When hosting get-togethers, keep it SIMPLE

It was a Saturday and I was expecting guests the next afternoon to celebrate my 6-week old baby. I was staring at a tray of cake crumbs stuck together with blobs of icing. They were supposed to be Petit fours. I had followed Martha Stewart’s step-by-step instructions in a book on loan from the library.


But these didn’t look anything like the photos. These weren’t even these. They were a big pile of this.

Mom listened as I poured out my dilemma to her over the phone. I had several other dishes to serve, but this was going to be the showstopper. The ooh and ahh moment of the buffet table.

It was at that moment that my amazing mom calmly told me how to fix it.

She said, “Take a spoon and the dish into Russ and tell him to enjoy it.”

Then she asked, “Do you know the difference between hospitality and entertaining?”

I didn’t yet, but I was about to find out.

I don’t remember her exact words, but I have never forgotten the idea. Entertaining is about making yourself look important, hospitality is about making the other person feel important.

Wouldn’t it be great if I could tell you that from that point on I “got it”?

Alas, that would be as far from the truth. The truth is, I’m still getting it. It is still so easy to get caught up in hosting the perfect get-together. Impeccably cooked food on an elaborate table with all of the right guests. Everything would be served at the perfect temperature with no stress and a perma-grin plastered on my face.

What I can tell you is I have learned (for the most part) to keep it simple. That doesn’t mean I’m never daring. What it means is when I try new things, they don’t take too long and they don’t use a lot of ingredients.

Saturday morning, we invited some friends over for dinner and firepit in the yard that night. When they accepted, I threw a casual tablecloth on the outdoor table and wove a table runner through some paper lanterns. Grabbing some pork chops out of the freezer to thaw, I paired them with a peach/mango/habanero sauce and we were ready to go.

While everyone else sat around the fire, I ran into the kitchen. I quickly whipped up a berry cobbler, stuck it in a cast iron skillet and set it on the fire. It took forever to cook. We all took turns trying to solve the mystery of an outdoor cobbler in between telling each other our stories.

The cobbler never really got done. We finally gave in and dished it up. It was still delicious, albeit imperfect. What was perfect was the fun we had. The memories we made added to this new friendship. It built relationship, which is what having people over should be all about.

As we were putting things away that night, I remarked to my husband, “It’s fun to do just enough for people to feel special but not so stuffy that no one is comfortable.” It was one of those moments that I know would have made Mom smile.

It made me smile, too.


(This was originally posted at The News Review website)


Do Justly, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly

It’s natural to be want to be right. There is something about walking out life on a platform where  your word and thoughts are set out for the world to read.

Ideas come from research or personal experience, either way, that’s what this writing thing is about. It’s about sharing ideas and expressing thoughts to evoke change or at the least inspire. At least for me that has been my hope.

When Mother’s Day rolls around every year my feelings morph and flow out onto my pages. They often resonate with those who agree with me. For those who don’t I hear very little but we can’t all agree with every thing, right? Tradition holds a sacred place for some.

Some of my thoughts have come from my own experiences. The painful moments or the joyous days shape how I approach special days. This year is no different.

All the while I’ve stepped out, written words to be shared,  knowing my thoughts aren’t everyone’s thoughts, I still need to remain true. Sometimes blogging means putting it out there one day and having new thoughts the next.

My ideas on Mother’s Day come across strong because I have big feelings about it all. My path to motherhood was long and difficult. The stories winding through that path hold the full spectrum of memories from excruciating to beautiful.

Maybe it’s the mom in me or perhaps it’s my heart of mercy, either way I’m protective of those who may feel hurt or isolated. I’m unapologetically sensitive about how the faith community  treats the ache of others.

Here is where I need to be careful, I don’t speak for everyone. What may cause me deep pain and isolation may in fact be a better way to cope for others.

Brooke Mardell wrote a great piece last week titled “Don’t Cancel the Celebration“.  She states, “I mean, the day is about Moms. And I’m not one. So it’s not my party. But there’s all this talk about how I should be treated on their day. Wha????”

As I read her words I found myself checking off the list of places I’ve been guilty of over correcting the way we drive this thing. I felt my own heart saying “Hey Jem, why don’t you stay in your own lane?” After all, my losses don’t look like yours so why should I assume you heal the way I do?

My friend shared this morning how her healthy daughter was born the same month a cousin had a stillbirth. Everyone tiptoed around the grieving mother until she spoke up and said “Is somebody going to let me hold that baby?” She needed to hold the joy in her arms and taste the healing for her own soul. Everyone’s projection of feelings almost kept her from a moment she wanted so desperately.

A couple of weeks before my wedding my brother passed away. It was unexpected but my brother had told my dad that morning that no matter what, “…don’t let anything stop that wedding”.

There were family members who believed it was disrespectful for us to move on with our plans. They didn’t speak of it until years later but I believe it would have dishonored Glen’s memory to cancel.

What my brother understood was this, you can have more than one emotion at a time. You can grieve in the deepest part of your soul while sharing an ocean of joy at the very same time. Marrying the man I dearly love did not in any way negate the adoration I have for my brother. What it did was give me hope and strength to navigate the painful loss in my heart.

I guess I have felt like a bit of a hypocrite when it comes to celebrating certain events. A part of me had wanted to reign in the party in order to honor those whose longing has not been fulfilled. I never wanted to be one of those women in the bible who paraded their gift of children in front of the barren woman.

What I don’t want to do now is to downplay the beauty of the gift I have in front of me. When I was paying monthly visits to the infertility specialist I was reminded by a pregnant friend that she didn’t want to be pregnant. Somehow she thought that would make me feel better about it, I can assure you it didn’t. I also didn’t want to join the line of people rubbing her growing belly, I wasn’t ready for that either.

Today I’m landing in the field of keeping space for those who are hurting. Acknowledging the ache without being dishonest about the gift I hold in my own life seems to be a better way for honor to be shared.

I’ll not hide the beauty that is being a mother. I won’t make it look like it’s less than it is because that causes more wounds than it avoids. I won’t assume that I know more than I do about how to navigate the heartache of others either.

I will purpose to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with my God.


Kindness for Kids: Putting an End to the R-Word

I don’t know any parent who doesn’t at some level want to raise their children to be quality individuals.

We want them to be smart, funny and loved. More than anything I hope you want them to be kind.

But kindness isn’t something you can’t teach, it has to be learned and what we want them to learn, we must model with actions. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t that words aren’t important, they’re vital.

Even more than the words we say to our children, it’s the words we say around our children.

Our words and deeds towards others shape how our children value others. They influence friends and others we share time with and they cause some to see things in a way they never imagined.

Wednesday of this week was the “Spread the Word to End the Word” day. The Word I am referring to is known to many in the special needs community as “the r-word” as in “retard” or “retarded”.

You see, with a child who has intellectual disabilities, those words have been used to to diminish her value and the worth of other innocent souls like our Allison.

I’ve heard some defend the use by saying it’s clinical or it’s appropriate because it means “slow” but when you are using it to mean something is stupid or foolish, there is no other way than to connect it to it’s original use in the term “mental retardation”.

There is no defense in using this word. It’s not funny or clever at all. It’s hurtful and it stigmatizes the most gentle, innocent people here on earth.

The r-word has it’s cousins too. When you jokingly say someone “rides the short bus” it’s offensive to those families whose only option is that bus. You are making fun of the entire population who live every day with special needs.

Speaking of special needs, when you make motions as if you have a developmental disability and proclaim “I’m special!” there is no excuse. You are without a doubt insulting our family members.

My friends, these are those things that alienate our families in a world that already feels ill fitting and lonely. I never want to make someone feel awful so I don’t say anything when I hear it said. Most likely I will just cringe and become quiet as I wrestle in my head whether or not I should let you know that your words hurt.

We already feel on the outside as you talk about birthday parties she was never invited to, Easter Egg hunts that were inaccessible and events for her peers in upstairs rooms that her wheelchair doesn’t reach.

We sometimes have to search for a parking space wide enough and far away from the building to get her into her wheelchair because some folks don’t observe the rules for handicap spaces. I’ve been told that it shouldn’t be a special privilege (I’ll save that argument for another day).

We don’t need inaccessible attitudes swirling around us. We need respect and friends we can trust with our hearts. (In case you wonder, I am blessed with more of those friends than I deserve.)

If you want to teach your children to be kind, then be kind.
If you want your children to know respect, then show respect.
If you want others to know they are loved then love others.

You see, my family is in love with a special girl, whose diagnosis reads “mental retardation” and she rides a bus to school that just happens to be short and she’s taught us more about all of those things than anyone will ever know.


This article first appeared at NRTODAY.COM


When Strength Wears Thin

Russ has been gone for ten days.

I’ve had great plans for catching up on some things.

>I need to finish my Disaster Relief Training so I can get certified.
>Last autumn I bought supplies to redo my folding chairs. They are still sitting in the garage.
>The upstairs couch needs to be cleaned.
>Projects in the craftroom are making it almost impossible to close the craftroom door.
>Coffee and Dinner dates with friends.
>Keep Allison and Maximus alive. Bonus if they are relatively happy.

Apparently I work my lists backwards because that’s the only one that is done.

When Russ took his trip in 2011  my Dad came to keep me company, Maximus ended up having emergency surgery after eating a ball and everyone lived through that one.

One of the tough things on these trips are the time issues and access to communication. We were able to Skype last time through a different computer. The time issue leaves us with very little awake time together. He is 12 1/2 hours ahead so his morning is my night. Early evening is fine for me but he is usually preparing to do something with the team. His evening is my early morning. (You get the picture)

You realize how much you rely on someone when half the team isn’t there. Add in a couple of days where care workers can’t cover and I’m walking around in my pajamas babbling incoherently. It just took one thing two things out of place to get me off kilter yesterday and I was on the phone with two different friends who were helping to get a grip.

Today was a much better day, even though the rain thwarted my original plans, I got outta Dodge.

Rachel showed up around 9, I took a relaxing bath and nap while my bible app read the Psalms to me. I put myself together and drove north to my new favorite place to nosh. I completely splurged on Panang Salmon and started reading a book on my Kindle, “Notes from a Blue Bike” by Tsh Oxenreider. Holy smokes!! I thought I was reading a nice little calming memoir. Although it is both of those, it is hitting me right between the eyes,

Every time I’ve talked to Russ since he’s been in India he has said “When I get home we have got to simplify.” What he doesn’t know is when he gets home we’ll be reading this book together. I am part way in and it is sitting me down in such a good way.

Shopping happened, I picked up another basil plant, stopped at a great little coffee shop to read a few more chapters and headed home.

Coffee moment

The team went to another area for a few days and it was questionable whether or not we would get to talk. I got a message while on the Interstate that he was trying to get a hold of me and he had a very short time. I pulled into the parking lot of a sketchy gas station just in time  to find out he had no microphone. He could hear me and was just telling me to talk and that he would type when my phone died.

By the time the phone was charged enough to come on, I couldn’t reach him.

All I really wanted him to know was that I had had a really good day that fed my soul. A relaxing day with a wishlist and no agenda. The fridge is stocked with really good food so we are ready to hunker down for a few more days and mommy has her sanity back.

Tomorrow? Maybe I’ll start getting some chairs painted.

Then again, maybe I won’t.



The Value of Size and What is Normal?

Growing up, I always wanted to be a size 8. That was the number of beauty back then and being beautiful gave you value.

The last time I saw that size was the summer after sixth grade when my body took off without me.

We had moved to Maine. No longer living in the Southern California neighborhood, but a rural forest with few friends. We stayed inside most of the year.

Who gets to decide that if our bodies turn out a certain way, we may be deemed beautiful?

As I ate and grew, I had no idea what was weight gain and what was just growing into a woman.

Being adored by boys was the goal of most young girls. After all, growing up to be adored by a man, married with children and still a size 8 meant you were worth something.

When my volleyball coach slid next to me on the bleachers one day, full of advice on weight loss, not for the sake of athletic ability but to rid me of what she called my “cottage cheese legs,” I took it in as truth.

In the depths of fighting an eating disorder, I weighed myself 10 to 20 times a day.

Each change on the scale marking the amount of worth I gained or lost with every ounce.

Every number told me something about myself and I believed it until my soul cried out, tired of the sickness.

Elevating the importance of clear skin, the right curves and of course thick, shiny hair seems to come natural in every generation.

It doesn’t matter where you go in the world, there is a standard of beauty in every society.

When a Miss USA contestant pranced across the stage in a white bikini last weekend, the Twitter-verse proclaimed her as “average” or “normal” and having a “healthy figure”.

Some compared her to other contestants who were seen as “crazy skinny” and a “bag of bones.”

Did they miss that fact that they are STILL judging her on her body? She is still prancing around in a bikini with stilettos and at a size 4, she is not a “normal” size.

This is my question: Who set these standards? Who gets to decide that if our bodies turn out a certain way, we may be deemed beautiful?

When do we as women, moms, wives and friends achieve our value? When do we get to believe we are enough?

How do we change the conversation so our daughters will know that who they are is more than enough?

I propose we set a new standard for beauty. Let’s start with women who hold up kindness and love and a deep faith.

We’ll admire forgiveness and laughter and the strength it takes to get up when life knocks us down.

It isn’t in a bottle or a dress size or even an ability, but it is planted firmly in the depths of character.

Instead of walking across a stage to be judged, perhaps we will find it in the rubble of a tornado as we sift through the broken lives of our neighbors.

The incredible worth of being climbed on by toddlers with wet finger painted chubby hands can’t be marked on a judge’s scorecard.

May beauty be found and treasured in the foil casserole dish dropped off for a grieving family or the gently voice of an old friend on the phone. We’ll add in late night chats, early morning coffee and enthusiastic hugs.

We find joy when we share a sunset, hold a hand and lift a spirit.

Above all, let’s stop trying to measure worth by a pants size and make it something we do with and for each other.