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Patti Dunn’s Gumbo

I’ve had this recipe drafted on here for over a year. But I just couldn’t quite wrap my brain around how to start it. You see, the wonderful woman who shared this with me is a fellow BBQer.  I can’t even say I know her well. But I can say, what I know, I love. I so admire the love and adoration she and her husband share. I love that they have big hearts, margaritas after a competition, and dogs they love like family.  I love that they appreciate a good Bourbon as much as I do. And I hate that she posts amazing Tex-Mex and Creole dishes that I just can’t get here in Tennessee! She and her husband, Johnny, are just salt of the earth, good people.

So, I first asked Patty for this recipe to make Jay a superb birthday dinner in May of 2017. Not only was it a success, it became a family favorite. It’s simple and amazing all at the same time. You can make it spicy or kid friendly, or somewhere in the middle, with just the shake of a hot sauce bottle. And just as Patty taught me way back when, all good Cajuns eat their gumbo with a big ol glob of potato salad. And now, we never cook it without it. 🙂

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb sausage, sliced
  • 1 lb chicken
  • 1 lb shrimp (optional)
  • 1/4 c. flour
  • 1/4 c. oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 32 oz. of chicken stock (or 32 oz water and 4 Tbs. chicken paste)
  • 32 oz. of water
  • salt
  • pepper
  • Cajun seasoning (Tony’s is our favorite)
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 6 servings cooked rice
  • Crusty garlic bread and your favorite potato salad for serving

1. Cut your sausage and chicken into bite size pieces.

2. In a large skillet, brown your meats in 2 Tbs. oil or bacon grease.

3. Set aside.

4. In a large pot, make your roux. Over medium low heat, whisk 1/4 cup oil and 1/4 cup flour until it’s light brown and smells nutty. Do not walk away!

5. Add in your chopped onion and celery and cook until slightly wilted.

6. Mix in your meat, 32 oz chicken stock (Or 32 oz. water and 4 Tbs. chicken paste), and 1 Tbs. of Cajun seasoning.

7. Add in another 32 oz. of water or enough so that it’s about 2 inches over your meat. At the end, you can add more stock to make it thinner or a can of cream of chicken soup to make it thicker.

8. Bring to a boil.

9. Reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes or until your meats are tender.

10. While simmering, cook your rice.

11. To serve, fill the bottom of the bowl with rice. Ladle a couple scoops of gumbo, and top with a spoonful of your favorite potato salad and a slice of crusty garlic bread.

 

 

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Our Fire

OUR STORY

I always questioned if my faith would waiver in a time of tragedy. I wondered if I would cry out, “Why God?” I wondered if I’d feel abandoned or angry. I wondered if my relationship with God would falter. I wondered if I’d question what I’d poured my heart and soul into since my teenage years.

February 7, 2018 at 5:30 am, I got my answer. I woke up to the familiar ding of a text message from my Mom. I talk to my Mom, who is an hour behind us in Texas, every single day at 8am EST after I drop my kids off at school, so a message this early surely meant something was wrong. As I rolled over to read the message, I smelled the very faint smell of smoke. I looked around my bed, checked all the power strips close to me and then wrote it off as a lingering pit outside or a pair of my husband’s smoky overalls in the bathroom. We own a barbecue business, so I wasn’t immediately alarmed.

Since I was awake, I went ahead and started my morning like I do any other. I got up before the rest of my house. I love being a mom and a wife, but those few minutes without anyone needing anything from me are invaluable to my day. It was cold and raining outside, so I flipped on the heat to get the chill out of the air before the kids’ feet hit those cold wooden floors. I poured myself a cup of coffee that I’d set to brew the night before. I sat down at our island that was the absolute heart of our home to finish up my grocery list and respond to emails. Around 6:45, I poured myself a second cup of coffee and set off down the hallway to start waking kids up.

My boys got up, took showers and were dressed surprisingly early. As they ate breakfast, they perused the book fair pamphlet. Most mornings, I carry my girls to their carseats sleeping, but this morning they both came walking sleepy-headed down the hallway. It was 7:11 when I put my cup of coffee in the microwave to reheat (probably for the 3rd time) and started rummaging through my wallet to scrounge up enough money to send with my boys for the book fair.

That’s when the first smoke detector went off. My parents had visited at Thanksgiving and my Dad had changed every single battery in every single smoke detector, so I knew it wasn’t a low battery. But nothing was cooking and I saw no smoke, so I assumed it was a bug or dust clogging the sensor. I calmy walked through the house….still no smoke. I walked across the living room to the glass French doors that connected to our garage, peered around the corner and saw a wall of flames. Not a flame. Not a smiggen of smoke….a 20 foot tall, 30 foot wide, wall of flames reaching towards the front of the garage where I stood at the doors.

I ran to the back of the house and hollered at my husband, who was in the shower, that the garage was on fire. I grabbed my phone and the kids and gathered them at the front door. I dialed 911. At this point, there was still no smoke in the house. Jay came running out, naked, mind you, to those same glass doors. I got all the kids out of the house and told them to get in my suburban. Thank God, that in that moment, those little boogers actually listened. My boys grabbed my girls and 2 of the dogs and climbed in. I ran around the outside of the garage where our barn was attached to the house. My chicken coop was gone. But somehow all 11 of my chickens were out and huddled as far from the fire as their run would allow. I opened the gate, but they wouldn’t move. The flames were so big and outreaching, I didn’t think I could get to them without getting burned, so I had to leave them.

Around the corner, those same flames were reaching over the heads of my stalled horses. I ran around and opened their gates and shooed them out to the pasture. They ran, hell bent for election, away from the house.

I ran back around to the front of the house, still on the phone with 911. Jay was outside trying to put on a pair of overalls. The kids were in the car. My 5 year old daughter was screaming for her house pig. When I ran out of the house less than 2 minutes before, there was no visible smoke in the house. I ran back in to get her pig. I ran straight to her bed in the laundry room, but couldn’t see my hand in front of me for all the smoke. I patted her bed, felt she wasn’t there and started to run back out. My corgi dog, Ranger, was trying to come in but wouldn’t come to me, so I slammed the back door and ran out the front, closing the door behind me to keep him out.

Jay backed up the suburban as far back in the pasture as he could. Because of all the pits, we knew we had at least 4 propane tanks in danger of exploding. Ranger and our last dog, Cue both came running around the front and we piled them in my car too. Our house pig, the chickens and my son’s barn cat were unaccounted for.

There Jay and I stood, our whole lives in my Suburban, shoeless in the cold rain watching our house burn. Even in that moment, when I had no idea what was to come, I knew it my heart it was going to be ok.

Our neighbors and friends showed up before the fire trucks. My phone started ringing and dinging with texts and messages and calls before I even knew what to say. The look on our friends’ faces seemed to mirror the expression we must have been wearing. They hugged us. They put spare boots on our feet. They stood with us when none of us knew quite what to do.

My horses were running circles around us, and too close to the front gate for my comfort. Without a rope, or a halter, I tried to hold on to one of them. They’re a duo, and I knew if one was calm, the other would be too. Our kids and dogs were still in the suburban. My boys, who are normally rambunctious and antsy, were surprisingly calm and working hard to calm down their sisters. My 5 year old was still crying for her pig, Fiona.

The fire trucks arrived. They lined my driveway. They sank in my front yard. They backed my husband’s truck out of the driveway and our side by side out of the barn; both partially melted already. Every time I turned around, someone else was walking past us, many of whom I didn’t even know. As the firefighters began to put out the fire, our neighbors showed up to take my kids. It had been raining for days, so my suburban sank and was stuck in the mud. Thankfully, those same great neighbors are farmers, and were quick to drive a tractor over to pull us out. Even in that chaos, my kids were tickled pink to be hooked up to a machine that big.

About that time, friends came from the back of my house to announce they’d found Fiona! In true pig fashion, she’d taken advantage of the moments we were all preoccupied with the house burning to gorge herself on the dogs’ food on the back porch. Watching my daughter’s face change from fear and terror to relief and joy to see her pig again was indescribable.

Except for a few poignant moments, the rest of the day is a blur. I remember a fireman bringing out Jay’s bible and Smokin’ F hat that were sitting on his dresser. I remember him saying, “The bibles never burn.” I remember calling my mom. I remember my friend Chris saving all my chickens and my wedding and Aggie rings. I remember finally looking behind me and seeing trucks and tractors and trailers lining my road as far as I could see. I remember the smell. I remember everyone trying to take me away from the house but refusing to leave. I remember crying all day….Not because of my house, but because I couldn’t believe how good people were to us. And I remember someone saying, “You are all ok. You all made it out. This is going to be one huge inconvenience, but you’re going to come out better on the other end.” Even in that moment of chaos, I knew in my heart that was true.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

The next few days were a whirlwind of insurance, red cross, donations, emotions, shopping and phone calls and the reason I’m writing this. Your head may be spinning like mine was. You may not have the support and guidance like we did. And you may be wondering what to do first or next. So here’s a practical list of the days and months following the day we lost our home.

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The Next 1 0 Minutes: The list of things to do when you’re all of a sudden homeless grows exponentially. Paired with the emotions and the exhaustion, it can seem insurmountable. My husband, who handled so much more of the business side of a fire, kept saying, “I just have to focus on what I’m doing in the next 10 minutes.” And when he finished that, he’d focus on the 10 minutes after that. And as the days went forward, it turned to the next hour. And then the next day, until we got to a place where we could stand back and see the bigger picture. Make a list. Tackle it one thing at a time and eventually you’ll be able to cross off more than you add.

The first list: Practically, think first about replacing prescriptions, toiletries, clean pajamas, comfortable clothes and cell phones. You’ll likely be sifting through the remains of your home in the coming days. The foam from the firetrucks and the burnt belongings becomes toxic and can cause skin irritation. Know ahead of time, everything that goes back into the home will come out black and smell terrible. Work gloves, tough hand soap, and rubber boots are invaluable.

Insurance: Read everything. And then re-read it. And then get an opinion from someone not in the same emotional state. The day after our fire, a very nice, older woman from our insurance agency showed up at the house we were staying at. She was comforting and spoke gently which was appreciated. She came with a stack of legal documents to sign and a big, fat blank check. I’m so thankful my husband had the foresight to question every bit of it, while I was gullible and trusting. He refused to sign one of the forms, even upon her threat of not being able to move forward without it. Long story short: That form would have taken some of the liability off of the insurance company. We would have forfeited some of our benefits. And despite what she threatened, they proceeded with our claim and never asked for it again. If nothing else, it set the precedent right up front that we weren’t going to be pushed around. Unfortunately, even in a homeless state, big business is big business. And no matter how sweet their smile, they have a job to do. Pay close attention, listen more than you speak and be aware that they’re not necessarily on your team.

Pictures: Take pictures of EVERYTHING! The longest, most grueling part of losing everything is trying to make a list of contents. For months (and I hear, years) you’ll think of things you used to have. Most of it won’t come to mind until you need it. Those post hole diggers, those nail clippers, that pair of winter boots, those fancy earrings you only wore for special occasions. Take pictures of absolutely every cabinet, every shelf, everything that is left to help you start your list. And then tell all of your friends to do the same as a precaution in the event they ever lose their home to a fire, a flood or a storm.

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Be Patient: No one is going to move as quickly as you’d like them to. The insurance, the contractors, the investigators, the contents crew….it takes lots of time.

Just Say Thank You: Donations poured in from every direction for us. We were so blessed to be surrounded by people who gave and gave and gave. People were so selfless that my husband and I had a hard time accepting such generosity. We felt like we needed to give back and repay the favors. The evening of our fire, our neighbor, Mrs. Becky, looked us right in the eyes and said, “Just say Thank You. Let them bless you.” I don’t think I said Thank You one time without tears in my eyes, but we learned to accept. We remain, to this day, overwhelmed with gratitude for all everyone has done for us. And we now actively look for ways to bless others in similar situations. Don’t rob someone of their blessing of blessing you. Just say thank you.

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Donations: On the other hand, it’s ok to say “No, thank you” sometimes too. So many people have the absolute best of intentions when they rummage through their closets to bring you clothes, but what they fail to realize is you might not have a place to put any of it. We no longer had a garage or a closet or an attic or even a bedroom, so the boxes and bags got overwhelming very quickly. I’m so thankful my parents and friends sorted bag after bag after bag of clothing for us. My husband and I were so busy trying to find a house and a place for my animals and deal with insurance and investigators that we never would have gotten to many of the bags. If someone has offered help however you need it, this is great to delegate out. They can easily weed out sizes and seasons you don’t need and help you get those to a donation center where they will go to someone else in need.

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Deciding What To Save: It’s tempting to scoop up every charred belonging you have with the intention of washing. I had 6 weeks to go through my home before we were able to start demolition. Almost every day, I walked through and pulled something out. My Granny’s china, 2 of my favorite tables, my Mom’s cedar chest. Some of it I was able to bring back to some extent and some of it I wasn’t. And some of it, I haven’t even gone through yet. The further we get from the fire, the less I can tolerate the smell of those few boxes. I feel guilty saying it outloud, but I wish I hadn’t saved some of it. Now I feel responsible for trying to clean it or refinish it, but I also feel so ready to put it all behind me. As hard as it is to let go of familiarity, both sentimentally and structurally, the stuff is not what it once was. It’s ok and even freeing to let it go.

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Perspective is Everything: A week or so after our fire, I found a picture of my girls from February 6, tucked in their beds, with matching pajamas and dolls. At first, it made me sad because it was the last picture we’d taken in our house. And then, I was overtaken with gratitude because it wasn’t the last picture of my girls. It’s so easy to see what was lost. It’s so tempting to focus on how hard life has been since that day. But it’s so much more rewarding to focus on the good. I look back and see how thankful I am my Dad changed all of our smoke detectors just weeks before our fire. I choose to see that my Mom’s uncharacteristic text message got me up and moving earlier than usual that day. I focus of the reminder that people are still good and still have such big hearts. I look back and see that God’s hand was on us long before that smoke detector went off.

View More: http://southernrootsphotographybybrittany.pass.us/frankovich-family--beauty-from-ashes

So did my faith waiver like I feared it might? Not one bit. We live in an imperfect world where bad things happen. But now, more than ever, I know God turns some of our biggest tragedies into some of our biggest blessings. Somehow I feel closer and more in alignment with God’s provision than I ever have. I am sure that we are in the right place doing the right thing. We still have ruts outside our gate from the trucks that skid in to help. And I don’t mind seeing them. Because every day that I pass them, I’m reminded how many people came to help us. I’m reminded how good people really are. And I’m reminded that God wasn’t surprised when our smoke alarms went off. He’d prepared us and the people around us long before we had any idea what was fixing to happen. I literally wake up every morning now thinking, “I can’t wait to see what God’s going to do today.”

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Is it really God’s plan? 

In times of tragedy, I always hear people say things like, “It’s all part of God’s plan” or “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” While that all may bring a sense of momentary comfort, I just don’t believe that’s true. See, God doesn’t rule this world we live in, so how then can we assume all that happens is his plan? How can we assume all that we are “given” is from above?  
The God I know wouldn’t purposefully plan children dying of cancer, hurricanes wiping out entire states, gangsters doing drive bys or soldiers having to leave families to defend our country. The God I know doesn’t condone rape or abuse or bullying. The God I know doesn’t plan harm on any of us any more than a mother would plan on her child. When Eve chose to eat the apple, she let sin into God’s perfect world. That sin brings the evil and the pain and the hurt that we all face daily in some form or fashion. That sin is the reason there are car accidents and drownings and murders and all of the other terrible circumstances we encounter. That sin is why we live in an imperfect world.

But! What I do believe is that God can take what the devil meant for bad and turn it to good. I believe if we lean on Him through absolutely unbearable and stressful situations, He’ll carry us through, and bring us out on the other side….sometimes with scars but always in triumph. He gives us peace in the turmoil and joy in the fire. While that may not change the outcome of a situation, it will change the way we come out of it.  

So when something goes wrong, start looking around for God to show out. I think that’s where we really see Jesus. His unmistakable peace and unexplainable joy will let you know that He may not have planned it, but He will bring you through it. He’ll send people. He’ll give you rest. He’ll help you smile when you want to cry. He’ll let you know he’s still here. ❤️

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Like Bluebonnets in the Spring

wagonI’ve never been afraid of getting older. 30 came and went, and I honestly forget regularly if I’m 31 or 32….or 33? I loved being in Aggieland, but was excited to graduate, too. I enjoyed a career, but now love staying home with our babies.   Not that any stage of life is without its difficulties, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of them. I’ve never looked back and wondered where the heck the time went.

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And then came Gentry. My fourth baby. My fourth and final baby. I laid eyes on that gorgeous 8 lb 5 oz of perfection and all of a sudden, I’m panicked. I can’t believe I will never create another life. I can’t believe another heart will never beat in my belly or live because I live. It’s completely overwhelming to me that this stage of my life is over with. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a whole slew of reasons why 4 is our number….from my refusal to drive anything bigger than my Suburban to my fear of not having enough attention to go around. Not to mention, I’d sure like my husband to be able to retire before he’s 95. I’m excited about the soccer games and gymnastics and hunting and fishing that is to come as the kids grow, but all of a sudden, I realize it won’t be like this forever.

paisleyThey’re growing up right in front of my eyes. My once helpless babies are starting to think and act on their own. And sooner than later, I won’t have to remind anyone to get their shoes or carry a change of clothes in my Mary Poppins bag. Someday, Nerf guns and cartoon pajamas won’t solve all the world’s problems. The little humans that right now think I hung the moon will all of a sudden know everything and be embarrassed when I kiss them in front of their friends. (But don’t you think for a second that will keep me from doing it!) And then before I know it, my Suburban will have empty back seats and I won’t be rushing to baseball or softball practice.

IMG_2065For the first time in my life, I see how fast time really is passing by. I see how much has changed in the 8 years since I became a Mama and how much will change in the next 8 years. I see how much I don’t want to miss and what I want to do better. I’m less focused on this post-partum belly this go round and more focused on enjoying this tiny, perfect, God-given creation. I’m looking my kids in the eyes more and at my cell phone screen less. I’m going to have more fun and clean less. And on the days, I get stressed and I’m tired and I’m tempted to duct tape one…or all….of them to the wall (ok, not really…but sort of), I’m going to reread this post to remind myself that nothing is more important than my family.

The other side of this is that one day, not too far down the road, it will just be Jay and me. We won’t have all the distractions and the kid-centered schedules. We’ll have grown up conversations without interruptions. lincolnWe’ll go to quiet restaurants where no one spills and travel whenever we want. We might even sleep in again someday! So it’s also a huge reminder to me, that amidst all the outpouring of love for my babies, it’s so important to simultaneously nourish my marriage.   It’s important to set aside the chaos and carve out some time just for us. It’s important to listen, to really listen, to my husband when he tells me about his day and to tell him about mine. That way, when we’re 85 and rocking next to eachother on the front porch, we still know one another. It’s important that we have fun together and enjoy one another’s company. Just as it’s important that when I’m doling out bedtime kisses every night, I make sure he gets one too. We’ve created this whole crazy, chaotic, beautiful life that we love, and it’s vital we remain partners through it all.

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At the end of the day, we’ll always be our kids’ Mama and Daddy, but our job as a parents is to work ourselves right out of positions that we love.  Aaron Watson said it just right….”Hold ‘em tender, hold ‘em tight.  Pray every morning, day and night that God will help you raise them right. And don’t you blink…because like bluebonnets in the spring, we’re only here for a little while. It’s beautiful and bittersweet, so make the most of every mile.  Pack light and love heavy, give it all your heart and soul, so in the end, you won’t regret one thing. Life is like bluebonnets in the spring.”

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My First Ballot

 

Confession: I am 33 years old, I love all things red, white and blue, and today was my first time ever in a voting booth.  And I’d be lying if I didn’t also confess I was slightly disappointed when Lee Greenwood wasn’t playing in the community center while I voted.  But that’s beside the point.

In 2005, I had the privilege of working in Washington, D.C. right in the heart of our nation. I loved every second of the fast pace and rubbing elbows with such “important” people. There’s a constant energy on Capitol Hill that’s intoxicating and irresistible.

But what I didn’t love was the small glimpse of corruption I witnessed first hand. I saw representatives’ votes swayed with gestures as small as boxes of candy bars. There were almost always 2 truths….the real truth and then some sort of vague, whitewashed truth the constituents were told. Frankly, it was enough to make me lose hope in our system.

While I love our great nation, I started to see that politics is really nothing more than the culmination of thousands of handshake deals made to benefit and prolong political careers. I’ve never voted because I honestly didn’t see the point. Whoever was elected wouldn’t really represent me or be my voice in Congress like they are supposed to be anyway.

But this year I feel differently. It’s no secret we’re on the Trump train; not because he’s perfect or even close, but because he’s not a politician. It’s that simple.  I haven’t been around just a whole ton of billionaires, so I can’t attest to their business practices. But I have seen the way many career politicians operate, and I know its certainly not how our forefathers intended our country to be run.  I may not even like the guy on a personal level, but at least I know where he stands.  And after my short time in D.C., I can say, that alone would be a breath of fresh air in our political system!

There will always be corruption….that’s the nature of the beast. But Trump doesn’t need anything from anyone. He has no reason to be swayed based on personal favors or dollar signs. I’d like to think he will demand transparency from the top down; while we demand to be heard from the bottom up. And we’ll slowly eat away at all of that Capitol Hill nonsense.  At the end of the day, I’ll take rude, arrogant and uncouth over dishonest, phony and groomed any day of the week.

So today, Trump’s got my first vote.

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New Years 2017

I feel like I should have some grand epiphany going into a new year; like some huge plan for my existence starting tomorrow.  But I don’t.  I’m not even big on resolutions.  Because, if I’m being honest, I know I won’t stick to something I feel pressured into.  I’m a rebel like that, I guess.  And New Years resolutions feel like just that; some enormous pressure to change my path.

Honestly, though, I like the path I’m on.  Sure, I’d change some minor things, but overall, I’m happy with my life, my family, and my little farm.   So, I’m sitting down writing, not resolutions per say, but the the top 10 choices I make daily that I’m becoming increasingly aware of.

1.  I choose to be real on social media. One of my most favorite messages to receive after I post a video or a blog post is that I make other moms feel normal. Because isn’t it a relief to feel like we’re not alone?!? If there’s a woman out there that’s always on time, in stilettos, with full make-up, who does intricate Pinterest projects with her kids; who never has that screaming kid at wal-mart, never burns a meal, and never forgets a homework assignment, I don’t know her (and I might call BS on her if I did!) I know I’m certainly not her! And I won’t pretend to be. It gives me greater joy to make another woman feel normal than it would to try make make myself look invincible.

2.  I refuse to “keep up with the Joneses.”    I buy most of my kids clothes at wal-mart *gasp* and sneak in off-brand cereal.  I LOVE my stained, missing knobs, broken DVD player Suburban and have no intentions of trading her in for a newer, prettier model.   Now, don’t get me wrong, I like nice stuff, but I’m not trying to impress or outdo my fellow moms out there with a name brand….well, anything.

3.  I choose to distance myself from dramatic people.  Frankly, I have enough crazy under my own roof to try and tame yours too.  It’s taken me 34 years to recognize the difference between a friend looking for genuine help to restore peace to their home….and someone looking to rally the troops, to elicit pity and to stir the pot.  I choose to distance myself from the latter, and instead seek out the peacemakers; the ones who will challenge me to be better when I’m wrong and expect me to do the same for them.  These people are hard to find!  But they make life better!

4.  I no longer feel guilty for scheduling some Me time.  It is vital to my health, my well-being, and my role as a Wife and a Mom.  There’s a reason the airlines tell you in case of emergency to secure you own air mask first.  I won’t have anything to give if I don’t take time to replenish.

5.  I am that annoying mom that brings homemade treats to every school party.  Because I genuinely love to.  Because food is my love language.  But I absolutely do not judge the mom (or dad!) that only had time to grab yesterday’s donuts from the gas station on the way to school.  Because who cares?!?  My part is no more impressive than her part.  And I hope that feeling is mutual on days when I walk in with dirty, mismatched kids.  We, as parents, should function as a team; not as competitors.  It really takes a village, folks.

6.  I need a finished product at least every couple of days to revive my sanity.  As a stay at home mom, I need; not want; need a finished product.  Laundry will be there tomorrow. The floors will be as dirty tomorrow as they were today before I mopped them.  For me, it’s the signs I paint and projects I do.  Whatever it is for you, do it!  Paint something.  Bake something.  Build something.  For the love of all things repetitive, I have to end the day checking something off my list.

7.  I choose to be happy now.  Not when I lose a few pounds.  Not when I bring home more money.  Not when my kids are old enough to keep the house cleaner.  Right now.  Because if none of those things ever happened, I would still have lived a blessed, fulfilled life.  It really is so much about perspective.  Audrey Hepburn was oh, so correct when she said, “Happiest girls are the prettiest girls.”  A genuine smile radiates and attracts people.  No amount of make up, nice clothes, or accomplisments can match that.

8.  I choose to laugh lots and even more when things get hard.  In our house, with 4 young kids, horses, chickens, dogs, cats and sometimes pigs…there’s a lot of room for stuff to go wrong.  And it does so often.   If I let every little mishap get me angry or upset, I’d be a miserable sad sack.  The best thing I can do instead is giggle, put on my big girl panties, deal with it, and then usually make a funny post on Facebook about it, so others can laugh with me.

9.  I learned a long time ago to take the “quit” out of my vocabulary.  Quit, divorce, waste, …they’re not options in my house or my marriage.  I do not like my husband some days.  Heck, I don’t like myself some days.  And I’m sure that feeling is mutual.  But I never threaten to leave or give up.  It’s simply not an option.  There’s a profound strength that comes from figuring out a way around the problem and a genuine comfort that comes from knowing no matter how mad I am today, neither of us is going anywhere.  Because our marriage and our family….we’re worth fighting for.

10.  I choose to lift up people around me.  Whether it be supporting a local business or just pumping up that potato salad someone brought to a party.  I choose to tell strangers in the store that I love their sweater or their haircut.  I choose to smile empatheticly at the mom who just looks wore out because I’ve been there!  Write happy birthday on Facebook walls, pay for the coffee behind me in the drive thru when I can, leave a kind note for a waitress.  I was blessed this year by several random acts of kindness.  Speaking from experience, sometimes the smallest gesture, even from a stranger, can be the grandest pick-me-up.

So there it is.  May your 2017 be full of lots of love, kindness and grace.  May your mishaps lead to good stories and your failures encourage others. May God place people in your life that delicately challenge you while simultaneously making you feel normal.  Happy New Year!!