· summer

Finding that Summer Niche (and my Reading List)

We took them to camp yesterday. I miss them already, which is a conundrum because last week when they were home I yelled a little too much. It’s that whole adjusting to summer routine that takes about two weeks. But if I send them off for a week, I’m afraid we’ll never get adjusted.

Too late now.

They’re at Camp Strong Rock this week because I won a raffle. So Annabelle got to go after all, and I’m a little panicky over that. I mean she’s a tough kid. And by tough, I mean picky. I’m trying really hard not to be that parent, so instead I texted my friend Kristi because her husband is the camp director.

See, totally not that parent.

I’m lucky I have friends who put up with me.

In the meantime, I’ve got paperwork for the arts camp they attend and I lead in a couple weeks, VBS volunteers to wrangle, and a beach trip menu to plan.

Because naturally I’m concerned about what we’ll have besides low country boil and homemade pizza.We’re going to Edisto with some friends this year and I’m pretty sure they’ll wish they hadn’t agreed to vacation with the menu planner who is currently writing a novel set at the vacation destination. I plan to get my toes in the sand, and my fingers on a keyboard in the history museum.

Speaking of that novel, I learned at my writer’s conference that one of the most important things you can do as a writer is read.

Gosh, this job is so hard sometimes.

So here’s a smidge of my summer reading list.

I actually already finished The Road to Testament (and it was fabulous).  It was written by Eva Marie Everson, whose encouragement at Blue Ridge made me believe this might actually happen someday. The Wedding Dress is by Rachel Hauck who made me feel so welcome over breakfast one morning that I couldn’t wait to read one of her stories. So far, I’m rounding out novels this summer with a little Barbara Kingsolver, because I really like her style and The Girl Who Came Home by Hazel Gaynor, which is for my book club.

I’m also finishing A Million Little Ways by Emily Freeman. It’s one of those books I pick up and put down because I like to ponder in between. And I can’t wait to finally crack open Rhinestone Jesus by Kristen Welch. Someday I’d love to be a part of the Mercy House Ministry the Lord has given her.

In the meantime, I’m finding new little niches of my own this summer. The kids and I were planning a lazy July, but then the big girls and I got cast in The King and I, so we’ll be hanging out at the theater a good bit. But we’re going to make time for hiking and swimming and picnics and reading since that was all they wanted when we made our bucket list last week.

I officially stepped down from MOPS in May, and am fully embracing the call to write and freelance. I’ve got several projects in the works and the kids are starting to see this as mommy’s job, so that’s helping. In addition to the novel, I’m working on some pieces for magazine submission, marketing for my friends Chris and Heidi’s farm, and of course, still musing at the local paper. I’m telling you all this because I want you faithful blog readers to know that while this is certainly not going away, I am going to slow it down for summer and get caught up on begin mom first and writer second. My goal is to write here at least twice a week. I’ve got some more giveaways planned too, so don’t go away!

As I slow down posting, I’m going to be taking the time to employ some of the great blogging advice I received at Blue Ridge as well.  Hopefully it will make my site more user friendly and keep you coming back. Until then, have a beautiful week and enjoy all the beauty summer has to offer….fresh vegetables…ice cream…starry nights….mildewing bathing suits because someone forgot to hang it up….

you get the idea.

Did you read about how my kids were all in a wedding? I’m still a puddle over the adorableness.

gardening · · living local · summer · whole foods

The Best Tomato Sauce Ever

The tomatoes are overtaking our garden, and thereby, my countertops.  This picture really doesn’t do them justice.  The container in the background represents a half-hours work of scalding and peeling and chopping only to turn around and realize I missed all these that the girls had piled on the kitchen table.

Oh, and that’s some basil with them.  We’re making tomato sauce tonight.

Which means we had to venture down to the farmer’s market for an onion or two, which means we came home with a watermelon, peaches, zucchini, three onions, and Amelia stole some crayons.

My girls are having an enlightening summer.  Madelynne just realized that spaghetti sauce is actually made from tomatoes.  I’m not sure what she thought it was made from before, ketchup maybe?  Of course, that’s made from tomatoes too.  But they’re not going to admit they actually like tomatoes.

What they like, though, is finding them at summer’s peak hiding behind the leaves that are just starting to wilt from summer’s heat. And they like when I make big pots of this homemade sauce and then ladle it on pizza crust or homemade bread.

They like tomatoes a lot. Too bad they don’t realize that yet.

Basic Tomato Sauce (adapted from Simply in Season)

You will need:
a quality food processor
an apron
some patience
a tolerance for heat

1 medium onion
2 cloves garlic (or 2 tsp garlic powder)
2 large carrots (or more if you like)
1/2 green pepper (or the whole pepper, your call)
2 tsp dried basil (2 tbsp if fresh)
1 tsp dried oregano (1 tbsp if fresh)
1 tsp dried thyme (1 tbsp if fresh)
6-8 cups peeled and chopped tomatoes (about 12-15 romas is best)
6-10 oz tomato paste depending upon how thick you like your sauce
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp honey or sugar to cut acidity if desired

Begin by peeling and quartering your onion. Put it in the food processor and chop it finely. If using garlic cloves, process those too. Saute the onion and garlic in 2 tbsp olive oil until soft. I do this in the bottom of my pot. Peel and chop carrots, then shred in food processor. Same with green pepper. Add vegetables to saute. Add seasonings and stir well. Add tomatoes and tomato paste. Allow sauce to simmer at least 30 minutes. Then serve, freeze, or can.

**To peel tomatoes, immerse in boiling water until the skin starts to crack. Remove using slotted spoon and lay on towels to cool. When able to be handled, peel over a bowl using a paring knife. Chop tomatoes directly into another bowl.
**I freeze mine in quart size zip top bags. Let cool before sealing.
**To can, ladle into hot sterilized jars within 1/2 inch of the top. Add 1 tbsp lemon juice or vinegar per pint to assure acidity, seal with sterilized lids, and process full jars in a water bath for 35 minutes. Makes about 4 pints or two quarts. I usually double the recipe to make it worth my time.

This recipe is really forgiving and is a great base to making the sauce your own. Try spicing up a store bought can of tomatoes. Puree the tomatoes for a really thin sauce or leave it chunky and go garden style. I love the addition of carrots now in any tomato based dish. They add the right amount of sweetness and are one more way I’m sneaking vegetables into my kids.

What’s your favorite food to top with tomato sauce?

Disclosure: I found this unpublished post in my draft box and wanted to get it up to go along with my list of favorite homemade recipes. Right now it’s only April, so I’m not drowning in tomatoes. Yet. 

family · Friends · · linkups · summer

Freedom Walking and Hot Air Balloons {Behind the Scenes}

Hot air balloons and I seem to enjoy a last minute relationship.  Maybe it’s because in and of themselves the balloons seem to evoke a sense of spontaneity that is often absent from my planned and scheduled attempts at motherhood, or maybe it’s just simply because if I ponder a decision involving gas money, restaurants, and extra cash for too long, I talk myself out of it.

I’m so glad I didn’t back out of this one.

Callaway Gardens was hosting a weekend of balloon themed festivities and admission was half-price if you arrived before 9 a.m. So on Friday evening, we put on hold everything that was wringing our life out and gave ourselves over to children and friends and sunshine.

We slept over at with our friends Brooke and Matt, who are are the kind of friends who don’t mind when you call at bedtime on Thursday night to say you’ll be there tomorrow.  They’re the kind of friends who are totally on board with waking up six kids at daylight to see a spectacle of color against a misty morning sky.

The downed balloon beachside was called “Freedom Walk” and inside children squealed and floundered on the grass with beach balls.  The air was close and humid, but the vision was breathtaking, a kaleidoscope of colors that burned brightly as the morning sun rose higher.

We picnicked and swam and for the first time all summer, my children could play with their daddy.  He’s made a near full recovery.  It’s amazing how quickly we can forget what really matters. I’d been drowning in a sea of hopelessness and I’d forgotten that for a time before this summer began, I had realized just how precious life can be.

After Amelia and I rode that hot air balloon in June, I realized it was the fire that lifts those balloons into the air to catch a breath of wind and fly away.  

And as much as I’d like to believe it so, that’s never a spontaneous act.  It’s carefully planned and considered and just the right amount of fuel is used to carry that brightness into the sky.  

So the same for us: these fires that seem so insurmountable in life? 
If we let Him, a great and merciful God can use that fire to carry us to a far better place.

Joining with Crystal Stine and an amazing community of women this week who dare to bare the soul behind the pictures.  Tell me, what’s behind your scene?

giveaways · motherhood · summer

Longing for Summer

Sunshine is streaming through the fingerprints on my front door and spilling all over the streaky floor.  The pool in the backyard is full of rain water, and the swings are stirring gently with the late August breeze that kindles memories of campfires and light sweaters.

Summer’s slowly sifting away bit by bit.

Two weeks ago I could hardly wait for it. For school and routine and structure and those few precious hours I can snatch between naptime and snacktime to work and enjoy the quiet.

But last night we stayed out a bit late and this morning the forecast is for mostly sunny and I wish more than I longed for routine that I could buckle them all into that van with its peeling paint and slip away on some hiking trail and emerge at a lakeside to dig our toes into the only sand they’ve seen all summer.

Why is it the longing never comes until I realize it’s over?  Why is it that I can’t ever seem to wrap my mind and heart around the slow pace and embrace it for all it’s worth because it’s so simple?

Why do I let activities and camps and far too many other good things crowd out all my days that could be spent in the woods or by the pool or on the back deck with popsicles and the water hose?

Why do I let tantrums and whining and frustrations over lost library books dampen my spirit so much that I forget how much I enjoy just having them all home and under my roof?

I don’t want to forget how much we need each summer.  How much we need lazy days and pajama days and ice cream for dinner.  So I’ve writing this to remind me and to remind you–

Each summer there’s beauty laced between meltdowns and fights and your mama exploding temper.  

Don’t wait until summer is over to find it.

Congratulations to Sheila Beck who won the Real Food for the Real Homemaker cookbook giveaway!  I hope you enjoy it and use it to make me something yummy if I ever make it over for a visit!  I wish everyone could win, but since that can’t happen, you can go here to order your own copy.  You’ll get a PDF file, a Kindle version, the recipe cards, and the excel spreadsheet to help you plan a frugal grocery trip and a simply homemade menu.  Enjoy!  

Linking up today with Gracelaced Mondays and The Better Mom.

linkups · Margin Mom · summer

When Overwhelmed, Just Jump in the Lake {My Search for Margin: Part 6}

It was just for a few hours, but it felt like more.  The water was cold, but the day was hot and the sun was glorious.  Waves rocked that old dock and the best way to the water will always be a flying leap.  
We loaded down that speed boat with children and lifejackets and squeals of summer.  Always, on the water, wind and sun in my face and white churned waves underfoot, can I find my space.
Now I just have to keep that feeling of lightness tucked away for those margin-less days when all I want to do is jump in the lake.
For all my other posts in this possibly never-ending series on how I’m aiming for more white space and less smudges in my life, click here.
I love what Kayse says about how she feels less overwhelmed when she’s said yes to the many things God’s called her to, rather than yes to the many things she thinks she’s supposed to do.  I’m mulling over that idea for fall when I have so many tasks on my plate that, truly, have all come to me at this time for this purpose.
Linking up with these lovely ladies…
GraceLaced Mondays · madelynne · motherhood · summer

What I Saw at Camp Pinnacle

We arrived at Camp Pinnacle on Friday after the “Colossal Coaster” ride of Vacation Bible School and after not a few meltdowns from this mama and those girls.  We were tired and I honestly didn’t believe I had the energy for a mother/daughter overnight camp.  Check-in complete, bags in the cabin (pretty nice lodging actually), chicken nugget supper (a cafeteria classic), and slowly I was starting to unwind a bit.  Slowly, I was starting to enjoy actually seeing my daughters.

I read this post the other day about how women fear becoming invisible.  It only makes sense to believe our daughters fear this too.  Until this weekend, I hadn’t realized how little time I actually spend seeing them, and how many moments I miss because I’m not tuned into their little moments.  I saw Annabelle grin delightfully and Madelynne watch me intently.  I saw the spark of joy that comes when they’re discovering a new talent,   realized how much they want me to focused on them as individuals and not just as the first and second sisters.

This weekend gave me an opportunity to do something I hardly ever do: play with my kids.  After a brief and fun introduction to worship, we all gathered on the lawn for Color Wars, those notorious camp relay games and my girls were so proud that their mommy was competing with them.  They were astounded to learn I could jump rope and super proud when I hopped to the cone with a ball between my knees.

After games, we went on a mission walk with our counselors and learned a little about the camp’s mission focus this summer, which is the city of Atlanta.  Madelynne volunteered to pray and Annabelle drew a picture of her cross necklace and wrote “God Loves You” and snuck a peek at me to see if I had noticed.  She’s finally started talking faith with us, and this week between VBS and camp, was the first time I can remember seeing her participate wholeheartedly as though the songs and messages meant more than she knows how to confess.

There was a classic camp bonfire with s’mores and songs and silliness and my girls tried to catch lightening bugs and were giddy that the time was well past bedtime.  We slept in bunks that rustled all night once the cabin of giggly girls settled down and were up again early for breakfast and quiet times to talk about putting on the armor of God.

 My best mom moment came when they observed I had put on my bathing suit: “Mama, you’re getting in the pool with us?  Really??”  I never swim with them.  I always watch from the sidelines, usually with the baby, on the very edges of their excitement.  But Saturday morning I shivered in the cool blue water and played Marco Polo and beat Madelynne in a swim race and cuddled with Annabelle when we were both covered in chillbumps.

On Saturday morning, I got to guide my daughter’s hands around a pottery wheel and learn from the other how to fire an arrow from a bow.  I got to sit in a swing by the lake and worship in a chapel filled with women of all ages.  I got to give thanks to God for giving me daughters and beg for mercy and guidance to raise them.

Thank goodness there was a place this weekend that helped me see them. · reflections · summer

The Balloon Ride

My youngest daughter perched herself on the edge of a rock bridge in an old field and dared me with her eyes to say no.  A trickle of a creek, muddy yet sparkling, ran under that tiny bridge and further down other children waded and ran shrieking up the bank.

The evening was summer dusk, warm and humid, but soft and inviting all the same.  Across the field, as if someone had sent a sudden signal, vehicles began to appear with bulk hidden under tarps and strapped to trailers.  Moments later, bright yards of fabric began to unfurl and billow in the slight breeze.  The people pressed closer to watch the spectacle unfurl.

And on a warm summer evening, they used fire to float those balloons.

What was once flat and wrapped tight swelled and soared and colored the sky all around.

She begged for a ride, and when we climbed into that basket and lifted high, all I could think was how it’s the fire that’s made us fly.