Family Care

Maybe my minivan is a tiny, mobile mission field

A lot of horrible things happen in my minivan.

It smells like damp boots and a lost french fry.

The radio blasts music that makes my ears bleed.

There’s often a lot of whining, begging for McDonald’s, and arguments, and sometimes it’s even the children who are doing those things.

(Mostly it’s me.)

The heater isn’t sufficient for our 1 degree Michigan winter mornings and it’s possible I have a hobo living in the backseat, if the stuff back there is any indication.

But also, it’s a prayer closet as my kids flop out the door and head into the middle school.

It’s a counselor’s couch as our family talks about school and work and friends.

It’s a transport device that helps us care for the ones we love the most– bringing food and friendship and sometimes loads from IKEA.

It’s a quiet space where silence can reign and God can speak (once everyone gets out and leaves me in peace). Days can be rearranged according to a plan that isn’t mine.

It’s entirely possible my minivan is a tiny, mobile mission field.
Albeit one with a musty smell and a possible hobo.

What goes on in your vehicle?


Mushy Peas: Something American Mothers Don’t Force Kids to Eat


[My friend David and I are simultaneously posting about peas today. Click here for his side of the debate.]

What looks like baby food, tastes like baby food, and is, in fact, probably baby food?

Mushy peas.

Americans everywhere are wrinkling noses in confusion. They’re running through memories of all kinds of peas– frozen peas, snap peas, canned peas, sweet peas– but not coming up with anything resembling mushy peas.

For today’s blog I went to the largest grocery store in Kalamazoo and searched the international food aisle for genuine mushy peas. I did find digestive biscuits, weird tomato sauce, and something called barley water. But no mushy peas.

This was the best I could do after searching two separate aisles at length:

Picture this in a little paper cup, like we put ketchup in at a fast food restaurant. Now you have exactly the idea.
Picture this in a little paper cup, like we put ketchup in at a fast food restaurant. Now you have exactly the idea.

A few months ago on Facebook, my friend David mentioned this international approach to an already sketchy vegetable and we were all grossed out. They’re basically pre-chewed peas, it appears.

When we were in Ireland I found a pub that served gluten-free fish and chips, a delight I haven’t been able to eat for almost six years. The meal was served with a little container of mushy peas, so I had my chance to try them.

Um, no. No good. My kids and my husband weren’t fans, either. Not even my own mother liked them, the very woman who forced me to eat peas from 1977 to 1994.

We asked the waiter how he liked mushy peas. And he made a little grimace and said, “Well, then. I don’t like the fish.”

Which was a random sort of thing to say, we thought. But after clarifying what he meant, it turns out mushy peas are always served with fish and chips. They go together, or so it is believed in the general area that is not America. Maybe nowhere else on the globe except England and Ireland, I don’t know.

I’m glad my British friend likes mushy peas, I really am. I’m glad everyone has different things they like and hate, different strengths and weaknesses. I’m glad God thought to add some variety to his creation and how we respond to it, because the variety adds a lot of fun and delight for us all.

But I’m not really that glad for the peas themselves, really.

God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. 1 Peter 4:10

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Nothing to See Here; We’re Just Four American Protestants in the Middle of Mass

In an ultimate display of cultural bravery, we took the kids to a Catholic Mass while in Ireland. My mother, a life-long Catholic, wanted to attend Mass on Sunday. I thought it would be a great experience for the kids, and quite frankly, I love a lot of things about the Catholic Church.

I love the quiet reverence of their services, the way they sing worship songs, and the way a homily can last ten minutes. (American Protestant preachers, take note.)

The priest at the church in Adare was perfect. If I had searched for a year to cast the role of Irish Priest in a movie, I couldn’t have come up with a better candidate. He was elderly and wore his robes with dignity. His accent was so thick I only picked up half his words, but I could follow along with the written prayers in the bulletin pretty well.

The Abbey in Adare, Ireland
The Abbey in Adare, Ireland

I get a lot of guff about the Catholic church when I’m home in the US. There’s a lot of sentiment here that thousands of years of liturgy have turned Catholics into a cultural force with no actual spiritual understanding. Their bottoms may be in the pew on Christmas Eve, but their hearts are far from God. That’s the general attitude.

Some of the doors to the church in Adare
Some of the doors to the church in Adare

I get prickly when people blather on about this because I have been deeply loved by some Catholics. And yes, they loved me with a vodka tonic in one hand and a smoldering cigarette in the other. They swore a lot in loud voices and told bawdy stories in Polish so we kids couldn’t understand.

(Just so we’re clear, I’m not talking about my mom. I refer to all her relatives.)

But they also took us swimming, made S’mores with us over campfires, bought us pajamas at Christmas, and then offered generous donations to our college funds. I felt the love. I saw how their faith, active and true, worked itself out in real life.

I do know there are a lot of Catholics who are Christian by name, not by actual relationship with Christ. They make appearances at church to appease their family or community, while the rest of their week is spent with no regard for God.

adare church door 2

But is it any different in our Protestant churches? Aren’t we also guilty of getting our butts in the pew while our hearts keep a careful distance? I find myself rationalizing my sins while the preacher speaks, excusing my transgressions, and mentally planning the week’s schedule.

It takes concentrated effort to go to church to truly worship, confess, and fellowship with other believers. And then, it takes even more effort to sustain that relationship with Christ through the weeks with prayer, Bible reading, and focused love for others.

I don’t see a huge difference between Catholics and Protestants in this regard. We all just need to get our acts together, frankly. And those acts need to be titled: Following Jesus; the Continual Journey.

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26-28, NLT)

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Ireland: The Results of Our Grand Experiment Are In!

We’re home! All of us, all together, are lounging around the living room. I’d like to tell you we’re lovingly rehashing the trip to Europe, fondly sharing our memories and the lessons we learned.

Ireland in the fall

In reality we’re too tired to get off the couch. Audrey’s being forced to practice her trombone for 80 minutes, so we’re all suffering the consequences of her procrastination for the month of September. This afternoon Caleb did hours of math homework he didn’t get finished on the way to O’Hare, and that took several years off Eric’s and my life.

The Blue Door Restaurant in Adare, Ireland

Today makes the eleventh day I’ve been with my children nearly twenty-four hours a day. We’ve been shoved in the back of a Renault together. We sat next to each other for an eight-hour flight yesterday, after a two-hour drive to the Dublin airport. Then we rode home for another two and a half hours after landing.

I love my children, but I am here to tell you that I have experienced motherhood in its fullest the last eleven days. I can’t even imagine how my own mother feels– she traveled with us and it will probably take her weeks of therapy to recover.

This is me, drying my child's sock with a hair dryer because Irish clothes dryers-- forgive me-- don't actually dry clothes.
This is me, drying my child’s sock with a hair dryer because Irish clothes dryers– forgive me– don’t actually dry clothes.

And so help me, if that trombone makes one more honk I’m going to surely expire.

[I’m not making this up– the child just saw me roll my eyes and brought it CLOSER TO ME. She’s now playing the wretched instrument just inches from my face.]

Lord, give me strength.

BUT. We had a wonderful time. Ireland is wonderful. We saw rolling green hills dotted with grazing cattle. We climbed through medieval castles and walked historical villages. We ate wonderful food (the Irish specialize in gluten-free options!) and took our kids to all sorts of pubs.

One of the castles had dress up clothes so we could get into character. I think that’s what’s happening here.

That’s really not as alarming as it sounds. Kids are welcome in pubs in Ireland– one night the family next to us was letting their toddler greet all the new arrivals at the door. She handled her beer really well.

Just kidding. No beer for babies. Just fish and chips.

Adare, Ireland

As for our traveling experiment, it was mostly successful. I think Caleb enjoyed Ireland more than he expected. He loved the castles and villages, and he thought the food there was delicious. But Audrey missed her friends so badly that I don’t know she enjoyed the trip as much as the rest of us. By Wednesday she was Facetiming with her friends as they woke up in the morning (Ireland is five hours ahead of Kalamazoo) or just as she went to bed at night.

She survived, though.

We all survived, and I’m so glad we decided to try it. I have a lot more stories to tell and thoughts to share, but my brain is fried. Throughout the week I’ll get my neurons in order and send the kids back to blessed, blessed school.

I would like to take this moment to publicly announce my fondness for the local school district and the teachers there. Bless you all.

Until then, here’s another quote about traveling with children. I think it’s true and right, even though I’m at the tail end of my eleventh solid day with my children and that dang trombone just started up again.

If I live through this practice session, I’ll write more soon. Stay tuned!

From Bread and Wine, by Shauna Niequist:

Sometimes people ask me why I travel so much, and specifically why we travel with Henry so often. I think they think it’s easier to keep the kids at home, in their routines, surrounded by their stuff. It is. But we travel because it’s there. Because Capri exists and Kenya exists and Tel Aviv exists, and I want to taste every bite of it. We travel because I want my kids to learn, as I learned, that there are a million ways to live, a million ways to eat, a million ways to dress and speak and view the world. I want them to know that “our way” isn’t the right way, but just one way, that children all over the world, no matter how different they seem, are just like the children in our neighborhood–they love to play, to discover, to learn. (p. 97)

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We’re Off to Find the Leprechauns!

Nothing feels normal in this house. Tomorrow we drive to O’Hare airport and board a plane for Dublin. We’re all so excited we can’t think straight.

These photos were all taken on our last flight to Dublin. Irish flight attendants are AWESOME.
These photos were all taken on our last flight to Dublin. Irish flight attendants are AWESOME. “Tea? Tea? Tea?” And all the Americans blinked in polite refusal. Because NO. NO tea.

And by “we” I mean WE. All four of us are going, plus my mom.

As usual, Eric and I feel a little weird about this trip. We went to Italy a few years ago and got plenty of strange looks from friends when they learned of our plans. People seem to assume we’re either wealthy or we’re putting our vacation on the credit card, because international travel seems so… ostentatious… maybe. Certainly out of the range of normal middle class behavior in this community.

That stretch over the Atlantic feels like you're NEVER GOING TO GET BACK TO LAND. Just take me home, Sweet Jesus. Can't tale this no mo'.
That stretch over the Atlantic feels like you’re NEVER GOING TO GET BACK TO LAND. Just take me home, Sweet Jesus. Can’t take this plane no mo’.

Eric worked really hard to find the absolute best airline ticket prices, and we’re renting a house that will cost far less than a hotel room. We’ll be buying our groceries at the local store and cooking most of our own meals, and then taking inexpensive day trips around the island.

But I know that one of those inexpensive airline tickets costs as much as the monthly rent some people can barely make, and it doesn’t sit well with me. We’ve been financially blessed; I know we’re called to share our resources with those in need. And we do. But even with generosity as a top budget item, we’ve still managed to carve out some money to take the family to Ireland.

Thank goodness for the English, because Irish is not offered in rural American high schools.
Thank goodness for the English, because Irish is not offered in rural American high schools.

To do so, we’ve made budget cuts in all kinds of places. Eric’s car is almost twenty years old and his driver’s side door barely works. He climbed in and out of the passenger door all summer long. We buy the bulk of our clothes at the resale shops. Our kids aren’t involved in expensive extracurricular activities like travel hockey or dance classes.

Do you know how much money you can save when your kids’ greatest interests are going to the library and hanging out with friends??

Enough to go to Ireland, frankly.

I was all bound up in all kinds of conflicting feelings this week, but Tsh Oxenreider’s book Notes From a Blue Bike settled me back down. The Oxenreiders have literally traveled around the world with their kids. (You can read all about their story here.) In her book, she says this:

Once they’ve traveled, kids have permission to question the how and why of their surroundings, because they’ve tasted and seen that other people live differently. While may not be the most comfortable way to go through life, it’s the most honest– and this honesty opens the door to making life choices that feel right in your bones. (p. 147)

This is what I want for our kids. I want them to see beyond American life, with our huge SUVs, mammoth refrigerators, and vinyl-clad houses. I want them to taste food they didn’t know existed, meet people who speak the same language with a totally different accent, and even ride in a car on the other side of the road.

I want to encourage them to think big as they make plans for the rest of their lives.

I’ll let you know how this giant experiment goes. Eric says it’s all going to be fine, or it’ll be a disaster and I’ll have fodder for the blog for a long time. Either way, we all win! I’ll be posting from Ireland as much as the wi-fi allows, but since I’ll be blogging from my smart camera you should count on lots of pictures and not so many words.

In the mean time, I have a million things to do and not enough brain cells to get them all done. I’ll get back to you soon!


I stole this quote out of Tsh's book. I didn't actually talk to Augustine to get that wisdom directly.
I stole this quote out of Tsh’s book. I didn’t actually talk to Augustine to get that wisdom directly.

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How a Non-Camping Family Goes Camping

Before we begin, let me define camping:

Camping, noun. Any event which requires an overnight stay in a location with rustic living conditions, no toilet hooked to the “living” structure, being forced to make dinner over some sort of open flame, and the likelihood of a tornado picking you up while in a sleeping bag and tossing you into Indiana. Because you’re too dumb to sleep in the real house you already own.

If you think camping involves a tent, meager supplies, and tinkling into the foliage then we are not of one mind. Please adjust your expectations and feelings about me accordingly. I can live with your disappointment.

I want to like camping, I really do. I just don’t. But I also know my kids love camping and my laziness shouldn’t deprive them of a wonderful childhood experience. My family camped all the time when we were kids. We’d hook the ancient camper to Dad’s Jeep and trundle off, stuffed to the gills with sleeping bags and marshmallows and bug spray. Eric’s family camped for years (and his parents still do) in tents! Tents! For a family of five!

As adults, this is appalling to both Eric and me because the work involved in packing, setting up, and repacking is horrifying. Eric and I both spent all day at work last Thursday, came home, tried to shove all the required things into the minivan, and then drove to the grocery store.

Eric almost lost his life in the middle the cracker aisle when he asked what I had packed for breakfast the next day. What he meant was “Do we need to stop in the breakfast aisle to grab some cereal?” What I heard was “I hope you remembered to pack some breakfast along with everything else you did today.” I nearly jumped for his windpipe with my claws extracted, but he saw the frantic look in my eyes and rephrased before I committed a violent act near the Cheese-Its. (Cheez-Its? It seems like sketchy spelling is involved in that snack cracker.)

Camping just really stresses me out. That’s my only excuse.

After spending more on groceries than we would have spent at a restaurant, we finally made our way to the campground where we had a cabin reserved for the night. This is the very same campground my family loved back in the 1980s, except WAY BETTER. Triponds is duly named for the three ponds on the property, and I spent my childhood happily swimming in the one with a beach (the other two were for fishing or something). The ponds are still there, but the family who owns it has added a pool, mini golf, a cafe, another swimming beach, tons of extra camping spaces, and cabins.

It’s like Audrey’s bike was made for this place!

Sweet, adorable, cabins. It’s tiny house living for a night at a time! I was in heaven until I realized I needed to unload the van. But I ate a few chips as we unloaded and felt better.

It really was fun, I have to say. Even getting up in the middle of the night to walk to the bathroom wasn’t too bad. But I realize this experience had nothing to do with actual camping. No bears ransacked our tent, we could have turned on the air-conditioning if it got too hot, and swimming pools hardly count as roughing it.

The kids had fun, although they would have had a lot more fun if we’d let them bring some friends. Maybe next year. Maybe if I get brave enough to try it again we can camp with their friends.

Lord, give me strength.

Because at the End of the Summer We Simply Hope for Survival

Back in yon day, school started at the end of August. My poor friend Teri has a late-August birthday and many of her special days were completely ruined by the first or second day of school.

Not anymore. My kids are still home, thanks to some recent Michigan legislation that forces public schools to begin on the Tuesday following Labor Day. Our social media feeds show kids from other states already back in the classroom; the shine has worn off the new backpacks and the bus drivers have mastered their routes.

The sunflowers are ready, so that means we should be back to school. But we're not. Huh.
The sunflowers are ready, so that means we should be back to school. But we’re not. Huh.

Not in our house. In our house we’ve moved beyond summer fun to holy-crap-we’re-out-of-things-to-do. This is actually the first summer I’m not the one going crazy. The kids are finally old enough that they neither want nor need my constant, hovering attention. They’re just fine without me for hours on end. I’ve had complete thoughts and time to myself for the first summer since 2003. I feel like a new woman!

No, it’s the kids who are losing it. They’ve lost that summer glow. They’ve lost their wills to live. They’ve done all the swimming and the biking and the ice cream eating. Audrey’s dying to see her friends. Caleb’s dying to get back to the math. (That last part is a total lie.)

This was Audrey two years ago. That was the same face she made at me yesterday, minus the goggles and the pool.
This was Audrey two years ago. That was the same face she made at me yesterday, minus the goggles and the pool.

Yesterday they came with me to the office and Audrey sat in the visitor’s chair across from my desk. She stared sullenly at me for many consecutive minutes, until I finally cried, “Get out of here! You’re making me crazy!”

“But what can I do? I’m so bored,” she whined.

“I don’t care! I don’t care! Go take a nap on a couch. Take your brother and walk to Walgreen’s. I don’t care, just stop staring at me!”

I left them home alone today. They’ve probably watched six straight hours of television and had Fruity Pebbles for lunch, washed down with brownies and chocolate milk.

Come back, Mr. Bus. Come back!
Come back, Mr. Bus. Come back!

Fine. As long as I don’t have to see it directly, I don’t care. We’re in survival mode for the last free week.

Jen Hatmaker recently wrote a blog post for Parenting, and she put it like this:

Part of the reason Back to School is such a shock treatment is because we’ve spent the majority of our summer basically running a frat house. No schedules, no bedtimes, no fixed mealtimes, no mental development, no worries. What? You want cereal for lunch? At 2:30pm? Fine. It’s a free country. Summer Happy Hour starts in an hour and a half, so you just do you, man.

Amen, Jen Hatmaker. Amen.

While we  haven’t spent the entire summer in Frat House Mode, I think a week won’t kill us. At this point it’s all about simple survival, and praying we all make it out alive.

How’s it going at your house?

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