Cuban Sandwich Salad

IMG_E2331[1]

Growing up in Florida, I’ve savored Cuban sandwiches ever since I can remember. Cubans can be enjoyed hot or cold, and whether served in school cafeterias, packed for lunches on the beach, or grab & go from the deli, Cubans have been a part of every season of my life. Mmmm….

So I thought I’d try my hand at transforming this delicious sandwich into a decadent salad!

IMG_E2325[1]

Keeping this salad true to the original Cuban sandwich, the ingredients are especially important. A “real” Cuban does not have mayo, fancy mustards, tomatoes, or any type of cheese other than Swiss; nor is it served on a hoagie. If a Cuban sandwich comes your way with any of these, it’s a fraud. ūüėČ

An authentic Cuban simply has butter, yellow mustard, roasted or barbequed pork, ham, Italian salami, Swiss cheese, dill pickles and Cuban bread. That’s it!

I used these ingredients (and their proportions to the sandwich) to keep this salad true to form. The dressing has real butter and yellow mustard. Italian seasoning compliments the salami’s spices. Rice vinegar and shallots are the mildest flavors of vinegars and onions so as to give this dressing personality but not dominate the salad or change the Cuban’s original flavor. And the vinegar also compliments the vinegar-soaked pickles; an awesome combination.

The point of the dressing is to get mustard and butter into this dish (like on the sandwich) and lightly coat the lettuce so it is still a proper salad yet with all of the authentic flavors of a Cuban sandwich.

IMG_E2337[1]Don’t skimp on the pickles! A true Cuban has bity dill pickles that deliver a crunch. Please skip the shelved, limp pickles and get the fresh, refrigerated pickles. Their crisp crunch and fresh taste is light years beyond any non-refrigerated pickle. Trust me on this! Good pickles are the ingredient that pulls this entire dish together. They are the crowning jewel of this salad; use at least 2 cups but add more if you’d like.

The mixed soft greens of spring, kale and watercress are given texture with crunchy cabbage and Brussel sprouts which do not add flavor, but do add texture and nutrition with the Brussels.

We prefer hard salami to Genoa, but either works. The roast pork is a cheat that I buy precooked from the deli. It’s definitely a time-saver, and since it’s part of the entree and not the main course I’m totally fine buying a pre-cooked portion of pork versus roasting an entire tenderloin – though leftovers are never a bad thing.

Lastly, serve with Cuban bread on the side or skip it for a gluten-free option.

My family kept saying that they couldn’t believe how much this salad tasted like a Cuban sandwich, woohoo!!

Enjoy Cuban sandwich flavors on top of a zesty, high-protein salad that, when paired together, you have a new, uncompromised version of the Cuban we all know and love.

IMG_E2328[1]

(Serves 4 to 6)

Salad:

4oz                         Spring mix lettuce

4oz                         Baby Kale

4oz                         Watercress

4oz                        Angel hair plain Coleslaw cabbage

4c                           Brussel sprouts; thinly sliced & ends cut off

3/4#                       Ham; diced (you can buy it pre-diced)

3/4#                       Roast pork; diced (pre-cooked from the deli)

1/2#                       Italian hard salami; diced (buy one thick piece from the deli then dice it)

3/4#                       Swiss cheese; diced

2c                           Dill pickles; chopped (use the refrigerated kind like Claussen dill)

1                             Cuban bread; optional- leave soft or toast and cut into cubes as croutons

Dressing:

4T                          Butter; unsalted & melted

1/4c                       Grapeseed or vegetable oil

2                            Shallots; peeled, ends cut off and then cut shallots in half

2t                           Italian herb seasoning

3/4c                       Plain/natural rice vinegar

4T                          Yellow mustard

2t                           Fresh minced garlic

4t                           Sugar

1/2t                        Salt

1/8t                        Black pepper

IMG_E2322[1]

Directions:

  1. Make the dressing by melting butter in the microwave or on the stovetop, then blend all dressing ingredients in a blender or food processor.

 

  1. If saving for later, pour dressing into a bottle, bowl or measuring cup that can be microwaved to keep butter melted if it cools and thickens. Otherwise simply set it aside. Dressing should be room temperature when served.

 

  1. In a large bowl, toss spring lettuce, baby kale, watercress, cabbage and Brussels with the dressing until evenly coated. Divide evenly among 4-6 serving plates.

 

  1. Plate salads by dividing remaining ingredients evenly and layering them on top of the dressed greens in the order listed above beginning with ham and ending with pickles.

 

5. Garnish with Cuban bread, optional. Serve immediately.

Summer Garden Salad with Crabcakes

Summer Garden Salad with Crab Cakes

I’m a firm believer in working smart, not harder, in the kitchen. This salad requires minimum prep and I buy our favorite crab cakes from the market. We prefer Charleston-style crab cakes versus Maryland crab cakes, but both work with this entree salad. If you’re feeling it, make your own crab cakes. More power to ya! Bought or made, they are a perfect compliment to this dish.

There are several different tastes and textures layered in this meal. Sweet, savory and salty work cohesively to give this salad a big, flavorful personality. There is also plenty of crunch in the carrots, Brussels, pepper, sugar snap peas, walnuts and pepitas which contrast this salad’s softer side of tomatoes, pickled onion, cucumbers and blue cheese.

Added proteins of nuts, pepitas and blue cheese elevate this meal from filling to downright hearty.

The dressing is my bruschetta dressing. Super light and summery but full of flavor. Works great as a dip for veggies, or don’t blend it and voila! You have bruschetta ready for a sliced baguette.

Enjoy the fresh flavors of the season with this summer dish!

Ingredients:

Crab cakes –

8                             store bought or homemade crab cakes

2T                           grapeseed oil

1                              lemon; juiced

Salad –

5oz                         baby kale

5oz                         spring mix lettuce

¬Ĺ#                          Brussel sprouts; thinly sliced

1                             cucumber; quartered and chopped

8oz                        fresh sugar snap peas; chopped

1c                           pickled red onion; thinly sliced

1                             yellow female* pepper; diced

1pint                      grape or cherry tomatoes; halved

1c                           carrots; thinly sliced (I like rainbow carrots for color)

1c                           walnuts; pieces

1c                            pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

4oz                         blue cheese crumbles

1c                           cranberries (50% less sugar)

Dressing ‚Äď

4 cloves garlic; minced

6 Roma tomatoes; diced

1 large bunch fresh basil; chopped

1/4c balsamic vinegar

1/4c extra virgin olive oil

1/2t salt

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is ypruP8ollfM9hUNW9tEjMN5fHJdjo0f-2r-shJZk5MdmPJIhhAuSy5kWITZobDl4oVVR-487NDrEqh070wV36vDcurIGa6LPhhX_9RZPzG8zJ0wo_oNFcj_eGzRTLcfE3HEQ2NOUwQmFMsuQftPjvOTqCLJq1LvglWjKqYGf-Em5uVLsIcKjCM1tRm16DuTQmhk4-Aiysv2xm7VpIi9-GzI8CKw_QYYOBJK018w8R9HCmmTNbYfTCs-eDZ6ba_QtSSLlSCqoKs5XrHoPW53HnUjJMR21UDamtNdNd-poOOB6L0D8pu6rRrnDOpvTpvW_l5v2KLYrZKuYZGRrCXsDwfbEY5msN9G1y70s08vQrdIMW_O66g4ytE2IUt21Q9V7GBh4XZScqdNRspNXTeUR1IbjZ-78Y48AN7UhoZ-Mc4kNgOv4kkx2_qjmzL3OX5nYGrnacOcCjpbQlwZtpSruYmmBLRa5nKrgmQvXsGEFE-SjqpS-NaxLuZoGyI8hcE5XlilewmdH3Qd1y0oFEUniQ6jPzJfr4DavG_pUtydnxxMKgrtumNFp6vDVMD9wmrYBgDHZueD6LURGZMYvom0x70UzSDihhMQnYsK_WWC0ic56I8NfnpcNLyfOvIr1gG_FpioJlouODBVtuAAa8S4ffJjOkNkqkKY2lTIepjin3IJ-Kp3qeU7VD59BlipHHJA=w703-h937-no

Directions:

1. Prepare dressing by adding all dressing ingredients in a blender or food processor. Blend until thoroughly combined. Chill until ready to use.

2. In a skillet on medium heat, heat grapeseed oil. Add crab cakes and pour lemon juice on top. Flip halfway through cooking (according to package directions or recipe). Or air fry at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, flipping halfway through.

3. While the crab cakes are cooking, plate salads by dividing prepped ingredients into fourths and layering them in order listed above.  

4. Drizzle dressing over salad. Top with crab cakes. Serve immediately.

*Note ‚Äď use a female pepper because they are sweeter and better for eating raw. Male peppers are better for cooking. Female peppers have 4 bumps on the bottom. Male peppers have 3 bumps. You can taste the difference! ūüėä

Lemon Chicken with Lemon Basil Salad

As temperatures climb, we crave the light, fresh flavors of summer. Lemon and basil are two of those addictive tastes and are key ingredients to making this dish pop!

Packing this salad with extra proteins, like pepitas and nutritional yeast, makes this meal satisfying, even as its taste leaves us wanting more. Mmmmm!

Lemon Chicken with Lemon Basil Salad

Ingredients: serves 4

Chicken –                                                                    

4                             chicken breasts; halved longwise

1 1/4c                    Panko plain breadcrumbs

3T                            nutritional yeast (for parmesan flavor and additional protein & vitamin Bs)

3                              lemons‚Äô zest (zest 3 lemons, then juice them for the dressing)

1                              lemon; juiced (zest first, then save zest for dressing)

2t                            Herbs de Provence

2T                           oil (olive or avocado)

                               salt/pepper to taste (use black pepper generously)

                               pump, not aerosol, spray oil (Pam cooking spray with coconut oil)

Salad ‚Äď                                                                     

5oz                          baby kale                                                              

5oz                          arugula lettuce                                                                 

1 ¬Ĺ c                       fresh basil; finely chopped                               

¬Ĺ#                           fresh Brussel sprouts; thinly sliced                 

1c                            green onion; diced                                             

1                              female red pepper; diced                                               

1 pint                      cherry or grape tomatoes; halved                   

1c                            carrots; thinly sliced (I like rainbow carrots for color)

1c                            pepitas (a.k.a. pumpkin seeds)

Lemon Dressing –

1/3c                        plain (unseasoned) rice vinegar

1/2c                        fresh lemon juice (about 3)

1/3c                        canola or vegetable oil

1/4c                        sugar

1/2t                        salt

1                             garlic clove; minced

1                             lemon zest

Directions:

1. Trim chicken and place halves in a gallon Ziploc bag with all chicken ingredients. Massage until well coated. Place on greased cooking tray and spray pump oil top to top help crisp the breadcrumbs.

2. Bake at 350 for 20 min or until cooked through. Or air fry at 400 for 20min (flipping halfway through). Or pan fry in extra oil on medium heat until cooked through.

3. Prepare dressing – combine all ingredients in a bottle/bowl with lid & shake well until sugar dissolves or blend in food processor/blender.

4. Divide salad ingredients in fourths. Plate the salad in order from bottom up: lettuce, basil, Brussels, onion, pepper, tomatoes, carrots, pepitas. Drizzle dressing over salad. Place chicken on top and drizzle dressing over chicken. Serve immediately.

Cooking note – use a female pepper because they are sweeter and better for eating raw. Male peppers are better for cooking. Female peppers have 4 bumps on the bottom. Male peppers have 3 bumps. You can taste the difference! ūüėä

Non-fried, fried ice cream

8.5 x 11 miscellaneous VERTICAL - Page 210

Just in time for Cinco de Mayo!! I first had fried ice cream at our favorite Mexican restaurant in Tampa, FL decades ago and have never forgotten it. Seriously, I still crave it. It was heaven! Soft vanilla ice cream tucked inside a fried shell, topped with cinnamon and drizzled honey – yum!

I’m not going to fry ice cream at home because, well, what a mess. And I don’t own a deep fryer, nor will I in the name of healthier cooking. ūüėČ

With simple ingredients it takes only a couple of minutes to assemble, yet boasts all the flavors of fried ice cream (and less fat since it’s not fried) whose taste has lingered in my mind ever since.

A few cooking notes…

Honey – Honey is the star of this show. As it drizzles over frozen ice cream, the cold turns liquid honey into a slightly chewy topping which resembles caramel, but a natural, healthy option. Its sweetness compliments the warm bite of cinnamon. Mmmm. I use local honey for the benefits of combating seasonal allergies. During covid quarantine I cannot get my regular, local honey so I found Local Hive Honey and it’s awesome! Whatever brand you use, make sure it’s raw, unfiltered, 100% honey. Otherwise, generic honey can have sugar in it although not listed in the ingredients because it’s considered a processing ingredient. What a sham! So don’t chince on the quality of your honey. You CAN taste the difference and your seasonal allergies will thank you.

Whipped cream – Use spray whipped cream (with real cream, not whipped oil), tub whipped cream (again, real cream, not whipped oil) or what I use, tub Tru-Whip (no oil, made with tapioca, a healthier, tasty substitute).

Ginger Snaps – The fried shell is replaced with ginger snap cookies. That’s the secret weapon. Leave them whole or crush on top, there’s no wrong way to enjoy this treat. And the cookie matters! Our favorite brand is Murray Ginger Snaps which is affordable and has that great *snap* we all want in a gingersnap. We don’t even use a spoon for this dessert. Use the cookies to scoop the ice cream…even better!! ūüėČ

Ingredients:

Vanilla ice cream

Ginger snap cookies

Cinnamon

Honey

Whipped cream

Directions:

Scoop ice cream into bowls

Sprinkle cinnamon generously over ice cream

Drizzle honey over ice cream

Add ginger snaps

Top with whipped cream

This is the perfect dessert to top your favorite Mexican meal or enjoy it by itself. Have fun with it!

 

 

 

What a mom feels like at the end of the school year

After two separate 2-mile walks in the same day, I sat at my computer to take care of a few things when something unusual caught my eye. I looked over my shoulder and there, in the middle of the darkened hallway, laid our little dog completely passed out.

She kept the pace with me¬†through both exercise sessions¬†and was a real sport, but somewhere between her dog bed in the family room and¬†her other dog bed¬†under my desk, she just couldn’t¬†walk¬†another step¬†and plopped onto the floor – mid-journey – to take a needed nap.

The good, bad and ugly all in, I looked at her and thought,¬†If I could describe what being a mother feels like by the end of the school year… This. Is. It. ¬†

A picture really is worth a thousand euphoric, exhausted, hopeful, disappointed,¬†excited, anxious, relieved, frustrated, happy, sad, and proud mamma words. It’s all worth it.

Now for that nap…

DSC_0443

 

 

The secret to an awesome family vacation

 

K50066

As teachers, students and parents breathe a collective exhale at the end of another school year, families begin planning, packing and preparing for vacation.

It took me years to learn the secret to an awesome family vacation, but I’m going to share it in two short words.

Transition Day.

Each year as we packed up the van with suitcases, the dog, a hedgehog, pillows (and for the beach – every known piece of beach paraphernalia) a few extra items got packed as well as got left home.

What got left behind:

* patience

* joy

* laughter

* camaraderie

* perseverance

What snuck into our luggage:

* a bad attitude

* everything that goes along with a bad attitude

I just couldn’t figure it out. All of us were so excited to take a break, spend family time together and have an adventure. Why oh why were we fighting before we crossed¬†the city limit? I was all over my kids nagging them for “plugging in” too fast to their technology and how we weren’t bonding as a family (at least not in positive ways).

Like summer thunderstorms in Florida where I grew up that we could set our watch by, bickering and arguing were predicable accomplices in ruining our first day of vacation.

To be honest, I could feel the fight swelling up in me.  Why?

One vacation, we were truckin’ down the road and I was biting my tongue. Why was my husband so annoying to me? Why could no one do anything right around me? This quiet moment became¬†surreal as I stared out the window on a lonely stretch of highway. Without warning, it seemed that the mystery completely unfolded before my very eyes.

It was grace. Grace invited itself along for the ride. I stopped what was on the tip of my tongue, and grace spoke into my heart. I saw that my anger towards my husband was not at him at all. It wasn’t even anger. It was frustration. Exhaustion. Missing him.

He can say the same about me.

What happened in the car at the start of every trip was a lot of pent up stuff. Months or weeks of topics we had not had any time to discuss typically flew out of my mouth like bullets. Frustration over not having any time to discuss them was the trigger. A lack of communication during our exhaustive days¬†led to feeling distant (a woman does not like to feel distant from her man). Hurt feelings ensued and so on. It’s a giant house of cards that is built one busy day after the next, blurry month after blurry month, and by the time vacation comes I’ve got my panties in a wad, he’s tired, and neither one of us wants to deal with the kids.

On this particular vacation I blurted out with wide eyes and a smile, Hey! Let’s try something new. Let’s have a transition day!

<cricket>

We’re all tired. We’re spent. With the energy left in our pinky toes we set off for an adventure. But, let’s be realistic –

Families¬†need to time to adapt. We all need time and energy to mentally and emotionally leave our routines behind as much as we do physically. We need to have flexibility¬†to do that in ways that are right for us. As much as it is uncomfortable for me, I need to let my kids unwind with their technology for the first leg of the trip if that’s what works. For my husband, it may be listening to tunes or simply not talking. For me, I adapt by catching up on all of the things I’ve wanted to share with my man that our routines rob us from communicating.

So, how does his not wanting to talk jive with my need to talk? ¬†After 24 years of marriage, I found out that what I am really looking for is for him to listen. I decompress by exhaling my words, feelings, emotions, etc. I don’t regenerate by him wanting to solve or fix every issue I bring up. I just need to get it out. It’s beautiful, really. I talk and talk and talk. He listens. We both win because I am not asking for him to share equal words in the conversation. I’m not asking anything of him. Sometimes I am just venting or processing things out loud and would rather him not say a word. In order for me to embrace the vacation and be in the moment, there needs to be¬†room in my heart and mind to hold the new memories we will make. I can’t do that if I’ve drug all of the muck from home with me. He feels no pressure to respond except for the occasional smile, glance, or head nod. It’s perfect for us! Meanwhile, the kids have tuned into their music and miss all of my introspective downloading.

Also, we’ve learned that the first day of vacation isn’t our best, so we need to extend intentional¬†grace to¬†each other. It’s likely my husband has just finished a conference call as we’re packing the van. Being it’s a time for a break, the kids have most often just come off of hard tests and papers and presentations. We all need grace to fill in the blanks when we are not enough for each other.

The vacation I mentioned above was a turning point in our family. We declared Transition Day (out loud) and all of the stress of regular life, the stress of travel, the stress of wanting to have a good time, and all of the other stress that keeps my shoulders and neck muscles rock hard began to melt away.

Now, we actually laugh about it. When someone’s attitude tanks on that first day, we just smile and say “Transition Day!” and give grace. This has helped to cut down how long the transition takes, because the pressure of¬†performance is gone. We can show our weaknesses. We are not “on” like we have to be in so many venues of our lives. We don’t have to begin making scrapbooking memories the moment our tires leave the driveway.

Giving each other freedom to have a transition day has been very healing. I can stop being wife and mother and just be Kristi Рwhether Kristi is tired, emotional, happy or mad. Likewise, each member of our family can simply be who we are. The van is peaceful even if someone is bent out of shape. Odd, huh?

By the second day (or even that evening) we are all ready for fun! We have switched gears and truly let it all go – without unnecessary friction that is draining and spoils the fun.

I’ve now started doing a mini version of Transition Day on the weekends. It’s not a formula. It’s simply putting ourselves in each others’ shoes and remembering we are humans who are imperfect but are trying to be the best we can anyway.

Grace is now not only at the top of my packing list for vacations and weekends, but it’s becoming part of my daily to-do list.¬†And as often as I need to give¬†it, I realize I need to receive it.

Vacation Transition Day has become part of our family’s everyday moments and is¬†a game-changer because in giving grace¬†– love wins – and that’s the main goal no matter where we are.

 

 

 

10 Things I Love About Summer

I absolutely refuse to realize the new school year is around the corner.¬† It’s lurking, stalking, hoovering, looming – but I purposefully turn a blind a eye and choose to enjoy the beautiful state of ignorant bliss of summertime.¬† Therefore, although we’ve shopped for new clothes, pencils and backpacks, all of which are intentionally hidden from our every day view, I remain in a honeymoon state of summer.¬† Ahh…

10 things I love about summer:

1. Nuzzling my nose into my children’s hair and breathing in the smell of pool chlorine.

2. Thunderstorms Рany time of day, preferably at night (we are praying for rain for neighboring dry states!)

3. Flexible plans or no plans – it’s so refreshing to fall off the grid for awhile!

4. I have more of myself to give my husband.¬† His work cranks right through summer, and I so appreciate his efforts so I can be home with our kids.¬† During the summer, I have more of myself to give wthen he comes home by way of flexible dinner hours, evening walks and long talks.¬† I get way too rigid during the school year with schedules, so it’s really nice to toss it all in the wind and enjoy him.

5. Time with my kids.  I make intentional efforts to connect and reconnect with my kids whether we are doing something big or just hanging around the house.

6. Doing things we don’t always take time to do during spring, fall and winter.¬† Bowling, matinees, breakfast for dinner, long bike rides, and house cleaning projects that have waited the entire school year (or longer!) like gutting our garage and tackling the dreaded our “project room” a.k.a. office.¬† Okay, so¬†maybe my husband and I are the only ones who enjoys this in¬†our family, but¬†we can¬†live with¬†that. ūüėČ

7. Opportunities.  Summer brings opportunities for misison trips, escaping with the family to our favorite respite, exploring our state and sometimes a new part of the country, taking up a new hobby, rekindling a love for old hobbies, sef-introspection, ministry and personal growth.

8. Time with my girlfriends.¬† I LOVE it when I receive a text or phone call and it’s a dear friend asking me to go for a walk, have lunch or go for coffee.¬† The school year is so busy, and it’s great to steal some downtime with my friends to recharge our batteries and stay connected.

9. Dreaming.¬† Summer allows time and energy to dream.¬† Making lunches, signing permission slips, volunteering at school, etc. are a distant memory, if just for a season (all of which I love to do and am thankful to do it).¬†¬†I can use that mental energy to dream and follow my dreams.¬† It’s like catch-up for the part of me that lays dormant in other seasons of life.

10. Nothingness.¬† I don’t know about you, but I need time alone.¬† Time to be and not do.¬† Time to absorb and not expend.¬† Time to listen and not speak.¬† Time to reflect and not project. Time to be still and not move. Time to Hear from God what He is saying and not me always the one doing the talking. Time to sleep.¬† Time to laugh.¬† Time to cry.¬† Time to breathe.¬† Time to do absolutely nothing. ¬†No other season gives me that time.¬† So thankful for summer.

Summer with teens and a tween

***********************************************

Cool update!  A devotion of mine was posted today on the devotion website I write for.  Hope you can stop by and check it out! ~Kristi

***********************************************

When my kids were younger, a good summer day involved any of the following: ¬†digging up worms in the backyard, a dollar matinee, blowing bubbles, swimming in a small plastic pool with a layer of grass¬†floating¬†on the water’s surface, nap time, teddy bear picnics, playgroups, board games for hot days, pillow forts on rainy days, snuggling in bed with my little ones and watching Blues Clues or Dora; and mother’s morning out for me to run my errands and go to my¬†appointments. ¬†This sounds picturesque, and I am blessed to say it often was, but our younger years weren’t without the occasional tantrums over refusing a nap; the ever-stressful event of one of us needing to go to the bathroom while in Target with a cart full of sundries and three little ones in tow; continuous mopping of the kitchen floor over a new baby food rejected by said baby or a youngster convinced they can pour their own cup of milk; and the endless hours before my husband came home from work and the loneliness that accompanied those hours. ¬†It was an era of teaching them to say please and thank you and the instruction to share. ¬†I juggled being a wife and a stay-at-home mom while holding down a freelance job – all of which are a blessing.

When they got a little older, summer meant play dates with friends, bowling with gutter guards, teaching them how to mow the lawn, television limits, more board games, lemonade stands, and the ice cream truck.  They were a little more independent and toys like LEGOS and Barbies entered the scene.  Dress-up time was regular and my daughter wanted me to paint her nails in bright, glittery colors.  My boys wanted more road pieces for their Matchbox cars.  The basketball hoop got a little higher, and although they had outgrown naps, the also outgrew the fits that required them.  They learned how set a proper table, to hold the door for Mommy and others who needed help, and that sharing was a good idea after all as they learned the justice and injustices of right and wrong.  Life got a little busier, and I often fell into the trap of trying to provide too much fun for my kids.  I am certain it was some psychological righting of wrongs from my own dysfunctional childhood, and I became exhausted from trying to please everyone all the time.  But, I loved organizing birthday parties, baking cakes, and got used to our house guests growing in number as sleepovers became a normal thing Рas did pancakes that accompanied them the next morning.

My kids are two teens and a tween now. ¬†I am the one stealing an occasional afternoon nap. ¬†My daughter has discovered stick-on fake nails (though she still likes me to paint hers) and her dress-up time has shifted to wanting to don stylish clothes and highlights in her hair. ¬†My boys have all but forsaken tv and video games for Minecraft – though LEGOS are permanent family members. ¬†All of them mow the grass in clean, straight lines; they sleep in a little later; they handle the laundry and dishes and other household work quite well; and reasonable bedtimes are antiquated as we stay up late – all 5 of us – watching movies as a family. ¬†Social calendars are much busier, and for the first year my eldest went on his first job hunt and now drives me around town. ¬†They¬†water ski¬†and whitewater raft and travel¬†internationally¬†on missions trips. ¬†They get grounded until bedrooms are clean and have succumbed to their¬†regular¬†housework – though they’ve tried to pay each other to do their work (but they don’t have any money, ¬†so that didn’t really work out!)

They have their own opinions about life and love the Lord and have their own faith. ¬†Sharing one bathroom is a daily challenge for my kiddos, but they laugh together and love each other, so we try not to sweat the small stuff. ¬†When sibling issues arise, I remind them one purpose of families are to prepare them for the real world of studying for hard college classes, enduring a boss they may not like, and how to manage their time and money and get along with their future spouses. ¬†They are all great cooks, which will be a bonus when it’s time for marriage. ¬†All of the years of cleaning up splatters from mixers gone crazy or measuring cups falling off the counters or bags of flour spilling onto the floor,¬†practicing¬†separating egg yolks from the whites and how to properly handle raw meat – were¬†completely¬†worth it as they¬†maneuver¬†their way well through the kitchen these days.

I want to miss the “old days” when they were little. ¬†Everyone tells me I should. ¬†They tell me that at this point in life I should be looking back on the days when the worst thing that happened all day to them was a skinned knee from a bike fall. ¬†They tell me I should be lamenting about childhood¬†naivety, simple schedules and unconditional, endless hugs.

Well, I do have those moments of mamma sadness when I see how much they have grown, but the¬†excitement¬†of¬†watching¬†them grow is awesome! ¬†Just yesterday, I had one¬†of¬†the best hours with my oldest all summer. ¬†He and I were alone for about an hour. ¬†As he washed the dishes and I folded clothes, we talked about tough stuff. ¬†He asked deeply¬†spiritual¬†questions and I silently prayed to the Lord for the right answers. ¬†He and I talked about the world – what’s right and what’s wrong with it and how he feels about all of it. ¬†It was priceless time with him. ¬†He talked. ¬†I talked. ¬†We both listened as we did the housework.

This era of our lives is way too important to miss¬†physically, mentally or emotionally…and most importantly, spiritually. ¬†We stay busy, but I don’t want to be so busy that those special conversations never have an opportunity to blossom because we’re never in the same room at the same time. ¬†I don’t want to be so wigged out about college financial aid or the car we need to buy as ours is quickly dying, daily woes, or anything else that I don’t hear the prompting from my kids when they want to talk to me –¬†uninterrupted, about the tough stuff of life. ¬†They are so much more independent now, I don’t want to take advantage of that and begin my “next chapter” too soon. ¬†If I jump the gun of life with grown kids, I will miss being a part of them¬†finishing¬†growing up.

Parenting this age is exhausting and exhilarating.  Terrifying, trying  and terrific.  Sometimes all at once!

When I hear my youngest talk about what he wants to build as the cure for cancer, or my oldest discuss genetics, or my middle girl be loved on by so many small children who she sits for and volunteers with who adore her – my heart swells with gratitude. ¬†It’s these summer days that I want to remember as much as the early ones. ¬†Days when we take a long bike ride or indulge in our favorite frozen yogurt joint and the world’s problems take a backseat – if only for an hour, but preferably an afternoon.

Do politics and problems and worries roll around in the back of my mind? ¬†Sure. ¬†But, while my kids are still in my nest, I will tend it as best I can. ¬†I love the fact that my daughter chooses me to go back-to-school shopping with. ¬†I will absolutely go, and go with great joy, as I help her navigate her through the aisles and aisles of¬†inappropriate¬†clothes and find the hidden jewels – clothes that don’t compromise modesty for style – as I help her understand how far up the leg rips in the jeans should go, how low a neckline should be and why exposing bra straps is never an option. ¬†We talk about how modesty is the most beautiful form of fashion, and it can be found in her favorite stores!

I like when my boys talk at length to me about a computer game or movie and I have the precious opportunity to talk about our family’s values and where God fits into video games and television and books. ¬†No topic is taboo in our house, and my husband and I have found that oftentimes they want to talk when we are tired or distracted. ¬†When I am tempted to sluff off an open door in the name of more sleep or a little mindless time on Facebook, the Holy Spirit prompts me that I should embrace those moments, moments that won’t always be here. ¬†Like puppet shows behind the couch and wearing Halloween costumes to the grocery store just for fun, these are historical days that one day will be relieved only in our hearts and photographs.

Thankfully, some things never change.  We still flag down the ice cream truck, still like lazy Saturday mornings flipping pancakes, and I relish receiving endless hugs. The teen and tween years can be challenging as we all continue to grow individually and as a family, but they are priceless in their own right.

We will milk this summer for all its worth, and when the new school year begins, I will embrace that season with arms full of special memories, tender moments and kids that still want my hugs.