Wednesday, September 25, 2013


I am one of those Christians who doesn't think God is enraged when the questions come His way.

One of those Christians who thinks asking, like Mary, "How can this be?" is not an affront.

One of those Christians who wrestles and finds that somehow, God is closer and more dear because of the struggle rather than in spite of it.

But whenever I begin to slide into the place where I kick and scream, I am reminded, "Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief."

Because so many bits of my life make absolutely no sense.

The rhymes don't quit stick. And the reason? Totally lacking.

And yet, I have no doubt that it's God who does the leading. It's God who has taken me-- us-- to those places where we scratch our heads and say, "Not my will, but Yours."

I wondered greatly what God was doing when I saw those two pink lines. A baby? Now? As our fundraising is finally ramping up? A baby? Really? I'm almost 40 for Pete's sake.

It made no sense. It simply flew in the face of what everyone-- most especially Mr. Blandings and me-- expected God to be doing in our lives right then.

And yet ...

It is this little person, this little soul, this little flash of sunlight from the Lord, that has made some of the darkest moments bright here since his birth. It is this little man who has reminded me, again and again, that God's ways are higher, and better, and more perfect than anything I could have planned.

And I am grateful.

Monday, September 23, 2013


I have always considered myself a truly rotten hostess. The bar was set pretty high for me at a young age, what with my mom and grandmother being the world's most comfortable, most accommodating, most "always another spot at the table" kind of women. I have fabulous memories of wandering the family room while my mom served coffee to folks who had just popped by, and even better memories of 50 people milling around my Mamaw's house waiting for the Thanksgiving turkeys (yes, plural)  to come out of the oven.

Those ladies made it seem effortless, this whole "hospitality" thing. They enjoyed it. And they didn't seem to stress over the idea of welcoming 2 or 20 people into their home on a moment's notice.

Of course, neither of them had ever seen Martha Stewart's idea of casual entertaining, either.

Part of the plan in moving to this house was to be able to invite interested families over to hear more about the work in Nepal. The two minute synopsis delivered in the church hallway with a hungry toddler asking for lunch is great and all, but really lacks the full depth of intimacy, know what I mean? We had known for a while that we'd have more of an impact if we could talk-- really talk-- to people about the need, the call, and the plan. But our old house lacked any real gathering area and barely fit my own family around the dining room table, let alone a few more.

So we moved here. And we threw open the doors. And voila--I confronted my worst fears and became a reluctant, regular hostess.

Up until now, I've really stressed over having people over. I mean, the Martha Stewart comment is funny and all, but yeah ... I seriously have always looked at my surroundings and figured that no one would really want to spend an entire evening eating off the plates Logan chipped getting out of the dishwasher, or sitting near the pillows Oli uses as blocks half the day. 

And before you ask, no, I don't judge other people's houses that way. Not at all. It's a total double standard, and I know it. But I've never been able to shake it.

Well, until now.

Out of necessity, I've embraced the life that my grandmother and mom lived with such ease. And yes, the more I do it, the easier it's becoming. In seven weeks of living here, we've had 9 families come through-- not counting Benny's people because really, I'd invite them over in my pjs for breakfast any old day.

Aside from the fact that this introvert is being dragged, kicking and screaming, from her happy shell, it hasn't been bad. In case there are any other reluctant hostesses out there, I offer these tips for cutting down on the stress and upping the "I can do this" factor.

1. Have the right tools. No, you don't need special stuff, but I quickly figured out that a few investments paid off. A thermal coffee carafe. A glass beverage dispenser. A Costco pack of napkins, paper cups. Sharpies (for labeling said cups). And an entire extra set of Ikea dishes and silverware on the cheap.

2. Make a hosting checklist. In the past, I kept a running checklist of the stuff that needed to get done before the place was presentable, and it was all jumbled in my mind with food prep and anything else that I wanted to accomplish. Simply typing up a basic list (clean main bathroom, vacuum main areas, scoop dog poop in back yard, etc.), laminating it, and posting it has been a lifesaver. The kids pick a job and do it, freeing me from handing out duties, worrying over it getting done, or, worse yet, frantically scrubbing a toilet as someone rings my doorbell.

3. Keep it up. The house, that is. Hosting people has been a huge incentive to make sure that the little stuff doesn't become big stuff. I always fought to keep my kitchen counters clear. No more. Knowing that someone is likely to be hitting the door in 24 hours or less is a big reason to take the time to not let that stack of papers get too cozy on the corner. 

4. Make a hospitality menu. We quickly figured out a handful of sure-fire meals to rotate through, along with some tried-and-true but still yummy desserts. I printed these off, stuck them in the front of my main recipe binder, and use these as my go-to to keep things simple. Hint: one of the best meals we've found is a taco bar that uses my crockpot to make the main filling. Can it get an easier?

5. Pick a time, and make that the time. I have purposefully asked everyone coming by if 4 p.m. is an o.k. arrival time on a weekend. Weeknights has been 5 p.m. Why? I know that those are doable schedule-wise for us, and I don't have to stress out over mixing up the time, because it's always the same.

6. Make it fun. This is the biggest tip I can possibly offer you. In the past, I admit that entertaining was zero fun for my kids. I stressed out over the even for days, tried to do everything myself, and was probably a Wicked Witch the entire day leading up to the arrival of our friends. Reading several books on hospitality helped me to see this as damaging, and I was convicted that I was putting effort into a show of false appearances. Ouch. Stepping back, letting go, and just being real has made this entire process-- dare I say it-- enjoyable. For all of us. Go figure!

I never in a million years dreamed that I would be in a place where having three events in my home in three days would seem not only reasonable, but actually fun. Yet, that's where I am sitting right now. God has changed my heart, given me new eyes, and allowed me to take the blessings He's given me and use them to bless others. Who knew I'd actually enjoy it?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


I am knitting a baby bib right now.

A very simple, very straight-forward, very you-don't-have-to-even-read-a-pattern baby bib.

In easy care, no fuss cotton.

Which says a lot about where I am right now, because normally, knitting is-- for me-- all about the process. It's about the materials (I love the sensory feedback of different fibers), the colors, the new experiences that lead to a finished product I can hold in my hand and muse over.

Right now, I don't need any of that. Right now, I am knitting for the familiarity, for the the reinforcement of the rhythm, for the comfort of place. 

Right now, I am knitting as therapy.

Three weeks ago now, I had just unpacked the very last box due to be opened. We had settled in, inasmuch as we plan on doing here. We had held two full days of school in a room perfectly designed to corral both Oliver and Reuven, to engage Seven, to keep Mani exploring, and to house the resources needed by Jo, Atticus, and Logan. We had shelved our old friends, our books. We had created little corners here and there throughout the house for purposeful play. We had set up home, and we were growing familiar with all that was once so completely foreign and new.

And then, there was a storm. Oh, I admit-- I loved that storm. It was sudden and wild and violent and all the things that make weather so clearly a reflection of how small we are on God's great planet. There was lightning-- lightning! So rare for these parts as to actually terrify Oli. There were long rolls of thunder that simply flowed into one another, creating a growling, angry sky. Rain pounded--pelted-- from the a prematurely black sky. The rhythm beat on the roof was crazy and new to me, but I had no point of reference. Was this how it always sounds here, in this big, echoing house? We stood at the wide back windows and watched as the yard began to grow a garden of puddles, which blossomed into ponds.

It passed, as these things usually do, just as suddenly as it began. The sun shone through parting clouds and I felt myself sigh. 

It was that exact moment that Mr. Blandings decided to check the basement. Just my saying that tells you what happened next. Shouts and shrieks and screams for boots, flashlights, help.

My bare feet hit a soggy carpet. Moments later, rising water lapped at my ankles. As I watched, inches of dark wetness crept towards our sweet school oasis. I remember choking back sobs, grabbing the hem of my skirt and knotting it at my knees. I remember splashing towards the door to that room, an-already floating Woody doll bumping past. I remember seeing Oli's sandpaper letter cards go under. I remember the wooden counting pegs becoming boats. 

I remember asking God why, why, why.

We survived all this, of course. We threw away the Lauri puzzles and book shelves and the Kingfisher Encyclopedia and the Little Golden Books. We cried over the cherished things that were lost, and the sense of safety that was stripped from us. People-- good people, the best kind of people-- stepped up and replaced Magic School Bus books and wooden toy food and even those sandpaper letters. 

We are moving on. Shaken, but moving on nonetheless. 

Everything-- my sense of peace, my comfort level, my known quantities-- have, once again, been thrown into a hopper and spit out scrambled.

And so I knit. Quietly, with an empty mind. My hands do the work, my mind does the wandering. I seek the face of God. I seek the strength to continue encouraging and inspiring the host of faces who look to me. I seek the assurance that He will not strip us down to the places we cannot bear, or deal with us too harshly when our faith falters in the dark moments.

I knit for therapy. And He is there. 

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you.
1 Peter 4:12

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


I can still taste the longing.

The want tinged with bitterness.

The betrayal every. single. month.

I can still feel the peace.

The reluctant letting go.

The opening of my hands.

I can still remember the refusal to admit it.

The terror/awe/fear/delight.

The sheer joy.

And here she is, now, today. Three years old. Every inch of her a miracle-- just like every other child who has ever been conceived, no matter the circumstances.

But this miracle? This one is ours. This one was gifted to our family even after words failed and hearts were made whole again.

This one sits at my table and sings "Amazing Grace." This one is the pickiest dresser ever. This one dances all day, every day.

This one is Seven, and it's her birthday. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for bringing her to us. And thank you to every loyal reader who remembers the days of brokenness and prayer and who walked alongside me. Celebrate with us!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Chicken stew and cornmeal dumplings {everyone@thetable}

With Reuven now an entity in his own right at our  (admittedly overflowing) table, I am loving watching him dive in to new flavors and textures. I am a big proponent of not "dumbing down" food for children.  Their palates deserve to be delighted just as much as ours. Here's a favorite recipe from the Blandings kitchen needs only a few quick dices with a butterknife to be served to everyone at the table, from Daddy to babe.

Chicken stew with cornmeal dumplings
(adapted from Diabetic Living Online)

2 lbs chick thighs
1 bag baby carrots
2 sticks celery, diced
1 1/2 cups frozen corn
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 tsp. minced garlic
2 tsp. dried rosemary
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 cups chicken stock

1. In a large pot, add chicken. Cook thoroughly, debone. Discard water unless you used stock for this step. If so, retain 2 cups. 

2. In same pot, combine stock, carrots, celery, corn, onion, garlic, rosemary, and pepper. Add chicken. Bring to a boil and let simmer until carrots are almost tender.

1 cup flour
1 cup cornmeal
2 tsp. baking powder
4 egg whies
4 TBS milk
4 TBS vegetable oil

3. Combine above ingredients in mixer and beat until smooth. Using a spoon, drop Cornmeal Dumplings dough into equal-sized mounds on top of hot chicken mixture. Cover and cook for 20 to 25 minutes more or until a toothpick inserted into a dumpling comes out clean. Serve.