Monday, January 30, 2012

Time for some chocolate around here!

You can thank me later for this recipe. Actually, you can thank my mom. A few weeks ago she came over and brought with her 2 things- a chocolate cake mix and an angel food cake mix. In just over one minute we had the above pictured dessert in front of us. My kids fell in love, and so did I. And I am not typically a big chocolate fan. Don't get me wrong, I do like good chocolate and melted chocolate with real whipped cream is even better. But given the choice, I will choose vanilla over chocolate almost every time.
But this cake? This cake is a must in your recipe file.
So put those two items on your next grocery list- a chocolate cake mix and an angel food cake mix and be prepared to fall in love with the deliciousness of this easy, EASY dessert!
It goes together like this:
Place both cake mixes into a bowl and stir them up. Next, grab a coffee cup. Get one that's a little on the large size- not your china tea cup. Pour 1/3 cup of the dry cake mixture into your mug. No greasing required. Add 3 tablespoons of water and stir it up a bit. Got it so far...cake mix and water in a mug. Now, if you want you can add in some chocolate chips or peanut butter cups or nuts or whatever you like to mix into your cake. I like 60% cacao Ghiardelli chips myself. So toss them in or skip that part if you don't have any mix-ins and place your mug in a microwave for 75 seconds.
When it beeps, you can eat this cake straight out of the mug, or spoon it out onto a plate or bowl. This is where the whipped cream comes into play if you like that dort of thing too. I do. It's my favorite part. Next to the melted chocolate and hot, fluffy cake. =)
It is seriously that easy, delicious and probably not the best thing for your New Year's diet resolution. But it is a really great recipe to know, keep on hand and really fun to enjoy alone or with a group of people. I have not tried it with cake other than chocolate, but the kids and I think it would be fun to try with Red Velvet mix, Classic Yellow and even Funfetti.
I guess there have been different versions of this floating around the web. I haven't seen them myself, but if you know any good links, leave them in the comments here. Also, a few people have asked about finding me on Pinterest. You can do a search under "people" and type in my name with no spaces: jodyferlaak. You should find my account. I plan to 'pin' this recipe for a few friends who have asked about it.
Chip was gone for 4 days this past week to Orlando, FL for the PGA Show. The last thing I made him add to the grocery list were two cake mixes before he left. Turns out you don't miss someone being away quite so much when you can enjoy this cake- fresh and hot. Oh. And when your mom comes to stay with you for 3 of the 4 days too. =) Thanks, Mom!!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

I'm not an expert on the topic, but I do have lots of thoughts on it...

Suffering. I am writing about my thoughts on suffering today. I must first thank all of you who were so kind and encouraging in my last post to leave me comments inviting me to keep sharing on this blog- even if my stories aren't so happy and carefree and always positive around here. My intent in sharing what I do has never been to simply share the "good stuff" or to leave everyone feeling inspired and moved in some way. But I have always intended to "keep it real" tell it like it is. I hope that Nitty.Gritty. is a place where whoever stops to read goes away at least thinking about something meaningful. Whether that is through my favorite buttercream recipe, or through tales about my kids, or even through painful things I have lived through, I just hope that this place can be less about "fluff" and more about real life.

So thanks, from the bottom of my heart, for letting me just be me, and for actually caring enough to stop by here on occasion and leave me notes telling me how Nitty.Gritty. has touched your life. It means so very, very much to me... and yes, it even inspires me to want to share more. SO thank you for that. All of you!

Today I write to you about suffering. Now believe me when I say that I don't call myself an expert on this topic. Nor do I believe that I have had "my share of suffering", as though we all have to have a certain dose of it in life or reach a quota and then we get a badge or award or a "get-out-of-jail-free card" to use when life throws us our next curve ball. I do, however, feel like I have had a certain degree of trials and tests that many in this world will never know or feel or understand, and to that end it has caused me to think on the topic and ask lots of questions about it- thereby giving me "material" to draw on when I sit down and pen my thoughts.

This post is me penning some of my thoughts. On suffering. describes suffering as enduring pain, injury, distress, loss or anything unpleasant- being subjected to it and or tolerating it, patiently or willingly.

So there you have it.

If I simply take the definition of suffering I can overwhelmingly announce, "yes, I've suffered." I think every single person can identify with pain, distress or loss- whether it is physical or otherwise. I think it's important to note that I write out of this understanding- that each of us has suffered in our own way and I never want to over-emphasize my suffering, or minimize the suffering of another. But I still feel like I have something to say on the topic which might speak to one or more of you in however you need to "hear" it.

It's no secret that I have been stressed and struggling in many areas of life for a long while now. Every time I feel like I am starting to get back on my feet or seeing a light at the end of a tunnel or finding a way to 'create my own Joy' it seems as though some force comes along to knock me down and out again. I will be the first to admit that I am not very good or a very willing subject to this force each time it comes a-knockin'. I have gotten progressively less patient- with myself and others, less optimistic, less tolerant, less enthusiastic, less funny, less creative, less initmate, less friendly, less joyful and less a whole lot of other not so good things too. But let me just leave it at that for now. I am making myself feel terrible just writing out all the bad stuff I have let the hurts in my life bring out of me. The truth is that I sort of feel like every time something "good" is about to or does happen in my life, or every time I make a huge effort to be better than the "bad", to me it feels like things go from bad to worse. It's like the hardships in life don't just come and go, like they used to, but rather they keep piling up- one on top of the other. I think I've mentioned it here before, that sometimes I feel like I am just treading water, rather than swimming freely and truly loving or enjoying or getting the most out of life. I am also aware that there are lots of variables that come into play in my life- including the ages and stages of my children and the added demands of Wyndham's special needs coupled with a bunch of other things and it sort of has just been a long, hard "season" of life for our family the past couple of years. I get that.

I also write from a place where I feel like I have lived and learned some ultra-important lessons in life about appreciating what I have; I have a deep sense of perspective and insight about even our next breath not being guaranteed to us in life and so I should embrace the here and now like never before. I am keenly aware that life can and often does change in an instant...and I always get that things could be much worse. So much worse.

So I write from that place when I write about suffering. My thoughts lately have been more along the lines of not "why" do we suffer in this world. I fully believe there are lots of different reasons why and I fully believe that because of the original sin we live in a broken, fallen world which leaves every single one of us vulnerable to pain and suffering. So it's not so much the reason why that I think about, but rather about the actual suffering itself.

I posted a couple of pictures here today- one is a picture I took out my living room window the other day. It's a huge house that sits just feet behind our current place up on top of a hill. Crew calls it "the castle" and I have to admit I have wondered about the people who live there. I wonder what they do for a living- if they even have to work at all. I wonder if they have kids, or grandkids. I wonder if they love their castle, or if they would rather sell this home and live somewhere else. It's a beautiful, big house. But it doesn't mean that the people that live there don't have struggles or problems in life. Well, maybe they don't. =) I don't know for sure. But I do know that sometimes what we "see" on the outside doesn't mean that it's picture perfect on the inside. Tiger Woods is a modern day example of that- someone seemingly having everything going for you- when in reality your world can fall apart overnight.

So there's a picture of the castle. Then there is a picture of an online acquaintance of mine, Ashley of She is an all-around picture of "perfection" according to the picture that many of us paint in our minds of perfection. Meaning that she is young, beautiful, creative, talented, driven, married to Mr. Hottie with a great smile all his own, and she has an adorable little girl to round out this picture we often paint in our minds. Her life is one to envy in almost every single way.

Except for recently.

Her dad died unexpectedly last spring. Shortly after that she experienced a miscarriage. Then, as if she wasn't going through enough suffering- physically and emotionally- she found out she has cancer.

She is in the middle of her battle right now. And although hundreds of other people are in the same battle, she seems to be facing it with a certain Joy and grace that many others lack. I have followed her story, prayed and sent messages of encouragement to her. You would be blessed by reading her story and cheering her on too.{There is a way to get more involved with her story here too!}

She has touched me through the computer screen.

And the part that has touched me is not that she has everything going 'right'... but precisely the fact that so much is going 'wrong' and yet she persists. She smiles. She seems to make the "suffering look easy". I've written about that here at Nitty.Gritty. in previous posts too. So the part about suffering that makes me wonder is this- maybe it's not the why's of suffering, but the definition of suffering that needs to be examined.

I have been asking God to show me what He wants me to learn from the hard lessons I feel I've been going through. I have been praying that maybe He could ease some of the burdens I have been carrying in life so that I could live 'freely' again. I have prayed and prayed that He might bring about the feeling of joy I used to feel and thinking that certainly it must be in the easing of my suffering that I would find that joy again.

But instead, I am beginning to think that maybe it is in accepting that my definition and God's definition of suffering are two totally different things. I know He could hand me the keys to a "castle" free of pain and suffering if He so wanted to. But that doesn't mean it would be the best way for me to learn lessons in life that clearly I still need to learn. I'm talking about that long, nasty list of not-so-hot things about me. Things like needing to love more, to like more, to be patient more, to be accept more, to try harder, to be better, to be gracious more, to be intimate and share myself more, to laugh more, to accept less when needed too, and lots of other refining I need in so many, many areas of my life.

Realizing that God's picture of suffering and my picture of suffering are worlds apart is probably one step toward becoming not only more joyful in life, but more in step with the character He is trying to mold me to be- through, ironically, what I term "suffering".

I am absolutely aware- even as I glance outside my back window and see a "castle" every single day, that even what I call suffering in life doesn't begin to compare with what millions of people in this world wake up to and suffer through every day. I am fully aware that I have so much more than most of the people of this world will ever know. I am thankful and grateful for all that I have. Yet, ashamedly, I have found myself wishing I had less baggage and more ease in life. I think God might just be trying to speak to me through the very castle He has placed in my backyard. I can't know what life holds in that castle- just as Ashley cannot know what life holds for her each time she has another round of chemo. Our sufferings may be very real to us. But I am starting to wonder if I could just catch a glimpse of them from God's point of view, maybe I could see how very, very small they are. And how very, very big He is. And the faith that has wavered in my heart might waiver a bit less as I recognize that He has this all in His hands. He has a plan and a purpose and reasons that can spin my suffering and all the world's suffering and turn them into things of beauty and even pleasure. He is that capable, and that amazing.

So, I hope that maybe, even with all this long rambling, that just maybe some of my tiny thoughts on the subject of suffering might shed a tiny bit of light on something one of you reading here is going through. Just maybe God can take my words and use them to touch you in a different way. Just maybe God can take the current suffering and pain that Ashley is going through and use it to change someone's life- whether it be the way they look at life and how they approach a pain or that they decide to "Choose joy" because they see the beauty of that in Ashely's fight.

I do not have the answers to suffering. But I do think, deep in my heart, that God might be using a little bit of suffering in my life to do something I would never have thought of on my own. That only proves my point. What I call suffering in my life, might very likely be termed mercy or grace since it comes from Him. And that, my friends, is a very, very good thing.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

If I never blog again, this is why...

No. I didn't get a makeover and now I look like a pink-haired Katy Perry. But I did consider growing my hair out and trying the look for a few brief moments over the weekend. Chip even gave me the green light to go for it. But instead, I got my hair cut today, so this look will have to wait.

The real news is that I finally caved in to all the friends I see posting things and linking inspiring food, clothing, home decor, crafty projects, great quotes, flowing wedding gowns and a million other things that they see and love, and I got myself a Pinterest account. I am sure that most of you already know about, have a thousand pins and spend all your free time adding to your boards or browsing others. If you don't know what it's about, you are in for a treat. Or you are in for giving up free time that you would normally have for things like cooking dinner, folding laundry, reading kids bedtime stories, showering and anything else you can squeeze out of your normal schedule in order to spend more time on this site.

Between Face Book, mothering 6 kids, maintaining a rental home, marriage and now Pinterest, it's going to be a feat for me to update this blog at all. =)

Really though, I have to admit that I struggle with wondering what I should write and share here anymore. Years ago when I started Nitty.Gritty. I had fewer kids, lots of pictures and stories to tell- old and new, as well as the naivity that my family and friends would want to read my stories and see the pictures I posted too. The fact is, most of my family and friends no longer check in on this blog and those of you who do, I am not even certain why you read or keep coming back. There has been a huge shift in my happiness level the past couple of years, the stories seem to be the same ones I tell, just in slightly different ways. And well, the photos are fewer and farther between. Especially now that we've moved and I can't find my camera cord, so I am left with pictures snapped from my cellphone.

I sort of chuckle at my own self thinking that someone might actually miss me if I'm gone too long. I had high hopes of resurrecting my frequent posting here this year. And then Pinterest came along. I am actually hoping to do some of the fun/cute/interesting projects I've seen on the site and I hope that maybe getting some of my creativity back may help my happiness level jump a few notches at the same time too.

Life has not been as fun for me lately. But I am going to try with all my might to put a spin on it if I have to and bring back some Joy. Not because I have any more free time or energy, but because I truly believe that it's been missing far too long and I am finally saying, "I've had enough". The pits are only so fun for so long. The dark days don't breed light on their own. I know that because we've been sitting in them for awhile now and I am realizing I haven't been living out so much of what I have written and posted about through the years. I was reading some "old" posts here and literally found myself saying, "I wish I was more like that!" And the "that" is I have some changing to do! I am feeling ready for change. Ready for light. Ready for Joy.

Ready for more Nitty.Gritty.

The good, the bad and hopefully some fun and inspiring in between.

If you see me with pink hair in the next few months, you'll know I am starting to find my way back to the happiness that my heart has longed for. And if it stays the way it is, I still hope that I will find happiness and fullness of life even so. If I never blog again, something has gone awry.

Because I love blogging and I hope to never fully give up on Nitty.Gritty.

Even if the rest of you do. =)

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

On the eve of another big day...

I just happened to find a stack of cd's with several hundred "old" family photos on tonight in the middle of some of our 'stuff' around the house. I put the disc in my laptop and couldn't believe some of the pictures I found. Many of them I didn't remember even taking- those are so fun to come across, because it's like you get a little treasure from the past you didn't even know you had kept. Remember my previous post... what can I do with or without? I am glad I am obsessive about taking photos. I especially love digital ones because although the discs and files take up space, they don't really take up much room in the overall scheme of things. And like I said, it's a treat to come across them and I am sure will just become more "valuable" with age.

Tomorrow is Wyndham's birthday. She is excited to be having Grandma and Grandpa at our house to celebrate her and have a special meal and of course, a special cake for her too! When I saw some of the photos of her- {these are of her at age 4 1/2} the emotions in me were all over the place. I can't believe how tiny she was! I can't believe she was still "walking on her knees or tall-walking" as her therapists called it. I can't believe she was so happy to be learning to use a walker and be gaining a little bit of muscle tone finally.

I just love her smile and how she was so eager to try new things and push herself hard in order to be as much like the other kids in the family as she could. I love that she doesn't look like she has a single major issue in those smiling pictures. Even though the fact is she couldn't walk, talk, go on the potty, ride a tricycle, spin and dance or do lots of other things that little 4-year old girls typically get to do.

On this eve of her eleventh birthday I am still amazed at so many things about her. Amazed in truly mixed emotional ways. I love that she has rose to challenges time and time again- almost her whole life long. I am awed that she has surprised us by accomplishing so many things. But I would not be telling the whole truth if I didn't say it breaks my heart a bit too, just knowing that even after all her efforts and wanting and working toward being "just as able" as most other kids, that she still can't walk or talk or go potty by herself or ride a bike or dance and sing whenever her heart desires. As her mom I have always wanted her to be able to reach impossible dreams. The reality is that at age almost 11, her dreams have had to shift and change and sometimes the acceptance of her reality has become my bigget challenge. Not hers.

But rather than be sad and dwell on the things she can't do, these pictures reminded me tonight of all she has overcome and how even when she's had to resign herself to the fact that she'll never talk or do lots of things other kids do, she still has a sparkle in her eye, a joy in her heart, a silly sense of humor and she is loved in ways many people will never have the privilege of knowing. She is a remarkable little girl and I just had this glimpse in my mind that I can imagine must have come straight from above tonight.

I was letting my heart just soak it all in- the day she came into this world and how Teagan was such a proud, big sister and how Brock was unimpressed and very much a typical 2-year old at that first hospital visit. He cared more about getting to drink out of my can of pop sitting on my hospital tray than he did about wanting a turn holding Wyndham. I was so happy to be a mom fo three and was so thrilled to imagine Teagan and Wyndham being the kind of best friend and sisters I hoped and dreamed they would be. And then I paused and flash-forwarded through the unimaginable and landed on this birthday eve.

I was sitting in my thoughts just thanking God for bringing Wyndham and us so far together. Through things I never imagined going through on that special birth day- January 4th, 2001. I was feeling that tightness I get in my throat when I hurt from the past when all of a sudden the glimpse came to me. And then it grew from a glimpse to an 'oh my goodness I wonder what it WILL be like' picture in my mind. That picture was one where someday- I don't know when- I will "see" the picture clearly in Heaven and Wyndham will be dancing. And singing. And running and laughing and twirling and doing all the things I wished she could do so many times... and she'll be doing them effortlessly. With great JOY! She will be more than I ever imagined or dreamed she could be. In my limited mind and imagination here on earth I can only compare it to how an Olympic Gold medalist might feel. Or how a musician feels when they hit the perfect pitch at their highest, loudest note in the song. Or how the poet feels when they pen the most eloquent poem and read it aloud only to bring tears and hushed sounds to the crowd listening on. Or how an astronaut feels as they look down to earth from miles and miles away- all the years of studying and the physical intensity it demands to be floating in air...well, you can see. I was given this amazing picture of how Wyndham might be in Heaven one day.

To think that we have had to walk a rough road with her and feel fatigue and heartache and emotional and mental and physical pain from the added demands of her life challenges- and yet to realize that it all is just a small thing to guide her, care for her and help her along the way to her ultimate healing and her hope of eternity. She will dance one day. She will shout praises to God with a clear and mighty voice. She will be the perfect creation God has intended her to be! I am sure the moms of Olympians would say over and over and over again that when their child stood on the highest podium and held up their gold medal that all the sacrifices and hardships they endured through the years of training, didn't matter one bit at that moment. The sweat and tears and pain it took to get to that point simply melt away and are replaced by the roar of the crowd. The music plays and as their child stands proudly for the whole world to see any parent would say that nothing compares to such a moment in time.

Well, I can tell you from my own little corner of the world, I believe with all my heart that Wyndham's moment in "time" (which will actually last for all eternity!) is more than going to make up for anything we/she has endured down here. It gives me such a peace and I know I need to focus more on what's coming as we continue to cheer her on every single day. I am proud to be her Mom. I am proud of her spirit and how she puts her best foot forward even when it hurts. I am so happy to be celebrating her life for another year tomorrow. As tough as it's been... there has been a lot to smile about. And I know more is yet to come.

Monday, January 02, 2012

With or without.

It is the start of yet another year. How 365 days seem to speed up and turn into a new year faster than the year before is the biggest surprise to me right now. I wonder if that keeps happening year after year, or if at some point it goes back to feeling a little slower-paced. Time will tell, I suppose.
So here we are- in 2012 and all it's freshness and possibility. Yes, I am in a new place back in my "home" state and feeling as though there are almost too many things starting over for me and my family all at once. From new schools, to trying to learn our way around a new grocery store, to setting up rooms and looking forward to meeting and making new friends. It's so much at once. If you know me in person you know I don't like change all that much. Sure, I love when Starbuck's offers a few new flavors on their latte menu. I like it when I get new shoes and they fit just right. I like watching my kids learn new things and try new foods. But beyond some of those things, I like things predictable and comfortable. Tried and true. I like knowing what to expect and when to expect it. I'm not nearly as adventurous as I look. =)
Right now, when I open the door to our garage, all I see is boxes and stuff stacked on top of more stuff. So much stuff that I feel practically overwhelmed with the task of finding things I still need and would like to use {or wear} right now. It's not for lack of space that our stuff is still piled high at this point. But more because, well one reason is that 6 out of 8 of us ended up with the flu bug the past few days. That did little to help the cause of getting us more settled in this place. It did give our washer and dryer a major workout. But I could have done without that right now. =)
It's more about me realizing in a big, big way that, while I knew we had too much "stuff", it was easy to just live without that knowledge and just let the closets get more and more filled at our last place. {Which, we are hoping will land some buyers as soon as possible. If you know anyone who wants a great family home near Muskegon, MI, send them this link. I'll send you some cupcakes as a return favor!}
So, as I was typing, in our last home I knew we had more than we needed. I had wanted to clean and have garage sales and donate nice things and give stuff away more times than I did. I knew the closets and shelves were filling up with all sorts of things. What I didn't realize is how much effort it takes to go through all of that stuff and sort it to try to decide what we need, what we want, what will be worth holding onto, and what we should simply let go of and be better off in so doing.
It's a big job to have a garage filled to the brim and have to determine what stays and what goes. Losing Teagan has made me hold onto things I might otherwise never have wanted to keep. Haveing kids from 16 months to almost 13 years old also makes for having a lot of stuff. There are games and toys and bikes and beds spanning all those years. That's a lot of gear to have to store and yet we use most of it too.
So as this year kicks off I am finding that I need to keep it as simple as I can. I am working on sorting through boxes of stuff and asking simply of each thing, "Can we do without this? Or do we need this?" I hope that I can actually make a dent in at least one small corner by the end of this week. Big jobs need to be scaled down, so I am hoping to not lose heart and just take it one box at a time.
I hope that come next year I will have learned that a life lived simply and with a whole lot less stuff can be just as satisfying and even more rewarding and fulfilling as the life where I filled up all the spaces I could. Wish me luck and I am crossing my fingers that we can stay healthy for awhile too. The flu bug is one thing I have determined I could definitely live without!
Happy New Year to everyone of you who reads and prays and laughs at us and with us each step of the way that I share here with you. I hope you have a year of learning, growing, whittling down and living more intentionally. May each of us become better in at least one small way!