Having a Voice

Perhaps the biggest struggle for stay-at-home moms is the feeling of a loss of voice. The feeling that you used to be somebody who’s opinions mattered but now you drag screaming toddlers down the street to pick up your other kid from school (true story). You used to matter to people and your counsel was sought after but now you get grilled with whys and what ifs with no real evidence that your answers were heard. You use to do important things with important people and now you spend 95% of your day wiping tushies, noses, or messes. 

It was hard six years ago when I made the transition to motherhood but now it can sometimes feel stifling. Even with happy faces on the best of days I feel like a small portion of what I used to be. Yes, I know it’s a phase. Yes, I know my voice towards my kids is the most powerful one I will ever have. And yes, I’m exhausted and worn thin and sometimes not okay.

But six years into this gig I finally feel like I’m going to be okay. Not right now. Maybe not tomorrow or six months from now. But I will be ok and be heard again. One day all those needy little hands will be busy with their own lives and I’ll be me again. But I think a better me. The me that is being fashioned out of these years of feeling silenced is one that listens better, has more compassion, thinks more before she speaks, and hopefully has learned something about being a servant. 

Just about every leader in the Bible had to go through a period of having no voice. Even Jesus himself. There is nothing wrong with having no voice, it’s hard, but it changes you. In a way that we all need to be changed. In a way that humbles and makes us reliant on prayer. After all, he is the one who hears us when we feel desperately unnoticed. He actively seeks us out and says it’s impossible for us to hide from him. He sees us when we are silenced and that, that is what will make my voice worth listening to in the future. 

I don’t need to fight this “voiceless” phase or wish it away, I need to yield to it and let it change me. I don’t need to sugar coat it or guilt myself into thinking I’m just not being grateful enough. Motherhood is hard, wild, and wonderful. And when I’m in a new phase of life (that I can’t now imagine), I hope these little years have left their mark. That I will have learned a thing or two about compassion and service. I hope you will too. 


Getting Creative

While most of my days are filled with chasing little ones and cleaning up their never-ending messes, I like to spend my evenings making pretty things. Sure, I could give my floor that sweeping it desperately needs or tackle that pile of laundry, but some times you just need to exercise those creative muscles and make life a little more beautiful.

  I recently bought a grown-up coloring book, after much encouragement from my husband, and have been thoroughly enjoying myself. It feels bizarre to be investing time in something that is just for me and has no practical purpose, but it is really soothing. I have no artistic bones in my body, so I like pretending to be an artist. It’s a great way to relax in the evenings!

Some of my other pretty, creative pursuits have more practical end results. Whether it’s a simple as modifying a dinosaur costume for my overgrown kindergartner, making unique Christmas presents, or dreaming up a new quilt — sewing is still a favorite past time of mine. I’ve got two quilts in the works and they couldn’t be more different.

One is a simple and modern quilt filled with robots for my sweet Nolan. As a middle child he can sometimes get lost in the shuffle. He is used to hand-me-downs, especially in blankets, so I thought a quilt geared just for him would be special for him.

The other is a block-of-the-month quilt that I inherited from my grandmother-in-law. I have had it on hand for awhile and finally figured out a way to modify it, just a little bit, to become the perfect heirloom Christmas quilt for our family. My mom is going to be bringing me some Christmas flannel fabric that she’s had for years for the back and it’ll be a whole family affair!

And every time I get the sewing bug, I can’t help but whip up something for the little miss in the house. 


My Dad

Today is my dad’s birthday.
 I have yet to meet anyone who knows my dad and didn’t think he was the coolest guy around. He (literally) towers over most people, and yet he has the ability to make everyone feel comfortable and welcome in our home. He is humble, quiet, gives great advice, listens, loves Jesus, and is the biggest example of a servant-leader I have ever seen. He leads from behind, nothing is too low for him to get involved in or concern himself with. Everyone looks up to him (again, literally), but he has earned that place of respect by living a faithful and generous life.

And as a dad? He always danced with me. ALWAYS. Even when we were the only ones on the dance floor. He dressed up with us on Halloween (in the COOLEST COSTUMES!). He took us to the beach and camping and barbecues the best steaks in town. He took my sister and I on dates and modeled how a real man takes care of his woman: providing, giving flowers and presents, yes, but even more, he treats my mom with respect and prizes her above all others. He gave me many uncomfortable talks as a teenage girl, but he always did so out of love and to protect me from myself. He showed me how to be consistent in reading the Bible, in serving, in giving, and praying.

As a son he has always been consistent and loving towards his parents. I hear he may have given a little bit of trouble in his youth, ahem, but he adores and honors his parents, even now in my grandma’s death. As a friend, you cannot do better than “Leggs”. He is a lot of fun, but more than that he is faithful, loyal, and generous.

As a small token of my love and appreciation for another year of your life, I hope this little post honors you, Daddy. I love you forever and always,

Moki Jo


A Beautiful Mess

Life’s messy. Relationships are messy. My heart? It’s really messy. All our messiness is so easy to hide and ignore because it’s internal messiness, not in your face messy. The in-your-face messiness of my kids has reminded me lately of how God views me, despite my messiness.

Without going into too much of the gory details, we have a lot of potty problems in our household. My eldest has not yet stayed dry at night, my middle one frequently wets the bed, and my littlest? Oh, that darling, loves everything girlie, girl? She also loves messes. Really. Really. Really. Gross. Messes. Like getting into her #2 diaper and covering herself, her bed, and everything in her reach with it. All the time.

The last time I went to get her from her nap and walked into her, as you can imagine, delightfully smelling room and saw her smeared face, I sighed a deep sigh. She had the happiest expression, in the midst of all her mess. “My dear, don’t you know how gross this is? Why are you settling to play with this nastiest of things, when you have a house full of pleasant and lovely things to play with?”

I found myself reaching into her messiness to “rescue” her from it. To bathe and clean her (x100) and wrap her in a warm, clean towel. To thoroughly wash all her toys, bed things, clothes, etc. To wipe down the walls of her crib and her room until there was no trace of the mess. But you know what? Even in my revulsion towards the situation, my feelings towards my daughter never changed. I loved her every moment, despite how gross she was. I felt privileged to care for her and clean her and show her mercy.

And isn’t that how God deals with us? He says even our best efforts are like filthy rags — we are only capable of making the messiest of messes on our best days. And yet he takes us, cleanses us, and transforms us into something beautiful. He adores us even when all we can offer is crap. Before we could do one lovely thing or even clean ourselves up a bit, he reached into our lives and saved us from ourselves. Saved us from useless things that we though would make us happy. Saved us for a life of peace, hope, joy, and for no fear in death.

Not only should this remind us of his great grace and mercy, it should also give us compassion for others, in their messiness. When relationships get complicated and people’s filth starts coming out, how can we judge others when we are just as bad? How can we not simply say, “We too used to settle for trash, come with me, to Jesus. He will transform us and together we can experience his grace.”


A Whirlwind Summer

It should be no surprise to you that I didn’t do any blogging this summer. Despite having more free time my mind has been everywhere but here. I have so much that I want to share from my cooking classes but life has been a bit draining as of late. I won’t bore you with the details, but this has been a very long, trying season of waiting in our household. We are all okay, but it has taken all my focus to take care of my family. So, I hope you’ll forgive me!

We did manage to have a lot of fun this summer despite the various trials. In May, Brian and I were able to get away for a night while my dear friend Rochelle and her hubby watched our THREE kiddos. Can you believe it? Yes, they were so gracious to take all of our kids and let us celebrate our 9th year of marriage. IMG_4175

Then in June my parents came for a visit on their way across the country. We made some wonderful memories together and, as always, the grandkids loved spending so much time with their grandparents.


At the Kane County Cougar’s Minor League Baseball Game. 


Hanging out with Papa on the front porch swing is always a favorite!


And backyard BBQ’s are also always a hit!

At the end of the month we took our first vacation as a family of five. We stayed in Holland, MI which is a quick drive but a world away from our normal life. We used Airbnb for the first time and stayed in a wonderful “Treehouse”. We will definitely do this again!


Ice Cream at a local Holland hot spot.


Sand time is the best time. 


Every one loves the lake — even when it’s frigid!

I turned 31 in July (eek!) and we spent as much time in the pool, at the splash park, or outside as possible. We had a really rainy start to the summer which meant cooler temps and lots of mosquitos, but we made the best of it!


We love taking family walks around the lake and pausing at a bench or two to enjoy our favorite park. IMG_4620

The boys, relaxing after rolling down their favorite hill. 


Sweetie pie, modeling a mama-made dress. 


The boat dock — we love watching all the fish below!


A new, awesome pool we discovered. 

The end of July meant our annual trip to California to visit our family. We spent many days at the beach with my parents and visited with my sisters and their families too. What fun!


Beach time with Cousin Zoe. IMG_4978

Walks on Del Mar after an ice cream treat. 

Visiting my dear Grandfather, Avery gave him lots of sweet kisses. IMG_5027

The whole family together for a luau and to celebrate Cousin Bram’s birthday.

Then we met up with Brian’s parents and spent a fun-filled two days at Legoland. We even got to stay at the Legoland hotel which was great fun for the kiddos. We finished off our trip with a few days in Santa Clarita where we got to spend more time with Brian’s parents, grandparents, and other relatives.


Waiting for the Lego boat ride with Grandpa and Ceecee — Nolan definitely caused a boat-jam while driving his boat. IMG_5099

On a different boat ride that took us through several lego fairytales. IMG_5117

Back at Grandpa and Ceecee’s doing what they love best — water fun!

Parker loves his great grandpa, or Pop as we call him!

Now that August is upon us we are winding down the summer and heading into our first real school year now that Parker is a big Kindergartner! We have been making the most of every weekend with trips to new lakes and beaches and pools.


At Blackwell Forest Preserve, renting a row boat for a morning.


Moore Park Sprayground in Geneva.imageExploring 31st St Beach in Chicago. Warm water!


Another new pool in Lombard — we’ve been finding any place that is open in the morning for our water fun!

And next week? Kindergarten starts and so do my classes. Our big boy turns 6 (!?!) and we’ll celebrate with a Lego Birthday party. I hope to get back to more regular blogging but time will tell — I hope you all had a great summer!


Semester Round-up

I do apologize for my lack of posting this semester. I was only enrolled in one class, but it was very time consuming. In class for 10 hours a week, plus homework, tests, practice, and of course, the normal busy-ness of life. It’s been crazy and great and a lot of work all in one. And it has changed me. The way I work in the kitchen and the way I feel about what I do. I expected the former, but the latter was quite a surprise.

Salad night in class was a favorite. These are my two chefs at the front — I can’t speak highly enough of everyone I’ve learned from at COD.
It’s really be phenomenal. 

I already knew I loved cooking and teaching other’s how to operate in their own kitchens, but I did not expect to gain so much confidence in my own abilities. I was a little worried that this stay-at-home mom wouldn’t be able to cut it in a professional kitchen, and I can say, without bragging, that I have done very well. I’ve consistently received top feedback and held my own against my class mates. I even gained enough confidence to compete in a scholarship cooking competition.

Sandwich night, another favorite. So good!

And guess what? I won 3rd place! Me?! Cooking against 15 other students who all had a lot more experience, both in cooking and in competition. It was a small cash prize, but what it did for my confidence was huge. I’ve often questioned if I’m being selfish for being in culinary school during my kids little years. Often as I dash out the door to class and see other mom’s on walks with their babies I feel guilty. But this little competition, it reminded me that I’m doing exactly what I should be doing right now. Not only am I good at it, but I love it, and who knows what future rewards it will reap in my future?

Seafood night was another favorite.
These aren’t plated at all, just a smorgasbord of delicious seafood!

So that’s my semester round-up. A lot of what I learned I will be sharing here over the summer. And you can bet that I’ll be teaching all kinds of skills classes in real life, too. But more than learning from me how to cook, I hope you are challenged to do what you love and pursue it — even when it seems crazy.


Life as We Know It

Since January 1 I’ve been keeping one of those “one line a day” journals that end up covering a 5 year period. Sometimes it’s more like “fill in a weeks worth of lines in an evening” but I still try to get the job done. Maybe in 5 years my life will be more organized and I’ll simply fill in my line each morning with a leisurely cup of coffee. But that’s not today. 

The whole project has got me thinking though. I wonder what kind of entries I’ll be making in five years. Will I look back at my “so tired today,” “the kids were bickering all day,” and “finally had a #2 success with N” posts and barely recognize myself? Will diapers and early mornings and being constantly touched and tackled by three little monsters be a distant memory? What new challenges and joys will rise up to take their place? I’ve been in “the little” stage for so long it’s nearly impossible to imagine five years from now me. 

Keeping one eye ahead on the lookout for what’s to come gives me a whole new appreciation for today. Whatever trials and whatever joys are in my one line for today are temporary. The trials will pass soon, so best not fret about them. 

And the joys? They’ll be gone too. Sweet baby thigh rolls, giggles over silly words, my 5-year old snuggling with me and telling me he loves me, my 3-year old mastering a new skill and smiling his sweet dimpled smile — these too will be gone before I know it. My sweet baby girl will one day be cuddling a baby of her own and I’ll be in a quiet and organized house with nothing but time  and space for myself. So I need to eat up each moment. Each second that I’m needed and demanded is a precious one. One that won’t last forever. 

So even though life as I currently know it is chaotic and annoying and loud and demanding — it’s also precious and fulfilling and full of laughter. I hope when I look back in five years I can say that I savored those years. Those little years. I’d hate for them to pass and waste them away longing to be anywhere else and find that I’d missed them completely. Wouldn’t you?


The Kitchen

I’ve had four kitchens to call my own in my adult years. The first I shared with three other girls in my very first grown-up apartment. That’s where I learned to boil an egg, bring the water to a boil then add pasta, and cook everything using a Campbell soup base. I literally knew nothing about cooking. At all. But I was in love and knew marriage was on the way and I decided I needed to learn. So I tried two new recipes a week and began to learn.

Our first apartment, 2006-2007

By the time we got married I had a handy little repertoire and no fear. I honestly think that’s what took me to the next level. I never had any fear to try a new recipe no matter what it entailed. I became proficient in crockpot and candlelit dinners in our first little apartment. After too many frozen yogurt runs we ended up on a diet called the Sonoma Diet. It was the first time I learned about cooking from scratch and began to love fresh ingredients. I learned to make hummus and my own taco seasoning and ate more vegetables than I can remember.

(null)Our basement apartment, 2007-2009

Then we moved to Illinois. To a tiny basement apartment with no stove and no oven. We bought a two burner electric stove and a convection oven and I cooked that way for two years. On a strict graduate school budget we managed to cook some wonderful meals in that kitchen. I borrowed other’s kitchens for Thanksgiving but other than that there wasn’t anything I couldn’t make in our little galley kitchen! I grew in my desire to entertain and my favorite dish to make was stuffed bell peppers.


Our kitchen prior to renovation, June 2009 (pregnant with Parker).

(null)Our kitchen, 2009 – present

Then we bought our house. The kitchen was one of the selling points but we ended up renovating the whole thing anyway. The only thing we kept was the incredibly awesome oven. Short of professional grade, it’s the best there is. It has a smaller oven on top and a bigger one on bottom and I literally only use the bottom one when I make a turkey. The top heats so fast and it’s also a toaster and I use it 100 times a day. The counter space is small but this room means the world to me because it’s where I found myself as a cook.

I’ve dehydrated, canned, prepped food in bulk, baked, made bread, tossed pizza dough, taught classes and lessons, made dinner nearly every night, and made a million and one new recipes here. I’ve cooked with babies at my feet and on my hip while stirring jellies and sauces. We’ve baked cookies and first birthday cakes and creme brûlée for New Years Eve. We’ve had parties and showers and huge ‘family’ dinners and fed vegetable deprived college students. But most of all this is where I really found cooking. Where I found what it meant to me and who I wanted to be with cooking in my life.

(null)There are four suites here, mine is the second one in.

And now I have a new kitchen. My first professional experience at my culinary school. This is my very own suite where I show up in chef whites and with my knives in tow. We julienne and brunoise and perfect our roux and try not to cut ourselves or burn anything. Our food is sold at the culinary market on campus so nothing is unimportant. Every detail is crucial. There are no kids at my feet and no shortcuts but it is it’s own kind of magic and leaves my heart pounding with excitement, nerves, and a little bit of pride.

There will be other kitchens in the future, where ever and whenever that might be. I don’t know much about them, but I do know that the kitchen will always be the heart of our home. More than that, it is my own heartbeat. Who I am and how I love is reflected in what I make in the kitchen and those I love generally gather there. How I love the kitchen, and I hope you’ll join me there!


Tools of the Trade: Whisk

So I’ve been thinking of ways to share some of my culinary school knowledge and I thought having a series called “tools of the trade” might be a great way to start. I’ll go through some of the basic cooking tools that I’ve been using wrong for years (and I doubt I’m the only one!) and how to use it properly.

To kick off our series we are going to start with the humble whisk. Surely you think, as I did, that there could be nothing easier than whisking. I mean, you hold the handle and move it around your bowl in a circular motion and things get mixed up. Right? Wrong.

It turns out that moving in a circular motion is the last thing you should be doing when whisking. When you move in a circle all the ingredients do too and you just end up chasing ingredients around rather than incorporating them together. This is even more important if you are whisking something with an egg in it. The yolk tends to stay intact when whisking in a circular motion, instead of breaking and blending with the other ingredients. There are two proper whisking techniques that you can use: back and forth or figure 8.

For a back and forth motion you move your whisk from side to side and slowly spin the bowl with your other hand. It’s a little tricky, especially if your bowl has a flat bottom or narrow base to it. A figure 8 motion is a little more self explanatory — just move the whisk in a figure 8 pattern, no need to move the bowl if you don’t want to. This motion quickly incorporates all the ingredients together.

So that’s the first in the series. It’s amazing how even small tips like this change the way I work in the kitchen. Next we’ll tackle some basic knife skills. Let me know if there are any kitchen tools you want me to address.


Finding Your Thing

Some people know what they want to do and who they want to be practically from birth. It’s easy for them to find things to be passionate about and want to pursue. I am not one of those people.

The whole, “what do you want to be when you grow up” question has stressed me out for decades. There have been a few unchanging desires since childhood (wanting to grow up and have a family of my own, wanting to be a part of the Church, etc.) but I never felt like I knew what my “thing” was. You know, the thing that everyone else can see from a mile away and can’t quite understand your passion over but see that it’s totally and completely you? My “thing” has been elusive.

I remember when I graduated from college I was terrified to apply for jobs. My closest friend at the time sat down with me and tried to help me think of options and had tons of good questions to get me started. The answer to all of them was, “I don’t know” or “I don’t like that.” One night when we were newlyweds Brian and I stayed up late trying to think of things that I could try or pursue. Nothing. I just didn’t know.

When I had all the time in the world and very little stress and a little bit more money I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what I should be doing. But after three children and having a single-income household and no time to spare? My “thing” smacks me in the face and yells, “here I am!” And wouldn’t you know it? My thing is cooking.

So as you know I started culinary school and a cooking/teaching business. All my years of searching and wondering and feeling like I didn’t know what my goal or purpose was in this world — they are over and long gone. The funny thing is, now that I have my singular passion, I’m finding other things more interesting too. Exercise and me have been mortal enemies since grade school and yet I’m finding my groove and falling in love with Yoga. And that’s just one thing. Everything has changed for me by finding my one thing.

So I hope you don’t stop searching if you haven’t found your thing yet. It might take a long time but it’s worth waiting for. And if you have found your thing, don’t give up on it just because it’s a bad time in your life or it seems impossible. Your season of life is definitely a factor in how hard you can pursue it, but it doesn’t have to die just because your focus is somewhere else for a time. What’s your thing?


helping you take control of your home and kitchen