Tuesday, December 29, 2009


As Christmas festivities wind down, I gear up for the new year, for these next few months of winter, and I'm full of ambition. I want to continue teaching the boys, and more firmly establish habits of reading scripture at mealtimes and memorizing scripture together. I want to fill our lives with music...from CD's, and learning to play on the piano. I want to read to them...library books and favorites from our shelves and new chapter books. I want to read my own books... so many books, and a shelf of new ones from Christmas. I want to crochet in front of my new old favorite movies, and I want to find new simple ways for my boys to fill their time learning to create...build things, and embroider, and paint, and draw. I want to blog again, so I puzzle to find where to fit it into my days without giving up the time I've devoted to reading large amounts of scripture and daily exercise. I look at all I want to do and my daily schedule is bulging. And I haven't mentioned the daily cooking and cleaning and laundry that consume so much time and yet are so important because all the rest of life suffers without order and cleanliness and the discipline of keeping things clean and put away. There is so much good, so much richness in this life around us, and yet the happiest lives are lived simply, I think. My own days are best when I have a small to do list and room for spontaneous play and time to spend with the kids when they ask for my help.
Today my agenda is fairly simple:

  • shovel snow
  • take a trip to the dump and the library (Buster Bear is finished, and we need a new book for naptime)
  • undecorate from Christmas

These next few days will involve praying for wisdom, evaluating our activities, and weeding out the good to make room for the best things.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Scheming Christmas

Inspired by reading scripture, understanding Jesus' call to his followers to deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow Him, that

Pure and lasting religion in the sight of God our Father means that we must care for orphans and widows in their troubles, and refuse to let the world corrupt us. James 1:27 NLT
and also through the influence of organizations like Advent Conspiracy, World Vision, Samaritan's Purse, etc., I'm working at making Christmas, at least for our family, more about giving gifts to Jesus, and making the gifts we give each other as thoughtful and full of love as possible, and less about spending money. We haven't cut back our Christmas budget this year, but my goal is to have a significant surplus after all the Christmas gifts are done, and to gift that extra to people around the world that have such serious needs that we could help meet. Advent Conspiracy's promo video is inspiring. Their theme is this: Worship Fully. Spend Less. Give More. Love All. This new approach to Christmas requires more planning and thought.
Which leads me to the other change I have made this Christmas. I've already started my Christmas. And I have a plan. I listened to Marcia Ramsland last year on Midday Connection talk about simplifying the holidays, and a notebook she sells to organize and plan the Christmas season starting November 1st. I didn't buy the notebook, but I'm following the plan this year, which means getting all the gifts done in the first 3 weeks of November. This leaves the end of the month for decorating and the month of December for the best parts of Christmas... parties and cookies and acts of love towards others, celebrating the advent with stories about Christ, Christmas carols, evenings together as a family in the cozy light of the Christmas tree. I have to say, shopping in early November really does beat the crowds; My Hero and I were in the city yesterday and found front row parking in three different places. And I don't need to worry about the department stores being stocked for Christmas; they start pulling out the lights and decorations in September before the leave change their color.
I can't wait to have the gift shopping/planning/making behind me. I'm envisioning a peaceful December with time to spare to focus on others, and even though I tend to be more optimistic about how things will turn out than experience would dictate, I can't see how getting an early start could do anything but help.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Lead like a great conductor

A few days ago I listened to Itay Talgam's talk, Lead like the great conductors. He shows different leadership styles with clips of famous orchestra conductors, explaining differences in their philosophies that influenced how each one directed their symphony. His metaphor of leadership as a symphony conductor resonates with me, especially combined with Ann's metaphor of forming habits to make a rhythmic, flowing symphony of our daily lives.

The first clip he shows is Carlos Kleiber directing the Vienna Philharmonic with energy, flair, and obvious joy. The audience is clapping along, and the whole orchestra appear to be enjoying themselves.

In the next clip he shows Riccardo Muti, whose style of conducting is quite different. Muti leads with stern passion, demanding excellence from the musicians. He shows another conductor who offers no expression at all, his face bland, a look of boredom on his face. His philosophy is to play the music exactly as it is written, carefully fulfill what is prescribed with no deviations. Then he shows a clip of Herbert Von Karajan, a famous conductor whose philosophy was to lead as little as possible, giving ultimate opportunity of expression and individuality to his orchestra. Talgam explains that Karajan's orchestra stayed together by following each other rather than their conductor, and that by offering such vague leadership he was in essence demanding them to read his mind, in reality a formidable form of control. He returns, at the end of his talk, to Carlos Kleiber leading an orchestra. Kleiber's motions are energetic and clear, but with joy, rather than threatening, and he allows, actually seems to inspire, an unusual depth of expression from the orchestra.

Now I wonder, how do I become a mother who inspires excellence, allows freedom of expression while keeping behavior in check, leads clearly and firmly but with joy? My natural tendency matches Muti's rigid intensity, feeling such a sense of responsibility that I dare not relax. I fear the opposite leadership style, Karajan's, as a path to chaos, discord, even anarchy. I have long struggled to find the balance that Kleiber achieves so well. It's struggle for the elusive, but now I have a mental picture of what it looks like. I still don't know exactly how to be the mother that leads with joy and inspires greatness, but this image in my mind gives me something to aim for, and may well be more helpful than any how-to book on the subject.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Truth

With the help of the wii fit, purchased at the end of last December, I have lost over 15 pounds. It wasn't the exercise that made the difference...I'd been exercising daily for two years. The wii fit offers a "body test" every day, a daily weigh-in. Suddenly I could see how snacking before bed caused my weight to be higher the very next morning, while going to bed slightly hungry made it go down. And even though my weight fluctuates, sometimes up, sometimes down, I can see the graph that tracks where I started to where I am now, and the steady curve downward lets me see the progress, even on mornings when my weight is up.
The wii fit shone a bright light on my dark and mysterious body weight. The truth is, I had been in denial for a long time about how my little food choices were making a difference long term. A few cookies here and there really are perfectly acceptable, so I had developed habits of indulgence and told myself not to worry about it. My Hero and I used to sometimes get angry at the wii fit when our weight would shift up. "Come on! It was only a pizza! It shouldn't matter that much!" I think I accepted before he did that the wii fit scale really was an impartial judge that simply told us the truth every day, not some technology wired to frustrate and manipulate.
And now we'll both tell you, I 15 lbs. lighter and he 35, that it was incredibly easy to lose the weight. You don't have to starve yourself or give up your favorite foods. You can even indulge sometimes. You just have to consistently eat fewer calories than your body uses each day. It wasn't hard, but it did take a while, and the progress was so slow, and so fluctuating, that having a graph of our progress so we could see it made all the difference.
I've been wishing I had a spiritual wii fit. Oh, for some impartial, unbiased feedback every day! And a graph to show me how much closer to Jesus or further away I'm growing. It's so easy to be in denial about how I'm really doing, and the less I worry about it, the more comfortable I feel with where I am.
Lately I've been reading scripture a lot. And it has been shining a light on my dark, sloppy, overweight soul. It doesn't graph my progress, but it sure does give me a better look at how I live compared to how Jesus calls me to live. He says some hard things, challenges too big for me to rise to without His help. His Word has been shaking the denial out of me, and giving me a humility that begs God to show me how to live differently.

Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who despise their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. John 12:25 NLT

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Animal crackers...

...and cocoa to drink,

That is the finest of suppers, I think;

When I'm grown up and can have what I please,

I think I shall always insist upon these.

Christopher Morley

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

unbelievable gifts

151. Sacks of bulbs--dry orbs to bury in the dirt, all the long cold winter anticipating beauty of pink blooms when the snow drips away.

152. Twenty minute drive, five of us make a family, to a local orchard--acres of trees laden with apples...fresh donuts, tangy/sweet cider.

153. Two hours on Tuesday evenings with talented (can our little town really hold such talent?) musicians banding together to create sounds to honor our holy God.

154. Coming home to chaos and after-supper mess and husband/Daddy just needing a break after four hours alone with the kids...realizing that we have traded places this once, walked in each other's shoes.

155. Thick sweaters and cozy sweatshirts in brown and green and pink.

156. The landscape's new clothes...reds and yellows, orange and green, bright splotches around every corner making each familiar scene new with fresh beauty.

157. Fedco's new tree catalog in the mail...dreams of apple trees in our own yard...apples for eating from the tree, and sauce, and pies, and storage through long winters.

158. Glint of mischief in baby girl's eyes as she peers around the corner at her mama sitting on the floor with baby pajamas ready, then throws her body in the other direction in the wild thrill of teaching her legs to run.

159. My Hero's new schedule, 3 days of work followed by 3 days with the family. Really? He's only at work half of the time?

160. Warm, bony hug from skinny arms of 5 year old boy. Is this tall, separate person really the same one who came home a frail, tiny bundle in blankets only 5 years ago?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Unreasonable Little Man

My Hero was reading George Bernard Shaw quotes last night. One made him laugh out loud, so he read it to me.

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself...
"That's Peanut Butter!" I interrupted. It's gratifying to hear put into words something you've never quite been able to describe accurately. Peanut Butter doesn't "adjust", he keeps demanding what he knows he wants with unbelievable persistence. That's who he is since he was born and decided that I, his mom, was the only one who should care for him. I left him with My Hero for a few hours every week because no matter how much he hated it, I was determined that he would learn to spend a little time with his own father. He screamed the entire time I was gone, every week. I almost never left him with anyone else until he was a year old and developed a more open mind about these things. Nowadays I'm constantly torn between battling him to conform to the way we do things and letting him be himself. It has to be a balance, because demanding conformity is only so successful; I'd have to somehow crush his will if I wanted total conformity, but if left to his own ways he becomes more and more unreasonable until he's not good for anybody, even himself. So we pick our battles and brace ourselves for the mighty clash each confrontation brings.
Anyway, I had interrupted the quotation before it had concluded. My Hero finished reading,
...Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

Monday, October 5, 2009

I didn't even try, last night, to make any progress with unpacking or cleaning up the debris spewn all over our house since coming home from a nine day vacation to Illinois to visit my in-laws. I was so discouraged with how little progress I'd made in the two days I'd been back, and the enormity of the job just made me feel tired. And I was tired. All my energy was gone and my spirits were wallowing in muddy despair after a crying, whining, wailing early bedtime for three out-of-sorts children. So I vegged, and saved the whole job of sorting and cleaning for today.
Only My Hero knew my discouragement, and when I woke up this morning the house was clean, my robe and slippers, coffee, and a love note waiting for me in the middle of a calm, orderly kitchen. My first emotions were fear and regret for how late he must have stayed up last night to make that happen. After two LONG days at work. But as it sunk in, my admiration for him has taken over. It will be a good day together today. I'm always so humbled by these over-the-top acts of love.

It's the calm in the storm I asked God for last night. I asked Him why he didn't step in and make that miracle happen for me when I asked Him. He felt too far away to make any difference in my terrible evening, and my own self-loathing for the unloving ways I dealt with my kids made me wonder if He really made any difference to me at all. I felt like I understood the Psalms better, when David cried out to God over and over again that He felt so far away. "When are you going to come to my rescue, God?"

But He did. My impatience gives God a deadline. I'd like Him to prevent evenings like that, and maybe as He teaches me patience and helps me develop more of His love, those kinds of experiences will be less frequent...at least my own part in them. I wanted to know how to calm the storm myself. And I knew I didn't have it in me. Powerless and out of control, and faithless that God would step in and change things. He did anyway. Before bed last night I went into the kids' bedroom and laid down with Peanut Butter. He didn't wake up, I just held his hand and watched him sleep and prayed for him. And in the middle of the night Christopher Robin climbed in bed next to me, and I put my arm around his skinny middle and my cheek next to his warm skin and fell asleep with my lanky 5 year old.

This morning I marvel at the calm. "Peace, be still."

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

How my Soul's Lover has wooed me with His Love Letter

holy experience

It began with a craving to know more deeply...to live more truly.

"Would you join me and we can be an LTG?" I asked My Hero. He (somewhat reluctantly) agreed. He doesn't throw himself blindly into commitments that might demand too much as I am prone to do. But this one was good. How can it not be good to commit to read large portions of scripture together, to hold each other accountable, to pray for lost people, to see where God takes us?

A few weeks later I was invited into another LTG with a couple of girl friends. I grinned. Thirty chapters a week wasn't enough, anyway. I can read sixty.

My soul drinks long gulps. I see how God deals with Abraham, watch Abraham make mistakes but never waver in confidence that God will deliver all He has promised. I walk with David through his life, watch with shining eyes as he challenges the giant because he knows God is on his side. I see new sides of God; he puts the rainbow in the sky not for us, but to remind Himself never to destroy the earth again with a flood. I see him cause David to take a census of the land, and then punish all Israel for that sin. And I hear Paul say to the Romans, "Well then, you might say, 'Why does God blame people for not listening? Haven't they simply done what he made them do?' No, don't say that. Who are you, a mere human being, to criticize God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who made it, 'Why have you made me like this?' When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn't he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into?" 9:19-21 (NLT)

Who is this God I call my God? He is bigger than I can ever know, but He lets me know Him. His ways are unfathomable to me, but he pours out grace. His justice cannot be satisfied by me, a broken sinner, but he provides a blood offering Himself so I can be clean.

I thirst to thirst for You. I hunger to be hungry for You. I long for wisdom that will pull me to your Word as my daily sustenance, that will desire silence before You more than a soft couch and an easy, mind numbing sitcom. I choose You, commit to You, even when I don't feel it, even when my straying eyes lose sight of the King of Heaven and wander aimlessly and settle on a magazine, a brownie, a daydream. My Soul's Lover, catch me up and open my eyes and recapture my heart. I commit to immerse myself in Your Word so that who You are is such a part of me that I cannot settle for less.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

a good tip

A friend of mine loaned me a cookbook, Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfeld, that's full of recipes that include lots of pureed veggies (even spinach brownies!) as ingredients...a supremely inoffensive way to serve vegetables that kids might otherwise turn up their nose to. The idea intrigues me, because even though I'm determined to learn to cook veggies the most delicious ways possible, so we all as a family can learn to like them, I really like the idea of learning to add vegetables to as many meals as I can, as many ways as I can.

The cookbook also includes tips from moms for ways they have found to help their kids eat more veggies. One I really liked was from a mom who, like me, found her kids coming to her begging her for food before supper was ready, so she started setting out raw veggies for them to snack on while she made supper. That way if they were truly hungry and not just bored, they would be eating something good for them, and even if they filled up on the veggies and didn't eat much supper, who cares?? They've filled up on vegetables! Last night I set out sliced cucumbers and carrot sticks, and sure enough, most of the cukes were gone and some of the carrots before supper was ready. Then Christopher Robin shocked me by asking for three helpings of salad and being unable to finish his sausage hash brown bake, which is one of his favorite meals. I will be stocking my fridge with fresh raw veggies for pre-supper snacking from now on.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Q is a conference held every year for church leaders interested in finding ways for church to influence culture. The conference invites speakers who know something about culture or who happen to have done something big to influence our world, like Blake Mycoskie with TOMS Shoes, and Catherine Rohr who founded Prison Entrepreneurship Program. In the words of the Q website:

"Q is a gathering where church leaders and cultural influencers from the fields of business, politics, media, education, entertainment and the arts are exposed to the future of culture and the church’s responsibility to advance the common good in society."
Now the Q website features videos of some of their speakers. They're all stimulating and thought provoking.

Here's one I've listened to twice, because the ideas resonate truth:

Narrative Expressions by Donald Miller, author

In order to make a good story, you need conflict. If our lives are boring, depressing, pointless, maybe we need to find something bigger than ourselves to be a part of, to give our "story" a point. If we live mediocre lives, we're just a background character in someone else's story.

Towards the end, Miller tells the story of a friend of his whose teenage daughter is dating a loser and living in rebellion. The friend is at a loss to know how to get through to her. Miller suggests that the story she's living makes her the heroine, adds drama in which she is the star. He tells his friend that he should find a way to make the story he has to offer even better than the one the boyfriend offers. So his friend researches for a few weeks, then presents his family with a situation in a third world country where some kids need an orphanage or they'll die. Then he tells his family that it's up to them to figure out how to provide an orphanage for these kids before any more of them perish. The family takes up the cause, the daughter included, and in the process she drops her loser boyfriend for this better story in which they are all true heroes.

I wonder how that perspective can help in day to day parenting? Can challenging kids to throw themselves into doing what's right help keep them from sinking into mischief and squabbles? Also, I need to find the kinds of stories that will inspire them to be heroes by doing right. I know, I know that the kinds of books I read growing up formed my perspective of the kind of person I wanted to be.

How do I explain how good it is?

My Hero downloaded a free audio book a couple of weeks ago from christianaudio.com. The title didn't grab me. Crazy Love. But My Hero listened to it during his long commute to work and back, and he came home and recommended it to me with passion in his voice. I knew it had to be good, because he has shown...mild approval about the last few books I've raved enthusiastically about to him. He doesn't get excited about books easily.

Crazy Love offers a fresh perspective on what it means to really follow Jesus. It picks you up and shakes you until all your apathy has fallen away. It dunks you in the cold water of truth until you're fully awake again.

It's free from christianaudio.com for the month of July. Don't delay!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

a good supper

In an attempt to cook using only real, whole, unprocessed food, I find myself cooking with a new freedom to experiment, to deviate from recipes and alter them to fit my ingredients. And the surprising part is, so far it has all come out tasting really good. I guess when the ingredients are really good, it's hard to go wrong.

Last night I tried out the new Kitchen Aid pasta roller and fettuccine cutter set I received for my birthday. I was most excited to try the recipe for spinach pasta that came with the set. It called for 10 oz. frozen spinach, but I had fresh, so I washed it, patted it dry, and chopped it fine in my mini food processor. I cut the recipe in half, because it was a BIG batch, and I made some alfredo sauce to go with it. Making the pasta was time consuming, but I think each time I do it I'll get faster. Part of my slowness was figuring out how it worked.

It was AMAZING. Is homemade pasta really any better than from a box? YES. It was so tender. The kids gobbled it up. And asked for seconds. And thirds. This from boys who have a tendency to beg me to make supper and then sit at the table picking at it once it's made. Who sometimes won't finish their one small helping even when ice cream is offered for boys who clean their plates. Part of the success was the homemade alfredo sauce. Who could resist? Raindrop sat in her high chair grabbing fistfuls and stuffing them into her mouth (she isn't very ladylike yet).

I didn't take any pictures. I didn't think of it in the midst of trying out my new pasta maker for the first time surrounded by the chaos of three hungry youngsters. It wasn't very pretty anyway. As the pasta came from the cutter I laid it in a pile, and the noodles ended up sticking together. It all still cooked fine...no chewy uncooked clumps at the end, but it wasn't photo worthy.

The recipes:

Spinach Pasta

1 package (10 oz.) frozen chopped spinach, thawed.
1 Tbsp. water
4 large eggs
4 cups flour

(I cut the recipe in half, used fresh spinach and white whole wheat flour.)
Place spinach in a towel and wring out all water until spinach feels very dry. Finely chop spinach using a food grinder attachment, food processor, or blender. Place chopped spinach, water, eggs, and flour in a bowl and mix together. (The recipe specifies speeds and times and attachments for mixing the dough, but I just used a medium bowl and a wooden spoon, then my (clean) hands when the dough was thickest...I added the flour a bit at a time. It gets really thick and stiff.) Remove dough from bowl and hand knead for 1 to 2 minutes. Divide dough into eight pieces before processing with Pasta Sheet Roller attachment.

To cook pasta:
Add 2 tsp. salt and 1 Tbsp. oil (optional) to 6 quarts boiling water. Gradually add pasta and continue to cook at a boil until pasta is "al dente" or slightly firm to the bite (6 min.). Pasta floats to the top of the water while cooking, so stir occasionalyl to keep it cooking evenly. Drain in a colander.

Yield; 1 1/2 pounds dough.

Alfredo Sauce

1/2 cup butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
3/4 cup mozzarella cheese

Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium/low heat. Add the garlic, cream, and white pepper and bring mixture to a simmer. Add Parmesan cheese and simmer sauce for 8-10 minutes or until sauce has thickened and is smooth. Add the mozzarella cheese and stir until smooth.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Charlotte Mason's thoughts on introducing children to God

"There is one thing the mother will allow herself to do as interpreter between Nature and the child, but that not oftener than once a week or once a month, and with look and gesture of delight rather than with flow of improving words--she will point out to the child some touch of especial loveliness in colouring or grouping in the landscape or in the heavens. One other thing she will do, but very rarely, and with tender filial reverence (most likely she will say her prayers, and speak out of her prayer, for to touch on this ground with hard words is to wound the soul of the child): she will point to some lovely flower or gracious tree, not only as a beautiful work, but a beautiful thought of God, in which we may believe He finds continual pleasure, and which He is pleased to see his human children rejoice in. Such a seed of sympathy with the Divine thought sown in the heart of the child is worth many of the sermons the man may listen to hereafter, much of the 'divinity' he may read" (Vol. 1, pp. 79, 80).

"The parent must not make blundering, witless efforts: as this is the highest duty imposed upon him, it is also the most delicate; and he will have infinite need of faith and prayer, tact and discretion, humility, gentleness, love, and sound judgment, if he would present his child to God, and the thought of God to the soul of his child." (Vol. 1, p. 345).

From Laying Down the Rails: A Charlotte Mason Handbook

I found myself hesitant, intimidated, almost reluctant to introduce the idea of God to my children for the first time. I want nothing higher for them than that they learn to love and follow Him, and Deuteronomy 11:18-19 urges God's people to teach their children His words as part of daily life. But I was reluctant to mar their understanding of God by doing it poorly. I didn't want to steal from them the pleasure and profound life change that results from discovering truth on their own. When something is too familiar, the brain shuts off, and you build up a sort of immunity to it; I experienced those things myself growing up, and I wished there was a way to keep it from happening. I don't suppose there's a way to prevent boredom with Sunday school Bible stories retold and retold, or to keep the eyes from skimming the ending to stories that conclude with a moral and a verse. But I think Charlotte Mason has the right idea by prescribing an approach of delicacy and tact, setting an example and planting ideas sparingly, without a lot of preaching and moralizing. It leaves room for a relationship and understanding of God to develop naturally, to maintain a sense of intrigue and mystery. I do not worry that reading the story of David and Goliath to them from I Samuel 17 will lead to boredom. They request it again and again and again. His Word isn't boring. I think the real danger lies in preaching to them and moralizing with "flow of improving words", watering down the stories and drawing trite "lessons" from them.

Now for some self-examination, because I know, even before sitting down and trying to recall specific examples, that I'm guilty of losing their interest by talking too much.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


How to Nurture Geniuses

Never Pursue Pleasure

"There is only one real power
That you should long to own: Self-denial!
Spend all you have to purchase it.
Lust after chains of servanthood--never thrones of pride.
For servants, worn by willful drudgery,
At last wear diadems.
Bridle all desire: For having what you want,
Will leave you groveling in wantonness.
Feed yourselves with hunger,
Then savor all you slowly eat.
Thus, self-denial will give you richness but keep you from excess.
Use this world, do not consume it.
Never pursue pleasure, rather let it find you...
At the end of every day...
Where you made discipline your friend."
~Calvin Miller, A Requiem for Love

These lines pierced me as I read Miller's story about the fall of mankind. Too easily my mind is filled with thoughts of my next indulgence...peace and quiet? Ahh...time for a book, curling up on a comfy couch with a cup of steaming tea. Kids are finally in bed? Hmmm...are there any shows I haven't caught up on?

Whenever I stop being intentional about how I spend my time each day, weeds crop up. There's a difference between scheduling in time for relaxation and pleasure, and being pulled around by my ever wandering, never really satisfied desires. Even good projects turn sour when I begin them at the wrong time, without enough time to finish, without thought of how to care for and occupy my kids while I work. The kids become unhappy and troublesome most quickly when I don't have a plan.

Sometimes I'm tempted to try to remedy issues like this by putting rules on myself. Do I get sucked into TV shows to easily? No TV. EVER! And since in free moments my mind tends to begin dreaming of cookies or cake or chocolate, should I purge my life of those things entirely to rid myself of the problem? The passage above brings to mind monks, and their deliberate self deprivation. I've read countless times from a variety of sources that their lifestyle was not what God is calling us to, but I can see what brought them to that point, and I think they must have experienced some good results from living a life devoid of some of the more obvious pleasures. I can see how legalistic churches and groups were formed, too, but personal experience with them leaves a sour aftertaste. The truth is that I could make rules for myself to follow to try to keep myself out of trouble and on the right path, but those rules would not really help my situation. I would only find new ways to indulge myself. Or fall off the wagon completely, if I were to ever try to cut, say, cheesecake, completely out of my life. The only solution I see is to humbly climb up on the altar each day, and give my life again to God, and let His will direct my day. So that when I'm with my kids, my words are patient, my actions gentle, my attitude right. And when they're down for nap time and I have some precious quiet time to myself, that time still belongs to God, and I choose a way to fill it that I know pleases Him. If I curl up on the couch with a good book and a cup of tea, I do it with a clean conscience and a sense of His pleasure, because there's nothing else I should be doing instead. There's no other way than to daily beg for His help, and live every moment humbly and open to his leading.

I practiced self-denial a few days ago, inspired by the passage above. It was nap time, lunch was cleared away, and I was reading. I could hardly focus on what I was reading because my mind kept throwing me images of sweets I could snack on. I had already determined that I was addicted to sugar again, and needed to cut back. So I decided beforehand that I wouldn't have any...that this self-denial was necessary, and a way to practice what I had just read. I was shocked by how difficult it was. It was a mental battle that actually made me tired. It shaped the rest of my day...left me feeling weak, and much more dependent on God. It was exercise, the kind that, the more you do it, the stronger you become. The next day was similar, but a little easier. Since then I've had some busy days, too full to focus on the things that matter most, but today I refocus on the exercise of self-denial, determined not to brush it away or excuse myself that these are trivial matters. This is my one life, and every time I choose the easy, lesser way, I waste it.

Friday, June 26, 2009

13 things that make me glad:

138. A long, hot day after weeks of rain.

139. Blistered hands, dirty feet, withering weeds, a happy garden.

140. Teabag of spicy chai, steeped in steaming water in a white mug, a little milk and sugar.

141. Contest between baby girl and 30 year old mama: pink hairbow in darling fine baby hair just thick enough to hold it again, yanked out continually by chubby baby fists.

142. Four year old boy reading Go, Dogs, Go to two year old brother. Really reading. I have dreamed of this moment. "Read to your bunny often, and... your bunny will read to you!" -Rosemary Wells

143. Babies, daughter and niece, bopping together to bebop cellphone game music. No self-conscious shyness, no restraint.

144. Two dear girl friends and I, plotting a morning together, just us, to talk and drink coffee.

145. Wedding plans...for a sweet sister in law and her sailor husband. September. Two small sons in black tuxes. Tiny daughter and niece in gauzy white.

146. Scales falling off my eyes. Why is He not King every moment of daily life when I am so entirely convinced that's the right way? Weeds. The small distractions, self indulgences that call for my attention in my spare moments. The path to life? Self denial.

147. Humble gratefulness that He doesn't leave me to my errors. Hope: He values me enough to keep teaching me.

148. Funny texts between My Hero and me. Jokes that keep us laughing.

149. Ambling through a bookstore, quiet, unhurried. A couple of hours without children, just My Hero and me. 8 years ago...just beginning our honeymoon.

150. The book of Proverbs. Pithy sayings, nuggets of truth. Guidance along the path of life.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The peace of three small ones napping was rudely blasted away by the grating wail of two year old Peanut Butter.

I sighed helplessly. How do I respond? I knew from experience that the wail meant nothing more than that he was grumpy. I knew that in another minute or two his brother and sister would wake up from the noise. Going in to spank him for indulging in such a selfish outburst would only wake them up more quickly, and what good would it do? I had spent the last several months cracking down on his behavior to no avail. I was tired of always coming across as angry to him. But ignoring it doesn't seem to help, either. The grating wail blasts loudly on until I face it, somehow. I reluctantly entered the bedroom and met the grumpy two year old and two other sleepy but wide awake faces.

Discouraged, later that evening I described that scene to My Hero. "I just have to accept that it's the way it is," I said. "I've tried to change him, and nothing makes a difference. I'm tired of coming across as always disapproving. Especially since it doesn't help." A few days before, Christopher Robin had told me that Peanut Butter said to him, "Mommy's mean to me." Putting that together with the kind of days we had had, and my heart sank. I didn't want him to see me as targeting him, a mean, angry, impossible to please mother. I decided to put my effort into accepting him for who he is, even when the behavior is ugly. "I can't change him," I told My Hero. "Oh, he can change," My Hero countered. "It just takes a long time. Remember how long it took us to teach him to stay in his bed at bedtime? You just have to get through to him that it's really not worth it to him." Light dawned, hope stirred. He can be taught, it just takes way longer than I would expect. It takes consistent, painful discipline. For a LONG time.

So that's what I'm working on these days. After a 5 day visit from their grandparents, both Peanut Butter and Christopher Robin have needed a lot more spanks to curb the whining and misbehavior that accompanies the mindset that life revolves around them and their whims. I think before I had kids I expected to be better at disciplining them than I am, but I do believe I'm getting better as I see good results come from it, and their misbehavior is less and less cute.

Also, any self-doubt I have about the importance of disciplining them is washed away by these:

"My child, don't ignore it when the Lord disciplines you, and don't be discouraged when he corrects you. For the Lord corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights." Prov. 3:11 NLT

"If you refuse to discipline your children, it proves you don't love them; if you love your children, you will be prompt to discipline them." Prov. 13:24 NLT

"Discipline your children while there is hope. If you don't, you will ruin their lives." Prov. 19:18 NLT

"A youngster's heart is filled with foolishness, but discipline will drive it away." Prov. 22:15 NLT

"Don't fail to correct your children. They won't die if you spank them. Physical discipline may well save them from death." Prov. 23:13-14 NLT

"To discipline and reprimand a child produces wisdom, but a mother is disgraced by an undisciplined child." Prov. 29:14 NLT

"Discipline your children, and they will give you happiness and peace of mind." Prov. 29:17 NLT

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Good Food, Bad Food

Why is food I love bad for me, "junk food" that rots my teeth and makes me fat, and nutritious food so bland or offensive I have to force myself to eat it? That's a question I wondered all my life. I always chalked it up to "The Fall". Part of the curse that plagues mankind, a result of sin entering the world. Good food tastes bad, bad food tastes good.

I'm learning that it's actually not the case. Could it be that our food system is flawed, and that by escaping my own food culture I can enter a new (old, really) way of life where all food, all real food that comes from the ground, preferably from my own yard or else my home town, is both finger-licking good and will keep me strong and healthy?

This new approach does require a shift away from all junk food, some of which I have loved my whole life (Cheetos! and in My Hero's case, Mountain Dew). The switch has been surprisingly
painless, but two factors have helped with that. 1) I've been so focused on learning what kinds of good things I can be eating, and how to make meals based on actual real food, like real potatoes rather than a boxed stuffing mix full of additives and preservatives, that I haven't given much thought to the things I used to eat. And I view grocery shopping as a challenge to see how well I can avoid boxed and packaged foods and stick to basic ingredients like flour and cheese and fruits and veggies. 2) My Hero and I have been faithfully monitoring our weight since late December on our new Wii Fit. It's amazing to me how much an evening of snacking on something extra, especially something from a box or bag, matters immediately. Next morning I can be sure my weight will be heading upwards instead of down. Does each tiny food decision really matter that much? Apparently. So it has been encouraging to note that my home cooked meals from real food are much kinder to my waistline than traditional American fare, even just a frozen pizza.

Michael Pollan in his book In Defense of Food sheds light on recent research that shows a low fat diet doesn't seem to help prevent heart disease or even obesity. What?? How can something I have been taught everywhere all my life be false? It seems a lot of what we're told about nutrition may be false. At the very least, only a small part of the whole truth. We were told for years to use margarine instead of butter because it was better for us. And now we see that the trans fats in the margarine are actually much worse than the saturated fat in butter. How many years were we steered wrong by that advice? I came away from Pollans's book with a new approach to food. I'm not afraid to cook food in a way that makes it delicious (cook my asparagus in real butter). Fat isn't bad unless you eat too much of it. And for some reason, it hasn't been hard to keep from overindulging in things like asparagus or even rhubarb pie. Well, maybe a little hard in the case of pie, but it's not the mindless eating of an open bag of chips in front of the tv.

Our western diet offers us cheap, convenient food, but the diseases of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes are part of the package. These diseases are unheard of in cultures untouched by convenience foods, white flour and store sugar. Our bodies also gain natural defense against cancer by eating fresh fruits and vegetables, and meat from animals that feed on green plants.

Still, much of the grocery store produce leaves a lot to be desired. I can't get excited about nectarines that never ripen or hard strawberries. I just finished reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, and her family challenged themselves to eat only local foods for a year. They started in April when only rhubarb was ripe, soon followed by greens, and lived on food from their own garden, farmers market food, and meat from local grass fed beef and lamb. They also raised their own chickens and turkeys for eggs and meat. This is the other piece to the puzzle. Eating local food when it's in season ensures that fruits and vegetables will be bursting with flavor and goodness, not swallowed with a grimace and washed down with milk. Eating meat from grass fed animals means the meat will contain the nutrients from the plants they ate all their lives rather than contain growth hormones and antibiotics from feed lots.

I have a long way to go, but my feet are planted firmly on this path, and I couldn't be more encouraged by the benefits I have experienced already. I passed up sad, wilted lettuce at the grocery store (yes, my store's produce is worse than most) and found bags of fresh baby lettuce and mixed greens at the farmer's market not a half hour later. Yay!! I have converted some of my favorite recipes to be made from scratch rather than from packaged ingredients, but I'm looking for more recipes and ways to cook starting with the fresh things I find at the farmer's market and can grow in my garden. Every step of progress I make feels like a victory, and I'm paying attention and actually enjoying my food more than I ever have before.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Farmer's Market

Saturday morning I visited the farmer's market. I was looking for fresh veggies. My own first homegrown veggies won't be ready for months...even my peas, which I started in April, have weeks to go before they're ready to be picked. But some people who have been at this longer than I have, who devote their...livelihoods?...to growing food, know how to coax their gardens to produce early.

I found rhubarb, but I have my own source for that. Then I found fresh fish, so I bought a pound of haddock. I have a baked haddock recipe that's delectable. THEN I found carrots!! I bought a plump bag of sweet baby carrots, a mixture of pale yellow, orange, and tinged purple. The lady with early carrots also had asparagus in large bundles, so I bought some of that, too. And she was giving bundles of chives or scallions for free. I have an aversion to onions, and scallions ruin perfectly good dishes for me; on the other hand, I want to start learning to cook with fresh vegetables as much as possible, so I took a bundle of chives. She mentioned I could cook them with my carrots. Hmmm...maybe I'll try that! And she told me with a smile that next week she may have some greens, if I come early. My heart soared. I love community, where I get to benefit from others' diligence!

Saturday evening I cooked the most delicious meal...maybe my best ever. Baked haddock (cooked in butter and garlic, sprinkled with bread crumbs and seasonings) is always delicious, but I also steamed some of the baby carrots, putting in long slices of chives so I could pull them out after they were done cooking; I only wanted subtle flavor. And the asparagus I had tried cooking for the first time on Thursday after visiting a neighboring town's farmer's market. I looked up on ehow, and watched a video explaining the 4 ways of cooking asparagus: boiling, steaming, roasting, or grilling. Boiling seemed like the easiest way, so I followed the instructions exactly. The result was mediocre. They were edible, but not amazing. I'm reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver in which she raves about how delicious asparagus is. I should have consulted that book first when deciding how to cook it. I went back to read what she suggests, after Thursday evening's supper, and her method is to saute the asparagus in butter over high heat just until the spears turn bright green and the bottom sides are slightly blackened. I resolved to try it that way the next chance I got. So Saturday evening while the fish was baking and the carrots were steaming, I sauteed my asparagus.

It was an amazing meal. Everything was melt-in-your-mouth good. And it was all ready at the same time, which is a big accomplishment for me. I wish My Hero had been home to enjoy it; I had to tell him about it the next day. But my boys and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I ate most of the asparagus, because I couldn't believe how good it was. There was a lot of asparagus, because it's really only good the day it's picked, so I had to make the whole batch at once. Peanut Butter took second helpings of it, too. And both boys asked for seconds of the carrots. It was the first time serving the baked haddock where it wasn't the main focus of the meal. It was almost an afterthought, and after all the asparagus, I didn't have room for a second helping of fish (another first).

I'm hooked on farmer's markets. I'm hoping asparagus season lasts a few weeks more, because one of these days My Hero has to try it fresh from the saute pan.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Some stories should never be told...

So I won't go into detail about what My Hero and I spent our evening doing yesterday, but I think it was one of those ordeals that permanently changed us, at least a little.

I caught Peanut Butter removing items from our basement freezer a few times, and was severe with him that it was not permissible. I don't often let the boys play in the basement when I'm not down there, for a variety of reasons, including that it's not terribly safe (woodstove, chainsaw, chemicals) and that they make a mess of an area that's not terribly organized to begin with, which just overwhelms me.

Our basement has been smelling poorly of late. Yesterday when I went to the basement searching for a bottle of play bubbles I thought I may have put down there, I visited a corner I don't often see, and discovered that who knows how long ago Peanut Butter had removed from our freezer and left out on his play tool bench a package of frozen pumpkin, frozen chicken stock, and, ugh, a freezer-paper-wrapped steak.

There were worms.

That's all the detail I'll go into, but I think, think from the roundness of Peanut Butters eyes when I showed him the mess and expressed my horror, that he understands he is not to remove anything from our freezer ever again.

On a positive note, I think our basement will be smelling much better this week.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Baby girl wails and follows me as I help her older brothers make their beds. She pulls herself up using the side rail of the bottom bunk and instead of the usual happy squeals, she cries. I know how she feels, her nose ever producing sticky wet; probably she has the headache I have, too. After a few minutes of spirits eroding, dissolving under the persistent waves of noisy, wordless complaints, I leave the boys to finish their beds, pick her up and make her warm porridge with applesauce. Maybe soothing, comforting breakfast will fill the belly and ease her discomfort. Open mouth, content for the first ten bites or so, then frustration, chubby fist smears oatmeal from her mouth across her face, over her eyes, into her hair.
I began the day with resolve to live today hand in hand with God. My heart in tune with His. Not intensely focused on perfecting my children, just leading them as He leads me. So now, instead of jumping over the edge of sanity, breaking into furious impatience with all of life, groaning my agony, I watch this little life before me and ponder humanity's brokenness.
Her lip curls under in unprovoked, mysterious hurt, her fussing breaking into loud wails, and when she looks in my eyes, her wails deepen, she turns her eyes away in offense, as if I were laughing at her or deliberately causing her pain. Is this the beginning of little girl agony? Emotions inexplicable, unique to us girls, throwing us in a tumult of pain and confusion, physical ailments exasperating over-sensitive emotions? Sticky, oatmeal smeared face contorted in misery is the very picture of us, fallen humanity, irritable, frustrated, inconsolable, so desperately in need of a Redeemer, a loving Father who knows the way things were meant to be, and is preparing that life for us anew, when this broken, distorted one is over.
He gives peace in the midst of this spirit-dulling torrent. It's impossible to ignore these times, but I feel thankful that life is not always this way. Our life holds so many good moments, times when baby girl sits in high chair eating breakfast happily for a half-hour or more, then can be put down to play on the floor and explore, content.
When porridge is gone, I wash her crying face clean, lift her out of the high chair, and lay her down in her crib. She reaches for a blanket to hold against her face and snuggles in as I cover her up. Ahh.
Yes, even the overwhelming, miserable times hold moments of joy when the God of Peace holds my hand through the storm. I just walked on water like Peter. I think I'll keep my hand in His for the rest of the day.

Monday, May 4, 2009

giving thanks

122. A new friend, warm, open, already beginning to feel like a sister. The longing tug to talk with her again.

123. Fine, soft brown hair filling in on baby daughter's head... can it really be so straight? That she might get the straight hair I've always admired on others...

124. Uninterrupted night's sleep to combat yesterday's flu-like symptoms. Three kids, all sleeping soundly all night long (no, wait...memory floats in of a thud and Peanut Butter's sharp wails. That was last night, but My Hero leapt out of blankets and snuggled the little boy back into his bed so promptly that I sighed with relief and slipped back to my dreams.)

125. Christopher Robin's sweet voice lilting into song.

126. Peanut Butter's lisping, deliberate forming of words, determinedly finishing each thought, no matter how difficult or slow.

127. The satisfied look on Peanut Butter's face when he has said something right, and is understood, paired with exultant steps and a nod of his head.

128. The puppy love stage baby Raindrop's in now... how she'll look up from what she's doing to see me watching her, and burst into a radiant smile, followed by shy dropping of head and wiggling of arms, smile turning to bashful grin. How she makes my heart pitter patter.

129. Two boys and a man on a tractor...my two boys and man, smoothing the driveway, hauling rocks and debris, taming our yard.

130. The slosh of cream becoming thud of butter in the jar in my hands as I run and shake together. The instructions said I would hear the difference. Now, many many times later, I do.

131. "As we know Jesus better, his divine power gives us everything we need for living a godly life." II Peter 1:3 (NLT)

132. Baby girl crawling to us as I hold hurting, sobbing, oldest brother in my lap. How she pulls herself up, near him, as if willing her closeness to cheer him. And it does.

133. Baby girl, showing symptoms of naughtiness, persistently going for the one puzzle piece Peanut Butter has put in place. Could it be she enjoys his exasperation?? My Hero and I call it "The Evil Streak" and both recognize she inherited it from me.

134. "If you need wisdom--if you want to know what God wants you to do--ask him, and he will gladly tell you." James 1:5 (NLT)

135. A new day, full of promise and potential. Thank you, Father, for a fresh start.

136. Coughing, stirring sounds of little ones waking. Babes to pour myself into, to love and teach and train, to practice patience on.

137. An itinerary e-mailed to the inbox, a flight booked for friends from Florida with their twin babies Raindrop's age for a visit to us in early June. waHOOO!!!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Sunday morning Christopher Robin's class went up front to sing a song for all of us during the church service. They did this once before near Christmas, but when they announced to the class what they were planning, Christopher Robin immediately decided he would not participate. He resists new ideas. I bought him new shoes, and he told me he wouldn't wear them. Three days later my mom asked me how his new shoes fit him, and I told her he hadn't put them on. Later that day he decided he wanted to wear them, and he has loved them ever since. I think something new has to sit for a little while, become familiar first, and then he can accept it. So while the rest of his class of 3-5 year olds filed onto the stage to sing their Christmas song, Christopher Robin sat and watched from the front row. I let him. I was a little worried we were setting a life-long pattern by allowing him to refuse to cooperate. I understood the feeling of not wanting to be in the spotlight, but I had visions of a strange, stubborn 10 year old boy who had never been willing to set his foot on the stage or participate in anything that had to do with public performance. My biggest worry was that my response, just accepting without argument that he didn't want to do it and not forcing him or trying to persuade him otherwise, would contribute to a life of refusing to stretch himself or emerge from his cocoon of comfort. My Hero assured me just letting him be was the right thing, and my mom confirmed it when I brought it up with her, so that's what we did.
A couple of weeks ago, I learned that his class had a new song they would be singing in church, and Christopher Robin's teacher told me he had been eagerly participating during practice. I got my hopes up that he would make it onto the stage this time (though My Hero warned me not to), and I refrained from mentioning it to Christopher Robin at all, for fear of jeopardizing the possibility by making him think about it.
Sunday morning during their pre-service practice, Christopher Robin was first in line leading the way onto the stage, and during the actual performance it was the same. He walked confidently across the stage and positioned himself in front of one of the microphones. As they were singing, he leaned down to sing right into the microphone, and his soft little voice melted me into a puddle. I was laughing the whole time, because I was so thrilled, and the kids were so funny, all of them with their different quirky behaviors on stage, and a couple of times Christopher Robin with his big round eyes looked right at me sitting in the front row laughing, and just stared at me as if he was trying to figure out what I was laughing at. I had to force myself to stop and smile encouragingly at him, because I didn't want him to think I was laughing at him.
What a kid. I guess sitting and watching his class do it once turned a new idea into an old, comfortable one, and he was willing to participate the next time. He's leery of new ideas because he doesn't know what will happen and he may not like it. But I still can't believe the difference between the last experience and this one.

I've been thinking about the euphoria I felt as a mom seeing my little boy up front singing for the first time, and it made me think about God, as my Father...what makes Him feel that way about me? Some days, often on Sundays in church, when we're all singing His praises together and my mind is full of all He's done, I'm bursting with happiness and everything has a rosy hue. Later, when life looks more gloomy, and I've let selfishness ruin my day, I'll look back on that and think how God must despise my earlier happiness. As if I deserve it. Sometimes I think even in the midst of the euphoria that I'm not worthy to feel that happy. So I thought of how I feel about Christopher Robin. Yes, he has a lot of bad moments, and he lets me down over and over, but I still really love his happy times, and nothing thrills me more than when he spontaneously tells me he loves me and wraps his skinny arms around my neck and presses close for a hug with an endearing look in his eyes. I think that's the kind of thing God is looking for, too. I keep telling myself if I could behave in life the way I would like to see Christopher Robin behave, I have a good chance of making God feel pleased. I'm most pleased and proud of Christopher Robin when he acts with kindness, helps his little brother, makes his baby sister smile, helps me with my tasks, learns something new, does something well, has a humble attitude with the desire to please. "God sets himself against the proud, but he shows favor to the humble." I Peter 5:5 Those are the kinds of things God is looking for, especially the humble part, the absense of cocky self-assurance pursuing my own whims, but the happy humility to keep coming back to Him to find out what I could do for Him next, working alongside Him in his projects, willing to learn His way of doing things, treating His other children with kindness.
I don't dwell on Christopher Robin's bad moments or his mistakes. I move on and try to teach him better. I have a constant hope and vision of the man he could become, and its his successes that really stick with me, the good things he proves he can do, the times his quick learning surprises me and his helpfulness truly helps me. It encourages me to think God my Father looks at me that way, too. Yes, He's always willing me to do better, but He's not constantly disappointed that I haven't arrived. My failures don't make Him begrudge me happiness, and even though I'm not perfect, he still drinks in my humble praises like a daddy wraps his arms around a child.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Mr. Putter and Tabby books are some of my favorite library books to read aloud to Christopher Robin. In Mr. Putter and Tabby Pour the Tea we learn how Mr. Putter and Tabby (his old orange cat) got together in the first place. He lived alone in a big house, with no one to share his English muffins with in the morning, or his tea in the afternoon, no one to keep him company while he tended his tulips or trimmed his roses, no one to listen to his stories in the evenings. He decided he wanted a cat to ease his loneliness, so he went to the pet store. The pet store lady only had kittens for sale ("'No one wants cats. They're not cute. They're not peppy.' Mr. Putter hadn't been cute or peppy for a very long time.") so he went to the shelter, where they had three cats to choose from. The orange one was old, her bones creaked, her hair was thinning, and she appeared to be a little deaf. Mr. Putter was old, his bones creaked, his hair was thinning, and he was a little deaf. He took her home, and the rest of the book is about their life together.

I like the Mr. Putter and Tabby books because they're so calm. They lead a quiet life together of simple, silly adventures. There is a part of me that envies Mr. Putter his quiet, lonely life. If I were in his position, I think, imagine all the books I could read...all the projects I could throw myself into with abandon. It would take me a long time to start feeling lonely, I think to myself.

If I were really in Mr. Putter's position, all alone in a big old house day after day, I think I would dream about the days I'm in right now, in the management position of a happy household full of energy and life and problems and endless tasks... I would probably fill my time reading books about bustling households full of happy activity and endless adventures, and fill my thoughts with memories of these crazy days full of funny moments that crack me up and hard moments that make me cry. I would sit in my chair as Mr. Putter does, and look through my photo albums, and tell stories about these days, these intense, difficult days that will so soon be gone and only relived in memory, and shed tears of longing.

I hope I remember this, if I ever am alone...this twinge of envy I feel as a young mother whose life is full of people who need me, when I visit a nursing home and see neat little rooms of people who have lived full lives and now have the gift of time, time for crossword puzzles and books and projects. The pang of jealousy I feel when I talk with a single friend from college days, planning yet another trip to a different part of the world, sharing an apartment in the city with her cat. I know, because I know myself (and I remember) that if that was me I would long for the life I'm leading now. God fashioned me for the life I lead. But I think there's more. Some day when these days are held in a photo album on my lap, I think I'll discover He has also fashioned me for other, as yet undreamed of, days.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Penguin Epiphany

One of my favorite high school teachers used to say that some of the most profound truths can be found in children's books. This is also true of kid's Saturday morning cartoons.

Christopher Robin knows that on Saturday mornings there is a kids' show he's allowed to watch. I don't think he realizes that kids' shows are on the whole morning long, across almost every channel... he just knows there is one, and that we've been missing it for the past few Saturdays, because I can't seem to get the time right. I let them watch Veggie Tales for half an hour on Saturday mornings, on the days we're home at the right time, but the network has moved the time around, and I keep missing it. Last Saturday Christopher Robin asked me at 9:30 if it was time for the kids' show, so I checked online to find out what time Veggie Tales came on, and saw that it had run at 9:00. Frustrated that I had failed AGAIN, I decided to let him watch 3-2-1 Penguins, which was just coming on.

The topic was compassion, and it showed the penguins throw a surprise birthday party 2 months late for the twins, a boy and a girl. The boy was happy and excited, but the little girl moped around dejectedly. Something was bothering her. Her brother explained that she'd been like that all day, and he didn't know what was wrong.

It's funny, because this is an issue that comes up repeatedly in my relationship with My Hero. I never quite know how to deal with him when he gets in a funk. Most of the time I notice he's in a bad mood, and I make up my mind that no matter what he does, I'll do my utmost to stay positive and not let him get me down. Sometimes I feel like booting him out the door, since that feels like the only way I won't be poisoned by his bad mood.
I saw the little girl moping at her surprise birthday party, and I felt the same response to her. What's her problem? Why doesn't she snap out of it and appreciate what her friends just did for her? I think my response would be, "Leave her alone, and she'll come out of it eventually."

Suddenly I was riveted, because from the show's approach, I could tell it wasn't the girl who needed to change her behavior, it was the brothers and the penguins who were about to learn something. To act happy and cheery when someone is feeling sad is not a compassionate approach. Huh. My determination to maintain my cheeriness might actually be the problem? Suddenly, I realize that this lines up with scripture.

Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on soda, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart. Proverbs 25:20 (NIV)
The little boy stopped and heard his grandmother's words from earlier in the day echoing in his head. "To show a little compassion, you might start by listening to her."

Of course, he doesn't actually get around to listening to what his sister has to say until near the end of the program, but that is the solution that begins to help her feel better.

I have been blaming My Hero for being intent on dragging me down with him in the dirt, that he won't change his mood until he's brought me down to his level of misery. Hmm. Have I been a little lacking in compassion?

He has been facing stress and frustrations these past few days, so I've had a couple of opportunities to try out my new found wisdom. Instead of walling myself off from him, I have listened with compassion to what he's going through. It doesn't drag me down or ruin my day, but it does help lift him up. When I intentionally stop my chipper remarks and happy tunes to listen to his problems and offer any support I can, we continue through life together, in harmony, side by side. Now I see that most of the tension caused by our mismatched moods is dissipated not when I determine to remain unaffected, but when I willingly temper my cheerfulness in respect for his problems and focus my energy on listening and doing what I can to help.

It's obvious, isn't it? How could I have been so blind? I don't mean to point fingers, but I think God might have had something to do with my inability to pin down the time for Veggie Tales. He had a little something he wanted to show me about me.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Let go.

Just what I needed...

I battle to fill each day with good things, to achieve the things I've given myself to do.

Monday was cleaning day, and while I did three loads of laundry and got it all put away, and made beds and cleaned rooms and accomplished a lot of tasks, my to do list still stretched into the distance at the end of the day, and worse, I felt dissatisfied, empty. Everything I had tackled with a focused determination, blocking out as much as I could all the other things, the more important things... reading to my kids, noticing something funny or beautiful, thanking God for something good...it was all a blur, and there was no satisfaction at the end of the day, just a long list of more things to do.

Tuesday I determined to slow down, to enjoy my kids and the rest of life. It was better, but Christopher Robin's attitude was difficult, and Peanut Butter woke up from his nap grumpy and needy... a leisurely time of reading to them all together, stretched out on the floor with Raindrop happily climbing and crawling over my back and my arms wrapped around Peanut Butter and holding the book because he "needed" me to hold him, wasn't enough. It was time to make supper and he still "needed" me to hold him more, and I felt that familiar frustration of trying to fill his needs and him never satiated, never done needing.

Wednesday I had no agenda. I try not to have one on My Hero's days off. Just two things on the schedule... coffee and breakfast with a friend in the morning while My Hero watched our kids, then later in the afternoon staying with my grandfather while my grandmother kept an appointment with her doctor.

Let life fly. Who are we take words and color and hold time tight? Hands open in worship is the apex of art. Wisdom.
The breakfast outing with my new friend was a drink of pure, cold water, refreshing, strengthening, filling me with love for life and making me feel more alive. The rest of the morning with My Hero and our kids was family life in harmony, joy brimming and sloshing out of me with every movement.

I arrived at my grandparents' house in the afternoon to find my grandfather in his wheelchair near the bathroom and my grandmother facing the long, difficult task of helping him with the business. She called her doctor's office to let them know she would be late. Then she offered to let me help, and I entered a little into the care of this man to whom I owe so much of my heritage, and the joy of assisting them, lending my strength to his weak limbs, dipping into the process of their daily life, new to caring for the elderly, and marveling at how familiar it feels, how similar, really, it is to caring for the tiny helpless new lives that have entered my own new young family these past 5 years. Again I spoke to my grandmother about setting a regular, weekly time to come help, maybe on Mondays? And she lit up as though she was ready, now, to set a time to make it happen. I long to be a part of their lives, to lend some of my strength and energy to their days, to give a little freedom to my grandmother, to know and be known to them, for my kids to know them and be known.

Sometimes I wonder how it will be to add something else to my days when already I can't get it all done, and yesterday was my answer.
Lord, why is it that when I pry open my hand to let go of life, more of life can fill my palm stretched-out?

I came home and we had an hour or two more of afternoon to fill before it was time to go to our Wednesday evening small group, so I suggested we go to the basement and clear off our deck table of all the yard sale items we had sorted out a month or two ago so we could bring the table out to our deck. "Box the yard sale items," My Hero suggested. Yes, box them and keep them separate, so next time a friend hosts a yard sale we'll be ready to join. We all worked together, Christopher Robin enthusiastically putting himself in charge of wrapping glass items in newspaper. Table was cleared, items boxed and stacked, table brought out to deck for summer use, basement was tidied and swept, three large boxes filled with outdoor wood scraps for next winter's kindling, then a quick easy supper, most of yesterday's casserole, a bowl of homemade baked beans, and thick slices of honey oatmeal bread with butter. This morning I go down to the basement to witness the miracle of yesterday. Our basement, the one that clutters my mind with new tasks to finish each time I pass through, swept clean, neatly organized, peaceful. Miracle. I could never have done it myself if I spent a week of stressful, focused, task-oriented days.

Lord, why is it that when I pry open my hand to let go of life, more of life can fill my palm stretched-out?
Funny, how I forget that.

What could I let go of today?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

This morning my soul is weak and hurting. A friend, not a close friend, but a friend, has filed for divorce, and I feel powerless, and I ache for her son, and for her husband, and for her... I have known for over a week now, and it still tears at me every day. How could it get to this point and I didn't have a clue?? It feels like the suicide of a family, and I wonder if I had realized it was coming if there would have been anything I could have done. If there's anything I could do now...
And I realize how weak and vulnerable we all are, and how small choices we make in how to relate to each other and how to see our partner lead us gradually closer together or further and further apart.
I know what it's like to stop feeling like we're on the same team. To stop giving him the benefit of the doubt when he forgets to put his dishes away or leaves something undone for me to do. To mutter bitterly to myself about what I wish was different, how he clearly doesn't love me because if he did he'd pay attention to what was important to me. Always, though, when I confronted him for some way he had offended me, I would be ashamed. The look of surprise and hurt, and then his words, "You have no idea how much I want to make you happy," would turn my self-righteous haughtiness to petty complaining. Yes, there are things he could do better, ways of living that would be nicer for me...and he could certainly say the same things about me. Nothing is easy about making a life together, forming a happy home made up of 2, now 5, imperfect, selfish people.
But I want to say that all the blood and sweat and tears are worth it. The daily dying to self not only brings two humans closer together, but adds strength to God's kingdom here on earth. I want to say that there's no better path out there. No other relationship will be different enough to matter...it's ALL hard.
Some people decide life is not worth living, so they end it, take their own lives. Other people reach the end and decide, "You know, if it's so bad than I'm going to just end it, why can't I just make hard, dramatic changes to my life and see if it could get better?" If I had a friend contemplating suicide, that's the path I would urge them to take. What needs to change? Even the most painful, scariest changes can't be too much harder than ending your life, and at least they offer a glimmer of hope, a flicker of daylight far in the distance.
I think of this suicide of a family the same way. There's nothing easy about divorce. It's ugly and messy and sticks around for the rest of your life. If things are bad enough to endure the pain and ugliness of divorce, what about another path, one probably equally or maybe even more difficult, but that offers a glimmer of hope at the end, a redemption of 12 years of memories, a chance of offering renewed stability to the little boy in the picture?
I'm not in the marriage, and I don't know all that's happened to reach this place. I can't say how I'd react if I were in that relationship, because I don't know and haven't been there. I can't say my own marriage struggles in any way compare to those ones. But if I had a friend contemplating suicide, I would offer her these words. And I have a friend heading determinedly down the path of divorce, and I wish, I wish...I could offer her these words in a way that she would hear, and consider.

The Power of a Mom

All power implies a corresponding responsibility; and the greater the power the greater the responsibility because the greater the danger... One of the fearful things about power is that we connot measure the effect of the abuse of it: if we wantonly hurt other human beings we know that evil will come of it but we cannot foretell the extent of the evil... Because He has told us clearly that to sin against His creatures is to sin against Himself we must see all abuse of power in this light...
Yet the power is given us; we cannot be rid of it. Authority has to be exercised; personal gifts have to be used: how can we make sure that our use of power will not in fact be an abuse of it? Only by making ourselves powerless before God, as the dead body of Christ was powerless; only by becoming "stripped and poor and naked" within our own souls, so that the Spirit can invest us with his divine power and transform our impulses and cure our pride.
I read this last night, a quote from Gerald Vann's The Son's Course, in The Shaping of a Christian Family by Elisabeth Elliot. It's inside a chapter about the authority of the father in the home, but a mother also has authority, and consequently, great power in her kids' lives. The only way I have found to live right consistently as a mother, bearing the fruit of the Spirit, is to live "stripped and poor and naked" in my soul. Only when I have a true sense of my own weakness and inadequacy and consequently keep my eyes fixed desperately on Him for help do I live in a way that honors Him. Always, always when I'm feeling pretty good about myself and how I'm doing, I fail miserably.
It's sobering to realise that every time I fail, every time I'm impatient or unkind to my kids I'm spreading evil and won't fully know the extent of the damage I have done. I know it's inevitable to fail again and again, and that Christ can redeem our worst mistakes, but I tend to dismiss my failures too flippantly, unwilling to recognize the seriousness of living life driven by selfishness and pride and my own desires.
Today I begin with nothing but a desperate plea to the Source of All That's Good to make something good of today, to bear in me love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and self-control. I say "begin" because so quickly a self-assurance creeps like a shell over my soul in my first unguarded moment, and I take control and do things my way, in a way that feels right to me at the moment, and then the day is gone and I realise it was wasted, because without Him I can do nothing worthwhile.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


What do I do with the roughly 2 hours to myself when all the kids are in their bedroom having an afternoon rest?

For the month of March, I would be out checking the sap, hauling buckets of faintly sweet clear liquid to pour into the simmering pots on my wood stove, and then on the days I gathered more than 5 gallons, all the surplus into two big plastic storage tubs in the back of the minivan to drive to my parents' house, where their large outdoor stove built of cinder blocks would handle the largest quantities of sap we hauled in.

I loved having the project of making maple syrup to fill the gray March days. Beginning by wading through thigh-deep snow or walking on top when the weather was cold enough to freeze it solid. Finding new obstacles to climb over as the snow melted day by day to reveal fallen trees and pot holes. Tapping trees kept me a daily observer of spring's transformation of our back yard and woods, and the daily compulsion to be outside in the fresh air and sunshine for at least a few minutes had a noticeably cheering affect on my mood. Usually March is a long slow month to suffer through.

I'm glad, though, now, that the time for maple syrup is over for the year, and my nap times once again offer freedom of choice for how to fill them. I still go outside to bring in more firewood, since these rainy April days are chilly and the wood stove keeps us cozy. But now I can choose other things to do as well.

I'm still working on recording In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan onto audio files so I can burn it onto CD for My Hero and my dad and mom to listen to. I have already changed so much of how I shop for food and what I choose to cook because of that book, and I can't wait to have My Hero have the first-hand information for himself.

Sometimes I order pictures for our family photo albums, or read a book for myself, or, once in a while, clean something. Sometimes I organize a closet or cupboard that's much easier to do myself without curious hands fingering each item I pull out.

Yesterday, I took the four white picture frames I bought over a year ago and printed out four pictures of pink cherry blossoms, beautiful, and hung them in a line over our bed. Why did it take me a year to figure out what I wanted to do? I don't know, but I love the result.

I try not to feel disappointed when Christopher Robin trudges sleepily from the bedroom and asks me if I want to color with him, or will I read him a book. It requires an attitude check to switch from a happy solitude project to focusing on the kids again, but the hour after nap time, when there's nothing pressing to get to, is one of the best times of our day...reading, or coloring, or doing some fun, quiet project. So I heard the bedroom door nob turn, and I forced myself to throw away the resentful feelings that leapt up to my throat, and agreed to read him some books, and a couple of minutes later Peanut Butter came out with 3 books of his own, and we sat on the couch and read 6 books together, and then Christopher Robin jumped down from the couch, climbed a stool and got his box of Bob books down from the top of the fridge, and read seven of them to us. I confess I was falling asleep, snuggled warm on the couch being read aloud to, but Christopher Robin didn't notice, since I managed to rouse myself when he had a question or struggled with a word. He probably enjoyed reading uninterrupted by my corrections.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

What do YOU crave?

I love love L-O-V-E my new way of life. It's still a lot of work to stay on top of all the little messes that happen every 10 seconds with the kids, but yesterday morning I saw my grandparents walking up our driveway, and I was really disappointed they didn't come inside...they were just coming to borrow the wheelbarrow under our deck. I would've loved to have my clean, orderly grandmother catch me unexpectedly with a clean, orderly living space. Wednesdays are usually my worst housekeeping days, because My Hero is home. I usually slip into vacation mode when he has a day off, though I've been working on retraining myself not to think that way. My job is much the same on his days off...the kids are still here, after all. So yesterday I kept up with the discipline of cleaning up after myself constantly, and kept the kids doing the same, and My Hero reinforced it and helped follow through with it, and we didn't have a crisis in the evening getting ready to hold group at our place.
Then we talked about discipline at our small group last night. Nowadays the word is more inspiring to me than ever...it's like Dave Ramsey explained on his radio show once, when someone asked him how he was able to make himself be disciplined. He answered that first you get to the place where enough is enough, you get "sick and tired of being sick and tired." You have to get mad enough about your circumstances to change them. Then once you're there, and you start seeing the benefits, it's easier to keep going. Then once you've tasted the success of discipline in one or two areas of life, you start to believe in it. I remember when I was trying to get myself to cut back on sugar, I felt like giving up my habit of sitting down with a stack of chocolate chip cookies and a glass of milk for dipping in the evenings as I watched a movie or read a book was too cruel. Months later, after giving it up and seeing the weight drop it doesn't feel like much of a sacrifice, but until you let go...it feels like unnecessary deprivation (how much difference does one little stack of cookies make, anyway? My wii fit lets me know how much each little indulgence matters (2 lbs?? really?? for one bowl of ice cream?))
We usually start our small group discussions with a couple of fun "ice breaker" questions, and one of the ones My Hero came up with for last night was, "What kind of addiction do you have?" He meant funny things, not intervention-type confessions, and most of them were... Mt. Dew, coffee, yardsaling for antiques to sell on e-bay, mine was sugar... Then he went from there to the chapter we read for the week, I Peter 2, and pointed us to verse 2, "You must crave pure spiritual milk so that you can grow into the fullness of your salvation." The discussion led us to the conclusion that we crave God's Word when we form the habit of being in it consistently and depending on it daily...it's hard to establish, but once the habit is formed, we realize what a difference it makes in our lives and there's no going back. Like any good habit, we get addicted to the good results.
Here's to another day of striving for the good result of a clean house all day long.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Two mornings ago I introduced the chore chart. Our very first, so the concept was brand new to both boys. Christopher Robin listened with rapt attention and Peanut Butter with a quizzical expression as I explained that as each chore was completed, they could draw an X in the appropriate box, and at the end of the day if all their boxes were X-ed, they would receive a nickel. "So, today is Monday. If you run and make your bed, you can come back and put an X in this box here." It bothered Christopher Robin to leave Sunday's boxes blank, but we were starting on Monday, and I wanted something I could print out each week, so it couldn't be helped. He's so type C. Just like his mom.
Christopher Robin squealed with excitement and ran to make his bed. I took Peanut Butter with me and "together" we made his bed. I was right, he loved doing something that involved me helping him one-on-one. Then Christopher Robin raced back to the chore chart on the fridge and wrote an X in his first box. Then he decided he would save his second chore, emptying the dishwasher, for later. I think his idea was to savor the experience, and not use it all up at once. That, however, doesn't work for me; I need the dishwasher emptied first thing in the morning, so I can spend the rest of the day filling it with the dirty dishes we make. He willingly complied when I explained that the first two chores were for the beginning of the day, and the last one we would do at the end. Peanut Butter wanted to help empty the dishwasher, so he did the silverware, and I wondered if I should have made that part his chore. But on further reflection, I'm glad I didn't, because there will be many mornings when he decides he doesn't want to put away the silverware, especially when he figures out it's something I require, so I'm content to let him help Christopher Robin with his chore when he decides he wants to without getting any credit for it. When he's three or four, and control isn't at quite the same level of importance to him, then I'll think about adding to his chore list.
Along with the chore list is the "new" mentality of cleaning up after ourselves each time we're finished with something. To Christopher Robin, putting the toys away as soon as we're finished is directly linked with the last chore, all toys and books put away before bed. The truth is, as long as they're all put away before bed, they'll get the credit, but doing it promptly as soon as we're done with something is a much better way of living. I keep telling myself. Practically, it's pretty overwhelming trying to stay on top of each item they use and tell them to put it back when they're done. There's a pair of damp socks on the floor that Peanut Butter took off after he went out on the still-wet deck. Okay, "Peanut Butter, stop what you're doing and run and put your socks in the laundry, please." There's a pile of coloring books scattered beside the coloring book tub, and Christopher Robin is diligently working on a new color-by-number with crayons at the table. "Christopher Robin, stop what you're doing please and put the other coloring books away." There's a tractor and wagon hauling a flashlight and ball, left untended because Peanut Butter has moved on to coloring with Christopher Robin. "Peanut Butter, please put the tractor and wagon back in the toy closet." "Me not done, Mom." All day long, trying to stay on top of when one pair of hands or the other leaves items on the floor or table or island, all the while trying to stay on top of my own clutter, not allowing myself to leave any unfinished project undone while I move on to the next... it's overwhelming. I wonder if it's even possible. And yet, I know if I can do it, train myself and them to put things away when we're done, it will make things easier for the rest of our lives. Several times during the day yesterday the mess caught up with us and passed us, but we would stop, reconquer it, and move on with restored order. It helps a lot the Christopher Robin is 100% on board. I think giving him boxes to X is the best gift I've given him in a long time. Neatness and order match his nature, so he's working on training himself about as hard as I'm working on training him. Letting him use a pen to write an X is so much better than putting a sticker in the box. I debated, and decided on the pen, and it was definitely the right call. Peanut Butter is not as enthusiastic, because this new way of living involves me telling him what to do more often, which he resents. I wish I could think of a way to get his two year old heart involved so we were on the same team. Communication is still such a barrier...how do I keep it simple, yet help him want to put his things away? How do I make putting his things away his own decision??
As you can see on the picture of the chore chart, Peanut Butter decided writing in the boxes was great fun, so when I was out of the room he marked up most of his boxes on his own. I didn't say anything, but when it was time to put an X in his box last night, I explained that he didn't get to do it because he had already written in his box earlier, and that if he wrote in his boxes without Mommy's permission again, he would get a spank.
I know all this training will be worth it. I know it. But I find myself at the end of the day absolutely exhausted. Wiped out. My Hero has worked late both evenings so far this week, which plays into it. By supper time my energy level is nearing empty, so when he's not home, I'm running on fumes as I put them to bed , and stumble around finishing up whatever I had left undone, and try to get to bed early, which ends up being 10 PM or later anyway, somehow. And yesterday Raindrop was cranky all day for an unknown reason (her second bottom tooth just popped through, so it's not that, but maybe =sigh= she has a new one coming in up top), and then she woke up a lot of times during the night, which almost never happens anymore. Just when I feel like a good, full night sleep is what I need to face the day. Truthfully, what I need is a humble attitude, a repentant heart, and fear of the Lord. Those days are always by far my best days.
So, the kids are awake and cheerfully ready to begin this beautiful Wednesday, and I humbly ask the high king of heaven for His Spirit's help in another day of training in self discipline.