Author Archives: Julie

Changing the Narrative

Julie, Hi!

Her smiling face sits down across from me in the coffee shop. She wears a colorful print top in shades of blue tied with a loose bow at the scooped neckline. A dragonfly pendant accents the look. With all of this loveliness, it is her smile that draws me in, open and kind.

You’re hard at work!

Actually I am attempting to work, but I am not succeeding. Not yet, anyway. I am using a window of time in between band camp drop off at 7:45 and a 9:00 snack help shift to collect my thoughts. I say as much as I close notebook and planner, creating more room on the surface of the small table for two.

I’m trying to atone for all the years I couldn’t help when my older kids were in band and I was home with the littles.

I think you need to change that narrative.

Her smile remains open and kind, but her eyes pierce through to my soul. I steadily continue engagement, feeling the pain of that truth landing somewhere deep. Laughingly I agree, trying to explain how I am somewhat kidding.

No, I’ve heard you speak that way before. I think it really needs to be kinder. We do what we can. The guilt is thick there.

In two minutes she has heard my sound bite and nailed it to the point that tears come to my eyes as the conversation comes to mind. I am reminded of why I love this woman and am grateful for her presence in my life whenever our paths intersect.

She is on her way to work, waiting for coffee to brew, a treat to herself on this first day back. We have precious few minutes to connect, but they go deep and real. Quick summer updates from each of us follow until I see her tall to-go cup placed on the counter by the barista and know our time is up.

She rises to collect her order and continue moving through her day. Pushing open the coffee shop door, she turns and says, Give the band kids love from this mama.

We do what we can when we can. Today that is what I will do.

Bridal Shower Grace

Do you want to lead grace before lunch next Sunday for the shower?

Yes. I would be honored. Would love to pray a blessing over the beautiful bride-to-be and the occasion.

It took courage for me to respond to this text exchange in the affirmative. My mind began processing what I wanted to say in front of many women I did not know and several that knew me all too well.

The morning of the shower, after coffee and quiche, when the first wave of family had left to finish preparations and decorations, I sat in my room in the quiet. Pulling out Bible and prayer notebook, I looked at the day’s reading.

I Thessalonians was on the agenda. I read.

But let us who live in the light be clearheaded, protected by the armor of faith and love, wearing as our helmet the confidence of our salvation.
1 Thessalonians 5:8, NLT

These words anchored me and reminded me that in my nervous insecurity, the only armor I needed was faith and love, not distance and defense. When my thoughts wandered to places of fear and inadequacy I could stand in the confidence of my salvation and allow that to be a helmet to protect my thoughts.

I journaled a prayer into my notebook which became the basis for the bridal shower grace.

I did not write the actual blessing out, and it was not recorded in real time, but these words came to my heart and were written down that morning as I pondered what to say.

Jesus,

Thank you.
You have brought us to this place, and we are grateful. Bless those who have poured into Dana, poured into this day. The overflow of love from her is a testimony to the love that fills this room.
Thank you.
Thank you that we are not left to do life alone. Thank you for Caleb and Dana’s people. Thank you that you nourish our hearts with faith and love as you nourish our bodies with food.
Bless this space, these people, this food. Thank you for those who have prepared it and who serve us today. May we be strengthened in faith, hope, and confidence to serve one another. And be with our  people not here who have enabled us to share this joy together. What a gift we have been given.
It’s all grace.

Amen

Canoes

We left New Jersey late Sunday afternoon with hugs and goodbyes and a bag of baked potatoes. While the women were at The River House celebrating the bride, the men were home grilling steaks with the groom.

Would your family eat these potatoes?

There was a tray of foil-wrapped potatoes that had been baked and then overlooked. My mind immediately went to a meal I could prepare with them. I am always grateful for a gift of food, especially at the end of a full weekend when I am returning home after a 5 hour drive to a fridge with sketchy contents.

A bag of New Jersey baked potatoes traveled home with us. I used them for supper last night in the form of Canoes, which is our version of twice-baked potatoes.

Here is the recipe:

Canoes
Baked Potatoes

Butter
Sour Cream
Milk
Cooked bacon
Shredded Cheese
Green onions or garden chives

The proportions, and amounts are based on the number of potatoes being prepared. I don’t follow direct measurements I just put everything into the Kitchen-Aid and mix it together until it looks creamy and delicious. The ingredients can be adjusted based on taste preferences and fridge contents. It is a forgiving, flexible recipe.

Slice potatoes in half and scoop out the middles. Put the insides in a mixing bowl and the skins on a cookie sheet (like canoes).

Add a bit of softened butter and sour cream to the bowl and mix well.

Begin adding milk until desired consistency (like making mashed potatoes).

Chop the cooked bacon into bits (or just use bacon bits if you have them). Stir the bacon into the potato mixture.

Add the shredded cheese, saving some to sprinkle on top.

Season as desired (salt/pepper/chopped green onion or chives).

If you have people who don’t like onions, then scoop out some filling into the potato skin canoes before adding onions to the rest.

Sprinkle the tops with cheese. Sprinkle a bit of chopped onions or chives over the ones that contain onions to mark them from those that don’t.

Bake in a 375 degree oven for 10-15 minutes until everything is heated through and the cheese is melted. You may need to adjust the time or temperature for your oven.

Enjoy!

This is a delicious summer recipe. I served it last night with sliced watermelon, a salad filled with goodness from our garden, a heart full of thankfulness for daily provision and happy memories of a special weekend.

Mother of the Groom

How am I the mother of the groom? How did this happen?

Tears streamed down my face and sobs filled my chest as I curled on the bed in the guest bedroom of my soon-to-be daughter-in-law’s childhood home. Her parents had graciously invited our family to stay with them for bridal shower weekend. Here we were.

It was late. I was tired.

We arrived Saturday evening in time for appetizers and dinner. Wine flowed freely into my glass. The large, gracious house was filled to the brim with family and bridesmaids, all converging to celebrate the beautiful bride-to-be at her shower the following day.

Experiencing Dana’s family space made me appreciate even more all of the times she had stayed in ours. There was a clear difference in size, decor, and number of people, yet she always was gracious about our accommodations when she visited us.

I did my best to avoid comparing and conjuring up stories of what everyone thought of us. This time was to celebrate the woman my son loves with his other family who loves him well. I was grateful to have a weekend of shared space together.

The 321 mile drive from Virginia to New Jersey was worth it, especially since all of my children can now tend their own rest area needs. In an act of brilliance my husband handed each passenger $5 at the beginning of the trip for any necessaries they may require along the way.

When we first met Dana, the not-so-little-anymores were 8, 6, 5, and 3. Now they are 15, 13, 12, and 10. They are all as tall as her or taller. I was struck by that reality as we emerged from the cramped mini van and crowded into the backyard. There were all of these big people. They were mine!

Gathering a plate of brisket, corn, and potato salad, I headed to the dining room where bridesmaids were seated around the table. Listening to their laughter and conversation took me to a young place inside. How could I be the mother of the groom when I felt younger than these women surrounding me? Where did time go?

This feeling is what followed me upstairs to bed that evening. It carried me into the space where my daughters were staying, Dana’s childhood room. A collection of Snowbabies lined a high shelf while her American Girl Dolls rested on another. A shelf of books caught my eye as did the bulletin board full of pictures, my son with her in many of them at various stages from ages 17-24.

All this is what primed my heart for the tears that began to flow, first in the presence of my teenage daughter standing beside me in the room, then with my husband comforting me in ours. Both offered kind space for my feelings that felt so big.*

I woke to coffee, quiche, and preparation for celebration. The bridal shower was beautiful. The joy was real. It followed my night of weeping.

I am here.

It happened because of grace.

*Edited to note that the flowing tears were only from me and not from said daughter and husband. They just kindly did not judge.

Answering Questions

How are you doing with your word? It’s imagine, right? How are you imagining?

What are you doing just for you this summer?

Just wanted to pop in and say I’ve missed your words . . . I imagine it’s reflective of the way your summer is going.

These questions and comments were posed to me this month at separate times by separate friends. I am usually the one asking questions and noticing things, so they caught me off guard. My answers were honestly vague, as I have not felt imaginative, nor do I have a clear image of what I am doing just for me.

Reading.

I have been reading more books, gathering up the words.

Yoga.

I have been practicing yoga most days, connecting body with breath.

Household arranging.

I have been moving things around, decluttering, sorting, ordering the externals.

These were my answers.

This summer finds me caring for those in my home and adjusting to my husband’s new work schedule and routine. When he shared his one month evaluation, I joked that I should have a one month evaluation, as well, to see how I am handling the change.

Summer naturally brings a different rhythm and routine to our home. This summer was no exception. There was much coming and going of children throughout June and July, with all of us finally together again on July 19.

Today I engaged my youngest daughters in painting. We sat at the dining table choosing colors for our palettes and brushing paint on paper. We found pictures to add. I tried to spark imagination, theirs and mine.

Afterwards, I gathered our palettes for a picture to capture the moment. Our colors tell a story of their own. Our works in progress are uniquely us.

To answer the questions, both spoken and not, I am caring intently for those in my home. I am having talks at bedtime and during breakfasts at favorite haunts. I am walking with and hearing hearts. I am meeting my own for coffee.

I sit in a new physical space while writing this. It is one I created this summer. It is a place I have imagined for years that has finally become a reality. Of course there are the unimagined parts, as well, such as the warbling of birds and the jumping of a dog. It reminds me that imagination comes to fruition with its own dose of reality.

I am living in reality, embracing the daily, walking by faith. Living in the shadow of the question. Always.

Thank’s for asking!

Exhaling

I think I’ve been holding my breath this week. I feel it as I sit on the balcony of our vacation unit and a giant exhale escapes me.

It’s a breezy, cool morning, unlike others where I have had to ration time outside as the sun rose and baked down on our east-facing balcony. Golf carts roll past in a steady rhythm. Voices call to one another on the course.

Inside is shalom as daughters continue a game of Dogopoly around the table. I love the banter I hear. Even their conflicts offer me an opportunity to practice not mine.

One daughter allows me to play with her hair. She doesn’t yell or tug away but indulges my mama instinct and desire to remember doing the hair of another daughter, now an adult.

I am taken back, waaaay back, to a video of The Fox and the Hound and one chance to get the hair of a three year old styled right.

I am taken to mornings before high school and being asked to braid another daughter’s hair before the bus arrives. I held my breath entirely through what felt like my one chance to get it right and earn her favor.

Maybe that is also part of the exhaling. There’s not only one chance. I don’t have to get it right. There’s nothing to earn.

Daughter isn’t sure what she thinks, but she doesn’t tear it out. It’s a different look, and aren’t vacations for doing things differently? I thank her for the gift of letting me play with the sacred space of her hair.

Brushing it back out, returning to normal, we laugh at the goodness and fun of the change. In the midst there is tension over the game and the plan for today, and I pivot away using my not mine skills.

Inhaling. Exhaling.

This season is different. A working vacation. We are close enough to keep up with responsibilities while far enough to breathe and rest.

I’m signing off to engage what remains of the day. There are things that I hope for and those that will come. As long as I keep breathing I can take it in stride.

Inhaling. Exhaling. Then exhaling again.

Into the Woods

The hike began with micromanagement, a thing I still struggle to contain. A scan of everyone’s clothing and footgear upon exiting the car resulted in commentary rather than trust that my children are no longer 8,6, and 5 and can dress themselves now without input from me.

This was after posing for the before hike picture of the girls and me that Steve wanted to take and hearing everyone’s feelings about it. Over identification seeped from every cell in my body. Will I ever be free of that curse?

We stood at the head of the trail as I voiced my doubts and concerns. Feelings were strong. A decision to proceed with the hike was made. We began to walk. I lingered behind.

The girls led the way with their dad. I tried to focus on the gift of solitude and shade that the trail offered. Flat and high and green, it was a beautiful walk.

Do justice. Love mercy. Be humble.

The shirt that I wore seemed to mock me. I felt false. When another hiker heading back leaned over to me and whispered, I like your shirt, I smiled weakly.

Thanks.

The hike continued. We stopped for our first water break, courtesy of my amazing husband who looks out for us all always and somehow managed to find a water bottle for each, even though none were packed.

I’m sorry for not trusting that you know what to wear and for making a big deal about it.

I think I said something along these lines to my daughter. I hope I did, anyway. If not, that was my intention. Truly.

Walking on, my head began to clear and heart began to pound. How could I only be at 10% of daily exercise? How many steps have I taken? Surely it’s been more!

My focus turned to NOT looking at the activity tracker on my wrist and trying to keep my thoughts kind.

The hike was hot, sweaty, and just the right length. We turned around in a realistic place rather than pushing ourselves to exhaustion.

Upon return music began playing in the kitchen as lunch was fixed.

Yes. I need to smile for awhile. Taking a deep breath, I turn up the corners of my mouth and exhale.

Bird Nest

Sitting on the floor of my daughter’s vacation room, I look through the glass door up at the nest. It is tucked into the balcony rafters. Mama bird has just returned to her babies.

I feel a kinship with mama bird, seeing as I am here this week with my three youngest chickadees. It’s a different vacation dynamic than years gone by.

The last time we were in this space, our unit was divided into a boys’ side and a girls’ side. There were eight of us. Someone got sick.

This year we are four females until Papa bird joins us. Each has her own space. Mine is on a pull-out sofa. Some years that is how it goes. I wanted my older girls to have their own rooms.

It’s kind to have a getaway gifted by the in-laws in the midst of this transitional summer. The change of scenery is doing us good, even if it’s only a different space to eat and sleep and watch Cartoon Network.

For me it’s also doing yoga on my travel mat, reading books, and journaling. It’s laughing with the girls at episodes of Teen Titans and Gumball and crying alone during Inside Out and A Wrinkle in Time.

It’s going for walks in the heat and playing miniature golf on a course where the young man behind the counter taking our money recognizes us from years ago when he was younger and his family came to our house for dinner that time.

We are not far.

Just like that mama bird who swoops down and away whenever I try to sneak out onto the balcony for a closer look, I swoop out and away to my own balcony to read or write. I swoop out for walks.

I always return, just like her.

Unlike her, my babies are old enough to swoop out on their own, as well. Little Mae took her own walk last evening. My teenage daughter steps out regularly for moments of self-care.

Teen sons are each off on their own adventure this month, instead of on vacation with the family. That is how seasons shift and change.

Maybe that is what continues to draw me to the floor of this room looking out of the window and up at a bird nest. Grounding. Remembering all of my birds when they were contained.

I always ask first.

May I go look at the bird?

Usually the answer is affirmative, unless I have been particularly annoying or grievous. Then I just wait a bit and ask again.

Mama has hopped out of the nest and is perched on the ledge. Her eyes peer around, scoping out the territory. I refrain from opening the door or making a sudden movement.

Instead I sit and bless her. I listen to her song through the window and marvel at her role in the world. She is enough just being a bird.

She does not have to compete with or compare herself to other birds. She is enough moving back and forth from her own nest minding her own business.

Enough. Just like these words.

Just like me.

Living in the Flux

It’s July, and I am making space for a deep breath or several. This month is the one that is all summer, no days of school for the kids. It is time to rest and recharge and resist the urge to structure the unstructurable. I realize that is not even a word, but it gives voice to the impossible I often try to achieve.

Kindness says, Let it go.

July looks different for us this year. Beginning with a local vacation and ending with an out-of-state bridal shower, much is sandwiched in between. The teenagers are each traveling to various destinations on their own, leaving the family dynamic in constant flux. We will not be reunited under the same roof until August.

Resting and recharging is a desire that feels uncertain. I plan to journal and read through a small stack of books this week. I hope to be intentional with my girls in a space where we can be both together and separate. I will exhale.

July is not a month to make big proclamations and plans. It is a month to savor space. With a tendency to just push right through things, my challenge is to remain present to the moments.

I don’t want to fight the flux but embrace it. I know that I can’t control it. Here’s to being in it along for the ride and for coming out on the other side.

Hello, July!

Get Up, Brush Off, Keep Going

This month’s writing and blogging began in a hopeful space. The most-read posts were written the first week, goodbye and hello, respectively. All of the changes triggered curiosity in readers, and I had a good writing flow.

My birthday found a Red Tent Living post running, definitely a confidence booster. There was growing momentum. That was the first full week of June.

Things came to a grinding halt the second week when school was out, kids were home full-time, and Steve entered week two of his new job. Any hopeful writing momentum grew precarious, like the wobbling handlebars of a bike before a fall.

Instead of confidently correcting and keeping a steady flow, I crashed. Words splattered everywhere but on the blog, and I landed in stunned silence, too tired to pick myself up and brush off for another run.

It is easy for me to grow discouraged in those moments that feel familiar. The silent crashes, sporadic tries, lost confidences are not new. What I would like to be new is the desire to get up, brush off, and keep going.

That is what this is. It’s practice.

It is also the reminder that any change in terrain is difficult to navigate, and this month has brought significant life changes. For someone who struggles with change, it is no surprise that I have been once again caught off guard.

To those reading and curious, thank you. Thank you for bearing witness to my words and world and growth. May July bring goodness and growth and opportunities for you to keep going, as well, in whatever you are called to pursue.

May it also bring rest and slowing down and enjoyment, things I am pondering and hope to explore more in the days to come.