Keeping Up With the Tweenses

I’m trying to figure out how to write about the perils and joys of parenting a ‘tween girl without completely mortifying her.

When my kids were little, blogging connected me with other moms I related to and made me feel less crazy, and it was therapeutic for processing stressful issues in my marriage.

I miss that feeling of connectedness that comes with writing openly about my emotions — connectedness to myself, mainly. Which is weird. Writers are weird.

For me, blogging makes me step back and observe my situation from a third person perspective. Knowing that I’m about to write something that involves my child, husband, friend, or anyone else I’m in relationship with, I need to consider how a public record of that story will affect the other people in it.

I’ve always believed in only telling my story, from my perspective. It’s not right for me to tell Ruthie’s story, or Bryan’s, unless we agree to it. So every time I’m tempted to write something scathing, I am convicted in my heart to rethink the story I’m believing about the situation, and explore how I can take more responsibility for my own emotions.

I think this has helped me tell truthful stories while respecting others around me.

So here I am, setting the reset button on blogging about all the piles I’m standing in as the mother of a ‘tween girl and nine year old boy.

(My, how they grow fast.)


So here’s where I’ll start…

I’m learning that parenting requires fluidity. I’m more like an ancient stone statue that’s cracked and pooped on, weathered and beaten, but relentlessly unchanging.

Last week Ruthie declared that she hated her headphones and threw them on my desk. It was less cut and dried than that, but just imagine dumping a bucket of water into a box full of cats and you’ll have an idea of how she responded to the unsatisfactory headphones.

A few days later she saw them sitting on my desk where she’d dropped them and said, “Hey, these are cute! Are they mine?” and took them back, proving that if I just don’t engage the drama, it eventually blows over.

This fluidity between likes and dislikes is a pain in the ass for parents like me who want to coast on the stability of a templated life.

“What do you mean, you hate broccoli?? For the last six months broccoli is THE ONLY VEGETABLE YOU’VE EVER EATEN. Now I have to think of something else healthy to feed you??”


I really enjoy being lazy and not having to solve problems all the time. Problem solving is exhausting. I have great systems set up in my home that, if followed, would parent for me. Most of life can be managed with a check list and a reward jar filled with candy.

But my kids are not robots on auto-pilot.

Recently I was at a meeting to help plan a coat drive and free lunch for the homeless later this month. The lead organizer’s name is Oliver, and he was describing a lunch scenario in which our “guests” are seated at a table by a “host” and served a plate of food by a “server.”

I was perplexed.

“Why don’t we just set up the food buffet style and have them go through a line?”


Lines move faster and we’ll get through the crowd more efficiently.

Oliver put his pen down and looked at me.

“I know a line moves faster,” he said. “But these guys stand in a lot of lines. I want to provide a place where they can sit and be served.”

I smiled and nodded, feeling a weight lifted off me that wasn’t just about feeding hundreds of people efficiently.

Oliver’s desire to love people more than process opened my eyes to just about everything that I let frustrate me about my little offspring and their ability to derail my best laid plans.

Life is fluid. People are important. Stone is overrated.

Friday Link Love: Be Vigilant

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Interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Mom
I heard this interview in the car on the Friday of Mother’s Day weekend, and it’s delightful. Please take 13 minutes to listen.

Here’s my big takeaway from Toni Tyson: Be vigilant.

She said it was a full time, 24/7 job to help her kids navigate through life as a black family in the city. There were many instances when Neil was discouraged from pursuing opportunities, either because he was black or because someone didn’t think he was smart enough.

She said when things came up, they had to “get on it immediately,” and that it was a constant vigilance to keep her kids focused so they didn’t grow bitter.

As a parent, I don’t deal with race issues, but I deal with tween girl drama, raging hormones, gossip, insecurities, identity issues, and the like.

I immediately connected with Toni Tyson’s description of being a vigilant parent and “getting on” that stuff as it happens. It’s emotionally exhausting and time consuming, and sometimes I wonder if other parents think I’m a little too involved, but it’s an investment in their character I trust will pay off as my kids get older.

So often when I hear or read interviews like this about amazing people, I feel inspired for a moment, but then I feel discouraged because my life doesn’t come close to measuring up, and there’s little about their story that I can connect and apply to my own situation.

I felt differently about this interview.

Toni doesn’t come off as some kind of superhero with superhuman character strengths or qualities that I can look up to and appreciate but never attain. Rather, she comes off as intentional and vigilant with a side of discernment about people.

And that’s something I can relate to and act upon.

My Easy & Automated Monthly Meal Plan

I once heard that Steve Jobs wore a black turtleneck every day so he didn’t spend any decision-making or creative energy choosing an outfit. I don’t know if that’s true, but it explains why I got tired of figuring out what to make for dinner every night.

When I started working again four years ago, I needed a way to simplify meal planning and shorten dinner prep time, because figuring out what to make each night and what to buy every week was draining me.

Meal planning recently came up in several different conversations, so I thought I’d share the system I created. Here it is, step by step:

1) I made a list of all the quick and easy meals my family likes.

Bryan and the kids helped make this list. We came up shy of a month’s worth of meals, so I filled in the rest with easy weeknight meals I found around the web. I’m slowly adding all these recipes to my blog and Pinterest page if you want to follow along there.

I completely revamp this list when the seasons change so we don’t end up eating beef stew in July, and I have a few dinners in my arsenal that take some effort for the weekends, or when I get a whim, or when company comes.

2) I organized all the meals using Google Calendar.

All the calendars for my family are in Google, so it made sense to incorporate our meal plan there. I organized the meals in a way that made sense for our family schedule. For instance, Tuesdays and Thursdays are crockpot meals because Ruthie used to have soccer practice from 5-6pm, and I didn’t have time for any dinner prep.

Monthly Meal Plan

3) I numbered the weeks 1-4.

This isn’t necessary, but it made it easier for me to do step #4.

4) I created a template grocery list.

I use the Shopper App for iPhone, which has a feature for creating template lists. I made a template for all the grocery items I need for Week 1, another list for Week 2, and so on. I also made a template for Weekly Staples we always have on hand, like milk, lunch & breakfast items, and wine.

5) On shopping day…

I double check the family calendar to see if I need to make any adjustments to the pre-set meal plan, then I copy the template items for that week over to my current shopping list, omitting anything I already have on hand.

6) I go shopping.

I know this sounds OCD, but it’s completely changed my life. On busy weeks, this is a no-brainer task I can fall back on. But if I’m feeling more adventurous or less busy or I have more time to think about it, I change it up with different meals and make a custom grocery list.

After about a year of doing this, I feel like it’s the best of both worlds: automated when I need it, flexible when I want it.

Do you plan your menu or make it up as you go?

Photo Essay of 2012

Since 2013 is nearly over, I thought it was fitting that I post my unfinished year end photo essay from 2012. It was a really great idea that I spent one evening working on, but apparently taking TWO evenings to work on it was asking too much.

I hated that it was sitting unappreciated in my drafts folder, so in the spirit of “perfect is the enemy of done,” here is a five month photo essay from 2012:







Thanksgiving Break(down)

This kids were out of school for the entire week of Thanksgiving to accommodate parent/teacher conferences. Even though my brain understood it was only three extra days off, my survival mechanism kicked it in as OH MAH GAH IT’S SUMMER VACATION ALL OVER AGAIN.

On Wednesday there was a mutiny over my refusal to pull out the Christmas decorations while also prepping a meal that involved 20 pounds of meat and more side dishes than I make in a week. The mutiny consisted of everyone in the house under forty years old chanting messages that were not a coordinated effort, but just before I lost my mind, Thomas suggested making snowflakes.


During the snowflake frenzy, I noticed that Thomas made a paper snowman and suggested they create a paper mural for our blank, dining room wall.

This very popular idea triggered a violent disagreement over who would be Creative Director, and I thought to myself… WHY DID YOU OPEN YOUR MOUTH YOU INSANE TURKEY.

But I quickly had them sitting down to sketch out their own designs…



… and they chose the winning design in an epic two-out-of-three rock/paper/scissor battle.


And the best part is, no children were harmed in the making of this mural. I was able to just go with it and release the kids into their own creativity while giving them suggestions for problem solving,

A good time was had by all!

Envelope Budgeting for Kids


This week I did a little overhaul on helping the kids learn to manage their money.

Several years ago we got each of the kids a bank like this one (similar banks sold on Amazon). Bryan and I liked these banks because they had a section for spending, saving, and giving – three important money values we teach the kids.

A couple years ago they quit using them (they’re not really in to pirates and ballerinas anymore), and now Thomas stashes all his money in a desk drawer and Ruthie carries hers around in a wallet. Add to that a little dash of lazy parenting, and there hasn’t been much saving or giving happening lately.

But in anticipation of Christmas and an upcoming trip, I decided to whip everybody’s budget back into place.


I found this free printable online for envelope budgeting, and printed out three for each kid to cover spending, saving, and giving. They each cut and folded their own, and tallied up the money they put in each envelope.

Time will tell if this works out, but I really like how simple it is.

They can carry their Spending envelope around with them and use the lines to keep track of how much they spend, and right now they’re both using the Saving envelope to set aside money for buying Christmas presents. I also love that at the end of the month, they can just drop the Giving envelope into the offering bucket at church if that’s how they choose to give.

If you have kids, what do you do to help them manage their money?

Keeping Our Kids Safe Online – Part 1

One evening a couple weeks ago, Ruthie’s friend called and said, “Go on your Google hangout!”

Ruthie didn’t know what that was, so Bryan set up her own account on the family computer in the living room, and within a few minutes we were flies on the wall to a pre-teen conversation.


The timing couldn’t have been more perfect: I had just heard Katie Greer speak about keeping our kids safe online, and I felt ready for this moment.

I didn’t know what to expect from the event, since I’d never heard of Katie Greer before. I thought – worst case scenario – that it might be a fear-inducing call to ban all technology from the home, but I was so pleasantly surprised.

I don’t know how the other parents felt, but I came away completely at peace about our family’s use of technology, and armed with helpful information about keeping them safe online.

Over the next few posts I’ll share my main take-aways from the event.

In the meantime, I definitely recommend checking out her site for helpful tips and information on where she might be speaking near you.

Things That Almost Killed Me This Summer

It’s Labor Day, and thanks be to Jesus that school starts on Wednesday (hopefully there’s no teacher strike!).

I’m sure the school year will have a new set of irritations, but here are 5 things I’d like to ditch for Fall:

  • Boys who think toasting a bagel is too hard and takes too long.
  • Siblings who won’t stop fighting, but refuse to stay away from each other.
  • Girls who throw a fit every ten seconds when The Universe doesn’t deliver on her expectations.
  • Candy for breakfast, bagels for lunch, ramen for dinner, ice cream for dessert, and a $500 dentist bill.
  • The phrase, “WHY DO I HAVE TO DO EVERYTHING AROUND HERE?” when asked to put away shoes.

Raise your hand if you’re ready for school!

The Curse of Unexpected Freetime

20130818-181025.jpgAngel/devil graffiti art: “The hidden truth of every woman.”

My plans for this evening got derailed when Ruthie came down with strep throat. So instead of being gone most of the afternoon until late evening, we’re now hanging out at home where she is resting in bed with a movie.

This sort of unexpected free time doesn’t come often. There was a day in July when the boys were at Cub Scout camp and Ruthie was at a friend’s, but I had to work. And there are times when Bryan takes the kids so I can work or finish a project, or pack for a trip.

But when I’m staring down the barrel of multiple hours of free time all in a row, it generates more mental chaos than Jesse Pinkman’s conscience.

My brain starts shouting at me to relax! No, clean the kitchen! Wait, finish hanging pictures on the wall! Shut up, you should journal, or write a blog post, or catch up on work, or paint your nails, or, OR!, OR!!!

And then I end up wishing I’d done something else anyway, and so there’s regret to top it off.

Today I thought I’d try something different. I’m going to do whatever I want for fifteen minutes, then do something responsible for fifteen minutes, then alternate back and forth all evening. My hope is that I’ll fully enjoy my downtime and not worry about everything that is undone, then be fully present in my chores because it is, after all, only fifteen minutes.

I’ll let you know how it goes. My alarm is clanging, so off to clean the kitchen!

How do you cope with unexpected free time?

As the Zugworld Turns

I have one child who is prone to drama more than the other. When I think of how disruptive the drama can be to our family dynamic, I feel sad and despairing and entertain thoughts of what life would look like without such drama.

(Just keeping it real, friends. Don’t freak out.)


But it’s through my relationship with this child – through woo’ing her heart, through not knowing what the hell I’m doing – that I remember how Jesus loves me patiently despite my own angry and rebellious tendencies.

And I hate remembering that, at least at first. I’d prefer that parenting was easier and more fun.


Okay… *easier.* It’s pretty fun already.

We Are Not the Brand

“They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. People in general like what they saw. Every day their number grew and God added those who were saved.” Acts 2, The Message

A Christian’s life used to be simple:

Wake up, work hard, worship Jesus, enjoy friends, & love the community.

As their lives were seen and “overheard” by others, a bridge was built from one world view to another.

It isn’t our place to control the outcome of the gospel or spin the story to make it more palatable to others.

It’s our job to provide a glimpse into a radical point of view.

The gospel doesn’t make sense. It’s absurd. And quite frankly, most Christians do more to confuse the story than anything else.

In March, we resigned our sixteen year church membership – in part because our church seemed to no longer be about worshipping Jesus, loving the community, or enjoying friends, but about staying on brand.

Bridges aren’t built through branding. Glimpses aren’t shared through branding.

I like that my life can be seen and “overheard” by others. I wake up, work hard, worship Jesus, and hope that I reflect his love to my friends and community.

I’m not looking for anything more complicated than that.

Welcome Camp Whattawedo


School’s out!

It’s my first summer without full time child care planned, and I’m as fresh and hopeful as Frodo leaving the shire with his little buddies to see a mountain about a ring. Who knows what kind of Gollum I’ll turn into by the end of August, but right now I’m happy about all the things!

Part of my summer plan involved self-directed activities for the kids in the morning while I worked, then we would get out of the house in the afternoon. I thought about calling the self-directed activities something really motivating and winsome, like “Summer School” or…. “Self-Directed Activities.”

And then I read this post by Kyran.

I slapped my forehead and thought, why am I such a curmudgeon?!

*mutters under breath about summer school*

We’re officially joining the Camp Whattewedo fun!

Below is a loose routine we plan to follow:

MONDAY: Creative Projects

TUESDAY: Swimming or Park


THURSDAY: Swimming or Park

FRIDAY: Field Trip!

This is, of course, subject to change depending on where our friends or whims lead us, but I wanted the kids to know there’s a basic plan so they can quit fretting about being bored.

If you have kids at home this summer, join me, Kyran, and others on twitter and instagram with the hashtag #WHATTAWEDO to share your summer fun, frustrations, appreciations, and inspirations. And stay tuned to Kyran’s Facebook page, where we’ll hang out and share progress (and disaster) reports weekly throughout the summer.