Category Archives: From theCompostPile

Push me, Sugar!

I have been sifting through The Compost Pile, my personal blog. It was started a month before Composting the Heart back in 2013 and was private. It was a kind place, growing in me the courage to write and find my voice.

The other night a friend posted a facebook question asking if you do or don’t clean before a babysitter comes over. I included a lengthy response with my no vote, which brought to mind this post on date night, in general, with a nod to the messy house thing tossed in.

Can you find it?

Date night again! Shattered nerves? Knotted stomach? What is this? Anticipation? Sort of. The kind of which well-orchestrated plans are made.

There are so many steps to think through . . . securing a sitter, keeping track of where everyone will be, leaving an understandable plan, having someone else in our home. Deep into our home. In the bowels of the mess. I struggle to let that one go.

Always the transition from here to gone threatens to derail me. I am learning to let go, but it is a process, and once in the car, an entirely new inner conflict ensues.

What do we do? How do I relax, enjoy, and have fun without focusing on tasks and to-dos? How are we real with each other?

I learned early on that throwing a pile of money at a nice restaurant or movie and calling it a date didn’t ensure fun and connection. Many evenings ended in disillusionment and disappointment. I spent money for THIS? We could have stayed home and fought for FREE!

And date night seasons . . . sometimes we could afford to pay a sitter and go out of the house for time alone. Others were spent at home watching a movie or sitting on the porch together after kids were in bed. Always with a bottle of wine or a martini. Often with popcorn.1006112203aSo LAST NIGHT was a pleasant surprise when our dance-class-with-friends date came together. Awesome sitter, unexpected dinner alone with Steve beforehand (with happy-hour priced beer for him and wine for me), followed by a fun dance lesson. Redemptive success!

How so?

Upon entering the studio, I realized the last time we attempted to take a dance class, one of our babies (let’s assume it was Mae but might have been Roo) was a newborn in a bucket. And even though it was infant 7 or 8, I was STILL delusional enough to think she would stay sleeping through the class and NOT want to get out just as I was beginning to relax and have fun dancing.

Yes, we had to leave, and yes, I was convinced that I would NEVER be able to just relax and have fun and enjoy a dance class EVER AGAIN. There may have been angry tears.

Last night I smiled and laughed and danced and grimaced and followed (somewhat) and sugarpushed and spun and enjoyed being out with the love of my life.


Thistlehair and Kringle Bear

Our first Christmas as a teenage couple was in 1987, 27 years ago. I know this because that is the date on Kringle Bear’s scarf, and Kringle was one of the gifts I gave to Steve on our first Christmas together. Kringle came with a name already stitched onto the front of its stocking cap.

Thistlehair was named by me. I know this because Thistlehair is just a big, brown bear with no hat, scarf, or date and that is what I have always called him.

I saw him in the window of a store while shopping at Ballston Common Mall in Arlington with Steve on one of our teenage dates and expressed my longing for a big stuffed bear.

Steve got me that big, brown bear.

Somehow both have survived the 27 years that have passed since they were purchased by two teenagers in love, full of hopes and dreams of future Christmases together.

When the idea of unpacking memories and making space for my heart to feel struck me, it seemed like a good one. Two days later, I’m not so sure. My heart is feeling big feelings, and making space for that means creating a lot of tears.

I got home from work, this first day after Thanksgiving break, sailing through the pain in my back on an ibuprofen breeze, and retired to my room for some down time before the choir run began. Waiting in my messages was a song from a friend.

Instant tears.

About halfway through listening, my phone rang. I debated answering it, the sobs in my throat impossible to disguise, but I knew that my baby sister would understand.

She did.

She was quiet while I cried, while I tried to put words to the feelings behind the tears. We both found words that we needed for some hard places in our lives right now. Together.

One observation that she made was, The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas has always been really hard for you. And that’s not BAD. It’s just hard.

I have been pondering her words and how much truer they ring than probably she even knows. She was still in utero when I celebrated that first Christmas with my true love. When my true love gave to me, a bear that has grown mange-y.

Mange-y is a term of endearment that Coco and I have for her well-loved collie and any other stuffed animal that has taken on a real appearance as a result of being loved. She was thrilled to find that I, too, have a mange-y animal with matted fur and a peeling nose.

Back to Thistlehair.

I know that his name came naturally that year, so I decided to do some research and discovered this song on youtube. It makes complete sense, since Alabama was a much-listened to group in our home. My mom must have had the Christmas album.

I haven’t heard the song since, but when I found it on Saturday, I listened and did that laugh-cry. My kids listened and just laughed.

Fall Chowder

How have I never heard of Croctober? 

Facebook introduced me last night. Pretty cool, since today I was planning to post about Fall Chowder made in the crockpot. Now it can be for Croctober, too! Win~win!

Back in the day before the internet was in every home and wifi connected all of our devices to sites like Facebook and Pinterest, there were people. And books. You had to actually connect face to face (not facetime) with real people and look things up in literal books.

You couldn’t click a mouse and instantly find 50 pumpkin recipes for the season, or 50 crock-pot recipes for your freezer, or any of the other knock-off seasonal latte drink recipes that fill one’s feed while scrolling through Facebook. You had to have cookbooks or recipes from friends or something cut out of a newspaper or magazine to find that unique dish or drink. You had to work a little harder for your variety.

You needed connection.

A small season of connection came for me when I was fifteen, and my family began attending a new church. Looking back, it was such a short season, maybe seven months at most, but I was impacted for the rest of my life by my experience there.

The ladies of the church, who all seemed so virtuous and perfect to my untrained eye, assembled a cookbook that I acquired somehow, maybe from my then-boyfriend, who might have wished that I could be as stellar as they when I grew up. Maybe I came across it some other way. My memory doesn’t serve, and I am choosing not to go to that season in my memory right now.

Where I am choosing to go is to the fact that I received a treasure trove of recipes that I have followed throughout my married life and that has followed me. Each recipe has the name of the woman (or, rare, man) who contributed it. There are no links, websites, or blogs listed. I feel a connection to those whose recipes I prepare.

Some recipes have now been inspired by, since the original is lost or has fallen out of the book or been removed and not replaced (long ago when the book began to fall apart, I put the sheets in page protectors in a binder, which was both good and bad. Good – protect. Bad – remove and lose.)

So, if you are reading this (and I know some of you do) and recognize your (or a friend’s) recipe, send me a shout-out. I’d love to remember.

Here is my crock pot adaptation of Fall Chowder. It is not healthy, fat free, low calorie or anything. It is comfort food at it’s finest, unless you are nine. Then it is torture.

Crock Pot Fall Chowder

4 c red potatoes, cut into small cubes
4 c carrots, sliced
1 onion, chopped
4-6 c chicken broth or bouillon cubes and water, or equal liquid choice for the base
12-16oz bacon
Small bag of frozen corn
2 cans Campbell’s cheddar cheese soup
2 cans milk
4 c shredded cheddar cheese (or to taste)
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Put the cut up carrots and potatoes into the Crock Pot (mine is the larger 6 qt size).
  2. Cook the bacon. Either cut it into pieces first and cook it up with the chopped onions, or cook up the strips and then drain and cook up the onions in some of the grease. Put the cooked bacon into the pot. Add the cooked onions. Stir everything together.
  3. Add the broth or cooking liquid of choice. I make big batches of broth when I cook chicken, so there are often frozen bags or containers of broth in my freezer. Since this is going to cook all day, I put the frozen chunk right into the pot. It works great. If you do this, move it to the bottom of the pot and sort of pile the vegetables around the frozen chunk.
  4. Start the pot on low if it will be cooking all day.
  5. An hour or two before you plan to eat (this works for me on a workday when I get home at 3:15, and we eat at 6), remove the lid and give the soup a stir. Everything should be cooked and soup-like. Add the 2 cans of cheese soup and 2 cans of milk. Stir. Add the frozen corn. Stir. Add the shredded cheese. Stir. Replace the lid and continue to cook on low until you eat.

In my ideal world, we eat this with jiffy cornbread muffins and honey-butter. There is a salad.

Reality is sometimes Pillsbury pop-biscuits or bread and butter.

Enjoy! Happy Crocktober!

Last Day

Today is my last day of this school year adventure.

I know that tomorrow is the official last day of school, but I was given clear instructions by Mrs. Pflugradt, principal, that Friday I was to be Mother-of-the-Bride only. I was given grace by Miss Carter, my partner teacher, who will take over class on the last day.

We will party Saturday night.

Tonight is the end-of-year school program and awards ceremony. My baby graduates kindergarten, bringing to a close a significant season in our life. When she crosses the stage, it won’t be her daddy’s hand she shakes or waist she hugs.


And life goes on.

Things don’t look the way I thought they would at the beginning of this week, yet grace has carried us through the broken. Meals appeared on the table with instructions on how to prepare. Voice messages and text messages graced my phone.

The program is coming together.

Today we practice a final time and then celebrate a year well-done.

I share a story today from the compost of my life. It feels significant due to the fact that Miss Carter and I spent quite a bit of time sorting out the end-of-year awards yesterday. We had laughter and some tears, maybe.

I shared this story with her on our ride to the church for practice.

The Darling Blouse

Each spring, as the school year came to a close, every class in the small K-12 Christian school I attended would gather on the pull-out bleachers in the gym for an awards assembly. I was finishing second grade and vaguely remembered going forward the year before to claim the “Highest Academic Achievement Award – First Grade.” I had my turn to win.

Assembly morning rolled around, and end of the year excitement filled the air. Mom came into my room to help me choose an outfit. This was unusual, for it wasn’t picture day or any other special time. Why did she care what I wore?

Oh no, PLEASE not that.

I choked back the protests that threatened to escape my lips as Mom reached into the closet and said, “Why don’t you wear this darling blouse?”

Wrong on so many levels, the first was the use of the word darling to describe a despised article of clothing. Blouse. Resplendent with buttons, a Peter Pan collar, and certainly pinstriped in various pastel shades, I hated it.

Mom loved it.

I wore it.

I’m sure it choked me.

Maybe the wraparound skirt or suede shoes or knee socks that I chose to complete my ensemble softened the blow. Maybe it was the last day of school that triumphed.

Several hours later found me sitting on the bleachers of an echoing gym waiting to hear who would receive honors this year. Maybe my stomach fluttered. Maybe I should have had a clue.

“Highest Academic Achievement – Second Grade, Julie Kozel.”

I rose and began the long trek down the bleachers and up the aisle between folding chairs filled with beaming parents. Ascending the steps to the stage, I shook the hand of the rotund principal who handed me a plaque, all the while looking sweet and smart in my darling blouse.

Enjoy your day, Friends!

Working It Out

At 21 years old I had a seven-month-old girl. A friend invited me to a Jazzercise class held at a church in Pensacola, Florida. I went. It was fun.

That first class, my husband kept baby girl home.  I was excited to be able to exercise, and on the days when he couldn’t keep her, there was a nursery. It would be great to get out and get in shape!

Sure enough, the day came when Daddy had to work during Mommy’s Jazzercise class, so baby girl was loaded into the Fairmont and deposited in the nursery upon arrival at the church.

After filling out all of the official grown-up paperwork that came with being responsible for a tiny human, Mommy claimed her spot on the crowded floor, and began following the instructor’s warm-up routine.

Ahh…This is the life. I have an hour to exercise and not think about anything.

The tap on the shoulder came during song three. That’s the one where you are starting to get moving up the heart-rate curve. It seems that a certain baby girl needed her mommy, and no amount of consoling would work.

Grateful for the attentiveness of the child-care workers in seeking me out and not allowing my sweet baby to go into distress, I gathered my mat, collected my hand weights, and returned to the nursery.

Baby sniffles with red-rimmed eyes reached out and clung to me like a little lemur. Sniff, sniff, shudder. Sniff, sniff, shudder. I patted her back and bounced her up and down a bit, thanking the nursery staff profusely while collecting her belongings.

Little girl balanced on my hip, digging her eyes with lamb blankie, clutching my hair, lest I have the audacity to put her down again.

This motherhood adventure was going to be a little different than I expected. Make that a lot different.

Is there really a week until her wedding?

One week from today will be about getting nails and hair done and preparing for a ceremony and party. That clutching, red-rimmed eyed baby girl will be donning a dress and walking down an aisle to clutch on and cling to someone else. As it should be.

This morning, though, she will Jazzercise with me, completing yet another circle, as we continue the beginning of the endings, while working off a bit of that wine.

He Knows

Jesus experienced anguish, distress, soul-crushing grief. He knew what it was to wish something would pass.  He knew betrayal by someone close to him ~ part of his inner circle of chosen friends. He knew false accusations and criticism by religious leaders. He knew desertion by those who swore they would never leave or deny him.

It’s okay to wrestle with confusing feelings and unanswered questions. It’s okay to explore the layers of shoulds and musts that have crusted over the heart and crushed the soul. Jesus knows feelings. He made feelings. He suffered feelings.

He knows our frame. He walked our path to completion. He is a God of redemption, even when we struggle to believe Him.

from 2011…

What’s going on inside? Nervousness as I sense the winds of change blowing around me. I have a feeling of impending loss, as we face the departure of friends. Happy for them, yet sad for what is about to be different and what will stay the same.

Unmotivation invades my every cell. I can’t seem to pep talk myself to do what I must. Trust evades me. Rest mocks me. Dreams tease that I still have to awaken.

Curiosity nudges my heart, while steadfastness reminds me to stay on the course charted for me. We are all on different paths that occasionally intersect and join together for a time before parting ways. The parting, whether temporary or permanent, is sad.

I am sad.

Impatience bites at my heels, causing me to feel snappish with those around me. I long for peace and kindness.

Tears fall.

Better than anger, pain escapes my heart, squeezing through my eyes. This must be done. My life lived.

Wake up!

I want to be okay with me and all that is wrapped up in being this person that God has made. It’s okay not to be someone else!

He has been faithful. He is faithful. He will continue to be faithful.

Twenty Years

I’ve been given a gift this morning similar to one I received twenty years ago. The gift of space to do what needs to be done.

Twenty years ago it was to birth a baby.

Today it’s to birth a blogpost and to sort through some of the chaos that has collected around me.

Twenty years is a short-long time.

I won’t pretend to hide my age or act like you can’t figure out that if I was a twenty-two year old mom of one, then I must be forty-two now, but there I was. Twenty-two, married for two years, working full-time, and getting ready for baby number two to arrive.

Life has never been slow.

I’ve thought a lot about that day and how it was such a surprise that we got a dump of snow, but twenty years ago in-home technology wasn’t what it is today. There was no up-to-the-minute ability to see radar weather in real time via the world-wide-web as we know it. We didn’t carry connection to the world in our pockets.

I think my water just broke was my response to Steve’s excitement over the inches of snow covering our tiny deck that morning.

Eight births later, I would still think and wonder if labor had started.

Baby wasn’t due for ten more days, but he was coming, ready or not!

My father and brothers came to the rescue in their van with chains on the tires. The midwife needed to be picked up and brought in from the country. It was a planned home birth. They took Steve to get her, while mom and sisters stayed with me.

It was an event and the first time that Good Shepherd School ever closed its doors completely due to bad weather.

By 5:30 that evening, I was holding a tiny (to me) baby boy. The first words I said were What’s wrong with him?! because he was like a little stick man. I was sure that wasn’t good, just like I was sure to die in childbirth. Every. Time. I am not a model childbirth is awesome mother.

Nothing is wrong, he is perfect! assured the midwife. Not every mom births a 9lb 2oz baby first, so 7lb 4oz seemed miniscule. Tiny and perfect. 

The memory of our first night together has me sitting propped up in bed snuggling baby boy close. Moms learn to do what needs to be done, and none of my babies have been content to separate from me having been hunkered down inside for nine months. What needed to be done that night was just hold and snuggle and not even think about trying to ease him to sleep next to me.

So here we are, twenty years later. Charles Caleb has the day off from college at George Mason University due to snow. He has six more siblings, some of whom will get to visit him at the end of April for Sibling’s Day. The picture above, taken at Christmas this year, collected enough Facebook likes for some free tickets. Thank you to all who helped us out with that process!

From the Compost Pile ~ It’s Not Personal (a Valentine’s story)

There’s a story from years ago in my journal ~ an epiphany to me, of sorts, as you will soon see. Enjoy this peek into my (frightfully~sensitive, continuing to learn that it’s not about me) heart…and then check out the recipe at the end!

My head knows it’s not personal.

We sit chatting ~ a group of women gathered to celebrate an impending birth ~ and the topic circles to our preparations for upcoming Valentine’s Day parties.

I know this! I’ve got it. Two weeks ago I experienced a Valentine’s fiasco while attempting to walk my three young daughters, then 7, 5, and 3, down the card exchange aisle to choose theirs.

I share this experience. Others nod in agreement.

There’s the frustration of type and cost and amount of cards in each box. Boy or girl or gender-neutral? Candy? Sticker? Tattoo? Store meltdown?

“Homemade!” interjects a fun, experienced mom.

Each year, at the beginning of February, she and her children start making cards. It’s their thing, and it’s not stressful if they’ve planned ahead for it.

She describes this year’s cards, and we ooh and ahhh over lollipops dressed as superheroes and ballerina card rockets made from candy rolls.

I know this, too! It’s with cookies. My special, only~on~Valentine’s Day chocolate shortbread dipped hearts. Bakery~beautiful. Made by me!

Two~dozen for each class party, plus extras to give away just because.

I know stressful and last~minute and the desire to start early. I start with the best of intentions each year, thinking I will plan ahead and fill the freezer February 1st. I’m often up late February 13th dipping and drizzling and counting.


I begin to share my homemade cookie experience.

Silence. Murmurs. No one really trusts homemade these days.

But these are my beautiful Valentine cookies! I want to defend them. Explain myself. Fit in!

Something inside of me shrinks and hides. I retreat to the inner place where I can process that it’s not about me.

It’s about not knowing people and their kitchens and gluten and allergies and sanitary conditions.

I get it in my head, but my heart is slowly awakened to the reality that I’m from another mothering era, moving on…baking cookies.

Like Grandma.

Now here’s the good part, the recipe found in the February/March 2005 Taste of Home magazine…

Valentine Cookie Recipe
Cream together
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
In a separate bowl combine
2 cups flour
1/4 cup cocoa
Gradually add to the butter/sugar mixture, forming the dough.
Roll out onto lightly floured (I use cocoa) surface and cut with cookie cutters. (I cover my dough with waxed paper and roll it out, hence the wrinkles.)
DSCN7585Bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes. Let cool and remove to wire racks.DSCN7584To decorate,
Melt 1 cup of white chocolate or almond bark or those melty disks and 1 T shortening in a microwave-safe bowl for 30 second increments, stirring after each check until smooth. Dip the edges of cooled cookies into the coating and place on waxed paper.DSCN7583Melt a handful (1/2 cup) of chocolate chips with 1 T of shortening in the same way. Then spoon the mixture into a zipper bag or pastry decorator bag to do the drizzle. My daughter, Shortcut Scarlet, saved a step by placing them in a zipper quart freezer bag and melting them in the microwave that way. You just have to poke a little hole in the corner afterwards. Drizzle the chocolate over the hearts, like so.DSCN7586Shortcut Scarlet also makes this recipe Vegan by using shortening in place of the butter.DSCN7598There you have an easy, fun treat to make for your Valentine (but not necessarily for your child’s class unless you are me), if he or she has no dietary restrictions. I make these once a year. They are like buttah.

Flying Home

The flight home from the Journey found me in a row with two friends. I had the window seat. One friend commented on how she felt closer to God while flying. It was the whole clouds and heaven and being in the sky thing.

Her statement inspired these words…

God we are closer
Do you see us up here?
Cause we want you to see us
and notice our pain.
You’ve called us to join you
In touching the broken
We want you to hear us
cause we’re broken, too.

Where did we come from?
And what has just happened?
And how do we process
The place we have been?

God will you hold us
and carry us safely?
Cause we want you to hold us
when we are in pain.
You’ve done this before us
Experienced broken
We long for your healing
To rest in your love.

I wonder what to do with all of this. Everything. It’s time to go back. God, this is in your hands.

Celebrating with Hopefulness

All good things must come to an end, and Journey Week is no different. Ending with a Celebration Dance is fitting, as there is so much to celebrate after a week of intense emotional heart work both in and out of group.

Hopefulness enters, as the truths and skills that were practiced all week prepare to integrate themselves into real life back home. It’s a tricky translation.

Oh freedom!
Freedom to be who I am.
To be kind to myself and my family.
To bask in my story’s redemption.
Kindness means no pressure to journal.
Waiting to leave for home on Sunday, because I’m too tired to push myself tonight, and I’d like to enjoy my friend for one more day.
Kindness is reading back over my story with no condemnation.
Thank you, Jesus, for this gift.