A Reason to Celebrate, and Sweet & Smoky Chicken Skewers

Good grief I’m tired. Summer can’t come soon enough.

It’s weird to say that because last summer stretched on forever, and when it was finally over I swore up and down I never wanted the hot, sticky season to come again. Summer is supposed to be slow, but it was more sluggish than a snail last year. The lack of momentum made it feel static, not serene. And that was tiring. I feel like I only just started recovering from it, yet here I am ready for another one? It’s a strange tension.

Today I’m tired in a different sort of way–the best sort of way. The weekend swept me up in a swirl of food and family and fun, and the whirlwind wore me out. I fell asleep on the couch last night recovering. Remembering, too: the smile on Mia’s face as she turned nine. The way she laughed and played and drank it all in–the swimming, the silly jokes, the small cans of Dr. Pepper that are special treat indeed. It almost didn’t matter what I served; the people surrounding her made it the most special, especially after last year’s lockdown.

Her birthday last year was different. We celebrated, but separately. Reality got skewed and our circle got smaller and eventually summer stretched on for days on end. We grilled our way through the long, hot months, trying to enjoy the low pressure days, but secretly stressed out with waiting and wondering what would happen next. This recipe was born out of the lonesome days of lockdown, a time when life was slow and sweet in its own way, even though the world seemed to burn around us.

The days at home were good, but the strife outside our doors made it hard to guess what would come next. This recipe for sweet & smoky chicken reminds me of those days. It gave me hope for a day when we would fill our table with family and friends again–and that day came right along with Mia’s birthday. They remind me of last year when we couldn’t share meals together like this–and why it’s so important we do so again.

A shared meal is never just about the food: it is always about fellowship with the faces that share the food with us. It’s about acknowledging our need for fuel and friendship at the same time; it’s about feeding people’s stomachs and souls by giving them a reason to slow down and savor. Food is so much more meaningful when it’s shared.

And so, as a new summer knocks on our doors and asks to stay for awhile, let’s invite it in with open arms–and along with it, let’s welcome each other again. Let’s find a reason to celebrate and gather around tables together, laughing alongside each other as we pass platters filled to the brim with good things. Let’s feed each other with the sort of welcome that says “I’m so glad you’re here.”

Let’s remember the way it was for awhile and be grateful it wasn’t forever, because eating together is something sacred indeed.


Nothing Is Wasted, And Banzai Burger Bowls

It’s no secret I’ve been sick. Or at least, I don’t think it’s a secret. I’ve shared a lot about it on Instagram (are you following me there yet? Come say hi @rachel.maier.writes!), but haven’t filled you all in here because the truth is, I have been very, very tired. Even thinking about writing posts with recipes wiped me out. And so, silence ensued.

But I’m feeling better now–or at least, I’m improving. I talked with my mom the other day and laughed because saying “I’m feeling better” suggests I am better, which of course by now you probably realize I am not. I am improving though. Minute by blessed minute, my body is responding to the miracle of having the right medicine for the right diagnosis–and Lord help us all, when you don’t have a complete picture of what’s wrong, it’s hard to know how to make it right.

It all started on my 40th birthday. Well that’s not true–it all started the summer before my senior year of high school. This particular flare up started on my 40th birthday. Instead of lighting candles on my birthday cake, my body flared up hot and angry. I got plenty mad about it too because I had just gotten over a nasty flare up last fall. Last time I evaded going to a GI doctor (I had yet to establish care with a new once since relocating here a couple years ago), but this time around I knew I had to finally go.

I sat in his office nervous, knowing the severity of my symptoms warranted a colonoscopy, so you can imagine how surprised I was when the doctor dubiously said, “It’s IBS, I think. Not Ulcerative Colitis.”

“Even with the bleeding?” I asked.

“Even with the bleeding,” he replied.

I wanted to shout BS at him. (But I didn’t. I have more self-control than that.) I bit my tongue and left that day, trying to wrap my head around the possibility that he was right. I tried to trust my gut, but I entertained the idea that perhaps I had overreacted to gut distress for all these years, and maybe, just maybe, God was giving me the answer for which I asked him repeatedly: a name for the crazy gut issues that stumped countless doctors for years.

I was so tired of hearing “You have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).” When I was almost 20 years old my family doctor diagnosed me with IBS and showed me to the door with a smile, telling me to eat plenty of yogurt as he waved goodbye. I heard that same story again in my early 30’s when wheat and gluten triggered similar responses, but that doctor scolded me for inquiring about Celiac Disease and shooed me out the door with an IBS diagnosis (again) along with strict orders to take a daily fiber supplement. Here I was 40 years old hearing IBS again. It threw me for a loop.

In all these years, only one doctor gave me an opinion with grace and insight. He guided my decisions and oversaw my gut health until we relocated three years ago, but his words still rang in my ears that day, nagging me and making everything even more confusing. That doctor specifically told me he suspected I had undiagnosed Celiac Disease, but recommended against testing for it because I had been gluten free for several years at that point, and I already knew what I really needed to know: that gluten wreaks havoc on my system, and my symptoms improved dramatically without it in my diet. In his words, adding gluten back into my diet to confirm the diagnosis is “just too dangerous.” After ordering a colonoscopy, he diagnosed me with proctitis and advised me to stay gluten free to control my symptoms of colitis, and that there was a high likelihood all the bleeding in my colon was related to my gut issues, despite the fact that the test didn’t show it yet.

But here I was hearing IBS again. In this doctor’s opinion, the results from my previous colonoscopy were inconclusive. He just wasn’t convinced I had Inflammatory Bowel Disease at all. So he ordered a colonoscopy to investigate and confirm his theory.

And this, friends, is why tests are so important: the colonoscopy settled once and for all that I do, in fact, have Ulcerative Colitis.

After the procedure he very matter-of-factly reported I do have ulcerations in my colon, which means I do in fact have a form of Ulcerative Colitis, and the condition will likely progress and it puts me at a significantly higher risk for colon cancer.

The weight of his words fell softly on my shoulders because I already knew all this. Somehow, deep down in my bone-tired gut, I knew.

I wasn’t sad about it, exactly, but wrapping my head around the facts that finally prove IBS does not capture the whole of what’s wrong stung. I felt like I wasted twenty years. If I had gotten better insight earlier, would things be any different than they are now?

The whole ordeal got me thinking back to the glory days before any of this started, back when gluten wasn’t off the table and disease wasn’t something I dealt with and food was just food. It was a friend, not a foe, and a source of joy and fun and comfort–not hurt or hardship or pain. I recalled the days when sharing a booth and a burger at Red Robin was a pleasure, not a pain. My best friend Molly would order the the Banzai Burger and convince me to do the same, and we would eat basket after basket of seasoned fries while we mapped out our route through the mall, hitting up Bath & Body Works and Express first; then on to Macy’s and the Disney Store before swinging by the Dairy Queen for Blizzards on our way out the door. It never crossed my mind that one day grabbing burgers with my best friend would be a distant memory, or that I would spend more time mapping out the mall for bathrooms instead of boutiques.

Clearly, things changed.

Twenty years later I know the truth: my gut isn’t just finicky; it’s inflamed. It’s not just distressed; it’s diseased. This condition is life-long, but shoot–it has already been life-long, hasn’t it? It’s ugly and uncomfortable and embarrassing too–but it’s my story, nevertheless, and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it’s valuable in its own way.

I was chopping up leftover pineapple a few nights ago as I wrestled with all this, frustrated again that all this transpired because of a flare up on my 40th birthday–and then it hit me: the timing was a gift, because truth be told I would not have gone to the doctor or had this procedure or gotten the diagnosis I desperately need to move forward had I not had a flare up that day.

I whisked together sticky, syrupy coconut aminos with sharp and biting vinegar, and I remembered again that life is sweet and sour at the same time. The good things and the hard things work together to build a life we can truly savor. Today’s heartbreak is soothed by the sweetness of the memories I brought with me from the time before things changed. I wouldn’t know how to make a dinner like this without a recipe to guide me had I not treasured the memory of munching on Banzai Burgers with my best friend all those years ago. I browned the beef and sautéed garlic and transformed leftover pineapple into a midweek meal that made me miss her like crazy. Then I sat down to the table and scooped out big portions to my girls who ate it up with the sort of gusto that reminded me of the way Molly always did. Banzai Burger Bowls redeemed the memory of those untouched days when gluten and allergies were yet unknown and made it a beautiful moment to treasure instead of a memory to bemoan, and suddenly, surprisingly, I was thankful for all of it.

God does that, you know? When we hand him all the smashed up, broken pieces of our disappointed hearts and let him make them into something new, he does–and what he does with it is good, because he’s good. All the messed up, unfair, heartbreaking circumstances of our lives transform into something beautiful, when we love him and trust his heart for us (Romans 8:28).

And because of that, nothing is ever wasted.

So here I am still recovering from the worst flare up of my life that turns out to be the biggest blessing I could have asked for. The results of the test are not what I had hoped for, but they handed me the answers I need to move forward from here, and friends, that is an invaluable gift indeed. I don’t have to wonder anymore, and I’m thankful for that against all the insufferable odds.

Blessed relief, the medicine is beginning to work. My body is responding to treatment and I see light flickering on the other side of the dark tunnel through which I have walked through for over 20 years.

I’m not well yet, but I’m on my way there. The irrepressible love of food isn’t wasted in my upside down kitchen. Good things happen here too–like Banzai Burger Bowls.


A Good Excuse to Bake, and Cassava Flour Miracle Muffins

I bake when winter’s cold seeps through every nook and cranny, barging inside when it’s not welcome. Spring feels far away on days like these, so I cope by baking blueberry muffins. They brighten the day and remind me that harsh, hard seasons eventually fade into warmer, more welcoming ones, and this season will too.

Winter reminds me of hard days when kitchen life turned upside down. My outlook was bleak. The promise of good food felt elusive, even laughable–nothing like it was in my childhood. Back then the kitchen beckoned, I answered its call out of curiosity, not necessity. I was lucky enough to have parents who indulged my desire to explore to my heart’s content (God bless them). Lots of good stuff came out of those early experiments.

Oh, there were plenty of flops, too, but even the worst of them didn’t deter me from getting back into that kitchen the next day. Trial and error has been part of the process for as long as I can remember. Every miserable failure fueled my drive to get back behind the stove and try, try again. This recipe is the result of that resolve.

Of all the challenges this unconventional kitchen life handed me, baking without grains was the trickiest. Gluten free baking was tough enough, but at least that still uses grains. Learning how to use alternative flours (almond, arrowroot, coconut, tapioca, potato) is like learning a different language. Nuance gets lost in translation, complicating the exchange. Discovering cassava flour was like meeting a good interpreter who makes meaning out of the mess.

Miracles don’t make sense, exactly, but they do have meaning. These muffins are naturally grain/gluten free and accommodate for all the top allergens. (They contain egg, but work beautifully with an egg replacer.). The basic recipe is plain on purpose: it can be dressed up on a whim with all sorts of flavors and textures. Feel like lemon poppy seed? Use this recipe. Curious about cranberry orange? Use this recipe. Craving chocolate chip? Use this recipe. It’s endlessly adaptable.

Today we made blueberry lemon because citrus helps lift our moods in the middle of a dreary day. It reminds us brighter days of spring really will come again and prompts us to watch the miracle unfold.

Until it does, we’ll be keeping warm by baking batch after batch of these muffins. I hope you do too!


Food Is A Love Language, and Gluten Free/Dairy Free Chocolate Sticky Buns

It’s no secret food is my love language. Food speaks to me louder than almost anything. I gave myself a bad time about this for years. “What’s wrong with you?” I’d ask, shaming myself for the embarrassing amount of time I caught myself dreaming about food.

Cooking went from comforting to cruel when gluten turned against me, and I shamed myself again for grieving the loss of something so trivial. It’s just food, Rach. Get over it, I’d say. But I couldn’t just get over it, and if you are reading this today I imagine you couldn’t just get over it either when your food life flipped upside down.

Here’s what I learned: it’s 100% totally fine to be upset when we lose things we love. Grief is part of the healing process. To deny ourselves the time and space to feel the emotions that come along with loss robs us of the opportunity to make peace with what we have left. I was sad I lost gluten. Sad again when I lost peanuts and pine nuts and pea protein and cashews, then pistachios and eggs and dairy and sunflower seeds and egg and shrimp. Things went from hard to harder until life felt miserably unfair, and I shouted at the heavens asking, “Are you kidding me?”

Deciding these foods were off-limits was easy; making peace with their absence was hard. Some eventually came back (hallelujah and hello eggs!), but I felt funny about mourning the loss of all the others. Keeping them away kept our bodies safer, but my heart was still broken. I got angry that my love for food and comfort in the kitchen didn’t prepare me for any of this.

I woke up one day wondering if my sadness would seep into the kids’ skin, irreversibly embittering their hearts toward the goodness and beauty of the gift God gave us in food. I don’t wonder about that anymore: those kids love food like I do–perhaps more so, in some ways. Emery says he wants to open an allergy friendly restaurant where anyone can find something safe to eat, and Mia wants to develop allergy friendly recipes and share them on a cooking show of her own. The kitchen became their favorite place to spend time because food speaks to their hearts too.

These Chocolate Sticky Buns called their name before they called mine. And instead of hearing an enemy to fear, they heard a question to answer: “Mom!” the Goobies called from the other room where they were watching an episode of Cook’s Country. “How can we make those?” they asked, pointing to a pan of pastries smothered in dark, decadent chocolate sauce. “Easy,” I said, confident that by now I could manage to pull off a gluten free / dairy free version of the original. Their eyes lit up and they started the episode all over again, this time Mia writing down every ingredient, every tool, every step in the process before asking, “When can we try?”

Saturday was the designated day I never saw coming. Eight years ago, rolling dough out with my daughter was a dream I couldn’t see coming true. Watching it rise, rolling it out then rolling it back up again was as far-fetched an idea as walking on the moon. But it happened.

I berated me for loving food too much at first, then I beat myself up for not knowing enough about it later. Little did I know both those things would help me define a kitchen culture that celebrates safe food and embraces trial and error as the most essential tool in my arsenal. Although sadness still ebbs and flows in all of us, celebration and adventure are foundations upon which we stand when we give new things a try.

And I’m so grateful to be here, because this is the place we heard chocolate sticky buns calling.

We sure love them, and we hope you do too.


Winter Isn’t Over Yet, and Classic Hamburger Gravy (Top 14 Allergen Free!)

Last night we discovered the groundhog saw his shadow, so we’re hunkering down for another six weeks of winter around here.

More snow and bitter cold is coming for us this weekend, so today’s sunshine and mild temperature feels like a glorious gift. I flung open the windows just now to invite an almost-warm breeze inside. Kansas winds are usually awful in the winter. I can deal with the snow when it comes, but the wind is the worst. But today is almost warm: the sun is shining crisp and clear; the birds are chattering wildly; and the wind is teasing me as it flutters through the kitchen curtains. A miserable weekend just doesn’t feel possible.

But if I’ve learned one thing these past couple years, it’s this: Kansas City weather is absolutely unpredictable, so prepare for every scenario.

When we first moved here, I had a lot to learn: how to gauge the severity of a storm; the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning; the art of dressing in layers; how to drive in the snow; how to manage icy roads; how to hunker down and stay put when things outside got dicey. Thank God I already knew how to feed us well in the winter.

I tackled warm, comfort food classics early in our food allergy journey. I couldn’t tell you why, exactly, other than figuring out how to make hamburger gravy like my mom always made was high on my priority list when I got started. This particular recipe gave me a challenge: will it taste good without milk? (Yes.) Will a grain free thickener make it weird? (No.) For a girl who loves potatoes and gravy, nailing a recipe like this one lifted my spirits and helped me to believe all was not lost in the kitchen. One spoonful and I’m taken back to my own mom’s kitchen and the way its aroma welcomed us to the table: warm and cozy, like a hug. This recipe reminds me of all the good things I still have and the promise of better days ahead, all in one comforting meal.

Six more weeks of winter are waiting, unless the weather decides to change on a whim, which of course it sure could around here. Luckily this recipe will keep us warm, cozy, and well fed regardless of what the weather does in the days to come.


Empty and Imperfect, and Easy AIP Pie Crust

This crust.

I know calling pie crust life-changing is dramatic, but the rigmarole of finally arriving at a place where grain free, pie crust and good can coexist in the same sentence warrants it.

Those of you who gave up grain like I did (and still feel the sting of foregoing the classic comfort food) can attest that finding a good alternative to mainstream foods is life-changing, both in our kitchens and in our overall quality of life. Good food makes us feel good again, doesn’t it?

And this crust really is good–easy, even. It’s certainly not perfect, but its imperfection lends indelible charm. Classic and unconventional; adaptable and finicky; empty and waiting to be filled, this crust gets the job done.

And yet, it falls apart on me every time. The craggy mess of a dough smooths out easily when rolled, but transferring it to the pie plate is another story. It’s sticky and messy and just plain not the same to work with as “normal” pie dough. It falls apart, which frustrated me until I realized how easily it mends together again. The dough is finicky, perhaps, but not futile. It’s forgiving when it yields itself to a tender hand that wants to see it succeed. Against all odds, making it work well is pretty easy after all.

Making this crust reminds me think of what David said in Psalm 103:5: “He fills my life with good things.” (NLT). Sin, disease and death plagued David, but he nevertheless showed up and opened himself to the possibility that God would make things right again. He celebrated when God filled his life with good things after hardship made it seem impossible.

David was like pie crust: fragile, imperfect, and desperately in need of something good to fill the empty space. I am like pie crust too: flaky and fragile and completely forgettable on my own. Created for something good, I remain broken or empty or both unless I am flexible enough to trust the hand of the one who is transforming me into something beautiful. Maybe we’re all a little bit like pie crust. When we sit ready to receive the good things God pours out, we end up better than we could have been on our own.

I may not be happy I ended up in a kitchen where grain free baking is the norm now, but I opened myself up to the possibility that something really good will come out of it anyway. God promises to give us good things, and his faithfulness does not depend on my feelings.

I’m so thankful for that.

And I’m thankful for this pie crust too. It may not be perfect, but it sure is good.


‘Tis the Season for Sweets and an eBook Announcement!

Christmas is just two weeks away; the promise of good things hangs heavy in the air, doesn’t it?

Celebrating the season with sweet things to enjoy and give away is part of what makes Christmas so magical. But making holiday treats safe and scrumptious poses a really big problem to food allergy families like mine. It takes a lot of mental energy to sort out safe ingredients, select solid recipes, and stretch the budget to accommodate specialty products. Figuring out how to keep family traditions alive around our holiday table after allergies transformed our kitchen was burdensome, and I got burned out fast. Finding my way back toward a familiar, delicious holiday treats left me frustrated and too discouraged to do much more than snag allergy friendly candy canes when I saw them.

I refused to give up. Lots of trial and error ended up being worth it in the long run. I have so many recipes at the ready now that I couldn’t possibly make them all in one month if I tried! From childhood favorites reimagined to fresh takes on holiday standby’s, I’ve collected our absolute favorite cookies, candies and sharable sweets that keep my kids clamoring for more into an eBook that I hope will help make your holiday sweet again too.

Christmas Confections: Festive, Friendly Treats to Savor and Share includes two dozen of our most treasured gluten free, dairy free, super allergy friendly recipes written with other allergies in mind (adaptable for egg, soy, and pea protein allergies; options without coconut, etc). Things like Iced Sugar Cookies, Eggnog Mini Loaves, Gingerbread Men, Red Velvet Crinkles, Chocolate Dipped Macaroons, Russian Tea Cakes, and Peppermint Chocolate Spritz Cookies) and empowers you to make them for your family too with tips on pantry staples we rely on to make them safe and delicious.

Plus, it includes double-sided printable gift tags with space to indicate the gift is from you, and space to identify allergen information. We use these tags when we give goodies away to our neighbors and friends, and we love that they raise allergy awareness and holiday spirit. It’s a win-win!

And I’m offering $2.99, the price lets you put a taste of the holidays back on your family table without breaking your budget. Friends, this is the Christmas miracle you’ve been waiting for!

Grab your copy today here (or click the “Shop” link at the top of the page) so you can spend the weekend baking up a storm. And with two weeks until the big day, you’ve got plenty of time left to make and enjoy all sorts of seasonal sweets you’ve been missing.

Merry Christmas from our family to yours!


Let It Be and Not Doing It All Over the Holidays

Mary’s words: Let it be.

Surrendered. Strong. What bravery she had when unexpected news forever changed plans and altered her schedule. Mary hadn’t planned on pregnancy. Not yet, at least. But there it was, a grace and a gift from the God who favored her.

She could have said no, but she chose to say yes. And her yes altered everything.

This season I’m remembering how unexpected that first Christmas was for Mary. Long awaited, but still surprising, and how those three words–Let it be–rejected her own ideas for her best life and accepted the gift of God’s plan.

I’m modeling my mind like hers this season: curious, questioning, but ready to give my best yes and receive what God has for me anyway so I can say “Let it be unto me as you say” too.

Today I have the opportunity to share thoughts on how to say yes to the things that matter most in this season on the Legacy Christian Church blog — check it out!

Here’s the link:

“Not Doing It All Over the Holidays.”


Ruin, Redemption, and Basic Bone Broth

Warm fall days are fading into cooler ones that whisper winter is coming soon. Even the sun tucked a gray blanket around its neck again, bracing against the sharp winter wind I am still getting used to.

It is hard to have hope when I am chilled to the bone. The promise of ever being warm again is a tall tale my heart won’t receive while my body smarts against the sting of the pain that is now. When yesterday’s disappointments turn into today’s discouragement, hope slips through my fingers until I remember redemption always follows ruin.

I learned the lesson again this week when I stared down a pile of dry, brittle turkey bones. They were leftover from Thanksgiving, of course, and I dutifully salvaged every last morsel of roasted meat for all sorts of post-thanksgiving dinners that keep the gift of that bird going. I got out my stock pot and got ready to plunk the bones into it until that imposing pile of bones gave me pause. I stared in horror at the enormity of the mess, realizing I couldn’t move on. I couldn’t make broth because my stock pot was far too small to fit the carcass inside of it. I was stuck.

I have felt that way a lot this year: caught by surprising circumstances that make me wonder “Why?” The problems loom larger than the hope for redemption. Paralysis sets in when I don’t know what to do, and I’m tempted to give up. To get numb. To hide. To count it as a loss and toss it all away instead of pausing to ask “What’s next?”

A pile of bones looks like garbage. It is evidence of death, and the promise that anything good could come out of it is hard to swallow when the pain, frustration and the inconvenience is bigger than I feel equipped to handle. But I know better. I know healing comes after hurting. I know hope shines brightest in the middle of dark circumstances. I know death is not the end.

I looked at the carcass and realized I couldn’t change the magnitude of the mess, but I could break it up into more manageable morsels.

So I grabbed a cleaver and set to work, breaking down the bones further so I could move toward the promise of what was to come. I settled them deep into the base of the stock pot, like a casket, and I remembered the way God asked Ezekiel if dry bones can come back to life (Ezekiel 37:2).

I find I wonder the same thing about my own circumstances too.

But as I lay carrots and celery and onions alongside them, and fill the pot with cool, clean water, hope begins to stir in my heart, and I remind my soul of the promise God made all those years ago:

“Ezekiel, the people of Israel are like dead bones. They complain that they are dried up and that they have no hope for the future. So tell them, ‘I, the Lord God, promise to open your graves and set you free. I will bring you back to Israel, and when that happens, you will realize that I am the Lord. My Spirit will give you breath, and you will live again. I will bring you home, and you will know that I have kept my promise. I, the Lord, have spoken” (Ezekiel 37:11-14 CEV).

Making broth from bones moves me every time I make it–which is often, because I can’t not make it. The rich golden stock that emerges from of the sad remains of yesterday cheers my heart and heals my body. I rely on it. It soothes my system and reduces inflammation; it gives my body the nutrients it needs to knit itself back together; and it helps my own bones stay strong.

When the weather turns cold–when things die, when my soul feels dry, when all hope seems lost, I do what I know to warm myself up again. I salvage the sad remains of yesterday and take them to the source of redemption who never wastes a thing. God radically brings life from death. He’s famous for it. Making soup from bones is the most delicious metaphor for this transformative truth I know.

After all the dirty work was over, the pot sat steaming on the stovetop. The lid clicked as it simmered something good, like a clock counting down the minutes until dinner. The Goobies shuffled in, starving, asking What’s that delicious smell? with anticipation in their eyes.

“Turkey broth,” I say, “And I’m going to use it for turkey soup, and turkey pot pie, and–”

“Turkey pot pie?!” they squeal, and their cheeks swell ten sizes bigger with smiles that brighten the room. They dance while they wait, expectant.

And it reminds me all over again: the miracle of joy is waiting on the other side of today’s loss. Dubious and distant though it may seem, it is there. This cold, dry, dismal season isn’t the end. New life will emerge from this loss, and we will be stronger for it.


When Nice Isn’t Enough, and Pumpkin Spice Muffins

Emery and I spent a lot of time together these days. It’s nice, but it’s not enough.

On school days I scurry through the morning like a frantic squirrel, gathering up bits of this and that and packing things away for later, scooting my pups out the door while Emery perches himself at the window wondering when everyone will get home again. He barely eats a bite of breakfast until after we circle back from school drop off to our own make-shift classroom at home, and even then, staying on schedule distracts him from satisfying his stomach, and he ends up grumpy as we work our way through morning.

Snacks help. So do small breaks to get outside and wiggle. But most of the time Emery doesn’t even want to do that–he’d rather snuggle up close to me and read an entire Magic Tree House book from cover to cover in one sitting, or sit at the table alongside me and work on math games for the bulk of the morning. The laundry sits, as do the dirty dishes. And forget about my cup of morning tea and or a hot shower or any of the projects I thought I would be working on this month–things clearly didn’t turn out the way I thought they would this season.

I know I’m not alone in this. Change charged in uninvited everywhere, and most of us are doing everything we can to make the best of it. We’re saying yes to everything we possibly can to comfort and encourage, not coddle or indulge. It’s a fine line between the two, of course. Sometimes phonics looks more like snuggling on the couch and sounding out words than sitting at the table staring at worksheets. Morning math lessons sometimes happen while I’m making muffins or when we’re sitting in carline at the end of the day.

Like so many of you, I am thankful for the extra time I have with my boy, and most days I remind myself this time is a gift. So I pray for flexibility in my heart to embrace this season despite its disappointments, but still. It’s hard.

It’s hard because for as much as I used to toy with the idea of homeschool life, this isn’t what I imagined. Like, at all. My imagination conjured up images of all three of the Goobies home together all day long, happily learning alongside each other in an at-home school room straight from a Pottery Barn catalog, dressed in corduroy jumpers and leather shoes. We’d romp through piles of fallen leaves in the morning, throwing schedules out the window because learning together out there in the real world would be a treat, not a nuisance. Then we’d huddle back inside for hot chocolate and recite state capitals while munching on chocolate chip cookies. No one would ever be lonesome because there would always be someone to play with. The kids would get bad tempered sometimes, sure–but they’d never by themselves, like Emery is. How many other children are enduring these endless string of empty days looking out the window, waiting for something to change?

2020 taught us many things: how to be flexible, how to give grace, how to adapt and adjust and choose joy anyway. It also taught us the value of togetherness from the abrupt absence of it. Visiting through glass–while nice–isn’t good enough. Waving at people six feet away isn’t good enough. Staying away altogether because of what could happen if you get too close isn’t good enough for establishing friendships or maintaining relationships with the people we need in our lives. Nice things aren’t the best things.

I know we’ve all got to make sacrifices this week, this season, this year. I get that and I’m on board with doing our part to make things work for everyone. But the harder truth is this: I also want the best for my boy, and so much alone-ness isn’t the best.

After a turbulent couple of days last week, Emery fell into bed, emotionally exhausted. He clutched my neck and held on tight, unwilling to let me go. My mama heart should have swooned, but the thought of all the broken moments that left him crying and asking questions I simply couldn’t answer nagged my protective heart. The weight of loneliness settled in as I remembered the hurt in his voice: “Why did they have to go? How come I can’t go too? Where did daddy go? When will he come back? How come the girls get to do that and I don’t? Why do I have to stay here? I don’t want to stay here.”

I know there will be a day when these moments will be a memory. The dragged out days of Kindergarten homeschool will fade into a time I wish I could return to, just like the hard and hazy first years of parenthood did. The sting of this season will wane as time ambles on, but for now, it hurts. I hug him back tight and memorize the way he breathes, and he whispers something into the dark of the room: “I would be delighted if you made pumpkin muffins with cinnamon sugar for breakfast tomorrow.”

I smiled, laughing a little as I hugged him tight and replied, “I would be delighted to make some for you.”

I’m not sure what I expected him to say, but it most certainly was not that. Hadn’t he had enough mommy and muffin mornings? But I realized there is comfort in the familiar, and when we ache, we look for something to cling to that calms us down and consoles us, steadying us for what comes next. Mornings, muffins and me–those are his constants these days. I can’t solve the world’s problems. Muffins can’t do that either, but they can smooth out rumpled feelings for a little while at least. Making them is one small act of love I can do right here behind the glass, despite the darkness swirling just outside the panes. Baking them won’t change much outside, but perhaps they’ll change something on the inside a little. After all, when love charges into the darkness, it changes things.

It might not be enough, but it’s a start. And since we’ve got to start somewhere, muffins are a delicious place as any. These gluten free Pumpkin Spice Muffins are top 14 free when you use an egg replacement. They’re warm, comforting, and flexible–just like we’re all trying to be these days–and a beautiful reminder that good things are right here in front of us when we slow down enough to see them.