Stop looking so desperate dear and he’ll magically appear.)

In the interest of science, I googled how many books/blogs, etc. related to this subject.    I started with men: how to become a husband/pray for future wife…there were FIVE total.    Women praying for their future husbands/becoming a better soon to be wife/get a husband…I stopped counting after SEVEN PAGES of links.  It’s a clear cultural signal to women.

How often, as women of faith, do we focus on how we AREN’T enough?   We focus on how to be a better mother, a better wife, a better soon to be wife or a better singleton waiting to become a wife.  The message is clear: we aren’t enough without a +1.

In one of my favorite passages of scripture, Jesus meets a woman at a well.  This violated every cultural and religious norm of the day (Jesus as rebel…my favorite!).  He asked her to get him a drink and to go and get her husband.  She told him she didn’t have any.  In response to her honesty , He gave her one of the greatest revelations in scripture-a promise that we would never be thirsty again when we are a +1 to Jesus.  (John 4)  The woman went on to transform her city with this powerful message.  Note, she didn’t go on to get married THEN transform her city.

I know Adam and Eve were commanded to be fruitful and multiple thereby setting the precedence that all should have a +1.  So then, what if the +1 isn’t around anymore, there isn’t one, right now, or ever?

My friend, KL, from Montana (sounds so cool to say that) is a writer, on staff at the largest churches in her town, an actress and the fiercest, fairy of awesome you could meet.  She recently posted this on her FB page:

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These are two talented, smart, beautiful inside and out women who both were considered lacking because as Christian young women the most important thing is to find a husband.  They are somehow considered less without a +1.

ENOUGH ALREADY!

For L, KL, and every one of my ovarian sisters I want to tell you something: YOU ARE ENOUGH.  Just as you are.  In your sweats, crying over Gilmore Girls reruns.  Working out at 4 a.m. so you can sparkle through your day.  Suiting up for the job.  Driving your son to fly across the country to start a new life.  You are enough for God.  You are enough to me.

This week let’s pinkie swear (because that’s what girls do…boys do the spit in the palm thing…seriously…ew.)  Let’s pinkie swear to be a little kinder to ourselves and our sisters.  Let’s ignore the messages subtle and loud that try to tell us we are not enough.

I’ll close with a quote from L that made me laugh so hard I had to pee.  “Timothy Keller’s podcast won’t help me meet my husband!”  No, a podcast won’t do that.  But maybe if we focus on here and now, we’ll get to meet ourselves and realize we are more than enough.

Rising Again

Meet MJ.  She was born three days ago.  Here she is smiling at her Pap’s deep voice telling her how beautiful she is.  I like to think she is in agreement as the world has yet to tell her otherwise.

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Her grandmother, J, had to leave just before her granddaughter’s arrival to take chemo.  J is in a lifetime battle with cancer.  A few months ago, it didn’t look as though she would ever meet MJ.  She was the first to hold MJ other than Mommy and Daddy and the first to hold her every chance she gets.

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This is Ron, her only Uncle.  He brought her a balloon to the hospital because it’s what Nana would have done.  She can’t, so he did.  A few years ago, it didn’t look as though MJ would have any uncles.  The one she does have can’t stop smiling and talking about his ‘peanut’.

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This is Caden and Ian, her only cousins…so far.  MJ’s Aunt T is freezing her eggs so she can bring another cousin to MJ.  Aunt T is tough and has kicked breast cancer…twice.  An award-winning baker, Aunt T told MJ all about the cakes they will make together, when she can eat them, of course.

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This is me telling MJ her first story.  It was about her crazy Auntie who will tell too many stories and feed her too much sugar.  I told her she has a future and a hope and that we are so thankful God lent her to us.

Her birth has filled us all with a sense of wonder (and not simply because her mother delivered in less than 12 hours like a rock star).  We keep hugging and crying as if the Steelers have won another SuperBowl (the only other time I have seen her daddy cry).

MJ is inspiring me to write new stories as part of LessMoreAbundantly.  Less heartache, more joy and abundant hope.

Circumstances of the past few years have broken us all.  In our brokenness, cracks visible and invisible alike, we have learned we can still smile, still love and ultimately be still and know that our lives are not our own.

Our family is rising again.  Not like a phoenix from the ashes, that is too complete a metaphor.  Rather we are taking the ashes, mixing them with tears and time, and using it to fill the cracks.  Discovering, as we put ourselves back together, that we cannot be broken in the same place, in the same way, ever again.

Some pieces we are leaving on the side of the road as we dare to take a step.  We walk, alongside little feet, into a future only dreamed about and whispered into God’s ear.

I love you, little peanut.  I pray you would have less heartache than we have seen, more love than you could ever imagine and an abundance of adventures.  I pray you would know that together we can walk through anything.

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