Sunday, June 21, 2015

Highly Effective Father

Happy Father's Day!

Dan has officially been a father for six years, although based on his love for his daughters, one would think he's been a dad much, much longer. As if to drive this point home, Lana's birthday actually sometimes falls on Father's Day. It seems fitting that the birth of his oldest child should be celebrated at the same time we recognize him.

I read an article recently called 10 Traits of Highly Effective Dads. It's interesting and made me think about how effective Dan is as a father.

Oh, let me count the ways:
(Bold headlines are from the article. Italicized comments are mine.)

1. They keep their lives de-compartmentalizedThey are the same man, husband and father regardless of where and when.  Dan is Dan is Dan. He's the same man at church, at work, out watering the garden, or roughhousing with the children.
2. They realize that their manhood and fatherhood is directly tied to their relationship with God.    I think Dan learned this from his own Dad and it was the most natural thing in the world to continue in his own life.  
3. If married, they uphold their wives as their number one friend and co-worker in life.  I've never not felt that I was Dan's number one friend and co-worker. I'm also his number one fan!
4. They practice the discipline of meekness.  They exemplify the combination of humility and strength.   Dan is strong for our family, not strong at our family. He's a solid disciplinarian, but has never punished out of rage or anger. He's also a great comforter when little hearts are hurting. 
5. They’ve tied their hearts to the hearts of their children.  Dan knows the relationship he has with Lana and Nora is so completely unique and special. He knows he is their first hero and one of their two most important teachers. He doesn't take this responsibility lightly.

6. They honor their child’s gender and unique giftedness.  Dan will be the first to tell you, he's been, um, surprised by having two little girls.  But surprise does not equal disappointment or regret. He's used to the dancing and singing, doesn't mind all the pink, and only mildly freaks out when vacuuming up glitter. He's also been able to effectively bond with the girls over dirt and 4-wheeler rides.
7. They are great listeners and make themselves available for those “by the way” teaching moments and conversations with their children.  Heart-string moments often aren't planned, but just happen, and Dan is there to catch them when they do. Lana will take 20 minutes to tell a 2 minute story, and Dan will listen (or at least pretend to) until she gets to the point and they can de-brief.
8. They make their children feel special and believe in them.  Just as she knows her ABCs, Lana knows her Daddy thinks she's special. He takes her for special milkshake-dates, lets her "help" in the garden, and is told how awesome she is. She knows she's loved, and she knows she'll always have her Daddy in her corner. (Nora likely knows all this too, she just can't verbalize it yet.)
9. Mercy and grace are a part of their households.  There is nothing fake about Dan. When he messes up, just as we all do, he'll apologize and ask for forgiveness, even to his children. I've had to do this a time or two also, and know that's it's humbling and hard, but necessary. He then easily offers the same forgiveness he's been given. 
10. They take care of the fundamentals or basics.  If there's a problem, or a need to be met, Dan is on it. This man works harder than anyone I've ever known. It's part of his DNA, and likely he'd be a hard worker even if he didn't have kids. But I know he works harder because he's got a family depending on him. 
So, according to that list, Dan is an incredibly effective dad. Of course, I would agree!
Happy Father's Day Dan! You are loved, appreciated, and adored by the two little girls and the big one too!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Year 6 kind of ROCKED!

This girl. THIS. GIRL. Oh how I adore THIS GIRL. Lana turns 6 years old today. Cliche to say, I know, but dang, where oh where did the years go? This year was huge for Lana. She started kindergarten, lost some teeth, kept learning what it really means to be a big sister, and really started to think about others.

Lana's independence grew, as well as her shoe size and height.

Kindergarten was definitely this year's highlight. Having an identity separate from Mom and Dad was new and exciting. To many, many small people, I will here and forever be known as "Lana's Mom," and that's just fine with me.

Lana learned to read, mix potions, calm a mad sister, and put away her own laundry.

All while making up silly songs, telling us story after story, figuring out how she can help, and remembering to look fabulous at all times.

Happy birthday, dear one. May this year be better than last and may you keep growing and learning and loving always.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Letter to My Daughter's Kindergarten Teacher, Part 2

Clear back in August, I wrote a letter to Lana's (at that time unknown) kindergarten teacher. You can read it here if you want, but the short version is it's filled with all the worry and excitement typical of a first-time-sending-a-kid-to-school mom. I had lots of feelings and really, really wanted Lana's new teacher to understand her. I shouldn't have worried; Lana's teacher was amazing and our girl blossomed and sparkled under her guidance. 

I didn't send the teacher the first letter. It was really more for me than her anyway, as I had all these feelings to work out. But today, on the last day of school, I did send this letter:

Hi Miss Hood,
A mere 'Thank You' does not begin to do justice to the sheer amount of gratitude you deserve from Lana and her family. Under your tutelage, our excited and imaginative little girl became a confident, empathetic, curious First Grader. You taught her so much more than proper pencil grip and how to clap out syllables; you taught her to love learning, explore, and keep on asking questions. Dan and I enjoyed hearing about how lumber and pressboard are made, as well as who was King or Queen Bee for the day.  You taught her (and then she taught us) what sound stretchers are used for, how counters make addition easier, and to take up the whole space when writing capital letters. 
Lana has appointed herself as your Number One Fan. Days with substitutes were all given low marks, and evening prayers were sent up, asking for your speedy return. During school breaks, Lana counted down the days until she would get to go back to school and see you again. I'm not particularly proud to say it, but we're pretty much bribing her to get through today, this last day of school. Promises of playing at Silverwood, followed by two weeks of camp, just might be enough to temporarily make up for the loss of her lovely and dear Miss Hood. There was some emotion at breakfast this morning, and I'm not sure how much good my follow-up pep-talk did. I think she came to school dry-eyed, but I cannot guarantee Lana doesn't end the day as a weeping puddle at your feet. 

Your impact on Lana has been tremendous. A quick comparison of First Day of School Lana and Last Day of School Lana is all the proof one needs to see that. Thank you, thank you, thank you. You taught, guided, shepherded, and loved on our girl for the past nine months. You brought out her hidden confidence, challenged her to be more responsible, and encouraged her to run wild with her imagination and creativity. We could not have engineered a better, more positive kindergarten experience. A thousand more times, thank you.

Have a wonderful summer break. You deserve weeks and weeks of quiet and rest and relaxation. I hope we're blessed again to have you in five years when Lana's little sister, Nora, is entering kindergarten. (Is it too early to put in a teacher request now? Emoji)

Thank you again,
Shelle Lenssen

Friday, April 24, 2015

Through Lana's Eyes

Lana has gotten involved in photography through our local 4-H club. She and I have gone to club meetings and learned lessons on proper camera holding, camera safety, light, shadows, flash, and subject matter. Although the classes are meant for the kids, I'm sure I'm not the only parent who has learned a lot too : )

I'm also learning about my daughter through this project. The things she finds interesting and beautiful are amazing to me. She has her own eye and way of looking at things, and I love that these traits come out when she takes pictures.
Doesn't this picture make you think Lana was tilting her head to make a silly face just to make her sister laugh? Isn't that exactly what a kid would do?

Lana has been playing around with focus and I love how she got the nearest branches clearly and the others make a neat fuzzy background.

Doodling and note writing are two things Lana does when she's supposed to be paying attention to the photography class speaker : )

After the unit on shadows, Lana took this picture of the shadow web made by the willow tree.

Those same branches that Lana photographed a month ago, are very, very different today.

I like how she contrasted the hard of the road with the soft of the flowers.

I'm sure Lana will take dozens more photos before we finally decide on one for the fair in September, Until then, I can't wait to see what she sees next!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The #1 Reason I Make Pancakes

Why, oh why did I get up early on Valentine's Day to make special pink and heart-shaped pancakes for my family?

Because this is my reward.

A smiling baby is the single best reason I know.

For smiles that sweet, dear Nora, I will make you pancakes every single day.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

"What do I do with all that ground beef?"

For the past four years, Dan and I (well, really, mostly Dan) have grown feeder steers in our pasture and had them butchered in the fall for freezer beef. Our freezer and bellies have been happy with our high-quality, delicious steaks, roasts, and ground beef, and from what I've heard, our friends that have purchased half- or quarter-sized beef sections from us have been satisfied as well.

When I talk with interested parties about the possibility of filling their freezers with beef, one of the first questions I get, is always, "What in the world would I do with that much ground beef?"  Ha! I have to laugh when I hear this, because ground beef is the backbone of many, many meals around our table. In my humble opinion, ground beef should be considered the hammer or screwdriver of the working mother's toolbelt. Ground beef is why dinner can be ready in 22 minutes and why there will be tasty leftovers for lunches the next day.

Growing up, my mother's go-to weeknight meals of 1) spaghetti and 2) tacos both used ground beef. Many an evening in our house started with Mom asking me or my sister to check and see if we had either red sauce or tortillas in the pantry. The answer would determine the night's dinner. This happened at least twice per week. Please, don't get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with tacos or spaghetti, I just want to branch out and use ground beef in other ways. (If you're wondering, the $0.88 can of Hunt's red sauce from Winco, paired with a pound of quality ground beef makes an excellent, meaty, and flavorful pasta topper. And a packet of taco seasoning with ground beef, some lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, and ranch dressing will make the kid-friendliest tacos you'll ever serve. BOOM! Two family dinners with ground beef are done.)

One of my favorite ways to use ground beef is in meatloaf. Remember meatloaf? Remember the dry puck of meat you and your sister would slather in gallons of ketchup and try to choke down? Remember dinner table fights with your parents about cleaning your plate? Remember how you used to loathe meatloaf? Yeah, this most certainly is NOT that meatloaf.

I originally came across this recipe for individual-sized meatloaf-minis in a Cooking Light magazine. I made it for my family and Dan and Lana ate the meal with gusto, and I put to bed my former assumptions about meatloaf being not-so-delicious and a chore to eat. I also made these meatloaf-minis for a ladies meal-swap group I was a part of, and everyone was grateful that I included a copy of the recipe with the meal.

I made a few changes to the recipe based on my family's preferences, but I have no doubt that as-written, the meatloaf minis would be oh-so-very-scrumptious. Here are my changes:

1. I didn't use fresh breadcrumbs. The ones in the canister from the grocery store worked great for me.
2. I omitted the horseradish. A) I didn't have any and wasn't going to buy a whole jar for just this recipe, and B) Dan HATES this stuff and wonders why it even exists, thus leading to point A.
3. Instead of regular, run-of-the-mill cheddar, I like to use Cougar Gold. It's awesome cheese for any occasion, and I think it makes this meatloaf extra-fancy.

When I try out a new dinner recipe, I mentally score it based on a few categories. Here's how the meatloaf minis did:

Loved it! A hit with the grown-ups (me and Dan) as well as the oldest daughter. I don't think Nora's eaten it yet because I haven't fed it to her yet, so the verdict is still out for her.

Dan and I pack our lunches to work everyday, so I really try to make dinners that can be reheated easily and are still tasty the next day. These foil-wrapped meatloaves transport easily in lunch containers and re-heat nicely in the microwave and are still delicious.

This recipe is very easy to follow, but it does take a little bit of time to chop all the ingredients. For me, it's not a meal I can do on a weeknight start-to-finish. If I make this on a weeknight, I have everything chopped and mixed up the night before so only the baking is needed the next evening.

I love a good freezer meal and have been very happy with how these little guys freeze and re-heat well. I freeze them fully-cooked, so all that is needed prior to serving is a thaw and a quick heat in the microwave or oven.

Give this recipe a try. I'm sure you and your family won't be disappointed!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Happy 1st Birthday to our Nora!

On December 26th (yep, that's right, the day after Christmas, impeccable timing, isn't it?) Nora had her first birthday. Of course, because she's a member of the inconvenient birthday club, we spent the bulk of her special day travelling across the state to see friends and family on a post-Christmas holiday. Dear Nora was strapped in a rear-facing carseat for seven hours, with only limited breaks for food and freedom. Not how anyone, especially an active one-year old, would choose to spend their birthday.

Even though it's a few weeks later than Nora's actual birthday, I hope yesterday's morning of free-play and cake destroying makes up for the seven hours of confinement. It's a good thing babies have short memories and they're really, really cute.

Blue eyes, porcelain skin, baby-soft cheeks, and a sweet, sweet half smile. Oh how I love this girl! 

Hug Momma? Hug?

Nora is my winter baby!

We then got down to the business of cake-destroying. Nora's Grandma made her a delicious cake for eating and smashing on her actual birthday, but a day of driving, limited naps, and a roomful of strangers did not a happy girl make, so we did a birthday cake re-do at home on the floor. 

And Baby did not disappoint.
The first birthday is the only one that is acceptable to sit around shirtless eating cake, right?

Yay for cake!

Happy birthday Nora! You are loved and adored by many. And right now I just want to pinch those chubby thighs, zerbert that squishy belly, and devour those delicious cheeks.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Pictures in December

I didn't even try to do a 12 on the 12th this month. In fact, I don't think I even had 12 pictures to post on the 12th. So this is what's been going on here:

The Santa hats were discovered * We got "elfed" * Lana at the kindergarten Thanksgiving party * Our Thankful Tree * Pigtails are the CUTEST! * Clearly, I'm not a professional photographer. (Although I am looking forward to seeing the "real" photos * Sweet Nora * Crafting with ladies and daughters *

Thursday, November 13, 2014

12 on the 13th!

Hey! Only one day behind!

Our first 4-H meeting * Rock Climbing at the Family Fun Night at Lana's school * Lana the Wallybird * The cutest jack-o-lantern ever, spotted while trick-or-treating * And now you shall be rewarded with a delicious, happy Nora * I was cold, rained-upon, tired, and sore, but that 10K got ran, dangit * Sweet notes from my sweetie * A family picture sneak peak * Two tired loves *Lana prepping for the "fly paper" bounce house at the Family Fun Night * The cutest lunch I've ever had * Queen Elsa and adorable Olaf *

Monday, October 20, 2014

Year Seven of Happily Ever After

Seven years ago Dan and I said, "I do" when we were supposed to, had a party with friends and family, then jetted off to Hawaii. 

Happily Ever After, right? 

Absolutely. And then real life happened, and we learned that Happily Ever After comes in fits and bursts. Happily Ever After has tears and disappointments, and it has heart-bursting joys and miracles. Happily Ever After has never been messier than it was this, our seventh year of marriage. 

First off, I crashed the car.
Yeah, totaled it, actually. I was driving to work with Lana in the backseat and I hit and icy patch and couldn't get the car under control. We ended up upside down in a ditch. We went to the hospital via ambulance. It was scary and awful and I don't recommend it to anyone. But we were fine. Some stitches and soreness, and time monitoring 37-week-in-utero Baby, but we were fine. 

 Then, three weeks later, on the day after Christmas, we became a family of four!

Nora Johanna, our 8 lb. 12 oz. bundle of JOY.

A few weeks later, (because Dan's little pick-up was feeling left-out, I guess) Dan slid off the road into the neighbor's fence.

Baby snuggles helped us all feel better.

Then the Seahawks won the SuperBowl and all seemed right in the world.

We ate too many cupcakes.

And enjoyed some steaks.

Dan kept the driveway plowed through the winter (with help from his valiant assistant).

Then Spring came and we (as tradition dictates) fished at Henry's Lake.

But not before blowing a tire and doing some body damage on the interstate. (Auto issues definitely was a theme of year 7, wasn't it?)

The garden grew and we ate (and ate, and ate) from its bounty.

Lana turned five.

And we again realized that they really do grow so quickly, don't they?

Our sweet cherub, Nora, somehow contracted Whooping Cough.
And we all dutifully took our antibiotics to get this bug out of our house.
(Don't even get Dan or I started on Whooping Cough. Nora is still, four months later, dealing with some of the fall-out from this disease. Trying to get a baby to keep still for puffs from an inhaler isn't fun. And it's really not fun that the baby even needs the inhaler to begin with.)

We went on a week's vacation to McCall, Idaho with my side of the family.

And came back to canning that needed to be done and a garden to tend.

Dan helped with the wheat harvest.

And Lana started Kindergarten.

And while we could have done without all the lows, (crashing cars, and Whooping Cough come to mind) the highs make it all worth it.
This whole Happily-Ever-After Thing isn't always happy, but it is always joyful. By sticking together through the mess, and by meeting challenges together, we're getting through it and doing our best to enjoy the ride. 
Happy Anniversary Dan! Let's make year eight even better, okay?