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Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Out Of the Blue

I tucked you in last night, kissed your forehead and asked you not to fall asleep so that you would stay four years old forever.

You giggled, pulled your thumb out of your mouth long enough to kiss me back and told me that in the morning you were going to wake up and be five. And then six, and then seven, and then eight...

The day we found out you were coming I called your dad in to our room and blindsided him with the news that I was going to take a pregnancy test. I went into the bathroom and then set the plastic stick on top of the toilet with a shaking hand. Your dad and I sat silent, not touching, on the edge of our bed while we stared at our phones and waited.

Motherhood and I weren't on the best of terms.

Your sister was seven months old and your brother had just turned two. We lived in a modest house with three bedrooms, all of which were already occupied. Where would you sleep? I cringed thinking about your newborn cries disrupting the precarious sleep we had only just established. We spent our days nursing, eating Cheerios, playing and watching Mickey over and over and over again.

My body and heart were wrung out daily before 10am while my brain rattled around seeking a way to be useful, any little way, all day long. I was lonely all the time and never, ever, alone.  It was too much and not enough.

Time was up.

Neither of us moved. My legs were numb and my breath was caught in my throat. I told your dad he had to go look. He walked into the bathroom and came back with a whispered, "we're pregnant..."

"Not pregnant? Oh thank God!" I breathed out and collapsed back onto the bed.

"No babe. Pregnant. It's positive. You're pregnant."


I didn't cry.  I just sat up slowly and began panicking.

Being pregnant with you was an ugly kind of hard. Life felt heavy every day for nine months. Getting your infant sister snapped into her carseat and bending over my swollen belly to tie the laces of your brother's shoes took all of my energy most mornings. Your sister hated being in her carseat. Your brother always wanted to tie his own damn shoes. I was a yeller. A crier.

Over and over I would repeat truth to my heart: children are a blessing. I would remind myself of the many families who prayed for a child month after month. We settled on the name Benjamin because you were going to be our last son. We added the name Isaac - he laughs - because we desperately needed to lift the heaviness and feel the joy of laughter when we looked on you.

Five years later?

Life is an exhausting and joyful chaos of small bodies and spilled milk, time-outs and tantrums, bike rides and bedtime snuggles.

You are our middle child- sandwiched between a big brother and sister and a little brother.  You rarely get anything first. Your clothes are handed-down, your toys at the mercy of big and little brothers. You're too little to ride around the block by yourself, too big to wait at home while the other kids go off to explore. You watch TV shows we never would have let your older siblings watch.

When you were born you had the bluest of eyes. Your brother and sister did at first as well, but theirs soon darkened into a deep brown. Yours grew lighter and clearer as the months passed. We were all thrilled that Daddy's blue eyes had finally wrested a Punnet square victory from my dominant brown-eyed genes.

After your blue-eyed little brother was born it was months before I realized your blue eyes were gone. In typical fashion, you had changed dramatically while my back was turned and the blue we had adored and nicknamed you for had quietly been replaced by a sea-glass green.

Often times I feel like you're getting lost among stronger personalities and needier siblings. Frequently I feel like I have let you melt into the mix. When I start to sink into the fear that I am failing to love you well, I steady my breath and go find you so I can look into directly into those green eyes.

Your eyes have become my reminder, my reassurance that you are unique in the universe, that my fears of not giving you enough are foundless. You are a divine creation. You could never be lost or unknown.

After five years with you, this is what we know:

You crave physical touch and are always asking for a kiss, a back rub, a tickle, a wrestling match.
You delight in taking baths and hunting for turtles by the creek.
You have a lisp and a thumb addiction and you carry that ragged blue lovie around too much of the time.
You like alligators and sharks and monsters with sharp teeth and pointy claws.
You are fiercely sensitive, quick to cry, but quick to forgive and offer your tender heart back to each of us.
You are the only laid-back child out of four dang kids. Thank you for that.
You are the quick-witted one.
The one who makes us laugh til our bellies ache and tears stream down our cheeks.
You are the one who lightens every day.

Happy 5th Birthday to the child we never expected. The son of our right hand, a child of laughter and mischief. Out of the blue, our green-eyed wonder.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Only Salsa You Need in Your Life

Good salsa is life. And store-bought salsa is a sad and expensive substitute for the kind of life you deserve to be living.

If you have one or two homemade salsa recipes up your sleeve, you can throw together a few kinds, rip open a giant bag of chips, slap some meat on the grill and have a spring/summer backyard get-together to rival anything Giada could host. (And Giada doesn't even make salsa so you've got a leg up already...)

I started making this basic restaurant salsa forever ago and it quickly became my go-to. It's simple; you dump the ingredients and pulse in the blender, it makes a giant batch (two full quart jars), keeps for weeks in the fridge and is made with ingredients I pretty much always have on hand.

Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Restaurant Salsa 
adapted from Pioneer Woman's recipe

2 cans diced tomatoes
2 cans Rotel  (I use one can regular and one can of mild, adjust for how spicy you like it)
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
2 big handfuls cilantro (cilantro is also life)
2 Tbsp lime juice
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
(Opt. for those of you who like it HOT - chop and de-seed one jalapeƱo, add it to the mix)

Note: This makes a HUGE batch. It's a simple thing to half the recipe if you're not hosting a shin-dig and won't eat it quickly enough. But...if you're going to all the trouble to make your own salsa, you should probably throw a party and share the love.

Throw all your ingredients in a (large) blender or food processor and pulse 5-10 times until well-blended and at a consistency you like. Test with a tortilla chip and adjust seasonings to your preference. If you can, make this ahead of time and refrigerate for a few hours so the flavors can really blend.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Small Beginnings at the Pull-Up Bar

Yesterday I was mindlessly scrollaxing on Instagram when I came across this image. I immediately rolled my eyes and flicked past it.

Being a beginner sucks.

I'm not sure anything unsettles me more than appearing to not know exactly what I'm doing. Being an expert at all things is kind of my thing. If by some unfortunate turn of events I have to be a beginner at some point in time, I do everything possible to ensure my graduation from total-newbie to decent-amatuer under the cover of darkness. I'm careful not to tell anyone what I'm up to to so that when (if) I fail, it goes unnoticed and un-remarked upon.

On a study abroad trip in college (undertaken with the singular goal of improving my Spanish through daily use) I took a bus two hours out of my way because I didn't want to risk exposing my beginner Spanish. I knew enough words to ask the driver for clarity, but I also knew I would probably bungle it a bit, so I kept my mouth shut and hoped for the best. (I ended up getting off in a small village that was clearly not my destination as dusk approached and finally humbled myself and got on the right bus.)

Here I am at age 34 and if you see me doing anything that I appear remotely good at, odds are good I have been practicing for MONTHS or YEARS sight unseen. This hatred for beginnings is one of many reasons motherhood has been so tricky for me. Either I'm the beginner or these kids are at pretty much everything we do, all day long. Beginners are the WORST. They are slow. They make mistakes. If I'm not them, they are in my way. And if I am them...well I'm in someone's way and they are judging me hardcore from atop their non-beginner pedestal.

All of this hatred brings me back to that quote I quickly scrolled past. ..

You might remember that one of my new year's resolutions was to do a pull-up. One pull-up. A small thing, but one that has been out of reach my whole life. So for me it's a big thing. I downloaded a training plan in January, but have yet to buy the over the door pull-up bar thingy for the house, so I have started training at the gym. In the free weight section.

Where the only pull-up bar is positioned in the very center of muscle-y man-ville.

Two months ago I pulled open the double doors and headed toward the walls of mirrors defining the lifters' territory for the very first time. To my left 50 year olds were trying to out-press each other on the bench. To my right a cluster of high school boys nodded to their Beats while knocking out sets of curls with 40s.

No beginners here.

Oh wait, except for me. The little (comparatively speaking) girl with the ponytail and floppy arms. I pretended to look at my phone while really watching the guy making strides toward the pull-up bar.

He jumped up, strained against his grip and flexed his back. His body was lifted. It appeared weightless as he flexed and hung, flexed and hung, his torso a plank moved by the simple lever of his arms.

I waited for him to finish out his set, gave myself an internal pep talk and casually walked over to the bar.  I turned to face my reflection, framed perfectly in the mirrors and jumped up. I flexed my back, and strained against my grip. Nothing happened. No lift. No slow but steady movement towards the bar. Not even a little twitch. Literally nothing happened. It was as if all my muscles had colluded to humiliate me.

I hung there for a good thirty seconds and dropped down, casually sauntering over to my water bottle like the hang had been exactly what I was going for. I thought I would have at least been able to flex my arms and make it part of the way there.

As I was rolling my eyes and flicking past that beginner quote above yesterday, thinking about how frustrating it has been to work towards this pull-up, the phrase below came to mind.

I didn't realize it (I thought it was just a pretty Pinterest saying) but as it turns out, it's from the Bible.

In the book of Zechariah, the prophet Zechariah is talking with God (as prophets do) about re-building the Jewish temple and in chapter 4, verse 10, God says, "Do not despise these small beginnings..." Another translation asks, "who has despised the day of small things?..." 

(Insert emoji of blond girl raising her hand) Oh hey...I do! Me, God. I hate small beginnings. I despise days of small things. Big things are more my style. I prefer grand finishes, big finales, ticker-tape parades, confetti cannons. You know, winning.

But you know what the second half of that verse says? "Do not despise these small beginnings...for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin.

The Lord REJOICES to see the work begin.

You know why? Because while we are all people of small beginnings, God is a God of big finales. In Philippians 1:6 Paul says that God, "who began a good work in you, will perfect it..." The grand finish, the ticker-tape parade, the confetti cannons. They all belong to Him and come in His time.

During days of small things we are laying a ground work. Small beginnings necessarily precede big finales. The days (ahem, years) of small things are not a waste, not embarrassing, not insignificant.

And God knows that I in particular need a continual IV drip of beginner's humility in my life. Out of His great affection toward me He put this seemingly inconsequential goal on my heart and directed me to the pull-up bar at the gym. Where my pride is laid low and the work begins. He is using this silly pull-up thing to teach me again, that He rejoices to see me begin, that He is with me and that He will carry me to completion. Because as I am learning, in my weakness, He is strong.

Friday, March 10, 2017

What I'm Loving Right Now (Vol. No. 7)

Listening to: Blue Babies Pink
I discovered this podcast and @bretttrapp via a friend's Instagram account. She posted a picture, he left a thoughtful comment, and I had to know - who was this male stranger leaving well-worded comments on pictures of kitchen counters in Insta-land? Turns out Brett is a 34 year-old with a life story not much different than mine if you discount the facts that 1. He's male and 2. He's gay.  I fell down the BBP rabbit hole and furiously listened to this "Southern Coming Out Story" this past week. I didn't realize Jen Hatmaker recommended it recently until yesterday, so maybe you're already listening. If not, I highly recommend it.

Preparing For: Daylight Savings Time
My friend Ryan posted this fabulous little article on Facebook, reminding me that I should try to move the kids' bedtimes up gradually over the next few nights, rather than slam them with an hour change on Sunday evening (or wake up with all of them at oh dear heaven o'clock on Monday morning.) Again, highly recommend this method.

Reading: Circling the Sun
This is a fictionalized account of Beryl Markham's life written by Paula McLain (author of The Paris Wife). Beryl grew-up in colonial Kenya, became the first female racehorse trainer in that colony, the first licensed female-pilot in Kenya and the first female pilot to cross the Atlantic east to west. Wikipedia describes her as, "Impetuous, single-minded and beautiful, Markham was admired and described as a noted non-conformist, even in a colony known for its colorful eccentrics."
If that description doesn't make you want to read it, we probably have little in common literature-wise.

Writing: 7 Reasons You Should Be Going on Day Dates
If you missed it, I had the opportunity to guest-post on a blog I adore, Rage Against the Mom Jean, last week. The blog's author, Sherri is hilarious and relatable (even if she does have a far better bag and shoe collection than you do). I highly recommend checking out her site if you are a mom or like jeans or just like to laugh.

Eating: Tuna Salad
I am all about some tuna salad for lunch these days. I'm sure half of y'all are vomiting in your mouth right now and the rest of you are salivating. I'm discovering there's little middle ground when it comes to tuna salad. Personally I love it because it's quick, cheap and packed with protein. Which is a necessity these days because I'm also totally loving...

Working Out: Erin Stern's Elite Body 4-Week Trainer 
In the name of finally getting my pull-up, I went searching for weight lifting routines and found this gem on If the name of that website terrifies you, I get it. I was skeptical about using routines recommended by a site featuring ginormously muscled men on virtually every page. But this plan is by a woman, for women, and has fantastic video and pictorial tutorials with daily work-outs and nutrition tips for a full 4 weeks. P.S. This is what I look like when I'm curling.

Watching: The People VS O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
I remember the events of this story from the 90s so vividly. I remember my dad's frustration when NBC cut to the Bronco chase during the NBA Finals. I remember listening to the verdict on WGN radio in the middle of 7th grade English class at Madision Junior High School. I remember hearing some students cheer and other students swear. I remember being bewildered by the difference in their reactions. If you viewed the nation's obsession with this story through your childhood eyes, it's fascinating to watch this dramatized account and see all the nuance you missed as a kid.

Reflecting on: the book of Isaiah
I'm following the daily She Reads Truth plan to read the book of Isaiah along with commentary for the duration of Lent. It has been a beautiful journey so far and a grounding reminder each morning that my sin is great BUT his Love is greater.

What are you guys watching/reading/eating these days? Do you use the gradual push-back method for bedtime around the time change or just deal with the chaos for a few days while everyone adjusts? Any good book recommendations or new podcasts I can binge listen?

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Most Strategic Thing I Can Do in this Season

When I first began staying at home and started writing, my day was full of blank space. No one spoke to me much during the day and my only son napped consistently for long stretches of time each day. I would spend hours devouring the blogs of homeschool moms, drinking in their knowledge and their days, eager for the time when I would read the classics aloud to my child while he watercolored quaintly in a sun-drenched schoolroom. I would use my alone time to write, to sew, to bake bread from scratch and I made peace with this strange new existence through a dozen other hobbies I pursued.

Somehow those days turned into months, then years and I'm there now. I have the sun-drenched schoolroom and a son who watercolors and I read aloud. Only there are three other small people in the room with us. One is using my hair to pull himself up on my shoulders, one is crying because she doesn't like this story and one needs help Velcroing the cape onto his Batman costume. I never imagined a home could be so loud and full of constant activity. We turn from peace to chaos in a matter of seconds and my attention is pulled from one child to the next like taffy being stretched thin over and over again.

I've been writing less in the past few months, as homeschooling a second grader and a Kindergartener and managing the younger boys truly wears my brain out. The blank space is gone, replaced by smudged pencil marks and phonics flashcards. I find myself longing for those pre-school days again. When there was enough quiet to be bored and enough peace to think. Oh the irony of looking ahead with such longing only to miss the season you were looking ahead from.

I told you I chose a word for the year back in January - ABIDE.

In the hours just before his death, Jesus gives final instructions to his disciples and shares what he most wants them to grasp when he is no longer with them. In John 15 he says, "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me."(John 15:4)

I'm not much of an abider. I'd say striving is more my specialty. Constantly seeking out a new hill to climb, I don't always know exactly where I'm headed, but I sure as heck devote serious effort and energy towards getting there quickly.

While abiding sounds passive and maybe even weak, I'm discovering that abiding is an incredibly challenging thing to do. Abide means to wait for. To endure without yielding. To bear patiently. If used in another context it can mean to remain stable or to continue in a place.

If I want to bear fruit, the most strategic thing I can do is to ABIDE in Him. 

If there's any thing I hope to achieve in this season. it's fruit. But with days so full of chaos and noise, I often want to do anything but abide. I want to run away from the mess of mothering. I want a distraction, a temporary success. Something that feels better than making sandwiches for the thousandth lunch and disciplining (the same child, yet again) for the same infraction.

Counter-intuitively, I have to lean in to the idea of ABIDE. Abiding in my Lord. Abiding in this home, this calling of homeschool and of mothering. Trusting I am not missing out on greater things. That failing to publish words in other places, failing to grow my blog into a vocation, failing to become something greater in the world outside these walls is not really failure, but a success at something else. Success at waiting patiently. Success at enduring without yielding. Success at remaining stable and continuing in one place.

All that to say, I won't be blogging as much this Spring. I do plan to deep-dive into the archives and re-publish some older content I'm sure many of you have never read. I do constantly post snippets from our days on Instagram-stories (I'm @leipprandt over there...) and will continue that as it's easy, requires little brain-space and makes me smile.

Thanks for keeping up with me here in this space. Thanks for encouraging me with your words and your emails. I pray that in this season you would know your own calling with a deep assurance and be given the peace to simply and courageously abide.

P.S. Thank you sister for the beautiful ABIDE art which hangs in my room and reminds me of what I need to be doing each day. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

Warm Beer and New Year's Resolutions

I haven't posted ANYTHING on the blog in six weeks! Dang - I think that's the longest gap in the past 7 years of doing this. But I'm sure you were busy with the holidays so I'll forgive you if you failed to even notice.

It's practically February and most of us have already fallen off whatever New Year's bandwagon we jumped on January 1st (personally, I just completed a 20 day work-out program and eating clean thingamajig. Nailed all the workouts, complained to BJ on day 5 that eating clean all the time was really difficult and basically threw the nutrition piece of the plan out the window on day 12.) But I finally took down the Christmas wreath on my front door today, so now I'm re-focused and ready to tackle what lies ahead in 2017.

BJ and I do this thing every year where we go on a date and talk about the last year's successes and failures and what we want out of the upcoming year. We share the goals we each have written down in our journals (couples who journal together stay together) and basically get on the same page. This year I had the brilliant idea to go to Starbucks for a free date because our church had given us $10 in Starbucks gift cards for volunteering and our local Starbucks was heavily promoting their 'Starbucks evenings' initiative.

Starbucks evenings is "a way to extend the Starbucks experience into the early evening hours." At our local store there was a lovely picture out front of a wine glass and cheese platter. Despite my enthusiasm about getting free drinks courtesy of our local mega-church, "Starbucks evenings" was easily the worst decision I've made in the past 5 years. We waited 10 minutes for one barista to show another how to successfully open a wine bottle before being handed a glass of wine with cork floating in it and a warm can of beer. After another 5 minutes of explaining that beer -unlike coffee- is actually consumed cold we took our glasses to a wonky table in the corner and hunkered down. In spite of the guy next to us watching Die Hard 3 WITHOUT HEADPHONES and the barista's boisterous flirtations with a customer in Spanish (which for the life of me I could not ignore, so I kept spacing out on what BJ was saying and constantly asking him to repeat himself...) we laid down some tracks for 2017 together.

We set a few family goals (to adventure more around the Atlanta area) and some fitness goals (BJ would like to consistently land a kick-flip on his skateboard and nail two finger pull-ups) The kids even set goals for themselves this year as well: Elijah wants to pass his Blue Belt Test, Brit wants to do gymnastics, Ben wants to learn how to ollie (a skateboard move) and Jude wants to learn how to use the potty.

I set a few very realistic and a few very lofty goals as well:

Put my phone away from 9pm-9am
BJ bought me an alarm clock (what a concept!) for Christmas, so I have made the move to charging my phone in the kitchen at night. It is SO great. We have always taken a hard stand against having a TV in our bedroom so that the time we spend in our room/in bed isn't distracted, but somehow we were blind to the creeping distraction our smartphones became. Not picking it up again until 9am helps me start my day with quiet time, writing and giving the kids my full focus as our school day begins.

Memorize John 15:1-8
My word/theme for the year is ABIDE. My sister graciously hand-lettered and watercolored a beautiful image of the word for me to look at daily because I desperately want to sink these words of Jesus down deep in my soul: If you abide in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit. 

Perform an unassisted pull-up
Not being able to receive the Presidential Physical Fitness award in elementary school and middle school was always a source of shame for me. In order to get it, girls had to do ONE pull-up, a feat I could never accomplish. BJ regularly knocks out a dozen pull-ups in the morning without breaking a sweat and I really really really want to be that cool. I'm following these training suggestions and a pull-up bar for our doorway is on my wish list.

Get away twice with BJ (no kids)
We are working on booking a weekend away at Lake Oconee this Spring and I'm hoping to maybe do a short overnight this fall as well. If you're interested in taking a shift watching our kids or offering up your cabin/beach house/romantic getaway in the city, be on the look out for a sign-up sheet. :)

Begin volunteering with the local food bank
For YEARS now I have had a little clipping on my fridge from an organization called Second Helpings Atlanta about their need for drivers. And I finally signed up to do it with the kids! About once a month we'll drive a route given to us and collect surplus food from restaurants, bakeries and grocery stores. Then we'll deliver it to the local food bank to be distributed to families in need throughout the year. I can't wait to start participating in such a simple way to help out and educate the kids simultaneously.

Blog weekly and increase email subscribers/wean Crazy Joy off Facebook dependence
Blogging is hard y'all. If you have blogged for any length of time, you know it's more than just posting a picture and throwing up some words. Words require time and quiet. Pictures require forethought and editing. I'm short on quiet and forethought these days (I got up at 5am to write this...) but I truly love blogging and want to dedicate the effort and time it requires more consistently. I also would love to have more of my readers become email subscribers so that I don't have to depend on Facebook to show you these posts. So hey! if you are a regular reader (or suspect you would become one if you were subscribed) - enter your email address in the box over on the right side of the page to get each post delivered to your inbox. I post about once a week (the last six weeks not withstanding), I don't sell stuff or spam my readers via the blog and once you're subscribed you can quit checking Facebook so much! Win-win-win right?

Lead a moms small group this summer 
You guys hear me talk about Birds on a Wire and their studies/resources for encouraging moms all the time. Right now BJ and I are mentoring an engaged couple and still in our married small group each week, but once our small group ends in May, I'd love to start a short-term small group for moms in my neighborhood that meets to discuss one of her mom-centered books over the summer months.

Create a product/class/webinar to help people plan and cook for their family efficiently and effectively 
This is a big one considering I have little to no experience creating digital videos and delivering them. But I know there's a gap in between what Blue Apron and Prep Dish offer and I have a ton of fun talking about cooking and meal prep and the grocery store, so I'm noodling on it and spending a lot of time talking with BJ about it.

Do you set goals each year? Do you love/hate Starbucks Evenings? What are you resolving to change in 2017?

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