My Red Glasses

I wear them everywhere, in fact I wear them so much it has become how friends of mine find me in a crowd. I wear them on my head and they serve a great function of keeping my hair out of my face or calming that one unruly curl that wants to go in its own direction. More than a fashion statement, my red sunglasses with sparkly hearts on the earpieces are a vital and necessary part of my migraine coping system.

What many who see me and many who know me well would never suspect is that my red glasses have a secret super-power.

They are my light shield.

Light is such a great thing, it helps us see by bouncing off of things in our path and gives us pleasure in revealing different hues of paint splotched on canvas in breathtaking works of art. But light is also my nemesis.

I have chronic migraine. There are very few days when I am completely symptom free, most of my hours are dominated by either prodrome symptoms or postdrome symptoms, with migraine attacks in the middle.

My triggers are many and varied, which makes it difficult to anticipate or avoid them. Here is a partial list:
flashing/strobing light
changes in barometric pressure
change in sleep patterns
over-scheduling
food additives
food combinations
too much sugar
too much caffeine
not enough caffeine
Mondays…just kidding, but sometimes it is hard to pin down the cause.

The strategy is to avoid as many of these triggers as possible while still living a semblance of a normal life with a job, a spouse, and three beautiful children. I exercise to increase endorphin levels which helps lessen my symptoms. I try to sleep at regular times, but I also struggle with insomnia. I keep my schedule at a bare minimum whenever possible so that if something unexpected arises I will be able to absorb it without immediate breakdown. I avoid rich desserts and high-sugar foods, but I crave sweets hardcore when I am headed toward an attack. I keep my caffeine consumption at a steady level, and regularly go completely off of caffeine for periods of time in order to prevent a dependency on it to function.

Some triggers I simply cannot avoid. I live in northeast Kansas. We have weather systems that roll through regularly that send me to bed with fatigue, dizziness, and a complete inability to keep a thought in my head. I am a mom and a pastor, which means there are times that people need me that don’t fit nicely into my schedule. Sometimes I do too much. Especially on days when I feel good.

And sometimes I eat the pizza anyway, because life is short and what is one more migraine when I am going to have one later anyway?

But I digress. I was talking about my glasses. My red sunglasses that hold my hair so nicely and go with everything I wear, who possess a secret super-power. They cover my eyes when the sun is too bright on a cloudy day. They cover my eyes when someone installed a ceiling fan under a light and I have to stay in that space but want to avoid the instant nausea and dizziness. They cover my eyes when the light is the wrong frequency or has a short and blinks randomly. They are my shield against pain when I have a migraine but I have to function anyway.

Fun, cute, fierce, and one of the many coping mechanisms that make my life with chronic migraine just that much more bearable.

Coping where I can.
Honestly.
ReFreshing

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A beautiful dress

This was at the top of my soon to be 9-year-old daughter’s birthday list.
“A buetaful dress” to be more precise.

My rough and tumble tom boy.
My sweet and sometimes spastic child who can’t always find herself in space.
My awkward, lovely, frustrating, cherished girl.

She wants a beautiful dress.

It makes me misty-eyed because it reminds me that at the center of herself she just wants to be loved. She longs to be appreciated and celebrated.

It is hard to remember this when she won’t brush her long red curly hair.
It is hard to remember when I have to ask her six times to stay out of her brother’s personal space.
It is hard to remember when everything about her is and always has been loud and sharp and on the move.

But she is almost always in a skirt and tights, and she loves to make bracelets.
Why wouldn’t she want a beautiful dress?

Why is it so hard for me, as her mother, to see this tender heart longing to be seen?

Am I too busy?
Have I fallen into the rut of seeing only her challenges?
Whatever the cause, I am awake and aware of her today.

Because she wants a beautiful dress.

God, open my eyes to see the heart in each of my children that cries out to be loved, cherished, seen and understood. Give me awareness of my own tendency to walk through life so busy that I miss the quieter call to love these precious gifts.
Amen

Awareness, beauty, gratitude–
Ingredients for a ReFreshing Life

**I wrote this post over a year ago and set it aside. It jumped out at me today, tugging again at my heart.

Don’t Kill Them, & 4 Other Essential Parenting Rules

My 5 Simple Rules for Parenting

When my first child was born, I read the books and followed the developmental charts like they were blueprints for a nuclear power plant. I didn’t want anything to explode, and knew that if something went wrong it would be a) the most terrible-awful-horrible thing ever, and b) as the mother, it would all be my fault. 13 years and two more kids down the line, I can tell you that children are way less fragile and more resilient than we could have imagined when we drove them home from the hospital at 15 miles per hour.

Everywhere you turn someone else is telling you what you absolutely have to do in order to raise healthy, happy children. They’ll scream, threaten, cajole, and manipulate your emotions to get you to follow their advice. We all want the best for our kids, right? So why is it that many of the opinions we hear completely contradict each other?

My years of experience and seeing my kids survive (so far) have brought me to a place of simplicity when it comes to parenthood. Feel free to investigate all of the parenting options out there, but I’ve boiled my personal rules of parenting down to just 5.

Parenting Rule #1: Don’t Kill Them

This is a vital piece of advice if you want them to live to adulthood. This includes things like feeding, clothing, and providing for their obvious physical needs. It also covers the very real temptation that might arise around the age of “I can do it myself” and re-emerge when the eye-rolling starts. Take a deep breath. If you don’t kill them, they will probably grow up and have children who also go through these maddening stages. Don’t we all want to see that day?

Parenting Rule #2: Do Your Best

Mismatched socks on their feet, their clothes wrinkled, and you don’t know if that jacket has been cleaned since they dripped ice cream on it last month? If that is the best you can do today, great. They are covered, and trust me their teacher has seen worse. Some days my best includes locking the bathroom door with the fan on so that I can’t hear them when they whine at me outside the door. Five minutes of solitude in the toilet just might help you follow Rule #1. You aren’t going to be parent of the year every minute of every day. Give yourself a break and just determine to do your best with what you have.

Parenting Rule #3: Love Them

I know you might be thinking this rule should probably be #1, but realistically I think not killing them wins for purely practical reasons. Love your kids. Love them sticky or clean. Love them hair combed or with rats nests. Love them with their precious gifts of art you couldn’t decipher if you were a master of cryptology. “Is that a dog? Oh, it’s mommy. Thanks, sweetie.” Just love them. Love covers over a multitude of parenting mishaps, and it will most likely help them not become psychopaths. It’s true.

Parenting Rule #4: Trust God

There are so many things in your children’s lives that you have absolutely no control over. You can’t keep them from every danger, or every bully, or every dumb idea they might decide to try out while your back is turned. If you are going to raise children, you need a higher power.

Parenting Rule #5: Everything Else Can Be Worked Out in Therapy

You know that all parenting theory is just that, theory. Someone has a good idea, it looks great on paper, but then in practice it just doesn’t work for your child. Besides, look at how much has changed in the years since you were a youngster. Could we ever have predicted that our kids wouldn’t know how to dial a phone? (I mean a real phone, selecting Grandma from the contacts list does not count.) So much will continue to change in our world, society, and in the understanding of young minds. You are bound to mess up. Besides, therapists are nice people and we should want to support their industry.

As parents we are under so much pressure to be perfect, but none of us were raised by perfect parents. (If you write to tell me your parents were perfect, I don’t know if we can be friends.) All of us are here, walking around as (mostly) productive members of society. Give yourself a break from perfection based on someone else’s theories. You will be a more peaceful parent, and your kids will need less therapy. That’s a win-win situation in my book!

Keeping it simple
ReFreshing!

An open heart in the face of grief

Pregnant women experience spotting all the time, and everything turns out fine. The voice of denial did it’s best to keep panic at bay. I struggled through prayers of bargaining, and anger at my body for the biggest betrayal I’d ever experienced. All the stages of grief cycled again and again, but I always came back to denial in those early days.

Not denial of facts, but denying myself the experience of emotions I was sure would overwhelm me. My heart was locked down tight.

What else could I do? I had just announced to my church elder board that I was pregnant the week before. I had responsibilities at church on Sunday. My family of three was headed out of state on Monday to our Pastor’s Retreat, which I still felt strange attending as just an associate pastor.

I didn’t have time to fall apart. I didn’t want to feel all the pain, and loss, and grief. Other people needed me to be strong. And it felt as though God wasn’t answering my prayers. I wasn’t particularly interested in anything He had to say, either, so I guess it was mutual.

The bleeding continued as I packed the car, as I preached in church, as we took family pictures of all things. One of the Elders, a woman, noticed something was wrong and asked me if I had lost the baby. I nodded. She cried. I didn’t.

We went to our Pastor’s Retreat, I pasted on a half-smile and determined not to talk to anyone about anything serious. Keep it light. Skim the surface. Bury it deep.

I’m not sure why it was that I wandered out into the common area during our free time. Husband and toddler napping, I thought I would try to journal a bit. As I sat, a woman I’d never met struck up a conversation. I don’t know how it happened, but I told her everything. Not sure what to expect, I certainly didn’t think she’d tell me that she had also suffered pregnancy loss, three times.

It was a comfort, knowing I was not alone, that life really could continue. When I went back to my journal, there was a prompt in my spirit that I needed to grieve. I desperately did not want to do any such thing. The impression was unmistakable “If you do not grieve this loss, you claim that it had no value.”

When we value things and lose them, we grieve. We may not like it, but that is the way life is. By refusing to grieve, we deny that what was lost had value. By refusing to be affected, we deny that what was lost had any impact on our existence. I could not allow that. This tiny life had lived for such a brief time, the only impact it could have was on me. I would not rob this life of meaning.

So I grieved. I opened the doors of my heart and let the pain in, and let the pain out.

And it was worth every tear, and sob, and sigh.

Brené Brown says that we cannot selectively numb our pain. When we shut down we shut out everything, including joy. It is better to live with an open heart and some pain than to live without pain and also without joy.

This pregnancy loss happened in May of 2005. I had a subsequent loss in August of 2005, and another over Memorial Day weekend 2011. Each loss was its own journey through pain, acceptance, and healing. I had to choose every time to open my heart and feel the loss when by my own habit and nature I would have avoided and stuffed those feelings down deep.

If you are experiencing grief, or if you never gave yourself permission to grieve a secret loss, give yourself permission to open your heart. You will not heal with it closed off, and you will find that joy is dulled and life loses it’s color. It will hurt. But it will not hurt forever, at least not with the same sting.

I still feel sad when I think of the losses we experienced, of wanted babies. It does not overwhelm me, though, with tidal force waves of grief. I have walked on, and I have delivered two healthy babies since that first loss, for a total of three. I have had 6 pregnancies, and 3 live births.

Not everyone’s story ends like mine. I have a beautiful friend who is expecting baby number 8 in June, she has her own stories of loss. I have a brave and wonderful friend who, unable to conceive, has chosen adoption. I know families who have chosen not to have children, those who have chosen adoption over producing biological children, and those who are still charting their course. Wherever you are on this journey of life and family, I hope you choose to walk bravely forward with an open heart. You may experience loss and grief, but you will also encounter moments of exquisite joy that you may have otherwise missed.

An Open Heart
ReFreshing

Thanksgiving Survival Guide: 5 ways to evade conversation meltdowns!

Thanksgiving is coming! I hope you all are looking forward to this time of family togetherness and bliss as much as I am, but just in case you are not here are some tried and true ways to avoid World War III at your family table.

1. Ask a question that leads to a more positive tone.
When your loved one is ranting about what they hate, why not ask a question that nudges them toward their hopes and dreams. Here are just a few examples.
“What do you hope for?”
“How do you see that unfolding?”
“How can we work toward that together?”

Who doesn’t like to talk about their hopes and dreams for the future? Let them keep talking, but asking these questions gives them something good to talk about. Making specific plans is also a good way to engage logical brain function when the lizard brain wants to take over. Whether they are looking forward to college, vacation, or the new world order, at least it will put a nice twinkle in their eye.

2. Change the subject altogether.
Uncle raving about politics? Auntie griping about the election? When you asked about their hopes they mentioned the destruction of an entire demographic? Here’s some topics to divert the maelstrom.
“What an amazing, miraculous World Series!”
“Do you have any recent pictures of your kids/dogs/grand-kids/cats?”
“Who made this delicious dish? You have to tell me all about the recipe!”

I don’t ever watch sports, but even I know about the Cubs and their history smashing victory! So you don’t know the players’ names or numbers or the final score, let your relative fill in the relevant details while you “ooh” and “aah.” Same goes for the precious pictures. They may be overly enthusiastic, but I bet Trump/Clinton/Obama isn’t in the frame. Oh, Junior dressed up as one of them for Halloween? On to the food, people love to gush over their special contribution to the meal.

3. Excuse yourself to go…elsewhere.
When you don’t achieve success with numbers 1 or 2, find a way to leave the room. Now is the time to:
Help cook or clean
Go to the restroom
Take a walk

Don’t you have something in the oven you need to check on? Always have something in the oven! No? Perhaps the dishes need doing. You can always go to the restroom. Yes, you can go every 15 minutes! Who cares if they think you have a virus. Maybe they’ll leave you alone if you are sick. This looks like a good time for a walk. On a day of over-indulgence whether you’ve had too much turkey, or just to make room for pie, no one will fault you for getting some fresh air.

4. Eat something! Drink something!
If you are afraid of returning fire with your words, stuff something in your mouth! Why else did we get everyone together anyway? Have a piece of pie…or three. Get up and refill your glass. Offer to get them a cup of coffee while you are up. Coffee builds bridges, and it might make you need to visit the restroom again soon, so it’s a win-win.

5. Fall asleep.
When all else fails, take a nap. Not sleepy? Pulse racing? You can always just pretend to fall asleep on the couch, or the chair, or on your plate. Trust me, cousins talking about your narcolepsy may not be pleasant, but it’s better than turning this Rockwell moment into a red-faced brawl!

BONUS! Turn on the game–no talking during football!

Thrifty Thursday–Decorate Your Own Cake

Our youngest turned 4 this week, and he wanted a Batman cake. His birthday was a busy day for me, I had an out of town meeting plus some other work that kept me busy until 3 o’clock. A quick trip to the store and there were no pre-decorated cakes that would do.

I could have ordered a cake from any number of local cake artists, but we can’t afford custom cakes for every birthday. Besides it was much too late now!

We bought a cake with blue sprinkles around the edge and blue border decorations and I decided to rely on a trick I have used before to add some flair to a plain cake. You can use this same method to add your own style to any cake for the price of frosting, a printed page, and some wax paper.

I’m including some photos so that you can follow along. The picture of the final product was taken on my cellphone, sorry for the quality. I would take another with my nice camera, but unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it) the cake is now half-eaten.

First decide what image you want on your cake. You can use characters, graphics from video games, floral patterns, anything that will print clearly from your home printer. We needed Batman, below is the image we printed. Whether you are using a homemade cake or a store-bought cake, when you print your image make sure you take into consideration the size of your cake and the dimensions of the image. We copy and pasted this image into Word and resized it to fit the available space on our store-bought cake.

Next you need frosting to match your design. I made a batch of cream cheese frosting because I like the taste and consistency. Use whatever you like. Make your own or buy it already-made, this mom isn’t judging!

I decided to make the outer border in blue to match the decorations already on the cake. We keep food coloring on hand, so this was not an expense for me. You can find gel coloring in most grocery store baking aisles. I divided my frosting and tinted one bowl yellow, another black, and another blue.

You may have the requisite tools for piping frosting, if you do this next step is easy. If you do not have piping bags and tips, do not fear I have a trick for that as well! Zip-top sandwich bags make great single-use piping bags for small amounts of frosting.

Load the frosting into your bags, and if you are using zip-top bags, snip the corner off of your bag. Start small, you can always make the hole bigger, but you can’t make it smaller!

IMG_0014Take your printed image and lay it on a flat surface. I like to use a cutting board or the back of a cookie sheet so that I can pick the whole thing up and pop it into the freezer to firm up before applying it to the cake. Lay a sheet of wax paper over your image, you should be able to see the image clearly through the wax paper.

IMG_0018

Now, you can choose what order to complete your design. I would suggest one of two approaches. Either start with the center of your design and work your way to the edge or start with the lightest color of frosting and work your way to the darkest. Both of these methods work to keep your colors from muddling or smearing together.

IMG_0023Using your piping bags, trace out the design with frosting matching the underlying image. If your design is small, you might be able to lift semi-frozen frosting from the wax paper and transfer it to the cake with a knife or spatula. If you have a large design, you need to flip your image over onto the cake. This is good to keep in mind as you fill in your design. The part you see as you decorate will face the cake. It is important to keep your frosting in the right zone. If that black gets on the yellow part of the design, I have to scrape it off. You can see my handy toothpick and butter knife that help me stay within the lines.

When you have traced each part of the design and filled in the larger areas with frosting, pop it into the freezer for a few minutes (up to 30) to firm up. This will make it easier to remove the frosting from the wax paper.

IMG_0024You can see,  I’m not concerned about keeping my colors in place on the part I can see since it will face the cake.

When your design has firmed up, line up your image where you want it and lay it gently (paper-side up) onto the cake. Press gently in the middle, top, bottom, and sides so that it sticks. Carefully peel the wax paper off of the image starting at one edge and working your way across, lifting and rolling the paper as you go.

With a knife, or your toothpick, smooth any areas that need a touch up, and voila!
We added some gummy bat symbols to the edges, some star candles and the design was complete.

Batman Cake

I hope you can confidently customize your own cake for birthdays or any occasion!

Saving time and money with semi-homemade birthday cakes,
that’s ReFreshing!

Summer Chores & Activities!

Once again school is out, and we are rebooting our Pick Five chore system. Here is the skinny on the stroke of genius that has gotten us through 2 summers of my working full time from home with three kids (now 12, 9, not quite 4 years old) and keeping my sanity!

These are the benefits I’ve seen in the two summers we’ve used this system:

  1. A set of chores and activities that they can choose and do on their own.
  2. Self-regulated screen time.
  3. Built in reading time.
  4. Simple rules: do your 5 chores anytime you choose, one TV show, one 30 minute session on any other screen, additional screen time is earned by doing extra chores.
  5. Kids that contribute to the household chores!

Here is a link to the original post from May of 2014:

https://refreshinglifeblog.wordpress.com/2014/05/27/kids-a-k-a-in-summer/

Here’s our updated chores and activities for our growing kiddos!

Chores And Activities

Chore and Activities 2016

Still a great system, and still adding refreshment by the score to my life. Enjoy!