What I Learned in February

In case you haven't noticed, I've been struggling to find my voice here lately outside of #morningrun. I'm not sure why, though I do have some hunches. I love my blog, so I'm tying to push through and find my voice again, or perhaps, to find a new voice. Emily, at Chatting at the Sky, has invited readers to share what they learned in February.

That seems like a great way to begin chatting again.

1. I learned that I am happier when I begin my day outdoors. (Apparently this is a lesson I need to learn over and over again.) I really, really  miss my summer walks and runs. I've tried to be good about getting to the gym, but it's a lot more complicated than rolling out of bed and hitting the trails right outside my door. It's trickier when I need to figure in transit time and traffic and such and it's also not nearly as motivating to run on a treadmill. I love the outdoors and I thought that I could walk or run outside as much as I had in the summer. But ice. And subzero wind chills. So, no. When I do get out there, I've been listening to The Fringe Hours. It's good to be given permission for self-care and this book definitely does that! I hope to chat with you more about it when the needle & thREAD feature makes its return. 

2. Mike has been traveling a lot lately. We sat down Sunday afternoon, as the ice did its thing outside and we mapped out the spring. I learned it looks daunting.  I think I heard him hyperventilating. We have lots of kids at an active stage of life and he is highly sought after in Connecticut and DC and Florida. Much juggling of the calendar and some frequent flier miles to bank. Ours was a long distance relationship when we were in college. Little did I know that some of those relationship skills would be refined over the course of our lifetime. I'm still learning.

3. I have a real life friend who will sit with my girls while they throw up. That is one "for real" friend! Her presence in my very messy house with my very messy girls early on a Sunday was necessitated by the fact that I also have a friend who will scoop my son off a soccer field (which he has made a bloody mess) and hurry him to the ER so that a plastic surgeon can stitch his cheek back together. Thirty-seven stitches later, we learned that Stephen's soccer team is made of people who don't flinch and don't turn the other way; they gather and support. That was a hard, hard week. Mike was gone. All the girls were extremely sick. Stephen was a bit of a mess. I also learned that...

4. My orthodontist and pediatrician are pretty much the best. My orthodontist saw pictures of Stephen on social media and texted me immediately to tell me he wanted to see him. Upon close (and very gentle) inspection, we learned that the permanent retainer cemented to the back of his teeth saved his teeth. It's definitely taken a good knock but it held and though the teeth were knocked around, they were braced. So, yay! My pediatrician also wanted to see Stephen right away. He hung with us closely through the weeks of concussion evaluation, alternating between concern for Stephen and concern for Mary Beth, who has caught one nasty infection after another. Lesson there: the first year of teaching in an early childhood setting will yield all kinds of germ exposure, especially if you've never gone to school. Poor girl. When I'm flying solo, and everyone seems to be super needy at the same time, it's good to know that the people we've chosen for health care are invested in us. (<--absolutely NOT a paid promotion.)

5. One skill that Mike and I have gotten much better at in the last couple years is making time for focused attention with each other. We really, really benefit from one-on-one, totally uninterrupted time. And we are learning to look for the small pocket of time, call in our resources, and seize the opportunity. We launched February by practicing this strategy really well. Through some ridiculous logistical gymnastics, Mike and I were able to get away for about 24 hours. We went to Charlottesville to see the soccer team honored for their NCAA championship at a UVa basketball game. We stopped at JMU to pick up Christian on our way, so that he could hang out with Paddy. The game was so much fun--crazy electric atmosphere of ESPN Game Day in a place filled with students fired up about an unbeaten season. 

We left at halftime. It wasn't that we don't both love college basketball. It was more about the fact that we hadn't seen each other in over a week and we were staying at my folks' house and they weren't home. The thought of an entire evening with no interruptions and no obligations other than each other? Opportunity seized. Such a great night and so nice to wake early on Sunday, go to Mass alone together, and gather the boys so that we could prop them up and feed them breakfast. (They'd clearly enjoyed their Saturday night, too.)

6. I learned that Liberty University offers an excellent online education. Mary Beth is fully enrolled this semester. It's been a challenge for both of us as she learns to navigate the demands of college and the nuances of online education (and a couple of jobs). What she is being offered is so much better than the dual enrollment experiences the boys had at community college for their senior years in high school that I'm peaceful about the higher price tag. 

7. My teen boys have pretty good taste in music. I let them man the radio buttons to and from soccer and I've added to my repertoire lately. Upon their recommendation, I've become a fan of Ed Sheeran and Andy Grammer. It's a little disconcerting when my six-year-old belts out "Honey, I'm Good" on endless repeat, but I've learned that the the culture infiltrates the childhoods of kids #7, #8, and #9 and we kind of have to roll with that. The video is pretty darn cute, by the way.

8. Soccer can and will be played year 'round, regardless of the weather. I have now witnessed soccer when the real temperature is 7 degrees and the wind chill is hovering around zero. I've watched how the artificial turf reacts to an inch or so of sleet and how 14-year-old boys think playing in that is about the most fun you can have in February. And I've seriously considered one of these. And a space heater. 


I've talked about some of these things and some more significant life lessons over at Mercy Found Me. Jacque Watkins is such a good listener! And her blog is just so great--indulge in a little reading over there if you have a few moments. 

What have you learned lately?


Thanks, Mom.

Stephen celebrated a birthday last weekend. It did not go unheralded in our house, but it did get delayed online. I am determined to guard my time from internet distractions. Even on birthdays--especially on birthdays. 

There was Pioneer Woman's French Toast Casserole in bed. And there was soccer with his buddies. There were cheesy tater tots for lunch. His biggest brother took him to dinner and a movie at the Alamo. All was good. And then, of course, there was the Super Bowl. This is our Super Baby, the boy who always celebrates around the Super Bowl. Always will. And it's just so perfect for him.

It wasn't a perfect year. Fourteen never is. Fourteen is hard work for my boys. Stephen is my fourth boy so I didn't freak out very much the way I did with the first three. I just held on tight and prayed that when the storm passed we'd both be better for having lived through it. And it did. And we are.

Stephen's a great kid. He's the most studious of the bunch of them, eager to learn and disciplined enough to thrive in a relaxed environment. He's ever the philosopher, a great lover of deep conversations about literature and theology. Yet, he still insists we call him Superman, so there's little doubt that, despite his love of logic, he's got quite the imagination. 

There is something else about Stephen: he notices. And he is grateful. No matter the storm of the day, no matter how many times we butt heads, Stephen is the child who, without fail, will turn to me as we pull up in the driveway after driving to and from practice and say, "Thank you, Mom."

Every. Single. Time.

And I am so, so grateful that he is grateful, that he notices, that he knows that this soccer mom gig is not for the faint of heart, that he appreciates the sacrifice. 

I've often wondered if his godfather whispered to him one day that "thank you"was a balm to a soccer mom's heart. Or maybe the idea was prompted by the Holy Spirit. I don't know. I just know that this boy, throughout all the tumult that was early adolescence, was always deep-down grateful. And he made it a point to say so. Some days, those words were bright spots of hope on an otherwise stormy journey. 

Every four years, my Super Bowl baby sees his birthday as a segue to two glorious weeks of Olympic fun in this house. In a family of athletes, where dad goes to work every day at ESPN and  people grow up to be sports media big shots, the Olympics are a Big Deal. Not a World Cup status big deal, but a big deal nonetheless. Nick will get all up in the stats and Stephen will make a case for staying up late. The girls will all want to be figure skaters and it will be a grand celebration.

 I'll watch the moms in the stands.

I'll have a pretty good sense of the time and energy and emotion and money invested in those few moments of competition. And I will hope that at the end of their long days, all along the way, they had a kid like Stephen, who never, ever forgot to say, "Thanks, Mom."

Here's a little Olympic Mom Mush to get the party started. 

Excuse the mess, we live here.














That was one very intense weekend. I hit the gym at 7 AM Saturday because I knew that if I didn't go then, I'd miss working out the whole weekend. Truth be told, I'd planned to do a video with the little girls late Sunday, but by the time Sunday evening arrived I was bone tired. 

Stephen and Nick both had soccer tournaments in Arlington. That's about an hour away. It was 26 degrees outside (I'm not exagerrating). Mike did Saturday Soccer and I did dance. I also cooked and cleaned and cleaned and cooked. After a full day of both dance and soccer, we went to Mass and then to basketball.

Christian has long been the "little boys' " basketball coach. Since they were in the second grade, they have played on teams with a core cluster of great kids from great families. Some of those boys are six feet tall now. A couple of seasons, Christian even coached GIRLS, just so Mary Beth could claim her brother as a coach. He's easily the winningest coach in our league's history. He wasn't going to coach this year.

But our friend Steve, wise man that he is, made an offer he couldn't refuse. Steve would take a team, do all the executive duties that Christian hates, and let Christian show up and sprinkle coaching magic. Nick would "play up" two years and be on the the team. Throw in Steve's son, Joe, to play with them and those little brothers wouldn't let Christian turn it down. Perfect coaches. Who could ask for more?

Me. Though I didn't have to ask. With Steve comes Jenn. My boys first told me Jenn would be my friend. The boys had played together for years, but I was usually busy in the stands with babies and toddlers. I nodded and smiled at other moms, but that's about it. Two years ago, a couple of weeks after Ann visited, Stephen and Nick came home from practice and said, "You should be friends with Mrs. Skinner, Mom. She was sitting in the bleachers reading Ann's book during practice tonight." Indeed. I should. And I did. And Jenn has become one of Christian's greatest prayer warriors. She's the go-to text I write when I'm worried. And she's the fun friend at every single basketball game.

So, Saturday was the last game. Eighth grade championship. Undefeated season. There's no Tebow Law in Virginia. The rest of the team will go on to play in high school. Stephen cannot. My boys had a huge cheering section. Both of Stephen's godparents and their families came. Lots of Christian's friends came. I was made aware of a gaggle of eighth grade girls who are Superman fans;-). And all of Mike's side of the family was there.

They won. Jenn and I cried. It was awesome. And late. Well on the way to 11:00 when I rolled them all into bed.

We got up for soccer at 6AM. Mary Beth was dispatched to a dance intensive for the day. I dropped Mike at the airport on the way to soccer. He went to Miami. (Have I mentioned the wind chill at home yet?) Nick played first. I huddled under my friend Robin's blanket and wore a motley collection of coats my children had left in the car. I might have even pulled on a pair of heretofore balled up socks over my own and under my boots. Robin has been in California for five weeks. We had a lot of catching up to do inside that blanket. Friends in the bleachers. I'm very grateful for them.

Nick went home with Robin and Stephen and I had lunch. Then we went to Stephen's game. His ankle was swollen up like a basketball. He clearly wasn't going to play. So there we were, an hour from home, in freezing weather, and he was going to spend the hour of warmups just watching and then ninety minutes of game time sitting on the bench. That bench? It was a two minute drive from my friend Linda's house. So I called her. And two minutes later, I was sitting on her couch with my knitting and hot tea. We talked food and kids and God for more than two hours! Then Robin dropped Nick off, we collected Stephen, and headed home. The boys slept hard in the car all the way home.


We had takeout Pho to celebrate the anniversary of Stephen's baptism, got Mary Beth off to youth group, and collapsed into bed. 

I got up this morning and my house looked like a stuff bomb had gone off. When I left before dawn on Sunday morning, I did so knowing that my least tidy children were going to be home together all day. I left them a list. Ahem.

So, yeah, stuff bomb. 

As I started picking things up and trying to make tidy before leaving for the gym this morning, a familiar despair swept over me. Monday morning and already behind the 8 ball. I remember a comment made to me the day after the wedding, after I had finished showing someone all our renovations. She said, "Now that you finally have it all clean and nice and pulled together, maybe you can keep it this way this time." I know she meant no harm. But she had never before seen my house, nor had she seen the previous one. Her comments made it clear that someone had told her that my house was not usually House Beautiful. I was tired and the comments cut me to the quick. 

Mike and I have had several big talks about it since then. So have Linda and I. And they both said the same thing--these two people who know me better than anyone else. They said that I sacrifice appearances for relationships. And I do. I'm intentional about it. I know the hurt that happens when you get it reversed and sacrifice relationships for appearances.

I spent the weekend doing the important things: with my kids and my husband and my extended family, with Jesus, with my friends, even. God provided ample time for the important things. He even arranged for tea, knitting and a heart-to-heart some place warm!

My house looks like a stuff bomb went off. That's unfortunate. I wish the children left at home had been more considerate and, well, tidier and more industrious. But things are just things and we'll get it together today some time, God willing.

Mary Beth saw a magnet the other day that I wish she'd bought. It said, "Pardon the mess; we live here." Yes, and we love here, too. We are careful stewards who put people first and sometimes that doesn't look like House Beautfiul. 

How about a recipe? I promised this to some folks on Instagram. It's a cold noodle salad that is good and hearty enough for a main dish, but makes an awesome side dish, too. I'm posting cold noodle salad recipes with a snow storm predicted. What can I say? My heart's in Miami...


(Feeds 12--feel free to cut it in half.)

The Marinade

1/2 cup olive oil

1/3 cup dark sesame oil

1 cup wheat-free soy sauce

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar

scant 1/2 cup dark brown sugar

1 Tbs salt (or less)

4 teaspoon chili oil

2 Tbs minced fresh ginger

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1/2 cup chopped cilantro or Italian parsley, as desired


The Noodles and Veggies

2 pounds asparagus, trimmed and sliced on the diagonal

1 head of red cabbage, sliced

two sweet peppers, sliced and roasted (these are stashed in my fridge, thanks to salad every day prep)

2 pounds Tinkyada brown rice pasta (spaghetti style)

two bunches scallions, including firm greens, thinkly sliced

1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds

Mix the marinade ingredients together, stirring to dissolve the sugar.

  • Bring a  large pot of water to boil. 
  • Add salt and asparagus. 
  • Cook for just a few minutes until bright green. (I lower my veggies into the water in a colander and then pull them out.)
  • Rinse the asparagus under cold water. Shake the excess water out of the colander and put the asparagus in a large pasta bowl.
  • Using the same boiling water, repeat the process for the cabbage. Just a couple minutes and then a quick rinse and into the pasta bowl.
  • Boil the noodles in the same water. It's going to be a little purple because of the cabbage, but that's okay. Follow package directions to get them tender but not mushy. 
  • Drain and rinse the noodles.
  • Add the noodles to the asparagus and cabbage and add the roasted peppers.
  • Toss it all with the marinade and most of the scallions and most of the sesame seeds.
  • Before serving, sprinkle the rest of the scallions and sesame seeds on top.

You can shake up the veggies in this and use whatever suits you. Play with your food!

(adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone)