Life lately

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Life lately has been full of laughter, happiness, and contentment.  If you follow me on instagram, you know (and will likely be sick of) the amazing successes my boys are having in their respective sports.

The cross country team went to state last weekend, where they took first place.  Yes.  First place in the state of Texas, a state which is roughly the size of like eight countries in Europe or something.  And my boy was there!  He was an alternate, but he was there.  We've laughed as we've thought back to when he first started running and was so awkward, knees and elbows flailing everywhere.  Always somewhat unhappy with himself - never believing he'd really be able to do it, he would collapse in tears of frustration.  We have watched him get up faithfully before dawn, each and every day, and put miles behind him.  We've watched him at meets, improving his time, bit-by-little-bit.

I watched with tears in my eyes as he crossed the finish line at districts with a time so good that he qualified to make the alternate team.  This is more than just a high school sport for him.  This is an accomplishment of epic proportions.  This is what he's dreamed about every night for the last six years.  I just want to reach back to his little ten-year-old self and hug him fiercely with confident promises that it will all be okay.  I said those words to him then, but uttered fervent, silent prayers that I was right.  

Oh, I was so right.  It's been more than okay.  It's been life changing.

Then there's the big football player.  We are getting ready to cheer him on in the first round of playoffs this weekend.  A playoff game, which, just so happens to be played at Cowboy Stadium. A game he will actually get playing time in, as he has all season.  Even with a broken foot at the beginning of the year, he's been able to come back and play that field every single game that was left.  Never in a million years did we ever dream of such a thing.  He had never played football when he came to me, somewhat sheepishly, and told me he was going to try out for the team.  Football in Texas!  The one place on the planet where football is bigger (almost) than anything else.  We had been here in Texas all of a few weeks, and my heart just hurt with fear.  This move had taken a huge toll on all of us, and I didn't want to add disappointment on top of heartache.  

But then, in classic McKay form, he not only did well, but excelled.  He created a family with this team, and found a spot in the tricky, uncomfortable universe that is high school.  He found friends and allies.  He found himself.

Hannah has transformed herself into an amazing dancer.  She has set her sights on the high school drill team next year, and is taking dance five days per week to prepare.  She not only has found a sport to call her own, but she has surrounded herself with a group of incredibly wonderful girls - most of whom are outside of our church, which just makes me so happy.  She has seen firsthand the Christian hearts of these families and has been blessed by all their influences for good.  I have gone to bed many nights thanking God for these girls and their loving, kind hearts.

The Husband has thrived professionally, as well.  While the Marriott in [insert any given city here] is more his home than Texas, he has found it natural and easy to run an office on his own.  He has sold more work than he genuinely has time for, but manages to balance it all and still eagerly race home to spend time with us on the weekends.  He is stretched to capacity, but never lets a day pass without a check-in phone call to each of us.  He often begs me to instagram events and accomplishments that I might otherwise feel shyly embarrassed to do so.  But knowing he is far away in another city, desperate for news from home, I have posted the little updates of our life. 

Through it all, however, I have struggled.  On the outside, I have appeared to be happy and at home here.  I've had plenty of friends, but struggled to take them from friends to my people.  Loneliness was a companion I was not fond of, but was getting used to.  Sundays were particularly hard, and I fought back tears every week.  I went home from church with an empty ache in my soul, and prayed vainly for something to change.  I cried on the Husband's shoulder and did my best to hold it together.  I had resigned myself to a semi-state of unhappiness and found joy instead by focusing on my kids.  

I went back to school, and then realized a year into it that what was most important were these three little teenagers straggling in the door every late afternoon.  School, and the challenges of managing the household without a husband home every week, found me unable to juggle it all.  I had no hesitation in finding myself a college drop-out for the second time.  These hourglass sands are slipping through my fingers, and I knew I'd regret giving any of my time to things that were not my children.

I also started exercising again.  And not just sporadically, but really exercising.  I started running (and by running, I do mean panting and gasping for air while jogging for only a few minutes at a time).  I began to watch my diet and count calories.  The toll my sickness took on me emotionally, coupled with the stress of a move and my propensity to eat my feelings, led to a 40-pound weight gain over about a five year period.  I now find myself without 30 of those pounds, and a goal to drop another 15 in sight.

And lately, I've noticed these friendships seeming to hit a deeper level.  Casual lunches have turned more meaningful.  Friendships are extending beyond the surface.  Perhaps it was my confidence or perhaps just the natural progression of things, but I finally feel like I have my people.  It has taken me two-and-a-half years, but I finally feel at home here in Texas.  I feel strong and capable.  I feel needed and loved.

For the first time in a long time, I feel like myself again.

Spider Web Cookies, reborn

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Several years ago (eight to be exact), I posted about my spider web cookies.  I have spent the last 22 years or so making these, and have improved upon the original instruction in the last few years.  Figured now was as good a time as any to reblog them.

While they will never look as perfect as decorated cookies made with royal icing, they taste a whole lot better.  Royal icing to me just ruins a perfectly good sugar cookie.  It's easier to work with than this glaze, and you can absolutely produce gorgeous pieces of art.  But they taste like styrofoam.  So why bother?  If I wanted to eat styrofoam, I'd do that.  And I'd definitely be a lot thinner.  But my life would not be worth living.

So.  Let's begin, shall we?  The key to any cookie success is in using the right sugar cookie recipe.  I use Aunt Betty's, and have finally received her consent to share it with you.

Internet, here is the secret recipe:

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Before you judge too harshly, just know that they are pretty freaking delicious.  And this comes from a baking SNOB.  I am extremely particular about what cookies go in my mouth, but I'm telling you, these are delicious.  Feel free to spend all afternoon making your own.  But trust me when I tell you, these make the perfect combination with the glaze that I use.  And take no time at all.

So why mess with perfection?

Mix up a bag or two (or six) using the directions for drop cookies on the back of the bag.  Roll them into a ball, and bake as directed.  They definitely look pretty raw when they come out of the oven, but they firm up nicely.  Do not overbake.  Let the cookies cool.

Next, make up the glaze.  I got this recipe from my mother, who got it from a dear neighbor (Hi, Gayle!).  I've been eating these since childhood and have made them a staple in my own home.  It's not Halloween in our house without them.

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For these cookies, the glaze should be the consistency of Elmer's glue.  Add more water or powdered sugar to achieve this.  Then using the back of a spoon, spread it onto a cookie.  I like using a spoon because the curve helps spread around the edges better than a knife.

Be sure to not apply too much glaze.  Just a thin coat is all you need.

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Next, put some of the black glaze into a bag with a small writing tip, and pipe a bullseye, starting in the center of the cookie.

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Using a toothpick, gently draw lines from the center of your bullseye to the edge, going all the way around the cookie.  Make sure to always go from the center out in order to keep your web lines going all the same direction.

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Let the cookies set until the glaze hardens, usually about 30 minutes or so.  Top with a plastic spider ring and enjoy!

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These are actually the best on the second day, so I try to make them a day ahead of whatever party I am taking them to.  Once they are set, they travel and freeze really well.

They also make an excellent lunch.  Just sayin'.

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Dear Chase,

Today you turned 16 years old.  

Seriously.  Let me process that one for a minute.

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Sigh.  When I look at pictures like this of you, I can still remember what your warm, sweet skin smelled like after a summer afternoon at the park.  I can hear your laughter and excitement as you climbed everything in sight, calling out for your brother to join you.  I can feel your tight hugs, almost suffocating, as you threw your arms around my neck and squeezed, afraid to be without me; afraid to let go.

Now I'm the one squeezing so desperately, afraid to let go.  Fighting the fact that I need to let you go.

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Chase, you are growing up into such a fine man.  You are nearly six-foot-three-inches tall, and every bit of your giant frame is filled with kindness and sincerity.  You still come running most nights when you hear me cleaning up the kitchen, offering to help.  Not because you have to, but because you want to.  I love your company late at night in the kitchen.  You and I laughing, recapping the day.  It's the favorite part of my night.  Your thoughtfulness is beyond your years.  I really can't take any credit for it, either.  I'm not sure what makes you so eager to help.  Your wife will be a very lucky woman.

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Right now, your biggest focus is running.  You get up, every single day, at the unholy crack of dawn.  Never grumbling, never complaining.  You drag your brother out of bed and head to early morning seminary.  Sometimes, you can only go for five or ten minutes due to your cross country practice.  But still you go.  That is dedication, my friend, that even your mother couldn't muster.  You love God.  You are striving to do what is right.  You have set a standard for yourself, and are determined to meet it.  No matter what.

You have gotten quite good at running this year.  Well, you've been quite good for a few years now.  You've pushed yourself beyond your limits and adopted a discipline that I could only dream of.  This Saturday, you will run for the first time on the varsity team, a goal you set for yourself and accomplished.  As a sophomore.


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Chase, I love you so much.  You are such a good kid.  You treat everyone you meet with kindness.  Someone told me the other day that they saw you talking to a girl from your school.  Not an ordinary feat in and of itself -- you are quite handsome and plenty of girls would kill to hang with you.  But you were talking animatedly and with a smile on your face to a girl with special needs, someone who others struggle to know how to interact with.  This does not surprise me one bit.  You have always had a heart open for everyone.  You've always treated people with courtesy and respect.  You've always been a friend to everyone.

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You have my heart, kid.  As you stretch your freedom wings in the next few years, I am confident you are ready for the world has to offer.  You are more mature than most boys I know.  You have a quick mind, and a keen knack for figuring out how things work.  I've often tried to parent you by just getting out of your way.  You are going to do great things.  I can't wait to watch.

Just remember to throw me a hug once in a while, won't you?

Love you forever,


The messy bits

Sometimes I look around my life and feel utter frustration.  My kids leave their stuff laying around all. the. time.  

It makes me absolutely crazy.  

I feel like I nag and pester and remind them until I'm sick of the sound of my own voice.  The Husband is oftentimes no better.  Home only a few nights per week, he can be the worst of them all.  Guilty of leaving a trail of clothes, dry cleaning, and wet towels in his wake as he dashes off to another week.  

Today, after a brisk walk in the beautiful sunshine with my two dogs, I came home to begin the day and put the chaos back into order.  I sighed when I looked around me and saw all that I would have to do.

Instead of the usual irritation, I was hit this morning with a poignant and timely thought.

This mess that grates on my nerves tells a far different story than the one I've been seeing.

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The pile of sports equipment on my kitchen counter speaks of the church youth group that Chase attended last night.  They played a sport that he does not enjoy, but he cheerfully attended and participated anyway.  The discarded equipment and hat tell me of his dedication and his heart more than they do of his forgetful nature.  He is not a boy who will simply stay home from youth group just because he doesn't like the activity.  He will go and give it his best shot.  He will support the group and do it with a smile on his face.

It speaks also to a boy who loves God, and is striving to do all that he is asked of and more.  

That is a story I might have missed had I only been mad at the mess.

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The askew kitchen chairs show me that my kids sat around this table together, chatting and laughing before school.  Our morning schedules are crazy, and we are seldom all home for any extended period of time together.  But for a brief few minutes today, they looked each other in the eyes -- teased, laughed, and talked about the day ahead.


I will take a messy kitchen any day in exchange for that.

Besides, this time next year, we will have one serving a mission in some far away corner of the world.  What a blessing today that I have them all in the nest together.

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A never ending grocery list and seldom-full pantry speak of healthy, growing bodies that don't go to bed hungry.  It also speaks of my ability to provide the necessary items; it speaks of plenty.  It speaks of a good job for the Husband where money is not scarce and food is a resource we are never without.  For that I am infinitely grateful.  

These thriving people accomplish quite a bit during the day, each of them working out, participating on a team, and striving to improve themselves, both physically and mentally.  They are doing well in school and have adjusted to life in Texas better than I could have hoped.  

Better, sometimes, than I feel I have.

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Today I am feeling gratitude instead of petty annoyance.  I am feeling loved, instead of picked on.  I have four of the most wonderful creatures on the planet to call my own, and I would not trade them for the cleanest house or the emptiest counters.  Their messiness is proof of their existence, their health, their joy, and their place in my heart.

As Vanessa Redgrave said in Letters to Juliet, "Life IS the messy bits."

I wholeheartedly agree.

Snow Day

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Texas has delivered us a little gift this week.  Monday and Tuesday, the kids and Josh were all home due to an "ice storm."  

Which is basically code for having an inch of ice on every road and sidewalk, for which the city does nothing.  No plows, no salt, no nothing.

Which then makes for a pretty dangerous world, especially with all the Texans who have no clue how to drive in it.  We hunkered down.  The kids walked to Target for snacks and supplies as needed.  I spent my days in sweat pants cooking chicken noodle soup, sitting by the fire, and taking nap after nap after nap.

It was heaven.  Heaven that sadly melted when temperatures climbed back up to normal.

It seems that our heaven gets extended by a few more days.  

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Snow is quite the novelty here.  The last time Texas had it was two-and-a-half years ago, long before we made the move to the Lone Star State, and that was a one-day fluke. People here are not prepared to deal with the snow.  We do not even own a snow shovel.  

The school district was adamantly not canceling or closing early today, in spite of several hoaxes on Twitter to the contrary.  It seemed ridiculous to spend the last few hours of a Friday sitting in a near-empty classroom, so I joined the throngs of parents who waited in line to check my kids out early.  

After all, if 75 percent of the student population goes home, teachers are obviously not doing much teaching, and why not win mom of the year award in their eyes, right?

So Right.  Worth it for this face alone.  

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That, my friends, is pure, unadulterated happiness.

It's hilarious to watch the little brown girl enjoy her first snow.  She didn't know what to make of it at first.  Biting each flake maniacally, skidding and jumping with joy, trying to catch everything she could.  She is a kid in a candy store.  She rings the bell to go outside constantly and comes bounding in a few minutes later, looking at us with eyes that beg for company in the backyard.

Which do not remotely have any power over me.

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Especially not when the temperatures are below freezing.

McKay was home sick this morning anyway, and his brother has happily taken up the post of keeping him company at the X-Box.

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It's going to be a glorious weekend.  Hygge*.

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*Hygge is a Danish word which means relaxing, cozy family time together with the ones you love.  It is my favorite word and motto.  

She's definitely not a year wiser

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This little brown-faced ball of energy turns one today.

We'd like to say she's one year wiser, but that'd be, well, lying.  She's pretty much every bit as insane as the day we brought her home.  

My kids all begged for me to write a birthday post similar to the ones I do for them.  Seeing as I am her primary caregiver - and, therefore - the only person who deals with her neuroses, energy, and naughtiness on a daily basis, I couldn't quite bring myself to do it.

But I sure do love her.

In spite of her mad, maniacal self.

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She and I walk every day for about 45 minutes to an hour.  It is a time I have truly come to enjoy.  I put the headphones in my ears and off we go in the early morning hours.  Sometimes she does really well and heels when I ask, her eager tail wagging as we make our way down the street.  

Other times, I am prying her jaws open to pull out cigarette butts, dead rabbits, and, often, her own feces.

Those are not my favorite days.

But once in a while, she follows me in and sits at my feet while I work.  Or she eagerly tags along as I clean and straighten the house.  She fixes her big brown eyes on me as though I'm the most fascinating creature she's ever beheld.  She obeys my every command and cannot wait to ride in the car when it's time to pick up the kids.

The best is when I catch her in a sleepy mood, and she'll love on me with all the affection that hides secretly beneath her wild and crazy exterior.  She'll smile and stretch and my heart just melts at the sight of her.  I scratch her ears, rub her belly, and I'm positive that she knows just how much I love her.

Those are my favorite days.   

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Happy birthday, Indiana.   You crazy, ding-dong weirdo.