Monday, March 30, 2009

I haven't given up teaching my children habits. Just took a break, I guess. I think I've maintained fairly well the progress I made with Peanut Butter and his tantrums, though we have by no means conquered it, and many days I feel exhausted by the end of the day. He wants control, and some of the things he demands are so unreasonable I don't even want to give him the satisfaction of talking it through, but when I don't he makes me pay by wailing and throwing himself around. When I reach the end of my rope, I lose my determination to remain consistent, and that's when we both lose.

This week I want to begin establishing the habit of orderliness. I have long understood that the better I train them (and myself) to clean up after themselves (and myself) the easier life will be for all of us. It seems so simple to form the habit of putting something in its place when we're done with it, to clean up all the mess after a project is finished before starting something else, but deadlines are the enemy, places to be at certain times take priority over putting everything away before we leave, and I will always struggle with rightly assessing how much time something will take and even how long we'll need to get ready to go someplace. Still, I reason, eventually I will have to take the time to put things back where they belong, so if we can learn to do it immediately after we're done using something, our house should remain in respectable condition most of the time, and when an unexpected visitor comes by, I can genuinely welcome them in without shame or embarrassment. And it helps my own mood when our living quarters are orderly rather than chaotic.

In step with focusing on orderliness this week, I plan to make a simple chore chart (our very first!) for Christopher Robin and Peanut Butter to follow. I showed Christopher Robin how to make his bed a couple of weeks ago (actually, he informed me, he already knew how), and since then he makes it as soon as he wakes up in the morning, because he likes to and it fits his nature. It's such a sweet surprise when something is implemented so effortlessly. He will be the child who never has an unchecked square on his chore chart, because he likes to do his chores and check things off so well. My free-spirited Peanut Butter is only two, and not at all interested in systems or ways of doing things, so I think I'll keep his chores as simple as possible, and he'll do them because I'm with him, giving him personal attention because of it.

I'm excited, all the while knowing that to really make this one a habit will require not getting tired and letting things slide, which is my tendency, and also planning ahead to avoid running out of time, which happens to me constantly.

My own bed, made this morning, a habit I have managed to form in myself, to do first thing as soon as I wake up, and what a difference it makes to my bedroom all day long!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Zucchini Chip Loaves

Inspired by this banana bread post by The Brown Family Blog, I thought I'd post my favorite chocolate chip zucchini bread recipe. And then add an extra bunch of bananas to my grocery shopping list so I can try the world's yummiest banana bread!

Zucchini Chip Loaves*

3 cups all-purpose flour (though these days I always use white whole wheat flour for everything)
2 cups sugar
3 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. ground allspice (in the past I've used cloves instead)
3 eggs (the original recipe said 2, but I changed it)
1/4 cup water or applesauce (not in the original recipe)
1 cup vegetable oil
3 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups grated zucchini
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup raisins, optional (I don't use them; I never mix raisins and chocolate chips!)

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder and allspice. In a small bowl, beat the eggs, oil, and vanilla. Stir into dry ingredients just until moistened. Fold in the zucchini, chocolate chips, and raisins if desired.
Transfer to two greased 8"x4"x2" loaf pans. Bake at 325 for 60 -75 min or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks.

*To give credit where credit is due, I clipped this recipe from a Quick Cooking magazine (or it might have been a Taste of Home mag.) and the credit goes to Chantelle Ross of Forest Grove, British Columbia for sending it in.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Why spring is my favorite season

Every spring the miracle of plants entrances me. I sprinkle seeds too tiny to pick up one at a time into moist dirt, and just three days later when I check on them I'm shocked to see a scattering of little green sprouts shooting up. How could it have happened so fast? How can something so green and alive come from one of those tiny brown specks?

We have one month, maybe two, of spring when the snow is melted and the shrubbery has not taken over the wilderness sections of our yard. One month, maybe two, to clean debris and clear away the tangles and lop off the strong young sprouting trees and bushes to make way for, hopefully someday, smooth lush grass. After that, the wilderness has the advantage over us, because life has come to that patch of ground, and the debris is hard to see because of the green, and the threat of poison ivy steals our confidence, and the barren ground is transformed into a wall, a mass of young trees gaining strength and size, brambles disguised with soft green leaves, ferns protecting bare earth from our rakes. Before the end of summer we retreat. Wait to take more ground until the next spring, when we have one month, maybe two, of advantage.

My first garden two years ago I planted rows of vegetables according to instruction, leaving the minimum or a little less of space between rows and between plants (they can't really need all that room, can they? Seems wasteful). Last to be planted were my vines, pumpkins, squash, gourds. My mom came to help me place them. She kept them far from my other rows. So much space that when I had one more thing to plant, I put it between the hills of squash and pumpkins and the rest of my garden. There was plenty of room. In the fall, as the pumpkin vines spread and took over everything nearby, grabbing my tomato cages with their curling tendrils and pulling them over, creeping out onto our lawn, I realized my Mom's experience had been right. These tiny seedlings need space, because after a summer of growing, their size is unbelievably multiplied.

I stare at these tiny green shoots in the boxes on my window sill and marvel. In a few months I'll have to pull up all but three or four of each kind of spice, and the vegetables will have to be transplanted into my garden because of their size. The fragile. slender tomato sprouts will grow into such giant plants that the tomato cages will fall under their weight. The minuscule green leaves will (if they can possibly grow undisturbed by small curious fingers long enough) transform to edible plants that nourish those small curious fingers and the rest of their growing bodies.

Spring is here.

Monday, March 23, 2009

overheard this morning

Christopher Robin: *munch* *munch* "Grapefruit makes us live longer."
Peanut Butter: "Nigh, grapefruit bakes us lib longer."
CR: "But we still want to see Jesus."
PB: "Nigh."
CR: "But we don't want to see Jonah."
PB: "Mm-mmm. Jonah mean guy." (in low, growling voice.)
CR: "No. He just didn't listen to God."
PB: "Oh."

without faith it's impossible to please Him

A white screen before me offers nothing for inspiration. In my head are dozens of disjointed thoughts, each one mildly interesting, but leading nowhere. Some days I have to choose among all the posts inside my head, but today I sift through bits of life, parts of my days, and find nothing of substance.

WAIT! There is something!

Last summer my sister sent me a book for my birthday, The Middle of Everywhere by Mary Pipher. I read it and I wanted to do something...wanted to reach out and help these people who lost everything and came to the land of promise only to find themselves almost defenseless in a rotten culture with new obstacles and difficulties they had never faced before. I didn't know how. I didn't know any refugees or ways to reach them, but I was aware that our nearby city had received a large number of Sudanese refugees. Late last fall our pastor spoke of a new ministry being established in our city, with the opportunity to be involved in distributing winter coats to refugees and others who would need them for the winter, and many more opportunities to follow. I felt God's tug at my heart and a clear pull to be involved, so that Saturday I left Peanut Butter and Raindrop with a friend, and took Christopher Robin along with me to help. We only stayed for an hour...that was all Christopher Robin could bear of a strange place full of strangers, right at his naptime, but it opened my eyes to families, mothers with 4 or 5 small children, trying to feed and clothe and raise them in an unfamiliar place without language or resources... The oldest boy, maybe 9 or 10? acting as translator, keeping siblings in tow, choosing jackets, carrying a mound of jackets and clothing in his arms...his face was intense with the responsibility he bore. As I was leaving, so was that family, piled into a minivan with another whole family, and I wondered, do they share an apartment, too? And I wonder what land they left to come live in the slums of our city, and how it compares. And I want to befriend them, and show them the good things our land offers, the parks, the lakes, the coast, hills for sliding in winter... I want to warn them about all the dangers, too. Don't waste your hours and days watching TV. Don't think that what you see there is how life really is. Don't think all the advertisements you see are true. What's best of life here is what's best of life where you came from; the outdoors, fresh produce, quiet moments together as a family...
Since then I have gone to orientation, sent my application in to be part of the ministry, considered the different opportunities this ministry offers; youth night on Friday or Saturday night, after school help for kids, or community dinners. After school help, I think. I've done it before, I love to teach, I love kids. What holds me back? Scheduling. Raindrop, who can't leave me for longer than 4 hours because she won't take a bottle. If I could work her schedule right, I could pull it off, but I'm only sometimes successful at pulling it off, and what about the weeks it didn't work?
I sent an e-mail a week and a half ago to find out more, and figure it out, because for the past month I have done nothing towards getting involved. I have heard no reply. Frustration begins to mount. What am I doing? What am I supposed to be doing? God, if You would just show me what to do, I will do it... why is it so difficult? Is it my fault, for not trying harder? And I start to feel guilty, too. I know God wants me involved, but I'm not yet. I must be doing something wrong.
Then yesterday our pastor was speaking and he said,

If you're in a situation and you know exactly what you should do in that situation, what do you do? Exactly the same thing I would do. You do it. It doesn't take thought, you just do it.
Why doesn't God show us exactly what he wants us to do? Because then we wouldn't need Him. We would just do it. You can say, "No, I'd still pray and ask for God's help." But you wouldn't. You wouldn't stop and pray, you would just do it.
God wants us to depend on Him.
God wants me to keep my eyes on Him, keep this something I'm constantly looking to Him for direction for, so I won't trek off on my own and do it solo. If the path was perfectly clear to the skyline, I'd probably start jogging and get ahead of Him. I'd miss things. Worse, I'd miss out on doing it with Him, and without Him nothing I do is worth anything.

It was a revelation, and peace, and a new joy. I'm exactly where God wants me, not knowing what to do next, eyes glued to Him for any indication of what my next move should be. I slip my hand into His big one and wait for Him to lead me on.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Spring Cleaning

March is maple syrup time, and the rest of life moves over to make room for it. When is the last time I cleaned the bathtub or the fridge? Had energy left at bedtime to keep my eyes open to read a few pages? Reviewed the alphabet with Peanut Butter or read Bob books with Christopher Robin?

I look at the crumbs layering the floor of my cupboards and the film of dust on all my light fixtures and the spots on my light gray carpet and a current of impatience flows through my bones and muscles. Why can't I keep this place clean?? The basement glowers and growls like a monster I can't bear to face, one too formidable to think of conquering. That area I have dreams of using next fall as a place for boys to run and play and build creations that don't have to be torn down immediately to make room for the next thing.

I have new dreams for April. Begin the garden, yes... peas, maybe carrots, spinach, onions, lettuce. But it will also be my spring cleaning month. Here's my inspiration. And the challenge of every project, every keep the passion and intensity tempered with patience and humility and flexibility. To not want the finished project more than anything, to make the passion wait for a few moments while I stop to offer hugs and kisses to a small boy's injured toe, to hold back stinging reprimands when sorted items are rearranged and wander off in the grip of a curious boy. I operate a great deal on momentum, and when the momentum is lost, I lose my steam, and a project may sit unfinished indefinitely. As the items piled together in the basement to be sold or given away attest. One day's intense sorting side by side with my hero got us that far. How to go further...the monster looms too fierce.

As these last days of March yield their buckets of sugar, I begin to dream and scheme for April.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

ambling ramblings

"I'll go first, Mom, so you know how to get back," Christopher Robin says boldly as he heads off through the woods in the wrong direction.

"This way, bud. Follow the trail," I point at the well-packed path of footprints through the snow leading from our basement door, through our backyard garden patch, into the woods to where we're standing now and to every one of our tapped maple trees.

"Oh, yeah," he says with assurance. "I'll make sure you know where to go," as he misses the path again and heads through unbroken snow in more or less the right direction.

I decided to take him with me this time, since most days I gather sap while the kids are napping. Trecking through snow in the woods is rough going, especially for 2 and 4 year olds, so this day, when My Hero is home on a day off, I can take each boy with me one at a time. One hand for carrying a bucket, one hand for helping the lurching boy at my side keep from falling.

"Let's leave your green bucket here while we go down to gather the sap from those other trees, since your bucket is full and heavy. We'll get it on our way back," I suggest as we set it down in the snow beside the path."

"I hope we can find the green bucket," Christopher Robin says a few minutes later after sap from more trees has been gathered.

I smile, marvelling that the woods could seem so myserious and bewildering to him so close to the house, paths that lead our way back right at our feet, and green bucket actually within sight. Then he begins his brave assurances that he will be my guide and lead me home. As he marches in the wrong direction.

Phew! Don't you ever go exploring in the woods on your own, four year old boy. I may never find you again.

And it's funny how eyes can be trained to see what's important. A path in the snow. Landmarks ahead. My Dad knows maple trees by their bark. To me, pine, maple, and oak bark all look the same. I look up the tree and see pine needles and know it's pine. I look up the tree and see a few brown oak leaves clinging to a branch and know it's an oak. I'm starting to recognize the shape of maple branches, the way they spread at the top in a different way than oak trees do. As I travel from maple to maple gathering sap the trees grow more familiar to me. I liken it to the way it is with identical twins. To a stranger they're indistinguishable, but when you have become close friends with one or both of them, the differences are too obvious for error.

To Christopher Robin the woods is such a strange, unfamiliar place that the thick trees and reaching branches everywhere make everything look the same. I know what it's like. When we were young, my sister and I decided to follow the stream that forms at the far end of the apple orchard every spring, and see where it lead to. It led us into the woods for quite a distance, until after a while we realized the stream had lost shape and become a swampy area of puddles. When we tried to turn around and go back, we couldn't find the stream we had been following, and were hopelessly lost. I don't know exactly how long we wandered, but I do remember feeling surprised that we could become so lost, and the relief we both experienced when we finally saw an edge to the woods and came out on a nearby road, less than a mile from our house.

For some reason my favorite thing in the world when I was young was following streams through the woods. My dad used to take each of us kids on a "date night", probably one of us each week, and when my turn came around, and I could pick anything I wanted to do, I remember some of my brothers chose going for ice cream on their turns, but I chose going to the woods and following a stream, leaping from rock to rock down the middle when I could, or climbing along the edges.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Raindrop met her new 20 day old baby cousin from Chicago yesterday. She studied her for several minutes, and looked at me for reassurance when she cried. But it seemed like a positive experience until I had the privilege of holding my baby niece. Suddenly Raindrop was not okay. I've never really seen her quite as blatantly possessive before. Hints of it when I held her other baby cousin in Illinois, but she was sick and out of sorts then, so I didn't attribute her fussing strictly to that. A little later when Christopher Robin and Peanut Butter were admiring the baby and fussing over her, Raindrop looked jealously from them to me and back again, over and over. It was as if she was shocked to see the ones who had always showered her with adoration giving that kind of attention to someone else. Only seven months old, but she's already understanding her established place in our family, and she will probably always be our baby of the family.

Beside her cousin, Raindrop is a giant baby. Everything about her is large. My sister's daughter is beautiful...dark, and looks so much like her mother, only different, too. I can't describe how exciting it is to me to see my sister with her own little one. And to think of Raindrop and her little cousin in a few years, running around together as two happy playmates.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Thousands of Gifts

112. Cauldron of boiling, foaming, swirling maple sap on its way to becoming golden syrup.

113. Eleven year old brother, uncle to my kids, keeping watchful eye on the four and two year olds climbing the giant tractor parked beside the garden.

114. Brothers, 14 and 11, uncles to my kids, taking up such a big place in my kids' world. "What are you thankful for tonight?" I ask at bedtime. "Uncle Micah, Uncle Thane..." the words come always before anything else.

115. Warm sun, mild temperatures, and Saturday meld together into a day even Raindrop can spend outside (in my arms) watching Grandpa build the fire for syrup and plant the beginnings of his garden inside the chicken pen/greenhouse.

116. News, more delightful than the first crocus of spring, "Sister, and brother-in-law, and new baby niece are coming, driving more than a thousand miles our direction to spend 5 days of their baby's new life with us. Two days from now, the tiny bundle of sweetness I keep thinking about and remembering will materialize to be cuddled and smelled and adored. And my sister, here to talk and swap parenting stories, and my brother-in-law, untiring source of fun and projects and winning my kids' enthusiasm for him back again.

117. A visit, simple, quiet, the perfect kind, from a brand new friend with sweet children playing quietly with mine, having such a similar perspective on things the friendship forming feels almost effortless... an unexpected gift. I'm so grateful.

118. Boy, tall and slim, big eyes and soft hair, so handsome it takes my breath away to call him my son.

119. Boy, red cheeks and curling hair, eyes full of intensity, legs propelled with deliberate force, words lurching from him steamed with effort and intentionality...can this boy of such strength and force and drive also be mine?

120. Baby girl, looking up from her spot on the floor, meeting my eyes and smiling with her whole face, then discovering speed and distance as she travels on her own down the hall.

121. Driveway transformed from ice to mud. Spring is here. Thank You!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Maple Sugar Candy

Yesterday I achieved a lifelong goal: I made my own maple sugar candy. The kind you buy at gift shops for $5 a maple leaf, the kind that's sugary and explodes with sweet maple flavor as it melts in your mouth. It turned out exactly like that, only mine is not pleasing to look at. I don't have any maple molds, or molds of any kind, so it's spread in the bottom of an 8X8 pan, and it has to be chipped out in uneven chunks to be eaten. Christopher Robin and Peanut Butter, neither of whom has ever had maple sugar candy before that I can recall, seemed to be as wooed by it as I am. And now My Hero can picture what I'm talking about when I tell him I'd love a piece of maple sugar candy in my stocking on Christmas Day, since it's pretty much my favorite treat in all the world. (For years I've been suggesting this. It started out with a few years of gentle hints. Then when those got nowhere, I resorted to pointing out, in the summer time, the maple sugar candy we'd see at gifts shops, and reminding him how much I'd love some for Christmas. (It's not as if he refuses to buy it, it's just not easy to come by in the dead of winter, far from all coastal gift shops.) Two years ago it almost happened. We were in a gift shop in Camden, Maine, and I reminded him. It was a large gift shop with lots of toys, and he left me with Christopher Robin while he went off to a different part of the store, to subtly and without my knowledge make a purchase. That Christmas there was no maple sugar candy in my stocking, but one of my gifts under the tree was a box of salt water taffy. It was an unusual gift, since I hadn't asked for it, and while I like it okay, a whole box was a little overkill... It was several months later, when I mentioned how I still hadn't received maple sugar candy in my stocking, that it dawned on My Hero that he'd made a mistake. He looked at me in confusion when I said that, and then with stinging disappointment realized he'd bought the wrong kind of local candy. I was pretty amused when I realized he thought he was getting me what I'd always wanted; in my mind salt water taffy and maple sugar candy are nothing alike, but to a boy with Illinois blood, they're both foreign candy with long names.)

It's a new sense of empowerment to know I can make it myself. If I can successfully make my own maple sugar candy, why, I can do anything worth doing.

EDIT: Here are the simple instructions, in case anyone else has the means and the desire to make some.

I copied it directly from this website.

Molded Soft Sugar Candy: This is the relatively soft maple sugar candy often seen molded in a variety of shapes such as maple leaves. Make soft sugar candy by heating maple syrup to a temperature of approximately 32-34oF above the boiling temperature of pure water (212 degrees F at sea level), pouring the syrup into a flat pan or trough and allowing it to cool undisturbed to at least 200oF but not less than 160oF, stirring until the syrup is soft and plastic, and then pouring or packing it into molds. Molded candies commonly set up in 10 to 30 minutes. Candies formed by pouring rather than packing will have an attractive glazed surface.
The recipe does not tell you that it takes hours (or at least it did for me, keeping the stovetop temp. low enough to keep it from boiling over) to get the syrup from 212 degrees F to 240 F. When you don't know it'll take that long, it really seems long. Water boils at 208 degrees F at my house, so when the syrup reached just barely over 240 I poured it into a pan. It didn't take long to cool...probably not much more than 5 minutes. When the temp reached 175 degrees I started stirring. After a little while, the candy changed color and became grainy, and then it wasn't long until it was too hard to spread smoothly. So I'm thinking if I do molds next time, I'll need to pour/pack the candy in as quickly as I can as soon as the color changes and it becomes grainy.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Organic Church

Neil Cole writing about a church his daughter started with a group of high school friends:

"After the church had been meeting for several months, I met with these students and we all sang praises to the Lord. I felt the Lord's pleasure. I asked the students what was the biggest church they had ever been to. Living in Southern California there are many options of megachurches, and a number of churches were mentioned, ranging in size from two thousand attendees to more than fifteen thousand.
I then told them that I think Satan is more intimidated by this little church of fifteen high school kids than by any of those Godzilla-sized churches. They all sort of chuckled and looked around the room at one another with smiles.
I showed them why I thought this way: 'How many of you think you could start a church like one of those megachurches?' No one raised a hand. I asked, 'How many of you think you could start a church like this one? and all raised their hands. I asked them to look around the room at all the raised hands, and I said with a newfound soberness, 'I assure you, Satan is terrified by this.'"

~Neil Cole, Organic Church

It's revolutionary.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

My little Peanut Butter

I've known him for 2 years and 7 months, but I can't seem to get my mind around what makes him tick. If I had to try to peg it down, I'd have to say the most important thing to him is that he gets to make the decision. And yet he's sometimes content to play with Christopher Robin, letting him call all the shots and tell him what to do, and he'll agree with everything Christopher Robin says.

He's been strongly attached to me since he was a month old; refusing to be happy with anyone but me for about his whole first year. He wouldn't cry for 10 minutes and then resign himself to the fact that I was gone; he'd scream until I came back, even if it was a couple of hours. Nowadays he loves to sit in my lap and have me read to him, but only if it's the book he wanted. He gives wonderful hugs, but only when he decides he wants to.

Last night My Hero sent him to get a new pair of undies from his drawer. I had already gone to the bedroom to get his pajamas and undies, and met him halfway with them in my hands. "Would you like these jammies tonight?" I asked him. He stopped, deliberated, then agreed those were the ones he wanted. Then he saw the pair of undies in my hands. Despair and anguish took hold of him. "Daddy said me go get mine undies!" he wailed. I handed him the undies, told him he could put them back and choose the ones he wanted. He came back a few minutes later with those same undies in his hands, telling his daddy he couldn't find undies in his drawer. "What are those in your hand?" My Hero asked, confused. Not the ones Peanut Butter chose, that's what.

He is enraged if I help him with something he was planning on doing himself, but at other times he demands my help with the very same task, and throws himself down in wails if I make him do it himself.

He had two accidents yesterday in which he did not make it to the potty in time. That's the first time since about a week after he was potty trained sometime in December. My Hero was home for the second one, and he asked me before he went to talk to Peanut Butter if he should suggest reverting back to diapers. My eyes got wide. "No. I'm afraid he would like that." Sure enough, when My Hero asked Peanut Butter if he should go back to wearing diapers, PB's eyes lit up and he said, "Nigh!" (PB's word for yes) "No!" My Hero chided, "That would be bad, you're learning to be a big boy!" and he went on to talk about Peanut Butter growing up and learning to do things like Daddy does them.

He doesn't seem much interested in being like Christopher Robin. He definitely wants the same privileges, but he seems to thrive on their differences. Last evening they had brought up some 2X4's and other boards from the basement and constructed a "building" on the living room floor, so later I sent them back down to put the boards back. "Be careful going down the stairs with them; some of those are heavy," I warned. "This one's not heavy!" Christopher Robin said proudly. "Mine not heavy," Peanut Butter echoed. "Because I'm really big and strong!" Christopher Robin assured me. "You both are," I said. "No, me tiny," Peanut Butter said, "Christopher Robin's big."

What fills his head? Occupies his thoughts? These days it really seems to be all about being the one to make the decisions. If Christopher Robin and Peanut Butter want the same toy, the sparks fly. If I mediate and come down on Peanut Butter's side, leaving Christopher Robin in tears, often Peanut Butter will wait a minute, feel the power of having the upper hand, then benevolently hand the coveted toy to Christopher Robin. He just wants to be able to choose to do it.

Trying to change Peanut Butter's mind is like beating against a wall. I'm not really even sure how to pray for him. I see how much determination and passion and strength is built into who he is, and I think if it was bent on building God's Kingdom, he'd be unstoppable. I just haven't figured out how to successfully influence him in a certain direction. My prayer is usually to hand it over to God. "Please harness Peanut Butter's passions and use them for your kingdom."

Maybe I'll never wrap my mind around what makes Peanut Butter tick. I'm pretty sure I will always find it a challenge to deal with him. I'm not naturally a leader, and to be the authority over such an unwilling follower is daunting to me. Thanks be to God that He can redeem him in spite of my weaknesses and failings as his mother.

Peanut Butter is a gift I'm not worthy of. Even as I sit exhausted by the endless battles fought or averted, I watch him rocking to his own beat, listen to him speak his own form of language, see him invent things none of the rest of us would have thought of, and I admire this unique creation of God.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


I have become increasingly frustrated, mostly with myself, by the results of my attempts to train good habits into my kids. Peanut Butter's temper still flares up quickly, though it's easier to quench, and now that I've turned my attention to truthfulness, Christopher Robin and Peanut Butter have both been less truthful than ever. Most discouraging, though, is that the more I focus on trying to train my kids, the less of an example I am myself of self-control. Out of sorts, I display the opposite kind of behavior I'm looking for in my kids.

This morning I despondently opened to James 4, the chapter we're reading daily for our small group discussion next Wednesday. I reread the familiar words, feeling glum. God, what hope do I have? What is going wrong? How can I train my kids when I myself am such a failure?

James 4:6
"He gives us more and more strength to stand against such evil desires. As the Scriptures say, 'God sets himself against the proud, but he shows favor to the humble.'"

I repent. Even when my own behavior appalls me, I have an undercurrent of pride. At least I'm trying, and I'm probably doing better than most. Humble repentance. Even if that were true, which is doubtful, God sets himself against such thinking. What can I ever accomplish without God on my side? I look at my heroic, valiant efforts to change my kids, and I realize that I'm an ant pushing at a boulder. What hope do I have in a battle against my kids' sin natures? It's fighting against the essence of who they are. I can't even win against my own sin nature.

I repent. And ask for His supernatural aid. Only He can change them. Only He can change me. Only when I humbly repent and ask for His help, and stop feeling like I can do it myself.

My new plan of action is to take less action, and spend more time in prayer to the One who can move boulders with His breath.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Maple Days

My goal for today is to tap maples in the woods behind my house. Maple syrup. Maybe even maple sugar this year. Mmm....

Friday, March 6, 2009

Is there a medicine for this?

"There are always days when I don't feel like singing,
There are always days when I don't care at all
But I know the King of all creation reigns completely
Over every moment, great or small"
~Long Live the King by Aaron Shust
Yesterday morning was horrible. I was in a terrible mood, had lots to do and made little progress, and Raindrop refused to go down for her morning nap, throwing off the schedule for the day and making a trip to the library for story time impossible. I could feel it the moment I woke up, so I began my day with gratefulness, a list of things I'm thankful for. After every impatient snap at the kids I begged God for help. Nothing seemed to make a difference.

Thankfully, nap time cured me. That doesn't usually happen, but this nap time after I put the kids down and had a quick lunch I dove right into my list of things to do, and after a couple of hours cleaning in peace and quiet my mood was resolved and the rest of the day was wonderful. Is there a cure for bad days? Or do you just struggle through them trying to keep the ugly, selfish, sinful reactions to a minimum and making continual repentance a large part of your day?

I don't know the answer. My Hero and lots of other sources say that changing your attitude changes everything. My question is, how? No matter how badly I want to escape from a bad mood, I haven't figured out a cure yet. Thankfulness usually helps some, but it doesn't cure. Prayer doesn't cure either. I guess it's silly to think there is a cure; I have a disease called sin, and I won't be wholely cured in this lifetime.

I guess I just try to stay healthy and rested to minimize the flare-ups.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Thank you...

103. for cheery 4 year old voice conversing with happy baby garbles in the bedroom. for the sweetness of a brother who joins his baby sister in her crib in the mornings and reads books to her until released from the bedroom to be awake for the day.

104. for My Hero forging out time from his limited at-home time to lead Financial Peace University.

105. for the wisdom passed along to people in FPU, and the life change that results, and the freedom we find in taking control of our finances and doing things right.

106. for the motivation of having 20 people fill our living room in the evening to get me to clean the house once a week to the sparkling state I wish it could always be in.

107. for the hope of spring, despite the bitter wind and deep snow outside.

108. for maple syrup, the delight of filling March days with daily tramps through the snowy woods and the sweet smell of boiling sugar.

109. for medicine, and the hope that soon the doses taken twice daily will result in baby ears feeling well again.

110. for strong baby arms and legs that propel her wherever she wants to go, and the happiness of exploring on her own.

111. for early morning quiet (well, after the leaking diaper is changed, meds administered, baby fed and plopped back into crib to await the right time to be awake), a few minutes to give thanks for a few of the thousands of gifts my Father has given, to prepare for a day of intense cleaning, to beg for supernatural aid in keeping His Kingdom in mind during a day of building pressure to get things done.

112. for fresh milk, local honey, fresh fish, maple trees, and garden spot; sources of nourishing local food.

Thank you.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Life spinning out of control...

16 hours isn't long enough. The end of the day comes before I'm ready for it every day. Simple tasks like folding and putting away laundry sit untouched all morning, all afternoon, all evening until the day is spent and I realize that once again the opportunity to sit down to the pile of clean laundry simply never came. Where does the time go?
It's not as if the rest of the house sparkles because I spent my time instead vacuuming, dusting, sweeping and washing. It's not as if Christopher Robin and Peanut Butter made strides in reading and math because I devoted several hours to their instruction. Nope, I barely made time to read to them today.
Raindrop has an ear infection, so we visited the doctor, which ate up half our morning. I made cookies and visited briefly with friends at our weekly moms' group and took our garbage to the dump. I administered medicine, made lunch, read to the boys, put them down for naps, tended the fire in the wood stove, dumped the ashes and brought in more wood, swept up the dirt and ashes and sawdust, looked through the mail and read the Operation Christmas Child update, recorded a bit more of the book I'm reading onto CD for My Hero, played with Raindrop on the floor for a little bit, put the gate up in front of the stairs because she's crawling everywhere now, planned and made supper, cleaned up afterward, put the boys to bed, worked out using the Wii Fit with My Hero, then went to bed.
I have too much on my plate, and I'm just a stay at home mom. I have immediate goals I'm not accomplishing because I can't get to them, and yet I'm barely keeping up with housekeeping, and I'm not finding time every day to work with Christopher Robin's reading or do his little math book or read a small book to Peanut Butter.
One step of progress I have in mind is to make a chore chart and enlist Christopher Robin's help. He can empty the dishwasher...he was doing it himself a year ago when I was horribly sick with pregnancy. He can also make his bed in a way, which is better than the usual state of not being made at all. The reason I haven't started this is that I need to make time to make a chore chart and figure out a system that's easy and sustainable. And I think it will involve a new form of payment. Right now they each earn a nickle every evening they help clean up toys before bedtime. Which, by the way, is amazingly helpful to me, to have all of us work for 10 or 20 minutes on cleaning up the endless toy mess, so when we wake up the next day the house is clean for a little bit.
The other solution I'm beginning to see is my own need to make the things I do as quick and efficient as possible. Make small changes to the way I do things. I'm thorough rather than quick about a lot of the tasks I do, and I can improve there in order to make time for the things that matter more to me.
And finally, I need to prioritize. The most important things need to get done first.

I'm off to work on figuring out what's most important to me and try to make a realistic set of goals for today.

Misconceptions of Childhood

And Bingo was his name-o"

~Peanut Butter, 2 years old

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

On Teaching Truthfulness

"If punishment were necessarily reformative, and able to cure us all of those 'sins we have a mind to,' why, the world would be a very good world; for no manner of sin escapes its present punishment. The fact is, not that punishment is unnecessary or that it is useless, but that it is inadequate and barely touches our aim; which is, not visitation for the offences, but the correction of that fault of character of which the offences is the outcome. Jemmy tells lies and we punish him; and by so doing we mark our sense of the offence; but, probably, no punishment could be invented drastic enough to cure Jemmy of telling lies in the future; and this is the thing to be aimed at. No, we must look deeper; we must find out what weak place in character, what false habit of thinking, leads Jemmy to tell lies, and we must deal with this false habit in the only possible way, by forming the contrary habit of true thinking, which will make Jemmy grow up a true man. 'I think I have never told a lie since,' said a lady, describing the single conversation in which her father cured her, when she was a child, of lying by setting up an altogether new train of thought" (Vol. 2, pp. 172,173) - Charlotte Mason

Charlotte Mason approaches the teaching of habits as a favor, a blessing to give to a child. I love the idea that it's not me against my kids, or even me against my kids' faults, but me and my kids working together to win over the natural tendencies that lead us into all kinds of bad places. I find this a difficult approach to execute, however, especially in Peanut Butter's case. He's two. I can communicate with him only on a very basic level. The idea of heroism and courage isn't something he seems to understand at all yet, though he does love to do something right and get recognized for it. Another book about training children I've read, though, talks about the importance of beginning with corporal punishment, the most basic form of training. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." And the fear of punishment is the beginning of obedience. To neglect training in the earliest years and to wait until they are old enough to understand and reason is to permit them to form lots of bad habits that will be difficult to break later. I have noticed that the most effective form of breaking his bad behavior patterns at this point is to administer a sting to his posterior, and I think that's okay. I just need to remember that much more effective, as my kids get older and more able to understand, is to rally them together with me, all of us on the same team, working to be the kind of people Jesus is proud to call his children.

Monday, March 2, 2009

After Vacation: Picking it up wherever we reverted back to

After nine days of being spoiled by Grandma, today begins a week of retraining in the art of living a normal, balanced life that no longer revolves around boys who are four and two. I suppose they will get the bulk of my attention today, but it will not be about entertaining them or showering them with new toys or feeding them more sugar. Welcome to boot camp, boys. Remember life 10 days ago? It's BACK. No wonder Christopher Robin tried to talk My Hero into taking a job where Grandma works, so we could live there permanently. I don't mind all the fun they have at Grandpa and Grandma's house (they tend to spoil My Hero and I, too), but they do begin to turn into little monsters by the end, and I'm always ready to do some retraining to help them remember to obey, and think of others first, and to restore some balance to their lives. Good thing I was in bed by 8:00 last night.

I think the next habit I begin to teach should be that of truthfulness. Christopher Robin is by nature transparent, but I've noticed some shadiness creeping in a little as he realizes there are ways to word things that make us take his side rather than Peanut Butter's. Peanut Butter has from the beginning understood that certain answers bring penalties while others don't, so he'll go for the path of least punishment every time; what actually happened doesn't seem to even cross his mind. A month or two ago, after supper he got down from the table, and when I asked him if he had finished his meal he said he had. I checked his bowl, and he hadn't, so I explained to him that he needed to tell me the truth, and when he doesn't there will be consequences. I =ahem= administered the consequences, and several times after that when I would ask him if his meal was done he was careful to tell me the right answer, and even pointed out to me that he was telling me the truth. I was thrilled that he learned and understood. I expect in this training it will be a difficult to be thorough, though, since I don't always know when he's lying. Thankfully, since he's two, it often is obvious. Last night as we were unpacking I saw Peanut Butter sitting at the island with all of Christopher Robin's "Grow Capsules" (sponges packed into water soluble capsules that 'grow' into animal shapes when left in water) sitting in a cup of water. Knowing that Christopher Robin had been carefully saving the grow capsules and doing them one at a time, one or two a day, I asked Christopher Robin if he had put them all into the cup at once. He told me he hadn't, so I asked the guilty Peanut Butter if he had put all of Christopher Robin's capsules in the cup. "No, Christopher Robin did," he told me. I double checked with Christopher Robin. Nope, he only does them one at a time. He was looking darkly at Peanut Butter for using his things. I asked Peanut Butter again, and he said, "No, Daddy did it." My Hero was in the room watching us, and he just shook his head in disbelief. Welcome another opportunity to teach Peanut Butter the importance of telling the truth. I took him in the other room, made him tell me what he should have told me in the beginning, and spanked him.

In the days to come I'll be reading again what Charlotte Mason has to say about teaching the habit of truth telling, but I do know that it's one of the three most important areas to her: obedience, attention, and truthfulness.

My mom asked me last night how Peanut Butter did with tantrums on vacation. I had to think about it for a minute, but really, he didn't have any big explosions. He had a few shrieking yells at Christopher Robin, especially the last few days as the monster inside him had grown and his bedtime/naptime schedule had disintegrated, but overall I think the effort is paying off and he's learning to controll himself. I think this next week will be critical in making sure the changes are reinforced and habits reestablished.